Review: The Sign of the Weeping Virgin (Five Star Mystery #1) ~ Alana J. White

weeping virginRomance and intrigue abound in The Sign of the Weeping Virgin‚ an evocative historical mystery that brings the Italian Renaissance gloriously to life.

In 1480 Florentine investigator Guid’Antonio Vespucci and his nephew‚ Amerigo‚ are tangled in events that threaten to destroy them and their beloved city.

Marauding Turks abduct a beautiful young Florentine girl and sell her into slavery. And then a holy painting begins weeping in Guid’Antonio’s church. Are the tears manmade or a sign of God’s displeasure with Guid’Antonio himself?

In a finely wrought story for lovers of medieval and renaissance mysteries everywhere‚ Guid’Antonio follows a spellbinding trail of clues to uncover the thought-provoking truth about the missing girl and the weeping painting’s mystifying—and miraculous?—tears‚ all pursued as he comes face to face with his own personal demons

3 Thumbs-UpThis is this Authors debut novel in the realm of historical fiction and, as much as I enjoy good historical fiction, I just couldn’t get into this one at all.  I think it was a case of the classic line ‘it’s me, honestly, not you’.

To say the cast of characters in this book is immense would be an under-statement, and I felt at times it would have helped me along in my reading if there had been a character list printed in the front of the book; I have a sneaky feeling that many other readers who pick up this book may feel the same way too.  Although none of the characters stand out in the book, they are interesting to say the least, and the main protagonist is very interesting; he is cranky, complicated, lonely and extremely loyal; all traits which seemed at odds to the world in which he was living, a world where loyalty seemed to be as fleeting as the wind.

Despite the indication in the synopsis that this may have edged into the realms of a genre I never read, I found there to be little to no romance in this book; there is no love in the traditional sense of the word and no homoerotic longings as can often take place in a novel of this kind.  What there is however is political intrigue by the boatload, and this made the book a compelling read and was, for me, the saving grace that earned the rating of 3 thumbs as opposed to it being lower.

It is obvious that the Author has done a lot of research into this era in Florence’s history, and I found this interesting and educating as I did not know about some of the historical details touched upon in the novel.  I felt this was helped by the fact that the main protagonist was actually a real-life figure in these times, and this added more realism to the descriptions used and the events encountered in the book.

I would recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction but particularly those who like a good solid mystery that is full of political intrigue.

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Review: The Coffin Maker’s Daughters – Blind Bargain ~ Bunny Mitchell

blind coverA novel set in Victorian England. When Lily Spencer, naive and vulnerable, marries Charles Nightingale they strike a Blind Bargain for neither knows much about the other. But Lily discovers a dark secret that Charles has kept hidden.Lily struggles to rise above the pain of delusion and cope with a life devoid of physical love. A story of intrigue, misunderstandings, love, hate and revenge. The Coffin Maker’s Daughters were all named after flowers: Lily, Violet, Daisy, May Rose and Marigold. This is Lily’s story.
When Lily Spencer, naive and vulnerable, marries Charles Nightingale they strike a Blind Bargain for neither knows much about the other. but Lily discovers a dark secret that Charles has kept hidden.
Blind Bargain tells of her struggle to rise above the pain of delusion and cope with a life devoid of physical love and of how she pours her passion into her art to become an accomplished portrait painter.
Set in late Victorian England, Blind Bargain takes its characters from village life on the Downs to the society of London. It is a story of intrigue, misunderstandings, love, hate and revenge.

3 Thumbs-UpThis is the first in a series about a group of sisters, and each is a standalone novel in its own right.

Written in the style of the Victorian novel, I found the Author overplayed their hand when writing the main character, it’s not that I didn’t like her it’s just that her mild-mannered, “be seen and not heard” ways really became taxing after a while.  Given the trials and tribulations that this character encountered throughout her life, it would have been nice to see a growth in her personality and attitude as she aged.  However, as much as I did not warm to the main character, her lack of depth was more than made up for in the other characters in this novel.  Some were so mean that I felt as if I were at an old fashioned theatre performance where I was allowed to boo and hiss at them every time they appeared.

From an historical point of view it was apparent that the Author had done extensive research into the period of time in which was the novel was set.  Their descriptive writing set the tone for the novel, and was very much the vehicle that carried me on to the end of the novel.  I think the main problem with this book for me, and it has nothing to do with the writing style of the Author, was that it leaned a little too much towards the romantic image that is projected of this era and not enough towards the suspense and intrigue that had been promised in the synopsis.

I would recommend this novel to lovers of fiction from this era, and also those that enjoy a period romance novel as in this area it is gentle and subtle; not in your face gratuitous sex.  I am not sure if I would read anymore in this series, but I may be tempted to try one of the Authors other works.

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Review: Havana Queen ~ James Bruno

Havana QueenWhat happens when Fidel dies?

Cuba explodes.

Political turmoil engulfs Cuba. As the Castros’ rendezvous with mortality finally arrives, FBI Agent Nick Castillo is swept up in a maelstrom of espionage, intrigue and guerrilla war. Amazon Kindle Bestselling author James Bruno delivers another knockout thriller!

Cuba roils with political unrest as Fidel and Raul Castro sink deeper into dementia and failing health. In a desperate ploy to save the communist regime, sultry Cuban spymaster Larisa Montilla takes on the CIA in a tit-for-tat shadow war of assassination. As the bodies pile up, FBI Agent Nick Castillo defies orders and travels clandestinely to Havana. Nick gets more than he bargained for, falling into a trap set by Montilla, Fidel’s heir to power. But Montilla’s leverage over Nick is matched by his discovery of a deep secret in her past, leading to a war of wits.

Nick returns to ferret out a web of spies deep inside the U.S. government which Havana has patiently built up over the years — traitors who are hemorrhaging official secrets. But he must navigate a wilderness of mirrors that leads him to an assassination plot against the Castros’ No. 1 enemy – the President of the United States.

The Castro propaganda machine has denounced Havana Queen as a “subversive act against the Cuban government.”

Steeped in the world of government secrets, with service in Cuba and Gitmo, the author makes you feel like you’ve been cleared into a Top Secret program, confident that you have the inside information.

4 Thumbs-Up

This book will definitely take you out of your comfort zone and in some places, have you actually questioning the way you live and interact with the world around you.  As I read this, I actually found myself stopping at certain places to think about the political upheaval in the world today, and how easily this novel could be an insight into that world we may be heading for.

The Author shows great skill when it comes to writing his characters and developing them to a point where you know just enough about them to discern the good from the bad, and leaving your imagination to fill in the blanks.  I really liked this approach to character development, as sometimes Authors can put you into overdrive with their in-depth back stories; this was not the case with this novel and means that each reader will find something unique to them when indulging in this fast paced book.  Unlike many books in this political genre it isn’t until you are several chapters into the book that you begin to identify who the main protagonist is, and this had me slightly confused and thinking I had overlooked them in earlier chapters; this in no way detracts from the readers enjoyment of the book, and adds an extra dimension to it giving the reader an ‘aha!’ moment when they discover them.

Having never been to Cuba, the locale for the book, I wasn’t able to give an educated guess as to whether his descriptions of the island were accurate or not, but as he has knowledge of the area I was definitely certain they were.  I felt that I was seeing the squalor some of the characters lived in, and felt the inequality between the haves and have-nots in this world.  The Author has an uncanny way of portraying an interesting and very realistic look into a country many of us only know from the news reports regarding Cuba.

Pulling on his experience and knowledge of all things mentioned within its pages the Authors writing takes on a personal air, almost memoir like, but this does not make the book dry in any way at all.  It is a novel filled from the first page with gripping action and suspense; the reader has plenty of intrigue, politics and spies to keep them entertained to the last page.  For me, after all the action in the novel, it came to a rather abrupt ending and had me wondering if I had missed something earlier in the book or, even better, a sequel was in the works.  I did find part of the story to be unnecessary and drawn out also feeling that it may have been included to titillate the reader; for me it did nothing to add to the book and even had me yawning at times, but other readers may enjoy this sort of thing.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes an intriguing read or is just looking for more insight on Cuba; pick it up too if you are looking for something enjoyable.  Readers of the political/spy/thriller genre would also find this interesting.

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Review: Kydona ~ T.K. Krug III

Kydona

Named for heaven, the kingdom of Elessia once served as a beacon to the world. Now its name has become a byword for decadence. When Lord Prince Marcus de Pilars hears the beginnings of a vast conspiracy from the lips of his dying mother, he sets out to uncover the motives lurking behind the war his father waged. With the help of Kaelyn Beauvais—a sharp-tongued courtesan nursing a long-hidden desire—and Vernon de Gauthier—a near-disturbingly prolific womanizer with a weakness for apples—Marcus slowly unearths the truth: his country lies on the brink of collapse. And soon, the vanquished nation of Kydona will rise to settle a generation-old score.

In Elessia’s debauched court, the threat goes unheeded. Marcus’s romances bloom and just as quickly wither. Blood is shed, lives extinguished. It matters little. Quarrel and murder, lust and love, right and wrong—the lines that separate these are hopelessly blurred in the throes of court intrigue. And the difference between each rests on a knife edge so sharp that even a hero cannot tell them apart.

3 Thumbs-Up

This is the first in a series of books centred round Kydona and, in this book we find a lot of the scene setting done that will, hopefully come to fruition in later episodes, which definitely does not make it a stand-alone read.

Time has been taken to develop the characters in this book, starting with a male lead that is gradually fleshed out in the opening chapters.  He is arrogant, reckless and an all round heel; visualise Joffrey in Game of Thrones, and you are on the right track.  As befits someone in his position, he has very little regard for those around him, even his own Mother and, as the novel progresses we see a change brought about by the realization of the consequences of his acts.  Not enough of a change to make this character likeable, but enough to make the reader wonder where, and how, he will develop in later books.  It is suffice to say that he not your stereotypical hero and, if you cannot put your dislike of him to the side, you may not read to the end of the novel; a character does not have to be likeable to be a good character.

In writing Kydona, the Author has revealed an amazing ability to describe court intrigue, weaponry and warfare, which led me to believe he had done a fair amount of research.  Some aspects written about though, would not have all been present in the same era so, because of this, I would not wholly regard this book as fitting in the Fantasy genre as it has more of the elements found in a good Steampunk novel.  This clash of elements though, only added to the book  and made me wonder which direction things would go, making me want to read on.

Dialogue is very precise and drawn out in some places, making the reader wish they would get on with it already and move on.  But again this slow and precise interaction is what makes this a good little read, setting more scenes for future works, and also answering questions that come up whilst reading this one.  If you are averse to swearing and gratuitous sex scenes in your reads, this may not be the book for you.  In my opinion, I sometimes felt as if the sex scenes were added as fillers and because the Author was a little at a loss as to how to tie up that particular section; they don’t propel the plot onward or in any direction I could see.  Fortunately they are not badly written, so at least that was their one redeeming feature.  There is a little racial stereotyping in this novel, but again we are not naive enough to believe it has been stamped out entirely in our real world, so why should it not appear in our literature as long as it isn’t written offensively, and this isn’t.

This is another easy read little book that fell by the wayside because of some proofreading and editing errors.  Some so obvious, I was surprised that they had not been picked up by someone out there prior to it being published. There were so many missing words, grammatical errors and a general butchering of the English language, that even I had to reread some passages several times before the light bulb went on and I could continue, and this led to the book only being awarded 3 thumbs.  I expected this to deliver so much more than it did and, even though I enjoyed it, because of all the errors I probably won’t read the next book in the series.

If you like the fantasy and Steampunk genres, I would recommend this as a quick read, as long as you are not expecting too much from its pages. 

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