Monday, June 29, 2015

book review: Murder, D.C.

The backstory: Neely Tucker's first mystery novel featuring Sully Carter, The Ways of the Dead, was one of my favorite reads last year.

The basics: Murder, D.C. picks up shortly after the events of The Ways of the Dead, and it contains some spoilers from that novel. Here, Billy Ellison, the only son of DC's most influential black family is found dead in Frenchman's Bend, an unsavory part of town with deep historical roots. Veteran journalist and former war correspondent Sully Carter uses his connections to solve the crime and write the story.

My thoughts: Sully Carter is a fascinating and complicated character. Much like Harry Bosch, he's an antihero of sorts. I find myself rooting for him most of the time, but I did wince at him a few times in this novel. I appreciate his complexity because it mimics the mystery itself. A whodunit can seem simple, but murder isn't typically committed in a vaccuum. Knowing who did it is only part of the story. In Murder, D.C., the murder itself is perhaps the least interesting mystery.

This passage from my review of The Ways of the Dead works just as well for Murder, D.C.: "I typically prefer my mysteries to feature law enforcement, but the set-up of this mystery would be unlikely, if not impossible, to tell via a traditional investigation. It takes a journalist to see the patterns, and his neighborhood contacts, including those in law enforcement, share with him what they wouldn't share with others--mostly due to his long-established relationships with those contacts, but also to his reputation as a journalist. Tucker writes with reverence for the veteran journalist." In Murder, D.C., I particularly appreciated the relationships Sully has with the police. They work together in interesting ways, and both acknowledge they rely on one another.

Favorite passage: "People liked to get upset about homicide, Sully thought, phone in hand, acting like it was the worst thing ever done, something no civilized society would stand for...and yet most cases went unsolved because no one who knew enough cared to get involved. The shooters who got away with killings weren't brilliant. They just killed people nobody really cared about."

The verdict: Murder, D.C. cements Neely Tucker as a not only a damn good mystery writer but also one concerned with social justice and history. Like The Ways of the Dead, Murder, D.C. is a compelling mystery with complicated themes. Thankfully, it works on both levels. It's riveting, informative, and it will leave you thinking.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 304 pages
Publication date: June 30, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Murder, D.C. from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Neely Tucker's websitelike him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, June 22, 2015

book review: The Governor's Wife by Michael Harvey

The backstory: The Governor's Wife is the fifth novel in Michael Harvey's series featuring Chicago ex-cop and private investigator Michael Kelly. My reviews of the first four mysteries: The Chicago Way, The Fifth Floor, The Third Rail, and We All Fall Down.

The basics: Two years ago, Ray Perry, the governor of Illinois, disappeared from a federal courthouse. Chicago PI Michael Kelly has been hired to find him. He doesn't know who his client is, but he agrees to the job, even if he doesn't agree to receive the $250,000 compensation without more information.

My thoughts: Michael Harvey writes smart, fast-paced mysteries that read like thrillers, and The Governor's Wife is no exception. Once again, Chicago's political corruption is omnipresent, as are Harvey's signature surprises. This case sounds impossible, and yet Kelly pieces together clues relatively quickly. As part of me questioned his success, I was forced to credit Harvey's intentional vagueness--without knowing who hires Kelly, it's impossible to fault the novel for what could be perceived convenience.

I read Harvey's other four Michael Kelly novels in quick succession a few years ago, and it took me a little time to jump back into his world. Harvey includes the sparest of details from earlier novels, so readers who haven't read the first four could jump in here and enjoy the events of this book first.

Favorite passage: "I find that people who think they're not interesting invariably are."

The verdict: The Governor's Wife is a compelling page-turner, but its resolution was somewhat less exciting than its journey. I loved the reading experience, including its social and political commentary and its twists and turns. I expected one more surprise that didn't come, which (unfairly), left me wanting a bit more. I read this novel in a single sitting (thanks for the long nap, Hawthorne!), and I could not put it down.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 258 pages
Publication date: June 2, 2015 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Governor's Wife from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Michael Harvey's website, like him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, June 15, 2015

book review: Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

The backstory: Laura Dave is one of my favorite novelists. I've loved all three of her novels: London is the Best City in America, The Divorce Party, and The First Husband. After four years of waiting, I was thrilled to read her latest novel.

The basics: Set in Sebastopol, part of California' Sonoma County wine country, Eight Hundred Grapes is the story of the Ford family, told from the perspective of their daughter, Georgia, who is a powerful Los Angeles attorney about to marry a British architect and move to London. Set against the grape harvest and the week before her wedding, each of the Fords, Georgia, her two brothers, and her parents, face challenges in their romantic and professional lives.

My thoughts: Laura Dave is such a smart writer. This novel is part family saga, part drama, part romance, but it's all smart. Through her characters and storylines, Dave imparts immense wisdom about life and love:
"Synchronization, my father would say. This was a very big word for him. Synchronization: The coordination of events to operate in union. A conductor managing to keep his orchestra in time. The impossible meeting of light reflection and time exposure that leads to a perfect photograph. Two yellow bugs parked in front of Lincoln Center at the same time, the love of your life in one of them. Not fate, my father would add. Don't confuse it with fate. Fate suggests no agency."
The novel has two narratives. The main one takes place six months ago. There are also vignettes catching the reader up on key scenes in the Ford family over the years. The two narratives work with a beautifully symmetry and synchronization. Through these characters, Dave skillfully explores the complexities of love and fidelity and desire. I highlighted more than thirty passages in this novel. Some stand on their own merit, but some build upon the novel itself in stunning ways.

Favorite passage: "Wasn't the ultimate form of fidelity who you told your stories to?"

The verdict: Eight Hundred Grapes is an engrossing family saga filled with drama, romance, wisdom and action. Dave packs a lot of events and revelations into this slim novel. When I finished, I was already excited to read it again. If literary romance exists as a sub-genre, Laura Dave is it's leader.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: June 2, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Eight Hundred Grapes from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Laura Dave's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

book review: The Shore by Sara Taylor

The backstory: The Shore was longlisted for the 2015 Baileys Prize.

The basics: Stretching from 1876 to 2143, this non-linear novel is the story of generations of a poor family, principally its women, who live on the titular shore of small, isolated, Virginia islands.

My thoughts: I first heard about The Shore when it appeared on several blogger's Baileys Prize prediction lists. The UK cover is very different, and when I saw the U.S. cover, I thought The Shore would be a family beach saga. And it is, but it's as far from WASPs as you can get. When you look closely at the house on the U.S. cover, it's clear the house is dilapidated. The novel opens in 1995, and the first chapter sets the dark tone of this novel beautifully. It's haunting. The second chapter is set in 1933, and slowly a picture of how the family we meet in 1993 came to be.

The concept of this novel is great. I squealed when I saw the table of contents. I love a novel that can be historical fiction, contemporary fiction and science fiction all in one. I love novels that stretch into an imagined future but are deeply rooted in reality. As good as the idea is, Taylor's writing is even better. This novel is just over 300 pages but has the depth of a much-longer novel. It's begging me to re-read it because I know I will spot even more connections on the second read. Even as I looked back at my highlights to write this review, I found passages from early in the novel had more depth in hindsight:
"Family stories, about his childhood and their mother's childhood and how they all came to be, and more private, half-mythic stories that they knew instinctively were not to be share; people knew vaguely what they could do, but it didn't help anyone to strew reminders about.
The story of his grandmother Medora was of both types, and they did not know how much of it was strictly true. She was a come-here, he said, and a wise woman, the mixed race daughter of a Shawnee Indian and a white land owner, who knew native herbs as well as she knew medicine." 
Favorite passage: "They need you, need someone to be better than, to point out when their own lives don't quite go as planned, to carry the communal disdain."

The verdict: I loved the stories and the fascinating characters, but what elevates this novel is Taylor's command of theme. The Shore is an entertaining read, but when the novel shifts into the future, it becomes transcendent. I read with my jaw hanging open as I realized Taylor had led me on a path I didn't even realize I was on. This novel has a strong feminist point-of-view, and Taylor infuses it organically and beautifully.Sara Taylor is 24-years-old, and I hope she keeps writing for a very long time. This novel is epic and wonderful, and it takes my breath away.

Rating: 6 out of 5 (it's that good)
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: May 26, 2015
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Shore from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Sara Taylor's website

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Well, hello there! I'm still here, even if I haven't been around much on the blog (or even Twitter.) I haven't been reading much either. I've been reading lots of books, and I'm even enjoying most of them, but I haven't been spending much time reading, so I'm currently reading about eight different books and most days don't even pick one of them up. But. I think that's about to change. It has changed the past few days, as I so miss reading and talking about books. I'm finding new ways to prioritize reading again. As I've said many times in the almost ten months I've been a mom, "you find what works for you. Then it changes, and you do it again." And we are in the midst of some major changes.

Hawthorne will be ten months old this week. The last month has been quite eventful for him developmentally. He got really good at crawling, so I spend a lot time looking at his butt:

To his credit, he often looks back as though to see if it's okay he's doing what he's doing. And most of the time he's fine. As we are very tardy baby-proofers (obviously, some things we've done, but he keeps identifying new risks for us), it's nearly impossible to sit and read while he plays and explores. His latest accomplishment is standing. He can pull himself up like a champ, but as soon as he reaches for the object he most desires, he only manages to stay standing for a few seconds, as he needs his hands to help steady himself with his proportionately giant head. So there are some tumbles and snuggles. And I spend too much time waiting to catch him when he falls from his unsure standing. I'm sure we'll finish baby-proofing and fall into new routines soon, but until we do, I spend a lot time watching him playing instead of reading while he plays.

Hawthorne and I took a six-hour (each way) road trip this weekend to Beloit, Kansas for the grand opening of Kettle, a coffee, wine and craft beer bar. It's the brilliant idea of one of my college roommates, and I'm so glad we could be there to support her. And I'm also glad the nomadbaby is living up to his nickname and is not only an accomplished plane traveler, but now can say he's a a good roadtripper too:

I hope things will be back to yet another new normal around here this week. I still have a back log of reviews to write and publish, and look for the first tomorrow. It's a six-star read and my favorite book of 2015 (so far.)

Now tell me: what have you been loving lately? I'm ecstatic Ali Smith won the Baileys Prize, even if I still haven't finished reading the short list, let alone the longlist!