Book Review: And She Was by Jessica Verdi

And She Was
Jessica Verdi
Point, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-338-15053-7

All teens experience tension between themselves and their parents. Many feel frustrated at times by parental evasiveness or refusal to answer questions about family secrets. For Dara, the tension revolves primarily around her mother’s refusal/reluctance to support her blossoming tennis career. Sure, money is an issue in a single parent home, but Dara’s looked at college and that route doesn’t look promising. Tennis does. When an opportunity to play and earn ranking points in a Canadian tournament comes up, she doubles down on her request for her birth certificate, a document Mellie, her mom, has been continually evasive about.

Dara’s growing frustration peaks while Mom is at work and she enters her mother’s bedroom to seek out the document. Under her mother’s bed she discovers a box. There are two prescription bottles as well as photos of people she doesn’t know. After looking up the two medications, she’s even more puzzled because one is a testosterone blocker, the other an estrogen supplement. She’s stunned by the names listed as parents on her birth certificate stashed under the photos. Neither is familiar and her last name on the certificate is not the one she’s grown up with.

Shock becomes extreme anger and when Mom returns, Dara explodes. What her mother tells her is pretty hard for her to wrap her head around. Mom is her biological father who transitioned after Dara’s mother was killed by a drunk driver. When Dara starts pushing for answers about who her grandparents are and why she’s never met them, Mom’s answers don’t really satisfy her. Still enraged and wounded by what she perceives as Mellie’s selfishness for not being honest, as well as hurting because she suspects her deceased real mom’s parents might have subsidized her hoped for tennis career, Dara packs up her stuff and strong arms her best friend Sam into going on a search for the elusive grandparents.

What ensues is an excellent look at not only how hope can blind us when we’re desperate, but an enlightening and very carefully drawn look at the struggles and processes a transgender person goes through. Jessica Verdi chose to reveal Mellie’s story through emails to Dara while she and Sam are on the road. It’s extremely effective. In addition, the search, and the realizations Dara and Sam come to as they follow lead after lead, help readers to see the other side of the story.

What Dara discovers, how she comes to understand not only Mellie, but her own part in the family drama and her wake up call regarding how she’s treated Sam and what her feelings for him really are, make this a dandy story. I highly suggest it for anyone who wants to understand what challenges someone who is transgender must face as well as anyone who simply wants to read an excellent story.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2018.

Book Review: His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison

His Right HandHis Right Hand
A Linda Wallheim Mystery Set in Mormon Utah #2
Mette Ivie Harrison
Soho Press, December 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61695-610-3

Set in Draper, Utah, this second novel draws back the curtain on Mormonism ever farther than the author’s first novel, The Bishop’s Wife. We are once again with Linda Walheim, wife of the Bishop of the ward. The Mormon religious structure is elaborate, everyone in the organization has an assigned label depending on their age, their direction and their duties to the community.

Linda’s marriage is suffering small cracks and strains due to the constant pressures placed on her husband, Kurt, even though he has assistants. The ward and the larger community encounters serious turmoil when Wallheim’s main assistant, devout pillar of the community, Carl Ashby, is found dead in the local temple. That it is a crime of passion—murder—becomes apparent and then the community is rocked to its core upon the revelation that Carl Ashby was born a woman. He had been living a lie, married to a devoted woman, the couple had two adopted children, and they were active in the church and community. Yet no one even suspected.

With the police investigation hampered by political maneuvering from church elders, Linda inserts herself into the investigation against the wishes of her husband, her church and even some of her friends. Her ensuing probes reach farther than intended and cause widespread turmoil and danger to others.

The book is written in a blunt, almost naive style that sometimes may lead readers astray. Wallheim’s voice contributes to the confusion at times because she is given to long and occasionally rambling introspection leaving this reader wondering whether she’s absorbed in herself or other members of her community. Still we are drawn to this character whose motivation is always to protect the children, her church, the family and society, and solve the murder.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2016.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Rules of Crime by L.J. Sellers

Rules of CrimeRules of Crime
A Detective Jackson Mystery
L.J. Sellers
Thomas & Mercer, February 2013
ISBN 978-1611098068
Trade Paperback

Detective Wade Jackson of the Eugene, Oregon police department, is called home from a much needed vacation because of a family emergency. His ex-wife, Renee, has vanished, but when a ransom demand finally comes in, it is her wealthy boyfriend who steps forward to pay it. At the same time, a young woman is found brutally beaten. Dropped off at the hospital, she’s in a coma and unable to speak. In a town like Eugene, with ongoing monetary problems, the police force is spread thin. Jackson teams with FBI agent Carla River as they work these crimes, but before they make much headway, another young woman is found dead. Are the kidnapping, the assault, and the murder connected? It begins to look that way. And then Renee’s ransom pay-off goes wrong.

Many twists and turns will keep you turning the pages to the very end. Excellent characterization, including getting into the mind of a character who has undergone a sex change, is a L.J. Sellers trademark, as is the intricate plotting of this excellent police procedural.

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