Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs

My book club this month read Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. I listened to the audiobook on Hoopla, and–full disclosure–I suck at retaining audible information. I’m very much a visual learner, but I’m so busy that I don’t get to read just for fun anymore unless it’s while I’m shuttling children around town or cooking dinner or going for a jog (walk, really…). Anyway, my point in sharing this is that I don’t focus very well when I listen to audiobooks, but I still loved this story. I couldn’t tell you all the finer points of the plot, but Maisie Dobbs is a kicka** private detective just oozing with coolness.

I loved this book for a few reasons. First, Maisie is a good role model. She’s smart, resourceful, brave, intuitive in her work, and lives with integrity. Second, this book covers a period of time which I’m not as familiar with as others. Maisie goes off to serve as a nurse during World War I. I’ve read many books about WWII, but not as many about WWI, and it was nice to experience this period through a new perspective. Third, it provided a great blend of cozy murder mystery, plot, history, and a touch of love story. The ending was heartbreaking and unexpected, but somehow fit the book and mood perfectly.

The only thing I didn’t like was the transitions to the many flashbacks. I didn’t mind the flashbacks themselves or jumps in the story, but there was no indication that the scene or time had changed, which made it especially hard for me to keep track of things in the audiobook. A note of the year at the beginning of each flashback would have been helpful.

I’ve learned that there is a whole series of Maisie Dobbs adventures and I hope to read some more someday! I definitely recommend this one!

4.5 stars out of 5

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Book Review: Dead by Morning

dead-by-morningI know I haven’t reviewed much (read: any) horror on this blog, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read much of the genre. While it’s not my primary genre of choice, a good dark read can be a fun break from the happy stories I typically choose. Dead By Morning by Kayla Krantz is a young adult horror story with psychological thriller elements and was recommended to me by a friend. 

Synopsis

Luna is a social outcast at her high school. She doesn’t mind; it’s her senior year and she’s looking forward to bigger and better things, like college. Her only problem is that super-popular Chance, whom she despises, won’t leave her alone. What starts as a seemingly ordinary story of a high school romance quickly turns dark when Luna discovers Chance is a Satanist full of deadly secrets. To make matters worse, someone–or something–begins to haunt her dreams, giving nightmares that soon become reality. Luna must figure out how to survive her dreams and convince everyone that pretty-boy Chance is not as innocent as he seems.

Strengths

This book hooked me right at the beginning and kept me reading through the end! The writing style is clear and easy to follow, but still provides adequate imagery so the reader can become fully immersed in the story. The author did a good job in creating conflict in her story; poor Luna is dealing with problem after problem from page one until the end! The pacing is great–the story moves along quickly and kept me interested throughout.

Weaknesses

There were a few issues I had with the overall story. It was really frustrating to watch Luna let herself be bullied by Chance. A normal person would have gotten help from the authorities–police, teachers, parents, ANYone. Her parents and best friend are so stupid and totally ignore the HUGE red flags about this guy. Normal parents would be more concerned about the safety and well-being of their daughter than pleasing some random kid from school. Her dad doesn’t seem excessively negligent, so I have to assume he’s oblivious to his daughter’s mental state. All of this behavior is a little hard for me to believe because it’s just not consistent with normal, healthy individuals.

Luna is constantly surprised at the horrible things Chance does. Don’t want to give away any spoilers, but she KNOWS he killed someone, yet is horrified when she sees an additional piece of physical evidence. That behavior is inconsistent.

The supernatural elements in the story are not fully explained and leave loose ends. There’s a character named Max who helps Luna deal with Chance. Max shows up with inexplicable knowledge of the whys and hows of her dreams. How does he know this stuff? It’s odd that Luna never questions how he knows what he does. Perhaps she didn’t wonder, but as a reader, I certainly did! Other supernatural stuff–like Luna’s vague ability to know the future, how Chance’s Satanism connects with the dream world stuff, and how Chance gained his abilities–are never really explained. 

Conclusion

Dead By Morning was definitely an entertaining read, especially if you enjoy the horror genre. The writing is strong and mechanically-sound; Krantz has a lot of talent as a writer. There were some loose ends and other issues with the overall story, and I think the supernatural element of the book needed some developing. But overall it was a fun, quick read that horror fans will enjoy. For those who haven’t read horror and want to try it out, I think this would be a good starting book. It’s not overtly gory or unnecessarily gross, but prepare yourself for unexpected character deaths! 

3.5 stars

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Book review: The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down

Shields Down Digital Front-smallerI have finally finished The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down! This historical fiction novel by Jillian Bald can be found on Book Club Reading List. Now, I say “finally” because I have been diligently working on it for the better part of a month. It is quite long, but very entertaining!

Synopsis

Resi is a girl from Greece whose father arranges her marriage to a Croatian baron’s son to keep the peace after a trading deal goes awry. Betrothed from a young age, Resi is unsure of her future. She doesn’t want to marry a stranger and live far from her family in a foreign land. When she is finally sent for to fulfill the marriage contract, she moves to Croatia with her best friend Ruby to keep her company. Her new husband, Baron Mauro Baric, is not what she expected. The House of Baric: Shields Down explores their first two years of marriage, getting to know each other and discovering they might actually like each other. The reader gets to know a colorful cast of characters and becomes immersed in 17th-century life in Croatia.

Strengths

If you love historical fiction, this book is for you! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Historical fiction is my favorite way to learn history. I cannot get through dry history books; I literally fall asleep every time. But historical fiction? Sign me up! I love learning about the past, what life was like, how things were different from the world I live in today, and historical fiction teaches history by immersing the reader in that period. The House of Baric did a great job at fully depicting its world, 17th-century Croatia, a time and place I have never learned much about. Bravo to Jillian Bald for the sheer amount of research I’m sure she did to accurately write in such a setting.

The writing is very strong, descriptive and sophisticated. It was long, but easy to read.

I very much enjoyed the characters and getting in each of their heads. I loved Resi and thought she was very brave in accepting the terms of her marriage and making the best of it. She is a very intelligent woman with a strong spine who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or others she thinks are being mistreated.

Weaknesses

The main problem I had with this book is that I didn’t feel like as much was accomplished during the story as should have been, given how long it was. It is definitely a slow-moving, descriptive book, which is fine, but there were events that I kept expecting to get to only to have the plot derailed by something else. For example, we learn early on that Resi has been communicating with her favorite brother, a mercenary who has not gotten along well with Mauro in past years. Her brother will be in the area and wants to come for a visit. Naturally, I expected this highly anticipated event would cover at least a portion of the rest of the book. Instead, unexpected visitors show up at the Baric household, then Mauro’s ship is confiscated by the government, there’s a ball and a camp out on the beach… All entertaining parts of the book, but then Part One ends just as Resi’s brother shows up. I guess that’s meant to be motivation to read the next book in the series, but I’m a little annoyed that I was waiting for the confrontation with the brother for so long and didn’t even get to read it.

Conclusion

This is definitely a book for all historical fiction lovers! I wish I could go on a Mediterranean cruise or something now. Lounge on the beach, gaze into crystal clear waters, and curl up with a good book. Doesn’t that sound amazing? This book put me in that mood! It is a little on the long side and definitely has passages that could be trimmed down, but The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down is a quality, worthwhile read. Be prepared to take your time to savor all it has to offer.

4 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: Four Ways to Pharaoh Khufu

Four ways to pharaoh KhufuJust finished Four Ways to Pharaoh Khufu! This adventure tale is by Alexander Marmer and can be found on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

Michael has dreamed of visiting the Egyptian pyramids since he was a child. On his first day in the country touring the Great Pyramid, he meets a dying German engineer who claims to have been poisoned. After giving Michael a business card for his daughter and a small notebook, his last words are “find four ways.” Michael begins an adventure beyond his wildest dreams, attempting to recover a stolen ancient stele, decode the dying man’s final words, and find the final resting place of the great Pharaoh Khufu. He is accompanied by the German’s daughter, Anna, and together they try to unravel the mystery surrounding her father’s death.

Strengths

This was a very well-written (and well-edited) book. That’s not to say I didn’t find a few typos, but obvious care went into the writing and research of this book. There is SO much fascinating history about Egypt and the pyramids included in this story! I learned more than I thought I’d ever know about Egypt in a single read.

The story line was exciting and full of action. I liked the main characters, Michael and Anna, and enjoyed going on the adventure with them.

Weaknesses

The main weakness for me–which may not be seen as a weakness by someone else–was simply the length of this book. Clocking in at 363 pages, I feel like the same story could be told at two-thirds the length. There were times when I simply couldn’t keep up with the complicated theories the characters uncovered about the pyramids. You almost need a larger base of knowledge about Egypt before starting the book to fully appreciate everything. The extent of my knowledge about Egypt comes from middle and high school history classes, so I’d say it’s pretty limited. By having such complicated and intricate sub-plots, the audience can become bored or feel alienated for not understanding.

Conclusion

It’s obvious an incredible amount of time and thought went into researching for this book. The characters go on a great adventure, survive car chases and murder attempts, recover an ancient artifact, and discover long-held secrets. I love the journey Michael goes on–he’s definitely my favorite character. My girly side wished there was a little more romance to the story; it’s totally set up for Michael and Anna to fall in love, but nothing really happens except mention that they steal glances at each other. And I wish the story was condensed a bit, more focused. I think this is a book that fans of crime fiction or books like The DaVinci Code would love. If that sounds like you go check this one out!!

4 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: For Love of Anna

For Love of AnnaI found For Love of Anna on the Cheap eBooks reading list. James Lawless’s book is an interesting blend of genres: romance, political thriller, revolutionary (not exactly a genre, but you get the idea).

Synopsis

Guido Van Thool is a student at the university studying philosophy. He is close friends with Phillippe, a leader in the anarchist movement. He meets and falls in love with Anna, a beautiful ballerina who does not support Guido’s involvement with the anarchists. She thinks it’s too dangerous. After celebrating the new year, Guido and Anna walk home from a club and are hit by a car driven by a drunk, powerful, and corrupt judge, Jeremiah Delahyde. Guido is determined to prove Delahyde’s guilt and corruption, driven by his desire for justice after the life-changing injuries inflicted on Anna.

Strengths

The relationship between Guido and Anna is beautifully developed. The pacing for the story is quite slow, the author taking time to notice details and let the reader get a comprehensive taste of the main characters. When Anna was hit by the car, I felt genuine anxiety over her well-being. For a moment I even decided that if she died I would hate the book, for what was the purpose of making me care about her and Guido if they could not be together? It seemed unnecessarily cruel. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but suffice it to say I did NOT hate the book, regardless of what may or may not have happened to Anna.

The judge was a poignant reminder of how powerless I feel sometimes about things in the world or my life that I cannot change, despite how much I want to or how unjust they are. I think Guido was remarkably patient and intelligent in how he exacts his revenge–er, justice.

Weaknesses

I wish the book had been a touch shorter, or that the pace was sped up a little. I found myself skimming entire pages because nothing was happening. The setting was a touch confusing; I still cannot tell you exactly what time period or country this story takes place in. If I had to guess, it would be near Russia and close to present day.

Also, the book is in dire need of another edit or proofread. Simple mechanical issues, like errant quotation marks or oddly-placed commas, drove me nuts. I was influenced by the specific digital copy that I read, a pdf file that changed fonts in seemingly random places. I finally determined that anytime there was an apostrophe or quotation mark, the font changed. This was highly annoying, tempting me at the beginning not to even start reading because the pages looked so unpolished. If I were to go back in time and start over, I would have insisted on reading either a hard copy or find a digital copy that had been formatted correctly. It’s amazing how visually influenced we are. If something looks beautiful, we are more likely to think well of it.

Conclusion

Despite the mechanical and formatting issues, this was a good story. The pacing could have been a little quicker and the setting a little clearer, but the three main characters (Guido, Anna, and Judge Delahyde) are well-developed and interact with each other in intelligent ways. If you like reading stories about political revolutions, you’ll enjoy this one!

4 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: The Marijuana Project

The_Marijuana_Project_Brian_Laslow_t580It took me a little longer than I had anticipated, but I finished Brian Laslow’s The Marijuana Project! Now, to be clear, I needed more time for reading due to several factors, mostly being that I had another big project I was working on that took up a lot of time. Also, The Marijuana Project is not a quick one-day read, but is loaded with fascinating backstory. I found this realistic novel on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

The Marijuana Project is about a successful security consultant named Sam, a conservative family man who is staunchly opposed to drug use of any kind. When a medical marijuana company offers him a well-paying job running security for their new facility, Sam doesn’t know if he should take the job. He accepts the position, albeit a little tentatively, but is resolved to do his job to the best of his ability. Then Sam starts receiving anonymous notes: on his windshield, while out of town on business, and to his email inbox, all targeting his ethical insecurity, trying to persuade Sam to help an anti-marijuana activist group burn his client’s supply of product.

Strengths

The quality of writing throughout the book is strong and clear. The main protagonist, Sam, is very cool. He’s smart, thorough in his work, has impeccable integrity and makes sure every decision he makes is in line with his personal code of ethics. I think integrity is an increasingly rare quality. It was refreshing to read about a character who continually strives to do what he believes to be right.

“Sam was a man of principle. He believed there was good and evil in the world and if good did not fight evil then it was as responsible for the result as evil itself.” (pg 167)

The Marijuana Project was also, at least for me, quite educational. I live in Colorado, a place where marijuana can be obtained from vending machines, yet I’ve somehow stayed relatively ignorant of many of the arguments on both sides of the debate. It was interesting to witness Sam’s journey as he wrestled with the pros and cons of protecting a substance he personally disagrees with. vending machine

The ending was a great twist, something I did not see coming.

Weaknesses

The main thing I wanted from this book was more action. The prologue is a flash-forward to the end where Sam is defending the marijuana facility from unknown assailants, bullets flying and a truly dire situation. With such an exciting beginning, I was expecting a little more action throughout the story and especially at the end. There were parts where Sam is describing aspects of his security systems that got lengthy and–I hate to say it–a little boring. Also some parts where Sam is doing research about the person or group who might be sending him notes or his internal ethical debates really slowed the story down.

Conclusion

Definitely an interesting book, different from anything else I’ve read. I learned a little more about the marijuana industry, a very current and relevant topic, and more about how much goes into security–something I can say I’ve never given much thought. If you are interested in learning more about the marijuana debate, are interested in security, enjoy ethical dilemmas, or stories with a healthy dose of mystery, then you will definitely enjoy The Marijuana Project!

4  out of 5 stars

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Book Review: The Lost Heir

The Lost HeirI have finally finished reading The Lost Heir by Andi O’Connor! I had planned on finishing and posting this review on Wednesday, but life got in the way. Apologies for the delay! In any case, it was a fun fantasy read that can be found on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

“Their situation was hopeless. Darrak closed his eyes. A single tear glided down his muddy cheek as he grieved for the only friends he’d ever known.” (Chapter 32)

Darrak Hunter, a dedicated college student, starts having dreams of a different world: a beautiful place with purple clouds. One day he wakes up to find Earth’s own sun has turned violet and purple clouds fill the sky. A sorcerer appears in his dorm room and tells him he is the lost heir to the kingdom of Mystandia. After traveling to this new world, Darrak must learn how to use his new-found magic and embrace his destiny. He embarks on a quest to try and save the world from a cunning Organization that seeks to take over both Mystandia and Earth. With the help of some new and powerful friends, can Darrak overcome plots of betrayal and save two worlds?

Strengths

This is an action-packed story! Not much opportunity to get bored because there is always something happening. O’Connor paints a vivid and complex tapestry of story lines and characters that gives the reader a realistic sense of what living in Mystandia might feel like. One of the biggest strengths to the story is the depth of the characters. Not only do we get to know Darrak and his struggles, but a myriad of allies and enemies are showcased, adding tremendous depth to the story. I loved getting to know Mionee, arguably the main antagonist. She has a rich and compelling backstory, making me very sympathetic to her situation. I also love that there are a ton of strong female characters to look up to.

I loved all the magic, aspects of which were explained in fascinating detail. The themes of betrayal and family were helpful in moving the story along and keeping everything connected, and there were even bits of a love story strung throughout to keep me happy. 🙂

Weaknesses

There were two primary weaknesses that I found in The Lost Heir: too many loose ends and unrealistic character behavior. First of all, I know that this is only the first installment of the Dragonath Chronicles series, so some loose ends are expected. However, there were so many points that I wish were addressed before the end. Even a Part 1 book should have a sense of conclusion, even if it’s on a small scale. Rather than going into too much detail (or giving away spoilers!), here’s a quick list of questions I had at the end:

  • What happened to Cyrus? (He’s a bad guy.)
  • Who is behind The Organization?
  • Who, specifically, is hunting Darrak and his friends?
  • What happened regarding the binding ceremony between Mionee and Garenth?
  • How did the people on Earth respond to the purple clouds and how did they affect the ecosystem? There were allusions to what Darrak thought might be happening, but no direct information.

Disclaimer: I recognize many of these questions will probably be answered in the next book, and I’m probably just being super impatient, but there ya go.

Next, some of the dialogue and actions between certain characters were…somewhat inappropriate. For example, a servant talking back to a king would probably result in their death, or at least immediate termination of employment, right? There is a scene where a handmaid is arguing extremely disrespectfully with the king, a not-very-nice guy. In another scene, Mionee’s plan requires that a certain servant be moved to work for her, but doesn’t know if the king will approve her transfer. Shouldn’t the king himself have better things to do than approve transfers between the servants?? These things don’t seem believable.

Conclusion

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable fantasy read. Lots of action, cool magic, and an interesting story line featuring some exceptional characters with rich histories. I can sometimes be an impatient reader, and I have a feeling that once I read the next installment all of my questions will be answered. However, I still feel that there could have been a more developed ending so the reader isn’t left in a lurch. If you’re looking for a fantasy read, go find a copy of The Lost Heir and immerse yourself in a world of magic and cool characters, then let me know what you think!!

4 out of 5 stars

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