Saturday, May 19, 2007


Heartsick by Chelsea Cain
Sept 2007, 278 pages

Portland detective Archie Sheridan was captured by serial killer Gretchen Lowell and tortured for ten days. During that time, Archie was somehow changed, and a twisted relationship grew between them. Finally, Gretchen let him go rather than kill him, as she usually would do to her victims. Two years later, Archie is slowly recovering and is called back to work to find a new serial killer. Although he still has many issues relating to his capture (drug abuse, horrible flashbacks, residual feelings for Gretchen, etc), he works on the new case, tailed by journalist Susan Ward who is assigned to write about the human interest aspects of the case, given Archie's history.

I liked this book for a few reasons. Most immediately is the setting in Portland, Oregon, a town I love. Archie and Susan visit areas such as Sauvie Island, Cleveland High School, and spots downtown. It's a fun way to have connection to a book, but is also a bit distracting. (I found myself in the middle of some suspenseful section suddenly thinking excitedly, "Hey, I've been there!")

More generally, I liked this book for the in-depth look at the twisted relationship between Archie and Gretchen. One would expect Archie to have only negative feelings for his captor, but instead there is a much more complicated situation there. The author takes the time to really look closely at that, despite how uncomfortable it may be.

Also, as might be expected in a detective novel, the plot zooms along as we eagerly follow the developments of the investigation and make guesses as to who might be the killer. We also get flashbacks to the investigation of Gretchen two years before that led to Archie's capture. All of these story lines are captivating.

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed
Stories by Alison Baker
1993, 182 pages

My friend Kathleen gave me this book for my birthday this year. It's even autographed, which is always fun. It's a collection of short stories, all very quirky. They usually focus on female protagonists who are in some kind of unusual situation, often exploring or researching.

The first story is about a woman traveling the country looking for the lost cheerleaders. She heard there was a flock of them in the mountains outside of a small town. She visits the small town, and gets to know the citizens. They have rumors of the cheerleaders but no one has ever seen them. Sometimes you can find their tracks in the snow or hear their cheers when the wind blows right.

Another story tells of a kindergartener's experience of when a pair of Siamese twins join her class mid-year. She ends up going out with one of them, and another girl goes out with the other. Eventually, the twins leave when their family moves to Chicago, where there are more "of their own kind", which the kindergarteners interpret as meaning that Chicago is filled with Siamese twins, but in fact they are referring to black people.

Another story is narrated by a girl born to explorer parents in the arctic circle. Eventually the parents die and the girl grows up alone, wandering the ice.

These stories explore many themes and emotions, and most are quite powerful. I can usually just read one short story at a time, and then leave the book alone for a week or two. They are kind of like a rich dessert.

There were a couple I think weren't as strong, but all were interesting in some way. They would appeal more to fans of fantastic fiction, rather than literal fiction. Many of the stories are set in worlds slightly different from ours, or situations that wouldn't quite happen in real life, which I know some readers don't enjoy as much. I like reading about strange worlds though.