In the waning days of the turbulent 1970s, in the wake of unsolved child-killings that have shocked Detroit, the lives of several residents are drawn together with tragic consequences.

There is Hannah, wife of a prominent local businessman, who has begun an affair with a darkly charismatic stranger whose identity remains elusive; Mikey, a canny street hustler who finds himself on a chilling mission to rectify injustice; and the serial killer known as Babysitter, an enigmatic and terrifying figure at the periphery of elite Detroit. As Babysitter continues his rampage of abductions and killings, these individuals intersect with one another in startling and unexpected ways.

Suspenseful, brilliantly orchestrated, and engrossing, Babysitter is a starkly narrated exploration of the riskiness of pursuing alternate lives, calling into question how far we are willing to go to protect those whom we cherish most. In its scathing indictment of corrupt politics, unexamined racism, and the enabling of sexual predation in America, Babysitter is a thrilling work of contemporary fiction.

curl up and read thoughts

I alternately love and ponder the books of this author, so I was eager to try Babysitter. There are parts of the book that kept me intrigued, while other aspects felt weird and very confusing. Characters whose voices seem mysterious kept me turning the pages, however, wondering where they would lead us.

The story echoed many moments of the 1970s, though, which interested me.

Overall, I found the book too strange, although it does have the JCO flare. I was relieved for it to end. Therefore, a 3.5 rating.



It’s December 23, 1971, and heavy weather is forecast for Chicago. Russ Hildebrandt, the associate pastor of a liberal suburban church, is on the brink of breaking free of a marriage he finds joyless—unless his wife, Marion, who has her own secret life, beats him to it. Their eldest child, Clem, is coming home from college on fire with moral absolutism, having taken an action that will shatter his father. Clem’s sister, Becky, long the social queen of her high-school class, has sharply veered into the counterculture, while their brilliant younger brother Perry, who’s been selling drugs to seventh graders, has resolved to be a better person. Each of the Hildebrandts seeks a freedom that each of the others threatens to complicate.

Jonathan Franzen’s novels are celebrated for their unforgettably vivid characters and for their keen-eyed take on contemporary America. Now, in Crossroads, Franzen ventures back into the past and explores the history of two generations. With characteristic humor and complexity, and with even greater warmth, he conjures a world that resonates powerfully with our own.


curl up and read thoughts

The individual characters are introduced in alternating narratives as Crossroads takes us through their lives, from past to present. The Hildebrandt family is the centerpiece of the action, revealing much about their pasts and their current relationships.

Russ is the patriarch, and in the beginning we see his present life, and as the story continues we learn more about his childhood and youth as he veers away from how he was reared. As he stumbles off the path and into forbidden journeys, we come to see how the times change him.

Marion’s experiences reveal much about how she and Russ have taken missteps and fallen from their earlier commitments.

The children are also struggling and learning how they had gone astray helps us relate to what is happening now.

There were many moments when the story lagged for me, and I came to dislike most of the characters as their flaws grew. By the end, I was glad to say goodbye to them. 4 stars only for this hefty book that I would have enjoyed more if there had been less of it.





Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Books & a Beat.

Today’s feature is the fourth book in the Country Club Murders series:  Send in the Clowns, by Julie Mulhern.





Intro:  (October, 1974, Kansas City, Missouri)

I’ve tripped over a body.  I’ve run over a body.  I’ve even swum into a body.  I never imagined one would fall on me.

Then again, wandering around a place called The Gates of Hell, what did I expect?

How I came to be at The Gates of Hell is a story in itself.  The short version is that my daughter, Grace, missed her curfew.  It was a school night and she’d sworn on a stack of Emily Posts that she’d be home by ten.  When I called her friends’ homes, I learned that each thought she’d gotten a ride home with someone else.  She’d been left behind.  At a haunted house.  In a neighborhood best described as sketchy.  “Omigosh, Mrs. Russell I don’t know how this happened,” spoken in a breathless, apologetic voice didn’t help.  Not when Kim said it.  Not when Peggy said it.


Teaser:  The building was purple—a deep violet shade.  Bamboo grew out of pots flanking the door.  The windows—there were two—had peace symbols painted on them.  The sidewalk was cluttered with a mismatched assortment of tables and chairs. (63%).


Synopsis:  Haunted houses are scary enough without knife-wielding clowns. Especially murderous knife-wielding clowns. So thinks Ellison Russell, single mother, artist, and reluctant sleuth.
Now death wears a red nose and Ellison is up to the blood-stained collar of her new trench coat in costumes, caffeine, and possible killers. Who stabbed Brooks Harney? And why? Money? Jealousy? Drugs?
With Mother meddling, her father furious, and her date dragged downtown for questioning, turns out Ellison’s only confidante is Mr. Coffee.


What do you think?  Does this one grab you?  I know that I’ve loved the three previous books in the series, so I’m eager to enjoy this one.







Wavy’s entry into the world was a precursor of things to come. She was born in the back seat of a stranger’s car, when her laboring mother was picked up while hitchhiking. Meth addict/dealing mother and father, Val and Liam Quinn, were the epitome of emotionally challenged, and as parents, they were so negligent that others often stepped into the parenting role. Liam’s various girlfriends, one of his employees (Kellen), and sometimes Val’s sister Brenda.

As well-meaning as Brenda might have been, she did all the wrong things, in my opinion, exacerbating an already tenuous situation.

Alternating narrators tell the tale of Wavy’s life, beginning in the 1970s. Set in Texas and Oklahoma, we are gifted with the life view of each character as each perspective shifted. We then add a few more pieces to the puzzle of all their lives.

Time moves forward, and we gradually see changes in Wavy, from the little girl who doesn’t seem to eat and hardly ever talks, into a burgeoning young woman who appears in many ways older than her teen years would suggest. Her small stature and frequent silences, however, are deceptively child-like.

The relationship between her and Kellen began serendipitously when his motorcycle crashed near her when she was star-gazing. Immediately they connected over their interest in the stars, and for Kellen, Wavy began to talk, to eat, and to realize that she liked being touched.

When the outside world sees what is going on between Wavy and Kellen, all hell breaks loose. No matter how you might feel about the relationship between the two of them, the fact that the author has been showing us the growing connection between them as a gradual and loving thing, you might find yourself saddened by what happens next.

In a story that spans the 1970s, the 1980s, and into the 1990s, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things kept me engaged and changed my perspective on events that would have been troubling in my professional life as a social worker. Was it possible that sometimes we might have to look at a situation and a relationship in ways not proscribed by our society? Is it possible that a relationship that might look “dirty” is anything but? I very happily kept reading until the very satisfying conclusion, rooting for the two of them.

cropped again 5***





Autumn in Kansas City, Missouri, is the time for auctions, galas, and get-togethers. Ellison Russell’s home is overflowing with house guests, from her Aunt Sis to her sister Marjorie.

Marjorie seems to have left her husband Greg, and in her attempt to feel better about the situation, is conducting herself in a very flirtatious manner, while showing a lot of cleavage.

Aunt Sis is hiding something, and hints of a big secret come out when Frances, mother to Marjorie and Ellison, makes some remarks.

The first of many attempts on the unknown target’s life begins at the auction when a bust falls over the rail and almost strikes Ellison. But nobody is sure she was the intended victim. However, when someone firebombs her house later, it is beginning to look like she is.

At the gala, place cards have been switched around for various reasons, so nobody is sure who was supposed to be sitting in the seat Ellison has taken…and even stranger is the fact that Hammie Walsh, who just happened to grab Ellison’s “water” glass, dies from some kind of poisoning.

Anarchy Jones is front and center in the investigation, and as more deadly episodes occur, the mystery ratchets up. Secrets are revealed, and strange alliances form. Clouds in My Coffee was an engaging book that drew me into the world of the 1970s and to the connections between the characters.

As always, I loved watching the attraction grow between Anarchy and Ellison. I also liked seeing the sisters argue and one-up each other. First, the older generation of sisters: Frances and Cecelia (Sis); and then Marjorie and Ellison.

I didn’t figure out who was the target and who the perpetrator until the end, so I was pleased with how the story unfolded. A definite 5 star read.



In the 1970s, young artists, writers, and musicians expressed their independence and creativity in a variety of ways, so when Erica Mason, a young twenty-something, moved to Mexico to study, to explore, and to create, it was all part of the counter-cultural experience for some young people her age.

She landed primarily in Merida, on the Yucatan peninsula, where other expatriates had converged, although her explorations extended to the locals, especially if they were good-looking and enjoying their own creative expressions. She moved around from place to place, occasionally, to Oaxaca, and to Belize. In each place, she would settle for a bit, connect with others, and experiment with whatever was happening.

Drugs were a part of the scene, and while at first, Erica believed she was exploring and expressing herself, it soon became such a regular part of her life that imagining herself without the substances seemed unlikely.

Gringa in a Strange Land is one young woman’s journey, including some of the worrisome events that happened, like robbery, minor scrapes of one kind or another, and the constant concern about money. Through Erica’s eyes, we can feel as though we are experiencing her adventures along with her. She sees the people, the places, and transfers the images onto the canvas, while also assimilating the feelings of her subjects. Learning and growing, she is ready to move back to the US, where she can hopefully continue with her art. I also read and enjoyed the subsequent novel, Cleans Up Nicely: A Novel, in which Erica spends time in New York, struggling with her drug abuse issues.

Even though I enjoyed this book, there were tedious aspects that made me wish that Erica would realize the dangers of the cycle she was in, and finally make a decision to move on. 4.0 stars.