“The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt” by Andrea Bobotis

Genre:           Southern Literary Fiction/Mysterythe last list
Publisher:    Sourcebooks Landmark
Pub.  Date:   July 9, 2019

This novel has such a crisp Southern voice that the reader will be surprised that the book is a debut novel.   The author, Andrea Bobotis, is no stranger to good writing.   She holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Virginia.  Her fiction has received awards from the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and the James Jones First Novel Fellowship.  The novel is based in a fictional town in South Carolina (Bobotis is a native of South Carolina) and splits its time between1989 and 1929.  The author interweaves the moving timelines throughout the novel without missing a heartbeat.   Miss Judith Kratt is a white woman now aged into her late seventies.  She is the eldest daughter in the family.  The Kratts were once the most powerful family in a cotton town that they owned.   Now their once-stately home, as well as the town, is falling apart.  She lives in her family home with her black companion, Olva.   Judith views her relationship with Olva as part family member, part friend, and part housemaid.   Judith is writing her last list, which is made up of family heirlooms.  The writing can move at a slow, Southern pace, but is never boring.  In the present, through Judith’s memories, we learn of her family’s dark secrets.  Some you will be able to guess.  Others you will not.

There are similarities in “The Last List” to the novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.”  Both books are narrated by the protagonist through the time period changes.  They both explore the themes of the segregated south, family, aging, male brutality towards females, and the dehumanizing effects of racism.  Still, both tales give the reader demonstrations of female strength while also managing to squeeze in some humor.    Judith is a quirky one.   It is fun to read how Olva, who is one year older than Judith, deals with her companion’s eccentric ways.  “The Last List” is obviously racially charged.   It is sad to realize that these same racial tensions are still around in the year 2019.  It can make one feel weary. Still, the author does a good job of capturing the aspects of what can be called the genteel South and its sweet southern style.  But make no mistake, the book is truly about the ugly truth hidden behind those grand Southern mansions.  After most chapters, the inventory grows.  Each listed item is cleverly written to connect to the story-line.  Bobotis does an excellent job in these thought-provoking connections.  Possibly, the author created the list to challenge the reader to examine the imprints of their own memories.   And to acknowledge the unfair power that comes from the objects (or once people) that we own, begging the question:  Will we ever truly live in a world of equality?   The story may read slowly, but it is a page-turner.

Open Link to Pre-Order “The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt”

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q

 

Advertisements

“Keeping Lucy” by T. Greenwood

Genre:         General FictionKeeping Lucy
Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:   August 6, 2019

The latest novel by T. Greenwood, author of “Rust & Stardust,” is about a heartbroken mother who gave up her baby girl born with Down Syndrome.  That sounds too harsh.   Let me clarify.  The year is 1969, when women gave birth while under anesthesia.  While still under the influence of the ether, and pressure from her doctor, husband, and father-in-law, the baby, who she named Lucy, is taken from her.  Her husband tells her she is going to a boarding school for the developmentally disabled and that visitations are not recommended since it would confuse the child.  She believes this is what is best for her daughter.  Two years later she learns through the newspapers that the school is actually an institution currently under investigation for all sorts of abuse (the author does a good job with visuals of the abused children).  Still, there are lots of pulling on the heartstrings type of drama that simply didn’t feel real.

It didn’t feel believable, at least to me, because the mother does a complete one-eighty.  She and her friend go on a “Thelma and Louise” sort of adventure to kidnap Lucy.   They go on the run with a broken down car and nowhere to go.  This is done to save Lucy from going back to the fictional Willowridge School.   I am sure that the author chose that name on purpose for its similarities to the infamous Willowbrook State School.   Do you remember that downright evil school located in Staten Island, NY?  I do because as a teen I went to demonstrate against the place.  “The horrors endured at the Willowbrook State School will never be forgotten. Built for developmentally disabled children and adults in the 1930s, the school became an institution where the borough’s most vulnerable residents were abused, starved and neglected…”— January 17, 2017, https://www.silive.com/news/2017/01/the_horrors_of_willowbrook_sta.html

Once the mother character learns the true nature of the school, her maternal instincts kicks in.  I want to know where those feelings have been for the past two years of Lucy’s life.  I believe that the story is about a depressed woman, totally under her husband’s thumb, who finally learns to think and do for herself.   But the writing is not up to par with the author’s last novel, which was a historical fiction.  There are so many clichés in this book, complete with an ending tied up in a bow, that I often rolled my eyes.   Maybe my own experience with such an institution is the reason why I found the story unbelievable.   Parents who left their children in such a horrible place were not the type to look back.  I am sure others may enjoy this novel, but it wasn’t for me.

Pre Order “Keeping Lucy” on Amazon

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q

 

 

“Baby of the Family” by Maura Roosevelt

Genre:           Literary FictionBaby of the family
Publisher:    PENGUIN GROUP Dutton
Pub. Date:    March 5, 2019

The author, Maura Roosevelt, is the great-granddaughter of Eleanor and Franklin.  Her novel is about a fictional modern-day American dynasty, the Whitbys.  I admit the author’s own family lineage is what captured my eye in choosing this book to review.  The fictional Whitbys will make you think of the once enormously wealthy real-life Astor family.   In the past, the Astors were known as “The Landlords of New York.”  I love how this novel begins:  First, with a quote from George W. Bush: “When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.”  Then, in the book’s opening, we learn that the always-foolish, current family patriarch, Roger Whitby Jr., dies after squandering away a fortune.   We learn that, half a century prior, a Whitby death would’ve made headlines around the world—not anymore.  The reader immediately knows that we will be entering the world of Roger’s offspring and their children as they learn to live minus the billions.

Roger Whitby Jr. has many children from four marriages that all ended in divorce.  (The author added in a family tree, which is a nice touch).   After his death, he bequeaths what is left of the fortune to his last son, who is adopted, as well as the baby in the family.  This naturally becomes the tension in the story.  The reader will become familiar with three of his children, each from a different marriage, who play major roles in the novel.  They are half-siblings but still, they share the same feeling of abandonment.   In these three, we learn that the story is not actually about the inheritance, but rather the half-siblings’ childhood and adult struggles that stem from being a member of a famous clan (Heh, I can’t help but wonder about the author’s motives for writing this book).

I believe that Roosevelt attempted to write a novel on family love and healing.  If so, that is not what I read.  Basically, this is a poor little rich kid tale.  There are so many subplots with each grown child that I became confused, which led to lack of interest.  Spoiler:  One daughter, in her early twenties (in the first job of her life) is clearly being sexually abused by the man she works for, yet I didn’t feel the anger that I should have felt.   Her story gets lost in between the others.  This is a shame as the novel has such potential.  It reminded me of Jonathan Franzen’s novel “The Corrections.”   There are strong similarities (meaning lots of Tolstoy-like soap).  I am not comparing the talents of the famous Russian author to either of these current day writers.  I am trying to say that Roosevelt’s “Baby” is missing the American Gothic feel that “Corrections” managed to catch.

Pre Order on Amazon

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q

“The Paragon Hotel” by Lyndsay Faye

Genre:         Historical Fiction Mystery Hotel
Publisher:    PENGUIN GROUP Putmam
Pub. Date:   January 8, 2019

In a nutshell, this novel is about racism and the American underworld in the early twentieth century.  The novel begins in 1921, during the time of America’s Prohibition.  A young white female protagonist is on a train out of Harlem running to escape her Mafia boss who is displeased with her.  She is suffering from an untreated bullet wound.  A black male Pullman porter takes pity on her and brings her with him to his home in Portland, Oregon, which happens to be in an all-black hotel.   The story goes back and forth in chapters and settings from NYC to Oregon.

This is a difficult review to write since I had different opinions throughout the novel on whether I did or did not like the book.  I appreciate that the alternating settings begin with a real quote from each area’s non-fictional newspapers.  Plus, the author has historical endnotes.   Good research is always a plus in historical fiction.  I liked that the author chose that the scrappy little kid character, who grows up to be a mobster, is a girl rather than a boy.  This is unheard of in most mob stories.  I got a kick out of learning that at one time Harlem NY had a large Italian population know as Little Italy.  As a native New Yorker, I really should have known this.  For me, Little Italy is the infamous neighborhood located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  (I used to push my, now-grown, baby in a stroller right there on Mulberry St.)    And I thoroughly enjoyed how skillful the author is in immersing the reader in the feel of the era.  I was hooked on the visuals and the slang of the times. I was expecting Bogey or Cagney to materialize on any given page.

Then the historical fiction morphs into a mystery.  Although it is a well-written mystery, it is not needed to enhance the already interesting tale on the happenings of the young woman’s two lives:  One in white America and another in black America.  Both are filled with police that are as corrupt as the mobsters.  Nor was I wild about a couple of twists that seem thrown in for good measure.  They are decent twists, but again, not needed.  Maybe I just don’t care for the mixing of genres.  I also was not pleased that in this book, and recent others is that the theme and characters are pointedly aligned to this current dysfunctional White House administration.   I am growing weary of all the new historical novels that make anti-Trump statements without using his name.  (And, I am no fan of the 45th American President).  In this tale, I read over and over how in the 1920s the KKK expanded into the north because of the hatred against people who deemed not “truly” American.  Their motto was “America First.”  Sound familiar?  I am aware that these historical connections need to be repeated in words to serve as reminders of what can happen when politics run amok.  But, after finding this Trump-metaphor linking trend so often I, as a reader and a reviewer, need a breather from political teachable moments in my fiction.

After writing down my thoughts on the pros and cons in “The Paragon Hotel,” I discover I am still confused on whether I would recommend the book or not.  I guess it depends upon what your expectations are when venturing into the story.  I was not expecting a mystery.   Hopefully my confusion will help give you a clear picture of what you may like or dislike in the story.

Pre-Order on Amazon

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q

 

 

 

 

 

“Broken Heart Attack” (Braxton Campus Mysteries #2) by James J. Cudney

Genre:          Humorous Cozy Mystery
Publisher:    Creativia Publishing House
Pub. Date:    November 25, 2018

I have read a couple of the author’s books and I must say he is getting better and better at his craft.  I do believe that James J. Cudney has the potential to become a household name for those who enjoy light-hearted murder mysteries.  “Broken Heart Attack” is the second book in the “Braxton Campus Mysteries.”  However, “Heart Attack” can be read as a stand-alone book.   One needn’t read the first novel, “Academic Curveball,” to follow along.  The author smoothly informs us that the protagonist, Kellan, is a young widow and a single dad.  (I would love to write more about his marriage because it has such a good twist, but that would be a spoiler).  In book one, he was working as a writer for a murder mystery TV series until he became an amateur sleuth at Braxton College.  He finds a dead body on campus and uses his writing expertise to help solve the crime.

In book number two, Kellan is now working as a professor at the college.  I am happy to report that the characters of his spunky, ringleader-like grandmother, as well as his spunky and sweet young daughter, remain in the series.  Kellan’s young daughter has a larger piece of the writing pie than she did previously.  The father/daughter relationship is easy on the reader’s eyes.   This reviewer hopes it will be continued even further in book number three.   Personally, I would like to see more of Kellan’s family dynamics and issues into the story.  (I actually thought this in “Curveball” as well).  The reader will find tantalizing family dynamics, issues, and major drama, in the characters that make up the Paddington clan.  The possible murder in “Heart Attack” occurred during a play’s dress rehearsal.  Kellan is there along with, Nana D. (the grandmother) and her friends the Paddington sisters-in-law.    It is here that one of his grandmother’s friends dies of a suspicious heart attack.   Nana D. suspects her friend was actually murdered by a poison that caused the heart attack.  So, Kellan is once more back into the crime-solving business.

As in book number one, the story is told in the first person by our professor.  Also, once again the writing is at a top-notch comical level with the character of Nana D.  When she doesn’t get her way with Kellan she is prone to say things like, “I won’t disown you, but I will set you up with every available harebrained girl in town.  I’ll have you fending off more cougars…,” and so on and so forth.  This is to her grandson who she adores.  One doesn’t mess with Nana D.   And yes, once again the novel ends with a cliffhanger leaving you wanting to ask Cudney when number three will be released.

I am not your typical cozy mystery reader because I am not usually a fan of the genre.  But, I do make a few exceptions as with “Curveball.”  This whodunit borders on the tradition of an Agatha Christie read.  At times, the author (who is a friend of mine), doesn’t trust his own talent and tends to explain the plot to his readers especially when writing about potential killers.  But, heck I just said something similar in another review about a book written by the enormously talented and accomplished author, Barbara Kingsolver.  So Jay, aka James J. Cudney, is in very good company.    I do want to add that although “Heart Attack” can be read alone, you would be missing all the fun by skipping the first book in the series.

To purchase “Broken Heart Attack” on Amazon open this link

I received this novel from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

Find all my book reviews at:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q

 

 

 

 

“Death by Didgeridoo” Barbara Venkataraman

Genre:           Cozy Mystery/Humor Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00038]
Publisher:    CreateSpace Independent
Pub. Date:    November 13, 2013

One has to love the title of “Death by Didgeridoo,” by Barbara Venkataraman.   I will not explain the reasoning behind the words because that would be a spoiler.  I will share that this is a lighthearted ‘whodunit’ and the first book in the “Jamie Quinn Mystery Series.”  The story revolves around the protagonists, Jamie, her aunt, and her cousin, who happens to have Aspergers.  Jamie reluctantly agrees to represent her cousin who is accused of murder.   Since she is a family law attorney, not a criminal attorney, she is in way over her head.   Right about here, we meet my favorite character: Duke.  He is the wildly colorful private investigator who Jamie turns to for crime-solving help.

I was not familiar with this series when the author reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing her work.  I seldom read mysteries of any kind.  But, since the book was previously chosen as “Indie Book of the Day,” I gladly accepted.   I am especially pleased that I did so because my favorite character had me laughing out loud more than once.  Venkataraman is at her best with Duke.  Picture a guy who drinks too much, plays the ladies’ man, and has been married and divorced three times.  A male chauvinist who calls all women ‘Darlin’ and is constantly bragging of his sex life—obnoxious right?    But there is more than meets the eye to this character.  Underneath his masculine bravado, he is a sweetie who will do anything to protect Jamie.  He made me think of a male version of the old cliché, a hooker with a heart of gold.

To keep things interesting, all kinds of obstacles derail Jamie’s quest to clear her cousin.  You will have to read the book to learn about her setbacks.  As for the rest of the series, we learn enough about likable Jamie, her family, and Duke to want read the next novel.  Still, “Death” can be read as a stand-alone book.  If you enjoy a good cozy mystery (meaning no gore), then I can safely guarantee that you will enjoy this novel.  To quote Duke, “Life’s grand!  The only way I’d enjoy it more is if there were two of me.”  I am happy to report there are more than two sequels (three in the first book) in this cozy mystery series.

I received this novel from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

To purchase “Death by Didgeridoo” on Amazon open link

Find all my book reviews at:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord
https://www.facebook.com/martie.neesrecord
https://www.amazon.com/gp/profile/amzn1.account.AG62PSO4DKIDR23WFXRPYGSYK65Q

 

“Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver

Genre:           Family Saga/Historical FictionUnsheltered
Publisher:    HarperCollins
Pub. Date:    October 16, 2018

Barbara Kingsolver is a powerhouse of a writer and one of my preferred authors.  “Poisonwood Bible” remains a favorite book of mine.  In her latest novel, she sticks with her familiar themes—environment, religion, and social issues.  The setting goes back and forth between America’s current troubles to America’s troubled past.  In the present, we meet a fictional college-educated, middle-class family who live in the real-life city of Vineland, NJ.  To their shock, a few career setbacks and an ailing parent’s medical bills have caused a downgrade in their economic status.  Kingsolver is at her best when asking “how could this have happened to us?…we did everything right.”  She makes it easy to realize that your life too could turn on a dime.  To add to the family’s woes, their centuries-old house is literally crumbling around them.  Willa, the family matriarch, has learned that their house may have once been the home to real-life Mary Treat. Treat was a self-taught naturalist and correspondent with Charles Darwin.  Willa begins to write a historical preservation grant in hopes that the grant will pay for the house renovations.

In the past, Kingsolver takes us back to when Mary Treat was a working naturalist, which was immediately post civil war.   Her reasons for this time period are clear and very clever.  The troubles for the family in current times begin when Trump announced he was running for president.  Donald Trump’s name never appears in the novel but it is clear that he is “the Bullhorn…who promises to restore the old order…the billionaire running for president who’s never lifted a finger in work…the candidate who brags that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and people would still vote for him.”   The past is my favorite part of the book since it is such a classroom experience without the homework assignments.  I was fascinated to learn that back then, Vineland was created to be a utopian community.  It was founded by nonfictional Charles Landis.   He was a Trumpian-like real estate developer who really did shoot someone in the middle of the street and get away with it.   Landis had a strong dislike for Darwin since the opinion of the times was that Darwin was threatening religious beliefs.  He did not want Darwin’s theories, or any already proven scientific facts to be taught in Vineland’s schools.  Sounds familiar right?  Trump’s (so-called) Christian anti-science moves are spelled out loud and clear.  In an interview with Kirkus Reviews, Kingsolver states, “I chose the 1870s as my alternate world because I knew it was a really difficult, polarized moment in our history…..Racial divisions, urban/rural divisions, North/South divisions—those rifts were ripped open by the Civil War.”

I left out reviewing a few very good subplots for they would be spoilers.  Between the alternating timelines, I preferred the story in the past.  The present-day timeline borders on preachy.   How we long for careers that ultimately fail to bring happiness or sometimes not even financial stability.   How spoiled we can be.  How we want and waste.  All true, but no one likes a lecture in the middle of a story no matter how much you may like the plot and the characters.  Oddly, the past felt fresh.  I enjoyed reading about young America’s growing pains.  How hard the scientific minds had to fight to be heard.   I do have a rather petty criticism on the writing.  The words “sheltered” and “unsheltered” come up repeatedly.   It felt as if Kingsolver didn’t think her audience capable of making the connections.   I don’t believe that in her book ‘Poisonwood Bible,’ (which is about a missionary family in the Belgian Congo) the title words pop up at all.  She trusted that her readers would make the connection that, like a poisonwood tree, religion too can become dangerous when mishandled.   This does not mean that I didn’t enjoy “Unsheltered,” for I very much did.  And, will not think twice about recommending the book.  As usual, Kingsolver gives her readers plenty to wonder about.  In this novel, she does an amazing job of penning an engaging story about human existence combined with a well-researched tale on past and present American politics.

Open the link to purchase “Unsheltered” on Amazon

Find all my book reviews at:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025
https://books6259.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/NeesRecord