The Hopefuls

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Washington, D.C. has been the center of media attention since the beginning of this year. It makes sense, since we are in the first year of a new administration and all the newness provides countless stories for the press. The fact that I currently live here too gives me a front row view of what is going on. But there’s another side to D.C., one that has to do with the people and the culture. This is one of the plot points of Jennifer Close’s novel The Hopefuls.

Beth and Matt Kelly have recently moved to Washington, D.C. from New York City due to Matt getting a new job. While Matt settles into his new workplace, Beth, unemployed and stir crazy, struggles to adjust to life in a new city and to make new friends. Things get interesting when they meet Jimmy and Ashleigh Dillon, Texas natives who offer a new perspective on what moving to a new place has to offer. When Jimmy decides to move back to Texas and run for public office, they invite the Kellys to manage their campaign and live in Texas for the year. Though Beth and Matt are looking forward to an adventure, they soon find out that campaigning is not as easy as it seems.

I could relate to Beth on many levels. The adjustment to living in D.C. is a definite one. I never lived in New York, but it took some time to get used to all the people, navigating the streets and the grocery stores. The unemployed factor: I at one point did not work for over two months, and while it was nice at first, not having a job made focusing and maintaining and identity difficult.

Close did a great job of capturing the city’s essence, from people knowing each other’s connections to the nicknames of the Safeways. However, I felt like the setting was what made most of the story. There was no real plot, and the pages were mostly filled with descriptions of Beth’s experiences: what people were doing, where they were going, and so on.  There was some insight as to the stress and mental toll a campaign can have on those involved and some character development, but no major climax or anything like that. I found myself skipping ahead a couple of times just to see what would happen.

I recommend this novel for those who enjoy a perspective of D.C., but be prepared for a story that doesn’t have much substance other than that.

Edge of Black

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This book is part of the Dr. Samantha Owens series, written by J.T. Ellison. Last summer, I reviewed What Lies Behind, the latest in the series. Wanting to read the rest, I backtracked to the second novel.

In Edge of Black, Sam has just arrived in D.C. and is teaching forensic science at George Washington University. She is enjoying a fresh start in a new city with her new boyfriend and new house. However, when a foreign toxic substance is released in to the Washington metro system and sickens hundreds, Sam soon finds herself pulled into a national security investigation. With the help of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and her homicide detective friend Darren Fletcher, Sam follows the trail of the villain, not knowing what might happen next.

I really like how Ellison’s main character is a medical examiner, a change from the usual protagonists of detectives and lawyers. Sam’s medical perspective creates an interesting angle with investigating the crime, particularly with examining the victims’ bodies. I myself can’t imagine doing a job like that, but I admire those who do. I also appreciate that Ellison did her research for the scientific terms that are used in the novel.

Living in the same city as Sam, it was easy to picture the places she went to during her research. The plot was decent, but I felt like it was a bit more predictable than What Lies Behind. Even so, I do recommend this novel to people who want to read about crime investigations from a different point of view.

Still Alice

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Alzheimer’s disease is defined as a form of dementia that can cause issues with a person’s thinking, memory and actions, and is irreversible.

In Lisa Genova’s novel Still Alice, fifty-year-old Alice Howland, a linguistics professor at Harvard University, discovers that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her diagnosis quickly begins to affects the lives of her, her husband John, and their three adult children. Set over a course of two years, the story follows the family’s experiences, their attemps to live normally and deal with Alice’s deteriorating condition.

Although the protagonist is twice my age, I found Alice’s voice to be very authentic. The story is written in third person format, but follows Alice’s thoughts and actions as she navigates her disease. Throughout the story, there is a gradual change in her voice as the disease begins to affect her thought process and how she notices details of her life. Genova, with her neuroscience background, did a good job of explaining the science part of Alzheimer’s.

I admit that I did watch a few clips of the 2014 movie adaptation before reading the book, but I liked being able to picture actors Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin as the characters of Alice and John and their interactions.

The best aspect of this novel is that it portrays a real-life disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a real condition that affects over 5 million Americans, according to alz.org. I definitely recommend this book.

Gray Mountain

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Since moving to D.C., I’ve learned a little bit about the geography of Virginia and West Virginia and how rugged it can be. This is where John Grisham’s 2014 novel, Gray Mountain, takes place.

Samantha Kofer is a law associate who works at a high-powered real estate firm in New York City. When the 2008 recession hits and she is furloughed, she faces the opportunity of interning at a nonprofit for a year with the possibility of coming back to work at the firm. The internship at a legal aid clinic brings her to the small Appalachian coal town of Brady, Virginia, far from the city life she is accustomed to. Although skeptical at first, she slowly begins to acclimate to country life and the diverse people and experiences it offers.

With Grisham’s lawyer background, he did a good job at explaining the legal processes and jargon that appear throughout the story. I liked that the story involved lawsuits in a small town, a change from most that take place in major cities like New York or Los Angeles. However, there were too many cases that he introduced that didn’t go anywhere. Also, I felt like the terrain of the coal mining took up the focus of the story rather than the characters themselves. Most of the pages are filled with descriptions of what the coal does to the environment and the negative effect it has on people. It’s essential to the plot, but it took too much focus of the story.

When it comes to reading this, I would recommend borrowing this book from the library.

 

 

What Lies Behind

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Used book sales are usually places to find books that might be older, or even out of print. In this case, though, I found this novel that was published just last year.

J.T. Ellison’s thriller What Lies Behind follows Dr. Samantha “Sam” Owens, a medical examiner and college professor, who lives in Washington, D.C. When an undercover FBI agent is found murdered and an ex-medical student severely injured in a Georgetown apartment, Dr. Owens is called in to examine the scene by her friend, homicide detective Darren Fletcher. It’s soon discovered that the FBI undercover was investigating a much larger conspiracy involving bioterrorism that could threaten the entire population. Sam and Fletcher must figure out who is behind the conspiracy in a matter of hours.

Being that this novel combined two huge interests of mine, Washington D.C. and police work, the story instantly appealed to me. The writing is in third person, but the chapters change perspective, following not only Sam’s actions but also the activities of another FBI agent, and, in some cases, the perpetrators. This sort of writing style gives the characters and stories more depth since we get the chance to see what they are thinking and feeling.

Another element I enjoyed was its setting of the city where I currently live. Ellison’s descriptions of the District were very vivid and accurate; I could easily imagine where these characters were going in almost every scene. It wasn’t surprising to find out that Ellison had once worked in the White House and lived in the city. I liked reading a crime story that was set in the nation’s capital as opposed to the common settings of New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles (at least for those popular crime shows.)

I definitely recommend this novel to anybody who likes a crime or thriller story, or is an avid fan of the Law & Order series. This novel is actually the fourth in a series, and I plan to check out the preceding books in the near future.

Room

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Room was an excellent movie that was released in 2015, and garnered a huge amount of attention after lead actress Brie Larson won the Best Actress Oscar for her role. The movie is based upon the novel of the same name by Irish author Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay. I had actually first heard about the novel when it first came out during my freshmen year of college in late 2010, but finally got around to reading it some time ago.

Room tells the story of Ma and her five-year-old son Jack. The two of them live in a small space called “Room.” In reality, Ma has been a captive in the garden shed of a man, called “Old Nick,” for the past seven years. Jack is the result of him raping her. To Jack, though, Room is all he has ever known, and therefore thinks it is the whole world. He calls each object by proper name, including “Lamp,” “Skylight,” and “Sink.” Ma makes sure Jack has proper care, setting an exercise and hygiene regimen and engaging him in educational activities.

Since the story is told from the perspective of Jack, the writing uses an unusual structure and grammatical style. For example, “She gets out of bed and goes to Thermostat to hot the air.” Jack describes each thing exactly how he sees it, using simpler words. While the writing style is a bit different, I was able to follow the story and admire Donoghue for being able to write in such a unique style.

 

This book is definitely worth reading. It’s a bit of a challenge to read, but offers a different perspective of an otherwise serious scenario.

 

Dark Places

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The title of this novel just gives you the chills.

This is Gillian Flynn’s second published novel, published after Sharp Objects and before Gone Girl, though it’s the last one I read. Knowing how psychologically disturbing Sharp Objects was, I decided to read Dark Places, wanting to challenge myself with an intense novel.

The protagonist, Libby Day, was the sole survivor of a massacre in which her mother and two older sisters were violently killed in their farmhouse in 1985, when Libby was seven. She testified that her older brother Ben was the one who committed the murders, and he was convicted and sent to jail.

Nearly twenty-five years later, Libby finds herself in need of money, having lived off of donations from the public for most of her life. She gets involved with a team of amateur investigators who are convinced that Ben is innocent. Although Libby is skeptical at first, she becomes determined to find out the truth by tracking down a number of people of interest, including Ben’s former girlfriend, old best friend and her own estranged father. dark-places-cover-w352

The format of the book alternatives between present day and flashbacks to the day of the murders. Libby narrates the present in the first person, while the events of that day in 1985 are told through third person accounts of Libby’s mom and Ben. I like that Flynn chose to use different narrative techniques, because it shows the difference between what Libby only knows, as opposed to what is really happening in the lives of other people. it adds great perspective to the story.

I found this book also psychologically disturbing, but in a different way. In Sharp Objects, the protagonist struggles more with her inner demons. In this novel. Flynn explores the difficult of family dynamics, poverty and satanic worships, issues that were present in the 80s. This novel is a mystery, unraveling what really happened that day and keeping you guessing as to who did what.

If you’re in for a hard core mystery with some Stephen King-like gore and violence, this is a book to read.

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