Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Too Close to Home

Title: Too Close to Home
Author: Susan Lewis
Expected Publication: December 15th 2015 by Ballantine Books
Format: ebook, Paperback, 512 pages
Genre: Women's Fiction
Source: NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine

When I began this book, I did not really care for it. No single character stood out and I found myself scanning the first quarter of it in hopes that something would grab me. I figured if I could keep the names straight that I would eventually get in a rhythm. I continually had the feeling that there was going to be more to the story. What I did not realize was that Susan Lewis was not sure what that more should be. Was it a women’s fiction novel centered on divorce and its daily discoveries or was it a young adult novel centered on bullying? Unfortunately, the two stories are somewhat interwoven with an unsatisfactory conclusion for both.

Jenna Moore and her husband Jack leave their London home when Jack loses his job and is unable to find another. He has the brilliant idea of starting his own online publishing business on the Welsh coast while Jenna is quietly in the background trying to write a follow up to a previously successful novel. Meanwhile, fifteen-year-old daughter Paige is immersed in her own battles at school. Apparently, the campus bully has decided to make Paige’s life hell and if it were not for a new anonymous online friend, things would have tumbled completely out of control.

Little did both mother and daughter realize that life would get worse before it could ever have a chance of getting better. As Jenna discovers lie upon lie falling out her husband’s mouth and Paige realizes that her new online friend may not but a friend after all, both Moore women have decisions and choices to make. With the inability of speaking to each other, both Jenna and Paige seem to be on their own course until they can emotionally make it back to their family.

I know that the author tried to give the book a nice little happily ever after bow at the end, but it did not work for me. After trying to throw everything possible into the plot, it still fell flat and I felt that the author was just as tired of writing as I was of reading.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Secrets of the Lighthouse

Title: Secrets of the Lighthouse
Author: Santa Montefiore
Published: August 5th 2014 by Simon & Schuster
Format: Hardcover, 448 pages
Genre: Romance

Ever since I read “The French Gardner”, I have been in search of another book by Santa Montefiore that would give me the same feel. Though I enjoyed parts of “The Secrets of the Lighthouse”, there was something missing for me. Something that did not match up to the first book.

Except for the scene where Ellen threw her cell phone into the sea, you would have thought that this book had taken place in the 1800’s. What thirty-three year old woman could be forced by her mother to marry for wealth and position or what woman would have the hem of her skirt catch fire because she ran up a flight of stairs that was lined by candles? If the author would have changed the time period, I believe that the overall premise of the book would have worked.

Set on the desolate coast of Connemara in Ireland, the story is of Ellen Trawton who is running away from her life in London. Away from her controlling mother and an engagement to a man that she cannot tolerate. In a desperate move, Ellen runs to find her mother’s family, a family that her own mother had abandoned prior to Ellen’s birth.

In a way that romantic novels do, Connemara and the people soothed Ellen’s soul. That is until she meets ruggedly handsome Conor Macauslan who has a secret of his own. It was his wife, five years prior, which had caught her dress on fire and now Caitlin haunts a nearby castle (sorry, even that was too preposterous for me) and a lighthouse. Places that have fascinated Ellen since her arrival.

Told in alternating voices of both Ellen and Caitlin, the story is slowly built as to what has happened in the past and with Ellen’s burgeoning writing career, the final chapters can finally be written. Yes, that was a bit of a stretch to read.

With a Gothic feel, this romance missed the mark for me. Be it Ellen’s naiveté or the obvious family ties, this book seemed to go on forever. I can understand how some loved this book, but for me, I was disappointed that it could not live up to the previous book.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Maple and Willow Apart

Title: Maple & Willow Apart
Author and Illustrator: Lori Nichols
Published: July 21st 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
Genre: Children's
Ages:3 - 5 years

I just love this series. I adore watching Maple grow up and loving her little sister Willow. This time, Maple is taking a giant step and going to big-girl school. Willow just does not know what to do with her time since home is not the same without Maple to play with.

When Maple returns from her first day with stories of her teacher and class, Willow decides that she will not be outdone and tells of her new friend Pip - where they met and what they did. This piqued Maple’s curiosity. How could her little sister have fun and a new friend without her? Willow did not intend to hurt her sister’s feeling; she just wanted to have her own adventure. In the end, she gave her sister the best gift of all. Now the two will never truly be apart.

Lori Nichols always tells such wonderful stories of love and kindness in her Maple books. The two sisters have created their own world of friendship and have created adventures with nature in their own backyard.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hallowe'en Party

Author: Agatha Christie
Published: Published 1970 by Pocket Books
Format: Paperback, 255 pages
Genre: Mystery
Series: Hercule Poirot #36

From time to time, I like to go back and reader older mysteries. The type of books that do not throw all of the characters or side parts at you at once. Books where there is no jumping to conclusions or where the sleuth actually takes their time to get the reader from the beginning to the end. I admit that I picked up this book because of the title and the time of year, but to be honest, other than the book beginning at a child’s party, it has nothing to do with what the tradition has turned into.

Featuring Hercule Poirot, his friend mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver has called upon him for help when a young girl at a Hallowe’en party recounts her witnessing of a murder. She claimed that at the time she did not know that it was in fact a murder and that it had only come to her later on. When this young girl, Joyce Reynolds, is later found murdered at the party, Ariadne relies on Poirot for his insight as to what could have happened.

As it turns out, thirteen-year-old Joyce has a tendency to lie. Not just a little bit, she is well known for her fibs. To Poirot’s mind, just because this young girl has a history, does not mean that there is not some truth to her story.

Calling on his friend retired Superintendent Spence, Hercule Poirot is getting a better idea of residence of Woodleigh Common and it turns out that there was an au pair named Olga Seminoff that had disappeared under suspicious circumstances and now Poirot is starting to put the puzzle pieces together.

Some claim that this is not Agatha Christie’s best work and I think to each their own. I find all of her books fascinating and enjoy them each time I pick one up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dead as a Doornail

Title: Dead as a Doornail
Author: Linda P. Kozar
Narrator: Michelle Babb
Published: May 15, 2015
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Source: Michelle Babb
Series: When the Fat Ladies Sing #3

I do not know if it is possible for a book to be too southern, but for me, I think that the mystery got lost somewhere in the quirks of this southern tale. From the names to the people to the odd situations, this was almost too much to handle.

Granted, I have come into this series in the middle and after having a conversation with Michelle Babb, the narrator, I agreed to take a listen. She did a wonderful job in separating the characters and making each voice their own person – which was necessary since they are all new to me. I am not sure if author Linda Kozar intentionally made this book or series an exaggeration of the south, but I went with it anyway. There is a simplicity and innocence that confused me from the beginning. What year did this book take place? I am sure that it is modern day, but at the same time, it felt like 1950. The characters are that quaintly naïve and simple.

What begins with an apparent accidental death of a contractor working on Sue Jan and Monroe’s home quickly goes downhill when Monroe is considered the prime murder suspect. Small town politics are thrown into the mix and money is missing from the high school band fundraiser. Add to that a new woman is in town and wants to open up her own beauty parlor that just might put Lovita and Sue Jan out of business. Plus troubling relatives that have moved in, complete with their own trailer, and have dug a “swimming pool” without permission.

From the outside, the town of Wachita is in a mess of trouble. Lovita has no plans for this to ruin her wedding day so with the help of Sue Jan, she sets off to set her town and her friends to right. It may involve the reinforcement of seven types of ribs from the Chinese restaurant, but that is all doable.

Once you get past the exaggerated southern-ness and quirky characters, the small town of Wachita does begin to grow on you. This is a place that takes care of their own and when you have two women that are best friends for life looking out for you, no one stands a chance of ruining their plans.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Twain's End

Title: Twain's End
Author: Lynn Cullen
Published: October 13th 2015 by Gallery Books
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Genre: Fictionalized Imagining
Source: My thanks to Netgalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books. for an opportunity to read an advance copy of this book.

Midway through this book, I did not want to continue. I did not want to see the beloved figure Mark Twain denigrated in this way. What I came to realize is that this is not about the Mark Twain that American’s know; it is it about a caricature that Samuel Clemens created and could not rid himself of. Granted, they are both the same physical person, but in temperament, they are very different. One that wants to be love and one that you will learn to despise.

Author Lynn Cullen will tell you that this is a fictionalized imagining of the personal life of Mark Twain, a man that kept a room in his home for his Angelfish. Which came across to me as something akin to Heffner’s mansion. A little club within his home for young women whom he cared about and gives them angelfish pins to show their membership. A humorist that rarely laughed and whose own daughters despised him. A man that loathed himself and everyone’s adulation only made him loath himself more.

Isabel Lyon came to the Clemons’s household as a secretary to Olivia Langdon Clemens, the sickly wife of Samuel. In time, Isabel was beguiled by Sam. She was lonely and he showed attention. This was a recipe for disaster since the more Mark Twain loved a person, the harder he was on them and in turn, they tried harder and harder to please him. Between Twain’s dying wife, his daughters and Isabel, there was a constant struggle for his affection. Someone has to lose, but in the end, it seems that they all did.

At heart, Samuel Clemmons was just a salty Mississippi steamboat pilot who became Mark Twain. A persona that he neither liked nor could live without. He was a lonely man that needed every bit of love thrown at him, but yet he could never give any back. He was volatile and with little provocation, he could become frightening. A controlling man that was not happy unless everyone loved him and only him.

At Isabel’s breaking point, Ralph Ashcroft, Twain’s business manager, began to show his affection for her. Mark Twain had no intention of marrying her when his wife died and in that time and place, it was unseemly for a single woman to be living in the home of a single man. She was a friend that was more than a friend, a secretary that was more than a secretary, but in her heart, she knew that she was nothing. It was time for her to leave and Ralph, twelve years her junior, allowed her the escape.

What neither Isabel nor Ralph knew was the extent to which the world’s beloved humorist would go to destroy them. He even went as far as writing a letter calling Isabel Lyon "a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded and salacious slut pining for seduction." He was a cruel man that was not going to let someone like Isabel ruin his story.

Mark Twain wanted to own people. He would not let suitors around his daughters and actually hated the idea of any man, other than himself, in their lives. He needed control. He was a man that was nothing but a tyrant and bully in his own home.

Lynn Cullen did a remarkable job in trying to separate the two personalities that made up the same man. At times, the book seemed long and unnecessarily drawn out. I am not sure if that was due to the subject matter or Ms. Cullen wanting to make her readers feel the same kind of entrapment that Isabel felt. There is a lot of material to their association, though rejected by the man that she loved, Isabel refused to speak publically about their relationship and his hateful turning on her. This was a deeply troubling book to read and I do hope that if you do delve in, that you take your time and do some of your own research into the central characters presented here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Agatha's First Case

Title: Agatha's First Case
Author: M. C. Beaton
Published: August 11th 2015 by Minotaur Books
Format: eBook
Genre: Short Story
Series: Agatha Raisin

Well, that was frustrating. I was settling in to read a short story that evolved around Agatha Raisin’s beginnings and just when I thought that I was going to get a full glimpse of her life before “The Quiche of Death”, when she arrived in the Cotswold’s, the story is over and I come to realize that this was just a marketing ploy to introduce the first two chapter of the book “Dishing the Dirt”.

This book begins when Agatha is twenty-six and still sensitive. Having fled the Birmingham slum where she was raised and the life of her drunken parents; she is currently employed by a horrible woman in a Mayfair public relations office. Jimmy Raisin, her first husband is out of the picture and quite by chance, Agatha stumbles onto the life changing moment that she has been hoping for.

The overall story is bumbling and choppy. Parts do not make sense, sensationalism is thrown in and conclusions are reached without enough story building. What does come across are Agatha’s dreams for the future – her own agency and a cottage in the Cotswold’s.

There are parts of the series that will never change such as Agatha’s way of “solving cases by apparently blundering about like some demented wasp” and Agatha’s way of ferreting out people’s weak spots and ruthlessly gaining inside information.

Agatha is one of those characters that you either love or hate and since I am well vested in this series, I find myself reading whatever comes out with her as a main character. I do not know what the future plans are for this series, but I do hope that M. C. Beaton steps up her game.