Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Intruders by Michael Marshall

Jack Whalen retired from the LAPD after writing a book, and now spends his time smoking and staring out the window at his rural Washington property in a vain attempt to write another. Meanwhile, his advertising executive wife, Amy, flies back and forth to Seattle and California, busy with her career and content to support his creative efforts. At least, that’s what Jack thinks is going on—until Amy loses her cell phone in a taxicab and the cabdriver uses the contact list to call “Home.”

To notify her about the phone, Jack tries to reach Amy at her hotel, but learns she never checked in.  Then he tries to reach her through her boss, who knows nothing of her supposed business trip.  Jack and Amy have a good marriage, a close marriage, and she wouldn’t go incommunicado without reason. Confused and frightened, Jack rushes to Seattle. But when he retrieves the cell phone from the cabdriver, its memory holds pictures of a man he doesn’t recognize, and music he knows his wife hates. Amy is gone, something is terribly wrong, and the police won’t listen.

The Intruders is a supernatural thriller with some action and a lot of creepy suspense. If, like me, you’re not crazy about gore, skim over the prologue: the rest of the book is much lower on the gross stuff, much higher on psychological chills. It’s a fun, light read with a paranormal evil that hasn’t already been done to death.

There are several Michael Marshall thrillers in the Oceanbooks catalog. He also writes award winning horror and science fiction under the name Michael Marshall Smith.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bring on the comfort reads

It’s November, and the chilly breeze carries the sounds of the season - sniffling and coughing. You’re drinking your juice, making sure you get your yearly flu shot, and washing your hands after you touch, well, anything. And you’re probably going to get sick at some point this winter anyway.

For me, getting ill means undemanding reading. The award-winning novel, the controversial history, the troubling memoir - I put those aside for later. Sick time is the time for Agatha Christie.

During my last bout of the crud, I read Peril at End House, a rather excellent Hercule Poirot mystery. I devoured the whole thing in one bedridden day, and then got to thinking - just why is Agatha Christie such good comfort-reading?

It certainly isn’t the characters. Peril at End House is about a young woman named Nick who is the target of someone’s murderous wrath, and once you meet her you can understand why. When Poirot explains to her that someone is trying to kill her, Nick says brightly, “I think the whole thing is perfectly marvelous. Too, too thrilling.”

Whatever. Poirot himself is not much better - there’s a reason no one cares about him the way they care about, for instance, Sherlock Holmes: he’s one-dimensional and annoying.

But Peril at End House is a splendid puzzle: it exercises the brain without engaging the emotions. Who tampered with the brakes of Nick’s car? Why was Nick’s cousin wearing her red shawl? Why did the servant behave so strangely the night of the fireworks, and why was Nick sent two identical boxes of chocolates?

Even though (or maybe even because) I don’t care about the characters, I found getting to the bottom of the whole business very satisfying.

The Newport Library has a great selection of golden age mysteries: for your sick days, I recommend Dorothy L. Sayers and Rex Stout as well as Agatha Christie.

What’s your favorite comfort read?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Say you're sorry by Michael Robotham

Say you’re sorry is the latest book in Michael Robotham’s series featuring psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin.

Three years ago, two teenage girls disappeared, and their community drew together, forming search parties and supporting the bereft parents. But when it came to light that missing teens Piper Hadley and Tash McBain weren’t the innocent, straight-A students everyone thought, the focus shifted, and the girls were categorized as probable runaways. The families were regarded with pity and suspicion instead of sympathy, and the case became colder and colder.

 Now, a husband and wife are murdered at the farmhouse where Tash used to live. Her parents moved after she disappeared, and the fact that she once lived there seems to be a coincidence, a detail hardly worth mentioning in the case file. The case against the couple’s mentally ill caretaker seems to be airtight, to everyone except his mother and Joe McLoughlin, the psychologist called in to assess him.

 But if the caretaker didn’t kill them, why were they killed? McLoughlin believes it may have something to do with Tash’s disappearance three years ago. If he’s right, the girls definitely didn’t run away—and they may still be alive.

The story is told alternately by Joe and by entries in Piper Hadley’s secret journal. It works as a stand-alone novel, but there are some family plotlines that build from book to book, so you may prefer to start with the first one, Suspect. Robotham’s characters are reliably well drawn and sympathetic, and his plots genuinely suspenseful.

  1.  Suspect
  2.  Lost
  3.  Shatter
  4.  Bleed for me
  5.  Say you’re sorry

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Teens-- Enter to Win a Free Book!

18 or under? Read any YA books lately? Take a couple of minutes to fill out a book review form in the Young Adult section, and we’ll put you in a drawing to win a new YA hardcover, like the new Patterson, Stiefvater, or Rennison.  Book reviews don’t have to be formal, just a few lines about what you liked, what you didn’t like, and if you would recommend the books to others.  We’ll post your reviews in the YA section so you can check out what others recommend, or don’t.   Drawing will be December 1st.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Above us only sky

Arcadia started out as a horde of hippies following a traveling jam-band from gig to gig. Led in part by the intellectual idealists Abe and Hannah Stone, these groupies settled in 1968 at an abandoned mansion in western New York, with the idea of forming a perfect Utopian society: communist, vegan, totally free of such societal ills as sexual jealousy and materialism. Bit, Abe and Hannah’s son, was born in Arcadia. He is incapable of imagining any other life.

Lauren Goff’s beautiful novel Arcadia examines the rise, collapse, and disintegration of the Arcadia commune from the point of view of Bit - Arcadia’s most vulnerable member.

We see Bit when he is five, when the commune is still new, freshly optimistic, and already beset by poverty, hunger, and a chronic inability to support itself. Bit watches as his mother, Hannah, struggles with debilitating depression. The commune’s freaky free spirits cannot see Hannah’s problem clearly enough to help her; only tiny Bit knows that she is suffering. He concludes that it is his job to cure her.

Later, when Bit is a young teen, he again assumes responsibility - this time to protect and nurture the illegal activities that his parents have secretly adopted to survive within the commune. Arcadia has grown impossibly huge, nine hundred of society’s dropouts crowded into one place, rent apart by chaos, drugs, and factional infighting. It cannot possibly last.

 The novel’s last section takes place after Arcadia is gone, all its children scattered into the world. Bit, now a father himself, is a relative success; we see that many of his peers are less able to cope.

Arcadia is an extraordinary novel, lovely and sad and completely unforgettable. The story of the idealistic society torn apart by its own contradictions is perfectly paired with the story of Bit Stone, the big-hearted child, grown into an adult bewildered by the hardness of the world.

 This tiny summary hardly does justice to Groff’s rich and haunting novel. I have rarely been so moved by a book; I could not recommend Arcadia more highly.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rory and the Whitechapel Killer

Louisiana native Rory Deveaux is excited to have the opportunity to spend her senior year in a London boarding school. The classes are tough, the kids are competitive, and she has to play field hockey - but it's London. Rory’s not even bothered by the fact that a crazy Jack the Ripper copycat has murdered someone near the school. Well, not at first.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson starts out as a funny fish-out-of-water high school story. It gradually morphs into a very suspenseful supernatural thriller with a truly nail-biting climax that had me awake at midnight, reading instead of getting my beauty rest.

Rory settles in to life at Wexford Academy. She adjusts to her new schedule, befriends her new roommate, and wows her new peers with tales of her weird southern family.

But then another murder happens, this time on the school campus. It’s shocking and brutal, and Rory sees something that no one else saw. Worse, the murderer saw her, too. Now he seems to be seeking her out, and Rory isn’t sure if she can trust the strange trio of policemen who say they want to protect her. They are obviously not telling her everything.

The Name of the Star is the first in a series called The Shades of London, and it’s a witty, fast-paced, and exciting read. It has a charming heroine and an incredible cliffhanger ending. I’m craving the sequel.