August Minireviews – Part 1

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So I’ve started a monthly post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler

//published 1942//

In this outing for PI Phillip Marlowe, the tough-talking-but-soft-hearted detective finds himself working for a rich but rather dreadful old widow.  Per usual, Marlowe is pulled into all sorts of shenanigans, most of which would seem unrelated to someone more optimistic than our hero.  The mystery in this one seemed stronger to me than the first few books, and I really enjoyed the story.  These books are pretty fast reads and I am finding them to be thoroughly engaging.  3.5/5.

Once Upon a Kiss by various authors

//published 2017//

This collection of short stories are all retellings of fairy tales by random YA authors.  I picked it up as a free Kindle book in hopes of maybe finding some new authors to check out.  However, none of the stories in this collection rated higher than a 3/5 for me, and some I didn’t even bother to finish.  To me, a short story should still have a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end, and some kind of driving force for the protagonists, but a lot of these stories just came across as ‘sample’ writing – a few stories literally just stopped and were like, ‘If you want to find out more about what happens next, be sure to check out my book!’ which annoyed me so much that I won’t be checking out their books.

Overall, not a complete waste of time, but almost.

The Cat Sitter Mystery by Carol Adorjan

//published 1973//

This is an old Scholastic Book Club book that I’ve had around for as long as I can remember.  I read this book when I was pretty little – it was possibly one of the first mysteries I ever read.  I was quite enthralled with the exciting and mysterious events surrounding Beth’s neighbor’s house!

Rereading as an adult, this story about a girl who moves into a new neighborhood and then ends up taking care of her eccentric neighbors’ cats, doesn’t really have a great deal of depth, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.  Adorjan does a really great job of making the whole story plausible, and also setting up reasonable explanations for all of the shenanigans.  The side story about Beth trying to settle into her new neighborhood in the middle of summer is also done well.

My edition is fabulously illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush, who illustrated several other childhood favorites, like Magic Elizabeth and Miracles on Maple Hill.  They are probably most famous for their work with the original editions of The Borrowers and their sequels.  The Krush’s line drawings are just perfect, especially of the cats.

All in all, a comfortable 4/5 for this short children’s book, an old favorite that held up quite well to an adult reread.

The Story of Amelia Earhart by Adele de Leeuw

//published 1955//

Back in the 1950’s, Grosset & Dunlap published a series of children’s biographies called ‘Signature’ books – each one has a copy of the famous person’s signature on the front, and an illustrated timeline of ‘Great Events in the Life of…’ inside the front cover.  I really enjoy history books that are aimed at the middle school range because they usually hit all the high points without getting bogged down with a lot of details and political opinions.  It’s a great way to get a basic introduction to a person or event.  I’ve collected a lot of these Signature books over the years – they have those delightful cloth covers from the era and are just a perfect size to read.

That said, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this one.  While it was a fine read, de Leeuw’s choices about what random vignettes from Earhart’s life to include seemed really random.  For instance, an entire chapter is devoted to a random event in Earhart’s life involving a neighbor who treats his horse cruelly – and in the end, Earhart and her sister don’t actually get to rescue the horse – instead, it escapes and then dies leaping over a creek?!  It just felt incredibly random and didn’t really add any information about Earhart – it never came back as this big influential event or anything.  There were several other, smaller stories like that throughout, like de Leeuw had collected tons of tales and then just pulled out of a hat which ones to include.  It was definitely much choppier than other Signature books that I’ve read.

Still, Earhart had an amazing and fascinating life.  I really loved how so much of what she did wasn’t amazing because she was the first woman to do it – but just the first person.  I love biographies that emphasize a woman’s abilities, intelligence, and skills as those of a person instead of those as a woman.  No one is going to believe that women are just as capable as men if we constantly act like being a woman was a weakness they had to overcome.

All in all, this was a fun and interesting book.  I’m not particularly into aviation, but apparently Earhart herself wrote a couple of books – I’m especially interesting to check out her book 20 Hrs., 40 Min. about flying over the Atlantic – I’m curious to see how it compares to Charles Lindbergh’s account, which I ended up really enjoying a lot.

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

//published 1943//

The fourth Phillip Marlowe felt a little darker than the first three.  Marlowe seems a little jaded, and while he still manages to make fun of many of the terrible people he meets (usually everyone he meets is pretty terrible), sometimes it felt a little serious, like Chandler genuinely was starting to think that everyone out there really is terrible.  There is also a rather gruesome scene when a body is found – not exactly graphic, but so well implied that it didn’t need to be in order to make me feel a little queasy (possibly because I was trying to eat a baloney sandwich at the time).

However, the mystery itself was, I felt, the strongest yet.  The reader has access to all the same information as Marlowe, and while I was able to connect some of the dots, I didn’t hit them all.  I really enjoyed watching everything come together, but the ending was just a bit too abrupt to feel completely satisfactory.

Still, a really great read, if a bit darker than the earlier fare.  3.5/5.

A Dark Lure // by Loreth Anne White

//published 2015//

This is a Kindle book that I picked up for a dollar a while back and finally got around to reading.  In the end, it was good for a one-time read and probably not a total waste of a dollar, but it’s not one that I see myself coming back to.

Several years ago, Sarah was kidnapped and tortured by a sadistic killer who had already performed this same scenario multiple times before – kidnapping a woman just before the first big snowfall of the year, keeping her locked up for the winter where he can torture her, and then turning her loose in the spring for a ‘hunt’… except Sarah escapes.

Now she is living on a ranch under a new identity (Olivia).  The murderer was captured, convicted, and imprisoned, and then died in jail three years ago.  Yet Olivia has troubled breaking free from her past.  She has found a semblance of healing and solace on this western Canadian ranch, but the owner is dying of cancer and Olivia’s future is uncertain.

Meanwhile, as the reader, we learn that the killer is actually still alive, and he is determined to find Olivia.  A cop who worked the case is convinced that the killer is still out there and that they jailed the wrong man.  When he and the killer ‘meet’ online – each pretending to be someone else – they are both working to lure the other out.  The cop gives away Olivia’s location, and the hunt is on.

For me, this story just had a lot of sloppy plot points.  The biggest one is the fact that this cop gives away Olivia’s location and then waits like two or three days before heading off to the ranch himself!  This seemed completely ridiculous to me!  He’s convinced that this horrific killer is out to get Olivia, but doesn’t bother to head off to protect her himself, to tell anyone what he is doing, or to even give Olivia a heads up when he finally does get around to meandering out to the ranch.  This frustrated me to no end and made the whole story feel contrived.

Meanwhile, I spent basically the entire book wondering how in the HECK you could convict the wrong man when you have AN EYEWITNESS who was his captive for months!?  It’s eventually explained, but I think the author was trying to make it this big twist, when in fact it would been significantly less aggravating to have that explained early on, and then let it be a twist for the characters, since I already know, for a fact, thanks to the author, that the murderer is on the loose!  So instead of the identity mix-up being this big reveal, it really came across for me as more of a FINALLY moment, because it made NO SENSE that everyone could be convinced that the true killer had been convicted.

It felt like there was a lot of cancer in this book, like the author needed to have people motivated by impending death, so she just handed out cancer all around. It would have been nice if she could  have figured out some different motivating factors.

Finally, there is a lot of side drama regarding the future of the ranch, and it’s never really satisfactorily resolved.  Like… okay… sort of… except the other person with interests in the ranch has already said they are going to spare no expense to contest the will, etc.  I didn’t really need like a whole big thing about it, but an epilogue would have been nice in this case, just to kind of wrap up the side story.  Instead, the whole book ended rather abruptly, and even though the killer situation was taken care of, I wasn’t feeling particularly confident about Olivia’s overall future.

In the end, this was a sort of meh 3/5.  It wasn’t a terrible read, and it kept me fairly engaged while I was reading it, but there were too many annoying factors for me to really enjoy it, or to consider reading it again.

What Lies Within // by James Morris

//published 2015//

Well, despite a slow start, several very short reads have enabled me to reach this, #20 for my #20BooksofSummer list!  I’ll post a full update in my July Rearview.

Unfortunately, What Lies Within within was a rather weak way to end the list, and actually only garners a 1/5 for me.

Mostly, I really hated the protagonist, Shelley.  From the beginning, the 17-year-old set herself up to be obnoxious, selfish, whiny, entitled, and basically unlikable.  I thought that maybe she would grow and change as a person throughout the story, but instead she ended up merely adding prideful and hypocritical to her list of attributes.

The basic premise/opening of the story had some promise.  Shelley is sitting in school one day when she receives a text message from an unfamiliar number.  The text message tells her that she is in danger.  When Shelley tries to find out who is at the other end of the line, he tells her that he is her brother – even though she’s an only child.  At first, Shelley totally blows this weirdo off – except then it turns out that he’s right.

Be forewarned:  The rest of this rant may or may not involve spoilers, and will definitely involve ‘sorta kinda’ spoilers, so if you have intentions of reading this book (please don’t), you probably won’t want to read any further…

This really felt like it could have been an exciting, engaging story.  Instead, Morris’s habit of killing off virtually everyone  while providing weak, poorly-explained explanations and forcing me to follow around whiny, boring, self-entitled Shelley meant that I ended up reading this book with the same sort of fascinated horror one gets from watching the proverbial train wreck.

I was especially offended by Shelley’s stance on adoption.  Early in the story she finds out that she was adopted and that her dad never told her.  (Shelley’s mom died in a train wreck several years ago.  We don’t actually know how many years ago because Morris only tells us that it happened on 9/11, but doesn’t bother to inform us how many years ago 9/11 was…)  Despite the fact that Shelley’s dad is a fantastic, supportive, kind, indulgent man, Shelley treats him like trash consistently and blames him for all of her self-imposed problems.  I really liked the way that she immediately accused him of ‘lying’ and demanded to know what else he had been ‘lying’ to her about.  While yes, not telling someone that she is adopted is a pretty big deal, she never even vaguely kinda sorta attempted to see things from his point of view – that he and his wife had always planned to tell her; that the wife had died; that he never could decide when was the ‘right’ time to have this conversation; etc.

And then there was this:

Yet through the maelstrom of her mind, she latched onto a silver lining.  For as long as she could remember, she felt as though she didn’t belong, as if she was a foreign exchange student, learning customs that never made sense.  …  But the adoption explained everything.

I am literally living in the wrong home.

No wonder she felt like an alien.  The subtleties that bound families, the sense of humor, the shared behaviors, those came from sharing blood.  She had only shared space and time.

Excuse my French, but the hell.  Her parents adopted her at birth.  They have loved and cherished every moment of her life.  But she’s ‘living in the wrong home’?!  She ‘only shared space and time’!?  I’ve mentioned before that I have a sister who is adopted; I know multiple families who have adopted; and I find it pretty damn offensive that apparently that’s all completely pointless because the only way to become a member of a family is by sharing blood.

And here’s the kicker – that’s really basically the point of this entire story.  Turns out that Shelley is one of thirteen infants who were all created as a social experiment by some whack-job of a genetics professor who was trying to prove that nature always triumphs over nurture.  He used genetic material from twelve of the worst criminals he could find and created children out of them; he donated his own sperm to create Shelley.  Besides the extremely dubious legality of such action, there around a billion holes in his theory, the way it all played out, and his conclusions.  One of the biggest was that he ‘proved’ nature was stronger than nurture because ten of the children grew up to do terrible crimes – mass murders, school shootings, etc.  Except… two of the kids aren’t violent at all…???  And basically they weren’t violent because we meet those two in the story, and of course Morris is going to kill them off (horrifically), so it’s important that we like them, I guess.  Even though it makes his own story make no sense.

In the end, Shelley more or less goes more and more crazy.  There’s this guy who has been hired by the government to swoop around on his motorcycle and murder all of these kids before they cause more trouble (because apparently being imprisoned for life isn’t good enough?  Or something?  Were all there kids not imprisoned?  So vague), but Shelley ends up killing him – by locking him in the paint booth in her dad’s body shop and turning on the bake cycle.  My husband actually paints cars for a living, and while he agreed that it is possible to kill someone this way, it’s not terribly efficient as it would take a bit of time.  Plus, the booths usually have at least two exits, both equipped with emergency exit equipment, and literally all Shelley does is close the door.  (And then walks away, and apparently has no problem leaving a dead body for her dad to discover – and try to explain to the police – the next day…)

Then, she dashes across town in her dad’s tow truck (which she’s never driven but seems to have no issues with even though it takes a special license to drive because it’s really big) and kills her birth dad, too – like literally guts him with a knife on his front porch.  Then, leaving him to bleed out, she strolls back across town, wearing her borrowed, bloody clothes, tells her erstwhile BFF farewell, and then rides off into the sunset to become some sort of vigilante…?!?!!?!?

This was after chapters of her doing other, equally crazy (although not quite as violent) things, none of which really made sense.  Also, throughout the whole thing she is plagued with these nightmares of killing people – and it’s literally never explained in the end.  So I guess those were all just to build up a sense of dread?  To emphasize that Shelley is ‘an alien’?

Oh, and I didn’t even mention the great scene where she visits her crush and then they go for a walk and just randomly have sex out in the woods and then I have to listen to Shelley agonize over whether or not losing her virginity was a good thing (it wasn’t), blah blah blah.  Like the stupidity of the plot wasn’t enough, I also had to listen to all this whiny, angsty YA crap on top of everything else.

In the end, this book made me really angry.  I hated Shelley, the plot was stupid and completely lacking in logic or cohesiveness, and the overall message – family is blood only; adoption is a waste of time; kids who are adopted will never really fit into their adopted families – was flat offensive.  Negative stars for this one, and if I meet James Morris, I may kick him in the shins.

PS I will say that I am in the complete minority on this, as the book has almost a 3.9 average on Goodreads, and most people seemed to find it an enjoyable, fast-paced, engaging read.  So maybe I’m just judging it a bit too harshly…

The Big Sleep // by Raymond Chandler

//published 1939//

I’ve recently subscribed to two book boxes, one of which sends very new books (like the one I reviewed here), but the other, Bookishly, sends an older, used, somewhat classic book every month, along with some tea and other small goodies, like a notecard or notebook.  This one comes from England, and I have quite enjoyed getting some of the very classic Penguin editions that are different from what we have here stateside.

Anyway, one of the books I got was Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler.  When I realized that it was the second book in a mystery series staring a private detective named Phillip Marlowe, one of the founders of the ‘hard-boiled detective’ genre, I decided to start with book one, The Big Sleep.  

I genuinely had no idea what to expect, but was immediately captivated by Marlowe, who is not only the main character but also the narrator.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.  I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them.  I was neat, clean, shaven and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.  I was everything well-dressed private detective ought to be.  I was calling on four million dollars.

This book was originally published in 1939, and I can see it offending some, as it contains much of the casual prejudices and racism of the day.  (And honestly, some of the negative reviews on Goodreads had my eyes rolling practically out of my head… why do people read books published almost 80 years ago and then get offended that the people in them have a completely different worldview?!  How ignorant do you have to be to not expect that…???)  But at the same time, its very casualness of those prejudices is incredibly revealing of its time, and an intriguing reminder of how times have changed.  For instance, I don’t think anyone could get away with writing anything like this –

“Don’t kid me, son.  The fag gave you one.  You’ve got a nice clean manly little room in there.  He shooed you out and locked it up when he had lady visitors.  He was like Caesar, a husband to women and a wife to men.  Think I can’t figure people like you out?”  …  he swung on me … it caught me flush on the chin.  I backstepped enough to keep from falling, but I took plenty of punch.  It was meant to be a heard one, but a pansy has no iron in his bones, whatever he looks like.

But it’s not really an overwhelming bit of the story, and the majority of Marlowe’s narration is genuinely hilarious and Chandler’s knack for writing conversation is brilliant; I found myself snorting with laughter on more than one occasion over bits like this –

Her hot black eyes looked mad.  “I don’t see what there is to be cagey about,” she snapped.  “And I don’t like your manners.”

“I’m not crazy about yours,” I said.  “I didn’t ask to see you.  You sent for me.  I don’t mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle.  I don’t mind your showing me your legs.  They’re very swell legs and it’s a pleasure to make their acquaintance.  I don’t mind that you don’t like my manners.  They’re pretty bad.  I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.  But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.”

This wasn’t a story full of action.  Marlowe meanders about making his own observations and doing his own thing, but we’re privy to pretty much everything he knows and does.  Chandler isn’t afraid to kill people off, and there are multiple corpses throughout, but nothing gory and no one dies that you’re particularly sad to see go.

While the old-fashioned prejudices may have been rather offensive, the old-fashioned morals aren’t, and I loved how the language in this book never went stronger than a ‘damn,’ and how a few criminals were running a pornography business, which seemed to genuinely disgust the majority of the characters.  I also really liked the Marlowe didn’t fall into bed with any of the women about – he’s way too crafty to fall for their lures, and it says a lot about his overall character, which is actually rather philosophical and introspective, despite his rough-and-ready exterior.

At one point, Marlowe has apprehended a possible bad guy.  When he confronts the kid, the kid responds with “Go _____ yourself” – blank included in the original text.  And that seems to be this kid’s default response to everything, although Chandler manages to mix it up quite a bit with things like, “He spoke three words to me and kept on driving,” or “the kid shrugged and said his three favorite words.”

Despite Marlowe’s hard image, I appreciated that he was genuinely disturbed by the easy murder of one of the characters, even if that character was a bit of a skunk.  There is so much drinking and smoking in this book that I was cracking up – for instance, I’m not sure if even the leaders of criminal rings these days have their own monogrammed cigarettes.

While I wasn’t racing to the ending in desperate fear of Marlowe’s life, I still really wanted to see how things were going to unwind, and with sentences like, “She’d make a jazzy weekend, but she’d be wearing for a steady diet,” luring me along, I found myself thoroughly immersed every time I picked up the book.

I’m looking forward to continuing Marlowe’s acquaintance.  There are only eight books total, plus a ninth that Chandler had partially written at the time of his death and was later finished by another author.  The Big Sleep was an easy 3.5/5, and a really fun start to a series.

#18 for #20BooksofSummer!

The Silent Sister // by Diane Chamberlain

//published 2014//

I had some mixed feelings about this book.  It kept me thoroughly engaged while I was reading it, but a few different things made me uncomfortable during the story, and I found the ending to be unsatisfactory.  In the end, I think it has to go as a 3/5.  I don’t particularly recommend it, and it’s the sort of book that made me feel that while I wouldn’t avoid Chamberlain’s books in the future, I’m not anxious to seek them out, either.

The story mostly centers around Riley, aged 25, whose father has just passed away.  Riley has returned home to go through his house (her mother passed away just after her senior year of high school) and get it ready to sell.  Riley loved her father and had a good relationship with him, so she’s quite devastated by his sudden death, and that’s amplified by the way that she feels that she is all alone in the world – her older sister committed suicide when Riley was only two, and Riley’s older brother, Danny, suffers from severe PSTD that leaves him unreliable and unpredictable.  He also harbors deep resentment towards their parents (which Riley doesn’t understand) and is completely disinterested in cleaning out the house or reliving memories of any kind.

As the tale unwinds, Riley begins to discover that her dad was actually keeping quite a few secrets, including a major one about her sister.  At this point, the story also begins to give us Lisa’s story from twenty years earlier.

This is a well-written and engaging narrative.  Riley uses the first person for her sections, past tense.  She is likable and kind and very lonely.  Lisa’s section are in third person, but that doesn’t prevent her from being a very relatable character.  I was really hooked into this story from the very beginning.

However, there were several things that gave me unease.  One of the biggest is when Lisa meets Celia.  After spending the evening together, Celia stays the night (romantically) – despite the fact that they had only met that day AND until she met Celia, Lisa didn’t realize she was gay.  It seemed kind of ridiculous and unhealthy for Lisa to immediately get in bed with someone on such short acquaintance, especially when she hasn’t actually sorted through her sexual orientation??  Of course it all works out and they stay together forever because that’s what always happens when you hop in bed with someone you’ve only known about eight hours.  This situation became even more disturbing when more details about Lisa’s childhood were revealed.

I was also a smidge offended by the fact that, of course, the traditional, conservative church was the home of a bunch of hypocritical self-centered people who “push away” people going through a crisis; while the church that is “open and affirming” to gay people are the ones who are so supportive and loving to everyone, no matter what!  I’m sorry, but believing that homosexuality isn’t Scriptural doesn’t automatically mean that I hate gay people or that I’m unwilling to help out people who are going through a dark time in their life.  This wasn’t a huge part of this book by any means, but it was a completely unnecessary dig.

It also seemed really weird to me that part of Riley’s back story was that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years – because he had never divorced his wife?!?!?  That seemed unnecessarily wrong, and it honestly changed my perspective of who Riley was as a person.  Like wow, she’s just been an adulterer for two years??  That seems… disturbing?

The rest of my angst I’ll put below the cut as they involve spoilers.  This wasn’t a terrible book by any means.  I really was very engaged with the story and anxious to find out how it ended.  But I felt like justice was not served by the conclusion and it left me feeling rather angry, this concept that this person “deserves” a good life, rather than deserving what they earned through their actions.  So yes, a 3/5.  And for a more positive review, be sure to check out Carol’s thoughts, which first led me to this book!

Also – #14 for #20BooksofSummer!

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Jamaica Inn // by Daphne du Maurier

//published 1935//

Overall, I wanted to like Jamaica Inn, but just found it too, too depressing.

Mary’s mother has died and Mary is going to live with her only remaining relative, her mother’s sister Patience.  Aunt Patience is married to an innkeeper named Joss.  But when Mary (who is a young woman of 23, not a child, by the way) arrives at Jamaica Inn, she finds it to be a frightening and lonely place that discourages visitors.  Joss is a strong, terrible man, and Aunt Patience is a shadow of her former self.  As the story progresses, Mary discovers various evil and terrible things going on around the inn, but feels unable to speak out against them because of how the destruction of Joss would devastate Patience.

Many of the descriptions are rather melodramatic, but excellent nonetheless.  Du Maurier has a knack of describing people in a way that makes them quite easy to picture – perhaps aided by the fact that nearly everyone in this book is practically a caricature.

In both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachelwe are given a first person perspective from a possibly unreliable narrator.  Much of tension from both of those books is not knowing how much of what we hear is actual truth, and how much of it is simply in the mind of the narrator.  But in Jamaica Inn, the story is much more straightforward, a more traditional Gothic novel, with smugglers and dark, sweeping moors, and an innocent young woman caught up in circumstances beyond her control.  It wasn’t exactly boring, but it almost was.  While in Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel I was constantly guessing as the guilt and innocence to the very end, I really had Jamaica Inn figured out about a third of the way through; the book felt almost formulaic.

Throughout, I couldn’t tell if du Maurier was trying to make a point about the situation of women in society or what, but she constantly, and I do mean constantly, harps on how hopeless and almost pointless the existence of women is, because they are so dependent on men.  Of Aunt Patience she says –

“You mustn’t mind your uncle Joss,” [Aunt Patience] said, her manner changing suddenly, fawning almost, like a whimpering dog that has been trained by constant cruelty to implicit obedience, and who, in spite of kicks and curses, will fight like a tiger for its master.

And really, that sums up the way both sexes are portrayed throughout.  The women – downtrodden, hopelessly bound by love and loyalty; the men – vacillating between cruelty and indifference.

Even Mary herself, who claims that she will always be independent and strong, and will never fall in love or put herself into a place where a man has control over her, falls in love “against her will” –

And there, in spite of herself, came [his] face again, with growth of beard like a tramp, and his dirty shirt, and his  bold offensive stare.  He lacked tenderness; he was rude; and he had more than a streak of cruelty in him; he was a thief and a liar.  He stood for everything she feared and hated and despised; but she knew she could love him.  Nature cared nothing for prejudice.  Men and women were like the animals on the farm at Helford, she supposed; there was a common law of attraction for all living things, some similarity of skin or touch, and they would go to one another.  This was no choice of the mind.

Later in the same chapter she is thinking about how back at home she would see people in love, but after they married –

…when the lad came home at evening tired from his work in the fields, and calling sharply that his supper was burnt, not fit for a dog, while the girl snapped back at him from the  bedroom overhead, her figure sagging and her curls gone, pacing backward and forward with a bundle in her arms that mewed like a cat and would not sleep.  There was no talk then of the moonlight on the water.  No, Mary had no illusions about romance.  Falling in love was a pretty name for it, that was all.

Just…  ugh.  So hopeless, not just about love, but about life – that all we are is unthinking animals who know nothing better than to find someone to whom we have a spark of attraction that we may breed – no hope of any kind of long-lasting affection or companionship – just drudgery and darkness.

And that’s what this book was, consistently, throughout every page.  Drudgery and darkness.  Complete hopelessness.  In the end, Mary goes off with with this man who stands “for everything she feared and hated and despised” – and there is no sign whatsoever that he is not all of the things she lists off in that paragraph.  And so Mary, despite knowing that her life will probably be miserable, purposefully chooses to go with him!  I had already lost all my respect for Mary about halfway through the book; for all her claims to be strong and saucy, she really isn’t terribly smart and is already completely resigned to a life just as miserable as Aunt Patience’s (even though Mary spends a great deal of time despising her Aunt Patience for her loyalty to Joss).

In the end, du Maurier leaves us with nothing.  Christianity is “built upon a fairy tale.  Christ himself is a figurehead, a puppet thing created by man himself.”  Humans are nothing more than animals who can never expect to be anything better.  Women will forever be subservient to men because they will always choose to be loyal to a man, even if he is cruel – which he will be, because all men are so instinctively, desiring nothing more than to crush all who are weaker than they are.

The picturesque descriptions of the moors and the attempt at a mystery were not enough to overcome the darkness and hopelessness of this story for me.  2/5 and not recommended.

However, I will say that both Rose Reads Novels and That’s What She Read are more generous than I am, so you may want to check out their reviews for some balance.  ;-)

#13 for #20BooksofSummer!

(#12 will be reviewed at the end of the month in July’s minireviews.)

Woman With a Gun // by Phillip Margolin

//published 2014//

Last fall I had the pleasure of reading through Margolin’s Amanda Jaffe series.  The series as a whole was an easy 4/5 for me, and I really enjoyed them.  Unfortunately, Margolin has written several other novels, so enjoying those books meant that multiple titles got added to the TBR, and Woman With a Gun is the first of them I’ve read.

I really liked the pacing of this story.  We start in 2015 with Stacey, who is trying to write a novel but is feeling rather uninspired.  To pay the bills, she’s working as a legal assistant and finds it soul-suckingly boring.  (Aside: I empathize!)  On lunch one day she stops to see an art exhibit, but is drawn to a series of photographs.  When she sees the photograph that’s on the cover of this book, she is completely enamored – she can see an entire story waiting to be told.

The next section tells us the story of the photograph – the Cahill case from 2005.  A strange and mysterious murder that was never satisfactorily resolved…

I have mixed feelings about books that jump backward and forward in time, but Margolin handles it very well in this one.  I really liked that instead of using flashbacks or alternating chapters, large chunks of book are in one time before switching to another – there are only actually five parts to the  book: 2015, 2005, 2000, 2005, 2015 – which also works very well, as we slowly work our way back in time to understand what is going on, and then forward in time to find resolution.

The story was quite gripping, and I was lucky enough to start this on a lazy Sunday, and read it pretty much all in one go.  I was completely engrossed in the tale and anxious to find out who the killer really was.  It’s really a rather small circle of possibilities, which made the guessing even more engaging.

It did seem like Stacey’s love story part was rather hasty – an almost instalove vibe – and the ending, while satisfying, was still a bit bittersweet.

All in all, Woman With a Gun was an easy 4/5, and confirmed for me that I definitely need to continue working through Margolin’s books.

#11 for #20BooksofSummer!!!

(#10 will appear in this month’s minireviews at the end of July!)