Review: The Witch of Painted Sorrows (The Daughters of La Lune #1) ~ M.J. Rose

witch of painted sorrowsISBN ~ 978-1476778068
Publisher ~ Atria Books
No. Of Pages ~ 384 pages
Links ~ Amazon

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.

This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.

3 Thumbs-UpAlthough the first in this series, this is the third novel written by this Author and, to be honest I’ve not read either of the previous two.  However the synopsis intrigued me and held a certain promise, so I set off to wind my way through its pages.

I’m going to come straight out and say this; I did not like the main protagonist at all.  I did not understand her or her motivation for anything she did, and had even less understanding for those things she didn’t do but probably should have.  As much as I tried I could not find myself either empathizing or sympathising with her in any way which resulted in her just being a downright annoyance throughout the whole novel.  Why she had to keep banging on about her one and only failed attempt at watercolour painting just confused the heck out of me, and she seems to use this as an excuse for all her bad behaviour and dishonesty when related to art school.  I did feel sorry for her Grandmother who tried her hardest to steer the lead character in the right direction but was constantly ignored and dismissed.  But again I was also disappointed in her, for a woman who had made a living in her given profession she was not very strong-willed at all, and usually ended up just giving in to the main character for the sake of a quiet life I felt.

So why did I give this book a three thumbs rating?  As already said it was not the characters that helped the novel achieve this rating, but rather the location and the way in which the Author used the words on the page.  The streets of Old Paris leapt of the page through the descriptions of the courtyards around which people made their homes, and the words rolled of the page not in a rush and bluster but as if they were taking a leisurely stroll down the Champs Elysees on a warm summer day.  As much as I enjoyed the relaxed way in which the book was written I felt somewhat let down too; after all the synopsis had promised witchery and there was nothing remotely ominous and witchy that I could find in these pages.  Maybe I like my witches too dark, and the kind featured here were just so innocuous they escaped my attention.

If you are already familiar with this Author, you may just enjoy this book; as for me I doubt very much that I will be reading anything by her again… as the saying goes ‘it wasn’t you, it’s me’

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Review: Relic (Pendergast #1) ~ Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

RelicISBN ~ 978-0312856304
Publisher ~ Forge
No. Of Pages ~382 pages
Links ~ prestonchild.com, Barnes & Noble, Amazon

When a team of archaeologists is savagely massacred in the Amazon Basin, all that survives are several boxes of relics and plant specimens. From boat to boat, from port to port, the battered crates drift. They finally reach New York City – only to be locked away in the basement of a museum, lost and forgotten.

But the black heart of the Amazon never forgets. Just days before the Museum’s massive new exhibition opens someone or something other than tourists and school children is roaming the echoing halls and dusty galleries. And people are turning up savagely murdered.

Forensic evidence points to a killer of terrifying strength and ferocity. Rumors of a “Museum Beast,” never far from the surface, rise again among the Museum staff. But then Margo Green, a graduate student working in the Museum, uncovers a link between the killings, the failed Amazonian expedition, and an odd figurine that will be displayed for the first time. Will she be able to put the pieces together and stop the deadly menace before terror strikes again?

4 Thumbs-UpI have to put this up front, if you are not a fan of gory murders full of graphic detail in your book, or get bored with scientific theories in your fiction this may not be the book for you.

This book is the first collaborative work of Preston and Child, and also the first in the Pendergast series.  Unlike most of the books in this series it cannot be read as a standalone and is followed on by Reliquary; the other two books that must be read in order in the series are Dance of Death/Book of the Dead.  But I digress, I’m reviewing Relic not the entire, to date, 14 book series. I picked this up on the recommendation of a friend and, not knowing what to expect, was taken by surprise; it is the first book written by these two Authors I have read.

I found the characters both intriguing and infuriating at the same time, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the aforementioned Pendergast was not actually the main protagonist in this book, rather took a secondary place to another.  I thought this was a great way of introducing a character that would eventually become the focus of a lengthy series, rather than having him leap out of the pages at the reader full-bore and in your face.  It actually is one of the reasons I will probably continue to read more in this series, he intrigued me and made me want to find out more about him.  In creating the characters in this book, the Authors supplied enough details about them to allow the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks or speculate as to what might follow.  It is not only Pendergast that the Authors decided to just give ‘tasters’ to the character personality, they applied this to all the characters in the book and, while I found it an interesting way to lead into a series, I would have preferred to have more background on some of those characters who were probably not going to make it out of the end jacket alive, and this is the reasoning behind my 4 thumbs review.

It is a fast paced book, full of twists and turns that I really didn’t see coming.  This edge of the seat action kept me turning the pages until to my surprise I had finished the book in a day.  The idea of the entirety of the story line taking place in a Museum, and the suspense this brings with it makes this a book a would recommend to anyone who enjoys a book full of twists, turns and a little humour in places.

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Review: The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York ~ C. Alexander Hortis

the mobISBN ~ 978-1616149239
Publisher ~Prometheus Books
No. Of Pages ~382 pages
Links ~ Prometheus Books, Barnes & Noble, Amazon

Informative, authoritative, and eye-opening, this is the first full-length book devoted exclusively to uncovering the hidden history of how the Mafia came to dominate organized crime in New York City during the 1930s through 1950s.  Based on exhaustive research of archives and secret files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, author and attorney C. Alexander Hortis draws on the deepest collection of primary sources, many newly discovered, of any history of the modern mob.

Shattering myths, Hortis reveals how Cosa Nostra actually obtained power at the inception.  The author goes beyond conventional who-shot-who mob stories, providing answers to fresh questions such as:

* Why did the Sicilian gangs come out on top of the criminal underworld?
* Can economics explain how the Mafia families operated?
* What was the Mafia’s real role in the drug trade?
* Why was Cosa Nostra involved in gay bars in New York since the 1930s?

Drawing on an unprecedented array of primary sources, The Mob and the City is the most thorough and authentic history of the Mafia’s rise to power in the early-to-mid twentieth century.

3 Thumbs-UpThis was a really hard book to give a rating to; from the content point of view this book would have been awarded a full 4 thumbs as it was obviously well researched, and very interesting reading.  It takes everything the reader thinks they know about the Mafia and puts it into context.  It dispels a lot of the myth and romanticism that surrounds this group of people and shows them for what they really were.  The Book itself seemed to be aimed at those who already have knowledge of the Underworld workings of the mafia, but this doesn’t take away from it being a very informative read for those who are dipping into Mafia history for the first time.

Although this book is written very much like a history text; it includes sociology, economics and geography with some very detailed tables, I couldn’t help but feel that this was just someone’s lecture notes that they had bound into a book.  There was an over use of the phrases ‘as you will see’ or ‘now let us look at’ that just made it feel as if this particular take on the subject of the Mafia was meant to be heard not read.  Throw in the overlong chapter subheadings which appear on every page, and you have a writing style that I could only rating as 2 thumbs, and that was being kind.

My initial reasoning behind picking this up was an interest in Early New York, particularly the Italian side of things, as I have Family members who lived in this era and area.  This book did shed a great deal of light on life in the time period covered by the book, but not enough to give the boost to the rating it so sorely needs.  In the end I decided to split the difference between the two above rating points and give it a three.

The book was informative, but extremely dull in places which was a shame given the amount of research that had gone into it.  Maybe with a stricter editor, who was willing to cut out a lot of the ‘lecture’ speak, this could have been a lot less tedious and grating.  I would recommend it to anyone that is interesting in this subject, but be warned it may not be what you are expecting.

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Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ~ Robin Sloan

Mr PenumbraThe Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

4 Thumbs-UpIf I were ever to write a book, this is the kind of book I would want my name attached to.  Starting with the cover, which must be looked at in the dark if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a hardback copy, right through to the conclusion it pushed all the right buttons with me.  Having said this however, the end was a bit of a disappointment for me, and this is the reason the book only received a 4 thumbs rating; I felt it just left me hanging there.  There was no dramatic ending and far too many loose ends which I am hoping means there may be another book set in this bookstore.

The story is told from the viewpoint of, I suppose you could call him this, the main character, but there are so many characters in this book each as equally as engaging as this man who I really hesitate to cast him in the role of the protagonist.  Each of the characters provides the reader with enough back story to make them come to life on the page.  They are all quirky, a little eccentric in some cases or downright arrogant but they all play a crucial part in the story line; as does the store of the title and the books themselves.

This book is a combination of mystery, adventure, philosophy and unrequited love, whilst containing lots of points and issues that would make discussion points for either a book club or dinner table conversation.  We see how old and modern technology can come together and, at times cross the boundaries into each realm without the world blowing up; are given an indication at just where we might be heading in the way of technology, and why we need to preserve in their original form the old knowledge that is still around.  Secret societies are always a good read, but I thought the Author did a great job at hinting that maybe the ‘great Google, which is also featured in the book, may be a modern-day secret society.  To find out what I mean by this, you will just have to read the book.

I powered through this book in a few hours and would highly recommend it to someone who is looking for an adult adventure novel, with more than a liberal dash of mystery and humour thrown in.

Edited on Tuesday, 12th August:  Esther Bochner of Macmillan contacted me and asked if I would like to include an excerpt of the audio book.  So, for all you audio book lovers here it is:

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Review: Elizabeth Street: A novel based on true events ~ Laurie Fabiano

Elizabeth StreetBased on true events, Elizabeth Street is a multigenerational saga that opens in an Italian village in the 1900’s, and crosses the ocean to New York’s Lower East Side. At the heart of the novel is Giovanna, whose family is targeted by the notorious Black Hand–the precursor to the Mafia.

Elizabeth Street brings to light a period in history when Italian immigrant neighborhoods lived in fear of Black Hand extortion and violence–a reality that defies the romanticized depiction of the Mafia.

Here, the author reveals the merciless terror of the Black Hand-and the impact their crimes had on her family. Giovanna is based on Fabiano’s great-grandmother, and the book’s heroes and villains – such as Lieutenant Petrosino, the crusading cop and “Lupo the Wolf,” a cold-blooded criminal – are drawn from real life in this thrilling tale. While set in a dynamic historical context, Elizabeth Street is, above all, the dramatic story of the heroine, Giovanna, and how she triumphed over tragedy.

Part of the ‘A Book from every State of the Union’ Reading Challenge – New York.

4 Thumbs-UpThis was a very interesting book, and I think what added to its interest is that it is based on the Author’s own family history.

Because of this the character are very real, and with that comes all the traits the human species carries with it.  There are people the reader will love, and those they will hate; decisions made will either have the reader applauding or booing and getting ready to throw fruit where needed.  Due to the fact that these characters are based on real people it is impossible to comment on whether the Author did a good job on their development, as to do this the reader would have to personally know those mentioned in this books pages, to be able to base their decision on.  It is for this reason that I have chosen to not comment on development; I don’t know these people personally, and feel that to make any judgement on their development as the novel progresses would be doing them, and the Author, a disservice.

Having a family background through marriage of the Italian immigrant, I found this book very informative and learnt what is was like to be subject to meeting bureaucracy as the immigrants came through Ellis Island; having to make themselves understood in a country they hoped would provide them with a better life and, in some cases finding out that it really didn’t care. Not only does the reader find out about life in New York’s Italian community and how they survived through extortion and other tragedies that came their way, the reader also learns something of Italian history and the motivation that drove so many to weather the seas to come to the US.  It is apparent from reading this book that the Author took great pains in making sure the historical details were right on the mark, as well as making sure they told the story of these immigrants with compassion and understanding; something that is so often lacking in other books on this topic.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who, like our family, is here because of immigration particularly from Italy; those who are interested in the history of New York at the turn of the 20th century, and also anyone who is looking for an engrossing and different read.

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Review: Empire State (Empire State #1) ~ Adam Christopher

Empire State
It was the last great science hero fight, but the energy blast ripped a hole in reality, and birthed the Empire State – a young, twisted parallel prohibition-era New York.

When the rift starts to close, both worlds are threatened, and both must fight for the right to exist.

 

3 Thumbs-Up

This is a debut novel for this Author, and despite what the cover may lead the reader to believe this book is about, once they start reading they will discover it is something more.  Unfortunately, despite this book having a lot going for it, it didn’t quite reach the spot with me.

The reason for its shortcomings for me, all lie with the characters; right from the beginning they seem to be lacking something.  The initial character we are introduced to is gone before the reader really has a chance to get to know him, he is replaced by the main protagonist, who is marginally more interesting, but not enough to make the reader connect with him or grab their attention fully.  Many of the characters that appear in the book are never written with any real depth and, even though this is explained about halfway through the book, the reader spends much of their time surrounded by shallow characters.  The characters have very little substance, not enough to carry a whole book, which is a shame in this particular novel.

Fortunately the setting of the book and the mystery contained in its pages were engrossing enough to keep me reading to the end.  The setting is a parallel universe and brings a very steampunk feel to the pseudo-New York 1930’s written there with robots, prohibition, super heroes, unseen enemies and robots.  This fictional universe is well written and the Author leaves it wide open to the reader’s imagination to explore and populate as they will.  The overall feeling that the reader will gain from the atmosphere created in the book may well remind them of a Philip K. Dick novel, but which one will depend on how they interpret this novel.

I would recommend this book to readers of the time travel and fantasy genres.

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Oscar Hijuelos 1951 ~ 2013

Oscar

Oscar Hijuelos, a Cuban-American novelist, and the first Hispanic to win a Pulitzer prize, died of a heart attack whilst playing tennis in Manhattan on Saturday.

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, the novel which won the Pulitzer prize, published in 1989, tells the story of two Cuban brothers who travel from Havana to New York to start an orchestra. The book, which became a bestseller and won international acclaim, was eventually turned into a movie starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas.

His other novels include Our House in the Last World, Empress of the Splendid Season, Dark Dude, The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien and A Simple Habana Melody.

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