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review 2019-09-14 17:29
Lady in the Lake - Laura Lippman
Lady in the Lake - Laura Lippman

  This is an embarrassment of riches: so much so that I am immobilized in my decision-making capacity. I'll go with whatever anyone else tells me first.


This paeon to old school newspapers and journalists was touching, nostalgic, and also thrilling. The relentless hustle to put out a daily paper helps keep the suspense high in a story that stretches out a fair bit. The crimes, the business of reporting on crimes, and how little those two might intersect is a constant theme. Really I loved pretty much everything: Madeliine and Cleo, the many different types of mothers, civil rights and equal rights, the new hairstyles and clothes and fabrics of 1966. For all that is very much a crime story, it has a bit of everything except a Tracy Turnblad musical number. The Dickens comparison still feels somewhat apt.


The only other upside to having finished it (beyond the sheer pleasure of a good story well told) is that I am reluctant to start something else right away. In an effort to keep my buzz going and not bring it down on some other kind of book entirey maybe I will accomplish some of the things I was going to do in the first half of the day "as soon as I finish this chapter..."


Library copy

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review 2019-09-07 17:46
Baby of the Family - Tina McElroy Ansa
Baby of the Family - Tina McElroy Ansa

I chose wisely. Rereading my books from 1988 wasn't some sort of plan, my choices are always usually more random: putting a book on a shelf and spotting another, going over a bookcase to purge a few...that sort of thing. But there, my first tow squares are devoted to rereads and I am not sorry. There are a few new-to-me planned. I've spent some more time looking over my card, my list, and my TBR stack, matching up a few. My stack is rather more heavy on the mysteries: fourteen of my squares don't have a book waiting for them so far.


But I was saying, this book was an excellent choice. There hasn't been a lot of Southern on my stack for a while, except Whiskey in a Teacup, which we'll just move quickly by. So, it was good to wallow in the heat for a bit, to sit down to Southern food (only fictionally, I'm not otherwise a fan), to enjoy the familiar from a different angle. Lena's world somewhat resembles mine, but from the other side of segregation.


Things I envy most: her big old house, and the adults swearing. While I would have loved to have grown up with my maternal grandmother in the house, my paternal grandmother would not have been possible: she scared the hell out of everyone. Aunt Shirley was the only local daughter-in-law, she saw MawMaw all the time, and never had the nerve to smoke in front of her, not in forty-some years of marriage. The other three children fled as far away as they could.


Also, the plotlessness was a break from my usually story-driven choices. There's an arc,

but it's more a way to connect all the different vignettes. You'd call it picaresque if Lena were more rebellious, as it is, hmmm. Really, I'm not sure at all. But it was fun to see "Co-Cola".


Personal inscribed, signed and dated copy for which I thank the author. She was delightful and charming for the short time I spent with her.



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review 2019-09-07 03:13
The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova

Slow, but worth the trip for the library!  I expect fans of might like it.  It has that same kind of measured, stately pacing.  It can be thrilling, mind, but it isn't zippy.  I love to read these big old doorstops sometimes.

Library copy

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review 2019-09-02 02:41
Miss Melville Regrets
Miss Melville Regrets - Evelyn E. Smith

Apparently suffering from acute nostalgia, I have lately found myself remembering books last read thirty years ago, and thinking of them fondly, and wondering were they really that good?




Susan Melville is a middle-aged artist and Manhattan blueblood, without a job, without a fortune, in a rent-controlled apartment going coop with nothing left to sell  and no hope. So she takes the only reasonable offer she's received. And now she kills bad people. Only bad people. Very bad people.


It's a comedy of manners with a charming heroine and a marvelous ending. And of course I enjoy it, now that I am also a woman of a certain age. Where Prizzi's Honor or Get Shorty went for a certain cool style, Miss Melville evokes a traditional vibe that would still feel at home in Southern Living.


A fun start to my Halloween reading.


Edited to add: Murder Most Foul, indeed

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review 2019-06-08 20:07
A solid police-procedural with an inspiring female protagonist
A Woman of Valor - Gary Corbin

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I reviewed another one of this author’s books (The Mountain Man’s Badge, the third book in the Mountain Man’s Mysteries series), enjoyed it and was pleased when I was given the chance to review this book, as I always feel slightly uneasy when I start reading a series in the middle, because I am aware that I am missing on the background and the development of the characters throughout the previous books, and my review will not be able to reflect that aspect of the story. Here, we have a stand-alone novel (after reading the book and getting to the end of it, it seems that there is a second novel with the same protagonist, Valorie Dawes, due for publication in the spring of 2020, so you won’t have to say goodbye forever to the characters if you get attached to them) and therefore we get an opportunity to meet the characters and become familiar with the setting from the start.

This novel combines the police procedural (a rookie policewoman following in the footsteps of her uncle, who was more of a father and hero figure for her than her own father, joins the police local police force, learns the difference between the books and the streets, and tries to catch a criminal that brings back memories she’d rather forget) with subjects and themes more common in women’s fiction (the protagonist was sexually abused as a child and despite her best efforts is still affected by the experience; she has to confront plenty of prejudice and sexism in the police force, has a difficult relationship with her father, and can’t help compare herself to her best friend, who seems to have a much easier and happier life than hers). The author manages to make the mix of the two genres work well, providing plenty of details of how the local police force works that felt quite realistic (and the language and descriptions of the characters, narrated in the third-person —mostly from the point of view of the protagonist— seem straight out of a police report), and demonstrates a good insight into the mind-set of a young woman who has survived such trauma and finds herself confronted by sexist, abusive, and old-fashioned attitudes. (There are small fragments of the book told from some of the other characters’ point of view, also in the third-person, but those are brief, and other than giving us an outsider’s perspective on the main character, I didn’t feel they added much to the plot). Her fight to overcome her difficulties, to take other people into her confidence, and to make meaningful connections, is inspirational and will also feel familiar to readers of literary fiction or women’s fiction.

As mentioned in the description, this book feels, unfortunately, very current, not only because of the abuse (even if the story was originally developed well before #metoo shone some light into the scale of the problem), but also because of the prejudiced attitude of the police towards ethnic minorities (racial profiling is evident throughout the plot), and the way social media can spread falsehoods and fake news, ruining somebody’s reputation only to gain a bit of notoriety. There are plenty of action scenes, chases, and violence (although not extreme) but there are also the slow moments when we see the characters patrolling the streets, making connections with the local gang, or interacting with the locals, and that also felt more realistic than the non-stop frantic rhythm of some thrillers, that seem to never pause for characters to have some breathing space. It shows the work of the police in its various forms, not always running after criminals, but there are also the quiet moments (waiting around, doing research, manning the phones), and when there are actions scenes, these are also followed by consequences that some novels brush over (filling up forms, reporting to Internal Affairs and seeing a having a psychological evaluation after a lethal shooting). Although it is mostly set in a chronological order from the moment Val joins the police force, there are chapters where something makes her remember what happened ten years ago, and we get a flashback from her perspective as a 13 y. o. girl. These interludes are clearly marked in the book, and rather than causing confusion, help us understand what Val is going through and why she reacts as she does to her experiences. She is very closed off, she is insecure, finds it difficult to trust people, men in particular, and struggles to maintain her professionalism when confronted with certain types of criminals. There is much discussion in the book about different types of policemen (I’ll leave you to read about those yourself), and she fights hard to be deserving of her uncle’s memory.

The author is skilled at managing a large cast of diverse characters: Val’s friend, Beth; her father, who is on a slippery-slope of self-destruction; Gil, her partner, a sympathetic and likeable character; the other policemen in the team, including her superiors (more enlightened than most of the other men), the other women in the force (and there are wonderful scenes of sisterhood between the women), her brother, sister-in-law and her cute little niece (obsessed with becoming a policewoman like her aunt), the members of an African-American gang (who although tough and engaged in criminal activities, live by their own code of honour), a blogger with inside information who is happy to distort the truth… and of course, the nasty criminal, who has no redeeming features. Even those who play a small part are realistically portrayed and add to the atmosphere and the realism of the novel. This is not one of those books that take place in a city but feel as if only four or five people were living there. We see neighbours, the owners of businesses, and we also have a good sense of the connections between the local police force and the others in the same county and state.

On reading the author notes after the novel, I felt quite touched by the story behind it, and understood why it feels so personal, despite this being a novel with a main female character written by a male author. In the acknowledgements, the author thanks several members of law enforcement for their expertise and advice, which he has incorporated well into the novel, and the book contains a list of questions that should prove particularly useful for book clubs.

In my opinion, this is a novel that includes a solid plot, with a main bad character (who is truly bad) all readers will hate, some lesser unlikeable characters (the blogger, many of the other policemen Val comes across), some intrigue (who is feeding inside distorted information to the blogger?, what really happened to Val’s uncle?), a hint of romance (don’t worry, honestly. This is not a romantic novel), sympathetic characters easy to engage with and root for, even if we might have very little in common with them, particularly Val and Gil, and a more than satisfying ending.

As I said, I read an early ARC copy of the book, so there might be some minor changes in the final version. This is a book that contains some violence, shootings, and sexual abuse of young girls (and although not extremely explicit, I am aware this could be a trigger for some readers).

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