23 September 2014

Thoughts and resolutions surrounding banned books week.

This week, September 21 - 28, 2014 is Banned Books week and with that there are numerous articles, lists, posts, memes, etc. urging us to celebrate the week.   What they really are asking us, as readers, to do, is to become aware and involved in what books are banned and why, and possibly to choose one or more of them and read it this week.  As I was scrolling through all of my Facebook and Twitter posts yesterday, I came across the following article on the BookRiot site that got me to thinking.


Although the author of the post is speaking to the publishing and marketing community, in effect trying to get them to stop taking advantage of Banned Books Week, the post got me thinking in another direction.

First  - it got me to thinking about how it sounds to "celebrate" banned books.  I will be the first to admit that I have no problem with having one week a year dedicated to highlighting the hows and whys of banned books, but I am starting to wonder if the word celebrate is the correct term to use in this context.  Perhaps we should celebrate our personal freedom by reading a banned book during banned books week.  Or rename the week Read a Banned Book week.  I know this is really nit-picky and everyone understands that we are celebrating the week, not the banned books, but it just got me to thinking.  Why give power to the people who are banning the books by even using the phrase "celebrate banned books".

The second stream of thought that the article lead me to was to question why I only seem to pay attention to the banning of books one week a year.  Don't get me wrong, as I said above, I am glad that we have a week to focus on the books that are getting banned.  If it weren't for the ALA and other organizations and their highlighting of banned books once a year,  I may go through my year having this subject never even enter my mind.  It is so easy to become wrapped up in my everyday life and reading, and not even think about it.  So, I am eternally grateful to the entities behind the Banned Books Week for bringing the issue to our collective conscience in general, and my personal radar in particular.  To an avid reader like me, though, banning books for whatever reason is anathema and and issue that I really should be more involved in.  For that reason, I have decided to do challenge myself to do something every week between now and Banned Books Week 2015 that promotes reading freedom.  Although part of it will be reading some of the most commonly banned books, there will be other activities, posts, etc. in addition. although I am not yet sure what form they may take.

One thing I hope to do is to read at least 12 books that have been banned to large audiences in the next year.  I would say I would read one a month, but the way my life goes, I am not sure I can stick to that.  There may be times when I can read two or more in a given month, and times when I won't get to any, so 12 in a year it is!

So - I will count this post as my first action toward my new resolution.  If you, like me, are interested in knowing the wheres, whys, and hows of banned books, here are some websites that I have found particularly interesting regarding the subject.

Banned Books Week website - http://www.bannedbooksweek.org
ALA Frequently Challenged Books list - http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics
ILA Challenged Books explanations - http://www.ila.org/BannedBooks/ALA016%20Short%20List%20L3c_low%20%281%29.pdf
ALA Top Challenged books by year - http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10#2013

I hope you enjoy my break from the usual in this post and find some of this informational and interesting. I will be back to reviewing tomorrow.

And as always - Happy Reading!

04 September 2014

Review: The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps by Michael Blanding

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for my review

Genre: Non-fiction History
Page Count: 320 Pages
List Price:  $27.50 Hardback
                $12.99 Digital 
Publication Date: May 29, 2014
Publisher: Gotham

My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

In his introduction to the book The Map Thief author Michael Blanding writes, "Maps have long exerted a special fascination on viewers-both as beautiful works of art and as practical tools to navigate the world."  What he forgets to mention is that they can also be snapshots in history.  For me, they are all of the above, so a book centered around historical maps seemed a natural.  Add to that my fascination with true crime accounts, and it is no wonder that I jumped at the chance to read and review this book.  

The Map Thief  is Blandings account of  the E. Forbes Smiley case, Smiley was a respected dealer in antiquarian maps who ended up in over his head and began stealing rare and famous maps from Universities and selling them on the market as new finds until he was caught red-handed cutting a map from a book in the Yale University antique map room.  I found the idea that a trusted, well respected member of the exclusive trade in antiquarian maps could take so much advantage of the other players in the industry fascinating.  After all, for years E. Forbes Smiley was able to pull the wool over the eyes of top-notch dealers in antique maps and savvy collectors, not to mention the major Universities and Museums that he was able to steal from.  I really enjoyed reading about Smiley and his crimes.  

For me, though, the best part of the book was the amount of time that Blanding spent explaining the maps that were stolen and their significance.  As you might expect from an investigative journalist of his caliber, the discussion of each map was well researched and well written.  His ability to highlight the importance of these maps as both historical documents and works of art really drew me in.  I learned so much about maps, their uses, the history of map making, and the historical figures behind the maps.  I would have loved for this part of the book to never end.  Blanding did such a great job with this part of the book that I found myself researching antique maps and the history of map making on my own.  

The only place were the book fell short for me was at the end.  Throughout the book, there was a lot of discussion of the fact that hundreds more maps were missing that Smiley ever admitted to stealing.  I felt it was presented in such a way that a revelation would be forthcoming, but perhaps it was just my reader's wish that there would be a big reveal.  At any rate, not only was there no real new information about these missing maps, I felt that Blanding really glassed over this portion of the story. It was almost like he just threw the information into the book at the end and as a result, I thought it detracted from the rest of the book, which was really great.  In  addition, I found the information that was presented confusing.  For me, it would have been better if Blanding had mentioned that many more maps were missing, and the theories by all parties about what might have happened to them, in a short concluding chapter.  

All in all, though, this book was really worth the read.  The information regarding maps, map making, and map collecting was enough to keep me interested to the very end.  Throw in E. Forbes Smiley, his personality, and what he was able to accomplish, and you have a very engaging read.  I would highly recommend it to any one with a love of history and a love of true crime stories.  Bravo Mr. Blanding!

29 August 2014

Review: DragonFly by Charles A. Cornell

A copy of this book was provided by the author through E-book Miner in exchange for my review

Genre:  Alternate History/diesel-punk
Page Count: 356 pages
List Price (only available in digital format): $3.99 on Kindle
Publication Date:  February 28, 2014
Publisher: Charles Cornell Creative Partners LLC

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I think that the best way to describe this book is "delightful".   Veronica "Ronnie" Somerset is a female RAF pilot during WWII.  The Nazis are about to start the invasion of Britain and Ronnie is trying to get the support and attention that she deserves from the male dominated British Royal Air Force.  The RAF, on the other hand, is trying to minimize her role.  They think they have succeeded by stationing her at a remote base in Cornwall that is shared by the RAF and the Navy.  In actuality, though, they have placed her in the perfect place to play a pivotal role in the fight for the UK.  

I have to say upfront, I am new to the genre of Steampunk/Dieselpunk, but with each book of this type that I read, I am finding that I really enjoy it.  To me the genre is all about mixing sci-fi (as far as the machines, etc. go) and magic or mysticism, which DragonFly by Charles A. Cornell does in just the right amount.  The book is full of imaginative machines, the best examples of which in my mind, are the DragonFly planes and Blitzkrieger.  These are just two of the really imaginative and inventive items included in the story, though and all of them are fun to read about and consider.   On the magic side, there is a bit of Druidism and some thought telepathy that represent this aspect quite well. 

No story can survive, though without a good plot, and the good vs. evil plot of DragonFly is excellently drawn. Set in WWII, the outcome of the story should be etched in history, but this is "alternate history" and the author is free to take the story where he will.  He does this in admirable fashion, keeping the reader on the edge of his seat trying to decide if "good" will triumph over "evil".  As a self-titled aficionado of history, I really appreciated the way that Cornell wove the just the right amount of the factual history of WWII in with his fantasy story to give it a strong foundation, yet allow it to be unpredictable. 

I think my favorite part of this book, along with the DragonFly plane itself, were the characters.  There were so many characters in this book that I thought were exceptionally well done.  I loved the fact that the RAF pilots were all women and had to fight for the chance to play a part in history.  As for the rest of the British characters, they came across as a unique blend of British stability and optimism.  The Germans, on the other had, were very dark, their plodding steps, ulterior motives, and subterfuge painting the perfect picture of the stories "evil".  If there was one thing that was off in Cornell's characters for me, though, it was the origin of the Blitzkriegers, which was a little hard for me to wrap my head around. 

So, with one minor drawback, I thoroughly enjoyed this story.  At times I found myself wanting to be Ronnie, flying a DragonFly.  At other times I found myself worrying over who would prevail in battles, or who would make it through to the end.  At all times, though, I found myself entertained and wanting to keep reading more.   I am definitely looking forward to other DragonFly Squadron books, and hope that this episode is able to overcome its somewhat limited availability.  

I would definitely like to thank both the author, Charles A. Cornell, and the E-book Miner group on Goodreads for bringing this book to my attention.  If not for them, I don't know that this book would ever have made it onto my radar, but I am very glad that it did! 

TGIF (Thank Goodness It's Fall) !

I can't believe that I am actually saying this, but I am glad to see the summer ending and fall beginning.  With fall comes the return of routine, which I am finding that I need more and more as I get older.  The days of flying by the seat of my pants are over for me, I think.  This summer has been a particularly hectic summer in my family, which definitely had a negative effect on my ability to keep up with the blogging.   Some of the events were scheduled, some not.  Some of them were happy events, some not.  All of them were draining, that is for sure.  All of this explanation is by way of apologizing to those who have been wondering where I have been for the last three months.

Although the summer's events definitely had a negative effect on my blog, it only had a minimally negative effect on my reading.  There is nothing like a good book when you are sitting around waiting for a graduation to start, news from a doctor, phone calls from family members, games to be finished, etc.  Below is a list of the books that I read this summer, complete with star ratings.  Most of them have reviews pending, which I will be working on in the next few weeks.

Hope you all had a happy and successful summer, and here is to getting back on track.

MY SUMMER READS  (R denotes review pending)

Five Star Reads

Skin Game by Jim Butcher
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Missing You by Harlan Cobin R
That Night by Chevy Steves R
Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf R
Runner by Patrick Lee R

Four Star Reads

The Map Theif by Machael Blanding R
The Here and Now by Anna Brashares R
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey R
Cop Town by Karin Slaughter R
The Quiet Game by Greg Iles
Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whitmore R
Shakespeare's Champion by Charlaine Harris
The Boleyn Deceit by Laura Anderson R
DragonFly by Charles A. Cornell R
Morning Glory by Sarah Jio
The 12th Child by Bette Lee Crosby
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir R

Three Star Reads

Three Strikes and Your Dead by Jessica Fletcher
Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski  R
The Secret Lives of the Tsars by Michael Farquhar R

As you can see, it has been a good summer of reading and I certainly have my work cut out for me.  My first review will be of DragonFly by  Charles A. Cornell, a steampunk adventure set in WWII that I found really entertaining.  It should be on the blog in the next day or so.

Hope you all had a great summer for reading!

09 June 2014

Review: China Dolls by Lisa See

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for my review

Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count:  400 pages
List Price:  $27.00 - Hardcover
                $11.84 - Digital Edition
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Publisher: Random House

My Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

Like many readers, my introduction to author Lisa See's work was with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and like most readers, I instantly fell in love.  The book was beautifully written, the story was wonderful.  Since reading Snow Flower, I have read most of the rest of Lisa See's work, and own copies of them all.  To say that I am a fan of her work just doesn't quite say it all.

I recently read her new offering, China Dolls, and I am glad to say that I was not disappointed.  China Dolls tells the story of the rise of Asian entertainers on the nightclub circuit during the late 1930s through the mid 1940s, through the lives of  Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three separate women who were Asian entertainers during that time.  It is in the way that the lives of these three women alternately intersect and diverge that the story of what it was like to be an entertainer on the "Chop Suey Circuit" was like.

One of the things that I have always loved about Lisa See's books is the way she uses her characters as the main story-telling agent in her books.  In China Dolls, each of the three main characters represent an amalgamation of people that lived in that time in history.  Grace is a Chinese born American whose parents moved to the Midwest to raise their daughter as far from other Chinese as possible.  Helen is also an American born Chinese, but her parents are living the traditional Chinese lifestyle in  a secluded compound in San Francisco's Chinatown.  Ruby, on the other hand, is the girl who wants to be totally American in every way, using American slang and dressing American whenever she can, but who is hiding more of a secret that just her wish to be American and not Asian.  I have to say, I am continually amazed at how Lisa See is able to come up with such vibrant, realistic characters that effectively represent a section of Asian culture and history time and time again.  Her characters are so well crafted that they become very real to me, and stay with me long after I have read the book.

Another strong point of the book, and Lisa See's writing in general, is her excellent knowledge of the history and culture of the subject that she is writing about.  Her research into the subject is always spot on.  In the case of China Dolls, the main nightclub in San Francisco, The Forbidden City, really existed, showcasing first Chinese entertainers, and later Asian entertainers of all kinds well into the 1950s.  Many of the characters in the book were actual owners or entertainers at the nightclub, although in many cases she has changed their names.  Other characters are an amalgamation of several entertainers from that time.  In addition, the lives of the women outside the nightclub are spot on and truly represent what it was like to live at that time.

The only thing that felt a bit off in this book, though, was the intense level of competition between the women.  Over time, I have become used to the deep and  intense friendships between the characters in Lisa See's books.  The kind of friendships that, even during fights or disagreements, never really waver.  In this light, I was not really prepared for the amount of discord between the three main characters of this story.  At times it seemed that Grace, Helen, and Ruby were always trying to one-up each other, or in some cases, actually turn each other against the others.  As characters, they were much more manipulative and shallow than what I am used to in Lisa See's characters, and each one was a diva in her own way.  In retrospect, though, I feel that their behavior is justifiable to the story and culture that they represent.  After all, the entertainment business has always been a bit dog eat dog, and being in a section of it where the jobs were fewer and competition was higher would only highlight that type of behavior.  

Although this was not my favorite Lisa See book (that would be Shanghai Girls), that fact that I am giving a 4.5 rating to a book that is not my favorite speaks volumes.  Lisa See has yet to disappoint me, and China Dolls is no exception to that rule.  In fact, I stayed up one night until 4am to finish it, and then was disappointed because it was over and I read it so fast.  I highly recommend this book for fans of Lisa See and fans of Chinese American culture.  You will not be sorry.

Additional Note:  I was excited to find that The Forbidden City nightclub, which played a central part in this story, was actually the inspiration of the musical Flower Drum Song, which is my favorite musical of all time. 

02 June 2014

Review: Trouble in Mind: The Collected Stories, Volume 3 by Jeffery Deaver

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley

Genre: Short Story Collection
Page Count: 496 pages
List Price:  $26.00 - Hardback Edition ($16.95 at Barnes & Noble)
                $12.99 - Digital Edition  ($9.09 at Amazon)
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: March 4, 2014

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Many of you may be familiar with Jeffery Deaver through his Lincoln Rhyme or Kate Daniels books.  Although he has been on my To Read list as an author, I have yet to read any of his books, mainly because I have so many series going currently that I have been reluctant to start another one.  I found that reading this book of short stories was the perfect way for me to acquaint myself with his writing. 

As it turns out, Deaver has been writing short stories for years.  As it states in the sub-title, Trouble in Mind,  is his third published volume of short stories.  The author himself says in the Author's Note to Trouble in Mind that he began writing at age 11 with a short story (two chapters in length).  His latest effort is comprised of 12 stories, most of them in the mystery/crime genre that established readers of Deaver's books would expect.  For those of you who love his series, there are two Lincoln Rhyme stories, one Katherine Dance and one John Pellam.  Don't worry, though, if you are not familiar with the series.  I read and enjoyed all four of the stories and did not feel lost at all.  In fact, I thought they were a great way to introduce me to his series and characters.  A way to "try them on for size" you might say. The volume includes six other stories in the crime genre, all of which are excellent.

 In addition to the mystery stories there were two stories with a more sci-fi or fantasy bent.  Deaver himself calls these "genre benders" and tells us that one thing he likes about writing short stories is that they "allow an author to step out of genre more easily than novels do."  I would say he did a good job stepping out of genre, as one of these stories, "Forever" was my favorite from the whole book.

To be honest, though, I loved every one of the stories in this compilation, and cannot wait to read more by this author.  In addition, I am anxious to start at least one of his series, as the stories included here peaked my interest in them.  Since I live in Northern California, I may start with the Katherine Dance books as they take place in the local area where I live.  Whether you are a tried and true Jeffery Deaver fan, or just someone who wants to explore his work, I would recommend Trouble in Mind.   For me it was a great place to start with Jeffery Deaver's work.

21 May 2014

Review: Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Edelweiss

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Page Count: 352 pages
List Price: $26.00 Hardback
                $10.99 - $12.99 Digital Edition
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Publisher: Ballantine Books

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed Jenny Milchman's first novel, Cover of Snow, so much that it was hard to imagine how she could do any better on her second outing.  With Ruin Falls, I certainly got the answer, and it was "very well, thank you".  In fact, I thought Ruin Falls was even better than Cover of Snow.  I have to say, I really love it when I find a new author and their books get better and better, so I hope this is a trend that will continue. 

Ruin Falls is the story of Liz Daniels, who leaves her secluded home in the Adirondack Mountains to go on a family vacation for the first time in years.  When her husband, Paul, changes their plans and decides to stop at a hotel for the night, everything seems fine.  It is when Liz wakes in the morning to find her children are missing that we get a glimpse of the way Liz's life is headed.   Then when she finds out that the person who took them is someone that she thought she could trust, we really understand how badly her life is going to fall apart.  Undeterred, Liz hits the road on a journey that will hopefully allow her to find her children and bring them home safely.

As a story, Ruin Falls is all about layers.  Layers that at times make the story seem ambiguous, but in a good way.  Early in the first few chapters their are two events that clue the reader in on the fact that all is not what it seems for the Daniels family.  The first is the sheer panic that comes over Liz when the family stops for snacks at a fast food restaurant and six-year-old Reid wanders away.  As Liz and Paul search the place for him, I got the feeling that her panic was more than the norm for a mother with a missing child. Then as they get back on the road, they are accosted by a crazy pick up truck driver who seems to be having a road rage event.  I loved the sense of innuendo in these and other scenes that appeared throughout the book.  It really set the tone for me and got me thinking about just where the story was going and what was really going on, a feeling that stayed with me until the end.  In this same vein, I really enjoyed the interspersed chapters that introduced other characters that appeared to have no connection to the Daniels family.  Rather than confuse or distract me, I found myself wondering what the connection was (I was sure there was one), which in turn kept me anxiously turning the pages.  As the story progressed, and the layers were peeled away, I enjoyed watching it all come together.  

As a mom of two boys, I found myself really identifying with Liz.  Although I hope it never will, if something like this ever happened to me, I would hope that I would be just as focused and driven to find answers as she is.  Liz is by far the character that the book focuses on the most, and therefore she is the one that I felt I learned the most about.  Most of the other characters were definitely secondary, and while I would like to ave learned a bit more of some of their stories, I don't think more detail on them would have improved the story at all.  In fact, with all the layers of the story, keeping the character development rather simple really worked for me as it allowed me to stay focused on why the children were taken and how Liz was going to get them back.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars, mostly because it was a delight to read and kept me engaged from beginning to end.  I will be the first one to complain when authors muddy a story with too many devices, but for me, the layers of this story and the outlying characters only enhanced my enjoyment.  I highly recommend this book to everyone who likes a story that keeps you guessing where it is ultimately going to end up.  

14 May 2014

Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review

Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Page Count: 384
List Price:  $26.95 - Hardcover
                $11.99 - 13.99 Digital Edition
Publication Date:  April 8, 2014
Publisher: Doubleday

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The Word Exchange, the debut novel from author Alena Graedon, has been called "the dystopian novel for the digital age" and "inventive" and on some levels I agree with those descriptions.   I loved the idea of The Word Exchange, which is set in the near future and deals with the constantly forewarned death of print media.  Anana Johnson and her father Doug are working on the multi-volume third edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language when Doug goes missing one night.  As Anana searches for her father, entries in the dictionary start disappearing, and people begin to succumb to a disease that is dubbed "the word flu" and makes them talk in gibberish.  Where is Doug Johnson?  Who is behind "the word flu"?  

There were so many things that I enjoyed about The Word Exchange.  As I mentioned above, I loved the idea of the book.   More than just a book about the death of print as a medium, this book actually goes farther to imagine the death of the English language as it is today.  The allure of that premise drew me in immediately, and I felt that the basic story line held up to my expectations.  All of the elements of a good dystopian story were there.  Megacorporation Synchronic was plausible as the Big Brother figure, as was The Diachronic Society as the rebels fighting to preserve the current way of life, Anana as the plucky heroine, and Bart as her sidekick.  Even the smallest of characters, like Vera and Victoria Marks were given interesting backgrounds that drew me to them. I think my favorites, though, were Phineas with all of his quirks and idiosyncrasies, and Max.  My only detraction here was that I felt that the story went on a little bit too long. On story alone, though, I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. 

Where I felt the book lost it was in the execution.  The author uses a number of devices to illustrate the underlying philosophy of the story; that society is becoming immune to the finer points of the English language, but I felt that she tried to be too clever and that, on a whole, these devices ended up detracting from the story rather than enhancing it. The one that I felt worked the best was the way the chapters were organized by the letters of the alphabet.  The inclusion of a word and definition at the beginning of each which gave an overview of the main points of that chapter was really good.  In fact, that is  the only device that I felt really worked.  On the other hand, the author's use of obscure words unfamiliar to the average reader, while clever, was a huge detraction from the flow of the story.  I consider myself to have a good vocabulary and I ended up having to look up upwards of 50 words, so many that I actually lost count.  Eventually I began to think how lucky I was to be reading this on an e-Reader, with a dictionary definition just a touch away.  While this may have been the author's attempt to point out how easily technology can suck you in, to me it just seemed like the author was actually touting that which she was supposed to be warning against.  Another device that totally did not work for me was the actual printing the gibberish that people began to speak as "the word flu" spread.  In the beginning it was interesting, illustrating how intrusive electronic devices have become in our society.  As long as these gibberish words were kept to a minimum and it was easy to still figure out what the character actually meant to say, it was okay.  After a while, though, it got old, and was so pervasive I ended up skipping whole pages, and toward the end, one whole chapter.   While I understood that these devices were part of the plot of the book, I felt that the average reader would find them cumbersome and could find them enough of a distraction to actually give up on the book altogether. 

Taking everything into consideration, I did enjoy this story on many levels.  I can see a certain market for this book with just the right readers.  I can't see a mass appeal for it, though, and for that reason I don't feel that I can recommend it to everyone.  I will, however, recommend the book to certain  of my reading friends, but that pool is unfortunately pretty small.  I would like to see what this author could do with something a bit more mainstream.  

05 May 2014

Review: Beach Plum Island by Holly Robinson

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for my review

Genre: Contemporary/Women's Fiction
Page Count: 400 Pages
List Price: $15.00 Paperback
               $ 7.99 Digital Edition
Publication Date:  April 1, 2014
Publisher: NAL Trade

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

One of the things I like about reviewing books is finding new authors that are up to the "repeat performance" test.  Nothing is more disappointing than reading a book that you thought was great, and then the next book is a let down.  On the flip side, nothing is more enjoyable than having that second book live up to, and sometimes even surpass the first one.  Such is the case with Beach Plum Island the new book by author Holly Robinson.  For those of you who read my recent review of her first book, The Wishing Hill, you will know how excited I was to find an author in the women's fiction category that writes with compelling story lines and wonderful, complex female characters.  

Like Holly Robinson's first book, Beach Plum Island is mostly a story about family, in this case siblings.  Ava Barret is the oldest of the sisters, a potter by trade, and the divorced mother of two teenage boys.  All her life she has been the one to "take care of things".  When her father passes away from cancer, he tells he to "tell her brother the truth."  The only problem is, as far as Ava knows, she only has two sisters, Elaine, the sister she grew up with, and Gigi, her half-sister from her father's second marriage. 

Beach Plum Island is one is part mystery and one part family drama, with romance thrown in for good measure. I like the way the clues for the mystery part of the story are revealed slowly, as the story progresses, allowing the mystery to be engaging without taking over the entire plot. Unfortunately, although I enjoyed the mystery surrounding the brother, and the ensuing search for him, this part of the story had it's flaws for me.  In the beginning, it seemed like it was going to be just as complex as the rest of the story, but the conclusion of this story line seemed a bit to easy and didn't quite ring true.  To say anymore would be to include spoilers, but I would have liked this part of the story to be a bit more real. 

 It is the family drama part that Iiked the most,  and where I think Holly's writing really shines.  The relationships between the characters are both complex and flawed, as are the characters themselves.  I love that all of the characters, from the major protagonists all the way down to the character with the smallest part in the story, have demons in their lives that they are dealing with.  Not a single one of them is totally positive or negative.  At times I loved them and applauded their actions, at other times I wanted to yell at them and tell them to grow up, or think things through before acting.  Exactly the way I am with my real life siblings, which makes the story all the more enjoyable to read. 

As I read the book, I found myself turning pages, not wanting to stop reading until I found out how Ava was going to pull the family together, or how Gigi was going to fit into the family without her father around as a buffer, or even whether Elaine was going to decide that a one night stand didn't equal a relationship. This feeling lasted all of the way to the end of the book and beyond.  Although the end of the book was perfectly satisfying, I still found myself wondering what was next for the members of the family. This type of feeling is what I have come to expect from Holly's writing and I am looking forward to her next project.  It is also what makes me recommend this book to all my reading friends.  


30 April 2014

Reveiw: Previously Loved Treasures by Bette Lee Crosby

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for my review. 

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Page Count: 262 pages
Publication Date: April 7, 2014
Publisher: Bent Pine Publishing
List Price: $14.00 - Trade Paperback
               $ 5.99 Digital Edition

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Since May of 2012 I have managed to read all of Bette Lee Crosby's books except one.  Although all of them were either good or great, her latest endeavor, Previously Loved Treasures, is perhaps my favorite.  It is at least my second favorite, as I will always have a spot in my heart for Cracks in the Sidewalk.  

Previously Loved Treasures is the second book in Bette Lee Crosby's Serendipity Series.  It is the story of Ida Sweetwater, whose husband and life long love, Big Jim Sweetwater, has recently died.  Ida is left alone in their large empty house, which begins to weigh on her.  Also weighing on her is her need for an income.  At this point, Ida makes two decisions that kick off the book and set this heart-warming story in motion.  It is also the story of her granddaughter, Caroline Sweetwater, and her need to find a family and a place to belong.  

The first important decision that Ida makes is to open up her home to boarders.  This brings to the story a whole host of characters that not only enrich the story of her and Caroline, but also are interesting in their own right.  This story would be nothing without this ragtag bunch of misfits and their interesting individual stories.  In fact, you could actually say that each of these characters are previously "unloved" treasures that somehow find a home and a reason to be with the help of Ida and Caroline.   I especially enjoyed the way that Bette allowed many of them a chapter told in their own words, interspersed among the regular chapters.  Along with filling in details of the main story, these chapters really helped me get inside the minds of these characters.  This lead to a greater understanding of their motives and thinking, and therefore, to a more enjoyable read. 

The second important decision is Ida's search for her long lost son, James, which ultimately brings her in contact with her granddaughter, Caroline.  It is quickly apparent that Caroline is going to become the catalyst for the story that Previously Loved Treasures is trying to tell.  It is Ida and Caroline's basic kindness that draw the characters in the story to them, and ultimately,allow those characters to repay them many times over with their love. 

And of course the story would be nothing without the Previously Loved Treasures second hand store and its charming proprietor, Peter Pennington.  Peter is a bit of a mystery as a character, as is his ability to always know exactly what someone is looking for.  

As for this being the second book in a "series", the connection between it, and the first book The Twelfth Child, although important to the outcome of the story, is not so ingrained in this story as to make it impossible to read one without the other.  In fact, both stories stand on their own perfectly, and I felt this one was far and away the best of the two.  I was so engrossed in the story from the beginning, that I was basically able to read this book in one sitting,  

Although I would recommend  any and all of Bette Lee Crosby's work to everyone, this book would be close to the top of the list.  Bette has a charming way of telling a story that both delights and engages.  I am anxiously looking forward to reading the last book of hers that is sitting on my shelf, and to seeing what her next endeavor is.  

09 April 2014

Review: Blood Orchids by Toby Neal

A copy of this book was provided by the author through the Sisterhood of the Traveling Book in exchange for my review. 

Genre: Mystery/thriller
Page Count: 314 pages
List Price: $9.99 Paperback
                 $ 3.99 Digital Edition
Publication Date: December 2, 2011
Publisher: Toby Neal

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars. 

Blood Orchids is the debut thriller from author Toby Neal.  The setting is Hawaii, where Lei Texiera is a police officer with the Hilo, Hawaii police force and who happens to be on call when the bodies of two young women are found raped and murdered.  As the investigation into the crime continues, Lei is thrown back into her own troubled past.  To make matters worse, it appears that she has attracted a stalker.

Lei Texiera is the best kind of central character, one that is complex and multi-layered, and throughout the book Toby Neal does an excellent job of putting us inside her head.  On the surface, she is a bold, brash, cop who is always in control.  Underneath, though is another person altogether.  One that has survived a lot, and still bears the scars.  This is what really made the book stand out for me.  I  was fascinated and engaged in learning about what made Lei into the person she was at this point in her life.  Even more, I was interested in which road she would take from here.  Would she rise above her past, or sink below it and continue to live a life destined to lead to self-destruction.  What is even better, is that this question is not answered in just one book, leaving me wanting more and looking forward to the next book in the series.

The mystery in the book is well crafted, also.  As the story unfolds, Toby Neal presents many possible scenarios for who is behind the rapes and murders and for the who and why of Lei's stalker.   Ultimately I learned to suspect everyone, whether they seemed to be on the level or not, and to question whether the stalking was related to the investigation.  These questions and the sheer number of theories I could formulate kept me turning the pages.  Then, just when I thought the story was over and the questions had been answered, Toby Neal threw in a few more curves that really made the ending to the story stand out.  Couple this with the questions regarding where the main characters were headed in the future have me anticipation the rest of the series.

This book was a win for me.  The mystery was top-notch and fast paced, although it was almost a back story to Lei's for me.  Lei's story, however, was compelling with just enough questions answered to satisfy me, but just enough left hanging to make me want to read more.  In addition, Toby Neal's depiction of the culture of Hilo was spot on, all the way down to her use of Hawaiian pidgin.  I would highly recommend this book to mystery readers, especially if you like exotic locations or strong character back stories.  

03 April 2014

Review: The Candidate: A Luxembourg Thriller by Daniel Pembrey

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review. 

Genre:  Techno thriller
Page Count: 159 pages
This Title is available only from Amazon Kindle:  Price is $1.99
Publication Date: December 9, 2013
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I don't usually read and review books that are not widely available, but the synopsis for  The Candidate by Daniel Pembrey sounded interesting.  I admit, when I decided to read and review it, I did not realize that it was only available in digital format, and then only from Amazon.  Regardless of that, if you are a fan of the techno-thriller or stories about corporate espionage, or just espionage in general, it is worth checking out.

Nick Thorneycroft is a headhunter for a tech company who has asked him to recruit a new employee to be a top executive for the Russian arm of their business.  The candidate that he selects is a beautiful woman who appears to have all of the right qualifications.  But are things really what they seem to be?  In The Candidate Daniel Pembrey crafts a fast paced story with interesting characters and some good twists and turns.  I really got involved in the story quickly, and remained engaged until the end.  I also enjoyed the fact that the main character for the story was a headhunter for a multi-national company, which I thought was a fresh idea that I hadn't run across in other books. The biggest problem with the story, and the reason for the 3 stars, was the lack of depth.  Mostly this was due to the fact that this is a novella, which do not lend themselves to complex plot or character development.   I thought, though, that this story would have stood up to, and even benefited from, more development of both the plot and the characters.  I wished it was a full length novel and not a novella, and would love to see this author write something that was more complex.  

21 March 2014

Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Review: True Love by Jude Deveraux

The publisher will be giving away three copies of True Love.  If you would like to win a copy of this excellent romantic story, please leave a comment to that effect below.  Good luck and happy reading!

The review copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for a review

Genre: Romance
Page Count: 446 pages
List Price: $27.00 Hardback
                $ 10.99 Digital 
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: July 9, 2013

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars. 

True Love is the first book in Jude Deveraux's Nantucket Bride trilogy, and if it is any indication of what is to come, I know I will be reading the other two books in the trilogy.  In fact, as I read this book, I thought it would be perfect for a series or trilogy, and I have already picked out which couples I hope the other books are about.  Truthfully, I think that there is enough here to support more than just a trilogy.  

The book takes place on Nantucket Island, which is interesting enough in itself.  I loved the way the Jude Deveraux described the history, geography, sights, and people of Nantucket Island.  I hope to visit there one day, and her descriptions only fueled that fire.  In addition, a place with all the tradition and history of Nantucket is certainly a good backdrop for a romance story.  Add to this a love story which includes not only the two characters who are falling in love, but a 200-year-old mystery complete with a ghost who has been around since the mystery started, all of which is blended together to make a truly interesting read. 

The characters in this book were easy to become involved with.  I could truly feel the love and attraction between the main characters, Alix and Jared, and loved the instant connection they developed.  A number of the supporting characters also caught my interest.  I think my favorite by far was Alix's mother, Victoria. Being a famous author allowed her to get away with quite a bit, but I loved the way that Jude Deveraux let you see inside the character.  The fact that she was willing to look and act like a diva to actually benefit others was an interesting insight. As I said above, there were several of the supporting characters that I would love to read more about.  And not just about their romantic lives, but about what makes them who they are.  I hope that Victoria, Caleb, Ken, Jilly, Roger,  Lexie, Toby and others show up in future books.  As I said, it seems to me that there is more here than just what will fit in a trilogy, and I could happily read about the Kingsleys and Montgomerys for a while. 

The bottom line is that this book is a win for me, and that I am looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy, or as far as Jude Deveraux goes with these characters.  While I am no stranger to Jude Deveraux's books, it has been quite a few years since I have read one, but this book reminded me of why I used to enjoy them so much.  

18 March 2014

Monday's Review: The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Edelwiess in exchange for my review. 

Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 305 page
List Price:  $25.95 Hardback
                $10.99 Digital
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Doubleday 

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Kate Alcott's second historical novel, The Daring Ladies of Lowell is set in the town of Lowell, Massachusetts during the 1830s.  Lowell is one of the East Coast towns that were famous for the cloth mills that populated the area and were infamous for their "sweatshop" conditions.  Alice Barrow is a farm girl who travels to Lowell to begin work in the mill.  Once she has found a dormitory with an extra space, she settles in and begins her career as one of the "mill girls".

There were several things that I enjoyed about this book.  First of all, I enjoyed the mix of characters included in the cast of mill girls.  Kate Alcott did a good job of including characters whose personalities were as varied as the girls themselves were.   Among Alice's friends and dormitory sisters we find the religious, the studious, the goody two shoes, the adventurous, and those that just wanted to have a little fun.  Another way that Kate Alcott's portrayal of the mill girls was spot on was in the way that she portrayed the juxtapositions of their lives.  Although the living and working conditions are harsh, they are much better than those that most of these girls came from, mostly because for the first time in their lives, they are able to make decisions for themselves, at least on some level.  I thought that the way the allure of their lives was contrasted with it's bleak realities was quite well done.

Another aspect of this book that worked for me was in the portrayal of the mill owner, Hiram Fiske.  Like so many of the men in his position, Hiram was a mix of characteristics.  Although he was getting rich off of the backs of the mill girls, at times he was honestly able to convince himself that he was making their lives better.  And just when he was about to convince you that he could do the right thing, his greed would rear its ugly head and he would become a man whose only purpose in life was to make his business more profitable than his competitors, no matter who was hurt in the process.

Another great plus to this book was the fact that the murder and subsequent trial that were interwoven through the story were based on an actual event.  I always love when a historical book uses actual events to tell a fictional story.  It not only shows that the author did some research on the subject, but for me it makes the story have more impact.  In the case of this story, also, the murder and trial were the perfect devices to illustrate the realities of  the lives of the characters.  Not only were we able to see how the mill girls would eventually band together for their joint benefit, but using the trial to showcase the thinking of the mill owners at that time was wonderful.

What didn't work for me, though, was the romance side of the story.  I will  be the first to admit that I don't mind a little romance with my history, but in this case, the romance presented just did not ring true. A romance between the mill owner's son and one of the mill girls was just too fanciful for me and took away from the realistic feeling of the rest of the book.  I would have found it much less distracting if the romance would have developed between Alice and the town doctor, or someone who lived in Lowell, but wasn't a mill worker. In fact, I would much rather have had more of the story about the mill girls, their lives,  and their working conditions.  Alternately, I would have been happier if more of the story would have been centered on the mill owners and their justifications for their behavior, or about the murder and trial.

Having read a few other books that were similar in character to this, I found the underlying story was good, but could have gone farther.  However, I would still recommend this book for those who are interested in reading about the women and girls who worked in the mills, especially if you like a bit of romance with your history.  

11 March 2014

Friday's Reveiw: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

This book was provided by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for my review

Genre:  Thriller
Page Count: 336
List Price:  $25.95 Print
                   $10.99 Digital 
Publication Date:  February 11, 2014
Publisher:  Doubleday

My Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

One of the best things about writing reviews for book and blogging is that you come across wonderful new authors that you have not read before.  Established author Jennifer McMahon is a perfect example.  Although The Winter People is her 7th novel, it is my first by here and I am so excited to find a new author to read.

One day  19-year-old Ruthie awakens to find her mother has disappeared.  Ruthie lives in an old farmhouse in West Hall, Vermont with her mother Alice and her sister Fawn.  The same farmhouse where Sarah Harrison Shea lived in the early 1900s with her husband and daughter Gertie.  The same farmhouse  where Sarah was found dead just weeks after Gertie is killed in a tragic way.   

The book begins in 1908 when Sarah sees her first "sleepeer" (a person who has died and is temporarily brought back to life).  It continues through her diary which tells about her life, Gertie's death, and the aftermath.  Alternate chapters tell the story of Ruthie and her sister, and the search for their missing mother.  Telling the stories by alternating them can be confusing at times, but it this case Jennifer McMahon does an excellent job of weaving the two stories together seamlessly.   The excellent narrative hooked me from the beginning and my curiosity to see what would happen next kept me going.   

Although it was not apparent how the two stories connected in the beginning, this was not a problem at all.  Each story was compelling and filled with just the right amount of suspense.  In addition, the characters in the story were easy for me to become invested in, which also pulled me in quickly.  In addition to the main characters, there were several other characters who caught my interest, including Sarah's magical "Auntie" and the wife of a photographer who disappeared while researching Sarah's life.  Add to all this the inclusion of the ghostly as well as other supernatural elements that took the story to a seriously creepy level.  You know, the feeling you get when someone tells a really great ghost story after dark in the summer.  It certainly made me shiver several times, and not just because the story took place during a snow storm.  

As I said above, this is the first of Jennifer McMahon's books that I have read.  What I didn't say is that I have several others that I have never gotten a chance to read.  That will be remedied soon.  If you have never read anything by Jennifer McMahon, I recommend that you seek out her work, and The Winter People is a great place to start.  I am anticipating that the rest of her books are filled with the same excellent narrative, characters, and other elements as this one. 

04 March 2014

Monday's Review: The Wishing Hill by Holly Robinson

This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Chick-lit
Page Count: 400
List Price:  $15.00 Print          
                $7.99 Digital
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: NAL

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Contemporary Fiction is such a broad category that to label the book as such is really not telling the reader anything.  On the other hand, I am always a bit leery of labeling a book as Chick-Lit because I think that many readers make assumptions about the book based solely on that.  In fact, I used to think that I was not a big fan of "chick-lit" but as I have read more and more books in this genre I realized that I do like chick-lit, but that I am just picky about the books I read.  I find that if the characters have something other than the run of the mill personality or back story.  I am more likely to enjoy the book.  Likewise, if the plot is varied and the issues presented unique in some way, I am more likely to enjoy the book.  The Wishing Hill by Holly Robinson fits both of these criteria for me.

The main characters in The Wishing Hill are three women whose lives are linked together in an unbreakable way, although we may not understand what that is at the beginning of the book.  Juliet is a women coming up on middle age who finds herself suddenly on her own.  Her husband has left her and the bohemian lifestyle they were living, leaving her surprised and wondering where her life is leading now.  On top of it all, she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant after years of thinking that she is infertile.  Desiree is Juliet's mother, an aging actress who is used to being the center of attention and afraid that life is passing her by.  Claire, Desiree's neighbor, is a single woman in her 60s who has never married, but still is in love with the married man who she had an affair with in her early twenties.  All of them are strong women in their own way.  Even the male characters in this book were unique.  In fact, I would love to read a book where any one of the male characters were the main focus, that is how interesting they seemed to be. From Will, Juliet's staid, middle class brother, all the way to the divorced contractor working on Juliet and Desiree's house.

The storyline of The Wishing Hill did not disappoint, either.  It is more than just the a story of three women with intertwining lives.  Although the main focus of the book is on how the three women's lives intersect, we are also treated to their separate stories, which I found very interesting.  As with the male characters, I think that any one of these stories could have sustained a book all on their own.  You might think that having all of the stories in one novel would be confusing, but Holly Robinson uses different points of view and travel between locations to weave them together until they make one seamless story.

Holly Robinson's insights and superb writing talent made this book a joy to read and one that I would easily recommend to my friends, or even buy for someone.  As for me, I am looking forward to other novels by Holly and hope to read much more by her.

28 February 2014

Friday's Review: Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

This book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review

Genre:  Historical Fiction
Page Count:  352 pages
List Price:  $26.00 Hardback
                $15.00 Paperback
                $12.99 Digital                
Publication Date:  September 10, 2013
Publisher:  Ballantine Books

My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Early in my reading career, I read two books which started my fascination with other cultures, Hawaii by James Michener, and  James Clavell's Shogun.  My first real book about Asian culture in the US was Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club and since then I have been fascinated by Asian culture reading several books by Gail Tsukiyama, Lisa See, Amy Tan, and others.  I am happy to say that Jamie Ford's second novel, Songs of Willow Frost is another book that I can add to the list.

Songs of Willow Frost is the poignant story of 12 year-old orphan William Eng and the beautiful Asian actress, Willow Frost.  While on a field trip to the theater from the orphanage where he lives, William is surprised to recognize the famous actress.  You see, William knew her when she was just an Asian beauty living in Seattle's Chinatown and going by the name of Lui Song.  William becomes convinced that he has to meet Willow, to see if she still recognizes him.  When she does, both Willow and William are thrust back into the stories of their past.

This book worked for me on several levels.  The story flowed well, keeping me interested in the pages to come.  Although I liked the part when William was in the orphanage, and I liked this relationship with Charlotte, by far my favorite part of the book was when Willow was telling the story about her life as Lui Song.  I thought that her story painted a really good picture of what life would have been like for someone in her position, containing just the right amount of sorrow and depression without being too negative.  In addition, I liked the way that her story highlighted the prejudices of the time period, and the strictness of the Asian culture.

One of the things that especially spoke to me was the way that William ended up in the orphanage.  This book takes place during a time period when many families could not support themselves and resorted to leaving their children in an orphanage.  My own grandmother and her brothers and sisters were dropped at an orphanage for that reason.  Things were different then, and for some families, this is the only way that they could cope.  For that reason, I really appreciated the way that the orphanage in this book was portrayed, and the decisions that Willow had to make regarding William and what was best for both of them.  Although the ending of the book was a bit ambiguous, given the history of the time and the culture that William and Willow belonged to, I thought that it fit the story.

A lot of people have said that, although they liked this book, it was not as good and Jamie Ford's debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  I, myself, have not read that book, so I cannot speak to how this one stacks up, but for me, this book was a beautifully written and wonderful trip into a time and culture that I can only read about.  For that reason, I give it 4 stars and would recommend it as a must read book.


25 February 2014

Monday's Review: The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams

This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Page Count: 352 Pages
List Price:  $14.99 Print          
                $10.99 Digital
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Publisher:  Bourbon Street Books

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Some of the best mystery/thrillers that I have read have belonged to the genre of "psychological thriller", so when I read the synopsis for Charlotte Williams' debut novel, The House on the Cliff,  I was immediately intrigued.  Therapist Jessica Mayhew has just met her new client, the brooding Gwydion Morgan.  As an aspiring actor, Gwydion has just been offered the role of a lifetime, but he suffers from an unlikely phobia that could end his ability to handle the part.  As Jessica tries to help him overcome the phobia, she becomes aware of another problem that threatens not only Gwydion, but her life as well.

If I had to categorize The House on the Cliff, I would have a hard time choosing the type of thriller it is. There were definitely elements of the psychological thriller in the book, but at times it almost had a "Gothic" feel to it.  You have a young women hired to help a brooding, dark man under whose spell she increasingly falls, a domineering mother, a forbidding house on windswept cliff above the sea, and a decades old unsolved death.  At times it reminded me of the books of either Victoria Holt or Georgette Heyer, only this one was set in the current time period.  In fact, I thought the book worked much more as a Gothic than as a psychological thriller.  I loved that the author included the uniquely Welsh spelling of the names, also.  It gave the book a more real feel to me.  And although I was able to figure out the ultimate resolution to the murder early on, in a Gothic story that is not necessarily a drawback.

There were a few things, though, that kept the book from being a 4 or 5 star read for me.  For one thing, the original phobia that Gwydion is trying to overcome has really nothing to do with the rest of the book.  After using it to introduce the main two characters, the author lets it fall in the cracks.   Unfortunately for me, I found myself wondering why the phobia developed and whether it could have played a more integral part of the story.  There were a couple of other plot disconnects similar to that that I found myself wondering about and wishing were either left out of the story altogether, or were integrated in the story more successfully.

All in all, I enjoyed this debut novel.  I believe Charlotte Williams definitely has a future as an author of thrillers, and look forward to reading more from her in the future.

21 February 2014

Friday's Review: The King's Hounds by Martin Jensen.

This book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review

Genre: Historical Mystery
Page Count: 272
List Price:  $14.95 Paperback
                 $9.99 Digital Edition
                 $4.99 Kindle
Publication Date:  October 29, 2013
Publisher: Amazon Crossing

My Rating:  3.5 of 5 stars

As a person who really enjoys both mysteries and historical fiction, historical mysteries are often fun reads for me.  The recent translation of Danish author Martin Jensen's book The King's Hounds was just that type of book.  The story is set in 1018, the time when the Danish King Cnut has conquered England and is busy trying to get all of the factions under his control to coalesce into a single unified country.  Unfortunately for him, a South Saxon who is known to be Cnut's enemy is found murdered.  Enter Winston, ex-monk and highly regarded Saxon illuminator, and Halfdan, a Danish ex-noble, exactly the combination  King Cnut needs in order to solve the crime without raising complaints of favoritism.
The story of Winston and Halfdan, and their quest to solve the murder of Oxfrid works on many levels.  Like all good mysteries of this type, we are presented with a dead body who in life had enough enemies to present us with a long list of possible suspects. In addition, the crime solvers are an unlikely pair of contrasting characters.  Not only do they represent opposite sides of the current political scene, thus giving the aura of objectivity, but they also represent very different styles of solving a puzzle.  While Winston's approach keys on observation and deduction, Halfdan is more outgoing and able to get people to talk to him.   Jensen's historical representation of the time is also spot on.  Through the inclusion of real historical figures, events and terms, and his accurate description of life in 1018 England, we get a glimpse of life during a time that is not widely covered in historical fiction. Add to all that the excellent translation from Danish which allows the story to flow seemlessly in English, and it all comes together as a definite win.

Although I would not put this story in the "earth shattering" category, I would recommend it to those of you who enjoy a good mystery , especially those that like their mystery with a bit of history included.  As for me, I am looking forward to reading The Oathbreaker, the second book of the series, and sincerely hope that there are plans to translate even more of them to English.  For one thing, I am anxious to see how the relationship between Winston and Halfdan develops as I think there is a lot of room for growth there.  

18 February 2014

Monday's Review: How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

This book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Page Count:  287 pages
List Price: $24.99 Hardcover
               $11.99 Digital Edition
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Emma Chapman's debut novel "How to be a Good Wife"  is a well written, compelling read with many layers, all of which revolve around the main character, Marta.  Marta has been married to Hector for a long time.  In fact, all of her adult life has been spent catering to him, their marriage, and their son Kylan.  Now with Hector becoming distant and Kylan living in the city with his girlfriend, she has a lot of time on her own.  But time on her own is not what Marta wants or needs.

As the book unfolds, the author reveals more and more about Marta, and what we learn, or do not learn as the case may be, is what made Marta's story such a compelling read for me.   On first impression, Marta's life seems to be comfortable and mundane.  She has reached middle age, raised her son, taken care of her husband.  On closer examination, though, there are gaps and inconsistencies.  Why does she keep finding cigarettes in her pocket with memory of smoking them?  What is the medication that she has stopped taking?  Before long Marta's story peels off into a couple of directions with no real explanation of what is fact and what is fiction.  These different aspects of her story continue all the way to the conclusion of the story which I did not see coming at all.

All of this ambiguity in the story may set some readers on edge, but I found it interesting and thought provoking.  I also found the ambiguity to be a great discussion point among readers.  In fact, when discussing this book with others, I was extremely interested to see how many different ways to interpret the story people were able to find.  All that discussion and differing viewpoints only enriched the story for me, enough so that I wasn't upset that the author ended the story without answering the most important questions posed throughout.  That is not to say that I didn't find the ending disappointing, but my disappointment was in Marta and her choices, not with the story or the author.

I would definitely recommend this book as a thought provoking read, with one caveat.  Keep an open mind as you read it and wait until you are finished to draw any conclusions.  Then discuss away with others and see what conclusions they came to and how they arrived at them.  I guarantee the discussion will be lively.

11 February 2014

Monday's Review: Pecan Pie and Deadly Lies by Nancy Naigle

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for my review

Genre: Romance/Mystery
Page Count: 290
List Price:  $12.95 Paperback
                $ 4.99  Digital Copy (Amazon only)
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Publication Date: September 24, 2013

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Caveat:  This book is a sequel to Out of Focus and is better if read in order.  

I have been hooked on Nancy Naigle's Adams Grove series of novels since the first book, Sweet Tea and Secrets.  Her current entry to the series, Pecan Pie and Deadly Lies is perhaps my favorite one of the bunch. As the first  three books in the Adam's Grove series, Pecan Pie and Deadly Lies is a love story with a mystery throw in, a genre which Nancy Naigle is a master at.  

As Pecan Pie opens, photographer Kasey Phillips is living on her farm outside of Adams Grove.  She is still a photographer, still raising her son, and still best friends with the local Sheriff, when Country superstar Cody Tuggle calls to ask if he and "the boys" can stay at her place for a few days during a break in their current tour.  Once there, he and Kasey rekindle the feelings that were unresolved at the end of Out of Focus, while Kasey was traveling with Cody to work on a book of photographs about his tour. While there, someone murders Cody's agent and makes sure that the evidence points directly to Cody.  Cody heads home to Oklahoma to sort things out, taking Kasey and her son Jake with him.  

I have read all four of the Adams Groves novels, and while I liked them all, I think my favorite so far is Pecan Pie and Deadly Lies.  What makes this my favorite is a couple of things.  First, it brings back two of my favorite main characters from the second book, Kasey and Cody.  Secondly, in this book, as in the first Kasey and Cody book, the balance between the mystery story line and the romance story line was perfect.  This is a skill that Nancy Naigle has perfected as the Adams Grove series has progressed.  

As with the other books from Adams Grove, this story was also peppered with an excellent cast of supporting characters.  Nancy is a master at developing characters, giving them personality traits and behaviors that make them very real, and at integrating them into the story in a way that makes them integral to the story.  I became especially fond of Cody's mother, Denise. I also really like the way that Nancy takes supporting characters from her books and makes them the main characters in further editions in the series.  I can think of several characters in this book that I would like to see that happen to.  

All in all, I would class this book as another enjoyable read from Nancy Naigle and a must read for those who love the combination of romance and light mystery.  If you haven't yet read any of the Adam's Grove novels, I would recommend them all.  I hope that Nancy Naigle has many more Adams Grove books up here sleeve.  I know she has a least one more, Mint Julep and Justice, which I will be reading soon and reviewing.  

26 January 2014

Monday's Review: Quiet Dell by Jayne Ann Phillips

A copy of this book was provided by the Publisher through Netgalley in Exchange for my Review

Genre: True Crime
Page Count: 465
List Price:  Hardback - $28.00
                Paperback -  $14.00
                Digital - $14.99 (B&N), $11.99 (Amazon)
Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Publisher: Schribner

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Quiet Dell is a novel based on a series of actual murders committed in the 1930s by a man calling himself Harry Powers.  He does this by preying on widows who are writing to him via the Lonely Hearts Club, looking for someone to talk to and a bit of companionship.  In the blurb at the beginning Jayne Anne Phillips states that in her youth she was driven by the scene of the murders and the impression that left has haunted her, eventually compelling her to write this novel.

Not being familiar with the work of Jayne Anne Phillips, (this is the first novel by the author that I have read) I was not sure what to expect.  The hook for me, then, was that the basis of this book was a real crime.   Since reading In Cold Blood in high school, I have been fascinated by real crime stories, whether they be fictional representations or non-fiction accounts.  In the case of Quiet Dell, the first few chapters definitely lived up to my expectations.  This section of the book depicts the story of Ana Eicher, a widow with three children, who has no skills and no way to make a living now that her husband has died.  The author describes the current life of Ana and her children with heart-breaking clarity and emotion.  I was definitely immersed in their story quickly.

In fact, I would give a 4 star rating to the beginning of the book, all the way to the part where the murders are discovered.  At this point, the author introduces her first fictional characters, a female journalist by the name of Emily Thornhill and a photographer by the name of Eric Lindstrom, who are covering the story for the Chicago Tribune. This is where the books falls apart for me.  It's not that Emily and Eric are not solid characters.  I actually liked the way that the author used Emily's compulsion to find out the truth about Harry Powers as a catalyst to take the reader through the investigation of his life.  It is Emily's romantic involvement with banker William O'Malley that I felt was not only unnecessary to the story, but actually a distraction from the investigation into the murders that should have made up the rest of the book.  For me this error was compounded by two other items that author chose to include in the latter part of the book.  These were the use of the youngest Eicher child, Anabelle, as a "supernatural" character (Think Susie in The Lovely Bones), and the inclusion of the "orphan" story.  Neither of these devices did anything to enhance the basic story line, in my opinion.

To sum it up, I copy a quote that I saw on  Amazon which is purported to be from People Magazine.  It says, "Think In Cold Blood meets The Lovely Bones, but sexier."  To me, that sums it up pretty well. Unfortunately, I would have liked a bit more of the In Cold Blood part and a lot less of the The Lovely Bones and sexy parts.

As I said above, I am not familiar with Jayne Anne Phillips other work, but I have heard that this is not her usual fare.  For that reason, and the fact that parts of this book were very well written, I plan to try one of the author's other books in the future.