orangesThis is an autobiographical novel written in 1985.   It is about a young woman who is raised by an assertive  Christian fundamentalist mother and a quiet unassuming father, in England, where she is absorbed into the evangelical community, eventually even doing her own preaching.

It is terribly funny in places, and terribly sad in others,  a well-written examination of the life, secret and public, of a girl who slowly learns and reveals to us that she is a lesbian.   It was made into a BBC television drama in 1989.

The writing is witty, drizzled with irony and sarcasm,  and the first three quarters of the book are so much fun, but in that last part she gets kind of sermonizing, which I always find unpleasant.  I dislike officious personal philosophy dressed up as character dialog.  I developed that aversion back when I read Any Rand, and it has never left me.  Well, my aversion to Ayn Rand in general has never left me, but that is for another post.

Oh. Yeah.  And it has Sparknotes.   I also have an aversion to the idea that we readers can’t read anything deeper than Harlequin romances and understand them without somebody else explaining to us what it all means.

Let’s see, how about a couple of clever quotes?  OK, you talked me into it:

[About a famous missionary whom the church supported] — To celebrate his ten thousandth convert, the pastor had been funded to take a long holiday and tour his collection of weapons, amulets, idos and primitive methods of contraception.  The exhibition was called ‘Saved by Grace Alone.’


I was just in time to see the retreating shapes of Mrs. Spencer and Mrs. Sparrow, ripe plums of indignation falling from them.

And finally,

I had won yet another Bible quiz competition, and to my great relief had been picked as narrator for the Sunday School Pageant.  I had been Mary for the last three years, and there was nothing else I could bring to the part.

And since there is nothing else I can bring to the part of reviewer here, I bid you adieu.   Have fun reading this lovely book.


THE EMPATHY EXAMS by Leslie Jamison

empathy-examsThis is a collection of essays about pain and unhappiness and sh*t that happens and our responses to our own pain and to the pain of others.  Since I am all about empathy and compassion and all that good stuff,  and try hard not to drive too far into Snarkyland without my GPS,  I figured that this was the book for me.

Except it wasn’t.  Geez, what a self-serving, egocentric  piece of it prestigious writer workshop claptrap that, as one reviewer put it,  “…just drips with MFA-ishness: for example, saying that “It was like something is XYZ, until it absolutely isn’t”.   

She examines all kinds of diverse situations of pain and unhappiness, such as a convention of people who have a non-disease they swear is real, a tour of riot-ruined L.A.,  a stint in Nicaragua where she got punched in the face by a mugger, (and frankly, after wading through this book I myself wanted to punch her in the face to remove the smug aren’t-I-just_so-terribly-erudite-and-precious look off her keyboard),  a wander through the story of three boys in Arkansas who got prison sentences for the murder of three other boys but it turns out twenty years later that maybe they didn’t murder those boys after all so they were released,  and yet we never felt she really felt sorry about any of this stuff she writes about  (except for the broken face which an ‘expensive surgeon’ in L.A. couldn’t really fix properly), but was more interested in showing us how she looked being empathetic about it all.

Oh, Buddha, save me from mannered expositions of the writer’s personal almost non-existent emotions.  A Kardashian-style look at events:  look at me looking at this event, this subject, this theme, except with less cleavage.  Self-righteous mutton dressed as lamb.  She tells us that Faulkner wrote “Tragedy is second-hand.”   And so is the empathy in this book.

For me, my only worthwhile takeaway from this book was, “You are a little soul carrying around a corpse.”    And it wasn’t even original.  Epicetus said that in the 100s AD.  Honey, take your skinny-assed, Harvard-degree corpse and maybe stick with the Iowa Writers Workshop fiction which you constantly tell us you write.


jessica-bensonFootball, sex and murder.  What more do you need?  Believable characters?  Ummmm…well, no.    Lots of football stuff?  OK, got that.    A real poser of a mystery?  Not so much.

It’s one of those books you read fairly eagerly, happily turning pages, get to the end, and it’s well,   hmmmmm what’s for lunch?

It is set in Miami, with a larger than life, nicer than you could ever believe star quarterback with the truly nifty name of Kyle Sands.  Can you BE more Anglo Saxon than that?  He is just a sweetie, but for some strange reason, has a real slut of a girlfriend,  which doesn’t seem to fit his style.  He gets drunk at a party with her, and has a big loud fight, punches some intruding guy in the snozola, and drags her out of there.  They have another fight on the sidewalk outside of her building, and he stomps off in a cloud of thunder.

Can you guess what happens next?  You can?  Then you should be writing formula mystery stories like this one.  Yep, you nailed it.  She is found brutally beaten, well dead, actually, in her apartment with the word ‘whore’ cut into her forehead.  And guess who is the prime suspect?  Yep, right again.

The two detectives who catch this case are lovely Karen somebody or other, and another guess what!   She knew Kyle way back in high school in East Bumf*ck someplace, but instead of taking herself off the case due to conflict of interest, keeps that little fact to herself.  Meanwhile, her much older, much fatter male partner, takes an instant dislike to the football player, and continues to play it over the top rough and tough with him.

So does little miss Detective Karen do her damn job and get to investigating?  No, she goes to visit the old high school friend on the Q. T.  and they instantly fall into lust.  So much for objectivity.

The improbable dead girlfriend is portrayed by everyone as the Slut of the Year, banging everyone in sight, including the hot female trainer.  She is painted as just so awful as to be pretty much unbelievable.  Not that people such as she do not exist, but why would Mr. Goody Two Shoes want anything to do with her?  Makes no sense.

Anyway, we find out who did it, and I was pretty much on the money, seeing as how it was telegraphed so a person standing on distant shores could see it.

Bottom line, thumb-wise?    Twiddling.


AS THE CROW FLIES by Damien Boyd

crow-fliesA rock climbing mystery.  You don’t see many of those, now do you.  As the Crow Flies is the name of a climbing route.  Apparently, climbing routes have cool names, like Ocean Wall, Left Unconquerable, Honeymoon Tonight, Pineapple Thunderpussy.    Who knew?  I’m a ‘feet on the ground’ kind of gal.  I see no reason to risk my life, not to mention my limbs, scrabbling around vertical surfaces where there is handy dandy tax-money-paid-for paved road to the summit not too far off to my left.  Know what I mean?  If I really want to see the view all that badly, I’ll buy a postcard.

Nick Dixon is the new homicide detective on the Avon and Somerset police force.  It is apparently a big rock climbing area, and folks come from all over to make the ascents.  He moved there from Wimbleton, and was not there too long when a climber’s rope came undone and the climber fell to his death.  Looked pretty much like an accident, until he found out the climber was an old friend of his, one who taught him how to climb.  The devastated parents called Nick, and asked him to look into it, because it was such a rookie mistake, one that Jake, the dead climber, would have never made.

The more Nick looks into it, the more he finds that is hinky.  Seems to be a connection with drug dealing, and …. get this ….. trafficking in stolen birds’s eggs.  Seems that the eggs of birds of prey go for some pretty big bucks…. er ….. pounds Sterling…… over in the Middle East where falconry is  YUGE.   So an expert rock climber could make himself a tidy bundle trading in those eggs.

A young girl dies of a drug overdose, another guy turns up dead in the waters where he was fishing for pike.  Gee, this idyllic area seems to be filling up with former living persons.

Great mystery, and even thought I had the tiniest glimmer of who the killer might be, it was a fun mystery to follow.


See?  Now why would someone in their right mind want to be doing this?  Google view, people.  Google view.  Much safer.







SIDONIA’S THREAD by Hanna Perlstein Marcus

sidonias-threadI don’t often read memoirs of the middle class and unfamous.  Actually, I don’t usually read memoirs of the celebrated rich and famous either.  I figure most memoirs are self-serving examples of revisionist history.  But I downloaded this one maybe because it had to do with sewing.  Being a fiber chick myself, I guess I figured I would give it a try.

It is written by the daughter of a Hungarian Jewish woman.  The woman and her entire family were herded out of their small town in Hungary, near what is now the Czechoslovakian border, at the beginning of WWII,  and   ended up in two different extermination camps.  Hanna appears to have avoided the worst deprivations because she could sew, and was used for these abilities.  She was with her sister for a while, but the sister died of malnutrition, typhoid and exhaustion.   The rest of the family had totally disappeared and were never heard from again.  After the camps were liberated, she ended up in a displaced person’s camp for a couple of years while awaiting the documents necessary for immigration to the United States.  The woman, Sidonia, had a daughter while in the camp, and she and her daughter were eventually placed in Springfield, Mass. where they began their new lives in 1949.

Being not terribly well educated, Sidonia’s only skill was sewing, and she was really a crackerjack at it.  She did home sewing for a couple of years while looking for work, and eventually got a job in a factory, where she worked for a couple of decades, moving up to foreman.

It is beautifully and movingly told by the daughter, all about their lives and their sometimes rocky relationship.  Sidonia was extremely private, and although loving, not terribly demonstrative.  But she was a fabulous seamstress, and her daughter Hanna served as her model as her mother created design after design all her life.

It was not until Hanna was well into adulthood that she finally learned who her father was, because her mother refused to talk about it, so this thread runs through the story.

Through her childhood, Sidonia would tell Hanna stories of her life in Hungary, and the events of their experiences during the Holocaust.

Late in her sewing career, Sidonia was given a big book of sewing, the 1967 edition of the Coats and Clark’s Sew Book, by a grateful customer.  She cherished it always, and it was among her possessions when she died.  Hanna starts each chapter with a quote from the book that is relevant to the subject matter of the chapter, such as Interfacing,  True Bias, Lining, Marking, Back Stitch, etc.   The thread in the title is Sidonia’s vision for her daughter’s future.

It was a loving tribute to her mother, and a way to bring together the many threads of her life.  I was really glad I read it.  I do admit to a sniffle or two throughout.  Allergies, probably.  Yeah.  You know, the dust in the air.



BOOK OF SHADOWS by Alexandra Sokoloff

book-of-shadows-ebook-225Like police procedurals?  Like a good mystery?  Like a bit of horror?   Like a smidge of paranormal thrown in?  Then you are going to love this book.

It starts off with the discovery at the Boston landfill of a decapitated body of a young girl.  Also missing her left hand.  Also with 333 carved into her body, and a symbol involving triangles.  Well!  You know me,  I am all about headless bodies, and bodiless heads, so right away, I am totally IN.

Garrett and Landauer are the homicide detectives who catch this case,  and what with the carvings and the missing body parts, it does have that certain aura of a satanic ritual killing.

They easily track down a fellow college student of the murdered young woman, and since his dorm room is filled with all kinds of satanic paraphernalia,  it looks like the case is solved.  Screwed, blued, and tatooed.

Except.  A ‘witch’ from nearby Salem comes into the police station and tells Garrett that she has the ‘sight’, and knows that the boy in custody did not do it.  Just want to tell you that modern witches are not necessarily hags with huge moles on their noses and hair growing out of their ears.  Nope.  This one is young, classy, and just the kind of chick you would like to peruse a crystal ball with.

Well, things get complicated….. and a bit paranormalish.  But one of the things I really liked about this book was that just as you are sure it’s ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, BAM, Detective Garrett comes up against the normal reality which is creating the effect.  So at the end, we are sure everything is due to the normal, not the paranormal,  and yet…..

ghostsOr, maybe its…….


Great book,  great mystery and lots of fine characters.  And ghosts.  And Satan.


bainbridge-killingsNice little mystery, featuring an FBI profiler sent to an island across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Washington.  There have been murders by poison in a red wine of three wealthy residents, and the local law enforcement feels overwhelmed and decided to call in help.

Jon Stevens is a clever man, and would have been a lot more interesting if he weren’t the tragic hero so beloved by mystery writers.  Something dark in his past, hinted at but not explained,  has made him a loner,  unwilling and unable to buddy up with anyone.  Sigh.  I am so tired of these flawed but able guys.  I want to yell, ‘Get over yourself!’ but yeah, I know, it is only fiction.

Jon zips along in disguise, and rather zippily determines that there are safe rooms in all three huge mansions in which the people died,  and goes forth to find the builder, because somebody has to know about these rooms, right?

It all whips along at what seems a frantic pace, and then boom!  the ending and the solve.  Ta-da.  It turned out to be maybe a long story, or a short novella, and although I enjoyed it, (all but the dude’s annoying angst), it would have made a really good full length book.  It was just too short.