Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review: Storm Glass by Jeff Wheeler

Storm Glass (Harbinger, Book #1)
by Jeff Wheeler
Release Date: June 19th 2018
2018 47North
Kindle Edition; 353 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503902329
ASIN: B077D62HN7
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary

Cettie Pratt is a waif doomed to the world below, until an admiral attempts to adopt her. But in her new home in the clouds, not everyone treats her as one of the family.

Sera Fitzempress is a princess born into power. She yearns to meet the orphan girl she has heard so much about, but her father deems the girl unworthy of his daughter’s curiosity.

Neither girl feels that she belongs. Each seeks to break free of imposed rules. Now, as Cettie dreams of living above and as Sera is drawn to the world below, they will follow the paths of their own choosing.
But both girls will be needed for the coming storm that threatens to overturn both their worlds.

My Thoughts
Storm Glass is the first novel is the Harbinger series, a planned five book series, and I really enjoyed it. The author has mentioned in some of his posts that he tried to create a more Dickensian world in this novel, and I think he has succeeded quite well.  What you have are the incredibly wealthy living on these suspended cities using some type of magic called the 'mysteries', while the rest of the population live in "The Fells', cities felled by incredible pollution and disease whereby most children don't survive to adulthood.  The entire world-building was quite incredible and I enjoyed it tremendously.

I am very familiar with Jeff Wheeler's work and he is very fastidious when it comes to world-building, often leaving the development of his characters and story until later books.  That's not to say there isn't any development in the first books of his series, it just doesn't seem to be a priority and I am okay with that as the world development is so great.  What you get are bits and pieces at a time and it is up to you to put them all together and that is something that I really like.  I can't stand it when an author goes on and on about stuff as if you can't figure things out on your own.  That being said, having read the Covenant of Muirwood series helped as well as I was familiar with certain things that I think readers who have not read those books might struggle with a bit.

The story is told in alternating story lines, one from Sera's and one from Cettie's.  I liked both of these characters, for different reasons, but I really loved their independence and their spunk.  Even though oth of these girls had difficulties in their lives, they kept plugging on and kept fighting.  Sera, the heir to the throne, struggled against a jealous father who wanted to be the only heir to the throne and saw Sera as a threat, keeping her a prisoner.  Cettie, raised in 'The Fells' and brought to the sky to live with an admiral's family, lived in constant fear of being sent back through no fault of her own.  Although these girls do not actually meet in this story, you know they eventually will, and the how and why was its own anticipation.  

Even though the character development was not overly strong, there was enough there to get a good sense of them; there was a great variety and I liked all of them, even the quirky and odd ones.  You even met a few odd ones for a few minutes knowing they will probably play greater roles in future books and I can't wait to see how some of those secondary plot lines will unfold.  There was a lot of interesting subplots going on and you really had to pay attention to catch them all.

The author writes with a light, engaging manner that quickly draws you in; I pretty much read the whole book in one sitting.  I've learned as I've read his books not to discount any trivial detail as it usually means something later on so I pay close attention to everything now. 

Verdict
Storm Glass is a great entry to a new series and I am so glad I had the chance to read this.  The world-building was very interesting and I am so glad there is a connection to previous series.  I enjoyed the characters and look forward to seeing how they develop and what they do.  Another intricately woven book, and highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Review: The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller by Cleo Coyle



The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller (Haunted Bookshop Mystery, Book #6)
by Cleo Coyle
Release Date: September 25th 2018
2018 Berkley
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0425237458
ASIN: B078VX9SNF
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher / Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours

4/5 Stars

Summary
Bookshop owner Penelope Thornton-McClure didn't believe in ghosts, until she was haunted by the hard-boiled spirit of 1940s private investigator Jack Shepard. Now Jack is back on the job, and Pen is eternally grateful...

After an elegant new customer has a breakdown in her shop, Penelope suspects there is something bogus behind the biggest bestseller of the year. This popular potboiler is so hot that folks in her tiny Rhode Island town are dying to read it--literally. First one customer turns up dead, followed by another mysterious fatality connected to the book, which Pen discovers is more than just fiction. Now, with the help of her gumshoe ghost, Pen must solve the real-life cold case behind the bogus bestseller before the killer closes the book on her.


My Thoughts
The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller is the sixth book in the Haunted Bookshop Mystery series, and is quite a long-anticipated book considering the last one came out around 2009. I had been a big fan of the series, but admittedly lost interest when I saw there was no further book in sight so I literally jumped at the chance to read this when I saw it.  Then I wondered if I had to read the other ones again in order to remind myself of the characters and events, slightly panicked as I really did not have the time, but once I started the book, realized I didn't have to do that.  The author made it really easy to slip back into Penny and Sadie's world and I truly enjoyed that fact and the book.

Penelope, Sadie, Jack, Spencer, Seymour, and Eddie are definitely back for another great adventure and I really felt like I slipped into their world so easily, despite it being almost ten years.  Jack, by the way, is a ghost who is attached to Penelope (a tale told in another book) and I have always loved his 1940s slang and way of looking at things.  I always imagined he has this really sexy voice to go with his looks (he is able to take Pen to his time in her dreams), and love the scenes when he is around. He also has a unique perspective which helps her look at things differently from how she would see them.  I often wondered what the author would do with Jack though if and when Pen finds someone and develops a new relationship.  I think it would be awkward to have Jack in the background making comments during the more intimate moments, you know?  What I really enjoy about the characters however, is the way they treat each other.  It's not one of those novels where the police are put down or seen as not doing their jobs and I rather like that, but I could have done without the cliche Chief Ciders.  There is little sneaking into things, but people finding out information through random events which make it seem more realistic.  I definitely enjoyed Seymour a lot more in this one and thought his character was funny and interesting.  I would love to see a lot more development for him as I think there is a lot going for him.

I really enjoyed the events in this novel, even if I found the mystery easy to solve and pretty much knew who the murderer was almost from the beginning.  But it was definitely fun watching Pen and Seymour sort through the clues trying to figure out who the author of the bogus bestseller was as well as who was the murderer.  The author has such an engaging writing style that knowing who did it didn't really matter (which is why I love her Coffeehouse Mystery series so much); I was just along for the ride and the entertainment.  That being said, I don't want to downplay the mystery as it was complex and full of twists and turns. I also liked how Jack's past cases connected with the current one - so neatly done.  

Verdict
The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller was a great new addition to the series and I really hope there are more coming our way and we don't have to wait almost ten years before the next one.  Because it's been so long between books, I don't think it really matters if you've read the previous books or not, although you might want to read them just because.  I like the relationship Penelope has with Jack and love the trick of Pen carrying a token from Jack's past which enables him to leave the bookshop with her.  It's a neat little twist that opens so many doors and continues to make this series so successful.

About the Author

 Cleo Coyle is a pseudonym for Alice Alfonsi, writing in collaboration with her husband, Marc Cerasini. Both are New York Times bestselling authors of the Coffeehouse Mysteries–now celebrating nearly fifteen years in print. They also write the nationally bestselling Haunted Bookshop Mysteries, which were originally published under their second pseudonym, Alice Kimberly (The Ghost and Mrs. McClureThe Ghost and the Dead DebThe Ghost and the Dead Man’s LibraryThe Ghost and the Femme FataleThe Ghost and the Haunted Mansion). Alice has worked as a journalist in Washington, DC, and New York, and has written popular fiction for adults and children. A former magazine editor, Marc has authored espionage thrillers and nonfiction for adults and children. Alice and Marc are also bestselling media tie-in writers who have penned properties for Lucasfilm, NBC, Fox, Disney, Imagine, and MGM. They live and work in New York City, where they write independently and together. You can learn more about Cleo, her husband, and the books they write by visiting www.CoffeehouseMystery.com.

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Review: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

An Unwanted Guest
by Shari Lapena
Release Date: August 7th 2018
2018 Pamela Dorman Books
Kindle Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978- 0525557623

Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
It's winter in the Catskills and Mitchell's Inn, nestled deep in the woods, is the perfect setting for a relaxing--maybe even romantic--weekend away. It boasts spacious old rooms with huge woodburning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar, and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up with a good murder mystery.

So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off the electricity--and all contact with the outside world--the guests settle in for the long haul.

Soon, though, one of the guests turns up dead--it looks like an accident. But when a second guest dies, they start to panic.

Within the snowed-in paradise, something--or someone--is picking off the guests one by one. And there's nothing they can do but hunker down and hope they can survive the storm.


My Thoughts
An Unwanted Guest is one of those books that I tried really, really, really hard to like, and it did have some good elements to it, but in the end, just didn't. I stuck with it because I was curious to see if I was correct with regards to the ending, but I kind of wished I had chosen another book to read instead of this one.

What attracted me to the book was the setting.  I tend to be a sucker for story lines set in conditions such as this: snow storm, isolated hotel, guests who are supposed to be strangers, mystery, secrets, and complications.  And because I have read so many books with this premise, I think I expect a lot from an author - the premier book obviously being that by Agatha Christie, whom I think the author tried to emulate.  Unfortunately, I don't think anyone should try to emulate Christie as they just won't succeed; they need to find their own formula and make it work for them.  And this author tried to make it 'Christie'-like and it just didn't work.  

The guests start dropping off one by one and with the power off, no one can call the police or ask for intervention of any kind.  Soon the guests realize (hello?) that it must be one of them so they decide they must stick together in order to prevent the murderer from having an opportunity and to prevent anyone else from dying.  Naturally, they all become quite bored staying in the living room as there's nothing to do other than drink and talk, but how do you talk to someone you think may be a killer?  

The biggest problem for me with this book was the multiple POVs.  Typically, I don't tend to have a problem with that, but it just didn't seem to work in this one and made everyone so removed from each other, and from the reader.  I got to the point where I didn't care who died and who didn't.  In fact, I didn't really care for any of the characters, except maybe David, as he was the most interesting one, and even that is stretching it.  Beverly and Henry? I just wanted to bang my head against the wall every time their POV came up.  And Riley? It made me seriously wonder how much the author knew about people with PTSD. I feel bad but I just couldn't feel anything for any of these characters and I really feel that it was because of the way the book was written. 

There was a lot of internal monologue from the different characters and you did get to find out some of their backstories because of this but I'm not really sure I liked the way it was done, not in a murder mystery story.  Not enough time was spent on the actual mystery and I feel like so much time was spent on the author trying to give us these backstories so we could figure out who the murderer was but all it did was distract from the story.  And I didn't care for the ending at all. Not one bit.

Verdict
An Unwanted Guest is one of those books that should have been right up my alley but really didn't do anything for me.  I actually grew frustrated as I read and thought about giving up about three-quarters of the way in.  I should have.  It was a quick read though, for which I'm grateful, but I just didn't like the story or the characters and I definitely didn't like the ending.  I really wish it could have been otherwise as I love stuff like this and the atmosphere was great.  I really feel that you should judge this one for yourself though. This is the second book I've read by this author and neither book has been favourable for me so I don't think I would read another one by this author.  I feel badly about it, but that's the way it is. I am really glad that so many other people enjoyed this novel and appreciated it, but I am not one of them.



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review: Letters From the Dead by Steve Robinson

Letters From the Dead (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery, Book #7)
by Steve Robinson
Release Date: August 14th 2018
2018 Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition; 348 Pages
ISBN: 978-1503903104
ASIN: B079L5GZXK
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary

When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to prove the identity of a black sheep in his client’s family tree, he unwillingly finds himself drawn into a murder investigation with nothing more to go on than a 150-year-old letter and a connection to a legendary ruby that has been missing for generations.

As more letters are mysteriously left for him, Tayte becomes immersed in a centuries-old tale of greed, murder and forbidden love that takes his research from the wilds of the Scottish Highlands to the colour and heat of colonial India.

A dark secret is buried in Jaipur, steeped in treachery and scandal. But why is it having such deadly repercussions in the present? Can Tayte find the ruby and prevent the past from repeating itself before it’s too late?

My Thoughts
Letters From the Dead is the seventh book in the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery series and is rather intriguing; Tayte accepts an invitation to research the lineage of a client's patriarchal line, but must go to Scotland and reside in an old castle in order to do so as all of the family's papers and research history resides there.  Naturally, put the words 'old castle' and 'mystery' together and you've already got me hooked as I love that kind of thing.

The story is actually told in two alternating story lines; one in the present featuring Tayte, his research, and the current mystery and then you have the second story line taking place in the early 1800s in India, the story behind the letters that Tayte kept receiving in order to help with his research.  I love alternating story lines, if they're done well, and these two meshed seamlessly, woven into the story quite brilliantly.  I don't want to mention how as it is part of the mystery of the story, but it worked rather well and I enjoyed the way it was done.  While the story line from India was rather predictable and easy to figure out, it was still enjoyable.  It was the present story line, featuring Tayte, that I thought was predictable, but turned out to have one rather huge twist that actually caught me off guard, pleasantly so.  I love it when an author can do that to a reader.  

As always, Tayte is a favourite of mine and I have enjoyed his personality and character through all of the books, including this one.  He is married now, with a child, which adds a different element to his life, although neither really featured much in this novel.  Sinclair, the owner of the castle, was a bit mysterious, but was an enjoyable character, one I had a hard time figuring out.  But it was Murray, the live-in companion/helper/do-it-all person to Sinclair that I really enjoyed.  He was mysterious, but in a nice way, and I really enjoyed his personality and his quirks.  I understood how Tayte became suspicious of both of them during his investigation, and became rather guarded in the information he shared; he did have to protect himself, after all.  It just added another element to the story and made it that much more interesting.  After all, who do you trust when there is a big ruby in the mix of the investigation and people keep getting murdered around you?  I think I would have felt the same way as Tayte.

Verdict
Letters From the Dead was another enjoyable entry to this series.  The book was dramatic, there was a rather intriguing puzzle to solve with clues left for Tayte in rather mysterious circumstances, intriguing and likeable characters, and a double story line that I rather liked. As always, the author has a way of drawing you in to the story and I stayed up way too late finishing this book.  To be honest though, compared to the other books in the series, I did think it was one of the weaker ones, but that didn't make it less enjoyable.  And while it could be read on its own, I do recommend you start at the beginning just to get an idea of why Tayte is in the position he is in as it is not explained but assumed.  I recommend the series to anyone who is interested in genealogical mysteries.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: The King's Justice by E.M. Powell

The King's Justice (Stanton & Barling, Book #1)
by E.M. Powell
Release Date: June 1st 2018
2018 Thomas & Mercer
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-1542046015
ASIN:B075CMDH17
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
England, 1176. Aelred Barling, esteemed clerk to the justices of King Henry II, is dispatched from the royal court with his young assistant, Hugo Stanton, to investigate a brutal murder in a village outside York.

The case appears straightforward. A suspect is under lock and key in the local prison, and the angry villagers are demanding swift justice. But when more bodies are discovered, certainty turns to doubt—and amid the chaos it becomes clear that nobody is above suspicion.

Facing growing unrest in the village and the fury of the lord of the manor, Stanton and Barling find themselves drawn into a mystery that defies logic, pursuing a killer who evades capture at every turn.


My Thoughts
The King's Justice is the first book in the Stanton & Barling mystery series, and it was definitely not what I was expecting.  I think I was expecting a grander historical novel, with more historical figures, but it was much better than that as the story took us to a simple village and a murder that took place there, but the reader also got a glimpse into what life was like during this time period so I found it really interesting.  Much better than if it was about the famous historical figures.  

Whatever you may say or think about Henry II, and there is a lot of to say about him as he was well-know for his temper and bullying behaviour, he definitely accomplished a lot during his reign, one major accomplishment being the establishment of the new English judicial system, which included courts and prisons, and some very strict rules.  While some of the rules are not something we would see today, thank goodness, many of them did acknowledge the role of the Church in their lives and often left final decisions to God.  So, throwing a trussed up person into a deep pit full of dirty water to see if he floats or drowns is one of the ways matters were decided back then; if one floats, he is guilty and is immediately hung, if he sinks, he often drowns but is declared innocent.  

First of all, the main characters, Barling and Stanton, are still dealing with previous traumas with definitely have an impact on their lives in this novel as well as some of the choices they make. Stanton appears in The Blood of the Fifth Knight so I was already familiar with his story and understood his anger toward Henry II.  It doesn't really impact the story here though, but if you're interested that is where you'll find his story. I loved Barling and really enjoyed his more serious mien; hints of his background were given several times but no explanations were given at this time. 

What is hard when reading a historical novel such as this is placing oneself during the time period and not trying to relate it to our modern time period when things are so, so, so different.  While Stanton abhorred the cruelty that was often seen, a lot of it had to do with his background and not necessarily because he was against the cruelty itself having grown up with it - understand?  People relied on their lord to keep them safe so if their lord was cruel or whatever, their protection was gone and they suffered horribly.  And in order to keep the peace, the consequences of breaking the rules was usually quite severe, creating a culture of fear.  So it's not surprising that Stanton would have difficulty getting information during the investigation and would have to earn the people's trust as some of the secrets could get those people into a lot of trouble.

The story itself was very interesting, with lots of twists and turns, some of which I didn't see coming.  I thought the characters were quirky and each had an interesting tale to share, trying to make it through life despite the difficulties they faced.  The Lord was okay, but definitely not fully trustworthy, selfish and always looking out for his own interests.  I really enjoyed both Stanton and Barling as a team and thought they worked very well together, with Barling mellowing quite a bit throughout the story, and Stanton showing that he had some backbone and some insights that would help the investigation.  The pacing was really good and who I thought was the murderer was way off, which surprised and pleased me as I don't get surprised very often.  The only thing that kind of bothered me was the ending; the author kind of switched formats towards the end as if she didn't the reader to be able to figure things out on their own and that bothered me a little bit.  Having everything laid out for you is not always the way to go - I like figuring things out for myself.

Verdict
The King's Justice was a solid book that was both entertaining and enjoyable.  While there were quite a few twists and turns, sometimes I felt there were too many and I thought for a while the story was going to get out of hand and run away.  Luckily the author managed to reign it in and pull everything together.  Barling and Stanton are a solid team and I am looking forward to seeing how they work together in the future and develop this fledging relationship they have started.  It should be interesting to see how much trust they develop in one another and whether it will be enough to share their secrets.  The King's Justice is much more than a historical mystery and you get quite a good sense of the time period and what it was like to live under the reign of Henry II.  I am definitely looking forward to reading the next book in this series, The Monastery Murders, coming September 27th.
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review: The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway, Book #10)
by Elly Griffiths
Release Date: May 15th 2018
2018 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Kindle Edition; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-0544750326
ASIN: B073XC4HTN
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
Dr Ruth Galloway is flattered when she receives a letter from Italian archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He's discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village but doesn't know what to make of them. It's years since Ruth has had a holiday, and even a working holiday to Italy is very welcome!


So Ruth travels to Fontana Liri, accompanied by her daughter Kate and friend Shona. In the town she finds a medieval shrine and a dark secret involving the war years and the Resistance. To her amazement she also finds Harry Nelson, who is enduring a terrible holiday at a resort nearby. But there is no time to overcome their mutual shock - the ancient bones spark a modern murder, and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Fontana Liri that someone would kill to protect.

My Thoughts
The Dark Angel is the tenth book in the Ruth Galloway series, and while I enjoyed the development of the characters and some of the story line, I wasn't overly crazy about the mystery and the archaeological part was not up to this author's usual standards.  I tend to have a love/hate relationship with these books anyways, some I absolutely adore, and others, well...enough said.  For me, while I loved the setting and thought the characters were quite quirky and interesting, the story just didn't draw me in like it usually does, and Nelson kind of drove me crazy as well.

First of all, what I have always liked in these books is the character development.  All of the characters are usually quite interesting and have their personal quirks which I really, really like.  Sometimes, it can be taken a bit too far, and as a reader, you just go, REALLY?, but you move on and try to accept it.  I'm not quite sure how Ruth and Shona are best friends though, as they really don't seem to have a lot in common, and sometimes I think the author just includes Shona so that Ruth has a babysitter at her convenience to fit the story line.  The author does use Shona quite a bit to point out Ruth's so-called deficiencies and I really wish she would just let that go already.  I think there are better ways to mention that Ruth feels self-conscious without constantly comparing her to Shona.  Besides, I think it sends a bad message to women who are trying to feel comfortable in their own skin and to accept who they are.

While I liked the story line, this is a mystery novel and the actual mystery doesn't start until halfway through the book.  The rest is really just an interesting story about Ruth vacationing in Italy on the pretense of looking at some old bones, but except for one scene, there is very little mention of the bones and what is happening with them.  It is simply a set-up for another mystery that goes back decades, involves half the town, and is really about the fact that even small towns have deadly secrets they don't want revealed.  That being said, most of the story is about Ruth going to the beach, to the pool, to a party, or watching a Disney DVD with the children, or even about the food.

The mystery itself is about a priest who is murdered and Ruth just happens to be the person who finds the body.  Nelson has no jurisdiction in Italy (yes, he shows up there, in the lamest excuse in the world) and tries to help out.  But there is really no investigation as the Italian police manage quite fine on their own.  There really wasn't enough to keep my interest, and I found myself drifting a few times while reading.  As for Nelson, this little menage-a-trois really needs to go into the past and stay there as its getting old fast.  First of all, I didn't really liked Nelson's attitude when he discovered that Ruth had taken Kate to Italy without telling him. No offense, but he's still married to Michelle and really has to rights when it comes to Ruth and telling her what to do especially as she has full custody. Second, the little love interest with Michelle is also getting old.  All of these people are cheating on each other and the story just goes on an on in each book.  However, I did not see one resolution to the convoluted love lives of these people coming and I am wondering where the author will take this next.  Hopefully, it won't take another five books to sort it out though.

Verdict
The Dark Angel is one of those books where I was so disappointed in the lack of archaeology as well as the lack of historical information.  I would have liked to have known more about Angelo's grandfather's role in the Resistance and Samir, the most interesting character, was left with the weakest story line.  Now that would have been some interesting stuff.  The whole Italian story line just kind of bombed for me and I wasn't overly impressed.  I love Ruth, but I do think the author needs to really think about where she is headed and what she wants to focus on; I think there is too much focus on the convoluted love affairs of these people and she has lost track of what is really interesting in these books, the intriguing archaeological mysteries.  I really hope these last couple of books were just little bumps in the road or I really think the next one, if it's like this one, will probably be my last, which is so sad.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Review: The Other Woman by Daniel Silva

The Other Woman (Gabriel Allon, Book #18)
by Daniel Silva
Release Date: July 17th 2018
2018 Harper
Kindle Edition; 497 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062834829
ASIN: B0739Z4XJ9
Genre: Fiction / Thriller
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
She was his best-kept secret …
In an isolated village in the mountains of Andalusia, a mysterious Frenchwoman begins work on a dangerous memoir. It is the story of a man she once loved in the Beirut of old, and a child taken from her in treason’s name. The woman is the keeper of the Kremlin’s most closely guarded secret. Long ago, the KGB inserted a mole into the heart of the West—a mole who stands on the doorstep of ultimate power.

Only one man can unravel the conspiracy: Gabriel Allon, the legendary art restorer and assassin who serves as the chief of Israel’s vaunted secret intelligence service. Gabriel has battled the dark forces of the new Russia before, at great personal cost. Now he and the Russians will engage in a final epic showdown, with the fate of the postwar global order hanging in the balance.

Gabriel is lured into the hunt for the traitor after his most important asset inside Russian intelligence is brutally assassinated while trying to defect in Vienna. His quest for the truth will lead him backward in time, to the twentieth century’s greatest act of treason, and, finally, to a spellbinding climax along the banks of the Potomac River outside Washington that will leave readers breathless.

My Thoughts
The Other Woman is the eighteenth book in the Gabriel Allon series and while it was good, it didn't have that 'edge of your seat' feeling that most of his books tend to have.  What I really felt is that it was a filler, like a second book in a trilogy, where there was action, but it was really building for the next book in the series and setting itself up for some explosive and interesting moments in the next book.  So, while I did find it interesting, I did find it a lot more predictable than usual and I thought the plot was a bit too easy to figure out; gone was the intricately plotted action of previous novels and this did leave me a bit disappointed in the end. And while I might be in the minority here, I have read every Gabriel Allon book, and loved them, but there was just something missing in this one. 

First of all, this book focuses a lot more on what I would simply call  the spy trade rather than action.  During a rather sensitive operation, Allon has discovered there is a Russian mole in M16 and is working rather closely with his British counterpart in order to discover who it is.  Because of the way the story is told, or just because, it was rather easy to figure out who it was, despite the red herrings and other twists that were set up in the story.  This is the first time where I thought the twists and turns were rather weak as usually I have no idea what is going on in these books and it takes me a while to figure things out.  Knowing who it was early on kind of spoiled it for me.   I also wondered why Allon, being in a management position, would be able to just up and leave the way he did in order to be central to all the action.  I would think his underlings would object to him doing their jobs. As head of Israeli Intelligence, you would think that he wouldn't just be able to head off wherever and whenever he wanted to; plus, he would just be too visible.  I think it gets to the point where the author needs to figure out exactly what role he wants Allon to play, super spy or head of intelligence, but he can't really do both.  Personally, I wouldn't have a problem with some of the secondary characters being given more leading roles as there are definitely some interesting people who work for Allon who could be given a chance at some character development.  And it wouldn't ruin the stories at all because Allon could still be a main part while running his empire from the background, using his remarkable talents in different ways.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this book was the writing.  As always, the author has a way of drawing in the reader and making them feel like they are part of the action.  While some of the story line is flat, the premise is interesting and it definitely sets up future books as there is no doubt the main issue is now going to be Israel against Russia.  And while Kim Philby's life was certainly interesting I think the way he was introduced into the story kind of disrupted the events and stalled them.  I wonder if there was a better way of discussing Philby and the Cambridge Five or maybe just assuming that people who read these types of novels already know who they are.  I'm not really sure what the solution would be, but I do know that it kind of felt off in the novel and didn't quite fit into the story line the way it was written.  Or maybe it was just me.  I also didn't care a lot for the person who was the mole as I felt they weren't all that dynamic or interesting; I certainly hope the author will develop their character and make them more dangerous or something. 

Verdict
The Other Woman was interesting and the action was pretty straight forward, right from the start.  To be honest, I found it rather formulaic and rather predictable, but I like the author's way of writing and was drawn into the events right away.  It was only afterwards that I realized how predictable it was; the mole was easy to figure out, once I heard the name Kim Philby I knew what the story line was going to be, and it just felt flat.  I also had a hard time imagining Allon being able to do what he did without a lot of backlash, some of which he did receive from his prime minister, as head of intelligence.  While in these novels you can expect some rules to be bent, the suspension of reality can only go so far.  I usually love these novels, but I did feel as if it was a set up for future novels and I am curious to see what happens next which is why I will continue to read these books. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Review & Giveaway: The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner

 

The Romanov Empress
by C.W. Gortner
Release Date: July 10th 2018
2018 Ballantine Books
Kindle Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-0425286180
ASIN: B076GQKBCD
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from HF Virtual Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Narrated by the mother of Russia’s last tsar, this vivid, historically authentic novel brings to life the courageous story of Maria Feodorovna, one of Imperial Russia’s most compelling women who witnessed the splendor and tragic downfall of the Romanovs as she fought to save her dynasty in the final years of its long reign.
                 
Barely nineteen, Minnie knows that her station in life as a Danish princess is to leave her family and enter into a royal marriage—as her older sister Alix has done, moving to  England to wed Queen Victoria’s eldest son. The winds of fortune bring Minnie to Russia, where she marries the Romanov heir and becomes empress once he ascends the throne. When resistance to his reign strikes at the heart of her family and the tsar sets out to crush all who oppose him, Minnie—now called Maria—must tread a perilous path of compromise in a country she has come to love.
                 
Her husband’s death leaves their son Nicholas as the inexperienced ruler of a deeply divided and crumbling empire. Determined to guide him to reforms that will bring Russia into the modern age, Maria faces implacable opposition from Nicholas’s strong-willed wife, Alexandra, whose fervor has lead her into a disturbing relationship with a mystic named Rasputin. As the unstoppable wave of revolution rises anew to engulf Russia, Maria will face her most dangerous challenge and her greatest heartache.


My Thoughts
The Romanov Empress is definitely one of the best books by this author I have read and I have read all of them.  And although I've usually enjoyed them, this one had that certain something that really made you empathize with the main character and although I was quite familiar with her story, it gave me a new perspective as to what she must have gone through and the agonizing decisions she would have had to make.  And the regrets she would have had to live with.  

Born as a Danish princess, Minnie has known her entire life that she was destined to marry into royalty and do her duty to her family and to the crown.  However, Minnie's upbringing was rather chaste and poor, having little money and learning to mend her own clothing and cook her own food, so the splendours of Imperial Russia literally blew her away.  But so too did the extravagance of the royal family who lived very opulent and luxurious lives, barely registering the poor who suffered under terrible and tragic circumstances.  When Minnie first arrived in Russia, the emancipation of the serfs had already occurred but few really saw their suffering or realized that more needed to be done for them.  Minnie spent her life trying to help them and trying to make first her father-in-law see their plight, then her husband.  While Alexander II seemed to be more willing to listen to ideas about things that could be done to help, Minnie's husband Sasha, who would eventually become Alexander III, seemed not to hear her pleas or her advice.  I can't imagine what it would be like to live in fear everyday knowing that something bad could happen simply because those in power refused to really see what was happening around them while Minnie could see but was helpless to do anything.  It wasn't that she didn't adopt an extravagant lifestyle herself as there was mention of the cost of her gowns and how much she spent for her parties and galas, but she certainly went out of her way to endorse her charities and worked hard at ensuring they were properly funded, even becoming a nurse herself so she could properly tend to those afflicted while having the knowledge to do so.  That little bit of information I didn't know, so I was glad to discover that.  

It was definitely the relationship between Minnie and her daughter-in-law Alexandra that interested me the most however, considering that she was partly to blame for the fall of Imperial Russia.  The author wrote this from the women's perspective and the toll that Alexei's illness had on all of them, including Alexei himself who chafed at his limitations, but also at the effect it had on politics and what was happening around them.  Minnie developed from a timid teenager to a bold and strong woman, but even she was stumped at the antics of her son and wife and you can just feel her desperation as she tried to keep her family together and alive during those turbulent last years.  What I really loved was the family dynamics and drama as well as the relationships between all of them as they tried to keep themselves alive during the Revolution and afterwards.  I have to admit, trying to picture any of them gardening was difficult as most of them had probably never even poured tea for themselves, never mind digging in the dirt and cultivating vegetables.  

Verdict
The Romanov Empress is definitely a compelling fictional look at a woman who lived through some very turbulent times, who suffered some very great losses, yet through it all retained her dignity, her strength, and her courage.  While she definitely couldn't have seen the future, through her personal letters and diaries, she definitely was worried about what was to come and spent many years counseling her husband and son, warming both of them to be careful.  I don't know if the full horror of those last years, or the Rasputin years, really came through in this book, but enough did to make you understand how difficult life must have been for the aristocracy at the end.  However, living in a bubble the way some of them did made them vulnerable to what happened; perhaps they should have paid a bit more attention to their history lessons. Minnie's life was certainly not your average life, nor was her family the average family, but she certainly lived in interesting times, met some really interesting people, and lived a very full life, full of love as well as heartache.  It is clear the author did a lot of research for this book and really brought to life this time period that I adore.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a good story as well as historical fiction. 

Giveaway

Romanov Empress