Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sunshine Beach: A Novel by Wendy Wax

Sunshine Beach: A Novel. Wendy Wax. Penguin Publishing Group. June 2016. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425274484.  

Wendy Wax is back to offer readers hope and optimism in the face of financial and emotional loss. 

Avery’s relationship with her mother had healed but come to a shocking end upon her mother’s death, a loss keenly felt by Avery and accompanied by all too many associations to remind her of that empty spot in her life. 
Maddie has fallen in love with a former rock star who has been through success, alcohol and drug rehab, and fear only to find himself writing again and being plunged back into the spotlight, along with every worshipping female from the past. 

Nikki’s former lover, a star as well, visits Nikki and their son but wants the romance and love back; Nikki is wisely aloof although physically propelled toward him. 

Maddie, Avery and Nikki lost all their money in a Ponzi scheme at the hands of Nikki’s brother. Devising a project to pay off debt and become financially comfortable is the present goal, easier said than done.

Now Maddie’s daughter, Kyra, during one of her runs, stumbles across an old, abandoned beach hotel in terrible condition.  The friends immediately upon seeing it want to restore it and make it another, but this time independent, TV series like their past ones which ended in disaster due to bad chemistry with others in charge of the projects. However, this novel has an extra glitch and a big one at that!  It turns out that the father of the present owners was murdered in one of the beach cottages and their mother disappeared on the same evening.  This turns out to be what is now known as a cold case involving the mother’s German background during the time of the Nazis in WWII.  The sisters who own the home are afraid to tear it down for fear that whoever killed their mother will not be caught, even though it’s fifty years after the fact.  Can all these sisters have it their own way – find answers to the murder and restore a beach hotel to new grandeur and pleasure for its designers and hopefully future customers?

Wendy Wax has done it again, putting just enough mystery, snarky comments, conflicts, and romance to make this a delightful summer read!  Nicely crafted and recommended!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Radio Girls: A Novel by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Radio Girls: A Novel.  Sarah-Jane Stratford. Penguin Group (USA). June 2016. 384pp.  ISBN#: 9780451475565.

It’s 1926, a time when change is happening globally as life settles down after the awful events of WWI.  Maisie Musgrave is poor and unemployed but aims high by applying for a typist position at the BBC or British Broadcasting Corporation.  Talk radio is in its early days and is catching on fast in spite of the hefty price to purchase a radio license.  After a difficult interview when the interviewer indicates Maisie isn’t up to snuff as the type of person BBC hires, need rules the day and the same day she’s hired.  Her first Supervisor is a tough, tight lady who rules like a dictator, but Maisie quickly demonstrates her ability to be flexible and highly focused and becomes the assistant to Hilda Matheson, Director of the Talks Program, the latter who is actually based on the real person of that name and job.  Their liberal attitudes are constantly monitored by John Reith, the General Director-General of BBC. 

Two years later, in 1928, women over 21 may now vote in the general election.  The talks program moves from literature, entertainment, and other relatively innocent topics to politics, social change, and literature by authors of questionable moral values (for that time), and more.  Readers cannot help but react to the changes happening under Hilda and Maisie’s guiding hands.  However, Maisie is now getting the hang of writing and has a veritably unlimited list of famous people of all economic, social, religious, literary, and artistic merit whose talks are making the program so popular as to be covered by the newspapers.  While the majority of the letters and editorials are positive, there are many who fear “change” and so urge caution with future topics.

At this time Maisie reads a certain pamphlet belonging to Hilda.  The topic makes Maisie suspicious, the taking over of BBC and beginning topics that are more sedate and acceptable.  At the same time some large companies are interested in increasing their profit by engaging with business and government in Germany.  The remainder of the novel describes Maisie’s investigation and shocking discoveries.  Here then is another novel, written in a mystery style, that addresses the supposedly innocuous ways that dictatorships rise to power under the guise of shaping public values and opinions. 

Hilda and Maisie are dynamic characters whose interaction with each other and other notable character inside and outside of the BBC are so intriguing as to keep the reader riveted to this story which ends far too soon.  This reviewer loved the style, the way the plot complexity increases to the level of final high pitch, the intriguing story of how radio talk shows began and developed, and how prosperity jettisons a country into new and different ways of perceiving culture.  A brief biography of Hilda Matheson and a Reader’s Discussion Guide follows the novel. Magnificent writing and story, Sarah-Jane Stratford!!!! A MUST read!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale by David Kudler

Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale.  David Kudler. Stillpoint Digital Press. June 2016. 234 pp.  ISBN#: 9781938808326.

Kano Murasaki is called “Squirrel” (Risuko) by family and friends.  Obviously, she has received this name because she loves to climb houses and trees with a nimbleness and quickness few others possess.  She knows Japan has been torn apart by civil war in the year 1570; Risuko knows that her father was a famous samurai warrior who was told to complete a mission but refused and so is no longer a samurai.  However, he has taught Risuko the “dance” of sword play which she never realizes will later save lives around her.

For now, Risuko is devastated to find she has been “sold” by her mother to Lady Chiyome to become a Kunoichi which Risuko will not be able to translate or understand for quite a while (although she is bright enough to figure it out earlier than the other characters thought possible).  After a very cold and difficult journey, Risuko arrives with other females and little by little learns their stories.  She has not realized how important her father was until now, and she begins to display the skills others deem as exceptional but which are normal to her.  Risuko is given mundane tasks in the kitchen but also begins training in sword, music, cooking, and other skills. 

While Risuko makes quick friends with some of the girls, others seem bent on being perpetual enemies.  However, Risuko doesn’t realize that she’s not the one targeted to be killed and certainly doesn’t know why someone (called a “ghost” or “spirit fox” in ancient Japanese tales) wants to kill them all.  She will be called upon to be the one called upon to do more than she realized she could do.

The story is also replete with information about Japanese dress and mixed (Japanese and Korean) food that makes for enjoyable reading.

Read this delightful story with the gorgeous cover and enjoy the adventure, wisdom and light spirit threading its fascinating pages.  Delightfully told and crafted!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Portrait of a Conspiracy: Da Vinci' Disciples - Book One by Donna Russo Morin

Portrait of a Conspiracy: Da Vinci’s Disciples – Book One.  Donna Russo Morin. Diversion Publishing. May 2016. 298 pp.  ISBN#: 9781682300602.

Intense brutality and chaos make the citizens of Florence in 15th Century Italy fearful but lead five women artists to unite against a secret enemy.  Viviana, Fiammeta, Isabetta, Natasia and Mattea are painters and sculptors who practice in secret since women are forbidden to work as professional artists.  They come from a variety of families, some noble and some poor merchants.  When the Pazzi attempts to wrest power, with papal approval, from the noble rulers, the Medici family, a bloodbath follows, ending with the death of Giuliani Medici, revenge against the guilty and the innocent follows. 

When a painting, The Feast of Herod, and a sixth women artist, Lapaccia, disappear at the same time, the woman is believed to be guilty of the Pazzi and Medici feud and a fierce search begins.  Into the mix arrives Leonardo Da Vinci, anxious for revenge against those who killed his dear friend Giuliani but also deeply moved by the talent he recognizes when examining the works of these female artists willing to risk everything for love of their art.  The ravages of such conflict is saved in this novel by the perfectly placed descriptions of beauty, strength, hope, reality, love and hate vividly displayed in each production observed, whether in progress or completed. 

The remainder of the novel introduces the reader to a project these women believe will yield the plot behind all the increasing madness and conflict in Florence.   Viviana’s story parallels the larger conflict but is depicted so starkly that one cannot help but root for her deliverance.

Da Vinci comes to realize that women are more in touch with their feelings and perceptions about familial and political events than any man could ever experience.  He begins to teach them the skills he is admired for and the group becomes bonded to this Master.  The ending leads the reader to know that this connection is only just beginning and all are grateful for the knowledge.

Portrait of a Conspiracy… is a stunning work of historical fiction that cannot be put down because it is so realistically and artistically captivating.  One’s reluctance to read the last page is only modified by knowing more is to follow from this obviously highly skilled writer.  This reviewer highly recommends that all read this review, enjoy the comments at the end of the story and share the delight with the Reader’s Guide which ends this first book of Da Vinci’s disciples.  Stunning, passionate and memorable read!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Flight Patterns by Karen White

Flight Patterns. Karen White. Penguin Publishing Group. May 2016. 416 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451470911.  

Georgia Chambers has found pleasure in developing her antiques business, keeping busy in order to keep some very bad memories out of the forefront of her consciousness.  That’s all about to change as James Graf hires her to find a certain tea cup painted with bees to complete a set missing this piece.  Although Georgia is an expert on Limoges china, she also is quite knowledgeable about other fine china, particularly those unique handcrafted types that are extremely valuable.  The piece James describes to her brings back such a powerful memory that she pales and feels like she’s suffocating.  For she knows she must now return to her hometown in Florida to seek this china teacup, and she’s coerced into allowing James to accompany her. 

The time spent in Apalachicola, Florida will be life-changing for the sisters, Georgia and Maisy, their grandmother Birdie, Maisy’s daughter Becky, Grandpa, James and his sister Caroline and other characters from Europe who are part of this intriguing family history.  The story is complex and intense but evolves to the point where the family secrets of each character are revealed, real and imagined wrongdoings are faced and somewhat and then completely forgiven, silence and oblivion are removed once truth is embraced, the finding of journals as well as post cards and honey forces questions to be answered and so much more that is perfectly woven together at just the right pace. 

Every chapter begins with a quote about the life of bees, specifically describing how they interact and their functions at different times of their lives.  These additional lines literally and figuratively foreshadow what follows in each chapter – a charming extra touch!

Karen White is a highly skilled writer whose fiction just keeps getting better and better! If this is your first novel by her, you’re in for a treat!  You’ll probably want to read her other works as well.  For the threads of secrets and memories keep the characters from being stereotypical, the plot is both simple and complex, and the tension is relieved by warm and tender moments in all the right places. 

Wonderful, light (somewhat) fiction that this reviewer highly recommends as a great read at any time of year!  Thanks to the publisher, Penguin, who provided this novel in return for an honest review!

The Wolf of Sarajevo by Matthew Palmer

The Wolf of Sarajevo.  Matthew Palmer. Penguin Group (USA). May 2016. 400 pp.  ISBN#: 9780399175015.

Few people remember the horrific Srebrenica massacre but the aftermath of that tragedy continues to haunt an unending conflict among Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians.  Eric Petrosian lost a good friend, Meho Alimerovic, in that war and now he’s back on a mission to find out what the Bosnian leader is up to twenty years after Srebrenica.  Eric is serving at the American Embassy in the Balkans.  He has heard that the Bosnian Serb leader, who had sworn to live and influence his country toward peace, is now back to his old violent acts.  Another war is looming, a continuation of hundreds of years of ethnic hatred.

Why is Zoran Dimitrovic turning to activities that will build and eventually explode in more war and ethnic cleansing?  It turns out that another Mafia connected leader, Marko Barcelona, interested in only money and power, has some evidence that could turn Zoran Dimitrovic from a leader into a prisoner before a war tribunal trial.

Eric is approached by a former lover and now EUO diplomat, Annika Sondergaard, who knows that Eric has connections and in-roads that she can never hope to match.  She begs him to become involved in finding out the reason for Dimitrovic’s change of heart. 

The rest of the story is a historical thriller that probes the history of this conflict and an international thriller as Eric and Annika get closer and closer to the truth of the matter which just might put a halt on more pain and historical tragedy.  For every decent act of these two investigators are other rabid characters who love to kill, who love the hunt for the sake of the violence, and those who love to enter the fray to increase the already simmering tensions waiting for the spark that will inflame the area into new civil war.

Matthew Palmer has his finger on the pulse of Balkan history and a keen understanding of the major personalities literally creating history in this part of Eastern Europe.  The reader has to pay close attention, however, to keep pace with all the different names and which group each belongs to.  Succeeding in that endeavor, the reader will enjoy this fast-paced, somewhat stereotypical, but all too real battle for the future of this part of the world.  Very good historical fiction for sure!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Against a Darkening Sky: A Novel by Lauren B. Davis

Against a Darkening Sky: A Novel.  Lauren B. Davis. ChiZine Publications.  May 2015. 300 pp.  ISBN#: 9781771483186.

Wilona, the only survivor of a plague that destroyed her family, travels to the village of Ad Gefrin where she becomes the apprentice to Touilt, a seithkona or seer/healer.  Many people come to Touilt for her medicine treatments and Wilona learns quickly.  This is King Edwin’s medieval kingdom in a time of great transition with the coming of Christianity.  It is believed that when all convert, the kingdom will prosper as natural progression from belief in the triune God.

Before that occurs, however, we have an account of Wilona’s training which is lovely reading.  In between learning about how nature provides healing properties, we realize how dark, cruel and primitive are the conditions under which these people live.  Touilt sees many visions which the reader may find frightening but which Touilt interprets as life-giving, protective and wise.  Wilona herself has visions of an owl which is to be her guide, totem or daemon.

We next meet Egan, a devout monk whose Christianity is bounded by his own humility or scrupulosity.  His superiors take his bumbling errors in stride at first but then decide his humility reeks of excessive pride.  At the same time they recognize his timid kindness and speech as a great tool to be used in servicing the King’s desire that all come to Christ. 

Wilona and Egan develop an uneasy friendship at first.  When the town villagers come to destroy Touilt’s spirit drawings and figures and physically beat her, Wilona trusts no one.  She believes it is only time that awaits her own torture to force her to convert.  Egan insists otherwise.

The remainder of the novel dwells on changing circumstances that change the people’s certitude about Christianity.  The results of these challenges are riveting as the ending reveals a new way of dealing with how spiritual beliefs fit into the vicissitudes of daily medieval life. 

Very nicely crafted – recommended fantasy historical fiction that challenges adamant religiosity!