Monday, July 30, 2012

Black Out, by Lisa Unger

As I slowly make my way through my collection of un-read thrillers, I've read quite a few books about women being victimized by men.  In fact, I've started to think that I should write a series of books about females victimizing men just to balance the cosmic scales.  Usually, the victims in these books (if they survive) find a way to take back some power from their attackers, which I suppose should be some comfort to the female reader.  But the main character in Lisa Unger's Black Out does a little bit more than just show some spunk in the face of a horrifying past-or does she?

Black Out is the story of Annie Powers-or Ophelia March-who is manipulated by a serial killer into helping him commit murders (or was she?).  Annie Powers, formerly Ophelia March, lives with her husband Gray and daughter Victory in a safe, gated community in Florida.  She has everything she could want-money, a gorgeous house on the beach, a loving husband, a beautiful daughter.  But she is wracked with anxiety.  She is sure that her ex-boyfriend and sociopath, Marlowe Geary, has returned to snatch her from her new life and draw her back into his evil web.  Except, of course, that her husband killed him five years ago. So why is Annie sure that he is hunting her, trying to lure her back into his evil web?

Black Out is a psychological thriller that grabs you by the imagination and doesn't let you go.  Unger uses Annie herself as the narrator, making it impossible to tell what is real and what is imagined.  The reader is forced to live the confusion, fear, and anger just as Annie feels it, while trying to figure out exactly how to keep herself and her family safe.  It is one of those books that makes you question your own perception of events, and trying to make sense of the events is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle-from two different boxes.  Frankly, even after finishing it I'm still not sure which of the events in the book actually happened and which ones she imagined.  But in the end it didn't really matter.  Unger writes the story of a woman desperately trying to gain power over her own life.  Everyone tries to manipulate Annie, even the people who love her most-maybe especially the people who love her most.    Annie's attempts to take back her life make you root for her, even when you're not sure you like her very much.  And even though there are parts of the plot that are pretty implausible, I was caught up enough in the story of Annie and her past that it worked for me.  Escapism at its best!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Never having read any of Gillian Flynn's other books, I wasn't sure what to expect from Gone Girl.  The plot sounded intriguing enough, but a story about a missing woman and her murder suspect of a husband could also go horribly, Lifetime-movie wrong.  But Flynn's story goes far beyond a schmaltzy made-for-tv plot.  In fact, it takes the all-too-familiar story and turns it on its head.

Gone Girl is a story in three parts, each told from one of two perspectives.  The first part sets the stage-a woman, Amy Dunne, is missing.  Her husband Nick comes home to find the front door open and the house a wreck.  He calls the police, and cooperates with their investigation until it becomes clear that he is the prime suspect in what the police have decided is a murder.  The rest of the novel explores both Nick and Amy's marriage and the investigation-both Nick's and the police's-that twists and turns its way to a really strange and dark place.

I realize that this summary is a little light on detail.  That's because this is apparently THE book of the summer, and I've decided not to ruin anything for anyone.  The fact is, this is a book that really needs to be read to be believed.  Flynn takes a rather cynical idea about marriage-that we pretend to be someone we're not when we meet our mate, only to be disappointed when we realize they aren't who they pretended to be either-and uses it as the basis for taking the reader to some dark and twisty places.  I literally had almost no clue what might be coming next for most of the book, and that unpredictability kept me reading long past when I should have put the book down and, oh, I don't know, cooked dinner/mowed the lawn/SLEPT!

Flynn also achieves another uncommon feat.  Even though I didn't like either of the main characters, or frankly most of the minor characters, I couldn't stop reading.  This book is really just one long object lesson against selfishness.  Every single character is selfish in some way, and it makes them pretty unattractive.  But it became an ugly fascination for me.  I couldn't believe some of the lengths to which the characters went to hurt each other and/or protect themselves from their own bad acts, but not in a bad "this books is ridiculously unbelievable and therefore unreadable" sort of way .  The mental gymnastics necessary to justify their actions was pretty impressive.  And you get to see a lot of mental gymnastics in this book-despite the fact that there is a lot of action, at least early on, the book really delves into the internal lives of the characters.  Flynn has really created an engaging, un-put-downable piece of fiction!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A New Monkeewrench Novel! Off The Grid, by P.J. Tracy

I read a lot of mystery/thriller series.  I mean, A LOT!  And over the last couple of years I have had some painful break-ups with some of my favorites.   There are very few things as sad as watching a formerly great character fade into mediocrity.  And I can honestly say that THIS IS NOT ONE OF THOSE TIMES!    (See what I did there?)  The new P.J. Tracy book, Off the Grid (coming out August 2nd), is just as full of quirky, loveable characters as the other Monkeewrench books, and the story is just as different and suspenseful.

Off the Grid, the lastest installment in the Monkeewrench series by the mother/daughter writing team known as P.J. Tracy, begins with Grace MacBride sailing in the seas near Key West, spending her days laying in the sun wearing a sundress and sandals.  Anyone who has read any of the other Monkeewrench books knows that this is the most unexpected thing that she could be doing.  After a life of violence and paranoia, Grace has finally allowed herself to relax and feel safe.  But her sense of security is shattered when the violence she fears and expects finds her, even miles at sea.  Someone is trying to kill her friend and emotional savior, John Smith.  A thousand miles away in Minnesota, her former love interest and cop Leo Magozzi and his partner are investigating the deaths of four Somali's with ties to terrorism.  Neither Grace nor Leo know how these two events happening a continent apart will connect them once again.

Grace and her band of super-computing geniuses have been in some sticky situations in the past.  But never before have the stakes been so high.  Each of them is forced to confront something about themselves as they race to uncover a terrorist plot, and that is one of the things that I liked about this Monkeewrench book.  Grace is such a larger than life character that sometimes I feel like the other Monkeewrenchers don't get enough backstory, but that is not the case this time.  Truth be told there is not a ton of exposition in this novel, but the events of the story and the character's reactions to them provide glimpses into the chaotic, painful pasts of the main characters.  Much of the first part of the novel revolves around Magozzi and his partner Gino and their efforts to discover what is happening with the dead Somali's, but I was OK with the focus being off of Grace for a bit.

Other than revisiting these characters, who I love, the story was interesting and different than any thriller plot I've read before.  Sure, I've read stories about terrorism before, but this particular plot had a twist that was new, at least to me.  And the new characters who are introduced, a couple of old Viet Nam vets, are a good addition to the group.  I have no idea if they are going to make an appearance in any other P.J.Tracy books, but I could see them having a place in the off-kilter, gray area, sometimes shady world of Monkeewrench.  Or perhaps their own series.  Either way, I was pleased to meet them.  The book has an emotional punch that made me clench my fists, laugh out loud, and cry openly-quite a feat for a formula thriller.  But just like the cast of characters, the Monkeewrench books are unpredictable enough that you are never sure what you are going to get, other than a really good read.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Clean Break, by David Klein

As much as we may enjoy flashy stories about fantastical characters (you know, like mind-reading waitresses , sparkly vampires, and serial killers), the most moving, powerful fiction most often comes from the stories of ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.  Such is the case with David Klein's newest book, Clean Break.  It tells the story of four people-Adam, Celeste, Jake, and Sara-and the way their lives randomly intersect, causing each person's path to be drastically changed as a result.

Celeste is a wife and mother, living the dream in the wealthy suburbs of New York.  At least, she is until she discovers that her husband, Adam, has gambled away all of their savings, and finds himself in debt to some unsavory characters.  Adam, for his part, admits he has an addiction, and goes off to rehab, certain that this will make everything OK between he and Celeste.  But Celeste has other plans.  After years of making excuses and forgiving his transgressions, she leaves him while he is in rehab.  When he comes out, he is determined to get her back-and even justifies a return to gambling (short-term, of course) as a way to get the money to convince her he can be a good husband.

Things come to a head one night when Celeste discovers that her husband has once again gambled away all of his money.  When she confronts him, and asks for a divorce, Adam attacks her.  Lucky for Celeste, Jake stumbles upon them on his way home from work, and he is able to diffuse the situation and save her from any further harm.  Jake, for his part, is at the end of an affair with an NYPD officer, Sara.  When Celeste comes to thank him for his help, he becomes infatuated with her.  But will be do whatever it takes to make her safe?

The story is told from alternating perspectives, a narrative structure that has become more and more common for this type of story.  Each person becomes the protagonist of their own chapters, and Klein is able to show each person's mental journey to the choices they eventually make.  Despite some initial sympathy, Adam end up being a very unsympathetic character indeed.  But the other three characters are more layered.  Each person is flawed in some way, but trying desperately to do the right thing in the face of their own bad choices.

The title is a bit on-the-nose regarding the essential question of the story-is it possible to get a "clean break"? But each characters is, in their own way, trying to find a new way to be.  They want to shed their old selves and become better.  But each one is fighting against something-their own nature, their past relationships, guilt over past actions.  The thing about making new start is that it is impossible to completely leave all of your past behind.  We are, each of us, the function of all of our experiences-good, bad, or neutral, each person we come into contact and each decision we make forms who we are, and we can't help but be affected by the patterns of thought and behavior they create.  But sometimes, we end up doing something that we never would have guessed we were capable of doing.  Whether that ends up being a good or bad thing is up to us.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Criminal by Karin Slaughter-The Blog Tour!

Welcome to the next stop on the tour for Karin Slaughter's new audiobook, Criminal!  If you've never visited BookAddictReviews before, feel free to stay awhile and look around after the main event.

Here is the official blurb for the book, courtesy of Goodreads:

Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Newly in love, he is beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Will cannot fathom Amanda’s motivation until the two of them literally collide in an abandoned orphanage they have both been drawn to for different reasons. Decades before—when Will’s father was imprisoned for murder—this was his home. . . . Flash back nearly forty years. In the summer Will Trent was born, Amanda Wagner is going to college, making Sunday dinners for her father, taking her first steps in the boys’ club that is the Atlanta Police Department. One of her first cases is to investigate a brutal crime in one of the city’s worst neighborhoods. Amanda and her partner, Evelyn, are the only ones who seem to care if an arrest is ever made. Now the case that launched Amanda’s career has suddenly come back to life, intertwined with the long-held mystery of Will’s birth and parentage. And these two dauntless investigators will each need to face down demons from the past if they are to prevent an even greater terror from being unleashed.

I am about a third of the way through listening to the audiobook, and I am totally hooked!   I love all of the Will Trent books.  I think that he is such an interesting, brilliant, damaged character.  I am very invested in how his life turns out, to the point that I was talking to (OK, yelling at) his wife Angie in the last AudioGo book, Fallen.  This book literally picks up right where Fallen left off, with Will about to start a new relationship with Doctor Sarah Linton.  But what is even more rewarding is hearing how Amanda Wagner, Will's boss, and Evelyn Mitchell, his partner Faith's mother, got started in their careers in law enforcement.  Let's just say that the Amanda of 40 years ago is NOT the Amanda of today.  I can't wait to hear more about her tranformation as I finish "reading" Criminal.  And the crime they are investigating is a sad one; throw away women-prostitutes and addicts-who are ruthlessly killed, and no one in the sexist police force of 1974 seems to care.  I already have some ideas about the connection between these women and Will Trent, but one of the great things about Karin Slaughter is that she keeps you guessing, so I'll just have to wait and see if I was right.

The audiobook, by AudioGo, is very well done.  The narrator's voice is pleasant ans expressive, and she does both the male and female characters justice.  But then, you can discover that for yourself if you listen to this excerpt from Chapter One (warning:  the first chapter details the graphic story of one woman's slide into addiction and prostitution, and is not always easy to listen to)

Criminal-Chapter One, Part 3

If you like what you heard, and want to hear more of the first chapter, you can visit the other blogs on the tour, listed below.


Monday, July 9: Literate Housewife (http://literatehousewife.com/)
Tuesday, July 10: Teresa’s Reading Corner (http://teresasreadingcorner.com/)
Thursday, July 12: Book Addict Reviews (http://bookaddictreviews.blogspot.com/)
Friday, July 13: In Real Life (http://www.erin-faye.com/)
Monday, July 16: Geeky Blogger’s Book Blog (http://www.geekybloggersbookblog.com/)
Tuesday, July 17: You’ve GOTTA Read This! (http://sandynawrot.blogspot.com/)
Wednesday, July 18: Alison’s Book Marks (http://www.alisonsbookmarks.com/)
Thursday, July 19: Jen’s Book Thoughts (http://www.jensbookthoughts.com/)




Sunday, July 08, 2012

More Summer Popcorn: The Missing, Chris Mooney

My summer of popcorn books continues with another thriller, The Missing, by Chris Mooney.  The book begins with three friends-Darby, Stacey, and Melanie-high-school age girls, sneaking off into the woods to smoke and drink.  They had barely gotten their party on when they witness what they think is a murder.  They call the police, but when they show up both the man and the body are gone.  Several days later, Darby is at home alone when she hears noises downstairs.  Suddenly, a man with no face is chasing her through her house.  She escapes, but Melanie and Stacey are not so lucky.

Fast forward 15 years, and Darby is now a criminalist in Boston.  A young woman is kidnapped, and Darby is assigned to process the crime scene.  As she and the police investigate, with the help of the same FBI agent who worked Darby's own case, Darby begins to sense that there is some connection between the new case and hers.  But how is that possible, when the perpetrator of her attack was killed by police over a decade before?  As Darby is forced to revisit her own nightmare, she and her team race against time to find the missing girl.


I was completely sucked in by Mooney's writing in this book.  The narrative structure goes back and forth between Darby's perspective and the killer's, a man named Daniel Boyle.  This puts the reader in the position of knowing things that Darby doesn't, leading to more than a few moments when I wished I could somehow communicate with a fictional character and save her some trouble.  Mooney did a pretty good job writing as a psychopath-the chapters from Boyle's perspective were pretty chilling.  I did figure out one major twist, but there was another one that took me completely by surprise.  It would have been more satisfying had the twist actually contributed more to the story, but it didn't take away from it, so at least it was an unoffensive plot point.    All in all a quick, enjoyable read.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Lord John and the Private Matter, Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon is well-known for writing the Outlander series, a historical/fantasy/romance series about a Scottish nobleman and his time-traveling wife Claire.  Extensively researched, very detailed, the Outlander books are a fun, engaging romp through 18th century Scottish history.  Or at least, the first two are-those are the ones I've read.  At any rate, what the Outlander books are NOT are traditional mysteries.  But it turns out that Gabaldon has a knack for those as well, as she aptly demonstrates in the Lord John Grey series.

The first book in the series is Lord John and the Private Matter.  The main character is Lord John Grey, an important but not always present character in the Outlander books.  Goodreads has this summary of the plot:
The year is 1757. On a clear morning in mid-June, Lord John Grey emerges from London’s Beefsteak Club, his mind in turmoil. A nobleman and a high-ranking officer in His Majesty’s Army, Grey has just witnessed something shocking. But his efforts to avoid a scandal that might destroy his family are interrupted by something still more urgent: the Crown appoints him to investigate the brutal murder of a comrade in arms, who may have been a traitor.
Obliged to pursue two inquiries at once, Major Grey finds himself ensnared in a web of treachery and betrayal that touches every stratum of English society — and threatens all he holds dear. From the bawdy houses of London’s night-world to the stately drawing rooms of the nobility, and from the blood of a murdered corpse to the thundering seas ruled by the majestic fleet of the East India Company, Lord John pursues the elusive trails of a vanishing footman and a woman in green velvet, who may hold the key to everything — or nothing.
And lest you think that I am just feeling too lazy with my summer brain to actually write my own summary, I will tell you that I've spent the last 20 minutes composing and erasing prospective summaries-the plot is intricate and detailed, with many moving parts.  Gabaldon's Lord John reminds me of the William Monk books by Anne Perry, who also writes very well-researched historical mysteries.    But there is one major difference-Lord John Grey is gay.  Since the 18th century was not known for its acceptance of homosexuals, this adds tension to the whole story.  Gabaldon gives us a fascinating look at the gay culture of London in the mid-1700s, and weaves it seamlessly into the story so that it feels authentic rather than contrived.  Because Lord John is also a character from the Outlander series there are a few mentions of Jamie Fraser and Claire, but for the most part this is a stand-alone series that does not require that you read the very loooonnnnngggg Outlander books to enjoy.  In fact, if you enjoy Gabaldon's writing but think the Outlander books are too long, then this series is for you!

Sunday, July 01, 2012

24 Hours, Greg Iles-Southern Fried Popcorn

It is probably every parent's worst nightmare, despite the fact that it almost never happens-stranger abduction.  As much as popular media would like us to think that a child is being snatched off the street every few seconds by some slathering monster, the fact is that most child abductions are perpetrated by someone the child knows.  But the same media culture that seems to revel in sensationalizing the tragic stories of abducted children has created within our society a deep-seated fear of the other, the dark stranger, the playground stalker.  It is that fear that is highlighted in Greg Iles 2000 release, 24 Hours.

Will Jennings is a successful doctor, a well-respected anesthesiologist who has been asked to speak at the Mississippi doctor's association convention.  A small plane pilot, Jennings decides to fly down to the conference in his small engine plane.  When  his wife, Karen, arrives home from the airport with their daughter Abby, Joe Hickey is waiting for them.  Joe, his mentally retarded cousin Huey, and his stripper-turned-wife Cheryl have a plan-spirit Abby out of the house, take Karen hostage, and contact Will to set up a ransom exchange.  The plan is supposed to take 24 hours, and if everyone cooperates, Will and Karen will be reunited with Abby once the money is changes hands.  But what Joe Hickey didn't know was that Abby has juvenile diabetes, and needs insulin shots at regular intervals. And what Will and Karen don't know, but soon discover, is that Hickey has a very personal reason for choosing their family for his fifth and final kidnapping plot.

I've been a fan of Iles' work since I read True Evil, so I was happy to pick this one up at the library book sale.  24 Hours is an earlier book, and it is obvious that Iles has become more skilled with his craft since he wrote it in 2000.  It's a little slow getting started, but it eventually picks up and becomes as exciting and action-packed as his other books.  It even has an "Of Mice and Men" vibe going.  The relationship between Joe and Huey reminded me a bit of Lennie and George-if George had been an evil mastermind, that is.  All of the family member's characters are well-developed as well, even five year old Abby.  While the final resolution of the kidnapping is more like a scene from a Bruce Willis action movie than something that could possibly really happen, it definitely kept me riveted until the very last page.  A good summer read for mystery/thriller lovers like me.