Review: Apprentice in Death by J.D. Robb

Review: Apprentice in Death by J.D. RobbApprentice in Death (In Death, #43) by J.D. Robb
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, papaerback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: futuristic, mystery, thriller
Series: In Death #43
Pages: 375
Published by Berkley on September 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Lieutenant Eve Dallas returns in a fast-paced new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author J. D. Robb. 
Nature versus nurture...
  The shots came quickly, silently, and with deadly accuracy. Within seconds, three people were dead at Central Park’s ice skating rink. The victims: a talented young skater, a doctor, and a teacher. As random as random can be.
Eve Dallas has seen a lot of killers during her time with the NYPSD, but never one like this. After reviewing security videos, it becomes clear that the victims were killed by a sniper firing a tactical laser rifle, who could have been miles away when the trigger was pulled. And though the locations where the shooter could have set up seem endless, the list of people with that particular skill set is finite: police, military, professional killer.
Eve’s husband, Roarke, has unlimited resources—and genius—at his disposal. And when his computer program leads Eve to the location of the sniper, she learns a shocking fact: There were two—one older, one younger. Someone is being trained by an expert in the science of killing, and they have an agenda. Central Park was just a warm-up. And as another sniper attack shakes the city to its core, Eve realizes that though we’re all shaped by the people around us, there are those who are just born evil...

My Review:

This was not the book I planned to review today, but I caught a cold and found myself looking for a book that would suck me in and keep me glued to the page from first to last. I needed something that would take me effortlessly out of myself for a few hours. So I listened to the siren song in my stuffed up head and bought a copy of the new In Death book. I’m always happy to catch up with my favorite futuristic cop shop, whether the mystery is a winner or merely a sideshow. I like these people and am always happy to see how they are all doing. Especially Galahad.

The case in this one has a tiny bit of a ripped from the headlines feel, even though the book takes place in a fictionalized 2062. The NYPSD finds itself hunting for an LDSK who is attempting to cover their agenda with collateral damage – a tactic that only leads to more bodies and more clues for Eve and company to investigate.

The acronym LDSK is in use today, in our early 21st century world. And it’s a shame and a sadness that it needs to exist at all. An LDSK is a Long Distance Serial Killer – someone who sets up in a sniper’s nest and picks off their targets from long-range. This is never an opportunistic crime, because it takes weeks and months of planning to scout out and secure potential nests. In order to shoot accurately at such extreme ranges calls for the coldest of cold blood.

The police work in this case involves sorting the tiny grains of wheat from mountains of chaff.

There are very few people who are capable of the hit at the Central Park Ice Rink that opens this story. Three shots, three victims, from high above and more than a mile away. The shooter has to have used a long-range tactical rifle. The skills to use one and the ability to obtain one narrow the possible field. The shooter was either current or former military, police or professional assassin.

Or trained by one of the above.

In a city of urban high-rises and urban density like New York (the city hasn’t changed much in the intervening decades), isolating the sniper’s nest comes down to finding one perfect needle among hundreds of haystacks. Even with the assistance of Roarke’s fancy IT skills, there is still a lot of pavement pounding and door-knocking involved.

A lucky break gets them a suspect. Two suspects. And the race is on to catch the killer before they kill again. And again. But not again.

Escape Rating A-: I’m probably a bit prejudiced about this one. I needed something like this to take me away from my snotty nose and constant cough, and it blissfully did the job for five hours or so. Consider me grateful.

While Roarke’s IT skills help shorten the door knocking and pavement pounding, in the end it is good police work that solves this case, and it feels like the kind of police work that could feature in an early 21st century police procedural just as well as a mid-21st century one.

Search for links among the multiple victims. Figure out what, and who, they had in common. Find the nest. Dig for witnesses, and pray it doesn’t involve any actual digging. Search for a motive, even a twisted one. Keep an open mind so that the clues lead to the killer rather than an assumption about the killer leading to the clues.

And all the while, keep the team together as the chase goes on, the pressure mounts and the body count goes up.

naked in death by J.D. RobbWhat I love about this series, whether the individual case is thrilling or good or just ho hum, is the team and family-of-choice that has gathered around Eve and Roarke, both because of who they are and sometimes in spite of what Eve in particular says she wants. For a woman who began her story in Naked in Death with very little except the job, she has created a surprisingly large circle of people who she loves and who love her in return. Her constant surprise, occasional consternation and unexpected joy that this is so always warms the heart.

This is one of those cases where Eve sees herself in the killer. There but for the grace of God might have gone Eve, and it is something that haunts her frequently.

This is also a case about mentorship and fatherhood, whether surrogate or biological. What makes one man choose to warp his child beyond humanity? What makes one man pick one someone out of the pack to be child, student and legacy? So as Eve chases the killer, she finds herself looking at the relationships in her own life. What made Feeney pick her out of the sea of cops, all those years ago, and help shape her into the officer she is? What made Summerset pick Roarke, and let them save each other? And what made her choose Peabody?

And how the hell did she escape from what her father tried to make her? And why didn’t this killer?

echoes in death by jd robb These are the kind of questions that keep this reader coming back for more. I can’t wait for Echoes in Death, coming in February. A hot book to warm a chilly winter’s night.

Review: Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne + Giveaway

Review: Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne + GiveawaySnowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Haven Point #5
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


There's no place like Haven Point for the holidays, where the snow conspires to bring two wary hearts together for a Christmas to remember 

It's been two rough years since Andrea Montgomery lost her husband, and all she wants is for her children to enjoy their first Christmas in Haven Point. But then Andie's friend asks a favor—to keep an eye on her brother, Sheriff Marshall Bailey, who's recovering from a hit and run. Andie will do anything for Wyn, even park her own misgivings to check on her grouchy, wounded bear of a brother. 
Marshall hates feeling defenseless and resents the protective impulses that Andie brings out in him. But when a blizzard forces them together for the holidays, something in Marshall begins to thaw. Andie's gentle nature is a salve, and her kids' excitement for the holidays makes him forget why he never wanted a family. If only he and Andie can admit what they really want—each other—their Christmas wishes might come true after all.

My Review:

riverbend road by raeanne thayneHaven Point just feels like a lovely little place, and this is a lovely little story.

For those of us who have read Riverbend Road, the romance in Snowfall on Haven Point is foreshadowed a bit. But only a bit. It’s not necessary to read the rest of the Haven Point series to enjoy Snowfall on Haven Point. But I have liked my visits to this little town so much that I’m planning to catch up with I get the chance.

As the snow is falling in little Haven Point, Idaho, most of the Bailey family is away from home. Wyn Bailey, the heroine of Riverbend Road, is in Boise finishing up her master’s degree in social work. Charlene Bailey is away on her honeymoon with her new husband Mike – who just happens to be the brother of her late husband. It’s an interesting family.

All of his family seems to be temporarily out of town when Sheriff Marshall Bailey is struck by a hit and run driver, shattering his leg and putting him on 3-weeks medical leave from his all-consuming job. When he gets home he can barely get from his couch to his bathroom on his crutches – but he claims he doesn’t need any help.

His sister Wyn, even long distance, knows him much better than that. She sends their neighbor Andie over to make sure her wounded bear of a brother has at least enough food to keep body and soul together until he can get around a bit better.

Marshall was the witness to one of the worst nights of Andie’s life, when her stalker tracked her down in Haven Point to beat her and hold a gun to her head – in front of her children. Andie is a young widow, and her late husband’s police partner raped and terrorized her until she ran away. When he found her, Marshall helped take him down.

But Marshall makes Andie nervous. Not just because he’s big and grouchy, but because he knows way too much about her and saw her at the lowest point of her life. But in that clusterfuck, Wyn Bailey took a bullet for Andie, so when Wyn calls and maneuvers Andie into checking on Marshall, Andie feels obligated to bite the bullet and do what Wyn asks.

It doesn’t remain an obligation for long.

Hobbling around painfully with a cast and crutches, Marshall has a terrible time admitting that he needs the help. Actually, he has a terrible time admitting that he needs any help any time whatsoever, so being helpless is particularly galling, even though it is temporary.

He has a hot case on his hands – his own. The hit and run accident that took him down was no accident. Someone was gunning for him. But investigating the incident is hard to do from home with no police help. And he’s suspicious that it was an inside job. A couple of his deputies are all too happy to see him out of commission, and there’s a thief in his office that he is closing in on.

But while he’s laid up, he needs help. It’s not just that he needs Andie to bring meals, although he does. But he discovers that while she’s around, along with her two adorable kids, he’s starting to think that there might be more to life than just endless hours of policing.

It’s too bad for Marshall that Andie has decided that after losing one cop husband in the line of duty, she’s not willing to risk her heart falling for another. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and their hearts are firmly set on each other.

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot going on in this sweet romance. Andie is determined to put her own past behind her, at least up to a point. Now that her stalker is behind bars, she is determined to live her life without fear. And although she misses her late husband, it’s been two years and a lot has happened. She’s learned to stand on her own two feet and run her own life. She misses him, but the grief is no longer sharp. She’s ready to move on.

It’s ironic in this story that just as Andie is ready to put the past mostly behind her, Marshall’s past has come back to bite him in the ass. He struggles throughout the story to deal with a mistake he made almost 15 years ago, and doesn’t know how to put right. Back then, he was young, dumb and on his way to a deployment in Iraq. Now he’s older and hopefully a bit wiser. And he has a second chance.

Andie and Marshall’s relationship has a lot of push/pull, come-here/go-away to it. As it should. Marshall is a pain in the ass at the beginning. He hates being helpless, and he keeps shooting the messenger. And serious pain makes all of us a bit grouchy.

While he needs her help, and learns to grudgingly accept it, the change is the way that he slowly comes to realize that Andie is everything he wants. Not just desire, but that he cares deeply for her and her kids and misses all of them when he pushes them away. He’s ready to make a family and have something to live for besides his work, even if he’s the last person to realize it.

Andie thinks she’s let go of her past, only to finally realize that it is still holding her back. And the crisis that resolves the hit and run case comes all too close to home, but makes both of them finally reach for the future.

As I said at the beginning, this is a lovely little story set in a lovely little town. I’m looking forward to going back.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Snowfall on Haven Point to one lucky US commenter:

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Review: The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan + Giveaway

Review: The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan + GiveawayThe Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic comedy, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on September 20th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nina Redmond is a librarian with a gift for finding the perfect book for her readers. But can she write her own happy-ever-after? In this valentine to readers, librarians, and book-lovers the world over, the New York Times-bestselling author of Little Beach Street Bakery returns with a funny, moving new novel for fans of Meg Donohue, Sophie Kinsella, and Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop.
“Losing myself in Jenny Colgan’s beautiful pages is the most delicious, comforting, satisfying treat I have had in ages.”—Jane Green, New York Times bestselling author of Summer Secrets
Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.
Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. 
From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

My Review:

The Bookshop on the Corner begins as every librarian’s nightmare, and transforms itself into many librarians’ dreams as Nina takes her life into her own two hands and goes from harried and laid off librarian in Birmingham to contented and fulfilled bookseller in the Scottish Highlands.

It’s a lovely journey. The bookshop on wheels that Nina puts her heart into has the best bookstore name ever, “ The Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After.” If only that were such an easy thing to buy. Or sell. But Nina Redmond certainly finds one of her own, and brings that possibility, or at least the escape into a vicarious one, to lots of little towns and villages dotted through the land she comes to call home.

The story does not have an auspicious start, at least not for our heroine. As is unfortunately happening in real life in the U.K. Nina’s little branch library in bustling Birmingham is closed due to budget cuts. A very, very tiny number of the staff will be relocated to the headquarters library, to jobs with less pay and nearly no contact with the books that they all love. The powers-that-be have drunk the “new media age” kool aid, and are more interested in people who don’t read than people who do.

Anyone who has worked in a library in the past couple of decades has probably run into all too many avatars of this breed. I love my technology, and I do most of my personal reading on an iPad, but if there are no books, there is nothing to put on said iPad. Reading is reading. I digress.

Nina, who has been living a safe, sheltered and mostly comfortable life by hiding within the pages of whatever book she is reading at the moment is both crushed and energized at the same terrifying moment. She has no job, but she has a scary dream of opening a traveling bookshop, not dissimilar to a bookmobile, but with prices on the books instead of date due slips.

In the face of impending economic doom, and the tons of books she has accumulated in the house she shares starting to crack the ceilings and the stairs, Nina hesitantly hatches a crazy plan. She goes off to the Highlands to buy a white elephant of a van. When she discovers that she can’t get any of the dozens of permits she needs to operate her bookshop in overcrowded Birmingham, she takes her dream to where the van is blocking most of a street. In the Highlands village of Kirrinfief.

The story is Nina’s journey. She has to step way, way outside her comfort zone to find the place that speaks to her heart. And because she opens herself up to the love of the people who are drawn to this place, love finds her as well. As everyone around her rediscovers the love of a good book, Nina is finally able to stretch herself to discover that a good book is no substitute for a real life – even with a bit of heartbreak along the way.

Escape Rating B+: Although I very definitely enjoyed this story, it also felt like it had a bit of a fantasy element. Sadly the demise of Nina’s little branch library and the direction that things took in the library reorganization felt much, much too real. The situations are somewhat different between the US and U.K., but not that different. Unfortunately. The struggles experienced by Nina and her former colleagues were all too real.

On that other hand, the situation that Nina drives herself into in Kirrinfief felt a bit like a trip to Brigadoon. Opening any kind of bookshop is all too frequently a fast track to going broke. Like any small business, it’s much easier to start one than make one successful. Her approach is just different enough to make this barely possible, and she has no competition whatsoever. None of these little towns seem to be big enough to support their own little bookshop, and the libraries have all closed. Internet coverage seems to be so spotty that the instant access to Amazon or Waterstone’s just doesn’t exist. Nina seems to have sidled into her niche at just the right time.

Admittedly, in real life some of Nina’s book acquisition methods would give all of us a bit of pause. It feels like she skirts the edge of legality just a bit in the beginning. Maybe more than a bit.

She has the gift that we all wish we had, matching a reader with just the right book for them at just the right time. That gift is also a touch of magic.

But what Nina seems to be doing is bringing people together in their mutual love of books. And by doing so she makes a place in the community that is hers alone. In an area where there seem to be 5 (or more) single men for every woman, there’s also a damn good chance that Nina will find a romance for herself that is not between the pages of a book.

That she stumbles rather dramatically at first makes her a bit more human. So many of the business aspects of this story feel a bit too easy even for fiction, but the way that she initially messes up her love life make her more real and more sympathetic. She’s more human for screwing up.

That the romance she finds is the icing on a cake she has already baked for herself, and not the actual cake, gives this story its heart.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The publisher is giving away 3 print copies of The Bookshop on the Corner to lucky entrants on this tour:

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Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Format: ebook
Source: borrowed from library
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: classics, Fiction, science fiction, World War II
Pages: 215
Published by Dial Press Trade Paperback on January 12th 1999
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
Don't let the ease of reading fool you - Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters."
Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy - and humor.

My Review:

1969 cover of Slaughterhouse Five
1969 cover of Slaughterhouse Five

Although I’m sure I knew it before, i was still surprised to see that Slaughterhouse Five was nominated for the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel in 1970. Slaughterhouse Five isn’t what we now think of SF. There are no spaceships (well, maybe one spaceship) and a debatable amount of faster than light or other than light travel. Instead, Slaughterhouse Five represents science fiction as the literature of ideas, and in that area, as in so many others it is a classic.

The winner of the 1970 Hugo was The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. Slaughterhouse Five was in excellent company.

The climax of Slaughterhouse Five is the bombing of Dresden at the end of World War II. The protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, was a witness to that bombing, an American POW on the ground, or nearly under it, as the bombing took place. As one of the few survivors, he participated in the horrific clean up afterwards.

Billy Pilgrim is, to a greater or lesser extent, telling the author’s story at this point. In real life, Kurt Vonnegut was a POW held in Dresden during this incident, when allied forces reduced this once beautiful city to a rubble strewn landscape as barren and deadly as the moon.

This story is told by the unnamed narrator from a perspective at the end of Billy Pilgrim’s life. And because it is told at the end, the reader is never quite sure whether Billy really was unstuck in time, or whether he is just remembering the important bits of his life out of sequential order. And it doesn’t really matter.

Neither does the question of whether or not Billy really was kidnapped by the alien Tralfamadorians, who introduced to him the concept, or philosophy if you will, that every moment is forever, and that only remembering the good bits is the best way to manage existence.

What is certain is the Billy has post-traumatic stress disorder after his experience in Dresden. And who wouldn’t? Dresden comes last in the story, because it is the focus of everything. It is a moment of man’s absolute inhumanity to man, and Billy still can’t process it. So he keeps returning to it over and over, and every event that led to it, in an attempt to tell his truth.

Escape Rating B: I am glad I read Slaughterhouse Five. I had never read any of Vonnegut’s work before, but now I have a tiny glimpse into what made his work both so beloved, and so controversial at the same time. This review is being posted as a part of Banned Books Week, because Slaughterhouse Five is one of the most frequently challenged or banned books of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The bombing of Dresden was hidden from the American public for years after the war. It has been debated whether Dresden truly was a legitimate military target, or whether the entire purpose of the reduction of this formerly beautiful city to rubble was just to reduce what remained of German morale at the beginning of 1945. The bombing of Dresden caused as much of a loss of life as either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, minus the nuclear fallout. War is always hell.

Billy Pilgrim is a non-heroic hero. He is not brave in any way. He doesn’t serve with special distinction. But he survives, and manages the best he can, which in the end isn’t very well. He believes he’s done the best he can, coping with the uncope-able.

Having read the book, I’ll admit that I don’t understand the continuous attempts to ban it, particularly the most recent ones. There is profanity in this book. Many of Billy’s memories take place either among soldiers during wartime, or among POWs. I’d be more surprised if they didn’t cuss. There’s a little sex, and a lot of violence. Again, most humans manage to have a little sex, and talk about it a little more, over the course of a lifetime. And the terrible violence is part of an equally terrible war. The bombing of Dresden was nothing but violence. I will never understand the unwillingness of people to admit that what happened did in fact happen. Or those who believe that if we stop talking about the terrible past or the awful present, that it will somehow remove the worst events from history. A problem that has a great deal of resonance today.

It’s ironic that a story about the way that people in specific and humanity in general keep repeating the same mistakes over and over keeps getting banned and challenged, over and over. As that unnamed narrator says every time someone dies in the book, “And so it goes.”

Review: Autumn in Oxford by Alex Rosenberg + Giveaway

Review: Autumn in Oxford by Alex Rosenberg + GiveawayAutumn in Oxford: A Novel by Alex Rosenberg
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, suspense, thriller
Pages: 426
Published by Lake Union Publishing on August 30th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

After being blacklisted for having communist sympathies as a student twenty years before, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Tom Wrought escapes America’s Cold War climate to teach at Oxford. There, he falls in love with Liz Spencer, a beautiful married woman. When Liz’s husband is pushed in front of a train in the London Underground, Tom is immediately arrested for the murder. Scotland Yard is convinced it has its man, as he had means, motive, and opportunity.
Certain of his innocence, Liz hires a young solicitor, Alice Silverstone, to defend Tom. But they discover that Tom’s former secret work as an American spy made him a number of powerful enemies. Russian intelligence, British counterespionage, and even the FBI all may have reason to frame him. If Liz and Alice can find out who is behind the murder, they stand a chance of freeing Tom, but doing so puts all their lives at risk.

My Review:

Autumn in Oxford is a conspiracy theorist’s dream of a novel, set during the period of one of the craziest conspiracies of all – the Red Scare of the late 1950s. It’s even presided over, in a rather perverse way, by the queen conspiracy theorist of all, J. Edgar Hoover.

And once the story gets going, it doesn’t let the reader go.

At first, this seems like a simple thriller. A man is pushed into an oncoming train by a mysterious assailant and is instantly killed. But of course it isn’t nearly that simple.

Tom Wrought witnesses Trevor Spencer being shoved off that train platform and knows that he is in deep, deep trouble. Tom was on his way to a rendezvous with Spencer’s wife. He knows that he has the obvious motive for killing the man, and that witnesses will eventually place him at the scene, especially since the real killer bears at least a passing resemblance to himself.

So Wrought pretty much does everything an innocent man shouldn’t do. He runs out of the station, chasing the real killer. He leaves the scene of the crime in a way that draws attention to himself. He stops to phone his lover to tell her that she should go home to meet the cops, who will inevitably come to give her the “bad” news.

He knows that he didn’t do it. So who did? And why?

And that’s where the fascinating part of this book begins. Not with the recitation of the beginning of Tom’s affair with Liz Spencer, but with what happens next. And with what happened in Tom’s life long before this little mess. All the events and chances that dropped Tom into the soup at this point in time, and why they have all come to a head now and not earlier. Or later.

And all the things that people in high places will do to get Tom both locked up and discredited. The collateral damage of a little murder isn’t even the worst act they commit. But watching Tom, Liz and their attorney unravel the conspiracy, piece by ugly piece, is one hell of a story.

Escape Rating A-: In the end, I absolutely loved this book. But it needs an editor. The affair between Tom and Liz is the least interesting part of the entire story. It’s only purpose is to provide the means and method for what follows. And frankly, the reader knows enough about their affair when Tom witnesses the murder that we don’t need the complete rehash. It’s what happens after the murder, and the story that Tom tells of his life before Oxford, that give this story its punch.

And what a punch it is. The Red Scare of the 1950s in the U.S. makes for very bizarre reading from the 21st century. Except where it resonates all too clearly.

Tom flirted with the Communist Party while he was in college. A lot of people did in the 1930s. Tom was also extremely anti-segregation long before integration became remotely accepted. And an awful lot of very important people in the 1930s believed that any challenge to the American status quo, including calls for integration, were automatically part of a Communist plot.

All of this makes Tom an obvious target for the powers-that-be. He’s had the fortune, or misfortune, to be in the right place at the right time to be a witness to history, and to be able to expose the lies and deceits of powerful people. J. Edgar Hoover, in particular, was not known for being merciful to those he perceived as his enemies – whether they saw themselves as his enemy or not.

The story of Tom’s life before the murder is what draws the reader in. And also what provides the motive for the murder. The ways in which Tom ran afoul of people in high places, and the underhanded means they used to strike at him without regard for either collateral damage or irreparable harm to U.S. relations with their post-war allies piles conspiracy on top of conspiracy into an unstable but absolutely compelling house of dirty little cards.

The thrill-a-minute chase at the end provides the perfect conclusion.

Reviewer’s note: I was born in 1957, two years before this book begins. While I obviously don’t remember the historical events that form the backdrop of this story, they were still very much “present” and part of the cultural zeitgeist as I was growing up. It is really weird to see times that I lived through portrayed as “historical” fiction.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m very pleased to say that I am giving away a copy of Autumn in Oxford to one lucky US or Canadian commenter. I really enjoyed this book, so I am very happy to be able to share it!

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TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-25-16

Sunday Post

Last week was an “A” week. This week seems to be a “B” week.

And speaking of Bs, this is Banned Books Week. In honor of Banned Books Week, I have two special books on my list for the week. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut has been banned or challenged many times and in many places. This satirical novel about the author’s experiences in World War II is one of the most frequently challenged books of the 1990s AND the 2000s. In one infamous case, in 2011 a school district in Missouri banned the book from the local high school.

I managed never to read it, either in high school or later, in spite of the number of times it was recommended to me. I plan to rectify that omission this week. Additionally, I have The Brothers Vonnegut, a nonfiction book about Kurt Vonnegut’s and his brother Bernard’s work at General Electric, and the ways that their work influenced Vonnegut’s writing.

The freedom to read is part of the first amendment right of freedom of the press. Because the press isn’t really free if no one is allowed to read what it publishes.

Current Giveaways:

$20 Amazon Gift Card from MK Meredith and Seducing the Tycoon
Not Quite Perfect Tour Giveaway of 1 Kindle, 1 $50 Amazon GC and 2 $25 Amazon GC.
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the UnBe-Leaf-Able September to Remember Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop

not quite perfect by catherine bybeeBlog Recap:

B Review: Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie
B+ Review: Not Quite Perfect by Catherine Bybee + Giveaway
B Review: Seducing the Tycoon by MK Meredith + Giveaway
B Review: The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore
B- Review: A Truck Full of Money by Tracy Kidder
Stacking the Shelves (203)
Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop

slaughterhouse five by kurt vonnegutComing Next Week:

Autumn in Oxford by Alex Rosenberg (blog tour review)
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (review)
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan (blog tour review)
Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne (blog tour review)
The Brothers Vonnegut by Ginger Strand (review)

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop

banned-book-hop-2016

Welcome to the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop, hosted by Bookhounds.

What is Banned Books Week?

It’s an event that is sponsored every year by the American Library Association and a whole host of other organizations to celebrate the Freedom to Read. This year, ALA is partnering with We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) to bring more attention to the unfortunate fact that books by diverse authors or with diverse content are more commonly banned or challenged than other books.

Banned Books Week focuses on efforts across the U.S. to remove or restrict access to books. I’m going to put on my librarian hat here to say that the reasons that someone might want to restrict access to, or ban, a book are many and varied. While when someone says “banned books” most people think of sex, in real life anything that makes some people uncomfortable will incite in those people the idea of banning that book so that other people aren’t exposed to whatever it is that just made them uncomfortable.

Violence gets challenged. Speaking truth to power gets challenged. Books that contain historical truths that make people uncomfortable get challenged. Books that appear to uphold an opposing, untraditional or unpopular viewpoint get challenged. And yes, books that include sexual references, or even merely seem to include sexual references, often get challenged.

As I said in my Banned Books Week post a few years ago, “Everything bothers somebody”. And if that somebody gets bothered enough, they may try to ban the book that bothered them.

But Banned Books Week is all about the Freedom to Read. Just because a book upsets one person, or even a whole group of people, does not mean that those who are upset have the right to prevent others from reading that book. If one person’s meat is another person’s poison, then one person’s book to ban is another person’s book to cherish.

This year’s Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association;American Booksellers for Free Expression; the American Library Association;American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American PublishersComic Book Legal Defense Fund; the Freedom to Read FoundationNational Coalition Against Censorship;National Council of Teachers of English; National Association of College Stores; People for the American WayPEN American Center and and Project Censored.  And it is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

Diversity-banner-WEBSITE-780x300-v1For more information on Banned Books Week, including the absolutely fascinating lists of frequently challenged books, visit the official Banned Books Week site. The books on those list are guaranteed to contain more than a few surprises.

In my own celebration of Banned Books Week, I’m participating in the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop. The prize is either a $10 Gift Card or a $10 Book, so that you can get your own Banned Book to read.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And for more fabulous banned and bookish prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop:



Stacking the Shelves (203)

Stacking the Shelves

I keep trying to tell myself that it is good news that I’m not importing a metric buttload of books every week. My self isn’t always listening. And I really, really, really want my hold on Apprentice in Death to come in at the library. I reserved the ebook. I started out #3 on the list and now I’m #2. Did they only buy one copy? Yeesh.

For Review:
Duke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
Not Quite Perfect (Not Quite #5) by Catherine Bybee (review)
Welcome to the Universe by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, J. Richard Gott III

 

Review: A Truck Full of Money by Tracy Kidder

Review: A Truck Full of Money by Tracy KidderA Truck Full of Money by Tracy Kidder
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: biography, internet, nonfiction
Pages: 320
Published by Random House on September 6th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Fortune, mania, genius, philanthropy the bestselling author of Mountains Beyond Mountains gives us the inspiring story of Paul English, the founder of Kayak.com and Lola. Tracy Kidder, the master of the nonfiction narrative (The Baltimore Sun) and author of the bestselling classic The Soul of a New Machine, now tells the story of Paul English, a kinetic and unconventional inventor and entrepreneur, who as a boy rebelled against authority. Growing up in working-class Boston, English discovers a medium for his talents the first time he sees a computer. As a young man, despite suffering from what would eventually be diagnosed as bipolar disorder, he begins his pilgrim s journey through the ups and downs in the brave new world of computers. Relating to the Internet as if it s an extension of his own mind, he discovers that he has a talent for conceiving innovative enterprises and building teams that can develop them, becoming a Pied Piper of geeks. His innovative management style, success, and innate sense of fair play inspire intense loyalty. Early on, one colleague observes: Someday this boy s going to get hit by a truck full of money, and I m going to be standing beside him. Yet when English does indeed make a fortune, when the travel website Kayak is sold for almost two billion dollars the first thing he thinks about is how to give the money away: What else would you do with it? The second thing he thinks is, What s next? With the power of a consummate storyteller, Tracy Kidder casts a fresh, critical, and often humorous eye on the way new ideas and new money are reshaping our culture and the world. A Truck Full of Money is a mesmerizing portrait of an irresistibly endearing man who is indefatigable, original, and as unpredictable as America itself.

My Review:

soul of a new machine by tracy kidderThe first book of Tracy Kidder’s that I ever read was The Soul of a New Machine, an inside look at the development of a new 32-bit minicomputer at Data General in the late 1970s. In internet years, that feels like several centuries ago.

The universe of computing, and the universe of the ways in which our lives are impacted by computers and related technology, has changed immeasurably since that “soul” was put into that “new machine”. But those giants at Data General are to a significant extent the ones whose shoulders the subject of this new book stand. As is Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web in 1989.

Without the evolution in computer technology that took us from computers that filled rooms to what were then called minicomputers because they were considerably smaller than that to the PC revolution to the Internet, our world would be immeasurably different. So, just as The Soul of a New Machine was the story of a group of people who helped build the revolution, A Truck Full of Money is about the soul of the new tech economy, as seen through the eyes of a man who is one of its avatars, and one of its success stories.

The story follows the career of Paul M. English, the creator of numerous companies throughout the internet age, including Boston Light, the very successful Kayak.com and his current company, Lola Travel. English has a knack for not just having a great idea for a company, but building a team that can carry it through to success, and subsequent sale for “a truck full of money” to someone else. And then he starts all over again.

Not every one of his ideas succeeds. But the ones that do, really, really do. Like Kayak.com.

The author uses English’s biography to tell his story, making it both a look into the tech economy of start-ups, venture capital and failing frequently, often and hopefully upwards as well as the biography of one individual who has been mostly successful in that environment.

English himself is a fascinating character to watch, from his beginnings in working-class Boston in the 1970s to his hyper success in nearly every decade afterwards – interspersed not just with a series of failures but also with his coping with, and sometimes failing to cope with, a bipolar disorder that causes episodes of hypomania. Sometimes the black dog of depression bites hard, but more often the demons of hypomania gave English incredible amounts of energy and very little ability to process the rapid firing of his brain or the people that he needed to carry out any of his visions.

And in the middle of all of his success, his desire to help people. Not just on the intimate scale of taking care of the people who are close to him, but in the broader humanitarian goal of helping with several crises around the world, particularly in Haiti and in his Boston hometown.

Escape Rating B-: A Truck Full of Money is an interesting book, but it didn’t grab me as much as I remember The Soul of a New Machine did when I listened to it sometime in the 1990s. Admittedly, a long time ago.

One issue is that A Truck Full of Money isn’t told in a linear fashion. Each of the vignettes is interesting, but the coherent whole doesn’t emerge. Thinking about it, the non-linearity probably reflects the subject, who, when he is on, sparks ideas in multiple directions simultaneously.

We also don’t see much of the subject’s relationships with colleagues and family, except on a superficial level. The characters in this biography seem to brought on to show their function in the work rather than their place in the life. This may be a reflection of what these relationships actually are, but it feels a bit hollow.

We see a lot more of the what than the why.

While this isn’t a book about bipolar disorder, there is more depth in dealing with this part of the subject’s life than anything else that hits close to the bone.

One of the most interesting parts is seeing the way that this economy, which has powered so much of the development of the technology sector, really works. The way that venture capitalists deal with fledgling businesses, and the how and why of where their funding comes from and how they decide what to do with it, explains a lot about the way things work now.

If you’ve ever worked for a company that was bought by venture capital firms, or in an industry that is dominated by such firms, that part is fascinating.

All in all, A Truck Full of Money makes an interesting and readable bookend to The Soul of a New Machine. In a strange way, that feels like the beginning of a story, and this one feels like, not the end, but maybe the end of its middle.

Review: The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore

Review: The Girl in the Castle by Santa MontefioreThe Girl in the Castle (Deverill Chronicles #1) by Santa Montefiore
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: family saga, historical fiction
Series: Deverill Chronicles #1
Pages: 576
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

International sensation Santa Montefiore presents the first book in a trilogy that follows three Irish women through the decades of the twentieth century—perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Hazel Gaynor.
Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo-Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish-Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched—even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds.
Bridie cherishes her friendship with Kitty, who makes her feel more like her equal than a servant. Yet she can’t help dreaming of someday having all the wealth and glamour Kitty’s station in life affords her. But when she discovers a secret that Kitty has been keeping from her, Bridie finds herself growing resentful toward the girl in the castle who seems to have it all.
When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested—and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened.
A powerful story of love, loyalty, and friendship, The Girl in the Castle is an exquisitely written novel set against the magical, captivating landscape of Ireland.

My Review:

The Girl in the Castle is one of those big, sprawling historical family sagas that they don’t seem to make anymore. But maybe they should.

This is a big story. While it focuses on one family, the backdrop is large and tumultuous. The story takes place in the first quarter of the 20th century, and gives readers a glimpse into the causes and the effects of the Irish Rebellion. Our main point of view character is Kitty Deverill, a child of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, who feels herself to be Irish to the bone, and English not at all. But through Kitty we see the world around her, her family who both love and hate Ireland, and see that the world they ruled is fading away, while being drenched in blood.

But the Deverills aren’t the only people in their little town Ballynakelly. Kitty’s best friend is Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the Deverill cook. Bridie is the only girl Kitty’s age, and the two become fast friends in spite of their differences in class and religion. The only thing that divides them is that they both love Jack O’Leary, and neither can have him.

As the veterinarian’s son, Jack is too far above Bridie and her poverty stricken family for his family to consider her a good match for him. And aristocratic Kitty is seen as an English interloper, whether she fights for the revolution or not. Her family will see Jack as too far below them.

It’s ironic that a marriage between Jack and Kitty would end an old family curse. A curse that Kitty, gifted with the proverbial second sight, knows is all too real.

But as the Irish Free State rises, the three young friends are forced to scatter. Kitty to glittering salons in London, Bridie to a new life in America, while Jack languishes in prison as a convicted rebel.

It’s only when they all return to Castle Deverill and Ballynakelly that there is hope of healing all the wounds – if they don’t break out afresh over old and new wrongs.

Escape Rating B: This is a book that rewards sticking with it. It’s a big story and it takes a lot of pages to set up the real action. The story begins when Kitty, Bridie and Jack are all children, and it takes a while for them to reach adult age with adult sensibilities.

Not that child-Kitty isn’t very observant, but she lacks adult context that the reader has to piece together. Once the trio are all grown up, both the personal stories and the battlefields heat up.

There is a lot of tragedy in this story, with happiness being difficult for the characters to grasp, even at the end. World War I casts its shadow over much of Kitty’s teenage years, and British treatment of the Irish both during the war and immediately afterwards is as tragic as the loss of life on the battlefields and in the trenches.

Readers who loved Downton Abbey, especially the subplot involving Tom the Irish chauffeur, will find much that strikes the same chord.

The family drama and melodrama are a big part of the charm of this story. This is not a functional family, which makes them much more interesting to read about. Kitty in particular is a high-spirited young woman who refuses to bend to either society’s expectations or her mother’s. While she is capable of doing the right thing, her tendency towards self-indulgence spells trouble for future books in the series.

The other fascinating story is Bridie’s tale of rags to disgrace to riches (and social opprobrium). After her own tragedy, she moves very far from the life she was expected to lead, and becomes something new and different. She also becomes cynical and practical, at least until she returns to where she began, only to discover that not nearly enough has changed.

daughters of castle deverill by santa montefioreThis is the first book in a projected trilogy. The Girl in the Castle was published last year in Britain as Songs of Love and War to rave reviews. It ends with not a conclusion, but an extremely pregnant pause. I’m looking forward to the US release of Daughters of Castle Deverill whenever it makes it to these shores.