By Laura Alden
Published by Obsidian
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.
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.
Filed under Adult Fiction, Drama, Europe, Family, Historical, Murder, Mystery, Psychological, Romance, War, Writers