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Today in new Books – 1/28/2014

It’s a big day in new book releases… or more likely it’s a normal day and I just happen to have read more of these than usual. Either way, here’s what I got on this day in book publishing history.


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The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress (****)
As usual, I didn’t pay anything for this book but instead received it for free directly from the publisher. Also as usual, despite that kindness I will proceed to be completely honest about it.

At a high level, this book is the speculative history of the disappearance of Joseph Force Crater in 1930. At the time the story kept the world riveted to their newspapers and was the object of much editorial speculation. This narrative cobbles the story together from the perspective of the women in Judge Crater’s life.

On the positive side, Lawhon’s novel is set in a wonderfully provocative period in history and gives us a story as capable of captivating an audience as it was 80 years ago. Lawhon’s characters are believable and sympathetic and she renders them wonderfully. She also very skillfully weaves her fictional threads through the facts of the case in a way that gives it great credibility. In her ending notes, she describes some of the liberties she took with the story and based on these tiny provisos, she has been very true to the tale which inspired her.

To the negative, despite the above, the novel does seem to take a while to get started. It took a week to get through the first half and a day to get through the last half. This is not the sort of novel that immediately inspires one to long persistent reading, though it does eventually gain momentum. Also, despite the wonderfully entertaining locale and time period, one cannot help but think it was not put to as great a use as it could be. While it was easy to tell we were in the 1930s, the story didn’t take full advantage of that fact. I would have anticipated greater use of the language of the times and a truer rendering of the culture.

In summary, a great story set in a grand part of history. For fans of the historical this is one not to miss. It only falls short in that it fails to full realize the potential of just how colorful such a venue can be to the reader. I liked it but wanted to like it more.


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Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy (*****)
As usual I received this book for free just so I’d review it. Also as usual I’ll give my candid opinions below.

Since this is a child’s book I don’t judge by my usual criteria but explore two basic questions. The first is whether I would want my child to read it. To this I say most assuredly yes. It has a strong lesson to teach about following your own path, bravery and never giving up and being systematic in everything you do. As a fairly logical person I would like every chance to influence my children in that particular regard especially! More importantly, the book contains nothing one could consider even remotely of concern for young audiences. No sex, no drugs, just a bit of adventure, petty theft and lying to one’s parents. OK, maybe not the best example but not like some of the terrible YA stuff I’ve come across.

The second question is whether I think my kids would want to read it at all. This is always difficult to judge but it does have characters that kids can relate to and a pretty entertaining story line. The vocabulary is not especially daunting and the action picks up from the every first paragraph so I think this one has a chance at setting the hook.

So in summary, I was entertained enough reading it and I think kids will be too. I have no concerns about the lesson they’ll get out of it and they might learn something positive too if they’re not careful. Exactly the sort of book I wold have liked as a youngster.


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This Dark Road to Mercy: A Novel (****)
As usual I received this book via the grand courtesy of the publisher through a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Despite that great kindness my candid opinions follow.

The summary of this one is a bit tough because it’s so many things at once. It is, in equal parts, the story of children forced to grow up before their time, dark criminal suspense and sad story of parenthood failed. As if that’s not enough, there’s also a thread of baseball history and doping thrown in for good measure. The narrative is done in a panoramic style as we hear in first person from the oldest child, the hero and the villain in approximately equal parts.

On the positive side, the circumspect narrative style really gives the reader a detailed look at the situation from all sides. The story has a lot to say about fatherhood and whether that title is given by right or must be earned and delves into the complex situations of parenting in an intriguing way that’s not often seen in such an otherwise gritty novel. The author’s female characters are charming and evoke a great deal of pity from the reader and one inwardly roots for them as they make their way through the short span of time portrayed in the book. This one touches a lot of genres at once and never fails to keep the reader guessing.

To the negative, the narrative switches can sometimes be rather jarring and confusing. The first transition comes 35 pages in and I completely missed it and had to go back and reread a few pages to figure out why the eldest daughter was suddenly sitting in a bar. Once primed to expect it things settled down but this wasn’t the best executed thing about the book. Also, the female characters were very lifelike but the villain seemed rather flat and we missed his back story. He and his heroic counterpart lacked “pop” and didn’t quite pull the reader along behind them as the girls did. Lastly, on the topic of language, it’s worth noting that the narrators tell the story in their own distinct southern vernacular and this is not limited to actual dialog. So those who are appalled by “ain’t got no” and “ain’t hardly no” should be steeled for the fact that these characters have uniquely southern voices.

In summary, a very diverse and well executed book with something for everyone. Fans of gritty crime suspense will find a bit of something to tantalize them; those looking for child-welfare drama will be well served and baseball fans can relive a bit of the late-90s doping drama.

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