Joyland Delivers

Thank you, Stephen King, for being so prolific.  I mean it.  I don’t know how you keep cranking out these diverse, page-turners.  I first saw Joyland staring back at me from the shelves at Powell’s Books.  I already had several used books in my arms and wrote the title down in my list of “books to read”.


Then I just kept thinking about it.  I mean just look at the cover.  I couldn’t get it out of my head.  Not for the scantily clad woman, but the colors and the font and the kitsch.  It screamed pulp fiction.  And then as any of you who read this blog know, Stephen King is on my short list of awesome writers.  So, Joyland made it to the front of the queue.

It is a quick read and a nifty little mystery.  Devin Jones narrates the story, but in a flashback from forty-five years in the future.  So the reader is given an adult perspective on the somewhat poignant, impulsive summer in the life of a twenty-one year old.  King captures it brilliantly, noting:

When you’re twenty-one, life is a roadmap.  It’s only when you get to twenty-five or so that you begin to suspect you’ve been looking at the map upside down, and not until you’re forty are you entirely sure.  By the time you’re sixty, take it from me, you’re fucking lost.

Who can’t relate to that?  I’ve definitely concluded my map is upside down but haven’t completing given up yet on finding my way.  And, had Devin been writing contemporaneously, we wouldn’t have gotten this perspective which does so much to shape the tone of the book.

Devin, a work-study student at the University of New Hampshire in the 1970s, has secured a summer job working at the Joyland amusement park in coastal North Carolina.  On his first day, he and the entire summer workforce, hear from Joyland’s founder, 90-something, Bradley Easterbrook who tells them:

You’ll have interesting, fruitful lives, my young friends.  You’ll do many good things and have many remarkable experiences.  But I hope you’ll always look back on your time in Joyland as something special.  We don’t sell furniture.  We don’t sell cars.  We don’t sell land or houses or retirement funds.  We have no political agenda.  We sell fun.  Never forget that.

Sounds like someone I know quite well.  :)  And what a kick-ass, first day of work speech.  Like Devin, I thought to myself, how many people can put sold fun for three months on their resumes?

Devin’s girlfriend, Wendy, is working in Boston and shortly into the summer sends him a “Dear Devin” letter.  They have been going steady for a couple of years, but haven’t done “It” and aside from not having done “It”, there shouldn’t be much to miss about Wendy.  But Devin is twenty-one and just suffered his first major heartbreak, so he doesnt see it like that and it takes awhile to snap back.

The old-timers working at Joyland, including Lane (his mentor), Fred (the general manager), Mr. Easterbrook (the owner), Madame Fortuna (the park’s fortune teller), his two of his housemates, Tom and Erin (also working at Joyland for the summer), and eventually, Mike and Annie Ross (neighbors down the beach), play a big role in Devin’s memorable summer.  He learns about a young woman, Linda Gray, who was killed four years earlier on Joyland’s Horror House ride.  No one was ever arrested for her murder, though several pictures taken in the park that day show Linda and her boyfriend, the presumed killer.  Not a single picture shows the man’s face, though, and eventually the case goes cold.

Several people tell Devin that Linda’s ghost still haunts the Horror House ride, and he is determined to see her.  When he, Tom and Erin go on the ride on a day off (they are never posted to work in the Horror House), Tom is the one who sees Linda’s ghost and the image haunts Tom for the rest of his life.  Mike Ross, a young boy in a wheelchair who is slowly dying of Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, warns Devin against digging too deep into Linda Gray’s death.  Mike has visions, like Madame Fortuna does — not that Devin believes either of them.  But both prove to be correct on more than one occasion.  Eventually, Devin enlists Erin to help him solve Linda’s murder, and eventually he does.   With a little help from Mike and his warning –”Be careful, Dev.  It’s not white.”  And though Devin solves her murder, he never actually sees Linda’s ghost.  But he sees enough to know that she was real.

Devin’s relationship with Annie and Mike (Annie is Mike’s mother) adds a sentimental touch, and allows Devin to move on from Wendy. Although, like I said, moving on from her should have been a breeze.  But, he’s twenty-one.  And a guy.

I can’t say enough about this little gem of a book.  A sweet (but not syrupy) story, with just the right dash of mystery.  Sign me up.

Happy Reading!



Welcome Back, Lisbeth!!

I spent my weekend with Lisbeth Salander.  How about you?  For those of you who haven’t been living under a rock for the past year, David Lagercrantz has just released the long-awaited continuation to Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, The Girl in the Spider’s Web.5172mlMJn5L._AA160_


When the worst I can think of to say about a book is that I was mightily pissed off that I finished it so quickly, it is a good book.  That was this book.  Lagercrantz brilliantly continues the series, reminding us why we care so much about Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander — really, really care about Lisbeth Salander.  To be sure, the writing isn’t exactly the same.  And that’s fine, good even.  I don’t think I would have liked it if Lagercrantz had tried to write as Larsson.  But, he remained true to the characters.  The crazy, unpredictable, ruthless, loyalty of Salander shines as brightly as ever against the gloomy Swedish backdrop.  Blomkvist’s passion and style are also in fine form.

Like the first three books in the trilogy, this one starts in high gear and never shifts down.  The reader is teased with deep, overlapping conspiracies — most of which are revealed by book’s end — involving artificial intelligence, corporate espionage, cyber-security and autistic savantism.  Any one of these themes could support a high-paced, page turning mystery.  All of them combined gives us the heart-thumping fix we’ve come to expect from this series.

By far the most interesting new character is August Balder, a beautiful eight year old autistic mute who turns out to have the answers to more than one of the mysteries haunting this book.  The book’s ending suggests that August may make future appearances, and I look forward to discovering how August has developed and progressed in the interim.  By far the most interesting recurring, supporting player is Camilla, Lisbeth’s twin sister.  Lagercrantz thankfully reminds us of the series’ characters with a quick overview at the beginning of the book.  And, I admit that I had kind of forgotten about Camilla.  Her back story takes front and center and offers a fascinating glimpse into the events and figures that have shaped Salander into perhaps the most memorable female fictional character, well, ever.  There I said it.  Ever.  Salander’s mind is unparalleled and her unwavering driving force is both awesome and inexplicable. Kudos to Lagercrantz for not quelling or softening her rough, rough, rough edges.

Like all of the books in this series, greed and power take a starring role.  Though life doesn’t always mirror these books, it is a fun and satisfying escape to see the greedy power-mongers unmasked and defeated before the last page is turned.  Can’t wait for the next installment — I hope you can hear me, David Lagercrantz, and are busy writing away.

Pick up The Girl in the Spider’s Web now, but really only open it when you have no other deadlines or obligations looming because you won’t want to put it down.  Happy Reading!

Mary Miley Captures Spirit of 1920′s in New Mystery Series

I’ve just finished Mary Miley’s two mysteries and they are an enjoyable, historical era treat.  She channels the 1920′s beautifully, allowing the reader to enjoy not only the traditional, mystery escape, but also to fully escape into another era.  Miley’s attention to detail (emphasizing clothing, food, transportation and lodging of the 1920′s) is mesmerizing — probably my favorite part of these books.  The “mystery” angle is enjoyable as well, but very straightforward without many unexpected twists and turns.

4175XTFkcTL._AA160_Her first novel in the series, The Impersonator, introduces us to her young protagonist, Jessie.  Actually, that isn’t really the character’s name, but for the bulk of the novel (and in the second novel) this is the name she uses so I’ll use it also.  Jessie has grown up on the vaudeville stage, traveling the  Big Time circuit (two performances per day).  She is plucky, smart, independent and (mostly) fearless.  After her steady gig disbands and she has no luck finding another role in the Big Time — or in the lesser circuits that required five or more performances per day — Jessie reconsiders a “job” offered by a wealthy patron in Omaha.  She has to impersonate his missing niece and heiress, Jessie Carr, a girl with whom she shares a remarkable resemblance.  Jessie reluctantly takes on the role but when she travels west to Oregon to meet the family she decides that she really is fond of them, well most of them, and doesn’t want to continue to deceive them.   When a handful of unsolved murders occur in the small Oregon town, she finds herself knee deep in solving the mystery of the real Jessie’s disappearance.  She and her supposed half-brother, David Murray, team up to discover what happened to Jessie and when the resolution is revealed, well, lots of things are turned upside down including Jessie’s not really inappropriate, but definitely awkward relationship with David.

51KKlNzREeL._AA160_Things wrap up fairly well for Jessie, as we learn when Miley’s second novel, Silent Murders, opens.  Jessie has travelled from Oregon to San Francisco and then down to Los Angeles where she ends up working as a “girl Friday” for her idol, Mary Pickford, and her husband, Douglas Fairbanks, at their newly formed studio, United Artists.  Jessie wants to break into the new motion picture business but is working as an assistant script girl when she and her roommate (Myrna Loy) are invited to a Hollywood party where the host is murdered.  Jessie finds herself in the thick of the investigation, as the prime suspect, when an old vaudeville friend of her mother’s, Esther, is also murdered.  Esther had been serving at the party and had invited Jessie over the next day to see some of her mother’s old playbills.  Jessie discovers Esther’s body and realizes the two murders are probably linked.  When two more people are killed, Jessie tries to connect the dots, working with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford along the way.

The famous characters popping up in Jessie’s life (Myrna Loy is also friends with an up-and-coming young actor, Gary Cooper; Jessie befriends Charlie Chaplin’s young wife, etc.) become almost too distracting.  But Miley has deftly woven a fictional murder mystery against a true backdrop — and borrows from or refers to actual murders that took place in Hollywood around this time.  It is fun to read about how these actors “started” and the fledgling motion picture business.

Jessie again encounters David Murray (know going by the name David Carr) and can’t quite sort out her feelings for him, or for the only honest cop she meets, Carl Delaney.  I would have liked those relationships to have played a slightly larger role here (or come to some resolution), but perhaps Miley is just saving these plot lines for book number three in the Jessie series.

Jessie’s ability to solve the first set of murders seems a little too pat and easy, but the solution to the second set of murders is more compelling, interesting and, frankly, more believable.  This book gives the reader a few more twists than the first novel — police corruption, illegal drug trading, and poisoning — and the setting will probably seem a little more familiar to most readers.  Again, the actual mystery aspect of these books is pretty straightforward and that’s okay.  I’m just noting for those who like their mysteries a little more convoluted or twisted, these novels may not fully satisfy.  But, I do think the setting and the personality of the main character, Jessie, makes up for the plot and make these books an enjoyable read for anyone.  I’m looking forward to what Jessie is up to next . . .

Happy Reading!

Penelope Hazard is on the Case

So, let me start with a disclaimer.  Yes, I know the author of the Penelope Hazard books.  Well in fact.  He is my husband.  I’m pretty sure I would love these books anyway.  But, there.  That’s out of the way.


With the second installment of Penelope Hazard now on the stands (or in print and digitized), it’s time to review these books.  In this mystery series, author, J. Grant Fiero, masterfully blends mystery with just a dash of sci-fi.  Not too many authors blend these genres, and for that reason alone, I think the Penelope Hazard books are unique and offer a quirky twist to the typical mystery formula.  Now, it would help if you also read Fiero’s overlapping Sci-Fi series, known as the Rider books.   There are four Rider books so far:  Waking the Rider, The Light of Gylfa, Finding Alex, and Prisoners of the Mountain.  The fifth and final installment of the Rider books is due out sometime next year.  Penelope Hazard takes place on Earth, in this dimension.  But the hints and clues dropped about some strange happenings will make more sense if you’ve read the Rider books.   We don’t quite know how Penelope and her crew will fit in with the Rider universe, but we know they do somehow and will hopefully discover more clues with the third Penelope Hazard installment due out later this year.

Back to the Penelope mystery series.  Not only is this series unique for its cross-genre subject matter, but it is unique in the interplay between main characters/amateur sleuths, Penelope and Bags.  Penelope is a fifteen year-old who recently moved with her parents to a gated Florida community, St. Georges, populated primarily by residents over 65.  Bags is Harvard Miriam Bagwell, a 70+ resident of St. George who becomes Penelope’s “adopted grandfather”.  The teen and senior strike up a friendship and Penelope ends of helping with Bags’ production of the social club’s “Murder Mystery” event.   When the event ends with an actual murder, Penelope and Bags join forces to find out who did it.  Their investigation takes the reader on quite a few twists and turns, involving drug smuggling, affairs, and clandestine meetings  – all in the supposedly quiet, nothing-new-happens here St. Georges.   The interaction between the 15 year old and the 70+ year old is refreshing, different and, most of all —  thanks, likely, to the author’s own teenage daughter — it rings true.  The book is narrated from Penelope’s point of view and has an appeal to the younger set.  But, it also appeals to the senior set and to the somewhere in the middle set based on my anecdotal evidence.

I won’t spoil the ending, but The True Stories of the (Mostly) Flawless Penelope Hazard was a fun, taut mystery that left me wanting to read more about Penelope and her senior posse.

And, that is where Penelope Hazard’s (so not) Flawless Mountain Getaway comes in.  This second installment of the Penelope series finds Penelope and Bags at a Colorado mountain resort, guests of the Wilhight’s, their St. Georges neighbors and corporate leadership developers extraordinaire.  The Wilhights have gathered some of the country’s top executives together for a leadership retreat in Colorado, and have hired a “high maintenance” speaker to attend, who happens to be a good friend of Bags’.  So Bags comes along to keep an eye on the speaker, and Penelope tags along to keep Bags company (and to decompress from their Florida murder investigation).

Book Two gives us the classic English-style murder with a body found at a remote mountain resort and a only handful of guests and staff who could have committed the crime.  It has a satisfying pace and resolution, and Penelope’s interaction not only with Bags, but her new friend, Rocky, gives us a more extensive peek into the quirky inner workings of a teenage mind.  As a parent of a teenager, it is somewhat scary.

But perhaps the best part of Book Two is the introduction of a new character, April, a kick-ass bodyguard with an altogether mysterious background.  April quickly becomes Penelope’s new idol and offers the reader an even better look into the sci-fi world of J. Grant Fiero.  Here, we get more than hints about the Rider universe.  Penelope, Bags and April confront that world, and possibly some of the Rider characters, face-to-face.  Without giving too much away (although the author holds back here as well), Penelope also learns that she has inexplicable premonitions that some bad is going to happen, and she learns that someone or something is after her Florida friends and maybe even her.

If you’re looking for a new twist on the classic mystery formula, the Penelope Hazard books are a must read.  Happy Reading!