Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles

I don’t usually do this but this time it is necessary! Spoiler Alert: Do not read this review if you have not already read the previous books- Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree!

Mississippi Blood is the final installment in the trilogy that Iles began seven years ago. Set in Natchez, Mississippi the sereis features Penn Cage, a former prosecutor and now mayor of this small, struggling city in the south. His father, Tom, is a doctor and a prominent and well loved member of both the white and black communities. But all of his accomplishments and his reputation are on the line for Tom is now accused of murdering his former lover, a black nurse named Viola who came back to Natchez suffering from an incurable illness.

But there are many secrets beneath the surface of this town. Secrets that are threatened now by Tom’s trial and by Penn’s efforts to help gather facts to support Tom’s defense. The secret of Tom and Viola’s affair is of course shocking to Penn, but he is more concered about Viola’s son who claims he is tom’s son and now seeks vengeance for his abandonment. But there are other secrets as well, such as Tom’s connections with a mob boss who might have had something to do with John F. Kennedy’s assassination, or what Tom knew about the killing of two young civil right’s activists, one of whom was Viola’s brother. As the layers of secrets get stripped away, the role of the Double Eagles, a white supremacist militia group, becomes more and more clearly defined and the Double Eagles step up their efforts to intimidate and terrorize Penn and his family to prevent Tom and Penn from revealing the extent of their crimes. But there are also the personal secrets that have been carried within Penn’s family. Why won’t Tom let his son, an experienced lawyer, help with his defense and what did his mother know about Tom’s affair?

Essentially this is a book about secrets and how they corrupt our relationships in ways that we cannot fully understand. There are the personal secrets that we carry to protect our spouse and our children or friends and then there are the secrets that society carries, hiding the inequality and the injustice that those in power impose on the weak and the voiceless. Iles has created a modern indictment of this kind of social secrecy, holding up the injustice, the lack of civil liberties and the numbing brutality that this kind of secrecy perpetuates. As Iles said in an interview on NPR,  “All my books are an inquiry into the nature of evil. Why do good people do bad things? Are any human beings completely evil? Do we all have good within us? That’s what I’m interested in.” Iles has plumbed the depths of good and evil in this series and has made us confront our own capacity for both.   Reading this book after the events of Charlottesville made me realize how relevant his books are and how much farther we have to go to find ways to search out, expose and  atone for this kind of evil.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to? Marian, Sharon, Keith and Ken

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

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Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

About a month ago my older daughter texted me saying, Meddling Kids is hilarious. Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo flashbacks galore. With a lot more ass kicking!”  I think that just about sums it up. This book is a totally delicious nostalgic romp through the best cartoon shows and books of childhood but edgier and with some “bad words,” making it a totally grown up read!

In the summer of 1977, the Blyton Summer Detective Club composed of Andy, the tomboy Kerri, the genius, and her dog Sean, along with Nate, the horror nerd,  and Peter the handsome jock, solved their last case.  Officially they were credited with unmasking the low life fortune hunter who had been “haunting” Deboën Mansion, and he might have gotten away with a small fortune if it hadn’t been for these kids and their meddling.

Now it is 1990 and the tight little group has scattered and no longer keeps in touch. But Andy, who has been haunted by strange visions and disturbing memories of what happened in the summer of 1977, finally decides that it is time to reunite with the members of the Detective Club and see if they can’t find closure for the things they experienced so long ago.  Driving her decrepit car to New York, Andy, who is wanted by the law in two states, arrives at Kerri’s door step, to persuade her to join in her plan.  It quickly becomes clear that Andy is not the only one dealing with the aftermath of what they experienced that summer. Keri, who had shown such great promise as a scientist is now drinking her days away while her dog Tim, the great grandson of Sean, watches stoically. Kerri, after much persuasion falls in with the plan and the two women make their way to the asylum where Nate has committed himself. Unbeknownst to the two women, Nate continues to have periodic contact with Peter,  even though Peter, a rising star in Hollywood, committed suicide quite a few years earlier.  A further indication that whatever happened to them as children has had lasting ill effects! After busting Nate out of the asylum, the newly reconstituted Detective Club heads for Blyton Hills to confront their fears and whatever demons still linger there.

Cantero hits all the right notes in this funny, scary and addictive story.  It is an incredibly risky feat, because one false note, or one to many campy references could make what is charming and nostalgic, into something treacly and yawn inducing. The characters although somewhat loosely based on well known characters from childhood, avoid being caricatures and are fully defined in their own right. Smart and sassy dialogue and an engrossing plot line round out an exciting, fun and very satisfying update to those wonderful memories of childhood!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to? Keith, Ken, Marian, Lauren and Sharon

Book Study Worthy! Yes!

Read in ebook format.

 

 

Posted in Detective novel, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Series, Suspense | 1 Comment

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I needed a feel good, uplifting, “everything will turn out fine” kind of book recently. Not surprising, given the events of the last few weeks.  I was looking through my “To Read” list and this book with its quirky title caught my attention and it turned out to be a serendipitous and life affirming choice!  Funny, quirky, with a heroine who is brave beyond words, this book with a supporting cast of characters who make you laugh, cry makes you believe in the essential goodness and kindness of humanity.

Contrary to the title Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine. Living on her own, now, after being either in foster care or state institutions for most of her life,  she has a decent job and a plant and that is about it. She has achieved these things with strict timetables and rigid control, but with her limited social skills and supercilious demeanor she is the object of much eye rolling and ridicule from her fellow employees. On weekends, however, the control slips and she spends much of her time in a drunken stupor trying to block out some terror from her past.

Eleanor might have maintained this life for quite sometime if it wasn’t for the the old man who fell right in front of her and a co-worker named Raymond. Galvanized by this incident Raymond and Eleanor are able to help the elderly man get to the hospital and stay with him until his family arrives. In some strange way, this incident pulls Eleanor out of the cocoon of her existence, forcing her to interact with and engage the world in ways that she had not done before. Raymond, bumbling and unhygienic, is hardly the kind of person that Eleanor ever thought she would have anything to do with, but she is suddenly pulled into his orbit, meeting his mother, and going with him to visit Sammy, the elderly man they rescued.

But these new experiences threaten to open the doors to a past that she has long held in abeyance with carefully constructed barriers. Now Eleanor must choose to either engage the past, or to shut the door on her newly found entrance into a new and different life.

Honeyman has created the most engaging and off putting character that I have encountered in quite sometime. Eleanor is someone you would love to hate if you met her in real life, but as you encounter her in the book you see things from her perspective and that allows you to see her more empathetically.  Bumbling Raymond is the perfect foil for uptight Eleanor.  Eleanor silently nit picks and judges Raymond for all his perceived faults and yet at the same time begins to realize the many ways he is bringing new life to her otherwise limited and narrow existence. Like the characters in A Man Called Ove or The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, Eleanor Oliphant completely wins you over, restores your faith in humanity, affirms the innate resilience of individuals and helps us see the power in kindness and love.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to? Marian, Lauren, Sharon and Keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes  (There is a book study guide on Amazon!)

Read in ebook format.

 

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The Girl In Green by Derek Miller

Although this is a story about the war in Afghanistan, it is not easily categorized either as a war story, or an action thriller. Instead it is one of those books that slowly seeps into your consciousness and sits there, releasing its insights and power long after you have read it.

It is 1991. Dessert Storm is over and peace has been declared. Thomas Benton a British journalist has arrived to embed with the US military at Check Point Zulu, 100 miles from the Kuwaiti border. Benton gets to talking with one of the men on duty, a young man from the Midwest named Arwood Hobbes, who is naive and bored. Benton who has been wanting to actually visit on of the towns and villages to assess whether the peace is real or not, decides to leave the military encampment and after letting Hobbes know what he intends to do, begins walking to the nearby village.  But no sooner has Benton entered the village, a raid by the insurgents with helicopters and ground troops begins in the village and Benton is under fire and pinned down. Realizing what has happened Hobbes leaves his post and tries to find Hobbes in the midst of the shoot out.  Just as Hobbes finds Benton and they begin making their escape back to the US position, Hobbes sees a young girl in a green dress hiding behind some rubble in the street.  Realizing she is in the line of fire, Hobbes tries to rescue her but before he is able to make a move, a rocket lands right in front of her and when the smoke clears there is nothing left but a massive hole in the ground.

Twenty one years later, Benton gets a phone call from Hobbes. “I have found the girl in the green dress,” he says, “and this time we can save her.”

Derek Miller is an impressive story teller. Like Norwegian by Night, his previous book, he is able to take unlikely characters and breathe life and reality into them so that the reader can see them more fully and with empathy. Hobbes is a man on a quest that is quixotic to say the least, but instead of dismissing him, Miller helps us engage and to become sympathetic to what he is trying to achieve. Benton provides the perfect foil to the impulsive Hobbes. Steady, mature and after years as a journalist he is a true skeptic against Hobbes’ unwavering belief that he can make things right again. Written with a touch of humor and with powerful feeling, unusual in a book that is ostensibly an action thriller, Miller has given us an opportunity to ask the deeper questions about war, the impact on the soldiers who fight them and to give name to the “collateral damage” that is inherent in all such endeavors.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Keith, Marian, Sharon and Ken

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

 

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Exposure by Helen Dunmore

I think we have hit a new bar in evaluating books.  It used to be that if a book held my attention  it was a great book. But now with all the drama going on in the White House and in the world that low bar is not enough.  Now a book must hold my attention and keep me interested despite all the latest Twitter wars and other “Breaking News” that keep vying for my attention and outrage.  So it takes a great plot, fascinating characters and some very fine writing to keep me interested and this book by Helen Dunmore really excels in all categories!

It is a late evening in 1960 London.  Giles Holloway, recruited by Moscow as a spy many years ago, is trying to complete his latest communication in the small secret office he has in his apartment. He is photographing a top secret file from the government agency where he works that not only is not supposed to leave the office, but he is not cleared to see. Things are going well, until on his way down the stairs he falls and hurts himself very badly. Now he has a real dilemma.  He needs to go to the hospital but he needs to get the file back to the office before it is missed.  Completely out of options, Giles does the only thing his pain filled brain can come up with-he calls Simon Callington, a man he knew quite well many years ago and asks him to help him.

When Simon finally arrives at the hospital and hears Giles’ request he is reluctant to help, but in the end he finds himself in Giles’ apartment and takes the file.  But as soon as he sees that the file is highly classified, Simon gets suspicious and instead of taking it to the office he decides to buy some time and takes it home.  There he stashes a briefcase with the file in the front hall closet behind the boots and galoshes thinking it will be safe there while he figures out what to do.

Several days later Simon’s wife, Lilly finds the strange briefcase with the classified file while cleaning out the hall closet. Knowing that this has something to do with the trouble that Simon is in at work and wanting to remove it from their lives, she takes it out to the garden in the dead of night and buries it under the compost heap.

Told from varying points of view and with a interweaving plot that connects these disparate characters, Dunmore takes the spy novel genre to a new level and tells it from the point of view of regular people whose lives are torn apart by suspicion. Lilly is a wonderful character, who bears the brunt of the tragedy as it unfolds, trying to be strong for the children as the family is torn apart. Dunmore is a gifted writer, attune to the flaws and nuances in her characters and leaving us both surprised and satisfied in the end.

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 Out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Keith, Sharon, Marian and Ken

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Spy/Covert Operatives, Suspense, Thriller | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

My name is Kvothe.
 I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
 You may have heard of me.

 Who can resist a beginning like that? Not me, that is for sure! Welcome to the Kingkiller Chronicles, you will not be disappointed!

Kvothe is a young man of the Edema Ruh, a much maligned gypsy class of story tellers and entertainers. In his early teens his parents and their troupe were murdered by men with significant powers and strange markings on their hands.  Kvothe manages to escape the attack and once he has recovered sufficiently decides that his life mission is to avenge the death of his parents. Realizing that he is at a serious disadvantage since he knows nothing about the men who attacked his parents or the source and breadth of their powers, he decides that he must first learn all he can about them and sets off to go to the University. But Kvothe is more special than he knows, can get into more trouble than any young man should, and quickly finds himself an unlikely hero in many stories and songs that quickly spread throughout the land.

And that is what is unique about these books, because Rothfuss  deliberately places us in a small little inn in a small quiet corner of nowhere with a quiet unassuming innkeeper, who we slowly begin to realize is Kvothe himself and the Chronicler, who has come to write down down the back stories, the-behind-the-scenes-what-really-happened stories to the legends of Kvothe. This makes for such an interesting dynamic, because real stories are always more interesting than legend and an anti-hero is always more complex than a hero. As Kvothe, now a man in midlife, wearily recounts his adventures and his narrow escapes from death, or bodily harm by using his quick wit or limited powers we begin to wonder what has happened to his goal of avenging his parents and why he is holed up in this small village in the middle of nowhere seemingly content to being just an innkeeper? And it is that uncertainty and mystery that keep drawing us in, for we keep hearing these wonderful stories of Kvothe being so alive and vibrant and yet the person who is telling the stories about himself is just a shadow of what he once was.

Rothfuss is masterful at creating this alternate world where magic is still present but its power has lessened. Now only a few can call the wind or fire or anything else for that matter and their power is incomplete and their mastery erratic. His portrayal of Kvothe as a young man, irascible, supremely confident and fearless is all the more telling when juxtaposed to Kvothe as an older man who is cautious, unassuming and embraces the quiet routines of running the inn. Unexpected, well written and compelling these books (with at least one more promised!) are truly a unique window into the world of a reluctant but engaging anti-hero.

Brenda’s Rating: ****(4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian and Lauren

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Series, Suspense, Thriller | 4 Comments

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

I don’t know when I read my first Agatha Christie novel, but I remember it was life changing! I remember being thrilled that there were so many books to read and making a list so I could read them all. We can never replace Christie, but Magpie Murders comes pretty close to hitting all the notes that made Christie’s novels so satisfying and famous. It is set in a small English town, a famous author is murdered and there are only a hand full of suspects, but what makes Magpie Murders extra special is that it is a murder story within a murder story and they are interrelated and with many different layers of clues that must be followed to find out what happened.

Susan Ryeland is a editor for a mid-size publishing company in London. She has been the editor for Alan Conway and his Atticus Pünd detective series for quite awhile and they have just received his most recent manuscript. Taking it home over the weekend, she settles in to read this next installment of Conway’s very profitable series.  Like all of Conway’s books this one is also set in a small village in the English countryside in the early 1950’s. Pünd, whose German background makes him something of an outsider in England, is always being called on to assist the police in their inquiries and is soon caught up in the mysterious death of a local landowner, Sir Magnus Pye, whose decapitated body is found at Pye Hall.  Susan is soon engrossed in the story, trying to keep track of the various suspects, but when she gets to the end of her copy of the manuscript the last pages are missing and Pünd has yet to solve the mystery. Frustrated by not getting a resolution to the mystery and fearing that there must have been some kind of copying error, Susan phones her boss and leaves a voice message letting him know what has happened. Later that evening, on her way to meet friends for dinner, she hears on the taxi radio that Alan Conway has tragically died.

On Monday morning when Susan meets with her boss she finds that her boss’ copy is also missing the final pages of the book, so Susan decides to visit Conway’s home and try and find  the missing pages so that they can publish his final novel. But once she gets to there she realizes that the are some uncanny similarities to the novel and Conway’s own life and she begins to uncover some unsettling facts about the days leading up to Conway’s death.

This was such a fun book! Horowitz gives us Conway’s novel so we get the wonderful Christie-esque flavor for most of the beginning of the book and then we have Susan Ryeland, the reluctant detective, trying to find the missing pages of the novel and uncovering something more sinister in the latter half of the book and it is the wonderful juxtaposition between “fiction” and “reality. ” Horowitz has created a loving but modern homage to queens of the classic British detective novel, Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers and it is as satisfying and delightful as high tea, with scones and clotted cream!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this book to: Marian, Lauren, Sharon and Keith

Book Study Worthy? Yes

Read in ebook format.

 

 

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