Thursday, February 11, 2016

Northwoods

Northwoods by Bill Schweigart
Random House: 2/16/16
eBook review copy; 277 pages
ISBN-13: 9780804181372
http://billschweigart.com/

Northwoods by Bill Schweigart is a highly recommended monster novel with an X-Files vibe set in Northern Minnesota. This is another great novel to read under a blanket with a warm beverage nearby. Northwoods is the second novel in a series that started with The Beast of Barcroft, but you can read it as a stand-alone novel. I predict that you will want to get The Beast of Barcroft. I know I immediately bought the first book for my Kindle.

It's October and as winter approaches Davis Holland, ex-Delta Force who now works for the Customs and Border Protection, is investigating an illegal border crossing with his friend Gil Ramsey, the local sheriff of Barnabus, Minnesota. Located by the western edge of the Superior National Forest and south of Crane Lake and the Canadian Border, Barnabus is a very small town surrounded by rugged wilderness.  What Davis and Gil discover in the woods is beyond belief. There is a strange chest surrounded by the bloody bodies of seven men that have been torn apart. But there is also strange laughter coming from the woods. As Davis and Gil head back to their vehicle with the chest, they are nearly attacked by something... but what remains unclear.

When wealthy cryptozoologist Richard Severance learns about the incident, he sends Ben McKelvie (who is still looking for the New Jersey Devil with his Maine Coon cat, Gus), Lindsay Clark (a National Zoologist and Ben's best friend), and Alex Standingcloud (George Mason University’s professor of Native American Indigenous Studies and Ojibwe) to Minnesota to investigate. Ben, Lindsay, and Alex have a history together. They were in on another investigation and almost killed by a shapeshifter, a mythical creature from Native American folklore (The Beast of Barcroft). That experience wounded and changed all of them, but also opened them up to believe that cryptids are out there.

Severance sends his team to the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin to investigate the Monster of Madeline Island. The Natives call it Mishipeshu, which means underwater panther. There also appears to be another problem - a wendigo problem. A windigo is another manitou, a spiritual being like the Mishipeshu, but unlike Mishipeshu, which is neither good nor evil, a wendigo is decidedly malevolent.

The action eventually joins the two locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin together to tackle the problem that is much bigger, widespread, and bloody than they could have imagined. Be forewarned that there are some gruesome, graphic descriptions of violent attacks, as one would expect in an encounter with mythical monsters.

Schweigart does an excellent job moving the action along quickly while providing the reader with the important information and background needed to follow the action. There are some great descriptions, numerous nail-biting scenes, and plenty of suspense and horror. Clearly Schweigart is establishing a new series here and it looks like it's going to be a winner.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House/Hydra for review purposes.



Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Girl in the Dark

Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw
HarperCollins: 2/16/16
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062424792

Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw is a very highly recommended thriller/mystery told through the distinct voices of two different characters. This is Pauw's American debut novel.

The first character we meet is Ray Boelens. Ray was convicted and imprisoned for killing his neighbor Rosita Angeli and her four-year-old daughter, Anna. He's now being moved to a forensic psychiatric institute. It is clear that Ray is on the Autism spectrum and has a difficult time with emotions and reading the motives of others.

Iris Kaselstein struggles with her job as a lawyer and being a single mother to three-year-old Aaron. Aaron has some behavioral issues and Iris is doing the best she can to care for him while still working. Luckily her law firm allows her to work part time. It is challenging when a call from Aaron's daycare necessitates halting an interview with a client. The client's family has long-time ties with the firm, so even though he is a sleaze-bag facing charges for using an underage teenager in a porn film Iris still has to represent him. She tries to call her mother to pick up Aaron, but Iris's mother is a cold and distant self-centered woman who will rarely disrupt her plans for others.

When Iris inadvertently uncovers information that leads to her discovery that Ray is her brother, she sets out to gather information on him and meet with him. Ray is insistent that he is innocent and did not kill anyone. Iris decides to investigate his case, hoping it will lead to an appeal.

In the meantime her mother, who never said a thing to Iris about an older brother, is now trying to discourage Iris's involvement with Ray. She insists that Iris does not know Ray and what he is capable of doing. Unable to handle his outbursts, she put him in a home for troubled boys at age nine. Although she apparently used to sneak off and visit Ray for years, she stopped years previously. She resolutely refuses to discuss anything about Ray with Iris.

None of this deters Iris who doggedly continues her investigation into Ray's crime, as well as why her mother would hide his existence from her and apparently from her deceased father.

Ray is having his own struggles as her tries to cope being in the criminal psychiatric unit. He didn't know he had a sister, but Iris continues to visit him and work on his case.

I really enjoyed the alternating points of view as each character shared their stories and their thoughts. I thought Pauw did an excellent job pulling this off while keeping the voices true to the characters. The characters are well developed and believable.

Girl in the Dark is fast-paced and compulsively readable. It kept my rapt attention from beginning to end. I was a girl in the dark about what had really happened until almost the end. I had an "Ah-ha!" moment very close to the end and raced to finish the novel ASAP to see if I was right. Hopefully we'll be reading more of Pauw's work in the future. Wonderful stuck-over-night-at-the-airport book!


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
HarperCollins for review purposes.

Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbø
Knopf Doubleday: 2/16/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385354202

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbø is a very highly recommended novel about a man on the run in this second book in the new series that started with Blood on Snow.

Jon Hansen is on the run from the Fisherman, a powerful crime boss in Oslo. When Jon takes a bus and gets off at Kåsund, located on Norway’s far northeastern border in the Arctic Circle, he tells everyone his name is Ulf and he's there for hunting. After spending the first night in the village church, he learns about a hunter's cottage from Lea, the woman who came to clean the church. She loans him her husband's rifle and with the help of her son Knut, a talkative nine-year-old, he finds it and sets up camp.

The locals clearly know he's on the run from someone and is not there for the hunting. The area is isolated and dominated by the Laestadians, a strict Christian sect that Lea and Knut follow, and the Sami culture.

After falling into working for The Fisherman as a fixer, Jon's true nature is revealed when he fails to kill the man he was told to fix and accepts from him the money the man owed the Fisherman. Jon is an anti-hero. He needs money to help pay for the cancer treatment for his daughter. He's a small-time drug dealer who has never killed anyone, although the Fisherman believes he has.  Now he has Johnny Moe, a ruthless fixer for the Fisherman who has no compunctions about killing anyone, after him.

Jon finds himself becoming increasingly concerned about what might happen to the people who are helping him and befriending him in this new, environment - the land of the midnight sun. He wants redemption, but isn't sure if it is at all possible for him to atone for his actions. He knows that with the Fisherman there is no way to disassociate himself and withdraw from any involvement except through his death.

Nesbø excels at character development and this continues to provide the dark Scandinavian noir that you would expect from him. Although it is still grim, this novel is less dark and violent than previous novels. The novel is set in the 1970's, which simplifies the plot when you subtract our hyper-connected society with computers and cell phones. Nesbø keeps the tension high with this short (for him) novel. As you are reading you will keep expecting something bad to happen on the next page, because, naturally, you know something will happen.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Knopf Doubleday for review purposes.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Find Her

Find Her by Lisa Gardner
Penguin Publishing Group: 2/9/16
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525954576
Detective D. D. Warren Series #8

http://lisagardner.com/
 
Find Her by Lisa Gardner is a very highly recommended thriller/mystery that should keep you biting your nails while on the edge of your seat.
 
Seven years ago college student Flora (Florence) Dane was kidnapped while on spring break in Florida. For 472 days she was held captive by Jacob Ness, a sadistic rapist and sexual predator. Many of those days were spent locked up in a wooden coffin-like box. While many thought she was dead, her mother never gave up hope, although, in reality, the old Flora did die. The woman who returned after the FBI rescued her was not the same woman who was kidnapped.


The returned Flora has taken self-defense classes and is obsessed with survival techniques so she will never become a victim again. When she engages in some risky behavior and is kidnapped by a new predator, Devon Goulding, he has no idea who he is dealing with. The police are called in when Devon ends up dead. Flora is found at the scene, naked, her hands tied, and not talking except when she demands to call FBI victim specialist, Dr. Samuel Keynes. He helped her after her first abduction and he comes to her aid again as he attempts to explain her situation to the police.

The investigation is led by Boston detective D. D. Warren, who is on restricted duty. Warren can't help but visit the scene and take an active role in the investigation. Once she learns of Flora's past, question arise about Flora's current situation. Is she looking for trouble or is she looking for something else? And why is Keynes still so involved with Flora?

Then Flora ends up missing and Warren fears her disappearance may be tied into another missing girl. Stacey Summers disappeared three months earlier and Flora has taken a keen interest in the case. Warren works with Keynes and Flora's mother to try and understand what happened to Flora and if it is related to the other missing girl.

Keep the subject matter in mind when considering this gritty novel. This is a dark, frightening novel due to the subject matter and the insights into the psychology of sadistic sexual predators and capture-bonding or the Stockholm Syndrome. Gardner also explores the psychology of victims and survivors of violent crime. Flora is both a victim and a survivor. She is also may be irreparably damaged from her 472 days of captivity and what she endured during that time.

The novel alternates between the present day investigation, Flora's current situation, and the events that occurred earlier when Flora was held by Jacob Ness. Flora is a great protagonist and you will be hoping she can survive and perhaps find a modicum of peace and reach a resolution to help her live in the present after everything she has endured.

Great writing, increasing tension, and a fast pace make this a perfect stuck-over-night-at-the-airport book. This is a stand-alone novel so it won't matter if you haven't read a D.D. Warren book in Gardner's series.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Penguin Publishing Group for review purposes.

The Bigness of the World

The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund
Scribner reissue: 2/16/16
eBook review copy: 232 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501117879
loriostlund.com/
originally published in 2009


The Bigness of the World by Lori Ostlund is a highly recommended award winning collection of eleven short stories originally published in 2009. This review copy is for the eBook and the paperback release. As a debut collection, The Bigness of the World, received the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the California Book Award for First Fiction, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award. It was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, was a Lambda finalist, and was named a Notable Book by The Short Story Prize.

Contents include: The Bigness of the World; Bed Death; Talking Fowl with My Father; The Day You Were Born; Nobody Walks to the Mennonites; Upon Completion of Baldness; And Down We Went; Idyllic Little Bali; Dr. Daneau’s Punishment; The Children Beneath the Seat; All Boy; an Excerpt from 'After the Parade.'


Common themes presented are emotional isolation and reserve, separation, complex and deteriorating relationships, disappointments, the loss of love, and the pain of loss. Many of the damaged relationships depicted are either between two women or children and parents. In many stories the women involved are teaching in foreign countries. There is a similarity in the characters and the circumstances in several of the stories which can feel repetitive.

All of the stories are exquisitely well written but, honestly, all of the stories are also profoundly sad, or at least they left me feeling sad and reflecting on the loss and isolation that is present in these fragile lives. It might behoove the reader to take these little gems one at a time, and take a break between reading them. An excellent collection, but the emotional heaviness it leaves you with begs considering refraining from reading them all at once. This would also help with the feeling that several stories are very similar to each other and simply repeating the same theme in a slightly different way.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of
Scribner for review purposes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Breaking Wild


Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets
Penguin Publishing Group: 2/9/16
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780425283783


Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets is a highly recommended novel of survival and suspense featuring two different women. 

Amy Raye Latour has left her husband with the two children at home while she is on a hunting weekend with two male friends in western Colorado. The guys have gotten their elk, but Amy Raye is a bow hunter and she is still going out one last time on her own, hoping to get an elk to come near enough for her to shoot and bag. What she doesn't realize is how tenuous her situation really is and the importance of her choices - now and in her past.

Pru Hathaway is a archaeological law enforcement ranger with the Bureau of Land Management. She has a teenage son she is raising herself. She also has the only certified search and rescue dog in the county, Kona. When Colm, the county sheriff, tells her of a missing hunter, Amy Raye, Pru and Kona join the search. As the days turn into weeks and the official search is over, Pru alone keeps thinking about Amy Raye and continues the search.

The chapters of this mesmerizing book alternate between the lives of Amy Raye and Pru. We learn what is currently going on and what has happened in the past; what has made them the strong women they are today. Both women have had sorrow and loss in their lives, but they chose to handle it differently. Amy Raye was hiding plenty of secrets and is a seriously flawed character. What they have in common is a love for the healing nature of nature, whether it is the land, or animals. 

The writing is incredible and brings to life the characters and establishes the setting. It is nice the see strong, albeit flawed, women living, striving, enduring, and surviving on their own terms in what could be termed a man's world. Amy Raye's situation is life threatening and Pru is a strong, determined, capable woman. 

The ending was... rather anti-climactic after all the drama preceding it. Actually, I would have liked to learn more about Pru's life afterward. I quite liked her character, which is in strong contrast to how I felt about Amy Raye. While she has some qualities that could be appreciated, her back story turned me off and I was growing tired of reading about her poor choices. I really enjoyed Les Becuets' writing and hope to read more from her in the future.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group for review purposes.

The Flood Girls

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield
Gallery Books: 2/2/16
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781476797380

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield is a highly recommended novel about strong women and one young gay boy in small town Montana.

Rachel Flood fled Quinn, Montana (population 956), nine years earlier. Now she is sober, and looking to make amends and atone for her drunk, promiscuous, out-of-control behavior that alienated most citizens of this small town. Rachel's father has died and left her his dilapidated trailer, so she is ignoring the advice of her Alcoholic Anonymous sponsor and is moving back to Quinn and into his trailer. The one person who she is really desperate to mend her relationship with is her mother, Laverna Flood, owner of a bar named The Dirty Shame and coach of a women's softball team.

Once Rachel moves in she meets her neighbor and becomes friends with 12 year old Jake. Jake loves wearing the right, perfectly stylish and well-coordinated outfit for every occasion. Jake was also her father's friend. Her father even built a shed to house Jake's wardrobe. It seems natural that Rachel and Jake would understand each other and strike up a friendship. Rachel used to be best friends with Jake's mom, Krystal, but she's taken up with her live-in loser boyfriend Bert, and the new baby.

As fate would have it, Laverna is incapacitated and Rachel ends up taking a day shift at The Dirty Shame to help her mother. Even worse than that, she is recruited to play on the Flood Girls team despite the fact that she doesn't play ball. The Flood Girls is the name of the team coached by Laverna.

The town of Quinn is populated by a quirky group of citizens known by their nicknames (Black Mabel, Red Mabel, Martha Man Hands, Bucky, Jim number 3) or their family's last name. At night roving gangs of drunken, pugnacious lesbian silver miners drink hard and cause trouble at The Dirty Shame. Drinking seems to be the main recreation - that is until soft ball season starts.

This is a funny, well written, entertaining look at an odd small town and its inhabitants. Fifield brings the development of his larger-than-life characters to fruition and as he covers basically a year in this small town.

I'm torn on rating this book. While reading I was actually becoming a bit disturbed by the overt stereotypes used to describe the diverse cast of characters, The lesbian miners are all big, tough  women, wear flannel, drink excessively, and fight. Jake is gay so he loves clothes, ironing, sewing, and fashion. The church people are all described as if they are from some plain-sect. The church women all dress alike in modest home-sown blouses made from the same pattern, wear denim skirts, and no make-up, naturally. The men in short sleeve button down shirts with ties.

Setting the stereotypes aside, I did find The Flood Girls enjoyable. The ending is shocking and memorable. In some ways it feels out of place in this novel that was more wacky-small-town-life rather than the dark side. I'm going with 4 stars because of the blatant stereotypes, but I have a feeling I will be remembering this book for the ending.


Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Gallery Books for review purposes.