NOTTINGHAM by Nathan Makaryk

August 19, 2019

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Not surprisingly, Nottingham is a novel about Robin Hood and his merry men. But not your ordinary tale of Robin, Little John,Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck and the chaste and beautiful Maid Marion and their struggle against the evil that permeated the county they live in. The author has written quite an interesting version of the legend of Robin.

Instead of complete evil being faced by overwhelming good, Makaryk postulates a story involving people with real motives and why their actions could have led to the tale of Robin being what it is.

In the first place, there is no evidence that Robin Hood and his band ever really existed although the author has done research into the mid 1100’s in England, the period ascribed to Robin Hood and used some of the facts he unearthed in the story.

The story begins at a point where Robin of Locksley and his friend William are serving in the army of king Richard during his crusade in the holy land. They are taking part at the siege of the city of Acre, and planning a near future attack on Jerusalem against the forces of Saladin. During the fight at Acre, it is discovered that a shipment of new weapons needed by Richard if he is to continue to fight has been lost in transit. Robin and William are sent back by Richard to find these weapons and deliver them to the army.

The men detached, on the temporary assignment, find themselves in the midst of problems in and around Nottingham with the current Sheriff unwilling to do anything about it. He is too nice and does not want to offend anyone. Robin and William decide that they have to take care of the problem and dive right in. Robin meets up with his long time lady love Marion and as before they talk about marriage when there is time. William also meets a young lady whose family has become destitute and she must take a servant’s position at Locksley castle. Robin attracts a group of citizens that want to help solving the problems facing Nottingham and follow him into Sherwood forest where they begin robbing rich people riding through. Since Marion is there the author comes up with the basis for the term merry men in relation to Robin’s band. Since Marion had a hand in organizing them they became known as Marion’s men. This is one of the examples of possible fact turning into the source of glorified fiction and creating the legend. There are many other instances where what did happen turns into what is thought to have happened.

Nottingham is a novel that will keep the reader interested and is appropriate for anyone that has read the books and seen the movies dealing with the Robin Hood legend. The length of the book keeps it from being an all nighter and there is a bit too much description of the events that could have turned real life into legend.

Recommendation – read the book, it is different enough in its presentation to the legend making it an interesting read.

8/19 Paul Lane

NOTTINGHAM by Nathan Makaryk. Forge Books (August 6, 2019). ISBN 978-1250195609. 496p.

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THE PERFECT SON by Lauren North

August 18, 2019

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This novel is North’s first book and it definitely heralds the appearance of a very talented author on the literary scene. It is an emotional roller coaster taking hold of the reader and holding him or her until the quite satisfying ending.

Tess Clarke is a happily married young woman with a young son the cement further bonding the couple. They have also purchased a new home away from the hustle and bustle of London assuring a better lifestyle for all three. Her husband, Mark, has just been promoted to the sales department with the firm he works for when suddenly tragedy strikes. On a sales trip to Germany, Mark, leaving ahead of other staff members coming there, is killed when the plane he is on crashes, killing all aboard.

Tess is devastated but somehow manages to put her son, Jamie’s well being ahead of her own. Not knowing how to act she imagines conversations with Mark and his probable replies in examining the world she now lives in. Mark’s brother Ian visits her and instead of being a comfort tells Tess that her husband borrowed 100,000 pounds from him and he needs the money returned immediately. Ian tells her that she should immediately check out her husband’s will, his insurance policies and benefits that could have accrued to the estate.

Not exactly a comforting presence is he? At the same time a grief counselor visits her in order to help Tessa come to grips with her loss. Trouble is that the counselor had lost a young son to leukemia shortly before these events and Tessa gets to feeling that the woman is interested in taking Jamie from her and not in helping her.

The story is told via the descriptions of the days before Jamie’s birthday and what happens during this period. Ms North handles the slow but sure decay of Tessa quite well, keeping the reader glued to the pages and also changing his or her mind about the ending several times. Very well done and an excellent start for this new author.

8/19 Paul Lane

THE PERFECT SON by Lauren North. Berkley (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1984803849. 368p.

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NEVER A BRIDE by Megan Frampton

August 17, 2019

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Duke’s Daughters, Book 4

From the publisher:

The next thrilling installment in Megan Frampton’s scintillating A Duke’s Daughters series.

She’s a deliciously scandalous woman who is no man’s bride…

He’s a black sheep, forced to return home.

Together, they enter a make-believe betrothal that shocks London society…

After twelve years in Her Majesty’s Navy, Griffith Davies must leave his sea-going life of outrageous freedom behind, forced to rejoin London society as the heir to the Duke of Northam. But though he is now shackled to the land, he has no desire to wed some innocently dull young thing.  Who best to shield him from the matchmakers than a woman as notorious as he?

Lady Della Howlett’s reputation was tattered years ago, so entering into a false engagement with Griffith is hardly going to make matters worse. What’s one more shock to the ton to set their tongues wagging? And this pact certainly has its pleasures; the passion Griffith commands in her goes well beyond their agreement. Could her feelings might be more honorable than she’d first imagined?

Soon, Griffith and Della are arousing more than scandal, they’re courting heartbreak.  And more than their reputations could still be at risk.


I was really enjoying the latest trope of having 21st century characters inhabiting the 18th century. By that I mean strong, independent women with careers and men who appreciate them. But this time really felt like it was beyond the scope of suspending disbelief. I’ve read books two and three of this series and enjoyed them, but this one was definitely my least favorite.

Lady Della’s story was a familiar one. As a young girl, she is talked into running away with a young man her family is sure to disapprove of, and, as it turns out, with very good reason. What does she see in him? Well, he listens to her when no one else does. When she finds herself pregnant, she leaves him, somehow figuring she will manage on her own in Regency England. She ends up living with another young mother from the Caribbean, whose husband is missing. Together they take in all kinds of strays, from young girls to kittens to furniture.

Griffith is a man who loves his job as captain of a ship in her majesty’s navy. What was interesting (and completely unrealistic) is that both of these characters, Griffith and Della, are fierce defenders of the poor, the homeless, the low born. They truly are a match made in heaven, especially sexually. Della is a dominant, and Griffith loves how she orders him about and takes the lead in everything. When he tries to, he is punished.

This was just too much for me. I finished it as it was a very quick read, but I didn’t love it and I’m very sorry to say, cannot really recommend it.

8/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

NEVER A BRIDE by Megan Frampton. Avon (April 30, 2019).  ISBN 978-0062867407. 368p.

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THE DOLL FACTORY by Elizabeth Macneal

August 16, 2019

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The author sets her story in the London of the 1850’s and sets it very well, describing the city at that time with both its problems and also its attractions. She does an excellent job of presenting the persona involved with their distinct personalities and their reactions to their own time.

The Great Exhibition, a huge hall, is being erected in 1850 in London to showcase as many of the symbols of life at the time, as well as objects that might illustrate the future. Among the exhibitions are portraits done by the artists of the day. The building has an important part to play in the events depicted in the novel.

Iris is a young lady that, due to her background and lack of money, works in a shop making items for the woman in charge. Her sister Rose works with her. As the novel begins, Iris goes to the grounds of the Great Exhibition to have a look at this marvel. In passing she bumps into Silas, whose forte is obtaining either by purchase or killing birds and other animals, mounting them and selling them to artists to use as models in their paintings. Iris forgets the encounter, but Silas imagines that she fell in love with him at that moment. Silas is a psychopath with these tendencies beginning during his early life when he fantasized that a girl he knew was secretly in love with him. When she didn’t respond to him he lured her away from their area and in a secluded woods killed her.

Iris delivers an order from her shop to an artist named Louis Frost. He is struck by her beauty and asks her to model for him. Iris consents but indicates as part of her terms that Louis teach her to paint as well as paying her for the time. The artist later notes that Iris has the talent to become a first class artist, and also falls in love with her, and she with him.

The novel is dedicated to describing the interactions between the three people. It is extremely well done and while the ending is a direct output of the actions of the characters and not a surprise, it provides a good read with the desire instilled to buy more books by Elizabeth Macneal.

8/19 Paul Lane

THE DOLL FACTORY by Elizabeth Macneal.  Atria/Emily Bestler Books (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1982106768. 368p.

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THE OYSTERVILLE SEWING CIRCLE by Susan Wiggs

August 15, 2019

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From the publisher:

The #1 New York Times bestselling author brings us her most ambitious and provocative work yet—a searing and timely novel that explores the most volatile issue of our time—domestic violence.

At the break of dawn, Caroline Shelby rolls into Oysterville, Washington, a tiny hamlet at the edge of the raging Pacific.

She’s come home.

Home to a place she thought she’d left forever, home of her heart and memories, but not her future. Ten years ago, Caroline launched a career in the glamorous fashion world of Manhattan. But her success in New York imploded on a wave of scandal and tragedy, forcing her to flee to the only safe place she knows.

And in the backseat of Caroline’s car are two children who were orphaned in a single chilling moment—five-year-old Addie and six-year-old Flick. She’s now their legal guardian—a role she’s not sure she’s ready for.

But the Oysterville she left behind has changed. Her siblings have their own complicated lives and her aging parents are hoping to pass on their thriving seafood restaurant to the next generation. And there’s Will Jensen, a decorated Navy SEAL who’s also returned home after being wounded overseas. Will and Caroline were forever friends as children, with the promise of something more . . . until he fell in love with Sierra, Caroline’s best friend and the most beautiful girl in town. With her modeling jobs drying up, Sierra, too, is on the cusp of reinventing herself.

Caroline returns to her favorite place: the sewing shop owned by Mrs. Lindy Bloom, the woman who inspired her and taught her to sew. There she discovers that even in an idyllic beach town, there are women living with the deepest of secrets. Thus begins the Oysterville Sewing Circle—where women can join forces to support each other through the troubles they keep hidden.

Yet just as Caroline regains her creativity and fighting spirit, and the children begin to heal from their loss, an unexpected challenge tests her courage and her heart. This time, though, Caroline is not going to run away. She’s going to stand and fight for everything—and everyone—she loves.


REVIEW

Susan Wiggs is one of my favorite writers. She excels at telling wonderful stories with characters you can’t help but care about, but there is usually something deeper as well. This is a book of the #MeToo movement, set in the fashion industry, which for some reason, has been exempt from this. At least I haven’t seen any earth shattering stories, but as in any industry where mostly men are in power, one can’t help but wonder…

The story moves back and forth between present day and Caroline’s childhood and coming of age. We meet Caroline and Will as young teens, then Sierra a couple of years later. Theirs is a complicated relationship, as are most friendships of three people, especially when one of them is a good looking guy. Caroline and Will have an instant connection which never really fades away. But instead of pursuing that, he falls for the beautiful Sierra, while Caroline watches from the sidelines. When they all wind up in the small town of Oysterville, the friendship rekindles with some unexpected changes.

I think from the start we can’t help but hope Caroline and Will end up together, but he is married to Sierra and they seem happy – at least at first. But as life goes on, it brings change. When a couple doesn’t grow together, they tend to grow apart and that is never good for a marriage.

Caroline inherits these children from a friend who dies of an overdose. She knew the woman had been in some sort of abusive relationship, but never knew or even suspected drug use. Caroline is a woman who has struggled for years to break into the fashion industry, then has her dreams snatched away in a public spectacle. At a loss, she takes on these children and runs home to Oysterville. The guilt Caroline feels for not pushing their mother, not helping her more, leads her to start a support group for abused women. Somehow she is shocked to find out how many women, even in such a small town, are affected.

This was a very good read, filled with the empathy and power that words can bring to such a dark subject. Book groups will find lots to discuss here.

8/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE OYSTERVILLE SEWING CIRCLE by Susan Wiggs. William Morrow (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-0062425584. 384p.

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CAMPUSLAND by Scott Johnson

August 14, 2019

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Johnson offers his first published book and it is a delightful satire of the evolution of the “political correctness” movement currently wracking havoc in the United States and probably in other countries as well.

The action takes place over one academic year at Devon University, a huge college level institution catering to a group of elite students. These scholars are depicted through the eyes of Eph Russell, a newly hired professor of English who is currently awaiting being granted tenure at the school.

Eph finds himself in hot water when his discussion of Mark Twain’s great novel “Huckleberry Finn” runs into criticism from various student groups. Four letter words are utilized in that book which offends many students. Other factors offending more students are taken into account by the University directors and the book is banned at the school. Eph receives a reprimand but continues on.

Lulu Harris is a newly enrolled coed arriving via her father’s pressure. She is a first year student (the term freshman cannot be used or it could offend the students.) Her sole ambition is to become a prominent socialite and in spite of being accepted at one of the most desired institutions of higher learning in the country, works at the society lady aspect neglecting studies. As fate would have it, she ends up in one of Eph’s classes and begins a campaign of sending him e-mails requesting a meeting in order to discuss her grades. He refuses to see her until one day she suddenly appears at his office, begins to flirt with him, and accidentally lands on top of him delivering a kiss.

Weeks later Lulu’s position on campus changes based on circumstances arising and she morphs into a militant feminist. It is at this point that she is convinced to accuse Eph of attempted rape. This results in poor Dr. Russell being charged by the university and brought up for a hearing under regulations which do not allow him to question Lulu nor even obtain a copy of her statement. He is placed on a year’s probation, but after the fact that Lulu had recanted her charge, but that was never brought up at his hearing.

The novel is done as a parody of what has happened due to the advent and promotion of “political correctness”. While it is set on a college campus and Johnson indicates in the afterward that is what he is pointing his finger at, the situations can certainly be applied in general. The absurdity of some of the ideas and actions are definitely visible in other venues – politics, business etc.

I did laugh at many descriptions of both the characters and the actions depicted, but I do appreciate that the circumstances described are a serious problem and deserve attention before they choke us.

8/19 Paul Lane

CAMPUSLAND by Scott Johnson. St. Martin’s Press; Advanced Reader Copy edition (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1250222374. 336p.

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THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh

August 13, 2019

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Eddie Flynn, Book 3

Wow – that’s the one word I must use in describing Cavanaugh’s novel featuring former con man and huckster turned defense attorney Eddy Flynn. The novel is a wonderful romp through a murder trial and of course it had to be finished in one sitting (only one cup of coffee though – have to watch the caffeine so I can sleep until Cavanaugh’s next book is published.

Bobby Solomon, a first tier screen actor is accused of killing both his wife, who is his normal co=star, and his agent who were supposedly caught by him in bed together. The star is indicted and is put on trial for murder. Eddy is called upon by the firm handling Bobby’s defense to help them as needed via discrediting testimony by the police officers involved in the arrest. Needing a job Eddy signs on, but due to a change in circumstances finds himself handing the total defense. He hires a former FBI agent to help him with investigations necessary to work the case properly. The lady proves quite capable in working all angles necessary to aid in the defense. She is also introduced as a possible romantic interest in the future since Eddy’s current wife is in the process of divorcing him.

Cavanagh skillfully takes us through the events involved in the trial, starting with picking a jury and moving forward from there. Eddy is shown as human – he does not come up with brilliant one time off the cuff ideas. He has his doubts but continues to work the case as well as he is able. His logical approach turns up one startling factor that becomes the most important aspect of the case. The real killer is not only in court to watch the proceedings; he is actually one of the twelve jurors and in the most advantageous position to influence the verdict.

The rating system we are accustomed to in reviewing a book involves stars – five for best. I really think that that total is not enough. The reader will judge the book, undoubtedly have one or two cups of coffee and relish a superb reading experience and like myself will eagerly await Steve Cavanagh’s future novels.

8/19 Paul Lane

THIRTEEN by Steve Cavanagh. Flatiron Books (August 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1250297600. 336p.

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LOVE AT FIRST LIKE by Hannah Orenstein

August 12, 2019

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From the publisher:

Named a Best Book of Summer by GlamourBuzzFeedCosmopolitan, and many more!

From the author of Playing with Matches, the rollicking tale of a young jewelry shop owner who accidentally leads her Instagram followers to believe that she’s engaged—and then decides to keep up the ruse.

Eliza Roth and her sister Sophie co-own a jewelry shop in Brooklyn. One night, after learning of an ex’s engagement, Eliza accidentally posts a photo of herself wearing a diamond ring on that finger to her Instagram account beloved by 100,000 followers. Sales skyrocket, press rolls in, and Eliza learns that her personal life is good for business. So she has a choice: continue the ruse or clear up the misunderstanding. With mounting financial pressure, Eliza sets off to find a fake fiancé.

Fellow entrepreneur Blake seems like the perfect match on paper. And in real life he shows promise, too. He would be perfect, if only Eliza didn’t feel also drawn to someone else. But Blake doesn’t know Eliza is “engaged”; Sophie asks Eliza for an impossible sum of money; and Eliza’s lies start to spiral out of control. She can either stay engaged online or fall in love in real life.

Written with singular charm and style, Love at First Like is for anyone growing up and settling down in the digital age.


I was really excited to get this book. It seemed smart and modern and I love everything Brooklyn, not to mention the buzz was terrific. But as is sometimes the case, all the hype led to me being disappointed. I assumed, from the description, that Eliza would find some guy to help her with the social media campaign then fall in love. That is usually the basic romance trope, but that is not what happens here. Instead, Eliza pretends to fall in love and pushes this really nice guy into a relationship through sheer effrontery and duplicity.

Maybe it’s generational, but I didn’t understand the whole premise of the book. Posting an engagement on Instagram would dramatically increase sales? And continuing the lie would keep the sales coming? Setting that aside, I really didn’t understand how a character would actually consider marrying someone because it might increase their sales yet again. That is, for me, just beyond the pale.

I felt badly for Blake, but also had to wonder how someone who made their fortune in a similar business would also not be more social media savvy, despite his protestations that he had people to do that sort of thing for him. Regardless, I can’t imagine that there are millennials out there that aren’t on their phone day in and day out, whether they have staff for that or not. Maybe that’s on me though.

Finally, it was ridiculously easy to figure out the entire plot pretty much from the get go, and frankly, I like to be surprised now and then. Eliza, specifically in the way she treated Blake, pissed me off more than anything. When Eliza plots to keep her engagement ring from Blake by having her sister give him a $45,000 ring “on the house” because of the legal ramifications, that just left me cold. It was completely heartless. Maybe if Blake hadn’t been made out to be such a nice guy it would have been a little more palatable.

It is really hard for me to really enjoy a romance when I dislike the protagonist so much. The whole point of a romance is the happily ever after. Sure, the book had its charming moments, and there were occasional laughs, but when the happy ending kicked in, at that point I just didn’t care.

8/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

LOVE AT FIRST LIKE by Hannah Orenstein. Atria Books (August 6, 2019). ISBN 978-1982117795. 336p.

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THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware

August 11, 2019

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This is Ware’s fifth published book. All are centered around different themes; all quite engrossing and generally impossible to put down without finishing them. “The Turn of the Key” is no different in the sense of being a well written, well thought out book that quickly captures and holds the reader’s interest. It is a ghost story complete with strange sounds, eerie settings and things that go bump in the night.

Rowan Caine works at a large child care center in England and has just been passed over for a promotion that she feels she deserves. While glancing at help wanted ads, she comes across one that lists an opening in a remote area of Scotland. The job is to become nanny to four children. It lists a very high salary, residence at the home with food and board paid. She applies for the job and is asked to travel, expenses paid, to the home.

She is pleasantly surprised when she is offered the job, accepting it and relocating to the house. This is the first surprise for her. The house, owned by two architects who run their own business from home, has been rebuilt with every modern and computerized piece of equipment that can be imagined. Everything is automatic and managed via cell phone making Rowan ecstatic by her good luck.

Bill and Sandra, the architects, indicate that a necessary business trip has come up and they are forced to leave Rowan alone with the children at once. Rowan takes it in stride, but soon regrets the quick departure of her employers. On her first night alone with the children she hears strange sounds which appears like someone or something walking on the roof of the house. Next night a sudden and loud blast of music coming over the loudspeakers wakes everyone up and supplies the great fright when the cause of the music being turned on can not be found. Rowan than finds out that the previous owners of the home many years ago had a child of theirs, a young girl, die from eating something poisoned.

All the factors do make the case for a haunting and Rowan, with the aid of the resident handyman living on the property, attempts to get through her own trepidation and protect the children in her care from whatever is out there. There is a well done ending after which the reader can gasp for breath, realizing that Ware has done it again and looking forward to book six from this versatile author.

8/19 Paul Lane

THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware. Gallery/Scout Press (August 6, 2019). ISBN 978-1501188770. 352p.

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THE PERFECT WIFE by J. P. Delaney

August 10, 2019

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The novel opens encountering Abbie awakening from a deep sleep and finding her husband Tim by her side. He is there to take her home and care for her there.

When they arrive at their home, he relates an incredible story to Abbie. What she must grasp is that five years ago Abbie disappeared suddenly. Tim became completely distraught and finally began looking to fix the problem as only he is able to. It seems that Tim owns a company that has made millions via the building of robots for various uses by people. He looked to fix his problem by creating a robotic Abbie to live with him. A fascinating concept and of course the basis for a great read.

But there is more making the story even better. The story narrated by the artificial Abbie begins to build by slowly creating an image of Tim as not quite the man he pretends to be. In examination the reader will realize that there is much more to be told and will continue to read and change opinions about what is really going on several times.

Delaney, in an afterward, indicates that he and his wife have an autistic son that they are raising as best they can and continually looking for advances in treatment. Abbie, before her disappearance, and Tim have an autistic son and are doing in the fictionalized account everything possible to work with him. The robot Abbie has many of the original’s memories implanted and does encounter a maternal feeling for the child continuing to care for him.

Without delving further into the plot of the book (in order to not spoil it for the reader) I can only indicate that is a fascinating novel and one that will keep the reader glued to the pages until finished. Certainly the idea is a different approach to writing a book and one that will keep any reader on the lookout for further novels by Delaney.

8/19 Paul Lane

THE PERFECT WIFE by J. P. Delaney. Ballantine Books (August 6, 2019). ISBN  978-1524796747. 432p.

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