09 April 2014

Review: Blood Orchids by Toby Neal

A copy of this book was provided by the author through the Sisterhood of the Traveling Book in exchange for my review. 

Genre: Mystery/thriller
Page Count: 314 pages
List Price: $9.99 Paperback
                 $ 3.99 Digital Edition
Publication Date: December 2, 2011
Publisher: Toby Neal

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars. 

Blood Orchids is the debut thriller from author Toby Neal.  The setting is Hawaii, where Lei Texiera is a police officer with the Hilo, Hawaii police force and who happens to be on call when the bodies of two young women are found raped and murdered.  As the investigation into the crime continues, Lei is thrown back into her own troubled past.  To make matters worse, it appears that she has attracted a stalker.

Lei Texiera is the best kind of central character, one that is complex and multi-layered, and throughout the book Toby Neal does an excellent job of putting us inside her head.  On the surface, she is a bold, brash, cop who is always in control.  Underneath, though is another person altogether.  One that has survived a lot, and still bears the scars.  This is what really made the book stand out for me.  I  was fascinated and engaged in learning about what made Lei into the person she was at this point in her life.  Even more, I was interested in which road she would take from here.  Would she rise above her past, or sink below it and continue to live a life destined to lead to self-destruction.  What is even better, is that this question is not answered in just one book, leaving me wanting more and looking forward to the next book in the series.

The mystery in the book is well crafted, also.  As the story unfolds, Toby Neal presents many possible scenarios for who is behind the rapes and murders and for the who and why of Lei's stalker.   Ultimately I learned to suspect everyone, whether they seemed to be on the level or not, and to question whether the stalking was related to the investigation.  These questions and the sheer number of theories I could formulate kept me turning the pages.  Then, just when I thought the story was over and the questions had been answered, Toby Neal threw in a few more curves that really made the ending to the story stand out.  Couple this with the questions regarding where the main characters were headed in the future have me anticipation the rest of the series.

This book was a win for me.  The mystery was top-notch and fast paced, although it was almost a back story to Lei's for me.  Lei's story, however, was compelling with just enough questions answered to satisfy me, but just enough left hanging to make me want to read more.  In addition, Toby Neal's depiction of the culture of Hilo was spot on, all the way down to her use of Hawaiian pidgin.  I would highly recommend this book to mystery readers, especially if you like exotic locations or strong character back stories.  

03 April 2014

Review: The Candidate: A Luxembourg Thriller by Daniel Pembrey

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review. 

Genre:  Techno thriller
Page Count: 159 pages
This Title is available only from Amazon Kindle:  Price is $1.99
Publication Date: December 9, 2013
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I don't usually read and review books that are not widely available, but the synopsis for  The Candidate by Daniel Pembrey sounded interesting.  I admit, when I decided to read and review it, I did not realize that it was only available in digital format, and then only from Amazon.  Regardless of that, if you are a fan of the techno-thriller or stories about corporate espionage, or just espionage in general, it is worth checking out.

Nick Thorneycroft is a headhunter for a tech company who has asked him to recruit a new employee to be a top executive for the Russian arm of their business.  The candidate that he selects is a beautiful woman who appears to have all of the right qualifications.  But are things really what they seem to be?  In The Candidate Daniel Pembrey crafts a fast paced story with interesting characters and some good twists and turns.  I really got involved in the story quickly, and remained engaged until the end.  I also enjoyed the fact that the main character for the story was a headhunter for a multi-national company, which I thought was a fresh idea that I hadn't run across in other books. The biggest problem with the story, and the reason for the 3 stars, was the lack of depth.  Mostly this was due to the fact that this is a novella, which do not lend themselves to complex plot or character development.   I thought, though, that this story would have stood up to, and even benefited from, more development of both the plot and the characters.  I wished it was a full length novel and not a novella, and would love to see this author write something that was more complex.  

21 March 2014

Blog Tour, Giveaway, and Review: True Love by Jude Deveraux

The publisher will be giving away three copies of True Love.  If you would like to win a copy of this excellent romantic story, please leave a comment to that effect below.  Good luck and happy reading!

The review copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for a review

Genre: Romance
Page Count: 446 pages
List Price: $27.00 Hardback
                $ 10.99 Digital 
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: July 9, 2013

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars. 

True Love is the first book in Jude Deveraux's Nantucket Bride trilogy, and if it is any indication of what is to come, I know I will be reading the other two books in the trilogy.  In fact, as I read this book, I thought it would be perfect for a series or trilogy, and I have already picked out which couples I hope the other books are about.  Truthfully, I think that there is enough here to support more than just a trilogy.  

The book takes place on Nantucket Island, which is interesting enough in itself.  I loved the way the Jude Deveraux described the history, geography, sights, and people of Nantucket Island.  I hope to visit there one day, and her descriptions only fueled that fire.  In addition, a place with all the tradition and history of Nantucket is certainly a good backdrop for a romance story.  Add to this a love story which includes not only the two characters who are falling in love, but a 200-year-old mystery complete with a ghost who has been around since the mystery started, all of which is blended together to make a truly interesting read. 

The characters in this book were easy to become involved with.  I could truly feel the love and attraction between the main characters, Alix and Jared, and loved the instant connection they developed.  A number of the supporting characters also caught my interest.  I think my favorite by far was Alix's mother, Victoria. Being a famous author allowed her to get away with quite a bit, but I loved the way that Jude Deveraux let you see inside the character.  The fact that she was willing to look and act like a diva to actually benefit others was an interesting insight. As I said above, there were several of the supporting characters that I would love to read more about.  And not just about their romantic lives, but about what makes them who they are.  I hope that Victoria, Caleb, Ken, Jilly, Roger,  Lexie, Toby and others show up in future books.  As I said, it seems to me that there is more here than just what will fit in a trilogy, and I could happily read about the Kingsleys and Montgomerys for a while. 

The bottom line is that this book is a win for me, and that I am looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy, or as far as Jude Deveraux goes with these characters.  While I am no stranger to Jude Deveraux's books, it has been quite a few years since I have read one, but this book reminded me of why I used to enjoy them so much.  

18 March 2014

Monday's Review: The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Edelwiess in exchange for my review. 

Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 305 page
List Price:  $25.95 Hardback
                $10.99 Digital
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Doubleday 

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Kate Alcott's second historical novel, The Daring Ladies of Lowell is set in the town of Lowell, Massachusetts during the 1830s.  Lowell is one of the East Coast towns that were famous for the cloth mills that populated the area and were infamous for their "sweatshop" conditions.  Alice Barrow is a farm girl who travels to Lowell to begin work in the mill.  Once she has found a dormitory with an extra space, she settles in and begins her career as one of the "mill girls".

There were several things that I enjoyed about this book.  First of all, I enjoyed the mix of characters included in the cast of mill girls.  Kate Alcott did a good job of including characters whose personalities were as varied as the girls themselves were.   Among Alice's friends and dormitory sisters we find the religious, the studious, the goody two shoes, the adventurous, and those that just wanted to have a little fun.  Another way that Kate Alcott's portrayal of the mill girls was spot on was in the way that she portrayed the juxtapositions of their lives.  Although the living and working conditions are harsh, they are much better than those that most of these girls came from, mostly because for the first time in their lives, they are able to make decisions for themselves, at least on some level.  I thought that the way the allure of their lives was contrasted with it's bleak realities was quite well done.

Another aspect of this book that worked for me was in the portrayal of the mill owner, Hiram Fiske.  Like so many of the men in his position, Hiram was a mix of characteristics.  Although he was getting rich off of the backs of the mill girls, at times he was honestly able to convince himself that he was making their lives better.  And just when he was about to convince you that he could do the right thing, his greed would rear its ugly head and he would become a man whose only purpose in life was to make his business more profitable than his competitors, no matter who was hurt in the process.

Another great plus to this book was the fact that the murder and subsequent trial that were interwoven through the story were based on an actual event.  I always love when a historical book uses actual events to tell a fictional story.  It not only shows that the author did some research on the subject, but for me it makes the story have more impact.  In the case of this story, also, the murder and trial were the perfect devices to illustrate the realities of  the lives of the characters.  Not only were we able to see how the mill girls would eventually band together for their joint benefit, but using the trial to showcase the thinking of the mill owners at that time was wonderful.

What didn't work for me, though, was the romance side of the story.  I will  be the first to admit that I don't mind a little romance with my history, but in this case, the romance presented just did not ring true. A romance between the mill owner's son and one of the mill girls was just too fanciful for me and took away from the realistic feeling of the rest of the book.  I would have found it much less distracting if the romance would have developed between Alice and the town doctor, or someone who lived in Lowell, but wasn't a mill worker. In fact, I would much rather have had more of the story about the mill girls, their lives,  and their working conditions.  Alternately, I would have been happier if more of the story would have been centered on the mill owners and their justifications for their behavior, or about the murder and trial.

Having read a few other books that were similar in character to this, I found the underlying story was good, but could have gone farther.  However, I would still recommend this book for those who are interested in reading about the women and girls who worked in the mills, especially if you like a bit of romance with your history.  

11 March 2014

Friday's Reveiw: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

This book was provided by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for my review

Genre:  Thriller
Page Count: 336
List Price:  $25.95 Print
                   $10.99 Digital 
Publication Date:  February 11, 2014
Publisher:  Doubleday

My Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

One of the best things about writing reviews for book and blogging is that you come across wonderful new authors that you have not read before.  Established author Jennifer McMahon is a perfect example.  Although The Winter People is her 7th novel, it is my first by here and I am so excited to find a new author to read.

One day  19-year-old Ruthie awakens to find her mother has disappeared.  Ruthie lives in an old farmhouse in West Hall, Vermont with her mother Alice and her sister Fawn.  The same farmhouse where Sarah Harrison Shea lived in the early 1900s with her husband and daughter Gertie.  The same farmhouse  where Sarah was found dead just weeks after Gertie is killed in a tragic way.   

The book begins in 1908 when Sarah sees her first "sleepeer" (a person who has died and is temporarily brought back to life).  It continues through her diary which tells about her life, Gertie's death, and the aftermath.  Alternate chapters tell the story of Ruthie and her sister, and the search for their missing mother.  Telling the stories by alternating them can be confusing at times, but it this case Jennifer McMahon does an excellent job of weaving the two stories together seamlessly.   The excellent narrative hooked me from the beginning and my curiosity to see what would happen next kept me going.   

Although it was not apparent how the two stories connected in the beginning, this was not a problem at all.  Each story was compelling and filled with just the right amount of suspense.  In addition, the characters in the story were easy for me to become invested in, which also pulled me in quickly.  In addition to the main characters, there were several other characters who caught my interest, including Sarah's magical "Auntie" and the wife of a photographer who disappeared while researching Sarah's life.  Add to all this the inclusion of the ghostly as well as other supernatural elements that took the story to a seriously creepy level.  You know, the feeling you get when someone tells a really great ghost story after dark in the summer.  It certainly made me shiver several times, and not just because the story took place during a snow storm.  

As I said above, this is the first of Jennifer McMahon's books that I have read.  What I didn't say is that I have several others that I have never gotten a chance to read.  That will be remedied soon.  If you have never read anything by Jennifer McMahon, I recommend that you seek out her work, and The Winter People is a great place to start.  I am anticipating that the rest of her books are filled with the same excellent narrative, characters, and other elements as this one. 

04 March 2014

Monday's Review: The Wishing Hill by Holly Robinson

This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Chick-lit
Page Count: 400
List Price:  $15.00 Print          
                $7.99 Digital
Publication Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: NAL

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Contemporary Fiction is such a broad category that to label the book as such is really not telling the reader anything.  On the other hand, I am always a bit leery of labeling a book as Chick-Lit because I think that many readers make assumptions about the book based solely on that.  In fact, I used to think that I was not a big fan of "chick-lit" but as I have read more and more books in this genre I realized that I do like chick-lit, but that I am just picky about the books I read.  I find that if the characters have something other than the run of the mill personality or back story.  I am more likely to enjoy the book.  Likewise, if the plot is varied and the issues presented unique in some way, I am more likely to enjoy the book.  The Wishing Hill by Holly Robinson fits both of these criteria for me.

The main characters in The Wishing Hill are three women whose lives are linked together in an unbreakable way, although we may not understand what that is at the beginning of the book.  Juliet is a women coming up on middle age who finds herself suddenly on her own.  Her husband has left her and the bohemian lifestyle they were living, leaving her surprised and wondering where her life is leading now.  On top of it all, she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant after years of thinking that she is infertile.  Desiree is Juliet's mother, an aging actress who is used to being the center of attention and afraid that life is passing her by.  Claire, Desiree's neighbor, is a single woman in her 60s who has never married, but still is in love with the married man who she had an affair with in her early twenties.  All of them are strong women in their own way.  Even the male characters in this book were unique.  In fact, I would love to read a book where any one of the male characters were the main focus, that is how interesting they seemed to be. From Will, Juliet's staid, middle class brother, all the way to the divorced contractor working on Juliet and Desiree's house.

The storyline of The Wishing Hill did not disappoint, either.  It is more than just the a story of three women with intertwining lives.  Although the main focus of the book is on how the three women's lives intersect, we are also treated to their separate stories, which I found very interesting.  As with the male characters, I think that any one of these stories could have sustained a book all on their own.  You might think that having all of the stories in one novel would be confusing, but Holly Robinson uses different points of view and travel between locations to weave them together until they make one seamless story.

Holly Robinson's insights and superb writing talent made this book a joy to read and one that I would easily recommend to my friends, or even buy for someone.  As for me, I am looking forward to other novels by Holly and hope to read much more by her.