Tuesday, November 24, 2015

REVIEW: Abby: Mail Order Bride by Verna Clay

Abby: Mail Order Bride
by Verna Clay

Publisher: M.O.I. Publishing
Page Count: 129
Release Date: June 9, 2012
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; bought via Amazon

First attention getter: genre it belongs to


From GoodReads:

Brant Samson has fallen on hard times with the death of his beloved wife a year earlier from lung fever. Left with three children, he's desperate to find a mother for them. Ten year old Jenny does her best to care for two year old Ty, and fourteen year old Luke works the ranch with his father, losing himself in dime novels to ease the pain of his mother's passing. Brant's options are limited since eligible women seldom pass through Two Rivers, much less settle in the small Texas town. In desperation, he places a classified advertisement for a mail order bride. Marrying a woman he'll come to know through a newspaper advertisement scares the bejesus out of him, but at this point, he's out of options.

Abigail Mary Vaughn always dreamed of having her own family, but caring for her elderly parents, as well as working as a teacher to help with finances, ended that dream. Her parents are now dead and she's faced with the reality of her lonely existence. After reading Mr. Samson's advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer, she garners enough courage to respond. Since she is considered an old maid at the age of thirty-eight, she'll more than likely spend the rest of her life wondering "what if" unless she does something unconventional.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

For its length, this was a pretty successful romance. Novella length stories of this kind don’t always succeed, but for the most part, this one does.

I liked that the author chose to play around with her leads and their circumstances, making them different than your usual farmer and his mail-order bride. Their ages are significantly different than the usual, and I liked that Abby was a normal sized woman, not a pixie-thin gal. For being a former teacher from a somewhat privileged background, Abby shows a lot of grit and bravery to go into such an unknown situation and try to build a better life. I loved that Brant was willing to look beyond the obvious with Abby to see the sweet, loyal individual she really was.

I liked that the author was also willing to go to some distressing areas with the overall story and fate of characters. Historical romances can veer off into the smoopy sweet territory, making many areas unbelievable and so removing my enjoyable from the story. Yet, Clay played around with some tragedy and tears to give her romance depth in contrast to all the pain. For a novella, that’s a bold step I liked.

Where this book suffered a smidge was a common fault I’ve run across in novellas. The author seemed to be trying to fit too much into one storyline. Situations and conflicts were solved very quickly as the story progressed, never really giving the reader a chance to sink teeth into any one thing. Prime example of this is how quickly Brant’s kids got on with Abby and how quickly they seemed to accept her as a mother figure, Luke especially. He starts out as a typical teen who misses his mother so lashes out, but it only takes a few gestures on Abby’s part to win him over.

For a historical romance novella, this work actually stands up pretty well. I loved the leads and their relationship. The author chose to incorporate unusual aspects into the story that gave it extra depth and stand-out power. It fell short in the usual area that novellas do with me; yet overall, I enjoyed the book more than I didn’t. I’d recommend it to lovers of short historical romances as it’s a nice diversion and won’t take long to devour.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

REVIEW: Shall We Not Revenge by D. M. Pirrone

Shall We Not Revenge 
by D. M. Pirrone

Publisher: Allium Press of Chicago
Page Count: 346
Release Date: July 16, 2014
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; bought via Amazon

First attention getter: synopsis


From GoodReads:

In the harsh early winter months of 1872, while Chicago is still smoldering from the Great Fire, Irish Catholic detective Frank Hanley is assigned the case of a murdered Orthodox Jewish rabbi. His investigation proves difficult when the neighborhood’s Yiddish-speaking residents, wary of outsiders, are reluctant to talk. But when the rabbi’s headstrong daughter, Rivka, unexpectedly offers to help Hanley find her father’s killer, the detective receives much more than the break he was looking for.

Their pursuit of the truth draws Rivka and Hanley closer together and leads them to a relief organization run by the city’s wealthy movers and shakers. Along the way, they uncover a web of political corruption, crooked cops, and well-buried ties to two notorious Irish thugs from Hanley’s checkered past. Even after he is kicked off the case, stripped of his badge, and thrown in jail, Hanley refuses to quit. With a personal vendetta to settle for an innocent life lost, he is determined to expose a complicated criminal scheme, not only for his own sake, but for Rivka’s as well.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

My re-visit to the historical mystery genre with this book was a great re-introduction. I don’t read the genre often, but love it when I get such a juicy work to enjoy. This book pleases on most fronts, only falling slightly in a few areas. It’s still good enough to make me want to read more historical mysteries!

The author cuts no corners in setting her scene and exploring intriguing aspects of her historical setting and events. Devastated and corrupt Chicago comes to vivid life as it tries to re-build after the Great Fire of 1871. Charred remains, rubble, and the destitute situation of many Chicago inhabitants makes the reader viscerally live the devastation and horror.

I also loved how the author explored the complex system of police work and the aid given to the poor in the era. Seeing how personal interests and politics played such a big part in both was fascinating to explore, if not completely unexpected. After all, this is the beginning era of organized crime and Tammany Hall-like politics.

I loved the characters through which the story is explored. Frank and Rivka are strong leads, both somewhat embittered from life’s tragedies and pain. They’re both trying to find their places in the world, Frank as a police detective in a system rife with favoritism and corruption and Rivka as a woman who yearns for something more than a standard woman’s place in that world.

I do wish, though, that more time might have been spent on Rivka’s side of the tale. She wasn’t abandoned nor ignored in any fashion. Yet, far more page time and emphasis was placed on Frank and his police work. While this may make sense in the sense that this is a mystery/police procedural story, Rivka, I felt, could have added far more to the investigative side than she did. I missed seeing her more in this regard.

As far as the mystery itself goes, I felt the overall story was strong. I really enjoyed that the investigative portion wasn’t all “he said/she said” as I’ve seen in other historical mysteries before. It probably helped that the story took place in a time where physical evidence was getting more weight in police work. We got to explore how a paper trail, stray hairs, the physical presence of blood, and boot prints all played a part in convicting the right parties of any crimes.

I do have to say though that I wasn’t surprised at the responsible parties. From the weight that was placed on Frank’s past and those involved with that, I could see where the finger was pointed very early on. There wasn’t that much surprise or twist in the murderer’s identity. That’s not always a bad thing, but I felt somewhat disappointed this time.

A strong story with great historical details and characters, this mystery pleases on many fronts. I liked the attention to detail and evident time that the author put into this work. While not perfect, it’s still an excellent example of the historical mystery genre. I’ve learned that the sequel to this book is actually due out in only a few weeks. So I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in this series and getting the chance to run the streets of 1870s Chicago with Rivka and Frank again.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

REVIEW: The King's Man by Alison Stuart

The King's Man
by Alison Stuart

Publisher: Escape Publishing - Harlequin Enterprises, Australia Pty
Page Count: 374
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; via Amazon

First attention getter: avid follower of the author


From GoodReads:

The second in a tantalising trilogy from award-winning author Alison Stuart, about warriors, the wounds they carry and the women that help them heal.

London 1654: Kit Lovell is one of the King’s men, a disillusioned Royalist who passes his time cheating at cards, living off his wealthy and attractive mistress and plotting the death of Oliver Cromwell.

Penniless and friendless, Thamsine Granville has lost everything. Terrified, in pain and alone, she hurls a piece of brick at the coach of Oliver Cromwell and earns herself an immediate death sentence. Only the quick thinking of a stranger saves her.

Far from the bored, benevolent rescuer that he seems, Kit plunges Thamsine into his world of espionage and betrayal – a world that has no room for falling in love.

Torn between Thamsine and loyalty to his master and King, Kit’s carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. He must make one last desperate gamble – the cost of which might be his life.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

I keep enjoying Stuart’s works, one after the other. I really need to get to the one I have on hold as from the trend she’s been following, I think I’ll enjoy it. She excels in this addition as well. Her emotional resonance and ability to take her readers on an amazing, romantic journey always pleases.

I haven’t had a historical romance take me on as powerful an emotional journey as this one did in a while. All the trials that Kit and Thamsine go through, from kidnapping to jail time in the Tower of London to near-death experiences, all build up to a truly jaw-dropping amount of crying and soaring on the wings of happiness. To me, high-emotional content is key to a historical romance succeeding, and Stuart pleases on that front.

She also, again, takes care with her historical details for setting her scene and background for her story. She details the lives of the regular Joe Blows in London, bringing that human-filled, stinky, and vibrant world to life. She also draws on little known plots against Cromwell and the Parliamentary government to give action and suspense to her romantic tale.

As I mentioned before, I love Kit’s and Thamsine’s romantic relationship. They play off each other well, sparking with tension and depth not present in every relationship. However, they’re also strong as individuals.

I loved Thamsin’s strength of character and courage, willing to brave living on the streets and degradation rather than marry the abusive man her father betrothed her to. Kit is a man caught in truly trying circumstances, forced into actions he’d rather not take due to the side of the conflict he was on and forced to do truly horrible things to those he loves as a result. They even lead to some deaths which are truly heavy burdens to bear for Kit. Yet, he meets this with strength of character and firm sense of honor that I enjoyed.

This is another work I’d highly recommend to historical romance lovers from Stuart’s talented pen/computer keyboard. Her characters are strong in their own right and play off each other to create at moving romance. She also backs that all up with great historical details. Don’t hesitate to pick this title up! It’s a great find.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

REVIEW: Bells of Avalon by Libbet Bradstreet

Bells of Avalon
by Libbet Bradstreet

Publisher: self
Page Count: 250
Release Date: July 26, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; via Amazon

First attention getter: synopsis; read @ author's request


From GoodReads:

Hollywood--Where they'll pay a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul...

Thrust into a limelight she never chose, Katie's been paired with Danny for as long as she can remember. Films, roadshow tours, and drugstore appearances...post-war Hollywood can't seem to get enough of the sweetheart team. They'll even fall in love one day. But young love seldom survives the fog wake of Los Angeles--a place of dreams and nightmares.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 2

This book was ultimately disappointing to me. I looked forward to the time period and setting; I’ve read limited works from both. However, the story got very muddled very quickly and I couldn’t connect with the characters at all.

The author does put forth an effort to bring her world to life, with some success. It was interesting to see the lives of the child stars in different stages of their lives, both professionally and personally. The struggle to keep the personal as such and still put forth that “star” image that was so important in the ‘40s and ‘50s was an interesting dilemma to explore. The author does a good job in exploring this area.

However, I quickly lost all rapport I had with Katie, Daniel, or anyone. I think this is connected with how I got lost and bored in the story overall. There is a plethora of sentence fragment, run-on/complex sentences, and time jumping that left me shaking my head more than once. This is an artistic way of writing that works sometimes, but sadly in this work it didn’t work.

There are also occasions where the author will jump into and out of a character’s mind with no transition from a descriptive or action scene. Suddenly we’re exploring how the character sees something, an event or emotion, where before we were reading something completely different. Commonly, this’ll happen in mid-paragraph! Personally, I found this trait very jarring.

Ultimately, this book was a mixed bag. Effort was made to bring the book to life in setting and world-building. Yet, characters I couldn’t connect with and a jarring writing style made this book not for me. Someone else may like it better. I can’t give more than two stars personally.

Note: Book reviewed at request of author.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

REVIEW: The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews

The Heart Mender
by Andy Andrews

Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Page Count: 256
Release Date: May 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover

How got: personal library; via Amazon

First attention getter: synopsis


From GoodReads:

In the classic storytelling style of The Noticer and The Traveler's Gift, New York Times best-selling author Andy Andrews now delivers an adventure set sharply against the warm waters and white sands of the Gulf of Mexico in WWII America.

Saddened and unable to abandon her resentment toward the Nazi war machine that took her husband's life, the young and attractive Helen Mason is living a bitter, lonely existence. Betrayed and left for dead, German U-boat officer Lt. Josef Landermann washes ashore in a sleepy town along the northern gulf coast, looking to Helen for survival.

The Heart Mender is a story of life, loss, and reconciliation, reminding us of the power of forgiveness and the universal healing experience of letting go.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 3

I anticipated receiving this book in the mail; the story idea of a German navy guy washing up on American shores during WWII and falling in love with an American woman was such a unique idea. Unfortunately, some aspects of the book kept it from reaching its full potential.

Written as a unique blend of fictional tale and non-fiction research story, this book fooled me at times whether certain aspects of it were actually true or not. There is a section at the end that tells what ultimately happens to the different parties in the story that leads me to believe that maybe some aspects of this book were real. I’m still not sure on that account.

I loved getting a window into an area of WWII not often explored. The story of the perilous times that existed in American waterways on the east coast and in the gulf is not that well known. Even during the times, the government put a gag order on the papers to keep the story from the general population. Of course, the population who lived close to the coast knew what was going on. This book plays on this premise, playing on the idea of a man from the German navy washing up on shore after being shot overboard.

I liked that the author used Josef and Hans to show the readers that not all Germans were hardline Nazis. Many found small ways to resist and had a firm sense of honor and duty. Josef was a honorable, courageous man who fought for his country and loved his fellow brothers in the military. He was a great point of view to tell the story through. I also liked Helen and how bitter she was. Her levels of rage and hate were believable given the circumstances she had experienced. Helen’s journey to healing made her story relatable and emotionally resonant.

Where this book fell down and faltered was in its heavy-handedness with the themes of forgiveness and healing. While good, worthy themes to explore to be sure, when you’re portraying them with the proverbial 2x4, they can be tiresome. Nothing was subtle or interwoven with the story here. There would be entire paragraphs and dialogue exchanges where the only thing talked about was the need for forgiving others and how much peace and healing that brings. The other story threads of love, hiding, and unexpected alliances were completely overshadowed; this book suffered from that imbalance.

A good story idea and great lead characters made for a promising title. They helped to make this book at least semi-enjoyable. However, an overemphasis on themes killed the book overall. I felt drowned in the proselytizing and was just glad when the book was done. At least I finished it; the underlying story was enjoyable enough to carry me to the finish line. But, I don’t see myself picking up this book again.

Monday, November 9, 2015

REVIEW: By the Sword by Alison Stuart

By the Sword
by Alison Stuart

Publisher: Escape Publishing
Page Count: 279
Release Date: March 22, 2015
Format: Kindle

How got: personal library; via Amazon

First attention getter: love the author


From GoodReads:

England 1650. In the aftermath of the execution of the King, England totters once more on the brink of civil war. The country will be divided and lives lost as Charles II makes a last bid to regain his throne.

Kate Ashley finds her loyalty to the Parliamentary cause tested when she inherits responsibility for the estate of the Royalist Thornton family. To protect the people she cares about, she will need all her wits to restore its fortunes and fend off the ever-present threat of greedy neighbours.

Jonathan Thornton, exiled and hunted for his loyalty to the King's cause now returns to England to garner support for the cause of the young King. Haunted by the demons of his past, Jonathan risks death at every turn and brings danger to those who love him. Finding Kate in his family home, he sees in her the hope for his future, and a chance at a life he doesn’t deserve.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Worcester, Jonathan must face his nemesis, and in turn, learn the secret that will change his life forever. But love is fragile in the face of history, and their lives are manipulated by events out of their control. What hope can one soldier and one woman hold in times like these?

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Another winner from Stuart!!! This woman stands almost without equal in being able to blend romance, historical detail, and three-dimensional characters into one cohesive whole. Her books are written as historical romances; however, they stand as so much more in my humble eyes.

First off, I love how careful she is to set her timeframe right, get the details correct, and bring her history to life. Not many historical romances are set during the English Civil War to begin with. But Stuart goes further by incorporating actual events, real details about daily life in the timeframe, and showing the devastating effects that a civil war would have on her characters. Her books could read almost as straight historical fiction and that’s not something that can be said for every romance novel.

Her leads and other characters are such scarred individuals, having experienced the horror of civil war, battle, and gore. They’ve seen death and loss up close, changing them fundamentally. I think this adds depth to them in the current age and in the relationships that develop. Both Kate and Jonathan are strong personalities that carry the story with ease. The reader can’t help but root for them as war variously tears them apart and brings them back together.

Jonathan and Kate create such a strong blend of courage, vulnerability, and love. Their romance is emotionally resonant and vibrant. Even though they come from opposite ends of the conflict, they find enough middle ground in family and common principles to create a strong foundation for their relationship, enough that it’s able to withstand disagreements and personality conflicts. By the time the end of the novel rolls around and we’ve reached our emotional apex, the reader has gone on a unique and incredible romantic journey.

This is just another example of why I love Ms. Alison’s romances. She creates strong characters and relationships, giving all a concrete strong basing in historical fact and detail. I experience every breathe and exchange, becoming invested in the romantic journey all the more. Highly, highly recommended for historical romance lovers everywhere!!

Friday, November 6, 2015

REVIEW: The Scent of Secrets by Jane Thynne

The Scent of Secrets
by Jane Thynne

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Page Count: 448
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback

How got: free copy from GR giveaway

First attention getter: subject matter


From GoodReads:

Rich with political intrigue and authentic period details, this historical crime novel—the first of three—is perfect for fans of Jaqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, Robert Harris, and Susan Elia MacNeal. In Berlin, 1933, British actress Clara Vine finds herself dangerously involved with the British intelligence service.

Clara Vine, a half-Jewish Anglo-German, uses her unique access to the upper echelons of pre-war Nazi society to spy for her native Britain. The novel richly fuses fact and fiction with a cast of real Nazis and their British admirers, such as the Mitford sisters and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Clara Vine, through her friendship with Eva Braun, finds herself enmeshed in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The setting of pre-war Germany is a treasure trove, and the irresistibly fresh perspective of Nazi wives puts a new spin on an ever-fascinating era, fraught with glamor, political tension, tragedy, and romance.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Engaging as heck, this book kept me enthralled from beginning to end. With a great balance of descriptive passages, fast-paced action, and peering into windows of Nazi society not often explored, this was a great introduction to this author.

The author treads a fine line between wordiness and perfect amount of detail in setting her scenes. An author can be bogged down by using too many words when describing a scene or passage; sometimes a thesaurus is NOT your best friend. Somehow, this author is able to incorporate large descriptive paragraphs without bogging the action down. Instead, the story comes to vivid life, making everything breathe for the reader.

As a mystery and spy-thriller, this book excels for the most part. I was kept guessing and on the edge of my seat throughout most of the book. I loved that the author incorporated real conspiracies against the Nazis and a realistic set-up for the murder/mystery. It made everything all the more believable for me.

Clara is a great foil against all the spy suspense and dark, mysterious meetings. She’s a great blend of vulnerable and street-smart that I enjoyed. I liked that her position in society as an actress placed her in a special position to peer into the upper echelons of Nazi society and yet still be on the fringes as not your normal German woman. The other characters were also as enjoyable; all of them adding something to the story or as a window into Nazi Germany in 1938.

Right up there with the great story and characters is the information the author chose to incorporate from the time period. I was especially enjoying seeing, in detail, the position of women in Nazi Germany: the bureaus that dealt with them, their new expected position in life, their limited opportunities, how society saw them, and how they saw the new Nazi society as well. Seeing into the cruel politics of Nazi wives was also interesting. That’s not a side often explored.

The only thing against this book I have is actually a minor one, really. This book is a volume 3 in a series; I could definitely tell. The book can stand alone as a complete work; it has a beginning, middle, and definite conclusion to the specific mystery and conspiracy. Yet, there are characters and events that are referred to or re-introduced that made me hesitate and question. That interrupted the story flow more than once. So probably best to read books 1 and 2 first, but this is still enjoyable by itself, too.

A great blend of characters, suspenseful story, and historical detail, this book holds the attention of the reader with great skill. I kept devouring page after page, eagerly waiting to see what would happen next to Clara and her crew. I will be looking out for the other books in the series so I can get the full picture of the overall story. The author has proven herself in scene-setting and storytelling.

Note: Book received for free from publisher via GoodReads FirstReads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

REVIEW: Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls
by Ransom Riggs

Publisher: Quirk Books
Page Count: 458
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Format: Hardcover

How got: personal library; pre-ordered from Amazon

First attention getter: I'm an avid follower of the series already


From GoodReads:

The adventures that began with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued with Hollow City comes to a thrilling conclusion with Library of Souls.

As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all.

Like its predecessors, Library of Souls blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography.

My Thoughts:
Star Rating - 5

Well this volume was a truly satisfying conclusion to the Peculiar trilogy, if a sad send off. I want more of this world, dang it! LOL It ties up all plot threads, adds more to the mythology of the Peculiar world, gives explanations where needed, and gives us a rousing, nail-biting conclusion that had me on the edge of my seat.

My particular favorite of this book was how much it built of the Peculiar world and its various “peculiarities”. The bit with the souls, how they’re stolen, and their ultimate uses especially made me shiver. They actually physically disturbed me. Seeing how this aspect of Peculiar life impacts everything else was eye opening. It determines how Peculiars live and survive now, what their various ultimate fates could be, and how they eventually die.

I also loved all the depth we get to Peculiar history and folklore. We learn all the answers for how Hollows came about and get to see into the stronghold of them and the Wights. The actual body that is the title of the book, the Library of Souls, was a very intriguing idea. What could really be called a religion for Peculiars gave the overall story such body and depth. It adds a mystical element to the story and world that I loved.

The characters were just as vibrant and real to me as in previous volumes. I loved exploring all our established characters. Getting an eye into Jacob’s powers as they grew and expanded was especially interesting. His powers play a pivotal role in the book’s ending but not in a way that one would expect. I was very pleasantly surprised. I also loved getting to explore Emma’s and Alma’s pasts more as well.

I also enjoyed meeting some new faces who would play big roles in the overall story. Bentham and his gray view of the world kept me intrigued; I loved exploring the Peculiar conflict through his eyes, siding with whomever could give him the better deal. Sharon was also a fun addition. I loved his special blend of humor and guts.

The whole book was filled with intense action, constant chases, frantic escapes, and a final showdown that blew my mind. Even when things slowed down to give some exposition or background, the tension level was still ratcheted up by overlying danger or from action sequences that bracketed those wordy sections. The finale to the book was mind-blowing. The reader never expects the alliances that are struck, the friends that betray, and the format in which everything is won.

This is truly a gem of a book, definitely being added to my best of 2015 shelf. It wraps up a world truly unique in fiction, not something that can be said every day. We say goodbye to characters both old and new, seeing them resolve all plot threads and predicaments by book’s end. The story overall is incredibly tense and suspenseful, keeping the reader flipping page and page in rapid succession. I’m sad to see the world end but satisfied as well. That’s a strange cocktail to feel and not one I feel after every read. Highly, highly recommended, not just this book but the whole series.