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The Dry by Jane Harper

Kiewarra, Australia has been going through a two year drought when Aaron Falk returns for the funeral of his former best friend, Luke, his wife Karen and their young son Billy. Aaron and his father slunk away twenty years earlier when the town inhabitants accused them of being involved in the death of sixteen year old Ellie Deacon, Aaron’s friend. However, no one was ever arrested and convicted of murdering her.

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Times haven’t changed much in twenty years. The drought has made emotions fragile and the thought of Luke using his shotgun on himself and his family is understandable, if not condoned. However, the town’s new police detective Raco feels that things are amiss and with the help of Falk, a Federal Police Detective, starts questioning the events leading up to the triple murder/suicide.

Memories and grudges last a long time in Kiewarra and most people recognize and remember Aaron, not too fondly, and some will not even talk to him. News travels fast in this small town and soon everyone is aware of the ongoing investigation, even though they all believe the case is closed.

In The Dry, Harper makes the devastation and desolation caused by the drought palpable. She ably brings up the events of twenty years ago, juxtaposed with current events, the lives of sixteen year old kids juxtaposed against their current adult lives. She shows the meanness that existed all those years ago doesn’t go away over time.

I will say that I guessed ‘who dun it’ about two thirds of the way through the book, not because of any lapse in Harper’s story. It was half lucky guess, half logic. Several (two) people told me that they thought the book lagged a little in the middle but I didn’t find it so. It gripped me from the beginning. I liked the main protagonists and although I could see them as the initial installment in a series, I’m not sure how that would work, being the setting is in a small town…unless they both move to Melbourne (Falk already lives there).

The Dry is a good story and Jane Harper is now on my radar. I’ll be looking for future books by her.

 

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Maeve is a worrier. Not your typical worrier. She suffers from severe anxiety disorders, so much so, that when her mother and her boyfriend go off to Haiti for six months on a goodwill mission, Maeve is forced to live with her father and his second wife, Claire, in Canada. Maeve is too anxiety prone to live alone in their mountain cabin. Meanwhile, Maeve thinks of all the things that could harm her mom while going to and staying in Haiti (airplane crashes, tornadoes, viruses) and all the ways Maeve could die on her way to Vancouver. She has statistics for everything.

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Claire is pregnant and wants to give birth at home as she did with her twins, so Maeve studies up on what can go wrong with home births. Meanwhile, her father, a former rock star and now scenery artist, has decided now is a good time for him to start drinking and drugging again, similar to what he did was Maeve and the twins were born.

The only good thing Maeve has going, if she doesn’t screw it up, is her girlfriend, Salix. Salix is understanding about Maeve’s anxiety. She’s beautiful and a talented violinist.

10 Things I Can See From Here (one of Salix’s coping mechanisms for Maeve) is more a story about anxiety disorders than it is a romance. Maeve is afraid to drive, to climb a monkey bar, fly. Yet, as you can guess, circumstances will force her to face her anxiety and at least partially conquer it.

Carrie Mac treats the relationship between Maeve and Salix as a romance, not a ‘lesbian’ romance. The same anxiety, confusion, uncertainty would surround any relationship, regardless of the gender of the lovers. And, by the way, they make a cute couple.

10 Things I Can See From Here is a fun read. Enjoy.

 

How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss is a charming book about intergenerational relationships, very similar to Jenny Downham’s Unbecoming.

While Hattie is home alone she answers a phone call. The stranger on the other end, Peggy, tells Hattie that her elderly neighbor, Gloria, is unwell and it would be nice if Gloria’s only family, that is Hattie’s family, would visit her. The problem is that nobody in Hattie’s family has ever heard of Gloria.

When the rest of Hattie’s family begins a two week vacation, Hattie decides to drive to London (Hattie’s not an experienced driver) to visit Gloria, who turns out to be her great-aunt. What she finds is a crusty old lady, sitting in a window seat sipping Champagne. Gloria makes it clear she wants no part of Hattie, but Hattie is unshaken.

On her second visit, Hattie learns that Gloria is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and suggests Gloria prepare a bucket list of places she’d like to visit while she can still remember them and the two women take a road trip, which Gloria reluctantly agrees to.

How Not to Disappear is a book about two women who have secrets: the first is a seventeen year old keeping a secret from her parents and the second is a seventy year old with a secret she’s never told anyone. It’s a rewarding intergenerational story about two people who come to terms with their lives and form a bond.

The parallels to Unbecoming are uncanny. In How Not to Disappear, Hattie meets an great aunt she never met. In Unbecoming, Katie meets a grandmother she’s never met. Both older women are suffering from dementia. The young women form a bond with their elderly relatives who in turn relate their life stories. Both older women led carefree theatrical lives. Both young women have an issue they must come to terms with. There is one more similarity which I’ll let the reader discover.

While the similarities are numerous, the books are vastly different and both should be read.

Private Detective Roxane Weary is the daughter of the late Police Officer Frank Weary. Weary was a hard driving, hard drinking detective and since his death nine months earlier, Roxane (with one ‘n’) has started following more in his footsteps, especially with the drinking.

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Her good (sober) brother, Matt, recommends her to Danielle Stockton, whose brother Brad was convicted of murdering his girlfriend Sarah’s parents and is on death row. The execution date is two months hence. Brad has, for fifteen years, denied any wrong doing and the only person who can corroborate that, Sarah, has been missing all these years. Good at finding things, Roxane is charged with finding Sarah, who Danielle swears she saw in town two weeks earlier.

Unfortunately, Roxane screws things up more than she recovers things, the alcoholic haze she lives under not helping her much. Her thought processes are mush at times and her theories go awry. Her credibility lessens, as does her popularity. But, of course, there is more than meets the eye, otherwise there would be no story.

The Last Place You Look, Lepionka’s debut novel, has the right amount of action, self pity, family discord. Despite, or because of, all her faults readers will immediately like Roxane. Her drinking is a problem. Her love life is a mess. Her life is a mess, actually. Positive comparisons to her father leave her ambivalent because in some ways she wants to be like him and in others she certainly doesn’t.

The story line is plausible and keeps readers reading. There was one part towards the end in which I was afraid for her. Now that takes a lot and says a lot.

All in all, The Last Place You Look is an admirable debut and I, for one, am looking for more adventures with Roxane Weary.

If you want a typical Sarah Dessen book (which I did) which takes place in the summer (a good beach read) and features a girl falling in love with a boy who seems unlovable, then Once and For All is just the ticket. Louna Barrett is jaded about love. Having experienced true love once, she doesn’t think it will ever come again. Add to this the fact that her mother, Natalie Barrett, is one of the best wedding planners in the business and Louna has worked through many a wedding (and heard about many a breakup), her cynical attitude is understandable.

Enter Ambrose, the son of one of the older brides, who was AWOL right before his mother’s wedding, who Natalie had to separate from a female catering worker and drag to the ceremony, and you have the setting for disaster. I won’t tell you the result, but you can guess.

As with all Sarah Dessen books, you get what you paid for, an easy reading, fun, love story. Once and For All does have a slightly dark side, but it fits the story nicely. Louna’s best friend, Jilly, adds some comic relief as she shepherds her three younger siblings around all summer while her parents work in a food truck.

All in all, Once and For All is the perfect antidote for the dismal goings on around us.

I’ll start off, up front, by saying The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein is a great book. But who would expect less from the author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire.

Fifteen year old Lady Julia Lindsay MacKenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart has returned home for summer break to help her mother and grandmother pack up their household. Her grandfather’s recent death and the realization that they had lost their fortune forced them to sell their centuries old castle, Strathfearn, near Perth, Scotland to a school and construction was under way to convert the house and property to its new use. On her first day home, lying on Drookit Stane, a standing stone in the River Fearn, she is hit over the head and is unconscious for several days. Euen McEwen, a Traveller, a nomadic Scottish group, found her and brought her to the hospital.

Simultaneously, Professor Hugh Housman who was cataloging the antiquities of the household, mysteriously disappears. Julia remembers seeing him in the river, naked, prior to being clonked on the head and many feared that he had drowned, either on purpose (since his advances were recently rebuffed by Solange, Julia’s governess) or by accident.

The Pearl Thief is an amazing story combining Scottish folklore with a coming of age story with a little history with a small mystery. It takes place during the summer of 1938. The Travelers or Tinkers as they’re called (since many sell tin and other metals), are similar to gypsies and have that same derogatory connotation. They are not well regarded by the Scots yet have a long history in the land. The McEwens, especially, were friends with the Stuarts and Julia’s and Euen’s mothers played together as young children.

Wein contrasts the ‘haves’ of Julia’s upper crust gentry status with the ‘have nots’ the McEwens who live from day to day, traveling to where there is work, typically farming. Yet it is the Travelers whose philosophy it is that it is better to give than to receive.

Part of the pleasure of reading Elizabeth Wein is her descriptions–of the land, the history, the mythology. Her story traps you and her language reels you in. I can’t give this book and Wein’s other young adult books, enough accolades.

LAPD Detective Renee Ballard was relegated to the ‘late show’, the midnight to 8 AM shift, after her allegation of sexual harassment against her supervisor, Lieutenant Olivas, was dismissed. Her former partner, Ken Chastain, did not back her up, although he saw the entire episode.
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On patrol with her new partner, Jenkins, one night they answer a robbery call in which an elderly woman fears that her credit card was stolen. Additionally they are called to the scenes of the brutal beating of a transgender prostitute and to a multiple shooting at a local club. Wile Jenkins is satisfied doing his eight hours and going home to his sick wife, Ballard is eager to perform real detective work and volunteers to officially pursue the robbery, while deciding to  investigate the other incidents on the sly, in the case of the shooting against Olivas’ direct order to ‘stay away’. Evidence prompts her to theorize that the shooter was a police officer and Ballard naturally assumes Olivas is the culprit…a dangerous path for her.
This is the start of a new police procedural series by Michael Connelly, creator of Harry Bosch. This lackluster entry pits the driven Ballard against a hostile Olivas. (I’m not going to say who wins.) An interesting character, Ballard is a tame female version of Bosch, caring and driven to finding the truth at all costs.
However, the quick and tidy solutions to the robbery and beating are anticlimactic. An early reference to Bosch was totally gratuitous. While the action builds in the second half, it is half-hearted.  while I’m sure Bosch and Connelly fans will clamor for Ballard, she’ll need a little more grit to survive.
P.S. It’s telling when the best character is Lola, the boxer mix dog that Ballard rescued!