Thursday, 28 February 2013

Review of 'The Jewels of Paradise' by Donna Leon

The Jewels of ParadiseThe Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is said that Agatha Christie tired of Poirot, and that Conan Doyle wanted, after a time, to kill off Sherlock Holmes. I cannot imagine what induced Donna Leon to write this long winded and meandering novel, The Jewels of Paradise, except perhaps boredom with her highly successful series featuring Venetian detective, Guido Brunetti.

Let me say at the onset that Leon is incapable of writing anything but highly literate, beautifully thought-out prose. That is as true of The Jewels of Paradise as of any other of her previous many books. But a book about a musicologist whose special field is little known composers of Baroque opera? I’m a musician and an opera lover of many years, but even I had trouble caring what happened in this book about said musicologist’s investigation into the life and work of a composer long, for good reason, forgotten.

Ms. Leon seems to have used this book, The Jewels of Paradise, principally as a soap box from which once again to attack her favourite nemeses, the Church and the State. She often takes pot shots at Italy’s institutions through her characters in the Brunetti series, which I applaud when such shots have relevance to the plot. But her opinions have never appeared to be the sole raison-d’être in any of her previous works.

Not that I don’t enjoy her remarks. I do. I enjoyed her cutting comments about politics and religion and food and opera audiences who cheer wildly at bad performances. But this is not sufficient substance for a book. I cannot in good faith give this book less than three stars, because Leon is a brilliant writer who could probably create some interest even in a rewrite of the phone book. But I expect more from her. That’s what happens when an author places the bar so high.



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I currently have three published novels and one short story. I hope you will add them to your reading list and let me know if you enjoy them. Go to my Goodreads page, to find more info and reviewsTo purchase one of these books, just click on the book link below and select the vendor of your choice.


 • The Memory of Roses ~ The story of a secret and how it impacts two generations of the McQuaid family.  It unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu and is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.


"The Memory of Roses by Blair McDowell is simply an incredibly lovely story. It’s also a love story, and a story about finding yourself, and about closure. The theme running through the book is “all’s well that ends well.”  --  Marlene, Reading Reality



 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

"Delighting In Your Company is a unique paranormal romance that brings together island folklore, history, and mystery with an unlikely romance between the past and present that had me going through a torrent of emotions and made it impossible to put down." -- The Romance Reviews




 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find some shocking situations 
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 

It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

“I found Sonata to be a charming novel that left me laughing out loud in parts and gnawing nails in others. It was a delight to read.” – Night Owl Reviews




 Abigails Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?











Monday, 18 February 2013

Review of 'The Fallen Angel' by David Hewson

The Fallen Angel (Nic Costa, #9)The Fallen Angel by David Hewson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am an avid detective story fan, especially when the story is set in a place I love and the detective involved is thoughtful, insightful and intelligent – someone I would enjoy knowing outside the pages of a book. Donna Leon’s Venetian detective Guido Brunetti is the prime example I have encountered thus far in this genre. So when I compare David Hewson’s Roman police officer, Nic Costa, favorably to Leon’s Commissario Brunetti, it is the highest praise I can offer. Such books and such characters are all too rare in my experience. How Hewson has escaped my notice to this point is difficult to understand. There are eight novels featuring Superintendent Nic Costa. If the other seven are half as good as The Fallen Angel I can’t wait to read them.

Detective Nic Costa and his colleagues come off the pages as real people. There are no clichés among them. They live and breathe and their foibles and relationships with each other quickly become a matter of interest to the reader. The case Costa is investigating in The Fallen Angel bears a remarkable resemblance to a real-life case that took place in Rome in the sixteenth century in which a young girl, believed by many to be innocent, was condemned to death by the Pope. Hewson weaves history and fiction together masterfully with references to that event and to the Galileo trial for heresy in the mix. I found myself genuinely surprised in the final pages, at the denouement of this unusual story. This rarely happens to me. Hewson is a story teller par excellence.

I could not recommend this author and this book more highly to lovers of the genre.



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  I currently have three published novels and one short story. I hope you will add them to your reading list and let me know if you enjoy them. Go to my Goodreads page, to find more info and reviewsTo purchase one of these books, just click on the book link below and select the vendor of your choice.


 • The Memory of Roses ~ The story of a secret and how it impacts two generations of the McQuaid family.  It unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu and is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.


"The Memory of Roses by Blair McDowell is simply an incredibly lovely story. It’s also a love story, and a story about finding yourself, and about closure. The theme running through the book is “all’s well that ends well.”  --  Marlene, Reading Reality



 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

"Delighting In Your Company is a unique paranormal romance that brings together island folklore, history, and mystery with an unlikely romance between the past and present that had me going through a torrent of emotions and made it impossible to put down." -- The Romance Reviews




 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find some shocking situations 
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 

It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

“I found Sonata to be a charming novel that left me laughing out loud in parts and gnawing nails in others. It was a delight to read.” – Night Owl Reviews




 Abigails Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?



Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Review of 'At Home: A Short History of Private Life' by Bill Bryson

At Home: A Short History of Private LifeAt Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am not a great fan of non-fiction, particularly of “histories” which inevitably seem to center around wars, whether those wars involve the ancient Greeks or Romans, the American or French Revolutions, the World Wars or more recent conflicts.

What an absolute delight to find an author who looks at history as more than a series of military battles.

Bill Bryson, in At Home, takes us on altogether a different kind of trip through history. Home by home, room by room and century by century, he brings ordinary people to life through their dwellings. It is a fascinating journey, at times witty and humorous, at others, a bit astounding or even horrifying, but it is always compelling. It is every bit as good a read as any piece of fiction I’ve read in recent years. So entertaining is this book that at times I had to stop and remind myself that it is, indeed, history, accurate in every detail, based on meticulous research, as attested to by Bryson’s thirty page bibliography.

I recommend this book to all as a thoroughly entertaining and informative read, and while my intent in this review is to commend this book to general readers, I would be remiss if I did not mention what a great resource it could be for writers of historical fiction.
It has earned a permanent place on my bookshelf.


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I currently have three published novels and one short story. I hope you will add them to your reading list and let me know if you enjoy them. Go to my Goodreads page, to find more info and reviewsTo purchase one of these books, just click on the book link below and choose the vendor of your choice.


 • The Memory of Roses ~ The story of a secret and how it impacts two generations of the McQuaid family.  It unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu and is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.


"The Memory of Roses by Blair McDowell is simply an incredibly lovely story. It’s also a love story, and a story about finding yourself, and about closure. The theme running through the book is “all’s well that ends well.”  --  Marlene, Reading Reality



 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

"Delighting In Your Company is a unique paranormal romance that brings together island folklore, history, and mystery with an unlikely romance between the past and present that had me going through a torrent of emotions and made it impossible to put down." -- The Romance Reviews




 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find some shocking situations 
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 

It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

“I found Sonata to be a charming novel that left me laughing out loud in parts and gnawing nails in others. It was a delight to read.” – Night Owl Reviews




 Abigails Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?



Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Character Study of Buttercup, Michael's dog in SONATA



I can’t begin writing any new book without first writing background character studies of the people who will inhabit my story. Somehow, in my mind, my stories always begin with place, and, after place, with characters. My stories evolve from the settings and the people.


But even I had to laugh at my preoccupation with character studies when I found myself writing one for a dog.  Of course Buttercup is not just any dog. She’s Vancouver Police Detective, Michael Donovan’s dog, and she plays an important role in Sonata.

What she’s like and how Michael came to have her are vital elements in the story.

Below is the first draft of my character study for Buttercup. Initially, as you will see, I made Buttercup a male, but somewhere during the writing of this novel she told me she was female. My characters have a way of changing on me sometimes—although not usually gender.

Buttercup—Michael Donovan’s dog.  

Michael rescued the dog when a drug bust went bad. He found the dog, only a puppy at the time, malnourished and shivering with fright under the bed after its owner had been killed. Michael took him to a vet and then home. Fed him up and ended up with a dog who would gladly give his life for Michael if it seemed needed. Physical description— Malamute and St. Bernard cross, but somewhere in his lineage is a wolf—(other indeterminate ancestors as well). This is one BIG, fierce-looking animal, with a sugar sweet disposition.


 The odd name? I haven’t figured that out yet, but it is his name. Maybe because of a bright yellow patch under his chin.  Brown and white fur, soft and thick.  Face, white with brown freckles from the top of his head to his nose. One blue eye and one brown eye. Buttercup is a real coward, afraid of his own shadow. Hides under the bed when anyone new comes into the apartment. He stands high enough to eat off the dining table without any effort.
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In the following excerpt from Sonata Michael tells Sayuri about how Buttercup came into his life:

She heard the key in the lock and a moment later man and dog were back in the room. Buttercup trotted over to Sayuri and leaned against her, looking up at her adoringly with one blue and one brown eye.

“That was quick,” Sayuri commented as she scratched the dog behind her ears.

“She was anxious to get back to you. We don’t often have visitors. Actually, I’m surprised at her reaction to you. She usually hides under the bed when there’s anyone she doesn’t know in the apartment.”

“Under the bed? I can’t believe she can get all that bulk under a bed. Just what kind of dog is she? I’ve never seen anything like her. She’s huge. And those eyes are amazing.” Sayuri moved to the armchair and sat down. Buttercup followed her and put her massive head in Sayuri’s lap.

“Clearly she’s fallen in love with you. The vet thought she was probably half Malamute and half Newfoundland, but I’m pretty sure there’s some wolf in the mixture. And the two different color eyes are unusual, but they do happen, particularly in those breeds.”

“Did you say wolf?”

“Watch.” Michael came over to the dog, knelt down beside her and put his arm around her. He lifted his head back and started to howl. The dog threw her head straight back and joined him. The sound was both musical and eerie.

“Wow. I haven’t heard anything like that since I was twelve and went on a canoeing trip up Desolation Sound with my father. We could hear the wolves from our campsite every night. I loved the sound.”

“Don’t let her howl give you any ideas about Buttercup’s personality. Her wolf genes begin and end with her howl. She’s a complete wimp.”

“She’s a big dog for an apartment dweller.”

“Yes, well, I didn’t exactly choose her. She just sort of happened. It was a drug bust that went wrong. An apartment house on the east side. They were cutting and bagging cocaine when we came in. Gun fire was exchanged and people got hurt. It wasn’t supposed to have happened that way.”

Michael paused and frowned. Sayuri wondered if he was going to say anything more.

Then he sighed. “When it was all sorted out, as we were to leaving the scene I heard whimpering. I pulled this small scrawny shivering mass of matted fur out from under the bed. I was supposed to take her to the SPCA, but I didn’t. I took her home with me. She couldn’t have been more than two months old and she was half starved and filthy. I fed her and bathed her and the next day I took her to the vet for a checkup. He said there was nothing wrong with her that food and love wouldn’t cure.”

“So you had a dog.”

“I had a dog. I had no idea at the time she was going to grow into a giant hairy mammoth.” This was spoken with obvious affection as he ruffled the dog’s head.

“But her name?”

“Just look at her.”

Sayuri studied the dog. She had fur as thick as a bear’s, only longer. Her underbelly was white and everywhere else she was brown and black and white in large splotches. “I don’t get it.”

“Look under her chin.”

Sayuri laughed. “Of course.” There was a large spot of bright yellow there.

The dog, tired of being the object of so much attention, moved to the fireplace, circled three times and plopped down in front of it.

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I currently have three published novels and one short story. I hope you will add them to your reading list and let me know if you enjoy them. Go to my Goodreads page, to find more info and reviewsTo purchase one of these books, just click on the book link below and choose the vendor of your choice.


 • The Memory of Roses ~ The story of a secret and how it impacts two generations of the McQuaid family.  It unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu and is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.


"The Memory of Roses by Blair McDowell is simply an incredibly lovely story. It’s also a love story, and a story about finding yourself, and about closure. The theme running through the book is “all’s well that ends well.”  --  Marlene, Reading Reality



 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

"Delighting In Your Company is a unique paranormal romance that brings together island folklore, history, and mystery with an unlikely romance between the past and present that had me going through a torrent of emotions and made it impossible to put down." -- The Romance Reviews





 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find some shocking situations 
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 

It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

“I found Sonata to be a charming novel that left me laughing out loud in parts and gnawing nails in others. It was a delight to read.” – Night Owl Reviews




 Abigails Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?