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review 2017-06-20 23:10
Novy's Son: The Selfish Genius - Karen Ingalls

I am familiar with Karen Ingalls’ work, having chosen this novel after reading Davida: Model & Mistress of Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  Since I read that book first, when I read Novy’s Son I was provided with a natural timeline of a family riddled by natural spirit, which, however creative or inspiring, seems to invariably place them in a position to be judged.  I was pleased to reacquaint myself with Novy, the son of the notorious artist Mr. Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  But years spent with a doting mother who was spurned by society and left unsupported by a career-obsessed father has made him cold.  Despite this, he and his wife have a son (and other children as well), the protagonist of this book, Murray Clark. 

 

It is an interesting journey to begin reading a character’s story when he or she is a child.  In a way, it is easier to understand the foibles of the protagonist once one has become familiar with his or her past. While Novy is labelled selfish and is considered a wholly unlikable character, it is made clear that there is no absence of love in his heart.  There is a history of disassociation in the men who precede him; each have a proclivity to rely on himself and his habits.  That being said, it is no shock that Murray exhibits that same self-defensive mode that keeps him at a safe distance from the world around him, even if this mode entails self-destruction.  The tenderness readers see in him as a child while he grows up in southern California leaves within the reader some hope that he is human after all and capable of showing compassion. 

 

I regard Karen Ingalls as a skilled writer, her style easily identifiable by its matter-of-fact tone.  What struck me as distracting, an error that affected the quality of my reading experience, was the random assortment of Herman Melville quotes.  In addition, the e-book formatting had no distinct paragraph spacing, which made the sudden appearance of a Melville quote even more jarring.  Technological structuring aside, the story is worth reading, although I suggest reading Davida first!

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review 2017-05-18 02:19
Jazz Baby - Beem Weeks

            Before I began reading this book I was warned that it was “gritty.” That was the exact word used. And the person who generously cautioned me was telling no lie.  Oftentimes the story of the maturing Baby Teegarten made me cringe and my stomach churn.  It had nothing to do with Beem Weeks’ writing style, but rather with the brutality young women were faced with during the 1920s.

            The first person perspective allows readers to face Baby’s harrowing journey to making it big in a society that demeans girls and views them as commodities rather than human beings.  Beem Weeks writes about broken dreams and the crushing weight of circumstance.  While Baby has a vision of making it big in the northern United States, desperate for an escape from barren Mississippi, she is cut short and settles for the dark world of New Orleans speak easies.  The real tragedy of the tale is that the summation of all the horrible events Baby experiences reflects the desperation some feel to escape, whether they are escaping a regrettable past or a home that never felt like home. 

            While I can’t say that this is a book I would read again, Beem Weeks’ writing skill is undeniable.  I tend to prefer romance and stories that take me on an emotional journey that end in me ultimately feeling fulfilled and happy.  When I finished this story I mostly felt dirty.  But to accurately depict the tale of his protagonist, the author had no other way but to include those details for the sake of authenticity and perhaps even shock value. Returning to that warning I was given—Jazzy Baby was a chilling and indubitably gritty approach to a coming of age story.

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review 2017-04-03 17:13
In This Grave Hour
In This Grave Hour: A Maisie Dobbs Novel - Jacqueline Winspear

In This Grave Hour is the most recent "Maisie Dobbs" historical mystery, and about the dozenth or so in the series.  This series began when it was 1929, and Miss Dobbs was first opening her detective agency in a quiet London square.  It is now September 1939, Britain is at war with Germany, and Maisie has a new case - is someone murdering men who were refugees from Belgium when they were boys, 25 years ago?

 

Matters are complicated by her father having 3 child evacuees living with him down in the country - two boys whom he can handle, and a five-year-old girl who won't talk.  An additional problem is that no one seems to know her name, who her parents are, or where she's from.

 

Maisie will investigate both cases, and come to suspect that her client is either lying to her, or not telling the entire truth.

 

This was a distinct improvement from the last one, Journey to Munich, which featured spies and Americans ex machina.

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review 2017-03-28 21:19
Racing the Devil
Racing the Devil - Charles Todd

Racing the Devil is the most recent (I think) Charles Todd "Ian Rutledge" mystery.  And it's a good novel, despite being #19 in a series.  (I always get a bit dubious as a series goes very long.  I'm looking at you, "... in Death.")

 

In 1916, on the eve of the Somme offensive, 7 British officers meet at an ad hoc cantina in a barn, and while getting drunk, find that they are all from the southeast of England, and are all auto racing fans.  They agree that if any of them survive the war, a year after the war ends they will meet in Paris and race their cars down to Nice.

 

Five of them survive to make the race, held in November 1919.  But one of them ends his race in a terrible accident, and they go home not in triumph but a bit saddened.

 

Now, it is the autumn of 1920, and the police down in Surrey are concerned, because they have had an auto accident that makes no sense to them.  The local rector died in a crash, but it wasn't his car; it was the local squire's.  Also, there are traces of green paint on the rear of the car.  Was the rector forced off the road?  Why was he driving the car, in the first place?  Was the "accident" not so accidental?

 

So they call in Scotland Yard, and the Yard sends down Inspector Rutledge.  He must unravel a truly twisty tale, full of murder, attempted murder, blackmail, and kidnapping.

 

Partway through, I figured three or 3 1/2 stars for this one, but Todd managed to pull all the strings together very nicely and made a very solid finish.  At least one evening I stayed up until "gulp" o'clock reading it.  

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review 2017-02-25 17:36
Murder Offstage
Murder Offstage: A Posie Parker Mystery (The Posie Parker Mystery Series) (Volume 1) - L.B. Hathaway

Murder Offstage is a first book in a series ("Posie Parker Mysteries"), and, indeed, is a first novel.

 

It rather reads as a first novel - the plot is too complicated and frenetic, and only barely avoided having the kitchen sink involved.  Murder!  Diamond thieves!  Kidnapping!  Smuggling!  Counterfeiting!  And to top it all off, a Criminal Mastermind with a cat in his lap.

 

Alas, not this one.

 

Did I mention the tired "soused aristocrat with a secret" trope and a plot that just doesn't make terribly much sense?

 

I got it because the setting, 1921 London, and the supposed focus (the theater scene), but I doubt I'll read another one, frankly.

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