Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Friendship, Romance and Tragedy

Hadley Dunn thinks she's perfectly satisfied with her life. She chose to stay at home for university and help her parents care for her baby brother, but when an opportunity to become an exchange student in Lausanne, Switzerland becomes available, she grabs a chance for freedom.

The city immediately captivates her. She meets the other students in her lodging, but doesn't feel particularly drawn to any of them until she meets Kristina, a Danish girl, who has the room next door. The two girls are drawn to each other and for a few months have an ideal friendship. But Kristina has a secret that begins to drive them apart. Then tragedy strikes and Hadley spends the rest of the book trying to understand what happened.

The setting in this novel is idyllic. The city of Lausanne with the quaint houses and shops and the lake is beautifully described. It makes you want to visit.

Hadley and Kristina are well drawn characters, particularly when interacting with each other. However, at the end of the novel where Hadley is acting on her own, I found her less delightful. She clung to her grief, tried to drag everyone else with her, and couldn't let go.

The book is well worth reading for the setting, if nothing else. It's primarily a character study, but isn't overly analytical. The plot is a little thin, but the hints of mystery keep you reading. It's an enjoyable novel.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Diamonds, Mystery, and Murder

The five Saybrook cousins grew up in an atmosphere of wealth and expectation. Three are officers in the Saybrook Diamond Company; one is a playgirl; and one has disinherited herself from the family. Corrine, who is trying to live the perfect life, is getting married. The family is pleased, even if Corrine has doubts. Then Poppy, the cousin who has become president of the company, is murdered and everything changes.

Underlying the sorrow and disbelief, is the question: Who killed Poppy? The uncomfortable truth is that it might have been someone in the family. As they try to understand what happened. The cousins uncover family secrets that literally change their lives.

This book is a fun read. The plot is fast moving. The world of a very rich and successful family makes a good background. The five cousins are clearly delineated. These are all good points and make the novel good escape reading.

However, the characters were not likable. All five, with the exception of Poppy who dies early in the book, are very self-absorbed and often seem angry. I got tired of Corrine angrily trying to be the perfect person. Still, the plot kept my interest, and I enjoyed the setting. This is a good book for beach reading or a rainy day.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Problems of Instant Fame

Nicholas Duhamel, a young man living with his lover while he tutors in philosophy, has written an explosive novel that brings him international fame and fortune. Unfortunately, the fame goes to his head. He becomes addicted to his image, constantly checking in on Facebook and Twitter to see what people are saying about him. His lover breaks upwith him calling him a self-center egoist. He's supposed to be working on a new novel, but he can't write so he lies about his progress.

Feeling he deserves a rest after all his international book tours and hoping that it may kickstart his writing, Nicholas and his new love steal off to a posh resort that caters to rich people wanting to get away. At first he's entranced by the pampering and the rich people he's consorting with, but gradually it begins to feel like a cage.

Nicholas is not a likeable character. He is egotistical, self-centered, and demanding. He is also unfaithful, preferring sexting with a casual acquaintance, to wondering what's wrong with the girl he's with. I couldn't warm up to him, but then I don't think I was supposed to. I believe the author was trying to paint a portrait of someone to whom fame and fortune have come unexpectedly, so unexpectedly that he doesn't know how to relate to it. He doesn't really understand how it happened.

The setting is wonderful, a lovely villa on a tiny island off the Tuscan shore. I'd love to visit the Gallo Nero if only for an afternoon. In fact, it's the setting that kept me reading.

One serious problem with the book is the length of the paragraphs. It makes it very difficult to stay interested. Paragraphs can go for a page or more with no dialog or other breaks. It become tedious to spend that much time in someone's head.

If you're interested in the creative process and how fame can leave a writer feeling helpless and unable to write, you may enjoy this book. If you're looking for a romance or a mystery, this isn't it.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wandering the Venetian Countryside in Search of a Rose

Andrea di Robilant wasn't particularly interested in roses until he came upon a lovely silvery pink rose growing wild on his family's former estate. He discovered that his great-great-great-great grandmother had been friends with the Empress Josephine and in all likelihood brought the rose to Italy from France. Finding this connection, started his odyssey in search of the history of the rose.

Even if you don't love roses, this is a hard book to put down. The author interweaves the history of roses, particularly old roses, with his search for the rose from his family's former estate. In the process, he meets colorful characters like Eleanora and Valentino, who single-handedly care for a garden with thousands of roses.

The book is beautifully written, and the illustrations bring the characters and roses to life. I highly recommend this book. It made me want to visit the rose gardens of Italy.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Swashbuckling Adventure During the Glorious Revolution

Seventeen-year-old Calumny Spinks is unhappy with his lot in life. He lives in an Essex village, but dreams of going to London to make his fortune. This dream seems beyond his reach since his father, Peter, a silk weaver, has refused to sign him up as an apprentice. His father hasn't even taught him to read and write.

His life changes when his father returns from a visit to London in the company of Garric Pettit, a silk merchant. Garric wonders why Calumny isn't apprenticed, and it feeds his anger with his father. Calumny hears his parents arguing, follows his father to a shed on the edge of their property, and realizes that his father is not what he appear
s to be.

When another wealthy man rides into the village, disaster strikes. Calumny's mother is killed, and he and Peter barely escape with their lives. They travel to London and Calumny becomes embroiled in his father's past and in trying to secure a future for himself.

If you enjoy historical novels, this is a good choice. Calumny is an engaging character. He begins the novel as a disappointed adolescent, but he has a deep seated loyalty to his father and the people he loves that tests his mettle and forces him to make choices between what he knows is right and his dreams of wealth.

The plot takes places during the Glorious Revolution when Britain is bracing for a Dutch invasion and coffee houses are all the rage in London. Calumny becomes embroiled in both. Although it makes for entertaining reading, don't take the history too seriously. An appendix at the end of the book catalogs all the historical inaccuracies.

You can learn more about Piers and The Bitter Trade at his website:

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Runaway Princess, an Assassin, and a Prince

On her wedding day, Princess Lia takes her maid, Pauline, and runs away to a village where she can live as a commoner. She has always chaffed at the restriction of being a princess. Now she is expected to marry a prince she has never seen, and is sure is an ugly old man, to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom.

She is happily living as a commoner in the village when two men arrive: one, the prince; the other, an assassin. Lia's life changes again as she is taken as a captive on a journey to a kingdom at war with her father's.

The book starts with Lia acting like a spoiled teenager. She doesn't want to do what her parents require, so she runs away. The second part of the book devolves into a hero's journey during which she grows up and begins to understand that more is at stake than her romantic notions.

I enjoyed this fantasy, particularly the second half. For me, in the beginning Lia is a rather unattractive character, but as the story progresses, she faces danger and begins to develop a serious love. I recommend this book if you enjoy romantic fantasy. It's a good choice for middle grade students.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thirteen People Discuss the Most Precious Thing in Their Lives

Erik Kobell asked thirteen people what they would save from a fire. Some of the people are public figures; some are not. Each identified something precious. The most interesting thing about the responses was that the people identified qualities rather than objects.

One person, Regina Carter, at first identified an object, her violin, but as the interview continued it became clear that what she wanted to save was the sound from her violin. Her choice was one of the most interesting for me. She's a jazz violinist. Initially, she wanted fame and fortune, and she was lucky enough to have them come her way, but once she had them, she realized how much they had stolen her freedom to be the musician she wanted to be.

Kobell breaks the interviews into four sections: Seekers, who are primarily engaged in religious activities; Artists, which includes an interview with Alan Alda as well as one with Regina Carter; Iconoclasts, people who have done things in a non-traditional way; and survivors, which includes an interview with Jane Pauley. The book concludes with thoughts by the author. I enjoyed this chapter. It seemed only fair that the observer should take a turn in the spotlight.

I highly recommend this book. Although it has a spiritual component, it is not a religious book, per se. People of all faiths, or none, can read this book and take away something that could change their lives

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Two People Dealing with Past Mistakes and Loss

Carolyn Marcum has come back to Wellfleet Harbor to care for her dying mother. Not only is it difficult to see her mother die, but being in Wellfleet revives the memories of the auto accident that changed her life. Ridley Neal has made mistakes of his own that landed him in jail for a time. Now he's also back in Wellfleet working his father grant where he harvests oysters and clams.

Ridley and Carolyn meet during a hurricane that threatens to destroy his oyster and clam beds. Their brief interlude leaves Carolyn with a tie to Rid she can't break. While Carolyn's life is complicated by the death of her mother. Rid is facing a different loss. One of the rich landowners, whose property is situated above the flats where Rid and his partners farm oysters, initiates a lawsuit to drive them off the beach thereby destroying their livelihood.

For me, the best part of this book was the detailed picture of how oysters and clams are farmed off the Massachusetts coast. The author has done a lot of research to make the background authentic. In addition, the story is based on an actual lawsuit.

The characters are interesting. Carolyn is devastated by her mother's approaching death. Rid is fighting his demons and trying to steer clear of entanglements when he meets Carolyn. I found the characters
believable: Rid more so than Carolyn. Her upset at her mother's death seemed over the top.

If you enjoy a romantic novel with an interesting setting and believable characters, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed the book for Net Galley.

A Good Book for Young Children Taking Their First Airplane Ride

Luca Lashes is preparing for his first airplane ride. He's helping his mother pack his clothes, but he's not sure he wants to take the trip if it means being on an airplane. With his parents patient explanations and his magical eyelashes, if you blink twice your courage grows, he's able to enjoy the flight and wants to do it again.

The Luca Lashes series presents a number of scary situations for young children: first swimming lesson; first visit to the doctor's office, hospital or dentist's office. I think the concept is excellent, but if the child has
no fear of the experience, I'm not sure I would read them the book. The text is simple enough for beginning readers to enjoy the book by themselves, or with some help from Mom and Dad. The illustrations are vivid. Some pictures of the mother look rather strange, but on the whole, they're enjoyable.

Apparently there are apps for the book if you have the itunes version. That should make the experience even better for the young child. I enjoyed book and recommend it for young children experiencing trying first adventures.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Did She Fall, Was She Pushed, or Did She Kill Herself?

Because of a falling out between Jess' mom, Molly, and her twin sister, Tilly, Jess has never visited the village of Port Sentinel where her mother grew up. She and Molly arrive at a difficult time. Freya, Jess' cousin is dead. She was a fey girl who went to the cliffs above Port Sentinel late one night. No one knows whether she fell, accidentally getting too close to the edge of the cliff, was unhappy enough to kill herself, or if someone pushed her.

Jess discovers, when the towns people stare at her, that she looks almost identical to her cousin. She feels a connection with the dead girl and wants to find out what happened. Her search is complicated by two boys who are interested in her, a coterie of bitchy, boy-crazy, girls, and her cousin's best friend, Darcy. Jess finally concocts a plan to learn the truth, but at great personal risk.

I enjoyed the plot. The town has accepted that Freya fell to her death accidentally. Jess is a newcomer and when things don't add up, she decides to take action. Although Jess comes across as bright and brash, it doesn't ring true. She's supposed to be brilliant, but the plan she concocts to learn the truth about Freya is little short of lunatic. I can't give high marks to her character. Will, one of the boys interested in her, is more believable. He's dealing with a difficult home situation,
a dying mother and a harsh father. He comes across as real.

As a mystery, the book lacks serious investigating. Jess tries to do all the sleuthing herself, makes horribly bad decisions, and is simply lucky in the end. If you enjoy teen mysteries, this one is fair. It's a pleasant read in an interesting setting, but I can't recommend it as a serious mystery or thriller.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fast Paced Suspense

Juliet Cole and her husband Bob are returning the rental truck they used to help Juliet's sister Holly move when a white car drives up, and the driver shoots Bob. He dies and Juliet is heart broken. As she copes with his death she finds things that suggest Bob was leading a double life. Juliet is crushed as one relevation piles on another. She tries to hang on to her faith and help her sons through the difficult time, but it isn't easy.

Her siblings are there to help. Bob's death appears to be connected to another death that affected her family. Cathy, Juliet's younger sister, was engaged to Joe Hogan, a policeman killed in a drug bust that went wrong. Now it looks as if the person responsible for Joe's death was also involved with Bob in drug trafficking.

This is a fast paced thriller. As one revelation piles on another, you can't help reading on to find out what will happen. Although this is not the first book in the Moonlighters Series, it's a standalone novel. The author brings the reader up to date on the previous murders without getting heavy handed and slowing the story.

Juliet, Cathy, and Michael are all likeable characters. The teenage son, Zach, is portrayed as a typical teenager trying to understand his father's death and the subsequent revelations about his life. The characterization works well.

I recommend this book if you like thrillers. Although this one has a Christian background it is not heavy handed and the religious aspects work well to defined the characters.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

Two Nice Kids Find Life Doesn't Always Work the Way You Expect

Nell Golden is starting high school at City Day following in the footsteps of her adored older sister Layla. She has high hopes for the year: making the soccer team, being in the school play, finding a boyfriend. All these things happen, but not in the way she expected. She also hopes to be closer to her sister, but Layla is changing. She has a secret and Nell is left out wondering what to do.

Nell's best friend is a boy, Felix. She and Felix are comfortable with each other and look to each other for support when things to go wrong. It's a special friendship without the strain of romance, but full of caring. Felix has his own troubles during the year, and Nell is there for him as he is for her.

“We are the Goldens” is written in the form of a monologue from Nell to Layla. At the beginning you know something is wrong. Nell is trying to remember and recreate the relationship she had with Layla before the secret took her away.

I enjoyed this book. Nell's voice is realistic, and her relationship with Felix is portrayed sensitively. It's a book that middle school and early high school students can feel part of. One of the best themes is showing that even when things seem to be working the way you want, there are pitfalls. I recommend this book. The writing is well done and the plot is realistic.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Romance, Mystery, Reincarnation and Perfume

Mythologist Jac L'Etoile returns to Paris after wrapping up her television shows for the coming season to find her beloved brother, Robbie, dying. Robbie is slipping away, and no one can find the cause. Poison is suggested, but the toxicologists have been unable to identify it.

After Robbie's death, Jac is distraught. When she is approached by Melinoe, a very wealthy woman, and her brother Serge to complete Robbie's final project, she at first refuses, but feeling close to Robbie at their chateau, she agrees to complete the project. Melinoe and her brother Serge commissioned Robbie to find the elixir that would unlock the vials of dying breaths left in the chateau by Rene le Floretin. Rene, perfumer to Catherine de Medici, lived and worked in the chateau where he was trying to unlock the secret of the dying breaths.

The story shifts from the court of Catherine de Medici to the present day. Although telling a story in two time periods can be tricky, M.J. Rose carries it out perfectly. The two plot lines fit together aided by Jac's ability to remember past lives, both her own and those of others.

The book is filled with fascinating glimpses of the world of the perfumer both in 16th century Italy and the present day. The topic of reincarnation is presented in a realistic fashion as are the historical details of the Medici court. Although this book is a paranormal romance with a core mystery, the book is much more. It is intelligently written. The characters are well rounded, and the settings are enticing.

I highly recommend this book. Even if you haven't read the previous books in the series, this book can be read and enjoyed as a stand alone novel. It may entice you to read the two earlier books.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Medical Murder Mystery

Shannon Fraiser, a medical student, and her boyfriend Todd are on a date when a gunman shoots Todd. He dies in Shannon's arms leaving her with a terrible sadness that she could do nothing to save him. Ten years later another man is shot and killed on her front lawn. Again, although she, now a surgeon, and her guests are doctors, she can't save the man. However, the death opens the door to a terrifying few weeks. Whoever the man was, someone thinks that Shannon and perhaps her sister, Megan, have information about a crime he was involved in. Late at night the phone rings. A husky voice wants to know what the murdered man said to Shannon before he died.

The book is an enjoyable read if you like murder mysteries with a medical flavor. The medical background is authentic and adds color to the characters and the story. However, the characters are stereotypes: the good daughter and the bad daughter, the religious doctor, the good cop and the bad cop. Since in a mystery the plot should be paramount, this isn't terribly bothersome, but if you're looking for realistic characters, this book doesn't make it.

The police work also lacks realism. The detectives
are surprisingly cavalier about the threat to a physician and her sister. One of them even tries to strike up a relationship with Shannon. It's hard to imagine a detective trying to get involved with a subject while there is an on-going investigation. I hope the Dallas Police would behave more ethically. There are other problems with the police work, but that would necessitate spoilers so I'll leave it at that.

On the positive side, the book has no cursing. The main characters do not jump into bed with each other, and there is a reliance on God. It can be an enjoyable read.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson BookLook Bloggers Program.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Dysfunctional Mixed Race Family

Lydia Lee, the middle daughter, disappears. Was she kidnapped, murdered; did she run away; did she commit suicide? The family has no answers when they wake up and find Lydia missing. She was the perfect daughter trying to realize her parents dreams. Her mother wanted her to become a doctor, a wish her mother was unable to fulfill. Her father wanted her to be popular because he felt like an outcast. But Lydia can't realize her parents dreams. She's a different person.

On the positive side, the author understands the stresses of mixed race families, in this case Asian and American. I found her psychological insights perceptive. On the negative side, her understanding of story structure is poor. In the opening of the novel, Lydia has disappeared. No one knows why. The assumption is that she has been murdered. Nathan, her older brother, suspects Jack, the neighborhood bad boy, but no one can prove it, and Jack says he knows nothing.

After setting up the story as a murder mystery, the author takes a several page digression into the history of Lydia's parents' lives. It stops the story dead. If you're fascinated by the dynamics of a mixed race household, it's perfectly in keeping with the theme, but if you're expecting a murder mystery, it doesn't produce the expected attempt by the family and police to solve the mystery.

I thought the author did an excellent job with the psychological aspects of the novel, but if you're looking for a mystery, give this a miss.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.