Tag Archives: book

The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell- a Review

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I went to a wedding a week ago in Tallahassee and, on my drive back, stopped at a couple of Goodwill Stores as they always seem to have a good selection of used books. One of the ones I purchased was The Family Upstairs. I hadn’t read any of this author before, but I’m a fan now. The book was intriguing as well as a quick read. A house with dark secrets is at the center of the tale.

The story is told from three points of view and I enjoyed all of them. Each had a distinctive voice and were compelling in different ways. The movement from each voice to the other was smooth and kept me turning pages.

In the author note, she stated her inspiration for the book came from seeing a woman in Nice, France sneaking her children into the public baths near the beach. From that, a tale of family terror, loss, and lives shattered was born. I loved how all the threads of the story came together. I figured out most of it, but a surprise or two in the pages made this reader happy as I usually solve it all before the end.

Each of the three protagonists were dramatically affected by their upbringings and the way the author showed how those experiences carried over into their adult lives was genius. It’s a dark tale, but moments of light and love shine through. I throughly recommend this one for a few hours of entertainment mixed with a little anxiety for the characters.

Sunflowers Under Fire by Diana Stevan

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Perseverance, grit and sheer pluckiness describe the heroine of this fictionalized story about the life of author’s grandmother. What a lady she was. From the opening sequence when she gave birth by herself on the kitchen floor, got up and cooked for her husband who just joined the army and then walked the food a number of miles while half a day post-partum, to her bravery when she decided to move her family to an unknown land where they didn’t know the language, Lukia is someone to admire. She was an amazing human being and the author captured the spirit of this lady in a way that made this reader relate to her (even though I’ve never been faced with anything like the situations Lukia faced).

The heroine handled herself well and kept her family fed and with shelter in all kinds of adversity. The losses she suffered were horrible, but she didn’t let them daunt her or cause her to lose her faith.

I very much enjoyed reading this book even though it was dismal and heartbreaking in parts. My admiration of Lukia grew throughout the book. She was just not going to sit down and take it when life didn’t go her way.  If you like tales of fortitude and overcoming tribulation, I recommend this one highly. 4.5 stars

Dracula’s Death, a Review – by Laszlo Tamasfi; Illustrations by Jozsef Svab

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Dracula’s Death is a retelling of a Hungarian silent film that has been lost to time. The author has meticulously researched this film as well as the novelization of the story. He has translated the tale from Hungarian and it’s a gem of a story. This is not your standard Dracula tale. This one involves a mental asylum, a young girl in love but sad due to her father’s impending death, and a lot of creepy inmates of that asylum. The heroine is a sweet character and I found myself rooting for her throughout the story. 

The story is evocative and well-told. The descriptions are lovely and this reader was transported to the snowy mountains of Europe just reading the prose. The illustrations are also lovely and amazing. Even the cover of the book is delicious. I very much enjoyed this story and appreciate the efforts made by the author to translate this to English as otherwise, it wouldn’t be available for us here to enjoy. 

After the story—which is very creepy and exciting—the author shares his research into the film. He translates many articles that were published during the time the film was being made as well as publicity ads during the era of the release of this silent film. Photos are also shared that bring this movie to life. It’s sad that its been lost to the annals of time, but wow—good job to Mr. Tamasfi for his work in bringing it to us—as well as the articles about it—and the Mr. Svab for his wonderful illustrations. 

If you like horror or Dracula tales, this one shouldn’t be missed as it’s a different take on a popular character and suitably creepy. If you’re a film buff—silent or talkies—this is a great resource for a missing piece of film history. 

Book of Skulls by David Hutchison, a review

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I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Let me start by saying how much I love Edinburgh and historical novels so this was right up my alley. I think I was already half-inclined to love it just from the cover and the setting. The author did the rest. His writing is visual and visceral. Some parts were a bit gruesome but the story called for it, in my opinion. This was not a lovely picnic on Arthur’s Seat on an early fall day. This was a murder mystery with a number of grisly murders….all in the name of science. A touch of Burke and Hare and their life of crime/murder adds to the historical feel of the book.

The protagonist, Liz, is a medical student who happens to be female. An uphill battle in the 19th Century for sure. She makes friends with another female student as they fight for their rightful place in the school. She also makes friends with a young man and the local police medical examiner. She’s accepted as an assistant with the coroner and gets some valuable experience in actual medical science, albeit on dead bodies, not living patients. But then she is also asked to assist in a local clinic and learns valuable skills. She seems to be on her way to being successful as a doctoress even though the powers that be at the school want the females out.

The story has many twists and turns and a number of exciting sequences where the reader fears for the protagonist and her friends’ safety. It was a ride for sure. The author is excellent at building suspense and even though I figured out the villain early, the book was still a page turner and very enjoyable. The side plot with the medical examiner is a great addition to the tale.

Overall, this was a delightful read…even with the violence and macabre parts. I give it 4.5 stars.

It seems there will be more adventures with this protagonist and I, for one, plan to be on the lookout for the next volume.

Essex, Tudor Rebel by Tony Riches, a Review

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This meticulously well-researched book surprised me in a few ways. I’ve long been a history buff and intrigued by the House of Tudor and all the various courtiers who inhabited that world. I attended elementary school in Virginia which is steeped in early colonial history. My family took full advantage of that and we spent many a weekend at various historical sites—to say nothing of school field trips. Queen Elizabeth I was one of the first monarchs I remember learning about.  Of course, as a child, I had no idea of the machinations of her royal court but that foundation started a lifelong journey of amateur study of history.

I was intrigued to read a full length story about the Earl of Essex. Of course I’d heard/read, many times,  he went from queen’s favorite to execution but most of what I’d read skimmed pretty quickly over his exploits and how he ended up on the scaffold. This story pulled me into his world and his psychology. The man obviously was affected by his upbringing and the early death of his father as well as being raised away from his family (which I know happened often in those days). It was as if he had something to prove, but he didn’t have the proper guidance to learn to cope with life and how to compromise to get along in the world.

His refusal to listen to orders and defy his superiors in battle was remarkable. I was amazed he lasted as long as he did with the defiance he showed to the queen. She truly had a major soft spot for him which seems very unusual based on her intolerance for foolish behavior from many others. He sure took advantage of this soft spot and, after reading this book, I think it actually emboldened him to continue making rash decisions. Perhaps if she’d taken a sterner hand with his shenanigans, things would have been very different for him.

The detail of his last-stand march on the palace was almost unbelievable. It was a powerfully written scene—and not in a good way. I kept shaking my head at his actions. Even though I knew the outcome was his execution, I had to keep asking myself what the heck he was thinking and how he thought there would be a victory for him in all his rashness. He knew Queen Elizabeth was no stranger to ordering executions, but he clearly thought he was immune to her wrath to that extent since he’d gotten away with insubordination in the past. The defiance of her authority was arrogant and astounding. This book really brought that home in a way that it never had been to me before.

The author really made this story come alive. The background of Essex’s childhood, loss of love and family, along with his need to prove himself (and going into debt over and over in that quest) and his lack of awareness led to his downfall. The author is to be commended for the way he made this story real and relevant to our time. The psychology of this character is intriguing and based on his behaviors, it was only a matter of time before he enraged the Queen past redemption.  I recommend this book highly for an in-depth study of Essex and his character. It reads like a novel but was clearly based on the history and well-researched.

Miss Graham’s Cold War Recipe Book- a Review

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This reader wanted to love this book. Alas, even though it had a number of good points and some parts were immersive and well done, the beginning was slow and the last chapters—excluding the epilogue-ish last chapter, were devastating and made this reader angry.

This story had a slow start with way too many characters thrown into the first chapter which slowed the story even more as I tried to get a handle on who was who.

Edith, the character who was the point of view character for most of the book, was naive and put her trust in people too easily. She was recruited as a spy, so this was not a good characteristic for her to have. I see how it was relevant to the story line though.

The plot picked up after the first 100 or so pages. It was a dense plot with a lot of moving parts which I like. I didn’t have any problem following along at all. I usually read fast but this one took me a number of days off and on. I became invested in Edith and her journey. Recruited as a spy, she had some skills and was able to make people feel safe to talk to her (thereby giving away some of their secrets), but the misplaced trust issue became problematic. She couldn’t keep a secret and talked to pretty much anyone in her inner circle about what she was doing. I liked the character and was rooting for her.

There was a lot of graphic detail about the Nazis and the atrocities they inflicted; including the acts perpetrated on children and the disabled. I read a lot of books set in the WWII era so that was expected. What was not expected was how it turned out. Completely disappointing. I was enraged at the time I spent invested in this book to have it utterly dissatisfy me. The very last chapter went a little way to make me less furious, but not a lot. I am still gutted by the ending.

I give this one three stars as I enjoyed the style of writing, the premise, the attention to detail and the parts in the middle where things were happening.  I downgraded it for the time it took to actually get into the story and for the way I felt betrayed as a reader invested in a story by the two big events near the end.

Ghost: Justice Chronicles Book 1 by Michael Jack Webb, a Review.

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This book had a good story, buried in way too much minutiae and exposition. The characters had interesting backgrounds and the premise of the story was great. Sadly, the action was interrupted constantly by overlong descriptions and encyclopedia “dialogue” being inserted way too often. The periods of natural dialogue were good, but there was not enough of that to satisfy this reviewer.

The heroine’s parents disappeared, and rather than being upset and focused on finding them (she’s an FBI profiler), she’s more concerned with what the local cop is wearing when he shows up and that he looks like Chris Pratt. There’s a long section on Chris Pratt and how she binged watched his movies in grad school. This was the first of many such interruptions in the flow of the story.

At one point, the main characters are driving along investigating the case of the serial killer that takes her attention away from finding her parents. She mentions a winery and stopping to get a bottle of her favorite wine. She then goes into a long one-sided discussion of the history of the winery. This totally took the reviewer out of the story and was not the only time such exposition did so.

Each time the characters went to another location, one of them would go into great detail about the history of the area (to the point it was laughable as it appeared whole sections of the encyclopedia were cut and pasted into the text.)

Another time, they ate at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park and we got the whole history of the hotel as well as the town. These numerous interruptions of the actual plot of the story—that added nothing to moving the tale along—began to grate on this reviewer’s nerves and caused the focus of the tale to meander off on tangents.

I kept reading as I was interested in how the story would turn out, but sadly, the author seemed to get in his own way. What could’ve been a tight, taut, thriller turned into a slog of too much information. Research is important to add richness to the story line, but telling the reader everything that was learned in the research for the novel takes away from the pacing and excitement of the story unfolding in a thrilling manner. Little tidbits sprinkled in to add authenticity to the settings/circumstances is good, but wholesale chunks of research take the reader out of the story.

I’d give this one three stars.  If it was tighter and there was not so much dialogue that sounded more like recitation from the encyclopedia, I would’ve rated it much higher. I most likely won’t read the next in the series even though I like the storyline. The information-dump style is not for me. I much prefer a tightly written, fast paced story. For those who like an intense history lesson while reading a novel, this one may be right up your alley.

Overkill- New Release Out in the World

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My great grandmother, Mallie Phillips Fowler wasn’t your typical sweet little old lady. She was a ball of fire and very sassy. I like to think I inherited some of her moxie. I was in my 20s when she died and she was in her 90s. One of the last times I saw her, she was in her yard with her cane in one hand and a rake in the other and my grandfather, her son, was begging her to go inside and let him do the raking. No way. She was adamant she could do it. He threatened her with the nursing home, but she just laughed and kept on working. She lived a number of months after that. Sadly, I lived over 360 miles away so I didn’t see her as often as I’d have liked.

Two things stand out in my memory of my whole life visiting her. She always, always, always—even those last visits—had a coconut cake on her dining room table. It was the best cake ever. She used fresh coconut and shredded it herself and used the coconut milk in the batter. None of us in the family have ever been able to duplicate it. One of a kind—like her. She also had one of those glass chicken candy dishes and it always had those hard candy mixes in it —you know, the kind you get at Christmas and they get all stuck together? My sister and I spent many hours tugging that junk apart. We each have a candy dish like that in our homes now. Mine holds loose change, though. Lol.

Why am I yakking about this lady? Well, my new book that’s out tomorrow and up for preorder now has a character who has some of my great grandmother’s characteristics. Miss Hattie in my story is one of the minor characters who plays a role in assisting the detectives in solving the murder at the heart of the story. She happens to be pretty sassy and makes a divine coconut cake (I almost said a to-die-for cake, but thought better of it 🙂 )

Overkill is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Black Opal Books, among other retailers. As an ebook or paperback.

Amazon link

Barnes and Noble link

overkill

 

 

 

Deadly Liaisons- Advanced Reader Copy

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I have my advance reader copies in PDF format for Deadly Liaisons.  I am offering an e-copy to the first five people who respond with their email address and agree to do an honest review in exchange.

To whet your appetite, here’s the first page:

October, 1938

Water ran over the top of Declan Cavanaugh’s shoes as he dashed across St. Mark’s Square in front of the Basilica. Two o’clock in the afternoon meant high tide this time of year in Venice. It wasn’t an ideal time to be chasing the flunky of a vampire through the streets to try to find the demon’s lair, but what was a man to do?

It was blind luck to stumble upon the short, gnomish creature in that Murano glass shop. Declan went in initially to purchase a new pen, but as soon as he laid eyes on the man he knew could lead him to his prey, all thoughts of a blue glass writing implement fled his mind. Making a lunge for the other man wasn’t the best plan, but Declan had been so stunned to see him, he hadn’t taken time to think through what he should do. He’d acted on instinct instead.

Declan regretted the loss of a portion of the shopkeeper’s inventory, but it couldn’t be helped. As soon as the smaller man noticed Declan, the wretched devil tossed a number of items at his pursuer to try to slow Declan’s progress. A few paperweights found their target. Declan’s head throbbed, but he kept moving. A bit of blood trickled down the side of his face. With each step, the pain in his cranium intensified. Thud, thud, thud.

When the flunky shoved the door open and ran into the street, Declan followed. Promising himself to return to the shop later to make things right with the owner, Declan kept up his pursuit.

At the rate the two men were running, staying on the boards the city’s fathers had devised to try to keep the citizens dry proved to be impossible.

Each time his foot slipped off the boards, splashes of water hit the hem of Declan’s pants and covered his brogans. Great, another pair of ruined shoes. A fleeting thought of gratitude for leaving the Italian suede shoes in his hotel room dashed across his brain. They were costly and the ones he wore would be easily replaced. A bright spot in the day for sure.

The gnome kept going. Declan wondered where the little man got his energy. For sure the shorter chap could move fast. Declan gasped for breath, but he couldn’t afford to slow down. He needed to find and capture Ambrose Schumacher.