The Book Diva's Reads

I'm an avid, if not fanatical, reader. My blog provides basic reviews for a basic reader. My family calls me a book geek, I prefer book diva.

The Curse of Van Gogh

The Curse of Van Gogh - Paul Hoppe Tyler Sears is newly released from prison, on parole, and working as a bartender. He has vowed to give up his life of crime because if he gets caught in the act again it will be his third strike and it'll be prison for the rest of his life. Tyler's life on the outside isn't great, but he does have a job in a place he likes and works with people he likes, so things could be worse. Enter Mr. Komate Imasu with an offer that Tyler can't refuse . . . literally. Mr. Imasu expects Tyler to pull off a heist of one of the most important pieces of Impressionist art ever, Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night. If Tyler doesn't agree to the heist then Tyler and his family will pay the price. Tyler comes up with a counteroffer that he believes will get him off the hook. He states that he'll steal twelve pieces of Impressionist art from an upcoming tour, basically the art world's version of the Impressionist era's greatest hits. Unfortunately for Tyler, Mr. Imasu agrees to this counteroffer and prepays Tyler $50 million with the remaining $50 million to be paid on delivery. Now Tyler just has to figure out how to steal the paintings, keep Mr. Imasu and his Yakuza friends as well as Interpol off his back. He also has to figure out how to keep his family safe while committing the perfect crime, with hopefully none of the repercussions of the Van Gogh curse (think the curse of King Tut). Sounds like a lot doesn't it . . . but wait, throw in a romantic twist when Tyler reunites with a lady friend from his past and you've got one heck of a story.

It took me awhile to get into The Curse of Van Gogh. The story seemed to slow down in places when discussing art history, weapons details, etc. I know some people may like all of those details but they didn't really add much to the overall story for me and I could have done without them. Of course the story probably wouldn't have been the same without those details which is why Mr. Hoppe is the author and I'm a reader and blogger. After the first 60-70 pages the pace of the story picked up quite a bit and then it was full-speed ahead. Tyler and his love interest, Lucy, made for a nice twist as we can see that Tyler is fully aware of the gravity of his situation and doesn't want anyone else to suffer any of the consequences. Tyler isn't really a bad guy, just a guy that has made mistakes in his past. He tries to atone for it by ensuring, to the best of his abilities, that his mother, brother, and friends are protected from any fallout. He also wants to do the right thing and agrees that he'll return the paintings after the theft. There are several big questions that Tyler needs to address. First, can he pull off this art heist without getting caught? Second, if he pulls off the heist, can he stay a step ahead of his Interpol nemesis, not to mention Mr. Imasu and the Yakuza? And last, will he be able to win the girl of his dreams by trusting her and telling her the truth?

Told you there was a lot going on in this story. Mr. Hoppe does a wonderful job of pulling together the various storylines and weaving them to complete a wholly believable crime thriller. There are bad guys, namely Mr. Imasu and the Yakuza. There are other bad guys that are out to protect Tyler and his family, so we'll just consider them good guys with dirty white hats. There's Tyler, his mother and her love interest, Tyler's brother, and Tyler's love interest, and finally Interpol. Amazingly enough each group serves its purpose well and I can't imagine the story without any of them. The end was very fast paced and had me on the edge of my seat figuratively speaking. Does Tyler succeed in his attempt to do the impossible? Does he get the girl? Does he come out alive? Well to find the answers to those questions you'll just have to read the book. If you're a crime thriller reader, like stories that involve art and the art world, or are simply looking for something a little different, then The Curse of Van Gogh is the book you'll want to read.

The Patron Saint of Ugly

The Patron Saint of Ugly - Marie Manilla Garnet Ferrari is the object of either extreme prejudice or adoration in her hometown of Sweetwater, West Virginia. To most of the children in town and some of the parents, she is feared and hated because she is different. To the nonnas (Italian grandmothers) and a few others, she is adored for her mystical healing powers. Although Garnet's childhood isn't ideal it is filled with family and love, but all of that quickly changes with one traumatic incident quickly followed by a horrific accident that devastates the entire Ferrari family.

The Patron Saint of Ugly is a fast-paced read about love, survival, and hope. All Garnet, indeed any of the women married into the Ferrari family, want is to be loved. Garnet spends the beginning of her childhood being tortured by the ugly taunts of others. She spends her adolescence and early adulthood striving to be overlooked. It isn't until she returns to Sweetwater as an adult that she seems to overcome the struggle of being perceived as "normal."

The Patron Saint of Ugly evoked a lot of responses from me while I was reading: sadness, empathy, sympathy, and laughter. Garnet's nonna was the source of much of that laughter with her machinations during Garnet's childhood and adulthood. Much of the story takes place in either Italy in the early 1920s, West Virginia in the 1950s, early 1960s, and mid 1970s. Ms. Manilla's characters are either extremely lovable or despised. I don't think any reader will like Garnet's grandfather, maternal grandmother, or La Strega (no, I'm not going to tell you who La Strega is . . . read the book). Garnet's story is gradually revealed in a series of taped reminiscences for the Vatican, as she attempts to debunk her so-called healing gifts. It is in these narrations that we learn the back-stories for her nonna and mother, as well as learning about Garnet’s inner longings and desires. If you enjoy reading well-crafted fiction that combines humor, a quest for survival, a longing for normality, mythic origins, and a touch of magic, then The Patron Saint of Ugly is one story you have to read.

A Killing in the Hills

A Killing in the Hills - Julia Keller Acker's Gap, West Virginia could literally be any small town within the United States. The problems found there are found elsewhere. And the growing problem faced in many small towns is a problem with drugs (meth as well as prescription drug abuse). Prosecuting attorney Bell Elkins is working hard to see that Acker's Gap doesn't become tainted by the ever-increasing drug problems.

A native West Virginian, Bell has seen plenty of trouble in her life and was able to succeed despite the rough start. She had even left West Virginia after completing school and worked in Washington, D.C. Bell became restless with the fast-paced life in DC and yearned to return home to West Virginia and make a difference. She had hoped her husband would feel the same, but he never wanted to return to his West Virginia roots. Bell returns to West Virginia, as a divorcee and single, working mother. Her daughter, Carla, does not like the small-town feel of Acker's Gap. She misses her friends from DC and the social life. After getting into trouble again, she is seriously thinking of asking her father if she can move in with him and return to DC. One single moment changes everything for both Carla and Bell . . . a shooting that ends in the murder of three older men, a shooting that is linked to the drug problem in Acker's Gap, a shooting that Carla was misfortunate enough to witness.

Bell, due to her job, must investigate the murders but she is also concerned about the impact this event may have on Carla. Carla, somewhat traumatized by the murders, decides she wants to help her mom with this investigation. As both Carla and Bell seek to find answers to why this event happened, they put their lives in jeopardy. Will Bell be able to protect her daughter from possible retribution? Is it really possible these murders are tied to the illegal drug trade in Acker's Gap?

Ms. Keller presents a story that is all too familiar; the effects of the illegal drug trade on small towns. Bell's back story provides just as much intrigue as the investigation into the murders and drug trafficking problems. She struggles with overcoming her past, while doing everything possible to ignore it. Carla is a typical teenage girl and yearns for excitement, difficult to find in a small town (or so she thinks). A Killing In The Hills is a dramatic and suspenseful story that drew me in from the first page. I found the characters and the action realistic and plausible. This story doesn't denigrate the small town life; it just shines a spotlight on the problems found there. I finished A Killing In The Hills in one sitting and look forward to more from Ms. Keller.

The Vacationers: A Novel

The Vacationers: A Novel - Emma Straub 3.5 star read

Gravel on the Side of the Road-True Stories From A Broad Who Has Been There

Gravel on the Side of the Road-True Stories From A Broad Who Has Been There - Kris Radish 3.5 star read

I normally don't read a lot of nonfiction unless it pertains to topics I'm interested in (namely comparative religion, Islam, Muslims, tea, perfumery, aromatherapy, etc.), so when the opportunity came up to read Gravel on the Side of the Road - True Stories from a Broad Who Has Been There by Kris Radish I wasn't quite sure what to expect. To say that I was pleasantly surprised while reading this book is a major understatement.

Gravel On the Side of the Road is a collection of essays that spotlight different experiences in Kris Radish's life. Each essay stands alone and all are quickly read. Some essays made me smile – "Jesus Drives a Thunderbird," "The Turquoise Ring," and "The One Thing I Wanted." Some made me laugh – "Wong's Silver Spur, Dead Deer, and the Dance-Floor Stabbing." Others made me want to cry – "Even Now," "The Mothers in Bosnia," "I've Picked Out My Husband's New Wife," and "I Will Always Be Their Mother." All are presented without frills and unapologetically for a life lived without compromise. Each essay provides a fascinating glimpse into the amazingly wondrous experiences Ms. Radish has had over the years. I can't say that there were any essays that I didn't enjoy as they all provided me a little insight into Kris Radish, where she's been and why. Having said that, as a true book diva I think the essay that tops my favorite list is "Eudora Welty" where Ms. Radish has a fangirl moment with Ms. Welty and then proceeds to overcome it and be the professional journalist she dreamed of being (not to mention the wonderful writing advice she received from Ms. Welty). Whether you're a fan of nonfiction or not, Gravel on the Side of the Road is a wonderfully written collection of essays by an amazing woman and author. I highly recommend you add this to your TBR list . . . actually don't just add it to your TBR list, grab a copy and read it.

(NOTE: I guess I should give you a little warning that although the first essay is quite funny the last one may require that you grab some tissues.)

Her Last Whisper

Her Last Whisper - Karen Robards Dr. Charlotte "Charlie" Stone is back with her friendly, romantic ghost, Michael Garland. This time around Dr. Stone goes all out in order to track down FBI agent Lena Kaminsky's sister before she becomes the victim of the Cinderella Killer in Las Vegas. If chasing after a serial killer isn't bad enough, she must also do what she can to try and protect Michael from the otherworldly realm. Can Dr. Stone track down the killer in this realm while protecting Michael from another without losing her mind?

Her Last Whisper is the third book in the Charlotte Stone series by Ms. Robards and each book takes a step deeper into the paranormal as Charlie learns to handle her ghostly love interest, Michael Garland. I've got to say that I initially questioned the sanity of a psychologist that was willing to fall head-over-heels in love with not only a ghost, but a ghost that was convicted murdered. Although Michael is no angel, he isn't quite the bad guy that he was made out to be. Each book in this series reveals slightly more of Michael's backstory, and this book was no different. Charlie learns that Michael was not only in the military, but in an elite military group. Yes Michael has killed, but his killings were dictated by the military and can't be equated to willful murder. Initially Charlie wanted nothing more than for Michael to disappear, but now she's willing to do whatever it takes to keep him around.

While Charlie ponders her willingness to hang onto Michael for as long as possible, she works with her FBI friends to track down a serial killer. To say there's no love lost between Charlie and Lena Kaminsky is putting it lightly, but Charlie bears no ill will toward Lena and is ready to do what she can to find the killer before Lena's sister is next victim. There are a lot of high emotions running throughout Her Last Whisper. Lena is worried about her sister and doesn't want the investigation halted even for sleep. Lena's love interest, another FBI agent - Buzz Crane, also happens to be her sister's ex. Then there's Toni Bartoli, the lead FBI agent that has a thing for Charlie while Charlie pines for a dead man. Three FBI agents, one criminal psychologist, and one ghost combine their efforts to find a mad man before it's too late. Her Last Whisper has a lot of suspense, an ongoing sense of mystery (especially related to Michael and his backstory), and a whole lot of sexual tension (between Charlie and Michael, Michael and Charlie, and Toni and Charlie). If you've read any of the previous books in the Charlotte Stone series: The Last Victim and The Last Kiss Goodbye, then you'll definitely want to read Her Last Whisper. If you haven't read any of the books in this series but you enjoy romantic suspense thrillers, then you'll want to add all of these books to your TBR list.

The Calling

The Calling - Inger Ash Wolfe 3.5 star read

The Good Girl

The Good Girl - Mary Kubica 3.5 star read

If you were to meet Mia Dennett in person you wouldn't think she came from wealth, but she does. For most of her life Mia has rebelled against her parents and their version of acceptable society. She was the proverbial wild-child and went against her father's wishes and studied art in college rather than law. As a young twenty-something teacher, Mia has made a life for herself outside the society group she rebelled against. She has limited contact with her parents and is admired by her students and fellow teachers. When Mia doesn't show up at school for a few days it is her school teacher friend that launches a missing person report, not her parents. Police detective Gabe Hoffman has to literally fight with the Dennett family to prove to them that she did not run away from her responsibilities but may, in fact, have been abducted. The question becomes can Mia be found before it's too late? Who wanted Mia taken out of the picture and why?

Mary Kubica does an admirable job answering those questions and presenting a view of Mia before, during, and after her abduction. The Mia from before was rather free-spirited but always made sure her students had what they needed. Mia isn't an irresponsible adult, just a nonconformist. During the abduction she alternates between being subdued, frightened, and angry. Mia after the abduction comes across as fragile and epitomizes the "good girl" daughter her parents always wanted. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I read comparisons between The Good Girl and Gone Girl (usually these comparisons set the reader up for disappointment – this time it didn't). Yes both stories are thrillers. Yes both stories explore the darker side of humanity. And yes, both stories have an unexpected twist at the end, but those similarities are superficial at best. The Good Girl is simply a darn good read, as was Gone Girl. The characters are multidimensional, realistically flawed, and wholly believable. There are good guys, not so good guys, and bad guys and sometimes it may be difficult to tell who's a good guy and who's bad. (Trust me you'll understand and be able to figure it out while you're reading the story.) I liked the unexpected twist at the end and never could have predicted it (No! I'm not telling you what the twist is in the story . . . read it!). If you enjoy mystery-suspense thrillers or just want to read a good book then I you'll definitely want to add The Good Girl to your reading list.

Dark Dream

Dark Dream - Christine Feehan 2.5 star read

The Blessing

The Blessing - Jude Deveraux 2.5 star read

What Strange Creatures

What Strange Creatures - Emily Arsenault 3.5 star read

You wouldn't think a divorced doctoral student, her older unemployed brother, a former juvenile delinquent turned author turned college professor, a former Hare Krishna member cum bartender, and a waitress would have much in common (especially when the waitress winds up dead). Throw into the mix the life lessons learned from a 14th century holy woman (want-to-be saint and author of the first autobiography) and murder and you have the makings for what first sounds like a disaster. Amazingly enough, Ms. Arsenault has the ability to take all of these disparate subjects and people and bring forth a wonderfully engrossing mystery. Theresa Battle is in her mid-thirties, divorced with one dog and three cats. She's been working on her doctoral dissertation for more years that she wants to think about and the subject is Margery Kempe, a 14th century housewife and author of the first autobiography. (Is it really an autobiography if the person is dictating the story and can't read it for authenticity and editorial purposes?) Theresa's older brother, Jeff is unemployed and stands accused of murdering his girlfriend, Kim. In an effort to clear her brother's name, Theresa sets off on quest to find out what Kim was researching. This quest takes quite a few twists and turns along the way and the wisdom of Margery is what keeps Theresa going strong. I found all of the characters in What Strange Creatures to be a little quirky, bordering on eccentric, but it worked. There were a few times when I wasn't quite sure where the action was taking me, but again it worked. If you want to read a mystery that leaves you guessing until the very end, then What Strange Creatures is the book for you.

The Perfect Stranger

The Perfect Stranger - Wendy Corsi Staub 3.5 star read

Five women from different parts of the country become online friends. All have had the same diagnosis -- breast cancer. All five women choose the same path to deal with their diagnosis and treatment -- blogging. Now one woman, Meredith, is found murdered in her home and her friends wonder if it's possible this was random or if she was targeted because of her blog. The Perfect Stranger asks the questions: is it possible to really know people that you only interact with online and to reveal too much personal information online?

I read, okay I devoured, The Perfect Stranger in one afternoon. Ms. Staub carefully presents each woman as they mourn the loss of their friend: Landry is a forty-something wife and mother from Alabama, Kay is a middle-aged unemployed loner in Indiana, Elena is a thirty-something single schoolteacher in Massachusetts, and Jaycee is an unknown quantity possibly from New York. The search for the truth is interspersed with tidbits from each person's blog, intimate details of their lives, and the thoughts of the killer. The swing between characters, blog posts, and the search for the murderer kept me just a little off-balance until the very end. The Perfect Stranger is a great mystery-suspense read because just when you think you know who it is the story twists and sends you off in a new direction. I found The Perfect Stranger to be a fast-paced and engrossing read. If you're looking for a mystery-suspense story with compelling characters and action, then you'll definitely want to add The Perfect Stranger to your TBR list. (Beware, after reading this story you may never want to go online again.) Make sure you add the prequel e-novella Cold Hearted to your list and read it first.

Needing Nita (Serve and Protect, #3.5)

Needing Nita (Serve and Protect, #3.5) - Norah Wilson 2.5 star, steamy read

Son (The Giver, #4)

Son (The Giver, #4) - Lois Lowry 3.5 star read

Gathering Blue (The Giver, #2)

Gathering Blue (The Giver, #2) - Lois Lowry 3.5 star read

The Giver (illustrated; gift edition)

The Giver (illustrated; gift edition) - Lois Lowry 4.5 star read