Monday, 28 March 2016

Find Her by Lisa Gardner

Find Her
By Lisa Gardner
Published by Headline (9 February 2016)
ISBN: 978-1472220271

Publishers description
My name is Flora Dane and I was kidnapped from a beach on spring break. I spent 472 days with my captor before I was found.
I spent the last five years trying to reacquaint myself with the rhythms of my life. But everything is different. I've had to learn how to protect myself in this dangerous new world.
There are other predators out there and I'll do anything to stop them. Am I a victim or a vigilante? Detective D. D. Warren doesn't know. Sometimes neither do I.
When another girl disappears, I know I have to FIND HER, whatever it takes, even if it means putting myself in danger...

Escaped kidnap victim Flora Dane has once again disappeared. Has the self-proclaimed vigilante become a victim? Or is something far more sinister at play? D.D. will have to race against the clock if she is going to Find Her.

My verdict
Lisa Gardner has, yet again, written a brilliant psychological thriller filled with suspense and intrigue. Find Her is creepy and intense from the first page and its vivid descriptions certainly made my skin crawl.

Five years ago, Flora Dane was kidnapped for 472 days before she was found. She's now on a mission to protect other women from predators. But when Flora disappears, it's up to Detective D.D. Warren to find out why.

Find Her is a fast paced book and I read it in two short sittings. It's cleverly plotted and kept me guessing all the way through.  Certain chapters, set in the past, were highly sinister with their claustrophobic setting. I felt quite drained by the end of the book and had to take a moment to catch my breath.

This is one of those books that's an uncomfortable read but completely addictive. I'm not prone to nightmares. But if you are, I suggest you don't read this late at night, or when you're alone!

I received an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 25 March 2016

The Spy of Venice by Benet Brandreth - author guest post on the locations of Venice

I would like to welcome Benet Brandreth to my blog today. Read below to discover the places that inspired the locations in his novel The Spy of Venice, and the truth behind them. The Spy of Venice was published by Twenty7 on 24 March 2016.

My Venice - the inspiration behind The Spy of Venice

Venice is a magical city today but in the sixteenth century it was a place of wonders.  The Spy of Venice is set in 1585.  By that time Venice was no longer at the height of its power.  Its great Mediterranean sea empire had been rolled back by the advances of the Ottomans and other, envious, Italian states had challenged its control of the Veneto region.  Nonetheless, there were few that could challenge the city for splendour and richness.  Indeed, the people of Venice were keen to show off their City in an attempt to convince the world that they were still strong.  As a result the late sixteenth century saw an explosion of building as Venice sought to cement its myth of power – Venice the Just, Venice the Rich, Venice the Magnificent. 

A visitor, like William Shakespeare, arriving across the lagoon would have landed on the Piazetta di San Marco, the smaller piazza adjoining the Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Doge.  Venice prided itself on its system of government, ostensibly republican but in practice oligarchical.  The Ducal Palace was and is a magnificent symbol of the power and wealth of Venice and an essential element of any trip to the city.  There are often long queues to get in so good trick is to go round the corner to the Museo Correr and buy one of the tickets that includes access to the Ducal Palace to avoid the queues.  Before you go in to the Palace you should pause to admire the carving atop the pillars around the colonnade at the base of the Palace.  That at the corner shows the temptation of Eve but all along are symbols of the importance of the sea to Venice’s power.  Inside, don’t forget to spot the bocca del leone – the Lion’s mouth – a fantastical carved post-box into which accusations against fellow citizens could be placed for the attention of the Signoria, the government of Venice.

Past the Ducal Palace, at the head of the Piazza San Marco, is the Basilica di San Marco – a church in the eastern style.  It is little appreciated that Venice was essentially a Byzantine city and began its history as a province of the Byzantine Empire.  Venice would later turn on its former master, encouraging the members of the Fourth Crusade to sack Constantinople, and carrying back much of the looted plunder to adorn the city.  Atop the Basilica one can still see the four prancing horses taken from the Hippodrome in Constantinople.  Of them the Genoese, the City’s great rivals, used to say that Venice’s arrogance would never be bridled until those four horses were. 

If you pass on from the Basilica you go through an arch under the magnificent astronomical clock that marks the eastern end of the Procuratie Vecchie, the offices of the government of Venice.  It is here that William and Oldcastle, in their guise as the English ambassador and his man, would have presented themselves.  Now one can enjoy a delicious coffee at one of the cafés overlooking the square (although one would be wiser to use the cheaper and better café in the Museo Correr instead!)  The Piazza was a place for many to meet and to do business.  If you had been there in 1585 you would have appreciated how Venice was a liminal city – at the border of east and west, a cosmopolitan city – as William says in the novel – it was not so much Urbis forum as orbis forum – not a marketplace for a city but a marketplace for the world.  And truly all the people of the world were there:  Thomas Coryat says in his 1611 travelogue:

"[In St Mark's Square] you may see many Polonians, Slavonians, Persians, Grecians, Turks, Jewes, Christians of all the famousest regions of Christendome, and each nation distinguished from another by their proper and peculiar habits. A singular shew, and by many degrees the worthiest of all the European Countries."

The road from the astronomical clock leads north from San Marco towards San Pollo and then Rialto.  If you keep heading north you will reach the Rialto bridge.  In 1585 it wasn’t yet built. The previous bridge had burned down at the beginning of the sixteenth century and the present bridge would not be built for several years.  The area is now often over-crowded with tourists but before you leave its heavingcrush try to find the statue of Gobbo, the hunchback.  It is surely no coincidence that Shakespeare names the clown in Merchant of Venice Launcelot Gobbo after this statue… 

If you had been Shakespeare you would have had to cross the Canal Grande using one of the ferry points.  Though, you would have tried to avoid using the ones by the Rialto though.  Coryat warns:

“There are in Venice thirteen ferries or passages, commonly called Traghetti, where passengers may be transported in a gondola to what place of the City they will. Of which thirteene, one is under this Rialto bridge. But the boatmen that attend at this ferry are the most vicious and licentious varlets about all the City.”

Keep going but now heading more west than north and you will approach the Ponte del Tette – the bridge of – there’s no polite way to put this – tits.  This is an unassuming little bridge but from the balconies and windows about it the courtesans would display their wares.  Venice took a pragmatic view of prostitution.  Since only the oldest son of a wealthy Venetian family might marry, to preserve the family’s fortunes in one set of hands, there was a surplus of unmarried young men with energy to spare and needing an outlet.  In addition, in those unenlightened times, it was seen as a way of averting the sin of homosexuality.  It is estimate that nearly 1 in 10 people in Venice in that period earned their living through prostitution. 

Near to the bridge is a restaurant called Antiche Carampane. The Ca’ Rampane – literally the House of Rampane – was a famous brothel and the name became synonymous with “prostitute”.  If you can ignore the fact that the restaurant’s name means “Old Prostitutes” you will enjoy a fine, traditional Venetian meal.

Head on to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. This was a guild house and contains some of the finest paintings of Tintoretto.  Tintoretto’s son Domenico painted Veronica Franco, who is the basis for the character of Isabella Lisarro in the novel.  The interior is a cool, quiet haven from the turmoil of Venice outside and the second floor contains a richness of decoration that has to be seen to be believed.  It is no wonder then that in the novel it is here that William chooses to go about his wooing of Isabella Lisarro.  Before you go, look at the stone bench outside on which is carved a nine-men’s morris field – so that sixteenth century Venetians might have something to entertain themselves with before going to the church nearby.

Now head south towards Dosoduro.  You will come to the Ponte dei Pugni, the Bridge of Fists.  It is the most famous of several such bridges in Venice and in the Spy of Venice, William comes here to muse and remarks on the four footprints set in the bridge’s floor.  These marked where the champions of the Nicoletti and Castellani clans would stand before one of the bridge battles.  These were tremendous pitched combats between different groups in Venice.  Done as entertainment and as a way of honing the fighting spirit of the Venetian youth they were ideal training for a city that mostly fought in Galley’s.  Indeed Venetian experts in the close-quarter combat skills that these contests demanded would travel throughout Europe teaching their skills.  The violence finally became too much for the city’s authorities to bear though and the contests were finally banned in the eighteenth century.  Thereafter, participating could leave you serving six years chained to an oar in the galleys.

Venice is an eminently walkable city.  It is particularly good to visit in February and March – after Carnival.  The city is quieter then but still lovely and one can enjoy the way that it presents a new, astounding vista with every corner turned.  It is a City of possibilities, or romance and of mysteries – and so William finds it The Spy of Venice.

About Benet Brandreth
Benet Brandreth  is a barrister, rhetoric coach and authority on Shakespeare.  He works regularly with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Donmar on Shakespeare’s use of language.  The Telegraph has called Benet Brandreth "one of our nation's most accomplished raconteurs" when reviewing his one-man show, “The Brandreth Papers”, which was a five-star reviewed sell-out at the Edinburgh Festival and on its London transfer. He has also written and performed for radio and the stage. He has twice been the World Public Speaking Champion.

The Spy of Venice
By Benet Brandreth
Published by twenty7 (24 March 2016)
ISBN: 989-1785770371

Publisher's description
CJ Samson meets Shakespeare in Love - a historical thriller with a swashbuckling twist and a hero like you've never seen him before When he's caught out by one ill-advised seduction too many, young William Shakespeare flees Stratford to seek his fortune. Cast adrift in London, Will falls in with a band of players - but greater men have their eye on this talented young wordsmith. England's very survival hangs in the balance, and Will finds himself dispatched to Venice on a crucial embassy. Dazzled by the city's masques - and its beauties - Will little realises the peril in which he finds himself. Catholic assassins would stop at nothing to end his mission on the point of their sharpened knives, and lurking in the shadows is a killer as clever as he is cruel.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace

The Finding of Martha Lost
By Caroline Wallace
Published by Doubleday (10 March 2016)
ISBN: 978-0857523341

Publisher's description
Martha is lost.

She’s been lost since she was a baby, abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris. Ever since, she’s waited in station lost property for someone to claim her. It’s been sixteen years, but she’s still hopeful.

In the meantime, there are mysteries to solve: secret tunnels under the station, a suitcase that may have belonged to the Beatles, the roman soldier who appears at the same time every day with his packed lunch. Not to mention the stuffed monkey that someone keeps misplacing.

But there is one mystery Martha cannot solve. And now the authorities have found out about the girl in lost property. Time is running out - if Martha can’t discover who she really is, she will lose everything…

My verdict
The Finding of Martha Lost is sweet, quirky and charming, with magic and wonder flowing through every page, as 16-year-old Martha embarks on a search for her birth mother and her true identity.

Martha is a delightful character, naive in some ways and worldly beyond her years in others. I loved the way her story is weaved together with the underlying Beatles theme. The other colourful characters' personalities also shine out of the page and really bring the book to life.

The Finding of Martha Lost is a very easy, enjoyable read. It's a journey of self-discovery, with gentle humour and a few darker moments thrown into the mix. I've never been to Liverpool myself, and the book makes me want to visit Lime Street Station, spin around for a while and then watch people go by and wonder about their individual stories. The descriptions were so vivid and beautifully written that I could picture the station and its occupants as I read.

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Perfect Days by Raphael Montes

Perfect Days
By Raphael Montes
Published by Harvill Secker (18 February 2016)
ISBN: 978-1846559525

Publisher's description
Teo, a medical student, meets Clarice at a party. Teo doesn’t really like people, they’re too messy, but he immediately realises that he and Clarice are meant to be together. And if Clarice doesn’t accept that? Well, they just need to spend some time together, and she’ll come to realise that too.

And yes, he has bought handcuffs and yes, he has taken her prisoner and yes, he is lying to her mother and to his mother and to the people at the hotel he’s keeping her at, but it’s all for her own good.

She’ll understand. She’ll fall in love. She’ll settle down and be his loving wife.

Won’t she?

My verdict
Perfect Days is a dark and twisted psychological thriller - just as I like them. It's a very strange novel - written with warped sense of humour - but is also completely addictive. If you loved Normal by Graeme Cameron as much as I did, then you'll probably like Perfect Days too.

This is a tale of obsessive behaviour that leads to disturbing and alarming consequences. When Teo meets Clarice, he wants her one way or another. And he's determined that she's going to want him too - eventually.

I read the whole book in two sittings, as I found it difficult to put down. Admittedly the plot isn't what you would call believable and the characters are rather insane and unstable. But it's a fun read, with a totally unexpected ending (although I felt it was slightly rushed).

I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.