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Teaser Tuesdays: Light Shining in the Forest by Paul Torday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

light shining in the forest

This is a remarkable novel I have here, from the author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. I don’t want to say too much about it now… but there is a library.

Now Karen is at the lay-by, waiting for the blue (bookmobile) van to come. She is worried that someone else will get there first, and take out the book before she can, so she has formed a queue of one.

Isn’t that charming? And maybe a little sad…

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: Wolf by Mo Hayder

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.


Mo Hayder is back with her 7th thriller starring Jack Caffery. They tend to be chilling. I am excited. It begins:

Amy is five years old and in all of those five years she’s never seen Mummy acting like this before. Mummy’s in front of her on the grass, standing in a weird way, as if she’s been frozen by one of those ice guns what the man in The Incredibles have got in his hand most of the time.

Amy’s Mummy is frightened. Don’t worry, Amy’s okay; she’s one of the lucky ones (at least so far). Stay tuned.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Never Go Back by Lee Child (audio)

never go backI believe I said earlier that this may be the sexiest Reacher novel yet. Possibly it’s just been a while since I read (or listened to) one, but I still think that may be true. He finds a beautiful woman in just about every book, and I appreciate that Lee Child always makes sure that the woman is intelligent, knows her own mind, and enjoys their relations as much as Reacher does; no bimbos or advantages taken. I’ll just say that this installment in Reacher’s saga is no exception, and leave it at that.

Never Go Back follows on the action of 61 Hours, in which Reacher talks on the phone with his successor, a Major Susan Turner, now the commanding officer with his old military police unit. He liked her voice; and now he’s gone looking for her. He travels by hitch-hike and bus to his former headquarters and approaches his old former office, but behind his old desk is not Major Turner but a man who tells Reacher that Turner took a bribe and is now under arrest. He then promptly recalls Reacher to his old command – back to being a major and serving in the army again! (This was a jaw-drop moment for me.) …and tells him about not one, but two cases being brought against him; thus the recall to service, so that the military can arrest him themselves.

This is how Reacher finds himself in a cell in the same unit as Turner; and if we know Reacher, we know he won’t stay there. He breaks them both out and they set out on the road to prove themselves both respectively innocent. There is a matter of a Los Angeles drug dealer with a 16-year-old head injury; a woman who claims to have known Reacher in Korea, around the same time; a bank account in the Caymans; and rogue military officers with access to every level of security. Reacher has to kick a bunch of butt, and Turner is equally awesome. I don’t know what to say about this book that is necessarily new. In fact, these books are absolutely formulaic – but if you like the formula, they remain pleasing. I like this formula. I don’t like romance novels, so I respectfully hand them over to the readers who like that formula; and we can all be happy. And I should point out that despite the formula (we know Reacher will get the girl; we know he’ll win the fight; we know Right will be restored), there is always suspense: we don’t know how the mystery resolves, necessarily. But we do know how it will end.

I did have some concerns. Reacher has always been interested in numbers and calculations, which is one of those intriguing character traits of his, but also contributes somewhat to his implausibly perfect persona. In this volume I think Child overshoots it considerably: there is a running game being played, both within Reacher’s head and out loud, involving 50/50 chances, coin tosses, equal probabilities one way or the other. But Child has the 50/50 concept badly mixed up with having two options. Just because there are two options – binary – does not mean the chances are equal both ways; I think very few of the 50/50 scenarios Reacher plays with in this book are actually equal probabilities.

But all in all, Never Go Back is more of the same, in the best possible way. I hope Child lives a long, long life and produces another 18 Reacher novels (at least); and I hope Dick Hill sticks around and keeps reading them, too. No other voice could ever be Reacher for me. And there is already another Reacher novel promised for this September!! I am content.

Final conclusion: if you like the Reacher model, you’ll be pleased with this installment.

Rating: 7 cars.

Teaser Tuesdays: Never Go Back by Lee Child

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

never go back

Call me crazy, but I think this might be the sexiest Reacher novel yet. It’s early days, of course; I’ve only just begun. I had a long car trip alone up to a mountain bike race at some of my most favorite trails in Texas, and chose to start this latest Reacher book (narrowly edging out Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, which I think is up next). I am not disappointed. For one thing, I was thrilled to learn early on that Reacher has been recalled – he’s back in the army! This can only mean excitement…

My teaser for today:

Reacher led the way. Sullivan went next. The tall guy brought up the rear. They walked in single file, through the dog-legs, left and then right, to the cell door, which was unlocked and unbolted, because Reacher wasn’t in it. Reacher pulled it open and held it for the others. The tall guy smiled and took the door from him and gestured: after you. He was dumb, but not brain damaged.

Stay tuned; I don’t think this will take me long.

did not finish: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (audio)

gone girlI couldn’t do it, friends. This is a very well-known and much-loved novel of the last few years, and the word on the street is DON’T READ ANYTHING ABOUT IT before you read it! So I will say very little. Repeat: this is a spoiler-free, very short review.

There is a mystery. I did not read far enough to solve it. I am not very bothered by this. The reason I put it down so easily was: I didn’t like the characters. Possibly this is part of the trickiness of the book somehow; this book is famously tricky (I believe there is something about an unreliable narrator? but there are two narrators? I don’t know). But for me, the big failure was that I didn’t like these people so I couldn’t care about them enough to keep reading (listening) through the fact that they annoyed me very much. That’s all.

My audio version read by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne was fine. They read the characters as obnoxious people, which seems to have been right on point, so I guess they did their jobs.

No rating; I only made it about 1/5 of the way through, so I’ll leave it at that.

book beginnings on Friday: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (audio)

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

gone girl

Please don’t shoot me. I am not in love with Gone Girl at its beginning. (Deep breaths.) This book has received SUCH enthusiasm – not least from a good friend of mine – as well as critical acclaim, that I worry at my hesitations. But I own them.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with.

Not much there; but let me say it was the second paragraph where I was first annoyed. So I called Liz and I said, Liz – how much time should I invest in this book that you loved and that I am thoroughly exasperated by? (This was 36 minutes in, via audiobook.) And she said, for stories with unreliable narrators I think you should hang in longer than average. Okay. I’m trying.

movie: Jack Reacher

To review: I love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels (no matter how far-fetched); like many “Reacher Creatures,” I was upset to learn that Tom Cruise would be playing him on the big screen. Where Reacher is something like 6’6″ and a looming giant and blonde, Cruise is short-ish and dark-haired. Plus I don’t really like Tom Cruise all that much. Husband is with me on all counts.

therefore this is a little insulting

therefore this is a little insulting

For these reasons we had made a point of not watching this movie up to now; Husband turned it down as the free movie on an airplane last year. But then came a quiet night at home when his channel-surfing was making my teeth grind, and it was free via some sort of movie-playing widget on the television (this is not my area of expertise), so what the hell.

Jack Reacher is based on the Reacher novel One Shot, set in Philly, in which an ex-army guy named Barr is accused in an apparent open-and-shut case: six shots were fired from a sniper rifle in a parking garage, and five civilians lay dead. Barr won’t speak to the police except to ask for Jack Reacher. Retired army cop Reacher is impossible to find, but lucky for the cops, shows up on his own to look into the case. Teamed up with Barr’s defense attorney – despite being rather convinced of Barr’s guilt himself – Reacher investigates, and finds (naturally) that things are more complex than they appear. In fact, there is a conspiracy, something Reacher’s fans will be familiar with. For that matter, Reacher’s fans will recognize all the elements: intrigue – problems with authority – fistfights and gunfights and ex-military camaraderie – explosive final scenes.

I had few and minor quibbles, and my reading of One Shot was so long ago that I didn’t fuss over digressions from the original plot. And despite a slight antipathy for Tom Cruise, Husband and I were both able to sort of …let that go and get into the movie. In other words, I had some hesitations but ended up enjoying this movie more than expected. Reacher’s pithy wit translated well to the screen, and the suspense and action were there and pretty solid – in spite of a totally ridiculous car chase (I mean REALLY ridiculous. besides which, in the books, Reacher is a self-acknowledged poor driver and rarely does it). I especially appreciated the moment when the Marine recognizes Reacher from his shooting skills, and that scene does come from the book.

Conclusion: I had concerns going in, but I confess I enjoyed this film. Cruise was tolerable; the humor, wit, action and suspense were all there; the plot is not to be argued with (says this Reacher fan). Touche, Tom Cruise.

Rating: 7 shots fired.

Snowblind by Christopher Golden

A full-throttle paranormal thriller starring a variety of complex, likable characters.


Coventry, Mass., was expecting a snowstorm, but nothing like the one that blows through the opening pages of Christopher Golden’s Snowblind. The novel begins with small-town residents managing their relationships, jobs and businesses, readying for the possibility of power outages and blocked roads. Just as readers are drawn into the lives of the diverse sympathetic characters, though, they’re ripped away from us–and something more terrifying (and more cognizant) than ice and wind is involved.

Fast forward a dozen years. The survivors of the first storm–men and women still mourning their loved ones–are faced with a disturbingly similar weather pattern headed their way. Coventry is still haunted by the unexplained deaths, and now the lost townspeople are coming back to try to warn the survivors of the returning danger. Families will have to pull together quickly to avoid a second tragedy.

A fast-paced, thoroughly engrossing supernatural thriller, Snowblind employs likable, multifaceted characters linked by their small-town connections and a tragic past. Golden’s writing is suspenseful and action-driven; it’s not ornate, but he still takes time to develop stories about characters’ relationships and backgrounds that will engage readers. The terror evoked is visceral and real and, along with a fairy-tale element and realistic backdrop, grips readers from the very first pages. Snowblind is a tale of trauma, individual responsibility and, ultimately, redemption.

This review originally ran in the January 28, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 6 snow plows.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (audio)

heart-shaped boxWell, NOS4A2 is a hard act to follow. Although of course, Joe Hill wrote that one second; I’m out of order.

Heart-Shaped Box is about an aging rock star. Judas Coin is mid-fifties when we meet him; he’s a little melancholy, a little rough around the edges, a little broody over his ex-wife and two dead bandmates. His collection of the obscurely macabre makes him an easy mark for an online auction offering a ghost for sale; but when he buys the dead man’s suit – which is supposed to come with the dead man’s spirit – he gets more than he paid for. The ghost turns out to be no stranger to Jude, but the step-father of an ex-girlfriend he called Florida. She was just one in a string of much younger women who he calls by the states they hail from; his current live-in is Georgia, and it turns out that by buying the ghost, Jude has gotten her into a pickle, as well.

Judas (real name Justin) and Georgia (real name Marybeth) will battle the dead man together, and in so doing, they’ll have to confront some metaphorical ghosts as well: her youthful traumas, his lifelong ones, and his dying father he hasn’t seen in 30 years. Jude’s two dogs, big beautiful German shepherds named Angus and Bon, play a role as well. They travel from a New York farm to the southern homes of Florida, Georgia – and Jude himself, who has been trying to outrun Louisiana all his life. It’s no coincidence, I think, that all his state-named conquests come from south of the Mason-Dixon line.

There are many strengths in this book, and I can’t help but think of them in terms of Hill’s outstanding second novel and the work of his larger-than-life father (ahem), for better or worse. Like King, Hill excels at creating believable worlds: Jude’s heavy metal rock stardom, the goth chicks he dates, and the world of the dead. As in NOS4A2, the creepiness of the supernatural, the other, is both deliciously excruciating, and entirely real – fully wrought, finely detailed, rooted in our true greatest fears, and with a sense of style. I really liked his characters, too: complex and ambiguous but ultimately people we want to root for.

I did have a few concerns here and there. I worried that Hill might struggle to keep up the tension. When I’d already had my heart raised by several repeated near-deaths and checked to see that I was about 1/3 of the way through, I wondered. But it turned out I should never have doubted! Because not long after that came the moment – I was walking home from the train and stopped in my tracks in an “oh shit” moment where he racheted things up and oh, good, we’re back in the world of the man who wrote NOS4A2. And in hindsight I like the time we spent prior to that moment, too; it was all necessary to build up the background that paid off in the end, so my bad, Mr. Hill. Hats off.

Later I had a few moments of doubt when Georgia and Florida began to be conflated… I wondered if it wasn’t a little misogynistic to have these two young women (who each have a lot of personality and personal history to build them out) begin to merge into one. It was a plot point, and not an accident born of Hill’s inherent prejudice, which helps some. I’m a little ambivalent on that point.

But really, that’s searching for criticisms. This supernatural, psychological thriller rattled my bones and kept me rapt; and I loved the cultural references (there’s Stephen King again) and strong sense of place(s), which is another of my favorite things in novels. I’ve left the plot purposefully pretty blank here because I want you to enjoy it for yourself: if you love being frightened by a truly well-put-together feat of storytelling with great characters, you’ll love Heart-Shaped Box. Um, you should be okay with blood, too.

Rating: 8 swings of the razor blade.

Maximum Shelf: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

Maximum Shelf is the weekly Shelf Awareness feature focusing on an upcoming title we love and believe will be a great handselling opportunity for booksellers everywhere. The features are written by our editors and reviewers and the publisher has helped support the issue.

This review was published by Shelf Awareness on January 15, 2014.

weight of blood

“That Cheri Stoddard was found at all was the thing that set people on edge, even more so than the condition of her body.” So opens Laura McHugh’s delightfully and darkly disturbing debut novel, The Weight of Blood. The town of Henbane is agitated because it is so good at keepings its secrets–and bodies are so easy to hide in the twisted, wooded Ozark Mountains.

The story begins with the first-person perspective of 18-year-old Lucy Dane. Lucy has it pretty good: she has a reliable best friend, a loving relationship with her father, and neighbors who make up an extended family of sorts. And she’s just begun working in her uncle’s store, where she gets to rub elbows with the sexy Daniel. But Lucy is troubled by the disappearance of her sort-of friend Cheri, a developmentally disabled schoolmate whose freshly dead body was only recently discovered–a year after she went missing. She’s also still troubled by the unexplained disappearance of her mother, Lila, who walked out of the house carrying a handgun and nothing else when Lucy was a year old.

The perspective then shifts to that of Lila herself as a young woman, newcomer to the Danes’ hometown of Henbane. Henbane is almost a character unto itself, insular, suspicious and largely unmarked by passing time. For a fee, residents can avoid a “city burial” (embalmment and the involvement of the authorities) in favor of a private grave-digging service. And the local lawyer will advise you not to trust local police until you find out who’s related to whom. It is anything but a friendly destination for a damaged teenager like Lila, who immediately runs up against the Dane brothers: the older Crete, who runs several businesses including a farm and a store, and his little brother, Carl, who becomes her husband before she turns 19. Superstitions have her labeled a witch before she’s unpacked her few belongings.

Through Lila’s eyes, the reader will find out slightly more about her background than Lucy knows, but Lila works hard to remain a mystery to both the reader and Henbane locals, including Carl. The perspectives continue to alternate. While Lucy keeps the reader up to date on current goings-on, it is through Lila that we begin to learn the ugly secrets that Henbane keeps. Other characters, too, get occasional chapters told from their point of view (in omniscient third person; only Lila and Lucy get first-person treatment), and one of the strengths of The Weight of Blood is that its engaging, complex, fully wrought characters extend beyond its protagonists. Lucy’s best friend, Bess, and Bess’s mother, Gabby (who was, in turn, best friend to Lila); Carl and Crete; the love interest, Daniel; a surrogate grandmother; and a local drug dealer all get sensitive handling and character development. But it is the measured building of tension and the careful doling out of hints of evil that star, as Lucy’s coming-of-age experience brings the classic bildungsroman to meet the gritty thriller.

While helping Daniel clean out an old trailer belonging to her uncle, Lucy discovers a clue: a lost item that she knows used to belong to Cheri, because Lucy gave it to her. Next, Bess overhears a reference that she shouldn’t have. With Daniel’s cautious support, Lucy begins to look into Cheri’s death, and the matter of where she spent that unaccounted-for year. But, of course, in a town this small, where everyone recognizes headlights and knows where a particular truck might be heading, investigations are dangerous. Like her mother before her, Lucy is told outright that it would be risky to go to the police for help. And as she probes the question of Cheri’s fate, and finds it apparently linked to her mother’s, Lucy will be disturbed at how close her inquiries lead her to home.

Carl and Crete, the Dane brothers, are heir not only to the off-the-books grave-digging business, the combined local grocery store and restaurant, and various secrets, but also to mental illness and corruption. As its title suggests, The Weight of Blood is concerned with the strength of our bonds to our family, and the tension between biological ties of blood and the families we choose for ourselves. In a remarkably convincing portrayal of young adulthood, Lucy allows McHugh to explore themes of loyalty: where it’s owed, and to what extremes.

The atmosphere McHugh evokes in this masterful debut is wonderfully spooky, exemplifying Southern noir with a backwoods mountain twist and a matter-of-fact willingness to bury its dead out back and walk away. Taut pacing, lively suspense and atmosphere are the strongest points of a novel that also has an engaging plot and beautifully built, sympathetic characters to its credit. For fans of dark, suspenseful, well-structured thrillers, The Weight of Blood is a delicious and nail-biting treat.

Rating: 7 baby possums.

Come back tomorrow for my interview with McHugh!


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