UNGLUED by Zig Davidson

A murder mystery, but wait, no.  It’s a crime novel.  But yet sort of.  It is sci fi fantasy, but only partially.

OK, here’s the deal.  Martin Gonlea’s life takes a sudden wrong turn as he rounds a street corner in lower Manhattan to find his mistress dead on the sidewalk. He can’t account for the minutes leading up to her death, and the more he tries to fix things–with his wife, and with her hard-boiled NYPD detective sister–the more quickly they unravel. Clocks fly out of windows, watches run backward, and time becomes undependable in this fantasy-tinged story of guilt, lust, obsession, and redemption.

He finds he can reset the clock, but each time he tries to do that, to get back before the bad stuff, when he comes to in that new time, things go awry.  And he finds his ability unreliable, sometimes putting him in the future, sometimes in the past.  He sees the deaths of several people, and when he tries to move time to avoid it, it seems to happen anyway, in yet a different time setting.

In different time settings, different people are the murderer, different people are the dead victim, and nothing is certain.

I absolutely loved this, except for the very very end, which was a total cop-out, a taffy for the lady readers.

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RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles

This is by the same author who wrote A Gentleman in Moscow, which I LOVED, and which you can read about here.

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast–rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire, and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne’er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is ahead of her time, and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

Back in the days when a single gal working in a typing pool in Manhattan, can actually afford to live  with only ONE roommate.  hahahaha

The prologue to this novel takes place at an exhibition of photographs by Walker Evans in 1966. The author tells us that Evans had waited 25 years to show these photos to the public due to a concern for the subjects’ privacy. The photos are taken with a hidden camera in the NYC subway car and “captured a certain naked humanity.” Katey sees an old friend, Tinker Grey, in two of these pictures. In one he’s clean shaven, wearing a custom shirt and a cashmere coat. In a photo dated one year later he looks underweight and dirty in a threadbare coat.

The story starts 25 years earlier, when native New Yorker Katey and her midwest, true blonde roommate meet a cutie in a jazz bar.  The three pal around, he wealthy and decent, they, chronically broke and ready for anything, and one night, as the three are out in bad weather in his little sports car, they are hit from behind.  Katey and Tinker are unhurt, but the girlfriend is thrown through the windshield, badly hurt, with terrible damage to her face and leg, which will be lame for the rest of her life.  Tinker takes her in after she leaves the hospital to recover in his sumptuous apartment, and eventually become an ‘item’.    But the girl is not impressed, feeling that he is compensating for the accident.  “You break it, you buy it.”  she tells Katey.

Meanwhile, Katey seems to be getting around with the jet set friends of Tinker, and the book is essentially about the two girls, and the trajectory of their lives.

You can look up Walker Evans.  He was a real person,  a photographer and photojournalist best known for his work for the Farm Security Administration documenting the effects of the Great Depression.   His Subway Portraits was a real thing, too.

 

BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty

The other three books of Moriarty which I have read were all women’s fiction with an edge, but women’s fiction all the same.  Big Little Lies was for me soooooo much better.

Structured as a murder mystery, told in part with snippets of testimony, remarks of investigating officers, interviews with a journalist,  and opinions of the various cast of characters, it features three very different women, all mothers of children entering kindergarten in a small coastal town near Sydney.  The clique-ish mothers of the school are a foil for the three women friends, one a normal mom with a normal loving marriage, one a edgy single mom, and one a beautiful wealthy women, mother of twins.

On orientation day, the daughter of one of the pushy self-important women emerges crying inconsolably, claiming a boy tried to strangle her.  She shakily points to the son of the single mom, both of whom are then ostracized, he for bullying, although he adamantly denies it, and the mother for not forcing him to say sorry.

Things progress, as things do in novels, until the denouement, culminating at Parent’s Trivia Night at the school, where one parent is killed.  We do not learn who the deceased is until the very end.

It is about domestic violence, bullying, appearances, and friendship.    Although I enjoyed the other books,  this one I really really liked.

STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson

No matter your fav genre, when you come upon a book titled “Started Early, Took My Dog”, you HAVE to read it, just to see what that was all about, right?

This is apparently the final volume of the Jackson Brodie series.  I have in my queue the third book, which I have not read in order, stupid me, but will soon.

This was terrific.  Retired Police officer Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life – a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other – or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.

Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the detective of the previous novels in the series, is embarking on a different sort of rescue – that of an abused dog.

Brodie is traveling the country trying to find the origins of a women in New Zealand who was adopted from the UK as a two-year-old, and has hired him to find her ancestry, so to speak.  That origin seems to hinge on a 30-year-old murder of a prostitute, in which a young child was discovered having been locked in the apartment with his dead mother for three weeks, and which Tracey was involved in as a young cop.  Along his travels, Brodie happens upon a guy being mean to a sweet little dog.  Brodie steps in, and now owns a dog, which he takes with him in a duffle bag.  Now we have Tracey, traveling with the little four year old (whom she bought from a woman, and no one is sure that woman is even the mother of this kiddle diddle, and and we have Jackson traveling with his newly acquired canine.  Interesting thought here.  In the Tarot deck, the No. 1 card is The Fool, usually portrayed carrying a bundle on a stick, with a little dog gamboling at his side, about to step off a cliff as his gaze is directed elsewhere.  He represents naivety and innocence, and the dog is said to represent protection, which as it turns out, comes to pass in the story.

So, dog, child, cats, wives, how many were going to St. Ives.   Another great puzzle which all comes together at the very end, in true Atkinson style.

FAREWELL, MY DEUCE by Renée Pawlish

“Life and the detecting business are running smoothly for private eye Reed Ferguson, until one of the Goofball Brothers goes missing. Reed leads the search and soon discovers Deuce’s connection to some unscrupulous characters. As Reed learns more about Deuce’s activities, the clues point to intrigue, danger and death. But will Reed find his friend alive, or will it be “Farewell, My Deuce.”  ”

A fun lite noir detective story.  Yeah, I know.  ‘Fun’, and ‘lite’ aren’t usually paired with ‘noir’, but this is a new world we live in, baby, and we have to get our thrills where we find them.    Built as an homage to Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely,  this enjoyable read follows P.I. Reed Ferguson as he searches for one of his friends, the eponymous Deuce, brother to Ace, both named by their poker playing father .

So delightfully film noir, but set in the modern era, with plenty of references to days of old, it calls up images of Carole Lombard in her satin dresses, and Bogart being Bogart.   This is the fourth in an almost endless series of 16 Ferguson books.  So channel your soft-boiled hardboiled inner P.I. and have a read.

THROUGH STREETS BROAD AND NARROW by Gemma Jackson

A tale set in 1920’s Dublin, in the vast tenement district, chronicling the poverty and struggle of its inhabitants, told through the life of Ivy Rose Murphy, complete with an Angela’s Ashes alcoholic father, a mother who abandoned the family, and a vile, evil local priest.

Here is the official plot description:

On New Year’s Day 1925 Ivy Rose Murphy awakes to find her world changed forever. Her irresponsible Da is dead. She is grief-stricken and alone – but for the first time in her life free to please herself.

After her mother deserted the family, Ivy became the sole provider for her da and three brothers. Pushing a pram around the well-to-do areas of Dublin every day, she begged for the discards of the wealthy which she then turned into items she could sell around Dublin’s markets.

As she visits the morgue to pay her respects to her Da, a chance meeting introduces Ivy to a new world of money and privilege, her mother’s world. Ivy is suddenly a woman on a mission to improve herself and her lot in life.

Jem Ryan is the owner of a livery near Ivy’s tenement. When an accident occurs in one of his carriages, leaving a young girl homeless, it is Ivy he turns to. With Jem and the people she meets in her travels around Dublin, Ivy begins to break out of the property-ridden world that is all she has ever known.

It is kind of cozy noir, as things progressively get better, in spite of a snag here and there.  I found it a lovely read, and there is a sequel, too.

PORTRAIT IN SEPIA by Isabel Allende

Portrait in Sepia is actually the middle volume of a trilogy, between Daughter of Fortune and House of the Spirits.   I read House of the Spirits long before I started this blog, so it is not among my musings here, and have not read Daughter of Fortune.  But never fear, this is a stand alone novel, you don’t need the first volume at all.

It is the story of a young woman, daughter of a beautiful young girl who dies in childbirth, granddaughter of a Chilean woman and a Chinese man, very unusual in the later part of the 19th century in San Francisco, and of the neer-do-well son of a very wealthy Chilean couple, also living in San Francisco.  The son refuses to acknowledge his paternity, and a male cousin formally adopts her so she will have a name, and still belong to the Del Valle family.

There is a great deal about grandmother Paulina Del Valle, an obese but astute woman who has such a head for business that the family’s money soon becomes the family’s great wealth, and they have a huge mansion in S.F. where she dominates the social scene.

The little girl, Aurora (Lai Ming) is brought up by her Chilean grandmother and Chinese grandfather until age five, when the grandfather is murdered by the tangs, the wife wants to take his body back to Hong Kong for burial, so the grandmother turns the child over to the wealth grandmother.  At some point, they return to Chile, to Santiago, a back water compared to San Francisco, but is the biggest most progressive city in Chile.  There, Paulina sets up shop again as the big cheese, the granddaughter Aurora falls in love with a handsome son of a ranching family several days travel from Santiago, where they have vast landholdings that had been in the family for centuries.  The marriage fails, because the husband has been in love for years with the wife of his brother.  The granddaughters perfects her craft of photography, and when she learns her grandmother Paulina is close to death, travels to Santiago and never returns to her husband.

The story covers the Chilean civil war, a couple of them, actually, and runs from 1862 to 1910, and is told in the form of a memoir by Aurora. The title refers to her feeling that although family members and events from early in her life are clearly outlined in the black and white photos, and the later ones in the color she begins to use in her film, a lot of her family history is not clear, and appears more as a portrait in sepia.

A fine story, as are all Allende’s books.

Oh, did I mention the translator?  It is Magda Bogin.  Allende writes in Spanish, being a native born Chilean.