Sunday, August 31, 2014

Women Artists in the Belle Epoche in Paris

Maud Heighton has always wanted to be an artist. Taking her meager inheritance, she goes to Paris where she studies at the Academie Lafond, the only academie in Paris that accepted women. As the winter nears, Maud's funds are running out, and she is often hungry, but she wants to finish one last year.

Tanya, a wealthy Russian, is also a student a Lafond. She befriends Maud and with Yvette, an artist's model, finds a situation for her through Mrs. Harris, a woman who runs a charity finding situations for girls from England and America who have fallen on hard times in Paris. Although, at first the situation seems like the answer to a prayer, the dark side ultimately emerges.

This book is a well researched depiction of the Belle Epoche in Paris. In the final notes, the author cites some of the books she consulted that might interest her readers. The description is beautiful, but may be a bit too much for readers who like a faster pace.

The main characters: Maud, a proper British girl; Tanya, a wealthy Russian: and Yvette, an artist's model who lives in the Paris underworld, present three aspects of what women faced in Paris at that time. The three women bond and become a force that changes the course of the story.

I enjoyed the book. It's well written and well researched. Each unique character, draws us into the story. We care about Maud, but we also want to know the fate of Tanya and Yevette. Although the beginning is rather slow, the pace picks up at the end. If you like historical novels, you won't want to miss this one.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Legal Drama, Mystery, and Romance

Holt Douglas made a tragic mistake as a teenager and is still struggling to make amends. He was driving his friend's car when the car went off the road and his friend, Calico, was killed. Just before the accident, Calico told Holt about his dream to be a government attorney. Now Holt is an Assistant DA, but he doesn't find it fulfilling.

Trish Carmichael is a police officer whose major responsibility is collecting from deadbeat dads. She also carries a burden. Her father was killed and her mother paralyzed when a drunk teenager ran into their car. Trish finds forgiveness very difficult in spite of her sincere religious beliefs.

When the folder for the apparent suicide of one of the town's prominent citizens crosses Holt's desk by mistake, he and Trish think a murder is being covered up and decide to investigate; a decision that has unforeseen consequences.

Although the plot is engaging, I found the pace slow. The author tries to tie together the lives of Trish and Holt with the revelations of their investigation. The result is time devoted to each character's problems which detracts from the forward movement of the investigation, the activity that holds the story together. If you're looking for a fast paced legal thriller, this may disappoint.

If you're looking for a character study in which guilt and forgiveness play major roles, you'll find the book interesting. Holt and Trish struggle with their internal demons. The way they resolve the issues is a major thread in the story.

I enjoyed the book, but I was hoping for a legal thriller with a faster pace. I think the novel is
a little long. It could have been improved by shortening the main characters' internal searching and concentrating on the investigation of the suicide. However, it was worth reading.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson BookLook Blogger Program.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Not Much of a Mystery

Although her husband Bob, has apologized for his one-night-stand, Jessica Mayhew finds that she can't forgive him. Her anger with her husband colors all aspects of her life including her job as a psychotherapist.

Gwydion Morgan, a young actor, comes to Jessica with a button phobia and recurring nightmares. Jessica begins to think that there's more to the nightmares than a mental problem, and at the same time is drawn to the young man.

This book didn't live up to my expectations. The plot is fairly obvious, and the main character not very likeable. Jessica Mayhew is supposed to be a psychotherapist, but her behavior often borders on the unethical. Although the setting in Wales is well described, it isn't enough to carry the problems with the plot and main character.

On the other hand, I did like some of the secondary characters. Bob, Jessica's husband, seems too good to be true. He may have had an affair, but he helps with the children and is trying very hard to get back in Jessica's good graces. Her daughters are realistic. Nella is a typical teenager testing her limits, and although we don't seem much of Rose, she is realistic.

I can't recommend this book as a mystery. However, if you enjoy interesting settings, you may like that aspect.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Adventure and Romance in Ancient Egypt

Egypt is split into two parts following the defeat of the Egyptians by the Hyskos. The Egyptians have the lower half of the country, but there are limitations. They have no access to the Mediterranean for trade or defense. Taita, a counselor to Pharaoh, dreams of reclaiming the northern half of the country, but for that they need allies. He conceives a plan whereby they can destroy the accord between the Hyskos and their Cretans allies and make the Cretans, who have a substantial navy, allies of lower Egypt.

The book starts with military adventures, but there is also romance involving the young Egyptian princesses Taita brought up. The scenes of ancient Egypt and Crete are beautifully described. Smith has a way of transporting you to an ancient land and making you feel part of the action.

Taita is a fascinating character. He is not at all shy about claiming his prowess in inventing all manner of things, planning military campaigns, and acting as a primary counselor to Pharaoh. The princesses are young and rather insipid. The romance, primarily youthful infatuation, works in the novel, but if you're looking for serious romance this doesn't make it.

The book long and primarily made up of journeys. After the first third, I found them rather tedious. However, if you like stories of Ancient Egypt with a good dose if military action, you may enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Amish Novel Set In Florida

Emma and Lamar Miller have moved to their winter home in Pinecraft, an Amish community near Sarasota, Florida. Elmer's rheumatism is better and he's feeling great. Emma, however, is feeling lost. She misses all her friends back in Indiana and visiting with her Pinecraft neighbors about them is not fulfilling.

When Lamar suggests that she have a quilting class, she resists at first, but then agrees. The class quickly fills up with:

  • A retired art teacher who wants to paint pictures of quilts
  • A teenager who is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair due to a diving accident
  • A waitress, new to the area, who has just broken up with her boyfriend
  • A fishing boat captain who fills in for his wife when she's called away to care for her injured sister
  • A widow and retired schoolteacher who would like to have a man in her life
  • A young mother, pregnant with her first child, who has received a scholarship to the program because her husband, a chef, is out of work.

Each of the participants brings their own hurts and joys to the class. Lamar and Emma pray over their students asking God to heal them and accept his divine grace. While learning to quilt, the students also work to accept forgiveness and to put their lives in order. Several of them struggle to accept God's healing love.

If you enjoy Amish books, this is a good read. The setting in Florida is different, but the characters and their faith remain the same. I enjoyed the plot. My only problem with the book is that the dialogue is often stilted, especially between Emma and Lamar. 

I recommend this book if you enjoy stories with an Amish background.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Teen Friendship Blossoms in a Cancer Ward

Zac, diagnosed with leukemia, has been through the treatment mill. They're trying a bone marrow transplant, but the odds aren't wonderful. He's been virtually alone in his room for five weeks save for his mother and the nurses. Now an angry girl who plays loud music moves into the room behind his. At first he thinks her music will drive him crazy, but gradually they make contact and become friends.

The characters are very different. Zac is a farm boy. His life used to be spent mostly out of doors, and he misses it. Mia is a popular girl. She wants to have all the things teenagers have including going to the formal later in the year. She doesn't want cancer to disrupt her life. My problem with the characters is that Zac is almost too good, calmly putting up with his therapy in hopes of a remission. Mia is almost too angry. She has the best chance of leading a normal life, the she's so angry she pushes people away. Actually, it's understandable. People become angry when they're frightened.

The story moves slowly. It is the unfolding of a friendship under adverse circumstances, but unless the characters hold your attention, it's easy to put the book down. The parents are characters in the book, but we don't really get to know them. I thought their responses could have played a larger role. Zac's mother is amazing. She's there for him everyday, and although he
sometimes resents it, he knows he's lucky to have her. Mia's mother is single. She and Mia do not get along, but at least she's there and makes the hard decisions. Both kids seems lucky in their parents.

I liked the idea of this book, but reading it showed the problems with the characters and the plot. If you're interested in this very difficult situation for teens, you'll want to read this book. It is well researched, in fact, I believe it's based on the author's experiences. If you're looking for a romance, this isn't it. The plot is a slowly developing, but beautiful friendship.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Fixer Comes Out of Seclusion

Mort Grant has sold his house and is moving to a house boat. While Lydia, the Fixer, helps him pack, he suggests that she's been out of circulation too long. It's time to get back into the world, perhaps reopen her practice. At first Lydia is against the idea but when an old friend and colleague asks her to take on her research assistant so that he can get his certification, she agrees.

Lydia's life is changing, but so is Mort's daughter Allie's. She is the mistress of an international drug smuggler, but when the feud between him and a Russian drug lord heats up, she runs home to daddy. The question is whether she wants to change, or whether she's plotting her next move.

This is another excellent installment in the Fixer's adventures. The two plots, one with Lydia, one with Allie, dovetail nicely. Moving back and forth between the two, instead of disrupting the story,
adds suspense.

If you haven't read the two previous Fixer books, you can read this one as a standalone, but once you meet Lydia, Mort and the others, you'll want more time with the Fixer. I highly recommend this book for mystery and suspense fans.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Back Home in Mitford

After a trip to Ireland, Father Tim and Cynthia are home in Mitford. The emotional experiences in Ireland, have left Father Tim feeling down. He still hasn't completely accepted retirement and acceptance is made more difficult because his doctor is retiring. Instead of staying Mitford, Hoppy is going off to do missionary work in the Sudan. Father Tim doesn't have long to be a curmudgeon. Soon he's involved in all the large and small crises in Mitford.

The book is filled with the delightful characters from the previous Mitford novels: Ester Cunningham, the mayor; Fanny Skinner and her sister Shirlene; Harley and Hèléne; plus Dooley's brothers; Father Tim's special buddies, Mule and J.C.; and Coot. It's very satisfying to have the whole gang back together. Although I enjoyed the trip to Ireland, it's good to be back in Mitford.

I've read all the Mitford books and each one ends up being a favorite. Although this one is very long, it's filled so much sadness, joy, and hope that it keeps you wanting to know how things will work out. I always feel warm when reading one of these books, like an honorary resident of Mitford. It's not a book of epic struggles, rather it's the small everyday trials and successes that make Karon's books so delightful. You feel like you can take a vacation from your life and enjoy interacting with friends in Mitford.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Young Mother Besieged by a Ghost

Bridget gave up her position as an attorney when her daughter, Julie, was born to be a full-time mother. Although she loves her daughter, she's not sure their relationship is all it should be. Her husband, Mark, reassures her, but she remains nervous about her role. Then the ghost appears. Bridget can see the white figure and smell the scents of earth and decay. She becomes terrified that the ghost will somehow hurt Julie and tries to shield her. Julie, however, doesn't seem bothered by the ghost, although Bridget believes Julie can see her.

The is a ghost story, but also the story of two women trying to find roles that are comfortable for them. Rebecca, living in 1902, and Bridget living in Texas today. When Rebecca's son was born she became obsessed with him to the exclusion of her husband. Bridget, too, is struggling with her role as a stay-at-home mother and the role of her husband as the sole breadwinner.

Although the plot is interesting,
focusing on the problems of motherhood, career, and marriage, I felt that the ghost was overdone. It seemed unrealistic that Bridget would allow herself to be terrorized by the apparition and yet do nothing about it but try to avoid it in her own house. I also felt that the author waited too long to give the identity of the ghost. The opening of the book was quite tedious with Bridget continually asking who the ghost was and what did she want.

I can't recommend this as a ghost story. However, if the themes of motherhood and career interest you, you may enjoy this book.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

A Serial Killer Plot Mixed with Horror

Gabi Versado, a Detective in the Detroit Police Department is called to the scene of a brutal murder. A young boy has been cut in half and sewn to the hind legs of a deer. Soon there are more bizarre murders. The novel starts as a typical serial killer novel, but after the first few chapters it veers toward a horror story in the Stephen King tradition.

The book is populated by a range of characters from the detective and her teenage daughter to a newspaper reporter who tries to get an exclusive on the strange killer. The diversity of the characters supports several subplots. Although the subplots are interesting, I felt that they were a distraction form the main theme. The subplot involving Gabi's daughter seemed almost an aside to introduce us to the daughter.

If you enjoy good horror fiction, you'll enjoy this book, if you'd rather read about serial killers and typical police work, this may not be your novel. The writing is excellent, but it is rather long and somewhat fragmented with the numerous characters and subplots.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Welcome to the Anthropocene Era

Apes playing with iPads, Japanese tourists visiting industrial sites, the great black marble that is the earth ringed with lights at night: all these are manifestations of the Anthropocene Era, the era in which man is the dominant force shaping the world.

The book is a series of stories each in a separate chapter ranging from nature to technology to the human body. I found each chapter well written, almost poetic. Whether you agree with her position that the way man has used and abused the environment is remediable not necessarily by using more technology but by modifying our behavior, including industrial and social behavior, she makes interesting points.

The ending chapters on the human body, particularly the factors we are beginning to understand in how our DNA influences what we become and the role played by the environment, were my favorite chapters, but there are other excellent sections ranging from the sea to outer space.

I highly recommend this book if you're interested in science, technology and the study of the human body. It's not a text book. It's an enjoyable read that gives you ideas to challenge the way you view the world.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Romeo and Juliet from the Nurse's Viewpoint

Angelica, the stout woman who became Juliet's nurse, doesn't realize she's pregnant until her water breaks, and she goes into labor. After a daunting ordeal, the baby is born. Pietro, Angelica's husband, rushes off with the tiny girl to have her baptized, the traditional step for babies that at not expected to live. Angelica is distraught, but Pietro finds her a situation with the Cappelletti as a wet-nurse, and thus she becomes Juliet's nurse lavishing all the love for her lost daughter on the tiny infant.

The first part of the book is Angelica's story. She nurses Juliet, gets to know the nine-year-old Tybalt, and enjoys bawdy romps with Pietro. The second part of the book is the story of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet told from the standpoint of the nurse. Tybalt and Juliet are now grown, and she has become interested in the opposite sex.

The book is an engaging take on the nurse, one of Shakespeare's most famous minor characters. I enjoyed the first part of the novel, although I thought the author missed opportunities to tie the first half more closely to the tragedy of the second half. The feud between the Cappelletti and the Montecchi isn't mentioned. It would have been interesting to see the tragedy foreshadowed in the early gossip about the feud.

Some of the characters, Pietro, Tybalt and Mercutio, are fascinating and for me one of the highlights of the book. If you enjoyed Shakespeare's Play, you may enjoy this take on the background. If you've never seen or read the play, this is still a good period novel.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.