The Expats

Book Jacket  4W, 4H  Audio

Pavone, Chris., (c. 2012).  The Expats.  Read by Mozhan Marno.  Books on Tape. 10 discs (12 hrs, 24 mins), $32.95.

ISBN: 9780307990310

Reviews

NY Times, Kirkus Reviews

Annotation:

Ex CIA agent Kate Moore becomes the picture perfect ex-pat in Luxembourg until a new couple activates her well-honed instincts and she knows their survival is at risk.

Summary:  

Kate Moore is a typical expat mom with two kids supporting her husband in his new job in Luxembourg.  She left her job, her life in Washington D.C. knowing that it was a good move for her family, hoping that her past would finally be behind her.  But she can’t ignore her CIA training when questionable behavior starts coming to her notice.  Who is this couple that has suddenly popped into their lives and what exactly does her husband do and why has he become so evasive?  Soon Kate is traveling around the European continent hoping to find answers through her CIA contacts.  Is she over reacting or is she protecting her family?  This taught tale of intrigue will keep you on the edge of your seat, uncertain as to anyone’s intentions.

Evaluation:

Although the audio book was entertaining, this type of story in audio format can get confusing with all the characters coming in and out of the scenes along with the clandestine behavior that may be easier to follow in print.  Regardless, Pavone has created a wonderful heroine who is more chameleon than mom when it comes down to survival.  The plot is full of twists and turns reminding me of vintage Robert Ludlum.  Taking the reader on a tour of modern Europe, this is a great read for anyone who loves international intrigue along with a heroine who does not just sit by and let the world determine her place in it.  She is definitely a take-action kind of girl.

Author’s Website:

Chris Pavone

Genre/Subgenre:

Fiction/International espionage

Awards:

New York Times Bestseller

Edgar Award Winner

Anthony Award Winner

Readalikes:

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Steig Larsson.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Kate’s character is constantly evolving.  Which role seems to fit her best or does she successfully incorporate them all?

2. Kate had led a double life and now is faced with the fact that her husband might be too. Is she setting a double standard or just responding to her well-honed skills?

3. Dexter sites human gullibility as a weakness yet he becomes ultimately gullible.  What makes him gullible?  Is he ultimately blameless?

4. What does this novel say about trust?  What does this novel say about marriage?

Reasons for selection:

I wanted to read something with international intrigue so I found this while on NoveList as a read-a-like for Steig Larsson’s “Dragon Series” and thought I would give it a try.  I’m glad I did.  Pavone definitely packs a punch and has the talent to intertwine multiple plots and characters for a very satisfying read.

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The Last Policeman

Book Jacket  3W, 4H

Winters, Ben H., (c. 2012).  The Last Policeman.  Quirk Books. 288 pages , $23.95.

ISBN: 978-1-59474-576-8

Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews, Petoskey News

Annotation:

With only six months before the asteroid destroys the earth, Detective Hank Palace can’t ignore the superstitious death of local man whose hanging seems out of the ordinary.

Summary:  

In six months an asteroid, nicknamed Maia, is going to hit the earth destroying everything for hundreds of miles.  The problem is, no one knows exactly where its going to hit but they know its coming.  Newly promoted Detective Hank Palace understands why people around him have given up on their careers to fulfill their personal bucket list but its harder for him to deal with those that have given up permanently.  Concord, New Hampshire has been dubbed “Hanger town” because that seems to be the trend for dealing with the inevitable impact of Maia.  But when insurance man Peter Zell is found hung with an up-market belt in the stall of a McDonald’s bathroom, Hank suspects that something more is in play.  Surrounded by people that don’t understand why he even bothers, Hank doggedly pursues the leads in a town that is ready to die.

Evaluation:

This is a first novel of a trilogy that deals with a town that is preparing for destruction.  Although the pace is a little slow, the premise is enough to propel the reader through the intricacies of the crime.  Winters successfully illustrates the diversity of human reactions to this apocalyptic threat.  Some are permanently checking out, others are living life to the fullest, while even more are despondent and unsure of how to act.  And then there is Hank Palace, a man who takes his job seriously and won’t let a six-month sentence stop him from doing what he believes to be the right thing by his community.  Side stories including Palace’s ex-girlfriend, his sister and her radical husband may detract from the story a bit but it is a trilogy so their introduction may be necessary for the continuing story.  This is an easy book to recommend to those that enjoy a mystery but want something a little more to think about.

Author’s Website:

Ben H. Winters

Genre/Subgenre:

Science Fiction/Crime

Awards:

  • Edgar Allan Poe Awards: Best Paperback Original

Readalikes:

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Describe Hank Palace’s character.  Why does he feel compelled to continue with his job while everyone else is “cashing in”?

2. Concord, N. H. has become a “hanger town”.  Why this method over any other?

3. If you had only 6 months until the world ended, realistically, what do you think you would do?

4.  How does Winters effectively develop the feel of this pre-apocolyptic world?

Reasons for selection:

Another on Nancy Pearl’s “Gift Book” list for 2013, this first in a pre-apocolyptic series intrigued me from the start.  Plus, the movie rights had just been bought so I knew it was going to be a popular series as the movies came out and working in a Public Library you need to stay on top of that stuff.

Odd Thomas

Book Jacket  3W, 3H

Koontz, Dean., (c. 2003).  Odd Thomas.  Bantam Books. 512 pages , $23.95.

ISBN: 9780553802498

Reviews:

The Guardian, The Examiner

Annotation:

Odd Thomas has a secret.  He can see ghosts. This is interesting but would be more so if he knew why.  Until the borachs arrive bringing evil to town.

Summary:  

Odd Thomas is a 20 year old cook who likes staying under the radar in the sleepy California town.  Only the Sheriff is aware of his sixth sense and he wants to keep it that way.  Well, his girlfriend Stormy knows the truth but she’s special so that’s OK.  Odd, which is his real name, can see ghosts, at least those that have unfinished business that needs to get cleared up before they can move to the final destination.  Odd has gotten used to having these surprise visitors but since they can’t talk, he has to figure out what they need and what they expect him to do about it.  Along with this “gift” is the other kind of ghost with which he has to deal, the borachs.  These apparitions swarm around people who are evil.  Of course, they don’t communicate either and Odd knows better than to try but since he’s the only one who even knows they are around, it’s up to him to not just figure out their purpose but to stop the evil before it destroys the town he loves.

Evaluation:

Odd is well, odd.  And that’s just part of his charm.  He is that low-key crime fighter who stumbles into mayhem and must beat the bad guy before the bad guy succeeds in causing mass destruction.  Koontz has created a wonderfully normal character who’s talent puts him in a unique position to thwart the bad guy while needing to remain low-key.  In a world where we are bombarded by people seeking the spotlight for every little accomplishment, this is a refreshing look at one young man’s commitment to keep his town and loved ones as safe as he possible can.  Although a slow start, the story is one that sucks you in and compels you to keep going.  I was a little skeptical at first glance but when finished, I immediately sought out the second in series.

Author’s Website:

Dean Koontz

Genre/Subgenre:

Horror

Readalikes:

Ash by James Herbert.

Deadtown by Nancy Holzer

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Talk about the name “Odd”.  Is it fitting?  Does it define the character?

2. Why did Odd write the book and what were his intentions of doing so?

3.  Why did Odd worry about people finding out about him but was able to share his “talent” with the town sheriff?

4. Why is Stormy’s character a good match for Odd?

Reasons for selection:

I had not picked up a Koontz novel for quite some time and was eager to happily fall into one of his weirdly realistic worlds.  One of my co-workers suggested the Odd Thomas series (I always perk up at the mention of a series) so I thought I’d try it.  Odd Thomas is truly odd but in true Koontz-style, believable in that weird other-worldly way.  I would recommend this book to anyone able to set aside reality and jump into a world that is so like ours but so not.  Similar to Stephen King, it will keep you looking over your shoulder for that elusive borach.

The Giant’s House: a romance

  3W, 3H

McCracken, Elizabeth, (c. 1996).  The Giant’s House.  Dial Press. 259 pages , $19.95.

ISBN: 9780385314336

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews, NY Times

Annotation:

Unattached twenty-six year old Peggy Cort,  the town librarian, is inexplicably drawn to the 6’ 2” 11-year old boy who befriends her.

Summary:  

Peggy Cort is 26 years old and unattached, the librarian in a small Cape Cod town.  She is drawn to 11 year old, James who even at this young age is notably different from everyone else at 6′ 2″.  She finds herself thinking about this young boy who comes into her library every day and eventually becomes a part of his life by getting to know his family and spending time with them.  Peggy seems to be the only one who truly understands the physical difficulties that James faces and works with his family to create a living space that will accommodate his eventual 8 foot height.  Always loved and supported by his community, James is approached by the local shoe store to help market their products into a side effect of his size creates problems.  When he accepts the offer from the Circus, Peggy accompanies him to New York where he is given a boost of confidence that unfortunately comes too late.  The doctors had always told James that he would not live a long life but it isn’t until his final days that realizes what love really means.

Evaluation:

This is a different kind of love-story that seems so unrealistic at first glance but becomes plausible as the story unfolds and the characters take shape.  Peggy is herself an outsider who does not easily conform to the community in a “normal” way.   Her attraction to someone that physically stands out seems a natural fit since James, although a child is the more balanced of the two.  McCracken successfully creates an environment where something as shocking as a 26 year old woman and an 11 year old boy almost seems normal. She downplays the age by having Peggy openly ponder her intentions and then dismissing them for her concern for James’ well-being.  A unique and interesting take on a romantic journey that is surprisingly satisfying.

Author’s Website:

Elizabeth McCraken

Genre/Subgenre:

Romance

Awards:

New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Salon Book Award Finalist for the National Book Award

Readalikes:

Up Island by Ann Rivers Siddons.

Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Why do think “a romance” is included in the title?  Is this a romance?

2. How did this book make you feel?  Is the relationship plausible?

3. How does McCracken justify Peggy’s choices?

4. Discuss the impact of James’ father throughout the story.

Reasons for selection:

I was stuck in a “mystery” mode and had stumbled across this title in search of a “different kind” or romance.  And yes, I was intrigued by the cover.  After picking it up, I couldn’t put it down so intrigued by the characters and the predicaments that were addressed.  Although far from being a traditional love story I found it very satisfying and thought provoking.

Blue Heaven

Book Jacket  4W, 4H

Box, C.J., (c. 2008).  Blue Heaven.  St. Martins Minotaur. 352 pages , $23.95.

ISBN: 9780312365707

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

Annotation:

When two children witness a murder in the Northern Idaho, they run for their lives.  But are they safe from the ex-cops they saw commit the crime?

Summary:  

An execution-style murder is witnessed by a twelve year old girl and her younger brother in the backwoods near their home in Northern Idaho.  As if that isn’t bad enough, the four men involved see them.  Running for their lives, the children soon realize that they can’t trust anyone except an old-rancher whose barn they seek out for refuge.

This part of Idaho has been dubbed “Blue Heaven” by the Los Angeles cops who have taken up retirement there.  And it’s the ex-cops that are in pursuit of the children.  But more is going on that brings attention to this part of the country.  Suspicious $100 bills are surfacing that were part of a robbery from a southern California race track years back.  Retired Detective, Villatoro is determined to solve this open case  and follow whatever leads he can find.  As all the pieces start coming together, the rancher Jess Rawlins and Detective Villatoro must face down these highly skilled and highly motivated ex-cops before they kill the children.

Evaluation:

Box skillfully brings together the plot lines and characters to produce his usual back-country brand of justice.  And even without his main series character, Joe Pickett, this stand-alone effectively puts the reader in the middle of beautiful country where human weaknesses have met their match. Box manages to introduce all the characters but gradually expose the threads tying everyone together making the climax not so much surprising but more validated.  In the spirit of the old-western, good versus evil is clearly laid out but with the twists and turns of modern day crime, weapons and greed.   Even if you are a Joe Pickett fan, Blue Heaven still provides all the reasons you love to read C.J. Box but with a whole set of new characters that will grab your heart and scream for justice, the old-west way.

Author’s Website:

C.J. Box

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Crime

Awards:

  • Edgar Allan Poe Awards: Best Novel
  • The Reading List (RUSA): 2009

Readalikes:

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson.

The Narrows by Michael Connelly

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Describe Kootenai Bay and how does the nickname “Blue Heaven” fit?

2.  What traits does Annie display early on that makes her “a survivor”?

3.  Are Monica’s actions believable or is her character conveniently manipulated for the purpose of the plot?

4. Is Rawlins a throw-back to the Old-West hero?  What makes him the “unlikely hero”?

Reasons for selection:

I am an avid C.J. Box fan.  His Joe Pickett series always sends me back to my summers in Montana, without the murder and mayhem of course.  He was recommended to me by a library patron in 2009 and I haven’t stopped reading him.  I picked up Blue Heaven because it’s one of Box’s stand alone titles that still takes place in the rugged mountains of the north west.

Gone Girl

Book Jacket  4W, 4H

Flynn, Gillian, , (c. 2012). Gone Girl.  Crown. 416 pages , $25.99.

ISBN: 9780307588364

Reviews:

The NY Times, The Guardian

Annotation:

On their fifth anniversary, Nick returns home to find his wife missing.  Following the clues, he realizes the desperate game being played and that he’s the target.

Summary:  

On the Dunne’s fifth anniversary, wife Amy goes missing bringing on a firestorm of media, speculation and marital missteps.  Nick knows that he is innocent of foul play but everything clue points directly back to him and the role he has played in their “picture perfect” marriage.  Amy, whose parent’s entire career is based on their “Amazing Amy” books, leaves a diary behind that becomes more and more disturbing and layers are peeled away during the investigation.  Filled with plot twists, disturbing characters, and the most devious of all plots, Gone Girl will keep you guessing and simultaneously cringing as it exposes the side of humanity that is best left hidden.

Evaluation:

A brilliantly crafted thriller, this story is not for the light of heart.  Even if you are not a horror fan, you will be pulled into the twisted lives of this seemingly ordinary couple where power is everything and manipulation is the weapon of choice.  What makes this story so disturbing is that if deftly explores the institution of marriage making it an eerily plausible plot.  Flynn highlights the fact that we are at our best when we first meet, becoming people that we may not really be in order to impress our future mate.  Nick and Amy’s story takes that premise, adds some disturbing details and produces a set of circumstances that surprises and repulses simultaneously.

Reminiscent of the movie “War of the Roses”, it is hard to recommend a book where each character is more loathsome than the next.  This is definitely not a gory read, but a psychological journey into some very dark minds.  Although I did not enjoy the reading experience, I would suggest it to anyone who enjoys the genre, great writing and does not have a need to like the characters.

Author’s Website:

Gillian Flynn

Genre/Subgenre:

Thriller/Psychological

Readalikes:

Precious Things by Collette McBeth.

The Perfect Ghost by Linda Barnes

Awards/Lists:

  • Goodreads Choice Awards: 2012
  • Library Journal Best Books: 2012
  • Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award – Best Mystery & Suspense: 2012
  • The Reading List (RUSA): 2013

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Do you like Nick or Amy?  Do you find yourself rooting for either one of them?

2. Why was Amy’s diary so effective both as a strategy for the author and as a manipulation used by the character?

3.  Amy described herself as “the cool girl” and her friend’s husbands as “dancing monkeys”.  How does this reflect back on Amy’s character and how she views the world.

4. Amy’s parents – there may not be enough time to discuss their overarching role, but give it a shot.  Why are they so important to the story?

5.  If you were to rewrite the ending, how would you do it?

Reasons for selection:

I first found this book on the Stop Your Killing Me Newsletter which I receive each month.  After reading it, I thought I had finally found the book that I would never pick up again.  I am admittedly a “sensitive” reader in that what I read definitely impacts my outlook.  I found this book depressing because the characters were so loathsome.

But then, it was chosen as a book discussion selection for this class.  I was encouraged to participate because I had such strong negative feelings about it.  So, I re-read the book and even though it still made me feel “icky”, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and took great pleasure in siting all the ways I detested Amy.  It proved to be a cleansing experience and now I will feel good about recommending it to those who enjoy the genre.

Eleven Days

Book Jacket   4W, 3H

Carpenter, Lee, (c. 2013). Eleven Days.  Alfred A. Knopf. 288 pages , $24.95.

ISBN:  9780307960702

Reviews:

The NY Times, Kirkus Review

Annotation:

Learning that her Navy Seal son has gone missing, Sara tries to obtain information through former contacts while reliving the choices they made leading up to this situation.

Summary:  

After losing her husband on an overseas mission, single-mother Sara is devastated when she hears that her only son has gone missing from his Navy Seals’ unit while involved in a covert mission.  The story takes place over the eleven days of waiting that Sara endures.  Her story and that of her son, Jason, unfolds in a sparse, clear text told through Sara’s memories and Jason’s letters home.  The letters show his rise into leadership and the decisions made allowing him to join such an elite military unit.  With great emotion and succinct prose, Carpenter successfully takes the reader through an intricate narrative that depicts yet another side-effect of war.

Evaluation:

Eleven Days is an intense debut novel that realistically shows the stress of having a son at war, not knowing what he is doing, where he is or if he is even still alive.  Told from both Sara’s and Jason’s perspectives, the story deals with far more than grief; it shows the development of a warrior, the ramifications of an absent parent and the overwhelming influence of a war-torn world.  In its sparse and intense prose, Carpenter pulls the reader further into the story by not only fully developing the key players but also having support characters that are rich and interesting and successfully play into the emotion.  This novel is not full of defiance or anti-war rhetoric but it does not need to be for the realism of the full impact of war to be clearly seen.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mainstream Fiction/Psychological

Readalikes:

The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt.

The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich

Awards/Lists:

NPR Great Read of 2013

Book Discussion Questions:

1. A mother’s grief when her son goes to war is a common theme.  What makes this debut novel different?

2. “A myth is a fiction that matters.” (p. 241)  How do myth’s play into the story?

3. How are Sara and Jason affected by David’s absence?  Separately and together?

4. In the Kill House, Jason makes the decision to go back for the baby.  What are the literal and symbolic consequences of that decision?

Reasons for selection:

This is another selection from Nancy Pearl’s “Books That Make Great Gifts” list presented in December 2013.  I have yet to be disappointed with any selection.  Plus, I always like picking up a recommended debut novel in hopes that I will enjoy it and it will be the first of many.  I also chose it because I am a fan of stories about the elite military forces.  I am intrigued by the discipline needed to be part of one of these teams.  I was first introduced to the Navy Seals in Suzanne Brockman’s romance series about Team 16.  Eleven Days is not the same kind of read as Brockman but I was prepared for that and was captivated by the story.