PROMISES TO KEEP by Ann Tatlock

A charming chick lit work, it blends the serious with the humorous to good effect.   Set in the 50s?  60s?  A mother and her three kids leave an abusive, alcoholic man and move out of state to the small town where her prosperous father lives, who helps her buy a house only a few blocks from him.  She gets a job at the department store which his wife owns.

But their first morning there, they awake to find an elderly woman comfortably seated on their front porch, reading their newspaper. Her name is Tillie, and she has removed herself from the assisted care facility back to what was once her home until her three sons sold it after their father died.  She refuses to leave, and her one son who still lives in the town comes rushing up to take her back.

Tillie shows up again the next day, insisting that the house is hers, even though it had been sold, because she and her husband built it, she has sweat equity in it.  The family can’t get rid of her;  she goes into the kitchen and makes herself a cup of tea. cleans up and starts to make herself useful.

When school starts again, mom is working, and the teen son has to go back to school, there is no one to take care of the youngest toddler, Tillie says she can do it, and they offer her a room in the house.

Meanwhile, the alcoholic father has followed them to the new town,  and secretly contacts our young 11 year old protagonist, swearing her to secrecy, telling her that the family will get together again soon, when the time is right.  He swears he has given up drinking and is now a model citizen.

She believes him, and meets up with him a couple of times, finally telling him where she lives, and even describing the house and the bedrooms.

Well, you can guess that such a sharing is a very poor idea, and culminates in a corker of an ending.

Promises.  Be careful what you promise.

 

 

 

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A DREAM OF DEATH by Harrison Drake

Police procedural, but comes burdened with two plot lines that don’t seem to go together very well.  Ontario Provincial Police Detective Lincoln Munroe is heading an investigation into a serial killer who targets women whose husbands work nights. He leaves no trace whatsoever, until he kills a woman who is pregnant, and writes I’m sorry on the wall in lipstick.

It is the usual thing and the police finally catch him.

However, it is intertwined with a side story or substory or  secondary plot or whatever you want to call it, where the detective has a series of nightmares that come to a head when he is invited to help a fellow cop investigate the removal of the remains of a decades old murder in the Allegheny Forest. a place where his father took him camping as a child. These nightmares culminate in the appearance of repressed memories of that camping trip, resulting in solving the murder of the person comprising the mostly skeletal remains.

Oh yeah, and then there is the third strand which is about his partner, an attractive young single woman, the deteriorating marriage of the detective because he is married to his cases instead of to his family,  his infidelity with the partner, and his claims of wanting to make it work with the little wifey.

I admit to becoming just a bit tired of the flawed detective trope, and have absolutely NO compassion for anyone who commits adultery, believing that a person should finish one relationship before embarking on another.

So three books in one.  I would have preferred them to be three separate books, because it was all just a bit too much for one.   I like my mysteries, neat, not on the rocks.

 

THIS CENSUS-TAKER by China Miéville

China Miéville is an award-winning author, writing in the ‘weird’ genres – post-apocalyptic, fantasy, fabulism, specultive fiction, and of course, sci-fi.  But sci-fi covers such a broad spectrum these days that it is impossible to use it effectively as a category.

In this novella-length work, we readers are plopped right down in the middle of a world that is ‘after the wars’,  but just where its location is or the exact date or era is not given.  The locale is geographically located on the side of a mountain and its valley town. It features a young boy of 7 who comes running down the mountain into town, screaming because one of his parents has just killed the other.

Since the authorities in the town cannot take action without evidence, they go up the mountain to see for themselves, where they find the father, who shows them a letter purportedly from the mother saying she is leaving, to go back to her own people.  There is no trace of her, nor of any killing.

The boy is sent back to live with his father, a magical key maker.  But the father is also a mentally deranged man who kills animals and people just for the heck of it.  He then tosses the bodies into what seems like a bottomless pit inside a nearby cave.  The boy is sure his father has killed his mother and thrown her body into the pit.

One day, a stranger arrives in the town, a census taker, counting those scattered around the world of his people.  He comes to the remote house on the mountainside, has the boy wait some distance from the house after showing him the location of the pit, and some hours later, takes the boy with him to assist in the census taking.

In a flash-forward, or backward or something, we learn that the boy is now grown and is writing one of three mysterious books he is permitted (?)  forced (?) to write, having spent his years accompanying a census taker.  Who employs this census taker, what institution or what government, is never revealed.  The man now writing seems to be writing in a room that is guarded…..  and whether the guard is permitting no one in or keeping the man from leaving, is also not clear.

Is the census taker really an assassin, traveling world wide to locate and eliminate all those from the land of the boy’s father?  We never really know.

These are not my favorite kind of books.  I like things a little clearer, and a more linear plotline.  I really liked his Embassytown,  which was a more straightforward story.  Experimental literature is not really my thang.  I figure, after you are done experimenting, come see me.

 

ICE ON THE GRAPEVINE by R. E. Donald

This is the second in the Hunter Rayne Highway mystery series.  I read the 4th one first, and talked about it here, Sundown on Top of the World.   I may actually get to read the other two in the series as well.

In Sundown,  I felt the mystery was secondary to the characters and their stories.   In Ice on the Grapevine,  the mystery took center stage, and it was a good one!

A couple, newly married, in their late thirties or so, are a husband and wife truck driving team.  She is Canadian, working on getting her green card, and the hubs is an American.  The rules are they can each drive in the other country if it is a leg of their destination for the load.  But they cannot drive point to point within the other country.  Doesn’t really have much to do with the story, but I found it an interesting tidbit.

Along a deserted stretch of the highway in California, a local police officer with great ambitions, is called to the scene of a dead body.  But not just your average, run-of-the-mill dead body.  This one is curled up in a fetal position …. and frozen solid.  On the sole of his shoe is one of those bar code stickers.  The cop traces it to the border customs, and from there to the shipper, and from there to the truckers doing the hauling.  Guess who had the load?  Yep, you got it.   They are hauling a reefer … refrigerator trailer …  that has a load of meat destined for a wholesaler in L.A.   They get tracked down, and pulled over, and taken into custody for the death of the as yet unidentified ice cube.

Back in Canada, a young woman is missing her live-in boyfriend.  Because he is missing.  For 6 days now, so she goes to the RCMP, (the cops) and reports him missing.  The ice cube’s photo has been faxed around, especially to this office, because it covers the area from which the shipment originated.  The intake officer says, wait a minute, comes back with a photo, and OMG it’s the missing boyfriend, a musician.

What was a musician doing in a refrigerator truck?  If he was trying to sneak into the US, he had to know that he would last in that truck only about 3 to 5 hours, no guaranteeing someone would open the doors before he froze to death.   But he had damage to the neck, so looked like someone choked him into unconsciousness before shoving him in.

So are the happy honeymooners responsible?  And why?  The wife has a past, but how would that connect in any way to this?

Hunter Rayne, the former Mountie turned over the road driver does his best to try to find the truth and see that justice is done…. not just for the accused but for the victim as well.

Yep.  Thumbs up.  Really liked it.

THE ROSES UNDERNEATH by C. F. Yetmen

Did you see the movie The Monument Men?  Or read anything about the German Reich looting artworks, and finally stashing it in undisclosed locations?  This is another story about the Monument Men, told from a German woman’s perspective.

It is 1945 in Wiesbaden, Germany.  Anna and her six-year old daughter Amalia are living on scraps, sharing a one room apartment with her elderly aunt.   Anna’s husband, a psychiatrist, is still in a Russian-controlled  area working in a hospital there.  Anna sold what she could and after a huge fight with her husband, who refused to leave, managed to acquire a broken down truck in order to travel to her aunt in Wiesbaden.  The truck broke down 20 kilometers outside of the city, and she and her daughter walked the rest of the way, hoping that when she arrived that her aunt would still be alive and able to take them in.

She gets a job as a typist at the nearby museum which has been turned into a collecting point for the artworks the Americans are finding all over Germany.  There is a new law in place:  no artwork may change hands under any circumstances, not even between friends or family, until further notice.  The goal of the Monument Men is to sort out what is found, and redistribute it back to its rightful owners, or the families of the deceased owners, many of them being Jews, before the trade in artworks begins again.

The second in command of the place needs a translator for the field, when he goes out to investigate reported stashings of work in various abandoned houses, churches, etc., and learns that Anna speaks flawless English from her years living and going to school in London before being forced to return to Germany.

The story is all about the black market for art, the clandestine operations,  and life in 1945 Germany, just at the time when Japan surrendered.  It is about the guilt felt by the citizens, complicit in their knowledge of the camps and the possessions taken by the Nazis.  Anna struggles with this guilt, having living right outside the Theresienstadt camp, and feeling that the German people should all suffer for their actions and lack of actions, that they are all guilty.

It is a poignant story of the characters involved:  the Monument Men, the starving German people, forced to deal with the black market for scarce food,  Anna, her daughter, her Aunt, who remembers such better days, and the closet SS people who still believe in the purity of the Nazi policies.

The title is really interesting.  It is from the idea that although the ground may be covered by winter’s dead and decaying debris, they cover the roses which will appear in the spring. And thus, although Germany is covered with the blood and debris of war, as it is cleaned up, the flowering spirit of its people will once again bloom.

It is really not only a page-turner, but a sad one, and one that can serve as a warning as to what can happen when we ‘let George do it’.   Freedom is everyone’s responsibility, None of us are entitled to it for nothing.

 

 

LONG DIVISION by Kiese Laymon

An interesting first novel by  an American writer, editor and a professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. What you think of it has a lot to do with who you are, your age, your race, your gender.

It features a young black 14 year old, who is a participant in a YouTube contest, Can You Use This Word in a Sentence, or something like that.  It is not a spelling bee, but rather a contest to highlight the most articulate students. Citoyen “City” Coldson is a clever kid, definitely more intelligent than most of his contemporaries in   Post-Katrina Mississippi.  He has a fast mind and often an even faster mouth.  The title of the book comes from:

“City, speed that up.  Why you gotta   be so long division?  For real, you don’t have to tell me all the background.  The story doesn’t have to go on and on and on.  “It doesn’t?”  “No.” Shalaya Crump said.  ·Everything with you is long division.  You busy trying to show all your work.  Just get in and get out.”

City has an on-camera melt down during the finals of the contest, railing against the system, against racism.  He has humiliated his family, and is sent to stay with his grandmother in a small coastal town.  As he is collecting his things from school, a teacher gives him a book titled, Long Division.  In it, all the characters are him and his friends and family, but set in 1985.  The small town is the home of a teen who has disappeared.   In the book he received, the characters find a portal in the woods which take them to 2013, or maybe even farther in the future.

OK, so we have time travel, fantasy, an ongoing theme of racism in America, an ongoing theme of being a young black male in America, an ongoing theme of being a teenager, all told in first person black southern teenage slang and rhythm.  It is just beautifully written.

My issues with this debut effort:  (1) too many themes.  It is hard to examine a serious and painful issue as racism in a short book that includes time travel and finding portals.  I have read many books where the idea of racism in a fantasy world was examined very successfully, but in this one, it is hard to reconcile. Are we readers supposed to be seriously contemplating the pitiful state of race relations in America today, or are we supposed to be having fun popping around the time line?  One or the other.

(2) Because of the intertwining of the current events (2013), and the events in the ‘book’, (1985), it was hard to follow.  I have an e-copy of the book, so maybe in print, there was some kind of differentiation — different fonts for each, perhaps.  It was a really fun idea, and a clever vehicle to carry the mystery of the girl’s disappearance, but definitely confusing to the e-reader.

(3) Because of the number of themes, and none of them layered sufficiently to work, none of the themes was explored enough.  It is a long novella length book, almost as if a story idea had been spun out long enough to create a bookish length.

(4) Essentially, the plot wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. What really shone in this work were the characters.  They were perfection.  They were real.  We didn’t need a plot.  We could have just followed them around for a few days of their quotidian lives, being enchanted by them.  All of that time travel was frankly just distracting.

So whether this was aimed at young black people, who all seemed to love it, as it represents their reality,  or at the general reading public, for whom I think it misses the mark on several literary levels, I don’t know.  Being an old white lady, I am surely not the target demographic.  I think it is a literary mishmash, but we all have to start somewhere.

SEAGULL by Lawton Paul

This is one of those novels usually referred to as ‘poignant’.  I don’t know about you, but I like a poignant novel from time to time, in between the post-apocalyptic depressing stories and all those bodies that abound in the murder mysteries.  A little ‘cheer me up’, you know what I mean?

This is a  sweet story, set in 1980s Florida, featuring 14 year old Jesse, who lives with his older brother Tyler, and his Aunt AJ and his Uncle Art, to whom he always refers as The Old Man.  They live on the St. Johns River, where his uncle makes a living crabbing.  Whenever possible, the boys help out on the boat.  His parents have been dead since he was about 3.  He has developed a phobia about large sea creatures, such as dolpins, sharks, etc, which has carried over into fear of deep water and of the dark.

It is a YA, but yet has more depth than the usual self-obsessed teenager novel.  Jesse’s nemesis at school is a big kid who bullies everyone, and seems to get into fights with impunity.  His father and older brother are just recently home from a stint in prison, his home life is unsavory.  He takes out his anger and pain on his fellow students.

Jesse discovers an old photo of his uncle as a boxer, and asks his uncle to teach him how to box so he can defend himself against that boy.

At one point, the bully taunts him, telling him he knows nothing about his mother, and that his aunt is feeding him lies about her, so he sets off on a quest to find out the truth.

I don’t really know much about this author.  other than he lives in Japan with wife and kids, and has a multivolume paranormal mystery series.  So if you want a lovely, easy, soft read, this is for you.