Book Review: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

The Italian Party
Christina Lynch
St. Martin’s Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-14783-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie’s Italian teacher―a teenager with secrets of his own―disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.

Scottie and Michael are children of their times, as they say, and those of us who remember the 1950’s will certainly recognize them. They scream “American” with their enormous, flashy Ford Fairlane, their marriage is something of a convenience and they barely know each other, and they’re much, much wealthier than the Italians they want to live among. Michael is undoubtedly the head of the household and Scottie is the demure wife who follows her husband’s lead; in fact, Michael appreciates that she knows how to be a good, supportive wife. After all, her education at Vassar led to her Mrs. degree and she upholds it beautifully.

Unlike the “Leave It to Beaver” scenario, these two are not exactly the salt of the earth but, perhaps more importantly, neither one has a clue who the other one is and major secrets begin to come out as soon as they get to their destination, Siena. On top of everything in their personal lives, Communism is nipping at their heels.

All of that sounds kind of dismal, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s true to an extent but the joy in this novel comes from watching this young couple come to terms with themselves and each other while they’re in the midst of a most unlikely spy story of their own and there are a lot of laughs to be had, the kind that make you think “caper” and “adventure”. All in all, this was totally fun and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes spies, international intrigue, comedy, romance, adventure, history, Italian food…you get the idea 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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About the Author

Photo credit Stacy Brand

Christina Lynch’s picaresque journey includes chapters in Chicago and at Harvard, where she was an editor on the Harvard Lampoon. She was the Milan correspondent for W magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, and disappeared for four years in Tuscany. In L.A. she was on the writing staff of Unhappily Ever After; Encore, Encore; The Dead Zone and Wildfire. She now lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. She is the co-author of two novels under the pen name Magnus Flyte. She teaches at College of the Sequoias. The Italian Party is her debut novel under her own name.

Website // Facebook // Twitter

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Book Review: Sacred Games by Gary Corby

Sacred Games
An Athenian Mystery #3
Gary Corby
Soho Crime, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-6195-369-0
TradePaperback

This is the second novel by Corby I’ve read in this series. Set in ancient Greece, the main characters are royal investigator Nicolaos and his incredibly smart wife, the priestess Diotima. Nico’s brother, Socrates–yes, that Socrates–is featured as well, plus a good many other names I’m sure you’ll recognize from your ancient world history classes.

The story takes place at the 80th Olympiad, where competitors play for keeps, as in fight to the death. On the competitive field, if an opponent dies, no one can be tried for murder. The same does not hold true off the field, which draws Nico, under orders from Athen’s top politician and diplomat, Pericles, to find the killer of an elite Spartan pankration athlete named Arakos. The Athenian champion in pankration is the accused, and refuses to provide an alibi for himself. In order to prevent a war between the states of Athens and Sparta, Nico has to figure it all out before the end of the games.

Pankration? you may ask. I’m still not sure but it sounds like a mixture of various martial arts, kick boxing, and plain old street fighting, including kidney punches and the gouging of eyes.

The story contains plenty of suspects, although everyone has a hard time believing anyone but another pankration player could possibly beat a big man like Arakos, and there are so many twists and turns you’re apt to get dizzy. At the same time, it’s going to keep you involved. And what a good way to learn something about ancient history! Mr. Corby’s research is extensive, and is the best way I know of to teach the rest of us a bit of Greek history and culture. Meanwhile, the humor in the Nico and Diotima mysteries always brings a laugh, and Socrates is a hoot. I’m pleased to recommend this one.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Close Call by Laura DiSilverio

close-callClose Call
Laura DiSilverio
Midnight Ink Books, September 2016
ISBN:978-0-7387-4920-4
Trade Paperback

Not quite non-stop suspense as some reviewers have suggested, but mostly. The author has firm handles on the story line, the characters and the setting. She manipulates all with a deft hand. If things are a little more complicated than is the usual case in thrillers of this kind, well. It’s up to we readers to pay more than casual attention, right?

The title of the book might have effectively been pluralized. We are with the main character, Sydney Ellison, through most of the book and while she weeps gallons of tears, her determination to see the mystery and the crimes to their righteous conclusions is laudable. That she perseveres in the face of repeated set-backs is testament to her core grit. Sydney’s reconciliation with her sister, Reese, her handling of their slightly insane mother, all play important parts in what is essentially a family drama. The novel is intense, compels persistent page-turning, and introduces us to a multi-dimensioned professional assassin.

In an overcrowded deli, located in Washington, D.C., Sydney encounters her nemesis and main adversary in the story, although she doesn’t know it at the time. Nor does her adversary-to-be, a professional hit man who doesn’t appear to be quite as put-together as he should be, given apparent longevity. Their brief interaction sends both on a long and winding path through mistaken identities, murder, family rollercoaster rides and both keen and fatuous observations on D.C. politicians. Also, lots of tears.

Given the current situation in our nation’s capital, the confirmation hearings going on, the story has exciting real-life resonance. Readers seeking a tension-filled story with real characters should enjoy this novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
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: The Arrow Catcher by Jim Mather

the-arrow-catcherThe Arrow Catcher
Jim Mather
CreateSpace, September 2013
ISBN: 978-0-615-94538-5
Trade Paperback

Boston, summer, 1948. A celebration and fund raiser for the new state of Israel attended by teen Jonathan Lusk with his parents. It is a day filled with tragedy and death. Before long, Jonathan is living in Japan with his grandfather, called to sit as a judge in the war crimes trials against Japanese criminals. He too, along with his Japanese wife, is soon murdered, Jonathan is sent to a military school and the real story begins.

The prospect of an American teenaged boy, regardless of his connections to important Japanese society, alone in a military training camp shortly after the conclusion of World War II is likely to be short-lived. Yet, against almost monumental odds, the plucky youth survives and readers will be treated to an enthralling inside look at Japanese culture, mores, and many ancient rituals and traditions.

Lusk endures all of the cultural and social strains, plus immense language difficulties, not to mention the normal flow of growing early teen-aged angst. Yet he determines to persevere and survive. He not only survives the real dangers of resentment by fellow students, but evil forces swirl around him when he is drawn into kidnapping and assassination plots by evil forces operating outside the schools.

The novel is not without its problems. It needed a sharp and careful editing of grammar and typography. Yet the relentless and constant push of the author’s style tends to overcome the difficulties. It was a fascinating and worthwhile experience.

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: The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

Angry Robot Books presents The Buried Life,
a fantastical mystery for fans of
Cherie Priest and China Miéville.

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“With Regency-era sensibilities and Agatha Christie’s flair for the subtle
conundrum, Patel’s debut novel introduces readers to a subterranean city of
the future, centuries after what is dubbed “The Catastrophe,” and beautifully
manages the delicate balance between entertainment and social commentary.
The subtly fantastical story is resplendent with surprisingly deep villains,
political corruption, and a gripping whodunit feel.”
– Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

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The Buried LifeThe Buried Life
Carrie Patel
Angry Robot Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-857665-21-8
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.

When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…

In a wondrous mix of dark fantasy, mystery and science fiction with a dash of post-apocalypse and a hearty dose of dystopia, we’re introduced to the world of Recoletta and to two women who capture the imagination from the first moment we meet them. I’m going to skim right past the plot because spoilers would abound but I’ll say this for everyone who loves books—this is a world in which books can put one in real danger.

“Other than the murder of a whitenail, the possession of unedited, unapproved texts was the most severely punished, and certainly the rarest, crime in Recoletta.”

First, let’s talk about the setting and worldbuilding. Recoletta is a subterranean city sometime several hundred years in the future. People still come and go aboveground but they choose to live below and, like all cities, Recoletta has a variety of boroughs or districts or what have you and there is a distinct class system driven by money and power. (Sound familiar?) All of this came about due to the “Catastrophe” but we don’t really know much about that, what it was or what precipitated it. Usually, I think it’s a failing when an author doesn’t tell or show us enough to let us understand the story’s world but, this time, I didn’t mind. Ms. Patel does such a good job of immersing us in this city that I could easily envision it and walk the streets along with its denizens.  I’m sure we’ll learn  more in the next book but, for right now, I’m content.

I love the major characters and can’t even say who’s my favorite of the two women but certainly one of the most compelling individuals is Roman Arnault. To say more about him would really be skating on the edge of spoilers so, suffice it to say, he’s a very complex man. Inspector Liesl Malone is a woman who believes in the law and in doing what’s necessary to solve crimes; she has a very stern no-nonsense demeanour but there’s a trace of softness in her. She is not at all happy at first when she’s saddled with a partner fresh out of training but Rafe Sundar proves early on that he’s not as useless as she fears. He brings a lightness as well as intelligence and skill to their budding work relationship as they investigate the murder of an historian and then one murder grows into more.  Seemingly on the sidelines are Jane Lin, laundress to the wealthy, and her reporter friend, Fredrick Anders. Jane’s life is about to take a major turn when she overhears things she shouldn’t and can no longer remain an “invisible” servant. Murder and political goings-on will have a definite effect on Jane, much more than she might have anticipated when she finds herself part of the investigation.

All in all, The Buried Life is an intriguing gaslight tale with a wonderful setting and characters who are far more than cardboard cutouts. I’m so glad the story will continue and that I’ll be treated to more of Carrie Patel’s work. That sequel, Renaissance Land, will be coming out next year and it’s already on my wishlist.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

An Excerpt from The Buried Life

Shrouded in a spicy-sweet smoke and leaning against the wall just outside of the sitting room was a tall, broad-shouldered man whom she presumed to be the stranger she had heard conversing with Hollens. Dressed in a loose-fitting black dinner jacket and idly smoking a cigarette, he was the embodiment of upper-class carelessness or middle-class coattail-riding. Even for an informal house call, his manner in the councilor’s home was cavalier, which led her to suppose the former. His jacket was a size too large, his ascot hung askew around his neck, and his pants were wrinkled. She then noticed that he was watching her with interest, his dark blue eyes shining behind black, chin-length hair. She blushed.

“Red becomes you, my lady.”

Jane hesitated, thinking that there wasn’t a scrap of red anywhere on her dress or jacket, but she took his meaning and felt another wave of heat flood her face.

The stranger smiled. “I don’t believe we’ve met. Roman Arnault.” Arnault pushed away from the wall, facing her.

“I’m the, ah, laundress.”

“I’m sorry?”

Jane blinked, more uncomfortable than ever. “The laundress. I wash clothes for Councilor Hollens. Specialty items, mostly, since he has a staff, but…”

“I didn’t catch your name.”

“Oh! It’s Jane. Jane Lin.” Her fingers dug into the bundle in her arms.

Arnault gave her the kind of smile that looked as if he must have practiced it many times before. He peeled one hand from the bundle and kissed it. “A pleasure to meet you, Jane Lin, laundress.”

He said her name slowly, as if trying it out. Jane flicked her gaze downward, noticing his hands and their clean but trimmed nails. After a few moments, he followed her eyes to the cigarette between his fingers. “Cloves,” he said, holding it up for her inspection. “Care for one?”

“Oh, I wasn’t… No, thank you, Mr Arnault.”

“A lady of modest habits.”

Jane had found that when whitenails and their ilk chose to make pronouncements on her station, bearing, or character, it was best to offer nothing but the tacit confirmation of a small smile, which she did now.

Arnault’s mild tone kept what came next from sounding like a rebuke. “Miss Lin, do I look like a man who enlists the services of specialty laundresses? Or whose recommendations on the same would be trusted?”

Arnault paused, and Jane, whose repertoire of etiquette offered no guidance for this kind of conversation, listened hopefully for Lena’s footsteps. “You can disagree with me, especially if I’m so pompous as to make sweeping generalizations about you, someone I have known for all of two minutes.” He took a deep breath, and Jane felt herself do the same. “So, Jane Lin, are you ready to tell me what you really think?”

Jane heard the words come out of her mouth before she knew what she was saying. “It’s easy for you to say so when you can get away with visiting a councilor dressed like that.”

Arnault’s expression changed slowly, his eyebrows lifting and his lips drawing back.

“I’m sorry,” Jane said. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

But he looked amused. “Speaking your mind is nothing to be sorry for, Miss Lin. I find a little honesty refreshing, especially in this neighborhood. So, how does a nice girl like you end up in it?”

“Everybody has dirty laundry, Mr Arnault.”

He chuckled, but in a way that suggested a private joke. “How right you are.”

“And you, sir? What kind of business are you in?”

“There’s no need to ‘sir’ me, Miss Lin. As for the business… I suppose you could say that I’m in the same line of work that you are.” He took another drag on his cigarette.

Jane looked him up and down, taking in his outfit again. “If we’re being candid, Mr Arnault, I find that hard to believe.”

“It’s a metaphor, Miss Lin.”

“Should I be honest again?”

“Always.”

“It sounds like a bad one.”

Arnault considered the clove cigarette between his fingers. “To return to your modest habits,” he said, holding the cigarette in the air between them, “you avoid these because…?”

Jane blinked. She didn’t want to mention that a habit like that was absurd for someone on her income. “They kill. From the inside.”

“So do a lot of things,” Arnault said. “And people. And just like your dirty laundry, some things are best kept private.”

He said it with a twinkle in his eye, but the memory of the overheard conversation sent flutters through Jane’s stomach. “Are you always this friendly with the domestic help, Mr Arnault?”

“I’m not friendly with anyone.”

“Then I have grossly misinterpreted our brief encounter.”

“That’s because you’re a good influence, Miss Lin, and you should stay for tea.”

Jane could not begin to fathom the reaction were she to have tea in Councilor Hollens’s home at Arnault’s invitation. “I thought you’d already enjoyed some with the councilor.”

“We shared a stronger beverage. But with a nice young lady like yourself, I’d have tea.”

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About the Author

Carrie Patel Author ShotCarrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and worked in transfer pricing at Ernst & Young for two years. She now works as a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, where the only season is Always Perfect. You can find Carrie online at www.electronicinkblog.com and @Carrie_Patel on Twitter.


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First in a new series starring two brilliantly-realised
female protagonists in a wonderful fantasy
setting.
Book’s setting: The fantastical
underground city of Recoletta.

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Coming soon to Barnes & Noble

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Book Review: Shattered Veil by Tracy E. Banghart

Shattered Veil Tour Banner

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Title: Shattered Veil
Series: The Diatous Wars #1
Author: Tracy E. Banghart
Publication date: February 28th 2014
Genres: New Adult, Science Fiction

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Synopsis

For Aris, a talented wingjet pilot, war means sacrificing everything: her home,
her name, her face—and the one promise she swore she’d never break.

In the small village of Lux, everyone flies wingjets, but nobody flies them like
Aris Haan. When she’s not dancing through the skies, she’s spending every
minute with Calix, whom she’s loved since childhood. They plan to Promise,
but instead he is sent to defend their dominion against a bloody invasion.
Determined not to lose him, Aris follows, joining an underground network of
women inside the male-only military. Using secret technology that allows her to
pass as a man, she becomes “Aristos”, a Flyer in a search-and-rescue unit.

As Aris grows stronger on the battlefield and more comfortable in her guise as
Aristos, her personal mission becomes less and less clear. When she and
her enigmatic commander, Major Vidar, uncover an astonishing conspiracy that
could destroy everything, she must make a choice that will determine not
only the fate of her heart, but the future of her dominion.

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble Buy Button        Smashwords Buy Button        Amazon Buy Button

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Shattered VeilShattered Veil
The Diatous Wars #1
Tracy E. Banghart
Tracy E. Banghart, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-9890373-4-1
Trade Paperback

From the author—

When everything that defines you is stripped away, who do you become?

For Aris, a talented wingjet pilot, war means sacrificing everything: her home, her name, her face-and the one promise she swore she’d never break.

In the small village of Lux, everyone flies wingjets, but nobody flies them like Aris Haan. When she’s not dancing through the skies, she’s spending every minute with Calix, whom she’s loved since childhood. They plan to Promise, but instead he is sent to defend their dominion against a bloody invasion. Determined not to lose him, Aris follows, joining an underground network of women inside the male-only military. Using secret technology that allows her to pass as a man, she becomes “Aristos”, a Flyer in a search-and-rescue unit.

As Aris grows stronger on the battlefield and more comfortable in her guise as Aristos, her personal mission becomes less and less clear. When she and her enigmatic commander, Major Vidar, uncover an astonishing conspiracy that could destroy everything, she must make a choice that will determine not only the fate of her heart, but the future of her dominion.

I don’t always immediately like the primary character(s) in a novel that engages me from the beginning and that’s the case with Shattered Veil. I had problems first with Calix and his patriarchal attitude towards Aris, his assumption that his decision was all that mattered and that Aris had nothing to say about it. I then had some difficulty with Aris’ decision to go to war disguised as a man. This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened both in fiction and in real life—there were women who did this in our Civil War—but I’ve always had some reluctance to see it as a fully positive thing.

In the case of Aris, I totally got her desire to be where Calix was but it was such an immature decision. She gave no real regard to the hurt she’d be causing her family all because her hormones were in overdrive and, OMG, she just couldn’t be parted from her true love! Then, she showed her complete lack of understanding reality when she was surprised, floored actually, that she had to undergo training before she could jump into the war. How dumb can a girl be?

Fortunately, my dismay with both Aris and Calix was shortlived although it would be resurrected later in spades regarding Calix. Aris began to show what she was really made of and my admiration for her started to grow. The plot of Shattered Veil is important, of course, but its main purpose for me was to act as a vehicle for Ms. Banghart’s very strong character development of a young girl. Aris was sheltered from birth, as were all females, but we get to see her grow up and resist the commonly-accepted practices of her time. It’s sort of a fast forward look at the struggle for equality women have been undergoing in real life for far too long.

The other thing about this book that struck me was the vivid characters besides Aris and Calix. Did I love them all? Of course not, how boring would that be? Even the less appealing people, though, really came to life and a few, likeable and not so much, in particular especially struck me, such as Galena, Dianthe and Major Vidar. Also, I mustn’t forget Ward Balias, one of the best evocations of an untrustworthy politicians I’ve come across.

I may be in a minority here but I did appreciate the third person style. I’m always more comfortable with that than with first person, especially when there is a lot of action and some dangerous things going on. It’s hard for me to believe a protagonist telling me what’s happening in real time when, say, bad guys are shooting at her. I’m also inordinately thankful that, despite Aris’ hormones, romance takes a second seat to the rest of the story.

I do think there were two weaknesses, the lack of worldbuilding and the ease with which the women were able to hide their true identities. With regards to the latter, people who go to war are a close-knit community and it was hard to believe that the truth wouldn’t come out much sooner and more frequently. As to the worldbuilding, well, there really wasn’t much and I hope Ms. Banghart will remedy that in future books. As it is, we can’t really say that this is dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic because we just don’t know enough.

That said, I did enjoy Shattered Veil  a lot and I hope to see Aris again soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2014.

About the Author

Tracy E. BanghartTracy E. Banghart is a cheesy movie–loving, fantasy football–playing (go Ravens!), globe-trotting Army wife who began “practicing” her craft at the age of five, when she wrote her first story. She loves visiting the international friends she met while pursuing her MA in Publishing and spends a portion of every summer at her family’s cabin in Canada, where she finds inspiration and lots of time to relax on the dock. She lives with her husband, son, two lazy dogs and one ornery cat. When not writing or spending time with her family, she is on a mission to bake the perfect cupcake.

LINKS:

Website  /  Goodreads  /  Facebook  /  Twitter

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Book Review: The Dark Heroine by Abigail Gibbs

The Dark HeroineThe Dark Heroine
Dinner with a Vampire
Abigail Gibbs
HarperVoyager, October 2012 (UK edition)
ISBN: 978-0-00-750367-4
William Morrow, March 2013 (US edition)
ISBN 978-0-06-224873-2
Trade Paperback

Violet Lee is waiting for her friend on a night out when her life changes forever. Witness to a massacre, she is taken hostage where she finds that life is nothing like she knew it. Her father, a top government minister has known about this all along. In fact, it is he who set in motion the events that traps her now. There is only one choice she can make, but will she turn her back on her family forever?

I first heard about this book when the author was interviewed on the morning news. The fact that she wrote this while studying for her school exams impressed me and so, I finally grabbed a copy and settled in. The story revolves around a young girl who discovers that vampires live alongside humans and have done for thousands of years. The top ministers in the British government are aware of their existence and an uneasy truce has been in place for a while. However, Violet’s father, the minister for defence, is trying to goad the vampires into starting a war. Ultimately though, it is Violet who has to pay the price for his past decisions. Told from two perspectives, both Violet’s and Kaspar, a young vampire, the story slowly leads to a romantic and political conclusion.

This is really not your typical vampire fare although there is some romance in there. It is really much more complex and political and it seems that Violet is there to set in motion a series of events that will bring peace to all the realms. In this book we are told of three realms, human, vampire and magic but it is hinted that there are more out there but I guess that these will be explored in further volumes. The best aspect of the book is the plotline where nine women will come together, these Heroines who will unite the realms and who must be respected and revered in recognition of their power. It’s nice for women to get this role for once, especially since vampire novels still tend to sway heavily towards the damsel in distress notion. Although the writing does seem slightly immature in parts, overall, this is a great book and hopefully the series will continue to develop well. The second title is out in August and I would certainly recommend this to young adults aged 16+ (due to some adult content).

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, June 2013.