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review 2018-09-23 16:44
Death on the Saphire by R J Koreto (audiobook)
Death on the Sapphire: A Lady Frances Ffolkes Mystery - R. J. Koreto,Justine Eyre

Series: A Lady Frances Ffolkes Mystery #1


This is another one of the books that I stumbled across while looking for mystery genre audiobook possibilities at my library since I've been doing so much walking lately that I need to listen to something! Don't be scared away by my rating, for the reasons that I'll explain below.


Lady Frances (I think I'm using the naming convention correctly since her father had a title) is a very modern woman in Edwardian London (1901-1910) who has moved out of her brother's house upon his marriage (to a good friend of hers) to a respectable ladies hotel because she's just that kind of independent woman. She's involved in the suffragette movement too, naturally, and actually went to university in America (so she calls it "college"). She gets drawn into a mystery when a friend of hers asks her to help look for a manuscript that her brother (the friend's brother) was writing before his accidental death.


All that is well and good. The mystery was somewhat interesting, the narration was good, and the relationship between Frances/Franny and her maid, Mallow, was well done (Mallow got promoted to lady's maid partly because she used to cover for Franny back in the day). It was well-done but overall just average, and I'm giving it 2.5 stars instead of 3 because it was just a bit too American and Franny was just a bit too modern. At one point she calls trousers "pants", which was just a little bit shocking (I don't know when pants came to be known as underwear in Britain but to a modern ear it doesn't quite work), and her insistence that Mallow travel first class with her on the train just struck me as odd. Also, I think it may still have been just a little bit early for the upper class to be dining in restaurants for dinner/supper (I may be wrong on this point) and I'm pretty sure accepting a tête-à-tête dinner invitation to a man's house would have been outright scandalous.


There were a few other things, but to me it felt that Franny ignored her class just a little too much to really work for me. I like to read historical fiction books that try to understand the culture of the time rather than just overwrite it with modern sensibilities. Admittedly, some books piss me off when they seem to be doing the opposite (applying outdated notions to modern day settings). However, I do know that others enjoy modern women plopped into historical settings, and so if you're one of them you might want to look into this one. It is part of a series, and if my library has the rest of them, I may check them out.


Also, Franny's first suitor was far more interesting when the reader thought he was just trying to seduce her and/or take advantage of her.


I'm counting this one for the "Amateur Sleuth" square for the 2018 Halloween Bingo.


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review 2018-09-23 02:44
The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts
The Solace of Water - Elizabeth Byler Younts

After leaving her son’s grave behind in Montgomery, Alabama, Delilah Evans has little faith that moving to her husband’s hometown in Pennsylvania will bring a fresh start. Enveloped by grief and doubt, the last thing Delilah imagines is becoming friends with her reclusive Amish neighbor, Emma Mullet—yet the secrets that keep Emma isolated from her own community bond her to Delilah in delicate and unexpected ways. Delilah’s eldest daughter, Sparrow, bears the brunt of her mother’s pain, never allowed for a moment to forget she is responsible for her brother’s death. When tensions at home become unbearable for her, she seeks peace at Emma’s house and becomes the daughter Emma has always wanted. Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own—secrets that could devastate them all.

With the white, black, and Amish communities of Sinking Creek at their most divided, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation. But long-buried hurts have their way of surfacing, and Delilah and Emma find themselves facing their own self-deceptions. Together they must learn how to face the future through the healing power of forgiveness. Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today, The Solace of Water offers a glimpse into the turbulent 1950s and reminds us that friendship rises above religion, race, and custom—and has the power to transform a broken heart.







POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel touches upon the topic of self harm.



After the death of their young son, Carver, African American couple Delilah Evans and her preacher husband, Malachi, decide to move the family from Montgomery, Alabama back to the small town community of Sinking Creek, PA near where Malachi grew up. Malachi gets to work settling in as the new preacher of a local church in the area, but he finds resistance in his congregation. When he sits down with a family member for perspective on the problem, it's explained to him that he's simply been gone from the community too long and people need their trust with him restored. 


Delilah blames Carver's death on her daughter, Sparrow, who was supposed to be watching Carver when tragedy struck. Right from the beginning of the story, it's obvious that Delilah takes out her grieving on Sparrow in cruel ways. Struggling with feelings of guilt and abandonment by her mother, Sparrow, over the course of the novel, turns to self harm to alleviate her inner pain, turning to things such as stinging nettles, glass, even a clothes wringer to leave marks on her physical body as a way to let off steam from inner turmoil. Sparrow comes to find comfort in the presence of Emma, a local Amish woman who knows a thing or two about loss herself.


She had this warm milk sort of way about her. A body just couldn't walk away from somebody like that. You just want to drink it in 'cause you don't know if you ever gonna meet anyone like that again.

>> Sparrow, on getting to know Emma



But once the interactions come to the attention of Delilah, both she and Malachi warn Sparrow that she should probably keep her distance. This novel is set in the racially tense times of the 1950s and interracial friendships (and relationships otherwise) play a big part in the novel's dramatic moments. Emma hears similar warnings from her Amish neighbors and even her husband, a head deacon within the Amish community. It doesn't concern them so much that their new neighbors are black, but simply that they are "Englishers", or non-Amish. In their own ways, both the African-American and Amish communities push on these characters the damaging idea that "we'll all do a lot better if we just stick to our own kind." But as we the readers know, the world doesn't really work like that. We either cultivate love, kindness and appreciation for a multi-cultural world, or our lives face potential implosion, just as the characters in The Solace of Water learn for themselves.


"Since when do you know them?" John asked (after he discovers Emma knows the Evans family)


"I met them when they moved in. They're a nice family."


"The bishop said to leave them all alone because there always seems to be trouble between them and the white Englishers. We aren't like either of them and need to keep to ourselves."


Within Emma, we see a vessel for change. She has a poet's soul, full of curiosity in the stories of others, a love of words and a desire for knowledge. But she struggles against the darker corners of her life that threaten to tamp out her light. Her husband's secret struggle with alcoholism, his dislike of her "fancy lines" (her habit of crafting her own bits of poetry) that he sees as a form of vanity, quite the sin in Amish culture. Emma is weighted down with heavy guilt from being an enabler for her husband's drinking. She knows it's not only wrong but dangerous as well. It's not addressed directly, but parts of Emma's story suggest that perhaps John turned to drinking as a way to cope with crippling social anxiety, but over the years his bouts of aggression seem to have escalated along with the amount of alcohol he needs to consume to feel able to function. 


Emma's teenage son, Johnny, has had years of spoiling from his father and is progressively drawing more and more toward English ways -- drinking, late night carousing, sneaking pornographic magazines, even befriending an out-and-out racist! What changes Johnny is the first sight of Sparrow, whom he describes as the prettiest, most interesting and different girl he's ever met. You can imagine the firestorm that develops for a man who simultaneously maintains a friendship with a racist AND secretly tries to court a black teenage girl!


**Sidenote: I wasn't all that impressed with Johnny as a character. I couldn't help but feel that he saw Sparrow as something exotic and interesting in his Amish life rather than someone he honestly wanted to have a deep loving friendship with... even if he does talk about running away together (I think that was more about "young man caught up in the moment" than anything) and tells his mother that "Sparrow taught me things I never knew before"... What? WHEN? Their interaction throughout the whole book added up to only a handful of rushed conversations in secret! I just didn't buy that his feelings ran as deep as he claimed.**


The novel is presented in alternating POVs, rotating between Delilah, daughter Sparrow, and Amish neighbor Emma. To date, the novel seems to have gotten solid 4-5 star ratings across the board but I just did not have the same reaction as so many others. To be honest, I actually struggled to get to the end of this book. I DID finish it but for a book this size (under 400 pages), it took me WEEKS to get there. Highly unusual for me, especially for a historical fiction novel -- one of my favorite genres! The pace felt molasses-slow... which is sometimes nice in a novel if the writer brings the right tone... but when you combine slow with a deeply depressing plot for most of the novel... that alone left me exhausted enough.


But then add in Delilah as a character. That woman had a personality that just came off as almost straight vinegar. Yes, it is explained later (through her conversations with Malachi and later, Emma) that much of her acidic demeanor is driven by a combination of fear and grieving, even fear that letting go of the grieving will somehow dishonor the memory of Carver. Full disclosure: I do not have children, have never personally experienced the loss of my own child. BUT, in my own circle of family and friends, there are a number of women who have had that experience in one form or another, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, or tragedy. With that, I can say that none of the women in my circle have ever come anywhere near the unpleasantness of Delilah. They've known the sadness for sure, but they went on to live the best lives they could, full of love and appreciation for the people they still had around them. Delilah was just EXHAUSTING in the way she never gave anyone or anything a chance, she just assumed everything was more misery in disguise ... at least for a large part of the story.


So what kept me reading? Well, this is one of those stories that does have its important, moving moments, even if they are few and far between for some readers. But as I said, I stuck with it, and the plot's pace FINALLY picked up for me around the 250 page mark. But remember, the entire book is less than 400 pages. That's a long wait to a payoff. But readers who choose to stay with it do witness revelatory conversations, where women ask the important questions such as "Is that what you want --- to be separate?" and we come to realize that though the details and the POVs may differ, one commonality bonds these women together: they are all desperate for unconditional love and affectionate touch, something to remind them they are still important to others... yet their actions show just how scared all of them are to voice that need.


Aaron believed his arrival was a surprise, but I knew better. John's forgetfulness was getting worse the more he drank. His gentleness toward me was diminishing like dampness whisked away in a May breeze. And anytime he was gentle, I was filled with my own regrets and in my guilt I pushed him away. 

>> Emma


Good concepts for a novel, the problem for me mainly fell on the characters not having enough dimension for me to have much emotional investment in them.



FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 



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review 2018-09-22 18:54
The Silver Shoes
The Silver Shoes - Jill G. Hall

Anne has been struggling in a long-distance romance with long-time boyfriend, Sergio.  Anne is an artist based in San Fransisco and Sergio a New York City designer.  Anne wants Sergio to buckle down and commit to the relationship, but that may not be where either of their hearts lie.  On a trip to New York, Anne picks up a pair of antique rhinestone shoes.  With the shoes comes a strand of pearls and a hidden picture of two flappers wearing just those shoes.  The shoes inspire Anne to create several art pieces as well as think about her situation with Sergio.  In 1929, Clair, the original owner of the shoes, admires the footwear from the window.  She knows her father would never let her own them.  Although, Clair finds a friend in a performer, Winnie, who introduces Clair to speakeasies and uncovers Clair's hidden talents.  When Clair's life seems to be controlled by everyone but her, Clair's father pushing her into an arranged marriage with an odious man named Farley and not allowing her to continue her college education, the stock market crashes.  Clair decides to carry on and follow her heart becoming the provider of the family by secretly performing in  a Broadway Review.  When Anne learns of the woman behind the shoes, she takes a page from Clair's book and decides to follow her heart. 

A beautifully written dual-timeline story of two women learning to follow their hearts.  I enjoyed both Anne and Clair's characters and their willingness to strike out on their own, even if it took a lot of convincing.  The quick flow of the chapters with switching points of view between Anne and Clair kept my reading at a good pace.  Clair's story stole my attention as I was pulled in by her spirited nature and willingness to strive forward in life despite everything thrown in front of her.  The ambiance of 1929-30 shown through with the extravagance of hotel living,  debutante balls, speakeasies, FBI raids and the devastation felt after the crash. Anne's story was a slow journey to self realization that took more time to reel me in.  Both women are wonderful examples of determination and perseverance in times of strife. 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

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review 2018-09-18 10:21
Wie viel Sympathie ist erlaubt?
Der goldene Handschuh - Heinz Strunk

„Der goldene Handschuh“ ist ein Tatsachenroman des Autors Heinz Strunk, der den Serienmörder Fritz Honka in den Mittelpunkt stellt. Honka war in den 1970er Jahren in Hamburg aktiv und ermordete mindestens vier Frauen, deren Leichen durch Zufall entdeckt wurden. Seine Opfer waren gescheiterte Existenzen ohne soziales Netz, weshalb niemand sie als vermisst meldete. Honka gabelte sie in den übelsten Kneipen im Bezirk St. Pauli auf, darunter auch das Lokal „Zum goldenen Handschuh“. Er wurde im Juli 1975 verhaftet und im Dezember 1976 zu einer Freiheitsstrafe von 15 Jahren verurteilt. Das Gericht ordnete eine Unterbringung in einer psychiatrischen Klinik aufgrund verminderter Schuldfähigkeit an. Er starb 1998. Zu Recherchezwecken erhielt Strunk Einsicht in Honkas Prozessakten, die bis dahin verschlossen im Hamburger Staatsarchiv lagerten. Der daraus entstandene Roman ist eine von Kritikern gelobte Milieustudie, die mir von einem Kollegen empfohlen und ausgeborgt wurde.


Fritz Honka ist ein Frauenmörder. Innerlich verkommen und äußerlich entstellt, findet er seine Opfer am untersten Bodensatz der Gesellschaft. Er ist ein Verlierer, der von einem besseren Leben träumt und seinen verstörenden Fantasien nicht entkommen kann. Er weiß, er ist ein Säufer, ein bedauernswerter Tropf, eine Niete. Doch Frauen lassen sich selbst für einen wie ihn auftreiben. Die Verlorenen. Die Verzweifelten. Diejenigen, die längst nicht mehr auf bessere Tage hoffen. In der Hamburger Kneipe „Zum goldenen Handschuh“ geht Honka auf die Jagd. Dort kreuzen sich die Wege aller sozialen Klassen. Arm und Reich trinken Schulter an Schulter, Jung und Alt begegnen sich in den ranzigen Schatten der schäbigen Kaschemme. Im „Handschuh“ ist das Elend zu Hause. Und es ist kein Privileg der Unterschicht.


„Der goldene Handschuh“ ist ein literarisches Experiment, dessen zweifelhafter Reiz meiner Meinung nach in der starken, unerwarteten Bindung an den tragischen, grenzwertigen Protagonisten liegt. Heinz Strunk porträtiert Fritz Honka, genannt Fiete, als ganz und gar abstoßenden Mann mit widerlichen Neigungen und Fantasien, der von Beginn an zu Grausamkeiten gegenüber Frauen tendiert. Er ist Alkoholiker und ein Sozialversager, wie er im Buche steht. Sein Umfeld ist ebenso degeneriert wie er selbst, seine Stammkneipe „Zum goldenen Handschuh“ ein Moloch menschlichen Elends und Scheiterns. Der Vorhof zur Hölle. Dort ist mal jemand auf einem Barhocker gestorben und niemand hat es gemerkt. So weit, so scheußlich. Ihr könnt euch nicht vorstellen, wie entsetzt ich war, als ich beobachtete, dass Fritz Honka an meinem Herzen zupfte. Ich hatte Mitleid mit ihm! Heinz Strunk nötigte mir Mitgefühl für einen brutalen, ekelhaften Frauenmörder auf! Ich musste feststellen, dass mich die Charakterisierung seines Protagonisten als jämmerliches Würstchen keineswegs kaltließ. Schriftstellerisch ist das ein beeindruckender Geniestreich. Ich drückte Honka während seines Versuchs, vom Alkohol loszukommen, die Daumen und als das nicht funktionierte, erwischte ich mich dabei, auf irgendein Erfolgserlebnis für ihn zu hoffen, sei es nun eine heiße Nacht mit der Putzfrau seiner Arbeitsstelle oder die Verwirklichung seiner abartigen Fantasie von zwei Frauen. Ich wünschte ihm Glück, ich wünschte ihm Befriedigung, obwohl er es nicht verdiente. Ich erforschte meine Emotionen und fand eine erschreckende Bereitschaft, mich auf Honka einzulassen. „Der goldene Handschuh“ ist ein provokantes Buch, weil Heinz Strunk darin die Beziehung zwischen Leser_in und Protagonist ungeniert in Frage stellt. Wie weit darf Sympathie gehen? Für mich ergab die Lektüre, dass meine persönliche Schmerzgrenze sehr hoch angesetzt ist. Ich habe durch diesen Roman etwas über mich selbst gelernt: meine Fähigkeit, Mitleid zu empfinden, wird durch drastische, schockierende Schilderungen nicht beeinträchtigt. Die Hauptfigur kann abscheulich wie Fritz Honka sein, drückt der Autor oder die Autorin geschickt meine Knöpfe, kann ich trotzdem mit ihr fühlen. Heinz Strunk gelang dieses Kunststück, weil er sich auf jeder Seite des Romans um Authentizität bemüht. Ich fühlte mich nicht manipuliert, ich sah der ehrlichen Realität der Hamburger Kneipenszene der 70er Jahre ins Auge, die Strunk durch einen direkten, unzensierten Schreibstil illustriert. Der „Handschuh“ ist ein Schmelztiegel, ein Knotenpunkt, den man vielleicht als deprimierendes Wartezimmer für Suchende beschreiben kann. Was die einzelnen Akteure in der Kaschemme suchen, ist natürlich sehr unterschiedlich: Ablenkung, Zuflucht, ein Bett für die Nacht, ein wenig Gesellschaft. Daher überraschte es mich nicht, dass fast alle auftretenden Figuren, auch diejenigen, die standesgemäß weit über so einer Kneipe rangieren, irgendwann dort aufschlagen. Am Rande der Gesellschaft ist eben immer Platz. Um es mit Tolstoi zu sagen: „Alle glücklichen Familien gleichen einander, jede unglückliche Familie ist auf ihre eigene Weise unglücklich“.


„Der goldene Handschuh“ ist ohne Zweifel ein interessantes Buch, weil es Leser_innen herausfordert und sie vor die Frage stellt, wie viel Zuneigung sie sich für einen verabscheuungswürdigen Protagonisten erlauben. Es ist eine ungeschminkte Milieustudie, die den Mikrokosmos der Hamburger Kneipen im Dunstkreis der Reeperbahn in all seiner Hässlichkeit abbildet. Nicht schön anzuschauen, aber ehrlich und echt. Intellektuell schätze ich sehr, was Heinz Strunk mit diesem Roman zu demonstrieren versucht, ich kann jedoch nicht behaupten, dass mir die Lektüre Freude bereitet hätte. Obwohl sich beim Lesen eine gewisse Faszination des Grauens einstellte, empfand ich das Buch insgesamt als zu trostlos. Daher empfehle ich „Der goldene Handschuh“ an experimentierfreudige Leser_innen, die sich gern selbst beobachten und nicht allzu zart besaitet sind. Betrachtet es als mentale Übung, um eure eigenen Grenzen auszuloten.

Source: wortmagieblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/heinz-strunk-der-goldene-handschuh
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review 2018-09-16 17:47
Caligula by Simon Turney
Caligula: The Damned Emperors #1 - Simon Turney


I thought this was a very believable and refreshing way to portray the life of one of the most reviled emperors that ruled Rome. It was a sad look into his life through the eyes of one of his sisters, Livilla, and the events that led to his decent into cruelty and madness. Very well done.

5 stars and a favorite and highly recommended for historical fiction fans.
I will definitely be reading more from this author






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