Book Reviews – My Opinion

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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 writeknit.wordpress.com – 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.

bored

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)

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History wrapped in mystery draped in SciFi: Book Review Dragonfly

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DragonFly (Missions of the DragonFly Squadron #1)

Written by Charles A. Cornell 

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Dragonfly starts off with a bang – the train carrying Pilot Officer Veronica (Ronnie) Somerset to her newly assigned post is attacked by Nazi planes. She makes it to the station, then on to the Royal Naval Station Enysfarne, a castle high above the Cornish coastline.

After establishing she is indeed a pilot, not a cook, Ronnie learns she will be testing the latest British plane, the Dragonfly.  It is the furthest thing from ordinary. Able to travel on land or under the sea, it boasts the ability to refuel either in the sea or during a rainstorm because runs on ordinary water.  Nigel Pennbridge, the resident scientist/inventor introduces Ronnie to the “War Office’s Department of Experimental War Technology”.  It is used to create powerful shells and bombs to use against the impending Nazi invasion of Britain.

Hitler also depends upon the occult to advise him in battle. The cards warn him of the women that will get in his way. He is not concerned, because the Nazi’s have secret weapons of their own.  Imagine robots created out of human prisoners of war that can no longer think for themselves then enhanced with robotic parts. The Blutskreiger are all that and horrifyingly more.

Cornell’s battle scenes remind me of Clive Cussler’s style. Just when your heart stops thumping, thinking the good guys are finally safe Cornell ramps up the action again. The excitement and tension created puts the reader in the jump seat right next to the fearless pilots of the Dragonfly.

Dragonfly is so much more than battles, Cornell touches on the occult, a sect of Ancient Druids, a connection to the Royal Family and a love interest or two. It was satisfying to have a woman RAF Pilot expertly fighting against the enemy. I think the YA audience will love this book. It has something for everyone. History wrapped in mystery draped in SciFi makes Dragonfly a fast-paced winner.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful artwork of Jose “Cutangus” Garcia, Jordy Lakiere and Andrew Lounds bring the scenes to life.  The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter as well as the vintage photographs enhanced my reading experience to the next level. I can imagine Dragonfly as a summer blockbuster at my local theater in the not too distant future.

 

Copyright © 2014 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: Muzzled by Eileen Brady

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Muzzled (A Kate Turner D.V.M. Mystery) Product Details

Eileen Brady

Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN-9781464201844

219 pages Genre: Mystery

 Eileen Brady’s first novel is the pick of the litter when it comes to new cozies out for the summer. Muzzled has a fast moving plot with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.

Dr. Kate Turner, Oak Falls Veterinary Hospital’s newest employee has her hands full. She knew filling in for old Doc Anderson while he took a cruise around the world included making house calls.  However, finding dead bodies while working at his small, upstate New York clinic was never part of the deal.

During a routine house call checking on champion Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Kate walks into the bloody scene of their owner’s deaths. This is much more than she bargained for. The deaths are quickly deemed a murder/suicide, but she has her doubts and sets out to prove to the authorities they were mistaken. She was right, but unfortunately, this puts her on top of their list of suspects. Especially after another person is shot and the weapon is found in Kate’s possession.

The list of suspects and motives grows, drudging up secrets kept for years by the residents of Oak Falls. Meanwhile, Kate goes about her daily routine of the busy veterinary practice.  Will she end up being the next victim, as she gets closer to discovering the secret that will reveal the killer?

As if she did not have enough going on, unwanted men intrude to complicate Kate’s solitary life. They include her ratty ex that shows up causing problems, a cat loving scary biker dude and a hunky Italian who is engaged to someone else. Could one of them end up being her love interest? I cannot wait to read more about them in the Brady’s next book.

Brady layered eccentric characters and pets throughout her novel. Kate can interact with this crazy crew of human and furry friends and foes as stand-alone elements or within ongoing spots of humor and interest in future books of this series. One of my personal favorites is Little Man. He is a well-dressed Chihuahua, for whom owner Daphne (appropriately Daffy for short) sews “his and her matching” outfits.

Muzzled is a 2013 Discover Mystery Award Winner. Once you read it, you’ll discover why. It is a doggone good mystery!

Copyright © 2014 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: Death Spiral by Janie Chodosh

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Death SpiralDeath Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery

Janie Chodosh

Poisoned Pencil (An imprint of Poisoned Pen Press)

ISBN-9781929345007

301 pages Genre: YA Mystery

 Faith Flores on the surface is an angry, angst filled high school student. In reality, she is so much more. She recently moved in with her aunt after her mother’s apparent drug over dose death. For the first time in her life she lives in a home without roaches or drug paraphernalia, has good food instead of junk purchased from street vendors and a chance for a stable life with her aunt. How could this bright young woman possibly not see the opportunities now available to her?

Everyone knows her mother was a heroin addict. Faith would bet her life that her mother was clean at the time of her death. She was in an experimental program that was helping her kick the habit. Why did the police find drugs at their apartment after her death? Faith is convinced it had something to do with the program her mom was on and is determined to prove that she did not die of a drug overdose, but from something gone terribly wrong with the treatments they were giving her.

She grudgingly goes to school, even though she is bright and extraordinarily gifted in science, but has trouble focusing because she cannot help going over the events of her mother’s death. She makes a few unlikely friends. Anj , a very together girl that seems to do everything right. Her clothes, makeup, studies all scream college bound preppie, but she has taken a reluctant Faith under her wing.  Then there is the new boy, Jesse. Under the grunge exterior is a smart, quick-witted doctor’s son who is predestined to follow his father’s footsteps.

Unexpected Faith gets a call from, Melinda, one of her mom’s junkie friends who is in the same experimental program that her mom was in. When Melinda turns up dead, Faith will risk her own life to expose the clinic’s responsibility in the two deaths. Afraid for the safety of her aunt and her two newfound friends, she pushes them away from her as she descends deeper into the illegal activities and the cover-up that she is discovering with her research. People involved with the clinic are turning up dead and Faith might be next.

Death Spiral is Janie Chodosh’s first novel and the first in her Faith Flores Science Mystery Series. Not only does this book appeal to the YA crowd, but adults will also enjoy the underlying tension as Faith tries to adjust to her new life without the mother she truly loved and how close she spirals away from all of the good aspects of her life forsaking them to go up against something much bigger than she imagined.

This wonderfully written, fast paced mystery does not shove boring facts at the reader, but mixes them masterfully in. Chodosh takes on the genetics of addiction much like her characters would, it is obvious she has done her homework . Her author notes state she has …”strived to be scientifically accurate” as well as lists the things that are fiction. I love that she does that because readers are often left wondering which part, if any, is accurate. She also suggests learning more by visiting the Genetic Science Learning Center and their website.

Faith could have easily been a character that the readers do not like. That is far from true. Her rough edges are merely there to keep herself and others from getting hurt. She is smart, tenacious and loyal. She will stand up well in the next books in Chodosh’s series.

Copyright © 2014 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: Poisoned Ground by Sandra Parshall

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Poisoned Ground

A Rachel Goddard Mystery

Sandra Parshall

Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN-9781464202261287

288 pages

Genre: Mystery

Poisoned Ground starts with a bang. Literally. Veterinarian Rachel Goddard arrives at one of her closest friend’s home for a routine call to find her with a shotgun in her hand. Robert McClure, president of the local bank is standing stock still on the business end of that gun.

While Rachel tries to defuse the situation, twin shots ring out from a neighboring farm. An elderly husband and wife are found dead. It cannot be murder/suicide, but who would murder this kind couple? Apparently, more people than you would think for more reasons than you would associate with a small town.

To begin with, there is a big land deal in the works for Mason County, Virginia. A developer wants to buy up all of the prime land, paying much more than the residents would ever hope to see in a lifetime. Half of them are ready and willing to sign on the dotted line. But the other half have dug in their heels, willing to protect the family farms with their dying breaths.  And they might have to.

When Rachel’s husband Tom, the newly elected sheriff, begins investigating the murders, everyone believes it is because of the land deals. Digging deeper, he finds illegal marijuana being grown and distributed, old love affairs and even cold case murders muddying up his findings.  Neighbors are pitted against neighbor in this once peaceful town. Protests lead to arrests and lifelong friendships are tested.

At first glance, this is a comfortable cozy mystery.  While it has some of the elements, Rachel gets involved with the murders deeper than she should; it has many more plot lines that add depth and layers. When Tom digs into the past of some of the residents, the sub-plot adds a richness that most cozies do not have.

I really enjoyed reading this as a standalone book having never read any of Parshall’s previous novels. There were twists and turns that kept me guessing until the last  few pages . As an avid reader of mysteries; it is often evident to me who the killer is within the first half of the book. Not this one! There were so many subtle suspects I kept getting it wrong (much to my delight) until almost the end of the book.

This is the sixth in Parshall’s  Rachel Goddard Mystery Series.  I haven’t read her other works, but didn’t feel gaps in the story or characters. Enjoying Poisoned Ground as much as I did, I will seek out her previous novels. As bonus to anyone that collects autographed books – personally, I love them and am very excited when I get one to add to my collection – you can to go her website http://sandraparshall.com/ where you can purchase signed copies or signed bookplates. Summer is coming; you may want to order several.

 

Copyright © 2014 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: Fade to Black by Jeffrey Wilson

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Fade to Black

Fade To Black

Jeffrey Wilson

Published by Journalstone Publishing

ISBN-978-1-936564-85-9

254 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Fade To Black pulls the reader into a life and death gun battle between six Marines that were separated from their platoon and an unknown number of insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq on the first page. Bullets fly and men die. One of the sniper’s bullets finds Sargent Casey Stillman, critically wounding him as he tries to save his fellow Marines.

He fades from consciousness only to wake up screaming. He isn’t dying in the hot, sandy street, but falling out of the bed he is sleeping in with his wife, Pam. The sounds, smells and horror of Fallujah slowly fade as he realizes he is home with his wife and his baby daughter is sleeping down the hall. He is not a Marine Sargent; he is a high school science teacher, Jack.

Jack’s horrible nightmare is so real he cannot stop thinking about it. His life feels somehow off kilter, familiar things seem foreign to him as he tries to make it through his workday.

His nightmares increase and Jack begins to think he is crazy. He seeks help from his family doctor, who sends him to a therapist. Pam stands by him, surprisingly calm during his struggle to grasp reality. Things get worse. He starts seeing the Marines killed in his dreams when he is awake. He knows facts about the men who died in Fallujah as if he really was their Sargent. How could he be Casey Stillman, when he was never in the military? Is he Casey or is he Jack?

Jeffrey Wilson’s third novel is a nail-biting, heart-stopping, gripping story told with such detail the reader is grabbed by emotion from the first page to the last. This book appeals to many different tastes on numerous levels. It is a war story – but not typical. It is a story about the love a man has for his wife and daughter – but not a love story. It is a mystery – just who is the main character? Is it Jack or is it Casey?

Wilson served in Iraq as a Marine combat surgeon. He brings the realities and horrors of war to the pages of his book with sounds, smells and images. Layered with emotions Fade To Black is an amazing, sometimes uncomfortable ride, but one you won’t want to put down until the last page is read.

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.

World Book Night U.S. 2013

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wbnamericaTomorrow is World Book Night U.S. 2013. If you’ve never heard about World Book Night U.S. please go to their website and check them out. http://www.us.worldbooknight.org/

Last year I was a book giver, and it was an awesome experience. I gave out copies of My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult at the Heartland Blood Bank in Aurora while giving blood. It was so much fun to see how surprised people were when I handed them a book.

I am honored this year to be a giver again, this year the book I am giving will be Look Again by Lisa Scottolini.  Look Again_World Book Night

Thanks to everyone involved with this wonderfully fun event.

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