Defense of An Other by Grace Mead

Defense of An Other is gripping book ripped from today’s headlines. Sort of.

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Matt is an up and coming young attorney practicing in post-Katrina New Orleans for a prestigious law firm. While his career is on the fast track, his personal life is not. He has just ended a long-term relationship with his girlfriend and is exploring his attraction to men – something he has felt since he was a young boy. He has not, of course, come out to anyone, not even to himself. After a tough day at work, he decides to go to a gay club in the French Quarter where he meets Joey. The two don’t necessarily hook up but they do spend a nice, fun night at the club together. When they step out back to take a leak – the men’s room being stuffed full – they are attacked by three thugs looking to beat up some “faggots.” One of them ends up dead and Matt is arrested for the murder – first degree murder, no less. It is, after all, the south in the early 2000s – not that much has changed since then – and it is the word of the “bubbas” against “gay boy” Matt. You can see where this story is going, right?

The author is a successful attorney herself, very intelligent, and it shows throughout the book. The legal aspect of the pre-trial and courtroom drama is spot-on and captivating. I love legal thrillers and, from that aspect, Defense of An Other, is terrific and well written. I also spent half of my life in Arkansas, a stone’s throw from New Orleans, and nearly every summer of my adult life we traveled down to NOLA. The description of New Orleans, the French Quarter, the people there is vivid and real. I could almost smell the stench of the garbage and vomit of Bourbon Street and remember how amazing the Café du Monde looked and smelled at dawn. However, when it came to the actual characters of the book, I thought Mead drew up short. Matt and his mother never were quite angry enough to be believable. If it was me or my son, I would have been livid. Everyone stayed so calm, cool, collected. I have been arrested on false charges – that’s a story for another post – and my son has been arrested for protesting. I know first hand how these characters should have reacted and calm and cool were not in our wheelhouse on those occasions. You also had a mother who, in a round-about manner, just found out that her son may or may not be gay and she just shoved that discussion aside and talked about going back to work instead. Totally bizarre. From a legal stand point, the book is brilliant. From a personal perspective it was lacking and that missing element made all the difference in the world for me. The ending, too, was abrupt and unfulfilling. I’m unclear if it was meant to be a cliffhanger or if we were meant to extrapolate our own interpretation of what would come next but, either way, it simply didn’t work.  Defense of An Other is being billed as a legal thriller and LGBTQ. It is legal fiction that features a young man who was in a gay bar and is tried as a gay man. I’ve read a lot of other books featuring LGBTQ characters that were not labeled as such for the simple premise that they are, in fact, human beings just like the rest of us. I’m not sure I appreciated the distinction for this particular work. While his sexual orientation is the reason for the beating and storyline in this particular instance, Matt could just as well have been African American or a prostitute or Asian American or a liberal or Muslim or, or, or An Other that Southern Bubbas find offensive. “They” are the issue, the point – if you will – not his sexual orientation. Three stars, middle of the road, because of the great legalese versus the poor character development.

I was given this book to review by #Netgalley and #ClinkStreetPublishing.

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A Slice of Magic @AG_Mayes

A Slice of a Magic is, yes, a magical, sweet story that will leave you hungry for more….

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Over the holidays I grew accustomed to peppering light, happy books throughout my rather grim readings and found, after the first of the year, that I missed the lighter diversions. It was a habit that I didn’t want to give up just because the holidays had ended. Luckily, I found a wonderfully delightful book to fill the niche: A Slice of Magic. 

Susanna hasn’t heard from her favorite aunt, Erma, in twenty years – not since her aunt suddenly disappeared from her life – but now she has received an urgent message begging Susanna to come and help Erma at her pie shop. Taking a leave from her job, out of curiosity about her aunt’s past as well as her current situation, Susanna heads out to the town of Hocus Hills only to discover that her aunt is no where to be found. She has left Susanna to run the pie shop and unravel the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance – again.

This is, at once, a wonderfully charming cozy mystery as well as the age old tale of a family in need of forgiveness and second chances. It is filled to the brim with quirky characters whom you will adore, conniving ones you will love to hate and a pooch that will steal your heart. There also is a fair amount of magical influence throughout Hocus Hills that makes the town sparkle and entice you to come back for more. While this is a cozy read, there is plenty of substance within the somewhat brief storyline to make it a satisfying read. I definitely will be back for another visit to Hocus Hills!

Thank you to #Netgalley, @HarperImpulse and @AG_Mayes for my copy of #ASLICEOFMAGIC

 

She Lies in Wait #GythaLodge

Of all of the genres that I love, and I do love a lot, the one I find myself immersed in most often is police procedurals. Police Procedurals are a sub-genre of “Detective/Crime novels” and are told from the police point of view, often involving several, often unrelated cases that seemingly come together in the end. I give you this definition because She Lies in Wait is, honestly, a perfect example of a British police procedural done well.

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Thirty years ago, six teenagers went camping in the woods. Only five of them would awaken the next morning. Now, the body of the sixth friend, Aurora, has been discovered in a “grave” in the woods and it is up to DCI Jonah Sheens and his murder squad to uncover the details of what really happened that horrible night, a night filled with too much booze, drugs, consensual and non-consensual sex. Was one of the campers the killer or was it someone who knew they and the drugs would be at the campsite? They aren’t talking which leaves only the 30-year old, decomposed body of Aurora to tell her tale.

She Lies in Wait is a slow burning, methodical detective story where every clue, every person, every detail is thoroughly looked at and discussed. This is not a “thriller” or a “suspense” novel, it is procedural where you – the reader – are along for the ride with the police as they go through their investigation. If you go into this book expecting “edge of your seat” excitement, then you will be slightly disappointed. If, like me, you love and adore well written, hard core detective books, then this will be a winner! Lodge has crafted a story that has a lot of back-story in these once-teens/now-adult characters who have remained unusually close for thirty years. In addition, DCI Sheens was on the peripheral  edges of the group and appears to have a bit of history with them as well, something he would like to keep hidden from the remainder of his squad. His squad, in turn, are an interesting group. The two men are complete opposite of one another: one quiet and thoughtful, the other gregarious, and the newest member, a female, has a few secrets of her own. The intrigue of all of the characters helps to push the storyline along.

I really do hate for books to be compared to one another, but I often thought that She Lies in Wait was quite similar to Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. No doubt fans of that series would disagree, but the writing is similar and, of course, the methodology of the squad itself is the same. In addition, the way that both authors sink into the personal lives of the characters and weave it into the main story felt familiar to each and it was something I enjoy in both series.

If you enjoy police procedurals, particularly British ones, then I highly recommend She Lies in Wait. If you like a good mystery, I think you will enjoy it as well.

Thank you to #Netgalley, #RandomHousePublishingGroup and @thegyth for my copy of She Lies in Wait which will be published in the US on January 8, 2019.

 

More Than Bones @CraigDSinger

More Than Bones will take you on a roller coaster ride that you won’t soon forget! It was not at all what I was expecting but far exceeded all of preconceived silly ideas! A tale of self-exploration with a steep learning curve, it is a perfect read to start your new year!

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Dr. Emily Norton has relocated to Baltimore to begin her residency program at a Catholic hospital in order to be closer to her fiancé. She has rented a room – the attic space – in a gorgeous older home owned by a rather odd, effusive gentleman also named Norton – his first name, not last – and immediately is charmed by the elderly next door neighbor, Frank, who insists on gifting her a large, rather chunky, but quite expensive amulet that is hanging around his cat’s neck. It’s all rather strange, I know, but told in a such an amazing manner that you get wrapped up in the story from the very first line. Trust me! The amulet comes with a warning never to take it off – ever! Of course, Emily’s only faith is in science and facts and she promptly hangs the necklace on her skeleton – a gift from her new landlord. She has lived her life having religion crammed down her throat and the only thing she believes in is the here and now – thank you very much. Aaaahhh, but soon Emily finds herself without a fiancé, friendless, in the middle of a city-wide scandal, jobless and the “bad luck” is increasing by the day. Finally, she puts the amulet on and, voila, her luck begins to change. Or does it?

While on the surface this appears to be a story of magical realism, a story about a magic amulet that has brought good fortune to its owners throughout history, it is more the tale of a person being the master of their own fate, of coming to terms with their own beliefs, either with or without religion, either with or without science, and what consequences those beliefs might lead to in our lives. It the coming of age story of a young woman who has been raised without a mother by a somewhat tyrannical father who has to find her own way as an adult. It a story of which I am quite familiar and many of the questions that Emily was asking herself were ones I have grappled with over my own lifetime.

The characters in More Than Bones are hilarious, quirky, humorous, hateful, vibrant and I loved them all – even Norton’s mother! Singer does an amazing job creating people that I feel like I have known my entire life. In fact, I think I have known someone just like them. There are so many areas covered from science to religion, suicide to health care, the LGBTQ community to breast cancer and yet each one of these topics is handled with a deft hand. I was raised on southern literature with eccentric characters from Flannery O’Connor and Fannie Flagg to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. More Than Bones reminded me of all of the good qualities of that genre – the humorous, somewhat over-the-top characters mixed with hell-fire and brimstone religion pulling against the modern world of science and religion – all combined to make a thoroughly marvelous, enjoyable, thoughtful book, one that I highly recommend!

Thank you to #Netgalley, #TwinRabbitBooks and #CraigDavidSinger for allowing me to read this amazing book!

 

Journey of York @HasanDavis

There are few stories more well known in United States history than that of the Lewis and Clark expedition from St. Louis to the farthest reaches of the continent, what would become known as Oregon/Washington. The pair of explorers took with them 23 crewmen, most were former military men with whom they had served; all but one were volunteers: York, the African slave whom Clark had inherited from his father’s estate. However, aside from the Shoshone woman, Sacagawea, and her “husband” Toussaint Charbanneau, no one was more valuable to the success of the exploration than the man known as York. Yet, for nearly two centuries York’s story and vital contributions have remained largely untold – until now.

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To say that I am an avid devotee of the Lewis and Clark expedition is an understatement – and even that statement doesn’t do justice to my obsession. While my university degree is in history (and US politics,) my area of specialty is the Jefferson/Jacksonian period primarily because I simply could not get enough information about Lewis and Clark and their westward adventure. I wanted to know what they found, the native Americans they met, how they survived the winters, about their longboats. Yes, I’ve even retraced the Lewis and Clark trail from beginning to end and back again. I’ve toured Fort Clatsop, visited burial sites, read their journals and far, far more. What always has fascinated me, however, was how much this pair relied on York, how much they wrote about him and then how quickly his importance vanished. They used his skin color to fascinate native Americans who never had seen any human with that skin color. They thought he was a “medicine man” or “magic.” He opened doors for the explorers and saved their lives on more than one occasion. His brute strength enabled them to carry more boats over dry riverbeds and to build their fort before the winter cold could kill them. He even became – literally – the first African American to vote on American soil when the party had to decide which side of the Columbia river to set up their fort. It was groundbreaking. And yet, once the explorers returned back home – no mention of his bravery, heroics, saving strength or equality was mentioned again. It was during a time in American history when already a division was growing among the states over the slavery issue and giving York credit simply was not done. Shame on everyone involved and KUDOS to Hasan Davis for finally telling this hero’s story!!

The book is written for young readers and is very simplistic in its telling. Think back to the history books of your childhood and this book is written similarly. I would have liked for the illustrations to have been more imaginative in order to capture the attention of graphic savvy young readers, but the story itself is well told, doesn’t stray from historic fact and isn’t too heavy handed when it comes to finger pointing – which it could have done. I think this is an absolute must read for all young American readers, for teachers of young students, parents, and perhaps even adults who are clueless regarding the real heroes of the expedition. I love Lewis and Clark but I know, without a doubt, where the credit for their expedition’s success truly lies.

Thank you to #Netgalley, @CapstonePub and #HasanDavis for fulfilling all of my wishes for the new year by allowing me to read York’s story and especially to Mr. Davis for bringing York’s story to life at last!

For additional reading on the Lewis and Clark expedition, I highly recommend a historical fiction book by Anna L. Waldo titled “Sacajawea.” I have read it five times over the past 30+ years and will read it again this year. It never gets old. Fiction yes, but a beautiful, captivating story never-the-less.

 

 

An Anonymous Girl

I don’t know about you, but I have the day after Christmas holiday hangover of not wanting to do much of anything except sitting around and drink coffee and read. By itself, that’s a bad idea; however, I’ve read a dozen books all of which now need reviews written for them. Would anyone like to volunteer for me, please? No? Oh, okay then…. On the first day after Christmas I wrote about An Anonymous Girl…..

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanan, authors of the best-selling hit book “The Wife Between Us,” are back and the hype their book is receiving is well deserved!

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In a world where morality is an ever changing gauge, a fluid point on which no two people agree, making ones way through relationships – familial, friendship, romantic liaisons – can be tricky at best. So, when Jessica, a make up consultant in need of money, overhears a client talking about a morality study at the local university that pays a handsome fee in return, she maneuvers her way into the study, a move that will alter her life forever.

This is a smart, expertly written psychological thriller that weaves a web of deceit so intricate that you will caught into it before you realize the first strand has been laid down for you. The characters are deftly written, I disliked them and loved them at varying times and all at once – is that is even possible – until the very last line of the book.

While I wasn’t a fan of The Wife Between Us, I found An Anonymous Girl to be extremely entertaining, very thrilling, a marvelous cat and mouse game and the ending was sheer perfection. The only reason I didn’t give it a full five stars is because there were scenarios that were just too over the top that they were unbelievable. That doesn’t always bother me, after all this is fiction, but it didn’t always work in this work. The book was, however, an excellent read and I highly recommend it!

The Shop Girls of Lark Lane @PamHowes

The Shop Girls of Lark Lane will tug at your heart-strings once again as we catch up with Alice and the gals of Lark Lane

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This is the second book in a series and  as the book opens, we find the war is over and the men are returning home. Alice, who was introduced in the first book, is reunited with her husband who is seeing his daughter for the first time. She isn’t exactly happy to share her mum with this new man and makes their adjustment rather difficult. But then, there are difficult adjustments for everyone as the women give up their factory jobs and independence and settle back into domesticity. Tragedy, sadly, does not escape Alice in this saga and her story holds more tears for her and requires much courage as she finds herself alone once again.

Although The Shop Girls of Lark Lane is part of a series, I had no trouble at all reading it as a stand alone. I suspect that it helped that I didn’t have preconceived ideas about certain characters, especially as they evolved into rather unsavory sorts as the book progressed It did start off rather slowly which, I think, partly was due to the fact that the author was laying down a lot of background information so that readers could catch up from the first book. A quarter of the way in I was hooked completely and fell in love with the characters, Alice in particular, and their stories. Normally I’m not a fan of this era but this tale was well told with a lot of historical detail and human emotions. If you enjoy historical fiction then you will like The Shop Girls of Lark Lane which is available now.

Thank you #Netgalley, #Bookouture and #PamHowes for my copy of this terrific book. The first in the series is titled #TheFactoryGirlsofLarkLane