Category Archives: St Martin’s Press

Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Title: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical (70s), Women’s Fiction
Length: 448 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

Review:

Set during the tumultuous 1970s, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is an incredibly compelling novel about a Vietnam vet who moves his family to the Alaskan bush in an effort conquer his war-related demons.

Thirteen year old Leni Allbright remembers nothing of the father she had before Ernt was drafted during the Vietnam War. Since his return, the family has frequently moved in an effort to outrun their troubles. She and her mother, Cora, are incredibly close and Cora implores her daughter to forgive her father and remember that he was not always like this. When Ernt receives a letter from his war buddy Bo Harlan’s father Earl letting him know Bo wanted him to inherit his land, Ernt once again uproots his family to move to the desolate, yet beautiful Alaskan bush. However, Ernt, Cora and Leni are completely unprepared for the harsh life in an unforgiving, isolated place where one mistake could prove fatal and life revolves around preparing for the upcoming winter.  Fortunately for them, their new neighbors in the small town of Kaneq pitch in to help them learn the much needed skills to survive in the bush, but will Ernt find the peace he is desperately seeking?

Leni is a resourceful, intelligent young woman who loves her mother but distrusts her father. She finds it surprisingly easy to adapt to her new life in Alaska and despite the hard work and harsh weather, she loves their new home. Despite the positive changes Leni sees in her father, she has grave misgivings about the effect winter will have on his tenuous stability and volatile behavior. When the long summer days end and the long, dark winter begins, Leni’s fears quickly come to fruition. Her pleas to her mother fall on deaf ears as Cora refuses to give up hoping that Ernt will turn back into the loving husband he was before the Vietnam War took such huge toll on his psyche.

The town of Kaneq is filled with quirky residents who have many different reasons for choosing to eke out a life in such an isolated and unforgiving yet incredibly beautiful and majestic state.  Marge Birdsall is a gregarious woman who is larger than life and more than willing to help the Allbrights navigate life in the bush. Tom Walker is from a prosperous family with deep roots in the community and he is the first to help his fellow Alaskans in time of trouble. Tom’s son Matthew and Leni strike a close friendship that withstands heartache and tragedy but Ernt’s animosity for Tom does not bode well for their relationship. The Harlan clan eagerly welcome Ernt and his family into their fold but when Ernt’s paranoia grabs hold, will they continue to support his radical and dangerous ideas?

The Great Alone  is a magnificent novel that incorporates true life events into the storyline. The characters are well developed with true to life strengths and human frailties that make them easy to relate to.  Narrated for the most part by Leni, her observations are insightful and due to her life experiences, she is very mature. Cora and Ernt are both incredibly frustrating characters but it is Cora that readers will have the most difficult time relating to as she stubbornly puts herself  and her daughter into danger with her poor decisions.  Never downplaying its dangers or its dramatic beauty, Kristin Hannah brings Alaska vibrantly and realistically to life. As someone who lived in Alaska for a number of years, I can assure readers that she has faithfully and brilliantly highlighted this raw and untamed state in all of its wondrous splendor.   I highly recommend this captivating yet bittersweet story of resilience, kindness, joy and sorrow that is heartbreaking yet ultimately, uplifting.

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Filed under Historical, Historical (70s), Kristin Hannah, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Press, The Great Alone, Women's Fiction

Review: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Title: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife.
You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love.
You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle.
Assume nothing.

Twisted and deliciously chilling, The Wife Between Us exposes the secret complexities of an enviable marriage – and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

Read between the lies.

Review:

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen is a twist-filled, suspenseful read.

In the days leading up to her marriage to Richard Thompson, twenty-eight year old Nellie is excited but a little sad about leaving behind the jobs and friends she loves. In sharp contrast, Richard’s ex-wife, Vanessa, is still devastated over the end of her marriage. In fact, Vanessa is living with her beloved Aunt Charlotte and barely hanging onto her sales associate job at an upscale department store due to the fact she can barely crawl out of bed most days. In between drinking to dull her pain, she is stalking her ex-husband’s fiancée while at the same trying to figure out when things began going wrong in her now defunct marriage. How far will Vanessa go to prevent her ex-husband from marrying again?

The Wife Between Us is written in three parts with part one being the longest and slowest paced. This part of the story provides interesting insight Vanessa’s current mental state. At the same time, this portion of the novel details Nellie’s upcoming marriage to Richard along with some intriguing information about Nellie and her past. Part one concludes with a jaw-dropping revelation that will definitely leave readers reeling.

The story really picks up steam during Part Two which focuses on Vanessa’s concerted effort to help Richard’s fiancée see  the truth about the man she is about to marry. Revelations about Vanessa, Richard and their marriage are positively stunning and show exactly why Vanessa is so determined to stop the upcoming wedding.  Richard goes to pretty extreme lengths to keep the women apart but Vanessa is undeterred as she goes to extreme (and dangerous) lengths to stop their wedding.

Part three is even more action-packed as Vanessa puts her plans into motion. The complete  truth about her marriage to Richard is also fully revealed and these details are shocking.  This portion of the story is also rather gratifying since Vanessa begins to get herself and her life together.

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen is a unique and multi-layered mystery. Vanessa is not always the most reliable of narrators and she is sometimes not exactly easy to like or feel much sympathy towards. Nellie is almost shockingly naive as she fails to grasp the implications of some of things about her older, successful husband to be. Aunt Charlotte is a delightful character who is unfailingly supportive of her niece.  Expect the unexpected in this innovative domestic mystery!

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Filed under Contemporary, Greer Hendricks, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Sarah Pekkanen, St Martin's Press, Suspense, The Wife Between Us

Review: Poison by Galt Niederhoffer

Title: Poison by Galt Niederhoffer
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Cass and Ryan Connor have achieved family nirvana. With three kids between them, a cat and a yard, a home they built and feathered, they seem to have the Modern Family dream. Their family, including Cass’ two children from previous relationships, has recently moved to Portland —a new start for their new lives. Cass and Ryan have stable, successful careers, and they are happy. But trouble begins almost imperceptibly. First with small omissions and white lies that happen daily in any marital bedroom. They seem insignificant, but they are quickly followed by a series of denials and feints that mushroom and then cyclone in menace.

With life-or-death stakes and irreversible consequences, Poison is a chilling and irresistible reminder that the closest bond designed to protect and provide for each other and for children can change in a minute.

Review:

Poison by Galt Niederhoffer is an inventive domestic mystery about a woman who is being gaslighted by her husband.

At first glance, Cass and Ryan Connor have the perfect marriage.  The couple relocated to a suburb of Seattle with Cass’s two children from her first marriage, seven year old Pete and ten year old Alice, along with their son, two year old Sam. The children adore Ryan, who is spontaneous and playful, but Cass finds these traits a bit annoying since he sometimes disrupts the kids’ routines. Ryan is the family’s main breadwinner but Cass also works outside the home as a college professor. Despite their outward happy appearance, their marriage has deep cracks that widen after Cass begins to suspect Ryan is having an affair.

Cass is an award winning journalist who sometimes yearns for the career she willingly gave up to raise her children after her marriage to Ryan. She is still strongly attracted to Ryan and even after she catches him in a lie, this never changes. Cass is stunned by the sudden changes in Ryan’s behavior but even in the aftermath of a shocking threat, she remains under his spell. As the tension mounts between them and her health rapidly deteriorates, Cass gradually begins to realize she has completely ignored rather unsavory aspects of Ryan’s personality.

As her marriage takes a dark turn, Cass becomes more isolated and rather helpless as she becomes a victim of both Ryan and the legal system. Her judgment is seriously skewed as she puts her trust in the wrong people then makes questionable decisions that endanger not only herself but her children. With her situation becoming increasingly dire, Cass finds herself in the crosshairs of a diabolical man who will do absolutely anything to win.

While the plot is unique, Poison is a slow-moving novel that quickly becomes bogged down in long passages of wordy narration that lacks much action or dialogue. Galt Niederhoffer brilliantly highlights societal issues regarding crimes against women and how they are often victimized as they attempt to seek justice.   Readers will have to suspend disbelief as the novel wends its way to a somewhat dissatisfying and abrupt conclusion that does not completely wrap up all of the dangling threads.

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Filed under Contemporary, Galt Niederhoffer, Mystery, Poison, Rated C+, Review, St Martin's Press, Suspense

Review: The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

Title: The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical (40s), Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Steeped in history and filled with heart-wrenching twists, The Stolen Marriage is an emotionally captivating novel of secrets, betrayals, prejudice, and forgiveness. It showcases Diane Chamberlain at the top of her talent.

One mistake, one fateful night, and Tess DeMello’s life is changed forever.

It is 1944. Pregnant, alone, and riddled with guilt, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly gives up her budding career as a nurse and ends her engagement to the love of her life, unable to live a lie. Instead, she turns to the baby’s father for help and agrees to marry him, moving to the small, rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows her no affection. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry but see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain. When one of the town’s golden girls dies in a terrible accident, everyone holds Tess responsible. But Henry keeps his secrets even closer now, though it seems that everyone knows something about him that Tess does not.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes Hickory, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess knows she is needed and defies Henry’s wishes to begin working at there. Through this work, she begins to find purpose and meaning. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle the truth behind her husband’s mysterious behavior and find the love—and the life—she was meant to have?

Review:

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain is a well-researched, historically accurate novel set during the mid 1940s in North Carolina.

Twenty-three year old Tess DeMello is happily engaged to next door neighbor Dr. Vincent Russo. Looking forward to her upcoming wedding and completing her nursing studies, she is disappointed yet understanding when Vincent goes to Chicago to help out during a serious polio outbreak. When his return date continues to get pushed back, she and her best friend take a trip to Washington, DC that forever alters Tess’s life and eventually leads to a loveless marriage to furniture maker Henry Kraft.

Tess is a strong, confident young woman who has a close relationship with her mother and Vincent’s family. Her one misstep has far reaching implications and she loses everything dear to her the aftermath. Not expecting Henry to offer marriage, she nonetheless accepts his proposal and relocates to his hometown of Hickory.  Needless to say, neither her mother-in-law Ruth nor her sister-in-law Lucy welcomes her into the family and Tess grows incredibly lonely in her new circumstances. She is also puzzled by Henry’s lack of interest in their marriage and although she would like to confront him, Tess is fearful of upsetting their fragile bond. Tess remains hopeful things will improve over the coming months and despite her reluctance to go against her husband’s wishes, she nonetheless holds firm when it comes to attaining her RN license.

Tess is definitely a fish out of water in her new home. She is expected to conform to Ruth’s wishes and she gradually loses her sense of self under the weight of these expectations. Dealt a crushing blow in the aftermath of tragic losses, Tess unexpectedly finds the opportunity to fulfill her prior dreams when the town comes together and builds a hospital for polio patients.  When her past crashes headlong into the present, Tess realizes the enormity of everything she has lost, but will she find a way to escape her increasingly unhappy life?

The Stolen Marriage is an enthralling historical novel with a rich cast of vibrantly developed and life-like characters. Tess is an extremely sympathetic and appealing protagonist who is a victim of not only her impetuous decisions but the strictures of time period. The small town of Hickory is realistically depicted but it takes the townspeople’s generosity in the face of adversity for Tess to realize she has misjudged most of its residents.  Diane Chamberlain’s meticulous research of Hickory’s past highlights a remarkable but little known piece of important history. An incredibly captivating and thought-provoking novel that provides an insightful glimpse of turbulent race relations, haunting polio epidemics and limited choices women endured during the mid 1940s in America.

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Filed under Diane Chamberlain, Fiction, Historical, Historical (40s), Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Press, The Stolen Marriage

Review: The Trust by Ronald H. Balson

Title: The Trust by Ronald H. Balson
Liam and Catherine Series Book Four
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 367 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The newest novel from Ronald H. Balson, the international bestselling author of Once We Were Brothers, finds private investigator Liam Taggart returning to his childhood home for an uncle’s funeral, only to discover his death might not have been natural.

When his uncle dies, Liam Taggart reluctantly returns to his childhood home in Northern Ireland for the funeral—a home he left years ago after a bitter confrontation with his family, never to look back. But when he arrives, Liam learns that not only was his uncle shot to death, but that he’d anticipated his own murder: In an astonishing last will and testament, Uncle Fergus has left his entire estate to a secret trust, directing that no distributions be made to any person until the killer is found. Did Fergus know, but refuse to name, his killer? Was this a crime of revenge, a vendetta leftover from Northern Ireland’s bloody sectarian war? After all, the Taggarts were deeply involved in the IRA. Or is it possible that the killer is a family member seeking Fergus’s estate? Otherwise, why postpone distributions to the heirs? Most menacingly, does the killer now have his sights on other family members?

As his investigation draws Liam farther and farther into the past he has abandoned, he realizes he is forced to reopen doors long ago shut and locked. Now, accepting the appointment as sole trustee of the Fergus Taggart Trust, Liam realizes he has stepped into the center of a firestorm.

Review:

As with previous novels written by Ronald H. Balson, his newest mystery, The Trust, is well-researched and historically accurate. Set in Ireland, the Taggart family and its history with the IRA are under the microscope after Liam’s estranged Uncle Fergus dies under mysterious circumstances.

Although Liam is conflicted about his cousin Janie’s request that he attend his uncle’s funeral, his wife Catherine easily him to make the trip.  He is stunned to discover that Fergus made him the executor of his estate which has been placed into a trust. Equally shocking are the terms of the will and Liam finds himself on the opposite side of his cousins Conor and Riley as they attempt to remove him as the trust administrator. In between the legal maneuvering, Liam teams up with the police inspector assigned to the case to try to solve his uncle’s murder.

Liam is quite upset that he never made the effort to mend the sixteen year rift with Fergus and he is utterly confused about his uncle’s conviction that he is the only person he can trust to carry out his wishes. The terms of the will are clear but unfortunately, everything about the last few months of his uncle’s life is rather murky. Liam quickly discovers Fergus was convinced someone was going to kill him, but he was deliberately vague about who the killer might be or why he might targeted.  Liam’s family is certain his murder is a vendetta from forty years earlier, but local police Inspector Farrell McLaughlin is equally convinced the killer is most likely related to Fergus.

The investigation is slow moving and Liam also must contend with inner family squabbles, overt threats and memories of his distant past. He vacillates back and forth between abdicating his responsibilities and returning home, but his remorse over his role in the longstanding estrangement is a powerful inducement to carry out Fergus’s last wishes. He is also a bit angst-ridden over Catherine and their baby’s safety but his wife is equally certain the threats she is receiving are nothing more than a bothersome nuisance. Even when the killer begins targeting other family members, Liam and the police are still unable to discern a motive for the murders and without a motive, it is even more difficult to narrow down the suspect list.

Rich with historical details, The Trust is an intriguing mystery that old and new fans of the Liam and Catherine series will enjoy.  Although the investigation into Fergus’s murder is interesting, readers might a little frustrated with the lack of progress and the narrow focus on a list of very obvious suspects while glaring inconsistencies with other characters are ignored. Catherine is a little blasé about her and their baby’s safety and Liam comes across as rather unfocused as he deals with the emotional aspects of his unexpected family reunion. Despite a few minor irritations with the mystery aspect of the storyline, Ronald H. Balson provides a fascinating look into Ireland’s deeply troubled past between Protestants  and Catholics that still reverberates amongst its citizens today.

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Filed under Contemporary, Liam and Catherine Series, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Ronald H Balson, St Martin's Press, Suspense, The Trust

Review: The Vengeance of Mothers by Jim Fergus

Title: The Vengeance of Mothers by Jim Fergus
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

The stunning sequel to the award-winning novel One Thousand White Women.

9 March 1876

My name is Meggie Kelly and I take up this pencil with my twin sister, Susie. We have nothing left, less than nothing. The village of our People has been destroyed, all our possessions burned, our friends butchered by the soldiers, our baby daughters gone, frozen to death on an ungodly trek across these rocky mountains. Empty of human feeling, half-dead ourselves, all that remains of us intact are hearts turned to stone. We curse the U.S. government, we curse the Army, we curse the savagery of mankind, white and Indian alike. We curse God in his heaven. Do not underestimate the power of a mother’s vengeance…

So begins the Journal of Margaret Kelly, a woman who participated in the U.S. government’s “Brides for Indians” program in 1873, a program whose conceit was that the way to peace between the United States and the Cheyenne Nation was for One Thousand White Woman to be given as brides in exchange for three hundred horses. These “brides” were mostly fallen women; women in prison, prostitutes, the occasional adventurer, or those incarcerated in asylums. No one expected this program to work. And the brides themselves thought of it simply as a chance at freedom. But many of them fell in love with their Cheyenne spouses and had children with them…and became Cheyenne themselves.

The Vengeance of Mothers explores what happens to the bonds between wives and husbands, children and mothers, when society sees them as “unspeakable.” What does it mean to be white, to be Cheyenne, and how far will these women go to avenge the ones they love? With vivid detail and keen emotional depth, Jim Fergus brings to light a time and place in American history and fills it with unforgettable characters who live and breathe with a passion we can relate to even today

Review:

In The Vengeance of Mothers, Jim Fergus whisks readers back to the 1870s when the US government was doing everything possible to eradicate the Native American people. Between the Black Hills gold rush, ranchers and white settlers, eliminating the People is a high priority as the Army viciously strikes their camps, the government reneges on deals made through peace treaties and Indian tribes are forced onto government reservations.  In an effort to assimilate Native Americans into the white way of life, a deal is struck with the Cheyenne Nation and white women, many of whom are from prisons and mental asylums, are sent to marry the braves. Although this newest release is a sequel which picks up One Thousand White Women (which I HIGHLY recommend) ends, it can be read as a standalone.

Written in diary format, the story alternates back and forth between the perspectives of original brides Margaret “Meggie” Kelly and her sister Susan “Susie” and newcomer Molly McGill. Meggie and Susie have survived the horrific massacre which left their husbands and many of their fellow brides dead. As they fled for safety, they suffered horrific personal losses and they have vowed to take revenge on the soldiers who are indiscriminately and viciously attacking the various tribes’ villages. Molly and her fellow brides’ train has been attacked by the Cheyenne but they decide they still want to follow through with the plan to marry into their tribe.  Still grieving from recent events, Meggie and Susie become the other women’s reluctant guides as they, along with the surviving Cheyenne warriors, set out to reunite with the rest of their tribe.

Despite a bit of a slow start, The Vengeance of Mothers is an engrossing peek into the hardships and life and death battles these women and the Native Americans endured as they government continued their efforts to wipe out the indigenous people. This historically accurate and impeccably researched novel has an incredibly realistic and compelling storyline that is heartrending. There is a bit of a mystical feel to the present day aspects of the plot and  Jim Fergus brings the story to an intriguing, but somewhat  ambiguous, conclusion. Both The Vengeance of Mothers and its predecessor, One Thousand White Women, are incredibly well-written novels that bring the appalling plight of the Native American tribes vividly to life.  I absolutely loved and highly recommend both of these incredible novels.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Jim Fergus, Rated B, Review, St Martin's Press, The Vengeance of Mothers