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WELCOME TO MY BLOG, WHERE BOOKISH DELIGHTS HOLD CENTER STAGE AND WHERE BOOKS HELP CHASE AWAY THE BLUES.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

REVIEW: DANCING IN THE STREETS, BY STEVEN P. UNGER

For those of us old enough to have "been there" during the 60s, the memories of that time can probably be seen through a haze—Like the bumper sticker that proclaims: "If you remember the 60s, you weren't there!" The author of Dancing in the Streets is able to recall those times, because he "took notes." So we have before us a fascinating display of life in those colorful days, with the author's alter ego, Steven Strazza, whose journey takes us to various parts of the US, including New York, Alabama and Detroit, among other cities, before we also follow him to France. We rejoin him in the states, back in Michigan before he heads west to territory that is familiar to me: San Francisco, the Santa Cruz mountains, and Nevada City.

Protests, literacy projects, and work in a psychiatric hospital were some of the highlights of his journey, and as I read our narrator's stories about the psych hospital, I was reminded of the downside of that time. Our freedoms have been hard won in our current day and age, and perhaps we have the activism of the 60s and 70s to thank for some of that.

But Steven has an all-consuming desire to experiment with different living arrangements, and after trying various such configurations in cities, he follows another desire to be part of a rural commune. He is drawn to one such place near Vacaville.

Themes of social experimentation, drug use, and the quest for a chosen familial unit drive many of the stories in this fascinating tome that spans the 60s to the late 90s, and takes a departure into the distant past and what happened to some of the MC's ancestors during murderous times.

The story begins in Brazil in 1996, sweeps back in time to the 60s, and ends back in the place where the Summer of Love happened, thirty years later: Golden Gate Park. Where our MC has the opportunity to reconnect with some old friends and to look back at his life...the high points, the search for belonging, and for love. A very colorful and visual portrayal that kept me reading until the very end. 4.5 stars.

***

Thursday, April 10, 2014

REVIEW: THE PEACH KEEPER, BY SARAH ADDISON ALLEN

In the small North Carolina town called Walls of Water, the history between the Jacksons and the Osgoods was long...and somewhat competitive.

The Jacksons had once been rich and lived in the old Blue Ridge Madam, until their money was gone. And the Osgoods took their place as the town leaders, wealthy and proud.

In contemporary Walls of Water, the descendants of the original families, Willa Jackson and Paxton Osgood, are not friends. In high school, Willa was the Joker and Paxton the Good Girl, too perfect for words. Colin, Paxton's twin, has always had an attraction for Willa, but has not acted on it. And Paxton has a yen for Sebastian, the mysterious man who has his own secrets.

There is going to be a celebration in the newly restored Blue Ridge Madam—a gala that will celebrate the charitable history of the Women's Society Club—and Paxton is reaching out to Willa. Their grandmothers, Agatha and Georgie, are to be honored, since they were in the original society. And once were dear friends.

As events unfold, secrets are unearthed—literally—and soon the connections between the families begin to change and grow. What will happen to join the women in friendship? How will the secrets from the past change the future for the town and for the families?

In a lovely and lyrical style, The Peach Keeper: A Novel was a romantic journey into the past and the future, reminding us that long-standing connections can be healed. I enjoyed the characters, the setting, and the slightly ghostly aura that framed the old home. Family secrets are the stuff of good drama. Five stars.

***

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

REVIEW: RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA, BY KIMBERLY MCCREIGHT

In an upscale private school in Brooklyn, secrets and hatred flourish. Reconstructing Amelia: A Novel unveils the consequences in this story about one young girl's mysterious death, and turns a spotlight on the privileged teenagers whose insecurities are unleashed in venomous ways.

Amelia was a talented student and budding writer. Confused about many of her feelings, she is swept up into a club that can only enhance her insecurities and target her for bullying.

Kate is Amelia's mother, a lawyer with a well-known Manhattan firm, and with her own secrets.

What happened to Amelia in the months leading up to her death? How did her relationships somehow result in the tragedy? Did Kate's secrets cloud the issues? What betrayals would come to light in the ensuing investigation?

There were many characters to abhor in this story with multiple narrators. There was Zadie, the leader of the pack; and then there was Sylvia, an old friend whose loyalty seemed questionable at times. Dylan seemed the least obnoxious of the "mean" girls, but how did her passive behaviors intensify everything? Some of the adults, like Liv, add to the list of unlikeable characters masquerading as friends.

Hatred and bullying in the age of cyberspace was deftly portrayed via texts, e-mails, and Amelia's first person narrative.

This unforgettable tale had me wondering until the very end, even as I had my suspicions early on, so I am awarding this book five stars.

***

Friday, March 14, 2014

REVIEW: LOVE STORY, WITH MURDERS, BY HARRY BINGHAM

In Wales, a series of body parts start showing up, and by the time they are identified, we know that there are two murdered individuals. Are they connected? DC Fiona Griffiths is on the case, and in her own strange way, is pursuing clues that could lead to something.

Love Story, With Murders: A Novel, unfolds in the first person narrative of Fiona, whom we soon learn has some issues. Fairly serious issues, but somehow she also comes across as quirky and somewhat likeable. Another aspect to her story: she was found in the back of a car (her adoptive father's) when she was a toddler. She is somewhat obsessed with discovering who she was, and if that history might somehow explain the serious psychological disorder (Cotard's Syndrome) she suffered as a teenager.

Fiona's view of those around her could be significantly distorted by her issues, and even her findings could be suspect at times. But strangely enough, she seems to do fairly well at her job. She also finds herself in dangerous situations more often than others, possibly because of the way she approaches situations.

The best part of this story, in my opinion, is rambling along with Fiona, watching her work, and discovering the paths her mind takes.

But will she and the other officers solve the murders? Will they bring down the bad guys, or are they all on a path to nowhere?

There is also a bit of a romance going on between Fiona and another officer nicknamed Buzz...this adds a bit of fun to what might otherwise be a rather grim story.

I liked the short sentences the author uses to intensify our suspense. His style, like this excerpt, kept me intrigued:

"Lunch.
"Oh my God. Lunch.
"It doesn't start well. Me late. Watkins shivering on the brink of something nuclear—perhaps only the tactical-battlefield version of nuclear, because six and a half minutes late is only six and a half minutes, even in Watkins-land—but still on the brink of detonation...."

Watkins is Fiona's superior and often lashes out at everyone, and Fiona seems to bear the brunt of it more often than others...possibly because of her work style. But recent events have changed some of that.

The pages turn quickly, as the writer's style is conducive to moving along rapidly, wondering what will happen next. Sometimes I forget about the gruesome images in my head that landed there with the descriptions of the body parts...but only sometimes. In the end, everything doesn't come together in quite the way you might wish...just as in real life. And because there are some loose ends, we know that a sequel is on the way. Just as there was a first book in this series, which I probably should have read first. A satisfying story, that went on a bit longer than I liked. Four stars.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

REVIEW: GODS OF SECOND CHANCES, BY DAN BERNE

The life of Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft is centered on raising his young granddaughter Sitka, bringing in enough fish to support them, and adding some to her college fund. He is still grief stricken over the death of his wife Donna years before, and in his heart he blames his drug addicted daughter Jenny and her dangerous lifestyle.

He is blindsided by Jenny's unexpected return, after spending years in and out of prison since Sitka's birth.

Even though neither Sitka nor Ray believe that Jenny will truly stay clean and sober this time, they try to incorporate her into their lives. So what Jenny does next will truly threaten the family they are trying to preserve, finding them on opposite sides, a family torn apart by their passionate struggle.

Jenny was a difficult character to like. In fact, I found myself angered by her behavior, her attitudes, and her sense of entitlement. Her moral high ground in the face of all she had done in the past seemed unforgivable.

Ray had also made mistakes along the way, and his inability to take the necessary actions early on set him up for how things played out.

What a page turner! I could not put The Gods of Second Chances down, and could totally relate to the need to fight passionately for family and the life one has chosen. In the end, I came to peace with Jenny, as in one courageous act, she shows that she is truly a mother. Five stars.

***


Monday, February 24, 2014

REVIEW: RETURN TO TRADD STREET, BY KAREN WHITE

Melanie Middleton, the psychic realtor, is back in her Tradd Street home, and no sooner is she settled in, than more problems surface.

This time, a crack appears in the foundation that requires major work. But what is unearthed in the process—the body of a baby that has been dead for many years—will launch another psychic investigation for Melanie. And it will happen at a most inopportune time, as she has discovered she is pregnant. With twins. And the father, Jack Trenholm, has asked her to marry him.

But she has refused, believing that he is only offering out of a sense of obligation.

The push-pull of their relationship kept me rapidly turning pages, wishing that the two of them would set aside their stubbornness and communicate.

And then, out of nowhere, along comes a couple from New York. The Gilberts claim that they are the rightful heirs to the Tradd Street home, and that they have proof. Their supposed link to the family line will require the exhumation of Nevin Vanderhorst's body to check for a DNA match.

Reporters, historians, psychics....all join together to lead the reader on a rollicking journey. The spirits that inhabit the house are angry. One of them appears to Melanie, hissing the word "Mine." What can explain the christening gowns that show up, matching the one discovered in the foundation? Does the mystery somehow involve ancestor John Vanderhorst's two wives, Camille and Charlotte?

Set in Charleston, South Carolina, and narrated in Melanie's first person perspective, I was as enthralled with the characters as I have been in the previous books. Melanie's voice is self-deprecatory and funny, making me root for her and for her love interest, even when she has given up. And her obsessive-compulsive tendencies made me smile in recognition of my own need to organize and control things.

Rebecca, Melanie's distant cousin, is an annoying character and a major foil to Melanie's peace of mind. And her fiance, Marc Longo, was once Melanie's lover, which definitely complicates things. Nola, Jack's 14-year-old daughter, who came to join them all in the last book, has amazing qualities that belie her years, including a recording career.

In Return to Tradd Street, themes of home, love, and family spotlight how the very things we want most in life might slip away if we don't fight for them.

I felt as though I was right there with them all, trying to solve the mysteries and bring Jack and Melanie together at last. Reading the previous books in the series is not necessary for enjoyment of this one, but reading them would help fill in some of the history of the house. Five stars.

***


Thursday, February 6, 2014

REVIEW: THE K-FROST CAPER, BY JAMES BLAKLEY

What does a cold case in Alabama have to do with a dead body in Miami?

Charmed Life Mutual Insurance wants to know, since a "body" with the same name—Kelvin Frost—allegedly drowned years before in Alabama, and someone collected $50,000 in life insurance.

Luna Nightcrow, an investigator, is off to Miami to find out if there is a connection between the "Kelvin Frosts." But what she discovers is so much more, not just insurance fraud and identity theft ...and in her efforts to untangle the clues, she meets a sexy detective, a celebrity psychic, a museum director, and assorted suspicious types.

The K-Frost Caper is a fun romp with a twisted plot that had me turning those pages until the very end. And if you wonder about what happens, if anything, between Luna and the sexy detective...well, keep reading!

I liked the characters, the settings, and how the investigators used technology to their advantage. Definitely a read for mystery lovers, the story also had a noir effect that conjured up images of Miami Vice and other blasts from the past. 4.5 stars.

***



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