Betrayed by Karen Olson

Book Review:  Betrayed by Karen Olson

Nicole Jones aka Tina Adler aka Susan McQueen aka Helene LeBlanc is back.  FBI agents are waiting for her at the Cape Cod bike shop where’s she’s been working for the past few months, going by the name Helen White and living off of the grid.  She’s asked about a laptop that contains incriminating data about a hit on mobster Tony DeMarco.  She’s released but isn’t surprised to find FBI agent Zeke Chapman waiting for her at the house she’s sitting for the summer.  She and Zeke have a long history — he knows who she really is and why she’s been on the run all these years.  He offers her a way to clean the slate once and for all.

While I normally enjoy this series, this installment drove me nuts.  I’m jumping right to the parts that really bugged me.  Spoilers follow.

Zeke expects Tina to run, so he plants a GPS in the laptop — which she easily finds and removes.  They are both expert hackers well aware of each other’s talents and tendencies — Zeke didn’t think he needed to plant more than one and Tina didn’t think to look for more than one???  And she disconnected the GPS he installed on page 59.  She finds the second GPS tracker on page 94 and disables it before leaving the motel.  So, how does Zeke find her on page 96?  She leaves the motel in a rush, unsure of her destination, and ends up at a Starbucks– where Zeke is already conveniently hiding in the shadows.  What???

Zeke also conveniently ends up near the country club later.  This isn’t as much of a stretch — Tina expects him to be there and goes looking for him.  She doesn’t find him at the club but she sees Tony DeMarco’s henchmen — and they see her.  Tina makes a run for it, sprinting for almost four blocks before she looks over her shoulder and tumbles to the sidewalk — and the hand reaching down to pull her up is conveniently Zeke’s.  Seriously???  She just happened to stumble within his reach?

And the bad guys — the hackers framing Tina and Zeke.  Complaint One:  If Amelie is the expert hacker this book makes her out to be, why did she and Ian ever need Tina for the bank job all those years ago?  Complaint Two:  How does everyone know that Tina and Ian had sex when he found her on Block Island?  What did the guy do, post it as a status update on FB?  Complaint Three:  Was the sloppy code part of Daniel’s cover or just a convenient plot detail to clue Tina in that there were two hackers?  Complaint Four:  I’m not a techie person, so I never went into this series expecting that I’d understand any hacking details BUT Amelie appears to be some sort of super villain — the hacking described here almost seems like ESP is involved.

Those are my major gripes.  Despite them, I enjoy the series, and will probably re-read it from the beginning someday before the next book comes out.  And given the cliffhanger ending, I’m sure there will be a next book.



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The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

Book Review:  The Passenger by Lisa Lutz


After finding her husband’s dead body at the bottom of the stairs, Tanya considers disposing of it.  Quickly realizing that she lacks the physical strength to move him, she packs her bags.  It’s a suspicious way to die, after all, and she can’t have the police examining her too closely.

On the road, she focuses on putting distance between herself and her former life with Frank.  She drives through the night and a couple of states away, trades in Frank’s truck for a car, which she plans to replace fairly soon.  She’s already drawn as much cash as she can from her bank account and credit card, so she makes a call.  It’s not a call she wants to make, but, in order to start a new life, she needs a new identity and cash.  It’s a call that will ultimately change what she has to do to survive.

I read this book in one evening.  What happened in Tanya’s past to set her on this path?  She’s too emotionally detached to be likable, but as her story progresses, it’s apparent that she’s not a bad person (although she does bad things to survive).  It’s also apparent that she’s traumatized by something that happened years ago.  And that she longs for home and the girl she used to be.

The novel effectively alternates between her present, on the run, and glimpses into her past, via emails beginning in 2005.  I’ll admit, I wanted to yell at her a few times.  As much as she acted like she to knew how to run, she made enough mistakes to indicate that it wasn’t second nature to her.  Or, maybe to suggest that she was tired of running.

The suspense was well-written, as were the gradual reveals into Tanya’s past.  As Tanya runs out of options, the reader gets closer to discovering what happened all those years ago.  And, finally, everything falls into place.

A compelling psychological thriller.  Dare I hope that Lutz will explore Blue’s story, sometime in the future?


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How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

how-to-start-a-fireBook Review:  How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

College students Anna and Kate were matched as roommates, not through any carefully considered process, but because they both applied late, and everyone else was already paired up.  As luck would have it, they’re both sloppy insomniacs who hate pop music, so they get along well.  After a party one night, they find George passed out on a lawn, so they do the responsible thing — they wheel her to their dorm room in a shopping cart.  And a lifelong friendship begins.

One night, something happens that affects each of them differently.  It’s not something they talk about often.  Over the years, their lives will take them in different directions but they stay connected.   There will be rifts among them, from time to time, but they always come back together.

Apparently, I read this book when it first came out, which makes sense — Lisa Lutz is one of my Must Read Authors.  When I spotted it on the shelf, I thought I’d just missed it because 2015 was a chaotic year for me.  But then I began reading and the familiarity started setting in.  I didn’t remember how it turned out though, so I thought I must have started it and not finished it.  Nope.  I kept coming across passages that felt familiar, right up to the last page.  How did I not remember a book by Lisa Lutz???  And why didn’t I write a book review the first time?

The book jumps back and forth in time between 1989 and 2014.  The time hops provide some mystery, particularly about That Night.  And they set up several aha moments.  I found it jarring though, as well as artificial.  An aha moment should come because you, the reader, piece the clues together — not because information was withheld from you before and provided to you later.  I was interested in the characters’ journeys and it annoyed me to find out that something life-changing had happened but not know what until a flashback a few chapters later.  I’m guessing this is why the book didn’t stick with me despite the brilliant writing.  I never completely lost myself in the story because the next chapter would pick me up and place me somewhere else, with no reason why.

Individually, the chapters are exquisite.  Lutz immediately brings you into the story at that point in time and makes you feel comfortable there.  She excels at banter and there is plenty, particularly with Anna and Kate.


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splinterlandsBook Review:  Splinterlands by John Feffer

Geo-paleontologist Julian West contemplates the state of the world — and his family — in the year 2050 and tries to piece together where it all went wrong.  The climate has changed dramatically, as has the political landscape.  Most of the countries we know today (2017) have been torn apart by internal conflict, dwindling resources, and terrorism.

Using virtual reality to visit his children and his ex-wife, West brings readers into this broken new world.  War zones and kidnappings are now the norm in Brussels.  Xinjiang prospers but is no longer part of China.  Vermont is snowless and home to a few farming communes, heavily armed and prepared to defend themselves.

Eh.  The premise is certainly timely and Feffer references plenty of recent/current events in the storyline.  I never connected with West’s character however.  He’s detached and, as the footnotes indicate, somewhat unreliable as a narrator.  So, for me this was mostly a gloom and doom read lacking emotional impact.  The only feeling I felt was a mild sense of dread as West approached each of his family members, particularly his youngest son.  There’s more going on that West reports, or perhaps is aware of himself.

Not recommended by me although other reviewers have loved it.


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The Lost Child of Lychford

lost-child-of-lychfordBook Review:  The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul Cornell

Lizzie’s first Christmas as St. Martin’s vicar is just around the corner.  Expectations are high.  It’s frustrating for her when her parishioners are less than receptive to the Advent Carol Service and Christingle she planned with such care.  With two weeks still to go, she’s in a foul mood.  In addition to all of the other details she’s trying to get just right, a couple from Swindon want to get married in her church on Christmas Eve.  She’s unrecognizably temperamental.  And that’s before the apparition of a small boy begins visiting her.

Judith and Autumn had some shining moments in this novella, but that’s all that worked for me this time.  I saw what happened to Judith, so I sold on that particular storyline.  But Lizzie and Autumn???  How were they taken over by the dark?  Cornell tells us that they have been but that wasn’t enough for me.  When dark forces tried to manipulate things in the first book, The Witches of Lychford, we saw the how, and that made all the difference, for me at least.  Lizzie’s already deeply controlled when the book opens though — how did that happen?  Especially to someone who can see otherworldly beings for what they are?  And Autumn?  One minute she’s fine, the next minute she’s fixated on a guy to the point of not caring that her best friend is trying to damage her hands or that Judith has been missing for days?  At least show me someone slipping something into her drink.




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Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

witches-of-lychfordBook Review:  Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

A supermarket wants to build its newest store in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford.  Some of Lychford’s residents like the idea; some do not.  Judith Mawson knows that the proposed location for the store would be more than bad for the community — it would be catastrophic.  Lychford lies on the boundary between worlds and destroying that border, which the supermarket would do, would open the gateways to beings humans should never encounter.  Unfortunately, she’s not liked by her neighbors.  Normally this doesn’t bother her because she doesn’t like them either, but she needs them to listen to her now.

Lizzie grew up in Lychford and has recently returned to become its new pastor, but a recent tragedy has caused her faith to falter.  Autumn was Lizzie’s friend growing up, despite the fact that she’s always been an atheist and Lizzie has always been religious.  Something happened to her after Lizzie left for her studies, something she still isn’t able to face.

All three women are separate from Lychford while being a part of it:  Judith and Autumn for their notoriety, Lizzie for her time away and her current wall of grief.  Judith will bring them together and together they will fight to save the town.

A quick, light read with an interesting premise.  The heart of this story revolves around the women, each scarred by past choices, past events.  Cornell does an exceptional job creating such intriguing characters, and revealing pertinent details from their pasts at just the right time.  And he does it within a bare 144 pages.


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The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

invisible-libraryBook Review:  The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

In a world of parallel universes, the Library exists in its own space and time, and collects unique books from all realities.  Irene literally grew up in the library and she’s been a librarian for awhile.  She’s accustomed to traveling between universes to retrieve important items.  She’s not accustomed to being sent on missions with students however.  Nothing about this mission is typical:  not the secrecy, not the student partner, not the Chaos-infused alternate London they must infiltrate in order to get the book.

Intriguing.  Steampunk typically isn’t my thing, and there are steampunk elements in this story, but they are simply characteristics of this particular London.  This particular London also features fae and vampires, so it’s definitely a happening place.   While Irene and Kai run into problems with all three, it’s the Chaos that’s the real challenge.  It’s apparently not that uncommon for worlds to be alive with magic and the supernatural but when higher levels of Chaos enter the mix, it throws everything off-kilter.

Lots of action, lots of adventure.  Interesting characters.  This is the first book in the series and I’m looking forward to reading the next book, The Masked City.  I’m hoping to learn more about the Library itself.  It’s huge and it’s secretive.  Its librarians actually live inside it — how does that work?

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