In 2018 I’ve probably read at least 200 novels from cover to cover . A few I decided not to finish. Many were entertaining but not outstanding. Some were excellent, but I didn’t have time to review them. Here are the books that had the deepest impact on me in 2018 with links to their reviews:
These are the books I’ve read during the first four days of 2019. I will include some brief thoughts on each.
Until Now by Cristin Cooper
Billy met Bridget when she came into the diner he had unwillingly inherited. She was pregnant at 16 and homeless. She was hungry for the love her father never gave, and he kicked her out when he discovered she was pregnant. The college boy who seduced her thinking she was over 18 was not ready for marriage and told her to get an abortion. She had refused. It was in this situation she sought a warm place and a bit of food in Billy’s diner.
Billy was also lonely and unhappy, searching for love in the wrong way. He, too, had been rejected by one he thought loved him. Once Billy and the waitress Diane were aware of Bridget’s situation, they took her in and gave her work and a place to live above the diner. She raises her daughter Katie there and never marries. Billy hasn’t married any of his women friends, either. He wants to marry Bridget and she wants to marry him, but both are afraid to confess their love so they keep their relationship platonic. They center their attention on raising Katie, the one who brought them together.
The book opens on the day Katie is about to leave for college. Both Bridget and Billy wonder what will happen to their friendship then. The book jumps back and forth between time periods and relationships that both Bridget and Billy have as Katie grows up. I found the book engaging, but like most romances, a bit unrealistic. The ending, however, satisfied me.
Alert: There is some adult content.
The Rogue Reporter (A Police Procedural Mystery)
Written by Thomas Fincham (a pseudonym for Mobashar Qureshi, this is #2 in the Hyder Ali Series I started in 2014 with The Silent Reporter. The Rogue Reporter has many of the same characters, and I couldn’t put either book down. Fincham uses many of the same techniques he did in the first book. You can read my review of The Silent Reporter here. If you like suspense this author will keep you turning the pages.
Although I couldn’t stop reading this book, I had a tough time with a couple of torture scenes. They were brief, but it was hard to get through them. I don’t remember such scenes in the first book and I’m hoping the next books won’t have more than the normal violence and suspense you would expect to find in a detective novel. As I write this, the entire series is available in Kindle Unlimited where you can read it for free. You could probably finish it during the free trial period.
Eleventh Street: A Story of Redemption by Steven K Bowling
We first meet Lucas as he fights the Japanese Imperial Army and reminisces about the attack on Pearl Harbor he survived. We continue to see him fighting for his life in battlefield after battlefield throughout World War Two as he experiences the continual horrors of war. He had prayed plenty of genuine foxhole prayers, but after leaving the service he didn’t even go to church.
His older sister had married the brother of their church’s pastor, Buck Johnson, who simply called himself Pastor. As jobs got scarce in Kentucky, Pastor and most of those in his church, including Lucas’ other surviving siblings, moved to Hamilton Ohio to find work in the steel mills. Pastor converted the East Side Dance Hall into a church.
When he went to war, Lucas had left Maggie, the girl he loved, behind. She would not date him because she wanted to marry a God-fearing man and he didn’t appear to be one. When he returned to Hamilton, he sought Saturday night amusement at the East Side Dance Hall, since friends had recommended it. But it was quiet — except for a voice he recognized from the past: “Do you know the Lord today?…”
Maggie’s love had motivated Lucas to try to act like a Christian, but it was the Holy Spirit and Pastor that finally made him give his life to Christ at what had become the Eleventh Street Church. Lucas met the power of God through the ministry of Pastor. Pastor had no formal theological training, but it was obvious the Holy Spirit had called and equipped him.
We follow Lucas’s life and the life of Eleventh Street Church through three very different pastors. After Pastor’s death there was a gradual transition as new members joined the church and and older ones left. It becomes apparent to readers that the third pastor of the church after Pastor retired is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who is leading the flock astray.
This book’s message is relevant for today’s church. Often pastor search committees may be more interested in a candidate’s advanced degrees and administrative abilities than in his dependence upon God. So many churches today that want to grow look to new music, new methods, and even new doctrine, to attract new members. They sometimes begin to depend more on these new ideas than on the Holy Spirit.
What happened to the Eleventh Street Church could happen to any church that begins to depend upon and follow a charismatic leader more than Christ himself. This thought-provoking novel will be of most interest to Christians.
Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar by Carol Guthrie Heilman
Agnus Hopper did not move to Sweetbriar Manor retirement home willingly. But when her forgetfulness causes the home she had shared with her late husband Charlie to burn down, she became homeless. She moved in with her daughter, Betty Jo, but Betty Jo could only handle that for three months. She then took Agnus to Sweetbriar, assuming that she would make friends and soon be happy there. Agnus knew better.
Within a few days Agnus knows something is very wrong with Sweetbriar and that the manager is hiding something. She is determined to find out what is really going on as she gets to know the other residents. She is especially concerned about her best friend from high school, Pearl, who no longer recognizes her.
Throughout this book and its sequel, which I’m still reading, you’ll meet a quirky cast of senior citizens trying to make the best of where life has put them. Agnus and her friends do their best to bring down their crooked manager so they can live in peace. In the sequel, Agnus finds the body of one of her husband’s friends not far from his grave. She is determined to find out who killed him and why.
Grief impacts individually uniquely. A sudden death in an accident or suicide affects the survivors differently than a slow death from cancer or dementia. A violent death is different than a natural peaceful one. The type of loss often affects how survivors will respond. So do the beliefs of the dying person and their family about an afterlife. Grief has many faces, depending on the person grieving. Only one character in these three novels seems to value religion.
Luke, the protagonist of When I’m Gone, a widower with young children, has watched his wife die of cancer. In The High Cost of Flowers, an already dysfunctional family with adult children deals with a mother who has dementia. In The Storied Life of A.J Fikry, a widowed bookseller discovers a toddler a mother has left in his store’s stacks with a note, and it changes his life.
When I’m Gone, by Emily Bleeker
Luke, arrives home from his wife Natalie’s funeral with his children — Will, 14, May, 9, and Clayton, 3. Will’s eyes are red and wet. May says she’s hungry. Clayton is still sleeping in the car seat. Natalie’s mother, Grandma Terry, has left food for the family before making her escape. She has never liked Luke and had never wanted Natalie to marry him because Luke’s father was an alcoholic wife-beater.
Natalie had planned the perfect funeral for herself and took care of all the details before she died. She knew that Luke would have trouble coping with the house and children after her death so she planned that, too. When Luke walks into the house he finds the first of many almost daily letters from Natalie on the floor in front of the mail slot. They were definitely from Natalie, but who was delivering them?
The continuing letters help Luke cope with his life as a widower. Natalie’s best friend Annie helps out a lot, but she has her own secret.
Natalie knew Luke would need more help with the children than Annie could provide, so in one of her letters, she urged him to hire 21-year-old Jessie to watch the children after school. Why was it so important to her that Luke hire Jessie?
Luke also keeps running into a Dr. Neal in Natalie’s letters and as a contact on her phone. He doesn’t like the jealous feelings and suspicions that rise up in him. Who is this Dr. Neal? Why was he so important to Natalie?
Follow Luke and Annie’s grief journey as they get to know each other better. Find out Annie’s secret and who has been putting Natalie’s letters through the mail slot. Discover the secrets only Dr. Neal can reveal. Don’t miss When I’m Gone.
The High Cost of Flowers by Cynthia Kraack
Dementia is hard enough to for a family to deal with when there is an abundance of love between family members. When siblings alienate each other and fight constantly, it’s almost impossible to share the care and decision making.
Family matriarch Katherine Kemper and her neighborhood friend Janie had done everything together before Katherine had a stroke. The stroke left Katherine with dementia. Her husband Art tries to care for her at home with some help from Janie and his children Todd and Carrie.
As the book opens, Art reflects on the old pre-stroke Katherine he loved and wishes she were back. His old life of puttering in the garden and seeing friends is gone. He feels the pain and frustration of all who care for loved ones with dementia.
Art’s Life as Katherine’s Caregiver
Janie tries to help out, but the demented Katherine berates her and accuses her of stealing her diamond and trying to poison her with the food she often brings over. In the first chapter, Janie has brought over some chili, and Katherine refuses to eat it. She often has tantrums now.
As Art prepares to heat the chili, Katherine says: ‘That’s not one of our containers. Did that woman make that food? Are you going to eat out of it or is it poisoned just for me?’ Katherine is itching for a fight Art doesn’t want.
She crashes a soup bowl on the end of the granite counter sending shards flying everywhere. Then she stomps on the bowls, cuts her feet, and attacks Art with a piece of the glass. She then smashes another dish and picks up pieces of it to throw in Art’s face. One piece connects with Art’s forehead. When he demands to know what she’s doing, she replies:
I’m trying to make you ugly so women won’t want you. So you won’t put me away. I want you to bleed. like me.
Then she cries and reaches out for him. He gets a sharp pain in his chest and calls 911.
Meanwhile, their estranged older daughter Rachel is running along the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago. She fights loneliness after her separation from her husband David since he had an affair. She is a trained therapist who has written family self-help books.
Later that evening she sits pondering the changes in her life as she eats dinner and works at home. Her parents’ physician, Dr. Wagner calls to inform her that both her parents are in the hospital and her siblings are both out of town. He asks Rachel to come to Minnesota and help out. He wants to place Katherine in a care facility for patients with dementia. Katherine, as well as Rachel’s siblings, have always opposed this, so Rachel anticipates a family fight.
A Portrait of a Dysfunctional Family
Katherine has always been domineering and abusive. Both her husband and children have been her victims. Rachel’s siblings Todd and Carrie are already alcoholics when we meet them in the book. Catherine has told Rachel not to call her “Mom” and doesn’t want her around. At family functions, Catherine has tantrums mixed with episodes of dementia.
It’s evident to the reader that Catherine is too sick for Art to be able to continue to care for her at home. Art, Todd, and Carrie try to pretend this isn’t true. After Catherine attacks Art with the broken glass, he realizes she needs more care than he can give and Art and Rachel move her to a care facility. Rachel supports him, but her siblings still resist.
They blame Rachel for moving to Chicago where she’s not close enough to help. She has really moved to keep herself and her son Dylan away from the Kemper family dysfunction. Except for Rachel, all of the adult Kempers drink too much. That’s how they deal with the family problems.
Families in Crisis, Hurting People
Author Cynthia Kraack offers us a window into the unhappy lives of the characters. We see their family dysfunction clearly whenever the family or siblings gather. It’s one thing to know about dementia and abuse intellectually. It’s another to see it happening as family members push each other’s buttons and use words to manipulate and hurt each other. Sibling rivalry hangs over all family interactions.
We watch as Katherine goes in and out of the real world within seconds. One minute she’s lucid and the next she’s wondering who that stranger in her room is or seeing long-dead family members around the dinner table. She may become suddenly violent, then wonder how her victim got hurt, and then cry like a baby. An observer might see all these behaviors within an hour. We see Katherine’s pain and confusion and her family’s pain as they watch.
Learn to recognize early signs of dementia in the video below.
My Personal Response to the Book
This book grabbed my attention from the first pages. The characters were so well developed you could almost predict what they would say or do by the middle of the book. The plot, though, had some twists I didn’t expect. I won’t give any spoilers.
The focal point of the book was Katherine and her dominance in the family. Everyone had to focus on her when in her presence. She was the elephant in the room when she wasn’t present. Ironically, at the end of the book, when Katherine finally dies, what’s left of the family is celebrating July 4 together, and no one was answering their phones when the nursing home called to notify them of her death. They had started a new tradition of turning them off when together.
I would recommend this book to those who have grown up in dysfunctional families or who give or have given care to those with dementia. Those who have alcoholics in their families or are grieving lost loved ones will probably identify with characters in this book, too. The book may also help those who need to make a decision about getting institutional care for a loved one unable to continue living at home.
Of all the main characters, the only ones I might have enjoyed spending time with were Rachel and Art. The others would tend to suck away my energy.
The book is well-written except for a couple of typos in the eBook that weren’t caught by an editor. The plot moves swiftly and many of the characters become more functional as the book progresses. Those who depend on alcohol and or drugs find that they aren’t a lasting cure for pain. Those who are willing to forgive hurts and face their problems honestly discover there is hope.
Get The High Cost of Flowersat Amazon for a revealing peek into the lives of a dysfunctional family caring for their mother who is no longer herself.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel
No bookseller or bibliophile should miss this book by Gabrielle Zevin. Every chapter is prefaced with A. J. Fikry’s thoughts on specific stories which turn out to be significant in the plot. And who is A .J. Fikry?
A. J. Fikry is a grieving bookseller who lost his wife less than two years prior. She died in an accident driving an author home from a signing. He’s become a grumpy 39-year-old man who tries to drown his grief in drink, and he’s lost interest in his life and his bookstore Island Books on Alice Island. He has a very rare copy of Poe’s Tamerlane which he plans to sell someday to finance his retirement. Meanwhile, he keeps it in a locked glass case in the store below the apartment where he now lives alone. He has few real friends but very specific book tastes.
A Bad Start for a Relationship
Amelia Loman, a new sales rep with Knightley Press in the Boston area, is about to call on Fikry for the first time. She is the replacement for former rep, Harvey Rhodes. Although she has made an appointment to see Fikry, he doesn’t seem to be aware of it. She gets off to a bad start on the way to his office when her sleeve catches on a stack of books and knocks down about a hundred of them. Fikry hears the commotion, approaches her, and asks, ‘Who the hell are you?’ He tells her to leave.
A.J. says they have no meeting. He’d never gotten word of Harvey’s death. He reluctantly does let her in so she can pitch Knightley’s winter list. She doesn’t expect to get an order. She begins to tell him about her favorite book, Late Bloomer, but he says it’s not for him. He said Harvey knew what he liked and Amelia challenges him to share his likes and dislikes with her. He does.
Grief Leads to the Loss of Tamerlane
Later that night A.J. regrets treating Amelia so badly. He goes up to his apartment and reminisces about past book discussions with Harvey. He puts a frozen dinner in the microwave to heat, as usual, and while waiting he goes to the basement to flatten book boxes.
By the time he gets upstairs again his dinner is ruined. He throws it against the wall as he realizes that although Harvey meant a lot to him, he probably meant nothing to Harvey. On further reflection, he realizes that one problem of living alone is that no one even cares if you throw your dinner against the wall.
He pours a glass of wine, puts a cloth on the table, and retrieves Tamerlane from its climate-controlled case. Then he places it across the table from his chair and leans it against the chair where his wife Nic used to sit. Then he proposes a toast to it:
‘Cheers, you piece of crap,’ he says to the slim volume.
Then he gets drunk and passes out at the table. He “hears” his wife telling him to go to bed. One reason he drinks is to get to this state where he can talk to Nic again. `
When he wakes the next morning he finds a clean kitchen, a wine bottle in the trash, and no Tamerlane. The bookcase is still open. He hadn’t insured the book because he had acquired it a couple of months after Nic had died. In his grief, he forgot to insure it.
He runs to the police station and reports the theft to recently divorced Chief Lambiase. He admits everyone he knows is aware that he had the book. The police find no prints and the investigation goes nowhere. A.J. knows he’ll never see the book again.
After news of the theft gets out, Island Bookstore’s business picks up. After a day of rather difficult customers, A.J. closes the store and goes running. He doesn’t bother to lock the door. He doesn’t have anything worth locking up anymore.
J.J.’s review of Bret Harte’s Story “The Luck of Roaring Camp” introduces this chapter. In his review, he calls it an “Overly sentimental tale of a mining camp that adopts an ‘Ingin baby’ whom they dub Luck.” He admits not liking it much in college, but that it had brought him to tears as an adult.
When A.J. returns from his run, he hears cries coming from the children’s section. As he investigates the source, he sees a toddler holding the store’s only copy of Where the Wild Things Are. As A. J. asks her where her mother is, she cries and holds out her arms to him. Of course, he picks her up. Then he sees the Elmo doll on the floor with a note attached. The child is two-year-old Maya and the mother wants her to be raised in the bookstore.
A.J. reports the abandoned child to Chief Lambiase. Lambiase and A. J. decide that A.J. will keep the child until Monday when social services will arrive. The next day, the mother’s body washes to shore.
Are you wondering
What will happen to Maya?
Who is Maya’s father?
What happened to Tamerlane?
It’s fairly easy to guess the answers to the first two questions. The clues are there. As to the last, I don’t want to be a spoiler.
I will admit I loved the book, but I didn’t love all the characters. The author introduces Maya’s father early in the book. I didn’t like him then and didn’t change my opinion. He appeared in the book long before A.J. found Maya.
Grief and loss appear in many forms: bereavement, infidelity, suicide, terminal illness, and material loss. Yet there is also love. We watch as love for Maya transforms A. J. Fikry as surely as “Luck” transformed a mining camp’s residents.
Bibliophiles, writers, and booksellers will relate to A. J.’s constant references to and opinions of well-known books. He also describes events in his own life in terms of writing techniques and plots. Booksellers will be quite familiar with the problem customers Fikry deals with. They may or may not share his opinion of book signing parties.
All parents of toddlers will relate to the challenge that faces A.J. as he learns to care for Maya. Foster and adoptive parents will enjoy watching A. J. interact with Jenny, the young social worker who is stuck with Maya’s complicated case. By this time Maya and A.J. had developed a relationship. He was not ready to put her in the system unless he had a say in her placement. You can imagine how that went.
There is too much gold in the book to display in this small space. The characters are very well-developed. Several subplots and characters I have not described will also captivate readers. I loved the book even more the second time I read it. Please don’t miss this treasure if you love people or books.
Don’t miss our other reviews that also deal with how people face grief and loss.
One of my challenges is that if I read a lot, I don’t always have time to stop and review a book I’ve finished, and these books tend to pile up because reading is more relaxing than writing about what I just read.
I finally read the Girl with the Dragon Tattooand I wish I hadn’t. Although I enjoy mysteries, I don’t enjoy people being tortured and mutilated as recreation. If you like thrillers, this is likely to keep your spine tingling, especially near the conclusion .
Much of the book is set in Sweden. The two main characters are Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who was convicted of libel, and a brilliant but unconventional helper, Lisbeth Salander, who is a genius at internet research, legal and illegal, and a master analyzer of the data she finds. Mikael has been hired by a wealthy Swede, Vanger, with a large and dysfunctional family to find out who in his family killed his missing niece years ago. Mikael is to live on the Vanger estate under the pretense of writing a biography of Vanger, with access to most of the family.
The only character I liked very much in this book was Lisbeth, who was a ward of the state whose appointed guardian was raping her as a condition for giving her access to some of her money. The only part of the book I sort of enjoyed was when Lisbeth used her wits to fight back and get her revenge and get free of him.
I pretty much agree with this New York Times review of the book. It shows me again that being on the Best Seller List does not mean a book is worth the time spent reading it. It seems to me that too many people are putting poison into their brains. I will not read more by this author. But if you don’t mind rape and torture scenes as a mystery is solved, and seeing some sexually abusive sadists in action, you might be able to stomach this better than I did. To each his own. I don’t recommend it.
I recently finished The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King. I checked it out from the library because I needed a book to take to a waiting room and my Kindle battery was dead. It’s another book I think was a waste of my time. The major problem was that the characters were not developed very well and I didn’t really care about any of them.
The plot was also unrealistic, at least to me. It was set in San Francisco, and the victim, William Gilbert, was an eccentric Sherlock Holmes fan whose living room was like a replica of Holme’s Victorian sitting room. The murder appears to be related to a manuscript Gilbert believed was an undiscovered Sherlock Holmes story by Doyle and he was trying to authenticate it when he was murdered. Suspects included his friends in the Sherlockian Dinner Club that met once a month, some of whom knew about the manuscript and had even read it.
The manuscript described a murder that very much resembled Gilbert’s murder, right down to the place the body was discovered. The reader is treated to a chance to read it along with Detective Kate Martinelli – a story within a story. Unfortunately, when I read this I wasn’t in the mood for long descriptive passages, intricate subplots, and having to work to keep all the characters straight. To top it off, I’m not a Sherlock Holmes fan. There was just nothing in this book to grab my attention and make me care. I finished it because I had started it, but I had to force myself. The book gets mixed reviews on Amazon. I suppose we get out of a book what we bring to it. If you like all things Sherlock Holmes, this book may interest you more than it did me.
I was more interested in Elliott Roosevelt’s mystery novels. I just learned they were actually written and researched by William Harrington, who also wrote novels I’ve read listing Margaret Truman as the author. I just did a bit of research on both Ellliott Roosevelt and William Harrison and have concluded neither is someone I would enjoy knowing.
Harrison was a competent researcher, and from what I’ve read in memoirs of other figures mentioned in Murder in Georgetown, many incidents mentioned may well be true. They are certainly realistic, except for the part about Eleanor Roosevelt getting personally involved in solving murders.
Much of the book was set in the White House in 1935. Prohibition has ended, but it’s obvious the White House didn’t take it very seriously even when it was law. We meet Joseph Kennedy, who sees that the White House always gets the best booze when it’s important, and the author often brings him into the story .
A major part of the plot turns out to be bank corruption at the highest level. The real killer of Sargent Peavey, a member of the federal treasury board, tries to frame a young Jewess, Jessica Dee, who had been smuggled into the country from Poland. Mrs. Roosevelt had recommended Senator Huey Long hire Jessica as a secretary. Since he was F.D.R.’s main political opponent, Eleanor was hoping Jessica could keep her informed about what was happening in Long’s office.
When Jessica was arrested for Peavey’s murder because her earring was found at the scene, and some other non-conclusive evidence, Mrs. Roosevelt works with the detectives to try to find the real killer. She doesn’t believe for a moment Jessica is guilty,
The reader witnesses some of the political intrigue behind the scenes in the Roosevelt White House and is party to the local gossip. We learn that politicians and the people who are involved with them are as crooked as we suspected.
I learned outside this book that Elliott himself, the credited author and the son of Eleanor and F.D.R, was involved in his own share of scandal, and that was not fiction. He ( and Harrington as well) probably shared the casual morals of his characters. It seemed most characters believed it didn’t matter what you did, as long as you were discreet enough so that no one who wasn’t supposed to know ever found out. Jessica could have been cleared much earlier had she been willing to reveal whom she had been with when two of the three murders with the same weapon had been committed.
This was not a thriller – just a picture of discrete police investigations, including some in the White House, and some visits to dives and dark alleys. The reader sees more questioning than dangerous pursuits of criminals. I prefer novels like this that let me see what the investigators see so I can draw my own conclusions and see if I was right. In this case, I had it solved by the time the police did, though I didn’t have all the motivations until the last scenes.
This book is out of print and there are some cheap copies left on Amazon as I write this. If you enjoy murder mysteries with some political intrigue set in the White House, I think you might enjoy Murder in Georgetown. Since I’m currently so busy, I was glad that I could read a couple of chapters at a time to relax without feeling I had to rush to the end. If you need a real page-turner, this is isn’t it, but it’s just right if you want to take reading breaks during the day and be able to go back to what you were doing without being frustrated.
Don’t start reading The Silent Reporter unless you have time to finish it the same day. I couldn’t put it down. The characters were introduced scene by scene and at first the scenes seemed unrelated. But you saw the relationship by the time you knew who everyone was. To make it easy, I will introduce them all at once here.
Cast of Main Characters
Hyder Ali, American-born Muslim of Pakistani descent, who works as temporary reporter at The Daily Times
Lester Glasgow, works at the technology desk at the The Daily Times, Hyder’s friend
Caroline Dunny, Hyder’s boss, AKA Dunny the Killer Bunny
Amanda Hansborough, an accountant at TriGate Management Group, whom we see die in an auto accident when her brakes fail
Peter Hansborough, Amanda’s husband
Tom Nolan, a police officer whose wife died in that same accident who had turned into a alcoholic since his wife’s death and been on leave from the police force
Police Captain ‘Rudy” Ross, who cares for Tom and wants to see him back on the force
Sergeant Doug Halton, Nolan’s supervisor on the Franklin Police Force, who would love to fire him if Ross would let him.
Detective Angelo Pascale, who despises Nolan and wants him fired
Detective Marina Lopez, who is sympathetic to Nolan, and has his back.
Jessica Freeland, daughter of Professor Eric Freeland, who was found hanging in his home, an apparent suicide.
Charles Marshall, CEO of TriGate Management, which had just been awarded a 1.2 billion dollar contract to build an extension for the city nuclear reactor plant. Nolan had seen the announcement on television when he was drinking at a bar.
Ian Marshall, son of Charles
Terry Scott, President of TriGate ManagementGroup
“Grant” the “fixer” of problems for the Marshalls and TriGate Management
Hyder’s widowed mother, whom he calls Ammi
Hyder’s brother Akbar, a doctor
John Kroft, Jr., Publisher of the The Daily Times
The author brings the characters together in such a way that they advance the plot bit by bit until you begin see it coming together. There are plenty of clues you can grab along the way to the plot’s resolution. Several themes run through the book. As you read, you will probably be rooting for some characters and hoping to see others get their comeuppance. I was most drawn to Tom Nolan and Capt. Ross. I wanted to boo or hiss every time Haldon, Grant or Marshall appeared after I had first met them.
Tom Nolan is an alcoholic detective. He had been headed for a very successful police career because before his wife’s death he had been an excellent detective. After her death he had fallen apart and turned to the bottle, hoping to drink himself to death. After almost a year’s absence, Ross had gone to his house to get him when he wouldn’t answer his phone calls. He had to break his window with a rock to make him finally open the door. He told Nolan to come back to work and clean himself up. Ross would not take no for an answer. Ross let Nolan know he considered him valuable enough to save, even when Nolan could see nothing good in himself.
Nolan’s first case back back at work was to investigate the death of Professor Eric Freeman, reported as a suicide. Freeman had been a mentor to Hyder when he was a student, and Hyder just couldn’t believe it was a suicide. Jessica Freeland couldn’t believe it either. Even Nolan saw a couple of signs that weren’t consistent with suicide, but he was still not completely himself, and when asked to make a decision, he called for the coroner, and handled it as a suicide.
Hyder and Jessica try to convince Nolan it was a murder, but he said he had no proof, so the two work together to try to figure it out themselves. Then Jessica notices she is being watched by someone in a black sedan. She tells Hyder.
We then see Ian Marshall in his mansion discussing Freeland’s death with Grant, who was responsible for it. They wonder aloud if anyone else knows too much. Grant says he’s keeping an eye on Jessica.
Most of the book deals with the investigation. When Nolan is pressured by Halton to close the case in three days or prove it wasn’t a suicide, he takes another serious look at the file. He sees the coroner’s report somehow is missing from the file so he talks to the coroner. Nolan is told someone had picked up the report to hand deliver, but the signature of the one who picked it up was undecipherable, and it had never arrived.
A talk with the coroner revealed that the death was not consistent with suicide. Nolan remembered he inconsistencies he had seen and he retrieved he evidence he had removed from the scene he had filed away. He let Jessica and Hyder know he now agreed with them, and they began to work together to share information. You will have to read the book to see how they finally pieced the solution together.
The second theme is the author’s attempt to portray how an American Muslim family practices its religion in everyday life. This is shown in the scenes that take place in Hyder’s home, which becomes the meeting place for Nolan, Jessica, and Hyder to work on the case. Hyder found it strange that his mother, who wore traditional Muslim dress, prayed five times a day, and regularly read the Quran, could enjoy watching figure skaters in skimpy, tight costumes dance on the ice in front of crowds (on TV.) She had told him “It didn’t matter how someone lived, talked, ate, or even worshiped. What mattered was how they lived their lives.”
Another quote deals with Hyder’s perception of the Muslim view of suicide: “Contrary to what was reported on the news, suicide was also not permitted in Islam. Life was a gift from God and no one had the right to take it away except for God.”
Hyder had talked with Freeland (who was Jewish) “about Islamist suicide bombers and they both had agreed that no God, no matter from what religion, would accept the death of innocent people in his name.” This may be true, but it may also be true that Muslim views on who is innocent may differ both from those of other Muslims and from non-Muslims.
It is clear that the author wants readers to see Islam as a religion not much different than Judaism. “Freeland was Jewish and Hyder was Muslim, but they both shared a common trait: a love for God and an appreciation of his people.”
The third element in this novel is the rehabilitation of Tom Nolan. The beginning of the book vividly shows us the despair and pain Tom suffers and his degradation as he continues to rely on alcohol. We see it is only Ross’s belief in him that makes him drag himself back down to the police department.
We see many scenes that portray his grief. His wife, Simone, had been five months pregnant when she was killed. Her accident was caused in the aftermath of the accident that had killed Amanda. In one scene he is in their bedroom and almost kills himself, but couldn’t go through with it. He sees their wedding rings on top of the dresser.
Nolan kissed her ring and held it tight in his hand.The tighter he held it,the more he felt like he was holding herBut this was not true. She was gone, leaving behind the object that was once a sign of their love.
He then replays in his head the last day of his wife’s life and his reaction of denial when he got the call that she was dead and he had to identify her. When he saw her body, he stopped wanting to live. Though he couldn’t make himself take his own life, he hoped either the alcohol or another person would kill him.
During the course of the year he was on leave, Tom occasionally drives by the Hansborough house and watches Peter with his children. He wonders how Peter can laugh again and live like a normal person when he can’t. He thinks it’s because Peter has his children. Tom has no one. He can’t bear to go into the room of his house that was to be the nursery for his unborn child.
Nolan finally collects his “marbles’ as he decides he will give his all to solving the case of Freeland’s death, which he now believes is a murder. By the end of the book you see that Ross’s faith in him was justified. He demonstrates he is still a sharp detective, and a brave one. Of course it helps that he isn’t afraid to die and that he is convinced the same people who killed Freeland also are also responsible for his wife’s death, and he wants them brought to justice.
It seems the protagonist or a main character of almost every noveI I have read recently has either been molested or abused as a child or both. I almost feel like an anomaly for having had a normal childhood with two parents who stayed married to each other, loved me, and protected me. As I read these novels, I’m also very grateful I had this kind of childhood. Leilani (Lei) Texeira had been abused as a child. Her mother had preferred drugs to mothering after her husband Wayne had gotten her hooked and then been sent to prison for dealing drugs when Lei was five. Charlie Kwon had moved in with her mother and molested Lei for six months, often when she was bathing. As Lei put it, ‘Charlie’d had a way of getting to her, twisting everything he did to her into something she’d wanted.’ When Charlie broke up with Lei’s mom, she overdosed, and Lei was sent to live with her Aunty Rosario in California when she was nine. It was the best thing that ever happened to her. But she continued to have flashbacks to the bathtub scenes throughout Blood Orchids.
When we meet Lei in the first book of the Lei Crime Series, Blood Orchids (Lei Crime Book 1), she is a rookie in the South Hilo Police Department in Hawaii. She is pulling a young woman’s body out of the water as her partner, Pono, is phoning in her grisly discovery. After Lei pulls a second girl from the water it is evident they have been murdered, and Detective Michael Stevens, from Los Angeles, and his partner Jeremy Ito, are put in charge of the case.
Lei isn’t happy about that. Since she discovered the bodies, she wants to be involved in helping to find the murderer. Finally, Stevens allows her to help since the help he has requested from other departments has not been given. Lei and Stevens spend more time together as the case unfolds. As the book (and series) progresses, much of it deals with the growing attraction between Lei and Michael Stevens.
Meanwhile, Lei has discovered she has a stalker who puts threatening notes in her mailbox and on her porch. Even though she has a security system and a pet Rottweiler, Keiki, she is still afraid. She wonders if her neighbor, Tom Watanabe is her stalker since she thinks he looks at her in a creepy way. The reader sees several possible suspects besides Tom. I’m not going to spoil the book for you by mentioning them, but I did suspect the right people. I like that the author gave me enough clues to figure out who the killer was.
We see the murder of Mary, another woman police officer and a friend and classmate of Lei before the killer lets readers know that Lei herself will be his next target. I have trouble with books like this because they use a technique that builds suspense to the point that I can’t handle it. The reader knows from almost the beginning that a serial killer is responsible for the deaths of the two girls Lei and Pono found drowned.
Throughout the book there are passages where the killer speaks (in italics), savoring his mementos from his victims and the photos of them he has so carefully posed. He also lets the reader know ahead of time that there will soon be another killing and in some cases, who it will be. I’m sure this technique appeals to some readers who enjoy the suspense and the anticipation of the next murder. I don’t. I prefer books where the body is found and the detectives go to work methodically to find the killer as we follow in their steps and think with them. In this book, the reader knows more than the police. I empathize too much and can’t stand knowing a character I’ve gotten to know is going to be grabbed and probably killed and that I will have to watch it happen.
Were it not for that, I would have found the book a fast-moving and entertaining escape. I just don’t consider being scared over and over entertaining the way some people do. I did enjoy the interaction between Lei and Pono and watching the romance between Lei and Stevens develop.
Lei has frequent flashbacks to the abuse she faced as a child, and what happened back then affects her ability to trust Stevens and her ambivalence creates tension. Stevens considers Lei’s willingness to take initiative in her work a strong point. She is also impulsive, though, and takes unnecessary risks.
At one point when she thinks her stalker has just put a note on her porch when she’s already dressed for bed, she turns Keiki loose and pursues on foot — a really dumb thing to do. It doesn’t end happily, and it results in her being disciplined by her boss and being forced into counseling. The counseling turns out to be a good thing. It continues into the second book after Lei has begun to see its value
I am about halfway through the second book in the series, Torch Ginger (Lei Crime Book 2). I don’t think I will be able to finish it because the inner stress it produces in me is worse than even that in Blood Orchids. That same technique of letting the killer share his thoughts is used there, and Lei continues to take off on risky solo investigations on her own that could get her killed. I just can’t bear to follow her this time. I’m sorry I’ll have to forego finding out what happens next in Lei’s relationship with Stevens and that I won’t find out if I’m right about the identity
I just can’t bear to follow her this time. I’m sorry I’ll have to forego finding out what happens next in Lei’s relationship with Stevens and that I won’t find out if I’m right about the identity of the mysterious Timekeeper. I would recommend this series to those who relish suspense and thrive on thrillers. The police detective work is thorough and chances are you will predict the killer if you pay attention to the clues the author lets you see. Toby Neal knows how to create a mood that draws the reader into the book from the first page.
Despite my resistance to the suspense leading to witnessing violence, Blood Orchids (Lei Crime Book 1) kept me turning the pages, and I couldn’t put it down even when I wanted to. The author made me care about so much about the characters that I may sneak to the end of Torch Ginger (Lei Crime Book 2)
just to see what happens. I suspect Lei will find herself in a very dangerous position it will take all her strength and survival instincts to get out of. I don’t want to watch, which is why I’ll skip the dramatic build-up and climax and just see how it is all resolved. In spite of the past pain in her life, Lei is a very caring detective who wants justice for the victims of the vicious. I think you will enjoy getting to know her.
Few of the several books I read each week meet my expectations. Allison (A Kane Novel) by Steve Gannon, exceeded them. I was engaged from the very first page.
We meet Alison (Ali) when she is almost twenty, a UCLA student planning to transfer to SC for her junior year in order to study journalism. We also learn she was raped when she was sixteen during a robbery in her home when her parents and older brothers were out, and she had kept the experience to herself for a year. Then she had finally told her parents and the police. She had sworn her younger brother, Nate, who was there at home with her when it happened, to secrecy. The fact that she had kept the secret for a year had broken a bond of trust with her parents. She had finally mended that bond with her father, but not her mother. Her relationship with her mother was still edgy and fraught with conflict. That conflict is a constant undertone in the plot.
Allison’s mother, Catheryne (Kate) and older brother, Travis, are both talented musicians. Her father, Daniel Kane, is supervising homicide detective for the West Los Angeles Division of the LAPD. Her oldest brother, Tom, had been killed in a rock-climbing accident. Nate, the youngest in the family, is fourteen, and very likable and expressive. He is loyal, and though he can get very angry, he also is quick to forgive.
The book opens with Allison’s early morning jog around the UCLA campus. She lived in a private dorm that had once been a sorority house, and very close to Hershey Hall, the dorm where I had lived for a semester in 1962. I rather enjoyed following Ali around the campus past the places I had frequented myself. I could identify with her choosing the botanical gardens as a place to retreat, since I often sought refuge there myself.
When she returned to the dorm, she wrote a rough draft for a Daily Bruin article with a rapidly approaching deadline, and then she worked on her novel. She wasn’t quite sure why she was writing the novel, since she never intended to show it to anyone.
About 9:45, as she was changing to rush to her 10:00 literature class, she got a call from her best friend MacKenzie (Mac), just back from Dartmouth, who pressured her into going to Newport Beach with her for some relaxation. She tried to say no because she didn’t want to ditch her class, but Mac wouldn’t accept it. In fact, Mac was already parked outside ready to scoop up Ali and take her away. So off they went. Mac made no secret of hoping to see a lifeguard she had a crush on, and she was also hoping to get Ali interested in someone at Newport Beach. Ali had never told Mac about the rape, so Mac had no idea why Ali wasn’t interested in dating.
The time at the beach turned out much differently than either of the girls expected. Mike Cortese, a videographer and reporter for Channel 2 TV News, happened to be on the beach. He was filming the gigantic waves, but was hoping to find someone in the water as a visual reference for their size. He had noticed Ali and Mac, who were both very attractive, when they arrived at the beach.
He had also seen two girls who had ignored life guard warnings head into the deep water. They were having trouble making it back to the beach. A third girl was also in danger, separated from the other two. A lifeguard appeared just as Mike was about to jump in, and a second lifeguard was also coming. Mike knew he wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to help much, so he grabbed his camera again and started taping the rescue efforts.
Two of the lifeguards were busy trying to save the two visible girls when Mike spotted the third girl, far from shore, face down in the water. There was no way the lifeguards in the water would reach her in time. Then Mike saw Ali jump in. The author then switches to write in Ali’s voice and follows her thoughts as she almost drowns rescuing that third girl.
When she was just about at the end of her strength, help arrives in the form of a yellow lifeguard vessel. Ali and the rescued girl are finally both gotten aboard and taken to shore to the waiting crowd and medical personnel. Mike had gotten all the action with his video camera, and Ali became the heroine of the day. She did not want the publicity, and wouldn’t give Mike her name. Before she could leave, the sheriff wanted to interview her.
By the time she returned, Mac had already told Mike who she was. She had also told Mike that Ali wanted to be a journalist, and Mike said he might be able to help her — maybe get her an intern position with Channel Two. All Ali really wanted right then was to go home and change and get to the BBQ at her parents’ beach home in Malibu.
Meanwhile, a teenage star in a popular TV series, Jordan French, is reported missing and is later found dead. Ali’s father is put on the case.
Mike keeps his promise to talk to people at his station about an internship for Ali, but her appearance in Mike’s televised report on the rescue has already made Ali well-known. CBS was impressed by her “performance” and hires her as a paid assistant. Her interviewer (later boss) turns out to be a woman with whom Ali’s father had once had an affair. Although the affair is long over, Ali is not thrilled with telling her mother and father about this new position — especially since she dropped out of her classes to take the job so she puts off telling them. This further deteriorates the trust issue with her parents when they do find out, since she made these decisions without talking to them first.
As the book developed, I couldn’t put it down. There is constant conflict between Ali and her parents over Ali’s becoming what her father considers one of the media “scumbags” who interfere with his work. Ali tries to prove to her mother that becoming a journalist is more important to her than her creative writing. Catheryne is convinced Ali’s true talent is in her creative writing, and Ali should put her effort there. Catheryne doesn’t think much of journalism, especially TV journalism. Both parents are upset that Ali has quit school.
Although Ali loves her older brother Travis, who is an extremely talented pianist and composer, she is also jealous of his talent and his relationship with their musically talented mother. Ali loves her parents, too, but always seems to be at odds with them. Everything comes to a head when the family learns that Catheryne has leukemia.
Interwoven in the family drama is the growing relationship between Ali and Mike. Ali is still afraid to trust men. Just as it appears she is about to trust Mike, his “friend” Brent Preston, who actually got Ali her job at CBS, , betrays them both and destroys that trust.
The attempt to find Jordan’s murderer strains Ali’s relationship with her father even more. She is under constant pressure from Brent and her boss at CBS to reveal information on the case that she shouldn’t even know. A couple of leaks in the news threaten Daniel Kane’s job, raising the stress level between father and daughter once more.
I will leave it to you to discover how it all comes together at the end as Catheryn tries hard to cling to her life. Ali, who had the closest match, had donated her bone marrow to Catheryne but it appears the transplant may be rejected. As the family gathers to support Catheryne during the transplant and its aftermath, everyone has to deal with powerful emotions as they realize she is very likely to die. Yet even then, Ali can’t avoid conflict with her mother. The reader is as tense as the family members and also wants Ali to make peace with her mother quickly, before it’s too late.
The book’s characters were people I would enjoy meeting, with one exception — Brent. I have said the least about Brent because it’s really better to form your own conclusions after seeing him in action. All the characters who play major roles are well-developed and will remind you of people you actually know. I’m sure you know someone like Brent — unfortunately.
The twists in the plot will keep you turning the pages. The murder mystery is logically solved and I enjoyed knowing I’d identified the killer early on. The point is well made that even if your prime suspect seems to be guilty, it takes systematic work to prove that guilt and gain a conviction. I appreciate an author who lets me think with the detectives instead of springing a surprise twist on me at the end. I’m looking forward to reading more from Steve Gannon. I hope there is a sequel to Allison (A Kane Novel)
Today I will offer my fellow bookworms an assortment of mini-reviews on the most recent mysteries I have read. First, though, are some things you should know about my personal reading tastes so you can determine how similar yours might be
I tend to like mysteries that focus on police detectives or professional PI’s but a couple of my favorite authors feature amateur sleuths and/or cats. Among these are the Midnight Louie series and the Benni Harper series. Both feature amateurs who seem to always be finding bodies in the course of their everyday lives and feel compelled to find out who killed them with or without police cooperation, and I love both these series. I think it’s because the characters are intelligent people and don’t take as many stupid risks or engage in the silliness I’ve seen in some cozy mysteries.
I don’t like reading a lot of profanity but will tolerate some if consistent with the characters’ otherwise likable personalities. I don’t want to read page after page of it, though. Neither do I enjoy a lot of bedroom scenes — especially those that seem to be there for no good reason that contributes to the plot. I would prefer to follow the process of solving the crime and not have to see violence, blood, and gore unless it helps me in trying to figure out who the murderer is.
I read a lot of Christian inspirational fiction, but have discovered it is not all of equal quality. For example, I did not get much inspiration from Tears Fall at Night even though many people say they did. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer, since it showed how a consistent witness of walking the walk may be the best way to win over someone who is resistant to preaching. I found the characters believable and enjoyed getting to know them.
Now that you know where I’m coming from with regard to fiction, here are some comments on my recent reading.
52 Steps to Murder by Steve Demaree
52 Steps to Murder (Book 1 Dekker Cozy Mystery Series)
by Steve Demaree , was clean, as far as mysteries go, but slow moving, especially at the beginning. The detectives, Cy and Lou, were Christians and prayed each morning before they left their homes. Lou often received a “word from God” each morning that usually turned out to be a clue in solving the case. I wish, though, that these men had also paid attention to the Scriptures that told them how to treat their bodies.
I felt that Cy Dekker, lead detective for the Hilldale Police Department, and his partner, Lou Murdock, were not all that concerned about their lack of fitness and their tendency to overeat. Cy made a big deal out of how difficult it was to climb the 52 stairs to the hilltop homes he often needed to visit during the investigation. This was humorous, but also a bit pathetic. I understand though, that on the detectives’ schedule, a fitness program and healthy meals weren’t always practical. I suppose the author also thought the humor helped break the tedium of climbing all the stairs each day.
Another source of humor was Cy’s ongoing effort to escape from his unattractive single neighbor who lay in wait for him with her little poodle Twinkle Toes every morning as he left for work. Although these encounters offered comic relief, it still bothered me that Cy had no problem insulting Heloise Humphert at each encounter. It was also unbelievable that any woman would act the way Heloise did in misinterpreting everything Cy did and said. I have to admit, though, that these encounters did relieve some of the book’s tension. I’m sure that’s the real reason Demaree included them. I just think it detracts from the image of Cy and Lou as Christians.
The mystery itself involved two women who had been poisoned, but the timetable was such that it seemed to eliminate everyone who could have committed the crime. That is it did until the detectives learned of the underground tunnels that were common knowledge among the neighbors. Suspects had many ways to come and go unseen by anyone. I won’t spoil the ending, but I was interested enough to keep reading. I probably will read more in this series. This isn’t as exciting as the In Death Series by J. D. Robb, but I’ve read far worse detective novels than this. The investigative work was very thorough.
My first introduction to the Dekker Cozy Mystery series was
I downloaded this free from Amazon. It was first published in 1906 and is now in the public domain. If you are only used to reading literature written in the past few decades, you might find the manners and language in this book a bit antiquated. After a few pages of reading, however, I expect you will be drawn into the book.
We meet young medical school graduate James Elliot on the road walking from his home village of Gresham 25 miles to the village of Alton, where he will begin his practice of small town medicine assisting Doctor Thomas Gordon (‘Doc’). He will live in the doctor’s home, along with the doctor’s widowed sister and her daughter.
James soon discovers that everyone seems to have secrets they are keeping from each other, and you will become as curious to learn them as James is. There is the hint of the first one when James meets a lovely young woman on his way to Alton and rescues her from a mysterious man who seems to embody evil. It turns out that she is Clemency, Doc Gordon’s niece, and they will meet again in the doctor’s house. James realizes he should act like he is meeting her there for the first time. There are several more encounters with the mystery man to come, and it’s obvious that Clemency must be kept out of his sight, but we don’t learn why until the end of the book.
Another theme in this book was the illness of the doctor’s sister, Mrs. Ewing. James could tell she was ill, but Doc denied it when James asked what was wrong. I was surprised that near the end of the book, the author dealt with the moral dilemma posed by assisted suicide.
James, Doc, Clemency, and Mrs. Ewing are all decent people. The last three suffer because of all the secrets surrounding them and their past pain. They care about the ethics and morals of their day, though Doc often tries to escape his pain with Apple Jack.
This book may not appeal to modern readers, but once I got into it I found it hard to put it down. It certainly doesn’t cost anything to download the free eBook and decide for yourself if it’s worth reading. Just click the book image above to get to a download page.
That’s enough books for one post. I’d be interested in your opinions if you have read any of these. Feel free to comment. My taste may be different from yours, but not necessarily better. Reading is a personal experience.