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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Want to Successfully Publish? First, Are You a “Real” Writer?

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Kristen Lamb's Blog

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For many writers (me included), we don’t start off with the confidence to yell to the world, “I’m going to be a professional author!” Heck, I wrote a 178,000 word “novel” and still didn’t believe I was a writer. Later, I had over a year and a half of consistent blogging under my belt, multiple short stories, and newbie novels that had been at least good enough to win prestigious contests and yet….

I was not a “real writer.”

Schrödinger Writer? If you put a writer in an office at a keyboard, is the writer alive or dead (real or fake) until the book is published?

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We’ve Come a LONG Way, Baby

The literary landscape has shifted dramatically. More avenues of publishing have opened and become appealing, thus this silly question of, “Are we a real writer?” holds far less power. Believe it or not, when I began blogging, I dedicated…

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Book Review: Hell With The Lid Blown Off

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Hell With The Lid Blown Off Temp CoverHell With The Lid Blown Off

By Donis Casey

219 pages

Twisters pop up fast and furious in the flatlands of Oklahoma. In the summer of 1916, tornados weren’t the only thing tearing people apart and leaving a path of destruction in the wake.

Like any other town, Boyton had solid citizens, good for nothing citizens and secrets. The worst of the bunch was Jubal Beldon. He ran with a group of other troublemakers of whom he was the ringleader. He was mean and seemed to hold secrets of more than one of the townsfolk. When he ended up dead, it didn’t surprise many, but has the wrong person been blamed for his death?

Alafair Tucker was the polar opposite of Jubal. Mother of ten nearly grown children, she never hesitated when some child needed to come and live with her family for a while. She and her husband Shaw were good people that gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and turned the other cheek. Alafair also has a flair for solving mysteries, and she cannot stand to see someone wrongfully accused of murder even if they are confessing to the crime.

As the residents of Boyton pick up the pieces of their lives after the devastation of the twister, the search for the murderer and motive puts more strain on the overburdened town. Tensions rise as it appears that secrets may be revealed.

Hell With The Lid Blown Off starts a bit slow.  But like a twister, it gathers speed, snatching the reader up and swirling you right into the chaos. It is a different twist on a cozy mystery. Who could imagine a mother and grandmother in the early 1900s solving a mystery as handily as she bakes homemade biscuits or fries up some green tomatoes? Donis Casey keeps the reader’s interest while taking you on a journey back in time.

This is the seventh book in Casey’s Alafair Tucker series, but works well as a stand-alone read. I really enjoyed the voice of the characters. Having grandparents from the south, I can hear their voices in the dialog, it rings true to the era. An extra bonus were the recipes for some of the mouthwatering home cooked food at the end of the book. After the vivid descriptions, that make a reader hungry, you can make them to enjoy while reading one of the earlier books in the 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.

Find Your Wings like the Women in The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

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The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd

Penguin

369 pages

Genre: Southern Historical Fiction

http://suemonkkidd.com/

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is one of the best books, if not THE best book I have read this year. It is the story of Sarah Grimke, daughter of a Charleston judge in the early 1800s. Even as a young

It is also the story of Hetty Handful Grimke, the young slave girl that was given to the unwilling Sarah on her 11th birthday. The girls grow up at the same time and place, but they were forever separated by their positions in society. No matter how kind Sarah was in private to Hetty, she still slept on the floor, was punished by Sarah’s mother for infractions, and was not free.

Secretly, Sarah teaches her to read. Because it is against the law for slaves to read and write, it becomes a blessing and a curse to Hetty.

Sarah’s father is indulgent with his library and amused by her abolitionist views until they start disrupting his life. Seen as a young woman who does not know her place, the liberties formerly given to her are taken away. Her hopes of becoming a lawyer are dashed. Distraught, she rebels further, but to no avail.

Sarah and Hetty continue to chafe against the chains (both figuratively and literally) that society imposes upon them. When Sarah begins shaping her younger sister with her anti-slave views, her mother takes desperate measures to put a stop to any activity she deems unseemly for a young woman of her stature.

Sue Monk Kidd based this work of fiction on the lives of two very real sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke were abolitionists, writers and members of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States. The Grimke girls are fascinating, intelligent revolutionaries that continued working towards freeing slaves no matter what sacrifices they had to make to do it.

This book is painfully intense at times. The dialog and descriptions of the torture of slaves gave me chills as I read them. I cannot imagine the horror of having my child whipped for some minor infraction. This novel has many layers, some beautiful, some that will bring tears to the reader’s eyes, but all are necessary to tell us the whole story of Hetty and Sarah.

Be sure to read the author’s notes at the end of the book. She tells us which parts of the book were taken directly from Sarah’s writings and letters, which characters were based directly on real people and gives the reader more resources regarding the Grimke family. The Invention of Wings is an exquisite novel. Sue Monk Kidd combines the stories of Sarah, Hetty and Angelina as skillfully and beautifully as Hetty’s mama stitched her story quilts.

I am a huge fan of Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve read The Secret Life of Bees, The Mermaid Chair and Traveling with Pomegranates. Like The Invention of Wings, each of her novels pulled me in from the first page and didn’t let me go until the last. Her lastest is no exception.

Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

Book Review: Justice in June by Barbara Levenson: Fast Paced Mystery

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Justice In June

Barbara Levenson

301 pages

Justice In June is the second book in Barbara Levenson’s Mary Magruder Katz Mystery Series. The book opens with a dead informant and criminal defense attorney Mary Magruder Katz getting a call from Judge Elizabeth Maxwell asking for a meeting ASAP.

Judge Maxwell asks Mary to defend her in a hush/hush case that could ruin her career or possibly send her to jail. Added to the extra stress of possibly losing the case, Mary might have to depend on her ex to retrieve some information that could point her in the direction of the real criminal instead of the judge. Unfortunately, this information may cost Mary more than an uncomfortable liaison with the guy that dumped her.

While fretting over the fate of her case with the judge she has more issues. Her hot Cuban boyfriend, Carlos, asks Mary to see why they are holding a friend of his family, Luis Corona, after an altercation on an international flight. Thinking this is just a case of mistaken identity or some other reasonable explanation, she agrees. Within a few hours, she finds herself knee deep in a federal case. The feds are accusing Corona of terrorism and are preparing to move him without benefit of a lawyer or a hearing. Kate sees him for a brief time before the Secret Service arrives. When she leaves the jailhouse, she walks into a barrage of TV and newspaper reporters asking her why she is defending a terrorist.

Meantime, Carlos has a group of people suing him for not having the condos that his company is building completed on time. Additionally, someone just might be trying to hurt Mary. She does not know if it is from one of her current cases, one of her past cases or just some random acts of violence. She is exhausted and understandably so. Mary has more defendants than she has time for and more troubles then there are gators in the Everglades.

As you can imagine, this novel goes from zero to 60 as soon as you turn the first page. To say it is fast paced is an understatement. Levenson does not sacrifice great writing for speed, she keeps up no matter how fast the plot is moving and no matter how many twists and turns it takes.

Her characters are believable and easy to care about. I want Mary to come out the winner, and feel awful when she has so much on her plate she starts forgetting things like court dates. Who hasn’t had that kind of week? At least mine don’t include death threats and my mom not talking to me because she thinks I am defending a terrorist.

This is the second novel I have read by Barbara Levenson. I read her third Mary Magruder Katz novel, Outrageous October last year and loved it. I have not read the first in the series, Fatal February, but still plan to do so.  The fourth in the Mystery Series, Neurotic November will be available in September 2014. Each book of this series can easily be a stand-alone novel. As you have probably noticed, I read Levenson’s third, then second, then will probably read the fourth, then first book of this series. I don’t feel as though I’ve been confused or missed anything by not reading them in order. Let’s face it, who doesn’t enjoy eating dessert before dinner sometimes, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy dinner also because I ate in a different order.

In my review of Outrageous October, I urged mystery fans looking for a new series to try Ms. Levenson’s books, and still stand by that recommendation. Both of the books I have read in this series are well written, keep me guessing and have characters I care about. Mary, Carlos and Sam the dog can entertain mystery lovers for as many books as Levenson is willing to write for us.

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: Panthers Play for Keeps by Clea Simon

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Panthers Play for Keeps (A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir)Panthers Play for Keeps cover

By Clea Simon

Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN-978059588703

243 pages Genre: Cozy Mystery

 Dog walker Pru Marlowe is a modern day Doctor Dolittle. She not only knows what dogs, cats, ferrets and other assorted animals are thinking, she can communicate with them without speaking via her thoughts if necessary. That is, of course, if they allow her in. Unwilling animals can block communications if they chose to.

This peculiar talent comes in handy when she is out training Spot to be a service dog, who happens to lead her to a dead body in the woods. The woman appears to have been killed by a mountain lion, puma or some other large cat that curiously have not been in the area for years.

Pru’s cranky cat insists that a big cat killed the woman, but Spot says there is something more nefarious going on. She believes him, and when she finds out the victim is an employee of the man that Spot is going to be helping, she uses that connection to do some sleuthing of her own.

Jim Creighton, the detective on the case is Pru’s sometimes boyfriend. Their relationship has more challenges than most. Spot’s foster mom has amorous intentions toward Jim, and even worse, Jim doesn’t know about Pru’s “gift”. He suspects something odd is going on when she gets information that would seem impossible to know and will not reveal her sources. How could she tell the practical police detective that she gets inside info from people’s pets?

Unfortunately, for Pru, she is putting herself in danger by trying to find the killer on her own, pushing Jim further away as the killer closes in.

The plot was full of twists, turns and red herrings. This makes for a quick, interesting read. The unusual gift of Pru’s ability to get information to solve crimes as well as learning every day facts is interesting and different. For instance, she finds out the “real” names of the dogs she walks, not the silly names humans gave them.

This is the fourth book in Clea Simon’s Pru Marlowe series. It started off a bit confusing to me as I read it as a one-off mystery, it took me a chapter to realize the animals were talking to Pru. There is history between Pru and Jim as well as with a rich gentleman/gangster that weaves in and out of the story. While some books give too much back-story for those who have not read the previous books, I feel this one doesn’t quite give me enough.

In the end, I found the twist on pet mysteries intriguing, and just might go check out the first three books in the series to get the real scoop on Jim and Pru’s relationship. If you prefer (or equally love) felines, Simon also writes two different feline mystery series.

Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

picture from cleasimon dot com

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: Dying to Know by TJ O’Connor

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Dying to KnowDying to Know, a Gumshoe Ghost Mystery

TJ O’Connor

Published by Midnight Ink, Imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD

ISBN  978-0-7387-3950-2

368 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Genre: Mystery

We have all heard that “Dead men tell no tales” (author unknown) but in TJ O’Connor’s breakout novel Dying to Know a dead man does tell a tale. A very entertaining tale to be exact.

The novel starts out with the bang. That bang is the gun that kills Detective Oliver Tucker (known as Tuck) when he gets up during the night to investigate a noise he hears downstairs. When he wakes up to see his dead body and crying wife, he knows that life – now death – will never be the same. His faithful black Lab Hercule can see him and hear him, but is confused when Tuck cannot play ball or pet him.

Once he gets more accustom to his new state, he is determined to find his killer. However, he needs help from his partner, known as Bear, who is acting very suspicious. Bear is hiding evidence, meeting with unsavory characters and seems to be excessively close to Tuck’s wife, Angel.  On the road to finding his killer, will Tuck see, hear and find out things that he might not want to know about those that are closest to him?

Tuck’s problems are compounded when he is swept away to watch scenes that include murders and abductions. He is not sure if he is going back in time or watching an event that could be prevented. While he tries to figure out how to help, Doc, his spirit guide visits him, but doesn’t give him answers, only suggestions.

The quest to find his killer becomes part of a tangled plot that is ensnaring Angel and Bear.

He reaches out desperately to Angel. But at what cost? He may be putting this professor in more danger than she bargains for by asking her to be his investigator. Soon a retired mobster, hired killer and maybe one of Angel’s closest friends are all looking suspicious to Tuck. He is no longer just looking for his murderer; he is trying to protect those he loves from joining him in death.

Don’t let all of this murder and mayhem stop you from enjoying the humor and fun in this mystery. It is a fun, fast read. I like the short chapters that call for me to read “just one more” until I realize it is past midnight. O’Connor pays homage to one of my all-time favorite authors, Dame Agatha Christie but naming the delightful Lab Hercule and including an archaeological dig as part of the main storyline.

Kudos to O’Connor on his debut novel. I cannot wait to hear more tales from the dead man in this 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.

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