The Huntress

By Kate Quinn

We don’t hunt the helpless, luchik. We hunt the killers. Is like villagers going after a wolf gone mad. Only when the wolf is dead, villagers go home and we find the next mad wolf.

Ian Graham, a former British war correspondent teams up with Nina Markova a former Night Witch, one of the legendary female Russian night bombers. Their mission is to find and bring to justice a vicious Nazi predator, The Huntress, with whom Nina has a personal score to settle. They track her to Boston, where Jordan, a young budding photographer’s widowed father has just brought home Anna, his serene and reserved new fiancée, and her traumatized daughter, Ruth. From Germany.

I hovered between 3 stars and 4 stars for this one. I re-read the ending pages again, and 4 stars it is. Part of the problem, if 3 stars is a problem, was that I didn’t really take to Nina or her lengthy story while she was in Russia. It wasn’t until she came to the United States that I really warmed to her.

“Is a Russian thing. Sit around, drink too much, talk about death.” She pushed her empty plate away. “It makes us cheerful.”

I guess it was because I just prefer light over dark. I was much more intrigued by Jordan’s domestic adventures with Anna and Ruth on the home front.

I hope there is a sequel someday. I would like to see all of the characters again and read more of Ruth, all grown up. I would also like to see more Nazis caught.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 14, 2019

Dark Matter

By Blake Crouch

“Imagine you’re a fish, swimming in a pond. You can move forward and back, side to side, but never up out of the water. If someone were standing beside the pond, watching you, you’d have no idea they were there. To you, that little pond is an entire universe. Now imagine that someone reaches down and lifts you out of the pond. You see that what you thought was the entire world is only a small pool. You see other ponds. Trees. The sky above. You realize you’re a part of a much larger and more mysterious reality than you had ever dreamed of.” Daniela leans back in her chair and takes a sip of wine.

Dark Matter is an original concept that delivers a lot of suspense, wonder, some shocks, and twists aplenty. Jason, an ordinary physics professor with a wife, Daniella, and son, Charley, is knocked out and kidnapped. He wakes up to learn he is really a celebrated world-renowned genius who has cracked the code to other worlds and alternate realities and how to go there. But Jason loves the only other life he knows. He loves his wife and son. Can he find that life again in the infinite other parallel lives he has lived and is living?

It was hard to get my mind around the science so I didn’t even try. I just went with it. I must give it all the stars, even though It didn’t affect me very much emotionally and it wasn’t funny which are two qualities which are usually very important to me in books. There were times that I didn’t like Jason, the hero, very much. But it was well-written and kept me reading. There were several difficult concepts and Mr. Crouch handled them very well and very believably. It is a real page-turner. I did figure out what Jason and his family were going to have to do to stay together. I loved the way his wife Daniela cut through the mess and took charge at the end. I wish Mr. Crouch would have figured out a way to involve Amanda, his fellow traveler through their alternate lives, at the end. Primo sequel material there!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October 5, 2018

The Chemist

By Stephanie Meyer

“Kevin rolled his eyes. “I bet you always have a plan, don’t you, shorty? ”She regarded him with flat eyes. “I can’t rely on muscle, so I rely on brains. It appears you have the opposite problem.”

Stephanie Meyer can write a good page-turner. Say what you will, all of the books I have read by her have really engaged me, and The Chemist was no exception. It is a light thriller with a fair share of romantic mush. Although it has lots of violence and a high mortality rate, it is not very dark, terrifying, or heart pounding. Somehow you know everything is going to turn out OK. Our heroine is an emotionally damaged female John Wick, Jason Bourne, or Equalizer type, except she has the special superpower of being a brilliant chemist and former torturer who uses her expertise to protect herself and wreak havoc on bad guys. At least she hopes they are bad guys. She is on the run from a certain U.S government agency that is trying to kill her because she knows too much. She agrees to do one last job for them in exchange for them ceasing and desisting. A common trope, yes.

The book kind of bogs down at the beginning with the setup and her preparations to capture her prey. It was interesting and admirable but went on a bit too long. I almost quit. I hung on and it picked up considerably after her target proves himself to be a sweet, innocent victim with an extremely dangerous twin brother (Kevin), who turns out to be also targeted by another branch of the government. Alex, our heroine, reluctantly teams up with him to extricate themselves from their mutual dilemma and keep his beloved, but naïve, (and, sadly, a bit dim,) brother safe. And therein lies my main complaint about this book. I actually prefer beta heroes as opposed to the Alpha male heroes. But they don’t work so well when the book is set, not in the real world, but in the nether world of constant danger, evil, and death. Especially when our heroine is such a badass. I didn’t understand the romance. She had more in common and more chemistry with his crazy and dangerous brother. They really got each other. By comparison, Daniel seemed ineffectual. But a super-nice guy. A mensch. Yeah. He actually expresses qualms about stealing a car when they were running for their lives, pursued by the powers of hell. And he was apologizing all the way through the book for being so stupid. At one point, Kevin, the uber-tough agent, tells him to shut up so he can talk to his nemesis, Alex, because at least she has some sense. Those two are hostile towards each other through the majority of the book accompanied by a lot of amusing banter and snark, but they had mutual respect. They bonded over rolling their eyes at his brother and her love interest. But, to my disappointment, it was not foreplay.
Towards the end, I kind of sped-read, not feeling compelled to savor every word and development. As a side note, Kevin’s dogs also were a little over the top and added an almost fantasy element. (Think Dean Koontz’s Watchers). The ending was a little pat, but I didn’t mind that so much either. I like the way the epilogue was done. It was clever. All in all, an intriguing concept, competently done, but lacking any surprise or twists. She is not a great writer, like some non-literary entertainment-only novelists are, but she can spin a tale and keep you engaged. I’d give a sequel, if there is one, a chance. But please, first, a sequel to The Host!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

February 28, 2017

Just One Damned Thing After Another (Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1)

By Jodi Taylor

I wasn’t all that blown away by this. Considering the enthusiastic reviews, and how much I loved The Nothing Girl, I was disappointed. It’s a great idea, but I think she bit off more than she could chew. A select group is tasked with observing and documenting pivotal events in history. They are sent back in time after extensive training. It is a very high concept intriguing plot line, but like many reviewers, I thought the many many characters were just sketched in and I didn’t feel like I knew them, so I wasn’t invested enough. I will probably try another in the series, because I have reason to believe her writing might improve as she writes more books.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

August 4, 2017

The Sherwood Ring

By Elizabeth Marie Pope

“A gentleman can hardly continue to sit,’ he explained, in his serenest and most level voice, ‘when he asks a very remarkable young lady to do him the honor of marrying him. And – ‘he somehow contrived to grin at me wickedly, ‘I usually get what I want, Miss Grahame,’ he added, and pitched over in a tangled heap on the floor.”

This was a lovely light read involving friendly helpful ghosts and 3 charming love stories. I would have been so captivated had I read this as a young teen. I was pretty captivated as an adult. I would recommend this for any romantic teen who loves innocent love stories and history. Peaceable Sherwood was a wonderful character who provided a good portion of the gentle humor in this tale. He reminded me of Geoffrey Delavale in Patricia Veryan’s Journey to Enchantment

Rating: 4 out of 5.

September 27, 2019

Every Secret Thing

By Susanna Kearsley (Emma Cole)

Later on, when I looked back on it, the only explanation I could give for what I did next was that, at the time, I saw no other way. My life, as I was living now, was not a life. To be in fear, to be in hiding, using someone else’s name – this wasn’t how I wanted to go on. And it would never stop, so long as both the murderer and I were still alive. My only thought on that long morning flight to London was that, one way or another, I would see it end, today.

This has been in my TBR pile for a very long time. I kept putting it off because I thought it was going to be a long and heavy WWII angst-ridden emotional journey with lots of tragedy that would require a big commitment in time and emotion, as most of her other books do. It did have some of that, but mostly it was a normal-sized mystery and adventure that was very reminiscent of Mary Stewart, if she had written her books today, instead of 60 or 70 years ago. The heroine of this one, Kate, had the narrative voice of a Mary Stewart heroine and I also enjoyed the travelogue-like descriptions of Lisbon, Enola, and Washington DC. In Susanna Kearsley’s books, you can follow along with our heroine on Google Earth and really almost be there, on the scene.

I won’t go into the plot, but like most of Susanna’s novels, it involves a dual timeline. In order to investigate the mystery, and later to ensure justice is served, Kate, our investigative journalist, tracks down and interviews the now elderly men and women who can shed light on a murder that happened during WWII in Lisbon, Portugal. Their reminiscences are all part of the puzzle but also provide an entertaining story involving love, intrigue, and a portrait of a hero: Andrew Deacon. But someone who wants to silence her and those who would help her solve the puzzle is following her. Someone powerful with high connections with Whitehall. No one is to be trusted, including an attractive man she meets on her quest. And once the murderer is revealed, how will she exact justice and end the danger to herself and others?

By the end, you marvel at all of the threads that have come together to provide the satisfying conclusion. There is poignancy and sadness in the part of the story that belongs to Kate’s grandmother, but no regret. Being a romantic at heart, I wished for more closure on the page for Kate’s happy ending, but I know in my heart she will have one very soon after I put the book down.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

September 5, 2021

Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy #1)

by Ilona Andrews

Burn For Me was such a good book in so many ways. I loved Nevada, the heroine, and her snarky humor. I loved her family: They were all interesting and likable and they were all devoted to each other despite the normal family tensions. They also were funny, as was the book. And not that fake funny either. I was genuinely amused many many times. The action sequences were well done and exciting. The antagonists were hateable and scary. It was a page-turner that kept me very intrigued and involved throughout. I have never read an “urban fantasy” book before that I know of, so I found the world-building and premises creative and fascinating and entertaining. Mr./Ms Andrews does what I need in a good writer: They establish an intimate easy rapport with the reader making you part of the story rather than an outsider looking in. Yes, Ilona Andrews is a good writer. I had a lot of fun. And that makes the two things I did not like overlook-able.
Number one is I hated the hero and love interest, Mad Rogan. I will just say that he was a horrible human being. He was not a good man and he was controlling and abusive to our heroine, who was a very very good person.

“You have no regard for human life,” I said. “You saved the city, but I don’t think you did it because you genuinely cared about all those people. I think you did it because Adam Pierce got under your skin. You hire desperate soldiers, but you don’t do it to save them either. You do it because they offer you unquestioning loyalty. You rescued your cousin, but you had been content to ignore the existence of that whole branch of your family. Had you stepped into Gavin’s life earlier, perhaps he would’ve never met Adam Pierce. …You don’t seem to feel bad about things, and you offer gratitude only when you need to overcome some hurdle. I think you might be a psychopath. “I can’t be with you, no matter how crazy you make me, because you have no empathy, Rogan. The gulf between us, both financially and socially, is too great. So no, I won’t go away with you. I want to be with someone who would if not love, then genuinely care, for me. You are not that man.”

She really nailed it there. Sadly, although she stands up to him in this book and pulls no punches with him throughout, I see the handwriting on the wall. I will probably keep reading at least one more in this series in hopes that she whips him into shape as far as being a decent citizen and person is concerned, or at least gives him justification and a path to redemption in future books. The only reason I could tolerate his nonsense was that Nevada does not cave in mentally or emotionally. I’m pretty sure true love will be his salvation, but he needs to be humbled with some serious groveling on the side.

The other bad mark against this book was the author’s constant and repetitive obsession with worshipping at the altar of Mad Rogan’s looks and power. She/he won’t shut up about his godlike awesomeness, and Nevada’s unwilling attraction and physical response to him. I mean we got it the first dozen times, Ilona. Good Job. Now move on! I guess some readers like this type of over the top horny/sexy writing, but it’s not for me. But like I said, the positives greatly outweigh these annoying negatives.

I’ve learned to be very suspicious about authors who seem to produce more than 1 or so books a year and write exclusively series. Well, Ilona Andrews really churns them out, for sure, but if her/his books are this good, I will have been proven wrong in my prejudice. If they all show the same talent this book does, the more the merrier. And I have a lot of catching up to do.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

April 5, 2020

A Desperate Fortune

By Susanna Kearsley

Once again, we have a dual timeline. The modern girl is a codebreaker with Aspersers. Unfortunately that sounds a lot more interesting than it was. she is trying to unveil the story of Mary Dundas, a Jacobite exile from the 1730s’, via her diary which is written in code. She has written about this era in history quite a bit, and she graces us with a few cameos of people from her previous books.

All in all, this one was rather slow, particularly the contemporary story of Sara. The romance in this one, however, was the best I’ve read by SK so far. She does not excel in this department, but the last scene with the big Scotsman and Mary was very sigh worthy, bumping this one up from 3 stars to 4 stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

March 7, 2016

Eugenia

By Clare Darcy

Richard, Richard, don’t say that to her!” said Lady Brassborough, horrified; but Richard was already out of the room. “Men!” said Lady Brassborough, regarding her empty cup with dark, disillusioned eyes. “If they can’t make a mull of a love scene one way, they’ll do it another!” She poured herself out another cup of chocolate.

I remember Clare Darcy from my youth as the next best thing to Georgette Heyer. Every time I went to the library I would check the shelf on every visit in hopes of a new title magically appearing on the shelf. In those days, before the internet, that’s what you did. I know I read all of her books back then, but strangely I only remember Elyza and Lady Pamela, which I remember were excellent. So I thought I’d give her another try.

On her way to London with her best friend, Muffet, to have her first season and snare a husband, Eugenia comes across a young man in an Inn who is being pursued by Bow Street Runners. She mistakes him for her wild and irresponsible cousin Gerald, but she learns he is really Richard, her cousin and the illegitimate son of the dead heir to a nice property in the country. Gerald is thought to have murdered a coachman while pretending to be a highwayman. Eugenia sets out to prove Richard, and eventually, Gerald is not guilty of the crime by catching the real murderer. At the same time, she is on a mission to prove that Richard’s parents were really married making Richard the true heir and thus a man of means. Eugenia is lively, redoubtable, and very “managing.”

The romance between Eugenia and Richard is definitely on the back burner and really only exists to provide a happy ending and a hopeful future for them both at the end of the adventure. There is just too many other things going on to spend much time on it: Mistaken identity, impersonation, murder, wrongful accusation, an accidental engagement to the wrong man, family squabbles, and later in the book the introduction of Lady B, an eccentric old tart who is luckily on the side of our heroes and heroines.

The book is engagingly written despite Clare Darcy’s very long run-on sentences. It is not a social comedy as most regencies are, but a romp and an adventure. It is light and fluffy with likable characters and I’ll probably try another one down the road.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

August 16, 2021

Orphan X

By Gregg Hurwitz

There’s a Cherokee legend. An elder tells his grandson about the battle that rages inside every person.” “The two wolves.” “That’s right. One wolf is anger and fear and paranoia and cruelty. The other is kindness, humility, compassion, serenity. And the boy asks his grandfather, ‘Which wolf wins?’ You remember the answer?” “‘The one you feed.’” “That’s right. Our challenge?” Jack folds his cloth napkin, wipes a smudge of Alfredo from the edge of his plate. Then he looks directly into Evan’s eyes. “Feed both.”

Excellent thriller along the lines of the movies John Wick, The Equalizer, and the Bournes. It also reminded me of Trevanian’s great Shibumi. Lots of twists and turns, action, shocking developments, and a hero you like, admire, and root for. And not only for his physical survival but for his emotional development as well. It has lots of other things including humor (a bit). The ending promises a return of many characters both good and evil in subsequent books. I guarantee I will be reading on. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

March 7, 2020