Wednesday Book Review: The Last Best Friend by George Sims

I am trying to put more book reviews here, so this is an attempt to get beyond one per week 😉

The Last Best Friend by George Sims

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press/British Library

Release date:  Original 1967, rerelease 2017 

Description

“The small man standing on the narrow ledge stared fixedly forward with eyes made wide and blank by terror.”

At 2pm on a Monday in 1966, Ned Balfour wakes in Corsica beside a beautiful woman.

In the same instant, back in London, fellow art dealer and Dachau survivor Sam Weiss falls ten stories to his death.

Ned refuses to believe that Sam’s death was intentional, and his investigation thrusts him into the deceit and fraudulence of the art world, where he unmasks more than one respectable face.

First published in 1967, this thrilling tale of vertigo, suspicion and infidelity is a long-forgotten classic with an intriguing plot twist.

https://poisonedpenpress.com/books/last-best-friend-british-library-classic-thrillers/ 

The introduction by Martin Edwards illuminates further who George Sims was (d. 1999) and perhaps why he isn’t as well known as his contemporaries of the time (the “Swinging Sixties”) like John le Carre and Len Deighton.

Sims’ style is descriptive, literary, revealing a deep knowledge of London. Ned Balfour can’t reconcile that his friend Sam, a concentration camp survivor, has committed suicide. Both Balfour and Sam are antiquarian booksellers (as Sims was until his death), and Ned is driven to find the answer to his friend’s state of mind.  The antique books world is wonderfully depicted as this is Sim’s home turf.

I loved Ned Balfour for his self-analysis, his somewhat jaded view of the world. His descriptions and relationships with women are archaic, but not as problematic as the homophobia that Simms’s prose touches on. It’s the 1960s, however, and I’ve read worse from modern authors. The writing and the plot were too good, and I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.

For an antiquarian bookseller, he’s pretty tough, but both he and Sam are the WWII generation. Ned easily talks women into bed, and he finds himself, as he approaches middle age, kind of creepy. The plot twists and turns as Ned gradually figures out Sam was murdered and drives himself hard to find out who and why. Charming and engaging, I’ll be reading more of George Sims.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Sunday Book Review: The Cloister by James Carroll

 

The Cloister is a novel of ideas that made me feel as breathless and on edge as I do when reading a thriller. With masterful writing and pacing, the author creates two worlds for the characters to inhabit—1140s Paris and the scholastic sphere of the brilliant Peter Abelard and Heloise, and their inevitable, and separate, retreat from the world.

How this all fits into Nazi occupied Paris, concentration camps, and on to post WWII New York City is an amazing literary feat. Entering this hall of mirrors is the Catholic priest Kavanaugh and the Jewish docent for the Cloisters, Rachel. Rachel’s father is the link back to Abelard and Heloise, as before the war he was a scholar in Paris working on a study of Abelard’s: Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian (1136-1139).  She carries Abelard’s book History of My Calamities with her everywhere because it was her father’s. When the priest seeks the shelter of the Cloisters during a rainstorm, they fall into conversation, and she spontaneously hands it over to the priest.

The themes of obligation and exploitation, retreat and annihilation, manipulation and survival are golden threads to follow through this labyrinth. A beautifully horrifying and shattering story.

Thank you NetGalley and Doubleday.

Sunday Book Review: The Orphan of Florence by Jeanne Kalogridis

Title:  The Orphan of Florence

Author: Jeanne Kalogridis

Publisher: St. Martin’s

Release Date:  October 3, 2017

Genre: Historical

Setting: Renaissance Florence

I am an absolute sucker for anything set in (Renaissance) Florence, but the author is a bit of a hit or miss for me, and I approached the novel with trepidation…

And fell right into the consuming rabbit hole of the story. Wow! 

My other absolute sucker-ness is for stories with women getting by in the world masquerading as men.

I loved Guilia—she knew from the get-go that her mind was different than the other children and adults around her.  Smart as she is, she struggles to overcome the real talent that keeps her alive—her distrust of all things except for the small family she’s made of a former prostitute and a street urchin.  She supports them by being a pickpocket, until she picks the right pocket, and though her circumstances are much improved after that fateful encounter, her new life is far more dangerous than the life she had led on the streets.

Medici spies versus Roman spies, orphans, codes and ciphers, and best of all, magic.

I loved the descriptions of Florence and the arcana—the author hit all the right notes for me from the moment I started reading. The fight scenes with Niccolo are absorbing and well researched.

BUT—does Guilia really need to say “OK” in this setting? I only laughed and moved on, but some might not. It takes more away from the story than adds to it, and as this is an ARC, I hope they remove “ok” from the finished manuscript.

P.S. Da Vinci, as much as I love him, doesn’t need to appear in every story set in Renaissance Florence, and for anyone who thinks “Da Vinci’s Demons” is history—it’s not, it’s an AU.

 

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #11

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

I reviewed the re-issue of the first in the Blackstone (Blackstone #1)series from NetGalley and picked up the second (Blackstone on Broadway #2) in KU.

I’m (edit: still) listening to this one on my early morning walk around the horsetrack–I love this–I hope to see more from this author.

Karen Odden’s enthralling debut historical mystery transports readers to Victorian England, where a terrifying railway disaster plunges a headstrong young noblewoman into a conspiracy that reaches to the highest corridors of power.

Following a humiliating fourth Season in London, Lady Elizabeth Fraser is on her way back to her ancestral country estate when her train careens off the rails and bursts into flames. Though she is injured, she manages to drag herself and her unconscious mother out of the wreckage, and amid the chaos that ensues, a brilliant young railway surgeon saves her mother’s life. Elizabeth feels an immediate connection with Paul Wilcox—though society would never deem a medical man eligible for the daughter of an earl.

After Paul reveals that the train wreck was no accident, and the inspector who tried to prevent it dies under mysterious circumstances, Elizabeth undertakes a dangerous investigation of her own that leads back to her family’s buried secrets. The more she learns, the more she must risk. Not only are her dowry and her reputation at stake; Paul’s very life hangs in the balance when he is arrested for manslaughter. As the trial draws near, and Parliament prepares for a vote that will change the course of the nation, Elizabeth uncovers a conspiracy that has been years in the making. But time is running out for her to see justice done.

What did you recently finish reading?

I loved this novel set in Renaissance Florence, love the voice and the mysterious Magician of Florence. Great concept!  I’ve only read two other novels by this author, The Burning Times and The Borgia Bride, and liked them, though Borgias have gotten boring for me.  Like Tudors. Review to come!

Description

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

From NetGalley, I have these two to finish up before requesting the next batch:

Abelard and Heloise! 😀

1904-1924 mystery series re-issue from Poisoned Pen Press…

 

Sunday Book Review: Tale of A Boon’s Wife

Title: Tale of A Boon’s Wife

Author:  Fartumo Kusow

Publisher: Second Story Press

Release Date:  October 10, 2017

Genre: Literary, Multicultural

Setting: Somalia

Idil, a young girl in Somalia, is the daughter of a general and whose family is of the dominant Bliss tribe. Her older brother is a sadistic creep and her younger brother has a heart as big as her own. Her mother does what is expected of her, repeating all the toxic masculinity brainwashing that goes on in patriarchal cultures everywhere.

Oh, this is a beautifully written and terrifying book!

Because of her general father’s numerous affairs, the last one ending in violence, they are moved closer to the capitol.  Thus Idil meets Sidow, and their friendship is fast and immediate.  For both her and her younger brother, Sidow is a healing balm when they can get away from their toxic household. Sidow is sweet, smart and talented, but he’s also of the Boon tribe, who are, historically, of a lower social order to the Bliss.

In a country already torn apart by civil war, the love that grows between Sidow and Idil is strong, strong enough for Idil to defy her parents and marry her soul’s mate, creating their own small resistance in the face of destructive traditions that would tear them apart. 

There is so much more going on than in this brief summary.  The author’s graceful and eloquent yet earthy language creates an immediacy and emotional immersion into Idil’s world, her mind and heart. Heartbreaking, though Idil remains strong and true as her mother, her family, her home, and country break apart.

Highly recommended. I’ll be looking for more from this author.

Thank you NetGalley and Second Story Press 😀

 

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #10

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

I’m loving this novel set in Renaissance Florence, love the voice and the mysterious Magician of Florence. Great concept!  I’ve only read two other novels by this author, The Burning Times and The Borgia Bride, and liked them, though Borgias have gotten boring for me.  Like Tudors.

Description

 

I’m listening to this one on my early morning walk around the horsetrack–I love this–I hope to see more from this author.

Karen Odden’s enthralling debut historical mystery transports readers to Victorian England, where a terrifying railway disaster plunges a headstrong young noblewoman into a conspiracy that reaches to the highest corridors of power.

Following a humiliating fourth Season in London, Lady Elizabeth Fraser is on her way back to her ancestral country estate when her train careens off the rails and bursts into flames. Though she is injured, she manages to drag herself and her unconscious mother out of the wreckage, and amid the chaos that ensues, a brilliant young railway surgeon saves her mother’s life. Elizabeth feels an immediate connection with Paul Wilcox—though society would never deem a medical man eligible for the daughter of an earl.

After Paul reveals that the train wreck was no accident, and the inspector who tried to prevent it dies under mysterious circumstances, Elizabeth undertakes a dangerous investigation of her own that leads back to her family’s buried secrets. The more she learns, the more she must risk. Not only are her dowry and her reputation at stake; Paul’s very life hangs in the balance when he is arrested for manslaughter. As the trial draws near, and Parliament prepares for a vote that will change the course of the nation, Elizabeth uncovers a conspiracy that has been years in the making. But time is running out for her to see justice done.

What did you recently finish reading?

I couldn’t put down this novel about a woman and her family caught up in the violence of intertribal warfare in Somalia. Review to come, though I think I might join the Diversity Reader meme on Thursdays. Great, though harrowing, story!

Description

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m never sure. I’ve got four more Net Galley books to get through, and a pile of books that includes Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (since I just watched Gods and Generals and Gettysburg) and some nonfiction 19th century America books.

 

Sunday Book Review: Murder in July by Barbara Hambly

Publisher: Severn House

Release date: 12/01/2017

I’ve always been a big fan of Benjamin January (and Barbara Hambly) so I was more than thrilled when this came up in the Net Galley queue to be reminded of the series.  The last book I read in the series was Die Upon a Kiss, which is #5, so I have a ton of catching up to do, happily, as Murder in July is #15.

In 1839 New Orleans, Benjamin, as ever, is content, living his life with his wife Rose and their growing family. Both a surgeon and a musician, he and Rose are preparing their home to become a boarding school for girls, the children of well-off white men and their mistresses of color.

But along comes Sir John Oldmixton with an offer Benjamin can’t refuse.  Not only is the money much needed, as Rose is also very pregnant, but a friend of Sir John Oldmixton has been found dead, possibly murdered, and his mistress, a free woman of color, has been accused of killing him. Benjamin is often called upon to maneuver between the overlapping of the borders of the whites and people of color. What makes this situation even odder, is that he recognizes the weapon used as to belonging to a woman he knew nine years before in Paris during the second revolution. She, too, was accused of a murder she didn’t commit, and Benjamin is sucked once more into the past as it bleeds into the present.  

The mystery and the history blend seamlessly to recreate this world of the antebellum South and 1830s Paris, totally absorbing.  The characters and their motives are realistically drawn, and the ending very satisfying.

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #9

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

Release Date:  October 10, 2017

Publisher: Second Story Press

Description:

A young Somali woman defies convention and clan to marry the man she loves, but must face the consequences.

Despite her family’s threat to disown her, Idil, a young Somali woman, rejects her high Bliss status to marry Sidow, a poor Boon man. Her decision transforms her life, forcing her to face harsh and sometimes even deadly consequences for her defiance of a strict tribal hierarchy. Set in the fifteen-year period before Somalia’s 1991 Civil War, Idil’s journey is almost too hard to bear at times. Her determination to follow her heart and to pursue love over family and convention is a story that has been told across time and across cultures.

NetGalley

What did you recently finish reading?

Review to come!  Loved it! 😀

Description

NetGalley
For me, this was a DNF about halfway through.  I tried. I loved the writing, and I picked it because it came up in my historical queue, but I didn’t see that it was also Christian/Inspirational. About a quarter of the way through I was struggling, but decided the story seemed worth it, but I’ve got to the middle where all the various church leaders are turning vengeful and murderous, and I don’t think I’ll pick the story up again, I loved the writing, the characters, and the setting, but I just can’t go on.
Release date: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Description:
In the wake of World War I in the small, Southern town of Bellhaven, South Carolina, the town folk believe they’ve found a little slice of heaven in a mysterious chapel in the woods. But they soon realize that evil can come in the most beautiful of forms.

The people of Bellhaven have always looked to Ellsworth Newberry for guidance, but after losing his wife and his future as a professional pitcher, he is moments away from testing his mortality once and for all. Until he finally takes notice of the changes in his town . . . and the cardinals that have returned.

Upon the discovery of a small chapel deep in the Bellhaven woods, healing seems to fall upon the townspeople, bringing peace after several years of mourning. But as they visit the “healing floor” more frequently, the people begin to turn on one another, and the unusually tolerant town becomes anything but.

The cracks between the natural and supernatural begin to widen, and tensions rise. Before the town crumbles, Ellsworth must pull himself from the brink of suicide, overcome his demons, and face the truth of who he was born to be by leading the town into the woods to face the evil threatening Bellhaven.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I don’t know, at this point, but going to work on my just-approved NetGalley ARCs 🙂

 

 

 

Sunday HM Book Review x2: Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb and Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

Release Date:  September 12, 2017

Publisher: Atria

The Unquiet Grave is a retelling of a folk story about a ghost who appeared as a witness at the trial of the man who murdered her, through her husband.  The narrative is broken up, as far as the timeline and point of view, between the mother’s present in 1897 and the lawyer’s assistant in a 1930s asylum.  It’s based on real life and though at times I felt impatient with the various characters involved with the trial, it’s the mother, Mary Jane, and the details of her life in West Virginia and her pursuit for justice that had me engrossed.  The big story question, did she make up the part about seeing her daughter’s ghost? is not quite resolved, though her gut instincts about the murderer help to get the killer prosecuted. A truly fascinating study of domestic violence.

I’d forgotten what a powerful and compelling storyteller the author is, and I’m ready to go back to her backlist to see what I’ve missed.

 

 Release Date:  March 2, 2017

Publisher: Hutchison

The Birdcage Walk surprised me in a good way—I wasn’t completely sure how it would all play out, as the mystery is introduced in the present by a lonely man walking his new dog in an old cemetery. But then the story begins to unfold in the past, starting with the murder, then switching to the first person point of view of Lizzie and stays that way through the story. I found this very effective in setting up the feeling of encroaching doom.

The original story question—who is Julia Elizabeth Fawkes? is answered in unexpected ways. I couldn’t put this down. Daily life in 1790s Bristol was rendered in fascinating detail, along with the details of a land and building developer’s life against the backdrop of the revolution in France. Lizzie is eminently likable as she struggles to keep and shore up the balance of her life. I highly recommend this novel of historical and domestic mystery/suspense.  I’ll definitely be reading more of this author’s work.

 

WWW Wednesday at coffee and ink #8

Sam at Taking on a World of Words is the host of WWW Wednesday.  To participate, all you have to do is answer the three W questions and post in the comments section at Sam’s blog:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

I’m on the fence about this one.    I love the writing and the characters, and though the plot is a little on the slow side, I want to keep reading. I thought maybe it would be a little Dean Koontz-like but with much better writing. But there are few things that throw me out of the story: Up until I saw this is also in the Christian/Inspirational category, I was there. Also, the various churches and religions in town exist in a harmony that, to me, clashes with the era. I realize it’s part of the supernatural historical fantasy, but it doesn’t go down well.  It felt like modern wishful thinking and the seams are showing. I’m going to keep reading, though.

Description

What did you recently finish reading?

From NetGalley:

Doing what she does best, a haunting story based on an old Appalachian folktale and rendered into a murder mystery.  I haven’t read Sharyn McCrumb in oh so long, and I have a lot to catch up on.  When a new bride dies in an accidental fall, her mother knows who did it and works to get justice for her daughter.  Deceptively simple and haunting prose…I’m halfway through and have trouble putting it down! edit: wonderful! Review to come!

Description

From NetGalley:

Another 5 star winner! Wow, this historical suspense blew me away. I’ll be looking for more from this author.  Review to come!

Description

 

I’m always looking for good vivid Victorian mysteries, and this series is perfect.  I listened to the audiobook on my morning walks around the horsetrack in town and finally finished. I don’t usually listen to audiobooks, but this story got me out of bed and lacing up the sneakers, so I’m definitely moving on to the next audiobook in the series 🙂 Review to come.

Blurb:

An atmospheric debut novel set on the gritty streets of Victorian London, Some Danger Involved introduces detective Cyrus Barker and his apprentice, Thomas Llewelyn, as they work to solve the gruesome murder of a young scholar.

When a student bearing a striking resemblance to artists’ renderings of Jesus Christ is found murdered — by crucifixion — in London’s Jewish ghetto, 19th-century private detective Barker must hire an assistant to help him solve the sinister case. Out of all who answer an ad for a position with “some danger involved,” the eccentric and enigmatic Barker chooses downtrodden Llewelyn, a gutsy young man whose murky past includes recent stints at both an Oxford college and an Oxford prison.
As Llewelyn learns the ropes of his position, he is drawn deeper and deeper into Barker’s peculiar world of vigilante detective work, as well as the dark heart of London’s teeming underworld. Together they pass through chophouses, stables, and clandestine tea rooms, tangling with the early Italian mafia, a mad professor of eugenics, and other shadowy figures, inching ever closer to the shocking truth behind the murder.

Not from NetGalley, either. I love Megan Chance and this was on sale a few days ago, oh look, it still is! https://www.amazon.com/Spiritualist-Novel-Megan-Chance-ebook/dp/B0019O6IXY/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Exactly what I expected and love about Megan Chance!!

Blurb:

Sometimes truth is the greatest illusion of all.

In a cold January morning in 1856, Evelyn Atherton’s husband is found murdered after attending an exclusive séance. Having “married up” into New York society, Evie herself is the immediate suspect. Ostracized and vulnerable, she knows that to clear her name she must retrace her husband’s last steps. And so, joining forces with her husband’s best friend–and the only Manhattan lawyer who will accept her case–Evie dives into the mysterious underworld of the occult.

Before long, the trail brings them to a charismatic medium, Michel Jourdain. Evie’s instincts tell her the smooth-talking Jourdain is a charlatan–and her only hope for exoneration. But getting close to Jourdain means embracing a seductive and hypnotic world where clues to murder come through the voices of the dead.

Caught in a perilous game in which she is equal player and pawn, predator and victim, Evie finds there is no one to trust, perhaps not even herself. As her powerful in-laws build a case against her, and with time running out, Evie must face the real ghosts of her past if she is to have any hope of avoiding the hangman

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m not sure, but these are my choices:

I picked up an Isabel Allende novel Island Beneath the Sea in a Bookbub deal. Another author I’ve lost track of. I loved Fortune’s Daughter, but that was published quite a while ago.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8149392-island-beneath-the-sea

And three gay romances from my favorite authors:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35561986-the-bones-of-our-fathers?from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32600210-the-ruin-of-a-rake?from_search=true

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35118935-spectred-isle?ac=1&from_search=true