NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hollow Bones by CJ Lyons

3.0 out of 5 stars - Nonstop action and adventure; a romantic thriller with a medical focus.

This is the second book in a series featuring Special Agent Caitlyn Tierney and her love interest FBI Agent and forensic accountant Jake Carver. It is not necessary to have read the previous novel in order to fully appreciate this one.

Maria, age 17, the daughter of a hugely successful billionaire leader in biotechnology (supplies tissues, bone and some organs to needy patients)is lured off a cruise ship in a diabolical scheme by someone promising to allow her to assist with an important archeological discovery deep in the jungles of Guatemala. Caitlyn is called in when Maria's parents find out that Maria is missing and she trails Maria to a deserted ancient Mayan city with Jake on the case as well. The discoveries that all of them make involve Maria's father and his own terrible history in his former homeland. Defying death and capture at every turn, Maria and two other young men she meets while held prisoner, must not only save themselves but also the Mayan natives who still live in the underground shadows of a great temple. Will Caitlyn and Jake arrive just in time to engineer the rescue and help to save the day?

Recommended for anyone who likes a fast paced medical thriller with interesting biotechnological details but with the main focus on adventure and action.

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

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

4.0 out of 5 stars  -  Family meltdown...
BThis is a novel that will leave you thinking about its characters long after you've turned the last page. If you love to read about family drama through brilliantly complex characters, you will enjoy this one.

London, 1976, is in the middle of a heatwave. Without air conditioning, the inhabitants are starting to feel the effects of the relentless high temperatures and that is reflected in some atypical behavior on the streets, in the workplaces, and most of all -- in the homes of those there.

One particular family is about to experience its own meltdown. Matriarch Gretta -- highly opinionated, bossy, talkative -- calls out to her estranged grown children to come home when her loving husband of thirty years, Robert (Ronan) Riordan, inexplicably vanishes one day while out to pick up the morning newspaper. He simply fails to return home. Monica, living out in the suburbs in an early-Victorian farmhouse with a new husband and stepdaughters, was the favorite child. Although she has made her share of mistakes, she is still tightly connected to her mother and doesn't hesitate to come. Middle child, son Michael Francis, is a history teacher just on summer break, with a slowly failing marriage and silently bearing his own responsibility for its demise. The baby of the family, Aoife, has moved across the pond and is living in Manhattan. She has left her family and history behind only to find that her hidden illiteracy can't be escaped. This secretive family is about to find out that their childhood was riddled with secrets and protected truths. Will it hurt them or finally heal them?

As the siblings gather for the first time in many years, old painful memories, misconceptions and miscommunications bubble to the surface from where they have been simmering inside each one for years. A few serendipitous clues lead the family to their ancestral island home in Ireland where unexpected revelations help them reunite at last.

Told from the point of view of each character, the reader sees how the twists and turns of family dynamics and individual struggles has affected each of them. In discovering the truth about their parents, they also have the strength to finally confront the painful realities of their own lives.

Amazon Vine ARC

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

3.0 out of 5 stars - Would you risk your life for a stranger?

In this novel, set in Paris during the 1942 Nazi occupation of the "city of light", architect Lucien Bernard is faced with that very question. He is a gentile in a world turned upside down as Jews and others who displease the Reich are rounded up, tortured, and killed for almost any perceived transgression against the German war machine. Lucien loves designing modern buildings, his wine, and his mistress -- he has no interest in becoming a hero or a savior -- he wants to stay as far out of the notice of the Gestapo as possible. Unfortunately, the occupation has taken a toll on his finances and personal life. He needs work, so when a wealthy industrialist offers him a chance to design factories for the Germans, he decides to take the risk because he so wants to prove himself a visionary architect and leave a legacy. He gets more than he bargained for, however, when Manet asks him if he will try to design a hiding place inside an apartment for a friend of his. Like a "priest hole" of old, the compartment has to be concealed despite the eventuality of the house being completely ransacked and the obvious places discovered. The challenge intrigues Lucien, because he knows he has the skill and talent and will enjoy tricking the hated Gestapo. Lucien understands that human life has little value in this occupied city he loves, and he really has no empathy for the Jews in particular, but he decides to accept and designs his first hidden compartment. Though he insisted he would do only one, he finds himself drawn in by the the thrill of pitting his architectural acumen against the demonic savagery of the Gestapo and ultimately also realizes that this little rebellion and these few "saves" have changed him and his view of life.

I recommend this to anyone who read and liked Sarah's Key or other novels set mainly in Paris during World War II. The unique perspective of the writer, an architect himself, will have you looking at every building, apartment, house, etc., in a totally new light -- seeing details and structures as never before. The storyline is well known, but these unique characters and relationships during this horrible time in Paris come alive on the pages and make the reader root for Lucien's transformation from aloof and afraid to involved and brave.

Thank you to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS Landmark for the ebook to review.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois

4.0 out of 5 stars - What is the truth? And how can there be justice if no one ever knows the truth?

It's likely that you have heard the Amanda Knox story. If not, you might want to go to a trusted news source and read about her, her trial, and all the sensationalistic coverage of her case. There's a lot!

Then, get a copy of this book and read it. The parallels are noticeable, but this is a work of fiction with a disclaimer of course. Regardless, this character-driven literary novel will hold you glued to the pages as you step inside the minds of several of the key people whose lives intersect after the murder of a foreign exchange student, Katy Kellers, while she was studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, one fateful semester.

You'll meet Lily Hayes, also in BA from America to study abroad -- she's 20 years old, bright, entitled, and in jail. She's been accused of murdering her roommate.

Then there's her father, Andrew, who is stoic and awkward, but trying his best to maintain faith in his daughter despite the mountains of evidence that have been explained to him and the vast amount of news coverage that is convinced Lily is guilty. His inner thoughts describe how he tries to make sense of the cataclysm that this brings to his family (who has also suffered another earlier terrible loss).

The prosecutor, Eduardo Campos, is fairly sure Lily is guilty. But he can't seem to get a straight story from anyone -- especially not from Lily's supposed boyfriend, the reclusive young orphan, Sebastien LeCompte. Everyone is lying about something - or obstructing justice. But Eduardo has demons of his own that drive him to want to obtain a righteous verdict for the victim, Katy.

The reader is transported between points of view as the characters muddle the truth of what really happened the night that Katy was murdered. Can a father accept that his daughter might be guilty of such a horrible crime? Is Lily really innocent or was she involved with the murder? How does Sebastien try to help Lily, or is he just protecting himself from being arrested? Does Eduardo go too far to prove Lily's guilt for his own personal gain or is he really after the truth?

This book was one I was not able to set aside so I had to read it straight through. Keep a dictionary or internet access handy as you read in case you, like me, have to do a little research. The author's command of politics, literature, vocabulary, imagery -- the structure of the narrative -- kept me spellbound and totally impressed. I highly recommend it!

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for an advance copy of this ebook to review.

Karma Gone Bad by Jenny Feldon

4.0 out of stars - Funny and poignant memoir!

Have you ever wanted to go live the expatriot life in a foreign country for a year or two? Newlywed Jenny Feldon really didn't have that wish on her bucket list. She was quite happy living in New York with her lovely apartment, a Starbucks nearby, easy access to public transportation, writing career, yoga addiction, and designer clothes. When her husband accepts a transfer with his company to Hyderabad, India, she comes along as a "plus one" thinking only that this will be an adventure of the sort that people call "the opportunity of a lifetime!"

What an understatement! Jenny is totally unprepared in every way for what she will encounter during her two year "exile" in landlocked Hyderabad, India. Her expectations fall flat quickly against the reality of life in a country that is completely different from everything she has ever known. Alone and miserable, Jenny recounts her experiences and emotions in a way that makes the reader laugh and cry with her. No experience leaves the person unchanged, and Jenny is transformed by her time there.

I don't typically like memoirs, but I really enjoyed reading this one. Jenny was easy to relate to and I could feel her despair, frustration, and sense of outrage at some of the things she dealt with. I was rooting for her all the way! I realize I am probably in the minority, but I have no desire to walk in her footsteps so living in India vicariously through this book will have to do it for me!

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for the ebook to review.

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

4.0 out of 5 stars - True history, the past, is not flat or linear nor does it have an outline...

Another great historical fiction read with delicious secrets and mystery from this author!

The reader is transported between the 1920s and the late 1990s with most of the narration being that by the book's main character, Grace Bradley, who is 98 years old and living out her final days in a nursing home in Saffron Green, Essex, in the UK. She recounts her memories when asked to consult with a filmaker who is working on a film about an event that Grace witnessed in 1924 - a young poet committed suicide during a party at the summer house where Grace was employed as a ladies maid to Hannah Luxton Hartford, the lady of the manor. Another person was also there at the time of the incident, Emmeline Hartford, who was Hannah's younger sister.

Grace recalls her life and times as she records them for her grandson whom she has't seen in a long time. She also befriends and agrees to help Ursula, the film's producer. Details are important and it is time to set things right - to tell the truth.

Grace, age 14, had been sent to work as a housemaid at Riverton Manor in June 1914. Her single mother had also been in service there until she had to leave in disgrace. Grace describes life and times below stairs as a servant in a time long past. She is a keen observer of both the family who live there and of the events of the day (WW I, influenza, social changes) that occur over the course of her service with the Hartfords. She forms a special bond with Hannah, becomes her personal maid and attends her in all personal and private matters. She is a trusted and valuable member of the household. Keeping secrets is what Grace does best. But secrets rarely stay hidden and "have a way of making themselves known." And it is a secret that leads to ultimate calamity.

The tale Grace tells, and how she recounts her part in it, is absorbing and complex. The shifts back and forth in time engage the reader and kept me from being able to put the book down before I finished. Although somewhat predictable in a particular scenario or two, the conclusion is satisfying and nicely explained.

I enjoyed this and plan to read the other books by this author!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

4.0 out of 5 stars - Secrets usually are revealed...

I really enjoyed this historical fiction mystery that spans decades and transports the reader back and forth in time from WW II London up to modern day.

Told in alternating voices by the main characters, the story is about 3 people whose lives are set on a collision course brought about by chance meetings, unstable personalities, and the traumatizing events of the time period.

Dorothy (Dolly) Smitham Nicolson has known tragedy - she came up to London to work at a boardinghouse and her family was killed in the bombings after the war started. She is now an elderly widow with 4 grown children and lies dying in a hospital. Laurel, her eldest daughter and an actress, is haunted by a scene she witnessed while at home one summer day long ago. Is it too late to ask her mother what that was about -- they have never spoken of it.

Jimmy Metcalfe, a poor but accomplished photographer, and Dorothy meet, fall in love in 1938 and make plans to escape away from the horrors of the London Blitz to a seaside paradise. But they both have to work hard to save up enough money to realize their dream.

Vivien, age 8, is sent to England from Australia when a car accident kills her family. She meets and marries a famous author, Henry Jenkins, and lives across the street from Dolly in a well-appointed mansion. She has the life that Dolly yearns for.

The tantalizing story of these three plays out in wonderfully depicted period settings and with the backdrop of war and desperation. I was drawn in immediately and eager to solve the mysteries and hear those long buried secrets. Lots of twists and turns along the way as the author teasingly doles out clues and contradictions that create more questions that require investigation.

The book is a bit convoluted and complicated and the reader needs to pay attention - perhaps even flipping back to reread certain sections at times. It comes together in a satisfying conclusion. I really liked this book and the writing style. I plan to read other novels by this author!

Thank you to Goodreads for the copy to review.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson

4.0 out of 5 stars - The lies you tell yourself are the ones that hurt you the most...

This is another story of love-gone-wrong - a fairly common theme for the story of a modern tragedy. But it's not what happened to Lucy and Matt that makes this novel hard to put down, but WHY it happened.

Lucy and Matt meet on a blind date set up by Lucy's best friend, Jill. Lucy's on the rebound, but barely, after a long and heartbreaking romantic thrill ride that ended with Griffin just walking away. She's definitely not ready for Matt -- a nice, loyal, good guy who is immediately smitten with Lucy's edginess and he falls hard. Matt is a hard-working cop who treats her like a princess. Unfortunately, Lucy isn't honest with herself or with Matt and that's where it all starts.

When your relationship is built on a foundation of little white lies and big BLACK ones, how can things go well? When is "good enough" not enough -- and then what?

I really enjoyed this fast-paced and entertaining read. It went in a direction that I didn't really expect. The characters were well developed and, though I did not like Lucy at all, I came to empathize with her. Told in alternating viewpoints by Lucy and Matt who attempt to give the reader their side of the story, it grabs hold right away. The reader can sense that something is coming, and when it does, the urge to judge is right there and begs the question: What would YOU have done?

This would make a great book club read as there are many issues for discussion. Recommended!

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for the ebook to review.