Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

Julie Prentice and her family move across the country to the idyllic Mount Adams district of Cincinnati, hoping to evade the stalker who’s been terrorizing them ever since the publication of her bestselling novel, The Murder Game. Since Julie doesn’t know anyone in her new town, when she meets her neighbor John Dunbar, their instant connection brings measured hope for a new beginning. But she never imagines that a simple, benign conversation with him could set her life spinning so far off course.

After a series of misunderstandings, Julie and her family become the target of increasingly unsettling harassment. Has Julie’s stalker found her, or are her neighbors out to get her, too? As tension in the neighborhood rises, new friends turn into enemies, and the results are deadly.

What would happen if you wrote a book about a murder and picked up a stalker?  You might move across the country, right?  You might look over your shoulder a bit more.  You would probably be wary of new relationships.  All of these things are part of Julie Prentice’s reality in Fractured by Catherine McKenzie.  When her family picks up and moves to a new home, they do not expect problems to follow. 

         Julie meets John, a fellow neighbor, who also likes to run.  The two form a fast friendship.  Getting away from the local busybodies and the expectation to live up to a perfect picture of suburbia, Julie and John bond as they pound the pavement.  When a minor incident leads to neighborhood drama, the friendship is tested and events snowball to a conclusion that no one expected.

         Fractured is the most well named novel that I have ever read.  The entire story seems fractured and disjointed.  The timeline skips around in each chapter (“ten months ago”, “eight months ago”), and there are Julie and John both narrate.  This technique would be appropriate if it added something to the novel, but the only contribution it made was confusion.  The story moves at a sluggish pace, and I was never really sure what type of book I was reading.  Is it a thriller about a stalker?  Is it a novel about the dangers of suburbia?  Is it about an affair?  The end of the book and the “big problem” and its resolution made it clear that Fractured was about none of these things. 

         The characters in this story are not likable and behave in ways that are contrary to common sense.  Why would you train cameras on your neighbor’s house after a dog bite?  Why would you just show up at a neighbor’s vacation spot far from your home by “coincidence”?  The stalker does not even make sense in this novel.  You never get a sense of why she is stalking the author.

         Fractured ultimately feels like it was written with no clear plan for the outcome of the book.  Plodding, predictable, and slow are the best adjectives I can use to describe it.

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

Roadside Assistance (Body Shop Bad Boys #2) by Marie Harte

Underneath the axle grease and tats
He's a gentleman

Foley Sanders figured he'll always be content with a life of cars and casual hookups. Until a run-in with Cyn, a statuesque firecracker with a hate-on for men, leaves him bewitched and intrigued-much to her annoyance.

Maybe Cynthia Nichols was a little hard on Foley, that muscular, tattooed, super-hot mechanic next door. But she's tired of feeling defensive about her size and has sworn off men. She's got a new job, new life, perfect plan. Foley has trouble written all over him-no way is she going to fall for his charms.

Foley might look like a bad idea, but underneath, he's all gentleman. Too bad Cyn's not buying it. What's a bad boy to do when the goddess of his dreams won't give him the time of day?

I seriously loved Roadside Assistance! There's just something about these bad boy mechanics that has me all gooey and swoony. Foley is my type of guy. Well fictional guy anyhow, I am married lol. He doesn't sugar coat what he says. If he thinks something, he says it and he doesn't really do affection so when he finally does give into love, it makes it mean all that much more. 

Cyn is beautiful, curvy, and successful but her mom has really done a number on her self esteem, making her self conscience about her size. So of course the chemistry between these two not so perfect characters was absolutely explosive, burning up the pages with passion and desire. I was utterly consumed! 

Roadside Assistance has everything I love in a great romance... a rough around the edges guy with a good heart, lots of wit and humor, some darker and more serious undertones that give it some depth, and two main characters that couldn't be more perfect for each other in their own imperfect ways. *sigh* I love it! 

Roadside Assistance can be read as a standalone if you like, but trust me, you don't want to miss out on the first book of the series "Test Drive" if you can help it. I can't wait to get my hands on the next book! 

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran

From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.

Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.

As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.

Mata Hari is one of those historical figures that I think many people have heard of, but they cannot tell you much about.  I thought she was an Indian born dancer who was a spy.  It turns out that I was definitely wrong on one count and might be wrong on the other.  She was not Indian, and it is very possible that she was also not a spy.  In Matai Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle Moran, we get a look into the life of Mata Hari and how she became an infamous historical figure.

         Mata Hari is the narrator of this novel that skips around through her early life and on to her dance career.  Born in the Netherlands and abandoned early by her father, Margaretha Zelle learns to take care of herself.  Marriage to a near stranger allows her to go to Java, but the marriage is not strong enough to withstand abuse and the death of a child.  She leaves her daughter with the girl’s father and reinvents herself, transforming herself from neglected wife to glittering dancer.  She performs as Salome and Cleopatra, enthralling audiences and titillating the men who come to watch—many of whom are military officers in France and Germany.  Taking lovers with an eye toward the material wealth they can provide for her, M’greet gathers money, favors, and wealth.   This patronage of men provides stability, but M’greet’s sense of joi di vivre leaves her ill prepared for the winds of change that begin to blow around Europe.

         M’greet rejects the love and advice of her faithful lawyer and lover, Edouard Clunet, and naively stays in the path of political turmoil.  While she tries to manipulate lovers as she has before, those more experienced in the game than herself instead outplay her.  Caught between France and Germany, she becomes a political liability for both sides.  This leads to her ultimate downfall.

         Mata Hari is the femme fatale of her day, and hedonism rules her life.  She is not a particularly likable character, and her dalliances rule this book.  Her life before her dancing was tragic, but her reinvention as the ultimate seductress led her to a shallow and vapid life.  I feel as though I know as much about her as I could glean, but I think that no one ever really knew her.  They only knew that character that she was portraying.  For insight into her character, I feel as though Mata Hari’s Last Dance was not a success.  However, for insight into her life and the time period, Mata Hari delivers.

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

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Amish Bride (Women of Lancaster County #3) by Mindy Starns Clark & Leslie Gould

Ella Bayer and Ezra Gundy are in love and hope to marry someday, but she is a young Mennonite woman while he is an Amish man. Though both Plain, one of them will have to forsake what they believe to embrace another way of life. 

Hoping some distance will cool the relationship, Ezra's family sends him to work at an Amish dairy farm in Indiana. But Ella disregards what her family wants and follows Ezra. In short order she finds a place to live, a job in a bakery, and an unexpected but budding friendship with a handsome Amish farmhand, Luke. When a family tragedy forces Ella back to Pennsylvania, she must face all she's been running away from. And once she has made peace with those around her, she has an important decision to make: Whose Amish bride will she become?Ezra's or Luke?s?

I was excited to delve into the third installment of this series. Ella has been a recurring character the last few books so I was anxious to see how her story would pan out. She's a very spunky young woman who has a plan for her life. She is going to go to baking school, then marry Ezra and open a business.  But not everything always works out like planned.
Her father, who left when she was three, has returned and Ella refuses to see him even though her mom and brother seem to be rebuilding a relationship to him. She has a lot of anger in her where her father is concerned. Also, Mammi has given Ella a book that is written in code. She's like Ella to try and decode it; it was her mother's and it's filled with drawings, recipes and other information.  And on top of that, Ezra is to start working on a dairy farm to learn the trade and it's in Indiana. She is sure that her family wants them as far apart as possible so Ella makes it her secret mission to find housing, a job and a school near Ezra.

Ella does a lot of growing up fast. She realizes that not everything is so simple, especially when her and Ezra's families become very disappointed and angered at the two of them leaving together.  Ella starts working at a bakery and makes a friend in Luke and his family but she is homesick. Ezra urges her to come home so they can marry and join the Church. But Ella still needs to decode Mammi's book and she really wants to go to baking school. Will Ella let God lead her to the right path?

This is probably my favorite installment so far in the Lancaster series.  Ella is such a strong-willed woman who has many depths to her character. She experiences so many emotions and does a lot of growing up, especially with her faith.  There were so many sublevel plots that really kept the story pivoting and moving forward. I'm excited to read the next in the series. This series encompasses Mennonite and Amish faith, which is interesting, but the characters are just so well developed, I just want to sit down for a spell and chat over tea.

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

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Amish Nanny (Women of Lancaster County #2) by Mindy Starns Clark & Leslie Gould

Amish-raised Ada Rupp knows it’s time to make a commitment to the faith and join the church, especially if she wants a future with the handsome Amish widower Will Gundy.
But when she has the chance to travel to Switzerland as the caregiver of a young child, she leaps at the opportunity.

Anxious to learn more about her forebears, Ada enlists the help of a young Mennonite scholar named Daniel, but even as she develops feelings for him, she cannot get Will from her mind—or her heart. At a crossroads, Ada must decide what she is willing to give up from the past in order to embrace her future.

In this installment of The Women of Lancaster County, Ada Rupp is finally getting her wings. She found out in the first book that her life was not what she had thought. Her mamm was not her biological mamm and she had a sister she knew nothing of.  Now, with her disease under control, she’s restless. Her parents have always been overprotective, so when a wedding invitation arrives from her sister, she is sure her parents won’t let her go. However, they surprise her and let her.

She is overjoyed to finally be able to travel and knows that upon her return she will having a teaching position. She really wants to be a mother and wife to Will Gundy but knows that he has set his sights upon another. Nursing a bruised heart, she decides to make the most of her life.  However, when she returns from the wedding, another adventure awaits.
The property in Switzerland that her biological mom lives on is slated to have the nearby waterfall turned into a hydro plant. The waterfall and  caves are historical to the Amish and Mennonites. She and others must travel to Switzerland to protest the development and clear the title so that it can remain intact. 

Along the way, Ada learns some independence. She endures some heartache and reaches out to God to help guide her on her path.  There is so much to learn about the Anabaptists move from Switzerland to the United States and its depicted beautifully.  I learned so much and I was really hoping that Ada would find peace and her happily ever after. I had a hard time putting this book down. I adore the characters and I can’t wait to read the next installment.  Great book filled with romance, intrigue, family relationships, God and history.

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Missing, Presumed (DS Manon #1) by Susie Steiner

Mid-December, and Cambridgeshire is blanketed with snow. Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw tries to sleep after yet another soul-destroying Internet date – the low murmuring of her police radio her only solace.

Over the airwaves come reports of a missing woman – door ajar, keys and phone left behind, a spatter of blood on the kitchen floor. Manon knows the first 72 hours are critical: you find her, or you look for a body. And as soon as she sees a picture of Edith Hind, a Cambridge post-graduate from a well-connected family, she knows this case will be big.

Is Edith alive or dead? Was her ‘complex love life’ at the heart of her disappearance, as a senior officer tells the increasingly hungry press? And when a body is found, is it the end or only the beginning?

This story has short, easy to read chapters with each chapter telling the story from the perspective of a character. There is Manon and Davy, the detectives tasked with finding a missing young girl named Edith, and Miriam, the presumed missing girl’s mother. Although the story is about Edith’s disappearance, you learn so much more about the other character’s lives that Edith becomes almost an afterthought to their life stories.

 It’s a deceptively simple read but you’ll discover that it’s still a very richly detailed story. The characters are fully developed and I felt engaged right from the start. Also, Missing, Presumed is a great title because the reader does not find out until the very end if Edith is alive or not. The ending was surprising and I was satisfied with how everything was tied together. I will definitely recommend this book to friends.  

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde

 In Say Goodbye for Now, Catherine Ryan Hyde, creates a fantastic picture of compelling characters living in a time of great upheaval.       

Dr. Lucy lives alone by choice.  Her acceptance into her small Texan community in 1959 is doubtful and as a female veterinarian, she is looked upon with suspicion.  Her free spirited ways and her refusal to bend to convention mark her as different than the usual small town resident.

         When young Pete Solomon, a young boy being raised by a dictatorial father, finds a young wolf hybrid in need of help, it is Dr. Lucy to whom he turns.  He has no means to care for the animal himself, and he trusts Dr. Lucy to do all she can to ensure the animal’s survival.  On his path to Dr. Lucy’s out-of-the-way home, Pete meets Justin, an African American boy who is living under the tyranny of racial discrimination in years before the Civil Rights movement.  They become fast friends, but with consequences for both of them.  

         When Justin’s father, Calvin, investigates his son’s newfound friendship, he also develops a relationship with the unusual doctor.  However, these people are not allowed to speak, much less become friendly, in this community.  Their bonds are soon tested and their love and respect for each other becomes hard to maintain—and any attempt to become a family of sorts is met with violence, misunderstanding, and conflict.  The power of love and hope is strong, however, and the reunion between these four characters demonstrates a changing world and a steady love.

         I loved Say Goodbye for Now.  It is written in a straightforward and simple style.  I found the story to be quiet and compelling.  Catherine Ryan Hyde creates characters that I understood and cared about.  Each of them was a complex well-drawn person with motivations, flaws, and strengths.  The scenes of violence were brutal but realistic for the time.  I found myself rooting for the four main characters to find each other in a permanent way and I would not hesitate to recommend this book to others.  Very moving and readable.

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