Book Review: HOW THE DEAD SPEAK, the eleventh Tony Hill/Carol Jordan Mystery

Happy Publication Day to How the Dead Speak!

In the eleventh installment of the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series by Val McDermind, Hill is in prison for manslaughter while Jordan, suffering from PTSD, has been forced out of her job as DCI. Though Hill confessed his love to Jordan, he has refused to have contact with her until she gets treatment—that is, until an unexpected visitor threatens both his and Carol’s futures unless he persuades her to help resolve a dispute. Jordan has also been persuaded to join a group of experts reexamining cases in which miscarriages of justice are suspected. Though she is uncomfortable trying to release criminals, she can’t resist the mystery.

Meanwhile, development at a shuttered Catholic nunnery and orphanage is halted when the construction crew finds an unauthorized cemetery filled with skeletons of what are presumably young girls who were in the nuns’ care. DCI Ian Rutherford, Jordan’s replacement, shows preference for DI Sophie Valente who came to the police via retail management and joined through a special direct entry program while ignoring the skills and talents of the team, particularly DI Paula McIntyre, causing friction among them which only heightened when a second collection of human remains—this time young men—were found on a property near the orphanage. And one of the bodies connects to Jordan’s newest investigation. However, her concentration is derailed when Hill’s prison activities make him the target of angry inmates.

How the Dead Speak weaves several perspectives honing in on two primary mysteries, with significant conflict among the police squad. Because Hill, Jordan, and McIntyre are separated, the book adds new settings, particularly the prison environment. I also liked that it addressed the possibility of false imprisonment and showed the challenges of living with PTSD. The pacing was finely plotted, and the narratives well-resolved, though I would have liked more regarding the bodies found at the orphanage. The denouement, however, was very interesting and makes me intrigued and excited about where the series will go next.

While this is not my first Val McDermid book, it is my first Tony Hill/Carol Jordan novel. I was certainly able to jump in, though I would have had better insight into the characters and their relationships if I’d read the previous books in the series—something I now plan to do!

Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic/Atlantic Monthly Press for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: MEG & JO, a contemporary retelling of Little Women

Happy Publication Day to Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra!

Reimagining Little Women from a contemporary perspective, Virginia Kantra tells the story of the March sisters from the alternating points of view of Meg and Jo, the two eldest.

In New York City, Jo, laid off from her job as a journalist due to budget cuts, writes an anonymous blog while making ends meet by working in the kitchen of a gourmet restaurant under renowned chef Eric Bhaer—who happens to loathe food bloggers—but who is undeniably attractive.

Meg, a former loan officer, gave up her career to stay at home with her young twins. Her husband, John, a beloved teacher and coach, resigned from the school to work at a car dealership where he could earn more money for the family. What is on the surface a perfect family hides unspoken tensions about resentments and sacrifices.

As the holidays approach, Abby March becomes ill and requires hospitalization. Her husband, Ashton, a former military chaplain, is so focused on serving veterans though his non-profit organization, he is unable to provide Abby support, leaving it to Meg and Jo.

With the family in crisis, bonds are tested, and the sisters must consider both what they really want—and if they know each other as well as they think.

I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to write a book inspired by a classic, especially one as loved as Little Women. It requires balancing the spirit of the original with a realistic modern setting. The challenges must be only compounded when the source material comes from the late 1860s, when social and gender mores were so different!

For much of the book, I was very uncomfortable with the gender dynamics. Abby March was completely self-sacrificing and taught her daughters to be the same way in relationships. Meg internalized those messages and reproduced her mother’s behavior while Jo rebelled so completely against it, she wouldn’t allow herself to be close to anyone. Their poor communication skills made their relationships and emotional health suffer. Meanwhile, Beth and Amy were coddled while Meg and Jo assumed all the responsibility for the family.

If I could have reached into the pages and shaken the characters, I probably would have. They did, though, have room to grow, and pressures that made the status quo untenable. My concern is that Meg and Jo never seemed to stop defining themselves independently of the men in their lives. Still, the setting was charming, and I think fans of the original will be satisfied!

The two younger March sisters don’t get much play in this novel, but a second book, Beth & Amy, is in the works in which they will have the spotlight.

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: NOTHING MORE DANGEROUS, a teenager confronts prejudice in his small Missouri town as he investigates a missing persons case

Esken, Allen - Nothing More Dangerous (4)𝗛𝗮𝗽𝗽𝘆 𝗽𝘂𝗯𝗹𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗱𝗮𝘆 𝘁𝗼 𝙉𝙤𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙈𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝘿𝙖𝙣𝙜𝙚𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙨 𝗯𝘆 𝗔𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗻 𝗘𝘀𝗸𝗲𝗻!

In 1976, freshman Boady Sanden’s widowed, depressed, and overwhelmed mother sends him to St. Ignacius high school, a private Catholic school, after getting into trouble with the wrong crowd. He is friendless and awkward, drawing band logos in a notebook to avoid the attention of the popular boys who enjoy tormenting him. With only his dog and his next-door neighbor, Hoke, as company, Boady dreams of leaving Jessup, Missouri behind and is only waiting until he turns sixteen.

That same year, Lida Poe, an African American bookkeeper at Ryke Manufacturing disappears, and town gossip says she left with $100,000 of embezzled funds. Ryke’s home office sends Charles Egin to manage the plant and clean up the operations. Charles, his wife, and his son, Thomas, Boady’s age, move across the street from Boady on rural Frog Hollow Road.

Boady’s been so busy keeping his head down, he’s noticed little about the tensions in town, but when the black family moves across the street, he is drawn into the racial battlefield of the community and confronted with the prejudices both his classmates and he himself hold. With a new awareness of the secrets people hold, he sees new dimensions in Hoke, Wally Schenicker, his boss at the drywall company down the road, and even his mother.

As Boady and Thomas hone onto the mystery behind Lida Poe’s disappearance, Boady is forced to choose loyalties—and the wrong decision may be deadly for him, his friends, and his family.

𝙉𝙤𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙈𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝘿𝙖𝙣𝙜𝙚𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙨 deftly combines mystery and bildungsroman, charting Boady’s growing compassion, both for others and himself and challenging assumptions about race, personality, and motivation. While I found this a compelling read, I was incensed by the injustice Boady both uncovered and experienced. The rural mid-1970s Missouri setting focuses the mystery and allows Esken to bring race to the forefront, with discrimination more overt and the Civil Rights Legislation still just over a decade old. At the same time, the themes are highly relevant to today’s society.

For me, the dialogue, though, was a bit of a challenge. I trust that the author reliably represented the local dialect, but it was slightly awkward. I also wish that some of the minor characters such as Mrs. Elgin and Diana, one of Boady’s classmates, had been given more development. However, this is definitely a worthwhile book for readers who enjoy coming of age stories, literary mysteries, or novels about social issues.

𝑻𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒌 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒕𝒐 𝑵𝒆𝒕𝑮𝒂𝒍𝒍𝒆𝒚 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑴𝒖𝒍𝒉𝒐𝒍𝒍𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑩𝒐𝒐𝒌𝒔 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒗𝒊𝒅𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒂𝒏 𝒂𝒅𝒗𝒂𝒏𝒄𝒆 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒄𝒐𝒑𝒚 𝒊𝒏 𝒆𝒙𝒄𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒂𝒏 𝒉𝒐𝒏𝒆𝒔𝒕 𝒓𝒆𝒗𝒊𝒆𝒘.

Book Review: DECEPTION, a continuation of the Dark Matter Trilogy

Happy publication day to Deception by Teri Terry, Book Two in the riveting Dark Matter Trilogy!

Shay, believing herself a carrier of the deadly Aberdeen Flu, flees her boyfriend, Kai, in the night to turn herself in. She’s imprisoned with a group of other survivors under the management of physicist Dr. Alex Cross, Kai’s hated stepfather.

Although angry Shay abandoned him, Kai can think of nothing but finding her. However, with no leads, he decides to find Freja Eriksen in London—a mysterious woman who has been posting videos disputing that survivors are contagious. Callie, Kai’s “cured” sister who can only be seen by survivors, follows him.

Meanwhile, as the epidemic spreads across the UK, jumping quarantine lines, a cure seems ever more elusive.

Deception expands the cast of characters from the first novel in the Dark Matter Trilogy, Contagion, and explains more about the mechanisms of the Aberdeen Flu as well as the surprising powers of the survivors.

With Freja, Shay and Kai enter a love triangle made complicated by distance and distrust as well as the survivors’ new capabilities. Dr. Cross’s motivations remain suspicious—and while Shay is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, Kai is certain he is a malevolent force. At the same time, Callie must confront uncomfortable truths about her situation.

Written for a young adult audience, this trilogy offers an entertaining series that engages questions of identity, difference, and power. Deception is a satisfying continuation, and I look forward to the final volume, Evolution.

Thank you to NetGalley and Charlesbridge Teen for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG DREAMS – MARY SHELLEY

Books in the Little People, BIG DREAMS! series never fail to impress me with their accessible storylines and delightful illustrations, especially when featuring historic women scientists, artists, and writers. Mary Shelley does not disappoint.

Born in 1797, to philosopher and political writer William Godwin and famed feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley became the writer of what might be the most famous horror novel of all time: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. From dealing with her childhood struggles through her ample imagination to her scandalous affair with married Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom she later wed, Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara’s text presents appropriate, relevant, and interesting language for readers aged five to eight paired with illustrations that capture the mood and time of the era. The book closes with a more in-depth biography for older or adult readers.

If I could change anything about the book, I would want more information about what Shelley did after writing Frankenstein, though I understand why her early life and the book itself is the biography’s key focus.

Mary Shelley celebrates the power of imagination and illustrates the powerful and ongoing effects of literature and presents a wonderful role model for imaginative children!

Thanks to NetGalley and Frances Lincoln Childrens Publishing for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.