Tag Archive | fiction

Book Review: The Templar Legacy

The Templar Legacy, by Steve Berry

I have several of the Steve Berry thrillers among the audiobooks that I’m working my way through, so I pulled another of them off the shelf for some entertainment on my commute.

The Templar Legacy (Cotton Malone #1)

Cotton Malone is a retired government operative, who gets tangled up in the quest his former boss is on; this time it has nothing to do with national security.  His former boss, Stephanie Nelle, is trying to discover what her late husband was looking for, that led to a journal of mysterious clues.

Malone learns that the mystery has to do with the riches that were supposedly stockpiled by The Knights Templar hundreds of years ago, and have now been lost.  Stephanie’s husband has been searching for the treasure, and plenty of people think he was onto something, and they want a piece of it. 

This thriller has the usual intrigue, mystery, and plenty of exploration of the myth of the Knights Templar and their continued existence following their arrest and destruction in 1307 AD.  Berry paces his novels well, and keeps his reader interested from beginning to end.

3 stars.

Book Review: The Wednesday Sisters

The Wednesday Sisters, by Meg Waite Clayton

What a heartfelt novel about friendship.  The Wednesday Sisters is the story of five women who meet on a Wednesday morning with their children.  They meet by chance, and forge a friendship that lasts through the years.

The Wednesday Sisters

The beginning of the book is set in the late 1960s, when women’s identities were still largely defined by their husbands.  Throughout the novel, they grow by supporting each other’s interests, goals and life plans.  But their approach is unconventional.  They support each other through writing.  Each of the Wednesday sisters commits to writing each week, and offering up their writing for critique.  And in doing so, they reveal their inner secrets, their wildest dreams and their darkest fears. 

They sometimes bumble through, especially when they deal with the thornier issues of life, including education, interracial marriage, infidelity, and infertility.  But in the end, they still have each other.

This was a book club pick, and I loved it.  I stayed up late multiple nights when I had to work the next morning, not wanting to put it down.

5 stars.   

Book Review: The 9th Judgment

The 9th Judgment, by James Patterson

This was another of the CD audiobooks I’m working my way through.  James Patterson is a prolific series writer, but this is the first book I’ve read by him.

The 9th Judgment (Women's Murder Club, #9)

In one night, detective Lindsay Boxer gets two major cases thrown her way, a jewel theft turned murder of a high-profile celebrity wife, and the execution style killing of a woman and her infant child.  As heinous as the murder of a baby is, the celebrity killing becomes the priority, until they realize they have a serial killer on the loose. 

Boxer is trying her best to investigate and find the killers, in a race against time before more murders occur.  The book is fast paced with lots of twists and turns, but it is a novel of cliches.  Boxer is blonde and gorgeous, and at times not all that intelligent.  She is repeatedly outsmarted by the killers, but I guess you can’t have a case that gets solved in the first 24 hours! 

2 stars.

Book Review: Wishin’ and Hopin’

Wishin’ and Hopin’ by Wally Lamb

In yet another installment of CD audiobooks that my mom passed along to me, we have this quirky, humorous take on growing up in the 1960s.

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Felix Funicello is a short, naive Catholic kid, just trying to make it past childhood.  He is surrounded by Catholic school playmates that fit all the stereotypes; the smart, goody-two-shoes, the troublemaker, and the sexy foreign girl. Life gets exciting when their teacher has a mental breakdown and is committed temporarily.  The next day, a French Canadian lay teacher arrives to take over for the nun. 

She teaches them a thing or two about the French language, while Felix is really just interested in one day getting a French kiss from his famous cousin Annette Funicello.  Along the way, Felix and his pals bumble through life, with no shortage of cringe-worthy moments.

The novel delivers plenty of laughs; a light-hearted coming of age book celebrating the Christmas season.  Note: this isn’t a children’s book though; there is plenty of adult language and sexual innuendo.

4 stars.

Book Review: After This

After This, by Alice McDermott

This coming of age novel follows the Keane family, a devoutly Catholic family living on Long Island.  Mary Keane is working as a secretary in a large secretarial pool, when she meets John Keane, a World War II veteran.  They marry and start a family and the novel follows them through the next 30 plus years. 

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The novel weaves its way through the fundamental shifts in American society caused by the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution.  It explores faith and family, and children growing up and becoming independent.  It uncovers the tragedy of war and mental illness.  It winds its way through grief and disappointment, as well as familial obligation.

McDermott narrates through each of the family members, and captures the nuance of parents vs. children, and young vs. older, throughout multiple time periods.  She does all this while developing characters who are rich and complex, each one different despite being part of the same family. 

4 stars.

Book Review: A Little Trouble With The Facts

A Little Trouble With The Facts, by Nina Siegal 

This is one of the CD audiobooks I got from my parents, and I popped it in for my commute.

A Little Trouble with the Facts

Valerie Vane was once the IT girl of the lifestyle reporting world in New York City.  But then she had a rather sudden and public fall from grace, right into the obituary department of the newspaper she worked at.  Valerie of course, wasn’t satisfied writing obituaries, but it was the only way to keep her job…

She writes an obit for a has-been graffiti artist, and her fact checking mistake earns her a call from a mysterious man who calls himself Cabeza.  And Cabeza wants her to dive in and find who murdered the artist.

The book is rather cliché, with a number of twists and turns, but it is an easy to read chick-lit murder mystery.  Even though she doesn’t have a full stack of brain cells, you can’t help but want to see Valerie Vane close the case and get herself off of the obit page.

3 stars.  

Book Review: The Paris Vendetta

The Paris Vendetta, by Steve Berry

This was my first book by Steve Berry, who writes secret agent adventure novels. It came from the collection of CD audio books that my mom sent home with me.  And boy was this one ever fast paced!

The Paris Vendetta (Cotton Malone, #5)

Cotton Malone is a retired secret agent for the US Government, who runs a bookshop in Denmark. He is interrupted at home one evening by a young man creeping around his apartment, and when confronted he spins a tale of being followed and being sent by one of Malone’s old friends.  When two men follow and try to kill them, Malone gets tangled up in a new case.  It involves the mysterious Paris Club, a group that is thought to be working to overthrow the world by creating chaos in the world’s financial markets.  Can Malone get to the bottom of this?

The book interestingly touches on the legend of the lost treasure of Napoleon Bonaparte as a side plot.  After Napoleon invaded Russia, he is said to have carted away hundreds of wagon loads of gold, which disappeared.  It has been searched for over the last 200 years, but never found.  Some of the members of the Paris Club have a side deal to find the treasure, which further complicates Malone’s mission. 

The plot of this novel takes the reader all over Europe, to many of the most famous historical sites, including Westminster Abbey, the killing sites of Jack the Ripper, the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides, where Napoleon is now buried.

I don’t normally read action/adventure books, but this one kept my interest with its fast pace and historical intrigue.  Which is a good thing, since my Dad had several more books by Steve Berry that I’ll be reading in the future.  And a final note; it was narrated by Scott Brick, one of my favorite audio book readers!

3 stars.

Book Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal

This book was nominated to be our book club selection for this month; it didn’t win the vote, but I had read the book that was selected already, so I decided to read this one instead.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

How interesting!

The story follows Nikki, a young Punjabi woman who lives in London.  She is struggling to find her identity, after dropping out of law school and experiencing the death of her father.  There is tension with her mother, as she works as a bartender and lives in the flat above the pub.  Her mother fears she’s going down the wrong path; throwing her life away.

Nikki reluctantly agrees to post a profile for her sister on the “marriage board” at the largest Sikh temple in Southall.  While there, she finds a posting for an English and creative writing teacher, facilitating a project for women to tell their stories.  She has no experience teaching at all, much less English or creative writing, but she gets the job because no one else applies.

She is in for a wild ride.  A half dozen widows sign up for the course, with varying degrees of interest in learning English, but almost all of them have stories that they want to tell…  And their stories are erotic!  These women are reliving their experiences with their husbands, or dreaming of the experiences that they would have liked to have had.  What becomes apparent is that these women, who are not supposed to have these feelings or desires, have rich imaginations and stories that pour out of them onto the page.  Nevermind that most of them don’t even know how to write…  They will find a way.

Along the way, Nikki finds herself drawn into the culture of her birth, one she has long held at arm’s length.  She learns that these women aren’t backwards or archaic; instead they honor their rich cultural heritage.

I think this novel could have stood on its own, but the author throws in the excitement of a murder mystery too.  I think I would have enjoyed this book either way, but I’m still not sure whether the side story adds to or detracts from the main plot line.

I listened to the book on audio, and found the reader, Meera Syal, to be engaging from start to finish.

4 stars.

Book Review: The Sanatorium

The Sanatorium, by Sarah Pearse

Le Sommet is a luxury hotel located deep in the mountains of the Swiss Alps.  It is also a converted tuberculosis sanatorium.  Elin Warner is a British police detective who is on a leave of absence from her job after an attempt to apprehend a murderer goes horribly wrong.

The Sanatorium

The hotel has recently opened after an extensive revisioning, fraught with conflict, protests, and the disappearance of the principal architect. 

Elin’s brother is getting married, and she would like to repair their estranged relationship, as he is the only family she has left.  Elin and her boyfriend head up for a week at Le Sommet, where her brother’s fiance works.  While they are there, the road up is wiped out due to an avalanche, and the funicular is stopped due to high winds.  And then, the murders begin. 

The police can’t get there, because all access is blocked.  But Elin can help, by beginning the investigation.  Does she have the nerve?

Sarah Pearse thriller takes the reader on a fast paced murder mystery with a series of twists and turns.  Don’t assume you know who did it!  She weaves the story of the hotel’s prior life as a sanatorium into her novel, making its history an integral part of the story.  Even though this isn’t a genre I typically go for, I was intrigued the whole way through!

3 stars.

 

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society

The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner

In the years after World War II, the residents of the tiny English village of Chawton are coming to terms with their collective loss.  Husbands and brothers have been lost to the war, and the economy is struggling. 

The Jane Austen Society

However, 150 years previously, Chawton had a resident who, although unknown at the time, is rather famous now.  Jane Austen.  Her distant relatives still live in a deteriorating manor house, with an impressive library of books that Jane Austen would have read during her time here.

Several members of the community decided to try to save the small home where Austen lived while in Chawton.  They were an unlikely band, including a widower doctor, a farmer, a widow, a 16 year old girl, a descendant of Austen herself, an American actress, and a Sotheby’s memorabilia scout.  As they embarked on their charitable cause, they also revived old friendships and formed new ones. 

The Jane Austen Society has parallel stories; the surface story is the mission of the group to save Austen’s home and open it as a museum.  This story is interwoven with the stories and lives of the characters, which provide a rich depth to this novel.  Their stories often parallel the life of Austen, and her connection to family, and also her loneliness.  It is this connection that makes this a fantastic book. 

Natalie Jenner writes believably about literature, friendship, grief, and loneliness.  Her characters are believable, with real trials and victories.  I enjoyed it thoroughly. 

5 stars.

Note: Although there really was an effort to save Austen’s home in Chawton, Jenner explains that her novel’s characters are purely fictional.