Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

342 pages

3/5 stars

Synopsis: Before We Were Yours starts out slowly introducing Rill and her family in 1939 Memphis, Tennessee. They are a well-meaning and unconventional family, with a number of children living with their unwed parents outside of society on a small shanty boat anchored on the Mississippi River. When the soon-to-be newest member of the family causes difficulties and threatens to take mother and child in the labor process, the father is forced to leave his children to take her to the hospital. Shortly after, their lives will all be dramatically changed.

Moving forward to present day Aiken, South Carolina, Avery is being groomed to take over her father’s place in politics following her successful career as a federal prosecutor. She is engaged to a man from a respectable family, if only they just had a chance to see each other every now and then and pin down the date for their mothers. But when Avery visits a senior center for publicity and sees a photograph of what appears to be her grandmother in the room of an elderly lady, Avery can’t shake the feeling that there is more to her grandmother than she thought.

The story is told within the historical context of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. From the 1920’s through the 1950’s, Tann organized and saw to the abduction, trafficking, and sale of thousands of children within her network of “foster homes.” Children, especially blonds, were targeted by “spotters” and snatched from porches, while walking to school, or otherwise unattended. Mothers still under sedation from delivery were tricked into signing paperwork that gave their children over to the Society. They were told a manner of lies to get their signature: that their baby had died during delivery and the signature would provide a burial for the child. Other fabrications insisted that in order to get the child medical treatment, they needed to turn over custody temporarily.*


Before We Were Yours starts slow, especially in getting to the main historical content. Chapters alternate between Rill’s story in 1939 and Avery’s in the present. While I eventually became interested in Rill’s story, I never grew attached to Avery’s character or her story. Despite ending the book firmly not liking Avery, I did appreciate that the author tried to addressed Avery’s white, rich privilege and had her question her assumptions and beliefs about herself and her family. Unfortunately, it felt like they were only superficial insights as it doesn’t change her much. I also found Avery to be incredibly naïve, especially for someone who is from the legal world and going into politics. Her belief that her family is squeaky clean, un-reproachable, and surely would never lie about their past to make them look better became tiresome and annoying. While I try not to let characters that I have soured to dictate my enjoyment of the novel, it is precisely that Avery didn’t grow in a meaningful way from her insights that made the ending fall flat for me. 

I wavered between 2.5 and 3 stars. I chose an average rating for a few reasons. The ending didn’t really explain why the sisters chose to keep their secret. The build up of the story doesn’t deliver. Instead, it circumnavigates around giving answers in order to wrap up with a happily-ever-after and a distraction of a romance sub-subplot. This gave it a feeling of being rushed and incomplete. The writing was another issue with overly puffed-up sentences and unnecessary and sometimes odd similes. Finally, I failed to see the way Rill’s character transitions from the past to the present. Her present self was written more like Camellia–with a bit of an attitude and snark. It doesn’t match the development and realizations that Rill goes through.

What Before We Were Yours lacked in clean structure and clarity of character development, it made up for in the emotional and mental revelations that came with learning about this piece of history. I was unaware of Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society before I pick this book and it spurred me to read more about it. Readers who enjoy historical fiction, non-linear or multiple timelines, or family-driven stories would enjoy Before We Were Yours.


* More information on Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

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Review: Verity by Colleen Hoover

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Verity by Colleen Hoover

333 pages

3/5 stars

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MILD CONTENT DEVELOPMENT SPOILERS AS NOTED.
It does not spoil the ending.

Verity is a famous and successful writer with a series focusing on the villain’s perspective. Lowen is a struggling writer coming back into the world after caring for her dying mother. When Lowen is offered a job to finish the last two books in Verity’s series, it is an opportunity of a lifetime. Lowen can keep Verity’s accident and paralyzed state a secret per the agreement. She can hide the growing feelings she has for Verity’s husband Jeremy to herself, too. And she is definitely going to hide Verity’s autobiography confessing more and more horrendous things she has done in the name of her love for Jeremy. But is the manuscript getting to Lowen? Why does it seem like Verity is always watching her? Is it really fair to Jeremy to have to take care of a wife he doesn’t really know? Wouldn’t it just be easier on them all if he knew the truth?

Right away, Verity starts out on a surprising note. The first sentence sets us up for a violent scene of a man run over by a car. Looking back after finishing the book, this event still feels as forced as it did when I first started reading it, but it is our early introduction of the man who is about to give Lowen a rare job offer and kick start the real story.

I really became interested after the secret autobiography was found. Things start to pick up and even get quite creepy once we start to absorb and share Lowen’s paranoia. It moves from an awkward set up into a engrossing quick burn. The ending offered a surprise that I did not see coming, which adds to the depth of the mental roller coaster the book builds on.

MILD CONTENT DEVELOPMENT SPOILER FOR THIS PARAGRAPH
Hating the main character worked for me in this story. Lowen is judgmental with flat, simple, bland, and naïve thinking. As we work our way through Verity’s manuscript, I felt for her at first. She didn’t want children but, as many women unfortunately do, she decided to keep them for the sake of her marriage and her husband’s happiness. Her struggle was with her version of happiness not lining up with Jeremy’s and I felt bad that she gave in to his. For Lowen to believe that every mother loves her child is quite a childish notion to have. Verity sacrificed her own happiness for Jeremy’s and that shows the strength of her love for him. Unfortunately, I found Jeremy to be dense and unaware. His selfishness doesn’t let him recognize how miserable Verity is nor does it allow her to share her feelings. If she even hints to Jeremy that she does not feel the same way about their children that he does, he immediately makes her seem like she has made a grave error. I felt this fed directly into her delusions and attempt to harm her child. While it was horrible to read and think someone could do that to a child, it sounded like postpartum psychosis to me. This does not excuse her actions, but I felt like there was a depth to Verity’s mental instability that was glossed over for the sake of Lowen’s judgement and justifications.

The writing, while engrossing and easy to get through, was occasionally problematic. Awkward wording such as “spent the past over a decade” was very jarring at times. Repetition slowed down the pace and flow, especially the numerous times it was mentioned that Verity wrote from the villain’s perspective.

I picked Verity for one of my book club reads as a new-to-us genre because we were looking to delve into some romance while still using a familiar genre to ease us in. Hoover’s novel is billed as both romance and thriller, so I thought this would be a good choice. I don’t agree that this is a romance book. I don’t agree that just because there is sex in a book written by a woman that it automatically should get called labeled as such either–even if that author has wrote in that genre in the past.

While I took issue with many aspects of the characters, I think it allowed for the story to come together under those flaws. People are flawed. If you are looking for a suspenseful story that leaves a creepy aftertaste, pick Verity up.

Review: The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

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The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, Philip Gabriel (Translator)

288 pages

4/5 stars

Synopsis: Nana the cat is on a road trip. He is not sure where he’s going or why, but it means that he gets to sit in the front seat of a silver van with his beloved owner, Satoru. Side by side, they cruise around Japan through the changing seasons, visiting Satoru’s old friends. He meets Yoshimine, the brusque and unsentimental farmer for whom cats are just ratters; Sugi and Chikako, the warm-hearted couple who run a pet-friendly B&B; and Kosuke, the mournful husband whose cat-loving wife has just left him. There’s even a very special dog who forces Nana to reassess his disdain for the canine species.
But what is the purpose of this road trip? And why is everyone so interested in Nana? Nana does not know and Satoru won’t say. But when Nana finally works it out, his small heart will break…


The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a beautiful book that looks at the relationships we build with people, animals, and our environment throughout our lives. The book starts with Nana and the careful approach of a human with a silver van. The beginning is simple, but right away you experience the emotion of connection between cat and human; witnessing the start of Nana and Satoru’s relationship and seeing it blossom into a loving companionship.

While Nana is not aware, the cause for the road trip to visit friends is subtly laid out. It was nothing surprising, but that is part of what made this book work. The gentleness of Satoru is a breath of fresh air and in the end, you feel as though he has also touched your life with a short-yet-deep relationship of your own.

While the end was sad, it was also so very touching. I’m not drawn to stories that make you cry, but the connections that The Travelling Cat Chronicles explores are so personal and identifiable that the beauty of them can be empathized with. I cried. Hard. I’m crying now just thinking about it again. But it was the meaningful, loving relationship that makes it all worth it. I can’t help but to think of my own fur babies and how much I love them when I think about this story. It makes you appreciate them that much more.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles isn’t just for cat lovers or even animal lovers, though they will certainly take the book to heart. The friends that Satoru visits also share their stories of how they met and how Satoru has affected their lives. Pick this up if you are looking for a tender look at love, relationships, and loss with a good helping of animal perspective. Just bring some tissues.

Review: Men at Sea by Riff Reb’s

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Men at Sea by Riff Reb’s (Illustrations)

120 pages

5/5 stars

Synopsis: Men of the Sea is an opus of eight spectacularly drawn dark poetic stories adapted by Riff Reb’s. This collection offers: “A Smile of Fortune” from Joseph Conrad; “The Sea Horses” and “The Shamraken Homeward Bound” from William Hope Hodgson; “The Galley Slaves” and “The Far South” from Pierre Mac Orlan; “A Descent into the Maelstrom” from Edgar Allan Poe; “The Three Customs Officers” from Marcel Schwob; “The Shipwreck” from Robert Louis Stevenson.These eight tales themselves interspersed by seven double-page spreads dedicated to extracts from illustrated classics deliver a rich poetic and masterfully crafted work.


Men at Sea is a spectacularly illustrated graphic novel that features eight short stories and samples seven more. They are as dark and turbulent as the sea that binds them all together. The illustrations are heavy and dark, which gives off an ominous tone that takes the forefront of the collection. The short stories are made even more pronounced by the single color tones used to highlight each tale. Excerpts of other stories are done in single cell black and white, which are laid out between each of the short stories.

While I understand this is a precise and condensed collection of stories meant to show the remarkable illustrations, I really would love to see more! The stories and images work well with each other and are executed masterfully. If it were possible to give the works of Poe and all the other authors an even more macabre, Gothic, and haunting tone, Men at Sea has done it and has done it very well.

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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The Martian (The Martian #1) by Andy Weir

5/5 stars

369 pages

Synopsis: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. 

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. 

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?


So I’m late to the party on this one! I picked up The Martian because a patron recommended it to me. I was telling her that I need to read more science fiction, but my problem is that I need it to be as scientifically plausible/accurate as possible. Hard Sci Fi. I loved the amount of work Michael Crichton put into Jurassic Park and, as always, I’m trying to read more broadly. If you Google best hard sci fi lists, The Martian is usually always on there. It has also been on my radar since before it became a movie (which I watched and thought was alright). So, I picked up our second copy and dove in. And then I couldn’t put it down.

Mark Watney’s character is just hilarious. Much of the text is written in the form of prompts that he is using to record his life stranded on Mars. We get to see his strokes of brilliance and ingenuity as well as his tantrums and panic–which is what I think makes the book so easy to get in to. He is very relatable. Not so much in the rocket science, mechanical engineer, botanist smarts (thought that was great fun for me to read, understand, and learn), but in the humanity that he brings to his isolation. He probably would find that hilarious. Me bringing up his humanity as the sole resident martian. A dual-citizenship of two planets.

As for the science part, it fascinated me. I’m a science geek, so when Mark talks about bacterial reproduction for martian soil fertilizing, I’m hooked. (Okay, so don’t let that sentence fool you. Weir really does a great job of making the processes funny and understandable.) Only towards the end of the book did some of the science go over my head and kind of left me glossy-eyed. But I still got the gist of what was happening and it wasn’t really necessary that I understand the mechanics, it just adds a nice description of Mark’s thoughts and the reasoning behind his actions.

I also liked seeing the Earth-side of things. How an people from across the planet ended up working together to bring a single man back home. We also get to see the bureaucratic and tight-pursed side of things. People wondering if the millions upon millions of dollars that are going into the project to bring that one single person home is worth it. How these costs will effect future space operations. What information gets spun or withheld and why. These things are a reality. There will always be someone to say that it isn’t worth it to spend a lot of money to rescue a person. To question the worth of science. To say that science and knowledge are dangerous, so we shouldn’t attempt to learn and understand more. What has space and NASA ever done for us?

We also see the effects that isolation has on Mark. How he handles the most intense and extreme difficulties and the constant facing of near-death. He is the ultimate example of resilience and overcoming your difficulties. What Would Watney Do? He’d love to see that on a bumper sticker. So would I, for that matter.

The Martian is a fantastic novel and has achieved my rare 5 star approval. I would recommend it to anyone, whether you are a science fiction junkie or a picky reader like me. Ignore the movie. Read this book.

Review: A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

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A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

3/5 stars

432 pages

Synopsis: This panoramic thriller begins with one small mystery. The body of a young woman found in an Arizona border town, presumed to be an illegal immigrant, walks out of the town morgue. To the young CDC investigator called in to consult the local police, it’s a bizarre medical mystery.

More bodies, dead of a mysterious disease that solidifies their blood, are brought to the morgue, and disappear. In a futile game of catch-up, the CDC, the FBI, and the US government must come to terms with what they’re too late to stop: an epidemic of vampirism that will sweep first the United States, and then the world.

Impossibly strong, smart, poised, beautiful, and commanding, these vampires reject the term as derogatory, preferring the euphemistic “gloamings.” They quickly rise to prominence in all aspects of modern society: sports, entertainment, and business. Soon people are begging to be ‘re-created,’ willing to accept the risk of death if their bodies can’t handle the transformation. The stakes change yet again when a charismatic and wealthy businessman, recently turned, decides to do what none of his kind has done before: run for political office.

This sweeping yet deeply intimate fictional oral history–told from the perspectives of several players on all sides of the titular vampire uprising–is a genre-bending, shocking, immersive and subversive debut that is as addictive as the power it describes.


I really liked the premise for A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising. A human chronology of how vampires take over the world? Sounds good to me! Explaining vampirism with as close to medical virology as possible? Intriguing! Pseudo non-fiction? Bring it on!

What it lacked in cohesion, it made up for in novelty. The story is told in a choppy, but semi-continuous collection of accounts from various people involved at the heart of recognizing the Gloaming (vampire) development. Sources are even cited for legal matters, footnotes, and appendices. We start with the mysterious development of a virus and dead bodies disappearing from the morgue. Then word eventually breaks out of the NOBI (vampire) virus making people stronger, smarter, and developing a much longer lifespan. People want to willingly infect themselves, even without a guarantee of not making it through the process. Gloamings wanted rights and accommodations. Things began to change, but they were only of concern to those paying attention.

This is also about the time that the book starts to take on a novel-based storytelling, rather than the accounts that it started as. Background information that is not relevant to the story gets thrown in. Detailed descriptions of places or a main character describing the location of another character’s supposed story of when and how they were born really took away from the epistolary tone the book set itself up as. Then I started to wonder how some of the storytelling elements of these accounts were collected (which was distracting and detracting from the story).

I found the legal questions that arose from a new species of human being interesting to think about and consider. There was certainly a depth to the idea of how the ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) be interpreted when someone voluntarily and knowingly disables themselves through contracting a virus (versus unknowingly contracting one, being born with a disability, or getting hurt accidentally, for example).

The biggest problem that I had with the book was the sudden shift in focus. Towards the end, there was yet another element added to the story that changes everything we were told to begin with–which isn’t a collective history anymore. More aptly titled as an incomplete history, intriguing ideas like the Anoesis, vampires being drawn to gold, and the Knights Hospitaller were never fully developed and explored. This left you feeling like the ideas came about late in writing the book and were injected regardless of the effects it had on the entirety of the story. They certainly left me wanting. Should A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising turn out to have a companion novel, I think I would pick that up with the hopes of having these questions answered. Maybe we will get “A Vampire’s History of the Human Downfall.” I would probably change my rating then.

Review: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

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Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

3/5 stars

248 pages

Synopsis: In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.


Her Body and Other Parties offers eight tales of strange and speculative fiction. As with most collections of short stories, I had some I liked more than others. But even though that is the case with this book, I still felt something deep from them, even if they weren’t subjectively as entertaining as others.

“The Husband Stitch” is a retelling of “The Velvet Ribbon.” I had never heard of this story, even in Alvin Schwartz’s In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Storiesso it was very intriguing to me and I did not know where it was going. It takes on the ever present pressure women feel from men. A wearing down until you just give in to their demands to satisfy their fragile masculinity. Even if it kills us. 4/5 stars.

“Inventory” was a slow start while simultaneously catching my curiosity. The reader is set up to be a voyeur into the narrator’s world. Given glimpses of her life in the sexual partners she meets. The undercurrent of deadly disease that sweeps the country sets a somber tone. Interspersed are the narrators coping mechanism–list making–which hit a personal note. 3.5/5 stars.

“Mothers” had the most vagueness for me, which is probably due to such an unreliable narrator. I don’t like being around babies, so the baby in this story was just horrendous for me! I could feel the grating effects of it’s unknowable and inconsolable storms immediately. I was conflicted on whether I didn’t like the story or not, but decided that the baby was so well written that my displeasure and anxiety for the story was misplaced. That baby was the real monster for me, which is probably just one of the many ways you could interpret the story as a whole. 3.5/5 stars.

“Especially Heinous” took me a while to really get into. I’ve never watched a Law and Order show, so I didn’t think I would be able to relate or appreciate this story. The ghosts-with-bells-for-eyes piqued my interest, but the story didn’t start getting really interesting until “season 4” with Henson and Abler. The format that the story was delivered in was also interesting to use. Most of us have read plays with stage directions and the characters listed out, but I have never read a story through the lens of a TV blurb. It was quite an interesting reading experience. 4/5 stars.

“Real Women Have Bodies” was another slow go story, but by the end I was left quite in horror. This story, to me, was speaking to the roles women are put into and they become so embedded in fulfilling that role, they lose themselves in the process. They are just a role to be filled. Even if they chose the role initially (motherhood, the peacekeeper, the hard worker) they become the role to the point of being taken for granted. They may not know what to do when freedom of choice is given to them again and they choose to stay in the role. I think this is another story that could really be interpreted in a number of different ways. Even if you didn’t read a deeper meaning, the horror of the incorporeal women is enough to put you on edge. 3/5 stars.

“Eight Bites” was my least favorite story precisely because of the triggering it caused. There are very real triggers for some and body image/obsession is one. I’m normally not easily triggered by it even though I have personal issues with my weight, body image, and anxiety, but this one bothered me. I try and stay objective when I review and even in “mothers” I put aside my personal stressors to see the content, I had a hard time doing that for this one. I think this was because it was so specific and focused on food obsession. 1.5/5 stars.

“The Resident” was an ok read and felt very liquid at times. I wasn’t sure what was happening by the end. A strange foreboding grew and grew, but never seemed to reach a point. I got a vague sense of the narrator haunting the grounds, but it also seemed like she was really there. Is she trapped inside of her own mind? 2/5 stars

“Difficult at Parties” was the most obscure story. There is evidence that the women is recovering from some kind of assault, so beware if that triggers you. She is bruised and hurting both physically and mentally. In an attempt to bring back some normality or re-connection with herself and the man who is helping her, she turns to porn, but is left feeling worse because of the voices she hears underneath the sound. She tries and makes an effort to get out of her own head, but the voices in the recordings are a fixation and renew her instability. This was the story I wanted to read more of because I felt it was too fragmented to form an understanding or interpretation of. 2/5 stars.

I like the unabashed honesty that all of the story’s narrators have even if at times I could not follow their train of thought. They are all stories that are tinged with the eerie and unknown. Raw and exposed thought and emotions. Pick Her Body and Other Parties up if you are looking for some weird fiction.

Review: An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten

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An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargy (Translator)

3/5 stars

173 pages

Synopsis: Maud is an irascible 88-year-old Swedish woman with no family, no friends, and…no qualms about a little murder. This funny, irreverent story collection by Helene Tursten, author of the Irene Huss investigations, features two-never-before translated stories that will keep you laughing all the way to the retirement home.

Ever since her darling father’s untimely death when she was only eighteen, Maud has lived in the family’s spacious apartment in downtown Gothenburg rent-free, thanks to a minor clause in a hastily negotiated contract. That was how Maud learned that good things can come from tragedy. Now in her late eighties, Maud contents herself with traveling the world and surfing the net from the comfort of her father’s ancient armchair. It’s a solitary existence, but she likes it that way.

Over the course of her adventures—or misadventures—this little bold lady will handle a crisis with a local celebrity who has her eyes on Maud’s apartment, foil the engagement of her long-ago lover, and dispose of some pesky neighbors. But when the local authorities are called to investigate a murder in her apartment complex, will Maud be able to avoid suspicion, or will Detective Inspector Irene Huss see through her charade?


I picked up An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good for both of the book clubs I program for. I wasn’t sure if it was going to work at first because it is such a short book, but it packs a good punch. I’m not normally a mystery reader, so this allowed me to push my reading boundaries some more.

Darkly comedic and serious about her comfort, Maude is an 88 year old who will do anything for some peace, quiet, and chill time. I liked that the story revolved around an elderly lady. I can only think of one other book that I have read with older protagonists (Insomnia) and really like seeing action and adventure taking place in their lives.

As for Maude’s character, at first I thought the stories were just some fun and deadly jabs about the elderly and their preference for routine. But once we start learning about Maude and her past, you can see how her actions now were shaped by her pent up life back then. Her reactions to her situations are calculated and well thought out. She user her age to her advantage, from pretending she is slow and absent in her mind, to being in need of a walker or cane for mobility. But are her wits and keen mind enough to prevent her from being caught?

It is strange to say this, but the book and Maude herself are charming in their own way. Her murders become more improbable that she will get away with them, but that becomes part of the urge to read on. Cozy and enjoyable are not words that go hand in hand with murder, but An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good pulls it off.

Review: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

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Bluebird, Bluebird (Highway 59 #1) by Attica Locke

320 pages

2/5 stars

Synopsis: When it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules–a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, knows all too well. Deeply ambivalent about growing up black in the lone star state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him home.

When his allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he travels up Highway 59 to the small town of Lark, where two murders–a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman–have stirred up a hornet’s nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes–and save himself in the process–before Lark’s long-simmering racial fault lines erupt.

A rural noir suffused with the unique music, color, and nuance of East Texas, Bluebird, Bluebird is an exhilarating, timely novel about the collision of race and justice in America.


Crime isn’t my normal genre, so this pick for the book club I run now was a chance to push my boundaries. The writing in Bluebird, Bluebird sets the tone and pace of the story well. It is a slow burn that sometimes seems noir-esque, without the sexual tension (Darren’s thoughts about Randie are one sided and I didn’t feel they were honest. They seemed too quickly interjected and didn’t seem like his character). The old south is alive and well, which lets you easily envision the book playing out in black and white, despite it occurring in modern times. Your senses are shaken when you stop and think about the events taking place juxtaposed with the time they are taking place in.

While the writing itself is evocative, the characters themselves, especially the main characters, fell a bit flat and one dimensional to me. Darren’s struggles between law man and lawyer training didn’t capture me because he didn’t really give off the depth that was ascribed to him. Randie seemed stock “girlfriend who travels the world and doesn’t know what is really going on”. Geneva and Michael had more depth in their character through the actions they took than I found in Darren.

Though the story was steeped in uncertainty and the writing made it occasionally palpable, the ending was a whirlwind of confusion that was quickly pulled together. I understood the concepts that Locke was bringing into the story, showing how deep roots tangle and racism is still very much alive in America, but I didn’t feel that the characters actions were altogether addressed and accounted for. It seemed like too much of a neat bow for such sudden and controversial character revelations. I couldn’t tell if there was too much mystery or not enough for the content provided. There was no real closure on the case either. It just fades out.

I will say that the final chapter of Bluebird, Bluebird did create a bit of surprise that left me anticipating more. I’m not sure if I will pick up the next book in the series, but I do think that fans of mystery and noir would enjoy this book better than I did.