A Death In Vienna by Daniel Silva

The option for Daniel Silvia’s book series featuring Gabriel Allon has recently been picked up by MGM. These espionage novels should easily translate into an exciting visualization highlighting Silva’s fast acting plots. Unfortunately, as a novel there is just a little something missing which detracts from the whole. Yes, A Death in Vienna, the third of a collection of books involving the retired multilingual Mossad Agent and his search for the truth about the Holocaust, is a quick read on a subject which remains front and center seven plus decades after this catastrophic historical event (the book was published in 2005). However, there were so many names to distinguish plus continual movement from one locale to another, that I was confused on more than one occasion. Despite a story which spanned over four hundred pages, there seemed to be a few gaps, especially in regards to the development of the numerous characters involved in this Nazi intrigue. The book reminded me of a television series which focuses on each week’s plot with a little bit about the main players at the beginning and the end of each episode so the viewer can develop a loyalty towards the show. Unfortunately, Silva’s approach makes it difficult to relate to the various personas, especially the enigmatic protagonist Gabriel.

When an old friend is involved in a bombing in Vienna, Gabriel Allon must leave his Venice home where he works as an art restorer, and travel to Italy to discover the identity of the perpetrators behind this seemingly random event. The fact the incident occurs at the Wartime Crimes and Inquiry Office is a major clue, but the question remains: What details from Nazi Germany have been uncovered and who exactly is feeling threatened? Unfortunately, Allon is on Vienna’s “you’re not welcome here” list due to a conflict from a previous book, and he is none too gently escorted out of the country, but not before he unearths some information about a possible Nazi survivor. Allons treacherous exploration to uncover the facts in this case leads him to locales such as the Vatican, Argentina, the United States, Israel, Germany, and Czechoslovakia where distinguishing friend from foe is a matter of life or death. Then once the truth is ascertained and verified, justice must be served.

My favorite parts of the novel is the backstory involving Allon’s wife and son who were caught in a car bombing, his mother who survived life in a Nazi Concentration Camp and the Death March from Birkenau, and a partner who has his back in more ways than one. I also appreciated learning some new information about the Holocaust (or Shoah) including the complicity of the Roman Catholic Church, Austria, and even the United States who assisted “helpful” Nazis in avoiding prosecution for war crimes. The existence of an archive in Israel containing the narratives of the victims who survived the Concentration Camps as well as the story of Aktion 1005 – a group of German soldiers who did their best to destroy evidence of the mass murders committed in the name of the Final Solution, are well researched details which provide a realistic basis for this book. Historical novels such as these are important vehicles to remind readers that anti semitism still exists and nationalists are biding their time until their cause can rise again. I still hear rumors that Hitler escaped to Argentina and a Fourth Reich is just waiting to happen.

While authors such as Dan Brown or Robert Ludlum do a better job in this genre, Silva is a credible author with a strong following. Three and a half stars.

Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging By Dick Van Dyke

Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging is a rambling discussion of life, specifically the life of actor Dick Van Dyke, reflecting on the aging process as an eighty nine year old man. With some trips down memory lane including quotes, poetry, and an interview with his “older friend” Carl Reiner, the author shares his viewpoints on religion, politics, and show business with some heavy duty name dropping where appropriate. His philosophy to “Keep Moving” and enjoy everything life has to offer reflects his positive attitude despite the various hardships he has faced. Upbeat even when discussing the death of his first wife and then that of his long time partner, he has found happiness with his third relationship and subsequent marriage to a much younger woman. Little tidbits about his various acting experiences, such as Bert in Mary Poppins, Rob in the Dick Van Dyke Show, and Caractacus Pott in Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang as well as his role as an elderly doctor/detective in the television series Diagnosis Murder, are interspersed throughout the narrative. Most importantly, Van Dyke’s lovable, charming personality shines through the telling, making the reader feel like an old friend sharing secrets.

While I was given an ARC from Netgalley (in exchange for an honest review), I also picked up the audiotape narrated by the author. I was disappointed that Dick Van Dyke at this point in his life has a speech impediment which at times made him difficult to understand, even though he made a great effort to clearly enunciate his words. I wanted the Dick Van Dyke of days of yore, although I did get used to his current voice and enjoyed his reading talents (minus the diction issues). The advanced reader’s copy was truly a rough draft, ignoring capitalization and punctuation, although I’m sure the final copy was “cleaned up”.

A short book, almost a novella, perfect for fans of this remarkable man, but nothing too exciting or dramatic. Don’t expect any life changing advice. Three stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher

How to describe Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher! Tall Tale? Coming of Age? Historical Fiction? Magical Realism? Or just a young man’s fantastical reminisces of participating in an historic event with his father and uncle one fateful weekend in the promised spring with one last snow fall – “the snow that brings the snow”.

No one dies in the Bon Homme (Goodman) family, they simply disappear. William, also known as Quebec Bill, leaves his family and travels the country and when he returns they are just gone. He searches for years to no avail until he finds himself a wife and starts his own family not far from where his nomadic family once lived, next door to his Aunt Cordelia, the only blood relative left in sight.

Despite being desperately poor, William, an optimist, sees the good in everything, giving everybody the benefit of the doubt with a rollicking sense of humor and a search for fun. Armed with his fiddle, he mesmerizes everyone in the Vermont town, enjoying their company. William collects misfits, both animals and people, generously inviting them into his home. He truly loves his wife, rescuing her from a Montreal Convent where she eventually returns.

Circumstances during the depression have left him penniless, necessitating a whisky run to earn enough cash in Prohibition America to feed his wife’s prized cows. Bringing along his son – Wild Bill, his brother in law – Uncle Henry, and Rat – one of the misfits with a talent for farming, their hijinks up along the coast between Vermont and Canada are the stuff of legends including the antagonist, Carcajou (Indian for wolverine), who keeps showing up at inopportune times, despite their concerted attempts to kill him dead.

Each new escapade beats out the last, as they wreck havoc along the way from the destruction of Uncle Henry’s cherished car to the sinking of a railroad locomotive to the crashing of a small plane, with numerous exploits in between. The wild behaviors continue throughout the novel leaving the reader confused and unable to predict what could possibly happen next.

Don’t look for sanity, just hang on to your hat and enjoy the ride. Perhaps this tale is simply an exaggeration found in the mind of a young boy who idolized his dad or maybe it’s a matter of symbolism where the evil Carcajou is the conscience which William seems to lack. There’s even a rumbling that the plot reflects the trauma which comes at the end of childhood.

Bits and pieces of various shenanigans are exposed consisting of past and future events including some marked similarities between Great Grandfather Rene and Henry, Wild Bill’s son. Henry has the touch of absurd, talking to the “shadow” of Aunt Cordelia, trying to raise a Saber Tooth Tiger, and eventually defecting to Canada when his number gets called for the draft to Viet Nam. In this way he, too, disappears from Wild Bill’s life, just as the rest of the family moves on, both literally and figuratively. Remember, don’t think too deeply, just enjoy.

A beautifully written regional novel which helps the reader visualize the New England countryside, this is just one of many books by this author about the residents of Kingdom County, a place of wonders or, as Aunt Cordelia might say, where one discovers the extraordinary from the ordinary. Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Elves (Volume 1) – Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte, Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi

A few years ago Elves was published in France (Elfes) and now it’s making its appearance here in the United States. Volume 1 contains two separate stories, Part 1: The Crystal of the Blue Elves by Jean-Luc Istin and Kyko Duarte about the Blue Elves who live by the sea and Part 2: The Honor of the Sylvan Elves by Nicolas Jarry and Maconi dealing with the Sylvan or Forest Elves. There are three other subsets of Elves to be published in a future edition.

The trouble with this series is that it takes awhile to grasp the cast of characters. While the graphics are spectacular and help the reader interpret the story, there is still a lot of confusion. Part of the problem in the first story is that these are three plot lines which eventually intersect, however, the story flits from one to another in a jarring fashion, taking a moment or two to figure out which part of the plot is front and center. While in the second story there is also a bunch of back and forths which make it difficult at times to figure out who’s who or what’s what. Too many gaps in the story only adds to the confusion, requiring an explanation which is nowhere to be found. It’s as if there was a prequel we all missed. Some backstory please before you throw us into the mix. Eventually we get the drift, but only after a frustrating start.

In both stories there’s a lot of backstabbing and double crossing along with a few deceptions which change the outcome of the saga, although there are some honorable characters who leave us with hope for an eventual resolution. The various evil creatures such as the ork mercenaries are horrifying, but as least they are easily identifiable as the enemy. It’s when the “good guys” turn out to have a hidden agenda and double cross their so called friends that the stories reflect a dark theme.

Full of blood, violence, and death, not everything turns out with a happily ever after ending. It’s just not that kind of book. With a better narrative and smoother transitions, this would be a superior series. The colorful, intricate art work illustrating the two stories could easily be developed into an adult animation (there’s nudity along with the violence) for the small or large screen. Three stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Insight Comics for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A Love to Remember (The Disgraced Lords, #7) by Bronwen Evans

I’ve just gotten back from a little trip to England to visit my old friends from The Ton, you know, the Libertine Scholars, and do I have some juicy gossip to share. It seems Philip Flagstaff, the Earl of Cumberland, has been having an affair with Her Grace, Lady Rose Deverill, the Wicked Widow. It’s a perfect arrangement because neither one is interested in matrimony. Rose had a terrible first marriage, forced to marry an older man who was, shall I say, not very considerate of her “needs”. The only good thing that came from the relationship was her son, Drake. Of course, she did inherit the estate (her father wasn’t a total fool when handing her over to a distasteful elderly husband) and her son will be the Duke of Roxborough when he reaches his majority. In the meantime The Marquis of Kirkwood is his guardian, watching out for his interests. Luckily, the kind man has pretty much stayed out of her business, but she expects he soon will be making some demands. After all, it’s no secret that Philip was seen dancing with the current popular debutant and ignoring her at the latest fete. If their affair is truly over, Kirkwood might think it time for her to settle down, especially since she’s only twenty six and still lovely.

It’s not that she and Philip don’t get along, they do very well in the boudoir together, more than okay. It’s just that Philip is still grieving for his brother, Robert, who sacrificed his life at the Battle of Waterloo in order to protect his “little brother”. It’s Philip’s fault that Robert is dead so he doesn’t feel he’s entitled to the title he inherited. Philip has been a screwup all his life and he doesn’t believe he’s deserves any happiness, especially not with the beautiful and charming Rose. No, marriage is out, not to Rose, not to anyone. Let the succession line fall to his younger brother, a clone of Robert and more worthy of the honor.

Unfortunately, Philips sister, Lady Portia (remember how she was kidnapped and sold to a sultan’s harem in Alexandria, rescued in the nick of time by Philip and her future husband, Lord Greyson Devlin) is none too happy about her brother’s behavior. The others think he’s a fool as well. Then when he showed up at Serena’s dinner party with another woman, they practically attacked him. Poor Rose had to deal with this public display of humiliation.

It will take a miracle to shake some sense into that man. Or perhaps a disaster that needs the help of those six friends (and their wives) to resolve. I’m curious to see how it all works out. There are so many rumors, but that would be telling.

A Love to Remember by Bronwen Evans is a continuation of the Libertine Scholars saga. Now that Arend has his happy ending and the mystery woman that was trying to destroy their lives has been captured, the six men and their wives are living in wedded bliss raising the numerous children who seem to come in waves. However, Philip’s life has not been resolved. When his brother, the seventh Libertine Scholar was killed in battle, the others vowed to look out for his wellbeing. After all, his sister is married to Greyson and family is family. Rose, Lady Portia’s best friend, is also an honorary member of the group. Plus Rose’s son is best friends with Henry, a young boy under Sebastian and Beatrice’s care, so Evans is obligated to “tie up the loose ends”.

I was excited to touch base with all the characters from the first six book in the The Disgraced Lords series. Since each of the storylines overlapped in some way, there’s only been about two years between the beginning tale and this book. While A Love to Remember can serve as a stand alone, reading the other novels will give a better perspective on the wide cast of characters.

As enjoyable as I found this novel, which had a twist or two in the plot, I was disappointed that the author felt the need to be so repetitive. Yes, Rose was in love and wanted to marry Philip. Yes, Philip felt honor bound to never marry as a penance for his brothers death, but how many times did we need to hear this? Too many times if you ask me or enough to detract from the whole. Once again, Evans needs to tighten up the plot and leave out the miscellaneous – more libertine scholars, less introspection. She did, however, include some juicy dialogue, as the two lovers exchanged some sexy reparte.

As a reminder, lovers of Regency Romances who like accuracy in the details from this era should avoid this series. However, those who like a good romp with a happily ever after ending should dig right in. Three and a half stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon

Spoiler Alert: On May 6, 1937, The Hindenburg, a floating airship fueled by Hydrogen, caught fire and exploded as it neared landing in Lakehurst, NJ, amazingly only killing 35 of the 97 passengers and crew on board (plus one person on the ground for a total of 36).

That’s the given. We know the climax, now it’s up to Ariel Lawhon in her historical novel Flight of Dreams to get us there in one piece.

I always find it difficult reliving various past disasters whether it’s ships such as The Titanic or The Lusitania, or the zeppelin The Hindenburg – fact or fiction. It’s like hearing nails screeching on a chalkboard.

Lawhon has gone the fiction route, but she has done her research using real people who were on this luxury blimp for that fatal flight. While she fictionalized their actions on the three day journey, she vowed to accept their final plight of life or death. Using the blog site: http://www.faceofthehindenburg.blogspot.com and the book Hindenburg: An Illustrated History, Lawhon was able to get enough pertinant information to maintain some realism and even utilize direct quotes.

Taking liberties with the plot line she included incidents such as a near miss with some mountains which actually happened on another flight and felt free to apply actions to one character which might have occurred with another. Ultimately, Lawhon tried to stay true to the real life events while creating the mainly fictionalized interactions which drive the plot while in the background maintaining the threat of the Nazis Regime and the realization that war is imminent. A thin line to walk and well done.

Admittedly the story dragged in the beginning as the numerous characters were introduced (perhaps an annotated list would have helped), but the closer the story got to the anticipated explosion, the more exciting the book became. The conclusion included both joy and sorrow as the survivors dealt with the after effects of this tragedy, with the author giving her version about the hows and whys – when in reality nobody really knows exactly what happened (though theories abound).

The book contains short alternating chapters featuring the five central characters and their interactions with one another and the rest of the passengers. As events unfold, their motivations become clear and many questions are answered. Everything fits nicely together resulting in a well knit, tight tale worth reading. Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads. The

The Pearl and the Fur from I’d Die For You by F Scott Fitzgerald

I’d Die for You by F Scott Fitzgerald is a series of short stories which for one reason or another were not published during the author’s lifetime. Some stories were lost, others in private collections, but they are now available to the public.

I was privileged to receive an Advanced Reader’s Copy from Netgalley containing one of the newly found tales from this recently published book (in exchange for an honest review)

In the charming short story, The Pearl and the Fur, Fitzgerald, in just seventeen pages, is able to draw the reader back to the 1930’s as we witness the trials and tribulations in the life of young Gwen. The reader presumes the time frame is after the Wall Street crash since the fifteen year old laments that her family no longer has the money to travel as they once did. Her renewed hopes to visit such places as Bermuda or Jamaica are dashed when the piece her father found in an oyster while they were dining out was not a pearl after all. If only it wasn’t just a bit of shell, then they could have taken the once promised trip over her Easter vacation.

Instead, she and her best friend, Dizzy Campbell, have an opportunity to travel from Vermont to New York City with some of their classmates led by their teacher, Mrs Tulliver. They visit the sites and go to various matinees and even spend time shopping, but the entire trip lacks excitement. Even visits to a hotel famous for its tea dances, led to disappointment since none of their male compatriots were around and they could only sit and listen to their favorite orchestra play without the opportunity to dance.

Finally their chaperone allows them an adventure. Each girl can explore a different part of the city and report back on their findings. Gwen decides to take the public transportation to the outreaches of Manhattan then ride on the subway back to their hotel. While getting off at a stop and looking around the deserted streets at Kingsbridge, she is misses her ride. Not to be discouraged she catches a cab, lucky to find one here in such an out of the way spot.

The young driver, new at the job, tells Gwen about his dreams to go to Williams College. She confides in him as well and the two teens seem to hit it off. Thinking there’s a robe at her feet, Gwen reaches down and is surprised to find a chinchilla cape, worth a lot of money, which has been left in the taxi. She insists they drive to the home office to see if anyone has claimed this lost item. Through a series of unexpected adventures with her newfound friend, Gwen shows her true character in resolving this “mystery” resulting in a fully satisfying conclusion.

You don’t get to read quaint stories such as this anymore. A simple, heartfelt tale which leaves behind a warm feeling and a smile. If the rest of Fitzgerald’s short stories are similar to this one, I heartily recommend this book. Four and a half stars.

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