Tag Archives: Books

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.

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.

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. 

If She Dies- by Erik Therme – A Review

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The blurb for this story set me up for a certain kind of story and, surprisingly, it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, there were twists and turns and some surprises, and it definitely held my attention despite not leading me where I thought it would. The beginning was not like a traditional thriller. It was a slow start that built through the first almost ¾ of the book. I liked it a lot and being surprised by a few things made it even more enjoyable. It didn’t take me long to read it, because it moved fast and held my interest.

There were a couple of places where I thought the protagonist, Tess, was a little naïve and slow on the uptake, but it served the plot, so I can get past that. She wasn’t one of those heroines that make the reader want to slap some sense into her and the naivety was somewhat understandable.

The minor characters like Tess’s brother and husband were well-drawn with good back stories and motivations for their actions. Her husband, Josh, was a bit OCD, but that showed the author put a lot of thought into how he would act as well as react to Tess. I did get a bit peeved at Josh a few times, but to me, that’s a sign of a good story since it means I am relating to the characters.

I have a friend who lost her child in similar circumstances to how Tess and Josh lost Lily and so much of how these characters dealt with their grief was familiar to me from what my friend and her husband went through, the scenes dealing with the sadness, loss and lack of communication really resonated with me. Well done to the author for being able to realistically write about such horrific loss as well as making the story suspenseful.

This one is a 4.5 star read for me. A hard subject handled skillfully. 

Saint Vandal’s Day by D. E. Haggerty- A Review

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I read this book in about an hour and a half. There was a breeziness about it that was appealing. It had a lot of fun parts and I definitely loved the recipes in the back. The cupcakes all sounded really, really good.  I may have to break out the cupcake tins! 🙂

The main character, Callie, was charming and likeable and I enjoyed her relationship with her friends and her fiancée. Most of the characters seemed to be people you’d actually meet on the street and enjoy a chat with. The mystery of the whodunit wasn’t that hard. I pegged the culprit from the first scene the character appeared in. The reason for the actions wasn’t as easy to figure out, though. I had a different motive in my mind, so credit to the author for that.

I did not care for some of the behavior of the character who owned the bakery with the main protagonist. She was the one who baked the cupcakes and she was very volatile and almost unbelievable as a character—she seemed almost like a caricature instead. She truly became annoying before the end of the story.  Out of control, having to be held back from attacking people, stalking, and threats of violence when anyone criticized her cupcakes seemed over the top to me. The parts where she was trying to help the protagonist not cheat on her pre-wedding diet seemed unkind and almost rude the way she snatched food from her friend’s hand. It may just be me, but that rubbed me the wrong way.

This was the last of the series of seven stories, and while I enjoyed the time I spent reading it, it didn’t appeal enough for me to go back and read the others in the series.  There were a number of allusions to the other stories in this short book, but the references were enough for me to guess at how they unfolded so I don’t find it necessary to read them. And sadly, I’m not sure I could handle that baker in other tales. She was the one part of this book that made me bring this rating down to a 4 rather than a 5.

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.

Highland Cove- A Book Review

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Highland Cove by Dylan J. Morgan

Five friends with ambitions to become documentarians travel from London to an abandoned asylum on a Scottish island. The doctor who ran the asylum died sixty years prior and the hospital was closed and is rumored to be haunted.

The author is excellent at evoking atmosphere. The descriptions—first of the pub where the friends met the man who was taking them to the island—then of the island itself—and, finally, the inside of the asylum. The descriptions were creepy and very well done. Dark clouds hanging over the island and the storm complete with lightning added to the exquisite sense of anticipation of meeting some supernatural beings in the corridors or hospital rooms in the abandoned building. Peeling paint, dead leaves and icy wind whirling through the scenes were particularly evocative.

This reader enjoyed the suspense of the book for most of the novel. Figuring out an essential plot point early on was interesting and upped the anticipation of what was ahead.

What was unexpected was the shock of what happened later in the story, and without any spoilers, it’s hard to say what that was, but it was almost too much for this reader. I confess, I glossed over some of that, swiping my e-reader pages faster until the tale moved past that part. I imagine many readers of this genre would revel in that section, but not this one. It didn’t ruin the story for me, but it was disturbing.

The flashes back to the past added to the overall creepiness of the novel. The author is definitely gifted with a talent for descriptiveness. I could see all the places in the story and some made my skin crawl.

If you’re a fan of horror, you shouldn’t pass on this one. The ending was particularly disturbing. Just don’t read before bed or you might wake up at 2 a.m, like I did thinking I heard someone calling my name…..

Madam Tulip- A book Review

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This book was a delightful read. It starts a bit slow and this reviewer wasn’t sure it would be enjoyable, but luckily, it picked up speed as well as the reader’s interest by the second chapter. Don’t give up on this one based merely on the first few pages. Keep going for a richly described tale with compelling and fully fleshed-out characters.

Derry O’Donnell is a financially strapped actor and, needing to earn some cash, with some help from her friend, recreates herself as Madam Tulip. She naturally has the gift of premonition and can read cards intuitively and accurately. What better way to try to make a living when her mother threatens to stop her financial assistance?

Little does Derry know she’s about to get herself in way more trouble than just her mother cutting off her funding.

When someone dies at an event where Madam Tulip is reading cards, Derry finds herself in the middle of the drama—certainly not like a stage drama—this is real. Life and death.

She gets by with some help from her gay former navy SEAL friend and her outrageous painter father.  She also stumbles upon an old love who is operating under cover. Friend or foe? That is something she can’t tell even with her psychic gifts.

The heroine is plucky and irreverent. Her internal dialogue is wonderful. The father and SEAL friend are both unique characters and so well-done personality-wise, this reader wanted to hang out in the pub with them all.

The author clearly has a wonderful sense of humor. There were a number of places that made this reviewer laugh out loud. I love a smart story and this one fits the bill. An adventure with serious moments as well as humor to lighten the mood. A perfect read- not great, heavy literature, but an amusing way to spend some time.

I was glad to learn there’s a whole series of these stories as I’m not ready to let them leave my life yet. This one is a keeper. Highly recommended for a fun read.