The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics / Daniel Brown – this is more than a dramatic sports story about the rowing team from the University of Washington and its quest to win Olympic gold. It is about a group of young men, and one in particular, Joe Rantz, who struggle during the Depression yet make it to college where they become part of a team that brings excitement and pride to the whole community, and eventually the nation. I found the abandonment of Joe by his father very upsetting and admired how he overcame the sense of personal rejection to become a good husband and father. This was a great book group choice, and we especially liked the contrasting sections that moved from the U.S. to the preparations for the Games in Germany. Thanks to Tricia for lending me her copy (which my father is now reading).
Losing Faith / Adam Mitzner - Everyone likes a good legal thriller and I had not come across many lately. Here, Aaron Littman is the chairman of a large and prestigious law firm, with a seemingly perfect life and large apartment in NYC, when he is asked to represent a notorious criminal, Nikolai Garkov. This would be bad businesses for a white collar firm but Aaron can’t say no when Garkov blackmails him about an affair he had with a federal judge. This was an enjoyable read although I had mixed feelings about the ending. There were several descriptions of downtrodden associates that rang true.
Now You See Me / S. J. Bolton - This is the first book in a series about Lacey Flint, a young detective constable in present-day London, who is catapulted into a Jack the Ripper copy-cat case when a brutally-stabbed woman dies in her arms. As the case develops, Lacey realizes she is being targeted due to a part of her past she would rather forget. At times violent, this is a compelling debut about a sarcastic and intriguing heroine. I also enjoyed the well-depicted characters she works with, stayed up until 4 am to finish.
The Precious One / Marisa de los Santos – As teens, Taisy and her brother were rejected by their father in favor of his second family but years later when curmudgeonly Wilson suffers a heart attack, she is summoned to his side. To her surprise, she develops a friendship with her much younger half-sister Willow who is at first very hostile. Less surprising to the reader is Taisy’s desire to reconnect with the boyfriend she never got over, conveniently back in the neighborhood. Although this sounds like a romance, it is more than that due to the author’s lyrical writing about relationships and about how families work, at their best and worst.
Red Sparrow / Jason Matthews – I loved this intricately-woven espionage thriller written by a former CIA agent and set in present day Russia. The hero is a young CIA operative, Nathaniel Nash, stationed in Moscow when the story begins. His opposite number is a beautiful Russian spy, trained as a “sparrow” to use sex to vanquish her victims. Although this book has some unbelievably violent scenes, it is also full of humor, particularly when Nate and Dominika, both very ambitious, begin a stilted friendship in which each is trying to “turn” the other. Nate’s two CIA station bosses are also well depicted and appealing characters, experienced spies who mentor Nate and try to channel his impetuous behavior. Luckily for me, the sequel, Palace of Treason, came out a week after I listened to Red Sparrow on audio, and it was just as good or better and even more cleverly plotted.
Saint Anything / Sarah Dessen – Fans of YA will rejoice that Dessen has her groove back after a few disappointing recent titles. Sydney is a high school teen who has been in the shadow of her bad-boy brother, now in jail. Switching schools to avoid notoriety, Sydney makes loyal new friends, Layla (so obsessed by French fries that I spent the entire book hungry) and her brother Mac. Alone of her family, Sydney feels guilt over her brother’s transgressions, and as Mac helps her cope with these feelings her growing attraction to him jeopardizes her friendship with Layla.
The Tide Watchers / Lisa Chaplin – A debut historical novel from an Australian author about a young woman who risks her life as a spy to help stop Napoleon’s invasion of Great Britain in the winter of 1803. Though the daughter of an English baronet, Lisbeth defied convention by eloping to France and lived to regret it, forced to work in a local tavern after her husband abandons her. Duncan is a seasoned agent known by his operatives as Tidewatcher. He apprenticed under Lisbeth’s father and has pledged to watch over his mentor’s daughter while he searches the Channel region for evidence that Bonaparte has built a fleet to invade Britain. Instead, unpredictable Lisbeth gets caught up in his espionage, taking a key part and challenging his lifelong habit of detachment. I just began this book tonight but it has all the elements of adventure and romance I enjoy.
Venetia / Georgette Heyer – You love Jane Austen but have never tried Heyer? Well, it’s time and why not start with one of her best! Due to a reclusive father, Venetia has never left her native Yorkshire and now runs the family estate while one brother is in the military and another is more interested in books than people. When the rakish Lord Damerel encounters Venetia blackberrying and steals a kiss, they begin an odd friendship. Venetia is not bowled over by his saturnine good looks but by his sense of humor and his ability to banter easily with her. But the course of true love does not run smooth: Damerel knows he is not good enough for Venetia and might destroy her life, so preemptively rejects her. It is up to Venetia to fight for what she wants using only the tools a proper 19th century young lady has at her disposal.
Wolf Hall / Hilary Mantel – Reading this historical novel about Henry VIII and his advisor, Thomas Cromwell, is not for the faint of heart: it is long and complex, and even for a 16th century major like me it was sometimes hard to keep the characters straight (try this helpful chart from Vanity Fair). However, this was easily the best book I read in the first half of 2015 although I usually read 5 or 6 books in the time this took. I was mesmerized by Mantel’s depiction of Cromwell and her ability to convince me that his allegiance to Cardinal Wolsey shaped his life and character. Moreover, she challenged my impressions of other previously beloved individuals at Henry’s court, such as Thomas More and the Duke of Suffolk. I did find irritating her use of the present tense and the references to Cromwell by pronoun instead of name – pretentious. Still, well worth reading for those who enjoy historical fiction.
Still looking? Check out my recent reviews for other summer reads or try my Downton Abbey suggestions.