Category Archives: reviews

The Other Guest by Helen Cooper, a Review

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I got this book in a book swap at a book club meeting. I may not have otherwise discovered it so I’m glad the luck of the draw was with me that night.

A domestic suspense novel set partially in Italy and partially in Derby, UK. Chapters alternate between three women. Leah, Joanna, and Amy each tell their stories in turn and we root for each one.

The death of a young woman nine months before the story starts is integral to the book. A family torn apart by death, suspicion of a bartender who left Italy after the death and an aunt who wants answers mix together in Italy. A woman nursing a broken heart and beginning to recover from it in Derby is another mystery as the book opens. What she has to do with the family in Italy is one of the conundrums the reader is faced with in reading the tale. Figuring out her connection to a place far away where she’s never been is part of the initial fun of the read.

I liked the way the author alternated the story with present day Leah and Johanna and wove what they were going through separately eventually to the denouement. The flashbacks with Amy added a poignant element to the tale.

Both Joanna and Leah get into dangerous situations in the book, some due to their own making which ramped up the anxiety on their behalf. Some were due to their natural curiosity and helpful natures. Each of them acted in a way to endanger themselves on occasion. This reader enjoyed the anxiety for their safety in those scenes. The author did an excellent job crafting the suspenseful parts of the tale. The way she tied the diverse elements together was very satisfying.

I read this one in part of an evening and part of a morning. It was a quick read, yet packed with fully drawn characters, suspense and convincing action.

A Noble Cunning: the Countess and the Tower by Patricia Bernstein

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This novel is based on and inspired by the real life bravery of a Scottish countess in 1715. Her name was Winifred Maxwell, Countess of Nithsdale. She saved her husband from certain death by smuggling him out of the Tower.

The character in the book is Bethan Glentaggert, Countess of Clarencefield. When she was a child, her family fled to France with King James II (A Stuart king) when William of Orange and Queen Mary (Stuarts) took the throne. Her family was Catholic and lived in exile for many years. She married at age 27 and moved to Scotland with her husband. They lived happily for a while, having three children, but eventually, when the first Jacobite rebellion (to restore James to the throne) occurred, her husband joined in, taking many of his tenants with him into battle.

With the rebels’ loss at Preston, her husband was taken prisoner and held in the Tower of London awaiting trial. The countess sent her children to safety and traveled to London to try to save her husband.

We, as readers, make the journey with her. Through a terrible winter storm. One of the worst in years. The author did an excellent job with the descriptions and the travails of the trip. A lesser woman might have given up. The countess had to leave her companion at one point and continue on her own. As a modern day woman, I can’t even imagine how scary that was—first, with the weather and then when alone, worrying about cutthroats and robbers. A woman alone was very vulnerable, but she persevered.

Once she arrives in London, she visits her husband in the Tower and gets him legal counsel to try to fight the treason charges. She also tries to plead to the king to let him go free. She hatches a back-up plan to try to save him if the legal case doesn’t go well.

The book was full of historical details and the author did an excellent job of painting the reader a picture of the era. It was as if we were there with the intrepid countess in the snow and in the Tower. The feeling of fear she felt for her husband and what would happen to him read very real.

The only disappointment I had with the book was the ending. I wanted more information about what happened when the countess joined her husband at the culmination of her brave and daring plan. I guess I’ll have to read one of the books in the bibliography at the end of the novel to learn more about the real life lady who took on the British establishment.

Outfoxed- by Melinda Metz- a review

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I received this book from Kensington Books in exchange for an unbiased review.

This was a great story. I was pulled in immediately by the premise of the legend of the fox that brings good luck and love to the people who encounter it. The town of Fox Crossing is a pretty cool place to live. Even though this is part of a series, this book can be read as a stand- alone with no problem.

The protagonist of the story, Victoria Michaud, is the owner of a shop with an eclectic offering of used goods. She dresses with abandon and I loved that about her. That she chooses to be her quirky self and doesn’t set any store by anyone who might think she looks odd is refreshing and makes her a unique character. She’s also a giving soul who helps her community in many ways. The relationships she has with her brother, Henry, is great as well. He’s come back to town after moving away after high school. He spent his teen years being bullied by a number of young men of the town due to his weight.

The antagonist, Bowen Gower, is one of those bullies. He is also back in town after having moved away and making a successful career in the city. He’s back to settle his grandfather’s estate. His sister, Tegan, is also on the scene. She’s had a hard life moving from job to job. Her brother was the golden child and she was shunted to the side. Their relationship is fractious at best. The sister is also a unique character, artistic and caring.

The sister of the antagonist and the brother of the protagonist were best friends for a couple of years in high school, each relying on the other to get through some rough times.

The side characters in the book are delightful. The man who owns the bar (named Banana) where the antagonist’s sister works is a particular favorite. I loved his personality and warm, giving, nature.

When Victoria realizes the boy who was the baseball hero who made her brother miserable for years is back in town, she is determined not to engage with him. Except, they both saw the fabled fox at the same time.

Giving no credence to the superstition about the fox, she is doubly determined to ignore the man.

The story unfolds in an enjoyable way. The friendship between the two outcast friends from high school was actually my favorite part of the book. The scenes where they reconnect are particularly enjoyable. They still have great affection for each other and reading their scenes made me smile.

There’s a secondary story about bullying by one young girl to another in the book. In my opinion, the underlying theme of the book is really about bullying and its aftermath and ways to resolve those issues and move past them. The love stories are incidental to that theme and are so well told, it’s a delightful read. This book has something for everyone. Friendship, love and family.  I highly recommend it.

Review – Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

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This is a fictionalized story based on the very real kindertransport trains and ferries taking Jewish children out of Nazi Europe. The real woman who convinced Eichmann to allow the first 600 children to be transported to London, when England agreed to provide visas for them, was named Geertruida Wijsmuller. She saved a large number of Jewish children’s lives, first by taking two and three, and sometimes as many as ten, out of Germany and into the Netherlands. She started doing this in the mid-1930s. The situation became more urgent after Hitler invaded Austria. Many countries closed their borders and refused to allow Jewish people entry visas. Tante Truus, as she had the children call her, worked with some highly placed people in England to pressure their parliament to allow children to be evacuated and held in two summer camps until foster families could take them in. After the war, she was granted Righteous Among the Nations status.

The story in this book centers on two families. One a wealthy Jewish chocolatier who has a wife suffering from cancer. They have two sons, Stephan and Walter. The other, a barber, a Christian grandfather who has a widowed daughter-in-law with two daughters. One is Zofie-Helene and the other Johanna. Their mother is a journalist who is very outspoken against the Nazis.

The story starts with both families living their normal lives and Zofie and Stephan becoming close friends. She’s mathematically gifted and he’s interested in being a playwright.

The chapters alternate between their stories and the story of Tante Truus and her rescues of small groups of children and the dangers she faces in that endeavor.

With Truus in the Netherlands and the others in Vienna, I wondered in the early parts of the book how she was going to help them being as they are quite a ways apart.

When Germany annexes Austria with not so much as a shot fired and seemingly overnight, Stephan’s family’s life undergoes a massive change. His father is taken to a camp and he goes into hiding as he is of an age where the Nazis want to inter him in a camp as well. His brother is only five and, at this time, they were not taking children that young to the camps.

Zofie’s mother, a Christian, eventually gets taken by the Nazis due to her unwelcome stories pointing out their conduct which she won’t stop writing even though she is pressured to do so. The two girls are left with their grandfather.

The story unfolded at a good pace. Some of the parts were very hard to read. The author depicted the utterly senseless cruelty of the Nazis and their adherents very well. It always amazes me how terribly awful these people could be to other people. And how the population turned on people who had been their friends and fellow citizens just days prior.

The author also did a good job showing the fear and terror of the ordinary citizen and why so many didn’t speak up to try to stop the atrocities they witnessed. A great part of the population was cowed and if they spoke up, they would be punished severely as well. Some of them tortured and murdered merely for voicing an opinion—or for nothing at all, even an imagined slight.

It was a harrowing read but one I recommend for several reasons. One, the story of the main characters in Vienna seems to be a reflection of what a lot of families went through during this time. Two, the story of Geertruida Wijsmuller is a story of how one person can make a massive difference in the lives of so many. One voice, one brave soul, she saved so many and gave them a chance at life and that is amazing. And third, with the seeming resurgence of some of the awful ideas the Nazi’s had, this is an important read. We must never, ever, let these things happen again and the author of this book makes what happened to Jewish people, as well as anyone who disagreed with the Nazi ideals in that time, all very real and relatable with the characters she created.

This one is well worth a read.

Review: Christmas by the book by Anne Marie Ryan

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I was attracted to this book by the blurb and, ultimately, it didn’t disappoint. It did take me a while to get into, though. The first chapters introduced a lot of characters in a short period of time. I’m someone who has a hard time with names in real life so it’s better for my reading enjoyment to be introduced with a cast of characters in a more drawn out process. I had to keep going back a few pages to recall who was who.

Once everyone was established in my head, though, things got better and I enjoyed the story more.

The protagonist’s mother founded a book shop in a small English village when the protagonist was young. The bookstore with the flat on the second floor is the only home she’s known for her whole life. She didn’t have a father in her life as she grew up.

The heroine’s husband was raised by a wealthy family in London and he’s always been a disappointment to his father as he chose to marry the heroine and help run the bookshop and not run the family business.

The husband had a heart attack a few months prior to the events in the book and the heroine has been babying him and keeping secrets from him about the health of the revenues of the business. They have one child who is on her gap year.

They bought a copy of the book that covers the Christmas Day soccer game between the Allies and Germany in WWI when they were very newly married. It has never sold. Until the day a man comes in looking for that very volume for his grandson who has leukemia.

This action plants the idea for them to give away six books to people in their area. They ask on Twitter for people to nominate a deserving recipient.

They choose books and wrap them.

When the six people are chosen, the wife randomly addresses the books without knowing which will go to whom.

The reminder of the book is introducing us to the people chosen and the impact on their lives of the book they were randomly gifted as well as how the heroine and her husband deal with the pending sale and closure of the store since they owe massive taxes.

The one issue I had with the book was the secret keeping the wife did. The store got in deep financial trouble over a period of many months and she didn’t tell her husband. That bothered me. A lot.  They seemed to have this perfect marriage which I thought made it completely unforgivable that she would keep such a big secret. That they were going to lose their home and livelihood based on her failure to be a good steward to the business and lying about it. It was a massive problem for me. And he forgave her way too easily.

The story itself, other than the lying to the spouse, was lovely and shows the power of the written word. How it can make a difference in a life. It was a worthwhile story as well as entertaining. A warm, fuzzy, Christmas read with life lessons for all six recipients as well as the bookshop owners.

4 stars.

The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

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This was another book I read quickly like the last one I reviewed. The main character’s (Thea) life implodes when she loses her job in the same week she finds out her husband has been having an affair with one of her friends. As she’s in the process of moving out of the home she’s lived in with him for fifteen years, she receives a letter from a lawyer in Scotland informing her that she has inherited her great-uncle’s house and contents along with a sum of money.

Taking this chance to leave Sussex where the shattered pieces of her life are causing her to continue to grieve and work herself into a stupor of not moving from her bed, she and her best friend decide to head to Scotland for two weeks to check out the house she inherited.

They arrive and find the cottage to be charming and filled with antique books, many first editions. She thinks she should sell some of them.

Thea gets the name of the owner of the local antiquarian bookstore who is the brother of the local lord. The store owner is the elder of the two but relinquished the title. The brothers are sworn enemies.

As the book moves along, Thea finds that she likes both brothers as people. The bookstore owner is a bit of a curmudgeon, but she finds ways to make him laugh. The lord is unfailingly polite and, even though he’d like to buy the cottage from her, he’s cordial and even invites her to a party at his home.

When it’s time for her friend to return home, Thea decides to stay a bit longer and takes a job in the bookstore when the young man who works there leaves for university.

The story is excellent. It felt like I knew this woman and the brothers. They were so realistically drawn and fully fleshed out. They all seemed like someone I’d like to have a drink or meal with. Like they could be my friends.

The banter between Thea and the bookstore owner was fun. Both were witty and smart. Once in a while, some of their dialogue was a bit too much, but overall, I really liked their scenes. Thea was a clever lady, but sometimes she spoke in a stream of consciousness way that made me wonder about her. LOL

Thea learns and grows over the course of the book. She becomes stronger and has more insight into herself.

The bookstore owner brother has a journey of his own and Thea is the catalyst for that growth. Even the lord brother has a mini character arc which was nicely done.

I enjoyed this one. Another 5 stars from me.

The Devil You Know by P.J. Tracy- a Review

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I’ve been busy finishing one manuscript before National Novel Writing Month and then in the throes of NaNo- but since I reached the 50,000 word mark on Saturday, I decided to read for fun on Saturday. Here is the review of that book.

I received this book from Minotaur and NetGalley in exchange for a review.

It’s kind of funny that as I was reading this one, I was thinking I was gobbling it up. I didn’t even think about it being the week of Thanksgiving until I was writing this review. But I did gobble up this story. I read it in part of one day in two sittings. Probably would have read it in one sitting but I had to head to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner.

This is clearly the third or fourth book in a series.  I have not read any of the others, but that did not take away from my enjoyment at all. There’s enough back story woven in to make it so it’s not necessary to have read the others. I will go back now and catch myself up but not because I need to in order to follow this plot. Only because I did enjoy this one so much that I’d like to read the others.

The story here is very Hollywood heavy and having been to Los Angeles, I enjoyed the way the author made the city a big part of the story. Even including Pink’s hot dog joint on La Brea.

The characters are well written and fully fleshed out. No one seemed one dimensional at all and that takes real talent and care. Especially with the large cast of characters in this story. All of the characters had distinct personalities and quirks.

I did figure out the whodunnits pretty swiftly, but that didn’t take away from the fact that I was scrolling through the pages eating up the dialogue and action.

The pace was well done and the author’s use of language was smart and refreshing. So many times, crime stories are not done with sophisticated language and nuance. This was different and I quite enjoyed it.

The main protagonist is a female detective and she was likable and relatable. Her relationship with her partner was amusing and they worked well together. I was happy to see the author gave both of them insight and that she allowed them to solve the case together with each giving ideas and building off what the other thought. So many times in these stories, the lead character is always the smartest person in the room and never asks for help nor bounces ideas off others. The way these two were written seems much more realistic. I enjoyed the relationship between them.

I don’t often give five stars—four is pretty much as high as I go even when I enjoy a story, but since I got so wrapped up in this one, I’m giving it a five.

Carpool Diem- by Nancy Star

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I picked this one up at the thrift store when I traveled to visit my son and his family. I like to check out thrift and Goodwill stores when I go places to pick up books for my Little Free Library. A lot of times, I don’t read the ones I buy but this one drew me on with the promise of being fun.

And it definitely was a fun read. The protagonist is a perfectionist who loses her job basically through sabotage but, as a reader, you get a feeling of relief that she’s getting off the treadmill that was her life working out of town all week and spending weekends at home. Her family life clearly suffered due to her lifestyle/work absences.

The reader gets to see great character arcs of several of the members of her family.

The daughter is a soccer player and most of the book revolves around her quest to play for an elite travel team. The best parts of the story are where the obsessive coach of the elite team sends crazy, ridiculous memos to the girls and their families every day. He’s loony tunes and never met an exclamation mark he didn’t like.

I spent a lot of the story laughing at his memos and hoping he’d get his comeuppance.

I’m a huge soccer nut so this book was right up my alley. The character growth was well done on the characters who had a chance to change. Not so much on the coach guy, but that was sort of expected. Lol

This book was published in 2008 but it could have come out last week as it was so up to date—other than the reference to the Larry King show.

This was a quick read—less than a day—but full of good, entertaining writing as well as a great message about life’s priorities.

Death by Pumpkin Spice by Alex Erickson

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This book is part of a series of stories with the protagonist being the owner of a coffee shop who can’t help but get involved in murders that happen in her town. She’s attracted to the detective she works with on the cases but she also has a date with a local doctor and has a former live in lover who is a stalker. In other words, she attracts drama. And she isn’t very likable.

Even though she owns a coffee shop and the title of the book makes one think there will be some kind of pumpkin spice drink—latte, coffee or even chai—nope. Not any in sight for the entire book.

A woman is killed at a Halloween party and busted pumpkins are all around her but no spices. Nope. None.

The protagonist is smart and clever in the way she can solve crimes but she is one of those types who don’t listen. Even when she is told to stay out of the crime scene, she goes willy-nilly in the room and starts touching stuff.

The first couple of times she didn’t listen were cute but then it got old. I get that the amateur sleuth needs to have access to try to solve the case in these kinds of books, but it really became annoying to this reader. I’m sure there were other ways to get around that issue but her just blatantly ignoring warning after warning became tedious. She went rogue way too many times to count.

All that being said, the mystery itself was good. It was clever to have the story take place at a Halloween party with a terrible storm so everyone was stranded there and also in costume. It heightened the danger and intrigue to make the killer not be able to escape. The other partygoers didn’t seem too concerned to be locked in a mansion with many rooms for a murderer to hide in, though.

I thought the ending was appropriate and I enjoyed the mystery of the murder.

Even though this is a series, I was able to follow the story and figure out who was who without much effort.

For a quick, easy, seasonal read with not much depth, this was a fun one. Just don’t expect any pumpkin spice.

Legacy Witches- by Cass Kay- A Review

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Vianna Roots is a reluctant witch from a Salem family with a long history of witchcraft.  She also sees the dead which is not a normal characteristic of a witch. She never fit in—either with the town or her family and had a bad relationship with her mother. As soon as she was able, she escaped in the middle of the night and had no intention of ever returning to her childhood home.

Fate had other plans for Vianna.  Her mother died and she had to return home to take part in the ritual of the burial of her mother. But Vianna has other plans than performing the ritual as it is supposed to go. She wants to tie her mother to the grave so she can’t come back and harass her like her other dead relatives do—especially her grandmother Susannah.

When Vianna arrives in Salem, she has an accident in her old truck with, of all things, a local policeman.  Then, when she gets to the house she inherited and can’t wait to sell off, the house won’t let her in and things continue to go downhill for her from there.

She doesn’t want to wear witch robes to the cemetery and chooses a red dress from her mother’s closet which turns out to be the dress her mother wore when she was initiated into her role as a witch. Something Vianna is determined not to let happen to herself.

At the cemetery, we meet a number of other characters who all have distinct personalities and who do not much care for the rebel Vianna. The scene is set for more drama in her life.

Vianna ties her mother to her grave and once she returns home, she starts to clear out some of the old things lying around. In searching a drawer, she finds a rotting hand. A vision of a woman reliving her death in the bathroom shows her where the hand originated. And now Vianna is on a quest to help this spirit to rest—a spirit she happens to know quite well. But she doesn’t plan to embrace her legacy as a witch. She is going to solve this issue with this spirit and sell the house and leave again as soon as she can.

Along the way to her goal, Vianna goes on a date with a man she had a crush on in high school. She finds, not only is he weird and possessive, but his mother has issues, too. He’s persistent and annoying. She’s mystified about why he’s suddenly attracted to her. Old school mates wreak havoc in her life, and, when danger arises, she even has to head back to the cemetery to dig up another ancestor and get a bone from her—not because she wants to embrace her legacy, but because it’s necessary to do so.

The cemetery caretaker is someone she knew in the past who is not welcome in the witching community either and they strike up a friendship. I loved their relationship. It was nice to have someone that the heroine could rely on and who was a great character. She offered some relief from the gloomy atmosphere and danger the heroine was in.

This book was delightful to read. A lot of great action, a mystery about some paintings and a dead girl in the bathroom as well as the friendship that arises between two people who don’t fit in makes for a great story. The author also gives us fans of the macabre and light horror a lot of great, descriptive scenes.  This is no white witch, light comedy type story that glosses over some of the darker sides of the craft. I quite enjoyed the change of pace from those type stories.  

I recommend this one as it is chockful of great scenes, some humor and a compelling story, not least of which is how misfits can find their place and make the home/family they need.