Review – The Venice Conspiracy

I read Christer’s first novel, The Stonehenge Legacy and liked it. When the opportunity to review his second book fell in my lap, I took it. I was in the mood for a thriller and already being familiar with this author, I knew this would be a good match.

Tom Shaman is an ex-priest from Los Angeles trying to escape his former life and anyone who knew him. A few months before, while still a priest, he happened upon an assault and intervened to stop a woman from being raped. While fighting off the attackers, he accidentally killed one of the men. Cleared of the crime, but unable to let his conscience rest, he decides to trade California for Italy and his life of a priest for that of a layman. Upon arriving in watery Venice, he finds himself drawn into the case of a murdered girl and what seems to be a devil worshiping cult that is planning an attack with world-wide ramifications. Throw in a pseudo-romance and a kidnapping, and Tom isn’t getting the escape from life he was hoping for in Italy.

There are several stories and timelines taking place in The Venice Conspiracy — the present following the ex-priest Tom, a 666 BC timeline featuring a netvis (an ancient priest of sorts) who may have inadvertently created the demon now known as Satan, and a 1778 timeframe concerning the theft of a little known but very valuable sculpture. This might sound confusing, but each specific time plays out without hindering the others. I was interested in seeing how each story would work out but I found the 666 BC timeframe the most interesting. It was set in what would be considered Etruia, a part of ancient Italy that is considered the home of Etruscan civilization. I’m always fascinated by this time period, and for me, this timeline held the most interest which of course means I would have liked more about these characters.

I should also say this — as I often do with thrillers — forget reality and roll with it. Tom’s an ex-priest who ends up investigating what look like ritual murders with the Italian police force shortly after arriving in the city and being found at the scene of the first murder. I don’t mean this to sound critical but this police force really moves fast. If you’ve ever been to Italy, you know nothing moves fast. I just felt wrong considering the police wanted to lock him up shortly before employing him. It’s hard to buy, but, ignore that. Go with it and you won’t be disappointed. You see, this is one of those stories that builds; each new character and timeframe adding something new, each story within a story advancing things along. Honestly, that’s what I want a thriller to do. I want it to move, and move fast. The Venice Conspiracy does just that.

If you’re looking for a book that will keep you up reading, give this one a try.

The publisher sent me a copy of The Venice Conspiracy for review.

The Venice Conspiracy
By Sam Christer
Overlook Press
ISBN: 978-1468300499
3.5 stars

Review – Ghosts of Manhattan

I’ve always loved the movie Wall Street. There’s something so fascinating, annoying, hateful, and sad about Gordon Gekko. He’s a car wreck I can’t stop gaping at. And, yes, I like the sequel, Money Never Sleeps too. Who doesn’t want more Gordon Gekko?

When I was offered the chance to review Ghosts of Manhattan, I took it. I, apparently, want more Gordon Gekko.

Nick Farmer is a bond trader at Bear Stearns and he hates his job. Any novelty it once held has long since faded along with any interest in the parties, drugs, and hookers. Those bonuses, though, are what keep him going back to the office every day. He’s married, but after several years, is realizing that he barely knows his wife anymore and he isn’t sure he even wants to know her any longer. The job is taking a toll not just on him but his wife and their marriage as well. When Nick is approached by a paranoid analyst who is scared of what his research foretells, Nick starts wondering if the right time to get out is now.

Nick is a character I want to feel bad for. He hates his job, the people and corporation he works for, the lazy ethics of the place, and the lifestyle he, for better or worse, has become accustomed to. On top of all this, his personal life is falling apart. On the other hand, he does nothing at work, drinks, does a little cocaine from time to time in New York’s finest bathrooms (they have floor to ceiling stall doors if you must know), and charges back thousands upon thousands of dollars to absurd expense accounts without even blinking. That’s what made me want to scream at this book but I also kept reading because of it. It’s hard to understand that type of money. Absurd isn’t even the word to describe it. Insane maybe but even that’s not enough. But I wanted to see how deep that hole went and how far Nick was willing to fall into it. The answer to that is pretty far. Sadly, he knows it but keeps going.

But Nick is also a likable character. As I said, he hates his job and his personal life is circling a large drain ready to suck him into a vast hell. He knows it but doesn’t do much about it, which is probably best since anytime he tries, he fails miserably. He’s a good at heart with some decent intentions but has yet to figure out how to wield anything positive.

The world Nick lives in, almost unwillingly (he doesn’t know how to get out until he has to), isn’t his fault though and I’m not giving the character an out here. He has his bad, maybe even reprehensible moments, but there’s something about him that seems redeemable and that I could work with. I like to like characters in books, and Nick has a likable side under all the grime.

I know some of you may be thinking about this book in terms of Wall Street only, and that’s not the best way to approach this one. Yes, the main part of the story surrounds Nick’s job and there are numerous hateful people in his circle doing numerous hateful things, but there are some nice moments, some funny moments, and in the end, a new beginning. I liked that about this one.

Also, now the theme song to Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is stuck in my head.

The publisher sent me a copy of Ghosts of Manhattan for review.

Ghosts of Manhattan
By Douglas Brunt
Touchstone
ISBN: 978-1451672596
4 stars

Review – Timeless Desire

I don’t read much romance but throw in time travel and a Scottish man and I’m in. All in.

Actually, I do read romance novels about once or twice a year. It’s not part of my regular reading feast but I like to change things up every few months and romance seems to be the thing for me. So when this book came along I was happy to find myself totally in the story and hoping for a happy ending.

Panna Kennedy is a librarian in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s in her 30s and a widow — her husband Charlie died two years earlier after a long and painful illness. She’s tried dating but doesn’t feel ready for a commitment yet. One night, a well-meaning friend sets her up on a blind date. As she’s getting ready to leave work, she stumbles upon a door in the library that is a time portal to 1706, and more precisely the border of England and Scotland which is about to erupt in battle. After going through the portal, she finds herself in a chapel. Not wanting to be seen, Panna runs off and ends up hiding in the library with a man named Captain James Bridgewater. He owns the castle and the library that she can’t help but admire. Trying to come up with a believable story for how she ended up in his house, she finds herself attracted to Bridgewater and keeps coming up with reasons to stay. Panna finally goes back to her own time but can’t stop thinking of Bridgewater and what might happen to him. Rushing back to the library, she hurls back in time and ends up in a whole mess of trouble that might get her and Bridgewater killed.

I loved that Panna was a librarian and pretty much fell in love with every book she came in contact with. It was a quirk I found very endearing. Being a young widow, she has her sad moments but it doesn’t consume her and while Panna professes she’s not ready for new love, well, it’s a romance so we all know what’s going to happen. And sometimes that predictability about a story is what I want. I wasn’t reading this book because I thought she might find a new man, I was all out waiting for him to appear, past or future.

Now James Bridgewater (Jamie to his friends) is likable in that gruff sort of way. A man without a family, floating between being a Captain in the English army and the grandson of a Scottish Clan leader, he’s more than stuck in the middle. Panna doesn’t make his life easier but she certainly makes it more enjoyable.

I’m a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and while I’m not out to make comparisons, I will anyway. Woman is the time traveler, meets Scot named Jamie, battle brewing between English and Scottish, two people marry under duress, find they really do love each other. You get the picture. Don’t take any of this as negative because it’s certainly not. I liked all these elements in the Outlander series and I liked them in this book. The story had a familiarity to it but didn’t feel the same for me. This happens when I read books with similar settings, which I do often especially with historical fiction, and while I wanted to mention it, it certainly wasn’t a drawback for me.

Here’s what it comes down to — Timeless Desire was a fast and entertaining read. The characters were likable, the setting a favorite time period of mine, and I can’t pass up a hot Scot. I was looking for a change in my reading and this book was a perfect summer evening read for me. I really I have to say I enjoyed it. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be adding more romance to my regularly scheduled reading but it did make me realize I need to give it a chance more often.

Timeless Desire: An Outlander Love Story

By Gwyn Cready

Astor + Blue Editions LLC

ISBN: 9781938231292

4 stars

Review – The Watchers

Lausanne, Switzerland, gothic cathedrals, talk of angels, a man in the belfry calling the hour, a hooker, and a man with no memory. The Watchers is a book full of strange people and places but somehow they all work beautifully together.

In the first part of The Watchers, we get to know the characters, peek in on their lives, and in the second part, we watch all of the characters’ lives collide in some way or another.

Katherine Taylor is a high priced hooker hiding out in Switzerland. She enjoys her life, the money, and has let herself feel safe in all her choices up till now. Even though she’s convinced herself that she’s made the right move, some things about her life do bother her when she looks past the fancy clothes and money but she carries on wanting to get the most out of the situation believing she can go back at any time. Marc Rochat is the last of a dying breed — he calls the hour at the Lausanne Cathedral spending his days talking to the bells, shoeing pigeons out of the way, and unintentionally spying on the city and its inhabitants. One night Marc sees Jay Harper standing on the bridge and in his own innocent way, believes him to be some sort of investigator out looking for clues. He gets into his head that he too should be on watch with all the strange happenings around the city, including several gruesome murders no one seems to be able to explain.

This book has a lot going on but don’t let that deter you. The mix is odd, but the setting, which is dark but familiar, makes it work. I started out thinking this was a thriller and was sure I was going to see every character die a gruesome death and in at least one case that does happen. All the problems the characters face are real even if they might have an extraordinary/paranormal explanation. For instance, Marc Rochat may be a simple man with very little ambition and naïve in the ways of the world but he seems to see and understand more of what’s going on than most of the people in town. Katherine Taylor, hooker extraordinaire, was annoying but sympathetic and other than learning some humility, I’m not sure she learned much of anything but I wasn’t expecting that to happen. Now, Jay Harper. Is he a detective or a paid spy? He’s a man with no memory of his life before a phone call a few weeks back. He remembers nothing before coming to Lausanne and meeting an odd group of people for a job he doesn’t know if he’s qualified to complete or not. You know he’s part of a bigger plan.

I’ll admit that the ending was not what I was expecting but I went with it and found I liked where it led even if I wasn’t so sure about it. It didn’t ruin anything for me and I sometimes like it when an author tests my ability for the realities I expect. There is some graphic violence in this book but I wasn’t particularly bothered by it mostly because it fit with the story and I didn’t feel it was added for show.

Bottom line — The Watchers an interesting book from a new author I’d like to read more of. Steele took the elements of an old city, made them feel even older, darker, sadder, and topped it with characters that made me unable to stop reading. My copy of The Watchers topped out at 574 and felt like a mere 200 pages to me.

The Watchers

By Jon Steele

Blue Rider Press

ISBN: 9780399158742

4 stars

Review – Enchantments

Masha Rasputin, and her younger sister Varya, became the wards of deposed Tsar Nickolay Romanov in 1917 shortly after her father’s mutilated body is pulled from the river. The daughter of Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, known better as the Mad Monk Rasputin, she understands the only safe place for them is with the tsar and his family even though she would rather leave St. Petersburg to be with her mother back in Siberia. Masha and Varya leave for the imperial palace and soon find themselves under arrest with the royal family.

Hoping that Masha has inherited some of her father’s mythical healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks Masha to attend her son Alyosha, the tsarevich and next in line to carry on the Romanov dynasty. Sick since birth — his hemophilia is unspoken of and he is never seen in public unless healthy — Alyosha suffers from extreme loneliness and is burdened with the knowledge that he will die earlier than expected. Terrified of the slightest bump causing unseen, and unstoppable bleeding, the tsarina prays constantly for his health and will do anything she can to keep him safe, including bringing in Rasputin to heal him when necessary. While she never directly says it, she wants the same thing from Masha, who knows she cannot provide the same reassurance, or healing powers, the tsarina is looking for.

What Masha can do is tell stories and she spends her days with Alyosha telling him about her family, every detail of her father’s life, their home in Siberia, her love of horses, and they discuss what they would do if they were to escape. Alyosha knows their lives will end but doesn’t speak of this to anyone but Masha who fears he may be correct but doesn’t want to believe too strongly in his convictions. Their stories and time together become an escape, not only the loneliness they both suffer from, but from daily reminders of what little life holds for them at the moment.

If you know anything about the Romonovs, it’s a sad time for this once powerful family. The tsar no longer holds any power and the tsarina has lost herself in her religion spending her days praying for the safety of her son almost oblivious to the fact there is nothing left of their former life. The four Romanov daughters are not spoken of much but are mostly just background players filling out the tableau of characters. It’s all about Masha and Alyosha and the stories she’s telling him — her own form of healing therapy. While she doesn’t have the healing powers of her father, she can distract Alyosha and take him away from the horror that has become their lives.

Each chapter in this book is a small story tied together by the people involved. You can’t really think of this book as traditional with a beginning, middle, and end but if you take each chapter as a story of its own, it’s an intriguing book. No, things won’t tie up nice and neat but you will get the thread of story as if someone were telling you about their time with a dear friend and what they spoke about and did during their time together. It’s also a very sweet love story of two teenagers who know they have no future together but spend each day trying to forget what they can’t change. They’re in an untenable situation but they manage to seek out the only the joy they can find.

This book is aptly named. The story, while in no way linear, is a tale of love and hardship that spans years. Harrison doesn’t ignore the ghost of death hanging over everyone but manages to make the situation one of hope and a life dreamed of outside of palace walls.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Enchantments

Kathryn Harrison

Random House

ISBN: 9781400063475

4 stars