REVIEW: LADY IN THE LAKE, BY LAURA LIPPMAN

 

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know—everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl—assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young black woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie—and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life—a jewelry store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people—including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.

My Thoughts: Lady in the Lake takes the reader to mid-sixties Baltimore, spotlighting issues from the times. A woman who suddenly leaves her long-standing marriage is seeking a life of her own and finds herself thrust into a murder investigation and a fledgling career on a newspaper that changes her perspective on the world around her. Women’s issues, racial injustice, and finding one’s way in a changing world keep Maddie going on her journey, although her needs and desires take precedence over those of others, making her seem self-centered.

It was hard to like Maddie, even though I could relate to her feelings on some level, having lived through those changing times. Alternating narrators led us through the lives of peripheral characters, including the apparent “ghost” of Cleo Sherwood. Maddie’s obsession with that woman did show a side of her that took her outside of her own needs for a time. I enjoyed seeing how events unfolded and found the resolution intriguing. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE RULES OF MAGIC, BY ALICE HOFFMAN

 

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

My Thoughts: In the early part of The Rules of Magic, when Franny, Jet, and Vincent were children, I struggled to stay interested. I only connected with the story when the characters grew into adulthood. The magic, curses, and potions were the least interesting aspects for me. I did enjoy the setting and the era: Manhattan in the 1960s, with a short summer visit to Aunt Isabelle’s home in Boston. Massachusetts was a dreaded place, according to their parents, who clung to the old stories of witches being burned at the stake there.

The children, however, loved the relative freedom of Aunt Isabelle’s home. Her rules were simple: 1) Do as you will, but harm no one; 2) What you give will be returned to you threefold; 3) Fall in love whenever you can.

As we follow the adventures of the siblings, we learn a bit more about the ways they strive to avoid love…and how they each fail at it in some way or another. Tragic things do happen around love, but is it because they allowed love into their lives, or because they are human?

Would they find their own answers? Would they finally come to terms with the love issue? How does this prequel set things up for Practical Magic, the story that follows? 4 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: DESOLATION ROW, BY KAY KENDALL

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It was autumn in 1968 when their friend from the draft resister’s group was murdered in a church, the very place where they were supposed to gather for a meeting. The others had left, but Reg Simpson had gone back for his jacket. And that is when it happened.

David and Austin Starr had relocated to Toronto when they began to fear that David would soon be drafted. Not willing to actually dodge the draft, the two of them transferred to the University of Toronto and joined other resisters.

But life had a way of changing their plans for them when David was arrested for Reg’s murder. Austin believed that the police evidence was flimsy at best, so she set out to find answers. But soon she became the target of someone sending threatening letters and warning her to stop investigating.

Desolation Row was a story that intrigued me, mostly because of the times. I remember them well, being in university when young men were being drafted for the War in Vietnam that many strongly opposed. I also enjoyed recalling what life was like before technology, as Austin’s search for a pay phone on the night of the murder kept her from arriving at the church on time. And throughout her investigation, the absence of readily available phones added to the intensity.

Austin was not yet comfortable in Canada, not sure if their adopted country could ever feel like home. Especially since she had started to distrust law enforcement for rushing to judgment. By the end of the story, however, and as Austin stumbled upon various clues that led to solving the murder, she began to feel as if she could finally adjust.

I was pleased to learn that this book was the first in a series, so I’m off to find Book 2. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD, BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

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Beginning in the late 1960s, in a town near Boston, at a time of both innocence and tragic world events, Cruel Beautiful World explores love, obsession, family ties, and what happens when one’s choices lead to loss, disappointment, and even betrayal.

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Gold was loved by her parents, and then when they died suddenly when she was only five, she and her sister Charlotte were taken in by Iris, an older relative, who cherished and gave them all she had to give.

So why was Lucy drawn into the web of her high school teacher William Lallo? How was he able to seduce her into a life on the run, a life in hiding?

What happens to Iris and to Charlotte after Lucy is gone?

Alternate narrators offer up bits and pieces of the characters’ lives, sweeping back to the turn of the Twentieth Century, when Iris falls in love with a man named Doug, a man who would ultimately betray her in an unexpected way.

Much of the story takes us into Lucy’s new life in Pennsylvania farming country, from the beginnings of her hideaway with William. We watch as the romantic illusions that had captured her so completely disintegrate. The illusions were soon replaced by isolation, fear, and ultimate loss.

I enjoyed the characters and their complexities, and how some of them managed to find ways to pick up the pieces, starting over again and again. We connect with Iris, Charlotte, and then there was Patrick, who ran a farm stand in Pennsylvania. Each of them brings the story to a place where we can examine their hopes, dreams, and costly errors in judgment. Can they move on? Will there be hope in this world they have created for themselves? A 5 star read for me.

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***My e-ARC was received from the publisher via NetGalley.

***

REVIEW: THE GIRLS, BY EMMA CLINE

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Evie Boyd is a middle-aged woman, living alone in her friend Dan’s house in LA, ruminating about the past. Her life up until now has been ordinary, but somewhat disappointing. So when she is visited by intruders in the middle of the night, and is reminded of how unsafe life can be—before she realizes that the intruders are Dan’s teenage son and girlfriend—she is once again back in the unsafe world she once inhabited. Even though she was merely on the fringes of that world. And feeling unsafe is better than feeling nothing at all.

But as her mind takes her back to the summer of 1969, we soon learn how the life she lives now was informed by her choices back then. How her fascination with a free-living group in the Bay Area, living on what they called the ranch, had captivated her. How she was mostly drawn in by one of the girls, a young woman of nineteen named Suzanne. What had drawn her to Suzanne back then, and why is her mind still working out the details of that time, even now, all these years later? Was it an infatuation? Did Suzanne and the other girls fill an empty space inside, the part that emphasized the blankness of her life? Would she have done what those girls finally did, or did she have a moral compass after all?

The Girls is a reminder of another story from that same year. The true story of Charles Manson and his followers, and while they are not mentioned in this novel, those who have lived and learned from the horrors will certainly see some similarities.

Was Evie simply a product of the times? Did her middle class life seem so empty that she was drawn into the colorful world of the family at the ranch? Was her attraction to Suzanne more about the appeal of the other girl’s dismissal of ordinary values? Or did Suzanne’s occasional dismissal of Evie herself only enhance the appeal?

I felt sorry for Evie, who had avoided the fate of the others because of a chance maneuver on Suzanne’s part, and who seemed to always be wishing she could have been more involved. Her flat life in the present made me feel sad, since she could have been grateful for what she somehow managed to escape. A story that kept me reading, even though the ending seemed inevitable. 4.5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publishers via NetGalley.

BOOKISH FRIDAYS: “HAVE NO SHAME”

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Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

Today’s featured book is one I purchased a while ago, in May 2014.   Have No Shame, by Melissa Foster, is a story that shows where civil rights and forbidden love collide…

 

 

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Beginning:   It was the end of winter 1967, my father was preparin’ the fields for plantin’, the Vietnam War was in full swing, and spring was peekin’ its pretty head around the corner.  The cypress trees stood tall and bare, like sentinels watchin’ over the St. Francis River.   The bugs arrived early, thick and hungry, circlin’ my head like it was a big juicy vein as I walked across the rocks toward the water.

***

56:  He held his hand out to help me off the stump.  I took his hand and stood, holdin’ my breath, not knowin’ if I should let go or hold on.  I wanted to hold on.

***

Synopsis:   Alison Tillman has called Forrest Town, Arkansas home for the past eighteen years. Her mother’s Blue Bonnet meetings, her father toiling night and day on the family farm, and the division of life between the whites and the blacks are all Alison knows. The winter of 1967, just a few months before marrying her high school sweetheart, Alison finds the body of a black man floating in the river, and she begins to view her existence with new perspective. The oppression and hate of the south, the ugliness she once was able to avert her eyes from, now demands her attention.

When a secretive friendship with a young black man takes an unexpected romantic turn, Alison is forced to choose between her predetermined future, and the dangerous path that her heart yearns for.

***

What do you think?  I’ve had this book for quite a while, and as I share the excerpts and the blurb, I am now realizing once again why I bought it in the first place.  The book reminds me of a time, not that long ago, when so much was forbidden.

***

REVIEW: MONDAY, MONDAY, BY ELIZABETH CROOK

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It was a hot Monday in August 1966, with students finishing up summer school classes for the day. Some had already headed out of the buildings, while others lingered. One young girl named Shelly Maddox was thinking about her future, about errands to complete, and about the imaginary numbers the math professor had just been describing. As she started out, she heard someone’s transistor radio playing the Mamas and Papas song: “Monday, Monday….”

Finally, out on the plaza, as she started forward, she saw a young man raise a hand, as if to wave, and then he fell. She then felt something and grabbed her arm just before falling.

Soon chaos reigned as disaster unfolded. Someone was shooting from the Tower on the University of Texas campus, and before the day was over, 16 would be dead and more than 30 injured, and the shooter, a student named Charles Whitman, would also be dead.

Shelly survived, with a ruined arm and breast, but one of her rescuers that day was a young man named Wyatt Calvert, an artist, and someone who would become a significant part of her life.

Monday, Monday: A Novel is based on true events, and as the story unfolds over the years, we see how lives are forever changed from these events. Shelly Maddox, Wyatt Calvert, and Jack Stone, Wyatt’s cousin, would all be irrevocably changed and connected.

Themes of heroism, sacrifice, and forgiveness mix with circumstances that suggest fate or coincidence bringing certain people and events into each other’s paths over and over again. Like a circle of destiny.

To avoid spoilers, I won’t say more about how the story unfolds, but it moves through several decades, and while reading it, I could not help but feel as though events were being directed by unseen forces…or some kind of destiny. I loved the ending and the feeling of things coming to pass just as they should.

Some parts of the story were less satisfactory for me in that the author hurried us through some time periods by “telling” us of events, historically. I had more enjoyment from the moments she showed us close up. But I was thoroughly engaged throughout, enjoying the characters, and even one special painting that seemed to symbolize the love between two characters. It almost felt like a character, too. Definitely recommended for those who love stories about events that change lives, and about how people move on from tragedy. 4.0 stars.