Monday, July 28, 2014

A Compelling Portrait of a Woman in Auschwitz

Sera is thrilled when her assistant finds a copy of the portrait of a beautiful young girl holding a violin, obviously in a concentration camp from the shorn hair and number tattooed on her arm. She saw this portrait as a young girl and has been searching for it ever since. She wants the portrait for her gallery, but the owner doesn't want to sell. Instead he wants Sera's help in finding out who the girl was.

Adele was the darling of the Vienna Symphony. A prodigy on the violin, she was often asked to play with the orchestra. There she met Vladimer, a working class boy, who was cellist. He and Adele fell in love, but Adele came from an upper class family, in fact, her father was a high ranking Nazi official, so it was unthinkable that she and Vladimer could be a couple.

The pair became involved with helping Jews escape from Vienna. After a disastrous attempt to rescue a family, they were turned in and both sent to a concentration camps in spite of Adele's father's position.

The story of Adele and Vladimer is heart wrenching. It also introduces concentration camp history about the Women's Orchestra of Auchwitz and the art that was produced in the camp. Their story is beautifully told. Particularly as you see the Austrian Christian interacting with the Jewish women for the survival of all.

I was not so impressed with Sera's love story. Sera and William search for clues to Adele's story and in the process fall in love. The modern story is intertwined with the WWII story, but it isn't as compelling. It's a straightforward modern romance. I found the characters stereotypical, not vibrant like Adele and Vladimer.

I recommend this book if you're interested in some of the remarkable tales of Holocaust survivors. The story of Adele's bravery is remarkable. I would have given the book five stars, but joining this beautiful story to a mundane modern romance didn't work for me.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.     

A Valuable Painting and Its Provenance

Giovanni Fabriazza, an art restorer, is miserable. His first wife is dead. Although he's married to a beautiful, younger second wife, he mourns his first wife. This unhappiness leads to problems with his second wife. In addition, he's been forced to move from the studio he loved to a more secure location that he hates.

When he's at a low point, one of his friends asks if he can buy a painting for his son's wedding. Giovanni is happy to oblige and is sure that one of the paintings left to him by his father will be appropriate. When he uncrates one of the paintings, an Italian nobleman, the painting talks to him. At first Giovanni thinks he's losing his mind, but as the portrait tells him stories of previous owners, he becomes at ease with the relationship even when it turns up illegal doings in his own family.

The novel is relatively short and well written. I enjoyed the interchange between Giovanni and the portrait. The tales of previous owners were well done and intriguing. Giovanni's character development is one of the highlights of the book. He starts feeling sorry for himself, unable to work, and unable to enjoy his new marriage. In the end he has conquered those feelings largely thanks to the portrait.

Although this novel is relatively slow moving with little excitement, it's an interesting take on the question of what men will do to get things they value. I highly recommend this book particularly if you're interested in art history and the role collectors played in the Nazi theft of numerous works of art.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.   

A Remarkable Woman and Her Era: Coco Channel

Gabrielle Channel, nicknamed Coco, was a remarkable woman. In childhood she was deserted by her family. Her mother died and her father, and itinerant paddler, showed no interest in caring for his children. Likewise, her grandparents didn't take the children, so she grew up in a Catholic orphanage. Feeling abandoned by her family left a lifelong mark on Channel. She wanted desperately to be part of a family and more than that part of the elite. This desire led her into affairs with powerful titled men, like the Duke of Westminster. It also brought her
into collaboration with the Nazis in a desire to be part of an elite organization.

The book was very well written. The history was presented in context of how it affected Channel and her fashion empire. I found some of the most interesting parts dealt with the relationship between Coco's view of fashion and how it fit the era in which she worked. This was particularly true during WWI and later after WWII when her clothing attracted an American market.

The pictures in the text are a plus. You are able to see what the Channel fashions looked like as well as her lovers and friends. I found the book both informative and enjoyable. I highly recommend it if you are interested in fashion, or in the psychology of a highly successful woman.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Cold Case Makes Dr. Brennan Confront the Past

Dr. Tempe Brennan is surprised to be invited to a meeting on a cold case investigation. She is even more surprised when the case involves the murder of young girls in Vermont as well as Charlotte, North Carolina. The case is similar to the Canadian case in which Anique Pomerleau tortured and killed young girls and almost succeeded in killing Tempe. The similarity sends a cold shudder over her. She worked on that case with Andrew Ryan, her sometime lover, but he's left the force battling grief over the death of his daughter from a heroin overdose. Now she needs to reconnect with him to solve the latest crimes.

The plot moves swiftly forced by the necessity to find the killer before more girls die. Tempe Brennan pulls you into her world. You can't help feeling the sense of urgency she exudes. I enjoyed the forensic science, although autopsy results may not be everyone's cup of tea. The repetitious descriptions of Detective Slidell got old, but the involvement of Tempe's eccentric mother was a bright spot.

If you're a Reichs fan, this is a good addition to the series. If you llike
murder mysteries with technical detail, you'll enjoy this one.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Columbine Style School Shooting

Assistant DA, Rachael Knight, and her friend Detective Bailey Keller are summoned to the scene of what appears to be a Columbine copy-cat shooting spree. However, the findings at the scene don't line up. The supposed killers committed suicide, or did they? Dr. Shoe, the medical examiner, says the dead boys
couldn't be the shooters.

This is the beginning of a tense search for the messed up teenagers who are on a killing rampage. The plot has many twists which keeps you reading to figure out what will happen next. I wouldn't recommend this book, if you're squeamish about mass murder, but the plot moves quickly and the author doesn't give undue space to the horror of the scene.

The novel is a fast paced crime thriller. There's hardly time to get to absorb one set of facts before being hit by another twist. Although the subject matter was uncomfortable, the author used the book to give insights into the psychological makeup of this kind of killer as well as the legal problems surrounding trying juvenile killers. The background on previous school shootings added reality to the story.

I enjoyed the book. However, it was because of the fast pace rather than the characters. So much was happening that the characters became more talking heads interviewing suspects than real people. In this book that wasn't a limitation because the interviews were the meat of the book. However, if you enjoy character driven novels, this is definitely plot driven and probably not for you.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Two Women in Antoine de Saint Exupery's Life

Mignonne Lachapelle, a young fashion designer, leaves her comfortable life in Montreal to pursue success in New York. At first she is chagrined to learn that Madame Professor Vera Fiche, one of her teachers at the New York Fashion School, has stolen her designs and that the show created a sensation. At first she wants acknowledgment and nothing more to do with Madame Fiche, but when she's offered a chance to collaborate with her former professor, she agrees.

She knew Antoine in Montreal, but was surprised to meet him again in New York and in the Garment District. Through her fashion design work, she meets Consuelo, Antoine’s fiery wife. The triangle is set up. Antoine seeks Mignonne as an easier love than Consuelo. Consuelo wants to get him back, although she also has affairs, and Mignonne is forced to work with Consuelo although she is in love with Antoine.

Mignonne, the main character, is fictional, but the Saint-Exuperys are real people and their lives parallel the outline of the story. Both had a number of extra-marital affairs, but the details in this book are imagined by the author.

The fashion world of New York during WWII is well described and fascinating. However, the plot moves around a great deal and is made more complex by the structure which interleaves chapters by Mignonne in the first person with chapters by Consuelo in the third person. There are also long flashbacks which disrupt the flow of the story.

The most fascinating part for me was the discussion between Mignonne and Antoine about the artistic constraints of writing and fashion design. The parallels are helped by the fact that Saint-Exupery is working on The Little Prince during the the novel.

I enjoyed the descriptions of war time New York, but I found the love triangle hard to follow at times. Although I don't have reservations about using historical characters in fiction, I thought the portrayal of Consuelo was unfair. However, if you're interested in the WWII fashion world and in Saint-Exupereys life at the time when he wanted to return to liberate France and worked on The Little Prince, it's worth reading.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Estranged Sisters Search for Their Inheritance

When their mother, Josie, dies, Emily and Rose return to Mill River for the reading of the will. The sisters have been estranged because of something that happened many years ago. In the will they are chagrined to learn that their mother's stipulates they must cooperate with each other to find the key to a safety deposit box that will hold their inheritance.

Although the main plot is ploy to get the sisters back together, a secondary plot involves Josie bringing her two young daughters to Mill River to live with her aunt Ivy after her husband dies
in a mysterious accident. Toggling back and forth between the plots gives us the background for why the sisters are estranged as well as why the death of their father was so traumatic.

The setting is a great escape. Mill River is exactly the sort of small town you might choose if you were looking for a place to heal. The characters, particularly Ivy and Father O'Brien, bring life to the story. The plot revolves around the destructiveness of lies and alcoholism, both of which are good topics, but it feels thin. The author tries to keep your interest by doling out tidbits about why the sisters are estranged and what happened to their father, but it feels like a way to drag out the story.

It's an easy book to read. I recommend it if you like stories about small town life and secrets.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.