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!

 

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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.

The Marriage Pact

515njdvzn5l-_sx327_bo1204203200_  One of the last reads of my summer vacation, The Marriage Pact, is everything you need you need in summer reading, in turns gripping, prurient, scary, culty, lifetime movie-ish, although some of those may sound negative, I don’t mean them to be.  I found it absorbing and entertaining reading.

An up and coming couple, Alice, a lawyer, and Jake, a psychologist (the irony of which will not be lost on you), are recently married and determined to be one of those couples. We are talking about the couples who celebrate their 50th or 60th anniversary and miss the divorce bullet.  Alice meets a client who offers her a way to ensure that happens.  It is called The Pact.  As Alice and Jake meet their new Friends, that is Friends with a capital F, they realize the pact is not just a lovely new social club and they may be in over their heads.  Fast read to close the summer out.

Little Fires Everywhere

34273236  I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at BEA in exchange for a fair review.

The novel is about Mia and her daughter Pearl, who recently relocated to Shaker Heights and are renting an apartment from an established family in the town.  Established historically, socially and financially, that is.  Emotionally, perhaps not so much.  Events occur in the town surrounding a custody battle in which Mia finds herself on the opposite side of the battle lines from her landlord, Mrs. Richardson.  The fallout exposes secrets and destroys relationships.

I am very much in the minority from what I have seen, but I didn’t care for this.  The deck is so stacked in Mia’s favour by the author, it pushes the reader into a passive position.  We are obviously supposed to see Mia as the heroine, as the good mother, as the fighter of injustice, etc.  We are also supposed to poke fun at  middle  and working class values, at a desire for security, and achievement.  We are supposed to worship at the altar of the biological mother over all others.   Ironically, or not, the biological father gets no such altar.  Having lived and worked in the real world for a long time, including much of it with children, this just didn’t work for me.

This Week’s Reads so far…

 

Lie to Me, Give Me the Child, and You’ll Never Know, Dear were all received at BEA 2017 from the publishers in exchange for fair reviews.

Lie to Me is a psychological thriller. Ethan wakes up one morning to find his wife gone and in her place a note is left asking him not to look to for her.  They have not had the smoothest of times recently and Ethan is worried about his wife, but he is also worried about his himself and what the police will think ala Gone Girl, his wife has a penchant for drama.  The story becomes more complicated and entangled with the police receiving conflicting tales and Sutton remaining missing.

I was skeptical of this given the rash of “for fans of Gone Girl” books that have hit the market, but I’m really glad I gave it a fair shot.  It is very cleverly done with twists and turns to mislead the reader throughout.  The pacing keeps the story moving even when it moves back and forth between past and present and from one character’s point of view to another’s.  There were modern references here to technology, social media, and even a jab at the Gone Girl plot twist which gave the book a very current feel.  The reveal was a little unusual, done in pieces, but still quite good.  Overall, a fast paced psychological thriller recommended for fans of … Gone Girl et. al. cute-wink-emoji

Give Me the Child jumps right into the plot within the first few pages.  The reader meets Dr. Cat Lupo and her husband Tom dealing with the fallout of Ruby, the product of an affair Tom had, arriving on their doorstep in the custody of social services.  Up to that moment Cat didn’t know Ruby existed and she spends the rest of the novel figuring out what else she doesn’t know.

The novel explores themes of trust and knowledge, how well do you really know anyone else?  How well do you know yourself?  Who do you trust?  And how do you decide?  What kind of risks do you take when it is not just your life at stake, but also your child’s?  It also addresses the fears that any former mental patient faces, that is the feeling that people are just waiting for you to break down again.  Cat finds herself alone trying to piece together what really happened to Ruby’s mother. Well paced with a highly developed sense of tension and a satisfying conclusion.

You’ll Never Know, Dear is a family tragedy story.  Three generations of women have been impacted by the disappearance of 4-year-old Janey.  Miss Sorrell, Lissie, and Vanessa, who are Janey’s mother, sister and niece, come together at the reappearance of a clue after 40 years of nothing.  Although this is taglined as “a novel of suspense” on the cover, it is much more about relationships, particularly the relationships between women.  The characters are well crafted and interesting.  It also addresses how the disappearance of a child impacts a family for years – the not knowing and the guilt.   The mystery of who was responsible for Janey’s disappearance was rather obvious very quickly on so I really see this more as a women’s fiction suspense than a mystery novel.

The Cold Cold Ground is a book I put on hold from the library based on a recommendation and I cannot remember from who or what blog.  I really wish that I could because I loved this book.  It is so well written, completely immersive with a strongly developed sense of time and place.  The time and place in question is Belfast in 1981, the height of the Troubles.  Sean Duffy is a Catholic police officer, a rarity.  He catches a murder case that is perhaps not what it seems.  The bombings, the riots, the casual prejudices between Catholics and Protestants, the back door deals funding a lot of the violence, the hunger strikes, the illegality of homosexual acts are all part of the background and are part of what Duffy wades through trying to get his job done and uncover the truth.

Although there is a lot going on here that is political, economic and cultural, the book is not weighed down by it.  The story is well paced and the mystery comes together beautifully.  Highly recommended for mystery/police procedural/historical readers.

Last Few Reads…

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero wins my award for the most crushingly disappointing read of the year.  I was so excited to get this book and waited a while on my library waiting list.  Perhaps that was the issue, anticipation built this up to be something that it just couldn’t live up to?

The premise is that a group of “meddling kids”  grew up and are now a group of adults with serious issues which all revolve around an unresolved final case.  They (minus one plus the grandpup of the original dog) head back to town to face their demons head on.

There is much to like here, characters named Nancy Hardy, the town is **Blyton Hills, a river named Zoinx, a group of  kids and a big dog, etc.  Homages to almost every kid’s mystery or crime solving/adventure show and book you can remember make for very nostalgic reading.  But, then there is the rest of it, the grammar, the style of writing, the uneven pacing,  and the odd lexicon (perhaps it is supposed to be cool and I’m just not cool enough to get it).  All of this makes for an unenjoyable and ultimately disappointing read.

The Storm is the second book in the duology called The Rain.  This is a YA apocalyptic book, which is not my usual genre at all.  The Storm picks up where H20 left off, water can kill you based on the fallout from an asteroid that was destroyed in space and  Ruby still wants to find her dad.  She has been living off scavenging and trying to learn survival skills by heading to the library.  She’s learned a fabulous amount about identifying clouds, a good survival skill in a world in which the rain can kill.  This book revisits some previous characters and the military base and there is a big reveal about Ruby, so I won’t say more about the plot.

What I will say is that the strength of this book and the previous one in the series is the voice of Ruby.  The character feels authentic, she talks and thinks about things the way a young teen would.  She is not some perfect heroine, who is beautiful, a genius, and  a martial arts master.  She is a kid, sometimes bratty, sometimes irrational, in a crappy situation making the best of it, using the problem solving skills she has.  I would recommend this series, especially for fans of apocalypse fiction.

Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck is a book I read about on a blog somewhere and thought would be an interesting read.  It is not so much an etiquette book (although that is in here), rather it is about civility or the lack thereof, and the cultural changes in the last ten years or so.  The impact of technology on manners and societal expectations is examined, as are behaviors that can either escalate or de-escalate social interactions.  While I don’t agree with every word, I do find that there are lots of  anecdotes, some very funny, and  bits of research cited, which come together for an entertaining and at times thought-provoking read.

A Pinch of Snuff by Reginald Hill is the 5th book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series on which the TV show was based.  Pascoe gets asked to look into a Porn film that may, in fact, be a snuff film and from there the case becomes a tangled web, involving porn, social clubs, an underage girl, an unwanted pregnancy, a rampaging father and a pair of old ladies, who may not be what they seem.  Dalziel is not as prominent in this book, as Pascoe is run ragged from one place to the next on his orders, trying to untangle the connections, solve the crimes, and figure out how much is “movie magic” and how much is real.  This was not my favorite in the series, but I did find it an interesting snapshot of 1970s attitudes towards women, porn, unwanted pregnancy, etc.  I will continue with the series because I do like the characters and their relationship.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is a book I reread, more skimming than anything, recently as a true crime read for a book club.  The book is famous for introducing a new style of nonfiction, the novelization.  It follows a crime in which an entire family is killed in their remote farm.  The crime captured the imagination and in equal measure horrified the American public.

I read the book originally back in the mid-1970s and I remember liking it a great deal at the time and  it inspired me to go on reading more true crime, such as Helter Skelter and The Executioner’s Song.  Rereading it now, I find myself much more skeptical about the veracity of Capote’s accounts and found the writing tedious in pacing at times. Nonetheless, the book has earned its place as a groundbreaking classic and I don’t regret reading it.

 

 

 

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

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Not THAT Elizabeth Taylor…this one has been called “one of the best English novelists born in this century (20th)” and “one of the most underrated writers of the 20th century”.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor is a sharply written, insightful study of the end of life in the 20th century.  Mrs. Palfrey has come to London to live out the end of her life at a hotel suited for this purpose.  The other residents are all holding their own death watch, staving off boredom and loneliness at a level that makes death seem welcome.  Mrs. Palfrey forms a relationship with an aspiring writer and she impacts his life as he does hers in this cross generational friendship.  This is not written in a sickly sweet manner at all.  It is an open and honest look at people, aging, and friendship.  I am glad I finally read it and would highly recommend it.

The movie starring Joan Plowright is very good as well!