Book Review

DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn


Publisher: Broadway Books
Pages: 452
Genre: Thriller

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer


First Impressions: It’s set in Kansas, my home-state. I can confirm that there are plenty of dark places in Kansas, and I’m not just talking about the Republican Governor’s office.

Review: Irascible Libby Day is the type of person you probably wouldn’t like if she existed in real-life, but on the page she is compelling and complicated. She is the only real survivor (if you don’t count an older brother languishing in prision for the rest of his life) of a brutal massacre of her family when she was only 7 years old. Now in her thirties Libby has rejected every opportunity or attempt to become a contributing member of society. She is crippled by even the simplest tasks, preferring to shut out the world or take handouts over an honest days work. Libby is acerbic and prickly to anyone who shows even the slightest interest in helping her or changing her mind.  Getting Libby to the point where she questions the truth of the statements she made against her brother all those years ago, is like pulling teeth for the reader. But there is a part of her that knows the light was never truly shown on what happened that night. The Kill Crew, a secret organization investigating the truth behind murders, is finally able to tap into that small voice living in her subconscious. A voice that compels Libby to track down all the players of that infamous night. On a mission that takes her from Ben to her father and to minor characters who become major characters, Libby learns that the events of that night may not entirely be finished as long as she is still alive.

The story takes a methodical pace, jumping back and forth between Libby’s present day journey and the day of the murders.  The flashbacks are split between Ben Day (the eldest) and Patty Day (the mother). This helped to deepen the emotion of events leading up to the Satan Sacrifice Kinnakee. Their juxtaposition will figure heavily in the events of that night. Patty is torn apart by the revelation that their town believes Ben may have molested a young girl. Ben is a secretive and morose teenager who thinks only about escaping their small town with his now-pregnant girlfriend. And even though you only meet the mother and Ben on one day, they come off as fully developed characters grappling with a multitude of emotions and uncertainties.

Flynn sets up some great payoffs in certain scenes. The interaction between Krissi, the child supposedly molested by Ben and Libby is intriguing mostly because of the truths they are hiding from the other. The note that Libby leaves for Krissi at the end was the perfect ending to that scene. Another entertaining scene occurs between Libby and her father at the superfund site. The settings are far from glamorous but they contain interesting details that add to the  mood & characterization.

As Libby uncovers who Ben spent that day with, the truth seems to trace back to Ben’s pregnant girlfriend. But Flynn has just a couple more surprises waiting for us just when we think we figured it out. The truth is an elusive concept, and finding a resolution doesn’t exactly settle well with us. The conflicting emotions and uncertainties that remain after the final sentence are what make this novel a success.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Overall: We all know that Flynn’s novels are bleak and gritty. I like getting to the core of characters and their shortcomings. A dark place exists in all of us and it’s the plot development that really puts this novel apart from others. Looking forward to reading Gone Girl now.

About the Author

Gillian Flynn is an American author and television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She has so far written three novels, Sharp Objects, for which she won the 2007 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best thriller; Dark Places; and her best-selling third novel Gone Girl.
Flynn, who lives in Chicago, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated at the University of Kansas, and qualified for a Master’s degree from Northwestern University. 




The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson

Publisher: Broadway Books
Release Date: April 8
Genre: Women’s Fiction
*Acquired through Netgalley

   Jonathan and Rosie have been together so long they finish each other’s sentences—so when he (finally) proposes and asks her to move across the country with him, everyone is happily surprised.
   But when things suddenly unravel, Rosie sends Jonathan packing and moves back home with Soapie, the irascible, opinionated grandmother who raised her. Now she has to figure out how to fire Soapie’s very unsuitable caregiver, a gardener named Tony who lets her drink martinis, smoke, and cheat at Scrabble.
   It’s meant to be a temporary break, of course—until Rosie realizes she’s accidentally pregnant at 44, completely unequipped for motherhood, and worse, may be falling in love with Tony, whose life is even more muddled than hers. When Soapie reveals a long-hidden secret, Rosie wonders if she has to let go of her fears, and trust that the big-hearted, messy life that awaits her just may be the one she was meant to live.

“Dawson’s charmingly eccentric cast of characters is at turns lovable and infuriating, ensuring a quick read helmed by a memorable, complex heroine.” Publishers Weekly

“Delightfully witty… A messy, funny, surprising story of second chances.” Kirkus Reviews

Cover: I like the dashes of color that the dots give to an otherwise neutral cover. I also appreciate that the model on the cover has her back to us. Her face doesn’t give us any preconceived notions about the main character but her body expression conveys the uncertainty of the title and, as we come to discover, the indecisiveness of Rosie.

Favorite Lines: “Funny, how something like a wedding can fall apart in a hundred ways. After it happens, she rather thinks of it as like a Slinky on the stairs, picking up momentum and speed, bumping its way to the bottom, slowly and inevitably at first, and then…well, it’s over.”

My Review:  Comfort breeds complacency as we learn from this charming novel from Maddie Dawson. Sometimes it takes a little chaos to uncover what is important to us.

Rosie’s comfortable fifteen year relationship with antique tea-cup-enthusiast boyfriend, Jonathan, is threatened when he is offered a chance to open a teacup museum across the country. The timing for Rosie is less than ideal with a cantankerous grandmother who can’t be trusted to live on her own.

Looking towards a big move, at first everything seems to be falling together for Rosie. Jonathan proposes they get married and she begins to dream of her ideal wedding. But when Jonathan opts to chase a tea cup on their wedding day, Rosie is faced with the prospect that her companion of 15 years has his priorities in the wrong place. I learned a lot about Rosie from her relationship with Jonathan and I was equally frustrated with both throughout the novel. Rosie sacrificed a lot to keep them together and Jonathan has a textbook case of Peter Pan syndrome. While he does show signs of growing as the novel progresses, I couldn’t shake my initial characterization of Jon as insensitive and immature.

As Jonathan sets off for California without Rosie, she moves in with Soapie and her live-in caretaker Tony – a young divorced father who shares joint custody of a son. To say that Tony is endearing is an understatement. From the moment we meet Tony, we have a feeling that he will change the way Rosie sees her life.  The bond between Rosie and Tony grows and we begin to learn more about Tony and his unique situation with his son. Rosie tries to salvage her ties with Jonathan when she discovers she is pregnant with his child. Does she go back to Jonathan and his tea cups? Does she risk everything for an unknown but exciting future?

Overall: A lighthearted and heartwarming story about second chances at love and life when all seems lost. Maddie Dawson has created character that are full of passion for living and plenty of humor to tackle the problems that they must face.

Rating: 3.5 stars

About the Author

Maddie Dawson is the author of two fiction novels. She lives in Connecticut.

You can learn more about Maddie by visiting:


Renaissance & Alchemy in THE RED LILY CROWN by Elizabeth Loupas

Publisher: NAL Trade
Pages: 448
Release Date: April 1st
Genre: Historical Fiction
*Acquired copy through publisher for an honest review

April, 1574, Florence, Italy. Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici lies dying. The city is paralyzed with dread, for the next man to wear the red lily crown will be Prince Francesco: despotic, dangerous, and obsessed with alchemy.

Chiara Nerini, the troubled daughter of an anti-Medici bookseller, sets out to save her starving family by selling her dead father’s rare alchemical equipment to the prince. Instead she is trapped in his household—imprisoned and forcibly initiated as a virgin acolyte in Francesco’s quest for power and immortality. Undaunted, she seizes her chance to pursue undreamed-of power of her own.

Witness to sensuous intrigues and brutal murder plots, Chiara seeks a safe path through the labyrinth of Medici tyranny and deception. Beside her walks the prince’s mysterious English alchemist Ruanno, her friend and teacher, driven by his own dark goals. Can Chiara trust him to keep her secrets…even to love her…or will he prove to be her most treacherous enemy of all?

Praise: “Machiavelli meets The Brothers Grimm: a dark fairy tale with the addictive allure of a poison dream. Renaissance Florence springs to life in all its gorgeous, treacherous glory when a brave street urchin finds herself neck deep in Medici blood-lust. A dash of magic, a maze of murder, a heroine to root for, and a villain who needs to die–this is historical fiction at its most compelling.”— Author Kate Quinn

“Brings to life all the brutality, deception, and glamour of one of history’s most intoxicating eras. I could not put it down!”—C.W. Gortner

Cover: Pretty typical for the genre.

Review: Alchemy and the lust for immortality and power is the driving force behind THE RED LILY CROWN. The ‘Alchemist Prince’ was the working title for this novel and does much to describe the havoc and deceit that resulted from a prince obsessed with Alchemy. Chiara knows the same obsession is what ultimately killed her father. His death left their family with Alchemical instruments that prove valuable to the prince and his English advisor Ruan. The prince tears Chiara away from her home and forces her to practice Alchemy and live in the secluded apartments of the royal family. First with the Prince’s sister and then his wife, the Duchess of Austria. Loupas does a great job of painting the power struggles as play during this period. The struggle between siblings, between wife and mistress and between political agendas. Chiara embroils herself in all aspects and comes dangerously close to her own demise many times. It’s compelling to follow Chiara’s struggle to stay one step ahead of the Prince, as their working relationship evolves. Her character is the perfect balance of pragmatism and social grace that it takes to walk the delicate line between life and death. This novel needed all 448 pages to give us the full picture of the Prince’s rule and eventual downfall. That journey as a reader was heightened by the historical realities and the carefully nuanced characters within.

The author’s note at the end of the book sheds light on the truth behind the characters represented in the novel. There are still many mysteries surrounding the Prince and the unexplained deaths within his court during his reign. Loupas ran away with one of the many theories and created a unique and compelling interpretation that will satisfy history buffs and lovers of intrigue.

Overall: This third novel from Elizabeth Loupas was deftly researched and the characters and setting laid down beautifully on the page. Readers will find themselves easily transported.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

About the Author

Elizabeth Loupas lives near the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas. She hates housework, cold weather, and wearing shoes. She loves animals, gardens, and popcorn. Not surprisingly she lives in a state of happy barefoot chaos with her husband (the Broadcasting Legend), her herb garden, her popcorn popper, and two beloved beagles.


DOLLFACE by Renee Rosen

Publisher: NAL Trade
Genre: Historical, Women’s Fiction
Pub Date: November 5th
Format: Paperback, Acquired from publisher

America in the 1920s was a country alive with the wild fun of jazz, speakeasies, and a new kind of woman—the flapper.

Vera Abramowitz is determined to leave her gritty childhood behind and live a more exciting life, one that her mother never dreamed of. Bobbing her hair and showing her knees, the lipsticked beauty dazzles, doing the Charleston in nightclubs and earning the nickname “Dollface.” 

As the ultimate flapper, Vera captures the attention of two high rollers, a handsome nightclub owner and a sexy gambler. On their arms, she gains entrée into a world filled with bootleg bourbon, wailing jazz, and money to burn.  She thinks her biggest problem is choosing between them until the truth comes out. Her two lovers are really mobsters from rival gangs during Chicago’s infamous Beer Wars, a battle Al Capone refuses to lose. 

The heady life she’s living is an illusion resting on a bedrock of crime and violence unlike anything the country has ever seen before. When the good times come to an end, Vera becomes entangled in everything from bootlegging to murder. And as men from both gangs fall around her, Vera must put together the pieces of her shattered life, as Chicago hurtles toward one of the most infamous days in its history, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Initial Thoughts: A story about the city I currently call home. The gangsters are notorious here but I like that Renee is trying to give a feminine angle to the traditional gangster story.

Review:  I am thankful to Renee Rosen for making this novel about the women. Stories about gangsters usually keep the women on the periphery as helpful and often times bumbling and superficial characters while the real men duke it out for domination. This is a love triangle set against the vibrant and seedy backdrop of depression era Chicago. As a reader you can tell that historical research was done for this book and done well enough that the sights and sounds of depression era Chicago really come to life. It is the  characters in front of that backdrop don’t have the same dramatic effect.

Vera Abramowitz is a single gal determined to be independent during an era when most are scraping to get by.  She has a job as a typist which pays just enough to keep her slaving away. One night out on the town with Evelyn at a speakeasy introduces Vera to two different male characters. The first part of the novel focuses on Vera’s two love affairs each with a tie to the local gangs. One for the south side (Al Capone) and the other for the north side gangs. Each man fulfills a different desire for Vera making it hard for her to choose one fate or the other. An unexpected pregnancy, leads her to choose marriage and a family with Shep Green of the north side gang.

 Vera’s girlfriends are all tied to the North Siders, though she tries and fails to make friends outside of Shep’s world. For a time, Shep and Vera exist comfortably without a care until the north side gang leader is gunned down by Capone and Shep is arrested in his attempt at retaliation. The once fiercely independent Vera is forced to survive on her own and without the money from the bootlegging, Vera realizes she must do something or be forced into poverty. That thing is bootlegging, a venture that eventually has her crossing paths with Tony again. Of course.

When Shep is finally released, her life spirals out of control.  As Vera races to save both of the men she loves, she finds she is powerless to stop the greater forces of hostility and the hunger for power that drove Chicago to become the gangster capital of the world.

Ultimately, this story lacked real bite. When it came to character development and the life and death stakes of being tied to a gang ,it was all watered down. Though Vera was on the outside of the gang, her character was at times annoyingly helpless while in other situations she was surprisingly resourceful. This contradiction bothered me. There was enough action to keep the novel flowing from chapter to chapter but the tension fell flat just as the novel was coming to its crescendo. Rosen worked to fit her storyline into the fabric of historical fact, and the turn of events at the end came off as melodramatic instead of tragic and heartbreaking. Though the emotion fell flat, the events and reality of life during that era rang true, so I would recommend it.

Overall: Historical buffs will be impressed by an authentic depiction of Chicago and its notorious gangsters. Lovers of women’s fiction will appreciate the wide range of female characters represented even though the main character Vera leaves a little to be desired.

Rating: 3.5/5

Quote: “Raid!” someone shouted. “It’s the feds! Raid! Everybody clear out!”

All at once people began hollering as they shoved past us, rushing towards the stairs. A dealer rammed into me, nearly knocking me over, while he and another barkeeper raced around, trying to get rid of any traces of liquor. I saw one of them pull a handle on the side of the bar and all the bottles on the shelves went whoosh and disappeared through a trapdoor. Two other men bolted past me, grabbed hold of the bar and flipped it upside down, making it look like an innocent hutch. Within seconds all the slot machines were spun around; their flip sides were disguised as bookcases.

“C’mon, we gotta get out of here.” Tony grabbed my hand and weaved me through the crowd, heading for the doorway. The alarm blasted again and again while everybody charged toward the staircase, knocking tables and chairs out of the way. I trampled over someone’s lost fedora and nearly tripped on an abandoned pocketbook.

“Wait!” I turned around, my heart pumping like mad. “Where’s Evelyn? Evelyn!”

“Who the hell’s Evelyn?”

“Evelyn. My roommate.”

“Forget Evelyn,” Tony shouted back, “unless you wanna see the inside of a paddy wagon.”

About the Author:

Along with DOLLFACE, Renée is also the author of EVERY CROOKED POT, a YA novel published by St. Martin’s Press.Renée has contributed to many magazines and newspapers, including Chicago Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Complete Woman, DAME, Publisher’s Weekly and a slew of now sadly defunct publications. She lives in Chicago where she is at work on a new novel also coming from Penguin/NAL in 2014.

Visit her at

Get it at Amazon B&N

Cheerleaders get down and dirty in DARE ME by Megan Abbott

Publisher: Back Bay Books
Received From: Purchased
Genre: Thriller, Noir

Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives.

Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” — both with the team and with Addy herself. 

Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain. 

The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as “total authority and an almost desperate intensity,” provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl.

Initial Thoughts: I have had the pleasure of meeting the author at a book festival which led me to consider giving her latest release a try.

Review:  I really enjoyed this psychological thriller and you have to get over the fact that these teens are some pretty dark characters. The theme of this novel is manipulation and just who exactly holds the upper hand. Told from Abby Hanlon’s perspective she is second in command to head-hauncho, Beth Cassidy, of the military like structure  within the female ranks of cheerleaders. Beth’s control is threatened by a new cheer coach who seems immune to the manipulative powers of the head cheerleader. Abby is pulled between her loyalty to her best friend and the intriguing life of her new coach. There are some great exchanges in this novel, in their bleakness and the things that are said by the characters. Abbott does a great job of pulling the reader into lives that seem pretty superficial on the outside. Isn’t that was cheerleaders are to most of us? Superficial and symbolic of an unattainable ideal? The language was the highlight of this novel for me. We are completely within Abby’s world and her method of expression is unique and provocative.  As the story develops, their world disintegrates and the characters descend further into darkness, destroying the lives of those around them. Don’t mess with these teenagers, they are power-hungry, privileged and cutthroat.

Quote: “She was the one who showed me all the dark wonders of life, the real life, the life I’d only seen flickering from the corner of my eye. Did I ever feel anything at all until she showed me what feeling meant? Pushing at the corners of her cramped world with curled fists, she showed me what it meant to live.”

Overall: Dark, edgy, and emotionally tense throughout turn this all-American setting  into a scintillating and murderous world.

Rating: 4 stars

About the Author

Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of five previous novels. She received her Ph.D. in literature from New York University and has taught literature, writing, and film at NYU, the New School, and SUNY-Oswego. She lives in New York City.

Purchase: Amazon Indiebound – B&N

More Vampires?! Order of the Sanguines: INNOCENT BLOOD

Author: James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 448
Release Date: December 10th
Genre: Gothic, Thriller, Paranormal

A vicious attack at a ranch in California thrusts archaeologist Erin Granger back into the folds of the Sanguines, an immortal order founded on the blood of Christ and tasked with protecting the world from the beasts haunting its shadows and waiting to break free into the sunlight.  Following the prophetic words found in the Blood Gospel–a tome written by Christ and lost for centuries–Erin must join forces with Army Sergeant Jordan Stone and the dark mystery that is Father Rhun Korza to discover and protect a boy believed to be an angel given flesh.

But an enigmatic enemy of immense power and terrifying ambition seeks the same child–not to save the world, but to hasten its destruction.  For any hope of victory, Erin must discover the truth behind Christ’s early years and understand His first true miracle, an event wrapped in sin and destruction, an act that yet remains unfulfilled and holds the only hope for the world. 

The search for the truth will take Erin and the others across centuries and around the world, from the dusty plains of the Holy Land to the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, from the catacombs of Rome to an iron fortress in the Mediterranean Sea, and at last to the very gates of Hell itself, where their destiny–and the fate of mankind–awaits.

With The Blood Gospel, the first novel in the Order of the Sanguines series, James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell breathtakingly combined science, myth, and religion and introduced a world where miracles hold new meaning and the fight for good over evil is far more complicated than we ever dreamed. In Innocent Blood they again take us to the edge of destruction . . . and into the deepest reaches of imagination.

Initial Thoughts: I’m familiar with James Rollins but not Rebecca Cantrell (isn’t this how co-writing usually goes?)

I continue my track record of reading the second installment in a series without having read the first. What can I say? I like to jump into the thick of things and I suppose if the second book doesn’t hold up that says a lot about the first one. By the end of this review you should have a solid idea of whether to start at the beginning or pass it by.

What I liked:

The prologue It opens during the crusades and we learn that the sanguinists (vampires that take a holy vow to serve the church) are helping obliterate the muslims. I love these sorts of scenes, it whets my appetite for an explanation for the arc of impact that these moments have on the future.

Historical Fact/Fiction: James Rollins is a master at seamlessly weaving historical fact and possibility into a fictional tale. This book doesn’t hold back, with fallen angels, uncovering the first miracle of Jesus Christ and  the unleashing of Satan, the plot is a rich tableau that should spark a curiosity about these historical events.

Sanguinists/Strigoi: The creation of the Sanguinists, a holy order of vampires, was intriguing and well done. The strigoi are vampires as popular culture tends to portray them – bloodthirsty and revelers of the nighttime. Sanguinists subsist on the blood of Christ and because of this they are able to tolerate the sun. the conflict between these two sects of vampires actually helps to humanize the creatures and delve into why some vampires chose to become sanguinists and others remain strigoi.

Locations: From California to Rome, Turkey (and everywhere in between) the authors have done a spectacular job of transporting the reader and making the past and present come to life on the page.

What I didn’t like (as much):

Wishy-washy rules for the supernatural: It’s almost too complicated to make sense for some characters and it’s never fully explained. There are many different aspects of the supernatural explored, from angels to immortal characters, and of course the vampires. Jordan is seemingly killed by a bullet, but a few droplets of blood from the First Angel boy revive him. There is an allusion. The conclusion seems to have become, it happens because it is useful for the plot of the story and rules can bend depending on their role.

Love Triangles  Erin and Rhun, a sanguinist have a strange bond- the result of Rhun having revived Erin with his vampire blood in the first book. Rhun is cursed by his love for Elisabeta, who he turned into vampire.  Their bond flutters through the minds of pretty much every character bu it’s never addressed outright and there is no development beyond that. This connection may have a larger influence in the next book.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Overall:  Paranormal meets thriller and the journey of the characters through history and their present trials is a vivid and compelling ride.

About the Authors 

James Rollins is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sigma Force series and other novels. Blending science and history, his action adventure novels have been praised as “enormously engrossing” (NPR) and “smart, entertaining adventure fiction” (New York Journal of Books). Before pursuing a writing career, Jim obtained a degree in veterinary medicine and established a successful veterinary practice in Sacramento, CA. He currently resides in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell’s novels have won the Bruce Alexander and the Macavity awards and been nominated for the Barry, Mary Higgins Clark, APPY, RT Reviewers Choice, and Shriekfest Film Festival awards. She and her husband and son just left Hawaii’s sunny shores for adventures in Hannah Vogel’s hometown–Berlin.

Amazon B&NIndiebound

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for an honest review

Treasure Hunt Mystery : Pirate Vishnu

Author: Gigi Pandian
Publisher: Henery Press
Release Date: Feb. 11, 2014 (Paperback)
Genre: Mystery, Women’s Fiction
How I got a copy: NetGalley

 A century-old treasure map of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Sacred riches from India. Two murders, one hundred years apart. And a love triangle… Historian Jaya Jones has her work cut out for her.

1906. Shortly before the Great San Francisco Earthquake, Pirate Vishnu strikes the San Francisco Bay. An ancestor of Jaya’s who came to the U.S. from India draws a treasure map…

Present Day. Over a century later, the cryptic treasure map remains undeciphered. From San Francisco to the southern tip of India, Jaya pieces together her ancestor’s secrets, maneuvers a complicated love life she didn’t count on, and puts herself in the path of a killer to restore a revered treasure.

Initial thoughts: A treasure hunter and Indian pirates seems like the perfect combination. Even though I haven’t read the first in the series, the premise is intriguing enough.

My Take: Jaya Jones was introduced in the first installment ARTIFACT. She is a historian who somehow gets herself embroiled in treasure hunts in the vein of a female Indiana Jones. With one adventure under her belt, Jaya has returned to San Francisco to return to her scholarly pursuits and the hope that she will be taken on as faculty by the college.

Her office is invaded by a frantic lawyer named Steven Healy. He begins asking Jaya about her long lost relative who died in the San Francisco earthquake. Or did he? This is when the treasure map that has been passed down through his family comes to light. Healy gives the treasure map to Jaya and she thinks nothing more of the map than as a vestige of a bygone era. Her casual interest in suddenly heightened when Steven Healy is discovered dead and the police begin questioning her possession of his map.

The only instance that I wished I had read the first novel, was Jaya’s attempts to connect with Lane, who had apparently broken ties with her. His distance is a real mystery at first, and it was hard to understand why Jaya was trying to hard to find him. Their relationship was a part of ARTIFACT, but in this book Lane is just an elusive character that for some reason is avoiding Jaya. He does appear during her trip to India, and we realize he does have her best interests at heart. Until then, I found myself scratching my head about Lane’s purpose in this book.

Jaya has a side gig as a musician at a local restaurant, the first sign that she identifies with her Indian heritage. She also has a good friend, Sanjay, who is a magician and has an assistant named Grace, he is the little bit of comic relief needed in this tale. The attraction between Jaya and Sanjay is hinted at but never expressed outright. His concern for Jaya is heartwarming but in a big brother sort of way. As a reader I wasn’t sure which guy to root for and I sort of like that tug and pull of affection Jaya has for Lane and Sanjay.

There are a lot of threads within this story with characters dropping in then disappaering for a bit. And with the plot shifting back in time every few chapters, there was a lot to keep track of but Gigi wrote it in a way that made it easy for the reader. We learn The Pirate Vishnu wasn’t always a pirate but an immigrant who made a few friends in the lowliest parts of San Francisco and fell in love with a girl. The chapters told at the turn of the century kept me entertained and while I can’t judge the historical accuracy myself, it seemed to reflect some research on the author’s part.

My favorite section was Jaya’s journey to India. Though dropping everything and flying to India seems easier said than done. It was an opportunity for the book to get some real adventure in a new and exotic place. I’m glad that it was included, and while their trip only seemed to confirm little, and they returned knowing little more than before they left, I felt it was essential if only for the excitement India lent to the storytelling.

My suggestion is to get into this series from the beginning and you’ll thoroughly enjoy the entire journey of Jaya by the time this book releases. Looking forward to the next installment!

Rating: 4 Stars

Overall: Jaya Jones channels Indiana Jones on a quest across continents and backward in time. Readers will enjoy the lighthearted mystery and the multitude of characters that spice up the story along the way.

About the Author

Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood, she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program for art school. But adventurous academics wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series.

Gigi’s debut mystery novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012″ Debut Novel bySuspense Magazine.

Get the first book in the series: Amazon – B&NPowell’s

Book Review: Far From Here

Far From Here

Author: Nicole Baart
Publisher:  Howard Books
Release Date: February, 2012
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction

Danica Greene has always hated flying, so it was almost laughable that the boy of her dreams was a pilot. She married him anyway and together, she and Etsell settled into a life where love really did seem to conquer all. Danica is firmly rooted on the ground in Blackhawk, the small town in northern Iowa where they grew up, and the wide slashes of sky that stretch endlessly across the prairie seem more than enough for Etsell.  But when the opportunity to spend three weeks in Alaska helping a pilot friend presents itself, Etsell accepts and their idyllic world is turned upside down. It’s his dream, he reveals, and Danica knows that she can’t stand in the way. Ell is on his last flight before heading home when his plane mysteriously vanishes shortly after takeoff, leaving Danica in a free fall. Etsell is gone, but what exactly does gone mean? Is she a widow? An abandoned wife? Or will Etsell find his way home to her?

Danica is forced to search for the truth in her marriage and treks to Alaska to grapple with the unanswerable questions about her husband’s mysterious disappearance. But when she learns that Ell wasn’t flying alone and that a woman is missing, too, the bits and pieces of the careful life that she had constructed for them in Iowa take to the wind. A story of love and loss, and ultimately starting over, Far From Here explores the dynamics of intimacy and the potentially devastating consequences of the little white lies we tell the ones we love.

Initial Thoughts: This was acquired through an acquaintance who recommended it. I trust her judgement.

My Take: Danica met handsome and charismatic Etsell in high school. We learn that she gave up any ambition beyond living in Blackhawk, Iowaa when Etsell proposed. She effectively tied herself to his life, but Etsell was not tied to his home the same way she was.  As a pilot, he was a man of land and air and Dani’s fear of flying cut her off from that part of his life. (I also have a fear of flying, so can’t imagine ever tying myself to someone like Etsell even if he was the hottest guy in the town.)

We learn that Etsell’s plane is missing in Alaska. Our viewpoint of Etsell is entirely filtered through Dani’s perspective. Her flashbacks are meant to provide a window into their love but Dani most times comes off as dependent on Etsell. No wonder he felt compelled to escape to Alaska.

Dani and Hazel (Etsell’s mother figure) decide to travel to Alaska just to make sure that yes, his plane really is missing. They learn that another person named Samantha may also have been in the plan with him. Dani begins to question his fidelity, asking around about this mystery woman. Once again, Dani is ineffective, trapped by her grief. While I’ve never been in this position myself, reading a female character with little to no conviction can be frustrating. Sam is found and questioned but they leave Alaska knowing little to no more about this woman or where Etsell may have gone down.

With Etsell’s death pretty much settled, Dani must wade through her grief with a dysfunctional family by her side. The mother and sister characters were my favorite simply because their love for Dani seemed in earnest. This is when we come to know Benjamin, her neighbor a little better. If you’re going to introduce a potential love interest to a mourning woman, it needs to be done carefully. Their friendship is centered around the garden- a good metaphor for the time and love that must go into creating something new.

Dani’s deals with her grief in many ways through the novel, and I liked the many outward steps that she took to begin her new life. From the garden and her hair salon to Dani’s refurbishing a trestle table. Baart showed us instead of telling us about her journey. The reappearance of Sam later in the novel provides a revelation that will test Dani who is trying to move forward.

Overall: A young widow must confront not only her husband’s death, but her future without him. Her journey to discover herself outside of her husband’s love serves to strengthen the bonds of family. With a great supporting cast of characters, the dramatic scenes between mother and daughters ring true. If you can get over Dani’s lack of independence, you will enjoy this book.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

“When she was seven, Dani had rescued a stuffed seal pup from the secondhand store in Blackhawk. She never named him, but her seal’s pebbled fur has been loved smooth in a decade of nighttime cuddling. Before she happened across the sleek pup, Dani hadn’t known that she forstered an enduring affection for animals who could live on and and sea, effortlessly part of two wholly different worlds. She would have loved to see a seal in real life; to touch the glass were water and air were divided in half in perfect cross section.”

About The Author:

Nicole Baart lives in a small town in Iowa and is the mother of three young sons. After the adoption of her second son from Ethiopia, Nicole discovered a deep passion for global issues and co-founded a non-profit organization, One Body One Hope, that works alongside a church and orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. An accomplished novelist, she was a 2009 Christy Award finalist for fiction.


*This book was acquired on my own. All thoughts are my own.


Publisher: William Morrow
Pub Date : February 4, 2014
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Pages: 304

On an ordinary Friday evening at his favorite Boston tavern, George Foss’s comfortable, predictable life is shattered when a beautiful woman sits down at the bar, a woman who vanished without a trace twenty years ago.

Liana Dector isn’t just an ex-girlfriend, the first love George couldn’t quite forget. She’s also a dangerous enigma and quite possibly a cold-blooded killer wanted by the police. Suddenly, she’s back—and she needs George’s help. Ruthless men believe she stole some money . . . and they will do whatever it takes to get it back.

George knows Liana is trouble. But he can’t say no—he never could—so he makes a choice that will plunge him into a terrifying whirlpool of lies, secrets, betrayal, and murder from which there is no sure escape.

Initial thoughts: Love the cover and the title!

My Take: George is still haunted by his first love. His  brief but passionate love affair with Liana as a college freshman still lingers. We meet him nearing mid-life as a man unable to sustain a stable relationship with a woman and feeling the failure of his life choices.

Some chapters are told from the perspective of George when he was an impressionable young adult. He knows Liana as someone else entirely until George learns she won’t be returning to college from FL because she died. George takes it upon himself to travel to Florida to meet the family, find closure and mourn. The cathartic journey only serves to open up a bag of worms when he learns that Liana is alive and may have been involved in the death of the girl whose identity she stole. She disappears for good leaving George to sort through the detritus of their love.

Fast forward twenty years, when George spots Liana in a bar. She is still alluring and impenetrable.  George is unable to see that his infatuation makes him the perfect prey for someone like Liana.  He agrees to do a favor for her and quickly is embroiled in a murder which leaves him questioning his decision to fall for her charms.  Is she really caught in a web of crime that she can’t get herself out of or did she use George to pull of the perfect crime?

I was caught up in sorting through the enigma of Liana. George however, seemed very hollow, lacking any substance that would lead me to feel anything deeper about his situation. George was simply the vehicle for Liana and for the author as well.

Overall: Plenty of sexiness and  intrigue work together to create a careful crescendo of tension that will have you gasping for breath at the end. You will be more perplexed by Liana on the last page as George was from the first.

Rating: 4 Stars – A promising debut

About the author:

Peter Swanson’s poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Slant Magazine, Soundings East, Rattapallax, and The Vocabula Review.  He has earned degrees in Creative Writing, Education, and Literature from Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College.  He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Author website:


*I acquired this advance copy through the publisher. All thoughts are my own.


Heart Like Mine

Phew! What an emotional journey. We first meet Grace, independent and successful in her professional life but a little insecure when it comes to her personal life. She’s willing to marry the man of her dreams, older man Victor, even though he is divorced with two kids.  Even though Grace who doesn’t want kids of her own, the mother is there to take care of Ana and Max, and Grace doesn’t have to take on any of that responsibility. Victor and Grace have forged their private world where the children are present but never a burden.

From the first page we learn that Kelli, the mother, has died unexpectedly.

As the characters begin to process their loss, the perspectives begin to splinter and Amy Hatvany takes the readers into the minds of Grace, Ana and Kelli (before her death).  On the cusp of womanhood Ana is rebellious, fiercely loyal to her father and mother and she will do anything to preserve her mother’s memory. Grace is thrust into the midst of a grieving family and consequently is pushed to the periphery as Victor focuses on his children. Kelli’s perspective gives the reader insight into a weary divorced woman who always loved Victor but seemed destined to push him away.

As the tension between Victor and his children and Grace grows, they each uncover little clues about Kelli’s distant past that may provide closure and ultimately mend broken ties.

The arc of the story is pretty fluid and I didn’t feel that the shifting viewpoints were jarring or confusing.  Hatvany does a great job of capturing each of these characters in the midst of figuring out their lives. They are complicated and flawed but ultimately sympathetic. Without Victor’s perspective, his character is the only one that seems to fall flat. It sometimes borders on the line of being an over dramatized Lifetime script, but Hatvany knows when to exercise restraint without sacrificing the tension.

Overall: Multiple viewpoint mesh seamlessly into this highly emotional story about family, love and hope.

About the Author:

Amy Hatvany is the author of Best Kept SecretOutside the LinesThe Language of Sisters, and Heart Like Mine. She lives in Seattle with her family.

Author website:
Purchase: AmazonB&N  – Indieound

This book was acquired on my own and was not influenced by any outside party.