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Imagine, if you will, a divorce so acrimonious that the divorcees no longer can be in the same room with each other. Add to that second marriages and a child from each of those, in addition to the three children from the initial marriage. The childrens’ relationships to each other are complicated.

TheWholeThingTogether

One more wrinkle, a shared second home purchased by wife 1’s father but saved from foreclosure by husband 1. Every weekend is a transition from one family to the next, with only the first three daughters staying the whole time. Again, never the twain shall meet.

Ann Brashares, author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, has written a unique book, touching on many of the issues surrounding divorce and second marriages, the primary being divorced spouses avoiding each other at all costs and the impact on all the children and their relationships to each other. There are subplots which enhance the story and which I’ll let you discover for yourselves.

The issues raised in this book are probably not uncommon among divorced families. The habitation of a second home may be unusual but it does not detract from the issues raised. Brashares takes both a serious and a humorous look at divorce. I expected something more light and fluffy from Ms. Brashares and was pleasantly surprised by The Whole Thing Together.

While I’d consider Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to be more ‘chick lit’, The Whole Thing Together is much more substantial. I’d definitely go for this one. You won’t be disappointed.

Conviction by Julia Dahl

Julia Dahl came on the mystery novel scene in 2014 with her book Invisible City about the murder of a Chasidic woman and the closed Chasidic community that wants to handle the investigation and subsequent punishment of the perpetrator. It was a welcome change from the routine mysteries that seem to populate that genre.

Her second book, Run You Down received, if my memory serves correctly, lackluster reviews, one of the reasons I didn’t read it.

However, a starred Publishers Weekly review as well as other positive reviews spurred me on to read Conviction, the third book in the Rebekah Roberts, crime reporter, series and it is clearly a case of “What am I missing?”

Amanda Button runs The Homicide Blog, a blog devoted to logging in all homicides in New York. As a result of its notoriety, she gets letter from convicted murders stating that they are falsely incarcerated. But her job is not to investigate cold cases.

In comes Rebekah Roberts, whose well received article about a massacre in American Voice. Wrongful convictions is a hot topic and Rebekah is thinking about writing an article on the subject and Amanda encourages her to look through the letters she’s received. One in particular interests her: a triple homicide from 1992 in which a mother, father and young daughter were shot in the master bedroom of their home.

DeShawn Perkins, the couple’s foster child, then sixteen years old, confessed to the crime and was convicted. He’s served 20 years in jail, all the while saying his confession was coerced, there was no adult in the room with him when he confessed and he did not murder his foster parents. As Rebekah investigates, clues lead her to believe Perkins.

Part I of the book recounts, in flashbacks, Perkins’ experiences with the police leading to his ultimate conviction, alongside Rebekah’s investigation. Part II recounts the murder’s story. (I don’t think I’m spoiling the book by saying that Perkins is innocent—otherwise there would be no story.) Part III is the denouement.

My problem with the book is that the plot seems forced, somewhat implausible, although maybe it isn’t. The connection to the Chasidic community is tenuous and while in Invisible City this connection was a novelty, by now it’s more humdrum. Rebekah Roberts is a nice character, but also a forgettable one. The connection to the mother that abandoned her, which was introduced in Invisible City has a small and unnecessary role in Conviction.

As I said to someone last night, I don’t mind having read Conviction, but had I not read it, I’d be no worse off.

If you’re looking for mysteries that lament the deplorable state of our newspaper industry, as this does, my suggest would be to read Bruce DeSilva’s Liam Mulligan series. It’s got action, wit, criticism and more.

 

 

Alexander Carpenter, at his father Nelson’s request, takes on the case of convicted murderer, Willie Miller, who has been granted a new trial based on a technicality. The senior Carpenter, a retired judge, was the D.A. who handled the original case seven years earlier, where all the evidence pointed to a guilty Mr. Miller.

OpenAndShut

Shortly after taking the case, Alex’s father dies suddenly. As Alex is cleaning out his boyhood home, he comes across a photo of a young Nelson and three other young man who rose to prominence. Alex is surprised that Nelson knew these gentlemen as young men. He’s even more surprised to find that his father has a next egg of $22 million tht he never touched, stemming from a one time payment of $2 million deposited around the time the photo was taken.

As Alex and his investigator, Laurie, delve into both the trial and the photo, Alex’s life seems to be in danger and he’s convinced that the photo and the retrial are related.

Open and Shut is the first in the Alex Carpenter 15 book series. I’m not typically a fan of the ‘humorous’ mystery but Rosenfelt is able to combine some humor with an interesting story, a reasonable amount of action and a dog. What more can you ask for? Alex is a ‘normal’ guy, unsure of himself, doing dumb things on occasion, totally out of his league when it comes to romance. He’s not cocky. He’s not a hero. He doesn’t beat up everyone who gets in his way. He’s self-deprecating.

While I may not make it my business to read every book in the series, I certainly will pick up another book in the Carpenter series and future books will be on my radar.

Gregg Allman

As with many Allman Brothers fans, I’ve been a fan since the 1970s. I vaguely remember seeing Derek and the Dominos during college (I assume Duane Allman was present), not knowing much about them at the time. It was Friday, October 30, 1970 in the SUNY Albany gym (thank you internet!). Little did I know how great Duane and that short lived band would be or how enamored I’d become with the Allman Brothers Band.

I remember one time taking the subway to, what seemed to me a remote park in the Bronx, to see the Allman Brothers and another time borrowing a car and traveling an hour to another college campus to see them. I remember how worn out my vinyl copy of Live at the Fillmore East got and how devastated I was when my stereo got stolen with one record of the double album still on the turntable at the time. It wouldn’t have been so bad except I couldn’t find another copy of that exact same record.

The Allman Brothers Band in 1969

I was a late bloomer to the annual Allman Brothers event at the Beacon, but was lucky enough to have seen some great concerts there. Unfortunately, the passionate guitar of Duane Allman and the melodic guitar of Dicky Betts were absent in the current configuration. Both Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes were too atonal, too self absorbed for me, although I continued to go year after year.

I was surprised, however, how much I enjoyed Gregg on his own. The horn section, absent at ABB concerts, added a much appreciated change to many of the reworked Allman Brothers songs as well as Gregg’s own tunes. I’ve seen him several times on his own, the most notable was around New Years many years ago in the West Hampton Performing Arts Center, a more intimate venue. I was scheduled to see him at City Winery last November but those concerts got postponed until next July and ultimately they were cancelled.

The one thing that amazes me from the obituaries I’ve read is the lack of mention of his Searching For Simplicity album. I personally think it’s his best. It’s the kind of blues that allow you to wallow in your own, if you happen to be in that frame of mind. You can sing and feel as low as you want. However, if you’re in a good mood, you can sing and understand another man’s blues while not wallowing in your own. For a time, it was a CD that was always in my car while another copy was at home. If you haven’t listened to it, I highly suggest it.

Before you suggest that I’m idolizing the man, I will readily admit that his autobiography, My Cross to Bear, was very much less than stellar and didn’t come close to Please Be With Me, his niece Galadrielle Allman’s tribute to her father, Duane, and in his interview at the time the book was published with Stephen Colbert, he came off as a buffoon. But, the man could sing and he could play the guitar and he could draw in audiences.

The good ones are dropping like flies, it seems…Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, B.B. King, J. Geils, Chuck Berry, Leon Russell. People who had an impact on Rock N Roll.  And while I realize that at my age I should expect the musicians of my age to start dying off, it is with great sadness when I hear of another one biting the dust. The only salvation is that, hopefully, that concert in the great beyond is going to be one hell of a show.

Eight years ago Telly Ray Nash took a baseball bat to his father’s head, killing him. True the elder Nash was running after Telly and his younger sister, Sharlah, wielding a knife. True he had just fatally slashed Telly’s mother with that same knife. It was an instance of fight or flight and the two young children had no where to go, so Telly defended himself and his sister the best way he knew how.

The orphans were separated, Telly bouncing around foster homes until Frank and Sandra Duvall took him in and tried to get him ready for adulthood. Sharlah fared somewhat better, finally settling in with Pierce Quincy and Rainie, a retired FBI profiler and a retired police officer, respectively. They want to adopt Sharlah and become a true family, which she is OK with.

Their separate lives converged when Telly was filmed shooting out the security camera in a local convenience store, the site of a double murder. When the police arrive at the Duvall’s looking for Telly, they find Frank and Sandra shot dead. Telly is the likely suspect.

The manhunt for Telly involves profilers, trackers, and multiple police agencies. Of course, all is not what it seems. There are secrets that need to be told in order to identify the murderer.

The action starts in chapter one and continues throughout the book. Right Behind You grabs and keeps your attention. Of course, you are pulling for Sharlah and Telly. The twists and turns keep you guessing. And you’ll absolutely fall in love with Luka, Sharlah’s dog, also a retired police officer.

I read Lisa Gardner’s Crash and Burn and Catch Me. I really liked Crash and Burn. As I said in my review of it, “…Gardner weaves a great story and that is what makes you want to keep reading. Readers will immediately take to the characters. They’ll get caught up in their lives. They’ll want to unravel the mystery.” This holds true for Right Behind You as well.

There is a reason Lisa Gardner is a best selling author and Right Behind You is one of the reasons.

 

In this English translation of a Swedish debut young adult novel, fifteen year old Steffi is an outcast at her high school. Karro, one of the ‘in’ girls, never passes up a chance to harass her, call her a whore, tell her she stinks and how ugly she is. All Steffi wants to do is play jazz.

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One day, walking home from school, she hears old school jazz music coming out of the second floor window of a retirement home. It stops her in her tracks and she stares at the window, into the face of a white haired old man who asks if she’s going to stand there staring or is she going to come up. Steffi does the latter and is introduced to Alvar ‘Big Boy’ Swensson, a well known jazz bassist during the time of the second world war.

Author Lovestam is a jazz aficionado herself and has penned an interesting two part tale. In the first, Steffi confides in Alvar about the goings on at school, her love of jazz and her desire to go to a music school in Stockholm.

In the second tale, Alvar reminisces about his journey to stardom, from his humble beginnings in Varmland, taking the train alone to Stockholm at age seventeen and meeting a real clarinetist on the train, joining a band, courting the gorgeous Anita and achieving his fame. There is a touching romance in this novel as well as a pseudo history lesson about Swedish life during the Second World War.

Lovestam name drops the well known Swedish jazz musician Povel Ramel (who I never heard of) as well as several other musicians of the time. She is into the beat of Steffi’s bass guitar and illustrates how the music permeates every aspect of Steffi’s life. Jazz musicians will understand this better than I do.

Wonderful Feels Like This, a rewarding intergenerational tale, brings to mind Notes From the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick, Notes in which the main character, Alex, forges a relationship with a nursing home patient, Sol, also a famous musician. While Lovestam’s novel is more serious and Sonnenblick’s has a touch of humor, the bonds forged between Steffi and Alvar and Alex and Sol form the bases of great stories.

While the cadence of the translation is a tad stilted until you get used to it, Wonderful Feels Like This is a fun read. But I wouldn’t limit myself to this book alone. I’d also highly recommend Notes From a Midnight Driver. You can’t go wrong with these two.

 

 

Becky Albertalli, the author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, has penned a very readable second novel, The Upside of Unrequited. In my review of the first book I said, “If you’re looking for just a fun romance, try Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.” I’d pretty much have to say the same for The Upside of Unrequited.

Molly and Cassie are the twin daughters of lesbians Patty and Nadine. Cassie is cute and decidedly gay. Molly is somewhat overweight and decidedly straight. Early in the book, Cassie meets Mina and  quickly falls for her. Molly, on the other hand, has had 27 crushes but has never been kissed and never had a boyfriend. Mina and Cassie try to set Molly up with Will, Mina’s best friend but there’s no chemistry. Molly, on the other hand, likes dorky Reid, a co-worker at the store at which she has a summer job. Is this going to be crush number 28?

Albertalli tackles several issues in The Upside of Unrequited: twins growing apart when one is in a relationship and the other isn’t, the insecurities of girls whose figures don’t meet the societal norm of pretty or sexy, the legalization of gay marriage. All of this is done in an easy to read, fun story. Readers will like the characters. The situations are real. The writing is descriptive.

Any reader who likes young adult romance can’t go wrong.