Book Reviews: The Bid by Adrian Magson and Jacqueline by Jackie Minniti

the-bidThe Bid
A Cruxys Solutions Investigation #2
Adrian Magson
Midnight Ink Books, January 2017
ISBN: 978073875043
Trade Paperback

Modern warfare is a featured bit player in this novel of suspense. The story opens a window on a rich theme of warfare and crime in the coming twenty-first century and beyond. Indeed, one of the problems with the novel is the number of possibilities it raises for both criminals and law enforcement.

The target is no less than the President of the United States and the process of funding and carrying out the assassination is a clever idea rooted in very modern financial life. The author, an experienced British crime-novelist, has written over a dozen thrillers, most would be classed as spy or conspiracy thrillers. The action is tension-filled, mostly consistent and relentless. The writing is top-notch, the characters are mostly interesting and/or intriguing and the settings are appropriate.

A business consultant with operations in the US and overseas has a specialized insurance contract on his life. If he goes missing for a short period of time, unusually trained operatives go active, searching for the client and setting up protection for the client’s family. It sounds expensive and I wanted more explanation of the basis for the character, James Chadwick, to buy what must have been an expensive policy. The policy is administered by a company called Cruxys. This interesting security policy allows the writer to introduce a pair of company operatives who soon fly off to the US where most of the action takes place.

Over several chapters we learn that the company seekers, Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vasilk, have unusual and relevant training and employment backgrounds, including the ability to take lives when necessary to protect their employer and themselves. It is easy to see the range of possibilities for this free-wheeling pair to get into trouble and to rescue clients from a wide range of dangerous circumstances.

Were it not for the author’s penchant for slipping strong critical editorial commentary into the narrative voice from time to time, the pace of the novel would make this book truly a compelling page turner. One wonders if there is anything about American life he finds favor for. In spite of these asides, The Bid is enjoyable, attention-holding and well-worth the readers’ time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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jacquelineJacqueline
Jackie Minniti
Anaiah Press, July 2015
ISBN
Trade Paperback

Jacqueline Falna of the title is a French child, twelve years of age, living in Rennes, France. When the story opens, in 1943, she and her mother have just learned that her father, a French aviator, is missing in action. Now they must cope with poverty, the Nazi occupiers, the coming of American forces all while maintaining a semblance of normal chiildhood.

Jacqueline, bright, energetic, with all the attributes one hopes to observe in a daughter or niece, is desolated by the news, but holds to the thread of possibility that her father may have been captured and will one day, after the war return to their home in Rennes. When a nearby family of Jews is abruptly taken away, the boy, David, remains and is hidden by Jacqueline’s family with help from neighbors.

In a simple, straight-forward style, through the eyes of this twelve year old child, we follow her daily challenges to help her mother find food, keep themselves warm in the winter and for Jacqueline, school and church. The novel is written for a middle school audience but the author’s craft does not pander, assuming readers may occasionally have to struggle with the language and some of the more mature considerations.

This is a fine, realistic novel, very well balanced with tragedy, happiness and it will not only engage readers in this age range. It also provides a way for young people to learn something about World War Two on an important personal level. Finally, after reading the novel, you may want to remind yourself of the name of the author.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

two-summersTwo Summers
Aimee Friedman
Point, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-51807-9
Hardcover

Fifteen-year-old Summer Everett is set to fly off to the south of France for a visit with her artist father and a chance to see his painting, Fille. Her father’s painting of his daughter as a young girl hangs in a museum there, and Summer has never seen it in person. Summer’s divorced mother discouraged the visit from the beginning, and Summer waits at the boarding gate with a heavy heart because of the terrible quarrel with her mother just before her best friend picked her up to drive her to the airport.

Just as she’s about to hand over her boarding pass and walk onto the plane, Summer’s cell phone rings. It’s a number she doesn’t recognize. From that point, we are swept into the story of two possible summers. In one, she ignores the call and goes to France. In the other, she answers the call and stays home in Upstate New York. In both, she breaks from her normal life, learns about herself, and must process changes in her life that include her best friend breaking bonds and a devastating family secret.

We learn about these scenarios through Summer’s first person descriptions, actions, and thoughts. Sometimes her inner thoughts sound profound, more like mature reflection on her actions, and sometimes her thoughts are childish. Altogether, she’s split, like her summer, thus becoming realistic and worthy of our concern.

I couldn’t put the book aside for long without wondering what would happen. How would the two summers (Summers) fit together and become whole? This is an imaginative coming-of-age story, or two stories, that include beautiful descriptions of a picturesque French village in Provence, exciting New York City, and a tranquil small town in New York State. There’s as much here for an adult as there is for a teenager.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, October 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: The Third Knife by Pamela Boles Eglinski

the-third-knifeThe Third Knife
Catalina & Bonhomme Series #1
Pamela Boles Eglinski
LWF Publishing, October 2015
ISBN 978-0692549087
Trade Paperback

Catalina’s parents send her away from their vineyard farmhouse into the night with a guide to escape the advance of the Germans into Italy. She is sent to find her mother’s relatives in France who can help hide the family’s fortune, a blue diamond necklace that’s been in the family since the French Revolution. Germans are on the trails, however, and the journey doesn’t go as planned. Catalina ends up as a young maquis, a French Resistance fighter.

This World War II tale is three narratives in one. First, it’s the story of a young Italian signorina who escapes from the Germans to France with her family’s fortune around her waist and finds her first love in the process. Next is a passionate story about a group of young French resistance members, the maquis, and their dangerous campaigns against the Nazis. Finally, there’s a tale of French and Italian wines and the vintners who produce the grapes.

We are educated about the period, the land, and the war even as the story pulls at our heartstrings, horrifies us, pulls us into the plot, and leaves us with a lasting impression of characters we learn to love and admire. There are maps and explanations at the end of the book and an introduction to the book, Return of the French Blue, to which The Third Knife is the prequel.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, September 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: The French Impressionist by Rebecca Bischoff

the-french-impressionist-tour-banner

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Title: The French Impressionist
Author: Rebecca Bischoff
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing

Publication Date: December 6, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

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the-french-impressionistThe French Impressionist
Rebecca Bischoff
Amberjack Publishing, December 2016
ISBN 978-1-944995-02-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Rosemary is fifteen and gloriously free, on her own for the very first time. Part of an exchange program for aspiring artists, she arrives in sunny southern France with a single goal: she doesn’t plan to leave, ever.  She wants a new life, a new family, and a new identity. But her situation, crafted from lies big and small, is precarious.

Desperate to escape haunting images from her past and a stage one helicopter parent, Rosemary struggles to hide her lack of artistic talent and a communication disorder that has tormented her all her life. She believes her dream of a new start will come true, until she unwittingly finds herself enveloped in a decades-old mystery that threatens to ruin her only chance for success.  Determined to stay, Rosemary must choose whether or not she’ll tell the biggest lie of all, even if it means destroying the life of someone she cares about.

Dramatic, heartwarming, and full of teenage angst, The French Impressionist perfectly captures the struggle of those who feel they have no voice, and also shows the courage it takes to speak up and show the world who we really are.

It’s an odd thing about this book…I liked it but I kind of didn’t so much but then I’d go back to liking it. I think it’s because, while I’m really sympathetic with Rosemary’s frustrations with her communication difficulties and a smothering parent, I also find her rather annoying, hard to like. I also couldn’t really believe a 15-year-old would be able to pull off a stunt like this and she’s such a messy mix of street smart and childish, having apparently no remorse about all her lies and the inevitable consequences.

Then again, I appreciated the author’s attention to Rosemary’s disability and how it affects her and the people around her. Ms. Bischoff clearly understands what this girl’s world is like and her writing style is fast-paced and appealing, making it easy for the reader to feel what Rosemary feels, to walk a mile in her shoes, as it were.

Ms. Bischoff also has a talent for evoking the best of the setting in Nice, the vivid beauty and the cultural ambience that makes me want to visit. Although I don’t care a whole lot for this young girl, I do think her emotional growth during the story and the reader’s comprehension of how difficult it is to cope with speech disorders make The French Impressionist worth reading.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

About the Author

rebecca-bischoffRebecca Bischoff currently resides in Idaho with her family and works as a speech-language pathologist. She loves helping others, especially kids and teenagers, discover their own unique voices and learn to share who they are with the world. When she isn’t writing, she loves to read, spend time with her kids, and make awkward attempts to learn foreign languages.  She is drawn to all things both French and Italian, used bookstores, and anything made out of chocolate.

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Book Reviews: Blue Madonna by James R. Benn and The Fixer by Joseph Finder

blue-madonnaBlue Madonna
A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery #11
James R. Benn
Soho Crime, September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61695-642-4
Hardcover

Billy Boyle has received all kinds of assignments in his capacity as a special investigator on Eisenhower’s staff. But few, if any, match the bizarre task before him in the Blue Madonna.  To begin with, he is arrested, tried on trumped up charges and stripped of his Captaincy and sentenced to time in the stockade for black market activities.  (This, of course, a subterfuge to provide a cover story as part of an investigation.)  Then he is sent behind enemy lines to rescue a downed airman who is needed to testify against a black market gang.

No sooner does Billy arrive in occupied France than he finds himself investigating two murders of airmen being hidden in a chateau.  And he even participates in partisan operations, blowing up railroad tracks and bridges.

The Billy Boyle series takes him through various phases of World War II.  This novel takes place as Allied troops sail for Normandy on D-Day, giving the author the opportunity to describe conditions in Occupied France, how the partisans operated, and what was done to return downed airmen through clandestine networks.  The Blue Madonna, a valuable piece of art, is an example of how many Jews and others attempted to prevent the Nazis from stealing their possessions by hiding them in such places as the chateau, which also secreted parachuted Allied fliers.

As were the first 10 books in the series, Blue Madonna is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2016.

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the-fixerThe Fixer
Joseph Finder
Putnam, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-4514-7257-3
Mass Market Paperback

What would you do if by some off-chance you broke into a wall in your home and discovered $3.7 million in cash?  That is the good luck that befalls Rick Hoffman, erstwhile unemployed journalist.  And then the bad luck follows.  Rick begins to wonder where the money came from.  He can’t ask his father, whose house it was, because the latter was left speechless and partially paralyzed by a stroke about two decades before.  Rick was once an investigative journalist, and uses these talents to find answers.

He soon discovers that his attorney father was a fixer, paying off various persons to ward off claims against powerful Boston figures.   And for his efforts he is beaten severely, almost killing him, as was his father before him, to stop Rick from pursuing his investigation.  But he perseveres.

The story moves ahead in a straightforward manner, with each step along the way uncovering additional information, until Rick can prove where the money came from and why.  But more importantly, as Rick explains, he continues because he wants to know how the story ends.  And so will you.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2016.

Book Review: The Darkest Hour by Caroline Tung Richmond

the-darkest-hourThe Darkest Hour
Caroline Tung Richmond
Scholastic Press, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80127-0
Hardcover

Lucie Blaise becomes a female Indiana Jones or Dirk Pitt as she battles the Nazis in France during World War II. The sixteen-year-old lies about her age and becomes a special agent trainee for the Covert Ops section of the OSS in Paris. She’s unsuccessful at first, despite the intensive training she’s received, but because she’s perfect for the job—a strong, young, French-speaking U.S. citizen—her handler gives her a second chance.

Motivated by the memory of her soldier brother, killed by the German Army, Lucie’s incentive to become a top-notch secret agent and kill German collaborators is strong. Much to her frustration, she is unable to kill without shaking, and that causes her to botch another assignment. She’s put on desk duty.

That boring duty doesn’t last long, though, when an important and urgent situation develops and requires all of the agents to go into the field. Dressed in one of her disguises, Lucie travels to Cherbourg with another young female agent, a person with whom she’s had multiple conflicts. Nothing goes as planned, Nazis are everywhere, and the two young, female super-agents fight and flee from one death-defying situation to another.

The characters are intriguing, the compelling action is non-stop, and the history appears realistic. The author made up the despicable plot described in the story, and the agents and their covert operations facility are fictional. But the characters are based upon the lives of actual women spies who worked for the Allies during World War II and a couple of actual situations.

I didn’t want to stop reading at chapter endings, because I wanted to find out how Lucie and her fellows agents would fare and how they would stop the reprehensible Nazi plot they had discovered. I recommend the thriller.  Of course, for young people who read this historical fiction, several questions bear discussion: is killing considered “murder” when it’s done during wartime, is being a double agent for pay worse or the same as being a double agent for patriotic reasons or to save family members, and is it reasonable that a teenager would be strong enough or have the mental resolve to survive all of Lucie’s adventures?

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, August 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: The Winemaker Detective by Jeaan-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen

The Winemaker DetectiveThe Winemaker Detective
Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen
Le French Book, December 2015
ISBN:9781939474568
Trade Paperback
Omnibus with three novellas

One could review this volume in toto or as three separate stories about the same characters, master wine-maker Benjamin Cooker and his relatively untrained assistant, Virgile Lanssien. Untrained in the arcane arts of wine-making though Virgile may be, his powers of observation are unparalleled and his knowledge of winemaking increases as the book progresses. Together, the pair are an unbeatable team of amateur detectives. This omnibus of three stories is part of a series which is enjoying popularity in France, particularly among wine aficionados and those of elevated gastronomical tastes. The series includes a popular television programme.

Each story is set in an important region of French winemaking and involves usually complicated thievery, odd chicanery and of course, murder. The stories are dense, deliberate in their pace and action, and largely consist of detailed and intriguing observations of wine making, breakfasts and dinners and keenly observed travels.

These are the rare kind of genre novels one reads for the qualities of the writing, the content and not so much for action or complex plot lines. Exceptional quality, especially since the stories are translations, satisfying solutions, and much elegant descriptive writing devoted to character and the grape.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.