We’ve covered the non-fiction and the high-brow fiction. Now it’s time to talk about the kind of books I mostly read.
A genre devoted to solving crimes committed by psychos.
Rage against the Dying by Becky Masterman
Brigid Quinn is a retired FBI agent who has worked hard to leave her former life of psycho-crime-fighting behind. More than anything, she’s afraid of it infecting the peaceful, happy life she’s found with her new husband, the gentle professor, who knows that she’s former FBI but thinks that she investigated fraud, not psycho-killing. Alas, fate has other plans for Brigid because a body turns up, and it looks just like the work of the Psycho Killer Who Got Away–a case that led to the death of Brigid’s young protégé and effectively ended Brigid’s career. Brigid doesn’t want anything to do with it–except of course she has to have something to do with it because it looks like this psycho will now be targeting Brigid, and she’s got to protect the people around her. Man oh man oh man, did I ever enjoy this book. Mainly because Brigid is awesome. Also because I like books about people catching the psychos and BRINGING THEM TO JUSTICE. This was a very exciting book (although content warning: rape and other horrible things), and I look forward to reading the further adventures of Brigid Quinn, sixty-year-old-lady badass. 5/5 stars
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
I pretty much read all of the Karin Slaughter books. There is only one Karin Slaughter book I have not read, and will not read, because it contains the death of a character I was not and probably never will be ready to watch die. (I have, however, read subsequent books where the deadness of aforementioned character is a sad fact of life, but that is okay. I accept that it happened. I just can’t watch it happening. It’s too sad. This from a woman who reads serial-killer books for diversion. I never said my brain made sense.) This book is a stand-alone (not part of her Grant County or Will Trent series, although a new Will Trent is set to come out later this year AND I AM SO THERE), and as I said on Goodreads, I thought it was remarkably good–an intriguing mystery and a poignant portrait of grief–up until about the 60% mark, where there’s this crazy, crazy plot twist–CRAZY plot twist. Like Gone Girl crazy, only much, much crazier. Jason springing out of the lake crazy. The kind that makes you go, “What? WHAT? Oh, come ON!” I kept reading, because a) I can’t help myself and b) there was still a psycho-killer to catch and bring to justice and ONE CANNOT REST, but I confess that I grumbled a little while I was reading. “This is all very exciting, but are you freaking kidding me?” Eventually, though, I just decided to go with it. And it did make for a very exciting third act. Also, a very satisfying bringing-to-justice. (Content warning: rape and torture of women. What kind of sick human being am I?) 4/5 stars
Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane
Apparently this is the fourth book featuring the main characters, two ex-cops (a man and a woman) who are private investigators. Like, you know, a team. A private investigation team, I guess you would say. Anyway, I haven’t read the other books, but I would say this stands alone just fine. Previous events are alluded to, but you understand all you need to know from context. On the other hand, if you’re planning to read the other three books at some point, this book would contain spoilers. On the other hand, if you’re like me, by the time you get around to reading the other books, you’ll forget everything you learned about them from this book, and it’ll be just like starting with a clean slate. Anyway, enough small talk. The story of this book is a child abduction. A four-year-old girl is taken from her immature, irresponsible, and occasionally-drug-using mother’s home one night (while the mother is out doing whatever), and the girl’s concerned aunt asks Kenzie and Gennaro (aforementioned private eyes) to take on the case because she thinks the police aren’t doing enough. K & G are reluctant, but soon become intrigued by all the weird things they uncover (in the course of convincing the aunt and themselves that their services are not really required) and end up fully entangled in a case that is much more than simple abduction (if abduction is ever simple). Drug dealers! Blackmail! Police corruption! Meanwhile, there’s still a kid missing and time is running out. Stuff happens, K & G have to decide who they can trust and whatnot–it’s an interesting story, and it raises some interesting questions about what constitutes justice. (Content warning: violence, gross crime scenes and some mentions of crimes against children, although aforementioned mentions are isolated and not graphic in nature.) 4/5 stars
Because a life without love is…something.
The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer
If there was a TV channel that showed nothing but BBC adaptations of Georgette Heyer novels, that is where I would be every day of my life. I don’t know that BBC has ever done an adaptation of any Georgette Heyer novel, but they ought to. They ought to do all of them! Georgette Heyer is like Jane Austen, if Jane Austen were sillier. The dialogue is always very witty, and there are many eccentric characters to provide actors with ample opportunities to chew the scenery (if they were so inclined). This is a comic romance about Sir Waldo, a much-admired Corinthian (the “Nonesuch”) who travels to a village in Yorkshire to inspect the ramshackle property he has just inherited, which leads to much gossip among the villagers as to his intentions (regarding both the estate and the eligible females neighboring it). Sir Waldo is accompanied by his nephew, a charming, fun-loving young man who becomes infatuated with the most beautiful girl in town (who is unfortunately a spoiled brat who ought to be punched in the face, but I don’t want to give away the whole plot). Meanwhile Sir Waldo takes up a flirtation with the girl’s lovely (and much more sensible) companion, a gently bred spinster (you know, about 24 years old) who has been forced by circumstances to take this paid position (because no one would do it for free). This isn’t my favorite Heyer, but it was still very enjoyable. The hero is pretty much perfect, which ought to be boring, but at least he has a sense of humor about it, which is what matters. Besides, if we can’t have perfection in our fictional heroes, where can we have it? 4/5 stars
Silk Is for Seduction by Loretta Chase
Marcelline Noirot is a gently-bred lady who has been forced by circumstances to go into trade as a dressmaker. She works with her two sisters, each of whom has a special talent that is essential to the success of this family business. Marcelline is the designer, and she’s pretty much a fashion genius. She is determined to get the business of the finest (and wealthiest) members of the ton, and her latest strategy is to convince the Duke of Clevedon that she must provide his (intended) fiancée’s wardrobe. Clevedon could not care less about dresses; he just wants to sleep with this gorgeous and provoking woman (as one does). It’s kind of complicated, i.e. too complex to bother explaining, but Marcelline ends up getting the commission for the dresses but also finds herself becoming enchanted by the handsome and provoking duke, blah blah, whatever. This was a fine enough story as this type of thing goes, but I have to say I loved Marcelline as a character. She’s smart and determined and self-confident and doesn’t have hang-ups that need to be solved by a hot aristocrat’s sex-skillz. That alone placed this book above the average romance novel. (I guess–it’s the only reason I can remember for the rating I gave it.) (Content warning: There is sex. Performed with skillz.) 4/5 stars
If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins
I’ve read quite a few Kristan Higgins books (mostly her Blue Heron series), and heretofore they have all been more or less the same. Which is not to say that they were not enjoyable. I am generally not a fan of contemporary romance, as the stakes tend to be lower than in historical romance and the heroines more neurotic (which is actually rarely loveable–it’s like everyone wants to be the next Bridget Jones, but I didn’t really like Bridget Jones). I do like Higgins’ books, even though the heroines do tend to be neurotic (as we know all modern women are), because her writing is clever and her characters are interesting, even when she’s writing the same plot over and over again. (Modern neurotic woman who has been hung up on a guy who broke her heart or didn’t return her interest for years finally meets a new dude, who has issues, but is exactly right for her–but wait! the dude she loved for years suddenly decides she’s the one for him and misunderstandings ensue. I don’t think I’m giving anything away, even though I’ve told you everything but the resolution, which I’m sure you can guess. It’s a tried-and-true formula: it’s all about the journey.) This book is slightly different in that it’s more chick lit than romance (although there is romance, so I’m including it here because I don’t want to make a separate chick lit category for one book). It tells the stories of two sisters–one who is divorced and looking for someone to settle down and have kids with (but is unfortunately attracted to the unsuitable dude who lives in the apartment beneath hers), and one who has the perfect marriage and family that includes a set of triplets and everything. Only wait! Is everything really as perfect as it seems?? SPOILER ALERT: No. Also, there are deep, dark secrets about their parents’ marriage, which one of them knows but the other doesn’t. Deep, dark secrets abound, really. But there is also humor, so it’s not that dark. It is a book about marriage but also about families. I think this is Higgins’ best book (of the ones I’ve read), hands down. (Content warning: Not really a lot of sex, mainly allusions to sex, but a frank discussion thereof at times.) 4/5 stars
Act Like It by Lucy Parker
This is a Kindle exclusive, and I got it on the cheap (even cheaper than its regular cheap price), so that may have influenced my feelings about it considerably–I do love a bargain–but I am prone to hate things I read for $1.99 as much as things I read for $11.99 and for free, so I will just go ahead and say that I thought this romance was pretty darn good for what it was. Another contemporary, set in the London theatre world. Elaine is an up-and-coming actress working in a play that needs to do well at the box office (for the same reason all plays need to do well), but ticket sales are flagging because the star of the show, an arrogant (but talented) diva named Richard Troy, is acting like a jerk in public and getting bad press all over town. The play’s producer and the theatre manager and Richard’s agent all conspire to persuade Elaine, England’s sweetheart (insofar as the theatre world is concerned), into faking a romantic relationship with Richard in the hopes that some of her good press will rub off on him. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but that’s the premise. Take it or leave it. Elaine agrees to the charade because the producer also promises to give x percentage of ticket sales to Elaine’s favorite charity, which is important to her for personal reasons. It’s a common romance trope–two, actually: fake relationship and enemies-to-lovers. Here’s what I liked about the book: Richard really is a jerk. He really is arrogant, and he is often rude. He is not a loveable guy. He does not undergo a radical personality change over the course of the book (although he changes a little–for the better! because that is what romance heroes do, unless they’re Georgette Heyer heroes, who are perfect to begin with). But like Shrek and all ogres, he has layers. As you get to know him, you start to see his good qualities and how Elaine could fall in love with him without getting a lobotomy first. It’s not Shakespeare (ha ha, see what I did there), but it’s clever and more imaginative than the average. I also liked that the characters acted like grown-ups (most of the time), rather than adults who were psychologically still in high school (or whatever they call it in England). I was diverted. (Content warning: There is sex. Not oodles, but some. Can’t really recall the level of detail. Sorry.) 4/5 stars
Before We Kiss by Susan Mallery
I don’t know why I read so many contemporaries during February. It’s most unusual for me. I also don’t know why I picked up another Susan Mallery, when the last Susan Mallery I read was decidedly meh. I think that once upon a time I must have read a Susan Mallery I liked and have assumed there must be another one out there I would also like. Well. This wasn’t it. Sam is an ex-NFL player who has a business with some NFL buddies of his–I forget what the business is, but it’s thriving but they also need to have an EVENT because that’s what successful businesses like theirs do, and Sam is in charge of the event, so he needs to hire the services of an event planner. Unfortunately, the only event planner in town (it’s a small town, which nevertheless has many thriving business–it’s like a 27 book series where everyone in town finds love and professional fulfillment) is Dellina, a woman he had a one-night stand with and freaked out on when he stumbled into a spare room where she was storing a bunch of wedding dresses for a friend (who also has a thriving business in this very small town, but not a lot of extra storage space). Because a woman who keeps a dozen wedding dresses in her spare room is clearly PSYCHO. Well, Dellina’s not actually psycho (as I explained), and Sam gets that NOW, but it’s still kind of awkward now that they have to work together on this event thing, especially since they’re still very attracted to each other. Shall I go on? No, I should not. I should have stopped reading long before this, but I actually finished the whole thing (sort of–I skimmed a lot). This book sort of exemplifies everything I don’t like about contemporaries: the stakes are low and the details are mundane. Will the event go as planned? WHO CARES? Will Sam learn to trust women again (I forgot to mention he has trust issues)? WHO CARES? How does the story end? I DON’T REMEMBER. There are a few funny bits here and there, mostly involving Sam’s mother, who is a sex therapist and has never met a personal boundary she didn’t want to cross, but that’s neither here nor there. As a whole it was more tedious than diverting, and that’s not okay. I don’t like books that make me feel like I’ve really wasted my time as opposed to only sort of wasting my time. (Content warning: IT’S BORING.) 2/5 stars
Scandalous by Jenna Petersen
Well, here we have a historical romance, which is more my speed. Miss Katherine Fleming, who was orphaned as a young woman and subsequently made the ward of some awful family, is engaged to be married to a widowed nobleman of some consequence. She isn’t in love with him; she’s a practical sort, and she’s determined to make a pleasant but practical marriage. Uno problemo: Turns out aforementioned nobleman’s dead wife is not so dead after all. It happens. Unfortunately, this is the olden days, when you couldn’t just say, “Oopsy, turns out my fiancé is still married to a live woman,” and everyone would just understand. No, this will be a huge scandal that will ruin Katherine unless she agrees to marry the un-widower’s black sheep of a brother, whose name I think is Dominic. Yes, Dominic. Dominic is technically, from a biological point of view, the un-widower’s half-brother, being the product of an affair his mother had back in the day. Nobody outside the family knows this, but within the family things have been awkward, which is why Dominic has been off making his fortune and only come home to try to talk his half-bro into selling him one of the family properties for reasons which are very important to him personally, i.e. he knows Mom was residing there when he was conceived and therefore believes the house holds some clue as to his true parentage, of which he is ignorant because Mom refuses to say. It is so important to him that he agrees to marry Katherine in exchange for the property, and did I forget to mention that the reason the Un-widower is so concerned about saving Katherine from scandal by marrying her off to his brother is that he’s already spent her dowry. Oopsy again! Katherine, meanwhile, knows nothing of these family intrigues and believes Dominic is marrying her because he has nothing better to do just now. Honestly, I don’t remember why she thought he might be so willing to marry a woman he just met unless it was because he found her sexually exciting. Because that’s what’s really troubling Katherine–not that her fiancé has an undead wife and that she will now be marrying a complete stranger, but that the complete stranger MAKES HER FEEL THINGS SHE DOES NOT WANT TO FEEL. I told you that she was a practical sort. She wants a comfortable marriage to someone she likes, not someone she could fall in love with, because TO FALL IN LOVE WOULD BE DISASTER.
Okay. Yes, this blurb has to be longer than one paragraph, because I, like Katherine, have feelings. Okay, so far, so good. I mean, this is a pretty typical premise for a romance novel. People getting thrown together with people they’re sexually attracted to but not wanting to RISK THEIR HEARTS. I don’t know how often it happens in real life, but in the romance genre it happens all the time. It is also very common in romance novels for characters to have Deep, Dark Secrets that they are afraid to reveal to their beloved because aforementioned beloved Might Not Understand. This is often pure stupidity on the part of the characters, but you know, people are imperfect. They don’t always act in their best interests. Dominic’s secret is known to the reader from the outset: he’s of questionable parentage and he’s just made a gross deal to marry his (half!) brother’s fiancée in exchange for a freaking house. Of course Katherine Might Not Understand, so even though he knows he ought to tell her–especially since he’s FALLING IN LOVE WITH HER–he procrastinates. Katherine’s motivations, on the other hand, are not at all clear to the reader. You know that she is afraid to fall in love with Dominic, but you don’t really get why. Hers must be a TRULY Deep, Dark Secret, if not even the reader gets to know it. This is the thing, though, about romance authors keeping Deep, Dark Secrets from their readers: if you’re going to hold off on the reveal until the book is practically over, that secret had better be pretty damned deep and dark, or someone’s going to be pissed. And by “someone,” I mean me. When Katherine reveals why she cannot possibly live with a husband she loves but whom she believes does not (TRULY!) love her in return, even though she’s a woman in the nineteenth century with no money or social position and wouldn’t last a freaking second without the advantages of marriage, it turns out the reason is a) neither deep nor dark, and b) pretty damn stupid, actually. Then she commits the cardinal sin of romance heroines everywhere, which I find always annoying but basically unforgiveable when my eyes are already rolled so far back in my head from the Deep, Dark Secret That Wasn’t, and she does something THAT ONLY A CRAZY PERSON WOULD DO. And by “crazy person,” I mean someone ENTIRELY WITHOUT WITS OR REASON. This from a character who has heretofore shown every indication that she has intelligence and mental wellness. It angered me so much that I couldn’t get past it and focus on the fact that the love story itself was actually rather compelling. DO NOT ANGER ME WITH YOUR CRAZY-ASS NONSENSE, ROMANCE AUTHORS, or you too will find your book receiving 2.5/5 stars.
Well, that does it for the January-February edition of Mad’s Book Club, which is good because we’re almost all the way through March. That means that the next time we meet, we shall be discussing the books I read in March, which will probably not be nearly so many because a) I’m reading Don Quixote, and it’s freaking long, and b) other reasons I don’t care to get into just now, but don’t worry–it’s not a Deep, Dark Secret! I’ve just way-overstayed my welcome on this post. Gentle readers, adieu.