Marie’s Reading: “Girl Waits With Gun” by Amy Stewart

cover_girl_waits_with_gun_amy_stewartI’m a little late to the party on this one.  But I’m so glad I finally arrived!

Girl Waits With Gun is based on real people, and tells the story of one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the United States.  Her name was Constance Kopp, and she lived in Wyckoff, New Jersey.  One day when out in town with her sisters, Norma and Fleurette, a wealthy silk factory owner ran into their buggy with his car.  Constance’s attempts to get the silk man to pay a $50 repair bill swiftly snowball into a dangerous situation when the man refuses to pay up.  Throw in a gang, some gunplay, and a missing child, and then let Constance Kopp save the day.

This is the first in a series, and I’ve also just finished the second installment, Lady Cop Makes Trouble.  The second one builds on the first for sure, but it’s a great outing all on its own–Constance finds her job in jeopardy after a criminal escapes on her watch.  These mysteries are amusing and filled with great characters.  As mysteries both of these books are a nice blend of police work and the more amateur sleuth style, given how Constance is kind of in-between those two worlds.

The pace is quick and the writing is evocative. Stewart does a lot with just a few lines to bring a scene or setting to life.  These books are set in the 1910’s, and there’s just enough historical detail to add color and interest.  And the characters are very well-realized through the dialogue-driven stories.  Their relationships, particularly those between the Kopp sisters, are very well-drawn.  In Girl Waits With Gun we get Constance’s backstory, and that of her family, and learn how these sisters ended up on an isolated rural farm.

Constance is presented as no-nonsense and incredibly driven, and I like how matter-of-fact she is about her unorthodox (for her time) profession.  This real-life quote from Constance says it all:

“Some women prefer to stay at home and take care of the house. Let them. There are plenty who like that kind of work enough to do it. Others want something to do that will take them out among people and affairs. A woman should have the right to do any sort of work she wants to, provided she can do it.”

She’s good at what she does and she wants the opportunity to do her job.  That’s pretty much all there is to it.  I appreciate how Constance just gets on with things, and the story never gets bogged down with the social issues that it touches on.  These books are about Constance Kopp taking down criminals, and keeping you delightfully entertained while she does so.

If you want to learn more, Stewart’s website has some great background on the characters and on New Jersey/New York City in the 1910’s.  Check it out here.

And the third installment is due in September, so keep your eyes peeled this fall for Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions!

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage

all-things-cease-to-appear-1Quick one for today, post-gorgeous holiday weekend.  It’s a blend of suspense, mystery, ghost story, and family story told with rich prose and a haunting tone–All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage.

At the beginning of the story, George Clare finds his wife murdered in their old farmhouse in upstate New York.  He’s the immediate suspect, but his parents manage to bail him out, and the police can’t get enough evidence to bring a case against him.

From there, the story goes back in time to show the backstory of the Clares and the story of their marriage, and how the murder is just the latest crime in a string of them.  We also learn the story of the Hales, who owned the farm before the Clares moved in.  Soon the story shifts to more of a “how-dunnit” than a “who-dunnit,” blending with the story of a poor small town and the people who try to survive there.  There’s also just a hint of the supernatural, but just enough to add another dimension to the story and characters.

The sense of place and the atmosphere is wonderfully evocative–the whole book feels cold, a little desperate, a little bleak.  The intense moments sneak up on you.  This is a very rich, well-crafted story, with strong characters and a good dose of atmosphere.  The pace is slow, but the characters and the mystery keep the story going.

If you enjoy the Dublin Murder Squad books by Tana French, or the slightly-otherworldly intricate suspense of Jennifer McMahon, give this one a try!

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “Case Histories” by Kate Atkinson

case historiesCase Histories is the first in Kate Atkinson’s crime series starring private investigator Jackson Brodie.  In this first outing, Jackson becomes entangled in three old cases–a little girl who vanished from her yard, a young woman who was murdered while working at her father’s office, and another young woman who allegedly murdered her husband with an axe.  One by one these cases are resurrected, and Jackson finds himself following the interwoven threads of all three.

The plotting is intricate, with lots of characters and several story threads all going at once.  By the end every one of those threads has been tied up neatly, and it’s fun to watch them all fall into place.  The pacing is leisurely, so it never quite reaches the crescendo of a suspense novel or even a mystery, but it’s still compelling all the way through.  With her light touch and sense of humor, Atkinson also manages to make this novel seem like a light one–even though it deals with very heavy crimes, emotions, and dysfunction, nothing ever feels bleak or too dark.

The characters, and the wealth of personality and backstory Atkinson gives them, were all enjoyable.  Jackson is a great PI–an ex-soldier and ex-policeman with a heart of gold.  He’s got a tragic past and a rough present, complete with ex-wife and shared custody of a daughter.  In all, he’s got a very kind and capable sort of vibe–he reminds me a little of a nicer, less manipulative, softer-edged Mackey from the Dublin Murder Squad books.  At one point in the novel another character accuses Jackson of “becoming a woman.”  Which, while not very nice or politically correct, does get the character across.

I’d offer these as a read-alike to those who enjoy the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French.  The first is In The Woods. French’s work is darker and more disturbing, with a lot more of a psychological suspense bent, but the Jackson Brodie books still deliver a nice blend of police procedural, crime, and character-driven story.  You might also enjoy Christine Falls by Benjamin Black, the first in a series about Quirke, a pathologist in 1950’s Dublin, or Deborah Crombie’s mystery series starring Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James (the first is A Share in Death).

–Marie

Marie’s Favorite Reads of 2015

2015 was a tough reading year for me, in terms of favorite books.  In years past I’ve always had a few stand-outs, books I loved and devoured and then went off in search of more like them.  This year, not so much.

The sole honor in that category goes to Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, which I discovered and adored this past year.  French rekindled my love of Crime fiction, and I’ve been gravitating more and more toward that genre after spending quite a long time in Horror and Thriller/Suspense.  So the first in the series, In The Woods, is at the tip-top of my favorite reads list.

This past year has been tough in terms of getting out of my reading comfort zone as well.  Thanks to the lovely nonfiction reading group I belong to, I’ve been guaranteed to read at least one nonfiction title a month for the past year and a half.  I’m still really slow about it, though.  For some reason I never tear through nonfiction as I do a novel, despite the fact that we’ve read some great ones in that group.  You can check out our reading list here.  Though I loved them all, I starred my particular favorites.

All that said, here’s the pretty short list of my faves from 2015.  These aren’t necessarily books published in the past year, just ones I read.  Clicking on the title will take you to the blog post I wrote about the book.  Enjoy!

Marie’s Favorite Books of 2015

In the Woods

florence gordon

eileen

browsings

head full of ghosts

Chew

Tune in next time for the post where I’ll admit defeat on the Reading Challenge.   Happy reading!

–Marie

 

26 Books to Read in 2015: # 16

#16 is: A book you learned about because of this challenge.

Does it count if I learned about this book specifically because I was doing a search on NoveList in order to fulfill this challenge point?  And does it still count if I didn’t so much learn about this book but was rather reminded of its existence because of this challenge?

Why am I asking when I’ve already decided that it does?

shining girls

I knew of this one, of course.  The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes was published back in 2013, where it kept coming up on a lot of readalike lists and blogs, and was quite well-reviewed.

It’s a really great readalike for Tana French (Dublin Murder Squad) in terms of literary style.  Great turns of phrase, beautiful descriptions (even in the goriest places), and a lyrical style really elevate this thriller.

As does the intriguingly original plot: in 1931, Harper Curtis finds a time-travel portal in a nondescript Chicago house.  He also finds the names of women scrawled on the wall in an upstairs room–in his own handwriting.  From there Harper feels compelled by destiny to find each of these women wherever they are in time, and murder them.

(Aside: My husband made a good point: does it really count as a serial killer if the murders are non-linear?  Something to ponder.)

But Kirby, a young woman attacked in the early 1990’s, survives.  And she sets out to find the killer, using her internship at a Chicago newspaper to hunt for clues.

Chicago is practically a character in this novel, so great is the sense of place in every time period.  Though the snapshots are sometimes brief, Beukes still manages to create a perfect sense of time and location with three-dimensional characters.  The feel of The Shining Girls is gritty and realistic, even with the sci-fi elements.

If you stay alert for the intricate plotting and shifting perspectives, you’ll be rewarded with an immersive, compelling, sometimes disturbing blend of thriller and crime.

–Marie

 

 

2015 Edgar Awards

Belated drumroll please!

The winners of the 2015 Edgar Awards were announced on April 29th.  The Edgar Allan Poe Awards are given by the Mystery Writers of America, to honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, and television each year.

This year’s nominees are interesting in that there are only a couple of straight-up mysteries–most of these titles fit more comfortably in Crime, even edging into the Horror end of the spectrum.

For instance, the winner for best novel was Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes, about a suicidal ex-cop who receives a letter by someone who claims to have killed eight people by running them down with a stolen Mercedes.  I haven’t read this one myself yet, but knowing King’s style this novel probably has a fairly dark and suspenseful tone to it.  Though I could be wrong!

One mustn't judge a book by the raining blood on its cover, after all.
One mustn’t judge a book by the raining blood on its cover, after all.

You can learn more about the Mystery Writers of America by clicking here.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Panopticon” by Jenni Fagan

panopticonCompletely Personal Opinion Ahead:  I loved this book.  I loved it unreservedly and could find nothing wrong with it at all.  It’s on my favorites list for 2013.  This is the first time this year, I think, that I’ve been able to say that wholeheartedly and without any quibbling about a new novel.

That said, this is a tough novel, and one that probably won’t appeal to everyone.  The Panopticon is not anything like what you might infer from the dust jacket description.  It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.  I mean that in the best possible way.  From what I read about the book I was led to believe that this was one of those dystopia sort of novels, with the girl vs. the establishment plotline as its centerpiece.  I have no doubt this was precisely what the marketing department wanted me to think.

That is not what The Panopticon is.  At all.  Instead, it’s a story about a troubled but fundamentally kind and honorable fifteen-year-old girl named Anais.  She is in the Panopticon (a home for chronic juvenile offenders) while the police try to uncover whether or not she beat a police officer nearly to death.  Her sometime boyfriend is in prison, and the foster mother who she loved and had lived with longer than any other was murdered.  There’s a lot of bleakness in Anais’s life, and a lot of trauma in her history.  Sometimes it’s tough to feel sympathy for her in light of her actions, but that just makes her so much more real.

This novel is compelling, affecting, and tip-top in the unreliable narrator department.  Anais’s story isn’t a comfortable one to read, but it’s one that makes you care about her and feel invested in what happens to her.  Fagan displays a real talent for tone and for character voices, and her writing style is reminiscent of Irvine Welsh.  There’s also a bit of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest here, in the sense that these kids in the Panopticon band together and rebel against an establishment that fails them repeatedly.

As for the unreliable narrator aspect…Anais does a lot of drugs.  A lot of drugs.  All through the novel she talks about the Experiment, and people who fade in and out of the walls.  This Experiment, Anais believes, grew her in a test tube and now follows her everywhere, just waiting.   We’re in Anais’s head the entire time for this novel, so it’s really up to you to decide whether she’s delusional.

I was very reminded of Lisa O’Donnell’s The Death of Bees while reading The Panopticon.  This novel has a heck of a lot in common with Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, too.  Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman and The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds are both excellent novels about girls with troubled home lives and pasts who nonetheless find strength and support networks for themselves.  (Click here for my review of The Sweet In-Between.)  Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell might also be a good choice for readers who enjoy bleak, tough stories with a strong protagonist and a Western sort of feel.

As I mentioned, this book owes a lot to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, so that could also be a readalike.  A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess might also appeal to some who liked The Panopticon, but only if you want to go even further into completely bleak and disturbing territory.

I absolutely loved this novel.  I was swept up and compelled all the way through.  Anais and her story got to me on a visceral level, which is exactly what I love to have happen when I read a book.  I was sad and uncomfortable and moved and angry and sympathetic all by turns while reading The Panopticon.  A great read, and one I’ll be talking up at the circulation desk.

–Marie