Tag Archives: book review

A Rip in Time by Kelley Armstrong, a Review

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I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

I really liked this story. I’ve read some of Ms. Armstrong’s work in the past and her prose is always easy to read and enjoyable. The premise here of a modern day female detective transported through time when she’s attacked in a dark lane in old Edinburgh is creative and right up this reader’s alley. Being a huge fan of Edinburgh and having experienced the magic of the city firsthand, in this reader’s opinion, it’s the perfect setting for the story. A very atmospheric town and extra creepy in 1869 when the lighting would have been candles or gas lights.

The heroine is plucky and savvy and learns quickly that she’ll have to work hard to try to fit in where most everything is unfamiliar. The work she has to do as a housemaid is tough yet she realizes a roof over her head in those hard times is worth the backbreaking chores. Even the cleaning of the chamber pots.

Ms. Armstrong does a great job evoking the era in housing and the sights/smells of an old city as well as the biases against women and people of mixed race.

The supporting characters are well-drawn and appealing with each having unique qualities. I especially enjoyed the brother and sister and how they interacted with the heroine as well as each other and the local police detective. There were parts that strained credulity, but being as it’s a time travel story, realism was always going to take a back seat.

The heroine was flawed and made mistakes which made the tale more exciting. A perfect heroine is always dull. The person whose body the heroine was transported into was a wicked person and I’m glad the heroine made many attempts to try to make things right with the people the real housemaid harmed.

It appears there will be more stories with these characters which is great as they each have their own unique back story and I, for one, look forward to exploring more of old Edinburgh with them and learning more about their lives.

Black, White, and Gray All Over..A Memoir..by Frederick Reynolds

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This memoir of a Compton police officer appealed to me for several reasons. First, the time period of the officer’s service which was partially during the Rodney King trial and the Los Angeles riots. Other important events were the gang wars and murders of rap and hip hop artists. Second, the officer grew up in Detroit and initially was headed down the wrong path and ended up turning his life around. He was a bright, sensitive child who was led astray when he got a bit older. Trying to find a way to fit in as well as to find a way to escape from his difficult home life.

The author did not try to sugarcoat his past or the difficulties he faced in his marriage and relationships with his children. The memoir was intriguing and educational. The fact that the author didn’t paint a rosy, perfect picture of himself was admirable. Not many people have the kind of insight to themselves as he does. He came from a hard background and grew up with issues between his parents and that seemed to lead to his desire to escape his reality that led him down the wrong path to start with.

I admire how he shared his journey and how we, as readers, were able to follow along and watch him grow and change. There’s a strength in that kind of honesty. He seems like he’d be a great person to sit down and share a beer or coffee with and chat long into the night. His front row seat at many events that shaped the world we live in is intriguing and being able to have a chat with him about those various events would be a great way to spend an evening. His perspective as a black man was enlightening to this reader. Race relations are volatile in our country (and have been for a very long time) and learning how people of other races see and interpret the world is vital. Those endeavors can hopefully go a long way toward peaceful coexistence in our time.

If I have one complaint about the book, it would be how it got bogged down with names and descriptions of all his coworkers and the perpetrators he arrested.  There was way too much of that in the book. It dragged down the prose. The reader doesn’t need to know everyone in the room or at the crime scene or what they looked like—unless it adds to the story.

Overall, this is an interesting read and journey through a snapshot in time in the Midwest and along the west coast. Events that had national impact here in the United States. And it is, above all, the tale of one man’s story of the obstacles he faced on the way from anger and a life of crime to well-respected law enforcement officer, and ultimately, to his happiness and destiny.  

Hot Water by Christopher Fowler- a Review

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This book by the author of the wonderful Bryant and May series is a standalone book set in the area near Nice, France,

The story was intriguing and multi-layered as Fowler’s books always are. He definitely keeps the reader entertained and on tenterhooks. Various threads come together in an intriguing way by the end of the book.

Steve is a 42 year old British man who has a desire to have a sexual relationship with an 18 year old—which, of course, is gross anyway—but it set the stage for the events of the story. Steve arranges to rent a holiday home near Nice for a business trip for his wine business. He invites the girl, Summer, to join him. The leasing agent tells him he has to rent it for two weeks, so he invites the girl for the first week and his wife and son for the second week. He is supposed to arrive a few days before his family so he can sleep with the girl.

Hannah, a 23 year old young woman, is the cleaner for the house that Steve rents. Hannah is not supposed to interact with the guests, but when she meets Summer, she breaks the rule and becomes involved in the girl’s life. Steve’ arrival is delayed and the plans change wherein he’s going to arrive a mere few hours before his family—time enough for a quickie, but then Summer has to go.

The day Steve’s family is supposed to arrive, Hannah can’t get in touch with Summer. She believes the girl left with a gay friend to stay with him now that Steve’s family is arriving. When Hannah arrives to clean, she finds items left by Summer strewn around the place.

As the week goes on, other things appear—like Summer’s phone and passport. The people in the house, Steve, his wife and son as well as Steve’s employee, Giles and his wife, are all hiding things. Everyone in the villa has issues and secrets.

Hannah becomes more and more suspicious about what really happened to her friend. A local child goes missing as well, causing Hannah to investigate that in addition to what happened to Summer. Did her friend leave voluntarily? Did she leave before anyone else arrived? Did she argue with Steve? Is she gone off with friends? Or is her body buried somewhere on the property? And how does the missing child and the gardener fit into the picture? What about the other guests, the villagers and even her boss?

This is a great, convoluted story that really appealed to this reader.  Lots to unpack and a ton of pieces to put together to get to the truth of the events that occurred in the vacation villa. I recommend this one as a fun beach read—even if you’re not in the Cote d’Azur!

Murder on Mustique- Anne Glenconner- A Review

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I picked this one up when Barnes and Noble had their hardbacks 50 percent off. I liked the cover and the blurb sounded good. Of course, I’d heard of the island of Mustique and how it was made into a place for celebrities to build homes and find peace and quiet, so the idea of a murder mystery set there was intriguing.

As I started reading, I realized why the author’s name sounded familiar. She was the wife of the man who bought the island in real life and gifted Princess Margaret with the land to build her own escape home. The author started the story by having the fictional narrator explaining she was a former lady in waiting for the princess and that her husband bought the island in the 1950s. I don’t want to say this was a Mary Sue type story, but it skirted the edge—except the heroine was seventy years old rather than a young girl.

This was a novel, but there was a whole lot of truth in it—not the murder mystery part nor the person who committed the crime (I hope- LOL) but a lot of the history of the island and of the author herself.  I did enjoy the story—even the totally unrealistic parts. The author did a good job with the red herrings and the culprit, so I can forgive her for the use of herself—perhaps an idealized version—as the heroine of the story. It was kind of refreshing to have an older woman in good physical shape as a strong protagonist even though I couldn’t get it out of my head that she was a real person.

One of the parts of the book that resonated with me near the end was this comment by the heroine: “My own grief is harder to define. Why do I care so much about losing something that never really existed? The space left behind will fill, as time passes.”

That passage reminded me of when I finally realized that someone who I’d considered a friend was actually a malignant narcissist and then, for my own protection, I cut off contact with the person. I grieved over the loss of that relationship for a long time and almost got sucked back in again—until I came to that same realization. None of my memories of that person were based on real feelings on the part of my “friend” and our relationship never really existed. It was all an act on that “friend’s” part even though I invested myself in our friendship. 

It makes me wonder if this author also had a real life experience with such a narcissist. It sure seemed to me like that was one more of the truths she expressed in this fictional tale. Until you’ve actually been a victim of a malignant narcissist, it’s hard to understand just how awful they can be. Her passage above rang true. 

Overall, the book was good and I enjoyed the tale.

Never After by Melissa De La Cruz- A Review

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This was a book for 10-14 year olds but it looked cute when I was at the bookstore so I bought it.  Melissa De La Cruz has a lovely imagination. I loved all the twists on the fairy tales we all know and love.  The heroine of the story was likable and intelligent. She was sassy and a strong character.

The two friends she makes are also interesting characters. Jack was smart and clever. Alistair was witty and irreverent. The three friends all played off each other well and worked as a team to solve problems.

The author put in some lessons for middle school children to learn in a way that was fun and creative. She touched on bullying as well as other subjects children are faced with in school these days.  She also didn’t “dumb it down” for the readers. There were words I’m sure aren’t in the normal vocabulary of most middle-schoolers, but exposing them to those is smart. She may be making some life-long readers with this book and the ones that will be coming after it. Adventure is a great way to keep a child interested and engaged.

The story had a great premise and even though I am way past middle school age, I thoroughly enjoyed the tale. I will definitely be buying the next in the series as I truly think these characters are fun and interesting. I will share this book with some of my younger friends and relatives. I think they will enjoy it.

Chances Are – Laurie Ryan- a Review

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I’ve been in the throes of writing the first draft of my latest book and haven’t taken time to read for a month. I started reading Chances Are at the end of October, but was only a couple of chapters in before I went on my forced diet of no reading. It was an intriguing story from the start —the hero was particularly compelling. I could actually picture him leaning against the doorway in all his macho glory. J I wasn’t sure about the heroine as she was a lawyer and I’m always leery of lawyer characters and/or law based stories. Being one myself sure can wreak havoc with my enjoyment of a book, movie, or television show. I’m hyper critical of mistakes when the law is involved. J

When I picked the story back up this weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to find the legal issues to be well done—except for a few moments of anxiety which were put at ease almost as soon as I started to twitch. J

The story was fast paced and enjoyable. The hero and heroine had great chemistry and the supporting characters (some of whom have been in other books of this series) were fully developed and delightful. I did guess one character’s secret pretty early on, but I really enjoyed her parts.

As to the villain, having known some people who had similar experiences with bad apples, the villain didn’t seem over the top to me. It could easily have gone to a situation where reality was stretched there, but didn’t. Sadly, there are too many people in the world who place blame for their situations on others. Ms. Ryan nailed that aspect of things.

Overall, this was a great read. Steamy in spots, exciting drama, and true friendships and love were shown by the main cast of characters. The next book is being written now and I’m sure it’ll be more of the same—hoping we’ll see these characters, Jackson and Aimie, again as friends with the new hero and heroine. Small town romances are the best as it’s always a possibility to run into someone you already know. Willow Bay seems like a great place to live.

Bells, Tails & Murder by Kathy Manos Penn – a Review

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I’m a big fan of cozy mysteries, especially those set in Britain. I’m also a huge animal lover so this one intrigued me from the cover and title. It was a bit of a slow start and I almost stopped reading it because nothing much was happening in the first chapters. The writing style wasn’t really up my alley either, but that’s a personal preference. Others may love it, so I’m not downgrading my review due to that.

I persevered and the story got better. One thing that bothered me was I couldn’t tell how old the heroine was. She seemed young and stylish, and men kept asking her out- ones that seemed young and also ones that seemed older- (which could really mean she’s any age—but, it was a bit confusing not to be able to picture her properly) but she kept calling herself an old lady and she took a ton of naps. Every day, she got so tired she had to nap. Her age may not matter in the grand scheme of the plot, but it stayed in the back of my mind as I read. I confess, it was distracting as she’d seem young one moment and older the next.

The Cotswold village was well-described and had all the elements one would expect, from the pub to the tea room, to the bookstore and inn. The village was peopled with an interesting cast of characters as well. The premise surrounding the murder and the author of the Peter Pan books, J.M. Barrie was clever and well done.

While I did figure out who was the red herring and who was the culprit pretty early on, I enjoyed the story as it unfolded. The added fun of the cat, Christie, and the dog, Dickens, who the heroine could understand as if they spoke English rather than barking and meowing, was a neat take on the cozy mystery genre. I liked that some of the characters had names with ties to the Peter Pan tales and the pets were named after writers.

There was lots of wine and lots of Greek salad in the book which made me hungry and I was glad the author included her father’s recipe for the salad and dressing. That was a nice surprise at the end of the book.

I’m giving it three stars for the slow start, but I recommend the reader keep going if discouraged by the lack of action at the beginning. It gets better.

Over the Hedge by Paulette Mahurin, A Review

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This one was hard to read for a number of reasons. The main one, of course, was the brutality of the subject matter. This book was harrowing and, often times, turned the reader’s stomach as to the behavior of human beings who took joy and pleasure in harming other humans. The Nazi regime created many monsters. The one question that will forever haunt me on the atrocities of the acts on Jewish people is did the regime create these monsters or were so many already lurking in society and they were freed and allowed to run rampant based on there being no consequences (at least during those years when the evil was in power)?

The heroes and heroine of this true to life story were amazing and awe-inspiring. That two of them were Jewish themselves and risked it all to save children is admirable. They didn’t hide away, though who could have blamed them if they had? The fact they survived and made a difference as long as they did was remarkable. Henriette Pimental and Walter Suskind were truly angels on earth for the children they helped to escape and give a chance to live. Johan van Hulst, the professor who started it all, was also a brave man to not sit back and allow innocent lives to be destroyed. It’s terrible that they weren’t able to save more, but those they did save were reward enough. Every life that went on was a victory.

This was a tale that everyone needs to read even though the subject matter is tough.

The two faults I found with the book was it was hard to tell if it was a fictionalized version of facts or if it was a true and accurate telling of the actual events. The tale moved from almost reading like a text book to dialogue and dramatization. In places it was dry and then it would segue to an almost novel-like approach. The cover states it’s a novel, but it was hard to tell by the actual text. The other fault was the paragraph formatting. It may have just been in the ARC copy I have, but the formatting was disjointed throughout. Hanging sentences that joined up after an inserted return all through the copy made it hard to read properly.

I can’t say I enjoyed the book, but it definitely made an impression. The author did a good job in showing the reader just how awful and harrowing the residents of the Netherlands had it in WWII. What a terrible time and place for so many to have to endure. I’m sure it was hard for the author to write as it was definitely hard to read.

The Blitz Bus by Glen Blackwell

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I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

This middle grade book is a good one for children to learn about the London Blitz and WWII days of 1940. The main characters, Jack and Emmie are in modern day London and Jack is assigned to write an essay about the London Blitz and how a lot of children were evacuated to the countryside during that time. Meanwhile, in Emmie’s drama class, they are acting out the children leaving their parents.

Jack has a hard time envisioning the city at that time and is kept back at school that afternoon to finish his paper,, making him almost late to meet his friend Emmie. 

When they are finally on the bus headed home, they look out and see a shop they haven’t seen before.  In the window is a mannequin who has a gas mask.

Exiting the bus, there is a large unexplained bang. It’s raining and they take shelter at a tube station. Everyone is dressed differently than Emmie and Jack. There are cots set up in the station. The two children think they’ve stumbled onto a film set. Until very real bombs start falling and they find themselves in the middle of an air raid.

They make friends with a boy in the shelter, but don’t tell him they have somehow come from another time period.

The adventure really begins here. Jack and Emmie discover food lines, cratered buildings, rationing, bombs, anti-aircraft balloons, air raid shelters in yards, and, as well, have to hide from authorities. They fear spies are around and being taken for spies themselves with their modern items like Jack’s calculator. They find some help from their new friend, Jan, a boy from Poland.  

Even though I am nowhere near the age for middle grade stories, I enjoy them and this one was particularly good. The fact that the children were studying this era in school and couldn’t imagine how people were living and then were transported there is very educational—yet done in a fun way—A lot of interesting historical facts came through in a way that entertains and would have a younger reader on the edge of their seat worried about the two protagonists and how they would solve their problems as well as how they would be able to get back to their own time period.

The only thing I would have liked to be added to the story would be an epilogue of the children finding the friends they made in the 21st century when the friends were elderly. That would have been a fun ending. Overall, I was happy with the story and would recommend it to the middle grade age group as a history lesson full of interesting reading that will hold their interest.

The Romanovs- Simon Sebag Montefiore- A Review

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The author clearly is a scholar and spent a massive amount of time researching this book. It definitely shows in the prose that he’s made a complete study of the Romanov tsars and their world. Where I had issues was the densely written text that made the book tedious to read as well as the seemingly endless details about various battles and generals. The over-descriptive passages regarding clothing and various peripheral members of society also bogged down the text. I learned some things about the tsars that I didn’t know—especially some of the brutality that seems to have been glossed over in other texts that this author had no qualms about going into great detail over. Some of the descriptions in early reigns were particularly disturbing although they did paint a picture of a society that makes one wonder about the people of that particular era. Brutal death and bloody streets seemed to be the norm and it was viscerally brought home that those were terrible days to live in.

I also learned more about Alexandra and her mental state that greatly contributed to the downfall of the house of Romanov. Other books about the end of the dynasty focus more on Rasputin, but this book, with the excerpts of Alix’s letters to Nicky, showed she was unstable and he was deluded into going along with her thinking. He was, like most all of the tsars, anti Semitic and took joy in their mistreatment so it’s a bit hard to feel sorry for him, but the brutal murders and unrelenting behavior of the assassins was brought home particularly harshly in the descriptions in this book.

I’m giving it 3 stars due to the tedium of the prose and the unnecessary detail about the wars (that didn’t add much to the topic of the dynasty). The author clearly knew his topic but didn’t seem to know how to condense the text to the essential elements. I won’t try to slog through this one again, but I did learn some new information I hadn’t read before so I’m glad I took the time to read it.