06 December 2012

Highly Recommended: The East Salem Trilogy by Lis Wiehl

I have had Lis Wiehl's first book, Face of Betrayal on my radar since it was originally published. Unfortunately, I was never able to get it read, but recently was offered the opportunity to read the second book in the author's East Salem Trilogy, Darkness Rising as an ARC. Of course, that lead me to read Waking Hours first, and I am so glad that I did.  This trilogy is definitely on my Highly Recommended list of series for those of us who love a good thriller.    

In the first book of the trilogy, a girl is murdered in upscale West Chester County, New York after attending a party at one of the student's house. From there, the story becomes a mystery/thriller of the best kind. Along with the two main protagonists, who eventually band together to try to solve the murder, there is a whole host of interesting characters to capture the mind of the reader. Even better, as the story progresses, we find that many of them are not as they appear on the surface. I loved this aspect of the book and it definitely enhanced the mystery/thriller aspect of the book. 

My favorite part about this book, aside from the fact that it was a first rate thriller with lots of turns and twists, was the interplay between the two main protagonists. I don't mean the underlying romantic attachment that they seem to have, although that is a well done aspect in itself. Dani Harris is a forensic psychiatrist that looks at everything with a cool, clinical eye. Ex NFL Linebacker Tommy Gunderson, however, sees life in a less "rational" way, where the logical and real are mixed with things that science cannot quite explain. It is in the contrasting of these two styles of looking at the crime that I feel is the author's best contribution to this story. 

As for the plot of the book, here again, Lis Wiehl scores. The plot is deftly woven and well paced. In addition there are twists and turns, some of which I saw coming, some of which hit me out of the blue. There were even a few "red herrings" to lead the reader temporarily down a path leading away from the truth. Another plus is the way the author was able to end the book, solving the murder, but making it apparent that the story was not over and leaving the reading definitely wanting more. I could not wait for the next installment and was glad that it was sitting on my Nook, ready to read. 

Then it was on to the second book in the trilogy.   In this book we again find the main characters of Dani Harris and Tommy Gunderson.  In addition, we also get more of some of the other characters that I grew to love. In fact, several of the best ones play bigger roles in this book, such as Tommy's aunt, his spiritual adviser Carl, and a few of the other characters from the first book. As the book begins, we become aware that, although Tommy and Dani solved the murder in the first book, their job is not over. In fact, in solving the murder they uncovered a darker plot that needs their attention. This plot is the center piece of the second book. As the story unfolds, not only are Tommy and Dani faced with difficult decisions, but several of their friends and acquaintances are being drawn into the story more fully. 

Many times in a series where the first book is a five star read for me, the second book does not live up to that level.  In this case, though,  Lis Wiehl has another definite hit on her hands. I was excited to see that this book continued with the combination of the elements of a first rate mystery/thriller and the elements of the supernatural that where so successfully woven together in Waking Hours. In addition, I was fascinated with the historical elements that were included in this one as I love history in any form. To have an author combine local history so successfully with a riveting thriller story line was part of what made this book a big hit for me. Another of the enjoyable parts of the story was the ability to weave supernatural elements into the story without resorting to the "they live among us" story line that is so common these days. Not that I don't like that story line (I am a big fan), but it is refreshing and delightful to see an author approach the supernatural from a different direction. In fact, I would class this book as more of a mystery/thriller with a definitely "evil" twist than a supernatural mystery/thriller. However you class it, though, it works! 

As for the character development in this installment of the trilogy. Dani and Tommy continue to grow as characters, but, thankfully, in the end Dani is still Dani and Tommy is still Tommy. They are still looking at things from a very different perspective, which was one of the things I most enjoyed about them in the first book.  I was excited, though, to see that some of my other favorite characters from the first book (Carl and Tommy's aunt, to mention two of them) got to play bigger roles as the story continued. In addition, I was able to find some new favorites among the characters that were introduced in this book, like Quinn.  The inclusion of his character gave the author a chance to delve more fully into the workings of the human brain from the scientific viewpoint, which she did without talking over the reader. 

Once again  the ending of this book left me both satisfied with where I was in the story, and wanting more. I am excitedly waiting for the third book. Unfortunately, it has a publishing date of September 2013, as I would love to read it now. 

After reading the first two books in the East Salem trilogy, I can proudly say that I am a definite fan of Lis Wiehl and look forward to reading some of her other mystery/thrillers while waiting for the third book in this series. I give both books in this series 5 out of 5 stars  based on my feelings that the characters and story were first rate, and on the level of enjoyment I had in both the reading , and trying to guess what the end result would be. In fact, I have already recommended both books to several of the people in my reading circles and those that have read them loved them as much as I did.

 I highly recommend this book to anyone who is an fan of mystery/thrillers and feel that Lis Wiehl can hold her own with the top writers in this genre

15 November 2012

Review: Pandora's Bottle by Joanne Sydney Lessner

I would class Pandora's Bottle by Joanne Sydney Lessner as a delightful read. Sy Hampton, a millionaire wine connoisseur, bids half a million dollars for a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafitte once owned by Thomas Jefferson. It is the last of the batch, and said to have properties that would render it still drinkable 200 years later. Seems pretty straight forward, right? But as Sy looks over his life, he finds that he cannot come up with anyone he knows that he wants to drink it with. When he picks a person to drink it with, the story really starts to take off. As the plot progresses, Joanne Sidney Lesser introduces us to several quirky, fun characters surrounding Sy and the drinking of his bottle of wine.

I found this book enticingly easy to get sucked into as the author has a wonderfully intimate writing style. I was amazed at what a wonderful story she could craft around something as simple as the opening and drinking of a bottle of wine. At each point, I felt that I was right there with the characters, feeling their joys and pains. Another plus with this book was the cast of characters, many of whom had wonderful prophetic names. In fact, I found the author's use of the whimsical character names said almost as much about the characters as their actions did. It was one of the things I liked about this book the most. Another was the way that the characters actions and decisions did not just happen in a vacuum, but had real consequences that both shaped them and the story. In addition, I felt that the author included enough wine details to draw in the wine aficionados without losing the casual reader. Finally, I thought the conclusion to the story had just the right mix of realism and happy ending. 

As I said above, I found this story a delightful read which kept me turning pages and allowed me to finish quickly. This was no earth shattering, life changing book, but it was a fun, entertaining escape and as such I gave it 4 stars. Would I read another book by this author? Yes, I would and hope she has more in the pipeline coming soon.

19 October 2012

Review 2: Cupid's Christmas by Bette Lee Crosby

I originally decided to read Cupid's Christmas because I am aBette Lee Crosby fan. Although I have only read two books by author her, she has already become an author whose work I seek out. I had some reservations about this one as it is a romance book, which is not my normal type of book. Although I enjoy a good romantic mystery ala Nora Roberts, I am not much for the "bodice ripper" type of books. This book, however, is a more intellectual romance with the addition of a few heavenly characters and a real down to earth story. As such, it is another winner from this new voice in fiction. 
I enjoyed this book as much as I did Spare Change, which was the first book that I read by this author. Although Spare Changeis not a romance, the two books have a lot in common. LikeSpare Change this one is filled with wonderful characters that are so real that it is easy to become invested in their struggles. I found myself definitely rooting for them and for their fledgling relationships. Also similar is the way Bette tells her story from the viewpoints of several of the characters, a writing device that I find that I really like. I am one of those people who loves to look at things from all sides, and am often found playing devil's advocate with my friends, so it is not surprising that stories told from several viewpoints attract me. By far, though, my favorite viewpoint in this book is that of Cupid. I love the voice that Bette gives to this mythical creature. In fact, I loved Cupid so much that I am hoping that Bette intends to make this a series. I would really love to read more about how Cupid interacts with the humans he is trying to match up and battles the powers that is in the guise of the Life Management Department and The Boss. I almost wish that I hadn't read this one yet so that I could still look forward to reading it for the first time again. I have several other books by Bette on my list of to reads and I can't wait to get them read.

Review: The River by Michael Neale

I have been mulling over how to review The River by Michael Neale. Let me first say, I am not a huge reader of inspirational or life transforming books. I am more likely to read a book that highlights the underbelly of society. I glazed over the synopsis for this book and it sounded interesting, like maybe it could go either way. It definitely turned out to be one of those stories that aspires to be inspirational and life transforming. In fact, if I had taken the time to research the Michael Neale, I would have been more attuned to the type of books that he has written and not surprised by the flow of this book.  I did look him up after reading the book and found that all of his other books are self-help books, so this, even though it is fiction, fits his profile. 
That said,  I liked the story. I thought that the author did a reasonably good job of fleshing out both the story line and the characters in the story. My favorite part of the book was the part where Gabriel was living in Kansas with his mother, and my favorite character was probably Mister Earl. One of the things that I particularly liked is the way that the characters all connected in some way, although by the end of the book I was almost expecting them to have some connection. In that, I wasn't disappointed as the relationships developed exactly the way I thought they would. Another thing I liked about this book was the descriptive writing that the book contained. All in all, though, this book was just a little too much of a mystical, life affirming trip for me. In addition, the use of The River as a metaphor was just a little too transparent. But, as I said, this is not my usual type of read. I have to say, though, after all that, did enjoy the story. And if that is your type of book, this one is well written and would not disappoint.

10 October 2012

REVIEW: Auraria by Tim Westover. A Modern Day Folktale......Sort Of??

For the longest time, I honestly didn't know how I felt about Auraria: A Novel. To say the least, it was not what I expected...but that doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it. Tim Westover tells an interesting story that is part fantasy, part history, part folklore, and part fairy tale. I am happy to say that he blends all of those genres successfully. The story takes place in Auraria, Georgia and is steeped in local folklore, which was both a blessing and a curse for me. I think that I would have enjoyed it a bit more if I was more familiar with the folklore that was the basis for the story. On the other hand, I love folklore and this book inspired me to do a little more research on the folklore and history of this area of Georgia. I also love quirky and weird characters, and this book was loaded with people who would fit that bill. As I read, I was continually reminded of the writing of Washington Irving. Both The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle come instantly to mind. As all good examples of fairy tales, folklore and local legend do, this story also had a lesson to teach. Often the lesson is not immediately apparent, as is the case here. I thought the author did a great job of wrapping his message in an interesting story, filled with characters that a reader would enjoy reading about, and finished off with an ending that was as satisfying as it was appropriate.

02 October 2012

Review: Bella by Steve Piacente

When I picked up Bella by author Steve Piacente, I wasn't sure what to expect. I had seen it classed as a political thriller, a mystery/thriller, a romance. Sort of all over the gamut. For me, it turned out to be a character study into the minds of the two main protagonists, Dan Patragno, a mediocre journalist who is dissatisfied with his life, and Isabel Moss, a beautiful young widow whose husband was recently killed in Afghanistan. I was drawn into the story by the author's writing style, which just seemed to flow. His crafting of the characters in this story was what kept me reading, though. I am not just talking about Dan and Isabel, either. I was excited to see that Piacente had included a number of subsidiary characters that were rich and interesting, even down to the characters with the smallest roles. The story was peppered with real people and real emotions, however flawed they were or unexplainable their actions seemed. 

As a political thriller, however, I felt the book fell short. I read a lot of thrillers, and when I do I am generally looking for one of two things. First and foremost, I love to be surprised by them. Nothing makes me sit up and take notice, or rave about a book more, for that matter, than when an author takes a story in an unexpected direction or makes a character do something that I totally did not see coming. Neither of those things happened for me in this book. It was pretty apparent to me early on where the political side of this story was going to go, and I was not wrong in my presumptions. I will still give high marks, though, if a book is not surprising, but has a mystery that I enjoyed solving along with the characters in the book. In this case, this book did a reasonably good job, but I still enjoyed the characters and their flaws more than the mystery story line. To me, the mystery part of this story was simply a venue for the characters to showcase their flaws and foibles. 

All in all, though, I think the author said it best when he said, "Bella is usually described as a political thriller, but the novel is mostly about the relationship between Bella, the alluring widow, and Dan, the married reporter she persuades to help her uncover the truth about her husband's death." I totally agree with him and as such the book is a success. If you are indeed writing what you know, Steve, please keep it up. You have a talent character studies.

25 September 2012

Review: The Talisman of El by Alecia Stone

Thankfully, you don't have to be an adult to enjoy young adult/tweener books. Case in point is Talisman of El the first novel by Alecia Stone. I admit, I liked the beginning of the book the best. It starts with a prologue that at first seems unrelated to the story in general. Jump to the the story of Charlie, an orphan who is looking for a place to belong. I enjoyed watching Charlie try to fit in with his new foster parent, Jacob, and joining him on his first day in a new school where he makes both new friends and new enemies. It turns out there is a reason why Charlie doesn't fit in anywhere and just what that reason is becomes apparent as the story progresses, as does how the prologue fits into the bigger picture. Once Charlie and his friends actually embark on their adventure, the story became a little predictable for me, but not so much that I didn't enjoy it. It's just that I was able to guess the big secret way before it was revealed. What I loved about the adventure part of the story was the way that the author wove elements of mythology, magic, and adventure together. There are shades of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and other stories in this one, but not in a detrimental way. Just enough so that if you liked those stories you are bound to like this one. And then we come to the end. I'm not sure what I expected, but I thought that the author handled the ending wonderfully. The author took the story to a place that was new and fresh compared to the others. Plus there was just enough wrap-up to leave you satisfied, but still enough left unsaid to make you anticipate the next book. I'm not sure if this book is the first in a series or just a trilogy, but I will definitely read the next one.

23 September 2012

I'm Baaaaaaack

After taking the summer off, I am back  with a new list of books and topics for the blog.  Yes, I have been gone for quite a while.  My boys were here visiting for the summer and my husband, youngest son, and I took off for a 5 week road trip from the beginning of July until the middle of August.  The rest of the time was spend catching up with both of them and my older son's girlfriend until they left last week to go back home to Oregon.  Now that the house is quiet again (almost too quiet for my taste, actually), I should be able to get back on track and up to speed.  Although the summer did not provide me the opportunity to read as much as I usually do, I did manage to get some excellent books read and will be discussing them in the next few days or weeks.  To start off, I read two books by new Southern author, Nancy Naigle.

A friend of mine called Nancy Naigle's first book "whole lot of love story and a little bit of mystery, with a southern drawl." (Thanks Pamela). Let me just say that her statement sums this book up so perfectly that I had to borrow it for my review as I couldn't think of anything better to say. Nancy Naigle is a great new voice in Southern lit. Her first novel, Sweet Tea and Secrets, is a delightful read which takes place in a small Southern town where everyone knows everyone else. The main protagonist, Jill, returns home to settle the estate of her grandmother, who was loved and known by all in the town. While there, she meets up with her ex-fiance and, well, you know the drill. While there are no great surprises in the book, the story is enjoyably easy to read and flows with a smoothness that is reminiscent of an afternoon on a porch sipping mint juleps, or sweet tea in deference to the title. I found the characters were easy to love, or hate, as required by the story, and found myself wanting to be immersed in the warmth and culture of Adams Grove. I will definitely be reading more of Ms. Naigles Adams Grove books and in fact, have already read the second book, Out of Focus, which I enjoyed as much as this one.

When I went to post my review to Amazon, I found that this book is out of print and that a newer revised version is slated to be released soon.  This review deals with the original version, so a caveat that  I have not read the new edition with the new scenes, but I presume it is pretty much the same as this one. If you like romance books with a Southern voice, I suggest you grab this one and spend a bit of time getting to know that folks in Adams Grove.  

Out of Focus is the title of Southern Author Nancy Naigle's second Adams Grove novel. Like her first book, Sweet Tea and Secrets, this book has a smooth storyline with a wonderful Southern voice. Unlike the first one, this book is a little more mystery and a little less romance. Both are equally good reads. This time we are introduced to Kasey, who is a new comer to Adams Grove. While on the road working as a photographer on tour with a country singing star, Kasey's husband has been having the folks in Adam's Grove build the perfect house for them and their son. When he is killed and their son, Jake, goes missing, Kasey moves into the house in Adams Grove to search for Jake. I actually enjoyed this book a little bit better since it was more of a mystery and less of a romance. I thought the mystery was well crafted. Although I guessed who the perpetrator was, it was not AS transparent as in the first book and the mystery had a little more depth to it. That said, I believe that the author played the romance part of the book just right. It would have been too strange to have Kasey get involved in a big romance so close to the death of her husband, and I believe it would have hurt the story for that to happen. 

Finally, although this book was also set in Adams Grove, to say that these books were are a series is a bit of a stretch. The overlap of characters between the two is very small. In fact, it was so small that it was a bit confusing as to which story came first. In addition, there was one disconnect between the two books that threw me for a loop for a while. I won't say anymore than that. The bottom line is that there were some characters in the first book that I would really like to get to know better, and I hope that the author continues to write about Adams Grove and includes some of those characters in future stories. Adams Grove is definitely a town that one would like to spend more time in as a reader and settle in as a character.

The Adams Grove books that Nancy has written so far actually sort of reminded me a bit of the Southern romantic suspense books written by Nora Roberts, especially the Garden Trilogy.  If you like the types of books that Nora writes, or Romantic Suspense set in the South, I recommend picking up these two books and getting acquainted with Adams Grove.  

28 June 2012

A well told story with many layers

I recently finished reading Luanne Rice's newest offering, Little Night: A Novel. This books takes a compelling look at the effects of spousal abuse on family dynamics. An author can go several ways with this type of a story, and I thought this one did a good job of telling a harrowing tale without making the book overly dark. Anne and Clare grew up with an overbearing father and as that often does, it brought them close together. Until Anne made the mistake that many women growing up in those circumstances do. She married a controlling and abusive man. Unlike many books on this subject, this book does not tell the tale from the perspective of the abused wife, but rather from the perspective of other affected family members and friends. It focuses its energy on the feelings and effects that the abuse has on Anne's daughter, Grit, and Anne's sister, Clare. It is through their eyes that we catch a glimpse of the widening circle of affect that such abuse has. I felt that the characters in this book were well developed and true to the roles that they portrayed. In addition, the layers created by the author's inclusion of other stories, like Clare's search for the elusive laughing owl, or Grits need to wear her story on her body, as well as the inclusion of some Norse mythology made this an altogether enjoyable read with both depth and feeling.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a 4.5 star MUST READ for thriller fans

Upon finishing Gone Girl, the newest psychological thriller by established authorGillian Flynn, I had to ask myself, "are all of Gillian Flynn's books like this?". If they are, I can tell you now that I am going to be a huge fan. In short, I loved this book. I loved the way the author crafted the characters. I loved the way that she doled out the story, keeping you guessing about what was really going on. I loved the way that she threw out so many inconsistent details that you weren't really sure what was real, if any of it. Or who was lying to whom. Or ultimately, who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. 

One thing I really enjoy about reading thrillers is that they are like puzzles. I love trying to figure out where the author is going with a story before they reveal their twists in the plot. That said, I especially love when an author hits me over the head with a plot twist that I didn't even see coming. This book had all of the above. It started out pretty good, but normal for a psychological thriller, then just when I thought I had figured out what was going on, another detail would come out that had me doubting myself. Best of all, though, the author was able to reveal certain plot points that were total surprises to me. Things that I had not even considered, at least not seriously. Here I was, formulating all sorts of theories, which I love to do, and trying to keep track of all of the things that didn't seem to make sense and the story would hit me with an HOLY CRAP moment. At that point, I was hooked. 

I thought the characters in the book were great, also. I thought she did an exceptionally good job with Nick and Amy, making them both who they seemed, and someone else entirely. The layers to their personalities and relationship was riveting. And even the supporting characters were crafted with so many layers that they were constantly surprising me with there behavior. 

The only thing that keeps me from giving this book a flat out 5 star rating was the ultimate ending. For some reason, the ending just set me on edge. It's not that it wasn't believable, because it was. It's not that it wasn't appropriate to the story, because it certainly was. It is just that I didn't like where it ended. I can't say more than that without giving it away. 

So again, I say, I hope all of Gillian Flynn's books are this twisted, dark, and riveting. I am poised to be a major fan! A 4.5 star MUST READ for thriller lovers.

12 June 2012

Three reviews of three very different books

I love reading books from authors that are new to me.  While reading books from authors that are familiar carry  with them a certain expectation, reading a book from a "new to me" author is like opening a Christmas present. I have an idea of what might be there, but in the end I am usually totally surprised.  As you might guess, there are both positives and negatives to this practice, or should I say surprises and disappointments.  Some of the books are so good that the author instantly becomes a favorite.   I have to admit, since I have started reading books by new authors, my TBR list has gotten even more out of control than it was before.  Although there is probably no way that I will ever read all of the books that I have on my list before I die, lol, I am sure going to try.  Other book, though, do not always live up to my hopes.  In some cases, where a review is required, it even becomes a chore.  Thankfully, though, this last category is small and unusual.  Below are reviews for three books that I have recently read from some of the new authors.

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar is the debut book for author Suzanne Joinson and as such it is a pretty good effort. The book is told from two perspectives, one in the early 1900s and the other in current time. At first, this made the book seem very disjointed to me, especially since there seemed to be two stories going on in the present day, but as the story unfolded, it became clear that the three stories were related and would ultimately join into one story. From the start, I enjoyed the current day story of Frieda, a Londoner who travels extensively in the Middle East. Unfortunately, I found the story from the earlier time period a bit disjointed and hard to follow. The earlier story centers around three women missionaries who are living in Kashgar. As it begins, they find themselves in an unusual and dangerous situation, which is only made worse by their attempts at conversion. The plot set up has all the requirements of a great story about a little known time and place. Unfortunately, while the story is good, it does not deliver the hoped for greatness. To begin with, the characters of the missionaries, although quirky, seem somewhat lackluster. In addition, what I felt would be the most interesting part of the story was totally glossed over. It says something that the most enjoyable part of the book was the completely ordinary story of Frieda in current day London. I would have loved to have seen the author right a more compelling story that focused on the quirks and relationships of the missionary women and/or the situation that bound them to Kashgar. All in all a good book, but it could have been great.

Barefoot in November is not the type of book I usually read. Although I have been know to read almost any genre, memoirs and self-help books are probably the ones that I read the least of. The premise for this book sounded interesting, though, and it was loaned to me by a friend. Since it was only 190 pages I figured I would give it a try. What I found here was a well written account of the author's journey through his illness and recovery from an aortic aneurysm. I foundBenjamin J. Carey's ability to tell his story and keep me interested wonderful. I especially loved the way that he was able to describe his feelings of denial, depression, anger, etc, without being angry or depressing. In addition, the fact that a healthy, active adult could have such a life threatening illness and not know it also made quite an impact on me. After all, as Ben himself says, this was not a case of an over-weight, sedentary person dealing with the results of his bad lifestyle choices. Another part of the book that drew my attention was how great his family support system was. In fact, after reading the book, I think his wife must be a saint! I'm not sure if I could have come through all of this quite as well as both she and Ben did. In the end, this is a book about facing life and not letting it get the best of you. It is about knowing your responsibility to your family and acting accordingly, and ultimately, about fighting and winning. A great read!

The Master of Verona is the type of book that is right up my alley. I love historical fiction, especially stories about royalty and political intrigue in Medieval times. So it is no wonder that I found this book thoroughly enjoyable. David Blixt's story tells the tale of Pietro, the son of Dante Alighieri of Inferno fame, Canagrande Della Scala, the ruler of Verona, and even the beginnings of the Montague/Capulet feud. This book is filled with fascinating characters. Along with the many interesting main characters, Pietro, Cangrande, Mastino, and yes, Romeo, I especially enjoyed those of Antonia Alighieri and Katarina Della Scala. Blixt transforms these women into complex, unconventional characters which makes them stand out in the story. 

The major plot line of this book is fascinating by itself, but it was the many subplots and details included in the book that also caught my attention and helped me to devour this book. The inclusion of the Montague/Capulet families and the beginning of the feud made so famous by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, as well as others from Shakespeare's Italian stories is both a bonus and a delight. As are the other subplots included in the book. And I have to say, Blixt's description of life in Italy during the 1300s are beautifully done. 

01 June 2012

As a cozy mystery series, Beth Groundwater's Rocky Mountain mystery series is standard fare.

I have to admit, I am one of those people who really enjoy a good cozy mystery and feel that these cozies certainly have a role to play in the reading spectrum.  Sure, they are not known for their complex plots, plot twists, or multi-layered characters, but as a quick, fun read, they certainly fit the bill.  In fact, I have several cozy series that I enjoy and read avidly.

Deadly Currents is the first in a new cozy mystery series by author Beth Groundwater. As most cozys do, this series has a focus -  the town of Salida, Colorado on the banks of the Arkansas River and the types of sports that are prevalent in that area. In the first edition of the series the backdrop is the white water rafting tourist industry. The main character in the book, Mandy Tanner,  is a seasonal river ranger on the Arkansas and a former river rafting guide whose uncle runs a rafting company.  As a character Mandy is interesting, mostly for her confrontational style and, like most cozy mystery heroines, ability to stick her nose in to everyone else's business.  And while some of the other characters were interesting, some of them were just plain annoying. An example is Rob, the love interest of main character Mandy Tanner. I found Rob overbearing and smarmy and, after reading the first two books in the series, I still don't trust him or understand what Mandy sees in him.  In Wicked Eddies, the second title, the recurring characters are given a bit more depth which makes it easier to become invested in them.  In addition, Mandy and Rob's plans to expand their business promises many new opportunities for Mandy to practice her sleuthing skills in the future.  I still didn't particularly see what Mandy saw in Rob, but by the end of this book even he was starting to grow on me. 

IWicked Eddies, the second title in Beth Groundwater's RM Outdoor Adventures series we again find Mandy, Rob, and their various cohorts, employees and employers embroiled in the thick of a mystery as murder once again hits Salida, Colorado. In this case, it is one of the town's fly fishing aficionados, who just happens to be the uncle of Mandy's bartending friend Cynthia. I actually felt this book was a bit better than the first book in the series.

IF you are a cozy mystery reader who likes outdoor adventure sports, these books should have plenty to interest you. In both cases, the author certainly did her homework where both the rafting industry and fly fishing competitions are concerned.  The information included in the books on both white water rafting  in the first book, and fly fishing in the second are spot on and interesting.  In fact, in my opinion, that has been  the best part of both books. The plots were standard for a cozy mystery and as such they get  good marks from me. On the other hand,  while I really enjoyed the detailed information about the adventure sports and the descriptions of the river, when that same attention to detail was used to describe a cup of coffee I felt it was just a little too much. I will say, though, that I did read the second book in the series and found that the author's use of description was more balanced.

If you are an Outdoor Adventure fan and like cozy mysteries, this series will probably appeal to you. I would give the first book 3 stars.  The second one gets 3.5 stars and I consider it a good entrant into the cozy mystery genre.

29 May 2012

A listing for Young Adults and Not so Young Adults

Over the weekend I was at a BBQ with a group of friends that my husband and I have known forever.  While catching up with some of the folks a discussion of books started and that lead into a discussion of books in the Young Adult genre.  First, let me say, this genre and it's title always make me smile as a book that is classed as YA can be for anyone from middle school age to older.  At least it seems that way to me, so the moniker Young Adult book seems sort of misleading.  Adding to the confusion (for want of a better word) is the fact that so many of our youngsters are reading at different levels.  In discussions with other mom's, I have continually been amazed at what books some students are reading at certain ages, but some readers are able to handle more mature subject matter at one age, while others may not.  In the end, it is up to the reader, and most importantly, the parent for the younger readers, to determine what topics they are ready to explore in their reading.  With all that said, below is a list of some of my favorite books in the Young Adult genre.  So Beth, this list is for you.  :)

But first....a few caveats.
CAVEAT 1: Very few YA books have gotten a 5 star rating from me.  I am sure that is due to the fact that they are written for a younger audience, and while I enjoy a lot of them immensely, not may have the complexity that I usually look for in a five star book.

CAVEAT 2: I am leaving some of the most popular YA books off of the list and there are two reasons for this. First, most of those books have been written about profusely, including by me in the past, so there is a myriad of information regarding them.  Secondly, if I included ALL of the YA books that I have read and liked, this list would go on so long that no one would ever read it.

So without further ado, the books:

1.  Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - This book is a classic that I count as one of my favorite books of all time.  I really enjoyed this book about a society where all is not what it seems.  In the end, this book is about friendship and the choices we make in life.  I would class this one in the upper edges of Young Adult reading, but it is definitely a book that could give a young adult reader something to ponder on.

2. Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim - Perhaps the best YA book that I have read recently.  Although there are many books about Slavery and the South,  what sets this one apart is that the story is largely told from the perspective of the young daughter of the plantation owner and keys on the relationship between her and the black women that is her Mammy.  This perspective is fresh and new, and is what makes this book well suited for the young adult reader.

3. Things Not Seen by Andrew Clemmons - I was on a quest for a book with a blind main character that was not portrayed totally as a victim, and my son's best friend from high school (who happens to be blind) turned me on to this story about a boy who wakes up invisible one day and how he learns to adapt to his new disability.  Also, his best friend turns out to be a young blind girl who, I must say, is a wonderful character.

4. Hold Still by Nina LaCour - This story about dealing with the aftermath of suicide is well written and poignant, but ultimately hopeful.  There is a lot here to explore and discuss with the YA reader.

5. If I Stay by Gayle Foreman -  If you have a reader on the younger side of the YA spectrum, this is one of those books that you would need to evaluate the reader's readiness for.  I loved this beautifully written story about grieving, relationships, and the ultimate choice that the main character must make regarding her own life.

6. Holding on to Max by Margaret Bechard - What I particularly like about this book is that it is about a high school boy who decides to keep his baby, even though the mother wants to give it up.  Again, this gives a different and fresh perspective to the issue.  Also, I loved the author's treatments of the decisions that the young father had to make along the way, and ultimately, the way the book ended.

7. Rebellion and Revolution by Rachel Cotterill  - These two book are the first two in a trilogy, with Rebellion being the first and Revolution being the second.  While they are mostly the typical fantasy books, they are, in my opinion, worth reading as the heroes and heroines must use mostly their intellect and their knowledge as they go through their adventures.  There is very little magic in these books.

8. Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray - For those young readers who love historical fiction, this first book in a trilogy about the life of Cleoptatra's daughter Selene is very well written and gives one some insight into life in Ancient Rome.  The second book to this trilogy, Song of the Nile is also out, but I have not had the chance to read it yet.

9. The King's Rose by Alissa M. Libby - Another historical fiction, this book is about Katherine Howard, the youngest of Henry VIII's six wives.  It is a well written book and would be enjoyable to young readers interested in the Tudor era.

10. By The Time You Read This by Lola Jaye - While this book is not strictly a YA book, I think there is a lot here to appeal to a YA reader, especially one of high school or college age.  In this story, a father who died when his daughter was young,  writes a journal for his daughter to read, one entry every year on her birthday.  As she grows up and becomes an adult, what she learns from her father's writings about him, herself, and life is really quite good.

I hope that you are able to enjoy some of the books mentioned here.  They are all, in my opinion, worth the read.

22 May 2012

I'm branching out!

Welcome to my new and updated blog.  I have decided to branch out from just posting reviews to discussing (otherwise known as ranting and raving) anything to do with books, reading, and the publishing world.  As I have been reading more and more blogs, I have begun feeling compelled to do more that just give my opinions on specific books.  Those of you who know me are probably surprised that it took me this long to come to the conclusion that I had more that I wanted to say.  And for those of you who read and like the book reviews never fear, they will still be here, along with musings on what people like in books, trends in reading, how I pick what I read, what is currently bugging me about authors, other readers, the publishing industry, AND what I like about the same.  So please come along with me on my journey.  I hope we can all learn, laugh, and talk together about books.  And be sure to read the post below for Spare Change by Bette Lee Crosby.  She is a wonderful writer and the book tells a great story.

A book that will make you both laugh and cry, but ultimately leave you smiling.

Spare Change is the first book I have read by Bette Lee Crosby, but I can definitely say it won't be the last. Her book is filled with wonderful characters from the main characters of Olivia Westerly-Doyle and Ethan Allen Doyle, all the way down to the seemingly most insignificant ones. As I journyed along the stories of Olivia and Ethan Allen, I realized that none of the characters in the book are insignificant. Everyone has a role to play in the story, just as everyone has a role to play in life and the absence of any one of them would change the outcome. In addition to the way that Bette was able to weave the lives of all of the characters into a compelling story, I also loved the fact that each character was given a distinct personality allowing me to enjoy their quirks and foibles while still feeling compassion for them. But more than just a cast of characters, what Bette has crafted in this book is a compelling story about the myriad of ways that our lives intersect and how that affects not only who we are, but who we think we are. She does this while allowing us to laugh, cry, and cheer along the way, and leaving us with a feeling of contentment and joy at the end. And be sure to pay attention to the passage that explains the concept of "spare change" that eloquently sums up the underlying theme of the story to a tee. It is priceless, and I only wish that I had copied it down before I sent the book on so that I could quote it. In the end, I was left feeling that the unpredictability of life is not a curse, but rather a gift that should be embraced to the fullest. 

Kudos to Bette! I highly recommend this book and am already anticipating the next two Bette Lee Crosby books that I have on my list.

19 April 2012

A Romantic mystery that focuses on the mystery. Leslie Tentler's third book is even better than the last two.

Early last year, the first book in the Chasing Evil trilogy, Midnight Caller was recommended to me. I read that book and instantly grew enamored of the author's writing. While these books are probably classed as Romantic Mysteries, and romance books are not my normal preference, Leslie Tentler's books are a cut above. Edge of Midnight is another winner for the author, who writes like she has been established in this field for a while. What I particularly like about Leslie's books is that the romance takes a back seat to the mystery plot. And the mystery plots are right up there with the best. In Edge of Midnight, we meet Eric McFarlane, an agent with the FBI's Violent Crime Unit. Eric has been called to Florida to investigate the case of a serial killer who he has run up against in the past. But as in all good mysteries, there is more to the story than at first meets the eye. This book had me staying up late turning pages just to see where the story would take me. I kept thinking, one more chapter and I will quit, but would keep reading anyway. That is always a good sign with a mystery book. 

My only caveat about the books is that they are considered a trilogy. I kept waiting for the three stories to tie together somehow. In fact, they are only loosely related, but that is really not a negative as they all stand very well on their own. I hope that Ms. Tentler will continue to write mysteries like these as I will certainly be on board to read them.

18 April 2012

This book has everything....a royal court, political intrigue, a bit of mysticsm, and a bit of romance. Perfect

I am at a loss as to where to begin my review of Grave Mercy by R. L. LaFevers.   I usually start with what I loved about the book, but in this case, that is a resounding EVERYTHING. I am honestly afraid that in trying to review it, I will not do it justice. Inside this book I found everything I love, a medieval royal court, lots of intrigue, a bit of mysticism, a bit of romance, a hero that is above the run of the mill, and a heroine that kicks butt. 

To begin with, the backdrop for the novel is the duchy of Brittany in the late 1400s. At that time, the last duke of Brittany had died, leaving the duchy to his twelve year old daughter, who for political reasons has been promised in marriage to just about every Kind in Europe, including the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of France, and the King of England. The situation that she finds herself in makes her the perfect damsel in distress. And she is not even the main character of the story, just one of the myriad of well developed and intensely interesting background characters. 

The heroine of the book, Ismae, is one of the best characters I have found in quite a while. Taught to be an assassin by a group of nuns, she is a take charge, kick ass sort of heroine. Set in a time when women were not taken very seriously, to fashion a group of assassin out of a group of, not only women, but nuns, is in my mind, one of the best devices used in a novel by any author I have read lately. I love this out of the ordinary spin that LaFevers gives this book. 

On the other hand, the hero in the book is the epitome of the chivalrous knight. True to his beliefs and his crown, loaded with integrity, but not afraid to get the job done. As such, Gavriel is a winner in the hero category. 

Perhaps the best part of the book, though, is the plot. The author has captured the political intrigue of a Royal court in this time period perfectly. The tale she weaves contain the perfect amount of machinations, backstabbing, everyone out for their own gain type of feeling that one would expect. As the story progresses, the reader becomes aware that there is definitely more going on than meets the eye. It is the way that the author continually reveals details and unfolds events that lure the reader in until they are turning pages and not able to put the book down. 

As R.L. LaFevers is a new author to me, I did a bit of research on her after I completed the book. I was surprised to find that she is the author of many popular children's books. According to her website, this is her first foray into writing for the YA audience. All I have to say is, I am not a Young Adult by any stretch of the imagination, but I LOVED this book and am anxiously awaiting the next book in the series. With that in mind, I think this author has made the transition to YA astoundingly well, and will even have a large adult audience for these books. 

This one is a five star and highly recommended.

22 March 2012

Interesting book that gave me new insights into the lives of ordinary English citizens

I think that historical fiction is probably my favorite genre. In relation to Accidents of Providence  by  Stacia M. Brown, it was not my favorite historical fiction book, but it did tell a good story. I felt that the characters were interesting and enjoyed reading about their lives. I think my favorite characters were Thomas Boatswain, the lawyer, and John Lilburne's wife, Elizabeth. Their charactes had such depth. I liked the fact that they were so complex as it helped to illustrate the class of people that they represented. It is always nice to find a well written book about everyday life in England. 

For me, though, historical fiction is not only about the story of the people, but about what I can learn about the time period in which the book was set. I was especially interested in learning about the Levellers, who, I admit, I had never heard of before reading this book. In addition, the author's depiction of life for women in England during this period was fascinating and enlightening. Lastly, the detail Rachel's trial and the legal workings surrounding her situation were interesting. 

I am giving this book 3 stars and would recommend it to friends.

The story of Mattie and Lisbeth, not just another slavery novel

In Yellow Crocus author Laila Ibrahim tells a great story.  I was honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. The story revolves around two characters, Mattie a slave and wet nurse on a Southern Plantation, and Lisbeth, the white daughter of the plantation owner who Mattie is wet nurse to. At first glance it seems that Mattie is the central character and that this is yet another book about the lives of Southern slaves. As the reader progresses, though, you find that the book is as much about Lisbeth and the lives of the daughters of the white plantation owners. That is actually a good thing as there are many books out there about the lives of slaves and I have read several that I felt were more compelling in that respect. It is the inter-twining of the lives of Lisbeth and Mattie that make this story what it is and that captured and kept my interest. At times I found myself cheering for Mattie and Lisbeth, crying over their troubles, appalled by the behavior of some of the characters that their lives intersected with, and impressed by the behavior of others. At one point I was apprehensive that the author was going to try to tie up the book too neatly, but her ending was both poignant and appropriate. 

As I read this book, the thought kept occurring to me that this would be a great book for Middle and High School girls. I am not sure if that is what the author intended, but her thoughtful portrayal of both Mattie, and particularly, Lisbeth makes it perfect for young girls who want to explore this area of fiction. In addition, though, I would recommend it to my adult friends who I believe would gain from the relationship between Lisbeth and Mattie and the viewpoint of slavery through the eyes of a woman who grew up in the privileged South. 

12 March 2012

A Tale of two books, or two halves of a book anyway.

I wanted to love this story Bernie McGill told in The Butterfly Cabinet.  I really did.  It seemed to have all of the required elements of the type of story that can really suck you in and keep you turning pages. A death of a child that is based on true events, the hint of secrets to be revealed, the telling from two viewpoints, that of the accused and that of a former employee of the accused. In the end, though, it just did not deliver.

The story is told in two formats. The first being through diary entries written by the Harriet Ormond, mother of the dead child, who is ultimately accused of murdering the child. These entries I really enjoyed. I thought the author did a good job telling a believable story of life for a wife and mother in upper class England in the late 1800s. I especially liked the ruminations that she made regarding her passion for collecting butterflies and the parallels that could be drawn to the life of her and her family. This part of the book is the only reason that I was able to stay with it, and in the end give it a 3 star rating.

Unfortunately, the author included the other story. That of Maddie, a maid int he household and her recollections at the age of 90 regarding the events that took place. Maddie tells her story is a one sided conversation with one of Harriet's descendants. This part of the book I found to be disjointed and lacking any real emotion or depth. It is the main reason that I cannot rate the book higher. When Maddie's chapters occurred, I found myself reading quickly so that I could get back to Harriet's story.

The other reason that the book cannot be rated higher, in my opinion, is that it certainly did not live up to its promise of secrets revealed. Yes, there were secrets, and yes, they were revealed. Unfortunately, they were in no way stuning, compelling, or story altering. In the end, the secrets revealed where ho hum and as such, a huge let down.

10 March 2012

A Romance that is definitely worth reading!!

Let me start by saying, I am not a huge fan of Romance books. In the case ofBeautiful Disaster I am more than willing to make an exception. This book captured my interest from page one and held it throughout the entire book. More than just a romance book, Laura Spinella's debut novel contains an intriguing back story that grabbed the mystery/thriller loving portion of my brain and left me chewing on several theories as the story progressed. While this part of the story was by no means the main event, nor really even entirely fleshed out, it kept me reading through the more formulaic romance aspects of the book. And even that portion of the book was above average. Rather than being one dimensional, Spinella's characters were flawed, which only added to their allure. At some point in the book each character was poised to make choices that left me shaking my head and saying, "What were you thinking????" Did the story contain all the formulaic pieces of a typical romance? Yes, it did. BUT -- this was much more than just a boy and girl meet, fall in love, become estranged, get back together, and live happily ever after story. It was a richly told story about people, they choices they make, and the impact throughout their lives of those choices

07 March 2012

Although a good one, not what I was expecting

How does a reader decide whether to read a book? A strange way to start a review, I know, but it is an intregal part of my rating on this book. If an author is new or unknown to me and my reading buddies, often I will choose to read or not read a book based on its published synopsis. Such was the case with The Ninth Step by Barbara Taylor Sissel. I had never given much thought to the title of the book, but it was apparent early in the story that it referred the the ninth step in AA's 12 step program, the one where a person makes amends. 

Let me just state upfront that the rating on this book has more to do with expectations and less to do with the quality of the story. I enjoyed the story of Cotton O'Dell and his quest to make amends in his life to those that were impacted by a single bad choice that he made. I thought the author did a good job with the character of Cotton, detailing his myriad of emotions as his quest for sobriety and redemption progressed. I actually think I would have liked the book a lot more if it had been marketed as such. At least then I would have known what to expect. 

I really wanted to give this book 4 stars, but just could not quite do it. Why? First of all, because the synopsis set up the story in a way that the author did not deliver. I felt that the story was really about Cotton and that Livie was a very minor player in the grand scheme of things. In fact, the best part of the story, Cotton's relationship with his mother, and with the Latimer family, isn't even mentioned in the synopsis, yet these are the relationships that make the meat of the story. I felt that there were many things in the synopsis that the author did not deliver on, while leaving out the things that really made the story fly. It was almost as is, somewhere along the line, a decision was made that the story would get a better following if it was marketed as a romantic redemption story rather than what it actually was. The chronicle of one man's quest to pull himself out of the thralls of alcholism and get his life back on track.

27 February 2012

I just found a new Historical Mystery Author that I think you will love.

If you know me, you know that my two favorite genres are historical fiction and mystery/thrillers, so it was with joy that I was able to score a copy of The Book of Lost Fragrances by authorM.J. Rose. Although Ms. Rose is an established author, this is the first book of hers that I have read, and I must say, it combines the best of both genres. In this book M. J. Rose crafts an engaging story of Jac L'Etoile and her brother Bobbie, who are wrapped in the search for the mysterious lost book of fragarances that is so much a part of their family heritage. In the pursuit of this mystery the author takes us on a journey through time and across continents, bringing it all together is a satisfyingly interesting ending. Highlighting the story of the L'Etoile family of perfumers is a wonderful plethora of characters. In fact, there are so many characters in this book that at time I had to refere back to remind myself who was with whom. Normally this would bother me, but in this case, the characters were so interesting, that it was more of a joy than a problem. In fact, the vast number of interesting characters is one of the things that I most liked about this book. Though the characters came from areas that seemed to have no connection, you just knew they would all connect in the end, and the author did not disappoint in this respect. Add that with the fact that each one had an interesting back story that made them jump off the pages, and you have a wonderful ensemble that kept me turning pages to see where they would all end up. Suffice it to say that I thought this book was a very enjoyable historical mystery. M. J. Rose is a new author for me, but I will be eagerly looking up more of her work. In fact, when I started researching her work further, I found that this book is actually the fourth in a series called the Reincarnationist Series, so I will probably start with the first three books of that series. 

One caveat -- Although this book is part of a series, it read perfectly as a stand alone, and I am usually pretty strict about reading a series in order. The fact that I was able to follow the story line and enjoy this book without benefit of the first three books is a testament to how well written this book is. Kudos to MS. Rose.