Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Serial Killer, Paranormal Investigations, and Romance

Meg, a new FBI agent, is drawn into a case that looks like the work of a serial killer. Her childhood friend, Lara, sends her a note saying she is tired of her job working for a congressman in DC and is going home to Richmond. She doesn't arrive, and when her body ifs found it looks much like the other bodies that have been turning up.

Meg is assigned to work with Matt, a seasoned FBI agent who is part of the Krewe Hunters. This is Meg's first experience with the paranormal investigators, but Matt has been at it for awhile and is dissatisfied with his job. Together they visit places where the ghosts talk to people with the ability to hear them, like Gettysburg.

This book is part of series, the fifteenth. Although I hadn't read the previous books, I found the story easy to follow. It can be read as a standalone book. However, if you enjoy paranormal adventures you may want to read more.

I enjoyed the mystery. It's filled with twists and the paranormal aspect is a nice touch. It's not easy to figure out who is responsible when a serial killer and a political conspiracy are intertwined.

If you like mysteries, and enjoy a bit of paranormal, you'll like this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

A Southern Gothic Mystery

Charlie Cates is mourning the sudden death of her five-year-old son. She's alone because she and the boy's father are divorced. On top of the death, Charlie is faced with the loss of her job when the New York magazine she works for is purchased by another company.

Luckily, Charlie's old editor form Cold Crimes Magazine offers her an assignment. Thirty years ago, a three-year-old boy disappeared from his bead on historic Evangeline plantation in Louisiana. The boy has never been found, but is presumed dead. Charlie grabs the assignment. Louisiana is far from New York and her problems, but then she starts having visions of trying to save children who are in danger.

The book is a fun read with romance, mystery, and paranormal events. The author has created a very atmospheric book: lush Louisiana, a brooding mansion, and unusual visions. I enjoyed the descriptions. Although it's a modern setting, it feels timeless.

The characters are well developed. Charlie is a particularly well done character. If you like fiction with a woman sleuth, you'll like Charlie. There is also romance and serious questions about who Charlie can trust.

If you want a pleasant, escapist read, you'll enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Dark Family Secrets and Love

Roberta works in a bookstore. She's half in love with the owner, but feels there's no chance for her since he is interested in someone else. When she finds a letter in her grandmother's suitcase, it opens the door to questioning who she really is, and more important what happened in her grandmother's life.

The stories of Roberta and her grandmother, Dorothy are told in sequential chapters. Roberta's chapters are written in the first person: Dorothy's in the third person. I suppose this was meant to give a sense of immediacy to Roberta's chapters. However, since more can be done to set the scene in third person, I found those chapters more interesting.

The theme of the book revolves around motherhood – who wants to be a mother, who doesn't, and what will they do to either embrace the role or flee it. It's a theme that will appeal to women and will raise questions about their own choices.

I enjoyed the book, but I found the back and forth between the eras more frustrating than enlightening. It may make a good selection to discuss with a reading group, but as a standalone novel, it left me cold.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Out of Africa from the Other Woman's Perspective

Growing up on a farm in Kenya, Beryl Markham ran wild with the native boys. Her mother abandoned her when she was a young child returning to London with her older brother. Beryl's father encouraged her to gallop the Thoroughbreds he trained, and Beryl showed a remarkable talent for working with the horses.

All this changed when Beryl's father brought home a housekeeper. Mrs. O tried to turn Beryl into a young lady with remarkably little success. Through a first marriage, Beryle continued to do as she pleased. Eventually, she met Denys Fitch Hatton and Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa. Attracted to Denys, Beryl became the third person in the triangle. Much of the book focuses on this love affair.

For me, the best part of this book is the description of Africa. The author writes beautifully of the strange, magnetic country. Most of these descriptions are in the Part One which focuses on Beryl's childhood. In Parts Two and Three, the focus is on relationships although we do get a good description of Beryl's talent as a horse trainer and aviatrix.

Beryl is a complex character. It's hard to like or dislike her. She has many engaging qualities as well as faults. Karen Blixen and Denys Fitch Hatton are also well fleshed out characters. It's interesting to see the triangle from Beryl's perspective as the other woman.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoyed Out of Africa. Even if you're unfamiliar with that book and movie, the book is worth reading for the picture of colonial society and the descriptions of the bush in Kenya.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Very Cold Case, Las Vegas, and a Nun Who is a Detective

Eve is on leave from her convent helping her father, the Captain, with his detective business. She's trying to decide whether to go back to the convent when a strange case arrives in the form of a man who wants to know what happened to his great grandfather, a miner in the area in the 1890s.

Things become more complicated when Eve can't contact her sister, Dorisanne, who lives in Las Vegas. Dorisanne has always been in trouble, but now Eve thinks it's serious trouble. She and Daniel, the Captain's former partner, take off for Las Vegas to find out what's going on and get more than they expected.

The central mystery of what's happening with Dorisanne is predictable, but a quick read. If you want an escapist mystery this is a good one. The secondary mystery of what happened to the great grandfather seemed unnecessary and stuck on. I understood the significance at the end, but I don't think it was necessary for the small amount of moralizing it allowed.

The characters are stereotypical except for Eve. The Captain is what you think of as a crusty private eye, and Daniel is a typical police officer. I had trouble with Eve's character. I believe nuns can ride motorcycles and behave as she did, but her constant wondering about whether to leave the convent or work with her father seemed a bit extreme.

I reviewed the book for BookLook Bloggers.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Landslide in North Carolina, Rescue Dogs and Murder

Ryder Creed, a former K-9 handles in Afghanistan and Iraq, now trains rescue dogs. He thought he had put his experience in Iraq and Afghanistan behind him when Peter Logan, a platoon leader he worked with, calls to cash in a favor. A serious landslide in North Carolina has buried a DARPA research facility. He wants Creed to bring his dogs and find the center and any survivors.

Maggie O'Dell, an FBI agent who has worked with Creed before, gets the same call. Her current boy friend, Ben Platt, a Colonel at DAPA, asks her to got to North Carolina and find out what's happening. She agrees, partly because she'd secretly like to work with Creed again.

The conditions in North Carolina are horrendous. The rain keeps coming, the site is a mass of mud, and dangerous debris is everywhere. But the conditions are not the only problem Creed and O'Dell have to contend with. One of the first bodies they find is a scientist who wasn't killed in the landslide. He has a bullet in his head. Now they have to find out what was really going on at the facility.

I loved this mystery. O'Dell and Creed are characters that keep you interested in the case, but also in their attraction to each other. However, the real stars are the lovable rescue dogs. I knew very little about the training and use of rescue dogs, but the author does a good job of describing both without being heavy handed. The dogs themselves steal the show, hard-working, friendly, and very well trained.

The chapters are short and move between the scenes of action from committee hearings in Washington, DC, to the disaster area in North Carolina. This not only makes for fast paced reading, it pulls you along to find out what happens next in each thread of the plot.

I highly recommend this book if you love a good action-adventure story with a mystery. Even if you're not a dog-lover, I think you'll fall in love with these intelligent animals.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Secret Societies and the search for an Ancient Artifact

In the second book of the Church Builder series, Bethany Barkley is on the run from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in the US. With the help of Ray Fuentes, an ex-CIA agent, she escapes to London where she tries to follow Annabelle's clues to discover the Pilate's Stone. Annabelle, her best friend, is now dead, and Bethany is searching for the clues because the Wilderness, an atheistic organization that is trying to discredit the church, has captured Janice, a brilliant young friend of Bethany's. To save Janice, Bethany must find the stone.

The Pilate's Stone is supposedly a stone on which Pilate recorded his recollections of Jesus. The Wilderness and the Garden, a society dedicated to protecting the church, want the stone for different reasons. The Wilderness wants to erase the stone in order to disprove Christ's existence. The Garden wants it to prove that Christ was who he claimed to be.

The novel is a chase scene with Bethany always on the verge of being caught, not knowing who to trust. Many characters are introduced in the process of the chase. Sometimes it's hard to remember who they are and how they fit into the overall story.

I found Bethany a rather shallow character. As is typical in chase scenes, we hear more about Bethany's actions trying to escape than about her character. She seems tentative, unsure of what she's dong. While this may be realistic, it gets tedious. She wants to find the stone, save Janice, and redeem Annabelle's memory, but I didn't feel that we got to know Bethany well.

The book is a sequel. I recommend reading the first book, The Church Builder, first. The second book starts immediately with Bethany on the run, but without the first book you miss the reason why she's being pursued by so many law enforcement agencies.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.

Companion Workbook to the Whole-Brain Child

In this companion workbook to his Whole-Brain Child book, Daniel Siegel focuses on the way a parent's mental health affects the child. Children are sensitive to a parent's moods. The way a parent praises, punishes and understands the child can affect both neurological and behavioral development.

I think the workbook can be most helpful if you're already familiar with Siegel's work. However, he includes enough explanation of his principles that the workbook can be used by anyone motivated to use the techniques to understand and help their child mature. The workbook is filled with exercises for the parents aimed at having them understand their motivations. This is an excellent approach because it's not so much the child's behavior as the parent's response that determines how well or poorly the child develops.

The book discusses how the brain works in language that is easily understandable by parents with no formal education in behavioral therapy. It is easy to read and contains amusing cartoons to illustrate some of the principles. There are also exercises to do with your child which are easily understandable by elementary school and older children.

I recommend this workbook and the book for any parent wanting to better understand and help their children mature.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Farming Teaches Life Lessons

When Pawpaw suggests that his granddaughter plany a field of corn by herself, she's thrilled. She knows how to drive a tractor Now she can also work the seeder, but when she's finished there's corn left over. Rather than scold her when she already feels like she let him down, Pawpaw suggests a remedy.

This is a wonderful children's story, not limited to girls. It illustrates how taking responsibility for our actions can allow us to rectify mistakes and not let ourselves be trapped in catastrophe.

The book is written in easy prose and words or concepts that a child might have trouble understanding are defined. The pictures are colorful giving a good picture of the Texas Panhandle.

Perhaps the best thing about the book is that this is a true story. The author speaks with authority and her love of farming and her grandfather come through. It's a wonderful book for children, not just farm children.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sherman's Civil War March Across the South

Sherman's march across the South from the destruction of Atlanta to the final minutes of the war when he accepts Johnston's surrender is the subject of the book. Although the Union forces are the focus of the book, we also see the Confederates namely, Hardee, Wheeler, Seeley and Johnson. Shaara also includes chapters from the Black's perspective in the person of Franklin, a freed slave who followed the army from Georgia until a battle near Bentonville, South Carolina.

The book is well researched relying on primary sources as much as possible. Although it is a lengthy look at the end of the Civil War, the characters are so well done that you want to know what happens to them. Shaara accommodates this by including a short post-Civil War biography on each of the main characters at the end of the book. The prose is well crafted. It doesn't draw attention to itself, but keeps the story of Sherman's long march from Georgia to Virginia the focus of the novel.

Although it's historically impossible to determine whether Shaara is correct in the thoughts he puts into the heads of his characters, they track history well enough that it's easy to believe the men could have felt this way. The use of the characters thoughts kept the book from being dry history and brought the characters and the battles to life.

I enjoyed the book. It's well written, and although it's over 600 pages, it held my interest. I highly recommend it if you're a Civil War buff, or someone interested in military history. It can also be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good historical novel.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Special Bond Between Fathers and Daughters

Fathers come in all types from successes to failures, from loving to abusive, and from companionable to distant. In Every Father's Daughter twenty-four women write about what their father meant to them. For me, the theme is expressed best by the author's introduction and the first essay in the book where Jane Smiley writes about her absent father. It shows the way two very different fathers were viewed by their daughters and how this view affected their lives.

The author had a very close relationship with her father even to taking care of him during the last days of his life. Smiley had a different experience. Her father disappeared from her life as a small child. He returned for only brief moments and that lack of a father is what she believes gave her the opportunity to grow into her own person.

The essays run from daughters growing up with famous fathers, like Lily Lopate with Alex Styron, to a father descending into alcoholism as described by Barbara Shoup. When most of these women were growing up, fathers were a glimpse of the world outside while many mothers stayed at home. This gave the fathers an exotic image, tall, handsome and charismatic.

This is a wonderful book for father's day, or any day when you think about your father. It made me laugh and cry, and most of all it reminded me about the things I loved about my own father.

I reviewed this book for PR by the Book.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Coming of Age Story in the Turbulent South of the “70s

Mudas Summers is approaching her seventeenth birthday. Her parents are divorced, and she lives with her father, but she and her mother have a special relationship. On the eve of her birthday, she visits her mother to show off her birthday present, a new Mustang. The next morning her mother is found hanging from the rafters in her house. The sheriff wants to call it suicide, but Mudas knows her mother wouldn't commit suicide.

Her mother's suicide parallels the hanging of a slave, Frannie Crow, in 1860. Frannie's mistress claimed that Frannie poisoned her, but it was a lie. From Frannie's gallows a Liar's Bench was built. Now people in town use the bench across from the courthouse, but often for telling lies.

Mudas is a believable character. Starting as a frightened seventeen-year-old, she grows into an adult trying to find out what happened to her mother. Mudas is helped by Bobby Marshal, a mixed-race boy. The town is not pleased with their relationship, but Mudas vows to defy the town.

The story is very Southern which includes the dialog, but without too much dialect. I though the author did a good job of portraying the racial tensions of the '70s without laboring the issue. It made the novel believable.

If you enjoy Southern fiction laced with history and a present day mystery, you may enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

A Long Look at the Lost Generation

If you're a fan of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, or Picasso, you'll be amused to find all these characters and others putting in an appearance in this long novel.

Sara and Gerald Murphy are expats living on the Riviera in the early 1920s after the First World War. They're wealthy, sociable and devoted to each other and their children to the extent that they inspire jealousy in some of their friends. The era is depicted well from the late 1800s when Gerald and Sara meet to the early 1900s when they've established themselves on the French Riviera.

The first half of the book is devoted to the strict families Gerald and Sara grew up in. They fight through the restrictions of their time and eventually marry. This is almost a standalone historical romance. As part of the book, I thought it was too long with too much backstory and too much description.

The second half of the book focuses on the Murphy's life on the French Riviera. Here we meet their famous and not so famous friends and glimpse the glamorous life style of wealthy Americans in that era. Behind the glamour of the parties, the Murphy's marriage matures with some surprising twists.

I enjoyed this book because I find the lost generation fascinating. However, the book is very long. The first half was particularly slow going into detail about life in the late 1800s.

The pace picked up slightly in the second half of the novel. Some of the attraction was the famous people who fell under the Murphy's spell. The portrayal of these characters is realistic from what I've read. Zelda and Scott are particularly well portrayed with their frighteningly fraught marriage and uninhibited drinking.

The book has many things to recommend it, but if you want a quick read, this is not it. If you want to savor the 1920s on the Riviera, you may enjoy it.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Social Climbing and the Consequences

Evelyn at twenty-six is still the outsider she was in prep-school. For years she worked in New York for a text book publisher, but now she has a job trying to recruit members for an exclusive social media site designed for the upper crust, People Like Us. Evelyn convinces her bosses that she can succeed by using her entrée through her upper class friends to sign up people appropriate for the site.

Although she hasn't seen her special friends, Charlotte and Preston, for some time, she connects with them to use their background for her job. Basically inviting herself to Preston's camp in the Adirondacks and his parties, she becomes entranced by the people she's trying to recruit. Finally, she comes within range of Camilla Rutherford, the queen of 2006 New York social set. Evelyn falls under her spell and in trying to fit in, she takes a page from her social climbing mother's playbook, spending more than she can afford and building a fictitious background for herself. Of course, this can't last and that's the point of the novel.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Evelyn is not an attractive character. I couldn't get interested in her even enough to care about her eventual downfall. On the other hand Camilla's character is well done and Evelyn's prep school friends are engaging.

The setting, the New York social scene in 2006 just before the recession, is interesting. The author takes us to elite parties, compounds in the Adirondacks, and summer homes in the Hamptons. However, the attention to the details of this life style becomes tedious since it takes up almost half the book.

The theme of the book, what rises must fall, has been done many times. I didn't find the plot original. Since you know what must eventually happen, it isn't an inducement to keep reading.

The writing is clear and the descriptions good, but for me it wasn't enough to carry the book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sibling Rivalry and Sisterhood

When Paul tells Iris he wants to end their sixteen year marriage, she's devastated. They have been growing apart for sometime, but the reality is painful. Iris is barely able to cope, and her household is in chaos. When she receives a postcard from her sister Leah, who is getting married, asking her to come home and help prepare for the wedding, Iris decides to go. She needs time apart from Paul and the children to come to terms with her situation.

Iris has always been the good girl; Leah, the adventurous one. Now Iris has her own problems, and Leah is getting married to a wonderful man. The sisters have always been rivals and now they are having trouble becoming close. Iris has a particularly difficult time as she thinks Leah has everything she wants. As the novel progresses, the sisters bridge their differences and a bond of sisterhood begins to emerge.

I felt the opening of the novel was so fraught with Iris falling apart that it was almost unrealistic. Too much time was spent showing how much of a mess she was. However, when the story moves to the produce farm her parents own on a beautiful lake, the story picks up.

I couldn't warm up to Iris. I felt she was too needy and couldn't seem to stop making clumsy mistakes. Leah was a more interesting character. She was an independent woman who lived her life the way she wanted, but underneath there is a fragility that is appealing. It makes you want to find out what her problem is.

While the female characters were well fleshed out, I thought the male characters were too stereotypical and perfect. We hardly see Paul, but he's the typical self-absorbed male. Cooper, Iris' high school crush who she has a summer romance with, is patient and caring, almost too good to be true. Stephen, Leah's fiance, is also the perfect man.

The best part of the book was the setting. The produce farm owned by Iris' parents is on a beautiful lake that seems to hold Iris and Leah's family together. I could feel summer in the descriptions.

This is a good story, not predictable, so it holds your attention. My only disappointment was in the characters.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Heartwarming Story of an Unusual Town, a Bookstore and a Romance

Sara, a Swedish girl, arrives in Iowa expecting to be met by her friend Amy. They have been writing to each other about their first love, books. Sara is excited to meet her friend and continue their discussions in person, but Amy doesn't show up. Sara gets a ride to Broken Wheel, the town where Amy lives, only to discover that she has died.

The town has a dilemma. Sara is there but she has no host. Being the kind of town it is, they decide to become a collective host. Providing free food and transportation is nice, but Sara feels uncomfortable taking advantage. Her inspiration is to start a bookshop using Amy's books.

The townspeople rally to help her and one especially draws her attention. Tom, Amy's nephew, professes no interest in her and she him, but things could change.

The town of Broken Wheel is unusual. It is practically a ghost town, but the few remaining residents help each other survive. The town is filled quirky characters from George, an alcoholic, who becomes Sara's chauffeur to Carolyn who feels obliged to keep the town running smoothly. I thought the author did a good job creating a variety of characters, but not letting any of the minor characters take over Sara's story.

Books fill the story. Amy's letters are fully of recommendations of what to read. This can be a bit heavy handed at times, but the book discussions serve to enrich Sara's character. She loves the books so much you're tempted to try her suggestions if you haven't already read the books.

If you like old fashioned boy meets girl romance with no sexual antics, you'll enjoy this book. The romance, however, is almost a subplot. The real story is how the town of Broken Wheel survives and takes care of it's own.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Small Town Mystery

Leah, the only detective in the small town of Alvin, Alabama, is raising her two children, Abe and Carry, by herself. When Carry asks for a visit to a psychic for her Christmas present, the whole family goes. Before doing Carry's reading, the psychic focuses on Leah giving her clues to a murder that is about to occur.

Leah doesn't quite believe what she's been told, but when the body of a woman turns up in a local lake and the clues match the psychic's cryptic description, she wonders if there is a connection.

I had several problems with this book. The characters, particularly Abe and his friend Dewey, are engaging. However, the dialog imitates the speech patterns of the characters in this southern Alabama town making if difficult to read. It also makes the characters, including Leah, sound uneducated.

The mystery is much too easy to figure out. The author gives it away in the preface. Once you read the introduction every clue is obvious. I think it would have been a better mystery without the preface. The police procedures are also poorly done. This is a small town police station, but even so, putting the picture of a maimed victim on the front page of the newspaper seems out of line.

The author tries to give a humerus twist to some of the action, particularly the scenes between Abe and Dewey, but
even this pales because the dialog is so poorly done.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Ship Wreckers on the Cornish Coast, an Unlikely Romance, and a Mysterious Medalion

Lady Morwenna Penvenan is struggling to rebuild her murdered husband's Cornish estate for her infant son. The mines that could provide the necessary capital are flooded, and she's unable to find investors. Because of her poverty and her desire to rebuild the estate, people believe that she is involved with the wreckers who lure ships to the coast where they founder on the rocks. Then the wreckers strip the ship of its cargo.

Morwenna hates being suspected of this crime. She feels that people think the worst of her because of her wild past. After one of the wrecks, she is walking the beach looking for clues when she finds an unconscious man. Around his neck is a medal with the Trelawny crest, her grandparents' crest. Hoping that if he lives he can give her some insight into the wreck, she takes him to her house to try to bring him back to health.

David Chastain is a boat builder. He was on his way to Fallmouth to try to find out what happened to his dead father. His father, also a boat builder, took all the money from their account and went to Fallmouth. David wants to know the reason. After his death, David was given the medal he was carrying. When he regains consciousness, he realizes that he has landed close to the origin of the mysterious medal, and he wonders how much Morwenna knows about the wreck and his father's death.

The Cornish coast in the nineteenth century is a wild background for a romantic tale. The author uses the attributes of the coast, the rain, winds, and tides, to weave a spell around the romance of David and Morwenna. The plot focuses on their distrust of each other and their growing attraction

I enjoyed the story, David's father's death adds an element of mystery that enhances the romantic tale. David is a character you can't help but love. He's a member of the lower classes thrown into a nobleman's house, and he holds his own very well. I enjoyed Morwenna, but her thoughts about doubting herself because of her past became rather tedious.

If you enjoy romance with a hint of mystery, you may enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Blogger.