Bittersweet – Susan Wittig Albert

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A holiday read (Thanksgiving), this has touches of that cutesy cozy holiday mystery genre that some readers find annoying — warm and fuzzy family stuff, trying to too hard to be cutesy, a huge cast of characters, and the need to wrap everything up in a super happy tidy bow.

That said, we seemed to like this.  The author’s depiction of the Texas Hill Country was declared to be spot on, we liked the plant references and the food, and we found the story of hunting and those weird deer strangely interesting.

Joan found the narrator’s need to hint at upcoming death and destruction annoying because, hello?  It’s a mystery.  Murder and mayhem are par for the course.

We also found the prologue’s introduction of the bad guys too distant from the part of the story actually dealing with those men and then, we didn’t know which bad guy was which.  Who was the pilot?  By the end, though, it wasn’t really that important — we knew we didn’t like them.

All in all, we enjoyed the book and were intrigued to learn that the author has quite a number of books under her belt, to include Nancy Drew mysteries.

Favorite characters – The first person who dies (no spoiler!), Mack (would like to read more books with her in them), the little girl; the hunky sheriff, and the old vet.

Least – China (a bit of a busybody), Letha (fake and a twit), Derek, Ronald and Thomas Perry, Ethan and Murphy.

 

3.5 stars.

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Treachery at Lancaster Gate – Anne Perry

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Well, this landed with a thud.  The group was NOT impressed and two of our members didn’t finish it, even after reading 100 pages.  Members of the group found it tedious.  The writing style was awkward and the redundant internal landscape of the characters was blamed.

It WAS rather different from what we’ve read in the past.  Set in a different era (Victorian), with different modes of transportation, coldness, and fog.  Lots of fog.  We also dealt with different strata of society, the sense of entitlement in the upper levels (affluenza!), women and their place in that society, and the internal dialogue about what it means to be a policeman that we haven’t really gotten before.

The whole concept of a police force was pretty new at this time and Tellman’s stubborn belief that policemen couldn’t be bad because, well, they just COULDN’T, was fairly naïve.  Men are men, no matter what their profession.  And bullies are bullies.

The men and their respective desires to be home was lovely and charming.  The women and their ability to get right to the point, read people and their reactions, and hear what wasn’t being said were all charming.  A portrayal of such a different time and place.  Joan couldn’t imagine going to a party with that much style and grace and ferret out, with a witty quip, just what was being said and done.  So fun to watch!

Favorite characters – Aunt Vespasia, all of the wives, Lord Narraway, Josiah Abercorn was so wonderfully awful.  Also, what a great name!  Alexander because of his loyalty to his dead friend, even to his end.  Tellman for his sensitivity and determination, even when he knew it wasn’t going to end well.

Least favorite – Godfrey Duncannon, Jack because I wanted him to suck it up, step aside, and let Pitt do his job.  Ednam, the dead guy.

 

 

Little Shoes: The Sensational Depression-Era Murders That Became My Family’s Secret – Pamela Everett

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While we had hoped that the author would come and speak at our meeting, at the last minute, she had to cancel.  But being a determined group, we pressed on.  Besides, Joan brought cookies.

We agreed that the author did an excellent job of presenting the case and we found the various threads of her family’s history, the historical and cultural implications of the crime, and the investigative process nicely woven together.  Of those threads, the author’s personal story of her search for the truth was most compelling.  It gave the reader an emotional connection to the story that we don’t usually see.

The story didn’t drag and we all hoped for Dyer’s reprieve right up until the end.  We found the beginning of the particularly engrossing, while the courtroom chapters were dryer and less gripping.  Joan also brought maps showing the route the little girls would have had to walk both in modern-day terms, and in terms of what the area looked like in the 1930s.  This bit of evidence, more than anything else, convinced us of Dyer’s innocence.

The subject, of course, is horrifying, but on the flip side, we found  so many things about the era and the way people reacted to the crime fascinating — Newspaper coverage from coast to coast; people going to the courthouse, night after night, demanding justice; people sitting down and writing letters with the thought and time that went into their protests and queries.  And we found it very interesting that these letters and newspaper accounts still survive to allow the author to re-live that time and to shine light on an important historical case.

Favorite Character – The author, whose personality and presence is felt throughout the book.  Loyal and stalwart Haskell Wright.  The father of the Everett girls.

Least Favorite Character – The judge.  Albert Dyer – Joan wanted to slap him and tell him to just shut up.  We also didn’t like Dyer’s wife.

 

The Scarred Woman – Jussi Adler-Olsen

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It was a truth universally acknowledged that this was a depressing book filled with unlikable characters.  Because this was by a Danish author, Pam really liked it and has read others in the series.  The rest of us were not impressed.  Those of us actually finished it (some didn’t), found it to be a very tough book to slog through.  Particularly at the beginning when there were so many characters and points of view, none of them likeable.  We agreed that it was probably the least likeable group of characters to inhabit a book that we’ve encountered in quite some time.

Joan pointed out, though, that as she kept reading, she started to see the humor, which is what Pam likes about this series.  The characters are all perfectly awful, but the absurdity of the characters started to show and bad guys almost hilariously got what was coming to them in perfectly awful ways.

All in all, an interesting story, horrible characters notwithstanding.  A commentary on Denmark’s culture, the ongoing impact of the Nazi era, and how the media isn’t doing anyone any favors when it touts the idea that a person’s beauty is the sole measure of their worth.

Joan’s big question was who was Rose’s father?  That had to be the reason her “father” was so terrible to her — she wasn’t his.  It will probably pop up in the next book, but most of will never know because we won’t be reading it.

We agreed that it was less a police procedural and more of a visit to a nut house.

Favorite Characters – We ranged from liking no one to liking the Nazi because he was the only stable character and he knew what he wanted.  Carl, Gordon, and Assad (sure want to know what his story is and why there’s so many mysteries about him)

Least Favorite Characters – All of the women, and then specifically the Icelandic girl, the t.v. crew, the grandmother, Denise’s mother, the higher ups at the police station.  Jazmine.  Anne-Line.  Wow, truly awful, yet cunning.  The cold-blooded Denise.

 

Steel Kiss – Jeffery Deaver

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This was another one of those books that made Joan very twitchy because of the suspense.  And when she gets nervous, she eats cookies.  Lots of cookies.  But the group liked the way the author used suspense, implied violence, and misdirection.

That being said, we also felt manipulated by the author and felt like we were lead astray with misleads, blindsides, and the requirement to suspend our disbelief.  And in the end, we wanted to know WHY the bad guy just gave up.  There didn’t really seem to be a real reason to do it.

There were really so many interesting, well-rounded characters.  Even though this book is part of a series, and the characters have been around for a while, the author did a great job of presenting the reader with more than mere sketches.  Amelia Sachs seems to be being another one of those stereotypical female homicide detectives like Heat, Beckett, and Rizzoli & Isles.  Stunningly gorgeous, kick-ass detectives.

We liked the weaving of the multiple plot lines through the book.  Of particular interest was Amelia and her interaction with Nick, and Lincoln with his new intern.

We did get a little tired of Amelia driving around like a madwoman, though, even if the car was cool.

All in all, we enjoyed it.

Favorite characters – Rose, Sachs’ mom because she was least developed and therefore, had no flaws; Amelia, because she brought the team together and did amazing things; Archer; Lincoln who was kind of a brilliant ass, but he seems to have met his match in brilliance in Archer; Thom.  Everyone loves a man who cooks and serves drinks.

Least favorite characters – Sachs; Vernon, who was just sad; Alicia, Nick, the charming rogue

 

Fool Me Once – Harlan Coben

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SPOILER ALERT — Some plot points might be revealed below.

We really enjoyed this book and unanimously agreed that it was an intriguing mystery, with interesting characters and a compelling story.  We found the concept of a female soldier with debilitating PTSD to be a fascinating concept and not something one usually sees.  Sadly, their stories are not heard frequently enough.  And then her investigative skills were so spot on.  But a question was raised early in our discussion as to WHY she was working so hard to solve the mystery when she already knew the truth.  To establish an alibi or discover the whys and wherefores?  But then again, if you’re constantly hearing the noise of battle, how sane can you be?

We liked Eddie getting his poop together and liked that his healing seemed to have been caused by Lily’s laughter.  We also liked Maya’s disconnect and observation of the world around her, but most of didn’t see it as a clue to what was really going on.

We had a bit of a discussion about the difference between the West Coast and the East Coast and how long-established families have a different attitude.  They have a long-established sense of entitlement and an almost rabid need to protect their names.  This is all a huge generalization, but interesting insight into why Joe’s family, particularly his mother, were the way they were.

The ending was a complete shocker to most of us.

Favorite – Maya — we empathized with her, but then at the end, felt we’d been played by her.  Shane, Eddie, Lily who saved Eddie from himself, Kierce, Joe, and the patriarch of Joe’s family who knew what Joe was and tried to protect the family from him.

Least Favorite – Joe and his family, Judith in particular; Kierce, the hairy detective; the servants who were tools to Joe’s family.

 

Killer Look – Linda Fairstein

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We had a most excellent turn-out — probably the biggest crowd to date.  We briefly pondered the terms “group” (as in therapy) and “coven” as they relate to our gathering before turning to Byanka’s cookies.  And the poor dear suffered through the meeting having read the wrong book!

On the whole, we liked this.  Turns out we have a few former models in the group so the fashion aspect of the book was appreciated.  But it was just that angle of the book that lost others.  Some felt the fashion details got old, quickly.

Some liked the book and want to read others by the author.  The classic “whodunit” was appreciated and declared to be a nice read for a snowy day.  But there were comments of it being”so so,” ho-hum,” and “all right.”

Favorite Characters – We generally weren’t terribly impressed with the characters and some of us didn’t get all that invested in them.  Alex was okay.  Mike was trying to do the right thing.  The two detectives.  Mercer, though details weren’t memorable.  When pressed, Mary Crowley’s name came up.  Tiz.  Even though she didn’t show up until the end, at least she was entertaining.  Mrs. Stafford and her scotch and pearls.  She was the only one who didn’t want anything in return.

Least Favorite Characters – Alex, for herself and for her ability to muck with an investigation. Hal, Mike, and Reed, seeing as how he was the reason for the money problems in the first place.  Wolf enabled everyone.  David, Lily’s husband.  The whole Savage family was rather unlikable.

 

We also had a brief discussion about the book coming in July, Little Shoes: The Sensational Depression-Era Murders That Became My Family’s Secret (see the sidebar).  Joan has requested the library order six (6) copies and the author will be coming to talk to us.

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