Book Review: An Imperfect Past by Eve Seymour

An Imperfect Past
A Kim Slade Novel #2
Eve Seymour
Midnight Ink, March 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7387-4867-2
Trade Paperback

Kim Slate is a psychologist/psycho-therapist in Cheltenham. She has apparently had some serious troubles in the past, losing her lover to violent death and being under suspicion. The incident has left Kim with a general suspicion of authority and law enforcement specifically. This complicates an already fraught situation.

One of her former patients, a young woman named Mimi, beset by an invidious eating disorder and a mother who also needs some family therapy, returns at fourteen to Ellerslie Lodge, the clinic serving anorexia-afflicted young women. Mimi, dying, tasks Kim with finding her long-lost brother. Mimi’s mother, a hard-driving successful business woman, entangled with a lover twenty years her junior, is in deep denial about her son. When the lover is discovered dead of a knife wound and expertly eviscerated, police naturally question Kim and look closely at a champion chef with whom Kim Slate has had a casual relationship.

There are even more complications as Kim sets out to avoid the police inquiry and attempt to track down Mimi’s long-lost brother. The novel is driven by people with night terrors brought flailing into the harsh light of day. Kim struggles to retain her sanity, manage clients in the clinic and complete her efforts to locate Mimi’s brother.

Several surprising events occur along the way to keep readers glued to the pages of this dark and well-written novel. In some ways, it is depressing to realize there are a great number of similarly afflicted individuals roaming about our landscape and interfering with our attempts to manage our own daily lives. This thoughtful, complicated story does not foster joy and laughter but it does explore a number of troubling aspects of our complicated lives.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
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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Book Reviews: The Highwayman by Craig Johnson and Fallout by Sara Paretsky

The Highwayman
A Longmire Story
Craig Johnson
Penguin  Books, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2090-4
Trade Paperback

The author prefaces this Longmire novel by stating he always wanted to write a ghost story.  And now he has, thrusting Walt Longmire and his friend, Henry Standing Bear, into the middle of an enigma.  At the request of the head of the Highway Patrol, Walt and the Bear seek to determine what is happening to Rosie Wayman, who patrols a stretch of highway in the Wind River Canyon, an area where radio communication is almost nonexistent.

On the other hand, Rosie begins receiving calls from Bobby Womack saying “officer needs assistance.”  The problem is that Womack, a respected highwayman who patrolled the same route, died 35 years previously.  Walt and the Bear have to determine whether Rosie really is hearing the signal, or is in need of psychiatric evaluation.  What follows during the investigation is a series of events which might be ethereal, or explained by logic in the real world.  It is up to the two men (along with the reader) to determine which.

It is a clever plot and, while it is a deviation from the 11 prior entries in the series, The Highwayman is a welcome addition to the earlier books, and it is recommended.

The 13th novel in the series, The Western Star, will be published by Penguin on September 5th!

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.

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Fallout
A V.I. Warshawski Novel
Sara Paretsky
William Morrow, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-0662-584-2
Hardcover

It all begins in Chicago, and ends up in Kansas, but VI Warhawski needs more than ruby read slippers to return home.  Apparently, a black retired movie star decided on a moment’s notice to leave the Windy City, ostensibly to visit the town where she grew up, dragging a young man man along to film her reminiscences with stops along the way to Lawrence, KS.  When the two seem to disappear, VI is retained by the woman’s concerned neighbors to find them.  The young man also is a person of interest in a drug theft at his place of employment, and Vicky becomes more wary when she discovers his apartment ransacked.

So off goes VI on the long drive to Kansas, tracing the woman’s journey and attempting to pick up a trace of the pair.  She visits Fort Riley, where she learns they stopped, but little else.  So Vicky continues on to Lawrence, where she encounters all kinds of obstructions, and becomes involved in all kinds of side issues, other than her original purpose to locate the actress and her photographer.

The reader has to plow through a rather dry start to the novel, about one-third the length of the book, before the plot begins to develop.  Then it turns into a complicated story that probably could have served as the basis for one or more novels.    All in all, Fallout is an interesting work and can be recommended despite these reservations because the author and the series are so deservedly popular.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.

Book Review: The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

The Breakdown
B. A. Paris
St. Martin’s Press, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-12246-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

It used to be that when a book was labeled as a thriller, I knew exactly what I was about to read, a pulse-pounding story full of action and with danger chomping at the heels of the good guys at every turn but without a lot of introspection. Short chapters and a frenetic pace would keep me flipping the pages as fast as I could. Nowadays, though, the term has become so loosey-goosey that it means almost nothing and I have to wonder what I’m going to get.

The Breakdown is not a thriller but it can fairly be called suspense. Yes, there is a sense of danger but we also spend a lot of time in the protagonist’s head (amplified by the first person present tense narration) trying to figure out what’s going on, stressing out over every little thing, suffering guilt over whether she might have been able to prevent the murder and obsessing over the possibility she has started early onset dementia. That last is frightening all by itself and made me feel very uneasy for Cass but it was hard to relate it to the core mystery of the story until certain things started to become pretty obvious.

I have mixed feelings about this book because, while I found it too predictable and I really don’t like first person present tense in crime fiction, I still enjoyed it enough to keep reading. I was relatively sure early in the story what was happening but I wanted to see how Ms. Paris would get me there because she has such a command of words, a nice turn of phrase, if you will, that the simple act of reading her work is a pleasure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

Book Reviews: Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan and Longbow Girl by Linda Davies

Eden Summer
Liz Flanagan
David Fickling Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-12120-9
Hardcover

Words are influential, able to constructively and destructively affect both the speaker and the audience. Final words feel eerily efficacious; especially when there is absolutely no expectation that they are indeed, last words. Vicious, venomous verbalizations can compound an already catastrophic event. In and of itself, crippling in its cruel randomness; devastating and gut-wrenching when choked with guilt.

A cloud of culpability completely cloaked the sun inside of Eden just as its rays tentatively began to reach out again.  Regret remained whenever she recalled begging her bestie, Jess, to walk her to the bus stop in a dismal downpour months ago.  Of course, she did not commit the heinous hate-crime, nor could she have stopped it; but that knowledge isn’t enough to alleviate feeling at fault.

Being the best nurse-cheerleader-therapist-buddy that she could be, Eden was instrumental in Jess’s healing and found that she was also helping herself move forward and focus on the important matters.  After all, she is a normal teen girl and she did catch the eye of the admittedly adorable Liam that Jess was always talking about.

Liam and Jess, comfortable chums and coffee-shop coworkers, both love Eden with the all-encompassing, unconditional, wholly-heart-felt love of fierce friendship. The bond built from “…looking after Eden all summer.” seems strong enough to support Eden indefinitely, until she disappears.  Will their devotion, even when paired with resilient determination and dogged belief, be enough to find Eden?

“She’d gone inside herself, somewhere a long way down, and I didn’t know how to follow.”

Wonderfully woven with stunning, unique, yet complimentary, threads; Eden Summer is a familiar, but fresh fabric.  Ms. Flanagan’s finesse in tackling two terrifying topics results in a relatable, engaging read that is as enjoyable as it is significant. Fast-paced with flashbacks filling in details, the story quickly captivates and keeps hold, even after “the end”.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2017.

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Longbow Girl
Linda Davies
Chicken House, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85345-3
Hardcover

One of the coolest things about Longbow Girl is that while the events happen in present day, one character lives in an actual castle and another on a working farm; so it feels a bit like it is set in the past.  A pretty groovy way of lending an authentic feel to a story entrenched in history.

When an old tomb is inadvertently uncovered, Merry discovers an old book that appears to be one of the tomes from the Middle Welsh collection known as Mabinogion.  Although some folks believe whole-heartedly that the narratives are filled with truths, many others insist there are only myths.  Either way, there is no argument as to the value of the text.  Merry’s find may be the very thing to save the farm that has been the life and heart of her family for more than seven hundred years.

Of course there are challenges with having the artifact authenticated and obstacles in the way of proving it was found on her family’s land.  Weighing heavier than the legal red tape is the unshakable feeling that disturbing the grave will exact a higher price than the book could bring.  Nothing about this “solution” is sure or easy.

Fortunately, Merry is vibrant, fierce, cunning, and strong.  Often, a heroine struggles to come to terms; drum up courage to conquer that which seems insurmountable. Merry does not.  It’s not that she’s oblivious.   For her, doing the right thing is intuitive.  She is aware of the risks and possible loss, personally; but that is of small consequence when compared to the potential greater good for the masses.

Longbow Girl is a spectacular smash-up of Historical Fiction, Action and Adventure, Mystery and Suspense, with a shot of Science Fiction that features heroes, heroines and horses and touches on relatable social issues, family feuds and friendships.  And that’s just a few of the things that I dearly loved about it.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2016.

Book Review: The Violated by Bill Pronzini

The Violated
Bill Pronzini
Bloomsbury, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6328-6600-8
Hardcover

From the publisher:  The novel begins with the body of a dead man lying “face up on the grassy riverbank, legs together and ankles crossed, arms spread-eagled above his head with palms upturned and fingers curled, in a grotesque parody of the crucifixion.”  The victim, Martin Torrey, according to public opinion, is not a victim but instead the lead suspect in an on-going investigation of four brutal rapes and assaults against four women taken place in the span of four months, each more violent than the last.  Tasked with solving the rapes and finding the murderer of Martin Torrey, chief Griffin Kells and detective Robert Ortiz are placed under increasing pressure from the public at large and from an over-ambitious Mayor. As a result, everyone is a suspect. As the story unfolds, readers find themselves in a guessing game trying to deduce who done it?  Was it one of the rape victims or was it one of their friends or family member?  Told in multiple perspectives, everyone is a suspect.  Everyone had opportunity, and everyone had motive, even Martin’s widowed wife.

From the author of more than eighty novels, this most recent standalone from Mr. Pronzini is right up there with the best of them.  The p.o.v. changes from chapter to chapter, e.g., Chapter I of Part I is told in first person by Liane Torrey, the wife and now widow of the murdered man, the next chapter by the police chief Kells (only the 2nd homicide during his seven-year tenure as chief), the next by the politically ambitious Mayor Hugh Delahunt, the next by Ione Spivey, one of the rapist’s victims, and on and on – – I must say that each was  conspicuously in the believable voice of the speaker, not an easy task!

There had been four assaults in four months, “despite increased police patrols, stepped-up neighborhood watches, public warnings to women not to go out alone at night and to take security precautions when home by themselves.  And each one committed without leaving a single solid clue to his identity.”  The cops obviously have their work cut out for them, their job made that much harder with the firestorm of negative media coverage seeking to oust the chief.

A subplot concerns Robert Ortiz, who admittedly has “no difficulty commanding men, but no aptitude for administrative duties and little for public relations, and I do not suffer fools well,” whose Hispanic heritage does not help his “goal is to become a high-ranking detective with the state police or the police department of one of the larger cities.”

The multiple p.o.v. chapters include other victims and their spouses, each one entirely true to their characters (as I’ve already mentioned), and the case becomes dramatically more difficult with another attack, making it rather obvious that the dead man was surely not the man responsible for the first four.  The entire tale takes place in just over a week, the suspense rising as the hunt for the attacker/murderer goes on.  An excellent addition to this author’s oeuvre, it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2017.

Book Review: Heavy Weather by Normandie Fischer

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Title: Heavy Weather
Series: A Carolina Coast Novel #2

Author: Normandie Fischer
Narrator: Laura Jennings
Publication Date: January 30, 2017

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Purchase Links:

Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Heavy Weather
A Carolina Coast Novel #2
Normandie Fischer
Normandie Fischer, January 2017
Narrated by Laura Jennings
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

Death, life, family, domestic abuse–Heavy Weather explores all these themes in a memorable and compelling narrative. When Annie Mac’s life explodes like a storm at sea, she is helpless to fight back. Left for dead, her two children targeted by her abuser, her life appears to be over. The people who help her show her how to weather a storm that she cannot control.

It takes a town to save a child. That town is Beaufort, North Carolina.

Annie Mac’s estranged husband vows that nothing will stop him from getting his baby girl. Not Annie Mac and certainly not that boy of hers.

Only four blocks away, Hannah Morgan lives in comfort with her husband and dog, making pottery and waiting for her best friend to come home. When she discovers the two children cowering in the bushes and their mama left for dead, it doesn’t take her long to set her coterie of do-gooders to some extra-strength do-gooding. Add in Clay, a lonely police lieutenant yanked out of his comfort zone and into the heart of this small family, and who knows what will happen?

A couple of things struck me about this novel as I was reading it or, rather, listening to it. One is that, while it was longer than my usual preference, I didn’t mind this time because I got to know the characters so well. The second point is how much more emotional this story seemed than other domestic abuse novels I’ve read. Certainly, the latter has to do with the quality of the author’s storytelling but it’s also because the narrator has a way of telling the story that truly involves the listener.

Those two things combined led me to form a real attachment to a number of the characters for different reasons. Hannah has a kind of sad happiness about her, meaning her essential joy with her husband and her life have an underlying reason that this is not complete.  Annie Mac, primary victim of the domestic abuse, is to be felt for but only because of her injuries and her fear for her children. She’s a strong woman, determined not to let Roy get the best of her or to live in fear. Her son, Ty, is the manliest little boy you’ll ever want to see but for such a wretched reason and Rita is a woman of incredible strength. Clay resents the intrusion of Annie Mac and her kids into his comfortable but solitary life but soon finds his world changing for the better and other people are just as memorable and as appealing, all in their own ways.

It’s a little difficult to call this a mystery but it’s certainly crime fiction and there are mystery elements. There’s something of a burgeoning love story and it’s in some ways the story of a small town. At its heart, though, Heavy Weather is a tale of abuse and the effect it can have on so many, even those who aren’t directly involved.

Laura Jennings is a particularly good narrator with clarity in her voice and an appealing tone. She does the women’s and children’s parts very well and some of the men although I had a bit of difficulty distinguishing a couple of them. I also want to note that she handles the southern and racial accents especially nicely without being the least bit overboard and, as a Southerner, I appreciated that.

All in all, Ms. Fischer’s engaging story coupled with Ms. Jennings’ narration make for a listening experience I’m glad I had the chance to enjoy and I’ll be looking for more from both.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

About the Author

Normandie Fischer studied sculpture in Italy before receiving a BA, summa cum laude with special honors in English. Her books, which have garnered numerous awards, include her Carolina Coast stories: Becalmed, Heavy Weather, Twilight Christmas, and Sailing out of Darkness. From Fire into Fire and Two from Isaac’s Housea Romantic Times Top Pick—form the beginning of her Isaac’s House series. A lifelong sailor, Normandie and her husband spent a number of years on board their 50-foot ketch, Sea Venture, in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico, sailing home to North Carolina in 2011 to take care of her mother. They have four children, two grandchildren, and an aussiedoodle named Rhion.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookPinterestAmazon

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About the Narrator

Having graduated with a Masters Degree in Fine Arts in Creative Writing, Laura Jennings has an intrinsic
 appreciation of the mechanisms and techniques that comprise the art of the tale. She’s able to
 analyze the underlying moods and currents of a book and bring these into her interpretation of 
the author’s work. She believes her place as narrator is to be the facilitator for all the nuances of 
the spoken word and the written word between the author and the listener. Her naturally clear 
and fresh voice as narrator contributes that extra dimension of enjoyment.

Laura works full time as a professional narrator and voice-over artist. She has narrated titles for Tantor Media, Audible Studios, Dreamscape Media, Insatiable Press and Cherry Hill Publishing.

She enjoys a quiet lifestyle in the Pacific Northwest with her loving husband and aged beagle, Dottie. Her days are filled with narrating, yoga, hiking and, of course, always reading.

WebsiteTwitterFacebook

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour:

Jun. 7th: CGB Blog Tours

Jun. 8th: A Book and A Latte

Jun. 9th: Read Day and Night

Jun. 10th: Lilly’s Book World

Jun. 11th: Buried Under Books

Jun. 12th: Ronelle Antoinette

Jun. 13th: Lomeraniel

Jun. 14th: Wall-to-Wall Books

Jun. 15th: Blogger Nicole

Jun. 16th: The Book Addict’s Reviews

Jun. 17th: Simply Kelina

Jun. 18th: Avid Book Collector

Jun. 19th: Christian Chick’s Thoughts

Jun. 20th: Spunky-n-Sassy

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Book Review: Dressing A Tiger by Maggie San Miguel

Dressing A Tiger
Maggie San Miguel
Orchard Drive Press, June 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9970360-0-8
Trade Paperback

In many ways this memoir is an amazing work. In several others, however, it is an insecure narrative of growing up in a world of adult criminals, labor organizers, thoughtful and brutal animalism and deep and sincere love from surprising sources.

Most of the turbulence or action takes place in the Twentieth Century, between 1960 and 1975. A vibrant Teamster Union, a dark wide-spread criminal enterprise often referred to as the mob or the Mafioso, due in part to its Sicilian roots. Much of the action, until the mid-nineteen-sixties, concerns the developing young maiden in Greenwich, Connecticut. Maggie’s narrative voice seems to develop from both conflicting and imperfect memories, thoughtful research among family members, and total fiction to fill in blank narrative, based on logical development.

In some areas, the narrative skips around in confusing fashion. Mostly engagingly written, indeed, sometimes truly lyrical and evocative, the writer has admitted to fabricating some things, deliberately omitted other stories, and at times laid bare in devastating language, embarrassing incidents from behind her family’s private walls.

This reviewer, a close if inadvertent observer of some elements of her story, suggests that readers read the acknowledgments at the end of the book first and possibly more than once. Regardless of the occasionally flawed writing, Dressing A Tiger is an interesting and unique look at a piece of Americana that was sad, uplifting, dangerous, turbulent and in many ways, a positive experience for all of us. It is not an entirely accurate nor complete memoir but it is fascinating and worth reading.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.