Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Truth Will Out by Jane Isaacs

"Everything's going to be okay."
"What if it's not?" Suddenly, she turned. For a split second she halted, her head inclined.
"Naomi, what is it?"
She whisked back to face Eva. "There's somebody in the house..."

Eva is horrified when she witnesses an attack on her best friend. She calls an ambulance and forces herself to flee Hampton, fearing for her own safety. DCI Helen Lavery leads the investigation into the murder. With no leads, no further witnesses and no sign of forced entry, the murder enquiry begins.

Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle start to come together. But as Helen inches towards solving the case, her past becomes caught up in her present. Someone is after them both. Someone who will stop at nothing to get what they want. And as the net starts to close around them, can Helen escape her own demons as well as helping Eva to escape hers?

This second book to feature Helen Lavery is a much stronger offering than the series debut, and is a true thriller that keeps the reader on edge through to the end. Widowed Helen is a strong and complicated character, trying to carve out a police career while raising two sons. It was lovely to gain insights into her character through the details about her recent romantic entanglement, and to see her gaining confidence in her investigative skills. There were points where I felt that Eve's story was unfolding rather slowly, bu overall the story was engaging and enjoyable. This series seesm to have found its footing, and I'm looking forward to future offerings from this author.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Innocent Sleep by Karen Perry

Tangiers. Harry is preparing his wife's birthday dinner while she is still at work and their son, Dillon, is upstairs asleep in bed. Harry suddenly remembers that he's left Robin's gift at the café in town. It's only a five minute walk away and Dillon's so tricky to put down for the night, so Harry decides to run out on his own and fetch the present.

Disaster strikes. An earthquake hits, buildings crumble, people scream and run. Harry fights his way through the crowd to his house, only to find it razed to the ground. Dillon is presumed dead, though his body is never found.

Five years later, Harry and Robin have settled into a new kind of life after relocating to their native Dublin. Their grief will always be with them, but lately it feels as if they're ready for a new beginning. Harry's career as an artist is taking off and Robin has just realized that she's pregnant.

But when Harry gets a glimpse of Dillon on the crowded streets of Dublin, the past comes rushing back at both of them. Has Dillon been alive all these years? Or was what Harry saw just a figment of his guilt-ridden imagination?

This wonderful story about a parent's ultimate despair is less a thriller, and more a portrait of a family suffering to overcome the loss of a child and the guilty knowledge that the loss was avoidable. I enjoyed the mixed narrators and the way they slowly reveal facts that explain the complicated reality of this troubled couple. The story is engrossing, especially as the threads begin to unravel. That said, I was ultimately unable to find it in myself to like Harry or to understand why Robin stays with him despite everything he has done. I also wouldn't consider it a thriller in the typical sense up until the very end despite the psychological tension. I would have given this 5 stars if not for the ending which felt both rushed and unsatisfying.

The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths

Every year a ceremony is held at Norwich Castle for the bodies in the paupers’ graves: the Service for the Outcast Dead. Ruth has a particular interest in this year’s proceedings. Her recent dig at Norwich Castle turned up the body of the notorious Mother Hook, who was hanged in 1867 for the murder of five children. Now Ruth is the reluctant star of the TV series Women Who Kill, working alongside the program’s alluring history expert, Professor Frank Barker.

DCI Harry Nelson is immersed in the case of three children found dead in their home. He is sure that the mother is responsible. Then another child is abducted and a kidnapper dubbed the Childminder claims responsibility. Are there two murderers afoot, or is the Childminder behind all the deaths? The team must race to find out—and the stakes couldn’t be any higher when another child goes missing.

Another excellent addition to the Ruth Galloway series, this mystery kept me involved from the first page to the last. As always, Ruth is a delightfully awkward character, especially as she tries to navigate the complicated world of reality TV. The historical and modern day mysteries are beautifully connected and sensitively drawn- sometimes a difficult balance when addressing crimes against children. As always, the secondary characters in this series help add both depth and levity to a sometimes bleak narrative. Highly recommended for those familiar with the series- for new readers, definitely read these in order rather than starting here!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Welcome to Little Wing.

It’s a place like hundreds of others, nothing special, really. But for four friends—all born and raised in this small Wisconsin town—it is home. And now they are men, coming into their own or struggling to do so.

One of them never left, still working the family farm that has been tilled for generations. But others felt the need to move on, with varying degrees of success. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit, and one of them even hit it big as a rock star. And then there’s Beth, a woman who has meant something special in each of their lives.

Now all four are brought together for a wedding. Little Wing seems even smaller than before. While lifelong bonds are still strong, there are stresses—among the friends, between husbands and wives. There will be heartbreak, but there will also be hope, healing, even heroism as these memorable people learn the true meaning of adult friendship and love.

This heartfelt novel is an astonishingly good read- one with an unexpected emotional depth. The language is spare, much like Little Wing itself, and captured this reader from the first pages. Unwinding slowly, this story slowly goes nowhere really- this book is more a study in characters than of action, but I found I couldn't put it down. The picture of these four men and their small Wisconsin town is beautifully drawn, and the ties that bind them together are the same that many of us feel for our childhood friends and homes. It is hard to explain- there is nothing I can think to say in this review that would capture the beauty of this book; I really think you have to start reading to find the allure. Highly recommended!

Friday, February 7, 2014

What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin

Molly Hallberg is a thirty-nine-year-old divorced writer living in New York City who wants her own column, a Wikipedia entry, and to never end up in her family’s Long Island upholstery business. For the past four years Molly’s been on staff for an online magazine, covering all the wacky assignments. She’s snuck vibrators through security scanners, speed-dated undercover, danced with Rockettes, and posed nude for a Soho art studio.

Fearless in everything except love, Molly is now dating a forty-four-year-old chiropractor. He’s comfortable, but safe. When Molly is assigned to write a piece about New York City romance "in the style of Nora Ephron," she flunks out big-time. She can’t recognize romance. And she can’t recognize the one man who can go one-on-one with her, the one man who gets her. But with wit, charm, whip-smart humor, and Nora Ephron’s romantic comedies, Molly learns to open her heart and suppress her cynicism

An engaging look at one woman's quest to find love (or at least a good story about love), this book is a lovely homage to all that is great about Nora Ephron. Molly is a sympathetic heroine who has settled into a comfortable relationship with Russell after a painful divorce. As she works to gain her own column, she takes on a series of bizarre assignments to impress her boss; though she succeeds at skydiving, she fails at writing about love until she meets successful novelist Cameron.

This book is definitely an enjoyable read, and it was great to see Molly's growing awareness that there is something missing in her romantic life. The dialogue is snappy and Molly's narrative tone and pointed jokes are amusing. My only quibble is that it reads like a zippy Sex in the City column- a tone I find works better in short chunks than as the structure of a novel. Regardless, an enjoyable book to curl up with while watching the snow swirl outside.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Trouble with Honor by Julia London

Desperate times call for daring measures as Honor Cabot, the eldest stepdaughter of the wealthy Earl of Beckington, awaits her family's ruin. Upon the earl's death she and her sisters stand to lose the luxury of their grand home—and their place on the pedestal of society—to their stepbrother and his social-climbing fiancée. Forced to act quickly, Honor makes a devil's bargain with the only rogue in London who can seduce her stepbrother's fiancée out of the Cabots' lives for good.

An illegitimate son of a duke, George Easton was born of scandal and grows his fortune through dangerous risks. But now he and Honor are dabbling in a perilous dance of seduction that puts her reputation and his jaded heart on the line. And as unexpected desire threatens to change the rules of their secret game, the stakes may become too high even for a notorious gambler and a determined, free-spirited debutante to handle.

This series debut about four sisters introduces a lovely set of characters focused solely on romantic pursuits- no supernatural or suspense subplots here. I enjoyed this well-written romance primarily because I enjoyed the hero and heroine. Honor is nowhere near as flighty as she seems in the beginning, and I feel her desperation as she tries to find a way to protect her mother and sisters from dramatic life changes. George is a complicated character- the unacknowledged illegitimate son of a duke, he is for all intents and purposes a self-made man battling to maintain the fortune he earned through hard work. I also enjoyed the various side characters who become fleshed out through the story- though I found Augustine's attempts to exert control rather surprising, Monica is slowly revealed to be a complex and goodhearted person.

There were some unanswered questions that led me to a four star rating rather than a five: who are the young bucks who take Honor and her friends to that gaming den? What happens to those young men and women- Honor seems to have no friends or interactions other than with her family. Given the Earl's immense wealth, why hasn't he made financial provisions for his wife and step-daughters? Despite these niggling questions, I enjoyed this series debut, and am looking forward to reading more about the Cabot daughters in the future.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Newcomer by Robyn Carr

Single dad and Thunder Point's deputy sheriff "Mac" McCain has worked hard to keep his town safe and his daughter happy. Now he's found his own happiness with Gina James. The longtime friends have always shared the challenges and rewards of raising their adolescent daughters. With an unexpected romance growing between them, they're feeling like teenagers themselves—suddenly they can't get enough of one another.And just when things are really taking off, their lives are suddenly thrown into chaos. When Mac's long-lost ex-wife shows up in town, drama takes on a whole new meaning. Mac and Gina know they're meant to be together, but can their newfound love withstand the pressure?

This is an unusual romance in that it doesn't really focus all that much on the hero and heroine; instead, the focus is on the town in which they live. For those who have read The Wanderer, this book carries on the story of Sarah and Coop in interesting and unexpected ways. It also highlights the difficulties of two single parents trying to find romance amid a messy situation. I was taken aback by the chances to Downy's character given that he was such a good guy in the last book, and I also thought that the story of Mac's ex-wife was a little unresolved- hence the four stars rather than five. That said, an excellent addition to the Thunder Point canon, one that has whetted by appetite for the next installment.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angel Brkic

A woman must leave her island home to search for her missing sister-and confront the haunted history of her family.

Magdalena does not panic when she learns that her younger sister has disappeared. A free-spirit, Jadranka has always been prone to mysterious absences. But when weeks pass with no word, Magdalena leaves the isolated Croatian island where their family has always lived and sets off to New York to find her sister. Her search begins to unspool the dark history of their family, reaching back three generations to a country torn by war.

This moving story of a family torn apart by politics, war, and secrets is a wonderful read from start to finish. Though there are parts along the way where is it hard to sympathize with any of the characters, everything comes together to create a clear and realistic picture of a complicated situation. It helps to know a little about the history of the region to set the various backstories in the right time frame; anyone who has been to the region will immediately appreciate the author's ability to paint a picture of life on the Croatian coast. This story is difficult in places, but ultimately redemptive. Highly recommended!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Searching for Someday by Jennifer Probst

In charming Verily, New York, Kate Seymour has a smashing success with Kinnections, the matchmaking service she owns with her two best girlfriends. But Kate’s more than a savvy businesswoman: She’s gifted with a secret power, a jolting touch that signals when love’s magic is at work. It rocked her when she picked up a strange volume of love spells in the town’s used bookstore . . . and it zapped her again when she encountered Slade Montgomery, the hot-tempered— and hot-bodied—divorce lawyer who storms into Kinnections demanding proof that playing Cupid won’t destroy his vulnerable sister, Kate’s newest client. The only way to convince this cynic that she’s no fraud, and that love is no mirage, is for Kate to meet his audacious challenge: find him his dream woman. Can Kate keep their relationship strictly business when her electrifying attraction nearly knocked her off her feet? Or has the matchmaker finally met her match?

Despite an interesting plot and some great secondary characters, this book was a ho-hum read for me. The supernatural element was well-handled with just hints here and there, but nothing overwhelming. That said, I found Kate's fears and romantic past a bit hard to swallow. Nevertheless, it was the hero that really turned me off this book- I cannot imagine what possessed anyone to fall for this brash, arrogant, and obnoxious personality. He was a jerk from the start, and frankly didn't improve as the story progressed. He behaved like a horny teenager which I do not find attractive in an adult, and I wanted nothing more than for Kate to kick him to the curb. The Kate's mother and dog and business partners were the best characters in this book and are the only reason I'm giving it three stars.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

The Salter family orbits around Peattie House, their crumbling Scottish highlands estate filled with threadbare furniture, patrician memories, and all their inevitable secrets. While gathered to celebrate grandmother's seventieth birthday, someone breaks the silence. The web begins to unravel. But what is the white lie? How many others are built upon it? How many lives have been shaped by its shadow? Only one person knows the whole truth. From beyond the grave, Michael loops back into the past until we see, beyond perception and memory, how deeply our decisions resound, and just what is the place—and price—of grandeur.

REVIEW: This mystery presents itself in an interesting way- the story is told from the perspective of the murder victim, and no one seems at all unclear on the identity of the killer. As such, the book really focuses more on the how and why than the the who, and reflects an interesting perspective of the murder victim aging and maturing as he haunts his home- he has a deeper understanding of and sympathy for its series of overlapping secrets.

That said, there are periods when the narrative starts to drag making reading a challenge. Also, the central mystery and revelations are nothing of the sort for an astute reader. I am not actually certain if they are supposed to be a surprise but it seems likely, and yet the suspense simply wasn't here. Regardless, the books is well-written and the story enjoyable. I felt engaged with the characters, especially poor Michael, even if I never really understood why his entire family was willing to allow his aunt's involvement in his murder to go uninvestigated.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Hidden White House by Robert Klara

In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House’s second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution. A handpicked team of the country’s top architects conducted a secret inspection of the troubled mansion and, after discovering it was in imminent danger of collapse, insisted that the First Family be evicted immediately. What followed would be the most historically significant and politically complex home-improvement job in American history. While the Trumans camped across the street at Blair House, Congress debated whether to bulldoze the White House completely, and the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb, starting the Cold War.

Indefatigable researcher Robert Klara reveals what has, until now, been little understood about this episode: America’s most famous historic home was basically demolished, giving birth to today’s White House. Leaving only the mansion’s facade untouched, workmen gutted everything within, replacing it with a steel frame and a complex labyrinth deep below ground that soon came to include a top-secret nuclear fallout shelter.

The story of Truman’s rebuilding of the White House is a snapshot of postwar America and its first Cold War leader, undertaking a job that changed the centerpiece of the country’s national heritage. The job was by no means perfect, but it was remarkable—and, until now, all but forgotten.

An informative and delightful look at the 20th century reconstruction of the White House. As a native Washingtonian, I found this wonderful book about the reconstruction of the White House a definite must-read. Full of interesting tidbits about the behind the scenes process of rebuilding the President's residence, this book is both easy to read and a great insight into a little-known element of the history of our nation's capital. Highly recommended for any history buff or presidential scholar-to-be.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dark Invasion by Howard Blum

When a “neutral” United States becomes a trading partner for the Allies early in World War I, the Germans implement a secret plan to strike back. A team of saboteurs—including an expert on germ warfare, a Harvard professor, and a brilliant, debonair spymaster—devise a series of “mysterious accidents” using explosives and biological weapons, to bring down vital targets such as ships, factories, livestock, and even captains of industry like J. P. Morgan.

New York Police Inspector Tom Tunney, head of the department’s Bomb Squad, is assigned the difficult mission of stopping them. Assembling a team of loyal operatives, the cunning Irish cop hunts for the conspirators among a population of more than eight million Germans. But the deeper he finds himself in this labyrinth of deception, the more Tunney realizes that the enemy’s plan is far more complex and more dangerous than he suspected.

This was the first I heard of Germany's secret war against the US before our entry into WWI- what a riveting story! The author used the personalities of those involved (on both sides) to pull the reader into the story. I was fascinated by how much work went into countering this early threat, and by how similar the circumstances and motivations are to those of today's secret warriors. Highly recommended!

Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Two sisters sit in the backseat of a car, bound at the wrists by a strip of white cloth. Their mother, Amaranth, drives for days without pause, desperate to get away from the husband she fears will follow them to the earth's end. Her daughters, Amity and Sorrow, cannot comprehend why they're fleeing or fathom what exists outside their father's polygamous compound. When an exhausted Amaranth crashes their car in rural Oklahoma, rescue arrives in the form of Bradley, a farmer not unfamiliar with loss and uncertain futures. At first mistrustful of the strange, prayerful trio, Bradley allows his abiding tolerance to get the best of him, and the four become a new kind of family.

I knew this book about a polygamous cult would be disturbing, but even so I was surprised by some of the elements of the story. This well-written look at three women trying to escape from the only life they have even known is compelling and moving. Watching Amity and Sorrow attempt to navigate what is to them a strange new world, I could not help but wish that things were going to progress well for them- even though I knew it was most unlikely. Given the subject matter, this book might not be for everyone, but it is an strong example of the genre. Not exactly the type of book one can claim to like, this novel is a strong read that commands the reader's interest from beginning to end.

Monday, January 27, 2014

After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman

When Felix Brewer meets Bernadette “Bambi” Gottschalk at a Valentine’s Dance in 1959, he charms her with wild promises, some of which he actually keeps. Thanks to his lucrative—if not all legal—businesses, she and their three little girls live in luxury. But on the Fourth of July, 1976, Bambi’s comfortable world implodes when Felix, newly convicted and facing prison, mysteriously vanishes.

Though Bambi has no idea where her husband—or his money—might be, she suspects one woman does: his mistress, Julie. When Julie disappears ten years to the day that Felix went on the lam, everyone assumes she’s left to join her old lover—until her remains are eventually found.

Now, twenty-six years after Julie went missing, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, is investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web stretching over three decades that connects five intriguing women. And at the center is the missing man Felix Brewer.

Somewhere between the secrets and lies connecting past and present, Sandy will find the truth. And when he does, no one will ever be the same.

I have read several of Laura Lippman's works, and am consistently impressed by her abilities. This cold case mystery kept me guessing until the very end- always a sign of success in my book! I was especially delighted by the variety of female characters in the story, each of whom had a different outlook and set of motivations that informed her actions. A truly excellent read- one I handed to my mom the moment I finished!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd

A society wedding at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire becomes a crime scene when a man is murdered. After another body is found, the baffled local constabulary turns to Scotland Yard. Though the second crime had a witness, her description of the killer is so strange its unbelievable.

Despite his experience, Inspector Ian Rutledge has few answers of his own. The victims are so different that there is no rhyme or reason to their deaths. Nothing logically seems to connect them—except the killer. As the investigation widens, a clear suspect emerges. But for Rutledge, the facts still don’t add up, leaving him to question his own judgment.

In going over the details of the case, Rutledge is reminded of a dark episode he witnessed in the war. While the memory could lead him to the truth, it also raises a prickly dilemma. To stop a murderer, will the ethical detective choose to follow the letter—or the spirit—of the law?

This latest addition to the Rutledge series is a complicated tour de force. Rutledge's hunt for a sniper picking off seemingly unconnected victims leads to an older mystery that dates back to the days of the war that so impacted his own life. Rutledge seems less tortured in this book than in other offerings, perhaps signaling that he is slowly coming to terms with his wartime experiences. Once I started reading, I was unable to put this one down. Highly recommended!