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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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.

****************

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.

 

 

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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Book Review: The Property of Lies by Marjorie Eccles

The Property of Lies (A 1930s_ historical mystery) by Marjorie EcclesThe Property of Lies: A 1930s’ Historical Mystery

by Marjorie Eccles

Expected publication: September 1st 2017 by Severn House Publisher

1930: When a body is discovered on the premises of the newly-established Maxstead Court School for Girls, Detective Inspector Herbert Reardon is called in to investigate. His wife Ellen having just accepted a job as French teacher, Reardon is alarmed to find the school a hotbed of scandalous secrets, suppressed passions, petty jealousies and wanton schoolgirl cruelty. As he pursues his enquiries, it becomes clear that the dead woman was not who – or what – she claimed to be. Who was she really – and why is Reardon convinced that more than one member of staff is not telling him the whole truth?

Then a pupil goes missing – and the case takes a disturbing new twist …

My thoughts:

The Property of Lies is the first book I have read by Marjorie Eccles and I am delighted I decided to read and review it. I adore historical mysteries and mysteries surrounding old manors and estates in England’s countryside’s. I have to say I normally find out who is committing crimes in stories like these, but found myself guessing all the wrong people!

DI Rearden and his wife Ellen are new to the area and Ellen takes a teaching position at Maxstead and before you know it, is caught up in a mysterious death of a previous teacher on the property. The teacher’s death and how she was found baffled everyone. Alas, there are other strange events happening at the school and you soon discover not everything is what it seems-not even to DI Rearden.

I enjoyed reading about all the characters and their role in the story. I would like to read more about their back story however but that in no way takes away from the story itself. It was enough to keep the characters interesting. I would have liked the period of the story to be a bit more atmospheric to the era and to have drawn stronger description to the boarding house.  Having said that, I recommend this story to avid readers of mystery and for those who want to give their try in this genre for the first time.

I look forward to reading more from this author!

I have rated this book three stars and I want to thank NetGalley and Severn House Publishers for a review copy.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

DNF: Strangers in Budapest by Jessica Keener

Strangers in Budapest IIBudapest is a city of secrets, a place where everything is opaque and nothing is as it seems. It is to this enigmatic city that a young American couple, Annie and Will, move with their infant son shortly after the fall of the Communist regime. For Annie, it is an effort to escape the ghosts from her past; for Will, it is a chance to try his wings as an entrepreneur in Hungary’s newly developing economy.

But only a few months after moving there, they receive a secretive request from friends in the US to check up on an old man who also has recently come to Budapest. When they realize that his sole purpose for coming there is to exact revenge on a man whom he is convinced seduced and then murdered his daughter, Will insists they have nothing to do with him. Annie, however, unable to resist anyone she feels may need her help, soon finds herself enmeshed in the old man’s plan, caught up in a scheme that will end with death.

My Thoughts:

I am sad to report I could not finish this book. I tried my best but to no avail I couldn’t get into it and my eyes kept glazing over. I mean no disrespect to the author. Some aspects were interesting but not enough for me.

When I first came across this book on NetGalley it caught my attention straight away and I adore the cover! I thought surely I won’t be able to put this book down! Alas, there was a lot of unnecessary explaining in this book and I felt the plot wasn’t moving fast enough. The premise is a good one but not enough for me to finish the story. The characters didn’t stand out to me and my impression of them was not favorable. As for the mystery, it wasn’t solid enough in my opinion.

Having said all of this, I feel there are many who would enjoy this story.

I will not be rating this book.

Thank you NetGalley and the publishers for a review copy. I won’t give up on the author’s other work!

Stephanie M. Hopkins