Friday, April 28, 2017

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron


From the bestselling author of The Bear, the enthralling story of two women separated by millennia, but linked by an epic journey that will transform them both.

40,000 years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate. But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself. In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women's lives. Haunting, suspenseful, and profoundly moving, The Last Neanderthal asks us to reconsider all we think we know about what it means to be human.

REVIEW

Novels set in prehistoric times are rare, so I couldn't resist reading this one. The story unfolds through the points of view of two main characters - "Girl" who is a Neanderthal in prehistoric times, and Rosamund Gale, a modern day archaeologist. During an archaeological dig, Rosamund discovers the bones of a Neanderthal and a human in a grave face to face. The story shifts back and forth between the two characters, highlighting not only the complications in their lives, but also their two pregnancies.

Like most novels set in prehistorical eras, I did find a lot of detail and description, but that is to be expected as it is necessary to fully flesh out the early historical period. As for the contemporary setting, there were a number of characters that played minuscule roles in the story and this sometimes stood in the way of allowing the main characters to be fully developed. I also was hoping for a romantic link between the persons the bones belonged to. Despite that, the book was well written and held my interest to the end. A great easy read.

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King



Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.

On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome's leading epicure.


Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.

REVIEW

Ancient Rome is skilfully blended with the history of Roman cuisine in this fabulous new debut novel by author Crystal King. With colorfully faulted characters, she weaves a tale to include every aspect of the dark side of ancient Roman culture: slavery, violence, murder, poisonings, and intrigue. 

The story's main characters are Apicius, an extremely wealthy and wasteful man who desires fame through culinary extremism, and the talented slave named Thrasius who can fulfill his dreams. 

The prose flows easily and it is easy to fall into the story. The characters' personalities leap off the pages. The food descriptions tantalize as well as repulse with its numerous unusual ingredients. There were plenty of machinations and subplots that kept me riveted to the end. I love Ancient Rome and this was a great read. 


The Half Wives by Stacia Pelletier




Over the course of one momentous day, two women who have built their lives around the same man find themselves moving toward an inevitable reckoning.



Former Lutheran minister Henry Plageman is a master secret keeper and a man wracked by grief. He and his wife, Marilyn, tragically lost their young son, Jack, many years ago. But he now has another child—a daughter, eight-year-old Blue—with Lucy, the woman he fell in love with after his marriage collapsed. 

The Half Wives follows these interconnected characters on May 22, 1897, the anniversary of Jack’s birth. Marilyn distracts herself with charity work at an orphanage. Henry needs to wrangle his way out of the police station, where he has spent the night for disorderly conduct. Lucy must rescue and rein in the intrepid Blue, who has fallen in a saltwater well. But before long, these four  will all be drawn on this day to the same destination: to the city cemetery on the outskirts of San Francisco, to the grave that means so much to all of them. The collision of lives and secrets that follows will leave no one unaltered.

REVIEW

This is a very creatively unique novel. The story takes place of the course of one very important day in the lives of the main characters: Henry, his wife Marilyn, his lover/mistress Lucy and their daughter Blue. The setting is San Francisco in the early 1900's and pertains to an old pauper's cemetery where Henry and Marilyn's only child, Jack, is buried. Their toddler accidentally died on his birthday and that day torments the hcouple on each anniversary.

Despite his failing marriage, Henry cannot bring himself to leave Marilyn for Lucy and his illegitimate daughter Blue. Likewise, Lucy, unhappy with the status of her long-term relationship with a man who will never fully belong to her. 

The author used second person narrative which I found distracting and I disliked. Despite that, the story capture my attention and held it to the end. I recommend this novel for readers who enjoy uniquely written novels outside of the mainstream and for those who like to delve deep into the psyche of a book's characters. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant



Bestselling novelist Sarah Dunant has long been drawn to the wonders of Renaissance Italy: power, passion, beauty, brutality, and the ties of blood. With In the Name of the Family, she offers a thrilling exploration of the House of Borgia’s final years, in the company of a young diplomat named Niccolò Machiavelli.


It is 1502 and Rodrigo Borgia, a self-confessed womanizer and master of political corruption, is now on the papal throne as Alexander VI. His daughter Lucrezia, aged twenty-two—already three times married and a pawn in her father’s plans—is discovering her own power. And then there is his son Cesare Borgia, brilliant, ruthless, and increasingly unstable; it is his relationship with Machiavelli that gives the Florentine diplomat a master class on the dark arts of power and politics. What he learns will go on to inform his great work of modern politics, The Prince. But while the pope rails against old age and his son’s increasingly maverick behavior, it is Lucrezia who must navigate the treacherous court of Urbino and another challenging marriage to create her own place in history.



Sarah Dunant again employs her remarkable gifts as a storyteller to bring to life the passionate men and women of the Borgia family, as well as the ever compelling figure of Machiavelli, through whom the reader will experience one of the most fascinating—and doomed—dynasties of all time.

REVIEW

Italian historical fiction is my favourite genre, especially the era of the Italian Renaissance. I have been a fan of Sarah Dunant's for a very long time. Her newest novel, In The Name of the Family is a wonderful book, full of intrigue, political machinations, and of course, poisonings. Her interpretation of the characters encompassing the Borgia family was unique and intriguing. Machiavelli took on a strong secondary role in the story, and I found him interesting and well depicted. Lucrezia, of course, is a shining gem in the story. Likable, but well used to further her family's interests, she made for an endearing lady of substance. 

Sarah Dunant never disappoints and this newest novel is sure to satisfy! Highly recommended. 


The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron


Harry Houdini's one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.

Boston, 1926. Jenny "Wren" Lockhart is a bold eccentric--even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman's dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.

In the months following Houdini's death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini's ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he's known as one of her teacher's greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton's defender.

Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren's carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age's bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist's Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life's stage.

REVIEW

From it's stunning cover to the spellbinding storytelling, this is one book that had me hooked. It's about the beginnings of the FBI and the shady business of Vaudeville. The main characters, Wren and Elliot, bring a realm of emotion into the story. Poignant backstories, heart-wrenching scenes, and plot twists held my interest to the very satisfying ending. The two lovers slowly come together, each slowly revealing more and more about themselves. 

Romance, danger, and secrets make this a worthwhile read! I also enjoyed the author's other book, The Ringmaster's Wife! I recommend them both.