NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

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

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

4.0 out of 5 stars  A heartbreaking dilemma..., September 15, 2013

This was a surprisingly touching story about the relationship that develops between a caregiver and her patient. When she finds herself newly unemployed, Louisa Clark tries to find a new job as quickly as she can because she knows her parents, sister and nephew rely on her income to keep the family solvent. After a series of unsuccessful stints at various employment situations, Lou interviews for and accepts a position that offers her a 6 month contract as a paid companion of sorts to a young man, Will Traynor, who was left a quadriplegic after being hit by a motorcycle.

At first, Lou wonders why the limited contract, and she finds her employer, Will's parents, and her patient difficult and very complicated. When she learns the real reason she was given the job, Lou begins a campaign that involves trying to get Will to see some hope for his life and to show him that he is not confined to the annex apartment where he now lives in pain and isolation. It soon becomes clear that it may be that it will be Lou who ends up the most changed.

I don't know if the author intended this, but the man's name -- Will -- summarizes the scope of the big question in the novel -- can Will develop a "will" to live with this devastating handicap? Formerly the owner of a hugely successful business and a very active daredevil lifestyle, he is despondent as he accepts that he has lost everything that made him HIM. As Lou tries to draw him out of his prison, engage him in activities and travel, Will seems to become happier and everyone is hopeful that he's turned a corner.

Unfortunately, Will has already made a decision that no one believes is firm. He has no control over any aspect of his daily life and medical situation, but there is still one thing he can do to take back his autonomy. Can Lou change his mind? There is nothing that she won't try.

This was a book that begged to be read in one sitting and I was totally absorbed even as I anxiously dreaded the possibilities for an ending. The controversial nature of the central theme is handled objectively without being moralistic. I really enjoyed it and feel this would be an excellent choice for a book group. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in "right to die" issues.

Thank you to NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP for the ebook to review.

The Wrong Girl by Hank Phillippi Ryan

3.0 out of 5 stars Adoption agency run amok!, September 13, 2013
 This second installment in the Jane Ryland series after "THE OTHER WOMAN" finds Jane, now a reporter for a local newspaper, embroiled in another mystery involving betrayal, secrets, and murder. Jane and Jake are drawn into investigating a series of deaths that lead them to a corrupt adoption agency and an overworked foster care system. All the victims seem to be related to a central issue - the question of whether adults who were adopted as babies and are seeking answers are being reunited with their true birth mothers or if something illegal is going on. It seems that an old colleague of Jane's (Tuck Cameron) coincidentally meets her purported birth mother through the agency but is convinced that the agency has made a mistake; that she is "the wrong girl."

The action shifts constantly from character to character and there are a lot of twists and turns in the narrative that keep the reader guessing as to what is actually going on because there are different aspects of the case that are all connected to Brannigan Family and Children Services. Many unbelievable scenarios and coincidences provide the forward momentum of the story as it spins first in one direction and then another.

Of course there is a component of romance to this series -- Jane and Jake want to be together but their jobs make it impossible as they need to remain objective. I found their longing for a public relationship with each other to be the least compelling part of the novel and, seriously, it would have been better if everyone answered their phone calls!

Overall, I didn't particularly like the constant shifts in point of view and the jumpy transitions in the flow of the story. I didn't really care much about any of the characters as I did not see any real depth to them. I think it's important that if you choose to read this book that you read the first in the series prior to doing so. I'll likely not read a third in the series. 

Amazon Vine ARC

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Recent Reads

4.0 out of 5 stars Wildly entertaining investigative adventure!, September 11, 2013

4+ out of 5 stars -- This tale has more twists and turns than could have been anticipated -- I really enjoyed it though I was a bit hesitant after having a less than enthusiastic response to Pessl's previous debut novel.

Disgraced journalist, Scott McGrath, imagines that he sees the enigmatic Ashley Cordova at the reservoir one night while out on his run. This daughter of the famous and reclusive horror/noir/thriller filmmaker Stanislas Cordova is later found dead at the bottom of an old warehouse elevator shaft. At one time, Scott had intended to write an expose of Stanislas Cordova, but he fell flat when he made a fool of himself on television during an interview and lost his credibility and job. Now he's drawn back into the mystery that also involves Cordova's daughter and her death. Was it murder or suicide? With an unlikely supporting pair of teenagers he meets when he starts looking into the case, and with an eye to finally tracking down Cordova, he enlists the help of Nora and Hopper.

What follows in the narrative is a rollicking tale of imagination and the supernatural. The author adds a really intriguing augmentation to the prose by including pictures, newspaper clippings, magazine interviews, screenshots of private website comments, and other assorted items that Scott McGrath peruses during his hunt for Stanislas Cordova. McGrath thinks that there was sordid, even deadly, business during Cordova's film-making and that perhaps the horrors on the screen were actually REAL since everything was filmed at Cordova's isolated estate THE PEAK, hidden in the woods and inaccessible to anyone not involved with him or his films. And perhaps, by finding Stanislas, McGrath can figure out how Ashley ended up dead. The big question, however, is why McGrath can't let this one go. The hunt for the Cordova answers takes him to limits he could have never anticipated or imagined.

I can't say much more without giving spoilers, so I highly recommend you just read it and enjoy the ride! I will say that the way Pessl writes involves a lot of italics, simile, metaphor and descriptive passages -- as well as references to pop culture and extensive trivia. It was a fun book.

PS - I read this book on a Kindle Fire and, though others have said they had difficulty with reading the "extras" in the book because the print was small, I had no issues with that. It was nice to see it in color!

2.0 out of 5 stars As the world turns..., August 30, 2013

Do you like to read books that describe what life on earth might be like after a horrible disaster has taken place? In this series, the moon has been pulled off its orbit and everything that was before is no more.

Oh my! This 4th book in the "Life as We Knew it" series is one that probably should have been left unwritten. To say it is depressing and shocking is putting it mildly. I finished it late last evening and I had nightmares all night long with visions of this horrible post disaster world. The events that transpire and the subject matter are more appropriate for the older teen and young adult.

Jon is the youngest in a family that included his sister Miranda and brother Matt. His mother, Laura, had sacrificed everything when they were stranded on the outskirts of a town in Pennsylvania so that her children and she could survive after the moon's orbit was pulled closer to earth resulting in climate change, tsunamis, famine and epidemics. Now, 4 years later, the survivors have relocated. Several other relationships and the deaths of family members have left the family broken and separated with the remaining few living in different places in the newly established cities and towns. The "clavers" are the rich and important people who live in Sexton while the "grubs" who serve them live in White Birch. They are a very class conscious segregated society where the clavers have power and often mistreat the grubs who live under quite primitive and filthy conditions. Society has devolved into a hierarchy that encourages superiority, prejudice and violence.

I did not like Jon's character at all. I didn't care for many of the supporting cast of characters whose actions and relationships didn't ring true given the times and situations. Despite some grandstanding at the end, which didn't feel believable, I don't feel Jon redeemed himself. The book was depressing and relentlessly miserable. I almost stopped reading it several times but forced myself to push on to the end, hoping that this indeed will be the last one in this saga that went on 2 books too long. The first in the series was excellent, the second less so, and it went downhill from there in my opinion. I suppose fans of the previous books will feel compelled to read this volume as well, but I am definitely done.

Unrealistic in so many ways and not deeply developed enough to provide the details that are needed to make the new world and society structure credible, the story lacks the critical elements that other doomsday scenario authors have done much better. The struggle is, of course, between good and evil, but mostly it is a clash between the "haves" and the "have nots". The violence is extreme and the ability of the clavers to step into their behaviors is scary. I hope there's nothing in this that is remotely plausible should an event like this ever really occur. I guess I just have more faith in humanity than that it would end up as described in this novel. I prefer to hope so.

Amazon Vine ARC