Kay Scarpetta's having a hell of a day. She arrives at her office and opens an email containing a photo of a severed ear. She's due in court after lun...moreKay Scarpetta's having a hell of a day. She arrives at her office and opens an email containing a photo of a severed ear. She's due in court after lunch, and wouldn't you know, gets called out to recover a body floating in Boston Harbor. Strangely, the corpse, which appears mummified, is tied up in such a way that it's likely to be pulled to pieces during recovery, so Kay must dive in and figure out how to prevent that from happening. When she arrives late to court, the judge reads her the riot act in front of the jury. When she finally gets back to her lab, it's to find that the FBI has horned into her case.
Over the course of thirty six hours, Kay and her team (Lucy, Marino, and Benton) discover and scramble to solve a string of interconnected murders. Kay and her cohorts are brilliant people all, but talk about emotional baggage! While struggling with their personal problems, which are heavy, it becomes evident that the killer is taunting Kay. Rarely has she felt more vulnerable or alone.
What is refreshing about this, the twentieth Scarpetta novel, is watching four pros who care very much about each other pool their first rate clinical specialties to resolve some nasty crimes; while it's disconcerting and often aggravating to see them at odds with one another, it is this that makes them truly real, truly human. Unlike the characters in some long running series, they do grow older, and along the way, act and react and evolve over time. They stand by each other nevertheless. Sometimes, they're a bit paranoid, but then again, who isn't?(less)
Rich, eccentric Tim Chambers, resident of Chicago and Rome, has died, and his estranged son Jack has been named executor of the estate. Chambers was a...moreRich, eccentric Tim Chambers, resident of Chicago and Rome, has died, and his estranged son Jack has been named executor of the estate. Chambers was a master of manipulation, and has left a manuscript with instructions for its publication. Entitled Indigo, A Manual of Light, it is nothing less than a set of instructions for teaching oneself to assume the aura of invisibility. Jack has inherited nothing of his father's fortune, which goes to half-sister Louise and to a protege named Natalie, but he's been designated the estate executor. Resentful and perplexed, he sets out to accomplish his assignment as quickly as possible. Traveling to Rome with Louise, Jack is greatly disconcerted to find himself powerfully attracted to her. When he meets Natalie, an artist, he is equally drawn to her. His time in Rome grows increasingly surreal, as Natalie encourages him to follow the bizarre process set out in the Manual of Light.
Beautifully written, author Joyce imbues his tale with the imagery of light and color, which works especially well in the Roman setting. The deceased Tim Chambers is very much a presence, though not in the ghostly sense. The narrative is interrupted by both a series of flashbacks and chapters from the manual, and at times, like Jack, the reader wonders what is real and what is illusion. He gradually arrives to the realization that his father is still manipulating him and others from the grave, which creates a sort of mild paranoia. Compelling on the psychological and metaphysical levels, the novel ends with a final conundrum that does not quite dispel all its mysteries. (less)
"I'm gonna make a brand new start of it, New York, New York", sang Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli in what has become the city's anthem. As he did for...more"I'm gonna make a brand new start of it, New York, New York", sang Frank Sinatra and Liza Minelli in what has become the city's anthem. As he did for England, Ireland, and Russia, Edward Rutherfurd has undertaken to relate the history of New York City in novel form. My favorite of all his works is Sarum, told the story of the evolution of Salisbury Cathedral, though his other titles are also well worth reading. From Manhattan's earliest years to the decade following 9/11, Rutherfurd traces the experiences of the fictional Master family as New York grows in size, prominence, and status. Along the way, he deftly weaves in the stories and contributions of slaves, Dutch and English settlers, Native Americans, and members of the various immigration groups, all of whom have played such important roles in the making of one of the world's greatest cities.
If the novel conveys a theme, it would be that of the ongoing effort to build a socially just community. The first third of the book, covering the period from the settling of New Amsterdam to the War for Independence, is perhaps the most compelling section, and the most detailed. From then on, the author is forced by the vast scope of his topic to skipping entire decades and eras in order to focus on what he views as the city's most formative events, including the draft riots during the Civil War, the prejudices and struggles affecting each immigrant group as they attempt to assimilate, the Great Depression, and second half of the 20th century. His characters are well drawn, though in my view, the later Master descendants lack the depth and vitality of the earliest ones. Particularly vivid are the portrayals of Quash, one of the family's slaves, and his family. And Rutherfurd successfully depicts that vibrant ambience of this crowded and multicultural place, only fourteen miles long and two wide, and surrounded by water and smaller islands.
Read the book and you'll "want to be a part of" New York too.(less)
Jane Seymour was the third wife of Henry VIII, and the one most ignored by historical fiction writers. In Plain Jane, Laurien Gardner rectifies that s...moreJane Seymour was the third wife of Henry VIII, and the one most ignored by historical fiction writers. In Plain Jane, Laurien Gardner rectifies that situation. The result is a rather simplistic picture of Jane's time at court as lady in waiting to Henry's first and second wives, and of her brief marriage during which she gave birth to the long awaited heir. Because Jane died shortly after producing the prince, we'll never know how this third marriage would have fared.
Gardner does a creditable job trying to fill in the blanks that comprise Jane's biography, and the basic facts in her telling of events seem accurate. The plot is straightforward, and dialogue is realistic and free from glaring anachronism. Where this book falls short is in its characterizations of the main players. Anne Boleyn is the consummate other woman, selfish, arrogant, and demanding, with no redeeming features. Henry is an overgrown child, selfish, judgmental and petulant. As for Jane, it's difficult to believe she could have risen so far had she been as simple and insecure as portrayed; hardly a page can be turned without her constant ruminations on her "plainness", and she spends a full two thirds of the story huddling in one corner or another, embroidering, while all the other courtiers make merry around her. The exception to this pattern occurs after the royal marriage, when Jane begins to wonder whether she will be able to escape the fates of her predecessors, because although Henry proclaims his devotion to her, he still shows his vindictive side. Toward the end, she feels a sense of sisterhood with Katherine and Anne.
1915, Boston. Helen Allston and her daughter, Eulah, perished on the Titanic, and three years later, the patrician Allstons are still in mourning. Eld...more1915, Boston. Helen Allston and her daughter, Eulah, perished on the Titanic, and three years later, the patrician Allstons are still in mourning. Eldest daughter Sibyl (aptly named) continues to frequent seances, looking for a message from her mother that might give her some peace. Sibyl is a spinster at age 27, taking over her mother's job of running the family home on Beacon Hill. When her younger brother, Harley, is thrown out of Harvard for unsavory behavior, Sibyl's former beau, now a professor of psychology, re-enters her life. Harley's bohemian girlfriend, Dovie, also enters the picture, and teaches Sibyl a thing or two about loosening up a bit. In the process, Sibyl learns that she has the gift of clairvoyance. Is it a curse or a gift? It certainly brings pain....
Sibyl's story is an appealing one, sure to resonate with anyone who has suffered loss. Is it a believable one? The answer depends upon the reader's point of view. Her journeys into the future are paralleled with flashbacks into the earlier lives of her father and mother, which provide clues into what's going on in Sibyl's head. For the open minded, the clairvoyance angle works; otherwise, it's just so much claptrap. What makes it interesting, either way, is watching how Sibyl's relationship with her father, brother's paramour, and former suitor develop, and how her take on life in general undergoes a metamorphosis. Part melodrama, part psychological drama, The House of Velvet and Glass offers an intriguing tale which raises questions about social class, religious beliefs, free will, and the nature of grief.(less)
Susan Callisto is a Boston attorney/election consultant, disappointed in love, and coping by throwing herself into her work. She is lured into taking...moreSusan Callisto is a Boston attorney/election consultant, disappointed in love, and coping by throwing herself into her work. She is lured into taking on a last minute candidate for mayor, in the person of Chaz Renfrow, biotech specialist, despite some misgivings about his character. Within a few days, he and his assistant are dead. On the personal front, Susan's surrogate grandpa lands in the hospital, badly beaten. Could this incident be connected to his lease dispute? The case is assigned to her ex boyfriend, Detective Michael Benedict, and together, they try to puzzle out what's going on.
A Crack in Everything is tautly composed, only 250+ pages, but crammed with characters, clues, and action. There is no shortage of suspects with motive, or of loose ends that need to be tied together. Angela Gerst is up to the job. She knows lawyering, politics, Boston, and competent writing, and her characters are intelligent, lively, and credible. My only complaint is that I kept getting a couple of them confused, but otherwise, this is a terrific first novel that promises to develop into a fine series. (less)
In 1868, seamstress and former slave Elizabeth Keckley (she, herself, spelled it Keckly) did the unthinkable, when she had the audacity to write a mem...more
In 1868, seamstress and former slave Elizabeth Keckley (she, herself, spelled it Keckly) did the unthinkable, when she had the audacity to write a memoir of her life in general and her years in the White House in particular. She would soon regret it, or at least regret her honesty and her misplaced trust her publisher. Drawing primarily from that memoir, author Jennifer Chiaverini has written a fictional account of her life from 1860 to her death in 1907, and although the perspective is primarily Elizabeth's, appears to have provided a fair picture of the tumultuous life of Mary Lincoln as First Lady.
Her engagement to serve as Mary's "modiste" was quite a feather in Elizabeth's cap, contributing greatly to the success of her dressmaking business. Mary quickly came to rely upon her for much more than her sewing skills. Mary was never well accepted into the society of the capitol, and Elizabeth became her truest friend and confidante. She also gained great insight into the character of Abraham Lincoln. Each woman was remarkable in her own right, for very different reasons, and each suffered substantially in the years following the President's assassination.
Ms. Chiaverini writes a series of historical novels involving quilting during the Civil War, and Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker is produced in the same simple, cozy style. Apparently, she couldn't resist including a few slow chapters on the making of a quilt said to have been designed especially for Mary by Elizabeth, although she never managed to give it to her. What this book does well is paint a picture of race relations during the Civil War era; particularly evocative are the passages on the derogatory and overtly racist public reaction to the memoir, and on the difficulties Mary and Elizabeth encountered when traveling together. Mary is sympathetically portrayed as a well-meaning woman who did many fine things, but who undermined her popularity through her own behavior, likely due to bipolar disorder. Less uniformly successful is the portrayal of the personality of Elizabeth. Her extraordinary accomplishments are justly explicated, but the character herself comes across as a candidate for sainthood.
No book, of course, is perfect, and this is a story well worth reading. Elizabeth Keckley deserves a prominent place in the history of her era, and Mary Lincoln a more compassionate image, as Jennifer Chiaverini has demonstrated.(less)
The New York Times estimated "that forty percent of all the artworks presented for sale in any given year are forgeries." The Art Forger provides some...moreThe New York Times estimated "that forty percent of all the artworks presented for sale in any given year are forgeries." The Art Forger provides some intriguing glimpses into this world, from the complicated mechanics of painting both originals and forgeries, to the meticulous process of authentication, to the hidden agendas and secrets of the great museums. The now infamous Gardner Museum art heist has been much in the news lately, and Barbara Shapiro has crafted an intriguing novel around it.
Clair Roth is a talented painter, eking out a living in Boston by painting reproductions of masterpieces commissioned by an internet company. Before his death, Clair's ex-boyfriend gained his fame by passing off one of her paintings as his own; when she attempted to take credit, she was thoroughly and publicly discredited, and is now something of a pariah. Imagine her shock when Boston's premier art dealer, Aiden Markel, approaches her with a tempting proposition - to make a copy of one of the missing Gardner paintings, a Degas that is now, somehow, in Markel's possession. In return, she'll receive a substantial payment and a show of her own at his high end gallery.
The plot is inventive, the first half following Clair at work, and the second her relationship with Markel, the marketing of the painting, and the hooplah that follows. Inserted between Clair's chapters are fictional "letters" written by Isabella Stewart Gardner, telling how she acquired the Degas. She was an original, a true eccentric, and her story is as fascinating as Clair's. It's a ripping good story, built upon questions of ethics and building to a satisfying revelation at the end. (less)
Young Marina Nesmith, fresh out of college, moves from NY to Florence, determined to acquire the best possible training as a gilding and restoration s...moreYoung Marina Nesmith, fresh out of college, moves from NY to Florence, determined to acquire the best possible training as a gilding and restoration specialist. Sarah and her husband Thomas, a noted photographer, take her under their wing, and although Marina views herself as heterosexual, some of her feelings for Sarah make her wonder. As she's establishing herself in her new career, Sarah becomes pregnant, and abruptly returns to the states. Now, fifteen years later, her daughter demands to know who her father is, and Marina has some choices to make.
What I liked about The Gilder: Marina is an independent woman who makes her own way in the world. As she traverses Florence and its environs, her impressions capture some of the essence of the city and its art.
What I didn't like about The Gilder: Coming of age novels tend to be very similar, and this one seems more suitable for young adult audience than for mature readers. Too many questions about motivations remain unanswered, and, except for Marina, characters are shallow. For the most part, I breezed through the pages, never fully, or even partially, captivated by any of the situations.(less)
Who was Anne Boleyn? I can never think of her without thinking of Scarlet O'Hara as well, because that's how I picture Anne, as strong willed, determi...moreWho was Anne Boleyn? I can never think of her without thinking of Scarlet O'Hara as well, because that's how I picture Anne, as strong willed, determined, feisty, and unafraid. Anne was real, though, and she's come through history as a scarlet woman, an unscrupulous home wrecker who probably deserved to be executed. Susan Bordo has tackled the question of who/what this woman truly was and why Henry VIII, once so besotted with her, came to feel compelled to wipe her off the face of the earth.
The first half of The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a historical study of contemporary documents, most of which, alas, were written by the queen's detractors (especially Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador.) But Anne had her admirers as well, and Ms. Bordo does an admirable job teasing out and presenting their opinions as well. Of particular merit is the space the author devotes to chronicling Anne's valuable religious work and her genuine social concerns; there is some evidence, for example, that Thomas Cromwell, who played a major role in her downfall, agreed with Anne's religious tenets but differed with her about what should be done when the religious houses were "reformed".
The second part of the book examines Anne's role in popular culture over the centuries. Ms. Bordo provides brief reviews of her treatment in literature, up to the present day. Surprisingly, she devotes even more time to Anne's portrayal in the movies and television, with entire chapters describing the production of the recent Showtime series, "The Tudors". Not being much interested in pop culture and celebrity, reading this section seemed to me like perusing an issue of People magazine at the hairdresser. Hence the four star rating. But hey, that's just me.
Overall, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is strong enough to counter the image of Anne Boleyn as a thoroughly immoral concubine or witch. Perhaps she is not England's greatest queen, but she made an important contribution to the country's religious development, and was, after all, the mother of England's greatest queen! (less)
Yorkshire DCI Alan Banks (a favorite of mine) is assigned to the case of a fellow detective, Bill Quinn, who was bizarrely shot to death with an arrow...moreYorkshire DCI Alan Banks (a favorite of mine) is assigned to the case of a fellow detective, Bill Quinn, who was bizarrely shot to death with an arrow from a crossbow. Among his effects are a series of compromising photos, which prompt the higher-ups to call in a professional standards officer, the "icy blonde" Joanna Passero. Banks resents having to work with one of the "rats". When a second body turns up, that of a freelance reporter from Talinn, the case leads this undynamic duo to Estonia. Along the way, Joanna learns something about the detective business, while Banks unearths a myriad of shady characters involved in human trafficking, and resolves a six year old cold case. Corruption and greed are rampant, and as is true in many other recent suspense novels, the spotlight shines on post-Soviet Eastern Europe and organized crime. More police procedural than thriller, Watching the Dark also follows the efforts of Banks's usual partner, DI Annie Cabot, who ties up several important loose ends that are crucial to cinching the net around the perpetrators. What the book lacks in excitement it more than makes up for in timely, contemporary detail.(less)
Bone River is a mystery, but it's less a "who-dunnit" than a "what was done." Leonie Russell was raised in the Pacific northwest by her ethnologist fa...moreBone River is a mystery, but it's less a "who-dunnit" than a "what was done." Leonie Russell was raised in the Pacific northwest by her ethnologist father, who trained her to take up his own line of work and study. She always tried to be a good daughter and a good scientist, and when her father died, she trustingly married the man he chose for her, his associate Junius Russell. Together they made a life collecting Native American artifacts and selling oysters, and Lea's only regret is that she never had children. But a pair of surprising events occur that shake her to her core, her discovery of a mummy buried along the riverbank, and the arrival several weeks later of Junius' twenty-six year old son, Daniel, about whose existence Lea had been ignorant.
Megan Chance is a writer who is adept at creating genuine, compelling characters and intriguing plot lines that involve, but are not superseded by, spiritual, often mystical elements. In Bone River, she captures that arrogant racism that characterized the nineteenth century, the Victorian belief in the inferiority of women, and the struggles of eking out a living in an area that was then untamed wilderness. Leonie's deeply existential crisis is often heartbreaking, and the reader is never certain how she will resolve it until the final pages. Finding the courage to be who you are is a daunting task for all of us.(less)
An art theft investigator and member of the President's Council on arts and culture, Zander Blake heads to London to give a convention speech. Times a...moreAn art theft investigator and member of the President's Council on arts and culture, Zander Blake heads to London to give a convention speech. Times are tense, as there's just been a terrorist bombing in Turkey. The tension is ramped up when another conference presenter is murdered, his room ransacked. It isn't long before his assistant, doctoral student Penny Theobald,is kidnapped, and Zander's badly roughed up when he tries to stop her abductors. Zander has suspicions about who's behind all the vicious mayhem, and as soon as he's physically able, he's on the trail to Istanbul.
Bombs and Believers owes its basic set of premises to The DaVinci Code, but it's no mere clone. It careens along at break-neck speed, drawing into its path a host of colorful characters with agendas of their own. There's the museum curator from New York's Met, the shady ex-con of an LA art dealer, the Scotland Yard bird dog, an American foreign service officer whose brief is not quite clear, and the pair of brothers who run Turkey's government and cultural scene. The center around which this cyclone whirls is nothing less than one of the ancient wonders of the world. Following the chase resembles participating in an online adventure game, full of puzzles to solve and ciphers to decode.
Bombs and Believers is not great lit, but it is a breathless ride, loaded with hairpin turns, booby traps, and surprises galore. Great fun to be had as the pages whiz by.(less)