Monday, July 30, 2018

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline

Reviewed by Kristin

When a mother is reunited with her long-lost child, you might expect a heartwarming story.  Not this time.

Dr. Noah Alderman is on trial for killing his stepdaughter Anna Desroches.  Rather than just telling the story in a linear fashion, the narrative flashes back and forth between the trial and the preceding events.  In what seems at first a cut and dry case, bits of information are revealed piece by piece in this suspenseful novel.

Maggie Ippoliti lost custody of her daughter Anna seventeen years ago in a fog of postpartum complications.  Anna was told all her life that her mother had abused her and been declared an unfit mother.  After the sudden death of her father, Anna reaches out to Maggie.  Living with her mother, Anna appears happy, but little hints of her manipulative ways begin to appear.  Anna has a huge trust fund from her father, which gives her much more independence than the average teen.  Family tensions rise as Anna struggles between the life she used to live, and her current life with her mother, stepfather, and stepbrother Caleb.

Of course, we already know that Anna is dead, but how and why the murder occurred is a long and complex tale.  All the reviews say there is a big plot twist near the end, and indeed, there is.  Since I knew that (as even the jacket copy hints,) I was looking for clues and had very strong suspicions about what the big surprise would be.  Little clues and red herrings abound, taking the reader on a circuitous journey full of theories and second guesses.

I love Lisa Scottoline’s writing, but I wish that there had been more of the book after the plot twist.  I would have liked to know more about the resolution of Maggie’s life and relationships.  While I do like authors who tie up loose ends, perhaps this ending seemed tied up in too neat of a package.  That minor complaint aside, I enjoyed this book very much.  Emotional and breathtaking, After Anna is a roller coaster of a story, with complex characters that I have come to expect from Scottoline.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O’Connor

Reviewed by Jeanne

After their parents’ deaths, the O’Sullivan Six are struggling to keep the family bistro going. Twenty two year old Siobhan O’Sullivan had been headed to Trinity College in Dublin on a scholarship before Ma and Da were killed in a collision with a drunken Billy Murphy, who escaped serious injury but who did not escape a prison sentence.  Now she tries to keep her brother James from falling off the wagon as well as caring for the four youngest children. It helps that Kilbane is a small village, where everyone looks after everyone else—and sometimes take a little too much interest in things that aren’t their business. 

One afternoon, Sibohan is shaken to see Niall Murphy, Billy’s brother, back in town.  She’s even more shaken when Niall tells her Billy is innocent and he wants her to give him ten thousand Euro for the proof.  Certain that he’s lying, Sibohan turns him down flat, hoping he will leave town again.

Instead he turns up in the bistro—dead.

I picked this up off the new shelf on a whim, bemused by the fact that we have another new book called Murder in an English Village (by Jessica Ellicott) and the fact that I’d just read two Ian Sansom books set in Northern Ireland.  The setting here is the Republic of Ireland, so there’s a lot of local color involved.  A handy glossary helps explain some of the terms and expressions and, thankfully, there’s a pronunciation guide to some of the names.  Strip it of the window dressing and at heart it’s a traditional village mystery, albeit in a distinctly modern setting with cell phones, scooters, video cameras, etc.  The charm comes both from the place and from the characters.  Siobhan is a feisty heroine, struggling to keep the younger children in line even as they test the boundaries.  She’s had to give up some of her dreams, or at least postpone them, and must watch as her friends go off to university and seemingly glamourous lives while she bakes bread and waits tables.

The village dynamics are also interesting and entertaining.  While they may fuss at each other, most of the villagers would close ranks against any outsider.  Gossip flies fast and furious, which both helps and hinders Siobhan in her investigations, made imperative because James is a suspect. 

It’s a delightful light mystery, which will leave you longing for tea and brown bread.  I’ll pass on the scooter rides, however.

This is the first in the series.  The other titles are Murder at an Irish Wedding and Murder in an Irish Churchyard.  The fourth title will be available in 2019, Murder in an Irish Pub.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Nevermore: Casablanca, Tristan Betrayal, Palestine, Ada Blackjack, My Planet, Where Lady Slippers Grow

Reported by Kristin

Nevermore traveled back to the Golden Age of film with We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie by Noah Isenberg.  Published 75 years after the 1942 release of the movie, this volume tells the background of the making of the movie.  An exhaustive researcher, Isenberg goes back to Murray Bennett, the New York City high school teacher who originally conceived the play “Rick’s Bar Casablanca” on which the 1942 film was based.  Our reader proclaimed that the movie was quite delightful and that if you liked the movie you would surely enjoy the book.

Next up was The Tristan Betrayal by Robert Ludlum, a thriller with Stephen Metcalfe, American ambassador, in Russia in 1991.  Stephen has a long history in international affairs, most notably as an intrepid spy who infiltrated the Nazi party during World War II.  In a whirlwind adventure though Paris, Berlin, and Moscow, Stephen must find an old lover to assist in his quest to maintain the balance of power in the Russian government.  Notably, this novel was published three years after Ludlum’s death in 2001, and may or may not have been entirely written by him.  Our reader said that this was a fun read, but by the time it was over she was exhausted by all the adventures.

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by former President Jimmy Carter was published a decade ago, but still interested our next reader.  Carter brings an expansive understanding of the balance of power in the Middle East, and hopes to promote knowledge that brings peace and understanding to that part of the world.  Our reader said that she was particularly impressed by the maps provided.

Returning stateside, another reader enjoyed Where Lady Slippers Grow by Bev Freeman.  Madison McKenzie’s story began in Silence of the Bones, and continued in this, the second volume of a planned trilogy.  A young woman in East Tennessee, Madison has taken a break from college and is trying to figure out her direction in life.  Back home in small town Cold Creek, she is pulled into an unexpected role—filling in for the sheriff until an election.  Amidst hikers, murder, and mayhem, Madison continues her saga.  Our reader enjoyed the book.

Another reader enjoyed My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places by Mary Roach.  Each essay in this collection was originally published in Reader’s Digest.  Roach, a New York Times best-selling author, always seems to find the humor in every situation she encounters, and has a knack for making even difficult topics seem light and humorous.  Her husband Ed is the subject of many of Roach’s musings, from their adventures in programming the television remote to arranging furniture.

Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic by Jennifer Niven is set in 1921, as a young Inuit woman chose to travel to remote Wrangel Island, far to the northwest of Alaska.  Based on previously unpublished journals and documents, this story is an incredible tale of survival and inner strength.  The sea journey included a cat (always a draw for some,) considered good luck on the ship.  This book comes highly recommended.

Lastly, another reader was intrigued by A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey.  This recent memoir by the former FBI director explains many things about the inner workings of the United States government, including how the FBI is organized and the scope of investigations that they undertake.  Our reader found it really interesting and no matter how controversial, thinks that Comey is a very honorable man.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Ones We Choose

The Ones We Choose: A Novel by Julie Clark. New York: Gallery Books, 2018.  344 pages

Reviewed by Brenda G.

In this, Clark’s debut novel, she presents a geneticist as her protagonist. Paige Robson is a single parent of an 8-year old son Miles. Paige is unmarried; her son was conceived using a sperm donor. Miles has questions about his biological father and is unwilling to accept Paige’s friend as a substitute father for a camping trip. Miles also seems out of place and friendless in his new school.

The story, as are most, is multi-layered. Paige’s relationship with her own father is almost nonexistent; he abandoned his family repeatedly during Paige’s childhood. Her mother always accepted his return, as did her sister. Paige cannot. Yet he is back, once again. He seems to have inspired Paige’s life work. That work deals with parenting, specifically looking for a genetic reason for the disengagement of some biological fathers.

Then Miles forms a close friendship with a classmate, and almost simultaneously, Paige meets the new friend’s mother, and the two women become fast friends. The classmate’s father includes Miles in family activities, and strong bonds are formed. All seems rosy, but tragedy looms.

I do not want to share the details, but the ending is satisfactory and answers multiple questions. This is an enjoyable family story with scientific insets which add fascinating insights. I enjoyed reading both the book and the science information presented in entries parallel to the text.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Walking on My Grave by Carolyn Hart

Reviewed by Kristin

Carolyn Hart is obviously an Agatha Christie fan, as she often mentions the Grand Dame of Mystery in her Death on Demand series.  Quite often, Hart’s mysteries unfold in the same methodical way:  She lays out the clues, has an investigator build dossiers for various characters, waits for the reader to choose a favorite suspect, then exposes the culprit with a grand dénouement.

Annie Darling runs the most charming little mystery bookstore in the southeast—Death on Demand.  Annie is kind and thoughtful, with clear gray eyes, and always falls into the investigation of every murder on Broward’s Rock Island off the coast of South Carolina which certainly must be a dangerous place to live.  Her husband Max runs Confidential Commissions, ready to ask questions or to find lost things.  Technically, Max isn’t a private investigator, just someone who might be called upon to provide assistance when a resident or visitor to their lovely island has a need.

As this case opens, Annie’s friend Ves Roundtree is troubled.  Her wealthy late brother entrusted her with his estate for the remainder of her life, with the understanding that after her own death it would be divided between several other worthy recipients.  Now what better way to paint a target on someone’s back?  Possibly quite foolishly, Ves invites all the prospective heirs to a dinner to announce their future good fortunes.

Soon, Ves has a bad fall.  The suspects spout off their alibis, but someone must be lying.  Never mind that there is a local police presence, it’s Max and Annie to the rescue.  With sidekicks Laurel (Max’s elegant but dreamy mother,) Emma Clyde (a mystery author known for her heroine Marigold Rembrandt,) and Henny Brawley (Annie’s best mystery buying customer,) the Darlings question suspects and bring them all together for a great reveal.

Walking on My Grave is Hart’s twenty-sixth installment featuring the lovely Annie.  I recently read that Hart had considered the series complete after 2014’s Death at the Door.  But Annie and Max just wouldn’t leave the author alone, so she picked up her pen and continued writing.  I for one am glad that Annie is still around to sell books to tourists, pet her sleek black cat Agatha, and solve the mysteries that continually cross her path.