Category: reviews

October 12, 2017

Review | Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

Review | Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin DickeyGhostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey
Publisher: Viking, October 2016
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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An intellectual feast for fans of offbeat history, Ghostland takes readers on a road trip through some of the country's most infamously haunted places--and deep into the dark side of our history.

Colin Dickey is on the trail of America's ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and "zombie homes," Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as "the most haunted mansion in America," or "the most haunted prison"; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.

With boundless curiosity, Dickey conjures the dead by focusing on questions of the living--how do we, the living, deal with stories about ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed, for whatever reason, haunted? Paying attention not only to the true facts behind a ghost story, but also to the ways in which changes to those facts are made--and why those changes are made--Dickey paints a version of American history left out of the textbooks, one of things left undone, crimes left unsolved. Spellbinding, scary, and wickedly insightful, Ghostland discovers the past we're most afraid to speak of aloud in the bright light of day is the same past that tends to linger in the ghost stories we whisper in the dark.

Even if the paranormal isn’t your cup of tea, there’s no denying a certain mystical element to American history. From the haunted streets of Salem to the plains of the Native American nations, there’s a piercing awareness that we’re not alone. Colin Dickey’s Ghostland was meant to tell this story.

I say “meant” intentionally. Dickey divvied up his book first into different types of ghost stories (graveyards, cities, etc.), then into various locations within each category. I was thrilled. Usually, I’m not a big paranormal fan, but the prospect of combining my recent love for true crime (thanks to My Favorite Murder) and our newfound desire to travel America, I was hooked. The chapter that sealed the deal? New Orleans. I went to the Big Easy a year ago for work, so I can’t wait to go back with M.

But I digress…

I was hoping Ghostland would tell me the ghost stories of America, paired with the unique history of each, and leave me marking my travel map with must-sees. Instead, Dickey dissects each tale with a faintly condescending academia, implying how people are crazy for not looking at these stories in a coherent light.

Sure, finding out the truth about the secret staircase in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home, House of Seven Gables, was fascinating. Unique. Defined America’s perception of not only the house but the author. But I wanted the story, not the analytics.

Chapter after chapter, story after story, Dickey analyzed each tale to death (no pun intended) so that I began skipping his critiques and read the short paragraph telling the story, then researching it on Wikipedia.

So why three stars? Because Dickey was honest about the book’s focus. I had built it up in my mind to be more than it was. His versions of the stories were engaging and fascinating, inspiring me to search them out for myself.

If you’re looking for tales about haunted America, I’d suggest looking elsewhere. But if you are hoping for a realistic perception and critical analysis of America’s ghost stories, Ghostland is for you.

3 Stars

Posted October 12, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 9, 2017

Review | Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Review | Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia LevensellerDaughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King, #1
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, February 2017
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
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There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

Let’s be honest. The helpless damsel-in-distress story was getting a little worn out. It’s the age of Hermione, of heroines who aren’t waiting for the strong male hero to sweep down and save the day. Not that I’m opposed to strong male heroes. But when the heroine is a fighter, well, that’s my kind of story.

Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King tells the story of Alosa, daughter of the famed pirate king and scrappy pirate captain in her own right. Dispatched to retrieve the map to long-hidden treasure, Alosa, disguised, allows herself to be captured and swept onto the enemy ship.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of Alosa. She was blunt to the point of painful, and her callousness towards her rented crew bothered me so I almost returned the book to the library unfinished. But Levenseller slowly revealed the motives, scars, and dreams behind her rough’n’ready heroine, and I was instantly caught in the story. Alosa was determined, reckless, brave to the point of stupid, and unsure about falling in love with the man she was supposed to hate.

I loved how Levenseller nurtured Riden, the first mate of the enemy ship and son of the lost-treasure pirate. It wasn’t quick, visible, or easy (definitely not easy). It was a slow-burning evolution of trust, respect, and attracting. This unexpected combination hit the jackpot and created the compelling narrative that I just can’t get enough of.

When I thought I had Alosa figured out, knew all her secrets, she threw another one at me. The plot twists and turns in the last half of the novel (expected). Some of these I loved, but others felt like just too much. It was overload like Levenseller was trying to cram everything in before the end. If the pacing had settled out more, it wouldn’t have felt so cramped.

Either way, I’ve got Daughter of the Siren Queen on my wishlist, and I can’t wait. Levenseller is quickly becoming one of my top must-by YA authors.

4 Stars

Posted October 9, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 6, 2017

Review | Vienna Waltz by Teresa Grant

Review | Vienna Waltz by Teresa GrantVienna Waltz by Teresa Grant
Series: Rannoch/Fraser Publication Order, #4
Publisher: Kensington, April 2011
Pages: 436
Format: Paperback
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Nothing is fair in love and war. . .

Europe's elite have gathered at the glittering Congress of Vienna--princes, ambassadors, the Russian tsar--all negotiating the fate of the continent by day and pursuing pleasure by night. Until Princess Tatiana, the most beautiful and talked about woman in Vienna, is found murdered during an ill-timed rendezvous with three of her most powerful conquests. . .

Suzanne Rannoch has tried to ignore rumors that her new husband, Malcolm, has also been tempted by Tatiana. As a protégé of France's Prince Talleyrand and attaché for Britain's Lord Castlereagh, Malcolm sets out to investigate the murder and must enlist Suzanne's special skills and knowledge if he is to succeed. As a complex dance between husband and wife in the search for the truth ensues, no one's secrets are safe, and the future of Europe may hang in the balance. . .

Realistically, there’s no way to learn the entire history of the world in the typical K-12, four-year college education. I get that. But when I come across historical events like the Congress of Vienna, portrayed in Teresa Grant’s Vienna Waltz, I wish we could.

A little background

From November 1814 to June 1815, Europe’s latest and greatest met in Vienna to work together to create peace in the war-torn continent. Among them were Austria, Britain, France, and Russia. One can only imagine the drama.

 

One like Grant. Her Vienna Waltz opens with the tsar’s paramour, Princess Tatiana, is found murdered in her apartments, Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch, British attache, find themselves on the hunt for the killer. Haunted by their own rocky marriage of convenience, a building attraction, the whispers of Malcolm’s relationship with Tatiana, and not to mention the monumental task of navigating through sticky social situations, their mission is far from easy.

The dance has, in other words, begun.

Vienna Waltz would have caught my attention regardless, due to the prospect of a new piece of history to discover. But it was the drama, the need to know just how Malcolm and Suzanne turned out, that kept me reading. With the massive amount of characters that stole the spotlight, their story kept the novel grounded.

Unfortunately, like so many historical fiction novels, Vienna Waltz fell victim to the dreaded info dumping. Some details helped portray the atmosphere, the setting, the mood. But others became too much and, instead of bringing the story to light, weighed it down.

For those who like a little bit of intrigue with their history, Vienna Waltz will hit the spot.

3 Stars

Posted October 6, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 5, 2017

Review | Gone by Jonathan Kellerman

Review | Gone by Jonathan KellermanGone (Alex Delaware #20) by Jonathan Kellerman
Publisher: Ballantine Books, January 1st 1970
Pages: 365
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Now the incomparable team of psychologist Alex Delaware and homicide cop Milo Sturgis embark on their most dangerous excursion yet, into the dark places where risk runs high and blood runs cold ... a story tailor-made for the nightly news: Dylan Meserve and Michaela Brand, young lovers and fellow acting students, vanish on the way home from a rehearsal. Three days later, the two of them are found in the remote mountains of Malibu --- battered and terrified after a harrowing ordeal at the hands of a sadistic abductor.
The details of the nightmarish event are shocking and brutal: The couple was carjacked at gunpoint by a masked assailant and subjected to a horrific regimen of confinement, starvation and assault. But before long, doubts arise about the couple's story, and as forensic details unfold, the abduction is exposed as a hoax. Charged as criminals themselves, the aspiring actors claim emotional problems, and the court orders psychological evaluation for both.
Michaela is examined by Alex Delaware, who finds that her claims of depression and stress ring true enough. But they don't explain her lies, and Alex is certain that there are hidden layers in this sordid psychodrama that even he hasn't been able to penetrate. Nevertheless, the case is closed --- only to be violently reopened when Michaela is savagely murdered. When the police look for Dylan, they find that he's gone. Is he the killer or a victim himself? Casting their dragnet into the murkiest corners of L.A., Delaware and Sturgis unearth more questions than answers --- including a host of eerily identical killings. What really happened to the couple who cried wolf? And what bizarre and brutal epidemic is infecting the city with terror, madness, and sudden, twisted death?

If you disappeared, would anyone notice?

That’s the gamble young lovers  Dylan Meserve and Michaela Brand risk when they stage their own abduction and horrific ordeal. The romance of their harrowing escape fades away as they tell their story over and over to the police and, slowly, it falls apart. When the real story emerges, Michaela Brand is sent to forensic psychologist Alex Delaware.

You’d think that would be the entire story, right? It’s got tension, drama, even tragic(cally misled) young lovers – the whole nine yards. But you’d be wrong, as I was – all this occurs in the first few chapters of the book.

When I picked up Jonathan Kellerman’s Gone, I was looking for another police procedural to fill the void between “In Death” releases and the wait until my latest Sue Grafton request arrived at the library hold shelf. Alex Delaware, with his background in psychology and massive story library, felt like the right fit.

Maybe it’s because I started on book 20, but Alex and I… well, we just didn’t jive. Not that I disliked him – quite the opposite. But he felt like a peripheral character in his own series, so on the fringe that I forgot about him. He fell into the passive narration too often instead of the active storyteller that I longed for.

Michaela, Dylan and the entire cast of characters that made appearances in Gone captivated me. They were fascinating, terrifying, and entirely too real for my comfort. (Let’s just say I got up to double check the locks more than once that night.)

I loved the dive into the psychological element of crime that Gone takes; it brings a new element to the standard police procedural. Who better to examine the psyches of a criminal than a forensic psychologist?

Ultimately, I think I need to give Alex another go. But this time, I think I’ll start at the beginning.

4 Stars

Posted October 5, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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October 2, 2017

Review | Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler

Review | Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann FowlerZ: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, March 2013
Pages: 375
Format: Hardcover
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When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the "ungettable" Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner's, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.

Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby's parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott's, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda's irresistible story as she herself might have told it.

Out of the many famous literary wives scattered across history, Zelda Fitzgerald stands alone. An author, painter and creator in her own right, she has captured emotions across the decades: fascination, admiration, dislike, even pity. Yet even with a reputation like that, she is still so often overpowered by her famous husband.

I learned about F. Scott Fitzgerald in high school and, as any college student can tell you, had The Great Gatsby burned into my brain (luckily, I learned to love it, but that’s a different post). But I can’t remember a single teacher of mine mentioning Zelda.

Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald brings Zelda alive in the best way. She was funny, vibrant, slightly narcissistic, and oh-so-young. The last trait is the most memorable: when the

The last feature is the most memorable. When the novel begins, she’s a silly young debutante, the flower of her father’s eye and the cause of a twitch in her mother’s. It’s natural to act young, simply because she is. But as the story progresses and Zelda evolves, that same characteristic sticks to her like glue. For better or for worse, Zelda would be young at heart.

It’s a mixed blessing: her constant naivete allows her to see the bright side of things, to hope, but it also damns her, in a way only the reader can see.

Her relationship with F. Scott was nothing like the fairy tale I (or Zelda) expected. Two peas in a pod, of the same mind, cut from the same cloth – whatever metaphor works for you. The same attraction that drew them together was doomed to rip apart and reunite them throughout their lives. It was predictable, yet poignant.

That’s not to say there weren’t times I yelled at the words on the page, urging her to get the hell out of there, to not put up with his bull any longer. I begged her to not listen to his sweet promises or to come to her senses when another was broken. It was one of the most addicting dysfunctional relationships I’ve read in a long time.

In the end, Zelda was me, and I was her. I was with her in the last scene, through the epilogue. This naive young girl who never quite grew up changed my perspective, thanks to Fowler’s unique, enchanting storytelling.

4 Stars

Posted October 2, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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August 5, 2017

Review | Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell

Review | Unhooked by Lisa MaxwellUnhooked by Lisa Maxwell
Publisher: Simon Pulse, February 2016
Pages: 342
Format: Hardcover
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For as long as she can remember, Gwendolyn Allister has never had a place to call home—all because her mother believes that monsters are hunting them. Now these delusions have brought them to London, far from the life Gwen had finally started to build for herself. The only saving grace is her best friend, Olivia, who’s coming with them for the summer.

But when Gwen and Olivia are kidnapped by shadowy creatures and taken to a world of flesh-eating sea hags and dangerous Fey, Gwen realizes her mom might have been sane all along.

The world Gwen finds herself in is called Neverland, yet it’s nothing like the stories. Here, good and evil lose their meaning and memories slip like water through her fingers. As Gwen struggles to remember where she came from and find a way home, she must choose between trusting the charming fairy-tale hero who says all the right things and the roguish young pirate who promises to keep her safe.

With time running out and her enemies closing in, Gwen is forced to face the truths she’s been hiding from all along. But will she be able to save Neverland without losing herself?

Unhooked is not the Neverland you know. In an age of fairy tales reimaginings, Maxwell’s twist on the classic Peter Pan is unsettling and addictive. Peter is no longer the slight boy who whisks Wendy and her family out of their bedroom window; instead, Gwen and her friend Olivia kidnapped and taken into another world: that Neverland that leaves you slightly unsettled and on the edge of your seat.

Not your typical fairy tale.

Many fairy tale retellings merely repeat their namesake stories and add a few twists here and there. Don’t get me wrong – those have a place in my heart. Maxwell’s Unhooked on the other hand throws an entire tornado into the classic tale’s plotline and turns the world upside down.

It was these powerful plot twists that kept me reading through Unhooked. I had expected something along the lines of the Disney movie I watched every night growing up but quickly realized that Maxwell wasn’t one for adapting to others’ ideas. Instead, she tore apart the characters, from Hook to Peter to Wendy, and recreated them from the ground up. It was fascinating.

This is not the Neverland you are looking for.

The plot and characters weren’t the only ones that underwent a significant shift to the dark side. Neverland itself was built into this beautiful, mystical world with virtually a mind of its own. More dangerous than expected (by Gwen or me), it quickly evolved into its own character and occasionally took the story by storm.

But the timing…

While I loved the character twists and plot – let’s be honest here, those aren’t twists – hurricanes, it felt like the narration occasionally got distracted or ran away with too many details. I wanted to know what was happening with the characters, not how the – admittedly fascinating – atmosphere was setting the scene.

Regardless, the unexpected re-visioning of this well-loved story unexpectedly drew me in. It was fun, twisted, and just a touch too dark. Perfect for those who loved Drown and other darker fairy tale retellings.

3 Stars

Posted August 5, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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August 2, 2017

Review | Voyager by Diana Gabaldon

Review | Voyager by Diana GabaldonVoyager by Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander, #3
Publisher: Delta, December 1993
Pages: 870
Format: Paperback
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From the author of the breathtaking bestsellers Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, the extraordinary saga continues.
Their passionate encounter happened long ago by whatever measurement Claire Randall took. Two decades before, she had traveled back in time and into the arms of a gallant eighteenth-century Scot named Jamie Fraser. Then she returned to her own century to bear his child, believing him dead in the tragic battle of Culloden. Yet his memory has never lessened its hold on her... and her body still cries out for him in her dreams.
Then Claire discovers that Jamie survived. Torn between returning to him and staying with their daughter in her own era, Claire must choose her destiny. And as time and space come full circle, she must find the courage to face the passion and pain awaiting her...the deadly intrigues raging in a divided Scotland... and the daring voyage into the dark unknown that can reunite or forever doom her timeless love.

If Outlander was about finding your true love and Dragonfly in Amber about making heartbreaking decisions, Voyager tells of consequences.

Typically, “consequences” has a negative connotation. It’s used by parents to frighten their children into behaving, by teachers motivating their students into completing the homework. But in Gabaldon’s world, consequences are more than that. They’re the results of the love of Outlander, the tough decisions made in Dragonfly, and the turmoil of Voyager.

The love of Outlander

Watching Claire try to rebuild her life after Jamie was heartbreaking. I didn’t know if I would make it through those sections. But she grew a little bit stronger, page after page, and me with her. Even though I knew they had to get back together at some point, the distance of 200 years never seemed so long.

Despite their love, Claire had to assume Jamie had died at Culloden and he only had the faint hope that she had made it back to her own century. The only solution was to move on, keep building, and keep the other’s memory alive. While I understood it, I struggled with Claire returning to Frank and Jamie’s various adventures. They were supposed to be together, damnit!

The consequences of the first two books created an entirely different relationship when they finally reunited in Voyager. I liked the dynamic, the acknowledgment that time has passed, that need to rediscover.

I was a little worried about how I would relate to the characters after so long had passed, but Gabaldon made it as easy as stepping forward into their world.

The decisions of Dragonfly

Dragonfly is full of decisions. Decisions to go to France to stop Prince Charles, to fight on the Culloden field, to return back to the 1940s. Each of these decisions played a huge role in how Voyager unfolded. I was surprised at how frustrated I got with some of the characters’ decisions. Maybe it’s hindsight, maybe it’s foreshadowing, but I found myself hoping, desperately, that a particular character wouldn’t do this, wouldn’t do that. Kind of like when you wish the heroine in the scary movie would just MOVE AWAY FROM THE DARK, SCARY DOOR instead of opening it.

Yet, if they had, what kind of story would it have been?

I loved that Voyager brought some previous characters back into play (nope, no spoilers). They were entirely unexpected, but the plot twist increased the tension in an already tense end of the book.

The consequences of Voyager

Mainly, I was hooked. I had to know what happened, how they got there, and how on earth they were going to get out of the mess this time. It’s almost addictive, this need to delve back into the world of Jamie and Claire. I have the Drums of Autumn and The Fiery Cross on my shelves now, and it takes a constant strength to not run over, pluck up the next book and see how the romance of Jamie and Claire goes on.

5 Stars

Posted August 2, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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July 27, 2017

Review | Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Review | Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsNobody's Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars, #3
Publisher: AVON Books, February 1997
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
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Librarian Note: There is an Alternate Cover Edition for this edition of this book here.
Genius physics professor Dr. Jane Darlington desperately wants a baby. But finding a father won’t be easy. Jane’s super-intelligence made her feel like a freak when she was growing up, and she’s determined to spare her own child that suffering. Which means she must find someone very special to father her child. Someone who’s more comfortable working out his muscles than exercising his brain.
Cal Bonner, the Chicago Stars’ legendary quarterback, seems like the perfect choice. But his champion good looks and down-home ways are deceiving. Dr. Jane is about to learn a little too late that this good ol’ boy is a lot smarter than he lets on—and he’s not about to be used and abandoned by a brainy, baby-mad schemer.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Nobody’s Baby But Mine is one of those romantic comedies that make you laugh, cry, and cringe, occasionally all at once. Why? It all comes down to one thing: snap judgments.

Meet Jane.

Dr. Jane Darlington is a physicist, thankyouverymuch. Her research is world renown and, despite her boss’s efforts to dim her star, she is quickly becoming one of the bright lights in scientific research. But Jane still needs something to complete her life: a baby.

Jane is the nerdy girl who was unashamed of knowing the answer. Among scientific theory and experiments, she’s in her element. But in social situations, Jane’s a duck out of water. So, logically (because Jane is nothing but logical), she decides to get pregnant by some dumb jock that won’t want to have anything to do with her or the baby. While morally questionable, it’s not the worst plan in the world…but it all falls to pieces when she picks legendary Chicago Stars quarterback Cal Bonner to help.

Meet Cal.

Cal is sick of the young guys coming in and trying to usurp him on the team, especially Kevin Tucker. He’s stubborn, a bit cranky, and likes to be in control. After dating legions of young, beautiful girls Cal wants a woman with a little more substance, but Jane Darlington isn’t what he had in mind. Especially when Cal discovers he can’t quite keep his hands off her.

About those snap judgments…

As book lovers, we know the old adage about not judging a book by its cover, but Jane does just that. She pegs Cal as a dumb jock, the kind of guy who loves ’em and leaves ’em. While she’s not wrong on the latter part, none of them have gotten pregnant. And Cal isn’t the type of guy to let the woman carrying his baby just walk away.

Nobody’s Baby But Mine is built on snap judgments. Jane’s snap judgment of Cal leads her to the plot’s primary device while his judgment of her is the key that turns both their worlds upside down. Phillips’ dueling narration lets the reader in on how wrong they are about the other but lets them (sometimes painfully) work it out.

While I hope most world class physicists aren’t poking holes in their sports star lover’s condoms, Phillips embodies Nobody’s Baby with a sense of realism that makes her stories so much fun to read. Each character, from Cal’s family to Jane’s evil boss, become so real and vivid that I feel I drop into their world. I cheer for Jane even as I cringe at her choices. I sympathize with Cal even when he’s digging himself in a hole. And my heart melts at the last romantic scenes.

Phillips is always a winner, but Nobody’s Baby raises the bar for contemporary romance.

4 Stars

Posted July 27, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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July 26, 2017

Review | The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser

Review | The Book Jumper by Mechthild GlaserThe Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, January 2017
Pages: 371
Format: Hardcover
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Amy Lennox doesn't know quite what to expect when she and her mother pick up and leave Germany for Scotland, heading to her mother's childhood home of Lennox House on the island of Stormsay.Amy's grandmother, Lady Mairead, insists that Amy must read while she resides at Lennox House—but not in the usual way. Amy learns that she is a book jumper, able to leap into a story and interact with the world inside. As thrilling as Amy's new power is, it also brings danger: someone is stealing from the books she visits, and that person may be after her life. Teaming up with fellow book jumper Will, Amy vows to get to the bottom of the thefts—at whatever the cost.

It’s safe to say all book lovers have imagined jumping into a story. Maybe to search for the Sorcerer’s Stone with Harry Potter, to help save the day in Outlander, or to swoon over the dignified Mr. Darcy. Whatever your particular reading preferences, you know the feeling.

That was the big pull to Mechthild Glaser’s The Book Jumper. Amy Lennox isn’t an ordinary reader like the rest of us: she’s a book jumper. The ability to leap between the pages of a novel, any novel, runs in her family, so when she and her mother head to the family seat in Scotland, her grandmother naturally wants her to carry on the family tradition. But learning to jump into a book soon becomes the least of Amy’s worries.

I loved the premise and idea of The Book Jumper. The thought of meeting and interacting with characters I’ve long known and loved struck a chord in my bookish heart. I couldn’t resist. Unfortunately, Glaser’s novel wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Amy is a teenager, but she’s a painfully annoying one. She is young, selfish, and uncaring about anyone or anything else but herself. Granted, she’s gone through some tough times in her life, but her blinders soon created a character that I couldn’t imagine loving, let alone like.

The relationship between Amy and her mother reminded me a lot of the Gilmore Girls: a young mother, close in age to her daughter, has a more friend than parent relationship. The similarity continued when we met the grandmother, an overbearing, stubborn matriarch that rang closely of Emily Gilmore. But Glaser didn’t have time to develop the intricate ties that keep pulling us back to Star’s Hollow. Instead, her family dynamics were stretched too thin and awkwardly uncomfortable.

Even the romance was weird. With Amy as our narrator, the intense focus on herself painted her fellow student in a stilted light, forcing his character development to crumple as her overpowering ME ME ME controlled The Book Jumper.

In the end, Glaser’s fairy tale spin-off had great potential, but without a stronger (or kinder) main character/narrator, the book fell apart. Amy’s painful personality shut down the story before it had the chance to take off.

2 Stars

Posted July 26, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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July 25, 2017

Review | Echoes in Death by J.D. Robb

Review | Echoes in Death by J.D. RobbEchoes in Death by J.D. Robb
Series: In Death, #44
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks, February 2017
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
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Lieutenant Eve Dallas encounters her toughest case yet when New York's wealthiest couples are the targets of a calculated killer in Echoes in Death, a crime thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author J.D. Robb.
When the young woman--dazed, naked, and bloody--wanders in front of their car, Roarke slams on the brakes just in time, and Eve--still in glittering gown and heels--springs into action. It's been a long night for the tired homicide cop, and it's far from over.
Daphne Strazza is rushed to the ER, but it's too late for Dr. Anthony Strazza. A brilliant orthopedic surgeon, he now lies dead amid the wreckage of his obsessively organized town house, his three safes opened and emptied. Daphne would be a valuable witness, but in her terror and shock, the only description of the perp she can offer is repeatedly calling him "the devil."
While it emerges that Dr. Strazza was cold, controlling, and widely disliked--and that he treated Daphne like a trophy wife--this is one case where the evidence doesn't point to the spouse as the first suspect. So Eve and her team must get started on the legwork, interviewing everyone from dinner-party guests to professional colleagues to caterers, in a desperate race to answer some crucial questions:
What does the devil look like? And where will he show up next?

Home is a safe place. It’s where we go to relax, to unwind, to feel safe after dealing with whatever we’ve faced that day. But in J.D. Robb’s latest novel, Echoes in Death, that safety is violated when a killer destroys that santicty. Even worse? He’s dressed as our deepest fears.

There’s always a psychological element in Robb’s work, but Echoes in Death brings it to the forefront. She delves not only the psychology of the criminal, but into their many victims, their lives, and in turn, our own. It took me on a more personal thrill ride through my own fears (you can bet your doughnuts I got up to check the doors and windows were locked after finishing this book) that was pleasantly unexpected.

Each victim represents something we recognize in ourselves or in our lives. The first victim is struggling with an overpowering husband and an unhappy marriage. The second victims (a couple) feel more like the pinnacle relationship we all wish for. On and on, each brings something new to the table, something that will strike a chord in each individual reader. I loved it.

Eve, as always, kicks ass as the main protagonist. Her personality shines through even more while she’s helping the victims of the Echoes in Death criminal, creating the image of an avenging angel…that is, if angels wore magic leather coats and had short shaggy hair. In this installment, she reminded me most of Murphy, that sometimes love-interest/foil to Jim Butcher’s Dresden. Both have a great resemblance to the avenging angel stereotype, take absolutely no shit, and have no problem going after what they want. They are the type of female characters that I love to read.

From the theatrical, terrifying nature of this criminal to the dark psychological underbelly of society that they reveal, Echoes in Death is a winner for J.D. Robb’s fans and mystery lovers alike.

5 Stars

Posted July 25, 2017 by Ellen in reviews / 0 Comments
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