Wednesday, July 30, 2014

High Tech and Archeology

Professor Johnson and his graduate student, Abby, are asked by Walter Falcone to come to Peru to investigate legends of an Inca Death Cave. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity and the adventure of a lifetime. They agree and setup their base for a year at the Falcone ranch in Peru.

Walter promised them a team and while the team calls themselves “The Rejects,” the young people are bright, technologically competent, and able to put high tech to good use to find and explore the Death Cave.

I have mixed feeling about this book. The plot is great, the information, first class, and the characters interesting. The problem is that this is a fiction book. The dialog is poor. In the opening chapters, Abby and the Professor call each other by their names in almost every piece of dialog. People just don't talk this way. In addition, the dialog, particularly in the opening chapters is almost all data dump. Luckily this data is interesting or I would have put the book down immediately.

The other problem is that the project team is too good to be true. All the team members are bright. They help each other, and Professor Johnson is everyone's favorite boss. While this isn't totally unrealistic, it sounds a lot like Shangrila to those of us who have managed projects.

I would have given this novel five stars, but the writing so amateurish that I have to go with four. If you are interested in archaeology, you'll enjoy this book. If you want a well written novel, this isn't it.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.   

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.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Teenage Sisters Face Murder and Ghosts

After their mother's death, fifteen-year-old Sam and her ten-year-old sister, Ollie, spend the summer living with their father. Their father and mother have not lived together for years, although they seem to love each other. The mother lived with the daughters in Eugene, Oregon. Bear, the father, lived in a meadow keeping bees outside of Terrebonne, Oregon.

Sam has spent summers with Bear for years. Ollie chose to stay with her mother, so this is her first summer in the meadow, and it's not easy. Ollie hasn't spoken since her mother's death because she sees Shimmerings, ghostly figures who follow her around. She knows other people won't believe her, so she doesn't talk.

Coping with their mother's death is difficult enough, but Sam and Ollie find the body of a woman floating in the creek near their meadow. Bear has been acting strange, and he has a jacket that could have belonged to the murdered woman. Sam is terrified that Bear will be suspected of the murder and her tenuous family will be split apart again.

Sam is an engaging character. She tries hard to preserve her family. However, she is a teenager and the decisions she makes are often not well planned and lead to more problems then they solve. Ollie is a strange character. If you like ghost stories, you'll find her Shimmerings fascinating, but it adds an element of unreality to the story that it's difficult to accept.

The family situation with the split between the parents is unusual. Bear comes across as an introverted character who is not well prepared to cope with two daughters. The reasons for the split between the parents aren't clear, but one suspects that Bear can't take the responsibilities of working in a major city and being a committed father living in a family unit.

The setting is beautifully described from the flowers, trees, and bees of the meadow to the colors of the Shimmerings. The plot, however, stretches credibility. The secondary characters from the teenage boy who befriends Sam to his mother, an angry shopkeeper, and his father, a strange artist, are unusual and sometimes hard to accept as real. Likewise, Sam's involvement in solving the mystery and Ollie's seeing ghosts can be hard to believe.

I recommend the book is you like murder mysteries, ghost stories, and unique family arrangements.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Art and Love in WWII Provence

Just before the start of WWII, Andre moves with his bride Lisette from Paris to Roussillon in the south of France. Andre's grandfather, Pascal, is ill, possibly dying, and Andre wants to care for him. Lisette understands, and she loves Andre, but she fears that her dream of working in a Paris art gallery is gone forever.

In Roussillon, Lisette gets a surprise. Pascal has collected impressionist paintings from Pissaro and Cezanne. He tells her the history of the pictures and stories of the artists. After Pascal dies, France is drawn into WWII. Paintings, particularly those of the impressionists, are being destroyed so Andre hides the paintings before enlisting and going to the front.

This book is both a love story and a look at art history before and during WWII. The stories about the painters are fascinating as is the historical background on how artists were treated. Marc Chagal and his wife Bella are characters in the story and present a picture of the plight of Jewish artists.

I found the book fascinating. The art history and the background of WWII makes the story of another time come alive. However, the novel moves slowly.

Lisette, the main character, grows through her determination to survive the war. In the opening scenes, she comes across as spoiled and resentful. Getting to know Pascal and hearing the history of his pictures changes her outlook, but real growth comes when she is left alone in Roussillion. She realizes how much she loves Andre and determines to survive the war and recover the paintings. Her list enumerates the things she must do to survive the war and cope with the problems of Nazi occupied France. While her struggle is interesting, the pace is very leisurely.

I recommend the book if you enjoy the combination of art, history, and romance, but be prepared for a long read.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Modern Locked Room Mystery

Jessica Daniel, recently promoted to Detective Sargent, is assigned an impossible case. The body of a woman is found in her locked home. While Jessica and her immediate superior, Cole, try to figure out how the killer could have gotten into the house, another body turns up. This time a man is found strangled in his locked house.

The case continues to frustrate the police, and their morale isn't improved by the newspapers accusing them of incompetence. Jessica is particularly frustrated because someone is leaking information to a reporter on the Herald. Although she and Cole are following all leads and trying to figure out the puzzle of the locked room, nothing seems to work for them.

If you enjoy police procedurals, this is an easy book to read without any serious violence and bloody visuals. The plot is interesting, but it's not hard to figure out who the killer is, and the twists are predictable.

I felt the book bogged down because of all the time is spent on Jesssica's life outside of the police. She is in some ways a difficult character to like. She seems more aggressive and out of control than you would expect in a newly promoted police officer.

The novel is set in Manchester. I enjoyed the glimpses of the city. Although not lovely, the background makes the story believable.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Quaker Girl Hopes to Bring Christianity to the Nez Perce

The day before her wedding Amanda Pearson is thrilled to be marrying Nathan, but before the day is out her bridegroom has confessed his love for another and canceled the wedding. Trying to overcome her disappointment, Amanda, a Quaker, tells her father, a Quaker pastor, that she wants to travel to the Wyoming Territory to join the Spalding Mission to bring Christianity to the Nez Perce. He agrees to accompany her.

Before reaching the mission, Amanda's father dies. He knows he's dying and makes Amanda promise that she will continue on to the mission. He believes that her destiny is there and that God will protect her. Harvey, the guide they hired, sees it differently. He doesn't want to continue the journey with a fragile woman.

Amanda is resolute, and she convinces Harvey to continue the journey. The travel is far more frightening and dangerous than Amanda imagined, but she is rewarded by meeting both Indians and mountain men who help her on the journey and become friends.

The book has an exciting plot. The dangers Amanda faces are described realistically, and the pace is fast.

I have two reservations about the book. The development of Amanda's character is limited. We know what she does, but we know little of her background or her beliefs beyond her disappointment with her fiance and that her mother died when she was born. However, the other characters, particularly Mary Yellowbird, are well done and add to the texture of the story.

The second reservation is the use of dialect. I find that using 'ya' too much is distracting. Likewise all the thees and thous while appropriate for the characters slow the reading. However, if you enjoy Christian fiction, this is a book you'll appreciate.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.