Review: A Walk Among Tombstones by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block - A Walk TombstonesSometimes it takes a book being turned into a movie to spur me to reading a writer’s work, or in this case, get back to it. With A Walk Among Tombstones, Liam Neeson and Dan Stevens are providing the impetus to return to the writing of Lawrence Block in anticipation of seeing the movie. I was introduced to Block back in 2011, when I read his most recent entry in the Matthew Scudder series entitled A Drop of the Hard Stuff. I loved the hardboiled feel of the book and the intricacy of the detective work as that novel examined an early case in Scudder’s career. However, I didn’t get a sense of Scudder’s history. It also seemed that he spent an inordinate amount of time attending AA meetings and contemplating his life and sobriety. Nevertheless I was intrigued by his character and had always planned to the earlier books.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff  follows Scudder as he’s first embracing his sobriety and AA. I remember wondering whether he would be less intense, even happier as he became more comfortable in his new life. Reading this novel both confirmed and disproved my thoughts on Scudder. Walk Among Tombstones begins with Scudder narrating the last hours in the life of Francine Koury, the wife of a modest heroin distributor. In the midst of buying groceries, she is abducted by two men who escort her into the back of a blue van and drive off with her. Scudder juxtaposes her movements and abduction against his own; he spends time with his girlfriend and contemplates a trip to Ireland to visit a wayward friend who is having problems returning to the country. His plans change when he receives a call from Kenan Koury and his brother Peter (whom Scudder knows from AA meetings) for help dealing with Francine’s abductors.

While Scudder had no love for drug dealers, neither does he have any qualms about tracking and handing over a pair of ruthless kidnappers to vigilante justice. And so the tale begins. A Walk Among Tombstones is a dark, gritty novel exploring a brutal and senseless crime, but I enjoyed reading it for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the character development and the portrayal of the interpersonal relationships- they strengthen what could easily have been a plot driven novel. While the number of AA meeting he attends hasn’t changed, Scudder is at a different place in his life, more balanced as he develops his relationship with Elaine, whose straightforward support and street smarts make her an engaging lover and confidante. He also deepens his relationship with TJ, a street kid with the smarts and connection to help Scudder track down the bad guys, while developing a firm rapport with Peter and Kenan.

I also found myself fascinated with being immersed in the grittiness of ‘80s New York. It’s almost like reading about another world. The subways were dangerous, cell phones had yet to make an appearance among the common man, computers weren’t wireless, and TJ’s big thrill comes from finally getting a beeper. I’m very curious to see how this translates in the movie, but Block masterfully conveys the New York of a bygone era and a complex investigator attempting to piece his life together in that world. Hollywood would be wise to stick to the main beats of this engaging and finely detailed crime novel.

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Tatiana de Rosnay, Mhairi McFarlane, Emma Healey| Reading Roundup

The Other Story - Looking At You - Elizabeth MissingThe Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay: I’ve been trying to read a novel by de Rosnay since the success of Sarah’s Key (I still haven’t read it). The premise of this novel appealed to me more than the execution, and I think that’s mostly a result of the jacket copy promising “a journey to uncover the truth that took him from the Basque coast to St. Petersburg”. They get to that journey, but not very quickly. The novel begins in the aftermath of Nick’s success as a writer, as he is struggling to begin the process of writing his second novel. Nick, in the aftermath of his fame and fortune, exhibits a complete lack of charm or appreciation for life that makes him  insufferable. I’m usually okay with characters I don’t like, but even Rosnay’s beautiful writing couldn’t make Nick more palatable or interesting.

Here’s Looking at You by Mhairi McFarland: Loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, this novel was funny and engaging at times but stylistically was not my cup of tea. There was a lot of dialogue in this book–pages and pages of it. I don’t love that, but I did enjoy the interactions between the main characters. I suspect I would have liked this a lot more had it been shorter.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey: I didn’t expect to love this as much as I did. However,  I was completely absorbed in Maude’s struggles with her deteriorating mental state, her race against time and her own memory to solve  the disappearance of her friend Elizabeth, and another mysterious disappearance from her past. Healey’s skillful depiction of elderly Maude’s limitations and confused musings set a deliberately slow and thorough pace for the reader. While some may find it frustrating to be lost in the myopia of Maude’s mind, I reveled in the depth of perspective Healey provides a character with Alzheimer’s. I loved the atmosphere of the novel and its engaging depiction of present and World War II Britain.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

All Day And A Night by Alafair Burke

All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

Generally speaking, character likability isn’t all that  high on my list of priorities in enjoying, or even choosing a book to read. Numerous factors are considered ahead of that (setting, tone, atmosphere, subject matter, whether I think it’ll be a compelling read). However, there are some natural exceptions to those rules—romance for one. Have you ever read a romance novel where you didn’t like either of the lead characters? Doesn’t happen very often.

I would also hazard a guess that murder mysteries, detective stories and suspense novels, where the tensions and stakes are high, are another place where it doesn’t hurt to have a character with whom you are comfortable, understand, and can root for. Ellie Burke is one such character, and with her, readers can comfortably navigate the world of violence and criminality.

In All Day and A Night  (a.k.a. prison slang for life without parole) Ellie Hatcher and her partner JJ Rogan are tapped to head  up a “fresh look” team on a serial murder case which was believed to have been solved years ago. The duo isn’t happy about the assignment which is one that is usually reviled within department because investigating officers are principally tasked with questioning the police work of their colleagues. It’s one step away from participating in an internal affairs investigation. It’s not by accident that Ellie and her partner have been assigned this task; it comes at the  request of Ellie’s now live in boyfriend, Max Donovan, who is an ambitious lawyer working for an even more ambitious DA in an election year. The heat is on, and though  no one wants to question the former police work, it’s clear that some things were missed.

Burke writes intriguing mysteries and this one is no exception. I had my ideas about how it would all end but I wasn’t sure, and that is saying quite a bit in her favor. The character interactions and back-stories, strong female roles and complex mystery made for a clever and engaging read. I’ve read one of Burke’s stand-alones, but this was my first novel featuring Ellie Hatcher and I would love to catch up with the other four novels in the series. Barring that, I’ll definitely be picking up and following where the next Hatcher mystery leads.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

Publisher’s Description:

Nan keeps her secrets deep, not knowing how the truth would reveal a magic all its own.  Bay Singer has bigger secrets than most. She doesn’t know about them, though. Her mother, Nan, has made sure of that. But one phone call from the sheriff makes Nan realize that the past is catching up. Nan decides that she has to make things right, and invites over the two estranged friends who know the truth. Ruthie and Mavis arrive in a whirlwind of painful memories, offering Nan little hope of protecting Bay. But even the most ruined garden is resilient, and their curious reunion has powerful effects that none of them could imagine, least of all 


Reading Mary Rickert’s The Memory Garden is a lovely and rewarding experience. I adore books containing atmosphere and am equally fond of reading about witches. Rickert combines both with a heartwarming and engaging tale about great love, big secrets, relationships, and coming of age – not only for a young generation, but also for the one beginning the process of reflecting and coming to terms with what will likely be their final years. The Memory Garden is filled with lush writing, unforgettable characters, and manages to  immerse readers in the politics of a small town of an earlier time, and in friendships whose strength transcends a painful past.

Another fascinating aspect of reading about witches is how they draw on elements of the natural world in their preparations for cures, charms and enchantments. Rickert adds to the richness of The Memory Garden by prefacing each chapter with an ingredient – fruit, vegetable, herb – and its uses and meaning. I am able to share the APPLE BLOSSOM card with you today. Another clear endorsement of the apple of day philosophy.


For more thoughts on this book, and to see the rest of the lovely cards, visit: Royal Reviews /Book Bag Lady / Lesa’s Book Critiques / The Bibliotaphe Closet / Bookalicious Babe / Mirabile DictuStory Matters

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Jessica Levine, Rachel Zoe, and Susan Rieger|Reading Round Up

One of the key things about having less time for one of my great loves (reading!) is that I am much more ruthless about reading what I find to be really enjoyable and/or rewarding. Gone is the time when I can meander through a book with vague feelings of boredom and/or annoyance with a plot. These days if I pick a book up and don’t feel a compelling desire to come back to it, I don’t. The last few weeks have offered up an eclectic mix of reads, but for the most part, I have been happy with my choices.

Jessica Levine, Rachel Zoe & Susan Rieger

The Geometry of Love by Jessica Levine:  Yesterday, I posted my interview with Jessica Levine, and I was fascinated with her discussion of the psychological nature of her books, women having male muses, and the different types or literature and reading that have spurred the creation of her characters and novels.

I have high praise for The Geometry of Love. The novel’s protagonist, Julia, is in a safe, though creatively stifling relationship with her college sweetheart when she has a chance run-in with their old roommate, Michael (a creative soul mate with whom she once shared a steamy kiss). While both men offer an essential element to Julia’s well-being, her attempts to resurrect their damaged relationships, establish agency in her creative life, and determine her path in life, unfolds in surprising ways and brings all involved all but to the brink of ruin. Levine’s characters are thoughtfully rendered and contain a level of nuance that holds the reader hostage in their messy lives. Julia in particular reminded me of that friend whose life is a mess, and though you’ve heard way too much about her problems, too many times, there is something that keeps you from turning away.

Living in Style: Inspiration and Advice for Everyday Glamour by Rachel Zoe: I’m a pretty recent convert to The Zoe Report (Rachel Zoe’s daily beauty, style and fashion newsletter) but I do love a pretty dress, and her astute style curation caught my eye. Though a new devotee, I was fairly excited to find out that she has a new book out. Right off the bat I am favorably disposed to enjoy a coffee table book like Living in Style. There are beautiful photographs of style icons, sneak peeks behind the scenes – at fashion soirees, and practical suggestions for formulating a sense of style, work life maintenance routine and balance. The book is written in a conversational style, and Zoe shares tips from her beauty care routine, and stories about her early days and establishing her career. If you want a more substantive guide for for fashion, make up an style choices, I would subscribe to her newsletter as this is mostly breezy and fun.

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger: Susan Rieger’s debut novel is instantly memorable to me, if only because I had so much fun  reading it. I loved escaping into Sophie Diehl’s world of long catch-up emails with her best friend, detailed and informative work briefs, and intriguingly accurate representations of divorce documents. The fact that Sophie is a criminal lawyer who has has no interest in dealing with people adds to the comic elements of the novel, which doesn’t lose its poignancy among the humor. Rieger artfully weaves Sophie’s troubled relationship history, tenuous parental bonds, and deep ambivalence about marriage in to the secondary story of divorce negotiations between a privileged heiress (the fabulously charming, intelligent and empathetic Mia Meiklejohn) and and her prominent physician husband. My only complaint is that it felt a tad long in spots, but having the option to skip around in the legal documents remedied any restlessness that I had.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook – Book Review

The Aftermath by Rhidian BrookIn Rhidian Brook’s stunning post World War II novel, The Aftermath, English Colonel Lewis Morgan is tasked with reinvigorating Hamburg and the surrounding territory while also determining the degrees of guilt or innocent of the population and ensuring the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. While carrying out his duties, Lewis is reunited with his wife Rachael and son Edmund, who come to him after a separation of several years, with a brief exception for Lewis to attend the funeral of his eldest son. Allied officers are housed in the residences off the wealthy Germans, while they are re-homed in camps. Faced with evicting the family living in the mansion that has been chosen for him Lewis, without consulting his wife, decides that the two families will share the spacious home. Inevitably, tensions arise as the families try to cope with the new living situations and their own precarious relationships.

It’s easy to be wary of World War II novels. It’s a period that lends itself to dramatization, and it’s easy to feel as if you’ve read certain stories before. At this point, I am pretty selective about the ones I choose to read, but I am willing to take a chance on the novels that I think will offer up a different perspective. The Aftermath caught my attention for that reason. Brook writes eloquently about the devastation of the country, pride and livelihoods of the people, many of whom were near starving in camps. Edmund is befriended by a group of boys who have no one but each other, his German teacher arrives thin, hungry and worried that he will be convicted of crimes greater than the ones he has committed. Throughout the novel questions and degrees of guilt are explored with few satisfactory answers. How can you tell who is good just by appearances? Whom can you trust?

Brook weaves all of these issues seamlessly into this tapestry of family, homecomings, love, redemption and loss. Lewis and Rachael’s uncomfortable relationship and loss of each other, and their failed attempts at regaining a semblance of former intimacy form shape the novel, along with Herr Lubert’s mourning his wife, anger at his reduced circumstances, and lack of control over rebellious Freda. Brook masterfully build impalpable tension as the families struggle to achieve civility toward each other in the face of suspicion, stereotypes, and class tension. Lewis’s ability to have compassion for the community he serves, but being unable to extend that same thoughtfulness and courtesy to his family is thoughtfully explored over the course of the story. There were so many powder kegs that I expected to explode during the course of the novel, but each situation comes to a head in ways that were satisfying, and mostly, surprising. The Aftermath is a wonderful novel – rich in historical detail, impressive in its analysis of the subtle contradictions of human frailty and strength, and a fine example of engaging and compelling storytelling. Highly recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson – Book Review

Lies You Wanted to Hear

Though it begins in 1990 with a woman named Lucy mourning the loss of her son on his birthday, James Whitfield Thomson’s Lies You Wanted to Hear is essentially the origin story of Lucy Thornhill and Matt Drobyshev’s troubled marriage, and what happens when a relationship built on a faulty foundation collides with an obstacle that cannot be overcome. When Matt and Lucy meet, he is a young police officer from a modest background and means while she is the dilettante daughter of a wealthy businessman. Lucy had recently been deeply involved with the irresponsible and unfaithful Griffin, in a passionate and draining on-again/off-again affair. They never seem able to let go completely, and Lucy feels as if she should be ready to move into a more stable and committed relationship. Matt, for his part, loves Lucy immediately. While he suspects that Lucy doesn’t return the depth of his feelings, he is willing to accept what she is able to offer in the hopes that they can build a strong and loving marriage. There are many lies they tell themselves, but chief among them is that they will be happy together in the long run.


Thomson takes pains to establish Matt and Lucy’s relationship, and after their initial meeting and romance the novel progresses almost too slowly, and in too much detail, about the ins and outs of their marriage. The character’s stories unfold in alternating first person narratives, so while it is very interesting to see how they each view the relationship and each other, it is just as easy to see that they are mistaken in thinking they can successfully build a life together. Thomson bogs down the middle of story unnecessarily, and doesn’t leave much room to develop the end, which is where the novel shines. I knew that something happened to separate Lucy from her children, but it was something I forgot to wonder about as I found myself lost as I was in the tedium of Matt and Lucy’s marital woes and increasing animosity toward each other.


Putting the novel down for awhile ultimately helped me to finish it. I picked it up again, and the final third of the book had me hooked. For my taste, Thomson took too long to get to the meat of the story, but by the time he got there I was well versed in Matt and Lucy. I could see the perspective of both parents in the sad aftermath of their marriage, but I did little wavering between the two – though I felt I should. If you enjoy marital dramas, “he said, she said,”  and don’t mind a little extra filling in the middle, Lies You Wanted to Hear will definitely warrant interest. Thomson clearly communicates how sympathy and righteousness can be granted either aggrieved party, but most readers will stay play favorites with the characters (it’s almost impossible not to), as most of us will think we are as justified in our opinions as do Matt and Lucy.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Check out this interview where James Whitfield Thomson answers several questions about his writing, what he’s reading and Lies You Wanted to Hear.

Memories of A Marriage: A Novel by Louis Begley – Book Review

Memories of  a Marriage by Louis Begley

After reading twisty and murderous marriage fare such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and A.S. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Louis Begley’s Memories of A Marriage. While just as insightful in showing how couples grow apart, or ignore glaring signs that they aren’t meant to be in the first place, Memories of a Marriage quietly explores the bitter dissolution of  marriage between an American heiress and her successful husband whose crimes against her seem to include being from modest beginnings.

The novels begins when Phillip, a writer and widower from the moneyed class, runs into Lucy de Bourgh, a Rhode Island heiress obsessed with the storied background of her once prominent family. Phillip knew a vivacious, flirtatious Lucy from his post-grad days in Paris, where she was quick to throw a party, and often just a tad risque. Lucy reintroduces herself to Phillip at a chance encounter at the ballet. Having met her husband, Thomas Snow, numerous times he is surprised to hear her refer to him as a “monster” and is overcome with curiosity about her reason for doing it. During lulls in writing his latest book he become obsessed with excavating the reasons behind their failed marriage and spends the summer interviewing not only Lucy, but any former friends who also knew the couple.

When I first started reading Memories of a Marriage, I wasn’t sure whether I would like it. Phillip and Lucy are similarly absorbed with lineage, background and breeding, and a good amount of time is spent detailing the clubs they belonged to, where they summered, and who knew whom and when. Just when I thought it would be a never ending catalog of the wealthy, their toys and quibbles, it takes on a surprising depth. While much of the novel examines Lucy’s choices, sexual obsessions, emotional health, and money squabbles, it’s ultimately about connections, loneliness and obsession. While Phillip as narrator focuses on Lucy, readers will be equally intrigued with the plight of the lonely, older gentleman trying to get the story. Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review

Sanctus by Simon Toyne & The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice – Little Book Reviews

Sanctus by Simon Toyne

Sanctus by Simon Toyne (September 2012, William Morrow) I’m a fan of conspiracy theories, if only because I like the idea of alternate explanations and theories for what is so readily accepted as fact, especially when it pertains to religion and science. Toyne introduces a monk determined to expose an ancient church conspiracy, his sister who has long thought him dead, and the two opposing factions who want to reach the both of them for the means to their own ends. Sanctus is the first in a trilogy, and as such many of the character’s stories are still unfolding. I like that there are strong female characters mixed in with the usual suspect (church heads, curious detectives), an interesting story line and a surprise at the end that I did not see coming. The pace is a fast one, and Toyne’s cinematic writing makes this a visual read (and a visceral one, there were some rituals and autopsies performed that had me squirming), the scenes pop from the pages. Other than it being a tad long, I’m looking forward to the next books in the series.


The Heavens Rise by Christopher RiceHeavens Rise by Christopher Rice (October 15, Gallery Books) I had high hopes for this one which were mostly fulfilled. The ending is where it went wrong for me. Rice writes absorbing novels that feature nuance in the relationships where  people are from different walks of life, but still interact with each other, forming friendships and rivalries. In The Heavens Rise, a young gay reporter and his older black mentor team up to get to the bottom of the mysterious events surrounding his best friend, who disappeared with her family shortly before the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. This is an engaging and creepy read that I really enjoyed it up until the  last quarter. There it took a turn that was entirely too fantastical for my taste. I wouldn’t warn anyone away, because I suspect this is likely a taste thing.  Unfortunately the last bits colored (and spoiled) everything that came before for me, but it’s still a worthwhile consideration for a creepy reads line up.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 BOOK CLUB   Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

Backstage Cat by Harriet Ziefert, Jenni Desmond (Illustrator) – Little Book Review

Backstage Cat by Harriet Zieffert

Backstage Cat by Harriet Ziefert, Jenni Desmond (Illustrator) (March 12, 2013, Blue Apple Books) Simon the cat goes to work with his person, who is the star of a Broadway show. Havoc ensues when he escapes to roam the theater and have a few escapades of his own! I am always on the look out for cute books for showers, birthday presents or to fill a Christmas stocking, and this fits the bill. It’s a simple introduction to the workings of the theater using a runaway cat as the guide. The writing is simple and fun and can be expanded to answer the questions of older kids or simplified even further for the younger set. I’m not sure even who could resist these adorable illustrations! I certainly couldn’t. Recommended.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Simon Vance (Narrator)  Audiobook Review