Friday, September 20, 2019

The Middle Sister by Jesse Miles, Book 3 in the Jack Salvo Series

Miles, Jesse. 2019. The Middle Sister. ISBN 978-0-9904740-4-3 $8.99 USD 
Amazon Link: The Middle Sister

I have been a fan of the Jack Salvo series by Jesse Miles for quite some time. I read the second book, Church of Spilled Blood, a few years ago when it was a "read now" title on NetGalley, and was completely impressed that it was self-published since I had not read many indie authors up until then. I immediately bought and read the first book in the series, Dead Drop. They can each be read as stand-alones, as I didn't even realize I had read them out of order. You can read my reviews of both those books here:

I heard from the author a couple months ago that his third novel was close to being published and he graciously sent me a print copy to review. I was not disappointed in this addition to the series, though it was a slower read for me this time around. That may be because I have so many other reading commitments and had to put it aside briefly for a while. In any event, the main character, Jack Salvo, is just as entertaining as he was in the previous two books: a tenacious private eye who also teaches philosophy one night a week at a community college. His internal and external voice are always a pleasure to read, and he develops the other characters in this novel very well. 

Jack is hired by a wealthy family to locate one of three sisters who has gone missing (the titular "Middle Sister"), and finds himself on the trail of series of disreputable characters in his efforts to find out what happened to her. The author has done an amazing job, once again, in his description of the Los Angeles setting, and creates quite visual pictures in his writing. The plot unfolds gradually as Jack follows the clues, and the characters he meets, to solve this mystery; and the ending was completely unexpected, always a plus in my book (so to speak). I do feel the very end of the book was not quite as tightly resolved as I might have wanted to see, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story as a whole.

I would recommend this entire series from indie author Jesse Miles, and am still surprised that it hasn't been picked up by a major publisher. I could see it doing very well with those who enjoy the Nils Shapiro series by Matt Goldman (Gone to Dust) and the Elvis Cole series by Robert Crais.

Pieces for the Left Hand ~ J. Robert Lennon

Lennon, J. Robert. 2005. Pieces for the Left Hand. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press.
ISBN 978-1-55597-523-4  $14.00

I've been buried in books lately, as usual. As a librarian in charge of selecting all of the Fiction and Romance titles for my library system, I have to read a lot of book reviews from professional journals, as well as galleys of forthcoming books (a joy)! But I end up reading quickly for work, rather than slowly, for pleasure; and lately it has felt somewhat like a chore.

When I saw an article online from Publisher's Weekly a while back titled, "The Best Book You've Never Read is Pieces for the Left Hand by J. Robert Lennon," of course I was intrigued.
Described as "micro essays," what the author has actually done is create a series of vignettes which are told as the narrator is taking long walks around the town where he lives in upstate New York. Written in a conversational style, with a pace that feels almost ambulatory, the author enchants and surprises on almost every page - for the first half of the book.

I rarely dog-ear pages of books, but in this case I have many pages folded down that contain sentences or phrases that I knew I wanted to go back and read again. One of them I even used as my #SundaySentence on Twitter, and the longer version is this, in the essay titled "Leaves:"

"The one saving grace of all this is the spring, when the new leaves arrive. They've never failed to do so. They start out green, like mint candies, and for a short time they are ours alone. And then in summer, even when wind and sun and hail tear through them, even then they stay right on the trees and make a sound like applause, all summer long."

The essay is about when the tourists come to see the leaves change and sort of take over the town. But when I read the end of it which I quoted above, I was absolutely filled with hope about the changing of the seasons and new growth and the eternal nature of it all.

There are many other wonderful one to two page essays (rarely longer) that I just adored, some with surprising twists at the end, in an O. Henry-like fashion. And the beginning of most of the essays/vignettes just pulls you right along on the walk the narrator is taking, using phrases such as, "When I was young;" "A small town not far away;" "Our local university; "One [night, day, morning, year, week]" and the reader just comes alongside and listens to the story. It was such a pleasure to read the first half of this book.

The second half became something quite different, as the tone of the stories changed from a positive, mostly pleasurable experience to something darker, more depressing and hopeless, and even nihilistic at the very end. I struggled to finish it, and almost gave up a few times, but the writing was still incredible, and I'm glad I did finish it.

I would highly recommend the first part of this book, as I've never had a reading experience quite like it. I am sure the author had a reason for changing the tone of his essays, but for this reader the second half was a disappointment. It will not prevent me from reading further works by this author, and I actually read not long ago a story he wrote for The New Yorker called, "The Loop." which reminded me of a cross between The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and the existentialism of Albert Camus.

J. Robert Lennon is an immensely talented author, and I felt I had been in the hands of a master when I read this unique work.