Monday, July 30, 2018

Dune Drive by Mariah Stewart (Book Review)

Title: Dune Drive: The Chesapeake Diaries
Author: Mariah Stewart
Publication: Pocket Books, paperback, August 2018
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Plot: When Chrissie Jenkins finally gains the courage necessary to escape from her abusive boyfriend, she heads to Cannonball Island, just off St. Dennis, Maryland, a quirky coastal town which has appeared in previous books by Stewart. She is welcomed by Ruby Carter, her great-grandmother, a feisty octogenarian with enough second sight to unnerve her affectionate relatives. Ruby runs the Island’s General Store where Chrissie helps out while she is recovering from years of misery. While visiting the local Inn, Chrissie runs into Jared Chandler, a marine salvage diver she met at a family wedding. Neither is looking for romance but a warm friendship develops between them. When their relationship turns romantic, Chrissie has to decide if she can bear to reveal her past to those who might judge her and if she wants to risk heartbreak again.

Audience: Fans of small-town romance – readers who enjoy Jill Shalvis, Susan Wiggs, and Kristan Higgins.

My Impressions: Stewart writes about multilayered characters, with weaknesses as well as strengths, dealing with challenges and life lessons. Given the seriousness of domestic abuse, this is obviously not as carefree a story as some of her others, although it has many light-hearted moments. She does a good job of describing how someone like Chrissie could get swept off her feet by a manipulative and abusive man, and doesn’t insult her readers by implying Chrissie can immediately transition into a new relationship (although this is a romance, so the reader is rooting for Chrissie and Jared). In addition, Chrissie’s search for a job that she would enjoy and feel comfortable in leads to a delectable depiction of the operation of a small bistro (previously featured in At the River’s Edge). Chrissie’s journey of rediscovery also involves many of the characters featured in the previous eleven titles in the series as well as some from another.  I have missed a few in the series but they stand alone fairly well: you definitely know what you're getting with each book.

Purchase Links: B&N * IndieBound * Amazon * Simon & Schuster
Questions for the Author: Chrissie’s parents divorced when she was one, and her father took her brother Luke and was never heard from again. Yet Chrissie “remembers” something Luke once told her and misses him acutely. But there’s no way a one year old could remember something a sibling told her, and I doubt she’d remember her sibling either. It might have been much better to create conflict between her parents that began or was precipitated when she was an older child. Also, it seems to me that an abused woman on the run would not allow anyone to take her picture.

Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Something in the Water (Book Review)

Title: Something in the Water
Author: Catherine Steadman
Publication: Ballantine, various formats, 2018
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Told in the first person, this is a chilling story of how one bad choice causes a ripple effect that irrevocably changes two newlyweds. Erin, a brilliant filmmaker, and her fiancĂ©, Mark, a London banker, have the perfect life – until Mark loses his job and his self-confidence. Erin is busy on her first feature length documentary, following three individuals being released from prison, but takes a break to go to Bora Bora for their honeymoon. When she and Mark go scuba diving, they find a bag full of cash. They do try to turn it in to the authorities – but it comes back to their luxurious bungalow like some kind of fateful boomerang – and the next minute they are in danger that threatens to destroy their lives.

Audience: Fans of fast moving suspense – authors such as Harlan Coban, Ruth Ware, Sharon Bolton, and Tana French.

Catherine Steadman
My Impressions: This was a dark and fast-paced novel that was hard to put down but full of “No, please, don’t do that!” train wreck moments that made it hard to conventionally enjoy as I was too busy being afraid of what would happen next. The book starts with a bang with Erin is digging a grave, then flashes back to three months earlier when Erin and Mark were enjoying a weekend in Norfolk, preparing for a fancy wedding, and we learn more about their history and relationship. The most intriguing character is Eddie Bishop, a notorious criminal Erin meets with in prison, prior to his release, so she can feature him in her film. Their relationship is terrifying – who knew making a documentary could be so dangerous? And Erin is not a good liar, or is she?

Author: Catherine Steadman is an English actress best known to American audiences from Downton Abbey, in which she played Mabel Lane Fox, an heiress who marries one of Lady Mary’s rejected suitors.  She is much prettier in real life, which is not surprising.   You may remember what Charles Audley says in Regency Buck: "I'm come home to try my luck with the heiress.  Where is she?  Does she squint like a bag of nails? Is she hideous?  They always are."

Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher through NetGalley for review purposes. Recommended for fans of psychological suspense and as fun summer reading – not necessarily for those who prefer the historical fiction genre provided in my Downton Abbey suggestions.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Five Things

Is mowing the lawn exercise? Yes! The actual amount of calories burned depends on your weight and the type of mower but this is comforting news. I suspect all my bending to pick up sticks and branches is more valuable fitness-wise than pushing the mower but you never know.
My favorite striped petunias on the front steps
Perhaps this week’s moral lesson is NOT to buy Talenti Gelato unless it is on sale. I was brought up to know better and I am punished for too quickly grabbing a pint of Sea Salt Caramel which, upon arriving home, turned out to be Coffee Chocolate Chip Gelato, a flavor I don’t like. I would like to give it to someone if I could deliver it unmelted.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Star of the North (Book Review)

Title: Star of the North 
Author: D. B. John
Publication: Crown Publishing, hardcover, 2018
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Jenna’s twin sister disappeared 12 years ago while studying in Korea, devastating the while family.  Jenna has tried to rebuild her life and is a successful academic at Georgetown University when she learns there is a possibility Soo-Min is alive.  Abandoning her career, she joins the CIA in an attempt to learn as much as possible about North Korea and expedite any opportunity to rescue her sister.  Other characters include a North Korean diplomat, Colonel Cho, part of the Pyongyang elite who is sent on a mission to negotiate with the United States – where he meets Jenna – and Mrs. Moon, a North Korean peasant living near the Chinese border, trying desperately to support herself and an invalid husband.

Audience: Fans of suspense, particularly those who enjoy strong female characters.  I recommend to readers who enjoy David Baldacci and Dean Koontz.

My Impressions: What a timely book written by Welsh-born David Johns and, more importantly, it was impossible to put down!  Jenna is an appealing and compelling heroine whose nightmares about her sister’s disappearance and survivor’s guilt have prevented her from developing close relationships as an adult, although she is beautiful and brilliant.   Her dual heritage from her African-American military father and her Korean mother has set her apart and focused her academic interests so when she is recruited to join the CIA, she can almost immediately discern information on North Korea that is not apparent to Washington insiders. 
Parallel with Jenna’s story is a convincing look at the highest and the lowest in North Korea:  Colonel Cho Sang-ho appears to have it all as a member of North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a high-ranking position, serving Kim Jong-Il (father of the current despot), and Mrs. Moon has a heartbreaking life of selling scraps by a railway station in North Korea’s Ryanggang Province, bribing police out of her meager profits to survive each day.   I was so busy reading I forgot to wonder how her story intersected with the others, and was surprised and impressed by the author’s skill in weaving these disparate personalities into a disturbing yet enthralling narrative. I am embarrassed at how weak my geography is – hence the map above.  I did not have much interest in North Korea prior to this year but found this story fascinating.  Best of all, there is clearly room for a sequel but not at the expense (as my sister was just complaining) of ending this book without a conclusion.

Source: This book was recommended by my talented college classmate Nick Kristof in his newsletter, and I got a copy from the Boston Public Library.   I suggest you give it a try.