Rapid Review: Victoria

30841109VICTORIA Written by Daisy Goodwin

2016; 404 Pages (St. Martin’s Press)
Genre: historical fiction, biography, based on true events, fiction, royalty

(I received an ARC from the NETGALLEY)

RATING: ★★★

In 1836, Victoria turns eighteen and becomes the Queen of Great Britain.  In Daisy Goodwin’s novel we see the young princess become a Queen and try to rule a country.  As a woman becomes a ruler we see how the players around her scramble and manipulate to be her right hand “man” or her puppet master.  I have always found Queen Victoria fascinating so I was looking forward to this book, but unfortunately I found it slow and I started to lose interest quickly.  As I was supposed to read this book for review and a group read I forced myself to finish it.  At the time Goodwin was writing this novel she was also at the same time writing the screenplay for the miniseries.  I have not heard good things about the show so I am going to skip it for now.   I am still interested in Victoria and am looking forward to reading other books on her.

Series Review: Samantha Brinkman

*Blood Defense review originally published 2016/05/16

On occasion NetGalley will have books listed on their site that are not available to request but you can “wish for it.” The publisher/author may later decide to grant a reviewer wish.  (I am not at all sure how this decided).    I have “wished” for a few books and not really thought much about it.  I was so excited to see one of my favourite authors, Marcia Clark, had her newest book on NetGalley.  And, then I saw it was a “wish for it” item. SIIIIIIGH. Less than a week later I get an email entitled….You Wish Has Been Granted! I finally got my wish 🙂

27207654BLOOD DEFENSE (Samantha Brinkman #1) Written by Marcia Clark

MAY 1, 2016; 400 Pages (Thomas & Mercer)

Genre: legal drama, suspense, mystery


(I received an ARC from the NETGALLEY)

Rating: ★★★★

Samantha Brinkman is a defense attorney in Los Angeles and striving to hit the big leagues. She has a part-time gig on HLN that doesn’t pay the bills but may help her get bigger clients. Helping her along is her Gal Friday and childhood friend, Michelle and former-client-turned-new-not-legally-an-investigator, Alex.

Soon all news networks are airing the case of a popular young TV actress who is found murdered in her apartment.  Her roommate and inspiring model is also found murdered with all clues pointing to  the actress’s older boyfriend, a LAPD cop.  As all defense attorney’s vie for the high profile case, the defendant, Dale comes to Samantha to take his case.  Even after saying yes, on the urging of Michelle and their mounting bills, to taking the case Sam is not entirely sure she believes in Dale’s innocence.  As she starts to investigate the case, talk to Dale and interview witnesses she is finding that nothing in this case is straightforward.  And, if Dale is not the murderer, is the real murderer watching her?

Ever since I read Clark’s first book, Guilt by Association I have been a big fan of her legal thrillers.  They are a more stylish Grisham that has you hanging on every suspense moment and twist.  I love that Rachel Knight is so realistic and easily to relate to.  When I saw that Clark had a new book out this year, and was not a Rachel Knight book, I was a little disappointed.  And, seeing that Samantha Brinkman was to be a new series I worried over the future fate of Rachel.  I, of course, was going to read Blood Defense either way – and did enjoy this book.  I really liked that we got to see the defense side of things (as Rachel was a prosecutor) and Samantha was a likeable character.  Like in the other series, friendship is the key to making Sam successful.  Characterizations by Clark are always well done in my opinion.  What I did think lacked in this book was a romantic interest…or maybe even banter with a frenemy.  I recommend this book, and any other Marcia Clark book, to fans of legal thrillers, suspense and mystery.

 

29756063MORAL DEFENSE (Samantha Brinkman: #2) Written by Marcia Clark

2016; 426 Pages (Thomas & Mercer)

Genre: legal drama, suspense, mystery


(I received an ARC from the NETGALLEY)

Rating: ★★★★

Defense attorney, Sam Brinkman is back and finds herself with another sticky case to defend.  Her newest client, Cassie Sonnenberg, a teenager is charged with murder and attempted murder.  She is accused of stabbing both her adoptive father and brother, and savagely attacking her adoptive mother.  Her mother is clinging to life and is the only one who could clear or damn Cassie.  This case is already being aired everywhere and as accusation of sexual abuse and other secrets come out, Sam is no longer sure if she is protecting the innocent or the killer.

While I still miss Rachel Knight, I am now a fan of Sam, though I don’t always agree with her.  She is more of a flawed character and as I started this book I found myself relating to her.  I also liked the crazy plot as it could be realistic.  I will not say too much about the plot as I am always scared I am going to accidentally include a spoiler.   Like her last case, Sam is not always sure if her client is really innocent.  As she veers between providing a good defense and her own morals, I find that there is where we get to know Sam.  I would recommend this book, and series, if you enjoy legal suspense thrillers told from the defense side.

 

 

Buddy Read Review: All the Pretty Girls

1861196ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS (Taylor Jackson: #1) Written by J.T. Ellison

2007; 411 Pages (Mira/Harlequin)

Genre: suspense, mystery, series, fiction, serial killers

RATING: 3.5 STARS

I have been wanting to read All the Pretty Girls since it first came out.  I love the suspense books that Mira publishing puts out, so I bought this one without even reading the synopsis.  Many moons later, I actually got to it when a friend suggested a buddy read.

Taylor Jackson, a Homicide Lieutenant in Nashville, is keeping her relationship with FBI profiler, John Baldwin a secret.  They now find themselves involved in the same case.  They are hunting a serial killer, The Southern Strangler who viciously kills women and leaves the former victim’s severed hands as a clue.  Also chasing the killer is journalist, Whitney Connolly.  Is just steps away from breaking it big and she thinks this case will help her get there.   Getting closer to the killer might just be her undoing.

If this was a standalone novel I would probably rate it lower as there are so many questions about Baldwin and Jackson.  As a series I am willing to wait a few books for the characters to develop more.  I am also hoping that we will see more development in their relationship too.  In this book it wasn’t as present. You could sense the chemistry but we just didn’t get much passion.  As we did not get much of character or romance development I thought the plot and suspense would be stronger.  This book was a bit predictable but it was interesting to see where it went and how it would get resolved.  The killer’s identity became apparent a bit too early as there were several clues.  I liked Taylor but John seems a more intriguing character, so I do hope we see more of him in the next several books.  I gave this book a three instead of a four because it was a goo book but nothing exceptional.

Literary Nonfiction: Beverly Lowry

crossed overCROSSED OVER: A MURDER, A MEMOIR Written by Beverly Lowry

1992 (reissued in 2002); 272 Pages (Knopf Doubleday/ Vintage)
Genre: literary nonfiction, true crime
RATING: 3.5 STARS

In 2002, I watched a “based on true events” TV movie, starring Diane Keaton and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The title of the movie, Crossed Over was also the title of the book this movie was based on. Of course, then I had to read the book. Crossed Over is what I would call a memoir of violence. Beverly Lowry loses her son in a hit-and-run accident, and tries to process the grief and move forward with her life. During this process she comes across an article about Karla Faye Tucker, a murderer that committed her crimes with a pick-axe. Now on death row, Tucker was going through a spirituality process and seeing the errors of her way. If executed, Tucker was to be the first woman to be executed in Texas since the 1800s. Lowry drawn to this case met with the killer and continued to visit for several years.

crossed over 2As Lowry begins to explore violence and what drives people to do what they do, we begin to see Lowry change. She starts off angry and confused and soon moves to compassion and purpose. We see Tucker through Lowry’s eyes and with what Karla herself says and facts from the case. If you are looking for definitive answers, you may wish to pass on this one. It is not your traditional true crime book as the facts are not the main focus, but I like that about this book. I also liked that it made me think a lot about compassion and forgiveness. It reminded me a bit of Dead Man Walking (by Sister Helen Prejean) in that way. If you can take the subject matter I would recommend this book.

yogurt shop murdersWHO KILLED THESE GIRLS? THE TWENTY-FIVE-YEAR HISTORY OF AUSTIN’S YOGURT SHOP MURDER Written by Beverly Lowry

2016; 377 Pages (Knopf)
Genre: literary nonfiction, true crime, history
RATING: 3 STARS

Since I enjoyed Lowry’s previous book, Crossed Over, I was so happy to see that the library had her newest book, Who Killed These Girls?  I have also been following this case on 48 Hours: Mystery so I was interested to see what Lowry’s thought in the case were.

The Case:
Four young teens, two being sisters and one girl was just 13, were brutally murdered and then set on fire.  This took place in Austin, Texas in 1991.  The brutality of the crime shook Austin, but the young ages of the victims just about broke everyone on the case.  While this case has continually been active, no one has been convicted as of yet.  Lowry provides the entirety of the case from 1991 to present day.  We learn about the victims, the families, the investigators and the suspects.

The Verdict:
Maybe I already know too much about this case but I found it too dense and stretched out.  I think this book could have been better edited – at least a hundred pages less.  Lowry’s past book was more about the people and the emotions.  In this book, we get more facts and descriptions.  Lowry still has that literary style of writing that aided me in finishing the book.  I almost gave up halfway through because I was finding myself skimming some pages that seemed redundant.  Still, I did find the book interesting as I wanted to know more about this case.  I do hope this case gets solved someday…those girls deserve at least that.

Book Review: Poldark

4141651225

Image from PBS

I am a big fan of British mysteries, comedies and dramas so it is no surprise that I am a fan of Masterpiece Theater.  I recorded Poldark when it appeared on PBS and enjoyed the series, but did find it a bit on the slow side.  I heard that there was also another “mini-series” done in the 1970s.  I knew that both were based on a book so I looked it up and saw that the first book was published in 1945 (post-world war II) and the last book was published in 2002.  I was really curious in reading Ross Poldark and suggested it for my online reading group.  It won the poll so I was motivated in reading it.

Poldark

An older edition

ROSS POLDARK (The Poldark Saga: #1) Written by Winston Graham

1945 (reissued: 2015); 393 Pages (Pan/Sourcebook Landmark)

Genre: historical fiction, romance, saga, series

RATING: ★★★★1/2

Cornwall, 1783-1787

Tired from a grim war in America, Ross Poldark returns to his land and family, only to find his father has died, his estate is derelict, and the girl he loved is engaged to another. But then he rescues a half-starved urchin girl and takes her home; an act which, it turns out, will alter his life.” (From Publisher)

poldark-1

2015 TV tie-in cover

I started this book thinking it would an okay family saga, but was really surprised on how much I loved this book.  For me it was a bit like the first moment I read Outlander.  I could reread this book a few time like I did with Outlander.  it is because I really connected with this novel.  The character development throughout the book was so well-written.  You were given more than just a snippet of the person and their life. Throughout the book we would visit key characters and learn more about them this way. Ross is what I would call a “Bronte/Austen” hero in that he is brooding, flawed but also wants redemption.  I liked him as a character and a hero. I was always rooting for him, but also had a bit of a crush on how he wants to help others.

md12173401114

1970s TV Tie-in cover

Graham is also great with the dialogue and interactions between the characters.  It is through different characters that we also get the whole of who Ross is.  His genuine affection for his cousin Verity shows his sensitive caring ways.  You see the vulnerability and yet strength when he interacts with Elizabeth.  I also liked that Graham did not turn characters in caricatures or one dimensional.  Even the “villains” and “quirky” characters have all sides.  I wanted to have constant hate-on with Elizabeth but you do see how she gets the way she does and I end up feeling pity for her.

Books defined as “sagas” can either be angsty dramas, sex and gossip or really gripping portraits. Or it is for me.  This one worked for me because it was well-researched in the historical time it took place.  You didn’t just get the sense of the time, but what was going on in those days – politics, social norms, courtships, war, etc.  Ross Poldark has a great mix of drama, action, romance and history.  It balances out perfectly so that you just really are entertained by a well-written book.  I highly recommend you just try this book as it may be better than you think it will.

Review: The Perfect Stranger

31443398THE PERFECT STRANGER Written by Megan Miranda

April 11, 2017; 352 Pages (Simon Schuster)

Genre: mystery, suspense, fiction

(I received an ARC from the NETGALLEY)

RATING: ★★1/2 STARS

I read Miranda’s first novel, All the Missing Girls and liked it.  While it was not the best writing  (couldn’t really connect or relate to the characters, and the suspense wasn’t that great) the way that Miranda wrote the book in reverse was very interesting.  The writing was okay in that they mystery was not bad and there was promise that with a bit of polish the next novel could really be good.  I was eagerly awaiting to try her next novel, The Perfect Stranger.  I have to say that the novel had the same issues as I found with the first book without any clever tricks.

There is Leah, the main character, who left her job as a journalist to become a teacher.  It is hinted that it is not by choice.  I could not come to like Leah even at the end.  I found her a bit whiny and brash.  Her roommate, Emmy has disappeared but she can’t really prove that Emmy even exists.  There is some stalking..which is easy to figure out who it is, but the motivation for it is a bit weak.  Kyle Donovan is the detective in charge but he is not professional. He does whatever Leah tells him to do despite him being in trouble for this in the past.  I didn’t get the romance angle for them.  I was done in several chapters in, but I thought there might be a twist so I kept reading.  I try really hard to like Miranda’s books.  I do want to read one of her young adult novels as the angst might make more sense in teen books.  A lot of people to seem to like this book, so again this may just be me.

Another Very Late Review: Fire By Night

30037277FIRE BY NIGHT Written by Teresa Messineo

2017; 320 Pages (William Morrow)

Genre: historical fiction, nurses, world war II, romanace

(I received an ARC from the EDELWEISS)

RATING: ★★ 1/2

In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.

Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.

When the conflict at last comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship, and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.” (From Publisher)

I was SUPER excited to read this novel as it was the nurses of WWII that were the main characters.  As I started reading I was impressed with the writer’s research and writing.  Several chapters in…it was started to read like a Nicholas Sparks novel.  Now, I read Sparks (though I have not read anything in awhile) and enjoy his books, but I have to be in a certain mood for it.  The predictability of sorrow, sappy romance and hope of HEA (happily ever after).  I was looking for more of…Saving Private Ryan meets Call the Midwife.  I gave this book two and a half stars for the writing and research. I might have liked this novel more if I read it in a different frame of mind.  You let me know!

 

 

 

Very Late Review: Her Every Fear

29938032HER EVERY FEAR Written by Peter Swanson

2017; 352 Pages (William Morrow)

Genre: suspense, fiction, mystery, thriller

(I received an ARC from the EDELWEISS)

RATING: ★★★★

I read Her Every Fear in January, but I have not been able to write a review until now.  Though this time it was not because I cannot pin down a rating, but rather what do I exactly want to say.  I requested this book from NetGalley as I heard so many great things about The Kind Worth Killing.  I figured I would grab Peter Swanson’s newest novel as it too was a standalone.  I was intrigued from the beginning.  At first, I assumed that I would not like this book based on the main character, Kate.  She’s bit of a needy character and sometimes I lose patience with that, especially when it comes to suspense/mystery genres.  Then something happened – I was transported into a Patricia Highsmith novel.  For those of you that have not (yet!) read Highsmith it is indeed a treat for those that like a good psychological thriller.  Movies such as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley are a few that were adapted from her books.  Highsmith has this way of making you slightly uncomfortable about the characters so that you are almost neutral about them.  They are in situations that dangerous and it can turn a person.  That is how I felt while I read this book.  I didn’t try to guess what was coming because I was enjoy the present.  This is a well written book that I had a few tiny issues with (some plot that can be spoilers) but overall really enjoyed.  I hope you do to!

Series Review: Minnesota Mystery

In my 2-3-4 Challenge group we are reading the Cork O’Connor series (written by William Kent Krueger ) as a monthly group read.  We started at the beginning, book 1 in January 2017.  I listened to all four books on audio, read by David Chandler).

175828IRON LAKE (Cork O’Connor: #1)

1998; 464 Pages (Atria/ Recorded Books)

Genre: mystery, suspense, series, fiction

RATING: ★★★

“Part Irish, part Anishinaabe Indian, Corcoran “Cork” O’Connor is the former sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota. Embittered by his “former” status, and the marital meltdown that has separated him from his children, Cork gets by on heavy doses of caffeine, nicotine, and guilt. Once a cop on Chicago’s South Side, there’s not much that can shock him. But when the town’s judge is brutally murdered, and a young Eagle Scout is reported missing, Cork takes on a mind-jolting case of conspiracy, corruption, and scandal.

As a lakeside blizzard buries Aurora, Cork must dig out the truth among town officials who seem dead-set on stopping his investigation in its tracks. But even Cork freezes up when faced with the harshest enemy of all: a small-town secret that hits painfully close to home.” (From Publisher)

I am not sure about this series.  Reading the synopsis above I was really excited to start listening to this book.  Many fellow readers love and recommend this series so maybe my expectations were a bit high.  My biggest issue with the novel was the main character, Cork.  After reading Bosch, Trent, Banks, etc I was looking for another cop hero.  I was disappointed in his choices and I didn’t see him as flawed hero but just meh.  While I love his kids (Jenny, Annie and Stevie) and sister-in-law, I am not wild about his wife, Jo either.  Add that with this novel being so sloooooooooow  to get anywhere,  I wasn’t rushing to listening as much as I usually do.  But there is promise…I do like the writing of the secondary characters and how the case comes together (finally!).  I am in for book two!

 

123604BOUNDARY WATERS (Cork O’Connor: #2)

1999; 402 Pages (Atria/ Recorded Books)

Genre: mystery, suspense, series, fiction

RATING: ★★★1/2

The Quetico-Superior Wilderness: more than two million acres of forest, white-water rapids, and uncharted islands on the Canadian/American border. Somewhere in the heart of this unforgiving territory, a young woman named Shiloh — a country-western singer at the height of her fame — has disappeared. Her father arrives in Aurora, Minnesota, to hire Cork O’Connor to find his daughter, and Cork joins a search party that includes an ex-con, two FBI agents, and a ten-year-old boy. Others are on her trail as well — men hired not just to find her, but to kill her.

As the expedition ventures deeper into the wilderness, strangers descend on Aurora, threatening to spill blood on the town’s snowy streets. Meanwhile, out on the Boundary Waters, winter falls hard. Cork’s team of searchers loses contact with civilization, and like the brutal winds of a Minnesota blizzard, death — violent and sudden — stalks them.” (From Publisher)

I am warming up to Cork, though he is still not my favourite character or “hero”.  I am hoping that Jo does not get back with Cork, as it is up to her whether they get back together.  Yet, I can sense their reunion.  Again, this novel moved a bit slow in the beginning but it did pick up and I found it harder to put down as we got to the end.

 

325429PURGATORY RIDGE (Cork O’Connor: #3)

2001; 428 Pages (Atria/ Recorded Books)

Genre: mystery, suspense, series, fiction

RATING: ★★★★

“Not far from the small town of Aurora (population 3,752) lies an ancient two-hundred-acre expanse of great white pines, sacred to the Anishinaabe and known to them as Minishoomisag (Our Grandfathers).

Wealthy industrialist Karl Lindstrom does not have a reputation as a sensitive environmentalist, and some members of the Anishinaabe tribe are concerned about the proximity of the trees to his lumber mill. So when an explosion at the mill results in the death of a night watchman, it’s obvious whom suspicion will fall upon.

Cork O’Connor, in the throes of straightening out his life and repairing his marriage, is asked by his successor as sheriff to help with the investigation. His sense of community obliges him to accept, but Cork has distinctly mixed feelings about the case. For one thing, he is part Anishinaabe himself. For another, his lawyer wife, Jo, represents the tribe.

Meanwhile, in a secluded house that overlooks the lakeside home of the Lindstrom family, a reclusive shipwreck survivor and his sidekick also seem to be harboring some resentment of their own against the industrialist. And it soon becomes clear to Cork that harmony, both at home and in the town, will be on the back burner for some time.” (From Publisher)

Okay, Mr. Krueger you got me.  I have officially added rest of the Cork O’Connor books on my “want-to read” list.  I was hooked from the beginning and the story moved quickly so I was galloping through it.  I have not mentioned in my other reviews, but one other thing that I love about Krueger’s writing style is his description of  Aurora and it’s wondrous beauty.  Often the settings in the novel are almost another character.  You can definitely image the place but also almost feel how it would be there.  While I am still not a fan of Jo, I do seem to warm to her when she is around her sister and children.  I am ready for next month.

 

211161BLOOD HOLLOW (Cork O’Connor: #4)

2004; 512 Pages (Atria/ Recorded Books)

Genre: mystery, suspense, series, fiction

RATING: ★★★★1/2

When the corpse of a beautiful high school student is discovered on a hillside four months after her disappearance on New Year’s Eve, all evidence points to her boyfriend, local bad boy Solemn Winter Moon. Despite Solemn’s self-incriminating decision to go into hiding, Cork O’Connor, Aurora’s former sheriff, isn’t about to hang the crime on the kid, whom O’Connor is convinced is innocent. In an uphill battle to clear Solemn’s name, Cork encounters no shortage of adversity. Some he knows all too well — small-town bigotry and bureaucracy foremost among them. What Cork isn’t prepared for is the emergence of a long-held resentment hailing from his own childhood. And when Solemn reappears, claiming to have seen a vision of Jesus Christ in Blood Hollow, the mystery becomes thornier than Cork could ever have anticipated. And that’s when the miracles start happening…. ” (From Publisher)

I rated the first novel three stars, and slowly have been going up half a star for each book ever.  I thought I would stay at four stars for a few books, but wow this book was almost a five star.  This book starts with a bang and almost like a race I kept wanting to read more and more.  I was lucky that I was listening to this book when I had a day of chores.  I listened to 75% of the book in one day.  I liked that this book had more of the O’Connor family, and more of Rose.  I am a HUGE fan of Rose.  She is definitely the strength of the O’Connor family and also it’s heart.  Krueger and Cork describe Rose as smart and kind BUT also plain and overweight.  I probably like Rose so much as I relate with her the most (other than Jenny for her love of poetry).  I think Rose and Annie would be great detectives for a spin-off series – I like the quirkiness of Annie who compliments her aunt.  The case in this book was also very fascinating as it uses big themes like religion, culture, love and secrets.  Highly recommend this book and waiting patiently for May to read book five.

Quick Review: LONG BLACK VEIL

31214015LONG BLACK VEIL Written by Jennifer Finney Boylan

2017; 304 Pages (Crown)
Genre: literary fiction, mystery

(I received an ARC from the NETGALLEY)

RATING: 3 STARS

Okay, so I decided to go with this book based on the title.  “Long Black Veil” is a song sung by Johnny Cash, and has always been haunting.  The only description of the book was the following, “a new novel about a woman whose family and identity are threatened by the secrets of her past.”  The novel’s first part takes place in a prison in the 1980s.  Intrigued yet? I was.  It took me a few days to really get into this book.  The first half is confusing. I can’t even describe to you why as I am afraid I will slip in a spoiler by accident.  I was even confused on what to rate it, and even now as I write I keep volleying between 2.5 to 3.  Once I got to the middle of the book I was able to read it pretty quickly.  I was engaged even though some things didn’t seem plausible and I figured out one plot twist (there are more!).  The characters are not always likeable BUT some are interesting in their flaws.  I am not even sure if I would recommend this book, and if I did, whom I would recommend it to.  I will say that reading this book was entertaining for the most part but it is not one I would read again.