Friday Book Whimsy: This Close to Okay

Tallis Clark is a family therapist. One evening when driving home from her office, she spots a man standing at the edge of a bridge looking for all the world like he’s about to jump into the water. Before she can change her mind, she pulls over and literally talks him off the ledge.

Tallis uses her training as a counselor to convince him to join her for a cup of coffee at a nearby cafe. While he won’t tell her why he is prepared to kill himself, he does respond to her kindness. Still convinced that he can’t be trusted to be left alone, she invites him to her house. She doesn’t tell him that she is a therapist by training and profession, justifying her action by telling herself as long as she doesn’t tell him, he isn’t her client and there are no ethical issues. Her intentions are honorable, though, because she just wants to keep him from going back to the bridge. He ends up spending several days with her.

This Lose to Okay, by Leesa Cross-Smith, is a well-told story, if somewhat unconvincing in parts. The two main characters — Tallis and Emmett — are realistic and likable, both troubled by their past, but both unwilling to share their whole stories with one another. Though I’m not terribly familiar with the practice of family therapy, I find it hard to believe that it wouldn’t be unethical to be coaching life practices like she did without admitting that she does this for a living.

Nevertheless, it is a story of friendship and understanding and trust. The author keeps us guessing about Emmett’s story until nearly the end. I found her continuing connection to her ex-husband to be somewhat tiresome. And Emmett’s role in continuing the connection was darnright unbelievable.

Still, I liked the book — and the author’s ability to tell a good story — very much.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Winter Counts

Virgil Wounded Horse is the enforcer on the Rosebud Reservation in southern South Dakota. He handles business that regular police — both on and off the Rez — ignore. Despite his life work, he has lost touch with his native Sioux roots.

One of the reservation council members approaches Virgil, asking him to handle the Rez’s newest and most difficult issue yet — heroin has made its way onto the Rosebud Reservation. Virgil is asked to find out how it’s coming in and stop its distribution in its tracks. He is hesitant to take on this dangerous task until the heroin problem hits close to home, to his own ward and nephew.

He enlists the help of the council member’s daughter, who also happens to be Virgil’s old girlfriend, and the two begin their hunt for the culprits. The hunt takes them all the way to Denver, where a powerful drug cartel is working hard to begin distribution on the Rez.

In the process of finding the root of the heroin problem, Virgil must come face to face with his own issues. As he does so, he becomes closer to his native roots.

Winter Counts, a novel by Native American David Heska Wanbli Weiden, hits to the heart of Native Americans’ issues in America. In that respect, it’s a difficult book to read. It’s hard to see how many American Indians live and what reservation life is really like. But it’s important for all of us to look at the problems facing natives Americans.

In addition to being an eye-opening novel, it is also a heck of a good mystery, and a good look at life on reservations, not just the Rosebud Reservation, but reservations around our country.

I highly recommend this book. It will be on of my favorites this year. I’m hoping it’s the beginning of a series. I want to see more of Virgil Wounded Knee.

Here is a link to the book

Friday Book Whimsy: The Postscript Murders

I first became familiar with Elly Griffiths when I read a couple of her Brighton mysteries, featuring D.I. Edgar Stephens and his friend, magician Max Mephisto. The books take place in the 1950s, and are fun because of the magician element. I stumbled upon a new book by the same author, called The Postscript Murders.

Natalka works as a caregiver for elderly people, and is very good at her job. One day, she visits one of her favorite clients, 90-year-old Peggy Smith. Given her age, her death shouldn’t be suspicious, except for three things. The day before, when Natalka visited Peggy, she was healthy as a horse. Also, as Natalka and her coworkers go through some of Peggy’s things, she notices that on her shelf are mystery books by very many writers, and they are all dedicated to Peggy. Finally, she finds a card with Peggy’s name on it, and her occupation is Murder Consultant.

Peggy’s neighbor, the dapper 80-year-old Edgar, is saddened by his friend’s death, and also suspicious. The two express their concerns to the friendly coffee shop owner Benedict, who opened up his shop after leaving a monestary where he had been a monk. The three vow to solve the mystery of Peggy’s murder.

Along the way, some of the authors who had dedicated their books to Peggy become murder victims themselves. D.S. Harbinder Kaur, who has been given these murder cases, isn’t sure whether the gang of three are helping or hindering her investigations. But they seem to find out things that she can’t.

The mystery’s solution was a good one, and the author’s writing is wonderful. But I will tell you what made this book one of my favorites so far this year were the characters. Both quirky and lovable, they wouldn’t stop until they found out who murdered the much-loved and much-respected Peggy. They do so, and find out just what a Murder Consultant is!

I highly recommend this book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Fortune Favors the Dead

With Fortune Favors the Dead, Stephen Spotswood may have given readers the best hardboiled mystery since Dashiell Hammett offered us Sam Spade. I wonder who will play Will in the movie?

Willowjean “Will” Parker — for all intents and purposes — grew up homeless. Her family became the members of the circus she joined at a very young age. The characters with whom she worked helped her grow up. A fluky coincidence results in Will saving the life of unique but successful private detective Lillian Pentecost by using the knife-throwing skills she learned in the circus.

Though Will has no special detecting skills, Lillian sees something in the wise-cracking girl that others don’t see. She offers Will a job as her right-hand. Lillian’s multiple sclerosis is getting worse, and she needs someone to help her do the leg work. As it turns out, Will is perfect for the job.

A few years later, Parker and Pentecost are hired to find the killer in the mysterious death of socialite Abigail Collins. It appears that Abigail was hit on the head by a crystal ball at a seance held at her house, and the murderer seems to be Abigail’s husband. This wouldn’t be that shocking except for the fact that her husband killed himself a number of years before the murder.

Among the suspects is Abigail’s daughter Becca, to whom Will has found herself becoming more and more attracted, and a spiritualist who seems to see more than her crystal ball. Before long, and as Will is required to take on more and more of the duties as Lillian declines, Will’s life is in danger. Will she figure out the murderer in time?

I seriously could have read this book in one sitting had I had more time. It was fun and quirky, but that was wrapped in a really good detective story. I loved the characters, especially tough-talking Will, who has her own soft side.

I’m hoping this is the first in a series. Highly recommended. I recommend Amy Adams in the movie.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen

Every once in a while, I need a break from all of the mystery and thriller books that I so enjoy reading. Particularly true if it’s a fairly graphic story. This time my break was Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, by Susan Gregg Gilmore. Heck, I like both salvation and Dairy Queens!

The book’s narrator — Catherine Grace Kline — is a young girl who yearns to get out of her small Southern town and live a larger life in Atlanta. Catherine Grace’s mother died when she was 6 years old, so her kind preacher father was responsible for Catherine and her little sister Martha. He had help from the community, particularly their neighbor Gloria Jean, who might be one of my favorite characters of all time. Gloria Jean is as close to a mother figure as the girls can get, and she loves them. But she is the talk of the little town because she (gasp) wears lots of makeup and has had many boyfriends.

Catherine Grace and her sister Martha visit the Dairy Queen regularly, planning their lives over dilly bars. Catherine begins selling jelly to earn and save money to reach her dream when she turns 18. Catherine reaches her dream, but tragedy brings her back to her small town, where she learns about the things that are really important in life.

The narration by the young Catherine was sweet and realistic, seeing things through the eyes of a young girl with big dreams. The joy, the embarrassment, the big blows that are part of life become real through her narration.

I loved this book about friendship, love and grace.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Survivors

Author Jane Harper writes books about Australia. Oh, I realize she writes stories about people who live in Australia. But Harper’s main character is always Australia. Her descriptions are so full of color and life that readers can feel the heat and smell the sea salt.

Kieran Elliott left his home in the beach Tasmanian town of Evelyn Bay under a dark cloud, and hasn’t been back since. He returns to help his parents move from their home to a safer environment for his father’s dementia. Kieran brings along his girlfriend Mia and their infant baby. Kieran blames himself for the death of his brother and others during one of the worst storms to hit the coastal area. Though his parents seemed to support him, he has always felt responsible for those who died in the shipwreck.

Unfortunately, soon after they arrive, another young woman is found dead on the beach, reminding Kieran and those in the town who never forgave him not only about the tragedy that took place 12 years prior, but the disappearance of another young woman at the same time.

Kieran and Mia are immediately sucked into the drama, and Kieran is forced to remember the bleakness of those days 12 years ago. His guilt, along with dealing with his father’s increasing dementia, tests the love of his friends and family. Did they actually forgive him?

This is a story of love, but also of keeping secrets that could easily destroy a life. Harper’s books never fail to impress me, not only because her stories are compelling, but because she treats me to a visit down under.

This was another good book from a great writer.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Sweeney Sisters

I am one of three sisters, and trite as it might seem, my sisters are also my best friends. There is something about that family bond that brings people close even with personality differences.

The Sweeney Sisters, by Lian Dolan, is a story about three sisters who feel that same family bond. They all have red hair, inherited from their late mother, but that is the only thing about the three that is similar. Their differences don’t impact their love for one another.

When their father suddenly dies, the three women must come together to prepare for his funeral and handle his affairs. This is no easy task as he is a famous author, and he had committed to another novel, which is finished but missing. The situation is massively complicated when they suddenly learn that they have another sister, the result of an affair their father had with a neighbor.

Liza, Maggie, and Tricia Sweeney must suddenly accept the fact that their father was no angel. They must try to understand how their father could have been unfaithful to their mother. And their new half sister Serena must try to find a place within this tight family circle.

Dolan’s characters are flawed, and sometimes predictable. But because of my relationship with my own sisters, I loved seeing these three — then four — girls come together to accept the new twists and turns in their lives. And I loved the way they all accepted each other despite their differences.

I enjoyed this book very much. And the fact that their house was ocean-front didn’t hurt things a bit.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Cemetery Road

You can count on a few things when you pick up a Greg Isles novel. It’s going to be lengthy. It’s going to be violent and include a lot of pretty, well, imaginative sex. It’s going to take place in the south, probably Mississippi, in the most corrupt town imaginable. And you aren’t going to be able to put it down.

Cemetery Road, the author Greg Isles’ latest offering, fits the bill perfectly.

Marshall McEwan left his hometown in Mississippi after college, with no plans to return. He becomes a well-respected Washington D.C. journalist. Unfortunately, his father becomes ill. McEwan comes home to try and save the newspaper his father published for years.

It takes no time before he starts up an affair with his old girlfriend, a gorgeous woman named Jet, who happens to be married to a childhood friend who saved his life in Afghanistan. It also takes no time before he becomes immersed in the corruption of a group of men called the Bienville Poker Club. These men have gotten into bed with a group of Chinese businessmen who have invested in a huge project that could be held up by the murder of one of McEwan’s closest friends, an archeologist who has discovered historical evidence of Indian tribes in the very land that is to be developed.

Chaos, corruption, murder, and general mayhem ensue, leaving in its wake a town nearly destroyed by its very existence.

Isles is one of the best mystery writers around, which is why I’m willing to read books that I would otherwise put down without a second thought. I finished the lengthy book in a day-and-a-half!

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: An American Marriage

Ripped from the headlines, and a book I almost didn’t read because of the uneasiness brought about by the topic. An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones is the story of a young African American couple whose lives are dramatically impacted by a false accusation.

Celeste and Roy haven’t been married long when they make a visit to his parents. Celeste is an artist and Roy is a successful business executive. On their way home, they stop in a small motel, and do what many couples do — have a verbal disagreement about something or other. Roy storms out of the room to cool down, and runs into an elderly white woman at the ice machine, where they have a brief conversation.

Later that night, the woman is raped by a black man, whom she insists was Roy. Celeste knows that it absolutely wasn’t, because he was with her the entire night. Nevertheless, he is convicted and sent to prison for the crime which he did not commit. Celeste tries to hang on to hope, but as years pass, she turns to her best friend Andre for comfort.

An American Marriage is the story not only about a situation we often hear on the news, but also the story of how love exists under dire situations. The author is a beautiful writer, and while the story line is serious, the book wasn’t depressing. Perhaps that’s because I’m a white woman. But I tend to think it can be attributed in large part to Jones’ beautiful and uplifting use of language.

While I approached the book with some trepidation, I found I couldn’t put it down, and it has stuck with me despite having read it some time ago.

Very good book.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Word is Murder

Author Anthony Horowitz has created and written some of my favorite mystery television programs — Foyle’s War being my most favorite of all. As a writer of fiction, he is known primarily for his young adult books, with Alex Rider being perhaps the most well-known. But I fell in love with him originally for a book I reviewed a while back called Magpie Murders, a cleverly-written mystery story within a mystery story. Intrigued by that book, I quickly read a couple of Sherlock Holmes stories that he had written. Many have attempted to duplicate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but most haven’t succeeded. Horowitz did.

I was very excited, therefore, to see that he had a new novel being released. The premise of The Word is Murder was again so, so clever. And the result, I’m happy to say, met my expectations.

In The Word is Murder, Horowitz literally writes himself into the book as one of the characters. A disgraced police detective, let go from the London police force, is hired as a consultant for the case of a mysterious murder of the mother of a famous actor. In Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson style, the detective — known only as Hawthorne — hires Horowitz to work with him on a case, and chronicle it by writing a diary.

The actor’s mother visits a funeral home one day, making arrangements for her own funeral. This isn’t particularly unusual. However, what IS unusual is that she is murdered that very afternoon. Hawthorne and Horowitz work together to solve the mystery.

The character of Hawthorne is modeled directly after Sherlock Holmes. He is brilliant and cocky and brash. Horowitz writes himself as a likable Watson.

The ending was a surprise, and quite gratifying.

I will warn you that, while I absolutely LOVED this book — finding it so incredibly clever — I can see where a reader might be turned off by the way Horowitz portrays himself. There is lots of name-dropping, lunches with Stephen Spielberg, and so forth. It didn’t deter me. I recommend this book with great gusto!

Here is a link to the book.