Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dangerous, Unseemly and Irrestistible

K.B. Owen, Narrated by Becket Royce
K.B. Owen Books, Audible Audio
November 2014

I have read and listened to many mysteries (some with female heroines) set in Victorian Britain and was drawn to Dangerous and Unseemly because it was set in America in 1896. Concordia Wells is a professor at a women's college in Hartford, CT. At odds with her family, at least with her mother over her choice of career over marriage and motherhood, Concordia is contented with her busy life educating and shepherding young women. All is not well at the college though; money has gone missing and embezzlement is suspected. A series of malicious pranks lead to Concordia's discovery of the body of the college Bursar. The death is ruled a suicide but Concordia doubts the verdict. Then she suffers a great personal loss when her sister dies of a mysterious lingering illness. The way that her husband and his father handled the illness could only be suspicious and Concordia is determined to find out the cause.

Filled with multiple vivid characters, many of whom are not at all what they appear to be, Dangerous and Unseemly is both an engrossing mystery and a look at the plight of women of the era. Deemed to be unfit for anything other than marriage, any woman who did not walk that path was considered suspect and subject to great censure. I'd like to say that life was better for women in America than in Britain at the time but that would be wishful thinking. Concordia herself is a very likable character, at times impetuous but always intelligent and resourceful. 

Becket Royce's narration is excellent. She is the very personification of how I imagine a well brought up and educated young woman of the time might sound. I particularly appreciated her handling of character voices with slight foreign accents which never veer into parody.I highly recommend Dangerous and Unseemly and hope that there will be more audios of the second and third books of the series. I received a code for a free download of the book from the author and narrator in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Friday, April 17, 2015

A solid but obvious plot from the prolific Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts
Putnam Books, Brilliance Audio
April 14, 2015

Nora Roberts is an amazingly prolific author of more than one hundred novels and still counting. Her "In Death" series (written under her J.D. Robb pen name) is a must read for me and still going strong after more than forty full length books and novellas. They are much more gritty than her romantic suspense stand-alones and straight romances and probably more to my taste, but most of her books, especially the later ones are worth reading.

Shelby Foxworth's husband, Richard, was reported killed in a boating accident. The marriage was pretty shaky but Shelby stayed for the sake of her daughter, 3 year old Callie Rose. After Richard's death, Shelby discovered that he was a liar, a con-man, an adulterer and probably not even named Richard Foxworth. Left with a mountain of debt from their high-flying lifestyle Shelby sold everything she could and returned to her home in Tennessee. But someone seems to think that Shelby has something important and is determined to get it back. Shelby is faced with mending fences with her family and friends and building a life she can be proud of for both herself and Callie. Enter the handsome Griff Lott, contractor, new resident of Rendezvous Ridge,TN and polar opposite of Richard who thinks he is just the man to help her build that new life.

The Liar has all the marvelously realized characters that usually inhabit Nora Roberts' books. She has a admirable gift for characterization that she has honed over years of practicing her craft.The suspense is pretty thin as I had the plot figured out in about 60 pages. I have to admit that one of the attractions of her books is the sure knowledge that in the end everything will turn out all right. There's nothing wrong with a good escape read after all! In general, I listen to the audio versions of Roberts' books and January LaVoy did a great job of creating and differentiating the various voices. I did think that it was a bit long but overall, I enjoyed The Liar very much.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Thursday, April 16, 2015

DEAD WAKE: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Erik Larson
Crown Books
March 10, 2015

Erik Larson's exhaustively researched account of the ill-fated last voyage of the Lusitania, sunk off the coast of Ireland on May 7,1915 brings to light an incident that has largely been shrouded in the mists of history. I think we all have heard of the Lusitania but it has been overshadowed by the popular fascination with the Titanic disaster of 1912.In 1915 World War I was in it's tenth month and German U-boats threatened to change the rules of war forever. For nearly a century the safety of merchant and passenger vessels was assured  by a sort of unwritten agreement. Forces in the German Navy and government were agitating to ignore those rules,making any vessel under an enemy flag fair game.

The Cunard ship, Lusitania, was the "greyhound" of the line,holding the speed record for crossings between England and America. Captained by the extremely competent but uncharismatic William Thomas Turner, the Lusitania was considered to be unlikely to be sunk by a torpedo from a U-boat and protected by it's status as a passenger vessel. The luxurious Lusitania carried 1,959 passengers and crew, both famous and unknown with a record number of women and children. Of those passengers and crew only 764 survived. Despite a general warning issued by the the German government the Lusitania sailed from New York on May 1. Meanwhile in Britain, a group of code-breakers designated "Room 40" had succeeded in breaking German transmission codes and were able to track U-boat traffic with unprecedented accuracy. Using that knowledge in a productive fashion was hampered by political infighting and an obsession with secrecy however.

The first parts of Dead Wake are packed with detail about the great liner itself, shipboard life, and life aboard a U-boat. We learn much about many of the passengers, the captain and figures in both Great Britain and America, notably Churchill and President Wilson. While this was interesting to a degree I found much of it tedious. I can't quite see the relevance of Larsen's account of President Wilson's concurrent romantic pursuit of Edith Galt to the subject at hand for instance. Only in the immediate lead-up to the sinking of the ship and the disaster itself did I feel any dramatic tension and emotional involvement. 

The Admiralty was quick to single out Captain Turner as a culprit but were unable to make it stick. Their knowledge of U-boat 20's movement could have been used to avert the disaster but the obsession with secrecy overrode all other considerations. Added to this was the indefensible policy of not going to the aid of survivors of U-boat attacks in fear of losing the rescuing ships; a policy which insured the loss of many more lives which might have been saved. To me it was just another instance of stupidity in a remarkably senseless war; a war that wiped out out an entire generation in Europe.

I have been a fan of Erik Larson's work since The Devil in the White City, but Dead Wake was a bit of a disappointment to me. I could not help comparing the emotional immediacy of Walter Lord's A Night to Remember and finding Dead Wake lacking. I do appreciate the strength of Larsen's research and conclusions and do recommend it to anyone interested in WWI and naval history. Thanks to and Crown Books for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 3 Stars