Thursday, February 25, 2010

Seventeen: Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin

Cambridge, England 1172. 1 child has been brutally murdered and made a saint. 3 children have gone missing. The local Jews are blamed for the murder and locked up in the sheriff's castle. King Henry II sends two investigators to absolve the Jews from the murder of the child. As they arrive in Cambridge it is discovered that the 3 missing child were actually murdered.

Henry's investigators - Simon & Adelia - travel from Salerno, Italy to Cambridge with a group of crusaders and the local prior & prioress. Along the journey the priest is stricken ill and requires a doctors attention. Adelia, who is one of the only trained female doctors in Salerno, attends to him - even though customs require her bodyguard Mansur to pretend that he's the doctor.

Simon inquires with the prior about the murdered children. The prior agrees to help establish them within the town. He also arranges for Adelia to examine the children's bodies in private - as she is truely a doctor to the dead. Adelia meets Sir Rowley Picot - the local tax collector - who aids her in the examination of the children. Their personalities clash and Adelia is wary that Rowley might be the killer.

Word spread about the doctor's cure for the prior and suddenly lines of townfolk appear each morning outside the house where they are staying. Investigation into the murders needs to be balanced with tending to the patients. Adelia identifies chalk on all the bodies as well as a specific kind of wool was used to tie them up. Simon starts to query about the wool while Adelia explores areas that might have chalk buildups with a local boy, Ulf. Simon & Adelia also visit the sheriff's castle to question the Jews about the events surrounding the first murder.

As their investigation continues, it becomes clear that the killer was on a crusade and lives within the Cambridge area. Rowley helps Adelia continue the investigation after Simon is found floating in the river after a dinner party. Their investigation finally leads them back to the same hill where Adelia first performed that first procedure on the prior. The killer is caught (& murdered), but the local judges don't want to try the young nun who aided the killer in the murders. Instead they want to try Adelia - until King Henry arrives and proves that the young nun did help the killer.

This book started slow, but methodically in a way. I had a hard time seeing where the plot was going (which is good) and was pleasantly surprised by the plot twists. The sexual tension between the two main characters didn't interrupt the flow of the plot - although I felt the ending was a little bit of let down. It was interesting to read a book set during the Crusades - but focused on the their impact on the local towns in England. I'm curious to read other books by this author.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tried but couldn't finish...

True Confections - Katherine Weber

I picked up this book from the give away shelf at work. It sounded like it might be a nice quirky book, but after reading 100 pages or so - I decided to call it quits.

The main character was just too random for me. In trying to tell her story, her "thoughts" were all over the place and many times parenthesis thoughts went on for multiple lines.

I hate to be picky, but I just couldn't read anymore. I'm moving on to the next book - but I felt I needed to try to write a little something since I did give it a valiant attempt.

Sixteen: The Lord is My Shepherd - Debbie Viguie

Cindy, the church secretary at First Shepherd Presbyterian, walks into the church on Monday of Easter week only to trip over a body of a dead man. Hearing her scream Jeremiah, the rabbi from the neighboring synagogue, comes rushing over and helps calm her down. They call the police and suddenly are thrown into a murder investigation together.As the police review the crime scene at the church, they find a cross - which are only given to the Shepherds of the church. Their investigation turns towards those church members.

Cindy tries to go back to work and focus on the Easter week activities, but she finds it hard to concentrate with a killer loose. Her home is broken into later that day - forcing her to check into a hotel room. The killer strikes again - right across the street from the hotel - setting up the murder scene like Jesus throwing out the businessmen from the temple.

As the police start their investigation into this victim and other murders that occurred this week (that Sunday a man was killed on Palm street and put on a donkey), it becomes clear that there is a killer that is reenacting the Easter week events.

Cindy and Jeremiah begin to form their own theories about the week's murders. After searching the internet, Cindy finds out that the dead man's wife wife and daughter were killed during Easter week a few years ago in Raleigh. Could that same killer be terrorizing a new community?

As the week continues, the murders keep piling up and somehow link back to Cindy in a weird way. While dropping off an advertisement for the church at the local paper, Cindy is confronted by Oliver - a Shepherd at church & local journalist. He freely admits to the murders and is arrested. While he is being questioned - the killer strikes again. Much to everyone's chagrin, they realize the true killer is still out there.

After the killer poisons a whole family while they celebrate Seder the second night of Passover, the two churches decide to hold a vigil for the victims. At that vigil Oliver, Cindy, Jeremiah and the police are able to trap the true killer.

I picked up this book from a vendor's booth at the library conference I went to in January. I'm always a bit leery about Christian fiction since it can be hit or miss. Plus this book's title seemed a little cliche. I was pleasantly surprised when I finished the book in just over 24 hours. Debbie has a good voice and created some good sexual tension between Cindy and Jeremiah as well as just enough mystery around who the killer might be that kept me turning the pages. The Easter week events - which I'm familiar with - were predominant enough to help move along the plot - but weren't too focused on. This book is the first in a series and I'm curious to see how Debbie continues to intertwine the characters she introduced in this book.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fifteen: The Creation of Eve - Lynn Cullen

Sofonisba Anguissola was the first renowned female artist of the Renaissance. She studied with the great Michelangelo in Rome and taught Queen Elisabeth of Valois how to paint and draw in Spain.

The Creation of Eve follows her life (with some embellishment) within the royal court of Spain. She sees first hand the politics that go on within the royal family and how inexperienced Queen Elisabeth is at first in wooing the heart of her husband King Felipe. She struggles with her own "scandal" - giving up of her virginity to a fellow artist - and how to deal with being "technically" married but no one knowing it. She also watches Queen Elisabeth fall in love with the King's half-brother Don Juan and how the King deals with trying to separate them. Queen Elisabeth is able to get pregnant eventually - but loses the first baby and then gives birth to three baby girls.
The book ends just as Sofonisba starts to paint more frequently and capture the life of the Spanish court.

As a reader it was suprising that Lynn only provided the rest of Sofonisba's life in the historical note at the end of the book. I felt at times the book was just dragging on and repeating the same plot over and over again. The book does cover 10 years of her life (1559 - 1568) and includes small quips about advice that Sofonisba might have encountered during her adventures in court. I did enjoy reading about a different time period - but still seeing the connections to the Tutor family I have read so much about. I started this book last weekend during the snow storm and finished this morning during another snow storm - quite appropriate.

Fourteen: The Tale of Halcyon Crane - Wendy Webb

I started to read two other books besides this one - as my Fourteenth in the Cannonball Read. Both just didn't seem right after the Hotel Riviera. The Tale of Halcyon Crane was just the "right" book to follow a "chick lit" type book. Plus - what else are you supposed to do when you loose power in a snow storm - but read!

Hallie James receives a mysterious letter in the mailbox - which impacts the rest of her life. Hallie grew up with her father Thomas outside of Seattle. She was told her mother died when she was very little. Imagine her surprise and confusion when opening that letter she finds out that her mother has been alive this whole time - but just recently died. Hallie James could really be Halcyon Crane?

Hallie questions her father, who is in a nursing home for Alzheimers', but he is not able to confirm too much. Within a few hours of that visit, Hallie is called by the nursing home to say that her father has passed away as well.

Losing both the parent you knew and the parent you never knew with a few weeks of each other - Hallie is at a crossroads. Does she stay in Seattle and mourn her father? Or does she fly to Michigan and learn about her mother and possibly her own past?

Hallie decides to take the second option and arrives in Grand Manitou, a small island in the middle of Michigan's Great Lakes. This island can only be reached by ferry boat and no cars are allowed on it. The main transportation are horse-drawn carts and walking. The houses are all of the Victorian style and create an air of mysterium. Hallie stays at a local inn until she is able to meet the local lawyer - Will - to go over her mother's will. Hallie was warned by Will to not let the locals know why she is visiting Grand Manitou. The incident surrounding her "death" has not been forgotten by the locals.

Hallie and Will, who were friends when they were little, start to explore her life on the island before she left. A housekeeper, Iris, explains her families history and helps Hallie learn more about her mother and her "gift" - to capture souls. As the stories continue from Iris and some unexpectant happenings within the house occur, Hallie realizes that her mother's house is haunted by the ghosts of three little girls who died in a snowstorm back in 1913. Hallie also realizes that she has a "gift" as well. This "gift" allows her to see visions of events and other ghosts of her dead relatives.

Gothic novels are not usually what I read, but I picked this book off the gift away shelf at work. The author's tone was very engaging and I had a hard time putting this book down. Luckily I finished the bulk of the book during the day - so I wasn't too freaked out by the ghosts and the housekeeper during out to be a witch. I thought the town of Grand Manitou played a nice central role in the book's plot as well. In someways the book felt a little "soap opera" like sometimes with the plot. For example - at the end of the book Hallie finds out that Jonah, the local coffee shop owner, is really her half brother. Definitely a good read and I'm curious to read any other books Wendy might write in the future.

Thirteen: Hotel Riviera - Elizabeth Adler

Lola Laforet is a chef and owner of a quaint inn, Hotel Riviera, on the coast of Southern France - Saint Tropez to be exact. Six years ago she married her French husband, Patrick, on a whim and moved with him to France where they restored and reopened Hotel Riviera which had been in his family for many generations. Then one day Patrick didn't return when going out for a birthday gift for Lola. Suddenly Lola was thrust into maintaining the Hotel, cooking and entertaining the guests 24/7.

One gorgeous fall morning she spots a black sloop dock on the "private" beach area that backs the Hotel. Using her binoculars, Lola scans the boat and notices a man driving off it completely naked. When he returns to the boat and towels off - he turns and looks up to the terrace where she is. Their eyes meet briefly. A connection is made. This moment is how Lola meets the next love of her life - Jack Farrar. That night Jack comes to the Hotel for dinner and begins to sweep Lola off her feet. At first Lola is skeptical, but there is something that draws her to him.

Meanwhile as she is saying goodbye to the last guests of the season and preparing for a lonely, quiet off-season, the police show up at her door to inform her that Patrick's car was found abandoned. They are curious if she knows his whereabouts and suddenly she is a suspect in a murder investigation. Lola also welcomes a visit from a local lawyer who works for a wealthy businessman. Lola and Jack travel to meet this businessman and find out Patrick lost the Hotel Riviera in a gambling bet. The wealthy businessman is giving the Hotel to his current wife for her to live in.

Lola's world has totally fallen to pieces until one of her long-time guests Mrs. Nightingale just happens to see a man that looks suspiciously like Patrick in a neighboring town. Jack and Lola set out to find Patrick to not only clear Lola's name in his murder, but to get her Hotel back.

This book transported me to Southern France after spending a week traveling in the cold weather (and some snow) to Boston & Toronto. The characters were very lovable and I found myself hooked and wanting to know what happens next. Each chapter was told from a different character's point of view - which I thought was a nice twist to a normal "chick lit" means mystery type book. It definitely has the makings of a Romantic Comedy - especially with the two love interests meeting unexpectedly right away in the plot.