Book Reviews: Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon, The Innocence Game by Michael Harvey, and Beyond Confusion by Sheila Simonson

Drawing ConclusionsDrawing Conclusions
Donna Leon
Penguin/Grove, March 2012
ISBN: 978-01431-2064-3
Trade Paperback

Donna Leon has been writing the Guido Brunetti series for a very long time. Her talents as a thoughtful observer of relationships between humans, whether at a casual, professional, or personal level, have never been clearer. Fans of this author will find everything they expect in this mystery.

In her twentieth novel, in this series, Leon again examines age-old questions of morality, law, and some of the dilemmas posed by confrontations with people who do bad things from good intentions. As always, Commissario Brunetti strolls the streets and rides the canals of Venice, this most intriguing of European cities. As always the master manipulator of criminals and his own superiors and staff, applies a dab hand to probing and then solving the crime of murder—if that’s what it was.

When an elderly widow is found dead on her apartment floor, it appears she has died of heart failure. Indeed, there is considerable pressure on Brunetti to avoid trying to make a case of murder out of what mostly appears to be an accident. But until all the reports and all the evidence is in and carefully considered, Brunetti is unwilling to consign the death to a dusty file.

His persistence leads to all manner of ethically questionable acts, some by prominent and highly moral individuals. Written in her usual smooth and careful style, Leon poses a number of questions and again brings to calm and peaceful awareness, the life of this great city, and its past glories and world influence.

The careful and measured release of important information, Brunetti’s amusing and warm relationship with his wife and children, all here is artful competence. A wonderful story is successfully realized and is another star in the author’s pantheon.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The Innocence GameThe Innocence Game 
Michael Harvey
Alfred A. Knopf, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-96125-9
Hardcover

Three college graduates come together in a special seminar designed to teach them some of the fundamental tools of high-level investigative journalism. Under the tutelage of seminar leader, Pulitzer prize winner, Judy Zombrowski, they will examine cases in which there is a suspicion of serious error, error which may have resulted in serious miscarriage of justice.

The three students are Northwestern University graduates Sarah Gold and Ian Joyce, and brilliant University of Chicago Law School graduate, Jake Haven. Although the seminar plans to be a relatively calm and rational look at distance cases, from the relatively sane academic halls of Northwestern University in Evanston. But in short order, the question of the conviction of a deceased James Harrison, for the murder of a poor young runaway, becomes the central focus of the trio’s efforts, and the action sags south to Chicago.

Tautly written, the author masterfully develops the characters and relationships of the three students and at the same time releases more and more clues and other pieces of information that can, at times, be distracting. The author does not neglect the physical side of their investigation. A number of intriguing and powerful events embroil the students in activity that tests their mental and physical abilities.

The Innocence Game is a first class thriller replete with twists and surprises and a smashing climax. Readers interested in the uses and conditions of our modern legal system will find this novel a first class experience.

A free copy of the novel was supplied to me with no conditions attached.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Beyond ConfusionBeyond Confusion 
A Latouche County Library Mystery 
Sheila Simonson
Perseverance Press, April 2013
ISBN: 978-1-56474-519-4
Trade Paperback

This novel is a stunning achievement and this reader was drawn in immediately, although I confess I don’t fully grasp the meaning and connection of the title. Several things are clear from the very beginning. In the space of three pages is established the unique relationship between head librarian, Meg McLean and Undersheriff Robert Neill. They live together unmarried in the small rural community near the border between Washington and Oregon.

The Klalo band of Native Americans are an important part of a story that cleverly and skillfully combines an insouciant and wicked humor with penetrating and thoughtful insight into terrible and moving events that would shape the future of the community.

Meg McLean demonstrates, at times, an incisive understanding of her library staff and even of herself and her relationship with Neill. The author’s wit is evident throughout the novel, yet her restraint keeps this on track as a serious examination of personalities, and the way their disparate views influence the operation of the county library system. Ms. McLean is in specific and frequent conflict with one librarian, Marybeth Jackman, who persists in attempts to undermine her boss, not just inside the library, but among the community leaders and the general public as well.

Author Simonson brings in other influences, attitudes of off-shoot religious organizations, rebellious teenagers, and prejudices affecting relationships between the white and native communities. With considerable care and expertise she weaves a complex yet understandable emotional whole. I found this to be an enthralling and moving novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Blitz: The Holders by Julianna Scott

The Holders Blitz Banner

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Title: The Holders
Series: Holders #1
Author: Julianna Scott
Release Date: 03/05/2013
Genres: Young Adult, Dark Fantasy, Romance

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble     Amazon     AmazonUK     Chapters

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The HoldersSummary from Goodreads:

17-year-old Becca spent her whole life protecting her brother from, well, everything. The abandonment of their father, the so called ‘experts’ who insist that voices in his head are unnatural and must be dealt with, and the constant threat of being taken away to some hospital and studied like an animal. When two representatives appear claiming to have the answers to Ryland’s perceived problem, Becca doesn’t buy it for one second. That is until they seem to know things about Ryland and about Becca and Ryland’s family, that forces Becca to concede that there may be more to these people than meets the eye. Though still highly skeptical, Becca agrees to do what’s best for Ryland.

What they find at St. Brigid’s is a world beyond their imagination. Little by little they piece together the information of their family’s heritage, their estranged Father, and the legend of the Holder race that decrees Ryland is the one they’ve been waiting for. However, they are all–especially Becca–in for a surprise that will change what they thought they knew about themselves and their kind.

She meets Alex, a Holder who is fiercely loyal to their race, and for some reason, Becca and Ryland. There’s an attraction between Becca and Alex that can’t be denied, but her true nature seems destined to keep them apart. However, certain destinies may not be as clear cut as everyone has always believed them to be.

Becca is lost, but found at the same time. Can she bring herself to leave Ryland now that he’s settled and can clearly see his future? Will she be able to put the the feelings she has for Alex aside and head back to the US? And can Becca and Ryland ever forgive their father for what he’s done?

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An Excerpt from The Seers

Goodreads

The Seers“The second set is beginning,” Bastian continued, coolly offering me his hand. “May I have the pleasure?”

I paused only slightly and took a moment to listen carefully to the song wafting through the air, praying it was a meter I recognized and would be able to dance to. Silently I began to count. There were three beats per bar which meant three/four time. It was a waltz. A quick glance at the couples who were already dancing confirmed my assessment and the slight tension in my shoulders broke. I had this.

Jocelyn, however, was clearly not as confident in my dancing abilities as I was. “I’m sure Becca would be delighted,” he said suddenly, obviously feeling this situation demanded he step in, “but I’m not sure she realizes–”

“I would love to,” I interrupted, taking Bastian’s hand with a smile.

As he led me away from the group and onto the dance floor, I knew Jocelyn wasn’t happy with me, but I wasn’t worried. If he was afraid that I was about to embarrass myself by stumbling all over the dance floor, then he was going to be pleasantly surprised. If his fear was that I would probe Bastian about spying on me back in Pennsylvania, well… he was right. But just because I planned to dig, didn’t mean I couldn’t handle the situation tactfully.

Though, given my history, I couldn’t pretend that his fears were entirely unfounded…

Trying to ignore the fact that every single eye in the room was fixed on us as we crossed the it and took to the floor, I kept my head high, my smile easy, and my mind on the mission. I wasn’t going to let their whispers and pointed stares get to me this time, not now that I fully understood the sort of shady frauds I was dealing with. These people were as underhanded as they came and had been playing us for fools. And by the end of this dance I planned to be able to prove it.

When we reached an open space in the center of the dance floor, we stopped and turned to face one another. My heart began to kick my ribs a bit as we assumed the dance position and I saw all the other couples twirling around us like extras from a Rodgers and Hammerstein show. Reminding myself that it was just a waltz and that I was more than capable, I held my breath and waited for his lead, trying my best to look as calm and collected as he did. He glanced down at me to confirm I was ready, and a moment later we were gliding around the room like pros.

Or he was anyway.

I was doing my best to keep up, while also making sure not to let anyone realize I was having trouble. I had been prepared to waltz, and we were waltzing all right, but it wasn’t the traditional box step that I was used to. Apparently Bastian preferred open footwork, which involved larger steps and a lot more spinning, consequently making it much grander than its box cousin – and more difficult. Maybe this was how he always waltzed, or maybe he assumed that I wouldn’t be able to handle the more difficult style and would have to bow out, but either way I was determined to hold my own. The dance may have looked and felt different, but it was still a waltz, and that meant that the footwork was generally the same. My other saving grace was the fact that, while still a lying cad, Bastian was a very strong lead and wittingly or no he was making me look far better than I was. Uncle Joe would have been proud.

As we twirled around the perimeter of the dance floor I waited for him to say something. After all, he had to know that I’d recognized him, so it was only a matter of time before he came at me with something: an excuse, a test question, or maybe even a threat. But the longer I waited the more clear it became that he didn’t plan on saying anything… at all. It looked like he didn’t have anything to say. But that was fine… because I had plenty.

“Nothing to say this evening?” I asked, keeping my sarcasm – just barely – in check.

“Forgive me,” he replied after a moment, though there was a new aloof, almost bored air to his tone, “I am not myself tonight. You look lovely this evening, and are quite a… proficient dancer… for an American.”

“The dance?” I asked, gritting my teeth as I let his blatant insult go. “Is that really what you want to discuss?”

“We are dancing,” he said with a haughty inflection that made me want to stomp on his foot, “so it seemed an appropriate subject. Would you prefer the weather, or perhaps a commentary on the entertainment this evening?”

God, what an ass!

I hadn’t known him all that well in school, so I wasn’t sure if he was acting this way to try and repel me and my questions, or if “self-righteous dick” was just his natural state, but I was not about to be deterred. “I was thinking something more like Mr Sacklehide’s honors English class, or maybe Mrs Tatala’s Algebra 3,” I said innocently, listing a few of the classes we’d shared.

Certain I had him in a corner, I looked up at his face as I waited for him to respond, looking for the spark of panic in his eyes. Unfortunately, he must have been prepared for my veiled accusations, because all I got from his expression was confusion and a mild hint of annoyance. “Am I supposed to know what you are referring to?” he asked after he realized I was not going to expand.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure you do.”

“Then it would appear you are mistaken,” he replied casually, actually having the gall to roll his eyes.

So this is how it was going to go? Denials and lies? Playing dumb? Treating me like a pest wasting his precious time? Not a chance. If this asshole actually thought he was going to get away with this, he had no idea who he was dealing with – but he was about to find out.

Game on.

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About the Author

Julianna ScottJulianna was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and spent the majority of her educational career convinced she would be a musician. However, after receiving her music degree from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, she realized that she’d been born in the wrong era for her dreams of singing jazz to adoring fans clad in zoot-suits and flapper dresses to come true, and began to wonder if her true calling might be elsewhere.

While Julianna had always excelled in writing throughout school, she’d never considered it a career possibility until about three years ago, when she’d gotten her first story idea and decided to go for it. She grabbed her laptop, started typing away, and has never looked back.

Author Links:

Website  //  Goodreads  //  Twitter

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Pre-Order Gift:

As a special gift to anyone who pre-orders The Seers, we are giving away a
free e-book with several scenes from The Holders written from different
character’s points of view! All you have to do to get yours is pre-order The Seers,
then email your receipt or other proof of purchase to Julianna Scott at
juliannascottbooks@hotmail.com, and she will send you the e-novella
in the format of your choosing. That’s it! And if you have already pre-ordered
The Seers, not to worry! Send your receipt along, and you’ll get your copy too!

Pre-Order Links:

Barnes & Noble       Amazon       AmazonUK

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Praise for the Series:

“The twisty plot and swoony romance of The Seers kept me turning the
pages as I fell in love with Becca and Alex all over again.”
Trisha Wolfe, author of Fireblood

“It had a gripping plot, plenty of exciting twists and turns and some pretty
fantastic characters which all combined to keep me glued to the pages.”
A Dream of Books

“If this is any notion of what Julianna Scott can do, I cannot wait to see
what is next. The Holders was refreshing and just one heck of a good read.”
The Book Cellar

“I am so thankful this is only the beginning of a series because I couldn’t
imagine not being able to read a continuation of Becca’s story. The Holders
is a novel too entertaining and emotionally charged to pass up!”
Lovey Dovey Books

“There are a lot of other things to love about The Holders – a detailed
history and Celtic element come to mind – but it was really the
characters that sold this novel for me.”
More Than Just Magic

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