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!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr by Margaret Porter

Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr. Margaret Porter. Gallica Press. October 2018. 378 pp. ISBN#:  9780990742036.

“I enjoy drawing up plans and designing and making things…They don’t realize that Hedy Lamarr is an invention.”  Yes, Hedy Lamarr was a beautiful actress but also an intelligent woman who invented a war weapon that was almost used to defeat the Germans in WWII. 

Born Hedy Kiesler, an Austrian, Jewish woman, she aspired to be a wonderful actress, but the films she chose to act in first was Ecstasy.  Hedy appears naked and fakes an orgasm which equally gained her universal praise and scorn in the earlier years of the 20th Century.

She marries a German munitions dealer who soon becomes her jailor.  She winds up escaping from him after realizing she couldn’t ignore her yearning to become a full-time actress.  Hedy signed a contract with Louis Mayer after much haggling but seems frustrated by not being given films she feels are equal to her acting abilities.  Still, her looks and talents catapult her to fame and stardom status!  Her love life is certainly interesting if not very stable. 

Margaret Porter gives a deft depiction of the lives of actors and actresses who more frequently “use” each other for better scripts or positions in the middle of a turbulent time of history with the rise of Adolph Hitler and the beginning of WWII.  Hedy moves through six marriages and has several children, including one adopted son.  She is also an avid gardener and inventor.  She generously contributes her time for the war by selling bonds and attending clubs to sign autographs and dance with soldiers and sailors on leave.  

She researches science facts to create the torpedo that can attack without being detected.  The work behind this creation is no small feat and highly complex.  Hedy herself is a complex character, always searching for deeper meaning and creation, never satisfied.   Her private and public life parallel the historical and political turmoil of Europe and America – dramatic and life-changing!

Enjoy the scenes where Hedy stuns observers with her appearances in elegant gowns and hats, once an actress, always an actress!  Yet also relish the brilliance of her thinking as she seeks solitude to do research and create a soda machine and later a war weapon to be used against Germany.  Most of all, just revel in the enigmatic and intelligent talent of one of the most famous actresses in the Gilded Age of American Theater!  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Knife in the Fog: A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness and Arthur Conan Doyle by Bradley Harper

A Knife in the Fog: A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness and Arthur Conan Doyle. Bradley Harper. Prometheus Books. October 2018. 288 pp. ISBN#:  9781633884861.

Arthur Conan Doyle is a physician who spends his days practicing medicine.  He has also written a novel, A Study in Scarlet which gets the attention of the Prime Minister of England.  So unique are the skills in that novel that Prime Minister William Gladstone asks Sir Doyle to help with solving a series of murders that have been terrorizing London, murders that have the same characteristics.  The victims have had their throats slit but also have had parts of their internal female organs cut open or removed. 

To accomplish this task, Arthur Conan Doyle engages the help of Margaret Harkness, an inquisitive and bright lady who knows “street life” and can guide Doyle to places he would not know.  Also helping is Professor Bell, a renowned surgeon and thinker.  The police “allow” the threesome to join the investigation but initially regard them as an intrusive presence.  The killer knows of the search and is timing his murders to their work, mocking their search and investigation.

The public eventually would come to know this serial killer as “Jack the Ripper” but at this time far little is known about details and even causes for these murders; but eventually the reader will discover the minutiae behind many murders through the wiliness of these three investigators who fear neither man nor beast.

The answers to questions that arise through one’s readings are satisfying, including the more than satisfactory ending.  Stay tuned!  Kudos to the author who has fashioned the investigation of a notorious killer.

The Kennedy Debutante: A Novel by Kerri Maher

The Kennedy Debutante: A Novel. Kerri Maher. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2018. 384 pp. ISBN#: 978451492043.

Kathleen (“Kick”) Kennedy is the vivid debutante of this novel, a story that captures the essence of the Kennedy clan’s powerful presence, but which presents this famous woman as complex, fearless, socially adept, and devout. She’s a woman of her own character, living out her blend of service and compassion for and within the formidable issues of her time.

The novel begins with Kick’s “coming out” party.  Like any normal debutante, Kick loves to party and is only held in check by her mother Rose, a formidable woman who monitors “everything” about every one of her children.  Kick’s father, Joe, is obsessed with his effect and that of his children and we later see how he comes to respect Kick’s presence and then her ideas which might enhance his position as America’s Ambassador to England.  But Kick is definitely her own woman!

Two challenging issues face Kick within this account.  One is falling in love with a member of British aristocracy, Billy Harrington.  He and his family are staunchly Protestant and Kick’s equally strong practice of Catholicism seem initially like an unbreachable impasse and a painful one at that!  Their love will evolve with some wise counsel of friends, family and mentors.

In the midst of this constant partying and pleasurable activities, WWII is looming.  Hitler’s aggressive behavior is threatening the world and that includes England.  Kick’s family is deeply affected.  Kick chooses her own way of donating her time to help in the war effort.  Billy signs up for Royal service, realizing how patriotic he really is and wanting to make a difference, with a later painful cost.  Kick’s father returns to America, his doubt about Hitler making many consider him a failure.  Kick’s brothers, Joe Jr. and Jack, join the Air Force and Navy respectively.  Kick’s mentally and emotionally challenged sister, Rose, undergoes a change that is tragic for her and the entire family.  Other difficult results of the war loom large, making it almost unbearable but which the Kennedys address with amazing strength.

Almost everyone has heard of the Kennedy family.  But Kennedy Debutante… plunges the reader into the everyday, real life of Kick Kennedy and her family in a way that doesn’t hide flaws but acknowledges “service” and “duty” to the world as the sound principles that made a difference to so many – yes, politically, but also personally.  Memorable, engaging biography and history reading!!!

The Carpet Weaver of Usak by Kathryn Gauci

The Carpet Weaver of Usak. Kathryn Gauci. Ebony Publishing. September 2018. 254 pp. ISBN#:  9780648123545.

Aspasia and Saniye, the former Greek Orthodox and the other Turkish, are two friends whose love and care for each other endures the terrible Greek-Turkish conflict between 1914 and 1919. These women live in Anatolia, a place of beauty and joy, where Greek and Turkish families celebrate frequently in the town center or meydan between the towns of Stavrodomi and Pinarbasi.

Usak is the nearby center of the carpet weaving industry.  In the early period of 1914, Greeks and Turks work together to create these masterpieces that one can virtually see in the wonderful descriptions of old classical and new styles of designing and weaving rugs.  Even the methods of creation are described as women work from home and some work from factories in hand-tying the strands that eventually become a completed rug.  During those times of work, some workers have conversations that grow and unite these women stronger by the year.  Husbands, lovers, pregnancies, family lives and death are united to the point that when the wars between Greeks and Turks begin, these women help each other give birth and survive with each other when their spouses are forced to serve for opposing sides.  The carpet weaving industry almost disappears as war becomes more dangerous to all sides!

In the beginning, even in war, soldiers on both sides do their jobs.  Many die and the sorrow is evident everywhere.  But that doesn’t stop some from rescuing those who are in danger of capture.  In 1919 the war becomes worse with the arrival of the Greeks at Smyrna.  In the meydan, the Fountain of the Sun and Moon now becomes the place where punishments, mainly death sentences, carried out. The treasured unity is shattered!

Throughout this novel, many die or suffer from prevailing grief, lack of food, loss of children and spouses, and so much more.  The author does such a good job at describing each scene that the reader is drawn into the entire account by numerous images that make one think and feel.  What stands out, beside the horrors of this war that too few people are aware of, is the ties that bind these two friends and families when distrust prevails.

This is a story that readers will not soon forget, one that celebrates love, laughter, trust and endurance as well as what denies, divides and shatters tradition! Outstanding!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Time's Convert by Deborah Harkness

Time’s Convert. Deborah Harkness. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2018. 448 pp. ISBN#: 9780399564512.

What is it like to be adopted and become a vampire?  What is it like to become a vampire and then be married to another vampire.  In this prequel to the author’s previous All Souls Trilogy about the de Clermont family, we discover the background of Marcus Whitmore and the 23-year-old bride to be, Phoebe Taylor.  She becomes a vampire but like a baby must undergo a 90-day period of change from a human to vampire, with all the physical, mental and spiritual changes accompanying such a huge and formidable transformation.  During that period of time, Marcus has agreed to remain separated from her and endure all the frustrations of that change.  They are well-suited to each other with their independent, fiercely demanding and intemperate desires.  They are also a thorn in the flesh of those around them which provides many amusing and almost catastrophic scenes that elicit a range of erratic emotions in the reader as well as the characters.  “Becoming” is mysterious and exciting as well, to say the least!

Another plot line centers around two twins, Philip and Becca, born to a couple who are vampire and witch respectively.  It turns out that these twins have magical powers parallel to witches which must be softened, monitored and disciplined into permissible behavior so that disaster does not strike, as it almost does several times.  Their parents have a huge adjustment to manage as well as they never expected babies to satisfy their own desires immediately, including one making friends with a familiar, a griffin whom Philip names Apollo. The latter is also in dire need of control and discipline, proven by the humorous and frightening scenes that demonstrate just how deeply bonded Philip and Apollo are!

A third and fascinating subplot shows what it was like to live in the times of the American and French Revolution.  Marcus originally lived in that time in the 1700s.  Growing up with an abusive father and negligent family certainly did not bode well for the future and it was his father Matthew de Clermont who adopted Marcus and made him a vampire.  Learning about the extended family of vampires is awesome by itself. Vying for power and satisfying one’s own desires make for familial scenes that are more like a civil war.

Although this novel is connected to the earlier series, it works just as well as a stand-alone story.  Constant action, conflicts, funny takes, and the solving of some mysteries about the de Clermont history enable the reader to fly through these pages and engage with these endearing yet formidable characters.  Deborah Harkness has clearly done her research and has more than ample talent to craft a richly complex story, with just enough complexity in character depiction to satisfy every reader.

Well-done, again, Deborah Harkness!  Looking forward to more of immediate and extended family evolution and progress!  

The Lost Carousel of Provence: A Novel by Juliet Blackwell

The Lost Carousel of Provence: A Novel. Juliet Blackwell. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2018. 384 pp. ISBN#:  9780451490636.

Cady Drake has spent her whole life yearning so badly for a family, someone to show her love and to affirm that she was a good, deserving person.  Tossed from foster homes to group homes for years, Cady’s dream is never fulfilled.  However, the need to survive taught her strength and gave her focus on skills that have made her a photographer who is always in demand, albeit not a famous one.  Her fascination is for pictures of carousels from anywhere in the world.  A need to escape the aftermath of a personal tragedy and the wise, tough and loving advice of a good friend leads Cady to accept a plan from a publisher to photograph as many carousels as possible in Paris, France.  Readers will learn about the various types of carousels in Paris as well as the major artists who sculpted the brilliant and loving figures that gave so many children, teens and adults childlike pleasure for centuries.

The narrative voices switch from contemporary France to the 1940s France when a young carver female gets hired by Gustave Bayol, an actual famous carousel creator. Yes, she learns the trade, starting on the bottom cleaning brushes, etc. and graduating to carving the inside of the animals on the actual carousels made for very rich patrons. But she also falls in love and is saved by a refined patron who is as lonely as Maelle, the budding artist.

Back in the countryside outside of Paris, Cady winds up staying in a home with a very grumpy old man, Fabrice, whose family has a story that will leave the reader rapidly flipping the pages through various aspects of both a mystery and several romances. Cady will eventually be told the answer about the photograph of a beautiful woman and a love letter hidden inside a carousel rabbit. She will get the chance to restore an abandoned and semi-destroyed carousel and perhaps find some romance at the same time.  An unusual ending allows the reader to imagine the end of this superb story, instead of finding instant closure. 

This magnificent novel is about the essence of evolving relationships, be they familial, friendly, or romantic.  Realizations and explorations galore will assault the reader’s mind and heart so that this provokes some very special thinking and feeling. That in itself makes this story a gem! 

Enjoy a grand, exciting, mesmerizing and yet peaceful read! Highly recommend The Lost Carousel of Provence!

The Washington Decree: A Novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Washington Decree: A Novel. Jussi Adler-Olsen. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright 2018. pb. 592 pp.; ISBN: 9781524742522.

When chaos and breakdown create a domestic crisis, the President, Cabinet, Senate and House of Representatives are designed to handle every situation.  However, the scenario that shakes America within the pages of this novel defies the order, law and protocols set up for such a situation. 

The story begins sixteen years before Senator Bruce Jansen becomes President.  After winning a geographical contest, Doggie or Dorothy Rogers and a fellow contestant, Wesley Barefoot, and some other contestants win a free trip to China.  The days in China are filled with a lifetime of wondrous memories which are suddenly destroyed by an attack which winds up with the murder of Senator Jansen’s wife.  Years later, when Jansen has been elected President, he agrees to appear at an event in the hotel owned by Doggie’s father, Bud Curtis.  During that major event, President Jansen’s pregnant wife is assassinated, and the killer and Bud Curtis are arrested.  Bud Curtis is convicted and sentenced to Death Row.

But here is where the horror begins.  President Jansen has been unhinged by the deaths of his two wives, evidenced by the draconian measures he institutes, supported by a small cadre of powerful politicians.  All ammunition for guns of any kind must be surrendered.  The press is now to be censored by the government.  All TV shows about violence are removed.  In fact, most TV channels are closed if not censored for every soundbite that they transmit.  The National Guard and eventually all military are called to serve within America only as the rising tide of revolt, protest and violence increases.  Violent deaths, rapes, beatings and arrests are the new order of the day! America seems to be a civil war against itself.

The remainder of the novel centers on how several characters, mainly Doggie and some of her former colleagues, realize that the preceding events were not just caused by previous acts of violence but perhaps deliberately programmed so that someone could wind up with complete control of the government and the people of the United States of America!  Anarchy, however, still cannot be suppressed!

The Washington Decree… is a novel that could very well become reality.  The division in contemporary America certainly could foster such an attempt to wrest control from such divisive controls.  The author plots out the conflict deftly! Readers know it will evolve into a solution, but the tension is aptly placed so one is not quite so sure about the outcome!  In an epilogue, the author states that institutions such as FEMA, the Office of Homeland Security, and others might be unable to quell the consequences of such a scenario.  Jussi Adler-Olsen keeps the reader engaged but more than that makes the reader ask significant questions about the state of American democracy under threat!  Good contemporary thriller read!

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Devil's Wind: A Spider John Mystery by Steve Goble

The Devil’s Wind: A Spider John Mystery. Steve Goble. Prometheus Books. September 2018. 272 pp. ISBN#: 9781633884847.

Every great pirate fiction novel seems to begin with a fearsome scene: an arrested pirate about to be hanged and the entire town’s residents gathered to enjoy the scene.  It seems to be the nature of piracy – the attractive lure of adventure and the game of choosing death-defying possibilities.  Spider Joe has had enough of it all.  He wants to get back to Boston, Massachusetts to his wife and two children, with no pirate connections forever. 

However, Spider Joe has so many friends, acquaintances and enemies that he’s having a hard time not being recognized and drawn into whatever mischief is happening at the moment. He stays to watch an old friend and pirate be hung; but when he realizes he’s been recognizes, he’s forced to flee because he is wanted as well and the noose awaits Spider Joe’s petrified neck!

Spider, with the help of friends, manages to make it onto the ship, Redemption, but he also knows there is someone else on this ship who knows Spider’s identity, even though Spider is calling himself by an anonymous name for this journey.  Fights begin and the booze and violence is flying until Captain Brentwood suddenly appears and violently suppresses the melee.  The shock the next morning is tangible when the Captain is found murdered in his cabin.  There is a note that attempts others to believe he took his own life, but Spider knows that’s impossible.

The rest of the novel is Spider’s attempt to solve the mystery of the murderer.  As in any Spider John mystery, almost every character has one or more reasons to commit the alleged crime.  And there are numerous fights in between the insults and dark dialogue flying among this motley crowd. 

Was the murder committed by one of the two pirates who actually savor the way they murder their victims?  Was it the red-headed gal who is as good as any male pirate? Who set the trap and what’s the danger from the Royal Navy that they could all be arrested and hung?

Steve Goble writes a dashing, adventurous yarn that is so enjoyable one wants to read more tales of winning pirates.  Recommend this historical fiction for a nerve-biting, hairy rollercoaster ride to freedom – one hopes!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Idyll Hands: A Thomas Lynch Novel by Stephanie Gayle

Idyll Hands: A Thomas Lynch Novel. Stephanie Gayle. Prometheus Books. September 2018. 304 pp. ISBN#: 9781633884823.

Michael Finnegan is a rookie cop who puts up with a lot of newbie banter in his job on the Charleston, Massachusetts police force.  One matter, however, consumes his life in many ways.  In 1972 his sister Susan disappeared.  At first no one even called the police as she had run away two years previously.  Now, Michael is riddled with guilt wishing he had initially taken her absence more seriously and his attempts to find her are fierce.

Twenty plus years later, an arm and then the entire body of a murdered woman is found in the woods.  It turns out it’s not Susan but a different woman named Elizabeth.  Police Chief Thomas Lynch is a gay cop who is ultra-sensitive about his life style but has “come out,” albeit shyly and quietly.  However, he is a sensitive guy internally, albeit gruff externally, who agrees to help Finnegan with his search for his sister if Finnegan agrees to help with the investigation into the murdered woman’s killer.

The story is told from two points of view of the past and present which enables the reader to think he or she is also doing the investigation into these two mysteries.  It works well even though the course of the searches seems to progress quite slowly, more like the real world and not a TV 60-minute crime story.

Small towns have large secrets and there are plenty in Idyll, Massachusetts.  No spoilers here!  Obviously, the mysteries will be solved as the police pick through the facts and fiction of the town where everyone knows everyone else but are careful about what they reveal. This is a satisfying mystery because the pace is perfect and the revelations about the families, friends, neighbors and acquaintances are clearly clues as to the loves and hates of seemingly innocent, quiet residents.  New relationships are forged in the process.

Idyll Handsis a cleverly crafted novel that will truly satisfy mystery fans and even contemporary fiction fans.  Nicely fashioned fiction, Stephanie Gayle!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Storyteller's Secret: A Novel by Sedal Badani

The Storyteller’s Secret: A Novel. Sedal Badani. Amazon Publishing. September 2018. 411 pp. ISBN#: 9781503949089.

Jaya loses her marriage after suffering three miscarriages.  The latter sorrows weren’t what destroyed her bond with Patrick; instead their lack of communication increased over time until there was nothing left to say.  Jaya also has the same chasm separating her and her mother Lena.  Suddenly, Java decides to travel to India after her mother receives a note that her father is dying.  Lena refuses to go, saying she was told to leave India and never return.  But the story behind that directive remains unknown, trapped in Lena’s sorrowful stubbornness to tell the story behind that exile. 

Indeed, Jaya will discover the parts of herself that she has refused to own by discovering her grandmother and grandfather’s story, through the benign goodness of Ravi, an “untouchable” who for years served as Jaya’s grandmother’s servant.  A strict tradition mandates every contact and rule in the small-town Jaya visits.  Ravi agrees to tell the story Jaya so longs to hear.  Over time, Jaya learns of what it means when an Indian woman, Amisha, dares to dream of learning to read and write, to tell stories.  Her passion about it and the bond she forms with Stephen, a British soldier and the man in charge of the local small school for Indian girls.  Their passion becomes one after a beautifully depicted series of events and conversations.  The end of their bond is heart-wrenching but true to reality.

Amisha is indeed like the Indian goddess she so admires, Durga, “…the universal source of all power, energy and creativity,” a link of strength demonstrating the similarities of Amisha and her granddaughter, Jaya.  Jaya must tell stories and does so with great skill.  Amish did the same, and the exercises she gave her students are simple but profound catalysts for eliciting “real” and “powerful” stories.  One example of her teaching is stunningly painful but true to reality.

The Storyteller’s Secret…  is a grand work of historical fiction that one will always remember!  Highly recommended reading crafted by a skilled, gifted author!!!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Masterpiece: A Novel by Fiona Davis

The Masterpiece: A Novel.  Fiona Davis. Penguin Publishing Group. 2018. 368 pp. ISBN #: 9781524742959.

The world of art in the 1930s was that of a rapidly changing scene, where “traditional” was evolving into “experimental,” where impressionism was turning to modern art.  At the same time, artists were starving as the Depression was approaching and when there is no food, there is no money to buy or even admire art, as art shows cost money to sponsor.  This is the story of Grand Central Station or Terminal in its glorious early and later recovery days.

Clara is a young divorced woman, who is teaching a course on illustration art in the Grand Central School of Art.  She is just hanging on to her position, as being an illustrator is not greatly respected. To some, it’s not even art! But forge on she does! Add to that the fact that she’s a woman and you’ve got the entire nasty picture. 

However, she and her bohemian, endearing friends console and strengthen each other, fall in and out of love together, and do all they can to make sure each is compelled to do their best artistic work possible.  They’re an odd but motley, lovable bunch of characters who immediately and forever engage the reader to want to share their world.

Fifty years later, Virginia Clay is working at the Grand Central Station Information Booth. She’s also divorced and unable to find any other job as she’s totally unskilled for any other job.  She’s a breast cancer survivor as well, her self-image blasted after that experience.  Her life is about to dramatically change after she accidentally discovers some abandoned art works from the Grand Central School of Art.  She will discover one work of art that has a mystery and crime behind it which she and her daughter will relentlessly pursue to a nail-biting end.

The Masterpiece… will thrill the soul of every reader as we get to experience the style, textures, tones, and colors of various styles of art as well as the minds, hearts and souls of the artists who created such notable works of art.  It is light but gorgeous, thrilling reading which this reviewer highly, highly recommends! Loved it so!!! Keep writing, Fiona Davis!!! Your writing is highly creative, skilled, complex and simple at the same time! Admirable!