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House Reckoning

House Reckoning
Mike Lawson

Joe DeMarco is a lawyer who works on Capitol Hill. His official title is “Counsel Pro Tem for Liason Affairs.” In reality, he is a bagman for Congressman John Mahoney, a fixer who gets things done off the record.
The adventures of DeMarco have kept readers entertained for 8 books before,  so clearly this is the book where Mahoney fires him.
This is also the book that gives DeMarco’s backstory. In fact, it starts a generarion earlier with his father, Gino DeMarco, a “property manager” and hitman for mob boss Carmine Taliaferro. Gino was killed when Joe was in college. But Joe is an adult before he finds out who did it- and decides to exact his revenge.
Cue all the story elements that keep readers coming back to Lawson novels: murder plots, stakeouts, guns, hit men, and blackmail. The familiar characters of Emma (elusive former DIA agent) and Neil (reclusive hacker and information specialist) play important roles, as always.

Lawson’s Joe DeMarco bookss aren’t quite spy novels- all the intrigues are strictly domestic. They aren’t quite detective stories- DeMarco enables more crimes than he solves. But as political thrillers, they are solid and fun.
A DeMarco novel is a promise of a good read, and House Reckoning does not disappoint.

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Henna House

Henna House
Nomi Eve

In Yemen, Jews and Muslims live aide by side- but not always peacefully. The Muslims have decreed that any orphaned Jewish child must be adopted by a Muslim family. Adela, the only child of a sickly cobbler and a mercurial mother, lives in fear of the Confiscator taking her. In hopes of preventing forced adoption, she is engaged to her cousin Asaf when she is just a child. While she plays at being married with Asaf, she also enjoys the companionship of her childhood friend Binyamin. Adela is still a child when Asaf  leaves on a long journey….and other long-lost relatives arrive.
Adela’s aunt Rahel and cousin Hani introduce her to the world of henna, prized by Jews and Muslims alike. Henna is often used to decorate brides and is a ritual of beauty that women can share. For Adela and her relatives,  though, it becomes something much more complicated- a secret code, a battle ground,  a safe place, and a way to change their fate.

Henna House is one of the best books I’ve read about female relationships in years. Every mother, aunt, sister and cousin is a vibrant character. The story doesn’t shy away from the injustices that face women around the world, but it gives them strength and beauty.
I also liked Adela’s honest narration of her childhood. From time to time she recounts what she remembers, and then balances it with what an older female relative remembers. And isn’t that an honest take on memory?!
Henna House is about the lives of women, their loves and their relationships. When women are oppressed (because of their gender, religion, race, or marital status) they still find ways to influence and shape the story of their people. They communicate in any way possible- even in henna.
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You might like: The Red Tent, Diamant. The Pearl Who Broke Its Shell, Nafisi.

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We Are Not Ourselves

We Are Not Ourselves
Matthew Thomas

Eileen Tumulty is the only child of alcoholic Irish parents, growing up in New York in the 50s and 60s. She dreams of reaching an upper-middle class respectability, having a comfortable suburban life.
Eileen feels that her key to that life is to marry the right man.  But she falls in love with Ed Leary. It doesn’t take too many years before she realizes his dream for the future is different than hers.  In time, Eileen and Ed manage to have a son, Connell. Eileen transfers many of her hopes for the future onto her son. But while she hunts for houses in respectable suburbs, her huband grows more and more resistant and withdrawn.
Eileen has to face the fact that life- and her choices- have led her to a very different place than the future she dreamed of as a young girl.

The story of We Are Not Ourselves is nothing new, but the characters are drawn with an incredible insight thst makes the book irresistible. This is a book that you stay up late to read, and wake up early to read- but every so often, you have to pause, and just let the words sink in. This is a book that spans generations and lifetimes, but no words are wasted. Every song, every literary reference, every house has been crafted by the author as part of the story.

We Are Not Ourselves is a story of family, of dreams, and of love- in all its many forms. It easily leapt onto my Top 10 list for this year. I believe we will be talking about Matthew  Thomas and his brilliant writing for years to come.

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*SPOILERS*
I don’t usually do much of a personal reflection but this excellent novel has given me a surplus of thoughts. I’m talking about some later plot points tho so spoiler warning.
Eileen fixates on owning a house as a symbol of success for her family. First she buys the multi-family house where they live, and moves into the best apartment. Not content with that, she starts touring homes in upscale neighborhoods, but she has delusions of grandeur. When she is finally honesy about what she can afford, the perfectly respectable houses seem shabby by comparison. Eventually she buys a house at the very top of her price range that she can only afford because of extensive water damage. When she moves in, tho, she doesn’t start to repair the roof or the foundation- she focuses on the dining room and kitchen so she can throw dinner parties. Thomas sums it up: “The base of the house might be rotting, but the visible portion was commanding enough…” He writes about a house, but he’s also giving insight into Eileen. It’s very well done.
Also. After several years of erratic behaviour, Eileen’s husband Ed is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. It made me think of my grandfather, who also has Alzheimer’s (although he is 90.) Some of Ed’s behaviors seem familiar. I’m starting to consider that maybe some of the things we kids thought were just Grandpop being Grandpop were, in fact, the coping mechanisms of a smart man realizing that things in his brain weren’t quite as fixed as they used to be. For example, writing in block letters instead of cursive, or making obsessive lists. But the line that hit home, written from Connell’s perspective, was: “…during the period when he’d gone around labeling everything.” I’m pretty sure every one in my extended family has inherited something labeled in my Grandpop’s big block letters.

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Psalm 23

I grew up with a theology that divided people into 3 parts: body, soul and spirit. The spirit could be redeemed,  but the soul and body were suspect at best.
However, I believe in a God that created ALL of me- all my senses, all my feelings- and intended that to be a source of wholeness, not shame. With that mindset, I’ve recently re-evaluated Psalm 23.

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” No denial of physical and emotional needs, but a shepherd who meets all of them.
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures” signifying being fed, and comfort.
“He leads me beside still waters” most of us have at one time or another drank brakish, warm,  unsatisfying water. But this is not where the Lord leads us. He takes us to the cool waters that quench our thirsts- thirsts for comfort,  beauty, music, art, etc.
“He restores my soul” (I’ll come back to this)
“Tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil” for me the biggest enemy of fulfillment and expression has been fear.
“For you are with me, your rod and staff comfort me” I grew up hearing how a rod and staff were tools of discipline, and limitation. But this verse is talking about comfort. Soothing. The safety of knowing someone is looking out for you.
“You prepare a table before me In the presence of my enemies” look anyone can pull bread and fish from a knapsack. But this is a table. Its a feast, even a party. Its food that’s not only nutritious but satisfying to body and soul.
“You anoint my head with oil” biblical anointing oil was soft on the skin and also smelled good (due to additions of myrhh and such.) It was also applied with a hand. We’re not talking about just dumping oil on someone here. We’re talking about touch, physical contact (in a completely non-sexual, healing way)
“My cup runs over” well,  we already have cool water, and its a feast so… this is probably wine.  (If you’d rather it not be, also ok) Wine tastes good, looks good, and makes you feel good. Its also a symbol of joy, and abundance.
“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me” mercy for my human failings. But goodness in the form of comfort to my soul and body: cool refeshing water, anointing, food that is also a feast, a cup overflowing with joy…
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” this, THIS is where I chose to dwell. Where all my  God-given senses are acknowledged. Where my needs- physicial, spiritual and emotional- are valued, and met.
” HE RESTORES MY SOUL.” Not just my spirit,  or the spirtual part of me. But my senses, my body, my soul. The part that loves good food, bright colors, certain comforting things, and yes, an overflowing cup. He restores my soul.

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Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools
(The Red Queens War: Book One)
Mark Lawrence

When an author writes a trilogy as good as Lawrence’s Broken Empire books, its easy to be skeptical about a new series. Can he do it again, with a new character and a different story? For Mark Lawrence, the answer is, “absolutely, yes.”

Prince of Fools opens in the same world as Lawrence’s previous books, in a different spot on the map and perhaps a different time (its not immediately clear, altho it becomes clear latet.) Jalan is the third son of the Red Queen’s third son. He shirks what little responsibility he does have in favor of gambling and whoring. He has some repute has the Hero of the Aral Pass (although that had more to do with luck than skill or heroism.) Jalan is a brat- a charming, spoiled brat. He is also broke, as his gambling has outpaced his income.
When Snorri ver Snagason shows up before the queen with tales of the undead rising, Jalan pays little attention. He is more interested in gambling on the Norseman in the fighting pits. Things don’t work out as Jalan hoped, tho.
In the wake of a tragic fire, Jalan and Snorri find themselves magically bound to one another. Jalan’s magic is light and fire, while Snorri’s is cold and black. Neither of them can go far from the other. Jalan finds himself reluctantly joining Snorri’s quest to return home to the North, to rescue his family and get revenge on the undead.
Along the way, Jalan and Snorri fight against both the living and the undead. They spend interminable days on foot, on horseback or on a ship. They spend their nights, when they’re lucky, in disreputable taverns. Jalan learns about Snorri’s past and the things that drive his quest. He also learns more about the magic that binds their paths.

There are certain things in Prince of Fools that Lawrence fans will recognize and enjoy. The clever, snarky writing is there from the book’s opening lines. The whole mythos (the general map, languages, religions, etc) is familar, too. While Prince of Fools may take place in a familiar world- and maybe even mention a few familiar names- its a whole new story, written in an entirely different tone.
Jalan and Jorg are both very anti-heroes, but they are very very different. Jorg was an outright bastard, driven by  immense purpose, nor caring what anyone thought and willing to kill at the slightest provocation. Jalan is a brat, almost entirely purposeless, charming, shallow, and afraid to fight.
But Lawrence got us to root for that bastard, and he gets us to root for this brat. He writes Jalan with enough humor and humanity that the reader starts to care for him. And where Jalan is weak and foolish, Snorri is strong and noble,  so a reader naturally roots for him.

Jalan may be the Prince of Fools. His story may be comprised mostly of travelling and fighting. But Mark Lawrence has written a compelling character and a non-stop story. It’s different from rhe Broken Empire books, but  -yes- its just as good. It may even be better.

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Natchez Burning

Natchez Burning, Greg Iles

Its been 5 years since Iles has published a book (and yes, I’ve read them all.) When I got my advanced copy, it was almost 800 pages. All I could think was, “Greg Iles, this better be worth it.” Well, I am here to assure you Natchez Burning was completely worth it!

In Natchez Burning, Iles returns to Natchez, Mississippi and the character of Penn Cage, defense lawyer turned mayor- familiar ground to fans of Iles’ work. Cage has only recently gotten Shadrach Johnson off his back (thanks to an incriminating photo) and is focused on his wedding to his long-time girlfriend,  Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Caitlin Masters. Cage’s world is shattered when Johnson tells him that Tom Cage, Penn’s well-respected physician father, is going to be charged with murder after helping a dying patient, Viola, end her life. Tom Cage has recently suffered a heart attack, and Penn wants to protect his family at all costs. Will he be able to exonerate his father, solve the mystery of Viola’s death, and keep his girlfriend,  daughter, and mother safe?
Local journalist Henry Sexton is closing in on the Double Eagles, a radical Klan offshot responsible for many race crimes, and rumored to be involved in the murders of Dr King and the Kennedy brothers. He has finally gotten an old, dying Double Eagle to go on the record- solving many old crimes, including one that is personal to Henry. Will he be able to publish the truth? Will it be worth it for him?
All of Penn Cage’s best laid plans are ruined when his father skips bail. Henry Sexton is attacked outside his office. The stories of Tom Cage, Viola, and the Double Eagles are deeply tangled together in history. Caitlin Masters is torn between publishing the truth and keeping her loved ones safe.
Natchez Burning answers some of the questions is raises, but leaves many more open. It’s supposed to be the first in a new Penn Cage trilogy. All I have to say is, “Greg Iles, you’d better write faster, because I can’t wait to read what happens!”
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Note: joking aside,  Greg Iles was involved in a very serious accident that delayed the publication of this book. The health of an author and their family is much more important then my entertainment. I wish him all the best.

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Pretty In Ink

Pretty In Ink
Lindsey Palmer

When Hers magazine announces they have hired Mimi as the new editor in chief, the magazine staff is understandably shaken. Over the next few months, many of them will find themselves without a job. Those who remain at the magazine will have to adapt to the new work environment. Some of the staff struggle, torn between loyalty to their old boss and coworkers, and wanting to gain Mimi’s favor. The new staff, hired by Mimi, are sometimes oblivious to the tension their presence causes.
Palmer writes this workplace drama with a light touch and humorous perspective. It is obvious that she has experience in the magazine industry and professional world. She is able to move the story forward by writing about a day here and a day there.
Pretty In Ink is narrated by Leah, Jane, Victoria, Deborah, Abby, Drew, Liz, Ed, Zoe, Erin and Laura. Each voice is interesting, but having so many makes it hard to get invested in the characters. I personally enjoyed Leah, Jane, Abby and Ed the most. Leah, Jane and Abby all had multiple chapters, so I was able to get the clearest view of them as people. Ed, as the lone male narrator, and a mailman at that, provided a fun outsiders perspective. I think the story could’ve been told just as well with only those characters as narrators, and might have been a little easier to follow.

Pretty In Ink  is a fun read. I will be recommending it for beach reading this summer! 

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You might like The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (of course) and Bond Girl by Erin Duffy.