Swallowtail Summer, Erica James
Genre: general fiction (adult)
I’ve read a few of Erica’s novels in the past, and those all had a romance slant, so even though this wasn’t billed as romance I somehow was expecting one. My bad, its not romance. It is however, and accurate, sharp look at us as people, how we turn a blind eye to what we don’t want to acknowledge, and how differently people react when the truth is forced in front of them.
I liked the strength of the characters, the way they felt real. I can’t say I really liked any of them as people though, and I wasn’t really invested in the outcome of events. Its not a book that really worked for me, very well written, but the actual story just didn’t resonate with me. Possibly because I was waiting for a romance to develop somewhere….totally my fault. I do read stories other than romance, but my mindset wasn’t in the right place. Maybe at a different time I’d enjoy it, but right now I didn’t. I found it a very sad story, almost depressing in how people could be let down so bsdly by those close to them.
Stars: Two, just not one for me, but I’ll happily read others from Erica.
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Missing Pieces, Susan Clayton-Goldner,
Well, I know I enjoy Susan’s writing style, this book is a wide departure from her usual suspense genre though, so would I still love it? Quick answer, yes!
Its told in three timespans, the present, Lillianna’s childhood and her father Cal’s childhood. At first I hated Cal, almost as much as Lillianna does. Like her I thought why should she go back to him now he is suffering, how could her brother Greg still be close to him after their terrible childhood?
Her husband says though, that this could be her last chance, that from experience he thinks she will regret not taking it and she goes.
We meet Greg and his wife Sarah, Cal of course, and his siblings, and gradually he tells Lillianna the story of his own childhood.
Its heartbreaking, I was moved to tears by what happened to Greg and Emma (Lillianna) and also by the tragic story behind Cal’s early years. I suspect its a scene that was familiar back then, when it was normal to turn a blind eye to what happened behind closed doors. That does happen, even now in some families, not just those struggling for work but from all ends of the spectrum. The “walked into a door/had a fall/tripped on stairs” excuses people use to hide the truth. Sometimes it’s because of fear, but so often its rooted in love for the abuser.
I did find it hard to accept that their mother loved them but yet didn’t stop what was happening. Love for Cal – should it over-ride her responsibility to the kids, make them complicit in covering what happened? Its a tough one, Cal and Cassandra shared a real soul melding connection, and yet when things went wrong in life the effects hit all the family. After Cal’s upbringing you’d think he’d be more aware of the dangers and yet he repeats the cycle, something research shows is incredibly common, abusers were very often abused themselves.
Its a hard review to write without giving away what happened, but its a book that’s riveting to read, incredibly emotional and one I found hard to put down.
There’s no happy ending, as in my usual reading choices, no real winners, but there is a satisfying sense of closure, of a past finally dealt with, of letting go of anger, that only harms the person feeling that emotion.
Its easy to hold on to bitterness and resentment, but in honesty that damages us personally more than anyone else, and Susan shows us its possible to get past that, to remember old hurts but with fresh eyes, and be a better person for it.
I like to think as a parent I did the best I could but looking back I can see there were things I could have done differently, I guess that’s common to most of us. We only get one shot at life, and we do what feels right at the time. Whether that is the right way only time can tell.
Stars: Five, an emotional, at times tearful, read. Made me look into what makes us tick as humans, how our past and present affect our behaviour, shape us as people, and one I’m sure I’ll reread.
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Persistent Intruder, Kay Brooks
I saw the romance tag, didn’t realise it was also suspense, but that’s fine, I like romantic suspense for an occasional read. I enjoyed this story, though I felt the actual romance side wasn’t particularly strong.
Brian, well, when we first meet him and learn of his plans for a child I thought he was pretty cold, didn’t really like him. I know he’s had a problematic past with women but even so, he seemed so clinical about the whole thing.
Its back to my personal feelings about how children show be welcomed to be loved, not to be an accessory or simply an heir for someones genes, and I got the impression that heir was what Brian really wanted, not a child to love.
Still, there’s a quick burst of passion between him and Natalie, and of course the pregnancy that results. There isn’t a relationship though, will Brian just want the child and not her, if she tells him she’s pregnant? He has the money to do what he wants. Can she take that risk?
Then of course there’s that passion that they both thought would be easy to leave behind after the weekend, but feelings aren’t that easy, don’t fall in with our plans do they?
Of course that’s all complicated by the deranged stalker Brian has, and that suspense angle was excellent in the main, even though I did feel actions from all of them stretched credulity at times.
It was a fun read, interesting but I felt the romance side wasn’t as well worked as the suspense. For me I prefer the romance to be the stronger part of the story and I wasn’t totally convinced in Brian and Natalie.
Stars: Four, an easy read, but I would have liked more emphasis on relationship building, the romance side, to balance the very cold Brian we first met. I wasn’t convinced he could change that easily.
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers
Touch of Smoke, Karissa Laurel
Genre: Romance, Sci-fi and Fantasy.
I loved Karissa’s Norse Chronicles, a really unusual supernatural series in a genre that’s dominated by vampires and werewolves. I was hoping she’d put that same unique spin on this book, and wasn’t disappointed.
This story is told in a past/present format, with a three year gap between the two time periods. I really enjoyed the way the tension is built, that we know something supernatural is happening, but not what or why.
I could see how Rikki felt that events were strange and yet like most of us, she dismissed her feelings as wrong. Well, who really believes in a supernatural answer, we’re creatures who believe in the obvious answer, and not the spooky one that we can’t really believe in.
I loved the characters, from Rikki and Mina, Owen and Luke, diner owner Rose, and Rikki’s mum who’s the town sheriff. Rikki wasn’t expecting to fall for Owen, being focused on escaping the town, but her friend Luke returns bringing Owen with him and they both seem set to settle in the town. That poses a problem for Rikki, who wants to do her training in a place four hours away….
And then the big mystery, huge events, Mina dies, Rikki can’t quite believe what she saw, what terrified her, what gives her nightmares still. She finds it hard to believe Owen could do what she remembers, but now three years later she’s ready – maybe – to face up to what she ran from, to seek answers.
I love the way it all slowly falls into place, how once more Karissa has turned to a more unusual form of supernatural entity for her story.
I loved Owen from the start, but could see how the secrets were wearing on Rikki, how she was struggling to convince herself about what she’d seen, whether it was real or her imagination, but those nightmares and Mina’s death were certainly real. And scary!
I enjoyed the way it wrapped up, it was a very satisfying ending. I hate when there are unanswered questions or solutions that come too easily and with supernatural stories I feel too often a slip of magic is used as answer and it feels too slick. I want my solutions to be hard won, to require energy, effort, sacrifice, not just a metaphorical wave of a hand. This ending was perfect.
Stars: Five, another fabulous read from Karissa.
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Amazing Grace, A heart warming feel good romantic comedy, Kim Nash
Genre: Romance, Women’s fiction
Gah, once more, Women’s Fiction – just why? Men read and write romance, don’t lets exclude them.
Anyway, this proved to be a fun read, I wouldn’t call it comedic, but it certainly had some lighthearted moments. The characters felt very real, like people I could know, and that’s important for me to enjoy a story.
Mark, what a complete ar se. Sadly there’s a few like him, think their job, their needs take precedence over everything, and like a fifties throwback they assume their wives and kids should take a back seat. He cheats, gets caught and thankfully Grace gives him the heave-ho.
I found it a bit slick how easily a woman years out of the job market swept into a perfect job, and can manage a mortgage too on the perfect house. Real life is a bit tougher than that, at least here in UK it is. She’s picking herself up though, and building a new life for her and Archie.
Monica, her friend, encourages her out of her safe zone of job, Archie and home into a new look and updated wardrobe, and signs her up for internet dating. I loved the dating experiences, could see them being very accurate. Of course romance when it comes is from an entirely coincidental contact, via Vinnie who comes to see her trees that need cutting back.
I loved Vinnie, a perfect gentleman and so good for Grace. He was a real treasure, genuine, kind, good to Archie and perfect for Grace. The garden transformation made me so jealous, even though its fictional!
Its a cute story, predictably once Grace has someone Mark gets jealous and tries to interfere. Fat club, been to them like many ladies and Kim is spot on. I gave up on one where a huge discussion evolved over whether a tin of tuna was half a fat gram or quarter of a fat gram. Life is just far too short! A club like the one Grace and ruth started would be perfect.
I didn’t like the snippets from beyond, where her deceased mum is talking, didn’t see the relevance at first, and later when it became relevant it still jarred on me a bit. Its not that I don’t believe, more it just didn’t feel right to me.
I guess my biggest disappointment was the ending though, its a huge drama, and that was great and then…next page and wham, we’ve moved waay forward. I wanted a bit more wrapping up of that drama.
Also there’s a secret Vinnie is holding which is taunted all the way through, brought up at relevant times and seems something that could be big, huge, a deal breaker, but when we get to last few pages it almost feels like the author though “oh, what shall I do about xxx? Oh I know, this will do…” the big reveal, the answer, just didn’t fit the mystery and secrecy of it for me, I expected something much bigger, much better.
Stars: Three and a half, its a fun read, very easy to follow and at times very real but there were a few minor points that didn’t feel right to me.
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Dancer’s Flame, Grace Bloods: Book 2, Jasmine Silvera
Genre: General Fiction (adult), Sci-fi and Fantasy
I loved the first book in this series, but found it a little harder to connect with this one. There is so much going on, so many new characters and its such an unusual world. I feel its one of those stories where once all parts are out and I do a back to back reading session I’ll get so much more from it, having learned more about the world setting. This has Gods ( definitely plural) who aren’t necessarily benign or even easy to understand, Necromancers who can live thousands of years, the retinue of assorted supernaturals each necromancer has accrued over time, witches, werewolves, no doubt other supernaturals yet to be seen. Oh, and plain old humans….In this story there area couple of new supernaturals, Golems, fitting as its set in Prague and someone that poses a huge threat to everyone even if he doesn’t mean to, who of course Isela wants to save and others are keen to kill.
We see more of Isela and Azreal, which is great, I love those two, Gregor, in his usual taciturn protective self, along with some new folk from Azreal’s team. Of course nothings going smoothly, and once more supernaturals are threatening Azrael’s city, and it culminates in a huge, and at times to me confusing, climax. What’s next for the team.
I love that Jasmine has created such a fabulously different world, but it has the downside that its quite intense to read and follow, to understand who is whom, and how they fit into the story. I know though, that once I’ve fully got to grips this will be a solid five star series.
Stars: Four and a half. The half off is simply because at times the whole story and characters did get a bit confusing, however I know a second read will give me so much more, and I expect I’ll pick up on things I missed first reading.
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The Girl He Used to Know, Tracey Garvis Graves
Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews
Genre: Romance, women’s fiction.
Usual moan, women’s fiction – just why? Why assume men won’t want to read something? Isn’t that as sexist as assuming women’s wont/can’t do something, enjoy something?
I adored this story, refreshing, unique and satisfying on the romance front, its a simple plot but has so much contained within it. My only criticism ( well my only two crits!) were I wasn’t convinced by the break-up, I know it was a pretty dark time for both, and Annika’s unique perspective made it harder, but it didn’t feel right to me. I didn’t think they’d end just like that. Then the actual ending felt a bit rushed, hurried, especially given the intensity of the preceding few pages, taking in 9/11 and really making the reader feel events on a personal level. I’d have liked a bit more detail, maybe an epilogue a few months/years later. As it was I got to end and was tapping Kindle, convinced there was still more to read.
I loved Annika, felt for her as I have the same, though on a much smaller scale, issue with social occasions and people. I don’t always “read” conversations, spend time wondering just what to say and practicing different lines in my head….Poor girl has it so much more though, for me its just a nuisance, for her its coloured her whole life. As we read further we begin to see just how much, just how hard it was for her mum to balance protecting her child against teaching her independence in a cruel world. We only get one shot as parents and for kids like Annika most parents just have to do what they think best.
I loved her roommate who became a life long friend. She helped Annika so much, at college and years after, but what folk often miss is seen here, she also gained from knowing Annika, made her understand others better, gave her a different way of seeing the world. Life for someone with disabilities isn’t all depending on others, we have a lot to give too and Tracey shows that so well here. It comes over too when she finally meets Jonathon, he needs to be different with Annika, to work at it if he wants a relationship with her, and he can see how vulnerable in ways she is and yet how her openness and way of saying exactly what she means is refreshing, there’s no game playing, no deception in dealing with people like Annika. Some can’t take it, others value it for the gem it is.
Jonathon is wonderful, patient when getting to know Annika and loves her uniqueness. I found it hard, knowing how close they were, how in love, that he would let their relationship end but he did, it did. Then when they meet ten years later, despite all that’s happened t o both of them in between they still have that same attraction. Jonathon has been married and divorced though, he’s not sure he wants to open to Annika again, nit sure he can deal with getting his heart broken again if it goes wrong. Annika has done so much though, really worked at her issues in the intervening years, and sees a therapist. I loved those insights, when the therapist is helping her decide what to do, helping her analyse what action, what worked, what didn’t. That was a great insight into how she’s coped with life, and also just how hard and tiring it was for her. Everyday issues become major hurdles and when one’s brain is full on constantly it is very exhausting.
Its a fabulous story, some gentle but very real romance, some valuable insights into life as a person who thinks differently to most others, and some realistic events over 9/11. I could imagine that playing out exactly as Tracey has written it.
I don’t know if she knows anyone with Annika’s issues or if its from research but from someone who shares a few traits though on a much lesser scale I can say its incredibly well written and made Annika and her problems feel so believable.
I wasn’t sure about requesting this, I’m so glad I did , its a wonderful story.
Stars: Five, a perfect read, very different than just the usual reunion romance. I just wish there was more of an ending.
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The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction.
A very disquieting novel. Written so well its easy to forget this is fiction, because sadly stories like it were real life for too many people – still are in certain parts of the world.
Its starts with the trial, and then reverts to Frannie’s early life, how it differed from the other slaves once she reached a certain age. It left her in a kind of no-mans land, neither accepted by the slaves because of her differences, and of course never accepted by whites, her skin colour, heritage and position in life precluded that.
What it didn’t preclude though was them using her, and poor Fannie has a pretty horrific life, culminating in the murder trial.
She’s adamant she didn’t do it, but the time is a blank to her, and the “evidence” is very strongly against her. When you read the story you’ll understand why she says she simply could not have killed her mistress.
Its a mixture of Frannie’s story, and the way people of any colour were regarded in those times, the way the ruling classes regarded anyone below them, whatever colour they were, as disposable, lesser, of having no feelings and they way they were used is shocking and yet horribly true.
There were things she had to do, no choice if she wanted to stay alive, that had me feeling really sick. Its easy from our safe world to say we’d never take part in such atrocities but if we were living her life, well, its a lot harder to decide. Those parts I skimmed over, just taking in the bare bones as I’m horribly squeamish and get nightmares, but always conscious that for many this WAS real life. Man ( men and women) really is one of the cruelest animals, there seems no end to the depravity they can conduct, and back then they had free rein citing their activities as “science” and therefore important.
Stars:Four, a perfectly written story, fascinating in parts but was just that bit too much for me to give a five to. One I’m glad I read, albeit skimming the more uncomfortable parts, but not for my re-readers files.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers
The Dream Daughter, Diane Chamberlain
Genre: General fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction,
Ah no, not another “women’s fiction” classification – why assume men won’t read this?
Anyway, that aside, what a fabulous read. Enthralling, making me wonder “what if” ? Make me think about the temptation to change things in situations like this. Really though, the act itself must have repercussions and certainly Hunter is knowingly breaking the Golden rule when he helps Caroline, but then, how could he not help?
I loved the way little things were included so that the puzzle of Hunter not talking to anyone in the hospital and then seeing Caroline and getting her to help me – thus setting in motion the whole chain of events – ties up later in the novel where we find out just why Hunter talked to her while refusing help from anyone else.
The whole novel is so full of emotion, and light spots I didn’t expect, but was so glad to find. Then there’s the angst over Vietnam in 1970 to how its almost a passing historical note later. Its full of “what if” questions, what should one do if one has the knowledge, is the risk worth the benefit, how far would you go for your child’s life? It gave me lots to think about.
I enjoyed the way it was formatted too, seeing both sides of the story concurrently. I’m old enough to recall the seventies as a teen and though I’m UK not US so much felt the same, life was so much simpler then even if it did mean that technology wasn’t there to save babies like Caroline’s. My grand-kids find it incredible we had no mobiles ( well apart from the ones hanging above cots!), no computers, games consoles, only three or four TV channels….it really is a different world now. I remember thinking my grandfather must see cars and aeroplanes as strange, growing up without them. Now I’m in the other side of progress.
I understood a bit why Patti ( Caroline’s sister and Hunter’s wife)was kept in the dark about the plans, but would have felt as she did, betrayed, devastated. Seeing how the decision affected their marriage and later, her relationship with Caroline was hard, I felt so much for both sides.
I’ve tried not to give too much away but it really is an incredible read, very believable and wraps up perfectly.
Stars: Five, a perfect read, full of terrific characters, real tough sacrifices and questions about how far we will go for loved ones.
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A Shadow Beyond, Emma-Nicole Lewis
Genre: Historical fiction, Contemporary Fiction,
I don’t read books like this often, but sometimes I want to just dip into a different genre, refresh my reading tastes, and this is in the mould of Susanna Kearsley, Barbara Erskine with its past and present, characters linked by history format. Its a lovely long read too, not one of those 150 pages where story is so crammed plots don’t have time to develop.
Its not one I couldn’t put aside, and in fact I did read it over three or four sessions, reading other stuff in between. Sometimes a story just can’t be put down, other times I like to stop and mull over what I’ve read.
I recall reading about a village that closed itself off during the plague, to stop the spread, there are any number who stayed closed to keep plague out, but few who did it, sacrificed themselves to keep plague contained. That takes a really strong group. They were very devout religious folk though, and believing this edict came from God helped, convinced them they were doing what god wanted. Of course the cynic in me notes the wealthy families decamped at first sign of plague, as always it was the common folk who made the sacrifice.
Still, cynicism apart, it was an incredible sacrifice, and one that bears remembrance.
I loved reading about the historical characters, how they lived, the connections between families, and of course just what was haunting Thornycroft. The suspense is very deftly written and it seemed to me most times we jumped from past to present or present to past each new chapter started where old one left off, so Rachel would be scared by something back in the past and at the crucial moment the book would jump forward and we’d see Kate discovering what has scared her. It gave a great feeling of continuity to the story.
I loved characters, past and present, didn’t see the twist in present times, though I’d guessed some of the past twist, and whichever time I was reading I became totally absorbed in what was happening. I have a small criticism in that though the book was deliciously long I felt the ending was rushed, crammed in too small a space, and it didn’t really bring out the incredible connections of past and present. I kind of felt I was looking at % bar and thinking “ so when will we? Will she tell us ?” and it all kind of fell into one complete few pages, or at least it appeared that way while reading.
There is romance here, both past and present but its very muted, very much a tertiary plot to the main suspense angle.
Stars: Four, I really enjoyed this, but wished there was a less rushed ending. It did all tie up properly, nothing was missed but it felt like each plot came to the crux at the same time and I didn’t feel that did the story justice.
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