Thursday, July 23, 2015

Newport (Book Review)

Please join Jill Morrow, author of Newport, as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours:
Publication: Trade Paperback, William Morrow, July 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 1920s Newport, Rhode Island

Plot: When Adrian de la Noye, a prestigious Boston attorney, is summoned to Newport to draft a new will for a wealthy client he is surprised to learn the elderly but very affluent Bennett Chapman is engaged to a lovely woman half his age, considered a fortune hunter by his adult children. Chapman’s children believe the fiancée, Catherine Walsh, and her niece Amy, are charlatans because they have conducted seances in which Chapman’s deceased wife allegedly appeared and commanded Chapman to marry Catherine. As if this did not present a dilemma for a legal professional, Adrian recognizes Catherine instantly as Cassie Walsh, daughter of his family’s cook, from his long ago past. Adrian and his young legal associate, Jim, who falls hard for the elfin Amy, are determined to learn the secrets behind the Walsh women’s appearance and mysterious channeling of the deceased Mrs. Chapman, although it becomes clear to the reader that Adrian has some painful secrets of his own he would prefer to keep hidden...

Audience: Fans of historical fiction about the 1920s.  This also reminded me of the movie, Magic in the Moonlight, which I recommend.

What I liked: This was a fun and fast paced read, set in the very romantic setting of a glamorous Newport mansion, although it is set mostly away from the glitzy parties of the rich and famous. I enjoyed the mixture of the 1920s story (a period I find very intriguing) with secret upon secret: mysterious séances; dastardly adult children trying to spoil their father’s alleged happiness with a second wife; an idealistic young lawyer learning his hero has feet of clay; and the flashbacks to young love. There was even an attractive and sensible character named Constance (a name usually held by the villainess)!  I also liked the character of the judge who appears late in the story.  The author left the ending open for a sequel.

What I disliked: There was a big reveal and it was surprising – Cassie’s past and elements of her friendship with Adrian – but it was based on a premise so completely unconvincing that it weakened the end of the book for me (see spoiler below). Because I couldn’t understand Cassie’s motivation, I found it hard to like her, and I did not approve of Adrian’s keeping secrets from his client that affected his representation. Also, it wasn’t plausible that Adrian could have attended Andover and Harvard, and subsequently changed his name while living in and having a successful career in Boston. As I can tell you, I can barely walk down the street in Boston without seeing a Harvard classmate and if I changed my name, those classmates would start asking why and would not allow me to go on practicing law unchallenged.  I am sure it was just the same a hundred years ago!  Long before the Internet there were gossipy friends and neighbors so if you are going to change your name, find a small town far from the East Coast and all your fellow alumni (wait, isn’t that was the Unabomber did?). Although what seemed like holes in the plot left me a little disgruntled when I finished reading, I enjoyed the book and, after all, isn't the best compliment to an author when you are still ruminating over the twists and turns several days later?
Source: I received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review. Please visit other stops on the tour and connect with the author on Facebook and Twitter.
Tuesday, July 7th: BookNAround
Wednesday, July 8th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, July 10th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, July 13th: The many thoughts of a reader
Tuesday, July 14th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, July 15th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, July 16th: Walking With Nora
Friday, July 17th: View from the Birdhouse
Saturday, July 18th: Luxury Reading
Monday, July 20th: The Book Binder’s Daughter
Tuesday, July 21st: Raven Haired Girl
Wednesday, July 22nd: Charmingly Modern
Thursday, July 23rd: FictionZeal
Monday, July 27th: A Book Geek
Spoiler: I can understand a book (and have read several) where the heroine seeks revenge on her rapist or assailant but I have a hard time understanding plotting or participating in an undertaking to marry his father and to subject a child to the knowledge that she was fathered by such a vile person (probably a hard secret to keep indefinitely even if he does not recognize you). Perhaps it would have been better just to demand financial support (albeit many years before DNA testing)? And how did the deceased mother know her son was a rapist? Are we supposed to believe that there are no secrets on the other side of the veil? I suppose that is as likely as the communication from beyond the grave in the first place!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Olivay (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Olivay
Author: Deborah Reed
Publication: Lake Union Publishing, July 2015, available in trade paper and eBook
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Olivay has not recovered from the tragic death of her husband a year ago, but one night she picks up a stranger and brings him home. Unfortunately, in the morning, her new acquaintance Henry doesn’t want to leave. Olivay is regretting the impulse that led her to spend the night with him when there is an explosion outside. Suddenly, all of Los Angeles is in chaos and Olivay herself is covered with broken glass. Henry, the mysterious stranger, cares for her tenderly, but bit by bit reveals information about himself, including that he has been stalking Olivay for some time. Confused and injured, Olivay retains enough of her wits to catch Henry in lie upon lie, and she begins to wonder exactly who is this man?

Audience: Fans of literary suspense

What I liked: This is an unusual but extremely readable book. The author does a good job of conveying Olivay’s misery at the loss of her husband – particularly, the fact that he was killed at a time when they had been quarreling. Henry is transformed from a slightly overeager one night stand to someone who begins to seem very dangerous indeed. I am afraid it is hard not to be slightly critical of someone who brings a total stranger into her home, but although I had certain suspicions I wasn’t totally sure what was going to happen, and I appreciated the element of suspense.

What I disliked: I had a hard time deciding if I liked or disliked this book. In some ways, it left me cold because both Olivay and Henry were so peculiar and unappealing but in others I really admired the creativity of the author.
Source: I received this book in return for an honest review.  Please join Deborah Reed as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours
The publisher has provided a copy of Olivay as a giveaway – please leave a comment and I will pick a winner at the end of the tour.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Tide Watchers (Book Review)

Title: The Tide Watchers
Author: Lisa Chaplin
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, June 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Winter 1803: one woman stands between Napoleon and the fall of Great Britain. Daughter of an English baronet who just happens to be a spymaster, Lisbeth eloped with a young Frenchmen who seemed charming until they were married. When her husband abandons her, she takes a menial job in a tavern as a barmaid, determined to somehow reclaim the infant son he has taken from her.

A seasoned spy known as Tidewatcher, Duncan apprenticed under Lisbeth's father and pledged to keep his mentor's pretty daughter safe—a promise complicated by Napoleon Bonaparte. The British believe he is planning an attack, and Duncan is sent to search for signs of invasion on the French coast—where he draws dangerously close to adventurous and unpredictable Lisbeth.

A sensational new invention may shift the tide of a French victory. A brilliant and eccentric American inventor named Robert Fulton has devised a deadly weapon that can decimate an enemy's fleet. To protect English ships, Tidewatcher must gain control of Fulton's invention and cross enemy lines . . . but he cannot do it alone. Left with no other options, Duncan enlists Lisbeth's help in outwitting the American inventor and uncovering Bonaparte's secret plans – in return, he will help her take her son back to England.

Going undercover for the handsome and duty-bound spy, Lisbeth risks her freedom and her life as she navigates double agents and submarine warfare to outwit the greatest military tactician in history. The only question is . . . . who can she trust?

Purchase Links

Audience: Fans of historical fiction, readers who enjoy books by Lauren Willig and Tasha Alexander

What I liked: This is a fast paced adventure combining several elements I enjoy: espionage, complicated family relationships, and women contributing to war efforts. Lisbeth is quick-witted and willing to help defeat Bonaparte although her priority always remains reclaiming her child. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, so I found this novel and its unusual setting entertaining. By far the most interesting aspect of the book was finding Robert Fulton in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars – how had I never known that, despite being born in Pennsylvania, by 1797 he was in Paris, an 18th century scientific center, where he began to design torpedoes and submarines.

What I disliked: I did not find the plot very convincing: I didn’t understand why Lisbeth’s husband courted her in the first place and why he lost interest so quickly; why her father and brothers allowed her to suffer with a known villain, far from home. Duncan’s complicated heritage was confusing, and it seemed unlikely someone would marry his chambermaid mother without any blood connection, just to secure an heir to torment. There seemed to be far too many plot elements floating around without proper setup or resolution, although I suppose the author is already planning other books in the series.
Please join Lisa Chaplin as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours. I received this book in return for an honest review.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Books to Bring to the Beach: Recommendations from Boston

Just in time for a three-day weekend, here are ten books to bring to the beach: eight I just read, one I began tonight, and an old favorite:

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics / Daniel Brown – this is more than a dramatic sports story about the rowing team from the University of Washington and its quest to win Olympic gold. It is about a group of young men, and one in particular, Joe Rantz, who struggle during the Depression yet make it to college where they become part of a team that brings excitement and pride to the whole community, and eventually the nation. I found the abandonment of Joe by his father very upsetting and admired how he overcame the sense of personal rejection to become a good husband and father. This was a great book group choice, and we especially liked the contrasting sections that moved from the U.S. to the preparations for the Games in Germany. Thanks to Tricia for lending me her copy (which my father is now reading).
Flight of the Sparrow / Amy Belding Brown - When Mary Rowlandson is captured by the Indians from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1676, family and friends are killed before her eyes and she does not expect to survive. But to her surprise, life as a slave with the Indians, although harsh, offers more beauty and freedom than her life with a sexist and narrow-minded minister in her Puritan community. Will she ever be allowed to return to her home? And does she really want to? Based on a true story, this beautifully written historical novel was hard to put down.

Losing Faith / Adam Mitzner - Everyone likes a good legal thriller and I had not come across many lately.   Here, Aaron Littman is the chairman of a large and prestigious law firm, with a seemingly perfect life and large apartment in NYC, when he is asked to represent a notorious criminal, Nikolai Garkov. This would be bad businesses for a white collar firm but Aaron can’t say no when Garkov blackmails him about an affair he had with a federal judge. This was an enjoyable read although I had mixed feelings about the ending.  There were several descriptions of downtrodden associates that rang true.
Now You See Me / S. J. Bolton - This is the first book in a series about Lacey Flint, a young detective constable in present-day London, who is catapulted into a Jack the Ripper copy-cat case when a brutally-stabbed woman dies in her arms. As the case develops, Lacey realizes she is being targeted due to a part of her past she would rather forget. At times violent, this is a compelling debut about a sarcastic and intriguing heroine. I also enjoyed the well-depicted characters she works with, stayed up until 4 am to finish.

The Precious One / Marisa de los Santos – As teens, Taisy and her brother were rejected by their father in favor of his second family but years later when curmudgeonly Wilson suffers a heart attack, she is summoned to his side. To her surprise, she develops a friendship with her much younger half-sister Willow who is at first very hostile. Less surprising to the reader is Taisy’s desire to reconnect with the boyfriend she never got over, conveniently back in the neighborhood. Although this sounds like a romance, it is more than that due to the author’s lyrical writing about relationships and about how families work, at their best and worst.
Red Sparrow / Jason Matthews – I loved this intricately-woven espionage thriller written by a former CIA agent and set in present day Russia. The hero is a young CIA operative, Nathaniel Nash, stationed in Moscow when the story begins. His opposite number is a beautiful Russian spy, trained as a “sparrow” to use sex to vanquish her victims. Although this book has some unbelievably violent scenes, it is also full of humor, particularly when Nate and Dominika, both very ambitious, begin a stilted friendship in which each is trying to “turn” the other. Nate’s two CIA station bosses are also well depicted and appealing characters, experienced spies who mentor Nate and try to channel his impetuous behavior. Luckily for me, the sequel, Palace of Treason, came out a week after I listened to Red Sparrow on audio, and it was just as good or better and even more cleverly plotted.

Saint Anything / Sarah Dessen – Fans of YA will rejoice that Dessen has her groove back after a few disappointing recent titles. Sydney is a high school teen who has been in the shadow of her bad-boy brother, now in jail. Switching schools to avoid notoriety, Sydney makes loyal new friends, Layla (so obsessed by French fries that I spent the entire book hungry) and her brother Mac. Alone of her family, Sydney feels guilt over her brother’s transgressions, and as Mac helps her cope with these feelings her growing attraction to him jeopardizes her friendship with Layla.
The Tide Watchers / Lisa Chaplin – A debut historical novel from an Australian author about a young woman who risks her life as a spy to help stop Napoleon’s invasion of Great Britain in the winter of 1803. Though the daughter of an English baronet, Lisbeth defied convention by eloping to France and lived to regret it, forced to work in a local tavern after her husband abandons her.   Duncan is a seasoned agent known by his operatives as Tidewatcher.  He apprenticed under Lisbeth’s father and has pledged to watch over his mentor’s daughter while he searches the Channel region for evidence that Bonaparte has built a fleet to invade Britain. Instead, unpredictable Lisbeth gets caught up in his espionage, taking a key part and challenging his lifelong habit of detachment. I just began this book tonight but it has all the elements of adventure and romance I enjoy.

Venetia / Georgette Heyer – You love Jane Austen but have never tried Heyer? Well, it’s time and why not start with one of her best! Due to a reclusive father, Venetia has never left her native Yorkshire and now runs the family estate while one brother is in the military and another is more interested in books than people. When the rakish Lord Damerel encounters Venetia blackberrying and steals a kiss, they begin an odd friendship. Venetia is not bowled over by his saturnine good looks but by his sense of humor and his ability to banter easily with her. But the course of true love does not run smooth: Damerel knows he is not good enough for Venetia and might destroy her life, so preemptively rejects her. It is up to Venetia to fight for what she wants using only the tools a proper 19th century young lady has at her disposal.
Wolf Hall / Hilary Mantel – Reading this historical novel about Henry VIII and his advisor, Thomas Cromwell, is not for the faint of heart: it is long and complex, and even for a 16th century major like me it was sometimes hard to keep the characters straight (try this helpful chart from Vanity Fair). However, this was easily the best book I read in the first half of 2015 although I usually read 5 or 6 books in the time this took. I was mesmerized by Mantel’s depiction of Cromwell and her ability to convince me that his allegiance to Cardinal Wolsey shaped his life and character. Moreover, she challenged my impressions of other previously beloved individuals at Henry’s court, such as Thomas More and the Duke of Suffolk. I did find irritating her use of the present tense and the references to Cromwell by pronoun instead of name – pretentious. Still, well worth reading for those who enjoy historical fiction.

Still looking? Check out my recent reviews for other summer reads or try my Downton Abbey suggestions.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Second Life (Book Review)

Title: Second Life
Author: S. J. Watson
Publication: Harper Collins hardcover, June 2015
Genre: Suspense
Setting: London and Paris
Plot: From the New York Times bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep, a new psychological thriller about a woman with a secret identity that threatens to destroy her.  How well can you really know another person? How far would you go to find the truth about someone you love?

When Julia learns that her sister has been violently murdered, she must uncover why. But Julia's quest quickly evolves into an alluring exploration of own darkest sensual desires. Becoming involved with a dangerous stranger online, she's losing herself . . . losing control . . . perhaps losing everything. Her search for answers will jeopardize her marriage, her family, and her life.

This is a tense and unrelenting novel that explores the hidden lives led by people with secrets; and the dark places in which they can find themselves. Second Life is a nerve-racking work of suspense that is uncomfortable to read.

Audience: Fans of dark suspense. 

My thoughts: This was a fast but very disturbing read. I didn’t exactly enjoy Before I Go to Sleep but thought it was fairly well done amnesia story. This book is very different. First of all, it is unbelievably melodramatic and written in the present tense, which I find pretentious (I eventually forgave Hilary Mantel). The plot was not convincing (in fact, it was completely ridiculous) and I became quite tired of reading about heroine Julia’s self-destructive behavior which begins when she decides to investigate her sister’s murder (or at least that is how she justifies her obsessive behavior to herself – it is soon apparent she is bored with her life and yearns for the artsy life she led in Berlin with her first serious boyfriend, Marcus). However, from this point, the book just provided one cliché after another: illicit and violent sex, drugs, alcohol, mysterious muggings, online romance, and secrets from the only people who love her.  

Julia does nothing to comfort her son (actually her nephew but she and her husband adopted him) for the loss of his biological mother except cause him more stress. In terms of characters, I did not like any of them (this doesn’t always prevent me from enjoying a book but it was an obstacle here). I did guess wrong about who had fathered Connor but most of the plot developments were extremely predictable. And yet ... it was genuinely chilling at times. There were several moments when I shivered and was glad I wouldn’t meet any of these characters in a dark alley.
Source: I received this book from TLC Book Tours but all thoughts and opinions are my own.  To read other reviews, click here.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ruthless (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Ruthless
Author: John Rector
Publication: Thomas and Mercer, Trade Paperback, June 2015
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Nick White is down on his luck, and at the end of a failed marriage. He is drowning his sorrows in a local bar when an attractive woman mistakes him for someone else. “You’re early,” she says, and he plays along as a joke. Before she leaves, she hands Nick an envelope, which turns out to be full of cash and a picture of young woman she wants him to dispose of. Realizing too late that her mistake might not be funny, Nick hurries after her but it is too late: she is gone. And then he sees a ruthless stranger who looks like the paid assassin Nick was mistaken for and this guy looks as if he’s guessed Nick got his money and assignment. As my law professor used to say, “Who’s not happy about that?”

Nick is faced with a tough decision: to go to the police, who might not believe him but would almost certainly confiscate the money, or do nothing which might result in another assassin being hired. He chooses another option – he goes to warn the proposed victim, Abigail Pierce. After her initial shock, Abigail turns to Nick for help, and he is drawn into a conspiracy surrounding her birth that becomes more dangerous. His only hope for survival is to get out of town unless he can figure out the truth behind the attempts on his and Abigail’s lives.

Audience: Fans of noir suspense

What I liked: Rector has a definite gift for storytelling. There were numerous twists and turns that I could not predict, and while Nick was not the kind of hero with whom one identifies he engendered a certain amount of sympathy for his good intentions.  I had not come across Rector before but he has written several other books: The Grove, The Cold Kiss, Already Gone, and Out of the Black.   Ruthless reminded me a lot of one I reviewed several months ago, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart.  I think it's an entertaining read and I have a copy to give away - leave a message if you are interested, and I will pick a winner.

What I disliked: This type of suspense does not include enough character development for me but that didn’t prevent me from reading it at one sitting.
Source: I received this book from TLC Book Tours but all thoughts and opinions are my own.  Here are the other stops on the tour:

Monday, June 1st: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, June 2nd: She Treads Softly
Wednesday, June 3rd: 5 Minutes for Books
Friday, June 5th: Vic’s Media Room
Monday, June 8th: You Can Read Me Anything
Tuesday, June 9th: The Bookish Universe
Wednesday, June 10th: Built By Story
Thursday, June 11th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, June 12th: Books a la Mode – guest post
Monday, June 15th: Bell, Book & Candle
Wednesday, June 17th: Life is Story
Monday, June 22nd: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Tuesday, June 23rd: Reading Reality
Wednesday, June 24th: Fictionophile
Thursday, June 25th: Mom in Love with Fiction
TBD: The Bookish Universe
TBD: Books a la Mode

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Mapmaker's Children (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: The Mapmaker’s Children
Author: Sarah McCoy
Publication: Crown Publishers, hardcover, May 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 19th century and 21st century United States
Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble
Plot: When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.

Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.

Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

Audience: Fans of historical fiction; those interested in the Civil War and/or strong heroines

What I liked: The Mapmaker’s Children was one of my favorite books of 2015 and should be included on your summer reading or future book group list. I was fascinated by the description when I first read about it, months before it came out, and I immediately asked if I could participate on the blog tour. I particularly enjoy books that move from the present to the past, especially when written by a skillful author such as this one, and which feature a strong heroine. McCoy moves effortlessly from prevent day West Virginia where Eden, a troubled woman, is trying to make a new start in a quirky and appealing community, to one of the most troubled times imaginable, and a heroine who moves from New York to West Virginia to Massachusetts to California in a time where most women stayed within a few miles of where they were born. Her description of John Brown’s surviving family and how they coped with the notoriety that was his legacy to them kept me reading late into the night. I loved the character of his daughter, Sarah – her ingenuity and courage and dedication to her father’s dream. I almost resented whenever we left her story for Eden’s modern-day problems and unreasonable quarrels. Those interested in the Underground Railroad will also be interested in Sarah’s clever way of disguising maps to freedom.

Author Information: I was delighted to see that Sarah McCoy was going to be in Massachusetts on her tour for The Mapmaker’s Children and caught up with her at the Brookline Booksmith in May when she appeared with Jenna Blum (a writer whose work I look forward to exploring). It was so much fun to hear how her upbringing in the South has informed her love of history and her ability to convincingly evoke a Civil War setting and heroine. In common with other readers, I loved the characters of the Hill family, especially Freddy Hill, who is a perfect combination of handsome hero and loyal friend. As little is actually known about Sarah Brown, McCoy walks a careful line between factual information (such as her artistic talent and the time spent being educated with the Alcotts in Concord) and the fictional information necessary to craft a novel. I yearned for a happy ending that would not have been supported by what is known about Sarah.  For more information on author Sarah, please visit her website.
Because I am usually more interested in the English Civil War than the American Civil War, I did not know much about John Brown (except the doleful song) and surprised Sarah by asking how he became so associated with the Harper’s Ferry plot when he was from New York (I am still astonished that he would bring his family down from NY for the proposed raid, putting them in grave danger, but I suppose it is not so different from those who picnicked while watching the battle at Bull Run). Hearing about her research was fascinating. In turn, she was pleased to hear that I and others in the audience immediately started reading more about John Brown after we finished reading, and she told us that is a great compliment to the author to know she has inspired that much interest in the period.

Giveaway: Thanks to the generosity of TLC Book Tours and the publisher, I have a copy to give away.  US and Canada only, please.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Source: I received this book from TLC Book Tours but all thoughts and opinions are my own.  You can visit other stops on the tour by clicking here.  I bought an earlier book, The Baker's Daughter, at the event and look forward to reporting on that soon.