Murder in the Bowery (A Gaslight Mystery #20) by Victoria Thompson 

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This time around, Private Inspector (and former policeman) Frank Malloy is hired by a man looking for his little brother, whom he was separated from five years previous, when he was shipped out on the Orphan Train into Minnesota. Malloy buys the story and begins searching for the kid, who is now working on the streets as a newsie. He inquires and is led to a young man known as “Two Toes”, aka Freddie. Freddie reacts in a terrified manner when Malloy informs him that his brother Will hired him and wants to reunite with him, running off in a hurry. Shortly after, he’s found strangled. Malloy is filled with guilt, and tells his wife and partner in crime Sarah, that he feels responsible and will bring the killer(s) to justice. Malloy’s card is found in Freddie’s possession, so the coroner calls him to identify the body. While in there, he notices the corpse of a beautiful young lady who obviously was of a higher class set than poor Freddie. He informs older brother Will that he found his younger brother, but that he is dead. Will then tells a tale of a young lady, Estelle, a young lady of higher standing obligations, who has dangerous habits. Namely, hanging out in the Bowery, which is no place for someone of her social stature to be hanging out. Turns out, Estelle is the corpse that Frank saw in the morgue when he went to identify Freddie’s body. Frank enlists the help of his wife, Sarah, in trying to unravel these two mysterious deaths. Estelle’s family is a real trip. Not the good kind. Her dad is supposedly dying and doesn’t seem to care that his daughter has been murdered. Her sister and nephew also don’t seem to care that she’s dead. Frank and Sarah vow to get to the bottom of this, but not before realizing that Estelle was also the lover of the town’s gangster about town, Black Jack Robinson. They have to break the bad news to him, but he ends up hiring Frank to get to the bottom of Estelle’s death. Did her mean-spirited family dinner in? Was it the double dealing Will? Another mystery lover? And what is the connection between her and Freddie’s deaths? You get a few more surprises and curve balls thrown at you, but the ending wrapped up a little bit too cleanly for me. Sadly, I also took a guess at what evil her family had been committing, and I was right on that front, too. Anytime I guess that many things right, the book loses a bit of appeal for me. Fans of this series will cite the chemistry between the husband and wife crime solving unit, and that’s in evidence here. However, the family unit that has been in place for much of the last ten books- Malloy’s mom, his deaf son Brian, and Sarah’s adopted girl, Catherine, are NOWHERE to be found. Malloy’s mom gets a small cameo, as does nosy neighbor Mrs. Ellsworth, but they have largely vanished from this book. Maeve, the governess for Catherine and Brian, is there throughout the book, but- where the fuck are the kids?! In an installment of the series where the affection-deprived and evil Longacres take center stage through the book, you would think Thompson would bring a balance of a good family dynamic to ward off the evil family. Nope. And that cemented this as four stars. That and the ending that seemed really far-fetched, plus I had already figured it out. Not as awesome as the usual installment would be. I hope the kids are found alive in time for the next book! 

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul (5 out of 5)

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Scaachi’s book came recommended to me by the bookstore’s social media manager, Allison. Thanks, Allison. We had one copy in the store that had gotten by me, so I read the first essay and bought it right away. Scaachi’s book and writing reminds me a lot of Jenny Lawson, whose first two books had me giggling loudly. I sent my friend Felicia a tweet and told her to get ahold of a copy if she could. So, if you want some crystal clear depictions of life from the view of a young firecracker Indian woman growing up in Canada, this is a great place to start. Her book of essays cover everything funny and uncomfortable about growing up in predominantly white Canada, and then she’ll seamlessly veer (like a drunk buffalo trying to do the limbo in Paraguay) into heavy duty territory like sexual assault. There are many outraged silent admonitions when she gets caught in a skirt she’s trying on, while she’s shaving her knuckles in grade school, when her first Brazilian wax results in the person administering it to go into a panic attack, and when she’s stuck in an Indian wedding (while being Indian herself. Awkward!). There were parts where the lingo confused me. What, I wondered aloud, is kajal? Then a day after I finished it, I was in Walgreens and I got my answer over by the Maybelline display. (Yes, it works better than eyeliner. I recommend). Scaachi’s emails and conversations with her Dad reminded me of some conversations I have had with my Dad, minus the dialect. The term “wheatish” will be forever emblazoned in the Bunsen burner in the chemistry lab of my writer’s closet. I really could sit here for a hour and tell you all of the things, but that would spoil more hilarity. There are some kinda heavy duty cultural deliniations going on here, but with the touch of whipsmart sarcasm that only Scaachi can deliver. Get educated. Go get the book. But make sure you don’t drink anything while reading it. You may end up snorting coffee out your nose. Don’t ask how I know. 😉

(Father’s Day Gift Guide: For The Sports Fan in Chicago): Teammate: My Journey in Baseball and a World Series for the Ages by David Ross (5 out of 5) 

•May 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Ok, I changed another feature up…geographically, for the Father’s Day Gift Guide. I was going to be reading this anyway, being a fan of all Chicago sports, and being a fan of Rossy himself. I didn’t expect to get it read in three hours, but I did. It’s a quick and fun read that brings a lot of laughter and yes, tears. Rossy is beloved in Chi-town, and this memoir is a great indication of why. It weaves between his life and the Cubs vs. Indians World Series in 2016, along with his iPhone journal entries. Ross admits he wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with, but after Theo Epstein took him aside and told him about rumors of his being a difficult teammate flying, he realizes that he needs to reaffirm the definition of “teammate”. The reader gets to come along for the ride. There are parts of this book where it felt like it could be a self-help guide as well. All purpose autobiography, folks! Great stories abound, from the Atlanta Braves skipper Bobby Cox, to his time with the Boston Red Sox and his first World Series ring, to tensions with Dusty Baker, to how he got the “Grandpa” nickname bestowed on him by his teammates, and many vignettes of his interactions with his Cub teammates. Ross’s book is a shining example of the adage, “There is no “I” in team”. He proves that and then some. He manages to get his story out, teach us all about what being a true teammate is, and make us fall in love with him more than we had been. This is a GREAT Father’s Day Gift for that Cubs fan dad in your life. It’s out now in hardcover, from the folks at Hachette Book Group. And psst…don’t tell anyone but it’s hitting the NYT bestseller list next Sunday. Everything’s coming up Rossy! 

The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer (4 out of 5) 

•May 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Beatrice Trovato is a neurosurgeon who inherits her deceased brother’s papers, some of which begin a mystery which is the center of the novel. He has a journal belonging to an artist from the 14th century, and a depiction from the artist just happens to be the spitting image of Beatrice. Whether she likes it or not, she’s intrigued and pulled into that mystery. Is this a descendant of hers, or is there a deeper, darker mystery going on? Before she can make much headway, she finds herself transported back to Italy in that same time period. She’s instantly entangled in another doozy- a plot to destroy the city of Siena, not to mention that the Black Plague epidemic is now peeking along the edge of history. I’m going to say this…the transporting back in time was kind of weird. I’m not typically a fan of stories that employ that plot device, but the way Winawer draws this story and Beatrice (whom I really enjoyed as a character), brought me onto the precipice of belief. What follows is a great romance, a reckoning of life as it could have been centuries earlier, and that mystery lurking in her brother’s papers. A great read! 

The Leavers by Lisa Ko (5 out of 5)

•May 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Whoa, Nelly. This is a beautifully written, heartbreaking book. It’s about loving and leaving, learning and yearning, sacrifice and survival. Deming is 11 years old when his mom Polly goes to work one day and vanishes. Deming is devastated and scared, but his world changes when he’s adopted by a married white couple who are professors, and he moves into a new neighborhood. Growing pains AND abandonment issues? In spades! Deming’s name is changed, and he grapples with getting older, adjusting to a whole new culture, his new name, and all the while wondering what happened to Polly. The other half of the story belongs to Polly, who is an undocumented Chinese immigrant who’s expecting when she vanishes after leaving for her nail salon job. Things aren’t as you think. Some part of the book you want to punch her for running out on her kid, until you realize the circumstances behind her actions. Spoiler alert: the wording in the first few chapters makes it very easy to guess what happened. So don’t flip your wig, Geraldine, if you do. However, reading what Polly goes through after she leaves Deming on his own? It completely changes your animosity. This is a truly poignant tale at the heart of Deming and Polly’s separate journeys, ending at a place where hopefully the young man can move on. This is one of those books that will stay with you for awhile, so don’t pick it up if you can’t devote your heart to a spinning gem of a novel. Lisa Ko has done a wonderous service bringing this story to the masses. 

Heat Storm by Richard Castle (4 out of 5)

•May 16, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The newest “Castle” book picks up where last November’s left off. Our heroine, Nikki Heat, was pretty certain she saw her 17-years deceased mother, done up as a homeless woman. The book picks up months later, with Heat getting offered the Head of Homeland Security Job by presidential candidate Lindsy Gardner. She also finds out that Bert Callan, a villain who she helped put into prison, got out and is on the loose. Shortly afterward, she’s contacted by Derrick Storm, who has a cassette recording of a call between her deceased mother and a companion, shortly before her mom was murdered in 1999. The duo team up once they figure out that Cynthia Heat was on the trail of The Shanghai Seven, a Mafia consortium that deals in overseas laundering and other nefarious activities, and that was likely the cause of her death. Heat is still keeping her journalist husband at bay, while she and Storm try to figure out what the hell is going on. Thankfully, that doesn’t last long, and Rook is soon in on what’s going on when Heat’s inner sanctum is trashed by the Seven looking for information that Heat’s mother hid. Storm goes to see his dad, former operative Carl Storm, and the two of them find themselves running from the black bandits. Heat and Rook, meanwhile, are stunned to receive a video of Cynthia Heat, bound and gagged, with a request for Nikki to back off before Cynthia is killed. Of course, this brings the opposite effect, and Heat finds herself under the gun and about to be pushed out of a helicopter after she walks into a trap she didn’t forsee. The Storms find Rook, they figure out Nikki is in deep shit, and they join forces to rescue her before she’s killed. Can she get out or has her dogged determination to find out what happened with her mom 17 years ago sunk her battleship? This latest installment was good, but several things pissed me off/stymied me enough that I knocked it down to 4 stars. 

It remains a fact that books adapted from television shows don’t always follow the bylines of the televised version. The “Castle” books have been pretty faithful to the show they sprung from. In the show itself, award winning writer Richard Castle gets the okay from the mayor of New York City to shadow Detective Kate Beckett and her team, to write a new character based on her. That character is Nikki Heat. Castle’s previously known and highly successful series before Heat is the Derrick Storm series. The books had closely followed the events going on in the show while it was still airing, but it ended over a year ago, and the books continue on. I remain a huge fan of the series and yes, I have read all the books. And enjoyed most of them. The one in November was fantastic. This one stumbled in a few ways. Curve ball upon curve ball kept the plot moving, but I guessed ahead of time what the outcome might be. Unfortunately, I guessed correctly. The rationale behind the culprit’s actions were a bit out there. There is a lot of talking on Derrick Storm’s part about his father never marrying after his mom died, yet within seconds of hearing about what she sacrificed to keep her daughter safe all these years, he’s gobsmacked and silly in love. The final postscript on their meeting is just a bit out of character for the faithful to his late wife Carl Storm. By the way, yes, I DID envision Carl Storm as James Brolin, who played Castle’s long absent father on the show. What can I say? I’m a die-hard fan. And it’s because of that fact that I didn’t completely buy into this. I do hope they keep writing these, though. The fangirl insists on it. 

(Father’s Day Gift Guide)- For the History and True Crime Lover: The Black Hand: The Epic War Between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History by Stephan Talty (5 out of 5) 

•May 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

In the 1900’s, a crime wave in New York City touched off panic in the boroughs and across the United States. Children were kidnapped and held for ransom, bombs were detonated, and thousands of letters bearing skull and crossbones, crudely drawn coffins, and three black crosses. The mark of The Black Hand, an infamous criminal outfit that dealt in kidnapping children, extortuon, assassination, and bombings. The only hope to stopping this lay in the hands of the head of “The Italian Squad”, Joseph Petrosino, also nicknamed “The Italian Sherlock Holmes”. He dedicates his life to ridding the streets of the vermin associated with those carrying out the law of The Black Hand. The situation grows more dire as the crimes grow more bizarre and stretch beyond the state of New York. Petrosino and his squad face daunting tasks as the nefarious activities of the Black Hand threaten the already shaken tendrils of the immigrant population, and his mission takes Petrosino all the way to Sicily, to a crescendo that shakes and shapes the foundations of the Mafia as we knew it at the start. And Petrosino? Everyone should know Joseph Petrosino. Hopefully, after reading this book, he’s someone everyone will know. The history and true crime buff in your life will love this story. My knowledge of The Black Hand used to just be my nickname during poker games; now it’s gone way beyond that. An enthralling read that will keep you hooked all the way to the end; Talty knows how to tell one hell of a story.