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Sweltering Heat and “The Dry” by Jane Harper

I have been HOT for awhile. Not just hot, SWELTERING. Withering. Melting.

My daughters and I drove through 6 states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Eastern Colorado) to get to my (and my mom’s) home town for her hometown memorial service (It was wonderful and beautiful, by the way. More on all that another day). It was beautiful when we left Ohio, in the 70s. Perfect weather.

But, by the time we hit Iowa, it was inching into the high 80s. And, the next day, Colorado was in the 90’s. Our drive back saw my car thermometer hit 102 in Nebraska and Iowa.


Two words: Air conditioner. Thank goodness for that sweet, sweet air conditioner in my car.

We got home and guess what? That which saved us in the car forsook me at home. Our home air conditioner decided not to work, or at least not fully. My saving grace was a swim meet at which my older daughter and I got to spend the night at a hotel. A nice, cool hotel. The downside of that? The pool where the meet was held was like sitting in a hot house. It was seriously swoon-worthy in the stands.

And we came home last night to sweltering heat — in our house. Finally, around 8, the heat broke and we got a downpour. Last night was cool. Today the air conditioning guys are coming to look at our unit (our house is about 18 years old and probably in need of a new one soon, but hopefully not today!).

During this sweltering heat (and sitting at a swim meet for hours), I started thinking about a book I read this past January — The Dry by Jane Harper. This book made me warm in January in Ohio, so that’s saying something.

A literary mystery, The Dry is set in rural Australia during drought and a heat wave. Everything in this book seems hot, parched, and dry. Harper set the story with such authenticity and substance, helping me really picture Kiewarra (the small farming and ranching town). The heat and lack of moisture helps create an intensity and need that makes the mystery seem all the more pressing.

In Harper’s debute novel, Federal agent Aaron Falk returns to his hometown for the funeral of his childhood best friend. That friend, Luke, was slaughtered in his home, ialong with his wife and their young son. Only their baby was allowed to live.

Falk finds himself drawn into the mystery by Luke’s parents, who ask him to get involved. But returning to Kiewarra throws Aaron right back into his long ago past and the reasons he and his father left the small town — another mystery that went unsolved.

In high school, Luke and Aaron were best friends. Luke had the charisma and good looks that brought the women into their group; first his girlfriend Gretchen, and then the bad girl Ellie, who both boys crushed on. Aaron and Ellie lived and neighboring farms, and both were motherless, so naturally were drawn to each other, although Ellie’s home life was not as stable as Aaron’s.

The end of this foursome was Ellie’s death, a drowning that seems straightforward. But Luke convinced Aaron to lie about their whereabouts. These lies aren’t natural for Aaron, and made him seem guilty. As a result, Aaron and his father are forced out of town by suspicions and threats on their lives.

When he returns, the old suspicions are aroused as he delves into the deaths of Luke and his family. The local sheriff is sure it’s a murder-suicide, although Luke’s mother doesn’t buy it. And neither does Aaron, after some digging.

There’s a lot of holes in this story, and Aaron’s emotions make him slightly inept (or so I hope). The fact that he’s drawn back to the worst time of his life, a time in which he went against his better judgment and lied, a time in which his hormones and emotions ruled his life. Add in the death and his untruths — and his teen years in the small town are jumbled.

Harper is a wonderful storyteller, creating great imagery and substantive characters. But the problems falls in that great storytelling, I guess. She creates dynamic, real people, but magnifies their flaws too much in most cases, or not enough in others. Small town group think is given to much cred; it, and everyone in town seems to hate Aaron because Ellie’s crazy family (drunks and basic ne’er-do-wells) tells them he lied. This didn’t sit right with me — Aaron and his father didn’t have much, but they were hardworking and seemed like good citizens. I didn’t understand why Ellie’s father would be believed over Aaron and his father . . .

The characters were pretty much stock characters in any mystery, and, despite the exaggerated flaws, she really gets into the heart of them. OR she doesn’t get into them at all. The cops and Aaron seem inept in some aspects, and the whole ‘investigation’ is sloppy.

Despite these holes, though, this was one of the best books I read in January (and that doesn’t mean I read bad books!). Harper has a real talent for imagery and description. I couldn’t put the book down: she drew me into Kiewarra and I didn’t want to leave until Aaron was safe. And that’s what I want in a book–to be lost in the pages and the story. I can look back and see the flaws, but at the time I was drawn in fully.

The Dry  will make you hot. And thirsty. Because Harper draws this small Australia town so well. Jane Harper is an author I will be watching.

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Memorial video for my mom

Because Facebook has policies against playing music on personal videos, I couldn’t get this to post. Please feel free to watch this on here.

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CRM Review: “Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough

There’s something that gets me about an unreliable narrator. Whether their willfully lying, lying to themselves, or just ignorant, they have a power to take a thriller up a notch – to lead readers in the wrong direction (or multiple directions, sometimes).

I think, if we were to tell our stories, we would all be unreliable narrators. And, if I’m telling a story about someone I love, I would be an unreliable narrator. The only person who is reliable to tell a story is that person so far removed from the actual story as to be able to tell the actual truth. But that takes a lot of the fun out of a story – especially a thriller.

Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes is one of those thrillers. Told through the eyes of Louise and Adele, you’re never quite sure of the whole truth. And that’s the fun part!

Louise is a struggling single working mom when she meets a wonderful man on a rare night out. The sparks fly, they talk, and kiss at the end of their night. Louise is sure she’s found a good one.

On Monday, she’s leaves for work excited to meet the new psychiatrist at the office where she works. But when she meets David, she realizes it’s the man she met, and he’s married.

They decide to keep it professional, put that night behind them, but she feels him watching her, all the time.

And then, out on the street,  Adele. She’s new to town and really seems to need a friend. They start talking and form a sort of friendship — and then she realizes Adele is David’s wife.

Unwilling to tell David she’s befriended his wife, unable to tell Adele she has a thing for her husband, she finds herself caught between the two. Adele is the friend Louise needs, David is the man of her dreams. Through Adele, though, she starts to learn more about him, his seeming need to control their marriage and to dominate poor Adele.

But there’s so much more to it than that, as Louise learns while being drawn deeper and deeper into their marriage. Something is wrong here, and she can’t quite put her finger on it.

“It’s strange how different we all appear to who we really are.”
― Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough


Until it’s too late. (And the ending is NOT what you think!)

The story is told through Louise’s open but (unknowingly) naive eyes, and also through Adele’s past and present. And everything in Behind Her Eyes is unexpected.

As the end of this book draws near, readers kind of guess what’s going to happen. And then, after that, BOOM! There are twists and then there are TWISTS!. This one is unexpected and crazy.

Behind Her Eyes is unpredictable and very engrossing. Louise’s weakness kind of drove me nuts with her weakness and gullibility, but really that drove the story.

If you’re in need of one of those books that are easy to fall into at any moment (say for the beach, a vacation, or even a rainy day), this fits the bill. But it hard to put down, so be warned!!


  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books (January 31, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 125011117X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250111173
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CRM Review: Elizabeth Strout’s “Anything is Possible”

In case you didn’t know this, my last month and a half have been hard. Death of a parent is a real foundation shaker. It made it nearly impossible for me to do many of the things I loved. And that included reading.

I know, right? It seemed antithetical to my very nature. But I couldn’t pick up a book and read. My mind wouldn’t stay focused, and reading really reminded me of my mom. She was the person who taught me to read, and showed me the beauty of books and the ability of books to just take you away.

(Note: I was still listening to books, which is a beautiful thing, and has soothed my soul a bit.)

But the drought is over. I made myself pick up my Kindle and went to a digital ARC I had been excited to read from one of my favorite authors: Elizabeth Strout.

I pretty much knew this would be medicine: the perfect balm to soothe my aching heart. Elizabeth Strout was what I needed.

Her latest book, Anything is Possible, is a collection of  connected short stories. If you read My Name is Lucy Barton, this is a look into the people that filled her life growing up in a small Illinois town, into where they are present day.

Even if you haven’t read Lucy Barton, Anything is Possible is still great; these stories are beautiful character studies of people in a small town, people you meet everyday. But be prepared, you will probably want to read My Name is Lucy Barton — the references to her (and the story featuring her) will make you want to know more about Lucy.

Strout’s characters are so incredibly real. No one is perfect, no one is completely evil. She has way of putting all of them out there, writing about the most interesting and most vulnerable of characters in a beautiful way. Their thoughts and insights, hurts and slights and victories, are fully and completely fleshed out, making you feel like you know these people.

And Strout’s writing does that one other thing that all fiction should do: It makes the reader take a look around at others and wonder what makes them tick, and to look at them a little more sympathetically. There is something that triggered that woman to be so closed-hearted and mean, a reason that man is so insensitive and hateful, a root to that couple’s incredible sadness.  Understanding might not change them, but it might make understanding them a little easier, and  maybe help the rest of us change the way we treat each other.

Elizabeth Strout’s storytelling style is straightforward and open: she seems to go where the character takes her naturally. In Anything is Possible Strout does something that I wish more writers had the time or inclination to do — she takes time to explore and explain a few of the minor (or even incidental) characters from a novel. It’s a beautiful thing.

I can’t imagine anything better to soothe my heartache than Elizabeth Strout.  I know I’m not the first adult child to lose a parent to cancer (I’m not even the first in this house), but it was a first for me. Anything is Possible helped me get back into one of the things that has always helped me through hard times — reading.