‘Captains and the Kings’ by Taylor Caldwell

katk-tcSTORY: Joseph Francis Xavier Armagh is twelve years old when he gets his first glimpse of the promised land of America through a dirty porthole in steerage on an Irish immigrant ship. His long voyage, dogged by tragedy, ends not in the great city of New York but in the bigoted, small town of Winfield, Pennsylvania, where his younger brother, Sean, and his infant sister, Regina, are sent to an orphanage. Joseph toils at whatever work will pay a living wage and plans for the day he can take his siblings away from St. Agnes’s Orphanage and make a home for them all.

Joseph’s journey will catapult him to the highest echelons of power and grant him entry into the most elite political circles. Even as misfortune continues to follow the Armagh family like an ancient curse, Joseph takes his revenge against the uncaring world that once took everything from him. He orchestrates his eldest son Rory’s political ascent from the offspring of an Irish immigrant to US senator. And Joseph will settle for nothing less than the pinnacle of glory: seeing his boy crowned the first Catholic president of the United States.

Spanning seventy years, Captains and the Kings, which was adapted into an eight-part television miniseries, is Taylor Caldwell’s masterpiece about nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America, and the grit, ambition, fortitude, and sheer hubris it takes for an immigrant to survive and thrive in a dynamic new land.

REVIEW: Believe it or not, I read this book twice. The first time I read it was in the late seventies and now. The reason for me reading it the first time was because I watched and loved the mini series of this novel.

You know how they say “the book is better than the movie”? Well, not in this case. After I read the novel the first time, after I saw the series, I felt that the characters were much better flashed out in the series than in the book.

I’m afraid my observations stayed the same. If you really want to find out more of what this story is all about, get the mini series.

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘The Sound of Thunder’ by Taylor Caldwell

tsot-tcSTORY: The son of a socialist German shopkeeper, Edward Enger has one dream: to turn his father’s modest delicatessen into an empire. With an astute head for business and talent for making money, he achieves success beyond his wildest imagination. Yet something is keeping him from enjoying his extraordinary good fortune.

Fourteen-year-old Edward believed he would love ten-year-old Margaret Proster all the days of his life . . . until she moved away. Now, she has returned and is planning to marry another man, someone very close to Edward. His need to succeed at all costs drives him to take on this latest challenge, along with more mortgages, more debt, and speculative investments on Manhattan’s burgeoning Wall Street. A man does not become powerful without making enemies, and as his family life begins to unravel, a day of reckoning is nearing. Soon Edward will have to confront a painful event from his boyhood—a secret buried deep inside that he has never told another living soul.

A man in the right place at the right time, Edward’s meteoric ascent coincides with the rise of America’s middle class as the nation transforms from an agricultural and industrial force to a financial world leader. But his success comes at a great cost in this towering novel of love and sacrifice by one of our most gifted storytellers.

REVIEW: Let me start by saying that I’m not afraid to tackle “thick” tomes (I am a Diana Gabaldone fan, so I’m familiar with books that run over a thousand pages), but this novel that ran just a bit over five hundred pages, would have been so much better if it ran a bit over three hundred pages. There was so much of the story that was just “filling” that I had no other choice but to “skim” through those pages.

The bones and the structure of the story wasn’t bad, but I think the pacing made the story less interesting and appeared to drag at times.

As for the characters, they were all interesting and some were just a bit too over the top, but they kept my interest but by the end, the story wrapped too quickly and left me frustrated.

For me, this read was just okay.

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘Unpunished’ by Lisa Black

u-lbSTORY: Maggie Gardiner, a forensic expert who studies the dead, and Jack Renner, a homicide cop who stalks the living, form an uneasy partnership to solve a series of murders.

It begins with the kind of bizarre death that makes headlines–literally. A copy editor at the Cleveland Herald is found hanging above the grinding wheels of the newspaper assembly line, a wide strap wrapped around his throat. Forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner has her suspicions about this apparent suicide inside the tsunami of tensions that is the news industry today–and when the evidence suggests murder, Maggie has no choice but to place her trust in the one person she doesn’t trust at all . . .

Jack Renner is a killer with a conscience, a vigilante with his own code of honor. In the past, Jack has used his skills and connections as a homicide detective to take the law into his own hands, all in the name of justice. He has only one problem: Maggie knows his secret. She insists he enforce the law, not subvert it. But when more newspaper employees are slain, Jack may be the only person who can help Maggie unmask the killer– even if Jack is still checking names off his own private murder list.

REVIEW: I’ve decided to broaden my horizons and read a book that had no dukes and duchesses, so I grabbed this thriller. I figured if I love thriller and mystery in movies, I may as well find out if the same applies to the written word.

This is the second book in the Gardiner and Renner series (let me note that I haven’t read the first one) and the main characters are Maggie and Renner, she a forensics expert, he a homicide detective. Both are searching for a killer, so the plot wasn’t bad. What I had trouble with is the two leads. I was hoping for some sparks, and couldn’t find any.

In the end I have to say the book was good, but I just wished it concentrated more on character development, rather than the plot and unlimited data of  the newspaper industry.

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘The Dressmaker’s Dowry’ by Meredith Jaeger

tdd-mjSTORY: An exquisite ring, passed down through generations, connects two women who learn that love is a choice, and forgiveness is the key to freedom…

San Francisco: 1876

Immigrant dressmakers Hannelore Schaeffer and Margaret O’Brien struggle to provide food for their siblings, while mending delicate clothing for the city’s most affluent ladies. When wealthy Lucas Havensworth enters the shop, Hanna’s future is altered forever. With Margaret’s encouragement and the power of a borrowed green dress, Hanna dares to see herself as worthy of him. Then Margaret disappears, and Hanna turns to Lucas. Braving the gritty streets of the Barbary Coast and daring to enter the mansions of Nob Hill, Hanna stumbles upon Margaret’s fate, forcing her to make a devastating decision…one that will echo through the generations.

San Francisco: Present Day

In her elegant Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Sarah Havensworth struggles to complete the novel she quit her job for. Afraid to tell her husband of her writer’s block, Sarah is also hiding a darker secret—one that has haunted her for 14 years. Then a news headline from 1876 sparks inspiration: Missing Dressmakers Believed to be Murdered. Compelled to discover what happened to Hannelore and Margaret, Sarah returns to her roots as a journalist. Will her beautiful heirloom engagement ring uncover a connection to Hanna Schaeffer?

REVIEW: Sarah Havensworth, age 30, and her husband, Hunter, are at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco attending a fancy charity event hosted by Sarah’s mother-in-law, Gwyneth. Sarah does not care for mingling with large crowds of people but when Gwyneth asks for her help with these charity events, she knows she cannot refuse.

Sarah’s master’s thesis is due soon. It consists of a novel she hasn’t finished writing due to writer’s block. She is more interested in the history of San Francisco and has written many well-received articles along that line. When she searches for stories of old San Francisco, she discovers one about two missing dressmakers in the late 19th century. The girls were thought to have been murdered. Thus begins Sarah’s story.

Hannalore Schaffer – San Francisco – 1876

Hanna and her siblings are at the mercy of their drunken father. He takes what little money they earn and then beats them. Often, Hanna will go hungry so her siblings can eat. Hanna works as a seamstress at a tailor’s shop and hides some of the money she makes under a floorboard at home. She hopes to save enough to run away with her siblings.

Margaret O’Brien works with Hanna and is in a similar situation having the responsibility for the care of her many siblings.

One day, two gentlemen come into the shop for repairs to some clothes. Their names are Lucas Havensworth and his cousin, Robert. Lucas is very kind to the girls but Robert is arrogant with them.

One Sunday afternoon, Margaret and Hanna meet to enjoy a few hours walking around San Francisco. There, they see Lucas and Robert who stop and talk to them. As the two men prepare to depart in a carriage, a drunk man accosts Hanna and Margaret, but Lucas intervenes and punches the man. The man becomes very angry and swears he will kill the girls one day.

The story switches back and forth from 1876 to present day San Francisco. We see the very desperate way many people in the city lived and how they struggled. We also see the enormous amount of drinking and opium places and the people addicted to them. As Sarah delves further into researching what happened to the girls, she finds she being threatened by someone who doesn’t want her to find out the truth. In addition, she is hiding something very awful from her own past.

For some reason, this book just didn’t grab me as being realistic. I’m not sure I can say that I would care to recommend the book. I believe this is the author’s first novel so I look forward to reading what she writes next as I think every author needs second chances.

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

Connie for b2b

‘Fatal’ by John Lescroart

f-jlSTORY: Kate loves her life. At forty-four, she’s happily married to her kind husband, Ron, blessed with two wonderful children, and has a beautiful home in San Francisco. Everything changes, however, when she and Ron attend a dinner party and meet another couple, Peter and Jill. Kate and Peter only exchange a few pleasant words but that night, in bed with her husband, Kate is suddenly overcome with a burning desire for Peter.

What begins as an innocent crush soon develops into a dangerous obsession and Kate’s fixation on Peter results in one intense, passionate encounter between the two. Confident that her life can now go back to normal, Kate never considers that Peter may not be so willing to move on.

Not long after their affair, a masked man barges into the café Kate is sitting in with her best friend, firing an assault weapon indiscriminately into the crowd. This tragedy is the first in a series of horrifying events that will show Kate just how grave the consequences of one mistake can be.

REVIEW: Kate and Ron Jameson have a happy marriage, two children, and live in San Francisco. When their friends invite them to have dinner with them and another couple, new to them, something about the guy, Peter Ash, sparks a passion in Kate and she wants to have sex with him. Knowing this is a crazy idea, she can’t seem to stop before herself actually bringing it to fruition. After an afternoon in a hotel room and agreeing that this is a one time thing, Kate seems to be able to put it behind her, but Peter realizes that if this ever got out, his wife would ruin him.

Kate’s good friend, Beth Tully, is a single mom with one daughter. Kate and Beth have been best friends since college. Beth spent years as a patrol cop and is now an inspector and is quite good at her job.

Kate and Beth have met up at a popular public place for coffee where Kate is about to confide in her about her affair with Peter. Just then, terrorists strike the area killing and injuring many people. Both Kate and Beth are injured.

Months later after lots of healing, Beth is just back at her job just as Peter Ash is murdered. As Beth and her co-worker, Ike, investigate his murder, many things open up and it appears the killer might be among Kate’s friends and family.

This is my first book by John Lescroart and now I realize why my husband is such a fan of his. This mystery is well-written with characters that seem so real, it’s like talking about your next-door neighbor. The book kept my interest all the way through making me wonder who the murderer was. I liked this book very much. My only skepticism is the “terrorist” attack centered on a small place in San Francisco. Had there been other attacks elsewhere, it may have seemed more feasible. But, that did not stop me from giving this book 5 stars.

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

Connie for b2b

‘The Marriage Lie’ by Kimberly Belle

tml-kbSTORY: Even the perfect marriage has its dark side… 

Iris and Will’s marriage is as close to perfect as it can be: a large house in a nice Atlanta neighborhood, rewarding careers and the excitement of trying for their first baby. But on the morning Will leaves for a business trip to Orlando, Iris’s happy world comes to an abrupt halt. Another plane headed for Seattle has crashed into a field, killing everyone on board, and according to the airline, Will was one of the passengers on this plane.

Grief-stricken and confused, Iris is convinced it all must be a huge misunderstanding. But as time passes and there is still no sign of Will, she reluctantly accepts that he is gone. Still, Iris needs answers. Why did Will lie about where he was going? What is in Seattle? And what else has he lied about? As Iris sets off on a desperate quest to find out what her husband was keeping from her, the answers she receives will shock her to her very core.

REVIEW: Will and Iris Griffith have been married for seven years and are very much in love. They have bought their dream home in Atlanta and are finally trying for a baby. Will is a computer scientist and Iris is a school counselor for a swanky private school.

Will has just left for a business trip to Florida when Iris learns that a plane taking off from the Atlanta Airport has crashed. Irish quickly checks and finds with great relief that it is not the plane Will is on. That is until she learns that his name is on the passenger list of the plane that crashed and was heading to Seattle.

Grief overwhelms her as she tries to sort through not only the loss of her husband but why was he on a different plane than he said he was going to be. Iris’s family comes to try and comfort her and help figure out why Will lied to Iris.

As her family helps her dig into Will’s past, more questions arise. Who is Will and what really happened to him? Soon, they discover that they might be exposing a bigger mystery that can mean certain danger.

This is a very moving story that exhibits the depth of grief and how it affects people. In addition, the plot the author has put together is quite good. This book kept my attention from the first to last page and I highly recommend it.

Connie for b2b

‘Crowned and Dangerous’ by Rhys Bowen

cad-rbSTORY: Nothing is simple when you’re thirty-fifth in line for the British crown, least of all marriage. But with love on their side, and plans to elope, Lady Georgiana Rannoch and her beau Darcy O’Mara hope to bypass a few royal rules…

With Darcy driving me out of London in a borrowed motor car, I soon discover that he isn’t planning to introduce me to the pleasures of sinning in secret—as I had hoped—but to make me his wife!

Of course, there are some quibbles to be dealt with, such as my needing special permission from the King to marry a Roman Catholic and the question of where we might live after the honeymoon. Though he will inherit a title, Darcy is as broke as I am. Even his family’s Irish castle has been sold to a rich American who now employs Darcy’s father as a hired hand.

Throwing these cares to the wind, nothing could deter us from our mission—except perhaps the news that my future father-in-law has just been arrested. It seems the rich American was murdered and Darcy’s father had more than enough motive to do the deed. With the elopement postponed, we head for Ireland where he insists he’s innocent, and it’s up to us to prove it—for better or worse.

REVIEW: November 1934

Lady Georgina (Georgie) Rannock and the Honorable Darcy O’Mara are in a motor car heading north from London having just attended the wedding of Princess Marina to the Duke of Kent. Now, Georgie and Darcy are headed to Gretna Green to be married.

When a snowstorm stops them followed by news that Darcy’s father has been charged with murder, once again Georgie and Darcy must go their separate ways.

Back in London, Georgie receives a phone call from Darcy who breaks off their engagement. As she is 35th in line to the British crown, Darcy does not want to risk her reputation by having her involved with him. Georgie refuses to accept this and travels to Darcy’s family home, Kilkenny Castle, in Ireland.

Darcy’s father had been overwhelmed with financial problems and agreed to sell the family Castle to a wealthy American while Mr. Darcy remained the head of the stables with an excellent line of horses. After the death of a horse from doping before a race, the American fired Mr. Darcy. Shortly after, the American was found clubbed to death and the club had Mr. Darcy’s fingerprints on it.

Now, it is up to Darcy, Georgie, other family members and friends to try and find the true killer. Thus, we begin yet another adventure in Ireland and the countryside.

I have followed this series for a long time and have read most of the author’s Royal Spyness Mystery series. These are great characters and the story is always a good mystery. I highly recommend the entire series.

Connie for b2b