Friday, July 28, 2017

YA Racism Novel About as Subtle as a Sledgehammer

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1920—Will Tillman is a white teenager selling record players at his father's shop in Tulsa.  Black customers aren't allowed to make purchases, but sometimes the elder Tillman allows some off-the-record sales.  When Will agrees to do business with a young black man, he unknowingly makes a decision that will put the lives of three people in danger.  In a time and place boiling over with racial tension, it's a decision that will prove fatal for one of them.

http://www.blogginboutbooks.com/p/baby-steps-to-understanding.htmlPresent Day—When the Chase Family decides to have the ancient slave quarters behind their old Tulsa home converted into a modern guest cottage, the last thing they expect to get out of the renovation project is a corpse.  But that's exactly what the construction crew digs up.  The only clue to the skeleton's identity is the dusty wallet Rowan Chase pinches from its pocket when no one is looking.  Intrigued by what she finds inside, the 17-year-old launches a secret investigation into the identity of the body.  Her detecting points her to an old Victrola shop and the infamous race riot of 1921.  How is the body on Rowan's property connected to that event?  What, if anything, did her own family have to do with its demise?  

Although she's a bi-racial woman living in Tulsa, Rowan has never thought much about what happened in her town over 100 years ago.  Now, though, she's obsessed. She thought things had changed a whole lot since then, but the more she learns about Will Tillman and a black man named Joseph Goodhope, the more she wonders if anything has changed at all.

Dreamland Burning, a YA novel by Jennifer Latham, brings to life a tragic historical event that I knew nothing about.  Latham uses the riot as a backdrop for an intriguing tale about friendship, hope, and race.  The story is compelling, although its messages are about as subtle as a sledgehammer.  It's peopled with diverse characters who push against established stereotypes, which I appreciate, but again, some details (James' sexuality, for instance) seem tacked on just to up the book's diversity quotient.  Overall, I found Dreamland Burning intriguing.  Certain elements annoyed me, though, which turned the novel into a just okay read for me.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:



for violence, language (no F-bombs), blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Dreamland Burning from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Likable Heroine + Compelling Plot = Another Winning Maeve Kerrigan Mystery

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(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for After the Fire, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Maeve Kerrigan mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

Murchison House, one of the concrete high-rises that makes up London's seedy Maudling Estate housing project, is no stranger to police activity.  The place is a magnet for every kind of criminal activity possible.  This time, a savage—and suspicious—fire has ravaged through the building, leaving many residents displaced and desperate.  Four people are dead, one of them an outspoken politician well known for his racist rantings.  What was a man like him doing in a dive like Murchison House?  

As DC Maeve Kerrigan and the rest of the murder squad look into the incident, it becomes crystal clear that the fire was no accident.  Neither was the politician's death.  Plenty of people had reason to loathe Geoff Armstrong, but who actually killed him?  Everyone connected with Murchison House has something to hide, including Mr. Armstrong.  The more Maeve discovers, the more risky her job becomes.  Murchison House has always been a dangerous place—will it be a deadly one for the intrepid DC Kerrigan?  As if she doesn't have enough to worry about, Maeve is still dodging the skin-crawling attention of her stalker; dealing with a condition that could put her job at risk; and trying to sort out her feelings for one DI Josh Derwent.  One thing is clear—she's in for a wild ride.

You've probably realized by now that I'm a raving Maeve Kerrigan fan.  Jane Casey's heroine is brave, tenacious, and, above all, human.  She's unfailingly likable, an always compelling narrator whom I happen to adore.  The series also boasts intriguing minor characters and taut, engrossing plots.  After the Fire, the sixth installment, is no exception.  With a number of didn't-see-that-coming twists, the story kept me riveted.  As always, I'm intrigued to see where Casey takes Maeve next.  Wherever it is, I'll definitely be along for the ride!

(Readalikes: Other books in the Maeve Kerrigan series, including Left for Dead [novella]; The Burning; The Reckoning; The Last Girl; The Stranger You Know; The Kill; and Let the Dead Speak; also reminds me of books by Sharon Bolton and Tana French)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Lyrical Southern Novel Atmospheric and Powerfully Rendered

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Adelaide Lyle doesn't go inside the church anymore.  The only reason she comes anywhere near the building is for the children.  Kids should not be anywhere close to the River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following or its dangerous pastor.  It's up to the 81-year-old midwife to steer them away, to keep them safe.  Their parents might believe in Pastor Chambliss' poison-drinking, snake-handling brand of faith, but that doesn't mean the children should be in harm's way.

Despite Adelaide's watchful eye, a mute, autistic teenager dies during church services.  Although the pastor claims the boy's death was an accident, Adelaide doesn't believe it.  Not for a minute.  Strange, sinister things follow Carson Chambliss wherever he goes.  What really happened inside the church?  Why is an innocent boy dead?  

A Land More Kind Than Home, a debut novel by Wiley Cash, tells the story of a tragic death and the ways in which it rocks a small North Carolina town.  Atmospheric and powerfully rendered, it hits on important subjects—faith vs. fanaticism, revenge vs. redemption, and remorse vs. regret.  It's an undeniably sad novel, but a compelling one nonetheless. The story has stuck with me, even though it's been months since I read it.  If you enjoy rich, thought-provoking Southern fiction, you won't want to miss this one.

(Readalikes: Reminded me a little of The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fifth Maeve Kerrigan Mystery Leaves Me Hankering for the Sixth ... and Seventh ... and Eighth ... and ...

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(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for The Kill, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Maeve Kerrigan mysteries. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

DC Maeve Kerrigan is looking forward to attending the wedding of a colleague in the peaceful English countryside.  She could use a break from the grimness of her job as a London murder detective.  A brutal cop killing in the city cuts her holiday short, however, and it's not long before she and her mercurial partner, DI Josh Derwent, are headed back to the mean streets of London.  So much for the vacation Maeve so desperately needs.

Puzzled by the cold reaction of the policeman's widow, Maeve and Derwent must sort out the truth behind the murder.  What led to Sergeant Hammond's untimely demise?  Everyone involved in the crime seems to be hiding explosive secrets, including Maeve's boss.  Can Maeve filter out the facts in time to catch a killer?  Torn between loyalty to her mentor, her desire to put a murderer behind bars, and her blossoming attraction to her partner, Maeve's got plenty on her plate.  And things are about to go from bad to a whole lot worse ...

It's no secret that I love me some Maeve Kerrigan.  She's the perfect heroine—brave, devoted, and likable.  Her narrative voice is so compelling that I would literally follow it anywhere!  That's not tough, though, when Jane Casey writes such engrossing stories.  The Kill, the fifth installment in her popular series, is no exception.  Although I guessed the identity of the murderer early on in this one, the novel still held enough surprises to keep me turning pages late into the night.  I'm especially enjoying the growing relationship between Maeve and Josh, the latter of whom gets some much needed humanizing in The Kill.  The ending of this one made me sad, but it also left me hankering for the next book (and the next and the next ...).

(Readalikes:  other books in the Maeve Kerrigan series, including Left For Dead [novella]; The Burning; The Reckoning; The Last Girl; The Stranger You Know; After the Fire; and Let the Dead Speak; also reminds me of books by Tana French and Sharon Bolton)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Debut Psychological Thriller Odd But Compelling

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When Nora Lawrence hops on a train from London to Oxfordshire, she's expecting to spend a peaceful weekend in the country with her older sister.  She's shocked to her core when she finds Rachel stabbed to death in her home, her murdered dog nearby.  A nurse practitioner who kept to herself, 31-year-old Rachel was hardly the type to attract enemies.  Who could have committed such a brutal act against the woman and her canine companion?

As the police flounder around looking for suspects, Nora inserts herself into the investigation.  While managing to offend nearly everyone in town, she comes to realize how little she really knew about her sister's life in this far-flung hamlet.  Still, she wonders if Rachel's murder had anything to do with an unsolved assault Rachel suffered as a teen.  Did her attacker come back to finish the job?  Or did the killer have a more current motive?  Nora's determined to find out, even if it means putting her own neck on the line.

Under the Harrow, a psychological thriller by debut author Flynn Berry, has earned the expected comparisons to books like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.  And it is similar—in some ways.  It's moody, atmospheric, and depressing.  It's also just ... odd.  With a sluggish plot and characters who just aren't that likable (both Nora and Rachel come off as cold, unfeeling, and weird), Under the Harrow is not exactly a page turner.  It's compelling enough, though, that I wanted to know whodunit.  I also found myself surprised by the murderer, so there's that.  In the end, though, Under the Harrow was just an okay read for me. 

(Readalikes:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins; and similar psychological thrillers)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Reichs' Standalone Thriller Twisty and Compelling

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Need no one.  Feel nothing.


That's the mantra Sunday "Sunnie" Night has lived by ever since her forced retirement from the Charleston Police Department.  Living on isolated Goat Island, she keeps her distance even from her few neighbors.  It's only when her foster father, Perry "Beau" Beaumonde, asks a favor that Sunnie even contemplates breaking her strict code of not caring about anyone but herself.  A retired cop, Beau urges Sunnie to at least meet with a wealthy grandmother who's willing to pay big for information about her 15-year-old granddaughter, who's been missing ever since the Hebrew school bombing that killed her mother and brother. 

Sunnie can't help but identify with the teenage victim, who's described as moody, resentful, and unhappy.  Those are emotions with which Sunnie is all too familiar.  The fact that Stella Bright may have been kidnapped by members of a dangerous cult also piques Sunnie's interest.  Having narrowly escaped that life herself, she knows something about what Stella may be facing.  

Determined to find out what happened to the girl, Sunnie enlists the help of her twin brother, Gus.  Together, they chase leads across the country, risking their own lives to solve an increasingly puzzling mystery.  With danger lurking around every corner, will the two Nights survive their perilous assignment?

Two Nights, a standalone thriller by Kathy Reichs, author of the popular Temperance Brennan series (on which the t.v. series Bones is based), is a fast-paced, exciting story.  With lots of action and plenty of twists, it's a difficult-to-put-down page turner.  Sunnie is Tempe's opposite; she's tough, unyielding, and flinty.  Although she's not as warm or funny as Tempe (a character I happen to adore), Sunnie's a sympathetic character who's easy to like and admire.  While Two Nights didn't capture me as much as Reichs' other books have, I still enjoyed this engrossing mystery.

(Readalikes:  Um, nothing specific is coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:



for strong language, violence, and blood/gore

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Two Nights from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at Netgalley.  Thank you!
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