Book Reviews: Foxes, Dogwoods, Spitfires, and Heartstrings

This is the second book I’ve read about the female grad student who went from Montana to Northwestern and supposedly solves crimes, but to my surprise there was another book in between the one I read and this one. Oh well, on to part three.
In this one Jessica wakes up freezing behind a dumpster, thinking she was raped. . . but that plot would be too easy, of course it’s something much more sinister. But all I could think of was here we go again! How many times was she roofied or drunk in the first book? Right at the start it’s happened again, and it’s not the only time it happens in this story. Everyone in this story, especially Jessie but even Lolita, the usually badass Russian superheroine, should be dead from stupidity a long time ago. Especially strange for a protagonist to be the victim over and over and over. At some point there has to be growth, learning. Or perhaps the author wanted to show philosophy students don’t have a grasp on the real world. For me, these issues with the main character, as well as others, overshadows the story, and particularly the issues raised, which would be important if the high-tech stuff going on is actually a reality now.
Just like in the first, the Russian subplot slowed the whole story. And I can’t help but wonder if I missed something early on where it was stated, but is Jack British? He talks like it.
There’s a line where Jessie is called the dumbest smart person ever, and it is right on the money. This book was better than the first, but I still don’t like Jessie, which is saying a lot, because she should be very likeable. And why is she listed as a detective? In the two books I’ve read, she’s never solved anything.

Dogwood Sprocket
A woman in the 23rd century has a quick visit from a time traveler. When he comes back she’s sucked into the vortex and goes back with him to 1887 Saint Louis, though a steampunk version that’s not the exact past of her world.
So, I don’t often get to write “Time travel romance with a steampunk twist.” Despite being a bit of a pushover, I liked Grace, the main character. Her best moment was likely being starstruck at meeting H.G. Wells, though you could see that twist coming. Most of all, I’m pleased the author didn’t feel then need to expand this, it’s completely Goldilocks at this length. The “horse” race was completely unnecessary but quite enjoyable. I do wish I could picture the hummingbird, though. But did I miss something or does the title not relate at all?

Suzy Spitfire
From the “trendy metropolis of Diego Tijuana” to outer space, Suzy tries to stay one step ahead of the corrupt “good guys,” the leader of which wants to either hire her or kill her, depending on his mood. Everyone is looking for the AI her father invented and stashed before being killed by the guy just mentioned.
Suzy’s an incredibly intriguing character, someone who would have been the happy person in any story had it not been for a family trauma that forced her to kill someone, which is the other reason everyone’s out to get her. Instead she’s one of those hotheaded idiots who can’t control her rage. Other than that she’s a fascinating young lady with an overabundance of snark, and plenty of guys after her even when they find out she’s on the run.
The most interesting character might be the by-the-book second in command who knows better than to trust his boss. But the best moment had to be Ricardo’s fakeout to save his ship from the not-so-infamous Captain Crush. Saw it coming, but still well done.
So, all in all an enjoyable romp through the solar system. The plot isn’t all that important, just a McGuffin getting her from one situation to the next. The fun is in the journey.

Classical Murder
A famous opera diva is killed and her tenor boyfriend suspected. The Opera journalist who is the protagonist sat next to her when she was incognito at a show the night she was killed and is now investigating at the behest of the suspect.
The action—though that’s not really the word for what happens—moves from London to France often, sometimes with her supposed boyfriend but not always. I like the witty repartee between the two leads, as well as some of the main characters. . . but despite—or maybe because—of that, some voices sound alike. Her boyfriend and her boss, for instance. And so many characters! Especially the French ladies; I had to go back to remember who Sophie was. On the other side of it, so many guys are fighting for Imogen’s attention—a little bit of Mary Sue there, I think—but she’s always jealous of the French girls. But the worst part is there’s a lot—and I mean a LOT—of description about what she chooses to wear, every single time she gets dressed. It didn’t take long for me to learn to skip those paragraphs. There’s also one point where she’s looking through the newspaper in what is leading up to a big reveal, only it was so obvious who it was going to be.
For the record, no one solved the crime; she stumbled into it as stupidly as possible by almost becoming the next victim.

Strings: a Love Story
A long-lost Stradivarius reappears after being missing for centuries, but rather than the story of how that happened it is merely a frame for the history of the violin examiner, all the way back to private school. This is where he first me the “one,” the girl he was destined to be with, but due to decades of misunderstandings and meddlesome parents, it was not happily ever after. His life and other loves are told, mostly his long career as a soloist, with occasional run-ins and a lot of thoughts of her.
I did not expect this story to sustain itself for an entire book, but it was surprisingly riveting; had this been a movie there would have been a lot of yelling at the screen, soundtracked by tears. The most unexpected thing was how nicely it all wrapped up. The violin’s history, despite it being fiction, is exactly the kind of thing I like to read in these sorts of books. And for once I felt like the couple deserved their ending.


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