Sandra Brown, Grand Central, 416 pages
Dr. Emory Charbonneau, a pediatrician and marathon runner, finds herself trapped in an isolated cabin with a man hiding from the world in “Mean Streak,” Sandra Brown’s latest dive into romantic suspense.
Although Emory has a tumultuous relationship with her husband, Jeff, they are trying to work things out. She arranges to take a weekend off to head to the mountains to train for a marathon, but Jeff is furious, and they argue before she leaves.
Emory arrives at her destination, spends the night in a hotel and is on the trail the next morning. She receives a massive blow to the head and later wakes up inside a cabin. A man tells Emory that he found her unconscious and brought her to the cabin to administer first aid. When she asks for a phone or transportation back to civilization, he comes up with excuses to keep her inside and “safe.”
Meanwhile, Jeff begins to wonder about his wife but believes she’s still angry after their fight and is intentionally staying away from home. When the police begin to question him about her whereabouts and learn that he is having an affair, they start to think he’s responsible for her disappearance.
A quick glance might invoke thoughts of a tale mixing Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” with Stephen King’s “Misery,” but as Brown unveils the full scope of the story, readers will be shocked and delighted about the direction it takes. “Mean Streak” is one of Brown’s best novels.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette
Hamptom Sides, Doubleday, 480 pages
“In the Kingdom of Ice” tells the story of an almost entirely forgotten episode that unfolded at the very end of the Age of Exploration. Three centuries after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci lent his name to a mysterious land mass in the Western Hemisphere, the United States of America sent off its own expedition to the North Pole.
The men of the Jeannette hope for glory and fame. Instead, they discover an ice-bound Heart of Darkness. They find that some of the most isolated parts of the globe have been degraded by man; and that untamed nature can bring out the worst and best in people.
It’s 1879 and there are no satellites to warn the men of unseen hazards or freaky turns in the weather. It’s when the USS Jeannette finally sets sail from San Francisco that Sides’ book comes most fully to life.
In the Arctic Sea itself, the men search for a legendary place called Wrangle Land. It’s been seen by local whalers but only as a shadow on the horizon. Wrangle might be an island, or the tip of a northern continent that reaches toward the pole itself. DeLong sails toward it – and promptly gets stuck in the ice.
Sides’ descriptions of the physical challenges the men face and the eerie landscape that surrounds them are masterful. As DeLong and his crew attempt to save themselves, the story grows in suspense and psychological complexity.
More strange and fantastic turns follow, involving uncharted and uninhabited lands. Sides’ book is a masterful work of history and storytelling, and it rewards patient readers with scenes of human strength and frailty they will long remember.