Book Review: Before We Were Yours

Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Format: Hardcover

Published: 2017

 

A co-worker lent me this book and I am so glad she did!  This is not a book I would pick up on my own if a trusted colleague told me this was a good read, I am taking their word for it…and this book drew out a few tears from me!

The basic synopsis of the story is based off a true life scandal which is absolutely heart wrenching.  Five siblings are living on the river with their parents.  Their mother is pregnant and goes to the hospital with their father and while they are gone, people come and take the kids, saying their parents sent for them.  They take the children into a home and place them for adoption with wealthy families.

Yes, these people stole children, ended up finding the parents and having them sign over their rights, and then sold the children to make a profit.  Disgusting.  We follow their lives through the adoption agency (where they aren’t treated nicely) and when they get adopted out (and what eventually happens to the agency).

The book is told from 2 perspectives; 12 year old Rill going through the process of being stolen and adopted in the late 1930s/early 1940s and present day Avery Stafford, a born into wealth and privilege woman with a budding career in politics.  Avery starts to suspect something may be off with her grandmother and starts to do some investigative work.  I don’t want to say much more because that will ruin the surprise of the story.

I will add there is the perfect touch of romance in this story.

This is a 4 star read for me.   It is a gut punching, sad, true life read that you can’t help but end up smiling at the end.  Despite the horrible events that happen surrounding children, it still makes you feel good with the present day ending.  Some family secrets are scandalous, and this certainly is one, but, in the end it is one of pure happiness.  You won’t regret picking this book up for yourself!

 

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Book Review: The Buried Book

Title: The Buried Book

Author: D. M. Pulley

Format: Kindle

Published: 2016

This is another read thanks to Amazon Prime Reading.  As soon as I finished this book I immediately put her two other books onto my Amazon wish list and plan on reading them soon.  This book is out of my typical genre in the historical fiction category but I am so glad I decided to branch out and read this book!

A mother, Althea Leary, drops her nine-year-old son with her brother on his farm.  All she tells her son, Jasper, is that they are going for a drive.  When they arrive at the farm she pulls out a suitcase and it surprises Jasper because he had not packed anything.  She takes off and Jasper is left at the farm.

Throughout this book I just feel so terrible for this poor little boy.  His life gets turned upside down and he is trying to figure it out.  The author does a tremendous job at portraying the viewpoint of everything happening to a nine-year-old.  This was a page turner and I wanted to find out what was happening.

Jasper’s dad comes and visits him at the farm and no one has seen his mother.  She has disappeared.  Detectives start to visit and ask questions.  Her car was found buried under tree branches, everyone is assuming she’s gone for good.

If you go off of her background, she was seen as the bad apple in her family.  She ran away from home and wasn’t worth a dime.  Pulley does a great job at making us feel like Althea was one of those bad people and hung with the wrong crowd.  Jasper starts to uncover the person her mother truly is and how it unfolds keeps you turning the pages.

While reading this book it felt like I was right where it was set; in 1950 just outside of Detroit in farm country.  There is a Native American Reservation nearby and that integration into this story was remarkable.  It felt like I was on the farm watching everything unfold.  The amount of research that Pulley had to do for this book shows and is just written so appropriately well.

The ending left me happy, sad, and mad.  When you get to the end the short quotes at the start of each chapter make perfect sense, and that angered me.  The person gets dismissed as crazy when they are truly not.  They are a soul who is misunderstood and just wants to help.  I was happy for the family and sad at the same time.  Pick up this book and you’ll understand every emotion.  Even though I felt happy, sad, and mad, I also felt satisfied.

Overall, I give this book a 5.  It was a great mystery that I could not predict.  There were many turns and twists and it kept me turning the pages nonstop.  I appreciated how the story progressed and how we found out bits and pieces through the findings of this poor nine-year-old boy.  Go ahead and give this a read and then come back and let me know what you think!  Next week I will be reviewing a Celesta Ng novel so stay tuned!

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Book Review-Devil’s Garden by Ace Atkins

Title: Devil’s Garden

Author: Ace Atkins

Format: Paperback edition by Berkley

Published: 2010

devil'sgarden

Before Ace Atkins became noted for being the writer chosen by Robert B. Parker’s estate to continue the adventures of Parker’s best known creation, Spenser, he was an accomplished novelist in his own right.  Although definitely a crime/mystery/noir author, Atkins made a career out of tackling some of the biggest crimes out of American history and turning them into knuckle cracking, action packed historical fiction novels. Fortunately for readers of his work, these are also the crime/mystery/noir novels he is known for.

Now, having made the claim above about the crimes Atkins tackles, please note.  Many of the murders, kidnappings, and other assorted evils he turns into great fiction are probably not events most people today recall or even are aware ever happened. These crimes, however, when committed, literally shook the foundation oftentimes of society as it was then.  If you believe that scandals as well as people being tried in the media before in court is a new thing, then Ace Atkins will gladly prove you wrong again and again.  Much of what Atkins tackles in his novels still applies to our modern era, even though they are set in the past, usually the early to mid 20th Century.  And it’s not that Atkins has to stretch or change things for the stories to be timely.  He actually simply tells a good story, using what is available to him.  It just so happens, as Devil’s Garden shows, yesterday and today have a lot more in common than most think.

Devil’s Garden focuses on the events leading to and the trial of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, beginning in September 1921.  A name lost to history except for its connection to this case, Fatty Arbuckle was the Hollywood comedy star of his day.  Known for playing outlandish characters and particularly making a name for himself in the Keystone Cops shorts, Arbuckle was at the top of his game and lived life as if he were truly king, throwing lavish parties, driving a Pierce-Arrow complete with bar and toilet around, and essentially doing whatever he wanted.  Until a party in a hotel in San Francisco in September 1921 ended with a little known starlet named Virginia Rappe dead and Arbuckle accused of crushing her to death with his enormous body.

With this as a premise, Atkins takes an aspect of the case and turns it into one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time.  It turns out that Dashiell Hammett, the author of The Maltese Falcon and one of the leading masters of mystery fiction, often credited for perfecting the hard boiled detective, was assigned to the Arbuckle case. Hammett worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the late teens into the early 1920s and was one of the operatives assigned to help prove that Arbuckle did not have a part in Virginia Rappe’s death.

This book is really three stories in one, and Atkins delivers with all three of them.  First, it is about Hammett and the man he was behind and before the great books he wrote.  Atkins pulls no punches, writing Hammett as a real human being, husband,  tough guy, lunger (Hammett suffered from tuberculosis), and most notably a man struggling with himself as much as the world around him.  Atkins not only paints a complete and full picture of Hammett, but he also gives readers a believable, credible, and fallible hero to follow as Hammett weaves his way through the complicated tangles that made up the Arbuckle case.

Devil’s Garden is also a brilliantly executed courtroom thriller.  As much time is spent on the proceedings in the first Arbuckle trial as is on Hammett’s investigation of the case.  Not only does Atkins deliver fantastic interpretations of the principal players, but he also illustrates the actual courtroom action in a way that makes it as exciting as Hammett chasing down the mysterious ‘Dark Man’, a character integral to the book.

Lastly, this novel turns out to be a multifaceted love story.  Three couples, really, are at the center of the romance here- Hammett and his nurse wife Jose, Arbuckle and his actress wife Minta Durfee, and… well, let’s just say the third couple involved a movie actress and a man who single handedly, for better or worse, may be responsible for the state of journalism today.  As much betrayal, scandal, and heartfelt emotion is displayed by Atkins dissecting these three relationships as is done by any other focus in the book. And the beauty of all of it is Atkins takes all three of these ‘novels within the novel’, and ties them perfectly together into Devil’s Garden, a book that should be counted as a crime noir classic all its own.

Devil’s Garden is definitely a Five Pager for me.  And in my own parlance, this definitely gets six out of six bullets for me. It is a fully loaded gun that goes off and hits every target it aims at.

Writer Wednesday – Bibi Rizer

1. Who are you? (A name would be good here…preferably the one you write under)
Bibi Rizer

2. What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
I write steamy to erotic romance, mostly in the New Adult category and in several genres.

3. What do you want to pimp right now? (May it be your newest, your work-in-progress, your favorite or even your first)
The first book in my Vikings of Vinland series. This historical New Adult series surrounds the adventures of twin sisters Gull and Katla Grimsdottir who, after being cruelly separated, face challenges and come of age in Viking era Europe and North America. The first book is called The Shieldmaiden’s Revenge.

4. What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
Literature – Cat’s eye by Margaret Atwood and The World According to Garp by John Irving.
Fun – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings.
Smut – I love Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series, Delphine Dryden’s  The Science of Temptation series.


5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I’m a cover designer and a busy mom

6. What link can we find you at? (One or two please; don’t go overboard here!)
www.bibirizer.com
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bibi-Rizer/845707895448516

*


On Writing…


I know it’s fashionable to be very supportive in our field, especially of beginners, but I’ve got to say, I’ve been asked for advice from a few people who seem to have no aptitude for writing whatsoever. I try to be nice but I’m often left wondering what on earth made this person think they should be a writer? They claim to be “passionate” about it (but often lack enough passion to do even very cursory research into the field) but where on earth does this passion come from? It would be as though I suddenly developed a passion for ballet dancing or playing Aussie Rules Football. I do think that writing can be learned (as can ballet and football) but surely that learning should build on some innate talent that it already there? I mean, this is why I took up writing.

People often ask me “why do you write?” They formulate this question in many of different ways, and I think there is a lot of dewy eyed fascination about writers and their “passion”. The truth is, many of the most successful writers will happily tell you they write because it’s the only thing know how to do, because it’s the best way for them to earn money and because they’re good at it. Why do I write? Because I’m good at it. I won the first short story contest I ever entered. I sold my very first screenplay for six figures. I got a two book deal on my first YA book.

I’ve tried a lot of other things I’m “passionate” about. I love psychology and helping people and I tried to be a counselor but I suck at it. I’m into business, computer programs all that office management stuff like Powerpoint and Excel but I suck at office work – I’m far too anti-social and disorganized. I love fashion but I can’t follow a pattern. I love love LOVE performing music, but I’m really not that great a singer.

But I’m a good writer, and late in life I’ve discovered that I don’t suck at book cover design. Who knew?

So my advice, not just to newbie writers but to everyone, is this: find something you’re good at, and be passionate at that.

Writer Wednesday – Tammy-Jo Eckhart

Who are you? (A name would be good here…preferably the one you write under)
TammyJo Eckhart

What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
Science fiction, fantasy, horror, contemporary, and historical fiction, often classified as erotica since I don’t “pull my punches” and believe that sexuality is a natural part of life.

What do you want to pimp right now?
Book 3 of the “Beyond the Softness of His Fur Trilogy” has just been released by my publisher, Circlet Press.
Also my non-fiction and award nominated book, “At Her Feet” has continues to be widely read and apparently empowering as we hoped it would be.

What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
I always go back to “The Silver Metal Lover” by Tanith Lee because it really touched what was happening in my own life when I was finishing high school and starting college.

What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
I’m a wife, a partner, I storyteller/game master for RPGs, I’m an educator and arts community volunteer, but most of all I’m a survivor of several things.

What link can we find you at?
My main website (find it here!) is the best since it links to my books and gives some other information about me.

*****

The Danger of Fans and Lack of Privacy for Writers

We often think of writers as being little celebrities but I’ve learned over the two decades I’ve been published that this comes and goes in cycles and that all attention is not good or desirable attention. Let me explain a bit more.

After my first book, “Punishment for the Crime,” a collection of short stories, came out with Rhinoceros, an imprint from Masquerade Books, back in 1996 I started to get emails and letters from readers, even the occasional flowers when they ran into me at events. This wasn’t an everyday experience but living in NYC at the time where I was doing readings to crowds or meeting folks through my publisher who was right in the same city it happened far more frequently than after I moved back toward the Midwest. It always felt good to be recognized but sometimes it also felt a bit creepy.

Most readers were sweet. They’d want to shake my hand or simply tell me that they liked my book. If I were selling books or at a bookstore for a reading they’d want an autograph. Meeting people face-to-face at scheduled events was expected and cool. Not all encounters with my readers were at these sorts of events.

This was still in the early days of the Internet and it took work for someone to find me or find out about me. Yet within a year of the first book with Masquerade coming out I started to get emails from strangers. I didn’t broadcast myself around at that time — the concept of networking on social media wasn’t a thing writers were supposed to do. And yet because I happened to various community bulletin boards or email lists, my email was out there. Once my email was found by one person, it was found by several and for the second and third year my first and second books were out, I got an email a week.

I’d like to say that most of the emails were cool and sweet like most of the face-to-face meetings but I can’t say that and be honest. Honesty is a big deal to me. No, instead the majority of the emails I got were a bit creepy. They hoped I was as mean as a character in the title story or that I was as hot and sexy as another one. They wanted me to crush them with my boots or they’d ask about my sex life. I just deleted the creepy ones. Problem solved right?

For the most part, yes.

My third book came out with a different publisher as Masquerade struggled with some internal issues and I moved back toward the Midwest. Every now and again I’d get another email and a few times some gift might arrive in the mail… a bit creepy how they found out where I lived but most often it was through this new Amazon.com thing which wasn’t supposed to tell anyone I didn’t allow what my address was.

Then the creepiest fan contact happened. Someone called me. It sounded like either a very butch woman or a transguy by voice but I frankly didn’t ask because I didn’t care. What started off as “I really liked X” story turned quickly into questions about kink looking for advice which deteriorated into sex talk and attempts to ask me about my sex life. I told the caller time and again to stop calling and finally had to threaten to call the police. These calls lasted over three years.

Now I’m sure that more popular authors out there have even creepier experiences but I’ve never forgotten my own experiences. This hasn’t stopped me from joining social media, my agent and all of my author friends claim it is a must, but I had to learn that even just being published puts you out there, it takes away some of your privacy. You have to learn how to deal with it or decide to never publish at all. After all you can’t control who is reading you any more than you can control how many people are reading you.

My lesson learned then is that if you want to be read you must give up some of your privacy. Not all of it but once that book is out there in public view you’ll have to fight to protect yourself and your family because you can never tell who is reading and how they might react. Never be afraid to put out your work but be realistic about what you are also risking.

Book Review – The Queen’s Dwarf by Ella March Chase

Title: The Queen’s Dwarf
Author: 
Ella March Chase
Format: 
(Paperback ARC for the) Hardcover
Published: 2014

In 1629, the fourteen year old dwarf Jeffrey Hudson is sold by his father to the Duke of Buckingham who in turn gifts him to seventeen year old Queen Henrietta Maria wife of King Charles to join her “Menagerie of Curiosities and Freaks of Nature” where he befriends the giant Will Evans.  This is a historical fiction, so everything in the above sentence is true except for Jeffery Hudson’s age.  His historical counterpart was eight.  In the fictional account, Jeffrey along with performing in masques gets drawn into the world of court intrigue, spying, manipulating, and struggling to do the right thing with a lack of good options.

This is a thick book with lots of little plots twists.  Overall I found it well written and well crafted with a colorful variety of characters.  Historical fiction makes me a little nuts since I spend half the book trying to figure out which parts are actually historical, but Chase includes a note at the end detailing where she took liberties with history.  The rest seemed to hold up to my internet searches.

I brought up Jeffery’s age, because I think I might have enjoyed the book more from an eight-year-old’s fresh perspective than the rather cynical teenage one which narrates the tale.

What I liked about the book is that in Jeffrey it finds an interesting view on an aspect of history that most of us didn’t cover in high school.  He’s the son of a poor dog trainer from a village, so there’s a nice contrast of rich and poor with characters that read like people and not caricatures across the income spectrum.  The possible exception was Buckingham who came off as something of a mustache twirling villain, but there were attempts to give him depth or at least some mixed sympathy.

There are definitely some dark and weighty subjects covered, certainly an adult book, but the details are restrained to what is needed to tell the story.

Overall, I give it a solid 4/5.  There were a few places that felt redundant, the prologue reads like a misleading spoiler (so I might recommend skipping it),  and a couple of the story threads fell flat for me.  Yet, it kept me entertained, and I cared about what happened to the characters.  I think Chase worked well inside her historical confines and managed to make it vivid and alive.

Book Review – The Sun and Stars by Elizabeth Adair

Title: The Sun and Stars
Author: Elizabeth Adair
Format: 
Paperback
Published: 
2012

The Sun and Stars is a blend of cozy mystery, historical fiction, and romance with decent writing and poorly chosen cover art. Isabel Holland is the (fictional) illegitimate daughter of King Henry the VIII. When her cousin is accused of murder and theft at a joust, she takes the initiative and tries to clear his name by launching her own investigation into the matter.

Henry the VIII is my least favorite English monarch, and generally I prefer historical fiction that steers clear of active involvement by real people. Adair admits to playing fast and loose with certain historical details, though I suspect she’s a bit of an amateur expert on the period. But I appreciate her openness about entertainment over accuracy.

There were a few times where it felt like the book was struggling between its historical aspects and cozy mystery aspects. But over all the pacing was good. The only times I felt bored was when she dwelt too long on Isabel speculating on political rumors and possibilities instead of actively interacting and gathering information. There were the appropriate number of false leads for a mystery, a little bit of action, and while I wasn’t exactly charmed by Isabel herself, the secondary characters were colorful and engaging.

Adair shows her flair for description and imagery in brief spurts, but I feel like that was curbed to keep a more modern pace and probably shouldn’t have been. Those imagery moments, the introduction of the jester, sun hitting the water on a boat ride, etc. are the spots where the book shines brightest, and they are too sparse.

In truth Isabel is a somewhat clumsy detective, but her investigative methods are appropriate to her time period. (Modern deductive reasoning is centuries away.) And it is her first case, so there’s some realism to her not asking all the right the questions or exploring every avenue. My greatest disappointment is, while she gives a passing thought to others forgetting the two murdered guards, she makes no effort to investigate them herself. However, for a lady of the English court, it seems very natural for her to focus on the power behind the plot rather than the victims.

Over all this was a fun read and I think Adair has a lot of potential as an author.  (This is her first novel.) There are several aspects of this book that I would have liked to see pushed a bit further, which might have nudged it out of cozy mystery territory more firmly into historical intrigue, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing. There’s a psychological richness to the characters, but the revelations of layers seemed a bit rushed at times. So the impact is blunted.

I give The Sun and Stars a 3.6/5. It’s a better than average book, but there were a few rough aspects. So it nips at the heels of a 4 but doesn’t quite make it. I read an ARC copy that I picked up for free at a coffee shop’s book exchange, so quite possible the final version has more polish.  (I’m not knocking any points for the very few grammatical mistakes I saw as those are normal for ARCs and usually squeezed out before release.  I speak mainly of phrasing and plot roughness.)

P.S. On my comment about the cover art. The art isn’t bad so much as it seems unfinished. Other reader/reviewers I showed it to commented that they found it a bit cartoony for an adult mystery.  Occasionally ARC copies have different covers than the finished work, but in this case, it appears to be the same.  The interior artistic flourishes in the layout are nicely done and very appropriate.

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