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Never Say Never by Victoria Christopher Murray

Posted by Josh Olds On August - 22 - 2013

Genre: Chicklit, Dramatic

Publisher: Touchstone Publishing

Publication Date: 6/4/2013

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Miriam Williams and Emily Taylor have been best friends since college. They shared a friendship that went beyond mere personal regard for one another, which developed instead into a bond of sisterhood with an unyielding love for one another.

But those bonds are tested when a school fire leaves Miriam’s fireman husband dead. Miriam is thrown into a downward spiral of grief, and though her friends try to help her out, their own busy lives keep interfering. Instead, Miriam finds comfort and solace in Jamal, Emily’s husband, who also happens to be a fireman and her late husband’s best friend.

In the meantime, Emily, a child psychologist, makes it her mission to help six-year-old LaTonya, who is traumatized after her twin sister died in the fire. But Emily’s focus on LaTonya means she misses the growing friendship (and more) between her best friend and her husband.

Soon the inevitable occurs. And, of course, Emily finds out. Never Say Never explores the deep feelings of grief, pain, and loss, as well as speaks to the bonds of friendship, all while touching on themes of reconciliation, forgiveness, and sin.

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Can’t Keep a Bad Bride Down by Miranda Parker

Posted by Josh Olds On July - 5 - 2013

Genre: Dramatic, Suspense

Publisher: Dafina Kensington Publishing

Publication Date: 6/25/2013

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

The story opens in picturesque Tybee Island, located near the city of Savannah, worthy of being a setting in a Nicholas Sparks movie.  The occasion is the wedding reception of Lana Turner. No, not the 1920’s movie star, but the daughter of GA state senator,  Elaine Turner and friend to bail recovery agent Evangeline Crawford (aka Angel), who ironically said. “yes!” to the too hot to be holy Reverend Justus Morgan. Big question is, will she say “I do!” when and if the big day arrives?

In this, the third installment of the Angel Crawford series, Can’t Keep a Bad Bride Down, the usual suspects/characters have returned in full force and brought along with them some additional characters of interest, both friend and foe. And this, the last installment in the series, is packed with a gang of intense characters intertwining in a gripping and compelling novel from a powerful voice in fiction. Miranda Parker’s descriptions allow readers to see and smell what Angel Crawford and the other characters saw and smelled. Her descriptions invite readers to participate in the fascinating scenes that Angel visited during her recovery agent adventures – such as Alon’s Bakery & Market, a popular Atlanta bakery where you could watch the chocolatiers make chocolate while you have lunch, and Mi Pilon, an eatery that offers a hometown feel with Latin flavor & Spanglish twang.

Angel is a happy woman, with an adventurous job that she loves, and a newly acquired fiancé. And one of the last things she needs to do is reconnect with Maxim West, the suave sexy U.S. Marshal she kissed during her last mission, and who could possibly ruin her relationship with Reverend Justus Morgan.  Yet, the case that stood between her and her lover Gabe has crept back into her life.  And now, Angel strapped with her Kahr, Glock, and stun gun, once again finds herself partnered with dreamy Marshal Maxim West at the edge of Limestone Spring Belt, in South Georgia looking for a nip joint in the middle of Okefenokee Swamp where a motley of moonshine stills could be found.  Sitting in wait, trying to capture wife beater and petty shine runner Jagger Jones before Sheriff Ray, his vigilante brother-in-law, finds him and administers street justice for stabbing his sister. However, as serious as his crimes may be, Jagger is small potatoes compared to the case involving an illegal moonshine syndicate, but even the shine case seems pale in comparison to the real action that takes place at Château Elan, a vineyard in Braselton, GA that became a premier golf resort, which looks like a sixteenth-century European castle set on Georgia soil, and is where the confrontation between Angel, the Marshals, and the organized hired-hit-man ring explodes. Somewhere between the 5th and 6th hole on the magnificent grounds of Château `Elan, as bullets whistled through the dark night air, knives are drawn, and unpleasant physical pain is endured, there is no guarantee who will survive. One thing for certain, the kick butt heroine Angel Crawford will be one of the main participants.

Can’t Keep a Bad Bride Down delivers a complex suspenseful story, with lots of twists and turns leading to a startling ending – and I do mean startling.  Admittedly, it is by far one of the most captivating books to read this summer, a page turner with super juicy plot twists. Parker’s writing style seemingly blends law enforcement, corruption, romance, and visible tension, with relentless action. She effortlessly created vibrant characters that come to life in the glitz, crime, and down-home southern world of Georgia. Simply put, Miranda Parker composed an entertaining story that readers will enjoy.

Davidae “Dee” Stewart (aka Miranda Parker) was an incredibly talented writer on the rise, she was featured on CNN and in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and Publishers Weekly. Unfortunately, her promising literary career was cut short by her unexpected and sudden death in October 2012.  Her effortless prose and ability to bring her sometimes bizarre but always engaging characters to life, along with her 1000 watt smile, will greatly be missed.

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Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Touchstone

Publication Date: 5/14/2013

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

In this new installment of Gyles Brandreth’s engaging and critically acclaimed mystery series—which is currently in development as a BBC television series—Brandreth features the incomparable playwright, novelist, raconteur, and now ex-convict Oscar Wilde while he faces his most fiendishly puzzling case yet.

The sixth in the series, Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol opens in France with Wilde sentenced to Reading Gaol. At the end of a four-day trial in 1895, Wilde was found guilty on seven counts of gross indecency for his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas and sentenced to two years hard labor. He eventually lands in Reading Gaol, where he must submit to the harsh rules for inmates. Prisoners of Gaol were addressed only by their cell location numbers (Wilde was referred to as C.3.3), not allowed to speak ever, and required to wear a hood at all times while outside their cell. Wilde is forced to endure the isolation, but when two prison workers die under mysterious circumstance, Wilde is asked to lend his skills to cracking the case. He must identify and stop the killer or risk becoming the next victim.

The novel centers on Wilde’s time in prison, and is narrated by a Monsieur Melmoth (Wilde is disguise) to a Dr. Quilp, as they sit in a French café. Brandreth, who has exhaustively studied the life of Oscar Wilde, narrates the story in first-person with uncanny ability. He writes of Wilde’s life as an extraordinary roller-coaster ride and this installment of the mystery series reflects just that. The novel actually focuses more on Wilde’s life in prison than the mystery, but it’s a good mystery still.

Lovers of mystery and historical fiction will relish this installment.

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Whiskey Beach by Nora Roberts

Posted by Josh Olds On May - 19 - 2013

Genre: Dramatic, Romance, Suspense

Publisher: Putnam Adult

Publication Date: 4/16/2013

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Passion, obsession, compassion, and humor flow together in a novel about two people opening themselves up to the truth, and to each other, while enduring the murder investigations that surround them.

Whiskey Beach is the story of a man, who, after his wife is murdered, is grinded down by the relentless and perhaps “false” pursuit by an overzealous detective – as he is also forced to struggle against the love story which ensues along the way.

Former Boston defense attorney, Eli Landon has left Boston and headed to Whiskey Beach, his ancestral home, in an effort to get some peace of mind from the cloud of suspicion he’s lived under since his wife’s murder a year ago. While Hester Hakim Landon, Eli’s nearly 80 yr old grandmother and owner of Bluff House, is in Boston recuperating from a nasty and suspicious fall.  There he meets Abracadabra Walsh, a woman with an open heart combined with an overbearing brand of nurturing, who has lovingly cared for Bluff House since her escape to Whiskey Beach.

Although no formal charges were brought against Eli, his reputation as well as his soul is in despair.  Eli had discovered his soon-to-be ex-wife’s body in their house while he “innocently” was in the process of removing some valuable family heirlooms. That also happened to be the very same day they had a public brawl about their impending divorce as well as his wife’s ongoing affair. Detective Wolfe, the detective in charge of the case, made it his mission in life to harass Eli relentlessly and pin the murder on him at any cost. However, it seems Detective Wolfe isn’t the only one with a dogmatic interest in Eli. There are a number of mystery characters that are thrown into the mix, who are not only trailing Eli, but may also be trying to eliminate him all together. The question is who, and what does it have to do with his wife’s murder, and why has it followed him from Boston to Whiskey Beach?

It’s a well written romantic suspense story that is told in captivating detail which will take the reader on a journey of discovery—one which includes some fascinating history involving an oddly interesting yet ruthless family told within an incredible story. Through Nora Roberts’ gift for descriptive writing, readers will be, as I was, able to run along the beach with some endearing characters such as: Eli, Abra & Barbie the dog as they encounter every breath taking moment of suspense, intrigue and romance.

Within the pages of Whiskey Beach, Nora Roberts showcases her talented ability to craft characters and setting, which are in sync with an excellently executed plot, enabling the reader to focus purely on the perfection of the entertaining story she is trying to convey, which only adds to the beautiful picture she paints with prose.

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Six Years by Harlan Coben

Posted by Josh Olds On April - 28 - 2013

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thrillers

Publisher: Dutton

Publication Date: 3/19/2013

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Harlan Coben returns with a standalone thriller that explores the depth, power, and passion of a lost love—a love compounded by secret and lies.

It was during the summer at an artists’ retreat in Vermont when Jake Fisher and Natalie Avery fell deeply, irrevocably in love. Though they had only known one another for months, their love for one another seemed to defy reality. But as the summer came to a close, an unforeseen event would tear the couple apart, and cause Jake miserable anguish.

Now, six years later, Jake still harbors an intense longing for Natalie. His desperation gets kick-started after he reads that Natalie’s husband, Dr. Todd Sanderson was murdered in Savannah. Jake sees it as an opportunity to console Natalie and possibly get back into her life, so he attends the funeral. However, Jake is more than a little surprised when Natalie does not attend the funeral. Instead, Todd’s wife, Delia Sanderson—who’d been married to Todd for over two decades—and their two children are the family members who are there to mourn him.  Confused, anxious, and more than a little fearful Natalie’s whereabouts,  Jake’s obsessive passion to find Natalie may very well cost him and several others their lives.

Jake may be a scholarly professor, but a PI he is not. He does however realize that if he’s ever going to find Natalie he must enlist the help of others including, Professor Benedict Edwards, his closest friend, but oddly Benedict has never met the elusive Natalie, and wonders if she is even real.

Jake finds himself coming up against quite a bit of opposition in his quest to uncover the truth surrounding Natalie’s whereabouts. Starting with Natalie’s own sister, Julie Pottham, who seems oblivious to everything regarding her sister and extremely reluctant to provide any information to Jake. Then there’s Professor Eban Trainor, whom Jake detests, and though he claims to have a beacon of information, it comes at a price Jake isn’t willing to pay. Once Jake gets his long time friend Shanta Newlin—an agent for both the CIA & FBI—involved, he has high hopes of finding Natalie. But even she shows signs of opposition and appears to be holding back information, which has him more anxious than ever to find out what has happen to Natalie.

Once Jake learns that Sylvia Avery, Natalie’s mother, changed their last name when her husband became tied to a scandal, he becomes convinced she may have some vital information that can help decipher the expanding mystery. It soon becomes obvious that Jake will be forced to make one of the biggest decisions of his life – whether to drop his pursuit for the sake of all concerned and never see the love of his life again – or continue his quest and not only risk his life but Natalie’s life as well.

Six Years is a plot driven story, in which a simple act several years ago snowballs into devastating consequences that impact quite a number of people, people who are hell-bent on maintaining secrecy. But the secrets and lies begin to spill out after Todd Sanderson is murdered

Works of fiction are just that, fiction and a bit far-fetched with the hopes of being entertaining, and Coben’s Six Years manages to entertain. Seriously, Jake’s narrative humor is the driving force that helps to propel Cohen’s interesting style of storytelling. As spellbinding and/or thrilling as the story was plotted out to be, it loses something in the actual execution, yet it still made for some pretty good reading.

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A Deeper Love Inside by Sister Souljah

Posted by Josh Olds On February - 18 - 2013

Genre: Dramatic, Literary

Publisher: Emily Bestler Books – Atria Books

Publication Date: 1/29/2013

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Fans of acclaimed writer Sister Souljah have waited with much anticipation for thirteen years for a sequel to The Coldest Winter Ever—the realistic coming-of-age tale of Winter Santiaga. Winter is a spoiled, pampered, ruthless hood rat, attracted to power and intolerant of those without it. She deceives and steals from those who help her and her obsession with money, possessions, and appearances, along with her refusal to change has led her down a path of no return. Now, thirteen years later, Souljah returns to the Santiaga family to write an unforgettable coming-of-age story in the words of Porsche Santiaga, Winter’s younger sister.

A Deeper Love Inside opens with ten-year old Porsche Santiaga serving time in a juvenile prison for attempted murder.  The narrative proceeds to take readers on a journey that will be very difficult to forget. It is a story of a shrewd, quick-witted young girl, wise and clever beyond her years, adjusting to having had things handled for her with the world at her fingertips to one of survival and hardship.

While in lock up Porsche is force to physically defend herself from the attacks of jealous inmates that envy her beauty, her hair, and her ability to dance.  Although she is running her own successful hustle, she is recruited by Riot, the leader of the Diamond Needle gang.  With Riot’s help she learns to act smarter and fight with her brain instead of her fists.  And during all of this, Porsche has not seen or heard from any of her family members and wants to reunite with them at any cost.

Under the direction of Riot, Porsche manages to escape from the juvenile prison and hide out on an Indian reservation run by NanaAnna. After waiting a predetermined amount of months and earning quite a bit of money, they head off to Long Island, only to find that the beautiful world Porsche once knew and loved is no more.  Their mansion is occupied by another family, her father is in prison serving a life sentence, her older sister Winter is also incarcerated, her twin baby sisters—Lexus and Mercedes—have been adopted, and the mother she loves and fought so hard to get back to is now a crack addict living beneath a store.

Apart from Riot, Porsche encounters some very interesting and well-developed characters along the way, each with a little bit to offer her in life lessons, whether they are good or bad. For instance Riot, the leader of the Diamond Needle gang, teaches her how to have patience and plan. Lil’Man, aka Angel, who killed a stranger that violently raped and impregnated his mother taught her about getting even on a different level. Warden Strickland taught her not to trust people in authority. NanaAnna taught her how to grow, prepare, and cook healthy foods. Mr. S taught her how to form alliances while helping her empire grow. And her mother taught her the hardest lesson of all, which readers will find between the pages of A Deeper Love Inside.

Due to the multitude of devastation inflicted while in foster care and juvenile-prison, Porsche develops a disorder and becomes unusually attached to her newly acquired friends, Siri and Ivory, and holds tightly to them throughout the story.  And it’s through Siri that she meets Elisha Immanuel, a brilliant young soon-to-be movie director with whom she will be able to find and feel A Deeper Love Inside.

Readers may be wondering if this sequel lives up to its predecessor, which is does despite being a very different tale. Whereas Winter grows into a cold, self-absorbed, thoughtless, and uncaring individual, Porsche grows from a beautiful, angry, vulnerable girl who fought to survive into a gorgeous, loving, and enchanting young lady living at peace.

Sister Souljah is a successful political activist and educator of underclass youth. Her national bestseller The Coldest Winter Ever, considered the definitive novel of the hip-hop generation, marked her fiction debut; she is also the author of a memoir entitled No Disrespect. She lives in Jersey City with her husband and son.

I would recommend this book to readers wanting a riveting, gritty, yet touching story.  However, due to some language this book may not be appropriate for readers under the age of sixteen.

Publisher Provided – Thank You

Genre: Chicklit, Comedy

Publisher: NAL Trade

Publication Date: 11/6/2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

It seems obvious that Stephanie McAfee is absolutely ecstatic to be writing her Misadventures of a Mad Fat Girl series. The series revolves around Graciela “Ace” Jones, known in her small town of Bugtussle, Mississippi as a feisty high school teacher with an outsized presence and a big mouth to match.

Happily Ever Madder: Misadventures of a Mad Fat Girl, is the follow up novel to McAfee’s debut, Diary of A Mad Fat Girl.  This installment featuring Ace and her beloved dog, Buster Loo, focuses on Ace leaving her small Mississippi hometown for Pelican Cove, Florida, start a new life with her fiancé Mason—a decade long love interest—and fulfill her long dreamed of goal of opening an art gallery. With this new life comes a desire to change, and Ace vows to end her sassy ways.  This lasts until she meets the notorious ill-tempered nosey neighbor, Lenore Kennashaw, self-appointed owner of the town, who manages to rub Ace the wrong way by being an overbearing witch.

It is a story about the smallness of a town where everyone knows everyone else and where the social order can make or break a person, yet there’s a fair amount of humor, fun, and emotions.   Ace finds herself whining about and wanting to be accepted in the well-to-do community, just as she whines that there aren’t enough customers patronizing her gallery. And although she has a fabulous fiancé, she even whines about not being able to get with a sexy hunk.  However, instead of focusing on improving her relationship, her new gallery, and keeping her promise to be nicer, Ace makes it her goal to get even with mean old Lenore.   Ace’s new group of friends, consisting of Jalena, Tia, Olivia and Avery—who are as crazy as she is—plot to get even with their perceived enemy by declaring war on her and her coterie of crones. In the process they uncover and revealed a secret that soon makes it apparent they have gone too far.

On one hand, a number of readers may find that they are able to relate to sassy Southern Ace with her seemingly real life problems; however, the crude language may be a challenge for others. McAfee’s no-holds-barred in-your-face hilarious writing style isn’t meant to offend, but could turn off those sensitive to strong language.

If chick-lit is your genre of choice, then you may find Happily Ever Madder to be a welcome addition to your collection.  It offers a surprising cliff-hanger ending which is a definite indication that there will be an addition to the Mad series.

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Devil’s Wake by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes

Posted by Josh Olds On January - 29 - 2013

Genre: Apocalyptic, Horror, Thrillers

Publisher: Atria Books

Publication Date: July 2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

In the first installment of a new paranormal series, award-winning authors Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes write, Devil’s Wake, a compelling apocalyptic tale of Earth’s fierce struggle for survival.

Humanity has been divided two groups: the infected and uninfected. They called it a vaccine and dispensed it to millions of unsuspecting people, but instead of healing, the vaccine turned those it infected into the living dead. The infected quickly transform into aggressive, red-eyed zombies intent on attacking the uninfected, growing exponentially before the authorities can grasp what’s happening.

In the midst of it all is sixteen year old Kendra who is forced to flee her home after her parents become infected. She finds refuge with her grandfather, but after some time he too becomes part of the living dead. Kendra goes on the run, alone and lost, but crosses paths with a ragtag group of juvenile delinquents whose foster parents also succumbed to the zombie disease. She joins them and together they band together, using a sturdy blue bus they nickname ‘The Blue Beauty’ to protect them from the zombie hordes and make their way to the safe haven of Devil’s Wake.

This is a fast-paced read with a hint of humor, which makes it all the more pleasant to read—lights on or lights off. But the more squeamish among you, I would recommend keeping the lights on.

I have never been a fan of the paranormal genre, especially when zombies are featured, but I must admit I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this particular book.  Devil’s Wake proved to be an exception to my ‘paranormal reads aren’t entertaining to me’ rule.   The writing skills of Due and Barnes had a great deal to do with my change of heart in that respect.  They included an interesting storyline that was not filled with unnecessary gore, while at the same time showcasing the various characters which complimented the paranormal aspect of the book. This book will be a good addition to any YA’s book collection, as well as any lover of fiction.

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The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Posted by Josh Olds On January - 4 - 2013

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Atria Books (a division of Simon and Schuster)

Publication Date: 16 October 2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

In the summer of 1961, during a family celebration at their Green Acres farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres Farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England, through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined.

In her spellbinding new novel, The Secret Keeper, Gothic novelist Kate Morton spins a family mystery over half a century. Laurel, her three sisters, and her young brother, Gerry, gather in the days after their mother’s ninetieth birthday, to nurse her in the final weeks of her life in a London hospital. They work to fit together the pieces of a complicated puzzle of Dorothy Nicholson’s childhood to the days prior to her death.  Laurel embarks on a desperate search for the truth about her mother’s past where everyone seems to have something to hide. One photograph, of her mother and a woman Laurel has never met, called Vivien—an heiress who was also orphaned when a car crash claimed her parents and siblings in Australia—is her first clue.

Rich with detail and lyrical prose, this novel explores longings and dreams, the lengths some people will go to fulfill them, and the strange consequences they sometimes have.   The Secret Keeper is captivating with its story of vivid and visceral characters that are lovers, friends, dreamers and schemers—it is deception told against a backdrop of events that changed the world, and the lives of some its complex characters.  One woman believes being with a brutally cruel man is her penance for something she did as a child, while another woman is in awe of the first, who she assumes lives a charmed life, and conquers a one-sided friendship—yet becomes angry and disillusioned when her unrequited comradeship isn’t acknowledged. Her envy and an unrealistic sense of entitlement help fuel her own anger, which ignites an unfounded grudge that is sprinkled with a few grains of greed.  And then there is the man in both of their lives, the innocent photographer who, because of love, gets caught up in a web of deceit and a sordid plot that may not only cause him to lose the love of his life, but may very well cost him his life.

This is an intriguing tale that not only entertains, but compels readers to diligently flip through page after enticing page to uncover the details of Dorothy’s mysterious past.  When one mystery is uncovered, another puzzling incident arises.

The Secret Keeper will have readers rooting for and sympathizing with certain characters; however, as some dreadfully shocking details and disturbing character flaws are revealed, it may cause those very same readers to feel a sense of betrayal for the compassion they allowed themselves to feel for the undeserving. In spite of everything, readers will no doubt enjoy this book as they grow to hate a character or two, while they continue to read, just to see if he or she gets what’s coming to them.

Morton’s novels aren’t necessarily formulaic, but they do all seem to follow a similar pattern.  Present day characters run across a clue or two that makes them suddenly keen to delve into their family history, about which they were strangely incurious—and in this particular novel the formula does seem to apply: a daughter’s curiosity about her mother’s past is triggered by an old photograph and the mystery ensues as the story alternates between 2011 and 1941.

Most writers attempt to entertain readers and some writers attempt to convey a story. Then there is the rare group of writers who manage to tell an interesting story that entertains the reader.  The latter is my take on Kate Morton—I must admit I enjoyed the writing style she lends to this story; she is a gifted writer with excellent literary poise which enhances the storyline with astonishing regularity.

Imperfect Bliss by Susan Fales-Hill

Posted by Josh Olds On November - 17 - 2012

Genre: Chicklit, Comedy, Dramatic, Romance

Publisher: Atria Books

Publication Date: 7/3/2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

The storyline of Imperfect Bliss explores three separate love triangles that revolve around the three oldest Harcourt daughters.  Diana is smothered with rich admirers, while in reality only two men really catch her eye.  Victoria, the eldest, is torn between marrying the man her mother approves of and a secret forbidden lover.  Bliss is tempted by Wyatt, the charming and witty TV host, and Dario, the aloof but caring executive producer.  And then there’s Charlotte, the youngest of the four sisters, who desperately tries to steal the spot light with her less than lady-like demeanor.

At the center of the story is Bliss Harcourt—hence the title Imperfect Bliss. Bliss is a head strong, divorced mother of four-year-old Bella, living at home with her parents.  After her failed marriage, she returned to graduate school in hopes of becoming a professor and finally moving away from her controlling mother, who is infatuated with her cultural status.  She finds the antics of her over-bearing mother less than admirable and even deplorable at times. Although she may not respect her mother’s twisted thinking, she does love her Mum, because in the end, Forsythia loved her to the point of self-abasement.

However, prior to Bliss being able to come to such a profound enlightened assessment of her mother’s love; Bliss’s imperfect life is turned upside down by her sister, Diana, and her sudden TV fame as the star of the reality TV show “The Virgin” with a shameless tagline of: ‘where wealthy men compete to capture her heart, hand in marriage, and hymen.’  While Bliss and her father are horrified as well as offended that Diana’s chastity will be auctioned for television ratings, Diana and Forsythia are ecstatic beyond belief. Yet, as entertaining as it may appear, the foolishness of the reality TV show is basically the sub-plot to the real plot, which is Bliss’ reluctance to allow true love into her life.

At first glance some readers may compare Imperfect Bliss to a modern re-make of Pride and Prejudice due to the silliness of it all and because of its noticeable similarities with the Jane Austen classic—strong heroines, men who are not what they seem, meddling parental figures, and romantic twists.  It is indeed somewhat of a parody, both of Jane Austen’s world and of the contemporary world.

In this humorous tale, Fales-Hill manages to cover a number of relational issues, including pressure from families to ‘marry well’ and recovering from divorce.  In addition, the book addresses the ridiculousness behind Reality TV and its impact on family, relationships and society.  Imperfect Bliss is basically an aged-old case of a mother wanting to live vicariously through her children—pretending to be more than she is and pushing her daughters to marry at any cost, as long as they marry someone with money and a title.

With an ideal balance of humor, wit and important social commentary, Susan Fales-Hill’s Imperfect Bliss is sure to be a reading staple on bedside tables everywhere.

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The Litigators by John Grisham

Posted by Josh Olds On October - 31 - 2012

Genre: Dramatic, Legal Thriller

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: 10/25/2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

In The Litigators, John Grisham has again proven himself to be a skilled storyteller, this tale weaving a tale that’s a cross between the lighthearted humor of Boston Legal and the finesse and precision of L.A. Law. Drawing heavily on courtroom drama, Grisham balances humorous satire with a courtroom saga of litigation.

The story features David Zinc, Wally Figg, and Oscar Finley of the F&F attorneys at law. Harvard Law graduate, David Zinc is the youngest and most financially successful of the F&F law firm trio, he literally stumbled into the Finley and Figg agency after dramatically leaving his former law firm. Sixty-two year old Oscar Finley is the senior partner, who won the building in a lawsuit. He’s unscrupulous and conniving, violent and dangerous. And then there’s Wally Figg, a pathetic always-recovering alcoholic, who is continually trying to score the big pay day client. He is flawed with endless defects, including four failed marriages. His greed or perhaps need for that one big colossal win, single-handedly threatens to professionally, morally, and financially bankrupt the firm, and perhaps cause physical devastation as well.

To round off the colorful crew of misfits, is Rochelle Gibson, the less than knowledgeable legal secretary. Although vastly untrained, she’s kept on staff only because she has blackmailed Figg and Finley with the threat of suing them for malpractice over a suit she had lost that they had legitimately messed up.

After twenty plus years together, Finley and Figg had succumbed to being ambulance chasers. But now with David onboard, the firm has some potential for profit.  And along the way, they may just learn to behalf like a real law firm. Their big break comes when they file a lawsuit against Varrick Labs for a faulty cholesterol reducing drug called Krayoxx. But with a group this inept, not even a sure shot is simple.

Only an attorney who is also a writer could craft this novel and John Grisham is exactly the person to do so. The law, litigation, and the professionals that practice it, mixed with just the right amount of humor is what readers will enjoy as they eagerly journey through the story of The Litigators.

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Waiting for Sunrise by Eva Marie Everson

Posted by Josh Olds On October - 23 - 2012

Genre: Dramatic

Publisher: Revell

Publication Date: June 2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Life sometimes gets the best of us. For some it’s the daily pressures, for others it’s the shadows of the past. For Patsy Milstrap, it’s both. When she travels to beautiful Cedar Key on Florida’s Gulf Coast in search of healing, she never dreams her past will be waiting for her there.

With a large helping of Southern charm, Waiting for Sunrise is a touching story of family, young love, and the need for forgiveness. Author Eva Marie Everson expertly draws out the bittersweet moments of life, weaving them into a tale that envelops the soul.

Waiting for Sunrise is an engaging emotional drama, telling a double tale of abandonment and the resultant feelings of neglect. Everson realistically examines the tough decision to abandon one’s child without explanation in an effort to protect that child from the harsh realities of abuse, neglect, and the lack of forgiveness.

Patsy’s story is told in flashbacks throughout the book. As an adolescent she is not allowed very much freedom and her stepfather is a brutal and demented man.  When he comes home on the weekends he brings with him stress and violence which her mother and brother are forced to endure.  As Patsy begins to mature into a young lady, her stepfather begins to look at her in inappropriate ways, giving rise to a decision that will affect the lives of the entire household and cause Patsy unbearable suffering. It takes a vacation to Cedar Key and an unexpected encounter there to bring the effects of her dysfunctional childhood and dissatisfied adulthood to the surface so that healing can finally begin.

Everson tends to use tragedy in her novels and in doing so, she reveals the grace of God, giving the reader a chance to learn something about that grace through the character’s growth. Waiting for Sunrise is definitely one of those stories and not one that should be missed.

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Kind of Blue by Miles Corwin

Posted by Josh Olds On October - 21 - 2012

Genre: Dramatic, Suspense, Thrillers

Publisher: Oceanview Publishing

Publication Date: November 2010, trade paper October 2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

When a legendary ex-cop is murdered in L.A, the pressure is on to find the killer. Lt. Frank Duffy needs his best detective on the case, but the only guy deserving of that title, Ash Levine, quit a year ago. A tenacious, obsessive detective, Ash resigned after Latisha Patton, the witness in a homicide case he was working, was murdered. Without his job, Ash has been left unanchored and consumed with guilt that he somehow caused Latisha’s murder. When he’s asked to rejoin the force, Ash reluctantly agrees. Getting his badge back could give him the chance to find Latisha’s killer. He dives headfirst into the shadowlands of Southern California to investigate the ex-cop’s murder. But even when he has a suspect in custody, something about this case doesn’t sit right with Ash, and he continues working the increasingly dangerous investigation while quietly chasing leads in Latisha’s murder. Unable to let either case go, Ash finds that his obsessive nature might prove fatal.

Throughout the pages of Kind of Blue, Miles Corwin takes the reader on an in-depth journey into the painstaking process and tedious aspects of police procedures, while providing a plot that is filled with complicated twists.  Corwin writes interesting and complex characters, especially the protagonist, Ash, who despite obsession with his work, manages to have dinner with his mother every Friday, and is soothed by Miles Davis’ jazz.

Some die hard readers will find that Corwin, like a number of debut fiction authors, tends to be overly descriptive while conveying their knowledge of the craft of writing. However, Corwin rectifies this in Midnight Alley, the sequel that furthers Asher Levine’s adventures as a homicide detective.

This book contains explicit sexual content and language as which may not suitable for some readers.

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Pig by SBR Martin

Posted by Josh Olds On September - 27 - 2012

Genre: Dramatic

Publisher: The Artists’ Orchard, LLC

Publication Date: 6/11/2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

With a title like Pig, you might imagine an adorable television pig like Arnold or a cutesy talking star of children’s literature, like Babe. No, SBR Martin’s Pig is not the enchanting tale of a porcine friend. Instead, it is a derogatory reference to a woman named Lily, who has gone by different names over the years – Lilith, Mom, Flower, and Pig, to name but a few.

Pig is a narrative that comes from Lily’s memories—a woman holding on to too much pain and too many secrets.  The entire novel takes place at her husband Bender’s funeral, where she sits alone on a couch in the corner of a crowded funeral home, desperately clinging to a scrap of paper clenched in her right hand.  She avoids contact with those around her, keeping to herself, because she holds more than that scrap of paper—she holds a lot of secrets, including one she’s keeping from herself.  Readers will step into Lily’s past but won’t be pleased with everything they learn.  Some stories just aren’t meant to have happy endings.

This is a story of domestic abuse, sexuality, reflection, and loss. Any flicker of joy that may have been shared early in Lily and Bender’s relationship vanished before it could even take root and was replaced with never ending tears and long lasting pain.  Readers will learn that despite her husband’s cruelty, Lily felt beholden to Bender and was obedient to him as a means of expressing her gratitude for not leaving her after she had an affair.  Yet, Bender did not feel the need to stop his verbally or physically abusing her, though he promised on more than one occasion to do so.  The subject matter is not an easy or pleasant one to tackle in a storyline.  However, the author managers to present this dark tale through the eyes of Lily in manner readers are able to endure to its conclusion—and what a conclusion it is.

Pig is SBR Martin’s second book, which was honored as a second prize quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. Her first book, In Wake of Water was published in 2011.

Some readers may find the graphic storyline of domestic abuse to be offensive, and the mature content and language may not suitable for some readers.

Publisher Provided

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thrillers

Publisher: Atria Books

Publication Date: 9/18/2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

First things first, I seriously enjoyed this novel. It was exactly as a thriller should be and made me want to see it on the big screen. And it didn’t hurt one bit that I envisioned the author, seductively handsome actor Blair Underwood in the role of the protagonist, Tennyson Hardwick. Now, on to the review…

Licentious super-sleuth Tennyson Hardwick is back in what looks to be his most compelling case to date.  South by Southeast the fourth installment in this award-winning mystery series proves to be a great addition to the already noteworthy series and functions well as a standalone thriller.  It starts off as a smooth comfortable tale of an ex-gigolo, part-time actor who’s lost his drive and perhaps his box office appeal.  However, the story soon shifts to an excursion from LA to South Beach and back at the same time Tennyson becomes engrossed in the murder investigation of several prostitutes no one seems particularly interested in, except the murderer.

As Tennyson tries to make sense of the case he gets caught up in a cat and mouse game of wits with the psychotic killer. Tennyson’s world is unexpectedly turned upside down when the murder gets personal by taking the life of someone close to him.  Hardwick takes a vow to track down and rid the world of the heartless serial killer, but in doing so, he discovers the horror has really just begun.  Vengeance is the killer’s fuel and an undiscovered secret is the motive. Has Tennyson underestimated his opponent? Will be able to survive and fend out the terror planned for Chela, April, and everyone else close to him?

This skillfully crafted suspenseful page-turner is expertly narrated in both 1st person and 3rd person POV which the writers blend seamlessly together.  The authors take readers on an unforgettable journey and along the way introduce them to some of the most believable well-rounded, yet colorful characters imaginable. South by Southeast is for a reading audience that enjoys a great mystery thriller that offers an entertaining read.  It is a remarkably consuming heart-thumping knuckle-wrenching thriller, which can easily become the avid reader’s new favorite novel.

I would highly recommend Blair Underwood’s novels, he and his co-writers, Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes have done such a terrific job of bringing some incredibly vivid characters to life that help to tell the most intriguing stories in the Tennyson Hardwick series.  The series includes: Casaenegra, In The Night of the Heat, From Cape Town with Love, and the latest, South by Southeast.

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The Reverend’s Wife by Kimberla Lawson Roby

Posted by Josh Olds On September - 13 - 2012

Genre: Dramatic

Publisher: Grand Central

Publication Date: 5/1/2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

The Reverend’s Wife is the 9th book in the Reverend Curtis Black series by Kimberla Lawson Roby.  Even though it deals with a church setting, this is not Christian Fiction. Existing fans are well aware of the over-the-top history surrounding Reverend Curtis Black’s personal and professional life, which despite his position as the pastor of a Mega-Church, seems to have more drama and issues than his entire congregation of over 1,500 members rolled into one.  And it won’t take long for new readers and future fans to be bought up to speed as they journey through the ninth episode involving Reverend Curtis Black.  In this installment the storyline focuses on the antics of first lady Charlotte Black. Although both parties of the marriage are guilty of more than one infidelity, each has offered apologies and vowed to atone.

Curtis has tried to assure Charlotte that he’s forgiven her for her past infidelity, but he’s not able to forget it. Charlotte is trying her best to convince her husband to forget while throwing herself into the duty of doing the things a first lady of a church should have been doing all along—getting involved with church and community activities and even organizing a couples’ counseling group.  However, complications arise when Curtis informs Charlotte that he intends to file for divorce the minute their son, Matthew, graduates high school and heads off to Harvard.

Initial reader reaction will conclude that the main characters are quite selfish and their constant need to be apologetic for their ridiculous antics and sinful behavior is not only self serving but a bit tiring as well—they claim to be repentant, but on the surface it’s difficult for readers to see any earnest remorsefulness. It’s difficult to be frustrated at the actions of fictional characters, but Roby’s writing skills and great characterization leaves readers with the impression that events and characters are true to life.

Readers will shake their heads in amazement and/or frustration that Reverend Black is even allowed to still put on a robe and practice religion in any church—it’s a mystery that his congregation even continues to listen to him because he truly hasn’t led by example, at least not by a good example. Now, after committing adultery, marrying and divorcing three times, having a child out of wedlock, and so forth, the Reverend finds Charlotte’s infidelity too much for him to handle, especially since he’s decided to mend his ways and act in accordance with God’s wishes. It’s better late than never, but is he really sincere?

While Charlotte is in the fight of her life to save her marriage, an element of surprise threatens to pave a road of no return for her. Sharon, a new church member who moved to Chicago to be near Reverend Black, has begun an emotional affair with the Reverend and wants to depose Charlotte as the Reverend’s wife. In reaction, Charlotte turns to alcohol and becomes even more impossible to deal with.

The audience that would be best served by reading this book would be those seeking a little more than the normal devotional or spiritual guidance, but who are looking for entertainment as they perhaps do a bit of soul searching while getting a lesson in strength and forgiveness along the way.   No, this book is not profound by any means, it is however quite entertaining.  And the entertainment within these pages may cause one to ponder what forgiveness is truly about.

The Reverend’s Wife stands up very well to the previous Pastor Black series — and in some ways it even surpasses them – as far as reaching a degree of redemption.  So, for those looking for an alternative to traditional Christian fiction, this is book will definitely fulfill that need and a bit more.

Publisher Provided

The Stalker Chronicles by Electa Rome Parks

Posted by Josh Olds On September - 9 - 2012

Genre: Thrillers

Publisher: Urban Renaissance, Kensington Publishing Corp.

Publication Date: 2/1/2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

This is one time you should not only judge a book by its cover, but by its title as well, because the book jacket speaks volumes. Electa Rome Parks has created The Stalker Chronicles her 8th novel, as a follow up to The Stalker Diaries. Readers won’t be able to put this psychological thriller down until all 226 pages are consumed.

Just when he thought it was safe to stop looking over his shoulder, under his bed, and double checking the locks – national bestselling author, Xavier Preston once again becomes the unhealthy focus of Pilar, a fanatical stalker/fan. Although their relationship consisted of a one-night stand which escalated into a painful obsession, Pilar did not accept the break up well and it’s her mission to get Xavier back, even if it means she has to eliminate any obstacle or anyone that gets in her way.  And if Pilar can’t have him again, she will make darn sure no one else will either.

Reluctantly or not, Xavier has to take some responsibility in Pilar coming back into his life. After all, he decided to write a bestselling novel based on his year long experience of being stalked and tortured by Pilar. Once that very novel, Stalker Diaries, was made into a blockbuster movie replaying the nightmarish ordeal over and over with heavy media coverage, he should have known it was only a matter of time before it would fuel Pilar’s unresolved anger and bring her out of hiding. It was one thing to be rejected, but to be portrayed as some sort of psycho stalker for the whole world to see, only help to bring her back with a vengeance and this time she will not be ignored. And to ensure her place in his heart forever, Pilar launches a plan that will affect nearly everyone Xavier knows, a plan that she executes with precision, a plan so dementedly evil no one is safe, not his friends and definitely not Xavier.

The writing technique may be a little flawed in a few areas, but Parks manages to write one heck of an intriguing thriller to entertain her audience with The Stalker Chronicles. I usually do not care for first person POV using multiple characters; however in this instance utilizing the three main characters to convey the story using first person POV blends quite well.  Where this book certainly succeeds is in convincingly revealing how easily and quickly obsessive devotion can turn to obsessive hatred when the object of that devotion fails to reciprocate the love of the stalker. As beautiful, stunningly sexy and confident as she may be, Pilar is a bona-fide psychotic with some serious deep rooted issues from her past, that are so monstrous when revealed, may not only bring understanding, but some empathy as well.  Pilar is one of the most unforgettable fictional characters readers will love to hate or hate to love.

This book contains mature content that might not be suitable for some readers.

 

Someone Bad and Something Blue by Miranda Parker

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On July - 12 - 2012

Genre: Murder Mystery

Publisher: Dafina Books, Kensington Publishing Corp.

Publication Date: July, 2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

I became a fan of Miranda Parker after reading A Good Excuse to Be Bad, the first installment of The Angel Crawford Series which features a female bail bond recovery agent.  In this no holds-barred everything goes  era, where  curse words dominate the prose and the plot gets lost amongst the pornography, finding a wordsmith with the talent to captivate the reader’s attention without resorting to profanity and explicit sex scenes is rare and rewarding.  I am delighted I found that unique talent in Miranda Parker.

Parker, with her fresh writing style, introduced readers to and caught their attention with Angel’s character in the first book and builds upon that in Someone Bad and Something Blue.  In this installment, Miranda takes us into the secretive world of Atlanta’s speakeasy society, the interworking of the moonshine industry and much more; as Angel and U.S. Marshall Maxim West trudge around the Okefenokee Swamp in an effort to solve the murder of The Honorable Elaine Turner’s campaign manager.

If you read the first book, you know Angel isn’t the type of bail bond recovery agent who just sits around filing her fingernails, not unless she’s planning to use them to scratch someone’s eyes out.  But if you haven’t read A Good Excuse to Be Bad don’t fret, Someone Bad and Something Blue reads wonderfully as a standalone and readers will get an actual glimpse into the real Evangeline Crawford.  However, you will want to pick up a copy of A Good Excuse to Be Bad because it’s a terrific read as well.

Angel Crawford is such a well-developed character, it feels like she’s sitting next to the reader as Miranda Parker steers her through the streets of Atlanta.  So, get ready to venture to places such as Grits Draft House-a Southern revival cocktail bar; The Dunwoody Detention Center; Flappers, a secret speakeasy in Atlantic Station; Holeman & Finch Public House; or the fictional McArthur Estate in Stone Mountain. As a non-native of Georgia, I never even heard of some of those places, but through Parker’s outstanding writing talent, I had the opportunity to journey to each of those exciting places that Parker so vividly describes in this intriguing story filled with suspense, action, humor, and romance.

Parker allows her talent for telling a story to passionately breathe throughout the plot as she captures and holds the attention of her audience.  Her well-developed characters are dynamic and compelling.  Readers will find themselves rooting for Angel, Justus and Maxim and looking forward to the downfall of Knocker, Marlo and Riddick – though at times they won’t and other times they shouldn’t.  This story will have readers on edge as they continue to clutch the pages to find out who amongst the suspects is actually guilty of more than just murder.

I read somewhere that one of the elements for a good read usually includes some type of boy-girl encounter/interaction, and Someone Bad and Something Blue does not disappoint in that area.  There are a number of romantic encounters that are super steamy without being overly raunchy or pornographic, which makes it suitable for a wider audience.   Reverend Justus Morgan claims his role as wanna-be side kick and turns up the heat on the taboo romance as he actively pursues Angel, and she is not resisting his advances. Of course, it wouldn’t be interesting if there wasn’t any drama or conflict and in this case, it comes wrapped up as U.S. Marshal West, introducing Angel to another sizzling temptation.  Having two well-rounded intelligent gorgeous men within her grasp would have been enough for most women, but Angel is not most women and when she should have been on the hunt for a size eight, Ivory, silk taffeta, strapless Amsale wedding gown from the Blue Label collection – at the ROTB (running of the brides) she is hunting for killers.

I love the sense of humor Parker drizzles throughout the story and I found myself laughing out loud at comments like, “…dark thirty in the morning”; “…by the way you look like a pimp’s daughter with that thing.” And the one I found priceless, “…swallow your pride and put your big girl panties on.”

The conclusion of the plot is appealing, which I won’t spoil for readers – except to say, as readers witness Angel’s transformation from bail bond recovery agent to a bona fide PI – the conflict and rising action make it a compelling piece of fiction.  Miranda Parker leaves her readers with some very interesting unanswered questions – to discover the answers – readers must join Angel on her next manhunt in, Can’t Keep a Bad Bride Down, coming July 2013 – I am definitely looking forward to the next installment of the Angel Crawford series.

~Until my next review, happy reading.

 

Review copy provided by publisher. 

 

 

Hand Me Down by Melanie Thorne

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On May - 13 - 2012

Genre: Dramatic Fiction

Publisher: Dutton

Publication Date: April 12, 2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

An interesting debut novel, indicative of a semi-autobiographical story – Melanie Thorne’s Hand Me Down is the author’s descent into fiction. This unforgettable novel depicts the intimacy of a narrative memoir of a 14-year old girl struggling to deal with the chaos of an emotionally destructive life.

Elizabeth and her younger sister, Jamie realize early on that they don’t have anyone to depend on as they try to cope with the knowledge their parents are not only incapable of caring for them, but have little or no desire to do so.  After their mother, Linda chooses a man over them, she displays an incredible degree of indifference toward her daughters and their well being. What is even more disturbing, Linda didn’t toss her daughters aside for just any man, no, she sagged a real prize when she married, Terrance a convicted sex offender. Terrance is the kind of man who takes pleasure in tormenting Liz each time he brushes against her, breathes on her, licks his lips as he speaks inappropriately to her and prances around half-dressed, knowing Liz will remain silent because he’s already threaten to approach young Jamie with the same attention, if Liz doesn’t keep quite.  After the girl’s alcoholic father who faithfully beat Linda during their marriage, notifies the parole office that Terrance is in violation of his parole by living in the house with the girls; Liz thinks she, Jamie and their mother can get back to life before Terrance and perhaps enjoy their childhood in a normal environment. Instead, loving mom, chooses the sex offender over her own offspring. While Jamie is sent to live in a trailer park with her dad, Liz is shipped off to Terrance’s brother, Gary, and his wife. Liz can’t concentrate on her studies, friends or anything a teenager should be focused on, because she is overly concerned and rightfully so, about her and Jamie’s fate, considering no one else seems to be. Though she is mature beyond her years and is forced to accept what the adults tell her – “you’ll be okay.” “it’s not that bad.” “you’re strong.” – with the exception of her mother’s sister, Tammy who lives in Utah, everyone else has conveniently forgotten Liz is a child who needs to be cared for.

As Elizabeth struggles and pleads to be reunited with her sister and even her mother, she is bounced around like hand me down luggage. From her mother, to her perverted step-father’s brother Gary, to a neighbor, and then another relative, it is clear that the adults within Liz’s circle  are incapable of managing their own lives – and are not an exemplar role model for parenting; but of all the adults, Elizabeth and Jamie’s mother is by far one of the most despicable characters, who continues to lie and pull further away from her children.

Author Throne pulls deeply from her real life experience which can be visualized through her emotional prose as she tells this tale of the devastating consequences that occur following a mother’s decision to abandon her daughters for a sex offender – at some point it’s as if you’re reading Throne’s diary when she was a teenager, a diary of a child that continually ask and doesn’t understand, “why doesn’t my mother love me? And “why won’t anybody save me?”

 

Hand me down Liz is finally shipped off to Salt Lake City to stay with her mother’s sister, Tammy an aunt who loves and cares for her the way a child should be cared for – but it doesn’t end there. Question is, when and where does it end, and will Liz and her sister ever  have a place to call home sweet home, some place that’s considered their haven?  You’ll want to pick up a copy of Hand Me Down to learn what becomes of these girls who’ve been tossed aside by those that should love and protect them.

Review copy provided by publisher.

 

Stay With Me by Paul Griffin

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On May - 11 - 2012

Genre: Young Adult

Publisher: Dial

Publication Date: September 8, 2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

A dyslexic dropout with a gift for training dogs collides with a honor student and the result is an enchanting first love – until as with any boy-meets-girl story – something goes terribly wrong.

Paul Griffin’s latest gritty urban fiction Stay With Me unfolds on the streets of New York and stars 15 year olds, Mack Morse and Céce Vaccuccia – each the product of a single parent household that share a common bond of alcohol dependency, but at least Céce’s  mother is still maternal and caring, she just happens to be a self-medicating addict who engages in heavy episodic drinking to dull the painful worry of her son being away in the war …Whereas, Mack’s abusive, alcoholic  father is just a hateful mean so-and-so whose objectionable disposition intensifies with booze.

The story is told in alternating perspectives, by Mack and Céce over the span of 102 days, and through their voices, Griffin uses dramatic dialogue to illustrate the profundity of their relationship. Though he is kind-hearted with a passion for tough-talking Céce and incredible compassion for the rescue dogs he trains, Mack is fueled with uncontrollable anger which will evidently be his undoing. Céce is a cheesecake-hoarding exceptional student, studying for an entrance exam to a gifted-and-talented program.  She is slightly obsessed with the movie, The Outsiders and is under the impression she has ESP – according to her Grumpy had it and she bears the curse doubly because it skipped over her mother.  And best/worst of all, Céce is totally crushing on Mack.

Also featured in the story is an array of notable characters: Céce’s friend Marcy is beyond amusing she is downright hilarious and truly exemplifies the characteristics of an actual teenage girl.  Vic, is the Italian restaurant owner who employs them both; Anthony, Céce’s brave football-star-turned-line-cook older brother enlists in the military; Wash, a compassionate prison guard; Mr. Tompkins, a less-than patient, drill-sergeant on a mission; and, a colossal headed pit-bull, Boo. These secondary characters have been well-crafted by Griffin with believability and help bring the story to life.

The quirky characters and devoted lovable dog are the beacons that help illuminate this otherwise heartbreaking coming of age love story, which is reminiscent of a made-for-TV movie wedged between 288 pages.  Although targeted toward ages 14 and up, due to some content, this book would be more appropriate for readers ages 16 and older.

 

Review copy provided by publisher.

 

 

Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On April - 20 - 2012

Genre: Dramatic/Suspense

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: March 2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey, FictionAddict.com

In Carry The One Carol Anshaw presents her reading audience with a  very ambitious fourth novel…one which spans from a 1983 Wisconsin wedding through the 2008 Election  as it chronicles a Chicago family thrown off balance by a fatal accident. This story explores how the lives of three siblings are affected after a fatal freak accident that ends the life of 10 year old  Casey Redman late one night on a dark dirt road with Nick’s drugged out girlfriend Olivia behind the wheel.

 

The reason I decided to pick this one up and read it through was because the last sentence of the first chapter really caught my attention – ‘…a jumble of knees and elbows, and then her face, frozen in surprise, eyes wide open-huge on the other side of the windshield.’  -  That sentence captured me and held the promise of a thrilling and interesting read. What I found within the two hundred and sixty nine page novel was; the (key) characters are rather tragic sheepish souls wondering aimlessly through their own lives, whose relationships are forged in grief and guilt. The storytelling is simple but is considered to be well crafted. The readers will follow the characters as they go through friendships and love affairs; growing up and finding success; marriage and divorce; parenthood, and the tragedies and joys of ordinary days.

There’s Alice, a basically sound lesbian that has a deep seated obsession for Maude and is also a gifted artist competing with her egocentric father; loving judgmental Carmen, a political activist; and then there’s  their brother, Nick, a once brilliant astronomer – who  swears off drugs in order to win back Olivia after she’s released from prison. It is through Nick’s drug dependence that readers are able to see how degraded a talented person can become, and how eventually a family can become as equally exasperated with the user because of it.

As for the title it comes from Alice, who says: “Because of the accident, we’re not just separate numbers. When you add us up, you always have to carry the one.” The author’s poetic prose is rather outstanding as she casually writes about these characters without the benefit of any real action – which will keep some readers turning the pages in search of, as they fall witness to Anshaw’s exceptional gift as a wordsmith and the comfort she maintains while utilizing her extensive vocabulary with words such as coalesce (amorphous, fatuous, confluence) with ease and relevance. Nevertheless, I found the story to be rather dry – then again, that is perhaps the writer’s intended goal, considering she is telling a story of the ordinary days of a rather ordinary family following an extra ordinary event – the most exciting and entertaining aspect of this read was held hostage within the first few chapters.

My final thoughts, I wanted and needed more zest, at least something that would propel me to want to vigorously flip through the pages, fall in love with the characters and be engaged by the story, alas Carry The One did not carry me through those various stages of interest as I’d hoped. And the book’s abrupt ending did not conjure up a sense of satisfaction or the desired anticipation of more.

 

 

Miscellaneous Blues by Erica L. Crump

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On April - 19 - 2012

Genre: Dramatic Fiction

Publisher: JX Enterprises, LLC

Publication Date: September 2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey, FictionAddict.com

Miscellaneous Blues a commendable debut novel that will keep you hooked until you turn the final pages.  Sit back and meet sisters Sasha, Victoria, Mya and Lola – the Dexter Divas. Newbie author, Erica L. Crump writes with professional ease and produces a story that explores the elements of life through four sisters – it is a story that will touch on several emotions including fear, love, hate, betrayal and forgiveness.

The characters are full of life and completely believable and absolutely carry Miscellaneous Blues – plus-size Victoria makes you want to reach out and comfort her, as she struggles to get her weight down which soared to unmanageable proportions due to the abuse she is subjected to at the hands of her free loading live-in babies’ daddy of 16 years;  Mya is detestable, and not just because she’s carried on a four year affair with a married man, but because she’s an angry selfish insecure demon screaming for constant attention, and is more concerned with getting a husband by any means necessary than admitting she has a serious problem, she is also relentless when it comes to the hatred and violence she inflicts on her youngest sister; stunningly attractive, Lola the youngest is just trying to find her way back emotionally after the death of her one true love, and to steer clear of Mya’s uncontrollable wrath whenever possible,  as she raises her son alone; and finally there’s Sasha aka “Cookie” the oldest, strongest and most reliable of the four sisters, the one the other’s look up to and attempt to emulate, because from their standpoint, she and her super fine million dollar earning CFO husband have it all together, or so it seems.  However, Cookie’s OCD  and dependency on Xanax – something she’s been hiding from her sisters – is trying to take hold as she struggles to keep her perfect marriage from falling apart but behind the walls of her seven thousand square foot home of wedded bliss lie the most explosive and appalling secrets of betrayal one could imagine and will give new meaning to the word(s) emotional devastation and forgiveness -  during this turbulent time, Cookie the rock of the family, must draw heavily on her strength in God as she prepares for the possibility of divorce.

Miscellaneous Blues provides some tidy and not-so-tidy resolutions to the tough challenges the characters encounter. As the final pages were read, I found myself somewhat surprised and I’m certain that most readers may anticipate a resolution for some characters that never materialized, instead they will be shocked. Still, Crump has crafted a well written book that is ultimately attention-grabbing.  She deals with hard life issues in a painfully real manner. The subtlety in which Crump sprinkles Christianity and faith within the story is refreshing and not overly done. Miscellaneous Blues will make readers smile, think, become angry, and perhaps even cry; characteristic of a book worth reading. The conclusion of this story is a shocker that you just won’t see coming.

I anxiously await Ms. Crump’s next book, and a follow up to Miscellaneous Blues would also be a welcomed addition to my reading library.

 

The Hunter by John Lescroart

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On March - 10 - 2012

Genre: Mystery – Thriller

Publisher: Dutton/Penguin Group

Publication Date: January 2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of twenty-two novels, has unleashed another mystery thriller with his latest novel The Hunter. Lescroart takes his readers on a surprising unplanned journey filled with a multitude of twist and turns. A young wife and mother is brutally murdered in her Bay Area apartment. Flash to forty years later, Private Investigator Wyatt Hunt receives an anonymous text, asking him “How did your mother die?” The texter insists that the murderer is still out there, and is willing to give Hunt clues as to the identity of murderer, but refuses to identify themselves. Also interesting is, the way Lescroart weaves fact with fiction by revisiting the massacre at Jonestown –  where over 900 people in a cult led by Jim Jones died in a mass suicide in 1978.

One can appreciate how Lescroart manages to grab the reader’s attention in the first chapter with that short simple text message from an anonymous and untraceable number “How did your mother die?” a question that leads Wyatt and his Hunt Club investigative team on a journey to unravel the mystery of his biological mother’s death.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mama Ruby – Mary Monroe

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On February - 1 - 2012

Genre: Drama

Publisher: Dafina Books – Kensington Publishing Corp

Publication Date: June 1, 2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Deception, lust, and murder are a few of the ingredients that will keep readers turning the pages of Mama Ruby, by New York Times Bestselling Author Mary Monroe.

The story opens in 1934 in Shreveport, Louisiana – and is the prequel to Monroe’s The Upper Room, and takes place during Ruby’s formative years – and boy how influential those years were in shaping Ruby into the character she became.

The down-home Southern names are earthy to match the thickness of the characters – Ruby Jean, Othella Mae, Beulah, Simone  are just a few of the names that are used to express the time period the story is set in.  Ruby is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter – supposedly meaning she has mystical abilities she wants nothing to do with. She didn’t need or want the responsibility, after all just being the daughter of a preacher was enough of a burden as far as Ruby was concerned.

You would think by being the daughter of overly religious parents it would have had a positive influence on her but it did not. Instead Ruby was the promiscuous ignorant young daughter of a preacher and the horrific and somewhat unbelievable consequences that occurred throughout her childhood followed her into adulthood and only seem to be compounded by her own actions.

The human elements of this story may cause many readers to become angry and perhaps even sympathize with the characters.  I was angered enough to put the book down, but had no sympathy for the characters; I did not like the characters, their lifestyles or what they represented. However, I wanted to know what happened, how the characters did or did not prevail over their grim circumstances.

This book contains some gritty as well as offensive language therefore; the recommended audience should be mature readers of ages 18 and older.

Review copy provided by author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between Friends – D.L. Sparks

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On January - 29 - 2012

Genre: Dramatic/Suspense

Publisher: Urban Books / Kensington Publishing Corp

Publication Date: January 2012

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

D.L. Sparks, recently voted in as the newest member of the Atlanta Georgia Peach Authors, caught the attention of readers with her debut and sophomore novels is back with her latest dramatic suspense novel Between Friends, about A DEA agent and an APD Lieutenant who lock horns during a joint investigation that unearths cold-blooded corruption and heartless manipulation in this fast paced drama.

Between Friends opens as DEA Agent Orlando “Trip” Spencer has returned to his home town Atlanta to help with a complicated investigation. Trip didn’t want to take the case, he didn’t want to be back in Atlanta, but what he least wanted to do was to work with APD Lt. Lincoln Briscoe.

Between Friends, draws heavily on drug kingpins turning up dead and weapons being funneled into the county jail, but there is more than just a cat and mouse game of intrigue being played as this drama unfolds it is also packed with romantic complications and there is no telling what will happen when Trip and his closest friend, Idalis Arrington come face to face again.

Although they have been friends since early childhood, there is a wedge between Trip and Idalis’ relationship and that wedge is none other than Lincoln “Linc” Briscoe, Trip’s nemesis who’s been on a collision course with Trip since college. And just so happens to be engaged to marry Idalis, a complication that may very well affect Trip’s ability to focus on the case.

Trip learns that Idalis is in trouble and his efforts to protect her and investigate the slaughters taking place on the streets of the Dirty South take him all over the city of Atlanta – from Atlantic Station through Spaghetti Junction to a house in Cascade – a house full of secrets.

As the investigation gains speed the novel peaks up even more; emerging secrets threaten the pending marriage between Idalis and Linc. Unfortunately while trying to protect Idalis Trip’s partner, Philip “Big Phil” Porter is shot and left for dead.

Readers will appreciate that Between Friends does not disappoint once the mystery of Phil’s shoter is revealed,  as other suspense dramas tend to do. The adrenaline does not stop pumping and instead the rapid pace continues. The story does not become boring and readers will learn that the innocent aren’t always as innocent as they seem.

Sparks may not win an award of excellence (though there’s no reason she shouldn’t), she is still an author of quality that deserves recognition and merit for the realism she brings to her characterization skills. The realistic characterization of Trip comes to life while he investigates corruption, his relationship with his best friend Idalis and some childhood demons.

Some books defy expectations, some books defy critics, they are often the books readers call a darn good read – and Between Friends is one of those books. I have no doubt that Between Friends could very well become a New York Times bestseller and I’m hoping it will be adapted into a big-screen movie.

Between Friends is a must read and highly recommended for anyone who wants to become engrossed into a suspenseful entertaining storyline. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a book for the story content and the characters that come alive throughout the pages. I want to thank both the author for her talent for being able to tell a story in such an entertaining matter.

 

Review copy provided by publisher. 

A Good Excuse To Be Bad by Miranda Parker

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On January - 5 - 2012

Genre: Suspense, Drama

Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corp.

Publication Date:  June 2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Since only a handful of books are worth reading past its opening paragraph, chances are most readers will pass on a novel and perhaps opt for mindless television, unless the author manages to capture their attention, and propel them to read chapter-after-interesting-chapter, and that’s what Miranda Parker has skillfully been able to do in, A Good Excuse to Be Bad.

Miranda Parker’s debut novel, A Good Excuse to Be Bad showcases a female heroine, Angel – but don’t get it twisted, the name Angel was given to her, but not necessarily earned. This former investigative reporter has become a tough bail recovery agent, aka – Bounty Hunter, with ballistics training, a black belt, and an array of weaponry; and she’s on a mission to save her twin sister, Ava from a scandalous murder charge, and when I say scandalous, I do mean the murder of Bishop Devon McArthur was scandalous.  The action, humor, and thrills keep this fast-paced suspense intriguing while the anticipation unfolds and until the final pages are turned.

Although Angel reluctantly promised the annoying pain-in-her-side detective Salvador Tinsley, that she would not interfere with the investigation, and despite the animosity between Ava and Angel, she is still compelled to save her sister from the death penalty or at the very least, life in prison – so Angel launches a private investigation of her own.  The road to the truth, leads her on a journey of lies, deceit and more dead bodies. At the same time, Parker throws Rev. Justus Morgan, the lavender scented handsome pastor into the mix as Angel’s wanna-be sidekick with hints of a taboo romance on the horizon – to learn how far it will blossom, readers will have to follow the story to a close.

While on the trail of clues, evidence and motives – not to mention romance, readers will discover some surprising elements that will keep them perplexed and captivated to find out where and with whom the trail will end.

Ms. Parker has cleverly added some twists and turns that are sure to keep any suspense reader fascinated until they uncover every mystery, including why Angel detested her brother-in-law and what caused her, her sister and the Bishop to be on such bad terms – how does their estranged relationship and the six-year old history between Angel and the sizzling-voice Detective Tinsley fit into this web of deception and the murder investigation?  Oh and then there’s finding out who Rachel is and what if anything, is her connection to Bishop McArthur’s murder.  This story will have readers on edge as they continue to clutch the pages to find out who amongst the suspects is actually guilty of the murder(s).

Readers don’t pass on A Good Excuse to Be Bad, by talented author, Miranda Parker – if you do, you will regrettably miss out on a very interesting read of dramatic-suspense with a cultural trip through the streets of Metro Atlanta and its surrounding areas.

After reading A Good Excuse To Be Bad, I know I want to find out what happen to put Angel on bad terms with Ava and Devon – so I’m really looking forward to joining Angel on her next manhunt in the latest Angel Crawford installment, Someone Bad and Something Blue, scheduled for release in July 2012 from Dafina Books.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Cabin Fever (Diary of A Wimpy Kid – Series #6) by Jeff Kinney

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On December - 21 - 2011

Genre: Children’s Series

Publisher: Abrams, Harry N., Inc.

Publication Date:  November, 2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Writer Jeff Kinney continues his diary entries about the adventures of his stick figure Protagonist, Greg Heffley in, Cabin Fever – Diary #6.  In this installment Greg finds himself in trouble again and this time he is somehow involved in vandalizing school property. The other perpetrator is of course, his closest friend, Rowley who, as usual is along for the ride.

The winter holidays is the setting for this Wimpy Kid installment.  While Greg is trying to figure out what to put on his Christmas list, he chronicles a number of events that take place prior to the blizzard that trap him and how he manages to deal with them – including, looking for ways to earn money to buy Kritterz Kash to care for his demanding cyber pet.  At the same time, Greg’s little brother, Manny has his own solution to Greg’s virtual pet problem, and it’s a doozy.

And like any average stick-figure adolescent, Gregg has finally grown up a bit, and is a little less whiny.  Although his primary goal is to earn money to care for his virtual dog and not get busted for defacing school property, Greg brings attention to the fact that recess has become like a prison yard after the last of the playground equipment is taken away – because according to Greg, the school was having trouble paying the insurance for the playground, so each time there was an accident or injury they removed the offending piece of equipment – until there was none, and the children were left with no recess-time activities.  Greg may very well be on to something,  because, that may be the lame explanation for the lack of physical activity in today’s public schools.

After successful eluding the school authorizes as well as the police for his accidental crime, to Greg’s surprise he is anonymously ratted out by none other than one of Westmore Middle School’s usual suspects.

An entertainingly quick, easy read for young children.

 

Review copy provided by publisher. 

 

Holler At The Moon by Tinesha Davis

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On November - 15 - 2011

Genre: Drama

Publisher: Word of Mouth Books

Publication Date: October 2009

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey    

Holler At The Moon is a stimulating descriptive, though sometimes bittersweet, dramatic novel.  This story definitely offers a heavy slant towards the importance of family, friendships, love, and loyalty – which I’m certain readers will enjoy.

As ghastly as it was, this story is not just about three young sisters witnessing the murder of their mother at the hands of their father.  It is about the trials and tribulations that they suffer following the senseless act committed by their father. It is about three sisters who are seemingly delightful, talented, and gifted individuals, and who in spite of their youth must somehow triumph over adversity. But is it possible for them to do so, or has their fate already been sealed by the dreadful situation and the blood that runs through their innocent veins?

The author’s skill, imagination, and gifted storytelling provide a captivating story for readers. The realism of this story is what makes it heartfelt, yet frightening because it is the life-story far too many children live daily.  And it’s certain that more than just a few readers will be able to identify family, friends, or even themselves  depicted throughout the pages of this challenging story – and because of this or in spite of it, this story will cause readers to, laugh, become angry,  and even want to cry.

Tinesha Davis manages to dab a bit of humor throughout the novel as she tells a horrific tale of the abandonment the girls experienced and the never ending grief they suffered, as well as the horror they were made to endure at the hands of those that were suppose to love and protect them. However, the strength that the main female characters continued to maintain throughout and in spite of their horrendous circumstances is to be admired.

The three Jackson sisters are separated, and must live hard lives far away from each other. The oldest Jackson sister, Dominique is sent to Virginia to live with her father’s cousin Rhanda.  Unfortunately, Rhanda’s home is absent of any type of love and Dominique seeks comfort elsewhere. Unable to grieve so she can embrace her past, Dominique finds herself on a destructive path.   Dominique later becomes a well adjusted twenty-five year old professional, living a seemingly perfect life…or so it seems – she’s in love with a man who once saved her, but is now threatening to destroy her.  Will she be able to break free from him in time?

The middle Jackson sister, Donya  was sent to live with her father’s sister, Aunt Chuck, and tries hard to keep in touch with Dominique and look after her younger sister,  Damita.  But as a young teen Donya is forced to leave her Aunt’s house and falls into troublesome circumstances, and has to claw her way from living on the streets to being a self-made Bohemian whose life becomes filled with rainbows and dance.  But then she finds herself stuck in the middle of two disasters and not certain which she should try to resolve.

And then there’s the youngest of the Jackson sisters, Damita, who is also sent to live with Aunt Chuck; and learns quickly that in order to survive she must gravitate and become indispensable to the only person left in her immediate circle, and that is Aunt Chuck – another mean character who needs Damita to run errands, that her obesity won’t allow her to handle.  Damita becomes a fast-talking, straight-A high school student with a serious sarcastic wit and an attitude and temper inherited of her father and his desire to resolve issues by any physical means necessary. She is an intellect with a promising future, but will she allow her hot-headed ways to ruin her the way her father allowed his to ruined him?

Author Tinesha Davis displays a writing talent that is so polished that it is difficult to believe, Holler At The Moon is her debut novel.  The story was awesome, and I believe that readers will find this book to be an enjoyable and fascinating read, so if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading this book, be certain to pick up a copy before the sequel, Twice On Sundays hits the stands.

 

Review copy provided by publisher.

 

 

 

 

Catfish Alley – by Lynne Bryant

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On November - 13 - 2011

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: New American Library – Penguin Group
Publication Date: April 2011
Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Lynne Bryant grew up in rural New Hope, Mississippi – outside of Columbus – and admits she had little interaction with “Black folks”, yet it was not until she reached adulthood and moved away, that she became intrigued with the history of her hometown and her obliviousness of the issues of race raging around her and uses many of the events as inspiration for her debut novel, Catfish Alley.

Catfish Alley is about a White woman in the South whose research into local Black history introduces her to several elderly Black women, and their stories of tragedy and endurance in the days before Civil Rights. In Clarksville, Mississippi, Blacks and Whites live largely separate lives, and racial prejudice maintains a powerful hold.  Although she claims not to have a self-serving motive, Roxanne Reeves didn’t take on the task of adding African-American history to the town’s famous annual Antebellum House tour, because she had an interest in, or some deep desire to examine Black history, no, she did it so that she could get the contract to do the restoration at Riverview  – the most beautiful property in Clarksville. Not only would it be a feather in Roxanne’s cap, but the money she’d earn from getting the contract  to restore it, would be substantial.  However, she thought it was going to be some simple little list of places that Grace Clark would come up with and they’d be done- Roxanne never thought she would get so pulled into their lives and their history.

Catfish Alley is a story involving Grace Clark, a retired Black schoolteacher who mysteriously owns one of the grand plantations of Clarksville.  She becomes Roxanne’s guide to undistinguished places that are sacred to the Black community because of what happened there – even a senseless photographed hanging used as an initiation into the Klan.  Grace and a few of her friends share stories of the past, especially 1931, when they were young, happy and full of hopeful promise – yet a racist’s hatred for Grace’s brother, Zero, led to events that changed all their lives, and continued to touch people decades later.  Bryant manages to do a good job of maintaining the White characters’ tone of entitlement throughout the novel with ease; and sadly during this journey much is revealed about how the majority, if not all of the Black characters suffer terrible tragedies at the hands of White people. Yet they continue to pursue their personal dreams, refusing to allow grief and loss to make them bitter, resentful or angry.

Books of this nature generally depict Blacks living with the expectation that law enforcement would offer little if any protection against violence so they try not to make waves or seek help against their oppressors – but instead opt for the old turn-the-other-cheek mentality, and Lynne Bryant vividly expresses how her characters in Clarksville, Mississippi are content to preserve the status quo.  In the beginning chapters, the multiple points of view, and multiple time periods are slightly distracting, but evidently the reader can become accustomed to it and follow along easily, as the author’s writing skill kicks in and demonstrates how  she can readily maintain the flow quite well.

As Bryant wraps up the story, Roxanne and Del have gained a whole new perspective about the Black community in Clarksville Roxanne so easily dismissed, and her life opens up in unexpected ways;  thereby making Catfish Alley a somewhat heartwarming story of hope, self-discovery, and friendship.

This book contains extreme racially offensive content, strong language, and descriptions of horrible scenes of White brutality.  This book can also be considered extremely insulting and a challenge for anyone, but more so if the reader is African American.

That said,  I’m not certain if there was a need for yet another derogatory book written by a White woman about Blacks in Mississippi – after all,  The Help managed to stir up enough controversy surrounding this subject to last the readers for quite some time.  The two books may not be exact in their content, but they are not far off the mark from one another.

Review copy provided by publisher. 

 


The Dead Detective Agency by Peg Herring

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On October - 19 - 2011

Genre: Detective Mystery

Publisher: LL Publications

Publication Date: April 2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Peg Herring’s novel, The Dead Detective Agency, is the first case in The Dead Detective Mystery Series. Herring writes a stimulating, though somewhat improbable, detective novel in The Dead Detective Agency. Meaning that some of the characters are supposedly dead and the others are seemingly serving as their hosts. And yet, other scenes are somewhat reminiscent of a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys mystery. And as in the amateur sleuth mysteries, this 261-page detective mystery has some twists and turns that will keep readers guessing right until the end.

The main character, Tori Van Camp, is a vibrant carefree young secretary, who wakes one morning on a luxurious cruise ship, where she is offered anything she may desire, including: food, clothes, recreation, and the companionship of congenial people.  The problem is, Tori has no memory of booking a cruise.  But what she does have a vivid recollection of is being shot in the chest at point blank range.

With the help of the stunningly handsome Mike and the unnervingly serene Nancy, Tori soon learns the purpose of her voyage.  Still, she is haunted by the image of the gun, the crack of the shot, and the malevolent face of the shooter.

Tori is determined to find out who wanted her dead and why? And to do so, she enlists the help of Seamus, and eccentric but somewhat shrewd detective. Together they embark on an investigation. Death is all around, the future is uncertain, and if Tori doesn’t act quickly, two people she cares about are the prime candidates for murder.

The Dead Detective Agency is not only a story of a young woman in search of her killer and the reason for her brutal death, but its also a story of the struggle to find some sort of solace as it relates to the afterlife.  Author, Pat Herring touches upon what may occur after death in such a pleasant yet humorous way, with a sprinkle of Christian faith as reassurance, one can’t help but be more accepting and less fearful of the eternal life she writes of.

I initially thought this book was going to be a cutesy story geared toward the less than avid reader, but, I must say I was pleasantly surprised to discover through my journey that, The Dead Detective Agency will not only appeal to the garden-variety reader or the teenage reader, but will be of interest to intermediate and young adult readers alike – as well as those with discerning taste for “detective” mysteries.

This is the first book by Peg Herring I have had the pleasure of reviewing. I look forward to the next case of The Dead Detective Mystery Series: Dead for the Money coming soon from LL-Publications.

Peg Herring lives in Michigan and writes both historical and contemporary mysteries. When not reading or writing, Peg loves travel and directing choral music.
Review copy provided by publisher.

Dreams Of Joy by Lisa See

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On October - 13 - 2011

Genre: Drama
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 2011
Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Shanghai Girls, Peony in Love, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (which has been adapted into a film), Flower Net (an Edgar Award nominee), The Interior, and Dragon Bones, as well as the acclaimed memoir On Gold Mountain. The Organization of Chinese American Women named her the 2001 National Woman of the Year.

In her most powerful novel yet, Lisa See returns to the timeless themes of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. She continues the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy.  Dreams of Joy provides a glimpse of the cold, cruel damage to the humanity of people that was caused by war and the Communist regime in China in the late 1950s.  In this segment the return to Shanghai shows the Paris of Asia, may have been lost forever.

Acclaimed for her richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling, Lisa See once again renders a family challenged by tragedy and time, yet ultimately united by the resilience of love.

Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Shanghai Girls which revisits sisters Pearl and May and the continued development of their relationship while telling the story of Joy, a Chinese-American at the time of the inception of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward“.  It is an epic historical drama with strong characterization and authenticity – the reader is taken on an emotional journey to China and into the lives of the Chin family.  Joy is an idealistic and naive college-student hell-bent on helping China’s “Great Leap Forward”.  However, what Joy finds is not the communist paradise she thought she wanted to be a part of;  Instead, what she finds is that her commune is more or less a refugee camp – her marriage and life in the countryside are so deeply disturbing and the “Great Leap Forward” is an actual  “Great Leap Into Famine”.   Some may consider this to be a beautiful coming of age story, while others may view it as a story of a hardheaded teen defying her mother and trying to escape the guilt of her step-father’s suicide, while at the same time trying to process the newly uncovered family secret of her parentage that has scattered her emotionally and placed a wedge of anger between her mother, aunt and herself.

The adventure, if one can call it that, begins after naïve Joy flees to China to seek out her biological father – the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter what the personal cost.  Against better judgment, Pearl leaves the comforts of L.A. on a quest to find Joy; once there she confronts old demons and challenges as she tries to reunite with Joy.  Added to the stress of trying to locate her daughter is the realization of the perils of the new China – including not being allowed basic freedoms of wearing a bra, sending and receiving mail, possession of her own passport, or even worst, not being allowed to leave China once there.

This story is permeated with the most vivid descriptions of sights, sounds and smells that transport the reader to a time and place where no one in their right mind would willingly want to go - yet, one will find themselves eagerly leaping forward through the story, to discover the moral fabric of China’s society as it unravels, with the abuse of its people, which sometimes resorted to cannibalism.  Readers will find themselves transfixed and perhaps emotionally invested, as old, new and restored relationships are woven within the dangers of this sage.  Not only fear for the safety of the main characters, but will root for their survival, but will Joy, Pearl and May survive the devastation of China’s new regime or will they perish along with millions of others?

Sometimes you come across a book that touches your heart, whether through a moving story-line, a narrative so beautifully heartbreaking it smothers you emotionally or a character or characters so absorbing you can’t quite put the book down – Lisa See’s Dreams of Joy is one such book.

This is a must read and highly recommended for anyone who wants to be vividly transported historically back in time – Lee allows readers to explore the details of the Maoist era (1958-1962) without restoring to dull dry statistical facts, as she unleashes a story about the worst catastrophe in China’s history, and one of the worst anywhere; but at the same time provides a story about the love, loyalty, devotion and strength of a family.

Review copy provided by publisher.

 

Missing Persons by Clare O’Donohue

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On October - 7 - 2011

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Plume
Publication Date: May 31, 2011
Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Missing Persons is the debut of an edgy, exciting new Kate Conway Mystery series featuring a funny, but cynical television producer turned amateur sleuth.  In the oddest chapter of her life, Kate navigates a sometimes dangerous path of lost love, bad television, unsolved cases, and her husband’s girlfriend, who keeps getting in the damn way.

Crime TV producer, Kate Conway has a pretty simple job. Gain the trust of unsuspecting interviewees to extract the true story and capture it all on camera – ideally, while they cry on cue. However, Kate finds herself on the other side of the line of questioning after she gets a call from her soon-to-be ex-husband’s lover, Vera Bingham who informs her that Frank, collapsed after playing basketball and was rushed to St. Anthony’s Hospital, where Frank dies from a heart attack. But an autopsy shows Frank had excessive amounts of digitalis in his body; And the two women in his life -Kate and Vera – are the prime suspects. To make matters worse – Frank’s grieving mistress suddenly wants to become Kate’s new best friend.

As the investigation into Frank’s death heats up, Kate throws herself into her work on a new television program Missing Persons. Her first assignment is the story of Theresa Moretti, a seemingly angelic young woman who disappeared a year earlier. Except, Theresa may not be as innocent as everyone thinks. Interviews with Theresa’s ex-boyfriend, her disinterested “best” friend, and an attractive, but amoral, local politician, lead Kate to believe she’s being lied to about the real Theresa. Although, All Kate wants is a clichéd story and twenty-two minutes of footage to take her mind off her own messy life, but when two cases appear to overlap, she begins digging into the case herself; but Kate needs to work fast before another body turns up – and it just may very well be her own.

Missing Persons is a mystery with surprising depth and smart, hip, snappy dialogue. Kate is a sharp, cynical, person who makes mistakes and learns from them – she grows and changes as the story progresses. The Kate Conway series is certain to become a favorite with mystery fans; and I, like many readers, look forward to seeing what O’Donohue does with the main character going forward.

Review copy provided by publisher.

When the Thrill Is Gone by Walter Mosley

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On August - 1 - 2011

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: The Penguin Group

Publication Date: March 2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Leonid McGill is back, in the third-and most enthralling and ambitious-installment in Walter Mosley’s latest New York Times- bestselling series,  The Thrill Is Gone.  As he did in his first two Leonid McGill mysteries, the bestselling The Long Fall and Known to Evil, Walter Mosley brings even greater nuance and insight to Leonid McGill, an already classic noir hero.  Not only does Walter Mosley create a story with a character so powerful readers will have a difficult time putting the book down,  he also creates a vivid and engrossing world of a New York where motives are always suspect and nothing is as it seems.

Leonid McGill, is a tough 55 year old, philosophic private detective – who still works out regularly, his wife, Katrina is having an affair with a younger guy. He has a girlfriend, Aura who has chosen to longer be intimate with him – at least for the time being.  His good friend, Gordo (whose presence in the story escapes me) is dying of cancer and staying in the den at Leonid’s house.  And to complicate his personal life even more, his stepson, Twill, has dropped out of school for mysteriously lucrative pursuits.

The story springs forth after a beautiful young woman walks into McGill’s office with a stack of cash. She tells him she is an artist, who has escaped from poverty via a marriage to a Billionaire, but is now in fear of her life and claims it is her very own husband who is plotting her demise  – the same fate she insist his first two wives met.  Although McGill knows better to believe every word a potential client says, taking on the mesmerizing woman with a ghetto sense of style, was just not a job he can afford to turn away. Read the rest of this entry »

The Worst Thing by Aaron Elkins

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On June - 21 - 2011

Genre: Suspense, Thriler

Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime Hardcover

Publication Date: May 2011

Chrystal Dorsey’s Review:

The Edgar Award winner and author of the Gideon Oliver mystery series, Aaron Elkins, is back with The Worst Thing, an exciting new stand-alone novel of mystery and suspense that illustrates how quickly everything can go wrong when you ask—what’s the worst that can happen?

In this novel the author ventures deep into the mind of Bryan Bennett, a designer of hostage negotiation programs, and chronic sufferer of some serious panic attacks. Bryan recalls in detail about being abducted at the age of five and imprisoned in a Turkish dungeon – this resulted in Bryan harboring an unbearable fear of being kidnapped. Although it’s been over thirty years since the kidnapping, Bryan still can’t seem to deal with kidnappers in hostage situations – one would think he’d opt for a different career in a totally different field.  Instead he allows his fear of enclosed spaces to control him and refuses to travel outside the safe confines of Redmond, a once relatively sleepy little town outside of Seattle.

But with the help of a therapist, his wife’s overwhelming desire to travel – beyond the radius of their own residence, and armed with a life-time supply of Xanax, Bryan agrees to teach a corporate kidnapping seminar in the unusual setting of Iceland.

As the story takes place primary in Iceland the author allows the reader to share in the adventure of a different culture through his descriptive prose, somewhat like a visiting tourist. Learning about Icelandic delicacies – minke whale, smoked puffin, and Icelandic lamb; Getting lost on the Icelandic streets Bolstaoarhio, Braedraborgarstigur and places like Kópavegur; or stumbling over all these names – who but an Icelander could pronounce, including those of some of the characters, e.g., Stig Trygvasson and Dagnyár Eyjólfsdóttir.

The novel is fast-paced and well-plotted as the story moves to a twist-filled ending and the protagonist does confront what he imagines as “the worst thing” when a group of radical soldiers actually take him hostage – and it isn’t until nearly the bitter end, that Bryan realizes he just might be his own worst enemy.  The Worst Case is an interesting an enjoyable read that has appeal for intermediate and adult readers, alike.

P.J. Coldren‘s Review:

Bryan Bennett is a designer of hostage negotiation programs and security systems.  He comes to this profession in an unusual way: he was kidnapped as a child in Turkey, held for ransom, and tortured.  This experience left him with chronic panic attacks as well as a major jones against dealing directly with kidnappers in hostage situations.  His track record in that department is 50%; he’s unwilling to risk making it worse.

He is offered a job right up his alley.  The downside is it’s in Iceland and Bryan won’t fly.  He decides, on the advice of his therapist, to go anyway.  She tells him the best way to make the panic attacks go away is to confront them, embrace them.  The job is easy enough, once he and his wife Lori get there.  It’s a corporate kidnapping seminar; Bryan can do these in his sleep.

There is a kidnapping, a murder, and conspiracies gone wrong.  Elkins takes Bryan into his worst nightmare, and the reader gets to go along for the ride.  Bryan confronts not only his fears, but also someone from his past, someone with a grudge.  Elkins is writing at least in part what he knows here: he suffered from panic attacks for a decade.  Elkins can write a thriller with the best of them, and he has.  The real kicker is the last chapter, when Bryan is home again.

Warning: Some language issues and violence.

Review copy provided by publisher.

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On June - 8 - 2011

Genre: Drama

Publisher: Twelve – Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: February 2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Benjamin Hale’s award-winning first novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, is a relentlessly inventive coming-of-age narrative told from the point of view of Bruno. Bruno is powerfully complex, Bruno had a sexual relationship with his caregiver, Lydia Littlemore, a university primatologist, Bruno murdered someone, Bruno is imprisoned for a murder he can’t bring himself to regret   Bruno himself and the outrageous arrogance in which he narrates this, his memoir, is comparable to that of, Humbert Humbert -the vain and vile protagonist, in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.  There is however, a notable difference, …

Bruno happens to be the world’s first talking chimpanzee, a highly intelligent and articulate species, with an ever-expanding vocabulary. This stunning debut novel chronicles the extraordinary events that lead to his imprisonment for murdering a man… The subject matter is serious in nature yet it includes humor, violence, heartbreak and perversion. Bruno’s fictional memoir stands apart for its brilliant and striking expression of what it feels like to be human – and finding one’s own voice. Read the rest of this entry »

The Corruptible by Mark Mynheir

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On May - 26 - 2011

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Multnomah

Publication Date: April 2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

If you haven’t already heard, Mark Mynheir author of The Watchman has written a new Ray Quinn Mystery Novel. And although this is an excellent follow-up to The Night Watchman, make no mistakes about it; The Corruptible truly stands fully on its own, as a first rate detective novel from a real detective.

In The Corruptible, we find Ray Quinn an ex-Orlando Police Department-homicide detective being hired by, Armon Mayer, a Germophobic and the wealthy head of an investment firm – to recover a 300-gig computer hard drive that contains sensitive information on the firm’s clients – a relatively simple case of property retrieval. But, when Ray Quinn starts his investigation, he finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation, with too many suspects. Read the rest of this entry »

One Flight Up by Susan Fales-Hill

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On May - 3 - 2011

Genre: Drama

Publisher: Atria Books

Publication Date: July 2010

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

Susan Fales-Hill is an award winning television writer and producer who has worked on shows ranging from The Cosby Show to Suddenly Susan.  She is the author of the critically acclaimed Always Wear Joy.  And now, Susan Fales-Hill has written a fun, New York story that has all the elements a good novel should have, love, lies, lust, betrayal and perhaps hope – readers won’t want to put it down, not until the very end!  One Flight Up is a dramatic-comedic romp through the boardrooms, and bedrooms of Manhattan and Paris.

Atlanta, New Jersey and New York housewives meet the wives in, One Flight Up. India, Abby, Esme, and Monique this intelligent spirited foursome have been friends since their days at Manhattan’s Sibley School for Girls.  All grown up now—they seem to be living ideal lives, until the happily ever after fades and they find themselves at the crossroads of their lives, each with her own set of troubles, and suddenly craving more.

It’s not a throw your head back and laugh until you get a cramp in your side, nor is it a grab the box of tissues and boo-hoo type of story – what it is, is a refreshing diversity of characters who at first glance appear to be nice, wholesome and a lot of fun to be around, but perception and truth are miles apart when it comes to this foursome – lying, deceitful adulteress women of means, is a more accurate description.   The author provides a lesson in high-end fashion as she continuously name drops throughout the novel: Chanel clothing, Frette sheets, Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags, Cariter watches, Verdura Maltese Cross bracelet, Van Cleef & Arpels  – as well as taking the reader on a very descriptive tour of  Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore an exclusive fashion street in Paris. Read the rest of this entry »

The Lake of Dreams – A Novel by Kim Edwards

Posted by Chrystal Dorsey On March - 29 - 2011

Genre: Drama

Publisher: Viking

Publish Date: January 2011

Reviewed by Chrystal Dorsey

If you enjoy uncovering family history that contains a flavor of mystery then put on your ancestral hat and join Lucy Jarrett. At the crossroads in her life she returns to her hometown (Lake of Dreams in upstate New York) a decade after her father’s death.  She still has not forgiven herself for not going fishing with her father the night he died and has kept her hometown at bay since then. But when Lucy learns that her mother was injured in an accident, she realizes that it is time to leave Japan and go home.

Lucy discovers a collection of objects locked in a window seat that soon reveals a hidden family history. She’s determined to solve the mysteries surrounding her great-grandfather’s suffragette sister, Rose, who was forced to give away an illegitimate daughter and who may have been the mysterious muse for a famous stained-glass artist.  Lucy’s high school boyfriend, Keegan Fall, a glass artist himself, also enters the picture. Complicating matters, Lucy’s domestic partner, Yoshi, is headed to Lake of Dreams from Japan, but Lucy’s not sure if they still have a future together.  During her quest, Lucy seems reluctant to accept the fact that her mother and brother have moved on with their lives, while she chose to remain continents away.  At the same time, as Lucy explores the traces of her family’s lineage, it will yield dramatic insights that will free her to live her life to its fullest and deepest.

Kim Edwards is the author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.  Due to the overwhelming success of her debut novel, the expectations for The Lake of Dreams may have been extreme and somewhat unobtainable in the eyes of many ‘Memory Keeper’ fans.   However, the author stays true to her talented and gifted use of descriptive language in her second outing. Read the rest of this entry »