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In Kissing in America, Margo Rabb has put a new twist on the road-trip story, KissingInAmericagrowing up story and realistic fiction story. Eva Roth’s father died when his plane crashed into the ocean two years ago. No bodies were recovered. Eva and her mother went to counseling and have joined a chat room about the accident. But it’s almost like her mother has forgotten her father: she’s thrown out his belongings and never talks about him. (Eva managed to salvage a few of his possessions.) To numb the pain, Eva’s fills up her time reading mindless romance novels. Even though she knows real love isn’t like the books, it gives her hope.

Towards the end of her junior year in high school Eva meets Will and romance starts to bloom, just like in her romance novels. However, his divorced mother is in bad financial straits and they’re forced to vacate their apartment. She moves into the one bedroom apartment of her friend and Will decides he’s better off living in California with his father. After a sad goodbye, Eva is now wondering how to get from Queens, NY to Los Angeles to visit her true love.

When she hears about a televised contest The Smartest Girl in America, she convinces her genius friend, Annie, that they should enter–actually Annie should enter and Eva be her ‘go to’ companion. The winner will receive a $200,000 scholarship and Annie desperately wants to go to MIT. Of course, the program will be conducted in Los Angeles.

Kissing in America follows Annie and Eva on their two-week cross country bus trip, stopping at friends and relatives in Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Arizona along the way. Annie and Eva are a study in contrasts, the former postponing love until college while Eva is desperate for it, possibly to provide something her mother seems incapable of providing. But of course there is more than meets the eye in the various adult characters and Eva learns this through her interactions with family and friends.

This is the second book recently where something terrible happens and parents either over react by becoming overly protective and/or shut down totally, depriving their children of the love and attention they want and need. It is also the case where the children are too shy or insecure to say what they feel, to open the dialogue that might get a parent/child relationship back on track.

Each major section of the book starts with a poem. And Ms. Rabb entices readers with this (which is really just a come on since there are very few other romance novel quotes that are worthy of reprinting):

“Sir Richard’s chest sparkled with man-dew as he whispered “Lilith, it may hurt you when I burst they womanhood.” “Hurt me,” Lilith breathed. Her rosy domes undulated like the sea as he joined her in a love that vanquished every sorrow known on earth.”

I’m not going to tell you that you can’t predict what’s going to happen because that would be a lie. Much of what happens in the end you can predict in the beginning. But as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.”. If it’s any indication, I stayed up until 12:30 AM to finish the book, so it must have been an enjoyable journey.

LetMeDieInHisFootstepsI recently read the excellent book Burial Rites BuriaRitesby Hannah Kent, inspired by the last public execution that took place in Iceland in 1830, so it is fitting that I move forward to Let Me Die in His Footsteps which is inspired by the last lawful public hanging in the United States, held in Owensboro, KY, in 1936. Lori Roy, winner of the Edgar Award for Best First BentRoadNovel for Bent Road,  expanded this into “…an atmospheric suspense novel which opens with Annie Holleran sneaking away to her neighbor, the Baines’ well in the dead of night. Local folklore holds that if you look into a well at midnight, you will see the reflection of your future husband. But for Annie, the events of that evening have far-reaching consequences. There’s a rift between Annie’s family and the Baines—a gulf that dates back to when Annie’s Aunt Juna, a dark-eyed beauty, cast a spell over the Baines boys. Roy’s tale moves back and forth in time between Annie’s experiences in 1952 (told in third person), and those of her mother, Sarah (told in first person) and her sister Juna, in 1936 when one of the Baines sons was accused of a terrible crime.” (Source: Library Journal)

Let Me Die in His Footsteps is steeped in atmosphere. Roy describes life on the Holloran lavender farm in rural Kentucky in vivid detail, and the mystery of what happened years ago kept me reading into the night. It’s interesting that the folklore of the early 1900s stayed in force through mid-century and Annie, with the know-how or ability to sense events before they occur, was as feared as her Aunt Juna, almost twenty years earlier. Readers will picture the broken down shack that Sarah lived in, full of shadows and cold because it was built where the sun rarely shines. The rock wall fences separating the farms is straight out of 18th century pictures.

While the story of the public hanging is a small component of the story, the mob mentality surrounding the hanging is captured expertly.

Roy’s engaging story of young love, Southern folklore, family feuds, family skeletons and crimes of passion is bound to satisfy readers who enjoy a good, well told story. And don’t forget the surprise ending, which went nicely with the story. If you’re looking for a good beach/vacation read, this is perfect.

TheAvengersHearing of Patrick Macnee’s passing yesterday, is causing me to wax philosophical. As I age, it stands to reason that all the cultural icons of my childhood pass away, but it’s still difficult to take since I still see myself as a teenager. The Avengers with Patrick Macnee playing a suave, debonaire John Steed to Diana Riggs’ soft exterior, tough interior Mrs. Emma Peel was a highlight of my TV viewing.

JohnSteedsCarOf course, being the guy that I am (although I was only 13 at the time the show first aired, some things never change), I was just as interested in their cars (John Steed-vintage 1926-1928 Bentleys, Emma Peel-Lotus Elan) EmmaPelsCaras I was with the action. Maybe that’s where I first learned to love old British cars?

Besides the entertainment value of the show, Macnee in a 2010 interview with the Daily Exchange, mentioned that the show was groundbreaking. “It was the first show that put its leading man and leading lady on an equal footing, and showed a woman fighting and kicking and throwing men around. That was a radical departure in its time.”

A while ago I revisited The Avengers and the Macnee/Rigg episodes still hold up as some of the best TV around.

TheSummerWeSavedTheBeesTwelve-year-old Wolf did a school report on the dangers caused by the world’s declining bee population prompting his mother, Jade, to take up the cause. She pulls Wolf, his 5 year old twin sisters, Saffron and Whisper, and his 15 year old step sister, Violet, out of school early to spend the summer traveling across Canada doing performance art regarding this danger. It would not be so bad if Jade doesn’t insist on Wolf wearing the same bee costume worn by the five year olds.

Violet rebels because she wants her 17 year old boyfriend, Ty, to come on the trip, a request that Curtis, Violet’s father and Jade’s live-in boyfriend, vehemently deny. Meanwhile, Whisper, always quiet, is now not talking at all and has stress meltdowns, of which Jade is in denial. According to Jade, Whisper is growing at her own rate and shouldn’t be compared to her extrovert twin sister. Violet and Wolf decide something must be done to derail the trip and get Jade to realize Whisper needs help. Ultimately, they steal away early one morning to Curtis’ mother, who they haven’t seen in years, in the hope that she might be an advocate for Whisper.

The story told in The Summer We Saved the Bees by Robin Stevenson would best be understood by children two or three years older than the nine year old and up target audience.

There are several things that didn’t sit right with this book. Both Violet and Wolf act older than their respective ages. Wolf, in my mind, acted more like a girl than a boy. There is no mention of why Jade named him Wolf, obviously not a common name. Characters, especially Curtis, are not fleshed out and there’s little explanation of why he and his mother are estranged. The book’s plot is unlikely.  The ending is somewhat pat.

The darlings of the book are Saffron and Whisper who are cute and act like five year olds. You’ll fall in love with them.

Despite this, The Summer We Saved the Bees is enjoyable and I’m glad I read it (if only for the twins)

SpeakingInBonesI didn’t know ‘websleuthing’ exists or what it is until reading Speaking in Bones, the latest in Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan series. It’s only the second book in the series that I’ve read, the other being Bones Never Lie, which preceded Speaking in Bones.

Websleuths attempt to solve unsolved crimes, murders, missing persons, by combing the web to obtain information, locating social media accounts, etc. There are many websites devoted to it. Some sleuths merely want to solve mysteries, others are very competitive, so much so that they will visit the families of victims and interview them and/or confront them.

Hazel “Lucky” Strike is a websleuth. She tells BonesNeverLieTempe Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, that she believes some unidentified bones in Brennan’s possession belong to Cora Teague, an eighteen year old girl who disappeared in 2011. She gives her rationale and while Brennan is wary, she is also intrigued. When Lucky produces a hand held voice activated recording device she recently found at the site in which the bones were found, Brennan thinks the site should be revisited to see if more bones might be located. This leads to a nightmarish series of events involving religious fanatics, more bones and an ending that surprised me.

Besides liking the Temperance Brennan character, I also like cold cases (I was a big fan of the TV show Cold Case) and Tempe’s mother (I like feisty old women in books and on TV, maybe even in real life), the internet wiz, who was less present in the current book. Boo!! So this has all the ingredients I need for an enjoyable, mysterious read. She introduces a good new character, Detective Ramsey, who, while I doubt it, I do hope is in future books. Reichs also concentrates on Brennan’s personal life, so we see Ryan, her on again/off again (now on) boyfriend in less of a comrade and more of a romantic role.

Part of the charm of the series is Reichs’ description of her surroundings, much of it in rural North Carolina with its mountains and forests. There’s a sense of place that some mysteries tend to ignore.

Reichs has made Tempe a real person and allows her to age gracefully, not afraid to refer to old TV shows and pop culture of her youth.. She admits to making errors of judgment, silly mistakes and drawing wrong conclusions. She waffles regarding her romance with Ryan. She gets annoyed at her mother and sister and co-workers. She hates gathering receipts for her tax return (don’t we all????). But she’s also driven and once she takes up a cause/case, she won’t let go.

After one Temperance Brennan book I became a fan. After two books, I’m a bigger fan.

ASenseOfTheInfiniteHilary T. Smith, the author of Wild Awake, has written another book I didn’t want to put down, in A Sense of the Infinite. But it’s the subtitle, What Comes After Me and You that really defines this coming of age novel. Annabeth seems to be a personable seventeen year old. She works at the ice cream shop in the botanic garden over the summer and  gets along with patrons and coworkers. However, at home she feels that Noe is her only friend, the person she can be herself with, the person who understands her totally. Noe is loving, sympathetic and will speak for her when she’s tongue tied.WildAwake But there’s more to Annabeth and more to Noe than meets the eye and as Smith describes Annabeth’s senior year in high school, this all emerges. The big question is whether Annabeth can return to being the independent, nature loving young girl she was before she met Noe in ninth grade or will she transform into the gymnastic loving girl that Noe needs her to be. A lot happens to Annabeth this year, some of it puzzling, some of it appropriate. It is Smith’s writing that draws readers in. She’s got a way with a phrase that draws a picture in your mind. You see the swirling leaves and you hear the silence of the woods. You experience Annabeth’s feelings more than you would with other authors. A Sense of the Infinite is a rewarding read.

June 1887 was one of the hottest and driest on record. AJuneOfOrdinaryMurdersNo breeze. No rain. Excessive heat. The city of Dublin was abuzz with activity, preparing for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Celebration and a visit by Princes Albert Victor and George. The Dublin police force was busy making sure the city was secure, with rarely a man to spare. It was Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow of the Dublin Metropolitan Police G-Division who, on Friday, June 17, caught the murder that took place in Chapelizod Gate. a young man in his twenties along side a young boy aged approximately 8-9 years old. They were shot at close range and their faces were marred to delay identity. With no identifying papers, identification could takes weeks.

It was three days later, on Monday, June 20, that a young girl, aged approximately 20 was found under a barge in the locks in the Grand Canal. Her head was bashed in and she was virtually unrecognizable. Could the three murders be related? Having botched a previous murder investigation, Swallow needs a quick and satisfactory conclusion to these murders. But of course, he is blocked on multiple fronts.

Brady’s debut novel is one of the best mysteries I’ve read this year. A combination of murder mystery and historical novel, he provides a reasonable explanation of the political situation in Dublin at the time…many Dubliners’ dissatisfaction with the Queen, the residue of the famine 40 years previous still impacting life in Ireland, the tensions between landowner and tenant farmer.

The 1880s also brought with it the beginnings of forensic investigation. There were experiments with facial reconstruction based on facial bones and muscles. Investigative technicians were able to determine whether a specific bullet came from a specific gun based on the grooves in the bullet. And the uniqueness of fingerprints was being researched. Crime scenes must be kept pure. (An early version of CSI?) Brady brings all of these into play in A June of Ordinary Murders.

He makes the extreme heat and discomfort palpable to the readers. Readers will feel like they are alongside Swallow, his ‘book man” Mossop (think Harry Bosch’s murder book), and fellow officers. Swallow is a mystery lover’s policeman. The law is the law and it must be obeyed, but he’ll stretch the limits of the law in order to get his man (and suffer the consequences…which we may see, if there’s a sequel, which I certainly hope there is). A June of Ordinary Murders was quite the satisfying read. I highly recommend it for all mystery lovers.

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