Book Review and Blog Tour: The Vicar’s Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack

The Vicar’s Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack

Cassie Wilton is the youngest of six daughters, twenty years old, and desperate to make her debut into society. Unfortunately, her father (the Vicar, obviously) only permits one of his daughters to be “out” at a time. The system has worked well until Lenora, the second-youngest daughter, who suffers from paralyzing shyness and social anxiety. With the arrival of Evan Glenside, former London clerk now raised to the status of heir to a considerable country estate, Cassie sees a way to help her sister and herself. Cassie decides to begin writing letters to Mr. Glenside, posing as Lenora, in order to strike up a romance between the two introverts. Unfortunately for Cassie, it is not long before the correspondence sparks strong feelings within herself. Cassie must choose between following her heart and being a good sister.

Well, I’m not usually a romance person, but the historical setting, and the flavors of Taming of the Shrew and Cyrano de Bergerac proved too tempting to ignore. I enjoyed the book up to a point; the characters are well written, the plot nicely paced, and the setting does well with historical accuracy. However, the overall tone of the book is a tad preachy, and I feel like the author does a bit of moralizing on the headstrong nature of Cassie Wilton.

It wasn’t until after I finished the book that I realized I had read another book by the author, A Heart Revealed, and that I’d had similar reservations about that book as well (the review was pre-blog, but you can see my Goodreads review here). 

In addition, as the Vicar’s Daughter went on, it became very hard to cheer for anyone. Do I root for the shy, kind, overlooked Lenora to get the man? Or should well-meaning protagonist Cassie come out on top? Should no one get the guy? With a romance novel like this, a happy ending is virtually assured, but it was hard to decide exactly what that happy ending should be.

In all, I feel like my hang-ups about the book boil down to it simply being not the best fit for me. As I said above, the book is well-written, with great dialogue and nicely-researched historical details. A lover of historical romance (or romances in general) will probably enjoy this book. It just wasn’t for me.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Travelers by Chris Pavone

The Travelers by Chris Pavone
Meet Will Rhodes – he’s living the dream as a journalist for the travel magazine Travelers, venturing to far-off places, being plied with free food and wine at exclusive restaurants, rubbing elbows with the rich and powerful. So what if the pay isn’t great and he’s deeply in debt, that he and his wife hardly see one another, he’s made it, right?

One night, in Argentina on an assignment, Will finds himself seduced by a beautiful blonde and pulled unwillingly into the world of international intrigue. Blackmailed into working for the blonde CIA agent (whoops), Will is forced to use his position as world traveler and professional schmoozer to gather intelligence on foreign nationals and American expats. As he gets pulled deeper and deeper down into the cesspool of espionage, it becomes clear the the web around him touches almost every aspect of his professional and personal life. Who can be trusted when everyone you know may be lying to you?

The cover text calls this book “Hitchcockian,” and they’re not far wrong. For the younger reader, I’d say this book trends somewhere between the television shows Alias and Archer. Pavine is great at keeping the tension going, the reader is fed just enough tidbits about the machinations going on in the background to foster a sense of paranoia about each and every character, and each and every interaction. At the same time, the tone of the book is darkly sarcastic and humorous, both eerily plausible and unexpectedly funny. The story does drag on in places, tightening up of a few things would have brought about a more streamlined book, but in all, this is an entertaining and fast-paced read.

I’d recommend this to fans of action movies and international thrillers. If you like your James Bond to include just a hint of Sterling Archer, this may be the book for you.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Nora Shaw lives an isolated life, and prefers it that way. She keeps to her schedule in her tiny studio in London, and relishes in the safety that her lack of social contact provides. Then one day, an email arrives, inviting her to her school friend Clare’s hen party. Nora hasn’t seen Clare in a decade, not since she walked out of school and never looked back. Reluctantly dragged into the party, Nora finds that not everything is as it seems. Something is deeply wrong at this party, and Nora must figure out what is going on before it costs her her life.

This is Ruth Ware’s debut novel, and it is an edge of the seat mystery/thriller. Ware paints a scary portrait of revenge and obsession, but as a reader, you’re never really sure who is truly obsessed. Nora herself seems to become more and more unreliable as a narrator as the story goes on, bringing everything that came before into question. The twists are numerous and surprising, once you’re sure you know where the book is going, it throws you in a different direction entirely. The false leads and narrative dead ends keep you guessing throughout the book.

Fans of books like The Girl on the Train and I See You, or fans of Tana French or Gillian Flynn will find a lot to like in this book.

Book Review: The Visionary Mayan Queen by Leonide Martin

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The Visionary Mayan Queen: Yohl Ik’nal of Palenque by Leonide Martin

This is a historical fiction novel about Yohl Ik’nal, a Maya queen who ascended to the throne of Palenque in 583CE. The book is the first in a trilogy detailing the early years of Yohl Ik’nal and her reign.

I didn’t finish the book. I had my doubts when it began with Yohl Ik’nal meditating in the jungle, then abruptly mind traveling to speak with a young (Scottish? Scandinavian?) girl who also visited the “realm of faeries.” While I’m not opposed to fantasy, I generally expect historical fictions to trend more towards history than outright fiction.

I also found the dialogue to be stilted and lacking in subtlety. Characters simply state their feelings to one another, or allow the omniscient narrator to tell us exactly what so-and-so was thinking. While Maya culture is formal and regimented, I feel there are better ways to demonstrate this than through awkward dialogue. Along these lines, Martin also gives the reader explanations and translations for various aspects of Maya life, often in parentheses within the paragraph. While this isn’t entirely a bid idea, this approach is more appropriate for an academic work; within a fictional setting the effect is jarring and tend to take the reader out of the story.

Leonide Martin is a scholar of Maya history, and there is no debating her knowledge. However, her strengths do not seem to lie in the fictional realm. A less fictional, more historical/anthropological work might be better suited to showcase her attention to detail and intimate knowledge of  the subject matter. Something along the lines of The Woman Who Would Be King, by Kara Cooney, which stays mostly within the verifiable history but adds in conjecture by the author would have worked well here.

In all, I feel like the fictional aspects of this book are not as engaging as they could be, and the historical aspects are not well integrated with the fictional portions of the book. Yohl Ik’nal is a fascinating figure, and one certainly deserving of wider attention. Maya history enthusiasts may still want to investigate this book, but this may not be the best for the more casual reader.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. The Visionary Mayan Queen is currently available for purchase.

 

Book Review: Warren the 13th and the Whispering Wood by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

This is the second book to feature the weird looking protagonist Warren the 13th. In the first book, Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, Warren had to fight off an evil witch to regain control of his family’s historic hotel. Click on the link above for my full review. Necessary caveat: Spoilers ahead for the previous Warren the 13th book.

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So now Warren is the happy proprietor of the Warren Hotel, which is the only hotel in the world to move around on legs, bringing its guests to new and exciting locations. His friends Petula (the trainee witch hunter) and Sketchy (the octopus monster) help him run the hotel alongside his buffoon of an uncle, his kindly tutor, the piratical chef, and Petula’s mother, world famous witch hunter and chief of security.

When word gets out that a famous witch hunter is living aboard the Warren, the queen of the witches sets a bounty on the hotel and everyone in it. When the hotel is hijacked and brought into the Malwoods (where witches live, of course), Warren and his friends must race to save the hotel and one another.

I have to say that I really enjoy these books. Even though they are geared towards children, the plot and dialogue still sit well with older readers like me. Combine that with the Edward Gorey-style artwork, and this is simply a wonderfully fun book. del Rio and Staehle have carried through the puzzles and riddles from the previous book, and readers are invited to solve them themselves as the book goes on. The plot has a surprising amount of layers to it for a children’s book, and let’s not forget that as this is a kid’s book, we can count on a happy ending no matter what.

I would recommend this series for someone looking for a children’s book that is a bit off the beaten path. If you’re tired of happy bunnies and racing turtles and what not, this might be the book for you.

 

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Night Bird by Brian Freeman


The Night Bird by Brian Freeman

Sitting in traffic on the San Francisco Bay Bridge, a young woman has a sudden, violent mental breakdown. Tearing the flesh of her arms, torso, and face, she appears to be running from some invisible horror when she throws herself off the bridge.

And she is not the first. Detective Frost Easton is heading the investigation of similar deaths in the city, all with one common thread: Psychiatrist Dr. Francesca Stein. Dr. Stein’s controversial methods of helping highly phobic patients seem to be falling apart, unless someone is out there, targeting her former patients in a twisted attack. When Dr. Stein begins to receive taunting messages signed by “The Night Bird,” the clock is ticking for her and Easton to find the psychopath before more people die . . .

This is an enjoyable and fast-paced mystery. I greatly enjoyed the use the author made of the fragility of memory and the power of suggestion. The beginning (after the fantastic first casualty) was a bit awkward and stilted, but Freeman quickly finds his voice. Some aspects of the plot and the characters are a bit out there, but that may well be attributable to the story being set in proudly weird San Francisco.

In all, I enjoyed this book, some parts were genuinely creepy, and the requisite plot twists included several I didn’t see coming. Fans of darker mysteries will probably enjoy this novel, it’s not quite as violent or as twisted as a Jefferey Deaver book, but feels similar.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Lola by Maria Scrivner Love

Lola by Maria Scrivner Love

Lola is adept at pretending to be less than she is. To the world she is the dutiful girlfriend to her gang-leader boyfriend, Garcia. She cooks, she cleans, and she keeps house. What no one outside the Crenshaw Six realizes is that Lola is actually the power behind the throne. In reality she is the sharply intelligent and utterly ruthless leader of their gang. When a representative of the Mexican Cartel makes the small-time gang an offer they can’t refuse, Lola finds herself drawn increasingly deeper into the world of the international drug trade. As the stakes get higher, Lola has to use every tool in her arsenal to ensure that not only does she survive, but that her gang makes it out on top.

This is a stong debut showing by former CSI: Miami writer Maria Scrivner Love. The character of Lola is well-realized as a strong, intelligent woman who must always play the part of the quiet, subservient girlfriend in order to succeed in the man’s world of the drug trade. Her internal struggle between feeling the need to adhere to social norms and her desire to be recognized for her own accomplishments mirrors the struggle of all ambitious women, no matter the legitimacy of their work.

Also on full display in this book are the racial tensions within the city of Los Angeles. Each group, latino, black, and white, have set aside their own exclusive areas within the city, and stepping outside one’s assigned area invites suspicion at best and violence at worst.

In all, this is an original and intriguing thriller. The action is fast-paced, the characters well realized and multidimensional. Fans of crime fiction will enjoy this book, as will anyone looking for an atypical book featuring a strong female protagonist.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hogeland

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The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty by William Hogeland

As a Pittsburgh transplant, I love finding new historical bits about my adopted hometown. I first heard of the Whiskey Rebellion during a tour at a local whiskey distillery, Wigle Whiskey  (totally necessary product placement), which is named after one of the accused rebels. The Whiskey Rebellion is the only time in The history of the United States that a sitting president has led troops against his own citizens. Fascinating stuff.

Long story short, in order to pay our country’s debts from the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton (yes, the one from the musical) lobbied for a tax on whiskey production. Unfortunately, this tax was designed to disproportionately affect small, independent stills, and not the larger corporate enterprises (deja  vu, anyone?). Citizens of Western Pennsylvania were especially hard hit, and a (sometimes violent) grassroots resistance formed to fight the whiskey tax.

Hogeland does a good job of balancing the drier, dates-and-names portion of the tale with the utter insanity of the times. The book is definitely meant for more serious historians, but I think that even the average reader will find the subject matter fascinating. The Whiskey Rebellion is an important part of United States history, and the story has many parallels with events today.

The Whiskey Rebellion is currently available for purchase.

Book Review: I See You by Clare Mackintosh

I See You by Clare Mackintosh
I See You begins with a warning:

You do the same thing every day.

             You know exactly where you’re going. You’re not alone.

Zoe Walker is on her commute home, going through her normal, everyday routine, when she sees something that derails her normal, everyday life: her face, in an advert in the newspaper, in a section used for escorts and phone sex lines. Who placed the ad? Why? The number listed isn’t real, and the website given goes to a blank page. Is this a prank, a coincidence, or something more?

Later, Zoe recognizes a face from a past advert–in a news story about a woman who was raped and murdered. Digging in to the ads, Zoe finds that several women featured have been the victims of crime. With the police finally involved, the real purpose of the ads is revealed, and Zoe may be the future victim of a mysterious and violent stalker.

This was a fantastic thriller. To me, the most compelling thing about the book is how Mackintosh takes the normal everyday paranoia that comes from being a woman traveling alone, and dials it to eleven. It’s always there, the constant push-pull of balancing alertness with reason: is it better to make eye contact with the stranger on the train or to ignore all the other passengers? Are there other people around or am I suddenly alone? Is he following me or simply on his way home? Are those running footsteps after me or simply someone late for the bus? The hyper-vigilance is routine, whether you’re traveling home on the bus after a late night of work or making your way through the parking garage at night. It is something not often discussed, but will provoke a visceral reaction when reading the book. This is your everyday life, if all the worst case scenarios floating around in your head suddenly come true.

Mackintosh is a fine writer, and her former career as a police officer stands her in good stead with the finer details of police procedure. Fans of Ruth Ware, Lisa Gardener, and Paula Hawkins will likely enjoy this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Skeleton God by Eliot Pattison

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Skeleton God by Eliot Pattison

This is the ninth book in Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan series. Therefore, there will probably be spoilers for the previous books in this review. Caveat: I haven’t read the previous book in the series, but the good news is that this book can be read as a stand-alone, without having read the previous novels.

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We find our hero, Shan Tao Yun, reluctantly acting as the constable of tiny Yangkar village in Tibet. His appointment more a punishment than an honor, Shan does his best to toe the party line while remaining sympathetic to the native Tibetans under his jurisdiction. When a military convoy stops in town with a dozen political prisoners and an investigator from the Public Security Bureau in tow, Shan braces himself for trouble. Unfortunately, he has no idea just how bad things can get. When an elderly nun is assaulted and local herders begin talking of “the dead walking” Shan heads into the mountainous terrain to investigate and finds something that defies explanation: an ancient tomb with not one, but three bodies inside – the mummified body of a Tibetan saint, the fifty-year-old corpse of a Chinese soldier, and the days old body of an American. With the Public Security Bureau and the army both digging into the town’s affairs, the situation becomes extremely complicated. Shan must find a way to solve the crimes without getting thrown back in prison or being executed.

This was certainly an interesting mystery. Pattison, while an American author, is a world traveler, and has infused the book with his love of Tibet and his knowledge of the conquest of that country by the People’s Republic of China. The intricacies (and atrocities) of politics between Tibet and China are on full display and impact most every aspect of the plot. Inspector Shan is a wonderful protagonist, vividly realized as a man trying his best to walk the tightrope between two very different worlds. The paranoia and precariousness of his situation are palpable throughout the book.

As I said before, this book works well as a stand-alone novel, but I would imagine you get a bit more out of it if you’ve read the previous books. Fans of the series will likely enjoy this book. I would also recommend it to mystery lovers and those into international intrigue.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Skeleton God will be available for purchase on March 7th, 2017.