Reader’s Corner

A place to post reviews of books I've read. Maybe it will help you choose your next new book.

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

Horse, by Geraldine Brooks is based on historical fact: the most acclaimed sire of thoroughbred race horses was trained by a slave boy in Kentucky, who tended him his entire life. The historical is balanced with the contemporary, as a young woman discovers the skeleton of Lexington, the Horse, at the Smithsonian, unrecognized and covered in dust.

It’s a wonderful book, showing how the stain of slavery still dims our society today. 

The Main Line is Murder by Donna Huston Murray

Married to Rip, the head of the Bryn Derwyn school, Ginger Barnes inserts herself into the murder investigation of the school’s attorney. It is an enjoyable read. The fully-rounded main character whose nosiness and self-confidence lead her, eventually, to solving the murder is a believable sleuth.The setting of a small private school in Philadelphia is well-described. The adroit characterization of minor characters adds richness to the plot. And the “Alternate Ending” is an added bonus. Overall, a great way to spend a dreary Sunday during the pandemic isolation. Note: I preferred the original ending.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Although this is not the first book to use a twisty plot or unreliable characters, it is the first I've encountered that has a twisty character attempting to influence an unreliable plot.

Gentill uses the frame of the book's narrator/writer corresponding with a possible character who advocates more violence, explicit references to the characters' races, and acknowledgement of the pandemic. That frame allows her to do all the things her character advocates while pretending not to do so. It also allows her to play with fact/fiction, illusion/reality, and do so under the reasonable guise of ending each chapter with a letter from her off-stage writing adviser.

I found the book entertaining and captivating with good characterizations and enough plot “reveals” to keep me reading well after time to turn off the light. I hadn’t expected to enjoy it nearly as much as I did — highly recommend. (I received a copy of the ARC in exchange for a fair review.)

Ashton Hall by Lauren Belfer

By choosing as the protagonist a scholar, Hannah Larson, whose neurodivergent son finds a centuries’ old locked-room puzzle in an English castle, Belfer has set us up for romance, intrigue, and an immersive dive into 16th-century domestic and religious England, intertwined with various domestic arrangements in present-day.

I particularly enjoyed the revelatory pace that sat us next to Hannah as she read through ledgers, lists of books borrowed from the library, contents of the locked room, and the portfolio of sketches, and brought us with her as she untangled the historical significance of her exploration.  An interesting, informative, and satisfying novel. Highly recommended. (I received a copy of the ARC in exchange for a fair review.)

Back to the Garden by Laurie R. King

I love Laurie R. King’s voice. No matter how she pitches it to tell of Mary Russell or Kate Martinelli or, in this case, Raquel Laing, she speaks with an easy authority and clarity. 

Back to the Garden introduces Raquel Laing, a damaged cop whose prior sins have moved her out of active investigations and dropped her into the punishment of a cold-case team where her uncanny ability to read microscopic bodily cues of those she interviews is valued and needed if the team is to be successful in getting identification from a dying serial killer about the women he has killed.

Add in the complications of an attractive woman, a large estate in the process of recovering from its time as a hippie commune, ever-present inter-familial jealousies, a sister who is a dark-web explorer, a famous artist whose large statue of Eve covers the grave of an unknown person buried decades earlier, and all the ingredients for a Laurie R. King mystery are in place. Follow the narrative thread to its final outcome. You will likely be surprised but not disappointed. (I received a copy of the ARC in exchange for a fair review.)

The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves

Vera Stanhope is back, this time dealing with a murder among old friends who get together every five years to celebrate and remember their first retreat as teenagers with their too-involved teacher. That retreat ended in the death of one of their members. 

Vera’s team, Joe, Holly and Charlie, follow the twisted paths of the group of friends whose number was further reduced by another murder at the latest reunion. As the team closes in on possible murderers, Vera finds the memories of her own youth point her to the killer.

And at that point, just after Cleeves leads us to the murders’ solution, she drops a stunner of an ending., that will help you remember why you like Ann Cleeves’ writing so much. The Rising Tide won’t disappoint. 

A Truth to Lie For by Ann Perry

This latest installment (Number 4) in the Elena Standish series is my least favorite so far. It lacks the family-based warmth that pervaded the earlier volumes. Here, the Elena Standish family and friends character-set seem to be extras in the Night of the Long Knives Massacre tale.  Many of the previous characters have bit roles in this book, allowing the Hitler/Paulus/Rhom story to dominate the narrative center with the description of the brutal purge of Rhom and the Brownshirts. I read the book but didn’t warm to it as I had with the previous 3 in the series.  (I received a copy of the ARC in exchange for a fair review.)

The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves

Families are at issue in the 9th installment of Ann Cleeves’ Vera series. Vera’s own family raises questions of what makes family: blood, relationships, love, or some other alchemy that ties people together or tears them apart. Vera’s normal curmudgeonly behavior is dialed back when she must deal with grieving mothers and grandmothers, fathers and possible fathers. It all starts with bitter cold, a snowstorm, a dead woman in the snow and and a child left in a car with the door standing open and ends with Vera making a surprising resolution about her own sense of family.

The Raging Storm by Ann Cleeves

Following in her practice of tying new entries of a series to previous ones in order to show motivations and sensibilities of her series characters, Ann Cleeves once again adds dimension to the character of her gay, recovering fundamentalist police Inspector Matthew Venn, in this, the fourth installment of her Two Rivers series.

Moving the narrative among the investigative team of Venn, Sergeant Jen Rafferty, and Officer Ross May as they dig into the mysterious appearance of a body of a famous explorer, dead in an anchored lifeboat off the shore of Scully Point in the dying little town of Greystone, allow Cleeves to examine their individual characters, especially the ties to Matthew Venn’s childhood as a member of the Brethren, and the ways his upbringing continues to influence his life. 

In the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small, shrinking  coastal village, Cleeves displays her mastery at lifting the veils, one by one, until the surprising climax - that she had perfectly set up - is revealed.  

This third entry in the series makes this reader, at least, eager for the next.  (I received a copy of the ARC in exchange for a fair review.)

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finley Boylan

Mad Honey was an interesting experiment in two writers sharing the writing of a book, each taking a separate character as narrator but switching one chapter each to write in the other’s voice.

I was surprised by the plot progression, but then satisfied that it played fair as it further examined the cause of the surprise,

I learned something, expanded my view of the world, and enjoyed a good tale all at once. That happens all too rarely. I recommend you read it for yourself and don’t cheat and spoil the surprise. (I received a copy of the ARC in exchange for a fair review.)

The Mystery Writer by Subaru Gentill

The idea of a mystery about a mystery writer involved in another mystery or two is ingenious.  I liked the book a great deal. The structure, the plot, the characters. Well worth a read. (I received a copy of the ARC in exchange for a fair review.)

Ilium by Lea Carpenter
An absorbing trip into espionage, war, heroes, trust, lies and truths, committed warriors and accidental players who inadvertently enter a stage on which they do not belong.  I generally do not like modern stories that attempt to copy or explain mythology or heroic tales of Homer or others. But this one caught me up and left me nearly breathless. I recommend it. (I received a copy of the ARC in exchange for a fair review.)

Lenny Marks Gets Away with Murder  by Kerryn Mayne

There were parts of Lenny Marks Gets Away with Murder that I really loved: for example, the anagrams were a clever commentary on the action. And Lenny herself was mostly believable and loveable.  But to swallow the plot, you’d need to had 3 large tablespoons of “willing suspension of disbelief,” a perfectly fine solution for a fairy tale. I enjoyed the read—fast paced, warm and humorous. (I received a copy of the ARC from the publisher.)

By Any Other Name by Jodi Picoult

I have lived long enough for many tides to turn, including the one that included unquestionable belief that an actor from Stratford was the sole author of the huge influential body of work attributed to William Shakespeare. Today, other theories of who or what that Shakespeare figure could have been abound. Jodi Picoult’s By Any Other Name lays out a plausible and entertaining theory that Shakespeare was a woman.

Picoult lays out her proof through two interlocking stories: one of the historical Jewish Italian courtesan, Emilia Bassano, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and the other, Melina Green, a fictional twenty-first century writer who creates a play about Emilia Bassano’s life and copies Emilia’s tactics of passing off her writing as written by a man so that her words will be heard rather than be discounted because she is a woman.

It’s a captivating tale that I read at a single sitting due to Picoult’s own storytelling capabilities and her turning on its head the old theme that if Shakespeare had been a woman, she never would have had the training, talent, or time to write so much so well. (I received a copy of the ARC from the publisher.)