Lichenwald, by Ellen King Rice #amreading

I always enjoy reading novels set in the Pacific Northwest, the part of the world where I live. I especially enjoy it when the author understands how the forests here really work. I read in all genres, and the most recent book was Lichenwald, the third book in Ellen King Rice’s Mushroom Thriller series.

A former wildlife biologist, Ellen King Rice knows her stuff. Her books are terrific novels to while away a rainy day with.

BUT FIRST, the blurb:

Lichenwald is the newest “mushroom thriller” by Ellen King Rice. This science-based adventure delves into the vibrant diversity of the Pacific Northwest with a story of the power in lichens and their relationships.

At the edge of exhaustion, lichenologist Zinnie Fazail struggles to maintain a professional life as her mother descends into dementia. Ursula Fazail insists on wandering the neighborhood, looking for a vaguely remembered blue mushroom while lapsing into the language of her childhood.

Zinnie is desperate for a health aide who can keep up with her mother’s excursions. When May Belle Pope moves in with promises to “Take care of things,” Zinnie learns that Evil can be a roommate with small barking dogs.

As Ursula bonds with a blind Cocker Spaniel, Zinnie realizes May Belle will exploit any situation to her advantage. Zinnie has to act before hearts and bodies are broken, especially once May Belle has access to the home computer and family accounts.

How can Zinnie protect her mother and her home when what she knows are lichens?

Lichenwald includes illustrations of local lichens by Olympia artist Duncan Sheffels.

Part adventure, part science class, and totally fungi and lichen friendly, Lichenwald takes the reader into a place of friendships and intertwining ecosystems.

My review:

I found Zinnie Fazail an immediately relatable character. The story opens in the fictional Summit College where she works. While much of the focus is on mushrooms, lichens, and fungi, the cast of characters, their problems, and their relationships are the heart of the story.

Ellen King Rice’s understanding of human nature is spot on. Laurel’s youthful insecurity, Marvin and Allie’s wary father-daughter relationship, and Zinnie’s frustrations are real.

German-born Ursula’s slipping into dementia is poignant and is shown with truth and sensitivity. New to the neighborhood, Allie was raised in Germany. Her immediate attachment to the German grandmother is genuine and well portrayed.

Things get complicated when a woman with suspect credentials accepted into Zinnie’s home and agrees to care for Ursula. May Belle Pope is a frightening woman even at her most ingratiating.

May Belle’s criminal sense of entitlement is boundless, and her casually callous behavior evokes real anger in the reader. The twists and turns of her nefarious plans are  both real and frightening. I kept thinking “This could happen to any family, even mine.”

The illustrations are really well done and informative. I enjoyed Lichenwald and found myself thinking about the events and the characters long after I finished it.

Each book in Ellen King Rice’s Mushroom Thriller series is a standalone novel featuring a different cast of characters, so you can start with any book and not be confused.

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