Sunday, October 19, 2014

Danger and Secrets in Tudor England

Queen Mary is dead and Elizabeth is on the throne. Brendan Prescott has been living in Basel with Walsingham who is teaching him to be a spy. Now it's time for them to return to Elizabeth's court. Almost as soon as they arrive events take a perilous turn. Elizabeth is the target of a poison attack in which Kate, Brendan's love, is almost the victim.

Brendan expects Elizabeth to task him with finding the poisoner, but instead she sends him on a secret mission to Vaughn Hall. Lady Parry, one of her favorite ladies-in-waiting, is missing. Brendan fears that he is riding into a trap, but his mission is to protect Elizabeth so he goes with only the company of Shelton, his supposed father.

This is an action packed and well researched historical novel. If you like stories of Tudor England, you'll enjoy this book. It's the third book in The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles. I hadn't read the two preceding books, but the author presented enough background information that it wasn't hard to get into the story.

Brendan and Shelton are likable characters. Brendan is believable as the POV character, which is a nice change from so many female POV characters in historical fiction. The setting is well done. You can feel you're in Tudor England.

The history is accurate, but since this is fiction, the author takes liberties which make the facts into a fast paced novel with surprising twists.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Clever Con, A Drug Lord, A Little Romance and Some Violence

Kate is in a tight spot. It appears that Nick Fox is up to his old tricks. He's stolen a Matisse from the Gleabery Museum of Art in Nashville. He says he didn't do it, but they have a video with his face clearly visible. Then come robberies in Turkey, Germany and France. Kate knows it can't be Nick. He's with her, but who wants to incriminate him? And why?

The third installment of the Fox and O'Hare novels is as action packed and hilarious as the previous two. In fact, I liked it better than “The Chase.” I thought the con was more fun. The sexual banter between Nick and Kate reaches a new height when they pretend to be married.

The cast of characters includes old favorites, Willie, Boyd, and Tom, and, of course, Kate's dad, Jake. He's one of my favorite characters and lives up to his role in the previous exploits.

If you're looking for a fun read, this is it. The series is well done, if you're in the mood for escapist fiction. I'm eager to see what they do next!

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Portrayal of the Bloomsbury Group Focused on Vanessa Bell

The Stephen siblings, Thoby, Adrian, Vanessa and Virginia, later Virginia Woolf, live together in a rambling house in Bloomsbury. Their parents are dead and Vanessa and Thoby have taken on the role of quasi parents for the younger two. Virginia is very difficult suffering from the mental illness that eventually led to her suicide. Only Thoby can get her to eat. She constantly wants attention from Vanessa and doesn't want to share her with others. After Thoby's death, this becomes a serious problem when Vanessa weds Clive Bell.

The siblings social life centers on Thoby's Thursday at-homes. The group consists primarily of Thoby's Cambridge friends. However, Vanessa and Virginia are central characters: Vanessa for her charm and organizational ability; Virginia for her pungent comments that set a discussion on fire.

The story of the siblings is told primarily from Vanessa's point of view through journal entries, postcards and letters. I found much of it, particularly the journal entries, tedious. There is too much detail about the mundane aspects of everyday life to make the journals interesting. Although most of the entries are Vanessa's. There are a few letters for Lytton Strachey urging Leonard Woolf to marry Virginia. I found these interesting.

The book is crammed with characters, most of them famous. Sometimes it's hard to keep up with the names and relationship to the Stephen siblings. Luckily, the author included a list of characters at the beginning. Unfortunately, since most of the characters put in a limited appearance, it becomes a bit like name dropping.

The focus of the book is on the intertwined lives of the sisters, but from Vanessa's perspective. I didn't find her a particularly compelling character. Some of her journal entries have vivid phrases which seemed out of character. I associate vivid word pictures more with a writer like Virginia than a painter like Vanessa. The book portrays Virginia in a harsh light. Since she was suffering from what was probably a bipolar disorder, I'm sure she was difficult to live with. Their relationship was not helped by the underlying competition which seems to be an aspect of many sister relationships.

If you're fascinated by the Bloomsbury Group, you may enjoy this novel. It starts slowly and only comes to life near the end, so be prepared for a fairly boring several chapters.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Searching for His Father

Jonathan Sweetwater loves his beautiful wife and two attractive children. He's living the corporate lifestyle, always on a jet to somewhere often with the CEO of his firm. One afternoon, missing his children, he arrives home early and finds a scene that devastates him. He thinks he's found his wife in bed with another man.

Instead of confronting his wife and dealing with whatever the situation turns out to be, he decides that he can handle it better if he knows more about his father. His father was a famous six times married liberal senator. Jonathan hasn't seen him since his ninth birthday party. He had no relationship with his father who is dead, but now he thinks he might be able to understand the man and as a result himself if he meets the wives.

Jonathan is an engaging character. His angst and trying to get to know his father at this late stage carry the novel. The other characters fade into the background. The wives are stock characters, except for Alice, Jonathan's mother. His wife and children are sweet, but not well enough developed to become real people for the reader.

I felt the plot was thin. Jonathan is obviously upset about the scene with his wife, but he takes a rather convoluted way to deal with it. I found the link between his wife's infidelity and getting to know his father a stretch. The ending is predictable from early in the novel, but it's predictability is not important, it's what Jonathan learns.

The book is a quick read, the settings lush, and there are some good insights. For light reading, it's a reasonable choice.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Philosophical Quest and a Love Story

In ancient Greece, a young man, the philosopher Plato, travels to Italy because his friend Agathon tells him that he has discovered great truths. Plato is eager to see Agathon, but he has misgivings about the sea journey. His misgivings seem well founded when his ship founders and he barely escapes with his life. After recovering, his search for Agathon takes him to Syracuse to the court of Dionysius I and encounters with the ideas of Pythagoras.

Jonah, a rock star, finishes what may be his final gig with his band. He's so eager to see his wife, Lily, an archaeologist, that he travels practically non-stop from Germany to Italy. When he arrives, Lily has disappeared. This begins his quest to find his wife and rescue her. He is stymied at every turn by people, her Oxford friends, who lie to him and her mother and sister who think he's overreacting.

The combination of a historical novel with a modern thriller is an interesting juxtaposition. Plato and Jonah are following parallel paths but more than 2,000 years apart. Plato's is a quest for knowledge; Jonah's, a search for the love of his life. I found the historical storyline more fascinating than the love story. The premise of the historical portion is that Plato had an experience during his travels that changed him from a mediocre follower of Socrates to one of the world's greatest philosophers.

If you like a romantic thriller, the Jonah/Lily chapters may be more to your taste. My problem with Jonah was that his angst about his loss of his love became tiresome. However, his search increased the pace of the plot.

If you have more than a passing acquaintance with philosophy, you may feel you've found old friends. I also enjoyed the modern interpretation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the characters of Jonah and Lily. Altogether it was a satisfying book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Love, Theft, and Deception

Julie is terrified of being found. Back in Garland, Tennessee she was known as Grace. Now she calls herself Julie, lives in a rented room in Paris, and works as a restorer of antiques. At night she checks the news from home desperate to find out when two young men will be paroled. She's married to one, in love with the other, and she's terribly afraid that they will come after her.

They went to prison for a bungled robbery. At the time she was safely in Prague taking classes and refused to come home to support her husband. She doesn't know what to expect now that they're out, since she was the one who planned the crime

The book starts slowly. We gradually learn who Julie is and why she's so afraid. Her life in Paris is laced with flashbacks that gradually give us a picture of Grace before she fled Garland. After the slow start the novel picks up and the ending is quite fast paced.

If you enjoy psychological thrillers, you may like this book. It is more of a literary novel than your typical crime thriller. T
he focus is on Grace's character development. Teenage romance and the antique restoration business add appealing elements to the novel.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Clever Mystery Aboard an Oil Tanker

The Rossi's son is killed on an oil tanker. According to the reports, he died by falling down a ladder on the Aurora Victorious. The family becomes suspicious because they can't get additional information. In desperation, they hire the Touchstone Agency, James and Julie Raiford, to investigate. Almost immediately the job becomes more complex when Touchstone is contacted by Herberling, another detective looking into the loss of a sister ship, the Golden Dawn.

When Herberlinger is murdered, James decides the events are connected and goes undercover on the Aurora Victorious. Going undercover without backup is dangerous business. Julie doesn't want her father to do it, but he insists and leaves her in charge of the office and the search for more information on Rossi's death.

The book is a fast paced mystery with a plenty of detail about life on an oil tanker. I found it fascinating, I thought the author did a good job of judging how much detail was too much. However, all that detail may not work for everyone.

The plot toggles back and forth between Raiford on the Aurora Victorious and Julie doing detective work. It's a good combination. When you get really tired of learning about life on an oil tanker, Julie shows up with traditional detective work.

I enjoyed the book. It's a quick read with an unusual setting. The ending is particularly fast paced.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.