Saturday, May 6, 2017

Glow by Megan E. Bryant

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 5, 2017

When thrift-store aficionado Julie discovers a series of antique paintings with hidden glowing images that are only visible in the dark, she wants to learn more about the artist. In her search, she uncovers a century-old romance and the haunting true story of the Radium Girls, young women who used radioactive paint to make the world's first glow-in-the-dark products—and ultimately became radioactive themselves. As Julie’s obsession with the paintings mounts, truths about the Radium Girls—and her own complicated relationships—are revealed. But will she uncover the truth about the luminous paintings before putting herself and everyone she loves at risk?

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*** NOTE: This review contains spoilers. Please take heed and proceed at your own risk. 

For those who are slightly confused by or don’t understand the references in the jacket design, Megan E. Bryant’s Glow is a young adult fiction that blends a modern storyline with the tragic history of the radium dial painters employed at the United States Radium factory in Orange, New Jersey.

Three of Bryant’s fictional characters – Liza, Lydia, and Charlotte Grayson – work at the factory and while I absolutely loved the level of detail worked into their experiences, I couldn’t help feeling the historic elements of Bryant’s book played second fiddle to the modern mystery. The author obviously did her homework with regard to working conditions and the effects of radiation sickness, but I found the novel as a whole poorly balanced and wished Bryant had spent more time with the Grayson sisters and less on Julie’s needlessly dramatic personal life.

Don’t get me wrong. I felt the link Bryant created between Julie and Grayson girls grotesquely imaginative, but the supplemental details of Julie’s life felt unnecessary. Luke, for example is a conveniently single chemistry student who falls for Julie the moment they meet. The romance is clichéd at best, but his role in the mystery at the heart of the book is blatantly obvious from the moment he’s introduced. Rounding out the trio is Lauren, Julie’s best friend and poorly contrived foil. Bryant seems to have created the character to emphasize Julie’s misfortune, but I personally felt the effort banal and trite. The only character that annoyed me more was Julie’s mother, but even I admit my frustration on that point relates to the open-ended and ambiguous nature of her role in the story. I can’t speak for everyone, but it is my opinion that her subplot could have been omitted entirely without detriment to the narrative.

Lingering questions regarding the plausibility of an art enthusiast’s ignorance of the history of glow-in-the-dark paint also bother me, especially when the character in question harbors a distinctly defined penchant for chemistry. Pardon the observation, but I couldn’t put stock in the premise Bryant presented and found myself increasingly irritated with Julie as the story progressed. I suppose it is possible that she’d lack a base knowledge when the story opened, but the fact that she conducts enough research to create her own formula from strontium nitrate and europium undermines her integrity as a basic internet search for luminescent paint reveals the effect itself is created through fluorescence, phosphorescence, or radioluminescence. Call me crazy, but that last point should have piqued some interest.

I’m an unapologetically picky reader, but let’s consider this reality against the context of the story. At this point, Julie has already broken into the factory in Orange, perused what remains of the work stations, and been unnerved by a sign proclaiming the site is contaminated by hazardous materials. I might be going out on a limb here, but shouldn’t someone smart enough to dissect the chemical compounds of luminescent paint recognize the obvious link? Not in Bryant’s universe, but let’s be real. The factory itself was torn down by the EPA in 1998, long before the development of the GPS system that led Julie to 482 Dover Street in the first place, which makes it impossible for Chapter 11 and the discovery of key character Charles Graham to have unfolded as depicted.

Long story short, I’d recommend Glow for its representation of the historic material, but I’d caution those who don’t appreciate young adult themes to proceed with caution. As for me, I can only hope that I fare better with Stout’s Radium Halos or Mullner’s Deadly Glow.

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I got out of bed and crept closer to the painting, which glowed with ghostly luminescence. Like a moth to the flame, I approached it without hesitation, my hand reached to touch, violating ever art museum's cardinal rule. 
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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Cover Crush: Beneath a Burning Sky by Jenny Ashcroft

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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My ARC actually has a different cover, but I love this edition of Jenny Ashcroft's Beneath a Burning Sky. The contrasting colors draw the eye and I like how the designer played with the size of each of the elements in the design. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!


Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Seven Days in May by Kim Izzo

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 20, 2017

As the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in the wedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk. Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitania for the seven-day voyage with Edward, not knowing that disaster lies ahead. In London, Isabel Nelson, a young woman grateful to have escaped her blemished reputation in Oxford, has found employment at the British Admiralty in the mysterious Room 40. While she begins as a secretary, it isn’t long before her skills in codes and cyphers are called on, and she learns a devastating truth and the true cost of war. As the days of the voyage pass, these four lives collide in a struggle for survival as the Lusitania meets its deadly fate. 

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If you’re one of those who can’t stand negative reviews, quit while you’re ahead and stop reading now. I don’t mean to be rude, but I didn’t enjoy the time I spent with Kim Izzo’s Seven Days in May and I’ve no intention of mincing my words to appease everyone who thinks negative commentary a waste of both time and energy.

The sinking of the Lusitania boasts an overwhelming degree of intrigue, but Izzo’s illustration of the ship’s final voyage lacks both dimension and depth. Izzo relies on a series of information dumps to relay facts about the voyage, but fails to recreate the spirit of its passengers or the ambiance of its accommodations. The research was obviously done, but atmospherically I found the novel lifeless and flat. I don’t mean to imply that Izzo didn’t care about the historic elements of the story, she did a fair amount of research, but in terms of storytelling she exhibits a distinct preference for character drama over period detail.

Unfortunately, I found this emphasis misplaced as the entirety of the cast struck me as both cliched and predictable. I hate to be that reviewer, but stock characterizations don’t do it for me and Izzo failed to bring anything new to the table. A suffragette whose only flaw is getting into trouble for standing up for women’s rights? A self-righteous, marriage minded socialite? An inexplicably talented codebreaker with no experience who just happens to land a government job? An impoverished yet charming member of the aristocracy who is willing to trade his title for wealth? Give me a freaking break.

Finally, and I know this is petty, but I genuinely feel the story overburdened with competing plots. Sydney, Brooke, and Edward are united in that they are all passengers on the ship, but Isabel exists on the periphery of the disaster. Her position provides an avenue for Izzo to explore the military aspects of the story, but there’s virtually no cohesion between her story and that of the other leads.

Long story short, Seven Days in May didn’t work for me and I’d have a difficult time recommending it to other readers.

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The men laughed but Isabel didn’t find it amusing. Sinking an unarmed schooner with a small civilian crew was so unnecessary. The Germans would have wanted to prevent the English getting the food supplies and she supposed on that level it was an enemy victory. 
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Cover Cliché: Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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Sparkling cocktails, poisonous secrets ...

1939, Europe on the brink of war. Lily Shepherd leaves England on an ocean liner for Australia, escaping her life of drudgery for new horizons. She is instantly seduced by the world onboard: cocktails, black-tie balls and beautiful sunsets. Suddenly, Lily finds herself mingling with people who would otherwise never give her the time of day.

But soon she realizes her glamorous new friends are not what they seem. The rich and hedonistic Max and Eliza Campbell, mysterious and flirtatious Edward, and fascist George are all running away from tragedy and scandal even greater than her own.

By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and life will never be the same again.

Old friends assemble at a country house party for New Year 1919. At Hannesford Court, it's almost as if nothing has changed.

But beneath the surface, nothing is quite the same as the last time they met there. A few faces are missing, and for Tom Allen, only just out of uniform, the desirable daughter of the house suddenly seems within his reach.

Then there is the story of the young woman who was found drowned in the swirling waters of the River Hann while Tom was away. Can one unexplained death be significant when so many millions have died in the trenches?

Heart of Deception by M.L. Malcolm is the riveting sequel to the author’s critically acclaimed Heart of Lies. Based in part on her family’s actual history, Heart of Deception tells the intensely exciting story of a desperate Hungarian national who becomes an international spy in order to protect his loved ones during World War Two and beyond. A tale of espionage and intrigue, duty and destiny, it is an extraordinary saga that offers a richly evocative portrayal of a remarkable twentieth century epoch while delivering the page-turning historical suspense of James Clavell, Susan Howatch, and Ken Follett.

Perfect for fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, Robert Harris, and Susan Elia MacNeal, here is the next thrilling historical novel featuring Clara Vine, the British actress and special agent who glides through the upper echelons of Nazi society, covertly gathering key intelligence—and placing herself in mortal peril.

In the spring of 1939, the drums of war beat throughout Europe, but nowhere more ferociously than in Berlin. The film studio where Clara Vine works is churning out movies, but each day that she stays in Germany is more dangerous than the last. Spying on the private life of the Third Reich, passing secrets to contacts in British intelligence, falling into a passionate affair—any of these risky moves could get Clara shot. So she is wholly shaken when someone close to her is murdered instead. The victim is Lottie Franke, an aspiring costume designer and student at the prestigious Faith and Beauty finishing school that trains young women to become the wives of the Nazi elite. While the press considers Lottie’s death in the Grunewald forest the act of a lone madman, Clara uncovers deeper threads, tangled lines that seem to reach into the darkest depths of the Reich—and to a precious discovery that Hitler and his ruthless cohorts would kill for.

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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 

Wish List: April 2017

Like many readers, my TBR grows faster than it shrinks. I find a subject that interests me and titles start piling up one right after the other. With so many bookmarked, I thought it'd be fun to sort through and feature five titles a month here at Flashlight Commentary. 

This month's wishlist was inspired by authors Ruth Downie and S.J.A. Turney. I recently read their collaborative work, The Bear and the Wolf, and was so drawn to the material that I decided to track down other stories set in Roman Britain. Five titles later, a wishlist was born. Enjoy!

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The sweeping new novel from the bestselling author of LADY OF HAY switches between Roman Britain and the present day where history dramatically impacts on the lives of three women. Two thousand years ago, as the Romans invade Britannia, the princess who will become the powerful queen of the great tribe of the Brigantes, watches the enemies of her people come ever closer. Cartimandua's world is, from the start, a maelstrom of love and conflict; revenge and retribution. In the present day, Edinburgh-based historian, Viv Lloyd Rees, has immersed herself in the legends surrounding the Celtic queen. She has written a book and is working on a dramatisation of the young queen's life with the help of actress, Pat Hebden. Cartimandua's life takes one unexpected turn after another as tragedy changes the course of her future. But the young queen has formidable enemies - among them Venutios, her childhood sparring partner, and Medb, a woman whose jealousy threatens not only her happiness but her life. Viv's Head of Department, Hugh Graham, hounds her as she struggles to hide her visions of Cartimandua and her conviction that they are real. Her obsession grows ever more persistent and threatening as she takes possession of an ancient brooch that carries a curse. Both Pat and Hugh are drawn into this dual existence of bitter rivalry and overwhelming love as past envelopes present and the trio find themselves facing the greatest danger of their lives. 

Anarchy rules in Britannia as the Roman Empire collapses,
and two men fight to build stable lives among the chaos.

After more than four hundred years of Roman rule, the island its conquerors called Britannia was abandoned—left to its own devices as the Roman empire contracted in a futile effort to defend itself from the barbarian hordes encroaching upon its heart. As Britannia falls into anarchy and the city of Viroconium is left undefended, two cousins who remained behind when the imperial forces withdrew pursue very different courses in the ensuing struggle to unite the disparate tribes and factions throughout the land.

Passionate, adventurous Dinas recruits followers and dreams of kingship. Thoughtful Cadogan saves a group of citizens when Saxons invade and burn Viroconium, then becomes the reluctant founder and leader of a new community that rises in the wilderness. The two cousins could not be more different, but their parallel stories encapsulate the era of a new civilization struggling to be born.

Phaedrus is a Roman gladiator who has won his freedom. By chance, he is also the exact double of Midir, the Horse Lord, lost King of the Dalriad tribe. To rid the Dalriads of the usurping Queen Liadhan, Phaedrus agrees to a daring pretence -- he will impersonate Midir and become the Horse Lord. Knight's Fee is an exciting story of Norman England, which tells how Ranald the servant boy strives to achieve his ambition and become a knight.

Spanning three centuries, the series recreates Celtic Britain at the time of the Roman invasion: a land of visions and dreams, bloodshed and brutal death.

It is AD 79 and Agricola, the ruthless governor of Roman Britain, is turning his attentions to the last unconquered territory in Britain - Alba, Scotland. Rhiann is a courageous and beautiful Scottish princess and priestess scarred by her violent past. Of noble blood, she faces what for her is the ultimate sacrifice - a forced marriage - to protect the freedom of her people.

Eremon is an enigmatic Irish prince in exile, who must seek an alliance elsewhere to regain his throne. Will he prove himself to be the man who can unite the squabbling Celtic tribes against the more ominous threat of Rome?

With war and chaos looming for her people, Rhiann finds herself drawn into an unexpected journey of the spirit and heart, which will reveal the true purpose of her life.

A brooding and atmospheric Scottish tale from a RITA and RT Reviewers Choice Award-winning and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. The invincible ninth Roman Legion marches from York to fight the Northern tribes, and then vanishes from the pages of history. When Verity Grey goes looking for them, she may find more than she bargained for.

Archaeologist Verity Grey has been drawn to the dark legends of the Scottish Borderlands in search of the truth buried in a rocky field by the sea.

Her eccentric boss has spent his whole life searching for the resting place of the lost Ninth Roman Legion and is convinced he's finally found it-not because of any scientific evidence, but because a local boy has "seen" a Roman soldier walking in the fields, a ghostly sentinel who guards the bodies of his long-dead comrades.

Here on the windswept shores, Verity may find the answer to one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. Or she may uncover secrets someone buried for a reason.
A modern gothic historical fiction with elements of mystery, ghosts, and romance from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Susanna Kearsley.

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Stephanie at Layered Pages
Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Cover Cliché: Long Kiss Goodbye

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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A novel of love, loss, and honour amidst the horrors of war and its aftermath.

It’s 1916, and the last thing Nova Scotian soldier Danny Baker expects to find in war-torn France is the love of his life. Audrey Poulin is alone in the world, and struggling to survive the war in the French countryside. When Audrey and Danny meet and fall in love, it seems like the best version of fate.

But love is only the beginning, as Danny loses a leg in the Battle of the Somme, and returns home to Halifax with Audrey, only to discover that he’s unable to leave the war behind. Danny and Audrey struggle with their new life together, and must face not only their own internal demons, but a catastrophe that will soon rip apart everything they think they know about themselves and each other.

Genevieve Graham, author of Under the Same Sky and Sound of the Heart, brings her passion for weaving history and fiction together in a seamless tale that will capture and enthrall the reader.

From USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Robson—author of Moonlight Over Paris and Somewhere in France—comes a lush historical novel that tells the fascinating story of Ruby Sutton, an ambitious American journalist who moves to London in 1940 to report on the Second World War, and to start a new life an ocean away from her past.

In the summer of 1940, ambitious young American journalist Ruby Sutton gets her big break: the chance to report on the European war as a staff writer for Picture Weekly newsmagazine in London. She jumps at the chance, for it's an opportunity not only to prove herself, but also to start fresh in a city and country that know nothing of her humble origins. But life in besieged Britain tests Ruby in ways she never imagined.

Although most of Ruby's new colleagues welcome her, a few resent her presence, not only as an American but also as a woman. She is just beginning to find her feet, to feel at home in a country that is so familiar yet so foreign, when the bombs begin to fall.

As the nightly horror of the Blitz stretches unbroken into weeks and months, Ruby must set aside her determination to remain an objective observer. When she loses everything but her life, and must depend upon the kindness of strangers, she learns for the first time the depth and measure of true friendship—and what it is to love a man who is burdened by secrets that aren’t his to share.

Goodnight from London, inspired in part by the wartime experiences of the author’s own grandmother, is a captivating, heartfelt, and historically immersive story that readers are sure to embrace.

In January 1917, five wounded French soldiers, their hands bound behind them, are brought to the front at Picardy by their own troops, forced into the no-man's land between the French and German armies, and left to die in the cross fire. Their brutal punishment has been hushed up for more than two years when Mathilde Donnay, unable to walk since childhood, begins a relentless quest to find out whether her fiancé, officially "killed in the line of duty," might still be alive. Tipped off by a letter from a dying soldier, the shrewd, sardonic, and wonderfully imaginative Mathilde scours the country for information about the men. As she carries her search to its end, an elaborate web of deception and coincidence emerges, and Mathilde comes to an understanding of the horrors, and the acts of kindness, brought about by war.

A runaway bestseller in France and the winner of the 1991 Prix Interallié, this astonishing novel is many things at once: an absorbing mystery, a playful study of the different ways one story can be told, a moving and incisive portrait of life in France during and after the First World War, and a love story of transforming power and beauty.

January, 1920. Young Englishwoman Margaret Dalton is full of excitement as she arrives in Sydney to begin a new life in the warm, golden land of Australia. She leaves behind the horrors of WWI and can't wait to see her husband, Frank, after two years of separation.

But when Margaret's ship docks, Frank isn't there to greet her and Margaret is informed that he already has a wife . . .

Devastated, Margaret must make a new life for herself in this strange city, but she soon falls in love with its vibrant harbour, sweeping ocean and clean sea breezes. A growing friendship with army sergeant Tom McBride gives her a steady person to rely on. But just as Margaret and Tom begin to grow closer, news arrives that Frank may not have abandoned her. Will Margaret's life be thrown upside down once again? And where should her loyalties lie: with the old life or with the new?

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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Murder on Location by Cathy Pegau

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 26, 2017

In the Alaska Territory, suffragette Charlotte Brody is a newspaper reporter in the frontier town of Cordova. She’s a woman ahead of her time living on the rugged edge of civilization—but right now the most dangerous element she faces may come from sunny California... An expedition has arrived in the frigid wilderness to shoot North to Fortune—an epic motion picture featuring authentic footage of majestic peaks, vast glaciers, homesteaders, and Alaska Natives. But the film’s fortunes begin to go south as a local Native group grows angry at how they’re portrayed in the movie, fights break out, and cast and crew are beset by accidents and assaults. Finally, production is halted when the inebriated director falls into a crevasse—and dies of exposure. Soon Michael Brody—the town coroner and Charlotte’s brother—starts to suspect that Mother Nature was not responsible for Stanley Welsh’s death. Charlotte, who’s been writing about all the Hollywood glamor, is suddenly covering a cold-blooded crime story—and as springtime storms keep the suspects snowed in, she has to make sure the truth doesn’t get buried...

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I gushed over Cathy Pegau’s Murder on the Last Frontier in 2015. The fresh plot, unique setting, and strong characters came together in the best possible way and left me eager for the second installment. Book two, Borrowing Death, came out in 2016 and while I enjoyed the mystery well-enough, I had difficulty appreciating what Pegau was trying to do with the series as a whole. I was hesitant about book three, but nostalgia for the original story won out which is how I found myself with ARC of Murder on Location.

Unfortunately, my experience with book three is very likely my last with the Charlotte Brody mysteries. I mean no offense to Pegau or the readers who enjoyed the book, but the magic I felt with book one is well and truly gone. The glitz and glamour of the latest installment failed to enchant my imagination or enchant my interest. The whole thing actually struck me as rather hokey and I was disappointed that I was able to correctly peg the perpetrator before Stanley Welsh breathed his last. The romance between Charlotte and James has grown stale in my eyes and while I liked learning more about Charlotte’s background, I can’t say the details made my effort to read the novel worthwhile.

I seem to be the exception as most readers found the narrative charming, but when push comes to shove I consider Murder on Location a light read and that’s just not where I am as a reader. I need something with more meat and depth to it and at this point feel I’d do better to satisfy those desires elsewhere.

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There was no absolute proof of foul play, and to insinuate as much would do two things she knew James would want to avoid: upsetting folks further and letting the possible murderer know he was on to him or her. She especially didn’t want to cause Cicely any more anguish. Having her father die was bad enough, but suggesting his death was intentional would be a whole new horror.
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