Thursday, July 18, 2019

Review: Snowfall on Haven Point

Snowfall on Haven Point Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, Andie works from home, some sort of website design.

Marshall Bailey is the Sheriff in the next town over and he's been in a recent accident so is stuck at home and doesn't want help.

But! Andie is besties with Marshall's sister, Wyn, so she's going to bring him food and comfort.

So. What I like about this series: people are introduced in earlier books, but because a whole community is created, it's never clear who the stars of the next book will be. Here, Andie is friends with Wyn, from an earlier book, and in that book we learned that Andie's first husband, a police officer, died in the line of duty and his partner, under the guise of "helping," stalked and then raped her, so she left town and was kind of in hiding and then Wyn, her boyfriend, and her brother -- Marshall -- were all involved when the rapist found her and attacked her again.

So, yes, Andie has a tragic backstory, but it's not the point -- it's part of who she is, yes, but, like Wyn's story, it's treated well.

This book continues the trend of folks in Haven Point having something health related going on -- here, it's Marshall's broken leg from a car accident.

BUT I also realized there is something else going on in many of these books! Secret parents/children! In one earlier book, the heroine was a secret love child who was brought into her father's family after her mother died. In another, someone learned that their emotionally abusive dad wasn't their dad after all. And someone else was the father of two kids and he suspected he wasn't the father of the younger boy, but darn it, he loved that kid and it was his son, gosh darn it.

Here, it turns out Marshall has a secret son! And again, I didn't realize until this book that secret/hidden family members were a recurring thing.

What else? Christmas solves so many problems. You have no idea. The next book isn't available from my public library, so I'll be skipping ahead in the series.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review: Notorious Pleasures

Notorious Pleasures Notorious Pleasures by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Both folks are titled here, and it's pretty much an arranged marriage but then she falls for his rake of a brother instead.

I have to say, this is the book that made the series just 3 stars for me.

So, triangle: heroine, fiance, hero who is fiance's brother. And there is some interesting stuff going on, in terms of the fiance having a mistress and double standards and also some family drama because of his hate for his brother.

But, at one point the fiance reacts violently about something and while he is forgiven in the book, I just can't with that type of violence. Both that it happens, who shrugs it off, and who forgives and why.

I also disliked the heroine's brother, who goes from "arranged marriage but I want you to be happy" to "marry who I say or else" and he's not supposed to be a bad guy.

There's also an interesting side story about gin: both the damage it's doing to the working poor but also how things like making gin support the fancy lives of the rich and I'm curious as to how this plays out as the series goes on.

There's something about this series so I continue!

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Review: Shelter in Place

Shelter in Place Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Only Nora could pull off a romantic suspense book against the backdrop of a mass shooting.

Why it works: it's set over several years. So this isn't romance after a trauma; it's about folks who survived something, how that shapes them, and then how as healed adults they come together.

It's no spoiler to say one of the folks behind the mass shooting survives, and plots their revenge, viewing themselves as the victim. This was a strong point of the story, in that their identity is known by the reader fairly early on so that the reader isn't guessing who the killer is. But, for me it was also a weak part because I really disliked the person and spending so much time with them was just ugh.

Things I like about Nora's books in general are here, also: the main characters are strong characters with backstories that make sense, they are independent, and they have sexual pasts and aren't shamed for it.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Review: Wicked Intentions

Wicked Intentions Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical Romance, mid 18th century, centered around the slums of London, specifically St. Giles.

She's the widow running the orphanage her family started; he's the noble looking for the person who murdered his mistress.

Future books are around their family and friends, and one thing I really liked about this book was the intersection between the workers and the nobles.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Review: A Big Mooncake for Little Star

A Big Mooncake for Little Star A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another beautifully illustrated book. I want to frame each page.

Mama makes a mooncake and hangs it in the sky; she tells Little Star not to touch it until Mama says.

That night, Little Star can't help herself. She gets up and nibbles just a little -- so little hardly anyone will notice.

And the next night she nibbles a little more.... and then a little more...

And so we see the reason behind the phases of the moon. It's Little Star nibbling away each night!

And when Mama sees what she has done and the mooncake is no more.... they create a new one.

Now, of course, I want to eat a mooncake.

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Thursday, June 06, 2019

Review: Alma and How She Got Her Name

Alma and How She Got Her Name Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alma thinks her name is entirely too long! When she writes it out on paper, she needs to tape two pieces together. Her name? Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela. A mouthful, right?

But then her father explains to her the story of why each name was chosen: who is Sofia, and what she meant to him, and why he included it in her daughter's name, and Alma embraces that name.

And who is Esperanza.... and Jose....and so on.

The illustrations are beautiful; the story is sweet; and it is all about learning more about yourself, about your heritage, and being proud of it.

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Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Review: Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eighth grader Marcus Vega looks like a grown up. He's tall, he's big, and at first glance some may think he's an adult... or that he's a bully.

He's not an adult, but he does have a lot of responsibility. His mom works a lot, leaving Marcus to take care of his younger brother, Charlie. Charlie is only one year younger than Marcus; Charlie is also a kid with Down syndrome, so part of the role Marcus takes on is being his brother's protector from school bullies.

Folks may think Marcus is a bully, because he's so big. Instead, though, he's turned that into in a plus: he's the kid who protects others from bullies. And, since his mom is struggling financially, he charges for the service.

When the real school bully picks on Charlie, using the R word, Marcus can't help himself -- he punches the kid. And earns a suspension. And his mom, not sure what else to do, and decides they all need a change of scenery so takes the boys to Puerto Rico to visit her ex-husband's relatives.

Here's what you need to know about her ex: he left ten years ago. He hasn't been in touch since. And Marcus believes in him. Believes that if he just sends the right email, says the right things, his dad will show up and somehow fix things. Fix it so his mom doesn't struggle, so they don't have to worry about how Charlie is treated at school, fix it so that Marcus can be a kid again. This last one is something Marcus doesn't realize, doesn't say, but it's clear to the reader that Marcus is tired of being the responsible grown up.

Marcus was born in Puerto Rico, but he's been raised outside of Philadelphia, he doesn't speak Spanish. The five day trip to Puerto Rico is fantastic -- they reconnect with family, his mother relaxes and also gets a clearer view of her life and what has been happening with her sons, and Marcus tries to track down his father. It's clear to everyone but Marcus that Marcus has created a fantasy about his father -- but Marcus has to learn the hard way.

A great book about how family both supports you, but also lets you down. And about somehow you have to take a little vacation from your life to get a clearer picture of who you are and what you want.

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Review: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What I like about historical true crime is the combination of true crime and an examination of the lives people lived in the past - a snapshot into the daily lives of regular people. Regular, that is, until someone is murdered and they are held up to critical examination and it's revealed that things are not so regular. Or, one could argue that any "regular" life will, upon examination, show lives of secret; private lives that don't match to public lives; and that the myths of the past are just that, myths.

So on one level: the brutal murder of a three year old child in 1860, and the investigation into it.

On another: the start of police work, and detectives, and how different things were, and in some ways the same.

On another: a look at the life of an upper middle class family of 1860 and the "truth."

I'm still not sure what the full "truth" of the Kent family was. But this was a fascinating look at the murder and the people around the murder investigation.

One thing, though -- I wasn't sold on why the suspect became the suspect, even when the confession was revealed. Admittedly, even the investigators thought the confession was incomplete. And maybe they are just smarter than me. And maybe it's not being of the time - I'm not able to completely understand what they saw that was off, that led to their suspicions.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Review: The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

A combination of my non-fiction interests: true crime, Victorian history, murder, child murderers, the life of working people, mental health, punishment, rehabilitation.

So! The mystery is not what happened. The mystery is why. In 1895, Robert Coombes, age 13, murdered his mother; left her rotting body in her bedroom; and he and his younger brother, age 12, did what two boys on their own would do. Go watch some sports events, play, pawn a few things to get more money. Family members and neighbors were suspicious, and when they came and smelled something and found the body, Robert pretty much confessed right away.

The mystery is why: and in looking at why, Summerscale looks at both Robert's family but also the times he lived in. His trial, and what happened after.

It was both surprising and actually a bit hopeful. The primary documents answer some questions and leave others unpursued, so it's to the reader and the author to connect the dots and make some guesses. Part of my surprise was, well, how sympathetic some people were; and how rehabilitation mattered as much as punishment.

Definitely recommended.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Review: The Season of Styx Malone

The Season of Styx Malone The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summer is the season that Caleb, 10, and his older brother, Bobby Gene, 11, meet Styx Malone. Styx is 16 and to Caleb, Styx is everything: cool and worldly and smart, clever and smooth and independent.

Summer at age 10 and 11: when life is both simple and oh-so-complicated. Caleb and Bobby Gene get into enough trouble on their own, and not necessarily on purpose. They didn't mean to trade their baby sister for a bag of fireworks, but somehow it happened, and who can say no to fireworks?

Styx introduces them to the concept of the escalator trade: a series of trades that slowly escalates the value that you hold, so that you start with a paper clip and end with a house. Or, for Caleb, Bobby Gene, and Styx, you start with fireworks and end with -- well, I'll let you find out.

Styx's bravado results in the boys having a magical summer of adventure, but there are some serious things going on. Things that the reader may realize before Caleb does.

Styx, like Caleb and Bobby Gene, is a black kid in Indiana. Caleb and Bobby Gene's father is protective of his sons -- worrying about what will happen in the world outside their small town -- to the point where he doesn't even want his sons to leave for a school trip. He wants them safe and the boys -- well, at least Caleb -- longs for the world outside his small town. Styx represents that world, and Caleb doesn't realize that Styx, a foster child, is not so much independent as a child alone. Caleb doesn't see what he has that Styx does not.

This is a great story -- a story of a summer full of swimming holes and fishing and bike rides. A story of friendship and family and trust. A story of a boy taking the steps to being a man. (In some ways -- and to me this is a great compliment -- this reminded of Stephen King, and how he writes about that time in childhood, a time of innocence and knowledge and darkness and light. But, of course, there are no monsters here.)

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Review: Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America

Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spooked! is about the 1938 radio teleplay broadcast by Orson Welles, which updated H.G. Wells' The War of the World by making it contemporary to the time (1938) and location (the US), using a mix of real places and fake names. For various reasons, some listeners did not realize that it was a play and thought that the Martians were invading.

Spooked!, a middle grade nonfiction book, takes an in-depth look at the creation of the play, how listeners responded, why, and the aftermath. It's the type of book that shows why I like middle grade and young adult fiction, and recommend it to others: it's in-depth but at the same time a quick read, and sometimes you want to read on a specific topic but don't want to do it in a 500 page book with small print.

Being from New Jersey, I always enjoy books that are "my" local history. For various reasons, the teleplay set the initial invasion landing in Grover's Mill, NJ. So it's a topic I'm familiar with; and still learned so much from this book.

Other good parts: links to the actual production for folks to listen to, an examination of why people believe something like this in the context of "fake news," and lots of primary documents.

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review: Front Desk

Front Desk Front Desk by Kelly Yang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ten year old Mia and her parents immigrated from China two years ago. Her parents moved for the freedoms the US offered. They have freedom, yes; but it's been hard. Very hard. If they are lucky, the jobs barely pay the rent; if they aren't lucky, they are living in a car.

Their luck changed when they saw the job posting to manage a hotel -- with an apartment included! They jumped at the chance, but the reality is a bit different from what they hoped.

Yes, there is an apartment: a tiny one bedroom, with Mia's parents sleeping in the living room so they can be on call 24/7. They are responsible for everything, including cleaning the rooms, and in order to get all the work done, they both can't be staffing the front desk. And that is how a ten year old ends up running the front desk.

Mia's parents face other challenges, including a hotel owner who relishes underpaying them and not spending any money -- including when the washing machine broke.

Meanwhile, Mia is happy to be at school -- except she likes English but everyone (even her mother) thinks that being Chinese means she should be good at math, not English. The richer kids make fun of her clothes. The worst is the boy who is the son of the hotel owner. She makes a friend -- and isn't one friend enough?

Especially when she has other friends: the "weeklies," the handful of folks who live full time at the hotel. And the other Chinese immigrants who visit her parents, with stories of their own struggles, who find comfort in friendly, familiar faces and the free, empty hotel room her parents offer.

Mia has ups and downs as she works the Front Desk. And along the way, she tries to figure out a way to make her family the success they hoped for when they got on the plane from China to the US.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Review: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can I give this six stars? I want to give it all the stars and then double it.

Stop what you're doing and read this book.

Of course I "know" Jack the Ripper, thanks to movies, TV shows, and documentaries about the 1888 murders in Whitechapel. The poor prostitutes of Victorian London.

Mind blown by this book. Rubenhold has researched the lives of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper and it turns out, poor, yes. Prostitutes? Their individual lives were complex and two did engage in sex work. But no, not all. And that realization could alter how one thinks about who Jack killed and why -- but no. This is not a book about Jack. It's for another to use this to look at Jack the Ripper; this book is about the women.

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary Jane. One by one, their stories are told, starting with their births. Their deaths are not described; the mourning, the impact on family and friends, is.

Put aside the murders; this is of interest to look at lives that history normally ignores. Women who are poor. Or, rather, whose lives end in a place of poverty.

This book is heartbreaking, not just because each of these women are murdered. But because for each of them, it was a tragic slide into poverty, a life of bad luck, few choices, no opportunities. It wasn't that there was "one thing", but so many things.

Unhappy marriages with no ability to divorce and no real spousal support and no opportunity to make money to earn a living. Deaths of parents that shift a family from close and loving and struggling, to one divided between family members at best or in the work house at worst. Alcoholism, and the impact across generations. Single women getting pregnant and the punishing consequences.

So many, many things --but some universal commonalities. The lack of a social services. The work it takes to survive while poor. The lack of work opportunities. A world view that sees women as either saints or whores, so that those that fall out of one role of course have to be in the other.

Also, the original research! The primary documents! The checking of workhouse records to see where people stayed, even if just for two nights, in the days and months and years before they died.

This is not a book about a murderer; it is not a book about murders; it is not a book about depth.

It's about five women who were alive, and loved, and did the best they could. And it gives back the dignity they lost.

Read this; you won't regret it.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Review: Hurricane Child

Hurricane Child Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twelve year old Caroline, living in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was born during a hurricane. Her mother told her the story of her birth to celebrate Caroline; but Caroline later learns from others that a "Hurricane Child" is a curse, "I won't have an inch of luck" and "sadness will follow me wherever I go."

Caroline may seem unlucky: at school, she has no friends, and is even treated poorly by the teachers at school. Her mother left, and after sending postcards, doesn't even do that any longer.

Caroline rejects the label of "unlucky" and decides to take charge of her own life -- and to find her mother. Oh, and she also wants to do something about the ghosts she sees.

In no particular order, what I loved about this book: the depiction of everyday life in the Virgin Islands. The prejudices Caroline faces. How lonely Caroline is. The wonder of her friendship with a new girl in school, Kalinda. How Caroline realizes that she has feelings for Kalinda. The mystery of what happened to Caroline's mother, and that adults are shown with complexity.

I enjoyed this being shown from Caroline's point of view, and as the book went along, how the adults in her life changed -- or rather, how her view of them changed.

And I liked the resolution: about Caroline creating friendships and families.

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: The Wall in the Middle of the Book

The Wall in the Middle of the Book The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, there is a wall in the middle of the book.

I read this as an ebook; I assume that in the print book, the wall is in the middle/gutter of the book.

The person telling the story is on the right; and the reader can see on both sides of the wall, while those in the story cannot. This is a book where the images add to the story, so that the reader sees things the knight doesn't, reaches their own conclusions.

On the left, a knight, repairing the wall and talking about how the wall protects him. On the other side, animals. As the knight talks about the danger on the other side of the wall, and as we see animals and then an ogre, on the knight's side there is water slowly rising -- and the knight doesn't realize at first the danger -- and then some scary, dangerous things in the water.

It's clear that protection the wall provides is an illusion; that the knight sees danger on the other side, ignoring the danger on his own side. It's a children's book -- eventually (spoilers) the knight realizes the danger he is in, is forced to go to the other side, and realizes things are pretty good over there.

One weird observation, though. In making the point that we fear the other; that we don't see the danger in what we are familiar with; that danger can creep up on you; there is also the point that those we fear may be the ones we go to for safety. That we may become the refugees. And... at the end... while the knight was wrong that "the other side" was dangerous, by the end of the story, there is one side of the wall that contains danger (the rising waters and dangerous sea creatures). It's not about two sides wrongly fearing each other; it's about being mistaken about which side to fear.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Review: Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first few chapters were terrifying.

It's late at night and Ivy, 12, is drawing in her journal. Minutes later, her father is there, rushing her out of her attic room. There's a tornado warning. At first I thought his fear was Ivy is in the attic, and he has to get his family -- his wife, 16 year old daughter, and twin infant sons - to the basement.

Except the basement is a storm cellar, and it's across the yard. And the tornado is right. there.

The family makes it to the storm cellar, and all six are safe. But the house, all they own? Is gone.

This is about Ivy and her family, living through the loss of everything. But Ivy had had loss before this: the addition of her baby brothers changed the family dynamic, and her relationship with her parents have changed. And then there is Layla, her sister, who she trusted and looked up to, until Ivy overheard Layla and her best friend argue -- because the best friend is dating a girl. And now Ivy can't trust her sister, can't talk to her, because Ivy is realizing she doesn't like boys the same way her friends do. It's girls that make her feel that way.

This is a wonderful book: about Ivy finding herself, and finding her friends, and who she can trust. It's Ivy feeling that she is lost and abandoned, because she's lost the family she had before her brothers were born, and she's lost her home, and she thinks she's alone in her feelings and emotions.

This is a beautiful LGBT story for younger readers.

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review: Riverbend Road

Riverbend Road Riverbend Road by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Things I like about this series and the author: it may sound like I'm making fun, and I kind of am, but honestly, that the backstory is there but not over done is refreshing. It means, also, the reader can bring their own interpretations and depth to it. And, as I think I mentioned, with the books focusing on the "start" of romances, there can be heat but since it doesn't go beyond kissing/making out, this satisfies those who want romances without sex, but don't want Amish or religious romances; they want romances in the real world with real people.

With this book, I realize that every couple so far has had at least one dead parent.

So! She's Wyn (short for Wynona and man suddenly I like this name) and he's Cade, and I also realized her that there was such a lost opportunity because the men in the first 3 books were Aidan, Ben, and Cole.... why wasn't this Dade?

She's a police officer, he's the chief of police, so that means he's her boss, and I really liked how the author handled this, to establish the feelings were consensual and that both were aware of the problems with the power dynamic.

OK! Backstory, which of course also includes some medical stuff because I think that's been almost every book.

Wyn is a police officer, daughter of the former Chief of Police, and it's basically the family business. Her twin brother (police officer) was killed in the line of duty (hit by a car), her father recently passed away. He was shot in the head a couple of years ago, and for two years was in a nursing home because of the traumatic brain injury he suffered.

And Wyn is also a rape survivor. Years ago, in college, she was date raped; she's never told her family, but she did press charges and help the police catch the guy and it's one of the reasons she became a police officer. And what I liked about this is that it's both a big deal and not a big deal. It's part of Wyn but she is still Wyn. She's not broken. Cade is not there to heal her or fix her. She's already fixed herself.

Cade is the only good son from a family that is bad -- his mom died years ago, the rest of the family are basically criminals, including his father, and Wyn's father became a father figure to Cade. One of her brothers is Cade's best friend. Cade is trying to help his own younger brother out, but that brother (while married with kids) also has a drinking problem.

So Cade is attracted to Wyn, and has known her since they were both kids (he's just a handful of years older), so there is a relationship independent from the boss/employee dynamic. Plus, he also feels undeserving, both because he still views himself as "the bad kid from the bad family," and he has SECRETS from the night her father was shot.

Also, I liked the ending here in part because the HEA involves Wyn pursuing her career dreams.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Review: Evergreen Springs

Evergreen Springs Evergreen Springs by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Devin is the town doctor, sister of McKenzie from the last book. Her backstory is she's a cancer survivor whose treatment included a total hysterectomy. As you may remember, McKenzie is her half sister from her dead father's affair. Don't worry, that part of the backstory really doesn't matter because she and her sister are best friends and cold mom is off on a cruise.

Cole is a former rodeo kinda star, whose a recovering alcoholic who served time for beating someone up pretty badly. His ex-wife just died, and now he has custody of his two kids with her, plus he's running the family ranch, plus his estranged dad shows up wanting a relationship, plus his sister has left her husband because he doesn't want kids and she's having twins. Oh, and she sprained her ankle. Which means she's in the hospital on bed rest.

Oh, and it also turns out that one of the kids may not be his, but don't worry, that part of the backstory doesn't really matter and never really gets mentioned.

He doesn't think he's good enough for her! She's afraid of making connections! Will these two crazy kids make it work?

Weird part of the story that I wonder about: he loves his house in the mountains, she loves hers on the lake, what will happen? Who will move? One fun thing about these books is that the HEA is the couple is together. Yes, the couples in books 1 and 2 show up as engaged and married in these later ones, but books are about the beginnings of relationships and don't rush to marriage & babies just to give the HEA. For example, couple number 2 live in two different states and as of this book, they're a long distance couple. And that's also why it's mainly kissing.

I cannot wait for the next one.

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Review: The Night Diary

The Night Diary The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved the author's first book, so was looking forward to this and was not disappointed!

Nisha and her twin brother, Amil, live with their Papa, grandmother Dadi, and their beloved cook, Kazi. Kazi gives her a diary on her twelfth birthday, and every night she writes in it. About her wish for a friend, about her brother's difficulty reading and their father's frustration with that, about how busy their father, a doctor, is, about how she loves to help Kazi in the kitchen, about the loss she feels for her mother, who died when the twins were born.

She also writes about the politics that adults are talking about. It's 1947 and India is about to become independent. It's an exciting time, except that a boundary will drawn between the Hindu part -- India -- and the Muslim part -- Pakistan.

Nisha and their family are Hindus. They live in the section that will be Pakistan.

Nisha tells of how splitting the country and creating a border creates an "us" and "them" that then creates violence. The family has a growing fear that their neighbors will attack them. Nisha's mother was Muslim; Kazi is a Muslim, and Nisha doesn't understand the hate.

The four leave their home behind, and I'll admit: the journey and the difficulties made me want to skip ahead to find out what happens to them, to make sure they are safe. It's a tough journey and it's scary, and their is kindness and cruelty, but it's all at a level that is aware of it's middle school audience.

In addition to an adventure, and a family story, it's also a good portrayal of what happened in India in 1947.

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Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Review: Be Prepared

Be Prepared Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a kid, I loved books about kids going away to camp - I remember reading Laura's Luck by Marilyn Sachs, and now I realize I should reread these books because I didn't realize they were historical fiction.


In this graphic novel, Vera is the poor kid in her group of friends, as well as an immigrant from Russia, so there are funny foods and language issues and all that. One thing she latches onto is all her friends go to camp, why can't she? And then she finds out there is a Russian summer camp!! She imagines camp as some type of always-fun place where she will have all the friends.

Camp isn't what she imagined. Some girls are mean. The toilets are outhouses. Everything is in Russian, and she can speak it but really can't read it.

This is a classic type of story -- Vera finds out more about herself, makes some bad choices, has some unexpected fun.

I'm hoping there is a sequel!

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Thursday, April 04, 2019

Review: Redemption Bay

Redemption Bay Redemption Bay by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The meet-cute here is McKenzie and Ben knew each other as teens. Now? She's the mayor of a town that blames Ben for their current financial woes. After his father died, Ben closed down the family boat-building business, the main employer in town. He also inherited a lot of commercial real estate, and left a manager to run them. The properties were neglected, adding to the town problems.

Now he's back! And while the town hates him, they also hope that he may somehow bring back prosperity.

Link to book 1: Hero in book one bought all that property from Ben and is the owner of a tech company, so they are both tech gazillionaires.

Last book had a kid with a heart condition and a hero recovering from brain surgery. The health issues here: Ben's younger sister died from cystic fibrosis as a teen.

Backstories of the main characters that left me going "ok, that's interesting." McKenzie was raised by a single mother, and after her mother died (oh, another health issue, diabetes) McKenzie, about ten, went to live with her father -- who didn't know about her! He's married, with a daughter a couple of years older than McKenzie, and a wife, who, yeah, he was married to when he had an affair with McKenzie's mother. The sisters are close, the mother (stepmother?) is cold to McKenzie -- or at least, not warm. Oh, and McKenzie's mom was Mexican, and McKenzie changed her name from Xochitl Vargas to McKenzie Shaw to fit in better. I KNOW. This last fact in particular is treated as "oh yeah and that happened."

Ben kinda hates his mom because his dad was verbally and emotionally abusive to both of them, but his mom stayed around until his sister died, so Ben has tons of resentment that he pretends he doesn't. BUT it turns out that when Ben's mom was a teenager she slept withe her boyfriend who left town for the army and college so OF COURSE she had to instead marry Ben's dad and pass of Ben as his, and Ben's dad didn't become an asshole to his son until the DNA tests taken because of the sister's CF. Did I mention her reasons included her father being a Baptist minister and helping to raise her younger sisters because her mom had died? (I think cancer, because there are a lot of dead parents who died before the story began: McKenzie's mom and dad, Ben's sister and father, Ben's mother's parents.)

So, does Ben somehow begin to bring prosperity to the town?

Do Ben and McKenzie get together?

Do Ben and his mother reconcile?

Does McKenzie and her stepmother get along?

Yes, yes, yes, no.

These are for readers who want romance with little spice: just kissing.

Final note: despite my wowing the backstories, I am addicted to this series. I want to see how the town pulls out of the economic issues. I want to meet McKenzie's cold but not mean stepmother.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Review: Snow Angel Cove

Snow Angel Cove Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A quick, entertaining read but what a weird meet-cute!

Aidan literally knocks Eliza off her feet when his rented SUV skids on ice and hits her, after narrowly missing her five year old. Don't worry, though, it's only bruises and she barely needs ibuprofen after. (It's the type of book where Eliza feels like even that is some weakness, but to give her credit, she realizes later that was a bit too much.)

And Eliza is widowed (long enough ago to be totally ready to fall in love again even though she doesn't want to for reasons). She's also a hotel manager, but she literally moved to town that day, arriving in time to see the place that just hired her go up in flames. Oh, did I mention her daughter's heart condition?

Aidan is a tech billionaire and there is a very light connection to Eliza's dead husband. Enough for Eliza to feel slightly conflicted, all lower case. Oh, and the accident was totally not his fault because ice, black ice, on a patch that the city should have salted or sanded or whatever, plus it was a rental so it's not his fault the tires were terrible.

Will I read the rest of the series? OF COURSE. Haven Point is small town that is dying, and this book seems to be setting up that Aidan, Eliza, and the folks they meet will somehow change the economics of the town. I'll be honest: usually business stuff in books isn't treated very realistically, so I know I should be realistic in my expectations. Still, I love books set in small towns (probably because I don't live in one), and so I am very intrigued in how the series is going to show the town recover.

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Review: The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A mystery, told to us by Mason Buttle. The mystery is about Mason's friend, Benny, who died just over a year ago.

Mason tells the story. He can tell a story but he's not that good at actually reading or writing. What becomes clear to the reader is that Mason has a lot going on, and has lost a lot the last few years. His mother died, his best friend died; his uncle sold a lot of the family apple orchard, so they have less property and aren't working the property they have; the house is falling down around Mason, his grandmother, his uncle, and the young woman his uncle has invited into their home.

Mason is goodhearted -- almost too kind, because he doesn't quite comprehend that the boys at school who bully him are pretty terrible and are being horrible to him. It was painful to read Mason not realize this -- and painful when Mason finally realized just how terrible they are.

That, though, was balanced by the good: Mason's joy at finding a new friend. A supportive teacher at school. And his family coming together, getting out of their joint depression, in a realistic and hopeful way.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Review: The Parker Inheritance

The Parker Inheritance The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


So much to say!

The kid-me would have loved this. And the adult-me also loves it. Bonus: I listened to it, and Cherise Boothe did an outstanding job with the different voices.

Plot in a nutshell: Candace and her mother are staying at her grandmother's house in Lambert, South Carolina, while her father gets their family home in Atlanta ready for sale. Her parents have split up; her grandmother died; and now Candace has to spend the summer away from her friends. Oh, and Candace's grandmother was the one-time city manager of Lambert -- a job she left in disgrace when a letter promising buried treasure led her to dig up a city park.

Candace discovers that letter in a box of her grandmother's and realizes her grandmother wasn't totally wrong. There is a treasure to be found. And Candace, along with her new friend and neighbor, Brandon, are just the two to figure it out. Candace loves games; Brandon loves books like The Westing Game; and combined, the two are unstoppable.

About that letter: it references a dark chapter in Lambert's history, when an African American family was violently driven from the town: high school coach Enoch Washington, his wife, and their daughter, Siobhan. The letter writer wants the town to remember the family, remember what happened, name those responsible. The prize? Millions -- some to go to the town, to help it, and some to the people who figure it. Candace hopes that if she solves this, not only will she get the money to save her house, but she'll also redeem her grandmother's legacy.

Why I loved this: a treasure! To hunt for! I adored books where a kid's family inherited a house and discovered a mystery and a treasure. The sad realization that, all things considered, I had no mysterious rich relatives who were going to die and leave me a mansion with secrets.

There is no mansion with secrets; instead, there is a whole town. The secrets are the hiding in plain sight ones: racism, and the different ways it impacts different generations. Secrets because people are afraid to tell them, but also because they can be too painful to tell.

The book jumps around in time: as Candace and Brandon learn more about the Washingtons in the present, the book jumps back to tell more about them, sometimes sharing details that Candace and Brandon are unaware of. It's a great way for the mystery to be revealed.

Fun fact: Candace mispronounces Siobhan's name at first. I know, Candace. I have a relative with this name, and man, the way it was mispronounced from just reading it in a letter.

One final point: I've never read The Westing Game. I know! I hope to correct this soon.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Review: The Book of Boy

The Book of Boy The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Link to Amazon.
. My rating: 5 of 5 stars

France. 1350. A manor. A young boy, simply named Boy, with no family; those who protected him, those who looked after them, are gone. A stranger comes, a pilgrim visiting holy places and holy relics. He needs help and takes the young boy with him on a journey to find Rib, Tooth, Thumb, Toe, Dust, Skull, Tomb, that will bring them all the way to the once great city of Rome.

Historical fiction set in medieval times? Yes, please.

Fiction that treats the world view of the people of the time as true? Yes, please.

Secundus, the pilgrim, has lost his wife and son and is convinced that if he finds the relics of Saint Peter -- the parts of the saint's body that are scattered across Europe and venerated by Christians -- and brings them all together at the saint's tomb, reuniting the body, that then his wish, his desire, his prayer to once again see his wife Flavia and son Lucius will be granted.

Boy at first goes along because the Cook at the manor tells him to (and because she has a prayer of her own) and also because he has his own desire: to be rid of the hump on his back, the reason he is mocked and bullied, the reason he isn't like the others. All he wants is to be a real boy, like the others around him.

Boy tells the story, and he has been raised at a manor by a small village with little knowledge of the outside world. He has been raised by a priest so has a strong view of what is right and wrong. His adventure takes him away, and introduces him to the concept of grey as he realizes that Secundus will lie, cheat, and steal to get the items on his list.

Boy's story also reveals to himself the truth of his origins, the truth of who he is --a truth that many readers will pick up before Boy, because of what Boy tells them.

This story has fantastical elements. Boy can can also hear the thoughts of animals, and they hear his. Saints, and their relics, are real: Boy touches them and they are warm. Secundus touches them and he burns -- one of the reasons he needs Boy's help.

I loved the adventure, the details of the world of 1350 (the wolves of Rome!), that Saint Peter is real, and the reveal of who Boy is. I also liked how while there was danger and violence, there was also kindness and hope. A good mix of the world as it is and the world as one would hope it would be.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Review: Treasured Grace

Treasured Grace Treasured Grace by Tracie Peterson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this because I wondered just what a Christian romance with a background of the Whitman Massacre would be like.

Grace, mid 20s, lost her husband on the Oregon Trail; she and her younger sisters are staying at the Whitman Mission while they try to connect with an uncle and figure their next move.

There were some good and interesting parts; and one could argue that the the attitudes towards Native Americans were historically accurate, pulled from diaries and such of the time. But I didn't want to read about how they were smelly and rude and they should accept Manifest Destiny and Christianity etc etc.

Also a romance against a measles epidemic, as well as the massacre and the aftermath. That's rough.

Spoiler warning:  The massacre included the rape of several of the teen girls. I didn't know about that aspect until I read this book, and again, that being in what is a romance was unsettling. It wasn't graphic, so there's that. And then, even worse: the main character's younger sister gets pregnant, so there's a whole thing about now this is God's gift because she can give the baby to an infertile missionary couple.

This may work for others. And I confess to being curious about book two, that will explore the middle sister's story.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Review: Sadie

Sadie Sadie by Courtney Summers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to this on audio and wow! No wonder it is the 2019 Odyssey Award Winner.

Sadie's younger sister was murdered; and now Sadie is missing. Sadie tells her story; as does the podcaster who, several months later, is trying to find her. I love stories like this! We know Sadies' point of view, and why and what she does; but we also see how others see her. How Sadie sees herself, how she sees others; how others see themselves.

Is the next door neighbor a warm and loving surrogate grandmother? Or is she manipulative who refuses to see the damage she inflicts on others? The answer is: both.

Is Sadie's mother a selfish and destructive drunk? Or is she a teenage mother with little resources or support who is an addict who does her best, even though her best isn't that good?

Some things are clear and without doubt. A boyfriend of Sadie's mother sexually abused Sadie as a child; and now Sadie is hell bent on finding, and killing, that man. That is why Sadie ran away. We know because she told us; the podcaster has no idea as he goes after leads.

I'll admit: one reason I don't like the neighbor, and had some sympathy for Sadie's mother, is that the neighbor saw that boyfriend as Mr. Wonderful, and the mother breaking up with him as yet another example of the mother being a terrible woman. When, in fact, it was one of the few good things the woman did.

Part of the tension of the story is that we follow Sadie's increasingly dangerous journey in looking for the exboyfriend and the podcasters several months later, with Sadie's fate unknown.

One reason this worked so well in audio is that the producers not only made this a multicast production with various voice actors; they saw it was about a podcasting and made those sections of the book an actual podcast.

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Thursday, March 07, 2019

Review: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've read Shirley Jackson (the short stories about her children and We Have Always Lived In the Castle are particular favorites) but I had never read this.

I watched the 1999 movie; and I just watched the Netflix series. (And the Netflix series is amazing, wonderful, not enough good words.) The Netflix series is not a "faithful" adaptation in terms of plot, but it is in terms of emotion and setting and creating a creepy/scary setting. It inspired me to finally read the book -- and because of my long commute, I elected for the audio version.

The Haunting of Hill House has supernatural happenings, but they are more about how folks react to what happens than they are about gore. It's scary, yes, to have a weird knocking on the door, but what pushes it over is how the folks are reacting to it.

The setup: Dr Montague writes about hauntings, he's heard that Hill House is haunted, so he arranges to spend the summer there and invites those who he believes will be "sensitive" to the haunting/spirits/supernatural. Two accept, Eleanor and Theodora. The owner of the house -- who doesn't live there -- insists a family member is also there, so Luke rounds out the group. Later on, Dr Montague's wife and her friend, Arthur, join them. The housekeeper and groundskeeper take care of the house but don't live there.

Hill House is haunted: the beginning and ending of the book tell us that. And it's Eleanor who tells us the story, Eleanor we become most acquainted with, and Eleanor, we learn from the start, has an active imagination about what is around her and about her own story. She sees a house and imagines she lives there; she answers a question with the life she thinks she wants (or the life she thinks will impress.) Eleanor reacts to Hill House, and the questions are, is the house reaching out to Eleanor? Was it waiting for her, to take her make her a part of it? Or -- is it just a house, with an odd layout, and is Eleanor unreliable? Is she telling us a story? And of course both are possible. Eleanor can be fragile, even before she gets to Hill House, and Hill House can be haunted.

What I didn't expect from the book was humor. For example: Mrs. Montague believes she is the most sensitive to hauntings, yet she doesn't see or sense the actual hauntings. (Or is this more evidence that incidents so far are things that Eleanor either did or exaggerated?)

Mrs. Montague's appearance also shifts how the reader sees her husband. Without her around, he can be the expert, the one who tells people what to do. She supports his investigations, yes, but she doesn't fawn over him. In addition to being funny, it also shifts how the reader sees him. This is another thing Jackson does brilliantly: how people are presented, the little things that are shown and done to shift what you think about them.

There are some dated things in here, which is one of the reason's I'm glad the Netflix series did what it did. It's a small thing, but the book is from 1959 and much is made of Eleanor feeling rebellious by buying two pairs of slacks. (For the record, I'm also annoyed by the "father doesn't let mother wear slacks" moment from another book and another favorite author.) On the one hand, it's good to be reminded what women were up against in 1959 when slacks was so edgy and not the done thing.

I also didn't like how some of the humor was from Mrs. Montague being the "bossy" wife. Even today, it's a bit of a sitcom trope, the great husband whose wife is shrill and henpecks and dismissive, which is both "ha ha at the bossy lady" and "ugh, women." In thinking about this, I've decided that it isn't Jackson's statement about women or wives: it's Eleanor's viewpoint, her interpretation of those dynamics.

Anyway! Recommended.

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Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Review: Small Spaces

Small Spaces Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love horror. Horror for children is tricky -- I've read my fair share that are "meh."

This is the opposite of meh. It is both wonderfully creepy and scary, and also perfect for the intended audience. It doesn't speak down to them; it doesn't go too far; it goes far.

So, Ollie has had a horrible year and is now pretty anti-social, retreating to books. Because of the Horrible Thing, most of the adults around her do their best to give her space. One thing she does is retreat into books, and one of her most recent books, acquired in a bit of a weird way (some lady was going to throw it away and Ollie rescued/stole it), has an odd story from long ago, about a woman, two brothers, and a strange deal with "the smiling man" to return someone from the dead.

The sixth grade goes on a field trip to a local farm. (As a funny aside, it's a working farm that is more tourist attraction than an actual farm -- it makes money from tours, from folks from the city who want to milk a real! live! cow!) Ollie sees coincidences between the farm and the book: descriptions and names. And the owner of the farm? The lady who was trying to get rid of the book.

Ollie is relieved when they all get back on the bus to go home. She's especially glad to get away from the scarecrows -- all the creepy scarecrows.

But then the bus breaks down. And the bus driver gives Ollie a weird warning. And no one's cell phones work. And her broken watch starts working -- except now it's a countdown, with a warning: RUN.

Only Ollie and two others follow that warning. When they get off the bus, they realize that everything looks - wrong. It's wronger than the can imagine.

OK, I don't want to go more without spoilers, but I'll just say: Creepy scarecrows!! Kids who take initiative. But -- in terms of what makes this middle grade, even aside from the ages of the main characters -- it's about family and creating family and returning to family. Ollie's father is amazing (he bakes! he cooks! he's understanding yet not indulgent!). Her mother was pretty special, also (but, spoilers.) It's also about making friends - not romance, but friends.

I also love all the details that create the setting, especially when talking about things the "country kids" like Ollie know (the right clothes to wear in New England in the fall).

Intended audience: with the main characters in 6th grade, I'd recommend this for 3rd to 8th grade. (Yes, not all 8th graders "read up" and want to read YA that is all sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll.) As an adult reader, who has read many a scary book and watched many a scary movie, I suspected the truth about a character or two, but that doesn't take away from the story.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Review: Becoming

Becoming Becoming by Michelle Obama
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Michelle Obama.

It was terrific; and like I had a friend in the car, talking, telling stories.

Part of it was Michelle herself telling the story. And part of it is that I'm just a couple of years younger than Michelle Obama, and while some of our paths are obviously different (I am not first lady, lol), I was in college and law school during the times she was (but not at as good as schools as she was at.) And, like her, I had the realization that law as a profession was not for me, so what next?

This is more memoir than autobiography, so I'm sure some readers would want more about x, y, or z. And it stops just as she leaves the White House.

It makes me miss the Obamas.

Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Review: Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At some point, I'll do a better job of reading history in order, instead of jumping around in time.

Non-fiction about the Elizabeth of York: daughter of Edward IV, sister of Edward V, wife of Henry VII, mother of Henry VIII. Who, by all rights, should have been Queen in her own right after the deaths of her brothers, but was instead the wife of the victor, Henry VII. And, as Weir explains, Henry VII took great pains to make it clear that he was ruler as himself.

It appears that Elizabeth was content with her role as a queen defined by being wife-of-king. Had that not been the case, the queens Elizabeth would have been II and III, because she would have been viewed as Elizabeth I. (That is me, not something Weir talks about it.) It's interesting how generations change things, even in the past, because Elizabeth was the grandmother and great grandmother of Queens in their own name: Mary I, Elizabeth, and Mary Queen of Scots. (And of course Lady Jane Grey.)

This is an interesting look at the fullness of Elizabeth's life, which is usually not really given much thought because, well, she was an 'of' instead -- daughter of, sister of, wife of, mother of. This gives her back some of her own uniqueness, her own self.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Review: The Bargaining

The Bargaining The Bargaining by Carly Anne West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Penny is sent to live with her father, stepmother, and stepbrother.

She ends up spending the summer with her stepmother, as her mother works on flipping an old house in the woods near a small town.

Bad things have happened in that house, in those woods; the locals give them problems; her stepmother is frantic not to lose her investment.

This as a good, scary, haunted house book. The two things I liked best about it: Penny, who is very real in how she handles herself and the situation, neither too brave nor too timid. And, that while there is a local cute guy, this is not a romance, there is no real romance.

I'm so over every book having to also have a romance in it. Can't it just be a scary book (or a mystery or whatever.)

So this: four stars because scary and no romance.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review: Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs

Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs by John Bloom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I remember watching a made for TV movie inspired by this years ago.

Short version: Early 1980s Texas. One church-going housewife murders another, in a pretty violent, nasty way. Why? And, how does her community respond?

This is old (a reissue), and it works in that the time period being depicted is shown "in the moment," rather than with a historical distance. But, that is also a flaw, because I would have liked more distance: more judgment, more post-crime information on the key players, more analysis that only time can give. And, in a way, less judgment -- the women were judged for what they did or not do with their lives and their marriages, and while those were the judgments of the time, today, there would have been more sympathy, in some places; and less in others.

But if you like true crime, it's a quick read; and it's easy enough to do a google search to find out what happened to the survivors after.

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