Category Archives: Family

The Last Child

the last childby John Hart

John Hart is a writer who describes himself as a “recovering” attorney who lives in North Carolina, the site of his novels.  Although he is currently not practicing law, his experience in our criminal justice system benefits his writing.  He has received praise as a writer who can bring his characters to life, making them very real to the reader.  His thrillers keep us on the edge of our seats, unable to put his work down.  In the book “The Last Child,” Hart mixes a boyhood adventure much like Huckleberry Finn’s with a modern mystery of missing children and serves us a winner of a story.

The hero of the book, Johnny Merrimon, is a 13-year-old boy who had lived in a very happy and strong family.  This changed a year ago when his sister disappeared.  Johnny still will not accept that she might be dead.  His family has been devastated.  Johnny’s father has disappeared, apparently absorbing blame for not being on time to pick up his daughter.  His mother feels guilty and changes her entire life-style, having lost two of her loves- her daughter and her husband.  She uses drugs and alcohol to dull the pain.  The result is that she loses touch with her son.  Both Johnny and his mother are abused by the town’s rich and influential power figure.  Johnny fights back the only way he knows how.  He spends his every moment and all of his energy to find the sister—the twin sister he has lost.  Clyde Hunt, the troubled police detective, is always there, still trying to solve the mystery, which has devastated him and his family, too.  Now the town cringes in fear.  Another young girl has gone missing.

Before long there are dead bodies and twists and turns that keep the reader both guessing and involved.  Hart’s book is full of action and suspense.  There is little time to rest, or to put this exciting book down—which you certainly won’t.  Our book club gave this book the highest rating of any book we have read.  I highly recommend it to both mystery lovers and to anyone who enjoys a fast-paced, exciting story.

Key Ideas from different club members:

I really liked the characters; Well-written; Like 2 books in 1; Wonderful page-turner!  Loved it; Nice read; Fantastic!  Suspense and drama all wrapped up into one; Kept you reading and guessing; Couldn’t predict the ending; Keeps you guessing till the end; Fabulous book!

The Club Members rating of this book:

Pat Gombita, Pat Kuna, Sharon Shaffer, Julie Shultz, Bill Simmons, Helen Skalski, Deb Stewart, Barb Swanson, and Linda Troll

Club’s Average Rating:  4.9 of 5       Rating Range:  4 to 5

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Crime, Family, Fourth Tuesday Book Club Books, Murder, Mystery

Foul Play at the PTA

By Laura Alden

Published by Obsidian

Copyright ©2011 

Laura Alden gives us a second installation of the PTA Murders. Who knew that Wisconsin could be hazardous to your health?

Beth Kennedy is a single mom with 2 kids that she loves. She makes sure to come to her kid’s hockey games, attends school functions, manages her home, owns and manages a children’s book store, and is secretary of the PTA. Still she finds time to solve murders. I say murders because this is the second book from Laura Alden in which Beth is impressed into solving a murder because the local sheriff’s office is getting nowhere fast.

In this PTA mystery the local nice guy is murder in the school parking lot after a PTA meeting, but no one can imagine why because everyone genuinely liked him. Beth doesn’t want to get involved, but when she starts losing business at the book store because local do gooders think one of her new employees is a murderer, Beth is compelled to find the real killer to clear an innocent name and get business back to normal.

The PTA murders are not for serious mystery novel fans. Even the casual fan enjoys trying to figure out whodunit before they get to the end of the book, but Alden doesn’t give you that opportunity. Alden does her best to throw you off the scent of the killer giving mildly compelling reasons for others to be the culprit, but the reader is not introduced to the killer in the beginning so how can they ever be considered.

In actuality there seems to be little intrigue and a whole lot of family, boyfriend, PTA interaction with only a small amount being useful to the case at hand. With all of the preceding said however, for those of who just like to sit down and lose themselves in someone else’s story without trying to figure things out this is a great book. The main character, Beth, and her sidekick, Marina, are likable and easy to relate to. And her peripheral characters meld well with the story and its main characters. Alden really does a great job of creating characters like local busybodies and PTA parents that you actually hate, probably because we all know someone like them. I really was more interested in the families Thanksgiving plans, the PTA meetings, the book store, and her budding relationship than I was with the mystery itself.

Needless to say in the end this is a fun and easy book to read, but don’t expect a mind shattering mystery. She presents us with a super mom but not such a super sleuth.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Family, Murder, Mystery

The Distant Hours

By Kate Morton

Published by Washington Square Press

Copyright © 2010

 

“The Distant Hours” is not only a great title for this book, but for all of Morton’s work. She excels at haunting her pages with imagined lives and visions from England’s Victorian and post-Victorian past. In reading this story you’ll find out what the distant hours are, and you’ll begin to see how relevant it is Morton’s writing.

 

Edie Burchill has always felt a bit disconnected from her parents and from her extended family. Her parents seem the practical sort and her mom’s family is the brash and crude sort with a chip on their shoulder for any who they perceive to look down their noses at them. Edie; however, is bookish and a bit of a dreamer. She longs to be closer to her family, especially her mother, but their differences make it hard to cross the chasm.

 

When Edie’s mother receives a letter that had been lost in the post for decades, and she sees her mother’s dramatic reaction to its contents, she must know more. And even though her mother stonewalls her at every turn, Edie slowly uncovers her mother’s past which includes her rocky relationship with her family and her days as a child evacuee from London during World War II when she spent a glorious year in the English countryside at Middlehurst Castle with the Blythe family. So in addition to uncovering her mother’s history she also unravels the secrets that waft in the air and seep from the stones of Middlehurst Castle. Edie learns of the personal heartaches of the twins, Percy and Saffy, and of their little sister Juniper Blythe. She is eventually entrusted with two horrible secrets that have their roots deeply entrenched in Edie’s favorite book “The True History of the Mud Man,” which just so happened to be written by the Blythe sisters’ father, Raymond.

 

As I’ve mentioned in a previous review, I absolutely love Kate Morton’s writing! The way she descriptively creates a setting and a mood is just phenomenal. And her acumen with character development keeps the story riveting. Her characters motivations and secrets are never presented entirely upfront; she slowly feeds you what you need to know about a character until you have a much more complex person that what you started with. In this story Percy and Saffy Blythe, the twins, are perfect examples of this. They are each initially described as the opposite side of the same coin; one the picture of strength and purpose and the other weak and motherly; however, by the end of the story these notions are nearly turned on their side.

 

Having read “The Forgotten Garden” and now “The Distant Hours,” I’ve really begun to hone in on Mortons’ forte as a mystery writer. She excels at writing the decades and even centuries old imagined cold-case. She knows how to dig from the present to the past, how to make family research look exciting. While she is not the first to write these types of stories it works now more than ever as people are becoming more and more interested in the uncovering of family history. The interest is not just in one’s own family history, but the histories of famous people and of complete strangers.

 

If I had any criticism at all, it might be that on rare occasions what is presented in a flashback chapter might be just as interesting if discovered in the present. This of course may take a little from the character development that I gushed about earlier. To be completely honest though, “The Distant Hours” was just so thoroughly engrossing that few negative thoughts popped into my head.  If you have yet to read a Kate Morton book then “The Distant Hours” is a great place to start.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Drama, Europe, Family, Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, War, Writers

Calico Joe

By John Grisham

Published by Doubleday

Copyright © 2012

John Grisham departs from his normal fare of legal thrillers and gives us an enjoyable story about America’s pastime, forgiveness, and redemption. 

When the Chicago Cubs first baseman and his counterpart in AAA went down with injuries the team found itself in need of a first baseman and they reached down into their AA system and called up Joe Castle in the summer of 1973. Joe was a wide eyed kid with a quick bat and even quicker feet; while he might have been nervous he wasn’t intimidated. He goes on a torrid, record setting, hitting streak to start his career and helps lift the Cubbies from the middle of the pack up to first place in their division. It was the feel good story of the year. Every young boy wanted to be Joe Castle, including Paul Tracey.

Paul Tracey was the 11 year old son of another Major Leaguer, Warren Tracey, a streaky starting pitcher for the New York Mets nearing the twilight of his career. As terrible as Warren often was on the pitchers mound he was even worse as a father and husband. Paul wanted to emulate his father and gain his love, but having a new baseball hero caused conflicting emotions. When Paul’s father and hero met on the baseball diamond something happened that changes the life of these three forever.

30 years later, as Warren is only months away from dying, these events set Paul on a path to find out if there is one shred of decency left in his father.

Calico Joe is a quick and enjoyable read told from the perspective of Paul Tracey. Grisham freely admits that he takes liberties with dates, names, places, stats, and etc. Though I’m a baseball fan, I don’t mind. I know you can’t take fictional players and insert them into realistic history without messing up the space time continuum. One thing that does bother me a little is that Grisham has made our hero, Joe Castle, almost Herculean. The feats that he attains on the baseball diamond, while I guess not impossible, are so unfathomable that you might have to change its genre listing to fantasy fiction.

That being said there were many things I loved about this book. The relationship between Paul and Warren isn’t sugar coated, and in the end it isn’t magically fixed. I hate it when writers let dysfunctional family members off of the hook too easily, because life isn’t like that. One minor act of redemption cannot overshadow years of neglect and abuse. I also liked that Grisham tackled some of baseball’s unwritten rules, especially the unwritten code for throwing at a batter.

In the end I think Grisham has adequately mixed baseball with family drama. It might not be the timeless classic that baseball fans always hope for, but like a utility infielder it was strong up the middle with a serviceable bat. And at a mere 198 pages it is a really quick read.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Drama, Family, Sports

The Forgotten Garden

By Kate Morton

Published by Washington Square Press

Copyright © 2008

A genealogical mystery spanning nearly 100 years and 2 continents, “The Forgotten Garden” captivates the senses and the imagination.

Cassandra lived with her grandmother Nell in Brisbane, Australia, until recently when her grandmother died. Nell left Cassandra their home and the antiques business that they worked in together. In addition she left a somewhat perceptible secret which had implications to a mystery that Nell was trying to solve.

It was always a little odd how different Nell was from her sisters and the rest of her family, but Cassandra didn’t think much of it until after Nell’s death when her great aunts tell her that Nell had known for quite awhile now that she was not a blood relative. By way of a little white suitcase that Nell received after her father’s death and the diary that Nell kept of her own identity search thereafter, Cassandra begins to piece together the clues of Nell’s family history. This mystery will take her to London and then to a cottage and garden on the Cornish Coast where she will find links in her family history that she could not imagine. Through this journey of discovery through her ancestor’s tragic lives she will slowly begin to cope with her own tragic history and begin to move beyond it.

Kate Morton has written a riveting mystery riddled with loss and loneliness that ultimately ends in truth and contentment. This novel shifts back and forth between three main characters that lived decades apart. At the beginning of each chapter Morton clearly tells us what place and time period you are reading from so the book is in no way confusing. You would think that skipping between time periods might slow the book down; however, it provides the necessary history for the reader to see where Cassandra is headed or where she has been.

In addition, Morton’s characters in this book are often gloomy and burdened with secrets, and yet for a few of them she draws them towards the light making us take pleasure in their company. She also paints a moody yet beautiful picture of the Cornish Coast which is made all the more so when contrasted with the glaring sun and oppressive heat of Australia. She makes me want my own cottage on the Cornish Coast. “The Forgotten Garden” is a spellbinding novel with a surprising yet fitting climax that I highly recommend.

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Filed under Family, Mystery, Romance, Strong Sense of Place