The Janes by Louisa Luna

The Janes: 9781922268495: Amazon.com: Books

I read the first installment of this series last year and loved it! “The Janes” by Lousia Luna is the gritty follow-up to the series debut “Two Girls Down” in which readers were introduced to enigmatic bounty hunter Alex Vega and her eventual partner, disgraced cop Max Caplan. It is not essential that you read “Two Girls Down” before you read “The Janes”. There is no carryover information that you need to have to understand this story, but you might have a little more insight into the main characters’ mindset in certain situations if you know the backstory of their first case. Also, it would be a chance to enjoy another good mystery!

Two unidentified young women’s bodies are found on the outskirts of San Diego. The local police and FBI reach out to Alice Vega, a private investigator known for finding the missing, to discover the identities of the Janes (short for Jane Doe). Forensic science quickly points Alice and Cap toward the theory that the Janes were part of a sex-trafficking ring and perhaps more. It becomes apparent that there are more girls, connected to the Janes, hidden somewhere in the area that urgently need to be found. More importantly, it is also clear that some dangerous and powerful people want Vega and Caplan off the case and that there is much more to the Janes’ case than what was initially revealed. Just when Vega and Cap think they have found the person responsible for the deaths of the Janes, they are told under no uncertain terms to stand down and go home. Knowing what is at stake for the still missing girls, they plunge ahead, more determined then ever to get some justice for the Janes and locate the other girls before it is too late. As the case evolves, the odds continue to stack up against the pair ever solving the case or even surviving it, which increases the tension and catapults the book to it’s conclusion.

“The Janes” is an adrenaline powered, well-plotted mystery/thriller driven by a strong female character where nothing is as straight forward as it seems and conspiracies abound. It deals with the tough current border issues of human trafficking and drugs. If you enjoy Robert Crais or Michael Connelly’s new detective Renee Ballard you will enjoy this book. If you enjoyed Alice Vega’s modus operandi in “The Janes”, I would also highly recommend Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield series (1995-2015).

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The Engineer’s Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood

Amazon.com: The Engineer's Wife: A Novel (9781492698135): Tracey ...

The Brooklyn Bridge! My cousin lives in Brooklyn and shares loads of pictures of the bridge, often while running. It seemed fitting that I would put down my phone after seeing her view of the Bridge and pick up The Engineer’s Wife by Tracey Enerson Wood, a new historical fiction read about Emily and Washington Roebling and the designing and building of this great landmark. P.T. Barnum and his Circus figure into the story as well.

Emily is 20 when she meets Wash at a dance while he and her brother GK are home from the Civil War. They are quickly smitten with each other, and end up marrying and Wash begins working for his father, John Roebling, the top wire producer and engineer of suspension bridges. They move to Brooklyn to start the Brooklyn Bridge. For their “honeymoon” Emily accompanies John to Germany to study pneumatic caissons and reveals she is with child. John’s passing from tetanus and Wash’s caisson illness, which is often incapacitating, provide the opportunity for Emily to become involved. Emily visits the project, then begins running messages, and slowly takes over the project management John can no longer oversee. She is thwarted each step of the way because she is a woman. Even the clothing she wears is a hindrance. PT Barnum, showman extraordinaire, meets Emily, sparking a sort of partnership that regularly borders on the inappropriate. However, he is an emotional support as Wash grows more and more distant, and more importantly, helps Emily develop her public speaking skills. We know how the story ends: I just saw another picture of the Brooklyn Bridge on Instagram. But what this delicious novel attempts to do is make us feel something about the bridge and all of the people who helped engineer and build it.

I liked Emily–how nothing was ever enough, her desire to have it all, like so many other women. She juggles being a wife, a mother, a daughter and sister, learning, listening to her calling, and much, much more. Her love and devotion for her husband was a good romance, and her separate and complicated relationship with PT was fascinating because he was so different from Wash. How much of that relationship was fabricated to support the story line I do not know, but it was nevertheless entertaining. I loved the reference to Amelia Bloomer when Emily starts wearing pants to the job site, sewn by Wash. I liked the suffrage angle and it made perfect sense for Emily to be involved in fighting for women’s rights at the same time as she worked in a very male world. She eventually managed to win over some of those men, mostly by proving herself competent, and mostly on a personal level. I was surprised by how many deaths there were and how sick workers became working on the bridge. OSHA would have work for years.

I realize this is historical fiction, and the real story might better be found in David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge or Silent Builder: Emily Warren Roebling and the Brooklyn Bridge by Marilyn E. Weigold, or by visiting Women at the Center, New York Historical Society Museum & Library

http://womenatthecenter.nyhistory.org/emily-warren-roebling-beyond-the-bridge/

[Side note for parents, here is a really neat book for the kiddos on Emily Roebling:

How Emily Saved the Bridge: The Story of Emily Warren Roebling and ...

Love it when there is a companion book for younger people!]

For the atmosphere, for exploring the inner feelings of Emily and to be moved by the story, I say The Engineer’s Wife is a success. As I read the author’s note, Wood was clear about what dates were adjusted for the sake of the story line and what aspects of relationships were embellished or imagined. Nonetheless, I learned a little more about bridge building, I met a few historical people, and I had a great read.

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The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin

The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin

Georgia Brown is a urologist at a private clinic in Charleston, South Carolina. Her best friend, Jonah Tsukada, is a family practice physician at the same clinic. Jonah’s transgender patients begin receiving letters from the management at the clinic saying they can no longer be treated by Dr. Tsukada or anyone else at the clinic. When Jonah and Georgia fight back, Jonah is fired and Georgia looks to be next. There are several accusations and suspicions, including a rumor that Jonah is stealing narcotics from the hospital pharmacy. The secondary plot line begins when Georgia is flying to a medical conference in Amsterdam just before the situation at the clinic ramps up for Jonah. Georgia saves the life of a passenger on her flight, and then becomes romantically involved with him. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a gratuitous romance; we learn more about Georgia through her new lover, and he does figure into the drama at the clinic.

The author, Kimmery Martin, is a doctor, and the medical details are fantastic, especially when it comes to the logic we read as a diagnosis is made. That pragmatism lends itself nicely to the over all plot, which I believe is a convincing tactic for the reader. The Antidote for Everything is a well written, nicely paced novel perfect for putting some current affairs into the conversation without being preachy. Five stars and great anticipation for Martin’s next novel from this avid reader!

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The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Amazon.com: The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires ...

Let’s get the elephant out of the room. This book is considered to be of the horror/humor persuasion. I know what you’re thinking, and you would be right-this book won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. However, I loved this book! It had everything that I love-a great story, characters you care about and sometimes identify with and in this case, a splash of horror(which I like) and once it shifted into high gear it never slowed down. “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” is a unique blend of horror and southern charm, and at it’s heart is a group of intelligent women, each very different, but bound by strong friendship. Don’t be fooled. This book will start slow and warm, like a summer day in the south, but then it will come on like the monster at its heart and by the time you close the cover, you may be sorry, like I was, that the book was over.

This story is set in South Carolina in 1988-1997 and our narrator, Patricia, a wife and mother, joins a book group whose preferred book selections are all in different categories of crime books. The normalcy of their community is shaken when newcomer James Harris arrives in town and soon children from low-income predominantly black neighborhoods begin to go missing and acting in strange ways. Patricia is convinced that James is responsible for these happenings, but she cannot convince any friends or family that she is right.

This book is scary in places. It is gory in places. It is at times psychologically stressful and tension emanates from the pages. There are scenes that I know I will remember for a long time. However, woven around all these horror tropes, is a book about friendships and the societal roles of women, wives and mothers. James Harris comes to town and takes away many things from Patricia and her friends. James befriends Patricia’s children and tries to turn them against her. He persuades her husband and his friends to invest in risky investments and worst of all, he manages to worm his way into Patricia’s beloved book group and change what it was to Patricia. In the end, James not only takes children, as Patricia believes he does, but also takes everything she cares about in her life, and for a while Patricia feels powerless to stop him.

Make no mistake, “The Southern Book club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires” is a horror story and definitely not for the faint of heart, but the rich character development and at times subtly biting social commentary, make it a book worthwhile of consideration for non-horror readers as well as the horror buff. If you ever had thought you might consider a horror story you might just try this one.***Warning: graphic, and violent and gory in some places(not many, but some)***

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Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Miss Mae Belle is a “conjure woman” on a southern plantation just before the Civil War. She helps other slaves during childbirth and “casts” healing spells on the ailing. She gives remedies she concocts from plants she finds around the plantation. She even tends to her Master’s diseases (the ones he wouldn’t want his own physician to be aware of). Mae Belle has one daughter, Rue, with a slave from another plantation. Mae Belle teaches her her craft so Rue can take over the healing when Mae Belle dies. Rue comes along at the same time as the Master’s daughter Varina, with his second wife, and the two play together, though the relationship is never quite in balance, as one might expect of a slave and the Master’s child. Add to this list a travelling preacher named Bruh Abel, Sarah and her “accursed” son Bean, and a series of haints haunting the living and we have our cast of characters.

When the Civil War ends, Marse Charles disappears, and his daughter Varina goes into hiding from all those seeking retribution. Rue helps with the birth of Bean, a very light baby with strange eyes who is soon blamed for the disease killing off the slave community. Bruh Abel arrives to save the afflicted. The community fills with fear and paranoia. And this is just some of the rich and complex plot. Mae Belle and Rue alter the narration, going back and forth in time and slowly filling in the whys. This nonlinear storytelling is very effective, filling in the gaps, answering the questions as needed, and often in hindsight.

I really liked Conjure Women. I liked the writing, and the interesting dichotomy at play as both narrators explore the power of healing, be it from a white doctor, a conjure woman, via voodoo, or prayer and faith miracles. How much one is willing to believe matches how desperate one is for a miracle. The storyline contains its fair share of harsh history, which is not always easy reading, but that did not make this book easy to put down…once I was in to the story, I was in. The relationship between Mae Belle and Rue, the loyalties in play and in question, and the atmosphere of the novel all make Conjure Women such worthwhile historical fiction.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing

I’ve been reading a lot during this time of quarantine, mostly new books which is my usual modus operandi, but every few reads, I revisit a favorite collection of essays (Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan or Find the Good by Heather Lende) short stories (The Collected Stories of Flannery O’Connor) and sometimes a book of poetry (The Human Line by Ellen Bass and Devotions by Mary Oliver lately have my attention.) I also browse my “TBR” stack and lists, checking for what is already on my shelves. My most recent read, Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, easily qualified. When first published, I read good reviews, and on our annual summer vacation on Kineo when I enjoy a wonderfully curated stack of books, one of my friends with a reading list I always respect was deeply engrossed.

The title Homegoing is taken from an old African belief that the death of a person allowed an enslaved spirit to return to Africa. Gyasi introduces two Asante women, Effie and Esi, half-sisters born to Maame in two different villages in Ghana. We follow their lineage from Ghana and the Gold Coast to the Atlantic slave trade to slavery in the United States, to Harlem and to Stanford in the present day, alternating stories of their offspring, where it seems that everyone is complicit in the outcomes. The language in this panoramic novel is powerful, the vignettes are raw and intense. These are snapshots of people and places that tell a story but by no means are a full history. The take-away for me, the why should I read this book, is in the emotional power of kindness and mercy and likewise cruelty and ruthless inhumanity. Homegoing is worth that experience. It is a book that should be in our hands and not just our To Be Read stack.

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Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Redhead by the Side of the Road

Truth: I will read anything Anne Tyler writes, without reading the inside flap or a review. She is that good and her writing really resonates with me. Redhead by the Side of the Road is her newest novel, and while it is short (I would consider it a novella) it is poignant. If you liked Be Frank with Me, if you liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and maybe also Where’d You Go Bernadette, Redhead might be for you.

Micah Mortimer is self-employed part time tech guru and part time building super, living a very routine and predictable life. Micah is not a risk taker; he is cautious to a fault and does what is right every time, until the woman he is dating tells him she might be evicted and needs a place to live, and a teenager arrives at his apartment claiming to be his son. Micah’s response to both of these events leads to his realization that the safety and security of the life Micah has created does not seem to compute any longer.

Micah is the latest in a long list of quirky protagonists peppering the books of Anne Tyler. I dare say if one met Micah in real life, he wouldn’t be memorable, and yet on Tyler’s pages, you will want to get to know him, to try to understand him, and to walk with him as he realizes that what he wants can change. You will remember him. Redhead by the Side of the Road is beautifully gentle, witty, ironic, and worth the read.

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