Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Collector (Marion Spicer Art Mysteries Book 1)The Collector by Anne-Laure Thiéblemont
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I could say one thing immediately after finishing The Collector I would say "good grief! where on earth is this going?" I received an early release copy from Le French Book (that arranged for NetGalley to provide me with a copy and I love this publisher). Marion works for an auction house and investigates stolen art. She works closely with the police, so closely that she has a weekly meeting with an investigator that specializes in art theft for the police in Paris, France. Marion has developed close relationships with many people in the art world, with one exception, the person who left her a very large art collection in his will, that is, if she can meet the conditions of the will, adding to her role in the art role as that of a collector.

The Collector has some pretty colorful characters from her mother to her best friend, Chris. The people she runs into in her attempt to meet the conditions of the will run the gamut from friendly and helpful to what appears to be quite evil. No one's motive is apparent. Just when you think someone is on Marion's side it turns out they are against her. There is a huge mystery and we are getting to know the person that left the collection to Marion, her own father, Magni, at the same time as she is learning about him. Just when you hope that he left her this huge windfall it seems that possibly it might have been all a game to him. The only issue I had was that the mystery was rolling along at a nice pace and all of a sudden I felt like the police had the answers and we don't know how they got them. Maybe we will find out in the next book. I would not say it exactly ended in a cliff hanger but there was definitely a huge mystery left and so many ways this can go. Is Marion a good person? Is she a bad person? What happens to the art collection she was left if she met the conditions of the will? Having questions at the end of a book that the reader know is the first in a series is okay, especially when the initial story line has given the reader some closure to the story they were invested in with the current book and The Collector definitely does that and I look forward to seeing where the author goes next!

Press Release

Excerpt from The Collector by Anne-Laure Thiéblemont


One evening, I sat Beauty in my lap. And found her bitter. And I cursed her.

—Arthur Rimbaud


The collection is this way.
His tone was dry and not particularly welcoming.

Standing before her in the parlor, he gave her the chills. His gray reptilian eyes showed no emotion, and his long face seemed cut from ivory. His right hand was sunk deep in the pocket of his night-blue blazer and refused to budge—not even to greet her.

George Gaudin had been Edmond Magni's personal assistant until a week ago, when, somewhere in Peru, Magni had mysteriously dropped dead—for the second time in Marion's life.

The first time, her mother was the one to announce the news. He died in a plane crash, she had told Marion. It was a lie. In truth, her husband had abandoned his family and his given name, Jean Spicer, and had assumed a new identity.

From the age of three, Marion had gotten by without him, believing all those years that her father was dead, without so much as a photo to cling to. Not a single picture of him could be found in their home. And every time she asked her mother to share a story, an anecdote, a memory, the woman would retreat into a silence or fly into a fit that could only be remedied if she isolated herself in her bedroom and slept.

Marion stopped asking questions.

Now, thirty-three years later, out of the blue, an executor had informed her that her father hadn't been dead all those years. He had just made a new life for himself, and she would be inheriting—among other things—one of the greatest collections of pre-Columbian art in the world, valued at over forty million euros. Of course, the inheritance had certain stipulations. Nothing came that easy for Marion.

Gaudin crept to the other end of the room and gestured for her to follow. She had hoped to linger in the immense space. Perhaps it would rouse the memory of a scent, an image, a feeling of deja-vu—anything to fill the void. But she couldn't find the slightest personal connection.

She hadn't seen so many in one place since watching Barry Lyndon in a Stanley Kubrick retrospective. She surveyed the Louis XV-style furniture with its Rococo curves, the brocade fabrics, the brass, the redwood marquetry, the Boulle-work drawers, the Venetian mirrors, and the chandeliers dripping pendants of rock crystal. A world so unlike her humble childhood.

This way.
The assistant's directive dripped with arrogance. Without any further formalities, he disappeared behind a copper-colored silk wall hanging. She followed and discovered a reinforced door that opened to a narrow staircase. She hurried down the steps just as the door closed behind her. It made surprisingly little noise, considering its weight.

Marion stopped at the bottom of the stairs. The space was cold and devoid of light, sound, colors, and smells. She peered into the darkness. It seemed like an unknown abyss, and she had the disturbing sensation that she was being watched.

Gaudin flicked on the lights. A shiver traveled up Marion's spine, and she gasped. In the faint illumination provided by the bulbs, literally hundreds of clay sculptures and vessels took shape. Floor-to-ceiling shelves were lined with odd-looking creatures. Some had hollow eyes, stunted bodies, and swollen arms and legs. Many looked sickly and tormented. They stared at her with lifeless eyes.

Marion's mouth went dry, and her legs began to shake. Eventually she inched closer and examined the sculptures one by one. She knew that some of the pieces were pre-Incan portrait vases. She had never cared for these indigenous works. And in such large numbers, she found them disturbing. Certainly there was nothing aesthetically pleasing about the frozen assembly of cripples in this place.

A second room was equally disquieting, filled as it was with oversized phalluses and female genitalia in every possible position and depiction—pimple- covered erections, clitoris-shaped noses, pumas copulating with toads, skeletal women being sodomized. By the looks of it, Magni had relished the world of sexual obsession. Marion just stared at the impassive expressions on the faces of the silent participants.

Thousands of years, and these bodies are still here for us to see and touch. Isn't that fascinating? Gaudin said from behind her.

Marion didn't respond. She could barely breathe. This space was a shrine to her father's obscenity, negotiated at the cost of gutted tombs and stolen memories. And for what? A dark and irrational desire to claim ownership over the souls of the dead? An attempt to give them a second life? Or to extend his own? Was he afraid of something? Or of someone?


Excerpt from The Collector by Anne-Laure Thiéblemont , translated by Sophie Weiner (First published in French ©2006 Editions Liana Levi. English translation ©2015 Sophie Weiner. Published by Le French Book).


Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Spaniard's Kiss (Entangled Indulgence)The Spaniard's Kiss by Nina Croft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Spaniard's Kiss is a great, heartbreaking story that still somehow manages to be a great love story. I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It is the story of Isabel and Rafe but, the interesting thing is it is not just their story. It is the story that begins with Isabel's life as she learns to move on after her husband, Gary, dies. Gary was also Rafe's closest friend and in his eyes his family despite having a pretty large family, including a grandfather that lives across from Isabel in Spain. Isabel has one desire after 2 years of living without her husband, to have a baby and after sharing a very deep kiss with Rafe she decides that she should have the baby with Rafe.

The Spaniard's Kiss deals with loss and moving on. It also gives the reader an amazing love story that began before anyone really knows it. But, it begins with the wonderful bond of friendship and sacrifice and shows this wonderful growth that someone can experience through grief and loss. I tend to shy away from books that can be a bit sad but this book is worth the emotional roller coaster that is experienced as you wait to see how things will go. I have to admit that I was expecting a different ending but, was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed everything this book had to offer, especially the great descriptions of London and Rafe!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Assassins (A Judd Ryder Thriller)The Assassins by Gayle Lynds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have had many thoughts about The Assassins and the characters in this story as I was reading. But, as I was at the last part of the book and the action and story intensified, which is saying a lot given how action-packed and intense the entire book is, I thought it is almost over and I just want to slow down my reading so it lasts longer. I loved it! I received a copy of The Assassins from NetGalley and though I don't always like the books I have to review, I love it when they are great. The Assassins is the 2nd book in the Judd Ryder and Eva Blake series and it just gets better and better.

The Assassins starts a few months after where The Book of Spies left off. Though you could read them alone you miss out on so much by not being introduced to the characters in the first book. Judd has been in Iraq doing community service work and Eva has been training at the CIA farm. Just as Judd arrives home from his trip things go a bit haywire as he sees what looks like his exact double killed in front of his own home. As incredible as that is the story just gets more incredible as six assassins, including The Carnivore that we were introduced to in The Book of Spies, square off against each other.

Judd Ryder is a deep, flawed character who you don't know whether to cheer for or worry about because he seems to be on a precipice between good and bad. At the same time you can't help liking him. He feels pain and strives to do what is right but has some serious shadows in him that make watching him tackle the situations they face worth it. The Carnivore is someone you shouldn't like but somehow you can't help it. Even in The Book of Spies you find yourself drawn to him despite him being an assassin. He has rules that show his humanity even as he is "wiping" someone. Tucker has a huge fight on his hands in this series. He seems to be fighting for everything but his marriage, though he knows his wife is a bit fed up with his always working. His fight gets even more life-threatening in The Assassins and we really see the brighter side of Judd here as he worries for his friend. Eva, we have always worried for her but want her to be ahead. She deserves it after everything we know she has gone through in The Book of Spies. Another reason to read it first is to see the evil normal people can do to each other.

After my experience with these last two books by Gayle Lynds I look forward to reading more by her and definitely to see what Judd chooses for his life.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

From Italy With LoveFrom Italy With Love by Jules Wake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From Italy With Love is an amazing book. I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review and I can honestly say I loved it. From Italy With Love is the story of Laurie Browne, an adult woman who has been living a half-life without even realizing it. The book starts with Laurie and her boyfriend, Robert, attending her Uncle Miles' funeral where she first sees Cam, a good friend of her Uncle. We learn that something went wrong with Laurie's life and her relationship to her family members. Laurie then receives a classic Ferrari from Miles as an inheritance and the story takes on this beauty of armchair travel across Europe as Laurie follows the stipulations in Miles' will that she follow a specific route and end in a specific Italian town, the birthplace of the Ferrari. Cam is tasked with assisting her in the drive to Italy.

As From Italy With Love goes along we are given a detailed description of beautiful towns, shops and cafes as well as people. The reader has a treat in following along with Laurie and Cam as they make their way through France, Switzerland and an even bigger treat when Laurie goes on to Italy. There were also some colorful people met along the way. We also learn the history of what happened with Laurie's family and how she ended up a "homebody" at such a young age. We also learn more about Laurie's history with her boyfriend Robert. I had some negative thoughts about a portion of the story that relates to Laurie's relationship with Robert and Cam, but it is a large part of the story and I don't want to spoil it for other readers. But, I will say that my negative thoughts were lessened by the end of the book. I do not like what occurred but it did not make me throw my Kindle across the room and it certainly was not something that lessened my regard for the book. That is the mark of a good author I think. When the author can engage the reader, challenge them with topics that are contentious and still deliver it in such a way that the reader wants to leave the experience. From Italy With Love gives us a great romance not only in Laurie's life but also continued romance over and over with anyone that came in contact with the classic Ferrari, sometimes to the point where it was quite funny. But, the best experience with From Italy With Love was watching Laurie grow as a person and a woman because though she was loved greatly by her father, he could not teach her how to be a female or help her grow as a woman and she had no real female role model. I am now an avid fan of Jules Wake and look forward to going back and reading more of her work and seeing what else she releases in the future.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Rome in Love: A NovelRome in Love: A Novel by Anita Hughes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rome in Love is an amazing, detailed book about a new actress who gets to be the Princess Ann in the remake of Roman Holiday that I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of from NetGalley. She is filming in Rome, Italy (my first love of travel). Rome in Love is about choices and sacrifices for doing the things that are close to our hearts. Amelia Tate, who oddly enough was pre-med in school, somehow is chosen o play Princess Ann in the remake of Roman Holiday. She leaves her long-time boyfriend whom she was already having a long-distance relationship with so that she could pursue her acting career in Hollywood and he could pursue a contract for his business in the San Francisco area. They seemed to be enduring until she was temporarily living in Rome, Italy during the filming of Roman Holiday which placed more strain on their relationship and eventually causes the relationship to fail.

Amelia meets a reporter, Philip, when her life seems to begin to mimic Roman Holiday when she pretends to be a maid at the hotel she where is staying so that she can sneak off and have a bit of peace and quiet and some time to herself. As they both fill their parts in this living remake of Roman Holiday they grow closer. In addition to meeting Philip, she also befriends Sophie, a woman that she begins to explore the city and other areas of Italy. They have a lot in common and create an enduring friendship that is one of the cornerstones of the book. Another of the great aspects of Rome in Love are the fabulous descriptions of Italy. Anita Hughes does a wonderful job of bringing Italy alive for the reader. She also does a great job of making the characters larger than life. There is a fascinating portion of this book that allows the reader to also learn more about Audrey Hepburn and you can't help wanting to run and watch Roman Holiday again. I also learned more about Gregory Peck's life. I do not normally watch classic movies but I have a great love for Rome, Italy so I had to watch Roman Holiday. This book is a great retelling of Roman Holiday and pays great homage to it.

London Prep by Jillian Dodd My rating: 5 of 5 stars What a great adventure! I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book...