Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Their Last Secret

Their Last Secret by Rick Mofina
MIRA: 7/28/20
review copy; 400 pages

Their Last Secret by Rick Mofina is a highly recommended thriller.

Twenty years ago Janie, Nikki, and Marie were fourteen-year-old girls living in Eternity Manitoba when they made a blood pact to be "Skull Sisters." The girls were all from struggling families and felt disenfranchised. After a stunt the girls pulled, Janie ended up regularly babysat for one of the wealthiest family in town, Royston (Roy) and Connie Tullock. Janie liked the children, but the Tullocks always shorted her pay and soon she was short a hundred dollars with no hope of actually getting fully paid for her time. Nikki came up with a plan to rob them when they were out of town. This plan resulted in a horrifying crime.

Twenty years later Emma Grant is a school counselor living in California. She is keeping her past buried and a secret from her true-crime author husband, Ben, and her teenage step daughter Kayla. Kayla, however doesn't trust her new stepmother and thinks she is hiding something so she begins asking questions and snooping around. While Kayla is questioning her, Emma knows that trouble is already coming to her doorstep when finds a note stuck on her car windshield at work that says "Soon it will be 20 years. Your day of reckoning is coming." Emma realizes she is being followed and that combines with everything else to threaten to have her secret exposed.

This is a well-written thriller that features a build-up of tension and suspense as the plot elements in the narrative are revealed. The characters introduced are perhaps not as fully developed as I would normally like, but it is all in the name of preserving the tension and keep you questioning what exactly is going on. Mofina holds back enough information to keep you guessing as the anxiety and apprehension grows. You don't have all the information on any one element or character, but you have just enough to keep you riveted to the novel and try to figure out what is going on and how the action is going to unfold. It is a compelling novel right up to the end, which is a little over the top, but still provides an end to the narrative. 4.5

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of MIRA/Harlequin.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Silent Wife

The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter
HarperCollins: 8/4/20
review copy; 496 pages
Will Trent Series #10

The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter is a very highly recommended thriller and procedural. I was riveted to the pages. This is one of the best books I've read this year!

Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent and his partner, Faith Mitchell, investigate the claim of an inmate at the state penitentiary that he has information he will share if his case is reopened. He claims he is innocent of the brutal attack and rape of Beckey Caterino eight years earlier. At the time he was the prime suspect and he claims has proof that the guilty party is still out there committing murder.  There are eight murders that he believes are connected. Nesbitt says that Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver, the now-deceased husband of Will’s girlfriend, medical examiner Sara Linton, framed him, leaving a serial killer at large and still active.

Only days before this another young woman was targeted and murdered. It becomes clear that Will and Faith must begin to investigate the past and will require Sarah's help even though it will bring up the past. To complicate matters, Will and Sara are having a misunderstanding and tension in their current relationship, while the original investigation into Beckey Caterino's attack hearkens back to the time when Jeffrey and Sara were divorced. As everyone looks into Jeffrey's case eight years ago, Sara can't help but recall that time in her life.

Slaughter writes in the afterword: "I bet you guys didn’t notice that I’ve been secretly writing love stories. Really gritty, violent love stories, but still." I loved this and laughed aloud over it and several other statements. (Don't read the afterward until after the novel.)

The narrative alternates back and forth in time from the Grant County investigation eight years ago to the current investigation and the investigations are told through several points-of-view. The details of the attacks are brutal, calculated, and bone-chilling, and that it is certainly a serial killer who has been refining his methods and M.O. As I expected, the writing is excellent and made for an engrossing and absorbing reading experience. Everything works together perfectly in The Silent Wife to create a plot that is complicated, gruesome, dynamic, nuanced, and compelling. The discussion of the stigma that surrounds rape and rape victims and the trauma that they continue to experience is honest, frank and sympathetic.

Obviously, the characters are well-developed and well-known to fans at this point. Readers will be thrilled to go back to Grant County and see some familiar characters. The identity of the killer made perfect sense, but I didn't have a clue who it was until Slaughter dropped enough hints for us all to get it. (Nicely played, Karin!) This is a dark, violent story, but, yeah, also a love story. I enjoyed The Silent Wife immensely and it is going on the list as one of the best novels I've read this year. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Playing Nice

Playing Nice by JP Delaney
Penguin Random House: 7/28/20

review copy; 416 pages

Playing Nice by JP Delaney is a very highly recommended family drama that turns into a tense psychological thriller.

Pete Riley is a stay at home dad and free-lance writer while his partner Maddie Wilson works at an advertising agency. After Pete returns home from dropping their two-year-old son, Theo, off at preschool two strangers arrive at his door. One of the men is Miles Lambert who informs Pete that Theo isn't his son, he's the Lambert's son, and the Miles and Lucy Lambert's son, David, is actually Pete and Maddie's son. The boys were switched at birth by an understaffed hospital. The Lambert's are suing the hospital but would also like to get to know Theo and have Pete and Maddie meet David. They also encourage Pete and Maddie to also sue the hospital.  For right now, the two families propose an amicable solution where they spend time with both children, but soon it becomes clear that Miles has other plans.

Chapters alternate between the point-of-view of Pete and Maddie in this well-written drama. In between the chapters are excerpts of various documents that are clearly part of some legal proceeding, so you know something is going to go wrong and that Miles will file a suit for custody. It also becomes clear early on that Miles has some serious issues. (You might be tempted to yell "Come on - get a clue and your own lawyer asap!" to Pete and Maddie.) Most people in this well-worn plot get a lawyer right away. Delaney does take the switched at birth plot to a new level, so what begins as a family drama quickly turns dark to a psychological thriller.

Characters are all well-developed and very different from each other. Secrets abound, and some of them are darker than others. The plot seems set, but then takes a turn, and another turn, and another. At the end is a twist that will surprise most readers. The obvious debate embedded in the plot is nature vs. nurture in raising children. There are also several instances where innocent mistakes or missteps can be twisted to make someone look bad or as if they had nefarious intentions. 4.5 rounded up

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Pull of the Stars

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown and Company; 7/21/20
review copy; 304 pages

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue is a very highly recommended visit to a Dublin maternity ward during the 1918 influenza pandemic. This novel will stick with you for years to come.

Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in Dublin in maternity where she is given a small cramped former supply room in which to care for and keep in quarantine the expectant mothers who have come down with the new flu. The hospital is overcrowded and everyday there are fewer staff members to look after the patients. Julia has an untrained volunteer, Bridie Sweeney, sent to assist her. Birdie's positive attitude and willingness to help in whatever way she can helps Julia enormously as they are faced with one challenging medical crisis after another. A new doctor has also arrived, Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who is a rumored Sinn Fein Rebel on the run from the police, but a more than capable physician.

Set over just three days in 1918 while WWI is still going on, this is a realistic slice of life during the times. There are three difficult births during these three days and they are described in graphic detail. Donoghue provides carefully researched detailed medical descriptions of the births amid the effects of the pandemic. She doesn't shy away from how the extreme poverty and the societal expectations in Catholic Ireland doom many mothers and children, harming both health and welfare. This is certainly a female centered novel, especially with the focus on pregnancy and childbirth. You will wish the best for Julia and as she works tirelessly through these three long hard days and be thankful that she had Birdie and Dr. Lynn to help her.

Donoghue began writing this novel during the 1918 pandemic’s centennial year, before COVID-19, so all of the details that seem to dovetail with current experiences are simply a recurrence of what happens during a pandemic. It needs to also be pointed out that in the author's notes at the end of the novel, Donoghue discusses the accomplishments of Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who was a real person and doctor of note. This is an incredible novel that will stay with you simply due to the period details and the firmly established setting, time and place. Yes, it can be bleak, dark and harsh, but it also highlights the dedication, compassion and intelligence of a women working under impossible conditions.

The true gem of The Pull of the Stars is the characters that are firmly placed in a very specific historically accurate time and place. This is a character driven novel and almost all of the action all takes place in the one small room. The dedication, personality, character, trials and struggles that Julia and especially Birdie have had to face are portrayed honestly and sorrowfully, but are all indicative of the setting. You will know these women and their character by the end of these three days. There is a romantic subplot toward the end that is best viewed as burgeoning very close friendship that could lead to something in the future in order to give its sudden appearance the context it lacked.

The Pull of the Stars is one of the best novels I've read this year based on how memorable it is. I won't forget it - if only for the detailed medical descriptions of childbirth in this setting.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Little, Brown and Company.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Vacation

The Vacation by T. M. Logan
St. Martin's Publishing: 7/21/20
review copy; 384 pages

The Vacation by T. M. Logan is a recommended domestic thriller.

Kate, Jennifer, Rowan, and Izzy, four best friends from their university days in Bristol, England, and their families take a vacation together to a luxurious villa in the south of France. It is supposed to be a dream vacation get away to celebrate their fortieth birthdays and their decade long friendships, but it turns into a nightmare. After arriving, Kate discovers texts on her husband Sean's phone that imply he is having an affair with one of her three friends. She immediately begins watching everyone, looking for clues as to which friend has betrayed her. Is it Jennifer, who dated Sean in college and is still beautiful? Is it Rowan, a successful, wealthy, elegant woman who set up the whole holiday? Or is it Izzy, who is still single and was a childhood friend of Sean? The trouble is that there are plenty of secrets being kept by everyone, including husbands and children, so everyone seems guilty of something.

The questions and action keeps rolling along and you will realize early on that no one is likeable. No one. Not adults, not children. All I could do was think, "Good golly! Why are you all still friends? Why would anyone take a vacation with any of these people? It is time to let go of that friend myth, set up some boundaries, and make some real friends for goodness sake. It is okay to let go of the past." Yeah, they are all that annoying, miserable, insufferable, and unlikable. Every. Single. Character.

But, this novel is like watching a train wreck or a house fire. It's awful, a disaster, but you can't take your eyes off it. The bizarre twists come fast and furious toward the end. Many of them are not believable, but still you will keep reading to see what could possibly happen next and what else can be thrown into the mix of the plot. This would be a great book to discourage group vacations right now or perhaps to console yourself that it's better to not take destination vacation with anyone.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Publishing.

The Unidentified

The Unidentified by Colin Dickey
Penguin Random House: 7/21/20
review copy; 320 pages

The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained by Colin Dickey is a highly recommended look at the followers of cryptozoology, UFO-ology, and other pseudoscientific fields.

In the past few years there has been an increasing number of people who believe in fringe topics like Atlantis, or cryptids (Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, etc.), or UFOs, or ancient aliens. It seems that the more rational, scientific explanations are readily available to us, the more some of us embrace unsubstantiated things and fringe beliefs. We like the idea of strange creatures, ancient races, and aliens. They are akin to the unknown on maps labeled "here be monsters" as a notation to say "we don't know what scary things may be here." Who doesn't like to hear stories about Bigfoot or Lemurians or the great Kentucky Meat Shower or alien abductions or the New Jersey Devil. I vividly remember being riveted by the whole aliens draining the blood from cows in the 70's.

Dickey discusses many of the beliefs and visits many sites where many of the stories proliferate or originated and examines how these stories and myths take hold of our imagination and have us chanting "I want to believe" as we watch old X-Files episodes. (Okay, he also takes some of the fun out of it.) Certainly he covers both the modern, scientific investigations and understandings of various beliefs and contrasts them with the historical beliefs. Some of the followers of mystical phenomena are obviously still believers, like those looking for Lemurians on Mt. Shasta. Dickey does explain as well as possible why people still believe and why this belief may be on the rise.

This is a well written sociological examination of a fascinating topic, but it does lack some of the entertainment factor that makes an examination of these topics just plain fun. As he wrote, "The only worthwhile way to investigate any of this phenomenon, it seems, is to be aware of one’s biases and strive to eliminate them. To be free of a preconceived certainty, to be willing to admit the unexplained without that automatic obsession to explain it. The goal of this book has been to trace how two different, but related, shocks hit the industrialized world in the nineteenth century, causing a rift in how we understood it, and how a number of fringe beliefs emerged from that rift." Dickey also quietly slips his take on current politics into a few of the discussions, which was not necessary.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Never Ask Me

Never Ask Me by Jeff Abbott
Grand Central Publishing: 7/14/20
review copy; 368 pages

Never Ask Me by Jeff Abbott is a highly recommended domestic thriller.

The quiet, wealthy Austin suburb of Lakehaven is shaken when Danielle Roberts is found murdered, her body left on a park bench. Danielle was an adoption consultant who had helped a number of community members adopt a child. Iris and Kyle Pollitt and their teenage children, Julia and Grant, live just two houses down from Danielle and are shocked. Danielle helped them adopt Grant from a St. Petersburg orphanage when he was a baby. Danielle's son, Ned, and Julia are good friends and they are the ones who found Danielle's body. At the same time, Grant is contacted through email and someone appears to be watching him while telling him he has been told a lie.

After a strong start with Danielle's murder, finding the body, the Pollitt family's reaction, and Grant's anonymous contact, the novel slows down to a leisurely pace until the last third. Then, that last portion of the plot takes a weird twist that will grab your attention, but it will also leave you saying "what the heck?" The narrative unfolds through the point-of-view of the members of the Pollitt family along with excerpts from the adoption journal Iris kept when they were working with Danielle trying to adopt Grant. There are a whole lot of secrets everyone is keeping from everyone else. The characters are well-developed, although with all the secrets everyone is hiding it does take a while to establish exactly who these people are and what they are hiding from each other as well as others.

The weirdly-twisted ending makes Never Ask Me suddenly very tense, action packed, and exciting and it does provide closure to the various plot threads and secrets everyone has been keeping from each other. Everything is in some way tied back to Iris's statement, "Never ask me what I'd do to protect my family." 3.5 rounded up.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Cold Vanish

The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's Wildlands by Jon Billman
Grand Central Publishing; 7/7/20
review copy; 368 pages

The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America's Wildlands by Jon Billman is a very highly recommended look at a small percent of the people who vanish in the wilderness, with a special focus on Jacob Gray's disappearance in Olympic National Park.

Jon Billman, an author and journalist, has researched and wrote about other disappearances when he learned about the story of Jacob Gray's disappearance and his father Randy Gray's search for his son. In April 2017, a young touring cyclist named Jacob Gray stepped off his bike and disappeared in the northern district of Olympic National Park in northwestern Washington. Jacob's disappearance echoed other cases that Billman has researched. Tied into the story of Jacob's disappearance and the subsequent search are the stories of other people who have disappeared in the wilderness, many of which have never been found.

The stories Billman shares about missing people are fascinating and frightening. The described incidences of people who vanished without a trace or an explanation along with the number of cases are both surprising and distressing. The searches have been fruitless and perplexed both authorities and volunteers. The red tape is daunting. It is heartbreaking for the families who have no closure. In between the search for Jacob are the other cases. As you follow the search for Jacob, especially by his father Randy, you will also learn what happens when a person goes missing through his story. Billman becomes friends with Randy Gray and assists in the search for Jacob, which lends the narrative even more gravity.

He also introduces us to several of the eccentric people who search for these people who seemingly disappear without a trace.These include "eccentric bloodhound-handler Duff and R.C., his flagship purebred, who began trailing with the family dog after his brother vanished in the San Gabriel Mountains. And there's Michael Neiger North America's foremost backcountry Search & Rescue expert and self-described "bushman" obsessed with missing persons. And top researcher of persons missing on public wildlands Ex-San Jose, California detective David Paulides who is also one of the world's foremost Bigfoot researchers."

The Cold Vanish is a riveting, well-written account of those missing and the searches around them. It is totally engrossing and held my attention from beginning to end. Billman cites that more than 600,000 individuals go missing in the wild lands of North America each year. Many are found, but those who are not found right away face some steep odds not in their favor of being found.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.

The Lost Girls of Devon

The Lost Girls of Devon by Barbara O'Neal
Lake Union Publishing: 7/14/20
review copy; 352 pages

The Lost Girls of Devon by Barbara O'Neal is a recommended "story of four generations of women grappling with family betrayals and long-buried secrets."

In the village of Axestowe in Devon, England, mystery writer Lillian Fairchild is observing some activity that makes her uneasy. She may be near 90, but she knows what she's seeing. Adding to her concern is the fact that Diana, her nurse, caretaker, and the childhood friend of her granddaughter Zoe, has suddenly gone missing. When Zoe learns this, she and her 15 year-old daughter Isabel, travel from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to England to help. Complicating matters is that Poppy, Zoe's estranged mother, is living in the village and has reestablished a relationship with Lillian, but Zoe remains firm in her refusal to have anything to do with Poppy.

The lives of these four women are also complicated. Lillian is slowing down, showing signs of dementia, and needs a caregiver. Poppy, who left Zoe with Lillian when she was seven, is trying to reestablish connections, but Zoe won't talk to her and she's never met Isabel. Zoe is recently divorced, had been feuding with Diana, and is concerned about Isabel. Isabel has suffered some unnamed trauma at school and demanded to fish the school year learning from home.

The novel is very descriptive. There are several lovely descriptions of nature, while at the same time there are almost too many mentions of everyone's hair color and curls. The novel is also very slow to start. Part of the slow start is all the backstory that O'Neal needs to provide for the four generations of Fairchild women. All this is front loaded rather than being integrated into the plot while some plot advancement takes place. Zoe and Isabel supposedly fly to England to help look for Diana, but any action in that search seems secondary and perfunctory. I truly wish either the action/suspense part of the plot picked up the pace sooner OR it was just a novel about the complicated relationship between the Fairchild generations.

The characters are well-developed. They all struggle with relationships, but Zoe takes the most getting used to among them. Her history of holding grudges if anything has to do with her mother, Poppy, can be tiresome. Zoe has never forgiven her mother and her feud with Diana was because she befriended Poppy - that kind of controlling behavior would be hard to tolerate in any friend. I can understand a reluctance to trust or become close to Poppy because her behavior was unconscionable, but once you are in your forties, you should be able to acquiesce that a friend has the right to befriend whomever they chose. Poppy does require some tolerance as a character also. She is not beyond reproach, but she is trying to help young women now.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Lake Union Publishing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Survivor Song

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay
HarperCollins; 7/7/20
review copy; 320 pages

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay is a highly recommended tale of a virus and terror that, at times veers eerily close to today's headlines.

"CNN’s panicked headlines and live-stream updates (including bloody images from overnight riots and looting of a shopping plaza in the affluent suburb of Wellesley) are alarming, overwhelming..." 

Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. Infected mammals (human and animals) spread the disease through biting. It is not a blood-borne virus. This strain has an increased virulence and is exhibiting a greatly shortened incubation period - just an hour after the bite. Once you are bitten, the virus is quickly spreading to the brain. Once it moves into the brain, the infected are driven to bite as many people as possible before they die. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government's emergency protocols are faltering.

Natalie (Nats) Larsen, who’s eight months pregnant, and her husband Paul, have their home broken into and are attacked and bitten by an infected man. The attacker kills Paul. Nats has one bite, on her arm. She immediately contacts her pediatrician best friend, Ramola (Rams) Sherman. Rams attempts to get Nats to a hospital for a vaccine before it’s too late, soon it becomes clear that Rams and Nats are really fighting to save Nat's unborn child.

Survivor Song is truly a compelling novel that is hard to put down. It immediately grabs your attention. Part of this could be due to the current quarantine and mask wearing while simultaneously rioting and societal unrest is rampant. It's as if your mind says, "Of course there will be a zombie rabies outbreak now to go along with the riots and Rona." The current situation actually makes this seem plausible. The other compelling part is the character development of Nats and Ramola. They are both well-developed, dynamic, and engaging. In the first part of the novel we know Nat's thoughts. Then in the second we are following their frantic search for medical help for Nats and we are privy to Ram's thoughts, while alternating chapters are transcripts of Nat's recording messages to her unborn child.

There were a few niggling details that bothered me and, of course, a back handed political treatise is included. Life is stressful enough right now without tying a rabies/zombie outbreak to any current political situation. As the opening says, and it applies to real life today: "The heat will be blamed for the outbreak. There will be scores of other villains, some heroes too. It will be years before the virus’s full phylogenetic tree is mapped, and even then, there will continue to be doubters, naysayers, and the most cynical political opportunists. The truth will go unheeded by some, as it invariably does."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Hare's Fur

Hare's Fur by Trevor Shearston
review copy; 288 pages

Hare's Fur by Trevor Shearston is a very highly recommended, beautifully presented novel and character study.

Russell Bass is a potter and recent widower living on the edge of the Blue Mountains of New South Wales in Australia. He lives a mostly solitary life with a few close friends. When he is hiking to  a specific vein of basalt that he uses in one of his glazes to get the hare's fur effect, he sees a new candy wrapper in the forest. Then he hears the voices of children. He ends up discovering and later bringing food to a teen age girl and her two younger siblings. They are living in a nearby cave, hiding from the police and child services. Russell offers them the food and his phone number, should they need more help. Circumstances send the three to his house, living with him, while still hiding from authorities.

Hare's Fur is a wonderful, quiet, tender, and thoughtful novel, both for the writing and the character development. The descriptions are incredible. If you have ever done any pottery you will immediately be taken back to your experiences and understand intimately the descriptions lovingly provided in the narrative. The setting is handled with the same amount of care and attention. Equally compelling are the descriptions of the people and the connections that are slowly built between them. This is a finely crafted novel with prose that serenades the reader while depicting the time, setting, and characters in a quiet, contemplative manner.

With compassion and introspection, Hare's Fur becomes a novel about working through grief and loneliness. It is about having your life's work also be your passion. It is about aging and acceptance. It is about setting mistakes aside, whether in life or pottery. And it is about trusting other people and the fragility of forging a family and pottery. Quite simply, Hare's Fur is a lovely novel. It was the perfect quiet, contemplative novel to read during a very stressful time.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Scribe Publications.

Irreversible Damage

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier
Regnery Publishing: 6/30/20
review copy; 276 pages

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier is a very highly recommended objective, balanced examination and exploration of the current and dramatic increase of the number of teenage girls identifying as transgender. According to the CDC, currently over 2% of high school students, overwhelmingly girls, identify as transgender when historically gender dysphoria (severe discomfort with one's biological sex) was .01% of the population and almost exclusively male. Gender dysphoria usually emerges early in childhood. Today, however there is an overwhelming surge of adolescent girls claiming to have gender dysphoria and are self-identifying as transgender.

Puberty is hard on girls. (I know; I understand.) Adding to the stress of your changing body is the cruelty and criticism girls inflict upon themselves and others. They are in genuine pain. As Shrier points out this transgender movement in young girls is a new social contagion. We know it is a social contagion because it is so statistically new and overwhelmingly high in numbers. Often this is concentrated among a group of peers or around a specific community or school system. Girls are learning about this through school programs, but especially through social media influencers. We all know that social media can make everyone anxious and sad, however, it affects adolescent girls are the hardest. "[A]dolescent girls, who historically faced life’s challenges in pairs and groups, are now more likely to face them alone." These are girls who are isolated from other people and turn overwhelmingly to social media for their support and information. This gives them a community, acceptance, and the opportunity to escape into a victim identity, which gives them support immediately. Being transgender is one of the few you can choose.

When talking to a counselor or therapist, the young girls often are encourage to quickly start puberty blockers, or testosterone, and look toward top surgery (double mastectomy), all of which inflict irreversible damage on their bodies. It seems appropriate (to me) to have a requirement that young people wait until their brains mature before being encouraged to make such life changing decisions. "The prefrontal cortex, believed to hold the seat of self-regulation, typically does not complete development until age 25." Certainly you can live as a man and later, after age 25-28 once your brain has reached maturity, you can look into hormones or surgery. Shrier makes a good point that this transgender craze may partially be the result of over-parented kids desperate to stake out territory for rebellion.

"According to Dr. Zucker, the mere fact that patients may have fixated on gender as a source of their problems does not mean that that they are right or that transitioning will alleviate their distress. "I said to this kid, ‘I don’t care if you have a male brain or a female brain. This is how you’re feeling currently and we need to figure out why you’re feeling this way and what is the best way to help you lose this dysphoria.’ " It is worth asking whether a standard guided less by biology than by political correctness is in the best interest of patients. Allow their brains to mature, pass the age of rebellion, before making life changing decisions that will affect their health. "Teens and tweens today are everywhere pressed to locate themselves on a gender spectrum and within a sexuality taxonomy - long before they have finished the sexual development that would otherwise guide discovery of who they are or what they desire."

Shrier talked to trans people, parents, influencers, doctors, academics, and professionals on both sides of the issue in this informative, well written and presented examination of this current trend. This is not a transphobic book, unless information is something to be feared. She ended the book with seven rules that were wonderful for reasons beyond the topic at hand: 1. Don’t Get Your Kid a Smartphone 2. Don’t Relinquish Your Authority as the Parent 3. Don’t Support Gender Ideology in Your Child’s Education 4. Reintroduce Privacy into the Home - Quit the habit of sharing every part of your lives (and theirs) on the internet. 5. Consider Big Steps to Separate Your Daughter from Harm 6. Stop Pathologizing Girlhood 7. Don’t be Afraid to Admit: It’s Wonderful to Be a Girl.

I totally agree with this closing remark from Shrier because it seems that being female has lost favor with the broader culture and there is a war against it: "But for Pete’s sake, whatever type of women young girls become, they should all listen to feminists of a prior era and stop taking sex stereotypes seriously. A young woman can be an astronaut or a nurse; a girl can play with trucks or with dolls. And she may find herself attracted to men or to other women. None of that makes her any less of a girl or any less suited to womanhood."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Finders

The Finders by Jeffrey B. Burton
Macmillian Publishing: 6/30/20
review copy; 288 pages

The Finders by Jeffrey B. Burton  is a highly recommended start to a new mystery series featuring Vira, a cadaver dog, and Mason Reid, her handler.

Mason "Mace" Reid lives on the outskirts of Chicago and loves dogs. He specializes in human remains detection (HRD) and he trains dogs to hunt for the dead, cadaver dogs, as well as other searches. Reid takes on a new, young golden retriever, who he names Elvira, Vira for short, and begins to train Vira as a cadaver dog. She picks up commands and learns her training very quickly. When he takes her out on her first case, she not only finds the body, she also picks out and maims the killer among the bystanders. It seems Vira has a special ability. Vira also has a connection to Chicago Police Officer Kippy Gimm who rescued her as a puppy. Now Mace, Vira, and Kippy must all work together to thwart a killer who has his sights on Mace.

First, people who love dogs and mysteries are going to appreciate this start to a new series. Mace is a well-developed, likeable character who is presented with a nice balance of analytical abilities, serious action, and even a good dose of self-deprecating humor. You will root for him, his dogs, and for Kippy Gimm. They are all believable characters. The dogs - Vira, Sue, the German Shepard, and collies Maggie May and Delta Dawn - are all characters too and you'll see their individual personalities. You will need to suspend some disbelief about Vira's special abilities, but those who have dogs know that sometimes they seem to know more than you realize. (They can also sometimes "clean" the litterbox, but I'm assuming Mace's dogs are all smarter than mine.)

The writing is great in this compelling, well-paced novel. The short chapters keep the action moving along and the clever twists in the plot grab your attention. The chapters alternate between the point of view of Mace and that of a intelligent killer, a sociopath who now has his sights set on Mace and his dogs. These two alternate, dueling narratives help keep the tensions high, with some humorous relief every now and then. The Finders is a perfect, comfortable summer read, with enough tension and excitement to keep your interest. This is a great start to a new series.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Macmillian.

Love & Other Crimes

Love & Other Crimes: Stories by Sara Paretsky
HarperCollins: 6/30/20
review copy; 448 pages

Love & Other Crimes: Stories by Sara Paretsky is a highly recommended collection of fourteen short stories written from 1996 to 2018.

Paretsky, a master of crime novels featuring compelling plots and nail-biting suspense, showcases her talent for short stories in this collection. One story is a new V.I. story while the rest have been previously published other places. About half are V.I. Warshawski stories. All of the stories feature people who kill for love, many of them for family. 

The collection includes: Love & Other Crimes; Miss Bianca; Is It Justice?; Flash Point; Acid Test; Safety First; Trial by Fire; Murder at the Century of Progress; The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer; Wildcat; Death on the Edge; Photo Finish; Publicity Stunts; and Heartbreak House. Of all the stories, Miss Bianca, featuring a ten-year-old girl who loves a laboratory mouse, was my favorite. Two stories reflect the crime fiction of the late-Victorian and early-twentieth-century eras: "Murder at the Century of Progress" and "The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.