Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: Virginia Is For Mysteries

If you've never tried to review an anthology, you don't know how hard it is. No matter what you say about the individual stories, one or more of the writers is bound to think, "Oh phooey. She didn't like my story." Not true.

VIRGINIA IS FOR MYSTERIES contains 17 stories, all set in Virginia, all east of Richmond (as if there're no good writers or stories west of Richmond). A Virginia chapter of Sisters in Crime developed the idea of the anthology, with proceeds going to Sisters in Crime. This was truly a labor of love.

Okay, I have to call out several stories which I particularly enjoyed. (Did I hear writers sucking in their collective breaths in hopes I'd pick their contribution? I hope not, but as a writer I'd be holding my breath.)

In Teresa Inge's "Guide to Murder," Connar Randolph leads several tourists on a visit to her home, Cavalier on the Hill, in Virginia Beach. All goes well until one guest makes snarky remarks about restorations. Connar ignores him, leads the group to the roof for a spectacular view and then downstairs to the gardens. Things take a turn for the worse when snarky guest turns up dead. Replete with plot twists and red herrings, "Guide to Murder" leads the reader down an unexpected path at the end.

"Death Comes to Hollywood Cemetery", Vivian Lawry's historical fiction, features a "soiled dove," Civil War era jargon for a prostitute, who has a thriving clientele of Butterflies. These men like their sex a little kinkier that the up-tight times suggest, including cross-dressing and rituals with chocolate and sugar best left to the imagination.

Maggie King's "A Not So Genteel Murder" is set against the backdrop of a birthday party for a wealthy woman, where murder, mayhem, mistaken identities and a healthy dose of the recent past combine to keep the reader turning pages until the last one. And then, the reader will say, "I didn't see that coming."

"Best Friends Help You Move the Body," by Jayne Ormerod, two friends spend boozy nights dreaming up plot twists, but none they imagine is as outrageous as the real thing. One woman is a not-yet-published writer with aspirations of producing a mystery novel.  When the other becomes a person of interest following a murder in her neighborhood, her friend sets out to prove she couldn't lift and carry a body to the trunk of a car. A wonderful girl romp that begs to be enjoyed at the beach.

Last, but by no means least, is "Death in the House" by Rosemary Shomaker. When a member of the Virginia House of Delegates collapses during a discussion on a bill allowing gay marriages, a set of events cascades nearly out of control to the unexpected ending.

17 stories. Each a little gem. Each worthy of reading on the deck, at the beach, in the mountains. A collection to be enjoyed again and again. I'm keeping it in my guest bedroom for late-night perusing.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Book Review: An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff

Looking for a gift for Mother's Day? This one might fit the bill.

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with DestinyAn Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny by Laura Schroff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Schroff writes of two people who would never met but for a small act of compassion that puts them both on a journey of mutual development.

Sentimental, to be sure, and certain to bring a tear to the eye, Schroff's tale of passing a young panhandler on the streets of Manhattan with little a thought, only to stop in mid street, turn around and walk back to a dirty black boy. He asks for change. She, this white woman with money and a good job, asks if he's hungry. He is. She takes him to McDonald's and buys him a meal. She eats with him. She walks to the same corner every Monday, making dinner with Maurice, who's 11, a ritual.

Her friends warn her not to get involved, but Schroff sees something in this boy. A bit of herself. A spark of ambition. A survivor. Slowly their relationship develops into one of trust.

Schroff teaches Maurice responsibility, how to act around others, how to believe in himself. He teaches her to love, trust and accept people as they are.

If I have a wee complaint about the book, it's that it tends to be repetitive. Stories what have an impact the first time they're told lose when similar stories return.

If you want to feel good about mankind, pick up this book and a tissue. It's worth the read and the cry.

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