Review: A Climate for Death

Image from Barnes and Noble
Image from BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

A thousand miles off course, a private plane grazes a historic lighthouse and crashes on a snow-covered precipice a hundred feet above Lake Superior. There’s a dead pilot on board, but three VIP passengers are missing. The FBI, NTSB and others head to the crash site in remote Lake County, Minnesota, where the locals are dealing with one of the coldest winters on record.

A deadly snowmobile accident, an upstart candidate for Congress, and alarming discoveries in Isle Royale National Park add to the challenges confronting local sheriff Sam MacDonald as the solitude of the North Shore is disrupted by events that could have national and international repercussions. The weather is just one of the circumstances that create a climate for death.

Barnes and Noble

Review

Read: June 2021

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

At this point, I’ve become familiar with reviewing a book that I badly wanted to like but ended up having to force myself through. The disappointment is especially strong when someone offers you their work to review because I feel disappointment on their behalf too, I think. But an honest review is warranted, and so honest I shall be.

If A Climate for Death were adapted as a movie or a series, I honestly would watch it. A murder mystery? And it’s set in the Great Lakes? Sounds good. I know that sounds contradictory to what I just said, but I’ll explain. The plot of this book is its strong point. The concept for A Climate for Death isn’t bad at all, and Lund generally has a firm grasp on how he wants the plot to play out. The motives for the murders are wild, but I’ve watched enough Dateline and listened to enough My Favorite Murder to know that people are fucking crazy and do insane things for insane reasons. Lund even goes so far as to openly address this via Hinton, albeit regarding an incorrectly named suspect:

“That’s because you’re trying to attribute rational thoughts and motives to an irrational, desperate man.”

My most prominent stumbling blocks were Lund’s writing style and characterization. Lund loves to infodump, and he loves to do it in the worst possible way. He doesn’t just spout relevant information in unwieldy lumps: He tells you all the shit you don’t need to know and probably won’t care about. No, Lund, I do not need to know the alma mater of every character who ever appears on your pages. I don’t need to be told that the wife of the lighthouse keeper is beautiful and intelligent when she only appears on like five pages. I certainly don’t need to know the fucking life story of the guy from whom Redman purchases his new car. It’s almost like when Lund introduces his characters or paints their backgrounds, he just copies his notes on their biographical profiles into paragraph form. This has the unfortunate effect of making the reader feel less like they’re reading a novel and more like they’re reading an entire wiki about the novel. Yes, details are important to illustrate characters, but for shit’s sake, please skip the biography of each Tim, Terrance, and Kathy who so much as farts on-page.

Lund also has this weird habit of throwing in a detail that is completely out of left field and just… never mentioning it again. For instance, in the beginning of the book, an exhausted Sheriff MacDonald is asleep at his desk, and his coworkers/employees wake him up and brief him on their findings. When his detective asks if he’s paying attention, we get this insight into MacDonald’s dream:

MacDonald had been watching his six-year-old daughter practice a dance routine at the Little Gym in Falls Church, Virginia. His first wife and their daughter had been decapitated when her car slid under a braking semi-trailer during a snowstorm in McLean in January of 2013.

I understand how this horrific incident could really shape a character’s life, but MacDonald doesn’t expand upon that. This is a particularly gruesome and traumatic event to just toss out to the readers like some kind of morbid steak and then never touch again beyond MacDonald having a couple of bad dreams or vague memories. I don’t even think the wife and daughter were ever named (but maybe my memory is fuzzy on that matter). Speaking of weird, an odd number of characters are involved in relationships with huge age gaps. I know (adult) people sometimes find love with someone significantly older than themselves, but it’s a tad strange when most of the couples have an age gap of eleven years or more.

The writing style is largely responsible for this book’s other major flaw: characterization. The Wikipedia article-type exposition Lund employed – Lund’s preference for telling instead of showing – failed to connect me with the characters. Near the end of the book, Hallie, MacDonald’s second wife (not the one who got decapitated), announces that she’s pregnant. And I just don’t care. If the characterization were better, I would have squeaked with joy for Hallie and Mac. The strongest emotional response I can muster up is the halfhearted, perfunctory “oh good for them” that I’d typically associate with learning that a cousin’s cousin’s cousin was expecting. I guess I kind of like Redman, but that’s mostly because he adopted a dog shortly before he’s introduced in the book. Liz, Jenny, Jeronimas are intriguing, but in a distant sort of way. Everyone in this book has the potential to be much more interesting than they are in the book.

While A Climate for Death definitely didn’t tickle me right, it has a strong plot. (Bonus: It’s also pretty cool to hear a sexagenarian bash a thinly-veiled stand-in for Donald Trump, support liberal policies, cheer on a gay trans couple, and use the phrase “sat his privileged fat ass.”) With a little work on his delivery and his characterization, Lund could blossom into a truly powerful novelist.

Disclaimer: I won this book in a giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

June 2021 Update

Hello again, and thanks for visiting!

Sooo last month I’d planned to post more often, but my final paper got in the way. The good news: That paper is out of the way now.

And the even better news:

I FINISHED MY DEGREE. I’M GRADUATING!

I’m both excited and anxious to begin my searches for jobs and remote master’s programs, but honestly, after the last year of school, one thing I’ve been very much anticipating is reading whatever the fuck I want. I’ve been doing just that, and you will be hearing about those books here on this blog.

Blog Announcements

As I announced in last month’s update, I am planning to renovate this blog – give it a little facelift. Now that I have more time on my hands, those renovations are getting underway. Again, you will see some changes on the Book Hawk, but bear with me while I straighten everything out.

For books that I thoroughly enjoy and therefore want more people to read, I’ve been trying to keep my reviews light on spoilers. Limiting spoilers, however, can curtail the material that I can discuss; it leaves me feeling constrained. Hence, I’ve settled on a compromise: For select books, I will post two versions of my review – one light on spoilers and one loaded with them. That way, you, my reader, can take your pick of how much you want divulged about a book, and I can cover the topics that I think need to be addressed. Please note that I will be incorporating the spoiler-light review into the spoiler review. (I’m not going to write a whole new review for the same book.)

Upcoming Reviews

Priority Content

  • Rule of Wolves (spoiler-light version): I promised you guys this one last month.
  • Libertie: I just finished the audiobook.
  • The Burning Blue: This nonfiction account of the Challenger disaster of 1986 was my first physical ARC won from a Goodreads giveaway.
  • Truthwitch: In preparation for the release of the next book in one of my favorite series ever, I am rereading Truthwitch, Windwitch, and Bloodwitch.

Tentative Additional Content (or The Stuff I’ll Get To If I Have the Time)

  • Rule of Wolves (spoiler version): I already have this review in the works.
  • A Climate for Death: I really wanted to love this Great Lakes-based thriller/mystery, but I can’t say I’m terribly impressed.
  • Windwitch and Bloodwitch: Whether or not these are reviewed this month will depend on how fast I read.
  • The Lost Apothecary: C’mon. I finished this two months ago.

And now, without further ado, I present to you my review of Rule of Wolves.

Book Review: Firekeeper’s Daughter

Image from Barnes and Noble website

Synopsis

Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of a fresh start at college, but when family tragedy strikes, Daunis puts her future on hold to look after her fragile mother. The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team.

Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, drawing on her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to track down the source. But the search for truth is more complicated than Daunis imagined, exposing secrets and old scars. At the same time, she grows concerned with an investigation that seems more focused on punishing the offenders than protecting the victims.

Now, as the deceptions—and deaths—keep growing, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go for her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

Barnes and Noble website

Review

Read: April 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars!

Before I begin this review, I just want to point out that this book is not fantasy, despite its categorization on Goodreads. My best guess as to why is the role that the Little People and Anishinaabe medicines play in the story, but I see these as religious and cultural elements rather than ones of fantasy. If Christian fiction is not classified as fantasy, Firekeeper’s Daughter should not be either. (Please note that I am equating the two faiths, not disparaging Christianity.)

Spoiler-free!

I didn’t even know about this book’s existence until a week or two prior to its release date, but as soon as I did, I knew I absolutely had to read it. A Native American protagonist from Michigan? An author from Michigan? A Native author from Michigan? Yes, please.

Guys, this book has everything a Michigander like me could ask for: hockey (bonus: Detroit Red Wings references), the Great Lakes, smaller lakes, beautiful woods, Yoopers, and insights about a community I only really know in passing, if I can even say that.

Angeline Boulley does a phenomenal job crafting her characters. Daunis is a complex, spectacular protagonist. She is magnificently intelligent, she is loyal to her loved ones, she is fierce, and she struggles with her ties to both her white roots and her Anishinaabe roots. Her observance and acuity render her a spectacular first-person narrator for a mystery of any kind. Jamie is Daunis’s crush, but he too stands on his own. He is sweet and smart, and he’s mysterious in a way that comes of as guarded rather than edgy just for the sake of having an edgy character. Like Daunis, he also grapples with his identity as part-Native, but his heritage is much less clear. Boulley doesn’t neglect her supporting characters either. From Lily to Levi Jr., from Seeney to TJ, from Travis to Teddie, they’re all evocative and lifelike. You will hate certain characters; you will love others. And yes, you will hurt when certain characters die. (I’m not telling you who.) Also, shoutout to Herri the cat. I love you.

Really, Boulley is simply an amazingly talented author in general. The plot is riveting and complex without seeming contrived; the events of the story are realistic. Boulley doesn’t include certain matters for shock value: The darkest, scariest happenings of Firekeeper’s Daughter are there either for the purpose of the plot or to depict vividly what it is to be Daunis Fontaine – and what being a Native American woman can entail. Additionally, Boulley has avoided the all-too-common pitfall of infodumping. The details about Anishinaabe culture are woven skillfully into the material of the story, so that readers to whom Anishinaabe culture is unfamiliar can comprehend the context of the book without getting the sense that they’re reading a textbook. Readers can lose themselves in her book. I can attest to this from personal experience.

Firekeeper’s Daughter has earned a spot in my list of top reads this year. The characters are fascinating and the plot is enthralling, and Boulley has a beautiful writing style that is at once concise and detailed. Boulley spent ten years chipping away this masterpiece, and the final product is a testament to her efforts. I can only hope that the world doesn’t have to wait another decade for her next book. Hopefully, she’ll write about Jamie and Daunis a few years down the road, or perhaps even a prequel novel about Teddie or Levi Sr. Even if she writes a book with all-new characters, I’d still read it. With a debut novel this successful, I think we can expect wonderful works from her in the future.

Book content warnings: racism/colonialism, drug use, sexual assault, murder, gun violence, sexism.