Saturday, March 31, 2018

New in April...

How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister
Anna Crawford learns she wasn’t just suspended from her teaching job at a small, Pennsylvania high school when she sees herself on the news with the headline “Former Teacher Had Motive” referring to a shooting at the school that left seventeen dead and many more injured.  Though the teenager responsible for the massacre is quickly caught, Anna finds herself and her life in her small hometown under a microscope, fueling a media frenzy and a public outcry for which no one is ready.  As Anna finds herself the target of scrutiny, though why she’s not sure, she finds herself reconnecting with her younger brother Calvin and former boyfriend Robbie, reassessing her family life growing up; Anna, who was considered “unpredictable” by her principal, has not yet found a new job, and spends much of her time considering the tragedy, why some people became victims while others escaped, the process of public mourning, speaking out against the planned permanent memorial, and the inevitable gun control debate that ensues.  This is a searing, keenly observed, in some ways an indictment of the face of tragedy, the blame that follows, and the often tending toward hypocrisy of a post-tragedy culture as well as more general social issues such as misogyny and religious fervor taking the place of understanding and compassion.  This novel could not be timelier and is sure to spark discussion among all who read it, and everyone should. 

The Shadow of Death by Jane Willan
In North Wales’s Gwenafwy Abbey, Sister Agatha, the librarian and aspiring mystery writer, tries her hand at solving a local murder when Jacob, the local sexton is found dead in the abbey’s cheese barn under wheels of the abbey’s award winning Heavenly Gouda.  The local constable dismisses the death as an accident, but Agatha, who has steeped herself in mystery novels from Sherlock Holmes to her namesake Dame Agatha, to Stephanie Plum, sees clues at every turn and begins to become suspicious of seemingly disparate events: the theft of a valuable Communion set from the local church, a fire in the cheese barn, and the sabotage of Heavenly Gouda’s entry in the prestigious cheese contest.  With Father Selwyn as her gumshoe, Agatha begins to connect the dots while Reverend Mother and the other sisters contemplate how they can become more relevant to their local community as they receive veiled threats from the local bishop that she may close the abbey.  The colorful women in this religious community make this atmosphere shimmer with energy; Sister Agatha’s enthusiasm to solve Jacob’s murder and figure out all the odd goings on provide a mystery to untangle while providing a broader view of the community in which the abbey lives.  The delightful North Wales setting gives this debut an old-fashioned cozy feel with modern twists.  Readers will be eager for more from Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn.

Too Close to Breath by Olivia Kiernan

Dublin-based Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan has returned to work after almost being killed while pursuing a murderer: Her first case upon her return is the apparent hanging suicide of Professor Eleanor Costello.  Frankie is happy to let it go as a suicide, but when the autopsy results come back and indicate Eleanor may not have committed suicide Frankie knows she must investigate: a fresh wound edged in Blue Prussian paint and multiple healed injuries make Frankie suspect Eleanor was abused.  Eleanor’s husband Peter is nowhere to be found and his sister insists she hasn’t seen him in several weeks.  The Costello’s home appears orderly, carefully controlled order even, though a laptop has been found which reveals a surprise:  access to the Dark Web with recent activity on a site for people who fantasize about experiencing death without actually dying.  A second death ties back to Peter, who still cannot be located, though Frankie is receiving hang up calls that can be traced to Peter’s cell phone.  The more Frankie investigates, the more Eleanor’s carefully crafted life comes apart.  A longtime detective, Frankie relies on her instincts and they are telling her she’s missing something, both with Eleanor’s case and her previous case that is now being tried.  When Frankie finds the missing link, it proves to be more disturbing than imagined in this complex, very dark, but ultimately satisfying debut thriller.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

...and Goes Out Like a Lamb

Not this year, it seems! Here are a few more books to cozy up with until the snow melts:

Crimson Lake by Candice Fox
Sydney Detective Ted Conkaffey has moved to the marshy shores of Crimson Lake to try and regain some semblance of normalcy, or at least hide out, after being tried, but neither convicted nor acquitted, of raping thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley who disappeared from a bus stop at the same time Ted stopped to adjust his fishing gear.  He is recruited to help PI Amanda Pharrell, who served time after being convicted of murdering her friend when the two were teenagers, search for a novelist, Jake Scully who has seemingly vanished without a trace, save his wedding ring that turns up in a crocodile’s stomach.  Ted reluctantly agrees to help Amanda, and his police training and instinct kick in as he also begins to look into Amanda’s past and her case, as she does his.  Even though Amanda pled guilty, Ted feels there’s more to her story than she is telling.  Harassed by two local cops and local vigilantes, Ted, with the help of Amanda, continues to proclaim his innocence while searching for the truth about Jake, and the truth about Amanda.  Complex and compelling, Amanda and Ted are an unusual pair, both with a strong sense of right and wrong, both willing to give up their own comforts for the sake of others.  The steamy Australian wetlands, complete with crocodiles and pythons, provides a lush setting for this creative, engaging story, with an ending that promises Amanda and Ted are not finished with each other.

Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

Anna Johnson’s parents committed suicide in the same manner---weighing themselves down with rocks and jumping off of a cliff.  One year later, on the anniversary of her mother’s death, Anna, living in her family home with her partner Matt and their eight-month-old daughter Ella, still cannot accept her parents’ deaths as suicides.  When a card arrives in the post with the simple message “Suicide? Think again.” Anna is even more certain her parents, her mother at least, were murdered and brings her suspicions to the police where she meets retired detective Murray Mackenzie who has dealt with mental illness through his wife and who could never walk away from a case just because the easy solution fit.  As Anna digs into her parents’ lives, she realizes there was more to them than she let herself know.  The closer she comes to the truth, the more danger she brings to her young family in this taut novel with many twists and turns and one surprising conclusion.

Closer than You Know by Brad Parks
Melanie Barrick managed to survive the foster care system as a child and has a three-month-old son and a devoted husband.  Except: she was raped by a probable serial rapist, her tow-headed son is the rapist’s child, yet she adores him as does her husband Ben who treats Alex as his own.  Not suspecting that anything can go wrong in her now settle life, Melanie arrives at daycare one night to pick Alex up.  She is shocked when the caregiver announces that social services has Alex in their care and then refuses to speak to Melanie.  At home and hysterical, Melanie finds her house in shambles and learns that Sheriff’s officers have found close to half a kilo of cocaine hidden in the nursery ceiling.  No one will believe Melanie’s protestations of innocence, she finds out Ben may not be as wonderful as he seems when she learns he is keeping a secret that will change everything, and then she is charged with murder.  Amy Kaye, deputy commonwealth attorney has been investigating the serial rapist and unwittingly has been interviewing the Coke Mom, Melanie for that case.  Pulled off of the rape cases to investigate Melanie, the two case suddenly collide as two women struggle to regain control of their lives, one to save her life, and discover, to everyone’s surprise, who---and more importantly why---is pulling the strings.  A bit of acceptance of coincidences is necessary, but take everything at face value and settle in for a fast-paced, twisty ride.

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
Niru is living what, on the surface, appears to be a good life for a teenager: he lives in a better section of Washington D.C. with his attentive but conservative parents, attends a prestigious private high school which has prepared him for Harvard; he runs track with his best friend Meredith, the only person who knows Niru’s secret: he is gay.  Meredith does not judge and even encourages Niru to explore this part of himself.  Niru’s father, finding Niru’s phone one day, learns his son is gay and becomes enraged, certain this is the work of the devil.  Niru turns to the one person he feels he can count on---Meredith---only to be turned away, learning she is having a crisis of her own, causing possible irreparable damage to their relationship.  Determined to “drive the demons out”  Niru’s father brings him to Nigeria where Niru’s eyes are opened, he gains a little more understanding toward his father, but also garners the strength her needs to live his life on his own terms.  This beautifully written novel is tender at times, violent at others, and heartbreaking as it explores individuals, families, and friends, how we treat each other, but more importantly, how we treat ourselves.

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen
Parking spaces are at the forefront of many New Yorkers’ must lists; Charlie Nolan is no exception and has just scored a coveted space in his dead end enclave’s parking lot.  His wife Nora doesn’t understand the fuss over parking: they have a vintage townhouse, the value of which far exceeds their purchase price, they are successful, if not entirely happy, in their careers, Nora sought after to run several non-profit; their twin children are in their senior year in college, and for the most part, they like their community, complete with Christmas parties and neighborhood barbeques.  Even the SRO on the other side of the parking lot is part of the charm for Nora and Charlie.  The morning one of their more bad-tempered neighbors Jack Fiske attacks the neighborhood’s adored handyman Ricky (over a parking space) shatters much more than Ricky’s leg: Nora and Charlie quarrel over their different versions of the events leading them both to realize they have an “acceptably unhappy” marriage; as the neighbors begin to align and discuss the events, their prejudices become more apparent, their issues with other neighbors more apparent.  Quindlen writes in a quiet, unassuming way, as she slowly circles around the larger issues until a single event brings them to light.  Book groups will find much to discuss in this novel of manners with modern sensibilities.