Never-Open Desert Diner evokes mystery, suspense

by G. Robert Frazier

Hidden in plain sight, in the wide open expanse that is the Utah desert, lie mysteries best left alone.

DThe Never Open Desert Dinerelivery truck driver Ben Jones, for the most part, heeds that warning and largely respects the privacy of the desert’s oddball collection of characters on his route near Price, Utah. That is, until he encounters and becomes enamored by the mysterious woman hiding in an abandoned model home.

That’s the setup for James Anderson’s suspenseful debut novel, The Never-Open Desert Diner (Crown, $26).

The colorful cast—including a roadside Jesus, a motorcycle-loving hermit, and a pair of brothers lying low the law—are as unique as the setting itself. Each has a past and secrets to keep as they eke out their existence under a hot desert sun, far removed from internet and TV and other modern conveniences of life.

Ben typically keeps to himself as much as his customers, but his infatuation with the new woman on his route, Claire, changes everything.

Part love story, part suspense-mystery, Ben is drawn to Claire like no one else in his life. Everything about her mystifies and entices him to learn more about her, despite his better judgment.

Naturally, her past—an overbearing husband and her role in the theft of a priceless cello—threaten to catch up to her. Before long, Ben is swept up in a dangerous game of hide and seek.

Anderson crafts simple yet eloquent prose as he delves into Ben and Claire’s growing relationship and slowly ramps up the suspense as Claire’s husband closes in. A few subtle twists take the novel in a surprising new direction and ups the ante for the misanthropic cast.

Somewhere along the way, the story gains some of its intrigue from a terrifying secret at a once famous desert diner, now closed, and the lonely hermit who lives there.

The book evokes a powerful sense of place that echoes the loneliness and loss of the main players. Sometimes lyrical, sometimes brutal, Anderson recounts events with color and verve, making this a unique and largely satisfying page-turner.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: McGorin ‘Dusts Up’ more trouble for Detective Carrick

by G. Robert Frazier

Detective Doyle Carrick is a magnet for trouble. The hero of Jon McGoran’s latest novel, Dust Up (Forge Books), Carrick is at home with his girlfriend when a complete stranger appears frantically pounding on his front door, only to be shot down in cold blood.

Dust-Up_Cover-copy-200x291Homicide Detective Mike Warren embraces the easy way out by wanting to peg the crime on the victim’s wife, Miriam Hartwell, whom Carrick saw driving away from the scene. Fortunately for readers, the truth is a lot more complicated, as is often the case with Carrick’s adventures.

Carrick is urged to back off the investigation and let Warren handle things, but it’s not that simple. Miriam seeks him out again and fills him in on a biotech cover-up of a tainted food program in Haiti.

McGoran keeps the action moving at a frantic pace in a series of tautly written chapters that will have you turning the pages long into the night.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Coben, Robotham, Laukkanen, Leslie present summer of thrills

By G. Robert Frazier

I’ve been a bit remiss in posting reviews to this site, though I’ve been actively posting on other sites. So, let’s catch up on some of my latest book reviews, shall we?

Fool Me Once – Harlan Coben

Maya Stern was a firsthand witness to her husband’s brutal murder by a pair of thieves, so how is it possible that he would be seen days later, playing with her two-year-old daughter, on footage captured by a nanny cam? Finding the answer, and perhaps even her husband, propels the riveting narrative of Harlan Coben’s new thriller, Fool Me Once (Dutton, $28).

Fool Me OnceWhen the picture card inside the nanny cam goes missing, Maya has no evidence to back up what she saw, and anyone she tells is more than reluctant to believe her. But Maya, a former Army captain with plenty of command experience, isn’t one to just let things go.

She naturally takes it upon herself to get to the truth, following a trail of clues past and present, uncovering new twists in the puzzle along the way.

Fool Me Once is the first of Coben’s 25 novels to be told entirely from the perspective of a female protagonist, resulting in a new experience for longtime fans and an excellent jumping-on point for new readers.

Read the full review at Bookpage.com

Close Your Eyes – Michael Robotham

You won’t want to close the book on this one. The new thriller by Michael Robotham, Close Your Eyes (Mulholland, $26), is reason to stay up late.

Close Your EyesClinical psychologist Joseph O’Laughlin is reluctant to once again take on the role of detective—after seven previous adventures, he thought he’d given it up to live out a peaceful retirement—but when a former student, Milo Coleman, calling himself “the Mindhunter,” begins to jeopardize the police investigation, he can no longer stand by idly. With his reputation in danger, Joe sets out to smooth over the ruffled feathers of the police and to calm a groundswell of public anger over the brutal unsolved murders of a mother and her teenage daughter.

The mystery and suspense is reason enough to keep reading, but Robotham ups the ante with a rousing family drama that adds an emotional complication to his lead’s life.

Read the full review at Bookpage.com

The Watcher in the Wall – Owen Laukkanen

Words can hurt, and in the case of Owen Laukkanen’s compelling, thought-provoking new thriller, The Watcher in the Wall (Putnam, $26.95), they can be enough to kill.

The Watcher in the WallsLaukkenen’s recurring FBI agents Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere pursue an Internet troll who encourages fragile teenagers to commit suicide, while recording their final moments via webcam for a black market on the dark web. The case takes on a deeper meaning for Windermere, who continues to berate herself over a past mistake in which she stood by as a fellow classmate was bullied in school to the point she one day never came back. Catching the predator in this case serves as a chance, however slight, for redemption.

Laukkenen’s fast-paced prose and short chapters pull readers along on a cross-country pursuit to identify the predator behind the online suicide forum and stop him before he can rack up more victims.

Interestingly, in the acknowledgements, Laukkanen admits he also dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts as a teenager, making the book even more deeply personal.

Read the full review at Bookpage.com

Cracked – Barbra Leslie

If it weren’t for the unexpected death of her twin sister, Ginger, Danny Cleary—the heroine of Barbra Leslie’s new novel Cracked (Titan Books)—might still be holed up in her apartment mindlessly wasting away on crack cocaine. Sadly, her sister’s death is just the shot in the arm Danny needs to kick the habit—at least for a chapter or two—and seek vengeance on the person who killed her.

CrackedLeslie has created an anti-hero to root for in the vein of Walt White from Breaking Bad: a tormented, down-on-herself woman who would much rather seek solace from the fumes of her crack pipe than deal with people face-to-face, or with life in general. But when her sister’s own twin sons are kidnapped as well, Cleary abandons the relatively safe confines of her half-life to embark on a trippy, vigilante-styled quest for vengeance that takes her from the streets of LA to Toronto to a family cabin in the Maine wilderness.

Leslie piles on enough twists and turns and action-packed shoot-‘em-ups to keep readers turning pages late into the night.

Read the full review at KillerNashville.com

 

 

 

Around the Web UPDATE: TN governor vetoes plan to make Bible official state book

By G. Robert Frazier

From time to time, I like to share and/or comment on interesting stories about writing and reading that I come across on the web. Here’s a few such stories to chew on:

UPDATED: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has vetoed legislation that would have made the  Bible the official state book. Had the measure been approved, Tennessee would have been the only state in the country to name the Bible as an official symbol. Critics argued the proposal is unconstitutional, since the Constitution calls for a separation of church and state. The Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says it is “a thinly veiled effort to promote one religion over other religions” and urged Haslam to veto it. But proponents cited the “historical and cultural significance” and noted the importance of Bible publishing to Nashville and the book’s use as a genealogical record. Harper Collins Christian Publishing is headquartered in Nashville.

The Hollywood Reporter says a long-running feud between John Steinbeck’s heirs and Hollywood has prompted a new court filing. The battle over copyrights may affect Stephen Spielberg’s planned adaptation of Grapes of Wrath.

Best-selling author James Patterson has been selected by AASL President Leslie Preddy as the 2016 Crystal Apple recipient. The honor is awarded to an individual or group that has made a significant impact on school library programs and students. A staunch school library advocate, Patterson has dedicated both time and funds to promote the ways school libraries transform a child’s educational career.

Patterson is launching a new line of short novels that he hopes to sell at supermarket checkout lanes. There’s a growing trend for shorter works, thanks to the attention-starved world we live in now. I’m actually not against the notion. Some of today’s bestsellers that number in the 500- to 600-page range or more are just grossly overwritten.

DBW features a great interview with author Hugh Howey on the state of publishing and the advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing. While many people still look at traditional publishing as the means to legitimacy, authors like Hugh Howey are proving that self-publishing today is making huge inroads in that regard. More control over your works, the ability to publish quicker and the lure of bigger royalties over traditional publishing are certainly factors to consider. But regardless of which route writers choose, there better be a damn fine book to read in the end. That’s how writers will ultimately make a name for themselves.

Read any good articles lately? Share a link in the comments section.

 

Review: The Passenger by Lisa Lutz a study in do-overs

The Passenger

Have you ever wanted to just run away and start over as someone else? The main character in Lisa Lutz’s new novel does just that — time and time again.

You can read my review now at BookPage.

Review: Buckle up for Philip Donlay’s latest, Pegasus Down

by G. Robert Frazier

Before you crack open Pegasus Down (Oceanview Publishing), the new novel byPhilip Donlay, you better buckle up: You’re in for a hell of a ride. This action-thriller soars from start to finish with page-a-minute suspense and thrills to keep you riveted to your seat, just like an on-screen summer blockbuster.

Pegasus DownDonlay drops readers, and one of his main characters, right into the fray in his opening chapter as a CIA-operated Learjet crashes behind enemy lines somewhere in Eastern Europe. On board are Special Agent Lauren McKenna, code name “Pegasus”, and a recently liberated American scientist who possesses technological plans for a new stealth jet capable of delivering a nuclear device.

McKenna manages to swim free of the wreckage, and must immediately go on the run from foreign forces and a terrorist group that will stop at nothing to obtain the technology.

Read my full review at Killer Nashvillle.

Around the Web: A roundup of articles on reading and writing

by G. Robert Frazier

As you know, I occasionally like to list a roundup of interesting articles about reading and writing. I’ve been meaning to add a new list for a while but have been busy writing, so the list just kept getting bigger and bigger. Herewith, then, is my latest collection for your reading enjoyment. Feel free to comment about any of the items that strike you or post links to articles you’ve come across. 

President Obama will nominate Carla D. Hayden to be the Librarian of Congress; Hayden would be both the first African-American and the first woman to hold the position.Speaking of diversity, blogger Jenny Bhatt wrote this interesting article on

Speaking of diversity, blogger Jenny Bhatt wrote this interesting article on diversity in publishing. The publishing industry should certainly encourage and promote diverse authors when it can, especially based on the statistics, but what we don’t need is a box on submission forms asking the writer’s color or sexual preference. Let’s let our words speak for us, not the color of our skin.

James_Patterson

The LA Times Book Prizes will honor U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and novelist James Patterson. Additionally, five finalists were announced in 10 categories. Patterson is currently sponsoring a contest in conjunction with his online master writing course in which he pledges to co-author a book with the winner of the contest. The catch is it costs $90 for the course and your chances of winning are probably as good as winning the next Powerball jackpot. Still, could you imagine what it would mean to have your name on a book alongside Patterson’s? Talk about a career highlight! I am very tempted to give it a shot. It’s only money, right? And, at the very least, you do get the benefit of learning in his writing course.

The Horror Writers Association has announced its final ballot for its annual Bram Stoker Awards. I so want to read all of these books. But more importantly, I want to be on this list some day. I’ve got a horror novel in the works that I hope to dust off in the next few months.

While we’re talking about genre, which is more important? Literary or genre fiction. Join the debate here. Personally, I’m a genre writer. I like characters that do things, action and mystery. I feel you can explore plenty about the human soul by putting your characters in unusual and moral situations while still being entertained.

The PassengerNPR talks the latest trend in crime thrillers: The ‘Girl’ in the title. Even more interesting are the comments at the bottom of the article, so be sure to read through. I just finished reading a “Gone Girl” type novel called The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz. See my review at BookPage.

If you missed it when it was first posted, here’s Christopher Walken reading “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe.

The New Yorker recently cited T.S. Eliot as offering this advice on What Makes Great Detective Fiction.

Here’s a great way to get to know your characters. Interview them and ask these probing questions that CEOs sometimes ask on new hire interviews.

I’ve been saying it all along. There’s just something more to like about an actual print book than a bunch of digital letters flashed on your e-reader. According to a recent study, 92 percent of students agree.

Any sci-fi writers reading this? If so, have you ever wondered what it means to be a science fiction writer in the 21st century? That’s what author Charlie Jane Anders asks in this article over on io9.gizmodo.com.

Author Jo Nesbo has the perfect writing room. He never uses it.

To the sensory cortex in your brain, reading is the same as doing. The words you choose not only have the power to change your readers’ minds. They can also change their brains, according to new neurological research.

Publishers Weekly posted a different sort of list recently: 10 books about loneliness. The cool thing being that in examining loneliness, they also serve as an antidote to it.

Here’s a take on the ever-raging debate of pantsing versus plotting from The Atlantic. It’s from a 2013 article, but still plenty relevant for writers wrestling over how best to approach their craft.

The battle lines have been drawn again against The Huffington Post over its policy of not paying writers for their work. Some interesting reads on the subject (and make sure you read the comments as well to further the debate) at Writer Unboxed, from Chuck Wendig, and Huffington Post UK editor in chief Stephen Hull.  For more on writers getting paid for what they do, check out Kristen Lamb’s blog.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these roundups, and a week since this happened, but it’s fitting that we pay tribute to Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, who both passed away recently. In memoriam, BookBub posted seven timeless quotes from Harper’s book, while Eco left this advice for writers.

Have you come across any interesting reads for writers? Share a link in the comments section.

Review: A Better Goodbye takes look at gritty underside of L.A.

by G. Robert Frazier

A Better GoodbyeYou know how they always say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? In the case of A Better Goodbye (Tyrus Books), this is one instance in which you certainly could. The cover of John Schulian’s debut novel depicts a brilliant yellow and orange sunset over the dark and gritty cityscape of Los Angeles. It’s a perfectly fitting image, as it represents the murky lifestyle Schulian paints beneath the brilliant sparkle and glamour of the movie capital of the world.

It’s in this milieu, right on the fringes of tourist-friendly Hollywood, that we find Schulian’sunforgettable cast of down-and-out characters. They’re not the sort of characters you’d want to associate with, but you can sympathize with their plight. And like any good noir novel, the lives of Schulian’s characters are irrevocably intertwined and destined to come crashing down in a bloody finale.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Review: The Gap of Time updates Shakespeare for a modern audience

by G. Robert Frazier

It takes a top-notch writer to be able to capture the essence of a classic William Shakespeare play and present it in an entertaining way for a modern audience. Jeanette Winterson pulls off that feat with her new book, The Gap of Time (Hogarth, $25), an update of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

The Gap of TimeWinterson is aptly able to spin a parallel tale of love, jealousy and forgiveness with a cast of characters stretching from London to the United States and back again. Her writing is at times lyrical while also whimsy, realizing the absurdity of the tale needs a bit of self-conscious ribbing in order to not be taken too seriously.

For the uninitiated, The Winter’s Tale presents the story of a king fueled by jealousy who believes his best friend and his wife have had an affair, leading to his daughter’s banishment and his wife’s death. By a series of coincidences, they are ultimately reunited. Winterson faithfully follows the script of Shakespeare’s play as she presents each act of her novel, beginning with the jealous rage of her main character Leo and following it up with his daughter Perdita’s discovery of her true identity in Act 2. She brings them together in the final act where they are able to forgive each other, as the gap of time since his initial outburst has given Leo time to reflect and Perdita a chance to grow on her own.

If that sounds a bit complicated and contrived, so be it. That’s Shakespeare. But, it works in an entertaining way.

Winterson weaves in enough humor, emotional angst, and unique characters to give the tale a fascinating life of its own. Nor are we confined to just one limited point of view, as Winterson gets into the heads of all the major characters to give us their perspective as the complicated plot unravels.

The story, as in the play, ends on a happy note as Leo is reunited with his daughter and she forgives him for abandoning her. As a modern day reader, however, I was longing for a more classic tragic outcome as Shakespeare popularized in his earlier plays. The happy ending in this story seemed almost as contrived as the coincidental nature of the plot.

Jeanette Winterson has written ten novels, children’s books, nonfiction works and screenplays. Perhaps it was fate that led her to craft The Gap o f Time.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

G. Robert Frazier is a writer living in La Vergne, TN. Follow him on Twitter @grfrazier23.