“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” — Margaret Fuller
Hooked On Books – July-September, 2019
- THE NIGHT VISITORS
- Written by Carol Goodman and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN13: 9780062852014
- William Morrow
Ever felt the need to run away? It’s common among those who feel powerless because they can’t change or control the behavior of others. Often the runners are women who want to wipe away the past and start fresh. Two women, Alice and Mattie, are in this position in Carol Goodman’s The Night Visitors,though they’ve had very different lives and one has run while the other has stayed in an effort to confront her demons.
Alice is fleeing an abusive relationship and trying to protect ten-year-old Oren, when she steps off a bus in Delphi, NY. Delphi is also a sight made famous by a wise oracle in ancient Greece, as Oren, who loves mythology and the stars, is quick to point out. Oren is a wonderful, wise kid with an imagination that helps him be open to the unexpected.
He is drawn to Mattie, who meets them at the bus and makes a classic, social worker mistake: When the local shelter doesn’t work out, she takes them home, wanting more time with Oren, who reminds her of her ten-year-old brother who died.
As the story unfolds we’re drawn into a world slightly beyond our comprehension, unless you believe that some spirits stay behind, trying to communicate what the missing don’t see or can’t see. Is there a real spirit in the house and why is Oren the one he can communicate with? The magical realism has an emphasis on real in this unique thriller about courage, survival, and moving on. It also offers the possibility that spirits are trying to communicate with those who can hear them.
Everyone has secrets and the secrets of these two women are about to be revealed. Hand of fate? Hand of justice? Or simply a need to free these characters from the past and let them move forward? Carol Goodman draws on her experience as a volunteer responder at a hotline for domestic abuse victims to tell this story.
Author Carol Goodman graduated from Vassar College 8 years after I did. It was that affiliation that made me a fan, but I keep coming back to her work because I love her skills with language and tension. Always believable, these stories are also imagination stretchers. She is the award-winning author of twenty novels and you can learn more about her at carolgoodman.com.
- GIRL MOST LIKELY
- Written by Max Allan Collins and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- Thomas & Mercer
Frenemies and a Ten-Year Reunion
Do you remember your ten-year high school reunion? Did you bother to show up? As the sheriff of Galena, IL in Max Allan Collins’ Girl Most Likely, Krista Larson doesn’t have much choice. Not only did she go to high school in Galena, but ten years later she is the youngest female sheriff in the country. She goes as herself, of course, and not as the sheriff, and after her date deserts her, she leaves early.
Her “frenemy,” Astrid Lund, who was voted the Girl Most Likely to Succeed, is the center of attraction. Krista lost a boyfriend to the beautiful teenager, who has become a promising investigative reporter in Chicago. Surprisingly, she’s there to make amends as much as to be seen. More importantly, she’s there to set up interviews with classmates for an exposé about unreported sexual abuse. She asks to talk to Krista, but when she shows up at her apartment the next day, it’s too late. With the help of her father, a retired detective, Krista faces her first major case. She must figure out who killed Astrid Lund, the girl who stole everyone’s boyfriend in high school.
The story moves quickly through the typical suspects and plot developments of many murder mysteries—even having the guests who are still in town reconvene in the restaurant where the reunion took place. Though there’s minimal psychological development, there are some lovely father-daughter moments between Krista and her father, a retired detective who helps her on this case pro-bono. It’s a fun, easy read—a beach read perhaps, and if people like Krista’s determination and her teaming up with her father this has series potential. Although I was not as fascinated by what everyone wore as the author, another well-known mystery author, Jonathan Kellerman, includes equal quantities of description.
Max Allan Collins was named a Grand Master in 2017 by the Mystery Writers of America. He has earned an unprecedented twenty-three Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award nominations, winning two for his Nathan Heller novels. That series also earned Collins the PWA Hammer Award for making a major contribution to the private-eye genre. He received the PWA Eye Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. His other books include the New York Timesbestseller Saving Private Ryanand the USA Todaybestselling CSI series.
His graphic novel Road to Perditionis the basis of the Academy Award–winning Tom Hanks film, and is followed by two acclaimed prose sequels and several more graphic novels in the same series. For more information, visit www.maxallancollins.com.
I have not read any of Collins’ other books, but if you are one of his fans or are partial to female detectives, you should definitely take a look.
- THE DREAMERS
- Written by Karen Thompson Walker and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- Random House
Magic in the Prose
Chaos, an epidemic, and a quarantine all caused by sleeping? The whole idea of “sleeping sickness” moves into a whole new realm in Karen Walker’s beautiful and scary new novel, The Dreamers.
Have you ever slept days and weeks on end while dreams played with more color, brilliance, and urgency than ever before? Somewhere between those two questions is the situation when a freshman girl cannot wake up in her isolated college town in Southern California. Neither her roommate nor the paramedics can rouse her. When more students fall into the same condition, the college issues a quarantine, and when panic ensues the National Guard is summoned.
A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected with the sleeping condition are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but no one can get inside their brains to learn what they are dreaming about.
The magic is in the prose, the imagination of the author, and the possibility that this just could happen, without warning and without a solution readily available. Speculative fiction? Magical realism? They come from grounded human minds grounded that see unexplored possibilities. Literature opens the imagination of its readers. In addition The Dreamersis beautifully written. It’s a treat and should not be missed.
- LOUDERMILK or THE REAL POET or THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD
- Written by Lucy Ives
- ISBN: 9781593763909
- Soft Skull Press, Inc.
The Inside Scoop
When I read the description that said “…stepped out of a silver Land Cruiser and campus of The Seminars, America’s most prestigious creative writing program…” I wanted to know more about Lucy Ives’ new novel, LOUDERMILK or THE REAL POET or THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD. Though I’ve never attended an MFA program, I’m very curious about the insights they give and the way the workshopping process destroys so many promising writers.
I knew it would be a parody of creative writing programs when I realized that Loudermilk was a pompous bore with a sidekick, Harry Rego, who was to be his Cyrano De Bergerac and write his poetry for him. Still I was curious about how he would be found out, and how an MFA might change him or not. Lucy Ives seemed like the perfect author to tell me.
Although I got the inside scoop on writer’s misadventures and insecurities, I only heard about the work shopping second hand. Still Harry’s social insecurities and Clare’s giving herself permission not to write gave me tons of insight about how much I have in common with these aspiring writers. Their instructors and even the determination of second year student Anton Beans showed me how nebulous successful writing can be. Critics and reviewers often define success according to the standards they were taught, while publishers define it by sales potential and success. Beginning writers often write to the standards of publishers and the critique groups they are in, not a bad thing unless it costs them their own voices rather than helping them develop their stories. Best to trust yourself and your story, something Loudermilk may never learn to do, but Harry learns this as the book progresses, and Clare is starting her journey into confidence.
Ives’ writing of both fiction and poetry, both characters and narration is superb. Her glimpses into motivation are precise and she expresses them uniquely. If she is a product of The Seminars, a pseudonym for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is also a strong endorsement for the program. Her insights, word play, and story telling are all first rate.
For Younger Readers:
- Novalee and the Spider Secret
- Written by Lori Ann Stephens and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN-13: 978-1945805868
- Bedazzled Ink Publishing
It’s been a long time since I was in the fourth grade. Lori Ann Stephens’ Novalee and the Spider Secrettook me back because of her narrator’s desires, even though her life was quite different from mine. Stephens explores Nova’s uncertainty about her feelings, about friendship, about right and wrong, and about getting along in the world. She opens up Nova and at the same time she opens up readers.
At the beginning of fourth grade, Nova wants friends and acceptance. She wants to stop judging everything that comes out of her mouth. When her mom finds an old violin in the attic, she’s intrigued and takes lessons from a man named Jimmy whose affection and neediness make her uncomfortable. She’s not exactly sure that he’s done something wrong. She just knows that being alone with him makes her feel icky. Creepy. She doesn’t want to be his special friend.
Telling anyone her feelings is unthinkable, but eventually she blurts them out to Toby, a boy who likes her even when she was mean to him. Toby advises her to talk to her mother. Though the results are unsatisfactory at first, he goes with her to make sure her mother hears what she’s saying. By the end of the book she finds that courage matters. She finds her voice and she gets a friend, though he’s not the one she wanted.
At first I was enchanted with Stephens’ language. It was clear and appropriately sophisticated for middle graders. Best of all, it was dotted with lovely metaphors. As the story developed, I became more and more intrigued by the plot. The tone, the issues, and the resolution are all right on target. Stephens is a skilled writer with a knack for telling stories that young people need to hear if this one is any example. Get a copy for your grand child or her/his teacher. It’s a great conversation starter as well as an effective and important story.
This review was originally published at storycirclebookreviews.org/reviews/novalee.shtml