Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦)

1665 Is a year of plague in London. Young Mariana Farr has lost her mother to the plague, and has left the city in a hurry to escape the disease. She goes to live with her uncle and his family at Greywethers, in the village of Exbury. In the months that follow, Mariana settles into her daily life and falls in love with the lord of the manor next door.

Present day…Books illustrator Julia Beckett has been in love with Greywethers cottage since she was a child, so when the opportunity presents itself, Julia buys it, exchanging her city life for a peaceful country living in the village of Exbury.

It seems Mariana and Julia have something in common, but what?

Mariana is the third book I’ve read by Susanna Kearsley after The Winter Sea and The Rose Garden. Kearsley is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine, though I didn’t like The Rose Garden as much as the other two. Mariana was first published in 1994 and won the UK’s Catherine Cookson Fiction prize.

I really liked Mariana by Susanna Kearsley. The book is utterly absorbing: I was a captive by page 20. The plot is atmospheric, otherworldly, with lavish narrative and fascinating characters. I enjoyed both the modern day story as well as the 17th century one, but I liked Mariana’s subplot the best; there was more drama, romance, and more chemistry in Mariana’s life than in Julia’s.

I don’t want to explain what the book is about because it would spoil it for potential readers. I enjoyed the discovery journey very much and would like to preserve it for others as well. The underlying theme in the book is destiny but it’s also partly a ghost story.

I found the transitions between past and present very smooth, unlike the time travel in The Rose Garden, which I thought needed some polishing.

In summary, Mariana by Susanna Kearley is spellbinding, atmospheric and a winner overall. Strongly recommended!

Coming in September...Carla Neggers Blog Tour for Harbor Island

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR CARLA NEGGERS UNVEILS ANOTHER GRIPPING NEW ROMANTIC THRILLER

HARBOR ISLAND



SEPTEMBER 2014

“Well-plotted, intriguing…the novel is smart and satisfying.”
--Kirkus Review on Declan’s Cross

When FBI agent’s clandestine meeting with an anonymous informant turns into a cold-blooded murder scene, the only clue seems to involve the most legendary and elusive art thief in the world. From the New York Times bestselling author of more than sixty books, Carla Neggers, comes HARBOR ISLAND (Harlequin MIRA, September 2014, $24.95 U.S./$27.95 CAN.), her latest novel featuring former nun and art crime expert turned FBI agent, Emma Sharpe.

Emma Sharpe is still getting used to life with her new fiancé and fellow FBI agent, Colin Donovan, when she receives an anonymous phone call asking her to come to a remote island off the Boston Harbor. Emma arrives, to find a dead woman lying in a pool of blood. Gripped in the victim’s cold palm is a stone bearing the signature Celtic inscription of an international art thief whom Emma’s family of art detectives has been chasing for the past decade.

Emma discovers that the victim, Rachel Bristol, was a filmmaker working on a movie based on the exploits of the legendary art thief, but her research may have led her too close to the truth and gotten her killed. Or perhaps she is the victim of her former husband and stepdaughter, Travis and Maisie Bristol, two of Hollywood’s most powerful movie producers. The Bristols are working on their own film version of the art thefts and clearly didn’t appreciate the competition.

And what of Oliver Fairbairn, a Hollywood consultant on matters of Celtic mythology exactly like the type inscribed on the stone in the dead woman’s hand? Suspicion even falls on Emma’s friend Finian Bracken, a tortured Irish priest now living in Maine. Ten years ago, however, Father Bracken was Mr. Bracken, a happily married businessman who has ties to the same Irish village where the now infamous art thief struck for the first time.

Emma knows this is no movie, but real life with real lives in danger, including those of her own FBI team and everyone they care about. To protect them, Emma must solve a case that has, for over a decade, stymied the smartest detectives in the world, including her own grandfather…and she must solve it now.

HARBOR ISLAND is available wherever books are sold, and at www.Harlequin.com.


HARBOR ISLAND
CARLA NEGGERS
$24.95 U.S./$27.95 CAN.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7783-1953-4

CARLA NEGGERS

New York Times bestselling author Carla Neggers is always plotting her next adventure—whether in life or for one of her novels. She wrote her first stories when she climbed her favorite sugar maple with pad and pen at age eleven. Now she is the author of more than sixty novels of romantic suspense and contemporary romance, including her acclaimed Sharpe and Donovan and Swift River Valley series. Her books have sold in over thirty countries, with translation in two-dozen languages, and have earned awards, rave reviews and the loyalty of readers.

Growing up in rural western Massachusetts with three brothers and three sisters, Carla developed an eye for detail and an enduring love for a good story. “My parents moved to New England just before I was born,” says the author. “My father was a Dutch sailor and my mother is from the South. We kids learned about Holland and the Florida Panhandle—faraway places to us—through stories our parents told us on walks in the woods or sitting by the fire.”

Carla’s curiosity and vivid imagination are keys to creating the complex relationships and deep sense of place in her books. At the core of every novel she writes is what Publishers Weekly has called her “flair for creating likable, believable characters and her keen recognition of the obstacles that can muddle relationships.”

Carla sold her first book not long after graduating magna cum laude from Boston University with a degree in journalism. An accomplished musician, she studied with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and freelanced as an arts-and-entertainment reporter—always with a novel in the works. After the birth of her first child, Carla finally worked up the courage to submit a manuscript to an agent. “I would type with my daughter on the blotter next to me,” says Carla. “Then she learned to roll over, and I put her on a blanket on the floor!”

When she isn’t writing, Carla loves to read, travel, hike, garden, and spend time with her large family. Get-togethers at her family’s tree farm on the western edge of the Quabbin Reservoir are a favorite. She and her husband, Joe, a native of Tennessee, have two grown children and two adorable grandchildren. They are frequent travelers to Ireland and divide their time between Boston and their hilltop home in Vermont, not far from picturesque Quechee Gorge.

For more information please visit her at CarlaNeggers.com.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Heist by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦)

Gabriel Allon is once again in Venice living a quiet life with Chiara, who is expecting twins. He is a year away from taking control of the Office as director. Gabriel fills his days by restoring a Veronese altarpiece in the Church of San Sebastiano, but once again trouble comes calling when Julian Isherwood is sent by a friend with all expenses paid to Lake Como to the house of a British expatriate turned art smuggler, only to find the man tortured and dead. In exchange for not implicating Julian in a scandal, General Ferrari of the Italian Carabinieri Art Squad (introduced in The Fallen Angel) blackmails Gabriel into searching for a missing Caravaggio stolen in 1969.

And so starts the adventure of a lifetime when Gabriel, following the trail of the deceased, discovers several important things: 1) the man was a former British spy gone rogue, 2) there was a cache of famous paintings in his house at the time of his death, 3) the man was brokering a deal with an anonymous, powerful client who wanted the Caravaggio masterpiece.

Gabriel enlists the help of hitman Christopher Keller (who first appeared in The English Assassin and we got to know better in The English Girl), who once spared Gabriel’s life, resides in Corsica and works for Don Orsati’s business of oil export and revenge for money, to “steal” another masterpiece and sell it in the black market to the same prospective buyer of the Caravaggio. What they discover is that a certain dictator in the Levant has been acquiring stolen, otherwise unattainable, art and hiding his massive, plundered assets in banks the world over for a rainy day.

Naturally, Gabriel goes back to the Office to plan the heist of a lifetime and hopefully recover the Caravaggio as well.

I really liked The Heist. Though it is a somewhat convoluted story and perhaps overly complicated—by the end I hardly remembered the connection between the Syrian ruler and the quest for the Caravaggio--, it is well concocted and very satisfying. It took me almost two weeks to read it in spite of being a page turner.

One gets a history lesson involving Syria and the Assad ruling family, who have made headlines not only for the ongoing civil war tearing the country apart, but for the use of poison gas against its population and getting away with it.

There were passages describing Caravaggio’s life that brought to mind The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr; apparently Silva consulted the book while doing research for The Heist. I regretted having read Jonathan Harr long ago when I first started writing reviews because I don’t remember the story that well, or Caravaggio’s bio for that matter. It was a nice touch on Silva’s part to expand a little about his life and works and why it’s so important to preserve his legacy as well as any other masterpiece, otherwise they may disappear never to be found again.

Silva remarks that stolen art serves as underground currency for all sorts of criminal transactions and that the more famous the art piece, the better the odds are of finding it.

In summary, though convoluted, The Heist is another great entry in the Gabriel Allon saga, a satisfying ride with lots of learning on the side.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb (♦♦♦♦♦)

How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi

On May 11, 1960, a core of eight agents of the combined Israeli security agencies Shin Bet and Mossad, kidnapped Adolf Eichmann on his way home from work on Garibaldi Street, a neighborhood in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Ten days later, the prisoner was smuggled out of the country as a crew member of the first El Al flight to ever visit Argentina. The ultimate goal was to prosecute Eichmann in an Israeli court for his war crimes against the Jewish people.

But Eichmann's evasion of justice was fifteen years in the making. In 1945, when it became clear that Germany had lost the war, Eichmann first went to Austria, later returning to Germany where he was taken prisoner twice by the Allies. He managed to escape both times from POW camps because up to that point his role in the extermination of millions of Jews wasn't well known. His role in the Holocaust became public during the Nuremberg trials.

Meanwhile, he lived in hiding in a forest community where he fell trees and raised chickens. In 1950, with the help of former Nazis, Eichmann made his way across the Alps to Austria and then Italy, where with the help of a Catholic bishop with Nazi sympathies he was able to obtain a false identity, apply for a Red Cross passport and gain legal entry in Argentina under the protection of Juan Perón's regime.

The first few years after the war, there was some interest in finding and judging Eichmann by the Allies, but with the impending threat of communism, the recently formed spy agencies in America and West Germany recruited former Nazi officers and went back to business as usual. Only Nazi hunters Simon Wiesenthal and Tuviah Friedman kept hoping Eichmann would be caught.

In the mid fifties, German prosecutor Fritz Bauer, who was trying a former Nazi for war crimes, first got news of Eichmann possibly having been living in Argentina. Further correspondence revealed his home address. But it wasn't until 1960 that things got heated enough, that David Ben-Gurion, Israel's Prime Minister, authorized the capture.

During the first few years of the war, the relocation and deportation of Jews was the standard Nazi policy. During those years Eichmann became an expert in Jewish affairs. In 1941 the total extermination of the Jewish population of Europe became standard policy. The Wannsee Conference in 1942 attracted the top fifteen experts in Jewish affairs in the SS; Eichmann was one of the attendees.

At Wannsee he proposed and explained how best to execute what was known as The Final Solution to the Jewish Question (deportation and mass extermination). He was sent all across Europe to deal with Jewish communities and personally supervised the transportation of millions of Jews (6 million by his own admission) to hard labor and concentration camps and thus to their deaths. He refined and adjusted his methods accordingly each country at a time. By war's end, his brutality knew no limits.

I first learned more than the run-of-the-mill history lesson when I started reading Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series. The second, third, and fourth installment in the series (i.e. The English Assassin, The Confessor, and A Death in Vienna) form a trilogy about the Holocaust; while these novels are fiction, the historical backgrounds are all too real. That’s how I first encountered Eichmann in my reading. Later learned of Hunting Eichmann through one of Google’s targeted ads (who knew they could be useful?!). I didn’t buy it until very recently when I decided that $10 for this book wasn’t that bad. Thank goodness I bought it!

Hunting Eichmann reads like something urgent, a message that can neither be ignored nor forgotten. It reads like a gripping spy novel, and it's unclear to me whether that is a blessing or a curse, because the danger of missing the lesson entirely, however unlikely that may be, could prove costly. Furthermore, Hunting Eichmann is a stirring account of the main players’ paths to that time in history—Eichmann’s, the capture team’s, as well as the witnesses’.

Hunting Eichmann is enlightening in many ways, one being the road a man takes from basic decency to becoming a monster, from normalcy to fanatic nationalism that ends in collective psychosis.

Hunting Eichmann is not a light reading at all, though it’s very fast-paced. I took nearly two weeks reading it because I read every paragraph two or three times since the book is jam-packed with historical information of which I’m a junkie. It depicts the graphic Nazi brutality that is often sugar-coated in fiction books and period films. While it’s not recommended for the faint of heart, it is strongly recommended to as many readers as possible. Ignore the message at your own peril. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

La Ciudad de las Bestias (City of the Beasts) by Isabel Allende (♦♦♦♦)

The Cold family is having problems due to the grave illness affecting the mother/wife. Alexander, the fifteen-year-old son, must travel to New York City to live with his paternal grandmother while his mother endures chemotherapy treatments. Kate, Alexander’s grandmother, and Alexander embark on a trip to the Amazon jungle courtesy of International Geographic, to discover and document the existence of a giant creature known as The Beast.

During the trip Alexander finds a friend in Nadia, the guide’s daughter, and together they unleash the power of magic and their own to help an endangered tribe; also they are forced to grow up by overcoming the trials they encounter along the way.

La Ciudad de las Bestias (City of the Beasts) by Isabel Allende is a passionate narrative for young adults in which reality and fiction, myth and fantasy coexist. The intricate and little known Amazonian jungle and the legendary city of El Dorado are the lush scenarios in which this magnificent and mysterious story unfolds.

The reader immerses in the story and is able to feel it intensely despite a few flaws. In the passages in which Allende lets her imagination fly, the result is breathtaking, not so in the passages in which the children encounter and visit the tribe, for Allende emphasizes anthropology and natural history as if it were a lecture; in other words, the flow and freshness of the plot up to that point are interrupted.

In my opinion, the narrative would have benefited more if conservationist messages had been avoided, but the story is very good regardless.

La Ciudad de las Bestias (City of the Beasts) is the first novel written by Isabel Allende that I read, though I’m sure it won’t be the last. I had hesitated in tackling one of her books because her fame precedes her and I thought I could be disappointed; fortunately that wasn’t the case at all. She deserves all the accolades.

La Ciudad de las Bestias por Isabel Allende (♦♦♦♦)

La familia Cold está en problemas debido a la grave enfermedad que aqueja a la madre y esposa. Alexander, el hijo mayor de quince años, debe viajar a Nueva York para irse a vivir con su abuela paterna mientras dura el tratamiento de quimioterapia de su madre. Kate, la abuela, y Alexander se embarcan en un viaje fascinante a la selva amazónica cortesía de la revista International Geographic para descubrir y documentar la existencia de una criatura gigante conocida como La Bestia.

Durante la travesía Alexander encuentra una amiga en Nadia, la hija del guía, y juntos descubren el poder de la magia para ayudar a una tribu de la zona, y son obligados a madurar a través de las pruebas que deben superar en su camino.

La Ciudad de las Bestias es un alucinante relato de aventuras para jóvenes donde se confunden la realidad y la ficción, mito y fantasía. La intrincada y poco conocida selva amazónica, los seres que la habitan, así como la legendaria ciudad El Dorado son los suntuosos escenarios de esta magnífica historia plagada de misterios.

El lector se sumerge en la trama y es capaz de vivirla intensamente a pesar de ciertos puntos débiles en la concepción de la misma. En los pasajes en que Allende deja volar su imaginación el resultado es maravilloso, pero (por ejemplo) cuando los niños hacen contacto con los seres de la neblina y visitan la tribu, Allende hace énfasis en antropología e historia natural y la fluidez y frescura de la trama se pierden.

En mi opinión la narración hubiera podido prescindir de los mensajes conservacionistas en favor de una aventura inolvidable.

Éste es el primer libro que leo escrito por Allende, y estoy segura de que no será el último. Hasta ahora me detenía el temor de que no estuviese a la altura de la fama que la precede, y he comprobado con satisfacción que la fama es bien merecida.

Rimas por Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (♦♦♦♦♦)

Esta colección de poesía fue mi primera lectura en ese género, cuando yo tenía once años. Mis posteriores incursiones en la poesía fueron fuertemente influenciadas, en los comienzos, por Bécquer, y aún hoy permanece como uno de mis poetas favoritos junto a Pablo Neruda y Jorge Luis Borges.

Me gustó mucho la Rima X, incorrectamente nombrada IX en esta edición. Es acerca de las extrañas vibraciones en el aire cuando Cupido anda cerca. La Rima XII es mi favorita de todas. Se trata de una joven que tiene los ojos verdes y le gustaría que fuesen de otro color. El poeta trata de convencerla de lo lindos que son, mencionando todos los ejemplos que hay en la naturaleza del color verde. Desafortunadamente, esta rima está incompleta en esta colección.

Porque son, niña, tus ojos 
verdes como el mar, te quejas; 
verdes los tienen las náyades, 
verdes los tuvo Minerva, 
y verdes son las pupilas 
de las huríes del Profeta. 

El verde es gala y ornato 
del bosque en la primavera; 
entre sus siete colores 
brillante el Iris lo ostenta, 
las esmeraldas son verdes; 
verde el color del que espera, 
y las ondas del océano 
y el laurel de los poetas. 

Es tu mejilla temprana 
rosa de escarcha cubierta, 
en que el carmín de los pétalos 
se ve al través de las perlas. 

Y sin embargo, 
sé que te quejas 
porque tus ojos 
crees que la afean, 
pues no lo creas. 

Que parecen sus pupilas 
húmedas, verdes e inquietas, 
tempranas hojas de almendro 
que al soplo del aire tiemblan. 

Es tu boca de rubíes 
purpúrea granada abierta 
que en el estío convida 
a apagar la sed con ella, 

Y sin embargo, 
sé que te quejas 
porque tus ojos 
crees que la afean, 
pues no lo creas. 

Que parecen, si enojada 
tus pupilas centellean, 
las olas del mar que rompen 
en las cantábricas peñas. 

Es tu frente que corona, 
crespo el oro en ancha trenza, 
nevada cumbre en que el día 
su postrera luz refleja. 

Y sin embargo, 
sé que te quejas 
porque tus ojos 
crees que la afean: 
pues no lo creas. 

Que entre las rubias pestañas, 
junto a las sienes semejan 
broches de esmeralda y oro 
que un blanco armiño sujetan. 

Porque son, niña, tus ojos 
verdes como el mar te quejas; 
quizás, si negros o azules 
se tornasen, lo sintieras.

Felizmente redescubrí la rima XXVI. ¡Cuán ciertas estas palabras!

Voy contra mi interés al confesarlo;
No obstante, amada mía,
Pienso, cual tú, que una oda sólo es buena
De un billete del Banco al dorso escrita.
No faltara algún necio que al oírlo
Se haga cruces y diga:
Mujer al fin del siglo diecinueve,
Material y prosaica… ¡Boberías!

Voces que hacen correr cuatro poetas
Que en invierno se embozan con la lira;
¡Ladridos de los perros a la luna!
Tú sabes y yo sé que en esta vida
Con genio es muy contado el que la escribe,
Y con oro cualquiera hace poesía.

También redescubrí y me encantó la rima XC, que también se refiere a ser herido por Cupido.

Rimas por Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer abarca una variedad de tópicos entre los que se encuentran el amor en todas sus manifestaciones, desilusión, y epifanías religiosas y espirituales.

Encontré esta colección en Kindle, aunque es del dominio público. Está plagada de faltas ortográficas pero que en nada disminuyen el impacto de esta excelente obra.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Rimas (Rhymes) by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (♦♦♦♦♦)

This collection of poetry was my first exposure to the genre, starting when I was eleven years old. My subsequent dabbling in poetry was heavily influenced, in the beginnings, by Bécquer, and still today he remains one of my favorite poets alongside Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges.

I really like Rima X, incorrectly labeled in this edition as IX. It is about the strange vibrations in the air when Cupid is passing by. Rima XII is my favorite of them all. It is about a young woman who has green eyes and would like them in a different color. The poet tries to convince her of how pretty they are, mentioning all the examples in nature of the color green. Unfortunately, this rhyme (rima) is incomplete in this collection.

Porque son, niña, tus ojos 
verdes como el mar, te quejas; 
verdes los tienen las náyades, 
verdes los tuvo Minerva, 
y verdes son las pupilas 
de las huríes del Profeta. 

El verde es gala y ornato 
del bosque en la primavera; 
entre sus siete colores 
brillante el Iris lo ostenta, 
las esmeraldas son verdes; 
verde el color del que espera, 
y las ondas del océano 
y el laurel de los poetas. 

Es tu mejilla temprana 
rosa de escarcha cubierta, 
en que el carmín de los pétalos 
se ve al través de las perlas. 

Y sin embargo, 
sé que te quejas 
porque tus ojos 
crees que la afean, 
pues no lo creas. 

Que parecen sus pupilas 
húmedas, verdes e inquietas, 
tempranas hojas de almendro 
que al soplo del aire tiemblan. 

Es tu boca de rubíes 
purpúrea granada abierta 
que en el estío convida 
a apagar la sed con ella, 

Y sin embargo, 
sé que te quejas 
porque tus ojos 
crees que la afean, 
pues no lo creas. 

Que parecen, si enojada 
tus pupilas centellean, 
las olas del mar que rompen 
en las cantábricas peñas. 

Es tu frente que corona, 
crespo el oro en ancha trenza, 
nevada cumbre en que el día 
su postrera luz refleja. 

Y sin embargo, 
sé que te quejas 
porque tus ojos 
crees que la afean: 
pues no lo creas. 

Que entre las rubias pestañas, 
junto a las sienes semejan 
broches de esmeralda y oro 
que un blanco armiño sujetan. 

Porque son, niña, tus ojos 
verdes como el mar te quejas; 
quizás, si negros o azules 
se tornasen, lo sintieras.

I happily rediscovered rima XXVI. How truthful those words!

Voy contra mi interés al confesarlo;
No obstante, amada mía,
Pienso, cual tú, que una oda sólo es buena
De un billete del Banco al dorso escrita.
No faltara algún necio que al oírlo
Se haga cruces y diga:
Mujer al fin del siglo diecinueve,
Material y prosaica… ¡Boberías!

Voces que hacen correr cuatro poetas
Que en invierno se embozan con la lira;
¡Ladridos de los perros a la luna!
Tú sabes y yo sé que en esta vida
Con genio es muy contado el que la escribe,
Y con oro cualquiera hace poesía.

I also rediscovered and loved rima XC, which also refers to being hit by Cupid.

Rimas by Gustavo Adolfo Becquer encompasses a variety of topics ranging from love in all its manifestations, disillusionment, and religious and spiritual epiphanies.

I got this collection through Kindle, but it’s in the public domain; it is marred by misspellings but they don't manage to decrease the impact of Bécquer's amazing work.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦)

Eva Ward has recently lost her famous sister Katrina to a devastating disease. When Eva receives Katrina’s ashes, she is left wondering the best place to scatter them: the place where her sister belonged, where she was most happy. That leads Eva on a quest across the Tamar River in Cornwall to the place where her family used to vacation when both she and Katrina were kids.

Trelowarth mansion is the home of happy memories. Now, as adults, siblings Mark and Susan welcome Eva as if no time had passed since the last time they saw each other. Eva wants to revive those childhood summers, but before the season is over, she realizes that time gone cannot be recaptured.

As days pass by, Eva starts experiencing odd occurrences at Trelowarth: she hears whispering voices in the room next to hers and she also sees an alternative (non-existent) path in the adjacent woods. Before she realizes it, she starts seeing a man from another era in the house, and then she travels in time to the Trelowarth of 1715, populated by two charming smuggler brothers named Daniel and Jack, and their Irish friend.

In 1715, Eva witnesses Daniel’s preparations to rebel against the newly proclaimed King George I, in favor of James Stuart, the rightful king of England. As Daniel and Eva get to know each other, they fall in love, which puts them--together with the issue of treason—on a collision course with a King’s lawman and his thirst for vengeance.

I thought The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley was OK, but just that. I thought the next book that I read written by Kearsley was going to be as splendid as The Winter Sea; unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The Rose Garden was interesting, but neither unforgettable nor hard to put down, in part because despite its premise nothing really happened in the story besides the convoluted time travel and the preparations for an insurrection that never quite took flight.

I liked the love story; again Kearsley kept it classy despite the magnetism and wonderful chemistry of Daniel and Eva as a couple. That I liked.

What I didn’t like was the time travel. I didn’t think that part of the story was polished enough. Eva appeared and disappeared at random, sometimes in front of other people who shouldn’t know what was going on. I also didn’t like that she had no control over that.

I thought the ending was OK, no fireworks either; it wrapped up the story nicely but I was still left with some questions. 

In summary, The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley is an OK story, not at the same level as love story or historical fiction than The Winter Sea but entertains if you’re willing to withstand that nothing really happens.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Giveaway of “Beach House No. 9” by Christie Ridgway

Carmen’s Books and Movies Reviews is hosting a giveaway. Read the book blurb below if you’re interested in participating.
Beach House No. 9 by Christie Ridgway        
When Jane Pearson arrives at Griffin Lowell's beach house, she expects a brooding loner. After all, his agent hired her to help the reclusive war journalist write his stalled memoir. Instead, Jane finds a tanned, ocean-blue-eyed man in a Hawaiian shirt, hosting a beach party and surrounded by beauties. Faster than he can untie a bikini top, Griffin lets Jane know he doesn't want her. But she desperately needs this job and digs her toes in the sand.
Griffin intends to spend the coming weeks at Beach House No. 9 taking refuge from his painful memories—and from the primly sexy Jane, who wants to bare his soul. But warm nights, moonlit walks and sultry kisses just may unlock both their guarded hearts.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Giveaway of (1) new paperback copy of “Three Little Words” by Susan Mallery

Carmen’s Books and Movies Reviews is hosting a giveaway. Read the book blurb below if you’re interested in participating.

Can first love turn into the real deal? Anything can happen in a sizzling new Fool's Gold story from New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery.


Isabel Beebe thinks she's cursed in the romance department. Her teenage crush, Ford Hendrix, ignored all her letters. Her husband left her for another man. So Isabel has come home to dust off her passion for fashion and run the family bridal shop until her parents are ready to sell it. Then she'll pursue her real dreams. At least, that's the plan, until sexy, charming Ford returns and leaves her feeling fourteen all over again…
Seeing Isabel all grown-up hits bodyguard trainer Ford like a sucker punch. Back when heartbreak made him join the military, her sweet letters kept him sane. Now he can't take his eyes—or his lips—off her. The man who gave up on love has a reason to stay in Fool's Gold forever—if three little words can convince Isabel to do the same.

Giveaway officially starts tonight at midnight.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦)

In 1708, upon the declaration that Scotland is going to become a part of England, Scottish nobles plan an insurrection to bring back to Scotland their exiled, rightful king, young James Stewart, who has been bidding his time in the French court in Saint-Germain since his mother spirited him away when a child to save both their lives.

In the Scottish north, the castle of Slains—home to the countess of Errol and her son the earl-- serves as scenario to the encounters and preparations before the expedition that would bring king James back to claim his throne.

Young Sophia Paterson has recently arrived to live at Slains at the countess’ invitation. Sophia narrates the story of the plotting and maneuvering to neutralize Queen Anne’s spies and successfully organize the mission. Amidst the war games, Sophia falls in love with a Scottish colonel--envoy and protégé of Queen Mary—, who has a massive prize on his head.

In present day, historical fiction writer Carrie McClellan is writing a book on the Jacobite insurrection. When she moves to the town home to Slains, her book begins to take form very swiftly because she feels her characters talking to her. Ever present in her daydreams is the voice (or echo) of Sophia Paterson, who is none other than Carrie’s ancestor.

I really liked The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Last year I read several favorable reviews/endorsements for this book and put it on my reading list. I bought a paperback last year, but since I’m on a roll reading from my smartphone, I recently bought a Kindle copy for very little because I had bought the paperback from the same seller. Thank goodness I did, because the book is thick and I found that rather discouraging.

I’m happy to report that the reviews were right. The Winter Sea is atmospheric, enthralling, hard to put down. I liked the sort of dreamlike quality of the book, the echo of voices from a distant era dictating a story that refused to stay hidden. I felt empathy with that kind of writing.

The love stories (both modern and ancient) were anything but corny; I found them very romantic and I also liked that Kearsley didn’t waste time describing the sex when given the magnetism between the protagonists it was implied that it was going to be off the charts. Kearsley kept it clean and classy and that’s another plus for this magnificent story.

I liked the happy-ish ending, though I would have been more than satisfied with the sad version as well. However, I found that the “happy” alternative wrapped things up very tidily as good stories are supposed to end.

In summary, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley is historical fiction at its best, drawing from a relatively unknown (at least for me) chapter of Scottish history. Though it’s at its core a love story defying death or time, it’s also a narration about political maneuvering and intrigue.

Strongly recommended!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (♦♦♦♦½)

During the height of the latest recession, newly-minted designer Clay Jannon loses his job in a start-up company and is forced to screen job postings looking for a new position. He finds it at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. His job comes with three requirements that are not to be agreed upon lightly. Jannon is assigned the night shift.

As days go by, Jannon starts wondering what kind of establishment is this bookstore in which hardly anyone buys anything. The clientele is unusual and the stock eclectic leaning towards the strange.

Soon Jannon’s friends come to visit the store and his curiosity is piqued to the point of embarking (unbeknownst to him) in a quest to discover the existence of a secret fellowship and a centuries-old mystery.

I loved Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. I had so much fun that lost my sleep during the three nights I was reading the novel and I can effectively say that I haven’t had as much fun with a book since…ever?! When I wasn’t laughing out loud I was smiling at least.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is populated by quirky characters and has an even quirkier storyline, original, unique. It sparkles with wit and intelligence and makes techie talk so simple that you won’t need a degree in computer science or programming to understand it. It is a nerd’s dream of a novel; it’s “so uncool that is cool again”, as Jannon is so fond of saying. Is it possible that I just found my newest favorite book?

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore covers many topics--such as the power of friendship and how people in relationships change for better or worse-- but the love for books and the amazing reach of what science and technology can accomplish… those themes recur and run deep within the fibers of this unique and sparkly story.

By the way, the book cover glows in the dark, if that is not cool I don’t know what is!

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (♦♦♦♦)

The lives of the journalists at an international English-language newspaper in Rome unfold before our very eyes through articles/vignettes.

The Imperfectionists consists of ten vignettes. It opens up with Lloyd's story, a journalist whose best days are long gone and hardly has enough money to pay rent. Then follows Arthur, a fifty-something year-old without much ambition who writes the obituaries, and whose father was a famous war correspondent. The third, fourth and fifth vignettes focus on relationships. First is Hardy’s, the woman who covers business at the paper and who finds herself entangled with a good-for-nothing boyfriend. Next is Herman’s, who has put his friend Jimmy on a pedestal since they were boys. Then follows Kathleen's story. Kathleen is the editor-in-chief. She has recently discovered that her husband has had an affair and feels less hurt than she should be.

Next is the story of Winston, a biology graduate student who has forsaken academia for journalism. Winston discovers that journalism is a cutthroat business with as much competition as it’s found in the animal kingdom. The following vignette is about Ruby, a thirty-something year-old who is lonely, hates her job and co-workers, and lives in constant thrill/fear of losing her job. Menzies’ story unfolds next. Craig Menzies is Kathleen’s deputy and news editor. Menzies lives with a younger woman who has abandoned her hobbies and occupations to take care of the house creating an inferiority complex accompanied by boredom. The following story is Ornella’s; Ornella is the mother of Kathleen’s ex and an assiduous reader of the newspaper. The last two stories focus one on Abbey--nicknamed “Accounts Payable”--, the woman in charge of cutting jobs at the paper, and the other on Oliver Ott, the grandson of the newspaper’s founder.

Along the lives of present day journalists and editorial staff, is the story of the newspaper founder in the late 1950s-1960 and the members of his family who inherited the paper.

The Imperfectionists is compelling, a tour-de-force writing; it grabs you and doesn't let go until the end. It’s a marvelous rendition of a world in extinction thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the internet. Every human emotion and feeling is perfectly cast through the lives of this ensemble. We get to see friendship, matrimony and family through various and colorful lenses. Loneliness and disgust for the lives they live are also prominent themes in the book, yet the characters feel compelled to keep everything as it is.

The Imperfectionists takes an unflinching look at relationships, personal and in the workforce. The result is neither optimistic nor pretty but real and raw nonetheless.

Favorite quotes:

“He opens the window, breathes in, presses his knees into the guardrail. The grandeur of Paris—its tallness and broadness and hardness and softness, its perfect symmetry, human will imposed on stone, on razored lawns, on the disobedient rose bushes—that Paris resides elsewhere. His own is smaller, containing himself, this window, the floorboards that creak across the hall.” Page 8

“If history has taught us anything, Arthur muses, it is that men with mustaches must never achieve positions of power.” Page 38

‘“Here is a fact: nothing in all civilization has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever its ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshipped by man.”’ Page 49

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen (♦♦♦)

Convent of Our Lady of Sorrows, Arcadia, New York, 1906-1907.

Seventeen year-old Mariette Baptiste enters the convent as a postulant to become a nun following in the steps of her blood sister Annette who is known as Mother Superior Celine. Mariette is pious, virtuous, and very pretty, which garners her general approval. As months pass by, Mariette integrates fully to the religious life, but soon after her first three months are up, tragedy strikes and Mariette starts experiencing preternatural phenomena such as having the injuries of Christ during the Crucifixion, otherwise known as stigmata...But is Mariette's ecstasy real or the product of a disturbed mind?

I liked Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen. The book is written beautifully, but in a non-traditional style, integrating descriptive passages with inquiries about the true nature of Mariette's experience as seen and understood by members of her religious order. I happen to think that Mariette's ecstasy was real even when I had moments of doubt. I understood completely the attitude of her convent mates towards her: some were in awe, infatuated even, while others felt envious and repelled.

Mariette in Ecstasy doesn't have a happy ending, at least a conventional one as we would like. It is the worst of human nature that prevails here as so often happens.

In summary, Mariette in Ecstasy is beautifully written if a little unconventional both in style and in topic, but the reader will be better off after immersing in Mariette's experience.