October Minireviews – Part 2

So this wraps up the October reviews… however, as usual, I’m reading like a fiend in December.  So will I actually be caught up on reviews on the end of the year so I can start 2022 with a fresh slate???

UPDATE: I wrote most of this post before Christmas and then, as usual, dropped off the face of the blogging planet LOL So I probably will NOT be caught up on reviews by the end of the year, but such is life!

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.

The Third Victim by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 2018//

I’ve really enjoyed a lot of Margolin’s legal thrillers, and this was another solid entry, even if it wasn’t particularly outstanding.  Part of the problem was that I found out that this is actually the first book in a series, and it had that flavor of “setting things up” that sometimes interfered with the pacing of the actual story.  As usual, Margolin’s MC is a defense attorney, and I really like how he presents them as such a necessary and important part of our legal system.  Even if it means that they sometimes are defending people who have committed horrible crimes, our country allows everyone to receive a trial and places the burden of proof on determining that someone is guilty, not determining that they are innocent. While this one was a little slow in spots, it was still a solid read, and I can definitely see myself reading more of the Robin Lockwood series in the future.

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw – 3.5*

//published 2016//

This one has been on my TBR for quite some time, and I finally got around to reading it.  Apparently it is also a prequel for a series, but while I found this one to be a decent read, it somehow just didn’t jive with enough to want to read the rest of the series.  A murder occurs in the neighborhood where a detective lives, so he is drawn into the murder investigation.  But the detective himself killed a man once and got away with it… it’s an interesting premise and it was a decent story, but it was also kind of a downer somehow, just a depressing feel to the whole story.  Plus, there were loads of birding terms, but thankfully since this was somehow my second British mystery focused on birders in the same month (I mean, what even) I had already done some research!

Real-Life Organizing by Cassandra Aarssen – 3.5*

//published 2017//

This was a nice, if somewhat basic, home organization book.  It was mildly aggravating because she basically complains that all Marie Kondo wants to do to organize is get rid of stuff, but then spends half the book telling you to get rid of stuff.  And actually I do agree that unloading little-used items is the key to making your home more organized, spacious, and comfortable, it was just annoying because Aarssen acted like it was so ridiculous to expect people to do that… and then expects people to do that.  Whatever.

Anyway, she did have a few tips that I really liked.  One of them was assessing areas you want to organize with a problem/solution mindset – so looking at a dresser and determining what is wrong (sock drawer is overflowing, there is always clutter on top, area is poorly lit, can never find the tshirt I want, etc) and then coming up with an individual solution for each issue.  So instead of just “organize dresser” you end up with some specific action items that will address the specific problems keeping the dresser disorganized (get rid of 10 pairs of socks, find a basket to organize clutter, add a lamp, fold tshirts a different way, etc).

Another tip was to use photographs – for one, taking pictures of areas around your house and then looking at them to determine what is actually clutter.  She talks about how we easily become “blind” to items that have been sitting around for a while, but looking at a photograph often helps us see those problem areas more clearly.  Another use for photographs was for “sentimental clutter” – i.e., someone in the book (I can’t remember who, it’s been a while) had some sort of collection (salt and pepper shakers maybe??) that people had given her over the years – as with so many things, once people find out you collect something, they love to keep giving it to you haha But at some point, those items can become something of a burden, but you hate to get rid of them because you remember the people who gave them and the occasions that led to the gifting.  Aarssen’s suggestion was to take photographs and to actually make a photo book of them, which can include captions that tell the story behind them, and then you can get rid of the physical items that no longer fit what you need in your life.  It doesn’t mean you have to purge the entire collection, but it can be a way to find balance between cherishing the sentiment behind the gifts and clearing away some everyday clutter.

A final tip from this book that actually made good sense to me was to identify the “prime real estate” of different areas of your house.  These are spots that are easily accessible.  So often, when we move into a house, we just put things away and then leave them there forever, even if it doesn’t match how we end up using the space.  By shuffling things around so that things you use everyday are in cupboards and drawers that you can get to easily, those items are much more likely to be put away whenever you finish with them.

All in all, there wasn’t a load of groundbreaking stuff here – it was a library book that I didn’t feel like I needed to add to my personal collection – it was still a worthwhile read.  There were also a lot of good tips for organizing playrooms/children’s areas that didn’t apply to me but sounded like they made sense, so the book may hold more value to individuals with little ones at home.

Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys – 2.5*

//published 2017//

This is another one that’s been on my TBR for several years, but in the end, although I got through it, I never really got on with this book.  In September 1939 Lily boards a ship heading for Australia where she is going to be work in domestic service for a few years.  The setting on board a ship with so many people of different classes and countries, all on the brink of a world war, was quite interesting.  The first chapter is at the end of the journey, and we know someone has been arrested for murder.  Then we go back to the beginning of the journey.  I kept waiting for something thriller-ish to happen, or for someone to get knocked off, or SOMETHING, but instead everyone just has a lot of feelings, many of which felt rather inconsistent.  I never really cared for or about Lily, and in the end the big reveal just… no, thank you.  It was a big eye-roll for me and honestly felt like a cheat.  It wasn’t a terrible read, and the setting was done really well, but it was SO slow that I felt like I was never going to finish it.

Well-Matched by Jen DeLuca – 3*

//published 2021//

This is the third in DeLuca’s romantic series that is centered around one town’s Renaissance Festival.  I’ve really enjoyed the first two books and was actually interested to read this story since I’ve always liked both April and Mitch.  However, April just honestly came across as a bit of a bitch in this one.  She’s a single mom and her daughter is getting ready to graduate high school and go to college.  April put her personal plans “on hold” when she had her daughter, and one of the biggest decisions she made was living in a small town instead of moving to the Big City to pursue her Career (yes, the capital letters are warranted because of how much time she spends talking about this).  And like, this is fine, and it’s fine that April is excited about the next stage of her life, but I cringed SO many times because of how excited she acted about all of this when her daughter was around.  Her daughter, who we’re told hasn’t even turned 18 yet, and is only going to college, not actually starting her own life/moving into her own house, has not actually graduated high school yet, and all April can talk about is how excited she is that she’s “finally” going to be an empty-nester, that she can “finally” sell their house and get out of town, that she can “finally” live in the city where things are awesome, that she can “finally” do all these things that apparently her daughter has just kept her from doing and it felt so cruel to me, especially when April would be all petty that her daughter wasn’t also excited.  Yeah, it’s crazy that your daughter isn’t thrilled that her home base is now not going to be in her hometown with her friends and family, but she shouldn’t be worried because you’ll have a “spare room” in your new place for her on breaks.  Just.  Ugh.  Plus, April spends all this time justifying things like not knowing her daughter’s teachers’ names and not really knowing what all activities she was involved in and not going to her extracurricular stuff because April was “so busy” providing for them… and I’m pretty sure that if it was a single father saying those things everyone would be up in arms because he was putting his job ahead of his family or something, but April’s just been “doing her best” and we should all be proud of her!  So brave!

It’s especially annoying because I didn’t actually dislike April in the other two books, but here DeLuca decided to turn the bitch up to about 11 and it REALLY brought down my overall enjoyment.  Mitch, however, rescued the story because he’s perfect and I loved him and I’m so sorry that he’s ending up with April.

My last complaint about this book?  Basically every adult having a conversation specifically about how having children is just, ugh, so much work and kind of gross and interferes with everything and why would anyone do that, like it’s okay for you, I guess, but that’s because you’re kind of weird and don’t have any REAL life plans.  The amount of unnecessary conversations about how having children is super lame really got on my nerves a lot.  And maybe that was my problem with this book in a more succinct form – it felt borderline anti-children, as though NOT having children is the natural thing to do, and having them is something only weird lame-o people with no other plans do.

I’m sure I’ll still read any books that DeLuca adds to this series because I have enjoyed them overall, and this one still had its funny and enjoyable moments, but I won’t be rereading this one because I don’t ever want to listen to April complain about how her daughter low-key ruined her life – to her daughter’s face! (but don’t worry, because we actually have had a lot fun even though it’s literally not what I wanted to have happen to me at all!) – again.

Snow White & Rose Red by Patricia Wrede – 3.5*

//published 1989//

Another 3.5* read to round out October.  I really love Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series and the Cecilia books she co-wrote with Caroline Stevermer, but some of her other books just lack that humor that makes those reads magical.  This wasn’t a bad book by any means, but it’s just a very straightforward retelling of the original fairytale, set in Elizabethian times to give it some historical flavor.  A book I enjoyed but don’t see myself rereading.

March Minireviews – Part 4

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.

Heartstone by Phillip Margolin – 4*

//published 1978//

I’m still working my way through Margolin’s back catalogue after the Amanda Jaffe series got me hooked on his writing.  This one was a little darker than I like, but was still just thoroughly engaging writing.  As always, my biggest complain with Margolin’s writing in general is his habit of dumping about 50 names on you in the first 50 pages without really indicating which of those names are going to be important later on.  My bookmark for a Margolin book is always an index card with names/notes on it, which is just a little ridiculous.  It  evens out as I get into the story and the main players emerge, but still.  While this isn’t one I would read again, it was definitely worth the one-time read.

On Equal Ground by Elizabeth Adams – 4*

//published 2017//

We all know that I go through kicks where all I want to read is P&P variations, and I hit a mini-kick at the end of March.  I’ve really enjoyed a couple of Adams’s other variations so I read two more lol  This was one of those ones that’s actually just a different story with the same characters.  While staying with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth catches the eye of a wealthy widower some 20 years her senior.  Adams has them marry and love each other without it feeling creepy or weird.  Of course, the reader knows that the poor man is just a plot device, and probably the biggest drawback of this book was that I actually really liked earl and thought he and Elizabeth were a great match, and I spent the entire first half of the book dreading his untimely death.  Still, it was handled really well, and Elizabeth falling in love with Darcy felt natural and was done well.  Because Elizabeth has married an earl, she actually outranks Darcy in both class and wealth, so the big twist here is a difference in their prejudices from the original.  This wasn’t my new favorite, and it’s definitely a little more thoughtful than a lot of P&P variations tend to be, but I overall really enjoyed this one.  NB, this one didn’t have any explicit sex scenes, either, which was super nice.

The 26th of November by Elizabeth Adams – 4.5*

//published 2018//

A mashup of P&P and Groundhog Day??  Sign me up!  The best part of the Netherfield Ball from Elizabeth’s perspective – when it’s OVER!  So it’s rather unfortunately that, for some reason, she has to keep living that same day, including the dreadful ball, over and over again.  This is a very lighthearted variation, so don’t expect a lot of life philosophy, but I really enjoyed watching Elizabeth try to figure out why she is having this experience, and wondering if she’s supposed to “fix” something so that she can move on.  This was an entertaining way for her to come to grips with some her prejudices and blind spots.  Darcy isn’t living the same day over and over, but because his interaction with Elizabeth is different each time, he also has some changes of character as well.  The ending is the whole final rendition of November 26 from Darcy’s perspective, so it was a little repetitive, but still interesting to see what, from his view, was just one day.  If you’re looking for a low-angst P&P variation with some definite funny moments, this one is totally worth a read.

Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon by Maria Grace – DNF

//published 2016//

Usually I review DNFs at the end of the month, but I feel like I’m on a P&P roll here.  I gave this one up about halfway through the story, despite loving the concept of an England full of dragons, with each estate having a dragon guardian.  However, the story itself was sooooo slow.  Everyone was spending all their time bickering and arguing (including the dragons) and Mr. Bennet was an absolutely GRUMP.  There were random chunks of the original P&P just plunked in here and there, which really disrupted the flow of the story.  I was already getting over the way no one in this version was likable, and threw in the towel when Mr. Bennet very condescendingly told Elizabeth that a man would be able to do her job better.  It was just so completely out of character for Mr. Bennet to say something so derogatory to Elizabeth, and the way he said it was just beyond insulting and rude.  Even my high tolerance for bad P&P variations was over this one.

Darcy Comes to Rosings by Andrea David – 3*

//published 2018//

Technically, this was the first book I finished in April, but like I said, I feel like I’m on a P&P roll haha  This one was a classic tale of two halves.  The first half of the story takes place at Rosings during Elizabeth’s visit to Charlotte.  However, Darcy and Elizabeth end up with a few more opportunities to converse, and Charlotte takes a much more proactive role in encouraging romance between the two.  This part of the story was really engaging and I felt like it actually totally fit Charlotte’s character as well.  But then I hit the second half, after Darcy and Elizabeth get engaged.  All of a sudden, it was page after page of Elizabeth panicking and stressing out that she’s not good/rich enough for Darcy, going on and on and on and on and on despite reassurances from everyone.  It was sooo repetitive and boring and I honestly didn’t feel like it was resolved all that well.  I just found it hard to believe that saucy, self-confident Elizabeth, who was willing to write off Darcy for being a jerk in the original, would spend so much time agonizing about her self-worth.  Lame.

May Minireviews – Part 2

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.

Bibi the Baker’s Horse by Anna Bird Stewart – 4*

//published 1942//

This is one of those books that I have had for so long that I no longer remember where I picked it up, and for some reason neglected to write on the flyleaf – very unusual for me.  This particular copy is a first edition and has actually been signed by the author, so that’s quite fun.  Apparently Bibi isn’t a very popular book, as it isn’t even listed on Goodreads, but I found it to be absolutely charming.  Set in France before World War I, Bibi is a small Corsican horse purchased by a baker named Jules.  The story is really more about Jules and his family than it is about Bibi, and they live a happy, peaceful life.  The biggest excitement in the story is a huge flood.  In the afterword, the author says that the entire story is true as told to her by a friend about the friends mother (or maybe grandmother, I can’t remember right now).  While not a book that strikes me as an instant classic, it was still a delightful little read.

The Treasure is the Rose by Julia Cunningham – 4*

//published 1973//

At only 105 pages, this is more of a novella than a full-length story, yet Cunningham manages to pack a great deal of thoughtfulness into her slim story.  My particular copy is an incredibly battered paperback that belonged to my mom and her sister when they were girls (frankly, the ownership has been challenged for many years between the two of them, so I solved their problem by taking it for myself).  Set in England in what I’m guess are the Middle Ages (I’m never very good at remembering the distinguishing characteristics between eras – they’re living in a crumbling down castle and the main character’s husband was killed in a crusade), the story is about Ariane, a kindhearted young widow who is determined to stay in her husband’s home, despite the fact that they are running out of money.  When three robbers stop at her house and demand food and shelter, she gives to them freely – but when the robbers hear rumors that Ariane is concealing a treasure somewhere in her castle, they decide they want more than food and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it.  The story is somewhat simplistic, and the ending is perhaps a bit too easy, but it is still a beautiful story about love and kindness conquering anger and hate.

Mr. Bennet’s Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes – 4*

//published 2016//

I actually really liked this version, although it was a bit more angsty than I usually prefer.  In this version, Mr. Bennet is struck ill while Elizabeth is at Hunsford, before Colonel Fitzwilliam tells her that Darcy separated Jane and Bingley, and before Darcy proposes.  When they receive the news about Mr. B., Darcy basically takes control of the situation, apologizing to Elizabeth for proposing at an awkward time, but wanting her to be under his protection and care should the worst happen.  Of course, he assumes that Elizabeth is going to agree, which fills Elizabeth with rage – but with the possibility of her family being put out on the streets, she reluctantly accepts.

While this wasn’t a very lighthearted variation, it was done really well, and the majority of the drama between Elizabeth and Darcy felt realistic to their situation.  However, at the end the drama goes a bit over the top, and then is magically solved after dragging on for way too long.  I also didn’t like the way that Mr. Bennet’s death was dealt with.  Still, overall this was a solid retelling, as I found myself very attached to the characters and wanted things to work out for them.

The Undertaker’s Widow by Phillip Margolin – 3.5*

//published 1998//

I’ve read quite a few of Margolin’s books at this point, and have found him to be a pretty solid crime/law thriller writer.  This one wasn’t my favorite, but did have a lot of fun twists and turns.  My usual mild aggravation with Margolin’s work was at play here – he simply introduces too many characters, ignores them for chapters, and then reintroduces them without reminding the reader of who they are.  He’s the only author I have to consistently write down the names of characters and their connections in order to keep them straight.

This particular book also lost a half star because of another pet peeve of mine – where we are specifically told that a character has information necessary to figure out what is going on with the mystery, but not allowed to actually know that information.  So it would be something like, “Once he told the detective about his suspicions concerning the blood splatter, they both knew they had to do something” – but I don’t get to know what those suspicions are until literal chapters later during a courtroom scene when the evidence is introduced.  This happened a LOT in this book and was really annoying.

Indiscretion by Jude Morgan – 5*

//published 2005//

I hadn’t read this book in several years, and it was an absolute delight to delve back into it again.  The main character, Caroline, is just so funny and nice, and I really appreciate the way that she wants to be a better person.  I also liked that when she ended up in the country living a quite life, she didn’t get bored and irritated with her life, but instead was able to appreciate the stability and restfulness of it, even though it was very different to what she was used to.  The dialogue is hilarious, and the plot just convoluted/coincidental enough to keep things lively.  I’ve read this book a few times, so you can read earlier reviews here and here if you are interested in more of a synopsis-type review, but for here suffice to say that this book is just as happy and funny as I remember.

Gone, But Not Forgotten // by Phillip Margolin

//published 1993//

A man comes home from work, and his wife is missing.  On their bed is a rose, dyed black, and a note that says, “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”  She’s the third woman to disappear in this manner, and the Portland police still have no idea where they are.  The crime scenes are clean.  No bodies have been found.  There are no real clues or leads… until one evening a woman, claiming to be a detective from Hunter’s Point, New York, shows up at the home of Portland’s DA with an incredible story.

This is the third of Margolin’s stand alone books that I’ve read.  My first introduction to his writing was through the fantastic Amanda Jaffe series.  Margolin has a knack for writing addictive crime thrillers that keep me turning the pages even during the courtroom scenes, which I frequently find dull in the hands of less talented authors.  Margolin was a criminal attorney, so those parts of his story always ring true, and I love the way that he is unafraid to discuss the moral complexity of defending criminals.

My main consistent frustration with Margolin’s books is the way that he starts them: by introducing about 57 people in the first 20 pages, with no particularly indications as to which characters are going to be important in the future.  Like yes, a few of them are obvious, but some not so much.  Here are the people we meet, by name, in the first couple of pages of Gone, But Not Forgotten (in order of appearance):

  • Alfred Neff, judge
  • Betsy Tannenbaum, attorney
  • Walter Korn, retired welder and jury spokesperson
  • Andrea Hammermill, defendant
  • Randy Highsmith, prosecutor
  • Martin Darius, jerk
  • Russ Miller, regular dude
  • Vicky Miller, wife of Russ
  • Frank Valcroft, Russ’s boss
  • Stuart Webb, account executive at Russ’s job

Those people are all in chapter one, fifteen pages.  Chapter two is still introducing people/threads.  It’s super fun to see all these apparently not-connected individuals and see how their lives start to come together, but it is also a confusing information dump, and I almost always end up getting a scrap of paper and writing notes, because if Margolin mentions Russ Miller on page 128, he doesn’t do a particularly good job reminding you who he is.

But once I get through the initial introductions, and people start to slot into place, Margolin’s books always pick up the pace and drag me along, and this one was no different.  This is one of those crafty novels where you get a lot of the information, so it’s more of a how than a who… sort of.

This book was more violent than some of Margolin’s others that I have read.  The main bad guy was a genuine creepy psychopath, and this really wasn’t the best book to stay up until midnight finishing, because then I just laid there with mind going in circles and also feeling completely creeped out by this guy.  On the other hand, I literally couldn’t just go to bed and stayed up late finishing this one, so even though in many ways this was only a 3.5* read for me, I bumped it up to a 4* in the end because it was so addictive.

While Gone, But Not Forgotten wasn’t my favorite Margolin book, and it’s not where I would start if you’re new to his writing, it was still an intense, engaging thriller that had me completely engrossed.  I’m still working my way through Margolin’s backlog, and so far he hasn’t disappointed me.

After Dark // by Phillip Margolin

//published 1995//

I was first introduced to Margolin’s writing when I randomly won an entire set of his books – the Amanda Jaffe series, which I read and reviewed at the end of 2016.  I was really impressed with them.  I liked the characters, the pacing was good, and it was interesting to read books where one of the main characters is actually a criminal defense lawyer – so someone sticking up for the bad guys.  Anyway, Margolin has quite a few stand-alone books that I added to my TBR at the time.  After Dark is only the second one to come up for me – I read Woman With a Gun last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.

This story is about Abigail, a very successful prosecutor for the DA.  She and her husband, who is a justice for the Oregon Supreme Court, are in the midst of a rather unpleasant divorce.  At the beginning of the book, Abigail finds out that a man she had had convicted two years ago has now been released, thanks to a decision reversal during the appeals process – a decision in which her soon-to-be-ex-husband penned the opinion for the majority.

Meanwhile, the now-free criminal, who definitely did brutally murder the people he was convicted of killing, is free and clear with revenge on his mind.

We also meet Matthew, a criminal defense attorney passionate about fighting death penalty cases.  He works long, arduous hours and has almost no life outside of his work.  He hires Tracy, who has just completed her internship as a clerk for the state supreme court and is now a full-fledged attorney, eager to learn from one of the best in the business.

When Abigail’s husband is murdered, and Abigail is accused, she hires Matthew to defend her.  As all the characters start to come together, the many layers of the plot become obvious.

Honestly, I’ve been reading a lot of books lately that aren’t terrible but aren’t really amazing, and leave me feeling kind of meh when I’m finished.  It had been a while since I started reading a book that I just couldn’t put down, so I was extra excited about the way I was drawn into After Dark.  I stayed up past my bedtime to find out how everything came together, and just when it seemed like all had been explained, except for a few niggling little threads – Margolin flipped everything again and even tied up those niggling threads.  I loved it!

The pacing is excellent, and Margolin does a great job of making multiple characters likable, but not necessarily trustworthy.  He also provides the readers with the clues they need for the most part – I love it when I finish a book and immediately want to go back and reread now that I have the key!  Throughout, I thought I know whodunit, but there were just enough red herrings to keep me doubting my instincts.

The actual writing in this book is quite good.  There were passages that really struck a chord.  Matthew explaining to Tracy how he has never had to visit a client after dark (e.g. before their execution) honestly gave me chills.

I also really liked how this book made me think about the death penalty.  It’s one of those subjects that I go back and forth on, able to see both sides of the issue and not really positive about how I feel.  The arguments Matthew presents against it are very strong and thought-provoking, without being preachy.  On the other hand, you have the released criminal in this book, and you can’t help but think that Abigail’s reasons for wanting this guy dead are also pretty solid.

Margolin actually worked for fifteen or so years as a defense attorney in Oregon, and that comes through in his writing.  The court scenes are excellent – all the pertinent information delivered in a manner that is taut and intense rather than dry.  The overwhelming amount of time spent doing research and legwork isn’t glossed over (but also isn’t drawn out).  The interplay between various characters is a strong reminder of how much our legal system is actually based on human emotions and whether or not someone is having a bad day…

There were a few minor negatives.  I’ve consistently found Margolin to be rather poor at writing the love-story aspect, and this book was no exception.  Both of those plots felt very insta-love-y and not completely believable.  There were just a couple of scenes where the violence was a bit much for me (the released criminal is a serious psychopath).  And in the end, I wanted a bit more resolution for Abigail – I felt like her life was left a little open-ended after everything that had happened.

But all in all, this is a solid 4* read, possibly 4.5*.

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!)

Violent Crimes // by Phillip Margolin

violent-crimes

//published 2016//

So here we have what is, at this point, the final book in the Amanda Jaffe series.  I sincerely hope that Margolin will take up these characters again, as I have greatly enjoyed all of these books.  And I would like to say, once again, a sincere thank you to the publisher for giving away the entire series.  I was under no obligation to review these books in exchange for winning the giveaway, but reading and reviewing them has been entirely my pleasure nonetheless.

This is an intriguing story with many threads.  When an rich businessman is murdered, his son confesses to the crime.  Amanda, as his defense lawyer, isn’t convinced that her client is telling the truth – but why would be admit to killing someone if he didn’t actually do the killing?  Meanwhile, another man Amanda has recently defended has violated his parole restrictions and is on the lam – has he finally snapped, or does he have a good reason?  Is he possibly connected to the businessman’s death?

While several of the other books in this series have Amanda almost as more of a recurring character rather than the protagonist, she takes the top role in this story.  In this book, there isn’t much of the lengthy backstories that we’ve had in some of the other books, which led to a tighter, faster pacing that was much more action-oriented.  There was also more of a “thriller” sense to the story, as I wasn’t entirely sure who I could trust and who was lying.

I also liked the further development of Amanda’s relationship with her boyfriend, although I kind of missed Amanda’s dad as he didn’t show much in this story.  I love the way that the big criminal boss that Amanda and her dad helped in the first book is now a recurring character who plays a part in every story.

For me, the weirdest part about this book was its ending.  The actual case was wrapped up very satisfactorily.  However, in the end, Amanda wonders if one of her clients was, in fact, actually guilty of one of the murders.  I’m going to quote the way this book ends but without the names so it won’t be a spoiler.  X is the client Amanda thinks may have been guilty after all.

Frank [Amanda’s dad] shrugged.  …  “You’re never going to know [if X is guilty] unless you confront [X], and you have no reason – other than curiosity – to do that.  Let sleeping dogs lie.  There’s no reason to wake them up.”

Frank and Amanda dropped the subject and turned the conversation to more pleasant topics.  Amanda put up a good front, but she brooded all the way home.  In the end, she decided that her father was right.  [Murder victim] was evil and [X] might very well be innocent.  And he was her client, so the only purpose that would be served by pursuing this question would be the satisfaction of her curiosity.

After a fitful night, Amanda drove to the office and worked on a brief that she was filing in an assault case.  Then she read the investigative reports in a rape case.  Later that day a new client hired her and provided her with another distraction.  By the time she went home, she had forgotten about [X] – almost.

?!?!?!?  This just seemed like a very strange way to end this book.  I legit flipped the page expecting to see another chapter or something.  So weird.

All in all, a very solid entry to the series, though.  4/5 for this book and for the series (thus far) as a whole.  I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, and hope that Margolin decides to add another entry soon.

Fugitive // by Phillip Margolin

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//published 2009//

I’ve really enjoy the Amanda Jaffe series so far, and was looking forward to reading Fugitive.  While this one was a little more coincidence-based than the others, it was still a solid and engaging mystery.

This story centers around Charlie Marsh.  A small-time con-man, he struck it big when he capitalized on a heroic moment, turning himself into Gabriel Day and traveling about to sell his message of Inner Light – which, conveniently, lots of women liked to hear.  When one of Charlie’s lover’s husbands is shot, Charlie and the wife become the prime suspects.  Charlie flees the country and takes refuge in a small Africa country that doesn’t have extradition with the US.

All of this takes place a dozen years before our real story starts.  Unfortunately for Charlie, the ruler of the African country where Charlie is hiding is a really horrible person who rules with fear and torture.  In the present day, Charlie runs afoul of the ruler.  Knowing that he is going to be tortured and killed, Charlie arranges an escape from Africa, heading back to the States to face the music there instead.

Overall, Fugitive did a very good job tying the two timelines together.  For me, the main problem was that it was hard to really impress that twelve years had gone by.  None of the people have really changed all that much – they were adults then and are adults now, and no one’s character really seems to have undergone a big change in the intervening years.

While the thriller aspect was intense and the story was paced well, this book leaned a bit more on coincidences than some of the earlier titles in the series.  Also, Margolin enlisted the writing method of having a crucial piece of evidence that people in the story know about but the reader doesn’t, which is kind of annoying when it is super flagrant like it was in this instance.  There were multiple references to a picture, but we aren’t allowed to find out who/what is in the picture until the big reveal in the end – which makes it a little difficult to solve the mystery!

There were also two instances of someone getting a phone call in the middle of the night and then haring off to meet someone without letting anyone know where they were going!  Two!  Seriously!  You think people would learn after what happened the first time, but apparently not.  (The second time the person takes a gun as though this will automatically mean they will have no problems at the rendezvous.  Sheesh.)

All in all, I really did enjoy Fugitive, but not quite as much as the others, so I think it’s more of a 3/5.   Only one more book in the series, which makes me kind of sad.  I’m not sure if Margolin is going to continue with these characters or not – Violent Crimes was just published this year, so it’s taken him sixteen years to get these five books out.  Unfortunately for my TBR, Margolin has written several other books, all of which will need to be read eventually… oh dear.

Proof Positive // by Phillip Margolin

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//published 2007//

I really, really enjoyed the third book in the Amanda Jaffe series – it may be my favorite that I have read so far.  I got almost nothing useful done when I was reading this book because I couldn’t put it down!

Question for you:  If you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that someone had committed a terrible crime, and you knew that the only way that this person would be punished for his crime was if you were willing to lie under oath, would you be willing to commit that perjury, when telling the truth means that a perpetrator gets off free?

The crazy thing about this book is that we know from almost the very beginning who the bad guy is – and yet it did not relieve the tension a single iota.  Instead, I found myself basically bouncing in my chair when people are talking with this guy, begging them to see through his veneer.  People die because of this guy, and Margolin does a really great joy of making him believable as a villain, but also believable that people wouldn’t see his villainy – I completely bought the fact that people were trusting this guy, and I also completely bought the idea that he has become unhinged, convinced that his lies are for the greater good, and that protecting those lies – no matter the cost – is also for the greater good.

I really enjoy the reintroduction of characters from earlier books, especially two of the bad guys who have been with us from the first book.  Amanda’s dad has represented them on multiple occasions, and they did him a favor in the last book – and collect on it in this one.  Their characters are done quite well.

Once again, I really enjoy these crime procedurals, with minimal swearing, violence, and sex.  It’s almost like Margolin realizes that a good story and strong characters are what make a book realistic and enjoyable, not mindless f*ing, gore, and shagging.  Brilliant.  I love it.  Don’t get me wrong – there is a little bit of all three of those components, but they are seasoning, not the main course – as they should be.

I do feel like Amanda herself could have been a stronger player in this story.  In many ways, she was sort of a background person.  This happened in the last book, where Kerrigan’s story ended up overshadowing Amanda’s.  In this book, a great deal of time is spent on another defense attorney, Doug Weaver.  And Doug is a great character and his story is a good one, but if you have a theoretical main character of the series, it seems as though she ought to be a bit more…  main.

But that’s a fairly minor quibble.  The truth of the matter is, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book.  I had trouble reading it fast enough.  I already have a problem where I basically read while I’m doing…  well, almost everything.  This book got read while I was cooking supper, making the bed, vacuuming, feeding the chickens, walking to the post office…  it was pretty intense.

This puts me at the halfway mark for this series, and so far, I highly recommend it.  This book was a definite 4/5, and I’m pretty stoked about delving into the next book.

Ties That Bind // by Phillip Margolin

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//published 2003//

A couple of weeks ago I read the first book in Margolin’s Amanda Jaffe series, Wild Justice.  It was a very solid outing and I was excited/a little scared about reading the second.  But there was no need to fear – Ties That Bind was another gripping tale that had me flying through the pages.

It’s been around a year since the events from Wild Justice. Since then, Amanda has had some trouble readjusting.  Suffering from PTSD, Amanda hasn’t taken on any other cases centered on violent crimes since the Cardoni case.  When the story opens, she is beginning to realize that she needs to start dealing with her fears instead of just hiding from them.  Little does she know that she is going to get a boost back into the saddle in a big way…

Jon Dupre is a pretty scuzzy guy.  He runs what is basically an upscale brothel.  He’s been in and out of the judicial system for years, usually managing to stay just as far into the gray as he can without actually getting sent to prison.  But this time is different – this time, he’s been accused of murdering a state senator.  When Amanda ends up on Dupre’s case, he tells her a story that she struggles to believe – a story about a group of powerful, secretive men who basically do whatever they want, including buying political offices, dealing drugs, and illegal trading activities.  Amanda is skeptical at first, but when the evidence starts to pile up, she finds herself wondering if – for once – Dupre may be telling the truth.

The whole deal with this secret gang of men who are completely respectable on the outside lend a great layer of tension to this story, because you have no idea who you can trust.  I was constantly waiting for betrayal from…  well, basically everyone.  Margolin builds it all in a very plausible way, and his bad guys are really just fantastic.  The twists were completely believable.

I would venture that there are really two main characters to this book.  While we’re following Amanda throughout, we already know a lot of her background and baggage from the first book, so a lot of the beginning of the book deals with Tim Kerrigan, a county prosecutor.  Kerrigan ended up being a really interesting character.  He had a lot of demons, but it never felt over-the-top.

A couple of things keep this book at a 4/5 level for me.  This book did manage to avoid gratuitous violence, for which I am extremely grateful; however, there was a lot of more sex than I like.  It wasn’t really graphic, but there were just a lot (lot) of sentences like, “he found himself growing hard as he watched her breasts” and shizznizz like that that I’m basically like, Please just stop.  I guess the fact that we were dealing with prostitutes probably had something to do with it, but still.  Although in fairness, like I said, the violence was fairly minimal for this type of book, and the language is actually pretty clean, which I think is great.  I don’t mind some swearing when it fits into the story, but some authors seem to think that the only way they can portray “gritty” is by having their characters f*** everything.  Show some creativity, people.  Sheesh.

Anyway, the only other thing about this book was just the sheer volume of names to track.  I actually started a list on a blank sheet in the back of the book, and ended up with 24 names.  The thing is, I don’t know if these people are going to be important.  Margolin casually mentions a name, and then four chapters later is like, “Richard Curtis walked into the room.”  And I have no idea who Richard Curtis is because I haven’t seen him in four chapters.  Writing them down did help, because then when I thought I remembered who someone was, I could confirm it.  Some of the people I wrote down we never heard from again, because Margolin also has a habit of telling the reader the names of everyone, including people that I am only going to hear from for about three paragraphs.

But if I’m honest, these are picky things.  On the whole, this book kept me 100% engaged.  I was so intrigued to see how things were going to unwind.  I really like Amanda, and Kerrigan was also a great character.  I’m quite interested to see where this series goes next.