Thursday, May 22, 2014

Robert B. Parker's Cheap Shot - Ace Atkins

This is going to be one of those short and sweet reviews. Ace Atkins' Robert B. Parker novels are just a pure-tee treat, and this 42nd in the series (Atkins' third) was just perfect for a week filled with book signings at the store, and a sudden, mostly inexplicable but very welcome cleaning frenzy.

I particularly like this one because Hawk was back, although it is fair to say that Z is growing on me as well. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you just need to take yourself to school (or your local indie bookseller) and find out.

A much-in-the-headlines New England Patriots football player (who spent his college career at Auburn University, a nod to Atkins' storied past) is as tough as they come.... until his son is kidnapped. Spenser has not a thing to go on, but it's not long before he's getting grief from every corner from the Pats organization to local law enforcement and the FBI, and the suspects begin to stack up.

There aren't many writers who can make me crack up out loud even when nobody's in the room, but Atkins does.  One of my favorite passages....

I had to park nearly a half-mile away because of the news crews and onlookers, sports fanatics and nutcases. Not to mention the probably assortment of Hare Krishnas, Moonies, and those who follow Glenn Beck. 

Here's the only complaint I have about this book, and it's a weird one. I do not know the name of the font used (and I looked for it), but the Q's that are used are godawful, an irritant made worse because of a character in the story whose name starts with that. I wish I could describe it, but let's just say it made my eyes hurt. 

I'm giving this one **** out of ***** stars, mainly because of that Q. I'm going to have nightmares about that thing. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Remember Me Like This - Bret Anthony Johnston

Justin Campbell was kidnapped four years before this book opens. Laura, his mother, and Eric, his father, have chosen different coping mechanisms that help them avoid the weight of his absence, at least often enough to give them the energy to be parents to Griff, Justin's little brother. Even so, the empty place in their home, and in their hearts, makes getting by an act of will. Johnston crafts this dreary, weighted existence with subtlety, and makes the reader an active voyeur. 

When Griff is found and returned to his family, no longer an 11 year old child, but a strapping teenager, the family discovers that in the place of expected peace is a cloying sense of circling one another lest the re-balancing act in which they are engaging begins to fall to pieces. 

Johnston doesn't overplay any of this, to a fault at times. As a mother, I identified, sometimes viscerally, with Laura, but the most poignant character in this novel is Griff.  He's spent 4 years being the brother of the Boy Who Went Missing, which comes with a certain degree of celebrity. He's managed to begin carving out his own identity when Justin comes home, and he's now the brother of the Boy Who Came Home. 

This wasn't a flawless novel, but it was a most thoughtful and thought-provoking one, in which the strength of a family, one depicted with great authenticity,  is pushed to its limits. 


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Believing the Lie -- Elizabeth George

I was never a fan of Nancy Drew nor the Hardy Boys when I was a kid. I don't know why mysteries didn't appeal to me then, but it was an aversion to which I'd remain devoted for many, many years. It lasted until I was planning a weekend away in New Orleans, and I asked the owner of the bookstore--an avid fan of mysteries--to recommend something of that genre to me to read.

She handed me Elizabeth George's A Great Deliverance and I was hooked. I devoured every other book in her Thomas Lynley series as quickly as I could get my hands on one (except for What Came Before He Shot Her, a pass many of her other faithful readers took as well). When Believing the Lie came out I was in the early months of what would become a very long reading slump, but even when I began to emerge from that a few months ago it's heft (just over 600 pages) gave me pause. When you stop reading for whatever reasons there may be, you really do have to recondition your mind and your attention span, and I wanted to feel ready to take it on before taking it on. 

I was fixin' to head out on a vacation weekend with a bunch of my girlfriends when I finally picked this one up, but I had a bad feeling about it. My history with books and vacations is not good. Oddly enough, I never have been much of one for reading when I'm away from home, because I am distracted by the excitement of being anywhere but here.  I wondered whether taking a book from an author who commands attention be paid was a kiss of death, but turns out I did just enough reading during my days away to keep me in the story, and when I got home I zeroed in. I finished it this morning while my granddaughter watched Frozen for the thousandth time (and no, I'm not a bad grandmother... it's raining outside so we'd have been watching cartoons anyway).

The various books in this series have always been a bit uneven. I like the books best where Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers are front and center. I find Deborah St. James to be a pill most of the time, and have tended to be bored by her husband Simon, but they come in handy, I'll admit. All the skaters were on the ice this time, and each of them had a big role to play in one of George's most convoluted offerings yet. 

The setup is that Lynley's been asked to take an unofficial look into the suspicious drowning death of the well-placed Ian Cresswell. He enlists the help of the St. James', as neither of them are part of Scotland Yard and can do as they please with their time. Havers gets involved on the sly, per Lynley's request. From this spring so many subplots that I felt I was reading a fireworks display at times.... and yet each of them held my attention.  

Every character in Believing the Lie has something they are hiding from others and, most importantly, from themselves. It is true that there was way too much candy for a nickel in this story, but George kept me interested in every side story and character. My biggest complaint is that when the ends began to get tied up, they did so too quickly and neatly. I would not have minded a few Susan Hill like dangling threads, quite frankly, even though the book did end with an emerging mystery that I know to be taken up in the next one in the series.  And yes, I'll be reading that after I finish physical therapy to fix the sore muscles in my neck and back, put there by holding this book in my hands for so long.