Mini-reviews: After Her by Joyce Maynard and Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

afterherTitle: After Her
Author: Joyce Maynard
Genre: Contemporary fiction, thriller
Publisher: William Morrow
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library
Number of pages: 304
First line: A little over thirty years ago, on a June day just before sunset – alone on a mountain in Marin County, California – a man came toward me with a length of piano wire stretched between his hands, and the intention of ending my days.

Goodreads blurb: It’s the summer of 1979, and a dry, hot, northern California school vacation stretches ahead for Rachel and her younger sister Patty-the daughters a larger-than-life, irresistibly handsome and chronically unfaithful detective father who loves to make women happy, and the mother whose heart he broke.

Left to their own devices, the inseparable sisters spend their days studying record jackets, concocting elaborate fantasies about the life of the mysterious neighbor who moves in down the street, and playing dangerous games on the mountain that rises up behind their house.

When young women start showing up dead on the mountain, the girls’ father is charged with finding the man responsible, known as The Sunset Strangler. Seeing her father’s life slowly unravel when he fails to stop the murders, Rachel embarks on her most dangerous game yet: setting herself up as bait to catch the killer, with consequences that will destroy her father’s career and alter the lives of everyone she loves.

It is not until thirty years later that Rachel, who has never given up hope of vindicating her father, finally smokes out the killer, bringing her back to the territory of her childhood, and uncovering a long-buried family secret.

This is a rich, mutli-layered novel that is so much more than a simple thriller or mystery. At its heart are relationships: Rachel’s relationship with Patty, the girls’ relationship with their father, and the eerie connection between the girls and the Sunset Strangler. Maynard perfectly captured the inner turmoil of a thirteen-year-old girl, the extreme highs and lows of emotion that they each experience, and because of that, reading Rachel’s story is a pure pleasure. The entire book is overshadowed by the menace of a truly evil villain, and the way that Rachel’s father deteriorates because of his single-minded determination to find the killer is heart-breaking. This was my first experience with Maynard’s work, but definitely will not be my last. A big thank you to Wendy at Caribousmom, as it was her review that had me clicking over to the library web site and placing a hold.

bellmanandblackTitle: Bellman & Black
Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: Gothic thriller, historical fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher
Number of pages: 336 pages
First line: I have heard it said, by those that cannot possibly know, that in the final moment’s of a man’s existence he sees his whole life pass before his eyes.

Goodreads blurb: Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget . . .

Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.

Michelle tried to warn me. I should have heeded her review, and not wasted the hours I spent reading Bellman & Black. But I absolutely adored Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, and I already had the ARC sitting on my to-review shelf. But this is no Thirteenth Tale, in spite of the fact that Setterfield’s beautiful writing still rings throughout. I love her writing, but depending on the section of this book, there was either way too much, or not enough. When it comes to the sections describing William’s work building his business, there is so much detail, so much endless figuring, that at times I was tempted to start skimming. And then, when I got to the end, I thought, “What? What did I miss? That’s it?!” The entire book builds up to this huge confrontation that is coming, and then when it happens, it is so anti-climactic that I wanted to throw the book across the room. Plus, the ending takes ambiguity to a new level, and leaves so many questions unanswered that I couldn’t sleep last night after I finished it. If you haven’t already, read The Thirteenth Tale, but give this one a pass.

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22 Responses to Mini-reviews: After Her by Joyce Maynard and Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

  1. Beth Hoffman says:

    I have Maynard’s book on my list since I first heard about it, and I think it’s about time I downloaded it to my iPad. Terrific review, Carrie!

  2. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    says:

    I liked After Her a lot too and thought Labor Day was even better.

  3. irene says:

    I’ve just clicked over to my library and requested After Her, thanks for your review.

  4. Kailana says:

    I don’t know what to do about Bellman & Black. No one seems to like it, but I pre-ordered it. I should at least try…

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kelly- I know – it’s really disappointing when a book that is so highly anticipated doesn’t stand up to the expectations.

  5. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    I’ve had After Her on my GR list since it came out. I’ll definitely get to it some day. But B&B probably isn’t ever going to happen for me. I am so damned slow at my reading anyway, and I don’t want to waste it with something that is just going to frustrate me.

  6. Jen K says:

    It really is unfortunate how disappointing Bellman and Black has been for so many people. I of course felt the same way you did, and so it seems do lots of people elsewhere online.

  7. I am reading a Maynard book right now, although not the one you mention here. Labor Day is my second by her and so far it’s not disappointing. I am glad to hear you enjoyed After Her.

    I am sorry you didn’t enjoy Bellman and Black. I have a copy of that one to review too, and the more I hear about it, the less I want to read it. :-( I really did love The Thirteenth Tale.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Wendy – I ADORED Thirteenth Tale – in fact, I’m thinking about reading it again soon. I hope her third book is more like that one.

  8. Michelle says:

    Damn. I was really hoping that this would be one of those situations where you loved the book, and I didn’t. Ah, well. Perhaps next time?

  9. Beth F
    Twitter: BethFishReads
    says:

    I’m a huge Maynard fan and pretty much love whatever she writes. I’m so torn about Bellman & Black. I’ve avoided because so many people whose opinions I trust were disappointed. I suppose, I’ll break down and see for myself — despite the warnings that it’s just not as good as Thirteenth Tale

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Candace – the writing is just as beautiful; it’s the plot structure that breaks down.

  10. jenclair says:

    Loved The Thirteenth Tale. Endured Bellman & Black.