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Category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Blog Tour & Giveaway: The Tudor Conspiracy by C.W. Gortner

[ 19 ] August 6, 2013

The Tudor Conspiracy USPlease welcome C.W. Gortner, author of The Tudor Conspiracy, as he tours the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours!

Enter to win a copy of the book below – open to US and Canada residents.

Reviewed by Colleen Turner

It’s the winter of 1554 and Mary Tudor is now the queen of England. While she took her throne with the support of her subjects, the fact that she is now contemplating marriage to the Catholic Prince Philip of Spain does not sit well with many. Many would rather see Mary’s half sister, the Protestant Princess Elizabeth, as queen and it is this fact that allows the seeds of doubt and betrayal to ferment in Mary. These doubts are helped along by the Spanish ambassador Renard who will stop at nothing to see Philip on the English throne and Elizabeth in her grave. So when Elizabeth is ordered to come to court and put under close watch, her adviser William Cecil must send someone to protect her.

Brendan Prescott has been living quietly at Hatfield House in Elizabeth’s employ since nearly losing his life in protecting Mary and Elizabeth from the schemes of the now-dead Duke of Northumberland, the man who attempted to steal the throne from Mary and proclaimed her cousin, Jane Grey, as queen. But having sworn to serve Elizabeth, Brendan must return to the dangerous court he hates to protect his mistress once again. His job will be anything but easy, however, when he finds himself a double agent, working for Mary to try and find evidence that Elizabeth is plotting with others to place herself on the throne while trying to keep Elizabeth safe. In a world where it seems no one’s loyalty can be trusted, Brendan must use his skills as an intelligencer to try to not only discover the truth but to keep his mistress, himself and those he loves alive, something that will prove harder than he ever thought possible.

The Tudor Conspiracy is the second book in C.W. Gortner’s The Spymaster Chronicles and I would highly recommend anyone interested in this series start with the first book, The Tudor Secret. Without first reading The Tudor Secret the intricate and weaving relationships between the characters cannot be fully appreciated. Hinted at past wrongs and the heartfelt reunions just don’t seem as poignant when you haven’t read what happened before. For me, I like to feel fully absorbed in what is going on. And this is a great series to become absorbed in!

While Brendan Prescott is fictional he is a wonderfully entertaining character to have as that crucial person able to go between Mary and Elizabeth’s intimate circles as well as into the underbelly of London. He is intelligent, tough and snarky when he needs to be and it seems like he can blend in to most surroundings, even when he becomes increasingly injured in his dealings with those that would happily see him and the woman he serves dead. He is able to witness people in different lights – whether vulnerable behind closed doors or strong and determined in front of others – and this well rounded view allows the reader to see that most people Brendan comes into contact with are usually not all good or bad. This also makes it harder to determine who is telling the truth and who isn’t, as well as why they might be lying, all of which adds to the suspense and mystery permeating the story.

So much is written about the Tudors and it can be hard to find stories that haven’t been told a hundred times before. The Tudor Conspiracy deals with the immediate time before, during and after the Wyatt Revolt of 1544, a time and situation that has been discussed in other books I’ve read but not used as the central conspiracy. There is so much to love here, with suspense, action, history, intrigue and even a little bit of romance that it would be hard not to find something to enjoy. This is a must read for anyone who loves a dramatic Tudor story.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Griffin. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

[ 8 ] August 2, 2013

9781616203160_p0_v2_s260x420Reviewed by Jax Kepple

Beware of the sexy, charismatic gallery owner! Claire Roth, clawing her way back into the lowest rungs of the art world after a humiliating incident with her former artist boyfriend and the MoMa, gets an enticing offer from Aiden Markel that she cannot refuse. Only when she learns exactly what is needed of her does she question her talent, her ambitions and her place in the ever-fickle Boston creatives.

Years ago, Claire Roth took credit for a painting submitted by her then-boyfriend Isaac. When her talents were rejected as authentic, she hit rock bottom, living in her artists studio on a mattress on the floor and painting copies of famous paintings for Reproductions.com. As part of the agreement for her to work at that site, she agrees to an interview that praises her for being an expert copyist for paintings by Edgar Degas. This article piques the interest of Aiden Markel, her previous boyfriend’s art dealer who comes to her with an offer that plunges her into the high brow art world.

In 1990, a theft at the Isalbella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston resulted in several famous pieces of artwork worth hundreds of millions disappearing into thin air. In The Art Forger, one of these painting is the fictional Edgar Degas After the Bath that suddenly reappears out of nowhere when Markel asks Claire to paint a forgery of it for an international buyer.

The Art Forger was an engaging, interesting read that made the technical aspects of painting and forging painting easy to follow for non-artists. Author B.A. Shapiro expertly moves the story along, while intertwining letters from the gallery owner to her niece and retelling exactly what happened three years earlier with Isaac. Claire is a very likable main character, with just enough faults to make her believable. The ending, with one final twist, was great and kept me guessing until the big reveal.

I did feel as though the Markel character was a bit too good to be true, but he made for the perfect antagonist for Claire, who was completely satisfied in her middle-of-the-road existence before he came along and made her push her boundaries. All in all, a very enjoyable read.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Algonquin Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The White Princess by Phillipa Gregory

[ 8 ] August 1, 2013

12326627Reviewed by Krista Castner

Phillipa Gregory has delivered a tautly paced book of historical fiction with The White Princess, the fifth book in her Cousins’ War series. The book is set in the years after Henry VII defeats Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. After his victory, Princess Elizabeth of York is forced to marry Henry Tudor. Princess Elizabeth York is the eldest daughter of King Edward IV, and the niece of Richard III. By joining the houses of Lancaster and York in this way he hopes to end the period of conflict now known as The War of the Roses.

This book is told from Elizabeth’s perspective as she watches her unconfident husband try to win the hearts of the English people. He doesn’t have the easy charm of the Yorks. He’s constantly looking over his shoulder for new threats to his crown. His mother, Margaret Beaufort who insists on being called, “My Lady the King’s Mother” resents Elizabeth and is wary of her and every remaining York family member.

After all, Elizabeth’s two brothers Edward, (Prince of Wales) and Richard (Duke of York) were the two little princes who were sent to the Tower of London by their Uncle Richard, and were never seen again. What happened to the boys? Did either one of them survive? Does Elizabeth know anything about whether one or both of the boys are still alive? Where will her loyalties lie when York “pretenders” to the throne appear? Will she recognize a long-lost brother who could steal her children’s inheritance? Her son Arthur, Prince of Wales is next in line to the throne and her younger son Henry was named Duke of York when he was just three years old. Will she support the new Tudor dynasty, or her York heritage?

Those are all the fascinating questions posed in The White Princess. I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it was surprisingly suspenseful. There were a few times when I got annoyed with the repetition of key sentences several times on a page as if I couldn’t grasp the concept the first time it was presented. Henry VII isn’t painted in a very flattering light, but I think that the portrayal was accurate. Elizabeth seemed long-suffering to put up with all his and his mother’s paranoia. But really, what other option did she have? She was a royal princess in a political marriage in a time when women didn’t have control over their own destiny.

I appreciated the accurate depiction of the historical era, and the interesting theory about what might have happened to the York princes. Gregory skillfully illustrated how the threat posed by this mystery would have formed the outlook and actions of the first generation of the Tudor dynasty.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Touchstone. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Joyland by Stephen King

[ 4 ] July 31, 2013

JoylandReviewed by Marcus Hammond

There are special moments in life when we get a chance to reminisce about all the wonderful, stupid, and heartbreaking experiences from our adolescence. These special moments shine when things get too dark and heavy. The nostalgia of this situation is a focal point for Stephen King’s new mystery, Joyland. The novel is one part detective novel and one part coming of age tale that proves King is not just a master of horror and suspense, but also of capturing the human condition.

Devin is a college student who tries to navigate the complex world of emotion that surrounds him while finding an identity that fits. In an attempt to get away from his stagnant social life and his first broken heart, Devin takes a job at an amusement park in coastal North Carolina. As he begins to find separation from the heartache of the past, Devin begins to unravel a murder from Joyland’s past that has long gone cold.

A much older and wiser Devin, who looks back on his summer at Joyland with the wisdom and clarity only afforded those who have had many years to contemplate life lessons, narrates the entire story. This retrospective approach helps convey significance to each event in the story. Early in Devin’s experience at Joyland he dons the mascot costume, which is the most hated of all the amusement park jobs. Devin, however, excels at playing the hound dog and he begins to learn how important creating, sharing, and experiencing happiness is. This lesson eventually links to other significant events, when Devin begins caring for a young crippled boy and his mother. This event helped Devin both leave his broken heart in the past and begin living in the present.

The surprisingly emotional and realistic character development seamlessly enhances the secondary mystery/suspense theme that works into the story later in the novel. While Devin’s maturing process is central to the story, the years old murder that he begins to investigate allows King to include a bit of the violence and horror that he is most well-known for. Devin’s curiosity about the murder eventually leads towards a violent climax that is best described as classic Stephen King writing.

It was surprising to find such emotional depth within what was publicized as a straight out mystery novel. It is easy to connect with Devin as well as many of the secondary characters as King develops this descriptive, entertaining tale of personal growth and murder.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Hard Case Crime. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Tainted Angel by Anne Cleeland

[ 2 ] July 7, 2013

images (8)Reviewed by A.D. Cole

In the time of Napoleon’s exile on Elba, there is a growing sense of unease; a fear of a second war, should the emperor escape. It is during this tense phase that Anne Cleeland’s novel, Tainted Angel, takes place. Gold is going missing in both France and England. England’s economic stability rests in the hands of one man, who owns far too many government-issued bonds. And it is the task of the lovely spy, Vidia, to keep track of this man.

However, when she finds herself surprisingly (and not unpleasantly) seduced by her fellow spy, Lucien Carstairs, it becomes blatantly evident that her employer has begun to question her loyalty. She quickly ascertains that Carstairs’ primary motivation is the ferreting out of her every secret. What she’s unable to determine at the outset, however, is whether Carstairs also has true feelings for her. Unfortunately, she can’t adequately explore the depths of those feelings when, at any moment, he might be handing her over to the hangman.

What ensues is a complex plot full of twists and lies and romance. The beginning felt mired down in unanswered questions and it took what I considered to be too long getting going. I was probably a third of the way through the book when I finally felt I had a firm understanding of the characters and story line. In the end, though, it all made sense. Everything comes together nicely and you wind up with a very clear, vivid picture of what was going on. I would have preferred to know a few more things up front, though. Such as whether or not I could trust Vidia or Carstairs. With Vidia, I wasn’t certain, for a while, whether she was a heroine or an anti-heroine.

The characters were well developed. The author created rich and detailed histories for them all of which were given to us through brief, entertaining references and anecdotes. There weren’t any long, dull back stories.

Tainted Angel is a historical fiction. The author, in her dedication, refers to it as Regency Adventure. This is all well and good, but I would say the romance thread drove this novel just as much as the plot. So I’m not sure what tipped this into the general fiction category, unless it’s the lack of graphic description in the love scenes. Anyhow, if you absolutely don’t enjoy romance, you’ll likely not enjoy this book.

There was a lot I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked the duplicity in all the characters. The humor. The willingness on Vidia’s part to forgive being double-crossed, time and time again. The fact that she uses terms like double-cross, twigged (being found out), and grass (to tattle). Her willingness to follow her heart with her eyes open to reality. Her self-deprecation at her foolishness for following her heart in spite of reality. And the way everything comes together in the end.

I enjoyed this novel. The more it percolates in my mind, the more I’m pleased with it. But it was definitely slow going in the beginning. Fortunately, Vidia’s personality and her interest in Carstairs carry that part of the novel. So I think it’s worth a read, especially if you enjoy Regency era romance and adventure.

My favorite quote: “It is beyond vexing, she thought in annoyance as she slid between the silken sheets in her chemise–she couldn’t even have a warm night with a willing man without international repercussions.”

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Fangs Out by David Freed

[ 3 ] July 4, 2013

Fangs-Out-Cover-Gif-compatible-1Reviewed by Jessa Larsen

When Dorian Munz, a dead man convicted of murder, is asked if he has any last words, he has more than a few. In the last remaining moment of his life, he spins a tale of innocence and wrongful conviction. Now, Hub Walker, a famous war hero and father of Munz’s victim, wants to hire the one and only Cordell Logan to prove that Munz’s last words were nothing but panicked nonsense.

Walker is married to a former playmate and resides in the luxurious end of San Diego. Logan is quick to take him up on his offer of ten grand to snoop around since he feels this won’t be anything more than a paid vacation and he can definitely use both the pay and the vacation. Unfortunately for him, this is not as cut and dry as it would first appear. Logan quickly finds himself spiraling into all sorts of trouble and danger. Who really killed Walker’s daughter and why? As Logan digs around, it turns out whoever was really behind the senseless violence has no problems engaging in more violence to make sure nobody finds that out.

Fangs Out is a riveting tale of mystery and suspense. Cordell Logan needs the money and inadvertently ends up looking like he’s digging his own grave. We follow Logan as he deals with shady lawyers, an ex-wife, an ex-playmate, a war hero, gangbangers, and local law enforcement. This is definitely a page turner and you become obsessed with finding out who really killed Ruth Walker and why. Logan is one of those characters you’d originally love to hate but end up loving him instead. You really root for him as the hero and hope he comes out on top.

Fangs Out is the second book in the Cordell Logan series and after reading this one, I am definitely going to be grabbing the rest of the set. David Freed is impressively knowledgeable about both military and aviation (as he should be, having experience in both as well as law enforcement). I really got snagged with this one and couldn’t put it down until I finished the book.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Jessa lives in Utah with her husband, 2 sons, 2 dogs and a cat called Number One Boots Kitten. She is a full time mom and enjoys writing short stories in her spare time. She also likes watching anime, reading books, and playing video games.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Permanent Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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