Tag Archives: review

Review- The Gilded Girl by Alyssa Colman

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I have a little free library at my office and tend to pick up books of all genres and subjects for the neighborhood folks to take and read. I picked up this middle grade book at our local library’s book sale a few months ago. I was intrigued enough by it to read it one Saturday.

It is a book about discovering who your true friends are and how to be a real friend as well.  The story is about two girls who start out with vastly different lives. One is the spoiled, rich girl and the other the poor orphan who is employed as a servant in the magic school the first girl comes to as a new student.

The rich girl makes friends easily, but she is someone who spends money on her friends and buys them gifts. The poor girl has a harder time as the students (as well as the owner of the school- who is a truly awful person) are not kind to the servants and staff at all. As this is gilded age New York City, that wasn’t surprising.

A change of fate is in store for the rich girl and things change drastically in her life. This change in circumstances leads to both girls discovering a lot about themselves as well as about the other people in their lives.  Many surprises and adventures are in store for them. And many discoveries about the world and life await.

This was a great story for 9-13 year olds. It teaches lessons about the true nature of friendship. It shows money doesn’t make you a likeable person or even a good person. It shows that things are not always how they seem and people can disguise their true selves depending on circumstances.

I recommend this for pre-teens but it also has valuable lessons for us adults as well.

The Cage by Bonnie Kistler, a Review

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I bought this book after seeing the author on Jeopardy a couple of weeks ago.

The book was good, but it was one of those books where I didn’t really care for the protagonist. She was just thoroughly unlikeable throughout the book. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her for being trapped in a situation beyond her control and for having lost her job in the economic downturn in 2008. But she just grated on my nerves. She was a total snob and wouldn’t even consider a lower level legal job when she lost the Wall Street job, even to the point of choosing to live in the slums as a better option than taking a job she deemed beneath her. It was pretty weird. She also, to be such a snob, had a victim mentality and was a liar. To the point of lying on her resume which offends me greatly.

So, I asked myself, why are you keeping on reading? I don’t have an answer to that. But read on, I did. Lol.

The villain was very one dimensional and clearly a sociopath. He irritated me too. I wanted to smack him for his pure evilness with no redeeming qualities at all- such a vicious man.

A very big hint was dropped at a point in the story and I kept waiting for someone to mention it and check on that aspect of the protagonist’s story, but it never was mentioned again until the last two pages of the book.

The protagonist was a lawyer (as is the author) but she violated the number one rule you learn as a lawyer. If you’re detained by the police, you never, ever give a statement even if you are innocent as traps lay everywhere in an interrogation room. You invoke your right to counsel, discuss your knowledge of the matter with your lawyer, and make an informed decision with the benefit of counsel on what to share. This character rattled on to the police—not just once, but over and over—and was basically hoisted on her own petard. Her lies caused her way more distress than she ever needed to face. But I guess without that stupid move there would be no book, right?

All that being said, it was a pretty good story, just not really anyone to root for in the tale, except maybe the women who were ultimately saved.

The Bloomsbury Girls- Natalie Jenner- a review

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A one-hundred-year old bookstore.

Post WWII era.

Three very different women with something in common.

One a wife and mother, one a career girl and one a recent graduate of Cambridge University. They all work at the bookstore and share common issues even though that’s not readily apparent at the beginning of the story.

The author takes us on three distinct yet interwoven journeys with these women. Real literary figures appear in the tale and interact with the fictional characters which gives the setting, as well as the prose, a realism that was well done.

The social issues at play here are the end of WWII return of the men from fighting and how that affected the workforce that had been relying on women while the men were gone, the societal expectations of wives and mothers, privilege in society and how that affects behavior, and racism. The author gave us a compelling story for each of the women while weaving in these issues in a finely crafted way.

The path each of the three protagonists took and where they ended up was obvious pretty early on to this reader, but the journey of each was fulfilling and interesting.

Overall, I liked the story and the way the author interwove the various narratives. The setting was perfect as it moved the plot along at a nice pace and contributed to the issues facing the main characters. The bookstore was a little microcosm of society contained in four walls. The time period chosen for the story emphasized the issues as well. Sadly, some of the themes covered in the book are still problematic to this day. Some things seem slow to change in society and this book shows that in many ways.

An enjoyable, thought provoking read that was entertaining as well. Not at all preachy, but the author has a lot to say.

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!

Rizzio by Denise Mina

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This story about the murder of David Rizzio, the private secretary of Mary Queen of Scots was a quick read. A much fuller picture of what happened that night and the days to follow than I’d read previously

What the conspirators put the poor man through was brutal and violent. The terror he must have experienced was gut-wrenching even reading about it more than 460 years later. Queen Mary’s fear for her life as well as her child’s and the way her own husband tried to force her to have a miscarriage was awful. Imagine spending a whole night and day thinking you’re going to be killed any moment and there is no escape. And that your husband is part of the plot to kill you and your child. Such a savage era in history.

Of course, in some places, life can still be vicious and this retelling of the events of that night in 1566 reminded me that some people still live in places where such violence can be a daily occurrence. This reader counts herself lucky that she can read about such horrors without the kind of fear people face both in the past and in our time.

This killing boiled down to two things in my opinion—(1) an immature, jealous husband who was dissatisfied with his lot in life as consort, not king in his own right and (2) the greed and avarice of courtiers who saw this as their chance to take what they wanted and get rid of Mary. They played right into Darnley’s fantasy of being king and used that for their own ends with no intention of giving him his heart’s desire. A lot of nefarious people in Edinburgh.

The author here clearly researched the time frame extensively. I had not read about Henry Yair and his murder of Father Adam Black on the same night. That was an interesting part of the story I had not heard about before. Fanaticism seemed rife in that era for sure.

I can’t say I liked the book as it was a terrible, terrible time in Scotland’s history, but I did learn a lot and appreciate the author’s work in fleshing out this story. It was well-written and, as it was also brutally truthful, it was a heartbreaking read. 4 stars.

Ashes in Venice by Gojan Nikolich – a review

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I chose this one to review as I thought it took place in Venice, Italy. I love Venice and was looking forward to an adventure in that city. Imagine my shock when I started reading and the first chapters were full of graphic violence and not a canal or Doge’s palace in sight. I actually went back to the cover several times on my kindle to see if I was reading the right book. And yes, it still said Ashes in Venice.

The action takes place in Las Vegas and eventually, when the character got to the Venetian Hotel, I thought maybe that was where the title came from even though that was still misleading. I admit, I was liking the main character and was intrigued by how the various threads of the story were coming together, but I also have to admit I was very distracted by why I thought from the blurb that the story was set in Italy.  Eventually, all that became clear but it was deep into the body of the book before it did.

The graphic violence was pretty startling. I’d warn potential readers about that. It wasn’t really gratuitous, but it was a bit over the top for this reader. I could see how it fit into the storyline, but sometimes, it was too much.

The story itself was gripping and the book was a page turner. I stayed up late to finish it when I got close to the end. I figured out a lot of it by about midway through, but it was compelling enough for me to read to the end and see if I was right.

Overall, I liked the story and the flawed detective who was trying to solve the crimes. He was a completely drawn personality, warts and all. His love for his wife who was ill was lovely. He had gambling and financial issues, but he was doing his best to make things good for his wife. The humor the author gave him in his internal thoughts was a welcome relief from the violence of the story. I really enjoyed the wit of the author.

The author’s imagination is a wild place based on the evidence in this tale. Some of the things he conjured were mind blowing. Clever, violent and unique is how I’d describe this book. If you’re squeamish, though, give it a pass. 4 stars.

Bluebird by Genevieve Graham- a Review

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

This story starts out in Belgium in WWI. The heroine, Adele, is a nurse in an army hospital. These women were called Bluebirds because of their uniforms of light blue and white. Adele has been there for a while and has been able to keep her distance from the injured men she helps treat. The nurses are encouraged not to become personally involved with the patients and Adele works hard to not get attached..

Then a tunneler named Jeremy is brought in wounded severely and requiring a lot of care. These tunnelers were vital to the war effort and spent all their time underground setting explosives to aid their comrades who were fighting above ground.  Jerry’s brother, John is also a tunneler and saves Jerry from an explosion by the enemy and makes sure his brother is brought to the hospital. The nurse assigned to Jerry is Adele.

At first, due to his injuries, Jerry can’t talk. Adele spends time with him reading to him and chatting. They draw close, but eventually, Jerry heals and heads back to the front and they lose contact.

Both Jerry and Adele are Canadian and from the same general area of Ontario. When Jerry returns home with his brother, he tries to find Adele but is unsuccessful and fears she died in Belgium. Adele is likewise sure Jerry didn’t survive.

The story follows each of them as they rebuild their lives. This part of the book seemed to drag a bit. Honestly, a lot of the story was slow moving and it took me many days to get through that middle part.

The action eventually picked up after the two of them found their niches in the world. Adele went to work for a local doctor. Jerry and his brother entered the dangerous line of work of running illegal alcohol to the United States during prohibition. This was when the book picked up the pace.

Run-ins with a former friend turned enemy brought a sense of urgency to the plot and this reader enjoyed the new quicker pace of the tale.

It was obvious the author delved deep into research of the era, including the nursing corps of Canada in WWI, the tunnelers of that war and the prohibition era dangers to the smugglers and competitors in the business. There were a lot of intriguing parts such as the various ways the rum-runners got their liquor across the border to sell it, including all the ways they hid bottles in the automobiles. It was also interesting to learn about the way the restaurants in Canada offered free liquor if the patron ordered food as a way to get around the laws in place. This reader wasn’t familiar with Canada’s laws during prohibition, so a lot of the information was new. The author was deft at sliding in the historical details without making the story read like a history lesson.

Overall, the book was good and well-developed. Parts were slow, but I enjoyed the characters and the real history of the times being artfully inserted. I’d recommend this one. 4 stars.

Burke and the Pimpernel Affair by Tom Williams- A Review

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I enjoy historical tales and chose this one to review based on the year it was set. This book was part of a series, but it doesn’t need to be read in order in my opinion. It was easy to figure out who everyone was and the adventure in this story was self-contained. The setting was after the French Revolution era and into the times of the England/France wars with Napoleon.  The main characters, James Burke and his sergeant, William Brown, were sent from England to find the leak in the English spy network. Many of the agents working for England were going missing on the route from the channel to Paris.

Brown went into France with a group of French patriots whose mission was to sabotage certain enemy strongholds and one who was to distribute anti Napoleonic propaganda. They were to take the circuitous route into Paris, moving from safe house to safe house.

Burke followed behind them to be the lookout on the ground to figure out just where the leak or unsafe house was located.

Adventure ensues as the reader follows the route of the group as well as Burke. Some tense moments were in store on the road to Paris.

The story also contains scenes with the French spymaster, Fouche’ as he plots from his office and plans his tortures of any prisoners he can get his hands on. He’s especially interested in any spies from England.  

As the tale unfolds, dangers are around every corner. The action becomes intense and without spoilers, it’s hard to say much more. Suffice it to say, there were many times this reader was on the edge of her seat.

The author did an excellent job recreating the scenes of both the countryside and Paris of the era. I could almost smell the putrid streets of the city and the woods in the country. His descriptions of the interiors of palaces, cottages and the prison were also well done. The labyrinth of the office building/archives/prison was especially well done. The description of the darkness and many passages heightened the anxiety of the parts of the book that took place there.

A very immersive tale that I think was well executed and enjoyable even through the harrowing parts.  Four stars.