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.