Kate Furnivall, “The Russian Concubine”

Lydia Ivanova is in a precarious situation: she and her mother, Russian refugees living in China, can barely afford the most basic of necessities. Without citizenship – Russian or Chinese – the mother and daughter duo have few options. Some might wilt under the pressure of need, but Lydia blossoms, drawing on a bottomless well of strength. The scrappy girl turns to the streets for answers, fighting and clawing her way to freedom. As independent and tough as she becomes, Lydia becomes equally beautiful, attracting underground Communist Chang An Lo. Perhaps forbidden love is just as powerful as desperation.

Plot Overview: Love, Communism and Survival

Lydia lives in a small apartment in the Russian section of the International Settlement of Junchow with her mother, a beautiful concert pianist who self-medicates with vodka. To escape the instability of her home life, Lydia relies on her best friend, Polly; unfortunately, Polly also has a dark secret involving her father, a man who plays a menacing role in Lydia’s life. Between dealing with her mother and her friend, Lydia seeks out a relationship with Chang An Lo, a mysterious fighter who once saved her life.

In 1928 China – and Junchow – is on the brink of war: Communists are secretly gathering, and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists are preparing for battle. In the midst of this chaos, drug lords are gathering power wherever possible. One in particular, Feng Tu Hong, is linked not only to Lydia and Chang An Lo, but also to Lydia’s teacher, Theo Willoughby. When Lydia is kidnapped, both Theo and Chang An Lo, heroes in a tale of violence and immorality, come to her rescue.

Criticisms and Compliments

The Russian Concubine paints graphic descriptions of China that are almost merciless in their frankness; in contrast to these harsh depictions, however, Lydia appears honest and pure, a beacon of integrity. Furnivall’s characterization of her propels this slow-moving story forward, making Lydia one of the bravest, most passionate women of romance and historical fiction. Chang An Lo is also the perfect complement to brash Lydia; he is the blue to her red, the calm and the loving. He, unlike anyone else in Lydia’s life, provides unconditional love and support. A gift in any circumstance.

Furnivall’s depictions of Chinese culture are both accurate and, at times, humorous. Her innate understanding of the relationship between the Chinese and foreigners – especially during the 1920s, when The Russian Concubine was set – further enhances the color of the story. As a whole, The Russian Concubine is a thrilling, romantic novel, perfect escapist fare.

Source:

  • Furnivall, Kate. The Russian Concubine. Berkley Trade, 2007 ISBN 9780425215586

Sandra Brown, “Exclusive”

Barrie Travis is a D.C.-based journalist struggling to make a life for herself. After a mortifying and professionally-damaging report, Barrie is relegated to working as an underappreciated reporter at a low-budget news television station. When the First Lady calls her with a stunning revelation, however, Barrie is ready to sacrifice her job, her integrity and her reputation to get the story.

Sandra Brown delivers a great read heavy on lust and plot. With a slew of complex and unsavory characters, Exclusive has Brown’s typical graphic descriptions. While it doesn’t have the grittier characters of Unspeakable or The Witness , Exclusive does examine the mercilessness and cruelty of some men and the lengths they will go to conceal their true natures. Plot twists, sexy encounters and the pursuit of a good story propel Exclusive forward, making it both an intriguing and entertaining read.

Plot Overview: Conspiracy, Corruption and Lust

Barrie Travis is in pursuit of a hot story: the First Lady claims her infant son, who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, was murdered. As Barrie uncovers layers of corruption and disloyalty, she meets Gray Bondurant, a former friend and confidant of the President. When a spark of attraction flares, Gray and Barrie must deal with their growing lust while trying to solve a conspiracy of Watergate magnitude.

President David Merritt and his wife, Vanessa, are a couple worthy of Camelot; young, beautiful and charismatic, the Merritts rule the White House. Behind closed doors, however, David is abusive and Vanessa is mentally ill. When their marriage begins to crumble, David and Vanessa turn to spiteful, vengeful actions. The result of their feuding leads to a series of events that involve espionage and murder. With Barrie and Gray caught in the crosshairs of the dysfunctional couple, secrets begin to tumble out as lives are threatened.

Criticisms and Compliments

Exclusive is a gripping read, made even more so by Brown’s knowledge of journalism. A former journalist in Corpus Christi, Texas, Brown has first-hand knowledge of the pressure, ethics and fact-finding involved in getting the scoop on a potentially explosive story. Her descriptions of Barrie’s journalistic motives and the newsroom environment are accurate and colorful, and characters Daily and Howie Fripp easily fit the “newspaperman” mold.

Like most Sandra Brown novels, Exclusive is heavy on lust and plot twists. Brown’s particular brand of romance and mystery is fast-paced and exciting, and the quality of her writing is excellent. Exclusive easily captures a reader and promises a fun ride.

Source:

  • Brown, Sandra. Exclusive. Grand Central Publishing, 1997 ISBN 9780446604232

Nora Roberts, “Hot Rocks”

Laine Tavish strives to be normal. With a childhood rooted in scams and empty promises, she now lives “straight,” running an antique store in a small town, Angel’s Gap. Unbeknownst to Laine, the sudden appearance of a man from her past will threaten her meticulously-built life. With Roberts’s thorough and vivid storytelling, Laine’s confrontation with both the past and the present – and her acceptance of love – will permanently change the landscape of the future.

Plot Overview: Deception, Love and Money

When the small, off-putting man walks into Laine’s store, she dismisses him as a bizarre strange – until he is killed almost immediately after delivering a cryptic message. While she tries to recover from the loss, her new love, Max Gannon, tracks down who is really behind the murder. As Laine inadvertently steps further into danger, her past rears up to challenge her, and she must come to terms with who she is.

Meanwhile, Alex Crew, who has been keeping an eye on Laine, bides his time. A greedy sociopath, he wants what he believes is rightly his: a stolen treasure worth millions. He will go to any lengths to recover his property, and Laine and Max are only disposable obstacles in the way.

Criticisms and Compliments

Like all Roberts’s novels, Hot Rocks is more than just a story of intrigue and deception; it also highlights the importance of daily life, routine and friendship. In this aspect, Roberts is a gifted storyteller. By embracing the so-called monotony of day-to-day life, she provides a truer, clearer picture of her characters. Her stories are not words on a page, but colorful, entertaining escapes from reality.

Hot Rocks, however, has a plot similar to Roberts’s Hidden Riches. Both novels’ protagonists, Laine Tavish and Dora Conroy, are independent women who live alone and own antique stores. Additionally, the plots of both novels revolve around a treasure linked to a piece of merchandise in the store. Finally, both Laine and Dora find help – and love – from men investigating the whereabouts of the priceless, and dangerous, fortunes.

Hot Rocks and Hidden Riches differ, though, in terms of how Roberts reveals the antagonist. In one, the antagonist is uncovered for the reader as Roberts richly disguises his greed and mercilessness. In the other, the antagonist is unknown; while his psyche is not as detailed, the revealing of his identity is shocking – and satisfying.

Lastly, as a gift to the reader, Roberts provides a follow-up to Laine’s story. In a crossover with Eve Dallas, Big Jack follows the story of Laine’s granddaughter, Sam Gannon, and the murder of her best friend.

Source:

  • Roberts, Nora. Hot Rocks. Jove Books, 2010 ISBN 9780515147995

Madeleine L’Engle, “A Ring of Endless Light”

A 15-year-old poet, Vicky is prone to feeling the pain of others and empathizing with close friends and strangers alike. She rides on her emotions, pouring her observations and problems into the pages of her journal. During one summer, she will face the complexity of her feelings on death, love and philosophy – all while negotiating the changes brought on by adolescence.

Madeleine L’Engle, one of literature’s most celebrated writers, presents an engaging, intelligent novel with A Ring of Endless Light. Although this book is intended for youth readers, L’Engle’s incorporation of science, religion and philosophy make it relevant for any adult reader. Looking at the world through Vicky’s eyes is both troubling and touching, and L’Engle’s combination of levity and gravity make A Ring of Endless Light a classic, much-loved read.

Plot Overview: Spirituality, Mortality and Love

Vicky Austin is spending the summer at her grandfather’s converted farmhouse on Seven Bay Island. Sadly, a friend of the family, Commander Rodney, has recently died from a heart attack. Compounding the Austin family’s grief is the knowledge that Grandfather Eaton, who suffers from leukemia, will most likely not survive the summer. For Vicky, these confrontations with death affect her deeply.

In addition to focusing on her family and poetry, Vicki is learning the ins and outs of love. Leo Rodney, the son of Commander Rodney, clumsily attempts to romance Vicky with mediocre results. Zachary Gray, a troubled, wealthy Lothario, deals with his own demons while trying to appeal to Vicky’s nurturing side. Finally, Adam Eddington, a coworker of Vicky’s brother John, makes a genuine, profound connection with her, especially when he discovers Vicky’s unusual ability to understand and communicate with dolphins. Together, the two realize the emotional link they share, and their bond lifts Vicky out of depression.

Criticisms and Compliments

Madeleine L’Engle encompasses various aspects of philosophy, science and religion in A Ring of Endless Light, making it not only an enjoyable read, but an educational one. With quotes from poetry, the Bible and literature, and insightful debates between characters, A Ring of Endless Light is a thought-provoking novel. L’Engle also discusses controversial elements of science, including limb regeneration, astrophysics and cryogenics; the result is a smooth blend of science and art, facts and theory.

Although this book is intended for young readers, A Ring of Endless Light is one teenagers can grow up with; each read brings out new information and realizations.

Source:

  • L’Engle, Madeleine. A Ring of Endless Light. Square Fish, 2008/1981 ISBN 9780312379353

Nora Roberts, “The Circle Trilogy”

Cover design, Rich Hasselberger; cover illustration, Pyrographx/David S. Rheinhart; stepback art, Getty Images/David Norton; text design, Kristin del Rosario; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780515141658,00.html?Morrigan%27s_Cross_Nora_RobertsThe goddess Morrigan, in her omniscient and omnipresent way, instructs one man to gather the five members of an army across time and generations. This small group, consisting of a sorcerer, a witch, a shapeshifter, a scholar, a vampire and a warrior, are ordered to save the world from the menacing Lilith, a megalomaniac vampire. As the army is all too human (with the exception of Cian, the vampire), their ambitions, weaknesses and feelings muddy the waters of their mission. Adversity, however, can be very powerful in bringing people together. Especially those bound to each other, attracted to each other, in love with each other.

Plot Overview: Love, War and Strategy

In Morrigan’s Cross, Hoyt, a sorcerer from the twelfth century, is sent by Morrigan to gather the members of a small army. Traveling to twenty-first century New York City, Hoyt, completely out of his depth, meets Glenna, the witch. The two butt heads at first, but their shared love of magic gives way to a shared love for each other.

Jove; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780515141665,00.html?Dance_of_the_Gods_Nora_RobertsWhile in the city, Hoyt encounters his twin brother, Cian, whom he believed to be dead. Cian, a cynical 1000-year-old vampire, is less than pleased to reunite with his twin brother. The three return to Ireland only to unite with other members of their army, Moira, the scholar, and her cousin, Larkin, the shape-shifter. While the band of five fights off vampires and potential heartbreak, Blair Murphy, a descendant of Hoyt and Cian, arrives. As the warrior, Blair is the last key member of the group, completing the circle. She, along with Larkin, are the most physical of the group, talented and tough, and drawn to each other. In Dance of the Gods, Blair faces her own emotional vulnerabilities to accept Larkin’s support and love.

Moira and Cian, easily the most complicated of the small band of fighters, circle each other in Valley of Silence, wary and prone to verbal swats and stinging barbs. When the 2000-year-old Lilith – and Cian’s former lover and maker – travels to Moira’s homeland, the army travels through the mystical dance, a collection of stones, as well. As the primary battle comes to a head, Cian finds himself protecting Moira, drawn to her sharp mind, small body and deep well of bravery.

Criticisms and Compliments

Jove; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780515141672,00.html?Valley_of_Silence_Nora_RobertsLike The Sign of Seven Trilogy, Roberts incorporates more elements of the supernatural in The Circle Trilogy, a departure from her standard fare of ghosts, romance and love. With The Circle Trilogy, she delves into the world of vampires, witches and sorcerers; her subject matter is particularly captivating as Roberts taps into popular culture’s obsession with vampires. Her interpretation of these infamous beings is complex; she paints them as compassionate and merciless, bloodthirsty and lonely, sexual and romantic.

As a whole, the characters in this trilogy are well developed and sympathetic, each falling victim to the love they feel for one another, and the plot lines are neatly woven together and punctuated by tragic deaths and bloody battles. In an action-packed ending, Roberts paints the clash of good and evil with colorful, rich descriptions, quite a feat for a writer whose climaxes are usually romantic in nature (no pun intended). This trilogy is a must read, though the first book takes some time getting used to; usually Roberts writes of the past in flashbacks, not in a more non-linear way as in Morrigan’s Cross.

Source:

  • Roberts, Nora. The Circle Trilogy (Morrigan’s Cross, Dance of the Gods, Valley of Silence). Jove, 2006 ISBN 9780515142716