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Posts Tagged ‘Mystery’

Fiction Review – Searching for Sylvie Lee

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

Searching for Sylvie Lee: A Novel

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I am a big fan of Jean Kwok. I read Mambo in Chinatown in one day and thoroughly enjoyed Girl in Translation. Kwok creates characters who are strong yet vulnerable and makes them relatable to any culture. When I learned of Kwok’s newest release, Searching for Sylvie Lee, I knew I had to add it to my summer reading list. Kwok’s novel was also selected as the Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club selection for June and is a NY Times bestseller so there was a lot of buzz that encouraged me to read it!

Sylvie Lee is the oldest daughter of Chinese immigrants and, from the outside, it looks like she has everything together. She is college educated, leading an accomplished career, beautiful and married to a handsome husband. Her parents are extremely proud of what she has accomplished and her younger sister Amy adores her.  Sylvie spent her early years in the Netherlands with her grandmother and aunt’s family and when her grandmother is ailing, Sylvie returns to the Netherlands to see her grandmother one more time. When Sylvie’s family realizes she has gone missing in the Netherlands, Amy travels there to try to get answers and find Sylvie. In the process of her search, Amy learns a lot about herself and inner strength, but she also learns the secrets of Sylvie’s life and the truth of how she went missing.

Searching for Sylvie Lee is a intricate, poignant story about family secrets and family dynamics that impact every family member in a different way. I wasn’t expecting the range of emotions I experienced while reading this book. I had moments of anger, confusion, joy and sadness; it actually took me a few days to wrap my mind around all of the emotions and process them all. Kwok created a family that was damaged and loving at the same time. Some people hurt each other through their love and others wanted to support each other through love, and isn’t that such an accurate portrayal of real life? People do all kinds of things in the name of love, good and bad.

Kwok’s novel was emotionally deeper than I was expecting. I loved the complexity of the characters and how they were relatable in spite of that complexity. The way that Kwok reveals the story through the various characters’ voices is intelligent and engrossing, yet easy to read. I am giving this book 4 out of 5 stars. I really enjoyed it and the themes were deep and emotional. Kwok navigates the waters of family drama with heart and soul. I would highly recommend adding Searching for Sylvie Lee to your summer reading list!

While you’re on PBS, check out my reviews of Kwok’s Mambo in Chinatown (review here) and Girl in Translation (review here) on the PaperBackSwap Blog!  I would love to know if you also enjoy Kwok’s novels and your thoughts on any of her books!

 

 

 

 

Fiction Review – The Double Bind

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

The Double Bind

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

The Double Bind begins with a very straight-forward account of a horrific attack on the main character Laurel Estabrook when she is out for a bike ride. Years later, having put the pieces of her life back together as best she can, Laurel now works at a homeless shelter and she has given up biking. She has removed herself from a lot of social activities and has insulated herself with limited relationships with family and close friend Talia. Laurel often dates older men, but she resists entering into a committed relationship with any of them.

Through Laurel’s position at the homeless shelter, she is tasked with sorting through photographs presumed to have been taken by a formerly homeless man, Bobbie Crocker, who Laurel had helped through the shelter. Katherine, Laurel’s supervisor at the shelter, hopes creating an exhibition with Bobbie’s photographs will help bring attention to the shelter and serve as a fundraiser for their efforts.

Laurel’s interest in Bobbie’s photographs soon take her down a path of mystery but is her interest turning into an obsession? Is Bobbie somehow connected to the horrific event that changed Laurel’s life forever? Did Bobbie’s alcoholism and mental illness cause him to confuse his own reality with fiction? Is Laurel losing her own grasp on reality in an effort to learn more about Bobbie?

Bohjalian weaves mysteries and secrets together in a way that the reader is never really clear on what is real and what is the result of mental illness. I thought the storyline was very interesting, but I did find myself getting distracted by the integration of the characters from The Great Gatsby. I know from the author’s acknowledgements that he is a fan of The Great Gatsby and has read the novel many times. I, however, did not like the Fitzgerald novel and could barely get through it once. The inclusion of those characters was frustrating and I had some difficulty putting that aside to stay focused on Bohjalian’s characters and story.

The Double Bind was well thought out and deftly delivered to not give away too much of the mystery too soon. The structure of the novel and development of the main character are my main reasons for giving this novel 4 out of 5 stars. I definitely recommend it for those who want a thought-provoking novel with emotional grit. I would also recommend Bohjalian’s novel Midwives.

 

 

 

 

Fantasy Review – Midnight Crossroad

Friday, May 24th, 2019

Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas, Bk 1)

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Review by Mirah W (mwelday)

I really didn’t need to start a new series. I am already reading numerous series and I sometimes forget when new books are released, and then I get behind in my reading! But here I am, writing a post on Midnight Crossroad, book one of the Midnight, Texas series by Charlaine Harris.

Midnight, Texas is what could be described as a ‘one horse town’.  Midnight has seen better days, but now businesses are boarded up and residents have to go to other towns to take care of basic errands.  When Manfred Bernardo moves to town he is welcomed by a few of the locals, but he quickly realizes things are ‘different’ in Midnight.  There is a diner, a convenience store/gas station, and a pawn shop; these three locations are where most of the action takes place in this small town.

Bobo owns the pawn shop and is heartbroken that his girlfriend Aubrey has left him.  But did she just leave Bobo or did something more sinister happen?  Manfred Bernardo is new to town and works as a psychic.  But does he truly have a gift or is he a fake?  Fiji has a New Age shop in her home and describes herself as a witch.  But does she really have any powers? These characters are just the tip of the iceberg of the quirky residents in Midnight.

Now strangers are coming into Midnight and they’re asking questions about Aubrey and attacking the residents.  Who are these strangers and what are they really after? And can the locals all be trusted?  It seems the residents of Midnight all have secrets, and none react well when they believe their secrets will be exposed.

This book had its downfalls, but overall, I enjoyed it. I found it to be fast-paced and a fun escape, but I don’t think the plot was as exciting or as well-developed as previous Harris books. I think the characters were rather two-dimensional, but I am hoping there is more character development in the next books of the series because the characters were likeable and had redeeming qualities. There are obviously more secrets and true identities to be revealed and I’m curious what else can happen in this sleepy town.  One of my favorite things about this book was the inclusion of Lily Bard from Harris’s Lily Bard mystery series.

 

 

 

 

Audiobook Review – Her Final Breath (Tracy Crosswhite Book 2)

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

Her Final Breath (Tracy Crosswhite, Bk 2)

Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni
Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Tracy Crosswhite is back in the second novel of the Crosswhite series by Robert Dugoni. Her Final Breath picks up not too long after book one, My Sister’s Grave. You can check out my review for My Sister’s Grave here.

Her Final Breath takes the reader back to the case that was playing out in the background of book one. A murdered dancer’s case has been sent to cold cases, but a recent murder has brought the cold case back to the forefront. Unfortunately, clues are stacking up to make it look like these murders are the work of a serial killer.

At the start of the novel Tracy is left an eerie message with a noose hanging from the fence at the police’s firing range. Despite this threat, Tracy is assigned to lead the task force to catch the murderer who has been nicknamed The Cowboy. The killer leaves few clues and the task force is trying to put together a puzzle with very few pieces. Butting heads with her captain, Tracy does her best to keep following any leads, but she ends up placing herself closer to the noose of the killer.

I am curious how Tracy’s character will develop further in the series. Just two books in and she seems to be a target for the creepy characters, and I am already weary of it. I hope there is more dimension in the future books of the series as I do plan to continue reading.

I am glad Dugoni didn’t dismiss the case that was introduced in book one and that he concluded that mystery in book two. Some revelations were surprising and disturbing and I didn’t find Her Final Breath to be predictable; however, some parts were rather hard to follow. The main issue with the audiobook was the flashback portions were hard to navigate because the listener wasn’t aware when there was a break in the writing to indicate a new section within a chapter. Overall, I would recommend Her Final Breath, but would probably recommend reading, rather than listening, to the novel.

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Audiobook Review – Edinburgh Twilight

Monday, January 28th, 2019

 

Edinburgh Twilight by Carole Lawrence
Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton is humble, troubled, caring, and determined; the author Carole Lawrence combines these traits to create a detective who is thoughtful and thorough in his pursuit of justice. At first glance he may seem like the typical troubled protagonist, but as the book progressed, Ian came across as less stereotypical than I first thought.

Edinburgh Twilight sheds light on the dark underbelly of Edinburgh in the 1880s. In the Old Town, criminals and prostitutes are around every corner. When a young man is found dead, Detective Inspector Hamilton believes it is murder. He makes his case to his superior and is granted some leeway to pursue the case, along with the assistance of one young officer. As the story develops, they realize they have stumbled onto a serial killer who becomes known in Edinburgh as the Holyrood Strangler.

Ian is dogged in his pursuit of the killer and crosses paths with others who assist him in piecing together the truth about the killer. The cast of characters includes Ian’s aunt, a clingy librarian and a street kid…there are others but mentioning them here gives away a little too much in terms of plot and surprises.

I’ll cover my positives first. I thought the storyline was clear and the pieces came together nicely. The various characters each brought something new to the storyline. Ian was a great protagonist and hero in the novel. The author reveals a lot about Ian as the novel progresses to help the reader understand his motivations and personality. Additionally, the supporting cast of characters was well-balanced and purposeful in their place in the story. Now for the negatives. The narrator seemed a bit over the top. He did a great job of creating different voices, but some voices were exaggerated to the point of being a bit off-putting. Some of the language seemed like it was a bit too contemporary for the turn of the century. I am not as much of a stickler for this, but I know if I noticed it, a reader who looks for purist historical fiction may have a real issue. Despite the negatives, I would still recommend Edinburgh Twilight, but I am going to be reading, rather than listening, to book two Edinburgh Dusk.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – My Sister’s Grave

Monday, January 21st, 2019

My Sister's Grave (Tracy Crosswhite, Bk 1)

My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni

Review by Mirah W. (mwelday)

Tracy Crosswhite has carried guilt related to her sister Sarah’s death for a long time.  Almost 20 years ago, Tracy attended an event with her sister and rather than returning home with Sarah afterwards, Tracy went to dinner with her boyfriend.  On her way home, Sarah went missing and was presumed murdered, although her body was never found.  A suspect was arrested and imprisoned for the crime, but Tracy was always consumed with uncertainty due to her questions about certain facts of the case.

Now, years later, Sarah’s body has been discovered and Tracy begins a quest to discover the truth about Sarah’s death.  Tracy pursues her questions and moves closer to finding out the truth; however, there are people who don’t want her digging up old memories and old cases.  Tracy’s efforts are discouraged and the people she can trust are very few.

In Dugoni’s first Crosswhite novel, the reader really gets to know the complexity of Tracy’s emotions surrounding her family and the loss of her sister.  Tracy initially became a teacher, but her desire to seek justice for her sister drove her to become a homicide detective for the Seattle police.  Tracy’s grief and questions are all-consuming, and it impacts her relationships or inhibits her from even having relationships.  While Tracy’s character is complex (and I expect even further developed in upcoming novels in the Crosswhite series), the secondary characters are not dismissed.  Dugoni creates secondary characters who made me laugh, smile, cringe, and shake my head.  These characters add depth and personality to a novel that could otherwise have been taken to a very dark place by Tracy’s obsession with her sister’s murder.

I thought this was a well thought out crime novel, and while Sarah’s mystery is solved by the end, there is a crime Tracy is investigating as a Seattle homicide detective that plays out in the background of the novel. That crime is not solved and I hope it gets carried into book two of the series.  I do plan on continuing with the Tracy Crosswhite series and recommend the series to my fellow mystery buffs out there!

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – The Case of the Restless Redhead

Monday, April 9th, 2018

 

The Case of the Restless Redhead

by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

For starry-eyed Evelyn Bagby, Hollywood was the Tinsel Town without Pity. Her curves and red hair (but no freckles) attracted the shark Staunton Vester Gladden. He fed her the usual line that with his mentoring and agenting wizardry, “Baby, I can make you a star.” But under the guise of acting and deportment lessons, he embezzled her money. She ended up waiting tables.

Worse, she lands in court, charged with larceny. Her novice attorney recognizes ace lawyer Perry Mason, who chances to attend the trial. Perry’s solid advice enables the greenhorn to upend the testimony that would’ve sent Evelyn to the clink and obtains her grateful release.

Thanking Perry in his office soon after, Evelyn tells him and faithful assistant Della Street that she thinks Staunton Vester Gladden might be Steve Merrill, the second husband of a big Hollywood star. Perry gets her a waitressing job and promises to look into her case. Helping people who aren’t getting breaks is totally consistent with Perry’s way of doing business.

Staunton Vester Gladden ends up with a bullet in his head that he didn’t put there himself. The cops put the collar on Evelyn as the most obvious perp since she had a beef with old Staunton. I don’t think I’m giving away anything by revealing that the novel ends with a dramatic courtroom climax.

This is a better than average Mason story. The reason is that he boldly ignores evidence that exculpates Evelyn. He has figured out a key piece of the puzzle (that I won’t reveal here) which strips story-telling witnesses of their alibi.

A good one for both hardcore fans and newbies, this 1954 novel was the basis for the script for the first episode of the Raymond Burr television series. Whitney Blake, the mother of actress producer survivor Meredith Baxter, played Evelyn.