You Reader, Me Jane

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A final and quick review for the Edgar Award in the Best Novel Category: Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye, is a historical romp with a fan fiction sensibility about it as it riffs on Jane Eyre. Faye has been nominated before by Mystery Writers of America in the same category for her book The Gods of Gotham, which I also enjoyed. But our Jane is rendered with a modern sensibility when she takes it into her own hands to serve vigilante justice on men who have wronged women. The first is her cousin who tries to molest a young Jane and finds himself shoved to the bottom of a ravine, where he dies. Jane is wracked with guilt but steadfastly lies her way out of it.

When her mother dies not long after, orphan Jane is banished from Highgate House (which her mother raised her to believe is her rightful inheritance) and sent to board at Lowan Bridge School, a beastly place that starves the all-female students (requiring them to narc on each other in order to eat) and is run by super-creepy Mr. Munt, a guy who has nothing but sex, sex, and more perverted sex on his mind and in his journals. Jane discovers these, Munt discovers her, and gives her a no-win choice: be committed to an asylum or he will starve her best friend Clarke to death. Jane chooses door number three and dispatches him with alacrity. She and Clarke escape the school and flee to London, where they both grow older and wiser. Jane commits two more murders (both men had it coming in spades), but Clarke learns Jane lied to her and abandons her.

Jane casts about London writing invented bawdy news to support herself and finally answers an ad to be a governess at Highgate House. She gets the job (meeting Charles Thornfield in a horse mishap in a sly nod to Jane Eyre meeting Mr. Rochester). Of course, she falls hard for the master but he is distant and only wants her to home-school his ward Sahjara and keep her safe. There’s a intriguing sub-plot about a trunk of jewels that are missing, Faye doing a masterful job recounting Punjabi history through this storyline. Ultimately, Jane saves her charge’s life (as well as Sardar’s, Charles Thornfield’s childhood friend, even though he loses his hand), finds the jewels, and they all end up happy at Highgate House.

On a scale of one to ten, I rate this book a nine. This is a tough book to compare to Reed Farrel Coleman’s Where it Hurts (also a nine) because the two are markedly different. I ran out of time and was not able to read the other two nominees in the category (The Ex by Alafair Burke; What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin), and Before the Fall by Noah Hawley only rated a one. I am going to predict Where it Hurts to take home the Edgar Award for Best Novel, although it’s a real toss-up. My writing pal Karen Burgess makes her prediction here http://www.litlunchbox.com. The Edgar Awards will be announced on Thursday, April 27!

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Book Lovers’ Spring Training

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Those of us in the freezing Midwest anxiously await when baseball players report for spring training because it signals a thaw, and intimates hot summer days quaffing cold beer and cheering when a player cranks one out of the ballpark. Likewise, when Mystery Writers of America announces the 2017 nominees for the annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards, it signals a spring of sorts: a fresh batch of books for the lover of mystery novels, multiple categories from which to choose, and enough titles to be relished all summer while quaffing a cold beer and cheering when a writer hits the proverbial home run.

This year I will read and review 11 books in two categories:

Best Novel:

  1. The Ex by Alafair Burke
  2. Where it Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman
  3. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
  4. What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin
  5. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Best Original Paperback:

  1. Shot in Detroit by Patricia Abbott
  2. Come Twilight by Tyler Dilts
  3. The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni
  4. Rain Dogs by Adrian McKinty
  5. A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum
  6. Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin

Each novel will receive a ranking on a scale of one to ten after its review, and I will predict each winner in the above-named categories. MWA announces the winners on April 27th. My writing buddy, Karen Burgess, is already several books ahead of me with her Literary Lunchbox blog reviews of the Edgars. In her annual attempt at the same feat, Karen is more ambitious than I am (and a devotee of Evelyn Wood speed reading, I suspect), reading and reviewing an additional category, Best First Novel, for a total of 17 books. Sometimes we agree in our estimations, sometimes we arrive at completely opposite opinions regarding the same book. Either way, we both love reading and writing, and enjoy a great friendship as a result. We hope our friendly competition provides you with entertaining reviews and new writers to investigate.