Friday, June 26, 2015

Review: Journey into the Flame by T.R. Williams

Journey into the Flame (Rising World Trilogy, Book #1)
by T.R. Williams
Release Date: January 7th 2014
2014 Atria Books
Ebook Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-1476713366
Genre: Fiction / Science-Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

In 2027, a cataclysmic event known as the Great Disruption shook the world. An unexplained solar storm struck the earth, shifting it four degrees south on its axis. Everything went dark. Humanity was on the verge of despair. Then a man named Camden Ford, fleeing a band of marauders, went into the Ozark Forests where he discovered a set of ancient books called the Chronicles of Satraya.

Thirty years later, the world is a different place. Thanks to the teachings of the Chronicles, hope has been restored, cities rebuilt, technology advanced. The books have also found a different owner: Logan Cutler, a young painter who mysteriously inherited them when Camden disappeared. But when Logan auctions off the books to pay his debts, they fall into the wrong hands. The Reges Hominum, a clandestine group that once ruled history from the shadows, is now launching a worldwide conspiracy to regain control. And the books are at the center of its plans.

When another original set of the books is stolen and several members of the council tasked with disseminating their philosophy are murdered, Logan realizes hes made a terrible mistake. With the help of Special Agent Valerie Perrot and the wisdom of the Chronicles as his guide, he embarks on an epic quest to find the last set before its too late.

My Thoughts
Journey into the Flame is the first book in a planned trilogy, and frankly, I enjoyed the blend of mysticism and spiritualism with science-fiction and action.  If you like a post-apocalyptic adventure mixed in with mystery, secrecy, spiritualism, suspense, thriller, and action, then you will probably like this one quite a bit, as I did.

First of all, there is a bit of a mysterious atmosphere to this world that takes place over thirty years after an unexplained solar storm destroyed most of the earth's population in 2027.  Although we get a bit of a glimpse into what the world was like in the early days, it's most thirty years later, and people are still struggling to make sense of the events thirty years earlier.  It's also at that time period when the younger generation has never known anything different from their current situation, while the older generations attempt to deal with the world as it is now and try to remember what it was like before the Disruption.  And not everyone is happy with the way things are now.  This type of situation has allowed a group called the Reges Hominum to work behind the scenes to try to gain absolute power in a world they believe they should regain dominance over once again, similar to their forebears. And they will do anything, including murder large groups of people, in order to gain that dominance.

The main players in this novel, Logan, Valerie, and Mr. Perrot, were quite interesting in their own way.  Logan is the son of the original discoverers of the Chronicles of Satraya, a set of spiritual books that were discovered when things were at their lowest after the Disruption.  Everything in this novel revolves around the books and I found the spiritual teachings and revelations to be quite fascinating.  This might not be for everyone, but I never felt like the author was being preachy like I have felt in some of the Christian novels, so I just went along for the ride and enjoyed the story.  Keeping an open mind and remembering that this is a science-fiction novel certainly helped with that.  I definitely liked some of the scenes with the blue candle (spoiler) and hope to see more of them in future novels.

All of the characters were quite interesting, but because there were so many layers to the story, I think it was difficult to really character build and develop them in this novel.  The plot was a bit complex and you had to pay attention to everything that was happening or you could miss something important.  There was one obvious connection that I missed completely and I'm still not sure how I missed it as I usually pay attention to these things.  I thought the author did a great job keeping things mysterious enough about the Chronicles that you just wanted to find out more; and yes, there is plenty more to learn.

Journey into the Flame was interesting and intriguing, and I definitely enjoyed both the spiritual and science-fiction elements found in here.  The author manages to blend mysticism and spirituality with action and suspense quite well, and I don't think that is easy to do.  As mentioned before, I thought the characters lacked a bit of depth, but am hoping character development will be explored further in upcoming novels as it would add quite a bit to the story.  For readers who are interested in these things, this novel is very thought-provoking and appealing; I also thought it was quite fast-paced and interesting from a suspense point of view.  I'm looking forward to digging into book two, Journey Through the Mirror.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Review: Disclaimer by Renee Knight

by Renee Knight
Release Date: May 19th 2015
2015 Harper
Softcover Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062362254
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew--and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day even if the shocking truth might destroy her.

My Thoughts
Disclaimer is one of those books where I vacillated between hating and liking the characters throughout it, found myself caught up in the events to the point where I couldn't put it down, and kept thinking about the aftermath for several days after finishing it.  It's not that it was an overly great novel, but there were definitely some plot twists and surprises that caught me off guard and made it interesting.

Catherine and Robert Ravenscroft, towards the end of successful careers, he as a lawyer and she as a journalist who makes TV documentaries that show the uglier aspects of society, had just moved into a smaller flat, when she discovers an unfamiliar novel in her apartment.  Intrigued, she begins to read it, slowly realizing that it is about her and a big secret she has kept from her family for over twenty years.  Starting quite gradually, the plot evolves and expands, giving the reader bits and pieces at a time; this is when you realize how clever the plot actually is as there were several times that I guessed quite wrongly as to the secret, quietly suspecting what is was, but not believing it because the author was quite good at leading you astray.  The actual scene when you do discover the secret is quite disturbing and I had a hard time letting it go, especially after discovering another little secret that went with that scene (sorry, spoiler alert). 

The plot is actually told from two main POV, although there are other POV as well, just not as main characters.  Catherine is one, told from the third person, which kind of distances you from her emotionally, and from the perspective of Stephen Bridgstocke, told from the first person, which makes his story a bit more intimate.  Stephen's obsession with his deceased wife, and with his son, really stood out from everyone else's story line, making it seem much more portentous and inauspicious.  I do find it interesting that by the middle of the novel, I very much disliked pretty much everyone in this novel; I didn't feel a lot of sympathy for Catherine, some of which was probably due to the writing style, and some of it due to her actions.  And I definitely did not care for Catherine's husband Robert, who did not seem to have any sympathy in him whatsoever.  Let's just leave it at that and when you read the novel you can see what I mean for yourself.  I do find it interesting as to how my emotions changed with regards to the characters throughout the novel and I have to admire the author for doing a great job with that.  

Disclaimer is one of those novels that begins quite slowly, but has a way of drawing you in with clever plot twists and turns.  It is definitely a book about secrets and what happens when those secrets are allowed to fester over time; it is also a book about obsessions and having misplaced trust in people despite your own instincts and how it can ruin people's lives.  To be honest, I didn't really care what happened to the characters towards the end, although I am glad about one plot development with regards to Catherine and Robert. I really liked the way the author was able to mislead the reader into believing one thing while the reality was quite different, but I will admit to a bit of skepticism with regards to the ending as it just didn't ring true for me.  Overall, I thought this novel was quite well done, and I enjoyed it tremendously.
Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: The Forgotten Room by Lincold Child

The Forgotten Room (Jeremy Logan, #4)
by Lincoln Child
Release Date: May 12th 2015
2015 Doubleday
Ebook Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0385531405
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

In this newest novel Logan finds himself on the storied coastline of Newport, Rhode Island, where he has been retained by Lux, one of the oldest and most respected think tanks in America. Just days earlier, a series of frightening events took place in the sprawling seaside mansion that houses the organization. One of its most distinguished doctors began acting erratically—violently attacking an assistant in the mansion's opulent library and, moments later, killing himself in a truly shocking fashion. Terrified by the incident and the bizarre evidence left behind, the group hires Logan to investigate—discreetly—what drove this erudite man to madness.
     His work leads him to an unexpected find. In a long-dormant wing of the estate, Logan uncovers an ingeniously hidden secret room, concealed and apparently untouched for decades. The room is a time capsule, filled with eerie and obscure scientific equipment that points to a top secret project long thought destroyed, known only as "Project S." Ultimately, the truth of what Project S was . . . and what has happened in that room . . . will put Logan in the path of a completely unexpected danger. 

My Thoughts
The Forgotten Room is the fourth in the Jeremy Logan series.  Jeremy is a professor who tends to work with the strange and often supernatural, so I began this novel with quite a bit of anticipation; however, the result what quite different from what I expected.  The story started out quite strongly, and was quite mysterious and intriguing, and although the concept of the story was interesting and thought-provoking, for whatever reason, the second half of the novel didn't quite have that same intensity as the first half, nor that mysteriousness that made the first half so much more attention-getting.

First of all, Professor Logan is quite quirky and rather interesting, and I really enjoy watching him in action.  Because of rather strange events occurring at Lux, a luxurious and very respected 'think tank', the very same one that Jeremy left a decade earlier, help was needed to solve the conundrum that was vexing quite a few people, even leading to the death of a well-respected researcher.  As Jeremy delves into the mystery which has quite a few people confused and upset, he discovers a secret room, decades old, of which he has no idea of its use.  And this kind of thing is right up my alley; I enjoyed the search through archives and old records, looking up secrets from the past, trying to discover the use of the room.  And even though I found this part quite interesting, for whatever reason, this is also where things started to slow down and I think maybe too much information was given, rather than leaving it up to the reader to discover slowly.  Kind of like reading the end of the book when you are only on page 85.  

These novels are not necessarily known for their great writing styles, but they are fun, and the atmosphere definitely lent an element to this one.  I mean, you can't get any more cliched than rain, rain, and more rain, then throw in a nice hurricane to boot, stranding everyone who remains behind at the mansion, flooding, broken windows, and the other myriad things that can happen during such an event.   The action and suspense, and the interesting characters, also lend quite an atmospher, and make these novels worth the read.

The Forgotten Room is one of those novels that is fun to read and I did enjoy it quite a bit. I do have to admit that I got lost about halfway through though, probably because of too much information being released at once, rather than it being given piecemeal, which was a bit disappointing. There wasn't a lot of character development, but that is not why I read these novels; I like them for the paranormal aspect, and in this, I was to be disappointed, although the concept that did eventually play out was intriguing in its own right.  It's just not what I wanted or thought it would be.  And while you don't necessarily have to read these books in order, it does help in order to get a sense of what Jeremy Logan is all about.  However, the actual mystery was a bit of a disappointment and the motive and the concept didn't quite ring true in this one.  That being said, it was still an entertaining and quick read.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review: It's Not About Perfect by Shannon Miller

It's Not About Perfect: Competing for my Country and Fighting for my Life
by Shannon Miller with Danny Peary
Release Date: April 21st 2015
2015 Thomas Dunne Books
Ebook Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250049865
ASIN: B00PF7826C
Genre: Non-Fiction / Biography
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

When she retired at age 19, Shannon Miller did so as one of the most recognizable gymnasts in the country. The winner of seven Olympic medals and the most decorated gymnast, male or female, in U.S. history, Shannon tells a story of surviving and thriving. A shy, rambunctious girl raised in Oklahoma, Shannon fell in love with gymnastics at a young age and fought her way to the top.

In 1992 she won five Olympic medals after breaking her elbow in a training accident just months prior to the Games. Then, in 1996, a doctor advised her to retire immediately or face dire consequences if she chose to compete on her injured wrist. Undeterred, Shannon endured the pain and led her team, the "Magnificent Seven," to the first Olympic team gold medal for the United States in gymnastics. She followed up as the first American to win gold on the balance beam.

Equally intense, heroic and gratifying is the story of her brutal but successful battle with ovarian cancer, a disease from which fewer than fifty percent survive. Relying on her faith and hard-learned perseverance, Shannon battled through surgery and major chemotherapy to emerge on the other side with a miracle baby girl.

My Thoughts
It's Not About Perfect was an interesting, behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to be an elite gymnast during the 1990s.  As a huge fan of gymnastics, having watched the "Magnificent Seven" win gold in Atlanta, and having followed Shannon's career, I was very curious about her life out of the limelight and what it took to get to the top.  There were always so many rumours circulating about her training schedule and the grueling training, especially after Barcelona, that I was curious as to what she had to say about the whole thing.  To be quite honest, I felt that she kind of glossed over a lot of the issues in gymnastics and didn't really discuss a lot of what was circulating in the media during those years, but it was still fun to read nonetheless.

Her training years were very intriguing to read about, but I can't imagine it was as easy as she made it sound.  I have a daughter who trains around twenty hours per week, and I know how difficult it is to keep up with homework, a social life (if it exists), family time, and personal time, so she made it sound way too easy.   And while it was fascinating to read about her training, and definitely motivational for my daughter, especially when she learned how long it took Shannon to learn some of her skills, I still felt like the real training, the difficulties, were kind of glossed over, and made to sound idealistic.  For gymnasts-in-training, Shannon made it sound like it was possible for anyone to do it and that is definitely not the case.  I do have to admire her tenacity and her fighting spirit however, as I remember the story about her elbow injury before the 1992 Olympics, and I have no idea how she made that comeback in time to make the Olympic team; an incredible dedication to her sport and I'm sure it was an intense training period as well.  Very admirable!! It would have been interesting to learn a bit more about her experiences with Steve though, and what it took to create such an athlete-coach relationship; there was some mention of how he helped her in competition and what they chose to do, which did baffle people at the time, and is more understandable now, but I wish more had been written about that relationship.

I understand about Shannon not wanting to reveal too much about her personal life, especially with regards to her first marriage, but so little was mentioned that readers would be confused about what happened and how everything fell apart.  I think it was an important learning curve for Shannon, and it's hard to understand how that is when there is no explanation for it.  And there are a couple of episodes like that in this novel when it comes to her personal relationships; everything is always rosy and happy and life is not typically like that, so it makes me a bit suspicious as to the truth.  Either Shannon has not personally delved into her own relationships and how they have shaped her life, or she's not spilling anything personal, which is fine.  My only thought to that though, is why write a biography then?  

It's Not about Perfect came across as something that is more of an ideal version of her life whereas the truth lies much deeper than that. In other words, it came across as rosy and sunshiny, but also a bit fake, in my opinion.  While I understand that she went through some very difficult times, both as a gymnast and as a mother, cancer definitely beating everything else out, she always seemed to be so positive and everything in her life was positive, to the point where it seems unreal. I'm not knocking the positivity as I know how important that is when someone is going through chemotherapy (my dad having suffered through lung cancer), but I felt emotionally detached from her as she was sharing her experiences and I don't think I should have felt this way.  Definitely not the same experience I got when I read some of her blog posts, so I know the depth can be there.  Shannon has always been one of my favourite gymnasts, and I have followed her career for years, so I was a bit disappointed in this one as I felt I still haven't seen the real Shannon, more the one that is markerting herself, a company, and a brand.   For anyone who loves gymnastics though, you will definitely enjoy the descriptions of her training life and her competitive career as I certainly did.  It's nice to know that she enjoyed her big Olympic moment when she won beam in 1996 and can remember it with clarity.  I know I certainly remember that moment.
Sunday, June 14, 2015

Review: Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman

Rock With Wings (Navajo Mysteries, Book 20)
by Anne Hillerman
Release Date: May 1st, 2015
2015 Harper
Hardcopy Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062270511
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Doing a good deed for a relative offers the perfect opportunity for Sergeant Jim Chee and his wife, Officer Bernie Manuelito, to get away from the daily grind of police work. But two cases will call them back from their short vacation and separate them—one near Shiprock, and the other at iconic Monument Valley.

Chee follows a series of seemingly random and cryptic clues that lead to a missing woman, a coldblooded thug, and a mysterious mound of dirt and rocks that could be a gravesite. Bernie has her hands full managing the fallout from a drug bust gone wrong, uncovering the origins of a fire in the middle of nowhere, and looking into an ambitious solar energy development with long-ranging consequences for Navajo land. 

My Thoughts 
Rock With Wings was an interesting book in a series that is being continued by Tony Hillerman's daughter, Anne. I have read all of them, and although these ones are slightly different due to different writing styles, I am quite happy to see Ms. Hillerman put her own touch on this series so it doesn't get old and dreary like some other ones out there.  

In this book, Jim Chee and his wife, Bernie, are taking several days off to get away from the stress of their police work and help a relative get a a new business off the ground. Chee has to report for an assignment in a few days, close to where he and his wife are relaxing, so naturally he has to report early due to mysterious circumstances, while Bernie has to go back to work to investigate an incident that occurred just before she went on holiday as well as deal with some family issues, and the holiday is cut short. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by this as it would have been fun to have them together on this mystery in the Valley.

This book definitely takes a look at the Navajo traditions and the struggles the older Navajo people have trying to preserve their simpler life with the onslaught of new forms of technology to which they are being bombarded, in this case a solar energy development that could have an impact on everyone within the Navajo Reservation.  I really liked how the author shows the conflict that is being created by this and how the merging of the old and new impacts old traditions, both for the younger and older generations.  There were a lot of tales and traditions twisted into this story that I found interesting, and I really liked how the Navajo language was used as it gives the reader an insight into some Navajo thoughts and traditions.  Having been to New Mexico and having visited the area, I could picture it so clearly in my mind, but I really appreciated learning more about it too. Ms Hillerman definitely has captured the spirit of Monument Valley, right down to those potholes and the dust.

While I enjoyed the interactions amongst family members, especially those of Bernie and her mother and her sister, I was not that impressed with the mysteries which is why I gave it the rating that I did.  I feel the author got caught up in her descriptions of the areas, in the people, in the relationships, and especially with Leaphorn's recovery, all quite interesting in their own right, to the point where the mysteries kind of took a back seat to everything else so I felt rather let down and disappointed by them.  To be honest, they were kind of bland; the best things about this book was Bernie.

Rock with Wings was an interesting addition to the series if you look at it as a novel with some great character development (Bernie), some fascinating Navajo lore, and a great setting.  As far as the mystery goes however, it left a bit of something to be desired as I didn't find it suspenseful or intriguing.  It doesn't bother me that her style of writing is not the same as her dad's so I am hoping she can take this series in her own direction and put her own stamp on it as there is a lot of potential here to do so. 
Saturday, June 13, 2015

Review: Grey by Chrisi J. Whitney

Grey (The Romany Outcasts Series, Book 1)
by Christi J. Whitney
Release Date: April 30th 2015
2015 Harper Voyager
Ebook Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0008113582
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from Pump Up Your Book

4.5 / 5 Stars

Sebastian Grey always thought he was a fairly normal teenager – good friends, decent grades, and a pretty sweet job in his foster brother’s tattoo shop.

But when strangers arrive in town, Sebastian soon realizes that his world is nothing at all what it seemed. Secretive gypsies surround him, shadowy figures stalk him, and the girl he’s been dreaming about turns up at school.

Now Sebastian must protect this girl at all costs, even if it means he will never be normal again.

My Thoughts
Grey is the first book in the Romany Outcasts Series, and I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere and setting that was created. So many YA novels focus on love at first sight scenarios, vampires, and other cliched settings, almost to the point where I have been avoiding that aisle in the bookstore, so I was a bit leery about starting this one. However, I rather enjoyed the complexities of these characters, and the very different problems that arose for Sebastian, the main character, as it was just so different from the mainstream situations that abound in the young adult genre.

One of the biggest things I liked in this novel was the fact that I had no idea what was happening to Sebastian until probably halfway through the novel.  As he began changing, and things started happening to him, I was left guessing as to the reason; honestly, I had no idea what the ultimate answer would be and I was quite surprised and rather intrigued.  He was such a sympathetic character and I really had a lot of empathy for him as he struggled to maintain a normal life at school while struggling to deal with physical and emotional changes for which he was not prepared.  I especially liked that his friends stood by him as he was dealing with stuff, and didn't ostracize him or really reprimand him for his behaviour.  As a reader, I am still struggling to understand some of Sebastian's stronger emotions, in particular those for Josephine, but I think it's because so much has not yet been revealed and I don't yet know a lot of what is going on.  Such is the fate of being the first book in a planned trilogy. (And notice that I didn't reveal anything about Sebastian's changes as I don't want to spoil it for you.)

Another thing I really liked was Sebastian's relationship with his brother Hugo (not sure if this is a bit of a pun based on a certain author, but I amused myself thinking that way (and Esmeralda, too).) Sebastian thought he had such a good relationship with Hugo and the other guys at the tattoo shop, but things started changing rather quickly when he started going through his physical changes, and learned his 'brother' was keeping some pretty serious secrets from him.  I really liked the struggle that Hugo went through to protect Sebastian, and also keep his leadership position intact; it must have been quite difficult for him.  There were a lot of conflicts around duty and obligation, but I really liked that the concept of family and trust won out in the end; it certainly gave the novel a deeper layer than I was expecting.

Grey was a refreshing fantasy novel that will appeal to anyone looking for slightly different in the young adult genre.  It does have its cliched moments of course, but for the most part I thought the writing was engaging, and I really liked the character development, particularly that of Hugo and Sebastian.  While this book wrapped up quite neatly, there are many secrets that have not yet been revealed and I am quite curious as to what will happen to Sebastian next, when book two, Shadows, is published next year.
Sunday, June 7, 2015

Review: The Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry

The Angel Court Affair (Charlotte & Thomas Pitt, Book #30)
by Anne Perry
Release Date: March 31st, 2015
2015 Ballantine Books
Hardcover Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-0553391350
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5/ 5 Stars

When Commander Thomas Pitt is ordered to protect a young woman visiting London from Spain, he cannot see why this is a job for Special Branch. When she disappears in the dead of night from Angel Court, however, he is faced with a dangerous mystery. Sofia preached new, and some say blasphemous, religious ideals, and her life had been threatened. But Pitt senses there is some deeper and more dangerous reason for her kidnap - if that is what it is. Three men are caught up in the hunt for Sofia - her cousin, a banker for the Church of England, a popular and charismatic politician, and a journalist who seems determined to goad Pitt to the truth. Each seem to be hiding something, and as the search for answers stretches from London to Spain, Pitt knows that time is running out, and the nation's security could be at stake...Angel Court is the thirtieth superb mystery featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt from the master of Victorian crime.

My Thoughts
The Angel Court Affair is the thirtieth entry into the Thomas & Charlotte Pitt series, and while I enjoyed the discourse about faith and its place in our lives, I wasn't as crazy about the mystery or the plot in this one.  One of things I have always admired about Ms. Perry's work is her ability to showcase the real goings-on underneath the polish and glamour that exists in posh London.  There was no attempt to hide away from, or shy away from, some of the difficult subjects, nor to show exactly how the people of London lived, especially in some of the more undesirable areas of London. I just felt like this book was lacking in that 'something' that usually defines an Anne Perry novel.

Pitt, now head of Special Branch, takes on the role of protecting a woman visiting from Spain, a woman who creates a lot of controversy wherever she goes as she preaches a more dangerous form of belief that the people are used to, or are comfortable with, hearing.  Throughout the novel I kept waiting to hear what these blasphemous and radical ideas were, but I really saw no indication of anything that was really rather different or dangerous and couldn't really fathom why Special Branch was involved, considering the other events happening in the world at that time.  While I get that she is an Englishwoman, married to a Spaniard, I really heard nothing else that would make me raise my eyebrows and think 'treason', or anything else for that matter; at least nothing that appeared in this book.  And I didn't really buy into it.

What I did like were Charlotte's discussions with her daughter around women's issues and how difficult it would have been for an outspoken woman to grow up during this time period.  For a sixteen-year-old girl who is questioning her self and her place in the world, seeing a woman like Sofia would be rather confusing; I can definitely see how her ideas would make other young women question their place in the world and how they fit in.  There was also quite a bit of discussion and philosophizing about one's religion and belief in god and the afterlife.  I enjoyed both of these discussions as I thought they were quite intelligent and interesting.  Not really sure what they had to do with the 'mystery', but fascinating nontheless.

The Angel Court Affair is a miss as far as I am concerned with regards to this series.  While I enjoyed the discussions about women's issues and faith, in general, I thought the mystery itself was rather uninteresting and not nearly as good as earlier novels.  I didn't buy into the reason why Thomas got involved in this as an international scandal as it felt contrived; there has to be a way to get Thomas involved, after all.  What Perry usually does so well in her novels, fell quite short in this one: too many one-dimensional characters (including characters I normally love, like Vespasia and Narraway), lack of pacing, repetitious discussion about religion and faith, and lack of convincing plot (although the actual murders were a bit gruesome.)  I'm not really sure I would recommend this one. 
Thursday, June 4, 2015

Review: Last One Home by Debbie Macomber

Last One Home
by Debbie Macomber
Release Date: March 10th 2015
2015 Ballantine Books
Hardcover Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0553391886
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Growing up, Cassie Carter and her sisters, Karen and Nichole, were incredibly close -- until one fateful event drove them apart. After high school, Cassie ran away from home to marry the wrong man, throwing away a college scholarship and breaking her parents’ hearts. To make matters worse, Cassie had always been their father’s favorite -- a sentiment that weighed heavily on her sisters and made Cassie’s actions even harder to bear.

Now thirty-one, Cassie is back in Washington, living in Seattle with her daughter and hoping to leave her past behind. After ending a difficult marriage, Cassie is back on her own two feet, the pieces of her life slowly but surely coming together. Despite the strides Cassie’s made, she hasn’t been able to make peace with her sisters. Karen, the oldest, is a busy wife and mother, balancing her career with raising her two children. And Nichole, the youngest, is a stay-at-home mom whose husband indulges her every whim. Then one day, Cassie receives a letter from Karen, offering what Cassie thinks may be a chance to reconcile. And as Cassie opens herself up to new possibilities -- making amends with her sisters, finding love once more -- she realizes the power of compassion, and the promise of a fresh start.

My Thoughts
Last One Home is not what I would necessarily consider a romance, but more of a novel about a woman trying to reconnect with the family she left behind many years ago and make amends with her two sisters with whom she used to be quite close.  I actually enjoyed the story about Cassie's reconciliation with her sisters, but was overly thrilled with the romantic theme to this one.

Cassie has had a difficult life since leaving her family at eighteen and getting married; after escaping an abusive relationship, she has had to work hard to support her daughter financially, and to deal with the emotional wounds of being emotionally and physically abused for years.  I actually thought that Cassie's character was quite sympathetic and I really liked how she was able to overlook past grievances to try and move on with her life and reconnect with people from her past, including her family.  I didn't a lot about Habitat for Humanity before reading this novel, although I have heard of them and do know some people who volunteer their services for them, but enjoyed learning more about how they operate.  I was a little skeptical about how a single mother could do all of that volunteering for Habitat, work full-time, and take care of a twelve-year-old daughter, plus all of the other things she did, without having a mental and physical breakdown.  Having been on my own due to a husband in the military, I know how difficult it is and I am a bit skeptical as to how all of this was done in the time period mentioned, but anything can happen in a novel, I guess.  

At first, I wasn't overly crazy about either of Cassie's sisters or her 'boyfriend' Steve.  All of them seemed to be a bit selfish, wanting something from Cassie that served their own needs.  And I was totally turned off when the two sisters split the inheritance between them and left nothing for Cassie but some old furniture, for which she was totally grateful, considering her circumstances.  To me that spoke of greed and selfishness, without any attempt to discover Cassie's story or why she left.  Even when I got to know them better, the inheritance thing still rankled.  However, I would have liked to have learned more about Nichole's situation, and would have especially liked to be a witness to her discussion with her husband when she gave him his walking papers.  I sort of feel slighted over that as I felt her story ended a bit abruptly.  Steve came one quite strong and sharp when he and Cassie first met and I wasn't overly crazy about his domineering attitude.  He wasn't abusive or anything, but he certainly took a lot of things for granted without consulting Cassie.  And he worked in cahoots with Cassie's daughter, making plans for her without her consent, and it drove me wild.  And I wasn't necessarily annoyed with Steve, but also with Cassie, for allowing them to run all over her.  Especially her daughter.  Who is the parent in this relationship? She needed to put her foot down and tell her daughter to mind her own business once in a while, that sometimes adults need to make decisions without input from twelve year olds.  

Last One Home is one of those novels that is pretty predictable and formulaic, even if there were some emotional moments.  Personally, I thought the reconciliation with her sisters was rather too pat and smooth after all those years, and I wasn't overly crazy about how the inheritance was dealt as it just seemed selfish.  I did like the message the book was sending about emotional and physical abuse and the toll it can play on both men and women, and the difficulties women face when they do manage to leave or escape.  This is one of those novels for you however, if you are looking for something a bit mindless and easy to read, without much plot or character development, and forgettable once you are finished.  It's not a bad novel, it's just not that memorable.