Monthly Archives: March 2017

Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

                             GIRL IN DISGUISE by Greer Macallister

For fans of Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope mysteries and Amy Stewart’s Kopp Sisters novels…oh wait, that is me!  Greer Macallister introduces us to Kate Warne, a little known but actual person from the 1800s.

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Kate is recently widowed, without children, and suddenly in need of a job to support herself.  She fancies herself quite clever with detective work, and applies for a position with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, eventually landing the job and becoming Pinkerton’s first female detective.  The novel progresses with several vignettes of cases Kate works on so we can get to know her and her drive and determination, as well as the rest of the Pinkerton cast.  Kate is put in charge of her own band of “lady detectives,” with the expected push back from some of Pinkerton’s men.  Girl in Disguise culminates with a Civil War era case that includes protecting President Abraham Lincoln.

I tend to enjoy these historical fiction imaginings of little known but real women.  It is a great literary trick to give the reader information about a time and place, and about characters without spending too many pages.  There is an author’s note at the end of the book that points out where history leaves off and imagination begins, which is interesting to read after this well told adventurous mystery.

Here is a little more information from the Civil War Women blog:

http://www.civilwarwomenblog.com/kate-warne/

and from Civil War Talk:

http://civilwartalk.com/threads/so-who-on-earth-was-kate-warne.106447/

Highly recommended!  I am hoping for a sequel!

(If you can’t wait, Greer Macallister’s first novel is The Magician’s Lie.)

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The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

The Roanoke Girls.  Here is a novel about a big mid-western family with a whole ‘lotta crazy.  I have admittedly found it hard to stop reading psychological thrillers-I don’t enjoy violence or sex in them but the building tension and a surprise at the “ah-hah” moment has been very satisfying lately!

Lane Roanoke is living day-to-day in Los Angeles when she is contacted by her cousin Allegra, asking her to call her.  Lane ignores the message, but when Allegra disappears, Lane takes a page from Nancy Drew and heads back to Kansas to her grandparents home to help look for her.  And that is where any comparison to the wholesome, chaste, impeccably dressed sleuth ends.  Journey back in time eleven years to the summer shortly after Lane’s mother committed suicide and we get to know Lane and Allegra as teenagers in what on the surface looks like an idyllic summer vacation of sun, swimming holes, shopping, friends, boys, freedom.  Dig a little deeper and watch the dark family secrets unravel.

Interspersed between these chapters are the stories of the other Roanoke girls who all seem to coincidentally be dead.  There is a family tree at the beginning of the book that proved surprisingly helpful.  Is Allegra dead? Hiding? Playing mind games with Lane?  Why did Lane abruptly leave her grandparents home eleven years ago? Why are so many of these Roanoke girls dead?

Engel is a good story-teller, and despite not thinking a whole lot of the characters in this book, I was very curious to figure out the mystery, and appreciated the psychological tension.  She writes like this is real life; the only way to enjoy the book is to think fiction, fiction, fiction.

 

 

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The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

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Amidst my psychological thriller phase, I revisited the work of Flannery O’Connor, with the help of a brief course taught by a retired English teacher.  Each week we read three stories, listened to a lecture, and discussed our various takes on her work, most notably using the themes of faith, violence and retribution, justice; we also considered the external factors that might have influenced her writing, living in the south, her health, her family.  Having studied and liked O’Connor’s work while in college, I was interested in rereading some of these short stories, so I borrowed a copy of the book (it is what library people do) and dove in the evening before the first class.

I was hooked from the first sentence of each story, mesmerized by O’Connor’s writing and anxious to hear people’s reactions.  I was anxious to find out which friends read Flannery O’Connor and what they had to say.  The stories had a strangely satisfying and poignant darkness and an honest though often disappointing humanity.

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They were beautifully written; my fellow classmates had differing opinions about their meanings.  I then began reading articles about Flannery O’Connor (of which there are many), and stumbled on a 2010 biography by Brad Gooch.

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By the second week, I had purchased my own copy of the book. (less often the practice of library people) These are stories I know I will read over and over again, and will captivate me at different times.   I will want to share them.   I put The Complete Stories on our Staff Picks Shelf, and checked it out to a young mom who wanted to read something with teeth but only had time for short stories.  I found it again on our Staff Picks Shelf a few weeks later, placed on display by one of my colleagues.

I typically read new releases-not always best sellers, but recently published. (It is my secret to never having to wonder if I already read a book!)  I chat with patrons and colleagues, question my reading friends, browse Bookpage, Indiebound.org, Book Riot, Kirkus and other book websites for recommendations,  and then practically chase down the UPS man when the boxes arrive from Baker and Taylor.  I become excited by reviews and end up spending all of my reading time with brand new fiction and brand new memoirs.  Flannery O’Connor’s work made me want to go back and read some classics if you will, to discover and rediscover writers from the first half of the 20th century.

Some of my favorite stories are:  The Enduring Chill, The Comforts of Home, Everything that Rises Must Converge, Revelation, Parker’s Back, Judgement Day…I hope sometime soon when you are in between books or looking for a different kind of read that you will pick up some Flannery O’Connor and get lost between the pages.

 

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Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her Eyes Cover

This Falmouth Book Barista is on a psychological thriller tear!  How I leapt from historical fiction at every turn to this darker, suspenseful kind of story is still a mystery…

Behind Her Eyes  is about Louise, a single mother of a 6-year-old boy who, out for the first time in a long while,  meets a handsome stranger in a bar.  They kiss but the man decides not to take things any further.  That Monday morning, when Louise goes to the psychiatry practice where she is a part-time secretary, she discovers her new boss David is the handsome stranger from the bar.  She meets him again as he tours the office with his beautiful and very precisely put together wife Adele, and they quickly agree to act as if nothing ever happened.  And yet they can’t…

At school drop off, Louise literally bumps into Adele, and they end up going for coffee and becoming friends, each acting like they don’t know the other’s relationship to David. When Louise’s son heads to Paris with her ex husband for a month, all that free time provides opportunity for Louise and David to start an affair in earnest.  And for Louise to spend more time with Adele.  How long until these secret relationships are revealed to each other?  What will happen when the truth comes out?

There are great twists and turns and building suspense.  Behind Her Eyes was a satisfying page turner-a quick weekend read.  Every review I’ve read dares the reader to guess the ending and then begs them not to spoil it for their friends…so Mum’s the word!

 

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The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown

The Clairvoyants by Karen Brown was this past weekend’s read.  Brown teaches creative writing and literature at the University of South Florida, and this is her second novel.

The Clairvoyants is the story of Martha, a young woman who can see the dead, and her sister Del who has been in a psychiatric facility for the past three years. The novel alternates between their childhood and present day, revealing a little at a time Martha’s clairvoyant skills, the cons she and Del orchestrated, and the mystery surrounding the death of David Pinney, a boy they both liked when they were teens. His murder is one the police won’t quite give up on, coming to Martha’s home to question her regularly.  Her mother decides Martha needs to relocate to take the heat off, and sends her away to school at a college in Ithaca, New York.

Martha sees the ghost of Mary Rae as soon as she arrives in town.  As at home, she is curious but not beholden, intrigued but not responsible for any message the dead may want to impart on the living.  Martha follows Mary Rae’s ghost, who leads her to William, a professor at the college, a photographer, and a future paramour.

Meanwhile, Martha’s sister Del has liberated herself from her psychiatric hospital, and joins Martha in Ithaca.  Del lives in a small apartment downstairs in the same building, and befriends the mystic community as well as the local “Milton” girls.

I zipped right through The Clairvoyants, and when I couldn’t be reading, the characters were very present in my mind (perhaps a little like the dead people Martha sees.)  I was desperate to finish, getting up early and reading through my lunch to get to the satisfying conclusion.  This hypnotic book is again not my typical read, and yet was very enjoyable and certainly has this barista’s endorsement!

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