Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 2008
Genre: Fiction, Humor, Mystery
Where I Got It: Paperback Swap
Why I Read It: Someone told me I’d probably enjoy these books. He was right.
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Description: The first book of the Spellman Files series introduces us to the Spellman clan, including our narrator Isabel “Izzy” Spellman—a 28-year-old private investigator working for the family firm. The Spellmans are a colorful and fun bunch (if they weren’t actually your family). Although “Perfect” David seems to have turned his back on the family shenanigans, the other Spellmans (including Mom, Dad and 14-year-old Rae) love being able to snoop, spy and investigate—both on behalf actual clients and on each other. From ruthless and relentless Rae (who is grounded from her habit of “recreational surveillance”) to Uncle Ray (former health nut turned alcoholic gambler who frequently goes missing), the Spellman household is anything but normal. Although Izzy spends the book working a decades-old cold case, her primary problem is keeping Mom and Dad from discovering her new boyfriend. Things go along in a delightfully loopy comic vein … until Rae goes missing.
My Thoughts: Lutz (whose collaboration with David Heyward, Heads You Lose, was one of my favorite books from last year) has created a genre all her own—wacky comic noir. (One could argue that Stephanie Plum belongs in this genre, but Izzy is much funnier and smarter.) The focus is more on the comedy than the mystery, though I can see why Lutz chose to have the family own a private investigation firm—it makes for comic gold. Although the narrative can be a bit disjointed and jumpy, Lutz has a great sense of humor, and I’m definitely up for more of the Spellmans. Perfect for when you want a goofy comic read with some elements of mystery. (Though, to be honest, I almost forgot what the mystery was in this book.)
Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman
Publisher: Anchor, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Where I Got It: I won a copy in a giveaway a year or two back but can no longer remember who sent it to me. If it was you, thanks!
Why I Read It: I was curious to try Waldman’s novel after reading her memoir, Bad Mother.
My Rating: 4 stars
Brief Description: After the most tragic wedding day you can imagine, the Copaken and Tetherly families struggle to make sense of their lives and put themselves back together again. Following the families over four summers in the Maine town of Red Hook (the Copakens are a “summer” family while the Tetherleys are “townies”—a primary source of tension between the two), the individual members come together in various ways to grieve, heal and get on with their lives.
My Thoughts: I just love a good tragedy, and this book starts out with a whopper. I thought Waldman’s writing was fluid and graceful, and she does a good job of breaking these families down and building them back up. However, I thought she spent way more time on the Copaken family at the expense of the Tetherleys. As I write this review, I realize that most of the story lines had a Copaken at the center, with the Tetherleys playing supporting roles. I’m not sure if this was Waldman’s intention, but I definitely felt as if her heart was with the Copakens. There is a lovely sub-plot between a gifted music prodigy and her elderly teacher that I found oddly touching and satisfying, but the primary focus of the book is the grieving and healing process and how we can lose ourselves in the aftermath of a loved one’s death. All in all, it was a rich and satisfying read, and I wouldn’t hesitate to read another Waldman book.
Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company, 2008
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Where I Got It: From Paperback Swap
Why I Read It: The description intrigued me, as did a short story I read by this author.
My Rating: 3.5 stars
Brief Description: Lena Dawson is a fingerprint specialist who has an odd gift for communicating almost telepathically with crime scenes. When a series of SIDS deaths strike an odd note within her, Lena feels compelled to look deeper into the cases. However, the more she explores, the more convinced she is that a serial killer of babies is on the loose and, odder yet, the killer seems to have a connection to Lena herself. As Lena investigates her past and the current crimes, she is drawn into the confusing web of her own past, including the stories told to her by her adoptive parents. As she confronts her own origins, Lena learns how the past has followed her into the present.
My Thoughts: Although the book description may sound like a straightforward mystery, it is anything but. The book had the strangest and most elusive tone to it. It is like a standard mystery was wrapped inside a cotton blanket and then pushed out through the fibers of the blanket into the book. Lena is aloof and distant from us as readers, and there is an almost dream-like feel to the book. Although I was almost convinced that Lena’s long-held and fantastical origin story about herself was true, Abu-Jaber is giving us cold hard reality but wrapping it up in a strange dream-like texture. This makes for an odd read. To this day, I’m not what to make of this book. It definitely isn’t your standard mystery in tone and feel. If you’re looking for a mystery with a literary and dream-like feel to it, this would be a good choice.
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