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IfYoureLuckyBoth the readers and George (short for Georgia), the protagonist of Yvonne Prinz’s latest engrossing entrée into YA Fiction, If You’re Lucky, aren’t quite sure where reality ends and George’s scrambled mind takes over. Lucky, George’s older brother, was killed in a surfing accident in Australia. Considering he was an excellent surfer, George can’t grasp that it was an accident. To her it resembled drowning in an inch of water, possible, but not probable.

A bunch of Lucky’s friends congregate at George’s California home for a party, not a memorial service, because Lucky would prefer it that way.  When one of the friends, Fin, decides to stay in the sleepy little town and ingratiates himself into Lucky’s family (even Lucky’s dog, Rocket, is enamored of Fin) and starts seeing Lucky’s girlfriend Sonia, George becomes suspicious. Was Lucky’s death an accident or murder? Does Fin want Lucky’s life? Unfortunately for George, her grasp on reality is fragile, and no one is willing to take her warnings seriously.

Reading If You’re Lucky conjured up memories of Gail Giles’ excellent book Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters, another psychological drama. On the outside all appears normal but on the inside something is amiss.

I could not put If You’re Lucky down, especially as I got closer to the end. Prinz, author of Vinyl Princess and All You Get is Me, does a great job putting readers in the mind of a schizophrenic to the point reality and fantasy merge in both George’s and the reader’s minds.

If you’re looking for a great book, If You’re Lucky should definitely be on the list.

 

If the writer of such hit songs as Walking in the Rain sung by the Ronettes or On Broadway sung by the Drifters was to write a book, I’m Glad I Did would be the book. She did and this is the book.

Taking place in the mid-1960s, I’m Glad I Did is a combination of historical fiction, romance and mystery. Named Justice because her parents are lawyers and their children were expected to follow suit, JJ Green wants to break ranks and become a song writer. Having just graduated high school at age 16, she gets a summer internship in the famous song writing emporium, the Brill Building (home to Neil Diamond, Carole King and more). The catch is, because she is under age, she needs her parents’ consent. Unhappy with this turn of events, they strike a deal. If JJ doesn’t get a song published during her 3 month internship, she’ll give up her song writing dream. The Green family has had experience in the industry: her mother’s estranged brother, the noted Bernie Green, is a song publisher and producer (in the era of payola).ImGladIDid

Three things happen in the book:

  1. JJ strikes up a relationship with Bernie–to her mother’s chagrin.
  2. JJ meets Luke, the son of Bernie’s former partner–of course, the love interest.
  3. JJ meets Dulcie Brown, a former famous singer whose short lived career ended in drug abuse–the mystery.

Weil sprinkles the book with the names of famous singers and songs of the era. (As you read, you can hear Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, the Shirelles and the Crystals playing in your head.) She mentions the payola scandals of the times, the space shots, Martin Luther King and the March on Washington. She points out segregation. In essence, she hits all the right notes (pun intended).

I’m Glad I Did is an upbeat, light-hearted romp through the 60s. For those of us old enough to remember the 1960s, it brings back memories. (For me, it was lying in bed, late at night, listening to the radio very low because my parents weren’t Rock ‘n Roll fans and hearing the house painters blasting the radio and hearing Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison–that was a treat.)

Of course, there’s a book quote from Carole King, the singer/song writer, praising the book, but I’d expect nothing less.

If you’re in the mood to go back in time, try I’m Glad I Did.

P.S. If you’re interested, Cynthia Weil also wrote We Gotta Get Out of This Place (the Animals), You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (the Righteous Brothers), Only in America (Jay and the Americans), Kicks (Paul Revere and the Raiders) and Just a Little Lovin’ Early in the Morning (Dusty Springfield).

Former police officer Carol Jordan is pulled over for drunk driving, despite being on a deserted country road, less than a mile from her house. Having no one else to bail her out, she calls Tony Hill, psychologist, friend, once very close friend. Driving her home, he decides an intervention is needed, as many of Jordan’s former colleagues are concerned about her drinking. He indicates that he’s staying the night, and to make sure she doesn’t take another drink, he empties her cabinets without even asking.

Simultaneous to this incident, John Brandon and several other high ranking officials have decided that an overriding Murder Investigating Team is needed, covering several precincts which don’t have much expertise in investigating murders. And who better to lead the charge than Jordan. However, that means doing something about her drunk driving arrest. Jordan’s choice is essentially accept the new position, come out of retirement and get her arrest expunged or face the consequences of losing her license. What choices is there, really?SplinterTheSilence

Jordan recruits her select team, many of whom have worked for her before, such as Stacey Chen (master at the computer), Paula McIntyre (interviewer extraordinaire) and Tony. She and Tony also decide the team needs something to whet their teeth and suggests they look at the recent apparent suicide of an outspoken feminist who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her garage. Beside her was a book a poetry. Something just doesn’t feel right to Tony and Carol has learned to trust Tony’s instincts.

Despite the fact that this is an ongoing series and I hadn’t read any of the previous books, Splinter the Silence was totally enjoyable. You know that I like mysteries where the characters have a life and tend to grow over the course of the series and you can feel that in Splinter the Silence.

There’s certainly death in this book but it’s not gruesome and it’s not the point of the story, which is catching the killer. And of course in this day and age, computers are a main mechanism in identifying and locating people. The ending is both happy and sad (hey, that’s life). There are enough twists and turns to satisfy all mystery readers.

I like Val McDermid’s books and Splinter the Silence is no exception.

 

Freedom’s Child by Jax Miller

Two things I’m not a big fan of—religious, evangelistic, cult mysteries and very tense drama, and yet Freedom’s Child a debut novel by Jax Miller, which contains both of the above, had me riveted. It is tense from beginning to end.FreedomsChild

The prologue, which you should go back and read again after you finish the book, begins “My name is Freedom Oliver and I killed my daughter. It’s surreal, honestly, and I’m not sure what feels more like a dream, her death or her existence. I’m guilty of both.” From there you learn that Freedom is accused of murdering her NYPD husband, served two years in jail before investigators found and convicted someone else for the crime and Freedom was released, is under the Witness Protection Program and is living in Oregon.

Freedom describes giving up her son, Mason, and daughter, Rebekah,  for adoption when it was thought she’d spend the rest of her life in prison, how she’s managed to locate them in Kentucky and follow them on Facebook. When there is a lapse in Rebekah’s status updates, Freedom begins to worry. It is her mother’s instinct that says something is wrong and she needs to find her daughter.

Freedom’s Child is told from Freedom’s perspective and many chapters open with “My name is Freedom and……” The story is interspersed with letters written (but never mailed) to her children, flash backs to her life before the murder and her incarceration, descriptions of her husband, her derelict brothers-in-law and mother-in-law. Miller keeps the suspense flowing from the beginning through to the end. While the book is not over graphic, you know how wicked the bad guys are.

Readers experience a mother’s heartbreak at giving up her children, even if she knows it’s for the best. Readers experience the heartbreak of knowing your child is in trouble and needs your help while you are thousands of miles away. Readers understand the lengths a mother would go to help a child.

Freedom’s Child is definitely one of the best books of the year.

The Continental Ops stories by Dashiell Hammett, originally published in the various pulp mystery magazines of the 1920s through 1950s, are collected in four different books, with some overlap. There is The Continental Op, The Return of the Continental Op, Nightmare Town and this volume, The Big Knockover.

BigKnockover

Having read the first, I stumbled across the last at The Strand bookstore and decided it was worth a try since I liked the stories I’ve read. But I agree with Lillian Hellman’s comment in the introduction to the extent that some of the writing is good and some not so good. The good thing about the book is Hellman’s introduction from which we learn a bit about their relationship.

Regarding the 10 stories in the book, however, one in particular, Tulip, was indeed strange. Tulip, is actually an unfinished novella to which Hammett apparently wrote the last paragraph but left a big gap in the middle. A rambling conversation between two ‘friends’, it goes nowhere.  If it’s a Continental Op story (which I thought all the stories were going to be), I’m stymied, since detecting is not mentioned once.. It sounds more like a semi-autobiographical story aimed at the glossy, ‘literary’ magazines to which Hammett aspired, than a mystery.ContinentalOps

The namesake story, The Big Knockover is an imaginative, intricate story about a huge, coordinated bank heist. It contains Hammett’s typical, descriptive prose and a gaggle of gangster names reminiscent of the era. The story merits kudos. However, the followup story, $106,000 Blood Money, seems like an afterthought, with a strange ending that comes out of nowhere. It’s almost like nowadays when sequel upon sequel is issued to squeeze every last nickel out of a story.TheLostDetective

There’s Corkscrew, a ‘western’ in which the Continental Op is hired as sheriff of a small desert town. The story has horses and shoot ’em ups. The Scorched Face, which I read before and liked, is about two missing daughters, and This King Business is an odd story taking place in a foreign land. The remaining stories are relatively ‘normal’ Continental Op stories.

If you’re a Dashiell Hammett fan or a Continental Op fan, be sure to read both books, The Continental Op and The Big Knockover. If you have to choose one, or you want to whet your teeth and get a taste, The Continental Op is the better book.

Other good books on the subject of Hammett include The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (which is up for an Edgar Award this year) and The Hunter and Other Stories, which tends more towards his literary writings. The first is definitely worth the read as it goes into Hammett’s days as a Pinkerton Detective and how it might have influenced his works, especially the Continental Op writings.

And of course, you can always fall back on Hammett’s classics, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man series.

In conclusion, you can’t go wrong reading Hammett. It’s that simple.

 

 

 

 

Soar by Joan Bauer

SoarJoan Bauer is one of my favorite authors. But there’s something else at play here and maybe you feel it as well. There are so many middle grade and YA books that deal with issues, serious issues, so when a book comes along that really has no serious issue, a totally feel good book, you sort of feel cheated. Soar by Joan Bauer is just such a book.

Twelve year old Jeremiah has been through a lot. Abandoned in a corporate snack room as an infant, he was taken in and ultimately adopted by Walt, one of the workers. At age ten, after months of illness and waiting, Jeremiah had a heart transplant. By age twelve he had lived in four cities and is about to move to Hillcrest, OH. An avid baseball fan, Jeremiah is unable to play baseball after the transplant because he can’t really exert himself. He decides he would like to coach. Hillcrest is perfect as it is known for its excellent high school baseball program. However, upon arrival Jeremiah finds the high school baseball coach embroiled in a steroid controversy, the program suspended and the middle school program non-existent. It is going to take all of Jeremiah’s coaching skills to resurrect middle school baseball.

Joan Bauer, author of books told from a middle AlmostHomeschool girl’s perspective, most recently Almost Home, has switched genders narrating Soar in Jeremiah’s first person voice. Soar is a feel good book in all respects. The steroid controversy, which is a serious issue,  takes second place to Jeremiah walking into a new school in March, gaining the respect of the middle school baseball team and coaching them to a respectable finish with minimal adult help and supervision. How many twelve year olds can do that? Middle school is tough, no matter what you think and middle school kids don’t readily take to the ‘new kid’ especially when the year is three quarters over. And how many school principals would let a twelve year old coach the baseball team?

Bauer makes no attempt to hide Walt’s budding relationship with Jeremiah’s cardiac doctor and well as Jeremiah’s ‘friendship’ with Franny from across the street. And Franny’s grandfather just happens to be a former baseball coach, who towards the end of the season is asked to coach the team. Hmmmm!!!!

Also, when Jeremiah visits the new cardiac doctor, she immediately adjusts his medication. Would any doctor do that without consulting the previous doctor who has been treating him for two years? I would hope not and unless Walt’s crush has taken over his common sense, neither should he.

But these are questions raised by an adult reading a middle grade book. What kid would think of them?

Readers who like sports action will find little of it in Soar. Instead, they will find a boy determined to overcome the odds and that’s the reason, as is true with all Joan Bauer books, Soar belongs in every middle school book collection. Because there are kids who strive to overcome the odds against them and kids need to read about them, issues be damned. It may be sappy and it may smack of sugar, but you know what, every now and then you need your sugar fix. Soar will take care of that.

Witnesses-Les Temoins

I’m sure I’m the only one in the world who isn’t thrilled with British mysteries. Granted, Luther was fantastic. I mean, come on, Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson as the truly psychopathic Alice Morgan? Absolutely. And yes, there’s Happy Valley and Scott and Bailey (which is nearing its end). But other than that? Nada.

I know everyone but me loves Sherlock. Broadchurch (Boredchurch?) Series 2 was a total disappointment and I’m not looking forward to the continuation of The Fall. Paul Spector should have died at the end of Series 1. Start afresh for Series 2. No need to drag it out.

And since Prime Suspect, Inspector Lynley and Morse are all done and gone, there seems to be a British mystery void. So I’ve been forced to view other countries’ mysteries and, yes, read subtitles. But, I’ll tell you, there are some great mysteries out there. I’ve talked about the Bridge (Bron) with Sofia Helin as Saga Noren and Kim Bodnia as Martin Rohde. Series 3 is coming out soon and I cannot wait!!!!

But in the meantime, I’m watching Sweden’s Van Veeteren which is akin to the cozy Midsommer Murders (with a little more blood) except this is about a retired cop who assists his proteges. It’s entertaining enough to pass the time, but certainly not gripping drama.

But more to the point, I’m watching Witnesses-Les Temoins (in French) and boy is it good! Someone is digging up the recently deceased and posing them as a family in model homes. Thierry Lhermitte plays a debonair old timer cop who has quit the force after his wife dies in an auto accident. Marie Dompnier plays Sandra Winckler, his former police academy student and the smart female cop who’ll crack the case. She is so dissimilar to Saga Noren, but has created a memorable character. The case is puzzling to say the least and there are sub-plots that make the characters even more interesting. So far, it’s one season, six episodes (I’m through episode 2). I’m hoping for more seasons.

I’ve got a few more on my watch list and I’ll let you know as I watch them.

 

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