Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
digital galley provided by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley
Description from Goodreads:
1961 England. Laurel Nicolson is sixteen years old, dreaming alone in her childhood tree house during a family celebration at their home, Green Acres Farm. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and then observes her mother, Dorothy, speaking to him. And then she witnesses a crime.

Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to Green Acres for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by memories and questions she has not thought about for decades. She decides to find out the truth about the events of that summer day and lay to rest her own feelings of guilt. One photograph, of her mother and a woman Laurel has never met, called Vivian, is her first clue.

The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams, the lengths some people go to fulfill them, and the strange consequences they sometimes have. It is a story of lovers, friends, dreamers and schemers, play-acting and deception told against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

My Take:
I have been meaning to read some of Kate Morton's work and The Secret Keeper turned out to be a great opportunity. I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! Now, of course, I will be purchasing her other books. I love it when you find an author that really impresses you.

I enjoyed being pulled along on the search for the reason behind the crime that a young Laurel witnesses in 1961. As Dorothy draws closer to the end of her life, her daughter, Laurel begins to revisit that crime she witnessed as a child and decides she needs to find out what happened and why. Her sister shows her an old photo of Dorothy and a friend that they have never met and this is the catalyst for her search for answers. 

The Secret Keeper has multiple narrators, each with their part to play in the drama that was Dorothy's life.  The story is difficult to describe without giving away too much of the plot. The reader is given pieces of the picture from several different points of view and at different periods during Dorothy's life. I loved the way the  pieces of the story were woven together and I enjoyed the historical aspect as well. I don't want to give very much away, but I do love an unreliable narrator! It keeps things so exciting and makes predicting endings much more difficult. This was a great, entertaining read and I would highly recommend it.



Monday, November 26, 2012

Things Remembered

Things Remembered by Georgia Bockoven
review copy provided by William Morrow
Description from Goodreads:
 To face the future, Returning to her childhood home in the golden hills of Northern California means regret and pain for Karla Esterbrook. Yet she can't refuse when her ailing grandmother, Anna, asks her to help settle her affairs. After all, Anna raised Karla and her younger sisters after their parents' death twenty years before. But from the beginning a powerful clash of wills separated Karla and her grandmother, leaving them both bitter and angry.

A woman must let go of the past

Little does Karla know that a very determined Anna will do everything in her power to bridge the chasm between them--including helping a charismatic veterinarian out to win her granddaughter for himself. But can the past he healed? For Karla, opening her heart could lead to more hurt...or to love and reconciliation--and a passion of which she'd only dreamed.

In the tradition of Barbara Delinksy comes this poignant, moving story of the bonds of family, the strength pf love, and the power of forgiveness.


My Take:

I enjoyed reading Things Remembered by Georgia Bockoven. It is a nice story about family and pain and forgiveness.  Karla is still working through many of her painful memories from childhood. She only half remembers some things and some of the things she remembers are memories of a child who had only a tiny part of the pertinent information. Many of her impressions of her family are from those vague memories of childhood understood with a child's capacity and often missing vital bits of information.  Instead of asking about certain events, Karla goes with her childhood memories and hurts and steels herself against further pain by closing herself off from her grandmother. 

This story is about family and all the ways we can perpetuate discord without even realizing it. I found it interesting how the characters seem to work against each other without seeming to notice what they are doing. I found many of the dynamics within the family - between the sisters especially -to be pretty true to life.  It seems like the family dynamic of your growing up years carries over into adulthood, despite best efforts to get past it. Once the sisters seem to all get on the same page about moving beyond certain mindsets and behaviors, things begin to work out better. I'm not sure I quite buy how quickly the youngest sister turned around, but I thought the book was a nice, heart-warming story that would be a great read around the holidays.



Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fever

Fever by Mary Beth Keane
digital ARC provided by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley
Description from Goodreads:

Mary Mallon was a courageous, headstrong Irish immigrant woman who bravely came to America alone, fought hard to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic service ladder, and discovered in herself an uncanny, and coveted, talent for cooking. Working in the kitchens of the upper class, she left a trail of disease in her wake, until one enterprising and ruthless “medical engineer” proposed the inconceivable notion of the “asymptomatic carrier”—and from then on Mary Mallon was a hunted woman.

In order to keep New York’s citizens safe from Mallon, the Department of Health sent her to North Brother Island where she was kept in isolation from 1907-1910. She was released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary—spoiled by her status and income and genuinely passionate about cooking—most domestic and factory jobs were heinous. She defied the edict.

Bringing early twentieth-century New York alive—the neighborhoods, the bars, the park being carved out of upper Manhattan, the emerging skyscrapers, the boat traffic—Fever is as fiercely compelling as Typhoid Mary herself, an ambitious retelling of a forgotten life. In the hands of Mary Beth Keane, Mary Mallon becomes an extraordinarily dramatic, vexing, sympathetic, uncompromising, and unforgettable character.


My Take:
Fever by Mary Beth Keane was such a compelling book. I started reading it just to get a sense of the book; I had intended to finish another book I was already reading first. That plan failed miserably. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop until I had finished the book. Another intriguing thing was that when I wasn't reading, but living my life, taking care of everyday things, I found myself thinking about Mary Mallon and how different her life was from my own. 

The world that Mary Mallon - or Typhoid Mary, as most of us know her - was a much bleaker, dirtier, tougher world than we inhabit today. Her New York is the New York of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, of the six and seven day work week, of morphine and opium prescriptions, of rampant fevers of various sorts, of little to no social services. 

Mary left her native Ireland after losing her family one by one. She was tough, and courageous and a hard worker. Mary is quick to see insult even when it isn't actually there. She is sensitive to others' views of herself and she is quick to anger.  She isn't the most sympathetic character, but as I read Fever, I did find myself feeling sympathetic towards her plight. While, Mary can be tough to like, I found her to be very human. Mary Mallon may not have been the most likable person, but she was a person and she had feelings and she wasn't treated very well by the authorities.

Mary's story was fascinating and I enjoyed learning about how the discovery of the "asymptomatic carrier" and how the Department of Health decided to handle the situation and all the subsequent problems. But I also enjoyed just reading about the New York of the time. The novel presents a very vivid and realistic picture of the way life was lived during the time period. 

I would highly recommend Fever to all those who love a good historical novel, are interested in the history of medicine, or are interested in Typhoid Mary in particular. I would also suggest it as one of those books that help to give a sense of a time period and specifically New York City of the early 1900's. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Romanov Cross

The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello
digital arc provided by Random House via NetGalley
Description from NetGalley:

Nearly one hundred years ago, a desperate young woman crawled ashore on a desolate arctic island, carrying a terrible secret and a mysterious, emerald-encrusted cross. A century later, acts of man, nature, and history converge on that same forbidding shore with a power sufficient to shatter civilization as we know it.

Army epidemiologist Frank Slater is facing a court-martial, but after his punishment is mysteriously lifted, Slater is offered a job no one else wants—to travel to a small island off the coast of Alaska and investigate a potentially lethal phenomenon: The permafrost has begun to melt, exposing bodies from a colony that was wiped out by the dreaded Spanish flu of 1918. Frank must determine if the thawed remains still carry the deadly virus in their frozen flesh and, if so, ensure that it doesn’t come back to life.

Frank and his handpicked team arrive by helicopter, loaded down with high-tech tools, prepared to exhume history. The colony, it transpires, was once settled by a sect devoted to the mad Russian monk Rasputin, but there is even more hiding in the past than Frank’s team is aware of. Any hope of success hinges on their willingness to accept the fact that even their cutting-edge science has its limits—and that the ancient wisdom of the Inuit people who once inhabited this eerie land is as essential as any serum. By the time Frank discovers that his mission has been compromised—crashed by a gang of reckless treasure hunters—he will be in a brutal race against time. With a young, strong-willed Inuit woman by his side, Frank must put a deadly genie back in the bottle before all of humanity pays the price.

The Romanov Cross is at once an alternate take on one of history’s most profound mysteries, a love story as unlikely as it is inevitable, and a thriller of heart-stopping, supernatural suspense. With his signature blend of fascinating history and fantastic imagination, critically acclaimed author Robert Masello has once again crafted a terrifying story of past events coming back to haunt the present day . . . and of dark deeds aching to be unearthed.

Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, a television writer, and the author of many other books, most recently the supernatural thrillers Vigil (which appeared on the USA Today bestseller list) and Bestiary. His articles and essays have appeared often in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, People, and Parade,and his nonfiction book, Robert’s Rules of Writing, has become a staple in many college classrooms. His produced television credits include such popular shows as Charmed, Sliders, and Early Edition. A longstanding member of the Writers Guild of America, he lives in Santa Monica, California.

My Take:

Epidemiologist Frank Slater gets himself in trouble with his military superiors because he makes an ethical decision that goes against orders. Amazingly, the court-martial awaiting him disappears and he has a chance to redeem himself when a different kind of crisis arises that needs his expertise.  There is an isolated island in Alaska where the permafrost is melting and exposing the graveyard of a small colony of Russians that had died there in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Slater must secure the site and test to see if the virus is still viable before anyone is exposed. 

Unfortunately for Slater, Port Orlov is a very small town and news travels fast. Before he has even had a chance to set up his camp on the island and start work, there is already a rogue element there ready to cause trouble. The three locals who are intent on finding treasure in the graveyard have no idea what they are getting into. Their actions would almost be a comedy of errors if it weren't so dangerous and in the end so tragic and ridiculously bungled. Everything goes wrong from the start, but that doesn't stop Harley Vane, the would-be leader of the gang, from trying to attain his goal.

The two separate groups, the scientists and the treasure hunters, are mostly unaware of each other for a good deal of the time, which makes for entertaining reading as they maneuver around each other pursuing their individual goals.

The saying "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" pretty much applies to Slater's mission in Alaska. The one positive thing about his adventure, is that he meets Nika, the mayor of Port Orlov. Nika is a great character. She is smart, independent, and brings out the story of the Alaskan natives. I really enjoyed reading her story and would be interested in reading more about this character.

There is a parallel storyline that details the last days of the Romanovs and the fate of young Anastasia. This alternate history is quite entertaining though tragic and it is a very inventive way to explain how the Spanish flu could have reached such an isolated place as Alaska. I loved that the author found a way to combine two very fascinating historical topics into one novel. Both are fun to read about on their own, but combine them, and you have twice the adventure, tragedy and trouble.

I think anyone who enjoys history or historical fiction, or in interested in the House of Romanov, epidemics and Alaska would enjoy this fast-paced, exciting novel.


Monday, November 12, 2012

The Lincoln Conspiracy Review and Blog Tour

The Lincoln Conspiracy by Timothy L. O'Brien
review copy provided by Ballantine Books via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour
Synopsis:

 A nation shattered by its president's murder.

Two diaries that reveal the true scope of an American conspiracy.


A detective determined to bring the truth to light, no matter what it costs him.

From award-winning journalist Timothy L. O'Brien comes a gripping historical thriller that poses a provocative question: What if the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was wider and more sinister than we ever imagined?

In late spring of 1865, as America mourns the death of its leader, Washington, D.C., police detective Temple McFadden makes a startling discovery. Strapped to the body of a dead man at the B&O Railroad station are two diaries, two documents that together reveal the true depth of the Lincoln conspiracy. Securing the diaries will put Temple's life in jeopardy--and will endanger the fragile peace of a nation still torn by war.

Temple's quest to bring the conspirators to justice takes him on a perilous journey through the gaslit streets of the Civil War-era capital, into bawdy houses and back alleys where ruthless enemies await him in every shadowed corner. Aided by an underground network of friends--and by his wife, Fiona, a nurse who possesses a formidable arsenal of medicinal potions--Temple must stay one step ahead of Lafayette Baker, head of the Union Army's spy service. Along the way, he'll run from or rely on Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's fearsome secretary of war; the legendary Scottish spymaster Allan Pinkerton; abolitionist Sojourner Truth; the photographer Alexander Gardner; and many others.

Bristling with twists and building to a climax that will leave readers gasping, The Lincoln Conspiracy offers a riveting new account of what truly motivated the assassination of one of America's most beloved presidents--and who participated in the plot to derail the train of liberty that Lincoln set in motion.
 



My Take:
"What if the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was wider and more sinister than we ever imagined?" This question is a great starting point for The Lincoln Conspiracy. When the novel begins, the reader is introduced to Temple McFadden as he walking to the B & O Railroad station. The assassination of President Lincoln is still fresh in the minds of everyone, including Temple. Little does he know that he is about to be quickly drawn into a vast conspiracy that could have far-flung repercussions. At first the reader knows little about Temple except that he has a limp, uses a cane and is a police detective in Washington, D.C. Temple's past and his current situation as well as his true character are revealed as the novel progresses. Temple McFadden is a complicated character who has faults and weaknesses but strives to live according to a certain code. I really liked that the author didn't try to make him too perfect.

Fiona, Temple's wife, is a smart, observant, intuitive, resourceful, independent woman during a time when it was still very difficult for women to be these things. I loved her sharp wit and her calm in difficult situations and her quick thinking. Fiona is one of those characters that stays with a reader long after the book has been finished and put back on the shelf. One of the many, insightful things said by Fiona is still true today - and probably always has been. This particular line just resonated, especially during an election year.
 "Money turns the wheel in America, not votes," Fiona would say whenever they strolled near the Treasury.

 There are so many private detectives, agents, independent agents, corrupt officials and businessmen, military officers and outright criminals in the story to keep the reader guessing as to everyone's ultimate motivation for their actions.

Temple has friends in some interesting places and I particularly enjoyed the sections of the novel that detailed his relationship with Sojourner Truth and the other abolitionists as well as the colorful characters who lived in Swampdoodle.  There are even run ins with Pinkerton and his detectives, including a female detective.

The line about money turning the wheels in America is very important for the whole conspiracy and the storyline in general. I loved how the author intertwined the real historical people with his fictional characters and many of the events in the novel happened or seemed like they could have happened as written. It was great fun and caused quite a bit of anxiety as I rushed through the final quarter of the book to find out how the conspiracy ultimately concluded.

The Lincoln Conspiracy would be a great book choice for anyone who likes history, historical fiction, thrillers, is interested in Lincoln or the Civil War.

About the Author
  

Timothy L. O'Brien (www.timothylobrien.com) is the Executive Editor of The Huffington Post, where he edited the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning series about wounded war veterans, "Beyond the Battlefield." Previously, he was an editor and reporter at The New York Times. There, he helped to lead a team of Times reporters that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service in 2009 for coverage of the financial crisis.

Prior to becoming Sunday Business editor at The New York Times in 2006, Tim was a staff writer for the Times. Among the topics and people he has written about for the paper are Wall Street, Russia, Manhattan's art world, cybercrimes and identity theft, Warren Buffett, geopolitics, digital media, international finance, Hollywood, terrorism and terrorist financing, money laundering, gambling, and white-collar fraud. Tim was a member of a team of Times reporters that won a Loeb Award for Distinguished Business Journalism in 1999.

Before returning to the Times in 2003, Tim was the senior feature writer at Talk, a magazine founded by former New Yorker editor Tina Brown. Tim was with Talk from 2000 until it ceased publishing in 2002. Before joining Talk, Tim was a reporter with the Times and, prior to that, The Wall Street Journal.

O'Brien, a graduate of Georgetown University, holds three master's degrees -- in US History, Business and Journalism -- all from Columbia University. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife and two children.






 



Friday, November 2, 2012

The Hollow Man

The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris
review copy provided by Harper
Description from Goodreads:
"A twisting spiral of lies and corruption, a pitch-perfect portrait of contemporary London and a beguiling bastard of a hero-what a recipe for a great read." -Val McDermid

Waking up on Hampstead Heath in a crashed squad car, still drunk, with no wallet, no phone, and only a Masonic candlestick to remind him of the events of the night before, London police detective Nick Belsey has hit rock bottom. At dawn he checks in at the station to collect his things on what should be the last day of his career, but something in the overnight files catches his interest-a missing person report from Bishops Avenue, London's richest street. Alex Devereux-worth a fortune, never seen, lived alone-has vanished, leaving his Porsche in the garage and a suicide note on his desk. In Devereux's disappearance, Belsey sees a way out for himself: the opportunity for a new start by stealing the man's identity. It's a pity, however, that so many other people are looking for Devereux as well. Belsey quickly realizes that his would-be scam is about to be outclassed by a far more ambitious fraud, as the race to get to the elusive oligarch's fortune becomes a game with life and death stakes.

The Hollow Man is a tour de force of pace and plotting, and a vividly evocative love-letter to London. Oliver Harris is a sharp and stylish writer who has created a seductive, worldly, and cunning anti-hero. Nick Belsey is amoral and cynical but nonetheless deeply serious about his investigation, about a police officer's vision of the world, and about the quest for truth that haunts any good detective


My Take:

How to describe The Hollow Man? This is a tough question. In a word: Fun! This was such a great, fast-paced, crazy, whirlwind book. Make no mistake - Nick Belsey is no hero - but he is a great anti-hero. The quote above "a beguiling bastard of a hero" is pretty much a perfect description.

I didn't really know what I'd be getting into when I started reading this one. I just picked it up because it sounded so different from what I had been reading recently. It took only a page or two and I was so intrigued by figuring out what exactly was going on with Belsey and then with the suicide of Devereux - well, I was quickly hooked. 

The basic story is pretty easily figured out: Belsey, a dirty(ish)*cop is broke, bankruptcy just around the corner, looking for a quick-fix to his problems -- and the fix doesn't even have to be legal. The seemingly perfect opportunity presents itself and then while trying to make it all work, hell breaks out all over the place. There are criminals, assassins, crooked politicians, dirty cops, youth in trouble, you name it, it's probably here. The plot twists are many and pretty clever. I enjoyed every minute I spent reading this one.


* [ the -ish because everything is relative in this book]