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Worth the Risk by Nora Roberts

21 Sep

If you’ve ever read any of Nora Roberts’ 209 plus romance novels, you’re well aware she always builds characters and their surroundings with proficiency.  In Worth the Risk, she combines two previously published novels under one cover; Partners, originally released in 1985 and The Art of Deception from 1986.  Of course both stories deal with romance and you know the couples will find each other in the end, but Ms. Roberts is so good at adding just enough mystery and suspense it keeps you interested until the very last page. 

Partners

Matthew Bates had wanted Laurel Armand for years, she was the sister of his best friend but she was also his professional adversary.  Laurel, the sultry Southern belle had always kept him at a safe distance. But when the rival newspaper reporters are forced to work together on the murder case of Anne Trulane, sparks fly and madness erupts in steamy New Orleans. Nora Roberts describes the scenes so vividly you can almost hear and picture the newsroom and the swamp. Determined to get their story, Matt and Laurel find themselves in the path of a disturbed killer, putting love and life on the line.

As Ms. Roberts always does, she creates characters that make us laugh.  Enter Laurel’s eccentric grandmother who wants to see the same happy ending we’re hoping for but at the same time we learn Laurel has an old childhood crush on the murder suspect, thus making him a rival of her current love interest.


The Art of Deception

The second story is The Art of Deception. It deals with 3 artists and forgeries in a castle along the Hudson River. Once more, until the end you are not sure who is responsible for any events or what is going on – you wind up making the discoveries and solving the puzzling activities along with the characters. That alone is extraordinary for romance novels where usually 10 pages in you really know exactly what is occurring.

Artist Adam Haines arrives at the Fairchild castle under the guise of a well-needed breather but was this handsome stranger all that he pretended to be? Kirby Fairchild, daughter of the eccentric patriarch Philip, couldn’t be sure.  What she did know was that as the days and nights wore on, the attraction she felt for him was building, whether she’d wanted it to or not. Was she in danger of falling hard for a stranger who was even more practiced in the art of deception than she was?  Very early on, the two are fascinated with one another and the walls she’s built up around herself slowly come down in the arms of Adam.  

The story is full of playful interaction between Kirby and her father and her father and everyone else.  He is generous and loving one minute and accusatory and suspicious the next.  Kirby does what she can to protect her father but knows he is not quite on the level.  

Throw in loveable characters like Cards and Harriet as well as groundskeeper Jamie, who although retired years ago runs the gardens like he owns the place (I can relate to controlling behavior in the garden) and you enjoy every scene they’re in. There are also necessary characters like Stuart and McIntyre that help pull the storyline together. What you end up with is a book with all the elements it needs for a great read.

 

Like I mentioned before, the fact that Nora Roberts’ couples end up together is no surprise. Still, you root for them and want to see their lives begin brand new.  The plot of these stories appeal to women looking for a good love story with a twist. Nora Roberts is a wonderful author because of the interesting plots she comes up with and the path she leads you down as you read.  Ms. Roberts knows a thing or two about writing romance novels, she has more than 400 million of her books in print, writes under several pseudonyms and has written more best sellers than anyone else on the planet.  I can’t be the only one enjoying her yarns… try one out for yourself.

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The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

17 Sep

The Kitchen House was a selection from my book club and each of us really enjoyed it.  The novel is narrated by two of the main characters, Lavinia and Belle.  Sharing narration duties, each from a very different perspective, they chronicle two decades of life, death, love and hatred. 

Set in Virginia, it begins in 1791 with seven-year-old Lavinia, a white girl who is orphaned while onboard a ship from Ireland.  Taken as an indentured servant, she arrives at the steps of Tall Oaks, a thriving tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves in the kitchen house.  

The kitchen house is run by Belle who is the illegitimate daughter of the plantation master, Capt. James Pyke.  The secret of Belle’s lineage is one the reader hopes will be disclosed at every turn of the page.  She lives her life “serving” her father every day hoping to receive the papers that will finally free her of the bonds of slavery but at the same time conflicted because that would mean leaving the only family she’s ever known.

As the years pass, Lavinia bonds deeply with the slaves who have become the only family she has.  She of course doesn’t understand the separation between those who live in the kitchen house or other areas of the plantation and those that live in the big house.  Her appearance matches those in the big house, but she spends much of her day living the life as a slave.  As an indentured servant, she’s given some advantages and privileges the black children on the plantation can only dream of.  Because of the color of her skin and the circumstances that brought her to the plantation, she never really fits in either place. 

Eventually, she is accepted into the world of the big house, where Capt. Pyke is gone for long periods of time aboard his ship and the mistress deals with her depression with daily doses of opium, for which she becomes addicted. Lavinia finds herself on both sides of two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.

The story is filled with colorful, interesting characters that you can’t help but root for and wish for their happy ending.  Conversely, it has its share of misguided and evil characters that play a significant role in this part of our sad and shameful history.

The Kitchen House is well-written and beautifully told.  I agree with my book club friends that the ending comes quite abruptly and we would have preferred a little more closure.  Maybe a sequel is in Ms. Grissom’s future.  Overall, it’s a very well researched novel that leaves you reflective, and full of hope.

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

15 Aug

This is not a book I would normally choose, and to be fair to my great taste in literature, I didn’t choose it.  It was a selection from one of my book club members.  I finished this book about a month ago and have read several others in the meantime but it’s taken me some time to really digest my thoughts and compose them in such a way that I write a review that’s not just a rant.  It should have some value, right?  The review, not necessarily the book.

 If you’re not familiar with this book (or the movie that followed), it’s about the events surrounding the 1947 torturous murder of 22 year-old Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles.  What followed was the greatest manhunt in California history.  Sadly, even after reaching national attention and notoriety, 65 years later the murder remains unsolved.

 

The author took the basic facts of the investigation and wove in his own characters and details and ultimately solves the case.  In his young life, Mr. Ellroy experiences great trauma with his own personal and life-changing encounter with murder and clearly draws on that experience to paint a picture that’s dark and perverse.  It’s a book based on fact but rooted in fiction.  If after reading my review you decide to read the book, I would recommend you first do some research on the case itself.  It would be helpful to know where the lines of fact and fiction have been blurred.  Not blaming anyone for my own choice, but in hindsight, I wish I had researched a bit.  I was under the impression it was a book of actual events, not an author’s stab (no pun intended) at creative license.

The story is seen through the eyes of flawed Bucky Bleichert, ex-prize fighter and something of a boy wonder on the police force.  He and fellow cop (and boxing rival) Lee Blanchard are assigned the case together.  Collectively they delve into the short life and mutilation death of the young lady later dubbed The Black Dahlia.  Through the stress and obsession of the case, their friendship, work ethic and love for the same woman will be tested significantly. Both are fixated with the Dahlia, driven by dark needs to know everything about her past, to indentify and capture her killer and to possess the woman even in death. Their quest will take them on a hellish journey through the underbelly of post-war Hollywood, to the core of the dead girl’s twisted life, past the extremes of their own psyches-into a region of total madness.

Each character is described in great detail.  Corrupt cops, city officials, pimps, GIs, Mexican bar owners, prostitutes, society matrons… they tend to get confusing.  I found it hard to follow at times and wasn’t sure which characters needed to remain in the forefront and which could be forgotten.  Another aspect I struggled with was the vernacular.  I understand cop-speak and have read many books set in the ‘40s.  What was confusing was that the author used so many words and expressions that frankly, I got tired of looking up to understand what they meant.  Many I didn’t find at all.  I don’t typically read sitting in front of a computer with the internet to rescue me.  I found that when I encountered one of these characters or expressions, I would just continue on and hope it wouldn’t be important later. 

Ultimately I found very little was important and I pushed myself simply to finish.  Needless to say this wasn’t a book I enjoyed at all.  It was crude, violent, gratuitous and gory at every turn.  I don’t have a prudish outlook and can handle most subject matter, but it just felt as though the author tried to push this to the limit.  Maybe he wanted us to experience the gruesome and unfathomable crime that was committed.  Maybe he wanted some exposure to the notorious murder that might light a fire under a detective’s chair and get the case re-opened.  Maybe he wanted to tell a little of his own personal story and used the Dahlia as his vehicle.  Whatever it was, I found it fell short in every way.

Room by Emma Donoghue

9 Aug

This book was recommended to me by my 22 year old daughter.  I admit I had some trouble getting into it at first.  I’ll also admit I knew absolutely nothing about the story so I didn’t know what to expect and wasn’t sure where anything was going.  I usually like a little summary of a book before I dive in, but most reviews tend to give too much of the story away, so I tend to stay away.  Having said that, a little history on this book would have been helpful for me.  

Because the story is so unique, I’m going to write my review in two parts.  If you’re like me and don’t want the story spelled out (read ruined) for you, read just Review #1.  If you’re okay with knowing more of the storyline and details, feel free to read Review #2 as well.  I’m an equal opportunity reviewer (smile).

 

Review #1

The first paragraph begins… “Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. Was I minus numbers?”

The story is told from the perspective of five year old Jack.  It’s not easy to read at first, it took me some time to get used to the way he speaks, but once I got into the story, I could visualize Jack, Room, Ma and their daily lifestyle.  That made it much easier.  This is where a little background on the book would have been helpful.

In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. His day is spent utilizing the few things they have, singing songs hearing stories his Ma remembers and enjoying the five picture books he’s had read to him over and over.

Room is where Jack was born.  It’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. It’s the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to create a normal life for her son.  Room is an 11×11’ space. 

Donoghue has done an amazing job of letting us think like an isolated, innocent boy whose life is turned upside down when he learns that Outside of Room is a big world. Up until his 5th birthday, his world was balanced, controlled and he missed nothing since he didn’t know of anything else. Everything beyond Room was Outer Space. Once he was told there was so much more out there, fear of the unknown crept into his world.

Having a child narrate the book is very clever in many ways. Jack is oblivious to the heroic efforts his mother makes to protect and entertain him, but these definitely don’t go unnoticed by the reader.

This is one of those books that sucks you into its world and makes you reconsider your own. It’s a quick read that’s highly absorbing. I was reminded of what the world could look like from the perspective of a small child. It makes a parent want to be more kind with their words, more respectful of what their child’s needs are, and more understanding when things seem confusing.

Okay, spoiler alert… if you’re not interested in the more detailed storyline, stop reading here.   Otherwise, scroll down.

Review #2
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held hostage for seven long years. After being kidnapped as a teenager, she’s forced to live her life in the confines of this space and endure the nightly unwelcome visits of her captor. 

The sense of dread builds as Jack reports on his daily life in Room. The reader, who is smarter than a five year old, begins to understand the severity of the situation. The suspense builds beautifully and the pages keep turning.

Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this 11×11’ space. With Jack’s curiosity building, together with her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer and she sets forth devising a plan for life on the Outside.

When their isolated and intensely private world suddenly reaches beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are unexpected and extraordinary at the same time. Despite its sad and disturbing premise, Room is filled with moments of hope and beauty, and the steadfast determination to live, even in the most bleak of circumstances. A dramatic story of survival in captivity; readers who enter Roomwill leave shaken and amazed, as though, like Jack, they are seeing the world for the very first time.  

Emma Donoghue builds a story of familial love and support that alternately both breaks and warms the reader’s heart. When the scene shifts, what happens “After” is as interesting, suspenseful and touching as what happened in Room.

Lifting a Foot Forward: A Lesson in Balance by Greg Morton

8 Aug

This book would be categorized as a motivational autobiography.  It’s a quick read about the life of a boy turned man who had experiences that would shape his decisions and his life. 

It’s broken down into three chapters; Learning to Walk, Off Balance and Balance.  Within them you follow his life as a young boy starring opposite Kate Jackson in the hit television series Scarecrow and Mrs. King and attempting to find his way among his peers and out in the real world.  He covers all the positive and negative experiences that accompanied the first of what would turn out to be many adventures.

While still feeling the bite of the acting bug, he made a decision to leave it behind and chase other interests.  Eventually entering the corporate world, he found his niche motivating others and becoming a master at problem solving.  Although he was good at what he did, he jumped from job to job never feeling fulfilled and never finding what he was looking for.  

That was, until a cold January day in 2008.  Many ordinary people have extraordinary experiences.  Thankfully for us, Greg is a gifted writer, who after having an extraordinary experience was able to put it not only in writing but in perspective to change his life. 

 

 

Follow his journey from childhood to present day and learn from his unique point of view.  You’ll get wrapped up in his storytelling and find yourself wanting to get out there and do something.  Anything. 

 

Mr. Morton is also the author of the action adventure series The Fury of the Bear and its sequel To Catch a Fox.  In 2011 he released a collection of untitled poems and original photography and will be releasing a book of short fantasy/adventure tales this fall.  His blog is followed by many who tune in regularly for their daily dose of inspiration, humor and thought-provoking posts.  I recommend you visit his Morton Design Works website where you’ll find not only his blog but can purchase his work as well. 

Oh, and after being my best friend, husband and partner for 20 years, he’s still the love of my life.

With Song by Dorothy Garlock

3 Jul

Let me start off by saying that I bought this book at our library bookstore (as I do many books) for $.50 and didn’t realize at the time it was part of a trilogy.  Now I need to buy the first and third novels…

Set in the depression-era, the trilogy With Hope, With Heart, and With Song give an intriguing look at the dangerous backdrop of the Old West.

In With Song, Molly McKenzie’s peaceful world is devastated one summer evening in 1935 when gangsters kill her parents while robbing their country store.

When she hears a series of loud pops, she thinks her father is teasing her mother with the latest shipment of firecrackers, but when she looks out the front window and sees two suspicious men getting into a big black car, she begins to think otherwise. In this small town, everyone knows everyone.  When she goes downstairs, she discovers that both her parents have been killed and the store robbed.

Molly’s world is further upset by the arrival of federal agent Hod Dolan who convinces Molly to let him use her as bait to lure the men back to the scene of the crime, not realizing just how dangerous this might prove to be. While Hod knows the plan threatens all of their lives, he doesn’t know that protecting Molly will endanger his heart as well. Drawn to the pretty young woman at first sight, he finds himself falling deeply in love with her. Molly, however, is still struggling to deal with the violent death of her parents and is wary of loving a man whose occupation is fraught with danger. She doesn’t trust his intentions but Hod is determined to prove his love is real.  Bound together by their mutual determination to bring her parents’ killers to justice, the two begin to forge a relationship, but neither of them knows yet of another threat to their lives that is darker, more sinister, and much closer to home. I found this twist especially fun to read.  It gave the story more depth and creativity than most of the romance novels I’ve come across.

Molly and Hod are strong, honorable, and courageous characters whose story is balanced by colorful secondary characters and a well-developed plot.  While there are quite a few characters you’ll enjoy getting to know, I want to introduce you to a few of them here.

Aunt Bertha: Molly’s aunt who comes to help Molly after the death of her parents.  Simply said, Bertha is a kick in the pants.  Her no-nonsense approach reminded me a lot of Alice from The Brady Bunch.  She’s honest, direct and has a great sense of humor.  Aunt Bertha drives a brand new ’34 Ford.  This detail hit close to home because when I was in Junior High School a family friend owned a beautifully restored 1934 Ford that I absolutely loved.  

The Bonner Family: Humble, dignified and proud.

George and his sister Gertrude: Neighbors of the McKenzie’s, George is in his 30s, sweet, simple, devoted and misunderstood.  Gertrude on the other hand, considerably older than her brother is a mean recluse who is rarely seen. 

Charlotte: Young, full of life and living a burdened life.  Makes you wonder how many real-life Charlottes are out there.

When it comes to reading I think I’m pretty easy to please, I really don’t ask for much.  Maybe I come away happy because I don’t often stray far from my comfort zone, but I’m okay with that.  I want reading to be a relaxing, enjoying adventure, not a chore.  I enjoyed this book and the characters.  I look forward to finishing the trilogy and sharing my thoughts with you…

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon by Billie Letts

29 Jun

 

Caney Paxton is man who went off to Vietnam and returned home in a wheelchair.  Feeling ashamed for his part in the war and dealing with nightmares and loneliness, he hasn’t left his Sequoyah, Oklahoma café in 12 years.  Known as The Honk and Holler Opening Soon (thanks to a sign-maker’s error) the café is filled with just the kind of characters you would expect for a restaurant of its type and location.  The book starts out around Christmastime in 1985 and for Caney and waitress Molly O, who helped raise him, the holiday looks anything but merry.  Business is slow, bills are piling up and Molly O is worried about her rebellious teenage daughter, Brenda, a country musician seeking her fortune in Nashville. 

Things change when luck brings the Honk and Holler two new employees: beautiful young Crow Indian drifter Vena Takes Horse, who arrives carrying only a severely injured dog and a backpack, who signs on as a carhop, and Vietnamese refugee Bui Khanh, a handyman running from a guilty secret of his own. Initially reluctant to trust the two outsiders, the Honk and Holler’s regulars come to value Vena and Bui, especially after an act of violence threatens Bui’s life.

Like a lot of books of this type, these characters have lived complex lives with many hurdles to overcome and you root for their success every time you turn the page.  The setting for this simple story captivates you with love, hope and humanity and leaves you with a sense of community and support.

It was a fun little book that my friend Monique gave me late one night when I called out of desperation for something to read.  As you know, I need to be reading something all the time.  I had finished our book club selection, Wildflower Hill and it was going to be at least a week before I started the new book club book and I couldn’t wait.  I’m so lucky to have a friend to who indulges me with late hour book requests.

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