Doo doo, doo doo doo doo!

baby teeth

Did anyone else sing the title of this book to the tune of Baby Shark? No? Just me then.

Despite my knowledge of kid-friendly ear worms, I do not actually have any kids. This book essentially validated that decision as it told the story of Hannah. She is seven years old and non-verbal but otherwise very intelligent. She’s the absolute apple of her father’s eye and she loves her father even more. However, her mother Suzette, who spends all day at home with Hannah homeschooling her sees something more sinister. It doesn’t take the reader long to figure out that Suzette’s suspicions are correct. Hannah is a budding psychopath who would love nothing more than to have Daddy all to herself and Mommy out of the way permanently.

There is a constant low level of tension running through this book as we alternate between Suzette’s and Hannah’s points of view. Suzette suffers from Crohn’s disease and truly wants to be a good mother to Hannah despite hear fear and resentment. Hannah is extremely smart but not unrealistically so. The father is clueless with regards to his dysfunctional home life but not as willfully blind as some dads in these “bad seed” stories (Raymond from We Need to Talk About Kevin, I’m looking at you!). I saw one Goodreads reviewer complain that nothing happens in this story and while I think that’s externally true the back and forth between Suzette and Hannah is subtle and extremely stressful for those who like a good psychological drama.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a smartly written, psychological suspense novel that is reasonably grounded in reality. Though maybe keep it on the shelf if you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming so.

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“And I may have lost my mind but I believe that I rule my world”

a study in scarlet women

 

While I wanted to enjoy this book much more than I did, it grabbed me enough for me to keep the sequel on my TBR pile. My main issues with it seemed to be that it lacked focus as all the main characters were introduced and found their way to each other which happens sometimes when a book is the first in a series. I think now that all the principles are working together, the sequels will be much more focused moving forward.

If the title didn’t clue you in, this is a gender swapped Sherlock Holmes story. The protagonist is Charlotte Holmes; a woman too smart and independent for Victorian London who finds herself suddenly outcast from society and left to her own devices. With the help of Mrs Watson, a wealthy widow and former actress, Charlotte uses the persona of Sherlock Holmes to provide herself with a healthy income and use her natural intelligence. She also manages to solve 3 murders for which her father and sister have come under suspicion.

Like many iterations of Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte isn’t the best when it comes to human interactions, but she is more sympathetic than many. She definitely cares about her friends and family, she’s just painfully pragmatic. Additionally, Mrs. Watson seems to add more the the mix than many of her prior male versions whose main job seems merely to be flabbergasted by Sherlock. As I said, this book does have some pacing issues as everyone finds there way into a cohesive unit but I have hope for the next book in the series.

“Animals were hiding behind the rock, except the little fish”

the raw shark texts

 

Well this review is going to be a tough one. I’m not totally sure how to describe this book or what genre to even put it in. The basic story goes like this: Eric Sanderson has acute memory loss spurred on by the sudden death of his lover Clio while they were vacationing in the Greek Islands. He literally has no memories before the start of the book in which he wakes up on the floor of a strange house. He begins receiving letters from his old self which spur him to go on a journey to discover the truth of his situation and to defeat a “conceptual shark” that seems to be relentlessly stalking him.

This all sounds about as clear as mud, doesn’t it? The story is a little bit like House of Leaves, The Matrix and Jaws with a love story thrown in for good measure. The concepts brought up in the book are interesting as hell and the mood of the book is deeply surreal. The more Eric searches for his lost memories, the weirder this book gets.

That’s really all I have. I hate writing a review this short but the words to describe this book escape me. Maybe the shark at them.

“But she turned her floodlight eyes on me and demanded a confession”

the alice network

 

Do you like books with smart, bad-ass ladies both fictional and historical? Do you like intelligent novelizations of real historical events? If so, The Alice Network is definitely a book you should add to your TBR pile. The book follows two timelines. In 1915 a young Eve Gardiner is recruited to work as a spy in Nazi-occupied France for the titular Alice Network. Eve’s experiences in France leave both emotional and physical scars. In 1947, Charlie St. Clair a pregnant and unwed American socialite abandons her mother in post-war Europe to look for her missing and presumed dead cousin Rose. Eve and Charlie’s paths collide and they set off across France with their own agendas.

This book took me a bit to really get into it. Both Charlie and Ever are deeply flawed characters though not without good reason. However I found myself getting sucked in pretty quickly to the parallel stories involving two women, both of whom are used to being underestimated, getting into situations in which they learn more than they’d ever wanted to about both themselves and the horrors of war. It’s by no means a pretty story. There is torture, suicide, a prison camp and the massacre of civilians but it never feels gratuitous and is pulled directly from historical records in some cases. It’s not an easy book and I knew at a certain point it was going to break my heart. But it was an immensely satisfying read that has me excited for Kate Quinn’s next novel.

“When you hear of my homegoing…don’t worry about me.”

homegoing

 

I love a sweeping family saga. I love a novelized depiction of history and seeing how one generation shapes the next. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is probably one of my favorites. It tells the story of two half sisters Ghana in the 18th Century. Effia is married to a wealthy white slave trader and Esi and captured and imprisoned in the same castle in which her sister lives (unbeknownst to both of them) and sold across the Atlantic into slavery. Effia’s family lives with the effects of colonization and internal warfare and Esi family survives slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. Homegoing feels much longer than it is, not because it is dull or tedious but because the subject matter is vast and sweeping.

What makes Homegoing different from many Eurocentric family sagas is that many of the descendants know little to nothing of the generation before them. This is not the often lamented “generation gap” but the nature of American chattel slavery which cruelly separated parents from children before the latter could even form concrete memories. Still we feel the weight of those that came before on their children and grandchildren. Even those that do know their parents don’t understand them.

It is impossible to write an authentic narrative of slavery and warfare and not include trauma. It is a necessary part of the story. But in later chapters we see that is is possible to heal and even grow stronger. Homegoing is long overdue addition to the American family saga.

“I’ma wade through the waters. Tell the tide ‘don’t move'”

when they call you a terrorist

 

This book was a very difficult but necessary read. It belongs in college curricula and book clubs. Your racist family members should read it but never will, though you can get a couple of fact bombs from the book to drop in the middle of an awkward Thanksgiving dinner. This memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors will give a deeper understanding of the often fraught nature of modern Black life in America and firsthand account of the #blacklivesmatter movement. One of the most significant activist groups of the 21st century so far.

Ms. Khan-Cullors grew up in Van Nuys, California as part of the “post Reagan, post social safety-net generation.” She describes a childhood marred by constant police surveillance. At nine years old she witnessed the police rolling up on her brothers and his friends as they merely hung out in an alleyway (because there were no parks or community centers where they could go), roughly patting them down roughly as they spewed profanity and racial slurs at them. She experienced culture shock after entering a mostly white private middle school, where she saw a world not constantly monitored by police and entrances not blocked by metal detectors. Her white counterparts took things like marijuana possession, which could cause a life-ruining entrance into the criminal justice system for kids like Patrisse, completely for granted. The sections that focus on her brother who suffers from Schizoaffective disorder (not diagnosed until adulthood) and his treatment by the criminal justice system are especially rage inducing.

This slim volume is by no means an easy read, but the writing is powerful and lyrical. She gives a compelling voice to those who have been continually overlooked by the country at large. It is every bit as important and necessary as books like The New Jim Crow, The Warmth of Other Suns and anything by James Baldwin.

“This life can turn a good girl bad”

the trauma cleaner

The Trauma Cleaner is the story of Sandra Pankhurst, the owner of a cleaning business that cleans homes after, as the title says “death, disaster and decay.” This includes hoarding situations. It is also the story of a life full of its own trauma, which eventually lead Ms. Pankhurst to run such a unique business. Born biologically male in Australia, she suffered horrific abuse and neglect at the hands of a family who seemed to resent her very presence. Being a trans sex worker in the 1970s meant violent johns and police who could be equally violent. Sandra’s whole life seems to have been training for this vocation.

Sandra is often a very frustrating person as well. You’ll likely never see her advocating for LGBTQ rights. In fact, her political views seem to run somewhat conservative (for Australia). She seems almost indifferent about a reunion with her estranged sons from a brief, ill-conceived marriage. Her memory is often elusive. She’s not sure whether a particular formative moment happened when she was 7 or 13. Despite all of this, even if I didn’t particularly like Sandra, by the end of the book I understood and admired her. Her continued existence and success is a giant middle finger to every person who inflicted pain on her in her life.

“I waited for you winterlong”

bear and the nightingale

I chose this book when we were in the midst of the Polar Vortex because it seemed like a great cold weather book, and it was. It was also a beautifully written fairy tale of a historical fantasy novel that is the first of a trilogy. The story centers on takes place in medieval Russia and centers on Vasilia Petrovna, the youngest daughter of lord of a remote village. The villagers have always left offerings for the various forest and household spirits of Russian folklore but Vasya is actually able to see and speak with them. She soon catches the eye of Morzko, the Frost King who wants to claim her for his own for reasons unbeknownst to anyone but him. The real trouble begins when Vasya’s father returns with an fiercely pious wife from Moscow (Vasya’s mother died when she was born). The wicked stepmother is followed shortly by a charismatic new priest who frightens the villagers out of worshipping the old gods and spirits. Soon the village is beset by crop failures and bad luck which they blame on the “witch-woman” Vasilia.

There was never a moment that I was not completely enraptured by this store and this writing. It’s definitely not necessary to wait until mid-winter to feel the wind and the chill or the warmth of the kitchen oven that is the center of the family life in Vasya’s home. Yes there is an “evil stepmother” but she’s more tragic than she is truly evil. The characters are richly drawn and the imagery is lovely. I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who wants to get lost in a fairly tale for a little while.

“Beautiful girl, lovely dress. Where she is now I can only guess”

good as gone

How does it affect a family when the worst thing imaginable happens? How do parents influence their child’s decisions without even realizing that they’re doing it? How do you deal with the fact that your long lost loved one might be an imposter? These are some of the themes throughout Amy Gentry’s suspense novel Good as Gone. The novel begins eight years from the present day when young Julie Whitaker is taken from her bedroom at knife point by an unknown abductor never to be seen again. The only witness is her terrified younger sister. We rejoin the family in the present and a young woman whom they immediately recognize as Julie knocks on the door. After the initial excitement dies down, her mother Anna begins to have doubts that this young woman is her long lost daughter. She is contacted by a private investigator who only serves to inflame those doubts.

While I did kind of figure out where this book was going, it was after several wrong guesses and it was very late in the book. The book switches perspectives between Anna and MaybeJulie and once you get used to the format it flows nicely. The characters are a little bit infuriating but given their history of trauma and loss it’s understandable. The action moves along swiftly but it never feels rushed or glossed over. The ending is the sort of neatly tied up package the never happens in real life but sometimes that’s just what you need.

I immediately added Amy Gentry’s next book, As Long as We Both Shall Live to my TBR list as soon as I finished this one. She has the potential to be as great a suspense writer as Megan Abbott.

“Master of puppets I’m pulling your strings”

flavia deluce 2

This is the second book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series of which there are currently ten. For those that don’t know Flavia is a precocious, motherless eleven year old with a passion for poisons who lives in a crumbling country house in the village of Bishop’s Lacy in England in the 1950s. She lives with her father who has emotionally checked out and her sisters Ophelia and Daphne who seem to despise her. Like all protagonists of mystery series, Flavia lives in a town with an inordinate amount of murders and manages to come to the aid of local law enforcement whether they’d like her to or not. This second book finds Flavia investigating the mysterious death of puppeteer Rupert Porson, who is electrocuted during the performance of a show.

Half the enjoyment of a good cozy mystery isn’t merely solving the puzzle but meeting all the tertiary characters in whatever setting the mystery takes place. Bishops Lacy in 1950 has these in spades. There’s a vicar (there’s always a vicar) and his deeply unpleasant wife, the late puppeteer’s lovely but somewhat shifty assistant and two delightfully dotty old biddies that run the local tea shop. This particular volume seemed to wander a little bit more but I don’t mind this so much early in a series as there’s a lot of scene setting that needs to be done. Flavia herself is aware of her weirdness and does her best to disguise it around most people. Reading her adventures through town is a lot of fun.

A good cozy mystery is like a palate cleanser for a lot of heavier reading if you can find a good series. If you’re all caught up on your favorite cozy mystery or you’d just like a new one I’d highly recommend the Flavia de Luce series.