Talking about politics is so 2017. Unfortunately, it seems to be unavoidable. Probably because it’s still 2017.

There’s just so much political to talk about. Donald freaking Trump is president. I mean, that’s crazy, man. It’s crazy. He hasn’t even been president a fortnight, and so much has happened that people feel like they have to comment and argue about. I go on Facebook and literally 80% of my feed is about Donald Trump. It’s worse than when he was campaigning!

I feel like I should just try to forget Donald Trump is president, but that would require staying off the internet altogether, and I’m not really prepared to do that. The other thing is that as unpleasant as all the political talk is, it distracts me from what’s going on or not going on in my personal life. I’d write more about what’s going on in my personal life, but most of it involves my daughter, who is now an adult, and really, over the last few years I’ve tried to write less about anything that could be construed as an invasion of my kids’ privacy. Probably one of the reasons I’ve written less, period. Because my whole life centers around my kids—unfortunately! Suffice it to say, I’m facing some challenges as the parent of an adult. I’d tell you more, but that would definitely be an invasion of her privacy and therefore make me a worse person than I already am. I know none of you wants that.

So it’s sort of a toss-up—do I think about my failures as a parent, or do I think about America’s failures? America’s failures it is! That doesn’t mean anyone else wants to read about it. But is anyone reading anyway? Doubtful.

One of the advantages of living in Oregon has been that I haven’t had to call any of my congresspersons to ask them to oppose some crazy thing Trump has done, because they already do it automatically. Unfortunately, this knee-jerk opposition will include opposing Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Since I much prefer Gorsuch to the other dudes Trump was considering, I would like to ask my congresspersons to reconsider their reflexive opposition to every single thing Trump does. Unfortunately, I’m still a socially awkward dullard who hates to use the phone, so it looks like I shall be abdicating my responsibility as an informed citizen. Yeah, I’ve already given up. I just know I’m never going to pick up a phone and try to talk to a complete stranger about Supreme Court nominees. I may as well plan to give up carbs again. (I’m never doing that, btw.)

In November I voted to re-elect Ron Wyden as a senator from Oregon. I believe that made him the first Democrat I have voted for in the last 20 years. What can I say? It’s a strange time. The bar for candidates has been lowered to “not a complete nutter.” Ron Wyden and I disagree on a lot of things—maybe most things—but he strikes me as a person of integrity and someone interested in defending civil liberties, which is an increasingly rare cocktail among politicians, and also, he is not a complete nutter. So really, there’s my decision right there. I believe this is the first time I have ever voted for an Oregon politician who won something. So that’s kind of cool.

Anyway, I like Senator Wyden. I do think, however, he’s gone a little overboard with his opposition to Neil Gorsuch. I mean, I’d expect him to oppose anyone Trump nominates, but what he said was,  “Gorsuch represents a breathtaking retreat from the notion that Americans have fundamental Constitutional rights.” Obviously, he’s coming from a place where any Republican nominee must represent a breathtaking retreat from the notion that Americans have fundamental Constitutional rights, but I really wish he and the rest of the Democratic opposition in the Senate would try looking at things from a place where Republican nominees could be a lot worse. I mean, that’s the place I’m at. Donald Trump is in the White House, kids. When that’s your base line, it ought to change your perspective on some stuff.

If Democrats decide to block Gorsuch as payback for what the Republicans did with Merrick Garland, it will be no worse than what they (i.e. the Republicans) deserve. What the Republicans did in the case of Garland was disgraceful. Personally, I’m happy not to have Garland on the Supreme Court. These “law and order liberals” are the worst of both worlds, as far as I’m concerned. But the President is the President until the next guy becomes President, and there’s just no excuse for refusing to hold a hearing for his (or, theoretically, her) nominee. Unless said nominee is a serial killer or incompetent, said nominee should probably be confirmed too, but that perhaps is an overly quaint notion.

So if Democrats want to get back at Republicans for blocking Garland, I understand completely. Since that’s the childish way American politicians do things, I suppose I shouldn’t begrudge them the satisfaction. But I’d advise them to wait for the next SCOTUS nominee (assuming there is one—there are some awfully old people on the court these days), who is bound to be worse. Revenge is a dish best served cold, after all. Actually, I suggest that when the next vacancy comes up, they say something like, “Nah, it’s too close to the election. We should let the next President decide”—no matter how far away the election is. Because, as I said earlier, that argument is bullcrap. But also as I said earlier, Republicans will deserve it.

As a friend said on the Facebook, Democrats should certainly not be under the illusion that any magnanimous gesture they make here will be appreciated or reciprocated by the Republicans. (Why would it be? If the situation were reversed, magnanimity would be equally wasted on them.) They should confirm Garland because it’s the right thing to do, but that’s almost irrelevant in this day and age. I’m arguing that it would also be the strategically advantageous thing to do because a) as Trump nominees go, we could do a lot worse than a dude who’s skeptical of executive branch power and a critic of “overcriminalization” and b) it may not impress Republicans, but it will impress moderates, whom Democrats will need if they want to win some more elections.

I mean, Democrats will win more elections. It’s not like their party’s dead in the water or something. Their presidential candidate, an extremely unpopular person, won the popular vote! But showing a little bi-partisan good will goes a long way with moderates, of whom I think there are probably more than ever these days. We’re a week and a half into this administration, and ordinary Americans are already sick and tired of fighting. We can’t keep up this breakneck pace indefinitely. Does Trump look like he’s going to stop doing crazy stuff anytime soon? I don’t think he does. So save the outrage for the crazy stuff. You can’t take it up to 11 for every normal Republican thing that happens. This isn’t Mitt Romney’s America. (You should be so lucky! Harumph!)

But I reckon that, as always, the debate will come down to abortion. We can whittle away at the First, Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments all we like, but as long as abortion remains legal or gets illegal, that’s all anyone will care about. Bah! It’s enough to make me contemplate my own personal problems.


There’s been a lot of talk about “fake news” since the election. So much talk that “fake news” no longer means “fake news” but “biased articles we don’t like.” Personally, I don’t have a problem with fake news. I can tell when news is fake, and if you can’t tell when news is fake, then I don’t have a lot of confidence in your ability to deal with real news, so I give up on that score. I have even less of a problem with biased news. I expect unbiased news reports about as much as I expect Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and Donald Trump’s spiritual advisor to walk into a bar. I assume that reporters are biased; I factor it into my analysis of their reporting. What bothers me more than fake news and biased news is crap news, i.e. “news” about stupid crap that doesn’t matter to anyone and drowns out issues that are actually relevant to people’s lives.

A prime example of crap news is whatever dumbass thing the President-Elect just tweeted about that makes no difference to anyone but only shows what a dumbass jerk he is. WE ALREADY KNOW HE’S A DUMBASS JERK. THIS ISN’T “NEWS.”

The crap news that is bugging me right now is this business about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, saying that schools need to have guns on campus to protect students from grizzly bears. All the liberals are like, “OMG GRIZZLY BEARS THAT’S SO STUPID,” and all the conservatives are like, “OMG THAT’S A GROSS DISTORTION OF WHAT SHE SAID,” and really, both of them are correct, but the most correct response would be “OMG EVERYONE SHUT UP ABOUT GUNS AND BEARS SHE CAN’T GIVE A COHERENT RESPONSE TO A RELEVANT QUESTION ABOUT FEDERAL LAW REGARDING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES”—but that last one is more than 140 characters, so good luck.

I have four kids, three of whom are still in public K-12 schools (the fourth is at a public community college) and two of whom have disabilities. I’m as interested in the success of my disabled children as I am in my other children’s, and I’m grateful to be living in a day and age and society in which we’ve collectively made efforts to ensure that disabled students get appropriate educations. However, I am not naïve about the limitations and drawbacks of the current system under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I am totally open to new and different policy proposals for ensuring that disabled students have access to an appropriate education.

From what I’ve read, i.e. what I’ve managed to glean from reports that aren’t obsessed with her unnatural fear of grizzlies, Betsy DeVos’s general philosophy seems to be that the federal government should have less control over education and states and locales should have more. That is a general philosophy that I happen to share. No, I’m not some kind of wacko who thinks school districts should just hold bake sales and hope for the best. I’m neither a purist nor a fanatic, but I am skeptical that the federal government, as far removed as it is from most citizens’ lives, can effectively micro-manage the educations of all students. Just a healthy skepticism, that’s all I have, not a partisan axe to grind or a political hobby horse I want to ride.

The fact is that my family does just fine under the status quo. We’re above-average in terms of income and financial resources; my husband and I are both college-educated; one of us is a full-time caregiver. We have many advantages over other families, particularly when it comes to providing for the needs of our disabled children. We can supplement our children’s public education. We can afford to live in a good school district with good schools. We can afford private therapies for our children with disabilities. We can afford babysitters to watch our kids while we go to endless IEP meetings and fight with the school district over what services they’re going to provide. We can take time off work to go to these meetings. If push comes to shove, we can afford to hire a lawyer or advocate to help us navigate the process of getting our kids the services they’re legally entitled to. The federal government doesn’t need to change anything on our account.

Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands of families in this country who don’t enjoy the same advantages we have. Whatever their neighborhood school is, no matter how awful, they’re stuck with it. Whatever the school district offers in terms of services for their disabled children, no matter how inadequate, that’s what they’ll get. These are the families who aren’t being served by the current system because they don’t have the resources to navigate it. So yes, I’m very interested to learn how a “federalist” (i.e. local) approach to education would benefit students across a spectrum of needs. I’m philosophically biased toward federalism and local control to begin with, so you don’t even need to work that hard to sell it to me—but you do have to sell it. You can’t just say, “Leave it up to the states,” like it’s some Jedi mind trick. That doesn’t even work on me, let alone all the folks who think “states’ rights” is just another way of saying “slavery” or “segregation.”

I’m not super-convinced that anyone in Washington really wants to have a substantive discussion about education policy, though. I haven’t seen reports of any particularly substantive questioning of Betsy DeVos by anyone in the Senate. I see that she can’t explain what she plans to do (or not do) to improve the lot of American students, but I also see that some dumbass from Connecticut wanted to spend his five minutes asking her what she thinks about guns in schools WHEN IT’S NOT THE EDUCATION SECRETARY’S JOB TO KEEP GUNS OUT OF SCHOOLS OR PUT THEM THERE, REGARDLESS OF WHAT SHE THINKS. Honestly, does anyone think Sandy Hook could have been prevented if the Secretary of Education (whoever he/she was at the time) had just been more pro-active about keeping guns out of school? I meant that to be a rhetorical question, but just in case anyone’s raising their hand, let me just say NO GRIZZLY BEAR OR PSYCHOPATH HAS EVER BEEN STOPPED BY THE SECRETARY OF EDUCATION. Whether or not there should be guns in school or no guns in school is certainly debatable. By all means, have that debate. MAYBE IN YOUR STATES OR LOCALES, WHICH ARE IN CHARGE OF GUN LAWS.

I should probably not call the senator from Connecticut a dumbass when I’ve never met him and he’s probably a perfectly lovely person who happens to feel strongly about gun control for understandable reasons, but golly, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and not everything can be about gun control.

I should also probably note that Trump talked on the campaign trail about banning gun-free schools, as though this is something the President should even be able to do, let alone actually do. To this I can only say NO PRESIDENT HAS EVER BEEN STOPPED BY THE SECRETARY OF EDUCATION AND THIS COUNTRY REALLY NEEDS TO HAVE A COME TO JESUS ABOUT EXECUTIVE POWER. FORWARD SLASH RANT

The reality is that it probably doesn’t matter who the Secretary of Education is if this is the level of discourse we’re going to have about education policy. A meaningful discussion of the most important issues will take longer than the 45 seconds the public is willing to spend on it. SO FINE JUST TALK ABOUT BEARS.

Well, it’s the first blog post of 2017, kids. I know you thought I was never coming back. Or maybe it was I who thought you were never coming back. You may still not be here! But I am, and herewith I kick off what is sure to be a glorious year of amateur blogging!

Actually, it’s not necessarily sure to be glorious. But it always has been amateur, and there’s no reason to suspect it will ever stop being so. And with that, let the glorious year begin.

Maybe it won’t be a glorious year, but a magical year. Which would you prefer? Myself, I can’t decide.

What can I tell you that you don’t already know? I had a pretty good holiday season. I still refer to it as the “holiday season” because I’m a loyal foot soldier in the War on Christmas. Also, I don’t think I’ve posted since before Thanksgiving. I’m lucky to be getting this under the wire for Martin Luther King Day.

Talking of which, I still haven’t taken down the Christmas tree. (It’s part of my War on Christmas, to make the Christmas tree part of all of my holiday celebrations, just so I don’t have to put it away.) I know folks who put away the Christmas decorations on December 26. I don’t even understand that. I guess that maybe goes well with the tradition of Boxing Day? I mean, I know Boxing Day is when you box up stuff to give to the poor, but as long as you’re boxing up for the poor, you may as well box up your Christmas decorations? It seems reasonable, from a theoretical standpoint. But only if you’re the industrious, non-lazy type. When it comes to how long the Christmas tree stays up, I’ve always taken my cue from the soap operas, which always have their characters attending New Year’s Eve parties where a Christmas tree is still prominently displayed. If it’s good enough for the folks on Days of Our Lives, it should be good enough for us, I think. I suppose it should be kosher (so to speak) to keep the Christmas tree on display through Epiphany, but after that it does seem a bit gauche.

So yeah, I’ll start being embarrassed by the Christmas tree sometime after Saturday. My annual goal is to have it down by Valentine’s Day, and I usually make that. Low expectations are the secret to my success. (You’re welcome. That first one was free.)

In the past, I have not done well with New Year resolutions. I’ve decided that this year I am not going to make any big changes in January. If at some point during the middle of the year I decide that a change is in order, I will feel free to pursue that avenue. That’s the phrase that just popped into my head. “Pursue that avenue”—does anyone even say that? It rhymes. People ought to say it. But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t have any specific goals for this year until I get to December.

In December I resolve that I will not do any Christmas shopping the week before Christmas. It matters not if the Christmas shopping is finished or unfinished at that point. What matters is that I don’t go Christmas shopping during that last seven days before Christmas. Not because it’s crowded and stressful and I’m more likely to get into a car accident (although I have had two pre-Christmas car accidents in two years; maybe my other December resolution should be to avoid driving), but because the closer I get to Christmas, the more desperate I become to find a gift, any gift, to give the loved one(s) for whom I am shopping, and the more unreliable my judgment becomes. To wit, about three days before Christmas I was in a Bed, Bath & Beyond, where I seriously considered buying a set of Football Corn Holders. In my defense, they were on clearance, and they did have the University of Oregon logo on them. But that is not a defense that would stand up in the Court of Christmas Craptastrophes. If I were actually in court, I would go with an insanity defense, which, luckily, is a scenario that popped into my mind before I crossed that particular line. I left the Bed, Bath & Beyond shaken, and without any gifts, but grateful to have survived such a close call.

I really should probably not leave the house at all that last week before Christmas, but that may not be practical. Baby steps.

But back to January. My kids are back in school, except for Princess Zurg, who goes back next week. Have I mentioned that PZ is in college now? Do you know that when I started this blog, she was in kindergarten? Just mentioning that makes me feel like I should rethink my life, so I’m going to change the subject now.

What else happens in January? The presidential inauguration, I guess. On second thought, let’s talk about how I should rethink my life. I’ve decided that I need to get a job. I don’t know yet what it’s going to be. My husband went to the bank today, and he said while he was there, he thought about how if I got a job, I should try the bank. I don’t remember any of his reasoning, except that I’m a woman. I have noticed that bank employees, especially bank tellers, tend to be disproportionately female. I don’t know why this is. Frankly, I’m not sure my female traits are at bank-teller level, but it’s something to strive for.

And I think we’ll just leave things there for now. Happy 2017, gentle readers! I’ll probably see you again after the Christmas tree is down.

So Donald Trump was elected President of the United States last week. Needless to say, this was unexpected in many quarters, including mine. I wish “silly” were all I felt right now. But what are you gonna do? Once I picked my jaw up off the floor, my initial thought was, well, let’s hope I was wrong about a hell of a lot more than Trump’s chances of winning the election. I mean, I do fervently hope that. Unfortunately, my mistake here was not underestimating Trump. It was overestimating the voting public. But that’s water under the bridge.

I had been bracing myself for four years of President Hillary Clinton, and I must have done a spectacular job, because last week I was numb. I felt nothing. Not sadness, not disappointment, not anger. I think I must have worn myself out with anger over the last year or so, because I had nothing left in the emotional reservoir. I was nothing but purely dumbfounded. I think, also, that I’m the type that tends to be calmer in a crisis than in a state of uncertainty. So I said to myself, “Well, okay. We’ll just have to wait and see how this plays out.”

So far, it isn’t encouraging. Reince Priebus has been named chief of staff. Fine. Yawn. I mean, Reince Priebus, like most Republicans, is still dead to me and all, but fine. But Steve Bannon has been named “chief strategist and senior counselor.” This does not bode well for the Trump presidency having a different tone from the Trump campaign. Hillary was right to say in her concession speech that Trump deserved a chance to lead. But for me to have any confidence in Trump’s ability to lead requires that he distance himself from the alt-Right and its racist, xenophobic, morally bankrupt agenda. It would appear that Trump is not interested in doing any such thing. All signs indicate that he’s just going to keep doing what he’s been doing. I still have a tiny door of my mind open to the idea that he may change and end up surprising us all, but it’s very tiny and Steve Bannon keeps standing in front of it. Very hard to let in rays of hope. Sad!

The conservative Republicans who argued for supporting Trump in the election said that if worse came to worst–if Trump turned out to be as crappy a president as the rest of us thought he was going to be–we could always impeach him. That was a lot funnier before last Tuesday, when it was just candidate Trump Republicans were rolling over for. Needless to say, I am not holding my breath for a Republican campaign to impeach President Trump. But, you know, there’s still that tiny door Steve Bannon is standing in front of. It’s possible that there are some congressional Republicans who intend to keep an attitude of constant vigilance. I can’t see or hear them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there at all. Trump hasn’t been inaugurated yet, after all. Maybe they’re just saving their strength, honing their pitchforks in secret, waiting for their opportunity to strike.

This is where I would ordinarily break out in sarcastic laughter, but like I said a few sentences ago, it’s not funny anymore. This little dream is all I have.

The thing that is currently driving me crazy is when some (some) Democrats go on about how horrible the next four years are going to be, what an unprecedented evil is about to take over the White House, and then they say something like, “But if we impeach him, Mike Pence becomes president.” ::shudder::  I’ve encountered statements like this on Facebook, Twitter, and actual real-life conversations with otherwise normal-seeming liberals.

Kids, you know Mike Pence is not my guy. He would not have been my first (or second or third or fourth or fifth) choice to be president. But if we’re going to work together on this keep-Trump-from-destroying-the-republic project, we’re going to have to get the narrative straight. Is Trump the worst person ever to be selected to rule the free world, or is he actually better than a true-believing social conservative like Mike Pence? The last two Republican presidential candidates were also social conservatives. Would they be equally horrible replacements for Donald Trump? Would you really rather have Donald Trump than anyone who opposes gay marriage and abortion, even though Donald Trump supposedly has the most racist political agenda since George Wallace? Is that your final answer?

People used to joke about Joe Biden being President Obama’s insurance against assassination. As far as normal, i.e. not alt-Right, Republicans are concerned, Mike Pence isn’t any sort of insurance. Paul Ryan would do cartwheels if Donald Trump got bored and resigned and Mike Pence became president, as would every other Republican I know–including ones who voted for Trump. (Note: I don’t know any alt-Right folks outside of Twitter. I live in a true bubble. Envy me.) As I said (or implied) earlier, I don’t think anyone’s champing at the bit to bring impeachment proceedings against their own party’s president, but if push came to shove, no Republican in their right mind is going to lose sleep over Mike Pence becoming president. Perhaps that just confirms in your mind that they are horrible human beings, because you keep saying as bad as Trump is, Mike Pence is somehow worse.

Let me get this straight.

Trump is just like Hitler, but bring on the pogroms because God forbid we have someone in the White House who might appoint a Supreme Court justice who might in a million years be inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade. Abortion is what makes women human, and if you don’t get that, you have no business being anywhere near the nuclear codes. Trump might round up all the Muslims into concentration camps, but at least we won’t have someone in the White House who wouldn’t bake a cake for a gay wedding. At least we won’t have gone that far. As long as Trump is running the country, everyone who isn’t a white male is in grave personal danger, but at least we won’t have a president who believes there’s such a thing as biological sex and that “males” and “females” should use different bathrooms, because that would be awful. You may as well set the Constitution on fire! Goodbye, Bill of Rights! Trump is the worst thing to happen to the country ever, but what really makes him the worst is that his replacement would be even worse!

This is an excellent strategy for getting people to take you seriously. No one will ever guess that you’re mentally twelve and know nothing about history or how the government works.

Let me wax like our current president and be clear: I don’t have it in for Roe v. Wade, I’m okay with gay couples being married, and I really don’t care who uses what bathroom. I have bigger fish to fry. I should think you would too, but maybe not, since you’ve determined that there’s no advantage to be gained by getting rid of President Trump if he isn’t going to be replaced by someone of your choosing. Believe me, I would like to start all over too, but we can’t. This is the hand we’ve been dealt. So what shall we do?

Well. We could start by toning down the rhetoric just a tad–or, failing that, we could try applying it to ONE PERSON AT A TIME, and maybe pretend to understand the difference between a reasonable, i.e. not insane, person with whom we disagree on policy and a demagogue/megalomaniac who only ran for president because he wanted the attention. JUST A SUGGESTION.

The good news is that no matter what happens with the presidency, I think we’re going to pull through this, America. And if not, I’ve heard Jesus is coming. ::fingers crossed::


So there’s this article on Fusion titled “Nameplate Necklaces: This s*** is for us” (alternate title: “White Girls: Stop wearing nameplate necklaces”). Obviously, I came across this article because I read Fusion all the time. Just kidding. Obviously, I came across this article because some other white person I follow on Twitter was drawing attention to how crazy it is to add nameplate necklaces to the list of things that are considered cultural appropriation. I’m not actually sure if there is a limit to what “should” be considered cultural appropriation. Being white, I can’t really understand what it’s like to have one’s culture appropriated. I suppose, as a woman who was born female, I can imagine it’s sort of like when Caitlyn Jenner wins Woman of the Year when she’s only been a woman for about 15 minutes. Actually, it’s probably even more like Bono being Woman of the Year when he’s never been a woman for any minutes. Then again, who am I to judge? I don’t know Bono’s life! So I’m back to not really understanding how horrible it is when a white girl wears s*** that’s for women of color.

For the record, I’ve never owned nor worn a nameplate necklace. On the other hand, I don’t know how many things I have worn inappropriately–things I thought I was only wearing but was actually appropriating. I’m suspecting the number is low because I’m pretty white, culturally speaking, and have very little in the way of personal style. I don’t think I’ve ever been cool enough to appropriate something. The only thing I can think of is when I attended my brother-in-law’s wedding in Japan and I wore a kimono for the traditional Shinto ceremony–but that was at the invitation of the Japanese bride. It’s not a thing I would have thought to do on my own, but when someone invites you to her traditional Shinto wedding in Japan and offers you, as a soon-to-be family member, a kimono, it seems like it would be rude to say, “No thanks.” On the other hand, if I just up and decided on my own to wear a kimono someplace, that would probably be considered cultural appropriation.

On our first trip to Japan, my husband and I were visiting a shrine, and a (Japanese) man approached us and pointed out that a nearby tree was known as the “marriage tree.” He brought us over there and showed us how to pay our respects to the tree, or how to bless our marriage via this tree ritual; I’m sorry to say that between the language barrier and my faulty memory, I can’t tell you the precise nature of what he was showing us how to do, and it’s not my intention to sound disrespectful. (Maybe the guy was just messing with us. But he seemed sincere.) To be honest, bowing to the tree felt a little weird to me—not in the sense of “this is foreign and I don’t like it” but in the sense of “I’m not Japanese and I don’t know crap about Shintoism and I feel like a fraud.” But to the man, he was just sharing his culture and inviting us to appreciate it.

So maybe that’s the “get out of jail free” card. If someone invites you to participate in their culture, that’s okay. Maybe if one of my black or Latina girlfriends gave me a nameplate necklace for my birthday, that would also be okay. (Or she could just be messing with me. But friends don’t do that to each other, do they?) The problem is that if I wear my nameplate necklace out in public, no one’s going to know that my friend of color gave it to me. They will probably assume that I am appropriating WOC’s culture, and knowing this, how can I in good conscience wear such a thing? I mean, I could say, “Actually, my friend, who happens to be a WOC, gave it to me for my birthday,” but even I know that’s just what a clueless white person would say. If I were the offended person, I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, I’m sure some of your best friends are black!”

Actually, I don’t think I have any friends of color who would give me a nameplate necklace for my birthday. This is all just hypothetical. It’s something that theoretically could happen. I mean, I never expected to be wearing a kimono to someone’s wedding either.

For the record, the kimono was very beautiful. I’m not sure I pulled it off, what with my red hair and big feet. [1] (Those shoes are the worst. I’m sorry if that’s racist, but at least I won’t be appropriating that part of the culture again if I can help it.) I can understand why someone would want to wear something from another culture because it is beautiful. I guess I can also understand why it gets on a WOC’s nerves when Carrie Bradshaw starts wearing a nameplate necklace and suddenly nameplate necklaces are cool because a popular white girl wore one, even though WOC have been wearing nameplate necklaces for years. But I also can’t help thinking it’s kind of like when hipsters sniff that they liked something before it was cool, and now that it’s cool, it’s been ruined. WOC were enjoying their nameplate necklaces before white girls ruined it for them. I hate to lump anyone in the same category as hipsters, but I just can’t think of a more pertinent example offhand. I understand why it’s different: hipsters are not historically people who have been marginalized by the larger society; they marginalize themselves, on purpose. So of course it’s not the same thing. I get that.

Here’s the thing: I enjoyed reading that Fusion piece, for the most part. I appreciated the author explaining the significance of nameplate necklaces to her and other WOC. It would never have occurred to me that nameplates were a black/WOC thing. I was unaware. I’m glad to be aware of her experience and feelings. What I don’t get is the same thing I don’t get about hipsters being miffed that their favorite band now has thousands of fans who weren’t there from the very beginning: why does it bother you that other people like what you like, even if it’s for different reasons?

I’m sure some people would say that question proves I absolutely don’t get any of the stuff I previously claimed to get, if I don’t get that last part. But I’m trying, I really am. As I said, I’m white—I’ve got the white privilege, I’m lousy with white privilege, along with tons of other privilege. I have zero experience with someone taking an aspect of my culture that is dear to me and cheapening it or whatever else one does when one culturally-appropriates. I can’t even think of a single thing on earth that I think of as belonging exclusively to my demographic group’s “culture.” My husband comes from Scandinavian stock; I can’t decide if this makes him more or less “white” than I am. I have no particular interest in genealogy—it doesn’t do anything for me—but I can trace my ancestors on both sides back about 200 years to…England. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of this, as it was an accident of birth I had nothing to do with. (It is kind of a bummer when they have those celebrate-our-diverse-cultural-heritage potlucks. You can’t eat the Magna Carta, amirite?) But to me, everything that’s great about English culture is part of the cultural heritage of every American. It’s not like I own it, as a person of English ancestry; I share it with a host of people who are not of English ancestry, racially speaking. I don’t even think of myself as a person of English ancestry, i.e. that my ancestors lived in England is not a conscious part of my identity. As a white person, I have the luxury of not thinking about my race unless I start writing crap like this.

But like I said, I’m trying. I’m trying to empathize by drawing whatever parallels or hypothetical parallels I can to my own experience. I suppose that as a woman, I am part of a historically marginalized group. Unfortunately, the closest I can get to imagining something like cultural appropriation in that context is my above Caitlyn Jenner remark, which veers uncomfortably close to anti-trans sentiment. I admit that I get a little bent out of shape when Caitlyn Jenner is named Woman of the Year for publicly wearing a dress and painting her nails. Women have been wearing dresses and painting their nails for years, but someone who used to be called Bruce does it and suddenly it’s Woman of the Year stuff. I don’t care if someone who is biologically male wants to live as a woman, regardless of whether she wears a dress or not (women can do anything!)—it’s no skin off my nose, after all. But when someone who lived as a man and enjoyed the privileges of man-living for 60 years claims she’s “just as much a woman” as I am, please forgive me for saying, “Oh, honey.” I mean, what else can I say? I’m happy you’re happy, Caitlyn Jenner, but a newly-transitioned woman winning Woman of the Year is like Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize immediately upon his inauguration: you just haven’t earned it yet, baby. (Alluding to Smiths songs: just what a white girl of a certain age would do.

I say that, and I own it, but I also realize it sounds pretty mean—I reckon it sounds really mean to any trans woman (or person) who has had to suffer through things that I will never understand because I haven’t experienced them. Yet I also notice that this means 45 years of living as a woman, having experiences that a trans woman has never had, qualifies me for exactly zero pronouncements on the nature of womanhood. So trying to relate to the whole “appropriation” issue via my womanhood is a fail.

As a Mormon, I guess I qualify as a religious minority. Historically, Mormons have been marginalized. Some would argue we still are (though I would not, not really). And Mormons are definitely a culture as well as a religion. I’m not sure how one would go about appropriating our culture.[2] It’s kind of hard to nail down in the first place, not unlike our theology. But as long as we’re imagining something super-unlikely, let’s suppose that some not-Mormon person took something that was sacred to us and cheapened or commercialized it. Let’s say some non-Mormon celebrity (famous and therefore influential, sadly) started wearing Mormon temple clothes in public because they thought it looked cool. No one would ever do that, but let’s say they did. Most Mormons would instinctively call that disrespectful and gross, but that’s because it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it for reasons other than mockery. One has to imagine someone wearing Mormon temple clothes because they actually thought it did look cool. It takes a lot of imagination. (You could strain something and hurt yourself, probably.) I can only imagine that my reaction to this sort of thing would be to think a) they look as ridiculous as I do, and b) we appropriated all that temple stuff from the Masons, so they probably have first dibs on being offended.

Anyway, they already made The Book of Mormon musical, which wasn’t appropriation but satire, and plenty of Mormons got their noses out of joint over that because a) Mormons generally don’t appreciate satire and b) Mormons don’t like to be made fun of, especially not with F-words. I did not see The BofM musical, nor do I care to—I have a reasonably high tolerance for irreverent humor, but a fairly low tolerance for scatological humor, which is the same reason I don’t like to watch South Park—but I thought (and still think) that righteous indignation/outrage was a foolish response. It makes us look small, and frankly, insecure. I’m pretty sure Jesus said if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you’re going to trash or mock my religion, maybe you’re a jerk (or maybe you’re just misunderstood—I don’t know your life!), but that’s on you, not me. If you want to have a real conversation about my religion, I’m happy to converse with you; if you’re going to be a jerk, go be a jerk without me.

I can say these things about Mormons because I am one and I understand the Mormon experience, but I can’t say to a woman of color, “Your thing about nameplate necklaces makes you look small and insecure,” because I’m not one and I don’t know her experience. I don’t understand her feelings. Is it even possible for me to understand her feelings to the extent that I can understand why she would get bent out of shape over white girls wearing nameplate necklaces? Is there any point in trying to understand, or do I just accept that as a white girl, I have no business wearing a nameplate necklace?

So I’m back where I started, a middle-aged white lady with a free blog and no clue. Where does one draw the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation? Is there a line between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation? [3] If so, where does one draw that? How do you know when you’re appropriating something? I’m not really looking for someone to tell me this whole “cultural appropriation” thing is ridiculous. I know some not-(completely)-ridiculous people who have very strong feelings about it, but can’t really articulate the difference between appreciation/exchange and appropriation. I’m not invested in the idea that I should be able to wear a nameplate necklace or a kimono. I’m not even a fan of any sports teams with Native American mascots. On occasion, I enjoy Vietnamese food, but then I read an essay by a Vietnamese-American who was upset that Vietnamese food was trendy now, but white people used to make fun of her lunches when she was young. My instinct is to think that person might need therapy to deal with her issues, but I’m open to the idea of that not being fair. When I was a kid, I thought bologna sandwiches were delicious. I think bologna is gross now. I still like Spam, though. Hawaiians also like Spam. Who liked it first? What does it all mean? I don’t know.


[1] Even my red hair is, technically, appropriated. I was born a brunette, but I think red hair is beautiful and I like the way I look with red hair, so I dye it red, even if it’s wrong. I have extremely fair skin and burn easily, so I almost feel as though I’ve earned it, but that’s just what a clueless fake-ginger would say.

[2] I was reading some non-Mormon person’s Twitter feed and they were saying how their son wanted to ask someone to Homecoming, but apparently, expectations have changed such that it’s no longer okay to say, “Will you come to Homecoming with me?” You have to do something creative, like with balloons or baked goods or whatever. I was, frankly, astonished. I thought only Mormons did this. (We love theatre! And arts & crafts!) Now it’s what everyone’s supposed to do? Is this the Pinterest-ization of our culture, or has Pinterest simply facilitated the widespread appropriation of Mormon culture? In either case, I don’t actually care. Do what you feel, kids.

[3] I went to a recipe exchange a million years ago, and a friend of mine, who was from Idaho, shared this recipe called “Hong Kong Chicken.” It was a dish her mother made all the time when she was growing up. It consisted of rice, chicken, and cream of mushroom soup (basically). So…where did the Hong Kong part come in, exactly? My friend said, sheepishly, “Oh. Well. You see, most of what we ate was made with potatoes. But this was made with rice. Hence—Hong Kong.” I thought this was adorable (and hilarious). I shared this story with someone recently, and they thought it was offensive, maybe borderline racist. Well, goodness—uneducated about Chinese cuisine, sure, but racist? Can’t we just be glad that we live in a world where more people are eating rice? Maybe Idahoans should be offended when other people belittle their attempts to try new things!


So tomorrow we’re going to the pumpkin patch to buy pumpkins so we can carve jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween. I’m looking forward to the day when my children are so old that we no longer feel obligated to make an annual trip to the pumpkin patch and pretend like it’s something meaningful. It’s always such an ordeal. I mean, driving out there is fine. But then you’re there, and if it’s not raining, it’s muddy, and everyone has to walk around searching for the perfect pumpkin, and then we have to take all the pumpkins to be weighed and bought and I always think, “I do not enjoy Halloween this many dollars’ worth.” And then we have to stand around and have a conversation about whether or not we’re going to pay more dollars so the kids can do a frigging corn maze or whatever, or we have to look at decorative gourds and homemade jam and whatnot, and it just seems to take forever. Why do we have to do these things? I DO NOT KNOW. Except that I do know why we have to do it. We have to do it because we’ve always done it and so it’s tradition and as soon as we stop doing it, the kids will know their childhoods are officially over and that will just depress everyone. Except possibly me because I really don’t want to go to the pumpkin patch tomorrow. At all.

So I’ve put on a couple pounds since I got back from Japan. I’m becoming aware of my stomach, which is never a good thing. I mean, is anyone ever strictly unaware of her stomach? I suppose I’m always some baseline-level aware of my stomach, but lately I’ve been hyperaware of my stomach, and that is what troubles me. I haven’t been exercising as much since we got home, and part of that is because I’m lazy, and part of it is because now that Princess Zurg has started college and I have to deal with her schedule, my free time has become more fragmented and it’s easier to let the day get away from me. Last year I had a good 5-6 hours a day when no one was at home. This year it’s like having a kid in pre-school again. PZ is in class 9 a.m. to noon, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. (She has an evening class on Tuesday and Thursday.) Since she doesn’t drive, I have to drop her off and pick her up, and it really cuts into my alone time. It’s cramping my style, I don’t mind telling you.

But back to what I was talking about–I’m having trouble getting over the exercise hurdle, so I thought I would try to modify my eating habits. I don’t know why I thought I would try that. I guess I really, really didn’t feel like exercising. Anyway, I thought it wouldn’t be such a big deal to have a salad for lunch a few times a week, cut down on the carbs, etc. I mean, it’s not like I would be dieting, exactly. Except that I had a salad for lunch on Wednesday, and it immediately brought back all of the negative feelings associated with my horrible experience with low-carb dieting in March. Like, the whole time I was eating that salad, I was having PTSD symptoms. And afterward I was like, “Life is no longer worth living unless I can eat half a bag of Fritos right now,” and so that’s what I did.

I don’t know if you’re aware, but Fritos have a lot of carbs.

That’s the problem with low-carb eating. It’s easy to feel full if you shove a bunch of protein in you. But you can never feel satisfied. You can never feel joy.

So that’s my short-lived experiment with modifying my eating habits. Apparently I need to have a peanut butter sandwich more or less every day or I become suicidal. That’s what science has taught me.

What else can I tell you? I was gone a long time. Before I came back, I mean. For a while I was in Japan, but before that, I was just lazy. And depressed. I’m still lazy and depressed, but now I’m lazy, depressed, and blogging, even if it’s wrong. I’m trying to get back in the habit of writing, and it’s just really hard. I’d rather be eating Fritos right now. Or sleeping. I keep meaning to do other things, but I just don’t. My husband asked me the other day if I needed to be doing some mental health upkeep things, e.g. I dunno, therapy, and I was like, “Meh.” I mean, I could see my psychiatrist, who is also my therapist, but I don’t know that it would make any difference. I don’t think I have issues that I need to work through. I think I just need to start doing stuff instead of not doing it. Unfortunately, it’s so hard to do stuff and so easy not to. I use all of my “do stuff” energy to do the absolute minimum.

I keep hoping it’s just a phase. I mean, historically, I go through these periods of extreme sloth, interrupted by periods of productivity. That is, eventually, at some point, I become so disgusted with myself and the way I’m living that I just have to clean the house or whatever, because I just can’t stand it anymore. I keep thinking, “Any day now, that self-loathing will kick in and spur me to action.” I’ve been thinking that for most of 2016. Not panicking just yet, but historically speaking, this is the longest uninterrupted period of extreme sloth that I’ve experienced since…I dunno. Maybe ever. The worst part is that I no longer respond to nagging. Maybe I’m just too old and don’t care anymore.

But you didn’t come here to read my sob story. Or maybe you did. Well, in any case, I’m done for now. Is there anything else I can tell you? I could tell you about Japan, except I’m so sick of re-hashing my trip to Japan. I enjoyed our time in Japan, but I’m just done talking about it. Mainly because it was such a chore sifting through all the pictures we took and uploading them to our family blog, and I’m still not done with it yet. I keep thinking I’ll just power through it–power through a la Hillary with pneumonia–and get it over with, but whenever I get on a roll, I eventually have to quit because it’s time to make dinner or pick up a kid from school or put someone to bed or whatever, and it takes soooooooo much effort to take the job back up again. I think, “I have earned a break from this tedious task,” and I probably have earned a break, but maybe only a few hours, not a couple weeks, which is becoming my average length of break-taking.

Guilt just doesn’t motivate me like it used to. That is also never a good sign.

Yesterday, against my better judgment, I answered a phone call that turned out to be someone from the Trump campaign soliciting a donation. (In my defense, I’ve been expecting a rather important call from someone whose number I don’t know, which is the only reason I picked up the phone.) This gentleman thanked me for my support of the Republican candidate and asked if I would be willing to offer additional support during the home stretch to ensure that Hillary Clinton is defeated. I told him I’d never donated to Donald Trump and had no intention of starting. He then tried to tell me how awful it will be if Hillary becomes president. I interrupted him to say I couldn’t possibly care less, because I was too tired and annoyed to say what I was really feeling, which was “Tell your boss that he can enjoy my donation IN HELL.” Still, when I hung up, Mister Bubby said, “Mom, you totally dissed that guy.” No, not really, son, but am I ever sick and tired of hearing how I have to vote for Trump or America is doomed.

First of all, America is probably not doomed. I mean, not yet. Well, it might be doomed. It very well could be doomed, but America has survived quite a lot in its short history. I see no reason to think it can be brought down entirely by the likes of Hillary. I remember when her husband was elected in 1992. I was at college, and the morning after Election Day, someone had written on the wall, “We’re doomed.” And yet here we still are. We survived eight years of Bill Clinton, eight years of George W. Bush, and (almost) eight years of Barack Obama. Will Hillary be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? I suppose it’s possible, but pardon me if I’m skeptical. It’s not that I think that things can’t get worse, that a president can’t do real damage. I just think the damage Hillary will allegedly cause has been greatly exaggerated. America may get battered a great deal over the next few years, but she will probably survive.

Instead of worrying so much about America, these Republicans should worry more about themselves— because it’s the Republican party that’s really in trouble. So many alleged conservatives say that while Trump is surely not an ideal candidate (an understatement if there ever was one), he is nevertheless the only thing standing between us and the apocalypse Hillary Clinton is guaranteed to bring about. I’ve already talked about why this argument is illogical and crazy, but I guess I’m going to talk about it again because it keeps being it.

Trump is not a conservative. He is not even really a Republican. Not in the sense that he has any loyalty to the Republican party or to any of the ideals the Republican party has historically claimed to represent. To him the Republican party is a vehicle to satisfy his ego and his narcissism. He doesn’t care what other Republicans want. He cares only about himself and his own aggrandizement. If this wasn’t painfully obvious from the beginning—as it should have been—it should be excruciatingly obvious now that he is actively trying to sabotage the re-election campaigns of individual Republicans who have been insufficiently deferential to him personally. If he had any intention of enacting a conservative agenda—particularly those hypothetical Supreme Court appointments Republicans are selling their souls over–sabotaging other Republicans is the last thing he would be doing, because enacting a conservative agenda requires a Republican congress. But Trump clearly doesn’t care if he has a Republican congress or not. What are some reasons he might not care? Well, he might plan on junking the constitution and becoming a dictator. Or maybe he doesn’t think it matters what he does, as long as he can be president while he does it. Neither of these things bodes well for Republicans or conservatism.

If Trump is elected, he will not govern as a conservative. He will not. Unless you define “conservative” as “acting like a jerk.” For the sake of this blog post, we will not be defining conservatism in this fashion. So if Trump is elected, who will save America from the dire consequences of not having a conservative president? Not Congress, because if Trump is president and Republicans manage to keep control of the House and the Senate, Republicans will be doing whatever Trump wants to do, not the other way around. And we’ve already established that Trump himself has no commitment to a conservative agenda.

The way Democrats usually fight a Republican presidential candidate is to tell everyone he’s going to outlaw birth control and throw Grandma off a cliff. But it is very difficult this year to argue that Donald Trump is going to do something like defund Planned Parenthood or reform Social Security—because he’s said he’s not going to do those things. All the Democrats have on him is that he’s a repugnant piece of human garbage. It must be tough. For some reason, Republicans want to get this repugnant piece of human garbage elected in exchange for absolutely nothing. Hillary will probably be a bad president. I don’t dispute that. She will certainly not be the kind of president I, as a limited-government conservative, want. But neither will Donald Trump. Donald Trump will also be a bad president because he is so much like Hillary Clinton, only more racist and more misogynist. If he is president, the Republicans will own his racist, misogynist, big-government authoritarian administration, and while that may not mean the end of America, it will mean the end of the GOP as a vehicle for limited-government conservatism, and it will be the beginning of the end of the GOP as a viable party in the long term.

Republicans will be better off with a bad president they can openly oppose than with a bad president they have to support—and they will have to support him because they already feel obligated to support him now and he’s not even elected yet. If Republicans spend the next four years supporting a racist and misogynist authoritarian, they will demonstrate that they have no intention of appealing to any constituents who are not white males. White males are certainly an important demographic; they have served Republicans well over the years. But they are not as important as they were when no one else could vote. And as a percentage of the electorate, their numbers are shrinking. If the Republican party wants to win elections in the future, they have to start persuading people who are not white males to vote Republican. They can only do that by showing how their governing philosophy serves the interest of all Americans. They can only do that by addressing the concerns of people who are not white males. You do not address the concerns of people who are not white males by supporting a racist, misogynist, authoritarian jerkface. The Republican party was already in trouble before this election. For the last 30 years support for Republicans has gone down among all demographic groups except for white men, and Republicans have done little to nothing to reverse these trends. In this election cycle they have done everything they can to make things worse. They’ve decided they don’t even need women anymore. This is not the behavior of a political party that is destined to survive.

Frankly, I am no longer invested in the Republican party surviving. I think it has shown itself to be rotten at the core, and it probably deserves to die. But I assume Republicans do want to survive. I assume they want to win elections in the future. If so, they have to start caring about something besides winning elections. They have to stand for something that isn’t big government lite with a side of racism and misogyny. They have to repudiate Donald Trump and Trumpism. They have to be willing to exchange a handful of angry white male voters for a broader coalition of other voters. This election is lost. It’s too late to do anything about it. But if Republicans ever want to win another election, they must stop hoping against hope that a miracle will occur this year and Donald Trump will be elected because Donald Trump getting elected is the worst possible thing that could happen to Republicans. Republicans need to face that reality and move on dot org. They’re going to be in the doghouse for at least the next four years. Hopefully they use that time constructively and learn something from their mistakes. But I for one am not holding my breath.

I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for this installment. (Just a couple days ago I was reading a romance novel where the heroine’s breath was said to be bated, in quite a different context. Or maybe not so different. I don’t know your life!) I realized that I neglected to do content warnings for the previous May-October installments, but so many of the books were read so long ago, I couldn’t remember warn-worthy content if I tried. For this installment, I’ll just tell you that each of these books has sexual content of some kind, except for the Georgette Heyer, but I couldn’t tell you how graphic the sexual content gets because a) I don’t remember and b) half the time I skim that stuff anyway, so maybe I never knew. At any rate, on with the book club!


Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
A young widow and her even-younger sisters-in-law are at the mercy of the new earl, who wants these ladies married off ASAP so he can start selling his newly-acquired properties in order to pay off the bankrupted estate. He didn’t ask his cousin to die in a freak accident and leave him with all the debts. He certainly didn’t sign up to take care of three penniless females. (Four, technically, as there’s an aunt in there somewhere, but that’s beside the point.) It’s not his fault they’re penniless (and female)! It’s not like he’s got any money either (at least not enough to support four dependents)! SPOILER ALERT: He turns out not to be so cold-hearted after all.

Kleypas is one of my favorite romance writers, and I did like this book, but I had a couple of quibbles.  First, despite how engaging the writing is (as Kleypas’s writing almost always is), I found the hero’s change of heart (which happens early on) rather precipitous. Of course, it is a romance novel, and the heroine, while something of a PITA, is very attractive and Has Spirit, and one can never underestimate the effects of such a combination on a red-blooded 19th century Englishman. (I suppose technically he is a blue-blooded 19th century Englishman, but in any case, I decided to just go with it.) Second, am I really supposed to believe that the hero, blood color aside, would really take the heroine in a passionate embrace after just coming from a train wreck where he broke a few ribs and is also suffering from hypothermia? I suppose I am, and I suppose I do–but it was not a seamless process of disbelief-suspension. At any rate, this book, while genuinely diverting, seemed mostly like an elaborate set-up for the continuing series–but at that it excels thoroughly. In fact, it took all of my willpower, upon finishing our story at 11 pm, not to immediately purchase and begin reading Marrying Winterbourne. I hesitated only to savor the experience of being so expertly manipulated. Well played, Lisa Kleypas. Well played. 3.5/5 stars

Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare
Clio has been engaged to the Marquess of Granville for the last eight years, but the marquess has been too busy with his diplomatic work on the continent to come back and marry her. Frustrated (and frankly somewhat humiliated), Clio finally decides to break the engagement, but marriage contracts already being drawn up, it is not so simple to (free free) set them free. She appeals to the marquess’s brother, Rafe, who is serving as the marquess’s agent of affairs. Incidentally, Rafe happens to be a retired champion prize fighter who wants to come out of retirement, but first he has to make sure Clio marries his brother. Why? Because reasons.

Tessa Dare is another of my favorite romance writers, and this book did not fail to entertain. (Dare rarely fails at entertaining.) But I had quibbles here, too. I liked the characters in this book a lot, particularly the heroine. There was much to like in the hero as well–a gently-born pugilist? say no more!–but the dynamic between him and his brother was too much of a mystery for too much of the story. It made it difficult to understand the hero’s motivations. Plus, I felt a little bit cheated on the pugilism front. When there’s a gentleman pugilist at the center of your novel, it seems like having a Big Fight at some point would not be too much to ask. But whatever. It was still a good time, despite being light on the fisticuffs. 4/5 stars

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan
Let me try to explain this conspiracy as succinctly as possible: the countess is a secret geneticist, and she’s been using her BFF Sebastian as her scientific beard, i.e. she does the science and he pretends to be the scientist, since that’s the only way she can get people to take her theories seriously (and not end up a social outcast). The problem is that Sebastian is in love with Violet, and Violet is determined that she Must Not Love. (I don’t remember why not.) Milan is good at putting new twists on old tropes, and this was a pretty good story, but I got a little impatient with the heroine, whose absent-minded professor routine got old fairly quickly. Also, there was a lot going on, what with all the Deep Dark Secret of the present and the Deep Dark Secret of the past and the Family Scandal, plus the OTHER Family Scandal, plus the old familial resentments, plus a major scientific discovery that I’m pretty sure is not historically accurate, but that may be quibbling, all things considered. This book is part of the Brothers Sinister series, and while I have read the other books, it wasn’t recent enough for me to appreciate all the interwoven storylines. 3/5 stars.

The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer
I probably don’t need to say this again, but I will: Georgette Heyer is pretty much the best. This is another story about a family who are forced to accept a complete stranger as the new heir to the estate. Major Hugo Darracott is the offspring of some black-sheep uncle or something, and everyone expects him to be a complete rube because he’s not of their class. Of course, he is a lot smarter (and better) than any of these snobs are, with the exception of the delightfully sensible Anthea, with whom he quickly falls in love. He spends the rest of the novel solving the family’s problems–the most pressing of which has to do with smugglers–and winning Anthea’s heart. This book became more and more hilarious as it went on. It’s only a little bit a romance and mostly a comedy, but it was delightful all the same. 5/5 stars

The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean
Lady Sophie has a humiliating experience in London, so she decides to escape by stowing away in the carriage of the Marquess of Eversley, who’s headed for the Scottish border. (She’s a bit impulsive.) When he discovers her, he (naturally) assumes she’s trying to trap him into marriage. But she wouldn’t marry that notorious rake if he were the last man on earth! Harumph! I found this book disappointing by MacLean standards. I give the writing four stars, the plot 2.5 stars (a fair amount of adventure, but everything revolves around people doing stupid things for indiscernible reasons), and the characters 2 stars. The heroine was…fine, but the hero was emotionally immature to the point of embarrassment. I was rather hoping the sexy-and-scientifically-ahead-of-his-time doctor they met in Act II was being set up for his own future story, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. (One can always hope). Also, I know how fond romance writers are of puns, but the title takes punny for pun’s sake to the HNL. It’s not as though the rogue isn’t, in very deed, taken. Taking the rogue is the whole point of this story. Other suggestions: “Rocky Rogue,” “On the Rogue Again,” “Hit the Rogue, Jack,” “Rogue Hog,” “Where the Rubber Meets the Rogue,” “The Rogue to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions.” 2.5/5 stars

Undressed by the Earl by Michelle Willingham
The Earl of Castledon is a very proper, reserved guy, still mourning the death of his late wife and trying to raise his ten-year-old daughter without a mother. Amelia Andrews is a vivacious young lady who thinks the earl is far too stuffy for her but would make a good husband for her prim older sister. But when Amelia is faced with ruin, the earl comes to her rescue by offering marriage. Don’t worry, that’s just the beginning! Despite what the title would suggest, this is actually a very sweet story, marred only by a surfeit of subplots–one of which is an obvious setup for the next book in the series (UbtE is “Secrets in Silk #3”) and therefore forgivable, but the others seemed gratuitous and therefore annoying. The main story, if you can tease it out of the many plot threads, is worth four stars. I enjoyed the characters, and Willingham writes good dialogue. There’s just entirely too much else going on. (None of which has to do with anyone getting undressed, by aristocracy or otherwise.) 3/5 stars

To Charm a Naughty Countess by Theresa Romain
Before anyone gets too excited, you should know that the countess isn’t all that naughty. She is the one giving charm lessons to a socially inept duke (he suffers from social anxiety, but he exhibits some autism spectrum behaviors as well) who needs to find a wealthy wife to save his estate from ruin. As luck would have it, the not-so-naughty countess is herself wealthy, and she is in love with the duke, but unfortunately she believes he is incapable of love and only wants her for her money. (That is unlucky, and the reason this book is a novel and not a short story.) I’ve read Romain in the past, and this was a step above what I’d read before, but the “I love her but she doesn’t love me”/”I love him but he doesn’t love me” got old at times. The characters are nicely drawn, though. 3/5 stars

Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh
I do love a good Mary Balogh story, and this is one. Book #6 in her Survivors series, it stands fine on its own, and it is probably my favorite. Imogen, Lady Barclay, was deeply traumatized when she witnessed her husband’s death in the war, and she lives mostly in seclusion in their Cornwall home. The new owner, who inherited the estate upon the death of Imogen’s father-in-law, finally shows up to check out his properties, and he is immediately attracted to the previous heir’s beautiful widow, but of course she is determined not to love again. She cannot love again because of her Deep Dark Secret, which she refuses to talk about. Can Percival (yes, his name is Percival) break down the walls Imogen has built around her heart? I won’t spoil it for you. I’ll just say that when Balogh gives a character a Deep Dark Secret, she doesn’t mess around, and she is very good at this angst and redemption crap. And at making dudes named Percival seem sexy. 4/5 stars

Undone by the Duke by Michelle Willingham
I enjoyed Undressed by the Earl enough that I decided to give the rest of the series a whirl, if only to make sense of all the plot threads that were woven therein. So UbtD is Secrets in Silk #1, and it’s about an agoraphobic heroine, Victoria Andrews, who secretly designs and sews scandalous lingerie in her Scotland home and sells them to a dress shop in London. (Her family needs the money because her dad inherited a bankrupted estate but has been too busy fighting in the wars on the continent to come home and pay the damn bills himself. Is this information really important? I dunno, but it’s the basis of the whole “Secrets in Silk” gimmick. Get it? Her name is VICTORIA, and she has a SECRET.)

Victoria’s mom decides to take Victoria’s younger sisters to London to find them some rich husbands, but Victoria stays home because that’s how agoraphobia works. Long story short, the Duke of Worthingstone shows up (in disguise) to check out a property he won in a card game, gets shot by someone who thinks he’s the wicked earl who just burned the crofters out of their homes, and he’s forced to convalesce in Victoria’s house, sans chaperone. You can probably tell where this is going. It’s not so simple, though. If they get married, she’ll be a duchess, but she’s agoraphobic. Duchesses can’t be agoraphobic! Naturally, there’s a crapton of subplots setting up the other books, but it’s not a bad beginning. 3/5 stars

Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly
James Trevenen was stranded alone on a deserted island for five years. Now he’s back in England and about to receive an award for the treatise he wrote on a new species of crab that he discovered on said island (well, he had to do something to occupy himself), but he is still haunted by his experiences from that time. Haunted figuratively AND literally–he has a ghost! But this isn’t a supernatural tale. It’s a tale of a broken man who finds love with a charming young widow who has a young son. The book deals with some serious issues, but there is also a fair amount of humor sprinkled throughout. Cannibalism aside, it’s a pretty delightful story. 4/5 stars

When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
Madeline Gracechurch (what a delightful name, I wish I had a name like that) is a lovely young woman with a gift for drawing, but she also has hardcore social anxiety; being in a roomful of strangers gives her panic attacks. The prospect of a London season has her so terrified that she makes up an imaginary fiance (a soldier she supposedly met while staying with her aunt in Bath or something) so she won’t have to go on the marriage mart. I don’t remember how she convinces her family he’s real, but she writes letters to him and sends them as part of the ruse, and she does this for, I dunno, a few years, until finally the lying is too much of a burden and she has to pretend he’s died in battle and she’s too brokenhearted to ever love again. (Also, at 21 or whatever, much too old to marry.) Yes, it’s an incredibly far-fetched story, but wait ’til you hear the rest: Years later, she’s inherited a castle in Scotland, where she lives happily and supports herself as a freelance illustrator, BUT wouldn’t you know it, that imaginary soldier, Captain Logan Mackenzie, turns out to be a real dude. A real dude who got all her letters, and now he’s come to claim his bride AND her inheritance because he and his men were screwed over by the Brits after the war and by golly, this English miss who had the audacity to insert herself into his life only to KILL HIM OFF is going to make good on her government’s broken promises.

Yes, it’s a completely ridiculous premise for a story, but you just have to roll with it because it’s Tessa Dare and it’s hilarious. Plus, the hero wears a kilt and murmurs unpronounceable endearments. Irresistible. 4/5 stars

Marrying Winterbourne by Lisa Kleypas
I told you I wanted to read this book as soon as I finished Cold-Hearted Rake. Well, I held out a whole, I dunno, month. I was not disappointed. Lady Helen Ravenel is shy and sheltered. Rhys Winterbourne is a Welsh merchant who has become one of the richest men in England via his successful department store. She needed a wealthy husband; he was wealthy and wanted an aristocratic bride to raise his social status. So they’re engaged, but Helen has a Deep Dark Secret, and it involves Rhys’s sworn enemy, so CAN THEY EVER BE TOGETHER? I don’t think this book can be fully appreciated without having read Cold-Hearted Rake first because CHR provides so much backstory for this book’s couple and a fat helping of character development for Rhys in particular. But I would say both were totally worth it, if only for the sake of this book alone. I mean, if you like romantic stories with brash Welshmen who murmur unpronounceable endearments. (No kilts, but you can’t have everything.) 4/5 stars

Unraveled by the Rebel by Michelle Willingham
Secrets in Silk #2. The plotting is off in this one. We find out in the first couple chapters that Paul is the son of a poor crofter who is also the secret heir to a viscountcy. He has sworn revenge against the wicked earl responsible for Paul’s father’s death; he has also sworn he will marry Juliette, a baron’s daughter he has loved for years, even though she swears she will never marry any man. Juliette was raped by the aforementioned wicked earl and had a secret baby who is being raised by her aunt and uncle–all of this, oddly enough, she has been able to keep from her immediate family, who are apparently the most incurious people who ever lived. No matter–Juliette is so traumatized and shamed by her experience that she feels unworthy to be Paul’s wife, even though she loves him.

The next several chapters are just different versions of “I must have my revenge on that wicked earl and also marry Juliette” and “I love Paul but I cannot marry him, I cannot!” and nothing to move the plot forward. Stuff eventually happens, but by then the reader’s patience has worn thin. And by “reader,” I mean me. YMMV. Threads of other stories from the series show up here and there but come off as extraneous and annoying, even if you understand what they’re about. It’s not bad, but it’s like the writer tried to cram in too much backstory and not enough actual story. And I know from having read book 3 that there are HUGE gaps between this book and that one, which is kind of an odd choice for an author who is trying to weave an epic story through multiple books. 2/5 stars

Unlaced by the Outlaw by Michelle Willingham
Secrets in Silk #4: The Final Battle. Prim Margaret Andrews enlists the help of Cain Sinclair, the sinfully dangerous Highlander who has been the go-between for the Andrews sisters’ successful (and secret) lingerie line, in searching for her younger sister, who has been abducted by a wicked viscount (I think–I don’t recall exactly). They get lost in the moors, sans chaperone. What’s the problem here? Aside from Cain Sinclair being of a different, i.e. lower, class than Margaret and having a younger brother who gets in deep trouble involving the same wicked earl from the previous three books? Nothing, really. A rather disappointing conclusion to the Andrews sisters saga. The romantic storyline is more or less resolved 2/3 of the way in, and the business with Cain’s brother feels tacked on, like the book should have ended ages ago. 2/5 stars

Beauty and the Blacksmith by Tessa Dare
This is a novella in the Spindle Cove series, which I adore, but it marks the first time Tessa Dare has disappointed me. Our heroine, Diana Highwood (whom we know from previous SC books), is a gorgeous young lady who has been living in Spindle Cove (nicknamed “Spinster Cove” for reasons you can probably guess at) for the last few years because the sea air is good for her previously life-threatening asthma. (I don’t know if sea air is really good for asthma, but this is the story.) Her mother has been desperate for the last three or four books to marry her off to a wealthy man with a title, but Diana isn’t interested in a society marriage; she’s secretly in love with the local blacksmith, Aaron, who is conveniently secretly in love with her. I almost hate to say it because I love Tessa Dare so much and her writing is so good, but there just isn’t much of a story here. It’s basically, “So Diana ends up with the blacksmith. Oh, and here’s some sex.” For Spindle Cove completists only. 2/5 stars

Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain
Remember how I said To Charm a Naughty Countess was the best Romain I’d read so far? That was before I read this book. The Royal Mint is offering a substantial reward for the return of a large cache of stolen gold. Our heroine, Charlotte, is a former courtesan who has left the fast life in London and returned to her family’s home in the country; she needs the reward money to build a new life for herself. Our hero, Benedict, is a former naval officer whose career was ended by an accident that blinded him; he needs the reward money to provide an inheritance for his orphaned sister. So they’re rivals at first, but then they decide to work together, and I bet you can guess what happens next. The problem is that Benedict can’t marry or he’ll lose his measly pension, which he wouldn’t be able to support a wife on anyway. The other problem is that Charlotte’s former lover/”protector” is a raging psycho and he’s after her. Two very substantial problems! This book had great characters and great dialogue, though the ending was just a tad Scooby-Doo for my tastes. (At least it was happy.) 4/5 stars

And that, my friends, concludes the May-October edition of Mad’s Book Club. Tune in sometime in (hopefully) November to read the Here’s-the-Rest-of-October-I-Hadn’t-Gotten-To-Yet edition. Gentle readers, adieu.

These are all the psycho killer books I read in the last four and a half months.

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd
Inspector Ian Rutledge has returned from the war (World War I, that is) with his body intact, but his mind not so much. For one thing, he has a ghost accompanying him everywhere he goes. It gets to a guy. He’s afraid he’s losing his touch as a detective. A beautiful woman’s fiancé has been murdered, possibly by her guardian, a decorated military officer and respected local gentleman-farmer. It’s a political nightmare, and Rutledge suspects he’s being set up to fail, which makes it all the more imperative that he solve the case. The mystery was pretty well plotted, if a bit complicated, but more importantly, I really enjoyed Rutledge as a character and wanted to read more about him—which is convenient, since Todd has written about 27 more books about him. (Okay, maybe not 27, but somewhere in the double digits—high teens, at least.) 4/5 stars

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Kills by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Confession: I have not read any original Sherlock Holmes stories. I know, I’m a disgrace to mystery lovers everywhere, I’m not fit to wear the uniform, etc. I keep meaning to, but somehow I never do. I am a big fan of BBC’s Sherlock, if that counts for anything. (No, I realize it does not. In fact, it may even make it worse.) Perhaps I would have appreciated this book more if I’d had a strong background in Sherlock Holmes, but I couldn’t have appreciated it much more because I loved this book. I loved the interchanges between Holmes and Watson, and how the mystery gradually unfolded, and how Holmes was affected by his failure to catch the murderer. I quite enjoy these psycho killer books set in the times before modern forensic techniques. This is a particularly great read. 5/5 stars

The Dead Will Tell by Linda Castillo
This is a Kate Burkholder mystery. Kate Burkholder was born into the Amish community but left the fold as a young adult, became a police officer, and eventually returned to her hometown to serve as the chief of the (“English”) police. This gives her an “in” with the Amish because she understands their ways, but they don’t quite trust her. Plus, emotional baggage, blah blah. I read the first three books a few years ago, but didn’t keep up with the series until I found this book in my local digital library. It’s #6, and it stands on its own. It begins with an apparent suicide that is soon revealed to be a homicide. This incident is followed by another suspicious “suicide” that leads Kate to a 30-year-old unsolved crime involving the death of an Amish farmer and four of his children, plus the disappearance of his wife. It’s pretty good. Development of the relationship between Kate and her love interest, John Tomasetti, will probably not resonate with anyone who hasn’t read the previous books, but it probably won’t distract from the story either. (It just made me want to fill in the blanks, as you will see below.) 4/5 stars

Gone Missing by Linda Castillo
I had to go to the actual real-life library and borrow actual real-life books in order to find out what happened with Kate Burkholder and the Amish in books 4 and 5. This will give you some idea of my dedication to this series! Here Kate is trying to find an Amish teen who has gone missing during her Rumspringa, the time when young Amish are allowed to break the rules and experience the outside world before deciding whether or not they want to be baptized. Has the missing girl decided to leave the Amish life, or has a more sinister fate befallen her? During the course of the investigation, Kate discovers links to other missing-teens cold cases. There’s some pretty messed up stuff here—as there usually is, when the Amish are involved. (At least that’s how it is in psycho killer books.) And Kate has to deal with more baggage from her own dark past as an Amish teen; this subplot will probably not be appreciated if you have not read the previous books. It’s a pretty exciting read, though. 4/5 stars

Her Last Breath by Linda Castillo
Yes, this is Kate Burkholder #5, and I had mixed feelings about it. This story involves a friend from Kate’s past—her Amish past, that is. An Amish man and his three children are riding in their horse-and-carriage one night when they are hit by a speeding pickup truck; father and two children die on the scene, while one son survives (but only barely). The grieving wife and mother is Kate’s childhood friend. There is something super-weird about this case. This was no buggy accident! Someone wanted this family dead, but who? Kate thinks her friend knows more than she’s letting on, but what is she hiding, and why? There are a lot of flashbacks to Kate’s teen years and her (Amish-style) adventures with her friend. This added a layer of poignancy to the story. You can see the plot twists coming a mile away, but there is a lot of action. Maybe a little too much action, in the Jason-springing-up-out-of-the-lake sense. One does begin to wonder one Amish community could have so much dark side. But that’s the nature of the small-town-sheriff-psycho-killer genre. Willing suspension of disbelief and such. I seem to recall liking this book somewhat less than the others, but according to my Goodreads records, I still gave it 4 stars, so what do I know? 4/5 stars (possibly 3.5, but I’m not going to re-read the book to tell you for sure)

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
I could not get my hands on Inspector Rutledge #2, so I settled for Todd’s Bess Crawford #1, which this is. The setting is England during World War I. Bess Crawford is a nurse aboard the Britannica when it is attacked and sunk by the enemy; she survives, but she has a broken arm and is sent home to convalesce. A dying patient has charged her with taking a cryptic message to his brother. She feels obligated to fulfill his request, so she does, but she can’t leave well enough alone because she can see there’s something fishy going on with this family. Something that involves…MURDER. The mystery is well-crafted, and Bess is a great character—smart and nosy, but not in an annoying way. (That is more difficult to pull off than it sounds.) She’s no Ian Rutledge—she doesn’t see ghosts, for one thing—but she’ll do. 4/5 stars

A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
This is the first book of another series about English detectives solving murders, only this one is real vintage: it was written in the 1980s. Inspector Thomas Lynley isn’t your average police detective; in addition to being talented and incredibly handsome, he’s also an earl. A freaking earl! He doesn’t like to flaunt his aristocratic ties—he only wants to be treated the same as any other talented and handsome police detective—but Sergeant Barbara Havers doesn’t buy his modest act. She’s working class, with an entirely deserved reputation for being difficult. In fact, this is her last chance to make it as a detective because she’s blown all the other ones by being such a pill (even though she’s very smart). She suspects she’s only been paired with his lordship because she’s the only female in the squad unattractive enough for him not to sleep with. She does not think much of Inspector Lynley. Their case is pretty gruesome: a fat, simple country lass is found in a barn with an axe in her lap, sitting next to her dead dog and decapitated father. Circumstances clearly point to her as the murderer, but the forensic evidence doesn’t add up. Lynley and Havers learn to work together as they uncover the dark, seedy mysteries of country life. It was the ‘80s, kids, so the secrets are pretty messed up. The story is a tad…seamy, to tell you the truth, but I enjoyed the interplay between Lynley and Havers; each character is like an onion, or an ogre—they have layers! 4/5 stars

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen
This is #11 in the Rizzoli & Isles series. I read the first two or three R&I books several years ago. I liked them—good psycho killer stuff—but I didn’t feel compelled to read any more and only picked up this particular book because it was cheap on Kindle and I was loading up for my trip to Japan (specifically the plane ride). It opens with a deadly camping safari in Botswana, which never bodes well. I don’t usually like to read murder mysteries where the weapon is a large cat, but this one intrigued me. Most of the book takes place in Boston, six years later, where large cats do not usually go around being the inadvertent facilitators of homicide. Detective Jane Rizzoli is on the case with Dr. Maura Isles, M.E. I saw the twist coming, but I still liked the story. It put me in the mood to read more of the R&I back catalogue. These broads are hardcore! 3.5/5 stars

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
Tessa Cartwright is the lone survivor of a serial killer who murdered several teenage girls about 20 years ago. The man arrested for the crime is (finally) about to be executed, but she has become convinced that he is innocent and the real killer is still out there. Don’t ask how she knows—just some freaky unexplained stuff that makes her think he might have been stalking her all these years. So she goes digging into her past, hoping to discover the truth. There are flashbacks to the period following the failed attempt on her life, her visits with the shrink and the rap sessions with her best friend, who was her rock until she betrayed her. What the heck happened there? And who is the real killer? It takes the whole book to find out—which I guess is how it should be. I will say this much: this book was a page-turner. However, I found the ending to be a bit of a mess. A whole lot of crazy revealed at the last minute. I didn’t quite buy it, so it was a bit disappointing. I’d give this author another shot, though. 3/5 stars

In the Woods by Tana French
I don’t remember how I heard about the Dublin Murder Squad series, but it took me forever to get to the top of the waiting list for this book, which is the first. Detective Rob Ryan has a dark secret from his past: when he was 12, he and his best friends disappeared one summer afternoon. A few days later he was found in the woods, considerably scuffed up and his shoes full of blood, but otherwise unharmed. His friends were never found. No one knows about his past except his parents and his best friend and partner, Cassie Maddox, but it comes back to haunt him when he and Maddox are assigned to a case involving a young girl who was murdered and left in the same woods where Ryan was found as a child. There’s no evidence that the two cases are connected, and yet the coincidences are too hard to ignore.

Based on the reviews I read, this is another one of those books you either hate or love, and whether or not you hate it has largely to do with your expectations regarding the two mysteries. I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I’ll just say this: the same thing that disappointed many readers also disappointed me, but it didn’t spoil the book for me. To me the book was as much about the characters as about the case(s)—perhaps more so—which is why I found it so compelling. It wasn’t just about solving a mystery, but about understanding the characters and their motivations. I saw the end coming, and it still broke my heart. And that’s how I got hooked. 5/5 stars

Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George
Inspector Lynley #2! Lynley and Havers are back, this time investigating the murder of a playwright on an isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands, where they have virtually no authority, but they’ve been assigned the case on the basis of Lynley’s aristocratic connections, since one of the suspects is another aristocrat. This is pretty un-comfy for Lynley, especially since the case also involves his dear friend Lady Helen, who has become romantically entangled with yet another suspect. Lynley is forced to confront his own prejudices; Havers is forced to work behind his back in order to discover the truth. It’s a page turner, and there are quite a few plot twists, but again it’s the characters that make it worthwhile. 4/5 stars

Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George
Inspector Lynley #3! Lynley and Havers investigate a murder at a boarding school at the request of an old school chum of Lynley’s, who is now a house master at aforementioned boarding school where murder took place. I should rewrite that sentence, but I won’t. You get the picture. There are bullies, there are plot twists, there are repressed homosexuals. It’s pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. 3.5/5 stars

The Likeness by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #2, this time narrated by Detective Cassie Maddox, shortly after the events of In the Woods. The cops find a body that looks exactly like Maddox—like, they could be twins. It’s super weird, and it affords an excellent opportunity for some super-weird detective work. Maddox’s old boss from her undercover days convinces her to go undercover posing as the murder victim to see if she can figure out who killed her, since they’re pretty sure it’s one of the friends she lives with. I know, it’s crazy. How would that even work? It’s too long of a story. Just trust me, it’s slightly less crazy than it sounds (but only slightly). Again, this is partly about solving a mystery and partly about exploring a character’s motivations and vulnerabilities. This one didn’t gut me like In the Woods did, but it still kept me intrigued through the end. 4.5/5 stars

Faithful Place by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #3, this time narrated by Frank Mackey, who is technically Dublin Undercover Squad, but we met him in the previous book (Cassie Maddox’s old boss, the manipulative bastard). Faithful Place is the name of the crummy Dublin neighborhood where Frank grew up; as a teenager, he planned to escape his dead-end world by eloping with his girlfriend Rosie to London, but on the night they were to leave together, Rosie never showed up. He spent the next 22 years believing she’d stood him up and gone to London on her own. For his part, he’s spent the last 22 years trying to forget Faithful Place and his crummy family, but one day Rosie’s suitcase is found in an abandoned house on Faithful Place, prompting a new investigation into her disappearance. Officially, Frank is not supposed to be working this case (too close, you know), but being Frank, he can’t help himself. Cans of worms are opened. Confronting the truth of his past sheds a light on his present that he’d rather not see. One of the things I appreciate about this series is how the characters will make morally questionable decisions and aren’t always likeable, but I understand and feel for them nonetheless. Another sad story, but like The Likeness, it ends on a slightly hopeful note. 5/5 stars

Broken Harbor by Tana French
Dublin Murder Squad #4. Yes, I did inhale this series. Once I started, I couldn’t stop! This book features Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, the a-hole murder detective from Faithful Place. Yeah, I didn’t mention him in my review, but he was there and now he’s here, investigating a huge multiple murder case. A man has been knifed to death; his two children were smothered in their sleep, and his wife is also an apparent victim of a knife-wielding maniac, only she’s managed to survive and is in intensive care. Kennedy is of the opinion that most murder victims are the architects of their own demise; dig under the surface and eventually you’ll find whatever shady business they were into that got them killed. He and his rookie partner think this will be another open-and-shut case—prolly drugs or something—but they can’t find a motive anywhere. Could these victims be completely innocent? Meanwhile, Kennedy is dealing with his mentally ill sister and the specter of a family tragedy in his past. The combined stress threatens to send him off the deep end. I found the resolution of the murder case a little far-fetched and therefore a little unsatisfying; however, the real story was Kennedy’s evolution from by-the-book cop to a more complicated, emotionally damaged and morally compromised human being. He sort of broke my heart. 4.5/5 stars

The Secret Place by Tana French
Don’t worry, #5 is the last one I’m going to review for now because I’m still on the waiting list for #6 (although I’m still thinking of buying it, even though it’s still full price, being relatively new—I’m cheap, but I feel guilty about it). Holly Mackey, Frank Mackey’s daughter (who was introduced as a 9-year-old in Faithful Place but is now a savvy 16-year-old) comes to the police with evidence that someone at her boarding school may know something about a murder that happened on their campus the previous year. The other DMS books are told from first person. This one alternates between third-person narration (told from the point of view of Holly and her friends) and first person narration by the detective Holly initially approaches (Stephen Moran, a relatively minor character who played a pivotal role in Faithful Place). I didn’t think this book was quite as successful as the other ones, as I didn’t feel quite as invested in the characters. I couldn’t quite relate to Holly and her friends enough to find their story compelling. I liked the detective characters, but there wasn’t as much character development there; it was more of a buddy/partner story. It was still absorbing, even if it was less emotionally satisfying. 4/5 stars

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen
Back to Rizzoli & Isles. This is #4, so ancient history. A woman is found murdered in Dr. Maura Isles’ driveway. Here’s the weird part: she looks just like Maura. No, Maura is not asked to go undercover as her doppleganger. It’s not that weird. Turns out, it’s her twin sister. Maura was adopted as an infant, so heretofore she’s been ignorant of her family of origin. Unfortunately, solving this case means learning some unpleasant facts about her genetic background and the human beings associated with it. What does it all mean? Well, that isn’t delved into too deeply. This story is more plot- than character-driven, but it’s a pretty good plot nonetheless, if you enjoy police procedurals. 3.5/5 stars

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I’ve been on the waiting list for this sucker for ages, so maybe my expectations were too high, but I was a tad disappointed. The main character is a pathetic drunk who was dumped by her ex-husband for another woman (partly because she became a pathetic drunk); every day she rides on the train and passes by her old house. She avoids looking at it and instead focuses her attention on her ex-husband’s new neighbors, an attractive young couple she has decided to live vicariously through via her fantasies she concocts about them. One day the wife is reported missing; her husband is the chief suspect, but our pathetic drunk heroine is convinced he must be innocent. She knows that she was in the neighborhood the night the wife disappeared, but she doesn’t remember much of what happened. She is desperate to recover her memories and solve the mystery, but she’s such a pathetic drunk that she keeps screwing up and making the police think she’s a kook, and her ex and his new wife think she’s stalking them, and she’s just a mess. I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic. I felt sorry for our pathetic drunk heroine, but I also found the story a bit tedious. It started out page-turny, but by the time the mystery got around to being solved, I’d sort of lost patience with it. 3/5 stars

Still to come: Romances!


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