A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang

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In A Beautiful Poison, long-time friends Birdie, Allene and Jasper work together to solve the murder of Florence, a woman who is disliked by a number of people.  Things become complicated when several more people with close connections to the three friends die.

Pros:  The writing itself is very good and keeps the reader’s attention.  I like historical fiction, and the setting, New York (specifically Bellevue Hospital) in 1918 is interesting.  The author does a good job communicating the emphasis on social status that occurred during this time, and the scenes at Bellevue are well done.  The murderer doesn’t turn out to be who I thought it might be, and that is an interesting twist.

Cons:  The characters are not likable, and I had a hard time connecting with them.  I did understand Birdie better and how the abuse she suffered influenced her actions as the story progressed.  However, I believe stories work better if the reader can find something to like about the characters even if they are flawed.  Andrew, Birdie, Allene and Jasper are extremely self-centered and seem incapable of thinking about anything but their own agendas.  Allene redeems herself somewhat by taking care of Holly at the book’s conclusion, but I still didn’t care for her.  Ernie is probably the least selfish character, but I had a hard time understanding what he saw in Birdie, Allene and Jasper.

Overall, A Beautiful Poison is worth reading.  I would give the book a 4/5, and I would be interested in reading more books by this author.

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Mer-Charmer (World of Aluvia Book 2)

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In Mer-Charmer, Phoebe Quinn is still recovering from the aftermath of her captivity in Elder Bentwood’s dungeon.  She finds comfort in the ocean and discovers she has a connection with the merfolk, specifically her mer friends Tristan and Mira.  Phoebe loves spending time with Tristan and Mira, and they have quite a few adventures.  Together, they protect the merfolk from an ancient enemy, the evil being Baleros.

The second book in World of Aluvia series is engaging.  Phoebe is a likeable character, and the author does a good job with the topics of oppression, discrimination, coming of age and overcoming one’s fears for the greater good.  I like the interaction between Phoebe and the supporting characters, Tristan, Mira and her sister Sierra.  The descriptions of the coast and ocean are well-done, and the idea of the merfolk being an ancient civilization is intriguing.  I initially didn’t care much for the adult characters, but I could understand where they were coming from as the story progressed.  They had been through rough times and had trust issues.  Phoebe helps the merfolk in the end.

I would recommend Mer-Charmer, especially if you like stories that involve the ocean and mermaids, and I want to read the third book in the series, Dragon Redeemer, as soon as I can.

 

Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein

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In Dean Koontz’ Frankenstein, detectives Carson O’Connor and Michael Maddison investigate a series of murders that involve victims who are missing body parts.   Their search for a serial killer leads them to a madman plotting to replace the human race with creatures that exist only to serve and obey him.

I like different takes or interpretations of old stories, and the plot is rather creepy but interesting.  The story is set in New Orleans in modern times.  However, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written in the 1800s, is important to the story and is referred to quite often.  Dean Koontz is a good writer.  He works with the concept of someone being so arrogant as to want to replace human beings with their own creation well; I could picture this happening.  I like the interaction between O’Connor and Maddison, and Deucalion is an interesting character who is struggling to overcome his dark past.

Frankenstein is a worthwhile read for people who enjoy the horror, crime or suspense genres.  This is the first of a five-part series, and I want to read the rest of the series when I can.

The Moonlit Garden

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The Moonlit Garden tells the stories of two women who live in different centuries and countries-yet they have a connection, a violin.

Lilly Kaiser is an antique shop owner from Germany who is dealing with the loss of her husband.  She is approached by a stranger who gives her an old violin he says belongs to her.  Lilly isn’t musical, and as far as she knows neither is anyone in her immediate family.  She is intrigued about the violin’s original owner and sets out to solve the mystery with the help of her friend Ellen Morris and the head of a music school, Gabriel Thornton.

They discover the violin belonged to Rose Gallway, a musician of mixed English-Sumatran heritage who lived in the early 1900s and was a well-regarded performer until she suddenly disappears.  Lilly, Ellen and Gabriel discover Rose’s connection to the violin and the connection between Rose, English aristocrat Paul Havenden, and another young musician, Helen Carter.

Pros:  I like stories that move between the past and present.  The historical setting (the Dutch and English colonial period in the 1800s and early 1900s) and locations (Germany, London, Italy and Indonesia) are interesting.  I like the interaction between Lilly and Ellen, and the musical mystery adds to the story.  People dealing with loss and moving on are good themes to work with.  The transitions between present-day and the early 20th century are fairly smooth.

Cons:    I initially did not like Rose at all. She is a very self-centered character in my opinion.  I understood later that the abuse she suffered from her music teacher was a large contributing factor, but she still isn’t very likable.  I didn’t like Paul either. Paul telling Rose he is engaged when he is married is reprehensible, and it is stupid of Rose to get involved with him.  Of course, she didn’t know he was actually married, but she did believe he was engaged, and it’s wrong in that case too.   This sort of content doesn’t make a story better.  Helen comes off as being a spoiled brat too.  I understand people behave selfishly and do stupid things when they are searching for happiness and fulfillment or are dealing with stressful situations, but this is not well-executed here.  It’s okay for characters to be flawed, but they should have some likable qualities.  The ending is kind of confusing and leaves a lot of unanswered questions.   I really couldn’t figure out exactly who the original owner of the violin is supposed to be.

I should point out that The Moonlit Garden is originally in German.  It can be tricky to convey meaning or concept accurately when translating from one language to another, so that may be a factor.  The actual writing is good, and the descriptions of the various locations are well-done. I did like The Moonlit Garden in spite of the issues I mentioned, but it’s not a book I’d go out of my way to read again.

Breakwater

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Jade is a 17-year-old mermaid who lives in the underwater city of Thessalonike.  Her mother is a trusted advisor of the mer-king, and Jade’s family is upper-class and privileged.

When Jade’s fiancé, Tor, murders a naiad, the resulting unrest puts Jade’s family in danger and threatens the well-being of Thessalonike.  Jade is faced with making decisions for the greater good that will result in her making sacrifices.

Breakwater is enjoyable, well-written and imaginative.  I like mermaid stories, and admit I love Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  However, there is more to this story than a young mermaid falling in love with a human and living happily ever after.  There are relevant themes of political intrigue, prejudice and helping others.  Jade is a likable character, and I like how she grows, deals with her own prejudices and decides to do the right thing.  I also love Jade’s relationship with Kiki, her dolphin.

I would recommend Breakwater.

Flaming Tree

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This is the cover of the paperback edition of Flaming Tree that I read.

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This is the cover of the hardcover edition, and actually fits better with the storyline.  The cover was changed for the paperback edition, probably to play up the romance which isn’t really the main point of the story, although it is a factor.

Kelsey Stewart is a physical therapist who works with children who have been injured.  She is devoted to her job, but goes through a rough time when she is in a car accident that takes the life of her young son Mark.  To make things worse, Kelsey’s husband Carl blames her for the tragedy and their marriage ends.

Kelsey is introduced to the Hammond family through her Aunt Elaine.  Tyler Hammond is going through his own trials because of an accident that has left his son Jody brain damaged and his wife Ruth unable to walk.  By helping Jody, Kelsey begins the healing process, faces her challenges, and uncovers some dark family secrets.

I liked this book.  The setting is wonderful.  I’ve been to the Carmel area, although it has been quite a while, and it is gorgeous.  Kelsey is a strong, likeable character. The interaction between her and the other characters, particularly Jody and Tyler, is well done.  The themes of healing by helping others and dealing with secrets are interesting.  Flaming Tree is worth reading.

The Devil’s Dance

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Romi Lachlan is a young woman with her share of challenges.  Her fiancé, Phil Gerald, has disappeared, taking the money from Verify, the tech company where they are employed, with him. Romi is broke, blackballed and unable to find a job.  As a result, she is forced to move back to her childhood home, a trailer park in Bisby, Texas. Her dysfunctional family further complicates matters.

But things have changed in Bisby; the once poor area is now prosperous.  With the help of an FBI agent, Ben Sawyer, who initially appears to be investigating her involvement with Phil’s fleecing Verify, Romi sets out to uncover a number of secrets.

This book is engaging and enjoyable; Ms. Lamb is an excellent writer.  Romi is a likeable, strong character, and I love the interaction between her and Sawyer and her crazy-as-loons family.  The book is fast-paced.  There are several story arcs but this is executed in a logical manner and holds the reader’s interest.  I did wonder somewhat about Romi’s snarky comments throughout the story, but came to realize this is a defense mechanism to deal with stress.  The snarky attitude is covering vulnerability.   There is an element of reconciliation and putting the past to rest that I like a lot also.

The Devil’s Dance is a worthwhile read.