Category Archives: James Anderson

Review: Lullaby Road by James Anderson

Title: Lullaby Road by James Anderson
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

Winter has come to Route 117, a remote road through the high desert of Utah trafficked only by eccentrics, fugitives, and those looking to escape the world. Local truck driver Ben Jones, still in mourning over a heartbreaking loss, is just trying to get through another season of treacherous roads and sudden snowfall without an accident. But then he finds a mute Hispanic child who has been abandoned at a seedy truck stop along his route, far from civilization and bearing a note that simply reads “Please Ben. Watch my son. His name is Juan” And then at the bottom, a few more hastily scribbled words. “Bad Trouble. Tell no one.”.

Despite deep misgivings, and without any hint of who this child is or the grave danger he’s facing, Ben takes the child with him in his truck and sets out into an environment that is as dangerous as it is beautiful and silent. From that moment forward, nothing will ever be the same. Not for Ben. Not for the child. And not for anyone along the seemingly empty stretch of road known as Route 117.

Review:

Featuring many of the same people  from The Never-Open Desert Diner, Lullaby Road by James Anderson is an intriguing mystery starring independent trucker Ben Jones who once again finds himself caught up in the lives of the eccentric people along his delivery route.

Set against the backdrop of the Utah desert and lonely highway 117, Ben finds himself swept into drama of other people’s making.  Unable to refuse a virtual stranger’s plea, he reluctantly takes young Juan into his care temporarily. His day gets even more complicated when Ginny, the teen mom he has been helping, asks him to take her baby Annabelle for the day since her sitter canceled. With an early winter snowstorm on its way, Ben sets about making the day’s deliveries but every time he turns around, he is distracted by the problems that manage to find the people along his route.

Ben remains a complex man who has left his boozing and brawling days behind him. Despite his reluctance to take young Juan with him, the alternative is turning the young boy over to social services which is something Ben will only consider as a last resort. His admiration for how Ginny pretty much singlehandedly turning her life around also makes it impossible to tell her no when she finally asks for help. Ben’s interactions with the various people along his route really showcase how kind-hearted and compassionate he is.  He is respectful for his customers’ desire for privacy but he does not hesitate to push them when he needs answers.

The novel  is a little busy due to a number of secondary story arcs but the various storylines all play out rather neatly.  Ben is quickly distracted from his quandary over Juan after itinerant preacher John is severely injured in a hit and run accident.  Ben also faces the loss of someone dear to him but he also realizes that he must not interfere with their decision. He is also somewhat troubled by new information about diner owner Walt Butterfield but he avoids finding out what is going on with the elderly veteran.  Then there is the stunning double homicide that takes the decision about what to do with Juan out of Ben’s hands once and for all.

Lullaby Road is another intricately plotted character driven story that also features a perplexing mystery. Ben is a complex protagonist whose troubled past does not disguise the fact that he has a heart of gold. The desolate, beautiful and harsh desert is the perfect setting for the unfolding drama and James Anderson brings the novel to a somewhat hurried but satisfactory conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crown, James Anderson, Lullaby Road, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense

Review: The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson

Title: The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Blogging for Books

Summary:

A singularly compelling debut novel, about a desert where people go to escape their past, and a truck driver who finds himself at risk when he falls in love with a mysterious woman.

Ben Jones lives a quiet, hardscrabble life, working as a trucker on Route 117, a little-travelled road in a remote region of the Utah desert which serves as a haven for fugitives and others looking to hide from the world. For many of the desert’s inhabitants, Ben’s visits are their only contact with the outside world, and the only landmark worth noting is a once-famous roadside diner that hasn’t opened in years.

Ben’s routine is turned upside down when he stumbles across a beautiful woman named Claire playing a cello in an abandoned housing development. He can tell that she’s fleeing something in her past—a dark secret that pushed her to the end of the earth—but despite his better judgment he is inexorably drawn to her.

As Ben and Claire fall in love, specters from her past begin to resurface, with serious and life-threatening consequences not only for them both, but for others who have made this desert their sanctuary. Dangerous men come looking for her, and as they turn Route 117 upside down in their search, the long-buried secrets of those who’ve laid claim to this desert come to light, bringing Ben and the other locals into deadly conflict with Claire’s pursuers. Ultimately, the answers they all seek are connected to the desert’s greatest mystery—what really happened all those years ago at the never-open desert diner?

In this unforgettable story of love and loss, Ben learns the enduring truth that some violent crimes renew themselves across generations. At turns funny, heartbreaking and thrilling, The Never-Open Desert Diner powerfully evokes an unforgettable setting and introduces readers to a cast of characters who will linger long after the last page.

Review:

Set against the backdrop of the Utah desert, The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson is an atmospheric novel that is part mystery and part character study.  With its incredible setting and cast of eclectic but vastly appealing characters, this captivating debut will leave readers hopeful it is just the first of many installments starring truck driver Ben Jones.

Ben is an independent trucker whose route along the desolate 117 is much more than a job.  Caring deeply for the diverse customers he delivers packages to, his compassion for the residents leaves him on the verge of losing his business.  Fiercely protective of their desire for privacy, Ben shields them from the sudden scrutiny of strangers even when offered an opportunity that could potentially pull him from the brink of financial ruin.  Bewitched by the mysterious, ephemeral beauty whom he meets in a rather unorthodox (yet humorous) encounter, Ben is unwittingly drawn into a puzzling mystery that puts him and those he cares for in danger.

An orphan who was abandoned by his mother when he was a baby, Ben is one of those characters that is impossible not to like.  He is a bit of loner yet he cares deeply for the customers on his route.  He respects their vehement need for privacy and he never pushes for more contact than they are willing to give him.  He is pragmatic and accepting of his fate even in the face of losing the truck route that is more calling than job.  Down to earth with a surprising amount of depth under his somewhat taciturn exterior, Ben is a champion of those he cares for and he will do just about anything to protect them from outsiders.

One of the many notable characters on his route, Walt Butterfield is the cranky and enigmatic owner of  The Well-Known Desert Diner.  While many people know of the events of his tragic past, few know the actual details of the tragedy that continues to haunt him decades after it occurred.  Walt’s diner is now closed for business yet he meticulously keeps the interior exactly as it was the day he shut the doors to the public.  Hardened and irrefutably shaped by his misfortune, Walt has a surprising capacity for love when the prospect to right a wrong presents itself.

The unexpected appearance of Claire, a mysterious woman on the run from her past, provides Ben an unanticipated chance at love.  Immediately smitten, he returns as often as possible with hopes of catching a glimpse of the beautiful stranger.  Their encounters slowly evolve from slightly antagonistic to friendship then surprisingly, to romance.  However, Claire’s unresolved past soon collides with her present which leaves Ben uncertain about their future together.

The harsh Utah desert is as much a character in the story as it is the setting.  The descriptions of the bleak landscape are tempered by Mr. Anderson’s uncanny ability to find beauty in an arid region that is truly breathtaking.  This wild and untamed location springs vibrantly to life and the reader experiences the vagaries of weather and the bleak isolation alongside Ben and the assorted cast of characters.

The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson is a fascinating peek into the lives of people who manage to thrive despite the hardship and heartbreak they experience while eking out a hard fought existence in an unforgiving stretch of isolated desert.  Beautifully rendered with an ensemble of quirky but likable characters, this debut is an entertaining and thought-provoking story that I absolutely loved and highly recommend to anyone who enjoys character driven novels with a hint of mystery.

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Filed under Contemporary, Crown, James Anderson, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, The Never Open Desert Diner