The Off–Islander – Peter Colt

Private Investigator Andy Roark is a bit of a loner, grabbing divorce and cheating spouse cases to make a living. He’s Boston raised, and Vietnam bred and just doesn’t quite fit in with society any longer. Used to a purpose for everything, he struggles with PTSD in a world he sees with no order. Andy’s closest friend is Danny Sullivan, his childhood buddy and now successful attorney, who calls Andy with a missing person’s case. A wealthy client in San Francisco is looking for the father who disappeared many years ago. With her husband making a Senate run, she wants to ensure there will be no surprises forthcoming from the past.  

Andy flies to the west coast and meets with Deborah Swift. There he learns of her father, Charlie Hammond, also a war vet, who headed out for a pack of cigarettes one evening, never to return to his family. Despite her hiring Pinkerton detectives, his trail ran cold, and Andy may her last hope. Pinkerton was able to learn that several checks from the VA were sent to Hyannis MA before they stopped altogether. She and Danny are hopeful that as a Boston ‘insider’ he’ll discover things that others cannot. 

Intrigued, Andy takes the case. Upon visiting the address where the checks were delivered, he discovers an old woman who used to run a commune of sorts on her property. After speaking with her and learning of her youthful exploits and the many vagrant visitors she had back in the day, he’s intrigued by her explanations and her inability to remember if Charlie Hammond had ever been one of them. When he takes his leave, he does a bit of snooping and finds a pretty sophisticated camera system, and evidence of drug dealing.  What seemed like a dead end is suddenly much more interesting.

As Andy keeps digging and gets ever closer to his prey, he inadvertently raises the ire of others, and strange things start happening. A shove out of nowhere that launches him off of a hillside, a very close call or two in the woods, and an unexpected  (well, perhaps in retrospect it was to be expected) ending, will keep the pages turning deep into the night,  and the mystery lover satisfied! 

The book started off a bit slow for me, but then took off like a rocket. The characters are engaging – though at times difficult to like – and the backstories into their lives serve to help us understand why they are who they are for this novel. I thoroughly enjoyed Andy’s character and really hope to see him continue to develop and grow in future novels! Here’s hoping!! 

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from Netgalley, in exchange for an objective (if not very, very overdue) review. 

The Christmas Table – Donna VanLiere

In early 1972, John Creighton unloads three slabs of black walnut wood from his pick-up truck and carries them into his workshop. His intent is to handcraft his wife a kitchen table to replace the formica set they presently have, and he hopes to have it completed for Thanksgiving, just six months away, to surprise her. But then a devastating diagnosis brings much change to his family and the plans they all have. 

In 2012, Lauren Mabrey, an assistant at Glory’s Place, which hosts afternoon programs for students, learns to her surprise that she is expecting her first child. Still newlyweds, she and her husband are thrilled, and quickly realize that they need to do some quick renovations to their home. On a visit to a local builder, she finds a table, newly refinished, that will work perfectly in their kitchen. With the help of her friends, she brings it home, only to discover a hidden drawer beneath the table – and in it – stacks of handwritten recipe cards. A foster child herself, she is fearful of not knowing how to be a ‘good’ mother, so fascinated by the recipes, Lauren is determined to teach herself to cook. Using the recipes, she becomes very curious about the woman who wrote them, and the personal messages on each card referencing events of her and her family’s lives. Determined to return the recipe cards to their rightful owner, Lauren attempts to find the family, using clues from the personal notes added. 

Told from past and present, the reader learns about both families, as John and his young family struggle through the hand that they’ve been dealt and learn to trust in faith, while Lauren revels in her pregnancy, learns to cook, and starts her search, fruitlessly it seems, for the family whose lives are chronicled amongst their wonderful recipes. But Christmas is coming, and with it a baby, and perhaps a small miracle or two…

This was a sweet story, and I can totally see a Christmas special coming from it! While the writing wasn’t as in depth as I might like, with personal emotion and reflection from the characters, the message and sentiment is beautiful. A nice easy read that will lift one’s spirits and faith in mankind. 

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from Netgalley, in exchange for an objective review. 

The Orphan’s Guilt – Archer Mayor

This novel starts with a young man being pulled over for a DUI. Passive and quiet, John Rust accepts his arrest, seemingly not really caring about the future. He’s just lost his handicapped brother Peter, whom he was devoted to, and was the sole caretaker of, for many years. He’s taken to the police station and processed, and eventually released on his own recognizance, and takes a taxi home. 

John’s attorney, Scott Jezek, is hoping to find a loophole – some way to keep John out of jail. He calls his best investigator, Sally Kravitz, explains John’s situation, and asks for her assistance. He also asks her to delve into Peter’s story in attempts to garner sympathy for his client. However, as Sally starts digging into the past, she learns that John & Peter came from a very volatile living situation as children, and that Peter’s handicap wasn’t something he was born with – it was inflicted. With Peter’s death now potentially being a years-old murder, Joe Gunther and his VBI team are notified and begin their own investigation.

Meanwhile, reporter Rachel Reiling receives a call from the local funeral home, suggesting that Peter & John Rust’s story would make a great human interest piece. Sighing to herself, Rachel politely takes the information and begins to do a little digging on her own.  In doing so she meets Sally, and the two join forces in their search for answers.  But now, no one can find John Rust – he seems to have disappeared. 

As the VBI gets involved, a sad but strange story emerges. A mother, Karen, who died of a drug overdose, a father Daryl, who walked out on his sons, and a few shifty companions, who either did time, or are deceased. As Joe & Willy look for these past players, Sally & Rachel dig deeper as well, bringing a 20 year old theft to light, and reawakening old grudges with a vengeance!

I have always enjoyed the Joe Gunther series, and this newest addition is no exception! As always, it is set in beautiful southern Vermont, and while the story starts a bit slower than some, I was very quickly drawn into the characters, their hardships, and the familiarity of Joe and his crew as if they were old friends – which in a manner of speaking, they are!  A satisfying ending, and as, always, a great read from Archer Mayor!  

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from St. Martins Press & Netgalley, in exchange for an objective review. 

The Four Winds – Kristin Hannah

The year is 1921, and Elsa Wolcott is set to celebrate her 25th birthday.  Considered sickly after surviving a childhood illness, she has been neglected by her family as her siblings thrive. Out wandering around town she sees a bolt of beautiful red fabric in a shoppe – impulsively she purchases the material, and creates herself a beautiful dress. Further defying her parents, she dons the dress and heads out for a night of fun – not knowing that decisions she makes this night will change her future forever. 

Flash forward to 1934, where Elsa lives with her husband Rafe, his parents and two children on a farm. Residing in the panhandle of Texas, they are barely surviving the Great Depression and a drought that has lasted a couple of years, creating what is known in present day as the Dust Bowl period. As she sees her small town dying before her eyes with crops that can’t grow, and families and farm animals that go hungry, she works twice as hard to keep her small family safe. Her husband, haunted by what his life has become, leaves abruptly one night, taking a train out of town As conditions worsen, and the dust storms wreak havoc, more and more families abandon farms in hopes of work and relief in California, and soon Elsa and her children decide to make the journey as well.

Leaving Rafe’s parents to tend the farm, Elsa takes the family truck, her children, and belongings as they make their way out to California. Arriving to beautiful scenery and the hopes of jobs and financial security, they soon learn that their type – ‘Okies’ – aren’t welcome, and soon Elsa finds herself in the fields picking cotton, and increasingly in debt as she tries to make ends meet.  There is unrest in the land as people workers rebel, pitting landowners against their employees, and the words of ‘union’ and ‘strike’ are soon whispered, creating anger and tension amongst the region, with Elsa finding herself in a very difficult position…

As is anything written by Kristin Hannah, the story is beautifully written, yet contained a history lesson and a brief, yet painful glimpse into the lives of Americans in the 1930’s. As Elsa and her family endured, and endured again, I kept waiting for the happy ending – I cannot imagine surviving the things that they did, possessing the sheer force of will that made Elsa’s spirit so indomitable – a trait her children carried as well.  But, given the nature of the story and the time period, it was an emotionally draining read when we, as a world, are also faced with such uncertainty in our present, as well. 

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from St. Martins Press & Netgalley, in exchange for an objective review.