Wednesday, April 16, 2014

FORTUNATE SON by DAVID MARLETT

    I'll be recommending this book far and wide to anyone who loves historical novels and characters who stay in the reader's mind long after the last page.  The subtitle says it is a novel of the greatest trial in Irish history, one that took place in 1743, but the majority of the book is about the life of a young man who was kidnapped and shipped to the colonies as an indentured servant.  His crime?  He was the heir to an earl but his amoral uncle was determined to have the title and estate whatever the price.

Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired by this story to write Kidnapped, which I now want to reread.  I imagine many other writers have been interested as well.  Author David Marlett is an attorney and historian so the narration of legal proceedings are wonderful, and shocking.  What a difference from today's courts! One particularly judge is so obviously biased as to be comical.  The descriptions of British jails are sickening. For instance, a prisoner in shackles tries to walk to a window for a breath of air and lice crackle beneath his feet.  The squeamish among us needn't worry though.  You'll be able to read this and enjoy it.

Since our hero, Jemmy Annesley, is in America for many years, we follow him through bad masters and good.  His impressions of a land so different from Ireland and sense of wonder at seeing Indians are a lovely break after his kidnapping and some horrible conditions aboard ship.  His love for characters who truly care for him and his struggle to overcome understandable anger make him quite sympathetic.  Of course the reader already cares about Jemmy because life has been so unfair and his father and uncle so cruel.  Yet he remains a man with a well-developed sense of fairness.  

I've been impressed with books published by The Story Plant but this one is by far the best.

Highly recommended
Source:  Publisher


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PARIS AT THE END OF THE WORLD by JOHN BAXTER



The subtitle of this little book is The City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918.  It is a unique look at Paris by an Australian who has lived in that city for many years and is married to a Frenchwoman.  His grandfather was apparently sort of an odd man who enlisted in the Aussie forces to fight in France during World War I.  He never spoke about his experiences so our author, John Baxter, tries to learn what he might have done in France.

That turns out to be a side venture though.  Mainly the book is factual, the real stories of what Paris was like during the war.  I hadn't realized for instance that the trenches were just outside the city.  People could take an excursion to "see the war" rather like Washingtonians riding out to see the battle during the American civil war.  There wasn't much to see except mud, filth, sick and wounded men, and the vast gaping no-man's-land between the lines.  The sounds of the guns could be heard all over the city, and they could see the results of firing of "The Paris Gun" that had a range of 40 miles.

Meanwhile, the city residents and men on leave lived it up.  I guess everyone would go a little crazy with the war just a few miles away, shortages of supplies and money, and not knowing if the Germans would invade.  Horrible lies were spread about what Germans would do if they occupied the city so everyone was afraid.  Might as well live it up while they could.

This was a time when Ernest Hemingway and Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso and many other authors and artists enjoyed a free, libertine way of life.  The wine and liquor flowed and those who had gas for their cars raced around town picking up party-goers.  Troops were ferried to the front lines by taxi and private cars, fashion was either fantastic or military, and sex was freely available.  

Baxter tells this story in vignettes and along the way seeks his grandfather's real story.  There are a few little things in the book which I suppose could offend but after all this is a time when anything was possible and he throws a light on all of it.  He does eventually find out his grandfather's war experiences and realizes why he never talked about it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would suggest it for anyone who thinks history is dry and boring.  Paris was a lot of things during the war, but never boring.

Highly recommended
Source:  Publisher Harper Perennial

Monday, April 14, 2014

CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION by PETER ROBINSON

   I wish I had time to read all of the earlier books in this series.  I'm growing quite fond of Inspector Banks and his detectives Winsome and Gerry so I'd like to know more about them.  Too, I would love to know more about Annie Cabbot, the abrasive detective who rubs me the wrong way.  In the two books I've read so far (Watching the Dark was the other one), she has been a thorn in Banks' side and an irritant to me but I've learned that she had been badly injured in the line of duty and had an unusual childhood.  She's so touchy and opinionated, though, that sometimes they have to work around her to get anywhere in their investigations.  I really must make time.

The mystery in this one is fascinating.  The body of a former teacher is found near a bridge over what used to be a railroad bed.  He might have committed suicide by jumping off the bridge but the drop wasn't long enough to be sure of death.  Other evidence is more indicative of murder.  The man was malnourished, his teeth were bad, and his clothing was ragged.  They discover he had several years earlier been dismissed after being accused of sexual misconduct with two students.  Nearly everyone had deserted him and he was broke, yet he had 5,000 pounds in his pocket.  Could drugs be involved?  Was he guilty of the charges?

During the investigation Banks visits Lady Veronica Chalmers at her home.  Her brother-in-law, whose son is up for a choice political appointment, contacts Banks' superiors and he is warned off of questioning her again.  Of course Banks doesn't obey (when did a detective in a mystery novel ever obey?) but he and Gerry have to be circumspect about their inquiries.  He is certain Chalmers has some sort of involvement.  Is he just besotted with her because she's so beautiful and charming?

Like many other mystery fans I have a long list of series that I just cannot pass up.  The Inspector Banks series is only the most recent addition to that list.  Looking forward to more.

Highly recommended.
Source:  William Morrow Imprint, HarperCollins

Sunday, April 13, 2014

THE POISONED PAWN by PEGGY BLAIR



I could hardly wait for this novel since Inspector Ramirez of Havana, Cuba is the most original and, well, lovable crime solver I had met in a long while.  I loved The Beggar's Opera, the first book in the series, but this follow-up book practically requires that you have read and remembered much of the first one.  The plot and the characters follow well from the first story though so if you've read that one, you'll be better able to keep up with this one.  

Inspector Ramirez is a hoot.  He is an honest man, a husband who adores his wife but is always slightly puzzled about staying on her good side.  She loves him too and likes keeping him on his toes.  He was unnerved in the first story to discover victims of crimes he was investigating appearing in his life and following him around.  No one else is aware of these ghosts but they follow him everywhere until he solves their case.  In this story the ghost is an older woman wearing a white dress and she has a large fish knife sticking out of her chest.

Ramirez is sent to Ottawa, Canada to pick up a priest who had abused and raped boys in his care at a Cuban orphanage.  It should all be easy.  His first impressions of Canada are funny.  He is understandably cold all the time, and worried whether the water is safe to drink.  Overall it's a bit like a person being released from prison after many years and trying to get used to all the changes of modern life.  By the same token, Blair's description of Cuban laws, customs, and privations are amazing to the reader.  His police escort is an Indian who tells him about life on the reservation and hard times for one particular old man.  That sounds more like home to Ramirez.

As soon as he arrives in Canada he is involved with another murder, that of a woman who had been in Havana with her husband, left him there, and then died before reaching her home.  Ramirez knows the husband, an Ottawa cop, and has evidence that pertains to their relationship.  I wondered how to tell this part of the story because it's quite confusing.  Actually the whole book is hard to follow because there is just too much going on.  That's why I only gave this one three stars.  

Funny and sad.  Recommended only for people who have read The Beggar's Opera.
Source:  Amazon Vine

Thursday, April 3, 2014

DANCE THE MOON DOWN by Robert Bartram




I rarely accept books for review from authors.  This one appealed to me because of the setting and time period, England during World War I.

Victoria Avery is the main character, one that I came to like very much.  She is married to a successful poet (actually making a living at it) named Gerald and they live a lovely life in a cottage surrounded by flower gardens near a village.  Then Gerald enlists as World War I begins.  For a time he writes frequently, then suddenly the letters stop.  Victoria has promised to wait for him in their cottage and although she cannot afford to actually live there, she leaves a letter for him in the cottage and remains in the area.

Her best friend before marriage is a suffragette follower of Emmaline Pankhurst who leads illegal protests and assaults to keep the issue in the papers.  Beryl will constantly be in trouble with the police, but Victoria isn't interested in getting the vote for women.  She doesn't think that will ever happen.  She spends a short time in London trying to learn where Gerald is, but decides to return to the village since she isn't getting anywhere.

During the war Victoria must support herself and yet stay near the village.  She works as a farm laborer where she grows close to her three roommates.  It's fascinating how they learn from each other and become family for each other.  I loved these characters.

The story is a simple one told simply, yet imparts great truths about people faced with a war they know almost nothing about and separation from loved ones that tests their strength of character and their love.  I won't reveal what happens after she starts working at the farm but that was the most engrossing part of the story for me.

The book is available from Amazon.com.

Recommended
Source:  Author

Sunday, March 30, 2014

THE EYE OF GOD, A SIGMA FORCE NOVEL, JAMES ROLLINS

    Once upon a time I gobbled novels like this like popcorn.  They're almost addicting with their nonstop action, innovative thinking, close calls, around the world chases, and characters with unbelievable skills.  Of course the characters are always beautiful or handsome and incredibly smart as well.  I don't remember why I stopped reading them, probably something about a lack of time, but at any rate it has been years.

When a publicist at HarperCollins offered this paperback edition to me for review, I remembered the good old days and accepted.  Well, Sigma Force novels are a little different now than those thrillers I used to read but not much.  The difference is in the technology.  I felt like I should have a Ph.D. in physics to even attempt to follow the mystery the characters were trying to solve.  So, lacking that kind of education, I just rolled with the flow and let the tech talk just sort of fly over my head.  

If you have the stomach for some torture, some very scary situations, and danger, you'll like this.  The plot involves a search for relics of Genghis Khan and St. Thomas (strange pairing there) they had to use to stop the destruction of the earth.  And of course they have to find them in a few days.  New calculations keep lessening the time line, and no one knows for sure where the relics are.  We travel to Rome, the Aral Sea's exposed bed, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Lake Baikal, etc.  The good guys deal with North Korea, a Chinese Triad led by a woman and a cult in Mongolia.

If you are a fan of James Rollins or just love thrillers, this one will certainly not disappoint you.  There were a lot of times I rolled my eyes and thought, "Come on.  Really?" but for the most part I just relaxed and enjoyed the fun.  The characters are perfect, even the guy who has had magnets surgically implanted into his fingertips to detect electromagnetic fields is a hunk who will win you over.

Highly recommended
Source:  Publisher

Sunday, March 23, 2014

THE HERETICS by RORY CLEMENTS

  Thanks to author Rory Clements' clever plot and wonderful characters, I have been on a 16th century adventure with William Shakespeare's brother John.  He is an intelligencer for Queen Elizabeth I in a department that functions much like an early CIA.  Not everyone is impressed but he always proves that his efforts are worthwhile.

This story involves a plot to assassinate the queen, a plot that is hatched partly in a Jesuit college in Spain and also involves Roman Catholic cells in England.  Not only Shakespeare but also his children are in grave danger which makes him vulnerable.  He is a widower with two beloved daughters and a teenage son, and he is also responsible for their caretakers and his "sidekick's" wife and child. The sidekick is Boltfoot Cooper, a crippled man who would gladly die for his boss, but he is vulnerable as well now that he has a wife and little son.  Thankfully he's resourceful and smart.

We learn about a kind of doctor people seek out for all types of maladies.  Jane Cooper visits him without her husband's knowledge because her son is ill and Dr. Forman saves the boy.  He also gives her something to help her have a second child.  He deals in potions, a little psychology, real injuries and diseases, and isn't averse to a little romp in bed with female patients if the opportunity arises.

We learn too about exorcisms, disgusting conditions in prisons, torture, and executions.  Although disgusting, this isn't told in a way that would deny the pleasure of this book to the squeamish.  

The plot, while a bit convoluted, is simply great fun to follow.  Even Will Shakespeare makes an appearance in this one because theater people and costumes are involved.  John Shakespeare is a character dear to my heart.  With each volume of this series I like him even better.

E-Book
Highly recommended
Source:  HarperCollins