Monday, 16 October 2017

Seven Days of Us

Author: Francesca Hornak
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 355
Source: won from GoodReads giveaway
Publisher: Berkley Books
First Published: October 17, 2017
First Line: "Olivia knows what they are doing is stupid."

Book Description from GoodReadsA warm, wry, sharply observed debut novel about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays... 

It's Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew's elder daughter--who is usually off saving the world--will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she's been told she must stay in quarantine for a week...and so too should her family.

For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity--and even decent Wi-Fi--and forced into each other's orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.

As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.

In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who's about to arrive...

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My ReviewSeven Days of Us is a family drama that focuses on the dysfunctional Birch family who are thrown together under quarantine for a week over the Christmas holidays. Nothing says holiday fun like being stuck with your family who have festering secrets and old resentments plus the threat of a deadly plague and a new family member!  Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!! Pass the cranberries!

This was a good read but it wasn't a great read for a few reasons. While this is a family drama, it was more melodramatic than dramatic. It was Family Dysfunction: Light. There were pretty big coincidences readers are asked to accept and while several secrets were revealed, the family's reactions weren't quite as shocking as I had expected. I wanted emotional family turmoil balanced with humour and I only got a wee bit of each. 

And yet, I enjoyed this book. It's an easy read and addresses some big topics (albeit superficially) and I found myself wanting to know how things would end for this chaotic family. The characters themselves were somewhat relatable but didn't have enough depth to the point of being cliched - the repressed mom who does everything, the spoiled younger sister, the over-achieving, hard-hearted older sister ... No one, except maybe Jesse, was overly likable.

Overall, this was a good debut novel. With some more tension and depth to her characters I can see Hornak's next literary offering being a better fit for me.

Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book through a giveaway on GoodReads.

Saturday, 14 October 2017


Author: Eliza Robertson
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 229
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (PHRC)
First Published: September 5, 2017
First Line: "On the first morning, Kenneth slept in: Joan buttered toast soldiers for Luke in the kitchen; Patrick and I slurped cornflakes at the table."

Book Description from GoodReadsA bold debut novel for those who loved Emma Cline's The Girls and Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers--a story of love, lust, and the spaces in between, from a "captivating" (NYTBR) new voice in fiction.

It is 1950, and nine-year-old Willa's sheltered childhood is about to come to an end when her two new stepbrothers arrive at her family's summer home in British Columbia. As Willa's older sister pairs off with the older of these boys, Willa finds herself alone in the off-kilter company of the younger, Patrick. When, one afternoon, Patrick lures Willa into a dilapidated rowboat, Willa embarks upon an increasingly damaging relationship with Patrick, one that will forever reconfigure her understanding of herself and her place in a menacing, male-dominated world.

Demi-Gods traces the tumultuous years of Willa's coming-of-age, as she is drawn further into Patrick's wicked games. Though they see each other only a handful of times, each of their encounters is increasingly charged with sexuality and degradation. When Willa finally realizes the danger of her relationship with Patrick, she desperately tries to reverse their dynamic, with devastating results.

Daring, singular, and provocative, Demi-Gods explores a girl's attempt to make a life of her own choosing in a world where woman's independence is suspect, a world that threatens to claim a woman's body as a mere object for men's pleasure. A sensitive, playful, and entirely original evocation of the dualities within ourselves and our history, Eliza Robertson's debut novel announces the arrival of one of the most exciting new voices in contemporary literature.

My Rating: 2 stars

My Review: Oookay. This is going to go down as one of the most bizarre and uncomfortable books I've ever read. I struggled a lot with Demi-Gods and never felt invested in the slow-moving plot or any of the characters' lives. I did not care one whit for these people. Not a one. 

The focus of the book seemed to be the strange and sexually charged scenes which felt like they were added for shock value to give the book that edgy feel that people will talk about. All that did was left me with an uncomfortable, icky feel and it didn't feel like these scenes even advanced the narrative.

I was also frustrated by the book's lack of focus. Was it Willa? Was it Patrick in relation to Willa? Why don't we get an explanation about why Patrick is the way he is? Why do we miss so much of Willa's life? In the end I was left with so many questions. It felt like readers were only given snapshots into the characters' lives but without any sort of character development or explanation as to how they got to be so messed up. My frustration had me repeatedly putting the book down and taking a breather from it. Not a good sign.

While there were moments of beautiful, descriptive writing about the era and landscape of Western Canada, overall, I was disappointed with this book. It was an odd read, that I continually struggled to get into (never actually attaining that feat). The subject matter was extremely uncomfortable and with its slower pace, anticlimactic ending and characters and events that I couldn't relate to, this just wasn't a book for me.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Hamish Hamilton Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Young Jane Young

Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Viking
First Published: August 29, 2017
First Line: "My dear friend Roz Horowitz met her new husband online dating, and Roz is three years older and fifty pounds heavier than I am, and people have said that she is generally not as well preserved, and so I thought I would try it even though I avoid going online too much."

Book Description from GoodReadsYoung Jane Young's heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.

How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: If you don't love books that pull you head first into them, with interesting characters, humour and the author's ability to turn what you thought on its head and make you see things in a different light then this isn't a book for you.

If you enjoy all those things then I have a feeling you'll love this book as much as I did. Going into this book I was expecting a funny, Women's Fiction kind of read. Enjoyable but light. What I got was a different experience.  

Young Jane Young has its funny, chuckle to yourself, bits but also addresses big issues like shame, forgiveness, strength and about not running from your past but facing issues head-on so they must get out of YOUR way. 

"How did you ever survive that scandal?"

She said, "I refused to be shamed."

"How did you do that?" you asked. 

"When they came at me, I kept coming," she said.” 

But what truly shone for me was the idea that the assumptions we make greatly influence our understanding of what we've experienced and our reactions to those events. I admit to catching myself assuming things about characters and the plot and we all know what they say about assuming. I loooved that aspect of the book and it gave me a lot to think about.

The story is told by four women - Aviva, who is at the heart of the scandal, her mother Rachel, Ruby, Aviva's daughter and Embeth, the senator's wife. These four women have made mistakes, have complicated relationships with each other but together they tell the many facets of the story. These women have moxie. You can't deny it. They're fighters and I loved seeing the strength and diversity in the female cast. 

My only teeny-tiny issue with the book was the voice of Ruby.  As a mother of a recently turned 14-year-old teenage girl (and two teen boys) I believe I have been schooled in the fine art of 'Teenager' and Ruby's dialogue and reactions felt more in line with a 9 or 10-year-old. It was a little distracting, to be honest.

Readers will easily see strong correlations to the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal but Zevin brings her own perspective and shows how one perception of an issue isn't the only one. Scandal has a domino effect and impacts those around it in varying degrees. I applaud Zevin for confronting the blatant double standards put on women that are still prevalent, sadly tolerated and even encouraged, in our society today. This is a story about the complex relationships between women, it's got humour, heart, food for thought and a fighter's spirit.  What more could you ask for?

Monday, 9 October 2017

The Night Garden

Author: Polly Horvath
Genre: Mystery, Middle School, Gothic
Type: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Puffin Canada
First Published: September 12, 2017
First Line: "This is the story Winifred, Wildred and Zebediah; Crying Alice; and Flying Bob."

Book Description from GoodReadsIt is World War II, and Franny and her parents, Sina and Old Tom, enjoy a quiet life on a farm on Vancouver Island. Franny writes, Sina sculpts, and Old Tom tends to their many gardens--including the ancient, mysterious night garden. Their peaceful life is interrupted when their neighbor, Crying Alice, begs Sina to watch her children while she goes to visit her husband at the military base because she suspects he's up to no good. Soon after the children move in, letters arrive from their father that suggest he's about to do something to change their lives; and appearances from a stubborn young cook, UFOs, hermits, and ghosts only make life stranger. Can the forbidden night garden that supposedly grants everyone one wish help them all out of trouble? And if so, at what cost?

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This is a strange and funny tale with quirky characters. Going into it I had expected a Gothic Middle-School mystery with a hint of paranormal but got something quite different. Let's put it this way, if Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden and Lemony Snicket were mixed together out would pop The Night Garden as their bookish concoction. 

Franny (ie. Anne) is our wayward orphan who speaks her mind and is left with Sina and Old Tom (Marilla and Matthew). We have the eerie Night Garden (a dark, murky, supernatural version of Mary Lennox' famous garden) and a mishmash cast of peculiar characters (a la Snicket). The off-beat and often funny dialogue made this book for me. It had the right amount of sarcasm and great one-liners that had me, quite literally, chuckling out loud.

But ... I was surprised and more than a little let down that the Night Garden, the title 'character', barely made it into the book and was underutilized. I had expected less of the missing plane mystery (which just wasn't riveting) and more focus around the eerie goings on in the garden.

In the end, this is a strange tale with some memorable, quirky characters and solid writing.  There's a lot going on and for the most part it worked but more focus on the mystery and the Night Garden would have made this a better read for me.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Puffin Canada for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Run, Hide, Repeat: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood

Author: Pauline Dakin
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 324
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Viking Books
First Published: September 5, 2017
First Line: "I was running along the Upper Blandford Road this morning, watching the little islands emerge from the morning mist, when I came upon a fisherman stacking lobster traps by his shed."

Book Description from Amazon.caAn unforgettable family tale of deception and betrayal, love and forgiveness

Pauline Dakin spent her childhood on the run. Without warning, her mother twice uprooted her and her brother, moving thousands of miles away from family and friends. Disturbing events interrupt their outwardly normal life: break-ins, car thefts, even physical attacks on a family friend. Many years later, her mother finally revealed they'd been running from the Mafia and were receiving protection from a covert anti-organized crime task force.

But the truth was even more bizarre. Gradually, Dakin's fears give way to suspicion. She puts her journalistic training to work and discovers that the Mafia threat was actually an elaborate web of lies.  As she revisits her past, Dakin uncovers the human capacity for betrayal and deception, and the power of love to forgive.
Run, Hide, Repeat is a memoir of a childhood steeped in unexplained fear and menace. Gripping and suspenseful, it moves from Dakin's uneasy acceptance of her family's dire situation to bewildered anger. As compelling and twisted as a thriller, Run Hide Repeat is an unforgettable portrait of a family under threat, and the resilience of family bonds. 

My Rating: 3 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Viking Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: This memoir looks at the life of Pauline Dakin as she, along with her brother, were whisked to different parts of Canada by their mother who feared for their lives. The book initially has a true crime feel to it but turned out to be something quite unusual and my feelings about it were all over the place.

Initially I was saddened by the life Dakin left behind to go on the run and the fear she lived with. That quickly lead to my skepticism and finally to my "Say wha!?!?" moment at the revelation as Dakin learns the truth. As I read I kept having to remind myself that this is a Non-Fiction read and that this actually happened to Dakin here in Canada because as a Fiction read it would be too far-fetched to be believable. It's sad when you think of why it happened and yet, for a book that deals with some big issues, I felt that Dakin kept her emotions and her readers at arm's length.

This wasn't a riveting read but it is a unique, strange memoir. I applaud the author for bringing the issue of mental health to her readers but felt that much of the 'on the run' story could have been whittled away. This is less of a true crime kind of read and more of a family drama filled with lies, deceit and a revealing look at mental health. 

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: Large Print Trade Paperback
Pages: 482
Publisher: Random House Large Print Publishing
First Published: September 12, 2017
First Line: "Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the RIchardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned - from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren - an enigmatic artist and single mother - who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood - and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Little Fires Everywhere is a character-driven novel that looks at complex family dynamics, specifically mothers and their children. Some of these bonds are close, others strained and you know that secrets will flourish and be revealed.

The story takes place in Shaker Heights, a well-to-do suburb of Cleveland, where one must always follow the loooong list of what one can and cannot do. The book begins, quite literally, with a fire. A house fire, to be exact and a missing teen. The story quickly jumps back in time and we see how the large Richardson clan meet Mia and Pearl Warren, a mother and daughter who are renting an apartment in a house the Richardsons own. It doesn't take long for their lives to become enmeshed and when you add in a court case involving the adoption of an abandoned Chinese-American baby and long buried secrets, it's no surprise that sparks fly as these 'little fires' start igniting everywhere. Yes, the book is aptly titled.

Many POVs are used to tell the story and readers will feel their sympathies being pulled in different directions as the stories unfold. But there's so much going on, with so many POVs, that what we're left with in character development and plot felt diminished and lacking in depth. If I also tell you that there weren't big, surprising twists in the plot and I found the ending to be weak and unresolved you'd assume that I didn't enjoy the book.  And yet, I did!  This was a page-turner that I had a hard time putting down even with those issues! Go figure that one out. 

Overall, this is a good domestic drama that delves into the complicated mother/child relationship. This would make a good book club selection and ensure some lively discussions on the topics raised -- nature vs nurture, familial bonds, bi-racial adoption and yes, even those uppity, busybody housewives who stick their noses into other people's business. If it had more depth to the characters and a stronger ending it would have been an amazing read.

Favourite Quote: "Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way."

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Blood Oath

Author: Melissa Lenhardt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Series: #2 in the Sawbones series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Redhook Books
First Published: May 23, 2017
First Line: "We smelled him first."

Book Description from GoodReadsOutlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this action-packed follow up to Sawbones.

Laura Elliston and William Kindle are on the run -- from the Army and from every miscreant in the West eager to claim the $500 bounty for Laura's capture as their own. But the danger isn't just from those pursuing them. Laura and Kindle have demons of their own and a past that won't stay dead. Exhausted, scared, scarred and surrounded by enemies, neither realize the greatest danger is yet to come.

My Rating: 4 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Redhook Books for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: When I read Sawbones, the first book in this trilogy, I was smitten with the gritty writing of what life was like in the post-Civil War Wild West for a young, female doctor who was on the run from the law. In Blood Oath, Lenhardt continues the story quite literally where the first book left off. It had been a year and a half since I had read the first book but I remembered the gist of the plot and the characters ... or so I thought. Readers expecting a little reminder of what happened in the first book will be disappointed that barely any clues are given to past scenes or character connections making it a bit of a hard go for those of us who didn't just finish Sawbones. I would not recommend this book as a stand-alone read.

Life is hard in the West and Lenhardt continues to balance the love story between Laura and Kindle (and their funny banter) with the often dangerous, unforgiving life they've been forced to live. Laura continues to be haunted by the horrors that she lived through in the first book and I appreciated that the author didn't have Laura jump back into the fray with little or no repercussions from the horrific trauma she experienced. It felt much more authentic to see her struggle with her emotional scars and her reactions made her a compelling and sympathetic character.

The Sawbones trilogy is a gritty, sometimes gruesome, adventure romance set in the dangerous Wild West featuring two characters readers will root for as they try to catch a break in their seemingly unending, tumultuous lives. It has some good twists and Lenhardt doesn't shy away from big issues involving the effects of violent abuse and the complicated and volatile relationship between the white settlers and indigenous people. I look forward to jumping into Badlands, the final book in this series soon.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Blackbird Season

Author: Kate Moretti
Genre: Mystery
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 352
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: September 26, 2017
First Line: "The rain came in sheets, like a wall, forming wide rivulets down the windshield."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn a quiet Pennsylvania town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a high school baseball field, unleashing a horrifying and unexpected chain of events that will rock the close-knit community.

Beloved baseball coach and teacher Nate Winters and his wife, Alecia, are well respected throughout town. That is, until one of the many reporters investigating the bizarre bird phenomenon catches Nate embracing a wayward student, Lucia Hamm, in front of a sleazy motel. Lucia soon buoys the scandal by claiming that she and Nate are engaged in an affair, throwing the town into an uproar…and leaving Alecia to wonder if her husband has a second life.

And when Lucia suddenly disappears, the police only to have one suspect: Nate.

Nate’s coworker and sole supporter, Bridget Harris, Lucia’s creative writing teacher, is determined to prove his innocence. She has Lucia’s class journal, and while some of the entries appear particularly damning to Nate’s case, others just don’t add up. Bridget knows the key to Nate’s exoneration and the truth of Lucia’s disappearance lie within the walls of the school and in the pages of that journal.

Told from the alternating points of view of Alecia, Nate, Lucia, and Bridget, The Blackbird Season is a haunting, psychologically nuanced suspense, filled with Kate Moretti’s signature “chillingly satisfying” (Publishers Weekly) twists and turns.

My Rating: 3 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Atria Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: The Blackbird Season is about the disappearance of a teenage outcast named Lucia with all fingers pointing to Nate, one of her teachers, as the culprit. Lucia's disappearance was an interesting premise but I was surprised that the focus of this slow burn mystery was on the relationships and complicated family lives of the characters more than the suspense or the (surprisingly underutilized or explained) blackbird omen.

The story is told by four characters - Lucia, Nate, Nate's wife Alecia and Bridget, Nate's friend. I liked the changing POVs which helped to move the story along but I can't say I liked any of the characters. Not a one - with Nate being my least favourite. For a grown man, Nate's decisions were often ridiculous, naive and sometimes just plain stupid. I couldn't imagine a reasonably intelligent person making those choices and thinking there was nothing wrong their decisions.

Overall, this book had a good premise but didn't quite deliver on the characters, suspense or a big, shocking ending. That doesn't sound like a complimentary review but this book had its moments and kept me reading so that's saying something. I think readers who enjoy a slow burn mystery with a bigger focus on small town dysfunction should enjoy this book.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Visitors

Author: Catherine Burns
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery, Threshold Pocket Books
First Published: September 26, 2017
First Line: "Like a white bird, the scream flew up from the depths of the cellar, then became trapped inside Marion's head."

Book Description from GoodReadsMarion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar.

Until, suddenly, John has a heart attack and Marion is forced to go down to the cellar herself and face the gruesome truth that her brother has kept hidden.

As questions are asked and secrets unravel, maybe John isn't the only one with a dark side.

My Rating: 2.5 stars (aka 'just okay')

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Gallery, Threshold Pocket Books for providing me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: I finished this book and thought to myself 'Well, that wasn't the book I thought it would be'. I had expected a twisted, suspenseful kind of read with a touch of sinister but instead I got a drawn-out character study of the life of Marion, the spinster at the centre of the story. 

Marion is a woman who is child-like in her naivete, life experiences, mannerisms and relationships. Worldly she is not, and people (including Marion herself) don't expect much from her. During the first two-thirds of the book, the story jumps back and forth with a lot of detail about her early life and the many times she felt worthless, unloved, sad, pathetic etc. But even with this back story I didn't sympathize with her character. She's rather dull and readers are stuck in her head a lot of the time.  This isn't an exciting place to be since much of her time is spent pacifying herself with food, TV and a detailed fantasy life she has created. I would have preferred the focus to be on the Visitors who, sadly and surprisingly, were very tertiary characters.

Initially I was intrigued with the premise of the book but this ended up being a 'just okay' read for me. This book needed a healthy dose of tension, a focus on the 'Visitors' and not waiting until three-quarters through the book to reveal the major plot point (which was obvious to me by then).

This story is a look at the tragic life of a woman who has been beaten down her entire life. The fact that there are 'Visitors' in her home is, unfortunately, quite secondary to the focus on her inner thoughts. I kept reading in the hopes that things would turn around and I'd have a 'ah-ha!' moment but that never happened. This just wasn't a book for me.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Lightning Men

Author: Thomas Mullen
Genre: Historical Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Series: #2 in the Darktown series
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Atria
First Published: September 12, 2017
First Line: "The tunnel is long and dark, and though his feet are moving it feels like he is being pulled by some other fore, and then the tunnel recedes and he is alone before the vastness of the Georgia sky."

Book Description from GoodReadsOfficer Denny Rakestraw, “Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, and Sergeant McInnis have their hands full in an overcrowded and rapidly changing Atlanta. It’s 1950 and color lines are shifting and racial tensions are simmering. Black families—including Smith’s sister and brother-in-law—are moving into Rake’s formerly all-white neighborhood, leading some residents to raise money to buy them out, while others advocate a more violent solution. Rake’s brother-in-law, Dale, a proud Klansman, launches a scheme to rally his fellow Kluxers to save their neighborhood. When those efforts spiral out of control and leave a man dead, Rake is forced to choose between loyalty to family or the law.

He isn’t the only one with family troubles. Boggs has outraged his preacher father by courting a domestic, and now her ex-boyfriend has been released from prison. As Boggs, Smith, and their all-black precinct contend with violent drug dealers fighting for turf in new territory, their personal dramas draw them closer to the fires that threaten to consume Atlanta once again.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Atria Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: Lightning Men picks up two years after Darktown, the first book in the series, left off. Once again, Mullen brings his readers into the gritty streets of post-WWII Atlanta with its social and political issues, racial intolerance, corruption and outright brutality that continues to be the status quo for so many. Mullen doesn't shy away from these emotionally charged topics in this character-driven crime novel.

Readers continue to witness the Black officers struggle within the confines set for them by their supervisors as the small Black force polices the Black neighbourhoods which are grossly overpopulated and in need of even basic necessities. This is in stark contrast to the White neighbourhoods -- and many Whites are fine with the way things are, thank you very much. The dichotomy between Black and White continues within this second book and I like that Mullen doesn't give easy answers or hold back on the gritty, hard-to-read scenes. 

Mullen also continues to educate readers about aspects that many may not know about, myself included. For me, that issue involved the Columbians (aka Lightning Men) who formed soon after the end of WWII. With their lightning patches on their uniforms they, like the Nazis that inspired them, reveled in promoting hate against Blacks and any diversity and were a smack in the face to those American soldiers who had just returned from battling similar hatred overseas. 

The cast, including Rake, Boggs, Smith and MacInnis, continue to show great depth and readers get some backstory on each but I still feel there's a lot of untapped issues that Mullen will bring forth with each character in future books. The only issue I had with this book is that I found there to be a lot of characters to keep track of.

Mullen shows that, unfortunately, the process for social change is a very slow one as we sadly continue to witness in recent events. Racism, both blatant and covert, remains a timely issue and racial tensions ran high then as they do now. 

The Darktown series continues to be an eye-opening, gritty and gripping series with well-rounded, well-flawed characters who struggle within the stifling confines of racial injustice, ignorance, indifference and intolerance. Mullen has combined compelling characters weaves historical issues within his story with great skill. I highly recommend this book but I strongly suggest starting with Darktown.

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