Kelly Strom | 'Half Moon Bay,' 'Ohio' offer complex tales

Kelly Strom | 'Half Moon Bay,' 'Ohio' offer complex tales

Complex stories have always appealed to me. Novels that have several storylines going on at once or that delve a little more deeply into the human psyche are of the most interest to me. Today's novels do just that. The primary story sometimes makes way for a study on an associated topic or complication that takes center stage for a while.

I love "Turn of Mind" by best-selling author Alice LaPlante back when it was released years ago. When her latest novel was announced, I knew that it was one that would be on my nightstand. In "Half Moon Bay," it's hard to tell whether the murder mystery is most important or the intense characterization of the protagonist.

Jane O'Malley is emotionally haunted and robotically makes it through each day. Back in San Francisco, tragedy struck her family, which ultimately resulted in divorce. A senseless accident killed her teenage daughter, and Jane was inconsolable. After some questionable decisions made during her grief, she decides to move to the Silicon Valley to start with a fresh slate.

Half Moon Bay is a quaint town, right on the water. The locals are quiet and mostly keep to themselves, so eyebrows aren't really raised when Jane moves in. She finds a job at a local nursery, taking care of the California native plants section. A former professor and researcher, she is very good at what she does and is appreciated by the other staff. As time goes on, she begins rebuilding some sense of normalcy, or at least what could pass for that after experiencing great trauma.

Then, there is a disappearance of a local little girl. Unfound for days, she is finally discovered, wrapped in a blanket, neatly taken care of and dead. When the child is discovered, Jane has been walking the beaches late at night all alone.

Townspeople start to get suspicious. When the police team discovers Jane's background, she is brought in for questioning, then released.

Then another girl goes missing. Then another. Each one is found in the same physical state. Since much of her consciousness seems as blurred by fog as the coast, she begins to doubt herself. She sees the pain in the other parents' eyes and wonders if she could be the monster who is doing this.

While this is happening, a new couple move to town. Edward and Alma are beautiful but secretive, and they take a liking to Jane. Eventually, Jane discovers that Edward and Alma are not what they seem, but by then it may be too late.

Jane comes across as so ravaged, so complacent, that at times I wanted to reach in and just shake her. Wake up! Look at what you are doing!

LaPlante is a gifted writer and seems to have a knack for twisting grief into madness. She drags the reader in slowly with small reveals that never become obvious until reflection at the end. LaPlante was raised in Chicago but has also lived in California and Mallorca, Spain. This book is also available in audio, large print and digital formats.

In the debut novel "Ohio" by Stephen Markley, the reader is treated to a pensive novel about the formative years of four friends in the rust belt town of New Canaan, Ohio. Devastated by the Great Recession, unemployment, the effects of 9/11 and the opioid crisis, small town life here is not what it used to be.

Divided into four parts, as each character has a chance to tell their story, we learn about what has transpired in their lives in the time since they left town.It is 2013, and they all converge on the town, haunted by memories, with a mission to find answers.

Bill Ashcroft is an alcoholic and drug user who has traveled all over the world as an activist, then arrives in New Canaan this weekend with a mysterious package strapped to his back. Stacey Moore is a doctoral candidate confronting a woman who wronged her. Dan Eaton is an injured Iraq War veteran trying to find the high school sweetheart that he had pushed to his past. Tina Ross is beautiful, but damaged, who did something in high school that lives on in the town's quiet history.

And underneath all of this introspection and commentary on the plight of the forgotten factory town is a mystery with a shocking conclusion.

The 9/11 tragedy serves as a before-and-after point in the story. The author was a senior in high school when the Twin Towers were struck and remembers being inundated with military recruiters.

From Ohio himself, he had friends who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and has a certain intimacy with the events taking place in this story. This younger generation has known much about tragedy since 9/11, facing environmental fears, war, racial tensions, drug infestation and foreclosures. This novel touches on that, a sense of disillusionment with the world, but also hones in to the personal stories of these four survivors and how they are intertwined.

Short-listed for a number of literary prizes, "Ohio" is also available in large print and digital formats.

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, ebooks, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.

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