August 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.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss – 4.5*

//published 2003//

I first read this book when it was published, and it’s one of those rare nonfiction books that I find myself returning to every few years.  Truss is just  so funny.  She tells you in the beginning how to tell if you’ll enjoy her book (have  you ever felt an overwhelming compulsion to add a missing apostrophe to a sign??) and goes on from there.  This isn’t an in-depth study of punctuation, but it is a delightful scamper through the high points of punctuation history and usage.  I always especially love the way she compares commas to border collies (gently herding phrases and words where they need to go), and her passion for apostrophes (so simple to use, yet so frequently maligned).

If you are even a bit of a punctuation freak, this is definitely worth a read.

Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge – 4*

//published 1949//

I’m still slowly working my way through all of Goudge’s books. While Gentian Hill is probably my least favorite of her books that I’ve read so far, it was still beautifully written.  It’s historical fiction, so it’s a bit different from her other books, and it was rather fun to read a book set during the Napoleonic Wars that focused more on “regular” folk instead of the aristocracy.  The language throughout was beautiful as always, and there were many wonderful themes.  The main reason I wrestled with this book is because of how young Stella is when Zachary meets her and knows that she is going to be his wife someday.  I’ll grant that Zachary is also young(ish), but it still felt weird, even though it wasn’t completely unusual for women to get married in their mid-teens at the time.  Still, Goudge handles that all deftly – it never felt like Zachary was a creeper in any way, and I honestly did want them to end up together.  I just felt like the whole story would have read better if Stella had been a couple of years older when they met.

Overall, I still did enjoy this book a great deal, even though I didn’t find it to be an instant classic as I have with many of Goudge’s other books.

Gentian Hill was read #10 for #20BooksofSummer.

You Don’t Own Me by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke – 4*

//published 2018//

This is the latest installment of the Under Suspicion series, which I read last year.  The series centers on Laurie, who is the producer for a television show called Under Suspicion.  Each episode of the show looks at a cold case, inviting the people involved to tell their part of the story.  The concept is that the unsolved aspect of the story means that people close to the victim are still shadowed by the possibility that they could be the murderer.  I really enjoyed this series when I read it last year, mainly because Laurie is a great main character, and the authors have done an excellent job with the secondary characters as well.  In this book, I was glad to see Laurie’s romantic relationship progress happily.  The mystery was solid, although there was a weird secondary thing going on where Laurie was being stalked that felt superfluous to the main thrust of the story.

One of my biggest complaints about this story last year was how the host for Laurie’s show, Ryan, was the only stagnant character in the series.  The authors just made him into one giant stereotype and seemed to think that was good enough.  Consequently, I was delighted to see actual character growth in Ryan in this installment!  Brilliant!

Overall, these are great mysteries, and I’m hopeful that they will continue coming.

The Story of a Whim by Grace Livingston Hill – 3.5*

//published 1903//

Like most of Hill’s stories, this one was pretty predictable, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  I will say that I found it funny that I had just recently read Strawberry Girlset in early 1900’s Florida, and then it turns out that that was the same setting for this book as well!

This was my #11 read for #20BooksofSummer.

Shamed by Linda Castillo – 4*

//published 2019//

Earlier this year I devoured the entire Kate Burkholder series.  Set in Ohio’s Amish country, this is a great mystery series.  Kate grew up Amish and then left the community and eventually entered law enforcement.  When the series starts, Kate is the sheriff of the small town where she grew up, and also a sort of bridge between the Amish and non-Amish (“English”) communities.  I really, really like Kate a lot, which is a large part of why this series works for me.  Castillo also does a really excellent job in her portrayal of the Amish community, and I love the way that Kate is working through her heritage as well.

This particular installment was solid.  A woman is murdered and her granddaughter kidnapped – I loved the way that each chapter started with how many hours the girl had been missing; it really intensified the urgency of a missing child case.  Overall, the pacing was solid, although it felt like this book didn’t have as much of Kate’s personal life as some of the others have had, and I rather missed it.  All in all, I hope Castillo continues to write these books forever, as I really like them.

Samantha Kincaid Mysteries // by Alafair Burke // #20BooksofSummer

  • Judgment Calls (2003)
  • Missing Justice (2004)
  • Close Case (2005)

A while back I read Burke’s The Exwhich was one of those books that, while I didn’t completely love it, still definitely inspired me to check out more of the author’s works.  Next, I read the Under Suspicion series, which Burke co-wrote with Mary Higgins Clark.  I thoroughly enjoyed that series, so I had some decently high hopes for this one.

What I didn’t realize until after I started these, is that they are Burke’s first three books that she had published.  There were all solid 3.5* reads for me, and it was interesting to see Burke’s writing starting to develop.  Samantha is overall a likable character, which always helps.

The main character, Samantha Kincaid, works as an assistant DA in Portland.  It was cracking me up because another author I’ve been reading regularly, Phillip Margolin, also sets most of his books in Portland.  However, Margolin’s characters are almost always defense attorneys, so it was fun to read the other side of the coin – and I also kept halfway expecting some of Margolin’s characters to appear as well!

At any rate, these were pretty typical crime/law procedurals.  They didn’t do anything that blew my mind, but each story was engaging and well-written.  It was nice to have a main character who isn’t “haunted by the past” or busy drinking themselves to death.  Instead, Samantha is a pretty regular career woman in her 30’s.  She does go a bit rouge from time to time, but nothing so crazy that I had to suspend belief.  I also liked the way that other characters in and around the department were regular players throughout the three books.

I had two issues with these books.  The first issue is that Samantha starts dating one of the detectives.  By the second book, everyone knows about it so it wasn’t quite as weird, but in the first book they’re basically keeping it a secret, and since he’s also involved in the crime she’s prosecuting, it felt super shady to me, and I never was comfortable with the fact that they were in a relationship on their private time, and also had a complicated working relationship, especially in one of the books where a cop has been accused of killing a civilian – it really seemed like Samantha’s objectivity was severely compromised.

Speaking of which, Samantha’s boyfriend seemed completely unreasonable during that book.  He was literally mad at Samantha all the time because she was trying to be objective and do her job.  I liked the guy for the most part, but he was basically a jerk during that entire book.

My second issue with the series was Samantha’s regular snide comments about men, and how it’s a man’s world, and how hard it is to be a woman, yadda yadda yadda.  I find this SO boring and also a big cop-out.  It especially annoyed me when she was complaining about extremely stupid stuff – like if you want me to take you seriously that men have the upper hand, maybe choose something real to complain about instead of – literally – the way that he has positioned his hands while talking –

“That one’s trickier,” Duncan said, pressing the pads of his fingertips together to make something resembling a fileted crab, an annoying male gesture that seemed popular in the power corridor.

Say what?!  You’re offended because he has his fingers pressed together?!  It’s not like Duncan makes this gesture only when talking with Samantha, or that the gesture is combined with speaking to her condescendingly or dismissing her ideas.  It’s literally just Samantha being completely weird about the way Duncan is holding his hands during a meeting, and she complained about random crap like this regularly throughout the books.  This kind of sensitivity to something that’s literally completely and totally inoffensive makes it impossible for me to take a character seriously when she complains about something legitimate.  Like yes, I would like to believe you that this guy is degrading you just because you’re female, except you complained about the way that Duncan was sitting in a chair like five minutes ago so.  It’s kind of the boy crying wolf.

But still, all in all I really enjoyed these books and am looking forward to more of Burke’s works in the future.  I was a little sad that she apparently didn’t continue the Samantha Kincaid books, especially since some of Samantha’s personal life threads are left rather open at the end of Close Case.  

And, as a side note, Judgment Calls was my seventh read for #20BooksofSummer!

NB: All links in this review go to other reviews on my blog.

Under Suspicion Series // by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

  • I’ve Got You Under My Skin (2014)
  • The Cinderella Murder (2014)
  • All Dressed in White (2015)
  • The Sleeping Beauty Killer (2016)
  • Every Breath You Take (2017)

A while back I read The Ex by Alafair Burke.  While it wasn’t the best thriller I had ever read, it was solid enough to make me add several of Burke’s other works onto the TBR.  However, when I added this series I didn’t realize that Burke was a co-author.  Somehow, I had never gotten around to reading any of the famous Mary Higgins Clark’s books, so I was actually pretty intrigued to delve into this series.

The first book was written by Clark on her own, and it sets the premise for the rest of the series.  The story opens when Greg, a young doctor, at the park with his three-year-old son, Timmy.  A stranger appears and murders Greg – and only Timmy sees his face.  Timmy remarkably is able to remember that the man had very blue eyes and also that he said, “Tell your mother she’s next, and then it’s your turn.”

Five years later, no further progress has been made on the Blue-Eyed Killer.  Greg’s wife, Laurie, has done her best to move forward with her life, even with the constant threat made by a murderer hanging over her.  Her father, Leo, took an early retirement from his job on the police force in order to help Laurie take care of Timmy.  Laurie works as a television producer, but her last few ideas haven’t done very well and she knows that her next pitch could be her last.

But it’s a doozy – her idea is to have a sort-of reality show that revisits cold cases.  But instead of just talking about them, she wants to pull together all the main players and reenact some of the scenes.  She wants her main focus to be on cold cases where the witnesses are also the suspects – where the fact that the case is still open means that multiple people are still under suspicion – which is exactly what she wants to title her new show.

Although her boss is at first reluctant, she manages to hook him with a cold case that received a lot of media attention at the time, and soon production for the first episode of Under Suspicion is underway.  Meanwhile, the reader is privy to the fact that Blue Eyes is back on the fringes of Laurie’s life – with definite plans for finishing the job he started five years earlier.

I really enjoyed this series a lot, and gave basically all of these books an easy 4* rating.  It felt a little obvious that Clark didn’t originally intend for the first book to be the first in a series – Laurie’s mystery is neatly wrapped up, she’s given a potential love interest for the future, and things overall get tidied – but it works really well as a series nonetheless, with each book being another episode of Under Suspicion.  Laurie is a really likable protagonist, and the other characters grew on me as well.  I was moderately frustrated with the slow speed of her romance with THE PERFECT GUY, but overall that was also a nice thread running throughout.

It did seem as though the endings were sometimes rushed – I especially felt that way with the first book, where things are tooling along and then suddenly ACTION!  DEATH!  MURDER!  SUICIDE!  CHAOS!  And then the end.  Other than that, though, the pacing was good throughout.  The chapters are SUPER short – some of them only a couple of paragraphs long – which I find incredibly addictive.

A new character is introduced in The Sleeping Beauty Killer, and he really brought down my overall enjoyment of that book and the next.  Ryan ended up being THE most stereotyped character in the whole series…  let’s create a male character who is a caricature of every stereotypical negative male trait ever!  It was so annoying, especially since everyone else grows and changes, but Ryan just stays completely stagnant in order to emphasize how EASY it is for men ALL THE TIME, blah blah blah.

But overall these were great thrillers. They had enough twists to keep things interesting, good premises, likable characters (except Ryan), and decent character development over time (except Ryan).  The most recent was just published last year, so I’m hopeful that there may be another addition to the series at some point.  4/5 for the Under Suspicion series on the whole.

The Ex // by Alafair Burke

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//published 2016//

I added this book to my TBR earlier this year thanks to a review by Carol over on Reading, Writing, & Riesling.  Thanks!!!

The premise of this story is that our narrator, Olivia, is a defense attorney in New York City.  When Jack Harris is arrested for murder, Olivia feels obligated to defend him – she and Jack were engaged twenty years earlier.  All we know at the beginning is that Olivia feels quite guilty about the way the relationship ended, and that, in some ways, defending Jack is a way to balance her personal scales.

I wasn’t sure that I was in the mood for a procedural crime book, but I was totally hooked by the first chapter, the transcript of the NYPD’s initial interview with Jack.  It was a fabulous way to immediately bring the reader up to speed on the actual crime and Jack’s crazy story for how he ended up at the scene of the murder.  While I didn’t find Olivia completely likable, she was a good narrator, and the story is paced excellently.

The constant waffling of did-he-or-didn’t-he is done really well.  I honestly had no idea whether or not Jack was the criminal.  Besides the details of the backstory between Olivia and Jack, we know basically everything that Olivia does, and I really enjoyed pondering each new testimony or piece of evidence that Olivia unearthed, trying to fit the pieces together.

It’s definitely more of a procedural than a thriller – there was never a moment that I really feared for anyone’s safety or anything like that.  It was the actual wanting to know that kept me turning the pages at a very high rate!

I really thought pretty much all the way through that this would be a solid 4-star read for me, but I felt like the ending was rushed and not as satisfying as I wanted it to be.  While the conclusion mostly made sense, I felt like it was a tad convoluted and wasn’t sure that I was 100% on board with the motivations behind the murderer’s actions.

Still, this is an easy 3.5 read, and one that has definitely inspired me to check out more of Burke’s works.  (Apparently she’s a super famous author and has written a couple of series of books??  I’m always late to the party, I guess!)