Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Lovely and the Lost by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The Lovely and the Lost.  Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Freeform.  May 2019; pb, 336 pp.; ISBN #: 9781484776209.

Search and rescue work is not for the faint of heart.  But what if one of the searchers has been herself lost and found from the wilderness with no memories of the past except those of fear and loneliness?  Kira Bennett was found by her foster mother, Cady Bennett, who continues carrying on search and rescue missions. Kira’s relationship to her foster parents and siblings is another aspect of this mystery since Kira was found unable to speak and petrified of human beings. Kira participates in their family searches because what else can she do, knowing the terrors of having to live in forests and surviving with skills learned for survival.

One of the delights of this story is getting to know the animals who are part of the search and rescue team, Silver, Saskia, NATO and Dutchess, lovely canines who are dedicated, relentless in finding their quarry, and loving friendliness.  They become part of Kira’s survival in their present search, when glimmers of her own memories threaten her ability to continue with the desperate search for a missing girl.  Their intuition matches her own, having lived in a feral state that bonds them into a natural unit pursing their mission.

Tracking is a careful skill that can be thrown by natural events, accidents and more.  While they continue their search, she meets Gabriel, the son of an abusive Sheriff. Gabriel’s brother is also one of the missing, which adds another twist to the story that keeps the river riveted to the mystery of this family.

Kira will discover aspects of her own past as the search for the mission is accomplished but with more problems than answers.  The Lovely and the Lost is a fine read, albeit sometimes confusing with a too large cast of characters.  Kira’s world seems realistic and mysterious which adds to the mysterious drama of each aspect of this account.  Nicely done, Jennifer Lynn Barnes!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Park Avenue Summer - A Novel by Renee Rosen

Park Avenue Summer.  Renee Rosen. Penguin Publishing Group.  April 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9781101991145.

Alice Weiss fulfills her dream by leaving the Midwest to live in New York City.  She has few skills and only one connection, a friend of her mother, who connects Alice to become the secretary of the now legendary Helen Gurley Brown.  At the time of this novel’s account, the magazine Cosmopolitan is massively failing and Helen Gurley Brown is hired to revive it before it dies.  Connected to the Hearst family, Helen gets the job but is expected to fail.  However, no one realizes how vastly talented is this new Editor-in-Chief, no matter how crazy her ideas sound!

Gurley envisions a new post-WWII woman, a woman who can work, have ideas and has unspoken thoughts about sex and fashion that are shocking and elicit rejection from all men and quite a few women as well.  Imagine wondering, at that time in the 1960s, how one could improve one’s sex life, look sexier, stand out as powerful and capable women, and so much more.

Staff on the magazine are quitting by droves and there are those who leak to the public Gurley’s ideas which in one sense gets attention, both negative and positive.  Alice meanwhile learns the hard way not to trust fellow employees, both male and female.  Sex seems to be a tool but Alice is too much of a strong woman, although horrified and intimidated at first, to become part of the manipulative betrayals happening throughout the office.  She herself has apprentice-like skills as a photographer and meets Christopher, who mentors her and never goes beyond a professional and friendly stance, with a hint of something more looming in the future.

When the July issue finally emerges, it has rave sales but Gurley still has to fight to have her ideas for the future emerge unscathed by the Hearst family.

Park Avenue Summer is a delightful read, both for depicting the historical changes happening in a society wanting “more” in the personal and professional worlds.  Nice job, Renee Rosen! 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Great Pretenders by Laura Kalpakian

The Great Pretenders.  Laura Kalpakian. Tirgearr Publishing.  March 2019; Kindle mobi, 283 pp.; ASIN: B07N974NW5.

Roxanne Granville is a spoiled, rich granddaughter of a theatre and movie powerhouse.  Her mother dies in the very beginning of the story and her resentment of her grandfather’s lover is beyond words.  She can’t understand how Denise could replace Julia because Roxanne really has no idea what a love affair with commitment is and how it could change.  Therefore, she announces she will have nothing to do with him until he drops Denise.  His response is laughable, a fairy tale in the land of the rich!

So what does a woman with fame to her name do when not living in a beach home in Malibu?  She has no real skills but isn’t shy on ideas.  She decides to be a book agent, supporting and selling the types of books that are turned into shows and movies.  Roxanne proceeds to do something daring, something that carries the chances for amazing success as well as the chances of looming disaster.

Hundreds of former writers and actors were fired when Joe McCarthy’s Committee for Unamerican Activities was conducting its investigations and congressional testimonials, rooting out anyone and everyone even slightly associated with the Communist Party.  Those who refused to admit involvement with Communism or who refused to name other people involved pleaded the Fifth Amendment.  The results were tragic and devastating!

Now Roxanne, who deeply feels for these talented but now unemployable writers, begins to sponsor their written works under the names of anonymous, unknown writers.  Anyone with half a brain knows this but stays silent; Roxanne is admired for her guts and/or stupidity in proceeding with this plan.  Will it work out for all involved?

Then Roxanne goes one step ahead with trouble and falls in love with an African-American guy, Terrence Dexter during a time when Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are protesting openly about the Jim Crow laws in vogue.  Roxanne grows up fast when she sees in Terrence how black people live with daily prejudice, laws and abuse based on racial discrimination. 

In the end of this fictional account, one may say that differences between characters reach a semi-satisfactory resolution but definitely not the solution all are hoping to attain.  Roxanne comes across as a spunky, daring woman but her cleverness remains hidden below the surface.  Only when life’s circumstances become beyond her control does the reader begin to appreciate Roxanne’s true life-changing stamina in many notable ways.

The Great Pretenders is a remarkable story describing turbulent historical times and how these difficulties were met by Hollywood and feisty, challenging characters!  Good read!!!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Law and Addiction: A Legal Thriller by Mike Papantonio

Law and Addiction: A Legal Thriller. Mike Papantonio. Waterside Productions.  April 2019. pb, 312 hp.; ISBN: 9781939116468.

Opioid addiction has become a national crisis!  More cases of overdose fill the news on a weekly basis.  Police regularly carry and administer Narcan for overdosing addicts.  Meanwhile, as Mike Papantonio has so carefully and deftly delineated in this fictional account of reality, attempts to deal with the problem on a local and national basis continue, attempts to stem a raging flood of addiction and death.

Jake Rutledge is a new lawyer who lost his twin brother to this horrifying disease.  Jake and Blake had a favorite term they used with each other about having each other’s back.  Now Jake is determined to carry out his promise because of his grievous loss.  Having no money and no connections isn’t exactly a wild card in legally pursuing the sources and markets that are part of the mass distribution system of selling opioids.  However, Jake’s got guts and high-caliber intelligence to get his search going. So he begins by suing two companies that sell massive amounts of drugs to little known small towns in and around what is known as “Zombieland.” 

He then connects to a highly successful lawyer with a dynamic record of experience in suing Fortune 500 companies.  They begin by suing companies who have made a killing (literally and figuratively) in West Virginia and Ohio.  Readers will be riveted to the course of each court phase and the wiliness of Jake and Deke, his attorney second chair, in challenging big shot attorneys.

Readers, however, won’t be ready for the methods used to suppress and then shut Jake up.  No spoilers here.  Suffice to say, Jake meets Blake’s former girlfriend who is now addicted to Oxycontin and helps her through her gritty efforts to withdraw from her addiction.  He himself is about to undergo empathic thoughts and feelings after hoodlum attempts to bribe his efforts fail.

The reader also meets several characters who deal and distribute drugs, individuals who are caught innocently in the dragon net of illegality and can’t get out to survive!  

All in all, the reader can anticipate the ending but that’s only after brutality and other machinations have all failed to stymie Jake’s efforts.  Mike Papantonio has penned a necessary legal thriller that everyone should read.  The question readers are left with is “Where do we go from here?”  Highly recommended contemporary fiction!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Editor by Steven Rowley

The Editor. Steven Rowley. G. P. Putnam Sons.  April 2019; hb and eBook, 320 pp.; ISBN: 9780525537960 and ASIN: B07FC2J8ZW

Francis is an insecure stereotypical new writer who has written and just sold his first novel.  He has been assigned an editor at Doubleday, the publishing firm that just bought his novel.  What he does with that editor will determine whether his novel is published or lays dormant.  What follows is an oh so normal but poignant story, a gift in James’s life. 

Imagine the surprise when James meets Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis or “Mrs. Onassis” as she invites him to call her.  Down-to-earth, practical and inspiring, she leads James to rewrite the end of his novel which both know is incomplete.  This involves James having to explore the depths of his relationship with his mother and father.  The family is known for skirting around important issues, replacing truth with sarcasm and edgy humor.

While this is occurring, Mrs. Onassis invites James to her summer home where they explore the title Ithaca, its meaning and the journey that is yet to be finished.  They share meals, drinks and funny moments.  Jacquie treasures her privacy and never goes beyond snippets about her past, all of which are poignant reminders of what she has endured.  The reader picks up her implications that she just wanted to be normal and not a continuous fixture of American fascination.  However, since that is a fantasy, she does what she can to maintain a regular life as an editor (of fourteen years).  Her fascination and admiration for his novel lies in the recognition “as familiar truth, but also as wisdom you’re hearing voiced in a new and articulate way.” 

Francis’s lover, Daniel, seems oddly less supportive of Francis’ efforts but does the best he can.  Mark, an assistant of Mrs. Onassis, is helpful but also one step short of coming onto Francis.  Who is Francis?  A man aching to be seen in truth by his family and lover.

There are poignant secrets that gradually are revealed which dramatically change the writer’s life with his mother and help him to recognize and admire her truth as a person.  It’s described as an erupting volcano, a healing end to his finally finished story.

The ending of this novel, in which readers fall in love with James, his family and Jacquie, is so sad as he honors the marvelous journey he has made with the loving support of his friend and editor. 

Remarkable, powerful, endearing historical fiction that readers will remember forever!  Lovely, simple yet profound writing that makes this reviewer want to read more from this skilled writer! Highly recommended!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Dangerous Collaboration: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery (Series #4) by Deanna Raybourn

A Dangerous Collaboration: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery (Series #4). Deanna Raybourn. Penguin Publishing Group.  March 2019; hb and eBook, 336 pp.; ISBN: 9780451490711.

Veronica Speedwell and her friend Stoker are off on another adventure.  This time they are initially split as Veronica is invited to travel to an island off the coast of Cornwall. Stoke’s brother, Tiberius, justifies her visit by saying Veronica is his fiancée.  High tension exists between Veronica and Stoker as both are facing their romantic feelings for each other and Veronica is unsure how such a romance would conflict with her long-held independent stance in moving through the world – whether that be mundane or adventurous with exploration.  Veronica is going to the island of the Romilley family, ostensibly to obtain a unique insect, the glasswing butterfly.

It turns out that Stoker shows up after having conjured an invitation.  Long before we meet the members of the Romilley family, there are words and an atmosphere foreshadowing something mysterious and tense.  It turns out they have been invited to help Lord Malcolm’s mystery – the disappearance of his wife hours after their wedding.  It turns out a bag belonging to the bride is all that remains. 

The plot pivots from secrets to clues in cycles – a poison garden, a woman with “the sight” who spreads her uncomfortable hints without permission, secret hide-a-way spots throughout the host’s home, the tumultuous sea adjoining the Romilley mansion, some curmudgeon characters to spice up the frequent verbal sparring, and so much more.  As usual, the author drops just enough clues at just the right spots to keep the river riveted from the first to the last page.

The descriptions of the meals will have readers drooling and heading for food, just a minor addition that deftly eases the tension between the increasingly hostile guesses and dialogue.  Every family member and even the “help” has a motive for causing harm to the missing bride.  Add to that some revelations between Stoker and Tiberius that are some part of the main mystery but become a sub-plot for Stoker, Tiberius and Veronica.

Again, A Dangerous Collaboration… is a delightful mystery that will satisfy every fan of the genre.  It’s a can’t put down book that will make readers want to also read the other three novels of the Veronica Speedwell Series.  Delightful, well-crafted writing from a highly skilled artist, Deanna Raybourn!

The Island of Sea Women - A Novel by Lisa See

The Island of Sea Women: A Novel. Lisa Scribner. Scribner.  Published in 2019; pb. 384 pp.; ISBN #: 9781501154850.

Two friends spend their lives loving and hating each other, being haunted by the mistakes affecting them and their haenyeo community.  They are women divers who have learned to dive without the use of diving masks, oxygen or any other supportive equipment.  They rely on learning to breathe in vital air and breathe out the song of sumbisori, air let out with a unique sound for each woman. 

They live on Jeju Island off the southern coast of Korea, a land they believe was created by the Shaman Goddesses, creating a land of lava rocks, cones and walls.  The residents have created a matriarchal society loved by each resident.  Their story is a celebration of life!

Young-Sook has tremendous respect for her mother who is Chief of the haenyeo in one of the local communities until she dies in an accident while diving. Another young woman has another accident that changes her life forever.  Their work guarantees survival, especially in the troublesome times that soon follow.  Jeju Island residents are the subjects of the Japanese Army who have invaded the country and mandated laws of behavior, inflicting death on many for the slightest infraction of rules. 

Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator.  This reputation haunts her for her entire life.  Even though Young-Sook’s mother takes her in with kindness and teachers her to be a haenyeo, Young Sook’s grandmother despises her and will never trust her, a belief that will literally become part of Mi-ja’s choices during one of the most tragic, devastating moments of the story.  Young Sook marries the love of her life but Mi-ja marries a man who is evil personified, an act none will understand until it is too late and after too much betrayal and damage.  An uprising called the 4.3 incident instigates the death of thousands. The deaths to three members of Young-Sook’s family are tragically depicted, all because of Mi-ja’s response to a request begged by her best friend.

The love between these two women will stay strong, although readers will for a time doubt the primitive and passionate aspects of that love.  Scientists and sociologists will make this community a subject of lengthy study and amazed respect!  It is the children of these women who will clarify truth for them and the readers.  These pages commemorate a truly unique and amazing story that readers will never forget!  This is astonishing historical fiction, a must read for all!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt

American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt. Stephanie Marie Thornton. Penguin Publishing Group.  March 2019; hb and eBook, 448 pp.; ISBN: 9780451490902.

Alice Roosevelt, the first daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, describes her story as a “precious lifetime of memories, mistakes, and triumphs…valiantly and strenuously lived.” Alice’s words are an apt description for this vivacious, saucy, iconoclastic, intelligent, and romantic woman who became as famous as her father.

Alice’s childhood was probably what we called normal but was filled with sadness as her biological mother had died a few days after her birth and the Roosevelt family were not known for expressing effusive feelings.  All Alice wanted was her father and stepmother’s love and approval which never seemed to appear.  Later, Alice would realize why.

Teddy Roosevelt again appears as a man who loved living life on the edge (like his daughter) and never sat still.  Thoroughly entrenched in the domestic and foreign policies and strategies of his time, he obtains the love of Americans and becomes their President, taking up their causes and justice with fierce energy and determination.  Alice, however, felt “provincial” and even compares herself to her cousin, Eleanor; a sense of rivalry between the cousins lasts for years.  Eleanor is depicted not only as a social justice reformer but also as someone whose political actions had irrevocably negative results.  Every page take the reader through the notable moments of American history, including Alice’s role in facilitating a peace treat between Russia and Japan, coping with WWI, the Depression, WWII and the highlights ranging up to 1970.

In her teens and twenties, Alice relishes breaking rules and appalling proper society with her friends Cissy and Maggie, also known as the “Three Graces” but whom Alice called the “Three Hoydens.”  A trip overseas to Asia becomes one of the most memorable events of her life, including a remarkable audience with Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi, who gave Alice her beloved dog, Manchu.  Her relationship with husband Nick Longthorne is deftly presented with its ups and downs, no small wonder when one realizes what kind of family Nick married into. Later, secret romances seem to rule their lives, but pain will eventually make this dynamic couple realize that consequences are not necessarily short-term.

American Princess… is superb, exciting, and skillfully crafted historical fiction that will remain one of the most comprehensive fictional biographies of the Roosevelt family. 

This reviewer was delighted to meet Alice and will never forget her unique, delightful story.  Enjoy a fabulous read!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Sins of the Sire - Dark HIghland Passions #1 by Emily Royal

The Sins of the Sire (Dark Highland Passions #1). Emily Royal. Tirgearr Publishing.  March 2019; Kindle mobi, 283 pp.; ASIN: B07N974NW5.

Elyssa De Montford is married to a violent beast!  He delights in fulfilling his lust and his enjoyment of hurting women.  His goal is to obey the rule of Longshanks or Edward I, to conquer the attacking Highlanders who are headed by William Wallace.  Elyssa meanwhile regrets and relishes the memory of freeing her family’s enemy, Tavish MacLean.  Though enemy, she could not ignore the physique and look that elicited lust that demanded to be satisfied!

Now Tavish MacLean has been captured again!  He agonizes on two memories, one that of his sister, Flora, who was raped and murdered by a Lord.  Tavish has promised revenge on that act which figuratively destroyed his family.  His other memory is of his enemy he describes as “an enemy on the field; my captor; torturer; the man who delivered me from death; my comrade in battle and finally my brother.”  Tavis was not destroyed by the latter as his captor used Tavish in battles “to the death” and made money from these conquests.

Later in the tale, Tavish will capture Elyssa.  His task is to punish her family by impregnating her so that her family will be enraged by her carrying a Scottish bastard.  However, the passion between them literally and figuratively becomes unbearable. 

No spoilers here but suffice to say that this is a story full of phenomenal passion and violence.  It seems these elements are the reason for being for all the characters.  Despite their best planning secrets will unfold that seem to rule the day but only a hero like Tavish can meet with determination and well-developed skills.  He’s every woman’s dream of Highlander lust!

Enjoy, fans of true romance fiction!  Emily Royal knows how to present and pace the sensual tension that cyclically flows! 

The Last Act: A Novel by Brad Parks

The Last Act: A Novel. Brad Parks. Penguin Publishing Group.  March 2019; pb, 384 pp.; ISBN: 9781524743536.

Tommy Jump is a relatively unknown actor out of acts, having nothing to look forward to and in low financial straits.  One of his friends invites him to consider what most would view as an unlikely scenario. It’s one that invites fine acting since it could otherwise wind up with the actor under attack or even dead.  With healthy skepticism, Tommy meets with Fed agents and hears a real proposal that raises Tommy’s hackles but also intrigues him.

Imagine Mitchell Dupree is a prisoner who has been convicted of four years’ worth of money laundering for a drug cartel, New Colima, led by a vicious criminal El Vio.  Mitchell still has not surrendered the information about documents in his possession that could lead to the arrest of the entire cartel and its head.  Tommy’s job would be to become a prisoner and ferret out where the missing documents are being hid.  The only thing the Feds don’t tell Tommy is that El Vio is trying, via a cartel Director of Security called Herrera,  are relentlessly trying as hard as FBI agents to discover this missing information.

Tommy would get $75,000 just for going in and a total of $150,000 when the job is finished.  This is an amazing opportunity especially as his fiancé Amanda is pregnant.  Tommy’s no fool and realizes how dangerous this act could be but really has no idea of just how much a life and death scenario this could quickly become!  Still, he says, “Yes.”

Entering prison under an assumed alias, Tommy spends quite a bit of time adapting to prison life and its resident prisoners.  For the most part, it’s a tedious lifestyle, with information about how to obtain whatever one wants by creating a money scam around “cans” or mackerel packets to purchase contraband. 

Eventually Tommy meets the object of his search, Mitchell, and winds up becoming trusted and hearing a phenomenal, unexpected story behind his capture.  For a while, it’s hard to know who is legit and who’s a fraud.  Read the rest of the wild ride story to find out how it will or won’t be resolved.

Brad Parks is a pro at crafting a great plot, knowing when to push up the tension and clues and keeping the reader glued to the exciting pages once the challenges get hot and hotter.  This novel will make the reader read more Brad Parks novels.  Terrific read for lovers of the crime fiction genre!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Mission Critical: A Grey Man Novel (Series #8) by Mark Greaney

Mission Critical: A Grey Man Novel. (Grey Man Series #8). Mark Greaney. Penguin Publishing Group.  February 2019. 528 pp. hb.; ISBN: 9780451488947.

Courtland Gentry, the Grey Man, is back in action but not the way he planned.  Returning to Washington by orders of his CIA boss, Suzanne Brewer, he’s relaxing in his seat on a plane landing in Luxembourg when some obvious-looking goons drag a man onto the plane, a man whose head is covered by a black bag.  It turns out the plane heads to England but not with the prisoner. Upon landing in the U.K., a heavy gun battle ensues, shooting up the plane and killing several of the prisoner’s guards.  Court of course gets involved and attempts to follow the van holding the escaped prisoner. There the business begins.  It turns out the prisoner knows pivotal information about a mole in Langley.

Meanwhile a Soviet woman, Zoya Zakharvoa, who has turned to become an American spy is being held in a safe house while she is being prepped to be an agent in a top-secret program run by the CIA.  One night the safe house is attacked by assassins, with many deaths occurring; but Zoya manages to escape.  She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with and no one in possession of sanity would attempt to capture or mess with her in any conceivable way. 

On another note, another plot is moving forward, directed by Zoya’s father, the former head of the Soviet GRU but now operating under an anonymous name.  His plan is motivated by personal reasons and has nothing to do with Russian affairs or Russian authority. The plan involves a North Korean scientist with her own fanatical agenda which she plans to carry out with a biological event. 

The plot about the “mole” at CIA gets quite complex and riveting.  It turns out several characters are being obviously followed.  But the real question is “Who is the mole?”  Too bad these characters are innocent or have personal matters they fear exposing. 

The violence of this novel is ongoing and intense beyond words.  Court or Gentry is very good at his job but unfortunately gets physically hammered by a Godzilla-sized character – several times.  Add to the fact that there are many surprises in these pages that aren’t mentioned in this review.

Eventually, Court and Zoya meet, with some interesting chemistry developing between them.  Court is a highly skilled and objective guy who has more heart in this novel in the series.  He’s a good guy in a very bad world!

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see this story scripted into a thriller/espionage movie.  Mark Greaney is a talented writer who knows how delineate a multi-layered plot with interesting characters that keeps readers glued to the page and at the end wanting more!

Nicely crafted, Mark Greaney – a novel to satisfy crime thriller and international spy fans galore!

The Secret of Clouds: A Novel by Alyson Richman

The Secret of Clouds: A Novel. Alyson Richman. Penguin Publishing Group.  February 2019. $16.99; pb, 384 pp.; ISBN: 9780451490773.

Katya is an aspiring ballerina and Sasha a student scientist when they first meet.  They marry after living a tumultuous life in Kiev and emigrate to the United States.  Sasha suffered a major injury which curtailed her ballet career, but the birth of Yuri transformed their lives in so many ways. Years before their meeting, there was a nuclear disaster at Chernobyl which authorities claimed was no big deal.  However, it turned out that the winds carried that radiation throughout all of Europe.  Many Russians enjoyed the outdoor air at that time which was abnormally warm for mid-April.  Katya was one of them and years later was distraught that that air she had absorbed was responsible for Yuri’s birth defect, a leaky tricuspid valve and abnormally-sized heart.  Yuri was both a timid and sickly child for years and had to be monitored constantly.  Katya incessantly worried over Yuri but Sasha had a more scientific and positive viewpoint about his son’s health issues.

This then is the story of Maggie, a young teacher who is very connected to her students and loves to be creative about language arts writing.  She agrees to tutor Yuri at his home since he is too ill to come to school.  At first the chemistry is zero but gradually sharing his passion for baseball becomes the centerfold of their growing relationship. The creation of a journal/storybook provides pages and pages of Yuri’s expression of what is important to him.  No spoilers here but suffice to say that Yuri’s reflections on Maggie’s assignments become the highlight of his life, with no room left for false games or lies.

Yuri’s openness and honesty changes Maggie’s personal life as well as she finally chooses to move from one stagnant relationship to a life-giving and creative connection.  Yuri then finds a peer who also loves baseball and becomes a best friend. Katya and Sasha also learn to relax and cherish their son’s growth and happiness.

The finale to this heartwarming story is tender, heart-wrenching and full of life-giving hope.  This is a novel with innumerably endearing scenes that will remain in your thoughts and heart forever!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Winter Sisters: A Novel by Robin Oliveira

Winter Sisters: A Novel. Robin Oliveira. Penguin Publishing Group.  February 2018; hb, 432 pp.; ISBN: 9780399564260.

Albany, New York, 1879.  David and Bonnie O’Donnell walk to work after their children, Emma and Claire, leave for school.  It’s an ordinary February morning with light snow in the air, and Bonnie reminds David they have a dinner to attend at the Sutter-Still home.  As the morning progresses, a fierce wind and heavy snow becomes a catastrophic blizzard to the point where no one can see a foot in front of their direction.  Tragedy follows!

David and Bonnie die in the blizzard, but Emma and Claire literally disappear.  A massive search conducted by Dr. Mary (Sutter) and Dr. William Still, whose endeavor fails to produce even the slightest inkling of where the girls could be.   Meanwhile, the story briefly switches to a highly skilled musician, Elizabeth Fall, whose passion for music very quickly becomes intense dislike in Paris, France where she has been under the mentorship of a supposed Master violinist.  When she learns of the blizzard disaster, she immediately leaves for America.

The missing girls are eventually found but their story becomes a source of division, suspicion and a trial in which prosecutors seem out to destroy their account and attempt to destroy Dr. Mary Sutter, who takes care of prostitutes, an unseemly use of her medical skills in the late 1800s that immediately mandates social stigma.

The beauty of this book involves the integrity of caring people who pursue justice for all in the face of formidable opposition.  Those who are rich or possess political power are trusted for all the wrong reasons which will eventually be exposed.

Emma and Claire begin the process of PTSD from their phenomenal experience.  Bonnie O’Donnell’s last words to Emma were to take care of her sister, and the only positive outcome for her is she can clearly say that she honored this promise to her mother.

Winter Sisters: A Novel is a fine mystery and carefully crafted story which keeps the reader fully engaged.  It’s also a satire of injustice and cruelty which can make or break a person and at the least leaves shades of vulnerability that can be overcome.  Highly recommended historical fiction!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Illusion of Death: A Belinda Lawrence Mystery by Brian Kavanagh

Illusion of Death: A Belinda Lawrence Mystery. Brian Kavanagh. Fontaine Press.  November 2018; pb, 196 pp.; ISBN: 9781925846430.

Yes, Belinda Lawrence is back in business!  This indomitable, no-nonsense, sharp observer and investigator is quickly drawn into a case involving film fans from the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.  They’re completely involved with viewing and evaluating films from bygone errors, from the 1920s forward, more than contemporary movies, that is those usually only found on reels or tapes and early digital formats.  Some of these films apparently are extremely valuable and several characters are searching for one series of films, in particular a negative of specific film, “Soldiers of the Cross.”  One member, Max, is found beaten and dead.

The group who gather to watch and discuss all films are possible suspects in the ensuing investigation.  Each has a motive and most of them have rather vague or questionable alibis for where they were the night of Max’s death.  Complicating Belinda and her friend Bridie’s analysis and investigation, even those under suspicion continue to search for the valuable film and will be followed by a second death.  It remains unclear whether Jake’s death was a murder or suicide, with only a needle and cocaine bottle found as evidence.

While the investigations follow and a somewhat solution will be found for everyone’s questions, the dialogue between Belinda, Bridie, and the other members of the film society are fascinating to follow.  There are also some interesting conversations in which some of the characters are what this reviewer would call “benignly interested;” that is they love the films and love to talk about them; but when they are asked about the films, they appear to have a blasé attitude that makes the discovery of the murderers or murderer more difficult to deduce.  It’s also quite amusing! 

The Belinda Lawrence Mystery is crafted more in the style of “who done it” mysteries that turn over every possible clue, introduce some regular and dynamic characters and allow the reader to feel involved right up to the very last page!  Some lovely descriptions of homes, gardens and architecture are included that enable the reader to envision in the Australian setting.

Illusion of Death… is a delightful, brief and more than satisfactory read!  Nicely presented, Brian Kavanagh - Keep writing!

Monday, February 4, 2019

I Owe You One: A Novel by Sophie Kinsella

I Owe You One: A Novel. Sophie Kinsella. Random House Publishing Group. February 2019. 448 pp. ISBN #: 9781524799014.

In Fixie Farr’s world, everything must be just so.  She and her family run a housewares shop that sells low-priced, practical goods.  The reality is that her mother makes all the decisions about the store, since Fixie’s father had recently passed away.  A brother, Jake, and a sister, Nicole occasionally help but that’s not really too much as Nicole is “into herself” through yoga and affirmations and Jake lives like a millionaire without the millions to go with it.

One afternoon while having a drink at a nearby café, Fixie rescues a laptop from a nearby table when the ceiling collapses and a flood ensues.  It’s owner, Sebastian, insists he owes her one and he really means that as he hands her his card with that message written on it, “I owe you one.”

Soon thereafter Fixie’s Mom has a heart attack and Fixie’s old romance, Ryan, shows up and pours out his pitiful story.  Fixie is always trying to make things better, doomed to trying so hard that she misses the forest for the trees.  So now that Mom is moving away to get some mandatory “rest,” Fixie’s problems increase between her siblings’ ineptness or obstructive ways and the control of her Uncle who hasn’t got a clue as to what’s going on.  Uncle Ned just reminds everyone of how much he’s done for them.

Fixie will finally have enough and get to truly getting rid of the losers, even after she trusts Ryan to Sebastian’s care.  That almost turns disastrous!

I Owe You One… is a light-hearted chic lit book that makes for some pleasant reading, even if the characters are seriously lacking in responsibility.  That includes Fixie who has too much of the opposite.  All in all, though a lovely romance builds with an airy, pleasant end that Sophie Kinsella fans will love. Enjoy!

Thank you to Penguin/Random House Publishing Group and Netgalley for providing this novel for a review!

We Shall See the Sky Sparkling by Susana Aikin

We Shall See the Sky Sparkling. Susana Aikin. Kensington. January 2019. 416 pp. ISBN#:  9781496717658.

Lily Throop, despite her father’s vehement disapproval, has a dream to become a famous actress and leaves home to accomplish that plan.  Although she has no recommendations or supporting patron, she manages to obtain an apprenticeship or low-paid position as an actress at London’s Imperial Theatre.  She meets an actor/mentor, Wade, who truly helps to hone her already special skills but unfortunately she becomes a prisoner to him by way of a contract which she cannot break.  That relationship also ruins a budding romance with a poor stagehand, Chet, who loves Lily but cannot get past Wade’s hold on her.

Lily does become famous and meets numerous wealthy men and women when she is not working very hard.  Finally, she meets a Russian count, Sergei, who is also a true revolutionary supporter.  Lily by that point has heard about the playwright and teacher, Stanislavsky, who is teaching a new method of acting.  During one of Lily’s crisis scenes with Wade, Lily elopes to Russia with Sergei.  The descriptions of her journey and of Russian cities and the country are stunning and make one want to visit there.  After Lily becomes pregnant, her opportunities to return to England are stymied by the arrest of Sergei.  Because of his noble background, he is exiled to the cold Siberian countryside, one which Lily shares.  There they learn to endure and to support each other.  However, their relationship begins to dim when Sergei refuses to give up his political visionary dreams and disaster occurs.

Lily will eventually find her true love but not until a lifetime of work, travel and dedication have welded her to both her career and her child. 

This is a beautiful novel, written with great attention to setting, history and the arts.  Lily is a dynamic character who although not deeply depicted moves readers profoundly because of the depth she expresses in her art.  The Russian pre-Revolutionary period is also depicted with stark accuracy.  Lily is the one who sees they skies sparkling but also becomes the same for her devoted fans.

Nicely crafted historical fiction, Susana Aikin!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

The Paragon Hotel. Lyndsay Faye. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright January 2019. pb, 432 pp.; ISBN: 9780735210752.

Fasten your seatbelt and get ready for a wild ride into the times of Prohibition – from the jazz-filled clubs of Harlem to Portland, Oregon’s Paragon Hotel.  The streets of Harlem are a mix of Negro music and hoodlums vying for supremacy of territory.  When “Nobody” Alice James arrives at the Paragon Hotel, it’s with the help of the black Pullman porter, Max.  He’s practically carrying her as she’s got a very bad bullet wound in her gut.  This hotel is unique as Oregon has laws and visceral hatred for all people of color.  The KKK rules supreme although they make it sound like a genial social club. 

Slowly but surely Alice meets the residents of this African-American hotel. There’s Blossom, a dramatic young lady with a sweet, sultry voice that charms everyone in her path.  There’s a secret relationship she has with a man known as Dr. Perkins who treats Blossom for a secret condition.  Then we meet several other quirky characters who are ultra-dramatic but as endearing as the main characters.  They all are living in the Paragon Hotel in fear.  Alice James as “Nobody” spares everyone initially from the hoodlum atmosphere in Harlem and doesn’t share her total story until well into the novel.  That’s okay as there are plenty of disputes, dancing, drinking, costuming, etc. to totally rivet the reader to rapidly flipping pages while frantically reading.

Each of these characters may be said to have hearts of gold, with cords of compassion and grit that protects, defends, exalts and empathizes with each other when things get tough.  No spoilers here!

The huge question concerning everyone is “Where is Davy?”  Davy is a young African-American boy, somehow associated with Blossom DuBois, who has disappeared.  Some are frantic about finding him but if one carefully observes the passing days, one notices that not everyone is searching as if it were a matter of life and death.  The answer to these questions will provide an altogether unexpected solution to many problems – one that will move readers to tears!!!

The Paragon Hotel is a stunning historical novel that is also a mystery, romance, and thriller that involves every color, class, religion of Prohibition era.  You will revel in all of the saints and sinners herein!  This is one very talented writer that will make you want to read her former novels and hope that she will continue to create new stories that thrill the mind, heart and soul!  Highly recommended – stunning in fact!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Lake of the Dead: A Winston Radhauser Mystery #5 by Susan Clayton-Goldner

Lake of the Dead: A Winston Radhauser Mystery #5. Susan Clayton-Goldner. Tirgearr Publishing.  January 2019. 291 pp.; ASIN #: B07L5Z6BMB.

When the story begins, the reader thinks it’s going to be a crime associated with transgender truth and persecution.  Rashima (formerly called Roy) is having tremendous problems as she’s believed she’s always been a girl despite what her anatomy indicates. Her parents and school peers’ scorn and even persecute her.  However, she’s got a steeliness that has grown since she became friends with Parker Collins and with whom she’s fallen in love.  Parker has been writing stories since he was a child.  When the story opens, Rashima is frantic because she hasn’t heard from him.  He’s gone up to a cabin his Writing Professor lent him to use far away from telephones, TVs, computers, etc. because she believes he is the most gifted student she has ever had and is sure someday he will win a major award for his novel.

Finally, after his missing status has been reported, Officer Winston Radhauser gets involved.  He is also an unusual person who accepts people for who they are and focuses more of his empathy than judgment on people like Rashima and Parker.  However, his involvement is on a purely investigative mode and he’s able to maintain an objectivity despite his feelings one way or another.  He’s about to be extremely surprised about this investigation’s results.

At first, he’s surprised by the professor, Maggie Hollingsworth’s strong feelings about Parker.  When Radhauser gets a brief glimpse of Parker’s writing in his notebooks he’s kept since he was a child, Radhauser quickly knows this is a sensitive soul who has suffered on his own, something Maggie couldn’t help but miss.  This then is the search for Parker and after finding Parker’s body the search for his killer.

Everyone in this story has an “agenda,” stuff to deal with that can be life-changing in the best or worst ways, including Parker and Rashima’s families.  However, sometimes the reader tries to play private eye and couldn’t be farther from the truth with this scenario.

The plot of this novel is really about character and this is where Susan Clayton-Goldner clearly excels.  The reader continues to want to know more and more about each character, not to supply a “who did it” answer, but just for the descriptions of the simplicity and complexity of each character. This is the magic that fuses all of parts, right up to the last riveting page.  Very nicely done, Ms. Clayton-Goldner – recommended great read of this mystery, the fifth in her series!