Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Not So Perfect Life: A Novel by Sophie Kinsella

My Not So Perfect Life: A Novel.  Sophie Kinsella. Bantam Press/The Dial Press. February 2017. 448 pp. ISBN #: 9780812998269.

Katie Brenner is living the dream!  She’s escaped her small-town Somerset life, dumped her accent, and is living in London in a flat she shares with two other workers.  She’s working for a chic London company which specializes in unique marketing strategies.  Her boss, Demeter, is a genius in branding products, even if she is a hyped up, selfish and demanding woman whose key interest, outside of her skilled choices of advertising, is being the first to do whatever is trending in food, clothing, etc. 

Initially, Katie is hired as a research assistant, putting survey data into a computer, hardly a blip on Demeter’s interest screen. Katie, who is now calling herself “Cat” is starting to yearn for more.  She’s got what she thinks are some brilliant design and advertising schemes and wants the chance to become acknowledged as someone worth encouraging to become an integral part of Cooper Clemmow, a famed company.

She then accidentally meets Alex and he shares with her some wacky adult toys (no, not sexual).  As time passes, Katie and Alex become close but this goes nowhere fast as a dramatic error happens at Clemmow and Katie is fired.  No, this isn’t a downer, although Katie is deeply upset.  Katie’s such a spunky character that she takes it in stride and returns to live in Somerset with her caring Dad.  He and his new wife has opened a country resort.  Lo and behold, who should arrive as guest but Demeter, her husband and her children.  And not too long after, Alex appears but not to woo Katie.  Before his arrival, Katie sees another side of Demeter which throws her plan to spike some revenge on her.  Alex has the same plan and the remainder of the novel brings some surprises and shows Katie maturing and making some startling choices!

Sophie Kinsella has done a marvelous job in creating this feisty character, Katie.  The plot is simple but there are enough snarky, funny moments to lighten the plot and give the reader a delightful experience.  Smart, humorous and satirical look at fame and fortune, laced with a bucket of old-fashioned, spot-on values. Nicely crafted, Sophie Kinsella!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Assassins by Mike Bond

Assassins.  Mike Bond. Mandevilla Press. December 2016. 502 pp. ASIN #: B01MTW71F6.   

Our main character opens the action by parachuting into Afghanistan with his peers, but the landing is a difficult one indeed.  At the beginning of thirty years of fighting, the soldier falls victim to multiple shreds of shrapnel lodged in his skull and one of his peers is wounded in the leg.  Their job was to serve as aides to defeat the Russians, to get them out of Afghanistan.  But little by little the reader learns about the real issues behind the constant war occurring in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries.  For Afghani lords don’t trust each other and even go to war against each other in their endless power plays.  There’s no trust between American soldiers or mercenaries and the Afghanis being helped.  Weapons are exchanged for the trafficking of opium.  It’s a brutal existence and death looms large in every stage of any operation.

As the story progresses, the plot thickens and we realize that the American government is being played.  For Arabs take American money and military support while at the same time hedging their bets with supporting terrorist lords.  For anyone sharp about global news, this isn’t news but reading out it plays out in action is starkly shocking. Americans fighting over there take orders and don’t spend much time analyzing the political sides.  One wonders what their motivation is to make friends with those who are both friends and enemies, who put up with insults of Muslims who see any American friend or foe as an infidel or enemy.

This novel covers thirty years (no spoilers here) from the early years to 911 to the evolution of terrorism into ISIS.  The action is rivetingly present on every page.  It’s an education in Middle East strife and at the same time a thrilling read in which tension never relaxes.  It’s so real it’s almost overwhelming!  It is what is really happening.  Assassins is Mike Bond’s best novel!  Well-researched, complicated, surreal yet real, this is a story (it is fiction, after all) that will sear the reader’s memory long after the last page is turned! Highly recommended, well-crafted fiction that tells the vivid story of an endless war!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

K Street: A Kay Hamilton Novel #3 by M. A. Lawson

K Street: A Kay Hamilton Novel #3.  M. A. Lawson. Penguin Publishing Group. January 2017. 304 pp. ISBN #: 9780399573842.

K Street in Washington, D.C. is renowned as the home of lobbyists of special corporations, business groups and companies representing special interest.  Their job is to influence the course of American policy through the Senate and House of Representatives.  However, on the same street is one group that carries out activities that the President wants done secretly, and so the group exists with absolutely no connection to any member of government.  The novel opens with a killing job that goes awry.  When it’s all over, two of the attackers are dead as well as Callahan, the head of this secret group, landing in the hospital in critical condition and another of his employees dead.  Kay Hamilton had been going to meet with Callahan to let him know she was quitting as his worker; instead she walked into a barrage of bullets flying and dead bodies everywhere.  Before he goes into a coma, he whispers a letter to Kay, which immediately sets her in a specific direction to find the thieves and murderers.

Kay is determined to find out who is behind this attack.  No spoilers here.  Suffice to say that the people in charge of this mayhem are just as determined not to be found.  The question is twofold: should Callahan and Hamilton be allowed to live or can they remain alive and harmless regarding a higher mission, the passing of military secrets to a foreign government? 

Kay Hamilton was originally fired from her DEA job for doing things her way instead of following rules and protocol.  She’s no different here as she refuses to carry out someone else’s narrowly-defined investigation.  The result is a satisfying romp with constant surprises, tension, deaths, and answers slowly revealed.  Kay Hamilton is an intelligent, street-savvy investigator who gets the job done and keeps the reader guessing through the entire process!

K Street.. is a great read and will thrill all those who love adventure and a great mystery!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Guests on South Battery by Karen White

The Guests on South Battery.  Karen White. Penguin Publishing Group. January 2017. 352 pp. ISBN #: 9780451475237.

Melanie Trenholm is returning to work after being home following the birth of her twins.  She’s a successful real estate seller and her husband, Jack, is a successful author.  They live in an old house in Charleston, South Carolina; in fact most of the homes in their area are historical, “old” homes.  Melanie has a gift that she can see the dead and for some reason while she was pregnant she lost that ability.  But now it’s back full steam ahead, beginning with someone trying to communicate with her by telephone even though there’s no voice on the other end when she answers the phone.  Now some people who have helped her fix up parts of her home in need of desperate changes find that underneath her back yard are questionable artifacts.  It seems her house is starting to resemble the proverbial “money pit” with constant surprises.

Returning to work, Melanie meets Jayne, who wants to sell a house she inherited and buy a new home that is ultra-modern.  She also finds out that Jayne is looking for a job as a nanny and she’s a perfect match for Melanie as they’re both rather anal about schedules and ways to take care of children.  Of course, there has to be a problem and it’s that disastrous things happen whenever Jayne is around.  When Melanie visits the house Jayne wants to sell, mysterious events start happening like a talking doll, ringing bells in a home with no electricity, objects being thrown, etc. 

The story continues with the mystery obviously being who had lived there beside the woman who left the house to Jayne and what were the turbulent relationships that caused this house to be haunted.  Of course, the reader knows the mystery will be solved, but that doesn’t stop the constant thrills, shocks and threats that continue non-stop throughout the whole story. 

There’s another sub-plot about an author who stole a plot from one of Jack’s novels.  Add to that Jack has had writer’s block ever since Jayne was hired to nanny the couple’s children.

All in all, this is a grand thriller and exciting read for those who love the genre and others as well. The plot is somewhat stereotypical but told in a way that generates and holds interest quite constantly.  Nicely crafted, Karen White!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Perilous Undertaking: Veronica Speedwell Novel #2 by Deanna Raybourne

A Perilous Undertaking: Veronica Speedwell Novel #2. Deanna Raybourn. Penguin Publishing Group. January 2017. 352 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451476159.

Victoria Speedwell is a sharp lepidopterist who is back again to solve a new mystery with her natural historian/taxidermist buddy, Stoker.  When Victoria is invited to a woman’s club that is like men’s clubs of the Victorian era in 1887, a place where women’s intelligence and interest in just about anything are allowed to shine and be shared.  Victoria meets a formidable member, Lady Sundridge, who brings Victoria into a quiet room where she is scrutinized and queried by another woman.  Victoria takes very little time to figure out that she is being addressed by a member of royalty.  Now Lady Sundridge had already begged Victoria to assist in solving the mystery of the murder of a woman named Artemesia, the lover of a famous society art patron, Miles Ramsforth who is to be hanged for the murder in only two days. Not too much pressure! Add to the fact that Victoria she will meet her own father if she succeeds.  Both sides of this quest have very different, unknown motives in resolving these mysteries with success!

Stoker and Victoria discover the more sordid side of royalty in a secret sex society and other mysterious places and people.  As usual, Victoria receives a secret communication that threatens her life is he insists on continuing her investigation of the circumstances surrounding Artemisia’s death. 

No spoiler’s here – we soon discover there are plenty of suspects who might have committed the murder.  We also meet several high society and royal personages who are a part of the decadence so characteristic of this historical time.  Add to that the mystery behind Victoria and Stoker’s relationship which seems slightly hot, growing hotter but never actually getting there, a frustrating conundrum for readers!

A Perilous Undertaking is a satisfying read that starts off slowly but gradually picks up momentum with plenty of twists and turns all the way to the surprising final page!  Nicely done, Deanna Raybourn!

Traveling Light: A Novel by Lynne Branard

Traveling Light: A Novel.  Lynne Branard. Penguin Publishing Group. January 2017. 320 pp. ISBN #: 9781101989043.

Alissa has entered a rather strange contest to win a storage unit that has been abandoned.  What she finds, ironically, doesn’t seem to surprise her.  Instead she discovers the ashes of a deceased man, Roger Hart, and quickly decides she will return his ashes to his family or hometown.  She also is in need of a change and this strikes her as presenting innumerable possibilities.  No, it’s not the path most would take but it’s certainly an intriguing premise.

Little does she know that her eyes and heart are about to be opened, beginning when a strange young waitress, Blossom, decides to join her on the trip to Texas, as well as Alissa’s three-legged dog.   They discuss families as they travel and Alissa gets to meet some unique characters, like Blossom’s Dad. 

They meet fascinating people, some stereotypical, some odd.  They learn to go with the flow of whatever happens, including when their car starts misbehaving and all of Alissa’s car education helps them figure out what it is but not be able to fix it without help from elsewhere.

Meanwhile the man who abandoned Alissa a few days before the wedding keeps calling her and trying to hook up again.  But Alissa’s stronger, feistier and she’s not giving in to his charm.  Add to that her own father is dating a woman thirty years younger than he is, with two small children. And Alissa makes it clear that she doesn’t want to take over the newspaper her father owns and for which she wrote for a long time. 

What does she want to do?  Repair a boat.  “I don’t want to follow a script anymore…Everybody needs to listen to their own hearts…we should all decide on our own scripts.”  It seems that Alissa has learned to allow life to happen to her instead of directing life along the patterns her family has always followed, even though she really didn’t mind those patterns until now.

This is a quite unusual novel that reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road story, even though it really isn’t like that for most of the story of Kerouac’s journeys.  One even wonders if this change is because people are different in the West and the South.  One thing for sure is that Alissa and Blossom’s story will have you nodding your head up and down and at times holding still while questioning what has always been accepted.  What would it take for you to totally embrace life in different ways?  Lynne Branard helps the reader to begin his or her own journey, if one dares!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Echo of Twilight: A Novel by Judith Kinghorn

The Echo of Twilight: A Novel.  Judith Kinghorn. Penguin Publishing Group. January 2017. 400 pp. ISBN #: 9780451472106.

Pearl Gibson loves to travel, to move up, to make up names for herself and tales she tells strangers, lying to embellish and enchant mundane reality!  She’s good at it or perhaps one should say she was good at it until she was caught in one of her brilliant fabrications.  On the way to interview for a job as a lady’s maid, she gives her name as Ottoline, the name of her soon to be employer, to a fine looking man she meets at a railroad station.  Just a stranger, right? Ha!

In fact, the real Ottoline Campbell who hires Pearl is a unique woman who does exactly as she pleases during an era when women’s roles were quite circumscribed.  Ottoline’s attitude to Pearl from the very beginning is more of a friend than employer, although when displeased she lets Pearl know her place.  Very quickly, Pearl learns about the family secrets but it isn’t her place to comment.  Pearl then meets a family relative and they immediately bond.  Now Ottoline has a secret that binds her to Pearl even deeper, a truth that is unfortunately or fortunately, depending on one’s point of view, shunted to the side with the beginning of World War I in 1914.  Ottoline’s sons and so many other sons in the area join the military fight out of patriotic duty. Some will die; some will return as scarred, traumatized wrecks! Pearl soon has a secret that she entrusts to Ottoline, who now evolves into Pearl’s protector and more than friend.

Pearl’s tension from the war and its shocking effects builds up until one day she breaks and spews out what she perceives as the truth, an act that mandates she leave the Campbell home to become the independent woman she needs to be.  Years later, she will return under totally unexpected circumstances.

This story has been told many times before this novel was written.  The essence of this story, however, is quite unique.  What rules our lives – fate, destiny, choices, rebellion, conformity – what?  Judith Kinghorn is a very skilled author who crafts a mesmerizing account of how the vicissitudes of life dramatically shift during wartime.  Every character is dramatically changed forever and the reader is honored to have shared the dramatic lives within these pages.

The Echo of Twilight is an amazing work of historical fiction that this reviewer highly recommends!