Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Somewhere Inside of Happy by Anna McPartlin

Somewhere Inside of Happy is the seventh novel by Anna McPartlin (I think).  And I've read and reviewed almost all of her novels on the blog.  While this novel was a page turner and an engrossing read, it was missing the spark that some of her others possess.  This one was more of a slow burn in part because we know from the blurb on the back of the book that the main character's son goes missing and that something 'dreadful' happens to him.  So we have that hanging over our heads even before the book starts.  And the first chapter/epilogue of the book reveals that the son is indeed dead (spoiler alert?).  The majority of the book takes place in the past as we flashback to the hours leading up the son's disappearance and then takes us through the days of his disappearance as we hurtle to the inevitably bleak conclusion.  I was really dreading finding out how the son dies, and while it is incredibly tragic, heart breaking, and sad, it was not as bad/terrible as I originally feared (but it was still bad).

Having extracted herself and her children from a horrifically abusive marriage several years previously, Maisie is just barely hanging on by her finger nails to support her two children, her dementia afflicted mother, and herself.  Maisie is both primary caregiver and breadwinner for her little family, and she works three jobs, manages her mother's ever deteriorating condition, and raises her children.  Then one New Year's day a second chance at love comes knocking while unbeknownst to her, Maisie's son, Jeremy, vanishes.  Jeremy's disappearance threatens to upset the delicate balance of the family, while simultaneously torpedoing Maisie's second chance at love and plunging them all into unspeakable tragedy the likes of which the family narrowly avoided right before Maisie finally left her husband.

Initially Valerie, Maisie's headstrong, attitude ridden, young daughter, deliberately hides information from the police and her mother, such as the fact that Jeremy never made it to school the day after New Year's and lying about his comings and goings the day of his disappearance.  All of which hampers Maisie firmly establishing the fact of his disappearance.  As the hours and days unspool following the disappearance of Jeremy and his friend, Rave, events and emotions spiral out of control and get far worse than anyone initially predicts.  Meanwhile, the police struggle to find clues that will lead to the boys' whereabouts and solve the mystery of where and why they disappeared.

Ultimately this story is framed as one of healing and personal growth.  There is a feeling of dread/foreboding throughout the book that starts from its first pages thanks to the early reveal of Jeremy's fate.  And sometimes that makes this book hard to read.  However, it is a good book--and if you've read McPartlin's other novels, you will definitely want to read this one.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins by James Runcie

This is the fourth installment in the Grantchester Mysteries series by James Runcie.  I've reviewed the previous three installments on the blog as well as the second season of the British TV series adaptation of the books.  In this installment the Chambers family deals with a move precipitated by a promotion for Sidney to archdeacon of Ely.

In these mysteries Sidney and Geordie must solve the disappearance of a concert cellist.  Sidney assists his dear friend Amanda in sussing out whether one of her aristocratic friends is the victim of domestic violence.  And when a piano (yes, a piano) drops on a friend's head, Hildegard intuits that the seemingly freak accident may not be an accident after all.  Sidney must assist Amanda again when the latter receives threatening letters as well as falls victim to other odd, unnerving incidents, all of which occurs as Amanda is finally approaching marriage.  As always Sidney's reputation for sussing out the truth in complicated situations precedes him when the headmaster of a local school enlists Sidney's help in finding the party responsible for blowing up the school's science wing.  And, most infuriating of all, on a family trip to Florence Sidney is accused of absconding with a priceless painting.

Some rants I have:

Why is Sidney always fretting about how his detecting duties take him away from his parish duties and from his family duties?  In. Every. Book. He. Whines.  It's getting old.  Sidney needs to get over it already, find a balance, or give up detecting.  And stop fretting.

It's ill advised for Amanda to go through with a marriage to a man she doesn't love.  And why is there all this talk about Amanda missing her chance with Sidney or vice versa?  The two would have been a poor match romantically, and Sidney clearly loves Hildegard yet he never sets Amanda straight about either of these points.

Sidney receives a promotion to archdeacon that necessitates a move from Grantchester for his family as well as the probability of the end of his detecting career---hahahahaha---who are we kidding?  Sidney will never stop detecting.  He's got a reputation now and gets enlisted regularly (always reluctantly on his part) to look into mysterious incidents.  And that's when he isn't inserting himself into other mysterious incidents to get at the truth.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Grantchester season 2

Grantchester stars James Norton and Robson Green and is adapted from The Grantchester Mysteries series by James Runcie.  I have previously reviewed the first three books of the series on the blog, and I'm currently reading the fourth book.  A fifth one was released this summer.  I didn't review the first season of Grantchester.  But now I'm reviewing the second season of Grantchester because I have things to say.

You can view the series without reading the books.  I think they are far enough apart to be considered separate entities essentially.  The TV series largely diverges from the books in both story/plot line and character story.  As with the first series, the second one does use some of the mysteries from the second book.  However, they change a lot in the mystery and the story.

There's a season long story arc in which a murder investigation, trial, and subsequent execution is followed that strains Sidney's friendships with both D. I. Geordie Keating and Amanda (Kendall) Hopkins.  Both Geordie and Amanda are struggling with the aftermath and consequences of actions/decisions/events from last season.  And there is really no point of return from those events for those characters.

Now.  On to the things I have to say.

Amanda says it's too late for her and Sidney because now she's 'having a baby.'  NO.  It was too late when you accepted that twit's proposal and went through with the marriage to that twit even after he showed his true colors during the ring incident in the previous season.  Then you had the audacity to proffer the excuse that you accepted that twit's proposal only because he was only who asked.  You made your bed now lie in it.  Where is Hildegard when you need her?  This series is seriously lacking some Hildegard.

Sidney's right.  Geordie is different this season, and it's down to the aftermath of that shooting.  Even though Geordie spouts some nonsense about how his war was different from Sidney's because in Geordie's war all they did was survive while in Sidney's war they came home as heroes.  Or something.  I didn't get it because to me it seemed that the root of this change in Geordie's character was the result of the trauma of his shooting last season.  Then Geordie goes and acts like a fool and kisses Margaret and now his marriage is probably going down the tubes next season.  Sooo disappointed in Geordie for kissing that Margaret woman.  And disappointed in Sidney for mucking up his own relationship with that Margaret woman.

Go, Leonard.  So proud of him for telling off that weasely bishop.  And poor Leonard.  That wasn't cool the way his boo did him.

Why is Sidney in personal crisis every season?  He needs to pull himself together--and find himself a wife who isn't named Amanda Kendall Hopkins.  And Amanda needs to let him go.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Lost Among the Living is the fifth novel by Simone St. James.  I reviewed her four preceding novels on this blog: The Haunting of Maddy Clare, An Inquiry into Love and Death, Silence For the Dead, and The Other Side of Midnight.  Click the titles to read those reviews.  St. James' next novel, The Lost Girls, is set to be released next year.  I really enjoy the mix of suspense, supernatural, and mystery in St. James' novels.  Set in post-World War I England, they're a perfect blend of historical novel, mystery, and horror.  Lost Among the Living is creepy and atmospheric, and St. James is expert at spinning a good, old fashioned ghost story.

Jo Manders, a grieving widow, accepts a position with her husband's aunt, a difficult mistress, as the woman's paid companion.  However, from the moment Jo arrives at Wych Elm House, it is clear that things are not right either in the house or in the family.  Phantom footsteps follow Jo around the house, phantom leaves and people and mists appear and disappear seemingly at will, and the terrifying nightmares that haunt Jo disrupt her sleep leaving her exhausted the following morning.  The mysterious malfunctions of the house mirror the tension filled, mysterious dysfunctions within the Forsyth family that occupies the house.  These family dynamics are further reflected in the town residents' resentment, contempt, and distrust of the secretive Forsyth family.  In fact the family's secretiveness has bred rampant rumors and gossip among the townsfolk that only reinforces the tight lipped family ship that Dottie, Jo's husband's aunt, insists upon maintaining.

The return of prodigal son Martin Forsyth from convalescence on the continent brings an uneasy reunion between parents and child.  Martin's parents, Dottie and Robert, resent each other, and it's quite clear that post-war shell shock is not the only illness that ails sickly Martin whom his mother insists has returned to marry and continue the family line.  However, as the days and weeks go on, it becomes increasingly likely that Martin may not survive long enough to fulfill his mother's wishes.

The driving force of the story, and in which much of the familial tensions are rooted, are the dual mysteries of the death of Frances, the beloved, yet mad, daughter of the family as well as the contradictory picture of Alex, Jo's dead husband, that the Forsyths paint.  As the story progresses it's revealed that there were things in Alex's past that he didn't tell Jo.  The questions raised in my mind very early in the story were these: is the man really dead?  What was he really doing during the war?  Why is there such a disparity between the man Jo knew and the one the Forsyths remember?  Was Frances' death really a suicide?

Let's be real here.  Most everyone in this book is odd and prickly, except for Jo and maybe Martin.  And everyone in the Forsyth family or associated with them is weird, creepy, and/or hiding secrets--or all three.  None of which bodes well for a smart, observant woman like Jo, who is expert at sussing out secrets through gathering information and observation of those around her.  And the person ferreting out the mysteries and secrets of a family in which one member is already dead under mysterious circumstances as a result of someone else asking questions is a very dangerous undertaking.

Random Rant (Be warned--SPOILER ALERT)

Who pops back up after 'being dead for years' and is all 'heeeey--not really dead--sorry--my bad?'  Where were you?  Not dead (because obviously) and not a prisoner of war (because 'bureaucratic snafu' as the excuse for why your name didn't show on those lists is a piss poor excuse).  And the most infuriating part of this reunion is your daft idea/attitude that your wife should just be fine with your return and welcome you with open arms.  Who does that?  Not cool.  Not cool at all.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pride + Prejudice + Zombies

By now you know I love all things Jane Austen.  And I also enjoy a good horror movie.   So it's really no surprise that I wanted to see this horror mash up, Pride + Prejudice + Zombies, an adaptation of the book of the same title by Seth Grahame-Smith.  I have not read the book, but I borrowed it from the library and have it at home.  However, having seen the movie, I'm not sure that I will read the book.  I spent the first hour or so of the movie debating whether or not I really wanted to watch the whole movie, and then I got to the end of the movie was thisclose to declaring it bullshit because, well, I'll get to that issue in a moment.

The simplest way to summarize this movie's plot is to say that it is Pride and Prejudice with a zombie apocalypse happening in the middle of Regency England.  And the humans appear to be losing the war thanks to the arrival of the zombie Anti-Christ (?) [or something; I didn't really understand that part].  I don't know, you guys.  I wasn't into it.  I did like that the Bennett sisters are kung-fu trained, bad ass warriors in the zombie war, so that was nice.  And Darcy is a colonel in the aforementioned war against the zombies that have over run England.  But Wickham.  He's been transformed from a cad into an outright evil villain.  And while Wickham is always the bane of my existence in any Pride and Prejudice adaptation, there was something lacking due to this change in character and plot.  And other minor details of the plot and timeline were changed also; i.e. the root of the rift between Wickham and Darcy has a much darker origin worthy of a horror movie.

Random Thoughts (You know that's why you came)

Why does Darcy sound like Batman?  He's supposed to be Darcy the zombie fighter not Darcy the Batman.  Every time Darcy opened his mouth, this bothered me.

[SPOILER ALERT] At the very end it appears that they blow up Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy along with the bridge, and then they fake us out by making it appear that Darcy did indeed perish.  And I did not like it.  I did not like it.  At.  All.  And if they had not fixed this error, this movie would have been bullshit, and I would have burned down Facebook in retaliation.  Because no one messes with Pride and Prejudice and lives to tell the tale.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie