Famous in a Small Town // by Emma Mills

//published 2019//

In an attempt to keep the TBR from growing even more voraciously, I’m trying to read new books by authors I like as the books are published, instead of just adding them to the TBR to be read at some vague, future, maybe-will-never-happen date.  Consequently, I read Spinning Silver and The Other Wife when they appeared last year, The Suspect last month, and Famous in a Small Town just a couple of weeks ago.

Before this book, my only foray into Mills’ writing was This Adventure Endswhich I read last spring.  I absolutely loved that book (with, of course, a few caveats), and have been meaning to get my hands on another of her books ever since.  While I didn’t enjoy Famous in a Small Town quite as much, there was still a great deal to enjoy.

Sophie is the main character.  Just finishing her junior year in high school, she’s looking forward to a summer of band camp, hanging out with her friends, and enjoying life.  When a new guy moves into town, it’s pretty obvious what direction the story is going to go.  Nonetheless, it was a thoroughly enjoyable journey, mainly because Mills has a brilliant talent for writing friends/banter/down time.  I’ve realized that the reason a lot of authors’ characters come through as stiff or inaccessible is because those characters are only doing the things that forward the plot.  But it’s a tricky thing to write, because I also don’t need to hear all the details of every mundane moment in the character’s life, either.  Mills has struck that perfect balance of including just enough regular, everyday conversation and activity to make her characters feel personable and real.  In fact, the banter between this group of friends is really what kept me reading.

The actual story is not one of big thrills and adrenaline-laced twists.  It’s really just some small town life with small town drama, although that being said there was one twist that I did not know was coming and that I thought was done quite well.

Negatives for this one mostly come under the heading of “unnecessary crudity.”  Supposedly these kids were 15, 16, 17 years old, yet they were getting drunk constantly and literally no one acted like this was a big deal.  This honestly bothered me a lot, just because the attitude towards it was so casual.  I understand that there is a fine line in YA between writing “realistically” and writing “edgy.”  But I am a firm believer that fiction should, at some level, be written the way we wish things were.  Constantly reassuring young people that getting trashed, having casual sex, constantly swearing, etc. is normal by portraying it as normal doesn’t seem healthy to me and never will.    While this book wasn’t big on the sex angle, there was a lot of joking around about sex and comments made that seemed unnecessarily crude.  There was also more swearing than I like to see, especially in YA.

However, I do give Mills some credit for portraying at least a couple of happily married couples.  There is a younger couple that Sophie babysits for that I especially loved.  I loved that they had fallen in love in high school, had gotten married, and were raising a family and making adjustments for unexpected changes in their lives – together.  That was so nice to see.

I also really liked the way that Mills portrayed small town life in general.  Usually, fiction either shows it as the most desperately narrow-minded, racist, horrific, backwards way of life possible OR a beautiful utopia comprised of warm, loving people and open doors.  The truth, as most are, is somewhere in the middle – mainly because small towns are generally made up of really regular people.  So yes, you know a lot of people and can find connections immediately, there isn’t a lot to do if you’re big into the theater and fancy restaurants (although if you prefer parks and a fabulous burger you’re all good), you know everyone in your graduating class, and you’re always within a moment’s drive of a cornfield.  But here is what Mills did so well – that life can be both amazingly satisfying and also horribly restrictive.  It depends on who you are.  Not everyone in a small town loves living there, but some people do.  And I felt like Mills captured the fact that not everyone is counting down the days until they can shake the dust off their feet and leave home.  Some of us actually enjoy our roots.

All in all, Famous in a Small Town was worth the read, but it isn’t one I would read again.  It’s on that line between 3.5 and 4*.  I still want to get through any other books Mills has written, and while I’m at it, I really need to read This Adventure Ends again as well.

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The Suspect // by Fiona Barton

//published 2019//

Last year I read and quite enjoyed The Widowwhich centered around a (no surprise) widow, a reporter, and a detective.  Later in the year Barton’s second book appeared, The Child, wherein the reporter (Kate) and the detective (Bob) show up again.  While I didn’t enjoy The Child as much as The Widow, it was still a very readable story and I was excited to learn that Kate and Bob would be back for a third installment.

The Suspect felt like a more personal story.  At Bob’s end, his wife is suffering from Stage IV cancer with a very poor prognosis.  Kate’s oldest son, Jake, left the country at the end of the last book (two years prior), dropping out of college and heading off to Thailand to work with sea turtles and “find himself.”  Since then, contact with him has been sporadic at best, and Kate worries that she’s pushed him away or put too much pressure on him in the past.

A call comes into Bob’s station reporting two girls missing.  The problem is that they were in Thailand when they went missing, visiting for their gap year.  They haven’t been missing long, so there isn’t much the police can do at this point.  However, Bob gives Kate a head’s up, and since it’s a slow time in the news, she eagerly jumps on board the story, visiting the anxious parents and learning how the girls ended up in Thailand to begin with.  She’s especially drawn to their story because of Jake being gone.

Once the stage is set, the story really begins to roll.  Kate’s portions are told in first person, with third person sections from the perspectives of Bob and Alex’s mother in between.  We also get short chapters that are comprised mostly of emails Alex is sending home to her best friend. In this way, we see both the outcome and the build-up, even while the reader isn’t completely sure what actually happened.

All in all, The Suspect was an easy 4* read.  The pacing was excellent and the story engaging.  However, my residual feeling when I finished the book was just one of sadness.  I felt really bad the entire book because Alex was SO excited about her trip and had made all kinds of plans and then it ended up being absolutely miserable.  It seemed so unfair and depressing.  It also felt weird to have Kate so involved in the investigation when things got more personal.  Still, I really like Kate a lot, and I also love Bob, and in this book it was really fun to see Kate’s reporter-in-training, Joe, become more of an individual – he’s also quite likable.

Each of Barton’s books can be comfortably read as stand-alones, but it’s enjoyable to see the growth/relationships between the main players by reading all three.  While I’ve found these books rather sad and don’t see myself rereading them, I’m still quite interested to see what Barton produces next.

NB: All book title links go to my own reviews of those books.

Judy Bolton Mysteries // Books 16-20 // by Margaret Sutton

16.  The Secret of the Barred Window (1943)
17.  The Rainbow Riddle (1946)
18.  The Living Portrait (1947)
19.  The Secret of the Musical Tree (1948)
20.  The Warning on the Window (1949)

My journey through the Judy Bolton series continues.  I can’t remember how many of these books there are altogether – 30-odd, I do believe – but I only have about a half dozen more.  I’m undecided as to whether or not I should try and purchase the ones I’m missing, as the later ones aren’t as common and tend to be a little more expensive.  However, I have been enjoying Judy’s adventures, and actually thought these five were pretty solid reads.

At first, I just assumed that these books were set more or less at the time they were written, but as you can see, this batch was published during and after the war (I find it interesting that Sutton was publishing these regularly one or more a year, but missed 1944 and 1945) yet no mention of it is made by her characters.  It’s possible that these are actually happening somewhat earlier in time – there are cars and such, so maybe the 1930’s?

Anyway, this batch was particularly fun because Judy and Peter get married in The Rainbow Riddle, so the next few books are their early days of marriage, living in Judy’s grandparents old farmhouse.

I felt that The Secret of the Barred Window was the weakest of the bunch, but it’s also critical because this is where Judy meets Roberta, a precocious child around the age of 10 or 12.  Roberta reappears at Judy’s wedding in the next book, and at the end of that story Judy and Peter end up taking Roberta in as a sort of foster child.  This all works out for Sutton’s storytelling as Peter has joined the FBI and goes off for training and then is busy traveling in and out with his new job throughout The Living Portrait, but thanks to Roberta’s presence, Judy still has someone with whom to chat and work through mysteries.

All in all there is nothing that makes these books particularly outstanding, but they are enjoyable stories with a lot of high drama and adventure.  Judy and Peter are just too adorable as newlyweds, and while I haven’t read any synopses for the later books, I’m holding out hope that a baby will soon appear!!

Rearview Mirror // January 2019

It’s FEBRUARY!??!?  That’s crazy talk!

As I am writing this, there is about 5″ of snow on the ground (maybe more, I’m bad at measuring by eye, I just know it’s a LOT) which is more than “they” said we were going to get.  The birds are very busy around the birdfeeder, and the dogs and I took a lovely snow walk around the village this morning, despite the fact that it was only 11*.  Actually, 11* feels like a heat wave after the truly frigid temperatures we had earlier this week.  And now it’s supposed to be 50* by the end of the weekend!

Anyway, January has been a pleasantly busy month.  I’m off work for now, so I have been working on several projects around the house.  The big one is trying to finish our NEVERENDING project of turning our back porch into a sun room.  This month finally saw some big leaps in the process – there is paint on the walls and a new floor and things are being stored in the storage loft and it’s fantastic!  There are still a few details to wrap up, but that project is finally very, very close to the finish line.

Of course, that means we’re on to new and exciting projects, most of which involve creating storage of some kind.  So I’ve also been cleaning things out, hauling things away, and scrubbing things down.  How, how, I ask you, does one accumulate so much stuff?!  I cleaned out just the area around my craft desk and got rid of – either giveaway or just plain trash – and entire garbage bag of stuff.  Where did it come from?!  Why did I think it was a good idea just to stuff it on a shelf instead of getting rid of it at the time??  For the first five years of our marriage we moved annually, so this wasn’t as much of a problem.  Now that we’ve been here for over four years, I have to actually focus on decluttering, especially since this house is on the cozy side.  I’ve really been working a lot on sight lines, because our house has a fairly open floor plan.  I just stand or sit somewhere and look around to see what horizontal surface is getting on my nerves, and then attack it!  Progress is being made.

ANYWAY apparently I need to write a post just focusing on my organizational adventures!  On to the books!

Books have been good this month!  I read 27 books this month and reviewed 21 of them, although three of the 27 were novellas and a big chunk of the 21 were part of my review of the Kate Burkholder series.  Still, short days and long evenings make for lots of reading, especially when you’re like me and read every time you’re folding laundry or working on other projects where your eyes aren’t COMPLETELY necessary.

Favorite January Read:

Although I really enjoyed Linda Castillo’s mystery series, I think this slot has to go to Eagle & Crane by Suzanne Rindell.  There was just so much depth to that book, and I still find myself thinking about the characters.

Most Disappointing January Read:

I didn’t have any horrific duds this month, but Peter Swanson’s All the Beautiful Lies was probably my least favorite, despite the fact that I raced through it.  I just wasn’t comfortable with some of the subject material, and I was frustrated by an ending that didn’t really make any logistical (yes, logistical, not logical) sense.  Still, it hasn’t put me off his books as the writing itself was still fantastic.

By the Numbers:

In January:

  • I read 7174 pages – an average of 231 pages per day.  Honestly, I’m not sure if I’m proud or embarrassed haha
  • My average star rating was 3.54.
  • Eleven books were from my personal library.  The rest were either from the library or via Kindle Unlimited.
  • I read five Kindle books and 22 physical books – 18 of which were hardcovers.  Book muscles!!!
  • The oldest book I read was The Secret of the Barred Window by Margaret Sutton – published in 1943 with a great little note stating that despite the fact that a war is on and paper conservation is in affect, this book is complete and unabridged!
  • I read three books published in 2018, so I’m doing better at reading books closer to their release dates!
  • Eagle & Crane was my longest book at 434 pages, while a short story by Linda Castillo (Long Lost) was the shortest at 52 pages.

TBR Update:

For those of you who don’t know, I’m weirdly obsessive with organizing the TBR, and have it on a spreadsheet divided into five different tabs:

  • Standalones:  887 (holding steady!)
  • Nonfiction:  84 (up 1)
  • Personal (which includes all books I own (fiction and nonfiction), but lists any series I own as only one entry…):  667 (down eight!  I discovered some Kindle books that I had read but hadn’t marked off the list!)
  • Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series):  238 (holding steady)
  • Mystery Series (each series counted separately, not each book within a series): 107 (down one!)

Awaiting Review:

I read the next five books in the Judy Bolton series, and also a ridiculous P&P variation that will probably get reviewed on my other blog at some point.  Otherwise I’m all caught up!!

Currently Reading:

I just started Fiona Barton’s The Suspect this morning.  I enjoyed her first two books (The Widow more than The Child) so we will see where this one goes.

The Probably Next Five Reads…

I’ve tried to get more organized at sketching out my future reads, but it’s still a work in process.  All part of the Year of the Spreadsheet!!  :-D  But here’s my best guess:

  • Fields of Wrath by Mark Wheaton – I got this as a free Kindle book a long time ago, so this is part of my ongoing (and neverending) project of sifting through all the Kindle books I’ve collected.  If it’s any good, it’s actually the first in a trilogy.
  • Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills – this one came in at the library, so it got bumped up the list (as did The Suspect, actually).  I really, really enjoyed This Adventure Ends when I read it last year.  I still have Mills’s other books on my TBR, but a new thing I’m doing this year is trying to read author’s new books as they come out instead of just throwing them on the TBR for the next six years.  So here we are!
  • Another set of Love Inspired books – I actually got rid of most of these without reading them, but there were a few where I had the full series, so I hung on to them, figuring that I could read the first book and see if they were any good, and then go from there lol
  • Enchanted Sonata by Heather Dixon – Emily over at When Life Reminds You of a Book recommended this one after reading my review of Illusionarium by the same author.  It’s free on Kindle Unlimited right now, so I thought I would give it a go!
  • A Damsel in Distress by P.G. Wodehouse – still working my way through all of Wodehouse’s books.  I actually just got them moved out to a new bookshelf where they are more visible and accessible, so I’m stoked!

Happy February, everyone!  Keep an eye out for the groundhog’s shadow tomorrow!!

NB: All links go to my old reviews (unless specifically noted).

January Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

Followed by Frost by Charlie Holmberg – 4*

//published 2015//

This is one of my sister’s favorite books, so when she got a hard copy of it for Christmas, she generously gave it to me for the first read. I was a little leery because I read Holmberg’s Paper Magician books last year and was quite frustrated with them – the concept and world were fantastic; the characters and actual story were unbelievable and boring.

However, Followed by Frost was a much better read.  I absolutely loved the concept of this story and the way that it unwound.  Smitha’s character development is thoughtful and believable.  There were times when things dragged a little bit, and I would have liked a little more of Smitha’s life before the curse, to get the full impact of what a jerk she was, but overall a very solid read that, while following a basically traditional fairy tale pattern, did so in a creative and engaging way.

Wet Magic by E. Nesbit – 3.5*

//published 1913//

I really have a soft spot for Nesbit’s writing, but while this one was perfectly enjoyable, it wasn’t as magical as some of her other books.  Things bogged down a bit in the middle when the children got caught up in an underwater war, and there was this weird thing where the first time they met the mermaid she was super grumpy and unreasonable, and then she suddenly was actually really nice and wonderful and perfect, but I could never get over my initial feelings about her, so I spent the whole story being suspicious that she was going to turn out to be a bad guy after all.  All in all, while this was worth a one-time read, it’s not a new favorite.

Illusionarium by Heather Dixon – 3.5*

//published 2015//

I read a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by this author a long time ago (pre-blog), so I thought I would give this book a try when I came across it.  Overall a solid read, but not one that really spoke to me.  The setting is interesting and the concept, of parallel worlds, is always one that engages me.  However, there were a few plot questions that left me feeling a little confused.  Dixon was also a little heavy-handed on the whole concept of having a “compass” inside of you that “points true north” (i.e. to the good) that everyone should follow.  A nice little thought, but kind of pointless if “true north” is just based on what you feel is the right thing.  The supposedly bad character in this story was also doing what she thought was best for her country and people, so I think an argument could be made that she was following her “true north” … which is why moral relativity doesn’t really work all that great in real life…  Ennywho, still a fun and imaginative read.

Kate Burkholder Mysteries // by Linda Castillo

First off, these books were brought to my attention by my good book-blogging buddy Stephanie.  The links in the titles above actually go to her reviews of these books, so you should definitely check out her thoughts!!

It’s been a while since I just sat down and immersed myself in a series (especially a mystery series), but I am so glad that I did that with these books!  I really enjoyed these mysteries a lot, and I’m excited because it appears that Castillo is still adding to the series, with #11 scheduled for publication this summer.

Part of the pleasure in these books for me is their setting – right here in Ohio.  The protagonist, Kate Burkholder, is the chief of police in a small town in Amish country (i.e. northeastern-ish Ohio).  Kate was born and raised Amish, but left the community at the age of 18.  Through a series of life events, she joined law enforcement, and a decade or so after she left, finds herself back in Painters Mill.  Her unique background means that she can often work as a sort of bridge between the Amish and non-Amish (aka “English”) communities, as she is familiar with the Amish culture and also speaks Pennsylvania Dutch.

Kate is overall a likable person, which is a big part of why this series works.  At the beginning, I was afraid she was going to turn into one of those dark, tortured souls who is drunk all the time and on a path to self-destruction.  Instead, Castillo decides to put Kate on a path of progress – throughout the books she is able to face various demons from her past, becoming stronger and growing as a person.

Part of this is Kate’s romantic interest, John Tomasetti.  If I’m honest, Tomasetti was one of the reasons I enjoyed the series so much.  He also comes from a troubled and tragic past, but overall is levelheaded, intelligent, and logical.  I really appreciated that Castillo didn’t feel like she had to give Kate a dumbed-down boyfriend in order to make Kate look good.  Instead, Kate and Tomasetti make a great team, bouncing ideas and theories off of each other, respecting the other’s thoughts and opinions, and providing each other with challenges to grow.

The mysteries themselves are, for the most part, well done.  There were a few times where I felt like Castillo got a little carried away (the reason Breaking Silence only got 3* was because, in my opinion, Castillo went one twist too far – instead of the solution that was logical, she tried to make it the conclusion that was !!!! and I just couldn’t get behind her reasoning for why the !!!! solution made sense), but overall she keeps things within the bounds of reason.

Throughout, Castillo’s descriptions of the Amish community feel respectful.  She neither demonizes or deifies them.  Instead, there is admiration for their strengths (strong families and communities, willingness to help and protect one another, joy in a simple life, etc.) and gentle criticism for their weaknesses (unwillingness to work with outsiders, tendency to judgmentalness, pacifism even to the detriment of justice, etc.).

I especially appreciated times when Kate recognized that her young, rebellious self may have been hard on the people in the community she was determined to leave behind.  This particularly happens with her relationship with the local Amish community’s bishop.  Kate acknowledges that when she was young she just saw him as a bossy, grumpy, judgmental old man.  Now, as an adult, she recognizes the fact that he has the best interests of his flock at heart, and works hard to keep his community safe and cared for, even at great personal sacrifice.

Kate also is able to see that while there are aspects of her former community that she doesn’t necessarily agree with, that they are still important tenets to the Amish, and are worthy of respect as a part of their personal faith.  That’s not to say that I always agreed with Kate.  If I’m honest, my faith probably more closely mirrors the Amish than Kate, who no longer claims any faith at all, and there are times that she only sees judgment from people where I can see that they are coming from a place of love.  A big example is when she and Tomasetti start living together.  Kate is offended that her brother and sister (still Amish) don’t agree with that, while I (an individual who still old-fashioned-ly doesn’t believe in cohabitation before marriage) see that her brother and sister are concerned for her and want the best for her.

In a weird way, Kate’s relationship with Tomasetti was an example of why I don’t think sleeping/living together outside of marriage is the path of wisdom.  Throughout, they are frequently on uncertain footing regarding how the other person feels, constantly questioning and confused with no clear boundaries or goals.  While I really loved the two of them together, they also drove me crazy sometimes, especially Kate (since we’re in her head the most), whose constant waffling and utterly ridiculous refusal to have basic conversations with Tomasetti (even when he was ready and trying to have them) drove me honestly crazy.  Another of the 3* reads (After the Storm) was actually a perfectly good mystery (although also possessed an unnecessary twist), but Kate’s behavior towards Tomasetti in that book got on my nerves so much that I couldn’t honestly rank it any higher.  She does things like literally sits in her office at work for hours instead of going home because she’s afraid to talk with him?!  They’re at a major crossroads of their relationship, and instead of acting like an adult, she hides like a petulant child for basically the entire book, and I just wanted to throttle her.

Besides her inability to have adult conversations, the other big thing about Kate that annoyed me was her obsession with “being strong”, i.e. not crying or showing a lot of emotion.  That’s semi-understandable in her role as chief of police, but utterly ridiculous to still feel that way toward Tomasetti when they’ve been in a serious relationship for literal years.  A true relationship with mutual trust involves emotional openness, and I just didn’t feel like Kate was there, which was fine for the first couple of books, but annoying that by book #10 she’s still thinking about how embarrassed she is that Tomasetti is seeing her cry.  Hello?  Sometimes in life things happen that make you cry, and actually one of the awesome parts about having a good relationship is that you have someone there for you when you are crying who doesn’t belittle your feelings or blow them off.  Tomasetti is amazingly supportive of Kate all the time, so her persistent and purposeful lack of emotional vulnerability just got annoying.

If there was another thing about the series that I would change, it would be to make more of a relationship with Kate and her siblings.  I feel like Kate spends a lot of time internally angsting about their lack of a relationship and feeling guilty about it… and then still never reaching out to them or visiting them.  It goes back to that whole thing where, with personal issues, Kate all too frequently just pretends they aren’t there, but still feels really guilty about them, and sometimes I get extremely tired of listening to her whine about them instead of just DOING what needs to be done.

On the other hand, there is so much about Kate to like.  She’s an incredibly hard worker, she’s brilliant at her work, she’s funny, she’s a great boss, she’s intelligent, she’s good at recognizing her own weaknesses, and she has a real heart and love for the people in her community.  These books are mostly from Kate’s first-person perspective, and I enjoyed spending time with her and her thoughts.  (Although I will say that it really low-grade aggravated me that Kate’s parts are always present tense, but all third person perspectives were past tense.  It just didn’t make sense and made everything read weird to me.)

While the series has its ups and downs, overall I would give it 4*, because I feel like Castillo is really getting into a groove.  It had been a long time since a book made me literally pace the floor while reading it, but I was so stressed when reading Gone Missing that that is exactly what I did!  The last three books thus far were my favorites from the whole series, and so far I feel like there is still so much for Castillo to explore.  I really appreciate the way that even her secondary (and third-ary lol) characters also change through time.  I’m genuinely in love with the other members of Kate’s small police force (especially Glock).

If you enjoy mysteries that are a little more intense than cozies, but aren’t full of graphic sex and violence (although there is a bit of swearing), then I would definitely recommend these.  Personally, I can’t wait for the next one to appear!!

Eagle & Crane // by Suzanne Rindell

//published 2018//

It’s been several days since I finished this superb novel, but the characters and writing are still circulating through my mind.  Rindell creates such an incredible sense of time and place that I was completely drawn into the story in a way that I rarely am with historical novels.

The story begins with a federal agent in California in 1943.  An elderly Japanese man and his adult son have escaped from the prison camp, and Agent Bonner is visiting their old home to see if he can find any trace of them.  Within that first chapter, while Bonner is talking with the current owner of the Yamada’s home, a plane falls from the sky and erupts into flames.  From the wreckage two bodies are pulled out – presumably both of the Yamada men.  Yet Bonner feels that there is more to the story, and he decides to stick around town and see what he can find…

Meanwhile, Rindell begins to take us back in time, through the 1930’s, giving us background on the Yamadas, on the young man who currently owns their farm (Louis Thorn), and on their complicated relationship involving a family feud, cultural and financial differences, a love for airplanes, partnership in an aerial stunt show, and a young woman whom they both loved.

The majority of the chapters are the backstory, because the backstory is the main story, but Rindell jumps forward to Agent Bonner’s activities just frequently enough to keep us abreast of his investigation.  She also does an excellent job of giving us enough information so that every time we joined Agent Bonner, I had a different theory for what really happened in the horrific airplane accident.

Quite a while back I was doing a lot of reading about World War II and was on the lookout for stories set in and around the American Japanese community/Japanese concentration camps in America.  It’s a truly horrific time in our country’s history, and consequently one that is frequently glossed over during WWII studies.  One book that I read at that time was China Dolls, which is set in California in the 1930’s.  One of the characters is actually Japanese, and I was hoping that the book would give me some insight into the setting.  Unfortunately, while an alright story, China Dolls lacked any true sense of culture or place.  It felt like a story that could have been set in any time period, about girls from any culture.

Thankfully, Rindell’s book was everything I had hoped China Dolls would be, and more.  It’s an incredibly engaging story written about characters who feel like real people.  I was completely caught up in the story of Louis Thorn, Harry Yamada, and Ava Brooks.  I was afraid that the story was going to devolve into a desperate love triangle, but Rindell balances that part of the story incredibly well, making the relationships between the three believable, giving weight and motive to different actions by the three characters.  I personally fell in love with all of them.  Quiet, thoughtful, poor, hardworking Louis, who struggles between his loyalty to his family and what he personally is beginning to believe is right.  Intelligent, dashing, adventurous Harry, who is keen enough to see the writing on the wall and recognize how often he is going to be judged harshly because of his race, but doesn’t let the bitterness control him. Independent, clever, crafty Ava, who decides what she wants and isn’t afraid to pursue it.

The secondary characters are also drawn well.  For me, one of the ways to determine that is whether I’m surprised or confused by a secondary character’s actions or not – that is, is this character consistent, or does the author just manipulate them into doing whatever needs to happen in any given scene?  In this story, I felt that all those characters were drawn well – the pilots, Ava’s stepfather and her mother, Harry’s family, Louis’s family, Agent Bonner, his landlady, even the sheriff and his deputy – if a person in this book had a name, that person also had enough individualism to be their own character that I could describe.

Pacing in this story is spot-on.  While I wouldn’t really call it a mystery or a thriller, there is just enough fog around what really happened in the plane wreck to keep me wondering, even as I watched the complicated ties between the characters develop. Rindell does a truly excellent job at looking at the racism surrounding the American Japanese community, and studying that incredibly strong urge that we all have to find a scapegoat to blame for all our troubles – and it’s especially convenient if that scapegoat looks and acts nothing like ourselves.  Parts of this book were consequently genuinely tragic, but I never felt like Rindell was pulling emotional punches just for the sake of making a scene.  The tragedies that occurred felt (sadly) inevitable, even while I kept desperately hoping they would turn out differently.

All in all, 4.5* for Eagle & Crane, and I highly recommend it if you enjoy historical novels, or if you are just looking for a truly fantastic story with realistic characters.  I haven’t read any of Rindell’s other books yet, but if they are anywhere close to being as strong as this one, I am definitely looking forward to it.  This particular book was brought to by attention by FictionFan’s excellent review – as usual, she is far more coherent than I am! – so be sure to check it out.