Book Reviews: The One That Got Away by Joe Clifford and Murderabilia by Carl Vondereau @joeclifford23 @DownAndOutBooks @CarlVonderau @midnightinkbook

The One That Got Away
Joe Clifford
Down & Out Books, December 2018
ISBN: 978-1-948235-42-6
Trade Paperback

An upstate small town where almost everyone has at least one scurrilous or dangerous secret, is the fall setting for this story. Alex Salerno is the flawed, inept and persistent hero of this long and winding tale.

A decade ago she was one of several girls in the town, located in upstate New York, who was abducted and held for unnamed assaultive practices in a dark space. Waiting there, she knew the other girls had been killed. And then, a small miracle, she is rescued by the local detective who becomes her lover. Her abductor now resides in prison.

The experience, naturally, has permanently damaged Alex’s psyche and her life in New York State, at least as she relates it, is fraught, unrooted and filled with booze, drugs and impermanence. For uncertain reasons she has now returned to her home town to meet a reporter who may or may not be preparing a story for the local paper on the history of that time when so many young women and girls had been abducted and murdered.

She knew her abductor was in jail and the reporter was focusing on the later disappearance of another teenager named Kira Shanks. The rambling torturous plot is further obscured by the belief in some corners of this conflicted community that the man now held in a nearby mental institution was not responsible for Kira Shanks disappearance.

As the plot slowly unwinds and layer after layer of a depressing community are revealed, against her better judgement and with menace ever closer, Alex Salerno persists in sticking her nose in unwanted sometimes dangerous places. She is physically and mentally abused and even her tenuous family ties in the town are stressed. The narrative blends the viewpoints of several characters and at times readers may be confused as to who is speaking. Ultimately some of the mysteries and secrets of this town are resolved but one is left wondering about the future life of Alex Salerno.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Murderabilia
Carl Vonderau
Midnight Ink Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-007387-6130-5
Trade Paperback

A dark, intense story of murder and family destruction, this novel, after a slow start, will engage readers in a way that will leave them in thoughtful contemplation of family relationships.

Will McNary has a successful career as a private banker who works with individual clients on their financial investments and other monetary activities. He’s married with two young children and living in San Diego. His life is generally calm and ordinary, although he’s feeling a little heat in the form of competition from other officers of the bank. His sister Polly and their aging mother share an unsettling secret.

When Will was a child of only eight, his father was sent to prison for murdering and butchering several women. He compounded his heinous crime by posing and photographing the women, pictures that were circulated and sold on the underground market. McNary’s father was convicted and when the novel opens, has been in prison for more than thirty years. Now, a copy-cat killer linked to Will’s father has emerged, one who appears to be targeting Will and his family.

The story follows Will along a sordid twisting trail as he attempts to protect his loved ones, help law enforcement find the vicious copy-cat, and plumb the emotional depths of the knowledge that he is the son of an incredibly twisted killer.

The novel is well-written and once moving along its trail, enthralling. I hesitate to call it a page turner, however, for those readers attracted to the truly dark side of humanity in several of its manifestations, this carefully crafted story is insistently engaging.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: And Sometimes I Wonder About You by Walter Mosley and Fallout by Paul Thomas

And Sometimes I Wonder About YouAnd Sometimes I Wonder About You
A Leonid McGill Mystery #5
Walter Mosley
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-8041-7209-7
Trade Paperback

Leonid Trotter McGill’s New York City office now officially answers its phone “McGill and Son detective agency,” a recent development.  One of his sons, Twilliam (usually just “Twill”), is a new addition.  His relationships with just about all his nearest and dearest being fraught with complexities:  He hasn’t seen his father, Clarence, the charismatic revolutionary who calls himself “Tolstoy” McGill, in years; his wife has recently attempted suicide.  His “blood son” and daughter are Dmitri and Tatyana; Twill and Shelly are the two sired by other men but who Leonid raised exactly the same as his own offspring.  And then there is Gordo, his mentor, boxing trainer, and the man who he considers “his true father.”

Those relationships, and the assorted women who cross his path, either professionally or otherwise, (with several of whom he falls in love or lust, or both) are a major part of this novel, the balance of which are the several cases that come to him.  These multiple plot lines arise in different parts of the book, which is as complex as these may make it sound.  But with this master storyteller, that is not a deficit.  The first of these is introduced in the first pages of the book, and she is a gorgeous woman named Marella Herzog, who fits both definitions:  Client and lover.  Their first meeting, when he is aware of a scent she is wearing, causes “a strong reaction in a section of my heart that had almost been forgotten.”   He describes his secretary as having “gray-blue eyes [which] carried all the sadness of the last days of autumn and her voice was so soft that it could have been a memory.”    Another sometime lover is the “color of pure gold that hadn’t been polished for some years,” with hair that was “naturally wavy and darkly blond.”

He thinks “sadness had as many striations as a rainbow – – only in grays.”  The writing is replete with lines like these:  When McGill visits his wife in the hospital, he thinks “I wanted to say something kind, to slap her and tell her to snap out of it.  I would have torn out my hair if I wasn’t already bald.”  McGill, 55, is self-described as an “old, off-the-rack straphanger;” and “it has always amazed me how a woman’s eyes and her words can find a direct line to my animal heart;” when he speaks to a waitress, she smiles at him, and he muses “as had been its purpose since humans became a species, the smile socialized me.”  I briefly had a difficult time recognizing the quote that provides the title of the book, but the author kindly reminded me:  “Sometimes I think that everybody in the world in crazy, except for me and you – – and sometimes I wonder about you.”  The writing throughout is wonderful, but then we expect nothing less from this author, who carries the reader along swiftly on the ride through his newest, 49th novel, and it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

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FalloutFallout
A Tito Ihaka Novel #5
Paul Thomas
Bitter Lemon Press, April 2015
ISBN: 978-1-908-52449-2
Trade Paperback

This sequel to Death on Demand brings the reader back to New Zealand and the Central Police Dept.  There are a number of cops who alternate in prominence in the plot, among them District Commander Finbar McGrail, who, we are told, became Auckland District Commander and developed an appreciation for wine pretty much at the same time.   McGrail is still haunted by a 27-year-old case, his first, when as a new D.I. he investigated the murder of a 17-year-old girl, Polly Stenson.  The investigation comes to a halt less than a year later when the police still have no viable suspects in her killing, coming to the conclusion that she was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Only a year from retirement, he is approached one day by a man who was present at the murder scene at the time in question, and given a lead as to who might have killed Polly.

We then meet former D.I. Johan Van Roon, and the man who had at one time been his mentor:  Maori cop Tito Ihaka, described as “unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane” and “the brown Sherlock Holmes,” the latter having been banished to the hinterlands several years ago after a case which he had stubbornly insisted was a murder, not, as everyone else was convinced, a ‘simple’ hit-and-run accident.  Now a Detective Sergeant, he is asked by McGrail to follow up on the new lead.  Van Roon has left the force in disgrace, now a pariah in the police force and working, when he can find employment, as a private investigator and security consultant.  He is hired to find a man who disappeared right after the Stenson murder, for a very attractive fee.  Events occur in such a way that both Ihaka and Van Roon reopen the cold case to try to find the murderer.

At the same time, Ihaka starts a completely different investigation, one that involves the death of his father, “a union firebrand and renegade Marxist,” decades ago, thought to have been of natural causes.  To make things even more complex, a man with whom his father was involved died in a supposed accident one week later.  Coincidence?  He thinks not.

The author was born in the UK but has lived for most of his life in New Zealand, which is the setting for his novels.  The biggest hurdle for me in this book was with the local vernacular/regional jargon/idiom, as well as the many political discussions, making it somewhat slow reading.  But the complex plot was very interesting, and on the whole the book was enjoyable.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2016.

Book Review: Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall

Teaching the Cat to SitTeaching the Cat to Sit
A Memoir
Michelle Theall
Gallery Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-4516-9730-8
Trade Paperback

Ms. Theall bares her heart and soul honestly, yet delicately, in this magnetic memoir; and I am forever grateful to her for doing so. I won’t pretend to possess the capability to clearly articulate how reading this book made me feel; or even how just one little line has stuck with me, becoming my mantra, holding me up, allowing me to cling to hope while releasing those nagging questions that will never have satisfying answers.

My gratitude extends to Ms. Gail Storey, an accomplished author, kind soul and just all-around awesome person, for writing such a captivating review and recommending this gem to me. Despite an almost insurmountable stack of To-Read and To-Review books that beckon to me from every room in my home; I purchased Teaching the Cat to Sit immediately after reading Ms. Storey’s review. Upon arrival, it settled into a Some Day Stack, patiently. The waiting period was brief.

Recently, feeling emotionally raw and shattered, in need of a maternal parental unit that I no longer have, I desperately turned to Ms. Theall, and my healing began. I don’t have real problems. Ms. Theall did, and continues to; yet these issues that could bury the average person do not define her, nor does she allow them to limit her. As I read about the brutality, harassment and persecution that she has been subjected to, I felt deep sadness, empathy and an over-all disappointment with the many humans that treated her this way. Then I became angry. No, furious is more accurate. Ignorance should no longer be “bliss”, it should not even be acceptable, and the “everyone’s entitled to his opinion” should be amended to “everyone’s entitled to his informed opinion.”

While I feel bitter, nasty and downright hateful towards those that caused Ms. Theall, her partner, and their son grief and suffering; Ms. Theall is clearly the better person, cruising right along on the High Road. That, to me, is true inspiration.

With a soft, but strong voice, Ms. Theall becomes that girlfriend that you immediately and completely relax with. She possess that unique and enviable trait of seeing herself honestly. With a strong sense of humor, compassion that can’t be hidden or even understated, and the simple, sure sense of always doing the right thing, Ms. Theall’s story is captivating, charming, honest and hopeful; catapulting her to the top of the list of awe-inspiring, formidable women that I admire…..think Cheryl Strayed, Gail Storey, Maggie Stiefvater and Marie Manilla to name a few. These women would deny the accolades, maybe blush, and say that they are no different than anyone else, and they do believe that; but I know better. They are courageous, strong, resilient and tenacious. I will go right on admiring them, singing their praises, and attempting to emulate their outstanding, admirable traits.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2014.

Book Review: Grim by Anna Waggener

GrimGrim
Anna Waggener
Scholastic Press, June 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-38480-3
Hardcover

I have read books depicting heaven and I have read books alluding to depictions of hell.  I had never read a book written about Limbo…….until now.

Grim presents Limbo as a kingdom.  The current ruler wishes to relinquish the throne; however, his six sons are completely absorbed in their own spat, ignoring the king and his desires.  Through no fault of his own, the youngest son risks exile from his father’s predecessor; but that is only a small problem, as his main concern is eluding the brother that means to erase his existence.

Meanwhile, back on Earth proper, a harried, over-worked and exhausted single-mom of three, makes a fateful stop for caffeine.  Alert, Erika mentally prepares to finish the drive home through the dark, damp night.  A head-on collision immediately changes her life as she knows it.

The story unfolds as our lady in Limbo valiantly attempts to reach her three children.  The youngest prince, Jeremiah, tries to serve as her guide from Limbo to the proper here-after; however, his true focus is on saving himself, thus Erika is able to persuade him to do something that has never been done.  She asks that he bring her children to her, in Limbo, without causing their demise.  Will the reunited family be able to return home?  Must a sacrifice be made?  What will become of Jeremiah?  There are plenty of unanswered questions to keep the reader turning page after page well past bedtime.

I loved the idea of something as unique and intriguing as Limbo, and I found the plot to be plausible and entertaining.  Despite the detailed and individual personification of each character, none knocked my socks off.  On the contrary, I wasn’t able to make myself like any of them.  Without the character admiration, I was not empathetic, and I really didn’t care what happened to whom.  I was curious enough to finish the book, and I’m glad that I did.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2012.

Book Review: Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott—and a Contest Winner!

Imperfect BirdsImperfect Birds
Anne Lamott
Riverhead Books, 2011
ISBN 978-1-59448-504-6
Trade Paperback

Anne Lamott can be counted on to deliver an honest, engaging read.  Imperfect Birds starts as a clumsy and inauthentic tale, but stumbles along, until it reaches a believable, loping and smooth gait.  I continued to read past my initial judgment and ennui, only because my other experiences of Lamott’s writing have been so positive.

In the end, Lamott came through with the tender story of a rag-tag family of three, battling a disease that knows no physical boundaries, no eras, no exceptions.  Once this disease strikes, it is in the lead, unless a miracle happens to intervene.

The brilliance of this book was in the points of view, which faithfully spotlighted and juxtaposed the angst and denial of Elizabeth, the mother, struggling with her own chronic, mental health issues and her fragile sobriety, and the casual denial in which her seventeen-year-old daughter, Rosie, lived.

Lamott faithfully transcribed the language of seduction and false love that drugs and alcohol use to lure the innocent, as only someone who has walked the walk can do.  This book will serve well as a primer for parents of troubled teens.

I am a native Californian.  Parts of me cringed as rituals with sticks and candles, sweat huts, protests, demonstrations and other activities were described.  Even the description of the mall and the Parkade were so “California”.

Imperfect Birds will continue to propagate the notion that California is the land of fruits and nuts.  Still, place became a likable character in this book, as real as the human characters Lamott crafted from her own experiences of struggle and recovery.

Reviewed by Marta Chausée, September 2011.

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Congratulations to Liz, winner of

Where Angels Fear by Sunny Frazier!

Book Review: Split by Swati Avasthi

Split
Swati Avasthi
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN 0375863400
Hardcover (ARC), March 2010

When his abusive father kicks him out for having the audacity to fight back, 16-year-old Jace Witherspoon has only one place to go–his older brother Christian in New Mexico. From Chicago to Albuquerque is not an easy trip, particularly if you have only recently gotten your license and  don’t have money, but Jace goes with the faith that his brother will take him in.

You see, Christian ran away several years ago and has found a new life for himself. Having lived through their father’s abuse, Christian knows exactly what Jace is going through.

Unfortunately, two abused kids do not necessarily make the best roommates. They’ve got a lot of trauma, secrets, and bitterness to live through.  They do have help from Christian’s English teacher girlfriend, Mirriam, and Jace’s co-worker, Dakota.

Can they ever feel safe from their Dad?  And can they get their Mom, who they both fear is going to be killed by their father away?

“Split” is a compelling read from the first line to the breathless end.  While the story’s not a thriller per se, this relationship novel definitely had me on the edge of my seat all the way til three AM. This is an excellent book for older young adults and even adult readers will enjoy the finely-drawn characterization and heart-pounding pacing.

Reviewed by Rebecca Kyle, February 2010.