fiction

Book Review: Girl A by Abigail Dean

I somehow missed the nightmare Turpin case when it broke, but I’ve followed it ever since I learned about it (my God. Those poor kids). So when I learned about Girl A by Abigail Dean (Viking, 2021), a novel that seemed like a fictionalized account of the Turpin story, set in Great Britain, it went onto my list. It took for-ev-er for this to actually be in at the library, however; seems as though everyone in my town is just as horrified by that story as I am.

Girl A is Alexandra, or Lex, the eldest daughter and second eldest child of the Gracie family, where eight children were discovered, chained and emaciated, living in unbelievable filth. She’s the one who escaped, who dropped from a second-story window and broke her leg in the process, but who saved her other siblings. Her father poisoned himself before the police showed up, and Mom went to prison; now, at the beginning of the story, Lex is an adult, a lawyer, traveling back to England from New York City, to deal with her mother’s death.

The story jumps back and forth in time, from what happened leading up to the dramatic rescue of the Gracie children, to how growing up in such terrible conditions affected the children as adults. Some have fared better than others; no one has made it out unscathed.

This is a hard book to describe. None of the adult Gracie children are particularly likeable; some of them are a bit frightening in their ability to manipulate. Several are just tragic. It’s hard to get a full read on Lex, since she’s so damaged and deals with that damage by drinking a lot. A revelation later on in the book had me questioning pretty much everything about her, and the murky conclusion didn’t help matters at all.

I enjoyed the storytelling of this novel, but I wish there had been more concrete conclusions, and that it had felt more solid as a whole. If you’ve read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Visit Abigail Dean’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

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fiction · thriller

Book Review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White

I have a love-hate relationship with missing child stories. On one hand, they’re incredibly hard to read. How do you even survive any of that? On the other hand, it’s like a bruise I can’t stop poking at (I blame growing up with Soul Asylum’s Runaway Train blaring on MTV, the pictures of missing children and teenagers running on a loop on the screen every few hours during my early teen years). The Nowhere Child by Christian White (Affirm Press, 2018) ended up on my list as soon as I learned about it; a missing child, a multi-continental story, a weird religious group…yup, I was in.

A strange man shows up in Kim Leamy’s Australian town one day, making claims that she’s not who she thinks she is: she’s actually Sammy Went, who went missing from a small Kentucky town almost thirty years ago. At first, Kim finds his story ridiculous (her late mother, a kidnapper? Hardly)…but then things start to add up, and her stepfather very obviously knows more than he’s saying. When the man reveals himself to be Kim’s biological brother, she knows she needs to figure this all out, so it’s off to America to learn the truth.

The Went family already had deep cracks by the time Sammy was born; father Jack had tried to bury his attraction to men, but that wasn’t working out so well; mother Molly’s fierce devotion to the snake-handling church Jack grew up in and has since abandoned is dividing everyone in the family and pushing Jack even further away. When two-year-old Sammy goes missing, long-hidden secrets come to light, but it’ll take decades before the truth really comes out.

This is a really solid thriller, one that involves a dangerous cult whose devotion to remaining ‘other’ costs lives. Complicating everything are Jack’s sexuality in a time and place that refuses to understand it and thus his need to keep it hidden, teenager Emma’s difficulty with her parents, and, in the current-day sections of the narrative, Kim’s piece-by-piece uncovering of the reality of who she is and how small-town secrets conspired to keep the truth of Sammy’s disappearance under wraps for so long.

The book goes back and forth in time, switching from third person narration by various characters, to first person narration by Kim. This keeps the story moving, but it also serves well to keep the reader on edge, guessing about what really happened, who was really involved, and why. I’m usually pretty bad at figuring out whodunit, but I had this one kinda pegged early on, though the why of it all wasn’t fully fleshed out in my mind until the full explanation appeared in the book. I enjoyed following the characters on their journeys. There are some surprises here, but all in all, this was a good, solid, enjoyable read.

Visit Christian White’s website here.

nonfiction

Book Review: The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands by Jon Billman

I have a horror-based fascination with the entire concept of missing people (I fully blame Soul Asylum’s music video for Runaway Train in the early 90’s; that video, which played on repeat throughout my teenage years, is seared into my brain). So when I was going through my emails and came across a Book Riot email that contained a review for The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands by Jon Billman (Grand Central Publishing, 2020), my eyes flew open and I added it to my list immediately. I’m not much of an outdoorsy person or adventurer, but I’m also kind of fascinated by stories of outdoor adventures gone wrong, so I knew this book would be right up my alley, and it was.

A brief warning, however: this book talks a lot about death, and about unresolved loss, meaning, missing people whose cases are never solved, who simply vanish and their families never get any answers about what happened to them. It’s heavy, and devastatingly sad. Wait until you’re ready to carry their stories until you pick this book up.

Writer Jon Billman follows the case of Jacob Gray, a young man who went missing in Olympic National Park, to delve deeply into the subject of the people who go missing in the wilds of American (and some Canadian) national parks. What happens when someone is reported missing? If you’re expecting a massive search complete with teams of park employees and helicopter patrols, one that doesn’t rest until the missing person is found, you’re only partly correct – a small part. It really depends on where the person goes missing.

Mr. Billman follows Randy, Jacob’s father, in his determined search for his son up and down the west coast. Along the way, he interviews the people he meets who spend their time searching for the missing: volunteers, bloodhound owners, professional trackers, Bigfoot aficionados (no, really). He and Randy even meet up with a cult (the Twelve Tribes; I’ve run into this group in Nashville) in the hopes that Jacob, who was religious, had joined up with them. Mr. Billman’s quiet, compassionate observations, always lacking judgment, paint a moving tribute to the many families devastated by the disappearance of a loved one into the vast wilderness of public lands.

This book was fascinating. It’s one that I couldn’t wait to return to every night, to see where Jon Billman would follow Randy Gray next, to learn who he would talk to and the stories he would learn about. Who would be found? Who would be found alive? What happened that these people disappeared, and how did the families who never got answers cope? Mr. Billman didn’t just interview these people over coffee, either; he strapped on a backpack, laced up his hiking books, and followed them over rocky terrain and down steep slopes; he camped with them overnight in bear country and slogged in squishy socks through rain-soaked forests. He lived the life of someone desperately searching for a loved one, and that adds such a depth to this book.

The Cold Vanish will go on my list of one of the best books I read this year. It’s that good. Highly recommended.

Follow Jon Billman on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: Invisible City (Rebekah Roberts #1) by Julia Dahl

I *think* Invisible City (Rebekah Roberts #1) by Julia Dahl (Minotaur Books, 2014) ended up on my list during the time I searched for Jewish books in my library’s digital card catalog, but I could be wrong. I’m a member of a few different book groups on Facebook, so it could have come from there. Either way, it ended up on my list as an ebook, and I dragged my feet long enough that my library no longer had it listed as an ebook. Bummer! (And I’ve got a new attitude about how quickly I’ll get to ebooks on my list.) Interlibrary loan to the rescue!

Rebekah Roberts is a young reporter on the beat in New York City for one of the city’s rattiest tabloids. She’s the daughter of a Christian father (who raised her) and a Hasidic mother (who split and returned to her community not long after Rebekah’s birth, leaving Rebekah angry and bitter and confused), and when she’s assigned to the story about a dead body discovered in a scrapyard, she’s on it…and is even more intrigued when she finds out the victim was a young Hasidic mother, and the scrapyard is Hasidic-owned.

The police’s chummy relationship with the Hasidic community means the investigation barely gets off the ground, and thanks to a friend of her father’s, Rebekah finds herself deep in the search for the truth. What happened to Rivka that she ended up dangling from a crane in a scrapyard? What did her insular community have to do with the circumstances that led to her death? And what does all of this have to do with Rebekah and her mother?

I have mixed feelings about this one. I don’t read a ton of thrillers and crime novels (and I’m absolute garbage at figuring out whodunit), but I tend to enjoy most of the ones I do read. I enjoyed the pacing of this story; it moved quickly but without keeping me anxious and on the edge of my seat, which I can’t stand. The writing was fine; I didn’t find it anything phenomenal, but it was readable without having to think too deeply, which I appreciate. I’m not much of a literary fiction reader; when I dive into fiction, I’m doing it to be entertained, not to discuss the themes of the book with a group of professors at a wine and cheese party.

The setting was interesting. There aren’t a ton of novels out there set among the Hasidic community, so that felt fresh, but Rebekah’s lack of curiosity about the Judaism she inherited from her mother was a bit irritating to me. Her anger at her mother was understandable, but her almost complete lack of knowledge (despite her dad being some sort of religious scholar), felt…off.

What didn’t work for me was the disrespect I felt towards multiple groups in this book. Let’s start with the Hasidic Jewish community. These are people living their lives in the way they think is best. I disagree with a lot of what they believe and teach, but they’re still my people, and it irks me a bit to see them placed in such a fishbowl. There are many, many problems in the community (as happens in every insular group out there), but to me, this felt like all those books setting romances and thrillers in the Amish community: exploitative. It felt more to me like this community was the setting for a grisly murder of a young mother more for the shock value than anything, and that bothered me. Especially since this is a series and there’s another Hasidic murder in the next book. This bothered me a lot as I got deeper into the book.

Secondly, the constant use of mental illness as a reason for violence really bothered me. I’m not saying that the Hasidic community does a great job dealing with mental illness; from what I’ve read, a lot gets swept under the rug for fear of making families look bad and ruining chances of children making good marriages (sigh). But mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims of serious crimes than to be the ones committing them, and perpetuating this stereotype that mentally ill people are often violent and go around constantly murdering people…nope. Didn’t like that one bit. And there’s a LOT of references to mental illness in this book that didn’t quite hit the mark for me as a respectful, thoughtful way to discuss these conditions, even in a community who doesn’t necessarily have a perfect track record in how they handle it.

So this book had its ups and downs for me. I likely won’t continue on with the series, though I am curious what happens if/when Rebekah makes contact with her mother. If you’ve read the series, feel free to spoil this for me in the comments. ; )

Visit Julia Dahl’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction · true crime

Book Review: Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession by Sarah Weinman

A few years ago, I read The Real Lolita: The Kidnaping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman, which only made sense thanks to my earlier reading of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It (the first book!) was a fascinating and compelling read, and it put Sarah Weinman on my radar. So when I learned about her new true crime anthology, Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession (Ecco, 2020), I slapped that bad boy onto my list.

I went into this anthology expecting the book to continue as it starts, with stories that recap true crime tales like a finely-tuned episode of Dateline (which I occasionally listen to as a podcast). The anthology starts out strong, only to get even better. Beyond delving into stories of murder and deception, this book also takes a hard look at the true crime genre as a whole. Whose stories are told- and whose aren’t, and why? What does it mean that we as a society are so fascinated by these real-life stories of terrible, violent death? What happens in the aftermath of these stories? And what does cleanup look like after someone picks up a gun?

This is a lot more than whodunnit, than a voyeuristic peek into blood-spattered rooms and chilled interrogation chambers. This is intriguing reporting that asks hard questions and demands that we ask ourselves hard questions. What are we getting out of this ethically dubious genre? Look harder at the aftermath of these crimes, at the broken families plagued by grief and the unknowns, at the hospitals struggling to keep up with the trauma victims and the survivors whose wounds stay with them long after the gun stops smoking and the knife is cleaned off. Think a little harder; examine what pulls you so strongly to this genre and why, and what you can take from it in order to make our society a more just place for everyone.

My goodness, this was incredible. There’s some powerful writing in this book, both in terms of narrative ability, and in terms of straight-up journalism that strikes all the right chords. There’s an article about a trauma surgeon tasked with repairing gunshot victims; you may be surprised at how not-linear their recoveries often are. A piece on the impact of the band Soul Train’s early 90’s video for their hit song ‘Runaway Train’ is deeply moving; I had actually read this article before but appreciated coming back to it, as the song and its accompanying videos (plural) of missing and exploited kids, still tugs at my heart. And a story of a murdered mother who turned out not to be who she said she was fascinated me- it’s near the beginning, and I bet it’ll pull you in as well.

If you enjoy the true crime genre, this is truly an anthology you cannot miss. I blew through the whole book in one afternoon and am sorry that there aren’t 23748324032 other volumes to accompany it. This was phenomenal.

Visit Sarah Weinman’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell

My mom sometimes brings me books.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate it. I do. It’s very sweet and thoughtful of her, and I love that she thinks of me. But there’s not a ton of overlap in my mom’s and my taste in books. I’m not sure she’s ever read a nonfiction book as an adult, and she loves Nicholas Sparks way more than I think is healthy, but I still always read the things she brings me (eventually!) even if they’re not exactly my taste. Because that’s what daughters who love their moms do. 😊 And that’s how I ended up with a copy of It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell (St. Martin’s Press, 2017). It’s been sitting on my shelf for about two years, and I’m trying to read from that shelf in particular in order to make room to display some of my Jewish books. Thrillers aren’t necessarily my favorite genre, but I don’t mind them now and then, and this was okay.

The story features three friends who couldn’t possibly be more different, all starting out at one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. There’s Aubrey, who’s had a rough life and who’s looking for her time at Carlisle College to provide her with a better future; Jenny, a townie, cynical yet ambitious; and Kate, a ne’er-do-well daughter of privilege, for whom things always seem to work out, no matter how deep she gets into the muck. The three are assigned to room together; Aubrey’s naïve enough to buy whatever anyone is selling, but Jenny’s not as easily pulled into Kate’s vortex as everyone else around her seems to be. She still gets caught up in it, though, as Aubrey and Kate begin to spiral into some harmful behavior, and before they know it, a boy lies dead in the river, and another is left barely clinging to life, with no memory of what happened. All three girls were involved; no one is talking, and the cover-up, orchestrated by Kate’s influential father, is swift and all-encompassing.

Twenty years later, they’re all back in town again, back together, and suddenly there’s yet another body washed up in the river. Who is this woman? Who killed her? Long-buried secrets might unravel everyone’s lives. Friendship can be deadly…

So this was a decent thriller. I liked it, didn’t love it, but I feel that way about most thrillers, so that’s not particular to this one. What I did love, however, was how well Ms. Campbell crafted her characters. What was most remarkable to me was how deeply unlikeable almost every character in the novel was (there’s a female police officer whom I liked. That was really about it!). Aubrey is a social climber and desperate to sink her claws into Kate and what Kate’s status can bring her, and she doesn’t bother developing her own personality because of this. Ew. Jenny has her sights set on certain goals and allows herself to be manipulated in order to reach these goals (although there are some circumstances which make this a little more understandable), but she’s also willing to hide and destroy certain things in order to maintain a certain image. Ugh. And Kate is possibly one of the most manipulative characters I’ve ever read, and her pathetic, weak-willed boyfriend-turned-husband Griff had me rolling my eyes every time he opened his mouth. Gross. They were all such horrible, awful people that I was truly marveling at Ms. Campbell’s skill at creating a world filled with such unlikeable characters (and I swear, this is not sarcasm! This takes some serious skill as a writer and I’m in awe).

It was to the point where, by about three quarters of the way through, I wasn’t sure I cared whodunnit (meaning, which character in particular), because truly, everyone was so very awful that they all deserved some time in the slammer for various reasons! And the ending…predictable, yes, but honestly, it was pretty satisfying. I stayed up late to finish it, almost midnight- which is NOT something I make a habit out of; sleep is something I take pretty seriously after spending several years being dangerously sleep-deprived when my daughter was a baby- and was pretty happy with the way things wrapped up.

So if you’re looking for a decently-paced thriller stuffed with well-written, unlikeable characters you’d never want to hang out with in real life, It’s Always the Husband makes for a quick and fun read with a gratifying ending. Thanks, Mom!

Visit Michele Campbell’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · suspense

Book Review: A Girl Named Anna by Lizzy Barber

Despite kidnapping being one of my worst fears, I’m still kind of drawn to fiction about it- I still remember exact lines from reading The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard in my early 20’s. Maybe my brain feels like if I face it in a controlled setting, it won’t be so bad, and I can figure out how to prevent my own children from experiencing this terrifying fate? Who knows. I’m pretty sure I learned about A Girl Named Anna by Lizzy Barber (MIRA, 2019) from Susan at Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books– she’s fabulous; give her a follow if you haven’t already! It went straight to my TBR, but it’s been checked out almost continuously at my library for the past year. I got lucky with my last library order and was excited to dive into this dual-narrative suspense novel.

Anna has been raised in a fairly isolated fashion by her strict, religious widowed mother. Her life has been small; she hasn’t been allowed to do the things normal kids do thanks to her mother’s rules and overprotectiveness. A secret birthday trip to a local theme park (where she’s never been allowed to go) with her boyfriend (the pastor’s son, of course) brings back some strange feelings and images, though- a ride on a carousel, and the name Emily. Who is Emily? The man who leaves a bizarre letter in her mailbox seems to know, and Anna is positive that the images flashing before her eyes are real. When she discovers a hidden trove of items her mother tucked away long ago, she realizes something is very, very wrong, and that her entire life has likely been a lie.

Rosie’s lived her entire life under the shadow of her kidnapped older sister, a sister who was taken when Rosie was too young to remember. All she knows is parents who have struggled with the disappearance of their firstborn and the pain that infects their every move. When she realizes the trust that has funded the investigation into Emily’s kidnapping is about to dry up, she defies her mother’s wishes and begins looking into things herself. An online messageboard dedicated to crime investigation leads her down a rabbit hole of information, and soon Rosie’s turning up clues that have been long overlooked by authorities. As each girl lives out her own story on separate continents, the drama comes to a head and secrets buried for years come to light.

This isn’t an edge-of-your-seat thriller; there are some tense moments towards the end, but I feel like suspense fits this better. Ms. Barber comes at this with a strong voice; dual narrative (which I love!) can be hard to pull off, but Anna and Rosie have distinctly different voices. Anna’s narrative is stiffer, slightly more formal, a product having been raised by her mother (whose comparison to the mother in Stephen King’s Carrie does not go unnoticed by Anna’s classmates- a comparison she doesn’t quite understand, having been so entirely sheltered). Rosie’s tone is more relaxed, lighter but with the forced maturity of a child having grown up under the canopy of family trauma. The plot moves along at a brisk pace, allowing the reader to be fully immersed in the two girls’ divergent worlds, while still uncovering shocking information alongside of them as the story unfolds, yet never being overwhelmed by too much at once.

There are a few moments I felt pushed the boundaries of being realistic- Rosie’s discovery near the end, the one that convinced her mother of the veracity of her claims, for one- and many questions that are left unanswered, especially by what I felt was an abrupt ending with no follow-up to what was obviously a life-changing moment. How did Anna’s mother manage to do things like enroll her in school without a birth certificate? Did she forge one? How did Father Paul slip under the radar for that long? (I wasn’t buying that Mary was the first or only one he’s traumatized; in this age of the internet, someone out there had to be talking about the Lilies online.) What happened to Mason’s family after his death and what the Lilies did afterwards? Did they not care about what happened to their granddaughter? Did they condone what happened? I have a lot of questions that the book didn’t fully answer, and that left me feeling unsatisfied.

But overall, this is a strong novel about a devastated family, and two teenage girls who are beginning to question who they are and their places in the world against the backdrop of personal trauma. Anna’s mother is creepy as hell, and the way she and Anna lived fascinated me and kept me turning the pages. Despite my ambivalence about the ending, this was absolutely worth my reading time.

Visit Lizzy Barber’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: Such a Perfect Wife by Kate White

I think I’ve said here about a million times that I’m not much of a thriller reader. I don’t care for that edge-of-your-seat tension, I’m not into reading about murder all that much, just…eh. But I’ll pick one up occasionally, and I grabbed Such a Perfect Wife by Kate White (Harper Paperbacks, 2019) from a used book sale two summers ago (which means the person who donated it must have bought it, read it, and passed it on fairly quickly!). I think it’s important to keep trying things I don’t necessarily love; it’s how I learned to finally enjoy olives in my 30’s!

Bailey Weggins has been assigned to write about the disappearance of Shannon Blaine, a mother of two from upstate New York who vanished while jogging. Hoping to impress her boss at the online crime magazine she’s writing for, Bailey throws herself headfirst into the case, interviewing everyone she can elbow her way in front of, but there are a lot of suspicious characters right off the bat: the slick husband (because it’s always the husband, right?), the jealous, less-pretty sister, the deacon who brushes her off constantly, the secretive best friend, a fellow reporter, the retired police chief. Bailey’s got her work cut out for her.

But not long after she begins digging, Bailey receives a phone call from someone who provides a tip that changes everything and turns the investigation from a search-and-rescue into the hunt for a serial killer. Everything is suspicious and the pieces don’t click together until it might be too late. Will Bailey make it out alive in order to report the truth?

Despite being about, you know, murder and death and other awful stuff, this was kind of a fun read. I’m TERRIBLE at figuring out who-dun-it (I’m also terrible at logic puzzles, thankyouverymuch; I would make an awful detective), so I had fun poring over the clues that Bailey dug up and trying to figure out what, if anything, they meant, and what was real and what was a red herring. I suspect everyone- I think I’ve only ever figured out the culprit in maybe two murder books!- so the constant guessing kept me on my toes through the whole book.

The setting here, Lake George in upstate New York, is pretty great. The isolated town where the story is set in the off-season gives the book a creepy feel, and I appreciated the several references to The Last of the Mohicans, which was also set in the area. The lake, while not featuring heavily in the plot, is described enough to nearly become a character of its own, which was kind of neat. The abandoned Catholic retreat center was suuuuuper creepy, straight out of every horror movie that has ever existed (and of course I was screaming, “DON’T GO DOWN THERE!!!!” as I read the parts where it appeared in the book, but after living through a pandemic and seeing all the stupid things that people do that make no sense, I wasn’t surprised that she went down there, because of course she did).

So. Fun book. It’s part of a series, though it’s fine as a standalone; I only occasionally got the feeling that I had missed out on some prior information, but none of it made a difference to the rest of the story as a whole. I don’t know that it turned me into a thriller reader, but I’ll keep picking them up now and then.

Visit Kate White’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

Another book from my own shelves, the last read of 2020. I don’t read a ton of thrillers, but I don’t mind them when they’re more at ‘constant low level of unease’ versus ‘people chasing each other with knives and various other weapons through scary landscapes in the dark of night.’ I don’t want to be on the edge of my seat, but I do like trying to figure out what happened (and I’m really terrible at this!). The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy (Harper, 2018) seemed to fit those parameters, or at least it did at the two-summers-ago book sale where I tossed it into my paper bag with all my other literary treasures for seven bucks. Either way, that makes it a win for me!

The May Moms are a new mom group, meeting first online and then in a park near their Brooklyn residences. It’s been a year of changes for them- pregnancies, work adjustments, moves, the addition of these helpless new creatures who have upended every part of their lives- and they’re leaning on each other for support. A night out for some of them leads to an unthinkable tragedy, and when the media descends, several of the moms are left questioning exactly how things happened that night. Where is their member’s missing son? How can they all possibly cope with this? And what exactly makes a good mother these days?

I’ve been a part of an online mom group- two, in fact- since my 18-year-old son was a newborn. I understand the quick camaraderie that comes from desperately begging a group of internet strangers what this rash could possibly be or asking how you can get this kid to sleep because you’re about to lose your mind. Aimee Molloy captures the support, the gossipy cattiness, and the tentative new connections forged during this tense time of life quite well, and she’s absolute magic at painting the full picture of new motherhood- leaking breasts (and the intense worry that you’re breastfeeding incorrectly and your kid is starving to death), your body feeling nothing like the body you’ve lived in your whole life, the exhaustion that pervades everything, the constant renegotiations of other relationships in your life (including your marriage/romantic partnership)… The new mothers’ desperation and exhaustion was so blatant and real on the page that it started to make me feel a little panicky from time to time. I do NOT miss those days at all!

I had a little bit of a difficult time keeping the characters straight. The POV switches back and forth and I did have to stop and keep going, “Wait, which is this one?”, but the rest of the story holds up well enough that this didn’t throw me off too much (and to be honest, this is probably more a me thing; I will occasionally read an entire book and can recount the plot with no problem, but I’ll be entirely unable to tell you a single character’s name). The story of baby Midas’s disappearance, the fear surrounding it, the media sensationalizing it and demanding to know why these mothers were out on their own and not at home caring for their babies (because as we all know, babies will DIE DIE DIE the second their mothers step away to do anything selfish like eat or shower, and definitely if they want a few hours to themselves to be their own people and not just infant servants. Ugh), it’s all so very modern and ripped-from-the-headlines. I’d never heard of this book before (not even 50,000 Goodreads ratings), but I feel like it should have gotten more attention, because it’s basically a layman’s Law & Order episode in book form.

The Perfect Mother is gripping, but in a gentle way. It’ll keep you turning pages to find out what happened, but it’s not that uncomfortable-on-every-page kind of unease that generally keeps me away from thrillers. This was definitely worth my time.

Visit Aimee Molloy’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · mystery

Murder on the Orient Express- Agatha Christie

Okay, gang. Gather close for another round of Book Blogger Confessions.

This? This was my first Agatha Christie novel.

I get it. She’s super popular and people love her books like they love their children. I’ve heard librarians talk about how Christie’s books circulate as much or more than any other modern popular author and how they have to replace her books frequently due to constant use. Mysteries are some of the most popular items at almost every library, my own included (I asked at our last book club). And I almost never check them out.

It’s not like I’m opposed to the genre. I don’t mind watching movies with mysteries in them. I’m just BAD at them. And not just bad, like BAD. Really bad. I almost never guess the identity of the killer (and when I do, I’m practically doing a touchdown dance, it’s that rare for me to figure it out). There are too many characters, everyone seems suspicious, and I really overthink things and make them way more complicated than they have to be. I don’t love having to be *that* on guard while I read- don’t get me wrong, I love using my brain when I read, it’s why I enjoy nonfiction so very much- but mysteries? They’re like those logic puzzles…that I’m also bad at.

But Agatha Christie was already on my list this year, as she was an author I’d never read before and I wanted to know what I was missing out on. And it just so happened that the 2020 PopSugar Reading Challenge included a prompt for a book from a series with more than 20 books. I’m not a big series reader as it is, so I was a little nervous about this, but it just so happened that Agatha Christie fit this prompt with her Hercule Poirot books, and thus Murder on the Orient Express (HarperCollins, 1934) went on my list.

Detective Hercule Poirot is traveling on the Orient Express train when it runs into a snowdrift overnight and is stopped…and so is the heart of one of its passengers, dead after being stabbed multiple times. One by one, Poirot meticulously questions the motley crew aboard, searching for the pipe smoker, the owner of a scarlet dressing gown, and someone with the initial of H. Twists and turns abound, with each interview revealing new pieces of the puzzle to only Poirot, until at last, he’s able to click the final piece in place, revealing the dastardly plot and the name of the killer. All aboard for one serious thrill ride!

First off, and if you’ve read this, you won’t take this the wrong way- the ending is the best part. YES. I absolutely loved how Poirot ended this, though I won’t say more in case there are people other than me who are new to this book. Just a brilliant solution to what could have been messy. True justice right there.

I enjoyed Agatha Christie’s plain writing style. She never veers into much description, which made me happy. I’ve disliked long descriptive passages since I was a kid, when I would sometimes just skip over the flowery description altogether. Her writing is quite to the point, much like Poirot’s questioning, and that makes for a delightful read without much fuss.

I don’t know that this made me love mysteries any more than I did before, however. There are still a lot of characters to sort through, I still overthought every last bit of information Poirot wrangled out of each passenger, and much like the two men who were aiding his questioning, I remained baffled by the identity of the killer to the very end. I’ll never be a world-renowned detective (or a world-renowned…mystery reader…); that fact is very, very obvious by my obliviousness. I mean, at one point, I was like “How did all these people, connected with that, end up on this train???” I never once considered… At times, I’m far too jaded with the world, and at others, I give people way too much benefit of the doubt.

If you’re hiring, never hire me for a job figuring stuff like this out. I’d be terrible at it.

And then there was this passage in the book, which I will file under “Things Published Before World War II That Immediately Did Not Age Well”:

Uh…yikes.

Anyway, this was a fun book and I’m glad I’m better acquainted with Agatha Christie’s style. One more author and one more reading challenge book ticked off my list!

Visit Agatha Christie’s website here.

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