Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Future She Left Behind: A Novel by Marin Thomas

The Future She Left Behind. Marin Thomas. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2017. 336 pp. ISBN #: 9780451476302. 

Katelyn Pratt’s life moves from sedate satisfaction into a whirlwind question mark when her husband, after twenty years of marriage, has divorce papers served on Katelyn.  He’s found a new, young love and left his wife with his mother, who is probably the most annoying woman in the world of St. Louis.  Shirley Pratt is a snob who is constantly mocking or correcting her daughter-in-law.  But her husband has decided the house will go up for sale and his mother will move into a senior apartment complex that Shirley decides isn’t ready yet for the way she wants it.  Result: she has to stay with her daughter-in-law until the apartment is ready.  Katelyn decides to take a trip back to her hometown in Little Springs, Texas.  The only problem is that Shirley has to go with her because her son is too busy with his new girlfriend.

This is the crux of this funny but frustrating novel.  However, Shirley is about to meet her match with Katelyn’s mother, Birdie.  Although Birdie gave up her dreams, like Katelyn did, she’s no shrinking violet.  She puts up with Shirley’s comments to a point but then is an expert at shifting the topic.  At the same time, Katelyn meets an old love, Jack, and other events happen to make her take a long look at what works and what doesn’t work in a good life.

This is a novel about transformation, leaving behind loneliness and embracing the fact that connections with other people is not fraught with fear and rejection. Instead Katelyn and Shirley will evolve with new experiences and reflection on attitudes and errors from the past. 

Despite the frustration, this is a delightful story that this reader found very enjoyable and recommends as a contemporary, very real story that speaks to families anywhere in the world!  

The Life We Bury: A Novel by Allen Eskens

The Life We Bury: A Novel. Allen Eskens. Prometheus Books. October 2017. 303 pp. ISBN #: 9781616149987. 

Joe Talbot, college student, has his hands full.  His mother is an alcoholic who is probably bipolar and his brother is autistic and being forced to undergo too much change for his vulnerable psyche.  Joe’s got an English assignment in which he must interview a subject and write a biography, including beginning chapters, an outline, and a finale.  He chooses Carl Iverson, a man convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl, Crystal Hagen.  As his interviews begin, he meets several people who will change the course of his interview into an investigation.  Those people are Lili, a neighbor in his apartment building; Virgil who served with Carl in Vietnam and a former law clerk who was present during the trial of Carl.

The first question to be answered is why Carl pressed for an early and quick trial.  And why is he desiring this “dying declaration” when he’s previously been silent on the whole matter? 

It’s almost ironic that Joe is incapable of using some tough love on his own mother who has no problem taking Joe’s last monies to pay her bail rather than get sober while he becomes insistent on following the course of his investigation to its completion for a man who a few weeks ago was a stranger.

Readers will be shocked by the turns in this plot as accounts from Vietnam and a diary, as well as detailed questions completely turn this case around.  The course of this tale puts Joe’s safety into a perilous scene indeed.

Readers need to hold judgment as the beginning of this novel seems to tie up a story into a seamless tale.  The best is yet to come, and Allen Eskens provides an riveting tale that is sure to please readers who love good criminal fiction/thriller novels.  Nicely crafted and highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic. Alice Hoffman. Simon & Schuster. October 2017. 384 pp.  ISBN #: 9781501137471. 

The Rules of Magic is a prequel to the well-known novel and film, Practical Magic.  It doesn’t matter if one hasn’t read the other novel; this is a stand-alone story in which Susanna Owens trains her two daughters and son not to do things that would allow the public to know both their horrendous family history or their present strange powers.  Yes, in 1620 their ancestor was charged with witchery.  Such a heritage is indeed hard to live with!

There are many rules that Susanna makes her children obey but they go ahead and do all those things anyway.  Franny, Jet and Vincent have their own unpredictable ways and support each other in when to and when not to use their powers.  Foretelling the future, reading the thoughts of other people, and other skills all are minor talents. The one that really matters to them is their mother’s warning not to fall in love.  This then is the heart of this novel.  For how can one stop oneself from falling in love?  But they also know that the one they fall in love with will die if they marry.  No spoilers here but at times the reader holds one’s breath because we come to believe that falling in love will turn tragic. 

Aunt Isabella is a wonderful character whose wisdom shared with these three young but inexperienced characters saves the day.  Her dry sense of humor and blunt advice delights the reader as well.

Franny, Jet and Vincent figure out how to live with their curse or blessing, depending on how one looks at it, and maneuver around it eventually.  Many will die or get hurt, charming connections are found, and many surprises are in store regarding love.  Through it all, the siblings maintain a very special connection and sense of humor about it all. 

In between their escapades is a delightful look at the 1960s where one smells wonderful flowers, herbs and food; hears memorable hippie music of that era; and more.

The Rules of Magic is one more example of Alice Hoffman’s exquisitely skilled writing which is superb and must reading!

Eden's Gates by Charles Roberts

Eden’s Gates. Charles Roberts. Strategic Book Group, LLC. January 2014. 722 pp. ISBN #: 9781609118044.  

Lavinia Williamson, raised in an Abolitionist family, marries a Virginia plantation owner who owns slaves.  For the most part, the slaves are treated well who work in the house, but those who work in the fields suffer from the harsh work and the treatment of overseers.  Lavinia thus becomes a careful slave runner, helping slaves to escape to the North.  But this is an extremely dangerous enterprise for the cost of escape is huge and death is the likely outcome of being captured. 

Lavinia and her husband have lost a daughter to death, and their marriage has become shattered, aggravated by Lionel’s affairs with other women and the slave women.  Now, she discovers Henny, a young slave, whose eyes are a perfect replica of her dead daughter’s eyes and Lavinia knows that Lionel has fathered her.  When looking at Henny, Lavinia knows she can find peace and some comfort in raising this young girl as her own daughter. But the cost of doing this is more estrangement from Lionel.

This then is the essence of this novel which focuses not only on raising Henny to read and write and be a cultured lady but the tension of more slaves escaping and Lavinia’s part in their freedom through the Underground Railroad (as it was then called, a journey from house to house all the way to the North of America).  It covers the effects of one woman’s arrest after aiding over two hundred slaves to escape. 

Many of the scenes in between these highlights allow the reader to observe the Southern belle mentality that often sets the standards of behavior but also exposes the hypocrisy and unchristian behavior toward those who believed in the equality of all men and women despite color. 

Eden’s Gates is an intriguing, engaging read reflective of a time in American history when animosity and division failed to stop the Abolition movement from effectively growing and freeing thousands of slaves.  Commendable and highly recommended historical fiction!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens

The Deep Dark Descending. Allen Eskens. Prometheus Books. October 2017. 272 pp. ISBN #: 9781633883550. 

Max Rupert is a detective tormented by the death of his wife and child she was carrying.  After a certain amount of time passes, Max is not allowed to have anything to do with the investigation of his wife’s passing.  However, Max discovers that she didn’t die in an accident but was deliberately murdered!  It doesn’t take much to imagine his fury and resultant reaction! 

Max has it on tape, a voice clearly indicating his wife was deliberately murdered.  Now he has to figure out who the Planner, the Henchman  and the Boss are!  The remainder of the story proceeds with Max figuring out the identity of the men responsible for Jenni’s death.  Somehow she discovered facts that could materially indict certain people over a crime involving Russian woman brought to America to serve as prostitutes.

This novel is harrowing as Max confronts the chief perpetrator and plans to kill him.  This is the essence of this story.  It raises questions of moral integrity.  When is it okay to wreak revenge on a killer?  Why should the law be the one to punish a murderer or murderers?  The laying out of these questions becomes clear when we see how Max begins to distance himself from everyone he knows, including a partner Niki, who cares for Max more than she should

The reader will be shocked by the end of this story and will certainly wonder what lies ahead in Max’s future.  This reader has the feeling that this will become clear in future novels.  For now, The Deep Dark Descending is nail-biting, tension-filled reading that lovers of crime thrillers, adventure tales and mysteries will thoroughly enjoy! Well done, Allen Eskens!

The Genius Plague by David Walton

The Genius Plague. David Walton. Prometheus Books. October 2017. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9781633883437.

Neil Johns is about to grasp the fulfillment of his dreams, to be a code breaker for NASA.  His brother is a mycologist who works with and is obsessed with the life of fungus, yes that’s right – fungus!  It turns out that biologically fungus is everywhere and duplicates faster than the mind can conceive.  The brother, Paul, and his friend Melanie escape from a brutal attack in the waters of the Amazon jungle.  He survives an infection that almost kills him, but he is not the same man he was before he contracted this brutal infection.  Instead he finds that if he doesn’t take his antifungal medication, he has phenomenal mental powers. 

At the same time Paul is recovering from his almost fatal illness, events are taking a turn for the worse in South America.  Coups are violently accomplished but unlike other changes in that part of the world, brutal dictators are uniting in purpose.

At first Paul sees the brilliance of fungus which even duplicates in the body and changes the mind, including the mind of his aged father who had been on the cusp of despair with Alzheimer’s disease but is now transformed and refreshed as an elderly man with purpose!

It sounds dangerous and frightening and so it is!  But the danger lies beyond what can be seen for what will happen when even humans cannot control the power of the transformative fungus that seems out to change and control the world?  The plot is simple but events move faster than the reader can imagine!  This is a science fiction novel that could become reality as microbial elements in the world are becoming stronger and resistant to all drugs and experiments.  Interesting read that this reviewer recommends as not only sci fi but also a great novel of international intrigue and mystery!

Osiris: A Novel by Eric C. Anderson

Osiris: A Novel. Eric C. Anderson. Adam Dunn Inc. September 2017. 212 pp. hb ISBN #: 9780996235235.  

ISIS drives a bevy of trucks into the American compound in Baghdad in the year 2019.  Within minutes, everyone who is not dead is the “walking dead,” carrying enough radiation to guarantee the end is near.  Who is involved in this attack?  Yes, ISIS but other powers have their eyes on this disastrous event and is trying to figure out how it will help their own power position in the Middle East.  Is this a winning disaster?  How? Why?

Turkey has spies in place, their objective to rid the area of Kurds and to bring back the Ottoman Empire.  A man named Odin is hired by Qatar leaders to make cyberspace attacks and even Israel is watching very carefully so that they may destroy the power that could mean their own eventual demise.

This novel is a pressure cooker military novel in which every nation is racing to enter Baghdad to claim the spoils (and that they literally are) of victory.  Enter a United States Marine who corrals material and supporting staff who will help him rescue those left in Baghdad.  He’s answerable to no one and toughly plans a rescue that seems all but impossible.  One officer higher in rank dares to question but knows he will get no more and is glad to be along for the challenge instead of sitting behind in offices waiting for the siege to end.

The novel is full of acronyms and a complex layer of characters that the reader must work hard to figure out.  A glossary at the end of the novel helps readers to figure out the weapons and technobabble on every page.

This is an international thriller that seems all too real to be completely comfortable.  Its modern warfare run amok!!!  Terrific read with shades of Ken Follett’s and Tom Clancy’s older novels! Enjoy the race for survival!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

Dunstan. Conn Iggulden. Michael Joseph. June 2017. 544 pp. pb. ISBN#: 9780718181451.

Dunstan, a fatherless child, is raised by monks on Glastonbury Tor.  Intrigued by the mechanics of building towers, cathedrals and palaces, he quickly decides that knowing how to accomplish great deeds and pleasing those in power are just as important as one’s faith in God and devotional practices.  So, he quickly rises in the Church and becomes the acquaintance and friend of many Kings and Princes.

It is the year 937 and the Wessex King Aethelstan, grandson of King Alfred the Great, is trying to unite England into one kingdom.  However, there are Danes and Vikings who periodically attack England and the King spends more time away in these momentous battles than at his court.  Dunstan is no saint but realizes to attain his dream he must find favor with the King.  Highly perceptive, King Aethelstan does not totally trust Dunstan, but his son who will be King after him does trust Dunstan.  Indeed, Dunstan will become the friend of Kings who will support Dunstan’s dream of building the greatest Abbey in England.

Glastonbury Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral will indeed be built from Dunstan’s direction, but what Dunstan must do to accomplish these formidable feats is less divine and more in line with temporal machinations.  For Dunstan will murder, torture, lie, cheat, steal, betray and manipulate his way to glory!  The fascinating part of this life story is that he truly believes God will not hold these deeds against them since his goal of bringing glory to God is higher than anything else that occurs. At the same time, he also tries to bring his Order of Benedictines more in line with the plan of the founder of this well-known Order of priests and brothers.

Conn Iggulden is a Master Storyteller who knows how to wrap the reader in his plot, characters and multilayered conflicts and mesmerize him and her.  One is always sorry when a Conn Iggulden novel ends, and Dunstan is no different than the other historical novels Conn Iggulden has crafted.  This is a highly readable, magnificent work of historical fiction and is highly recommended for those who love a great story that is accurately and skillfully told!  Wonder-full!

Snow by Mike Bond

Snow. Mike Bond. Mandevilla Press. September 2017. 250 pp. ISBN#: 9781627040372.

Meet three successful men who are off in the Montana wilderness, free to hunt, drink and bond. They have no cares other than their high-stress lives, a stress none would give up except Curt, a half-Cheyenne mountain guide anxious to save his ranch from a takeover by a well-known energy company. Zack used to be an NFL football star and is now a TV sports newscaster. He loves his job but knows his football years have taken their toll on his body and even his mind. He owes a couple of million dollars to some high rollers in Las Vegas. Steve is a rabid Wall Street investor/broker whose confidence in investing money has gone much too far and he is now faced with the fact that he has lost not only his own money but also Zack’s money – millions! The “high life” is a capricious creature that can turn on a dime, making one bankrupt in seconds.

Miraculously or not, depending on one’s point of view, Zack and Steve find a crashed airplane inside of which they find a load of cocaine. Steve wants to turn “most” of it over to the police, but Zack’s having none of that. Curt really doesn’t know what’s happened until it’s too late.

For Maria Christina, a brilliant businesswoman, runs a cocaine cartel and has not taken well to her stolen cargo. She sets the executioner Diego onto the trio and at the same time the Feds get involved. It’s not very long before everyone knows where everyone else is and the race is on for very high stakes! There’s much more to this frenetic tale, including that Curt must make a choice to play criminal or snitcher!

“Lady Cocaine” is a costly habit as Steve and Zack discover but that doesn’t stop them from being enamored by her physical embrace. Readers won’t be able to put this book down as Mike Bond again makes them embrace the plot to the point it’s as if they were involved in the hunt of all hunts.

The plot is rather simple but Bond’s talent is as a Master of Suspense for sure!

Fast-paced mystery, adventure, and frenetic crime thriller!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Law and Vengeance: A Legal Thriller by Mike Papantonio

Law and Vengeance: A Legal Thriller. Mike Papantonio. Select Books (NY). September 2017. 256 pp. ISBN #: 9781590794364.

Gina Romano works for a high-powered lawyer firm, Bergman Deketomis.  They take only the toughest cases that involve large corporations and invariably involve government departments.  Their most famous cases involve corporations dumping chemical waste into rivers and causing, sadly, devastating cases of cancer for years to come.  Of course, taking on such cases involves attracting danger in different forms and also requires the best legal minds to not only take on but also win such cases.  These lawyers, including Gina, love the danger and the daily challenges of each case. 

The case Gina and her firm are presently focused on involves the design and production of a gun, the Sight-Clops, which has a definite problem when used in high humidity conditions.  Investigating this “mistake” winds up with Gina’s boss, Angus, dead and Gina almost dead from an automobile accident.  The description of the accident immediately notifies the reader that some big guns are after Gina, Angus and their law firm, opposition that will do whatever is required to get Gina and Angus to back off.  Of course, no surprise here as it doesn’t work; if anything, as Gina begins her long, long recover, she is determined to use the time to intensify her search for Angus’s killer.  A whistleblower is the source of the leak about the failed product but what are the chances for such a snitcher to survive?

Mike Papantonio is a lawyer and so the plot of this crime thriller is credible, fast-moving but not unrealistically so, and demonstrates a passion for justice that still exists for those legal minds who have not become too jaded from experience.  Law and Vengeance is a quick read because of its constant action-packed pages and interesting characters and issues.  Enjoy the read and you’ll want to Mike Papantonio’s other novels!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Strange Scottish Shore: Emmaline Truelove #2 by Juliana Gray

A Strange Scottish Shore: Emmaline Truelove #2. Juliana Gray. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2017. 400 pp. ISBN#: 9780425277089.

To begin with, note that there is a selection from an old tome, The Book of Time, before each chapter, telling the tale of a Scottish selkie, who rose from the sea in ancient times and married the Lord of a Castle, had two lovely children but who was swayed to return to her former marine life. Each section parallels the unfolding action in this tale in which it is 1906 which begins with a selkie suit being found. Maximilian Haywood and Emmeline Truelove have traveled to the past to solve other mysteries. Now they discover that their friend, Lord Silverton, has disappeared as well as another mysterious, very suspicious character.

The majority of the action in this novel takes place in the 1300s in a small Scottish country town with a man named Max and of course, Lord Silverton and Emmeline who are transported to that error. It turns out that Silverton has already been there for three years. Emmeline, on the other hand, has quite a period of adjustment to the language, dress, food, and Silverton’s acceptance that he will never return to his former 20th Century life.

Emmeline is quickly accepted and her initial balking at Silverton’s declaration of undying love is slowly eroded and their fiery romance takes off like a rocket. Emmeline, however, believes she has been sent here to complete a mission and that is what gradually evolves. It’s a grand tale indeed (no spoilers here) involving a past legend resembling one of the many selkie legends floating in Scottish folklore. The tension and surprising scenes of violence are inserted in all of the right places, and Silverton, Emmeline and Max the new Lord, conspire to prevent a travesty occurring that would make a past legend fleshed out in the present turn disastrous. The care and concern these characters share is what solidifies a unpredictable, quick-paced plot.

This is a stand-alone novel but there is a prequel to this tale which this reviewer knows readers will want to read after finishing this exciting, romantic, mysterious, adventurous work of historical fiction mixed with paranormal qualities. Nicely done, Juliana Gray!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Scarred Woman: A Department Q Novel Series #7 by Jussie Adler Olsen

The Scarred Woman: A Department Q Novel Series #7. Jussie Adler Olsen. Penguin Random House Publishing Group. September 2017. ISBN #: 9781524702489.  

Get ready for a thriller rollercoaster ride!  Carl Marck, the head of Copenhagen’s Department Q dealing with cold cases, becomes interested in parallel details of two cases, one the murder of an elder woman years ago and a similar present murder.  Department Q is in trouble and in competition with upstairs Divisions, as the politicians and police brass are interested in the number of cases completed and reported on and those begun but never finished. The outcome could be financial cuts. That is until Carl enters the scene.

In a Social Services office in Copenhagen, a social worker, Anneli, is sick and tired of young woman dressed quite fashionably who show up for their unemployment benefits. They can’t or won’t get jobs.  Anneli wishes she could do something about it but doesn’t do anything.  But then disaster strikes when she is diagnosed with breast cancer and decides to not only fight for her life but to make her job meaningful by taking care of these leeches on Dutch society.  From that decisive moment, her portion of the story becomes non-stop riveting, pulse-pushing horror!  Denise, Michelle and Jazmine, predators on society, love their lives but are now the hunted rather than hunters.

Rose, the main character in this novel, starts the ball rolling by being yelled out in Department Q for not completing her reports.  There’s something about one of these cases that completely unravels Rose’s sanity, and the eventual involvement of Carl and Assad turns up Rose’s nightmare past, including twists and turns with murders and familial hatred beyond one’s imagination.

These stories eventually coalesce, with a balanced amount of humor and serious investigation, that is pleasing.  Although many of the actions in these scenes are quite wrong, this author makes the reader root for all the characters involved herein.

This reviewer hasn’t read the other novels in this series but intends to do so soon.  Fans of Stieg Larsson will love this novel as the desire for revenge wreaks its path across the city of Copenhagen.  The Scarred Woman is a remarkable crime thriller highly recommended for all readers!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Bloody Black Flag - A Spider John Mystery by Steve Goble

The Bloody Black Flag: A Spider John Mystery. Steve Goble. Prometheus/ Seventh Street Books. September 2017.  237 pp.  ISBN #: 9781633883598.

What child has read a book about pirates or seen pirate movies and imagined living such an adventurous, constantly thrilling life.  Well, that hunger can be sated again with Steve Goble’s novel about Spider John, a man who feels safer as a pirate at sea than a landlubber always having to watch his back for fear of the hangman or jailkeeper because of past deeds.  The time is 1722 and the place is the Colonial Coast of America.  Spider John and his good friend, Ezra, have escaped capture ashore and are now part of the crew of the Plymouth Dream, with a captain who would not think twice about killing any crew member if his rules are broken.

Early on, a young, bitter looking “bloke” keeps eying Ezra and it turns out he believes Ezra is the descendant of witches and therefore to be burned at the stake or hanged.  This is an area of Massachusetts still carrying shadows of the earlier “witches” frenzy that wound up with rash charges made and confirmed, followed by death.  Imagine Spider John’s devastation when Ezra is found dead in his room.

Spider John is determined to find the murderer, but in between his investigation steps are battles to be fought against attackers of their ship.  These are the swashbuckling battles that are expected by the reader and do not fail to satisfy with their minute descriptions of hand-to-hand combat as well as sword-fighting duels that are life and death matters.

There is no law on a pirate ship and Spider John has no intention of capturing Ezra’s killer but instead will kill him.  Surprises aplenty will thrill the reader as this search continues!  Nicely done and hopefully the first of many more Spider John stories to follow!

The Border by Steve Schafer

The Border. Steve Schafer. Sourcebooks. September 2017. 360 pp. ISBN#: 9781492646839.

Imagine going to a “quincinera,” a 15th birthday party in a small Mexican town, which turns into a mass murder scene!  When it’s all over, three young men and a young woman are the remaining survivors who know that drug gang members or narcos have wiped out their entire family!

It’s a quick, brutal beginning and the reader would think that anything that follows is anticlimactic but the journey these youths are about to undertake “to the north” is anything but sedate.  Marcos and Gladys are siblings, and Pato and Arbo are cousins.  Marcos is a strong but shady character.  He’s obviously not always telling the truth but he knows more about the dangerous situation they are attempting to escape.  Gladys is a vulnerable young girl whose brother is very protective of her.  Pato and Arbo are simple guys who seem to be having the hardest time dealing with the memories.  One of the guys wonders over and over if he could have prevented the disaster if he had spoken about the suspicious looking car parked outside of the party. 

The journey begins with a phenomenal car chase in which Marcos’s ability to use a gun saves them from immediate capture.  But then they must deal with serious physical problems from a cactus plant, rattlesnakes, and the devastating effect of being dehydrated.  The desert is a brutal, merciless place where the furnace-like heat parches them all to exhaustion.

Snippets of memories fill the moments while they travel, juxtaposing the life-threatening present situation in which they now find themselves.  When it’s all done, they know they will have each other’s backs forever!

The Border is a starkly realistic story about immigrants seeking asylum in America, Mexicans who are not criminals or evil people.  Indeed, this scenario is probably true for the majority of those escaping brutal regimes or criminals in many countries.  It certainly forces the reader to rethink the reality that so contrasts with political statements presently being touted and certainly forms a laudatory background for those fighting the effort to stop immigration with a blanket law that ignores life and death decisions calling for phenomenal courage and action!

Recommended reading, indeed! Food for soul-searching thought!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Address: A Novel by Fiona Davis

The Address: A Novel. Fiona Davis. Penguin Publishing Group. August 2017. 368 pp. ISBN#: 9781524741990.

Millions of readers might recognize the name of the Dakota Hotel as the place where John Lennon was killed, but lovers of Manhattan and its history will know this same hotel as one of the first most glamorous buildings built to house and entertain the rich and famous of the business, entertainment and political world in 1884. Our story begins in London but quickly moves to New York City where Sara Smythe has been hired as the new “Managarette” of the hotel by architect Theodore Camden. Both have very difficult jobs, trying to please aristocratic residents used to being pampered and coddled at any time of day or night.

The story quickly shifts to the same place in 1985. Bailey Camden is trying to recover from alcoholism. She’s just returned from rehab and found out her job is gone as the last drunken scene she put on gave her too much of a reputation and one that the owners didn’t want to smear the Dakota Hotel. Her cousin, Melinda, hires Bailey to do architectural work but that doesn’t last long with the appearance of someone who turns out to be a real friend.

It also turns out a mysterious object is about to be found that might lead to Bailey finding out more about her history than she’d ever imagined. But not without threats and trouble galore!

The Address is a plot-driven account of a lovely Manhattan Hotel, its founders, designers, interior decorators, and more. Even famous places have their notorious, as well as lovely, sides and Fiona Davis does a grand job of providing the reader with a mystery that brings the Camden family full circle, perhaps contrived but well done all the same.

More than that, Sara Smythe and Bailey Camden discover they are valuable human beings with and without fancy names, places and connections! THAT is the magical part of this highly recommended story!

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Plague Diaries: Keeper of Tales Trilogy #3 by Ronlyn Domingue

The Plague Diaries: Keeper of Tales Trilogy #3. Ronlyn Domingue. Atria Books. August 2017. 432 pp. ISBN#: 9781476774282.

Secret Riven is no longer advertising her magical powers.  Instead she has become somewhat of a self-educated scholar who works as an archivist in the magnate Fewmany’s offices.  This is not your local library, but rooms and rooms of books in every possible subject, including books and objects to do with magic, sorcery, legends, myths, etc.  The formerly very close relationship between Secret and Nicholas the Prince has changed with their separation, something Secret doesn’t realize until they meet again well into the novel. 

The story herein grows at a sedate pace in which the reader grows to share Secret’s love for animals, plants, and nature wherever they are found.   Little by little, the reader finds that Fewmany has a purpose in befriending Secret, although she doesn’t really figure that out until much later.  Meanwhile, Fewmany seems to be trying to broaden Secret’s horizons, inviting her to dinners, etc. at which some guests and scenes frighten Secret.  These pages are replete with weird costumes, animals and figures with strange powers, and strange events.  One gets to know many of the main characters in the government.  The author does a marvelous job in stretching all of this out in an intriguing way so that the reader doesn’t really mind that the crux of the quest isn’t revealed immediately.

The Old Woman who was introduced in the first novel of this series, a new character Harmyn, Nicholas and Secret eventually will try to discover the connection between a certain symbol in an ancient manuscript and other symbols available elsewhere.  No spoilers here, but it all ties together eventually.  In the process, Secret Riven becomes aware that her repressed gifts of connection to nature and languages can be used maturely when appropriate.

This reviewer appreciates this final version of the Keeper of the Tales Trilogy as well-written, even though it is a stand-alone novel, and highly recommended to readers who love a good mystery with paranormal features, friendship, loyalty and engaging quests. 

Forgotten Memories: A War Story by Young-Im Lee

Forgotten Memories: A War Story. Young-Im Lee. Yei Won Lim/Bn Publishing. June 2017. 484 pp. ISBN #: 9781684113828.  

1945 ended WWII and South Korea is still recovering from the Japanese Occupation.  Anything that was edible was stolen by Japanese troops, therefore the poverty and struggles of farmers and local businesses is an ever-present, poignant reminder of the terrors of war. 

Ji-Iseul, Jung-Soo and Yeong-Hoon are the three main characters in the story, which changes from present to past repeatedly.  Ji-Iseul initially is an elderly person being moved into a hospice as she is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease.  The granddaughter Jia encourages her to tell what she can remember, inspired by a guitar that sits in the corner of her grandmother’s room. An old piece of paper is found inside the guitar and that is the catalyst that makes the memories return to Iseul. 

The relationship between the three characters is depicted as a close one, although the reader is never sure whether a romance is developing or not between Iseul and Jung-Soo.  Iseul is not that attractive but instead is admired by her father because she is such a hard work at “making paper,” a task that is quite difficult.  Jung-Soo’s father is a rich man forcing the neighborhood to pay high taxes and living in a rich man’s home known as “The Golden Palace.” Yeong-Hoof is crippled but works hard for ISIL’s father.  He is betrothed to Iseul but nothing further comes of that until the Korean War.

The life of the Koreans before and after the Korean War is a hard one, fraught with poverty and suspicion.  One character, it is believed, steals rice that the people desperately need.  American soldiers are portrayed as caring one minute but callous to the needs of the people the next.  During war, some can leave without worrying about the future of the people left behind.

This isn’t a comforting story but it’s a necessary one. The author writes an epilogue about the Korean people being victims who have not truly decided what their country should be, democratic, communist, or otherwise.  They believe more war will come.  Whether that happens or not, this is a novel for the world to read, to realize that work, relationships and growth with change is vital for a people to become secure in themselves and not always dependent on the prevailing opponent waiting to devour more of a victimized South Korea. Recommended, despite some minor flaws in plotting, historical fiction!

How To Change A Life: A Novel by Stacey Ballis

How To Change A Life: A Novel. Stacey Ballis. Penguin Publishing Group. August 2017. 400 pp. ISBN# 9780425276624. 

Meet Eloise, a very talented chef, whose delicious descriptions of food and meal menus will either make you raid your refrigerator, dine out in high-end restaurants, or make you want to sign up for culinary school.  She has a wonderful job as a private chef for a rich family and every need she could possibly have is provided by her boss.  Romance is out the window as memories serve as a barrier to finding someone who can be trusted and who values her as a person.

So if one is content, why is that little internal nudging voice telling her there’s more to life?  The question roars to the fore when she gets together with two life-long friends, Lynne and Teresa.  They are all in the same boat, feeling content but incomplete.  So what do they do?  They set up a challenge for each one of them to complete over an eight-month period.  To make sure there are no shenanigans, they not only set up their own list but add items from each other.  That is the premise of this ambitious, feisty crowd of women that is the essence of this novel.

What will fascinate readers about this plot is what each one learns from the process of seeking higher goals. That is the essence of change, accepting one’s strengths, weakness, and foibles that could fall into either category.  There’s also a sense of intuition that needs to be recognized and honed to know what situations are life-giving and what scenarios are the road to disaster or at the least disappointment.

Eloise is definitely a different woman at the end of this journey, as are the other young women, and more of a fulfilled gal!  That doesn’t mean the trip is over; in fact, appreciating the process or proceeding to obtain goals adds a vivacious quality to Eloise’s life that is so attractive, in addition to a fine romance that engages the reader as well.

How To Change A Life is an enchanting contemporary story that will keep readers flipping the pages to the very last page, wishing the account would never end!  Very nice job, Stacey Ballis!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Sorbonne Affair - A Hugo Marston Novel by Mark Pryor

The Sorbonne Affair: A Hugo Marston Novel. Mark Pryor. Prometheus Books. August 2017. 270 pp. ISBN #: 9781633882614. 

Hugo Marston is attending a funeral when he is approached by a very well-known romance novel writer, Helen Hancock.  Immediately after the funeral she asks him to help her as she’s discovered someone has planted a camera in her hotel room.  The reader is puzzled about how important this was that she had to stalk Hugo out at a funeral and how she knew he was there.  Later for that.  For now, Hugo does discover a camera in her room but is unable to do anything more as Helen doesn’t want the hotel notified and wants no publicity. 

Before they can do anything more, a hotel bell-hop is found murdered in the stairwell of the hotel.  Not a clue is evident and the tension rivets upward when the next day reveals an internet video showing Helen Hancock with one of her writing students, Ambrosia Silva, naked and embracing.

Hugo now realizes that someone is being bribed for an ulterior purpose and yet another death confirms that theory.  Hugo himself has a suspicious encounter with someone outside of his home and realizes he must be careful as it appears he is to be the next victim.

The mystery plot thickens and Hugo Marston follows his instincts as well as his well-honed investigative skills to discover a most surprising perpetrator of the constant death and mayhem. 

One of the lovely side notes in this novel includes Hugo’s appreciation for the food, drink, architecture and weather of Paris, making the reader long to visit and partake of the experiences that so satisfy our resident investigator who works for an embassy but would love to remain in Paris forever, if circumstances should allow that dream!

All in all, The Sorbonne Affair… is a terrific read that will satisfy all mystery genre fans and anyone else looking for a very good read!  Nicely done, Mark Pryor!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bring Her Home by David Bell

Bring Her Home. David Bell. Penguin Publishing Group. July 2017. 464 pp. ISBN #: 9780399584442. 

Summer and her best friend Haley have disappeared.  Now, a year and a half after the death of Summer’s Mom, Bill, learns that his daughter Summer is in the hospital in the Intensive Care Unit and Haley is dead!  No one yet knows what happened; all that is known is that both girls were found badly beaten.  On his arrival at the hospital, Bill is angry about all the unknowns and wants to go speak to the guys the girls used to hang around.  Haley’s parents arrive to comfort him, remarkable to say the least since their loss is a million times worse than his. 

A few weeks later, the unbelievable happens!  It turns out that the girls used to switch clothes all the time and it’s really Summer who has been killed and Haley who is alive!  It’s beyond one’s imagination and one can barely understand Bill’s shock and grief.  Add to that another girl is missing!  Then there’s a question about whether it was Summer who was dead!  Crazy-making revelations!

This then is the story of a mystery left to unfold!  By now we know that Bill has a definite anger management problem and that he has been questioned about his own relationship with Summer and her Mom.  But that’s minor compared to the facts about to be revealed.  The solution lies with a very friendly neighbor and a bunch of guys trying to up the ante on their competitive reputation as womanizers, that is, tallying the number of girls they’ve slept with.  Silly and childish, right?  But what happens when some go too far?

Bring Her Home is a mystery, a crime thriller!  It also, however, is a satire on those who live daily lives without really paying attention to what spouses and children are doing on a day-to-day basis.  It’s a call to awareness as a few hours can make all the difference between life and death!

Stunning novel that, although somewhat contrived, is a spine-tingling, hair-raising read!  

A Mother Like Mine: Hartley-By-The-Sea No. 3 by Kate Hewitt

A Mother Like Mine: Hartley-By-The Sea No. 3. Kate Hewitt. Penguin Publishing Group/Berkley. August 2017. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9780399583797.  

Abby Rhodes, now a widow, and her 5-year-old son, Noah, have returned to Hartley-by-the-Sea and remained for two years now.  She’s just about taken over running the cafĂ© on the beach as her grandmother Mary has recently had a heart attack and is not well at all.  Imagine their surprise when a knock on the door reveals that Abby’s mother, Laura, has now returned and plans on staying indefinitely.  Laura was, as far as Abby is concerned, an absentee mother for as long as Abby can remember!

This is the story of their reunion and attempt to resolve pain from the past, an opportunity to reshape the future as a family.  Sounds lovely as an idea, but it’s a difficult labyrinth to travel.  No one knows how it will all end!
Abby lives in a constant tension of feeling anger and hurt at her mother’s failure as a mother and a mature attitude and effort to put it behind her.  Giving her mother a second chance is a tall order, but Mary begs her repeatedly to try.  Noah, as a child and grandchild, is innocent about it all and he is the glue that keeps the whole quagmire from exploding and decimating the family again.

As the story progresses, Abby and Laura discover that each carries an unknown story with elements that were unpredictable, causing choices that may or may not have been best for all involved. 

Eventually a great loss and a surprising revelation will change their lives forever.  This is a story of love with all its messy and wonderful moments, a healing journey that forges a new relationship to last forever!

Fine, fine story that is a tense, poignant but lovely read!!!! Highly recommended!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Shadow Girl: An Afton Tangler Thriller No. 2 by Gerry Schmitt

Shadow Girl: An Afton Tangler Thriller No. 2. Gerry Schmitt. Penguin Publishing Group. August 2017. 320 pp. ISBN #: 9780425281789.  

This old-fashioned mystery opens with the reader discovering that a woman packs a long-range missile and proceeds to calmly shoot down a helicopter, an act that not only obviously kills the pilot and his assistant but also causes numerous injuries when the pieces fall on the streets of Minneapolis.  What’s more important, however, is that the helicopter was carrying a brand-new heart that was supposed to be put into Leland Odin, the magnate owner of a home shopping network. Without it, Leland’s hours to live are dwindling rapidly!

Afton Tangler is the family liaison officer for the Minneapolis Police Department.  She and her partner proceed to investigate what starts as a crash and then evolves into a murder.  The pace is quick and the number of suspects grows with each turned page.   Is it the wife who seems normally concerned about this event but whose responses occasionally seem contrived?  Is it the strangely unconcerned daughter whose middle name could be “Frosty?’ Perhaps Leland’s partner, Bart, who is courting a buy-out of another home shopping network, has bigger plans that just might not include Leland?

While we discover who is the perpetrator half-way through the novel, that doesn’t spoil anything as more murders and a truly exciting search and find mission keep the reader’s adrenaline pumping.  Add to that we want to know the why of the crime as well as how it will all evolve! 

There’s an international espionage component to this story and it turns out that Afton Tangler is one hell of a great investigator, a fact that just might wind up with her being moved officially into the Police Department, that is if she survives being a target as she and her partner get closer to the enemy!!!

Fine, fine mystery that is a great read!!!! Highly recommended!

Pieces of Happiness: A Novel of Friendship, Hope and Chocolate by Ann Ostby

Pieces of Happiness: A Novel of Friendship, Hope and Chocolate. Ann Ostby. Carole Baron - editor. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. August 2017. 320 pp. ISBN #: 9780385542807.  

After Kat spent years traveling around the world with her husband Niklas on humanitarian missions, he dies and Kat is a bit lost.  So she invites her Norwegian high school best friends to live with her on the island of Fiji.  Ingrid, Maya, Sina, and Lysbeth agree and the reunion and aftermath is wonderful and stunning!

Age shapes all of us but sometimes a different circumstance propels a person into change. Each chapter is narrated by one of the five friends. Deciding to abandon one’s staid images, jettison a leech of a son, permit one’s sensual side to emerge, engage in leading the initiation of a “chocolate” enterprise, becoming a trusting child, abandoning one’s judgmental standards and so much more fill these pages.  These women cooperate with, challenge, and learn from each other. 

Atetha is a native Fijian who teaches them all about the rich culture of this land where people learn to find joy in life, no matter what problems exist, and share that richness with each other in dance, food, art, language and more.  A friend helps the women when they decide to produce a chocolate business from the cocoa trees on Kat’s property.  Many latent gifts begin to grow in each character during this time.

Secrets are a surprise that initially shock the reader but how these characters interact about these secrets is phenomenal, almost unreal but delightful!

When people think of the tropical islands, the relaxed, lush background induces one to relax and live a “vacation” style.  This is true but there is so much more that the islands have to teach these women and Anne Otsby has captured it all in a highly recommended, delightful read!!!!!