Monday, February 26, 2018

Old Sins and Secrets Never Die

John Hart
St. Martin's Minotaur
February 27, 2018

In John Hart's newest novel he revisits two characters from The Last Child, Johnny Merrimon, and Jack Cross. Ten years on, their lives have diverged widely, but the two are still the closest of friends. Jack is beginning his career as a bankruptcy lawyer, and Johnny has inherited a six thousand acre tract of swampland called "The Hush."Johnny built a cabin on the land and has essentially become a hermit, seldom going into town and living off the land. The notoriety from the events of The Last Child still clings to both, and they would prefer to stay out of the public eye as much as possible. But other people want the land; a billionaire game hunter, and the family of Isaac Fremantle. The property formerly belonged to the Merrimons but was deeded to the Fremantle family, along with manumission in 1853.The death of the last Fremantle male triggered the reversion of the property to Johnny. But there are very odd things happening both on the property and to Johnny himself, things that Jack finds frightening and dangerous.Old sins and secrets are coming to a head in The Hush.

John Hart has taken a significant risk with this novel with its jump from traditional thriller into magical realism. If you have difficulty with the suspension of disbelief, this may be a disappointment. Thinking back to The Last Child, the roots are there for this new story. I am, as always, dazzled by Hart's storytelling. It's not often that I read a book cover to cover in one day, but I couldn't put this one down. It is not necessary to read The Last Child to thoroughly enjoy The Hush, but I recommend it. 

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martins for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Friday, February 9, 2018

Charles Lenox as a Fledgling Detective

Charles Lenox Series #11
Charles Finch
St. Martin's Minotaur
February 20, 2018

In the most recent Charles Lenox series entry, author Charles Finch has provided a prequel set in 1850 detailing Lenox's first important case. Lenox, second son of a baronet, is newly "down" from Oxford and establishing a household of his own for the first time. His ambitions, either to open a detective agency or to travel, have met with a decidedly lukewarm reception from his father and derision from the society he moves in. He and his former scout at Oxford, Graham, spend their mornings combing through the broadsheets for crime news. When he discovers a letter in one of the papers boasting of a "perfect murder" he thinks he has found a connection to the case of an unknown woman found inside a trunk, floating in the Thames. He presents his theory to Scotland Yard, where it is met with some grudging support and more resistance. When a second woman is found on the bank of the river, the Yard and Lenox embark on a chase for the madman responsible. Charles is also dealing with the reality of his father's impending death, predicted to be within six months, and a case of unrequited love.

I have always admired the Charles Lenox series for the quality of Finch's writing, the settings, and the many interesting facts about the period that Finch drops effortlessly into the narrative. My favorite this time is the origin of the name of Great Scotland Street. I can't say that I ever connected with Lenox on an emotional level, or understood why he wanted to be a detective. The Woman in the Water changes that by introducing the 23-year-old Lenox with all his fears and insecurities. His interactions with his dying father, his mother, his brother are very revealing and emotional, without tipping into maudlin. We also get glimpses of long-time series characters; McConnell, a four-year-old John Dallington, and of course, the estimable Graham, and Lady Jane. Lenox makes several rookie mistakes in the investigation which might threaten his nearest and dearest. But even Scotland Yard reluctantly recognizes that he is more than a dilettante. Even his unwanted and disapproving housekeeper, Mrs. Huggins comes to a detente with Charles, providing some comic relief.

I highly recommend The Woman in the Water to both old and new readers of the series. Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Persuasion in Academia

Julia Sonneborn
Gallery Books
February 6, 2018

Anne Corey is a 30ish professor at a small liberal arts college in California. She has little to no time for a personal life, teaching a full schedule and trying to get tenure with the publication of an academic work on 19th-century women writers. Without a book contract, Anne is out of a job. If not for her friend, Larry, a colleague and best friend, she would have no life at all. It's the beginning of the year when she discovers that the new president of the college is Adam Martinez, a former classmate at Princeton and ex-fiance. The two dated throughout their university years and only broke up the day before graduation. Anne was feeling pressure from her judgemental father who wants her to be a lawyer, harpy of a sister, and college mentor to skip marriage in favor of a career. The argument was a silly one, but Anne used it to break up with Adam, and he, out of pride, let her do so. She is conflicted, having never really gotten over Adam. Adam is cooly friendly, but the two have little to say to each other. The writer-in-residence at the college for the year is a multi-award winning journalist and novelist who shows an interest in Anne. The two plunge into an affair quickly, but thoughts of Adam are never far from the surface.

By the Book is a thoroughly enjoyable read that gave me lots of laughs and even a few tears. The process of being published is represented by a series of rejection letters that range from hilarious to brutal. My favorite was one stating that her manuscript about 19th-century women writers would be significantly improved by the inclusion guessed Based on Jane Austen's Persuasion, By the Book is a delightful updating of that classic. Anne's sister, Lauren, turns out to be not such a harpy, as the two sisters bond in shared grief. Larry, Anne's gay colleague, and friend is exceptionally supportive and often hilarious. Anne discovers that "all that glitters is not gold" but will she and Adam have their "happy ever after.?" 

Thanks to Gallery and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars