Mini Reviews: The Late Show by Michael Connelly and Revolutionary by Alex Myers

She believed her was her man, and there was nothing quite like that moment of knowing.  It was the Holy Grail of detective work.  It had nothing to do with evidence or legal procedure or probable cause.  It was just knowing it in your gut.  Nothing in her life beat it.  It had been a long time coming to her on the late show but now she felt it and she knew deep down it was the reason she would never quit, no matter where they put her or what they said about her.

TheLateShowUSAI had to turn in my copy of Michael Connelly’s The Late Show before I could begin this review because it had holds on it and was OVERDUE – yes, sometimes when you’re waiting on a book from the library it’s your friendly librarian who is stopping up the works!  (I only let it go a few days past due, in my defense.  🙂 )  Anyway, it was terrific, as most of Connelly’s books are.  There’s something about his books that just soothe my itch for crime thrillers, and every time he comes out with a new one I am SO THERE.

This one is the start of a new series, apparently, introducing a new detective, Renée Ballard.  She’s an LAPD detective on “the late show,” which is what they call the overnight shift, just there to take reports and interview witnesses. Because of that, she has to turn over investigations to the day shift, and never gets to follow a case through to completion.  It’s a demotion in her eyes – she was a regular day time detective before she brought allegations of sexual harassment against her supervisor.  (This part did feel a little under explained to me – it was a “he said/she said” case with no corroboration from anyone else, but I wondered why she wasn’t just moved to another division elsewhere.  But I digress.)  You can feel her frustration from the first scenes.  There are two cases that happen the same night that are unrelated but Renée can’t seem to let go of.  One involves a brutal, near-deadly beating of a transgendered prostitute names Ramona; the other, a shooting at a night-club that killed five people, two of whom seem to be innocent bystanders.  As Ballard gets deeper into her (mostly unsanctioned) investigations, she gets closer and closer to what she calls “Big Evil” in the first case, and indications in the second that seem to point to one of LAPD’s own as the murderer.

I liked Ballard a lot.  Her back story was interesting (Hawaiian heritage, absentee mother, father who died in a surfing accident while she watched helplessly.)  She has a dog named Lola which she rescued from a homeless person and who is fiercely protective of her.  She paddle boards when she needs to relax or think over the direction of her case, and she will camp out on the beach when she needs sleep.  One thing I kept pondering again and again was, “When does this woman sleep?”  Another was, “Does she have a house?”  It wasn’t until later in the book that we’re told that her permanent address with the Force is her grandmother’s house, but she only stays there every couple of weeks to do laundry, eat a home cooked meal, and visit.   So she’s a strong, independent character, but there are definitely cracks beneath the surface.  I’ll be interested to see how she develops in future installments!  4 stars.

 

Deborah wrapped herself in her blanket.  Her breeches had dried, and her waistcoat too.  Only her shirt and the binding beneath remained damp.  She lay down and closed her eyes, feeking the constriction around her chest like a snake coiled about her.  I am Robert Shurtliff, she told herself.  She wanted to measure up to these men, to find her place among them.  Lord God, she prayed silently.  Deliver me through this trial.  Grant me faith and strength.  

81yA-ssxkULRevolutionary was a book I probably wouldn’t have read on my own.  I like historical fiction when I read it but it’s not an automatic go-to genre for me. It was our book group pick last month, and I’m glad that it was chosen.  Based on Deborah Sampson, a real life woman who dressed as a man and fought in the Revolutionary War, it’s a moving and detailed work of historical fiction with a.

In the final years of the Revolutionary War, Samson (as Myers, a female-to-male transgendered author chooses to call her – turns out he is a distant relative of the real-life heroine) is an unmarried young woman who has fairly recently become free of her indentured servitude.  (Her family life was troubled and they couldn’t afford to take care of her, so she was given away to work as an indentured servant.)  Her community sees her single status as a threat; her only friend is a fellow servant named Jennie.  Having been once discovered trying to pass as a man when she went to go register to serve in the war, a violent attack by a local man has her fleeing the life that she knows in search of freedom and a new identity.  Jennie cuts her hair for her and steals some clothing from her master, and Deborah binds her breasts and leaves in the night, without a real plan but convinced that she’ll be put in jail for what she’s done to her attacker in retaliation.

What follows is an interesting, immersive account of regimental life as Deborah fits in with the rest of the young men (and by this point in the war, some of them are very young, which benefits the whisker-less Deborah.)  How she manages to keep her identity secret is interesting and occasionally requires a lucky break.  But she is stronger mentally and physically then she ever knew, and relishes her newfound freedom to move and live as she pleases even within the restrictions of military life.

I enjoyed this so much more than I anticipated, and was deeply moved by an unexpected turn of the plot 2/3 of the way through.  About 100 pages in Deborah begins to be called Robert in the narrative, the name she has adopted for her new life.  And then again towards the end, it shifts back to Deborah, but this feels entirely seamless and organic with the story.  She continues to correspond as Robert with Jennie back home, a nice narrative strategy.  The reader is made aware of how stifling and hopeless the conditions of an unmarried woman back in the late 18th century were, relegated to a life of drudgery, constantly open to innuendo and the possibility physical and sexual abuse.  I also learned a lot about the late stages of the war and daily life of a soldier.  I thought there were a few instances where the emotional impact of events wasn’t fully explored – for instance, the rape at the beginning didn’t seem to be fully dealt with and I wondered if there was another way Myers could have sent the story in motion.  But overall, this was a good read that explored gender identity in a time period in which people perhaps lacked the vocabulary to acknowledge such things.  4 stars.

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WWW Wednesday (November 8, 2017)

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam at Taking On A World of Words. I’ve seen this meme around for a long time and just decided to take part today!  Give her blog a look and join the discussion!

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently:

My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul717w6Z79NIL

 

Like Paul, I also have kept a book of books read for years (although not for as long as she has.)  I started mine in 2001. It’s actually now into a second book of books!  So far this memoir is very engaging!

 

 

Recently Finished:

The Late Show by Michael ConnellyTheLateShowUSA

One of my favorite crime/mystery novelists, this one introduces a new character, Detective Renée Ballard.  I was riveted, as I usually am with Connelly’s books.  Review to come soon!  (Possibly a mini-review.)

 

 

Reading Next:

Well, I need to start my book group book for this month, which is Long Division by Kiese Laymon.  I also need to read the next book for the #AnneReadalong2017, which is #7 in the series, Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery.  But you know me, something else entirely may strike my fancy first!  🙂

Have you read any of these?  Tell me what you’re currently reading in the comments!

Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery (#AnneReadalong2017)

Well, that was life.  Gladness and pain…hope and fear… and change.  Always change.  You could not help it.  You had the let the old go and take the new to your heart… learn to love it and the let it go in turn.  Spring, lovely as it was, must yield to summer and summer lose itself to autumn.  The birth… the bridal… the death.

There’s something about giving a two-star rating to an Anne of Green Gables book that just makes me feel bad, guilty, like a Grinch.  After all, Anne Blythe and her family are so earnest and well-meaning, and the above quotation has some undeniably Zen truth to it, but Anne of Ingleside (#6 in the series) is my least favorite so far.  This one was mostly about the kiddos.  They were cute, precocious, mostly well-behaved… but after a while I grew weary of their antics.  Here’s a sad dog story.  Here’s another sad dog story.  Here’s where one kid is terribly naive and gets tricked into doing something naughty by a devious schoolmate.  Here’s another kid being gullible and doing something naughty at the behest of a different devious schoolmate.  By the time I got to Rilla’s story I just didn’t care anymore and I skimmed to the next anecdote.

77391It starts off with Anne being very pregnant and soon the kids are being shipped off so she can give birth at home.  The kids have no clue what’s going on, and they think Mom’s gonna die.  The whole thing made me intensely grateful for birth control and hospitals, honestly.  Then the reader is made to suffer along with the Blythe family through the extended visit of the delightful Aunt Mary Maria.  Oh my God!  She was horrible.  I thought she would never leave.  It did make me laugh that Anne finally ran her off by trying to do something nice for her.  The only thing that brightened the entire section was Susan’s wanting to fling a full gravy boat at her head.  (I wish she had!)

It wasn’t all bad, though.  I very much related to Anne whenever she took a moment to think about how quickly her children were growing up.  As the mother of a six year-old I am keenly aware of how quickly time is passing and am determined to enjoy my boy being “little” as fully as I can before he becomes too big to be sweet and demonstrative with his affections.  Those sections really resonated with me.

I also enjoyed the very last bit about Anne feeling tossed aside and underappreciated by Gilbert.  Gilbert appears to have forgotten their anniversary, or so Anne thinks, and instead wants to go visit an old flame, the glamorous and childless Christine Stuart.  Anne tortures herself with anxiety and doubt (“But did anybody really like red hair?”) and decides that Gilbert has grown tired of her.  (“Men had always been like that… always would be.”)  Gilbert gives a kind of lame excuse that he’d been terribly worried about a patient.  And his anniversary gift had been late in coming (so he didn’t even tell his wife “Happy Anniversary, dear!  Your present is late, I’m sorry, but I still love you and think you’re beautiful!”)  Hmmmph.  He says something like “Oh, Anne, I didn’t think you were the type to need things like that said to you.”  Clearly Words of Affirmation is not Gilbert’s love language.  Well, Anne is happy with his explanations, at least, and all is well as we end our time in Ingleside.  Gilbert tells her they’re going to go on a second honeymoon to Europe.  Please tell me we get to read about this in one of the last two books in the series!  I’ll feel terribly cheated if we don’t get to hear about their travels.

Two more books to go in the series before the end of the year!  (Yes, I’m a bit late with this review – should have posted it in October.)  I’m still glad I’m reading these, as they are beloved by so many book bloggers and are such a classic reading experience for so many.  Participating in the Readalong has given me the structure I need to keep going till the end!  I would have thrown in the towel on my own, so I’m grateful to Jane and Jackie for continuing to spearhead the Readalong with such enthusiasm!

If you’ve read this one, what did you think of Gilbert’s anniversary snafu?  Did you find the antics of the children tiresome?  What were some of the bright spots for you?  Is #7 in the series better?  Let me know in the comments.

 

 

Be Buried in the Rain by Barbara Michaels

I read a lot of Barbara Michaels and Victoria Holt in high school; both are authors who wrote Gothic style novels, the former more contemporary and the latter historical fiction.  For this year’s RIP Challenge (it’s November 1 – I’m sliding in with this review just a day late!) I chose Michaels’ 1985 novel, Be Buried in the Rain.  I chose it because I didn’t think I’d read it back in the day, and frankly, because it was short.  I also wanted some mind candy.

140455I got what I came for!  It starts off with an unsettling event – a local driver finding two skeletons in the middle of the road, dressed in moldy clothing from someone’s attic – one dressed as a woman, and a much smaller set of bones belonging to a baby.  Then we meet our heroine, medical student Julie Newcomb, the granddaughter of a mean old matriarch named Martha.  Martha has had a series of strokes and needs constant care but refuses to leave Maidenwood, the family home in Virginia that’s seen much better days. Julie’s mother persuades her to stay with her for the summer, relieving the live-in nurse, Shirley Johnson, during the afternoons and evenings.  Martha’s horrible, and Julie only agreed to take the job out of guilt and the fact that her cousin Matt, a state senator, is paying her.  She has nothing but bad memories of the few years she lived at Maidenwood as a child when her mother was trying to rebuild her life after a divorce.

There’s a remote possibility that the remains might be related to a very early British settlement connected to Jamestown, and, coincidentally, Julie’s former flame, archaeologist Alan Petranek, is the one Matt called in to dig on the property in search of more evidence!  Alan, honestly, is a non-entity.  He’s supposed to be handsome, tan, an Indiana Jones type, but he’s kind of insufferable if you ask me.  There was a beef between Julie and Alan from back in the day, so they trade barbs in the beginning, but then all too quickly the old attraction begins to flare up.  It’s all pretty chaste, which is probably why it made for good reading in high school.

51QYxQl9fyL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_So there’s the mystery of the bones – who disinterred them?  Where did they come from? How old are they and who are they?  Is there really evidence of a historical British settlement?  There’s also a lot of family drama between Julie and Martha.  Julie starts having flashbacks of repressed traumatic memories from her childhood years spent at Maidenwood.  As Julie starts to dig deeper into the mystery, helping Alan and his grad student team, spooky and threatening things start happening to her.  She adopts a dog, a stray mutt she christens Elvis, and he’s a fun addition to the story.  (There’s even an incident in which Elvis himself becomes the target of an unknown would-be assassin.) Could the super-strictly religious housekeeper and her husband be behind the threats? Could it be the son of the nurse?  Or could Alan himself be behind some of the hijinks?  Everyone seems to be a suspect at some point. There’s a lot of small-town Southern family secrecy and gossip.  Julie herself is a likable character, feisty and strong in ways that I wasn’t sure a 23 year-old student would realistically be.  But I enjoyed her and rooted for her to slay her inner demons, stand up to Martha, and solve the mystery.

This was a good choice for an atmospheric, gently spooky Fall read.  The very last page introduces a supernatural element that was alluded to but not explicitly portrayed in the rest of the novel, which makes for a fun new way to reconsider what’s happened.  If you’ve never read Barbara Michaels before and you want some light, Gothic entertainment, give this one a try.

(Note:  Barbara Michaels is pen name for Barbara Mertz, who also wrote under the pseudonym Elizabeth Peters – she wrote the Amelia Peabody mystery series.  Mertz was an Egyptologist!)  You can read more about her here.)

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Don’t you LOVE it when you read a classic novel and it turns out to be AMAZING?  And you wonder what on earth took you so long to pick it up?  My first book for the RIP Challenge is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, a book that many of you have read and loved and one I have been meaning to read for quite some time.

517mee7CTTL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Romantic, that was the word I had tried to remember coming up in the lift.  Yes, of course.  Romantic.  That was what people would say.  It was all very sudden and romantic.  They suddenly decided to get married and there it was.  Such an adventure.  I smiled to myself as I hugged my knees on the window seat, thinking how wonderful it was, how happy I was going to be.  I was to marry the man I loved.  I was to be Mrs. de Winter.  It was foolish to go on having that pain in the pit of my stomach.

 

For those who haven’t read it, here’s the (very brief) synopsis from Goodreads:

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

When we first meet our heroine, we know that she is the wife of Maxim de Winter, and we know that something ominous has happened to their former home, Manderley.  It’s in the third chapter that we learn how the nameless second Mrs. de Winter came to be married to the much older, richer, and more sophisticated Maxim. From the get-go she is full of self-doubt and anxiety about her relationship with Maxim.  He is not exactly a reassuring figure, and we learn early on that he is tortured by something traumatic in his past having to do with this previous wife.  Mrs. Van Hopper, the lady our unnamed heroine serves before she marries Maxim, tells her that Rebecca drowned in a tragic boating accident a year before.

Once our heroine is at Manderley, she is adrift in the role of mistress of the manor. Echoes of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife, are everywhere, from the rhododendrons outside and the treasured pieces assembled in the morning room to the rhythms of housekeeping and the daily routine.  Our poor heroine doesn’t even get a tour of the whole mansion from her new husband, nor does he give her any hint as to how to run the household.  Add to that the severe, malevolent head housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who was unnervingly devoted to Rebecca and it’s no wonder our poor heroine is terrified of making the wrong move and feels that all the staff are laughing at her inexperience.

After a bit of a slow start (really just the part before she marries Maxim,) I devoured this book.  I loved how timeless it felt.  I loved the slowly building atmosphere of tension and suspense, from the opening dream sequence chapter to the momentous costume party and beyond.  I found our unnamed narrator to be incredibly sympathetic.  How many of us have been in love with someone who didn’t match our intensity, who continually disappointed us and left us wanting, but we were desperate to hang on to him, so we forgave and made excuses again and again?  I loved the plot twists that kept coming in the second half of the novel.  At one point my jaw literally dropped; I looked at my husband sitting next to me on the couch and said, “Oh my gosh! I didn’t see that coming!”  I absolutely loved the writing.  The dialogue sparkled and the detailed description of the house and the grounds made Manderley come alive.  I loved this description of the library when our heroine first sees it:

Whatever air came to this room, whether from the garden or from the sea, would lose its first freshness, becoming part of the unchanging room itself, one with the books, musty and never read, one with the scrolled ceiling, the dark paneling, the heavy curtains.

It was an ancient mossy smell, the smell of a silent church where services are seldom held, where rusty lichen grows upon the stones and ivy tendrils creep to the very windows.  A room for peace, a room for meditation.

Our heroine is not just a young, naive dunderhead, however; she continued to surprise me with her contemplative observations on life, such as this one when she meets Maxim’s grandmother, Beatrice, for the first time.

I thought how little we know about the feelings of old people.  Children we understand, their fears and hopes and make-believe.  I was a child yesterday.  I had not forgotten.  But Maxim’s grandmother, sitting there in her shawl with her poor blind eyes, what did she feel, what was she thinking?  Did she know that Beatrice was yawning and glancing at her watch?  Did she guess that we had come to visit her because we felt it right, it was a duty, so that when she got home afterwards Beatrice would be able to say, “Well, that clears my conscience for three months?”

I have deliberately avoided writing about anything that happens in the last half of the book because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.  But Rebecca is an absolute gem.  It’s quite possibly the perfect book for chilly Autumn nights.  It’s an exciting, suspenseful mystery layered within a atmospheric, Gothic romance.  I am eager now to read more of Daphne du Maurier’s novels – I had no idea she’d written so many!  And when I publish this post I’m going to pop in the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock movie version with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.  I’m excited to see how it compares!

Have you read Rebecca or seen the film?  What is a classic novel that it seems everyone else has read but you?  What makes you choose to read a classic rather than a newer book?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

BRL Quarterly Report #9

Well, since October is very nearly over (do you realize how close we are getting to the holidays??) it’s past time to do another Big Reading Life Quarterly Report!

big-reading-life

Books Read (July-September:)  17

Fiction:  13

Nonfiction: 4 (This is the Story of a Happy Marriage – Ann Patchett, The Temporary Bride – Jennifer Klinec, Hunger – Roxane Gay, and The Stranger in the Woods – Michael Finkel)

Audio: 3 (all Harry Potter books: Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban)

Middle Grade: 3 (see above)

YA/Teen: 5

Authors of Color: 3

Published in 2017: 5 (The Dry – Jane Harper, Hunger – Roxane Gay, The Stranger in the Woods – Michael Finkel, The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas, and Magpie Murders – Anthony Horowitz)

Favorites This Quarter: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (my review here,) Hunger by Roxane Gay (review here,) and The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel (review here.)

Reading Goals:  Ha ha ha!    🙂  After having finished two of my goals (Random Picks and YA Books) I’ve pretty much abandoned the rest of my reading goals that I came up with in January.  And I’m okay with that, honestly.  For a while now my reading pace has been sluggish, and my concentration has been abysmal, so if I can finish my other RIP Challenge book, finish out the #AnneReadalong by the end of the year, and read my book group books, I’ll consider it good!  I’m trying to take (admittedly self-imposed) pressure off my reading life.

Also, a happy development!  I recently went over the 350 followers mark!  I don’t quite know how that happened, but it’s really neat to see the numbers grow.  I know that far fewer than that actually take the time to leave comments, but I want you who regularly read my little blog and comment that I REALLY do appreciate you so much.  I love that I’ve gotten to “know” so many thoughtful, funny, kind book lovers around the world! Your passion for reading and writing inspires me daily to keep reading and writing, even when times are tough.

So how have your last few months in reading gone?  Any surprises or challenges in your reading life lately?  Have you abandoned any of the goals you may have set up for yourself in January?  What’s been the best book you’ve read in the past 3 months?

Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Reading

Hello, friends!  It’s been forever since I’ve written anything.  I have a reasonably good excuse, I think, in the form of a family vacation and the lead-up to/anticipation of said vacation.  My reading concentration has been awful the past few weeks, and I had a stressful personal issue crop up at the most inopportune time as well.  So, having begged your pardon, now I am ready to dive back in to book blog life!  I missed you guys.  I miss feeling like a reading machine.  I’m ready to get my groove back.

Vacation:

So where did we go?  Toronto, Ontario, Canada!  My cousin from Iran moved there a little over a year and a half ago.  This was my first opportunity to actually meet her in person.  We stayed with her and she graciously showed us around beautiful, vibrant Toronto.  The weather couldn’t have been better while we were there.  There is SO MUCH to do and see in Toronto.  Just riding the subway and walking around felt like an adventure to me!  We visited Saint Lawrence Market, the CN Tower, and the Royal Ontario Museum among other attractions.  We also took a day trip to Niagara Falls, which was fun.  My son is absolutely nuts about LEGOs so we also went to the Legoland Discovery Centre in nearby Vaughn.  He had a blast.  We took a zillion pictures but I’m just going to share a few.

My son lying down on the glass floor at the CN Tower over 1100 feet up.
Gazing at the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara.
My cousin, me, my goofy son, and my husband at a delicious Persian restaurant in Toronto called Gilaneh.
I marveled at the giant armadillos at the ROM.
T. Rex at the ROM.

It was a great trip, my son’s first airplane flights and our first visit outside the country since my husband and I went to Ireland in 2006!  I most definitely want to return to Toronto.  Oh, I did manage to go to a bookstore while I was there – an Indigo store right near where my cousin lives.  I didn’t have much time so I consulted Goodreads and hastily selected three books from Canadian authors that I thought I might not be able to find easily in America.  (Thanks to Naomi and Buried in Print for the author inspiration on these!)

I’ve not read any of these authors before… have you?  Elizabeth Hay’s Small Change, Montreal Stories by Mavis Gallant, and The Memento by Christy Ann Conlin. They all look very appealing.  And of course, I have absolutely NO idea when I’ll get to them!  🙂  So that brings me to…

What I’ve Been Reading

  • I listened to the third Harry Potter book before we left and of course I enjoyed it.  But I’m taking a small break from them before I start Goblet of Fire.
  • I finished Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery the night before we left.  It was just lovely.  I’m not going to do a review of it, but I most thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to the sixth book in the series for #AnneReadalong2017.
  • On the plane I took Anne Tyler’s Celestial Navigation.  I have a superstition about carrying an Anne Tyler book with me when I fly, don’t ask me why, it’s wholly irrational.  I didn’t read much on the plane (short flight times!) or while in Toronto (too tired from all that sightseeing!)  But I managed to get pretty far into it during the return trip, and finished it a couple of days after we got home.  I love Anne Tyler, and intend to read all of her books.  This one was… not her best.  She’s excellent at character study, but this one was so frustrating.  The two main characters were so passive, or passive aggressive, or something.  They were making such poor choices and I just wanted to slap them!  It was a rather depressing read.  Only for Anne Tyler completists, I’d say.
  • As of now, I’m reading Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca for the RIP Challenge.  It’s luscious and atmospheric and brooding and I LOVE IT.  I suppose I’m about a third of the way through.  I’m going to get back into it when I finish this post.

So that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to the past few weeks.  I hope to get back to a more regular posting schedule soon!  October is such a busy month – do you all find that to be true?  There are so many Fall and Halloween related activities.  My son’s two week break will be over Monday, so it’ll be back to the usual routine.  (They start in July and get two-week breaks in Fall, Winter, and Spring.  Yes, we like it.)

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read anything I’ve mentioned here, or what you’re reading right now.  Thanks for reading!