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Monday, March 30, 2015

Blood Infernal: The Order of the Sanguines Series

James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell have teamed up again to co-author the third book in their paranormal thriller series: Blood Infernal: The Order of the Sanguines Series (#479).  It concludes the story begun in City of Screams and Blood Gospel (See my post of 1/28/13.) which follow the adventures of an unlikely trio as they strive to save the world from the dark forces of Lucifer.  Where else would you find a female archaeologist (the Woman of Learning), a buff military man (the Warrior of Man)  and a vampire priest who has vowed to serve the Church and subsist only on the consecrated wine of the blood of Christ (the Knight of Christ), and want to believe in their world?

Erin Granger, Jordan Stone and Father Rhun Korza are in a race against time as the story opens.  They must follow a trail of clues which lead them from Prague to Venice to Rome and beyond with the infamous Countess Elizabeta Bathory in their custody to prevent the Gates of Hell from opening at the prophesied moment.  The action is non-stop and the odds against the trio and their allies almost insurmountable as they battle against forces multiplying and growing in strength minute-by-minute.  Can they possible survive and accomplish their mission?  It's in doubt right up to the final pages...

And once again, my EfM class provided synchronous background information on the ancient Jewish text, The Book of Enoch.  Who knew this four year theological program would provide so much useful information for the enjoyment of my recreational reading?!

You do have to totally suspend belief to enjoy this series, unlike most of Rollins' books which are often too real for comfort, but if you like paranormal series minus the sparkly vampires, this might just be the series for you, with the added benefit of providing some pretty interesting historical tidbits and intriguing places to visit along the way.  Don't think I'll be including the Faust House on my trip to Prague, though!  One caveat: this is definitely a series to be read in order from the beginning.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

You know this story doesn't have a happy ending, but I found Erik Larson's recounting of the events leading up to and following the sinking of the SS Lusitania by a German U-boat compelling and disturbing in his latest non-fiction book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania (#478).  It was this act which ultimately led to the United States joining the Allies in World War I, despite President Woodrow Wilson's determination to keep America neutral.

By narrating the unfolding events from many perspectives, Mr. Larson makes the convergence of factors real, filling in personal details of the passengers' lives against a larger political canvas.  It's very easy to picture yourself in place aboard the Lusitania, going through the normal shipboard routines of a transatlantic passage, and for the most part, not worrying too much about the German U-boat threat.  After all, the Cunard representatives had assured them that when they reached the British Isles, the Lusitania would have a Royal Naval escort.  The question is, why didn't it?  Mr. Larson addresses this in the final section of his book with some rather shocking facts.

One of the things I particularly liked about this book is all the additional information and anecdotes Larson includes in his footnotes.  I must admit, I am a compulsive reader of footnotes if they include anything other than straight bibliographic references.  There were a number of personal comments included here, as well, which made the book more vivid for me.  He also included information on where to go and see actual newsreel footage of the Lusitania setting off on her final journey, with passengers arriving at the terminal, and the boat being nudged out of the pier and into the Hudson River in New York City.  On YouTube, searching for SS Lusitania brings up this clip, and another featuring interiors of the ship.  Watching these clips brought home just how immense the Lusitania was, and made it easy to picture the places talked about in the book: the First Class Dining Room, a typical stateroom, passengers playing shuffleboard on deck, etc.  It made these passengers' stories personal.

All of which made the fate of the Lusitania all the more outrageous when the means to save her and all aboard her were within the hands of the British government, and the cold and calculated way the British Admiralty decided to pursue Captain Turner of the SS Lusitania afterwards to take the fall.  Or as Lord Mersey who conducted the official wreck inquiry and found Captain Turner blameless contrary to Admiralty wishes, the whole mess was "a damned dirty business".  The sinking of the Titanic gets the lions' share of the public's interest: I think the story of the SS Lusitania is even more tragic.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Tutor

Andrea Chapin has produced a riveting work of historical fiction in her debut novel, The Tutor (#477).  It's 1590, and Elizabeth I is actively persecuting the remaining Catholic members of the peerage.  Katherine de L'Isle is a member of the extended family of one such Catholic household in Lancashire.  Their tutor, in reality the family priest, has been brutally murdered when William Shakespeare comes to Luwanfal in his place to tutor the boys of the family.  He couldn't be more different in personality or methods than Father Daulton, and it doesn't take Katherine, as a young widow, long to fall under his spell.

Other members of the household try to warn Katherine of Shakespeare's penchant for playing a different role for every person to suit his own personal agenda, but she will not listen to them and falls headlong in love with him,  Will claims he cannot write without her, as she corrects his verse and suggests conceits and imagery for him to use.  He binds her ever closer with his words and attention until she is convinced he returns her regard.  The question becomes: who is tutoring whom?  Katherine is so blinded by her obsession with Will she cannot even sense the currents in the household around her.  It seems nothing can end well here.

I'm not a Shakespeare fan.  I never have been, but this book cements my feelings about him.  Katherine is normally such an intelligent woman.  Without the mitigating influence of her Uncle Edwards's love and care when he exiles himself abroad to escape Elizabeth's clutches, she is ripe for such an opportunist as Will to take advantage of her.  I was disappointed that she could not at least keep her dignity in the end, but as the real Shakespeare said, "All's well that ends well.", and so it proves here.  If you are interested in this period of history, The Tutor is not to be missed.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Shark Skin Suite

Nobody writes about Florida quite like Tim Dorsey.  And, as he points out in Shark Skin Suite (#476), his latest Serge A. Storm opus, his cache of bizarre Florida stories is almost endless.  Heck, in the Prologue of this story, when one of the G Force ladies starts to reel off stories that had been in the recent local news, I realized that I could have been the one reciting that list because all of those stories had been in our local news over the last year or so!  As Dave Barry, another famous Florida writer, is fond of saying, "I am not making this up!"

In Shark Skin Suite, Dorsey takes aim at the flourishing Florida foreclosure business.  And make no mistake about it, it is a business to the characters who people this novel, but who are based on real life actions perpetrated on their victims.  Much of the action in this novel revolves around a class action suit brought by two very junior associates of a prestigious south Florida law firm, one of whom happens to have been an old flame of Serge's.  Too bad for the defense's Ivy League team that these wet-behind-the-ears first time trial lawyers turn out to be smarter and more persistent than they are, despite a mounting body count!  Much of the action takes place, fittingly, in Key West, with a Coleman (Serge's constantly high sidekick) surprise thrown in that I certainly didn't see coming.

Although I enjoyed Shark Skin Suite, I did find it a little difficult to get into.  I wasn't sure for awhile just where the story was headed.  Once Dorsey hit his stride, it was fine.  I do admit to being disappointed that a few more of the suits and unsavory lenders didn't meet a more fitting end that Serge normally devises for such lowlifes.  I guess that makes me bloodthirsty, but it's always so satisfying when a bad guy meets the kind of end he or she truly deserves.  An added benefit of this book was that now I know what to expect when my husband and I visit the Everglades outpost in Flamingo, Florida, later this year.  Thanks, Mr. Dorsey!  There's always some useful Florida history and information tucked into your books, and that's a good reason to keep coming back for more.

The Great Zoo of China

When I described how much I liked Matthew Reilly's thriller The Great Zoo of China (#475) to one of my book clubs, a few people told me "You had me until you mentioned dragons!"  Ironically, in the author interview at the back of my pre-publication copy, author Reilly describes how he goes about addressing the very issue of making the existence of dragons in modern China plausible.  I have to tell you, it worked for me.  But then, I'm a great fan of Naomi Novick's work, too.

Modern China is assuming a leadership position on the world stage, but the one place they still trail behind the United States is in popular culture.  In order to overtake their Western rivals, Chinese leadership has labored over a secret project that they feel will accomplish that feat, and they are now ready to reveal it in all its glory to a prestigious group of visitors, including high-ranking Politboro members, the American Ambassador and journalists from the New York Times and National Geographic.  The project turns out to be the Great Zoo of China, but it's the denizens of that zoo who are the culmination of years of work by Chinese scientists and geneticists: dragons.  CJ Cameron, a world-renowned herpetologist, is covering the story for National Geographic with her brother along as her photographer.  Although everything at first seems to be going smoothly, CJ is uneasy about the whole set up.  She vividly remembers the day an alligator changed her life permanently.  What potential for harm do these animals possess?  When things do begin to go wrong, it's up to CJ to keep as many of their party alive as possible  The Chinese aren't willing to leave any witnesses alive to report on any flaws or failures of their showcase project...

The Great Zoo of China is certainly a thrill ride.  I kept thinking that CJ and the others in her party couldn't possibly survive the latest attack, and yet somehow, she manages.  That's not true of most of the visitors or workers at the zoo, though.  The gruesome body count is quite high.  Normally, both my husband and I read while eating our meals, exchanging comments on whatever it is we happen to be looking at.  The Great Zoo of China didn't make it to the table with either of us.  However, once the meal was over, we were both eager to get back to the book to find out what happened next.  I particularly liked the strong female lead in this book.  CJ is smart, and a survivor, yet she manages to hang onto her humanity despite horrific scenes and betrayals around her.  She's the one figuring out the solutions that allow a handful to escape to safety.  My husband has already starting reading some of Mr. Reilly's previous books, and I know I'll be right behind him.

Friday, March 6, 2015

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

Poor Flavia de Luce!  In As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (#474), the seventh in Alan Bradley's marvelous mystery series featuring his intrepid twelve year old chemical savant, Flavia's been exiled to Miss Bodycote's Female Academy in far-off Toronto to continue her education in her mother's footsteps.  Her mother's education included far more than the ordinary subjects; she was performing unheralded and mysterious services for her country when her plane went down in the Himalayas ten years previously.  Flavia is her chosen successor to don that same mantle.

She doesn't care much for being handed over like an unwanted package to the Rainsmiths, who will take charge of her on the trip overseas.  Dr. Rainsmith, after all, is on the Board of Governors for Miss Bodycote's school.  While Flavia and the Rainsmiths are all glad to see the back of each other at journeys' end, her first night such a long way away from home is interrupted by a another student beating on her.  When Miss Fawlthorne, the formidable head of the Academy, comes to investigate the noise, any hope of keeping the midnight visit a secret is lost when Patricia Ann Collingwood tumbles out of the chimney in Flavia's room, followed by a corpse wrapped in a Union Jack.

Who is the victim?  Are the tales Collingwood related to Flavia about missing students true?  And why aren't the police following up after their initial visit?  There's a lot more going on at Miss Bodycote's than meets the eye, and Flavia is left to muddle through her mysterious training on her own with only a single letter from Dogger (with an enclosure from her awful cousin Undine!) to cheer her up in her misery.  Flavia being Flavia, she keeps a stiff upper lip while struggling to untangle the mystery that has fallen into her lap, while she realizes that absence does make the heart grow fonder in terms of her family and Buckshaw.  Yaroo!

If you haven't discovered Flavia de Luce for yourself yet, do start with the first book in this series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  She is definitely no angel, but so much fun to read about!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Rosie Effect

I so enjoyed reading The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (See my post of 9/29/14.) that I couldn't wait to get my hands on its sequel, The Rosie Effect (#473).  Oh, dear.  I really think The Rosie Project would have been better as a stand alone book. 

Don Tillman and his now-wife, Rosie are living in New York, settled into a visiting professorship at Columbia for him, and medical school for her when Rosie announces she is pregnant.  How does this pair handle impending parenthood?  Not well at all! 

Incidents that are meant to be comic come across as creepy in many instances, and I have to admit I wasn't very far into this book before I began to dislike both Don and Rosie.  Intensely.  Plus, in my opinion, it could have done with quite a bit of unsparing trimming.  I'm sure that with the success of the first book, the pressure on Mr. Simsion to produce another literary winner was unbearable.  It's hardly surprising that the result turned out to be so disappointing.  I'm not alone in thinking this way.  Read it if you must; just don't expect it to be anywhere near as good a read as the original.  Not recommended.