Monday, April 29, 2013

The Reckoning: Book Two of the Taker Trilogy — by Alma Katsu

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the first book, The Taker. If you haven’t read that one, you should get to it right away! It’s an unforgettable story!

Lanore McIlvrae thought she had it all planned out. After imprisoning Adair in the walls of the old castle where he had kept her prisoner, Lanore finally feels safe. With her latest partner, Luke, she is traveling the globe, selling off pieces of art that she has procured over several lifetimes. But something is amiss, for Adair has somehow escaped his prison, where he’s had a long time to think about Lanore’s hideous betrayal and his undying passion for her. How could his plans have gone wrong? Once he promised himself to her forever, in a body that she adored, but his cruelties were too many and too violent, leaving him in the darkness for many years. Now he’s on the hunt once again, and Lanore sets out alone to find Adair’s other consorts in an effort to discover the best way to hide from him forever. But the Adair that emerges from his prison is feeling very different than the man who was once lured into the trap. All of his feelings for Lanny have intensified exponentially, and he is a man at war with himself, trying to figure out if he wants to torture and kill her or make her his lover forever. Wicked and corrupt, Adair gathers his cronies to ensnare Lanny, where he will have her trapped, just as she had him trapped. What will become of this man, newly changed but destructively bent? And what can Lanny do when the sight of Adair turns her flesh cold but her body wanting? In this sequel to The Taker, Alma Katsu gives us a taste of the impenetrable life of the immortals and forces a climax that will leave readers hungering for the last and final installment of this series.

Alma Katsu doesn’t play around with her readers. She considers them smart, savvy, and bold enough to explore the depths of emotion that she delves into in her books. This book was a surprise to me, for although I knew that Adair couldn’t stay entombed forever, his attitude when he was released caused me to wonder what exactly had been running through his mind while he was enshrouded by darkness. Adair is a truly evil man, one who thinks of how best to use his minions and then toss them aside once they’ve fulfilled their duties. Now he’s on the hunt, and Lanore knows it. She can hear the shrieking in her brain that tells her that he is free, and that’s enough to send her flying to destinations halfway around the globe in search of a way to destroy him forever.

But despite Adair’s wish to tear Lanore limb from limb, there’s a stronger desire in him to capture her heart and make her love him. A new side to Adair, that’s for sure. But his motives still seem sinister, and when he wants something, nothing can stop him. For Adair, to love is to give up power, something that he refuses to do and something that he cannot do easily. His love is like a leech, sucking and swallowing souls whole and leaving the remnants behind. As he calculates just how to trap his supposed soul mate, a vicious streak comes out that binds another unwitting human to him forever, but this time, the human can manipulate things for Adiar that he never thought possible.

Adair has been trapped in his prison for many hundreds of years. When he escapes, the world is very different than the one he left behind. There are vehicles without horses traversing the roads, and people carry phones with them at all times. What, Adair wonders, are these phones for? Let’s not even get started with what happens the first time Adair sees the Internet. He is a man out of time, an escapee who will have what he wants, despite the cost, be it large sums of money or human life. Lanore is not safe, and knowing this, she leaves Luke to be free and not in danger like herself.

Lanny has changed too. Once a fine thief and seducer, she has narrowed her proclivities to furnishing art houses all over the world with her treasures and finding a second life with Luke. She is still, and always, grieving over Jonathan, but this hurt hasn’t prevented her from loving again, though the love is unconventional. She is a truth seeker and wishes to live in the light, but due to the foolhardy trust that she places in a band of old friends, she finds herself in a place where no one can help her and where she is at Adair’s mercy. A deliciously creepy and haunting atmosphere comes chiming out of this novel, bursting forth with violence, cruelty, and sabotage. Will Lanny ever escape the torments that her lover and torturer have for her?

I found this second installment of The Taker Trilogy to be just as breathtaking as the first, and was on tenterhooks watching Lanny being led about by her feelings, only to discover that she had been duped more viciously than I had expected. But there’s another book on the way, and I, for one, am rooting for Lanny and Luke to take down this hellion of a man—though it’s bound to come at a steep price. If you haven’t read these books, you are truly missing out on something great. Highly Recommended!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

From the Kitchen of Half Truth by Maria Goodin — 352 pgs

Meg May is a woman of facts. As a scientist, she finds the real and resolute comforting and orderly. Meg’s behavior as an adult has been a way of coping with her mother’s tendency for outlandish storytelling. Meg has grown up hearing stories about how she was so sweet that neighbors borrowed her to dip her toes in their tea, and how, as a small baby, she would not grow and had to be put into a warm oven after ingesting a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. These stories, while charming, are not the answers that Meg wants when she questions her mother about her childhood, and her mother refuses to be forthcoming. But the time is growing late for all the stories Meg so desperately needs to feel whole, for Meg’s mother is dying. Arriving at her cottage for what will be her last summer, Meg tries wholeheartedly to get her mother to finally reveal the secrets of her birth and childhood, all to no avail. Meg’s handsome boyfriend insists that Meg’s mother is trying to pull a fast one on her, leaving her confused and out of the loop. But as Meg discovers clue after clue about her mother’s life before and immediately after her birth, she discovers that the painful truth isn’t half as beautiful or digestible as the stories that her mother concots. For Meg’s mother, it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out, and when it does, it has consequences so far reaching and tenuous that Meg may wish that she never started investigating at all.

I fell into this book with ease and rapidity, for along with the fable-like stories that Meg’s mother, Val, told her, there were vast sections that were devoted to food and gardening. It was a bit like Sarah Addison Allen’s books in that there was magic on the pages but the book never veered into magical realism. Val’s stories of Meg’s life were vastly entertaining and fun, and I found myself wishing that I had had that kind of childhood, where fact blended with fantasy to form the perfect melange of unique flavor and sparkling moments.

There was also romance, but of a rather different nature than most books. Meg is happy with her boyfriend, Mark, who is an outstanding scientist and who loves the facts and truth much more than any character that I have ever seen. But I found Mark to be a blowhard, and it was increasingly difficult to like the man who insisted that Val was purposely deceiving Meg to keep the truth from her. As difficult as it was for Meg to watch her mother die, it was even more difficult to have Mark at her side, viciously smearing the memories of her mother into an ugly paste of lies and deceit.

It seemed that Val’s only friend, aside from Meg, was the gardiner, Ewan. Ewan was a kind of nutty character, but he was a great nut and a lot of fun on the page. He talked to the apple trees to make them grow. He kindly told the slugs not to eat the lettuce, and he doted on Meg’s mother, who filled his belly with lovely treacle tarts and sticky homemade buns. I liked that he was practical yet still whimsical, and when Meg needed someone to talk to about Val, he was all ears. He was a great character and I had a lot of respect for him. Ewan and Meg had a difficult relationship, full of stormy battles, but he was a man that could and did deserve her trust.

This was a tale about identity and the lack of it that some people always feel. It was a novel where secrets were imbued with magic to take their sting and potency away, and where the unbelievable is scattered with truth to form the essence of what it was like for a young mother to raise a daughter alone and still have her come out to be whole, successful, and loving. It was a beautiful book that I would love to read again, and for those readers who are looking for some “comfort food” reading, this would be perfect. An outstanding read, highly recommended.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan — Audiobook Review

Recorded by Blackstone Audio
Read by Cassandra Campbell, Julia Whelan, and Danny Campbell
Length: 12 hours 15 minutes

When Antoinette and Marie van Goethem find themselves in dire straits after the death of their father, they cannot look to their mother for assistance, for she is caught at the bottom of the absinthe bottle. It’s up to the girls to provide for the household and they initially find work at the ballet. But the work there is hard and long, and though one has success, the other sets her sights on other occupations. When Marie finds herself being coddled by Edgar Degas, she agrees to model for him, eventually becoming the model for his statue Little Dancer of Fourteen Years. Soon Marie finds herself a wealthier patron and becomes aware of some of the darker and seedier sides of the ballet. Meanwhile, the headstrong Antoinette finds love and danger when she begins to shun the ballet and head off with Émile Abadie, a man who may or may not be a murderer. But Antoinette will not believe this of her Émile and comes to form strong opinions and objections when she is cautioned about him. Marie, however, is bound to the stage and to the patron who feels as though she is his personal plaything. Will Antoinette and Marie ever truly be free to live as girls ought and not as their horrible past has dictated? With grace and spirit, Cathy Marie Buchanan captures all the drama and vices that 1878 Paris is so richly steeped in and brings her characters into sharp relief among the Paris of the past.

When I read all the rave reviews for this book, I knew that I had to listen to it, and the experience was just right. Narrated by a cast of three, the book is primarily narrated by Cassandra Campbell, who voices Marie. Other chapters are read by Julia Whelan, voicing Antoinette, and Danny Campbell, who voices the interludes. Each voice had perfect French pronunciation and each seemed to embody the character that they were playing. Campbell’s voice (Marie) took on a dejected and sad quality, full of angst and wonderment at her supposed success, while Whelan (Antoinette) was high-strung and spirited, full of contempt at times yet readily sympathetic when it came to her sister. Campbell only played a small part and his vocal style was more authoritarian and removed. Of the three, he was my least favorite.

Though there are only two girls focused on in the tale, in reality there are three, for at home with their drunken mother is little Charlotte, only eight. It’s not her tale that’s explored, but often I found myself thinking about her and what life was like for her. The girls’ mother was a professional wheedler and often sent her daughters to do what she should have done herself, which is to work and take care of the family. Most of the time she was abusive and drunken, and would greedily take all the girls had earned to buy her beloved absinthe. In her abuse of power, the girls lay defenseless, and they became the fodder for all sorts of base proclivities.

When Maire begins to model for Degas, she thinks it’s an honor that he bestows on her, but in reality, he’s capturing her formidable brow and shrunken chin and proclaiming her, without words, inferior. He paints her and sculpts her, noting that her skull is that of one with a criminal mind, not the beautiful ballerina that she sees herself to be. But she soon finds another man to become her patron, and it’s he who takes the innocence that Marie has already found shaken and tramples it to the dust. She will become a ballerina, yes, but at what cost? For Marie is a good and gentle girl, but the darkness that others see in her is only a reflection of their own souls.

Antionette finds ballet too demanding and boring, and soon she is being swayed under the ministrations of Émile Abadie, a young man who seems to be a dandy but in reality is a dangerous fraud. He plays with Antoinette's heart and gladly gives her the love she gets from nowhere else, but in his arms Antoinette feels free. It’s only when she can deny no longer that he is corrupt that her heart breaks, and she freely wears her badge of pain. It’s not her struggle to love Émile, but to survive with her sisters. Though she’s headstrong and brash, she will come to find salvation in the things that once tore her apart.

I liked this audiobook, but didn’t love it. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more in print. Though it was compelling and forceful, it left me wanting, and I hated the fact that Antoinette and Marie were so maligned throughout the story. I think readers who like historical fiction and particularly fiction about Paris or ballet would love it, but for me, the story that was narrated perfectly failed to move me as I expected it to.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Defiant Heart by Marty Steere — 400 pgs

The year is 1941, and fifteen year old Jon Meyer has just lost both parents and his younger brother in an auto accident. With no other living relatives, Jon is sent to live with his maternal grandmother, whom he has never met, in a small Indiana town. Once there, Jon is shunned by his grandmother and the townsfolk, for he is the only Jewish resident, and at this critical time in history, Jews are not universally accepted. Jon goes through torment after torment when the school’s basketball coach takes a serious dislike to him, garnering him the hate and ostracism of the basketball team and ultimately the whole student body. But one person doesn’t hate Jon, and this person is a leading citizen’s only daughter, Mary. As Jon sets about trying to make something out of his much-maligned reputation, he meets a few very caring strangers and suddenly has the respect and friendship that he has been looking for.When Jon and Mary begin a secret relationship, both are elated, but when the head basketball player, Vernon King, takes notice, he decides that Jon’s star has risen high enough. Vernon sets about to destroy the boy in a manner that puts Mary right in the middle. Through a series of unprincipled events, young Jon finds himself living the Army life. Here, Jon finds a niche and becomes an unlikely hero. But will he ever see Mary again and return to the town as the golden boy that he truly is? In this compelling and dramatic novel, Marty Steere creates the rich and bittersweet tale of a boy hated for something that he cannot change or control, and forced to give up his freedom and love to a group of unholy enemies.

This book had me at the opening scene. A young orphan arrives at the train depot to a waiting woman who has already decided to hate him. But it’s not that simple, for Jon is a boy with an extraordinary talent for fixing what’s wrong in people’s lives. He’s charming and charismatic, but this does nothing for him because of his ancestry. It was very hard to read about Jon’s plight, for it was shameful and felt almost too true to be fiction. It’s true that before the United States’ involvement in the war, there were precious few friends of the Jews. I never fully realized the impact this had on American Jews, nor how they might have been treated before America stepped into the showdown with Germany.

Though very dark and gritty, this was a book that was shot through with glimmers of hope so bright that I could not help but root for this underdog and hope that he had the might to endure until his time came. Jon was not totally alone, and this gave me heart. There were a few people that cared for him, and even loved the boy who was so hated. Even Jon’s grandmother, Marvella, began to see that this was a boy like no other, and that he deserved a place in her heart. For Mary, there was no other. The love between them was electric yet innocent, and though the odds were tremendous that they would never be together, it was impossible not to wish for that outcome.

When Jon enters the war, I finally saw the beleaguered boy turn into a man that any American could and should be proud of. His losses were devastating, but somehow he rose above the hurt and powerlessness again and again. He was brave and loyal, strong and commanding. This was a story about wars—the hateful wars fought against a boy in his hometown and across the skies of Europe as well. It was not only suspenseful, but hearty, and kept its tight narrative structure for the entirety of the novel. Full of unexpected twists and turns, there was no way to put this one down, for I never knew where the next punch would land or who would be throwing it.

I loved this book, but its title may lead people to believe that it’s only a silly love story, when in fact it’s so very much more. It left me with a myriad of feelings from helplessness to pride, and every step I took with Jon was filled with the knowledge that I was being lead into a rousing and compelling tapestry of inner strength, redemption, and spirit. Looking for something a little off the beaten path that will keep you inveigled and tightly gripped? Then look no further. Highly recommended!

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Something About Sophie by Mary Kay McComas — 320 pgs

When Sophie Shepard gets a call from a strange man asking her to visit him on his deathbed, she is at first confused and then reluctant. Discovering him already gone to the great beyond when she arrives only leaves her with more confusion. But the ultimate shocker comes when this stranger bequests his family’s home to her, leaving Sophie as the object of much gossip and speculation in the community. At first, Sophie thinks she’s finally found some clues to her adoption which happened almost 30 years ago, but that avenue quickly disappears and she’s left with more questions than answers. The newcomer in town does raise many eyebrows, and none more important than Dr. Drew McCarren, a handsome young scion of the town’s most prominent family. Before Drew and Sophie can explore any romantic feelings they may or may not have for each other, danger comes and leaves its calling card. First a man is murdered in front of the bed and breakfast where Sophie is staying, and it only gets stranger from there. What is the secret that Sophie’s benefactor wanted to relate to her, and why is it getting people maimed and killed? In this women’s fiction novel with a great dose of mystery, Sophie discovers the truth that she so desperately needs to know, despite the fact that reopening old wounds will take down many of the town’s biggest players and ruin the lives of those who have kept silent for so long.

This was a book that was easy to slip into and just as easy to like. Sophie, a kindergarten teacher with chutzpah, was a formidable character, and the whole book, while being serious, had a great comedic flair that I really enjoyed. The mystery was very complex and layered, and there was no way to figure it out easily. When the ball finally dropped on what was going on in this sleepy little town, I was stunned and stymied. It was a very satisfying and rich read that kept me wondering and speculating the whole way through.

One of the things that impressed me most about this book was the fact that the characters were very three dimensional and most of them were likeable. Even the evil characters didn’t get short shrift in this department, and there was more than one side to them than originally seen. It also seems like McComas has a really well developed sense of comic timing, and at times I must have looked silly grinning at the pages of this enthralling and at times pulse racing mystery.There were enough thrills and dead ends to keep the reader guessing and then second guessing as things played out in a very different direction. The town’s characters helped this book along in that they were so colorful that you cared about what happened to them, and they were so likeable that you wanted a good outcome for all of them.

The love story was also a really well written component of this story, with things being innocent enough for a YA audience to appreciate but still nuanced and deep enough to satisfy an adult audience. The relationship between Drew and Sophie was tender and protective, but also very romantically comedic in a win you over way, instead of a “Three’s Company” way. Sophie was a beautiful and genuinely nice girl, but she didn’t flaunt her beauty or throw temper tantrums, and Drew’s playful and gentle side really came out when he was with her. Both of them fit together like hand in glove to form a team that was virtually unstoppable.

I thought this was a really engaging read from top to bottom, and with its ability to make me laugh and its stellar plot, it’s a book that I would recommend and would appeal to a wide audience. I had fun with it and it was a great escapist read, which is something that all of us need now and then. Recommended!

Author Photo About the Author

Mary Kay McComas started her writing career twenty-five years ago. To date she’s written twenty-one short contemporary romances and five novellas; Something About Sophie is her third novel. She was born in Spokane, Washington, and now lives in a small town in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, three dogs, a cat, and her four children nearby.

Find out more about Mary Kay at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, March 26th:Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, March 27th:Book of Secrets
Thursday, March 28th:Under My Apple Tree
Monday, April 1st:Mom in Love With Fiction
Tuesday, April 2nd:5 Minutes for Books
Wednesday, April 3rd:A Book Geek
Thursday, April 4th:she treads softly
Monday, April 8th:Raging Bibliomania
Tuesday, April 9th:Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, April 10th:Speaking of Books
Thursday, April 11th:I’m Booking It

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Like Chaff in the Wind by Anna Belfrage

When we last left Matthew and Alex, they had fallen into each other’s arms to live a simple life on their manor in 1644 Scotland. But when Matthew travels into the city one morning to hear the king’s message to his people, he is inconspicuously abducted and thrown onto a ship bound for the colonies as an indentured slave. Though Matthew insists that he is a free man and has committed no crime, he is treated brutally on the tobacco plantation, Suffolk Rose, in Jamestown. Alex knows that something isn’t right when Matthew doesn’t come home so she quickly finds out what his nefarious nemesis has done and leaves her young son behind to follow on ship to the colonies to find and rescue her beloved husband. But Alex’s journey is not a fast or easy one, and time is running out for Matthew, who is starving, beaten and worked like an animal. Will the two lovers ever be reunited, and will Matthew’s enemy pay for what he has done to an innocent man? In this beguiling and fast paced sequel to A Rip in the Veil, two lovers will be ripped apart in a scheme that will leave readers shocked, angered, and outraged.

I have to hand it to Anna Belfrage. Not only does she manage to captivate her readers with the plot of her tales, it’s hard to resist her characters as well, both for their incongruities and their pervasive courage and wit. This is a series that has had me on tenterhooks as a reader, wondering where it would go next and how the characters would overcome overwhelming odds to be reconnected and reunited. I guess it goes without saying that I am eagerly awaiting the next installment!

When Matthew doesn’t return home after a day in town, Alex is instantly suspicious. After all, their enemy has promised that he will kill and maim in return for the damage that was done him, which I must admit was substantial. But in Matthew’s defense, this man had it coming. Though Matthew only wants to live out a life of peace and love with his Alex, this seems almost impossible with both members of the couple in constant danger and always looking over their shoulder. But when Alex discovers that Matthew has been kidnapped and sold into slavery, she is thrown into a desperate conundrum, for she has a child at home who is just a baby, and a trip to the colonies could take a year or more.

As it turns out, Alex’s journey takes far longer than necessary, and it’s only the hope that she nourishes in her heart that keeps her going, missing the love and company of both her child and her husband. Alex thinks no more of the past that she left, only of the future and what it’s going to take to save Matthew. With her travelling companion, the wry and extremely adept Mrs. Gordon, Alex makes the crossing from Scotland to Jamestown, knowing that every day her husband comes closer and closer to death. And life for Matthew is indeed dangerous, as he has been singled out for the most cruel work and punishments, his life and energy flickering away each day.

Belfrage manages to do much with her material, covering themes of indentured slavery, revenge, governmental injustice, and cruelty. In her capable hands these topics are not only explored in depth, but given the touches of humanism that make the modern reader not only outraged, but seething for justice to be done for those souls who are just as tortured as Matthew. It’s a dark tale, and one that manages to expose what life was really like in the colonies back then, and it made me enraged and left me endlessly hoping that Alex would come to claim Matthew before it was too late. But as always, there is a price to be paid, and it is unfortunately very steep. Love and devotion pit themselves against rage and abuse in this breathtaking tale of injustice and its long lasting effects.

I love these books, and think that Anna Belfrage is an author of extreme talent, for she makes her female protagonists smart, strong and very independent, while making her male characters willing to bend instead of breaking. If you haven’t experienced these books yet, I must say that you can find them very reasonably priced for ereaders, and believe me, once you get sucked in, you will never want to leave this very real, and very vivid world of the past. Highly recommended!

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.
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