Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Lake of the Dead: A Winston Radhauser Mystery #5 by Susan Clayton-Goldner

Lake of the Dead: A Winston Radhauser Mystery #5. Susan Clayton-Goldner. Tirgearr Publishing.  January 2019. 291 pp.; ASIN #: B07L5Z6BMB.

When the story begins, the reader thinks it’s going to be a crime associated with transgender truth and persecution.  Rashima (formerly called Roy) is having tremendous problems as she’s believed she’s always been a girl despite what her anatomy indicates. Her parents and school peers’ scorn and even persecute her.  However, she’s got a steeliness that has grown since she became friends with Parker Collins and with whom she’s fallen in love.  Parker has been writing stories since he was a child.  When the story opens, Rashima is frantic because she hasn’t heard from him.  He’s gone up to a cabin his Writing Professor lent him to use far away from telephones, TVs, computers, etc. because she believes he is the most gifted student she has ever had and is sure someday he will win a major award for his novel.

Finally, after his missing status has been reported, Officer Winston Radhauser gets involved.  He is also an unusual person who accepts people for who they are and focuses more of his empathy than judgment on people like Rashima and Parker.  However, his involvement is on a purely investigative mode and he’s able to maintain an objectivity despite his feelings one way or another.  He’s about to be extremely surprised about this investigation’s results.

At first, he’s surprised by the professor, Maggie Hollingsworth’s strong feelings about Parker.  When Radhauser gets a brief glimpse of Parker’s writing in his notebooks he’s kept since he was a child, Radhauser quickly knows this is a sensitive soul who has suffered on his own, something Maggie couldn’t help but miss.  This then is the search for Parker and after finding Parker’s body the search for his killer.

Everyone in this story has an “agenda,” stuff to deal with that can be life-changing in the best or worst ways, including Parker and Rashima’s families.  However, sometimes the reader tries to play private eye and couldn’t be farther from the truth with this scenario.

The plot of this novel is really about character and this is where Susan Clayton-Goldner clearly excels.  The reader continues to want to know more and more about each character, not to supply a “who did it” answer, but just for the descriptions of the simplicity and complexity of each character. This is the magic that fuses all of parts, right up to the last riveting page.  Very nicely done, Ms. Clayton-Goldner – recommended great read of this mystery, the fifth in her series!

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

The Suspect. Fiona Barton. Penguin Publishing Group..  January 2019. $26.00; hb, 416 pp.; ISBN: 9781101990513.

One of the worst nightmares for parents would be the disappearance or death of a child. One probably can’t imagine such a scene.  In many ways, parents are slightly out of touch once teens become older and exert some independence. So when Alex and a new friend Rosie go to Bangkok, Thailand, their parents are happy that they are supposedly having a great time.  The few texts they send to their parents and other friends seem to send the same message, the trip of a lifetime, which is exactly what it’s not!

At the same time, Kate Waters and her husband have fallen out of touch with their son, Jake.  He is also in Bangkok but no one knows what he’s doing there.  He was supposed to be continuing his education but that’s far from reality.  The story also concerns a young man named Jamie, a kind of obsessive guy who is mildly irritating to his crowd of friends and a Thai landlady called Mamma. 

When Alex and Rosie stop sending messages and haven’t been heard from in a little over week, the parents and friends become very concerned.  Days later, the nightmare scenario rears its head; the girls are dead.  Weeks later, news hits that they didn’t die in a fire but had actually died before they were found in the remains of a fire.  This then is the mystery that fills these page-turning scenes of the investigation that follows.  It also turns out that Jake Waters was a friend of the two girls and might have started the fired hostel where the girls were found.  Drugs, sex, and a fairly wild life seem to consume most of the tourists in Bangkok and police are quick to close cases rather than investigate further. Alex fails to follow her better instincts before it is too late.

Now the parents are involved and that is tragic, high drama.  Kate Water cannot stop being a journalist and begins her own search regarding her own son.  While some of the parts are repetitive and a bit lengthy, the mystery’s solution is both unpredictable and wild beyond anyone’s imagination.  It’s a story of innocence gone awry, parents who are quite disconnected from reality, dysfunctional families and individuals who seem beyond redemption, and a question of who is innocent or guilty.   It’s an exciting, sad and thrilling roller-coaster read!  Nice job, Fiona Barton – good read!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Blue: A Novel by Nancy Bilyeau

The Blue: A Novel. Nancy Bilyeau. Endeavor Quill.  December 2018. $3.99; pb, 430 pp.; ISBN: 9781911445626.

Genevieve Planche is the granddaughter of French Huguenots, an artist who is reduced to painting on porcelain cups although her skills pertain to being able to paint in oils, the latter talent closed to females in 1758 England.  The author’s own familial background is connected to the Huguenot background of this artist.  She adores the work of the famous artist, William Hogarth, and Joshua Reynolds.  She lives in Spitalfields, a modest area outside of the West End of famous artists and wealthy patrons. Despite being associated in the recent past with the criminal Dennis Arsenault, Genevieve makes up a story to meet William Hogarth.  Imagine her surprise when she is accosted by two men, one her ex-lover and one, Sir Gabriel Courtenay. The latter she met at a dinner earlier and then in Hogarth’s home.  His interest in her seems awkward but determined.  Their earlier conversation was about the history of different types of porcelain, including the famous Sevres porcelain.  The contact immediately becomes dangerous! 

Two items dominate this complex, ever-changing plot.  One is the past French massacre of Genevieve’s fellow Huguenots at what is known as St. Bartholomew Massacre and the other is the exploratory search for a brand new color of blue.  The reader is at first unsure whether this is blue as we know it, a type of Prussian blue or some other shade of blue. Either way, the machinations spun by Courtenay make Genevieve realize it’s a secret that results in plenty of injured and dead people who get too close to this affair.

Thomas Sturbridge is the brilliant scientist who is said to rival the talent of Isaac Newton.  Before she meets him, she is invited, through her grandfather’s artistic influence, to paint porcelain at Derby Porcelain Works.  It is quite unclear who is a trustworthy part of this exploration into the new color being sought.  Even Thomas, with whom Genevieve falls in love, is partially secretive and purely passionate about his scientific experiments.  Genevieve is threatened, beaten at one point and imprisoned because of their love.  She is the only one who can get Thomas to continue his work and yet he seems to know something that he has not revealed to Genevieve. 

Words cannot convey the passion, talents, criminal intent and plans to make this discovery real.  The characters move between England and France, who by the way are also currently at war, at a breakneck pace.  One is never sure of who is sincere and who is a criminal.  The conclusion is mind-blowing in its surprises.  Royalty is more involved in this plot than earlier realized.  The author has obviously researched her subject with precision and depth and knows how to hold the reader’s fascination with plot and character manipulations.  More than that, the author also has a deep, passionate love for the world of porcelain and art, as well as the Huguenot people. 

This is magnificent historical fiction that’s a must read and a great gift for those who love the genres of historical fiction and mysteries! Congratulations, Nancy Bilyeau, for a book that will be read, re-read and talked about for some time to come!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Becoming. Michelle Obama. Crown Publishing Group. November 2018. $19.50; pb, 448 pp.; ISBN: 9781524763138.

Usually the public demands on the First Lady of the United States are minimal.  However, we live in times where division is rife and the public are starving for inspiration.  It’s a way of saying, “It’s all going to turn out right or at least as close as possible to right.”  So what is usually such a formidable demand on the President also attached to the First Lady.  Michelle Obama’s memoirs address many aspects of the goals that are expected of public figures.  Will all readers agree with the phases of her life that she describes in becoming me, becoming us, becoming more and the epilogue?  Probably not, but what a fine way to start understanding the ins and outs of the woman who became First Lady for eight years which clearly parallels the mental and emotional journey of America over those eight years of her service.

First, First Lady Obama takes readers into the formation of her educational journey and the establishment of a personality grounded in honesty, integrity and purpose.  She admirably describes her ascent from insecurity step-by-step.  Molded by a hard-working family and meeting the challenges of a father who was ill for many of her growing-up years and of living in a family of limited economic means, she accepted thrift but also accepted a sense of responsibility about handling finances.  Hard work was the journey she was to take to rise from those conditions, encouraged by her parents’ model and life experience.

It would be accurate to describe her education as “driven.” She was hungry to learn and that passion honored her drive with success.  Only after she wrestled through her college and legal education did she finally realize that her calling or passion was not to be law but in something connected to public service.  However, that separation was not as large as she seemed to experience.  That introductory period gave her an immense body of knowledge that she probably uses to this day.

On and on the story continues.  The strengths and weaknesses of a marriage, campaigning for political offices, the expectations of supporters and the hellish harangues of opponents, all in all an evolution of skills and learning how to handle the public and private aspects of her entire life fill these pages of riveting expression, exposure and internal debate.

Readers will love the light-hearted moments with the Obama children, the Secret Service and the friends and supporters of Michelle during each phase of her life, thoughts and responses to which every reader can relate.

This is a memoir that should be must reading for all who deeply care about the future of our country and those who have prominence and influence over goals and dreams.  But more than that, this book is just as important about growing in becoming a life-affirming, honest, humorous, intelligent and deeply caring human being.  There’s much more herein – enjoy sharing Michelle Obama’s life story to date – it’s so real!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Slaughtered: A Jack Slaughter Thriller by K. A. Lugo

Slaughtered: A Jack Slaughter Thriller. K. A. Lugo. Tirgearr Publishing. November 2018. 223 pp. ASIN: B07JLMPX4.

In the flash of a moment, Jack Slaughter lost his wife, daughter and favorite pet.  The latter were brutally murdered and to this day Jack has no idea what happened to his wife.  The impact of these losses was more devastating than anyone could imagine.  He left his work as a Detective and is now operating a Private Investigation practice.  Now a man named Carl Boyd requests his assistance to find his wife Bonnie who has also disappeared.  Jack’s internal response to this request is gut-wrenching.  During the same week, a young woman is found murdered and found in a local lake area.  Jack’s best buddy, Ray, stops Jack from making a stupid mistake, attaching Ray’s partner Travers at the scene of that crime.  Jack can’t figure out the reason for Detective Travers’ animosity.

This opening scene leads to a discovery beyond horrendous – a series of deaths by evisceration – bodies that have inhumanly been sliced apart.  K. A. Lugo ha gone ultra-dark on this central part of a multi-layered plot.  Still the depiction of over a dozen bodies is so haunting that one keeps flipping the pages to find out what will happen, wondering if the perpetrator will somehow almost miraculously solve this unspeakable crime!

These stories have a soft side as the author adds that compassionate, human element that doesn’t just see each victim as a number but as a person with connections to place, time and other people. 

Jack is sharp but what he misses is amply provided by his partner Ray.  A parish priest is the listening, caring individual who is objective enough to speak truth to Jack in the presence of unspeakable grief.  But beware!  The four parts of this plot will not be resolved as the reader expects.  It’s only when Ray’s wife disappears that the action ramps up and all the clues to discover the serial killer, Butch, begin to unite! 

K. A. Lugo writes romance novels under another name but here demonstrates how competently and deftly she pens a crime thriller!  This is a must read that this reviewer highly recommends!!!

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero by Margaret George

The Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero. Margaret George. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright 2018. pb. 592 pp.; ISBN: 9780399584619.

Passion takes precedence over politics, at least initially, in Margaret George’s brilliant follow-up novel to The Confessions of Young Nero.  The story begins with the infamous fire that destroyed almost all of Rome, a fire Nero helps to put out.  He helps dig out victims and console those who lost everything.  However, the rumors then begin that Nero himself set the fires.  He does nothing until he realizes that unless he finds a scapegoat his reign will end.  And so the Christians become the easy targets because their teachings are used as evidence of their guilt. 

Nero after staging the massacre of the Christians for public viewing sets about rebuilding Rome.  He intends to have Rome display glory and stunning, exotic views that will be admired forever!  He attempts to wow his audience with his poetry, his athleticism in the chariot games, his artistic and architectural designs, and all of this (and more) are gorgeously depicted by the author.  The effect on the reader is spellbinding.  Not only is the history of Nero’s world explored but it also envelops the reader into the culture and beauty of the gods and former Roman and Greek emperors.
Then deceit and tragedy enter Nero’s world, beginning with an absolutely huge defection on the part of both Senators and Nero’s own military guard.  The plans for assassination are discovered and the plotters are condemned! But the moral and emotional devastation on Nero is piteous to follow.  His pure intentions to create a beautiful cultured world within Rome are totally misconstrued and that shatters him.  He will never trust again!
The loss of his wife lead him to abandon Rome for a year while he travels to Greece where he will participate in the Olympics of the time.  Finally, Nero’s demise follows the mysterious prophecy that began his adult life.
Words cannot possibly convey the depth of how much is covered in this stunningly beautiful and skilled novel.  Forget what you thought you knew about Nero and enjoy this comprehensive, complex journey into the world of one of the most notable Emperors in Roman history!  Well-written, engaging, well-researched and highly recommended historical fiction!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Winters: A Novel by Lisa Gabriele

The Winters: A Novel. Lisa Gabriele. Penguin Publishing Group. October 16, 2018. 320 pp. ISBN#:  978052559702.

A young woman living and working in the Cayman Island at a boatyard works very hard until she meets an older man.  They boat, eat, drink and eventually fall in love. He offers to take her to his home in America on Long Island, the fancy place he calls home, called Asherley.  He’s a Senator who’s thinking of running for a higher place in government.  In fact, he’s very, very busy and out of the home more than he’s there.  So, this woman meets his daughter, Dani who greatly resents Max’s fiancĂ© because Dani is taking her mother, Rebekah’s place. 

Dani is one nasty piece of work. Sweet one minute, Dani can manipulate her father, her Aunt Louise, and even the new gal who is engaged to her father Max.  Dani runs around with the family chauffeur/helper, takes off when she pleases, runs away as she did to Paris before Max came home.  The fiancĂ©e almost leaves once when she can’t stand what is happening.  But then things seem to be on the mend after they are planning a wedding.

The young woman is trying to learn the ropes about a home where the ghost of Rebekah lurks in every corner.  Now begins the mystery.  No spoilers here!  This is indeed a take on Daphne Du Maurier’s earlier novel, Rebecca.

Secrets abound about Dani’s background, Rebekah’s death, another woman and money, the latter being the root of what eventually results in disaster.  Still Max marries our young heroine, but she also reveals she’s made of tough stuff and is smart enough to figure out when all these clues are slowly revealed in layers.

The first half of the novel is one the reader thinks he or she knows; but one can’t possibly figure out what is to follow.  The rest of the plot proceeds at a ripping, tense and furious pace until a very pleasing end.

This is a highly enjoyable romance/thriller novel that is sure to rivet the attention of every reader.  The background ghosts are within each character, not external. Mistakes made in the past accelerate to a point where they cannot be undone so enthralled is each player with trying to make things better.  Enjoy the romp in contemporary Gothic horror!