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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-11-20 19:20
For me, it was meh. YMMV.
Home For the Haunting - Juliet Blackwell

I borrowed this from my public library's ecloud collection because . . . I did.  It has a lot of colors on the cover, so maybe I'll use it for that Festive Holiday square, whenever I get around to toting them up.

 

Mel Turner -- her first name is Melanie -- is in the process of taking over her father's construction company.  Mostly they do remodels and historic restoration, but she's currently involved with some volunteer group that rehabs older homes for low income people.

 

She also sees ghosts.

 

While she's working on this rehab job for Monty, a whiny guy who needs a wheelchair ramp added to his home and a new roof and a bunch of other stuff, she keeps seeing ghosts in the big, mansion-y vacant house next door.  Then a recently deceased body is discovered in a storage shed that serves both Monty's property and the vacant house.

 

The vacant house, she learns, was the site of a horrific murder-suicide.  Are the ghosts she keeps seeing related to that?  And what about the body in the shed?

 

For the uncritical reader who's looking for some light entertainment with a bit of a mystery, this might do fine.  For me, it was just blah on a whole lot of levels.  So, now there will be lots of little spoilers.

 

There was very little with the ghosts, for one thing.  Mel sees them in the house while she's working on the rehab project, but she doesn't show much reaction.  This isn't the first book in the series, so maybe there's more shock, surprise, disbelief, whatever in earlier volumes, but there sure wasn't much in this one.

 

The mystery to do with the two murders, both the body in the shed and the other one thirty years before, seemed a minor part of the book.  The information about the older crime was easily obtained from neighbors who had lived there at the time and from the lone survivor.

 

I'm not sure why I didn't buy the character of Hugh, the boy who escaped the murder scene and went on to an illustrious writing career.  He seemed too emotionally fragile.  Nor did I buy Simone, his wife.  Both of them lacked substance, though I'm not exactly sure why.  Maybe if I were giving this book a thorough analysis I would look at them more closely, but while I was reading it, I just didn't care about them.

 

There were a lot of secondary characters who never came alive for me either.  Mel's dad was a little better than cardboard, but not much.  Then there was Stan, and I didn't really know how he fit into the picture.  Mel's sister was just another cartoon character; there was so much room for development there that I could have wept when it all just went poof! in a happy smiley explosion of unicorn glitter.  The semi-sorta boyfriend Graham actually had more substance.

 

Two elements of the overall characterization rang sour notes for me.  Hugh and Simone were flat, but not sour.  Monty was just all wrong.

 

Supposedly he was in some kind of accident and that's why he's now unable to walk and in a wheelchair.  How long ago this was, I'm not sure, but he's been unable to leave his house unassisted ever since.  Now all of a sudden he's finally getting a ramp installed so he can come and go as he pleases.  There's no mention of any social services that come to his assistance -- shopping?  doctor visits? -- or what kind of income he has.  There's an assumption that he gets a disability income.

 

However, as soon as there are suspicions that Monty is in fact not disabled and is faking his reliance on the wheelchair, I saw lots of red flags.  Social Security doesn't just grant disability payments because you apply for them.  There has to be evidence, as in doctors' statements and so on, that the person really can't work.  He would have been found out a long time ago.

 

I also didn't quite understand how and where he originally found the body, but that may be due as much to my not paying attention because I had lost interest as anything else.  Nor was there ever a clear explanation of how that death tied in to the rest of them -- was the victim killed by the same killer, or was it an accident, or what?

 

Monty turned out to be kind of a slimeball, though he wasn't the killer -- ooops, sorry for that spoiler -- but the character who really wrinkled my nose was Mel herself. Her silly spangles-and-fringe dresses worn with steel-toed work boots just seemed . . . stupid.  Stupid as in gimmickry for the sake of gimmickry.  No reason was ever given, or at least not one that made any sense.  She's supposed to be running a contracting business; why dress like a phantom from the 1960s caught in a time warp?

 

This wasn't a particularly long book -- I read it comfortably in a day -- and maybe that was its problem.  With all the various threads going on, maybe it needed to be longer, more like the hefty books of Rendell and Grimes that allowed for the interweaving of personal and professional life along with the details and atmosphere of vocation and location.

 

The details of a single historic San Francisco home would have made wonderful atmosphere, but author Blackwell didn't dwell as much on that as she did on the two smaller homes in the neighborhood that weren't involved in the mystery or the ghosts.  The "Murder House" should have had star billing, and the appropriate weight in the text.  I felt it got shortchanged.

 

The writing was okay, other than that one horrible paragraph where everything sat, sat, sat, sat, sat on Hugh's desk, but it wasn't anything special either.

 

As I said, other readers may enjoy this.  It just wasn't all that great for me.

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text 2017-10-28 21:30
Reading progress update: I've read 22 out of 750 pages.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America - Ibram X. Kendi

 

 

 

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text 2017-10-28 19:46
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 592 pages.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America - Ibram X. Kendi

Out here in super red central Arizona, my public library has this on digital. 

 

Thank you, Chris' Fish Place, for posting your review of this.

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text 2017-10-22 20:57
Reading progress update: I've read 56 out of 530 pages.
The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton

This third person omniscient point of view distances me as the reader from the story.

 

 

I don't mind so much when it's a plot- or action-driven story.  But this is character-driven, and I'm just finding it so difficult to bond with these characters.  I want to bond with them.  I'm curious about them and about what's going on.  I feel as if Morton keeps pushing me away.

 

Years ago I read Eileen Goudge's Garden of Lies and I ended up coming very close to literally throwing the book against the wall at the end.  What a sucky ending!  I see now that there was a sequel, but I hated Garden of Lies so much that I never bothered to notice a sequel.  From what I've read about it, the second book was maybe just as bad.

 

Maybe my fear of encountering a similar "and some of them lived and some of them died, but the ones who lived didn't necessarily live happily ever after even if they deserved to" ending is holding me back and making me see picky details in The Forgotten Garden.  All I know is that if I'm stopping to post updates after only ten or so pages, the book isn't holding my attention.

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text 2017-10-22 18:51
Reading progress update: I've read 50 out of 530 pages.
The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton

As I wrote just a little while ago, I'm feeling uncomfortable with the flashbacks.  Being confronted with another, I now know why.

 

And since I'm only 50 (electronic) pages in, I'm not going to consider this a spoiler as such.

 

After the girl on the ship and the birthday party and the funeral, Morton jumps back to Cassandra's childhood.  That's where I was when I wrote that I wasn't feeling good about this.  Now, just a few pages later, the next chapter swings back again.

 

I had gotten in touch with the character of Cassandra.  I wanted to know what happened next, how her relationship with Nell developed.  I wanted a "this happened and then this happened and then this happened" sequence, moving forward with tension and interest building.

 

Instead, I feel as if Morton has said, "Aha!  I got you intrigued but now I'm going to play mind games with you.  Don't get too attached to that character because it's not her story as much as it's my story and I'm going to mess with you, manipulate you, control you."

 

It's that business of the writer pulling the reader into the story and making them believe they're sitting right there on the stage, all invisible, while the action goes on around them.  The reader is right there and sees and feels and smells and hears everything the same as the characters do.

 

Maybe this is a personal thing with me. Maybe I'm too empathetic, a fault of which I've been accused more than once.

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