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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

John Grisham tackles big issues on Gray Mountain

I just finished John Grisham's new release, Gray Mountain. Writing a review and blogpost about it leaves me feeling somewhat ambivalent. I need to be honest about it and it hurts not to be able to praise it unconditionally.

 Several years ago I stopped reading certain contemporary romance authors because they were writing by formula. Three paragraphs into those stories,  the reader could have completed the manuscript.

That's the way I felt about Gray Mountain...written by formula. Young, inexperienced lawyer meets important social/environmental problem. She, in this case, should have been in over her head, but she manages to survive and make a difference. Throughout the book, I never wondered if she would win, if she would make a difference, I knew she would. The question that drove the plot was how would she do it.

There was not, however, one big climatic courtroom scene as there usually is. But, and this is something new, the lack of such a scene seems to keep the door open for a sequel for this lawyer and her fellow Brady, VA lawyer friends, for by no means were all of her cases and interests solved.

This was a treatise on big coal, strip mining, environmental destruction, and black lung disease. All compelling subjects.  The protagonist and her friends tackled all of these problems. Along the way lives were lost, secrets told, and ambitions altered.

Being a Grisham fan, I wanted to love the book. I didn't. It was a good book, but not one of his best books. I must admit, however, that the book keep me involved and kept me reading. I read the book immediately upon release, and completed it in a two days.

While I was writing this review four reviews of the book, all from newspaper or magazine reviewers came across my desk. They all disagree with me. "Powerful", "Gripping", "His best legal drama in years," and "Takes suspense to new heights." Well, two of the characters did go flying several times.

If you are a Grisham fan, you will read the book, and you might simply say, 'not one of his best.' or you might disagree with me completely. If you are trying to introduce Grisham to new readers, don't start with this book. Others have more memorable characters and are more compelling.

Still, I am now awaiting John's next novel.

Friday, October 24, 2014

WWI, France, and the cruelest of lies: M.K. Tod's "Lies Told In Silence" has all that and more.

Because this novel is now available on BookBud for .99 through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I am re-posting this 2014 review. WWI fans, take note.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that "The cruelest lies are often told in silence." This thought forms the premise of M.K. Tod's WWI novel of war, love, and betrayal of the cruelest kind. 

It is May 1914, and based upon inside knowledge that his war department position gives him, 16 year old Helene Noisette’s father believes war is imminent. He is convinced that Paris will be Germany's next target. Long before most of his friends are fleeing Paris, he sends his wife, daughter, mother and younger son to safety. 

In an irony of fate, within four months, this safe haven, a small village in northern France, is much closer to the war zone that is Paris, and the displaced family finds themselves in a sleepy rural village less than 20 miles from military buildups and battles. For some reason, Father Noisette stands by his decision and is adamant: Paris is unsafe. The family cannot return.  

Thus for long, empty years, Helene, her mother, Grandmother and younger brother live within hearing, and often seeing, distance of the war. Their near isolation, however, brings these three generations of women together to cope, to love, and to learn about each other in ways that Paris would not have provided.

The isolation also provides young Helene with the opportunity to meet Canadian soldiers who are fighting valiantly for the Allies and France. Love blooms, grows, and promises a bright future. Battles with the enemy and with father promise something else entirely. The lovers are parted. The waiting begins. Will their love find a way and lead them back to each other or will the war and untold lies tear them apart forever. 

The characters are believable and the setting is clearly depicted.  the story, based upon historical facts of WWI and the author's vivid imagination, is told in clear, concise language. This is an easy read. I would recommend this book to readers of American and WWI historical fiction.  I bought my Kindle edition through Amazon.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What a surprise! I like Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin by Robin LaFevers

The following is the first paragraph in the publisher's book description: "Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others."

I never expected to like this book, but I did. I am as surprised as anyone. Even with all those elements that usually send me running to my 'normal' historical fiction shelf, I found myself drawn into the story and wanting to know more. 

Set in Medieval France our heroine learns that she has been sired by Mortain, the god of death, and as his daughter she is to be an assassin for him.  At the Convent which worships Mortain, she learns to stalk, entice, and kill men who bare the marque of Mortain. 
On her second assignment in Mortain's name, Ismae is sent to the high court of Brittany, posing as a cousin or mistress if need be, of a Breton nobleman. Actually she is there too spy on her subject, Duval and determine if he is a spy working against the Duchess of Brittany. If he is she is to kill him. 
Ismae has worked very hard to avoid contact with men for she despises them for their treatment of her and all other women in her world. As in all good literature, there must be a complication. That complication is of course a physical attraction between Duval and Ismae. Both fight it but..... Now that poses a real complication for Ismae and Duval, and also for the Convent and the orders they have given Ismae.
Ismae is a likable character with a gentle side that is in contrast to the path her life has taken. My favorite character was a gentle giant who could snap a man in two if need be. He expertly exemplified the idea that gentle behavior can be part of any man (or woman) in the right circumstances. 
Robin LaFevers' unexpectedly enjoyable novel has a dark side full of castles, escapes, court intrigues, assassins, friendship and attraction. Ismae's current assignment is fulfilled, but that fulfilling only leads to more questions and leaves an ending that is open for the next book. This is book one in a trilogy. All the books are now available.
I bought my copy as a Kindle edition from Amazon. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Daffodils by Alex Martin

Daffodils  might seem a bit of an incongruous title for a book about war. It is not, for even in war we must have hope. Daffodils in the fields of England and daffodils in the fields of France raise their sunny faces and offer hope even in the darkest of times. Daffodils by Alex Martin is a book about hope. And love, and sorrow, and despair. And war. But always, hope pushes through just as daffodils will push through the the seemingly frozen earth in Spring.

Katy has a zest for life. A thirst for adventure. When that zest and thirst take her job and her reputation, Jem, who has loved her forever, steps forward and saves at least her reputation. He also gives her a new title, housewife and later mother.
Heartache and deep sorrow tear the young couple apart and WWI offers Jem a refuge.

Upon the news of his possible death in the field, Katy, trying to escape a manical Vicar who wants her love, joins the WAAC. Her life no longer belongs to her, but to the military, her country, and the war. It is here that Katy finally finds her strength.

There are many contrasts in this book, none greater that the contrast between the two settings: Wiltshire, England and the battlefields of France. A second major contrast is between the classes that occupy rural England in the years before WWI. There is also a contrast between types of love. These contrasts Katy must learn to discern.

This is an enjoyable historical fiction. An easy and quick read, the book has many descriptive passages. I most enjoyed the play with words that the author uses when she is describing a character's thought processes. The scenic descriptions are more predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless. The author's in-depth research is evident.

Daffodils is a good read. It is not great literature, but it is certainly good literature, and a very good story. There is now a sequel Peace Lily. Yes, I will read it.

I recommend this book. My copy was a verified purchase through Amazon where it is now only .99 in the USA. It is also available on Amazon UK.