What’s On My Nightstand….

Well, it was my birthday last week, so I’ve gotten some new books to read!

1. The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith – the latest in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Books

2. The Shadow of Your Smile by Mary Higgins Clark (my fun read!)

3. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – sequel to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie which I loved!

4. New York – the latest tome by Edward Rutherford (880 pages!).

Happy Reading!

REVIEW: Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen

One thing that gives me great pleasure as a reader is when I stumble upon a new series author that I love. A week ago I was browsing my local library for cozies to read for the challenge I’m doing (www.cozymysterychallenge.blogspot.com) and came across “Royal Flush” by Rhys Bowen. It seems that Bowen writes different series of cozies and this one centers on Lady Georgiana, cousin to the King and known to her friends as just “Georgie”, 34th in line to the throne and somewhat penniless (though still with a lot of class!). She lives in England in the 1930’s. Mystery and intrigue seem to come her way. In this third installment of the series, Georgie is sent to her family’s castle, Castle Raddoch, near Balmoral in Scotland, to watch over the visiting Prince and his friends, and with the hopes of discouraging the infamous Mrs. Simpson. Unfortunately, murder follows Georgie to the Highlands and her “vacation” home turns nightmarish!

I really enjoyed this novel. I love when historical novels use real people mixed with fictitious ones, and this is just what this series does. Lady Georgie is a strong female, but not painted as “perfect in every way”. Some parts of this story had me laughing out loud, and the mystery kept me guessing until the end.

I can’t wait to read more from Rhys Bowen. I’d give this story 4 1/2 Stars!

REVIEW: The Quilter’s Homecoming by Jennifer Chiaverini

Since I loved Chiaverini’s “The Lost Quilter” so much, I grabbed “The Quilter’s Homecoming” from the library. It did not disappoint!

This novel tells the story of Elizabeth and Henry Nelson – newlyweds who leave their Pennsylvania home and family to start a new life on a farm they have purchased in Southern California in the 1920’s. Unfortunately, once they arrive in CA, they realize that they have been scammed and there is no farm to purchase. Their money is gone and they are reduced to working as farm hands and house help on the ranch that they thought was going to be theirs. Living in a tiny cabin, Elizabeth tries to make the best of their situation. She finds two old quilts and repairs them, then realizes that they have a story to tell of  another couple’s lost love and another family who also lost their land.

This was a great piece of historical fiction. I loved it! It kept me interested and reading to the very end. There was a bit of a mystery in it, plus lots of interesting characters. I would recommend it to those who like Chiaverini’s books. (I also appreciate that you don’t really need to read her books in order. Only a few of them go together chronologically).

I would give this novel 4 Stars!

REVIEW: Death of a Valentine by MC Beaton

Those of you who know me know I love, love, love the Hamish MacBeth mysteries, so I was thrilled to see a *new* one on the shelf at the library. “Death of a Valentine” centers on Hamish and his new partner, Josie McSween, trying to solve the murder of a local beauty queen (who is much less pure than she appears). As Hamish seeks to solve the murder, Josie seeks to entrap Hamish into marriage. Soon our favorite Highland constable finds himself at the altar and praying for an escape!

Well, I thought I’d love this book as I’ve loved all the others in this series (I was also listening to “Death of a Dreamer” in my car at the same time). However, this installment was somewhat different. If you read the series, you should know, what follows are some SPOILERS!

My first problem with this novel was that Josie entraps Hamish by drugging him with rohypnol (aka the date rape drug) and basically sexually abusing him and then claiming to be pregnant. I have to say – this really bothered me. If I could speak to the author I’d say, “Marion – may I call you Marion? – Marion, no no no no no. One reason we read cozy mysteries is because they are not overly disturbing and “heavy”. And one reason we love Hamish is because we can trust that while folks may try to get him, no one succeeds. Bullets graze him. His superiors get frustrated with him. The women may chase him. But at the end of the day, it’s just Hamish and his pets in his little Highland home. Please remember this for next time, Marion. Thank you.”

I also didn’t find the character of Josie even remotely believable. Supposedly, she was obsessed with romance novels, but she also was a drug addict and alcoholic.  It was a bizarre and frightening picture, especially for a cozy.

So – I won’t give this book a star rating as I just can’t. I’ll wait for Miss Beaton’s next installment.

And in the meantime I thought to myself that if I think I know so much what should be in a cozy mystery I should just write one myself. So I am. It’s about a murder taking place at a small community theater….he he he.

REVIEW: Rainwater by Sandra Brown

Okay – I finished this book and returned it to the library three weeks ago and still haven’t written the review! Why? I’m not sure. Of course I could blame the fact that we’re on school vacation. Or that my husband was stuck in Europe for a week due to the volcano erupting. Or that I’ve been really busy with my “real life”. But honestly, I just couldn’t get up the excitement to write! Not sure why… maybe just a case of the blogger blues.

Anyhow – this novel centered on Ella, a single mother with a son with special needs, who runs a boarding house in a small town in the 1930’s. Ella works hard to have a good business and to make a good home for her son, Solly. The local doctor asks her to take in his cousin, David Rainwater, as a boarder, and Ella is shocked to discover that Mr. Rainwater is actually dying and has only a short time to live. What develops is a relationship between Ella and David, and a change in her son for the better. (Along the way there is also a major subplot concerning racist, violent town members and the town bully who fancies Ella and whom she detests).

I found this book to be well-written, but I did have trouble having it keep my interest. I also found some of the characters – especially the bad guy – to be clichéd. It reminded me a bit of “Bridges of Madison County” – ‘a stranger comes and no one is ever the same’ theme. Unfortunately, I didn’t like “Bridges” – I did like “Rainwater” better.

I would give this book 3 Stars.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: The Lost Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini

I had heard of the book series “Elm Creek Quilters” by Jennifer Chiaverini, but had never read them, so I picked up this audiobook in the “new releases” section of the library. The central character in the series is Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, a woman who runs a quilting camp from her family’s Elm Creek Manor. Each book tells a different but related story.

In “The Lost Quilter”, Sylvia has discovered some letters and information in an old desk that refer to a runaway slave who stayed at Elm Creek Manor in the 1860’s, gave birth to a child, and then was recaptured and returned to slavery in the South. The book tells this slave, Joanna’s,  story as she struggles to survive, to escape slavery, and to maintain her dignity. Joanna was a gifted seamstress, and quilter, and the story of her struggles were incorporated into the quilts she leaves behind. Sylvia works to make the connections between what she knows about Joanna in order to discover what became of her.

I really enjoyed listening to this story. The plot held my attention throughout. Joanna’s story was disturbing and unsettling at times (often) as Chiaverini depicted the harsh realities of  life for a slave in the South. Chiaverini’s portrayal of the slave owners was particularly good, I thought, as she showed their cruelty as emerging from ignorance, as opposed to being part of their personalities. Some of the actions of the slave owners were deplorable, but they truly thought they were doing what was right and appropriate (disturbing, but true).

Joanna is a strong woman, and she works to protect her little daughter, Ruthie, her husband, Titus (from whom she is taken away), and her “adopted” daughter, Hannah. Joanna is committed to creating a better life for them beyond slavery. Her story takes her from childhood through adulthood, from slavery to freedom.

I loved this book and got several more of the Elm Creek books out from the library to read!

I’d give it 4 1/2 stars!

REVIEW: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Having seen the ads for the movie, but not gone to see it, I was curious about “Shutter Island”. I was happy to be able to get it from my library and even more thrilled to realize it was by Dennis Lehane (author of “Mystic River”).

“Shutter Island” tells the story of Teddy Daniels, US Marshall, who is sent to a secure residential facility for schizophrenic, violent offenders, in order to find a missing patient. Teddy and his partner, Chuck, uncover more than they bargain for – and fear that this trip may be their last assignment! (can’t say much more than that without spoilers).

This was the kind of book I love to read when I’m stressed out: it’s quick, easy, hard-to-put-down, and keeps you thinking, guessing, wondering. I loved it! I’ve since gone to find more Dennis Lehane books to read. I’ll probably rent the movie from Netflix, but is the movie ever as good as the book??

I’ll give it 5 Stars – I liked it that much and it held me enthralled until the very end (which I’m still thinking about).

Family Fun Audiobook Review: Dinotopia by James Gurney

A few weeks ago I was thrilled to be contacted by Carrie from the ZBS Foundation as to whether I would be interested in reviewing their audiobook of “Dinotopia”. I had heard of “Dinotopia” the beautifully illustrated picture book, but didn’t know much about it. I happily agreed and received both “Dinotopia” and “Dinotopia: the World Beneath”. My discriminating listeners and I listened to “Dinotopia” in the car this past week.

“Dinotopia” tells the story of Arthur and his son, Will, who are shipwrecked and stranded on an island inhabited by dinosaurs (and other humans who are descendants of previously shipwrecked people) in the 1860’s.  They adapt to their new surroundings and communities, have adventures, etc.

My kids – ages 5 and 6 – and I loved listening to this audiobook. Unlike other ones we’ve heard, this story is performed with a full cast and sound effects. The kids loved the music and the background sounds of dinosaurs, a busy shopping center, the jungle, etc. They followed along with the story and often asked for me to turn it on in the car (a true mark of favor!). I have not read the books in the series, but this one appeared to end as a chapter in a series. We’ll look forward to listening to the next installment!

This was a truly unique listening experience for us, and I’d like to thank Carrie from the ZBS Foundation (my understanding from checking their website is that it is a non-profit arts organization) for sending us these audio CD’s for our enjoyment!

I’ll have to give this one 5 Stars!

Family Fun Audiobook Review: The Cricket in Times Square

On a recent trip to my favorite bookstore I saw the audiobook for “The Cricket in Times Square” by George Selden. I remember loving this book when I was in third grade, so I got it to listen to in the car with my children (ages 5 and 6). Originally published in 1960, “The Cricket in Times Square” is the classic children’s story of Chester Cricket, who arrives in Times Square from his native Connecticut after falling asleep in a picnic basket of roast beef sandwiches. Chester befriends Tucker Mouse, Harry the Cat, and Mario, the young boy whose family runs a newstand in a subway station (where Chester takes up residence). The friends realize that Chester has an amazing talent — an ability to play any music that he has heard. This story is a timeless classic along the themes of friendship, loyalty, individual talent, and the love of home.

I hadn’t realized, until I checked on Amazon, that Selden had written additional stories featuring Chester and his friends. I can’t wait to check them out with my children!