THE STRANGER INSIDE by Laura Benedict

February 12, 2019

Kimber Hanon, a successful sales executive with a leading magazine, is met leaving work and arriving at her home. She is tired and looks forward to dinner and relaxing. Problem arises when she finds that her key does not fit the lock like it normally should.

Quickly finding that the locks have been changed, she rings the bell in order to find out what’s going on. A man answers the door and says that he has an agreement from her allowing him to live in the house for six months. Kimber made no such agreement and calls the police to intercede.

Problem arises when the stranger produces a document attesting to his right to live in the house and duly signed by her.

Benedict weaves a very tight tale about what is going on. Her describing of the characters used in telling the story is masterful and the reader quickly grasps what the events are that encompass the novel’s plot. Kimber is a flawed lady and in the first person narrative admits to the killing of her sister years ago, not being suspected for it, but living with the crime during the years after.

Many novels utilize a surprise ending normally enticing the reader. Benedict skillfully leads the reader event by event into what is a totally logical finale. It becomes more and more logical as the plot unfolds. The book us certainly one that cannot be put down until finished and provides a definite reason to be on the lookout for more Laura Benedict novels. Very well done.

2/19 Paul Lane

THE STRANGER INSIDE by Laura Benedict.  Mulholland Books (February 5, 2019). ISBN-13: 978-0316444927. 352p.

 


THE FALCON OF SPARTA by Conn Iggulden

February 11, 2019

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Iggulden has developed a unique place in writing novels set in various periods in history. He does an incredible amount of research in the era he is discussing and than uses literary license to flesh out characters involved. He postulates their words, reactions, feelings and drives based upon knowledge of the world they inhabited.

This book is set in a period occurring at the approximate ending of the Peloponnesian wars, which took place in ancient Greece between Athens and Sparta with most of the remainder of the country coming out on one side or another. It involves Cyrus the Younger, who lived in a period approximately between the stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae taking on the combined army of Persia and the later rise of Alexander the Great.

Cyrus was one of the sons of Darius and vied with his brother Artaxerxes to take the throne of Persia upon their father’s death. Iggulden paints him as the more suited to handle the army but his brother orders him killed in order to assure himself of the throne. The world of the period comes to life in telling the story of Cyrus and his quest to become ruler of Persia. An actual Athenian member of Cyrus’s army was a student of the philosopher Socrates and did write about him bringing the man to life for the reader. The conflict between the two brothers results in a civil war of monumental proportions at an area known as Cunaxa. The battle almost unknown today was an extremely bloody affair between armies of thousands of men. It is described based on the author’s visiting the site and his reading of the events involved.

The presence of Spartans fighting on the side of Cyrus is well documented. These were men whose entire existence and life is dedicated to fighting and war. They were almost superhuman in conditioning and ability to fight battles against any odds; as witness the 300 men taking on thousands of Persians at Thermopylae and holding their ground for three days. Iggulden provides a full description and praise of the Spartan soldiers and credits them with helping to hold out against the vast army that Cyrus’ brother fields.

Make no mistake, the book is not a dry tome of events in another day, but a very well worked historical novel that Iggulden creates based on a good deal of source material that has come down through the ages and can still be read by anyone. Words and feelings are put in the mouths of the people taking part in the story. The ones named were real and occupied the positions ascribed to them by the author. That they speak and act is a real result and study of what they might have said and felt during the period and events described.

A very well done and carefully constructed novel that takes place in a period of history that is 2000 years away from us but brought to life by a gifted author.

2/19 Paul Lane

THE FALCON OF SPARTA by Conn Iggulden. Pegasus Books (February 5, 2019). ISBN 978-1643130569. 448p.

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COWBOY ON MY MIND by R.C. Ryan

February 10, 2019

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Montana Strong, Book 1

From the publisher:

A heartwarming western romance about a cowboy who gets a second chance with his first love in the rugged beauty of the Montana mountains. . .
Ben Monroe was the ultimate bad boy – and everyone in Haller Creek knew it. But now as a sheriff’s deputy, Ben spends his time breaking up bar fights rather than starting them, and staying away from trouble…until Becca Henderson comes back into town. She’s just as beautiful as Ben remembers – and just as far out of his reach.
Coming home is exactly what Becca Henderson needed. A place of her own, a successful new business, and a chance to reconnect with the sexy cowboy she had a crush on in school. Ben has always blazed his own path and never let anyone stand in his way. It excites-and scares-her. But when an unexpected threat surfaces, Becca will see just how far Ben will go to protect the woman he loves-and fight for their chance at forever.

 


This book started out very dark in the prologue, but quickly moved into the light and a wonderful story. I loved these characters, the back story, and the setting. As a Floridian, I love reading about the seasons, just not living through them! Snow on the pages is beautiful though and Ryan does a really good job of bringing the small Montana ranching community to life. But it’s the characters that really make this story. Even the secondary characters are well developed and have interesting lives indeed.

This is a variation of the childhood sweethearts romance. Ben and Becca grew up in this same small town, but never really dated. But they both harbored secret crushes and are scared to move forward now that they are adults. All that insecurity, on both sides, increases the tension and keeps the pages turning.

There is a also a bit of suspense. There is someone driving through town taking potshots at pedestrians and it happens a few times, with no deaths thank goodness. But who is being targeted and why slowly unfurls and there is quite the dramatic denouement.

I highly recommend this series to fans of contemporary cowboy romances. If you haven’t tried one of these, this is a terrific series to try. I ripped through the first two books in this series in a day and a half. The second book, The Cowboy Next Door, comes out Feb. 26. The review will be posted then.

2/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

COWBOY ON MY MIND by R.C. Ryan. Forever (June 26, 2018). ISBN 978-1538711156. .964p.

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THE GIRL IN THE GLASS BOX by James Grippando

February 9, 2019

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A Jack Swyteck Novel, Book 15

This, the latest novel featuring Jack Swyteck, Grippando’s practicing attorney, was written during a period that saw a law enforcement agency of the United States, U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (better known as ICE) being subjected to a huge amount of criticism by a portion of the American population. The agency was demonized by its critics as riding roughshod over the immigrants that it had to apprehend, detain, jail and/or deport from the country. The leading critique was that it separated children traveling with their parents as they attempted to enter the United States illegally. In my opinion, adherents of the agency were quick to point out that ICE was simply carrying out their assigned function in attempting to keep out people that did break the law by not complying with the legalities of legal entrance.

Grippando, through Jack Swyteck, makes his opinion very clear in setting up ICE as being over zealous in their administration of their duties. His beloved abuela (grandmother) pushes him into the defense of an illegal alien woman and her daughter. Julia Rodriguez and her daughter Beatriz are illegals that have found a small place in society and are trying to make a life for themselves when Julia is sexually attacked by her boss at the coffee shop where she works. She defends herself but then finds herself detained by ICE after an anonymous tip, locked in prison and set up for deportation. Beatriz stays with an aunt that has completed immigration requirements earlier and is a U.S. citizen.

The novel is replete with the sordid conditions experienced by Julia, the pressure by ICE on the judge supervising the trial that Swyteck requests to present her case for political asylum, and the changes in her daughter when her seemingly happy life is broken up by her mother’s problems. Grippando’s opinions are open and clear. This does not change the fact that the book is the author’s usual well done and engrossing story which can be read as another fine reading experience. The novel reaches an ending which seems to clearly be the beginnings of another book continuing the story. Again, despite this reader’s opinion about ICE and its described methods, this read is a pleasure of an all nighter by an author that is at the height of his literary skill.

2/19 Paul Lane

THE GIRL IN THE GLASS BOX by James Grippando. Harper (February 5, 2019). ISBN 978-0062657831. 368p.


A SPY IN EXILE by Jonathan de Shalit

February 8, 2019

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De Shalit, who was at one time in his life and under another name a high ranking member of the Israeli Intelligence community, presents his readers with a monumental portrait of an extremely complex woman. Ya’ara Stein was forced out of her job with the Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence agency. Not knowing what to do next she is quietly approached by the Prime Minister of Israel and asked if she will undertake the founding, training and leadership of a secret organization dedicated to finding and killing of the country’s enemies. She and her group will find and eliminate enemies under the supervision of the Prime Minister only.

Ya’ara jumps at the chance feeling that it is right up her alley. A large sequence is devoted to the job of finding candidates whose personalities and temperament suit them for the work of being away from home for long periods, the detective work in finding those individuals that must be eliminated, and above all, coming to grips with their deeds. The people chosen are depicted as being found psychologically fit for the work and also able to take on a life that leaves little time for a personal life. They are real persons, trained by Ya’ara and her second in command.

Their first assignment involving the killing of two enemies of Israel touches all in different ways. Their reactions are not cold-hearted when a young innocent girl is accidentally killed during one of the assassinations. The group agonizes at the lose of the innocent life, but must find the wherewithal to continue.

De Shalit touches on the group’s private lives with the knowledge of how that suffers during their long absences. The ending suits the tone of the novel and indicates a continuation of the group in their tasks without setting any particular prelude to a next book in this series. A definite all nighter, but more so in the questions raised about people involved in the activities that all nations require in order to coexist in our competitive world. These activities always secret and hidden from the majority of the populations of the countries involved.

2/19 Paul Lane

A SPY IN EXILE by Jonathan de Shalit. Atria/Emily Bestler Books (February 5, 2019).  ISBN 978-1501170560. 384p.

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THE LINE BETWEEN by Tosca Lee

February 7, 2019

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The very versatile Tosca Lee presents her latest novel which continues to delight her many readers and adds a bit more luster to an already brilliant career. She ties together two themes and blends them together quite well.

Wynter Roth is a young very bright woman that has been an inhabitant of what is clearly a cult termed New Earth for most of her life. She has been indoctrinated with the gospel according to Magnus Theisen, the founder and leader of New Earth. Believing in the facts as outlined by the cult she is thrust out of her sinecure by a decision made by Magnus to take her as his second wife. She suddenly awakens and realizes that all is not as it should be in her protected world. Basically she gets the wake up call due to the fact that her sister is Magnus’ wife already and the very concept of being a second wife is alien to her. In making her views vehemently known and refusing to comply with the marriage, she gets herself thrown out of New Earth and goes to live with relatives.

At the time Wynter leaves the cult a virulent disease begins to attack people all over the United States. The symptoms are early onset dementia with death following in short order. There is no cure available and the nation and it’s economy starts to shut down in the face of the widespread sickness.

Tying in Wynter’s leaving the cult is the fact that her sister comes to her with medical grade samples which were taken from Magnus. He is obviously attempting to have these samples, which have been exposed to the disease, tested, a vaccine developed, and then sold to rich buyers making himself rich and powerful. Where this takes the novel is a very well researched description of Wynter’s attempts to bring the samples to people that can best work towards developing a vaccine and disseminating it to the entire population.

A very well done story with Lee’s carefully investigated details adding even more towards the reader’s enjoyment.

2/19 Paul Lane

THE LINE BETWEEN by Tosca Lee. Howard Books (January 29, 2019).  ISBN 978-1476798622. 384p.

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GOVERNESS GONE ROGUE by Laura Lee Guhrke

February 6, 2019

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Dear Lady Truelove, Book 3

From the publisher:

Dear Lady Truelove . . .

My twin brother and I need a new mother, though Papa insists he’ll never marry again. Must be nice, brainy, and fond of cats . . .

Lady Truelove may be London’s most famous advice columnist, but James St. Clair, the Earl of Kenyon, knows his wild young sons need a tutor, not a new mother. They need a man tough enough to make his hellions tow the line, and James is determined to find one.

Miss Amanda Leighton, former schoolteacher and governess, knows she has all the qualifications to be a tutor. And while female tutors are unheard of, Amanda isn’t about to lose the chance at her dream job because of pesky details like that. If Lord Kenyon insists on hiring a man, then she has only one option . . .

Jamie isn’t sure what to make of his new employee, until he realizes the shocking truth—beneath the ill-fitting suits, his boys’ tutor is a woman. An unconventional, outspoken, thoroughly intriguing woman. Despite Amanda’s deception, he can’t dismiss her when his boys are learning so much. Yet Jamie, too, is learning surprising lessons—about desire, seduction, and passionate second chances . . .


Somehow I missed the first book in this series, but I read the last one and liked it a lot. This new one has same charm and humor.

This was a fun read, provided you can suspend your disbelief enough to buy into the story. Guhrke does a convincing job and it worked for me. I liked the character of Amanda, she was smart and feisty and a wonderful teacher. Jamie was a damaged protagonist, a widow who was convinced that his only true love had died and he has sworn off women forever. But his twin boys, tired of running off one nanny after another, decide they want a new mother.

The relationships between Jamie and his boys, and Amanda and Jamie are interesting and fraught, making this an enjoyable read. And a quick one, it’s a very short book.

2/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

GOVERNESS GONE ROGUE by Laura Lee Guhrke.  Avon (January 29, 2019).  ISBN 978-0062890689. 272p.

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THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides

February 5, 2019

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The front piece of this novel indicates that it is the author’s first book. It certainly indicates a promising future for Michaelides as the theme chosen is quite an interesting one.

Alicia Berenson is a famous painter married and quite well to Gabriel, who has made a name for himself as a world class fashion photographer. The couple live in a fancy house, have plenty of money and seem to be quite happy.

Suddenly, and seemingly out of the blue, Gabriel returns home from a fashion shoot and is shot in the face five times by Alicia. When questioned by the police she does not say a word. And silent she remains even when she is shut away in “The Grove,” a secure forensic unit in the northern part of London. There she stays, completely silent, until Theo Faber, a criminal psychotherapist, obtains a position at The Grove with the avowed purpose of treating Alicia.

The idea of the book is a good one and should be a terrific read except for Michaelides’ propensity to drag things out. His idea for an ending is not telegraphed but also seemingly one out of the blue that makes the end a complete surprise for the reader. It also does not make good sense for the reader looking for the one and one make two type of ending. Based on the idea upon which the novel is based and the author’s ability to frame situations quite well, it occurs to me that his books should be looked for. The fumble that I see in this book is, of course, my own opinion, but does not detract from the promise Michaelides shows with his cogent approach and should be evidenced in future novels.

2/19 Paul Lane

THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides. Celadon Books (February 5, 2019).  ISBN 978-1250301697. 336p.

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41 REASONS I’M STAYING IN by Hallie Heald

February 4, 2019

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A Celebration of Introverts

From the publisher:

In a world of seemingly unending social obligations, we could all use a night off.

In 41 Reasons I’m Staying In, illustrator and self-proclaimed introvert Hallie Heald imaginatively portrays engaging and sometimes outlandish excuses to avoid leaving home.

With each page comes a new room and character, pursuing their obsessions, hobbies, interests, and sudden whims with gusto:

plotting world takeover, learning magic, mooning over a crush, evading taxes, and beyond.

This dark and humorous celebration of introverts offers a unique look into their private worlds and reminds us of the deep fulfillment and joy we can find in spending time alone.

 


I am not an introvert but even I enjoyed this charming book!

While the book looks like a children’s book, it is for adults. The illustrations are wonderful, as you can see. And I like the premise of the book. As much of an extrovert as I am, I, too, enjoy staying in on occasion – especially if I can look through a book like this. Buy it for the introvert in your life, they will thank you.

About the Author

2/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

41 REASONS I’M STAYING IN by Hallie Heald. Morrow Gift; 1st Edition edition (January 29, 2019). ISBN  978-0062749895. 96p.

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THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO by Chris Cander

February 3, 2019

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From the publisher:

For fans of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes, Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist

A tour-de-force about two women and the piano that inexorably ties their lives together through time and across continents, for better and for worse.

In 1962, in the Soviet Union, eight-year-old Katya is bequeathed what will become the love of her life: a Blüthner piano, built at the turn of the century in Germany, on which she discovers everything that she herself can do with music and what music, in turn, does for her. Yet after marrying, she emigrates with her young family from Russia to America, at her husband’s frantic insistence, and her piano is lost in the shuffle.

In 2012, in Bakersfield, California, twenty-six-year-old Clara Lundy loses another boyfriend and again has to find a new apartment, which is complicated by the gift her father had given her for her twelfth birthday, shortly before he and her mother died in a fire that burned their house down: a Blüthner upright she has never learned to play. Orphaned, she was raised by her aunt and uncle, who in his car-repair shop trained her to become a first-rate mechanic, much to the surprise of her subsequent customers. But this work, her true mainstay in a scattered life, is put on hold when her hand gets broken while the piano’s being moved–and in sudden frustration she chooses to sell it. And what becomes crucial is who the most interested party turns out to be. . .


I had read a review of this book that intrigued me, so I started reading it. A few hours later, I read the last page. Cander is a terrific storyteller, she drew me in and kept me turning the pages. There were plenty of surprises throughout the story; although some readers may figure them out, I did not.

The book opens with the construction of a Blüthner piano, a fascinating tale about a brand of piano I had not heard of, that is supposedly in the same class as a Steinway. I quickly realized that the piano would be a character in this book. Cander makes it possible to grow attached to an inanimate object, for her characters and the reader.

The story then moves back and forth in time, following the piano through two storylines. The way the book is laid out they are easy to follow. The main characters are mostly well developed, the secondary characters not as much, but had they been, the book may have gotten too unwieldy. Rather like moving a piano, a task that is difficult and quite the metaphor in this book. I loved the way the stories unfurl and wind around one another, carefully building towards an intertwined resolution.

This is an excellent read sure to be beloved by book groups as there is much to discuss here, from the immigration of Russian Jews to the relationships that are so well depicted. Highly recommended.

2/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO by Chris Cander. Knopf (January 22, 2019).  ISBN 978-0525654674.  336p.

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