The Chalk Girl by Carol O’Connell – Book Review

Detective Kathy Mallory has been benched by the brass at the NYPD after she returns from a mysterious and unexplained three-month odyssey across the United State in a car. When a little girl is reported missing in a Central Park that has quickly become the scene of multiple murders, Mallory is able to finagle herself onto the case with the help of friend and psychiatrist Charles Butler. The girl, once found, is brilliant and troubled, and Mallory feels a special connection because of her own miserable past.  Butler, however, suspects that she is putting the girl’s safety low on her list of priorities, motivated only by solving the crimes before her.

I’d heard much about Kathy Mallory before picking up one of these books, and I can see why. She is billed as a stunning combination of brains, beauty and crazy- going to extremes to save her case and without many outward displays of empathy or even humanity. Speculating on where Mallory had been in the missing months, and why, became a bit of a pastime for me. I liked the way O’Connell simultaneously explains some of Mallory’s past even while delving into a complicated case that spanned several decades and included greed, and complicated motivations on the parts of the suspects and the police.

The Chalk Girl is an engaging mystery. It’s riddled with wry observations and dark humor. It works well as a standalone but will certainly send you delving into Mallory’s previous exploits. Recommended.

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No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie – Book Review

Deborah Crombie’s No Mark Upon Her follows Detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James in a new phase of their lives. Just married and trying to support a blended family, they have biological children on both sides, and a child left orphaned in a previous case (whom they hope to adopt), the two are trying to settle into new family routines when a big case derails their plans. Duncan is called to investigate the possible murder of a high-profile, high-ranking Met detective with Scotland Yard, who is also a champion rower taking a last chance at the Olympics. Kincaid’s boss would like nothing better than for the case to be tidily wrapped up with the murderer being someone other than a fellow police officer. The victim’s husband should do nicely. But when Kincaid’s case starts to merge with one James is working, it looks as if the duo could become targets for some serious trouble.

No Mark Upon Her is the 14th in the Kincaid/James series and I had no problems keeping up, though in addition to James and Kincaid, other points of view are explained as well. I loved the characters and getting glimpses into their lives and back stories. Not only did I enjoy the current storyline, but I also wanted to go back and explore other books in the series. The case was well-written and the parts pertaining to the rowing and the behavior of rescue dogs presented as well-researched and very credible. The mystery kept me engaged and guessing until the end. I knew who, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. I will definitely be checking in again with these Scotland Yard Detectives. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Rhapsody In Books – S. Krishna’s Books – Caribousmom

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Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung – Book Review

Janie is a mathematics PhD candidate, floundering in a discipline that doesn’t come naturally to her so that she can bond with her father by following in his footsteps. When Janie’s sister Hannah disappears, Janie is the one tasked with finding Hannah and bringing her home, jeopardizing her degree in the process.  Janie is reluctant to indulge what she feels is her sister’s selfishness, but since their parents are moving back to Korea to pursue treatment for their father’s terminal cancer, she feels as though she must at least go through the motions of honoring their request. Janie knows from family lore that every generation in her family has experienced the loss of a sister, but she also learns that the resulting sense of loss and hard consequences are the same, even when disappearance is voluntary.

Forgotten Country tells many stories – that of a family caught between the traditions of their Korean heritage and the demands of fitting into a new country, painful secrets that are kept to preserve the family peace, children choosing between pleasing their parents and following their own paths, and sibling love turned to sibling rivalry. Janie’s first person narrative is beautifully communicated and deeply observed, full of intrigue and mystery.  It’s questionable how much Janie grows as a character, but it is certainly fascinating to see how much she has hidden from herself as some of the family’s secrets, and her own, are carefully revealed. The novel jumps around in time, is filled with Korean folklore and fairytales, and introduces many characters, but all are intricately drawn and easily draw the reader in amongst its many warnings and curiosities.  The changing relationships between the sisters, and their parents rings sad, yet true.

With Forgotten Country, Catherine Chung has written a thoughtful and touching novel that draws its strength from examining a host of complicated, yet beautifully rendered family issues. There aren’t any neat resolutions to be found, and some mysteries remain just that, but don’t let that deter you from this achingly bittersweet tale of two sisters.  Highly recommended.

Read More Reviews At: Booking Mama – Take Me Away – Devourer of Books – Between the Covers

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The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont – Book Review

Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea follows Jason Prosper, who is beginning his senior year at Bellingham (a last chance high school for children of wealthy parents – who have failed to thrive elsewhere). When Jason begins school for the term, he is struggling in his grief at the death of his best friend and sailing partner, Cal, and his family’s vague disapproval of his behavior and their inconvenience. He is invited to join the sailing team at Bellingham (his father’s money pretty much guarantees him a place), but quickly destroys his chance for a spot on the team, and the opportunity to easily fit in among the school’s in-crowd, through a reckless act. Still struggling to get his bearings in a new place, Jason continues to cope with the sorrow of being left behind and his own capacity for doing damage.

Dermont has written a detailed and moving account of a coming of age fraught with tension. Though money isn’t issue for Jason Prosper, he isn’t exempt from the usual suspects – family instability, peer pressure, bullying, sexual awakening and exploration – haunting adolescents. Dermont’s portrayal of boarding school life is on the harrowing side. Kids are reckless, hazing is the norm, and administrators are lax and easily bribed by funding for pet projects and new buildings. There isn’t much redeeming about many of the characters, but you can see how they make the choices they do given the cut-throat environment of the school, and their own homes and upbringings. While ruminating on his losses, Jason attempts bonding, to mixed results, with similarly vulnerable outcasts; Aidan – the much rumored and troubled daughter of a bohemian actress, and Chester – a talented tennis player, and one of the few minorities in attendance at Bellingham.

Sailing plays a big part in this novel. It structured Jason’s most important friendship, and is the way he organizes and navigates his life. The language and attention given to sailing is detailed and, at times, technical. It’s a big part of the plot but also strangely non-essential, and it threatens to subsume it initially. I got a little restless reading the sailor-y parts, non-sailor that I am. Luckily the writing is atmospheric and beautiful, and the pace picks up as the novel moves past the set-up stages. The Starboard Sea is a sad novel, but a satisfying one. Its observations on class, sexuality, race, and one teens attempt to navigate the fray are astute and painfully realistic. Recommended.

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Be Mine by Laura Kasischke – Book Review

 Sherry Seymour is a middle-aged college professor who has been in a stable marriage for over twenty years, and has successfully raised a son who is now away at college. Sherry is content in teaching her classes, visiting her sick father and caring for her husband and son- when he’s home. Valentine’s Day brings change, and a surprise in the mailbox. A note shows up addressed to Sherry, simply saying “Be mine”. The prospect of a mystery lover provides a boost to Sherry’s self-esteem and excites her husband’s imagination and sexual desire, but what is initially different and exciting leads to myriad unexpected consequences for Sherry and her family.

Laura Kasischke’s Be Mine is an entertaining read. It’s thoughtful, suspenseful and pretty steamy. Don’t let anyone read this book over your shoulder! Though Sherry’s story is told from her perspective, her character is presented with depth, and exposes curiosities in her way of thinking which lead the reader to question her interpretation and handling of the situations in which she finds herself. Kasischke provides solid grounding of Sherry’s life, its main players, and events shaping her personality. I liked the slow build, the use of scenery and nature for foreshadowing and sense of foreboding, and the eventual twists and turns. The character arcs and resolutions are ones that really left me thinking about vanity, identity and how easy it is for a chance event to deeply affect the course of a life. Recommended.

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Perfect on Paper by Janet Goss – Book Review

Dana Mayo has only been in love with one man in her entire life, and she broke off her relationship with him because he was no good for her, and married to someone else to boot. After twenty years of carrying the torch, she resolves to move on with her life so that she can finally find a man worthy of her attention. Hilarity ensues.

Dana is funny and smart and it is easy to imagine having variations of the conversation that she has with her best girlfriend, a burgeoning agoraphobic.  Dana’s juggling of her two prospects, Hank, a handsome carpenter with an adorable pet pig, and Billy, a sexy young thing with the knack for crossword puzzle construction provide the bulk of the comedy. Dana feels that both men are inappropriate in their own way. But of course, she can’t quite give either of them up.

Janet Goss’s Perfect on Paper is a lovely mix of humor and romance, and it’s engaging from start to finish. Dana’s concern over her obsession with the love of her life, and the ability to move on successfully from that relationship is a familiar enough issue over the course of life and friendships – though hopefully none of us are stuck for twenty years!  Quirky characters, and numerous plot twists make this a quick and fun read, especially for crossword puzzle enthusiasts. Recommended.

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The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye – Book Review

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gods of gotahm pictureTimothy Wilde begins 1845 with a lucrative position as a bartender in a booming restaurant located near the New York Stock Exchange. He nurses twin passions in his love for his beautiful childhood friend Mercy (whom he hopes to marry), and an abiding hatred of his older brother Valentine (for reasons that are initially unclear).Wilde’s dreams go up in flames when a fire destroys his job, home, and face. Disfigured and in need of work, he takes a position as police officer in the newly minted New York Police Department. Settling into his new line of work isn’t easy- the job was finessed by his brother-  and he almost gives it up, but then he runs into a young girl covered in blood. Tim finds he can’t walk away until he uncovers her secrets and the city’s.

In The Gods of Gotham, Lyndsay Faye does an incredible job of immersing the reader into 1845 New York. She deftly portrays the passionate and determined people, the battles for survival and dominance among the immigrant population, and the religious unrest between Catholics and Protestants- at an all-time high with the large increase of the Irish population surrounding The Great Famine. It is all threatening to erupt into an uncontrollable mess. These days, no matter what we think about police officers, they are an established and essential part of our society. Not so at the time. It was fascinating to see the development of the police force, and the way it was initially viewed as an encroachment on freedom – akin to having a standing army in New York. Though police forces had been established in Europe and other American cities, New York, as filthy and violent as it was, was a hold out. Faye’s account of the force’s early days and her inclusion of the lexicon of the city’s poor and/or criminal element was eye-opening. The characters in charge of running the city, and the methods they employed, were just as colorful as those of the criminal element they sought to control.

The language in The Gods of Gotham takes some getting used to as a lot of the characters speak “flash”. Some maneuvering back and forth with the lexicon and explanation by other characters is required, but Faye manages to use it in a balanced way that only adds to the richness of the story. Her characterizations of Timothy, Valentine, Bird and Mercy are fully realized and each of their stories, backgrounds and choices are like paint coloring in the details of hardscrabble lives, religious and moral strife, and the exacting requirements of big city living. She truly recreates the feel of mid-nineteenth century New York, and the novel is just as much astute historical perspective and analysis as it is a solid and entertaining murder mystery. Highly Recommended.

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From The Memoirs of A Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry – Book Review

From the Memoirs of A Non-Enemy Combatant, Alex Gilvarry’s debut novel about a young women’s fashion designer imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay after implication in a terrorist plot, may seem like a downer but its engaging protagonist, smart observations, and dark humor make it a fabulous and poignant read that is not to be missed. While sitting in Gitmo, Boy Hernandez relates a story that is touching in its honesty, and in how ordinary its occurrence throughout history. Struggling to get by as a fashion designer he takes help from a shady individual, whom presumably, he should have investigated more vigilantly. However, none of Boy’s decisions veer far from those that any of us have made, or will make again in negotiating the complications and gray areas of life. You’ll recognize yourself in Boy’s story as he juggles his dreams, girl problems, money woes and nascent success. Gilvarry ‘s prose is both conversational and confessional, hitting all the right notes in this bittersweet rendering of the American Dream gone tragically awry. Highly Recommended.

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Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart In An American Kitchen by Donia Bijan – Book Review

Maman’s Homesick Pie is Donia Bijan’s collection of thirty delicious recipes created based on dishes she ate growing up in Tehran and from her experiences as a Cordon Bleu trained chef. Along with her recipes she shares what inspired them; the memories from her family’s exile during the 1978 Islamic Revolution, and their subsequent relocation and adjustment to American culture. Bijan also notes that the family’s endangered status was primarily based on her mother’s work as a celebrated champion of women’s issues and the promoter of women’s access to resources and education. Bijan’s mother’s choices ended up taking a terrible toll on her marriage as her husband, and Bijan’s father became disillusioned and bitter over the loss of his thriving medical practice.

As much as I would have loved Bijan to go deeper into her parent’s history, the majority of the memoir is concerned with Bijan’s struggles to follow her own path as a chef in spite of her father’s deep resistance to her dream, and reconciling herself to the fact that he wished she would follow in his path as a doctor. Besides the temptingly written recipes, Bijan’s writing is fabulously engaging, and as much of a treat as what she dishes up. Recommended.

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The Orphan: A Cinderella Story From Greece by by Anthony Manna, Christodoula Mitakidou and Giselle Potter (Illustrator) – Book Review

If you’re looking for an alternate version of this classic fairytale, maybe one that’s a little heavier on the girl power, look no further than this extended picture book drawing on Greek versions of the Cinderella mythology. The drawings are minimal but charming and well-executed. This telling of Cinderella relies on the Universe, some words of wisdom from a dead mother, and Cinderella’s own resourceful self for deliverance without waiting for the prince to save her and improve her circumstances. That a girl! Recommended.

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