Sunday, October 7, 2018

Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr by Margaret Porter

Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr. Margaret Porter. Gallica Press. October 2018. 378 pp. ISBN#:  9780990742036.

“I enjoy drawing up plans and designing and making things…They don’t realize that Hedy Lamarr is an invention.”  Yes, Hedy Lamarr was a beautiful actress but also an intelligent woman who invented a war weapon that was almost used to defeat the Germans in WWII. 

Born Hedy Kiesler, an Austrian, Jewish woman, she aspired to be a wonderful actress, but the films she chose to act in first was Ecstasy.  Hedy appears naked and fakes an orgasm which equally gained her universal praise and scorn in the earlier years of the 20th Century.

She marries a German munitions dealer who soon becomes her jailor.  She winds up escaping from him after realizing she couldn’t ignore her yearning to become a full-time actress.  Hedy signed a contract with Louis Mayer after much haggling but seems frustrated by not being given films she feels are equal to her acting abilities.  Still, her looks and talents catapult her to fame and stardom status!  Her love life is certainly interesting if not very stable. 

Margaret Porter gives a deft depiction of the lives of actors and actresses who more frequently “use” each other for better scripts or positions in the middle of a turbulent time of history with the rise of Adolph Hitler and the beginning of WWII.  Hedy moves through six marriages and has several children, including one adopted son.  She is also an avid gardener and inventor.  She generously contributes her time for the war by selling bonds and attending clubs to sign autographs and dance with soldiers and sailors on leave.  

She researches science facts to create the tornado that can attack without being detected.  The work behind this creation is no small feat and highly complex.  Hedy herself is a complex character, always searching for deeper meaning and creation, never satisfied.   Her private and public life parallel the historical and political turmoil of Europe and America – dramatic and life-changing!

Enjoy the scenes where Hedy stuns observers with her appearances in elegant gowns and hats, once an actress, always an actress!  Yet also relish the brilliance of her thinking as she seeks solitude to do research and create a soda machine and later a war weapon to be used against Germany.  Most of all, just revel in the enigmatic and intelligent talent of one of the most famous actresses in the Gilded Age of American Theater!  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Knife in the Fog: A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness and Arthur Conan Doyle by Bradley Harper

A Knife in the Fog: A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness and Arthur Conan Doyle. Bradley Harper. Prometheus Books. October 2018. 288 pp. ISBN#:  9781633884861.

Arthur Conan Doyle is a physician who spends his days practicing medicine.  He has also written a novel, A Study in Scarlet which gets the attention of the Prime Minister of England.  So unique are the skills in that novel that Prime Minister William Gladstone asks Sir Doyle to help with solving a series of murders that have been terrorizing London, murders that have the same characteristics.  The victims have had their throats slit but also have had parts of their internal female organs cut open or removed. 

To accomplish this task, Arthur Conan Doyle engages the help of Margaret Harkness, an inquisitive and bright lady who knows “street life” and can guide Doyle to places he would not know.  Also helping is Professor Bell, a renowned surgeon and thinker.  The police “allow” the threesome to join the investigation but initially regard them as an intrusive presence.  The killer knows of the search and is timing his murders to their work, mocking their search and investigation.

The public eventually would come to know this serial killer as “Jack the Ripper” but at this time far little is known about details and even causes for these murders; but eventually the reader will discover the minutiae behind many murders through the wiliness of these three investigators who fear neither man nor beast.

The answers to questions that arise through one’s readings are satisfying, including the more than satisfactory ending.  Stay tuned!  Kudos to the author who has fashioned the investigation of a notorious killer.

The Kennedy Debutante: A Novel by Kerri Maher

The Kennedy Debutante: A Novel. Kerri Maher. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2018. 384 pp. ISBN#: 978451492043.

Kathleen (“Kick”) Kennedy is the vivid debutante of this novel, a story that captures the essence of the Kennedy clan’s powerful presence, but which presents this famous woman as complex, fearless, socially adept, and devout. She’s a woman of her own character, living out her blend of service and compassion for and within the formidable issues of her time.

The novel begins with Kick’s “coming out” party.  Like any normal debutante, Kick loves to party and is only held in check by her mother Rose, a formidable woman who monitors “everything” about every one of her children.  Kick’s father, Joe, is obsessed with his effect and that of his children and we later see how he comes to respect Kick’s presence and then her ideas which might enhance his position as America’s Ambassador to England.  But Kick is definitely her own woman!

Two challenging issues face Kick within this account.  One is falling in love with a member of British aristocracy, Billy Harrington.  He and his family are staunchly Protestant and Kick’s equally strong practice of Catholicism seem initially like an unbreachable impasse and a painful one at that!  Their love will evolve with some wise counsel of friends, family and mentors.

In the midst of this constant partying and pleasurable activities, WWII is looming.  Hitler’s aggressive behavior is threatening the world and that includes England.  Kick’s family is deeply affected.  Kick chooses her own way of donating her time to help in the war effort.  Billy signs up for Royal service, realizing how patriotic he really is and wanting to make a difference, with a later painful cost.  Kick’s father returns to America, his doubt about Hitler making many consider him a failure.  Kick’s brothers, Joe Jr. and Jack, join the Air Force and Navy respectively.  Kick’s mentally and emotionally challenged sister, Rose, undergoes a change that is tragic for her and the entire family.  Other difficult results of the war loom large, making it almost unbearable but which the Kennedys address with amazing strength.

Almost everyone has heard of the Kennedy family.  But Kennedy Debutante… plunges the reader into the everyday, real life of Kick Kennedy and her family in a way that doesn’t hide flaws but acknowledges “service” and “duty” to the world as the sound principles that made a difference to so many – yes, politically, but also personally.  Memorable, engaging biography and history reading!!!

The Carpet Weaver of Usak by Kathryn Gauci

The Carpet Weaver of Usak. Kathryn Gauci. Ebony Publishing. September 2018. 254 pp. ISBN#:  9780648123545.

Aspasia and Saniye, the former Greek Orthodox and the other Turkish, are two friends whose love and care for each other endures the terrible Greek-Turkish conflict between 1914 and 1919. These women live in Anatolia, a place of beauty and joy, where Greek and Turkish families celebrate frequently in the town center or meydan between the towns of Stavrodomi and Pinarbasi.

Usak is the nearby center of the carpet weaving industry.  In the early period of 1914, Greeks and Turks work together to create these masterpieces that one can virtually see in the wonderful descriptions of old classical and new styles of designing and weaving rugs.  Even the methods of creation are described as women work from home and some work from factories in hand-tying the strands that eventually become a completed rug.  During those times of work, some workers have conversations that grow and unite these women stronger by the year.  Husbands, lovers, pregnancies, family lives and death are united to the point that when the wars between Greeks and Turks begin, these women help each other give birth and survive with each other when their spouses are forced to serve for opposing sides.  The carpet weaving industry almost disappears as war becomes more dangerous to all sides!

In the beginning, even in war, soldiers on both sides do their jobs.  Many die and the sorrow is evident everywhere.  But that doesn’t stop some from rescuing those who are in danger of capture.  In 1919 the war becomes worse with the arrival of the Greeks at Smyrna.  In the meydan, the Fountain of the Sun and Moon now becomes the place where punishments, mainly death sentences, carried out. The treasured unity is shattered!

Throughout this novel, many die or suffer from prevailing grief, lack of food, loss of children and spouses, and so much more.  The author does such a good job at describing each scene that the reader is drawn into the entire account by numerous images that make one think and feel.  What stands out, beside the horrors of this war that too few people are aware of, is the ties that bind these two friends and families when distrust prevails.

This is a story that readers will not soon forget, one that celebrates love, laughter, trust and endurance as well as what denies, divides and shatters tradition! Outstanding!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Time's Convert by Deborah Harkness

Time’s Convert. Deborah Harkness. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2018. 448 pp. ISBN#: 9780399564512.

What is it like to be adopted and become a vampire?  What is it like to become a vampire and then be married to another vampire.  In this prequel to the author’s previous All Souls Trilogy about the de Clermont family, we discover the background of Marcus Whitmore and the 23-year-old bride to be, Phoebe Taylor.  She becomes a vampire but like a baby must undergo a 90-day period of change from a human to vampire, with all the physical, mental and spiritual changes accompanying such a huge and formidable transformation.  During that period of time, Marcus has agreed to remain separated from her and endure all the frustrations of that change.  They are well-suited to each other with their independent, fiercely demanding and intemperate desires.  They are also a thorn in the flesh of those around them which provides many amusing and almost catastrophic scenes that elicit a range of erratic emotions in the reader as well as the characters.  “Becoming” is mysterious and exciting as well, to say the least!

Another plot line centers around two twins, Philip and Becca, born to a couple who are vampire and witch respectively.  It turns out that these twins have magical powers parallel to witches which must be softened, monitored and disciplined into permissible behavior so that disaster does not strike, as it almost does several times.  Their parents have a huge adjustment to manage as well as they never expected babies to satisfy their own desires immediately, including one making friends with a familiar, a griffin whom Philip names Apollo. The latter is also in dire need of control and discipline, proven by the humorous and frightening scenes that demonstrate just how deeply bonded Philip and Apollo are!

A third and fascinating subplot shows what it was like to live in the times of the American and French Revolution.  Marcus originally lived in that time in the 1700s.  Growing up with an abusive father and negligent family certainly did not bode well for the future and it was his father Matthew de Clermont who adopted Marcus and made him a vampire.  Learning about the extended family of vampires is awesome by itself. Vying for power and satisfying one’s own desires make for familial scenes that are more like a civil war.

Although this novel is connected to the earlier series, it works just as well as a stand-alone story.  Constant action, conflicts, funny takes, and the solving of some mysteries about the de Clermont history enable the reader to fly through these pages and engage with these endearing yet formidable characters.  Deborah Harkness has clearly done her research and has more than ample talent to craft a richly complex story, with just enough complexity in character depiction to satisfy every reader.

Well-done, again, Deborah Harkness!  Looking forward to more of immediate and extended family evolution and progress!  

The Lost Carousel of Provence: A Novel by Juliet Blackwell

The Lost Carousel of Provence: A Novel. Juliet Blackwell. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2018. 384 pp. ISBN#:  9780451490636.

Cady Drake has spent her whole life yearning so badly for a family, someone to show her love and to affirm that she was a good, deserving person.  Tossed from foster homes to group homes for years, Cady’s dream is never fulfilled.  However, the need to survive taught her strength and gave her focus on skills that have made her a photographer who is always in demand, albeit not a famous one.  Her fascination is for pictures of carousels from anywhere in the world.  A need to escape the aftermath of a personal tragedy and the wise, tough and loving advice of a good friend leads Cady to accept a plan from a publisher to photograph as many carousels as possible in Paris, France.  Readers will learn about the various types of carousels in Paris as well as the major artists who sculpted the brilliant and loving figures that gave so many children, teens and adults childlike pleasure for centuries.

The narrative voices switch from contemporary France to the 1940s France when a young carver female gets hired by Gustave Bayol, an actual famous carousel creator. Yes, she learns the trade, starting on the bottom cleaning brushes, etc. and graduating to carving the inside of the animals on the actual carousels made for very rich patrons. But she also falls in love and is saved by a refined patron who is as lonely as Maelle, the budding artist.

Back in the countryside outside of Paris, Cady winds up staying in a home with a very grumpy old man, Fabrice, whose family has a story that will leave the reader rapidly flipping the pages through various aspects of both a mystery and several romances. Cady will eventually be told the answer about the photograph of a beautiful woman and a love letter hidden inside a carousel rabbit. She will get the chance to restore an abandoned and semi-destroyed carousel and perhaps find some romance at the same time.  An unusual ending allows the reader to imagine the end of this superb story, instead of finding instant closure. 

This magnificent novel is about the essence of evolving relationships, be they familial, friendly, or romantic.  Realizations and explorations galore will assault the reader’s mind and heart so that this provokes some very special thinking and feeling. That in itself makes this story a gem! 

Enjoy a grand, exciting, mesmerizing and yet peaceful read! Highly recommend The Lost Carousel of Provence!

The Washington Decree: A Novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Washington Decree: A Novel. Jussi Adler-Olsen. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright 2018. pb. 592 pp.; ISBN: 9781524742522.

When chaos and breakdown create a domestic crisis, the President, Cabinet, Senate and House of Representatives are designed to handle every situation.  However, the scenario that shakes America within the pages of this novel defies the order, law and protocols set up for such a situation. 

The story begins sixteen years before Senator Bruce Jansen becomes President.  After winning a geographical contest, Doggie or Dorothy Rogers and a fellow contestant, Wesley Barefoot, and some other contestants win a free trip to China.  The days in China are filled with a lifetime of wondrous memories which are suddenly destroyed by an attack which winds up with the murder of Senator Jansen’s wife.  Years later, when Jansen has been elected President, he agrees to appear at an event in the hotel owned by Doggie’s father, Bud Curtis.  During that major event, President Jansen’s pregnant wife is assassinated, and the killer and Bud Curtis are arrested.  Bud Curtis is convicted and sentenced to Death Row.

But here is where the horror begins.  President Jansen has been unhinged by the deaths of his two wives, evidenced by the draconian measures he institutes, supported by a small cadre of powerful politicians.  All ammunition for guns of any kind must be surrendered.  The press is now to be censored by the government.  All TV shows about violence are removed.  In fact, most TV channels are closed if not censored for every soundbite that they transmit.  The National Guard and eventually all military are called to serve within America only as the rising tide of revolt, protest and violence increases.  Violent deaths, rapes, beatings and arrests are the new order of the day! America seems to be a civil war against itself.

The remainder of the novel centers on how several characters, mainly Doggie and some of her former colleagues, realize that the preceding events were not just caused by previous acts of violence but perhaps deliberately programmed so that someone could wind up with complete control of the government and the people of the United States of America!  Anarchy, however, still cannot be suppressed!

The Washington Decree… is a novel that could very well become reality.  The division in contemporary America certainly could foster such an attempt to wrest control from such divisive controls.  The author plots out the conflict deftly! Readers know it will evolve into a solution, but the tension is aptly placed so one is not quite so sure about the outcome!  In an epilogue, the author states that institutions such as FEMA, the Office of Homeland Security, and others might be unable to quell the consequences of such a scenario.  Jussi Adler-Olsen keeps the reader engaged but more than that makes the reader ask significant questions about the state of American democracy under threat!  Good contemporary thriller read!