Monday, July 9, 2018

The Mercy Seat (Elizabeth H. Winthrop)

Elizabeth H. Winthrop's The Mercy Seat is a beautiful, haunting novel that will stay with you long after you finish it. It is told from the viewpoints of many different characters, all of whom play an important role in the main plot point: an execution.

It is 1943 in Louisiana, and 18-year-old African American Willie Jones is scheduled to die by electric chair. Hundreds of miles away, that chair is brought ever closer to its destination by a convict and his warden. Other characters include Frank, Willie's father, whose mule will not go any farther on Frank's quest to bring back a grave marker for his son. The district attorney who brought Willie to justice has his conscience questioned by his wife, and his young son, Gabe, is caught in the crosshairs by the town's racists.

The Mercy Seat is a brilliantly layered novel, but it does not shy away from describing the dark days of prejudice during the Jim Crow South. I wish the ending gave a little more closure, but other than that, I feel that I can highly recommend this one.


Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Perfect Couple (Elin Hilderbrand)

I used to be a pretty faithful reader of Elin Hilderbrand but had stopped for a few years. I was intrigued enough to begin again after finding out that The Perfect Couple was her first murder mystery. Would she be successful at this initial foray into a new genre after being known as the Queen of Beach Reads? The answer is mostly yes, but don't think that this novel isn't ideal for the beach, too!

As does every Hilderbrand novel, this one takes place in Nantucket (which happens to be the author's home). Everyone gathers on the island for the fantastically rich wedding of Celeste and Benji; however, the festivities come to a grinding halt the morning of the big day when the maid of honor turns up dead. The novel abruptly switches from what could have been a breezy summer wedding book into a murder mystery, jumping between time periods and alternating narrators as the police rush to solve the case.

Much of The Perfect Couple works, especially Hilderbrand's writing, which is always interesting and believable. The mystery itself is also rock solid; I thought for sure that I had it all figured out, and then not five minutes later, Hilderbrand explained my whole theory away. The ending, however, was abrupt, and the entire mystery was over in just a few pages. I also would have appreciated an epilogue to tie up the loose ends of all the many characters. But all in all, this is a pulse-pounding book that's perfect reading on or off the beach.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Something in the Water (Catherine Steadman)

I was incredibly excited to read Catherine Steadman's Something in the Water. From the "killer" first line ("Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave?"), she had my complete attention for many chapters. No interruptions were going to draw me away from finding out what happens in this book! Then something changed for the worse, and I think I finally figured out what that was. But first, the synopsis...

Our heroine, Erin, seems to have it all. She's about to break through as a documentary filmmaker and has a dashingly handsome fiance in investment banker Mark. On their honeymoon, they stumble across a huge discovery, one with the most dangerous consequences imaginable. Together, they must decide whether to keep that secret or tell the authorities of their findings. One thing leads to another until it all boils over on the last few pages.

Steadman's introduction of Erin digging the grave is stellar. Did she kill someone? Is she dangerous? Was someone out to get her and she killed them? However, as the chapters went on, I found myself almost yelling at the pages, trying to warn Erin against her own stupidity. Her actions became less and less believable. I also found the cohesiveness of Something in the Water to be lacking. There were so many characters, and quite a few of them didn't mesh well with the major plotline. But again, I seem to be in the minority with this review. Something in the Water is a bestseller and getting great reviews. Not from
me though.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Paying Guests (Sarah Waters)

Like the Energizer Bunny, Sarah Waters's The Paying Guests just keeps going and going and going. I usually enjoy this author's books a lot, and that was especially true of The Little Stranger and the mindboggling Fingersmith. Unfortunately, The Paying Guests is just not on the same level.

Frances and her mother are living in London in 1922 after the war. Financial difficulties cause them to have to take in two lodgers, Leonard and Lillian Barber. Frances soon finds herself deeply caught up in this couple's troubles, with tragic consequences she never saw coming.

The Paying Guests should work on paper. It has all the elements that make a story page-turning: beautiful writing (what Waters is known for), interesting characters, a love affair or two, a serious crime, and deception. However, if I'm going to commit to 564 pages, I need some sort of payoff at the end. I didn't feel any sense of satisfaction when I finished this one; what I felt was that the author left me hanging.


Friday, June 8, 2018

Is Capitalism Obsolete? (Giacomo Corneo)

Giacomo Corneo's Is Capitalism Obsolete? is a journey through various economic systems to figure out if there is a better one than capitalism. Corneo places this discussion in the context of Europe, and much of his book focuses on European economics. This means if you are looking for a thorough discussion of American economic policy, don't expect a very deep dive into those waters. However, you will find a discussion that is relevant to the broader global discussion of globalism, us versus them, Brexit, and other hot political topics and how economic and financial inequality fuels much of the current landscape.

Corneo's book discusses several different economic philosophies, much of which is wrapped in political theory as well as economic, coming to the conclusion that the faults of each of these various systems are greater than the faults of modern capitalism. Landing back at capitalism, Corneo suggests various political and economic reforms to "fix" the broken system. Some of the fixes (transparency in politics) make a lot of sense; others (greater usage of direct democracy) likely would need some discussion given referendums and voter initiatives have left a mixed legacy in many locations. He also suggests some government involvement in corporations, including ownership in stock, as a means to help ease economic inequality, tying in universal dividends to citizens as a means of providing additional income. Corneo breezes through corporate power and influence in government without suggesting fixes to curb and limit the lobbyist influence, which is a several billion dollar industry in America. The book's European focus lends much to the outcomes and suggestions he offers.

Is Capitalism Obsolete? is an interesting read. I don't agree with all of the fixes or suggestions, but there is a fair amount of evidence and data to back up the suggestions that Corneo makes. It also isn't a book that will provide a heavy dose of reform in American circles, but for those looking at what is going on elsewhere, it will provide a useful commentary.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Red Queen (Victoria Aveyard)

In May 2018, Victoria Aveyard concluded her Red Queen series with the publication of War Storm. I don't usually read the young adult genre, but I kept hearing about this series so I took Book #1 (Red Queen) on vacation. I definitely had mixed feelings about it; however, I seem to be in the minority here because of its plethora of young (and older) fans.

Main character Mare Barrow lives in a nightmare world. She is a Red (due to the color of her blood), living in the poverty-stricken Stilts with her family. The Reds are ruled by the Silvers, who each have superpowers such as reading minds and creating fire. One day, Mare is called to the Silver Palace and discovers that she has a superpower of her own. This fact causes much chaos, many secrets, and ultimately, dark tragedy as she enters the world of the Silver Royals.

At times, Red Queen is a real page-turner and had me completely enthralled. But there were quite a few parts that I felt went on endlessly. The writing is very well done, so I will certainly give this book a higher rating on my scale. However, I didn't quite care enough about the characters to continue on with the series.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Last Time I Lied (Riley Sager)

Author Riley Sager had a big hit last year with Final Girls, and now he returns with the equally thrilling The Last Time I Lied. While I found the plot slow and meandering at times, as a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Sager's newest book.

Fifteen years ago, Emma Davis spent a summer at Camp Nightingale. She was the youngest camper in her cabin, sharing it with friends Vivian, Natalie, and Allison. One fateful night, the three of them disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. In present day, Emma is a promising artist when she is contacted by the camp's old director telling her that the camp is being reopened. Emma is asked to come back to teach art, and she wants to use this opportunity to find out once and for all what really happened to her friends. But incredibly, another mysterious incident comes about, and Emma is looked on with suspicion once again
As I mentioned, some of the narrative really meanders as the reader races to the conclusion. But the actual ending makes up for that. The best types of books are those that totally surprise you, and this finale definitely did. I never saw that one coming!