NetGalley Top Reviewer

NetGalley Top Reviewer
NetGalley Top Reviewer

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by MJ Rose

Here's a perfect example of my reality not meeting my expections with a highly anticipated read. I could NOT wait to get my hands on this book. Received approval for it, and then had to wait until the placeholder file was replaced with the e-book. Set aside a Friday night to devote to devouring it.  The cover is absolutely stunning and tantalizing. Then, I opened it and started reading.

3.0 out of 5 stars - "Destiny is a result of our passion, be that for money, power or love."

Set in Paris in the 1890s, this supernatural Gothic romantic drama centers on a character's obsession with "art, sensuality, and the occult." Sandrine Verlaine Salome, married to an American banker, flees the USA for Paris when her beloved father dies because he discovers that Sandrine's husband, a scoundrel of the worst kind, has ruined him. Sandrine seeks shelter with her grandmother, a well-known courtesan, but soon stirs up a malevolent spirit from their family's past -- the great La Lune -- a legendary witch who seeks to possess Sandrine and commandeer her life.

Rich with details of Belle Epoque Paris and the sights and sounds of that incredible historical period, the story evokes somewhat frightening sensations of mysterious and strong occult phenomenon that require a great suspension of likely reality in the events that happen to Sandrine. The changes in Sandrine and the effects of the possession are quite fantastic and a reader not prepared for the transformative nature from a personality and force beyond the grave may find it all a bit much. The novel, well researched, describes the strange and wild underground that flourished during that time. Sandrine both embraces and fears the spirit that claims her as she falls in love with an architect and reaches for her personal destiny. As La Lune inexorably takes control, Sandrine finds herself achieving success with her newly found passion for painting and fulfillment as a woman in love. Which will prove the stronger and prevail - the woman who is Sandrine or the spirit of La Lune?

I loved 3 of MJ Rose's previous books that featured character Jac L'Etoile and the perfumery business. I was so eager for this upcoming release that I could hardly wait to finally get the book downloaded to read. After only the first few pages, I was disappointed. Sad. I just didn't care for the character of Sandrine and I never really bought into the story or felt any suspense. Anyone who has read my blog or reviews knows that I don't care for a lot of romance and I definitely am not a fan of erotica.

Mostly annoyed, I kept reading -- hoping that the Rose magic would weave its spell and make me believe in the possibility of the paranormal and the idea of a soul waiting for just the right person to come along. That never happened and I listlessly limped through the pages taking several days to finish a book I could have read in a couple of hours. I would guess that fans of Rose's reincarnation themes will still find this compelling and will want to be sure to read it, but my recommendation is ho hum -- this is definitely not my cup of tea (or absinthe) and though glad to have the chance to get a copy of the book, I'd leave a caution that a reader be in the mood for this type of book. I tend to be unable to suspend disbelief and found myself mostly irritated by Sandrine and what all happened with her. I'll definitely read other books by this author in the future, and hope that my reaction was a temporary derailment from my enjoyment of this genre. 

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

3.5 out of 5 stars -- Set in Iceland, and the 5th in a series, this is the first one I read, completely out of order unfortunately. The series features a lawyer named Thóra Gudmundsdóttir who, aided by her live-in partner Matthew, is hired to find out who started a fire at a care facility for severely disabled young adults. The blaze resulted in the deaths of 5 people (4 patients and one security guard) and the convicted perpetrator, a young man with Down Syndrome who also lived there, was remanded to a Psychiatric Care Unit in lieu of prison. The person who is paying Thóra to investigate to see if Jakob is truly guilty, however, is another inmate at the PCU. What is his interest in this case and what secrets does he dangle to Thóra to get her involved in proving Jakob's innocence and finding the true arsonist/murderer?

In addition, there is a paranormal aspect in what initially seems to be an unrelated situation -- a haunting of a house near where a young woman was killed in a hit and run. How are these two cases connected -- or are they? And, in another twist, it seems that female residents who had lived in the care facility may have been raped -- more horrors wrapped up in another mystery.

This was a very complicated story involving many different people whose actions and motivations were hard to keep straight. I'd recommend reading it in as short of time as possible so you don't forget key points and characters as there is lot going on. The author withholds Thóra's "ah ha" moments at times, and the narrative moves slowly with lots of detail. The plight of the citizens of Iceland and the economic state of the nation is explored and the reader is confounded by the stigma of disability and how poorly they are cared for in Iceland.

Since I am not familiar with Thóra and her backstory, I really wanted to know more about her personal life. The main thing I noticed, however, was that she wasn't the typical damaged personality so common in crime/thriller fiction these days, but seemed a normal, mentally healthy woman, divorced with two children and a grandchild. I'd like to know more about her and I think it would have been better had I started with the first in the series and read to this point.

I am interested enough in Thóra that I will likely go seek out the previous books in this series. The setting and mood was very noir and interesting and I enjoyed it.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the e-book ARC to review.

NOTE: in this translation, the author uses Down's Syndrome to describe Jakob's disability instead of the more usual accepted label of Down Syndrome.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Underwater by Julia McDermott

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Candace Morgan, wealthy CEO of SlimZ, a company that makes shapewear, is living the dream -- she has a fabulous fiance and is about to reveal her latest development, SwimZ, in the fall shows. Unfortunately, there is a nightmare in her life and it's her brother, Monty. He's trying to extort her over a house she loaned him money to buy and renovate and is making her life miserable with his demands. Not only is Monty spoiled and lazy, he is a lying sociopath who will stop at nothing to get what he wants from his sister. Although Candace has been generous in the past, she's ready to cut him off. Monty gets more desperate to keep his secrets and obtain more money to support himself in the style he feels he deserves. Candace must stop Monty before he destroys her company, her reputation and his own wife and daughter.

This was an engaging read that kept my interest though I didn't really connect with any of the one-dimensional characters. The descriptions and details often read like an episode of the lives of the rich and famous. The dialog often didn't ring true, such as when fiance Rob uses the word "miscreant" several times to describe Monty. Candace is supposedly motivated to help her brother because of guilt, but that is never fully developed and she just ends up seeming a bit weak, instead of giving and generous, for all her business acumen. And definitely, I would never want to work for Candace, certainly too much of a micro-manager and extremely demanding! Regardless, the narrative zings along to a happily ever after conclusion despite some real tragedy that is fairly quickly glossed over. Fans of domestic drama and contemporary women's fiction would probably like this for a beach read, while traveling, or during commute.

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

A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin

4.0 out of 5 stars - Science fiction meets metaphysical in this entertaining thriller co-authored by one of the stars of X-Files. The first in a proposed series, I enjoyed it and will definitely read the next one when it is available.

Psychologist Caitlin O’Hara, MD, PhD, is a single mom to a son with hearing problems and a job that requires her to jet off to third world countries or war-torn nations on very short notice. She has a busy practice, but is called to treat Maanik, the daughter of a UN ambassador, when the teen starts exhibiting strange behavior after an assassination attempt on her father as he is negotiating with Pakistan and India over a perilous situation in Kashmir. Maanik is just the first teenager to experience strange visions and Caitlin visits Haiti and Iran to try to figure out what is going on. In addition, animals such as rats and birds also are acting strangely. Does it have something to do with an artifact discovered close to Antarctica? Caitlin enlists the help of her friend, UN interpreter and linguistic expert Ben as they desperately try to save Maanik and perhaps change events that will affect every human on the planet.

Fast-paced and suspenseful, the action builds as the complicated story unfolds. There is sort of an unfinished feeling at the end of this book so readers who enjoy the book will most likely be waiting for the next episode and the conclusion -- which could end up being amazing!

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Vines by Christopher Rice

4.0 out of 5 stars - Rage. Revenge. Vengeance.

This was the first of Christopher Rice's novels that I have read but it definitely won't be the last! I was hooked on the first page of this Southern Gothic horror thriller and the suspense continued to build throughout the narrative leading to a complicated and satisfying conclusion. I'll never look at gardens the same way again!

Caitlin Chaisson is the wealthy owner of the renovated mansion, Spring House, a former plantation once complete with cane fields and slave quarters that have now been replaced with sculpted gardens. Its had a rocky history and the blood previously shed there on the land cannot go unremembered. Caitlin is celebrating her birthday with a fabulous party when she discovers her husband cheating on her in the upstairs bathroom. Enraged and feeling the pang of betrayal because her best friend, Blake, had already warned her that her husband was unfaithful, Caitlin flees to the gazebo and cuts herself with a shard of glass -- spilling her blood onto the floorboards. This sets in motion a series of supernatural and monstrous events -- the vines and the bugs and the gruesome results bring the house's past to the present day. For who can control a rage unleashed? Along with other characters in the novel, Blake and Nova, the daughter of the house's caretaker, Willie, experience horrors that will never be believed as they try to explain what happened that night.

I think anyone who enjoys a fast paced horror story would like this book!

Thank you to NetGalley and  Amazon Publishingfor the e-book ARC to review.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lisa Unger Novellas

This is a novella, the first of three in what is to be the HOLLOWS series. The "whispers" are the voices of the dead, "low and musical, eternal...telling their stories to the sky." Eloise Montgomery starts hearing the sounds and experiencing visions after recovering from a tragic accident that killed her husband and oldest daughter. The visions, which she tries to ignore at first, are of girls in danger. Eloise, still in the throes of horrible grief as she attempts to console her younger daughter who also survived, is initially not willing to act on what she perceives. She denies her inner psychic, but eventually the things she sees lead her to help those girls. Short and somewhat overwrought, this introduction sets the stage for what apparently will be two other novellas featuring Eloise. It was entertaining and a quick read and I intend to go read the second one, THE BURNING GIRL, immediately.
This sequel, the second in a planned trilogy of novellas originally titled the HOLLOWS, was a tremendous disappointment. I read it immediately after finishing THE WHISPERS and thought the story would continue as the reader learned more about Eloise Montgomery and her "gift" of psychic visions of girls in distress. This short piece, however, starts TEN YEARS later. Eloise is established as a working psychic, teamed up with now private investigator Ray Muldane (he was a cop in the first novella) and they work together to solve cases when possible. I use the word cases though most of the narrative involves only Eloise's feelings about having her visions and how hard it is for her, draining her dry and making her look old and haggard. We're introduced to an interesting character, THE BURNING GIRL, but that plot thread goes nowhere by the end. It was all very unsatisfying and now I doubt I even want to bother with the third in the series to see if there's any resolution and to find out who that girl is and what happened.

Thank you to NetGalley for both of these e-book ARCs to review

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Was so eager to read this -- interesting premise but it did not live up to my expectations. The book is mainly about the afterlife and it did not keep my interest though I gamely read on until halfway through. It's not the book for me and I'm not going to finish it. I hope Li Lan gets her answers and gets rid of Lim Tian Ching! Too slow moving, too much description, and I really don't care for dream states and spiritual journeys in alternate reality. I'm sure it is tremendously appealing to anyone interested in those topics.

Library book.

Secrets of the Cancer-Slaying Superman by Benjamin Rubenstein

I accepted this book for review from the author and found it fast-paced and full of teen appeal. As a nurse and a high school librarian, I am always looking for high-interest nonfiction. I'm eager to hear what one of my 16-year-old male students has to say about it. The book was easy for me to understand because I am a registered nurse so I am curious as to how he and other teens will react to the clinical details and medical terminology. Some have weaker stomachs for that sort of thing than others!

I think the ability to cope and the style of coping is what makes or breaks a person. The author, diagnosed at age 16 with Ewing's Sarcoma, survived cancer, not once, but twice. Through the diagnostic process, the chemo and the radiation treatments, he found his way and helped himself through the grueling years by using the vision of the cancer slaying Superman and by distancing himself from the "sick kids." Amazingly, the second cancer didn't alter his method of facing everything he went through. What a journey to survival, not to be minimized.

Teens looking for a short and poignant memoir of a personal fight against cancer will enjoy this glimpse into the world of hospitals and sickness as seen through one boy's eyes.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni

4.0 out of 5 stars -- Fast-paced crime/legal drama kept me hooked.

I enjoyed this story of Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite who is searching for answers about her sister, Sarah, who disappeared 20 years prior. When Sarah's body is finally discovered in Washington State's Cascade mountains near Tracy's hometown, she knows that the man who was convicted in Sarah's case might not be the one responsible for her murder. She wants to reopen the investigation into the case and hires an old friend, now a lawyer, to look into the legal situation and perhaps get a new trial. There are people in town, however, who want the truth to stay buried and who try to prevent secrets from coming to light.

I could not put this book down once I started. I liked the characters and the setting and would recommend this to any fan of this genre. Pure entertainment! I'll read more titles by this author.

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

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

3.0 out of 5 stars -- A dysfunctional family and an old country house with a couple of bitter ghosts.

I was disappointed in this slow moving narrative with multiple points of view and shifts back and forth in time. Confusing due to a lack of information and frustrating because the characters were all so unlikeable. It all comes together with the appropriate revelations but the payoff wasn't worth it to me. Nothing scary, didn't feel the "gothic", and must have missed the "mystery" in the story. The reader is introduced to the family and the ghosts in turn and each gives a bit of history in his/her voice in alternating chapters in a somewhat disjointed fashion. Just not the book for me though I had been looking forward to Oliver's adult fiction debut.

Nov 08, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

Living Proof by Kira Peikoff

4.0 out of 5 stars -- I love a fast-paced medical thriller with solid science and one that explores controversial subjects. In this case, the subject is embryonic stem cell research and religion.

Set in a not-too-distant future, 2027, the lines between church and state have dissolved making it a crime to destroy an embryo. A special police agency has been set up to track down and prosecute anyone in violation. The US Department of Embryo Preservation (USDEP) is vigilant and inspects all fertility clinics to monitor the doctors and the status of all embryos. In addition, any pregnant woman who so much as has a sip of champagne or skips a prenatal appointment, is fined heavily. It is the ultimate in pro-life protection mandated by law that is not hard to see coming to pass in our own present.

Dr. Arianna Drake, OBGYN fertility specialist, is trying to circumvent the system -- she has a personal reason -- rapidly advancing Multiple Sclerosis. She manipulates the numbers at her fertility clinic and is secretly diverting eggs to a private hidden lab where some scientists are working on the outlawed embryonic stem cell research in order to halt the progress of her disease. For, unlike adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells can be made to differentiate into ANY type of cell in the human body. The USDEP is suspicious of Arianna and sends an investigator undercover to gain her trust and expose her crimes. Trent Rowe is completely righteous and totally loyal to the strong christian values with which he was raised. Can he trick Ariana into revealing her illegal activities and put her in prison where she belongs?

This novel explores the power of religion and the debate surrounding embryonic stem cell research and the pro-life movement. I would suspect that anyone who has strong convictions regarding these topics would have a reaction to the premise and resolution in this novel. Definitely a hot button topic of a sensitive nature that tends to polarize people and would provide for some great discussion.

Library book

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nine Years Gone by Chris Culver

3.0 out of 5 stars -- When the past you thought you'd safely hidden comes back to ruin your present...

Steve Hale is thoroughly enjoying his life with newly pregnant wife Katherine and his niece. Everything looks promising with his little family and career as a novelist when he gets a message from someone he should not be hearing from -- an old girlfriend, Tess. The thing is, Steve, his uncle, and his friends helped this girl out of a serious family problem 9 years ago -- they set up her wealthy stepfather, Dominique Girard, to take the blame for her "murder." Her reappearance could ruin everything if people find out she is still alive. But, in fact, Tess does intend to cause trouble -- in the worst way. She feels that Steve ruined her life and she wants it all back.

Although an intriguing premise, this suspense thriller operated on many implausible levels that defied belief. There were too many co-incidences and improbable behaviors and reactions considering the situation, and it finally all basically annoyed, rather than interested, me. I really didn't grow to like any of the characters who were one-dimensional and had nothing that engaged my empathy or concern. There was no moment when I didn't anticipate the actions of Steve despite that "go it alone against the arch psycho Tess" action that occurred. I'm not sure but I feel the author was trying to come up with some kind of convincing anti-hero in Steve and justifying what he and his cohort had done to "save" Tess earlier. I'm not even sure that Tess was reliable enough that I believe her account of what her stepfather actually did or didn't do. She LIES. It was all a muddle and I was just glad to get to the end.

This is the first book by this author that I have read. I might try another, but there were so many instances and small things in the book that he didn't portray accurately that I am not sure. Much of the narrative was "telling" and would go off on a tangent that wasn't relevant to anything and added none of the "local flavor" to the story. Enjoyable enough, but nothing I'd urge on another mystery thriller fan.

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

4.0 out of 5 stars - Crime drama set in Denmark

Note: this is part of the Louise Rick series and is not the first book. I had not read any of the others and the author is new to me. It works fine as a stand alone.

Detective Louise Rick is just starting her new job as head of the newly created Missing Persons Unit when she is called to a scene involving the discovery of a dead girl found in the woods. The problem is that no one has reported this victim missing. When identification procedures reveal that the girl - Lismette - "died" over 30 years ago, and that a death certificate for her was submitted at that time, Louise becomes involved in an investigation that brings her back to her hometown and the people she knew back then and thought she had escaped from. Bad memories.

In addition to tracking this missing girl back to a sanitarium for the mentally handicapped, closed years ago, Louise finds that there was also a twin sister who may also still be alive. She interviews those employees who worked there years ago as well as their relatives trying to find out what happened to these twins who had been put in the home as toddlers and supposedly had died. The revelations are shocking even as  any reader familiar with this genre anticipates and can predict where it is going.

I liked the writing style, it was engaging and fast-paced. Without knowing the history and back-story of the main character, Louise Rick, I did feel a bit lost at times when reading about Louise's personal life. I plan to seek out the other books in the series that have been translated to see what I might have missed. I really like to read books in series order, and I'm not sure even what number in the series this one is, but I believe there are two other titles available in English. Why can't publishers put numbers on the books to help out readers with this? I don't know but snippets about her "son", her best friend, her old boyfriend, her family and fortunately it wasn't that relevant to the action and forward movement of the plot, so that was just a minor annoyance. I'd read another. I liked the setting and the crime investigation and mystery were interesting.

Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the e-book ARC to review.

The Marriage Game by Alison Weir

3.0 out of 5 stars -- Absolute and sovereign mistress of her people...

History tells us many facts about Elizabeth I so the reader is aware from the start that the Queen of England (1558 to 1603) ascended the throne at age 25 and died at age 69 having never married. Throughout her reign, her Privy Council and closest advisers, varied relatives, and friends urged her to marry and she steadfastly prevaricated, ultimately refused their counsel and presented herself as "The Virgin Queen." Though long the subject of debate regarding Elizabeth I being an actual virgin, it would seem that she believed that of herself if only in the most technical sense of the definition with rumor and speculation from several sources indicating that she had engaged in intimate relations just short of actual intercourse with Robert Dudley. The entirety of this novel focuses on that relationship and Elizabeth I entertaining proposals of marriage from the crowned heads and royalty of other countries arranged through her Privy Council. Defying convention, she ultimately refuses to share her throne while trying to preserve alliances and foster good relationships with Spain and France while fighting off the claims of Mary, Queen of Scots and her supporters.

I suppose that, although I've never been an Elizabeth I fan, I've always been fascinated by the Tudors. Unfortunately, this book does not present her in a favorable light. She is manipulative, capricious, and cruel, especially in her treatment of Lord Robert Dudley (her Robin) who gives up everything for her and to whom she lies again and again rewarding his loyalty and love with money, titles, and properties while continually turning down his suit of marriage. When people refuse to do what she wants, she punishes them. Jealous, mercurial, and vain -- she is a controlling mistress and an imperious Queen though she insists she loves her people more than any monarch ever has. Just not her man. Not enough to release him from a life of bending to her will. Though I know she presided over a time of relative peace and growth in her country, stopped the religious persecution after the bloody reign of her sister, Queen Mary, and forwarded the likes of William Shakespeare (they don't call it the Elizabethan Age for nothing), I am unsympathetic to her self-delusions because of the way she treated others who displeased her, did not meet her expectations, or fulfill her emotional needs. There is also the question of exactly why Elizabeth I seemed to be almost fearful of marital relations and childbearing and a hint of past sexual abuse though it is not substantiated.

I had to force myself to finish this book as the focus on the marriage games wore thin quickly. I find I much prefer reading a biography to historical fiction about such a well known figure. None can know the truth about things that were said to another in total privacy and speculation is only that. Primary source material was included here and it's obvious the author has done meticulous research on Elizabeth I, but this novel did not provide me with any new insight or further understanding of the true motivations behind her choice to live as she did, I would guess this book would appeal to those who like romance and want MORE details about the life of this unusual Queen.

Amazon Vine ARC.