I picked up both of these novels at White Birch Books while I was staying up in North Conway, NH. I've been trying to do more of my book shopping at independent stores and White Birch Books is the perfect size for easy browsing (not too big, not too small, but just right). The employees hand-select recommended titles and thirty minutes of perusing the shelves left me with a handful of books I wouldn't have found on the front page of Amazon.
Crooked River is Valerie Geary's debut novel. The plot centers around two sisters, Sam and Ollie, who are forced to move out to rural Oregon to live with their estranged father after their mother's sudden death. When they discover a dead body floating in the river that runs near their father's tepee, Sam makes it her business to uncover the murderer (even after all signs start pointing toward her father). There's young romance and mystery and even a fabulist edge reminiscent of Karen Russell's original short story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (Ollie sees ghosts). The chapters alternate between Sam and Ollie's first-person POV, though Sam gets much more real estate than her younger sister. The ending felt rushed and, at times, the mystery bordered on being over the top/completely unrealistic, but the book was an overall pleasant read.
Off Course by Michelle Huneven originally interested me because the plot seemed to share some similarities with the novel I'm currently writing. Cressida, a PhD candidate, moves to her parents' remote cabin in the Sierras in order to have the time and space to finish her dissertation. Once there, she finds herself distracted by two different romantic affairs: one with the owner of a local lodge and the other with Quinn Morrow, a married contractor. Far from finishing her dissertation, Cressida becomes obsessed with her self-destructive on-again-off-again relationship with Quinn. While I was excited to find a novel that openly explores female desire and sexuality, I found myself questioning Cressida's motives and feelings. At times, the third person narration felt isolating and almost unfulfilling. The book moved through a lot of time very quickly (years and years pass over the course of 300 pages) and I wonder if the novel wouldn't have been better served by a shorter time frame and a more thorough exploration of Cressida's character.