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Monthly Archives: October 2016

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The Girl from Venice–WWII setting

The Girl from Venice

by Martin Cruz Smith

the-girl-from-veniceThe Girl from Venice is the tale of Cenzo, a very versatile and capable Italian fisherman, and Giulia, a young Jewish lady. Their lives intertwine in World War II in 1945 in Venice in the midst of conflicting players: Nazi soldiers, Mussolini’s Blackshirts, and the equally deadly Partisans.  This work of historical fiction is a combination of thriller and mystery with a little romance thrown in.

I had conflicting feelings about The Girl from Venice.  The plot has some interesting twists and turns. Part of this novel revolves around the many different ways of fishing in the lagoons near Pellestrina.  I thought the story was a little slow in its extended descriptions of the art of fishing, but many of the details were essential in the plot progression. They explain how Cenzo and Giulia were able to deceive the Nazis searching for Giulia as well as how Giulia transformed from a wealthy, highly educated Italian Jew into a skilled fisherman in her own right.

The author had a lot of decisions to make about the reader’s background knowledge concerning Italy and its politics in 1945.  He did a good job of supplying necessary details without oversimplifying or being pedantic.

The setting varies between city and fishing village.  There are complicated family relationships involving Cenzo, his mother, two brothers and sister-in-law, and through those relationships we discover more about each character.  The character of Giulia, however, is mostly undeveloped. We want to know more but are left  unsatisfied.

As the story ended, so did its unfulfilled promise.  The idea was a good one, the setting was interesting, but none of the characters were particularly engaging or well-developed.  There was one major twist in the plot, but otherwise it seemed to just keep plodding along.  It took me many days to read it just because nothing kept drawing me back. Not one to usually comment on a book’s cover, I must say the cover was outstanding–dramatic and perfect for this book.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Simon & Schuster for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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The Candidate–Echoes of today’s political climate and THEN…

The Candidate

by Lis Wiehl

the-candidateI read The Candidate with about twenty days left until the U.S. presidential election of 2016. As I began the book, there were certainly echoes of today’s political climate and I feared for a lack of originality.  I am pleased to say that the storyline quickly deviated into a very riveting, original plot while maintaining a theme of potential world domination that reflects the very real fears that many harbor today.

The main character is a top journalist with her own show, The Erica Sparks Effect. The author of The Candidate, Lis Wiehl, is a  lawyer as well as a legal analyst appearing on many TV shows as a commentator. She brings authenticity to her novel.  I admit going into the book with a bias against the media; there seems to be little integrity in the field today, little honest reporting. Those hired as “reporters” seem determined to opine outside the confines of an editorial piece. The fictional Erica Sparks, however, is different and refreshing. She sees her job as reporting the news, not making it or persuading others to view events through her political lens.

When some oddities appear in one presidential candidate’s campaign, she risks her life to discover the truth that could affect the nation and the world.  Even as she is immersed in these events, the private side of Erica Sparks is revealed as we see her struggle with balancing the work she thrives on with her desires to be a great mom to the daughter she adores.  She also has to work through feelings for Greg with whom she is trying to maintain a long distance relationship.

I recommend The Candidate. It has lots of twists and turns in the plot, a likable and well-developed main character, suspense, and political intrigue.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Holding Up the Universe–Teenage/YA Review

Holding Up the Universe

by Jennifer Niven

holding-up-the-universeI read a review of the Teenage/Young Adult novel Holding Up the Universe on another blog, BongBongBooks. I was intrigued and decided to read it myself.  It is the story of Jack Masselin, a teenager who has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces–even those of family members. The other main character, Libby Strout, is a girl who gains so much weight in the process of grieving after her mother’s death  that she has to be removed from her home by a crane.  Lest these two young people seem like examples of extreme difficulties beyond the realm of possibility, readers should know that prosopagnosia is an actual disorder and that there is a reality TV show entitled My 600 Pound Life.  The author did her homework and this novel has authenticity as we see how these two and their families struggle with the many issues that result from their conditions.

A major theme of this book comes from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “Atticus, he was real nice…”  “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”  There are two ways of not seeing people that this book explores: prosopagnosia (face blindness) and being unwilling to look past a person’s obvious exterior features such as weight, skin color, or disabilities to see who the person really is, what they are like on the inside.

I really liked this book for the plot development and the characters. I empathized with both characters as they tried to deal not only with their personal problems but also with relationship issues in their own families, with each other, and with peers.  As you might expect, bullying and discrimination are major issues for the overweight Libby. It is not an uncommon theme in YA literature as, unfortunately, bullying others for individual physical differences occurs often in our society. I had to really step outside my framework to think what it must be like to walk into a room and not be able to recognize anyone. NOT ANYONE!  Not my family, not my friends, not the people I saw two minutes ago. The author does a good job of helping the reader understand what face blindness must be like as it is lived out.

There is a lot of what I consider to be inappropriate language on the milder end of the continuum in this book. It was frequent enough that I did a little research on what kind of language is generally acceptable in Teenage/YA literature.  I found many blog posts dealing with this question, ranging from none to anything goes and everything in between. I understand that many teenagers today use different word choices than when I was a teenager.  I also know that in current films that kind of language and worse is commonplace.  I include this paragraph as a warning to those who might be offended by some of the words used casually by the characters in Holding Up the Universe.  The language did not enhance the story for me, nor did it ruin it.  I do recommend this book with this one qualification.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Penguin Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Send in the Clowns–outstanding cozy mystery

Send in the Clowns

by Julie Mulhern

send-in-the-clownsThe Country Club Murders is a series of cozy mysteries set in in the early 1970’s.  Send in the Clowns is the fourth in the series and the second one I have read.  While there is a lot of serious crime in this tale, Julie Mulhern knows how to write with humor and keep the reader coming back.  I honestly had trouble putting the book aside at bedtime. Then I devoured the last half the next morning.

There is no waiting for the book to get interesting.  In the first chapter, Ellison, who seems to attract handsome men and dead bodies, has to go to a haunted house to retrieve her teenage daughter.  While there she has an encounter with two clowns, one of whom calls her by name and then dies in her arms.  There are many more twists and turns in the plot which keep interest at a high level all the way through.

The likable Ellison Russell may have been born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but she is no stranger to personal tragedies and horrors.  The story is told from her perspective. The dialogue intermixes what Ellison says (in quotes) with what she thinks so well that her character takes on a reality not possible with third person narration. The way she is presented makes it very easy to identify with her and her struggles to get the men in her life to see her as capable and independent. Remember, this is the early seventies, an era when women are still expected to emerge from college with an “MRS.” degree.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is the setting of the seventies. The little details are right on target, but not forced. There is shag carpeting and the only telephones are those that are attached to the wall. The diet soft drink of choice is Tab, and a plaid coat in shades of plum and hunter green echoes one I wore in that time frame. Probably one of the best and most subtle references to an earlier time is Ellison’s admonition to the teenagers as they exit the car: “Lock your door.” Each door needed to be locked manually by the passenger.

I have absolutely no negative criticisms for this book.  In fact, I am going to return to the series to read the two out of four that I have not read yet. Additionally it is important to note that reading them out of sequence did not detract from my pleasure in reading these mysteries. Send in the Clowns has everything you want in a cozy–a fast pace, intricate turns in the plot, interesting characters and setting, a little romance with the requisite tension, and a good resolution.

This book is scheduled for publication on October 25, 2016.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Abstract Aliases–part of a cozy mystery series with an art world focus

Abstract Aliases

by Ritter Ames

abstract-aliasesAbstract Aliases is the third book in the cozy mystery series Bodies of Art written by Ritter Ames. A typical cozy mystery series continues from book to book with the same main characters.  Each novel has a unique plot, and the author only has to fill in some background information about the characters and their relationships for the reader to be ready to enjoy the story.  Abstract Aliases is different because the plot continues into the next book.  This format is not a bad thing, but the reader should be aware of it.

Laurel Beacham is an art recovery expert with high end tastes (Fendi purse) and great survival skills (telescoping baton).  She rarely knows who to trust as the complicated plot keeps tossing surprises her way.  The person she most wants to trust is the handsome and resourceful Jack Hawkes, but he has mysterious connections and reveals little about himself.  Together they try to unravel the murders of forgers, an office break in, and the identity of the enigmatic Ermo Colle.

I read Abstract Aliases as a stand-alone and I enjoyed it.  It had an engrossing plot, well-developed main characters, and multiple interesting settings as the characters travel the world seeking to unravel a multi-faceted mystery.  There are abundant surprise twists to the story.  Although not an art historian myself, I took pleasure in reading about famous works of art and museums and learning about the world of forgery.

I recommend Abstract Aliases to cozy mystery lovers, but I suggest reading this series in sequence.  It will make much more sense, and you will have a better understanding of the minor characters.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

This book is scheduled for publication on October 11, 2016.

Another Way to Help Teachers

Here’s a thoughtful way for book lovers to help teachers and their students.

Ritter Ames--USA TODAY Bestselling Author of the Bodies of Art Mysteries & Organized Mysteries

We know teachers are the lifeblood of our education system. However, each year theyHelping Teachers must spend more out of their own pockets for classroom supplies they cannot get from schools’ depleting budgets. In the past, I’ve given teachers gift cards to office supply stores to help, but last week I found another way I’d never thought of before. Our small town has a wonderful and thoughtful used bookstore. I turned in a bunch of books and received an $80 credit for my efforts–but I’m not going to buy any books. Instead, I’ve turned over my credit to any of the county’s teachers who’ve signed up to receive children’s fiction books for their classrooms.

So, rather than refilling my bookshelves, my credit will help fill classroom libraries for students instead. I can’t think of a better way to promote reading for young people. Yes, I could have bought books and donated…

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