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Review: The Sinister Superyacht

I enjoyed the first book in Ana T. Drew’s collection (The Murderous Macaron) and decided to give book three a try. I’m glad I did.

Pastry chef turned sleuth Julie remains witty and fun, delighting the reader with quotes like “Because, as humans, when there is nothing we want, it’s a tried and tested sign we’re dead.” Plus, her adventures as a temp crew member aboard a lavish yacht make for an enjoyable armchair adventure.

I have a fondness for those who bend (and even twist) the rules of any genre, so I was happy not to see the requisite dead body show up by page five. In fact, I had a fine time reading about life on the yacht before the murder. However, even I began to get antsy when 30% into my kindle copy everyone remained alive and healthy. (Fear not, murder does happen soon after.)

Author Drew does something else unusual in this series. She blends (no — she lightly feathers in) a subplot involving a past tragedy and possible psychic powers. In the first book, it seemed at odds with the light tone of the rest of her story, like chili powder in an orange chiffon cake. ( I like them both, just not together.) There is a second book in this series which I missed and I’ve discovered that some of the backstory behind this “chili powder” has been revealed in book two. That’s good to know.

Perhaps because I’ve encountered it before, however, sleuth Julie’s mental snapshots now seem more like chili powder in a chocolate cake — still odd but less unappealing. Perhaps this incongruous mix is growing on me.

I’ve already recommended Drew’s first book to others, and I’ll do the same with this one. I’ll probably pick up her second book and read it as well, just for fun. And honestly, no matter what one says in a review, there is no more sincere compliment than that.

(Read my review of The Murderous Macaron. For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Sinister Superyacht.)

Review: The Code

The Code is based on the slick premise that two fictitious characters are allegedly telling the “true story” of how each of them created a celebrity.

Although I struggled with the initial concept of an unknown professor appearing sexy for no particular reason when seen on film, I squelched my inner cynic and read on. I’m glad I did as there is much I appreciated about this novel. Compelling writing. Exquisite details about the world of celebrities and those who make them. And most impressive of all, an excellent if unforgiving look at our culture.

One of many great quotes:

“Why do your powerful, rich friends want to know me? They already have everything.”

“They have everything but they never have enough. They’re addicted to novelty and the fulfillment of new dreams. You’re the new flavor.”

I also particularly liked Jessica, Albert’s pretension-adverse wife. She plays a fine foil to his growing immersion in his new life and her drab academic research into André Breton’s novel Nadja makes for an almost eerie comparison to Albert’s growing status as a star. 

There were things I liked less, however. I hoped the story would really be told through the eyes of the agents, at least mostly, but it isn’t even close. Although Albert’s agent Jack is involved from the beginning of his tale, most of the telling is done from Albert’s point of view, often involving his thoughts or scenes Jack knows nothing about.  Memphis, on the other hand, doesn’t even meet his agent Marcellus Moses till the second half of the book, making the premise even more flimsy with him. I suppose the reader is supposed to believe these two agents somehow know everything, including their creation’s inner monologues, but my ability to suspend disbelief wouldn’t stretch that far.

I found the brutality of the prison scenes difficult to read. I didn’t expect them and might have passed on the book altogether if I’d known. While I agree some of it was necessary to the story, I think even those with more of a stomach for such things would probably have appreciated it if the author had dialed it back a bit.

Like other novels with fascinating premises, the story is difficult to conclude and the only real option is for it to end as a tragedy. The author finds an interesting and unexpected way to do this, though, and it is one that ties everything together and states her thesis one more time. It works.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Code.

Review: A Shot of Murder

I’m a longtime fan of crime novels and continue to be amazed at the creative ways authors find to put their protagonists into murder investigations. One of the most compelling has got to be having a family member involved and author Brenda Gayle plays this approach like a fine violin.

I appreciate a novel of any genre that also manages to capture a piece of history, and A Shot of Murder does just that with its interesting view of the soldiers of WWII returning home. Both the soldiers’ trauma and the required adjustments of the women who’ve held down the fort in their absence are examined with sensitivity.

And, I’m also a sucker for stories involving women who just want a chance to use their talents and pursue their dreams. So clearly A Shot of Murder was tailor-made for me.

All in all, it is an enjoyable and easy to read book. The writing is smooth and the pace is quick. Too often I get annoyed at amateur sleuths who come across as annoying busybodies but Charley is both likable and competent as a trained investigative reporter. I enjoyed walking in her shoes and I won’t hesitate to read more books in this series.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see A Shot of Murder.

I chose this book to review because crime novels are my other favorite genre (along with speculative fiction of all sorts.) Someday I hope to write a crime novel.

Review: The Foes Between Us

The Foes Between Us is a delightful book with a fine mix of history and fantasy. Much of it revolves around an outdoor-loving young English woman who is poorly-suited to the constraints of her society. The author has added a few twists to the restrictions placed on women in the 1840’s, including a brilliant device wherein women are literally sewn into their dresses and bloomers to keep them chaste.

The well-drawn characters in this story pull in the reader while an engaging plot that is part treasure hunt and part murder mystery keeps the pages turning. Eventually, a wizard/victim of religious intolerance from three-hundred years earlier joins the story, providing extra dollops of magic to what has only been hinted at before. Much of this tale concerns the social injustices of both time periods, but more than enough parallels to our own time keep the observations relevant.

Author Robison has a far-better-than-average way with words. Deft bits of description pepper sentences driven by high-energy verbs. The story is told in a first-person present-tense voice that adds a sense of urgency to each sentence. I liked the pace at which the plot moves, but have to admit at times her way of telling it wore me out. The occasional inner monologue provides humor and I appreciated those little breaks from the pounding activity.

I recommend this book to those who like historical fiction and to those who enjoy female protagonists with a mind of their own, ones who don’t spend the entire novel lusting after some man. I recommend it to those who enjoy reading about magic, or those who enjoy fantasy.  In fact, I recommend this novel to people who simply enjoy a good book.

If more than one of these applies to you, you need to check out this story.

I reviewed this book because I enjoy writing and reading historical fantasy. For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Foes Between Us

 

 

The 10-year-old inside me reviews The Ghost of Walhachin

When I started reading The Ghost of Walhachin, I realized I was the wrong person to review this book. I’d agreed to the review because I like historical fantasy and I have a real fondness for gentle ghost stories. I thought it was YA. However, this was a middle-grade book and I soon grew critical of its simple plot and rolled my eyes at the story’s overly-large need to suspend disbelief.

So I reconsidered my approach. This book isn’t written for people like me, I thought. Its intended audience is youngsters who have better imaginations than mine. So, in fairness to the author and to the book’s potential readers, I asked the ten-year-old who still lives inside my head to review the book instead. I’ll be honest. Some of her observations surprised me. Here’s what she thought.

A Review by the 10-year-old in my Head

I liked this book. I liked the ghost because he wasn’t scary or mean, just the ghost of a kid trying to get home. I also liked that he was green and green is my favorite color. I liked the part about how he got sent to this town by his mom way back in 1912 but when nobody was there to meet him he died because he ate a bad sandwich on the way.

I liked the history part, and I liked how in the present day they were looking for something lost long ago. It was like a treasure hunt but not for a treasure.

But, I got kind of confused about how this kid from today could travel back in time just because of the ghost’s memories. Like, was he really back there or not? It seemed to me like he was just inside the ghost’s head but I guess he wasn’t because he worried so much about changing the past and he had to really be there to do that. Didn’t he?  But then I didn’t understand how a ghost can turn into a time machine for a real person.

The biggest thing I didn’t like was that there were no girls in the story. I mean most stories are about boys, or at least most of the good ones are, but usually, they have a sister or friend or something who gets to be part of the adventure too only this one didn’t have that so I felt kind of left out. I also didn’t like how so much of the book was about snakes and especially about snakes eating things.

I really liked the ending but I won’t tell you why because I don’t want to give it away. I think you should read the book for yourself. But I will tell you that the best part of it is about how people can be friends and help each other.

For more about this book and the blog tour this review was part of, see The Ghost of Walhachin.

 

 

Review: A Very Witchy Yuletide

I chose to read A Very Witchy Yuletide because it offered me a chance to learn about modern pagan celebrations and the chance to experience the point of view of a legally blind main character. These two potential windows into other worlds overrode my promise to stop reviewing romance novels because I find them too predictable.

First: the paganism. I’m fascinated by any religion I know little about and I thank the author for her excellent job of introducing the beliefs, customs, and problems of pagans in 2020. The first two were cleverly interwoven into the plot, never leaving me feeling as if information had been dumped upon me. The third, involving persecution of pagans in today’s society, was done with gentleness, showing the tolerant as well as the extremists from mainstream society. For those who claim to be open-minded, or at least fans of freedom of religion, this book is food for thought about the deep-seated biases that still exist against older religions.

Second: the visually impaired main character. The author says she lives with much the same situation as her protagonist, so clearly she writes from a well-informed and a sympathetic point of view. I, however, know far less and was confused when the main character could read a menu by holding it very close, or pick out the shape of a clock hanging over a door. Obviously I know little about the range of impairment included in legal blindness. So although I was inspired by Evergreen overcoming her physical challenges, I was also surprised by how little her situation seemed to impact her or her story. Perhaps that is the point?

Third: the romance. So, most romance novels make me want to scream. Not frustrated obscenities or anything, but something very specific. “Why don’t you two people just talk to each other!” In fairness, everything I’ve ever read by Shakespeare makes me want to scream the same thing, so this is not a specific knock against romance novels.

However, this book didn’t have that effect on me. Why not? It is the classic story of two people attracted to each other who fail to communicate until the last several pages. But here it at least makes some sense. They’ve both finished college and haven’t seen each other for four years, since back when they were shy and confused high school students. Upon meeting, they revert back to that OMG-he-can’t-possibly-like-me frame of mind that is the rightful domain of insecure kids. (Are there any other kind?) They work through this and find the grown-ups they’ve become. Kind of simple, but it worked for me and I liked their story. I mean, nobody should be screaming at kids for feeling insecure, right?

So, this was all around a good read: informative, interesting, and satisfying.

About the Author

Lieber is an urban fantasy author with a wanderlust that would make a butterfly envious. When she isn’t planning her next physical adventure, she’s recklessly jumping from one fictional world to another. Her love of reading led her to earn a Bachelor’s in English from Wright State University.

Beyond her skeptic and slightly pessimistic mind, Lieber wants to believe. She has been many places—from Canada to England, France to Italy, Germany to Russia—believing that a better world comes from putting a face on “other.” She is a romantic idealist at heart, always fighting to keep her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds.

Lieber lives in Wisconsin with her husband (John) and cats (Yin and Nox).

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see A Very Witchy Yuletide.

Review: Georgian Romance Revolt

Georgian Romance Revolt

This a funny book. It’s funny in the sense of making you laugh out loud and it’s funny in the sense of being strange and hard to describe. I’ll start with the first.

Georgian romance novels are ripe for satire and author Lucinda Elliot does a fine job taking aim at all the easy targets like handsome heroes with perfect teeth and some of the more difficult ones like chaperones, forced seduction, and social inequities. She tells her story through the eyes of Elaine, a modern, slightly futuristic woman inhabiting the head of a romance novel heroine. Elaine’s take on this partially-sanitized fictional world provides another layer of humor.

But having two women living inside of one body, often fighting for control of it, is also where the story gets odd. Elaine is in eighteenth-century England by way of a virtual reality entertainment system that malfunctions, adding a sci-fi help-I’m-trapped-in-a-video-game subplot. Because even the best of satire is only funny for so long, I began to enjoy the get-me-out-of-here subplot more than the Georgian-romance-gone-wrong story.

Then it starts to get weird. Without giving away too much I’ll just say the 1960’s author of the original novel gets involved along with Stonehenge, reality, and maybe multiple dimensions. Then Elaine’s own personal life enters the scene as well.

Balancing all this is quite a feat. I think Elliot pulls it off but by the end, I’d have preferred a good bit less of the Georgian romance and a more thorough resolution of everything else.

The author says in her bio that she loves a good laugh. She certainly provided me with several and for that I am thankful. I recommend this book to anyone who likes reading something different and who enjoys satire.

 About the Author

Lucinda Elliot, four times winner of the BRAG Medallion for outstanding self-published fiction, was born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. When she was growing up, her family lived in various large, isolated old houses in various parts of the UK as they used to renovate such places in the days before it became fashionable. She lived for many years in London and now lives in Mid Wales with her family.  She loves a laugh above anything.

 

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see Georgian Romance Revolt.

Fly Twice Backward is on my TBR pile

The premise of Fly Twice Backward by David S. McCracken fascinates me, and I’m looking forward to reading all of it. I’d hoped to do so for a recent review tour but frankly it’s daunting length (723 pages) put a kink in those plans. However, I spent enough time with it to make some observations.

  1. I started the book and thoroughly enjoyed the beginning. The author does a credible job of describing an incredible event — a man of today waking up in the 1950s to find himself the child he once was.
  2. McCracken tries a lot of ambitious things in this novel, and one is providing links to songs and other media intended to enhance his story. It’s a clever idea! I know because I tried it in 2012, in my first novel called x0 (and later renamed One of One)* and I thought it was brilliant at the time. The wave of the future. My own experience was that some readers loved it, some found it a real distraction, and most ignored it. Perhaps I chose my links poorly, but in the end, it took far too much effort to maintain them and I ended up rewriting the book (and four others) removing links entirely. I wish author McCracken a better experience with this idea!
  3. I skimmed through much of the long middle of this book. It appears to be a complicated but basically well-written story with a lot of action. Subdivided into decades, I zipped through the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s.
  4. I also looked at some of the reviews, because I always do that, and I saw some heavy criticism for the author’s inclusion of his personal political views. There is no question he has done that, but so do many if not most science fiction authors. From Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on through Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is  Harsh Mistress up to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s War, this genre has a long history of swaying hearts and minds, and not always in the direction I’d like to see them swayed. As a left-leaning independent* I thought the counterbalance McCracken offers to this legacy was a refreshing change of pace.
  5. I skipped ahead and read the end. I hardly ever do that, but so often such ambitious novels struggle to tie everything together and I was curious. No, I won’t give anything away, but only say the end was a frantic, action-filled sequence told from several points of view. It was fascinating to read and appeared to tie up several storylines nicely. I’ll have to read the whole thing, of course, to really know how well it does, but after my quick perusal, I’m looking forward to this.

*I wouldn’t normally talk about myself in a review, but lucky for me this isn’t really a review.

About the book

You wake back in early adolescence, adult memories intact, including ones that could make you very wealthy now. Your birth family is here, alive again, but your later families are gone, perhaps forever. What has happened, what should you do about coming problems like violence, ignorance, pollution, and global warming? You realize one key connects most, the fundamentalist strains of all the major religions, disdaining science, equality, and social welfare. You see that there are some things you can change, some you can’t, and one you don’t dare to.

Fellow idealists help you spend your growing fortune well–such as an artistic Zoroastrian prince in the Iranian oil industry, a rising officer in the Soviet army working to find a way to destroy his corrupt government, a Bahai woman struggling against Islamic brutality, a Peruvian leader working for a liberal future, and a snake-handling Christian minister, grappling with doubts, sexuality, and destiny. They are supported by an ally who develops essential psychic powers. The group faces familiar-looking corrupt politicians, religious leaders, and corporate czars, but there is an ancient force in the background, promoting greed, violence, hate, and fear.

This exciting, emotional, thoughtful, humorous, and even romantic sci-fi novel weaves progressivism, music, movies, and literature into a struggle spanning the globe. Vivid characters propel the action back up through an alternative history toward an uncertain destination. Experience the unique story and its novel telling.

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Fly Twice Backward.

Review: Larceny at the Library

In Larceny at the Library,  Colleen J. Shogan has written an enjoyable cozy mystery enhanced with an insider’s knowledge of DC politics and a wealth of fun information about the Library of Congress and the world of historical artifacts.

Her amateur sleuth, Congressional chief of staff Kit Marshall, is diligent and methodical, and she delivers an admirable solution to the crime, just in time. I liked Shogan’s supporting characters and felt she introduced enough about each to make them three dimensional without getting bogged down in extraneous plots. On the whole, the story works well on an intellectual level.

I wish I’d read the previous novels, as I’m guessing author Shogan covered basics I missed. I needed to know more about Kit Marshall in order to really like her. I kept wondering what she was doing solving murders. Worse yet, when characters from previous stories showed up, I found their cameo appearances frustrating. I have a feeling this particular book works better on an emotional level if the reader is already invested in the main character and is happy to see people from her past.

Every book stumbles a bit somewhere: for this novel I’d say it could use a little more zing. I don’t want car chases and ticking bombs in my cozy mysteries, but less mundane food descriptions, fewer extraneous references to pop culture, and a lot less dialog that boils down to people introducing themselves to each other would have allowed this basically good story to pack more punch.

As it is, it’s a fun read and I’d like to read more by this author. I do recommend this book to all cozy mystery fans, and particularly to those who are also history buffs or are fascinated by watching the DC scene.

About the Author

Colleen J. Shogan has been reading mysteries since the age of six. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American politics at several universities and previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative staffer in the United States Senate and as a senior executive at the Library of Congress. She is currently the Senior Vice President of the White House Historical Association.

Colleen is a member of Sisters in Crime. “Stabbing in the Senate” was awarded the Next Generation Indie prize for Best Mystery in 2016. “Homicide in the House” was a 2017 finalist for the RONE Award for Best Mystery. “Calamity at the Continental Club” was a 2018 finalist in the “best cozy mystery” at Killer Nashville. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Rob and their beagle mutt Conan.

For more about this book, and the blog tour this review was part of, see Larceny at the Library.

Review: The Murderous Macaron

The Murderous Macaron is a fun read, sure to please fans of cozy mysteries and lovers of well-meaning and sometimes bumbling amateur sleuths. (I do happen to be one such fan.) Julie’s bakery is the focal point of this gentle who-done-it, and there is just enough of France woven into the story to appeal to lovers of travel as well.

What I liked best: Simply put, this is an enjoyable book. I appreciate that it was an easy read, well-paced and well written. The somewhat complex solutions to the case were believable yet not obvious, providing a satisfying ending.

My favorite thing was Drew’s stellar cast of secondary characters. Grandma is great. I do love feisty old women and she delivers. Sister Flo, the artist, is equally fun, and I could have done with more of the geeky sous chef as well. I’m not a huge dog fan, but I even enjoyed Lady, the sleuth dog who joins the team.

What I liked least: There is a fascinating backstory here, dribbled out in small pieces and never fully dealt with. It is difficult to reconcile the light tone of the novel with an unexplained traumatic family death, an estranged twin with unusual powers, and Julie’s issues with both of the above. Yet, it all comes up often enough to make it hard to ignore.

The reader wants answers. I suppose the author intends to weave more explanations into future novels, but as regarded these issues, I felt cheated at the end. Plus, the only part receiving a real explanation (why Julie doesn’t like her twin) is just odd.

However, Drew’s story was charming enough for me to put that frustration aside, along with my current irritation with the gluten-free world, brought on by a husband who’s decided to go gluten-free for no real reason, forcing me to abandon half of my favorite recipes.  That’s hardly Ana T. Drew’ fault, and I resolved early on not to hold Julie’s gluten-free bakery against her.

So, I’d be happy to read more books in this series and I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery novel.

About the Author: Ana T. Drew is the evil mastermind behind the recent series of murders in the fictional French town of Beldoc. When she is not writing cozy mysteries or doing mom-and-wife things, she can be found watching “The Rookie” to help her get over “Castle”. She lives in Paris but her heart is in Provence.

For more about this book, and the Goddess Fish review tour this review was part of, see The Murderous Macaron.

 

A Hundred Lies

My Review

In A Hundred Lies, Jean M. Grant has created a likable hero in Rosalie, the fake fortune teller. She has placed her in a fascinating time and place, and done the research to make the setting come alive. Finally, she’s given her a thorny dilemma to vex her, and a threatening nemesis to chase her, so we all can hold our breath, hoping the best for her as we turn the pages. I enjoyed reading Rosalie’s adventures.

I wish I’d found the tortured nobleman who loves her to be as compelling, but I never quite did. He is an honorable man with a real talent for seeing the future, and I’m all for having feisty female leads attracted to someone interesting who isn’t a jerk. But he does spend a lot of time brooding about past mishaps and his relentless remorse gets a bit tiresome. Luckily, most of the rest of the cast, including his own mother and sister, and Rosalie’s aunt and uncle, keep things moving.

I appreciated the author’s ability to articulate this distant world, but she sometimes rambled through it a bit too slowly for my tastes. Some scenes cut in and out of past memories and included local facts in ways that reduced the punch of her narrative. That minor complaint aside, I enjoyed how well everything from knowledge of herbs to catty servant girls gave me the feel of being there.

I recommend this book to those who like their romance novels to have more to them than just a couple getting together, and I also recommend it to those who enjoy historical fantasy and wouldn’t mind a romance story as part of the package. Either way, I think readers will find a lot to like about this tale.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see A Hundred Lies.

False Light

Review: False Light

Cover_False LightFalse Light is a fun read, enhanced with a dose of real-life art history and made more interesting by the endearing romance of its two main characters.

The plot contains the requisite amount of clues, twists, and suspense, along with the genre-required action-filled climax, so I suspect most lovers of crime novels will enjoy it. However, I found its real charm to lie in three unexpected joys.

The first comes from Riess’s background. I have, at best, a passing acquaintance and mild interest in art, but I am captivated when an author brings expertise to a story like this. Claudia Riess helps her readers learn about masterpieces, forgeries, and auctions, without ever dumping information. (She got me looking into real-life art forger Eric Hebborn, and I’m always delighted to be introduced to a too-strange-to-be-fiction character.)

Another surprise is the relationship between the two lovers at the heart of this tale. They’ve gotten past the first hurdle of commitment (apparently in the previous novel) and now struggle to figure out how to live with their promises. I found their relationship compelling, and suspenseful in its own right. I appreciate an author who acknowledges falling in love is easy compared to making love work.

What didn’t I like? While the writing is generally okay, the pacing lags on occasion, particularly early on. Some parts required a little too much attention and rereading to follow multiple characters and complicated plot lines. Yet, none of this was enough of a problem to keep me from enjoying the story.

Years back, during a difficult time, I devoured J.D. Robb’s novels about a futuristic detective and her billionaire husband, and I realized there is this wonderful escapism involved in reading about the very wealthy solving crimes. (At least as long as they are nice people, which these characters are.) That brings me to the third pleasant surprise of this novel. Though Riess’s characters are unique to her story, their life of sumptuousness provided me with that same gentle nepenthe while their adventures held my interest.

As this virus has wreaked havoc with life, I’ve found myself eating rum raisin ice cream. That sweet treat is getting me through a lot these days. Why do I mention it here? Because when I finished this book I thought I’m glad I read this. In a world filled with too much frozen broccoli and canned soup — this is a rum raisin ice cream kind of a book. I plan to check out the author’s other flavors.

About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston and has edited several art history monographs.

 

 

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see False Light: An Art History Mystery

Review: Cooking for Ghosts

Cooking for Ghosts is based on a great premise and is filled with a terrific cast of characters and just enough ghostly activity to keep you on the edge of your seat. It has plenty of humor, a lot of romance, and a few surprises.

My favorite aspects of this book included the many strong female characters and the wide variety of people who are written with affection and empathy. I appreciated the detailed look into the food service industry (where I once worked) and the wonderful descriptions of mouth-watering dishes.

I also thought the author hit exactly the right notes in this mostly-gentle ghost story. The paranormal parts were interesting and occasionally thought-provoking without being either horrifying (or disgusting) or being too cute.

I did struggle with the sheer amount of drama and trauma in every character’s life and, after a while, I found myself yearning to be introduced to someone without major issues. I  also got frustrated a few times when the backstories went on too long. I wanted to get back to the action moving this story forward.

The things I liked about this book far out-weighed those I didn’t, so I’d recommend it to anyone who appreciates complex stories of women’s lives, or novels about cooking fine food, or well-done ghost stories. If you enjoy two out of three, you are going to love this book!

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Cooking for Ghosts. 

Review: The Duplex

In The Duplex, Lucky Stevens has written a story that both packs a punch and needs to be told.

I liked so many things about this book, including the way Stevens captures the fifties along with all its many ingrained biases. I enjoyed watching the tale evolve through the eyes of four protagonists, often seeing the same incident through different points of view. I appreciated how Stevens demonstrated the way prejudices against any group seep into the beliefs and self-images of those most adversely affected until they begin to doubt themselves. Sometimes it was painful to read, but, as I said, it’s a story worth telling.

In fact, I liked almost everything about this compelling tale. It moved quickly, and the voices rang true. I suppose one could complain that certain aspects of the two gay men, and two lesbian women, were too stereotypical, and they would have a point. I suppose others might struggle with four alternating first-person points of view, although I liked it.

Some might prefer a neater, more happily-ever-after ending for all, but I thought the ending worked fine. Without giving anything away I’ll just say things get messy but happiness is found, much like in real life.

I recommend this book to anyone, but especially those who like historical novels, are fascinated by the 1950s, or are fans of reading about Los Angeles. The novel may appeal to those in the LGBTQ+ community, but I have a special recommendation and this one comes from the heart.

I HIGHLY (caps intended) recommend this novel to those with close friends or family members who are LGBTQ. It’s an eye-opening look at the world they could be living in. I know it made me aware of the need for us all to be vigilant about preserving the basic human rights this group has had to fight so hard for. This novel is important food for thought for a caring community.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see The Duplex.

Review: Wired by the FBI

My Review:

In Wired by the FBI the Author Glenn Painter has written a captivating tale taking the reader into the mind and heart of a notorious criminal. Christian Romano is just bad enough you can’t like him, but he has enough compassion and sense of moral code that you can’t hate him either. You end up watching the story of his life with an obsessed fascination, unsure of what constitutes justice or a happy ending.

What I enjoyed:

Glenn Painter does an excellent job of channeling the thoughts and feelings of a man most of us would be hard-pressed to understand. At its best, this tale provides those little details that make Christian human. His sorrow at his brother dying of aids. His love of Chicago. His bold willingness to take down a sadist, and his inability to comprehend cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Even his honesty about his own opportunism and his inability to resist seduction no matter how much he loves his current flame has something endearing about it. You don’t want to see the system squash him like a bug, because the author makes it clear how human he is.

What I struggled with:

Occasionally, the book seemed as if it was name dropping notorious criminals. Sometimes I got tired of the depressing descriptions of life in jail, and got frustrated with the main characters penchant for finding new trouble, or getting himself back into old trouble. I found the second half of the book more difficult than the first.

As the novel concluded, I realized the biggest problem it faced is that even though it is written like a work of fiction, the author is not writing a suspense thriller. He is giving a slightly fictionalized first person account of a real person’s life. He can’t bend reality into a story arc with redemption and a happy ending. Or with a hero’s tragic demise. Or with a bad guy getting his just desserts. Christian’s reality is far more complex than what we expect from fiction, and Glenn Painter is stuck with how it really happened. It isn’t particularly pretty.

To me, the books’ ending isn’t satisfying and at first I was baffled by why the author would invest so much time and energy into telling this story. Then I read his biography (which appears below) and it made more sense.

“He is an advocate for incarcerated individuals who have had their rights violated.”

Indeed, this is a story of such an individual. By the end of the book the reader knows the many ways a sometimes corrupt and often heartless system abused this man for its own often inconsistent ends. Sometimes, by his own admission, he got treated better than he deserved. More often, his freedom and his life were no more than a tool for law enforcement to use. Justice, fairness and even simple honesty were seldom part of the equation.

Every part of Christian Romano’s life may not be fun to read about, but I agree with the author that such stories need to be told.

About the Author:

Glenn Painter is single and lives in Central Florida.  He became interested in writing at an early age but did not make it his career until 2014 when he published his first book, Beyond the Sentence.

Glenn has written this story from the notes by the man who actually lived it.  However, extensive research was also require in order to make the story factual.

Glenn has also founded a company, ‘Prisoner Civil Right Services.’  He is an advocate for incarcerated individuals who have had their rights violated.  He is in constant contact with these individuals, their families and the council.  Most of his stories are inspired by ‘factual events’ that have happened to these individuals.  This makes his stories both fiction and non-fiction.

Glenn says that writing is very challenging, and you must love the trials and tribulations that come with it.  He believes that patience, perseverance and determination are required essentials to see a book through to being published.  The journey is just as important as the destination.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Wired by the FBI.

Review: Hard Luck Girl

My Review:

In Hard Luck Girl, Topshee Johnston tells the story of a young prostitute who finds her drug-dealing pimp dead on page one. More importantly, he manages to keep the reader (or at least this reader) cheering for this unlikely hero as she deals with the body, the customers, the other girls, the rival dealers, the cops, the slimy hotel manager, the nosy cleaning lady and the real money behind the entire sordid mess. No small feat, Mr. Johnston. Well done.

I appreciated how this book contained enough description to make it seem as if I was there, riding on the ferry, or there, in the run-down lobby of the hotel, and yet it never bogged down. The initial characters were all believable and their actions made sense, giving the plot an urgency that felt like real life. Honestly, I had trouble putting it down.

The book stumbles when it nears the end, however. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll only say the major villains didn’t ring as true as the other characters, and their motivations remained murky to me even after the last page. Parts of the ending were confusing, and threads that mattered (to me at least) were left hanging.

Yet, it was a heck of ride up to that point.

Should You Buy Hard Luck Girl?

I recommend Hard Luck Girl to anyone who enjoys hard-boiled crime novels and to other mystery fans willing to be a bit morally flexible with their story’s hero. This book will also appeal to those who like novels about women finding inner strength they didn’t know they had, and to people who enjoy tales of the downtrodden triumphing over those with more advantages. That’s a pretty good market share, I think.

Check out the book on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and Indigo/Chapters!

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Hard Luck Girl.

 

Review: R.I.P in Reykjavik

My Review

In R.I.P in Reykjavik, A.R. Kennedy has taken her idea of combining arm chair travel and cozy crime stories up a notch. This is a witty, fun and easy-to-read amateur sleuth novel that will once again have you turning the pages to cheer on its rookie crime solver. This time around, you’ll be enjoying the beauty and charm of Iceland while you do it.

Naomi acts more grown-up in this novel, and her previous amateur sleuthing in Africa has made her more competent at solving murders, too. It makes her a more likable sleuth. As a bonus, the reader gets new details about her dysfunctional family and I think this knowledge makes the whole series more appealing.

One of my favorite things about her writing is the ongoing humor. Enough sly wit was scattered throughout the story to keep me smiling, but I was laughing out loud near the end as Naomi made a video for her sister of the coming and goings in the hotel hallway. It’s worth reading the book just for that scene.

Deep twists and unexpected turns regarding the murder aren’t Kennedy’s MO, but once again we get an adequately complex cast of suspects, and a satisfying ending. I’ll take that any day.

Should You Buy Rock R.I.P in Reykjavik?

I recommend this book to anyone who likes cozy mysteries, amateur sleuth novels or travel.

Buy R.I.P in Reykjavik on Amazon or find it at Books2read.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see R.I.P in Reykjavik.

(Check out my review of the author’s previous book Sleuth on Safari.)

 

Review: Rock House Grill

My Review:

In Rock House Grill, D.V. Stone has written a novel sure to appeal to those who enjoy stories about good people who face challenges and ultimately enjoy happy endings.

What I liked best:

Although the suspense part of the novel plays second fiddle to the various romance stories, it is well done and engaging. There were enough creepy moments to create goosebumps and to keep me turning the pages, and the resolution of the suspense elements was satisfying.

I’ve worked in restaurants over the years, and I also enjoyed the accuracy and detail with which the food service industry was presented. They author knows her stuff. There was nice attention given to the descriptions of food and cooking techniques, as well as to the decor of various places.

What I liked least:

I’ve heard we all consider anyone who drives slower than us to be an idiot and anyone who drives faster than us to be a maniac. I wonder if there is a parallel for how we feel about behavior in novels. I’ve been known to complain about casts of murky characters in which no one has a moral compass and everyone cusses like a sailor. Explicit erotica makes me cringe and I like some happiness in my endings.

However, this is a book in which people don’t cuss at all (bat crap crazy is actually substituted for bat shit crazy) and they don’t even have implied sex, at least within the pages of this novel. Everyone except for the few designated bad people are more upstanding than the best people I know. (And I do know some really good folks.) It was interesting for me to discover I have a zone of behavior in which characters seem believable yet likable, and this book was outside my zone. I at least appreciated having them outside the zone in the less usual way.

Should You Buy Rock House Grill?

I do recommend this book to all who enjoy sweet romances. I think such readers will appreciate the added bonuses of a well-done suspense side-plot and of fine attention to background detail.

Find Rock House Grill on Amazon.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Rock House Grill.

Review: Sleuth on Safari

My Review:

In Sleuth on Safari, A.R. Kennedy has written a fun and easy-to-read amateur sleuth novel that will have you turning the pages to cheer on its rookie crime solver, all while enjoying the excitement of a safari.

I’ve been lucky enough to go on a trip similar to the one in the book* (without the murder, of course) and I can assure you Kennedy does a fine job of capturing the wild beauty of nature in sub-Sahara Africa as well as some of the less story-book aspects of such a trip.

She does it while presenting a likable sleuth, an adequately complex cast of suspects, and a satisfying ending.

My most significant complaints all occurred early on, when the two sisters in questions seemed more like they were squabbling preteens, not young women in their twenties. As other characters were introduced they came across as stereotypes. However, Kennedy was just getting started. Most of the safari guests became more complex as the trip went on, and the protagonist Naomi and her sister began to act their age after the first few chapters.

One the things I enjoyed most was the ongoing humor regarding the lack of internet access. Her description of other little things like the ubiquitous safari-themed decor, lavish meals and five a.m. game rides were all right on the mark, too. And anyone who has ever spent a night alone in the wilderness (yes, I have) will love reading about Naomi’s night alone in the tree house.

I recommend this book to those who like cozy mysteries, and to all who enjoy travel, whether they’ve been to Africa or not. This novel is a fine way to take a memorable armchair trip.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Sleuth on Safari.

Free Through Sunday!

Enjoy Layers of Light free on Kindle through Sunday night, March 15.

GET MY COPY

Here’s what reviewers are saying:

“Complex and well-researched … The author does an incredible job making it all come to life in both beautiful and horrifying ways. The detail here is astounding, and the setting truly becomes a character of its own. There are solid, loving friendships formed and [the] book tells a strong, important story. I’m glad I read it.” — Long and Short Reviews

“I think it’s safe to say I’m hooked on this series. … Sure enough the characters [are] thrown on a dangerous path, full of adventure, girl power, intrigue, and gut-wrenching moments… this is another great addition to the series.” – Sharing Links and Wisdom

“The concept was great. The plot was intriguing, and the mystical aspects of the work were described well.” — Happy Booker

What is this book about?

Celebrate those who light a candle in the darkness in this compelling and eye-opening tale.

Teddie is into country music, her old pick-up truck and getting through high school with as little drama as possible. Yet somehow her best friend, Michelle, talks her into spending a semester in Darjeeling, India. The thrilling adventure turns treacherous when she uncovers a seedy underworld in which young women are bartered and sold–including her friends.
As she fights to understand a depravity she never dreamed existed, a stranger makes her an unexpected offer. He will train her to find her missing friends, but she will need to have trust in abilities she barely believes exist and more courage than she ever thought she could summon. And there will be no going back.
Given the choice between this and abandoning her friends to their horrifying fate, the decision is simple. She must rise to the challenge.
But how can she be a superhero when she doesn’t know what her power is?

But I haven’t read the first books in this series.

Fear not. Layers of Light is part of the 46. Ascending collection of six interrelated yet stand-alone novels celebrating the superhero in us all. These stories can be read in any order as they overlap in time and compliment each other.

(Layers of Light does contains some non-graphic mature content and references to human trafficking and the sex trade.)

Can I try an excerpt?

Of course you can.

Teddie knew she should have called Amy first, but she was so excited to have a pass to leave school alone that she didn’t want to wait. The constant monitoring and need to stay in groups was one more thing she hadn’t considered when she signed up for this. She knew it was for her own safety, but some days all she wanted was to get into her little pick-up truck, turn her music up loud, and drive.

Ana, the employee at Amy’s small office, apologized. Amy had left for the day.

“She’s chasing a lead on Usha and made me promise to tell no one where she was going, for Usha’s safety.”

“Can you give me the direction she went?”

“No, but she’s left the city. She won’t be back until tomorrow.”

As Teddie headed back to the bus, she realized the school expected her to be gone for a while. She could go shopping, or go visit some of the little art galleries along Nehru Road. Playing hooky for an hour would do wonders for her outlook.

She wandered around, enjoying the street art and small shops, and on her way back to school, she stopped at the mall for a soft drink. She was sitting at a little table in the food court when she saw him.

He was at the other end, staring at her. She looked away and pretended to look for something in her purse. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him stand up to his full six-feet-plus height. Her heart start to pound. He was walking in her direction. Teddie felt dizzy with fear and looked around for a stranger who could help. She got up to talk to an older woman to her left, but as she stood up fast she felt light-headed, and then she started to faint.

Teddie stood over her own collapsed body, confused. Was this another variation of these dreams? She looked up. Everyone else in the food court was ignoring her and looking at her unconscious body on the floor. The woman to her left, the one she’d hoped would help her, was gathering up her parcels to leave, not wanting to get involved.

Only the large man was looking into her awake and aware eyes. He gave a short, solemn bow, then jumped into the air and turned a perfect double-forward somersault, landing on his feet like the girl and boy had done in the snow. Not a soul in the food court noticed him.

As the strangeness of the situation sunk in, Teddie felt light-headed again. Then, she was lying on the cold tile floor, watching a security guard hurry towards her. The large man was gone.

I Know When You’re Going To Die

My Review:

In the cleverly titled I know When You’re Going to Die, Michael J Bowler begins with a fascinating premise and delivers a taut and unpredictable tale. I raced through it.

What I liked best:

  1. The concept of needing to solve a murder before it happens is an interesting one. I’ve seen it elsewhere in science fiction, but the idea of having a “superpower” to know when others will die is unique, as far as I know, and the whole idea of solving a crime to prevent it is well executed here.
  2. The pacing is perfect. The suspense builds throughout the story and Bowler keeps the reader turning the pages without overloading or exhausting them.
  3. Leo, Bowler’s clinically shy good-guy protagonist, is a hero for all. Seriously, if you can’t cheer this guy on, consider seeking professional help.
  4. It’s a genre crime novel, so the reader knows the mystery will be solved just in time, but the ending is sufficiently convoluted and unexpected. It feels worth the wait.
  5. The underlying messages of friendship, tolerance and kindness are a refreshing bonus.

What I liked least:

I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think my minor issues with it stem from it being a young adult novel, one in which all of the protagonists are high school students. So, my recommendation comes with the caveat that the reader should not expect the story to go outside the scope of a young adult novel.

  1. I felt too many of the adult characters were not well-fleshed out. For example, the story included not one, but three moms who cared little about their teenage children. Hard for me to believe, but maybe not so hard for a teen-aged reader.
  2. The complicated relationship between close same-gender friends during the teen years and early sexual attraction and exploration is central to the story, and yet the author shies away from resolving issues. Again, I suspect the young age of the intended audience is the reason, so I gave him a pass on this one.
  3. The premise behind the plot brings up major philosophical questions about predetermination, death and even cause and effect. I’d have loved to see some of this stuff tackled … but again…..

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime story, or a good superhero story. You absolutely have to read it if you enjoy both.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see I Know When You’re Going To Die.

 

The Kronicles of Korthlundia

My Review:

In The Ghost in Exile, Jamie Marchant has written a book that is both character driven and action filled. It’s sure to delight fans of her The Kronicles of Korthlundia, and equally sure to please those who enjoy her genre.

This book is really two related stories told simultaneously. In one story, a kind and naive young man is taken advantage of and finally abused in so many ways that he is gradually lured into becoming one of the world’s great assassins.

In the second story, this same assassin is an older man who has said good-bye a daughter he only met recently. His heart is filled with sorrow, and he unexpectedly helps a foreign woman forced into prostitution. He decides to teach her to fight before he takes her back to her homeland.

What I liked best:

I much preferred the second story, although both are equally well told. In the second story, we meet Brigitta, the intelligent mother of two who is forced into prostitution and trained by the Ghost to fight. Yes, I have a great fondness for stories of women who rise far above the expectations of their society, and she joins the ranks of characters I truly enjoyed.

I also liked the back and forth approach between two related tales. In both stories, Marchant keeps her plot moving, and she keeps the interesting characters coming. I also appreciated that the hero known as the Ghost is, in his heart, a genuinely good guy, in spite of spending his adult life as a killer.

What I liked less:

I chose to review The Ghost in Exile, thinking it would be better to review a stand alone story  than one volume of a three book series. It wasn’t a great choice on my part, because I think this book would be best appreciated by those already introduced to The Kronicles. It’s a complicated world, here, and juggling two stories with strange places and names was daunting.

The tale of a kind boy turned into a killer by dire misfortune is a well-established and much beloved troupe, but it isn’t one of my favorites, because if the protagonist is truly good, then the events forcing him to behave in such a way have to be truly bad. Marchant delivers. The things that happen to this young man are every bit as horrific as they need to be, and while others may have an easier time reading such atrocities, I found myself tiring of the awfulness.

Also, this book felt more like background to a larger story. It lacks a grand sense of purpose (an giant evil to be stopped, a vexing problem to be solved) and seems like more of a biography on one hand, and a tale of a journey on the other.

That being said, they are both well done tales.

I do recommend this book to all fans of The Kronicles of Korthlundia, and to those who would appreciate following the adventures of an ambiguous hero trying to survive in a horrible world.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see The Kronicles of Korthlundia.

Bulb

My Review:

In Bulb, Bradley Wind has created an unusual and thought-provoking look into the future. It poses plenty of relevant questions about today and about the choices we’re making.

What I liked best:

1. This is a genuine attempt to describe the future, not a story set in our own world with more rocket ships and robots in the background. The author makes the valid point that if you asked a human from ten thousand years ago to describe the year 2020 they wouldn’t have enough information to even imagine our society. Bradley Wind has tried to make this leap into an unimaginable future, and he has succeeded in creating a disturbing and unexpected world that seems normal and even inevitable to those living in it.

2. His writing packs a punch.

3. This could have been a one-good-idea book. The concept of the archives is so different, and so chilling, that it would carry a fine story. However, Wind is just getting started when he lays out the concept of everyone being able to view everything everyone else has ever done.

What I liked least:

1. The pacing is erratic. I do think the way the book is written has an overall artistic effect, but one has to get through it to appreciate the artistry, and this is not an easy book to finish.

2. Item three above is somewhat of a two-edged sword. This story throws so many radical ideas at the reader that overload is likely. Yes, you can have too much dessert, and too many things to think about in too short a time. I’d recommend reading this novel over a period of several days, if not more.

3. This last part is subjective and I always wonder whether personal preferences should be included. Yet, no matter how well done something is or isn’t, we all have own tastes and they effect our reading experience. So, I’ll be blunt. I didn’t enjoy reading this book.

I’m easily bothered by blood and gore, disturbing rape scenes, disgusting behavior, detailed descriptions of bodily functions, deformities, mutilations and you get the idea. I’m not a good date at a zombie movie and I don’t watch horror flicks. But … Bradley Wind can’t seem to stay off of these topics. His descriptions of the lives of two saints (people who voluntarily stay in a coma to keep the system running) were so over the top they nearly stopped me from finishing the story.

It’s important to note that I’ve read other novels I didn’t enjoy, and yet which I’m glad I read. (Did anyone actually enjoy reading 1984?) The truth is, we don’t only read for fun. We read to understand new points of view. We read to have our imaginations expanded and our empathy increased. We read to think more and to feel more and to grow.

So, I recommend this book to (1) people who enjoy dark and disturbing speculative fiction, and (2) to those willing to read such in order to be exposed to ideas they’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else. Trust me, this book is full of them.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see https://dtothepowerof4.org/2020/02/03…

You Kill Me

My Review:

In You Kill Me, Holly LeRoy has written an exciting thriller with a wonderful protagonist, unexpected characters, and a page turner of an ending. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

What I liked best:

1. The writing is quite good. The pacing is flawless. The plot is exciting. I know that should be three different things, but I don’t want this list to get too long.

2. In particular, LeRoy takes several characters out of Central Casting and uses them in ways I didn’t expect (and you probably won’t either.) The annoying boss. The sleazy ex-partner. His stripper girlfriend. And more. The whole story is a wonderful reminder of how surprising people can be.

3. I often struggle with stories that mix a first person tale with additional third-person POVs. LeRoy not only makes it work, he makes it seem natural. Part way into the story, I stopped noticing it.

4. Ditto for his descriptions of people and surroundings. Over and over he gives just enough details to put you in the scene and never so much that you start to skip over it. Well done.

What I liked least:

1. It’s obvious I liked a lot about this book. However, I prefer to read on my Kindle and when the author didn’t offer Kindle formatted copies for review, I bought the book and was surprised by the number and kind of typos in the copy for sale. Every book has a few, but this not only had more than its share, many of them were things any good proofreader (or even spell check program) would have caught. This book is too good for those kinds of mistakes.

2. I like my endings (that is, the part after everyone is finally safe) to be longer than a page or two. I’ve come to care about these people and I want to know more after many of them barely make it out alive. Perhaps there is more tying up of loose ends in the next novel?

Well, whether there is or not, I’ll be seeking out more by Holly LeRoy, and wishing him and his detective Lt. Sharpe both long and healthy careers,

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story.

For the full blog post including more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see You Kill Me.

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