Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Dangerous Collaboration: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery (Series #4) by Deanna Raybourn

A Dangerous Collaboration: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery (Series #4). Deanna Raybourn. Penguin Publishing Group.  March 2019; hb and eBook, 336 pp.; ISBN: 9780451490711.

Veronica Speedwell and her friend Stoker are off on another adventure.  This time they are initially split as Veronica is invited to travel to an island off the coast of Cornwall. Stoke’s brother, Tiberius, justifies her visit by saying Veronica is his fiancĂ©e.  High tension exists between Veronica and Stoker as both are facing their romantic feelings for each other and Veronica is unsure how such a romance would conflict with her long-held independent stance in moving through the world – whether that be mundane or adventurous with exploration.  Veronica is going to the island of the Romilley family, ostensibly to obtain a unique insect, the glasswing butterfly.

It turns out that Stoker shows up after having conjured an invitation.  Long before we meet the members of the Romilley family, there are words and an atmosphere foreshadowing something mysterious and tense.  It turns out they have been invited to help Lord Malcolm’s mystery – the disappearance of his wife hours after their wedding.  It turns out a bag belonging to the bride is all that remains. 

The plot pivots from secrets to clues in cycles – a poison garden, a woman with “the sight” who spreads her uncomfortable hints without permission, secret hide-a-way spots throughout the host’s home, the tumultuous sea adjoining the Romilley mansion, some curmudgeon characters to spice up the frequent verbal sparring, and so much more.  As usual, the author drops just enough clues at just the right spots to keep the river riveted from the first to the last page.

The descriptions of the meals will have readers drooling and heading for food, just a minor addition that deftly eases the tension between the increasingly hostile guesses and dialogue.  Every family member and even the “help” has a motive for causing harm to the missing bride.  Add to that some revelations between Stoker and Tiberius that are some part of the main mystery but become a sub-plot for Stoker, Tiberius and Veronica.

Again, A Dangerous Collaboration… is a delightful mystery that will satisfy every fan of the genre.  It’s a can’t put down book that will make readers want to also read the other three novels of the Veronica Speedwell Series.  Delightful, well-crafted writing from a highly skilled artist, Deanna Raybourn!

The Island of Sea Women - A Novel by Lisa See

The Island of Sea Women: A Novel. Lisa Scribner. Scribner.  Published in 2019; pb. 384 pp.; ISBN #: 9781501154850.

Two friends spend their lives loving and hating each other, being haunted by the mistakes affecting them and their haenyeo community.  They are women divers who have learned to dive without the use of diving masks, oxygen or any other supportive equipment.  They rely on learning to breathe in vital air and breathe out the song of sumbisori, air let out with a unique sound for each woman. 

They live on Jeju Island off the southern coast of Korea, a land they believe was created by the Shaman Goddesses, creating a land of lava rocks, cones and walls.  The residents have created a matriarchal society loved by each resident.  Their story is a celebration of life!

Young-Sook has tremendous respect for her mother who is Chief of the haenyeo in one of the local communities until she dies in an accident while diving. Another young woman has another accident that changes her life forever.  Their work guarantees survival, especially in the troublesome times that soon follow.  Jeju Island residents are the subjects of the Japanese Army who have invaded the country and mandated laws of behavior, inflicting death on many for the slightest infraction of rules. 

Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator.  This reputation haunts her for her entire life.  Even though Young-Sook’s mother takes her in with kindness and teachers her to be a haenyeo, Young Sook’s grandmother despises her and will never trust her, a belief that will literally become part of Mi-ja’s choices during one of the most tragic, devastating moments of the story.  Young Sook marries the love of her life but Mi-ja marries a man who is evil personified, an act none will understand until it is too late and after too much betrayal and damage.  An uprising called the 4.3 incident instigates the death of thousands. The deaths to three members of Young-Sook’s family are tragically depicted, all because of Mi-ja’s response to a request begged by her best friend.

The love between these two women will stay strong, although readers will for a time doubt the primitive and passionate aspects of that love.  Scientists and sociologists will make this community a subject of lengthy study and amazed respect!  It is the children of these women who will clarify truth for them and the readers.  These pages commemorate a truly unique and amazing story that readers will never forget!  This is astonishing historical fiction, a must read for all!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt

American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt. Stephanie Marie Thornton. Penguin Publishing Group.  March 2019; hb and eBook, 448 pp.; ISBN: 9780451490902.

Alice Roosevelt, the first daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, describes her story as a “precious lifetime of memories, mistakes, and triumphs…valiantly and strenuously lived.” Alice’s words are an apt description for this vivacious, saucy, iconoclastic, intelligent, and romantic woman who became as famous as her father.

Alice’s childhood was probably what we called normal but was filled with sadness as her biological mother had died a few days after her birth and the Roosevelt family were not known for expressing effusive feelings.  All Alice wanted was her father and stepmother’s love and approval which never seemed to appear.  Later, Alice would realize why.

Teddy Roosevelt again appears as a man who loved living life on the edge (like his daughter) and never sat still.  Thoroughly entrenched in the domestic and foreign policies and strategies of his time, he obtains the love of Americans and becomes their President, taking up their causes and justice with fierce energy and determination.  Alice, however, felt “provincial” and even compares herself to her cousin, Eleanor; a sense of rivalry between the cousins lasts for years.  Eleanor is depicted not only as a social justice reformer but also as someone whose political actions had irrevocably negative results.  Every page take the reader through the notable moments of American history, including Alice’s role in facilitating a peace treat between Russia and Japan, coping with WWI, the Depression, WWII and the highlights ranging up to 1970.

In her teens and twenties, Alice relishes breaking rules and appalling proper society with her friends Cissy and Maggie, also known as the “Three Graces” but whom Alice called the “Three Hoydens.”  A trip overseas to Asia becomes one of the most memorable events of her life, including a remarkable audience with Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi, who gave Alice her beloved dog, Manchu.  Her relationship with husband Nick Longthorne is deftly presented with its ups and downs, no small wonder when one realizes what kind of family Nick married into. Later, secret romances seem to rule their lives, but pain will eventually make this dynamic couple realize that consequences are not necessarily short-term.

American Princess… is superb, exciting, and skillfully crafted historical fiction that will remain one of the most comprehensive fictional biographies of the Roosevelt family. 

This reviewer was delighted to meet Alice and will never forget her unique, delightful story.  Enjoy a fabulous read!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Sins of the Sire - Dark HIghland Passions #1 by Emily Royal

The Sins of the Sire (Dark Highland Passions #1). Emily Royal. Tirgearr Publishing.  March 2019; Kindle mobi, 283 pp.; ASIN: B07N974NW5.

Elyssa De Montford is married to a violent beast!  He delights in fulfilling his lust and his enjoyment of hurting women.  His goal is to obey the rule of Longshanks or Edward I, to conquer the attacking Highlanders who are headed by William Wallace.  Elyssa meanwhile regrets and relishes the memory of freeing her family’s enemy, Tavish MacLean.  Though enemy, she could not ignore the physique and look that elicited lust that demanded to be satisfied!

Now Tavish MacLean has been captured again!  He agonizes on two memories, one that of his sister, Flora, who was raped and murdered by a Lord.  Tavish has promised revenge on that act which figuratively destroyed his family.  His other memory is of his enemy he describes as “an enemy on the field; my captor; torturer; the man who delivered me from death; my comrade in battle and finally my brother.”  Tavis was not destroyed by the latter as his captor used Tavish in battles “to the death” and made money from these conquests.

Later in the tale, Tavish will capture Elyssa.  His task is to punish her family by impregnating her so that her family will be enraged by her carrying a Scottish bastard.  However, the passion between them literally and figuratively becomes unbearable. 

No spoilers here but suffice to say that this is a story full of phenomenal passion and violence.  It seems these elements are the reason for being for all the characters.  Despite their best planning secrets will unfold that seem to rule the day but only a hero like Tavish can meet with determination and well-developed skills.  He’s every woman’s dream of Highlander lust!

Enjoy, fans of true romance fiction!  Emily Royal knows how to present and pace the sensual tension that cyclically flows! 

The Last Act: A Novel by Brad Parks

The Last Act: A Novel. Brad Parks. Penguin Publishing Group.  March 2019; pb, 384 pp.; ISBN: 9781524743536.

Tommy Jump is a relatively unknown actor out of acts, having nothing to look forward to and in low financial straits.  One of his friends invites him to consider what most would view as an unlikely scenario. It’s one that invites fine acting since it could otherwise wind up with the actor under attack or even dead.  With healthy skepticism, Tommy meets with Fed agents and hears a real proposal that raises Tommy’s hackles but also intrigues him.

Imagine Mitchell Dupree is a prisoner who has been convicted of four years’ worth of money laundering for a drug cartel, New Colima, led by a vicious criminal El Vio.  Mitchell still has not surrendered the information about documents in his possession that could lead to the arrest of the entire cartel and its head.  Tommy’s job would be to become a prisoner and ferret out where the missing documents are being hid.  The only thing the Feds don’t tell Tommy is that El Vio is trying, via a cartel Director of Security called Herrera,  are relentlessly trying as hard as FBI agents to discover this missing information.

Tommy would get $75,000 just for going in and a total of $150,000 when the job is finished.  This is an amazing opportunity especially as his fiancĂ© Amanda is pregnant.  Tommy’s no fool and realizes how dangerous this act could be but really has no idea of just how much a life and death scenario this could quickly become!  Still, he says, “Yes.”

Entering prison under an assumed alias, Tommy spends quite a bit of time adapting to prison life and its resident prisoners.  For the most part, it’s a tedious lifestyle, with information about how to obtain whatever one wants by creating a money scam around “cans” or mackerel packets to purchase contraband. 

Eventually Tommy meets the object of his search, Mitchell, and winds up becoming trusted and hearing a phenomenal, unexpected story behind his capture.  For a while, it’s hard to know who is legit and who’s a fraud.  Read the rest of the wild ride story to find out how it will or won’t be resolved.

Brad Parks is a pro at crafting a great plot, knowing when to push up the tension and clues and keeping the reader glued to the exciting pages once the challenges get hot and hotter.  This novel will make the reader read more Brad Parks novels.  Terrific read for lovers of the crime fiction genre!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Mission Critical: A Grey Man Novel (Series #8) by Mark Greaney

Mission Critical: A Grey Man Novel. (Grey Man Series #8). Mark Greaney. Penguin Publishing Group.  February 2019. 528 pp. hb.; ISBN: 9780451488947.

Courtland Gentry, the Grey Man, is back in action but not the way he planned.  Returning to Washington by orders of his CIA boss, Suzanne Brewer, he’s relaxing in his seat on a plane landing in Luxembourg when some obvious-looking goons drag a man onto the plane, a man whose head is covered by a black bag.  It turns out the plane heads to England but not with the prisoner. Upon landing in the U.K., a heavy gun battle ensues, shooting up the plane and killing several of the prisoner’s guards.  Court of course gets involved and attempts to follow the van holding the escaped prisoner. There the business begins.  It turns out the prisoner knows pivotal information about a mole in Langley.

Meanwhile a Soviet woman, Zoya Zakharvoa, who has turned to become an American spy is being held in a safe house while she is being prepped to be an agent in a top-secret program run by the CIA.  One night the safe house is attacked by assassins, with many deaths occurring; but Zoya manages to escape.  She’s definitely a force to be reckoned with and no one in possession of sanity would attempt to capture or mess with her in any conceivable way. 

On another note, another plot is moving forward, directed by Zoya’s father, the former head of the Soviet GRU but now operating under an anonymous name.  His plan is motivated by personal reasons and has nothing to do with Russian affairs or Russian authority. The plan involves a North Korean scientist with her own fanatical agenda which she plans to carry out with a biological event. 

The plot about the “mole” at CIA gets quite complex and riveting.  It turns out several characters are being obviously followed.  But the real question is “Who is the mole?”  Too bad these characters are innocent or have personal matters they fear exposing. 

The violence of this novel is ongoing and intense beyond words.  Court or Gentry is very good at his job but unfortunately gets physically hammered by a Godzilla-sized character – several times.  Add to the fact that there are many surprises in these pages that aren’t mentioned in this review.

Eventually, Court and Zoya meet, with some interesting chemistry developing between them.  Court is a highly skilled and objective guy who has more heart in this novel in the series.  He’s a good guy in a very bad world!

It doesn’t take too much imagination to see this story scripted into a thriller/espionage movie.  Mark Greaney is a talented writer who knows how delineate a multi-layered plot with interesting characters that keeps readers glued to the page and at the end wanting more!

Nicely crafted, Mark Greaney – a novel to satisfy crime thriller and international spy fans galore!

The Secret of Clouds: A Novel by Alyson Richman

The Secret of Clouds: A Novel. Alyson Richman. Penguin Publishing Group.  February 2019. $16.99; pb, 384 pp.; ISBN: 9780451490773.

Katya is an aspiring ballerina and Sasha a student scientist when they first meet.  They marry after living a tumultuous life in Kiev and emigrate to the United States.  Sasha suffered a major injury which curtailed her ballet career, but the birth of Yuri transformed their lives in so many ways. Years before their meeting, there was a nuclear disaster at Chernobyl which authorities claimed was no big deal.  However, it turned out that the winds carried that radiation throughout all of Europe.  Many Russians enjoyed the outdoor air at that time which was abnormally warm for mid-April.  Katya was one of them and years later was distraught that that air she had absorbed was responsible for Yuri’s birth defect, a leaky tricuspid valve and abnormally-sized heart.  Yuri was both a timid and sickly child for years and had to be monitored constantly.  Katya incessantly worried over Yuri but Sasha had a more scientific and positive viewpoint about his son’s health issues.

This then is the story of Maggie, a young teacher who is very connected to her students and loves to be creative about language arts writing.  She agrees to tutor Yuri at his home since he is too ill to come to school.  At first the chemistry is zero but gradually sharing his passion for baseball becomes the centerfold of their growing relationship. The creation of a journal/storybook provides pages and pages of Yuri’s expression of what is important to him.  No spoilers here but suffice to say that Yuri’s reflections on Maggie’s assignments become the highlight of his life, with no room left for false games or lies.

Yuri’s openness and honesty changes Maggie’s personal life as well as she finally chooses to move from one stagnant relationship to a life-giving and creative connection.  Yuri then finds a peer who also loves baseball and becomes a best friend. Katya and Sasha also learn to relax and cherish their son’s growth and happiness.

The finale to this heartwarming story is tender, heart-wrenching and full of life-giving hope.  This is a novel with innumerably endearing scenes that will remain in your thoughts and heart forever!