The Messenger by Daniel Silva

the messengerPublished by Signet, 2006 *****

Each Gabriel Allon book seems to get more and more intense, and this was no exception. There was so much going on here that kept me engrossed, from a plot against the Vatican, to a lost Van Gogh painting. But Gabriel’s biggest challenge is infiltrating a powerful circle of Saudis who finance terrorism. His newest recruit is an American art curator named Sarah Bancroft, and putting her into the den of lions is his greatest challenge yet. Everything is at stake when Sarah boards the luxury yacht of their enemy and even the idyllic setting of cruising around the Caribbean cannot diffuse the tension of her mission. Even the best laid plans can go wrong, and the climax is nail-biting, but the satisfying conclusion is so worth the anxiety that kept me riveted to the last 50 pages.

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The Tower by Simon Toyne

the towerPublished by William Morrow, 2013 ****

Though I liked the series overall, I must say that I had mixed feelings about the concluding book in the trilogy. It’s somewhat difficult to articulate, but there were a few flaws that I feel are necessary to point out. On the other hand, there were also aspects of this book that made it stand out from the previous two. So…

Negatives:
-A lot of cat and mouse wild goose chasing, and it seemed every time the would-be heroes found a lead, the person they were looking for, who could provide answers, wound up dead.
-There was a lot of back and forth between the present and eight months prior, which was slightly tedious, though the timelines did converge in the end.
-I hate when authors write in contrived southern hick dialogue: “…and there ain’t never no sin in that.”
-I’m still not quite sure why the Citadel monks were so fanatical about preventing the inevitable.

Positives:
-A whole new cast of characters is presented to investigate cool space stuff like the Hubble telescope.
-Some crack-pot fundamentalists get their comeuppance.
-I really enjoyed the fascinating philosophy that was presented. It wasn’t just about religion; it was the metaphysical and cosmic implications: “We are all effectively made of stardust: same atomic material, same physical properties, all linked by an energy and common origin, whether you call it faith or physics.”

And that last statement is why I gave the book 4 stars. It was a generally interesting concept despite a few flaws. It might even make you reflect on the bigger picture (a la Neil deGrasse Tyson) of the human race and its place in the universe.

Other books in the RuinTrilogy, Sanctus (#1) and The Key (#2)

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Bookish (and not so bookish) Thoughts

I discovered Zulily, and me, who HATES shopping, found some super cute stuff.  Two dresses, two tunics, a skirt, and socks for $100.  This could be dangerous.  D’ya think I like paisley?

The other night we had breakfast for dinner (who doesn’t love breakfast dinner?) and I added fresh parsley to my scrambled eggs.  Who’d a thunk something so simple can elevate eggs!  Peppery and gourmet.

I think I might have an avocado addiction.  But I’m OK with that.

The Vine has kind of been a bust lately, but I am getting two freebies soon: Killer Within by S.E. Green, the sequel to Killer Instincts, which I enjoyed.  And I won the new Chevy Stevens book, Those Girls from Goodreads.  Plus I’m getting a pub copy this spring, so I’ll be able to do a giveaway.

Friday I worked out of my suburban office cleaning up files and had lunch at my favorite restaurant, Sushi Station.  It’s the kitchy kind of place that has the little plates of sushi going around the restaurant on a conveyer belt.  I took my colleague for the first time and he got a kick out of it (plus he treated!).  And Godzilla Rolls.  Got my fix.

I previously mentioned our recent movie series binges.  This week we watched space movies:

  • Gravity – Meh.  I very much dislike George Clooney here, and listening to Sandra Bullock panting for 2 hours is annoying.
  • Apollo 13 – I always tear up at the end. Oh Ed Harris.
  • Contact – One of my all time favorite flicks!

I considered doing this A Day In The Life blog thing that’s going around, but it would be so boring since my days are very redundant and my job is uninteresting.  It would go something like this:

  • 5:15 am – Wake up and feel sorry for myself for being up so early
  • 5:20-6:15 – Morning routine
  • 6:38-7:36 – Train ride, read
  • 7:45-3:45 – Corporate job
  • 4:20 – Train ride, read
  • 5:30-7:30 – Sip vodka tonics
  • 7:45 – Dinner
  • 9:45 – Bed

The only variations are lunch destinations, after work errands, evening TV, and train drinking on Fridays.  See, pretty boring.

Shout out to Christine for the topic!

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Interview with David Morrell, Author of Inspector of the Dead

Ladies and gentleman, I am pleased to present David Morrell, legendary author of First Blood and an amazing Victorian Mystery series: Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead. Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for this great opportunity!

Julz: You wouldn’t remember me, but we actually met in 2006 at the Midwest Literary Festival in Aurora, IL. You were promoting Creepers, and were on a panel with James Rollins, Elizabeth Kostova, Lisa Jackson, among others. What do you recall of that experience?

David: I do in fact recall that festival. If memory serves, I was there twice. I vividly recall the river and how friendly the attendees were. Also it was a delight to spend time with those wonderful authors. A few years later, Jim Rollins and I were part of the first USO author tour to a war zone: Iraq.

Julz: In the book’s afterward, you talked about the film that first drew you to De Quincey, how you then consumed his writings, and thus became enamored with the Victorian Era. What specifically inspired you to make him the main character in the series?

David: The film is called Creation, and it dramatizes the nervous breakdown that Charles Darwin suffered while writing On the Origin of Species. Darwin’s favorite daughter had died, and he wasn’t only grief-stricken, but he also felt guilty because he feared that a treatment he recommended had hastened her death. He suffered heart palpitations, stomach pains, insomnia, headaches, and other ailments, the combination of which baffled his doctors.

These days, we recognize the psychological origin of his maladies, but not then—except for Thomas De Quincey. Near the end of the film, a character tells Darwin, “There are people such as De Quincey who believe that we can be controlled by thoughts and emotions that we don’t know we have.” I was amazed. That sounded like Freud, but the film takes place in the 1850s, many decades before Freud published. So when the film ended, I rushed to my bookshelves and learned about the amazing Thomas De Quincey—the first man to write about drug addiction in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) and the creator of the modern true-crime genre in the third installment of his sensational essay, “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts” (1854).

Then I learned that De Quincey influenced Edgar Allan Poe, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes. It’s difficult to communicate my excitement when I decided to use De Quincey as the main character of a Victorian mystery that would try to place him at the start of the detective tradition.

Julz: Is it difficult to write a complex character who has such a strong intellect but weak proclivities?

David: De Quincey wrote thousands and thousands of pages, most of them brilliant. I read those pages again and again until their unique tone crept into my imagination. After a while, I could quote from him at will. One of my editors said that I was channeling him. Then I read and re-read biographies about him and became friends with the biographers. I went to places where he lived in Manchester, the Lake District, and London. It was a very immersive experience. I depicted his intellect by quoting from him in dialogue rather than by trying to make things up. I definitely know that I’m not as smart as he was.

Julz: You are notorious for immersing yourself in your research. I don’t suppose opium use was something to experience as a way to connect or empathize with De Quincey. In lieu of illegal drugs, how were you able to convey the mentality of an addict?

David: You’re right—no opium use for me. It was widely available to De Quincey in the form of laudanum, which is a mixture of alcohol and powdered opium. Legally and cheaply available, it could be purchased almost anywhere and was the only effective pain reliever during the 1800s. It was as commonplace as aspirin is to us. But most people recognized its dangers and used it sparingly, putting a few drops into a glass of water. Meanwhile De Quincey became so dependent on it that he sometimes drank sixteen ounces a day. Astonishingly, he lived to be 74 and wrote some of the most exceptional prose of the Romantic and Victorian eras.

As you note, without experimenting with opium, how could I write about his mentality? I often embedded passages from his work, layering them so that readers wouldn’t realize where my work ended and De Quincey’s began. Mainly, though, I seldom ventured into his viewpoint. Readers almost always see him through the perspective of his 21-year-old daughter, Emily (another real person). The biggest task in the novel was to get around what I assumed would be a bias against an opium addict. I reasoned that if I presented De Quincey through Emily’s viewpoint and if readers really liked Emily, then readers would also like her father. She’s the key to Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead. Without her hilariously irrepressible presence, the novels couldn’t have been written.

Julz: You do an amazing job interspersing your narrative with historical tidbits (like the Suez canal and the hemophilia mentioned in my review). Without spoiling major plotlines, what other fascinating facts can we look forward to in future De Quincey books?

David: I’m so obsessed with De Quincey that I plan to do at least one more novel about him, but for obvious reasons, I can’t talk about it yet. For me, going to 1854-55 London is like going to another world. In the past, when I read Victorian novelists, such as Dickens, I always felt that I was missing something, that the authors weren’t telling me everything that I needed to know. After my years of historical research, I now realize that I was right. For example, well-do-do women of the 1850s wore hooped dresses. These were made of whale’s teeth or else metal. They were covered with ten yards of ruffled satin or the equivalent material. Abundant undergarments were necessary in case the dresses popped up. Weights were put into the hems to stop embarrassing moments from happening. Meanwhile the women wore tight corsets to create the illusion of impossibly trim waists. All of this amounted to thirty-seven pounds of garments. It’s no wonder they were fainting. In Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead, Emily refuses to torture herself and wears the newly developed “bloomer dress,” which was basically trousers under a normally hanging skirt. Dickens and other Victorian novelists didn’t mention this because they took for granted that their readers knew it.

Similarly Victorian readers took for granted that coffins were stacked ten and twelve deep in most graveyards and that gravediggers jumped up and down on the stacks in order to create more room. Another example: surgeons were considered low among medical practitioners because they actually touched patients while physicians merely looked at their patients and guessed—and yet were held in greater esteem. These sorts of details were a joy to incorporate into the novels.

Julz: Can you share a photo of your writing space with your 1850’s London map?

1851+London+map

David: The map was prepared for the first world’s fair, the so-called Crystal Palace Exhibition, which took place in London’s Hyde Park in 1851.

You can see David’s photo essay about the Crystal Palace here.

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Inspector of the Dead by David Morrell

inspector of the deadStay tuned, tomorrow I will be posting an interview with author David Morrell!

Published by Mulholland Books, March 2015 *****

The second installment in the Thomas De Quincey series was even better than the first. The Opium Eater is back and within the first few pages is in the midst of a disturbing murder plot. A killer is on the loose in London, striking down high-society victims in public and in their own homes, leaving the populace feeling unsafe anywhere. Leave it to De Quincey, his spitfire daughter Emily, and their Scotland Yard associates to embroil themselves in this mystery.

Despite his addiction and mental demons, De Quincey is so far ahead of his time analyzing situations. He is a precursor to Sherlock Holmes and Freud, and partnering with his innovative detective companions, they are drawn into a scheme that seeks to destroy Queen Victoria. Morrell does not hold back with the gruesome details of the murders, and the high body count would put Jack the Ripper to shame.

I loved the historical details peppered throughout, like the role of the future Suez canal in the Crimean war and the hemophilia of the Queen’s descendants. My biggest qualm with the last book was the inconsistent narrative of Emily’s first-person journal entries that detracted from the overall flow of the story. This time it seems that Morrell exercised some restraint, and this devise is only occasionally used, and with more success. This novel was an extremely well-crafted, engaging Victorian mystery that kept me guessing. If each book in this series continues on this momentum, they are just going to keep getting better and better.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Book 1 in the series:  Murder as a Fine Art

inspector hf

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The Tusk that Did the Damage by Tania James

tusk that did the damagePublished by Knopf, March 2015****

I am always intrigued by stories told from unique perspectives, and here, an elephant is given a voice. Known as the Gravedigger for the many humans he has killed, a rogue elephant is stalking the Indian jungles and through his third person perspective, we see what turned him into a killer. His story alternates with the first person narratives of Emma, a documentary filmmaker, and Manu, a young man living on the fringes of the jungle. Emma sees the world through the idealistic view of her lens, and she challenges the status quo of regional politics. Manu’s simple farming existence is complicated by his brother’s previous incarceration for poaching. The Gravedigger’s menacing presence charges the atmosphere with tension. The most successful aspect of this novel was the elegant language, and I was quite impressed with James’s beautiful prose. It was an original and captivating tale of man’s relationship with nature.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via TLC Book Tours

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Currently

Enjoying: A productive weekend at home.

Blogging:  I have two tours scheduled for next week - The Tusk that Did the Damage by Tania James and Inspector of the Dead by David Morrell, but I’m most excited about my interview with Mr. Morrell, so stay tuned!

Reading: I’m almost done rereading Pride and Prejudice and I can’t wait to Banter it with Rach.  I’m also reading book 3 in the Sancti Trilogy by Simon Toyne and my current nonfiction read is The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II.

Watching: The Hubs and I don’t binge watch TV series, but lately we’ve been bingeing on movie series we own on DVD.  It started with Harry Potter, then the Underworld, Bourne, and Narnia movies,  Star Wars (when I was reading How Star Wars Conquered the Universe), Aliens, and yesterday we finished the Terminator movies.

Purging:  Yesterday we cleaned out our closet and we are getting rid of 2 big black garbage bags of clothes.  Everything has been reorganized and I even “found” some older clothes to put back into circulation.

Loving:  Strawberries dipped in Greek yogurt mixed with honey.

Shopping:  Going to hit Kohl’s today to look for some summer shoes and a new bikini.

Anticipating:  Last weekend we booked our trip to Clearwater, Florida to celebrate ShortMan’s 40th birthday and 15 years of monogamy.  Plus one of my dearest friends from college lives there, so it will be awesome to see her and have a built in chauffeur/tour guide.

Anticipating II: One month until Readathon and I’m already geeking out.  I already have 3 shortish books picked out and that also may be when Rach and I start the Inkheart trilogy.

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