Tag Archives: book

Dolly Pleasance by CW Lovatt, a Review

Standard

“My name is Dolly Pleasance, sir, which is short for Delores, which, in Spanish, means sorrow.”

The main character in this novel always introduces herself this way. It was a cute character quirk that recurred over the entire book. She definitely had sorrow in her life, but she also had some wonderful times as well.

The main character in this story was old beyond her years after a rough start to her life. Her father and mother were drunks and her mother killed herself when the protagonist was quite young. The story opens with Dolly and her father Archie leaving the workhouse (a horrible place that I’ve read about before and watched documentaries about). If the poor child living in those conditions didn’t break her spirit, I felt like this was going to be a good story about a plucky girl who refused to be defeated by the hand she was dealt by fate.  The author didn’t disappoint. His Dolly was smart, clever and streetwise. She also had some flaws which made her tale even more interesting—no one likes a perfect protagonist.

She worked her way up in the theater from scrubbing floors to appearing on stage. Along the way, she did what she needed to in order to survive. The streets of London were rough and it had to be hard for a girl on her own. She had a mentor, Ben, who her father left her with, but she had been raised pretty feral and couldn’t adapt to living in his home with his wife and children.

Some parts of the story were gruesome and violent. The villain was a bit unbelievable—his motivation, I mean. It seemed like such a minor thing for someone to react the way he did. Mental illness could have been the root of it, I presume.  It stretched credulity to me. The other thing that seemed rushed and a bit off was how quickly and deeply Dolly was affected by the young man, Charlie Smithers. A few moments of interaction with him resulted in some life decisions that just seemed precipitous and rash.

There were a few usages of the wrong word—one was plane for plain and the other is a real pet peeve for me—taught for taut. They threw me out of the story.

Having not read the stories by this author about Charlie Smithers, (There was an author note about Charlie at the beginning of the book, but I didn’t have enough knowledge to know who he was) I had questions about him and how he was able to head off to foreign parts for months or years at a time when he is a valet. I plan to check those tales out as I enjoyed the writing in this book and think I’d like the adventures of Charlie.

Overall, I liked this story a lot. Dolly was a strong character with some weaknesses that made her vulnerable and she was very well-rounded. The style of the author’s prose was entertaining (except the few places the story got bogged down with recitations of various plays) and I also liked that he included real people of the theater/London scene as characters in his work. It gave a touch of realism to the tale.

This story had some flaws—in this reader’s opinion—but, for the most part, it was an enjoyable read.

The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher

Standard

I received this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

This fictionalized version of the true story of the founder of Shakespeare and Company in Paris (Sylvia Beach) was very well-researched and it was clear the author knew her subject well. The bibliography at the end of the book was extensive and I admire the author for all the hard work she did to familiarize herself with Paris in the early part of the 20th Century as well as her subject and the literati of the time. Her writing showed she had great affection for the era and all the inhabitants of the tale.

The friendships of Ms. Beach with Ezra Pound, Earnest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, as well as James Joyce added luster to her life and life to the bookstore. Sylvia battled mightily for James Joyce’s book Ulysses to be published—eventually becoming the publisher herself. The ins and outs of their relationship were explored well by the author of this book. Quite frankly, I didn’t have any idea what kind of person Joyce really was. We’ve all heard about him, of course, but the way he was portrayed in this book made me quite dislike him.  As the book was well-researched (including letters between Beach and Joyce), I don’t doubt the author’s portrayal as accurate.

The face that Ms. Beach and her partner were living openly in a same-sex relationship in the 1920s was remarkable to me. Paris and France were always more liberal than most places—and I was glad to see these relationships (like Gertrude Stein’s as well) were accepted and not looked at askance. There may have been a bit too much behind closed doors scenes for this reader, but it wasn’t too jarring.

I also enjoyed learning more about Ezra Pound and the kind of person he was—a great friend to Ms. Beach. The parts of the book dealing with the publication, banning and legal fights over Ulysses were especially intriguing. The journey to the publication of the book was fascinating and, as a lawyer, I was intrigued by the court battles over obscenity and the banning of the book in the United States.  

This book was a pleasure to read—while based on real people and true events, the author made the history come alive by creating a heroine of Sylvia Beach that showed her as a kind, fascinating individual who stood up for what and who she believed in even if one of those people treated her abominably. I enjoyed the journey of the story and the way the characters were made real and fresh.

Double Identity- by Alison Morton- a Review

Standard

I received a copy in exchange for a fair review. I give this one 3.5 stars for being readable and having a good plot. It’s clear the writer knows London, France and the military and she used that knowledge well.

Melisande, nicknamed Mel, is an unlikeable heroine. She’s a poor judge of character, quick to overreact and attack people (including slapping a colleague across the face in a moment of uncontrolled rage), and thoroughly annoying.

Despite that, I found myself drawn into the tale. It was a good story with a compelling plot.

The heroine is also a mass of contradictions. Some were hard for this reader to reconcile such as her compassion for the domestic partner of one of the villain’s while she was undercover living in the same home as the villain and his mate, all while scheming to bring down the villain and destroy the life of this man she seemed drawn to and befriended on a visit to the market. I know she was undercover and had to lie, but the way the author wrote the villain in the beginning and how she wrote him while the heroine was living with him (as well as his partner) was also a big contradiction. The man seemed like two different characters in places. Kind when he was in his apartment or car and ruthless and cruel when he was at his office or in the street. It was a little off-putting and odd. On the one hand, he seemed like he could kill the heroine without a thought and then, on the other, he was chatting with her as if they were cordial colleagues.

The heroine was also a contradiction in her dealings with her colleagues and other law enforcement members. Disrespectful to orders even though her actions ended up saving lives and just overall, someone who rubbed me the wrong way. I liked her partner, Jack McCracken as he reminded me of heroes who grow on the reader during the course of the story. He was unkind and annoying at the beginning, but he had motivation as he was investigating a murder where the heroine was a potential suspect. He eventually changed and softened.

I liked the intricacy of the plot, starting with the death of Mel’s fiancé and heading into the adventure of her working with the agency to solve not only his death, but an international intrigue involving a large cast of characters. The ultimate villain was easy to figure out as the author seemed to bang the reader in the head with his behavior.

This book made me angry in parts—mostly due to the heroine’s behaviors and attitudes—but ultimately, she seemed to have a straight moral compass and I liked that. She was adept at her job, a great shot, and savvy when it came to her military training, but she didn’t offer much in the way of interpersonal skills. She also didn’t appear to have any character growth at all during the course of the story. And I guess that was all right as I kept reading…

The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell- a Review

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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.

Standard

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.