Book Review – Amethyst Dreams

  • Title: Amethyst Dreams
  • Author: Phyllis A. Whitney
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/11/2017

I started reading Phyllis A. Whitney romantic suspense and mystery novels when I was in junior high, and pretty much flew through as many as I could find in libraries and that I could buy from used book shops. Even in my 30s, when I was a member of the Ladies Literary Guild book of the month club, I ordered quite a few of her books. But my tastes changed, and Amethyst Dreams is one of those romances that sat on a shelf, unread, for years. In summer, I sometimes want to read something light that requires no thought whatsoever, and that’s when I turn to romantic suspense fiction; it’s a diversion.

Anyway, Phyllis Whitney’s Amethyst Dreams is typical of her style of books. It’s a bit old fashioned, even in word choice and writing style. The plot revolves around Hallie Knight, having just discovered her husband has had an affair, she accepts an invitation she might otherwise have ignored. Hallie is invited by the grandfather of her best friend from college, Susan, to his house on Topsail (pronounced Tops’l), a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. Hallie rushes away from California and her troubles, to North Carolina. She meets Susan’s grandfather, a curmudgeonly old man known as the Captain. He spends most of his days in bed, occasionally goes out to the desk of his ocean-side house in his wheelchair, and is cared for by his housekeeper/nurse Mrs. Orion. When Hallie meets the Captain he asks her to find out what happened to Susan, who went missing years ago. Hallie is perplexed, she’s not a detective and has no clue. Perhaps the novel would have been better if she was, but we’ll get to that.

Hallie meets Mrs. Orion’s son, Corey. She meets the Captain’s son, Ryce, once husband to Susan, now married to Louise. Eventually, she meets the Captain’s first wife, Anne, an artist currently renting a house on an even more isolated island than Topsail. And she meets the next-door neighbors, Fergus, Carlina, and their daughter, Dulcie. Everyone has secrets, even the little girl – who saw something involving Susan’s death. For, everyone thinks Susan did die, rather than simply leave her odd little family.

A few chapters from the end of the book, Hallie meets a soap opera actress, Brenda, who had fled to the island after being involved in a scandel. She’s staying with her aunt in a tower home – a house build by converting one of the island’s old missile silos from the second world war. Brenda and her aunt are also hosting a guest – who turns out to be Hallie’s husband Paul, who followed her from California.

The remainder of the plot has the Captain promising to leave his money to Hallie, basically because he’s angry at his son for marrying Louise. Hallie, of course, keeps refusing to take the money. And by the end of the book, it looks like the Captain will recover anyway, despite being on death’s door for the entire book.

The last few chapters rush to an ending, with revelation piled upon revelation. We discover what happened to Susan (essentially an accident, though the death was covered-up – rather than reported). Hallie, after a few dates and conversations with her husband, decides to take him back, make her marriage work, and return to California. The other couples in the book, also with martial problems, all seem to suddenly solve their issues. Poof – happy ending. Sigh.

One of the main problems in Amethyst Dreams is it feels so old fashioned. Hallie supposedly had some type of job in California, which had led to her meeting her husband, Paul, a literary agent specializing in selling books to Hollywood to be adopted to films. Whereas, Paul’s job is depicted as exciting – we barely know what Hallie did, and whatever it was – it comes off as a support position that anyone could do. Plus, Hallie doesn’t act like a professional woman. Hallie’s constant refusals of the Captain’s money are also rather ridiculous. I kept wanting her to grow a pair (so to speak), ditch her husband, and use the Captain’s money to go back to school, open her own business, study art or cooking or something in Europe, in other words, I wanted to see Hallie grow and become independent, rather than agree to go back to her louse of a husband.

Secondly, the ending of this book is very rushed. Brenda is introduced, from nowhere, and she has more agency than the heroine – and between the two of them, everybody is confessing their secrets, leading to the information as to what happened to Susan coming out. In my head, while reading, I could mentally convert this story into a Nancy Drew mystery – or even an episode of the original Scooby Doo Mysteries cartoon series – and the ending might have been more interesting. But Hallie doesn’t do any investigating, she doesn’t look it to the sinkhole known as Pirate’s Pit. She barely investigates the “club house” beneath the Assembly Building where Susan, and her friends hung out as teenagers. But instead, people simply randomly come forward and confess their secrets held for decades – because that always happens.

Third, the book is told in first person – which is a lousy choice. The books I remember reading from Phyllis Whitney as a teenager usually were written in third-person omniscient style, though I remember some in first person which were often not my favorites. Overall, it was a bit diverting, but there are so many issues with this book I cannot really recommend it.

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Book Review – The Moon and the Sun

  • Title: The Moon and the Sun
  • Author: Vonda N. McIntyre
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/22/2017

The Moon and the Sun is part historical novel set in the court of Louis XIV (the Sun King) of France, and part SF/Fantasy novel. The entire novel takes place at Versailles except the opening chapter and the epilogue. The novel opens with Father Yves de la Croix leading an expedition to locate and find the sea monsters – which they do, and return them to the Court of Louis XIV. Yves returns with a living female “sea monster” and a dead male to dissect. Meanwhile, his younger sister, Marie-Joseph de la Croix, has adopted to her new situation at court. It is much better than her previous one living in a convent in Martinique.

Marie ends-up training the female sea monster, whom she quickly realizes is a Sea Woman, as well as documenting the dissection of the dead male. But more than that, Marie’s knowledge of music and forbidden interest in mathematics, means she can understand the Sea Woman. The creature communicates through music, a music that Marie can interpret. None of the men around her can understand the sea woman, and none believe Marie that the creature is human.

This forms the crux of the novel. Marie, as she learns more and more about the Sea Woman, sees her as an intelligent person – no different than a human being. Yves wants to dissect the sea monster, to learn what he can about it. King Louis XIV want to eat the sea creature because he believes doing so will grant him immortal life. And Pope Innocent wants to bring the creature to Rome to be tortured into converting to Christianity.

The reunion between France under Louis XIV and the Pope is also an important subplot of the novel.

But this is also the Court of Versailles, so the intrigues of court, affairs of the various women, and Marie’s growth as a young woman at court, also form a major portion of the plot. And I will say this – Vonda N. McIntyre manages to make the various alliances, affairs, and such, clear, understandable, and not boring. I loved the way she described the French court because it was understandable. Marie, and her slave/servant Odelette (Haleed) are wonderful point-of-view characters. I actually enjoyed this as much as a historical novel as I did the story of the sea monster.

As stated earlier, Marie trains the monster, understands her cries, keens, and music as communication and not only trains her – but starts to interpret her stories. However, these stories inevitably are extremely sad, and extremely critical of the men of the land. This does not help her cause to win freedom for the Sea Woman. Working with the Sea Woman also causes Marie to see that keeping a Turkish woman as a slave is wrong. She decides to free the woman, and even calls her sister as well as using her given name of Haleed. The times, however, do not give Marie the right to free her own slave – only her older brother Yves can do that since he owns all the family property.

This novel weaves together the French court, Marie’s growth, the intriguing history of the Sea People as told by the Sea Woman, Haleed’s history, and even Marie’s slow awakening of dealing with men (she rebukes some but does fall in love). It’s an excellent and fast-moving novel with a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed it very much.

Highly recommended.

Book Review – Star by Star

  • Title: Star by Star
  • Line: Star Wars: The New Jedi Order
  • Author: Troy Denning
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/27/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Star by Star is a very sad book – and Star Wars isn’t meant to be sad. Yes, there are setbacks, but in the end the heroes should always prevail. In fact, that the heroes prevail over overwhelming odds is part of what makes the universe so much fun. But Star by Star is just unrelentingly sad.

The story opens with the New Republic at war with the Vuuzhan Vong, alien invaders from another Galaxy, who have invaded the Star Wars Galaxy with two goals in mind: the complete conquest of the galaxy and a religious fervor to destroy the Jedi. One of the problems with the story is even with chapters written from the Vuuzhan Vong point of view – it’s never explained why they want every single Jedi dead. There’s just no reason for it and no explanation. That makes the story very weak. We do learn that the Vuuzhan Vong exhausted the resources of their own galaxy – so they built worldships to travel to a new galaxy, while increasing their sacrifices to their war gods, and mutilating themselves in offerings to the gods – but it’s never explained, at all, why they want to destroy the Jedi. And since, in the Star Wars Universe the Force is pretty much a force of nature – it’s an impossible conflict.

Also, revealed in the beginning of the story, Chewbacca is dead, having been killed in an (successful) attempt to rescue Anakin Solo (Han and Leia’s youngest son) from a Vuuzhan Vong POW camp. This is backstory so not a lot of details are given. Mara Jade and Luke Skywalker have married and have a newborn son, Ben. And Han and Leia’s older children, the twins Jacen and Jaina, are now full Jedi Knights. Jaina is a seasoned X-fighter pilot. Jacen has the talent, through the Force, to understand and even sometimes influence animals.

Most of the plot involves the war, and various battles and attempts by the New Republic to do something.

About halfway through the book, Anakin Solo comes up with a desperate idea, he will take a squad of young Jedi Knights, let themselves be “captured” and destroy the Voxyn Queen. The Voxyn are an animal bred by the Vuuzhan Vong to hunt down and kill Jedi. Once they discover that all the Voxyn are clones of the queen, the Jedi figure that destroying the queen will help the New Republic war effort. Another group of scientist-Jedi work to discover how more of the Vuuzhan Vong organic technology weapons, especially the yammosk – a creature that co-ordinates the battle orders of the Vuuzhan Vong -equivalent of X-wings and other small space fighters actually work.

Much of the rest of the book splits between what the rest of the characters are doing: Han and Leia for the most part on Coruscant – capital planet of the Star Wars Galaxy where Leia finally gives up her diplomatic position in the Senate in protest of the New Republic’s plans to appease the Vuuzhan Vong by selling out the Jedi. Luke and Mara are on Eclipse – the Jedi secret base, caring for their infant son, and managing the Jedi role in the war. The scientist-Jedi attempt to crack the code of the yammosk. And Jacen, Jaina, Anakin, and their squad of young Jedi Knights attempting to kill the Voxyn Queen.

However, Anakin’s squad – one by one are getting killed. And that makes the book so sad. As there was an entire series of early Young Adult “Young Jedi Knights” and “Jedi Academy” books – to see the main characters from those books dying one-by-one? It’s a hard read. Eventually even Anakin falls. His death sets his older sister, Jaina, on the path to the Dark Side. And Leia, who feels her son’s death, even though she’s on Coruscant on the opposite side of the Galaxy, is thrown for a loop and ready to just give up.

But the bad news isn’t over – the Vuuzhan Vong launch a successful attack on Coruscant, capturing the capitol planet – and killing thousands of civilians in the process. Han, Leia, Luke and Mara barely escape. Luke and Mara had been fighting in the battle – but are also there to pick up their infant son, Ben, whom they’d left with Han and Leia to be safe. During Han and Leia’s rush to get to the Falcon to escape – Ben and C3PO get separated and end up on a fleeing refugee ship. Though Lando does manage to rescue the two from the Vuuzhan Vong that board that ship.

Anakin’s mission – already failing miserably, results in the successful destruction of the Voxyn – but at the cost of the deaths of at least half his squad, as well as Anakin himself. Jacen is also, again, captured by the Vuuzhan Vong, who have a religious superstition about twins – and intend to force Jacen and Jaina to fight to the death, and considering Jaina has turned to the Dark Side – it may just happen.

Also, the book has no closure – Han, Leia, Luka, and Mara escape Coruscant in the Falcon, and Ben is meant to be safe on the Errant Venture thanks to Lando, but everything is much in the air and undecided – especially with Coruscant destroyed. So, after reading over 600 pages, nothing is really decided and I hate that.

This book was too sad, too depressing, and too filled with death for Star Wars and doesn’t fit the “light adventure” mold of most of the tie-in novels. I didn’t really enjoy it.

Book Review – I, Jedi

  • Title: I, Jedi
  • Author: Michael A. Stockpole
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/10/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Just after the film Star Wars The Return of the Jedi was released in theaters in 1983, a license was granted to Bantam Books (Spectra imprint) to publish a series (which started as two and eventually became several lines) of tie-in novels set after Return of the Jedi. I read and collected them, but eventually more and more lines were added, and my interests changed, and I no longer kept up with them. When I stopped reading the Star Wars books I had a few around that I didn’t read, but not many. Well, books are like wine – sometimes they need to age to be enjoyed.

Having finally gotten the chance to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) I was in the mood for more – so I pulled I, Jedi off the shelf to read. I’m glad I did, because it was extremely enjoyable.

I enjoyed the novel I, Jedi very much, even though at the beginning I was a little lost. There are a lot of references to other events in the shared Star Wars Universe and I could no longer remember them. I remembered a few things: that Han and Leia married and had twins (a boy and a girl) who were strong in the Force, that Luke set-up a Jedi Academy, that one of the first Jedi Luke found was Mara Jade and she was very kick-ass – but that was about it. Still, the events to other events were not something that totally threw me out of the story. I did feel like I was missing something, but the story I was reading was still comprehensible – which isn’t always the case when picking up a book in the middle of a long-running series.

I, Jedi is written entirely in first person and is the tale of Corran Horn, a former Corellian Security (CorSec) officer and investigator who ends up in Rogue Squadron helping the New Republic and who is currently on an assignment with his fellow squadron mates to stop a pirate crew headed by an Admiral Tavira aboard an Imperial Star Destroyer called the Invidious – though the loose group of pirates included many squadrons. Corran returns home to Coruscant (home of the New Republic) after a mission with Rogue Squadron and discovers his wife, Mirax has been kidnapped. As a former investigator, he wants to bring her home himself. He goes to his superiors in the New Republic, files an appeal to be allowed to find his wife with Councilor Leia Organa Solo, and even contacts his father-in-law who’s a bit of a gangster, but one who now is tolerated by the Republic. Essentially told to sit-and-wait, Corran rejects that idea.

The book is then split into two parts.

In part one, because Corran is also the grandson of a famous Jedi, and Force sensitive, friends and comrades-in-arms suggest Corran can best help his wife by learning how to help her and he disguises his appearance, changes his name and heads to Luke’s Jedi Academy to be part of Luke’s first class. It is Luke’s idea that he change his name and identity. Part One is awesome because it gives a detailed view into the process of becoming a Jedi. There is also a mystery or two to be solved, and the inventive action that the Star Wars universe is known for. It’s enjoyable.

In the end, though, Corran decides he has learned all he can from Luke, and that in assuming the role of Jedi-Trainee Halcyon Horn, he has lost some of his own identity. He also decides he’s stayed in one place too long and he really must find his missing wife.

In Part Two, however, Corran returns to Corellia and sees the man he’d known as a child as his grandfather, but whom he now knows is his step-grandfather. This man tells him the truth about his Jedi grandfather and gives him some other information. He also helps Corran change his identity again. Soon Corran is operating undercover inside the pirate organization headed by Admiral Tavira – because he has uncovered information that the pirates are the ones holding his wife or that they know where she is. As Jenos Idanian, a Corellian with a shady past, Corran joins the Survivors, one of Tavira’s squadrons. He works to shape up the rag-tag group, find out what is going on, try to locate his wife, and pick-up any useful info for the New Republic that they can use to stop Tavira’s pirate group. Although, initially the second half was slower than the first half (I very much enjoyed seeing Jedi training, an undercover investigation was more pedestrian) – eventually that part of the book did pick-up. The second half picked up once the Pirates meant to attack a defenseless refugee colony world only to discover it being attacked by slavers first. Jenos Idanian manages to minimize civilian damages and casualties – while providing excuses that the pirates and their leadership will buy. He also ends-up acquiring, quite by accident, a Caamasi refugee as a “bodyservant” – basically think butler with fur, or Alfred Pennyworth from Batman but slotted in the Star Wars universe. Elegos the Caamasi is an awesome character and I enjoyed how he took care of Corran. Also, as luck would have it – he has a talent that really helps bring the plot to its conclusion. The concluding chapters were very awesome and a quick read.

I enjoyed I, Jedi very much. Because it’s told entirely in first person from an outsider’s point of view, it gives a very different view of the main characters in the Star Wars universe (Leia, Luke, Han, Wedge, and R2 D2 – all show-up at one time or another, though often only briefly). The training scenes are excellent, and Stackpole’s ability to describe light saber battles is just perfect. I found the Caamasi to be an unique alien race and that story was well-told. The story of Corran trying to find his wife gave the whole story a personal bent, though it was also a bit more traditional. Still, I enjoyed the novel and I recommend it.

Book Review – Mrs. Pargeter’s Plot

  • Title: Mrs. Pargeter’s Plot
  • Author: Simon Brett
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/01/2016

Mrs. Paregeter’s Plot is a very amusing British Cozy-style mystery (set in the modern day). Mrs. Pargeter is a widow whose deceased husband ran a gang of thieves and troublemakers, who also sponsored ex-thieves into more legitimate professions that were related to their life in crime (such as the ex-getaway driver who now owns his own limo service), but Mrs. Pargeter doesn’t know any of the details of her former husband’s life, nor does she know the source of her considerable income. She simply has her dead husband’s address book of people to call in case of trouble.

This book is part of a series, but it’s the only volume I’ve read – and it was a quick read. The story begins with Mrs. Pargeter traveling out to a plot of land she inherited from her husband that she is having her dream home built on. Her builder is Concrete Jacket, one of her husband’s old friends who has gone straight. Unfortunately, before he can tour the foundations with Mrs. Pargeter, he shows her his surprise: a built-in wine cellar. Which, it turns out, is occupied with a corpse. The police arrive immediately, and Mr. Jacket is arrested. Mrs. Pargeter becomes determined to prove he didn’t do it, even though the corpse, Willie Cass, had been heard threatening Mr. Jacket earlier. Mrs. Pargeter works with a PI, named Truffler Mason and her husband’s “associates” to solve the case.

But throwing a monkey in the works is “Fossilface” O’Donahue – a former member of the gang known for both his bad luck, and being, well, an idiot that caused several members of the gang to spend time in jail – O’Donahue is back. He, however, has had a jailhouse conversion, and is determined to make “restitooshun” as he calls it for Mrs. Pargeter and the entire gang. He’s also determined to show that he’s developed a sense of humor. O’Donahue’s fiercely unhelpful activities liven up this book with both humor and surprises.

Overall, Mrs. Pargeter’s Plot was a fun British cozy. It had some interesting characters (all with improbable names), a straightforward plot, and it was very short. I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to fans of the modern cozy. I’d also buy another book in the series. Enjoyable and fun!

Book Review – Evans Above

  • Title: Evans Above
  • Author: Rhys Bowen
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/22/2015

This time this book was recommended to me by my Mom – who received the entire collection from a friend. This is a typical British Cozy-style mystery. Or, to be precise, a Welsh cozy set in Northern Wales in a small village at the foot of Mount Snowdon. Evan Evans is the local police constable, who returned to Llanfair a few years ago after training in the police in Swansea. The small village of Llanfair is home to many colorful, interesting characters, including three more Evans – known as Evans-the-milk (the dairy man), Evans-the-meat (the butcher), and Evans-the-Post (the mail carrier). So Evan Evans becomes Evans-the-law. There’s also a flirty barmaid, and a no-nonsense school teacher who both view Evan as possible husband-on-the-hoof.

Pretty quickly, a crime occurs – two hikers are found dead on the mountain. PC Evans immediately thinks it’s murder, because two dead climbers is too much of a coincidence. Sgt. Watkins initially thinks it’s simply an accident – and he’s distracted by the horrible murder of a young girl, and an escaped pedophile he thinks is to blame.

Evan investigates on his own, and nearly gets into trouble. But when the escaped pedophile is captured and confesses – everyone thinks all is well. Until there’s a third murder.

Suddenly, everyone is in a tizzy. Sgt. Watkins who has gradually come to appreciate PC Evan’s skills, begins to listen to his theories and investigation so far. Watkins’ boss comes in to solve the third murder – and downplays Watkins’ abilities, just as Watkins had downplayed and pooh-poohed Evans own abilities. But pretty quickly Evans is able to investigate, find the real killer, and solve the case.

Evans Above read like the pilot of a television series. It was fun and light, and I enjoyed it – but there was also very little depth. Still, I’d definitely read more in the series. If you like a good British Cozy style mystery, and want to explore Wales and Welsh culture, the Constable Evans Mystery series is a place to start.

Book Review – Rainsong

  • Title: Rainsong
  • Author: Phyllis A. Whitney
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/14/2015

Books are like wine, sometimes they need to sit for awhile before one reads them. One would hope it would improve the vintage – sadly this was not the case for this romantic suspense novel from 1984. It had been sitting on my shelves for awhile, and I finally took it down to read it. And it was a fast read – unfortunately that’s one of the few things it had going for it.

I first discovered Phyllis A. Whitney in junior high – and I actually really liked her books, and read as many as I could find, searching libraries and used book stores to find more. Then I became bored by the entire romance genre and stopped reading them.

But I still had a few books that I had gotten through a book club lying around, waiting to be read – so I finally picked up this one and read it.

Hollis is a songwriter, who at 18 is gutsy enough to sneak into the hospital room of her favorite singer, Ricky Sands, and play him some of her song. He likes her music, and likes Hollis as well. Before long, they are married (though he’s nearly twice her age – eeeeewwwwwh) and she’s writing hit songs, while he parties his life away.

Hollis is kept in an expensive New York City apartment, basically forbidden to go out. Ricky doesn’t even invite her to watch his concerts, though she sneaks out, occasionally, and watches her husband perform.

Eventually, Ricky’s manager introduces Hollis to Coral Caine, a soap actress that Ricky’s been having and on-again-off-again-on-again affair with since before Ricky even met Hollis. But after their first meeting, Coral mysteriously “kills herself”. Within what seems to be a few days or weeks later (but is actually a year, as later events make clear) Hollis’s husband, Ricky, also commits suicide.

Reeling from loss, Hollis accepts an invitation from a strange, elderly, rich woman, who once knew Hollis’s father, to stay at Windtop, her huge, creepy, mansion of a house in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. And that is the good part of the novel. Once Hollis arrives at Windtop, the novel turns into a typical Whitney storyline: creepy house, strange people, secrets from the past that won’t die, and a lot of coincidences. Hollis, with very little agency at all, gets swept up in events. There’s no obvious romantic pairing at first, and the conclusion has Hollis attempting to cross a pitched, slate roof, in Winter, that’s covered with snow, ice, and running water from fresh rain. Sigh. She escapes of course. And finds a new man in the very last chapter, of course. Double sigh.

Rainsong wasn’t boring – it actually moves at a fairly good clip, but it’s flat. The characters aren’t predictable, but we just could care less about them. There’s no chemistry – not between Hollis and the first guy who chases her, nor between her and anyone else. And there are things about this novel that creeped me out. The marriage between 18-year-old Hollis and 30-something Ricky was just… eewwww. That he keeps her locked up in a nice Manhattan apartment, but with no friends, no one to even talk to was totally not cool – and this is the love of her life? The mysterious two suicides, which I really expected to be murders, – should have been more of a focus of the plot (as should have been the mysterious coral-colored roses left at both crime scenes) but everyone seems to just accept what they are told. Even Hollis, who doesn’t believe either death was suicide, doesn’t ever seem to even say, now “wait a minute”, and is oh so willing to just disappear.

Windtop is actually a cool-sounding house, even the burnt-out wing, destroyed in a fire six years previously. (And never cleaned-up. No one in this novel ever seems to be able to acknowledge the passage of time.) I would have loved to see Hollis come into Windtop and propose making the place into an expensive luxury bed and breakfast. If she wasn’t going to write songs anymore, she needed something to do. But, alas, the author totally misses that opportunity.

Also, throughout the novel, I found lines here and there that just seemed really, really disturbing – basically supporting the whole, “women are nothing without a man” myth.

Not recommended.