Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pages: 368
Year Published:

Declan Fitzgerald gave up his life in Boston as a successful lawyer to purchase and restore an old plantation house down in swampy Lousiana. As he starts restoring the grand house to its original splendor, strange things begin occurring. Declan begins hearing the loud cries of a baby coming from his attic, and even begins having flashbacks to scenes from the house's rich past. To complicate matters, Declan has fallen in love at first sight with a local bar owner named Lena Simone, and it seems that she is also connected to what is happening in the house.

Short Thought:
A fun, quick read, but not as good as the other Nora Roberts books that I have read.

Expanded Thoughts:
So, I decided to read this after watching the Lifetime movie based on the book. The lifetime movie was pretty good. (Movie Information and I've embeded the trailer below the review) But I didn't enjoy the novel as much as the movie. (And I don't think it was just the fact that the movie had Jerry O'Connell in it.)

Let's get to it:

There are two absolute gems in this story--the beautiful setting and Lena's Cajun grandmother. The setting was portrayed richly, vibrantly, and really enhanced the story. Some of the old traditions of the region were discussed, mainly through Lena's grandmother, and the 'natives' spoke in wonderful colloquialisms. (The southerner in me rejoices). Even more than that, we are shown a sense of progression and made to really understand the rich roots of New Orleans through the flashbacks with Abby. It lends itself to this beautifully complex theme/argument whether of not people have changed in the last 100 years.

So why the low rating?

I felt that the main characters were flat compared to those in other Nora Roberts books I have read. Declan is a pig-headed, rich guy, who is very giving, and won't take no for an answer. Lena is the working class southern girl that fought to escape her crappy past and turned into a successful uber-independent woman who doesn't need anyone else. The romantic story between them was okay but was pretty lack-luster. I actually enjoyed the story between Abigail and Lucian better. It seemed more complex. To sum up, there was no real moment of tension throughout the book. It pretty much stayed at the same level throughout. Basically, It just wasn't not my taste.

I used to be one of those 'snobbies' that turned my nose up at these types of books, but now I can't wait to jump into the next Nora Roberts novel. No one should deny themselves a whole category of books, because, I tell you, I am sad that I have missed out on these for as long as I did.

Additional Thoughts:
This novel has dark themes, mild violence, and sexual situations.

Midnight Bayou Movie Trailer

Why Mermaids Sing: Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries 3

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pages: 352
Year Published:

In London, a series of strange murders have everyone concerned. Someone is killing young sons of noblemen and mutilating the corpses in a manner that would suggest the killer is sending someone a message. Sir Henry Lovejoy grows increasingly concerned and begs the help of Viscount Devlin once again.

Short Thought:
The novel that has it all--a brilliant mystery, powerful and complex characters, a historical backdrop, and a complicated romance.

Expanded Thoughts:
Okay, I admit it. My name is Jenn and I am now a Sebastian-aholic. This series has me hooked. So let's just dive right in this review of the book that gave me my most potent literary drug.

This novel is a huge turning point in this series. The previous novels have all eluded to Sebastian's dark and troubled nature, and this novel truly brings the entire darkness. He finds himself bombarded with political scandal, deep family secrets, treason against the crown, and another unsavory dealings that span for decades in this novel. For a man that has no love for society and its curious happenings, he still finds himself broken down and closer to the dark place in which he lived during the war.

The characters are well developed and some of the best I have come across, but the true star of this book was the mystery plot. Now, don't get me wrong, the other novels in this series had great mystery plots too, but this one took my breath away. It was the first novel in a long time that for which I threw away precious sleep. (I love sleep!) Yep, I didn't sleep the whole night, but somehow I wasn't tired one bit. (Just twitching for the next novel.)


Here's the gist of the mystery: Bodies of young men are being left during the night in public parks. These young men are being killed and left in mutilated states. Sir Henry Lovejoy picks up one of the murders but is stumped at trying to develop a victimology. The victims don't fit any pattern--class, appearance, or even location of residence. The only thing that they have in common is the killer, whoever they are. Their bodies were also found with curious items stuffed in their mouths--a star cut-out, a mandrake root, and a goat's foot. Lovejoy, knowing that Sebastian can't turn away from exacting justice, persuades him to become involved. It is then that Sebastian realizes that the murderer is following an old Donne poem:

"'Go and Catch a Falling Star
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.'"

Even more important, Sebastian discovers that the killer isn't picking his victims at random as a crazed serial killer would. He is killing certain men's sons and doing it for revenge. As he races to find the common link between the victims to prevent the next murder, he begins to uncover an older and unspeakable crime that several men have kept covered for many years. The closer he gets to uncovering the old and unspeakable crime of the fathers, the more dangerous the situation becomes.

One of the most pronounced themes of this novel was FAMILY. Society suggests that family should be number one in a man's life, but as this novel clearly shows that many times those of the upper class put their name and image first. First, the fathers of the victims are willing to sacrifice their sons in order to keep their secret quiet. They won't help with the investigation. They actually try to have Sebastian killed for prying. Next, we have the case of Earl of Hendon, Sebastian's father. He is the classic case. Years ago he paid Kat to leave Sebastian which devastated him. Next, he lied to Sebastian about his mother. For years he believed that his mother was dead, but in fact Hendon has been paying her a stipend to stay away. Then the final blows comes yet again in regard to Kat. Hendon's past indiscretions have managed to tear apart his son's life completely. And it was done to protect the family name.

Let me just go off on a tangent for a moment: What a twist when Kat's past connection is revealed?! For two books, we have witnessed this loving couple be reunited and fall in love yet again. We've also seen how their love for one another never allows them be anything more than just lovers behind the scenes. When Kat's treason to the Crown is discovered by Jarvis, it seems that Sebastian has that final push to make Kat his wife. All begins falling into place, but then quickly shatters. Sebastian matrimonial announcement in the newspaper caught the attention of one of Kat's estranged relatives. Her aunt comes to visit her with news that would sever her relationship with Devlin forever. (You didn't think I was going to give it all away, did ya?)

{End of Spoilers}

As I said before, (me)+(this book)=(love, devotion, and obsession)

Seriously, if you are a fan of mysteries, adventures, or most any other genre. This series should be on your reading queue.

Additional Notes:
This contains scenes of violence and dark themes.

Crazy by Pete Earley

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

(Pete Earley)

Pages: 384
Year Published: 2007

Teaser: Pete Earley gives readers an inside and informative look at the country's current status when it comes to treating those with psychological disorders. He makes it personal with stories of his own family's battle with mental illness.

Short Thought:
Heart wrenching and powerful food for thought.

Expanded Thoughts:
{Spoilers} Crazy is very different than many of novels in the non-fiction genre with which I have been previously acquainted. It wasn't dreadfully boring, and it appealed to a wider readership instead of a more specialized audience dealing in a specific knowledge arena. Earley succeeds in this by hitting three distinctly different notes in this work. He includes the necessary statistics, figures, and research that would read as a dry news article. The presented issues are made more personal and memorable as he includes some of the background stories of various inmates and about how mental illness has affected and trapped them in the current system. Lastly, he gains the trust of the reader and ensnares our emotions and tugs at our heartstrings with the story of his son's battle with mental illness. Crazy is highly successful in bringing to our attention the “macro” issue of de-institutionalization, but portraying it in a “micro” way that is better received and remembered by readers.

The author's research portion for this novel kicks off at a high level and never really slows down its pace. Armed with firsthand knowledge of the problems with our country's current state of affairs in regards to mental health patients and a fire in his belly, Earley starts his research at the Miami-Dade County Pretrial Detention Center in South Florida. This jail is of the older inner architecture. The cells are crowded with up to fifty prisoners at any given time. He begins by shadowing the doctor in charge of the patients on the cell block as he makes his rounds for the day. When they finally reach the wing that houses the mentally ill, it becomes apparent that jails are not properly equipped to deal with these afflicted individuals. The filth is staggering, the stench is overwhelming, and the state of the prisoners is, at best, disheartening. After some figuring by Earley, he estimates that the doctor ends up spending about thirteen seconds per inmate on his rounds. It is a shocking statistic that jumps out at readers as one begins to realize the dire situation of the status quo.

The author explores many other problems with the current system, or “revolving door” as he so aptly refers to it, in a similar and equally telling fashion. He mirrors his research with stories from his own struggle with the fight for his son. These personal recollections in the novel with be the primary focus for the remainder of this paper.

Even more depressing and telling than the stories about the prison conditions was the story of the author's son, Mike, on his road from scholar to mad man and back again. Mike's descent into madness began when he was less than one year from graduating from university in Brooklyn, New York. Because of the stress of searching for a job and transitioning his life in general, he started exhibiting strange behavior and even physical sickness for no apparent reason. His parents assumed it was just normal behavior for someone at that particular stage of his life. Perhaps, it was just due to all of the stress he was under at his current stage in life. Unfortunately, they were horribly wrong. It was anything but routine and normal.

Mike's strange behavior only became worse. He began to have obsessive delusions about a classmate of his, that barely knew him, that he had to save from evil. He was even convinced they were on the verge of marriage. Mike's conversations were rapid, segmented, and made absolutely no sense anymore. For example, he was convinced that God was sending him messages, that only he could decode, on billboards and other medias. Earley got his son checked out and started him on medication, but the trouble wasn't treated that simply. Mike refused to take the pills, and then the chaos truly began as did Mike's severe symptoms of schizophrenia.

Earley runs into trouble from every direction as he fights to get his son the help he so desperately needs.. The insurance company won't allow him to be treated for more than a three day period. The laws don't make Mike take the necessary anti-psychotic medication. The police don't have proper procedures set up to deal with the mentally ill either. And if that wasn't enough, his ex-wife, Mike's mother, strongly disagrees with him as to how to deal with the young man. Unfortunately, these problems get shoved to the background when Mike, in a delusional episode, breaks into a neighbors' house and vandalizes it in order to take a bubble bath. Now, the author's son was arrested and in danger of serving jail time or even ruining his record with a felony. The situation has escalated very quickly. Mike's life could be permanently impaired if the charges stuck.

The couple whose house Mike had vandalized was vehement about on pressing charges. Earley then had to truly battle for his son's future while trying to get him court-ordered into a psychiatric program. After a long battle with the prosecutor and the victims of the break-in, Mike finally was allowed to plead no contest to two misdemeanors instead of a felony. He was placed on probation and required to attend a program which included orders to take the much-needed medication. Earley held his breathe until Mike finally remained on medication. His son eventually got a good job and gained back his independence. It was a refreshingly happy ending to a very frustrating and scary journey.

The portion of this novel that is most memorable are the six segments that make up Mike's Story. It makes it personal. It takes us knee-deep into the situation—straight through Pete Earley's eyes. Not only does the author portray, in gut-wrenching fashion, the chaos he endured, but he delivers a warning to the reader. A situation like his can truly happen to anyone. It makes it hard for anyone to push the matter aside.

It is easy to forget that Mike's story isn't a clever piece of fiction. It's real life, and it's how similar situations are dealt with around the country everyday. These and the other sections in Pete Earley's novel are indicative of a chaotic mental health care problem that is a rapidly growing Pandora's box pushing to crack open.

Though Pete Earley successfully conveys the desperate need for change in respect to this issue, and for special treatment to those with disorders in the eyes of the law, but the situation is complex and ever-evolving on both sides of the argument. It's true that the reader feels sympathy for Earley's son when he is put before the court, but one must not forget the crime he committed. His crime was minor compared to most, but it was still a crime with copious amounts of damage to the victims. Where does the line of sympathy get drawn? What if a schizophrenic kills someone because he believes they are aliens sent to destroy him? Is it really okay to give him a milder punishment just because he is ill? Where does treatment fit in with the feelings of the victim's family? What if a mentally ill man was caught taking inappropriate pictures of children in the park? Are the victims any less violated? Or if a delusional man broke into your house and smashed everything in sight? Is the damage going to cost less because the man was crazy? The questions and situations are endless, and they have equally reasonable opposing sides. Mentally ill patients need help, and people need to be able to feel safe. Perhaps, this is one question that may never have an answer supported by a majority.

When Gods Die: Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries 2

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pages: 400 (MM Paperback)
Year Published: 2007

Teaser: At a important banquet, a noble woman is found murdered with a dagger stuck in her back. What's worse is the Regent is found in a drunken stupor next to her body. The Regent's men immediately go to work to cover up the incident. Unfortunately, Sebastian takes a personal interest in the case when he discovers that the necklace found on the corpse was the same one his mother was wearing the day of her mysterious death. He refuses to back down until he gets to the bottom of the situation no matter how much dangerous.

Short thought: A wonderful, historical mystery with powerful characters and an intricate and ever-developing plot.

Expanded thoughts: I dare say that I am slowly becoming obsessed with this series. What makes me love it? It has a great main characters, a voice that isn't geared to a gender specific audience, a great adventure filled plot, and mystery that isn't predictable in the least. It also is fun for me because I don't know anything about Victorian England. So, it's like being opened up to a new world.

As I've mentioned in other posts, I find it hard to express my thoughts without giving spoilers. And I HATE to give spoilers. (Because if you are looking for a book to read, I don't want to ruin it. Why read it if you already know what happens?) So, I'm just going to discuss one item in about this book, and then close this post out.

A new level/depth/dimension was added to this book that made it way better than the first. Sebastian now lives in a country that is on the verge of civil war. There is this underlying tension that is ever-present in this novel that effects every fiber of the characters' beings. Basically, no one can be trusted anymore. You have the supporters of the current monarchy (including the crazy, drunk, and king-to-be prime murder suspect), the supporters of the French, and those wanting revenge for Ireland (best as I can understand, a Catholic v Protestant deal). It just makes this case that Sebastian works on very sensitive and very dangerous. He can't be sure if the murder is political or personal. What's even more nail-biting is that Sebastian can't be sure of the people closest to him. Not even his beloved Kat.

This series was recommended to me, because I was trying to branch out from historical fiction centered in Asian countries. I thought that it would be okay, but not great because I hadn't studied the period that it is centered around. Well, I was wrong. I loved the first book, and this one was even better. I can't wait to start the third one.

Additional Notes
: There are scenes that contain a tad bit of descriptive gore.

The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa

Monday, August 3, 2009

Teaser: Just before the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in the early 1930s, a teenage girl is desperately trying to come into her own as she approaches adulthood. Life has great new things to offer her, but she can't seem to deny that all others that have left their childhood behind live in misery. She finds her once easy life crumbling apart and clears her head by playing Go.

A young Japanese man has just left his childhood home to join the Imperial Army. He finds himself detached from the world and surrounding by the horrors of combat. He is given just a brief glance into his old world when he begins a game of Go with a mysterious Chinese girl in the local square. She had no idea that he was just days away from, with his troop, charging a bloody path through her city.

Short Thought: Gritty account leading up into a huge event in Asian history and how it affected people from both sides of the conflict.

Expanded Thoughts: Be warned there may be minor spoilers in this section. I started writing it, and found it increasing difficult to discuss without revealing anything.

This novel was brilliant, but not for the light-hearted or those who wish to escape harsh realities. It held nothing back and made you react.

The story is told from two perspectives. First we are introduced to teenage girl going to school in Manchuria. She is a strange girl who instead of being obsessed with makeup and men loves and excels at the game of Go. Since she was a child, she could be found down in the public square besting experienced players. She frowns on the old Chinese traditions and receives a lot of crooked glances from her peers because of that.

As the story progresses, she begins to enter a little more into adulthood. She gets involved in her first relationship with an older college student, and learns the benefits and the woes that sharing your mind and body with someone brings. She becomes best friends with one of the girls at her school, and learns the blessings and worries that friends bring. All the blissful innocence of her previous life slowly fades, and she is left with a world with short lived joys and heart stopping tragedies as the situation in her country directly affects all the relationships that took her years to come into.

The second perspective in the story is that of a young Japanese soldier who leaves his mother's home to fight in the Imperial Army. He quickly experiences first hand the horrific traumas of the present society and those that war brings. He has no real purpose in life, and doesn't really expect his life to continue for very long. He drowns his troubles and questions in local women and prostitutes with whom he convinces himself to fall in and out of love. While camped outside side of Manchuria awaiting the order to charge a takeover, he hears of a place he can go undercover in the city to play Go a game that allows him to remember his simple life before the army. He begins a series of games against a mysterious Chinese girl who is one of the best go players that he has played against.

This novel deals with some huge taboo issues and portrays them in a way that you will not forget. With out giving too much away, here are some of the issues that I recall from the reading: arranged v. love marriages, abortion, speaking out against your government, prostitution, torture, suicide, selling your virginity, spousal abuse, pedophilia, man's claim over a women's body, and etc. As I said before, it doesn't hold back. It isn't a 'feel-good' novel, it is a 'micro' account of the impact of the period leading up to this bloody coup.

In closing, I was just amazed at how much happened in just 280 pages.

Additional Notes: This is an English translation of the original French text by Shan Sa. Translation was done by Adriana Hunter.

Additional Notes: This novel contains dark themes, violence, and sexual situations.
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