Book Reviews – My Opinion


book stack

I have been reviewing books since 2011. Most of them are sent to me, so for a reader, being paid in books is basically skipping the step between paycheck and going to the bookstore. Win/win in my estimation.

As a writer, I know how difficult it is to put words on paper. Especially words that someone else will read and love as passionately as I do. Enough to have them want to tell other people to read it. That means more than the writer’s family  and friends read whatever it is that is being written. It can be is a  short story, a book or an article.

Reviewers have the task of reading a book and sharing his or her thoughts with as many people as possible. I do not take this task lightly. But always keep in mind – it is only my opinion, I book I love could be a book you hate.

First and foremost, I read every book I am given or request from an author from sites such as Goodreads. I give it as much attention as I would the latest Stephen King or Jodi Picoult novel. Then I usually wait a day or two to think about the subtle aspects as well as my overall opinions.

I look at plot, characterization and overall fit to the genre it is written in. It is unfair to judge a perfectly written cozy novel against a highly literary novel. That is like comparing a lion to a giraffe. I like both of them yet the lion can’t imagine to eat leaves from the top of the tree while standing on the ground, it just isn’t made that way.

Most of the places I post my reviews, with the exception of my two blogs (this one and – I know I should combine them, but need to be more blog smart), use a star rating system. So here is how I decide how many stars a review gets:

5 star

5 Star – I can’t put this book down. When I am doing something else it is calling to me. I have to chat about it to people at work and my long-suffering family. This is a great book in my world. I LOVE this book and want everyone to read it.

4 star

4 Star – This is a really good book. I like it a lot. But I can go a day without reading it if I have something else that has to be written/read. It is interesting and I’ve enjoyed it. Then only thing keeping this from the 5 star is I only like it or love it like a distant relative, not my kids. (I don’t LOVE it – see above).

3 star

3 Star – Just an ok book. Not necessarily a bad book, just not outstanding. There might be plot holes. For example, one I read didn’t follow through with a character, she was in it only when it helped the main character without explanation as to where she had been during other critical times when a child could not have been left alone.

There could be crazy, impossible twists that make a reader feel cheated because you could never have known or seen the end coming. Give me a fighting chance to figure it out!

Poor grammar and sentence structure make me nuts. Even if the story and characters are good and I have to read a sentence over and over to figure out what the author is trying to tell me, it is too frustrating as a reader to slog through page after page of this. I am not talking to literary – that is not as fast a read, but it is a beautiful read. BIG difference in my opinion.


1 & 2 Star  – I have only given one of these in the last 6 years. It was a horrid book with characters that were impossible to connect with and I absolutely hated them in the end. It was poorly written with misspellings and strange attempts at American “sayings” obviously written by someone not clear on the language. I could not give it less than 1 Star – so that is what it got from me.

So if you see any of my reviews on Goodreads, Barnes and Nobel, Amazon & Amazon UK you will have an idea about what I was thinking when I gave the book the number of stars that I did. All of these reviews are under “Laura Hartman”.

Other places where I do not give a “star rating” but have links to my blogs are Instagram (lmh172) & Pinterest (writeknit).

Writing is hard work. I have nothing but the utmost respect for authors and books. My goal is to share good books with as many people as I can. Hopefully one of the readers of my reviews will find a new author they haven’t heard of before or try and new genre they we’re sure they would like. If that happens, I am happy and feel I have done my job as a reviewer.

(all images in this post were found on Google images)

Book Review: Deeper Than The Grave

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Excellent Mystery – had to post on both my blogs!


Deeper Than The Grave (A Tai Randolph Mystery)

By Tina Whittle

294 PagesDeeper Than The Grave

Tai Randolph is the owner of a gun shop in Atlanta that specializes in Civil War re-enactment relics along with run-of-the-mill firearms and ammo. Formerly owned by her Uncle Dexter, Tai has organized the inventory and has settled in, making the business profitable in the process.

Her boyfriend, Trey Seaver, has beefed up security for the shop. As a corporate security agent, and former FBI agent, he is obsessed with keeping Tai safe. She finds his security measures equally aggravating and endearing, but thinks he has crossed the line due to problems he has had in the past, including an accident, that has left him with a brain injury.

Tai admits the security is good to have around the shop as there have been several times her system has detected attempted breaches. She suspects the neighboring business…

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Book Review: Island of the White Rose

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Island of the White Rose

R. Ira Harris

Published by Bridgeworks Publishing


239 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Set in the turbulent political time of 1950’s Cuba, Harris’ debut novel, Island of the White Rose asks many more questions than it answers – which is good because it makes the reader think. This is a work of fiction, but the events that weave in and out of the plot are based upon historical facts when the scenes involve Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara and Cantillo

Father Pedro Vallanueava is at a crossroad in his life. He is struggling with his faith but does not want to disappoint his family. His oldest brother is a physician like their father, his other brother is a lawyer like their grandfather. The expectation and prayerful request of his mother was that Pedro would become a priest. Pedro is a good son and follows the path expected of him, but the collar he wears begins to choke him after time. The only place he feels comfortable in his own skin is when he is sailing aboard his family’s sailboat La Rqsa Blanca.

 La Rosa Blanca or The White Rose flourishes throughout the novel as it becomes the symbol of unity and secrecy, love, honor and sympathy. Pedro becomes involved with the revolution which conflicts with his family’s ideals and the Church’s believes. He secretly falls in love with one woman and in lust with another.

Things get quickly out of hand for him, bringing about the destruction of someone he dearly loves. Unwillingly he is thrust deeper into the revolution. The more he struggles with his situation, the quicksand of his secrets pull him further and further away from his family and home.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have the attention span of a flea anymore. In spite of my lack of willingness to read a thick biography of Castro’s revolution, I loved getting a glimpse into Cuba in the 1950s. The tactics used by the government and the revolutionaries made me cry for the ordinary people on the island just trying to live their day to day lives amidst killings, lootings and  lack of essential things like water, food and electricity.

Thanks to Harris, I know more about Cuba and want to read even more about what happened on the island.

Copyright © 2013 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Book Review: The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards

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The Frozen ShroudThe Frozen Shroud

Martin Edwards

Poisoned Pen Press

278 pages

$14.95 (soft cover)

Genre: Mystery

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

 Prolific British crime writer Martin Edwards continues to bring his “A” game to the keyboard with the sixth book in his Lake District Mystery Series, The Frozen Shroud. In a style reminiscent of Christie, Edwards brings more red herrings to the table than the local fishmonger can supply. He keeps the reader guessing until the last pages, held in delicious page turning suspense, second-guessing the twist and turns of clues masterfully woven into the plot.

The Frozen Shroud begins five years ago with the brutal murder of a young woman on Hallowe’en. Murder is dreadful enough, but this one is an echo of a Hallowe’en night in the early 1900s when a young woman also died at Ravenbank in the same gruesome manner. Local investigators closed both cases. They were open and shut, but were the true killers found or is the real murderer still out there ready to kill again?

By happenstance, Daniel Kind, a specialist in historic murders and his sister attend the annual Hallowe’en party in Ravenbank. He is fascinated with the rumors of The Faceless Woman’s ghost walking the grounds and only agrees to the party to speak with the only person that could give him a clue as to what happened in Ravenbank. He wakes the next morning to the news that a third murder has been committed in the same fashion as the two he was researching.

Enter DCI Hannah Scarlett, head of the budget restricted Cold Case Review Team. Her life is a mess. She’s separated from her long term boyfriend, losing part of her team at work due to budget cuts, at odds with her new boss and attracted to two men. One could be a bad idea, the other may be worse.

The new murder brings the five-year-old case back to her desk. If the assumed murderer was killed in an accident, then who committed the third Hallowe’en murder? Why was the victim’s face beaten and then covered with the signature frozen shroud like the previous victims? Scarlett teams up with Kind to solve the murders. Their relationship could become more, but is it what they both want?

I loved this book. It was not a fluffy little who-done-it, but an intelligent, smart story that made me think. I had to read it slower and pay more attention, but it is refreshing to read a wonderfully written mystery with substance. I will seek out this award winner author’s other books. Edwards is a gem.

Copyright © 2013 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

The GenReview website and My Reviews

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A few posts ago I told of the end of The GenReview. Because the wonderful writer and editor Tony Burton allowed all his reviewers full copywrite rights on our reviews, I decided to add the reviews to my blog that can no longer be seen on his website.

I hope some of you find a new author to follow or a book to enjoy by reading one of themlots of books.

Book Review: A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne

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A Dark Dividing

Sarah Rayne

Felony & Mayhem Press


480 pages

$14.95 (Pub date: June 2011)

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Genre: Mystery Fiction

This is quite possibly the best book I’ve read in the past year. Rayne’s rich characters and layered plotlines that connected and concluded satisfyingly at the end made this book nearly impossible to put down once I began to read it.

Harry Fitzglen, a self-destructing journalist, is given the task of reviewing an art gallery opening. He is oddly drawn to the photography display by Simone Anderson, the aloof artist with a hidden past. Her photo of a crumbling eighteenth-century mansion not only piques his interest, it pulls him deeper into the life this mysterious woman.

When asked to dig into Simone’s past and the mystery of her missing twin sister by his editor, Harry cannot resist. The quest leads him back 100 years to the abandoned orphanage in her photo, named Mortmain – translation: Dead hand – House.

Rayne takes us back and forth effortlessly from 1900 to present day, never losing the reader as she weaves the tale of Mortmain House, Simone’s childhood and Harry’s search for the truth.

As soon as this book hits the shelves, run to your bookstore, library or computer to get a copy. Mystery fans can rejoice that England’s “Queen of Darkness” is sharing her nightmares with us. I am anxiously looking forward to her next novel.

Copyright © 2013 Laura Hartman

The demise of another wonderful website

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It pains me to announce that the website I did book reviews for is gone. The owner of the site, a brilliant man, was going to pull the plug sometime this year because he couldn’t get enough reviewers for the number of review requests he received, but a mistake by his hosting service deleted all of the reviews for the past several years. So he decided enough was enough. 

I learned a lot from him – thank you Tony Burton! And will miss the email from him listing books he has available for review. I stepped outside my comfort zone and read different books from often unheard of authors. I will miss the excitement of finding one in the mail and cracking the spine to find a new favorite.

My writing improved by turning phrases and looking harder at at structure and content of everything I read, not just the books I was reviewing.

I will continue to review the books I read here and on Goodreads, but will truly miss The GenReView. Thank you Tony – I can’t thank you enough for the opportunity you gave me by allowing me to review for your site the last few years.

(pic from google images:

Book Review: Mixed Signals by Jane Tesh

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MIXED_SIGNALS_march5thMixed Signals

Jane Tesh

Poisoned Pen Press


233 pages

$14.95 (soft cover)

Reviewed by Laura Hartman


Genre: Mystery

Private Investigator David Randall has his Christmas plate overflowing with problems instead of sweet treats. Mixed Signals starts out with Randall listening to Camden, friend and landlord, practice his solo for a Christmas concert. The sound of Handel’s Messiah is quickly drowned out by Camden’s screams of horror upon finding his friend Jared brutally stabbed to death.

Christmas is pushed aside as Randall is on the case when Boyd Taylor, one of the suspects, hires him to find the real killer. Tensions rise when Camden’s psychic powers kick in with a vengeance giving him reason to believe he might be linked somehow with the murder.

Randall digs deep into the case with the help of his girlfriend Kary. She does the leg work at the library, then surprisingly joins a group of people in Parkland that formed a “Super Hero Society” as “Wonder Star” to help find The Parkland Avenger – who is either good or bad reminiscent of Spiderman – depending upon the opinion of the characters.

Randall has a list of suspects as long as his arm.  The victim was fresh from jail, serving time for breaking into the Parkland Museum of History. The editor of the local paper, his son, a local journalist hungry for the “big story” to cap her career and the Avenger are all persons of interest.

With all of this going on, Christmas elbows in with the arrival of Randall’s mother. Clad in animal prints, mom has changed. All of the residents of 302 Grace Street love her. Her son would rather she hadn’t changed and fears she will talk about his young daughter’s death in a car accident, which he avoids thinking or talking about.

This mystery has twists and turns that all lead to the killer if you pay attention. When the clues were revealed, each little event becomes clear to the reader. I really enjoyed spending the holidays with Randall and Camden in Parkland.

The only fault I can find with this fun read was a bit of confusion about the characters. This is the second book in Jane Tesh’s Grace Street Mystery series. I would have liked to read a page or two of flashback to have more of a sense of where Cam, Randall, Kary and the rest of the residents of 302 Grace are coming from. Little glimpses of each character are sprinkled throughout the book, so it was a treasure hunt finding them.

I am looking forward to reading the first in Tesh’s series, Stolen Hearts to fill in the gaps.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Copyright © 2013 Laura Hartman

GenReviews and Picture Books

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I just finished reading “The Donors” by Jeffrey Wilson. It was so intense I shut the windows to keep the demons out when I read it late at night! My review should be complete and uploaded within a day or two. Check out Tony Burton’s Genre Fiction Reviews site at

Feel free to check out my previous reviews and those of others I am humbled to share the page with.

It is a great site to get honest reviews of mainstream and newbie novels.

If you have a book you’d like reviewed, contact Tony via the website.

Regarding the picture book genre, I the second draft of my latest picture book, Eli’s Spots, is in my crit group and ready to send out to houses as soon as I get their feedback and tweek it one last time.

“Jumping Joey” is going out tomorrow. It’s been out 3 times now. One editor liked the main character so that is a plus!!

My productivity has increased exponentially now that I gave up Farmville. For anyone familiar with this facebook game, you know how many hours a week it can suck out of your life. I used to work the farm for an hour or 2 a day. Then I realized I could get the same relaxation from writing during that time, and it actually made me feel better than I did after clicking on animals to feed them and crops to harvest.

Farmville is fun diversion, but writing is a better choice for me.

Carl Hiaasen’s “The Downhill Lie”

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The Downhill LieThe Downhill Lie by Carl Hiaasen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ok – funny, but much better probably if I understood golf. Not Carl’s fault! But it was interesting and loved the self-deprecating humor.

View all my reviews

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