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This weekend and especially on Monday, May 30th – Memorial Day, please remember my brothers and sisters-in-arms who’ve given all for us.
My computer desktop image is of an old stone foundation overtaken by greenery, a former homestead of Washington Irving, which I hiked to a number of summers ago during a residency in the Catskills. The spot wasn’t terribly well marked, and I had to dig for it a bit, so I spent most of the morning seeking out what would have been a former house, next to a stream, before chancing upon the rock Rip Van Winkle was said to have napped on. (Superstitiously, I did not indulge the urge to test it.)
The discovery of the homestead felt somehow pivotal, and I knew when I snapped the image on my cameraphone that I would want to look at it every day: flat stone foundations are so sensical, aren’t they? Find yourself some level ground and nestle the rocks in a bit, build up a wall that way, then create a whole room, carefully manipulating the earth against your construction materials in anticipation of your future needs. I don’t know what it’s like for a doctor or an accountant or an urban planner, but for a writer those needs are ultimately quite simple: a space in which one can hear one’s own thoughts, not too distant from “the action,” but not central to it, either. The meaning of home solidified for me then, implying a state of activity as opposed to a static condition. Like being awake. Like love.
I’d never considered the concept of home so deeply before. At the time, I was traveling 200 days out of the year, and when I did my taxes, I occasionally discovered that I had conducted business in languages I could not later identify. I was working in Germany, Cambodia, the Republic of Georgia, and Finland, with only days between trips to rest in Chicago before a lecture in New York City or a conference in Vienna or a book event in Los Angeles or a “vacation” in some place I had selected because I had never been anywhere like it before and didn’t know what life there might be like. Washington Irving’s stone foundation became a talisman for me—a guidepost at first some great distance off, later more clearly outlined through the haze—a beacon to a single place I might wish to return to, some flat ground soft enough to nestle stones into. I loved my exciting life, do not get me wrong, and was having far too much fun to change it in anyway, but I did look around at least once during every one of those 200 days and wonder if the place I was in might eventually become my home. It never did, and after several years my computer desktop image was still the only thing I saw, consistently, every single day: the purely ephemeral digital nature of the pic belying a steadfastness I was coming to crave.
Getaway by Lisa a Brackmann. This is the first novel of her new series. The next book, Go-Between comes out in July.
What I liked.
This is what Frantic should have been and possibly could have been with better writing. There is serious realistic peril for a vacationer in Mexico. My emphasis is on the word realistic. I was willing to go down this rabbit hole only because it was so believable. Having vacationed in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and visited numerous places in Mexico, I’m familiar with the territory. It was enjoyable to see Vallarta from a literary point of view. This trip was both fun and affordable!
The story. I have read and recommend all of the Ellie McEnroe novels which take place in China. Getaway comes across as a completely different story. The tone and pacing are so disparate I wouldn’t know it was the same author if her name wasn’t written on the cover. I found the story enthralling. I liken it to the classic idea of the American travelling abroad, unaware of the risks associated with living without the protections of the Bill of Rights and faith in the criminal justice system. It isn’t an original concept. Yet in the hands of Brackmann the payoff is in how she unveils each episode. The tension builds and with each passing hour fears are stoked, until the climactic conclusion.
What I didn’t like.
There are no tidy resolutions. Kinda like real life. It is messy. Perhaps readers won’t mind that though. Add to it the chance the next book will tie up all those loose ends. Something I look forward to.
What you should know.
If you like violent novels this is for you. Smart, serious, suspense.
Recommendation: Must Read
Blood Defense by Marcia Clark.
This is the author’s first novel of a series involving a criminal defense attorney named Samantha Brinkman. You can read her Rachel Knight prosecutor series here.
What I liked:
The protagonist. Samantha’s not so law abiding approach to the world was so refreshing. I also appreciated her professional approach to her vocation, it wasn’t about money, it was about doing the right thing the right way. This is also a no nonsense, courageous protagonist. That is the way I prefer them to be when I see them as the ‘hero’. The interesting aspect of Samantha is that her personal life is non-existent. Under the circumstances her work absorbs all of her life. The intriguing part is that this missing piece does not detract from the story. I imagine later tomes will add that dimension. She is unmarried, and as such the only personal interaction she has is with her parents, and those are priceless.
The plot twist. I found the twist to be unique and compelling – no spoiler though, find out for yourself, it is worth it. I will say this, the description of the emotional impact of the revelation pulls the reader into the story and holds you. That’s a major reason why we read novels, and this one delivers. Could you imagine yourself in that situation? What would you think? How would you react under the circumstances?
The mystery. This, of course like many of the genre, is a who done it. There is a very delicate balance every mystery author must maintain in order for the mystery to both drive the story and keep up a plausible enough level of suspense to engage readers. And this works only to the degree that there is an investment of interest made validating the notion that anyone cares what happens. This is not an easy task. It is in my opinion the element that separates the real mystery authors from the pretenders. Clark demonstrates her chops in this regard.
What I didn’t like:
I am one of those nitpickers. I confess! So I’ll ask. How does a violent crime victim who has never gotten justice become a criminal defense attorney? Why? So she can sandbag all her cases and get her clients convicted? I think not. I just cannot reconcile the contradiction. There is more to be mined on this subject but that the author only skims the surface. I say ‘no go’. Why touch so lightly on something so worthy of proper focus? Samantha has nightmares. Well? I don’t think it can be mentioned, as often as it is, without going into detail about the cause and effect.
What you should know:
Amateur psychologists will revel in this smorgasbord of mental disorders – narcissism, sociopaths, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while seeing them play out in the lives of the people who are forced to live with them. The scene is Los Angeles, and pop culture is a main character. Kudos to making reference to the current political upheaval involving the presidential election.
Recommendation: Must Read
A desegregation lawsuit from the 1970s now wrongly bars an African-American student from attending the public charter school of his and his family’s choice.
Dragon Day by Lisa Brackmann.
This is the author’s third novel with heroine Ellie McEnroe and although it is my least favorite, I still regard it as good read.
What I liked:
The setting. For those of us who travel less, it is a treat to see exotic places like China through the eyes of a gifted storyteller. This setting is very much a prominent character, making the experience even more enjoyable.
The family. How people relate to family in a novel can often be as important as the plot. It provides readers with a safe place to address their own familial challenges without the requisite emotional baggage. It doesn’t just make characters more real and relatable. Because when a reader engages with a character vicariously, another level of interaction arises, leaving a lingering impact in the mind, one that germinates upon further reflection, such that ideas fully form and take hold, allowing for the possibility of personal growth. Brackmann’s fictional family is an entertaining gift for readers to treat with surrogate care.
The departure. This adventure introduces an entirely new set of players into Ellie’s world. While some favorites return, others fade into the background. It is a fresh, if not completely independent sequel to the previous two tales. Getting to know the new faces raises the mystery quotient I’m happy to say.
What I didn’t like:
Ellie has a slight personality change. She remains the damaged PTSD combat casualty, struggling to find herself and her place in the world. However this version is so fraught with uncertainty about whom she should trust and what the consequences of her choices might be, her paralysis of analysis becomes off putting. She still doesn’t heed the advice of those who care for her as always. Which makes me wonder, why all the kvetching if she’s going to do things her way in the end?
What you should know:
This is adults only fare in my opinion. The threat of violence permeates throughout. There are mature themes, however the language is moderately colorful.
Recommendation: Good Read
Jewelry For Justice
By Emma Borquaye, A21 UK Prevention, Awareness, and Education Coordinator
Marina De Buchi is a jewelry designer living in London with a passion to see human trafficking abolished in the 21st Century. At 20 years old, she is already active in doing what she can to help by giving 10% of all proceeds from her jewelry brand to A21.
As she lays out the dainty gold bracelets in front of me at the table, she talks through the meaning behind each one in The Freedom Collection;
“The bird is called beyond fear lies freedom, so you can look at it and know that you can get through whatever you are facing. The key says ‘unlock your dreams,’ but it can be unlocking freedom, unlocking anything! Whatever it means for that person.”
The battling candidates, gutter campaign tactics, and overall circus atmosphere has taken its toll. Exit polls out of Indiana tonight reveal the divide. Republican campaign has mostly: 211 more words