Sunday, April 29, 2012

Survived By Her Longtime Companion by Chris Paynter

Publisher:     Blue Feather Books

Bailey Hampton and Chelsea Parker destroyed a relationship because they put their careers first.  Those careers bring them back together when each wants to interview Eleanor Burnett, the "longtime companion" of the recently deceased movie star Daphne DeMonet.  Bailey and Chelsea each believes she is going to be collecting information for a book, but they are about to receive a lesson for living.  As the three women read daily from Eleanor's diaries, it becomes clear that there are comparisons between the two different relationships.  Eleanor reaches out in a touching manner to the younger women to give them an opportunity to realign their priorities and find a chance for a happier life together.  The point of studying the past is to correct the future.  The question is whether Bailey and Chelsea will be able to learn that in time.

This is Paynter's fourth book and undoubtedly her best so far.  It shows the maturity that is developing in her writing and her ability to tell a story that is intricate, but deceptively simple.  When the book opens it appears to be another version of the girls lost/girls found formula, but it quickly turns into something else.  First, it presents a poignant history of what life was like for gay and lesbian actors in Hollywood during the 1950s.  Even McCarthyism makes an appearance.  A reader can't help but think of the lives of people like Rock Hudson and what they went through.  Eleanor and Daphne's story, as they duck, weave and deceive their ways through the political and social climates of the time, is interesting enough to sell the book. The bonus is in watching what happens to Bailey and Chelsea as they become invested in Eleanor and the story.  There is a gentle lesson that unfolds as they come to realize that relationships take work and that there are greater priorities than careers and always getting things the way you want them.

Survived By Her Longtime Companion is one of those books that draws you slowly into the story and causes you to care about the characters.  The reader will probably find herself wishing that these were real people, people that she could get to know.  If nothing else, the story is very appealing and certainly worth the time to read it.  It also is the type of book that will encourage the reader to want to read Paynter's next publication.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Buyer's Remose by Lori Lake

Publisher:          Regal Crest Enterprises

Buyer's Remorse introduces a new detective series by Lori Lake featuring Leona "Leo" Reese.  When Leo cannot pass her shooting qualification she is temporarily removed from her police duties and assigned as an investigator for the Department of Human Services.  Her first case involves a woman who is murdered at an assisted living facility.  Leo's job is to determine if the facility should be allowed to stay open, but her police training kicks in and instead she focuses on trying to solve the case.  As Leo tracks the clues, her private life is dissolving around her.  Her partner Daria is spending too many hours at her law firm, which is threatening their relationship, and Leo's vision problems turn out to have a frightening medical source.  Between tracking down the killer, trying to reconnect with Daria and making serious decisions about her health, Leo's plate is very full.

Lori Lake is no stranger to writing police stories.  Her earlier series proved that she knows the procedures.  Her experience in writing her previous books has made her adept at creating interesting characters, especially when they are flawed.  The book moves at a good pace, covers the issues and she is able to sustain the mystery almost to the end of the story.  Lake also knows how to handle a plot within the main plot as she examines the emotions that Eleanor Sinclair goes through after the murder of her long term partner.  Sometimes Eleanor's story is more interesting than the murder, but it never takes over the book.

Buyer's Remorse is easy to follow and fine for entertaining reading.  The reader will feel like she got her money's worth for this book.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Soulwalker by Erica Lawson

Publisher:           Blue Feather Books

Erica Lawson paints a rather frightening picture in Soulwalker  of a hundred years from now.  An authoritarian government is trying to increase its power and is using a group called the Black Shadow Corps to accomplish that.  Albinos have evolved to the point where they can separate their souls or "shadows" from their bodies and send them on covert missions ordered by the government.  It makes them very efficient and totally undetectable killers.  Tarris Waite leads this band but she isn't a pure albino, so the others are suspicious of her.  Tarris doesn't understand why her differences matter so much to the government and she has questions that are beginning to bother her, from the accident that left her a paraplegic to the nature of the missions her people are being asked to complete.  She would like to "walk" away from this life, quite literally, and that brings her into contact with Asher Hyrea, a medical researcher who is working on regenerating nerves.  What seems like a harmless attempt by Tarris to regain her ability to walk results in the two of them running from the government, hiding in an underground world, and becoming involved in events that could either save or destroy their whole society.

In some ways Soulwalker is as much a mystery as it is science fiction, one that has hints, but not enough answers as to how this world developed.  The reader can probably imagine how a totalitarian regime would take over, but what caused the unusual abilities of the albinos?  More information about that would have been interesting.  The major weakness in the story though is in the relationship between Tarris and Asher.  Lawson goes to some effort to paint a picture of how distrustful both characters are of other people, almost to the point of paranoia, but they suddenly trust each other, against all reason, in a matter of hours.  It could be argued that the situation forced them into that trust, but having it take place over a longer period would probably have made it more realistic.

In all though, Lawson has crafted an enjoyable story.  The concept is unusual, the pacing is brisk and there are twists to the plot elements.  There is a classic story of "the other," but in this case the outsider is the one to be feared and not the one who is persecuted.  Tarris is an interesting character as a classic anti-hero who becomes a reluctant crusader. The Black Shadow Corps is chilling in what it represents, but it hints at the type of organizations that a government will develop to do its dirty work.  One of the most disturbing aspects of the book is how real the situations feel, yet that speaks to Lawson's ability. 

As with most futuristic stories, there is a moral in Soulwalker.  It doesn't overwhelm the book, but it is a cautionary tale.  It's one that is easy to read and might beg a sequel to see what happens to the type of power that Tarris represents.  It's certainly worth giving this book a chance to capture your attention.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Truck Comes On Thursday by Sue Hardesty

Publisher:         L-Book

It's never a good thing when the cover of a book misleads the reader as to what is inside.  Even a good story can be lost if the reader is focused on something else.  The Truck Comes on Thursday says on the cover that it is a mystery, but fans of that genre may dispute that fact.

After the woman who was both her police and personal partner was accidently shot by another policeman in Los Angeles, Loni Wagner returned to her small hometown in Arizona and joined the highway patrol.  Loni has come back to a town she hates to try and heal from her loss and to take care of her elderly grandparents.  She is trapped between the cultures of the modern world and the Indian traditions that her grandparents prefer to follow. As Loni tries to adjust to this new life, she is also trying to deal with cases involving a plane crash, coyotes smuggling people across the border and drugs that are killing people.  The need to solve these cases is enhanced by the fact that someone keeps trying to kill her.

The problem with this book is that the "mystery" is not at the heart of it.  Sections about the different crimes spring up at irregular intervals and sometimes seem to be afterthoughts to what is actually going on in the book.  The criminal sections are often rough, flow poorly and are at times confusing.  They disrupt the pace of the book and Loni seems to make leaps to information that isn't supported by what has been told in the story.  There are also long sections from a diary written by Loni's ancestor that don't seem to make much contribution to the story at all.  Why this technique was included is puzzling because the information included doesn't add to the narration.

At the heart of this book is a more interesting story than the crimes that are committed.  There is a great deal of knowledge about the ritual stories told by Indians, how they perceive relationships differently and their vision of how people should interact with the natural world.  When Loni is listening to her grandparents talk about their traditions or explain Indian attitudes, the book is at its best.  Hardesty also obviously knows the geography and culture of the area well enough to make her descriptions very vivid and to give insight into some of the problems that exist along the US-Mexico border.  At times the reader may feel that what Hardesty really wanted to write was the story of that area, with an emphasis on how the Indians have been mistreated and survived.  It is clear that she feels a great injustice has been done and that should have been explored more.  That stronger story is diluted by the episodes that are thrown in about the crimes. 

Because The Truck Comes on Thursday is referred to as a mystery, the reader may be misled and miss the better story.  Mystery fans often complain that books are placed in that genre, but the mystery is a thin conveyance for romance or something else.  That may be the reaction to this one.  If the book is approached as being full of interesting tidbits about Indian culture and experiences, plus a glimpse of life in the US Southwest, it's much more satisfying.  Hardesty could have left out the criminal parts and made a better story because it would have had a totally different and sharper focus.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Redemption by DeJay

Publisher:         Regal Crest Enterprises

Architect MacKenzie Taylor has suffered for five years from the excruciating loss of her wife and child who were murdered by her wife's ex-husband.  She tries to fill her life by dedicating her spare time to a ball team for special children and volunteering at a woman's crisis center.  She thinks that, if she is able to save other women, she might be able to atone for not being able to save her family.  When Emily O'Brien rents one of her buildings, Mac finds another distraction.  Emily plans to start a bookstore to support herself and the two grandchildren she is raising after their mother was killed by a drunk driver.  While Mac helps Emily prepare the store and coaches her grandchildren on the team, she finds herself regaining the family feelings she thought she had lost.  Emily believes in moving ahead with what you have.  Mac has to decide if she's willing to move with her.

This book is about a number of issues that some readers might want to avoid as too serious for entertaining reading – domestic violence, child abuse, special needs children and the effects of grief.  DeJay writes about them in a manner that makes them part of the story, but not overriding themes.  Instead it's about coming out of those problems and how people take different courses to do that.  Emily is determined not to let the past shape her future and embraces life.  Mac has buried herself in her work and her charities as her life has stagnated, while the partner of Emily's daughter has enveloped herself in an alcoholic cloud that is ruining her.  The comparison of their lives sends a subtle message, rather than subjecting the reader to a lecture.

Redemption is a quick, easy to read story.  It takes what could be very dark topics and gives them an uplifting theme.  DeJay shows promise for the future as an author.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hidden Truths by Jae

Publisher:       L-Book

*2012 GCLS Award winner in Historical Fiction

Hidden Truths is the continuation of the story in Jae's earlier award winning book Backwards to Oregon.  While it is a good book, it shows the strengths and weaknesses of a sequel.

This entire book is about people hiding secrets.  "Luke" Hamilton and "his" wife Nora have been living with their two daughters, Amy and Nattie, for over a decade in Oregon, where Luke is a successful rancher and respected member of the community.  No one except Luke and Nora has any idea that Luke is not the man he pretends to be.   Amy and Nattie are struggling to emerge as young women with their own futures, but they are living lives of deceit also.  Nattie is hiding a love that she hopes will be solved by going away to college and Amy has struggled for years to fight the feelings she has for women. 

Into this web walks Rika Aaldenberg.  Rika has assumed the identity of a dead friend who was supposed to be the mail order bride of Phin, a hand on the Hamilton ranch and Luke's surrogate son.  She arrives just after Luke and Phin have left to take horses to the army, so she will spend time on the ranch learning the lifestyle and getting to know the people, especially Amy.  The new life that opens up to her is not the one she was counting on.  When Luke arrives back home, he finds his family in crisis.  The only way to resolve that crisis is for everyone to reveal their hidden truths, starting with Luke and Nora.  No sacrifice is too great for one of their children…or is it?

Jae is an accomplished author who knows how to write long stories and develop characters completely.  The advantage to a sequel is that she knows the characters well and can build on that information to extend the story.  The disadvantage is that information can be skipped over in the assumption that the reader read the first book.  This puts holes in the story that a new reader may not be able to fill in easily.  Another drawback to the book is that, while scenes are well written, they aren't all necessary.  There are a number that don't enhance the story or move it forward.  They show information about the characters that is already known.  For example, how many scenes have to be included to convey the idea that Amy is very skilled in handling and training horses?  What is a good book could have been improved with tighter editing.  A novel of over five hundred pages may be daunting to some readers, especially if they feel like the pace of the story is being slowed down by unnecessary scenes.     

Hidden Truths is easy to read and tells a good story, especially appealing to those who read Backwards to Oregon.  For those who like to immerse themselves in a book, this one fits the bill.  For less patient readers, they may find themselves skipping over passages, but there is still a story to hold their interest.