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 in 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!

Fierce Kingdom & The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life

 

Fierce Kingdom:  A Novel by Gin Phillips is a book that I read a lot about before I put it on my TBR.  I saw reviews in magazines and blogs and it sounded intriguing.  Boy, it sure did not disappoint!

Absolutely un-put-downable!  The premise is a mass shooting occurring in a zoo, not an old concrete and cages in lines kind of zoo, but a more modern one with treed pathways, larger animal habitats, lots of play areas, etc.  A mother who takes her son regularly to the zoo is about to leave when she comes upon the shooting.  Being a regular visitor, she knows the zoo like the back of her hand and as an adult alone she probably would have been fine hiding and waiting out the police rescue, but she had her young son with her.  Like a lot of young kids, he is not good at sitting still, staying quiet, and dealing with hunger and thirst for the hours the rescue takes.

This was such a thrilling ride of  a book, at times I was actually holding my breath, I was so caught up in the story.  The actions and attitudes of the shooters are at times terrifying and at other times pathetic.  I don’t know whether my immersion in this was because it was so relatable for me being a mother, who also had a membership to a zoo when my kids were small or not.  Highly recommended read.

The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell  was a total impulse read.  I was at the library perusing the new arrivals shelf and the title and the beautiful cover lured me in.  The book follows two sisters, Lilly and Neave, and their drive to build a Mary Kay type cosmetic empire.  Neave is the “romance reader” and chapters of Neave and Lilly’s lives are interspersed with chapters from a romance novel that is her inspiration, The Pirate Lover.  Lilly is murdered and is spending her time in the afterlife, as a ghost with the family dog’s ghost as a companion, trying to help  Neave. There are other siblings as well, a child of Lilly’s, an immigrant chemist, and a couple of love interests to round out the cast.

All of the characters are done very well and this is a lovely read in the family relationship pieces and an intriguing read in the murder mystery sections with a dashes of humor expertly placed.  The novel highlights the plight of women in the 30s through to  some time in the 70s, the lack of prosecution for domestic violence, lack of job opportunities, and cultural expectations.  The novel does not fit easily into a genre, rather it straddles lines intersecting mystery, romance, general fiction, paranormal and historical.  I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Magpie Murders, Gather the Daughters, The Conflict, & In the Still

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is this month’s read at the Kindle English Mystery Club on Goodreads.  I really enjoyed this read with its “book within a book” set up.  I have seen this technique used in the past but not as successfully.  The book “within” was an obvious homage to Christie’s Poirot and as such was a fun read.

I also liked having insight into the editor’s mind as she analyzed the book trying to work out the ending and then she used the same technique to solve her real mystery.  I wasn’t certain about the outcome of the Atticus Pund mystery and I enjoyed the reveal and the use of misinterpretation. I suspected the villain in the real mystery early on but still enjoyed reading through Susan’s reveal and seeing how she put all the pieces together.  The connection between the two mysteries was particularly clever.   Highly recommended for fans of classic mysteries and modern ones.

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed is told from the point of view of four girls living in an isolated religious cult that sprung up after a great scourge caused the rest of the world to be deemed “the wasteland”.  This is a tremendously disturbing book that tackles child sexual abuse, grooming and pedophilia, euthanasia,  misogyny, religious absolutism, and male power and violence.  There are shades of Lord of the Flies and Handmaid’s Tale both present here.  Absolutely compelling writing.  The girls’ characters are incredibly well drawn and pull the reader completely into their horrifying  world.  There is one scene of extreme animal cruelty that caused me to put the book down for a short while, but I did finish it.  I wouldn’t say I “enjoyed” this book, it was too disturbing, but it is a powerful book and it shines a light on some uncomfortable topics.

The Conflict:   How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women by Elisabeth Badinter is a non-fiction read.  While I didn’t agree with all of her conclusions from her data, the points that she raises are thought-provoking and an important consideration, not only for feminists, but for mothers and fathers.  The connections to Rousseau’s naturalism as a school of thought are interesting as is the historical perspective on motherhood in France contrasted with other countries.

In the Still by Jacqueline Chadwick is a murder mystery involving Ali, a former profiler, who has emigrated from the UK to Canada with her family.  A murder occurs in her small town, not far from her house and she immediately senses that the scene is not a one-off killing.  The novel follows Ali and her eager side kick’s investigation tracking a serial killer that not everyone, including Ali’s husband, is sure exists.  Ali as a character is her own worst enemy in some ways.  She can be rude, antagonistic, anxious and sinks into depressive funks.  She is not a very likeable protagonist, but she is certainly intelligent and what is more, she is the only one capable of and willing to do whatever it takes to solve the crime.  Good start to a new series.

 

 

 

H2O, Ice Blue, The Girl Who Was Taken, & Gallows View

 

 

These are the latest reads from this week.

H2O (also sold as The Rain) is a YA apocalyptic  novel.  The idea is that due to the destruction of an asteroid that was heading to earth small particulate matter containing a bacteria entered earth’s atmosphere and contaminated the rain.  This the first book in the series and basically follows Ruby and her reaction to the catastrophic event and the deaths that surround her.  Ruby sets off on a quest to find her dad and the novel follows her journey.  The novel is written as if it is Ruby’s diary and since she is 15 years old, there is a lot of immaturity and perhaps not great decision making going on here, but it feels authentic to me.  The author’s voice comes across as a 15 year old and so I think that is great.  So many books with young protagonists have this “wise beyond their years” trope going on and just don’t feel real.   The book ends on something of a cliff hanger, but one part of Ruby’s journey is done.  I enjoyed this enough to read the next in the series, which considering I rarely read YA is surprising.

Gallows View is the first Inspector Banks novel by Peter Robinson.  Inspector Banks is involved in two cases here, a peeping Tom and a series of burglaries.  The cases intersect and the violence is upped culminating in a rape and a murder.  On top of this all, very  married Banks is desperately fighting his attraction to a colleague.  I loved the characters and the plotting of the book, investigating the cases side by side and looking for the connections.  Very well done police procedural.

The Girl Who Was Taken is a book I read about on a book blog and added to my library requests.  The book follows the connection between a young woman, Livvy, studying to be a forensic pathologist, and Megan, a former abduction victim.  Megan had been abducted at the same time as Livvy’s sister but Megan escaped to be reunited with her family while Livvy’s sister has never been seen from again.  A young man’s body surfaces and Livvy starts to make connections between him, Megan, and other missing girls.  The book follows what seems to be a trend in quite few books I have read recently, before and after storylines.  Some chapters are before Megan was abducted and some are after.  They are clearly delineated and it is not a problem following the time shifts.  The focus of the book is on the attention (fetishization) that famous crimes, such as serial killers, receive and the impact that this can have on would be offenders.  Interesting commentary on books written and marketed after these crimes occur.

Ice Blue is this month’s bargain book for the English Kindle Mystery Club on Goodreads.  I almost put it down reading the first couple of pages because the characterization of Lord Hetheridge seemed almost cartoonish.  I am glad that I didn’t because the book really improved after those first few pages.  Lord Anthony Hetheridge is a Baron and a New Scotland Yard Chief Superintendent.  He has made up an unconventional team including DS Wakefield and DS Bahr to work under him.  Their case involves some very high class citizens and they are expected to tread lightly to avoid offending them.

The mystery  itself is interesting and plotted decently.  The characters, particularly Wakefield and Hetheridge feel to me as though they are lifted (and at times parodied) right from Elizabeth George’s Lynley series.  Both series had high ranking police officers (Peers) partnered with  female younger officers who come from low class backgrounds and have family issues.  This really felt to me as though I was reading another take on Elizabeth George’s work.

The Unit, City of Friends, The Woman at Number 24

 

The Unit is a novel I read about in a blog and then found on the new arrivals section in my library so I scooped it up.  A thinking woman’s dystopian, this novel is definitely for fans of Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale,  Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, or James’ Children of Men.  The novel tackles issues of feminism, ageism, and the value of the individual in a dystopian setting in which a person’s worth is based upon procreation.  Men who have already procreated express derision for desperate single women trying to “steal their sperm”.  Young girls in a desire to save themselves from The Unit later in life are having unwanted children at 17.  Life on the unit is covered with this facade of luxury and leisure hiding the horror underneath.  A great read!  5 stars.

City of Friends by Joanna Trollope is a celebration of capitalism disguised as feminism.  Heavy handed didactic prose revolving around four women whose petty grievances wouldn’t even cause the average woman to bat her eyes.  One character, trying to reach her young teen daughter writes her a letter about the glory of work, how work will save you, how work is the greatest thing ever….made me instantly feel that the tagline for this book should be “lean in”.    Perhaps I just don’t relate to the issues of the 1%.  I have been trying Trollope because her work is recommended to me based on other women’s fiction that I have read, but it just hasn’t worked for me.

The Woman at Number 24 by Juliet Ashton is a quick, fun read.  Sarah is  a recent divorcee, so determined to see the inner beauty in everyone, that she finds herself taken advantage of by everyone, from the now gone Smith, to her ex-husband Leo,  her mother, and her basement dwelling neighbor, Mavis. The strength of this book is the characters and sense of camaraderie the book develops.  It is a book about friendship and family and how a collection of individuals can come together to support each other.  The only negative is that there is one romance novel device that the reader sees through almost immediately, however I still enjoyed the overall story. 

The Seagull, Spider’s Web, & Borderline

 

 

This week, I just finished these three although I started a few others so they will be posted next week.

I received a free ARC of The Seagull  from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.  I was so excited to get an ARC of The Seagull, book 8 in the A Vera Stanhope Mystery series and it was a great read.  When it got towards the middle, I kept putting it down to try to drag it out because I didn’t want it to end!

DI Vera Stanhope visits a prison on the orders of her boss to give a talk to inmates.  Once there she meets up with an old inmate, who strikes a deal with her for information on the location of a body.  This jumps starts an investigation into a twenty year old murder..or two and sets off a chain of events in the current time.  The plot line becomes heavily intermingled with Vera’s, or more correctly her father, Hector’s past.  His “hobby” of bird and egg poaching and the men he associated with are enmeshed in this investigation causing Vera more than one episode of being haunted by her memories.  This novel really shows Vera as a woman, a daughter, a friend, and an intelligent, critically thinking DI, an amazingly well drawn character.

The team of Charlie, Joe and Holly are really well done here, fully fleshed out characters, who are engaging in their own right, not just in the relation to Vera.  I particularly enjoyed the development of Charlie’s character over the course of the series and love that it goes against the stereotype of the older, maudlin, divorced cop who sinks into a puddle of alcohol in despair.  There are other characters outside of the team, who are just as well done, and demonstrate the effect of crimes on the families left behind.

The setting is just as well done, evocative and atmospheric.  There is a highly developed sense of place, which I really love in a book.  The setting is as important as the characters and the plot.  I would highly recommend The Seagull to readers of mystery fiction, to readers who love strong female leads, (particularly ones that are not in their 20s and beautiful), or to readers who just love good books!

I read Spider’s Web, the play by Agatha Christie because I had tickets to go see it performed at Princeton University.  The play was funny, lots of humor, and light-hearted for a murder mystery.  The female lead, Clarissa, was a great character, engaging and making the reader root for her success in all of her machinations. The plot did not feel as complex as some of Christie’s other work and it is my understanding that this play was overshadowed by The Mousetrap and is Christie’s least performed work.   I did enjoy reading it and seeing it performed.

Borderline is an urban fantasy, which is definitely NOT my go-to genre.  My daughter was reading it and I picked it up and was hooked by the first few pages and the lead character, Millie.  Millie is the survivor of a suicide attempt that left her a disfigured face and a double amputee.  She is recruited by the secretive Arcadia Project directly out of the institution in which she has been living. No longer suicidal, she is now dealing with the aftermath of her attempt, borderline personality disorder, and living in a house owned by the Arcadia Project full of other damaged characters and…. magic.

I loved the character of Millie and her portrayal of Borderline Personality Disorder.   She has been taught coping skills at her stay in the institution and through her the reader learns a great deal about BPD, in a straightforward, no pitying or wringing of hands, kind of way.  This is a fantastic example of a protagonist,who is both physically disabled and dealing with mental illness.

My only issue with the book was that I felt the ending seemed a little rushed and I don’t want to say anything else and give spoilers.  Definitely recommend this one, even if, like me, you are not a big reader of urban fantasy.