Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vanessa And Her Sister, by Priya Parmar

Vanessa And Her Sister is historical fiction that reads like an embellished autobiography. Author Priya Parmar uses the device of diary entries of Vanessa Stephen Bell interspersed with telegrams from others in her circle of friends which help further the story.  I didn't realize until the author tells us after the novel is complete that the diary is a complete work of fiction based on the historical record of events that she uses as her basis to tell the story.

And what a story it is! It is turn of the century in London, 1905 to be exact.  The four young adult Stephen siblings move from their deceased parents' home into the Bloomsbury neighborhood in London.  Their friends and acquaintances are creative and intellectual and all too ready to loosen the restrictions of the Victorian era.  At a time when the pressure for a young woman to marry is enormous, Vanessa and her sister, who would eventually become Virginia Woolf, are resistant to marriage proposals, enjoying the company of the group of young friends, mostly male, who are frequent visitors in their home. 

The household and their cast of friends eventually became known as the Bloomsbury Group. They were definitely game changers in the literary and art worlds of pre-WW I Europe, but at this time they had yet to make their imprints on history. The friends include Clive Bell, an art critic, Rupert Brooke, a poet, E.M. Forster, a novelist, John Maynard Keynes, an economist and a myriad of other authors, artist and soon to be prominent government leaders.

Vanessa is an artist who has yet to sell a painting, her brother Thoby is a recent graduate of Cambridge, currently studying law. He is  a charismatic young man whose friends are the ones who make themselves at home in the Stephen siblings' rambling shabby chic house. Virginia is a writer with a vivid imagination and an incredible need to be the center of attention.  The youngest brother, Adrian is a Cambridge undergrad.

The dynamic that moves the story forward though is the relationship of the two sisters. Parmar does a masterful job of portraying the incredibly gifted but emotionally needy Virginia, whose dependence on her sister's attention causes her to go after anyone who shows too much attention to Vanessa, with the goal of destroying any relationship that might cause Vanessa to move on with a life separate from Virginia. Vanessa is emotionally strong, creative and intelligent and is mostly able to maneuver around Virginia's manipulative ploys.

This is quite a compelling introduction to some historical figures who come alive in this work, befriend and support one another, and in many ways, they will change the world. Priya Parmar is an excellent writer and I look forward to reading more of her work

I received an e-galley of the book from Random House via NetGalley. It is tentatively scheduled for publication in January, 2015.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dangerous Passage, by Lisa Harris

Dangerous Passage is a Romance Suspense novel with a refreshingly Christian world view. Avery North is a young single mother who also is a detective in the Atlanta police department. Her marriage to a fellow police officer ended abruptly when he was killed on the job several years earlier.  She is torn between getting back into the dating world and the strong feeling that she has way too much on her plate already without dealing with that distraction.  However, the "distraction" is Jackson Bryant, the medical examiner, and it appears that they will be working a case together. 

A second young Asian girl's body has been discovered in a back alley in an aging neighborhood in Atlanta.  There is no ID on the girl, but she shares a mysterious tattoo with a previous victim.  Could there be another connection? Could a serial killer be targeting these girls? But why would Avery and her family be threatened as well? The investigation must be onto something big, but what exactly is it?

Before long, a number of clues develop and some seem contradictory.  An autopsy reveals a strong clue that the second girl may not be who she has been assumed to be, and the likely suspect is looking more unlikely every day.  This may be more than murder, perhaps it is evidence that human trafficking is much closer to home than Avery would have ever suspected.

Lisa Harris has written multiple books, winning the Best Inspirational Suspense Novel Award for 2011 from Romantic Times.  She and her family have served as missionaries in Africa where she has seen how much difference one can make in the lives of others by stepping out of one's comfort zone and getting involved with those who aren't able to help themselves.  This is the first in her Southern Crimes series. the second is Fatal Exchange.

I received an e-book version of Dangerous Passage from BookShout in exchange for a review.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Thirteenth Tower, by Sara C. Snider

Emelyn is a young orphan, abandoned as an infant at the doorstep of a fairly well to do family in a small village.  She is raised, not unkindly but without love, in this household as a servant.  She is lonely and longs to know more about the family she will likely never meet. 

But the sameness of her days changes suddenly when a pied piper-type of musician comes fiddling down the lane, hypnotizing all the villagers into following. Emelyn seems to be the only one who is not under the spell, but she goes along at the insistence of her only friend, a fellow servant girl. Emelyn realizes that something is terribly wrong and that some of those at the festival are not human at all. When one of the strange creatures grabs her in a threatening way, she is surprised and relieved that a stranger strikes the imp with a club, continuing to swing it til the other imps left standing skulk off into the night.

The stranger, a young man named Corran, introduces himself.  He has come to the town at the time of the festival seeking work.  He and Emelyn join forces with two Magisters, seemingly superior humans with some magical powers of their own.  With the town's population now having disappeared there seems no choice but to travel with the Magi, who are going north to try to weaken whatever power is sending the strange creatures into the civilized towns.  The Magi note that Emelyn is not bewitched by the strange creatures and intimate that they know her parents and can help her reconnect.

There is good and evil in this world, but the evil is not well defined, or at least it's a little too nuanced for me. Though the two Magi are mysterious, even ominous, they don't try to destroy her. They even attempt to teach her their own style of magic, as they sense that she has latent and untapped powers that she doesn't know how to use. In the end we see them use their power against her parents, but they explain that  they had thought it was for a higher purpose.

I expect that there will be a sequel or two where Emelyn's powers will be unleashed and hopefully harnessed for good purposes. This book lays the groundwork for a brighter future, but for now she remains on her own.

I got an e-copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley.

Crossing the Line, by Frederique Molay, translated by Anne Trager

Le French Book's Anne Trager has translated and published the second of Frederique Molay's Paris Homicide Mysteries, Crossing The Line, in English. Published in France originally in 2011, the police procedural/murder mystery/psycho thriller, features Chief Nico Sirsky, who still leads a team of elite crime professionals, in spite of the fact that he is just coming out of intense physical therapy after having suffered a gunshot wound in a battle during his last case.

Trager's translation flows smoothly and the descriptions of Paris sites and neighborhoods ring true to those who have enjoyed Paris in movies, books, or in person.

Back in the office, Sirsky is faced with a jewelry heist that his bosses want cleared quickly, and a bizarre new case, or is it a prank?  A medical student working with a head culled from a cadaver left to the medical training school is startled to discover a message left in an unsightly filling in a tooth.  The message says, "I was murdered."

The cadaver does not remain anonymous long, as the medical facility keeps meticulous records of donated bodies, and it is not long before the team has established that the individual was indeed murdered. The family of the individual had assumed suicide as the person had seemed very tense and anxious before the death occurs at his home.  Before long a recent accident is discovered which has apparently taken the life of an old acquaintance of the first victim, and soon it is noted that a couple of other medical professionals have apparently died in a boating accident. Hmmm.

Attentive and creative police work, including researching old blogs pursuing the "six degrees of separation" theory, connects some seemingly random deaths of medical personnel, and before long, Nico has a complicated case to resolve.

Thanks to Le French books for a chance to enjoy this second Paris Homicide Mystery.  I look forward to more!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Magician's Lie, by Greer Macallister

The Magician's Lie is a story told over the course of one night by the magician herself.  She is telling her story to the lawman who has captured her as she is running away from what he is sure is the scene of the crime where she has killed her husband. 

Virgil Holt is the lawman.  He is aware of  Arden's abilities because he has seen her performance that very night in Waterloo, Iowa. It is a performance  in which she performs the shocking  illusion of cutting a man in half.  Soon after the show a body is discovered in the theater basement, lifeless and blooded by the ax used in the performance.

He is the lone police officer from the small town of Janesville, Iowa, and he has traveled three-fourths of the way there on horseback when she unexpectedly walks into the cafe where he has stopped. Janesville is where he takes her, expecting to extract a confession pretty quickly.

But Arden seems unaware of the murder or even the identity of who has been killed.  She begins to tell a detailed and fascinating story of her childhood, her mother and father, and the frightening evil presence that enters her life as she enters her teen years.  Virgil can't help but be caught up in her story, even as he doubts whether it is true or simply a ruse like all the illusions he has seen her perform. 

Though she is handcuffed, both arms and ankles, with multiple  pair of handcuffs, Virgil still has the uncomfortable feeling that maybe she can escape, and maybe she knows more about him than he has revealed. Is she reading his mind, or simply a good reader of people's faces?  Regardless, he begins to sense that she could help him with his unique troubles just as she has apparently used the power to heal herself from injuries that she has sustained at various times in her life.  Would she trade a life changing favor to him for her freedom?

The story of the making of a talented and creative illusionist is reminiscent of  Water For Elephants, in the sense that a fascinating tale is told from the vantage point of a narrator who was actually there, but is now at another critical juncture in life, so both tales, past and present, must be resolved by the end of the book.  This task is performed very well indeed by author Greer Macallister.  

It is a murder mystery, a love story, a poignant tale of good and evil with perhaps a touch of magic, but is any of it true?  The book is due in stores January 2015, and I think it will be very much worth your time, so be on the lookout for it!

The Adventures of Eddie Fung, edited by Judy Yung

This unique and charming biography is written in Eddie's voice. The book, The Adventures of Eddie Fung,  comes about because Judy Yung, a professor and historian, needs to interview someone who could give a Chinese perspective on the years of World War II for the Chinese American history articles she was writing.  An American Army officer suggested that she talk to Eddie, who has the distinction of being the only Chinese American who survived the ordeal of being a Japanese prisoner of war.

Judy found Eddie to be a natural story teller and soon decided that his entire life was worthy of recording for posterity.  She visited with him several times over a period of months, recording hours of interviews covering the different segments of Eddie's interesting life.  Along the way, Eddie proposed marriage, and Judy agreed, but she continued with this project so that Eddie's story would be told.

His parents were immigrants from China but Eddie and his brother and sisters were born in the United States.  His family lived in Chinatown in San Francisco in a very close knit community.  As a teenager though, Eddie longed for adventure, and having seen a few western movies, he decided to move to Texas and become a cowboy.  Though the ranchers he worked for knew he had no experience, they gave him a chance and he proved to be a quick learner and a hard worker.  After a couple of years he met a recruiter and decided to join the Army.  Since he was a minor, the Army wrote his mom, who refused to give her permission.  But Eddie found a way, and eventually joined a National Guard unit.  The Texas National Guard Unit was activated shortly before the US entered the war and was shipped off to Java.  Their battalion was captured by the Japanese almost immediately and they became known eventually as The Lost Battalion.  Their destination was Burma, where they were forced as prisoners of war to build the railroad to Siam through the rugged tropical jungle.  This horrific experience was commemorated in the epic film, Bridge Over the River Kwai. They spent forty-two months in the captivity of the Japanese.

Those who survived were starving and many suffered from jungle diseases by the time they were freed.  Eddie was one of those survivors.  Because they had shared this horrific experience, The Lost Battalion survivors began to gather annually for reunions which continue to this day.

A key part of WWII history, Eddie's story offers a unique perspective of survival and loyalty to one's "Band of Brothers."

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The One and Only, by Emily Giffin

It took me a long time to finish this one.  The premise is that a seemingly capable and accomplished young woman who is making her way in the man's world of college football is also making lots of bad choices in the romance department.  And in fact the only reasonable choice seems to be acting on her secret crush on the college football coach, the recently widowed father of her best friend since childhood.

The irony of the title is that Shea has had multiple sexual relationships with men of her age group, but love is not a requisite for intimacy in her world.  And the men who she has enjoyed relationships with have, in one case a drug habit and zero ambition, or in another, perhaps a tendency to abuse women who displease him, and whether that is true or false, a definite need to control.

So the Coach certainly looks great by comparison.  He really is a good man but it is hard to ignore the fact that she is the age of his own daughter, who is anything but pleased with the thought of an intimate relationship between her best friend and her father.

And the ick factor kind of gets to me too...