Tethered by Amy MacKinnon – Book Review

Tethered by Amy MacKinnon
Published by Broadway, an imprint of Random House

Three years ago, a young, unidentified girl was found sexually abused and dead, another body for Clara to prepare. Clara, who survived her own childhood only by the grace of a God she no longer believes in. The one place Clara was able to find solace as a child was in the funeral home where her mother’s wake was held, although she still had to hold herself at a remove from those around her to function, touching only the dead. When a young girl named Trecie begins hanging around the funeral home Clara’s first reaction is annoyance, which is quickly replaced by worry, when it becomes apparent that Trecie may be involved with the same people who murdered Precious Doe.

Tethered has some hallmarks of a mystery: the main character becomes involved to a certain degree with a law enforcement officer and tries to solve a crime before someone else gets hurt. What Amy MacKinnon has done with Tethered, though is so much more. She has created a beautiful literary and psychological novel with the interest value of an extremely compelling mystery. Clara’s character is particularly interesting. Her own childhood abuse gives her a rich, complicated persona, which lends depth to the storyline. Equally deep and deliciously complicated is MacKinnon’s writing.

I’ve often thought there’s something reptilian about Mike’s eyes. No, not the coldness, it’s more about the layers. There’s a certain ambiguous quality to them. Like an alligator before it slips underwater, hiding its intent beneath the transparent shield that covers the cornea, allowing the animal to see as it protects itself from harm. It’s the same with Mike.

Tethered is a beautiful, occasionally painful novel and an absolutely compelling read. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Library.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga – Audiobook Review

Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga, narrated by Coleen Marlo
Published in audio by Tantor Audio, published in print by Bloomsbury USA

Synopsis:

Newly released from prison after being incarcerated for six years for shooting her husband, Sunny just wants to move on with her life, starting by getting a college degree. She has requested that the prison not notify her abusive, snake-handling husband of her release, and headed to the college where her dead uncle once worked as a janitor. He rather conveniently left her $80,000 and apparently nobody at the university has a problem admitting a felon who didn’t complete high school, so she is set to study French and biology. Before long, Sunny finds herself involved with Jackson, her uncle’s friend, and finds Jackson becoming increasingly intrigued by her ex-husband’s church or snake-handlers. Nothing good can come of Sunny’s old and new worlds colliding.

Thoughts on the story:

Where oh where to begin? There are so many serious issues with this story that I’m sure I will not manage to list all of them, so let me start by saying I wonder just exactly how it made it past an editor. I can see how it might have been picked up initially, because the idea of the plot is strong, but there are so many serious errors in execution -especially in the second half – that I’m surprised it is at large in the marketplace.

To begin: the info dumps. It is quite obvious that Hellenga did extensive research for Snakewoman of Little Egypt, but he has the worst case of ‘let me show you what I know’ of any novelist I have ever read. Everything from kettle drums (which are not really drums, you know) to the interaction between squirrels and snakes. If Hellenga looked it up, he was damn well going to let you know about it. 98% of it was completely superfluous and distracted from the limited emotional life of the characters (more on that in a minute). Simply cutting all of these extra digressions, none of which particularly added anything, would have made Snakewoman of Little Egypt 100% better, although perhaps still not good.

Perhaps most importantly, there was no real character development. Nobody grew, nobody changed, and the reader was never given any indication of anyone’s real internal life. What happened between Sunny and Jackson having sex and them becoming a couple? How did Claire feel when she found out that her affair with Jackson was being ended because of his new relationship with Sunny? Instead of treating us to any of these insights, Hellenga spends his time in Sunny’s head as she wonders what sex was like between Jackson and his pygmy girlfriend.

In addition to these issues there were phrases repeated ad nauseum – including, among other things, the phrase “superhuman erection” to describe the feeling of holding a snake – and bulky, unrealistic dialogue added for exposition and the furtherance of plot at the expense of internally consistent story. OH, and the fact that every damn thing comes back to sex for Sunny and, to a lesser extent, the entire cast of characters.

The worst part is that the first half of the book actually showed a fair amount of promise, but everything went downhill after Jackson uttered the phrase “superhuman erection” for the second time about halfway through the book.

Thoughts on the audio production:

This is the part that makes me sad, because Marlo’s narration really is quite good. I wasn’t crazy about the voice she gave to one of the minor characters, but she was excellent at distinguishing between characters and switching between accents. Even her skilled narration, though, can’t save this trainwreck of a book.

Overall:

Marlo’s narration does give the book some grace, but the audio format also accentuates the repeated phrases and inhibits skimming over info dumps, so I would advise just staying away from this book in general.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay – Book Review

Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay
Published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin

This is the first book in the new Library Lover’s Mysteries series.

Lindsay always imagined that she would use her Library Science degree in a large and prestigious academic library, but things don’t always go as you plan, and she now finds herself as the new library director in the small town of Briar Creek. At least her best friend Beth is in Briar Creek as well, and even works at Lindsay’s library as the phenomenal children’s librarian. Lindsay may not have Beth around for long, however, because she has been accused first of plagiarizing the work of her boyfriend, a famous children’s author, but also of his murder after their public – and loud – breakup. Now Lindsay must fight to save her friend and find the real murderer, before it is too late.

A cozy mystery set anywhere around books is always something I am going to want to check out, and Books Can Be Deceiving sounded just perfect. What reader, after all, can resist crimes set in a library?

Books Can Be Deceiving, though, did not get off to the best start. Something about the opening couple of chapters was slightly awkward and not particularly engaging. I am used to Julie Hyzy’s cozies that suck the reader in from page one, and Books Can Be Deceiving did not accomplish that. One thing that kept pulling me out of the book was the fact that the Briar Creek Public Library book club was reading The Last Time I Saw Paris, a book also out from Berkley released only two months earlier. This would be unlikely to bother most readers, but I kept wondering about Jenn McKinlay and Lynne Sheene, wondering if they are friends, do they have the same agent, same editor, etc? It just distracted me and certainly did not help me with my already rocky immersion into the story.

Still, by the time the dead body was found, McKinlay had me. The writing gained confidence and became increasingly interesting as the story progressed, and by the end I was completely enthralled. Despite the less than stellar start, I can honestly say I am looking forward to the next book in this series.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Sweet Jiminy by Kristin Gore – Audiobook Review

Sweet Jiminy by Kristin Gore, narrated by Hillary Huber
Published in audio by Tantor Audio; published in print by Hyperion

If you posted an audiobook review today, Friday June 10th, please leave your link in the Mr. Linky before midnight Central time (US) and you will be eligible to win a prize.

Synopsis:

Lost and unsure what she is doing with her life, Jiminy leaves law school in Chicago, and heads back to her grandmother Willa’s house in Mississippi. While there, she discovers that she is not the first Jiminy in the town. Her grandmother’s housekeeper, Lyn, had a daughter named Jiminy as well, a girl who was murdered with her father by members of the local arm of the Klan. Jiminy the current can’t let this case rest, and becomes determined to solve the cold case, stirring up long-buried trouble in the town in the process.

Thoughts on the story:

This plot has all the hallmarks of a story I would love. Somehow, though, it managed to be utterly unengaging. Part of the issue was that Gore simply introduced far too many characters, many of them unimportant, like Willa’s friend who likes guns and gaming consoles. She added little or nothing to this relatively slight book, and took up space that could have been better used to further develop the story of either of the Jiminys. The other issue was that none of the characters – the current Jiminy in particular – were particularly deeply drawn, leaving the whole thing feeling incredibly shallow, with no emotional investment on the part of the reader.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Hillary Huber is a highly competent narrator, and she certainly did the best with the mediocre material she was supplied. She brought Sweet Jiminy up to the point where it was fairly enjoyable, at least during the listening. It wasn’t until after I finished and reflected on the story that I realized just how mediocre it really is.

Overall

I really can’t particularly recommend this at all, but if you want or need to read it for some reason, I highly suggest you grab the audio so that Huber’s narration can improve your experience.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Audio/Print*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Towards Zero by Agatha Christie – Book Review

Towards Zero by Agatha Christie
Published by Harper Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins

If you are interested in Agatha Christie’s standalone novels like Towards Zero, check out the readalong I will be hosting this summer.

People tell you that Agatha Christie is a master, but you have to read her yourself to fully understand. Take, for instance, this setup early in Towards Zero:

I like a good detective story,” he said. “But you know, they begin in the wrong place! They begin with the murder. But the murder is in the end. The story begins long before that – years before sometimes – with all the causes and events that bring certain people to a certain place at a certain time on a certain day…. All converging towards a given spot… And then, when the time comes – over the top! Zero Hour. Yes, all of them converging towards zero.” -p. 4

There is no murder until over 100 pages into the story. This could easily be the story of a simple family drama. The disapproving elderly surrogate mother; the man and his new wife visiting at the same time as his ex-wife; the man who has been in love with the ex-wife since childhood, and the one who has been in love with the current wife since childhood. Instead, I spent nearly 120 pages uncomfortable, wondering who would be murdered, and by whom.

Even before knowing the victim, my brain was working overtime to find the culprit. Oh, the red herrings! Every few pages I would feel that a character had tipped his or her hand, provided just the clue I needed to know who was going to have done it. Except, as soon as I started to feel smug, that character would make it plain that while she was a great suspect, she was far too obvious. For example, I had just started to suspect the elderly woman’s companion, when she said this:

“Oh, I plan things,” said Mary vaguely. “In my mind, you know. And I like experimenting sometimes – upon people. Just seeing, you know, if I can make them react to what I say in the way I mean.” p. 101

Far too obvious, Mary clearly couldn’t be the killer. I suspected every – or nearly every – character at one point or another, but I never came close to understanding the murderer or the crime until the big reveal at the ending. It made perfect sense, the clues were all there, but I missed them entirely. I was ever so slightly disappointed with the story elements following the big reveal, but the mystery itself was perfect, and the tension Christie built leading up to the murder was beyond masterful. It is obvious upon reading Towards Zero why she has been outsold only by Shakespeare and The Bible. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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