Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria.  Lauren Willig.  Penguin Group (USA). August 2013. 480 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780451414724.

Eloise is researching for a Ph.D. on the Pink Carnation, Miss Jane Wooliston, a spy who seems to have slipped off the usual radar tracking her whereabouts.  Gwen can't figure out where she or he is, probably a she, or what political intrigue she was immersed in. Eloise's boyfriend, Colin, is not much interested in that but in why his cousin and yes, stepfather, Jeremy is showing up.  Colin believes he is searching for the lost Jewels of Barar.  Colin describes to Eloise the only poem that offers elusive clues to the those famous jewels believed to be have been stolen from India and perhaps now hidden in Selwick House in England: Hard by Plumeria's bower/Underneath the Brooding Tower/The Moon awaits its hard-won hour!

Two hundred years earlier circumstances seem to have gone awry and Miss Gwen must abandon her work with the Pink Carnation to return to England, a return to mundane living she dreads.  But then a major problem arrives with a message that the daughter of the returned Colonel William Reid's and her friend who is the sister of the Pink Carnation have disappeared from the residential school in Bath, England where they were supposed to be in safe hands and careful watch. So Gwen must abandon her intrigue with the Pink Carnation and the secret plot involving the Turkish ambassador and France in the days during the Napoleonic Wars.  Gwen meets Colonel William Reid and the chemistry between them is rather sharp, to say the least.  However, they realize they must travel and work together in order to find the missing girls. During the rest of the novel, we read about the past history of both characters, fraught with misunderstanding with family and other chaotic events that have both strengthened them in many ways but also left them particularly vulnerable to easy ideas about romance, love, and children.  Yes the children will be found and yes the mystery about the lost jewels of Barar will be solved but in no way the reader can anticipate, with the addition of a slowly evolving but passionate romance. It will also involve some family members who are completely unlike what their parents imagine.  

Spies, double spies, attacks, wounded heroes, and more fill these pages with a ripping good thriller and mystery.

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria is a literary romance and mystery that will delight all those who love either genres and leave them wanting to read the other books in this series, as well as the next one that this talented writer is planning and writing for future release!  Very nicely done, Lauren Willig! Quite a different, flexible style to her novel, The Ashford Affair, which is a terrific read as well!

The Serpent and the Pearl by Kate Quinn

The Serpent and The Pearl.  Kate Quinn. Penguin Group USA. August 6, 2013. 432 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425259467.

Carmelina Mangano, a talented cook, arrives in Rome after a perilous escape from Venice where she is wanted for an extremely serious crime that could wind up in her execution.  She proves her culinary skills and persuades her cousin, Marco Santini, another famous cook trained by Carmelina’s father but cursed with the addiction to gambling.  Both are hiding secrets that keep them constantly looking over their shoulder and both are living in a town full of violence and shed blood on a nightly basis.  Their skill with creating delicious dishes fit for royalty and their ability to cover for each other are both amusing and create a constant tension with the other kitchen staff, employers, and acquaintances and will definitively come to an unpredictable head well into the novel.

Leonello is a dwarf also skilled in gambling. But he is an educated gambler whose goal in winning at the tables is to buy classic books of poetry and plays, mainly the former.  He manages to avoid fights with others who hate losing at cards but then his world is turned upside down when a woman friend who was a decent, hard-working woman is found murdered in the most ghastly way.  Leonello tracks down the killers and circumstances of his capture evolve into his new position as a protector of a noble family.  Later another woman will die in the same manner and it is Leonello’s passion to track down the group responsible for these grisly deaths.

Giulia Farnese believes she is marrying Orsini, a handsome gentle soul but discovers she is a pawn meant to satisfy the desires of the notorious Cardinal Borgia, head of the Cardinals, manipulator of men and wealth, possessor of a killer secret of his own but most of all wanting to woo Giulia into serving as his mistress. Their journey in that direction is both fierce, funny, and tender, that is until upon the death of the Pope, circumstances begin to go awry every which way every character turns.  The uniting of these characters who don’t know each other but are directly and indirectly tied to each other in an extraordinary plot makes this high wire reading that is constantly thrilling and passionate!

Kate Quinn knows her history well and crafts books that rivet the reader on every rapidly turned page.  Here she’s moved out of her Roman cycle of novels from earlier years and presented a fascinating tale of the famous Borgias sure to intrigue numerous readers.  Well-deserved, well-plotted, energetic, vivacious historical fiction about corruption in the Vatican and Rome that this reviewer definitely recommends!

Hotshot: A Novel by Julie Garwood

Hotshot: A Novel. Julie Garwood. Penguin Books (USA). August 2013. 368 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780525953012.

Peyton Lockhart seems like the most unlucky young woman in the world!  Her career is exemplary, as she has graduated from a notable culinary French school, and she is immediately hired by a culinary magazine.  Now before that, she could have written a book about all the loser dates she suffered through but she’s got a spunky attitude about it all and doesn’t let it break her formidable spirit!

Now she wonders when she gets to her new job location why everyone in the office is staring at her with either pity or downright hostility.  Turns out her new boss is sexual harasser of the worst kind and it doesn’t take Peyton long to discover she’s his next obsessive goal.  But when she tries to do anything about it, things begin to turn very, very ugly!

So imagine her surprise when Finn McBain shows up and takes an interest in her latest dilemma.  For her old boss had his goons follow her by car and they are attempting to physically harm her.  Finn is a childhood flame she loved whom she worshipped when he swam in the Olympics; he’s gorgeous looking, an FBI agent and obviously successful at everything he does.  So what will it be like now an adult Peyton meets him and has to accept his help and possibly even more?  And is he ready for more?

Add to the plot an opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to co-own Bishop’s Cove, a summer resort, spoiled by her jealous cousin’s attempt to sabotage everything she does as a great cook and manager. 

Passion wears several faces in this crime, romance, and mystery novel all wrapped up in one intriguing story.  Julie Garwood is a familiar, popular romance writer who knows how to mix up the spicy, flaming sex scenes with thrills of crime and life-death situations for any reader! Very teasing, sexy, funny, engaging, and smartly crafted! Enjoy every page! Well worth the cost!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sanctuary Island by Lily Everett

Sanctuary Island.  Lily Everett. St. Martin’s Press. July 2013. 352 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781250018373.

Ellie and Merry Preston are on their way from Washington, D.C. to Sanctuary Island at the request of their mother, Jo Ellen, who has not seen them in years because of her former alcoholic status.  While she has begged for contact over that very long time, it is only now after years of therapy that Ellie agrees to take Merry to meet their mother.  Ellie insists she expects nothing and is only there to make sure Merry doesn’t get hurt, especially as Merry is very pregnant and not known for her wise decisions in the past.  Jo Ellen is to have two weeks with her daughters but secretly hopes it will be much, much longer! Whether Ellie can get over her bitterness and anger to handle just the two weeks remains to be seen!

Immediately on arrival, the girls meet Jo Ellen’s handyman, Grady Wilkes, and the sparks fly!  No, initially it’s biting, barbed comments back and forth operating between the romantic sparks, all of which don’t bode well for the impression both Ellie and Grady are making on each other and certainly creates a heck of a lot of confusion.  Grady, nevertheless, winds up helping Ellie who has an accident and twists her ankle as she falls through a crack in the staircase leading up to her mother’s home.  It could have been prevented but a young teen who avidly resents their presence isn’t quite careful in her warning for them to be careful on their approach to the house.

Now is where the plot begins to get interesting and no, it’s not predictable at all.  Merry immediately warns to the mother she always longed for and Ellie will make things worse when she discovers a secret that doesn’t remain a secret for long with her mother.  Grady turns out to have a serious wound but his internal wounds from the event causing the physical harm is much worse and threatens his future life with a confined existence on the island.  A conflict about money will drive all through some big mistakes but eventually a well-thought-out plan that eventually brings harmony and promise for the future but not until Ellie and Grady thump it out verbally and emotionally and allow the romance to have a very small chance.

Lily Everett knows how to keep a reader’s interest by inserting problems and the struggle through them just at the right moment; all in all the plot development is superb and that makes the romance as it evolves even sweeter! 

Sanctuary Island is a riveting read with something for everyone, as well as many descriptive scenes depicting a place everyone would love to visit or to live permanently.  Finely presented, Lily Everett!

Death Angel by Linda Fairstein

Death Angel.  Linda Fairstein. Penguin Group (USA). July 2013. 384 pp. hbk. ISBN #: 9780525953876.

A young girl is found murdered in Central Park near a famous statue called, “Angel of the Waters.”  The reader slowly begins to realize how huge this park is and more amazing is that the entire nineteen acres of the park was totally planned and man-made, paid for private donors who valued this as a spot of beauty and culture that would become famous world-wide.  It’s a favorite spot for both local residents, people from out of state and tourists from around the world.  But now it’s become a place of death for more than one young woman, and the “Angel of Death” is tied to an ancient Seneca tribe that lived here before it became Central Park.  That connection is what begins to lead to the actual murderer after a long, hard, complicated journey for Alexandra (“Coop”) Cooper and her colleagues, Mercer Wallace and Mike Chapman.

Two sub-plot threads are just as engaging, one involved a psycho Judge who believes Coop has stolen Mike Chapman from her romantic interests.  The Judge is willing to ruin Coop’s career and threatens her and Mike.  It’s fascinating that rumor has it Coop and Mike have been lovers and yet that has never been even an inkling – until now the idea begins to creep up as a minute possibility.  Coop, however, is no wimp and takes on the Judge in a style that will make readers roar with laughter and raised fists!

The other sub-plot concerns a disappearing child of a very famous New York family, the grief it left behind, the secret theories about that disappearance and the unraveling of the mystery of the kidnapper who created a memorable tragedy that no other human ever knew was the final outcome.

Linda Fairstein crafts a spot-on, dynamic, step-by-step, clue by clue mystery or criminal investigation that keeps the reader absolutely riveted on every page, never lagging and never doubting that the savvy characters, despite their deepest flaws, will get the job done.  It’s a tough job as can be realized through this reading but one whose sacrifices are all the more noble, as well as difficult, because of the costs that lead to safe, secure outcomes.  Very, very nicely done, Linda Fairstein and highly recommended.

Duty to Investigate by J. W. Stone

Duty to Investigate.  J. W. Stone.  Warriors Publishing Group. June 2013. 280 pp. pbk and eBook. ISBN #: 9780985338879.

War isn’t pretty and this novel is the epitome of its brutality and misunderstandings that just escalate into more violence and disputes.  It’s also about survivors, those who survive battle, those who survive the hate of the Iraqi people, those who survive by turning into thieves and murderers, and those who are so sick that they actually enjoy the battles and torture.  And then there are those who are revered because they face formidable obstacles and manage to maintain honor, integrity, and compassion – but who said it’s easy to maintain that stance?

J. W. Stone has written a very fine, realistic novel about the Battle of Fallujah.  Captain Michael Beck is a former civilian lawyer now serving in a legal capacity in Iraq.  Before the attack a female photographer, Anne Merrill, is determined to capture the entire battle which gets a lot of officers angry because she seem to ignore the very real risks of an actual attack.  Things get worse between Beck and Merrill after she walks into a room and starts snapping pictures of dead Iraqi bodies and a soldier standing with his gun aimed toward them.  They don’t realize one of the bodies isn’t dead and he will much later be the key witness who makes all the difference in the world.  It’s obvious that the ramifications of a soldier gone berserk with killing would have on the Iraqi people and then on the American military.  The rules are super strict for a reason, to prevent this disaster in the making. Now Beck and others will be challenged to stretch the rules to cover up this living nightmare!

To tell more would be to spoil a fascinating (hate to use the word in this context but it is) examination of the Iraqi thug who forces other Iraqi citizens to carry out his torture and death squad activities.  Here he hopes to set up a scene that will force the Americans to leave for good. It’s not that he hates Americans for their help; he just wants total control of the devastating conditions for his own self-interest and material gain.  Religious motivation is just a cover here!

As time passes, we are beginning to see more novels about the Iraq war coming to publication and this is an excellent presentation of the horrors and surprises of war that make our service men and women honor what they do and why they do it.  Innocence and guilt must have very clear definitions in these scenes; the alternative is too horrific to even think about.

Great writing and very real depiction of what many wish would not be so – but it is and therefore is more poignant and devastating and heart-warming because of your telling of the truth of all sides!  Great read! Thanks for sharing, J. W. Stone!