Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Stranger's Wife

The Stranger's Wife is a riveting psychological thriller with a surprise ending. It is the 3rd book in the Detective Dan Riley Series, a police procedural mystery. It reads easily as a stand alone novel and is the first book that I have read in the series. It was published on January 16, 2020.

Beth and Cath are leaving their husbands. One is wealthy and having an affair with a man who gives her the kind of love that her cold, detached husband does not. One is living hand to mouth, suffering at the hands of a violent partner who would rather see her dead than leave him. You may think you know these women already and how their lives will unfold.  Beth will live happily ever after with her little girl and her soulmate. Cath will go back to her abusive husband and these two women will never cross paths.  But you will be wrong.  On the 3:15 p.m. train from London to Bristol, Beth and Cath are about to meet and discover they share one shocking thing in common.

A clever plot and suspenseful writing make this novel a page turner.  I read it in about two and a half hours and loved every bit of it.  I thought that is was a pretty good read until I got to the ending.  I was not prepared for how the plot was resolved and was pleasantly surprised by how the loose ends were woven together.  The story alternates between the point of view of Beth, Cam and Dan Riley. Cam's story did not take off until the midway point but was essential to the plot.

This was a relaxing read and I am putting the earlier two novels in the series on my TBR list.  5 out of 5 stars.

The Lost Diary of Venice

I received an advanced reader's edition of The Lost Diary of Venice through Librarything in exchange for an honest review. To be honest, the premise for this novel was a good one. However, the author's writing did not equal her ambitious plan for her first novel.

The publisher's summary:

"In the wake of her father's death, Rose Newlin finds solace in her work as a book restorer. Then, one rainy Connecticut afternoon, a struggling painter appears at her door. William Lomazzo brings with him a sixteenth-century treatise on art, which Rose quickly identifies as a palimpsest: a document written over a hidden diary that had purposely been scraped away. Yet the restoration sparks an unforseen challenge: William-a married man-and Rose experience an instant, unspoken attraction. 
Five centuries earlier, Renaissance-era Venetians find themselves at the mercy of an encroaching Ottoman fleet, preparing for a bloody war. Giovanni Lomazzo, a portrait artist grappling with tragedy, discovers that his vision is fading with each passing day. Facing the possibility of a completely dark world, Gio begins to document his every encounter, including what might be his final artistic feat: a commission to paint the enchanting courtesan of one of Venice's most powerful military commanders. Soon, however, Gio finds himself enraptured by a magnificent forbidden love. 
Spellbound by Gino's revelations, Rose and William are soon forced to confront the reality of their ownmystifying connection."

Let me start my review with some comments on the publisher's summary.  The summary gives the impression that there is a lot of action in the novel.  There isn't. Author Margaux DeRoux used too many character internal thoughts in her writing than actual action or character development.  As an example, when Rose Newlin entered a library to do research, eight pages were used to get her to the area of the library where she needed to be.  During these eight pages Rose had a lot of thoughts. Too many thoughts. Then it took Rose three pages to sit in a chair, musing to herself about the setting of the library.  Rose finished this visit with 2 more pages speaking to a librarian. The novel then left this scene for another scene. The reader does not know what was in the book that Rose wanted to read in the library.

The novel was written with alternating stories between the present time and 500 years ago.  DeRoux wrote the historical story well. It was the only aspect of the book that kept me reading. Unfortunately, the style of writing was different than how she wrote the present day story.  The present day story was boring because the author used character thoughts 90% of the time.  Character thoughts should be used along with action, character development and narration.  DeRoux did not use character development, action or narration.  This is the book's fatal flaw.

It took me 10 days to read this 311 page book.  Normally I might read 10 books in this time period. I feel that I wasted the last 2 weeks of my time off from work due to the coronavirus shutdown. I begin working remotely next week.

I cannot give this book any rating.  It's a zero for me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Bridled Tongue

The Bridled Tongue was an enjoyable read but I was profoundly bothered by the fact that when a woman made a truthful statement that man could not bear to hear, she was viewed as having an unbridled tongue. There were numerous references in the plot. Each time I read one it stung my heart. I am soooo glad I did not live during those times. There were just as many men with "unbridled tongues" but they never paid a price for it. This unjustness bothered me enough to affect how much I liked the book.

The publisher's summary:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.  England 1586. Alyce Bradley has few choices when her father decides it is time she marry as many refuse to see her as other than the girl she once was - unruly, outspoken and close to her grandmother, a woman suspected of witchcraft.
Thomas Granville, an ambitious privateer, inspires fierce loyalty in those close to him and hatred in those he has crossed. Beyond a large dowry, he is seeking a virtuous and dutiful wife. Neither he nor Alyce expect more from marriage than mutual courtesy and respect. 
As the King of Spain launches his great armada and England braces for invasion, Alyce must confront closer dangers from both her own and Thomas's past, threats that could not only destroy her hopes of love and happiness but her life. And Thomas is powerless to help.

The real action in the book began at the midway point with the early part of the book setting up the plot. The author nailed it with her story idea on the dangers of the tongue. While showing both male and female characters with uncontrolled tongues, the historical fiction part of the story centered on an era when women were believed to be unable to tell the truth or were at least accused of not telling the truth.  It is not too different today than in the sixteenth century as women who accuse a man of rape are perceived to be liars by law enforcement and the courts. Our protagonist Alyce had learned to control her tongue during an 8 year stay with a family friend during her childhood. Her tongue, which she believed was bridled, was not believed to be bridled by enemies of her father and husband. Her enemies were interested in obtaining property belonging to both of them by making false accusations against her.  In addition, gossipers in her family and community added to her problems. They, too, had unbridled tongues but were perceived as being believable by men with monetary interests.

As I was reading, I thought that this shocking book would only rate 3 out of 5 stars. After reading the ending I saw that the plot was really about the dangers of the tongue and admired author Catherine Weyrick for putting together this exceptional plot. 5 out of 5 stars!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Seven Days

Seven Days is a spellbinding psychological thriller with a great plot premise.  Maggie has seven days to save her third son.  In seven days her son Max will turn 3 years old. However, she is not planning a birthday party for him. Instead she is dreading it because it means that she will lose her son.  For the last twelve years Maggie has been imprisoned in a basement after being abducted at the age of fifteen. After being raped repeatedly by her captor she gave birth to two sons before Max. Both of them were taken away by her captor on their third birthday. Not wanting this to happen again, Maggie needs to come up with a plan to save her son.

Seven Days is a superb read. It has an eerie atmosphere and along with its sense of urgency I could not put the book down. I devoured the book in one sitting. The suspense factor was huge. Each chapter ended with a chilling dilemma for Maggie and also for her family. The story alternates between Maggie in the basement and her family's search for her. If there is anything that might feel unbelievable it is that Maggie is still alive and is able to handle living for twelve years in a basement with no light. However, we know from the news media that this has happened in real life so it is believable.

I highly recommend this book for mystery fans.  5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Some Days are Dark

As a woman it's hard not to love a book that begins with "I was happy my husband died."  I loved this novel where the main character is accused of killing or trying to kill 2 husbands and another man who was supposedly helping her solve the second husband's death. Olivia Miller is a likable character who just happens to have no skills in picking friends. It's not her fault people around her die. It's their lifestyles, not hers.

The novel takes place in 2018 in Whitaker, TN and opens with Olivia being interviewed on a true crime TV station by the book's version of Nancy Grace. Interviewer Vanessa Hardgrave asks Olivia questions that were not agreed upon when they discussed Olivia appearing on the show. Vanessa then distorts Olivia's answers on subsequent programs where she discusses the death of Olivia's 2nd husband Dane Miller. The novel is written with chapters that alternate from before the murder and after the murder.

The publisher's summary:

Olivia knows she is lucky.  She has a loving husband, Frank, an adorable son, Jake, and a beautiful new home.  It couldn't be more different from her childhood on the outskirts of Whitaker, dirt poor and dreaming of getting out.  But at the end of long days with no one to talk to, always feeling like she's not quite good enough, she starts to wonder if there's a better life waiting... 
Everyone in Whitaker knows who Olivia is.  She's the woman who left her family for no-good Dane Miller, and the one who most likely shot him.  Now, there's gossip about her everywhere she goes, she's too scared to leave the house most days, and she barely gets to see her beloved son. 
But if the police and the world think she's guilty, there's only one thing she can do - prove her innocence herself.  Even if that means putting her own life in danger.

This was a gripping suspense novel that had me hooked from the first page. The opening line is one of the best that I have ever seen. There are a number of biting comments just like it so you know that the author is a woman. While the plot was packed with twists and turns, I chuckled throughout the book at the author's sarcastic commentary, through her characters, on the male species.  There is a modern flair to the story as well as Olivia becomes addicted to prescription pain killers after an injury in an automobile accident. She struggles to get through the pain of her boring life with the assistance of the pills.

It's amazing that this is Miranda Smith's first novel. I look forward to reading more from her.  5 out of 5 stars.

The Companion

The Companion takes place in New Hampshire in 1855 where Lucy Blunt revits the events that landed her on death row. Lucy is a young woman who has been thrown out of her home by her alcoholic father after the death of her mother and the death of her baby son. Her downfall began when she entered into service with the wealthy Burton family where she advanced from being a cook's assistant to being the mistress's maid. The balance of power in the home began to shift which set in motion Lucy's downfall.

I enjoyed this novel and could not stop reading it until I finished it.  The story alternates between Lucy's time working in the Burton home and being in prison waiting to hang. There was a Downton Abbey feel to the Burton home, especially with Cook's character. Known only as Cook, the home's cook yelled at Lucy often as Lucy learned how to be her assistant. Over time they became friends and worked well together. There is some nastiness between Lucy and Mrs. Burton's first maid Rebecca, just as you would see among the Downton Abbey characters.  While this is a historical fiction novel, it reads more like a psychological thriller, which is probably my favorite mystery sub-genre.

5 out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Girl From Lisbon

The Girl From Lisbon is the story of Dona Gracia Mendes, the wealthiest woman in Europe. She began life as a normal girl, the daughter of the king of Portugal's personal physician. She was raised as a Catholic as were all of her friends. However, on her twelfth birthday Dona Gracia was led down into the basement of her home by her mother. Here she learned the family's secret, they were Jews. Gracia began to investigate her Jewish roots and embraced this faith tradition.

This book is 95% dialogue. Each character speaks for 10-15 pages at a time, then there is one sentence of action (usually another character making a statement) and another 15 pages of dialogue. Sometime before the midway point I got tired of this approach to telling the story. Most of the dialogue is a narrative giving the backstory on how Jews have been treated over the centuries. While the backstory was interesting, using this much dialogue seemed to be patronizing.

A 2011 article in The Editor's Blog states that when there is too much dialogue there is no action. The characters need to stop talking and act. The plot should be progressing and the conflict escalating. The dialogue should not take over the story. A writer should alternate between scenes of nearly all action or all dialogue in order to create a balance between them. "Characters who don't shut up are just an annoying as real people who don't. And readers have little incentive to keep listening when there's no payoff. Keep readers interested by your choices; don't run them off." Here, there is too much dialogue from Gracia's mother and husband as they instruct her in the history of the Jews and, later, commerce. I felt that I was reading a play, not a book.

At the 70% point in the novel the dialogue was split up with some action. However, long dialogues continued, giving the reader information on Christopher Columbus and others. At the end of the book there is a 50 page dialogue.

The Girl From Lisbon began with a great plot premise. The reader is promised the story of a girl who married and became wealthy and powerful. However, in the book Gracia has not yet married her fiance. The plot premise did not occur until the author's Afterward.  I think Gracia was an interesting historical figure. Thus, I will probably read Michal Regev's novel on Gracia, Dona Gracia's Gold Pendant. It begins with her widowhood and rise to power.

1 out of 5 stars.

The Secret Messenger

The Secret Messenger takes place in Venice during WWII. It is the story of the Resistance in Venice and begins in 1934 with Stella Jilani and her grandfather's presence at a rally where Hitler appeared with Mussolini. The book alternates between the WWII era and the present.

The publisher's summary:

"The world is at war, and Stella Jilani is leading a double life. By day she works in the lion's den as a typist for the Reich; by night, she risks her life as a messenger for the Italian resistance. Against all odds, Stella must impart Nazi secrets, smuggle essential supplies and produce an underground newspaper on her beloved typewriter. But when German commander General Breugal becomes suspicious, it seems he will stop at nothing to find the mole, and Stella knows her future could be in jeopardy. 
Years later, Luisa Belmont finds a mysterious old typewriter in her attic. Determined to find out who it belonged to, Luisa delves into the past and uncovers a story of fierce love, unimaginable sacrifice and, ultimately, the worst kind of betrayal."

I LOVED The Secret Messenger but I am not sure why Luisa Belmont was necessary to the story. Her story did not feature much into the plot.  She was necessary for the denouement but perhaps the ending could have been told in another way and her character eliminated. Stella's double life was the main focus of the book and it was exciting to read about. Her romances added danger to a story that was already rife with danger. This is one fabulous novel that all historical fiction fans will love.

5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Lady's Ambition

The Lady's Ambition is the third book in the Royal Court Series written by Anne Bailey. It is the first book of hers that I have read. The novel covers the life of Margaret Douglas beginning with her marriage and ending with her death in 1570. Margaret is the daughter of a queen and the niece of Henry VIII and enjoys a privileged life as Henry caters to her needs and desires.  When he dies, Margaret begins to press for her rise to the throne by building a genealogy that proves her case. This genealogy only brings her numerous stays in the Tower as Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth feel threatened by her legitimate claim to the throne. Having married beneath her status for love, she spent most of her time trying to gain land that she believed she was entitled to and the lands that her husband was entitled to. Ambition drove her actions but a life full of personal loss kept her from achieving any of her goals.

This book did not grab my attention.  I was bored while reading and couldn't wait for it to end.  If the author had concentrated on one or two of Margaret's attempts to gain the throne and showed us in detail how she maneuvered, it may have been more interesting reading. The Lady's Ambition falls flat. There certainly is no mystery in the plot and Margaret's life is not fictionalized much.  The reader only gets the bullet points of her life.

2 out of 5 stars.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Last Train to Istanbul

I was late for the train (pun intended) in reading this 2013 historical novel about Turkish and non-Turkish Jews escaping Hitler's grasp. It takes place from 1941 through 1943. The story is based on the real life efforts of Turkish diplomats to save Jews from death.

The publisher's summary of the plots is as follows:

"As the daughter of one of Turkey's last Ottoman pashas, Selva could win the heart of any man in Ankara. Yet the spirited young beauty only has eyes for Rafael Alfandari, the handsome Jewish son of an esteemed court physician. In defiance of their families, they marry, fleeing to Paris to build a new life.  
But when the Nazi's invade France and begin rounding up Jews, the exiled lovers will learn that nothing - not war, not politics, not even religion - can break the bonds of family. For after they learn that Selva is but one of their fellow citizens trapped in France, a handful of brave Turkish diplomats hatch a plan to spirit the Alfarandis and hundreds of innocents, many of whom are Jewish, to safety. Together, they must traverse a war-torn continent, crossing enemy lines and risking everything in a desperate bid for freedom."

The story has a lot of tension.  There is the tension between Selva and her father, who refuses to forgive his Muslim daughter for marrying a Jew. However, the tension concerning the advancing Nazis into France is what drove most of the plot.  While the beginning of the story was interesting, it took me awhile to get into it.  Once Selva and Rafael decided they must flee France and return to Istanbul, the plot action ratcheted up and I could not stop reading until I finished the book. All of the Turks who were on the train fleeing Hitler were tense each moment that they were on the train. Those who were Jewish were additionally tense. They not only had to fear seeing Germn soldiers when pulling into each station on the way home, they also had to fear the German soldiers who were on board conducting random inspections of each passenger's papers. Any raised eyebrow, glance or wrong accent could give them away.

The story was educational. I had never before heard about the Turks saving Jews during WWII. The author made history come alive with her captivating writing. It did not seem like I was reading a history lesson but, in fact, I was. I also liked that the setting was inside Turkey. There are few historical fiction books that take place there and it was enjoyable to read about a new (to me) country. Another interesting feature was to see how the Jews viewed the advancement of the German army throughout Europe each time it happened. Each advancement was viewed a little differently and they could only guess whether or not they were in extreme danger and needed to flee. This is a viewpoint that I had never even thought about before reading this novel.

The Last Train to Istanbul is must reading not only for historical fiction fans but also for young adults. I think it would be beneficial for younger readers to see how Europeans felt when the German army began to take over their continent.  5 out of 5 stars!