Tag Archives: suspense

The Local News by Miriam Gershow

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The Local News by Miriam Gershow

Gershow, Miriam. The Local News.  Spiegel & Grau, 2009. ISBN 978-0385527613 368 pp. 29.95

*****

Danny Pasternak epitomizes the phrase “dumb jock,” but he’s attractive and popular and when he disappears after a basketball practice one summer evening, the community is in an uproar. It takes months for the search parties to wane, the memorial on the high school’s wall to come down. Lydia, his smarter and less popular sister, whom Danny alternatively and indiscriminately bullied and extended small kindnesses towards, muddles through the aftermath as the family drifts apart without their lynchpin.

This is an extremely well executed book, with distinguished writing. The plot is perfectly woven, with the drama of what happened to Lydia’s missing brother (runaway? kidnapped? foul play?) pulling the reader through the story without being over the top sensational. The voice is pitch perfect as we see everything through the lens of Lydia, now ten years older. Her recollections of the high school social structure are crystal clear and wholly believable, and events have an in the moment feel, rather than a reminiscent feel. Allusions to 1995 are mostly political/history related, as opposed to pop culture; the universality of the themes made me feel this book could be set in any time period. Characterizations are deep. Action, dialogue and detail develop each individual, and all are fully realized on the page.

The age of the protagonist during the course of the book’s events and the coming of age rituals endured in the midst of this crisis (first kiss, first house party) are tangible make this a possible recommendation for mature teen readers. Plus, the hook is great: “My brother is missing, and by the way, I don’t like him all that much.”

No Such Creature by Giles Blunt

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No Such Creature by Giles Blunt

Blunt, Giles. No Such Creature. Henry Holt, 2009. ISBN 978-0805080629 pp. $

***

Owen, orphaned at age 10 after his parents are killed in a car accident, was taken under the wing of his great uncle, who taught him everything he knows and introduced him to theatrical life of posing at the dinner parties of the elite to rob them of their cash and jewels. Now 18, Owen wants to quit their life of crime and pursuing acting at Juilliard, where he has been offered a partial scholarship, but he worries about leaving uncle Max alone, especially given his recent bouts of senility… and now, it turns out, the Subtractors (a band of thieves who steal from thieves by removing body parts until they get the information and goods they seek) may be after the gentleman thief duo.

The action is fast paced, the writing descriptive, and the premise, intriguing; Owen is a compelling character, in part due to Blunt’s skillful flashback. Point of view changes within each chapter, making the story occasionally difficult to follow. I had to put the book down at page 54 when a supporting villain had sex with a drug-addicted minor. A quick skim to the end revealed a plot point that I’d figured out on page 48.

This may be a fun and exciting read for James Bond or Ocean’s Eleven fans.

Totally Killer by Greg Olear

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Totally Killer by Greg Olear

Olear, Greg. Totally Killer. William Morrow, 2009. ISBN 978-0061735295 pp. $

*****

This tale of a downtrodden Gen Xer on a fruitless job search during the 90’s recession who owes her headhunting service a whole new kind of favor is delightful, well-paced, snortingly funny, and wonderfully satiric, and firmly entrenched in the year 1991, sure to appeal to others of my generation.

Although the sexy protagonist is 23, the story is told by her former roommate, and in the present, and this lens gives a more reflective feel to the book.

One reviewer called it “American Psycho meets I Love the ’90s” and this is the more accurate description than anything I could write 🙂 Tons of allusions, definitely a fun read.

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

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Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

Picoult, Jodi. Handle with Care. Atria, 2009. ISBN ‎ 978-0743296410 496 pp. $27.95

****

Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe’s daughter Willow is born with Oesteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), a rare degenerative bone disease that makes her bones brittle. By age 6, Willow has suffered over 60 fractures. On a family vacation to Disney World, before they even get to the parks, Willow slips on a napkin and is rushed to a local ER, where the staff don’t believe she has IO. The parents are taken into police custody and Amelia, Charlotte’s teenage daughter from a previous relationship, is too flustered to properly explain how her younger sister fell.

The situation is quickly clearly up with a call from Willow’s doctor, but policeman Sean wants someone to pay. The lawyer the family visits says they don’t have case, but suggests a wrongful birth suit–implying that if Charlotte had known that her baby would not be healthy and would require daily care and financially exhaustive medical costs, she would have opted to abort the fetus. A twist: Piper, the midwife who missed the OI diagnose happens to be Charlotte’s best friend; Sean doesn’t agree they should litigate. Marin, the lawyer who takes the case, is adopted and seeking her birth mother, and brings another dimension to the “keep or give up your unwanted child” debate that is central to the novel.

Picoult is a masterful storyteller. The story is told from multiple viewpoints, represented by varying typefaces: Charlotte, Sean, Amelia, and Marin all get their say, speaking as if they are relaying the events of the suit to Willow. The narrative is interspersed with recipes; Charlotte’s former career (before becoming Willow’s full-time caretaker) was a pastry chef, and she explains a variety of baking terms (tempering, proofing, weeping) that are metaphors for the action taking place within the story. Her handle on courtroom procedures and deftness with medical explanations adds authenticity to the story. The issues are meaty, the pacing is perfect; the action is suspenseful.

This was a compelling, richly layered unputdownable read. The gift of the magi styled ending evoked a strong evisceral reaction, but that’s typical of me & Picoult: I get to the last 10 pages and want to hurl the book across the room, even as I admire the author for not ending her novels in a predictable, or even fair, way.

Peter and Max by Bill Willingham

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Peter and Max by Bill Willingham

Willingham, Bill. Peter and Max. Vertigo, 2009. ISBN 978-1401215736 400 pp. $22.99

***

Ordinarily, I love fractured fairy tales, and this inventive retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamelin set in an established fairy tale world on the edge of our own is intriguing in concept but fell flat in execution for me. The tale provides the backstory of the Piper family, juxtaposed with a modern day sibling rivalry.

First, a disclaimer: I haven’t read Fables, so my first impression was, what a silly, obvious name. It didn’t feel terribly inventive (Cinderella owns a shoe shop? really?). I DID like the clever allusions to other folk tales. Chapter epithets like in which Peter puts his wife “in a pumpkin” tickled my fancy. The writing was nothing notable and I disliked the art work, although the cover was engaging. Why wasn’t this simply a graphic novel?

The Lost Day by Judith Clark

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The Lost Day by Judith Clark

Clarke, Judith. The Lost Day. Henry Holt & Co, 1999. ISBN 978-0805061529 154 pp. $16.95

***

Little about this book is appealing, from the title to the cover art to the typeface. The plot (a group of friend with complicated relationships go to Melbourne for a Saturday night out on the town) is the vehicle for Vinny to become separated from the group. They worry a bit, panic by Sunday and are hysterical when he arrives home on Monday. The twist? Vinny thinks it is still Sunday.

The novel is split; the first half is a series of vignettes. Each friend recalls some past incident or ponders his or her current life situation as s/he looks for Vinny. The second half is Vinny’s version of his disappearance. The reader can infer that he was drugged, kidnapped, and possibly abused, but the truth is muddled. An unsatisfying and confusing read. For a book on a similar topic, try When Jeff Comes Home by Catherine Atkins.

Overboard by Elizabeth Fama

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Overboard by Elizabeth Fama

Fama, Elizabeth. Overboard. Laurel Leaf, 2005. ISBN 978-0553494365 158 pp. $

****

I haven’t been able to focus much on my books lately. Maybe it’s because it is the summer, maybe I’m just distracted, I don’t know. But, I finally found a good one and finished it between last night and this afternoon. Elizabeth Fama’s Overboard is about Emily Slake. Her parents are both doctors who travel the world. Emily is 14 and has spent more time in foreign hospitals in her life than anywhere else. Her parents are often so distracted and absorbed in their work that they don’t pay too much attention to their daughter. The Slake’s are stationed in Indonesia as the story begins and Emily is really feeling neglected by her parents.

When a young girl at the hospital dies, Emily feel responsible and decides to run away. Without telling anyone, she jumps on a ferry headed to another island where her Uncle is stopping by. After hours at the dock, the ferry finally departs. An hour later, the ferry tilts to a really odd angle and then begins to sink. The passengers panic, life jackets are thrown about and before Emily knows it, she is tossed into a storage bin and locked in. As the water level in the bin rises she kicks and kicks at the door, trying to escape and barely able to breathe. That is only the first of the dangers she encounters in this suspense novel.

I also just read Morality for Beautiful Girls, the third novel in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. I love these books!