Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cold River, by Liz Adair

It's with pleasure that I get to do a review of Liz Adair's Cold River. This book is part mystery and part romance, which is a perfect blend for me as a reader. The fact that this book is set in the Pacific Northwest was an added bonus.

A brief description of the book from the backliner: Mandy Steenburg thinks her doctorate in education has prepared her to run any school district—until she tangles with the moonshine-making, coon-dog-owning denizens of a tiny district in Pacific Northwest timber country. She’s determined to make a difference, but the local populace still looks to the former superintendent for leadership. When Mandy lands in the middle of an old feud and someone keeps trying to kill her, instinct tells her to run. And though she has to literally swim through perilous waters, she finds a reason to stay and chance the odds.

And now my bullet list:

What worked for me:
  • First of all, the setting, as I mentioned. I will read just about anything set in the Pacific Northwest. It's one of my favorite regions ever.
  • A wonderful bonus to the setting was a good plot! :-) The book was a page turner for me, which I know is always a good sign. The author places hints, clues and questions throughout that kept me wondering if I was guessing correctly and anxious to see if I was right.
  • Mandy is a likeable character. She also shows character growth by the end of the book that takes her from a borderline education-snob to one who appreciates differing talents and abilities.
  • Mandy makes friends with the locals, brings her know-how to the job, and takes a lot of ribbing and not-so-good-natured jokes in stride. Her discouragement was believable but she wasn't a sulker, which is a good thing.
  • The author does a good job of painting a realistic community full of colorful characters with unique foibles. Backstory of the town's prominent family comes out in bits and pieces and adds to the overall plot.
  • I liked Grange, the former superintendent. As the book develops, we see the skills he brings to the community.
  • The author brings to the fore an unlikely "hero" in the form of Mo Smith, the district accountant. Through Mandy, we see a man who is largely unappreciated for his talents become someone others recognize. This is a character we often see cardboard cutouts of in books and movies--thinning hair over a bald spot, middle age, largely nondescript. Liz gives him depth and I liked it.
  • The mayhem! I loved the mayhem. Threats against her life, accidents, a former lover and a fun younger sister add to the mix. The more danger, the better, in my opinion, and every time something bad happened I found myself eager to figure out who was responsible.

I have very few complaints about the book, and I can't even say they qualify as "complaints." Perhaps just minor issues that I might have preferred to see differently. As I mentioned above, the author gives the reader good clues to see what's going to come as the plot develops. I think that Mandy should also have seen those clues a bit better than she did, however. In my mind, she would have figured out who the bad guy was long before she did. It's a balancing act as an author, though. Have your main character figure things out too quickly and you don't have much of a book.

All-in-all, this was a very fun read and one that I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys a good mystery and settings about quirky, small-town communities. I enjoyed the book and am so glad to have had the chance to review it!