Amazon discontinued the ability to create images using their SiteStripe feature and in their infinite wisdom broke all previously created images on 12/31/23. Many blogs used this feature, including this one. Expect my archives to be a hot mess of broken book cover images until I can slowly comb through 20 years of archives to make corrections.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Mini-Reviews: Nostalgia Ahoy!

Man, nostalgia. It's a helluva a drug. And when it comes to reading sometimes nostalgia will carry a ho-hum read over the finish line, even if I have a hard time qualifying it as a "recommended read."

First up is In Her Shadow by Kristin Miller, a book I uncovered from the depths of my Kindle. Like a previous book I read by Miller, this is another Privileged People Being Generally Terrible book but where the previous book faltered, this one was mostly a success. It helps that I spent my impressionable teen years cutting my teeth on soap operas and Gothics and this story scratched both of those itches.

Colleen Roper took a secretarial job, working for financial guru Michael Harris. In record time they're sleeping together and bingo-bango she's pregnant. There have been some complications to her pregnancy so the doctor is prescribing plenty of rest and relaxation, which means quitting her job and Michael sweeping her off to palatial family home, Ravenwood. The wrinkle? Michael's pregnant wife, Joanna - who abruptly left Michael very shortly before he fell into Colleen's bed. Oh and minor detail nobody has heard from her since. Colleen, of course, being the typical Gothic heroine has stars in her eyes, newly thrust into a world of luxury, spinning fairy tale happy family fantasies.  In reality?  Michael seems distant from the idea of starting a family, there are locked rooms at Ravenwood that are off limits, and a small staff that are openly hostile to her. Then, of course, a dead body shows up.

This story is told from multiple points of view (Colleen, Michael, a married couple next door with plenty to hide, and the lead detective on the case when the body turns up) and it really works here. Miller plays these shifts to maximum effect to keep the reader guessing, keeping the equilibrium off balance just enough.

The only halfway decent "likeable" person in this book is the lead detective on the case, while everyone else is generally terrible or hopelessly na├»ve (Colleen grates in short order) but man, nothing will hook me faster than a soapy Gothic.  I had it half-figured out by the end, but it was entertaining all the same.

Final Grade = B-

Kill Zone by Loren D. Estleman is the first in his Peter Macklin series and was first published in 1984, which yes makes it problematic at times, but as someone who grew up in Michigan, man this book was a giant needle of nostalgia injected straight into my eyeballs.

A rag-tag group of eight would-be terrorists who call themselves Siegfried hijack a Boblo boat (!!) soon after it leaves the dock in Detroit. On board is a government bureaucrat's daughter, which leads the FBI to go local Detroit mobster, Michael Boniface, now cooling his heels in prison. In exchange for leniency, Boniface puts his best guy on the job, mob enforcer and hitman, Peter Macklin. What Macklin doesn't know is that the guy running the show while Boniface is behind bars doesn't want to give up his seat and the killer now has his own hitman tracking his every move.

Detroit in the 1980s, crooked cops, the FBI sniffing around, the mob and BOBLO BOATS!  It scratched a very strong regional flavor itch for me even though it doesn't hit nearly the same as Estleman's Amos Walker series.

Here's the thing, there's eleventy billion characters in this book. Eight terrorists, the Boblo boat workers, the passengers, mobsters, Macklin's dysfunctional family, his mistress, his Old School Italian mentor, FBI agents, cops - I just gave up after a while keeping track of who was who and started looking at this story with a cinematic eye. Back in the day Charles Bronson would have starred in this.  These days, they'd rewrite it for a world-weary Ben Affleck. 

It's all a bit absurd and features all the trigger warnings a book published in 1984 would (stereotypes, some racial slurs, the female characters in Macklin's immediate orbit are....well, not great) but books like this scratch a very particular itch of mine, and on that score it kept me amused.  Not sure if I'll continue on with the series because honestly? Amos Walker is where it's at for me.

Final Grade = C+


azteclady said...

No self-respecting Gothic can escape the "dead first wife" trope, can they?

I might be tempted to give that first one a try, just to see how the multiple points of view work here, had I not literally over a thousand eARCs waiting.

Speaking of which: here's to two more books of the TBR mountain!

Wendy said...

AL: About the only Old School Gothic trope not present is incest. Miller plays with most of them though and blends it in with a healthy dollop of soap opera. I'm not saying everyone should go out and read it right this minute, but if you have a yen for both Gothics and Soap Operas, a reader could do worse. I think it's worth a library borrow and an agreeable sales price if/when it goes on sale.

I've made a lot of progress on my suspense ARCs this year, but oof - it's like bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon.

azteclady said...

"it's like bailing out the Titanic with a teaspoon."

::sobs at the accuracy::

Whiskeyinthejar said...

The wrinkle? Michael's pregnant wife

The way I jerked back from the computer screen, and then leaned in, because I too of am the Gothics girl club.

This is my first introduction to Boblo boats, why do they look so precarious when I know they float??