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Black River: A Novel
by S.M. Hulse
Black River (1/17/2016)
Outstanding debut from Hulse, hard to believe this is her first effort, impressive.

Hulse manages to capture the emotional depths of her protagonists. Their three dimensionality, their individual voices and backstory’s all well crafted. I felt she delved into the masculinity of Wes and Dennis brilliantly, especially given Hulse is female. Her characters are powerful, their depths economically contained yet unleashed silently and poignantly. I connected with Wes, his struggles, anguish, hope, anger discernible, I was imbued long after the ending. Each character’s torment over relationship dynamics was halting, the complexity and intricacies of relationships and expectations skillfully explored.

Intense, affecting, evocative, a moving story undiluted with sentiments or a tidy rushed ending expected of a neophyte author. A gem of a penetrating story penned by a very gifted author.
The Return of the Witch
by Paula Brackston
The Return of the Witch (1/11/2016)
Brackston's spellbinding language is the driving force along with endearing characters and a well balanced narrative with the perfect amounts of witchcraft, mystery, suspense and thrills, even a little romance appears. Her characters are strong, intelligent and sensible. The foursome possesses a chemistry thus pulling the reader in further. The 'Time Stepping' and sub-plots enhance as opposed to distract. I enjoy the pacing, the motives are revealed slowly as your bond with characters deepens. Brackston provides a more than satisfying ending, never leaving her audience high and dry with abruptness. Fantastic story allowing mere mortals to enter the world of immortals via classy and charismatic necromancers.
Hunters in the Dark
by Lawrence Osborne
Subtle, quiet plot proves potent (11/15/2015)
"Karma swirled around all things, lending them destinies over which mere desire had no control. It made one's little calculations irrelevant."

Osborne's simplistic yet stunning prose slowly guides the peruser through an intricate narrative. Richly atmospheric, the humidity, culture, food along with traditions and people of Cambodia seep through the pages. Characters are slowly undressed as their paths intersect - greed, corruption, the quest to reinvent oneself, survival all palpable through our fully fleshed protagonists. The resigned pace highlights details otherwise unnoticed. As we voluntarily meander through our journey we reach our destination which quickly turns from shades of gray to the deepest of ebony. A smattering of noir mixed with intrigue, twists and the occult leave you adequately satisfied.
Natchez Burning: A Penn Cage Novel, Natchez Burning Trilogy #1
by Greg Iles
Incredidble (10/9/2015)
Iles creates an amazing mystery with loads of historical references, the setting pulls you into the south and its environs and culture. You will not be bored, rather you will find yourself enthralled with the characters and all that's unearthed. The ending is perfect, you'll want to continue with the trilogy to see where Iles takes us as well as his memorable characters in the incredible journey. I rarely read series, this is clearly an exception as I anxiously await the next installment.
The War Reporter
by Martin Fletcher
The War Reporter (8/15/2015)
After closing the book I kept thinking of all the war correspondents - the ravages they witness, bloodshed embedded in their memory, terrifying nightmares, for some like Tom they experience hardcore trauma first hand. Whatever the circumstances it left me contemplating how many suffer from PTSD. With all certitude there are more Tom Layne's suffering silently as their family and friends remain helpless in what to do. No doubt a dangerous occupation where your life is on the line continuously, danger lurking at every corner. I have always held war correspondents in high esteem but more so after reading Fletcher's enthralling and brutal story of the Serbia-Croatia War.

Tom, Nina, Nick their chemistry and combined stories grip your attention. Tom and Nina tethered forever through the unthinkable, able to understand what each has endured and continues to struggle with years later. I love their chemistry together along with their tender romantic connection. Tom's quest for revenge seeking Ratko Mladic is exciting, his intelligence and motivation makes his search intriguing and fascinatingly dangerous. Fletcher excels in sketching a well defined portrait of a war journalist in the heat of battle as well as the aftermath of war atrocities. A well balanced emotional glimpse.

Fletcher's journalistic expertise paired with his stellar career to draw upon, his eloquent writing provides such an exciting story equal measures memoir, and thriller.
For Today I Am a Boy
by Kim Fu
Painful tinged with hope (6/15/2015)
The story gives hope but it really highlights the pain and isolation of living a life as a lie. How you have to hide your authentic self due to parental disapproval along with societal scorn. Fitting into an unfamiliar an awkward skin feeling as if you're an unwelcome intruder, clearly knowing you're trapped in a body representing the wrong sex.

Fu masters Peter and his brutal and beautiful story. Painful tinged with hope.
Sisters of Heart and Snow
by Margaret Dilloway
As predictable and formulaic contemporary fiction can be (4/21/2015)
Predictable. Awkward. Strained.

I was crushed reading this book, I was anticipating a captivating read and was beyond disgruntled.

I felt as if I was reading two very differing books with a blurred line connecting the two separate stories forcing a linkage. I enjoyed Tomoe's story, however, it's vastly different from the 'main' story, it comes across as misplaced and/or awkward, almost an afterthought trying to emphasize a connection virtually invisible between the two plots and characters.

I understand Tomoe's story is designed to affirm points in the main story but it fails miserably. Straining trying to connect the two stories and really poorly implemented.

The main story of Rachel and Drew, and their dysfunctional family woes is about as predictable and formulaic contemporary fiction can be. Trying to show a comparison between Tomoes's story felt amazingly contrived. Two stories with the secondary being far more interesting, Dilloway creates a competition of sorts and I declare the winner Tomoe's story. The two narratives fail at achieving parallel status rather end up unakin.

Forecastability, clumsy dual narratives, staleness homogenize creating one let down of a read.
The Bookseller
by Cynthia Swanson
Boring (4/7/2015)
Not really sure what to make of this book. It left me scratching my head and digging for answers as to what I read.

I'm confident I understand the direction Swanson was going, for me, it failed in execution. Needless to say my reading journey was severely stunted.

Swanson undoubtedly stepped out of the box. She demonstrated her originality while clearly setting herself apart. I have mixed feelings regarding Kitty/Katharyn, she has good intentions yet she contradicts these intentions in many ways.

This has to be the most boring book I have ever read. I kept with it hoping the excitement would unleash but it was a futile exercise. I stifled my yawns and made it through to the end feeling as if I could have used my valuable time otherwise. I wasn't a fan of the way autism was approached, yes the narrative is set in the 1960's contributing to the ignorance (fingers crossed) but it still made me very uncomfortable. I'm also not a huge fan of 'what if?' which of course is the premise of this book. The narrative was leaning towards 'tell' as opposed to 'show' and it made for one grueling ride. The ending was predictable adding to my frustration.

After reading this book, spending time with Kitty/Katharyn it's official I love my life even more than I did prior to cracking this book open. This book is proof one should participate in life than be a spectator.
Scent of Triumph: A Novel of Perfume and Passion
by Jan Moran
Predictable (4/2/2015)
I was excited to read this book, however, my excitement diminished fairly quickly.

I enjoyed reading of Danielle's perfume lineage, her exceptional olfactory gift, her amazing intuition. I was taken with Sofia, her strength, her courage. Her presence was short lived but powerful and affecting. Reading of Nicky and his plight was emotional. The ravages of war clearly depicted.

The narrative was too dramatic for my taste and all predictable. Multiple subplots served as a distraction, most left frayed. I felt as if I was reading a arduous task to weave multiple books into one attempt at capturing a solid plot. Too much going on for my taste, bottom line. Every character has heavy issues, at every corner doom dwells. Implausible and overdone. I could not relate to Danielle at all in regards to Nicky's missing status. Danielle lacked emotion, her demeanor drove me nuts, her manner was less than vanilla, bland would be generous.

Simply a matter of taste and this particular book wasn't my cup of tea. The majority will disagree and find Moran's effort exceptional. Admittedly I am in the minority.
He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him
by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton
Touching story (2/27/2015)
Baird's impeccable journal account of his descent into the depths along with his institutional stays are well detailed. His brilliant mind citing the cruel mistreatment by staff, barbaric treatments administered. His feelings of loneliness and isolation heartbreaking. As his disease appears and fades, his many losses are felt, his heart heavy.

His relentless desire to learn more regarding mental illness propels him on the path of research where his suspicious are confirmed. Sadly darkness overshadows his research and his initial findings silenced, however, thankfully noted. His intellect utterly halting.

Stripped away of her father at a young age Mimi Baird, craves to fill the void of her father. Questions silenced, his disappearance vaguely acknowledged. Decades later Mimi discovers her father's journal/manuscript broaching his illness, institutionalization as well as his research on mental illness. Finally Mimi pieces the puzzle of the man she remembers as she comprehends the full story of her father and his ongoing fight with manic depression. Mimi's loss is heartbreaking proving the ravages of manic depression extend to family, especially family disguising mental illness.

A story of two people searching for answers. A painful account of mental illness, the stigma attached. A topic of compelling nature, Baird shares her father, hopefully demonstrating knowledge in the hopes of removing the stigma attached. Touching story.
Night in Shanghai: A Novel
by Nicole Mones
Night in Shanghai (1/18/2015)
The backdrop is affecting, riddled with tension as the future of China hangs in the balance as well as its people. A dual love story taking place in Shanghai 1936 during the Japanese invasion. Mones crafts a riveting story of forbidden love filled with passion, agony, sacrifice during war along with its carnage.

The characters are well developed, each offering a vital role in the narrative, their uniqueness along with their individual circumstances adds drama. A patchwork cast meshing.

The plot in intriguing and engaging. The pace is smooth and gains momentum slowly enabling the reader to absorb the narrative, feel the impending threat of war, the characters emotions, concerns, all palpable. Your senses fully engaged. The music, lyrics, the jazz aspect amplifies narrative with color and scope.

Mones cites factual events with the perfect blend of fiction. Well researched, her knowledge of China obvious. The strain between Communists and Nationalists, Green Gang, Jews relocating to Shanghai, Japanese recruitment of Chinese to defect, the devastation of war, the loss of life, delivered with such force as it is vividly detailed from the adroit hand of Mones.

The ending is memorable, guaranteed to resonate for quite some time.

A well written book encompassing much precursory to WWII, rich in historical events as well as the agony and ecstasy of love.
A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power
by Paul Fischer
Impeccably researched (12/30/2014)
By sharing the couple's story, Fischer allows entrance into inner North Korea. Through the abduction of Shin Sang-0k and Choi Eun-Hee we realize how intricate and nefarious North Korea operated under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-Il. Prison conditions beyond harsh, the educating of youth, the treatment of citizens all exposed. I found the unpredictable and absurd behavior of Kim Jong-Il while under the influence or entertaining downright hilarious, he is unbelievably self-absorbed and power hungry. Luckily Shin Sang-0k and Choi Eun-Hee played the role of their lives and outsmarted Kim Jong-Il. I was astounded by the bevy of abductions committed by North Korea, people from all nations at risk.

Shin Sang-0k and Choi Eun-Hee endured much, not nearly as a horrific ordeal as others, nonetheless grueling. Their plight makes for an engrossing page turning story. You find yourself appalled by the audacity of this isolated communist nation and its narcissist dictator. This story feels like a movie, it's too absurd to believe but with North Korea anything is truly possible with their thinking and antics.

Fischer scores high with research and writing. A wonderful view of North Korea from the inside out. Quite a page turner of a story. Unbelievable story but it's very true. Highly recommend.
Brutal Youth
by Anthony Breznican
Brutal Youth (7/12/2014)
Reading Brutal Youth is powerful. This troubling, affecting story will leave you lost in thought long after you have finished reading. My heart was heavy for the cast and all they suffered and endured.

Breznican provides an eclectic array of endearing characters, all pulling at the readers heartstrings as you experience their anguish and triumphs. A few characters and their stories are tattooed on my brain and will remain with me permanently, specifically - Clink, Hannah, Stein and Davidek.

As we hear daily in the media of the ongoing growing issue of bullying Brenznican uses Brutal Youth as a sobering example of what's really happening in society. The narrative is well paced so the reader is slowly immersed as opposed to being thrust into the madness.

A brutal but yet beautiful intriguing read succeeding on all levels. The well placed insertions of dark humor tempered the painful tone. I highly recommend this book for young and mature readers. A lens capturing the cruelty and savage behavior a majority of society partakes. Nonetheless an eyeopener of a very real issue that's sadly, not improving.

Would be very curious to see this adapted to film. Rare for me.
The Fortune Hunter
by Daisy Goodwin
The Fortune Hunter (7/4/2014)
Goodwin crafts a well written historical fiction love triangle with intriguing characters. The diversity of the characters gives this love triangle a certain amount of added punch.

I found myself playing armchair psychologist to the characters simply because Goodwin provides the reader with enough scant information you want to delve in and explore what makes them tick and explain their choices and actions.

Charlotte Baird is endearing, appealing and a woman ahead of her time. As much as Goodwin built up Charlotte's characterization, I admit I was surprised by her behavior as the story progressed. Let's just say the way Charlotte was presented left me questioning a few of her moves as well as a few unanswered questions I was hoping would be addressed but weren't. Empress Elizabeth wasn't revealed as much as I was hoping for, however Goodwin painted enough of a picture of the woman she was and the burdens she carried. Despite her station and marital status I felt empathy and fondness towards her. Bay Middleton, a gentleman with an affinity towards married women, at least it appears so. His indecisiveness, focus on beauty more than substance was a turn off. He came across too many times searching to be rescued, weak, a 'ladies man' - I wasn't quite sold. Admittedly, despite his many warts there is something about him that pulls at your heart.

Goodwin excels with creating a wonderful setting. She nails the era, social propriety, manners, language masterfully. Her research was complete but the alteration of facts didn't work for me. I understand this is a work of fiction, keep in mind drastically altering major historical facts diminishes the narrative and purpose.

The end caught me by surprise. I was convinced Goodwin would take a different path, her choice left me astonished. I felt the ending didn't fully match the characterization, perhaps this was her intent but I certainly caught me off guard.

Good story, if the historical facts weren't so manipulated the story would have been great. Goodwin demonstrates creativity, solid writing, intriguing characters and I look forward to her future projects.
A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story
by Qais Akbar Omar
A Fort of Nine Towers (6/23/2014)
“I have long carried this load of griefs in the cage of my heart. Now I have given them to you. I hope you are strong enough to hold them.” Qais Akbar Omar

Qasis shares his unforgettable story of a simple loving family and a country in endless turmoil and conflict. His family is torn apart by the destruction war brings as well as its hideous atrocities committed against its own people based on religious and tribal differences.

Afghanistan is a country misunderstood and its culture is suffering at the hands of discord. Qasis writes with honesty and openness. His story is affecting as well as inspirational serving an example of resilience. A family among many impacted by the endless and long suffering of a country at odds. A must read for all to become aware of what is happening in this country often under a veil of intrigue.
The Son
by Jo Nesbo
The Son (6/22/2014)
Jo Nesbo creates a riveting story of crime and corruption within the Oslo police department. No Harry Hole in The Son, fear not, the suspense, thrills and action are present and accounted for. A great standalone Nesbo fans will enjoy. Crime fiction at its best from the premier thrill king Nesbo.

The writing is average at best, however, the suspense compensates for the lack of strong writing. The Son will captivate your attention as you zoom through the excitement. Mayhem galore keeping the reader on their toes as you swiftly turn pages.

Undoubtedly this will be widely popular. Perfect for a film adaptation. Twists and turns, suspense - this book has all the ingredients for a successful crime fiction. Navigating through the plot is a no brainier but the suspense makes it worth while and darn good!

Another hit in the crime fiction genre from Jo Nesbo.
My Life in Middlemarch
by Rebecca Mead
My Life in Middlemarch (6/22/2014)
I have always had an affinity towards British Victorian literature, without saying Middlemarch and Eliot are among my favorites. I was thrilled when I learned someone wrote a book regarding their intimate events reading Middlemarch. Mead provides the reader with such detail on Eliot along with her esteemed peers.

Mead is a competent writer possessing a style that's attractive and enthralling. Her words glide across the pages in such a sleek manner only boosting the entire narrative and overall reading adventure. Her passion with Middlemarch was evident by her own personal recollection of its influence in her encounters as well as it influencing her life.

If you hold a fondness as I do for Victorian literature, with all certitude you will appreciate this book and Mead's personal insertions. A novel covering a readers journey, writing and books, this is a must read. Completely enjoyed my time with Mead.
The City
by Dean Koontz
The City (6/19/2014)
Jonas Kirk shares his history. A musical prodigy, Jonas finds music comforting, his personal saving grace. Jonas tells his life story to his long time friend Malcolm explaining events and people aiding and abetting his metamorphose into a 'whole' man, as opposed to 'half' a man as his estranged and deserter father.

I found The City mediocre. For me it lacked a spark, the characters, the narrative were flat, lifeless. I didn't 'feel' anything reading this story, rather I felt as if I read mere pretty words on paper.

The 'evil do'ers' felt contrived and misplaced. It was as if their presence was inserted to amuse and fulfill an expectation.

Other players added to the narrative, quite frankly they rescued the story. Pearl, Yoshioka and Amalia breathed life into this flat and banal novel.

Jonas possesses an admirable attitude. No matter what adversity he faces, past or present he focuses on the positive and takes life in long easy strides.

The City isn't good or bad - more average. A little slow with plenty of references of musical greats, poets, art which I enjoyed. I'm not certain of what the reader will take away with all the intricate references with the exception of an uber quick history lesson. I'm unsure if the references were too plentiful and slowed down the pace or if blame can be pointed elsewhere. I'm NOT a Koontz expert but something is off regarding The City.

My second Koontz book, he gets one more shot before I decide if he is shelf worthy. So far I find myself disappointed again, currently, his place on my shelf is looking dismal. I fail to see the greatness of his books so many I know rave about. Where is the Dean Koontz I was told I would love? I'm still waiting.....
How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky
by Lydia Netzer
My Thoughts (6/17/2014)
Netzer's style is out of the box for me. Her version of 'magical realism' merging with eccentricity isn't quite to my tastes or standard. However, her premise is unique and her narratives always reach a level of normalcy towards the end which I find somewhat redeeming. Shine, Shine, Shine wasn't a show stopper for me, I'm sure many will disagree. I applaud her renegade style and her determination to see her vision through.

I am a science buff, this addition to the narrative was welcomed. Irene and George are charming. Irene the pragmatic and George idealistic. Their contrasts create tension, attraction and mass appeal.

Despite my aversion to Netzer's style, she has a gift forcing the reader to ask themselves a few poignant questions, a sign of a provoking narrative and a smart author. I found myself pondering destiny, astrology and unforeseen forces in general in matters of love. With their divided ways of seeing things, it gave the story a another level of interest by hearing their arguments regarding love and their union.

"Why do some people fall in love with each other, and others don't? What is love? It is so, so, so stupid right up until it's real. And then it's the most important thing in the world, whether you believe it or not."

The ending was superb, actually I felt it was going to go in a different direction, needless to say I am happy my prediction was incorrect and a pleasant surprise.

Netzer has no difficulty spinning an original romantic yarn, her unconventional characters, blending science and overall peculiar style forms a sweet sentimental story, leaving the peruser with loads to mull over. Entertaining read, Netzer fans will surely find this book more than enjoyable.
The Cairo Affair
by Olen Steinhauer
Every bit a thriller (3/20/2014)
This book had my full attention from the beginning and it kept increasing. From the turn of the first page until the turn of the last page I was completely and totally immersed. Steinhauer designed a climax worth noticing and since this novel is similar to a maze he masterfully succeeded. An amateur could not have pulled the apex off but Steinhauer is not an amateur.

Cairo is vividly described, you take in the environment and its senses. The characters seem 'real' and immediately you find yourself involved in their presence. The spies are human and not overly theatrical or dramatized, rather every day people doing what they do. With their 'real' portrayal it causes the reader to be empathetic, you have an understanding of the reasons they did what they did. If they were portrayed in another fashion I am certain having this unspoken understanding and empathy would not be possible.

Reading The Cairo Affair was similar to finding your way out of an intricate maze, just when you think you have grasped the maze you are wrong - every bit a spy thriller with numerous suspenseful moments. No question this would make for an incredible movie, no small undertaking but incredible in the very least but the book will always reign supreme - far too many details to translate to film without taking away from its beauty, huge undertaking, perhaps a possibility in talented hands.

Steinhauer crafted an outstanding piece of work in both writing and narrative with multiple heart stopping moments, character driven and every ounce a thriller.
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