Judging Joey by Elizabeth John

25320907  I received a signed copy of Judging Joey from the author, Elizabeth John, at NJRW Reader and Blogger Appreciation Luncheon.

I skimmed the back cover blurb of Judging Joey and decided to start reading it right when I got home from the luncheon.  Madeline White is a young teacher with a dark past returning to her hometown to help her uncle.  Officer Joey O’Neill is a hometown Golden Boy, who just makes everything look so easy.  Get ready for sparks to fly when the two meet again.

Madeline is a heroine who is easy to relate to and root for in this story.  Hardworking police officer, dedicated teacher, villainous helicopter mother, and puppies, what’s not to love?  Realistic depiction of school politics and the trials of being a non-tenured teacher set against a sweet, enemies-to-friends love story.  I really enjoyed this small town romantic novella!

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The Whitstable Pearl by Julie Wassmer

23080942  This was one of the reads this month over at the Kindle English Mystery Club on Goodreads.  Pearl is returning to her dream of being a detective, but a private detective this time.  She is already the proprietor of a successful seafood restaurant, but she had once been on the police force.  Her new  client mentions the name of a local to Whitstable, someone Pearl knows and even though she turned down the case she ends up immersed in it as she stumbles over bodies.

Cozy-esque mystery with a lovely setting that is well-defined.  The book really does have a well-developed sense of place.  A few quirky characters are sprinkled throughout the town and there might be a hint of romance to come.  Pearl is intelligent and even though technically not a professional detective, she makes a believable sleuth with her background in police work.  Slow to start, but an enjoyable read with a surprise resolution.

 

At Bertram’s Hotel, A Test of Wills, & Still Life with Bread Crumbs

A Test of Wills is the first Ian Rutledge novel and the first Charles Todd that I have read.  I found that Rutledge is an intriguing protagonist, struggling to put the war behind him and return to “normal” life.  He worries that he has lost his detective abilities, that he may be losing his mind, and that he won’t get over the love of his life and his broken engagement.  In the midst of all this, he is assigned a case that has the possibility of being a public relations and political nightmare.  Enemies without waiting for him to fail and enemies within tearing at his sanity, Rutledge trudges on, unwinding the twists and turns of the case and discerning the liars from the truth tellers until the final reveal.   Well written and paced mystery, I really enjoyed it.

At Bertram’s Hotel is an Agatha Christie with Miss Marple.  It has all the red herrings, interesting characters and twists and turns to keep you guessing.  I liked the setting of a hotel for a certain class of character in London, it reminded me of Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont in some ways, cozy and classic and yet dated and of a time gone bye.  Miss Marple  is a guest at the hotel and she picks up clues and nudges the police in the right direction to solve a case of a missing cleric and then  murder.  A great cast of interesting characters, who keep the story moving as they involve the reader in their exploits.  Very good classic Agatha Christie read!

Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a slice of life novel, with the woman whose life we see a slice of being a famous photographer.  Rebecca Winter is at the tail end of a career, running out of money, divorced and rather isolated.  She sublet her NYC apartment and moves to a small isolated cabin as way to continue paying her bills.  Once there, the substance of her life changes and she finds inspiration in the new world she inhabits.  Wonderfully immersive, the details of Rebecca’s experiences are vivid and intriguing.  The writing elevates this from what could be an ordinary story about a woman and her career to a story that captures the reader’s imagination and draws them into Rebecca’s world.  Highly recommended.

 

 

The Weight of Water & The Healer

 

The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve was a library book sale find for me.  The story surrounds a journalist/photographer, who is on a small boat, with her husband, young child, brother-in-law and his girlfriend.  The trip is to visit an island off the coast of Maine where a horrible domestic crime had occurred years before, get some pictures and do some research.  It sounds simple enough.

As Jean, the journalist’s, research into the ill-fated family are appearing in her own family, trapped as they are on the small boat in close quarters with one another.  Her husband the poet, whose glory days are gone, he can no longer write.  The younger brother, captain of the small craft, in love with a woman who doesn’t love him.  And Adaline, somewhat of a beautiful enigma, set between the two brothers.   The approaching storm is a catalyst for a modern-day tragedy.

Anita Shreve’s writes these family dramas with a great voice and characterization.  She is able to open a window to give the reader a view into another family’s world, at least that is what it feels like.  I just always find myself frustrated with some of the choices her characters make.   They always seem to be these women who make choices that are bad, just bad, let’s leave it at that.  I don’t want to say anything else because it will give away too much of the story.  Very good writing for fans of women’s fiction.

The Healer by Antti Tuomainen is a crime novel but set in the apocalypse, similar to the Ben H. Winters series, The Last Policeman.  

The protagonist, Tapani’s, wfe has gone missing.  She’s a journalist, who’s investigating The Healer, a serial killer killing those he deems responsible for the environmental apocalypse that is surrounding everyone.  Tapani knows he will not be able to rely on anyone to help him and sets out to get his wife back on his own.  With the help of a cab driver and some advice from an overwhelmed police officer Tapani struggles on with his quest, through interminable rain and wind, through beatings, betrayals, and dangerous enemies.

A little much on the environmental politics in places, but being that was tied to the plot, it was expected.  Overall, a well done mystery with good investigation and an enduring sense of the love and loyalty Tapani feels for his wife.  I would recommend for mystery and readers of apocalypse fiction.

In Bitter Chill, What We Lose, The Trespasser…more September Reads

 

September is always a crazy busy month for me and this has been no exception, but I have squeezed in three more reads.  Starting with a mystery that I really loved, In Bitter Chill, I’d say this novel grabbed my attention and kept it through great pacing and tension throughout the length of the novel.  The characters and the story had me engaged, I really wanted to know what happened to Rachel and Sophie as children and why one of them came home and the other never did.

The unwinding of the story and all the clues is really well done.  There are enough hints for you to ascertain the ending and it is tragic for all involved.  The theme of secrets and their repercussions, especially the unexpected ones are what this book explores.  Very good, well written mystery.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons is a book I added to my very long TBR after reading about the author’s debut in the Guardian’s book reviews.  It caught my attention initially because the author and the protagonist of the book are raised in Philadelphia, relatively close to where I live.  It jumped up higher on my list because I kept seeing write ups and finally one day I was in Barnes and Noble and saw this young man, who was not an employee cheerfully putting copies prominently on the summer reading display.  I stopped at the table and he said he was the author’s brother and I should buy the book.  Whether he was or not, I’ll never know, but the encounter was enough to push the book up on my list.

I did enjoy the style and the mixture of story and fact that What We Lose entails.  This is less of a novel and more of a series of vignettes and essays loosely tied around the events and relationships, particularly with her mother and father, in Thandi’s life .   Thandi’s perspectives shift from an American, who sees herself as black, to a South African, who is not seen as black, but rather Coloured.

Other shifts occur with the passage of time, as she becomes a motherless daughter and then a motherless mother and explores her grief.    She considers the meaning of orphan, what it means to her and to others.  She then looks at the number of orphans in the black community and how that compares to the white community, as her friends lose parents.

Thandi details her visits South Africa and exposes her feelings of fear and danger and outsiderness there.  Her personal experiences  are tied to current events and used to  make sense of them or explain what has happened in the context of South African culture.

Themes explored here are grief, motherhood, and belonging (or not).  I would recommend this, especially for this unique voice.  I enjoyed the tying of the personal to the context of the outer world in an attempt at sense making.

The Trespasser by Tana French is next.    I have to admit, I am all over the place with this series.  I read the first couple out of order.  Then, this month, The Trespasser was book club pick and it is book 6?  I shouldn’t have read it,  because I am somewhat confused.  The last I read this series a man was the protagonist….Arghhhh!

The writing is excellent, as I remember from other Tana French books.  The mystery was well done.  Some very good red herrings to keep our detectives hopping around.  I was not a huge fan of the Conway as a lead.  She seems to have huge chip on her shoulder and I just didn’t like the way  she dealt with people.  I warmed up to her a little by the end.  I did like her second though.  The case had a good and unexpected resolution that tied up what had happened throughout the book.

I will have to go back and read this series from the beginning or at least from book 3 forward.

 

 

 

The Other Mrs. Walker & Thirteen Guests

Back at work and I’ve been super busy.  It has started as a confusing and distracted year so far, but I’m sure it will straighten out.  As a consequence, I’ve only read two books this week, The Other Mrs. Walker, which I ordered after reading about it somewhere and being unable to get it at my local library.

The story has a current day death, not a murder, that is linked to events from long ago.  During the war three young sisters, lose their mother to mental illness and some nefarious machinations, and their father to his ability to cope.  Their little family is fractured over the course of time and eventually the three sisters lose all contact.  In the modern day, the children of one of the sisters is dealing with her own issues, working on  locating relatives or a history for a dead Jane Doe for her new job (which as an aside is farcicial), and investigating her own history, which her mother has always been rather tight-lipped about.

The book uses the story to try to explore the bigger themes of exploitation of women, children, the poor, the mentally ill, and the old and the theme of identity, who are we?, how do we know who we are? and where do we come from?    The more important question  raised by the multiple Mrs. Walkers is “What rights do we have to know?”

I wanted to know what happened and to understand the entirety of the sister’s story.  I had guessed at parts of it and not others but I kept reading to fill in all the blanks.  The story was really, really slow.  Very little happening at times, a lot of convoluted wandering of the plot with very little forward momentum achieved, a great deal of repetition.   There are very few likeable characters here and the time shifts are constant at points leaving a very disjointed feeling.  I don’t need a happy ending to like a book, but this just left a feeling of – why did I bother reading this – especially at over 400 pages.

Thirteen Guests is a classic mystery by T. Jefferson Farjeon.  Lord Aveling is hosting a hunting party at his estate and due to an injured stranger has an unlucky 13 guests at his estate.  It isn’t long for the bad luck to strike and then there is a murder to solve.  Well crafted characters, from John, the injured stranger, to Pratt,the society painter, Nadine, the widow, and several others, who round out this rather full cast to give the reader many suspects to choose from.  This is very much a  character study of a novel as much as a murder mystery.

The story itself is meticulously plotted with a to the minute plot line accounting for the movements during the murder.  There are many things to watch for unstable finances, are people who they say they are?, blackmailers, poisoners,  and jealousy, all possible motives for murder.  Another great classic from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction!

 

First Books in September…

Back to work, but I did manage to get some reading done as well.  The first book I was really excited about and I am glad that it lived up to my expectations.  That is Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan.  Lydia finds Joey, a frequent customer in the bookstore right as he succeeds in killing himself in the aisles of the store.  His suicide sets off a chain of events that is linked to a dark unsolved crime in her past.  Along her journey to find out what happened to Joey, Lydia reconnects with Raj, a friend from her childhood and her troubled father.

The book traverses between the current time and Lydia’s childhood and different points of view, but it is always clearly done and easy to follow.  The story is engaging and really well plotted with twists and turns throughout.  It is a mystery that focuses on the characters, the long-term impact of a crime on survivors, and how decisions made can have far-reaching impacts.  This is not a thriller, more of  a true mystery about a brutal crime.  It was an absorbing read.

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie  was a cleverly plotted Christie that is neither a Poirot or Miss Marple although it was originally based on a Poirot short story, Yellow Iris.  Rosemary died the previous year, a presumed suicide, and now the same group, including her husband and younger sister, are together again.  The husband has been receiving anonymous notes indicated that Rosemary’s death was not a suicide and he hatches a plot to uncover the truth leading to some devastating results.

The writing here, particularly in the character development of not-so-dear dead Rosemary and Stephen Farraday is really well done.  There is much more than just a whodunnit to the story.  A very good selection from Agatha Christie’s bibliography.

Gin and Daggers by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain is a series I have been meaning to start since I met Donald Bain at a conference and enjoyed speaking with him.  I do remember watching some episodes of Murder, She Wrote on TV and had no problem thinking of Angela Lansbury as I read this.

Jessica travels from Cabot Cove to London to speak at a convention and to meet with her mentor.  Shortly after she arrives her mentor, Marjorie Ainsworth,  is murdered and Jessica finds herself a prime suspect.  Jessica lands herself in the thick of it attempting to clear her name and solve her friend’s death.  There are plenty of suspects and motives to go around and keep you guessing here.  This is a fun read and a well plotted, cozy mystery.