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: Hunting Sweetie Rose: A Mystery ~ Jack Fredrickson

SweetieSweetie Fairbairn, the doyenne of Chicago society, is known for big-hearted philanthropy and magnificent soirees in her penthouse high atop one of the city’s premier boutique hotels. Dek Elstrom is hired by a mysterious man in a long limousine to investigate the death of a clown. Was it suicide—or murder? What is the connection between the dead clown and Sweetie?

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

5 Thumbs-UpI came across this novel while I was searching my library for books to include in my 2014 reading challenge; it was the only one by this Author on their shelves and immediately cried out to me.  Heeding that cry, I brought it home… am I glad I did.

The main protagonist is everything there is to love, and hate, in the character of a private detective, or should that be insurance investigator; to find out what this means you’ll have to read the book.  He is full of the dry sarcastic wit and one-liners that a lover of a traditional mystery novel will find to their taste.  He is, or thinks he is, invincible, not easy fooled and a tough guy to boot; but really as we find out as his character develops in this novel, he is more than a little vulnerable. There is so much about this man that reminded me of Philip Marlowe, that I wasn’t but a few chapters into this novel before I found myself really rooting for the guy, and wanting everything to go his way.  There are a cast of supporting characters for our main to play off against, but rather than let his main character overshadow them, the Author does an excellent job of making sure that the others he encounters either bring out the best him in, stop him from totally self-destructing, or really bring out his hard side; whatever their role they are written with equal parts of grit and humour and enough realism to make the reader feel as if they actually lived.

The plot is quirky and funny wrapped up in a pretty page turning mystery that will keep you guessing to the end.  I finished this book in one sitting, and when I finally came to the closure of the plot all I could wonder was ‘how the heck did I not see that coming’.  The Author is also able to inject a touch of realism into the locations of his novel by throwing the reader pieces of plot that link to past, or current, news items.  Normally I don’t like this in the fiction I read as I hate being distracted from a good plot by the feeling I’ve seen this in the paper, but that was not the case here.  I think the difference between this novel and others that I’ve read that attempted this was the fact that this Author wrote about these events with the same with as he did his plot.

A downside to this book, I found, was that it actually the third in a series containing this protagonist; however, this did not make me like the book any less or feel I was missing out on anything, as it works just as well as a standalone novel.  What this discovery did achieve however, was to ensure that I will be reading more by this Author.

If you are looking for a writer who has a similar style to Raymond Chandler, I highly recommend this novel.  If you’re looking for a good traditional mystery, well see the sentence above this one.

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Review: The King’s Grave: The Discovery of Richard III’s Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds ~ Philippa Langley, Michael Jones

The Kings graveThe first full-length book about the discover of Richard III’s remains by the person who led the archeology team and the historian whose book spurred her on

The mystery of who Richard III really was has fascinated historians, readers and audiences familiar with Shakespeare’s dastardly portrait of a hunchback monster of royalty for centuries. Earlier this year, the remains of a man with a curving spine, who possible was killed in battle, were discovered underneath the paving of a parking lot in Leicester, England. Phillipa Langley, head of The Richard III Society, spurred on by the work of the historian Michael Jones, led the team of who uncovered the remains, certain that she had found the bones of the monarch. When DNA verification later confirmed that the skeleton was, indeed, that of King Richard III, the discovery ranks among the great stories of passionate intuition and perseverance against the odds. The news of the discovery of Richard’s remains has been widely reported by the British as well as worldwide and was front page news for both theNew York Times and The Washington Post. Many believe that now, with King Richard III’s skeleton in hand, historians will finally begin to understand what happened to him following the Battle of Bosworth Field (twenty miles or so from Leicester) and, ultimately, to know whether he was the hateful, unscrupulous monarch of Shakespeare’s drama or a much more benevolent king interested in the common man. Written in alternating chapters, with Richard’s 15th century life told by historian Michael Jones (author of the critically acclaimed Bosworth – 1485) contrasting with the 21st century eyewitness account of the search and discovery of the body by Philippa Langley, The King’s Grave will be both an extraordinary portrait of the last Plantagenet monarch and the inspiring story of the archaeological dig that finally brings the real King Richard III into the light of day.

5 Thumbs-UpThis is definitely not a dry history book, and for those who know next to nothing about Richard III they will receive an almost personal history lesson about this Monarch as they progress through the book.  This is an extraordinarily user friendly book.

The chapters in the book alternate between the story of searching for, and eventually finding the grave of Richard III and his factual history, and it is not the one everyone is familiar with  and painted by Shakespeare and the victor of Bosworth Field.  However, in reading this book it soon becomes apparent that this is more than a simple recounting of an archaeological dig; it is very personal to the Author and that comes through in their writing.  The book is loaded with an impressive amount of information, both about the search itself and, as I’ve already noted, the history of this King, but it s the delivery of this information that really impressed me.  There is not a point in this book where the delivery becomes stale and dusty, the Authors managed to make every part of it enjoyable to the reader.

The sections of the book that cover the identification of the remains, and the scientific techniques used are equally as interesting as the descriptive scenes of the battle that took the Kings life.  They covered disputes and grievances between the House of York and the House of Tudor with great tact and never once came out in favour of one House or the other.  This book will also serve to dispel some of the images people have that Richard III was just an all-round evil man; it informs the reader of all the good he did for the country and shows him in the context of the world he lived in.  Through the Authors writing skills the reader is introduced to a man of deep convictions and courage whilst at the same time showing he was definitely not a saint.

The great strength of this book is that it captivates like a well-written historical novel while at the same time informing and educating the reader.  This strength kept me up late into the night to finish this book and once again stoke the flames of my love of history.  Richard III, the last King of England to come from the House of York and the last Plantagenet King found his champions in these hard working people, and will finally have the burial a Monarch deserves, particularly one of such fame.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of all forms of history, plus those who want to learn a little more about this period of time in England.

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Review: The Struggle Trilogy ~ Nelson Lowhim

Struggle“The struggle knows not the logic of morals” is an Arabic saying.

A man, Walid, lives in Baghdad, where bombs tear apart markets and flesh, Americans shoot at anyone who crosses them and the police are too scared to stop murderers as the streets run red with blood. Walid must protect his family, his neighborhood, from this onslaught of violence. But how? He decides to use his brains and gun. As a consequence, he dives into the underbelly of a city in the throes of civil war.

Fighting other Iraqis and the Americans, Walid must figure out how to live just one more day.

Mohammad, Walid’s childhood companion, decides to sell out his friend to get personal justice.

Qassem, an Iranian, trained to work in the shadows for Tehran, plays with men’s lives to achieve his goals.

Douglass, an American soldier, dutifully carries out his mission.

Everyone fights to come out on top, but not all of them can survive. Who will make it to see another day?

4 Thumbs-UpAlthough this is a review on a trilogy of books, I really feel it is more a review on just one book.  If you are going to read this, please don’t try to break it down into three parts, just jump straight in and read it as if it is a complete book, I assure you that you will not be disappointed.  While I am on this subject, I’m not sure why the Author chose to split this book into three as it works very well as a full novel on its own.  Also you if have a weak stomach, be warned that this is a book set in a combat zone; the scenes of violence contained in it cannot be avoided and, in some places, they may make the reader sick to their stomach.  However, this is also one of the strengths of this book, as it serves to bring right into the readers comfortable reading spot a perspective on a war that has often been used as a political tool by Governments far and wide.

The main protagonist is in this book is not a likeable one at all, despite starting out with good intentions in his fight for the preservation of his life and that of his Family’s he soon slides into a world that brings about actions which truly make the reader doubt if he ever had a decent bone in his body to start with.  If it had not been for several other characters I encountered in reading this novel, I think the main character would have truly made me reconsider completing this book.  Other characters are written in such a way that they add depth and breadth to the story; the humanity or inhumanity of war is reflected through their actions and shown in the turmoil they face on a day-to-day basis.  The Author has done an excellent job of taking personalities from both sides of this conflict and making them equally likeable or not, regardless of their background; with a skilful pen the Author demonstrates the motivations of all the different groups operating in this war without taking a firm stand for one group or the other.  Regardless of whether the reader likes the characters or not in this book, there is no avoiding the fact that we are reading about real and suffering people who endure the unthinkable and have, like all humans, lapses in their moral codes.

For me, I found this to be a very emotional book to read; knowing the Author is a Veteran themselves and had actually been in the same dark place my Husband had, made me realize that this was just as much as healing tool for the Author as it was a piece of fiction based on facts for the reader.  The book is full of common military terms and, at times I could hear the words of the Author echoed in conversations I have had with others that were in Iraq during the early years of the war.  Although many readers may think that the ending to this book is rather weak compared to the rest of the contents, I felt it was very indicative of the nature of this conflict; there are no clear rules of engagement and no nice clean happy endings, at the end of the day there are losses on both sides and each have to rebuild not only their homes but their lives as well, physically and mentally.

This is a very thought-provoking novel, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who would like to get another perspective on the Iraq war and those who are interested in military books.

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Review: The Snark Handbook: A Reference Guide to Verbal Sparring ~ Lawrence Dorfman

SnarkIt’s impossible to go a full day without using snark, so why fight it? Snark is everywhere, from television to movies to everyday life. This lively collection provides hours of entertainment—better than an Etch A Sketch, and more fun than Silly Putty! At the heart of it, being in a state of snark can be one of the most useful tools at one’s disposal and hence (yes, I used “hence”), a powerful way to get what you want. With snark, you can catch people completely off-guard, and royally piss them off.

Included here is the Snark Hall of Fame, the Best Snarky Responses to Everyday Dumbassness, and much more. It’s a book that will make you laugh. It’s a book that will make someone else cry. It’s a book every student of the American psyche (that’s all of us, Sparky) needs to have. Let loose. Let your inner anger become a positive rather than a negative, but most of all, have fun. (Yeah, like that’s something you know how to do.)

4 Thumbs-UpWhen my Husband gives me a book and suggests I read it, I usually do as he’s not an avid reader; so when he gave me this one I sat and devoured it in a couple of hours.

If you’ve ever walked away from a situation wishing you could have come out with a witty remark or comeback to a comment someone made, then this is the book for you.  Likewise, if you are looking for something that will bring a smile to your face on an otherwise long and boring journey (providing you’re not driving that is)then again you might want to consider picking this little gem up to travel with.

It is packed from cover to cover with asides and comeback from the famous and not so famous, some are a little juvenile in their delivery but all will make you laugh; and if travelling on an aeroplane as my Husband was when he read it, apparently make your fellow passengers laugh too.

The book is short and sweet and, by no means will it turn you into a verbal sparring heavyweight by the time you finish it, but it will keep you highly entertained.  It is immature in places, as I’ve already said, but if we let our inner children die from lack of feeding then life will just become mundane.  Feed this one to your inner child and it will be satisfied for a while.

I would recommend this book to anyone that appreciates life is for living and enjoying and not to be taken too seriously.

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Review: The Dark Road ~ Ma Jian, Flora Drew (Translator)

The Dark RoadMeili, a young peasant woman born in the remote heart of China, is married to Kongzi, a village school teacher, and a distant descendant of Confucius. They have a daughter, but desperate for a son to carry on his illustrious family line, Kongzi gets Meili pregnant again without waiting for official permission. When family planning officers storm the village to arrest violators of the population control policy, mother, father and daughter escape to the Yangtze River and begin a fugitive life.

For years they drift south through the poisoned waterways and ruined landscapes of China, picking up work as they go along, scavenging for necessities and flying from police detection. As Meili’s body continues to be invaded by her husband and assaulted by the state, she fights to regain control of her fate and that of her unborn child.

4 Thumbs-UpI read this book on the recommendation of a reader of my blog posts, and was glad I took the time to do so.  If you are expecting a Chinese version of Alan Burgess’s The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, you will be sorely disappointed.  There is no fairy tale happy ending, this book is grim and full of atrocities almost as soon as you start reading; it lives up to its title very well.

This is the first book I have read that was translated from Chinese and, although it made me squirm in places, it is incredibly well written and well translated.  During the opening chapters I had to take time to read carefully to make sure I wasn’t missing any nuances that the translator had wanted to include, and this worked well to the point that in no time I was reading through the pages with ease.  The Author has written and developed some truly believable characters within this books covers, characters that can be both embraced and reviled by the reader. However, be under no illusion that, unless you have walked a mile in these characters shoes, that you will be able to relate to them in any way; I haven’t, I wouldn’t want to experience what they do, and I couldn’t relate to them because of the situation they are in and the events that happen to them, I didn’t feel that this inability to connect with characters hurt my enjoyment of this novel in any way at all.

It is not light entertainment by any means, and contains graphic descriptions of the events that take place within its pages; one such being an abortion performed at eight months (just recalling this passage makes me shudder anew).  The Author brings to the surface all that is wrong with the One Child Policy practiced in China, and makes the policy all the more disturbing as they skilfully convey to the reader that there is nothing they can do about this.

This book is chilling, infuriating at times and almost unbearable to continue reading at others as it chronicles the inhumanity of the above mentioned policy, and the lengths that people will go to in order to avoid detection of their violation of this rule; most of all this is an incredible book with a wonderfully presented storyline written in a manner that will make you think about it long after you have closed the book for the last time.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to expand their reading sphere, providing they are not overly squeamish.

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“I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie!”

book fountain

If you’ve looked around my blog, checked into my other social media places or just know me in reality, you will know that I am a true book lover and an avid and prolific reader, but nothing makes me happier than combining my love of reading with a truly large book; give me a read over 600 pages, a spot to read and you will lose me for hours, if not days.  Because I so enjoy epic reads, I thought that I would share some with you that I have read, or am currently enjoying, in the hopes that maybe you too will be tempted to dip a toe in the water of large books:

2666Title – 2666
Author – Roberto Bolaño
ISBN 13– 978-1433290855
Page Count – 912 pp
Publisher – Picador

Description – Three academics on the trail of a reclusive German author; a New York reporter on his first Mexican assignment; a widowed philosopher; a police detective in love with an elusive older woman–these are among the searchers drawn to the border city of Santa Teresa, where over the course of a decade hundreds of women have disappeared.

Comments – Will be reviewed at a later date

The PassageTitle – The Passage (The Passage #1)
Author – Justin Cronin
ISBN 13– 978-0345504975
Page Count – 785 pp
Publisher – Ballantine Books

Description – An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy–abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl—and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

Comments – Currently reading, review to come in November

The Sunne In SplendourTitle – The Sunne in Splendour
Author – Sharon Kay Penman
ISBN 13– 978-0345363138
Page Count – 944 pp
Publisher – St Martin’s Griffin

Description – A glorious novel of the controversial Richard III—a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history.

In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III—vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower—from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling.

Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.

This magnificent retelling of his life is filled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.

Comments – My all time favourite book of Richard III

The Winds of WarTitle – The Winds of War (The Henry Family #1)
Author – Herman Wouk
ISBN 13– 978-0316952668
Page Count – 896 pp
Publisher – Back Bay Books

Description – A Masterpiece of Historical Fiction-The Great Novel of America’s “Greatest Generation” Herman Wouk’s sweeping epic of World War II, which begins with The Winds of War and continues in War and Remembrance, stands as the crowning achievement of one of America’s most celebrated storytellers. Like no other books about the war, Wouk’s spellbinding narrative captures the tide of global events-and all the drama, romance, heroism, and tragedy of World War II-as it immerses us in the lives of a single American family drawn into the very center of the war’s maelstrom.

The Reality DysfunctionTitle – The Reality Dysfunction (Night’s Dawn #1)
Author – Peter F. Hamilton
ISBN 13– 978-0330340328
Page Count – 1223 pp
Publisher – Orbit

Description – Space is not the only void…

In AD 2600 the human race is finally beginning to realize its full potential. Hundreds of colonized planets scattered across the galaxy host a multitude of prosperous and wildly diverse cultures. Genetic engineering has pushed evolution far beyond nature’s boundaries, defeating disease and producing extraordinary spaceborn creatures. Huge fleets of sentient trader starships thrive on the wealth created by the industrialization of entire star systems. And throughout inhabited space the Confederation Navy keeps the peace. A true golden age is within our grasp.

But now something has gone catastrophically wrong. On a primitive colony planet a renegade criminal’s chance encounter with an utterly alien entity unleashes the most primal of all our fears. An extinct race which inhabited the galaxy aeons ago called it “The Reality Dysfunction.” It is the nightmare which has prowled beside us since the beginning of history.

Comments – I will be re-reading this book and reviewing it at a later date

The naked and the DeadTitle – The Naked and the Dead
Author – Norman Mailer
ISBN 13– 978-0312265052
Page Count – 736 pp
Publisher – Picador

Description – Hailed as one of the finest novels to come out of the Second World War, The Naked and the Dead received unprecedented critical acclaim upon its publication and has since become part of the American canon.

Written in gritty, journalistic detail, the story follows an army platoon of foot soldiers who are fighting for the possession of the Japanese-held island of Anopopei. Composed in 1948, The Naked and the Dead is representative of the best in twentieth-century American writing.

From Here to EternityTitle – From Here to Eternity
Author – James Jones
ISBN 13– 978-0517223000
Page Count – 864 pp
Publisher – Delta

Description – Diamond Head, Hawaii, 1941.  Pvt. Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a champion welterweight and a fine bugler.  But when he refuses to join the company’s boxing team, he gets “the treatment” that may break him or kill him.  First Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden knows how to soldier better than almost anyone, yet he’s risking his career to have an affair with the commanding officer’s wife.  Both Warden and Prewitt are bound by a common bond:  the Army is their heart and blood . . . and, possibly, their death.

In this magnificent but brutal classic of a soldier’s life, James Jones portrays the courage, violence and passions of men and women who live by unspoken codes and with unutterable despair. . .in the most important American novel to come out of World War II, a masterpiece that captures as no other the honor and savagery of men.

Name of the windTitle – The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle #1)
Author – Patrick Rothfuss
ISBN 13– 978-0756404079
Page Count – 662 pp
Publisher – DAW Hardcover

Description – Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen. The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king forms a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand.

13246018Title – The Night Angel Trilogy (Night Angel #1-3)
Author – Brent Weeks
ISBN 13– 978-0316201285
Page Count – 3323 pp
Publisher – Orbit

Description – For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art – and he is the city’s most accomplished artist.

For Azoth, survival is just the beginning. He was raised on the streets and knows an opportunity when he sees one – even when the risks are as high as working for someone like Durzo Blint.

Azoth must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics – and become the perfect killer.

Comments – Review posted on June 17, 2013

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and many may feel I have left some off that really should have been included, but these are a few I felt were worthy of bringing to the attention for the reader who may not have discovered them yet.

Happy reading!

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