Book Review: Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine

Seeing RedSeeing Red
Kathryn Erskine
Scholastic Press, October 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-46440-6

This book begs to be read, the story must be heard. Red’s tumultuous summer of ’72 deals with an imperative, yet oft untold part of our history. Discovering these deplorable truths is painful. Many acts of our ancestors are unfathomably cruel and hateful; particularly when one expects that his great-great-greats shared the same sense of kindness, generosity and justness that his own parents instilled and nurtured in him.

My history books told of progress in 1972. Nearly 20 years prior, the Supreme Court ruled against segregation in schools, but it wasn’t until early ’72 that the president signed the law stating that women and minorities must be treated just the same as white males. Regrettably, this was not enough to change the thinking or the actions of many ignorant, bigoted white males in Virginia. What my history books didn’t say, Ms. Erskine does. This is historical fiction, in that the characters are fictional; but the history is gruesomely real, including the gut-wrenching story of Emmett Till.

In the tiny town of Stony Gap, Virginia, twelve-year-old Red, a remarkably good boy, was forced to become an admirable, courageous young man. Fantastically crafted, he is a captivating character that with a determined sense of always doing what is right, resulting in loyalty, honesty, and the willingness to defend the weak, almost to the point of ferocity. Easily imagined as a puffy-chested, tiny, scrappy rooster that will become vicious to protect; Red quickly captured this reader’s heart.

The sudden death of his father combined with his mom’s desire to leave the only home he has ever known create a panic that causes Red to make a very big mistake. In his efforts to right his wrong, he discovers a shocking secret about his very own ancestors. With wide open eyes, Red begins to see a bigger picture of discrimination, racism and cruelty. The lengths that he is willing to go to in order to right more wrongs than he could have imagined are nothing short of amazing.

This is one of the most touching, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful books that I have read. I hope that it can be found in school libraries all over my home state of Virginia. I fantasize that history teachers everywhere have this book to refer to and to share with their students. While Seeing Red is intended for, and perfectly suited for a Middle Grade audience; I cannot imagine any adult reading this book without shedding a tear.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2014.


Book Blitz: Sunset Rising by S.M. McEachern

Sunset Rising Blitz Banner


Title: Sunset Rising
Series: Sunset Rising #1
Author: S.M. McEachern
Publication date: November 12th 2013
Genres: Dystopia, Young Adult



February 2024: Desperate to find refuge from the nuclear storm, a group of
civilians discover a secret government bio-dome. Greeted by a hail of bullets
and told to turn back, the frantic refugees stand their ground and are
grudgingly permitted entry. But the price of admission is high.

283 years later… Life as a slave in the Pit had never been easy, but for
seventeen-year-old Sunny O’Donnell it was quickly careening out of control.
Her mother was killed in the annual spring Cull, leaving her alone with a father
who decided to give up on life. It’s not that she blamed him for grieving, but if
they didn’t earn enough credits to keep their place inside the Pit, they would
be kicked out into a world still teeming with radiation. That left her to earn
the credits for both of them. It didn’t help that her boyfriend, Reyes Crowe,
was pressuring her to get married and abandon her father.

Sunny didn’t think life could get any worse, until she was forced upstairs
to the Dome to serve and entertain the elite at a bachelor party. That’s where
she met Leisel Holt, the president’s daughter, and her fiancé, Jack Kenner. Now
Sunny is wanted for treason. If they catch her, she’ll be executed.

She thought Leisel’s betrayal was the end for
her…but it turns out it was just the beginning.

Sunset Rising is Book One of a series.


Amazon Buy Button


An Excerpt from Sunset Rising


“Oh, Summer. If you weren’t so picky, you could have been married by now. But whenever a boy is interested in you, you’re suddenly not interested in him. I think you like flirting more than actually having a boyfriend.”

“That’s not true. I just haven’t met the right one yet.”

“Though you do bring up a good point. You’re running out of time.”

Sunset RisingSummer could have had her pick of any boy in the Pit. A full head shorter than me, her small stature and delicate limbs gave her an elegant, feminine quality. I always felt large and clumsy next to her.

“You know, we’re always talking about me,” Summer said. “How are you? How’s your dad?”

She might regret asking that question, but I gave her an honest answer. “Dad lost his job yesterday because he didn’t show up for work.”

“Oh, Sunny. What are you going to do?”

I heard sympathy in her voice, and exasperation, too. My father had always been a little self-destructive. My mother had done a fairly good job of protecting me from it, but without her, I was on my own with him. “I told Reyes last night I couldn’t marry him until after the next Cull.”

“You’re postponing? Again?” she asked. “That’s a bit drastic. I’m sure your father can get another job. He’s had a lot of experience in the mines.”

“He’s barely been eating since Mom left, and now he’s too weak to get out of bed.”

“But you’ve put your marriage on hold once before, and I can’t imagine Reyes is happy with postponing again. And you’re not getting any younger, Sunny. You’re almost eighteen. Aren’t you afraid Reyes is going to get fed up with waiting and move on to someone else?”

I had never thought about Reyes being with someone else. We had been together forever. And at our age, it was getting kind of late to go looking for a new partner. Of course he would wait for me. If I gave him enough time, he would eventually understand that my father needed me right now, and I couldn’t leave him.

But there was wisdom in her words. At seventeen, I was middle-aged, and that didn’t bode well for getting approval to have a child. Population control in the Pit was getting stricter all the time. Reyes really wanted a child, but if I was being honest with myself, I didn’t. I guessed that was why I didn’t feel an urgent need to get married right away.


About the Author

S.M. McEachernS.M. McEachern (also known as Susan) comes from the rocky shores of Canada’s East Coast. As a resident of Halifax during her early adult years, she attended Dalhousie University and earned an Honors Degree in International Development Studies with a focus on ocean development. Throughout her academic studies and early career, Susan had the privilege to work with many developing countries on resource management projects.

Becoming an author has been a lifelong dream for Susan. “Sunset Rising” is her debut novel and the first of many she plans to write.

Author links:


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Brooklyn: A Small World—and a Giveaway!

Triss SteinTriss Stein is a small–town girl from New York state’s dairy country who has spent most of her adult life living and working in New York city. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident for writing mysteries about Brooklyn, her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. She is inspired by its varied neighborhoods and their rich histories. The first book in the series, Brooklyn Bones, is about the discovery of a body as a brownstone is being renovated in gentrifying Park Slope. The next, Brooklyn Graves, out in March 2014, is about historic Green-Wood Cemetery, Tiffany glass, a turn-of-the-last century mystery and some up-to-date crimes.

Writing mysteries is Triss’s third career. She started out as a children’s librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library system, which is when she started learning about all those neighborhoods. Later she transitioned into business research at places as diverse as McKinsey, the global consultancy, and DC Comics. She is the chair of the Mystery Writers of America/New York chapter library committee.


Last year, when Brooklyn Bones was published, Lelia kindly invited me to guest blog. I wrote about how I created Erica, the protagonist, and the ways she was not me. Necessarily for a mystery series, she lives a far more complicated life.

One important way she is not me is that she is a true Brooklyn girl, the product of a blue-collar neighborhood where kids take the bus to Brooklyn College and where settling down in a home near mom is actively encouraged. Erica has traveled only a few miles on the map, but it was a long personal journey to a shabby house in a gentrifying neighborhood (her parents were horrified) and an almost-Ph.D.

In the new book, Brooklyn Graves, the crime that starts it all is the murder of Erica’s friend Dima Ostrov. It is a friendship that exists partly because he too was a traveler, a Russian immigrant who is the head of maintenance at her daughter’s school. The two families have been close since their children went to kindergarten together.

From Russia to the other side of the world? And from one side of Brooklyn to…the other side of Brooklyn? Comparing them does sound ridiculous, I know.

Here’s where it started. When I was moving into my first New York apartment, I had made the big trip from a small city in New York’s dairy farm country to … the very big, very bad metropolis. That is how most of my high school would have seen it. My roommate had made an even bigger journey from Appalachian North Carolina. And we were fine with it, excited, and had not a single doubt we would make it work.

At the same time we knew a couple of guys who had moved home to Brooklyn and Queens after college and were now ready to move out on their own. And the angst! The opposition from parents! The need to sever some bonds! Those few miles were a bigger move for them than ours was for us.

That memory stayed with me.

That bond with the Ostrovs, plus the bond between their children, is what pulls Erica into the crime story. This solves the eternal problem of an amateur sleuth writer: how to get the protagonist into the midst of the crime solving? Because really, any sane person would leave it in the hands of the pros.

Based on her life in Russia, the widow does not trust the pros. And Dima’s teen-age son, trying to help, is putting himself at risk. And then, eventually, Dima’s second job and his murder converge with Erica’s actual job assignment, researching Tiffany glass and Tiffany history.

In Brooklyn, deathless art and and ugly actions, family conflicts and profound loyalties, and untold stories of all kinds, are never very far apart.


Brooklyn GravesA brutally murdered friend who was a family man with not an enemy in the world. A box full of charming letters home, written a century ago by an unknown young woman working at the famed Tiffany studios. Historic Green-Wood cemetery, where a decrepit mausoleum with stunning stained glass windows is now off limits, even to a famed art historian.

Suddenly, all of this, from the tragic to the merely eccentric, becomes part of Erica Donato’s life. As if her life is not full enough. She is a youngish single mother of a teen, an oldish history grad student, lowest person on the museum’s totem pole. She doesn’t need more responsibility, but she gets it anyway as secrets start emerging in the most unexpected places.

In Brooklyn Graves a story of old families, old loves and hidden ties merges with new crimes and the true value of art, against the background of the splendid old cemetery and the life of modern Brooklyn.


Leave a comment below and you might win a print copy
of Brooklyn Graves by Triss Stein! The winning name
will be drawn on the evening of Tuesday, April 1st.

Book Reviews: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, Some Like It Hot by K.J. Larsen, and Lifetime by Liza Marklund

The Winter PeopleThe Winter People
Jennifer McMahon
Doubleday, February 2014
ISBN: 978-0-385-53849-7

There are many forces alive in the world, mysterious and powerful, evil and benign. In the Maya culture, prominent in Meso-America in the centuries before the Common Era (more than 2,000 years ago) it was normal to bury one’s dead at home. That way, the family could keep track and hopefully influence the passage of the dead loved one from the underworld around the circle to heaven. The Maya were heavily influenced by mysterious forces and had already developed such a Christian-like religious culture they readily absorbed Spanish Catholic religious teachings in the Sixteenth Century. It’s unfortunate there were no Maya priests in West Hall, Vermont, during the early Twentieth Century to make sense of the forces that swirled around the Devil’s Hand, the winter people, and the too-frequent disappearances and murders that occurred.

Explanations in this moody, dark “literary thriller” are hard to come by. It is not a novel of the occult. What raises its quality to a high level is the careful character illuminations, the consistency of strong writing and the internal logic of the piece.

Sara Harrison Shea dies in 1908, not long after her daughter, Gertie also dies. Now move ahead a whole century. A young woman, Ruthie, living in the same isolated farm house, wakes one morning to find her mother missing. In her search she finds parts of a diary written by Sara Shea. The diary becomes a substantial part of the narrative which shifts the reader between the early part of the last century and our modern day. The author is adept at using appropriate language and construction of the narrative to evoke the periods which adds immeasurably to the atmosphere. No matter where in the book one is, the open pages seem to send a subtle atmosphere into the reader, so we are transported at times, into the world of the woman we come to know intimately, the victim, Sara Harrison Shea.

The novel is excellent in all aspects. The moody, limited view of the untrustworthy narrators, in the last and in the present centuries, work well and while the thoughtful reader will be left with many questions, in the end, we close the book with a satisfied feeling and we will wonder.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.


Some Like It HotSome Like It Hot
A Cat DeLuca Mystery
K.J. Larsen
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0096-0

Continues the frequently outrageous efforts of a Chicago feminist private investigator. Her name is Cat DeLuca and she owns an agency called Pants on Fire Detective Agency. Her principal focus—when she has a client—is to make cheating and divorce as painful and expensive for the male member of the marriage as possible. She is aided and frequently abetted by members of her family who are cops and sometime denizens of the lower orders of Chicago thuggery.

It is an amusing set-up. The characters are neatly funny and multi-dimensional. The writing, like the plots, is slick, fast and clean. There are no deep insights here, unless unintentional, these stories are not meant to make us sit back with thoughtful mien and think, “Ah, there’s an original idea.” No, these novels are meant to amuse, entertain and divert readers and that requires careful thought, writing expertise and good plotting. You get that in shovelfuls here. The language is frank and sassy. The author pulls few punches.

The beginning of the book finds Cat observing a cheating fellow and his latest inamorata in a Chicago hangout. The beginning of the plot starts two pages later when Cat’s ex-classmate, Billy Bonham, attempting to establish his own detective business appears on scene disguised as Santa Claus. Suddenly unmasked and un-pantsed, Cat is forced to save the semi-nude Santa from pursuers with guns and the keepers of morality in the city who take a dim view of nearly naked men running down the streets of the town. From this auspicious beginning, the story ascends (or descends, depending on your point of view) into a morass of cross and double-cross and some delightful mayhem, thievery and all-around bad moves.

I received the book as a gift from the publisher with the usual lack of expectations regarding this review. I recommend Some Like It Hot, as a pleasant divertissement and note that yes, la Monroe is present here. Sort of.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.


Liza Marklund
Emily Bestler Books/Washington Square Press, September 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-0700-0
Trade Paperback

A problematic difficult suspense thriller with deeply flawed characters swimming in a dangerously corrupt and somewhat dysfunctional society. The novel’s title refers to the sentencing structure of the Swedish criminal legal system. It is a gritty, sometimes shocking, story of betrayal, corruption, bad marriages, newspaper reporters in emotional hell, and what appears to be a vast shadowy network of thugs for hire.

Patrol officer Nina Hoffman responds to a call of shots fired. The street and block are instantly recognizeable as close to two people she knows well. One is Julia Lindholm, her ex patrol partner and long-time friend. The other person is Julia’s husband, one of the most revered police in in all of Sweden, David Lindholm. To her deep consternation, the altercation appears to have taken place in the Lindholm home. Ethically, Nina Hoffmann should stay away from the scene, but her superiors insist she lead a team of officers in to secure the site. What she finds is devastating. David Lindholm has been murdered. He was dispatched by one shot through the head. A second bullet has destroyed his genitals. His wife lies in the bathroom in shock and their four-year-old son Alexander is missing.

Meanwhile, across town, newspaper reporter Annika Bengtzon is in a taxi with her two young children, fleeing a fire that has destroyed her home and all her belongings. It was a fire deliberately set. The fire further complicates her life because her husband has just nastily walked out after admitting an affair.

The story follows the patrol officer and the reporter on conflicting and reluctant paths that ultimately intersect as Annika tries to prove that Julia is innocent of murder and Nina continually tries to distance herself from the entire affair. Both women are frequently driven to the edge of despair by the case and complicating personal issues. Nowhere in the novel can any stalwart male supporters be found, which is interesting and refreshing. But at times the emotional turmoil seems overwhelming.

This was not a fast, slick read. The author has taken on a large number of perceived shortcomings in Swedish society which left this reader shaking his head in wonderment. She also examines in sometimes painful and rich detail the struggles of two talented women. The most fascinating thread of the novel is the painstaking efforts of the reporter Bengtzon to find evidence supporting her belief that the accused is not guilty of murdering David Lindholm. Following the tangled well-twisted threads of the novel are not helped by a really rough translation. At times the dialogue is so stodgy and stiff as to bring a smile and at others a groan of frustration.

In spite of its shortcomings in the English language version, this novel is strongly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.


Me, Myself, and I…Lose Count

Jeanne MatthewsJeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press.  Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust.  Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels.  She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband, who is a law professor, and her West Highland terrier, who is a law unto herself.  Her Boyfriend’s Bones, the fourth book in the series, is in bookstores now.  You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at


Writers often talk about getting inside their characters’ heads, about listening to their characters and even becoming their characters. Is it method acting, imaginative empathy, multiple personality disorder, or all of the above?

In researching my next Dinah Pelerin mystery to be set in Berlin, I’ve been reading about a German writer named Karl May, best known for his adventure novels set in the American Wild West. During his lifetime, he was variously described as a born criminal, a pathological liar, a con man and a cheat. Since his death in 1912, he has been posthumously diagnosed as a narcissistic personality, a manic depressive, and a victim of dissociative identity disorder. This postmortem psychological assessment stems from the fact that May over-identified with his fictional characters, at one point claiming to be one of his creations incarnate. He said, “I have given my mind and soul an earthly garment, called a novel . . . this garment is the only body in which it is possible for the people inside me to talk to my readers, to make themselves be seen and heard.”

That doesn’t sound so crazy to me. For those of us who have chosen a life of telling lies, and who devote our energies and talents to making people believe those lies, having other people inside our heads is an occupational necessity. But is there a link between the make-believe characters writers think about so deeply and intensely and mental illness? Sigmund Freud thought so, and depending on how dominant these internalized “other people” become, any number of psychiatrists would probably agree with him.

Grey Owl was definitely a bit bonkers. He was a hugely popular Canadian writer during the 1930’s, attracting such large crowds when he lectured in England that the police had to be called to control them. He gave a command performance at Buckingham Palace and his books about nature and frontier life were translated into eighteen languages. The son of a Jicarilla Apache woman and a Scot who served as a scout in the Southwestern Indian wars, he lived in the Saskatchewan wilderness in a cabin shared with his Ojibwe wife and a family of beavers who built a dam in the living room. Or so he said. But it turned out that Grey Owl was really an Englishman named Archibald Belaney who traveled to Canada, became enamored of the native culture, and evolved into a myth of his own making.

Writers strive to make their characters come alive for the reader and that requires that they come alive in the writer’s mind. We invent a world separate from reality and invest the inhabitants of that separate reality with a high degree of emotion. Some writers create alter egos, characters whose thoughts and words reflect their own attitudes and beliefs. The creator and the creation lead parallel lives and sometimes, the life experience of the fictional creation mirrors that of the creator. For Somerset Maugham, fiction and fact were so intermingled that he claimed he couldn’t distinguish one from the other. He felt that he was made up of several personalities, “but which is the real one?” he asked.

Her Boyfriend's BonesThere is obviously a crossover line beyond which the creator loses his essential self and drifts into a schizoid state, forgetting what and who is real. The experts may be correct in their postmortem diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder for Grey Owl and Karl May. On the other hand, mentally ill people don’t turn out successful novels on a regular basis as they did, let alone sell two hundred million copies as May did.

With every book, fiction writers assimilate a whole cast of characters. We allow ourselves to be serially possessed. In the book I’m writing now, I am both my amateur sleuth Dinah Pelerin and her deceitful mother. I am a nine-year-old boy who wants someday to be a racecar driver, and I am a scheming tax cheat who wants to disappear. I am a German romantic who wishes he were an American Indian from a previous century, a blackmailer who preys upon his victims’ fears, and a frustrated policeman. I am an embittered lover, a flippant teenager, and a reluctant murderer. And that’s just in the first two hundred pages.

I don’t know if my internal diversity would cause Sigmund Freud to pronounce me nuts. Reality is an imperfect, arbitrary thing. Not even the physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking knows exactly what it is. He tells a story about the city council of Monza, Italy which banned the custom of keeping goldfish in curved glass bowls because it distorted their view of reality.

I wonder which causes the greater distortion. Looking out at the world from a single pair of eyes all the time, or looking through a variety of different eyes?




Jeanne can be found hanging out at an Orange County Sisters in Crime event—
Ladies of Intrigue—on March 29th in Huntington Beach. Check
out for further details.

Book Reviews: The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce, Breeding Ground by Sally Wright, and The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

The Weight of SoulsThe Weight of Souls
Bryony Pearce
Strange Chemistry, August 2013
ISBN 978-1908844644
Trade Paperback

Taylor Oh, at 15 years old, is very popular…with the dead. A social outcast at school, she has only one friend left but soon, even she will give up on her. The Darkness doesn’t give her much time to leave the mark of the dead on those that deserve vengeance. But what will she do when the school bully leaves his own mark on her?

I really enjoyed reading this book and managed to devour it in one sitting. The storyline was of a familiar set, social outcast is bullied by the popular set while harbouring a family hardship. But that’s not to say that there’s nothing new to enjoy here. This title comes with a twist that will keep you on the edge of your seat as Taylor races against time to track down the people responsible for the death of a local teenager.

The writing is great, full of detail and depth with a rich cast of characters that you can really get into and care about. Complex relationships are teased out and there’s a nice twist added in to give some flavour to the family history. This is a story that I think young adults will enjoy and the ending leaves a possibility that there could be more in the future, but maybe I’m just getting my hopes up. I would certainly recommend The Weight of Souls to younger readers and at the moment, I plan to check out Bryony Pearce’s other title. Two thumbs up!

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, January 2014.


Breeding GroundBreeding Ground
A Jo Grant Mystery
Sally Wright
Sally Wright, December 2013
ISBN 978-0-9827801-4-5
Trade Paperback

Jo Grant is an architect but she has little time to focus on her career or herself. After nursing a beloved horse through a long illness, she saw her mother through an exhausting bout with cancer. When her brother Tom is killed in a motorcycle accident, it’s almost more than she can bear. She plans to settle her brother’s affairs at the Kentucky brood mare ranch he ran with their uncle Toss before she takes off on a long awaited trip to Europe to view its architectural wonders.

But there are complications. Should she sell the horse that was Tom’s favorite, the one that had meant so much to him? Tom left Jo a tape for her to listen to after his death; it refers to his wartime activities in the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA. But it’s twenty years later—1962—and Jo gets in touch with Alan Munro, who served with her brother. Alan refuses to tell Jo about their war time work with the French Resistance, but then Jack Freeman, another former OSS agent, turns up on the farm, looking for Tom.

There are a lot of plots jostling for space in this book. Will Jo keep an interest in the family business or continue her architecture career?  What did Tom, Alan, and Jack do in the OSS,  and what does it matter twenty years later? There are also parallel plots about two neighboring businesses dealing with horses and a subplot about a groom looking for work.

It’s an insider’s look at the world of thoroughbred horses and the related economy. The author evokes a feeling of a Jane Smiley novel. But some plots are never resolved, and characters are left hanging. There is an epilogue that explains that readers may want to know what happened to the characters. “It won’t get written here,” says Jo. “It’ll take another book, or two. Or maybe even three.”

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2014.


The Bughouse AffairThe Bughouse Affair
A Carpenter and Quincannon Mystery
Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini
Forge, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-7653-3174-8

Billed as the first in a new series by this talented writing duo, The Bughouse Affair introduces ex-Pinkerton operative Sabina Carpenter and her partner, ex-Secret Service agent John Quincannon. This unlikely pair has set up a private detective agency, and the story has the two embarking on separate investigations.

Sabina is on the hunt for a pickpocket who chooses her victims in populated areas such as amusement parks, markets, and parades.  Quincannon is attempting to trace an elusive housebreaker who targets homes of the wealthy, and who seems to have an uncanny sense of when the houses will be unguarded.

One might think these cases could not possibly be connected but as Sabina and Quincannon pursue their suspects, it soon becomes clear they are when the detectives find themselves working along the same routes. And when Sherlock Holmes arrives on the scene and manages to turn the American detectives on their ear, sparks are certain to fly–and not just the sparks between Sabina and Quincannon who are constantly trying to out-do the other.

The depiction of historical San Francisco is fascinating. One can’t doubt the accuracy of Muller and Pronzini‘s research into the era. I was taken back in time without a single jolt and since the 1890s  is one of my favorite historical periods, I found the setting especially enjoyable. From the clothes the characters wear, to the food they eat, to the societal pastimes, it was as though I was in a time machine.

The characters are well delineated. I, personally, found Sabina to be the stronger character as I thought Quincannon a bit overbearing and stuffy upon occasion. Other readers may differ. All in all, the mystery is good, the characters are interesting, and the setting is great. I’m looking forward to the next book featuring these detectives.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Reviews: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhorn and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

The Wife, the Maid, and the MistressThe Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress
Ariel Lawhorn
Doubleday, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-53762-9

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon is one of the best novels I’ve recently read.

Lawhon brilliantly reconstructs a real-life mystery – the unsolved disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater in 1930. She does this through the eyes of his wife, their maid, and his mistress.

Lawhon jumps back and forth between 1930 and 1969, when the judge’s aging wife Stella Crater meets with the detective who had then been investigating Crater’s disappearance. They meet at Club Abbey, once a famous speakeasy during the Jazz Age. Every year since his disappearance, Stella Crater salutes her husband with a glass of Whiskey: “Good luck, Joe, wherever you are.”

The main part of the novel takes place in 1930s New York City and Lawhon paints a vividly entertaining picture of the time, complete with dancing girls and mobsters – the infamous Owney Madden is just one.

The tales of Stella, the wife, Maria, the maid, and Ritzi, the mistress, are skilfully intertwined, showing their complex relationships with each other and the judge leading up to his disappearance.

As a reader, I was so drawn to each of the women, which is a testament to Lawhon’s skill, since not much is known about the actual historical figures Stella, Maria, and Ritzi. Lawhon crafted wonderful, believable characters in an enticing setting.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a page-turner and I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Anika Abbate, March 2014.


Hollow CityHollow City
The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books, January 2014
ISBN 978-1-59474-612-3

Ransom Riggs‘s 2011 debut novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children , began as a multi-media exercise. A collector of vintage black and white photographs, Riggs drew inspiration from found pictures of unknown children, who became the bizarre and magical characters in his novel. From this starting point, Riggs spun the tale of Jacob Portman, a lonely, discontented American teenager who travels to Wales to investigate mysterious photographs left behind by his dying grandfather. There, he discovers the titular home and its inhabitants, along with supernatural wonders – and horrors – that he has never imagined.

Uniquely, Miss Peregrine contains reproductions of the photographs that inspired the story. In the print edition, each picture is laid out on a page after the detailed verbal description of the images it contains. Because of this presentation, Miss Peregrine‘s readers had the chance to absorb the written description, imagine it for themselves, then turn the page and see the picture that inspired the passage. The result was a uniquely inventive reading experience that left audiences clamoring for more.

In Hollow City, Riggs revisits the world of the peculiar children. The sequel picks up exactly where the first novel left off, with Jacob and his companions fleeing the monstrous wights and hollows who want to devour them. This time, they are without the guidance of their guardian Miss Peregrine, who has been transformed into a bird. The children must then go on a mission to restore her to her natural form. In the traditions of quest fantasy, the characters encounter new friends and foes, and many bizarre and terrible obstacles, along their way. Once again, these adventures are accompanied by photographs – of sad clowns, bombed-out-cathedrals, and in one memorable case, a dog wearing aviator goggles and smoking a pipe.

Hollow City is the second book of a projected trilogy, and it has some of the structural problems associated with middle chapters. The plot is essentially concerned with getting the characters from point A to point B, and it piles on new problems and complications without really resolving any. Furthermore, the central conceit of the series – the relation of the story to the found images – sometimes feels more forced and less organic to the story that it did in the first novel.

At its best moments, though, Hollow City gives readers a spellbinding good time. Riggs writes rich, stylish prose, and he has created a memorable cast of characters. Jacob is an appealing narrator, flawed but wrestling honestly with his fears and weaknesses. Emma Bloom, the hot-tempered leader of the peculiars, functions as Jacob’s “love interest,” but she’s also a forceful and competent heroine in her own right. These characters and their many companions should be relatable not only to the older children and teens who are Riggs‘s primary audience, but to the many adult readers who have learned to appreciate today’s Young Adult fiction.

Overall, Hollow City does not always feel as fresh or as thrilling as its predecessor. However, it is by any standard a worthy follow-up, and people who loved the first book will not be disappointed.


Reviewed by Caroline Pruett, March 2014.