Friday, January 31, 2020

The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter

Reviewed by Kristin

Series books are hard to review. Characters’ back stories can arc through several books, and when done well they can be delightful. A good author creates believable characters for the reader to love, or to hate. People who evoke those strong feelings even when they are fictional—this is what makes a series worth reading for me. Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent and medical examiner Sara Linton are two of those characters whose stories I find worth revisiting every year or so when a new book in the series is released. (Not to mention, Karin Slaughter keeps the action coming fast and furious.)

Will Trent is one of those flawed characters who I always find myself rooting for. He had a rough childhood as an orphan in the Atlanta Children’s Home; he was dependent on Angie Polaski, a fellow survivor who he eventually married although her manipulation of him was somewhere between sociopathic and psychopathic; his dyslexia is a secret that he keeps from almost everyone, but somehow he manages to do his job as a GBI agent and do it well.

At this point in the series (Spoilers ahead! Stop reading this review if you are still early in the list!) Will is romantically involved with Sara, a doctor who has had more than her share of tragedy as the widow of a police officer. Sara and Will actually have a healthy relationship, although they are still learning to communicate with each other. Will works with fellow agent Faith Mitchell and they both are kept on their toes by Amanda Wagner, their well-seasoned GBI supervisor who knows everything, and everyone.

Now to address just a little of the plot in The Last Widow:  Michelle Spivey is a wife, a mother, and a scientist at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. One hot summer evening, the thirty-nine year old woman is shoved into an unmarked white van in a parking lot right in front of her pre-teen daughter. A month later, two explosions turn the Emory campus into a war zone scene with bodies littering the ground. The GBI is quickly on the case drawing connections between the seemingly unrelated incidents. The investigation takes them from ground zero of the explosions to the north Georgia mountains and beyond. Sara is drawn into the action as the bombers need a doctor, whisking her away to a mountainous compound where something deadly is lurking. Will is determined to find Sara. At any cost.

Slaughter introduced Sara in the Grant County series and Will in the self-titled Will Trent series, with a merging in the 2009 book Undone. If you’d like to start from the beginning, or in the middle, or in whatever book you can find on the library or virtual shelves, here’s a list to help you try to keep things straight.

Grant County
1.       Blindsighted
2.      Kisscut
3.      A Faint Cold Fear
4.      Indelible
5.      Faithless
6.      Beyond Reach
7.      Undone

Will Trent
1.       Triptych
2.      Fractured
3.      Undone
4.      Broken
5.      Fallen
6.      Criminal
7.      Unseen
8.     The Kept Woman
9.      The Last Widow
10.  The Silent Wife (2020)

And just to add to the fun, while making this list I discovered that Slaughter teamed up with Lee Child to write a short story titled Cleaning the Gold involving Jack Reacher and Will Trent. Excuse me while I go make a request for that title….

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Nevermore: Appalachian Passage, Girl Who Fell From the Sky, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Department of Sensitive Crimes, Where the Crawdads Sing

Reported by Jeanne 

Our first Nevermore speaker had read Appalachian Passage by Helen Hiscoe. Adapted from Hiscoe’s journals, the book details life in a coal camp in West Virginia during 1949-50 where her husband worked as a physician.  Living conditions were difficult to say the least, and the culture shock was considerable.  Gritty, emotional, and fascinating, our reader praised the book for its honest and eye-opening look at life in our region in the not so distant past.

Rachel Morse, the young daughter of a black American father and a Danish mother, is sent to live in Chicago with her paternal grandmother after a family tragedy in The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow.  Rachel is light skinned and has blue eyes, which makes it even harder for her to navigate the complex code of racial identity she finds in America.  Our reviewer said she thought it was a Young Adult novel at first, but was quickly drawn into the intense, heart-breaking story. Part mystery, part sociological examination, part coming of age story, this book comes highly recommended.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini explores over thirty years of Afghan history through the stories of two women, one the child of a poor family and the other a daughter of privilege.  The Nevermore member has read and enjoyed other works by Hosseini and this one was no exception.  She says she has learned much about both the country and the culture through these books.

Alexander McCall Smith departs from his usual beat of books set in the UK or in Botswana for Sweden in this first book in a new series.  In The Department of Sensitive Crimes the reader is introduced to Ulf Varg and his colleagues who investigate lesser crimes—or crimes that are just, well, odd.  McCall Smith is well known for his strong characterization and gentle commentary on the human condition, and this series is no exception.  Our reader said it was one of the funniest and most delightful things she had read in some time and she highly recommended it to everyone.

Finally, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens continues to make the rounds. The current reader said that this tale of a girl who grows up in the North Carolina marshlands will “disrupt your life” because you have to keep reading.  The book begins with the discovery of a murder, then goes back in time to introduce the characters, most notably Kya, who is abandoned by her mother as a child and who is a keen observer of her natural surroundings.  Lyrical, with a vivid setting and an unforgettable main character, this novel has been enjoyed by many Nevermore members.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Memoirs of Josephine Fish by Josephine and Patricia Fish

Reviewed by Jeanne

Josephine Fish, a most superior calico cat who lives with an assortment of male cats (mostly stupid ones, in her opinion), a dog, and two humans, one male and one female.  Josephine whiles away her time staring out windows at the birds.  One day, she concentrates hard on a bird and—surprise!—she can understand what the bird is thinking.  Her human female likes the chickadees, so Josephine begins to query them as to what they think about the humans.  She soon branches out to other animals, such as squirrels and chipmunks.

This activity brings another visitor, Mr. blue jay (sic) to visit Josephine.  Since she has been able to communicate with the chickadees, Josephine is now a feline of interest to some mysterious animal leaders who want her to use her prowess with the computer to send emails to politicians to further legislation to benefit animals. The leaders have information about certain people—the President, members of Congress—and will use it to get what they want. Will it work?  Or will Josephine get her humans in deep, deep trouble?

I found this book while doing some shelf-reading and was quite taken with the cover.  The copyright being 2005, I wondered if it were so thoroughly outdated as to be discard material so I decided to read it to find out.  The verdict is “sort of.” The President in question is one President “Hinton” and the mysterious leaders know that he is having rendezvous with a woman who is not Mrs. Hinton, which is the leverage they have with him.  There are references to a “Bob Bowl” who is also running for president, but is “too old,” according to one of the humans.  There are a couple of Senators who have some shady business deals who also are sent emails. This part of the book almost seemed quaint. 

However, I did enjoy Josephine’s description of the various animals’ thoughts as well as her interactions with the other cats and with Gloria the dog.  There are some interesting observations as well as good information, delightfully presented.

The book would have benefitted from a proofreader in spots.  There seems to be a changing number of male cats in the household for one thing; for another, the elegant and sophisticated Josephine starts referring to herself as “flea-bitten” and “mangy” for no apparent reason. Some of the typewritten quirks I can ignore—the book is supposed to have been written by Josephine herself—but others just seem “off.”

Overall, this is a fun book, a tad dated, but not as much as I expected.  Josephine is one clever girl and very observant.  The tongue in cheek humor can still evoke a smile even if readers may not recall some of the political landscape of the era.