NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

4.0 out of 5 stars Sentimental and romantic old-time circus adventure story..., March 30, 2011
Ninety-three-year-old Jacob Jankowski, an unhappy resident of a nursing home, reminisces about his life with the traveling train circus -- Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth -- during the Great Depression. In and out of a small town, usually an overnight, the performers and working men put on a show that involves animals, freaks (the dwarf and the fat lady), the clowns, and all manner of circus act entertainment including a tent just for "gentlemen" and other delights.

Jacob's parents died just as he was about to write his final exams in veterinary school at Cornell University. Because of the hard economic times, his parents mortgaged everything to pay his tuition and thus he was left grief-stricken AND penniless. He ends up joining the Benzini Brothers by an accident of good timing and, because of his vet training, he ends up hired on to care for the horses and other animals. Along the way, the circus owner purchases an elephant named Rosie; she becomes a special part of this story.

Author Sara Gruen weaves a tale of hooking the rubes into coming to the show, second-rate performances that managed to wow the audiences, boozy nights, in-fighting among those with the train, backbreaking work, and other fascinating details of the traveling circus. Jacob quickly assimilates into the hard life and makes the mistake of falling in love with Marlena, one of the performers who has a sadistic husband. Not only cruel to his wife, August also beats and mistreats the animals. What will become of Jacob and the rest of the members of this group of misfits, outcasts, and showmen?

Readers will savor the story and applaud the somewhat maudlin ending. I read it quickly and found it very sweet and entertaining; recommended for teens and adults. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell

3.0 out of 5 stars Nanobots: good vs evil..., March 27, 2011
This is the 18th Patricia Cornwell novel featuring Kay Scarpetta that I've read. I've also read her Andy Brazil series. I must say that I have to agree with other reviewers who are longing for this author to resurrect the thrills and suspense that were hallmarks of the first books she published over 20 years ago! The evil perpetrators, the gory crime scenes, the forensic science, the likable characters, the passion, and the basic storyline of previous books are all missing here.

This premise of this book was interesting enough -- the new cutting-edge technology of nanobots and virtual autopsy were fascinating and thought-provoking, but the plot lacked the magical ingredient of making me care about the case and I can't say that I was racing through the pages to a thrilling conclusion. Kay is given to long bouts of introspection and it seems that she can't get any answers or straight talk from any of her cohort -- including Benton, Lucy and Marino. It reads as if she were a weak tool of all the powerful men in her life and is no longer the strong, independent, powerful woman that I had come to admire over the years. The mystery in this case is complex and convoluted and limped to the end with a whimper though there was the obligatory "Kay almost dies" scene.

In conclusion, the book is one that true fans will read because they are vested in Kay and the other characters we've grown to know and care about. It's not one of those books that you can't put down or that will keep you up all night, but it's readable escapist crime fiction.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Bay at Midnight by Diane Chamberlain

4.0 out of 5 stars Secrets and lies..., March 20, 2011
A beautiful young girl. A tragedy on a moonlit night. In 1962, Isabelle Bauer drowned in Bay Head Shores. Her death, ruled a homicide, remained an unsolved mystery despite the fact that a local man was found guilty and spent the rest of his life in prison for the murder. Isabelle's mother and sisters don't talk about her or what happened on that hot August night. Until the day that Julie Bauer, who was 12 years old during that fateful summer, receives a visitor bearing a letter that may or may not shed light on the case.

This is a novel about what happens when secrets are kept and passions are denied. It's about what happens when love is confusing and mistakes are made. The events of that particular night and others during the summer leading up to it are examined from three different points of view. Maria (mother to Isabelle, Julie and Lucy) tells her story, each of the daughters relates what part she played in the unfolding drama, and Julie's daughter, Shannon is meanwhile creating problems of her own that lead the women to finally deal with 40 years of anger, silence, suspicion, guilt, and shame.

The reason I like the novels that Diane Chamberlain writes is because she writes believable characters. This suspense story, set in two different time periods -- 1962 and present day - is a wonderful mystery featuring three generations of women. Those women, a grandmother, two middle-aged daughters, and a teen granddaughter, are so real that they seem to be people that you know who have feelings that you have or that you've had in the past. The interactions and the relationship that they have, the type of personalities and the deep attachment they display, will definitely touch the hearts of readers as the narrative unfolds.

Highly recommend to all fans of romantic suspense novels and to those who enjoy a good family story with a multi-generational cast of interesting women.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Live to Tell by Lisa Gardner

3.0 out of 5 stars More a psychologcal treatise than a suspense thriller...., March 18, 2011
Although the book was a fast read for me, and despite the fact that it attempted to cover a lot of ground educating the reader about children with severe psychiatric issues, this fourth novel in the D.D. Warren series simply wasn't that compelling. The author uses her various characters shamelessly in attempts to lecture us about explosive and violent children as well as about the collaborative problem solving approach used by some psychiatric acute care facilities to manage the children that are held there.

The somewhat preposterous plot has Detective Warren investigating two family annihilations -- one right after another and seemingly unrelated. The cases eventually lead her and her team to a spiritual healer and to a locked down ward, the Pediatric Evaluation Clinic of Boston inside the Kirkland Medical Center. As the narrative unfolds, there seems to be some concern that the murders may have some connection to the unit.

After a child somehow escapes the locked ward, suspicious Warren starts questioning the employees. Her attention focuses on an RN who works there. Twenty-five years previous to the present cases, Danielle, sexually abused by her father, was the lone survivor of a family murder-suicide. The guilt she feels hasn't worn off even after years of therapy. Is she disturbed and dangerous?

In addition -- in what can only be the author's desire to show us the human toll of childhood mental illness and maternal devotion, there's Victoria, a single mom who has locked herself in her own house with her emotionally disturbed son, Evan, who is constantly threatening to kill her. How is this family connected to the other murders?

Who is Andrew Lightfoot -- ex Wall Street whiz turned spiritual healer -- and why is he constantly talking about darkness and light?

Finally in the last chapters, the convoluted story line comes together for a somewhat unfulfilling and totally predictable ending. A better exposé and more chilling book about the topic of disturbed children who just may have been "born bad" is the truly excellent We Need to Talk About Kevin: A Novel (P.S.) - one of the most chilling and unforgettable novels I've ever read.

The book wasn't a complete waste of time by any means, but it really didn't have a lot of suspense for me, it wasn't a police procedural, and the character of D.D. always talking about sex (or food) really irritated me. I don't care for her personality and am not interested in learning more about her. I love thrillers and would have preferred to have more "thrill" in this novel. Not really sure how the police aspect played into the subject matter and don't think it was very effective.

All in all, read it if you're a Gardner fan (I have read all her previous books) and one other note: it can be read as a stand alone, you don't have to have read the previous books in her series.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Land of the Painted Caves by Jean Auel

3.0 out of 5 stars The epic journey of Ayla from orphan to Zelandoni concludes., March 13, 2011

The front cover of my ARC states, "Three decades in the telling..." Well, fellow readers, it seems as if it took me nearly that long to read this particular book, the conclusion (book #6) to the Earth's Children Series. I eagerly snapped it up when it was offered in the vine newsletter and started it right away. Now, over a month and a half later, I finally finished. I'm a fast reader, usually can read a book within a day or two. I don't know why this one took so long -- perhaps because it was insufficiently edited, tedious, repetitious, and frankly -- sometimes boring. How often did we need to be reminded that Ayla was a foreigner (her accent), that she was beautiful, that she tamed horses and a wolf, that she was an incredible healer and visionary, or that she was a skilled hunter who could take care of herself? Many other reviewers have already remarked on the tendency of author Jean Auel to be redundant and burden her readers with overkill on detail. How many times did we have to read the "Mother Song" to get the point of the song, for instance? Much of that just took up space in a hefty tome that must weigh about 3 pounds at 757 pages!

Regardless, I am finally finished with Ayla, Jondalar and all the rest of the early "Others" who came to life in the thousands of pages I've read over these years. I was a little disappointed that this last book consisted mostly of traveling to and fro and less about human interplay. The novel only really becomes exciting (somewhat) during the last third of the book as Ayla finally reaches her destiny. Without spoilers, I found the ending a bit anticlimactic and the series ends with a whimper rather than with a bang. I had to suppress a small scoff of disbelief considering how Ayla's "discoveries" during her vision definitely will be changing how the people of this early land live and experience family life!

I won't rehash the plot (there really isn't much of one anyway) but will suggest that all fans of this series will likely spend days and perhaps even weeks wading through this final offering and coming to their own conclusions with the end of a series that was introduced with The Clan Of The Cave Bear - Earth's Children over 31 years ago! This is not a stand alone novel and readers who want the full impact of this monumental epic should start with that first book -- which I consider the best of them all.

All told, I am glad I read it; now I can put Ayla and her escapades aside.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I am in a reading slump. I am desperately in need of a really good book to help me out. I am looking for a NEW and well written medical thriller. Something fresh and original...if you have any suggestions, please post them for me. THANKS.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

When We Were Friends by Elizabeth Joy Arnold

3.0 out of 5 stars Predictable melodrama..., March 8, 2011
This novel, the first I've read by this author, was a fast-paced but predictable and totally unbelievable story. Two women who were best friends as teenagers before they had a falling out in high school conspire in a plot that involves kidnapping, accusations of child abuse, infidelity, and a love triangle.

Lainey and Sydney were "blood" sisters during childhood. During their high school years, Sydney turns on Lainey and puts her down in order to be part of a popular crowd. Years pass. Sydney marries, has a baby, and Lainey is left behind at home to care for her mother who has some psychiatric issues that include agoraphobia. Lainey is an artist painting murals for a living when she runs into Sydney when hired to do a mural at a local occult shop. Sydney seems overjoyed at their reunion and suggests that the two become reacquainted. During the get together, Sydney relates tales of abuse that she and her daughter Jacqueline have experienced and expresses a fear of her husband. She proposes the most outlandish plan -- Lainey should take the baby and hide her until Sydney can get things together and leave her husband while retaining custody of her daughter. Needless to say, the idea is poorly conceived and completely preposterous, but Lainey acquiesces, takes "Molly" and departs -- thus begins the rest of the novel.

Where does Lainey go? Who does she meet along the way? What connection, if any, does this man have with her friend and what are the "bad things" he has done? No spoilers here, but the novel bumps along in a very predictable fashion with no surprises. The characters are not particularly interesting and I thought they were definitely unlikeable. I read on to the conclusion without much interest in the outcome as I knew full well what it would be. I wouldn't say this was a novel about friendship. I doubt that any sane person would do what Lainey did. Hmmmm.

Ho-hum novel, borrow it if you want to read it.