Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Watchers by Jon Steele

The Watchers. Jon Steele. Blue Rider Press. May 2012. 592 pages. Available in Hardcover and E-Book. ISBN #: 9780399158742.

Marc Rochat is a disabled young man who takes care of the bells in Lausanne Cathedral. His mother who died long ago, told him he would save an angel of God. His only conversations are with the bells, the statues, and the dead in the Cathedral's crypt. Yes, he is a strange man with some obvious simple and harmless idiosyncrasies, hardly one who could save anyone. Yet there is something endearing about this pathetic, innocent creature who is dedicated to his job or mission as he sees it. Then his dreams and conversations begin to change as he becomes more of an observer of what is happening outside the Cathedral!

He sees two other characters in the story, Katherine Taylor and a man who looks like a spy. Katherine is oblivious to all, reveling in the life of a high paid "companion" and never realizing she is a slave subject to the whims of others. Her life will turn into a dramatic, spine-tingling horror, leaving her in an inhuman state one could never imagine.

Jay Harper is an International Olympic Committee employee, a simple man who loves the History Channel on TV but who also has uncanny private investigator skills that can be used by his employers. It seems that there is a secondary plot about a murdered Russian gentleman who was trying to contact Jay Harper to give him something of tremendous importance, which never happens.

All of a sudden the plot turns horrifically violent. Several characters die at the hands of an obviously sick, twisted killer. Up to here, everything makes sense and holds the reader. But then the hints connect to quotes from the banned Biblical Book of Enoch, references to the ancient Nephilim (giants briefly mentioned in the Genesis and Book of Enoch), and everything seems to flip into a speedy end where some will die, some will be left still unknowing, and one will have to be placed in protective custody.

The plot in The Watchers is credible to a point. The even pace of the first half of the novel turns frenetic in the second, with enough repetition to sink a ship and random thoughts as well as clues interspersed. It gets downright choppy. This story is good but loses steam because of the above problems, leaving the reader thrilled yet annoyed at the irrelevant twists and turns and lack of transition and smooth connection into this religious and/or evil development. Fascinating in some respects, not so in far too many other parts that need editing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The House of Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

The House of Tyneford. Natasha Solomons. A Plume Book: The Penguin Group. December 2011. 368 pages. ISBN #: 9780452297647.

Elise Landau, a 19 year-old Viennese-born young lady, is forced to leave Austria due to the Nazi occupation.  A life of luxury, with a famous writer father and opera singer mother, is transformed into a world where Elise is now a servant in an upper class English country family.  Tyneford is a magical, fairy-tale land of beauty on land and the sea. Grievously homesick and missing the rest of her family, she waits for word from them while adapting to this new, difficult change in social status!

It turns out her sister and husband have made it to America but Julian and Anna have been unable to obtain a visa to leave Austria, but Elise doesn't know that. So at least Elise can hold onto hope while learning to adapt to the life of a maidservant. The novel fluctuates between her struggles to fit into this very different life and her finding peace as she gradually explores the beautiful land around her new home. Little by little, a normalcy develops until the son of her employer, Kit Rivers. They become friends who love the land and also love an occasional bout of unacceptable behavior that is quite harmless but shocks the daylights of both Mr. Rivers and Mr. Wrexham and Mrs. Ellsworth, the two who trained her in her hob duties. Wild and fun, these actions become the tie that draws them into a deeper closeness.

War changes everything and it's no different for Kit, Else, Mr. Rivers, the rest of the household staff, and the remaining fishers, farmers, and shepherds of Tyneford. The Germans begin to bomb Britain and the residents of Tyneford have their own secret defense force, helpless in a way to prevent the carnage of war but strong in a belief in their power to protect, a belief that ennobles all of Tyneford. Kit joins the military but quickly returns in a wounded state. Soon he will recover and leave, and from here the unbelievable happens. Relationships change in a way never anticipated by the reader and keep him or her rapidly turning pages to determine the possible, anticipated outcome. 

The House of Tyneford is a lovely book, soft and fierce in all the right places, and a tale that tells the wartime tale in so many different points of view, adding several subplots of care and love to warm the heart and elicit intrigue in all involved. Nicely done, Ms. Solomons!