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.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Before the Dawn (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Before the Dawn
Author: Cynthia Eden
Publication: Harlequin paperback, 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense

Plot: The Killer Instinct series from New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Eden continues as an FBI profiler tracks a case that resurrects ghosts from his past. 

Ex-SEAL Tucker Frost knows that the world is full of evil. He saw it in the face of his own brother, Jason Frost, a cold, methodical, sadistic killer. A killer Tucker put down with his own hands in order to save Jason’s final victim—Dawn Alexander, the only girl who got away from the infamous “Iceman.”

It’s Tucker’s up close and personal experience with evil that’s made him perfect for Samantha Dark’s experimental profiling division in the FBI. Samantha wants agents who have personal ties with killers, who have unique insights into the minds of monsters. And when women start turning up murdered with the same MO used by the Iceman, Tucker is sent back to Louisiana to investigate.

The last person he expects to see is his ex-lover, Dawn. Seven years have passed since the night that Tucker faced down his brother…and since he last saw Dawn. But the dark need still burns just as hot between Tucker and Dawn. As they grapple with a desire that never died, they must also face the shared shadow from their pasts. Both Tucker and Dawn have the same question—has Jason Frost come back from the dead to hunt again? And this time, will he succeed in killing the victim who got away?

Audience: Fans of romantic suspense and of authors such as Linda Howard and Kay Hooper.

Social Media and Giveaway: You can follow Cynthia Eden on Facebook or Twitter.  You can also enter a raffle to win a gift card. a Rafflecopter giveaway

My Impressions: This was a fast paced and entertaining read, set in New Orleans, one of my favorite places. Although it was the second in the series, it worked as a standalone, but I enjoyed it enough to go back for the Eden’s earlier books. It sounds a little odd to say I like serial killer novels (I skip the gruesome parts, which makes books on CD in this genre a bit problematic) when what I actually like are the teams who solve the crimes. I also appreciate characters who have suffered and survived like Dawn, who faced a serial killer and rebuilt her life afterwards. She and Tucker are fairly predictable but the supporting cast provide the real dimension to this story. I look forward to reading more about Samantha Dark (although her name is a cliché a good editor should have discouraged!).

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes.  Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me.  You can visit other stops on the tour by clicking below:
Tuesday, July 25th: Books a la Mode – excerpt
Wednesday, July 26th: Mama Reads -excerpt and review
Thursday, July 27th: Buried Under Romance
Thursday, July 27th: Deborah Blanchard
Monday, July 31st: A Fortress of Books
Wednesday, August 2nd: Snowdrop Dreams – excerpt
Thursday, August 3rd: Moonlight Rendezvous
Friday, August 4th: Reading Lark After Dark
Wednesday, August 9thBlogging with A
Thursday, August 10thBook Nerd
Friday, August 11thReadaholic Zone – excerpt
Monday, August 14thThe Sassy Bookster
Tuesday, August 15thFrom the TBR Pile
Wednesday, August 16thBecky on Books
Friday, August 18thStranded in Chaos
Monday, August 21stBooks and Spoons – excerpt
Monday, August 21stJathan & Heather
Tuesday, August 29thRomancing the Readers

Monday, July 31, 2017

Call to Engage: Team Poseidon (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Call to Engage: A Team Poseidon Novel
Author: Tawny Weber
Publication: Harlequin paperback, 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Giveaway: Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy to give away!
Plot: The Poseidon team consists of hard-bodied, fiercely competitive Navy SEALs. But when a sensitive mission goes disastrously wrong, three of the team’s finest will have to trust their hearts and instincts to uncover the truth… 

Lieutenant Elijah Prescott should be spending his precious leave somewhere with sun, surf and scantily clad women. Instead, he’s heading home with two goals in mind. Figure out exactly how his last assignment went to hell and almost killed him—and reconnect with the woman who might offer salvation.  Ava Monroe has streamlined her life, eliminating every source of pain—including a marriage touched by tragedy. One glimpse of her ex and those good intentions turn to bad-girl desires. Her strategy: get over Elijah by getting under him again, sating herself until she can finally let go. But as betrayal within the rank of the SEALs turns deadly, there’s no denying that her heart and her life are on the line. Elijah is the only man who can protect both…

Audience: Fans of Suzanne Brockman and Cherry Adair

My Impressions: I am a big fan of Suzanne Brockman’s Troubleshooters series and have not been impressed by most wannabes, but enjoyed this book - it was an entertaining, fast paced read that will make you want to read the rest of the series.   The Poseidon team is investigating a traitor in its midst and this is the second book in the series. Much of Call to Engage is about a couple who have gone through the tragic loss of their child, which destroyed their marriage; they been apart for four years, rebuilding their lives. While the reader is initially sympathetic to Ava, that wears off it becomes clear that the breakdown of the marriage was her fault and that she was responsible for most of the difficulties along the way (including telling her dedicated military husband he is wasting his time for a pittance and an ego boost - lovely).  There is character development but her actions are not fully explained: one minute she is disgusted her ex has reappeared, next she is sleeping with him just to get him out of her system (does this ever work? she is not as well read as we are!), next she agrees to date him for “sexy fun” (p. 252), then suddenly she is participating in a Seal mission with the boys (p. 284), and is willing to abandon the job that helped her rebuild her life.

The story is also about Ava's husband Elijah and his Poseidon team.  While Call to Engage is the second in a trilogy, it was easy to jump right into the story. The unit commander, Nic Savino, is the most intriguing character and will star in the third book, coming in November. 

Caveats: I wish Weber’s editor would alert her to this grammatical rule so she stops saying, “...between he and Ava” (page 200). Also, if Ava had agreed to leave with the child she is ostensibly minding (p. 344), wouldn’t Mason Powers still be alive? Surely Nic is responsible for this casualty?  Matchmaking in the middle of a secret, critical mission?   Even if the desired outcome is achieved...
Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes, and I have another to share. To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment telling me what interests you about this book. Do you have a military hero?  (US and Canada only!)

Please join Tawny Weber as she tours the blogsphere!

Tawny Weber’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, July 10th: Bewitched Bookworms
Wednesday, July 12th: Reading Lark After Dark
Monday, July 17th: Books a la Mode – excerpt
Thursday, July 20th: Readaholic Zone – excerpt
Monday, July 24th: A Fortress of Books
Wednesday, July 26th: Snowdrop Dreams – excerpt 

Thursday, August 3rdJathan & Heather 

Friday, August 4thBecky on Books 

Monday, August 7thBook Nerd 

Wednesday, August 9thThe Romance Dish 

Monday, August 14thMoonlight Rendezvous 

Wednesday, August 16thWhat I’m Reading 

Friday, August 18thBooks and Spoons – excerpt

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