Salem's Cipher by Jess Lourey
From the first few pages, Lourey had me hooked.
This is an exciting roller coaster ride with a ticking clock, a long-lost treasure, and so much fun to read. Lourey skillfully blends historical people and facts with fiction to keep the pages turning.
If you enjoy Dan Brown’s novels, you’ll love this one, too.
The main characters are women—strong women. Smart women who rely on themselves to decipher the complicated, hidden puzzles left for them by history. What’s at stake? The future of the United States of America. Salem Wiley and Isabel Odegaard have been trained from childhood to take on this challenge. Imagine their bewilderment in finding this out—as they were never let in on that little secret.
A woman presidential candidate is ahead in the polls with the election just days away. So far ahead, she’s scared the hell out of an old patriarchal secret society, and they’re doing everything they can to stop her. Everything.
There are a few (minor) continuity issues that took me out of the story and made me go back and recheck things, but they didn’t deter my interest by any means. For that reason, I wish there was a 4.7 star rating. But I don’t feel it’s fair to give it a 4. (Gave it a 5 in online review.) Not with the way I wanted to get back to the book as soon as I could. That doesn’t happen often enough.
I also had a problem with the tag line on the front cover, The witch hunt never ended. It actually made me hesitate to start the book, as I have little interest in reading any more about the Salem witch trials, and that line made me think that would be the focus of the story. The characters do take a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the witch trials—or witches at all, for that matter. So, I don’t think Lourey’s publisher did her any favors with that one.
There’s a 2nd book, Mercy’s Chase, featuring Salem Wiley, who has become a cryptanalyst for the FBI, and I can’t wait to dive in.
Check out Jess Lourey's website here: JessLourey.com
Traditional mysteries aren’t usually my thing, but a friend recommended Alyssa Maxwell’s Gilded Newport Series, so I gave it a try.
Murder at Ochre Court is the sixth in this series. Although I haven’t read the first five, it didn’t matter. I was able to get into the story right away and easily understand who the main character was and her background.
Emma Cross is her protagonist, a rather courageous young woman for her time—the late 1800s. This book begins in July of 1898 with Emma having an interesting meet up with none other than the famed journalist Nellie Bly.
Emma is a newspaper reporter and wants more than anything to write about real news, not just the doings of those fantastically wealthy and privileged members of the 400. Emma is a distant cousin to the Vanderbilts, and as such, does have access to those families.
The settings are wonderful, and Maxwell truly transports the reader to that gilded age. The magnificent mansions, clothing, manners, servants, food, carriages, and community at large are all described very well.
The death/mystery Emma winds up investigating in this book is quite unique. I won’t reveal the who or how, but you won’t see it coming. The method used to murder the victim is absolutely ingenious and so appropriate to the time frame.
So, yes, I will be going back to read the earlier books in this series, as well as the subsequent ones. I found it a delightful escape read and highly recommend it. Here's a link to her website:
Greed. Power. Money.
The cause of most human atrocities are rooted in those three words. The pursuit of more money, always more, relentlessly more, is a twisted sickness that infects people. Money buys power. Money buys respect.
Money buys - safety? Maybe not.
Author Tom Straw has a smart defense attorney, Macie Wild - trying to prove her client's innocence on a murder charge - teaming up with an ex-cop, Gunnar Cody, who has serious skills (think Jack Reacher skills) and a great surveillance set-up, plus a scary-good IT guy - when her case intersects with his work.
Unfortunately, Wild's and Cody's investigation exposes them to the rotten, brutal, and deadly underworld of Russian oligarchs, whose insane amounts of stolen money and the subsequent influence it buys - even in the supposedly 'safest' corners of the American legal system - turns their investigation into a dangerous adventure.
There's a lot of action - at times, it felt I was inside a Mission Impossible movie - and there is a romantic element. What Straw does nicely is making the romantic element develop slowly, so when the two of them actually do something about it, it feels natural, more realistic - more deserved. Too many other novels of this type simply throw the characters into bed as soon as possible, which always feels forced and takes me out of the story. Straw doesn't overdo it, either.
In the end, Macie, for all her worldly experience to date, is shocked by the extent that money can corrupt. It's sick, and it's a condemnation of humanity - that in thousands of years of watching people screw themselves and entire populations in the pursuit of power and money - most of today's humans haven't learned a thing.
There were a couple of drawbacks. Straw's writing style in this novel is to combine different characters' dialogue, thoughts, and actions into single paragraphs, which made me have to frequently go back and reread for clarity. Who said that? Wait. Who thought that? Wait. Who did that? I would have read this book much faster if that hadn't been an issue.
The other was Cody's motivation to pretty much drop everything - from the get-go - to spend his time, resources, and money to help Macie with her case. It wasn't explained, and, I felt, didn't make sense. He didn't seem the kind of guy to fall head-over-heels in love at first sight and, because of that, risk his life and his resources in response.
But, I can suspend disbelief when the story is interesting, so - I did.
Why review an award-winning book that's been out since 2000? Because the story & its characters have stayed with me that long. I've reread it since, and I still love it. I'm sure my assessment will fair poorly in comparison to the others who've reviewed it all these years. You should read it, if you haven't already.
Here's the first paragraph of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood:
Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens.
The story is set in Southern Ontario and spans the life of Iris Chase Griffen in the twentieth century, with most of the action happening in the 1930s and 40s. With her family's affluence and standing diminishing rapidly, her father seems to have zero interest in interrupting the decline, and his subsequent decisions are devastating to his daughters.
What I love about this book: The characters are human - quite flawed - but not overdone. The girls' father is horrible with how he lets them down, but Atwood makes you feel his despair and depression. It's an examination of human tendencies and faults - the truth of how people react to situations, and it hits us where it should. I think because we all have family members who have not risen to the occasion. We get it.
The story is layered, revealed little by little. The Blind Assassin story inside the main story is done so well, the reader is also eager for the respite it provides, along with the characters.
Atwood's use of similes and metaphors is wonderful. The comparisons aren't forced and used only when it truly helps to further convey the mood or situation. 'The leaves of the maples hang from their branches like limp gloves . . .' is one example. There are many.
It's a great read.
It seems a bit silly to write a review of a book that already has too many to read, but here's my two cents. I also know I'm bucking the popular trend by not raving about it.
I did love the premise & how it showed the parallel lives of two children all the way to the end of WWII. Each from very different circumstances. There have been soooo many books about the war, so this was a very fresh perspective to see it from.
The author did a fantastic job of showing life for the average French and German citizens during the build up to war and during - the ongoing terror of being involved just because you were alive.
What I didn't love was the ending. I won't spoil it, but after all the sadness, tragedy, and ever-grinding stress the characters go through, I think they (and the reader) deserved a little bit happier ending. It didn't need to be sparkles and rainbows, but yikes.
I'm also not so fond of the colons, semicolons, and the endless loose and run on sentences. Yes, I am aware this is 'literary', but 100-150 word sentences that comprise their own entire paragraphs are annoying to read. (IMHO, of course.) I had to keep going back over them, to be sure I understood the author's intent/implication with that sentence. They took me out of the story more times than I can count.
The bottom line is it is worth reading - for the unique perspective alone.
If you haven't read Kling's Seychelle Sullivan series, you should. Seychelle, besides having the best first name ever (she and her siblings were named for islands, how cool is that?), is a smart and clever woman who can't stand injustice. That last part is probably why I like her so much.
I'll tell you the worst I can about these books:
Seychelle can take a licking and keep on ticking - sometimes to excess, and I have to suspend my disbelief at those times. (Happy to do it, BTW.) And - there are plot points that seem a might too convenient. That's it.
But!! Kling's writing is so clean. She gets you rooting for the underdog. She makes you love her characters. And she always has a good, solid mystery.
Mourning Tide is the 5th in the series, and yes, you can read it without having first read the others - it will stand alone very nicely. Seychelle owns a tugboat, so Kling takes us to places we'd never see or know about because of it, and that is a big draw, in my mind. Seychelle's efforts to find a friend's missing sister & who was responsible leads her into the world of a smarmy money-grubbing 'preacher' and his cult-like followers. Things are even slimier than they first look, and Seychelle inadvertently endangers her sweet little family - boyfriend B.J. Moana & their adopted, adorable son, Nestor.
Kling herself is a life-long sailor, has a zillion stories to tell, and I hope she keeps doing so. Check out her other series, too - The Shipwreck Adventures - featuring another great female lead character, Maggie Riley.
Author J.D. Allen tackles two difficult subjects in 19 Souls. One is male rape. The other is female serial killers.
From the first line, the plot grabs you. I won't spoil it, but there are several twists that surprise in this story.
The male rape aspect is told well, from the male point of view. Still, today, in many quarters, the whole idea of a man being able to be raped is considered preposterous - making it that much more difficult for the victim to come forward or make a complaint without worries of being lampooned or ostracized. Allen's take on it feels believable. She manages to be in the man's mind and makes us understand.
Apparently, getting deep into people's heads is Allen's specialty. Because the race through this fast-paced book also puts us into the female serial killer's mind. She does it so well, that I almost - almost - started rooting for the crazy killer.
It's a fast, good read. Give it a try.
I'm a little late to the Billy Boyle party. Just finished book one in the series. There are ten more, if I've counted right, and I'm looking forward to all of them.
James R. Benn created a delightful character in Billy. He's a young man - early twenties - thrust into WWII and trying to survive the best he can. He was a newly minted detective with the Boston police when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Military service was inevitable, and his family scrambled to use any avenue they had to get Billy a good posting.
Fast forward to England, and Billy's been assigned to Gen. Eisenhower. He's expected to use his detective skills.
He fakes it till he makes it - does the best he can. He reminded me so much of my sons in their early twenties. A very charming character. Benn does a terrific job conveying both England and the era, as well as the military brass.
I'm not thrilled with the fate of some of my favorite characters, but hey - it was wartime. Read the book(s.) You'll love them.
Glory Main is the first of five books in The Sim War series by Henry V. O'Neil
I have to confess I'm not a huge Sci-Fi reader. Okay, 'not huge' is deceptive. While I love the Star Wars & Guardians of the Galaxy movies, I'd seldom read a Sci-Fi book - much less a military Sci-Fi.
But O'neil had me interested from the first chapter. His style is easy and the story doesn't get bogged down or didactic with inordinate details.
The world he's created is fascinating. The enemy that Lt. Jander Mortas and his fellow soldiers face is unique. And some of the weapons O'neil thought up are absolutely amazing.
I can't say too much in a review of this book, because each chapter reveals something you don't expect, and I hate when reviewers ruin such things for me. Be warned however - You will NOT see the ending coming.
I believe the only way to get through the slings and arrows life throws at all of us is to find the humor.