Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Angel's Share: The Bourbon Kings Series #2 by J. R. Ward

The Angel’s Share: The Bourbon Kings Series #2.  J. R. Ward. Penguin Publishing Group. July 2016. 432 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451475282.

William Baldwine is dead but was his passing a suicide or murder?  Lane Baldwine has discovered that his father has almost impoverished the family fortune.  Millions of dollars have been transferred but to where remains Lane’s challenge to discover.  Meanwhile, the family soap opera-like drama continues.  Lane is attempting to divorce his self-centered wife so that he can marry Lizzie, the family horticulturist, the latter relationship the only pure, true evidence of love in this novel replete with sarcasm, hate, lust, greed and so many more dissolute realities. 

Edward is the son whose father had him tortured and almost killed years ago.  He is now a crippled, broken man living in seclusion and more than content with the family’s present crisis.  At times he seems to know more than he should about his father’s demise but his apparent disconnect leads the family to other suspicious connections. The reader also wonders if his relationship with Sutton from a neighboring fortune family, will be cemented or torn apart.

There are opportunities for second chances for Gin and her daughter.  Mrs. Baldwyne lies in bed addicted to pain killers and mentally out of it and the reader wonders if this is her final destiny or if there is a chance at something better for her.  How is she tied into the disappearance of the family fortune?

There are relationships that look as if they are going somewhere but which then fall apart, leaving the reader flipping the pages to see where these complex patterns merge and cleave apart, always with a surprise factor injected into the ever-changing plot structure.

There’s also a fascinating description of the family’s centerpiece, Kentucky Bourbon, indicating how it’s made (revealing the origin of the novel’s title) and the love and care taken to create this masterpiece that is world-renowned.  This then is what built the family fortune and Lane brings us back to its creation and development, leading us to believe he just may be able to restore this mess with his gritty determination.

The Angel’s Share… is gritty, salacious, high-powered fiction that is sure to please readers galore!  Riveting romance, crime and contemporary fiction!

Daughter of Albion: A Novel by Ilka Tampke

Daughter of Albion: A Novel.  Ilka Tampke. St. Martin’s Press. April 2016. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9781250081094.

Ailia is a foundling who spends her entire life looking for her true identity, her “skin,” or her totem.  Brought up by a strict but loving servant and healer Cookmother, Ailia knows she can never marry, have children (who would be recognized by her culture) or be part of any formal learning.  The latter is the hardest part for Ailia as she is bright and gifted.  All of this doesn’t initially sync with what follows, especially meeting a swimming fish who morphs into the magical Taliesin.  They immediately fall in love but so many obstacles seem to keep them apart.  What is magical about their relationship is the fact that Taliesin knows part of the story that keeps him fish-bound and unable to enter human territory but disappears when Ailia demands more of an answer. That hunger compels Ailia to enter the forbidden forest, an act that will change her life and that of her community forever.

Ailia is led to the “Mothers” who possess all tribal and other-worldly knowledge.  In spite of her inability to name her “skin,” Ailia is allowed to learn and be tested by the Mothers.  It is there that she is acknowledged to be the “Kendra’ or savior of the Celtic tribes; however, her status is rejected by many whose tribal identity and foundation is based on the knowledge behind each person and the community’s skin.  The nerve-wracking trial to come is the decision of Rome to invade Britain. Placating these Romans with gifts and money before now, community leaders and soldiers are very divided between those who would pacify them with surrender and those who would fight to victory or death rather than submit to domination. Another male, Ruther, and Ailia are attracted but Ruther is enamored of Roman power and knowledge, a definite challenge to any chance they might have together in the future.
The essence of Daughter of Albion… is similar to Marianne Zimmer Bradley, author of The Mists of Avalon, one of this reviewer’s favorite novels (and from which comes my pen name, Viviane Crystal).  An otherworldly, magical world is depicted where right and goodness prevail, albeit not without knowledge of how to deal with the evil in the real world.  Idealistic living is honored and centers all individual and community living.  Characters are open to the flow between the spiritual and temporal world; the “Old Ways” are celebrated indeed!

Daughter of Albion is finely crafted with so much more than this description reveals.  Highly recommended historical fiction that is delightful reading!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Paris Librarian: A Hugo Marston Novel by Mark Pryor

The Paris Librarian: A Hugo Marston Novel. Mark Pryor. Prometheus Books Seventh Street Books. August 2016. 270 pp.  ISBN#: 9781633881778.

Hugo Marston is a book collector of first editions but also a security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France.  His friend, Paul Rogers, calls Hugo to tell him about a signed first edition of a Truman Capote novel.  Imagine Hugo’s shock when he proceeds to the American Library in Paris to find Paul Rogers dead in a locked room.  While there is an ongoing investigation there’s much annoyance from other library personnel as it seems obvious that Paul finally succumbed to his heart condition.  But Hugo’s innate sensitivity believes there’s more than meets the eye and the rest of the novel follows his instincts and investigation, once again displaying Hugo’s skills and talent as a former FBI profiler.

The story turns to a mysterious case of the actress Isabelle Severin who wrote letters during WWII.  Some of those letters are public and some are private but the fascinating part of this mystery lies in the fact that she might have been part of the Resistance movement during WWII and might have even murdered an SS Officer with a dagger.  So why is that such a secret and who would want the contents of the letters to disappear?  And what does that have to do with the death of Paul Rogers?
The story isn’t that complex but reading how Hugo Marston again (this is the sixth novel in this series) intelligently explores the facts and rumors behind Paul’s demise.  He always displays a remarkable calmness even as he gets closer and closer to the killer and the story behind the murder.

Mark Pryor excels at good old-fashioned mystery storytelling, gradually leading the reader from simple scenes into intriguing clues all the way to a very satisfying conclusion.  Part of that success lies in careful characterization of Hugo and other supportive and opposing characters in the story.  All in all, a riveting and intriguing international mystery sure to please mystery and thriller fans and those new to the genre.  Nicely done, Mark Pryor!

Kennedy and Roosevelt: The Uneasy Alliance by Michael Beschloss

Kennedy and Roosevelt: The Uneasy Alliance. Michael Beschloss. Open Road Media. August 2016. 318 pp.  ASIN#: B01J9AGM6M.

Politics and business are the world of these two renowned men, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Joseph Kennedy, ranging in this analysis from the 1920s to the death of Roosevelt.  The initial question that the author poses from the very first page is whether great politicians and those who serve them serve out of the public good or self-interest.  While it might be hard to refrain from an automatic response, Beschloss does a fine job of depicting how these motives frequently operate singularly and equally operate hand-in-hand.  Beschloff’s analysis attempts objectivity, citing only other supportive and opposing viewpoints on each issue challenging these men in the tumultuous times after both WWI and the Depression.

A concise but informative biography of each man begins this text, surprising the reader with the fact that both men suffered from social caste stigma, Roosevelt from his privileged background that shut him out from many youthful peers and Kennedy the Irish background that the upper class devalued in the days when the Irish fled the poverty and starvation of their home country.  However, both men like their forbears clearly displayed the tenacity and charm necessary to make their way from unfriendly to friendly and supportive colleagues and friends. Perhaps this is what initially bonded both men to each other as close knit friends before their differences polarized them into a breach that could not be healed.

Franklin Roosevelt was a mediocre speculator in business at best and this is indeed ironical as he was the President who would attempt to heal the nation and Wall Street after disastrous financial performance or lack thereof.  Kennedy, on the other hand, was astute in financial skills and we learn how his years as Chairman of the American Securities Exchange helped heal the Depression after-effects.  The media’s relentless criticisms, analyses and support are described honestly and carefully.

Not to spoil the rest of the story, the friendship between these two men grew closer, much to the chagrin of many White House personnel and it wasn’t until the potential for another world war loomed large with the bombast of Adolf Hitler that the split began between Roosevelt and Kennedy.  Multiple comments and editorials stated Roosevelt wanted war but that is not clear after reading these pages although we know Kennedy was consistently against war. 

The other fascinating part of this book is the way Roosevelt played the men from whom he sought advice and to whom he seemed to promise undying devotion and friendship.  It’s a frank, realistic look at the world of politics that really isn’t that different from what Americans are experiencing today.  Public or personal interest?  A worthy theme to examine openly and apply to the past and present, presented by an author who has clearly done his research and completely understands the “uneasy alliance” of which he writes.  Highly recommended historical nonfiction.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The French War Bride: A Novel by Robin Wells

The French War Bride: A Novel.  Robin Wells. Penguin Group (USA). August 2016. 480 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425282441.

Amelie O’Connor is 93 years old, not given to thinking much about her past, that is until a bold, angry woman, Kat Thompson struts into Amelie’s assisted living home.  It seems that Kat was engaged to Amelie’s husband, Jack and she’s here to find out how that happened because she is dying of cancer and trying to resolve past wrongs and issues. So begins a phenomenal, yet real story of living through WWII in mainly Paris, France. 

Amelie and Yvette have been best friends from the time they were children.  Now the Germans have taken over France and every day is harrowing, a matter of survival or death.  Both women watch their parents die directly from the Germans or disease following the starvation conditions imposed by the enemy. However, out of the bitterness and sorrow of those losses arose the feisty French Spirit expressed through the Resistance.  No, it’s not melodramatic stuff of the movies but is day-by-day ferocious passing of information to thwart if not destroy German progress in the war.  During that time, Amelie’s brother works for the French police who obey the German directives and seeing some of his action changes Amelie forever.  At the same time Yvette dumps Amelie’s brother as a boyfriend, she begins to cooperate with the Germans in order to get fragile and important information.  The lack of food and clothing are so tangible that the reader can feel their starvation and see their weight rapidly falling along with other horrors.  Neighbors sometimes help each other and sometimes selfishly deny each other since one mouthful of food can often mean surviving alive another day.

In between the two narrative voices presenting their story or point of view, we see the reactions of both women and the gradual revelation of secrets that forces each woman to face her own lies and truth.  This calls for forgiveness!

The pace of this novel is evenly presented with ever-present rules changing, bringing new crises and ways of coping that are intriguing and keep the reader flipping rapidly through the pages.  The romance is sweet while the cost paid is cruel and yet no less passionate for hard times call for all or nothing investment.

The French War Bride isn’t hopeless at all – it’s invigorating prose that celebrates survival after loss, strength during and after weakness, loyalty despite ever-present traitors, and enduring love that calls forth the best humans can give in the face of the worst others can inflict.  Dramatic and highly recommended historical fiction!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Falling: A Love Story by Jane Green

Falling: A Love Story. Jane Green. Penguin Publishing Group. July 2016. 384 pp.  ISBN#: 9780399583285. 

Emma Montague has flown the hectic, successful, stylish life of the New York finance world to live in the countryside of Westport, Connecticut.  She’s actually British and comes from a family where “class” means everything and “Mum” just doesn’t get her present abandonment of a rising career for country living.  Emma herself isn’t quite sure about her future but little by little every day begins to feel oh so right!
Her first independent streak is deciding after renting a worn-down old house to do some redecorating.  It turns out Emma’s got quite a bit of latent talent and her landlord, after getting over the change of his grandparents’ look, admits her style is very, very good.  When not doing odd jobs at home and building shelves for his new renter Emma, Dominic is a bartender at a local bar and raising his son, 6 year-old Jessie.  The rapport between the three quickly grows, in between some very funny scenes as Emma is introduced to the night life of the area and some very varied women.  Some would have fit in Emma’s New York scene and others are more relaxed, friendly and down-to-earth women who warmly make Emma fit in as if she’s always lived there, even though they make her blush with their comments about Dominic as Emma’s “neighborly” closeness.

The remainder of the novel is quite lovely as Dominic, Emma and Jesse begin to bond as a caring family.  Then comes the totally unexplained and unexpected jolt and the future dramatically changes forever.

Wonderful, light (somewhat contrived) fiction that this reviewer highly recommends as a very pleasant read!  Thanks to the publisher, Penguin, who provided this novel in return for an honest review!

Peregrine Island: A Novel by Diane B. Saxton

Peregrine Island: A Novel. Diane B. Saxton. She Writes Press. August 2016. 288 pp.  ISBN#: 9781631521515. 

Three women inhabit a home on Peregrine Island, a small town on the Connecticut side of the Long Island Sound.  The grandmother Winter, daughter Elsie and granddaughter Peda live together but firmly divided by their likes and dislikes, their secrets and their refusal to talk directly about the family history that has divided them, without each realizing that reality.  Winter sits every day staring at a painting she deems beautiful, full of characters who mean more to her than her own family.  Elsie had disappeared for five years and returned with her daughter Peda, never giving one utterance of her reasons for disappearing or a clue about who her daughter’s father is.  An old caretaker and a hidden old man whom others believe is Peda’s invention add mystery and ghost-like ambiance to this lush setting and bittersweet family. Many secrets will become exposed and unraveled depicting how the past so forcefully colors the present. 

One day two bedraggled old men and a young, sexy-looking man, Ham, arrive at the house, claiming they’ve been sent by well-known art dealers.  They are here to evaluate the painting Winter loves, created by her grandfather, Simon Candor.  Winter, a woman who fluctuates between biting direct remarks and being a surrealistic presence, wants to know how these strange men learned about the painting.  Ham claims he is a relative of Simon Candor and that the painting really belongs to him. The family is protective in the face of unending questions and comments; the art evaluators seem greedy and ready to do something for their own benefit.  Is the painting real or a copy?  Are the evaluators really experts or frauds?

To say more would be to spoil a delicious tale of revelation and conflict that flows like the tide of the waters surrounding this island home.  Over quite a period of time, we will learn not only who created the painting and what lies behind its frame, but the mystery of a family member who disappeared years ago, the truth about a murder that was never documented, and the truth about present and past relationships that is shocking to all.  Truth and honesty will eventually come out but not until the end of a circuitous journey that exposes loyalty, greed, unfaithfulness, selfishness and terror in every single character abiding in these pages.

Peregrine Island… is a carefully plotted and uniquely characterized story that is sure to delight readers of skilled authors.  Highly recommended historical/contemporary fiction!!!