gimmethatbook

Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: June 2020

Rare Birds by Natalie Scott

 

 

The ultimate lockdown reading, Rare Birds creatively tells the story of Holloway Prison’s first 100 years through the re-imagined voices of prisoners, staff and others connected to its history. Meticulously researched, the collection brings to life well-known voices such as Ruth Ellis, Sylvia Pankhurst and Edith Thompson, plus a host of lesser-known names, to tell Holloway’s rich and gripping story.

 

 

Thanks to the author for this review copy!

Prison walls seem to talk in RARE BIRDS, a book of poetry about those sentenced to time inside the notorious Holloway Prison. A multitude of characters share their laments with a chorus of voices. These voices come from suffragettes and thieves, pickpockets and murderers, and the author makes nearly all of them sound sympathetic. Some voices are particularly poignant, like the 10 year old pickpocket who marvels at being taught to write his name for the first time (pg.33), or the woman staring through the “hope-sized window” contemplating freedom (pg. 62).

Reading these poems about women fighting hard for the right to vote made me realize how far we have come, for this book brings to life their difficult journey. These voices deserved to be heard in their time, and Scott memorializes their struggle in an imaginative and touching way.

The author truly captures the essence of the prison and its inhabitants in her poems. It is as if she was intimately acquainted with each prisoner and gathered her poem from conversations with each one. Scott did comprehensive work with original documents (you can see which ones, along with a bibliography at the end of the book) to bring the inmates to life. Despite their criminal background (and it’s true some are worse than others) they are all painted in a sympathetic light, as I mentioned before. It is easy to hope that freedom comes quickly for them – even the ones on Death Row. There is a section of poems (pp.124-133) that come from the voices of the executioner, his wife,  a prison officer, a juror, and finally the doomed prisoner herself, Ruth Ellis, who died by hanging on July 13th, 1955. Each voice is different, yet they all contribute to the bigger picture – a prisoner on Death Row who is about to hang. (Ellis was the last woman executed in the United Kingdom; you can read about her here.)

RARE BIRDS is just that – a book of ethereal yet grounded poetry that forces you to think about the prison system and those caught in it. Some are unjustly imprisoned, while others commit unspeakable acts. Whatever the crime, Holloway Prison enveloped its inhabitants in cold bricks and mortar. Scott uses her words here to uncage these birds and immortalize them forever.

You can pick up your copy here. 

 

Murder on Pleasant Avenue by Victoria Thompson

 

When Gino Donatelli is accused of a brutal murder, beloved sleuths Sarah and Frank Malloy have to catch a killer who is out to destroy their innocent friend’s life in the latest installment of the national bestselling Gaslight mysteries.

A victim is found, brutally murdered and the police are certain they’ve caught the killer. Their only suspect: Gino Donatelli.

Frank and Sarah know Gino is innocent but the police have a one-track mind. Once Frank struck it rich and left their ranks taking Gino with him, there has been a simmering resentment in the department. And now, someone has pulled out all the stops to make it look like Gino is the only one who could have committed the crime.

With the clock ticking and evidence mounting against their friend, Sarah and Frank will try to unravel a treacherous plot before Gino is sent up the river for good.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Once again Sarah and Frank get mixed up in a murder case; in this one Gino is accused of killing a member of the Black Hand and they must clear his name. We see a lot of Maeve in this story, especially in the interactions with Gino. I enjoyed reading their dialogue and loved to picture them flirting with each other. I also got a kick out of Maeve sitting forlornly at her typewriter, practicing her typing while wishing all the while for an interruption.

One thing you can always count on is getting some history while hearing of Sarah and Frank’s adventures. The setting for this story is Italian Harlem, and the author paints a wonderful picture of how the inhabitants lived (and died). This is one of my favorite aspects of the Gaslight Mysteries: Thompson always makes me feel like I have been taken back in time and am living right alongside all her characters. One point of interest is that the author doesn’t censor the seedier parts of the period. We get to see the homeless, we hear about abortions, and we get to experience tenement life. Thompson does her best to make nearly everyone sympathetic, so this makes the story friendlier, and the book very readable as well.

Speaking of characters, some new ones are introduced in this book. We meet Teo, Gino’s sister-in-law, as well as the rest of Gino’s family. One of the funnier sequences in the book is when Maeve needs to go to Gino’s house; her family misunderstands her reason and want to get her out of the house. Thank goodness Maeve is able to straighten everyone out!

I was unable to figure out who dunnit, and that was a plus. It can get frustrating when you know who the bad guys are before the main characters do. My guess was between two characters, and I was surprised to finally learn who it was. As always, the story gets tied up neatly, with the last page a portent of what is to come in the next installment. I enjoyed this book very much and am looking forward to her next one. You can pick up your copy here. 

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