Friday, June 27, 2014

Meet Scarlet O'Hara's Grandmother, Solange

Solange, a French heiress, travels to Saint-Domingue with her new husband to claim the sugar plantation that is part of the marriage settlement. When they arrive, the island is in chaos. The slave revolt has driven the French planters into the main city of Cap-Francis. The newly weds get little from the island. The plantation is in disrepair and uninhabitable. However, Solange takes in Ruth, a child orphaned by the slave revolt. Solange and Ruth form a symbiotic relationship that extends from her childhood to encompass three generations of the family.

It's not easy to write a prequel. The main characters whose lives you have to connect to are already established. However, the progenitors are fair game. I thought McCraig did a good job with Scarlett's grandmother, Solange. She has the same feisty spirit, desire to succeed against the odds, and an attractiveness that gains her three husbands.

Ruth, or Mammy, is a much less well defined character. As a child at the beginning of the book, she is Solange's accomplice, and a very successful one. However, I felt we didn't get to know her
well. The emphasis was on Solange. We do learn more about Mammy's history, but for me it wasn't completely satisfying. I particularly disliked the amount of dialect the author used when Mammy was telling a story. It was hard to read and diverted my interest from the story to trying to figure out the pronunciation.

I won't spoil the ending, but the characters you loved in Gone With the Wind have changed rather dramatically at the end, which is the barbeque scene from the original book. I also have trouble with the characterization of Scarlett riding about the countryside in men's clothes. She was a hoyden, but I thought that was a bit extreme for the South in that time period.

The book is an interesting read to see how another author envisions the events leading up to Mitchel's novel. I wasn't particularly impressed, but if you read it, you may feel differently.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mystery, Murder and Romance in a Lovely Beach Setting

Elin Summerall is recovering from a heart transplant. The donor is an excellent match, but Elin is now plagued by memories of the donor's murder. People don't believe that cell memory can be that extensive, but for Elin it's real.

The lovely home on the beach she purchased has it's own story. Early in her residence, Elin discovers diaries from the previous owner and gets caught up in her story.

Romance is also on the horizon. Elin's daughter is not the biological daughter of her husband Tim. She's the product of a single night of passion with Marc. When Marc finds out, he wants to be involved with his daughter and decides to see his daughter whether Elin wants it or not.

Add to this the problems of Elin's mom who is suffering from dementia, and you have a novel with several plot lines that fit together with surprising consequences.

I enjoy Colleen Coble's novels. The settings are lovely and the plots always complex. I do have a problem with this one because her use of the concept of cell memory to explain Elin's frightening visions is a bit unrealistic. I've read about cell memory, and it does exist, but I think Coble takes it several steps too far.

However, the book is delightful escapism. If you like romance, mystery and Christian fiction, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booklook Program.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Growing Up in an Eccentric Family during the WWII Era

For the first twelve years of her life, Eva lives with a weekend father. When Eva's mother learns that her lover's wife is dead, she grabs Eva and races to her lover's house to find out what it's in it for them. After talking to Eva's father, her mother disappears leaving Eva with her father and half-sister, Iris. From this point on Iris, a would be starlet, is a major factor in Eva's life.

After realizing that their father is stealing money from them, the girls take off for California where Iris becomes an actual starlet. Things are going well until an ill-advised liaison ends Iris' career in Hollywood.

The story is told primarily from Eva's point of view enhanced by letters from other character like her father, Edgar, and her sister, Iris. The book is filled with unusual characters from Francisco, the make-up man who follows the girls when they return to the East coast, to Gus and Renee, a German couple who become close friends and more with the girls.

I found the book fragmented. The portions told by Eva move smoothly, but the letters are a jarring interruption. I'm sure the author used this technique to keep the reader current as to what was happening with the other characters, but it is distancing at best.

The settings both California and later New York city are true to the time period and help ground the story. The plot is diffuse. Eva is growing up, but she appears to have no personal goals other than to keep the family together. As such it makes her an interesting
but not unforgettable character, a child trying to take care of the irresponsible adults.

I enjoyed the book, but I would only recommend it if you like coming-of-age stories, or are interested in the lives of people during WWII.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Hard-hitting Police Drama: Cop Town by Karen Slaughter

It's the Vietnam era/ Atlanta has been a police town, a white police town that is. Now the blacks are gaining their own power base, and it doesn't sit will. Four cops have been murdered gangland style. The cops are convinced that the blacks are responsible. When another incident occurs, they're ready to go all out to make sure the killer doesn't strike again even if they have to take justice into their own hands.

Jimmy Murphy, a member of one of the old-time police families, is nearly murdered. His partner is killed and Jimmy barely escapes with his life. Now the cops are doubly eager to catch the killer, but Jimmy's sister, Maggie, also a policeman, isn't convinced by his recounting of the killing. She starts her own investigation helped by Kate, a rookie, and Gail, her former supervisor.

Kate comes from a wealthy family. Her husband Patrick was killed in Vietnam, and now she feels that she has to prove herself. Police work, particularly with this group in Atlanta, is tough sledding and no one expects Kate to stick it out, but surprisingly she isn't ready to quit.

Kate is an excellent character, tough and resilient, although she isn't sure she has the stamina to stick it out. The cops, particularly Maggie's uncle Terry, are tough characters portraying all the racial and sexual hatred of the force in that era in the South. These characters are realistic for the time period, but not likable.

The plot has plenty of twists to keep you reading. However, if you're offended by racial slurs and bad language, you will not enjoy this book. It's and true to the time period, but not a comfortable read.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Murder on the Isle of Lewis Off the Coast of Scotland{ The Black House by Peter May

Fin Macleod is grieving over the death of his eight-year-old son when his past comes back to haunt him. A murder on the Isle of Lewis looks like a copycat of the murder in Edinburgh that Fin is working on. He's dispatched to the Isle of Lewis to see if the two cases are connected.

When he arrives on the Isle of Lewis where he grew up, the people and events from his childhood resurface. The murdered man was the school bully. Fin still remembers his taunts. Fin's best friend Artair is now a disappointed man who drinks too much, and he's married to Marsaili, the woman they were both in love with.

As Fin joins the search for the killer, events from the past come flooding back, and he finds it progressively harder to put them to rest.

The unusual setting on the Isle of Lewis makes this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the stark beauty. The plot has a series of twists that keep you guessing about the outcome. However, the characters feel more like actors on a stage than people you can feel emotionally attached to.

The book is framed as a chapter of investigation followed by a chapter recounting events from Fin's past. I found this very choppy. Although the long flashbacks were relevant, they took away from the forward motion of the plot. The ending is well done and exciting, but you have to wade through the flashbacks to get there.

I recommend this book for the unusual setting, but if you dislike the disruption of long flashbacks, this isn't the book for you.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Fast Paced Legal Thriller

Mia Quinn, a prosecutor for the Seattle Violent Crimes Unit, has her hands full. Her husband's death in an automobile accident is a possible suicide. Mia is trying to cope with the implications of his death as well as the mountain of debts he left. She's also the mother of two children, both still struggling with the aftermath of their father's death.

In addition to trying to cope with all the family
demands on her time, Mia is given the case of three youths who recklessly push a shopping cart over a four story drop seriously injuring a woman below. It's Mia's call whether to charge them as adults, and it's not an easy one to make.

On top of everything else, Charlie Carlson, a police officer who works with Mia, has concerns about her husband's death. He thinks it was murder.

The multiple plot lines in this book make for non-stop crises. If you like a fast-paced thriller, you'll enjoy this book. The legal aspects, interviewing witnesses, conducting cross examinations, are accurate and some of the most interesting parts of the novel.

I am less enthusiastic about the main character. Mia comes across as so upset and harassed it's hard to get close to her. Charlie is a more likable character, but he is also rather distant. The plot is so interesting and fast moving that this is not a major problem. I just think Mia's angst is a bit over done. However, it's an enjoyable read if you like suspense.

I reviewed this book for the BookLook Blogger Program by Thomas Nelson.   

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Heartwarming Story from the South During the Civil Rights Era

After Ibby's father dies, her mother drops her off at her grandmother Fannie Bell's house. Clutching her father's urn, Ibby is afraid to go inside sure that her grandmother will be a monster. The truth turns out to be very different. Fannie is warmhearted and eccentric, but she provides a good home for Ibby helped by the Trout family.

Queenie Trout and her daughter Dollbaby have worked for Frannie for many years. They take it upon themselves to teach Ibby about the South, sometimes with amusing results.

An air of mystery hovers over Fannie's house. Almost all the doors on the second floor are locked. Fannie has episodes when she has to be hospitalized. One of Queenie's rules is that Ibby mustn't ask about the family. In the end, the secrets are revealed. It's a satisfying ending.

I loved the characters in this book. Queenie and Fannie are exceptional. Although mistress and servant, they have a symbiotic relationship. Dollbaby, Crow, and the other members of the Trout family are well drawn. However, I was a little disappointed in Ibby. She's the central character in the story, but she seems very remote and hard to know. Perhaps this is intentional. Teenagers are often this way.

New Orleans is the setting. While we don't see much of the city, the neighborhoods where the Trouts and the Bells live are accurate for the time and give a good picture of the South during the civil rights era.

I highly recommend this book. The characters are people you'd love to know,
and there is enough mystery to keep the story moving.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Scrumptious Recipes with a Southern Touch

I know when I've found a good cookbook. I feel like I've gained ten pounds just reading the recipes. LeAnn Rice's The Loving Kitchen qualifies. The pictures are tantalizing, and it makes your mouth water to read the ingredients. I'm a little prejudiced because many of the recipes feature cheese, and I love cheese.

The recipes cover all aspects of meal preparation from salad and soup to main dishes and desserts. I particularly like the section on breads. I tried the scones and muffins. They were a big hit with my family.

The only qualification I have is that the recipes are heavy on cheese, butter, and all the gooey things that make food fun to eat. However, if you're dieting, you may want to use these recipes sparingly. As LeAnn points out some recipes should be reserved for company only.

I also enjoyed her commentary. Food is a loving way to show your family how much you care. I highly recommend this book.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.