Stacking the Shelves (124)

Stacking the Shelves

I had a lot more to say when I was thinking about this post earlier in the week. I just heard the news this afternoon (Friday) that Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock, passed away earlier today. He did, as he always instructed us, manage to live long and prosper well. He will be missed.

This week’s distractions…

For Review:
The Alchemist’s Daughter (Bianca Goddard #1) by Mary Lawrence
The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan
Duke City Desperado (Lawbreakers #3) by Max Austin
Flask of the Drunken Master (Shinobi Mystery #3) by Susan Spann
The Great Detective: the Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes by Zach Dundas
Ivory Ghosts (Catherine Sohon #1) by Caitlin O’Connell
Of Noble Family (Glamourist Histories #5) by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Philosopher Kings (Thessaly #2) by Jo Walton
The Unleashing (Call of Crows #1) by Shelly Laurenston

Purchased from Amazon:
Mercenary Courage (Mandrake Company #5) by Ruby Lionsdrake
Wildfire at Larch Creek (Firehawks #4) by M.L. Buchman

Borrowed from the Library:
Fairest (Lunar Chronicles #3.5) by Marissa Meyer
Leaving Everything Most Loved (Maisie Dobbs #10) by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett

jam on the vine by lashonda katrice barnettFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: historical fiction, literary fiction
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Grove Press
Date Released: February 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A new American classic: a dynamic tale of triumph against the odds and the compelling story of one woman’s struggle for equality that belongs alongside Jazz by Toni Morrison and The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Ivoe Williams, the precocious daughter of a Muslim cook and a metalsmith from central-east Texas, first ignites her lifelong obsession with journalism when she steals a newspaper from her mother’s white employer. Living in the poor, segregated quarter of Little Tunis, Ivoe immerses herself in printed matter as an escape from her dour surroundings. She earns a scholarship to the prestigious Willetson College in Austin, only to return over-qualified to the menial labor offered by her hometown’s racially-biased employers.

Ivoe eventually flees the Jim Crow South with her family and settles in Kansas City, where she and her former teacher and lover, Ona, found the first female-run African American newspaper, Jam! On the Vine. In the throes of the Red Summer—the 1919 outbreak of lynchings and race riots across the Midwest—Ivoe risks her freedom, and her life, to call attention to the atrocities of segregation in the American prison system.

Skillfully interweaving Ivoe’s story with those of her family members, LaShonda Katrice Barnett’s Jam! On the Vine is both an epic vision of the hardships and injustices that defined an era and a moving and compelling story of a complicated history we only thought we knew.

My Review:

On the one hand, Jam on the Vine is kind of a quiet book. Ivoe Williams reports on the life she sees as much as, or more, than she experiences it herself, especially at the beginning. Until she is faced with a crisis, and then she acts, even when those actions endanger her.

But then again, just living puts Ivoe in danger every single day. She is a black woman in the early twentieth century, a period where Jim Crow held sway in the South, and lynchings were a public spectacle. She could be attacked, raped, imprisoned, beaten, tortured at any time and in any place, while having no recourse to the law on account of her race. Her gender was no protection – it merely provided more ways in which she could be assaulted.

As a story, Jam on the Vine is a number of things, all of them fascinating. It is, first of all, a novel. So when the author says that the story was inspired by the life of pioneering black journalist Ida B. Wells, a look at the historic record shows events that were similar to the protagonist’s life, but not quite the same. Ivoe lives and creates her groundbreaking newspaper just a few years later than her real-life counterpart, in order to pull more dramatic national and international events within its timeframe.

Fiction is great for that.

At the same time, the author uses real newspaper accounts of the time to set the stage, and to emphasize that while Ivoe’s participation in these often horrific events may be fiction, the events themselves unfortunately are not.

But with Ivoe as the center, we are able to view events through eyes that may be very different from our own. She, and the members of her family, personalize history for the reader in the way that a purely factual historical accounting may not.

The story begins with Ivoe as a young girl in central East Texas. Her father is a blacksmith and her mother is the housekeeper for the local white estate owners. Between them, they barely scrape by. Even so, they are slightly better off than their neighbors in the segregated community of Little Tunis, because they own their land.

Ivoe is a dreamer of a child, often lost in her own busy mind. The newspapers that she is allowed to read at the Stark Mansion while her mother is working open her eyes to a world outside her isolated rural town. (White Starkville is certainly better off economically, but still isolated.)

Ivoe dreams big, she dreams of a world outside Little Tunis and Starkville. At the same time, the more she reads, the more she understands that life for her family and friends is more than unfair. The game is rigged and always against them because of their race. The “courtesy” lessons that all the children, but especially the boys, have to have drummed into their heads just for a hope of survival make the reader want to scream. Or cry. (And will remind the reader that things have not changed enough).

They have no rights. Or what few they seem to have they all know can be taken away by the stroke of a white man’s legislative pen, or a lynching.

Ivoe wants to change the world. As she grows up, she finds Little Tunis more and more intellectually stifling, as well as finding herself educated enough to be aware of both the unfairness of it all for her people, and how even fewer options she has as a woman.

Somehow, her parents scrape together enough money to send her to a black women’s college in Austin. For two years, she is able to soar, only to crash to earth upon her return home.

Ivoe is trained to edit, print, publish and totally run a newspaper. But newspapers would rather hire white male high school graduates than her overqualified black, female self. She feels as if her life is closing in. She finally takes one last stab at making her mark by moving to Kansas City, away from Little Tunis. Even though the job she was promised vanishes when her employers learn her race and sex, she perseveres.

She finally commits to the love of her life, and to the work that makes her whole. But by starting a black newspaper in Kansas City, she places herself on the front lines of a battle that is still not won.

Escape Rating A-: Jam on the Vine is a story that will make you think, because the fictionalized events that happen to Ivoe and her family are all real events and real fears that happened in the early 20th century. The road to even as far as we have come is bloody, and we’re not done. The causes that Ivoe (and by extension Ida B. Wells) fought for have not yet been resolved.

Ivoe published reports on the fact that justice in America is not colorblind. While many of us want to believe that is no longer true, a study of the prison population in any state will swiftly prove otherwise.

(Likewise the recent spate of deaths of young black men, often killed by white police officers, shows that we haven’t come as far as we think we have.)

By personalizing the story, the author is able to strike at the heart of both the reader and the still-smoldering issues.

This is also a story about the power of the press to inform and to motivate. Things that we don’t know about don’t move us. They don’t exist for us. In the establishment newspapers of the time, all that the white population read was slanted by the powers that be to continue the status quo that favored them. Black newspapers printed stories that interested their readers, and printed an entirely different view of conditions that the establishment wanted to remain suppressed. (In recent times we have seen the powers that be in Ferguson blame social media for the criticism they received, instead of looking to their own actions.)

One of the characters who moved the plot as deux ex machina seemed underused. (Actually the character is a devil ex machina) Ivoe’s first lover, Berdis, is destructively jealous of Ivoe’s relationship with her journalism teacher, Ona Dunham. While Ivoe and Ona do fall in love after Ivoe leaves school, during their university days Berdis acts like a destructive child and throws away a vital application that Ivoe has asked her to mail with not much reason other than spite. Later in the book, Berdis returns just long enough to set Ivoe and Ona’s house on fire. Literally. Berdis serves as a diabolus ex machina at a couple of critical junctures, but I didn’t get quite enough of her motives.

But I loved this story for the way that it made me think. It made me see the world through Ivoe’s eyes. The best kind of fiction.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Garrett by Sawyer Bennett

garrett by sawyer bennettFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: sports romance
Series: Cold Fury Hockey #2
Length: 278 pages
Publisher: Loveswept
Date Released: February 17, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

Carolina Cold Fury star Garrett Samuelson never wants to miss out on a single minute of fun. Whether he’s playing hockey, hanging out with friends, or walking the red carpet with a new date on his arm, he lives every day to the fullest. When he meets Olivia Case, he sees someone who’s exactly his type—confident, sexy, smart . . . his next fling. But the more he pursues her, the more Garrett shares a side of himself that other women don’t normally get to see.

Olivia has been keeping a secret. While Garrett lives for the next thrill, Olivia’s not sure she’ll live to see the next day. She’s undergoing treatment for some serious medical issues, and she doesn’t have time for a relationship with no guarantees—especially one with a hot-as-sin womanizer who won’t take no for an answer. But as she gets to know the real Garrett, Olivia can’t help falling for him . . . hard. To reveal the truth would mean risking everything—but you can’t score without taking the tough shots.

My Review:

alex by sawyer bennettI read the first book in this series, Alex (reviewed here) as a review assignment for Library Journal. And it absolutely hit the spot. I just plain enjoyed it, even though the hero starts out as a complete arsehole and the heroine occasionally comes off as Pollyanna. They grew towards each other, suffered a bit, and found their HEA. As icing on the cake, the group surrounding the Carolina Cold Fury hockey team were a fun bunch, and when I saw Garrett it looked like a great chance to see more of them.

Which it absolutely is. And because this is the second book in the series, we meet even more people and the world takes on a bit more depth. (It’s also nice to see Alex and Sutton again and see that their happiness continues.

Garrett is Alex’ best friend, now that Alex has become a real human being and is capable of having a best friend. Or any friend at all. (Read Alex for deets).

And Olivia is Sutton’s cousin, and one of her best friends. It was inevitable that Garrett and Olivia would meet. It was not inevitable that they fall in love. They begin with two strikes against any possibility of a relationship.

Garrett is the “king of the one-night stand”. He falls into bed with nearly any woman who offers, but always flees by the next morning. He NEVER comes back for a second date. He’s definitely a man-whore, and doesn’t care who knows it.

Olivia has just been diagnosed with cancer. It’s a slow-growing, easily treated type of cancer, but still cancer. And treatable does not mean curable. Her best diagnosis is that she will go into remission and stay there for years, and that when it crops up again she can repeat the cycle. She feels like someone has just lowered the boom on the rest of what she expects to be a relatively short life.

When they meet, sparks just don’t fly, they explode like an aurora. Garrett seems to be looking for his usual one-night stand, and Olivia is looking for a distraction, but she doesn’t take him up on his offer.

It’s only after Olivia gets a serious talking-to by her bestie and boss, Stevie, that she decides that a hot, sweaty sexual distraction is just what she needs to feel alive. She’s not worried about getting involved with Garrett, because the man just doesn’t do relationships. After all, he doesn’t do second dates. Olivia is expecting one glorious night, and a good-bye note in the morning.

Instead, she gets Garrett back at Stevie’s flower shop the next day, wanting another date. She still thinks he’ll disappear soon, his record is three dates. She’s sure he won’t be around by the time she has her first chemotherapy treatment.

Instead, they form a connection, based not just on fantastic sex, but also on a shared sense of humor and the ability to make each other laugh.

It ends up being Garrett who holds her hair back as she pukes after her first chemo. So she finally lets the cancer cat out of the bag she’s been keeping it in. And Garrett decides that he’s way too interested in Olivia to walk away.

The story in this book is the ups and downs of their relationship as Garrett decides he’s all in for a woman and a relationship, and that he’ll be there for her whatever happens. Even after the death of a teammate’s wife brings home to him just how devastated he would be if Olivia lost to the cancer.

He thinks the pain is worth the risk. She decides that he will be better off suffering less now than more later after they build 10 or 20 years of life together. So she runs.

There’s more than enough stupid to go around in the way that Olivia handles things. Ironically, it is former arsehole Alex Crossman who makes her see the light, and give herself and Garrett a second chance.

Escape Rating B: Unlike Alex, Garrett starts out the book as a likable and friendly guy. He knows he’s a man-whore, he admits that he’s out for a good time and that sex is a very good time. He’s enjoying sowing his very plentiful wild oats. He doesn’t do relationships and he’s pretty upfront about it.

Because of Garrett’s track record, both Alex and Sutton discourage him from chasing Olivia.

Olivia has just been hit with one of the worst things that can happen. She’s 25 and she’s just been told she has cancer. She is reeling. Stepping out with Garrett is the opposite of her usual behavior. She normally likes to get a to know a guy and see if they have any connection before hopping in the sack.

But she has just discovered that her life is shorter than she realized, and Garrett is a big and gorgeous distraction from everything that has just gone wrong.

Neither of them expects him to stick around. Olivia never stops worrying that he will leave when things become too difficult. She needs him to be all in, or she needs him out of the way before he breaks her heart. No matter what he does, no matter how much he shows her that he loves her, she’s never quite able to accept that he really is going to be there for her if things get really tough.

Her act of stupidity is pretty damn stupid, but makes a kind of backwards sense from her perspective. She says she’s protecting Garrett, but she is really trying to protect herself. She’s not listening to that little voice in her head that says it’s already too late. But then again, the only voices she’s hearing in her head are the ones that say she has cancer and she’s going to die before she turns 45.

There is a tragedy in the middle of this book, and its not Olivia’s. One of the other players, Zack, loses his wife in an automobile accident. The event brings home to everyone that life is much too short. Garrett’s and Olivia’s reactions to Gina’s death cause the grand misunderstandammit that almost does them in.

As I read this book, I kept wondering how the author was going to get this story to an HEA. Not because the relationship doesn’t stand the test, but because the heroine has an illness with a median life expectancy of 20 years. I thought we might end with a Happy-for-Now. Instead, the author chose to write an epilog set 40 years in the future, showing everyone in their 60s and Olivia still alive and having been cured by medical advances in the meantime.

While I understand the desire to reach an HEA by whatever means necessary, the epilogue felt “tacked on”. One of the good points of a series with interrelated characters is that we get to find out how couples from previous books are doing in subsequent ones. The discovery in that is gone because we know how everyone turns out far in the future.

And yes, I prefer my Harry Potter without the damn epilogue too.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell

interstellar age by jim bellFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Dutton
Date Released: February 24, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The story of the men and women who drove the Voyager spacecraft mission— told by a scientist who was there from the beginning.

The Voyager spacecraft are our farthest-flung emissaries—11.3 billion miles away from the crew who built and still operate them, decades since their launch.

Voyager 1 left the solar system in 2012; its sister craft, Voyager 2, will do so in 2015. The fantastic journey began in 1977, before the first episode of Cosmos aired. The mission was planned as a grand tour beyond the moon; beyond Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; and maybe even into interstellar space. The fact that it actually happened makes this humanity’s greatest space mission.

In The Interstellar Age, award-winning planetary scientist Jim Bell reveals what drove and continues to drive the members of this extraordinary team, including Ed Stone, Voyager’s chief scientist and the one-time head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab; Charley Kohlhase, an orbital dynamics engineer who helped to design many of the critical slingshot maneuvers around planets that enabled the Voyagers to travel so far; and the geologist whose Earth-bound experience would prove of little help in interpreting the strange new landscapes revealed in the Voyagers’ astoundingly clear images of moons and planets.

Speeding through space at a mind-bending eleven miles a second, Voyager 1 is now beyond our solar system’s planets. It carries with it artifacts of human civilization. By the time Voyager passes its first star in about 40,000 years, the gold record on the spacecraft, containing various music and images including Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” will still be playable.

My Review:

I had the same reaction to The Interstellar Age as I did when I went to the Kennedy Space Center a few years ago. I got choked up. Why? Because to this Star Trek fan, space travel is awesome and the future and I’m not going to get to go. Life is too short, and Congress doesn’t give NASA nearly enough funding for space tourism for the middle class to become “real” in my lifetime.

I will tie this back to Star Trek at the end, believe it or not.

But about the book…if you were ever hooked on space travel science fiction, or if you got up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong land on the moon, or if you’ve ever traveled to see a shuttle launch (or any kind of spacecraft launch) or if you can’t get enough Hubble Telescope pictures, this is a book for you.

While without rockets, it’s just science, this is a science story told through the people who worked on it or were affected by it. While, as one of the researchers says, we shouldn’t try to humanize or personalize the little rovers and probes that form the bulk of our current space program because, and I quote, “they don’t like it”, we can’t help but invest them with personalities and motivations of their own. They represent us. In a slightly robotic way, they are us, or at least the part of us that needs to go out and explore.

Possibly, as this recent strip from xkcd attests, they represent other parts of us as well:

On January 26th, 2274 Mars days into the mission, NASA declared Spirit a 'stationary research station', expected to stay operational for several more months until the dust buildup on its solar panels forces a final shutdown.

Back to Voyager and The Interstellar Age. I want to invoke Star Trek again. Because these are the voyages of the Interstellar Voyager Project, its ongoing mission: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no (Terran) has gone before.”

Voyager 1
Voyager 1

In the past 40 years, and continuing, the two Voyager space probes, and the probes that followed in their wake, have extended human knowledge of our solar system, and are now either completely outside of our Solar System (Voyager 1) or are getting there fast (Voyager 2). We humans have sent a piece of ourselves into the space between the stars, both in the hopes that we can continue to learn from its explorations, and that someday, perhaps, some other civilization in some other star-system will scoop it up and discover who we were.

The project is huge and was in many ways all encompassing for the people who worked on it. There are folks now part of the project who were not born when it began in the mid-1970s. But the story of their involvement, in this thing that turns out to have been the biggest and the best time of their lives, is very human and awe-inspiring in that humanity. It’s impossible not to wish you were there when those first photos of Jupiter’s moons appeared. Or with any of the other many firsts accomplished by these probes and the team that worked with them.

In relating the effect that his personal involvement with the Voyager mission has had on his life, the author shows us not just why this journey was important for him, but why it is important for us all.

Reality Rating A: I have a difficult time separating my feelings about the space program from my feelings about the book. Why? Because I want to have been there, and that still touches me deeply.

There are probably a generation (or two) of us who watched Star Trek as kids and saw the hope that humanity would reach the stars. I think we all wanted it to be in our lifetimes, but that is unlikely to happen.

This is a book about the joys and wonders of “big science”. It takes hundreds if not thousands of people devoting their lives and their careers to making project like the Interstellar Voyager mission a success. Or even a possibility. The Interstellar Age is the story of not just how it worked, but why.

It’s also a 40th birthday paean to the Voyager Program itself, and to the people who built them and made them fly.

As a reader, I occasionally got sidetracked with the names of all the different component parts, but all things considered, The Interstellar Age is a popular science story at its best.

One last Star Trek reference. The first Star Trek movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was released in 1979, two years after the launches of Voyagers 1 and 2. In ST:TMP, at the heart of the alien vessel they find Voyager 6, returning to Earth in search of its creator, NASA.

Voyager 6 from STTMP
Voyager 6 from Star Trek: The Motion Picture


Some day, centuries from now, one of the Voyagers, scarred and pitted by the interstellar winds, might come home – in the arms (or tentacles) of explorers from another star system.

We can dream.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: One Wish by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

one wish by robyn carrFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, hardcover
Genre: contemporary romance
Series: Thunder Point #7
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Date Released: February 24, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Grace Dillon was a champion figure skater until she moved to Thunder Point to escape the ruthless world of fame and competition. And though she’s proud of the quiet, self-sufficient life she’s created running a successful flower shop, she knows something is missing. Her life could use a little excitement.

In a community where there are few eligible singles, high school teacher Troy Headly appoints himself Grace’s fun coach. When he suggests a little companionship with no strings attached, Grace is eager to take him up on his offer, and the two enjoy…getting to know each other.

But things get complicated when Grace’s past catches up with her, and she knows that’s not what Troy signed up for. Faced with losing her, Troy realizes Grace is more than just a friend with benefits. He’s determined to help her fight for the life she always wished for but never believed she could have—and maybe they can find real love along the way.

My Review:

One of the features of Robyn Carr’s Thunder Point series is the way that she introduces new characters to the town for future romantic possibilities. The hero and heroine in this book have been in town for a while now. Troy Headley is a history teacher at Thunder Point High School. He came to Thunder Point for the extreme sports that are available nearby. Troy is an adrenaline junkee, but he is also a damn good teacher.

homecoming by robyn carrHis failed romance with Iris McKinley formed some of the backdrop for The Homecoming (reviewed here). Where Troy failed, Seth Sileski returned from Iris’ past for a second chance at love. This leaves Troy at loose ends, there aren’t a lot of single women in the 20-40 age range in tiny Thunder Point. But in the wake of his breakup with Iris, Troy finally discovers Grace Dillon.

Grace has been there all along. She bought her flower shop from Iris after Iris’ mother died. But even though Grace and Iris have become best friends, Grace has mostly kept herself to herself. Because Grace has a big (but not bad) secret. Grace used to be Izzy (Grace Dillon) Banks, a world champion gold medal figure skater, who disappeared after she won everything at the Olympics.

Grace is hiding from her high-pressure past, and her even higher-pressure mother. She doesn’t want anyone to recognize Izzy Banks in Grace Dillon, because she’s happy and completely self-sufficient as Grace, while Izzy flamed out emotionally.

But Troy, in need of a playmate, sees Grace’s “ all work and no play” life as a challenge. He appoints himself her “fun coach” and gets her to take a bit of time off from her “nose to the grindstone” life for a few simple pleasures, like picnicking and watching movies.

They start out as friends, and eventually end up as friends with some very nice benefits. But even as they get more involved, as their relationship shifts from friendship to more – Grace keeps her very big secret to her very scared self.

It all crashes down when her domineering mother reappears in Grace Dillon’s life, through a couple of underhanded tricks designed to force Grace back into Izzy, or at least back to mother. When all is finally revealed, Grace discovers that she has a chance to make one of her very own wishes come true – she has a chance at a real relationship with her mother.

The only problem is that it is her last chance. And that once Troy discovers who Grace really is, he can’t figure out what place he can fill in her overwhelming rich, “old money” lifestyle. His case of testosterone-poisoned inferiority complex almost costs both of them everything they have found.

Escape Rating B+: I think my own personal “one wish” for the Thunder Point series would be that it go on forever. The only problem I can see is that if the town continues adding new people, it will eventually stop being a small town. But it would take a lot of books before that would happen.

I love Thunder Point. As each story unfolds, it becomes more and more a place I would actually want to live, if only to be able to have coffee and gossip with the marvelous people who live there. One of the terrific things about this series is the way that the author weaves in characters from previous books, so that we all know how everyone is doing.

As might have been obvious from my recent posting of a review a week in this series, I got behind and took this opportunity to catch up before One Wish came out. I’ve enjoyed the series a lot, it’s definitely become a comfort read between some of the creepier and spookier books I’ve had recently.

Chance by Robyn CarrBack to Thunder Point. I will say that the plot of One Wish reminded me a LOT of an earlier book in the series, The Chance (reviewed here). Not just because Troy almost makes the same mistake that Eric did, but particularly because Grace’s relationship with her mother, and the ways that it goes wrong as well as the crisis forcing a final resolution is very, very similar to Laine’s relationship with her father. The dilemmas, and their attendant heartbreak, are all too similar.

Which does mean that I didn’t enjoy the story, because I did. The problems facing both women and their aging parents are all too real, as is the reality that it is usually women who end up dealing with the work and the fallout.

Troy and Grace are a terrific couple, and their friends-into-lovers romance burns slow but bright. I also liked the way that Carr introduced the next heroine, while giving us an update on a previous couple in the series. Ray Ann’s niece Ginger has come to town so that her aunt can help her get back on her feet after a tragedy. I wonder who will come to town to help Ginger reach her own happy ending.

I can’t wait to find out, hopefully in A New Hope, coming in July.


Robyn is giving away a paperback copy of One Wish to one lucky U.S. winner.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Miramont’s Ghost by Elizabeth Hall + Giveaway

miramont's ghost by elizabeth hallFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: gothic mystery, historical fiction
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Date Released: February 1, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Miramont Castle, built in 1897 and mysteriously abandoned three years later, is home to many secrets. Only one person knows the truth: Adrienne Beauvier, granddaughter of the Comte de Challembelles and cousin to the man who built the castle.

Clairvoyant from the time she could talk, Adrienne’s visions show her the secrets of those around her. When her visions begin to reveal dark mysteries of her own aristocratic French family, Adrienne is confronted by her formidable Aunt Marie, who is determined to keep the young woman silent at any cost. Marie wrenches Adrienne from her home in France and takes her to America, to Miramont Castle, where she keeps the girl isolated and imprisoned. Surrounded by eerie premonitions, Adrienne is locked in a life-or-death struggle to learn the truth and escape her torment.

Reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, this hauntingly atmospheric tale is inspired by historical research into the real-life Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs, Colorado.

My Review:

This is a compelling story, in an insidious, creepy, scary sort of way. I finished at 3 am with the shivers, so be warned.

I will say that Adrienne’s story gets under your skin. Well, at least my skin. On the one hand, I felt incredibly sorry for her. Her brief and heartbreaking life consists of one loss after another. And even though she is clairvoyant, and can see what is coming before it happens, she isn’t able to prevent a single thing that is done to her.

Yes, everything that happens is done to her, not by her. By the end, the only agency she has in her life is the ability and desire to end it. This is a very tragic story, but much more in the creepy than the weepy vein.

Adrienne starts out the story as a child in a noble family in rural France in the late 1800s. In her small family, her grandfather adores her, her mother neglects her, and her aunt hates her with a passion beyond reason.

Adrienne has visions. She sees the past, the far away present, and sometimes the future. None of it does her any good. Her grandmother had the same sight, and it caused her nothing but trouble. Even worse, it caused the servants and the townspeople to gossip and shun her.

Adrienne starts seeing activities in the village that she can’t possibly have witnessed, and it all goes downhill. Her only protectors are her grandfather and her governess. Time takes away her beloved grandfather, and her aunt’s machinations remove her governess.

It’s impossible to overemphasize how much her aunt hates her. When Adrienne is a young woman, she falls in love. Aunt Marie ensures that her beloved is sent to South America, and then that her governess is removed. As a finaly blow, Marie carries her off to Colorado with her mother’s neglectful consent. As soon as they arrive in New York, Marie sends a message back home that Adrienne died at sea.

It is only then that Adrienne’s nightmare really begins.

Escape Rating B: Once I got involved with Adrienne’s story, I found this thing impossible to put down. At the same time, I wanted to shake Adrienne until she stopped being so damn passive and took some charge of her own life.

Considering the time and the circumstance, Adrienne’s complete passivity to her fate was probably historically accurate. She was an upper-class young woman of 16 or 17, with an education in the arts and no practical knowledge whatsoever. Her aunt dragged her off to a country where she did not speak the language and made sure she had no money. She was also kept a virtual prisoner.

Why? That’s a good question. It is possible that her aunt silenced and imprisoned her to prevent her from speaking out about her cousin Julien’s (Marie’s son) sexual abuse of her when she was a child. It’s possible that it was punishment for making the family she subject of gossip yet again, as she repeated her grandmother’s talent for true visions.

As her cousin Julien has become a Catholic priest, the accusation of child molestation would be particularly problematic, especially since the accusation has been repeated in parishes that he has served in North America. While a young woman accusing a pillar of the community of sexual abuse that happened 5 or 6 years previously might not be believed, as fuel added to a current fire, it would have caused a lot more heat to be aimed at the priest.

But we don’t actually know for certain. The speech that the villain makes near the end, explaining it all to the poor victim may be melodramatic but does serve to wrap things up for the audience. We don’t get that here. We only see what Adrienne sees, and only know what she knows. Unfortunately for the audience, the one thing that Marie is excellent at is keeping her thoughts and feelings to herself, even as she commits acts that are increasingly evil.

Miramont Castle
Miramont Castle

The author has woven her ghost story into the cracks in the history of a real place, Miramont Castle near Colorado Springs. Jean Baptiste Francolon built the castle, and was forced out of town to escape a lynch mob. He was even poisoned with his own chalice while serving Mass.

In this story, the author tells the history of the ghost who haunts the castle. Or rather, she lets the ghost tell her own story as she decides whether, a century after the events that ended her life, she has finally achieved enough detachment to let go.

After everything that happened to her, I’m not sure a single century would be enough!


Elizabeth and Lake Union Publishing are giving away one copy of Miramont’s Ghost to one lucky U.S. or Canadian winner.
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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-22-15

Sunday Post

This was a week where I suffered long moments of extreme desperation – my iPad died (temporarily) one afternoon and I got a bit frantic realizing that my entire life was on the damn thing and that I hadn’t backed it up since Pluto was a planet. (Not quite, but too awfully close). I’m pretty sure I got this one when we lived in Atlanta the last time, so it’s at least three years old. In internet years, that’s a couple of lifetimes. I think this weekend includes a trip to the Apple store.

Also, in the note to self category, I need to remember not to schedule 3 (or more) creepy books in the same week. I like a little creepy of the ghostly/paranormal variety, but four close together is at least two too many. A book that is the wrong book for the time, even if it’s good, can serve as an albatross around the neck. In other words, avoiding reading the next creepy book on the schedule kept me from reading anything for a couple of days. And it’s not that the books were bad per se, it’s more that too much of even a good thing is not wonderful.

I’m all creeped out.

Current Giveaways:

$25 Gift Card + In Flames by Richard Hilary Weber
Those Rosy Hours at Mazadaran by Marion Grace Woolley

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Amazon Gift Card in the Share the Love Giveaway Hop is Michelle B.

homecoming by robyn carrBlog Recap:

A- Review: The Homecoming by Robyn Carr
B+ Review: Escape Velocity by Jess Anastasi
B Review: Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran by Marion Grace Woolley
Guest Post by Marion Grace Woolley on The Music of the Night + Giveaway
C- Review: In Flames by Richard Hilary Weber + Giveaway
B+ Review: Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
Stacking the Shelves (123)


jam on the vine by lashonda katrice barnettComing Next Week:

Miramont’s Ghost by Elizabeth Hall (blog tour review)
One Wish by Robyn Carr (blog tour review)
The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell (review)
Garrett by Sawyer Bennett (review)
Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett (review)

Stacking the Shelves (123)

Stacking the Shelves

A quiet week stacking the shelves with not too many books. For the past couple of months I haven’t seen as many books on NetGalley and Edelweiss that I feel like I absolutely have to have.

This is probably a good thing. I know there is one book waiting for me at the library, but I haven’t picked it up yet, so it doesn’t count yet.

For Review:
A Dangerous Place (Maisie Dobbs #11) by Jacqueline Winspear
Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland
More than Comics (Chasing the Dream #2) by Elizabeth Briggs
Murder in Hindsight (Scotland Yard #3) by Anne Cleeland
Poppy’s War by Lily Baxter
Ryder: Bird of Prey (Ryder #3) by Nick Pengelley
Sinful Rewards 9 by Cynthia Sax
Winning the King (Jorda #2) by Nicole Murphy

Purchased from Amazon:
Murder in Thrall (Scotland Yard #1) by Anne Cleeland


Review: Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

dreaming spies by laurie r kingFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery
Series: Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #13
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Bantam
Date Released: February 17, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

After a lengthy case that had the couple traipsing all over India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on their way to California to deal with some family business that Russell has been neglecting for far too long. Along the way, they plan to break up the long voyage with a sojourn in southern Japan. The cruising steamer Thomas Carlyle is leaving Bombay, bound for Kobe. Though they’re not the vacationing types, Russell is looking forward to a change of focus—not to mention a chance to travel to a location Holmes has not visited before. The idea of the pair being on equal footing is enticing to a woman who often must race to catch up with her older, highly skilled husband.

Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe, surprisingly fluent young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. She agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that Haruki Sato is not who she claims to be.

Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the glorious city of Tokyo to the cavernous library at Oxford, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire.

My Review:

The title of this book is a pun, based on poet Matthew Arnold’s description of Oxford as the “city of dreaming spires”. It is fitting that this title derive from poetry, as many of the chapter headings are snippets of haiku, and the repeated theft of a book by Matsuo Bashō, one of the early masters of the haiku form of poetry.

There are also plenty of points in the story where it seems that some, or all, of the spies are, in fact dreaming. Or at least daydreaming. One of the unusual aspects of this case is that Russell and Holmes do not seem to be the prime movers of events. They are acted upon more often than they are acting. They believe (perhaps dream) that they are the “Plan A” of much of the mystery that is solved. But at the end, they discover that they have always been “Plan B” or sometimes even “Plan C” for the person who has been in control all along.

game by laurie r king Although this story takes place upon their return from California and the events in Locked Rooms, the actions in the “present day” mostly serve as a frame to a story that happened earlier in their journey. Dreaming Spies tells of the events in Japan that have been hinted at in previous books, and most of the action takes place between The Game and Locked Rooms. Also between The Game and the Holmes insert into The Art of Detection, which seemed to occur simultaneously with Locked Rooms.

As much as I love this series, I will confess that the time-line is getting very confusing. The series is on book 13, but it takes place between books 7 and 8.

This mystery begins with the arrival of a large rock as well as the gentlemen to place it properly in Holmes’ garden in Sussex. While Holmes and Russell have not yet returned when the rock is, let’s say installed, the report from Mrs. Hudson is enough to connect the new addition to events they participated in while on their way to and in Japan.

They began by being bored. Well, at least Holmes was bored. It was a long cruise from India to Japan, and while Russell was quite content to read her books, Holmes, as usual, was not.

To keep Holmes from jumping overboard (not quite but almost) he began a private investigation into some strange occurrences on the ship. His inveterate curiosity was aroused by the presence of an old foe – a blackmailer who he put out of business, but was unable to put away. Holmes has never believed that the man was not fully complicit in the old scheme, but Russell finds him not quite bright enough to has masterminded anything. So the question regards what he might be up to now, and who is the brains of whatever it is.

Someone is working with Lord Darley, and one woman has already left the ship in mysterious circumstances in order to get away from him. Another woman has boarded the ship in equally mysterious circumstances, but her purpose involves Holmes and Russell much more than Darley.

More than they ever figure out, until the very end of the caper. Holmes starts by chasing an old enemy, and ends by discovering that he and Russell have been used by the Crown Prince of Japan.

That they would have helped anyway is never a question. That someone was able to keep them in the dark and still get their help makes her a much better spy than even one of Mycroft’s operatives.

That nothing is as it seems, and that our heroes do not even have a glimpse of how they have been tricked (all in a good cause) makes Dreaming Spies an extremely interesting case. The game is indeed afoot, but for once, it is not Holmes” or even Russell’s, game.

beekeeper's apprentice new mediumEscape Rating B+: I love this series, and have ever since The Beekeeper’s Apprentice more than ten years ago. However, the timeline is getting extremely confusing. This story takes place before Mary’s falling out with Mycroft, which makes her initial suspicion that Haruki Sato is one of his agents somewhat perplexing.

The story of Holmes’ and Russell’s involvement with the blackmailer that turns into a scheme to protect the young Crown Prince of Japan from his own foolishness builds slowly and wraps itself around both the reader and the Holmeses like the folds of a sari, to mix metaphors and Holmes’ adventures.

Holmes and Russell think that they are helping an agent of the Japanese crown to recover some stolen property. It wasn’t stolen from him, he gave it away first. Holmes wants to finally see one of his old enemies get his just deserts, and Haruki Sato wants to get the stolen secret document back for her Emperor.

Haruki is an absolutely fascinating character. She is nothing like she appears to be, and Holmes never penetrate all her layers of deception. She manages to use him, and that is a rare feat.

Through Haruki and the tasks she sets for Holmes and Russell, we get both an introduction to Japan and its culture in the years between the wars, and a less sensational but more realistic description of what it meant to be a ninja in service to the Crown. Along with a heart-breaking view of what that service may cost.

Haruki’s mission is to save face for the Crown Prince, no matter what she has to do or suffer along the way. We understand at the end that Holmes and Russell would have gladly helped her without her deception, but that she couldn’t count on that. We know they would not have said “no”, but she can’t be 100% certain, so she brings them into her plans unwittingly.

Something that always gets my attention is the reminder of how close the author has brought Sherlock Holmes to our own time. We think of Holmes as a creature of the Victorian Age, but he is alive and active in the 1920s at this point in the story. The Crown Prince of Japan, who later becomes Emperor, is Hirohito, who was the Japanese Emperor during World War II. We see him here as a young man, just learning the intricacies of his future role. But Hirohito died in 1989, a period very much within living memory.

The story in Dreaming Spies is a slow-building one. We start with a cruise that should be a time of relaxation, and end at a breakneck pace as Haruki finally finds the item she has been searching for all along, and Holmes finally uncovers the man behind the old blackmailer. It is seldom that Holmes is in a case where he is outplayed, so watching him both lose and win at the same time was a treat.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: In Flames by Richard Hilary Weber + Giveaway

in flames by richard hilary weberFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: political thriller
Length: 188 pages
Publisher: Random House Alibi
Date Released: February 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

San Iñigo is a jewel of the Caribbean, a playground paradise for the foreign elite, a hell for unfortunate locals. For recent Princeton grad Dan Shedrick, San Iñigo promises the fulfillment of too many desires.

Dan hires on at a powerful American firm as a junior architect, but still finds time for tennis, booze, a reckless affair with the sexy wife of a resort owner—even a bit of reconnaissance for the U.S. cultural attaché. But soon he discovers that nothing on San Iñigo is without consequence. When a much-loved local radio personality is found on a beach with his head blown off, Dan’s lover becomes a suspect. And not long after his foray into espionage, he’s dragged away on a brutal journey into the heart of darkness.

Buffeted by aggression, depraved ritual, and personal betrayal, Dan discovers fierce truths about San Iñigo . . . and himself. In the island’s forbidding mountain jungle, his life goes up in flames—a deadly inferno that will forever change him, if he survives at all.

My Review:

I finished this last night, and I’m still not quite sure what it is intended to be. It takes stabs (sometimes literally) at a lot of different genres and ideas, but never quite settles on one or the other (or the other).

At first we have a young man on a tropical island. While it sounds like paradise, it obviously is not. Dan Shedrick is a recently minted architect with a degree from Princeton, and no job prospects. It’s not him, it’s the Great Recession. Jobs for new graduates, along with everyone else, took a multi-year nosedive.

This may just be my own background.showing, but “Shedrick” reads way too much like “Shmendrik”, which is Yiddish for “stupid person”. The resonance was strong because Dan Shedrick comes off as a “shmendrik”. He is stupid, or at least clueless throughout much of the book. In The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten, a shmendrik is defined as an apprentice shlemiel, meaning loser or fool. Dan is certainly both of those, too.

I would say I just digressed, but I’m not sure I did. Dan embodies both of those dubious qualities through the entire story. It was a concept that I could not get out of my head.

Dan gets a job, but not in the U.S. He becomes a contractor for the U.S. based Xy Corp., designing oil rigs and other architectural/engineering constructs, on the tropical island San Iñigo. The place is described as lawless and dangerous outside of the protected zones, and Dan sees the gun emplacements surrounding the airport as solid proof. The U.S. is propping up a corrupt government in order to get access to the offshore oil and other natural resources, and Xy Corp. is their chief contractor. Or chief extractor.

Of course there are rebels who want their island and their country back. I say “of course” because that is the common narrative for these type of stories, and it is also the narrative in the news about many such places.

Dan gets sucked in to the strange otherness of the ex-pat community on San Iñigo. He is seduced by the lifestyle of clinging to the protected zones, his own former countrymen, and living a life of relative luxury at the golf and tennis club while he drinks his nights away. He is also seduced by the young wife of the club owner, totally oblivious to the fact that Elaine seduces every man in the club for ends that are only vaguely realized or understood.

Even when Dan is recruited by the local U.S. CIA Station Chief to operate a listening post for the U.S. Government and its interests in San Inigo, Dan remains oblivious to the sheer number of people who are using and manipulating both him and the San Inigo officials.

Until Elaine literally throws him to the wolves and he finds himself kidnapped by the local rebels by mistake. He sinks into his own “heart of darkness” as he battles the jungle with his captors, and then battles against them and that same jungle in order to escape.

Once he is out, he discovers that he is not really free, and that he never has been. Just as he was used by everyone on all sides prior to his kidnapping, he emerges only to realize that everyone has plans to use him and his story for their own ends once he has escaped.

And there doesn’t seem to be anything he can do to stop them.

Escape Rating C-: For this reader, the problem was that the story started out with multiple possible plot lines, and ended up absolutely nowhere. Dan Shedrick was a shmendrik.

Because the story is told entirely from Dan’s point-of-view, we only know what he knows and only see what he sees. And Dan never does seem to know very much. Even at the end, he only thinks he’s figured out what is going on in tropical San Iñigo (and with Elaine). It doesn’t ever feel as if he either finds or discovers anything like the whole truth. Which means that we don’t either.

There are lots of secrets hinted at but none are ever revealed. Elaine might have been sleeping her way through the San Iñigo government. The U.S. might (is probably) propping up a corrupt dictatorship through proxies and military contractors. Dan is almost certainly being used by the U.S. propaganda machine, but he (and we) never get to the bottom of why.

This might be more tolerable if Dan were a more interesting or even sympathetic character.I never cared about him, so I didn’t care what happened to him. In Flames is not quite a mystery, but did not have the breakneck pace of a thriller. It did leave me with a lot of questions about San Iñigo, and especially about who was using who.


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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.