Book Review: The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

The Woman on the Orient Express IIThe Woman on the Orient Express

by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

Published September 20th 2016 by Lake Union Publishing

Hoping to make a clean break from a fractured marriage, Agatha Christie boards the Orient Express in disguise. But unlike her famous detective Hercule Poirot, she can’t neatly unravel the mysteries she encounters on this fateful journey.

Agatha isn’t the only passenger on board with secrets. Her cabinmate Katharine Keeling’s first marriage ended in tragedy, propelling her toward a second relationship mired in deceit. Nancy Nelson—newly married but carrying another man’s child—is desperate to conceal the pregnancy and teeters on the brink of utter despair. Each woman hides her past from the others, ferociously guarding her secrets. But as the train bound for the Middle East speeds down the track, the parallel courses of their lives shift to intersect—with lasting repercussions.

Filled with evocative imagery, suspense, and emotional complexity, The Woman on the Orient Express explores the bonds of sisterhood forged by shared pain and the power of secrets.

My thoughts:

Agatha Christie is an iconic author of writing mystery and her works still influence many writers and readers today. She is famous for her characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. The story she wrote that has left an impression on me is, Murder on the Orient Express. When I came across The Woman on the Orient Express, I was immediately intrigued and knew that I must read this story soon. Alas, the book has been sitting on my shelf for some time calling out my name in dire neglect!

Here is a book blurb of Murder on the Orient Express:

“The murderer is with us – on the train now…”

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

Isolated by the storm and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer amongst a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again…”

Lindsay Jayne Ashford story has Agatha Christie boarding the Orient Express making her way to the middle east. I had no idea that Christie in real life traveled to those places and that really captured my attention even more. I wanted to read what it was like before terrorism exploded in the middle east (Baghdad and Mesopotamia) and being seen through an Engish woman was a nice touch. Christie was an extraordinary woman to say the least and The Woman on the Orient Express shows this.

Her relationships with Katherine Keeling and Nancy Nelson was inspiring to read about. All three of them were unique woman who had secrets about their lives they were afraid to reveal. As they were brought together by the train, they found themselves needing each other more than they would have thought. Another aspect of the story that stuck out to me was the authors description of the middle east and the people that lives there.

This story was beautiful told and the pace of the story was perfect for the era the story takes place in. The author even weaves fiction with fact perfectly and her character development was strong.

I have rated this book four stars and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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Cover Crush: The Winter Loon by Lori Henriksen

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I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

The Winter LoonThe Winter Loon by Lori Henriksen

Published May 16th 2017 by Cougar Creek Books

Amazon Kindle Price $1.99

In the shadow of the Great Depression, long before historical changes leading toward LGBTQ advocacy and equality, unpretentious eighteen-year-old Ruth Thompson defies expectations to marry her sweetheart, Duke. Impulsively deciding to join a rodeo circuit with her cousin in order to earn money for college, Ruth comes of age in the rough and tumble male-dominated culture of rodeo competition.

Ruth returns home to Minnesota a prize-winning competitor and resumes her familiar relationship with Duke. Once at college she grows increasingly restless in her role as a sorority girl with Duke as her escort for all social occasions. Her safe existence is upended when she meets confident and free-spirited Gisela and then further unravels when the two women fall in love.

The lives of Gisela and Duke entwine over the years as Ruth embarks on a journey of self-discovery, struggling with deep-rooted societal dogma fraught with the risk of dangerous repercussions and the possibility of losing everyone and everything dear to her. After the U.S. enters WWII, each faces a test of their own fortitude as all three must come to grips with redemption, forgiveness, the meaning of family and how to honor their authentic truth during this perilous time in history.

Both heart wrenching and uplifting, The Winter Loon honors the strength and spirit of all those who grapple with social persecution because of who they love and how they define family whether it is one’s own flesh and blood kinfolk and/or those nearest and dearest to their heart.

My thoughts:

I love this cover and it drew me in to find out more about this book. The story has a theme that is often times sensitive and a complex issue for many and gives us an historical account of social persecution, forgiveness, honor, truth and so much more. I look forward to finding out more about this book. 

Stephanie M. Hopkins 

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court-Coming soon

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede-Coming soon

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books-Coming soon

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation-Coming soon

Meghan @ Of Quills & Vellum-Coming soon

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Book Review: I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott

I, Eliza Hamilton II

Paperback, 400 pages
Expected publication: September 26th 2017
by Kensington Publishing Corporation

“Love is not easy with a man chosen by Fate for greatness . . .”

As the daughter of a respected general, Elizabeth Schuyler is accustomed to socializing with dignitaries and soldiers. But no visitor to her parents’ home has affected her so strongly as Alexander Hamilton, a charismatic, ambitious aide to George Washington. They marry quickly, and despite the tumult of the American Revolution, Eliza is confident in her brilliant husband and in her role as his helpmate. But it is in the aftermath of war, as Hamilton becomes one of the country’s most important figures, that she truly comes into her own.

In the new capital, Eliza becomes an adored member of society, respected for her fierce devotion to Hamilton as well as her grace. Behind closed doors, she astutely manages their expanding household, and assists her husband with his political writings. Yet some challenges are impossible to prepare for. Through public scandal, betrayal, personal heartbreak, and tragedy, she is tested again and again. In the end, it will be Eliza’s indomitable strength that makes her not only Hamilton’s most crucial ally in life, but his most loyal advocate after his death, determined to preserve his legacy while pursuing her own extraordinary path through the nation they helped shape together.

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My thoughts:

I do not typically read Historical Romance but the subject matter, era and the notable characters sparked my interest. There is also the fact that I hadn’t read a story by Susan Holloway Scott yet and I’ve heard about her stories and wanted to give it a try. As an enthusiast of American History, I have to admit, I originally decided not to read any historical fiction books about Hamilton for reasons I won’t go into here today. Since the story is written in another person’s point of view-his wife-I had to see how the author portrayed Hamilton in this light.

Alexander Hamilton, is an important figure in our history and has certainly has had the spotlight of late. He served under George Washington during the American Revolution and was the first Secretary of the Treasury in this new Country. He was intelligent, visionary and had high goals for his life and country. But what about his personal life and his relationships with the people around Him? That is what I wanted to read more about.

Elizabeth Schulyler Hamilton was the daughter of a wealthy War General and whose family was high regarded. She grew up in the comfort and well-being of her parent’s household. History tells us she was a woman of strong character and kindness.

In I, Eliza Hamilton, Eliza and Hamilton’s relationship grew quickly as I can imagine it did in real life and you get a real sense of how it could have been. I hung on to ever word for the first half of the book and was truly in awe over the prose. Beautiful writing and I really felt like I was transported back in the period. The portrayal of Hamilton was an interesting one. I’m still undecided how I truly feel about him. In this story, I really don’t feel I got a sense of his greatness as I thought I would but I did get a sense of the man he was in his personal life. For me that was interesting to see the contrast between the two.

I will admit that a little over half way through I was starting to run out of steam a bit. Eliza was getting on my nerves and I felt things were getting a bit repetitive-if you will. I put the story aside for a few days before picking it up again to finish and I was able to finish it. I had serious doubts I wasn’t going to be able to finish the book, which bothered me since this story is beautifully written. I rallied on and took some time to gather my thoughts about the story as a whole. I believe this story could have been shorten a bit and scenes left out. I also wanted to see some of the other characters role in the story expanded a little. Having said that all this, overall, I am glad I chose to read the book.

I have rated this story three stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

I obtained a copy of this book from the publishers through NetGalley for my honest opinion.

 

 

Cover Crush: As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

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I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

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As Bright as HeavenHardcover, 400 pages

Expected publication: February 6th 2018

by Berkley Books

From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Bridge Across the Ocean comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love.

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters—Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa—a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims, more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without—and what they are willing to do about it.

As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.

My thoughts:

I am simply thrilled about this story coming soon! It can’t come soon enough! *laughing* Isn’t the cover stunning? I love it. So atmospheric, true to the period and setting the story is written in. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Goodreads Book Giveaway HERE

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary. Her latest cover crush HERE

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation

Meghan @ Of Quills & Vellum

Book Review: Smoke and Mirrors by Casey Daniels

Smoke and Mirrors IIAbout the book:

Expected publication: November 1st 2017 by Severn House Publishers

Evie Barnum is in charge of her brother’s museum, a place teeming with scientific specimens and “human prodigies” including a bearded woman and the lizard man. In this weird and whacky workplace, Evie hopes she can bury her secrets.

But when an old friend shows up and begs for her help, she does all she can to stay away. The next time she sees him, he is dead in front of the exhibit of the Feejee Mermaid. Suspicion for the murder falls on Jeffrey, known as the Lizard Man, but Evie knows it isn’t possible.

When Jeffrey also goes missing, Evie becomes determined to solve the mystery of her friend’s murder, even if it brings her face to face with her past…

My thoughts:

A few years ago, my daughter I were visiting relatives in Florida and we went to a museum of Oddities. Certain aspects of it held my fascination and some I found to be downright creepy. In Smoke and Mirrors, Evie’s brother Phin features human prodigies. This story-line captured my attention immediately and I knew I had to read this book! Of course, it did help that this story is a murder mystery in 19th Century New York. What’s not to love?

Evie and Phin are interesting characters and their intellect and intriguing fascination for what many consider “strange and unusual”-if you will, gives depth and meaning to the story. Not in a negative way, mind you- but in a positive light. I am hoping we will see more of this subject in future stories from the author.

The mystery surrounding Evie’s friend being murdered and how Daniels weaves the tale of Evie’s determination to uncover the horrendous crime is intriguing and had me reading long into the evening and kept me guessing who it was, though I had my suspicions’. Did I guess who? I’m not telling.

Time and place is important when writing a period piece and I did not feel pulled into the era quite so fully. Another thing that sort of bothered me was there are a few loose ends about a few of the character’s and that had me thinking there was a book before this one about their back stories and relationships. After I finished reading the book, I went on-line to check and was quite surprised I was wrong and that this book is the first in the Miss Evie Barnum Mysteries Series. Nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I will be on the lookout for more of Evie’s mysteries and hope to see more back story revealed!

I obtained an ARC (Advance Readers Copy) from NetGalley and Severn House for my honest opinion.

I rated this book three and a half stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Book Review: Camino Island by John Grisham

Camino IslandA gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.

Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts.

Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous offer of money convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Bruce Cable’s circle of literary friends, ideally getting close enough to him to learn his secrets.

But eventually Mercer learns far too much, and there’s trouble in paradise as only John Grisham can deliver it.

My thoughts:

I had great hopes for this book but the further I got into it, I became disappointed somewhat. Not to say I didn’t enjoy it at all but there are some things I need to point out.

Problems with the story:

  1. The character development needed to be much stronger. There was not one character I could connect too or particularly liked.
  2. Too much telling and not enough showing
  3. The premise is great but the overall story-telling is weak.
  4. The plot was too weak.
  5. This is not Grisham’s best story and I question the writing style-too breezy- and if someone else actually wrote it.

I would have liked to have read about Mercer sitting down trying to write a scene out and showing her frustrations of writer’s block. I think that would have been more realistic and would have made her character stronger and given that story-line a more polished feel. Not to give spoiler, in that regard the ending fell flat to me for reasons of her writer’s block. You’ll just have to read the story to understand what I’m saying. I would like to discuss it with someone when they read the book.

Things I liked about the story:

  1. I like the premise of valuable manuscripts being stolen and racing to finding out who done it and its recovery.
  2. Going undercover is a big risk. Especially for a civilian. That was interesting to read about.
  3. The setting of the story-an Island off of Florida. Nice touch.
  4. The bookstore-Love it when books and book people revolve around stories.
  5. The local literary circle-When writers get together to talk shop or take shots at each other. That was fun to read about.

Overall, this book could have potentially been a fantastic story. Too bad it fell short for me.

I recommend this book for a light read and I will be interested in seeing what a few of my friends come away with this story.

I have rated this story a generous three stars.

Four stars for the book cover.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

 

Book Review: What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan

What She KnewIn a heartbeat, everything changes…

Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most.

Where is Ben? The clock is ticking…

My first audio book review:

It’s a parent’s worse nightmare to have one’s child being taken from you and not knowing what is happening to your child. The very thought of that happening is beyond disturbing to say the least. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to listen this audio book because of the subject matter. I knew it would be a hard pill to swallow listening to the telling.

Throughout the story I felt like I was holding my breath and I kept on repeating to myself for Ben to be found and for him to be alive. Not only that but Rachel-Ben’s Mother-struggles as people harassed her and thought the worse was heartbreaking.

As the story unfolds secrets are revealed and your sympathies and outrage deepens. Psychological thrillers are tough reads for many…this one wasn’t easy listening too but worth it.

I have to say, listening to a Psychological thriller rather than reading it had a deeper impact on me.

I’ve rated this book three stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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