Author Archives: Alisa O'Donnell

About Alisa O'Donnell

I am an alumna of Western Washington University, born and raised on the Puget Sound. I live in Modesto, California with my husband and my cat, reading books and writing anything.

Alias Grace

When the holiday dust settled and I calculated how much I had in Barnes and Noble gift cards, I knew two things: first, I was going to finally buy and finish the Outlander series, and second, that I was going to buy Alias Grace.

After watching the Netflix adaptation, I knew Margaret Atwood’s book was one that I needed to read and that I would really enjoy. I was right on both counts.

Grace Marks is a condemned murderess and has been in a penitentiary since she was 16 years old. She’s also spent some time in insane asylums. Psychologist Simeon Jordan is intrigued by her case, presented to her by a committee that is constantly petitioning for Grace’s release, believing her innocent. Grace herself says she can’t remember what happened that fateful day when her employer and his housekeeper were murdered. A scientist through and through, Jordan arranges a series of interviews with Grace to try to coax the truth out of her, but what he discovers will push his scientific mind to the limits and challenge what he is able to believe.

The bulk of the book is written in first person as Grace relating her life story to Jordan, thus, it’s written in a very casual and conversational tone, which makes the reading fast, as does the desire to know, is Grace insane, guilty, or innocent?

As I was reading this book, I was reminded of Cat Winters’ Yesternight (though, of course, this was written first), in that, despite being a fictional work, it challenges what you’re willing to believe, and leaves a degree of ambiguity at the conclusion.

And though it is a work of fiction, it is based on real people and a real case, which I find quite interesting as well. Atwood’s author’s note at the end provides clarification for what she drew from historical records (however conflicting and confusing) and what is creative liberties (mostly where records and facts were missing).

Atwood’s characters, and probably the real people behind them, are complex, and the reader gets the opportunity to puzzle things out herself, which makes for an engaging story. So for those who enjoy psychology, brain-teaser books, and just plain interesting stories, Alias Grace should move up to the top of your list. You won’t be disappointed.

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Blood Sisters

I snagged an early copy of Jane Corry’s new book, Blood Sisters, and let me say, I was not disappointed. I read the whole book in one day.

Blood Sisters, obviously, focuses mostly on two sisters, dealing with the aftermath of an awful childhood accident that left younger sister Kitty unable to speak or remember, and elder sister Alison riddled with guilt and anxiety. Alison is trying to make a life for herself, and takes a job teaching art in a prison. But soon she starts receiving anonymous, and ominous, notes, and she starts to realize the past may be coming to get her.

Only three people know what happened that fateful morning. Two of them have slightly but significantly different versions of the events. The third can’t remember, even though the closure everyone needs depends on her.

Blood Sisters ends up having four points of narration: one from Alison’s point of view in first person, one from Kitty’s point of view in third person, some diary entries, and, later, flashbacks from Alison’s point of view. But the narration works for the story, and it’s easy to follow the threads as they weave their way into a final picture.

Corry’s book was easy to read. It gave enough so you have a general idea of what happened, but enough misleading hints to keep you guessing about all the fine but crucial details. And just when you think you’ve figured it out and uncovered the secret, Corry reveals that there’s still more. But she does it in a way that keeps you engaged, not tiring you out from gratuitous word padding or layers of “suspense.”

Corry’s book is my latest go-to recommendation and, of course, it means her first book will have to go on my never-ending list of books to read.

So if you’re looking for an easy suspense read, be sure to check her out.

Tempests and Slaughter

When I was a teen, Tamora Pierce was my favorite. I remember reading everything she had, waiting anxiously for the library to have what I get wanted next. So when she finally decided to write the back story of Numair, a well-known figure in the Tortall realm, I was excited. And when we got the advanced reader in at work, I and as even more so.

Tempests and Slaughter starts when Numair is a child, still going by his given name, Arram Draper, only 11 years old, and follows four years of his schooling with his best friends, a smart girl called Varice, and one of the royal heirs, Ozorne.

Arram faces trials and finds that mages sometimes must do things they don’t want to do for the sake of learning, and for helping others. Arram realizes that the future he’s planned with his friends may not be possible, if he can’t reconcile himself to certain social injustices the Carthak society praises.

This book is very much a character building platform. It’s all about setting up the character, identifying certain character traits, and preparing for more action to come in following books. That said, I honestly felt that it lacked drive. The story meandered on, and I think it would have benefitted from being shortened. Even the moments of tension just fizzled out without anything really coming from it.

Additionally, at least in the very beginning, the writing style felt very childish, and that made it difficult to press on.

While I’m not writing off the series just yet, this first book was a little disappointing to me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve grown out of Tortall, or if it truly isn’t quite the same as before. But, I’m hopeful that the next book in the series will take off and reestablish Pierce as one of my childhood favorites.

Micro

While it may not be obvious from my reviews, I’ve lately been enjoying dipping my toes into different kinds of science books (ok, maybe more enjoying the thought of it). Between nonfiction and fiction, I’ve been touching in several branches. The latest was a combination of several in Michael Crichton’s Micro.

Lured to Hawaii with the promise of jobs and secret technology, seven graduate students find themselves in the middle of intrigue and business politics, while fighting for their very lives. Armed with only their wits and the knowledge of their respective fields, the students realize just how big the world is.

Notwithstanding that my book was missing 10 pages near the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Only the first I’ve ready by Crichton, it seemed in keeping with his style, based on the Jurassic Park moves, full of action. To be honest, as I read, I kept thinking the story was going to take a different turn. Instead, it kept heading toward the logical conclusion, but I didn’t mind. Crichton, it seems, is an excellent author when you want an action-packed story that’s just a little different than the rest of the stuff on the shelves.

The Third Twin

I’m familiar with Ken Follett as a historical fiction author, but The Third Twin was my first taste of him as a thriller author.

Jeanie Ferrami has been doing research into the nature versus nurture question in regards to crime by studying twins, specifically those who were raised separately. But when a normal day on the university campus turns into a nightmare, Jeanie finds herself knee deep in conspiracy and cover-ups– Jeanie has uncovered identical twins born to two separate mothers.

Refusing to give up on uncovering the truth, and finding it difficult to know who she can trust, Jeannie must bring the secrets to light quickly, before she becomes another fatality to maintain the secret.

In the whole, the premise was excellent, and the story was engaging. The story moved quickly and Follett dropped enough hints to lead you along while reserving some secrets for the ending.

However, I confess I’m getting a little tired of thrillers being chock full of romance, or of relying on sexual crimes as the catalyst for the storyline. I suppose it makes sense, for the romance, because intense situations tend to create a strong bond of intimacy, but, many stories lately seem to be romance stories tucked into intense situations.

All in all, Follett didn’t disappoint. And I certainly wouldn’t pass up any of his other works on just this premise. So when you need a good, fast-paced story with romance as the underlying theme, try out one of Follett’s thrillers. You won’t be sorry you did.

Sometimes I Lie

The latest in psychological thrillers, Sometimes I Lie is a successful debut by Alice Feeney.

Amber Reynolds is in a coma. She remembers the days leading up to the accident that put her there, but some of the other details are hazy.

Though she’s able to hear most of what people are saying around her, Amber isn’t sure whether to believe everything in her mind or not. She knows she’s in danger, but she’s not sure who from, or why.

Slowly, all the pieces fall into place, and everything that seemed random makes sense. Everything you think you know is shaken up, because sometimes, Amber Reynolds lies.

When I started this book, I was afraid it was going to be another thriller story about a mentally ill woman, along the lines for Girl on the Train or The Woman in Cabin 10. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both of those books, but all the misleading came down to the illnesses the women were fighting. In Sometimes I Lie, though Amber does have some illnesses she struggles with, we actually get to see the root causes, and see how it led her to where she is now. And in the end, it was a lot more misleading than the others I’ve read.

Sometimes I Lie plays a lot on assumptions. The story leads you along, but when the truth is revealed, you realize there was really no evidence for your assumptions.

The last few chapters will stop you in your tracks. And the very last pages will keep you mind engaged, even after you put the book down.

So when you need a psychological thriller fix, and you’re looking for something different, check out Sometimes I Lie, coming in March.

A fresh beginning

So, obviously December didn’t really go as planned, as far as writing was concerned.

Work got in the way, and I was tired and desperate to watch as many Christmas movies as I could. January has been off to a slow start too. I hardly feel like I know what I’ve done with the last week, and get it’s gone, just the same.

But a slow start is better than nothing, and I will be intentional about returning to my editing, wrapping up the project I’ve been working on most of 2017 and choosing one of my other projects to return to.

While I’ve enjoyed a break to carelessly watch tv and soak in reading, I’m excited, too, to return to the creative process.

In the book review department, I’m hoping to meet at least the goal I met in 2017. My goal was to read 52 book, one per week. I think I had review blogs posted every week, but after counting, I know I read at least 55 books, because that’s how many I reviewed. Not bad, I’d say. (Some of the reviews won’t be posted on my blog until later in January, though.)

So, here’s to a new year full of creative opportunities. Join me in creating this year, and tell me what your project is going to be.