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One Dead, 

Two to Go

By Elena Hartwell

Review by Red Velvette

Camel Press

2016

4 To-Be-Read Piles

Elena Hartwell’s One Dead, Two To Go is a fun, engrossing mystery. While it starts a bit slowly, it soon pulls in the reader and is difficult to put down. The story follows lovable yet slightly eccentric Eddie Shoes, private investigator, on one of her cases, but this is not your average murder mystery. Hartwell chose Bellingham, Washington, as the scene for this case, and the rainy, dreary Pacific Northwest is the perfect setting for a story of marriage-gone-wrong, murder, lost love, and hijinks.

 

Having a female private investigator as the protagonist makes the story all the more interesting and modernizes the hardboiled PI role. Even more endearing about the story is that the rough and tumble PI’s mother comes into play. The dynamic between Eddie Shoes and her off-the-wall mother is relatable to any daughter with an overbearing mother, and it adds extra zest to this somebody-done-somebody-wrong tale.

 

The writing is in a clear, concise style that lends itself well to the no-nonsense PI and makes for an easy read. This is a great book for the airport or just curled up in your favorite reading spot on a wintery day. I’m definitely looking forward to reading another Eddie Shoes mystery! This one gets four to-be-read piles!        

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When the Killing's Done

By T.C. Boyle

Sage Discusses

Penguin

2012

Just to mix things up a bit, Liz and I thought we'd discuss, back-to-back, two "enviro-thrillers," one from a big-five press and one from an independent press. I recently finished When the Killing's Done and loved it. The book revolves around a clash between a radical environmentalist and a dedicated National Park Service biologist, as the Park Service seeks to eradicate invasive species from California's Channel Islands. Boyle gives his audience shipwrecks, love, life, and death . . . and flora, fauna, and less than merry weather. 

Pros:

Well, the big pro is the prose. Boyle writes with power and authenticity. The details he includes enhance the story and transport the reader. His discussion of boats rings true. And his focus on the Channel Islands makes me, at least, want to head across the channel from Santa Barbara . . . with dive gear in tow. 

Boyle tackles complicated, emotional environmental issues without providing answers. He respects his readers and leaves them to contemplate on their own the pressing concerns of the twenty-first century and the natural environment. 

Cons:

For, me the book had few, but I could see where someone might say it runs slow in places. Likewise, someone might see some of the action as slightly contrived or extreme/unbelievable. But really, Boyle packs a pretty sweet literary punch. 

Highlight:

With this novel, Boyle provides a fantastic example of art (in the form of a fictional work) distilling life . . . distilling critical social issues.

The Wildlands

By Abby Geni

Liz Discusses

Counterpoint

2018

Disclaimer: I'm only about a third into The Wildlands. But Sage and I thought it would be fun to put these two works up side by side, and to "dissect" my reading "process" as I go through Geni's book. 

Counterpoint has provided me with good reading in the past, and Geni's The Wildlands got good reviews, so I grabbed a copy. The novel focuses on an Oklahoma family devastated by a tornado that leaves the four children orphaned. Fighting poverty, something perhaps akin to survivors' guilt, and the challenges of growing up, the foursome separates, with the only boy becoming an environmental crusader . . . and the youngest girl joining him as he terrorizes those who harm animals. 

Pros:

First, I'm a big one for locales and settings, and Geni does a good job of bringing the Sooner State to life. Second, Geni has created a very young protagonist (a nine-year-old girl) who works. If I started off a little skeptical about such a youngster hopping into the point-of-view driver's seat, at this point, I'm okay with it. It's working. 

Cons:

It sounds like this one moves a bit slower than Boyle's When the Killing's Done, and perhaps involves a little less "wild riding," at least in the first third. I'm not a reader who needs a ton of action or speed, but for those who like to move along, this one takes its time. And while the prose is fluent and effective, it hasn't yet gotten me raving (in contrast to Sage's paeans to Boyle). 

What I'm Hoping to Find:

As I continue into this story, I'm hoping for some of the complexity Sage describes encountering in Boyle's work. I want human truths and social exigencies. 

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Galveston

By Suzanne Morris

(And a Discussion of Historical

Re-Releases)

Review by Sage Webb

Originally published by Doubleday, NY

Copyright 1976, 2000

Distributed in 2016 by Open Road Distribution

3+ To-Be-Read Piles

Like many on the Read Local (R) Team, I enjoy a good visit to Galveston and stopping at the Galveston Bookshop. Browsing in there not too long ago, I found Morris's Galveston, which the charming and helpful store representative suggested was once required reading in certain Texas schools.

 

The book spans four and a half decades, from 1877 through 1920, and three women's lives. It weaves love, fate, deception, and heartbreak with the history of the island, its storms and beach summers and twists of fortune. Sometimes feeling long-ish, with slightly two-dimensional characters, the story does come together with an interesting payoff at the end. A little Southern Gothic, a little historical romance-gone-wrong, it has the lure of history and questions that persist till the end. For someone who loves Galveston Island, though, it also offers more. It rings with local lore and texture. There's the train station, and there are the old mansions, and there's the beach pavilion of music and entertainment. . . . It's a sticky book---like it or not---that adheres to the reader if that reader loves the island. 

 

The book also offers an interesting opportunity to comment on the role of independent and smaller presses in keeping older works alive. From what I can gather, Morris originally published with Doubleday. Now, it's a little hard to tell who's actually publishing the book. For distribution, Open Road Distribution is listed, but their website doesn't feature the book. Regardless, the book seems to be out in the world because of the efforts of a publisher other than Doubleday/Penguin Random House. (I can't say for sure, but a search online leads me to that conclusion.) 

And here's where independent presses come in: many smaller and independent presses keep in print, or put back in print, books that otherwise might fade into the mists of bookshelves gone by. For many titles, a fade to black would be quite sad and would leave readers without easy/affordable access to a work that might be the one to speak to them. Or might be the one that illuminates the past and helps the reader make sense of the present. Red Velvette discusses old books here. This past summer, I got to introduce a re-release of a 1924 novel of social activism. While historical books may not cater to modern tastes, may raise issues of social justice and mores, or may seem less "relevant," a dive into them might also produce a greater understanding of modern context . . . or even just provide a good story. 

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Last Voyages: The Lives and Tragic Loss of Remarkable Sailors

By Nicholas Gray

Review by Leo Rand

Fernhurst Books

Copyright 2017

3 To-Be-Read Piles for Non-Sailors

4 for Sailors

Even for non-sailors, Gray’s Last Voyages offers human drama and frailty, but the book definitely aims at those who love and live on the sea. As a guy who lives on a boat and who spends a lot of his free time at anchor, I enjoyed this collection of short essays on people who drew their last breaths on the ocean (eleven essays total).

 

The book does more than look at individual lives, though. Rather, it tells an overarching story of “regular” people (not the wealthy, not the gifted) who sought adventure and maybe fame by going to sea, often racing. For the most part, they died pushing their boats or themselves too hard. And here’s where it gets interesting thematically: generally, weather, storms, and bad conditions didn’t kill these adventurers. Some died in freak circumstances, implying that sometimes a person’s time is just “up.” Some died pushing themselves toward accolades or because they felt backed into a corner, forced to go on and cross oceans because of boasts they’d made, commitments they’d undertaken, even when they were unprepared or worn too thin.

 

Finances, outside expectations, mental-health issues all play roles in these stories. So does a pure love of boats and the sea. Essentially, more than one of these sailors simply fell off their boats and died of exposure. It was as though the drive that pushed them toward the white-capped beyond may have ultimately failed them as well. That drive pushed them too hard in some ways, leaving them taking chances, going unprepared, moving rashly . . . so they failed and fell. But they did so in the environment they loved best.

 

So here’s the thing. I felt like this book should be up here not because these stories individually will appeal to a mass audience or offer some amazing intellectual adventure but because they remind us that sometimes there is more than safety and comfort—sometimes there’s the ineffable . . . and if that un-utterable involves mortality . . . well, we’re mortal.

 

Yeah, it’s hard to put into words. But in a world that prizes comfort and safety nets, a story that leaves one exposed speaks of a revolution of sorts.