Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

Alexandra has tried her best to provide a loving and constructive environment for her two children Tilly and Iris.  Iris, the youngest, is a neurotypical child, who loves but is sometimes frustrated by her sister Tilly.  Tilly, the eldest, is brilliant but different, falling somewhere on the autism spectrum.  She is obsessed with giant people (statues that are larger than life size) and can share interesting facts with anyone, often without being asked, she is beginning to grasp what language and topics are and aren’t appropriate, but with limited success, and she is generally a happy person.  However after a life threatening incident at her school, the last school that would enroll her, Tilly is asked to leave.  Alexandra is faced with the last resort, homeschooling, but even that idea is not working out.  At her wits end Alexandra starts to convince her husband Josh that an extreme change is needed.  Enter Scott Bean.

Scott is a parenting guru who has developed a following of parents of children with autism who are, like Alexandra, looking for a good parenting/education option for her children.  Scott is creating a camp, Camp Harmony, in the woods of New Hampshire and has asked three families to join him in running it. Feeling that this is her only hope for a normal life for Tilly, and seeing how Scott is able to connect with her daughter and other children like her, her family moves to New Hampshire.

You know from the start that something is going to go wrong.  This is the story of a family in crisis that finds a savior in a man who is far from perfect, very far, but does that mean all he did for their family means nothing?  When you hear about these people who follow strange leaders do you wonder how they could pick up their lives and do such a thing?  Alexandra used to read those stories and feel the same.  Until she met Scott Bean.

The book is told in alternating chapters narrated by Iris in the present and Alexandra in the past to illustrate what brought the family to Camp Harmony and what life is like at the camp.  Seeing the camp through the eyes of an observant child clues the adult reader into how odd things are, but Iris knows better than to question Scott’s strange teaching methods and angry outbursts. An interesting look at a family struggling to figure out what is best for everyone in their family.

And for those who are nervous about what you read in this description, the book ends on a positive note.  Fans of Jodi Picoult and Ann Leary will enjoy this novel.

Friday, September 23, 2016

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

Nicolette Farrell has to return to her small hometown in North Carolina to help her brother get the family home ready to sell. Nic left soon after her high school graduation ten years ago and rarely came home to visit.  Too many memories are brought back when she goes home all centered on the disappearance of her best friend Corinne after the annual carnival.  Nic and all her friends were questioned and their lives scrutinized by law enforcement and the residents of the small town; their secrets aired to all.  Nic isn’t thrilled with being back, she’d much rather be in Philadelphia with her fiance but she knows she needs to be there.  Her trepidation of being home is realized when Annaleise, the current girlfriend of Nic’s high school flame, goes missing shortly after leaving a message for police that she has questions about what happened to Corinne.

With that plot summary I’m sure you’re expecting some dead ends, and a twisty plot and secrets being uncovered.  Me too, but I got so much more.  This is the psychological study of the dynamic of a group of high school friends that examines the mind of not only high school girls, but first love and what it’s like being an adult returning home.  

There is one thing that REALLY makes this book stand out.  It’s told backwards.  Yes, backwards.  The first part of the book sets the stage and then the next page is Day 15. You finish that chapter and the page reads The Day Before, Day 14.  I didn’t know going into this if the format would work, but it really did.  And the tension it builds is great.  For those that want to try something new, or enjoy thrillers and mysteries.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Lu (short for Louisa) is the newly elected state’s attorney for Howard County in Maryland.  She takes on her first case, the murder of a single woman in her apartment, and as the investigation unfolds Lu begins to re-examine events from her own childhood and even her father’s (a former state’s attorney) most famous case.

Told in alternating chapters between the present and the past we learn about Lu’s upbringing by her single father and her worshipfulness towards her older brother AJ and his friends.  Lu is almost a footnote in her own life, finally being able to be the center her own story instead of the sister of AJ or her father’s daughter.  But as Lu starts to deconstruct the myths surrounding her family, including the famous case where her father got a murder conviction without a body and the time AJ came to the defense of his best friend while the attacker was accidently killed,  she begins to realize she may not know the truth but only a version of these stories she, and everyone else, believed in.

Not my favorite Lippman book even though I really liked the way the storylines all came together at the end.  It was good, but it was slow going.  This is one of those rare times I think I would have liked print better.  The readers (there were two, one for the past and one for the present) were both wonderful, but I would have liked to be able to skim a bit.

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Got a witch problem?  There’s an app for that!  

Hex is the imaginings of a very sick and twisted mind.  This novel was a huge hit in Europe, written by a Dutchman, that oddly enough takes place in the fictional sleepy town of Black Spring on the Hudson just a tad north of West Point.  Always found the placement of West Point odd?  Katherine, the witch of Black Spring, is the reason.  

Black Spring is a nice enough town, but it is cursed.  The Black Rock Witch, a woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century, and it seems rightfully so, walks the streets to this day.  Her eyes and mouth were sewn shut decades ago and her arms are chained to her sides so she is basically harmless.  Basically.  But there are still rules to living in Black Spring including NEVER to tell those outside the town about her existence. 

But it’s modern times.  There is the internet.  There are cameras.  So there’s an app to keep track of the movements of the witch.   But there are also teenagers…  When one teenager decides to start recording “tests” with Katherine and push the limits of the curse, things start to spiral out of control.

More than just a horror novel, and yes, it starts off light and gets pretty darn horrific, this is a study of human nature: at its best, worst and breaking point. The dynamic of the town as a living breathing entity is amazing to witness.  The characters all act as they could under the bizarre circumstances, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read.  The mob mentality, as well as evil tendencies of the few bad seeds that push the envelope, developed slowly yet it felt natural, which made it all the more horrific to read.  The psychological and sociological aspects the author explores are fascinating while being scary.

I listened to Hex which is always challenging for a horror book because you can’t skim, you can’t look away, you have to hear everything.  Some of the voices the narrator chose to use for certain characters were annoying, but they all fit. 

If you’re looking for something scary, but really different this Halloween, try visiting Black Spring for a spell. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Defense by Steve Cavanagh

The Defense by Steve Cavanagh

This is the best legal thriller I have read in years, probably ever.  If you are a fan of courtroom drama you absolutely cannot miss this one.

Eddie Flynn is minding his own business getting a cup of coffee at a cafe in New York City when he’s convinced to attend a meeting in a town car parked out front.  (Threatened really by a thug with a gun.)  Eddie just finished a stint in rehab after a case led him down the rabbit hole and just wants to focus on putting his family back together.  Imagine his surprise when the head of a Russian mob family tells Eddie he will be taking on his case.  Eddie hasn’t practiced law in months, his former partner would be a better defender.  Too bad his former partner was this guy’s former lawyer, and his former partner’s head is now in a bag.  Eddie is tasked with getting a bomb into the courtroom to blow up the state’s key witness if the trial goes badly.  Oh!  And the trial, that he knows nothing about, starts in less than an hour.  And oh yeah, motivation? The Russian mob has Eddie’s daughter.  One thing the Russians don’t know is that Eddie Flynn was a con man, one of the best, before he took the bar.  He’ll be using all the resources he has to get his daughter back and if that means winning an impossible case, he’ll do just that.

I couldn’t put this book down.  I had to know what was going to happen next.  I love reading the snappy dialogue of smooth talking characters who can think on their feet and Eddie Flynn is a master.  If I were a prosecutor I would feel ill if I saw him sitting at the defense table; he’s amazing.  And that’s just his legal skills.  His former profession has made him some interesting friends and given him some interesting (semi-illegal) knowledge that just may let him pull this off.

Almost all of the book takes place in the court building or in the courtroom over the course of only two days.  If you like John Grisham you are going to LOVE Steve Cavanagh.  I cannot wait for his next book.

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

Security by Gina Wohlsdorf

Manderley is the new luxury hotel in Santa Barbara boasting to be the most secure facility of its kind anywhere.  The hotel owner’s father was murdered in a hotel by a cheap bomb so a secure facility was the number one priority, luxury was a close second.  Movie stars, politicians, billionaires are all anticipated to flock here; a place where their secrets are safe and their safety is tantamount.  

Manderley opens in twenty-four hours and final preparations are under way.  Security is enclosed in the top floor control room monitoring the plethora of cameras...or are they?  Something is wrong at Manderley.  VERY wrong.  A killer is in the hotel and is determined that no one leave alive.

Yes, this book is pretty gory.  Perfect Halloween read!  But this book is also masterfully constructed.  There are so many books which attempt to use multiple narrators and points of view that just manage to confuse the reader. Wohlsdorf uses multiple cameras to impart the action and sometimes the point of view changes from paragraph to paragraph, with no notation that the view is changing, but as a reader you are never at a loss about what is going on.  (I checked with two other people who read this book and they had similar experiences, so it’s not just me saying this.)  I was amazed by how well constructed this slim (230 pages) book was as being a great thriller.  There are at least three twists that really got me and while she ties up all the loose ends of the action, you are still left with a few questions.

A great amazingly crafted horror/thriller that makes you grateful that you can’t afford to stay in a hotel like Manderley.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

First off, the title refers to a woman contemplating ending her relationship with her boyfriend, not suicide.  Second, this is not like anything you have ever read.  
A young woman has been dating a man, brilliant, a great conversationalist, if a little odd, for a couple of months.  Jake’s bringing her to the remote farm where he grew up to meet his parents.  He seems to think that the relationship is going well while she has her doubts.  As the book progresses you realize something isn’t quite right.  Who is calling the girl with strange and cryptic messages?  Why the strange detours after the road trip?  Does Jake know she’s thinking of ending things?

I finished this book last night and I think it haunted my dreams because I did not sleep well.  This is psychological horror so I was expecting mind games, but I have to admit I still don’t really know what happened.  There is a conversation between two unknown people that occasionally happens in the course of the book that foretells something awful, so you know something really bad is going to happen, but I’m still at a loss over what actually happened.  Maybe I read too fast?  I did skim the ending again this morning and I didn’t really miss much so I’m assuming the author wants the reader to fill in the blanks because let’s face it, our minds fill those empty spaces with all sorts of interesting things in the middle of the night...