Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ravens by George Dawes Green

Flap copy from hardcover:
"The Boatwrights just won 318 million dollars in the GeorgiaState lottery. It's going to be the worst day of their lives.

When Shaw McBride and Romeo Zderko pull up at a convenience store off I-95 in Georgia, their only thought is to fix a leaky tire and be on their way again to Florida-away from their dull Ohio tech-support jobs. But this happens to be the store from which a 318,000,000 million dollar Jackpot ticket has just been sold -- and when a pretty clerk accidentally reveals to Shaw the identity of the winning family, he hatches a ferociously audacious scheme: He and Romeo will squeeze the family for half their prize.

That night, he visits the Boatwright home and takes the family hostage, while Romeo patrols the streets nearby, prepared to murder the Boatwrights' loved ones at any sign of resistance. At first, the family offers none. But Shaw's plot depends on maintaining constant fear-merciless, unfaltering terror-and soon, under the pressure, everyone's sanity begins to unravel.."

This book was an unexpected pleasure. After reading the blurb, I thought this would be a suspense filled thriller, likely to end in a bloody mess at the end like so many thriller/horror movies. I started reading with some trepidation, but was immediately sucked into the story. Well, maybe not into the story because there really isn't a lot of plot or story here, but into the work itself.

This book is a wonderful set of character studies loosely tied to the whole kidnapping/terror plot. There are jewels here, tightly written snippets of conversation and memory that reveal volumes about the personalities involved in just a few well-chosen words. Romeo especially offers a wealth of pain, confusion, and love wrapped up in the persona of a tough guy who is much more a lost boy. I definitely preferred Romeo to Shaw as a character, and found his to be a more believable back story and personality.

Given that I sat down meaning to read just a few pages and ended up pushing through to the end, this book obviously succeeds in engaging the reader. I would have given it five stars if I had been able to better understand the power that Shaw seemed to exert over people. The whole cult that sprang up around Shaw was a little too unrealistic for my taste, but otherwise I was quite impressed by the character sketches delivered in Ravens. Highly recommended 4.5 stars.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I Can See You by Karen Rose

Flap copy from hardcover:
"Eve Wilson's face was once scarred by a vicious assault. Terrified and ashamed, she escaped to the online realm, where she could choose the face she allowed people to see. Years later, her outer scars faded and inner scars buried, Eve has fought her way back to the real world and is determined to help others do the same. Now a graduate student moonlighting as a bartender, Eve researches the addictive powers of online communities. When her test subjects begin turning up dead as a result of apparent suicides, she doesn't know where to turn.

Homicide detective Noah Webster is one of the few people who believe the victims are connected murders. Eve becomes Noah's online guide and realizes that the handsome detective may have secret scars as painful as her own. As Eve and Noah chase a killer who is always one step ahead of them, together they try to overcome the tragedies of their pasts and learn to trust again, but they soon discover that danger is much closer than they think."

Wow- this latest offering from Karen Rose was an excellent romantic thriller, one that kept me involved and guessing until the very end. Reading this book, I was reminded of vintage Iris Johansen- fully drawn characters, exciting romance coupled with great action, and suspense that builds throughout the story. Eve and Noah were enjoyable and relatable characters surrounded by a supporting cast of inter-related friends and family that should provide for a nice ongoing series of connected books. Highly recommended- 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Chocolate Lover's Club by Carole Matthews

Flap copy from paperback:
"Some women are addicted to shopping; others can't get enough of champagne. But there's one thing that Lucy Lombard can't live without, and that's chocolate - rich, creamy, delicious chocolate. Sharing her passion are three other addicts: Autumn, Nadia and Chantal. Together they form a select group known as the Chocolate Lovers' Club. Whenever there's a crisis, they meet in their sanctuary, a cafe called Chocolate Heaven, and with a cheating boyfriend, a flirtatious boss, a gambling husband, and a loveless marriage, there's always plenty to discuss ... The Chocolate Lovers' Club brings together four unforgettable women from totally different worlds united in their passion for chocolate."

This book sounded like the perfect light read for my vacation- a tight group of friends bonding over exotic chocolates and tales of woe should be an automatic chick-lit home run. Unfortunately, this book was more a swing and a miss to me because the main protagonist Lucy was clearly more caricature than character.

I would like to believe that no self-respecting young woman would truly be so proud of her ability to stick with a serial cheater of a boyfriend. I would like to believe no self-respecting young woman would be so proud of her absolute inability to perform any of the basic functions of her employment. I would like to believe no self-respecting young woman wants to read and sympathize with so vapid and annoying a main character.

It was a real shame to me that Lucy was so stereotypical and idiotic a character, because the problems faced by the other women in the book rang true and could have elevated this book above the fray if they hadn't been constantly undermined by clumsy babbling irritating Lucy.

A disappointing 2.5 stars.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand

Flap description from hardcover:
"On the timy island of Nantucket, everybody's business is everyone's business. When the charming, talented music teacher Greg MacAvoy shares a rainy Sunday night with the beautiful high school senior April Peck, rumors swarm the island like tourists on Memorial Day. The stories strain Greg's marriage, and his wife Tess is torn between her love for her husband and a secret of her own. With their anniversary approaching, the MacAvoys head out on their sailboat to celebrate, hoping the roughest waters are behind them.

But instead comes heartbreaking news: Greg and Tess have mysteriously drowned, leaving behind two small children. Their closest friends- the Kapenashes, Drakes, and Wheelers- are devastated. For as long as anyone can remember, the four couples have vacationed and celebrated together, confided in and depended on one another. But tragedy brings long simmering conflicts and emotions to the surface. The six friends, upended by grief and denial, set out to answer the question: What happened to Greg and Tess MacAvoy?

This was an excellent offering by a talented author, one that explored the tough issues of love and loss and redemption through the eyes of a disparate cast of characters. Though we never meet Greg and Tess MacAvoy, they loom large over the narrative as their characters are revealed in snippets of memories. Each of the six main characters in The Castaways have a different vision of Tess and Greg, and only by combining all those different versions do their true personalities unfold.

Well-written and deftly rendered, this story of adult relationships between friends, families, spouses and exes reflects the complicated reality of today's world. I was most impressed by the pacing of the various revelations and quality of the ending. I found the novel engaging and difficult to put down once I started. This is a must-read for the summer season. Highly recommended- 5 strong stars!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Moonlight in Odessa by Janet Skeslien Charles

Flap copy from ARC:
"Odessa, Ukraine, is the humor capital of the former Soviet Union, but in an upside-down world where waiters earn more than doctors and Odessans depend on the Mafia for basics like phone service and medical supplies, no one is laughing. After months of job hunting, Daria, a young engineer, finds a plum position at a foreign firm as a secretary. But every plum has a pit. In this case, it’s Mr. Harmon, who makes it clear that sleeping with him is job one. Daria evades Harmon’s advances by recruiting her neighbor, the slippery Olga, to be his mistress. But soon Olga sets her sights on Daria’s job.

Daria begins to moonlight as an interpreter at Soviet Unions(TM), a matchmaking agency that organizes “socials” where lonely American men can meet desperate Odessan women. Her grandmother wants Daria to leave Ukraine for good and pushes her to marry one of the men she meets, but Daria already has feelings for a local. She must choose between her world and America, between Vlad, a sexy, irresponsible mobster, and Tristan, a teacher nearly twice her age. Daria chooses security and America. Only it’s not exactly what she thought it would be..."

I really wanted to like this book which has such an interesting premise and started out strong. Daria is a great character, and I felt truly invested in her struggles and her life in Odessa. The descriptions of trying to work in the post-Soviet era Ukraine are hysterical. The entire mail-order bride business is both amusing and tragic, and is very well depicted in this novel.

Unfortunately, once Daria makes a choice about how she wants to live her life, my interest in the book rapidly waned. Daria immediately lost all of the vivacity and humor that made her such an interesting character, and without a strong character interestd to drive it, the narrative petered out. I feel like this was two different novels- one a lighthearted chick-lit offering with set in Odessa, the other a darker look at the questionable world of international mail order brides. Either book as a stand-alone tale would have been an enjoyable read, but the combination here weakened the impact of story.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lucky Girl by Mei-Ling Hopgood

Flap Copy from hardcover:
"Mei-Ling Hopgood was an all-American girl. She grew up in the midwest, was a high school pom-pom girl, studies journalism at the University of Missouri, and become a reporter for a Michigan newspaper. She wasn't really curous about her Asian roots, though she new she was adopted. Then one day, when she was in her twenties, her birth family from Taiwan came calling- on the phone, on the computer, by fax- in a language she didn't understand. The Wangs wanted to meet her; they wanted her to return home.

As her sisters and parents pulled her into their lives, claiming her as one of their own, Mei-Ling fell in love with them. But this unexpected reunion has a price. She uncovers the devastating secrets that haunt them to this day as she attempts to understand the hard choices of her birth mother."

This well-written and sometimes painfully honest memoir was an excellent read that I highly recommend. I was touched by Mei-Ling's situation growing up as part of a blended family, trying to create an identity independent of her ehtnicity. When she is confronted with the opportunity to learn more about her birth family, I was impressed by her original attitude and yet concerned that it might all go terribly wrong. The story of that meeting and the relationship Mei-Ling eventually forges with her sisters is extraordinary given the language barriers and the sad tale of her actual adoption.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has adopted or been adopted from overseas, or anyone who is thinking about an international adoption. Though I have no personal experience with adoption, I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir and believe it has a wide appeal.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Knight of Desire by Margaret Mallory

Flap description from ARC:
"His surcoat still bloody from battle, William FitzAlan comes to claim the strategic borderlands granted to him by the king. One last prize awaits him at the castle gates: the lovely Lady Catherine Rayburn.

Catherine risked everything to spy for the crown. Her reward? Her lands are declared forfeit and she is given this choice: marry FitzAlan or be taken to the Tower. Catherine agrees to give her handsome new husband her body, but she's keeping secrets and dares not give him her heart.

As passion ignites and danger closes in, Catherine and William must learn to trust in each other to save their marriage, their land, and their very lives."

This well-written debut novel was a joy to read, and introduces a wonderful new voice to the historical genre. William and Catherine share an interesting, though convoluted, connection and their interactions are the solid base that carries the rest of the plot. I enjoyed the pacing and the love story, though felt some of the more interesting elements of William and Catherine's backstories called for greater exposition, as did the important betrayal the served as such a central plot device.

All in all, a great read especially for a debut novel. I definitely look forward to future offerings from this new author. Highly recommended!