Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Poison Bed, by Elizabeth Fremantle. Pegasus Books, 2019

In 1615, Frances Howard and her husband Robert Carr, are imprisoned separately in the Tower of London, accused of poisoning Sir Thomas Overbury. In alternating chapters, they tell the reader what led up to this.

Frances and Robert fall in love, which, given that Frances is married and Robert is King James I favorite and lover, is not a smart or safe thing. But Robert feels James will forgive him anything, while Frances figures on getting her marriage annulled on grounds that it was never consummated- even though she’s been married several years. But her husband is willing to go along with it, just to be rid of her. One person who stands in the way of the annulment is Overbury- he, too, is in love with Robert, and things he’s making a mistake.

Was the killer Frances or Robert? Or was it someone else? Or, even, just a death from illness, as was so common back then?

While some aspects of this story were fascinating, I had a hard time being knocked out by the book. This is because I had a hard time liking anyone in the story! Robert is shown as not being overly bright. Frances was manipulative and self-centered- although the way the book was written, I felt she was manipulated in term, by someone better at it than she was. So, despite the wonderful descriptions in the text, and the marvelous cover, I can only give it three and a half stars.

Call Your Daughter Home, by Deb Spera. Park Row Books, 2019

Set in South Carolina in 1924, this novel weaves together narrations from three disparate women. Annie Coles is the rich, white, woman. She’s not as rich as she used to be, though; the Cole family money was in cotton and the boll weevil has left that business in tatters. But they are getting into tobacco, and Annie has a business of her own: The Sewing Circle, where the cotton sacks for packing crops are sewn, which is cheaper than buying premade sacks. And now Annie and her younger son, Lonnie, are branching out: they are starting to manufacture clothing to be sold in stores around the area.

Gertrude is poor white trash, married to an abusive drunk who is starving his family when he’s not beating on them. One day she can’t take it anymore, and flees the shack in the swamp with her children. She’s lucky: in this economically depressed area, she manages to get a job. But it’ll take more than that to give her security.

Oretta is the Magical Negro. She’s worked for the Coles family all her life; she is the first generation of freed people of color. The Coles had owned her family before the Civil War. She keeps the Coles’s house and family in good shape. She can see and talk with the dead.

The three women, who normally wouldn’t have associated with each other, find their lives bound together in strange ways. There is a big secret in the Coles family, one which keeps Annie’s two daughters, Sarah and Mollie, from speaking to her. One of the Coles sons committed suicide at a young age. Gertrude’s secret would be totally damning if found out.

It’s a wretched time and place to be living in. Disease, alligators, poverty, misogyny, racism, and classism, all are present. All three women are well acquainted with grief. The author did well creating her main characters; you can’t not feel their pain. The story bogs down in places- the middle section seems to take forever- but it’s still a can’t-put-it-down story. While it’s pretty easy to figure out the biggest secret early, how it’s dealt with in the end caught me by surprise. Survival and motherhood are the backbone of the novel. Four and a half stars.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Wolf and the Watchman, by Niklas Natt Och Dag. Atria Press, 2017

In Sweden in 1793, some children find a body floating in a particularly gross part of the river. They call on Mickel Cardell, a watchman moonlighting (and drinking) as a bouncer, and he fishes the body out. It’s not odd that there is a body in the river, but this one is missing both arms and legs, has had his tongue cut out, his eyes removed, and has had hot pokers shoved into his ears. This is grim, even by the standards of the day.

Cardell, an alcoholic war vet who lost his friend and his arm but gained PTSD, finds himself drawn back into an investigation into who the body was, and how he came to be so cruelly treated. He is pulled into the case by Cecil Winge, a brilliant investigator who as the reputation of never prosecuting a person without total evidence that he did the crime. He is frail- dying of tuberculosis- but wants to find the truth about this horrible crime. Cardell can go places and ask questions that Winge cannot. He’s also an asset in the worse parts of town, his wooden arm giving him an advantage in a fight. Neither of them can imagine how this crime could be committed.

The strands of the lives of two other people fill out the story. Young Kristofer Blix, a veteran who apprenticed to a military doctor, wishes to become a doctor but must wait for the next classes to start. Teen aged Anna Stina is an orphaned fruit seller who is arrested for prostitution- only because she refused the attentions of a boy. She is sent to a workhouse that is pretty much hell on earth. Her treatment at the hands of her jailor, with starvation and sexual assault, is horrific. She must find a way out before she ends up dead as others have.

The story is relentlessly grim; more Dickensian than Dickens ever wrote. Every detail of the sordid lives is revealed. While all four of the main characters are sympathetic, not much around them is. All four are caught by their horrible circumstances. I really liked the relationship between Cardell and Winge; Winge’s fate in the end saddened me because I had started hoping this would be a series! Don’t read this if you don’t have a strong stomach. It’s horror after horror, but the protagonists are all smart and resilient. Five stars.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Haunted Mind: A Psychoanalyst Looks at the Supernatural, by Nandor Fodor. Garrett Publications, 1959

This is an unusual book: it’s a book about psychic goings-on, written by a psychoanalyst who approaches it all as a scientist and an open-minded skeptic. Many of the people and events he writes about fall into the fakery bin, but he finds a few that meet his standards for ‘authentic’. He visits mediums (a lot) and investigates hauntings and poltergeists.

His view on poltergeists is something to think about. He notes that almost all poltergeist events take place about someone, usually a teenaged girl, who is under stress. Some talk therapy causes the knocking and dish throwing to stop. He has no explanation for how their subconscious minds throw dishes and bang on the walls, but just leaves there. He does that with many of his investigations; he lays out what he saw and just kind of leaves it for the reader to make of it what they will.

It was an interesting book. He was unique in his views that hauntings were products of the subconscious mind; this caused many spiritualists to shun him. Being a psychiatrist he was positioned to unravel the mental snarls that existed around most hauntings, but never states if he thinks the mental status caused the haunting or if the haunting brought about the mental state. Four stars for his dispassionate writing.

Karna’s Wheel, by Michael Tobert. Top Hat Books, 2017

Stephen Smith’s mother has died. He has inherited the few things she owned- which include some boxes of her father’s memoirs. His flatmate, Seamus, talks him into reading them and then using them as the basis of a screenplay. Turns out Stephen Smith (using the same name for two characters caused a fair bit of confusion for me), having tired of working in the jute mills in Dundee, packed it in, moved to Calcutta in 1923…. To work in the jute factories there. The journals cover a lot of years, and they reveal the nasty racism that was rife in the white owned factories- and pretty much everything else the whites ran in India.

A couple of side plots in the current time run alongside this reading of the past: One is Stephen’s fraught relationship with Julia; the other is the investigation of Stephen’s mother by Detective McCorquodale. The detective thinks Stephen’s mother was selling drugs, and wants to go through every single thing she owned, including tearing out things in her flat. Stephen learns a lot about his family- and himself- through the novel.

The story was interesting, but it moved very slowly. I got confused several times, switching between times and characters. There was a lot of detail in the Calcutta sections, and those were the parts I liked best, although they were horribly grim. I got bored at times, and even desperately wanted the story to come to an end a few times. There are good things in the book, but somehow they just didn’t come together for me. Three stars.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Gaslight Gothic: Strange Tales of Sherlock Holmes, edited by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec. EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2018

This is a compilation of newly written Sherlock tales, which, as the title indicates, hae a gothic slant. And not just gothic, but supernatural gothic. In the various stories we have Elder Gods, Edger Allen Poe, Mr. Hyde, African little people, and lots more. As in any anthology there are good tales and ones not so good; the one with the African is one of the not so good, and I can’t say I liked “A Matter of Light”. But on average the tales are interesting and even creepy. I’ll give it four stars.

The Golden Tresses of the Dead: A Flavia de Luce Novel, by Alan Bradley. Delacorte Press, 2019

Flavia de Luce is the 12 year old heroine of a series of mysteries; this is the tenth installment. At this point, she is an orphan, with one sister marrying and one sister ensconced in the library. Her father figure is Dogger, her late father’s aide (and, I think, gardener), her partner in a private detective firm. He provides advice and, when needed, an adult presence when snooping is undertaken.

At Ophelia’s wedding, things go awry right off- when she cuts the cake, she finds an embalmed human finger. Flavia spirits this off before the guests see it, and the party goes on. Despite Ophelia’s leaving, the house is not empty; two missionary women are staying with them, and they seem, well, odd. Then a couple of dead people turn up, and Flavia and Dogger’s investigation turns up even odder things. On top of that, they get their first paying case.

The story is fun, and I enjoyed it, even though things didn’t always seem to get properly tied up. I occasionally lost track of who was who, what with multiple plot lines running. With the young age of the protagonist, I assume it’s written for tweens, but the plot(s) are interesting enough to engage an adult. I enjoyed that a girl of 12 was that mature, and her proficiency in chemistry. Four stars.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Garden of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng

Supreme Court judge Teoh Yun Ling was the sole survivor of a Japanese prisoner of war camp; everyone else, including her sister, was abused and raped and then killed, bodies put in a mass grave. After becoming a lawyer and then judge, she prosecuted the Japanese soldiers that could still be found in Kuala Lumpur. Now she is retiring, because of a creeping case of dementia and aphasia. Her story covers the time before the war, when she and her sister visited Japan and saw the gardens her sister fell in love with, but mostly settles after the war, when Yun Ling decides to have a Japanese garden created in memory of her sister. At the urging of Magnus Pratorius, a South African expat tea farmer, she meets Nakamura Aritomo, who was once Emperor Hirohito’s head gardener until he exiled himself. He refuses to take the commission, but says he will take Yun Ling on as an apprentice and she can learn through doing how to create a garden herself. Surprisingly, given her hatred for the Japanese, she accepts. She is to help develop Yugiri, the garden of the evening mists, the still point within a country roiling with guerilla violence.

While there are some violent events, such as the guerilla rebellion that leaves many of the colonists dead, most of the story about small things. The learning of how to borrow scenery in a garden, the art of setting stone, learning archery. It is about Yun Ling and Aritomo’s developing relationship. Yun Ling’s narration is oddly flat; is this because of the aphasia? Does she have PTSD? The dialog is often stilted. The story moves very slowly; it’s very heavy on descriptions. It jumps around in time. Aritomo, the most important person in the story other than Yun Ling, never comes to life. It’s weird; the book was annoying in ways but also oddly compelling and very, very beautiful. I often thought “Will this story ever end?” but still could not even think about putting it down. Four stars.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Kinship of Secrets, by Eugenia Kim. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

In 1948, a Korean family is split up. Najin and Calvin Cho want to go to the USA with their two daughters, but money is short and there is the issue of convincing the government that they intend to return. Leaving one daughter will solve both those problems, so they take baby Miran with them and leave Inja with Najin’s family. New born Inja doesn’t miss or remember them; to her, her uncle and aunt are parents. Her grandparents also share the house with them, so she has no lack of family.

When the Korean War breaks out, it makes the possibility of getting Inja out dimmer. Inja and her family find themselves running south from the North Korean troops, and spend time in a refugee camp with nothing to their names. It takes years for them to rebuild their lives again. Meanwhile, Najin sends packages to them every week with money, clothing, and other goods. She doesn’t know that Aunt and Uncle have to sell most of the goods to get enough money for food and necessities. The Chos work endless hours to afford a home in the suburbs as well, and Miran grows up as an American girl, albeit one who knows she is different.

It’s not until Inja is in high school that the Chos find a way to get her out. By then, Inja doesn’t want to go; she has friends, is doing very well in school, and she loves her Uncle and Aunt. She has no desire to see these people she doesn’t know; she speaks little English and her sister speaks no Korean. Miran is shaken by Inja’s arrival; suddenly she has to share everything including her room. Can two sisters so different find their way to love each other?

I loved this book. I felt great sympathy to all of them; they were all doing the best they could in bad situations. I held my breath to see how the sisters would do together; would they get along? Would they come to understand how the other had grown up? Would Inja grow to love her blood parents? The characters are easy to care about. The prose is wonderful. Five stars.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Age of Light, by Whitney Scharer. Little, Brown and Company, 2018

In 1929, American Lee Miller moved to Paris to become a photographer. She was not stranger to cameras; she had a career as a model of Vogue, and her father used her as a model from toddlerhood on. But she doesn’t want to be a model anymore; she wants to be a creator of art, rather than someone to be gazed upon. These are the days of the Dada and Surrealist movements, of Picasso and Cocteau. She hasn’t been there long before she meets the much older Man Ray and they soon develop a relationship that is sexual, emotional, creative, and business. He teaches her the art and tricks of photography, while she takes care of the business of his studio. He nurtures her talent, but is very possessive, even, at one point, claiming a technique she developed as his own. She is possessive in some ways, too; she was obsessed with Kiki de Montparnasse, Ray’s ex who had posed nude many times.

Miller is not all about Ray, though. She was a war photographer during WW 2, going into dangerous areas; this is the part of her life she is most renowned for. She later became a 5 star chef and a food writer for Vogue- and also an alcoholic. This is an engrossing story of a woman trying to make it in the world on her own considerable talents, rather than as the wife or mistress of a man. Along with the standards of the time that dismissed women as trivial, she had to fight to overcome having had a pretty creepy father and a childhood rape. I loved the eccentric characters that she knew during the 30s, and the descriptions of the parties and dinners. Miller and Ray are extremely interesting characters, but frequently unlikable ones. The writing is lovely. Four stars.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Prius or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide, by Marc Hetherington & Jonathan Weiler. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

Hetherington & Weiler put forth the theory that there are two types of people: fixed, and fluid. The fixed have a world view of danger: people and nature are out to get them. Fluid folks, on the other hand, find the world a delightful place to explore, filled with good people. Fixed people drive giant four wheel drive pickups or Hummers, keep big dogs, and prefer plain coffee from Dunkin Donuts over fancy Starbucks concoctions. Fluid folks drive small cars that are less damaging to the environments, like cats, and love trying new cuisines. Oh, and fixed people tend to live rural, while fluids congregate in the city. Most people are NOT pure forms of either, but land somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Now, there is nothing wrong with being on either end of the spectrum, but… in America, these tendencies are being used by the major parties to divide people and gain support. This is what’s behind the growing chasm between Democrats and Republicans. The Republican Party stresses the dangers in the world, and that they are the only candidates that can protect the people of the USA; Democrats try to say they are supporting programs like the ACA that will benefit all classes. Now, this is a broad brush to paint the political/sociological scene with, but it seems, in most cases to be true.

And it’s getting worse- the two sides don’t get together very often. If the fixeds and the fluids worked together, partied together, went to school together, they would learn that the other side isn’t really the bunch of idiots they think they are. Hard to do when the Powers That Be try to demonize the other side.

Are they right about this? Yes, I think- partly. The chasm between sides is getting worse every day. And it’s obvious that the divide is being used by said Powers That Be. Is it quite as simple as that? Well, no, I don’t think so. There are a lot of other things affecting the world. But this book is a great start to understanding the problems. The one problem I see is that the authors are clearly biased towards one side; it happens to be the side I mostly fall into, but it’s going to make it harder for the side they are against to take the book seriously. Four stars.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Other Side of Elsewhere, by Brett McKay. RedAdeptPublishing, 2018

Twelve year old Ret is enjoying summer, other than the fact that his father works two jobs and is never home, while his mother works only one job but is exhausted from taking care of everything at home. He and his friends Gary & Jax are doing jumps and stunts with their bicycles on Dead Man’s Hill, when an older boy suggests they spend the night in the Crooked House. This is an abandoned old house that everyone says is haunted. So what to 12 year old boys do when given a dare that could be dangerous? They accept it, of course. Imagine their horror when real paranormal events happen!

This could best be described as a supernatural coming-of-age story. Ret goes through a lot as the summer goes on- more paranormal events; fear of the local mortician’s new employee, who Ret ends up working with; a family shakeup; people start disappearing. Then climax is extremely tense and well done. It’s a great middle school book, and I enjoyed it a great deal as an adult. Four stars.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield. Simon & Schuster, 2018

At some point in the 1800s, on the long night of the winter solstice, people gathered at the Swann and hoisted pints and told stories. Then the door bursts open, and in comes a large man with his face horribly mangled, carrying a small child. He falls on the floor in a dead faint, and at first the people think they are both dead. But the man breathes, and so Rita Sunday, the village healer, sews him up and puts him to bed. The child is dead; she is removed to an outbuilding. Rita feels compelled to try and figure out how she died, only to find that the girl is also alive.

Of course this event sets people talking.  Three sets of people think the girl is their missing relative. The girl gives no clues; she doesn’t talk, and seems content to go with any of them. How the village people work out who gets her, and the machinations that some characters go through trying to use her to solve their problems, makes for a wonderful multi-thread story. There are hints of magical realism or fantasy; there is a mythical ferryman on the river, and the Thames almost seems to be a character. It’s a slow but well-knit tale. The characters are very well done; my heart broke for some of them. Five stars.

Monday, December 10, 2018

In the Night Wood, by Dale Bailey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

This story is almost over the top gothic. It begins with a husband and wife, Charles and Erin Hayden, inheriting a fortune and a huge manor house in England, one surrounded with primeval forest. They are a miserable pair; he had an affair with a co-worker, their daughter died as a direct result of this, his academic career is stalled, and the wife has retreated into a haze of alcohol and prescription drugs. They hope this move will help them move on, but the house belonged to Caedmon Hollow, who wrote a Victorian dark fairy tale that Charles has been obsessed with since childhood. Erin is the last survivor of the family

They find the place unsettling; they see images of their dead daughter everywhere. The forest is moving closer to the house. Charles, looking into the past to write a biography of Caedmon Hollow, meets Silva, the head of the village’s historical society. She’s an intelligent and attractive woman, and her daughter is almost a carbon copy of Charles’ and Erin’s dead daughter. You can see where this might head. The whole situation is a great set up for supernatural horror.

Sadly, I ended up not caring for the book very much. Charles is an unlikable main character, even though he’s supposed to be seeking redemption. Erin is a mere shadow of a person. The other characters start with great potential, but end up just props for Charles. The ‘feel’ of the story is wonderfully full of dread, as the unknown closes in. I loved the use of Celtic mythology. Charles and Erin’s grief is portrayed beautifully, if that word can be used for grief. But the end came rushing too suddenly; it was tied up as if the author had a deadline to meet. I give it four stars for gothic suspense; can’t give it five because of the main characters.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay. Harper Perennial, 2014

Roxane Gay, New York Times opinion writer and university professor, writes about feminism, fat acceptance, homophobia, racism, sexual violence, kink, pop culture, and a lot more in this collection of essays. She doesn’t come across as a know it all like some essayists do; she consistently admits to her own failings and prejudices. She’s funny and insightful at times; heartbreaking at others. Her own brutal gang rape at age twelve is fodder for her writing, as is 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight. The book is a mixed bag.

I have seen a lot of reviewers criticizing this book. One, for the writing not adhering to regular essay format but rather being more like blog posts. Yes, this is true. But I don’t feel that detracts from the content, and they are easy to read and digest. There is a trend among people today to glance at a more formal looking piece and think ‘tl;dr’. The other complaint I’ve seen is that a lot of them are on pop culture. I don’t see why this is a problem. Pop culture is what people are reading/watching. It’s what’s influencing people. Pop culture needs to be written and thought about. She doesn’t solve the feminist problem- she considers herself a bad feminist because she likes pink and she’s not a man-hating, angry woman. Well, I’m a bad feminist, too, despite being right out of the 1970s feminist wave. I, too, like pink, and I love makeup (I am angry, though, a lot of the time).

I loved this book. Is not only funny and thoughtful, she puts herself out there. I came across this book by happenstance, but I’m going to look for her other work now.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. Bantam, 1946

During WW 2, 12 year old Frankie Addams lives in a small Southern town, and she is bored. Really bored. Her mother died giving birth to her, and her father is extremely distant. The other girls her age bully and ostracize her. Her only company is her six year old cousin John Henry, and the housekeeper Berenice Sadie Brown, a woman of color.  She wishes people could shift between male and female at will; Berenice wishes everyone was the same color. Over a few days in August, Frankie experiences some harsh things that could change how she lives her life.

When the family gets word that Frankie’s older brother will be coming home to be married, and will then have a short honeymoon before returning to his military unit, Frankie fixates on that event as the one thing that will save her. Both her brother and his fiancĂ© have first names that start with J, so Frankie adopts the name Jasmine. She starts packing, in the belief that after the wedding, they will take her with them on their honeymoon and they will all live together. Although she tells this to everyone, only Berenice bothers to tell her that won’t happen. Told to go buy a dress for the wedding, she chooses one that is totally inappropriate for her age. That leads to some adventures on its own. Then comes the wedding… 

Although I sympathized with Frankie’s loneliness and frustration, I couldn’t stand how she made the wedding all about herself. I also disliked how she treated Berenice. Is she a bad child? No, she’s just ignored and left to grow up basically on her own. She’s on the verge of becoming a young woman, and no one is giving her clues on how to behave. A very well done coming of age story, but kind of hard to read, watching Frankie.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Medieval Book of Seasons, by Marie Collins & Virginia Davis. HarperCollins, 1992

This is a lovely book – over size but fairly thin. The authors take us through the seasons as described from writings and shown in art from the medieval period. It starts, appropriately enough, with spring, and works its way through the year. Every page has illustrations, all from the era (no modern drawings of what someone *thought* folks did back then).

Life was very different back then; except for the upper class, pretty much everyone engaged in manual labor, all year round. People worked when sunlight was available, and then probably dropped into sleep as soon as they hit the … well, what passed for beds. Spring was pretty much a celebration of having survived winter (a celebration with lots of hard work, but, still, it was a happy time).

The illustrations are beautiful; most come from Books of Hours and illuminated manuscripts. This is not a scholarly book, but one aimed to interest people in the period. The authors touch on a multitude of areas: food, agriculture, health ideas and treatments, leisure, and more. The illustrations also show what type of clothing was worn by the various classes.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Let’s Talk About Death Over Dinner: An Invitation and Guide to Life’s Most Important Conversation, by Michael Hebb.

Author Hebb is asking a simple thing of us: to talk about death. Specifically, our own deaths. For the vast majority of us, that’s not actually a simple thing. It’s natural for humans to shy away from talking about- even thinking about- our own deaths. And yet it’s the one sure thing about our lives. And yet we ignore it, like the proverbial elephant in the room, until it is suddenly too late to make our plans, to tell people what we want for final arrangements, to decide whether to go with hospice or to fight until the end, to tell people we love them or we’re sorry.

Hebb goes around hosting dinner parties where death is the subject. He uses such prompts as “What would you want people to say about you at your funeral?”, “What do you want your legacy to be?” and “Do you have a will and advance directive in place?”

If you don’t think about these things, and deal with them while you are well, you may very well lose control over them. Do you want to be kept alive at all costs, even if it means being hooked up to machines, unable to communicate or move? How do you want your assets to be divided? If you don’t deal with that, the courts will.

This book will help guide you through talking about these things. You will have to really think about how you think about death, and what you want. I am a hospice volunteer, and I highly recommend it. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for an unbiased review. This did not influence my views. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Way of All Flesh, by Ambrose Parry. Canongate, 2018

In 1847, Will Raven has just been accepted as an assistant under the supervision of Dr. James Simpson. Simpson was a real person, an obstetrician who pioneered the use of anesthesia for childbirth. This granted him a room in the Dr.’s house to live in, which was a good thing as Raven already owes money to a gang of violent thugs who want their money NOW. Right before he moves, Raven finds his friend, Evie, a prostitute, dead- and it wasn’t an easy death. Evidence says she died in agony. Raven wants to find out how and why she died thus. Also living in Simpson’s house is the maid Sarah Fisher, who, when housework doesn’t prevent it, works for the doctor doing paperwork and concocting treatments. She dreams of becoming an apothecary, but her gender prevents this. Raven finds himself working in the clinic Simpson runs out of his house, going on house calls with the doctor, and trying to find time to find out why young women are dying like Evie did. Sarah finds herself caught up in this, also.

This is an incredibly detailed novel. The authors (Parry is the pseudonym for a husband and wife writing team) present Victorian Edinburgh, both Old Town and New Town, in all its filthy, class stratified, glory. There is a great deal of medical detail- amputations without anesthesia, complicated childbirths, how homeopathy was killing people. It was a time without many real cures for anything, and medical research could be as sloppy as the doctors sitting around sniffing chloroform to see what it did. It was a frightening time to need medical care! While I appreciated the details, some may find certain scenes too gory, like the childbirth where the child was positioned wrong to come out.

I found myself sunk deeply into the story and the time and place (while I love Victorian London, it was nice to have a change of venue), but the story wandered. The medical history, while fascinating, over powered the crime story- at times I forgot all about the murders. There are a lot of side tracks. If you want a tight murder mystery, this isn’t going to be for you. Personally, I was happy to follow along all the plot lines and side tracks. Four and a half stars. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. This did not affect my review.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Not Our Kind, by Kitty Zeldis. HarperCollins, 2018

In the time after WW 2, Eleanor Moskowitz, young Vassar grad, is on her way to interview for a teaching position, when her cab collides with another one, this one bearing Patricia Bellamy. The jolt leaves Eleanor with blood on her face, and Patricia feels compelled to invite Eleanor to her home to freshen up. Having by now missed her appointment, Eleanor goes with Patricia. Patricia lives in an expensive, upper class apartment building. Patricia happens to need a tutor for her 13 year old daughter Margaux, recently recovering from polio, which has left Margaux with a limp and a large attitude. Match made in heaven? Well, it might be- except the Bellamys are WASP and Eleanor is Jewish. But Eleanor and Margaux have made an instant connection, so Patricia decides it’s worth the risk- if Eleanor shortens her name to ‘Moss’. It would never do for anyone in the building- especially Wynn Bellamy, Patricia’s husband- to know they had allowed a Jew in, even as an employee. 

Eleanor finds herself walking a tight rope as tensions rise in the Bellamy summer house, with Eleanor as a live-in, Wynn there most of the time, and then Tom, Patricia’s brother, moves in. While Margaux is doing much better, both physically and emotionally, Eleanor isn’t sure she can stay any longer. And Eleanor’s mother, a successful milliner, doesn’t understand why Eleanor doesn’t want to join her in business. And Eleanor might soon find herself having to do that, when suspicions about her arise.

I enjoyed the book- it’s a bit of a tense read- but I wish the characters had been fleshed out more. The *do* thinks, but we don’t get a feeling of why they do them. Scenes change quickly without seeming to evolve or slide into each other. It does a great job of pointing out class differences and women’s roles. I’d give it four stars- good, but not great. And while it doesn’t affect the story- I really wished more time had been spent on Eleanor’s mother and her millinery. Total vintage clothing junkie here!

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine Program in return for an unbiased review. This did not affect my opinion.