Thursday, May 26, 2016

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnès Martin-Lugand

Diane seems to have the perfect life. She is a wife, a mother, and the owner of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, a cozy literary cafe in Paris. But when she suddenly loses her beloved husband and daughter in a tragic car accident, the world as she knows it instantly vanishes. Trapped and haunted by her memories, Diane retreats from friends and family, unable and unwilling to move forward. 

But one year later, Diane shocks her loved ones and makes the surprising decision to move to a small town on the Irish coast, finally determined to heal and rebuild her life alone—until she meets Edward, the attractive yet taciturn Irish photographer who lives next door. At first abrasive and unwelcoming, Edward initially resents Diane’s intrusion into his life of solitude . . . until he can no longer keep her at arm’s length, and they fall into a surprising and tumultuous romance. But will it last when Diane leaves Ireland, and Edward, for the home she once ran away from in Paris? At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Diane’s story is deeply felt, reminding us that love remembered is love enduring. 

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnes Martin-Lugand begins like many books that could be labeled “women’s fiction”.  Middle aged and happily married, Diane spends her days running a literary café in Paris.  Happy People Read and Drink Coffee (the name of the café) is where she catches up on the exploits of her best friend, Felix.  When her life is destroyed by a tragic accident that kills her husband and daughter, Diane completely falls apart. Diane’s grief is all consuming and she cannot bear to do much of anything.  She nearly skips the funerals due to her grief.  

Diane regrets not taking a trip to Ireland when her husband wanted her to vacation there, so she decides to travel to Mulranny, a small coastal town—alone.  Though her family and friends think that this is a step forward for Diane, she goes to wallow in more grief without her family’s interference.

In Ireland, she interacts with the friendly locals and enjoys visits with a local dog, Postman Pat.  Unfortunately, the dog belongs to Edward, a relative of her landlord.  He is beyond irascible.  He is unexplainably cruel to Diane.  I hated him after his first scene, and though his “grumpy” façade is later explained, I could not get over what a horrible jerk he was.  Unfortunately, his cruelty is never fully explained and I got the impression that this was a problem with the translation of this book from French to English.  His behavior was over-the-top horrible, and when the inevitable romance developed between Diane and him, I was not at all convinced that it was good for either one of them.

The ending was unbelievable, and I found it to be unsatisfying.  As an examination of grief, this book could be called mildly poignant.  As an example of women’s fiction, it was a disappointment.  Even at its short 200 pages, I found it tedious and flat.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Trial by Fire (The Worldwalker Trilogy #1) by Josephine Angelini

Love burns. Worlds collide. Magic reigns.

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying many of the experiences that other teenagers take for granted...which is why she is determined to enjoy her first (and perhaps only) high-school party. But Lily's life never goes according to plan, and after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly Lily is in a different Salem - one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruellest of all the Crucibles is Lillian . . . Lily's identical other self in this alternate universe. This new version of her world is terrifyingly sensual, and Lily is soon overwhelmed by new experiences.

Lily realizes that what makes her weak at home is exactly what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. It also puts her life in danger. Thrown into a world she doesn't understand, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone, and a love she never expected.

But how can Lily be the saviour of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?

Trial by Fire is utterly unique and one of the most original books that I have read to date. The story is exciting and the world-building superb! I loved how the story starts out very mundane and ordinary, other than Lily's unexplained "allergies", and progresses into this amazingly complex and dangerous alternate world. 

I just knew there was something witchy behind Lily's affliction and couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. I was awed at how the author expertly wove in the scientific aspects into this world of witchcraft and just couldn't get enough. The darkness of this place that Lily finds herself compared to our world can't be overlooked but I loved how there were also some things that were more pure than we could find them here.

 I also really liked how well developed the characters were, even the secondary characters felt relatable and like there was more about them that I would love to know. The romantic obstacles were interesting to say the least and there just seemed to be this amazing spark between Lily and Rowan. The complex relationship and feelings between them because of Lily's mirror image in this world, just makes it even more intense.

 The whole book is quite enthralling and if you are a fan of books about witches and would like to find one set within a very unique world then I think this is the book for you. 

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. April

Friday, April 29, 2016

Antidote to Venom: A British Crime Classic (Inspector French #17) by Freeman Wills Crofts

George Surridge, director of the Birmington Zoo, is a man with many worries: his marriage is collapsing; his finances are insecure; and an outbreak of disease threatens the animals in his care.
As Surridge’s debts mount and the pressure on him increases, he begins to dream of miracle solutions. But is he cunning enough to turn his dreams into reality – and could he commit the most devious murder in pursuit of his goals?

This ingenious crime novel, with its unusual ‘inverted’ structure and sympathetic portrait of a man on the edge, is one of the greatest works by

this highly respected author. The elaborate means of murder devised by Crofts’s characters is perhaps unsurpassed in English crime fiction for its ostentatious intricacy.

This new edition is the first in several decades and includes an introduction by the award-winning novelist and crime fiction expert Martin Edwards.

This book was originally published in 1938.  Why is this important?  This was over seventy-five years ago!  In that span of time, so much has changed in the writing world!  Much has changed in the mystery world!  This book is an incredible example of writing that can truly stand the test of time.  It's every bit as enjoyable today as it was when it was first published.

As with most mystery/crime novels of the time, I was completely stumped.  Most mysteries today are so easy to figure out!  There are exceptions, but they're few and far between.  Even though we know who the murderer is, and we have all of the information that the police seek, I was still baffled.  The manner in which the crime was committed is absolutely brilliant.  I had no idea how it was done, even having all the necessary information, until it was all said and done.  Thankfully, the inspectors solved it for me!  

What's most fascinating about this book is the advanced character study going on.  Each character is so thoroughly crafted that you feel as if you're reading non-fiction.  It's hard to believe that Crofts created each of these characters.  The hours alone it must have taken him just in character creation!  Surridge, our main character, is sublimely fascinating.  Even though he's supposed to be the 'bad guy', you can't help but root for him.  He's not really a bad man.  He's no saint, but he's not really bad.  We're given all of his motivations and we sit right there with him while he questions himself and his own morals.  Instead of this book being just about the crime portion of the story, it's also about George Surridge.

With strong characters, brilliant crime, and a superbly-worded story, this is one of the best mysteries I've read in awhile.  I only wish I'd been introduced to Crofts work before now.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Shawn

Monday, April 25, 2016

Capital Crimes: London Mysteries: A British Library Crime Classic by Martin Edwards

With its fascinating mix of people rich and poor, British and foreign, worthy and suspicious London is a city where anything can happen. The possibilities for criminals and for the crime writer are endless. London has been home to many of fiction s finest detectives, and the setting for mystery novels and short stories of the highest quality. Capital Crimes is an eclectic collection of London-based crime stories, blending the familiar with the unexpected in a way that reflects the personality of the city. Alongside classics by Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley and Thomas Burke are excellent and unusual stories by authors who are far less well known. The stories give a flavor of how writers have tackled crime in London over the span of more than half a century. Their contributions range from an early serial-killer thriller set on the London Underground and horrific vignettes to cerebral whodunits. What they have in common is an atmospheric London setting, and enduring value as entertainment. Each story is introduced by the editor, Martin Edwards, who sheds light on the authors lives and the background to their writing." 

This book is a collection of London-based crime stories through a span of over fifty years.

Normally, I'm not a short story person, but I really enjoyed most of these.  Writing has changed so much in the past one hundred years that most of the mysteries and crime stories you read today are nothing compared with what was written in the past.  

These stories don't take long to read individually, but they aren't light reading. You'll have to set aside a little time to invest in reading.  Each word is important.  Skimming just won't work here.  Now, the best part is that they're beautifully written.  You'll want to savor every word.  It isn't just about the storytelling, but the writing as well.  These are crafted stories.

My biggest peeve about mysteries and crime stories is that they're too easy to figure out.  That didn't happen here.  Not once.  I was able to immerse myself and stop trying to solve them.  After I read halfway through the stories, I knew I wasn't going to figure them out so I just enjoyed the ride.  Most of them have a darkness to them that pulls you into other worlds.  They're foggy and gritty and you just need to sink your teeth into them.

The only issue I found is that at least one of the stories was shortened for space.  Though the pertinent information was still given, I really wished that I had been given the full story instead of just the highlights.  Being told how a story ends just isn't the same as experiencing it for yourself.

This is a great short story collection.  If you enjoy short stories and good crime, this is something you'll want for your book shelf.  These stories aren't sensationalized.  They're just great old-fashioned crime stories. 

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Shawn

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Don't You Cry by Mary Kubica

In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she's the person Quinn thought she knew.

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under Pearl's spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end.

I wanted to love Don't You Cry as I've loved all of Kubica's other novels. I didn't love Don't You Cry, but it is a solid, great read. Alex and Quinn are the narrators of this complex, twisted novel. Quinn is the roommate of Esther, a girl who has gone missing. Alex is a boy across the country who watches the new girl in town. Both girls appear to be the same person to the reader, but that would make a short story.

Quinn tears about her and Esther's apartment trying to find clues as to where Esther is. She involves a co-worker's help and the police. Alex watches the new girl as she does odd stuff around town. She is always watching a house and she won't give her name. He is unsure of what she is doing there but he is hoping she may be the girl of his dreams.

The story unravels very slowly. Most may call it a slow burn, and that is true if you can stick with the novel long enough to get to the action. The first half of the book really plods along but once it heats up, it's an inferno and Kubica finally treats the reader to some answers and some action. Stellar writing, diverse characters and a twisted plot mesh well together for this mystery. A solid read!  

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Wendy

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Woof (Bowser and Birdie #1) by Spencer Quinn

There is trouble brewing in the Louisiana swamp -- Bowser can smell it. Bowser is a very handsome and only slightly slobbery dog, and he can smell lots of things. Like bacon. And rawhide chews! And the sweat on humans when they're lying.

Birdie Gaux, the girl Bowser lives with, also knows something is wrong. It's not just that her grammy's stuffed prize marlin has been stolen. It's the weird rumor that the marlin is linked to a missing treasure. It's the truck that seems to be following Birdie and the bad feeling on the back of her neck.

When Birdie and Bowser start digging into the mystery, not even Bowser's powerful sniffer can smell just how menacing the threat is. And when the danger comes straight for Birdie, Bowser knows it up to him to sic 'em.

's my understanding that this is the first in a new series, and I certainly hope that's true!  I adored it and want more!

In all honesty, I really didn't want to read this.  I'm not a pet person.  There's the picture of a big, sloppy dog on the front cover.  I was concerned that I was about to get into one of those pet stories.  However, I enjoyed this just as much as I did Kilgore's Lost Dogs, but in a different capacity.  Instead of being an apocalyptic thriller, this one is a goofy mystery.  

The story is told from the perspective of Bowser, and he's a hoot!  The great part about the mystery here is that there's really no way to solve it.  Since everything is from Bowser's perspective, and he has the memory of an igloo, it's up to us to keep track of all the clues he finds.  Most of the book, I found myself wishing that there was an interpreter so that Bowser could tell Birdie everything he figures out.  Then again, Bowser would have forgotten as soon as the interpreter was introduced.  What a dog!  

Birdie is about a fourth/fifth grader, but she's pretty independent.  She has a mind of her own and she's lived a rough life, but she's tough and she can handle it.  With a shake of her head, she keeps the tears at bay and does what she feels she needs to.  No loose ends.  She does her best to tie them all up and keep everything neat and tidy.

This book is about the perfect thickness for a fourth/fifth grade reading level.  Honestly, I can't imagine any child of that age who wouldn't adore this book.  Keeping in mind that everything we learn about Birdie is from Bowser's perspective, she's an amazing, lovable little girl.  Anyone older will still adore this book.  They mystery is well done, the writing is brisk-paced and action-packed, and the characters will steal your heart. 
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Shawn


Friday, April 15, 2016

Where We Fall by Rochelle B. Weinstein

Though clinical depression is often the subject of memoirs and autobiographies, I have very rarely read fictional stories with depressed main characters.  This is what stands out the most to me after reading Where We Fall by Rochelle B. Weinstein.  The sensitive portrayal of a woman emotionally out of control forms the center of this examination of marriage, parenthood, and personal development.

            Abby Holden should be happy.  Her daughter is a high school student, and her husband, Ryan, is a much beloved high school football coach.  She lives in a lovely home and it seems as though everything is going well.  But the truth is that Abby has trouble getting out of bed.  She cannot be a proper parent to her daughter, Juliana, who seeks support from her father, Ryan, instead.  Though Abby has always felt this pull to depression, it is an outrageous act of betrayal that is at the forefront of her mind.

            Lauren and Abby were inseparable in college.  When Lauren began dating Ryan, Abby seemed to be part of the package.   Awkward and fragile, Abby clings to her friends and finds acceptance with them.  As the transition from college to adulthood looms, it is clear that free-spirited Lauren needs more than just the small town life to which she is accustomed.  Promises are made and plans are set.  But, when circumstances intervene, it is Lauren who is at the mercy of the decisions of those she loves best.

            After a seventeen-year absence, Lauren returns to the mountains that she loves.  This return will put her right in the path of Ryan and Abby.  Will she have the courage to face the fallout from long ago events or will she run back into the new life she has created for herself?

            Where We Fall is written from several points of view:  Abby, Lauren, Ryan, and Juliana.  I am not sure how effective this was for me as a reader.  I agree that we needed Abby and Laura’s perspective, but I think that Juliana’s subplot was a bit too much for the story.  The focus on Juliana’s boyfriend and his hardscrabble life took away from the main narrative and dulled the focus of the story.  In addition, I would have liked to see a more convincing relationship between Abby and Ryan.  It seemed so unlikely that the two of them ever got together in the first place, so I was never really rooting for them to succeed.  The motivations of the characters did not ring true to me.

            I did appreciate that Abby’s character was a realistic picture of depression.  She was not a black and white character, and I appreciated that she did not behave in an over-the-top manner.  It was a sensitive portrayal.  

            I sensed the ending a mile away, but I think that is the only ending that Where We Fall could have had to make sense.  Unfortunately, it seemed contrived and not as authentic as it should have been.  It did not ring true or realistic for me.

            Where We Fall gets high points for its portrayal of character, but the plot did not do it for me.  It was an easy read, and one that many people would enjoy.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina