NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Friday, October 31, 2014

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

 3.0 out of 5 stars -- Something is extremely wrong in Altenhain...

This is the 4th book in the Kirchhoff and Bodenstein series, and the second one I've read -- out of order due to publication decisions in the USA after translation from the German. I must say I was disappointed. A police procedural, the narrative was overly complicated with shifts in viewpoint that made the complex drama irritating at times and confusing at best.

Tobias Sartorius is released from prison after serving 10 years for his conviction in the murder of two 17 year-old girls whom he had dated. Although the evidence was circumstantial and no bodies were ever found, he's done his time, and inexplicably returns to the scene of the crime, his hometown in Altenhain. He finds his former home and his father in ruins -- the family restaurant out of business and his mother gone after divorcing his father. Despite the fact that the townspeople have punished his family for Tobias's crime, he has nowhere else to go and sets about cleaning up the property. One gets the impression that Tobias is not guilty of those murders, but he had a blackout from drinking at the time and can't remember anything.

Meanwhile, Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein are called to the site of an attempted murder when a woman is pushed off a bridge into oncoming traffic. The woman happens to be Tobias's mother. Is this attack coincidental to Tobias's return? When Pia and Oliver start to investigate the circumstances in Altenhein, they can't find anyone there willing to talk with them. It's a hot mess of coverups and lies from there on out. The story just wraps around on itself with unbelievable con-incidences, contradictions, and ridiculous behavior of characters that defies belief. The motives of the almost completely nonredeemable cast are slim and convoluted and the reader has a lot of people to keep track of while trying to follow the story. Perhaps everyone in Altenhein has a reason to prevent the police from finding out what really happened, and why, way back in 1997. In addition, Oliver is having trouble at home with his wife and Pia faces eviction from her property.

I really didn't like any of the characters or the resolution of this mystery. I am debating whether or not I want to read another in this series -- it's just too much work and the payoff wasn't there.

Book borrowed from library. And, I did request THE ICE QUEEN from NetGalley and am waiting to hear for approval for the e-book ARC.

#5 A Nightingale Christmas Wish by Donna Douglas

4.0 out of 5 stars -- It's always a risk to love -- and there are no guarantees. But what a cost if one just walks away, never knowing what could have been...

Although this story had a lot more romance in it than nursing, I still enjoyed it. Set in London at the Nightingale Hospital right before England enters World War II, the student nurses and the Sisters we've grown to know and love in the past 4 books are facing new challenges as big changes loom for them and their beloved hospital. The books really need to be read in order to see the character development over time and to appreciate them fully.

Sister Frannie Wallace, who lost her fiance in WW I, is determine to avoid any romantic entanglements as she works on staging the Christmas show and tries to help a complicated family situation involving a father and his estranged son. Matron Kathleen Fox is dealing with the possible closure of the hospital if it comes to war as she faces a personal health issue of her own. Constance Tremayne, Chairwoman of the hospital board of Trustees and mother to Helen, is still manipulating things and confounding her daughter. Helen Dawson, whose husband died in hospital weeks after their wedding, is transferred from Theatre to Casualty and has to work with the irascible Dr. David McKay. Penny Willard, student nurse, has issues with an abusive boyfriend. Effie O'Hara, another student nurse and one of the O'Hara siblings, falls for a patient who is in thrall to a two-timing ex girlfriend.

Which of the girls will get their Christmas wish this year? Recommended to all who have enjoyed the stories of the Nightingale nurses. 

In order:
The Nightingale Girls (Nightingales)
The Nightingale Sisters (Nightingales)
The Nightingale Nurses (Nightingales)
Nightingales on Call

Thank you to the publisher for a copy of the digital e-book ARC to review.

Us: A Novel by David Nicholls

This is another one of those books that, once you've finished it, you want to let it simmer in your mind as you reflect on how it all affected you. Collect those reactions and try to write a review that can give a potential reader a reason to want to read it. That said, it's well worth reading. Usually I avoid those books that win prizes (call me rebellious), but I really did enjoy this one -- it both broke my heart and made me shake me head. Ah, family! Unhappy marriages are all unique in their own way...

Douglas Peterson is a scientist, typically a bit awkward socially, and he falls hard for Connie, an artsy type, that immediately appeared to me to be a bad choice of wife for him. Without having much in common, they marry and eventually have a son named Albie (nicknamed Egg???) who, when the book opens, is about to head off to study photography. Now this choice of career sort of offends his academic-minded father but bonds mother and son in a way that Douglas can't touch and he feels alienated. Especially when his wife announces that their marriage has run its course and she is "thinking" about leaving him. What?? With that shock, Douglas tries to plan a family trip -- last Grand Tour of some of the famous museums and sights of Europe, in order to somehow convince his family to come back to him. Just about everything goes wrong from the beginning and Douglas is out of his depth as both husband and father.

Although funny and poignant and hitting all those right notes of a very well written book, my problem with it was its central theme. Because I could not STAND Connie or Albie as characters, I couldn't understand why Douglas wanted them back. I found nothing redeemable in either mother or son, and that made it hard for me to accept Douglas's sincere and dogged mission. I thought both unlikeable and narcissistic (a little more understood by a teenager, but still) and actually was rooting for Douglas to see them both clearly and run away himself. The ending was a bit of a letdown because Douglas is a man I actually respected and totally felt empathy for despite his pedantic and sometimes righteous personality.

I'd recommend it to any book club as it provides a lot of material for discussion.
Amazon Vine ARC for review.

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

4.0 out of 5 stars "Hope is an unbreakable habit."

At the moment of finishing, I was overwhelmed by this book and needed to let all of the nuances and ramifications settle before I wrote a review. If I look at this as fiction, it is simply an amazingly good story -- but since I'm no literary historian, I can't speak to the veracity of this account of the lives of Virgina Woolf and her sister Vanessa. Wow.

This is not a fast paced narrative, but one that builds slowly with a crescendo simmering until it rises and crashes against a preconceived notion of what family means and how betrayal can destroy a relationship.

Vanessa is the older sister to Virginia Stephen Woolf and they live in Bloomsbury circa 1905 where they entertain the elitist intellectuals, writers, artists and acquaintances of their older brother, Julian Thoby, a Cambridge graduate and lawyer. Since they are orphans, they've adopted an unusual style of having friends over for evenings of discussion and passionate argument. Virginia is very attached to Vanessa, and this story is told in the form of diary entries and includes other forms of communication such as telegrams and replications of tickets and purchase orders. The reader sees a snapshot of their lives -- sometimes momentous things happen with little fanfare and the narrator isn't always as forthcoming with details as one would like. The author includes a cast of characters that is important because there are many people to keep track of -- all the famous names of the period.

Do you have a sister? I have 4 of them and I was quite aghast at the situation that develops between Vanessa and Virginia. I read other sources to get a few different points of view about the accuracy of the events described in this book and if true, I can say that I'm glad I didn't have a sister like Virginia. It's fairly well accepted that she did suffer mental illness but not much was known about effective treatment at the time and she definitely took a large piece of her loved ones with her when she committed suicide.

I enjoyed the novel and this view of the Stephen sisters in their everyday lives. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in a view of Virginia Woolf told from her sister's point of view.
Amazon Vine ARC and e-book courtesy of NetGalley and publisher for review.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bliss House by Laura Benedict

Just in time for Halloween...
A haunted house and a decades-old mystery.

Rainey and her 14-year-old daughter, Ariel, return to Old Gate, Virginia and the beautiful Bliss House that has been in the family for generations. A multilevel mansion that evokes a bygone era, it seems to welcome and comfort Rainey in the aftermath of a horrible accident that left her husband dead and Ariel disfigured. After months of renovations, Rainey and Ariel host an open house, but disaster strikes. When a local real estate agent is found dead the morning after the party, detectives search for motive and opportunity. Though foul play is suspected, Ariel fails to reveal that she had "seen" a woman plummet from the balustrade while hiding upstairs out of view during the party. She also neglects to mention that she sees the ghost of her dead father, experiences frigid air currents and feels tugging and pushing, especially in the ballroom. Hmmm, the house is haunted? But who are the ghosts and what do they want? Ariel seeks hidden rooms and secret passages, determined to find out what's going on as the house seems to exert an influence of its own.

There's a lot going on in this book both in present day voices and then in a story line involving a girl from long ago. I was really engaged and entertained in the first part of the book as the characters are introduced, but by the halfway point, I'd really lost empathy and much of my interest in the rising action and the predictable climax. The characters are very one-dimensional and familiar to any readers of this genre, and I must say that the only one I wanted to know more about was THE HOUSE. I'd solved the "mystery" very early on, and though that really doesn't bother me so much, I just felt that there were dangling ends and a very tacked on "epilogue" that tried to wrap it all up after a long drawn out ghost and human interaction scene or two. I'd recommend it to anyone who loves reading about old houses and spirits! And, a reminder that it's a shame you can't choose your relatives!

Anyway, I liked this well enough and I thank Pegasus Books and its marketing director for the e-book ARC to review.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bad Wolf by Nele Neuhaus

4.0 out of 5 stars - Suspenseful and complicated mystery provides chills and thrilling entertainment.

This was the first book I've read by this author, and is the second one to be released in English. Part of a popular series, this is actually apparently the 6th book featuring Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein as German police detectives who work near the Taunus Mountain region north of Frankfurt.

The body of a young girl turns up in a local river and evidence indicates a history of long term physical and sexual abuse. No one has reported her missing, and the first step in this police procedural is to identify the victim. In alternating points of view, other plot lines are developed that indicate there is more to this body dump than first thought. The investigation becomes even more complex when the star of a popular local TV show, Hannah Herzmann is brutally attacked just when she was about to produce an expose of monumental proportions that involved a woman with multiple personality disorder who had been treated by Hannah's own therapist. It seems that some very powerful people might be running a child pornography ring and they will do anything to keep their secrets.

I could not put this book down and found many surprises along the way while reading this unpredictable thriller. I loved the setting and the characters -- I feel I must be missing something by reading out of order in the series, but this was very satisfactory as a stand alone. I highly recommend it and will definitely be reading SNOW WHITE MUST DIE shortly as well as the soon-to-be released English translation of THE ICE QUEEN.

Amazon Vine and NetGalley ARC

Monday, October 13, 2014

No Time To Die by Kira Peikoff

4.0 out of 5 stars - Medical thriller about a girl whose maturation and development stopped at age 14 and a group of scientists who protect her from government agents as they seek to discover the gene sequence that turns off aging.

Although a bit predictable to any reader of this genre, the story is fast paced and suspenseful. The main characters include the enigmatic hero, the dedicated scientist and the plucky, determined young girl (who was often a bit annoying) -- but I enjoyed the science and the story well enough. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes books such as those by Robin Cook, Michael Palmer, and other authors who write these types of novels. 
I'm looking forward to reading her first book, LIVING PROOF, and am waiting for the release of #3 due out in 2015 -- DIE AGAIN TOMORROW.
Book obtained from public library.

Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman

2.0 out of 5 stars -- Road trip nightmare...

The Daniels family is taking a rare family vacation away from the Adirondack Mountains and decides on an unexpected overnight stay in a hotel room.

This was supposed to be a suspenseful thriller about a woman who wakes one morning to discover that her children are missing from their room. Worse yet, it's her husband who has taken them and who has also vanished. The police are unable to help because it is deemed a domestic issue rather than a crime. The family dynamics and relationships are completely dysfunctional and friendships are questionable.

From that premise, the narrative deteriorates into a whimpering mess of a frantic mother and the ridiculous notions of where the husband and children have gone and why. The mother, Liz, annoyed me from almost the first pages of the book and I never felt any empathy for her despite the author's efforts to make me feel her emotional pain and give a care. The villains were cardboard stereotypes whose motivations were never fully explored or explained. I was not drawn into the drama, and some scenes almost made me scoff out loud. The "deep secret" was not only completely predictable, but anticlimactic.

In short, I'd love to have back the couple of hours I wasted and would not have finished this book except that I had chosen it from Amazon Vine and thus had to read it to write a review. Skip it.

Amazon Vine ARC

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Hormone Factory by Saskia Goldschmidt

4.0 out of 5 stars

Why is it that successful, powerful men so often justify their betrayals and sexual misconduct while granting themselves extraordinary privileges as they ruin the lives of all around them?

Inspired by true events surrounding the family business of a meatpacking company that diverged into a hormone "factory" in Holland, this novel relates the research, development and marketing of a successful operation that gave the world important hormones such as insulin and later testosterone and the contraceptive pill. It's also the story of the men who were behind this meteoric rise to wealth and fame -- and how it affected their families and workers.

Twin brothers, Mordechai and Aaron De Paauw, inherited the family's meatpacking business and join forces with a brilliant German scientist, Rafael Levine, when they decide to create Farmacon -- a subsidiary laboratory dedicated to pharmaceutical products with potential for world wide distribution. The narrative from the point of view of the youngest twin, Mordechai -- the head of the company -- is told as he lies dying, the victim of a stroke that has left his body a shell but his mind still active.

Mordechai is a megalomaniac who wields his power with abandon and personal self-interest as he excuses his every heinous act with any type of justification. He's sexually reckless and immoral, faithless to his loyal wife and to his brother seeing only his immediate gratification. Impetuous and impatient, he treats his employees and Rafael as if they were serfs in his little kingdom. When Hitler's rise to power and subsequent war interferes with Mordechai's safety, he manipulates things so that he can retain his control while sacrificing nothing to hold on to his greed and desires. He's an awful man, without conscience or empathy, and cares little about the plight of the Jews who work for him or those who have helped him.

Will there be redemption for Mordechai on his deathbed? He's forced to watch from his hospital bed as his company is hit with scandal involving his only son. Powerless, unable to speak, and completely helpless, events finally spiral out of his control.

I really enjoyed this short but fascinating fiction that follows very closely the story of the twin brothers from Oss in Holland. I'd enthusiastically recommend it for book clubs and anyone interested in the history of hormone discovery during the years before World War II.

The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee

4.0 out of 5 stars
" is only by appreciating the seamier, grittier side of the Renaissance that the extent of its cultural achievements really becomes clear."

Ah, what I never knew about life in Italy during the explosion of art, architecture, poetry, and literature that became known as the "rebirth" or Renaissance. What a time that must have been with social unrest, religious fervor and persecution, as well as an alarming political scene with murder and money seemingly the driving force behind the masterpieces created by some of the most famous names in art history. I found this book absolutely fascinating and must confess extremely enlightening. I'm sure anyone who majored in the arts studied this material in college, but since I was focused on science, I actually never knew much about the lives of the people who created these beautiful works. Thus, while reading, I had to have the internet handy to look up names and make the connections to events and references described in this book.

I thought the book's premise and supporting evidence well presented and I learned something new on nearly every page. The author's exhaustive research is documented and cross referenced and I liked the writer's style. Although I recognized most of the names of the significant people, I was fascinated by the sordid details that definitely took away the glamour that I had imagined existed in that world. I see those works in a completely different way now.

I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Renaissance period and think it would make for a great resource for art history. I will keep my copy handy as I make future visits to the art galleries I love to frequent now that I know the real story behind the masterpieces.
Amazon Vine and NetGalley e-book ARC to review.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Overdose by Glen Apseloff

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Mayhem and mystery...

Dr. Emily Morrison is the director of a clinical research lab that is undertaking a controversial study of a drug that is both contraceptive and possible abortefacient. The Dean of the College of Medicine, and Emily's boss, is less than supportive and not very appreciative of the millions of dollars that Emily's drug trials bring in and has made some decisions about the future of her program that propel Emily to consider a radical change in her plans and work. Personal problems complicate Emily's life as well -- she has just left her unfaithful husband, a cardiovascular surgeon at the hospital connected to the university. When a letter bomb mailed to her office nearly kills her secretary, Janice, Dr. Morrison suddenly finds herself in even more danger after one of the women in the drug study dies after taking the first pill AND Emily herself becomes the target of a killer. Why is all this happening? Seems a lot of people have a reason to want Emily dead.

Too much? Yes indeed -- the perils of Emily Morrison and her amazing ability to outwit the hired killer and escape death at every turn requires an over-the-top amount of suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. What started out as an interesting thriller with great medical detail, increasingly became more incredulous as Emily puts herself in too many unbelievable scenarios. Of course she doesn't trust the good policeman, Lt. Michael Hammond, and refuses his offer of protection when she's threatened, and sets up her own trap to catch the bad guy. Needless to say, Emily is beyond wonderful in every way. Actually I never liked her character so really ended up not caring what happened to her. The other characters in the book were complete stereotypes and only in supportive roles to show what a superwoman Emily was and what she did over a period of a couple of days. Yeah, unreal. Medical doctor vs Navy SEAL. Who wins? Oh there's even more than that.

Would I read another of this author's books given how much I crave a good medical thriller? I don't know -- I really like the medical detail and the science stuff, so it's possible I might.

Thenk you to NetGalley and the publisher for the e-book to review.

Critical Condition by Richard Mabry

2.5 out 5 stars -- This is not really medical suspense but more a Christian-based mystery that happens to involve a doctor as one of the main characters (who also happens to be a preacher's daughter). If you don't mind the intense focus on religion, praying, contemplation and reflection of that type, then you might enjoy this book.

Dr. Shannon Frasier is a surgeon whose fiance died of a gunshot wound when she was a medical student, unable to save him. She has moved on somewhat but still has some psychological damage from the incident. Years later, another man is shot to death on her front lawn and again, she can't help him. When her sister, Megan, calls a short time later needing to escape an abusive boyfriend who is later found dead, Shannon's situation develops into a drama involving an old bank robbery. One of the partners seems to think that the man who died on Shannon's lawn said something to her about some hidden money so she might know where it can be found.

So, this is not a medical suspense novel about disease, drug companies run amok, crazy malpractice or any other topic usually found in the genre. The main character does go to work, and there are some details about the surgical procedures and medical aspects of her job, but not enough to sustain the interest of anyone who usually enjoys a novel that deals more with medically related chills. The focus is about a bank robbery and I never really felt any menace or suspense. There were no real thrills here though the author does try to ratchet up some tension. The characters were uninteresting and very ho hum and I just didn't really click with them. I doubt I'd read another book by this author, who is a medical doctor, as it didn't provide what I was looking for.

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

Hush by Anne Frasier

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Lunatic killer stalking unwed mothers and their newborn baby boys...

Claudia Reynolds survived the Madonna Killer though he killed her newborn son and has been relocated with a new identity in St. Sebastian, Canada, when she gets a call from Superintendent Abraham Sinclair of the Chicago Police Department. When he asks her to come because "it has started again," Claudia, now known as Ivy Dunlap, knows she must go back and help to catch the man who destroyed her life and killed so many young women and babies. Chief Homicide Detective Max Irving is less than thrilled when Ivy comes to town to aid in the investigation. Though she now has a degree in criminal psychology, since Max does not know her history with the killer, Max is not exactly welcoming and has some personal issues that make him not want to bother with Ivy. His adopted son, Ethan, is 16 and testing the limits of parental control. Max, a single father, has more than enough on his plate as the Madonna killer strikes again and again.

Formulaic to the last shot, this was a fast and entertaining read though there were few surprises but a lot of bloody murders. The psychopath, the typical mother-hater, is twisted in the familiar way and the reader can predict the arc and climax of the story line. The characters will all be familiar to any reader of this genre. Enjoyable diversion for an evening.

Thank you to NetGalley and Belfrey Press for the e-book ARC to review. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn

3.0 out of 5 stars Romance and intrigue in 1920s Damascus

Poppy Hammond (March) escapes her wedding with the help of a curate who drives her away to her father's house in Devon. Though she has a reputation of not finishing anything she starts, Poppy yearns for a passion and for adventure. After a few days spent hiding from the scandal that ensued from jilting the groom at the altar, Poppy tries to find the curate and thank him for his help. When she's unable to find him, and learns that he was using a false name, she becomes convinced he's in trouble and is determined to track him down. This unbelievable premise sets the tone for the rest of the story, the fatuous plot and dialog, and the character development.

Readers will find the setting, and some of the characters from a previous book, City of Jasmine, familiar as Poppy travels to Damascus with her lady's maid in search of Sebastian Fox. Danger and intrigue, peril and murder -- the sands of the desert hold secrets and perhaps a hidden treasure.

The best part of the novel is the historical detail and descriptions of the cities and areas that Poppy and Sebastian visit. It's all sort of over-the-top and I just had to suspend my disbelief and go along for the travelogue. I'll continue to read this author's books as they are easy and entertaining.

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