Friday, June 29, 2018

Intriguing New Mystery Series Opens With a Smasher

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New York City, 1910—Jane Prescott excels at fading into the wallpaper.  Serving without being seen is practically part of her job description as a lady's maid for the wealthy Benchley family.  That ability comes in handy when Norrie Newsome, a notorious playboy who's engaged to one of Jane's charges, is brutally murdered at a house party.  No one is more strategically placed to look into the killing than Jane, a woman who is always around but never really noticed.

Callous, spoiled and often cruel, Norrie's public admirers abhorred him in private.  Any number of people, then, could have decided to kill the obdurate young man.  Who did end his life?  Was it his spurned lover?  The humiliated victim of one of Norrie's pranks?  Or a stranger outraged by a devastating tragedy at a mine owned by the Newsomes?  With so many suspects, finding the real murderer won't be easy.  With the help of Michael Behan, a handsome tabloid reporter, no-nonsense Jane will solve the case.  Even if she has to risk everything—her job, her reputation, even her own safety—to do it.

I always enjoy an intriguing murder mystery, especially when it's set against a colorful historical backdrop, and narrated by a tenacious sleuth.  A Death of No Importance, a debut adult novel by YA author Mariah Fredericks, is no exception.  While most of the story's characters are unlikable, Jane and Michael are both complex and engaging, adjectives that also describe the mystery they're attempting to solve.  All of these elements combine to produce an entertaining novel that I quite enjoyed.  I'm excited for the next installment (Death of a New American, April 2019) in this alluring new series.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly and of Jennifer Ashley's Below Stairs Mysteries [Death Below Stairs; and Scandal Above Stairs])

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

(possibly R)

for language (no F-bombs), blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Death of No Importance from the generous folks at St. Martin's Press.  Thank you!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Life-Affirming Medical Memoir a Powerful, Inspirational Read

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As a healthy woman who had experienced a normal pregnancy only a year and a half ago, Carol J. Decker had no reason to expect that anything would be different with her second.  Despite having some flu-like symptoms, she entered the hospital on June 10, 2008, expecting nothing out of the ordinary.  Instead, she was rushed to the ER, where an emergency C-section was performed.  Even then, Carol could not have imagined how profoundly and irrevocably her life was about to change.

The 33-year-old mother had contracted an infection which turned into sepsis.  As toxins invaded every part of her body, Carol fought desperately for survival.  Although she ultimately won the war, she endured months of excruciating pain, humiliating helplessness, and overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and despair.  Left with permanent blindness, painful skin grafts, and three amputated limbs, Carol couldn't imagine how she could possibly go on.  How could she fulfill her roles as wife, mother, and productive citizen without sight?  Without legs?  Without an arm?  Wouldn't it have been better if she had just died on the operating table? 

In Unshattered, Carol J. Decker describes not just the agony of fighting sepsis but also the victory of choosing to live a life of beauty and joy, even in the face of unspeakable tragedy.  As a narrator, she eschews sentimentality and banal platitudes, employing a raw candor that smacks of honesty and hard-won wisdom.  While Decker doesn't pull any punches, she does focus on the greatest lesson she learned from her experience:

"I began to weigh the thought of tragedy versus destiny.  I could not control the tragedy that befell my life, but I could control my destiny.  It was mine to determine by the choices I made.  I chose to believe I could lead a purposeful life." (quote from page 156 of an uncorrected proof)

An inspiring, life-affirming book about hope, faith, and triumphing over challenges, Unshattered is a short but powerful read.  I highly recommend it for anyone who needs a reminder that, no matter what might befall us, living one's best life is about choice, not chance.

For a touching teaser, click below:



(Readalikes:  Um, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for descriptions of medical procedures that might be too graphic/scary for young readers

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Unshattered from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain.  Thank you! 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Newest Karen White Novel As Atmospheric and Warm-Hearted as the Rest

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After being humiliated as an 18-year-old, Larkin Lanier fled her Lowcountry home for New York City, vowing never to look back.  Although the women who raised her have kept in touch, their pleas for her return have fallen on deaf ears.  When Larkin receives news that her mother—a free-spirited painter—has gone missing, however, she knows it's time to go back to Georgetown, South Carolina.  At 27, Larkin is a slim, successful businesswoman, not the awkward, overlooked girl she once was, but she's still leery about returning.  She'll stay in the South only long enough to do what needs to be done, then return as soon as possible to her lonely life in the Big Apple.

When Ivy Lanier is found in the ruins of her family's burned-out plantation home, injured and unconscious, Larkin fears the worst for her mother.  As she lingers in the hospital, unresponsive, Larkin can't help but wonder what the older woman was doing at Carrowmore.  Ivy seemed to have been looking for something, but what could she possibly need from the crumbling shell of her former home?  When Larkin questions Ceecee—the 77-year-old woman who raised both Ivy and Larkin—the old lady acts cagey and suspicious.  What is Ceecee keeping from her?  Ivy was trying to tell Larkin something before her accident, something about the past.  Only Ceecee and Bitty, her grandmother's childhood friends, know the truth and it just might be the truth that finally sets Ivy free.  Desperate to wake her mother up, Larkin will stop at nothing until she uncovers the truth about a trio of friends and the secrets that have bound them together for the last fifty years.

I'm always up for a Southern family secrets novel and no one defines the genre quite like Karen White.  Although I like some of her books more than others, I appreciate her atmospheric, warm-hearted stories, and always look forward to a new one.  Dreams of Falling takes place in a typical Lowcountry setting populated by quirky folk who value family, friendship, and foiling nosy attempts to sniff out the skeletons in their closets.  The tale oscillates between narrators and time periods, which makes both the plot and the cast a bit confusing at times.  While I loved Ceecee, Bitty, and some of the other fringe characters, the three women at the novel's core didn't appeal to me at all.  The Darlingtons (Margaret, Ivy, and Larkin) are a selfish, fickle, unlikable lot, which made it tough for me to care what happened to them.  Despite my reservations, though, I found Dreams of Falling compelling and, overall, enjoyable.  It's not my favorite of White's many novels, but it definitely kept me reading.

(Readalikes:  other novels by Karen White as well as those by Dorothea Benton Frank, Joshilyn Jackson, and Anne Rivers Siddons)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, innuendo, and (non-graphic) references to sex and prostitution

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Dreams of Falling from the generous folks at Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Cheap Ending Earns Dallas' Newest a Meh From Me

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Ellen's using scraps of heirloom fabric to create a wedding quilt for her granddaughter June when the bride-to-be shows up on her porch declaring the upcoming nuptials have been called off.  With her fiancé shipping off soon for Korea, June's nervous and uncertain about their future.  In an effort to soothe the young woman's worries, Ellen tells her a story about a lady who ran away from marriage three times ...

At the end of the 19th Century, a 22-year-old schoolteacher named Nell strikes out for the New Mexico Territory.  She craves adventure and she longs for love.  Nell finds both at the Rockin' A, a rustic cattle ranch where she becomes a biscuit shooter.  When she falls for a charming cowboy, Nell's over the moon with happiness.  Then Buddy breaks her heart.  Devastated, Nell runs away, vowing never to be so foolish again.  As her traitorous heart starts beating for another, she can't shake off her lingering anxiety.  Can she trust any man's declarations of love?  How will she know if a suitor's sincere and loyal enough to marry?  More importantly, will she ever find true love, the kind that leads to the happy contentment for which she longs?  Nell will have to learn some difficult lessons about life and love before she even comes close to her happily ever after.

Can Nell's hard-won wisdom help June make the most important decision of her life?

With a vivid Old West setting and a story line that's entertaining if not all that engrossing, The Patchwork Bride is the newest historical romance from genre staple Sandra Dallas.  Although the novel's short on plot, it does have a certain charm.  I didn't feel any real connection with its heroine, however, since Nell strikes me as selfish, easy, and fickle.  While the story moves along in a predictable manner, the "surprise" ending feels cheap and sneaky.  In fact, the finale soured the whole tale for me.  The Patchwork Bride just didn't feel like a satisfying read after that!  I wanted to love this one, but in the end, my only feeling is ... meh.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't really think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Patchwork Bride from the generous folks at St. Martin's Press.  Thank you!

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Moody Broody Mystery a Not Very Satisfying Read

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Blackmore isn't the kind of place that takes kindly to a stranger nosing around asking uncomfortable questions.  The 2500 people still surviving in the gritty, down-on-its luck mining town are as rough and hopeless as their dying village.  As a newcomer, Clare O'Day sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.  She doesn't look like a cop, but her inquiries into the recent disappearance of Shayna Fowles—a local junkie—make her suspect.  What is Clare doing in Blackmore?  Why is she asking about Shayna?

Clare has her own issues, although she's not about to unload them on anyone in Blackmore.  Her job is to observe, ask questions, find Shayna, and leave.  It soon becomes clear, however, that her task will not be as easy as it sounds.  No one in Blackmore trusts Clare and vice versa, but to solve her own problems, Clare must find Shayna.  What happened to the woman?  Did someone harm her?  If so, who?  With a town chock-full of menacing suspects, Clare hardly knows where to start.  One thing, however, is becoming painfully clear—Clare's in more danger every day she stays in Blackmore.  Can she discover the truth behind Shayna's disappearance?  Or will Clare become the next young woman to vanish from the sinister, dead-end town?

Still Mine, a debut novel by Canadian author Amy Stuart, is a moody, broody thriller that's unsettling and just ... weird.  It's atmospheric, with an eerie vibe that sets the stage for a mystery that could go in any direction.  The characters are a rugged, violent lot who are almost wholly unlikable.  Plotwise, Still Mine is compelling, but its premise is unconvincing and its ending just made the whole novel feel pointless and depressing.  While Stuart's prose is solid, I found almost everything else about this novel unappealing.  I finished it, but overall, Still Mine just wasn't a very satisfying read for me.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Blackmore reminds me of Acker's Gap, West Virginia, the setting for the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller)  

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, depictions of illegal drug use, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Still Mine with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.



Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Eden Delivers Another Warm, Witty Regency Romance

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Note:  Loving Lieutenant Lancaster is a companion novel to Seeking Persephone; Courting Miss Lancaster; and Romancing Daphne.  It also concerns members of the Jonquil Family from Kiss of a Stranger; Friends & Foes; Drops of Gold; As You Are; A Fine Gentleman; and For Love or Honor.  While the books are not technically sequels, reading them out of sequence may result in plot spoilers.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order. 

An orphan raised by her unfeeling aunt and uncle, Arabella Hampton dreams of being part of a big, loving family.  The Jonquils have always represented the ideal; long has she dreamed of being one of them.  When Lady Lampton, the aging matriarch of the Jonquil Family, approaches Arabella's guardians about hiring their charge as a lady's companion, 23-year-old Arabella can't believe her luck.  Finally, she'll get to live at Lampton Park, residing among the kind-hearted Jonquils.  Arabella hasn't been in her new position long, though, before she realizes she's a charity hire, not really needed at all.  As neither a servant nor a family member, she finds herself feeling useless and out of place.  She finally sees her hopes of being a real Jonquil for what they are—foolish and naive. 

Recently retired from the Royal Navy, 24-year-old Linus Lancaster is finding himself hopelessly bored with his new-found life of leisure.  Lonely and craving a diversion of almost any kind, he agrees to attend an extended house party at the Jonquils' estate in Nottinghamshire.  Cavorting with his siblings, their spouses, and their in-laws should make for an entertaining two weeks.  While Linus expects fireworks (especially between the surly Duke of Kielder and foppish Lord Lampton), he's shocked when a mysterious woman hiding in the shadows unwittingly ignites his passions.  Mesmerized by the lovely Miss Hampton, Linus vows to bring the reluctant young woman out of obscurity—and into his arms. 

Although of differing stations and backgrounds, Arabella and Linus are nevertheless drawn to each other.  Can they find the purpose and belonging they both long for in each other?  Or will their haunted pasts drive them apart forever?

Sarah M. Eden has become known for her warm, witty romances.  They're clean, they're fun, they're sweet, and they're enjoyable.  Her newest, Loving Lieutenant Lancaster, is no exception.  Featuring likable characters, a warm, upbeat tone, and capable prose, it's as entertaining as its fellows.  Because this novel brings together the casts of two of Eden's Regency series, there are a lot of characters in Loving Lieutenant Lancaster.  Those who have read the previous novels will no doubt delight in seeing what's become of their favorites; those who are not acquainted with all the Lancasters and Jonquils will likely be confused.  I, for one, had trouble keeping them all straight.  While their antics kept me reading, this novel definitely started to feel overly long.  Admittedly, I'm not a big romance reader.  When I do indulge, I prefer my love stories to be short and sweet, especially if there aren't any subplots to keep me interested.  Despite those things, I still enjoyed this fun Regency romance.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the Jonquil and Lancaster series [titles listed in Note above] by Sarah M. Eden)

Grade:

If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Loving Lieutenant Lancaster from Covenant in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

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Friday, June 01, 2018

Grief Novel Poignant and Engaging

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Maddy Starling may have left her family, but she can't quite leave them alone.  Even as a ghost, she worries about her workaholic husband and their grief-stricken 16-year-old daughter, Eve.  Without Maddy there to bridge the gap, to keep the household running and manage everyone's emotions, what will become of her fractured family?  The least she can do is find a replacement for herself, someone who can be a companion to Brady and a loving mentor for Eve.  She thinks she may have found the perfect woman in Rory Murray, an elementary school teacher who's tutoring Eve.  Is Rory, who comes with her own baggage, really a suitable stand-in?  Can Maddy somehow "push" her and Brady together?

In the meantime, Brady and Eve have to learn how to cope without the wife and mother who's always held them together.  Neither one can quite grasp the fact that Maddy—the most put together woman either of them has ever known—committed suicide, purposely leaving them behind.  It makes no sense.  Reading Maddy's diary brings some answers, but also more questions.  Why would someone like Maddy jump off a building, ending what seemed like a perfect life?  In order to rebuild their shattered lives, Brady and Eve must come to terms with what happened on that rooftop and learn to forge a new future for themselves.  Can they find their way, even as Maddy's influence grows more and more difficult to assert?  Can Maddy, Brady, and Eve figure out how to move on, even when all they want is to go back to the way things were?  

I'm known for writing honest reviews, but Jenny over at Alternate Readality takes the art to a whole new (and often hilarious) level, so when she raves about a book, I pay attention.  She recently recommended I Liked My Life, a debut novel by Abby Fabiaschi, which I also ended up enjoying.  While I didn't love the book quite as much as Jenny did, I agree that it features solid writing, intriguing characters, and a plot that kept me turning pages.  The story feels raw and real, but it's also funny and hopeful.  All of the main characters are complex, sympathetic, and interesting, which makes it easy to root for their happiness.  Fabiaschi even throws in some plot twists to keep things interesting.  All in all, then, I Liked My Life makes for an engaging, thought-provoking read that I thoroughly enjoyed.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, mild sexual content, and depictions of underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

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