Posted in Book Review

Book Review: Grey Mask

grey mask

Title:  Grey Mask

Author:  Patricia Wentworth

Publisher:  Warner Books

Pages:  256

Genre:  Cozy Mystery

Setting:  UK

Source:    I purchased this novel for myself.

Publication Date:  November 1, 1986

Blurb:

After Charles was jilted at the altar by Margaret, he discovers that she is mixed up in a vicious kidnapping plot masterminded by a sinister figure in a grey mask. Charles turns to Miss Silver to uncover the strange truth behind Margaret’s complicity, and the identity of the terrifying and mysterious individual behind the grey mask.

What I Say:

I mentioned this book in a previous “What I’m Reading” post. I hesitated adding to those initial thoughts because honestly, my opinion didn’t change. At the time of that post, I still had more than half of the book to read. Again, I’ll say that the mystery part of the novel kept me guessing until the end. However, and without spoilers, I don’t think it was possible to have guessed the outcome prior to the ending because the author held back those revealing details.

Also, as I previously stated, this series of books is called “A Miss Silver Mystery”. I found it completely odd to name a series after a character who only appears in the book on a handful of pages and she was, at best, superfluous to the story. Yes, she aided in helping Charles solve the mystery of Grey Mask, however, the reader never gets to see how Miss Silver conducted her investigations. Seriously, I’ve never read a series of books where the title character was so underutilized.

In the end, I gave this two stars on Goodreads and have no intentions of reading any more books from this series despite other reviews. My review is definitely in the minority with this book having garnered an average of 3.74 stars on Goodreads, so maybe I am being overly critical. I stand by my opinions because, for me, the characters were forgettable and the world-building was flat. For a cozy mystery, this novel had little atmosphere.

 

2 Hearts

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Posted in Book Review

Book Review: The Fountain of St. James Park

naslund

Title:  The Fountain of St. James Park or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman

Author:  Sena Jeter Naslund

Publisher:  HarperCollins

Pages:  448

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction/Historical Fiction

Setting:  Revolutionary France and modern day Kentucky

Source:    I purchased this novel for myself.

Publication Date:  Sept 17, 2013

Blurb:

How do writers and painters get their ideas? And what are the realities and heartbreaks that lie behind such seemingly glamorous and romantic lives? In her groundbreaking new novel, New York Times bestselling author Sena Jeter Naslund explores the artistic processes and lives of creative women

Sena Jeter Naslund’s inspiring novel-within-a-novel, The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman, creates the lives of a fictional contemporary writer and of a historic painter whose works now hang in the great museums of Europe and America. Both women’s creative lives have been forged in the crucibles of family, friends, society, and nation.

The story opens at midnight beside a beautifully illumined fountain of Venus Rising from the Sea. Kathryn Callaghan has just finished her novel about painter Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun, a French Revolution survivor hated for her sympathetic portraits of Marie Antoinette. Though still haunted by the story she has written, Kathryn must leave the eighteenth-century European world she has researched and made vivid in order to return to her own American life of 2012.

Naslund’s spellbinding new novel presents the reader with an alternate version of The Artist: a woman of age who has created for herself, against enormous odds, a fulfilling life of thoroughly realized achievement.

What I Say:

The premise of this novel is so intriguing:  a story within a story, one being told in the 3rd person in modern times and the other being told in 1st person from a historical perspective. The modern-day main character is Kathryn, an older author who has just completed her latest novel about Elizabeth Vigee-Le Brun, our historical main character. Kathryn’s story is told mainly in the present, mixing in perspectives from other characters that touch her life. Kathryn’s part of the story is extremely introspective with very little dialogue.

Then we have our artist, Elisabeth Le Brun. Elizabeth was a celebrated artist in Marie Antoinette’s court. She is known for her portraits of Marie Antoinette as well as other nobles from the era. Also, some of her more famous paintings include her self-portraits. We get to know Elizabeth from the time that she was a child in convent school until she is an old lady, having survived the guillotine, the loss of her daughter, and fleeing France to travel as an ex-patriate.

These chapters of the book, for me, were the most enjoyable. I found Kathryn to be annoying. Also, vignettes were tossed in from time to time from the perspective of her friends and her ex-husband. I thought these additions detracted from rather than added to the story. One specific scene involving her neighbor and her ex-husband left me baffled as to what the point of it was.

I could go on with the many things that I found wrong with this novel, devices that were used that were obvious, plot holes that were never filled, etc., but instead I will say that I learned quite a bit about Elizabeth because the tidbits that Jeter Naslund included were intriguing enough that I conducted quite a few Internet searches while reading this novel. Another thing that I will say, as a result of my own research, is do not take the historical bits of this novel as fact because, WOW! did Jeter Naslund take liberties, which is her right as a fiction writer, I know. But she presented certain events as factual when they were, in fact, either rumor or just didn’t happen the way she wrote them. Sheesh.

I rated this book as a 2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because of Elizabeth’s chapters. This is the second Sena Jeter Naslund novel that I’ve read and disliked. I just don’t think her writing is for me. It took me 11 days to read this book, which is a very long time for me.

Posted in Book Review

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors

behind-closed-doors

Title:  Behind Closed Doors

Author:  B.A. Paris

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

Pages:  304

Genre:  Fiction, mystery, suspense

Setting:  Modern day England.

Source:    I received this novel in a Goodreads giveaway from the publisher.

Publication Date:  Aug 9, 2016

Blurb:

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love.

Picture this: a dinner party at their perfect home, the conversation and wine flowing. They appear to be in their element while entertaining. And Grace’s friends are eager to reciprocate with lunch the following week. Grace wants to go, but knows she never will. Her friends call—so why doesn’t Grace ever answer the phone? And how can she cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim?

And why are there bars on one of the bedroom windows?

The perfect marriage? Or the perfect lie?

What I Say:

This was very Sleeping with the Enemy-esque but unique in its own way. The story starts out in the Present with Grace and Jack hosting a dinner part at their home. Things seems pretty much normal and even pleasant if it weren’t for Grace’s nervousness about the entire evening. This is our first hint that things aren’t as they appear and that Jack and Grace aren’t the perfect couple that their friends think they are.

The story goes on to switch from the Present to the Past in alternating chapters and is told in the first person point of view from Grace’s perspective. This was the first thing that I thought was unique about this book. Granted, this isn’t a novel in a genre that I normally read, but I fully expected it to be told in the third person. How can an author maintain that edge of suspense when the main character is giving everything away? Paris does so and very well. She manages to reveal certain things in the present but the reader doesn’t truly get their meaning until Grace is relating events from the past.

Another unique aspect of the book is that though the chapters alternate from past to present, they gradually come together in time. I don’t recall another novel using this same method and I thought it was really clever. Paris managed to portray a woman at the mercy of her husband who was both strong and flawed, which is something that I personally appreciate in female characters. I don’t need them to be perfect, but I can’t get on board with pathetic either, lol.

While Paris does use some of your traditional suspense writing methods, I thought it was balanced out and equaled a very enjoyable suspense novel. I read the book in one sitting in about five hours (my Internet went out in the middle of the day, lol). It was an entertaining and easy read, great for a cold afternoon on the sofa with a blanket over your lap.

4 Hearts

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Book Review: The Lost Property Office

lost-property-office

Title:  The Lost Property Office (Section 13, #1)

Author:  James R. Hannibal

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Pages:  400

Genre:  Middle grade, fantasy

Setting:  Modern day London

Source:    I received this ARC in a Goodreads giveaway from the publisher.

Publication Date:  Nov 8, 2016

Blurb:

James R. Hannibal presents a thrilling adventure through history, complete with mysteries, secret items, codes, and a touch of magic in this stunning middle grade debut.

Thirteen-year-old Jack Buckles is great at finding things. Not just a missing glove or the other sock, but things normal people have long given up on ever seeing again. If only he could find his father, who has disappeared in London without a trace.

But Jack’s father was not who he claimed to be. It turns out that he was a member of a secret society of detectives that has served the crown for centuries—and membership into the Lost Property Office is Jack’s inheritance.

Now the only way Jack will ever see his father again is if he finds what the nefarious Clockmaker is after: the Ember, which holds a secret that has been kept since the Great Fire of London. Will Jack be able to find the Ember and save his father, or will his talent for finding things fall short?

What I Say:

This book was a lovely mix of middle grade fantasy and London history. We meet Jack and his sister Sadie in a London hotel. Sadie wonders off looking for her father and Jack goes in search of her and finds not only his sister but the Lost Property Office. Here, we meet Gwen, an apprentice clerk. Gwen reveals the true nature of Jack’s dad’s work and how Jack is also a part of the Lost Property Office. Together, they meet the Clockmaker and discover that he is responsible for Jack’s father’s disappearance and in order to get his dad back alive, Jack must find the Ember and hand it over to the Clockmaker. Thus, the adventure begins as Gwen, trying to prove herself, helps Jack search for the lost Ember. Through their detective work, Jack learns more about the Lost Property Office as well as other secret societies that exist in London.

This book is full of fun, adventure, and laughter. It is cleverly written and hard to put down. I had a great time reading this book and I’m looking forward to future installments in the series. This is Hannibal’s first foray into middle grade writing and he does a superb job. He stays true to writing in the middle grade form, nothing overt in terms of language, violence, or Jack and Gwen’s relationship; he kept the focus on the kids’ adventure. I also loved the elements of steampunk added in for flavor. As if all that weren’t enough, you even learn about London’s Great Fire of 1666 in a clever and witty story.

I highly recommend this book to all middle grade readers and fans of adventure mysteries.

4 Hearts

Posted in Book Review

Book Review: The Bone Witch

the-bone-witch

Title:  The Bone Witch

Author:  Rin Chupeco

Publisher:  Sourcebooks Fire

Pages:  400

Genre:  Science Fiction, High Fantasy

Setting:  The fictional world of The Eight Kingdoms

Source:    I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Publication Date:  March 7, 2017

Blurb:

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

What I Say:

This novel follows the story of Tea (pronounced Tay-ya, which wasn’t revealed until the very latter part of the book and I spent almost the entire time reading this book pronouncing it as Tea, like the drink. This really annoyed me.) from the moment when she discovers she’s a bone witch until she is about 17 years old. The story switches focus from following along her journey in learning who she is and how to be a bone witch in the world of asha, or witches, to a point in the future where Tea is exiled and communicating her story to another exile, The Bard.

I mostly enjoyed the parts of the story where it is being told in the first person from Tea’s point of view. During these scenes, we get to see how Tea is being trained as an asha. There’s action, humor, and a bit of romance. It’s very Harry Potter-like. The other scenes where the reader is given a third person point of view from the perspective of the Bard were a little confusing. The only thing you really get from these scenes is the Bard’s nervousness around Tea but not what her motivations are. What is she doing, exiled with only bones for company?

The book also ends on a cliff-hanger, not having resolved anything at all in the entire book. I get cliff-hangers and why this device is used in series and trilogies, but Chupeco could have chosen to, at the very least, clear up some of the cloudiness and mystery surrounding Tea. We don’t find out why she’s exiled, whose grave she mourns, who the Bard is and what role is he going to play, if any at all, what Tea is going to do now that her preparations on the beach seem to be completed, or why her brother and all of her friends seem to have abandoned her. Chupeco was a little bit too mysterious and I felt like she could have fleshed out Tea’s world a little better and the people in it.

That being said, I liked Chupeco’s lyrical writing. She is very poetic in her prose. It was easy to read and, like I said before, I really had fun with the parts of the story told from Tea’s perspective. This is an ARC though, so there’s room for changes to be made before the final release.

3 Hearts

Posted in Book Review

Book Review: Iron Cast

iron-cast

Title:  Iron Cast

Author:  Destiny Soria

Publisher:  Harry N. Abrams

Pages:  384

Genre:  Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Setting:  1919 Boston, MA

Source:    I received a copy of this novel from SocialBookCo in exchange for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Publication Date:  Oct 11, 2016

Blurb:

It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths—whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art—captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.

What I Say:

What I liked about this book:

  • It has a diverse cast of characters.
  • The pace is steady.
  • It talks about racism, both real and with the fictional hemopaths.
  • The dialogue and use of period colloquialisms.
  • The cover is beautiful.
  • Soria’s writing makes you care about the characters.

What I didn’t like about this novel:

  • Having finished this book, I am still unclear as to what hemopaths are and the extent of their “powers”.
  • Some of the plot twists were predictable.

Iron Cast takes place during such an interesting time in U.S. history. In 1919, World War I has ended, but people are still scarred and recovering. It’s also on the cusp of the Roaring 20s. Prohibition is getting ready to pass, jazz and new dances are all the rage, fashion is beautiful and expressive of the atmosphere of the time and the slang and lingo is outstanding and fun. This story is about Corinne and Ada who had very different backgrounds growing up, but their hemopath affliction threw them together and they become thick as thieves…literally.

I liked both girls but Corinne is my favorite. She’s the spoiled rich girl in the story, but she’s also dynamic, funny, and Soria gives her more depth than she does Ava. Ava is the daughter of African immigrants and she knows nothing of a life of privilege. Together, she and Corinne are spunky, brave, and adventurous but alone, Ava is a bit one dimensional, which is a shame.

There are bits of romance in the story, but it would be on the bottom of the list of themes in this novel. The romance added just the right amount of spice without it becoming the main focus or feeling like Soria was trotting it out just to cross off boxes. Mostly, this story is about friendship and loyalty with some fantasy thrown in, in the form of hemopaths, and action and suspense from the cons that the girls run for their gangster-type boss. When Ava becomes imprisoned, you very much feel the suspense wondering if she’ll be tortured or killed and if Corrine will be able to rescue her. It was, at the foundation, a fun read.

However, Soria was light on the details surrounding hemopaths. We know from the blurb that Corinne and Ada are able to create illusions from singing and playing instruments. We also know that their abilities come from some sort of mutation to their blood. The reader also discovers that other hemopaths have different abilities all coming from different aspects of art. But why and how and how many people? When did the mutations start? Is it hereditary? This type of fantasy writing, overall, is pretty unique. I don’t think I’ve ever read a story with characters with these type of abilities. Still, it would have been a much more satisfying story to have some of these questions answered, for Soria to have gone into more detail and background on the hemopaths.

Overall, I had fun reading this book and enjoyed it. It’s a great young adult novel and would have been fantastic with just a bit more detail. Still, for me, I read it in a couple days because I had a great time with it and I would recommend it to anyone who likes young adult novels with some unique fantasy topped off with suspense and romance. Check it out for yourself at SocialBookCo

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Posted in Book Review

Book Review: Victoria

victoria

Title:  Victoria

Author:  Daisy Goodwin

Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press

Pages:  352

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Setting:  Victorian England (I laughed when I typed this.)

Source:    Net Galley

Publication Date:  Nov 22, 2016

Blurb:

“They think I am still a little girl who is not capable of being a Queen.”

Lord Melbourne turned to look at Victoria. “They are mistaken. I have not known you long, but I observe in you a natural dignity that cannot be learnt. To me, ma’am, you are every inch a Queen.”

In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria – sheltered, small in stature, and female – became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Many thought it was preposterous: Alexandrina — Drina to her family — had always been tightly controlled by her mother and her household, and was surely too unprepossessing to hold the throne. Yet from the moment William IV died, the young Queen startled everyone: abandoning her hated first name in favor of Victoria; insisting, for the first time in her life, on sleeping in a room apart from her mother; resolute about meeting with her ministers alone.

One of those ministers, Lord Melbourne, became Victoria’s private secretary. Perhaps he might have become more than that, except everyone argued she was destined to marry her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. But Victoria had met Albert as a child and found him stiff and critical: surely the last man she would want for a husband….

Drawing on Victoria’s diaries as well as her own brilliant gifts for history and drama, Daisy Goodwin, author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria, brings the young queen even more richly to life in this magnificent novel.

What I Say:

I thought this book was very well written. In all honesty, I know very little factual information about Queen Victoria; most of what I know about her I’ve read in fictional accounts and Wikipedia. I cannot write about the veracity of Goodwin’s story, but then again, this is fiction and I shouldn’t have to.

What I judged this book by is how it pulled me into the story. I followed along with Victoria growing into being a queen and enjoyed the adventure from page one. We first meet Victoria when she is younger and before she’s become queen of England. It’s a bit of the backstory that portrays the uneasy relationship that she had with her mother and this relationship plays an important role in how Victoria rules and how she makes decisions.

The main story, however, is the struggle that this 18 year old girl makes as she transitions to being queen. How does one prepare for such an important role, let alone a teenager? She leans heavily upon the advice and wisdom of Lord Melbourne to the point where her mother, other nobles, and her subjects begin to question the actual extent of their relationship. Was there something going on between the two of the beyond subject and queen?

The story proceeds through time and takes the reader to when the romance between Victoria and Albert commences. If anything at all bothered me about this book, it would be the romance bits. At first, Victoria and Albert don’t get along. He’s too serious and she’s too flighty. Then it seemed as if it was an all of a sudden epiphany that Victoria realizes she loves him and proposes marriage. Maybe it happened this way in real life, but it really felt rushed to me. Then again, Victoria was being pressured by all sides to find a husband and one that her people would accept and she, herself, was looking for an ally.

That aside, I really enjoyed this novel. I liked the character development, Goodwin’s writing style, and the pace of the story. When I reached the end, I literally yelled out loud, “That’s it???” Reading eBooks tend to surprise me like that, lol. I truly felt like there was more to the story and I was sad that it ended where it did. I can easily see Goodwin developing this into a duology or even a trilogy. I definitely would read any further books she would happen to write about Queen Victoria. I gave this 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads and consider this book one of my favorites from 2016.

5 Hearts