March 15, 2017

My #Review of a Book Full of Twists–4 Stars

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It doesn’t describe the story and instead misleads the reader. Otherwise the book was a fun read. I enjoyed the characters. Many reviewers didn’t like the main character because she was so unreliable. But, unreliable characters are becoming the thing. I realized right away that she was not trustworthy because her choices seemed way off. But, later as things became clearer, her reliability increased.

It’s hard not to give too much away in this book. First, it’s a mystery. Something terrible happens in the beginning which sets off the chain of events. There is not a dead body in the room. That means it’s not a typical mystery. Nonetheless, the reader is constantly wondering what is going on. The police are on a chase for the perpetrator and their frustrations become the reader’s.

Second, I found myself rooting for Ray, the main policeman. But, when he nearly strayed, he became less likable. Integrity is something I like in the main law enforcement characters, whether it’s a policeman or a detective. I didn’t feel as if Ray had much integrity.

The author shifts from first person with the protagonist and antagonist to the third person with the police. That shift helped me know who was talking. But, I wondered about writing the entire book in the third person. Personally, it was creepy being in the mind of the antagonist.

There’s a lot of suspense in this book. [Tweet “If I hadn’t spent lots of money getting manicures, I’d have bitten my nails to the quick” @claremackint0sh] As it was, I nibbled on my cheek and kept turning pages. The reader isn’t terribly surprised by the bad guy, but what keeps us in suspense is what will happen to the protagonist. I can’t tell more without spoiling the suspense.

My only complaint and the only reason I would give this book 4 instead of 5 stars is that the ending seemed strange. Was the author trying to keep the suspense going or creating a backdrop for a future book. Either way, it didn’t work.

And if you do read it, share your views here with me. I’d love to hear what you think.

Wanna read another book full of twists with an unreliable narrator? Try this one.

My Review– Longbourn by Jo Baker 4 Stars

It takes you back through the story of the Bennett sisters from behind the scenes. Instead of fretting over whether or not Mr. Darcy and Lizzy will become engaged, you’ll fret over the trials and tribulations of the maid servant, Sarah. When the girls go to a ball, the below-the-stairs staff are all in a flutter, getting just the perfect shoe roses and lace. It’s a different and fully engaging world.

Perhaps Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper, was mentioned in Pride and Prejudice, but if she was, I don’t remember. Surely the maid servants were never called by name, and I don’t remember a butler or a footman. Baker clearly did a lot of research to learn how a typical household of Longbourn size would operate. How many staff it would take to keep it going. She never took us out of the time period. Never having had to experience laundry day in fiction or real-life, I was aching with Sarah as she scrubbed out stains. The chilblains and open soars on her hands bled with real intensity. Readers felt the drudgery of it all while the upstairs staff glittered.

The story of Pride and Prejudice happens without us being privy to it. As you read Longbourn, you’ll become less concerned about the goings-on upstairs. The downstairs characters take on a life that keeps you reading and worrying about them. Certain ettiquete keep the two worlds separate even when they have collided in the past. For me, I kept hoping the Lizzy I admired in Pride and Prejudice would

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notice Sarah’s distress. But she was completely lost in her world. The servants remained invisible until they were needed. Baker did a good job of keeping everyone in character and not stepping past those boundaries.

My only complaint with the book was the point-of-view changes. The author bounced from one one point-of-view to another and sometimes gave the impression of omnipresence. This troubled me, but I kept reading because the story and the character were so well written. Perhaps Baker chose this point-of-view to match that of Austen?

If you are a Jane Austen fan, you will love this book. I suggest reading Pride and Prejudice first to fully enjoy both worlds. But, Longbourn can be read separately. Definitely worth all four stars and is a must read!

 

Mediocre at best. My Review of And After the Fire

The story and the construction of the book left a lot to be desired.51YTnlOqbqL

The lexicon is extremely anti-Semitic and yet the cantata gets into the hands of one Jewish family after another. The premise of the story is good and the beginning definitely hooks the reader. From there it disappoints. The story flashes back from the present to the late 18th Century to the early 19th Century. The flashes help the reader understand where the cantata resides and who has it. Sara Levy, the main character in this time period is very interesting, compelling and kept me reading. The main character in the present, Suzanna Kesler, is less so, but not unlikable or unbelievable. The problems in this book lie in the story itself and the author’s continued redundancy.

When Suzanna discovers the lost cantata among her dead uncle’s possessions, she seeks out music experts to help her decide what to do with it. She is also interested in learning who the cantata belongs to. Are there decedents from the war who have a claim on the piece? This leads her in the path of a new love interest, Dan Erhardt. We learn that Suzanna had been raped and afterwards her husband left her. This experience made her cautious in any new love interest. Dan also suffered from the early death of his wife and was still grieving from that loss. These two events brought the two together. This particular storyline didn’t bother me and the author did a sensitive job of creating their union.

What I have to ask is why all the different points of view? I saw no reason to have these points of view chapters: Scott Schiffman, Frederick Fournier, Frank Mueller. It goes tiresome because these were minor characters. It cheapened the book. The story would have been told better in Suzanna’s view point with the point of view of Sara Levy in the past alternating. We didn’t even need Dan’s point of view. From a writer’s perspective, those different points of view is the easy way out. The depth of the story for the reader was lost.

Furthermore the book went on and on about the anti-semeticism of the past, present and possibly future. Mentioning it once or even twice would have sufficed, but we got it shoved in our faces without let up. Way over the top.

I did enjoy learning about Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn and their musical careers. I enjoyed learning more about Bach and the musical soirees that were conducted in the homes of the wealthy during the late 18th Century.

If you want to learn more about music history and are willing to skim the rest, this book is for you.

A #Review Orphan Train–5 Stars

How did I know? Word of mouth from some of my most trusted readers, including my mom. Finally I picked it up and devoured it in less than three days. I would have read it faster, but the galleys for my new book came with a deadline attached, and I had to divert my attention.orphan2

This book is heart breaking.

I sure didn’t. Apparently in the early part of the last century, orphan children, often from immigrant families, were shipped off to the mid-West in search of “homes.” Instead of homes, however, they found themselves in indentured servitude. Many of these children experienced extreme tragedy before they ended up on the Orphan Train. The cruelty and insensitivity of those who initiated this program and those who took in children is beyond belief.

She contrasts the life of one throw-away child on the Orphan Train with a modern-day foster child. The connections between these two very different, but very similar souls will warm your heart.

Several scenes contain vivid descriptions I found very difficult to read. I was grateful to be able to skim.If this book is every made into a movie (and maybe it will be), I will have to shut my eyes at times.

Have you read Orphan Train? What are your thoughts?

Review–All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

51x8L474mGL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Before you start reading this unusual book, you need to understand the structure. Otherwise you will get frustrated and in all probability not finish it. That would be tragic because it is a well-written, fascinating story. Evie Wyld created a world from the point of view of a very unreliable character. Her name is Jake. Yes, that’s right. A boy’s name in a girl’s body. Trust me that isn’t the only anomaly in this book.

Wyld writes in a breezy, easy to read style. But she creates complex characters. Her structure fascinated me, a writer. As a reader I may have been less fascinated. You begin the story in Jake’s point of view in the present time. That first chapter sets up Jake’s present world but in the past tense. The second chapter flashes back to Jake’s earlier life, but told in the present tense. Now the fun begins. Chapter three continues moving the present forward. So far, you’re thinking, what’s so strange about this? Right? Here we go into Chapter four. Wyld takes us into the past, but closer to the present. In other words, the present chapters move forward in time and the past chapters move backward. Got it?

You may say that’s too confusing to read, but don’t. Once I realized the pattern, I was anxious to keep reading. The reader knows something very bad happened in Jake’s past to bring her to the present state she was in. You know she was running from someone or something. As the past moves further back in time, a little is revealed, but not all is revealed until the very end. The pieces of the puzzle finally come together at the end. Quite satisfyingly.

As an animal lover, I had some trouble with the descriptions of the slaughter of sheep. Other than that, I found the book an excellent read. Wyld writes like a poet. Every word counts. Here’s one example:

“There’s that solid heat that gets bounced down on us from the tin roof, and the flies in here are fat and damp–when they land around your mouth, you feel like you’ve been kissed by something dead.”

What is this story about? It’s about survival. It’s about tragedy.

A Book That Will Stay With You #MeBeforeYou

 JoJo Moyes created a haunting story with characters that resonate.  Had I realized what the story was about before I read it, I may not have embarked on the journey. I’m glad I did not know because it was a journey worth taking. I would say to you don’t be troubled by the uncomfortable theme. Instead allow this very gifted author to take you on a fictional adventure that will make you laugh and cry. Full of emotion and soul searching, this book captures so much. I was delighted  to recently learn that she has written a sequel that will be released this fall.

 I liked her instantly because she was happy in her menial job working in a cafe. She loved everything about the cafe, the smells, sounds, people. She looked forward to going to work every day. What a delight! Unfortunately her boss decided to close the cafe and she lost her job.

Set in a tourist village in Northern England, the story shows how few options Lou has for work and how desperate her family is for her little bit of income. Her brilliant sister got pregnant and has a small child who lives with the family. Her demented grandfather lives with the family. The mother spends her time looking after the grandfather and the child. Her father has a job in the only industry in the town and it is being threatened. Lou has to find another job. The author makes her desperation clear.

51EbPCigZgL._AC_US160_She finally agrees to become the caretaker of a quadriplegic man. This is a man who was young, vital, successful and very rich. He was struck down in his prime and left without use of most of his body. His condition is extremely bad. Lou dreads this job as most of us might. She’s not to be responsible for the man’s “personal” needs. There’s a trained nurse for that. She’s responsible for “keeping him company” and cheering him up. How could anyone cheer up a person in such dire straights? Lou goes into the job fearful and intimidated.

It wasn’t long before her winning personality begins rubbing off on others. Her vulnerability attracts her to others. The man she’s caring for is sarcastic and angry. But he recognizes in Lou a genuine sweetness and naivety that gives him a reason for breathing. He begins teaching her about the world beyond that small village.

 Trauma that kept her in the village and in her narrow world. She stayed where it was safe. With a boyfriend who was all wrong for her but who was safe.

This book is beautifully written. My only negative comment is I’m not clear why the author went out of Lou’s point of view. On three occasions she veered to three different points of view. I didn’t see that seeing the situation from those vantage points actually helped expand the reader’s knowledge. Thankfully Moyes didn’t keep us in those points of view very long.

It’s more than a love story. It’s a story about trauma, humanity and life. It’s a story that makes us all ask difficult questions.

 Five stars hardly capture it’s worth.

5 Star Review for The Boston Girl

That’s what happened with The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. If you happened to read her other bestseller, The Red Tent, you’ll see this book is very different.

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First, it is set in our time, not in Biblical times. Second, it is told from the point-of-view of a grandmother telling her granddaughter about her life. The book explains not just the life of Addie Baum but also her life from the standpoint of Jewish Russian immigrants. Addie defies much of the rules of womanhood at the time. She goes to work and writes for a newspaper (but she can’t publish under her name.) The book begins when she’s a pre-teen and works its way through to her current telling age of 85. For most of the story she’s showing us what it was like to grow up and become an adult in the 1920’s and 1930’s in Boston. She described the “ghetto” where her family lived and the trauma of the 1918 influenza epidemic to her listening granddaughter and to us the readers.

Addie, not being one of them. She could never satisfy the demands of her mother, even when she brought home a nice Jewish boy to marry. The mother also made life difficult for Addie’s father. The grown-up Addie talked about her mother openly with her granddaughter and shared her feelings of insecurity and sadness. The story will sweep you away and you’ll forget that the grandmother is talking until she says something to remind the reader that her granddaughter is present.

The book encourages the reader to open up. What is the point of all the secrets many families hold? What is the point of being something you are really not in front of the people you love the most? It’s almost as if Diamant is asking all of us those questions.

Here are some examples of the beautiful writing:

The sun was so bright on the water it was like staring at a million tiny mirrors.

…the words hung in the air like a bad smell.

When they started fighting, Celia shriveled up like a plant without enough water.

I thought I must look like a weed in a rose garden.

I felt like I was standing on a pond that wasn’t frozen all the way through and if anyone asked me, “How’s the family?” the ice would break.

This book will make you laugh at times and cry at times.

If you liked this review,

Joan Reads–The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

 Brown chronicles the story of the 9 American crew members and their quest for Olympic Gold during the Berlin Olympics. The story is true and quite riveting.

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 His descriptions of crew member Joe Kranz, of coach, Al Ulbrickson and of master shell maker, George Pocock held me spellbound. He sprinkled the story with many other characters but these were the main three. Brown also set the stage. The book began in the heart of the Great Depression. What was happening to people’s lives during that time played an important role in the unfolding of this story. What has happening simultaneously in Hitler’s Germany also had an impact. I loved the first sentence of this book: 

We, authors, are told not to launch our books with the weather. I’m delighted that Brown ignored that advice. This sentence captured the essence of the story. Many gray days of grueling practice in unbelievable weather followed. The gray time between the worst depression in our history and World War II took a front row seat in this tale.

 He described Pocock as a man who understood the sport of crew better than any man alive at the time. He not only understood the mechanics of it, he understood the psychology–what went on inside the boat. Here’s one of the many quotes I highlighted: “It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of the men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So it is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them.”

The author interviewed Joe Kranz before his death. Those interviews and massive research as well as long discussions with Kranz’s daughter provided the sources for this book. Written with a sensitivity as well as a delight, Brown placed the reader inside the crew shell. 

In addition, Brown contrasted the efforts of the crew with the pomp and circumstance and propaganda going on in Nazi Germany. He didn’t let the people who ignored what was happening in Germany off lightly, but he conceded that the world wanted to turn a blind eye on Hitler. The outcries to boycott the Olympics in 1936 went largely unheard.

file0001772910874What did I know about oarsmen and the sport of crew before I read this book? Basically nothing. After reading Brown’s detailed descriptions, I’ve learned a lot and I have a new respect for the sport as both extremely competitive and athletic. It looks so graceful it fools us into believing it’s easy. Pocock described crew like a swan on the lake. Very graceful to the onlookers but working like hell under the water.

As a reader, I wanted to know what happened next. Would Joe get on the varsity boat? Of course, we know he did, but how when everything seemed to be working against him. Would the crew succeed in their quest for the Olympic gold? Of course we know they did, but again, Brown made it so exciting, I began to doubt what I knew.

Indeed, this book will make a wonderful movie and I do hope that will be the next step.

New Reviews–The Clock Strikes Midnight

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New Review–Sara Jayne Townsend

and faces the past she has spent so long running from, to try and put right some wrongs before it’s too late.

As the story unfolds we learn more about Janie, and her sister Marlene, and the appalling past that has left them so damaged. The book is divided into three parts. The first part alternates between Janie’s point of view and Marlene’s, and reveals how damaged each of them actually is. The second part takes us back to 1969 and the point of view of the two sisters’ mother, Eloise, and the events that led to her becoming the unhappy alcoholic that her daughters knew her as, before her violent death twenty years before the start of the novel. The third part takes us back to Janie and Marlene, and the conclusion of the novel.

Initially neither Janie nor Marlene is a particularly likeable character. Marlene is following her mother onto the slippery path of alcoholism, and Janie appears to have a complete lack of empathy for anyone or anything.

However, the more we learn about them and their sad history, the more we can empathise with them, and by the end of the novel I found myself quite emotionally connected with these two sisters.

 Some I saw coming, but I confess that some I did not. This a well-written tale of ordinary people trying to put tragedy behind them and move on with their lives, and you will find that these characters and their story will stay with you long after you finish the book.

 

New Review–Reviewed by Trudi LoPreto, ReadersFavorite



The Clock Strikes Midnight by Joan C. Curtis is the story of two sisters, Janie and Marlene, and the story of a long ago murder. The girls had a hard childhood with a mean and abusive step-father who was accused of killing their drunken mother. Janie leaves her home at the age of 17; Marlene remains in Atlanta for her entire life. Over twenty years have passed since the sisters have had any communication. Janie has just been diagnosed with cancer and has only three months to live. She decides it is time to go home and set things straight with her sister and explain what really happened the day her mother was killed. Marlene is more like her mother than she would like to admit and uses alcohol to escape her everyday life. When their step-father is released from prison, he is still trying to prove his innocence, but both sisters confront him and try to make him go away. This is when the real trouble begins. 

Joan Curtis has done a perfect writing job.

 The Clock Strikes Midnight kept me reading late into the night and again early in the morning until I reached the end and left behind my new friends, Janie and Marlene.

If you enjoy a good mystery, I think you will really like The Clock Strikes Midnight.

New Review–Reviewed by Stuart R. West

Mrs. Curtis’s book, The Clock Strikes Midnightis a very compelling, well-written read.While I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it as a mystery, there are plenty of twists and slow burning suspense. But what really grips the reader and won’t let go are the characters. I have to admit they weren’t very likable. But the deeper one goes, peeling back layers of time and events, things become clearer, defining how the two protagonists, siblings Janie and Marlene, ended up the messes they are today. Yep, for several nights I read until the clock struck midnight (and later) to find out what happens. Recommended and I look forward to Mrs. Curtis’s next book.

New Review–Reviewed by Ann Marie Reynolds ReadersFavorite

 

The Clock Strikes Midnight by Joan C. Curtis is a tale of revenge and of putting things right, a story of hidden truths. Janie Knox wants to live her life quietly in Savannah with her life-partner Sue-Anne. Twenty years earlier, following the imprisonment of her stepfather for killing her mother, she packed up and left without a word to anyone and never spoke to her family again. A diagnosis of breast cancer, giving her just 3 months to live, changes all that and she heads back to put right the things that have haunted her. She discovers her sister is an alcoholic and her stepfather has been released from prison. He starts trying to blackmail both sisters and is looking to sue the government for millions for wrongful imprisonment. In a bitter race against time, Janie rushes to stop him and tie up loose ends before she departs for higher planes.

The Clock Strikes Midnight by Joan C. Curtis is an amazing story with a number of twists cleverly hidden away. It was gripping and, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t have guessed the ending if I tried. It’s a bittersweet story, full of love, laughter and tragedy, one that will have any reader on the edge of their seat, biting their nails as the story roars to its conclusion. Joan Curtis has done a wonderful job here, the story is gripping enough to keep you reading and the characters are a perfect fit. I look forward to reading more from Joan Curtis in the future.

New Review–Heather Brainerd

When main character Janie learns of her devastating prognosis, she knows she must finish a task she started twenty years prior. This means going back to her home town of Atlanta, a place she’d vowed never to visit again. A lot has changed since she left home, and she finds her sister Marlene in a bad way. As both sisters move through dangerous situations, they learn that they have to face the past – something they’re both tried to bury.

I enjoyed the way the author wove together three points of view – that of Janie, Marlene, and their mother Eloise. There were many twists and turns – with a final surprise that I did not see coming. In fact, I stayed up way too late for two nights in a row because I simply wanted to see what happened next.

Want to review The Clock Strikes Midnight? Contact me today!

5-Star Review The Clock Strikes Midnight–Amazing Story with a Number of Twists

The Clock Strikes Midnight by Joan C. Curtis is a tale of revenge and of putting things right, a story of hidden truths. Janie Knox wants to live her life quietly in Savannah with her life-partner Sue-Anne. Twenty years earlier, following the imprisonment of her stepfather for killing her mother, she packed up and left without a word to anyone and never spoke to her family again. A diagnosis of breast cancer, giving her just 3 months to live, changes all that and she heads back to put right the things that have haunted her. She discovers her sister is an alcoholic and her stepfather has been released from prison. He starts trying to blackmail both sisters and is looking to sue the government for millions for wrongful imprisonment. In a bitter race against time, Janie rushes to stop him and tie up loose ends before she departs for higher planes.

The Clock Strikes Midnight by Joan C. Curtis is an amazing story with a number of twists cleverly hidden away. It was gripping and, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t have guessed the ending if I tried. It’s a bittersweet story, full of love, laughter and tragedy, one that will have any reader on the edge of their seat, biting their nails as the story roars to its conclusion. Joan Curtis has done a wonderful job here, the story is gripping enough to keep you reading and the characters are a perfect fit. I look forward to reading more from Joan Curtis in the future.

Ann Marie Reynolds Reader’s Favorite.