The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett

by Casee Marie on July 10, 2014

in Fiction, Reviews

Set against the devastating coal mine fires of 1960s Pennsylvania, Natalie S. Harnett’s The Hollow Ground tells the story of eleven year-old Brigid Howley and her family, a long generation of coal miners, as they wrestle with secrets of the past and fight against nature to salvage the lives they’ve always known. It’s an astonishingly vivid portrait of desperation and the lingering threads of hope when even the ground beneath one’s feet can’t be trusted. Through Brigid’s clever and openly honest narrative we follow the Howleys from their home as they rejoin her father’s parents – known simply and effectively as Gram and Gramp – in the town where her father was raised; a town in which gritty secrets and ominous shadows tie together with a curse placed upon the Howley family’s Molly Maguire ancestor a century before. With precision and power, Brigid gently weaves the story of her struggle to keep her family together as passions rise, grudges give way to liberated feuds, and devastating secrets are revealed.

Harnett writes with eloquence and grit, devotedly tending to the nuances of the story in a way that makes for a remarkably strong debut. Voice becomes a very central focus of the novel’s delivery, whether it’s the narrative voice of the young and preternaturally wise Brigid, who in her pre-teen years thrills at reading the Brontës and Betty Smith, or the distinctively illustrated voices of any number of the novel’s supporting characters: her fierce-tempered and unstable Ma, well-meaning but enigmatic Daddy, and especially her cantankerous and gruffly compassionate Gram. With each character’s unique voice Harnett creates a new layer of intrigue and emotional complexity in her bold story. In a way the characters lend a special sort of detail to the novel’s deeply atmospheric quality, wrapping the reader further in the many folds of uncertainty and devastation that the people of these coal mines experienced.

The coal mine fire itself becomes its own entity in The Hollow Ground as the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning threatens the air and the fire burning in the mines below combines with the earth’s elements, creating deadly sinkholes that can swallow homes and lives in a moment. Based on the true fires of Centralia, Pennsylvania which began burning over fifty years ago and still burn today, the story touches on a tragic piece of recent US history as it explores the impact these fires had on entire towns and the people who inhabited them, people whose determination thrives as they attempt to fight a fire burning below their feet: an unseen and quite deadly adversary. Against this harrowing backdrop, the dramas of Brigid’s family members play out in poignant detail. Much as Brigid struggles with the faults of the grown-ups in her family, the reader too is torn between compassion and frustration, feeling very much what Brigid feels and being drawn even closer to her in that way.

Brigid is a terrific rendering of a young literary heroine in the vein of Harper Lee’s iconic Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve noticed that young heroines seem to have begun rising through literary fiction over the last few years, and Harnett’s innocent, genuine Brigid is a great addition to that representation. Her moxie is admirable and her emotional stability is at times particularly jarring in the wake of her parents’ poor choices, a fact that boldly illustrates her wisdom and even her superiority over the elders she so painstakingly tries to appease. Ultimately The Hollow Ground is an unflinching portrait of familial struggle and a timeless examination of the treacherous elements that can both strengthen and relentlessly violate a family’s connection. At once contemplative and energetic, Harnett’s debut is a provocative and eerie novel of suspense, intricacy, and profound feeling.

Title: The Hollow Ground

Author: Natalie S. Harnett

Genre: literary fiction, mystery

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Release date: May 13, 2014

Source: Get Red PR (C/O)

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Molly Greene’s spunky amateur private eye Gen Delacourt is back in her third outing, and this time a new mystery takes her into the complicated world of art. In Paint Me Gone, Gen’s latest client enlists her to find a long lost sister – a sister thought to have committed suicide two decades earlier. Tied to the murder of a stranger, Sophie Keene’s sister Shannon left the world she knew with only a tragic final note in her wake, but when an unsigned painting lands in Sophie’s lap that bears a mysterious resemblance to her lost sister her hope – dormant for twenty years – is rekindled. Armed with only the painting as an uncooperative clue, Gen finds herself on the case with her trusted friend and neighbor, flamboyant and delightful Oliver Weston, as her unofficial partner-in-crime-solving. Also on her resource list is San Francisco detective Mackenzie “Mack” Hackett, the charming cop with whom Gen shares a complicated romantic spark. As she works her way through the nitty-gritty of the art world, Gen will sidestep dangerous dealers and broken-hearted exes, uncovering a web of secrets, lies, and surprises that could cost her more than she bargained for.

With her third novel, Molly Greene continues to layer on the charm and ramp up the mystery. At times Paint Me Gone is impossible to put down, so enmeshed is the reader not only in a wonderfully inscrutable mystery but also in a colorful world made bright with memorable characters. All of Greene’s creations – from the new characters to the returning – become instantly familiar, drawing the reader even more deeply into the story. Greene has a decided knack for creating snappy dialogue, rendering heartwarming characters, and tying it all together with a well-imagined, smartly paced mystery; her talents have continued to grow throughout the Gen Delacourt mysteries, and Paint Me Gone might be her best story yet.

As a heroine Gen is in many ways a reader’s dream-come-true: she’s plucky, resourceful, and vivacious, with the smarts to back up her instincts and a well-developed sense of adventure (not to mention a sense of humor). She’s a delight to see brought back to life with every story, and she takes on a decidedly fuller role in Paint Me Gone as the novel’s primary focus. Although the many wonderful female characters who played central parts in Greene’s past stories – Mark of the Loon‘s Madison and Rapunzel‘s Cambria – are not to be forgotten, it’s great to see Gen holding her own at the center of this third adventure. Her complicated relationship with Mack offers some sweet insight into Gen’s more vulnerable side, allowing Greene to illustrate all the facets that make her such a great character and allowing us as readers to appreciate her even more. Meanwhile, the playful and heartwarming friendship between Gen and Oliver lights up every scene they share; their easy camaraderie has a way of enfolding the reader into their circle, making us feel like we’re truly along for the adventure. The adventure in question is perhaps the most intricate mystery Greene has crafted so far. Through her research she brings to life the nuances of the art world in just enough detail to engage her readers on a deep level without making us feel as though we’re in over our heads with information. Finding that balance isn’t always easy, but Greene hits all the right notes with Paint Me Gone; with its charming cast and engaging mystery, it keeps the reader guessing and having fun through every page.

Title: Paint Me Gone (Gen Delacourt Mystery #3)

Author: Molly Greene

Genre: mystery

Publisher: Molly Greene

Release date: April 25, 2014

Source: Molly Greene (c/o)

Buy the book: Kindle

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The Tenth Circle, the latest book in Jon Land’s Blaine McCracken series, is the definition of a page-turner in the suspense genre. We first meet McCracken in Iran, where Israel has enlisted him to pull off an impossible one-man mission in the face of a devastating nuclear threat. This intense episode becomes just a prelude to the high-octane action that Land delivers in the novel’s central story. Once back in the United States, McCracken is met with a close personal tragedy that ties into a string of violent acts of domestic terrorism across the country. His search for answers leads him to one man, the Reverend Jeremiah Rule, whose rampage of extremism has escalated with the acquisition of the White Death, a weapon that could cripple the United States dramatically. Along with his comrades – including the preternaturally lethal Native American, Johnny Wareagle, and the hilariously rendered pot-smoking Captain Seven – McCracken works to uncover the truth behind the White Death, a history that will lead him to answer two of history’s greatest mysteries: the disappearance of British settlers in the 16th century Roanoke colony, and the vanishing of a 19th century ship’s entire crew, the Mary Celeste.

The mystery at the core of The Tenth Circle is wonderfully crafted, and the narrative is superbly achieved. It’s easy to imagine the challenge of writing a suspenseful action thriller that weaves in so much detail – both historic and modern – but Land seems to balance it all with ease. The nonstop energy of the novel’s pacing and the intricacy of the story’s detail combine to create a book that seems capable of pleasing the reader on every level. A component of The Tenth Circle that I especially enjoyed was the uniqueness of Land’s characters, from McCracken at the story’s focus to the variety of supporting characters that bring the depth of the novel to life. A particular favorite and great example is Zarrin, a Palestinian pianist-cum-assassin whose legendary ease of lethal action has been matched by her battle with Parkinson’s. Amid the barrage of explosive action, Zarrin’s personal journey manages to play out in poignant interludes that create a wonderfully engaging story within the story.

While religious extremism isn’t a device that I prefer in a novel’s antagonist, Land’s portrayal of the Reverend Rule was very well done as the illustration of a man driven to instability by past crimes and the desperate search for redemption. The complexity of the character grows with every revelation of his past and present mistakes, each more disturbing than the next. Countering the very emotional villainy in Rule is the remarkable science behind the “White Death”, a true weapon of mass destruction created by the earth itself. I was fascinated by the way Land presented the deadly chemical to the reader in such an intricately detailed yet genuinely believable way. Its ties to the great historical mysteries in the story were equally impressive, revealing the depth and intensity of research that went into the novel.

Blaine McCracken himself is an admirably diverse character with a lot of heart, and patience for little more than getting to the root of the problem – with haste. His interactions with others, friends and adversaries alike, jump off the page with as much style as the richly crafted action sequences. With sharp pacing, a superbly detailed narrative, and plenty of unexpected surprises, The Tenth Circle manages to break the mold of the political thriller while still delivering all of the hallmarks that adventure-seeking readers have come to love.

Title: The Tenth Circle (Blaine McCracken #11)
Author: Jon Land
Genre: mystery, thriller
Publisher: Open Road Media
Available Formats: paperback, e-book
Release date: December 17, 2013
Provided by: Jon Land (c/o)
Buy the book: Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble

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Review: Rapunzel by Molly Greene

by Casee Marie on December 11, 2013 · 5 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

Cambria “Bree” Butler is reeling from a bad break-up and her lost dreams of pursuing a career as an investigative journalist, but her resilient attitude will carry her through the ups and downs of working as a freelance writer in San Francisco’s Bay Area. That is, until she shows up for an interview at the mysterious Elergene Enterprises and finds her interviewee – a young chemical engineer – dead on the floor of his office. After being marked as a suspect in the murder herself, Bree is determined to finally put her journalistic chops to the test and track down the real murderer. Joining her in the unsanctioned investigation is her college friend, sassy lawyer-turned-detective Gen Delacourt. Together, the two women will do what it takes – including evading or assisting the two handsome cops on the case – to unravel the mystery. But when Bree gets close to Elergene’s CEO, the enigmatic Taylor Vonnegon, she’ll have to find her way to the truth with a new target on her back.

I adored Molly Greene’s debut, Mark of the Loon, and I was delighted to find that her talent for crafting engaging fiction has only grown through Rapunzel. Greene is accomplished at creating escapist novels: stories that take us out of our environment and catapult us into a colorful world of mystery, romance, and cinematic detail. Her characters came to life effortlessly for me: I loved seeing Mark of the Loon’s resourceful and spunky Gen Delacourt again, and the newcomers in the story felt instantly like old friends. The narrative bounces back and forth to follow both Gen and Bree, which I particularly enjoyed. Both women are vastly different – Gen struck me as the more impulsive while Bree was decidedly more emotionally driven – but their chemistry makes them a terrific team to share the story. Greene’s heroes and heroines are heroic, and her villains are aptly villainous; but beyond that, Rapunzel boasts a mystery that leaves the reader actively engaged in rooting out who among the array of characters are trustworthy – and who aren’t. It’s the sort of fun experience in a mystery that makes us as readers feel as though we’re genuinely part of the story; the sort of experience that we never want to end.

What also impressed me was the way Greene was able to shift the atmosphere of Rapunzel from lighthearted and comedic to truly gripping suspense. There were flirty exchanges, moments of high-running family emotions, frustration-filled arguments, life and death situations, romantic heartbreaks, and the electric excitement of digging for the truth; Greene navigates it all with aplomb and delivers a story that entertains easily without giving away a single detail of its mystery. The mystery itself is a fascinating one, and it balances well with the detailed personal plights of each of the main characters; in pursuing the engineer’s murder, Bree and Gen both find out a good deal about themselves and it was interesting simply to follow along on their journey of discovery. In all, Rapunzel was a delightful read with a well-executed mystery, plenty of suspense, an uplifting friendship, a touch of romance, and a lot of heart.

Title: Rapunzel
Author: Molly Greene
Genre: mystery
Publisher: Molly Greene
Available Formats: e-book
Release date: November 28, 2013
Provided by: Molly Greene (c/o)
Buy the book: Kindle
Connect with the author: Blog | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Google+