Tag Archives: review

Dolly Pleasance by CW Lovatt, a Review

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“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.

Christmas Cocoa Murder- a Review

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This was an anthology of three stories. Carlene O’Connor wrote Christmas Cocoa Murder;   Maddie Day wrote Christmas Cocoa and a Corpse; and Alex Erickson wrote Death by Hot Cocoa.

All three stories were enjoyable. I liked the Death by Hot Cocoa one the best. I enjoyed the escape room concept and the set up was clever. I did guess who-dun-it pretty quickly, but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the story and the rooms set up in a holiday theme in the escape room. 

The Christmas Cocoa Murder was also a really cool set up. As a fan of dunking tanks in my younger days, I loved how the author used that concept in her story—I can’t even imagine how sticky it would be to be dunked in cocoa though- *shudder* — The characters in this one were well drawn and intriguing. The mystery was well done and the nutcrackers were a neat addition to the puzzle.

My least favorite was Christmas Cocoa and a corpse. Not because the story lacked anything, it was a good concept and execution. What I didn’t care for was the nicknames – every single character had a nickname- which just seemed off-putting to me. I also didn’t enjoy the overuse of descriptions- too much detail on everything the characters wore and the settings. I know some people enjoy that, but it wasn’t my thing at all.

Overall, this was a cute set of stories and very holiday—if your holidays include murder by cocoa. 🙂

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.

The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher

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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

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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

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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.

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 Gilded Shroud by Elizabeth Bailey

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This story set in the 1790s was intriguing and a solid read. The heroine (a widow) becomes a companion to a dowager marchioness when her nephews she was helping raise left for school. Her brother wanted her to stay on with him and his wife but the heroine wanted an adventure and the job was temporary as the dowager marchioness’ regular companion was recovering from a broken leg.

Our heroine definitely got her adventure. Pretty soon after she arrived at the home of the dowager, the current marchioness was found dead in her bed—strangled. And the kicker? The lady had been heard to be arguing loudly, in the middle of the night, with her husband, the marquis. The marquis ordered his carriage and horses shortly after the argument was heard and that morning when the body is discovered, he’s nowhere to be found. Maybe he absconded to France where he has a second home? Or did he run elsewhere after killing his wife?

The heroine, a sharp lady with a keen mind, sets herself the task of finding the murderer—she doesn’t know the marquis but with the family in disarray over their fears for his life if he’s found and convicted of his wife’s death—to say nothing of the scandal—she feels she needs to pitch in and assist the marquis’s younger brother in the task of clearing the marquis’s name.

The dowager is a plucky lady too and won’t tolerate anyone treating her as if she’s elderly and incapable of being in on the unmasking of the villain. She plays a big role in the book and I liked that she wasn’t shunted aside.

As the investigation ensues, the reader is caught up in the clues with the three main characters. I confess, I figured out who did it early on, but still enjoyed the story and how the author tied up all the parts and loose ends. A bit of romance thrown in as well made this an enjoyable 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.