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Reading List by Sunita for September

Reading List by Sunita for September

While perusing Netgalley as well as recommendations from trusted sources, I discovered that a few of the books I was interested in were the second, third, or even later installments of a series. Then my list got longer when Carina Press put a slew of their mystery series’ first volumes on sale at $ .99. Being someone who likes to read in order, I went back to the beginning, and I had a great time.

 

Cornick Lady and LairdThe Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick

I reviewed and recommended one of Cornick’s other historical romances at the beginning of the year, and I finally got around to the first in her newest series. I’m mostly not reading Historical Romance for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, but Cornick often works for me, especially her early 19thC-set books. This series revolves around the MacMorlan sisters, with the first installment featuring a marriage of convenience story. Lady Lucy MacMorlan finds herself blackmailed into marriage by Robert, Marquis of Methven, who needs a wife and an heir within a short period of time if he is to keep his inheritance intact. Both Lucy and Robert are scarred by tragedies in their past, and despite their long-ago attraction to each other, neither wants to marry. But marry they do, and the second half of the story has them learning to trust each other enough to love, facing the fears born of their pasts, and vanquishing a villain. Cornick does a terrific job of bringing to life a Scotland we see all too infrequently in Historical Romance: don’t be fooled by the tartan on the cover, this isn’t Ochlassieland, it’s Scotland. I liked both Lucy and Methven, although both do a couple of things that seem plot-driven and out of character with their otherwise intelligent portrayals, and the misunderstanding that stretches out the last third of the story is briefer and more organic than in the last book. Grade: B

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Claverton Binary WitnessBinary Witness by Rosie Claverton

I saw a cover on Netgalley that really grabbed my interest, but when I read the blurb I realized it was the second in a series. Mulling it over, I checked out the first book and discovered it was only $ .99. I downloaded it, started reading, and was hooked. Amy Lane is a computer whiz who helps the Cardiff, Wales police force in their investigations. She is agoraphobic, so her sister arranges for her to have a cleaning service. Jason Carr shows up to clean her house, she reluctantly lets him in and a tentative friendship begins. Jason is an ex-con who needs a job and Amy needs both a clean apartment and a leg man. When women start disappearing, Amy and Jason combine forces to investigate, using Amy’s computer skills and Jason’s knowledge of Cardiff. The style is occasionally bumpy; it reads like a debut novel. I’m not a big fan of serial killer or women-in-jeopardy plots and this one took a long time to unspool. But I liked Amy and Jason so much I didn’t care. There is no romance between them, but it doesn’t seem out of the question for the future, so I hold out hope! Claverton is a hospital psychiatrist and both the Cardiff setting and Amy’s condition seemed very well done to me. I’m really looking forward to the next book, Code Runner. Grade: B-

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Murder-by-the-Seaside lindseyMurder by the Seaside by Julie Anne Lindsey

This is another first in a series from Carina, also $ .99, and it is most definitely a cozy mystery. Patience Price is a Human Resources professional who has been laid off from her job at the FBI. She comes home to Chincoteague Island, where her hippie parents still live, to set up a psychology practice. Her arrival coincides with a murder and her high-school flame is the most obvious suspect. Despite still being furious with him for the way he left town after graduation, Patience agrees to help find out what happened. This puts her in constant danger but it also integrates her back into the town. The writing is smooth and assured, and Patience has a very enjoyable voice. There are not one but two romantic possibilities, each different from the other, and Patience’s parents and friends, as well as the townspeople, are sketched deftly and with humor. This is not a city-awful, small-town-wonderful book; Patience goes back because she’s broke, and there are both good and bad people to deal with. I don’t know that I could read a ton of these types of light cozy mysteries in a row; there an awful lot of eccentric people and crazy events. But I enjoyed this one and have already added the next installment to my TBR. Grade: B-

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Wells Presumed DeadPresumed Dead by Shirley Wells

This is the third of my Carina $ .99 specials for the month (just call me Pavlov’s dog). This was written back in 2010 and is the first of the Dylan Scott mystery series. Scott is a policeman who lost his job for using excessive force on a suspect and went to prison for it. His wife has thrown him out of the house and seems ready to make it permanent, his mother has moved into his tiny new flat, but at least his son still loves him and he suddenly has a job offer to find out what happened to a woman who went missing thirteen years ago. I found Dylan really annoying in the first few pages, as he mentally insulted women drivers and talked about his wife as if she were a stereotype rather than a person he knew intimately and loved. I almost didn’t keep going, but I liked Wells’s voice, and Dylan improved immensely. He’s a bit of a clueless type when it comes to women, but he respects them more than I initially thought. The mystery itself is interesting and the missing woman comes to life as a sympathetic person over the course of the book. Dylan’s impromptu partnership with a retired policeman was enjoyable, and I especially liked his relationship with his son (despite their love of Arsenal). Both Dylan’s mother and wife are revealed (to the reader and to Dylan) to be complex and layered by the end, and the door is open for a reconciliation. The Lancashire setting was well depicted, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series. Grade: B-

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The Year We Fell Down (The Ivy Years #1) by Sarina Bowen The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

I bought this book because I couldn’t resist Jane’s money-back guarantee, especially given how many of my other DA and Twitter buddies had raved about it. I thought that if any NA book could work for me, this one would. And to some extent it did. I can see what readers have loved about it so much. Corey and Hartley are completely appealing, and Corey’s matter-of-fact approach to her disability is a refreshing change from genre fiction’s standard treatment of such issues. I agree that for someone who was injured so recently and whose life was turned upside down, her equanimity seems a bit overdone, but I’d rather have that than the angst-fests and appropriation I more often see. The depiction of the unnamed Ivy League institution is very well done, as is the general feel and rhythm of college life. I’m glad I read the book, but I’m not going on to the next in the series. One reason is that I grew tired of the narrator’s voice even though I didn’t get tired of her, if that makes sense. There is an artlessness to the writing that made it almost monotonous to read. I rarely find myself wishing for more complex prose in genre fiction, but here I did. The second reason is not about the book, it’s about me. As a college professor, it feels voyeuristic to read about the personal lives of students who are all too similar to the ones I see every day, and I can’t get them fully out of my head when I should be immersed in the story. That said, it feels like a very good example of the genre. Grade: B

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REVIEW:  The Body in the Woods by April Henry

REVIEW: The Body in the Woods by April Henry

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Dear readers,

Help me. I think I’ve done something to anger the universe. Why do I say that? Because I am lost in a swamp of books that, at best, can be described as meh. And at worst –

At worst, I get The Body in the Woods.

The premise is promising. Teenaged volunteers for a local search and rescue team stumble across a dead body while looking for a missing autistic man. Investigative shenanigans ensue. I can dig this. Search and rescue volunteers? Awesome. Teenaged amateur sleuths? I loved Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew as a kid. How can this go wrong?

Plenty of ways, apparently.

Let’s start with the three main characters: Ruby, Nick, and Alexis. Were their characters poorly fleshed out? Yes, but that’s not actually my complaint. All three of them have rather problematic depictions.

First, we have Nick. Nick’s father presumably died fighting in the Middle East and because Nick idolizes him, he dreams of becoming a soldier and living as a hero. And for various reasons, he’s prone to exaggeration and self-aggrandizing. Perfectly reasonable characterization. Then we discover Nick also has ADHD and I start to squint. Nick’s ADHD is referred to multiple times in the story as something both his mother and older brother worry about and I found myself asking that if this diagnosis is so well-known, is there any treatment happening? Is he taking medication? I don’t remember either being the case but if I’m wrong, please correct me.

But the main reason for my squinting at Nick? He’s a creeper. During the sections from his perspective, we see him ogling girls, finding excuses to talk to disinterested girls and thinking up ways to touch them. What the hell, I’m supposed to sympathize with this guy? Combine this behavior with the fact that Nick has ADHD, and I feel uneasy with the narrative implication.

That brings us to Ruby. Ruby is prone to obsessive behaviors. She’s viewed as strange by pretty much everyone around her. I read her as being neuroatypical — but perhaps undiagnosed. It’s not just the way she fixates on things. It’s the way she doesn’t understand human relationships and interactions and the way she assumes “roles” (“Good Daughter,” “Best Friend”, etc) when dealing with people. It’s the way she doesn’t know what’s appropriate behavior in various situations. I’m on board with all this but the way the narrative treated her — Ruby is played up as the odd duck and class weirdo. There are scenes where, due to her inability to read other people and determine what’s appropriate, the other characters find her annoying and I personally thought the narrative reinforced this impression.

Which brings us to Alexis. Alexis is poor. Her mother is mentally ill. Bipolar, of course, because all the “bad” parents of YA have bipolar disorder as far as I can tell. And this is not the dubious depiction of bipolar disorder that we see in books like Fangirl where the manic phases coincide with creative highs. No, this is full out off her meds and needs to be committed because the mother is a danger to herself and others but especially her daughter.

I don’t even know what to do with Alexis’s backstory. It’s classic “child takes care of mentally ill parent” played for sympathy and pity. Poor Alexis! She has such a hard life! No dad in sight, she lives off food stamps, and has a sick mom who refuses to take her meds!

Any one of these characters presented alone probably would have made me squint but all together? Side eye. Maybe the narrative is not intentionally saying anything but it’s definitely implying some things I don’t like. I don’t think I’m imagining it. There are some hinky things being said about people with mental disorders and who aren’t neurotypical, right?

As for the actual plot, save me. It was a mess. After finding the body, the team of Ruby, Alexis, and Nick decide that they can do a better job than the police themselves. Well, no, Ruby does because her obsessive behaviors make her pay closer attention to details than the police themselves and through the powers of Google, she quickly realizes the police have overlooked the fact that there is a serial killer on the loose targeting homeless girls.

(I am not even joking.)

Because of this, Ruby recruits Alexis and Nick in her impromptu investigation even though they’re not actually friends. Why? Because Ruby doesn’t have friends (she’s the class weirdo, remember?) but since Alexis and Nick were on her SAR team, they’ll help her, right? And they sort of do — except Nick uses the opportunity to inflate his own self-importance and Alexis vanishes for several chapters because she has to look for her mentally ill mom who has run away from home. But that subplot is not really extraneous because Alexis’s search leads her to mingle with homeless people (which included sleeping in a homeless shelter) and that offers her some insight into the case!

In case it wasn’t readily obvious, these were not the shenanigans I had hoped for when I picked up this mystery thriller. Of course, there are the more familiar tropes: multiple suspects, red herrings, wrongful arrests, and the killer targeting one of our protagonists. But combined with the other things, I just couldn’t take any of it seriously. If you’re going to include mental disorders in your book — even if it’s not the focus as in a problem novel — please treat the subject with the care it deserves. Not as a convenient plot device or personality quirk.

I just can’t recommend this book to anyone. It does move fast so I can see why some readers would find it a quick read but the characterization left much to be desired. That’s not even addressing the issues regarding mental disorders. It is the first of a series and based on the premise of the next book — budding creeper Nick is the main suspect of a murder because he’s a loner who plays first person shooters — it continues along the same vein. F

My regards,
Jia

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