Monday, July 24, 2017

Amberwell, Summerhills, Still Glides the Stream (Book Review)

Title: Amberwell (1955), Summerhills (1956), Still Glides the Stream (1959) (Ayrton Family)
Author: D.E. Stevenson
Publication: Fans of Stevenson are bringing these charming books back into print so you may be able to find them inexpensively
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Amberwell and Summerhills are about the Ayrton family, five children growing up on an affluent estate in Scotland before WWII, doted on by the devoted servants but ignored by their parents. Initially, this doesn’t matter as the siblings are close and love their home, but the sisters suffer from their parents’ expectation that an inadequate governess can provide all the education and social interaction they need. The two brothers are fortunate because they are sent to boarding school and groomed for careers, although the younger son is bullied into taking up medicine when he wants to join the Navy. The sisters have a harder time escaping their parents’ cold, controlling authority, and do so with varying success.  Connie, the eldest sister is a bit like Susan in the Narnia books.

 In Summerhills, Roger Ayrton returns to Amberwell where his sister Nell has been managing the household. Roger has survived combat in WWII but experienced personal tragedy; Amberwell provides the soothing comfort he needs to recover from his experiences, regain his sense of humor, and ability to care about people. He undertakes a project of turning a nearby estate, too expensive for its current owners to maintain, into a boarding school for the sons of the local middle and upper class. The new school becomes a project that Roger and all his acquaintances enter into enthusiastically and it brings the people in his life together in a postive way.
Still Glides the Stream is not about the Ayrtons (although they make a cameo to please Stevenson’s readers) but is the story of Will Hastie, another ex-military man who has returned to the Scotland Borders after the war to start a new chapter in his life. However, his closest friend Rae Elliott Murray has died, and both Will and Rae’s family miss him terribly. Rae’s sister Patty shares one of Rae’s last letters with Will which sends him off to France to capture Rae’s last days. His discovery there changes the lives of all those left behind by Rae and adds much needed humor to what starts off as a melancholy story.

Audience: Fans of light romantic fiction set in England; readers who enjoy authors such as Eva Ibbotson, Elizabeth Cadell, and – more recently - Katie Fforde and Christina Jones.

My Impressions: Amberwell, the Ayrtons’ estate is like its own character in the first two books. In addition to her ability to capture major and minor characters, Stevenson had an amazing ability to describe physical places memorably. My mother introduced me to Stevenson when I was about 18, I think, and I read every book at my local libraries, so assume I read these three years ago; each seemed familiar. However, I had not previously read them in chronological order, which I enjoyed, although each includes Stevenson’s signature humor as well as sorrowful moments. The Ayrton parents are obsessed with their estate and their place in local society, but ignore their children even more than is typical in upper class English stories. The only thing William Ayrton had in common with his children was his love of Amberwell, and for all his flaws, he maintained the estate in an era when others were losing theirs, which meant that for four of the five children, Amberwill became a valued home and refuge in a time of need.  There is a charm to this story in knowing nearly everything will turn out well eventually.
Source: I own copies of Amberwell and Still Glides the Stream, and checked out Summerhills from the library (it is partly I enjoy rereading but I also believe if I check them out regularly, the libraries won't discard the copies left).

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Kill Fee (Book Review)

Title: Kill Fee (Stevens/Windermere #3)
Author: Owen Laukkanen
Publication: Penguin Audio, 2014 (hardcover published by Putnam)
Genre: Suspense/Series
Plot: In the third outing for FBI agent Carla Windermere and Minnesota state detective Kirk Stevens, the two sometime-partners witness an assassination outside a St. Paul hotel while getting coffee, and are plunged into an investigation of a mysterious killer. Carla chases the slender young man who emerges from the hotel but, uncharacteristically, she is creeped out by his frighteningly dead eyes, and lets him escape. Although Kirk knows he should stick to solving cold cases for the state, he is drawn into another FBI case where his talent is needed, and joins Windermere in a complicated pursuit that takes them to Miami, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and Charlotte.

Audience: Fans of Harlan Coben, Joseph Finder, and John Verney should be reading this series, but I do recommend beginning with the first book, The Professionals.

My Impressions: I love this series, and am surprised it isn’t better known. Carla Windermere is a brilliant, as well as beautiful, African-American FBI agent. Stevens is a (frequently mentioned) paunchy middle-aged white guy. They worked together so well on their first case they developed a deep appreciation for each other as professional colleagues, and some romantic feelings, but Stevens loves his lawyer wife Nancy and does not want to jeopardize his marriage. Windermere is constantly surprised by the attraction she feels towards Stevens (see pauncy-ness) but she is lonely, far from a happier assignment in the South, several years post-breakup from her last boyfriend, has no FBI colleagues who are kindred spirits - on the other hand, does not want to disrupt Stevens’ marriage. One could argue that in the middle of a hunt for a serial killer, who would have time for all these longing looks and frowns and self-reflection, but Canadian author Laukkanen makes the angst very convincing. Still, Windermere and Stevens have the best kind of working partnership – they inspire each other and their combined efforts yield great results, so perhaps the author should allow Windermere a nice boyfriend so she and Stevens can concentrate on finding bad guys.
I enjoy the descriptions of the investigation, much of it realistically tedious but leavened by the clever deductions of the main characters and by a new FBI agent introduced in this book who I hope continues to play a part. In the last book, Criminal Enterprise, I was enraged by the sexism Windermere experienced from her FBI colleagues, and there was a hint in this one that the most blatant offender was still thriving. Boo!

Source: I listened to the audio version of Kill Fee which I checked out from my library.  I read the first book in 2013, and although I liked it very much I got distracted and did not get the sequel until May.  Now I am glad I waited as there are three more books - Laukkanen is quite prolific: every publisher's dream.  Having read that he spends part of his time in Prince Edward Island, I can imagine him writing in a little cottage like the one I visited three years ago.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir (Book Review)

Title: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
Author: Jennifer Ryan
Publication: Crown hardcover, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: When all the men in the town of Chilbury leave to fight in World War II, the vicar tries to cancel the village choir. But when the ladies muster a little gumption, they realize they can have a choir by themselves, perform well on their own, and enjoy themselves! Chilbury is full of intrigue and drama, providing a female perspective of war in letters and diary entries. The story follows several members of the choir: timid but beloved Mrs. Tilling; sisters Venetia and Kitty, both looking for love, daughters of an unpleasant retired Brigadier; Hattie Lovell, a newlywed expecting her first child; and Edwina Paltry, the villainous midwife. When the Brigadier asks Miss Paltry to make sure his wife delivers a boy, so his estate will not pass out of the family, he sets in motion a plot that will impact two families. Unfortunately, he is one of the few men left in Chilbury. Others include the seemingly gruff military officer with a soft heart, billeted with Mrs. Tilling; a mysterious artist, whose heart Venetia is determined to capture; as well as several young men who reappear on leave or when wounded.

The English cover reminds me of K.M. Peyton
Audience: Fans of historical fiction, especially books set during WWII and covering activity on the home front. While it is not as charming as D.E. Stevenson’s novels, I think those fans would enjoy it.
My Impressions: This was a fun read, albeit somewhat predictable. I liked the descriptions of daily life in the village and how the characters dealt with shortages and the challenges of the war. I enjoyed seeing Mrs. Tilling gain in self confidence, and smiled at the contrast between boy crazy Venetia, beautiful enough to attract any man she wants, and her younger sister Kitty who suffers from unrequited love – and occasionally the spitefulness of Lady Edith Crawley.

Quibble: Although the author is ostensibly from London, the book read more as if an American had written it. There were many “likes” when I thought the author should have used “as” and this irritated me. I also suspected that, in this more modest era, the characters would not have used the word “pregnant” so casually, especially 13 year old Kitty.
Source: This book came from my old library in Watertown, MA. Another WWII book appeared on my library reserve list soon afterwards, The Women in the Castle, which I am also enjoying, although it is a much darker story.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Alice Network (Book Review)

Title: The Alice Network
Author: Kate Quinn
Publication: William Morrow paperback, 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: In a fast-paced new historical novel from bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the based-on-real-life Alice Network in World War I France and a rebellious American college student searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a compelling story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American teen Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

Audience: Fans of historical fiction, especially that set during World War II, will enjoy this book. I am thinking of some of my favorites: While Still We Live by Helen MacInnes, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (of which Quinn is also a fan), The Light Heart and This Was Tomorrow by Elswyth Thane, Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie (partly set in the present). Recent titles set during WWII which became bestsellers include The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
My Impressions: I can’t wait to recommend this book to friends! It combines a number of my favorite things: historical fiction, women passionate about doing their ‘bit’ for the war effort, World Wars I and II, espionage, multiple time lines, and a compelling story. I had always meant to read Kate Quinn’s Rome saga (must have missed the fact that she wrote several set during the Renaissance, so those will be something to look forward to) so was eager to try this one, and it did not disappoint. The book is full of memorable characters, beginning with Charlie, a math major at Bennington (I guess I was wrong in thinking it was mostly a finishing school in the 40s), whose sense of loss about her brother’s suicide sends her into a promiscuous frolic among the Ivy League men who seem to have nothing better to do than drive to Vermont on weekends. Then, instead of going obediently to Switzerland for a discreet abortion, she decides to keep the baby and look for her missing cousin. It is in London that she meets Eve Gardiner and Eve’s mysterious chauffeur. Eve is an embittered veteran of the first World War, where her espionage resulted in grievous injury and lasting regret.

Other readers found a lot of humor in the writing but I found courage and loneliness in the personal journeys experienced by each character, which is why their unlikely friendship is such an appealing part of the story. One thing that I found very interesting was that Eve’s and Charlie’s differing attitudes toward their virginity: Eve recognizes that keeping her job at Le Lethe is essential so decides she has to sacrifice herself for the cause, whereas Charlie uses sex to dull the pain of her brother’s loss and almost as a way of defying her parents’ expectations. Patriotism is more honorable than depression as a motivation but Ms. Quinn admitted her other motivation for Charlie’s situation was that she wanted her to be pregnant as a vehicle to get her away from her family but not brokenhearted, as there is a Scot (and a Lagonda) in her future.

I didn’t like Eve and Charlie and Finn the way one sometimes has to like characters to enjoy a book – Eve too harsh, Charlie too brash, and Finn too much a foil to the women, and their alliance very improbable – but I couldn’t put down the book until I knew what would happen to them! Quinn skillfully weaves her narrative between the past and the present. I was more interested in the past but it is always good to see the bad guys get their comeuppance, even if it takes 30+ years.

About the Author: Kate Quinn attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. She and her husband now live in Maryland.

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. A month or so after I reviewed this book, Reese Witherspoon chose it for her book club, which gave it some great publicity.

Please join Kate Quinn, author of The Alice Network as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours:

Tuesday, June 6th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, June 7th: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, June 8th: Laura’s Reviews
Monday, June 12th: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, June 13th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Wednesday, June 14th: Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot
Thursday, June 15th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, June 15th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, June 16th: BookNAround
Monday, June 19th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Tuesday, June 20th: The Cactus Chronicles
Wednesday, June 21th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, June 22nd: Bibliotica
Friday, June 23rd: Leah DeCesare
Monday, June 26th: Book by Book
Tuesday, June 27th: Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, June 28th: Kritters Ramblings
Thursday, June 29th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, June 30th: Literary Quicksand

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Black Cabinet (Book Review)

Title: The Black Cabinet
Author: Patricia Wentworth
Publication: Trade Paperback, 2016, Dean Street Press; originally published in 1925 by Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Golden Age of Mystery
Plot: Poor but honest, not to mention lovely, Chloe Dane works for a dressmaker and tries to avoid the affluent friends from the world she was born in; she knows she can’t afford their amusements and won’t accept charity. However, when a distant relative summons her for a visit and shares a dangerous secret before dying, Chloe is plunged into a world of blackmail and strangers who pretend to be friends now that she is an heiress. Only Michael Foster, also down on his luck and forced to drive a car for a living, displays the steadfastness, humor, and honor that make him a worthy Wentworth hero, and he assists Chloe in escaping her ill-wishers.

The Black Cabinet is where Chloe’s unpleasant relative Mitchell Dane kept his blackmail materials. When he tells Chloe the combination to its lock and makes her his heir, he sets in motion a series of events that put his victims at risk – and Chloe - from men eager to profit from his nefarious activities.
Audience: Readers of English drawing room mysteries where, despite genuinely frightening moments, the villains exist to be outwitted and the heroines are plucky and usually do not wait to be rescued by a man -- although there usually is a man and a happy ending.

Mrs. Rowse looked severely at Chloe for a moment, and added, “If you was plain, it’ud be a lot easier.” 
“I should so hate to be plain,” said Chloe with a beaming smile. “Dear Mrs. Rowse, do think of something. You see if I don’t get a job, I can’t pay you after this week – and I know you are much too kind-hearted to turn me out into the street.” 
 Mrs. Rowse snorted again. “You ought to go back to your friends, you ought,” she said. “I don’t hold with young gels running away and hiding. And what’s the use of your saying you’re not a young lady, when anyone can see the length of Hatchelbury Road in the dark that you are? If you was really a plain ordinary gel, why I suppose there’s a job you could have tomorrow. But you’re not, and you couldn’t do it.” 
Chloe slipped off the table. “Mrs. Rowse, how frightfully exciting! What is it? Tell me at once. It’s no use saying I couldn’t do it because I’d do anything.”
My Impressions: This is one of the older Wentworth mysteries that were not available in paperback and few copies survived in the U.S., although as I read there were oddly familiar moments. I am thrilled that it is now available from Dean Street Press, and while it may not be one of her absolute best, it was an enjoyable read with some very funny moments, most supplied by Michael Foster.

Source: I asked the Boston Public Library to order several of the reprinted Wentworths and I am grateful to the librarian who ordered this and more.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

H is for Hawk (Book Review)

Title: H is for Hawk
Author: Helen Macdonald
Publication: Grove Press, 2014, Hardcover
Genre: Memoir/Nature
Plot: When Helen Macdonald unexpectedly loses her father, the only way she can endure her grief is to take on the challenge of training a goshawk, using a little known book by the author of The Once and Future King as her guide and retreating from friends and colleagues to an isolated cottage, where she can immerse herself in falconry – and where she becomes as feral as the creature she is trying to tame.

Audience: As this book was a bestseller in England and America, the audience must consist of more than just hawking aficionados. I have no doubt that the striking cover helped attract attention initially but the reviews were fairly rhapsodic.

My Impressions: My friend Maria chose this book for our book group last month. Given that at least three of us had recently lost our fathers, I thought it was timely, and like any history major I had always had an appreciation for a good hawk. However, it was much more raw and miserable than I was expecting. There were really three different stories within the story: 1) Helen’s sense of incredible loss at the unexpected death of her father; 2) Helen’s irrational belief that training a goshawk is the logical way to overcome her terrible grief; and 3) a depiction of author T. H. White, best known for his book, The Once and Future King, which inspired the musical Camelot, who also trained a hawk and (reluctantly) published a memoir about his efforts. Helen is obsessed with White’s book although he was not disciplined enough to follow the rules about hawk training so was doomed to failure; thus, is not a good role model.
Author with Mabel
Helen admired her father, a photographer capable of infinite patience to get the image he sought, and who was a self-taught historian with quirky interests such as photographing every bridge on the Thames in his spare time. One gets the sense that he encouraged her childhood obsession with hawks while her mother merely put up with it (others in my book group felt she had a bad relationship with her mother, but it could have been that she was just much closer to her father). Her belief that training a goshawk is the only way for her to recover from losing him disrupts her career and friendships as she becomes completely obsessed and anti-social, to say the least. As a child, she had read every book about hawking she could find, including White’s own book, The Goshawk (she describes vividly the upper class British falconers who glorified falconry in their 19th century tomes she absorbed that way other English children read Swallows and Amazons). She also read The Sword in the Stone, which my mother read aloud to me and my sister. I vaguely remember a chapter where Merlin turns Wart into a hawk but it did not make the impression on me that it did on Helen.
Helen imagines the life of T. H. White, a prep school teacher who is even more lonely and dysfunctional than Helen herself, as he tries to train his own hawk, several generations earlier. These depictions of his life interrupt her own efforts to train her hawk, Mabel. Her description of his isolation and the unhappy obsession with his own goshawk are convincing but not very appealing. I was actually happier not knowing about his horrific parents and how wretched a human being he was. While I found the concept of the book interesting, a couple chapters would have sufficed, as parts seemed repetitive. While Helen conveys that mastering her hawk is what restored her sanity, it also appeared that interacting with her father’s colleagues at his memorial service helped her regain her ability to interact with humans unrelated to hawking.
Author T. H. White
Source: I got a copy of this book from the Boston Public Library

Thanks for the use of copyrighted images, including the photo of Helen Macdonald from The Independent

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Death at St. Vedast (Book Review)

Title: Death at St. Vedast: Bianca Goddard Mystery #3
Author: Mary Lawrence
Publication: Kensington, Trade Paperback, 2017
Genre: Historical Mystery
Plot: Bianca Goddard is the daughter of a notorious alchemist and was once accused of murder herself in intolerant Tudor England, but does not allow her humble station to prevent her from expressing herself. Recently married to John Grunt, a silversmith’s apprentice who does not appreciate his wife’s outspoken ways, Bianca has moved to a new neighborhood of London with John to advance his career, temporarily putting aside her skill concocting cures and medicines. John and Bianca are welcomed to London by his patron Boisvert, the master silversmith, and Boisvert’s fiancée, Odile Farendon. However, when tragedy strikes, Bianca refuses to keep a low profile and boldly investigates several mysteries that all seem to lead back to their church, St. Vedast.

Audience: Fans of historical mysteries by authors like Fiona Buckley, Ariana Franklin, Kate Sedley

My Impressions: I enjoyed this mystery vividly set in a London that is as full of politics as the nearby court of Henry VIII, although it is not the machinations of Thomas Cromwell at issue but the artisans whose industry fuels a less elegant but equally important role in society. After a slow beginning and despite some difficulty keeping track of the characters initially, the story came together and built to a dramatic climax. I appreciated the way Bianca interacts with minor and major characters, extracting information to solve the mysterious poisonings that have disrupted the community.  Lawrence's portrayal of 1543 London is colorful and provides an interesting contrast to the more frequently depicted scenes of Tudor nobility.

Historical fiction is a tricky undertaking and easy to criticize: if there is too much history, the story can become didactic and dull. Similarly, if the language is too authentic (forsooth!), a modern reader would become impatient. Then you have me, with my former editor eye and my 16th century History and Literature concentration, very critical of anachronisms which I consider a lack of care or failure to properly research one’s historical period. However, Mary Lawrence’s research appeared impeccable to me and reflects hard work, and my only critique is that a woman in Bianca’s position – both as a lowly apprentice’s wife and her apparent notoriety from an earlier book/previous accusation of murder, not to mention her gender – make it very unlikely she could gain the needed entré to conduct the type of investigation necessary to solve this mystery. Still, sometimes a murder mystery requires some suspension of disbelief and despite the above quibbles, I thought Lawrence did a good job of creating a logical path for her sleuth to untangle the mystery but could do without Bianca’s predilection for rats.
Henry VIII is only referred to in this book but I have had a weakness for him since childhood
Source: I obtained a copy of this book from the Minuteman Library System. It is against my usual rule to start a series in the middle but it was not an impediment to enjoying this book although I could not figure out what she sees in her whiny husband.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Slow Burn Cowboy (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Slow Burn Cowboy, a Copper Ridge Novel
Author: Maisey Yates
Publication: Harlequin paperback, April 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Description: Lane Jensen left her affluent East Coast upbringing behind as a teen and found a home, career, and even a best friend in Copper Ridge, Oregon. She runs a gourmet food store, owns a cozy house, and can call her friend Finn Donnelly whenever there’s an emergency like a mouse or blown fuse. Finn runs the Laughing Irish ranch and has the dark moods and taciturn personality of a romance hero, and has hid his attraction to Lane because of the difference in their ages and the fact that she is his friend’s younger sister. All of this changes when Finn’s grandfather bequeaths the ranch to Finn and his three brothers. All of Finn’s churning emotions finally emerge, forcing him and Lane to face their feelings and determine whether to turn back for safe friendship or test a new and more exciting relationship.

Audience: Fans of contemporary romance series who enjoys authors such as Kristan Higgins, Jill Shalvis, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Giveway: Enter for a chance to win a copy!   I think this is U.S. only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

My Impression: I think Fiona Marsden recommended Maisey Yates to me, so I was eager to try the series. This is the second Copper Ridge story I have read and I enjoyed it much more than the first, although had some of the same issues. I liked the fact that Lane and Finn have a long standing best-friend relationship that evolves into romance, and they both care about and understand the other: he listens and empathizes over the secret that has shaped who she is while she is supportive of his reluctant acceptance of his brothers’ arrival. However, in both Slow Burn Cowboy and One Night Charmer, it seemed to be the arrogant male hero who dictates the terms of the romance and I found this annoying. Perhaps I have outgrown these alpha male control freaks and prefer someone more considerate, even in my escapist fiction. When Finn decides he wants to have a sexual relationship with Lane, despite knowing she would want a long term commitment he is unwilling to provide, he puts his feelings first and tries to guilt her into acquiescing. This not the behavior of a best friend, although in romance-world it turns out well. I did enjoy the other inhabitants of Copper Ridge, however, and will probably read subsequent books in this series about Finn’s brothers.

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Please visit TLC Book Tour’s Slow Burn Cowboy blog tour for more:

Tuesday, April 25th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, April 26th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, April 27th: From the TBR Pile
Friday, April 28th: Back Porchervations
Wednesday, May 3rd: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, May 4th: Books and Spoons
Thursday, May 4th: Written Love Reviews
Friday, May 5th: What I’m Reading
Monday, May 8th: Moonlight Rendezvous
Tuesday, May 9th: Books a la Mode – excerpt
Wednesday, May 10th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, May 12th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Tuesday, May 16th: The Romance Dish
Wednesday, May 17th: Becca the Bibliophile
Friday, May 19th: The Sassy Bookster
Monday, May 22nd: A Splendid Messy Life

Monday, April 17, 2017

All-of-a-Kind Family (book review)

Title: All-of-a-Kind Family
Author: Sydney Taylor
Publication: Dell paperback, originally published in 1951. I was inspired to reread this for the 1951 Club.
Genre: Juvenile fiction, series
Plot: The All-of-a-Kind Family lives on New York’s Lower East Side not long before the outbreak of World War I. Papa is a peddler and Mama manages the home and five daughters as frugally as possible, while promoting their Jewish faith. Ella is the oldest, Henny the boldest, Sarah the thoughtful future writer, and Charlotte and Gertie are the youngest and eat penny candy in bed. The girls share adventures and due to loving parents and a spirit of adventure do not dwell on their poverty or the challenges of living in a crowded tenement. Their enjoyment of activities together and their ability to find fun out of simple tasks such as dusting, shopping, visiting the synagogue on festival days, or even suffering from Scarlet Fever at the same time, is what makes this book and the whole series exceptional, charming, and memorable.

Quiz: Which All-of-a-Kind-Family Sibling are you?

You got: Sarah
There’s no place you’d rather be than the library, except maybe onstage accepting the history prize. Maybe you’ll grow up to write a book about your family history! Sydney Taylor would be proud.

Audience: Children 6-10, as well as fans of historical fiction and series books such as Betsy-Tacy; those interested in Historic Manhattan and/or Jewish family life at the turn of the 20th century. This book has many fans of all ages and religions and was “voted” #55 on Betsy Bird’s top 100 Children’s Novels.

My Impressions: I loved this series growing up and especially identified with Henny, the outspoken daughter who (in a later book) gets into difficulty when she borrows her sister’s best dress without permission. This book begins with Sarah’s lost library book, another memorable incident, because of the girls’ enjoyment of the library and fear that they will lose access because Sarah lent to book to a friend. Miss Allen, the librarian, recognizes that payment for the book would create hardship but also knows the girls’ parents would not accept charity, so she allows Sarah to pay for the book over time. As a child who did not get an allowance, I was fascinated by the girls’ daily penny allowance and the mileage they got out of their pennies – particularly the feast of chocolate babies and broken crackers. Growing up in a Boston neighborhood that was primarily Jewish, I also enjoyed learning about Passover, Purim, and other festivals so meaningful to this family. Taylor makes the point that celebrating the Fourth of July is also important to the All-of-a-Kind family, their parents and friends, and that Papa is friendly with men from other faiths (Italian and Polish peddlers). Taylor also makes it clear that this family is relatively privileged: they have a four room apartment which occupies an entire floor in a two-storied private home.

About 15 or so years ago, the Greater NY Chapter of the Betsy-Tacy Society (which meets regularly), all fans of AoKF, went on a tour of the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, which I highly recommend (I was annoyed that the tour guide did not know about these books, and I thought they should have been for sale in the museum shop.   The first book is now available on their website).  A number of my Jewish friends loved these books because there were few books featuring Jewish children; however, I am Catholic and enjoyed them just as much as they did due to Taylor's incredible storytelling.

About the Author: Sydney Taylor based these books on her childhood and the Sarah character on herself. She was a camp counselor in Long Island (where my dear friend Rachel Rose and her sisters were campers) and probably honed the stories there before turning them into books. After her death, her husband established The Sydney Taylor Book Award which is now awarded annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.  
Source: I read the first three books repeatedly growing up. The first two were oversized Follett hardcovers in my grade school library, shabby from the grasp of many hands. The others were in the Newton library, although Ella was not published early enough for many rereads. I own all five now. Much of my knowledge about Judaism came from Sydney Taylor and Gladys Malvern’s Old Testament historical fiction. If you have never read this series, you have a treat in store! Thank you to Lizzie Skurnick for her efforts to keep these books in print and for the quiz above.

• All-of-a-Kind Family (1951), illustrated by Helen John
• More All-Of-A-Kind Family (1954), illustrated by Mary Stevens
• All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown (1958), illustrated by Mary Stevens
• All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown (1972), illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush
• Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family (1978), illustrated by Gail Owens

images above are copyright to the publisher

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Duplicity (Book Review)

Title: Duplicity, a Julia Gooden Mystery
Author: Jane Haseldine
Publication: Kensington, hardcover, April 2017
Genre: Suspense
Plot: In Jane Haseldine’s second book about Julia Gooden, the Detroit newspaper reporter is up against the city’s most devious criminal—and her own painful past.

Julia Gooden knows how to juggle different lives. A successful crime reporter, she covers the grittiest stories in the city while raising her two young boys in the suburbs. But beneath that accomplished façade is another Julia, still consumed by a tragedy that unfolded thirty years ago when her nine-year-old brother disappeared without a trace.

Julia’s marriage, too, is a balancing act, as she tries to rekindle her relationship with her husband, Assistant District Attorney David Tanner, while maintaining professional boundaries. David is about to bring Nick Rossi to trial for crimes that include drug trafficking, illegal gambling, and bribery. But the story becomes much more urgent when a courthouse bomb claims several victims—including the prosecution’s key witness—and leaves David critically injured.

Though Julia is certain that Rossi orchestrated the attack, the case against him is collapsing, and his power and connections run high and wide. With the help of Detective Raymond Navarro of the Detroit PD, she starts following a trail of blackmail, payback, and political ambition, little imagining where it will lead. Julia has risked her career before, but this time innocent lives—including her children’s—hang in the balance, and justice may come too late to save what truly matters…

Purchase Links

Kensington Publishing CorporationAmazon | Barnes & Noble

Praise for Duplicity

“Haseldine (The Last Time She Saw Him, 2016) uses her experience as a crime reporter to bring authenticity to this exciting and gritty tale.”—Kirkus Reviews

Praise for the first Julia Gooden Mystery, The Last Time She Saw Him

“A ferocious thriller….you can bet no one will stop reading.”– Booklist

“Journalist Jane Haseldine’s debut novel rings with authenticity as she, like Julia, is a former crime reporter. This is a harrowing read.”– BookPage

“A sharp, breathless thriller. From the opening scene to the last, The Last Time She Saw Him, kept me flipping the pages. I loved it! Jane Haseldine is one to watch!” —Lisa Jackson, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Audience: fans of writers such as Hank Phillippi Ryan and Allison Brennan

My Impressions: Once I got past the brutal beginning, I enjoyed this fast paced novel about a reporter committed to her job who also loves her sons and is trying to work things out with her estranged husband. An added complication in her life is that Julia is trying to cover a high profile trial her husband is litigating as an Assistant District Attorney. In addition, Julia has never recovered from the kidnapping of her older brother 30 years ago, and this has made her understandably overprotective of her children. Julia is fortunate that she has good friends in the police force who look after her and feed her scoops, as her husband is ambitious and not risking leaks to his wife that would damage his career.  I liked the unusual Detroit setting and the quirky characters.

Although this was book 2 in a series, something I normally avoid (and admonish people regarding!), it was not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy this one.  For the most part, Julia is an appealing character, smart and courageous, although has a habit I find annoying of recklessly putting herself in danger (for example, jogging to a drug lord’s secret home believing a knife in her waist pack will be protection against a bunch of murderers with guns) yet emerging with barely a scratch. For a parent devoted to her children, this was foolish behavior, although I realize it can sometimes advance the plot. However, towards the end I was distracted from Julia’s foolhardiness as the plot got a little crazy and extremely improbable, requiring quite a bit of suspension of disbelief as various twists were revealed.

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Please visit TLC Book Tour’s Duplicity blog tour:

Tuesday, March 28th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Thursday, March 30th: Just Commonly
Friday, March 31st: Fictionophile
Monday, April 3rd: Tina Says…
Tuesday, April 4th: Sara the Introvert
Wednesday, April 5th: Booksie’s Blog
Thursday, April 6th: Clues & Reviews
Friday, April 7th: Jathan & Heather
Monday, April 10th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, April 11th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, April 12th: The Cactus Chronicles
Thursday, April 13th: Why Girls Are Weird
Tuesday, April 18th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, April 21st: The Suspense Is Thrilling Me

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Last Chance Matinee (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: The Last Chance Matinee: A Hudson Sisters Novel
Author: Mariah Stewart
Publication: Gallery Books, Trade Paperback, March 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Description: When Hollywood agent Fritz Hudson passes away, he leaves families on each coast who didn’t know of the other’s existence. His first wife was an over the top movie star, now deceased, with whom he had two daughters. Allie Hudson, divorced and having just lost her job, is stressed about finances and sharing custody of her pre-teen daughter in Los Angeles. Her sister, Dee, is a former child star, now living quietly in Montana, with a few close friends, spending most of her time as an animal volunteer. After his first marriage fell apart, Fritz fell in love with a calm and affectionate woman in New Jersey, who gave him one daughter, Cara. Cara runs a new but successful yoga studio, and has just suffered heartbreak when her husband left her for a close friend, not long after her mother’s death.

Fritz’s untimely death brings the sisters together for the first time, and they learn from their father’s close friend and lawyer that his will requires them to join forces to restore an old theater in the small Pennsylvania town he came from or forfeit their large inheritance. His hope is that they will grow to love his childhood home and understand the mystery he left behind and never felt able to tell them.

Audience: Fans of Nora Roberts’ “sisters” series; readers of books by Jill Shalvis, Kristan Higgins, and Susan Mallery.  A reading group guide is included in the back of book material if you'd like to read it with your book group.

My Impression: This was an enjoyable launch of a new series by a New York Times bestselling author, and those who enjoy a quirky, small town setting and fresh starts will like unassuming heroine Cara and her more complicated half-sisters. Required by their father’s will to spend a year in Hidden Falls, PA, they are welcomed by a hitherto unknown aunt and by the community, despite learning secrets about their father and the reason he rarely returned to his home. Each sister begins to come to terms with their father’s secrecy and the adjustment to a new family. The sisters are helped in this effort by the warmth of the community and by an unexpected visit from Allie’s daughter, a bubbly teen who is improbably unspoiled by her LA upbringing. Although Cara is the focus of this book, segments are told from her sisters’ point-of-view, and there are three very different male characters who will provide a second chance at love for Cara and Allie and a first opportunity for Des. Another appealing character is Fritz’s sister, an aunt the sisters did not know existed but become fond of quickly. I also enjoyed the descriptions of renovating the Sugarhouse Theater, which has fallen into disrepair, based on a theater the author knew.

My biggest concern with the book is the back story which requires much suspension of disbelief. I don’t doubt that it is possible in this day and age for a man to have two families at opposite ends of the country and keep them in the dark about each other, but it would have been more plausible if he had not been a celebrated Hollywood agent and I wish the author had created a scenario which was more convincing. How could Cara have never read an article about him, which would certainly have mentioned his other family? Never Google your own father? No one in Devlin’s Light, NJ was ever curious enough about its part time resident to research him? No coverage of her own wedding, which might have revealed her to her West Coast sisters? When she traveled with her father to London, none of his colleagues there ever asked her about his famous wife Honora or his famous daughter Desdemona? She never saw her half sister’s TV show Des Does herself and remarked that the star shared her surname? And, by the way, despite traveling with her former husband, she never knew that New Jersey is one of the few states that bans self serve gas? It is also surprising that Allie, financially down on her luck when the story begins, would not have asked her father to help her get work. I know they weren’t close but surely he wouldn’t have wanted her to lose her home. These issues could have been explained away, perhaps, or Stewart could have set the book back in a pre-Internet era.

There is a hint that Cara’s mother knew all along that her husband was a bigamist, and perhaps she didn’t mind, due to her laid-back personality, but wouldn’t she have been upset for her daughter to learn she’d been the victim of deceit and was illegitimate or is that so passé no one cares anymore?

Recipe: At one point Cara makes her mother's homemade granola, which is a big hit with her new family. Stewart includes the recipe at the end of the book. I don't think that would replace chocolate chip cookies in my house but it fits with the image of Cara's hippie mother.  Stewart includes the recipe in the back of the book.

Giveaway: Thanks to Gallery Books, I have a copy of this book to give away. Please leave a comment by 4/23/17 if you are interested - tell me your favorite book about sisters - and I will pick a name. U.S. only, please!
Monday Matinee Giveaway: Follow XOXOAfterDark on Twitter (@xoxoafterdark) on Mondays in April to see which other blogs are hosting giveaways for The Last Chance Matinee on April 3, 10, 17, and 24! #MondayMatinee

About the Author: Mariah Stewart is an award-winning and bestselling author of numerous novels as well as several novellas and short stories, including the Chesapeake Diaries series, one of which I reviewed previously. She lives with her husband and two dogs amid the rolling hills of Chester County, Pennsylvania, where she savors county life and tends her gardens while she works on her next novel. Visit her at and follow her on and on Instagram @mariah_stewart_books.

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Despite the quibbles above, I enjoyed The Last Chance Matinee and am looking forward to the next two books in the series, focused on Allie and Des. Author photo credit to Nicole Leigh.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Story of Ruby Bridges (Book Review)

Title: The Story of Ruby Bridges
Author: Robert Coles  
Publication: Scholastic Hardcover, 1995
Genre: Picture Book/Nonfiction
Plot: This is a children’s version of the real story about Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African American who integrated the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960. Each day she had to walk by angry, vicious protesters as she was escorted by federal marshals to her classroom. The white parents kept their children home so Ruby was taught alone by Barbara Henry. Brought up by a religious family that was proud of what they realized was her place in history, Ruby handled the pressure with dignity and grace beyond her years, praying for the protesters as she passed them each morning. Eventually, other African American children joined her at the school, and after several years, the white families sent their children back to school. Ruby graduated from this elementary school and from high school, and brought up her own family in New Orleans as well.

Audience: This is a great story to introduce civil rights issues to small children, as it is a dramatic story with a winsome heroine that hints at the underlying violence but is not too scary.

My Impressions: This is a wonderful story for all ages about the brave Bridges family: a mother who was determined her daughter would make history, and had brought up this small child to pray for her enemies and have the strength to walk by them every day. Coles captures both the incredible loneliness of Ruby’s situation and her great dignity, as she marched past her tormentors, clutching her lunch box. I am not sure a modern child used to an integrated classroom could even begin to understand why it was such a volatile issue or comprehend the viciousness of the adults who yelled death threats at Ruby. Of course, my own City of Boston had its own shameful episode during its court-ordered desegregation when white adults threw rocks at buses bringing African-American children to South Boston. As in this book, people blamed the judge instead of their own racist attitudes.

The existing teachers from the Frantz School refused to teach in an integrated school, so Ruby was taught by the amazing Barbara Henry, a teacher from Boston, whose sons later went to school with my brother. Mrs. Henry taught Ruby alone for a year before other children joined the classroom. Here is a link to the Boston Globe interview about her experience. I knew Mrs. Henry as a kind family friend long before I learned about her courage and willingness to sacrifice her own safety to advance the civil rights of African American children in the South. I love that she attributes her outstanding education at then Girls’ Latin in Boston as instilling respect for all, regardless of race or background. My sister-in-law’s niece Parker is a seventh grader at Boston Latin Academy, as it is now known, and I hope her experience there will be as enriching.

Last year, the Friends of Roslindale Branch Library, of which I am part, formed a Racial Justice and Inclusiveness Committee to plan educational events, discussions, and presentations related to race, ethnicity, religion and culture. We have had good attendance at the first events and are considering a children’s event which inspired me to read this book. Click here for more information and a schedule of events.

Note that on March 30, 2017 the Roslindale Library will be discussing Spectacle by Pamela Newkirk which was highly recommended by one of our committee members.

Ruby Bridges was escorted by federal marshals to her classroom each day
Source: I checked out this book from the Boston Public Library. There are a number of books about Ruby Bridges but I recognized the name of Pulitzer-prize winning Robert Coles, so chose this one. I did not know that as a child psychiatrist he had offered to provide counseling to Ruby and met with her weekly during her first year of school (he was stationed in Biloxi). One of my greatest academic regrets is not taking advantage of the opportunity to study with him in college.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Widow's House (Book Review)

Title: The Widow’s House
Author: Carol Goodman
Publication: Trade Paperback, William Morrow, 2017
Genre: Suspense
Purchase LinksAmazon, Harper Collins, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound
Plot: When Jess and Clare Martin sell most of their belongings and leave Brooklyn to move to the Hudson Valley, they both hope it will jump start Jess’ writing career, which has faltered after one high profile novel. The area they choose is familiar to them because it is Clare’s home town and is near Bailey College which they both attended. In fact, the professor they admired, Alden Montague, needs a caretaker for his property, Riven House, so they move into his gate house. Soon Jess is writing again and drinking with Montague, and while Clare is relieved to see him in a good mood, her own spirits have suffered after hearing a disturbing story about Montague’s father and a young woman he betrayed. Clare’s parents are gone but even as she tries to reconnect with old friends, including her high school boyfriend, the atmosphere around the house becomes so disturbing she begins to wish she had never returned. . .

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense, including authors such as Susanna Kearsley and Daphne Du Maurier (coincidentally, I chose Du Maurier’s The Scapegoat for my book group to read this month, and it too was dark and suspenseful).

My Impressions: The Widow’s House is a modern gothic which I found so compelling that I read it in two sittings. Clare is an appealing heroine, and Goodman has created memorable major and minor characters. Having visited my share of small colleges in upstate New York, I enjoyed the depiction of Bailey College and its aspiring literati, as well as the arrogant (if sometimes charming) professor who flirted with his students (hard to believe it was acceptable in my grandparents’ day). Readers will enjoy Goodman’s effortless prose and vivid descriptions of the Hudson Valley (the apples can almost be tasted) and its inhabitants, past and present, and will lose themselves as I did in a mysterious ghost story that leads to the discovery of numerous family secrets.  I give her extra credit for surprising me with some of the twists at the end; I need to reread later to see if there were clues I missed.  Just don’t do what I did – I read it late at night in bed as the snow came down and I felt very isolated!
I had always meant to read Carol Goodman so when I noticed that the heroine of this book shares my sister’s name I was intrigued and made that my excuse to be included in this blog tour.

Five of five stars - recommended!  I may also buy her new middle grade novel, The Metropolitans, which looks enjoyable, for my nephew's birthday.
Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes.

Please join Carol Goodman, author of New York Times bestseller, The Lake of Dead Languages, as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, March 21st: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Thursday, March 23rd: Tina Says…
Monday, March 27th: Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, March 28th: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, March 29th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, April 5th: Why Girls Are Weird
Tuesday, April 11th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, April 13th: Book by Book
Wednesday, April 19th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, April 20th: Jathan & Heather

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hollywood Star (Book Review)

Title: Hollywood Star (Gloria Whitcomb, #3)
Author: Gladys Malvern
Publication: Julian Messner, Hardcover, 1953
Genre: Young Adult
this blurry cover was all I could find
Plot: Gloria Whitcomb, a talented but unknown ballerina from New York, has been cast to play Anna Pavlova in a movie, and heads to Los Angeles for the filming, chaperoned by her mother and young brother. It is hard for Gloria to leave her handsome fiancé behind in Manhattan, and she doesn’t realize the studio will want to promote her as glamorous and single. The stresses of acting for the first time before people who doubt her and being thrown into the company of handsome actors (with dubious motives) strain her performance and her relationship with Doug. Can Gloria triumph over Hollywood’s petty jealousies and stay true to the man she has loved for so long?

Audience: Young adult readers, fans of ballet fiction and of career novels

My Impressions: As a pre-teen I loved all of Gladys Malvern’s books, at least those found in the Newton and Brighton libraries. Most of her books were historical fiction, ranging from surprisingly compelling biblical fiction (Behold Your Queen, The Foreigner) to books set in colonial America. The Boys and Girls Library in Newton Corner had copies of the first two books in this series, Gloria Ballet Dancer and Prima Ballerina, and I read them many times, without knowing this third book existed until I was grown up. It is the weakest of the three but Gladys was clearly trying to convey as much as she could about the movie business for eager teens. She does a good job conveying the spite and backbiting that go on when an outsider is cast for a big part (luckily, Gloria has retained her girl next door personality and usually wins people over sooner or later), and she depicts two gossip columnists who must be based on Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, rivals who together had an audience of 75 million in their heyday.

On the movie set, Gloria is upstaged and belittled by her co-star, an actor who thinks he can take advantage of her lack of experience. She is assisted in standing up for herself by his rival, Jules Fletcher, not because he cares about Gloria but because Jules doesn’t want a rival male actor to gain in popularity. It is a sign of Gloria’s cluelessness that she never figures this out, and disappointing that her mother is too intimidated by Hollywood and Gloria’s success to provide the sensible mothering needed.

Those of us who suffered with Gloria during years of wondering if Doug Gardiner cared for her will not enjoy seeing her squabble with him or flirt with another man. It’s a little like when you think Betsy Ray and Joe Willard have finally worked out their differences and then you learn that in a book which doesn’t even exist, Betsy was flirting with Bob Baryhdt at the U*!
Anna Pavlova
Source: I obtained a copy of this book via Interlibrary Loan. Thank you to Rowan University in New Jersey for preserving and sharing it. This is one of what were called a Career Romance for Young Moderns. My library had only a handful because they were already dated in the 70s but I read them and so did @sadiestein.

* Maud Hart Lovelace always referred to the University of Minnesota as the U, so I did too. When I was about ten, some friend of my parents asked where I wanted to go to college, and when I said, importantly, “The U,” she asked, puzzled, “Which U?”

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Divided Spy (Book Review)

Title: A Divided Spy (Thomas Kell #3)
Author: Charles Cumming
Publication: Hardcover, St. Martin’s Press, 2017
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Thomas Kell is a British spy, forced into retirement and, thus, at loose ends. His former colleague, Amelia Levene, is now chief of Britain’s Intelligence Service, and twice she has been the cause of Kell being dragged back into undercover activity. One of these episodes ended with the death of a woman the divorced Kell had begun to care for. As this book begins, Kell learns that the Russian agent who caused that death has an illicit relationship that can be used against him. Kell wants revenge but he also wants to “turn” the Russian agent and deliver him to Amelia and her sneering minions who either enjoyed his downfall or simply don’t take him seriously. And then he wonders if he is the one being played. . .

Audience: Fans of sophisticated espionage or suspense, such as John LeCarré, Anthony Price, Alan Furst.

My Impressions: This is the third book I have read about Thomas Kell, and each has provided an absorbing, compelling, and, at times, frightening story. There is no glamour in the lives of these spies: Kell acknowledges that his lifestyle and obsession with work ruined his marriage and the incident that destroyed his career is something that would likely have been swept under the rug for someone better politically connected. Instead, he is depressed and low in funds. However, Kell is talented and his disdain for others’ opinions, while it has not won him any popularity contests, seems to help him analyze and anticipate how the enemy will react. This is why Amelia and her ilk come to him for help with international situations, although they find him insubordinate. One of the things I have enjoyed in all three books is the detailed descriptions of surveillance: the set up, the long hours watching (and tedium), the details that can and do go wrong, and the exhilaration when events start moving.

The author is skilled at creating minor but vivid characters as Kell’s foil. My favorites, in this book are very different: Rosie, a shop girl who has unwittingly been dating a terrorist, and Marquand, a high level intelligence agent who acts as if meeting with Kell “is an interruption in his day that he could have done without.” When the meeting is over, “[t]here had been no trace of the years they had spent together as colleagues, no acknowledgment of the awkwardness of the situation, nor of Marquand’s role in exacerbating it.” I know I am often forced to work with people like this and pretend I don’t notice their arrogance. It is a testament to Kell’s skill that he is (eventually) able to persuade Rosie and Marquand to trust him.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the basic premise of this book – Minasian’s illicit relationship – but I was willing to suspend my disbelief for a great read.
Source: I first learned of Charles Cumming by reading a glowing review in Publishers Weekly and highly recommend this series, ideally by beginning with the first book, A Foreign Country. A pre-publication copy of A Divided Spy was provided to me by the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Tough Justice: Countdown (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Tough Justice: Countdown (part 1 of 8, currently priced at $.99 each)
Author: Carla Cassidy
Publication: Harlequin Intrigue, ebook, February 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Giveaway: I can give away one digital copy of Book 1 - see below
Plot: Tick. Tock. BOOM.

FBI Special Agent Lara Grant had thought that she’d put her past behind her—finally—with her last case. But now a serial bomber is targeting Manhattan’s elite power players, offering them a choice between saving hundreds of lives or seeing their darkest secrets exposed. Lara is working with the Crisis Management Unit to stop the bomber, but how will she react when she’s the one who has to choose between truth…or death?

Part 1 of 8: an explosive new installment in the thrilling FBI serial from New York Times bestselling author Carla Cassidy and Tyler Anne Snell, Emmy Curtis, and Janie Crouch.  Note that it looks like the first installment's title was originally Exposed and is now Countdown.

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense. You can *meet* the authors here.

My Impressions: This is a fast paced story told in eight installments of about 85 pages told by several of Harlequin’s popular authors. Lara is an intense, attractive, and flawed FBI agent who, in a previous case, went undercover to infiltrate the Moretti crime ring. As the story continues, we learn that Lara made some serious mistakes on that investigation and actually had a child with the notorious drug lord. To keep the child safe, Lara gave her up for adoption but this decision has caused her enormous grief. It is unclear how long ago that was (or if there are books about Lara’s previous case) but since then Lara has continued to throw herself into her work and has a passionate on again/off again relationship with her partner, Nick Delano. As this story begins, Lara and her team are tasked with investigating a killer who is using homemade bombs to terrorize New York. This is just the first installment but Lara comes across as superwoman tough yet vulnerable. As yet it is hard to distinguish between the other characters and their personalities but I look forward to learning more about her complicated back story and the interrelationships with other members of this elite FBI team.
About the Series: Harlequin launched a serialization publication with the debut of this Tough Justice mystery-suspense series. The eight-part digital-first serial is a multi-author endeavor that sees all the episodes in the series published simultaneously and are available as ebooks and as audiobooks. Each installment is currently priced at $.99.   Click here for purchase links and here for more info about the series.

I have one digital copy to give away.   If you are interested, please leave a comment below and I will pick one at the end of February.

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of the first installment of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Harlequin for including me in the launch of this series.