I received this book from the publisher to review.
I enjoyed it. It was an interesting mystery/thriller with martial arts added. It is set in modern da...moreI received this book from the publisher to review.
I enjoyed it. It was an interesting mystery/thriller with martial arts added. It is set in modern day Portland, Oregon, with the main character Sam Reeves a police officer. Besides his official job, he also owns a martial arts studio, where he teaches a core group of committed students. He uses his teaching to help his group find their individual styles and a positive philosophy of life.
Sam is not a perfect hero, he has personal and professional problems that he struggles with, and that make for an interesting story and character development. He has a shadowy family tie back to Vietnam that he discovers as the story unfolds.
The book is peopled with interesting supporting characters and opponents. The story weaves Sam's personal and professional problems to create a compelling read. A killing on the job threatens Sam's standing and self-regard. The story explores Sam's feelings, his use of martial arts, and his family as he tries to survive a hostile press, self-doubt, and a determined killer who is not done targeting what Sam loves.
The writing is very smooth and the book reads quickly. Sam is a mix of both progressive and traditional outlooks that produce a decent man trying to find his way in the world, while creating the least harm. His family is quirky and I would be interested in reading more about him.(less)
**spoiler alert** I was sent this book to review by the publisher. I had read and enjoyed, eventually, Fiorato's other book The Glassblower of Murano....more**spoiler alert** I was sent this book to review by the publisher. I had read and enjoyed, eventually, Fiorato's other book The Glassblower of Murano.
I would have rated it 4.5 stars if Goodreads allowed half star rating. It is almost perfect, but not quite.
This book is completely set in the past, and follows a teenage prostitute named Luciana Vetra around Renaissance Italy. It starts in 1482 in Florence when she poses for a painting called Primavera by Botticelli. She feels insulted by Botticelli at the end of their session, and she steals a smaller unfinished copy of the painting.
Almost immediately bad things begin to happen to Luciana. Her prostitute roommate is killed, her wealthy patron who set up the modeling is killed, and Luciana feels she will be too. It seems someone wants the painting back and will kill to get it. With no where else to go, she runs to the monastery of Santa Croce. She had an earlier interaction with a naive, earnest and handsome novice. Brother Guido was trying to save her soul, and asked her to give up her life of sin and come to the monastery to begin a new life. She decides to take him up on his offer.
It is late at night and past curfew. She sneaks into the monastery and waylays Brother Guido. He is horrified to be alone at night in a chapel with an unauthorized visitor, a woman and prostitute no less. He decides to seek out his superior's advice, the Monastery's Librarian. They are terrified to find he has been killed too. Luciana left a pamphlet from the monastery in place of the stolen painting. Brother Guido believes that they don't just want the painting back, but that it must contain a secret that they don't want others to know. He thinks they will both be killed even if they return the painting. And that starts the race to decipher the code in the painting and stay ahead of the killers.
Brother Guido is related to a wealthy, noble family in Pisa. They flee there, while trying to unravel the clues in the painting. They have good chemistry, though at times fight and hate each other. Luciana is lewd, rude, uneducated and uncultured. Guido is educated, refined and possessed with a strong faith.
Disasters follow them from city to city as they travel to Pisa, Naples, Rome, back to Florence, Venice, Bolzano, Milan, Genoa and finally Pisa again. It is quite the adventure. The book is long and it drags a bit in the middle as you are bouncing around Italy, but then picks up again. The settings and people are done extraordinarily well. The historical details are wonderful. You really feel you are immersed in the time period while reading.
Brother Guido changes his status several times as does Luciana as the secret of her birth and parentage is revealed. Their relationship changes, and there are many interesting and surprising minor characters who pop in and out of the story.
As the book nears the end it becomes so gripping you can't put it down. There are twists, heartbreaks and great recoveries. Yes, the code is deciphered. Several days after I finished the book, I was at work and flashed on a vision of Luciana on a canal, and I wondered what she was doing. Never done that before. The power of the completed book is so strong that the characters seem to live on.
The only drawback to the book is that it has a bumpy start. Luciana seems to be too rude and then too refined in her speech. She also seems too modern in her word choice. Eventually the author finds the right voice and the book moves on. The other annoying thing is Luciana's listing 3 facts to explain or set up new events, and ideas. Got old after the second time, though it petered out after a while and you became inured to it when it returned.
The blurb on the book calls it Dan Brown meets Sarah Dunant. Sarah must be the historical part, because Brown is obviously the code part. Those who find Brown unbearable should not fear, this book has much more depth, nuance and sophisticated writing than he is capable of producing.
Of course all through the book, I wondered why Botticelli would paint a picture with code of a plot that had not happened yet, if they needed it kept secret ? Surely he would have painted it after the plot had succeeded. That bit of foolishness seems to be the only real connection on Brown's level.
**spoiler alert** I received this book from the Librarything Early Reviewer program. It is historical fiction with a psychological bent. I liked the w...more**spoiler alert** I received this book from the Librarything Early Reviewer program. It is historical fiction with a psychological bent. I liked the writing and I enjoyed the story. The main character was interesting if not always likable. Her main focus was her enjoyment, safety and needs. Too often historical fiction is little better than a romance in old clothes. This is not your typical 'long-suffering women overcomes trials with womanly virtues, and finds happiness in the end' story. People who want that type of sentimentality or who object to sex, especially a women who initiates and enjoys sex with no interest in marriage will not find this a satisfactory read.
The book is fiction, but based on the true life story of the real person, Eastern Jewel (EJ). She was a Manchu Princess who was shipped off to Japan by her father when she was 8 years old. She came from a Chinese society that didn't value females, and used them without consultation. She was sent to an important family in Japan, who treated women similarly. She was told she was being sent away for bad behavior, but it is likely the Japanese man, Kawashima (her father's blood brother) asked for her. Since she was only the daughter of the 3rd concubine and one of 13 girls she was considered expendable.
EJ was enraged to be disposed of and decided that she was no longer Chinese. She became enamored of all things Japanese, though she was really treated no better there. Sex was the whole official purpose of EJ's life. Her Chinese or Japanese master expected to use her as either a bride, or a whore - in short a bargaining chip in the power plays they lived by in daily personal and political life.
EJ saw nothing wrong with sex, and enjoyed it, but wanted to be in charge of her life and enjoyment. Because of her attitude and actions she was forever removed from the possibility of the Bride option. She was deflowered by Kawashima's father at 15, after she had been adopted by the family, but never really accepted. EJ was also pimped out by Kawashiima to his cronies and those he wished to charm or sway. Later he even slept with her. At one point she becomes pregnant and is forced to abort the child or be outcast. Japan did not have the easy Chinese atmosphere of concubines and excess children. Her doctor is a quack and she survives but is unable to bear children.
EJ did not see the real downside of her life until she fell in love with a young soldier Kawashima sent to her. She thought the feeling was mutual and that they would marry. He told her she was too shameless to ever be a Japanese wife and was known for her actions by all in society. EJ's heart broke but she never thought seriously of marriage again.
She was trying to be in charge of her own life, but she also was always seeking love, acceptance, and belonging in a family. She lost her mother at 8, was not accepted by the women in the Japanese family, and eventually lost her devoted servant to age. She does form some strong female friendships but they are always transitory because they are not family; She often sacrifices or betrays them to her current needs. She doesn't lie to herself about what she does, but she is unable to make the choice to act differently.
Around 18 she was married off, against her will to a dull Mongolian prince who was far away and barely civilized. EJ was sent to the empty Mongolian plains with the endless sky and the wind and freezing cold. She betrays those who befriended her, has an affair, and then runs off.
EJ then moved back to Japan but had to hide from her family. She sold herself to rich men so they could fund her lifestyle. She eventually moves to Shanghai, and there is asked by the Japanese army to spy for them, which she agrees to do. It is during the run up to WWII when there is much intrigue and unrest. The place is full of Chinese, Japanese, White Russians, and Westerners. The Chinese are fighting each other: Nationalists and the Communists, and the Japanese are trying to expand their control in China.
Her life is an empty round of parties, events and high society, and foreign men. She often is depressed and uses opium to hide from her sadness. She has become confused, and thinks that to achieve happiness she must act like a man, since women's roles are so constrained.
As an agent she is sent to Peking and there she stays until Japan loses the war. Once the Japanese are defeated she is doubly wanted as a Japanese agent, and a Chinese traitor. She may or may not have come to a bad end once she is captured by the authorities.
Throughout the book the story focuses on EJ and her internal world. Her attempts to find a place to belong, on her terms are the prism that we see her life through. At the end she has a choice to accept her fate or use someone else to suffer her fate. The book ends before we know which course of action she picks. The reader is left to decide if EJ has grown or if she is still pursuing her 'me first' policy.
I enjoyed the writing and the settings. The characters were well done and EJ was always interesting. The story was good if a little incomplete. Some wonder why the author didn't include some of the actions scenes in EJ's life when she was actually in the field for the Japanese (called Japanese Joan of Arc) ? I would have enjoyed that as well. Still it was an enjoyable read and I would read the author again.(less)