Book Review: Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce and the Story of Abolition

 

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas was an expertly written biography. It was engaging, interesting, clever and well-researched. I enjoyed it immensely, but more importantly, I learned about a historic figure, William Wilberforce, who is almost lost to the seas of time but who truly led the charge to end slavery in Britain and indeed, around the world.

William Wilberforce was born at the end of the 18th century. I was surprised to read in the book that unlike how this time period if portrayed in the movies, it was a coarse, cruel time.  People were hypocrites then like now. (Ha! Surprise, right?)  Wilberforce was born into the Church of England, but felt called to become a Methodist as a young man. Discouraged from this serious pursuit, he went to Cambridge and frittered away his youth. However, he did meet some people who would eventually become enormously influential in British politics. William Pitt, the future prime minister, was one such person. It reminded me of the stories I read about Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve, the actor; they were college roommates at Julliard. Can you imagine? That’s the same with Wilberforce and Pitt; can you imagine? It gives me chills to think of how God or fate puts influential people together who will both eventually rise to fame.

Wilberforce felt once again called to become a serious Christian, and had a clear change of heart and great personal awakening that led him to take on many causes. He became a member of the House of Commons while in his early 20s and felt that his two great life challenges would be ending slavery and reforming what he called “manners” in society. Today, we would see this as a general reformation of culture that would encourage faith, family and Christian mindset.  What Wilberforce did eventually morphed into the Victorian era. That’s no small feat.

He was a tiny, sickly man who battled IBS and possibly Crohn’s disease his whole life. He worked tirelessly against slavery, spending decades of his life creating bills to abolish the slave trade, raise awareness of the horrors of slavery, and help the slaves in the Americas and the people of Africa. Eventually, after his crusade won an end to slavery and the slave trade in England and Europe, he tackled the plight of the poor in India, appalled by the practice of suttee or the burning of widows.

Before I read this book, I knew nothing of William Wilberforce. The only thing I recalled from my American history classes in high school was that slavery had ended in England around the early 19th century, but the name of William Wilberforce didn’t come to mind.  It seems fitting somehow that this humble, Godly man’s name has begun to fade from history. He was so humble, he probably would have wanted to have it that way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading biographies. 4 and 1/2 stars out of 5.

I purchased a copy of this book from Amazon. The link above from the book cover image will take you to Amazon, where you can purchase a copy. I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small commission when you buy books after clicking a link from this website. This does not affect your price in any way. Thank you.

 

Book Review: The Magic of Provence

 

I dream of Provence.

I yearn to live there.

Well…only if I can lead a charmed life, like Yvone Lenard.

Lenard, author of the wonderful memoir The Magic of Provence, truly did lead a charmed life when she stumbled over a tiny village in Provence, France.  She fell in love with the area – with the rugged mountains, the lavender-scented breezes, the nodding sunflowers, the delicious cuisine.

Lenard, who grew up in France but moved to America at age 16, felt a call on the spur of the moment to speak with a real estate agent about finding a house in the picturesque village tucked under the shadow of a Medieval castle.  Although the first few houses she saw didn’t work out, she finally found the right cottage, a tumbling down hovel previously owned by the village’s school lunch lady.  The 1500s home is thought to be have been the garrison of the old castle, and during renovations, she and her husband discover it’s true. Oh, and the house? Originally from 1100!

The author does seem to lead a charmed life, and while her writing style was engaging, I was tempted to sigh and roll my eyes as if to say, “Yes, sure; and you were born under a lucky star too, right?” Because I mean, come on – any one of us who even attempted to buy a home in another country, move back to the United States, and trust that all would be well would find crooks, thieves and blackguards ruining us, right? Instead, the author finds a wonderful local authority on renovating historical homes who handles all the details. She befriends the local royalty. Ah, well…

It’s not all roses and champagne, or lavender and rose as the case may be in Provence. Her cleaning lady cheats her as does her gardener. The cleaning lady stories were the most horrifying to me – the cleaning lady actually let her family sleep in the home while the Lenards were back in California!  And had the nerve to complain about it. Unreal.

In the end however, the stories add up to a charming, funny, witty, and fascinating glimpse into a life I can only dream of but probably will never experience. The Lenards have the money and leisure to pursue their dream of owning a home in France, and they pursue it with gusto.  I enjoyed reading about their adventures in St. Tropez, the time an elephant almost stampeded during an open air performance of Verdi’s Aida, and how a 5-star Michelin chef personally brought a silver bowl of lettuce to their pet rabbit who made the extraordinary journey from the United States to France.  A boring life, no – not the Lenards.

If you love memoirs, then you will love this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wished it wouldn’t end. My only regret? Not being able to read the duchess’ book, for Lenard not only befriended the duchess, she encouraged the glamorous lady to write her own memoir. The resulting family history and history of the castle preserved an important piece of local lore forever.  If it’s translated into English, I want to read it.

4 out of 5 stars for this book.

I received my copy as part of Paperback Swap, a club where participants trade books. You can purchase your copy through Amazon by clicking the link above. I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small commission when you purchase books using these links, but they do not affect your price in any way.

I think I’ve mentioned before the Dollar Tree, the local dollar store, has bins of $1 books every summer. I rummaged through the bin to find potential summer reads and The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld was one of those lucky books that found its way out of the bin and into my purchases. It was a hefty tome, weighing in at over 400 pages, a work of historical fiction that could have benefited from further editing and refinement. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the author’s other works.

The date is September 16, 1920, and the first terrorist bombing in American history hits…New York City. Yes, you read that correctly. September 11th wasn’t the first terrorist attack on United States soil. On September 16, 1920, a huge bomb was detonated on Wall Street near the stock exchange and J. P. Morgan’s bank. Many died, many more were wounded, and the bombing was never solved.  Historians believe it was the work of anarchists, but no one group ever stepped forward to claim responsibility, and the “day that America will never forget” is now a day forgotten by nearly all Americans.

Jed Rubenfield uses this historical event to weave a tale around two interesting characters: Littlemore, a New York City police detective, and Younger, a battle-weary physician who still bears the mental scars of World War I. Added to the plot is Colette, a beautiful Frenchwoman whom Younger loves, and her younger brother, Luc, who stopped speaking after their parents and grandmother were murdered by the Germans when their town in France was invaded.

The bombing is the hinge upon which the plot turns, but there are many subplots.  Colette asks Younger’s help to find treatment for her brother, and the three journey to Vienna to consult with Sigmund Freud, who eventually cures Luc. Colette is obsessed with finding a German named Hans Gruber, who she says is her fiance, but who we find out is anything but a fiance. There’s Madame Curie, the discoverer of radium, a crooked and psychopathic factory owner, three strange Italian women following Colette around, kidnapping attempts, immanent war with Mexico…

If you’re feeling lost reading my summary above, it’s not your imagination. I tended to get lost in the plot myself. The author had too many subplots and intrigues going on, and he ended up summarizing events in huge chunks to get to the “good stuff” and move the plot along.

I loved the Younger-Colette theme and wished Rubenfield had made that the subject of one book, then used the Wall Street Bombing as another book entirely. It would have made the entire book faster-paced and more interesting.

Given all of these limitations, however, I did enjoy the book.  The characters were exceptionally well-defined and interesting, defying stereotypes found often in historical fiction. For that alone, I’d recommend the book.

I’m also a sucker for books set in old New York City.  I love New York City, and grew up in its shadow as well as worked in it for 10 years, and it’s in my blood. Imagining horses and carriages, old Model T Fords, and men in top hats strolling along Wall Street was pure pleasure for me.

3 1/2 stars out of 5, with the extra half a star for the fun characters.

I purchased my copy at Dollar Tree, but if you click the link above, it will take you to Amazon, where you can purchase your copy. I do make a tiny commission on the sale but it does not affect your overall price. Thank you.

 

Book Review: Cat Daddy, by Jackson Galaxy

 

A cat lover? Me? Why, just because I have five felines and one ‘semi’ adopted feral I feed whenever he shows up, whatever makes you say I’m a crazy cat lady?

Okay, I confess: I adore cats. I always have. My life wouldn’t be complete without cats. From their obnoxious independence to their cuddly purring, I love my cats. They’re family.

But they’re not without problems. That’s why I tune into Animal Planet’s show, My Cat From Hell.  I’ve always liked its host, cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy. He’s funky and fun with his guitar case full of cat toys, his twin pieced ears, his bowling shirts and tattoos. This is a guy who looks so comfortable in his own skin that you can imagine the cats eyeing him from under the sofa and thinking, “Hmm…a kindred spirit.”

Jackson Galaxy’s book, Cat Daddy, was a surprisingly enjoyable read. I say “surprisingly” because it wasn’t about Benny, the cat he adopted, but more about Jackson’s life, his battle with drugs, alcohol and compulsive overeating, and how the animals in his life saved him. Working with animals, first at the local animal shelter then in tandem with Dr. Jean, a veterinarian with whom he originally set up his cat behavior practice, pretty much saved Jackson’s life, giving him meaning and purpose as he was battling an addiction to prescription drugs, booze and everything in between.

Benny, the cat mentioned on the cover, isn’t even a minor player in the story. He mentions Benny occasionally to make a point, but I think the weakest aspect of the book was trying to link Jackson’s story to just one of the animals in his life. I didn’t feel that Benny’s rescue story was that compelling. A better rescue story for cat lovers is Dewey, the library cat.

That doesn’t mean that the book is boring. Not by a long shot! It’s a solidly written memoir that focuses on one aspect of a man’s life, and it’s an intriguing, engaging read.

I enjoyed the book very much and am glad that I purchased a copy from the Bargain Books catalog. If you’d like to read it, you can find a copy at the library, or order from Amazon by clicking the picture of the book cover, above. I receive a small commission from the order, but it does not affect your price. Thank you.

3 and a half stars out of 5.

 

 

Book Review: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Have you ever read a book and wondered how in the heck it ever made it to publication, never mind publication with a reputable publisher and decent reviews? Mennonite in a Little Black Dress was that book for me.  As a memoir, it was dreadful. The book rambled right and left and around, and never got to the central premise: a Mennonite woman rejects her prim and proper upbringing, becomes an academic, is betrayed by her husband who leaves her for a gay lover, and eventually returns home to heal and reconcile with her past.

That’s the book’s premise, and the blurb that enticed me to buy it. What I read instead was a horrible, catty book in which the author mocks her parents, her upbringing, and everything Mennonite, makes apologies for her bisexual, bipolar, abusive and cheating spouse, acts like a door mat to said abuser, and then slinks back to her parents’ house where all she does is feel estranged from her religious, traditional siblings and her sweet parents.

I don’t mind a memoir that pokes fun at one’s upbringing. Some of the funniest times in life are those experienced in childhood but viewed through a retrospective lens.  Janzen, however, didn’t make me laugh. She made me feel sorry for her parents.

I’m not Mennonite, but count myself lucky to have had Mennonite friends throughout my life.  I don’t stand around making fun of them because they’re excellent cooks, eat “weird” food, or wear skirts all the time. I admire how caring their community is, their close-knit families, and their emphasis on faith, family and community.

I felt no sympathy for anyone in this book except the author’s mother, who is ridiculed right, left and center. Talking about your mother’s flatulence in a memoir isn’t funny. It’s cruel.

I hate giving bad reviews. As a writer myself, I know how it hurts to get a bad review. But honestly, for an English professor to have written and published such a lousy memoir…ugh. Ugh and ugh.

Skip this book. I really wish I did.

Book Review: My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner

When I saw this memoir listed in the Bargain Books catalog, I had a feeling I’d like it. I didn’t expect to love it, but love it I did. What a fun tale that reminded me of my own German grandmother and all the immigrant grandmothers I’ve ever met in my lifetime!

Meir Shalev is the consummate storyteller. With a storyteller’s flair, he winds his tale around an unlikely spool: a vacuum cleaner. Not just any vacuum cleaner, mind you. A Hoover canister vacuum sent to his Russian grandmother living in Israel in the early 20th century by her no-good, American immigrant brother in law.

This isn’t just the story of his grandmother. The many layers woven throughout the tale include a fascinating glimpse at the founding of Israel, the early immigrants who settled the agricultural regions of Israel, and growing up Israeli among these salt of the earth people.

Shalev’s grandmother, Tonia, grew up as a fairly well-to-do young girl in Ukraine. When she was 15, she immigrated to Israel to marry. The second wife of an Israeli first-generation settler, Tonia soon found that her new lifestyle on a rugged farm in the middle of the Israeli agricultural region was a tough life and not at all what she was promised.  Tonia took control of her life by fighting the one enemy she could never vanquish: dirt. She became a clean freak, but not in a pathological, Adrian Monk type way. Instead, it was more like the clash of the titans. Tonia versus farm dirt.

Shalev describes his grandmother in loving detail, not sparing the harsh parts of her personality to romanticize her. She is unforgiving and coarse, sometimes cruel. But she is also incredibly hard-working and feisty. Her quirks make her a fascinating, very real person in the story.

The vacuum cleaner itself links all the stories in the book. They weave in and out around the vacuum cleaner like it’s some kind of weird May pole. The stories tell not just Tonia’s life, but the lives of Shalev’s extended family, his neighbors in Israel, and even those who immigrated to America.

The book was originally written in Hebrew, then translated into English, but fortunately the translator left the Yiddish intact, and as a former New Yorker, I enjoyed reading the phrases peppered throughout the book.  Just a side note, but it was fun recognizing expressions I heard growing up near Queens, New York.

This book was truly a delightful, fun and rollicking tale of extended family, family ties, and the history of Israel.  I didn’t expect to love it, but I did.

Four out of five stars. I purchased my copy of this book from Bargain Books, but you can purchase your copy by clicking on the picture above. It takes you to Amazon, where if you buy the book from Amazon, I receive a small commission. It does not affect your price in any way.

Book Review: I’m Looking Through You

Have you ever purchased a book because of the descriptive blurb on the back cover or inside flap only to find that the blurb was written by someone who apparently never even read the book? That’s how I felt about I’m Looking Through You. I bought this book because it was touted as a memoir written by someone who grew up in a haunted house. It ended up being about that, but also about a person “haunted” by feeling trapped in the wrong gender.

Jennifer Finney Boylan was born James Finney Boylan in a wealthy, well-to-do Philadelphia family. To put the family in perspective, his father oversaw the merger that resulted in PNC Bank.  His family is lovingly portrayed as eccentric, kind, and talented, and I enjoyed Boylan’s writing style very much. I could really “see” her parents and sister, Lydia, as well as eccentric extended family members such as Gammie (grandmother) and various aunts, uncles, cousins and pets.

Jim, the author, moves into the Coffin House (named after a previous owner – but what a name!) when he’s an adolescent, and begins seeing apparitions in the decrepit old Victorian mansion. Apparitions of a woman in a night dress, a child, and a formless, frightening blob or mist appear and strange happenings, such as his chair moving by itself, are commonplace. Although frightened, Jim accepts the paranormal with aplomb. I liked that about him. It emphasized his quirkiness, which could have come off as annoying in the book, but instead made him endearing. 

The first third of the book is rather slow, although interesting and entertaining. We learn more about Jim’s family and his struggles with his gender. Although born male, Jim yearns to be female. He wears women’s clothing in secret, and his androgynous appearance and feminine tastes make him the target of cruel teenage bullies who called him derogatory names.  As Jim grows up in a haunted house, he also grows up feeling haunted by his own hidden life. He fails to have an intimate relationship, for example, with two different girls he’s interested in because he feels like a phony around them; how can you love someone, the author wonders, if you cannot reveal your true self to them?

Later on, the book moves more rapidly, first through his teens and early 20s and then beyond. The issue of his sex change operation that transformed Jim into Jenny is glossed over, and I had hoped by this time in the narrative to better understand the whole issue of transgendered people, who I freely confess, I don’t understand at all.  Perhaps that’s not the book Jennifer intended to write; she intended to write of growing up haunted, both externally and inside her own body as a boy.

Spoiler alert: The best scene in the whole book doesn’t involve a ghost. It involves an overflowing toilet. The toilet not only overflows, it backs up, and gallons of water flood the home…and I can’t say any more except it’s hilarious.

Jennifer Boylan can write, that’s for sure. She writes articulately and lyrically about haunted houses, haunted genders, and haunted relationships.

I probably wouldn’t have picked up this book if someone had told me it was about gender issues. But I’m glad I did. Maybe that was the intention of whoever wrote the jacket blurb – to introduce readers like me to author Jennifer Finney Boylan, a unique voice and strong talent in the world of memoir. I look forward to reading her next book and catching up with her previous books.

 

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5.  A good read that I bought from a book catalog. The link from the cover image of the book at the start of this review will take you to Amazon, where you can purchase the book. I receive a small commission for the sale but it does not affect your price in any way.

 

 

Book Review: The Exorcist

 

 

The Exorcist. What can you say about this book that hasn’t already been said – or said by fans of the film? Published over 40 years ago, the book reads as if it was written yesterday. William Peter Blatty managed to set the book in the 1970s without making it feel dated. I read the book once many years ago, and of course saw the movie, but reading it a second time gave me new insights into the characters – as well as made me notice a few flaws in the book itself, which upon casual first reading were hidden.

I won’t belabor the plot since it’s so familiar to most people. Chris McNeil, a movie star, is on location in Georgetown, Washington D.C. to finish filming a movie. She is a divorced mother with a young daughter, Reagan, servants named Karl and Willie, and a tutor for her daughter named Sharon. Her ex-husband Howard is out of the picture and she lost a son, James, to a medical mistake.

The book opens with an intriguing archaeological dig near Mosul, Iraq. We learn that the archaeologist is a Jesuit priest, who senses that an old enemy, a demon, has been awakened or is following him. It’s not really clear how he knows this or why.

The book then shifts to Washington D.C. Chris is an atheist, and allows her daughter to play with Ouija boards and the occult. Strange rappings and knocks begin after her daughter starts mucking around with  magic, culminating of course in the now famous possession of little Reagan.

A mysterious death linked to the house brings Lt. Kindermann into the picture, a bumbling Columbo-like detective who uses speech to deflect and misdirect suspects from his inquiries. Also brought into the case is psychiatrist and Jesuit priest Damien Karras, who is having a crisis of faith which sounds more like a caregivers’ exhaustion than anything else.

There’s guilt a-plenty in the household. Chris feels guilty about her divorce and the loss of her son, Damien feels guilty because he couldn’t care for his aging mother. Even Karl the servant has secrets to hide – his heroin-addicted, club-footed daughter.

The novel progresses as Chris tries modern science and psychiatry to get to the root of her daughter’s bizarre and dangerous behavior, only to find her turning to the church as a last resort. Damien must also reconcile faith and reason before seeking and receiving church permission to perform the exorcism.  It is only at the end of the book, when he chooses the ultimate sacrifice – his life for Reagan’s – that he resolves his crisis of faith.

So that’s the basic plot. It’s a fast-moving and gripping novel that you can’t put down, and although filled with profanity, disgusting desecration and a scene or two that will give you nightmares, it’s worth the read. But here’s where I find it flawed.

  • The opening – we meet Father Merin. Well and good. But he doesn’t arrive until the end, and then he leaves rather quickly. What’s his back story? We get hints that he battled this demon in Africa once before. That’s intriguing. Did the demon seek out a suitable host or did it seek out a host near Merin so that it could face him once again?
  • Reagan and the church desecrations.  Kindermann links paint found in Reagan’s play room and used to decorate a sculpture of a bird Reagan made for her mother to paint uses to desecrate a statue of the Virgin Mary in the nearby church. He also matches the font on Sharon’s typewriter to a note, typed in fluent Latin and filled with vile desecration, left in the church. We’re left to assume that Reagan somehow snuck out of the house while possessed and committed these atrocities. No one notices that an 11 year old girl has snuck out of the house carrying paint, or typing a lengthy note on the typewriter? When did these things happen in a house with three servants whose only job is to watch her while her mother works?
  • Damien Karras…an intriguing character to be sure. His back story is filled with the pain and longing of an immigrant. Is he an illegitimate child? His father is never mentioned. He is wracked with guilt, not just because he could not save his mother from illness and death, but because he was embarrassed by her and fled into the world of medicine, academia and religion to hide his past. He’s having a dreadful crisis of faith, which I felt strongly was brought about by over work, and probably reflects a crisis of faith that most thinking adults have at one time or another. A dark night of the soul, one might say.  It is beautifully reconciled in the book, but the narrator only focuses on him in the last quarter of the book.
  • Kindermann. On my second reading of the book, I found him to be a necessary but quite annoying character. He’s necessary because he adds to the tension – will he or won’t he accuse Reagan of the murder of the director? Will he insist on seeing her, and if he does, what then?  But he annoyed the heck out of me. Perhaps it’s the Columbo-like allusions. Was Columbo on television before or after Blatty wrote the book? I suppose it doesn’t matter. His quirks got on my nerve.

 

Is the book worth reading? Yes. It is a classic occult horror novel, and while graphic, filled with enough spine-tingling terror to make you keep the light on.

I bought my book from a catalog. You can purchase your copy by clicking on the picture, above, which will take you to an Amazon link to purchase the book. I receive a small commission on the sale but it does not affect your price.

 

 

Book Review: Faces in the Water by Janet Frame

 

Brutal. Honest. Evocative. Echoing loneliness. That’s how I felt about Janet Frame’s novel, Faces in the Water.  The prose offers a poetic, lyrical, haunting experience that makes this book worth reading. However, Istina, the narrator, offers so little in the way of information about herself that it’s hard to get beyond the disturbing images in this book.

The narrator of the novel is involuntarily incarcerated in a mental hospital in 1950s New Zealand. We aren’t told exactly why she’s there; it’s clear from the prose that she’s disturbed, but why? I think that was my biggest problem with the book. The author never gives us insight into why Istina is in the hospital in the first place, or why the doctors think she is insane. She is painfully shy and sensitive, but beyond that, the question remains: was she insane when she was committed, or did the brutal experiences inside the hospital drive her insane?

It’s a stunning question, isn’t it? Istina begins in an observation ward that doesn’t seem so bad, but she keeps getting shuffled around to various wards with increasingly disturbed patients. I lost track after a while of which ward she was in – the good one or the bad one? The one with the people who were clearly psychotic, or the one with what we would today called depressed people? It was hard sometimes to understand what was going on and why.

The best parts of the book came at the end, when Istina’s relationship with a nurse, Sister Bridge, leads her into a desperate cry for attention.  Sister Bridge is a mother figure to Istina, and the catalyst for her eventual return to normalcy, which seems to happen despite the hospital, not because of it. I got the feeling that Istina had some kind of relationship issues with her parents, especially her mother, and that her crushing loneliness and isolation had a lot to do with her mental illness. She is so socially inept, so awkward, that she almost cannot make lasting friendships with anyone, and that leads to yet more loneliness and pain.

At the end of the book, it is literature that saves Istina. She asks to visit the roving library van and gets lost in the books. Ironically, the hospital chaplain “catches” her in the van, and instead of recognizing her interest in literature as a possible sign of health and recovery, scolds and “tells” on her to the psychiatrists and nurses. Luckily, the doctors recognize her interest as a way to reach her, and even Dr. Portman, who we learn to dislike, comes to her aid, encouraging her to choose books for the patients and for her own reading. This leads her to wholeness again, and her eventual release from the hospital.

The book is disturbing in many ways. The treatment of the patients is horrific. They are openly mocked by the nursing staff, probably as a defensive mechanism by the nurses against the weight of the ever-present, incurable sickness in the wards. The hospital staff themselves is grossly over burdened, with a doctor-patient ratio of 100 or more patients to one doctor or nurse. Can you imagine? It’s amazing they are even kept fed and housed at that rate. No wonder none of them received anything but the most crude treatment in those days.

I read Janet Frame’s autobiography before I read her novels, and despite her protests that this novel is not “autobiographic”, it has so many parallels to her autobiography that it’s impossible not to say the novel IS in fact detailed closely on her life. The only different I could find is that Frame herself was saved from a lobotomy by winning a major literary prize with her first published book, a deus ex machina that you couldn’t make up if you tried. In the book, Istina begs the kindly Dr. Trace not to schedule her for the lobotomy, and it is her interest in literature, not her writing in and of itself, that keeps her from the surgeon’s table.  I imagine that Frame based the nurses, doctors, and fellow patients on her own experiences living in mental hospitals for over eight years, and that she probably rolled some of the details up into her fiction, merging several people into one to tell a more coherent story. Telling stories directly from life is difficult; truth is always stranger than believable fiction.

All in all, this is a masterful book. It was moving in ways I didn’t expect. Yes, I’m disappointed that I couldn’t figure out the why’s – why Istina was in the hospital, why she was considered ill, why she couldn’t reach out more coherently to the staff to prove her sanity.  But if I can set aside my whys, all I am left is the whats, and that alone makes this book worth reading.

4 out of 5 stars. The image and link in the first paragraph will take you to Amazon, where I purchased my copy. If you use my link to buy the book, I receive a little commission, which does not affect your prize. Thanks.

Book Review: Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb

 

If you’re a fan of J.D. Robb’s “In Death” series of futuristic mystery novels, you’re in for a treat. Concealed in Death is one of the better books in the series, a welcome relief to fans like me who were starting to wonder if Robb ( a pseudonym for romance novelist Nora Roberts) could continue the series without it deteriorating as some mystery series tend to do over time. Concealed in Death doesn’t disappoint and stands on its own as a fast-paced mystery as well as a good addition to the ongoing Eve Dallas saga.

The story begins with Roarke, Eve’s billionaire husband, ceremoniously knocking down a wall in a building his firm is renovating only to discover the skeletal remains of two people wrapped in plastic and hidden in the wall. Roarke calls in his wife, Lt. Eve Dallas of New York City’s homicide squad, to investigate. When the homicide department finds a total of 12 victims hidden in the walls, all girls between the ages of 12-14 and killed by apparently the same criminal, the case becomes complex.

Unlike the other books in the series, this one is sort of a cold case that Eve must solve through a lot of forensic and detective work. There aren’t as many fight scenes, futuristic weapons or strange antagonists. Instead, most of the action takes place at a group home for troubled kids run by a brother and sister team with truly kind hearts and good intentions. Roarke, Mavis, Leonardo, Peabody and the rest of the regulars make an appearance, but it’s mostly Eve, Roarke and Peabody working together to solve the case. We do learn more about Mavis, which is a good addition to the series. I happen to love the character of Mavis and learning about her past was an interesting diversion.

There are a few things, however, that continue to hamper the series. First is Robert’s peculiar, choppy style of writing in half sentences – “She walked. A duck, waddling.” I just made that up, but you get the idea.  But for me, the biggest hindrance to my truly loving this series is actually the character of Eve.

Eve is just too tough, too bitchy, too unlikable for me to believe that everyone loves her so much. I think if she was a real-life person, she wouldn’t have any friends, let alone a husband like Roarke!  She doesn’t treat people very well. When some of her frosty exterior melts, and she shows a glimmer of kindness, such as when she wears the goofy knitted hat and gloves Dennis Mira gives her in this book, I breathe a sigh of relief. At last, she’s turning into a regular person.

My other complaint? Roberts sets too many of these books at Christmastime. It’s always Thanksgiving or Christmas with glittery trees, angst about parties and presents, and nostalgia.  Doesn’t Eve solve crimes in the spring? The summer? The fall?

All in all, though, this is an interesting read and a book I enjoyed very much. I borrowed my copy from the library, but if you want to purchase a copy from Amazon, clicking the link above will take you to Amazon, and I will receive a small commission on the sale. It does not affect your price.

4 out of 5 stars for Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb

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