Friday, December 28, 2018

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Jar of HeartsJar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

I had seen Jar of Hearts on many favorites lists for 2018 and seen its distinctive cover on multiple occasions in bookstores. So, when the audiobook became available at my library, I finally fell victim to its appeal and checked it out. Wow, I’m glad I did.

Georgina Shaw was an executive at a cosmetics company. She was fiancé to the son of the founder. Life was wonderful, until suddenly, it wasn’t. Shaw was arrested for the fourteen-year-old murder of a high school friend, Angela Wong, and her world came crashing down around her. Shaw wasn’t blameless in the murder and managed to make a plea deal that landed her in jail for five years.

The man Georgina (Geo, to her friends) testified against, Calvin James, was sent to prison for life. He had been her boyfriend when the murder took place. James had gone on to murder three additional women before he was caught. Once imprisoned, though, he didn’t stay there long, managing to escape and leaving a trail of bodies behind him.

Geo makes a valuable alliance in prison and leverages her education and wiles to make prison life, if not comfortable, more tolerable for the duration of her stay. She is released from prison, only to find out that a new pair of murders points to her old boyfriend, Calvin. The detective leading the investigation, Kaiser Brody, is the same one who arrested Geo and had a crush on her during their high school days. Geo finds that more of her past will come back to haunt her before the case is settled.

Hillier’s storytelling is masterful. She tells Geo’s story using flashbacks and current-day scenes to move the story along and the transitions are capably handled. Her characters are realistic and well-developed. While certain aspects of the investigation happen too easily, the case development is well-drawn out and logical, with no extreme leaps to conclusions.

I now understand why this novel has been on so many favorites list for 2018. It is now on mine, too.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Italy, Here I Come!

Italy, Here I Come!

I’m coming back, Italy. I need to know you more intimately. Show me what you have.

I visited Italy, Florence and Pisa specifically, with Cindy Tambourine in the summer of 2005. It was a brief trip for an award Cindy had won through her employer. It was made even briefer when our flight leaving Dulles airport in suburban Virginia was delayed, thereby making us late for our connection through Frankfort, Germany. 

We had to take a variety of hop-scotch flights to get to Florence and we were eight hours later than originally planned. We had enough time to put our bags in our room, do a presto-chango cleanup, and dress for an evening cocktail party. At that point, other than a brief bit of airline catnapping, we had been up for about 28 hours. We never caught up on this three-day trip and we moved through it in a catatonic funk. We learned a valuable lesson: plan plenty of time on international trips for the unexpected to happen. 

Also, we learned, always start with a brand new roll of film (or go digital). Evidently this roll didn't take kindly to too many trips through the X-Ray machines so our photos didn't fare any better during our trip to Florence than we did.

A year later when traveling to Vienna, we added a day on both ends. Naturally, all flights were on time, so we just enjoyed being relaxed and comfortable spending our couple extra days. One we spent walking around Vienna
and the other we took a train down to Maribor, Slovenia
and enjoyed the offerings of that picturesque little city.

Now I’m looking forward to returning to Italy. Part of the trip will be accompanying family as we travel around the major cities: Rome, Venice, Florence, and Vatican City. I’ve decided to add an additional week to ten days and travel around other parts of Tuscany and Umbria. Even though the trip is months away, I’m getting excited. It never hurts to plan ahead.

So, what am I doing to plan? Well, first, I’m following a model of my good friend, Kaye Wilkinson Barley, who before her trip to Paris, read probably every book ever written about the City of Light. (Here along with everything else Kaye read those years, you'll find at Meanderings and Muses all of the Paris books she inhaled during 2017 and 2016 ). I can not read that fast. 

I’ve added a number of books on Italy to my library, though, from Barron’s Italian Vocabulary to Frances Maye’s Bella Tuscany. I’ve finished Maye’s Under the Tuscan Sun and Tim Park’s experiences riding the rail lines of Italy: Italian Ways, and I’ve read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, primarily for the first third of the book about her experiences in Rome (although I did finish the entire book). I’m currently reading Michael Tucker’s (he of LA Law fame) book: Living in a Foreign Language, his memoir of his and his wife, Jill Eikenberry’s, experiences owning a home near Spoleto, Umbria. I’m also reading Donna Leon’s (author of the Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries) My Venice and Other Essays. You can see a few others in the photo attached. One I have on the Mt. TBR that I will not likely read is Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. That can wait until another time. Here is my Italian Collection so far. 

Do you have any suggestions for reading on/of Italy? I’d be interested in seeing them.

I’ll write future pieces on decisions about transportation, boarding, sightseeing, food and wine, and whatever else comes to mind.

Ciao! Buon Natale!

Friday, November 02, 2018

The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven

The Puppet Show (Washington Poe, #1)The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First off, I do not tend to read serial killer novels. But, here, I made an exception and it was worth my time. If you feel the same way about serial killers, I urge you to reconsider this time too.
While often serial killer novels focus on a psychotic, all-knowing, ultra-evil antagonist, Craven focuses much more on the investigators and delves into their characters as they chase their killer. There is a good bit on the investigative procedure that also adds heft to the narrative, which is capably rolled out to the reader.
M.W. Craven is an emerging talent and I look forward to future entries in this series.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Skyjack by K.J. Howe

Skyjack (Thea Paris #2)Skyjack by K.J. Howe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I may expand on this soon, but for now, I'll just say that I enjoyed Skyjack more than The Freedom Broker and that's saying a bunch. Wonderful, convincing thriller, with rich characters, and nonstop action. Too often thrillers get saturated with calibers, gauges, barrel velocities, etc. K.J. Howe seems to know just the right amount to validate the weaponry without taking one out of the story.
Thea Paris #3 won't get here soon enough for me.

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Sunday, May 06, 2018

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

Fools and Mortals CD: A Novel by Bernard Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a clever imagining of the first presentation of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bernard Cornwell's Fools and Mortals tells the story of The Lord Chamberlain's Men through the eyes of Richard Shakespeare, William's younger brother. Cornwell's story provides an excellent overview of the society of the day, including the Catholic/Protestant religious strife, Elizabethan manners, filthy environment, rampant disease, sexual perversions, and the ease with which one might find oneself being hanged.

Richard is a small player in the company run by William and has been relegated to playing women's roles. He's also a small-time thief. Playing only women's roles is starting to grate on Richard. He desires more substantial men's roles. However, William views his younger brother as an annoyance.

A new playhouse is being built south of the Thames and the financiers are managing to get their hands on everything that they need except plays to perform. They devise a plan to abscond with William's plays, A Midsummer's Night and William's new one about a pair of star-crossed lovers in Verona, Italy, and perform them before William has a chance to play them before a public audience. Their plans include Richard.

When Richard finds himself suspected by William and the rest of The Lord Chamberlain's Men of involvement in the plays' thefts, Richard sees that the only way he can get back into William's good graces is to recover them himself, and the dangers he faces in doing so are very real.

Fools and Mortals has romance, history, intrigue, and thrills. Cornwell's descriptions of English city life during Elizabethan times is well integrated into the narrative. His looks behind the curtain at theater practices is comprehensive, and the players characters are greatly revealed through how they deal with the management of the troupe, how they go about preparing for their parts, even to their individual superstition practices before going onstage.

If you like history, theater, or just a plain old thriller, Fools and Mortals should suffice nicely.

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