Lacy Eye by: Jessica Treadway
**** 4 out of 5 Stars
Review by: Mark Palm
If you want to see me bolt like a vampire from a wooden stake, call a novel “Psychological.” I lay the blame for this a a former Literature professor who had an unusual fondness for psychological analyses of books, along with a belief that the works of Henry James was the pinnacle of fiction. When you combine the two I spent the majority of the class either gnashing my teeth or trying to catch a nap in the back row of the classroom. At the base of my aversion is a dislike of viewing a work as “psychological” when it is not.
Then there is Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway, which is a psychological thriller, and an exceptional example of how effective such a book can be when the right touch is applied.
The story starts quickly when we discover the narrator, Hanna Schutt, is trying to put her life back together after suffering a brutal assault in her own home; an attack that killed her husband Joe, and left Hanna with serious injuries and a gap in her memory. The D.A. who prosecuted the case three years ago informs Hanna that the man convicted of the attack, Rudd Petty, will have the case appealed. The rub is that Rudd was the boyfriend of Hanna’s younger daughter, Dawn, who met the older Rudd while she was away at college. While many believe that Dawn was involved, Hanna does not, and even though she cannot remember the attack she is resolved to try, so she can testify and keep Dawn from being indicted.
As a child Dawn was withdrawn, socially awkward, and suffered from a “lazy eye.” Being a solitary child herself Hanna is very close to her daughter, and with her husband Joe they do their best to help Dawn as she is relentlessly teased and taunted by her classmates, and sometimes even by her older more popular sister, Iris. Still, they feel a bit uneasy about Dawn’s inability to mature and her willingness to ignore reality in her desire to fit in. Then, as her mother is trying to dredge up memories of the attack that shattered her life, Dawn, who has been gone since the trial come back to live with Hanna.
Unreliable narrators have become as ubiquitous in suspense novels as hunky Monster-boys in YA books, and for a few moments in the beginning I was thinking that I would be led down the same old road, but I was quickly proven wrong. Ms. Treadway’s use of Hanna’s loss of memory is solid and assured. The story continues with Hanna and Dawn living together as Hanna tries to regain her memory, all the while visiting her older daughter, Iris, now married with a child, who still believes that Dawn may have had a part in the attack. As the date of Rudd’s appeal grows closer the story artfully shifts from past to present, revealing more and more details as it goes. There are no car-chases or gun-fights or double agents, but with her nuanced language and carefully-crafted plot Ms. Treadway makes this low-key story a grueling exercise in suspense.
The Travelers by: Chris Pavone
**** 4 out of 5 Stars
Review by: Mark Palm
More than a few people, myself included, would love to travel around the world, if they came into a fortune or won the lottery. Being paid to do the same, with your employer picking up your expenses in exchange for writing a few hundred words about your adventures, always making sure to remember that you are selling an escapist fantasy. That is the world of The Travelers, a gripping new thriller by Chris Pavone.
Will Rhodes works for Traveler magazine, and his job is to travel the world, attend parties, eat and drink the best food and booze, and then write about it. If it sounds like it’s too good to be true, it is. Will’s wife Chloe, who used to do Will’s job for Traveler, is looking for a new career, their house needs endless renovations that they can’t afford, they are swimming in debt and worst of all, their marriage is on the rocks.
So it’s no real surprise that Will is tempted when he meets the beautiful Elle, another writer who works for the Australian branch of the same magazine. She seems very interested in Will, and when they run into each other in Argentina the romantic tension is too much for Will, and he succumbs to temptation. Immediately afterward, Elle tells Will that she taped the encounter, and will show it to Chloe and ruin his life unless he does what she says. She then informs him that she will pay him ten thousand dollars a month to become a spy for the CIA.
While this is going on we are also following the stories of Will’s editor, Malcolm, and his right hand-woman, Gabriella, who both seem a bit more mysterious than the average executives, and an un-named woman who is undertaking her first assassination. Even though it’s not even a quarter of the way into the novel Mr. Pavone has a lot of plates spinning, and then things really kick into high gear as the plot goes into overdrive. Will begins his training, learning tradecraft and self-defense while continuing his old job, now with serious consequences. As we bounce back and forth from character to character and from location to location the level of drama and the depths of the intrigue just continues to grow without ever becoming over the top.
2016 Top Pick: Every ANxious Wave by Mo Daviau
*****Five out of Five Stars
Review by: Mark Palm
A Dance to The Music of Time...
Most people, in their teen years find themselves in adoring relationships with one or more bands or musicians. They hang posters on their walls and the songs become backdrops to their lives. I remember the first time I heard the London Calling album by The Clash I was so exhilarated that I actually kicked and broke one of my family’s chairs. There was no way that I could have explained what had actually happened so I came up with some lame excuse. Often the musicians are famous, but I believe that the most passionate attachments are formed between fans and smaller, obscure bands. It’s easy to go to an arena and buy high-end merchandise, but it takes a certain kind of crazed love to experience a musical epiphany in a low-ceilinged rattle trap club with lousy sound and people bumping into you on a crowded dance floor. I have had my share of those moments and I can remember them clearly to this day, and that feeling, so memorable yet almost impossible to describe lies at the heart of Every Anxious Wave, an exhilarating novel by Mo Daviau.
Karl Bender is a thirtysomething owner of The Dictator’s Club, a down at the heels bar with an excellent jukebox, the exact kind of place he once played in when he was the guitarist for a band called The Axis. Kind of adrift, one day Karl discovers a time-traveling wormhole in his closet. Along with his dysfunctional computer-geek friend Wayne he starts a side business surreptitiously sending people back in time to listen to their favorite bands play live. Then Karl accidentally sends Wayne back to New York in 980 instead of 1980. Unable to bring Wayne back Karl searches for someone qualified to help, and finds Lena Geduldig, a brilliant but underappreciated Astrophysicist who happens to be a Rock Chick and a fan of Karl’s former band. After convincing her to help him the two become close, but while Karl falls in love, Lena, who has a tragic past and is fearful of commitment, begins to start travelling to the past to try and change the circumstances of her life, perhaps changing the present and the future, for her and Karl and all of the world.
I talk a lot in my reviews about keeping spoilers hidden, and in this book it is very important. Every Anxious Wave has a plot full of twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat, and I don’t want to deprive the reader of any of the curves that Ms. Daviau throws. I was paying attention the whole way, but there are some subtle touches that made me go back and re-read, which is a sign of some serious plotting skills.
**** 4 out of 5 Stars
Review by: Mark Palm
There are a thousand and one reasons for reading fiction, but I often think that one of the most common ones is the chance to put ourselves in someone else’s place, and to see how the world looks from there. What would it be like to be a hero, or a villain? How would life look if I were walking in another’s shoes? A lot of folks do it to escape, but it is equally interesting to put ourselves in a place that we would never ever want to be. Reading The Passenger by Lisa Lutz is a novel that does just that; it gives us a tale about a woman who is Any Woman, or Everywoman, and, rather than being a dream, it’s a nightmare. It’s fun to be another person by choice, but when the decision is forced upon you, it’s a curse.
The book starts with Tanya Dubois discovering that her older husband Frank has fallen down the stairs and died. Rather than calling an ambulance or the police she cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair and calls someone on the phone tells them she needs a new identity. For reasons that are slowly revealed throughout the book, Tanya doesn't want to deal with the Police. She flees to Texas where she meets and is befriended by a female bartender named Blue. Blue senses that Tanya-now Amelia is on the run, and asks her to move in with her. When two men try to abduct them Blue unveils a rather frightening set of skills that enable the two women to escape but binds them together as they have to cover up some very serious crimes. The two then separate after an ingenious identity swap and Tanya-now Debra travels to Wyoming to work as a teacher.
Meanwhile, about a quarter of the way into the novel Ms. Lutz introduces an epistolic narrative that consists of a series of emails between “Ryan” a love interest that Tanya left after some catastrophe, and “Jo”, which is apparently Tanya’s real name.
In Wyoming Debra begins to live a somewhat normal life until she befriends a man in a bar named Domenic, which sets off a whole new set of problems that ends with her leaving town and finding a new identity, Emma. (Jo spends an inordinate amount of time drinking in bars, but if I had her life I think I would too.)
Now The Passenger is a seriously twisty thriller, and Ms. Lutz does an excellent job of keeping us off balance, and I wish that I could go into more depth about the plot, but I refuse to drop spoilers, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you that this novel is relentless in it’s pace and the level of tension that Ms. Lutz generates made me sure that I never, ever want to have to life with an assumed identity.
Dog, Run, Moon Stories by: Callan Wink
***** Five out of Five Stars
Review by: Mark Palm
I guess that it’s inevitable; if you write a good, scary book you’re the “next” Stephen King; a wonderful fantasy and you’re the new Tolkien or the heir to Rowling. It’s meant as a compliment, and I bet that most writers surely wouldn’t mind sharing in the success of the authors to whom they are compared, but at times it must be trying, to create something fresh and new and be seen as the latest iteration of what has gone before. Still, when faced with a new writer I feel that even if you are placing a burden upon them, it’s really the only way to give readers some frame of reference so they can get an informed idea of what a certain work is like, rather than just gushing,”read this, it’s great!”
All of this leads me to Dog Run Moon: Stories, a collection of short stories by Callan Wink. I was a little more than halfway through this collection when I knew that I was reading the works of a writer who could stand shoulder to shoulder with folks like Annie Proulx and Thomas McGuane, and believe me, it’s a tough pair of writers to match up against, but this book is just that good. Since the stories are set in the American West, and take place beneath their unending skies, the analogy fits.
The opening eponymous tale is about Sid, a guy who either steals or liberates a chained dog and finds himself running, perhaps for his life, naked through the countryside at night. It’s funny, scary, surreal, and full of heart and grace. And it’s just the start. One More Last Stand is about a man who plays Custer in the annual re-enactment of The Battle of Little Bighorn, and has a passionate once-a-year affair with the Native woman who slays him on the battlefield. The odd relationship is poignant and heart-breaking with moments of humor. Runoff is a May-December romance between a young slacker studying to be EMT and an older woman who has been around the block, and the young man’s father, who is drawn into their lives. Sun Dance is about a builder whose solitary life is shattered by a tragic accident, and how a friend’s marriage to a Native American woman may help him to heal. Off The Track is startling tale of a teenager headed to a juvenile detention center, and the effect that it has upon him and his family. The last story, In Hindsight is a tour-de-force, a long story about a lone woman, Lauren, and her relationships with animals as well as people. It tracks her life with the depth and complexity of a novel, and bodes well for Mr. Wink’s abilities to write a novel.
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City of Light by: Keri Arthur
** 2 out of 5 stars
Review by: Stacy Palm
wanted to adore this book. Seriously, I went into it wanting to see the badass female soldier kicking some evil creatures back to where they belong, and at first I was really intrigued. The beginning involved a lot of wonderfully creative world building. The atmosphere was setup as a desolate post apocalyptic world where everyone is fighting for survival. The living environments for the various characters from the underground training center to the cramped outlaw cities were vivid and jumped off the page. Unfortunately, that is where the creativity ended for me because the characters did not hold up to their surroundings.
The idea of some of the characters (dechet, earth witch, etc..) seemed as though they should have captured my attention, but for me they never quite came alive. Our main character, Tiger or Tig for short, was simply too powerful, too swoony, and too flat; let me expand those thoughts without spoilers. Tiger is a dechet, a super powerful soldier created solely to destroy specifically engineered "rangers." If you can think of a skill a the deadliest soldier would relish, she most likely has it. Secondly, the swoon quality (or disquality.) How does our heroine badass target those engineered "rangers" she was created to destroy? She was genetically altered to be completely beside herself with irresistible lust when in the near vicinity of the deadly foe. Are you kidding me??? Seriously, you give us a setup for a great heroine and then make her a blushing schoolgirl even in the midst of battle! I was very disappointed by this needless to say. If it was her desire for the ranger that was meaning to provide depth to this character it backfired because I had no attachment to this character.
Very few of the characters actually had the feel that they were people with backgrounds, experiences, and emotions that made them whole. They were non-dimensional and did nothing to propel the story to the next level. Which is so unfortunate because I read the skill of creation in the world building. So I'm really not sure if this is something specific to me as a reader or if this is generally felt by many readers.
All I can do as a reviewer, is provide you with what I felt were the pros and cons of the books I read. I do know that not every book speaks to every reader, and this may very well be the case with this book. With the wealth of Urban Fantasy books available today there are many that will completely rock your world. This however, is not one of them in my opinion.