Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lie to Me (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Lie to Me
Author: J.T. Ellison
Publication: Mira Books, trade paperback, 2017
Genre: Suspense
Giveaway: I have one copy to give away – if you loved Gone Girl, you will certainly enjoy this, so leave a comment and I will pick a winner in October.

Description: They built a life on lies. 

Sutton and Ethan Montclair’s idyllic life is not as it appears. They seem made for each other, but the truth is ugly. Consumed by professional and personal betrayals and financial woes, the two both love and hate each other. As tensions mount, Sutton disappears, leaving behind a note saying not to look for her.

Ethan finds himself the target of vicious gossip as friends, family and the media speculate on what really happened to Sutton Montclair. As the police investigate, the lies the couple have been spinning for years quickly unravel. Is Ethan a killer? Is he being set up? Did Sutton hate him enough to kill the child she never wanted and then herself? The path to the answers is full of twists that will leave the reader breathless.

Audience: Fans of novels of psychological suspense

My Impressions: This break out novel was a fast-paced read with lots of surprises and I quite enjoyed it.  The book is told from several different points of view, beginning with Ethan, the slightly narcissistic husband, who wakes up to find his wife missing and becomes the chief suspect behind her disappearance.  Later, we get his wife's perspective on their relationship.  Who is lying?  Is everyone lying?   Will the detective see past the distractions to find the truth?  Although very derivative of Gone Girl (it's not the first and won't be the last) and full of unlikable characters, it was sufficiently unpredictable to hold my interest and, in fact, I stayed up until 2 am to finish it.  I will certainly investigate Ellison’s other books.

About the Author: New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J.T. Ellison is best known for a series starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and also writes the international thriller series “A Brit in the FBI” with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the Emmy Award-winning show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband.
Source: Thank you to TLC Book Tours and to Mira Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.   Please visit other stops on the tour below:

Tuesday, August 29th: Jathan & Heather – guest post, “On a Good Marriage”
Tuesday, September 5th: Clues and Reviews blog and Instagram
Tuesday, September 5th: Books & Bindings
Wednesday, September 6th: Bewitched Bookworms
Thursday, September 7th: Why Girls are Weird
Friday, September 8th: Novel Gossip and Instagram
Monday, September 11th: That’s What She Read
Monday, September 11th: Tome Tender
Tuesday, September 12th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy
Wednesday, September 13th: Buried Under Books
Friday, September 15th: Mama Reads
Monday, September 18th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, September 19th: Moonlight Rendezvous
Wednesday, September 20th: Jathan & Heather
Wednesday, September 20th: BookBub Blog – 12 of the Best Psychological Thrillers Coming This Fall
Friday, September 22nd: The Book Diva’s Reads
Monday, September 25th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, September 25th: Suzy Approved
Monday, September 25th: Snowdrop Dreams
Tuesday, September 26th: Read Love Blog
Wednesday, September 27th: Becky on Books
Thursday, September 28th: A Bookworm’s World
Friday, September 29th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Spider's Web

When I was about eleven, my mother and I came across a radio broadcast of what seemed to be a children's book, appealing but completely unknown to us.   We were fascinated.  For some reason, the show's signal was very weak, and it would disappear periodically and particularly at the point where the narrator might have told us the title or author.  There was a boy and a garden and time travel, all of which we invariably enjoyed.  In those pre-Internet days, there was no way of finding out what the book actually was.   I think we might even have called the local PBS station without success but what I especially remember is being in our kitchen in Newton at dinner time and straining to hear what was coming from the radio.   The show was The Spider's Web and the book was eventually revealed to be Tom's Midnight Garden (1958), a delightful fantasy about a lonely boy, recuperating with relatives, who finds a mysterious playmate in their garden at night.  Author Philippa Pearce wrote several other books, which I own, but this was her masterpiece.   It won the Carnegie Medal which is the award for Britain's best children's book.

Once we finally caught the title, we raced for the library and the copy we found had this very cover. We didn't always remember but it became a game with us to turn on the radio and see how long it would take for us to identify the book.  Usually, we did know them: I seem to recall Joan Aiken and Lloyd Alexander (and turning it off when it was The Wind in the Willows, one of the few English classics we disliked), among others.   Frances Shrand was the narrator and there was a catchy tune at the end, which some helpful person has posted:

There's a web like a spider's web 
Made of silver light and shadows 
Spun by the moon in my room at night 
It's a web made to catch a dream 
Hold it tight 'til I awaken 
As if to tell me my dream is all right 

Does anyone else remember this show from the 70s?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Presidents' Day (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Presidents’ Day
Author: Seth Margolis
Publication: Diversion Books, Hardcover, 2017
Genre: Suspense
Giveaway: I have a copy of this book to give away. Please leave a comment if you are interested (US and Canada only).   Tell me what you're currently reading!
Plot: In this ferocious novel of suspense, the presidential race has a number of men all determined to get to the top. Each man has a locked closet of secrets. And one man holds every key.

Julian Mellow has spent his life amassing a fortune out of low-risk / high-reward investments. But the one time in his life he got in over his head, he left another man holding the bag, and made an enemy for life, one who has nothing to lose.

Now, Mellow has an even greater ambition - to select the next President of the United States – and to make that man do his bidding, in business and beyond.
Mellow’s plans relate to an African nation where his son died years before, where a brutal dictator still rules supreme, and where a resistance movement lurks in the alleys, waiting for the right time to strike. Margolis spans the globe to weave together a complex story of politics at its most venal, where murder is a part of the political process, where anyone’s life is up for sale, and where one man – that bad penny of an enemy – could bring the whole kingdom toppling.

In a thriller that will keep you up at night, Seth Margolis asks who really puts the next person in the White House? And at what cost?

Audience: For readers of David Baldacci and Brad Meltzer comes a timely political thriller from the bestselling author of Losing Isaiah.
Seth Margolis

My Impressions: This was an enjoyable suspense novel, perfect for someone like me who devours every Baldacci the minute it comes out. While I missed the humor that Baldacci manages to include in each novel, I love a revenge novel and rooted fiercely for Zach Springer, investment banker scapegoat, who can’t move past Mellow’s betrayal of the years Zach slaved for him. Three years after losing his job and reputation, Zach’s obsession and spying on his former boss have destroyed his relationship with his long-suffering girlfriend but finally paid off with a glimpse of a real conspiracy, yet Mellow and his henchman will kill anyone who gets in their way (and several who don’t).

While Mellow is a one-dimensional baddie (oddly tolerated by a normal-seeming wife), I appreciated the character of Sophie DuVal, model turned revolutionary. Sophie and Melow’s son Matthew were in love but he was killed before her eyes by thugs sent by the corrupt government of the fictional country of Kamalia; hence, her and Mellow’s interest in deposing the Kamalia government. I was less interested in Kamalia (so obscure it only just got a State Department analyst) and Sophie’s idealistic desire to oust the current ruler, but that plot element added an interesting twist to the story.   And who's to say it's really improbable?  There's a reason why book groups are rushing to read It Can't Happen Here.

I imagine most readers, like me, will be extremely annoyed by the conclusion of this book – let me know what you think!

About the Author:  Seth Margolis lives in New York where he works as a branding consultant when he is not writing.  This is his eighth novel.    Connect with him at Website * Facebook * Twitter  
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes.  Please join Seth Margolis as he visits TLC Book Tours with the bloggers below:

Monday, July 31st: Tales of a Book Addict
Wednesday, August 2nd: Write Read Life
Monday, August 7th: Book Nerd
Tuesday, August 8th: Buried Under Books
Thursday, August 10th: Mystery Suspense Reviews
Friday, August 11th: Cheryl’s Book Nook
Tuesday, August 15th: Helen’s Book Blog
Wednesday, August 23rd: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, August 24th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Friday, August 25th: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, August 31st: Bibliotica
Thursday, August 31st: Tome Tender
Monday, September 4th: Jathan & Heather
Monday, September 18th: Brooke Blogs
Thursday, September 21st: Blogging with A

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Thief's Mark (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Thief’s Mark, Sharpe & Donovan
Author: Carla Neggers
Publication: Mira Hardcover, August 2017
Genre: Romantic suspense
Giveaway: I have one copy of this mystery to give away. If interested, please leave a comment telling me about another romantic suspense book you enjoyed. US/Canada only, please.
Plot: A murder, long-buried secrets, and a man’s search for answers about his traumatic past bring FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan to a quiet English village.

As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma’s grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the reclusive Oliver, an international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at his country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished. As the danger mounts, new questions arise about what really happened 30 years ago.

Although Emma and Colin seem somewhat unnecessary to this story, they try to work effectively with local law enforcement and locals who have no reason to trust these American interlopers and have never revealed what they know about the fateful events of 30 years ago.

Audience: Fans of cozy English mysteries, fans of romantic suspense

My Impressions: On the surface, this book contains a lot of elements I appreciate, a charming setting, mostly in the Cotswolds but also in Maine; a detective duo who are smart and like to banter; loyal retainers; representatives of the MI5, Britain’s secret intelligence agency; and so on. However, it was sometimes hard to follow the plot and the deductions of the characters. It was never clear to me why Oliver’s parents were robbed and murdered – was it for money? If the kidnappers did not plan to ransom Oliver (as we learn), why not kill him with his parents? Why wouldn’t the kidnappers be concerned about being recognized if they (eventually) follow Oliver to the Cotswolds? (Even if they worked for his parents in London, presumably their faces were splashed in every newspaper in the country). Why did Oliver – known for his calm demeanor – really flee when he discovers the dead body and why, once gone, does he so readily agree to return? If he is worried about the accuracy of his recollections on the night his parents were killed, why not consult a professional?

Readers like me who joined this series in progress learn that Oliver is a former art thief who taunted Emma’s art expert grandfather and brother for years but has now stopped stealing and instead provides consulting services to the MI5. This reminded me of The Art of Deception, which we published at Wiley, about the exploits of an audacious computer hacker turned technology security expert. I suggest that readers interested in Emma and Colin go back to book 1, which is called Saint’s Gate.
A Cotswold home I saw in June, which once belonged to Graham Greene.
Henrietta is intended to be a charming heroine, retired from intelligence work and improbably able to support herself as a gardener, despite no training and a dearth of experience while living in London. However, she is alternatively gruff or not very appealing (and why does she dress like an old lady?) so it is hard to care what happens to her (her past adventures as a spy were likely more interesting). I liked Emma better and was intrigued by her past as a nun, but she has little to do in this story except worry about her grandfather and Oliver, and occasionally wish she were still on her honeymoon. I suspect that if I had begun this series with the first book I would have been more invested in the characters. I also might understand why the priest thought he had a vocation instead of embracing his love of Aiofe (supposedly Irish for Ava) O’Byrne (I hope he stays in the priesthood; surely having Emma leave the convent is enough for one series?).

Another thing, as a plot device, aren’t most cell phones password protected these days? Surely that makes it hard to check the phones of murder victims to examine their placed calls.  Finally, I don’t care how charming your Cotswold village is – when there’s an unsolved murder on your block, it’s crazy not to lock your door! While I more or less guessed who the murderer was, I was mistaken as to the precise motive.

Source: I was provided an electronic copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. I don’t read a lot of ebooks and found the erratic formatting annoying: the way the sentences ran together, it wasn’t always obvious which character was speaking. Reading this as an ebook made it hard to go back to analyze all the issues surrounding the death of Oliver’s parents.
Please join Carla Neggers on her TLC Book Tour by visiting the REVIEW TOUR for Thief’s Mark:

Tuesday, August 29th: Clues and Reviews
Wednesday, August 30th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Thursday, August 31st: Reading Reality
Tuesday, September 5th: Jathan & Heather
Wednesday, September 6th: Deborah Blanchard
Friday, September 8th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Monday, September 11th: Moonlight Rendezvous
Tuesday, September 12th: Run Wright
Wednesday, September 13th: A Holland Reads
Thursday, September 14th: Novel Gossip
Friday, September 15th: Read ‘Till Dawn
Monday, September 18th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, September 19th: Buried Under Books
Wednesday, September 20th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, September 21st: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, September 22nd: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, September 25th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, September 26th: Mystery Suspense Reviews
Wednesday, September 27th: Book Nerd
Thursday, September 28th: What I’m Reading

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Forty Autumns (Book Review)

Title: Forty Autumns
Author: Nina Willner
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, 2017
Genre: Memoir/History
Plot: After World War II ended, the Russians took control of the eastern part of Germany, where Hanna, a pretty teenager and eldest of a large family, begins to question the repressive communist regime controlling what becomes East Germany. Her father, a respected educator, conforms to protect his family while her mother maintains optimism publicly but privately encourages Hanna to make a perilous escape to freedom in West Germany. Although Hanna eventually marries and settles in the United States, she never forgets her family, despite years with only an occasional censored letter as contact. This book depicts Hanna and her family, including the daughter and author – who amazingly became an Army intelligence officer stationed in Berlin – as well as the fascinating story of the family she left behind, their suffering and perseverance during the forty years before the Berlin Wall came down.

Audience: Fans of WWII historical fiction, books about strong women, 20th century history

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Library

My Impressions: This is an amazing book that reads like fiction but with the chill of knowing it really happened as the author describes. I have read many novels set around WWII but little about the Cold War (unless you count some later Helen MacInnes), and a review I read last year in Publishers Weekly or Kirkus caught my attention, so I was delighted to have this opportunity to review Forty Autumns. I cannot recommend it more highly, and believe Forty Autumns will make a great book group selection when it is my turn to pick.

Willner’s achievement is not merely her ability to tell the story of three generations of courageous women but the way she vividly portrays their parallel lives, their endurance, and the way they kept each other in their thoughts. Her research and careful reconstruction of events she did not personally experience is also impressive.

While Hanna was making a new life for herself in Heidelberg and later when she is living in the US, bringing up six children, she yearns for her family, unaware of the suffering they are experiencing and sending care packages that are rarely received. I liked the way author described the sense of connection between Hanna and her youngest sister Heidi, who met only once when Heidi and her mother briefly visited Heidelberg, but despite a significant age difference, that meeting gave Heidi the courage to resist the communist doctrine she was fed by her community. I especially liked the juxtaposition of the next generation – that while the author is stationed in Berlin as a young intelligence officer her younger cousin Cordula, on the other side of the Wall, is being groomed as an elite athlete for East Germany.

Hanna’s parents are the true heroes of this book: the father who tries to reconcile his love of teaching with the communist doctrine he is forced to incorporate to his curriculum for the sake of keeping his family safe, and the mother who tries to preserve the affection and loyalty that will protect her children through the deprivations they are forced to endure. I also appreciated hearing about the brave individuals who tried to escape but were killed in the attempt and a few, like the intrepid Gunter Wetzel, who flew over in a hot air balloon. It is hard to imagine oneself being that courageous.
Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Thank you also to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to participate in the tour. You can visit other stops by clicking below:

Tuesday, August 15th: Openly Bookish
Wednesday, August 16th: Back Porchervations
Wednesday, August 23rd: Reading Reality
Wednesday, August 23rd: Laura’s Reviews
Thursday, August 24th: Literary Quicksand
Wednesday, August 30th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, August 31st: Mama Vicky Says
Monday, September 4th: Doing Dewey
Tuesday, September 5th: My Military Savings
Wednesday, September 6th: Tina Says…
Thursday, September 7th: Man of La Book
Friday, September 8th: Eliot’s Eats
Friday, September 8th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
TBD: Wining Wife
TBD: Art @ Home

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Gilded Years (Book Review)

Title: The Gilded Years
Author: Karin Tanabe
Publication: Washington Square Press, trade paperback, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Growing up in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Anita Hemmings yearned for higher education and fell in love with the idea of attending Vassar College after she heard an alumna describe her experience. The only problem – Vassar has never accepted a woman of color. However, Anita is a gifted student and so light skinned she can pass for white and does. Now a senior in the class of 1897, Anita is beautiful, accomplished, and has rich friends, but she is living a lie. When a new friendship tempts her away from her studies, Anita enjoys her first taste of society but can never completely relax for fear that her secret will be revealed, jeopardizing everything she has worked for...

Audience: Fans of historical fiction, Seven Sisters alumnae, those interested in higher education for women or African American history

My Impressions: This was a fascinating and enjoyable book I didn't want to put down.  I learned about Anita Hemming's story when a fellow member of Roslindale Library’s Race and Inclusion Committee suggested The Gilded Years for our summer reading program (thanks, Talia!), and I liked it so much that I volunteered to lead the discussion. We had 12 people for our July discussion, all of whom had enjoyed it although, interestingly, we differed on our reaction to Anita’s deception. Most seemed to feel that that obtaining the high quality education she would not otherwise have been able to access justified attending Vassar under false pretenses. While I did not disagree, I was a little surprised Anita didn’t feel more guilt at hiding her heritage, particularly as she loved her family and appreciated the sacrifices her parents had made to send her to boarding school at Northfield Seminary (now, amusingly, Northfield Mt. Hermon, an Ivy League basketball feeder).
Anita Hemmings

One of my favorite aspects of the book was reading about William Lewis, who was a football star at Harvard while at Harvard Law School, the first Negro all-American, and a prominent Massachusetts lawyer. The son of former slaves, he attended Amherst College and played football there, and was elected captain by his classmates. I had come across him recently while editing a Harvard Football publication, and was amazed I had not previously known his story.

Although author Tanabe clearly spent significant time researching 1890s Vassar, some of her depictions felt very jarring to me. For example, I did not think young ladies of this era would have spent so much time discussing money – either they would have taken it for granted or like Anita have avoided mentioning it altogether (I wondered how she was able to dress as well as her more affluent classmates or at least avoid their noticing she had fewer or inferior clothes). Having read Carney’s House Party many, many times, I know that Vassar in 1911 required chaperones for interaction with young men, so it is hard to believe that 14 years earlier would have been different – and a well brought up young man of this era would never have pursued a young lady to her dormitory room! Also, didn’t these young Ivy Leaguers have anything better to do than drive to Poughkeepsie all the time? Naturally, I think the Harvard men should say home and hang out with Radcliffe women!

It was also interesting to read this because my niece is leaving tomorrow for her freshman year at Vassar! I am sure she will have a great experience, and not wind up with friends like Lottie.  I gave her a copy of Carney's House Party but I am not sure she has read it yet.  For those interested in the experience of the real-life Carney, Marion Willard, who attended Vassar from Mankato, Minnesota, I recommend Amy Dolnick's delightful Future in a Handbasket, which is based on Marion's letters home.

Source: My copy is from the Boston Public Library – where the real life Anita once worked as a librarian/cataloguer. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Apples Every Day (Book Review)

Title: Apples Every Day
Author: Grace Richardson
Publication: Harper & Row, 1965
Genre: Children’s Fiction, School Story
This was the cover on my sister's copy
Plot: This year there are several new students at Kenner, a modern, coed boarding school in Quebec – dismal Sheila whose recently remarried mother wants to be alone with her new husband; assured and conventional Jerry, determined not to fall behind academically just because attending class is optional; and Phil, who is miserable and runs away. The school is run by a quirky couple without adequate funds; apples are cheap so turn up at nearly every meal. Much of the story is told from Sheila’s point of view, and she gains in confidence and popularity when she gets an unexpected part in her roommate’s play. The characters are entertaining and the way the teenagers vote on school rules (or lack thereof) reminded me a little of The Naughtiest Girl in the School. These kids have infinitely more freedom and use it to create their own structure, becoming (for the most part) mature and empowered.

Audience: Children 9-12, adult fans of school stories

Jerry did not approve of coed hockey
My Impressions: My mother gave this book to my sister Clare for Christmas when she was about 10. We always enjoyed boarding school stories and this is an unusual one, apparently based on the original alternative school, Summerhill, in England (query – isn’t the school in The Silver Chair also based on Summerhill, or is Lewis just condemning coeducation?), although set in Canada.  Many parts of the book were funny, especially Jerry's pained response to the school and his expertise, due to being the son of two psychiatrists, on numerous topics. Sheila's evolution into a reasonably competent teen is satisfying.

However, the reason this book came to mind after so many years is that Clare recently asked me to identify a book she once read about a young woman who gets a part in the musical, Kiss Me Kate. I was stumped, and consulted RT Reviews and Goodreads, without success. I also consulted my Betsy-Tacy peeps who were sure the book was Apples Every Day. In fact, Sheila does get the part of Kate but in The Taming of the Shrew, so it was nice to reread this unusual school story but the quest continues. Please let me know if you have any ideas!
Summerhill still operates in England
Source: I was sure our original copy is in my attic somewhere but a preliminary search was unsuccessful, so I requested it from ILL. The very helpful Boston Public Library obtained a copy from Bridgewater State.