Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Stranger by Harlan Coben

The Stranger.  Harlan Coben. Penguin Group (USA). March 2015. 400 pp.  ISBN#: 9780525953500.

It all starts so simply – a strange person stands next to Adam, a happily married man, at least he thought so despite some ups and downs normal in any marital bond.  He tries to ignore the hints given by the person to verify that his wife Corinne is hiding something.  He follows the hint and discovers his wife has had contact with an online site for some purchases with a shocking connection.  He immediately distrusts her and that makes all the difference, a very wrong conclusion. Her response – wait – we need some time apart until I can tell you about this secret.

Another whispered secret to other persons cause the same misjudgment.  Meanwhile, Adam has a disagreement with a fellow parent over lacrosse selections and there seems to be more adversity out of the situation than is warranted over just a sports game. 

The Stranger is about a series of planned events that all have a haunting quality about them and all lead to terror and fear pervading the involved characters’ lives.  As in many plots of Coben, however, the outcome is far from what the reader expects.  What seemed so simple to unravel is more complex and far-spreading than each character realizes.

Money, debt, and promises, with heavy costs, proceed to ruin the lives of many. The end of these separate yet united connections is quite shocking. 

While the plot sometimes slows a bit too much, the pages where danger increases are riddled with tension and mystery.

Harlan Coben is a talented writer who has written a rather simple story with some adventurous, intriguing moments and a haunting conclusion.  Good read for those who are fans and even those who love a good mystery!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lady of the Eternal City: An Empress of Rome Novel (#4) by Kate Quinn

Lady of the Eternal City: An Empress of Rome Novel (#4).  Kate Quinn. Penguin Group (USA). March 2015. 528 pp.  ISBN#: 9780425259634.

Hadrian, Sabina, Antinous and Vix (or “Vercingetorix the Red”) – these are the charismatic figures who change the face of Rome during Rome’s Golden Years!  Hadrian has a brilliant mind and a hunger for knowledge that will shape Rome’s philosophy, art, architecture and religion.  Initially, however, he displays a brutality that shocks friends and enemies, as well as the Senators of Rome.  One might say he even loves the iconoclastic woman he calls wife and “Empress,” Sabina.  But that love fluctuates between scorn and needy companionship.  While she fulfills her duties as the first woman of Rome, Sabina’s chief role in this amazing story is that of peacemaker.  She is the beautiful but fiery lady who can read Hadrian’s moods and knows how to placate him without giving in to his every whim.  And she is the one who convinces him that being a just and kind ruler will earn him the love of Romans rather than a knife in his back or poison in his food or drink, a verifiable fact for all too many other previous Emperors of Rome!

Vix is Sabina’s great, passionate love that remains unspoken for so many years except for several fiery scenes when their mutual fire explodes in union and then is sadly followed by hatred and avoidance.  Vix rises in the Roman army to become its battered but victorious leader.  During the course of this story, he will battle his way across Europe, into Britannia and finally into Judea.  The latter place is where he will lose everything he has loved and treasured and the scenes of this formidable war and battles are heartrending, to say the least.  Wife and daughters choose Judea over Vix, and until the very end of the novel he will mourn their loss until a shocking revelation will change his life forever!

Antinous can hardly believe what Fortune has given him, the consuming love of Hadrian, despite the disapproval, sneers, scorn and bitter hatred of Rome’s citizens.  He is so often called the “golden-curled boy” that one can almost see the figure who resembles more of a blonde God with curly hair than a frail, frightened but tender young man whose heart is claimed by the Emperor and trotted before the disapproving world. The latter will extract a vicious price because one enemy will choose to be the arm of censure in a tension-ridden scene that makes the reader hold his or her breath and then cry out in horror!

Custom and culture of various countries is given rightful place and described in beautiful, sensory detail.  Lady of the Eternal City… is Kate Quinn’s best novel yet.  She has obviously poured her mind, heart and soul into this moving story that captures the reader from the first to the last quiet page, with pages and pages of love, tears, conflict, battles, traitors, and so much more!!!!  Plot is superb and characters are exciting, dynamic figures not to be forgotten and obviously based on meticulous research.  In plain English, the lady knows how to craft a phenomenal story!

Superb historical fiction that this reader hated to end and highly recommends!

The Dream Lover: A Novel by Elizabeth Berg

The Dream Lover: A Novel.  Elizabeth Berg. Random House.  April 2015. 368 pp. hb and e-book. ISBN #: 9780812993158.  

One may wonder what is that fires the thoughts and imagination of a great writer.  Then the curiosity is satisfied when we read about or encounter the depths of the character of that writer, a satisfaction one experiences when reading this novel.  Elizabeth Berg has depicted the childhood and adult life of the controversial but well-known writer, George Sand.   It matters not whether the reader agrees or disagrees with the lifestyle of any writer but one must acknowledge the creativity, uniqueness, passion and obsession behind the plots, characters, and ideas to be fleshed out on the page.

As a child, George Sand was born as the child of a rich father and a prostitute mother who adored each other. But her father’s grandmother never accepted her son’s wife and let her granddaughter know it at every opportunity.  As a result, the woman who was to become a famous 19th century author spent her childhood shuttled between relatives and a convent school.  She became cold-hearted in many ways, married but then came to an arrangement with her husband whereby she would live in Paris and return to their home for certain time periods to be with her children. 

During that time, she met many writers who both supported and reviled her.  Obsessed with having the same equality with men, she eventually dressed as a man and engaged with writers and musicians, including Balzac, Chopin, Hugo, Delacroix, Lizt and more.  She found a great love and respect with the passionate actress Marie Dorval and had brief romantic interludes with other men.  But most of the time she took what one could only describe as a deep loneliness and disconnection from people into her writing.  While most found the characters in her novels to be biographical, she insisted they were a composite of everyone she’d ever met but whose idea were clearly and unashamedly her own.

Following George Sand’s development as a person and writer is fascinating but there is a serious lack in this novel about her writing, with only brief and vague references to certain characters and ideas.  One also wonders about what she discussed with all of the famous artists she socialized with initially and why they abandoned her or even if it was she who abandoned them.  It leaves many questions the reader may form unanswered.

Elizabeth Berg is quite astute in depicting the complexities of a character and it is here she excels in forming a portrait of this enigmatic, troubled but talented writer whom readers have found intriguing and highly skilled over time. George Sand’s eccentric personality gave passion and clarity to the world she created in fiction.  Fascinating novel!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Haven Lake by Holly Robinson

Haven Lake.  Holly Robinson. Penguin Group (USA). April 2015. 464 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451471499.

Sydney Bishop is a successful child psychologist who finds herself in the oddest of conundrums. Newly returned to the area many hours from her hometown after a series of family tragedies, she is engaged to a renowned surgeon who gives his all to his job but seems remote from his teenage son, Dylan.  Hannah’s in a difficult position, trying to be friendly to Dylan as a future stepmother and not expecting to exert parental discipline.  Unknown to Sydney, Dylan is angry and confused about a loss he has recently undergone and feels no one at home can truly understand what he’s going through.  So he packs up and decides to head elsewhere where he can start anew and learn a computer profession in order to get a job and support himself.  He thinks he’s an independent soul but has no idea of the difficult journey he is about to begin.

Dylan winds up at Sydney’s mother’s home in Haven Lake where he reluctantly agrees to stay a few days.  Hannah is not your typical mother and allows Dylan space to make his own decisions, not realizing how complex it will all get when his mother arrives.  In the midst of all the tension with her mother and Dylan, the secrets and feelings about the deaths in their family are gradually revealed, sometimes with harshness and sometimes with heartbreaking gentleness and sorrow.

Holly Robinson depicts family life with all of its unpredictability and tension-riddled moments with accuracy and sensitivity.  No stereotypical characters reside in her story and misunderstandings galore fill these pages, as well as the words said with powerful emotional and mental ramifications.  Secrets not only protect some characters but also initially keep a dysfunctional family from being torn apart, at least temporarily.

Forgiveness is never easy and the reader will be waiting for a satisfactory end but be quite surprised by the way it all evolves and concludes.

Very nicely done, Holly Robinson!

Who Buries the Dead – A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery #10 by C. S. Harris

Who Buries the Dead – A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery #10.  C. S. Harris. Penguin Group (USA). March 2015. 352 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451417565.

Stanley Preston, cousin to the Home Secretary in the year 1813, lived in London, England and there is found murdered, decapitated by two young lovers heading toward a secluded area for their amorous tryst.  The aristocrat, Sebastian St. Cyr is asked to help with the investigation of the grisly murder, a task he gladly enters in spite of the risk to himself, his wife and their newborn child.  The investigators quickly find an engraved strap of lead near the body, an object related to the death of King Charles by beheading in 1648. 

An odd hobby by several aristocrats shocks St. Cyr.  It seems these gentlemen have an inordinate interest in collecting historical objects, including the heads and/or bodies of those who died by the axe for varied reasons, all of them stemming from disapproval by royalty or the ruling class.  The owners see nothing odd about their ghoulish interests and the reader has a hard time not incriminating each one as they appear throughout the story. More to the point, why was that strap found near the body and what did Stanley Preston have to do with beheadings and these strange characters?

Just when St. Cyr seems totally confused, one of his enemies appears, a man reputed to be responsible for the cruel death of many Portugal residents, Mr. Stanley Oliphant, appears to muddy the waters of the investigation.  Not to be daunted, St. Cyr continues in his methodical questioning of anyone even remotely connected with Preston and eventually deduces who is responsible. Will the nefarious murderer be apprehended and justice be served?

Harris’s novel is an intriguing, complex read that is delightful to follow and intriguing.  Connection to fame, even if it is through physical or antique objects brings that fame into the owners’ lives.  What is perceived to be grotesque is just part of the history that haunted the lives of British subjects in more ways than imagined.  Very nicely constructed, C. S. Harris – recommended mystery for lovers of the genre!