Review: The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband by Julia Quinn (2017)

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My Rating: 3 stars                                          Read: 3/24/2017

Blurb:

While you were sleeping…

With her brother Thomas injured on the battlefront in the Colonies, orphaned Cecilia Harcourt has two unbearable choices: move in with a maiden aunt or marry a scheming cousin. Instead, she chooses option three and travels across the Atlantic, determined to nurse her brother back to health. But after a week of searching, she finds not her brother but his best friend, the handsome officer Edward Rokesby. He’s unconscious and in desperate need of her care, and Cecilia vows that she will save this soldier’s life, even if staying by his side means telling one little lie…

I told everyone I was your wife

When Edward comes to, he’s more than a little confused. The blow to his head knocked out six months of his memory, but surely he would recall getting married. He knows who Cecilia Harcourt is—even if he does not recall her face—and with everyone calling her his wife, he decides it must be true, even though he’d always assumed he’d marry his neighbor back in England.

If only it were true…

Cecilia risks her entire future by giving herself—completely—to the man she loves. But when the truth comes out, Edward may have a few surprises of his own for the new Mrs. Rokesby.

My Review:

I enjoy a good regency romance now and then, particularly when the dialogue is sharp and witty, and there’s some nice humor in the mix. A few of my favorite regency authors are Tessa Dare, Georgette Heyer, Lisa Kleypas, and Eloisa James. I have not read Julia Quinn before.

This story is a bit unusual in that it takes place in the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. The British occupy New York Town and the heroine, Cecilia, travels there to find her brother, a British soldier, after her father dies and her odious cousin tries to press her into marriage.

I enjoyed the unusual setting of a very early NYC and I learned a few things too. For example, I never realized that the name “Harlem” comes from  early Dutch settlers (named after Haarlem in the Netherlands). I like being taken to new places/times in fiction. And it was interesting to read a regency that didn’t take place in the usual English setting.

The story goes that Cecilia, a British country miss, corresponded with her brother Thomas regularly while he was in the military, and he shared his letters with his friend, Edward Rokesby, an earl’s son. Edward began adding little notes to Thomas’s replies, and Cecilia began adding paragraphs addressed to Edward. Thomas also has a miniature of Cecilia that Edward likes to stare at when he thinks Thomas isn’t looking. So the H and h do have some history, even though they’ve never met in person.

When Edward wakes up in hospital with a head injury, he finds the real life Cecilia at his bedside, and everyone is calling her “Mrs. Rokesby”. He buys into her story that they married. He can’t remember the past three months of his life and surely, sweet Cecilia wouldn’t lie about something like that (Edward, being very honored, can’t even imagine such a thing).  Besides, he recalled he’d developed a tendre for her due to her letters.

This sounds like a charming set-up for a story. However, to be honest, as this lie of Cecilia’s dragged on and on, I had a hard time with it. Yes, she lies about being Edward’s wife initially to get into the hospital to help care for him, since her brother is missing in action and she knows no one else in New York Town. However, once he’s awake and they take up residence in a nearby hotel, the fiction becomes quite ridiculous and, frankly, inexcusable on her part.

Edwards gives Cecilia plenty of opportunities to tell him, even to “annul” the marriage since he can guess it was never consummated. But Cecilia acts like an indecisive ninny and ignores all these opportunities to come clean. Her reasons for doing so did not ring true given how honorable Edward was. He would not have hurt her if she revealed the truth, and he would have helped her look for her brother anyway, especially since Thomas was also his dear friend. Obviously, the true reason the lie is not revealed is because it’s the main hook of the story, and the author wanted to drag it out. But a set-up involving a lie like this is tricky territory and unfortunately, in this case, the author failed to make me buy the reasons for the continued lying and, honestly, betrayal, and therefore Cecilia ends up looking very bad indeed. Let’s just say in terms of strength, honor, and level-headed thinking, she is no Elizabeth Bennet.

I also found the characters a bit flat. Edward is honorable and upright, but not very fleshed out. Cecilia is described as very beautiful, of course, but Edward is apparently devoted to her because she’s “clever”, only this is rarely shown in her dialog and certainly not in her actions. She is supposed to be strong (according to Edward), because she came to New York in search of her brother, but her lying and waffling made it difficult to see her as a strong person. I felt her characterization was very muddled and inconsistent.

If you can ignore those issues, the intent of this plot line is a “he thinks we’re married but we’re really not” sexual imbroglio in which the young virgin miss is ensconced in a hotel room with her fake husband and sexy times ensue. This is the aspect of the story that most readers will enjoy, and it was fun enough only I personally found it a bit difficult to get immersed in it when I just wanted to smack the heroine all the time and felt sorry for Edward having his trust so abused.

Overall, this was an interesting regency because of the setting, and the story kept me reading to the end. If you are less picky about realism or truthfulness in your heroines, you may well enjoy this romp more than I did.

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Review: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton (2017)

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My Rating: 4 stars                                          Read: 5/3/2017

Release Date: June 1, 2017

Blurb:

Michael Crichton, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Jurassic Park, returns to the world of paleontology in this recently discovered novel—a thrilling adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting.

The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate America’s western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars.

Into this treacherous territory plunges the arrogant and entitled William Johnson, a Yale student with more privilege than sense. Determined to survive a summer in the west to win a bet against his arch-rival, William has joined world-renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh on his latest expedition.  But when the paranoid and secretive Marsh becomes convinced that William is spying for his nemesis, Edwin Drinker Cope, he abandons him in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a locus of crime and vice. William is forced to join forces with Cope and soon stumbles upon a discovery of historic proportions.  With this extraordinary treasure, however, comes exceptional danger, and William’s newfound resilience will be tested in his struggle to protect his cache, which pits him against some of the West’s most notorious characters.

A page-turner that draws on both meticulously researched history and an exuberant imagination, Dragon Teeth is based on the rivalry between real-life paleontologists Cope and Marsh; in William Johnson readers will find an inspiring hero only Michael Crichton could have imagined. Perfectly paced and brilliantly plotted, this enormously winning adventure is destined to become another Crichton classic.  Continue reading “Review: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton (2017)”

Review: In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson (2017)

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My Rating: 5 stars                                          Read: 4/2/2017

Release Date: Jun 6, 2017

Blurb:

For readers of Joe Hill, Cormac McCarthy, and classic Anne Rice, a chilling tale of suspense and horror set deep in the Texas desert.

Travis Stillwell spends his nights searching out women in West Texas honky-tonks. What he does with them doesn’t make him proud, just quiets the demons for a little while. But his nights soon take a terrifying turn in a desert cantina, where Travis crosses paths with a mysterious pale-skinned girl in red boots. Come the morning, he wakes weak and bloodied in his cabover camper, no sign of a girl, no memory of the night before. Continue reading “Review: In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson (2017)”

Review: The Missing Ones by Patricia Gibney (2017)

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My Rating:stars                                          Read: 3/31/2017

Blurb:

The hole they dug was not deep. A white flour bag encased the little body. Three small faces watched from the window, eyes black with terror.

The child in the middle spoke without turning his head. ‘I wonder which one of us will be next?’

When a woman’s body is discovered in a cathedral and hours later a young man is found hanging from a tree outside his home, Detective Lottie Parker is called in to lead the investigation. Both bodies have the same distinctive tattoo clumsily inscribed on their legs. It’s clear the pair are connected, but how?

The trail leads Lottie to St Angela’s, a former children’s home, with a dark connection to her own family history. Suddenly the case just got personal. Continue reading “Review: The Missing Ones by Patricia Gibney (2017)”

Review: Ararat by Christopher Golden (2017)

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My Rating: 5 stars                                          Read: 3/27/2017

Release Date:  Apr 18, 2017  (you can pre-order here)

Blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden’s supernatural thriller about a mountain adventure that quickly turns into a horrific nightmare of biblical proportions.

Fans of Dan Simmons’ The Terror will love Ararat, the thrilling tale of an adventure that goes awry. When a newly engaged couple climbs Mount Ararat in Turkey, an avalanche forces them to seek shelter inside a massive cave uncovered by the snow fall. The cave is actually an ancient, buried ship that many quickly come to believe is really Noah’s Ark. When a team of scholars, archaeologists, and filmmakers make it inside the ark for the first time, they discover an elaborate coffin in its recesses. The artifact tempts their professional curiosity; so they break it open. Inside, they find an ugly, misshapen cadaver—not the holy man that they expected, a hideous creature with horns. A massive blizzard blows in, trapping them in that cave thousands of meters up the side of a remote mountain…but they are not alone.

My Review:

This is the best full-on horror novel I’ve read in some time. It feels like vintage Michael Crichton to me, with a plot something like: Dan Brown meets “The Thing”.

A huge earthquake and avalanche at Mt. Ararat (in Turkey) exposes a cave in the snow. That mountain has long been rumored to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark, so a number of teams set out to explore the newly uncovered cave hoping to find archaeological gold. The first team to the cave will win the scoop. This “race to the cave” is only the very beginning of the novel.

The team to reach the cave first is an engaged British couple, Adam and Meryam, a quintessential digital age couple who make adventure videos together. They find that the cave is, indeed, the ark, complete with various levels of ancient timber floors and walls, “stalls” ,and the remains of a human family and animals. Also in the ark is a sarcophagus that contains the skeleton of something with horns that might or might not be human.

A group of scholars, Turkish bureaucrats, archaeologists, local guides, an American man sent from DARPA to see if the find can be weaponzed (uh-huh), a UN observer, priest, etc, all end up at the ark to investigate. They are high up on Mt Ararat, isolated from the world by a blizzard, when sh*t hits the fan.

At times, this feels like a monster movie, ala “The Thing”, with the isolated group of people being hunted and picked off one-by-one. There’s a supernatural element here, so this is definitely more horror than thriller. There were some nice touches having to do with dreams and the past history of several of the characters that gave the horror some depth and the book a bit of a literary edge. The story becomes quite tense and scary. It’s quite a nail-biter. If you don’t like violence, you probably need to skip this one.

I really enjoyed the pseudo-history/religious elements in the story, though they stay at an Indiana Jones sort of level. The characters were all unique and had some layers. Meryam, for example, who heads the project, is a woman who is not always likable but she is smart and ambitious and generally makes good choices.  The sexism she faces from the local guide was quite realistic.  Another stand out was Walker, the secret DARPA agent, who is a tough fighter but also compassionate and a thinker. The writing style was tight and unadorned. The plot moves forward at a fast clip and there’s no fluff or filler.

I guess this has already been tapped for a movie. I’m not surprised as it totally reads like one.

Loved it! If you miss old-school horror, give this one a try.

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Review: Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens (2017)

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My Rating: 4 stars                                          Read: 3/25/2017

Blurb:

Eleven years ago, Lindsey Nash escaped into the night with her young daughter and left an abusive relationship. Her ex-husband was sent to jail and she started over with a new life. Now, Lindsey is older and wiser, with a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When her ex-husband is finally released, Lindsey believes she’s cut all ties. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded, and her daughter is shadowed. Lindsey is convinced it’s her ex-husband, even though he claims he’s a different person. But can he really change? Is the one who wants her dead closer to home than she thought?

My Review:

This domestic thriller about an abusive husband is an interesting but fairly long read. The novel has several times lines and POVs which add interest.

The story is told out of order with flashbacks to the past to follow the development of Lindsey and Andrew’s relationship, from happy newlyweds to the years of abuse and finally to Lindsey’s desperate night flight from the marriage with young Sophie.

These flashback sections are interposed with the story being told in the present (2017), when Andrew has been released from jail and shows up where Lindsey and Sophie now live, on an island near Vancouver. In this present-day section, the POV moves from Sophie, now a teen who wants to know her father and thinks her mom is paranoid and/or exaggering about how bad he was, and Lindsey, who is terrified that Andrew still wants to kill her.

A series of threatening events begin to happen around Lindsey which she is convinced are caused by Andrew, but she can’t prove it to the police or Sophie. But is it really Andrew? Or has he sincerely changed? The reader becomes less sure about who is doing what as the story progresses.

There are some twists and turns and red herrings. I guessed who was behind everything at about 70%, but the ending was still fairly satisfying.

I found the writing unremarkable. There was no attempt at being poetic or literary in its descriptions of setting or tone, and the dialog was very basic. I’ve read some really amazing writing lately, such as Andrew Pryer’s “The Only Child”, so by comparison this style felt flat. However, the writing didn’t detract from the story and it never felt “off”. The motivations, words, and actions of the characters felt on target, even in those of the teenaged girl, Sophie.

But, of course, in a thriller, the main thing is the plotline. I thought the portrait of the marriage was quite good and subtly terrifying. Andrew was less a physically abusive husband (though that happened a few times) than a controlling and threatening one. He did not want his wife, Lindsey, to have other friends, a job or money outside what he provided, and he watched her constantly. He drank and could fly into jealous rages. The parts of the novel that were flashbacks to their relationship were quite disturbing and, unfortunately, realistic.

If I have one complaint about the book it’s that it felt quite long. There was a period in the book, from about 50% to 80%, after a certain character is removed, and before the final climax began, that really dragged for me and felt redundant. It slowed the “thriller pacing” quite a lot and became more of a slog than a page-turner. It’s too bad that hadn’t been tightened up as it might have been a 5 star read otherwise. But then the ending picked back up again and I enjoyed the rest of the book.

Overall this is a good solid read if you like domestic thrillers.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing an ARC for review.

Booklinks:

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Review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld (2017)

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My Rating: 5 stars                                          Read: 3/21/2017

Release date:  September 5, 2017

Blurb:

A haunting, richly atmospheric, and deeply suspenseful novel from the acclaimed author of The Enchanted about an investigator who must use her unique insights to find a missing little girl.

“Where are you, Madison Culver? Flying with the angels, a silver speck on a wing? Are you dreaming, buried under snow? Or—is it possible—you are still alive?”

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight-years-old by now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as “the Child Finder,” Naomi is their last hope. Continue reading “Review: The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld (2017)”