Their Lost Daughters

Their Lost Daughters (DI Jackman & DS Evans, #2)Their Lost Daughters by Joy Ellis

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ugh. This book has two major structural problems:

1. Jackman and Evans (**minor SPOILERS**) have no personal growth as characters. They do their job and then the book is over. They barely even speak to one another, and then only about the details of the case. They’re both like detective-robots. Jackman’s only personal detail is that he likes his cozy house. Evans’s only characterization is that she loves her mum and had a friend, once, who was harassed by an old boss. I think I know the friend better than I know Marie herself.

2. The murderer (**BIGGER SPOILER**) never appears live on the page. Jackman and Evans never meet him or interact with him in any way. ???? Weird and unsatisfying.

The narration by Richard Armitage was superb. He created distinct voices for probably two dozen characters, and Evans’s voice in particular imparted more detail to her character than the author probably deserved.

Also, I’m growing tired of the (incorrect) trope that all abused children grow up to be adults who are irreparably broken, unfit for society, and possibly dangerous. There is a correlation to generational cycles of abuse, but it’s not an absolute truth as stated in this book. It is sad and wrong to pre-condemn mistreated children to that fate.

Three sprinkle cupcakes and an iPhone displaying Tana French's The Witch Elm in the Audible app

The Witch Elm

The Witch ElmThe Witch Elm by Tana French
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I made cupcakes for my neighbor but kept half of them because The Witch Elm needed fluffy, sugary sprinkles to pair with its twisty darkness. This is Tana French’s angle on our #MeToo moment. It’s amazing and horrifying. I have seen a few reviews complaining that Toby, the main character, isn’t “likeable.” You guys, here’s the thing:⁣
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The Beautiful Ones

The Beautiful OnesThe Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adored this gem of a gentle romance. It reads like a grown-up YA with just the slightest touch of magic. Intricate characterization drives the story of three flawed people chasing love, revenge, and possession. The fictional city of Loisail and the mannered culture of its moneyed class (the beautiful ones of the title) has that taste of realism that is so hard to cook up. Reading felt like glimpsing a full world instead of simply scenes created for the purpose of the story.

I enjoyed the deliberate pacing, although others might not. My attention never wandered from Nina and Hector and Valérie. If I have one marginal critique, it’s that Hector wasn’t always totally convincing as a man who could earn the obsession of two beautiful, intelligent women. He was handsome and unique in his abilities, although he moped a lot. I did believe that both Nina and Valérie could love him, and I loved the book.

The Singularity Trap

The Singularity TrapThe Singularity Trap by Dennis E. Taylor

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ay yi yi. This book managed to turn an alien invasion into bureaucratic drudgery. It’s nearly all talk, and a very large percentage of that talk is conference table discussion between careful CDC-type doctors and risk-averse military folks. For an alien invasion, there seem to be a lot of phone calls. My favorite character (which was a low bar) is the ship’s doctor, Charlie. He spends the whole book sort of faintly concerned. Imagine a furrowed brow. He sighs a lot, and he answers the phone when the alien calls him.

The threat of alien destruction is averted because the humans…ask nicely.

This book has a zillion sparkling ratings from other Goodreaders. Are you alien invaders?? I think some people are giving this author credit for his other books.

Hard pass. I should not have listened to this audiobook for 11.5 hours. It gets 1 star for the narration, which is excellent, and 1 star for the early parts where Ivan is turning into chrome.

Monsoon Mansion

Monsoon Mansion: A MemoirMonsoon Mansion: A Memoir by Cinelle Barnes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The upbringing related in this memoir of a childhood in the Philippines is so far outside my own experience that I can only shudder. The author’s parents are both neglectful, and the emotional and physical abuse inflicted by her mother is horrifying. I’m amazed that this account in hazy, dreamlike writing was wrought from such harsh memories.

Creative nonfiction is a strange arena. How much is creative and how much is nonfiction? Conversations relayed from when a person is five years old must be largely reconstructions. In this book, however, instances from two+ decades past are conveyed clearly, and the emotional impact feels honest.

I have two complaints, one about the writing, and the other about the content. The writing is sometimes overwrought and would more easily bear its meaning with simpler structure. The last line of the author’s note got me off to an eye-rolling start: “Reader, here is Monsoon Mansion, my otherworld.” Then, in the prologue:

“I twirled, dizzying and dizzying.

The melodramatic line break strains my patience.

In the content, some difficult scenes are elided. The elisions stand out because the whole book is full of terrible instances that no child should have to endure, so closing the curtain on some of them is odd. It’s not as if the author needs to protect her mother’s dignity, because that is long gone. At one point her mother is chasing her father with a knife, but the scene just cuts off. Later I cried through a scene of implied sexual molestation, but again it simply stops, and we’re left wondering if it was a nightmare. The author is entitled to her privacy, of course, but that’s not the contract with a memoir. A memoir usually promises some degree of brutal honesty, and I think some things were elided because they were too difficult.

I really look forward to reading this talented author’s next projects.

The Henchmen of Zenda

The Henchmen of ZendaThe Henchmen of Zenda by K.J. Charles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this slightly silly, queered send-up of a Victorian pulp novel. The characters are totally fun, and Charles’ witty banter makes her one of my favorite authors. The book rollicks through dastardly deeds and swashbuckling sword fights. The convoluted politics in the middle-to-late section are a bit draggy, but I just let go of the details and went along for the ride.

The Outsider

The OutsiderThe Outsider by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Outsider was my first Stephen King book. I really enjoyed it. I can see a master hand at work in the tiny details that give characters just enough texture to be memorable. Sometimes if a minor character has a yellow hoodie or a cowlick, we don’t need to know his entire childhood, and I appreciate that.

Protagonist Ralph Anderson is honorable and a bit of a blank slate, presumably the better for readers to project themselves onto him. One character refers to Anderson as “Mr. No Opinion,” which for me carried both his intended meaning (from a bad performance review) and also reinforced the tabula rasa effect. I liked his warm, close relationship with his wife, who is his best friend and with whom he is clearly in love. They trusted each other and told each other important details. I vote for Michael Shannon to play Anderson in the movie adaptation.


Michael Shannon is my Hollywood casting choice for Det. Anderson.

The first two-thirds of the plot was engaging and mysterious. In the last one-third all the mystery has been unravelled and we’re basically just fighting monsters and bad guys, but that’s ok too.

The Naturalist

The Naturalist (The Naturalist #1)The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not super picky about the accuracy of fictional crime investigations, so I liked all the stuff in this book about Theo’s science, insights, and methods. I don’t love first-person present tense, but that’s just a personal preference. My two main complaints are both character-driven:

1. Theo barely remembers Juniper Parsons, but somehow her death motivates him for the rest of the book. He descends into a guilt/grief that seems implausible and self-centered.

2. The author states several times that Theo is a little vague on social cues in a harmless dorky-professor kind of style. However, he seems to scrounge up a miraculous insight into humanity at key plot moments. He can tell if someone is lying by looking in their eyes, and he picks a killer, as a child, no less, out of a group of photos of strangers because the kid apparently has the cold look of a killer. That’s not how it works.

The audiobook narrator was excellent!