Book Review: Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

Clark and Division
by
Naomi Hirahara

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I was interested in reading this crime fiction about the Itos, a Japanese American family that was sent to the Manzanar internment camp in 1942, after the Pearl Harbor bombings. Manzanar was one of ten American concentration camps, where more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II, a shameful period of American history. While at Manzanar, the Itos and others lived in cramped barracks surrounded by barbed wire and wondered what they had done to be treated this way.

Source: Wikipedia

In 1943, U.S. government relocated “loyal” Nisei (2nd generation Japanese) to the Midwest and east coasts and the Itos were sent to Chicago. When twenty-year-old Aki and her parents arrive, they expect to meet Aki’s older sister, Rose, who had settled ahead of the family. Instead, they learn that Rose was killed the day before by a subway train at the Clark and Division station. Though the police rule Rose’s death a suicide, Aki refuses to accept that her sister, a beautiful and confident young woman, would take her own life.

Right away, Aki and her parents must plan Rose’s funeral. In addition, although the War Resettlement Authority found them an apartment, they must immediately find jobs to support themselves. Many other Issei (1st generation) and Nisei live in the Clark and Division neighborhood, including people the family knew in Los Angeles and at Manzanar. These connections help the Itos get settled.

Soon, Aki begins her investigation, talking to the police, the coroner, and friends. When she visits Rose’s roommates, she is sure they are hiding something. Can she trust family friend, Roy, who had hoped to marry Rose? Who are the rough-looking men in zoot suits who show up first at Rose’s funeral? Although determined to learn the truth, and emboldened by the memory of her sister’s fearlessness, several of Aki’s decisions endanger herself, her family, and friends. The story is a classic mystery in this sense and raises suspicion in several characters, leading Aki down a few wrong paths. An unexpected romance further complicates Aki’s investigation.

Told through Aki’s voice, readers learn about her family’s hardships, how they were forced to leave their homes and belongings behind, about the Japanese culture and their resettlement in Chicago. I was very interested in this part, which makes the book, in my opinion, more historical fiction than mystery. Through her characters, the author provides a look at Chicago’s multicultural neighborhoods and highlights the unique situations that arise during World War II. Hirahara, the daughter of Japanese immigrants, based her story on thirty years of research of Japanese American history.

I enjoyed reading Clark and Division. As I mentioned, I would describe it as a light mystery and heavier on the history, which was okay with me. I have read a lot of historical fiction set during World War II, but never one about the Japanese American experience.

No playlists today, but here is a song (Kenji by Fort Minor) that I immediately thought of when I began this book:

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Book Review: The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

The Cutting Season
by
Attica Locke

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I always enjoy new fiction, but I also love when I discover an excellent older book. I’m not talking about classics, but more recent books I missed when they were first published.  The Cutting Season was published in 2012 and although it’s a suspenseful murder mystery, I’d also describe it as literature with well-developed characters and themes.

Set in 2009 Louisiana on Belle Vie, a former sugar cane plantation turned tourist attraction and wedding venue, Locke tells the story of four generations connected to Belle Vie and ties together two murders, over a hundred years apart. Caren Gray, the main character, grew up on the plantation, owned by the Clancy family and where, her mother, Helen was the cook. Their family traces back to Caren’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jason, a slave worker who mysteriously disappeared in 1872. Now Caren manages Belle Vie, including a staff of re-enactors who play the roles of slaves. The grounds are limited to the land adjacent to the cane fields. Groveland Farms leases the fields and, instead of employing locals, hires immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America.

Although Belle Vie is not far from New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Caren leads an isolated life on the property where she’s raising her nine-year-old daughter, Morgan Ellis. Caren returned to Belle Vie in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina and a crumbling relationship with Morgan’s father, Eric. The couple had met during law school, but Caren was unable to finish.

The story opens when a Belle Vie maintenance worker discovers the body of Inés Avalo, a Groveland employee. Her body was found along the inside of the fence that divides Belle Vie and the leased land. Detectives immediately suspect one of the re-enactors, Donovan Isaacs, who has mysteriously disappeared.

Also at play is the Clancy family: Leland and his sons Raymond and Bobby, who fell into ownership when a Clancy ancestor acquired the plantation after the Civil War. When Leland ran Belle Vie, during which time Caren and Leland’s sons grew up, he made sure to do his part to correct the injustices against blacks. Bobby, for unknown reasons, is out of the picture and Raymond now runs Belle Vie. He’s counting on his father’s legacy to help his political aspirations.

Caren feels a complex connection to Belle Vie, as do all the people who work there. Some have family ties to the place, but the young players, including Donovan, are still learning Belle Vie’s history. She’s also uneasy around Raymond, who still reminds her of his position of authority. Bobby had always been her favorite and Caren wonders about Raymond when Bobby returns to warn her about his money-grubbing brother.

Not just a suspenseful mystery, this is a story about how an ugly period of American history fits into a modern setting and how its characters deal with their own history and its connection to slavery. Should places like Belle Vie continue to exist to educate new generations, or are they just glossy versions of a shameful period?

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For more Attica Lock, check out my review of Bluebird, Bluebird.

Book Review: Girl in the Rearview Mirror by Kelsey Rae Dimberg

Girl in the Rearview Mirror
by
Kelsey Rae Dimberg

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If you watched my most recent episode of Read React Decide, you know that I selected Girl in the Rearview Mirror, after reading random passages from five random books. Despite an earlier retraction about not being able to go paperless when I read, I really did go paperless for this book. Even though I hold the hard cover version in my video, I downloaded the eBook on my Kindle. And because I was on vacation, I took zero notes. I did not want to lug around a notebook and pen. That’s not a vacation!

The author describes Girl in the Rearview Mirror, her debut, as a noir mystery with adjustments, but I felt it was more of a psychological thriller. There are no hard-boiled detectives (the “detective” is a young nanny, Finn, who tries to unravel a mystery) and it’s set in Phoenix, Arizona, not exactly gritty. I only realized she calls it noir fiction after I read it, so that was not on my mind at all.

Because I did not take notes, this will be a more casual review. Be sure to check out my follow-up video at the bottom of this post, which is a supplement to what I say here. I’m doing something new on YouTube, re-reading the passage that made me choose the book and then talking about a really funny coincidence with that.

On to the book. The story opens at a political rally, during Senator Jim Martin’s campaign for re-election. Image is everything to the Martins and the senator’s perfect-looking family surrounds him, including Philip Martin who is expected to one day step into his father’s shoes. For now, Philip focuses on his restaurant and other real estate investments. With his wife, Marina, who runs a museum, and Amabel, their adorable four-year old daughter, they look just right for the part.

Finn’s protective instinct kicks in when Amabel gasps and points to a stranger with bright red hair and exclaims, “That girl—she’s following me!” An upsetting meeting with the stranger a few days later convinces Finn she must learn all she can to protect Amabel.

A couple substories frame the plot. First, there is Philip, the second son who can’t live up to his late older brother, James’s legacy. James died a hero’s death in Iraq. Philip, meantime tries to forget a scandal that ended his college football career.

Finn also struggles with the past and the title refers to events she tried to leave behind when she left home for college. She explains, “By the time I arrived at school, I realized I could start over. I introduced myself as Finn, my middle name, and it stuck. Within months, my first name sounded foreign. Natalie was the girl in the rearview mirror.” Now she has a great gig as a nanny for a wealthy and powerful family. And her boyfriend, Bryant, who runs Jim Martin’s campaign, completes the picture.

When she meets the red-headed women, Finn agrees to deliver a message to Philip. Sounds easy, but Philip avoids Finn who discovers a tangled mess. Soon, she finds herself in danger and wonders if Bryant is her enemy.

I enjoyed this book which explores the always-interesting theme of truth versus public persona. Readers who don’t like politics may initially be put off by the political storyline, however, once Finn begins her investigation, the adversarial element between political parties moves to the background. The story is much more about how politicians smooth out their pasts and present shiny images than it is about Republicans and Democrats.

A series of twists leads to an ending I did not imagine and ties in nicely with how image is everything to politicians. I was glad to have a lighter read while on vacation. The book was easy to pick up between activities and I recommend it to readers who enjoy psychological thrillers.

Check out my video here:

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Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
by
Alexander McCall Smith

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you haven’t read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and you’re looking for a nice, heart-warming mystery, I highly recommend this book, the first in a series of twenty-two novels, set in Botswana, Africa. I read it when it was first published in 1998 and have just re-read it for my mystery book club at work.

When Mma (pronounced “Ma”) Precious Ramotswe’s father, Obed lay on his deathbed, he told her to sell his cattle and buy a business to support herself. He’d suggested a butchery or a bottle store, but instead, Precious sets up the only women’s detective agency in all of Botswana. Precious is thirty-four when she hangs up a brightly-colored shingle outside her newly-acquired office. She buys two desks and two chairs, connects a telephone and hires a secretary. And Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, eager to help, donates an old typewriter from his nearby business.

The lawyer who handles the sale of her father’s cattle is skeptical. “It’s easy to lose money in business,” he warns her. “Especially when you don’t know anything about what you’re doing…And anyway, can women be detectives?”

Her answer? “Women are the ones who know what’s going on. They are the ones with the eyes. Have you not heard of Agatha Christie?”

Precious may not have prior experience, but she’s a woman with excellent hunches and a sense of justice.

It doesn’t take long for her services to be in demand. She shrewdly uncovers imposters, cheaters, and swindlers and uses clever charm to teach them lessons they won’t forget. One case, however, about a missing boy, dogs her, and uncovers the dark side of witchcraft and human sacrifice in Botswana.

As she solves each case, we get to know Precious and learn about her past, including a short-lived marriage and a painful loss. We also learn about her father’s life in the South African diamond mines. Above all, readers understand the deep love and pride she has for Botswana, a country which, in 1885, was established as a protectorate by the United Kingdom and in 1966 became an independent republic.

This charming story is also not without a little romance, which the author sets up nicely to continue in the next book.

In our continuous quest to find great new books, we lose sight of the great ones we’ve missed. Even though I read it in 1998, I’d forgotten all about how much I enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to catching up on the rest. Have you read this series? Have you watched the BBC series which first aired in 2008? Leave a comment and tell me what you think!

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Book Review: The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

The Lamplighters
by
Emma Stonex

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I downloaded this eBook not realizing that I’d already read another book and watched a movie based on the same real events that took place in 1900! What a fun coincidence!

The other fun coincidence is that my blogging friend Charlie over at Books and Bakes also read The Lamplighters as part of her summer reading challenge!

What’s the basis of the story? In 1900, three lightkeepers disappeared from the remote rock lighthouse on Eilean Mòr in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. You can read all about the actual events here. I read Coffin Road by Peter May a few years ago in which a character is writing a book about the disappearance. After that, I watched the Scottish movie, The Vanishing, an intense psychological thriller that offers a possible explanation.

Stonex moves the events to Cornish Maiden Rock, a sea tower built on rocks, off the coast of England’s Land’s End. The story begins in 1972 when the three keepers disappear. This is just a few years before this type of lighthouse was automated, putting an end to a job that required months of isolation. On the rock, investigators find three mysterious clues: the doors are locked from the inside, the clocks have stopped at 8:45 pm and the table in the lighthouse is set for two people, not three. The second storyline takes place in 1992 when author Dan Sharp approaches the keepers’ widows and one former girlfriend to gather information for his next book. The three women have moved on in different ways. Helen, the main keeper’s widow, has moved away from the sea, but returns to contemplate her marriage. She wants to tell her story, but the Assistant Keeper’s widow, Jenny, very dependent on her husband while he was alive, has not done well. And she has a secret. And Michelle, the Supernumerary Assistant Keeper’s girlfriend at the time, although now married with two daughters, can’t let go of the love she had for Vincent. The disappearance, though never satisfyingly resolved, was blamed on Vince because he’d been in prison for violent acts, but Michelle knows in her heart there was more to the story.

As it turns out, there are a lot of secrets!

Readers will learn about the days leading up to the disappearance and about the women’s relationships with the keepers and with each other. This is a slow-burn atmospheric psychological drama that looks at the effects of isolation and separation. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to readers who like mysteries and studies of relationships.

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Book Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White
by
Wilkie Collins

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for an excellent classic mystery, I highly recommend The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. It was first published in serial form in 1859-60, in Charles Dickens’ magazine All Year Round and in Harper’s Weekly and in book form in 1860. So it’s an old book, set in Victorian England, but don’t be put off by that because the plot is so clever and varied and the characters surprisingly relevant and modern, I never felt bogged down. I should mention that the book is also very long: the print version is 720 pages.

We’ve gotten away from reading long books, don’t you think? We live in a world in which there’s too much content to absorb and talk about. I feel like it all has to be done in the fastest time possible so we can move to the next book, show, movie, song, etc. I’m just as much a victim of that mentality as everyone else, but I also feel myself shifting to a different reading attitude. When readers were first enjoying The Woman in White, they were reading it a chapter at a time and looking forward to the next installment. Just like TV shows that used to be weekly and gave us time between to look forward to what might happen next. Now everything is a binge. Okay, rant over, time to talk about the book!

Set outside and in London, the story begins with drawing instructor Walter Hartright who accepts a position to tutor two young women at their estate (Limmeridge House). Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie are half sisters and they live with Laura’s reclusive and uncle, Frederick Fairlie. The night before Walter leaves for Limmeridge House, he meets a mysterious woman in white who has escaped from an asylum. She asks him to help her and he agrees.

At Limmeridge and as predicted, Walter falls in love with the beautiful Laura and she with him, but the relationship cannot be acknowledged because Laura is betrothed to Sir Percival Glyde, an arranged marriage. Meanwhile, the mysterious woman in white, Anne Catherick, who looks a lot like Laura, is seen around Limmeridge. While that’s one of the mysteries readers will need to be patient about, we learn early on that Anne had local connections and was taken under Marian’s mother’s wing for a short period of time. Now it’s getting complicated, but wait! In a plot to get Laura’s money, Sir Percival and his closest friend, the slick-talking Count Isidor Ottavio Baldassare Fosco from Italy, concoct a scheme with shocking results. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll leave the rest out. There are plenty of twists, close calls, and dramatic scenes to keep you wanting more.

I do need to note that Marian Halcombe is one of the best and most likable characters in the story. No surprise that one of the book’s major themes is about women’s rights, as Marian is a strong woman with a smart mind. I also enjoyed Fosco’s character. You can’t trust him, but he’s extremely accommodating and pleasant and so fun to observe.

Besides being about women and their rights during the mid-1800s, the story is also about class, titles, money, inheritances, land rights, deception, suspicion of foreigners, international intrigue, love and friendship. The book begins and ends with Walter Hartright’s narration, but Collins includes substantial testimonials by Marian Halcombe, Frederick Fairlie, Fosco, solicitors, housekeepers and other minor characters. The last section reads like a detective novel and helps solve the mystery.

I highly recommend The Woman in White. If you don’t have time for the book, there are plenty of adaptations to enjoy.

Have you read this classic? Are you interested now? What’s your opinion of long books and the rush to consume content? Leave a comment.

Interested in more books by Wilkie Collins? Read my review of The Moonstone here.

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Book review: My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni

My Sister’s Grave
by
Robert Dugoni

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If you’re looking for a series starter, you might want to check out My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni. Published in 2014, it’s the first in a crime and courtroom series about Tracy Crosswhite, a homicide detective with the Seattle Police Department, sure that the investigation of her sister’s murder twenty years earlier was handled improperly.

Sarah Crosswhite, then eighteen, disappeared after the sisters competed in a sharp shooting contest. She’d headed home by herself to Cedar Grove, Washington in heavy rain and although police located her truck on a back road, Sarah’s body was never recovered. Edmund House, however, recently released from prison for rape, confessed to the murder and was sentenced to the state penitentiary in Walla Walla. After Sarah’s murder, Tracy fell apart. She quit her teaching job and moved to Seattle to become a detective, hoping to use her skills to uncover what she believed was a conspiracy to frame House. Although she finally put the boxes of evidence in a back closet, her drive to solve the crime cost Tracy her marriage.

Like Tracy, the once-thriving community of Cedar Grove has never been the same since Sarah’s murder, suffering emotionally and economically. And when hunters uncover Sarah’s remains, people in the town, including Sheriff Roy Calloway, want to let things be. “What’s done is done,” says Calloway. But, now, after all these years, this is Tracy’s chance to finally set things right and she returns with a lot of questions. Why are items found at the gravesite inconsistent with prior evidence and why did no one follow up on weak testimonies? Tracy’s more complicated motivation, however, stems from overwhelming guilt in letting her younger sister return alone after the shooting competition, an act of selfishness that she feels led to her father’s and later her mother’s death. She’s the only Crosswhite left and must do right by Sarah. She turns to her childhood friend Dan O’Leary for help. Dan, a lawyer and recently divorced, has returned to Cedar Grove. Could something more develop between them?

I enjoyed this story about family loyalty and how small communities deal with violent crime, together and individually. Dugoni creates a nice home town feel in Cedar Grove and shows how things are not always how they seem. He raises the question of media coverage and whether some things are better left alone, when “those answers could do more harm than good.” I recommend My Sister’s Grave to readers who like crime and romance stories that are relatively nonviolent and clean with a good plot and satisfying finish.

If you’d rather hear an audio verison of my review, you can check it out here on SoundCloud:

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What’s That Book? Something to Hide: A Lynley Novel by Elizabeth George

Hi Everyone! Today I’d like to welcome Noelle Granger, today’s contributor to What’s That Book. Thank you, Noelle!

Title: Something to Hide: A Lynley Novel                                                  

Author: Elizabeth George

Genre: British mystery, police procedural

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

What’s it about? Elizabeth George is an American writer who sets her mysteries in Great Britain. There are eighteen books in this series and I’ve read more than half of them. Her main character is Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, the eighth earl of Asherton, who has a massive intellect and who struggles constantly with his background. The books have followed him over the years, through his marriage and the loss of his wife and child, and his tolerance for the foibles of his co-workers.

His partner is the decidedly unattractive Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, who comes from a much lower class. Lynley and Havers clash constantly because she is short-tempered and very aware of her class, making her very difficult to work with. Winston Nkata is his Detective Constable, a very tall black African with a remarkable scar on his face who can relate to victims where Havers cannot.

George writes massive books, and I’ve heard complaints they can be used a doorstops. But despite the length, they are works of art—fiercely intelligent, stunningly researched, and always enticing. This novel concerns the practice of FGM (female genital mutilation) an underground, ritual practice in the Nigerian population of London. As usual with her books, written in third person omniscient, the story opens with vignettes of various characters that at first seem disconnected but which become increasingly entangled as the story unfolds. The central plot is the death, later deemed murder, of a black police sergeant who is investigating FGM in the Nigerian community. Lynley is assigned to the case, which has cultural associations that are completely foreign to him. As usual with George, there are a number of threads to the solution to the case, including a father’s cruel, violent insistence on subjecting his eight-year-old daughter to the practice. I kept reading on because I had no idea who the murderer was and there were plenty of candidates.

George’s character development is compelling and in this book, we learn more about Havers (who makes me want to tear my hair out) and Nakata, a gentle giant with a wonderful family. The author teaches the reader a good deal about the tribal origins of FGM and the work the British police are doing to root out its practice and stop it.

How did you hear about it? This book was on a best seller list.

Have you read other books by this author? Yes, quite a few.

What did you like about the book? The entangled plot line and the characters.

Closing comments:  I consider Elizabeth George an author in the footsteps of Dame PD James.

Contributor:  N (Noelle) A. Granger is a Professor Emerita at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. She is the author of the Rhe Brewster mystery series and the historical fiction novel, The Last Pilgrim. You can learn more about Noelle at saylingaway.wordpress.comand na-granger.com. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, with her husband and a Maine coon cat.


Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it? Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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Book Review: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Name of the Rose
by
Umberto Eco

I finished this massive book over a month ago and I wasn’t going to review it. To be honest, I didn’t really like it, but I know a lot of other people did and not just people I know. The Name of the Rose was first published in Italian in 1980 and was translated into English in 1983. It has sold more than 50 million copies and is one of the best-selling books ever published. The 1986 film version starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater was also very popular. I hear the movie is very good but I haven’t had the chance to watch it.

My paperback version was 592 pages of dense print and unlike many books, reading just ten pages took me about an hour, as there are many references and quotes in Latin. I knew it was going to take a long time, so I planned ahead and finished it in plenty of time for my book discussion. What follows is a very brief description, meant to help you decide if this is the kind of book you might like.

The book is narrated by an old monk named Adso of Melk who, before he dies, wants to document the catastrophic events at a Franciscan abbey in Italy, back when he was a young Benedictine novice. This story begins in 1327 where the members of the abbey are at the center of an investigation into heresy. Brother William of Baskerville, a former inquisitor, arrives with Adso ahead of a big meeting where many will argue about whether Christ was poor and who should rule Europe, Pope John XXII or Louis the Bavarian, the Holy Roman Emperor.

When a young monk is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, William begins an investigation and within a week, six more are dead. At the center of the investigation is a book, hidden away in a secret room in a maze-like library full of tricks, deceptive mirrors and intoxicating fumes. William uses his deductive tools to solve many riddles that will eventually lead to the secret room, but also to ultimate disaster.

There’s no doubt that this tumultuous period of time in religious history resulted in all kinds of factions and wildly varying opinions about church and government. I would never be able to explain it all because I found it confusing to follow. But some of the things they argue about include the church’s ownership of property, whether laughter is a sin, things as small as whether there should be images drawn in the margins of their manuscripts, and most important, who should have knowledge (hence the book hidden in the library’s secret room that only a couple people know about). In addition, it’s really a big power struggle between the top guys at the abbey and bad feelings about being passed over for the librarian’s job who is traditionally the next in line to become the abbot.

I’d probably get a C+ at best if I handed this in for a class, and if you see anything I’ve gotten wrong, please say so in the comments. I want to get credit for reading this, though!

So, what do you think? Have you read it? If not, do you want to read it?

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On YouTube: Video Review of Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Hi Everyone,

I’m trying something new and sharing this video review of Miracle Creek by Angie Kim.

If you prefer old school, you can read my review here.

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