Magical book

Magical book

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sole Survivors

Serial killers aren’t in the habit of letting their victims survive, and when someone—usually a woman—does escape alive, the trauma is likely to leave deep, lasting scars. Two popular thriller writers recently published novels featuring sole survivors coping with the aftereffects of their experiences.

Cold Cold Heart
Tami Hoag
Hardcover, 368 pages
Dutton Adult, January 13, 2015
ISBN-10: 0525954546
ISBN-13: 978-0525954545

Dana Nolan, a TV reporter in her twenties, escaped from a notorious serial murderer by killing him before he could kill her. But she is left with physical wounds that have destroyed her beauty and a head injury that scrambles her memory, robs her of the ability to speak coherently, and makes her dependent on her mother and stepfather. Tormented by flashbacks and nightmares, filled with rage at her own helplessness, Dana has little hope for her future. She can’t clearly recall her ordeal or the man who brutalized her, but the police push her to try, while her hovering mother wants to enclose her in a protective bubble.

Leaving the rehab facility after a long stay, Dana has no choice but to move back to her hometown and the house she grew up in. Instead of finding the peace and quiet she needs to heal, she discovers that her abduction has reignited interest in the disappearance of her best friend, Casey Grant, the summer after their high school graduation. When she encounters Casey’s ex-boyfriend, John Villante, she blurts, “You killed my best friend.” John, a Middle East war veteran so crippled by post-traumatic stress disorder that he’s reduced to delivering pizzas for a living and occupying his boyhood room in his despicable father’s house, has a lot in common with Dana, but they see each other as enemies. Tim Carver, Dana’s high school boyfriend and an officer on the local police force, makes sure John remains under the shadow of suspicion not only for Casey’s disappearance and probable murder, but also for any other crime that occurs in town. When her therapist advises Dana to find a “project” to give her days a purpose, she passes up harmless, enjoyable occupations and chooses instead to find out what happened to Casey. Driven to learn the truth even as she struggles with her own handicaps, Dana puts her life in danger again to uncover explosive secrets beneath the surface of small town life.

The mystery of what happened to Casey is slow to get started, and readers never get to know the long-gone girl well enough to care about her. Avid mystery fans may spot Casey’s killer before the book’s climactic scenes. But Cold Cold Heart is nevertheless a gripping novel because it immerses readers in the emotional turmoil of two people suffering from different forms of PTSD. Although neither Dana nor John is always likable, it’s impossible to be unmoved by Hoag’s depiction of their struggles to find solid footing in a world that seems to shift constantly beneath their feet. In an afterword, Hoag describes the relatively mild but never-ending consequences of a head injury she suffered as a child and challenges readers to learn more about PTSD, a condition that affects far more people than we may realize.

Die Again
Tess Gerritsen
Hardcover, 352 pages
Ballantine Books, December 30, 2014
ISBN-10: 0345543858
ISBN-13: 978-0345543851

I’ve read every Rizzoli and Isles novel Gerritsen has published, and I found this one different from the others, disappointing in some respects, but ultimately enjoyable.

About a third of the book is set in the past and narrated by Millie Jacobson, a young woman who was on safari in a remote part of Botswana several years ago when the guide started killing the tourists one by one. Alternating with Millie’s unfolding story are chapters set in present-day Boston, where homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are investigating the grisly murder of big-game hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott. The victim, who was putting his taxidermy skills to work on a rare leopard that died at a local zoo, bears the claw marks of a big cat and has been gutted and hung like a hunter’s kill. After discovering that Gott’s son disappeared in Botswana, Rizzoli and Isles wonder if the unsolved safari homicides might be connected to the Boston murder. Eventually Jane Rizzoli and her husband, FBI agent Gabriel Dean, travel to Africa to question the sole survivor of the safari massacre, who lives in fear that the killer will come back for her one day.

The scenes set in Africa are riveting as they detail the safari group’s inexorable slide into chaos and terror. The Boston scenes with Rizzoli and Isles are less compelling. The grind of an investigation, interrupted by personal scenes with Rizzoli’s parents, can’t compete with the chills of people trying to stay alive in the African bush while a killer stalks them as if they’re prey animals. (Rizzoli’s parents, at this stage, would be tiresome in any story. Why would her mother, after building a happy, fulfilling new life on her own, make the stupid decision she does?) The usual spark seems to be missing from the odd couple friendship of Rizzoli and Isles.

On the strength of the African scenes, though, I recommend Die Again. Fans of the series will not want to miss it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Favorite Fiction Reads of 2014

My fiction reading is all over the place, from a sampling of YA to hard, dark, bloody thrillers. What surprises me every year, when I look at my list of books I’ve read or listened to on audio, is how few of them made a strong impression on me. Those that linger in my mind are worthy of places on my year’s-best-reads list. Not all these titles were published in 2014, but that’s when I read them.  Because I can't always say I enjoyed one book more than another, I've divided most into categories, but those labeled unforgettable are exactly that.


The Paying Guests by Sara Waters
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud


The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald
The Lie of You by Jane Lythell
Don’t Stand So Close by Luana Lewis
Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes
In the Blood by Lisa Unger


Die Again by Tess Gerritsen
The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth A. Fennelly
The Secret Place by Tana French
Designated Daughters by Margaret Maron
To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie


Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman


The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary
The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
Assault with a Deadly Lie by Lev Raphael


 The Good Children by Kate Wilhelm
Everything I Never Told You by Christine Ng
Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson
Rooms by Lauren Oliver
Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
The Stone Diaries by Margaret Atwood