What You See by Hank Phillippi Ryan

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I received an advance copy of Ms. Ryan’s latest book…and my initial reaction was something like “YAY! Another author to add to my “writers-whose-latest-book-I-immediately-snap-up” list! Not sure why I have missed her previous Jane Ryland novels, but I plan to go back and enjoy them as well.

Ms. Ryan’s “day job” as an investigative reported in Boston has been incredibly successful (30+ Emmys and a dozen or so Murrow awards), so she knows her way around crime stories. In addition, she way a way with plot and characters that is smooth yet thrilling. This is the fourth book in the Jane Ryland series set in Boston, and while it will please established fans of the series, it will also bring in first-time readers without leaving them feeling like they should not have read this one unless they read the previous three novels.

In What You See, Jane is “between jobs,” having quit her job at the newspaper due to their ethical lapses. Considering a return to TV news journalism, she is in the middle of an interview with a local station Channel 2 when a story breaks in front of City Hall. There is (conveniently) no one else available at the station, so the news director who is interviewing her sends Jane. Also conveniently, her boyfriend Detective Jake Brogan is also involved in the same case.

The scene at City Hall is chaotic and Jake and his partner Paul DeLuca are already on the scene giving out assignments and trying to keep control when Jane arrives. A young man who wants to make a name for himself as a photographer latches onto Jane and steers her toward an alley where Jake and DeLuca (again conveniently) are involved investigating the case with one suspect claiming to have captured the killer and the other suspect unconscious from being beaten.

Conveniently, Jane and Jake meet up in the alley, and their apparently long-standing issue about old maintaining their romantic relationship while dealing with conflicting interests re-emerges. As if this isn’t enough, Jane’s sister calls her during the chaos, telling her that her fiancée’s daughter is missing, and it is just a few days before Jane and Jake are scheduled to travel to the Midwest of Jane’s sister’s wedding.

Neither the murder victim nor the injured man in the alley has any ID on them, making things very complicated for Jane AND Jake! Jane is trying to get a new job, and her family situation turns into a possible kidnapping. Without spoiling the plot, there is a fast-moving story with well-defined characters, interesting plotlines, and ongoing development of the Jane-Jake relationship. Again, this is the fourth in a series but it stands alone quite well.
It’s another success for this author I have happily discovered thanks to NetGalley!

The Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley

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Four Stars! Thanks to NetGalley, I received a copy of Carla Buckley’s The Good Goodbye, which might actually be a YA novel. If it isn’t, my vote is that it should be…doesn’t mean it won’t be read/enjoyed by adults, but I think YA readers would REALLY like it.

Part of that is due to the main characters around whom the story swirls: Rory and Arden. These two young women are cousins who have always been inseparable and apparently almost identical. They have gone away to college together, even becoming roommates. The weird and almost sad thing is they end up attending a college that wasn’t anywhere either one of them had any desire to attend – but a serious financial crisis in their shared families has meant that Rory isn’t able to go to an elite university (a lifelong dream) and Arden can’t escape to the left coast to attend art school.

After the first 6 weeks of the freshman year, there is a fire in their dorm, leaving a close friend dead and both of them unconscious in the ER. The two sets of parents deal with the shock and gradually evolving drama that leads to a police investigation.

The “perfect” cousin Rory (bound for the elite university) is somewhat a princess, with an outward appearance of social ease and popularity. Her artsy cousin Arden is quite insecure and lives in Rory’s shadow. The novel unfolds in alternating chapters and reveals their shared history gradually. Arden’s mom (Natalie) is in total denial about whether her child could be anything other than perfect, and we come to learn more and more about the family dramas that have bound these people together (and threaten to completely rip them apart).

Rory, the princess, is gradually revealed to be incredibly manipulative and deceitful, living in terror of being revealed as anything less than perfect. As the past comes into focus, we see the two families both supporting and destroying their extended bonds…an aspect that I found really well done.
We come to learn how the fire started as we learn about the fate of the family members individually and in relationship with each other. As one reviewer put it, “Love and disdain are two sides of the same coin and … that was portrayed here quite well. “

It totally help my interest, and while I had an “oh no!” moment near the end, I did like it a lot. In some ways Carla Buckley’s writing reminds me of Jodi Picoult – fans of Jodi’s will appreciate this one, and I will look for future books by Ms. Buckley!

Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay

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I was happy to be given a copy of Linwood Barclay’s latest novel, “Broken Promise,” in exchange for an honest review. He has been one of my favorite authors, and I had high expectations…that were more than met overall.

When David Harwood (introduced in an earlier book, although this title stands alone quite nicely) returns to his hometown of Promise Falls, New York, he is a widower with a young son, Ethan. He gave up his job at the Boston Globe so he could spend more time with Ethan, returning to the newspaper where he originally worked, being hired away by the Globe. However, as soon as he starts work, the hometown newspaper is shut down, and he is out of a job, living with his parents, trying to figure out what to do next.

The town of Promise Falls is heading downhill, with plenty of scandal and crime to keep an out of work reporter busy investigating. (Barclay’s line about the town is that it is like a suit that was once new but is now shiny and threadbare…love that line!) Things like dead squirrels, woman stabbed in her home, baby disappearing, attempted rapes at the college, illegal immigrants, sleazy local politicians, gambling problems/debts, and more.

There are several story lines running parallel to each other, and you just KNOW they will come together…and they do.

There is a slight hanging thread, which seems primed to be the beginning to the next book in what looks to be a great series.

Setting is well done, characters are many and complex, but not to the point of making you want to pull out your hair and throw the book across the room. Barclay seems to be a consistently entertaining writer, and I will eagerly read his future books!

5 stars from me! And THANKS to NetGalley.

Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman

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I received a copy of Bradstreet Gate for review…and I was really looking forward to it! Comparisons made to Tartt’s Secret History and The Interestings (loved the former, felt the latter was not as interesting as the characters thought they were!) And I love mysteries, and looking at this, I had some sense that it might be a thriller – all right up my alley!

But Bradstreet Gate was difficult for me to read…it kind of plodded along, and I admit I left it twice to read other things. There was plenty of plot, and the writing is excellent. I thought the characters were well drawn, and I kind of loved that the three main characters (Charlie, Georgia and Alice) were all troubled souls who seemed to be looking to advance up the social hierarchy as a result of attending Harvard (a not unreasonable progression, IMHO). The book is ostensibly focused around the murder of another student, Julie Patel, but really it evolves into a chronicling of several outwardly successful Harvard graduates and their various ways to deal with their acquired privilege and to squander their lives in a decade…

The other character, Storrow, sort of creeped me out (again, well written to have such an effect on the reader). The ending of the book was not wrapped in a tidy bow, and there were several subplots left unresolved.

I think perhaps I just didn’t care enough about the characters. While they were well drawn and fully developed (the three main characters, at least), they were so well developed that they became real people…none of whom I liked.

Possibly my expectations were too high. In any case, the writing was good enough that I will definitely read Kirman’s next book!

Eden in Winter by Richard North Patterson

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Eden in Winter concludes Patterson’s trilogy focused on the Blaine family of Martha’s Vineyard. In all honesty, I read the first in the series (Fall from Grace) in 2012, but somehow missed the second installment. Not sure if this affected my appraisal of this one, but really, I think in a series like this, it would be ideal if each book could stand on its own, and in this case perhaps an initial recap to bring new readers up to speed could then be followed by the “new stuff.”

However, that isn’t how this one (which I received in exchange for an honest review) works! When this one opens, the protagonist, Adam Blaine, has returned home following the death of his father, the world-famous novelist Benjamin Blaine, from whom he has been estranged for years. If this series is a roman a clef, I am not in the loop enough to pick that up, so apologies if this is the case…

So, Adam has been off doing his thing (CIA) in Afghanistan, and when the book opens, there is an investigation to determine Ben’s cause of death. Apparently, there is a list of potential assistants more than willing to assist Ben to his death, although the scene looks at first like an accidental fall from a high wall.

We are soon to realize that Adam knows it was murder, and he knows the killer. But, as you might expect in a multigenerational saga of betrayals, infidelity and abuse, Adam decides to protect the murderer, using his special CIA tradecraft skills.

It seems Ben has left almost his entire estate to Carla Pacelli, a young actress who happens to be recuperating on the island after a stint in rehab, and she is pregnant with Ben’s child. The creepy meter began when Adam and Carla develop an attraction to one another, and Adam realizes he has some Daddy issues, but the budding romance is designed to make Adam and Carla more likeable.

Seems like a struggle for Patterson to make this long saga of an unhappy family into a believable psychological drama by having Adam consult a local therapist, who works with him on the whole Oedipal thing, and reveals lots of betrayals, infidelities, class struggle, abuse – yikes.

I suspect this would be greatly appreciated by fans of the first two in the series, but looking at it as a standalone novel, I suspect it is just overly complex, with stilted dialogue and situations as Patterson works to explain how everyone is related (by birth and situationally) to everyone else. It was an enjoyable read, but I have to admit I usually REALLY enjoy Patterson’s legal dramas and was a bit disappointed not to have more courtroom-based action. I found I was a bit relieved when it was all over. If you like psychological examinations of families that will make you feel something along the lines of “wow, my family isn’t as screwed up as I thought we were,” this one is for you!

 

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

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I love Brene Brown. Watched her TED talks, took an online class through OWN, read her books and blog – I love her. So I was really pleased to receive an advance copy of her new book, Rising Strong, to review (thank you NetGalley).

Brene’s voice is there in this book, as in her previous works. And her essential openness and vulnerability (two of the things that make her work resonate with so many people I know) are there from the opening story–more on storytelling later. And hearing her reassure us that “the process of struggling and navigating hurt has as much to offer us as the process of being brave and showing up” – I mean, who can resist that? (well, who among those of us who really love digging around in this kind of uber-instrospective self-analysis, perhaps).

The book starts rather gently, outlining the overall concept. In Chapter 4, she really starts in on specifics, going beyond her generic advice to “walk into [our] story and own [our] own truth” and gives us specific examples from her own life about recognizing the feelings associated with being overwhelmed by emotions, and (starting to get into the whole storytelling thing) how to recognize the kinds of stories we make up about why we feel a particular way and how to dive into the ugly complexity of those stories, rather than avoiding them or running from them. This is also the chapter where she reminds us that “depression and anxiety are two of the body’s first reactions to stockpiles of hurt.”

In Chapter Five, she offers a structure for actually writing out “the story I’m making up” about any conflict, situation or feeling. This can help us work through these, rather than avoid them or merely justify (to ourselves and others) our response to them. She provides examples and questions to help people uncover their own SFD (or “shitty first draft” of the story — a term she credits to Anne Lamott).

The idea is once you have gotten all the garbage out on paper, you can then think about what makes the story you’re telling yourself so appealing, looking at what the story allows you to avoid and what buttons might actually be being pushed.

I found this idea really interesting, although the whole “reckoning, rumble, and revolution” thing got lost for me a bit…

By far, my favorite chapter is “Sewer Rats and Scofflaws,” which has kept me thinking for days and provided hours of discussion among family and friends. The basic theory that there are two types of people (those who try their best, follow rules, and are respectful, and then the sewer rats and scofflaws who don’t try their best and basically go around taking advantage of people). I have been posing the question to people “do you think that people are, in general, doing the best they can???”

For example, the guy who ran the stop sign and cut in front of me in traffic – my initial response was anger, the whole “what an asshole” reaction. But, what do I really know about why he did that? Maybe he got a call and there is an emergency at home, or he is late to work and worried about being fired, or – who knows? Could be anything. But for me, the point is that me being upset about it isn’t all that healthy for me, and I could really benefit from a shift in my initial negative perspective…so really, would it make a difference if I knew he was doing the best he could? Gotta admit yes.

I think there are tons of things in this book that will stay with me. Like being reminded that “disappointment is unmet expectations.” (Or, to quote Anne Lamott, “expectations are resentments under construction.” YES!

And overall this book reinforces my love for BB, going beyond the initial epiphany I got from an earlier book (the distinction between “I failed” and “I am a failure”) to the sewer rat/scofflaw idea, which just feels HUGE to me.

I asked my husband to read Chapter 6, which he did, and we had a great discussion…when I asked him if he liked it, he said “it’s WAY too introspective for me” but he agreed it elicited an awesome discussion!

Highly recommended for Brene Brown fans…and recommended for people who enjoy this kind of introspective self-analysis…

A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George

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I LOVE Elizabeth George, and have been reading the Inspector Lynley novels (or, as I prefer to call them, the Lynley-Havers novels) since the mid-1990s when introduced to them by a fellow librarian when we were stuck in an airport. So I was extremely pleased to receive an advance of A Banquet of Consequences (#19 in the series) from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Right from the start, this one was different for me: I had no idea what the story involved, who died, where and how the crime would be investigated, and by whom. 2013’s Just One Evil Act (#18 in the series) ended with Barbara Havers being seriously on the outs with the bosses at New Scotland Yard – especially Superintendent Isabelle Ardery – after Barbara violated a boatload of rules and ignored instructions as she went to Italy to deal with a crisis involving her neighbors, Taymullah Azhar and his daughter Haddiyah, both of whom had clearly broken through Barbara’s tough outer shell constructed to protect herself from the hurt inherent in becoming emotionally close to people. At the end of that novel, the Azhars had fled to Pakistan, and I admit I was hoping for an update on this whole complex relationship… but, back to the Banquet!

I began reading without the benefit of even a dust jacket summary and was immediately caught up in the lives of a famous feminist author, her editor, and her assistant, one of whose sons is a young man with a Tourette’s-style affliction and the other is a therapist struggling with his own marital relationship issues – which almost pale in comparison to the mother’s ugly marital situation…wow, this woman can be a complete shrew!

So, early on, the Tourette-ish son flings himself over a cliff – but that isn’t the murder, as it turns out. It took a while for the stories to unfold, and we began to be involved with a variety of relationships…and we just KNOW that the complex interrelationships of the author, her editor, her assistant, and that woman’s extended family are all going to come together is some way!

There are various subplots swirling around the investigation into the actual murder (plus a subsequent attempted murder), the investigations of which involve both Lynley and Havers, in London and in Dorset. Familiar characters appear, including Winston Nkata, Isabelle Ardery (Lynley’s former lover and current boss to both him and Detective Sergeant Havers), Daidre the veterinarian who seemed to be a likely candidate to bring Lynley out of his ongoing mourning following his wife’s murder a couple of books ago…like getting an update on old friends.

George does a terrific job moving the relationships and complex plot (and subplots) along, with a resolution that was a bit of a surprise (admittedly, I am terrible at solving mysteries, despite how many I read). It was a wonderful rebound following the past two Lynley-focused books, which seemed almost stale, as if she might be growing tired of her own characters’ stories. (Book #18 focused on Havers and took place largely out of the UK, and seemed almost as if it were part of another series. Frankly, it was a nice change after two less than astonishingly written Lynley-Havers books, and it seems unfair to compare it to books in the Lynley-Havers series).

As always, George’s use of language is a delight:

  • Describing people: “…a young individual of rather ovine appearance suggestive of too much inbreeding among people with excessively curly hair and faces of a triangular shape in which the apex was upended to form a chin.
  • Describing places: “…the tables were of a vintage and an unmatched variety…and the chairs looked like a furniture version of the United Nations.”

And, whether from her own large vocabulary or my own limited vocabulary, I always enjoy the way she keeps me reaching for my dictionary (bold type mine):

  • “…grasses coruscated like diamonds as the dew that bent them was hit by the daylight.”
  • “…heavy mist creating a tenebrous shroud.”
  • “…breathing whose stertorous nature suggested a life of heave smoking or asthma or both.”

After a couple of disappointments, this more than met my expectations, and I am thrilled that Elizabeth George is back among my favorite authors!