It’s hard to root against a 7-year-old named Millie Bird, the charming, precociously wise protagonist in Lost & Found, the heart-tugging debut by Australian author Brooke Davis. Millie just wants to find her mum, who has absconded from the large ladies’ underwear section of a local department store. Fortunately, Millie crosses paths with two peculiar octogenarians who become the unlikely minders for the abandoned Millie. It falls to them to reunite the little girl with her wayward mom.
Millie desperately needs a “Dot Four” since her father has died and now her grief-stricken mother has disappeared. Connecting the three dots from mom to dad to herself meant Millie felt safe. But now the red-gumboot-wearing, curly headed youngster is obsessed with dead things and carries a “just in case” glass jar around. She finds herself on a bumpy road trip through Western Australia suburbia with two elderly companions, who are also thinking about death but for different reasons. Karl the Touch Typist nervously types letters in the air as he speaks. He misses his dead wife. Millie’s neighbor, the sad and grumpy Agatha, has not left her house since her husband died seven years ago. “How do you get old without letting sadness become everything?” wonders Agatha. Indeed, it’s but one of many questions asked in Davis’ irresistible story that fuses the psychological reservoirs of grief with humor and the hopefulness of youthful perspective.
A suggested book club selection, Lost & Found may appear as a lighter read from its colorful, whimsical cover, but don’t be fooled. Inspired by events in the author’s own life, the novel was born out of a doctoral thesis on grief. Davis, whose own mother died suddenly in 2006, was “relearning the world” too, like her three distinctly voiced characters. With steady pacing and brief sectioned chapters, Lost & Found will strike a chord with anyone who has ever considered the many forms of missing someone and the different shapes of acceptance. Fans of The Rosie Project by fellow Australian author Graeme Simsion may also want to give this strong first effort a try.
Michael Pitre’s Fives and Twenty-Fives is the perfect book for customers clamoring for their holds on Phil Klay’s National Book Award-winning collection Redeployment. Like Klay, Pitre is also a former Marine who served in Iraq before returning home to chronicle his thoughts in writing, using fiction to reveal the realest truths.
Fives and Twenty-Fives reads as an assemblage of harrowing experiences Pitre survived while on active duty, told through three characters whose stories are woven into a moving novel. These three Marines comprise a portion of an Iraq Road Repair Platoon that sweeps U.S. military routes through the desert in search of hidden explosives. Donovan, the lieutenant, tries to lead and represent his squad while combatting the weight of self-loathing and the isolation of rank amidst imminent ambush. Lester “Doc” Pleasant is the platoon’s medic responsible for the lives of his teammates, but after witnessing a Marine overlook a live bomb, he resorts to his field kit for solace. Road Repair’s interpreter is an intelligent third-world post-grad named Kateb, known as callsign “Dodge” by his platoon. Dodge harbors an internal war between morality and loyalty that keeps him distanced from the Marines. Whenever his wall of superficiality is breached by violence, Dodge folds into a disheveled copy of Huck Finn and reflects on the university life that was stolen from him.
With a supporting unit of strongly humanized soldiers, Road Repair wages perpetual war with scorching desert conditions and treacherous insurgent traps. Pitre illustrates these losing battles without overwhelming readers with military jargon or trivializing the emotions and dispatches. Even with checks like fives and twenty-fives in place, it’s impossible to return from deployment unscathed.
Sometimes the Wolf: A Novel by Urban Waite is about a small town sheriff and his son. Thinking about Andy Griffith? Only if Andy is in jail for dealing drugs, Opie’s married and a deputy himself, Barney Fife is in charge and Aunt Bea doesn’t exist. In other words, this isn’t Mayberry.
Bobby Drake, deputy in Silver Lake, Washington, has a lot on his plate. He is tracking a rogue wolf through the Cascade Mountains, his marriage is strained and his father Patrick, a former Silver Lake sheriff, is newly free on parole after serving 12 years for his part in a drug smuggling ring. He is also moving in with Bobby. Add in a DEA agent who is determined to pin an unsolved murder and theft of a few hundred thousand dollars on Patrick, as well as a chilling pair of escaped convicts who are chasing after both Patrick and the money, and Bobby is stressed. Trying to understand why his father, an officer of the law, became a criminal strains the relationship between the two men to the point of breaking.
Waite’s writing is sometimes compared to Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, with his matter-of-fact prose and tense stories which march along a seemingly inevitable path of increasing violence, creating a sense of both dread and anticipation for the reader. Loyalty and vengeance propel this father and son thriller as Sometimes the Wolf reveals that redemption can come when least expected.
The rugged terrain of Derbyshire provides a melancholy backdrop for Already Dead by Barry Award winner Stephen Booth. The summer rains bring mud, floods and a corpse laying in a shallow ditch. Detective Diane Fry, substituting as team leader for the absent Ben Cooper, gloomily ponders a crime scene as it is inexorably swept downstream. There is more bad news: the victim is an unassuming insurance agent who lives at home with his mother and doesn’t have enough of a personality to like or dislike. Who would want to kill such a person? Struggling to inspire loyalty from another detective’s team, Diane remembers the qualities that make Ben Cooper such a good detective and wonders where in the world he is.
Tragically, Ben Cooper lost his fiancée while they were both investigating a crime scene. Trapped in a fire, Ben desperately attempted to reach her, only to be overcome by smoke and flames. Recovering from his injuries, he is trapped in a nightmare of memories of that deadly night and his single-minded resolve to gain justice for his murdered fiancée. For murder it was – it was arson. Deliberate, callous, reckless disregard for human life to make a profit. But the law doesn’t always provide redress, and the guilty sometimes go free. Devastated, Ben spends his days roaming the Dales, biding his opportune moment for revenge.
This taut police procedural featuring Detective Sergeants Diane Fry and Ben Cooper is the 13th entry in the series. While the other offerings in this series are all equally satisfying, this work could read as a standalone, as the author provides a vivid portrayal of the preceding events. Booth consistently provides deep insight into the inner workings of the British constabulary, particularly the plight of the more rural districts. Well-drawn characters, compelling moral situations and good old-fashioned police work can always be found in Booth’s work. Fans of Peter Robinson, Elizabeth George and Ruth Rendell will find a new friend in this author.
Jonathan Sweetwater is a high-powered executive with two beautiful children and a gorgeous wife, Claire, in Mike Greenberg’s My Father’s Wives. Life is perfect until he comes home early one day and thinks he hears Claire in bed with another man in their guest room. Not bothering to open the door, he flees their home to grapple with this shattering event.
Rather than confront Claire head-on, Jonathan hires a private investigator to track her every move and embarks on a road trip to process this information and figure out his future. He decides to track down his father’s ex-wives in order to learn more about the man who deserted him at age 9 who is now deceased. Percival Sweetwater was a respected and powerful five-time U.S. senator who was beloved by constituents, but had a little difficulty in remaining married. After Jonathan’s mother, Percival married five more times, leading Jonathan to dub him a serial monogamist all while vowing never to adopt his cavalier approach to marriage. In connecting with each of the wives in his father’s life, Jonathon seeks to learn more about this charismatic man, find out why he had so many wives and how he could have deserted his only child.
Greenberg, familiar to ESPN viewers as one-half of Mike & Mike in the Morning, tells this story with clean dialogue, interesting characters and detailed colorful settings from Aspen to Nevis to London. The engaging writing will keep readers intrigued until the very end as they, like Jonathan, are longing to know the truth of Claire’s fidelity and discover the answers Jonathan found from all of his father’s wives.
Diane Cook’s stories in her debut collection Man v. Nature are similar to Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book series in that they depict an end of the world in which conflict is more survivor-centric than cataclysm-centric. Cook accomplishes this feat repeatedly throughout her stories, with multiple instances of apocalypse serving as mere backdrops while her characters continue their lives unabated by cordiality. While Kirkman’s tales ooze with gore, Cook’s exude wonderment and danger in dazzling prose.
Premiere in Man v. Nature is “Moving On,” the grim telling of a widow internment center that functions like an adult orphanage. The mood around the grounds is bleak enough that reality becomes overpowered and contorts to make room for places like this to exist as if they’ve been institutionalized. “Meteorologist Dave Santana” pits a woman against her own sexual desires as she tries everything to seduce her neighbor, a homely and less than upstanding weatherman. “The Mast Year” portrays a woman who is chosen by fate to share her good fortune with those in need, no matter the personal cost. She grapples with notions of sacrifice, unable to separate charity from obligation until she no longer recognizes her own life. Lastly, the titular “Man v. Nature” is the account of a man and his two friends who are stranded in a tiny lifeboat adrift on a vast lake. As exposure besets and their bodies atrophy, they reminisce and eventually curse one another for past transgressions until their misdirected anger threatens to become their undoing.
Man v. Nature’s stories are all so convincing in their heavy fictitiousness that the reader never questions the altered existences. Emotions are so poignant that doubt never surfaces; rather, fingers are crossed, eyes are squeezed shut and knees are taken in supplication to will the characters to safety. But in Cook’s worlds, safety may no longer exist, and instead readers are given deliciously unsettling new normalcies.
Debut author Rebecca Scherm has embedded her new psychological suspense thriller Unbecoming with the ambiguous moral cracks of a femme fatale-like character, complicated and difficult to package. Grace keeps her life simple for a reason. The part-time antiques restorer can't return to her Garland, Tennessee, home because too many people know her story. Or do they? There is an art heist gone wrong, but this story is also about the interior journey of a 23-year-old woman whose past and conscience shape her into what she needs to be.
Grace is no longer Grace. Now she's Julie from California, working in the gritty outskirts of Paris. At Zunuso et Filles, she fixes broken old things and is not above switching out gems given to her by an unscrupulous boss. Her only friend is Hanna, a 34-year-old Polish woman, who sits across from her. She, too, has escaped her past. It's been three years since Grace's hometown artist husband Riley and his friend (and Grace's one-time lover) Alls broke into and looted the historic Wynne House Estate at Grace's suggestion. Now both men have been released from prison. Julie can't help but look over her shoulder. Will they come looking for her? What about the missing Dutch painting?
Things are never as they seem and so it is with this story. Scherm, who grew up in the South, was inspired by the Hitchcock movies she watched in her youth. She decidedly mines her protagonist's psyche to see where it falls in a plot that unfolds steadily and mainly in flashback. Rather than focus exclusively on the suspense of the crime, Scherm chooses the continuum of Grace's choices. With plenty of lying and double-crossing and lively, detailed descriptions of objets d'art, readers will find an entertaining read in the distant shades of Gillian Flynn and Patricia Highsmith.
Mobile Library is David Whitehouse’s second novel and a beautifully written and deeply expressive work of fiction. Whitehouse has a way of using unique and well thought out metaphors that seem to catch you off guard with their exquisite accuracy.
The novel follows Bobby as he struggles through life as a socially awkward 12-year-old boy. His father doesn’t seem to care for him, his mother is out of the picture and his peers bully him. Sunny is not only the one person he can call a friend, but is also his bodyguard of sorts. It’s when Sunny moves away that Bobby becomes completely lost and disheartened until the day that he meets Rosa.
Rosa is a girl to whom Bobby feels almost instantly connected to, and when he meets her mother Val he realizes that families aren’t just people who share your blood. Val happens to get paid to clean a mobile library and this is where Bobby, Val and Rosa spend many hours each week learning about life through the books they read.
Bobby’s abuse and neglect, combined with the termination of mobile library services, creates a sense of foreboding in Val that leads her to take drastic measures. She can see no option for keeping the family together other than spiriting them away using the mobile library as their transportation. Though Val’s intentions were honorable, her methods were less than discreet. Will Val be able to keep her eclectic family together?
Pick up a copy of this title to see what happens to these well-developed characters engulfed in vivid imagery. Whitehouse is an award-winning author who created a profound and delightful read in Mobile Library.
Ellen Hawley introduces readers to Abigail in The Divorce Diet. She loves her baby Rosie, her husband Thad and food. She just doesn’t love the newly gained baby weight and is convinced that shedding those pounds will renew her husband’s attention. With the help of an imaginary guru, the author of a
diet lifestyle book, she is ready to achieve her weight-loss goal. But when Thad announces that he’s not sure about this marriage and fatherhood thing, her world crumbles. Even his reassurances that it’s not her, it’s him have little impact when she realizes it’s not her, it’s his new girlfriend.
Abigail moves back to her parents’ house, tries to find a job and raise a daughter all while coping with the notion of Thad’s girlfriend sleeping in her bed. Is it really possible to stick to a diet under such circumstances? As she comes to grips with her situation, she follows the advice of her guru to make an inventory of her skills. Abigail loves eating food, but she also loves preparing food which leads to a promising restaurant job. This is the first step in the reinvention of Abigail as she begins to shape her life into the one she really wanted all along.
Hawley has created a completely recognizable and relatable character in Abigail whose sense of humor sees her through trying times. Abigail shares humorous takes on her daily dietetic meals and exercise ideas which will keep readers laughing out loud throughout the book. Don’t be alarmed that the included recipes contain anything but the most comfortable of comfort foods, including chocolate cake and meatloaf with ham and cheese. This is a snarky take on marriage, motherhood and divorce, but at the same time is a discerning and considerate look at the life of a single mom struggling to do the best for herself and her daughter.
Poet, playwright and novelist Greer Macallister inspires intrigue with The Magician’s Lie. While Macallister’s plays have been performed at the American University and she has been published in periodicals such as the North American Review, this is her debut novel.
The Amazing Arden is one of the few female magicians in the early 1900s, which is controversial enough without her being wanted in question for her husband’s murder. Virgil, a down on his luck police officer, stumbles upon Arden and, though he is able to restrain her, he is unsure of her. As the capture would substantially boost his status, Virgil is conflicted about how to proceed.
After bringing the magician to his office and restraining her with several pairs of handcuffs, he allows her to recount her story before deciding how to move forward. Arden’s story is so captivating that Virgil can’t help but be taken in by her resilience and attention to detail. It’s in the midst of the narrative when Virgil learns that Arden may just have something to offer Virgil that he can’t get elsewhere, leaving him with a tough decision to make.
Macallister is able to use Arden’s story to pull the reader into history and what life was like for a young woman with few options in the late 1800s and early 1900s. With Arden’s success she is able to challenge the traditional gender roles for woman of the time, transforming her character into an inspiration. If after reading this you are looking for another historical fiction novel with a strong female protagonist, look to Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar.