Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

crooked-letter-crooked-letter
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

by
Tom Franklin

Rating:
bookmarks-5a

When Cindy Walker goes missing in 1982, the people of Chabot, Mississippi blame Larry Ott, the boy who picked her up for a date, but never brought her home.  Although never arrested, Larry is shunned by the townspeople, who hate him for what they think he did.  Now, twenty-five years later, a second girl disappears.  Is Larry, now a loner on the outskirts of town, responsible?  Could there have been other girls?  Silas Jones, the town constable and once Larry’s boyhood friend, is determined to find out.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a mystery crime story about a town hampered by racism.  As boys on their own and running through the woods, it didn’t matter that Larry was white and Silas was black.  Now grown men, they are no longer friends, but they share a history that neither completely understands and both have struggled to get past.  Years ago, Silas ran and Larry stayed.  Now they must overcome massive obstacles and if they do, they must then ask themselves, “Can a broken friendship be fixed?”

I loved this book, which is a great story on many levels, first with an intriguing scenario and a character-driven plot, but second with an important setting, full of moral questions about the impact of decisions and equally of the characters’ action or inaction.  Themes of family, friendship, religion and love are prominent, making the book a true literary work as well.  No wonder it is an award-winning best-seller!

Franklin jumps between the two time periods and fills in the details regarding Cindy’s disappearance.  We learn about Larry and Silas as both boys and men, and begin to understand their relationship to each other as well as to their families.  All this is enhanced by a close look at the culture of Chabot, the perspectives of people who perpetuate prejudice and others who try to rise above it.  Franklin puts his characters in situations in which they have the chance to step up and make things right and he makes the reader ask, “Is it ever too late to do that?”

With an uncertain, but hopeful finish, this is the type of book that generates thought long after the last page, one of my favorite measures of a great read.  While more about the people than the crime, it also stands as a mystery, with a well-paced plot and developments that help tie up the details.  I recommend Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter to anyone who likes mysteries, but also to readers of books about conflicted characters.

Who's that author finalWant to know more about the author?  Click here to read Who’s That Author?  Tom Franklin

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The Fever by Megan Abbott

the-fever
The Fever

by
Megan Abbott

Rating:
bookmarks-3a

Dryden’s small town high school is a normal place until Lise Daniels has a mysterious seizure in class.  And panic takes over when other girls become ill, with alarming and bizarre symptoms.  Doctors are stumped, parents are in a frenzy and, within the dark and secret teenage culture, Lise’s girlfriends wonder who will be next.

Parents point to the HPV vaccine recently given to all the girls and others think it could be toxins in the school or in the closed-off lake in town, thick with strange foam and algae.  But maybe its cause is something entirely different.  Whatever it is, the media jumps in with all the angles and it’s not long before the police get involved.

The Fever is Megan Abbott’s 2014 modern story about complicated adolescence and sexuality, broken families, false friendships and jealousy.  The story’s central figures are chemistry teacher Tom Nash and his high school children, hockey star Eli and Lise’s best friend, Deenie.  News travels at the lightning speed of texts and uploaded YouTube videos, adding fever to the frightening illnesses.  As the investigation continues, the reader learns about the dynamics of Deenie’s friendship with Lise, Gabby Bishop and the weirdly frightening Skye Osbourne, Gabby’s new free-spirited friend with vintage skirts and bangles on her thin arms.

Abbott does a great job portraying the girls in a contrasting light, initially as clingy and giggly schoolgirls, dressed in brightly colored tights and neon sneakers, but also as teenagers obsessed with intense friendships and lost virginity.  Unexplained events and characters add a paranormal layer to this already mysterious story.  I also like how she integrates the town and its dreary environment into the mood of the story, one of my favorite types of storytelling.

The Fever is a quick and dark read, with a mildly compelling plot and somewhat forgettable characters, but it is otherwise entertaining.  I recommend it to anyone who likes stories about teenagers and their secret lives.


reconstructing amelia

And if you like to read about the scary lives of teenagers, you may like Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight.

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Caught by Harlan Coben

caught

Caught
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:
bookmarks-4a

When Dan Mercer walks into a televised sting designed to catch sexual predators, TV reporter Wendy Tynes and the New Jersey suburban community are certain of his guilt, even if Dan’s ex-wife says it’s not true.  Then in an alarming development, the courts throw out the evidence.  That’s more than enough for one enraged father to act and when high school senior Haley McWaid goes missing, everyone is ready to pin the crime on Dan.   Are the two cases connected?  Wendy Tynes is beginning to wonder if there’s a bigger story.

Wendy’s intuition points to other suspicious players and she can’t rest until she has it figured out, with the help of police investigators.  Coben introduces many characters who seem to be one way, but have interesting hidden motives that are only made clear as the plot develops.  The investigation takes the reader all around northern Jersey, with a couple Ivy League trips south to Princeton’s campus.

Caught is an exciting thriller that follows the circuitous leads after Dan’s arrest and the questionable motives of the story’s many characters.  It’s a fast-moving and engaging and story that looks at issues of entrapment, vigilantism, destructive viral marketing and, of course, secrets.  In addition to the crimes, Coben includes themes of marriage, families, raising teenagers, careers, and loss and he asks a question that has many answers:  How far would you go to protect your family?

While some of the characters and plot lines stretch logic and plausibility, they are nevertheless entertaining.  And despite the serious subjects, Harlan writes with a good amount of humor.  In addition, any reader with ties to New Jersey will appreciate the unique references.  Coben’s storytelling and writing style make the book a page-turner that is appealing to a broad audience.  I recommend Caught to anyone who likes a fast moving thriller.


Harlan Coben has written twenty-six novels and has over seventy million books in print worldwide.  He has won many awards for his writing.  His first books featured the sports agent character, Myron Bolitar, but he has since branched out to write about other characters. Among his books are two separate series which are set in the New Jersey, New York area.  Each series includes the same main characters, with some who appear in both.

His latest thriller is Home, about a high-profile kidnapping case of two young boys.

I love to imagine a writer’s friend group and found this fun author fact:  Coben has two interesting close friendships.  One with Amherst college fraternity brother, author Dan Brown and the other with high school chum and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Check out Coben’s website at harlancoben.com.

Click here to read about Coben in a 2012 Family Circle interview.

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Echo Park by Michael Connelly

echo-park
Echo Park
by
Michael Connelly

Rating:
bookmarks-4a

When a serial killer agrees to confess to a string of murders, LAPD detective Harry Bosch may finally have an answer for Dan and Irene Gesto, whose daughter, Marie has been missing for thirteen years.  Bosch is never at rest until a case is solved, and ever since he came out of retirement, he’s been pulling the Gesto file regularly, hoping for a break.

Echo Park is the story of how Raynard Waits becomes the center of a high profile case, made conveniently public during a tight political race for Los Angeles District Attorney.  Harry Bosch is a guy who follows his own rules, but is true to his deep-seated drive to get the bad guys.  He maneuvers through city politics and other hidden agendas to nail Waits and whoever else may be responsible.

I jumped into this Bosch mystery series, knowing nothing about the main character.  In creating Bosch, Connelly was inspired by the 15th Century Dutch painter, Hieronymus Bosch, known for his paintings depicting sin, violence and hell.  Connelly fans have their pick of twenty-nine novels, many with Bosch as their main guy.  While it may be best to start at the beginning, I enjoyed this 2006 crime mystery very much.  It’s smartly written, with many well-defined characters, has a little bit of romance and not too much violence.  I always like reading about the battle between good and evil, particularly in combatting violence against women.  Connelly makes it clear which side he and Bosch are on.

I especially enjoyed getting to know Harry and his quirky nature.  As with many mysteries, we learn about area restaurant menus and what everyone eats.  And, although I’ve never driven through Los Angeles, I had fun reading about the different neighborhoods and got a realistic feel for how the action was unfolding.  Equally fun is the banter between Harry and his contacts across the city who help him uncover the facts – they’re often resistant at first because they know he’s a rule-bender – but they always come through for their friend.

Echo Park has many exciting twists and turns.  I’m not a trained mystery reader and prefer to have the story develop for me, without thinking too far ahead.  I was surprised more than once by plot and character shifts.  Connelly includes surprises to the very end that would satisfy even the seasoned mystery reader.

I recommend Echo Park to anyone who enjoys mysteries and likes to see justice served.

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Merging genres – it’s all good!

Source: Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

Is it my imagination or are genres starting to merge?  When is a mystery just a mystery and when is a suspense only a suspense?  And when did historical fiction sneak in?  No matter, the good books keep coming and that’s all we want!

Here’s a list of some quality mystery/suspense/historical fiction that are sharing space on my bookshelf.


blood of the prodigalBlood of the Prodigal by P.L. Gaus – 3 Bookmarks:  Light Amish mystery set in Ohio


Brooklyn on FireBrooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy – 4 Bookmarks:  Intriguing historical mystery in 1890s Brooklyn


Child 44

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – 3 ½ Bookmarks:  Someone is murdering children in Joseph Stalin’s Russia.


Anyone else remember this cover?Coma by Robin Cook – 3 Bookmarks:  Creepy throwback medical thriller from the 70s


Death in a Dacron Sail coverDeath in a Dacron Sail by N. A. Granger – 4 Bookmarks:  Amateur sleuth Rhe Brewster solves a murder in Maine


Death in a Red Canvas Chair coverDeath in a Red Canvas Chair by N. A. Granger – 3 Bookmarks:  Rhe Brewster’s first case


defending jacobDefending Jacob by William Landay – 3 Bookmarks: What do you do when your teenage son is a murder suspect?


Eating BullEating Bull by Carrie Rubin – 4 Bookmarks:  Medical/psychological thriller that tackles obesity and the food industry


Elizabeth is Missing picElizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey – 3 ½ Bookmarks:  An old woman with dementia is sure her friend is missing.


frank mary shelleyFrankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley – 4 Bookmarks:  Classic monster story about good and evil


gonegirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn – 4 Bookmarks:  You can’t believe your spouse in this creepy thriller.


Jane Eyre picJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë  – 5 Bookmarks:  What are those noises upstairs at Thornfield Hall?


reconstructing ameliaReconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight – 3 Bookmarks:  Teen secrets and cover-ups after a classmate dies


Second Street StationSecond Street Station by Lawrence H. Levy – 4 Bookmarks:  Brooklyn’s first female detective solves a high profile murder.


the girl with the dragon tattoo pic           The Girl who played with fire pic           The girl who kicked the hornet's nest pic           The Girl in the Spider's Web

Stieg Larsson Millennium Series – Lisbeth Salander Novels – 4 Bookmarks:  Suspenseful series about an enigmatic but kick-ass heroine


The Good NeighborThe Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner – 3 Bookmarks:  Questions emerge after a neighbor’s house burns to the ground.


the caged graves picThe Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni – 5 Bookmarks:  A mystery about two caged graves outside a cemetery


The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch – 4 Bookmarks:  Twisted murder tale about a family cover-up


the-farm-by-tom-rob-smithThe Farm by Tom Rob Smith – 3 Bookmarks:  Who is telling the truth, Daniel’s mother or father?


The ImmortalsThe Immortals by Jordanna Max Brodsky – 4 Bookmarks:  A modern day Artemis solves a murder in Manhattan


The RackThe Racketeer by John Grisham – 3 Bookmarks:  Clever crime story about a murdered judge


The Silent Wife picThe Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison – 4 Bookmarks:  Marital twists and turns in this psychological thriller


What are your favorites in this new literary amalgam?

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Summer Reading Challenge – Brooklyn on Fire: A Mary Handley Mystery by Lawrence H. Levy

Brooklyn on Fire
Brooklyn on Fire: A Mary Handley Mystery
by Lawrence H. Levy

A Second Book in a Series

Rating:
4 book marks

I chose Brooklyn on Fire for my summer reading challenge category, The Second Book in a Series.  In Lawrence H. Levy’s first book, Second Street Station, Mary Handley gets a chance at a new career when she is hired by the police chief to help with a murder case. Second Street Station is based on the actual Charles Goodrich murder case in which the real Mary Handley was a key part of the investigation.

Mary is on a new case in Brooklyn on Fire and she may need to use her jujitsu skills to stay out of trouble.  This fun and intriguing historical mystery is set in 1890s Brooklyn and includes many of the movers and shakers of that time period:  railroad magnate Collis Huntington, New York city planner Andrew Haswell Green and Hugh McLaughlin, head of the city’s Democratic Party.  Rounding out the crowd are the ultra-rich and powerful Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Carnegies.  An intimidating group like this is no match for the unflappable Mary Handley, who is sharp-witted and fast on her feet.  Challenges await her, however, when she is hired to investigate the cause of death of Arabella Huntington’s first husband, John Worsham.

Politics, scandal and shady characters muddle the plot and point Mary in different directions.  At Brooklyn’s Second Street Station, Mary’s brother Sean investigates a recent murder, and when a shocking tragedy rocks the Handley family, Mary must redirect her efforts to save her brother.

No story would be complete without a little romance and when Mary meets a certain wealthy bachelor, she develops a taste for the finer things in life.  An added benefit:  Mary’s new beau puts her in good standing with her mother, who is eager for Mary to marry.  But will the relationship last?

There are plenty of side characters and sub-plots to keep the reader guessing.  Amusing dialogue and interesting historical descriptions highlight important issues of the day:  women’s rights, modernization, big business and the lifestyles of the rich and poor.  Levy’s frequent references to classic literature are also a nice treat and my favorite is from Charles Dickens:  “You’re not Pip in Great Expectations.  This is serious.”  Wouldn’t it be fun to use this line in real life?

Politics, mystery, action and romance run through this fast-paced plot and lead to a satisfying finish.  I enjoyed Brooklyn on Fire very much and I’m looking forward to Mary’s next adventure!

For more information about the Mary Handley Mysteries, check out these posts:

Second Street Station
More information about Second Street Station, Edison and Tesla
Author Interview – Lawrence H. Levy


Follow along as I work my way through my 16 in 16 Challenge!

Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day:  The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
Book 2 – A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read:  The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Book 3 – A Book with a Blue Cover:  The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Book 4 – A Book Translated to English:  I Refuse by Per Petterson

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 soon!

Stieg Larsson Millennium Series – Lisbeth Salander Novels

the girl with the dragon tattoo pic    The Girl who played with fire pic    The girl who kicked the hornet's nest pic

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

by
Stieg Larsson

Rating:
5 book marks

Now that summer is around the corner, maybe you’re looking for something gripping to read on the beach, near a pool, in your backyard or on an airplane.  If you haven’t read Stieg Larsson’s suspenseful series about Lisbeth Salander, one of the most enigmatic but admirable characters I’ve ever encountered, consider picking up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and see if you’re not hooked and working to get your hands on the whole series.

Stieg Larsson was a Swedish writer and journalist.  He died unexpectedly in 2004 and the three books were discovered and published after his death.  Larsson had written them for his own pleasure and had not tried to get them published until just before he died.  All three books make clear Larsson’s outrage over child abuse, sexual abuse and violence against women.  His answer to these atrocities is Lisbeth Salander, small in size, but one of the toughest female characters you will ever meet.


Now there are four books in the series.  The fourth book, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, is written by David Lagercrantz and is available in paperback today, May 24, 2016.

The Girl in the Spider's Web


the girl with the dragon tattoo picThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a murder mystery, family saga and love story and revolves around the search for Harriet Vanger.  Vanger is a descendant of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families and has been missing for more than forty years.  Harriet’s uncle hires investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist to find out what happened and Lisbeth Salander steps in as an ace investigator and computer hacker.


The Girl who played with fire picThe Girl Who Played with Fire begins with two brutal murders, just as Blomkvist is about to publish an exposé on a huge sex trafficking operation.  When Blomkvist learns that Salander’s fingerprints are on the murder weapon, he knows he must prove her innocence.


The girl who kicked the hornet's nest picIn The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Salander is near death in a Swedish hospital.  If she recovers, she will face charges for three murders.  Once again, Mikael Blomkvist helps Salander continue their fight against violence and abuse.  Separately, Salander has some revenge to exact against the man who tried to kill her and the government institutions that have nearly ruined her.


The Girl in the Spider's WebHere is Amazon’s description of The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz:

“Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a source claiming to have information vital to the United States. The source has been in contact with a young female superhacker—a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well. The implications are staggering. Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Salander for help. She, as usual, has her own agenda. The secret they are both chasing is at the center of a tangled web of spies, cybercriminals, and governments around the world, and someone is prepared to kill to protect it . . .”


Readers may be uncomfortable with the brutal violence in this series, however, the author’s disgust for abuse makes a very clear divide between right and wrong.

I read the Larsson series about four years ago.  I may have to read them again before I check out Book Four!

Click here to read about Stieg Larsson on Wikipedia.  You can find more information on Stieglarsson.com, a website dedicated to Larsson’s works.

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