Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Craigsmuir Affair by Jen Black

The Craigsmuir Affair.  Jen Black. Orchard Hill Books. July 2015. 259 pp.  ASIN#: B00XXOB7FC.

Daisy is an 18 year-old woman who lives in the aristocratic world of Victorian England.  She dreams of entering art school and developing her already adept skills, but this is a dream clearly frowned upon by almost everyone in her society.  It’s one thing to dabble in painting and drawing, quite another for a woman to have a career outside of being a wife, mother, teacher or governess.  Her dream is challenged by the appearance of Adam Grey, a successful mine owner, who has scrabbled his way upward after being desperately poor as a result of the failed family business.  Initially, he seems like a cold, calculating, even brash young man but he is almost immediately smitten by this out-spoken yet sensitive woman, Daisy. 

Into the mix a series of art and money thefts occurs.  The thief is not evident because so many members of the upper class are always visiting each other for days on end.  When Daisy is invited to paint an entire wall at the home of one of these aristocrats, danger explodes.  An accident in a newfangled elevator, a fall, and more are added to the intense stress.  Adam has taken on the job of detective, as he has nothing to do at the moment, to discover the thief and then the attacker of Daisy. 

Adam and Daisy, however, are definitely attracted to each other and yet their meetings socially and privately crackle with misunderstanding and snapping conversations.  Daisy, however, in spite of being cast in a manner far from her real personality, holds firm to her dream for the future and her dignity when insulted by many.  Her strength is challenged further when a powerful man, Maitland, accosts Daisy several times with clear intentions of sexually possessing her while in his disgustingly perpetually alcoholic state.

This reviewer posted a review of Jen Black’s first novel many years ago and is happy to say that the writing style and plot complexity have significantly grown in this latest novel.  Readers will relish the evolving love affair and the mystery radiating through every page of this pleasing Victorian novel.  Very nicely crafted, Jen Black!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Put a Ring On It by Beth Kendrick

Put A Ring On It.  Beth Kendrick. Penguin Group (USA). November 2015. 320 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451474186.

Brighton Smith has just had the shock of her life.  Her fiancĂ© arrives to pick her up and take her to work and demands his ring back.  In seconds, after a fight over zipper merges and some flying comments about his inability to pass the bar exam for a legal career, Brighton is no longer engaged.  She’s so upset she leaves work and takes off to visit a friend, Kira, in a town that has breakups as its central theme.  Crazy?  Sure is but it’s an intensely funny kind of crazy!

Brighton then finds out that her ex-fiance just got married, five minutes after meeting someone else, a woman named Genevieve.  So after having several champagnes and venting to the sexiest-looking guy, Jake Sorenson and she fly off to Nevada to be married in a drive-by wedding chapel.

Is this really Brighton the actuary who has plans for every occurrence in her life, who researches every situation one could possibly imagine? So not only is she married, but she’s also working at a jeweler’s shop which is something her family taught her years ago.  Turns out she’s very talented and knowledgeable about this field and she really cares about it, more so than her former actuary job at which she was also an ace.

The marriage apparently is for a thirty day trial period and here the fun continues – that is until Jake’s first wife shows up and a dog, Rory, becomes part of the challenging scenarios.

Put a Ring on It is hardly credible but it’s a cute read for those who want a hot romance story with a fairy tale ending.  The jewelry design/fix-it addition is interesting, especially the notion of a poison-ring.  Okay, fun story!

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Place We Knew Well: A Novel by Carol McCarthy

A Place We Knew Well: A Novel.  Carol McCarthy. Random House Publishing Group. September 2015.  272 pp.  ISBN#: 9780804176545.

Wes Avery is the owner of a Texaco gas station, happily married to Sarah and father to Charlotte.  Life has been moving along nicely, when Wes and his neighbors notice fighter jets flying overhead in massive groups along one of Florida’s busiest highways.  The military air traffic is much busier than normally occurs and then President John F. Kennedy announces that Cuba has nuclear missiles provided by Russia.  He is demanding their removal.  Avery’s assistant is a Cuban exile who is very upset by the ramped-up crisis situation as his mother is in the precise area where these missiles are located.

Charlotte is a typical teenager obsessed with friends and an upcoming dance for which she has no date.  When she accepts an offer from Avery’s assistant, her mother Sarah is completely undone.  She becomes obsessed with their home-made air raid shelter and is clearly mentally unraveling.

Here is the simple yet complex plot evolving in miniscule stages.  Russian ships approach Cuba with more nuclear arms.  Attempts are being made to negotiate a treaty with Turkey involved, promising equal removal of military arms that could destroy the world in seconds. 

The Avery family has its own secret that will threaten to be as devastating.  Avery’s former military experience knows more than the average Floridian that the increasing military build-up in Florida presages war-status action. 

By the time the chaos comes to the very brink of attack, the Avery family has completely come undone. 

A Place We Knew Well is a realistic account of the Cuban crisis that swept across America and Europe that is perfectly plotted, revealing the doubt, fear, anxiety, and psychic inability to cope that occurred in a very short time.  It was the first time that the existence of nuclear arms went beyond a contest of “Who’s got more toys?” to “This is for real, folks.” 

Nicely crafted fiction about all-too-real turmoil in American history, Carol McCarthy!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe.

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.  Jennifer Kincheloe. Prometheus Books. November 2015. 375 pp.  ISBN#: 9781633880801.

In 2015 Los Angeles one can be as outrageous as one wants and everyone usually takes it all in stride.  However, in 1907 Los Angeles, a woman was allowed to marry, raise children and help out in local charities.  If that’s your cup of tea, read no further.  But if you’ve got a bit of an imp loving to try new things and be a little crazy, then you’re going to find Anna Blanc lives what you may dream.  In the beginning of her story, we see her eloping with a young man who says between having a lot of money and her spunk, he’ll be a happy man and they’ll be a happy couple.  Right?  Not quite!

After this debacle ends, rich Daddy pretty much imprisons Anna and hires a series of chaperones to monitor Anna’s every move when she leaves home.  But Anna is no wimp and finally makes a deal with one of those chaperones to exchange clothes and jewelry for six days. So what does Anna really want to do that she needs to do in secret?  Actually Anna is not only vain and a shopaholic but also has dreams of making a difference.  She wants to be like a friend who works in social service at a police station in L.A. but very, very few positions like this are open to the likes of Anna Blanc.  Turns out that she’s in the right place at the right time, especially after getting arrested for marching in a suffragette parade and smoking a cigarette in public.

No spoilers here – Anna is going to become involved in investigating the deaths of several young girls who have been coerced into prostitution out of terrible poverty.  At first she’s viewed as a bothersome liberal but little by little as she proceeds with ruthless determination she becomes a highly respected member of the police force.  In between those purposeful activities, however, Anna collects fiancĂ©s but must wait for quite a while before she finds the one she can truly love, admire, and respect, someone who has got Anna’s back in a secret but protective role. 

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc seems very, very contrived but this novel is actually a delight coupled with some witty social satire, as well as good sleuth work.  Unusual, crafty and a very pleasant read, Jennifer Kincheloe

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

White Collar Girl: A Novel by Renee Rosen

White Collar Girl: A Novel.  Renee Rosen. Penguin Group (USA). November 2015. 448 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451474971.

Jordan Walsh comes from a family of notable journalists but their interest in the business has died with the loss of their son and Jordan’s brother who died in a hit and run accident.  Their family has truly been broken by this loss; no one speaks about thoughts or feelings about Jordan’s brother and Jordan is practically invisible as far as attention goes.  Now she’s finally getting a break and about to start a job as a journalist who writes about women’s issues in a column known as “White Collar Girl.”  But Jordan has far greater aspirations than writing about how to dress, apply makeup, find a husband, etc.  She wants to write solid investigative news and is willing to do anything to make that happen. But little is Jordan prepared for the consequences of her choices, both professionally and personally.

Jordan begins to be fed information on political corruption for medical insurance fraud but instead of receiving accolades her notes are given to a male to write the copy on the story.  The next time she scoops a huge story about more corruption that causes a severe accident, she plays it differently.  Little by little we read about tension-riddled, dangerous events and situations in which Jordan becomes the investigator and the one who writes the story.  The Chicago political machine run by Mayor Richard J. Daly and other supporters is rife with crooked politics.  And some who consider Jordan friend are really the opposite which she will discover with intensely emotional chagrin.

Romance unexpectedly arises for Jordan but is challenged by competition and familial problems of a fellow journalist working for a rival newspaper.  Another friend who attempts to woo Jordan winds up in a precarious situation which he believes Jordan arranged; indeed she is accused of choosing betrayal and success in her job over a growing friendship and possibly more.

Toward the end of the story, Jordan begins to investigate a story that might have to do with the death of her brother.  By now her reputation precedes her and so few are ready to whisper secrets that may be catastrophic for professional and personal lives around the office.

White Collar Girl is well-plotted historical fiction (1950s Chicago) that is thrilling to read in Rosen’s easy and well-researched story.  The dangers seem vivid and the personal plights seem no less enjoyable, albeit somewhat contrived.  The reader gets to know Jordan so well that one feels her joys and pain and is rooting for her through every challenge.  It’s a rough road women traveled to obtain equal standing in journalism, as well as other careers, and Rosen depicts what it was in the early days of the struggle for equal treatment at work and respect.  Her writing gets better and better!  Wonderful story and highly recommended read!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Through the Narrows - Tomahawk and Saber - Volume 2 - by Nathanael Green and Evan Ronan

Through the Narrows – Tomahawk and Saber (Volume 2).  Nathanael Green and Evan Ronan. Calhoun Publishing. October 215. 226 pp.  ISBN#: 9780996495813.

Hugh Pike and Wolf Tongue are again working together on a task that seems to be riddled with mystery and betrayal.  Wolf Tongue is silently mourning the degradation of his Sussquehannock tribe, which has lost many to disease and most of the stronger men and women to union with other tribes.  However, now the tribe is being accused of attacking and murdering residents of Millers Town.  Pike’s superior, the General who seems to despise him and refuses to promote him even after years of commendable service, has ordered him to investigate the Millers Town debacle and report back in three days, an almost impossible task for sure.
When Pike and Wolf Tongue arrive at Millers Town, they are far from welcome and suspicion about their presence is fiercely spoken.  They meet the man who reported the Indian raids, a suspicious character named Dobs and a French woman who knows a great deal but says little initially. As a war with the French is clearly looming, her words are deemed questionable. 

An almost immediate attack by the Indians, composed of members of various tribes, including an enemy of Wolf Tongue, occurs and reveals the cause of their anger.  Pike is given an ultimatum to solve the cause or watch the massacre of the Millers Town residents.  As he’s clearly outnumbered, he realizes he must solve the mystery.
Through the Narrows is the second volume of this Colonial American series.  While the characters and scenes are somewhat loosely constructed as far as actual reality of the Pennsylvania conditions, they do reflect the problems and terrors that truly did exist as colonialists faced divided Indian tribes and the ever-present conflicts caused by the perpetual warlike state existing between France and England, with the Americans caught in the middle.  While colonial characters are rather stereotypical, he presentation of several points of view with respect to the native Indians is remarkable and interesting.

For those who love adventure, a mystery, and an interest in early American history, this series by Green and Ronan is a fascinating, intense and tension-packed story. Nicely crafted!

The Palest Ink by Kat Bratt

The Palest Ink.  Kay Bratt. Lake Union Publishing. October 2015. 416 pp.  ISBN#: 9781503946169.

Mao Tse-Tung is at a crossroads in China in the year 1966.  His original plan to increase agricultural output has been a disaster and stories about brutality, starvation and disease travel like lightning despite efforts to curtail dissension and negativity.  Three young Chinese students, Benfu, Pony Boy and Wen, are divided in their loyalty to Mao.  However, little by little, a transformation occurs in their devotion, an evolution in which they believe they must publish the abuses and brutalities being committed by Mao’s notorious Red Guard, a group of supporters who become Mao’s arm of accusation and compliance.  The latter discover they have power and they carry out that formidable opportunity with terror and death.  Benfu, Pony Bok and Wen carry out a plan to reveal this travesty of progress but the consequences will be phenomenal and costly.

Benfu is a talented violin player who comes from a distinguished family.  His mother is constantly monitoring his every move and her demands are almost paranoid in her efforts to preserve and guard the “family honor” and social status they have worked so hard to possess.  Benfu is becoming a man and so finds his mother’s efforts to control him unbearable.  His only consolation is the time he spends with his best friend, Pony Boy.

Tragedy worsens Pony Boy’s status as a poor young man.  When his father becomes ill, Pony Boy must work long, long hours just to allow his family to retain their home and have meager meals to survive.  Pony Boy after turning from an ardent Communist realizes Mao is repressing and brutalizing his people during the period when all high status Chinese people are being purged and reeducated.  Pony Boy and Benfu plan a publication that will expose all that is wrong with Mao’s plans and actual realities. 

Benfu and Pony Boy will fall in love with women they respect, independent, strong-minded women who are willing to testify to the travesties of justice now rampant throughout China.  Benfu is sent to escape to the country to escape the Red Guard’s investigations into wealthy families but that country journey is one of working on a collective farm in which self-criticism and judgment by others is a constant threat to life and limb.  Pony Boy continues their efforts while Benfu works and suffers.  Eventually their reunion will spark a final challenge that is breathtaking in its fierce challenge and involve some other very special characters.

The Palest Ink is a potent, beautiful story about resistance and loyalty to friend, family and foe the reader will find hard to forget.  Its insistence that the written word surpasses all memories proves significantly true about this particular, significant historical period.  The mission of serving as a witness to history is valuable beyond words and so succeeds beyond expectations.  Very nicely crafted, Kay Bratt!