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Out of Bounds by Val McDermid

out of boundsI haven’t been reading much fiction lately, and I especially haven’t been reading a lot of crime fiction lately: I tend to go down a rabbit hole reading the news instead, and it’s not necessarily good for my equilibrium. I was happy to get into this police procedural with a new set of characters and with a plot not nearly as gruesome as the Tony Hill- Carol Jordan series by Val McDermid.

Out of Bounds is the story of Karen Pirie, the head of the Historical Crimes Unit. She’s mourning her dead partner  Phil by burying herself in work, and she’s not a dour presence at all in the story. Score 1 for McDermid. Karen becomes involved in both a current and a historical murder investigation: a recent death of a young man whose mother died in an unsolved airplane bombing in the 1990s piques Pirie’s interest because she suspects that murder- or at least suspicious death- doesn’t run in families

What I liked most was the matter-of-factness not only of Karen but of a whole slew of highly competent women in police, social work, and forensic science. And McDermid had a damn sympathetic portrait of not one but two lawyers, for which I’m personally grateful. Also, McDermid is so good at populating this book with interesting people during the parade of investigatory interviews, etc. I hope this is the beginning of a new series.

Out of Bounds by Val McDermid

Grove Atlantic, December 2016

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

review, U.S.

Startup by Doree Shafrir

startupI had high hopes when I started Startup by Doree Shafrir. It starts at a ridiculous MorningRave, a “clean living dance party” populated by all sorts of denizens of New York City’s startup scene, notably Mack, the founder of an app of questionable value, and Katja, a journalist covering the tech scene. I was expecting more satire, and instead the story was more heavy with ideas and a lot of characters who were kind of despicable at times and noble at other times.

Ultimately the characters never felt quite real to me and more representative of ideas: here’s the older journalist going off about how journalism has changed in the last ten years, here’s a young woman being sexually harassed in the supposedly-enlightened company she works for: the characters seemed more like ideas than people, if that makes sense. I’ve seen reviews talking about how readable and accurate the story was, and while I read it quickly, I just felt dissatisfied by the story. It’s a book filled with sad, disconnected people who work an awful lot, and it wasn’t my thing.

Startup by Doree Shafrir

Little Brown, April 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

review

The Thing About Love by Julie James

thing-about-loveAll right, Julie James is one of my favorite discoveries of 2016. I read all but her first novel in the second half of 2016, and they are appealing for their witty banter and their matter-of-factly competent female leads, most of whom are lawyers or FBI agents. The Thing About Love is about two FBI agents who meet years after a contentious training at the FBI Academy, and it’s an entertaining and dramatic story about an undercover job in the public corruption unit and their road to romance.

The main characters’ friends and colleagues are mostly background, but given how much the main characters work, their friendships would have to come second.

Julie James knows emotional beats, and that along with the dialogue makes this a really entertaining read.

The Thing About Love by Julie James

Berkley, April 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher

 

review, U.S.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

youwillknowmeYou Will Know Me fits into the last few Megan Abbott books centered on the heightened world of teenage girls (see Dare Me, The Fever, and The End of Everything). You Will Know Me is the story of Devon, a gymnast on the cusp of qualifying for elite status and trying out for the Olympics, her parents Eric and Katie, and the death of a guy connected to her gymnastics gym. At first I thought it would be a story more about gymnastics and the level of obsessiveness required to compete at an extremely high level, but it turns into a mystery about the death of Ryan, the boyfriend of a gymnastics coach at Devon’s gym. The book starts as a book obsessed with young gymnast’s bodies and ends up being a story about the secret inner lives of not only of Devon but of her entire family. And just a note about the title: by the end I realized while I knew more about Devon and her family, there was still a great deal I did not.

The mystery didn’t really grab me because my suspicions about what happened were pretty accurate. What was most gripping for me was the sadness of Katie and Eric’s lives. They were pretty desperate for Devon to succeed, and as the story went on the details of their lives supporting Devon’s training seemed overwhelming to me. And their ignoring their younger son felt extra sad by the end as well. All in all, this is a pretty moody book that didn’t really take off as a mystery for me though it was an enjoyable read.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Little Brown, July 2016

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

Uncategorized

Quick Takes

So my reading lately has been either very plot-driven (a couple more thriller-y reads) or a comfort read in the sense of reading books in a series I like. Ultimately the thriller-y stuff are not my favorites, mostly because I like less explicitly gruesome books.

First for the series I’ve grown to like more as they’ve gone on:  I’ve read the first two Julia Spencer Fleming books, which have a bit of thriller stuff in them, which is surprising because I expected them to be a lot more like the Louise Penny books. I was happily surprised by In the Bleak Midwinter: it’s the first entry in a series featuring two military vets: the police chief in a town of 8,000 covering a district of maybe 20,000 in upstate NY, and the new Episcopalian minister in town, a transplanted southerner who was a badass helicopter pilot. The characters were interesting– just enough backstory to see why they click. The plot was actually twisty, which I wasn’t expecting because I’ve read sort of dour snowbound mysteries (1222, Cover of Snow). And I was expecting less excitement because the marketing plan/covers look an awful lot like Louise Penny books (same publisher), and I don’t think of those as gripping.

Speaking of Louise Penny, I also just finished A Trick of the Light, and what strikes me most is that the characterizations are getting so much deeper as the series goes on. Hopefully her books don’t get bloated, but so far so good.

On the new front, I tried a debut mystery called August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones, which takes place in contemporary Detroit. The main character is a former cop who became a whistleblower (sort of inspired by the real Gary Brown, Detroit cop turned whistleblower turned politician). He lost his job and becomes a private investigator. Plot-wise the book left me cold because the action felt too amped up for me. I do like some big action-filled, conspiracy thrillers (Alan Glynn comes to mind), but this one just felt unreal for me. I think it felt too much like a superhero story for me.

Next, I tried a very dark thriller, The Dime, by Kathleen Kent, about a lesbian detective that moves from Brooklyn to Dallas and becomes embroiled in what appears to be a drug cartel war. The body count is quite high, the last third of the book is over-the-top violent, a move that I assumed was coming after reading books like The Keeper of Lost Causes. I kept on reading (and skimming some) because the book was written well, the workplace scenes worked well with interesting relationships among the characters, but I hate being put through the wringer when an author tortures her main character so thoroughly.

memoir, review

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

This is the best memoir I’ve read this year, and it may be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. A couple years ago I read the absolutely harrowing and heartbreaking Levy piece in the New Yorker called Thanksgiving in Mongolia, which is about her having a late miscarriage in Mongolia. This book contains that piece in part and captures her adult life as journalist and relationship leading to parenthood, and it’s unsparing and direct and doesn’t feel like it’s leaving out tons of stuff, which is my usual complaint about memoirs. The other thing this book has going for it is that she’s writing about her fairly recent past instead of her childhood, like some memoirists do.

Levy has written lots of interesting pieces, and her interview on the Longform podcast was fascinating as well. I mean, of course I’m drawn to this story because her story is absolutely terrifying but it happens every day, without people talking about it. I think it’s important in that respect because the subject is so not talked about. And it’s not couched in self-help or therapeutic journeys, though it is a part of the story. Her narrative voice is so unflinching that it’s compelling.

rules-do-not-apply

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

Random House, March 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

review, Sweden, Translated

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

quicksandQuicksand is a courtroom drama centered on the trial of an eighteen year old girl charged with murder during a school shooting. The story opens in the classroom, which is a classic gambit to hook the reader because it’s unclear who all did the shooting and who all died (it’s a brief opening interlude). A good chunk of the beginning is a courtroom procedural, and I think it was the strongest part of the book. The book slowed down for me as Maja, the narrator, went into the long background story about her relationship with Sebastian, the boyfriend she allegedly incited to murder.

I thought this book would take a more unreliable narrator turn than it did: it really is a story about a senseless crime spree instead, and in that way it reminded me of Laura Lippman. Ultimately, it’s a book about a hugely unsympathetic group of characters, teenagers and adults, and Maja still remained a mystery to me, which I think is the point. The book is also smart about race and class, which was a welcome part of the story.

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Other Press, March 2017

Originally published as Störst av allt

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.