Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Changing Season: A Novel by Steven Manchester

The Changing Season: A Novel. Steven Manchester. The Story Plant. February 2016. 276 pp.  ISBN#: 9781611882261.

Billy was a typical Senior in high school, about to graduate, planning to go to college but totally oblivious as to what he was to study or do with the rest of his life.  His one obsessive love is his elderly dog, Jimmy, with whom he shares camping and other adventures.  Billy and his friends, Charlie and Mark get together frequently in Billy’s smelly, unkempt bedroom to play video games.  They are quite content.  Charlie and Mark have college plans for the future and are thinking of careers.  Billy seems totally out of the loop – at first!

The night of graduation, the key note speaker insists that the students will have to face the responsibility and consequences of their actions and decisions; Billy heard it all as more “blah, blah, blah,” never realizing his world was about to change.

Billy accepts a job as an assistant in a dog shelter which he enjoys due to the help and conversations he has with a mentor there. She’s realistic without being preachy which clears the way for Billy to truly “listen.”  On the other hand, Billy’s friend, Charlie, isn’t listening to anyone and he really needs to take advice.  In a fit of rage and jealousy, he acts out a rash action which shatters the world of a family.  Rather than tell the truth, Charlie buries himself in self-pity and fear.  While that happens, Billy finally meets a girl, Vicki, with whom he wholeheartedly falls in love.  She changes his world over the summer, but Billy is broken when an act of omission on his part makes Vicki drop him like a hot potato.

One could say more, but this is too amazing a story to ruin by dropping plot snippets.  Suffice to say, this is, like all of Steven Manchester’s novels, a terrific read.  While there is a somewhat contrived quality to the story, one still roots for the major and minor characters and is always deeply moved by the challenges and outcomes therein. Readers will love and recommend this story of love, loyalty, betrayal and truth!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Widow: A Novel by Fiona Barton

The Widow: A Novel.  Fiona Barton. Penguin Group (USA). February 2016. 336 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101990261.

Jean Taylor’s husband, Glen, died very recently.  Since then, Jean’s been hiding out at home, a fearful, shaking, exhausted woman who dare not open the door to any of these vulture reporters who smell a harrowing story that will thrill the public and yield even more stories.  None of them are allowed entry, until Jean finds she has silently welcomed tabloid reporter, Kate Waters, into her living room.  Kate has a homey style that comforts Jean, makes her feel that out of everyone Kate would understand. Still, Jean isn’t talking at all.  Kate manages to get Jean out of her home and into a hotel, hoping that a new place will allow her to rest and eventually loosen up enough to talk about her late husband, Glen. 

Detective Inspector Bob Sparkes has a different case plaguing his mind.  A little girl, Bella Elliott, was playing in her front yard one minute and the next minute was gone.  The police haven’t been able to find two year-old little girl since her disappearance in 2006 in Southampton, England; and now four years later after innumerable conversations with Jean Taylor, the truth is about to be told.

Glen Taylor was the suspect at the time of the kidnapping but his wife Jean believed his denial of the crime.  This is truly a psychological crime novel and Jean is a pathetically timid wife who lives her life to please her husband, obeys his every suggestion as well as command, and fears his disapproval although he has never hit her or abused her in any way.  When he’s home, he spends a great deal of time working on his computer, but Jean has no idea what that work actually involves.  She herself works as a hairdresser in a beauty salon, a job that doesn’t thrill her very much.  So Glen is her world – a world that is about to come crashing down with mind-numbing truth and identity-crushing reality!

The Widow: A Novel is a very nicely plotted first thriller story by Fiona Barton!  The character studies say it all!