Tuesday Shorts: The Sacrifice of Lester Yates, The End of Men, Find You First and The Moonlight Child

Of course I’ve been neglectful of writing blog posts and reviews; of course I have. It’s spring and that means gardening for me. That doesn’t mean I stopped reading. In fact, I think I’ve read more books already this year than I did last year during the height of the pandemic. So, bear with me as I post some short, quick reviews of some of the books I’ve read thus far.

From beginning to end The Sacrifice of Lester Yates captivated me. Robin Yocum, a new-to-me author, can seriously write. His descriptions and knowledge of the grittier side of Ohio and midwestern politics are so spot on; it truly is impeccable writing. Labeled as a “legal thriller,” I thought it was more political suspense. It’s a story told well, not an edge of your seat thrill ride.

What was most interesting for me is that the book is told from a Republican politician’s viewpoint which is something I tend to avoid. However, here was a pro-death penalty guy working like crazy to get an innocent man off of death row. He also does a great job of showing the nasty underbelly of party politics which we see so often today in the US.

I loved the book and highly recommend it. I’ll be reading the prequel now and am happy to have found another great midwestern author to follow.

THE END OF MEN by Christina Sweeney-Baird

The End of Men is one of those books where I think the hype is influencing the reviews. I’ve read two other books about a pandemic that wipes out males and they were far better than this one. Far too many characters to keep them straight and, in the end, there still was just greed and nations fighting over crap. I’d like to think that women could do better than this but given the results of the pandemic, perhaps I’m overly hopeful. Read Athena’s Choice for a far superior book about the end of men.

FIND YOU FIRST by Linwood Barclay

Normally I love Linwood Barclay’s books and I did really like Find You First until I didn’t. First, exactly how many people know and are willing to hire “hitmen?” Is this just something that I have missed throughout my life? Executioners around here are generally so stupid that they get caught and then turn out to be young men on drugs. In Find You First there is a plethora of these men just waiting to be hired and apparently screw the wealthy person hiring them. Who does that!? I liked the premise of the main character finding his “offspring.” That was an interesting storyline. However, the book totally went off the rails in the end with the Winnebago. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a serious piece of crime fiction that resorted to something so ridiculous. Ever. So, I gave it three stars because I was semi-sort-of hooked until the end.

Lest you think I haven’t enjoyed my reading material this year, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite books so far:

The Moonlight Child by Karen McQuestion

I didn’t expect to love this as much as I did! This is a beautiful story of horror, loss, love and forgiveness. This author is new to me but her writing is mesmerizing, pulling you into the lives of each character and then wringing your heart out with emotion.

The Moonlight Child is the story of wee little girl named Mia who is kept hidden by a family that she knows is not her own. She knows that her world is different from other children; she is well fed and cared for but also is forced to do the housework which is expected to be done perfectly. The child is only five years old. It is also the story of Nikki, a foster home “graduate,” who knows there is more to life than what she has experienced to date. She is intelligent, caring and, currently, at loose ends. Nikki is taken in by Sharon, her social worker’s mother, and the relationship between these two women is one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever read. Together, Sharon and Nikki try to unravel the mystery of the girl they only see in the moonlight.

This book is emotional and beautiful and one that I I highly recommend.

Have your read any of these books while I’ve been away? What did you think of them? Am I once again out in left field? Let me know!

Snow by John Banville

Not realizing that John Banville was actually one of my favorite authors who used a pen name, I wanted to read Snow, literally, due to the title. We were under a blizzard warning and it seemed quite a appropriate. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I was reading the famed Booker prize winning author whom I’ve always love but by a different name!

Snow is a very traditional piece of crime fiction. St. John Strafford is sent out on a murder inquiry in a small town in Ireland. The year is 1957 and the Catholic church is well in control of everything. As St. John carries out his duty, Banville provides us with a critique of the Catholic church at the time, and the present because not much has changed, the Irish “troubles,” and does so while beautifully using the Snow as a character all unto itself. At times the Snow is beautiful; at times it is oppressing but always it is present as Strafford works to uncover the killer.

Banville has a style of writing that is slow, methodical, atmospheric and brilliant. I’ve grown a bit weary of “fast paced thrillers” and their formulaic gimmicks, so I truly appreciated the writing that Banfield provided in Snow.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradel

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is such a lovely tapestry of a tale. From beginning to end, the story of Eva envelops you whole and does not let you go long after you’ve turned the last page.

I have an ever growing love for midwestern authors especially since moving to this beautiful region of the US. The writing style of the authors in this area is distinctly different from their counterparts in the rest of the country and has a flavor all its own. When that style is combined with metaphors of food, cooking and love then the result is nothing short of brilliance and that is exactly what happens within Kitchens of the Great Midwest. It is difficult to describe the plot because, while the story intricately revolves around Eva as she grows and matures into both a gorgeous, kind young woman as well as a talented chef, there are stories of so many others in Eva’s life, each of whom made a difference to her, her path, her ultimate success. Their stories are just as important as hers even though they are secondary. It is the whole, the complete when combined that makes this book so delicious – not unlike the perfect menu.

I highly recommend Kitchens of the Great Midwest and sincerely hope that you enjoy it as much as I have.

Shadow Falls by #WendyDranfield

Finally! A seriously great crime fiction novel that does not sugar coat the US legal system. Thank you Wendy Dranfield!!!

I first read about Shadow Falls, the first in the Madison Harper series, on Zooloo’s Book Diary blog. It sounded so intriguing and different from the norm that I had to give it a try. I am SO glad that I did. Madison Harper is a former detective who is on early parole for manslaughter of a fellow cop. She insists that she was set up and is determined to prove her innocence. To help her, she enlists the aide of Nate, also a recently released prisoner who was wrongfully convicted of murder and was on death row in Texas -three months out from his death sentence. Now this is a great combination right here. Seriously! When writers come up with flawed characters this is not the norm but they are so, well, I won’t say perfect together but they are great. However, their perspectives are so incredibly spot-on for what we are experiencing in today’s US society that I was shocked with its accuracy. All politics aside, though, the real mystery in this first book is a missing child that Nate has been hired to find. Madison’s answers have to wait until this child is found and what a crazy, mixed up world this poor child has fallen into. Don’t ever send your child to summer camp!!!

To say that I loved this book is an understatement. Not only did I read it in one sitting, I immediately downloaded book two and read it!! Now what!? I want MORE!!!!! Thank you Zoe for another terrific review and putting me onto another great read and author!!

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

Finally! I’ve seen Ann Cleeves books for years but never could find the time to go back to the beginning. I’ve even watch the television show, Vera, based on these books but never got around to reading the actual series. With Covid, the time arrived and I’m so glad!

The Crow Trap is divided into sections devoted to the primary characters ending with Vera. We aren’t really introduced to her until halfway through the book, although we do get a glimpse of her early on. There is a suicde, a murder, lots of suspicion and another murder before the book finally settles down into a proper police procedural. For some readers I suspect that the book would read “too slowly.” Cleeves is well known for her descriptive, atmospheric, very detailed writing and it really comes through in these early books more so than in her later series. It is this style of writing that I particularly love about British writers, however. Perhaps you remember books from an earlier time period and recall that it took us more than one day to read them. Yes? That is because of the detail; they contained more than fast paced action and tons of dialogue. I had started to miss that type of writing despite really adoring crime fiction. My answer – Ann Cleeves. If you like crime fiction told with very well developed characters, a great whodunnit with loads of atmospher then give Ann Cleeves a try. She is worth every minute (days) of your time.

Aftershock by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell

You know, I realize that I am a horrible blogger. I’m inconsistent. I rarely follow up like I should. My heart is in a good place but my bipolar brain sometimes does it own thing. Then the guilt sets in and I think, oh god, I’m so far behind or my reviews are too lame or too short or too far behind so I just don’t post. It’s a never ended cycle. SO just know that I’m trying. I’m reading like the crazy person that I am and will post as often as my brain allows….

Aftershock is the second in the Jessie Teska series revolving around Teska, an abrasive, hard core forensic pathologist in San Fransicso. I absolutely loved (!) First Cut, the first in the series by this writing duo and anxiously awaited the arrival of this Aftershock. I was quite disappointed with myself, actually, because I simply could not connect with the story line or even with Teska, herself, in this follow up. There is another questionable cause of death, this one at a construction site, but then there is a major earthquake which Teska must survive. Simply put, there was too much going on. Pick one – forensic thriller or earthquake thriller but I didn’t need both on top of Teska’s already bit over the top personality. I’m just not sure I’ll bother with another book, if there is one, in this series despite my love of the first.

Valentine’s Day with Snowman Paul by Yossi Lapid

Sooooo, it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. Are you ready? Do you celebrate with hearts and roses or, perhaps, you do the “galentine” thing with your friends? Me? Nothing. For nearly 50 years I have despised this day, this month, like a curse on my existence. Name something horrific that can happen to someone and I can assure you that it has happened to me on this day. HOWEVER – that is a really huge HOWEVER – this year a dear author and someone I’ve come to call friend sent me a book all about this day that I despise and it has changed my entire week, my month and, dare I say, outlook? Valentine’s Day with Snowman Paul is a simple and yet profound look at the true meaning of love. What is love asks a snowman who believes he has no feelings…. As Paul discovers, love is so many different things to each and every one of us. It can be family, it can be someone special, it can our love of SNOW, most importantly it can be our friends who come along just when we need them the most.

This is, as always, a marvelously written children’s story and the children in my life (including myself) loved it. We have read and reread it multiple times. Joanna Pasek has created beautiful illustrations that capture the imagination of all who look upon them and lend so much enrichment to the book. I simply cannot recommend this book highly enough to any and all who have young children or to those who may need a bit of a lift this holiday.

Yossi, thank you for your gift of friendship. Your love continues to make this world a better place for us all.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward is the story of Edward Adler, the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed his entire family along with many others. Told primarily through Edward’s perspective, we also flashback to other passengers on the plane and follow their stories leading up to the crash. This, of course, is hearwrenching as we learn of their good and bad qualities, their secrets and their desires, all of which vanish with them in an instant. Except for Edward’s. As Edward physically recuperates, we also see him mentally grow stronger as he deals with his new reality with the help of his aunt, uncle and their wonderful next door neighbors. This is a story of pain, love, growth and giving and it is one that I am so thankful that I read.

So, why not 5 stars? There was a point about midway through where I almost quit reading the book. It meandered to the point of feeling lost and confused. Then, just as I was about to put it down, it turned a corner and the remainder of the book was far better than the first; so much so that Dear Edward will go into my top favorite reads. It is a book that stays with you to remind you just how precious life truly is.

One Last Child by #AnniTaylor

Anni Taylor is a new to me author and, truthfully, it was the starkness of this cover that drew me in and made me want to read the book. I’m very glad I judged this book by its cover because I loved it!

Kate Wakeland is an older homicide detective nearing retirement age but that hasn’t slowed her down at all. When she hears about five children going missing from a park, she doesn’t give it a second thought since it’s not her area – mispers vs homicide – that is, until she finds out one of the missing is her granddaughter. Kate desperately wants on the investigative team but is hampered for multiple reasons. Once the brass finally relents, Kate reviews all of the “clues” and begins unraveling who might have taken the children and why. When the children begin reappearing years later, the case is thrown into turmoil. However, One Last Child does not come home – Kate’s granddaughter!

The storyline is well written and it was marvelous reading about a detective who is a woman, brilliant and older!! Some of us who are not young are growing very tired of only seeing young women cops or screwed up old men detectives. I’ll take more like Kate Wakefield any day!! I loved the all of the characters, even the ones that were unlikeable. This definitely is a series I’m going to enjoy!

The Plus One by #SarahArcher

Part Sci-Fi, part RomCom, The Plus One is a fun, funny and endearing story about what may possibly be our near future.

I actually hesitated even calling this “sci-fi” because the reality is that AI is far to close to the reality portrayed in The Plus One. Kelly is a robotics engineer who is a genius but also a bit socially inept. When she needs a date to a wedding and cannot find one, she builds him instead. Meet Ethan, the perfect “man” for Kelly. But that is the problem, he IS the perfect man for her. She knows she cannot “keep” him, he isn’t a pet, but she has developed real feeling for her AI creation. The story of Kelly and Ethan is as endearing as it is funny. I loved them BOTH and love the perfect ending even more.