Forever Past by Marty Ambrose


Forever Past by Marty Ambrose
Publisher: Severn House
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Claire Clairmont’s perilous quest to learn the fate of her daughter with Lord Byron enters its final stages in this last in a captivating historical trilogy based on the ‘summer of 1816’ Byron/Shelley group.

Italy, 1873. Claire Clairmont, one of the last surviving members of the Byron/Shelley circle, is determined to uncover the true fate of Allegra, her daughter conceived with Lord Byron. But her quest so far has been fraught with danger, and Claire knows she has enemies who will stop at nothing to keep past secrets hidden.

When she learns of a stunning revelation involving the abbess and Allegra, Claire returns to the convent of Bagnacavallo with her close companions to confront the abbess, and soon finds herself grappling with a series of chilling and threatening events.

As Claire finally closes in on the truth, could someone in her closest circle be plotting against her? And can she survive long enough to get the answers she craves for?

I have not found such an easy reading historical fiction book that is a mystery in quite some time. There is a little bit of everything here. This story contains mystery, danger, even a hint at romance. This is basically classified as historical fiction because Lord Byron, the poet, and Mary Shelley, from the Frankenstein novel, are a part of the story line.

Clair, a character in the story, has been present in the previous series. She is searching for her daughter with all hopes that she is still alive. Their journey, she and her companions, is fraught with danger. Claire begins to wonder just who she can trust.

As you can see, there is a lot more to this book than one might think of in an historical mystery. All of it is very readable and enjoyable. Forever Past is Book 3 in a series titled “A Lord Byron Mystery”. I enjoyed the book a lot, and I think it could be read as a stand-alone. It might have been nice to have known a little more about Claire and the previous threads of the story. However, I think the reason for this is because Marty Ambrose has made the story so interesting that you want more, not because you need more background to enjoy the story.

A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker


A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker
Publisher: Knopf Books
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

From the best-selling author of Longbourn, a remarkable imagining of Samuel Beckett’s wartime experiences. In 1939 Paris, the ground rumbles with the footfall of Nazi soldiers marching along the Champs-Élysées, and a young, unknown writer, recently arrived from Ireland to make his mark, smokes one last cigarette with his lover before the city they know is torn apart. Soon he will put them both in mortal danger by joining the Resistance.

Through the years that follow, we are witness to the workings of a uniquely brilliant mind struggling to create a language to express a shattered world. A story of survival and determination, of spies and artists, passion and danger, A Country Road, A Tree is a portrait of the extremes of human experience alchemized into one man’s timeless art.

Was this book rather academic? I have waffled back and forth about that question. It has been a topic of discussion many times. In my opinion, there are two ways to read this book. One is as merely a story, which is what I did. It is an interesting tale of a writer and his girlfriend leading a somewhat Bohemian lifestyle in Europe. Its setting in the European countries during the tough war years of WW2 describes the hardships many of the people in those countries lived with.

However, being the curious person that I am, seeing James Joyce as a character in the book made me do a little research. During that research, I found that this is really not just historical fiction as it is classified, but rather a sort of fictional biographical picture of Samuel Beckett’s life and his time in France during the occupation. This somehow made me feel differently about the book. Was I supposed to just enjoy it as a story or was I supposed to learn more about Beckett? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

It may be that my previous ramblings are what made this book read somewhat slow at the beginning for me. It sped up and flowed quite smoothly as I continued to read. In fact, it became that story I was talking about in the first paragraph. A well-written story of a young man with writer’s block and a young girl wanting very much to help him, both living with a couple trying to make it through the occupation. Jo Baker seems to be an author who is able to write so that the frightening times, the hunger, and the cold and uncertainty, are vividly felt.

Jo Baker has other publications, one has more than 3000 reviews on Amazon. I think everything she has written is worth checking out.

Wolf Point by Ian K. Smith


Wolf Point by Ian K. Smith
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

A Cadillac, a pistol, and a corpse make for another morning in Chicago. The body belongs to Walter Griffin, a prominent Black Chicagoan insider hailing from the city’s West Side. He ascended to the upper echelons of the mayor’s office only to meet his end in a watery grave at Wolf Point. Forensics finds his prints on the gun; it’s ruled a suicide.

But grizzled private investigator Ashe Cayne knows better.

Griffin’s children plead with a reluctant Ashe to hunt their father’s killer. They know their dad wouldn’t have taken his own life without a goodbye. And Ashe knows this town’s dark secrets often mean murder is not too far away.

Ashe decides to take on the case and navigate a city rotting with corruption, racial tensions, and sketchy backroom deals. On the bleak streets of Chicago, it’s every man for himself—and that makes everyone a suspect.

A great suspense read with a great main character. If you like well-crafted Private Investigator characters, Ashe Cayne is it. He’s practical and tough and he does what he has to in order to get things done.

I loved this Chicago setting and if you have ever been there, you would really love some of the description. The plot swirls around a city known for its beauty and for its corruption.

There are quite a few characters in this story, but I didn’t have any trouble keeping them straight. I think it’s because this is an author that is extremely detail oriented. Describing his characters or better said, painting a picture of them, makes them clearly identifiable while reading. After all, this author is a doctor who has written a wildly popular two book series and also one who has some diet books that have great reviews. From one type of detail to another. Seems he is as good at describing food detail as he is creating a great character in a suspenseful thriller. I sure hope Ashe Cayne shows up in a third book.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer


Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Publisher: Mariner Books
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 3 stars
Review by Snowdrop

With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man—also named Jonathan Safran Foer—sets out to find the woman who might or might not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis.

Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war, an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

As their adventure unfolds, Jonathan imagines the history of his grandfather’s village, conjuring a magical fable of startling symmetries that unite generations across time. As his search moves back in time, the fantastical history moves forward, until reality collides with fiction in a heart-stopping scene of extraordinary power.

This is a book about a young boy who finds an old, yellowed photo and is determined to find a lady in it who possibly saved his grandfather. It’s a look back upon a time of war and of the Nazis obliterating everything. It leads to many old memories, good, funny, and sad.

Everything is Illuminated has won many awards. It’s praised by the NY Times, Library Journal, the Washington Post, and many more. The author, Jonathan Safran Foer, was only 21 when he wrote it. In that view, it is amazing that such a work was written and published. It was even made into a movie. I found it difficult to read. Not because of its vulgarisms although there are many, but more so due to the broken English spoken by their translator who travels with them to the place where his grandfather lived. There are times it is hard to read because of the Holocaust and the treatment of the Jews, but that is not badly written, only hard to read because of the subject.

The author named the main character after himself. It caused me to wonder if the story was in its own way autobiographical as well as fictitious? There are some very poignant moments in Jonathan Safran’s journey. I wonder if the author has experienced the same feelings, the same sadness? It may be why although somewhat difficult to read, there can be no question the book is well-written. There are moments that come together and make you feel ashamed that you did not have to share the horror the Jews did during the war. Moments so well-written that you feel that you understand and yet know that you can never understand what the Jewish people experienced.

Is this a book you should read? I think it’s an experience many would gain from. It might be a story you shouldn’t pass by.

Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald


Vesper Flights by Helen MacDonald
Publisher: Grove Press
Genre: Inspirational, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Animals don’t exist in order to teach us things, but that is what they have always done, and most of what they teach us is what we think we know about ourselves.

In Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald brings together a collection of her best loved essays, along with new pieces on topics ranging from nostalgia for a vanishing countryside to the tribulations of farming ostriches to her own private vespers while trying to fall asleep.

Meditating on notions of captivity and freedom, immigration and flight, Helen invites us into her most intimate experiences: observing the massive migration of songbirds from the top of the Empire State Building, watching tens of thousands of cranes in Hungary, seeking the last golden orioles in Suffolk’s poplar forests. She writes with heart-tugging clarity about wild boar, swifts, mushroom hunting, migraines, the strangeness of birds’ nests, and the unexpected guidance and comfort we find when watching wildlife.

By one of this century’s most important and insightful nature writers, Vesper Flights is a captivating and foundational book about observation, fascination, time, memory, love and loss and how we make sense of the world around us.

This is a book of essays. People have a tendency to think it is about falcons because MacDonald is a falconer and also has written previous books about hawks and falcons. These essays are more than an observance of nature. They are also a description of one’s walk of life. Not all of the settings are out on the edge of a cliff. Some are experiences in our humdrum days of life, and some are very ethereal.

Vesper Flights did have trouble holding my attention but in looking back, I think this is a book one has to read at the right time. Sometimes essays can seem disjunct to me, like short stories in a sense. But I don’t think this book is meant to be looked upon as I did. It’s spiritual, it’s relaxing, and it’s calm. I am a very black and white thinker, so I don’t often look for meaning or inspiration as MacDonald does. I was brought up as a sort of “buck up” person, and this is not that kind of book. It’s a soul-searching, beautifully written book of essays about nature and about life.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publisher: Spiegel and Grau
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Snowdrop

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a widely published author and this book, Between the World and Me, is the first of his works I have read. One of those we are all familiar with that he wrote is the Black Panther series of Marvel comics. Between the World and Me is a letter to his son. A letter to try and prepare him for the world he will grow up in.

This book is well-written, almost poetic at times. It also has an angry tone or at least it did to me. I would never pretend I could understand the trials and tribulations that a Black man in our country has had to live through, still must endure. Some of this is powerful and hurtful. It was difficult for me to admit I live in a society that could be guilty of such things.

On the other hand, I’m a solutions person, a problem solver. While I know we can’t make racism disappear overnight, I guess I was hoping the letter would be a document of Coates instructing his son about how he had the opportunity to change things. This is not that. It does not have an uplifting tone. It is the story of a Black man and what he had to live through. While it might not have been what I was expecting or even what I wanted to hear, I know it was a valuable read.

Kingston and the Echoes of Magic by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi


Kingston and the Echoes of Magic by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

In this duology’s finale, Kingston travels back in time and uses his growing magic to save the world.

Kingston might have saved Echo City but the victory is bittersweet without his pops by his side. The holidays are approaching and if Kingston could have one wish, it would be to have his father, who is trapped in the Realm, come home. But as new problems arise and blackouts blanket the city, Kingston begins to have a persistent feeling of déjà vu, as if he’s lived this same day before—and he has. Echo City living up to its name, is caught in a repeating time loop.

Maestro, his father’s old rival, has found a way to overwrite reality with an alternate timeline where he rules over all. It will be up to Kingston, Too Tall, and V to find a way to enter the Realm and travel back through time to stop him. But with a magic he still barely understands, Kingston will needs his friends’ smarts and their collective courage to figure out the mystery and find Maestro before Brooklyn as they know it is erased for good.

Kingston and the Echoes of Magic is Book 2 or a sequel to the first book, Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found. It’s as fast-paced and as easy a read as the first book. It might be a little quirkier, but I mean that in a good way. Kingston, his cousin V, and their friend Too Tall are stuck in a world that goes round and round. A sort of time warp that repeats the same day. Sometimes it’s good to know what will happen tomorrow and sometimes not. None of that will help Kingston find his pops.

There is plenty of magic or fantasy here and once again a cast of characters that most any young person can identify with. Winston and his pals are left with puzzle after puzzle to solve. It makes this book enjoyable to read but keeps the reader on his or her toes. There’s lots of fun here too. I enjoyed the plucky dialog and the interaction between the characters. I read Book 1 earlier. While either book can stand alone, I’m glad I read them in order. I think it gave me a better chance to know the characters and to understand the pace and flow of the story.

This was a good read. I was disappointed when it was over and wish there was a 3rd book on the way.

Striking Range by Margaret Mizushima


Striking Range by Margaret Mizushima
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

A deadly secret is buried in the Colorado high country–and murder is only the beginning in the seventh gripping installment of Margaret Mizushima’s Timber Creek K-9 mysteries.

He was suspect number one–the man who tried to kill Deputy Mattie Cobb and may have killed her father thirty years earlier. But when Mattie and cold case detective Jim Hauck reach the Colorado state prison where they will finally get to interview him, he’s found dead in his cell. There’s only one clue: a map leading to Timber Creek and rugged Redstone Ridge.

Though she usually works with veterinarian Cole Walker, Mattie’s K-9 partner Robo has just sired a litter of pups, who require special, time-consuming care at Cole’s clinic. Left to explore the map’s clue without him, Mattie and Robo journey into the burned forest surrounding Redstone Ridge. But before they can finish their search they’re called to help investigate the death of a young woman found in a campground filled with elk hunters. Identification of the deceased points to her having recently given birth, but the infant is nowhere to be found.

As a deadly storm descends upon the mountains, covering everything with a layer of ice and snow, Mattie and her team search for the missing newborn. The storm batters the area, taking its toll on the team and forcing the sheriff to call in reinforcements. When new evidence surfaces, they decide that finding the woman’s killer will lead them to her baby, making them even more desperate to solve the case.

Then Cole goes missing, stranded alone in the high country with a person that Mattie now suspects is the mastermind behind several murders, including her father’s. She and Robo take to the trail to find Cole–but the killer has a cold-blooded plan that threatens them all.

There hasn’t been a Timber Creek book I haven’t liked. I haven’t read every one of the series, which is my loss, but when you put a good female cop and a K-9 together I’m already picking it up as fast as I can. There is always a good story line to add to these neat characters. This time Deputy Mattie Cobb thinks she may have found the man who tried to kill her and who possibly killed her father. While hoping to speak with him, she gets a call that a young mother has been killed and her child is missing. Mattie and her K-9, Robo, are called in to help.

As you can see, there are a certain number of layers to this story. While I have read other books that made this confusing, the author seems to weave all of this into an intricate and enjoyable story. I can’t help but love Robo and the relationship between him and Mattie. I can’t help but be glad about the relationship between Mattie and veterinarian Cole Walker. It isn’t just layers of crime and plotting that Margaret Mizushima weaves together. By adding these relationships, it makes this series even more of an ongoing story. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is the interaction with Robo, or the budding relations with Cole Walker, it all gives the story a depth that keeps me turning the pages.

Striking Range is Book 7 of a series titled A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery. You don’t need me to tell you what a great book this was. The number of reviews on each book in this series will convince you. Wow.

Honour’s Rest by Judith Crow


Honour’s Rest by Judith Crow
Publisher: Crowvus Choughs, Stempster House
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult (13 – 18 y.o.)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

“So, it’s – what – like magic?”

No, according to Pen’s uncle, the Rite is not magic at all. But, if it’s not magic, then how could Pen push the school bully into a pond while he was really studying alone in the library?
When Pen’s family realise he has the Rite, he is sent to live with his Uncle Napier, who can help him control his ability.

But Napier has other duties. He is the Rendelf, in charge of the Rite in the UK, and he has gathered many enemies over the years…
…enemies who would be delighted to use Pen against him.

What fun to read the kind of book you just don’t want to end. This is a story of a boy born with abilities he doesn’t even realize he has. A boy who has an uncle that can help him tame and hone his skills. There are many stories with this theme. I am saying “theme” not plot. This one has its own unique plot, and it is as magical as can be. This is also a book that has wonderful names and words. A boy named Pendragon (Pen, for short) living with a family called the “Shipperbottoms”. I could see the author has a sense of humor as well.

Judith Crow has created a story of what I call real characters. The kind of characters I could see in my mind. The kind of characters I cared about. It’s as if I was watching a stage play. The kind I hope will be in a long series.

This is easy and quick to read and a real attention grabber. I think all young adults and tweens would enjoy this story. I barely put it down myself. Honour’s Rest is Book 1 of a series titled “The Rite Way”. I hope Judith Crow is working on Book 2.

The House on Crow Mountain by Rebecca Lee Smith


The House on Crow Mountain by Rebecca Lee Smith
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

When her aunt suffers a stroke, New York portrait artist Emory Austen returns home to the North Carolina mountains to mend fences and deal with the guilt over her husband’s senseless death. But that won’t be as easy as she hoped.

Someone in the quirky little town doesn’t like Emory. Is it the sexy architect who needs the Austen land to redeem himself? The untrustworthy matriarch? The grudge-bearing local bad boy? Or the teenage bombshell who has raised snooping to an art form? Even the local evangelist has something to hide. Who wrote the cryptic note warning her to “Give it back or you’ll be dead? And what is ‘it’? As the clues pile up and secrets are exposed, Emory must discover what her family has that someone would kill for.

Such an enjoyable book. The kind you can’t put down. The kind that is so good you’re mad when it’s time to do any chore whatsoever. This wasn’t your everyday romantic suspense. It was full of suspense and yet only hinted at romance. My favorite kind of romance story. It also wasn’t the “trick the little old auntie out of her property” book. There were many pieces to the story, and this is what kept me glued to the pages.

This is an author who can make her characters real. I could picture everyone. A sweet helpful old woman in a nursing home, a bratty eighteen-year-old female, another totally grown up but still very bratty female, a widow, and of course a handsome man. A handsome man who seems good and trustworthy, yet a great deal of people in town hate fiercely. There were many other characters that added to this story and yet there was never a moment I had to turn back a page or two to see just exactly who someone was.

There is so much going on in this book. So many underlying subplots. But just like the author’s characters, the subplots seem to add to the story rather than confuse it. It is difficult to write a plot so intricate and yet keep it as clear as this story is.

I intend to see what else Rebecca Lee Smith has written, but I also hope she is currently writing more good stories like this one.