Monday’s Lie by Jamie Mason

Imagine your mother was a covert CIA operative. Imagine that she has raised you to notice the world around, with points for remembering license plate numbers or the items in a random person’s shopping cart – a running competition between you and your brother. Imagine an “Uncle” Paul, an annoying constant in your life who is a partner of sorts to your mom, running the operation and wooing you as a potential recruit. Then imagine one rainy night when your mother sends you out to complete some nonsensical tasks while she “takes care” of a situation, then leaves you for what you’ll forever refer to as “The Long Trip”. Finally, remember her last moments as she bestows upon you all her love as well as the ability to conquer life’s challenges and find happiness. Welcome to Monday’s Lie by Jamie Mason.

Mason gives you a glimpse into the life of Dee Aldritch, nicknamed Plucky. She and her brother, Simon, aka Sixes, remain close, always ready to meet at the local bar to talk when the secret password “Once Upon A Time” is exchanged. Despite her unusual upbringing (or perhaps because of it) Dee yearns for a normal life, free from intrigue. She thinks she’s found it with Patrick, a fellow college student who she kmarries immediately upon graduation. They seem to have the perfect relationship, yet some nagging doubts prompt Dee to maintain a hidden stash of birth control pills. After as many years as her mama, Annette Vess, had fingers (a few were missing) everything starts to unravel. It starts with the blue sedan, a rifled through purse, and personal items which have obviously (at least to someone versed in observation) been handled. Then she recognizes someone from her mother’s past. Why is she being stalked? To top things off, her husband is acting strangely, constantly picking a fight in private, but acting the affectionate mate in public. Does any of it have to do with the recent half a million dollar inheritance? Or does hubby simply want a change of scenery with either the corner barista or the lap dancer at the local strip club?

Either, or, it’s Monday and Dee realizes her marriage is over. By Friday, she finds herself driving towards her destiny, without a plan except the knowledge that there are answers to be found.

A fun book, full of intrigue with unique, compelling characters. Jamie has a breezy style which flows smoothly, with some clever wordage and interesting events. However, over half the book is spent setting up the premise, a back and forth between the present and the past, so that the more dramatic conclusion is crammed into a few quick chapters. In this case, it is forgivable since the background info is compelling, but the culmination of the plot is problematic with too many loose ends left for the reader to ponder. I personally felt some confusion on a couple of points, but perhaps the author is planning a sequel. Four stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Gallery Books for providing me a download of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.


Darkness by Erin Eveland

Darkness by Erin Eveland is the story of a young girl unaware of the power of darkness and light buried deep within her soul. When her Nana, the only loving family in her life, dies, Catherine goes to live with her self absorbed, alcoholic mother, Kathy. Her sordid life of poverty in the trailer park of a small town has one bright spot, Nathan, who is patiently waiting for her to graduate from high school before professing his love. There’s a problem, however, with their budding romance, since Catherine is unwittingly being groomed by the mysterious Artros to fulfill her role as the black rose. This infatuation with one so young is due to a love of the power she holds which can strengthen Artros’ role as Master of Darkness. It is only through Catherine, the light, that the mystery of the quest can be unlocked. Artros makes Nathan his apprentice as leverage against Catherine. Their lessons include teachings such as “the father of color is darkness” and “the power of darkness is a tool”. Although Catherine is totally unaware of this planned destiny, others feel the disturbance. It brings Jorgen who has recently recovered from near death after a previous defeat by Artros in a battle over his supposed lover, Esa. Jorgen sees the potential hidden within Catherine and vows to protect her. Thus the contest for dominance over the shadow world begins.

There is a lot of potential for an interesting if not dynamic story, but, unfortunately, the word I would use is to describe this book is cumbersome. This supernatural tale is surrounded by wordiness. It’s as if the author has entered a contest to see how many different ways she can say the same thing, in the most verbose style possible. Why tell us once, when you can describe an event with an infinite variety of explanations, each different, but yet the same. There is also a touch of pretentiousness, with phrases such as “embalming solitude”, “the longing within was quenched”, and “death was just an escort ticket for the soul”. In spite of all the explanations, such as “Darkness lulls the heart to sleep, and in Darkness the heart will be awakened,” and “The mother of colors was light and Catherine in her innocence exemplified that light,” I remained confused about the source of power, although it’s destructiveness was clearly represented, resulting in some gruesome scenes.

Instead of eliminating the repetition and condensing the story, at the end of the unsatisfactory conclusion of Darkness, we discover it is just the first part of a series, with book two, Shadows, continuing the saga. I don’t think I can put myself through this ordeal again – two stars.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Selladore Press for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My Days With Princess Grace of Monaco by Joan Dale with Pamela Dale

This book was not an easy read, but definitely a book worth savoring. Perhaps one might compare the experience to receiving a bottle of fine wine which is to be sipped, not gulped, and that is how I approached it, reading a section or two at a time.

My Days With Princess Grace of Monaco is the story of two women, one of Princess Grace and her life with Prince Rainier, the other of Joan Dale with her husband Martin. Joan led a fascinating life, first as a diplomat’s wife, then as the wife of the Privy Counselor to the Prince of Monaco, and finally as the wife of a successful business man, as her husband switched jobs over their twenty-five years of marriage. Her experiences reflect the excitement of life in the royal palace. The story focuses on the six or so years that Joan and Grace maintained a close, sisterly relationship, and continues on through correspondence and visits between the two until Grace’s untimely death in 1982. There are numerous excerpts of letters and photographs to assist in making the past come alive. Joan Dale, a wonderful storyteller, fills this biography with interesting anecdotes of her life and that of her best friend, The Princess of Monaco.

Originally this book was written as a family history, but after Joan’s death, her daughter Pamela Grace decided to publish this work for the benefit of the public. If a biography could have an objective, this one’s goal would be to demonstrate the gracious kindness that Princess Grace exemplified as well as reflect her love of the arts and her desire to use her place of privilege to help others. “I wish to be remembered as a decent human being, and a caring one.” is a comment the Princess made in her last public interview with Pierre Salinger on 20/20, and it is repeatedly demonstrated in the author’s narrative.

What I found most compelling about this work is not the minute details Joan Dale has included, but the fact that I grew up in that same era and so was familiar with many of the names and dates mentioned. Joan kept extensive journals which, along with her newsy letters home to her parents, described the jewelry and outfits worn by the rich and famous as well as the lavish meals served at the numerous extravaganzas the Dales attended with the royal couple. The reader is able to vicariously experience the grandeur (along with the tedium) of life in the public eye filled with dazzling parties, incredible jaunts to amazing locales, and the flashing bulbs of the ever present paparazzi. Monaco seemed to be the go to place of many of the world’s leading entertainers and bureaucrats, perhaps because of the beauty of the Rivera or the appeal of the casino at Monte Carlo. Actors, such as David Niven, had summer homes in Monaco where the residents lived tax free. Now, if don’t recognize world renowned individuals such as David Nivon, Frank Sinatra, and Cary Grant, or Aristotle Onassis and Charles DeGaulle, or if you’ve never heard about the marriage of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier, then you probably won’t appreciate the minutiae within this book. I, however, am familiar with many of the names and events relayed as Joan tells her story, which greatly enhanced my enjoyment.

Next to Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles, the wedding of Grace to Rainier was the event of the 20th century. Everyone was in love with the beautiful actress Grace Kelly and when she accepted Prince Rainier’s proposal to become the Princess of Monaco, it was a fairy tale come true. Grace loved planning and attending parties which was fortunate since her life was a whirlwind of social events filled with performances by world famous artists. Joan Dale was in the unique position to share this lifestyle with us.

An eye opening story which I am tempted to retell, but I’ll let you discover it for yourselves. Please pick up and read this four and a half star book and transplant yourself back to life in the late fifties and early sixties.

A special thank you to Netgalley, Inlightning, and Pamela Dale (Joan’s daughter, as well as the god daughter of Princess Grace) for allowing me to download a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Duke of Thorns by Sara Ramsey

Two impossible people – one a free spirited woman used to doing whatever she pleases, another a man used to controlling others either by tactical persuasion or by physical force. Two total opposites who are destined to find love despite all obstacles giving the reader the potential for an exciting romance.

That’s just what Sara Ramsey does in her most recent novel, Duke of Thorns, the first in a new series, Heiress Games. Lord Gavin Thorington depends on his luck to support his younger brothers and sisters, but the charm which had previously cursed him with fortune has now turned against him. Faced with three lost ships, failed crops, and gambling debts, Thorington must secure wealthy mates for his siblings before news of his ruin becomes common knowledge. If his young brother Anthony will accept the hand of the potential Briarley Heiress, then at least his future is secure. Off the entire family goes to the house party where one of three Briarley woman will be selected to inherit all. The determining factor is which bride-to-be selects the best (or most interesting) husband. Gavin is certain the brother of a Duke will triumph. Now, if only both of the affected parties will cooperate.

The obvious winner is Calista, the cousin from Baltimore. Gavin is instantly drawn to her independence and vitality, so unlike the other girls in society. Unfortunately, she is not schooled in the ways of the ton, so Thorington decides to become her “governess” and trains her in the essentials so she doesn’t ruin herself before her wedding day. Calista simply wants the stable home which Maidenstone Abbey will provide, as long as she can maintain the independence necessary to continue running her company. Thus, Thorington’s proposed arrangement is agreeable to her, as long as Anthony is cooperative.

As Gavin and Callie are thrown together, the chemistry they feel gets stronger, but their ultimate goals remain the same leaving a mutual romance impossible. Plus there’s the little issue of her sloop, Nero, which has turned privateer for the Americans in the War of 1812 conflict. The very ship which, ironically, has captured Thorington’s fleet and caused his financial demise.

A mess to be sure and this particular dilemma leads to a compelling Regency Romance.

Sara has made the characters come alive with witty banter and lively interactions. Even the minor characters are interesting. They should be, as many of them appeared in previous novels in the Muses of Mayfair series. These supporting players assist our hero and heroine in finding their voices, leading to a satisfying conclusion despite the numerous obstacles both must overcome. We, along with Callie, see the potential good side of the domineering Duke and root for Gavin’s heartfelt personality to triumph over Thorington’s manipulative manner, so the two lovers may forge a mutual relationship where their passion can be expressed.

A well done, thoroughly enjoyable novel with stimulating romantic interludes. I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Lord of Deceit, due out this Spring, Four and a half stars.

I would like to thank Netgalley for allowing me a free download of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Convergence (Zodiac, #1) by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, Art by Andie Tong

If you are a twelve year old boy, do I have a treat for you! The Zodiac Legacy is a new “comic” book series featuring an evil doer who wishes to control the creatures of the Zodiac so he can take over the world.

In Convergence (Zodiac #1) by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore, the villain is power-hungry, billionaire Maxwell, who uses his authority and the talent of geek, Carlos, to incorporate six of the twelve Zodiac signs into his body, not counting his own sign of The Dragon. Due to an interruption in the process, the remaining energy of the Zodiac is accidentally released where it unwittingly enters the hosts of unsuspecting people throughout the world. Through his organization, The Vanguard, Maxwell sends his minions to capture the “lucky” individuals who have become unwilling recipients of the five remaining signs. Jasmine, who shares The Dragon sign with Maxwell, thwarts his attempts by recruiting the “newbies” and bringing them to a training center in Greenland. Jasmine needs help in order to stop Maxwell from implementing his evil plans, partially in revenge of her parents’ murder. Maxwell, on the other hand, is determined to syphon off all of Jasmine’s Dragon power to make himself the most powerful being in the Zodiac.

Jasmine’s team include neophyte trainees:

Steven Lee — a Chinese American teen on a class trip to China who inadvertently witnesses Maxwell’s insanity and somehow receives the power of The Tiger at the same moment his Grandfather dies.

Roxanne – a French Rock star who channels her powers of The Rooster through her music.

Liam – an Irish pub fighter who relishes the added strength from the Zodiac as The Ram.

Duane – an electronics whizz who can use his power of The Pig to control electrical output.

Kim – a young girl from a broken down town in the Midwest who can teleport with her powers as The Rabbit.

The experienced Vanguard team includes Josie – The Horse, Malik – The Ox, Vincent – The Monkey, Nicky – The Dog, and the Black Ops Team of Celine – The Snake and Thiago – The Rat.

This book is fast paced and action packed, transitioning from one battle to the next as Vanguard goes on the offensive to herd in Jasmine and her followers. I haven’t seen all the graphics as the book I have is an ARC, but the pictures, drawn by Andie Tong, are phenomenal. I wouldn’t call this a graphic novel in the true sense, although it does have numerous illustrations, usually at the beginning or the end of a chapter (hopefully the final version will have even more). There is definitely more story than art work. In fact, it is a rather long book (about 500 pages), the first of a Trilogy. Just don’t question the plot too much, as the young zodiac recipients all seem to have few ties, beyond sentimental ones, to their former homes. This feature is a fortunate one, since their lives will be taking a different path where destiny will decide their fate, “the destiny determined by the Zodiac”.

Please note that comic icon Stan Lee has been a part of the writing process of Convergence, and the Zodiac series is published by Disney, indicating to me that we will be seeing a digital version of the story on film or television. Even though 93-year-old Stan Lee has created numerous Super Heroes over the years, this is his first time actually writing a book. The plot is designed to show movement, although almost half the book consists of background which has a tendency to drag. However, once the action starts, it doesn’t let up and there are several surprises in the last few chapters which will make a perfect segway into the next book in the series. The characters reflect various races and nationalities, with fourteen-year-old Steven Lee, the hero, being biracial. This book is perfect for feeding the fantasies of middle schoolers and those adults who have never outgrown the Super Hero Genre.

For me, this book is not a part of my normal reading choices, although I am glad that Netgalley and Disney allowed me to download a copy in exchange for an honest review. It seemed a little long for a YA book, even though the style was simplistic. However, there is a lot of potential for a Saturday morning cartoon adventure. Three and a half stars (mainly for the basic premise and the art work).

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

What if the son of a mother stricken with agoraphobia is raised totally indoors, sheltered from the outside world and real life? That child would be Will, a sweet, sensitive, artistic child who is strangled by the over protectiveness of a mother who can’t deal with – well, basically everything. Eleven year old Will must live within the grips of her disease which disallows everyday items such as the stove, forbids foods which might choke, and requires wearing headgear and a wet suit, all in an attempt to keep the outside world from invading their inner sanctum. Then comes the inevitable day when Will ventures out of doors and discovers that fresh air won’t kill him — That normal boys don’t wear helmets — That his masterpieces are simply ordinary drawings and he isn’t the genius his mother proclaims him to be. This is the premise of If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie.

Will embraces the Outside and sets off on his own adventures. Along with his friend Jacob, the two boys skateboard, sans helmets, throughout the town of Thunder Bay, Ontario and into the taboo waterfront, searching for clues to the whereabouts of their missing friend Marcus. It’s as if Will seeks the danger his mother espews, defiantly inviting the world to hurt him.

There is also a backstory, the curse of the Cardiel Family, of which Diane is the sole survivor. Slowly, as Diane allows herself to remember past events, we discover the secrets which continue to destroy her confidence. There are reasons she strives to keep Will safe, as if keeping him on the Inside will prevent the dangers of the Outside from snatching the life away from her precious boy. Ultimately, past events collide with present dangers as both Will and his mother find the inner courage to face the enemy who is bent on destruction.

The main problem with this book is the lengthy set up needed to allow the reader to capture the essence of life for Diane and her son. Although descriptive, it is not necessarily compelling reading. In fact, the repetitiveness of thoughts and emotions (interspersed with the true storyline), makes the book more laborious than enjoyable. This also makes it harder to pick out the essential elements, such as why an extreme panic episode is called the Black Lagoon. Slowly we are given bits and pieces of past events, but the pacing is way too pokey. When the action picks up, so does our interest. We discover there’s more to the story than meets the eye. Yet because of the disjointedness, the plot gets confusing in places. There are a lot of “what’s?” going on in our mind. However, although the ending is not a surprise, it is a satisfying resolution.

This is a complex story and I’m glad I stuck through it until the end. Three and a half stars.

I’d like to thank Crown Publishing and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

I’ve just spent a delightful evening with the Waverley family. You’re invited, too. It’s not an intrusion, really. They have so much to offer, if you’ll just sit and listen to their story.

Some of you have met them before, in the novel Garden Spells, but this is my first visit to Bascom, North Carolina and I am enthralled. The author fills us in on enough details so that you haven’t missed a thing. In Bascom, one’s heritage predetermines one’s fate, whether it’s sexual prowess, body strength, or when you will marry. The Waverley’s skill is magic — Whether it’s Sydney’s ability to fix your hair in such a way that your day runs smoothly, all lights are green, all tests are passed — Or perhaps it’s Claire’s talent to create a dish which stimulates love or helps you find your missing keys — Maybe it’s Bay who simply knows where everything belongs, from the display at a Halloween dance to what house a person is destined to own. My personal favorite Waverley is cousin Evanelle who intuitively knows what you need and is driven to make sure she hands it to you before you even require it. (I had a similar talent with books when I was a full time librarian in the public school system).

So let me tell you all about First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen. The author calls her books Southern Fried Magical Realism, that good old fashioned Southern Magic of folklore. In this case it’s all about the Waverley females, supported by their favorite men. Sydney and Claire are two sisters who have grown very close, despite their “Fig and Pepper” background. It’s Autumn and the family is anxiously awaiting the First Frost when the magical Apple Tree in the backyard mysteriously come to life once more. Its dormant stage invites trouble, an unsettled feeling that something is about to happen. Of course, a lot is happening to the Waverley women. Fifteen year old Bay has fallen in love with Josh. Her mother Sydney has encouraged Bay to confide in her, but when she discovers the boy Bay has selected is a Matteson, Bay finds herself permanently grounded. “Mattesons don’t mix well with Waverleys.” Sydney has her own issues as she desperately tries to give her husband a son, which includes surprise lunchtime visits to his workplace. Then there’s Sydney’s sister Claire, who has switched from catering to candy making, but wonders about the results from using purchased edible flowers instead of the home grown kind. She worries about whether she has truly inherited her grandmother’s mystical cooking ability or if her talents are a sham. In addition, there’s that disappearing older gentleman hanging around the place. How does he fit in?

Each has their worries, but all is resolved with a dose of love, a pinch of romance, and a yard full of petals from a flowering tree. Grab a seat and start reading so you don’t miss out on this gentle, sweet tale of stubborn doors, rebellious children, and sisterhood. An excellent way to spend a cold winter’s afternoon. Four stars.

A thank you to St Martin’s Press and Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Book Reviews