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.

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.