NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle

4.0 out of 5 stars Facing painful truths...

We've all read the news stories and tabloid scandals that have become more heartrending as the frequency seems to increase. A person in a position of power abuses that trust and commits a breach -- a sexual tryst, embezzlement, lying under oath -- something sordid. Some of us greedily pounce on the gossip and devour the details with a sense of Schadenfruede and a certainty (and fervent hope?) that this would never happen to us. The truth is -- we don't know what is possible. We can't always imagine under what circumstances the situation got out of control. We aren't able to control the actions of others. This is the story of three women whose lives collide in ways none of them ever anticipated or expected.

At issue are questions about consent and responsibility. Though the legal age of "consent" in most states is variable, the law becomes moot when one of the parties involved is a teacher and the other is one of his(her) adolescent students. In that case it is a crime.

Morgan Monetti - a 17-year-old honors student and talented cello soloist, believes herself to be more mature than others her age and fancies herself in love with her married calculus teacher, TJ Hill. He's clearly enthralled by Morgan's view of him as her hero and allows himself to cross over the line -- meeting secretly with her in empty practice rooms and other places, even once in his own home. Meanwhile, TJ's wife, Rain, has been undergoing fertility treatments as she is single-mindedly focused on having a baby. It's easy for Morgan to believe her own fantasy of a future with TJ, even though their relationship isn't the romantic liaison she had imagined. When the police discover the couple together in his car, Morgan half undressed, everything unravels quickly. TJ is arrested and Morgan, in an unguarded interview, explains that they are in love and that there was no coercion, that she totally consented to everything, and indeed they are having an affair.

The central themes in the novel -- lies, betrayal, adultery, manipulation, maturity, marriage -- are handled deftly and realistically. Both Morgan and Rain "stand by their man" and believe everything will come out all right in their "whole golden world." The characters are interesting and though somewhat stereotypically portrayed, the reader develops empathy for everyone involved while trying to understand all of their reactions and motivations.

I enjoyed this novel and think it would be fabulous for a book club discussion as there are so many different topics that could be addressed.

Amazon Vine ARC

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

4.0 out of 5 stars - What lengths would you go through to protect someone you loved?

I thought about this one overnight, deciding how to rate it. Even though it left a few unanswered questions and loose ends, I thought the topics raised within the story would make for a great book club discussion.

The novel is about an ordinary woman -- a wife, a mother of teenagers, a friend. Eve Lattimore has a son, Tyler, who has a rare medical condition that makes him so sensitive to light that exposure to any UV or sunlight could be fatal. So Tyler lives in a darkened boarded up room upstairs, allowed out only at night. He roams the streets and area surrounding the cul-de-sac that his family lives in, peeking in neighbors' windows, uncovering some secrets that can only be hidden under the cover of night. Because he's only 14, with limited outside interaction, he doesn't always fully process what he sees, and his basic drive for survival is tied very closely to his need to protect his family -- the ones who have safeguarded him for his entire life despite his champing at the bit for a little freedom and a normal existence. His desire to experience the normal joys of growing up is hampered by the fact that those with XP rarely make it to age 20 so he lives with the constant threat of death.

One stormy evening, Eve is on her way to the airport when something happens that will change the course of her life and all of those around her. The decisions she makes and the resultant consequences strain and rip the fabric of her relationships in her family and throughout the neighborhood. Does anyone really have control over another person -- and how can a mother fail to protect her child no matter what the cost? What secrets would you keep? What lies would you tell?

I think that it is true that you never really know another person -- you know what you are allowed to know. There are some things that people keep in the deep, dark recesses of their hearts and souls that are never let out to see the light of day. What are yours?

I really enjoyed this novel and will think about it for a long time to come. I had previously read Buckley's other novel: The Things that Keep Us Here, so I was happy to see that she had written another. Both of these books dealt with ordinary women forced to extremes by things that happen to their families. Highly recommended!

Thank you to LibraryThing Early Reviewer program for the ARC to review.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner

3.0 out of 5 stars Relentlessly depressing and heartbreaking...

Dani Lancing was 21 years old when she was found dead in an abandoned room - the victim of vicious rape and murder. Her parents, Patty and Jim, were devastated by the death of their only child and, over the ensuing twenty years, have divorced but never moved "on" with their lives. The young man who desperately loved Dani, and who rose up in the ranks of the police department, Detective Superintendent Tom Bevans, has not given up on the cold case and stays in touch with Jim Lancing, Dani's father.

Patty Lancing hunts ceaselessly, preparing for the ultimate revenge -- she wants to track down and find the murderer and kill him. Jim Lancing was destroyed by the divorce as he still loves Patty, and he imagines that he "sees" and interacts with Dani who is a ghost saving him from abject loneliness. Patty can't give up her search and finally thinks she has found the perpetrator. Little does she know that she will set events in motion that will finally lead them all to a startling conclusion that provides answers to the mystery but destroys all they ever believed about their daughter and themselves.

This was not a light read. It's dark and full of much emotion as the reader watches the characters go through their ordeals. I was a bit put off by the disjointed narrative as the reader goes back and forth in time and also by changing points of view. I normally don't care for supernatural elements or believe in ghosts, so I had a little trouble with that part of the novel. Other than that, it was not exactly "enjoyable" but I did sigh with relief when it was over. Interesting debut and I'll think about this very tragic tale for quite some time. Anyone with children will. 
Amazon vine ARC.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Death of a Nightingale (Nina Borg #3) by Lene Kaaberbol

4.0 out of 5 stars "In Stalin Land, Stalin decides what is true and what is a lie."

Described as Nordic crime fiction, this is the best thriller series I've read in ages. This book is the third one I've read after The Boy in the Suitcase (Nina Borg #1) and Invisible Murder (Nina Borg #2). Quickly hooked, I could not put it down as I was re-introduced to Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse who works in a camp for refugees. Nina is a middle-aged mother of two and recently divorced from her long suffering husband who finds her behavior often inexplicable and finally had enough of her. She has a history of rushing off to "save" people and in this case it's no different -- this time she's protecting Katarina (Rina), the eight-year-old daughter of Natasha Doroshenko - a women who had fled to Copenhagen and is an illegal from the Ukraine and who finds that things have not improved much for her. Natasha is jailed after attempting to murder her abusive fiance, Michael, and escapes custody on her way to police headquarters. This is when things really get interesting! Natasha is desperate to be reunited with her daughter, but there are other people now looking for them both. Who are they, and what do they want? Now Michael is dead and Natasha is accused of the crime. And, as Nina finds out, this may not be the first time Natasha has murdered someone...

Along with this storyline, the reader is exposed to another that is set in the Ukraine during the early years of the Stalinist regime (Soviet Republic) in 1934. At that time, there was a terrible famine and the concurrent rise of the political machine (Party) that encouraged children to report on their family and neighbors as kulaks who wanted to be fed by the proletariat. Two little girls, Olga and Oxana watch as their life, village, and family change under the Soviet state. These two sisters are being trained as young pioneers when Oxana is singled out for her singing ability and is asked to perform at a meeting. Jealousy, extreme cold, hunger, and the other problems within their family, lead to a decision that ruins them all. How is this story related to Natasha?

Even though a bit confusing with the multiple narratives and points of view, it all converges in an interesting climax by the end of the book. I had to flip back and forth at times to keep track of names, places and dates. Nina is an interestingly flawed character who is emerging stronger though she still has a lot of issues to work through. Other characters in the book have appeared in previous novels and it's important, I think, to have read the other two books in the series before you tackle this one as there is quite a bit of history and detail there. I think it would be weak as a stand alone and probably quite hard to understand all the motivations.

I'd recommend this series to anyone looking for a strong heroine who is not a detective, but who is peripherally involved in a mystery that involves different police agencies and that has an unusual setting. Often the novel leaves the reader with issues to ponder (illegal immigration, abuse, communism, murder, vendetta, informing on family) and for book groups to discuss.

Amazon Vine ARC.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

3.0 out of 5 stars - Intrigue and treachery...

Hannah is a midwife in Venice, a Jewish woman living in the ghetto area there. Her husband, Isaac, has recently left on a ship to Constantinople with silk to sell and the intent to return to his wife with the profits and some spices. Unfortunately, his ship is highjacked by those in the pay of the Knights of Malta and he is captured and sold as a slave. Hannah desperately needs the money to ransom him so when a rich count begs her to attend his laboring Christian wife, Hannah cannot refuse though a Papal edit forbids a Jewess from attending a Christian. She successfully delivers the baby with the help of her special spoons (forceps) and the drama begins.

This one barely earns 3 stars from me. I was eager to read this debut historical fiction set in Venice and Malta circa 1575 but ended up being disappointed by the poorly depicted characters and their lack of depth. I also did not like the "she said, he said" alternating points of view of Hannah in Venice and Isaac in Malta. The chapters had cliffhanger endings, another irritating thing that made the narrative choppy. The story is predictable with the ensuing and somewhat unbelievable situations that Hannah and Isaac find themselves in and, of course, find ingenious ways to get out of on their journey back to each other.

I read this because I have a copy of the second book in this series and wanted to get all the background. I'll be reading the sequel - The Harem Midwife: A Novel -- shortly.

Library book. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

3.5 out of 5 stars - "The life we receive is not always what we choose."

I enjoyed this sweeping epic -- the tale of a mother and daughter spanning early 1900s to 1940. Told from the point of view of daughter Violet Minturn, the narrative tells the the story of her early life as a the spoiled, headstrong child of mother Lulu, the owner of a popular courtesan house, and the circumstances that tear Violet from that privileged life. The events that transpire are heartbreaking and relentlessly hopeful as obstacles stand in the way to prevent Violet's search for love and happiness as a half-American, half-Chinese girl, then woman, in Shanghai. She endures many false loves, disrespect, and losses through the years after her mother seemingly abandons her.

Although the book is long, I found many parts of it so fascinating. The historical detail is obviously well-researched and I loved reading about the life of women in that time and setting.
I felt the ending was a bit too neatly tied up, and had some unanswered questions (such as what became of Teddy??) but still was left satisfied by the conclusion. I'd recommend it for anyone who loves a good historical novel set in China.

Thank you to Goodreads for the complimentary copy.

Monday, December 9, 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Another great Nordic crime fiction novel featuring nurse Nina Borg.

In this story, two Roma (Gypsy) boys discover a hidden cache of items to sell in an old abadoned military post hospital basement. Because of their extreme poverty and in ignorance, they start a chain of events that involves Nina and a very interesting cast of new characters.

This second novel in the series is every bit as good as the first, and as is their specialty, the authors touch on some hot button topics: the social and political climate of Denmark and Hungary as well as other issues such as racial prejudice and illegal immigration. I really enjoyed it and think readers who like a good thriller will snap it up and turn the pages just as quickly as I did. Lots of action and believable characters. I can't wait to start #3 in the next day or so.

4+ stars -- Described as Nordic crime fiction, this is the best thriller I've read in ages. Quickly hooked, I could not put it down as I was introduced to Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse who works in a camp for refugees and other desperate people. Nina is a middle-aged mother of two and wife to a man who finds her behavior often inexplicable. She has a history of rushing off to "save" people and immediately answers a call for help from her former best friend Karin. Karin gives Nina a key to a locker in the Copenhagen train station and when Nina lugs the heavy suitcase to her car and opens it to find an unconscious 3-year-old boy, the chills begin. Who put this child in the case and why -- just the first of many questions that Nina tries to answer as the other characters come into the action and the teasers to explain motivation. Loved it! 
Recommend to anyone looking for a suspenseful and gripping read. This was the first in a new series and I'm off now to start the second book.

3.0 out of 5 stars -

Not bad for a YA dystopian novel -- this is set in California with 3 different factions -- The Republic, the Patriots, and the Colonies -- at war with each other. June is a military prodigy with the Republic and Day is a criminal who she thinks murdered her brother so she is the agent put in charge of hunting him down. When they meet, she finds Day trying to help his family survive the plague and suddenly she questions all that she has known.
I liked this book better than Divergent, but felt that the age of the characters (15) was a little too young to really see a lot of maturity and character development beyond the stereotypical and I had to smile a bit at the purported depth of the inevitable romance. Much of the story was predictable, but the pace was good and the action kept me turning the pages. I think I've read that the author started to work on writing this when she was 14, however.
I read this for my teen book club and am eager to hear what they think of it!
There is a glut of this type of novel out right now based on the appeal of and success of The Hunger Games trilogy, and I may have to read the other two to see where this ones goes. Another movie - sure, why not?!

Friday, December 6, 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars "Each of us is born into this life with a light inside of us..."
Sylvie Mason is a bright eighth grader living with her parents and sister in the tiny town of Dundalk, Maryland. They are anything but a normal family, however, as Mr. and Mrs. Mason have quite the unusual line of work -- they help the "haunted" -- souls in need of prayer or something to guide them to peace. Calls often come in the middle of the night -- and Sylvie's parents put on their "costumes" and head out to meet a desperate someone or prepare their basement to receive a guest in need of further intervention. On the night Sylvie hears this particular call, she doesn't realize that her life will change forever and she will be come embroiled in the mystery of discovering what happened to her parents on that fateful winter night. Older sister Rose who has become the legal guardian to Sylvie is abusive and self-centered. Rose and her parents had fought hard and often, and Sylvie senses that Rose has no compulsion to seek answers to how their parents came to be found shot dead in that cold church. Sylvie has a bit of hearing loss as she witnessed the shooting but her memory is faulty and she backtracks to relive the moments that brought them all to the fateful night.

What great characters in this book! I really felt for orphaned Sylvie and detested Rose. Others were not always what they seemed at first exposure. We come to the truth slowly as the narrative is told in the first person by Sylvie and shifts back and forth in time revealing tidbits and teasers. The atmosphere is slightly Gothic and there are shivers and chills when certain pieces of information come to light.

I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and think this book will really appeal to teen and young adult readers as well. The only part of the book that fell a notch short was the conclusion; I was a bit disappointed in the whodunit. Despite that, I was quite satisfied with this and I'll be recommending it!

Amazon Vine ARC

Thursday, December 5, 2013

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Historical fiction about the wealthy Blackshaw family who live on an estate, Tyringham Park, in Ireland. The main character, Charlotte, is abused by her nanny and ignored by her mother. When Charlotte is 8 years old, her younger sister Victoria -- who is the favorite daughter -- goes missing one afternoon. The loss of Victoria shatters her family and changes Charlotte's life forever. Though she is talented on horseback and in painting, Charlotte cannot seem to escape her personal demons and desperately tries to obtain the love and happiness denied her. She is exiled to Australia with her new husband to avoid scandal, and it is there that she finally is granted her most desperate wish. When Charlotte returns to her family after several years gone, she has to deal with secrets, lies and betrayals that finally come to light.

I really enjoyed this novel and the shifts in time and perspective kept me glued to the pages seeing what would transpire next with the many interesting characters. I was empathetic toward Charlotte and very angry about several of the other persons in the story! The only thing that kept me from rating this higher was the ending -- which came suddenly and left many questions unanswered and dangling ends to several stories.

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria books for the e-book ARC to review.

Monday, November 25, 2013

3.0 out of 5 stars - It is a rainy and stormy season in Philadelphia. A man is found with a railroad spike driven into his head in Priory Park, close to the old shut down Delaware Valley State Hospital at Cold River which used to hold many insane and homeless patients. It closed its doors forever more than twenty years ago but a man who was perhaps a patient there, Luther Wade, never left, and roams the catacombs, sewer and storm drainage tunnels beneath the city, and now commits horrific crimes. He seems to be targeting people who once were associated with that old hospital. Why them? Why now? And is there a connection to a toddler found in the middle of the street one night? Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, long time partners with the PDD, are assigned to the case.

This book was creepy and quite hard to follow at times with the jumps back and forth in time and the characters and their relationships to each other both past and present. I found it confusing but the excellent writing kept me glued to the pages trying to see what would happen next. To tell you the truth, I am still not quite sure I understand completely who did what and all that went on from the asylum to the current murders. The last couple of chapters helped tie it up a bit, but the end of the investigation still didn't completely explain everything to my satisfaction -- or maybe I need to reread with the ending still fresh in my mind.

I found the description of Cold River and the practice of psychiatric "care" there quite unnerving and mostly unbelievable, even for fiction. I know that conditions at some of those homes for the insane bordered on inhumane and bedlam, but I'd like to think that perhaps there were one or two good staff who had an idea of patients who were dying in hallways, giving birth in corridors, and escaping regularly.

I did like the book, but feel that the non-linear narrative made it hard to completely grasp all the motivations of the criminal(s) and their history. I liked the partnership of Jessica and Kevin and wonder how the author will handle that in the future. I loved the police procedural details as well. I'd read another by this author.

*Part of a series that I have not read previously. This seemed to stand alone but perhaps the book was a bit confusing to me because I didn't know all the previous history of the main characters. The ending of this one seems to leave room for yet another installment in the series.

Thank you to NetGalley and Mulholland Books for the eBook ARC to review.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

3.0 out of 5 stars - This is a fast read about the very public meltdown of a megastar and is just like a tabloid article you'd see on the magazine racks by the grocery checkout. Those in the limelight are denied privacy and often very basic desires to have a real life away from fans and reporters. Although it's fiction, I'm sure all readers will see the similarities in the story to current scandals and personal tragedies of those on the top tier of fame though in this book, we get to see the toll that all of that takes on the star and her family.

Kelsey is a music sensation when her cousin, Logan, comes to LA to act as her personal assistant. Close as children, a family rift separated them for years. As they work together to orchestrate Kelsey's very complicated touring lifestyle, other forces are at work to bring Kelsey to ruin. What is the price of fame and what will those Kelsey trusts do to keep themselves part of the money machine? Kelsey isn't allowed to run her own life nor can she avoid public exposure of every high and low moment as she tries to find love and happiness while staying on top of her career. Can Logan help Kelsey to have a normal marriage and motherhood or will the demands of the celebrity life and the news media destroy it all?

In the end, what do you owe another -- and can you save them -- and, at what cost?

I enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the lifestyles of the rich and famous!

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria books for the ebook ARC to review.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Stranger You Know by Andrea Kane

3.0 out of 5 stars - Formulaic romantic suspense thriller.

This third in the Forensic Instincts series has Casey and company on a manhunt for a serial rapist murderer who seeks out red-headed college age girls as he moves closer and closer to his ultimate victim -- Casey herself. Their major problem with this case, however, is that the criminal identified by DNA and other factors is locked up in a secure prison. Casey knows there is no such thing as a copy-cat killer so the race is on to find the partner on the outside who is doing the killing and even taken the violence and staging to a whole new level.

Can Casey and her cohort find this taunting devil before he is able to abduct and strangle Casey?

Predictable, fast-paced, and ultimately unsatisfying as yet another thriller follows the same formula of hunter becoming the hunted.

I don't think I'll read another in this series. The characters are stereotypes - the beautiful women, the hunky Rambo men, the electronic wizard, the loyal cop, etc.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harlequin MIRA for the ebook ARC to review.

Monday, November 18, 2013

3.5 stars - Delicious literary buffet -- historical fiction featuring Edgar A. Poe and poetess Frances Osgood...did they or didn't they?

Set in New York during the 1850s, this novel imagines a love affair between the mysterious author Poe who was married to his cousin, Virginia, and Fanny Osgood during a time when NEVERMORE was the rage and all the famous names in American literature would gather for gossip and readings at the homes of the wealthy elite.

I like reading about this time period in American history, the setting of New York, and just thinking about how all those great authors may have known one another socially. The drag in the book was the romance part! Frances is way overwrought over her doomed illicit love of Edgar and Poe is written as brooding, mysterious and somewhat cruel. Since it was fictional, I just got past that nonsense and enjoyed the other details.
I think book clubs would really enjoy this one -- lots of room for discussion and speculation, plus enjoyment of some of the quotes, poems and prose. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for the ebook ARC to review.

The Truth About You by Susan Lewis

2.5 stars - Lainey is the heart and soul of her blended family -- or she believes until her famous author husband announces that he has another daughter (the same age as his and Lainey's 16-year-old daughter) whose mother is terminally ill.

What follows this decent premise is a mess of missed connections, deplorable attempts at communication, and lack of meaningful confrontation that would have solved the drama quickly. Most of the time, I wanted to shake all the characters as none seemed to have any redemptive qualities. Although Lainey spent most of the time after this revelation crying and suffering in relative silence while carrying on gamely (think: martyr style), she should have been keeping a closer eye on her teenage daughter and older stepson who were -- I hope -- completely unbelievable representations of their age group. What was ludicrous to me is that Lainey and her husband did not sit down to actually talk face to face about the situation -- they were sending text messages and attempting cell phone conversations with lost signals and all of that nonsense. In a side story, Lainey goes to Italy to try to find her roots and that part of the novel was even less interesting as a plot device. She should have been at home talking to her husband.

I would say this book was frustrating and annoying and I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone. It was quite a disappointment as I generally love relationship stories. References to sexual promiscuity, i.e., the "Shades of Grey" trilogy by teenagers who are acting it out, adultery, rape, incest are themes.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine for the ebook ARC to review.

Love Gone Mad by Mark Rubinstein

2.0 out of 5 stars

Doctor meets nurse. Instant relationship. Couple is terrorized by nurse's ex-husband (a strong, brilliant madman) intent on killing them both.

I found the story and the romance quite ridiculous. The overlong action scenes involving Adrian and Megan in peril almost got the best of me. As did their "true love at first sight" drivel and the unending descriptions of how beautiful Megan was ad nauseum. Most of the time she was having a panic attack, breakdown of terror, and freaking out. I kept reading only because of the interesting details about the laws and court scenes related to the not guilty by reason of insanity plea and the references to the psychiatric definitions of delusional thinking. I had originally picked this because I thought it was a medical thriller -- not so. The only true medical aspect is that the parties being stalked by the psycho were a surgeon and a nurse.  I didn't like any of the characters nor did I find any of this believable. I found myself flipping through pages just to get through it.

The author uses a lot of cliches and repeats many of the same phrases time after time. Redundant, overly descriptive prose. Ricochets from one chase to the next...ho hum
Thank you to NetGalley and  Thunder Lake Press for the e-book ARC to review.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

3.0 out of 5 stars - Lovely story about rebuilding life and family during the horrors of war...

A woman awakens inside a casualty tent in France in 1916. She cannot remember who she is or how she came to be there. Wounded in body and spirit, she chooses the name Stella Bain for herself as she resumes familiar duties as nurse aide and ambulance driver. For some reason she is driven to London to seek out Admiralty House where she believes she will figure out some answers to her situation. She leaves France and is found in desperate circumstances outside a lovely home owned by Dr. August Bridge and his wife, Lily. Stella falls ill with pneumonia and is nursed back to health by the Bridges. Finally, upon visiting Admiralty House after her convalescence, she is recognized and called by her real name. It is then that she begins to recover her memories and to remember what drove her from her home and to the battlefields far away. She begins a course of "talk therapy" with Dr. Bridge who has developed an interest in psychiatry and her reawakened artistic abilities help her make decisions about how to return to claim what is hers and to make amends for her mistakes.

Through the course of what is sometimes a bit of a disjointed narrative, Stella (Etna) moves steadily toward forgiveness of herself and others as well as to achieve her independence and seek the love she was denied. An interesting topic in the book was that of shell shock, seen in so many returning soldiers after the war.

I'd recommend this to any fan of Anita Shreve and to a book club group wanting a novel dealing with the human side of the effects of war in a time when women were not allowed much freedom in their personal lives.

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for the e-book ARC to review.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Never List by Koethi Zan

3.0 out of 5 stars

This story is one that ALMOST might have come from recent current event newspaper articles.

Sarah and Jennifer were best friends with many of the same interests -- including the desire to protect themselves from danger to the point of compiling risk assessments and a "Never List' of things they simply would not expose themselves to.  Their attention to the list and their safety is all for naught, however, when they are kidnapped by a man who kept them, and two other girls, captive in a cellar for 3 years. The girls were starved and tortured. Jennifer was kept locked in a box down there, and eventually was taken out of the cellar and likely murdered.

Flash forward years later. Jennifer is presumed dead and Sarah is trying to regain control of her life. Now an agoraphobic, she doesn't leave her apartment and is still not recovered. When she gets yet another taunting letter from her captor who is about to come up for parole, she makes a determined effort to face the past and try to recover Jennifer's body to get some closure and also to prevent the release of her captor. She leaves her apartment and relative safety to return to the scene of her imprisonment and also reunites with the other two victims for the first time since they all were rescued.

This story started out well but then became quite convoluted and completely unbelievable. The situations that Sarah put herself in required more suspension of disbelief than I was capable of. Many times I almost scoffed out loud at the perilous predicaments that she was all of a sudden able to manage. It was a good premise, but ultimately the tale was unsatisfying and ludicrous. I simply did not like any of the one-dimensional characters nor did I buy into how they reacted to the events that transpired once they decided to revisit what had happened to them and begin playing amateur detectives. Their decisions and activities made no sense given what they had been through. The story line takes a sudden twist adding in a new dimension and more flat characters to the original crime and I didn't buy into that grand scheme either.

All in all, although it was absorbing and entertaining at first, and I did finish it quickly, I was disappointed in the novel. As far as recommending the book, it would depend on the particular person, but the whole story just didn't ring realistic and true despite the fact that recent current events report on other cases of long term imprisonment and kidnapping that are much more chilling than this tale. I just didn't buy into Sarah being so damaged and then all of a sudden able to do all this investigation from her new-found willpower and without any police or FBI oversight. I would likely try the next book by the author, however. It might make a good choice for a book club if only to talk about whether or not one can actually predict every possibility for oneself enough to ever be completely SAFE.

Thank you to NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP Viking for the E-book ARC to review.

Harrowgate by Kate Maruyama

4.0 out of 5 stars

Michael returns home after an extended work-related trip to find that his wife has given birth, a bit prematurely, to a son that she has named Tim. Michael is, at first, overjoyed with his new little family but that feeling changes to one of foreboding and a sense that something is a bit off despite his excitement settling in. Things are definitely pretty strange. Why does his wife, Sarah, look so odd and act so strangely? Sarah refuses to allow Michael to answer the door or to let anyone -- even their own family -- into the apartment. Who is Greta and why does she seem to have assumed control of his household and have such power over his wife? Michael knows that the birth of a baby changes things, but soon he finds just HOW MUCH happened in his absence.

Not a spoiler: This is not a ghost story, per se, but it is about dead loved ones returned to life. It is also an exploration of grief and loss as well as touching on speculation regarding an afterlife or what might lie beyond for those who die. Written from the points of view of both Michael and Sarah, the novel is a page turner and kept me enthralled. In the end, however, I was left with several unanswered questions and wish there had been a bit more detail.

I'd highly recommend this for a book club as it would allow for plenty of discussion on many topics related to family, death, grieving, and loss. I'm not typically a fan of the horror genre and I was glad this was not that type of novel. It is nice and creepy without going over the line and, just ALMOST, completely believable. The reader feels the menace in the house and and the darkness. I enjoyed it! Good title too. 
Thank you to NetGalley and for the ARC to review.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

After Her by Joyce Maynard

3.0 out of 5 stars "Nothing bad will happen to you. Or maybe something will. And you'll survive it." 
Rachel Torricelli is 14 years old during the summer of 1979 when her beloved Mount Tamalpais and surrounding park area (north of San Francisco) is terrorized by a serial killer known as the Sunset Strangler. Rachel and her sister Patty, mostly unsupervised since their parents divorced, had been roaming the park in their Marin Country backyard for years when their father, Detective Anthony Torricelli, Chief of Homicide, is assigned to lead the investigation.

As the summer passes and the murder toll grows, Rachel and Patty, with an unusually close bond and vivid imaginations, begin their own quest to try to help their mostly absent and case-obsessed father. With their mother secreted in her room reading library books, and with nothing but time on their hands, the curious sisters have a lot of freedom and what they crave most seems to be attention. Rachel, suddenly in demand by the popular kids from school because of her father's connection to the case, finds herself making up lurid details to appease their curiosity. Patty, abandoned by the older sister whom she has always followed, turns to basketball to find her voice. Things take a sudden turn when the girls have an encounter on the mountain that brings them face-to-face with the killer.

I'm of two minds about this novel. For some reason, I found it hard to put down, though it was not actually very thrilling or suspenseful. Despite the threat of the serial killer in their neighborhood, the sisters are reckless and, lacking any type of adult supervision, cook up some preposterous schemes and engage in some dangerous sleuthing. I didn't find Rachel to be a compelling narrator and the depiction of her prepubescent self was tedious and repetitive at times. Patty is her sidekick. The nature of their close bond and relationship explains some of their behavior and I found their activities interesting at times, though very odd. Rachel has some sort of strange visions that require effort to find credible, and it is this package of naivete and weirdness that ultimately makes the duo not taken seriously when it counted.

The author writes that this novel has been inspired by a true story and spent a lot of time and effort in research. So, this story is not so much murder mystery, but more about the toll that being connected to the case took on this family. 
Amazon Vine ARC.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Room Beyond by Stephanie Elmas

"In our world things appear and disappear about us all the time."

Haunting, time-bending gothic ghost story tells the story of an evil man's legacy and its effects on a modern day family at 36 Marguerite Avenue in Kensington.

Present day: Serena arrives at the beautiful mansion on Marguerite Avenue to interview for a position as a live-in nanny to Beth, the 4-year-old granddaughter of Arabella and Edward Hartreve. Beth's teen mother, Eva, also lives in the house along with several other interesting characters. The job is given to Serena on the spot and on her first day of work she's shown to her beautiful turret room "like a nest perched amidst London's rooftops" that she falls in love with immediately. Serena is perplexed as she begins to live with the strange family in that mansion -- one thing she notices right away, it seems there is an oddity with the house numbering. House 32 is occupied by the Herbert family and 36 by the Hartreves. House 34 is missing. There are some other quite strange goings on inside house 34 and at another unusual family home -- Druid Manor -- where the Hartreves go for Christmas. Does Serena sense things that others do not see? What strange connections exist between the family and whatever dark past they all share.

1892: Miranda and Tristan Whitestone live at 34 Marguerite Avenue. Imprisoned and almost invisible in a miserable marriage to a man she adores, Miranda watches as her husband takes the neighbor from 36, Mrs. Lucinda Eden, as his most recent lover. Events transpire that turn Miranda's world into a nightmare and she leaves her home and life behind, escaping with damaged cargo in the dead of night.

This twisted tale shifts between those two time periods weaving together a story of evil and destruction that centers on Marguerite Avenue. Pervasive themes of loneliness and pain linger throughout as the reader is drawn into the lives of the families that lived on this street over a hundred years apart. Serena is lured into a shadow world that exists within the houses on that street and is tormented by unanswerable questions about who these people are, what happened there, and what they want from her.

Recommended for anyone who loves a mystery with supernatural elements.

Thank you to NetGalley and the author for the ebook ARC to review.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse

4.0 out of 5 stars - Rollercoaster ride!

What a thrilling novel -- full of suspense and ever-changing direction as Hannah tries to figure out if her loving husband, the wealthy and handsome Mark Reilly, is telling her the truth. And, if not, what secrets is he hiding?

Hannah waits for Mark at Heathrow; he's supposed to return from a business trip to New York. When he's a no-show, she tries to call and email him and receives no response. Worried that something untoward has happened and told that he's not registered at his usual hotel, Hannah contacts colleagues at his company who are perplexed to hear that Mark has not taken her on a surprise trip to Rome. Initially only worried about his safety, she becomes suspicious and more concerned when she finds disturbing financial information and discovers that a woman has been calling him at work. Is this evidence of an extramarital affair or something far more sinister? The plot thickens when Hannah discovers that Mark has told her some HUGE LIES as well as left out some particularly horrendous information about his background and family.

I was totally glued to the pages as I raced through this novel in the space of an evening. The twists and turns the narrative takes as Hannah is led first one way and then another makes the novel completely captivating. I could hardly wait to get to the end of the mystery when all was finally revealed.

If you've been waiting for another novel that is constantly leaving you wondering what is going to happen next, this is for you. Highly recommended for suspense thriller fans!

Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA for the ebook ARC to review.

Juffie Kane by Beverly Swerling

4.0 out of 5 stars Wholly entertaining!
This novel has it all! From the very first, Juffie Kane is unconventional and dramatic. Raised by parents with connections to la cosa nostra, the beautiful little girl wants for nothing. Juffie aspires to the Broadway stage and ultimately secures her stardom by accruing a debt with the mob that affects her life in many ways.

Ordinarily I have a preference for historical fiction and thriller/suspense/mystery novels. Though I would say this book has a lot of romance, there are so many other elements and side stories that it really kept my interest. Though the focus is primarily on Juffie and the highs and lows of her acting career, there are MANY other events that occur involving her, her best friend Karen, and a host of other interesting characters that created some incredible depth to the story set in the 1940s and 1950s. From elegant New York to seedy Las Vegas, the narrative goes in some very unexpected directions and had me turning the pages wanting to see how it all turned out. What price does Juffie pay to make her dreams come true?

The reader should expect to experience some big highs and lows along with Juffie and the cast of this novel which has been updated and is being re-released in ebook form after first being published in 1990. I think you'll enjoy it!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

3.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing report examines moral and ethical quandaries during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath...
This nonfiction account of life and death at Memorial Hospital during the 5 days following the natural disaster is divided into two main sections. The first deals with the events at the hospital and the second probes the investigative and legal proceedings involving staff at the hospital. I found the account compelling and extremely disquieting as the horrors of trying to care for extremely sick patients in those dire circumstances was recounted. I experienced many emotions while reading this very extensively researched book, but chief among them was a voice in my head that kept repeating - DON'T JUDGE. I was not there, I did not see or hear or smell the humanity in that hospital. I was not called upon to serve during the horrendous 5 days that those people were all trapped in that hospital without so many of the necessary things needed to provide patient care. When basic needs cannot be met, when staff is confused and exhausted, when the demands of the job surpass every bit of spiritual, mental and physical capacity the health care provider has -- what then? Examining the situation after the fact is much easier than dealing with an evolving life and death drama. Even with training, it would be difficult to be fully prepared to deal with everything that happened in Memorial Hospital over that 5 day period. I am glad I don't have to try to defend or condemn anyone for their actions, or lack thereof, because I imagine there are many who bear the burden of guilt for the way and the why of it.

Each person who reads this, and I recommend that you do, will take away his or her own analysis and assessment of what happened there and who was responsible. Collectively there is a lot of blame to go around, but individuals will always need to examine their own consciences and follow legal and societal guidelines whenever moral and ethical questions arise.

This would make a great book for a book club, but more so, I hope it will provide a touchstone for good debate on what constitutes ordinary vs extraordinary means, how does one assess the value of a life, and what explicit boundaries need to be firmly put in place.

3.5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for the ebook ARC to review.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

4.0 out of 5 stars --  Fascinating and poignantly drawn picture of life and times at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina during the 1930s.,
Evalina Toussaint is thirteen when she is admitted to this hospital, known for its cutting edge treatment of the more wealthy mentally ill, after her mother -- the mistress of a rich lover -- dies in New Orleans.

Evalina experiences her coming of age in this lovely place under the tutelage of the well-known Dr. and Mrs. Carroll where she also meets the infamous and mercurial Zelda Fitzgerald who undergoes multiple treatments in the ensuing years. Evalina becomes a piano protege of Mrs. Carroll and it is her music that gives her strength, comforts and sustains her during many difficult times. Highland Hospital becomes her true home and its staff and patients her family as the years go by.

The novel is about one young woman's search for her own sanity, identity and independence as much as it is about life and mental illness during this time in history. Well researched historical details blend fact with fiction creating a story and memorable characters that I can't stop thinking about.

The focus of this well-written story is not on either Zelda Fitzgerald or the fire of 1948 that kills nine of the patients at Highland Hospital, but about the nature and cycle of mental health and the continuum of wellness. Some aspects of the treatment of those judged mentally ill may seem both bizarre and/or inhumane, and the accepted practices then no longer used (lobotomy, insulin shock, etc.) as more becomes known about what works or not. But, truly, as one character so aptly states about clinical depression, "Nobody understands it..."

I really liked this book and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in what life at an upscale mental institution in the 1930s might have been like. Keep in mind that if you are looking for biographical detail about Zelda Fitzgerald, this is not the book for you. She is an incidental and side character in this work as Evalina Toussaint is the fictional woman whose story is told within.

Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for the ebook ARC to review.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Local Customs by Audrey Thomas

4.0 out of 5 stars -- This fictional novel based on historical events (1830s) asks the question -- did Letitia Landon Maclean die of an unintentional or deliberate overdose of prussic acid, or was she murdered?

Be forewarned, the definitive answer is not here, but there are loads of clues and hints of what may have happened. The story of Letitia's background -- she's a relatively well-known poetess in London, and arrival in Gold Coast, Africa, with her new husband Governor George Maclean, is told in several different voices. Each character, including Letty herself, alludes to events and sinister goings on that might have led up to Letty's sudden death only 8 weeks after arriving.

It was quite common for foreigners to die quickly on Cape Coast, but Letty did not contract any of the usual suspect diseases such as dysentery, malaria or bites from poisonous snakes and insects. An empty medicine bottle of "cyanide" was found clutched in her hand -- but no one will admit to prescribing or mixing that formula for her.

This is an intriguing mystery set in a country that was completely unfamiliar to Europeans who had used the port as a loading point for the slave trade before abolition. The "local customs" required the ability of those who came there to adapt rapidly even as they tried to change the inhabitants' religion and culture to be "more British" and Christian. The history of Gold Coast Castle and the events that led up to Letty's death were interesting though the cause or reason for her actual demise is still speculative. Given that there was no autopsy and that burial occurred quite quickly, it's likely the questions will never be answered.

If you enjoy mystery and historical fiction that centers on a true story, you'll enjoy this novel.

Thank you to NetGalley and Dundurn for the ebook ARC to review.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman

3.5 out of 5 stars - Fast-paced and chilling, this is the story of a middle-aged woman discovering memories that make her feel that her whole life is a lie. 

Marta Bjornstad has been married to Hector for a very long time, and, feeling the pangs of an empty nest, stops taking the pills that her husband has always provided for her "to help her feel better."  As the amnesic effect of the medication wanes, Marta experiences  snippets and fragments of people and scenes that both confuse and frighten her. She is not sure if these are memories or hallucinations. Is she really mad and delusional -- or a victim?

As the blurb says, reminiscent of the books, "Room" and "Before I Go to Sleep," the narrative takes the reader in and out of present and past and along on Marta's frantic attempts to piece together what has happened to her. Despite the sympathetic attempts husband and son make to comfort and reassure her, Marta feels that her past has been hidden from her and that terrible things have been concealed.

You'll hold your breath as you race to the end of this novel. The writing is tight, nuanced, and vague at times so you as the reader will have to form many of of the final conclusions as to what really happened.

A very enjoyable read.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the ebook ARC to review.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Confessions of Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

3.0 out of 5 stars The last days of a Queen her people never knew...

3.5 out of 5 stars - Thoroughly sympathetic first person historical fiction account depicts French Queen Marie Antoinette in her final years as consort to King Louis XVI in the 1790s.

This poignant and heartbreaking portrait of the last days of Marie Antoinette, held prisoner along with her family in one deplorable location after another, follows the other two books in a trilogy. Unfortunately for me, I had not read the previous ones (Becoming Marie Antoinette: A Novel and Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow: A Novel of Marie Antoinette) and I believe that was a mistake. My heart broke for Marie Antoinette and her husband and children as they are maligned and abused by the cruel and violent emerging leaders of the Revolution. The author, who obviously spent years researching her subject, brought forth a picture of Queen Marie Antoinette that gave her a new dimension than that painted by textbooks and history accounts that don't show the human side of this woman as wife, sister-in-law, daughter and mother. I'm not a scholar of French History in any case, my knowledge is actually quite sketchy, but now I feel compelled to do some investigation of my own.

I would recommend to anyone interested in the monarchy of France in the 1790s and the study of a woman who has been portrayed perhaps inaccurately to the rest of the world. The horrible violence of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror left me with chills and my heart broke for what was done to this royal family in the name of the "Republic" and freedom from tyranny.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballentine for the ebook ARC to review.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

3.0 out of 5 stars How far would you go to save someone you love?

"Everyone's got a con, a pinch of deceit, a green light at the end of the dock. And a dream, however grand or modest. A way they want it to be and an angle to get there."

Daniel Brasher is the son of a San Fransisco old money family but currently works as a group counselor for paroled violent offenders. He's ready to leave for a safer job, private practice, and is taking care of some unfinished business. When Daniel finds a series of envelopes in his office mailbox, he's horrified when the letters inside indicate that a murder will take place unless the intended victim admits "what you've done." Daniel reports this to the police when he discovers that one of the people named has already been brutally murdered because the deadline given in the note has passed.

Daniel is pulled into the investigation when it seems that one of his group members might be involved. What follows is a fast-paced race against the clock to prevent the next murder and to save himself and his wife, Cristina, when it appears that the murderer might really be after THEM as the finale!

I'm always surprised and irritated when the police are written as being unable to figure out things without the help of an untrained civilian, and that happens in this book. Daniel is the one who basically puts all the pieces together and solves the crime, but not after many harrowing escapes and interactions with the killer. He's heroic and fearless and apparently unstoppable no matter how many beatings he takes. Anyway, most thriller fans will probably like this; there are some grisly descriptions, however, so be warned. An enjoyable read.

Amazon Vine ARC

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnavon

3.5 stars - Another fascinating glimpse into life and times at Highclere Castle during the 1920s and 30s. Highlights include the military campaigns of WW II and some details about the castle owners and occupants with their personal tragedies and triumphs.

The author uses primary research material from Highclere Castle archives to tell the story of Lady Catherine (Wendell), an American woman who marries "Porchy" the 6th Earl of Carnarvon.

Definitely a book that fans of the PBS drama "Downton Abbey" will find compelling as the reader discovers that the lives of the aristocrats were not as charmed and wonderful as the fairy tales we'd like to believe. I was more interested in the Castle and its occupants and wish the book would have concentrated more on those details rather than the long chapters describing every battle of the war and the movement of troops. I am more interested in thoughts and feelings of all who lived there that would come from diaries, rather than from guest lists for parties. The book is not really biography, but more a history written by a member of the family showing all in the best light possible. I will likely read another and hope the focus moves to people rather than events.

Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for a copy of the ebook for review.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by The Countess of Carnarvon

3.0 out of 5 stars "It is neither a biography nor a work of fiction." "It is not a history.",  
September 16, 2013

With this prologue, the author begins her tribute to Almina Carnarvon -- a very wealthy heiress who married into her title as the 5th Countess of Carnarvon and settled into life at Highclere Castle, which as most know, serves as the setting for a popular PBS and Emmy Award-winning show - Downton Abbey.

Lady Almina, as she is referred to in the book, was purportedly the pampered illegitimate daughter of a very wealthy man (Alfred de Rothschild) and her money was crucial in the restoration of Highclere which became the center for lavish weekend parties and spectacular excess so common during the Edwardian age among the aristocrats.

I really enjoyed the details about life and times in this period of history. I also liked reading about the different family members as well as the staff downstairs. Really, no small tidbit was too much! I would have preferred that the author focus more on Almina's daily activities and her family rather than the long digression about World War I -- which certainly affected their lifestyle -- but just more about the lives of those in the Castle as well. Their relationships, the trials and tribulations of the servants, etc., but perhaps there was not that much archival information for the author to review about them. Certainly one of the most important things that Almina did, and what she probably hoped to be remembered for, was how she threw herself into nursing and opened the doors of the Castle for recovering wounded officers. The chapters that described her husband's travels and discoveries in Egypt were fascinating, but I was really wanting more about Highclere and the life there rather than a focus on the Earl.

As many have said, a relative (even one by marriage) paints a particularly rosy picture of one whom she admires. I accepted that and enjoyed the story of a quite interesting and remarkable Lady Almina during a really difficult and turbulent time. I already have the next book by this author and am reading it now.

Definitely recommend to any fan of Edwardian England and anyone interested in the real estate that has since become instantly recognizable from television.
3.5 stars