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Review: The Abduction

abduction

The Abduction (The Carnivia Trilogy Book 2)
by Jonathan Holt
Published by Harper
464 pages
Genre: mystery
4.5 / 5

Summary from Goodreads:

An unlikely trio must form an alliance to save a kidnapped young girl and untangle a nefarious plot that reaches back decades.

Second Lieutenant Holly Boland is an intelligence analyst trained to look for clues ordinary investigators miss. When a U.S. army officer’s daughter is kidnapped from an American base in Venice, Holly is sure that the mysterious abductors want more than a ransom.

Venetian police captain Kat Tapo has found a webcam feed embedded in the encrypted website Carnivia.com, a virtual Venice. It streams video of a terrified teenage girl, hooded and tied to a chair. A strand of text scrolls across the screen: “Sensory deprivation is not torture.” Is the girl the missing daughter of the American military officer? Who is behind the cryptic message?

Daniele Barbo, the genius webmaster and creator of Carnivia, has never let the government access his servers, and finding the missing girl is not his problem. But then secrets from Italy’s dark wartime past begin to surface-revelations that could put them all in danger. To save his own skin, Daniel must decide how far he’s willing to let them in.

In a race against time, Holly, Kat, and Daniel must find the shocking truth . . . or watch as more than one innocent life is sacrificed.

My Review:

At the end of Holt’s The Abomination, the first in the Carnivia trilogy, Kat Tarpo and Aldo Piola have faced the fallout of their affair, and Kat has decided to file charges of harassment against her boss and lover. American Holly Boland has helped them crack a case, and the three go about their lives.

The Abduction picks up a few months afterwards. Kat has been ostracized by her coworkers, blamed for accusing the beloved Piola of any impropriety. She was a willing participant, wasn’t she? How can she charge him with anything when she was fully aware, all along, that he was (a) married and (b) her superior? Kat is nothing if not hard-headed, though, and she resists questioning her decision.

When a new case falls to her, she attacks it as she does everything in her life: with no inhibition and full belief that she will be successful.

As the daughter of a high-ranking US military official stationed in Venice, teenaged (and sheltered) Mia is an easy target. She’s anxious to break free from her father’s watchful eye and experience life. That the Italians are none too pleased to have an American military presence completely escapes her, as it would most teenagers. She wants to smoke, drink, and maybe have sex. She yearns to just be free.

Similarly, Holly craves freedom, even if she doesn’t know what form it should take or even from what she wants to be free. She’s a proud American who was raised in Italy. She’s staunchly patriotic, yet she acknowledges her country’s faults in Italy. Yes, she loves being in the military, but she feels constrained. While she enjoys abiding by military precision, she wants something … different.

Also returning is Daniele Barbo, a kidnapping and torture victim who has created interactive website Carnivia. When Mia goes missing, Kat and Holly ask Daniele for help, and the three are reunited. Also, meanwhile, pursues an apparently unrelated case of a skeleton found on the base.

What is fascinating about this book is the way Jonathan Holt takes the American treatment of POWs and uses it to propel his story. He also makes a point about what is torture and what isn’t, but we’ll get to that in a little bit. His primary focus is on Mia’s kidnapping, taking us from one “experience” to another. Her kidnappers are intent on showing just how cruel Americans are, not just in how they treat their prisoners, but in how they are treating Italy. One begets the other.

The bad guys go step-by-step through the interrogation manual (so to speak) that guided how the US military handled prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Mia is waterboarded, sleep deprived, nearly starved, and struck harshly. Her abductors videotape each, airing the tapes through Carnivia. As Mia reacts to each ill treatment, we get a deeper, more affecting understanding of how torturous non-torture can be.

As Kat, Holly, Daniele, and Aldo race to free her, the mystery deepens and widens. Who is behind Mia’s abduction? What is their purpose? What do they hope to achieve? Can she be saved?

Holt writes with taut precision, keeping you riveted and turning the pages. There is quite a bit of history here as well, which helps us better understand the Italian (and international) perspective of US military encroachment and intervention. There is also some background on the Catholic church and its role in world events and wars.

I love – and I do mean love – the way Jonathan Holt writes. I can’t wait for the third installment, and the romantic in me wants Kat reunited with Aldo. Both of his books cast an unflattering eye on the United States military (and political) machine, and I wondered if Holt wasn’t making a point about that as well. So I did what any curious reader would do: I sent him a message, asking him about casting Americans as the bad guys and if he was concerned about a perceived anti-American bias.

Mr. Holt kindly replied, and here is what he said:

When I started writing the Carnivia trilogy I really didn’t know a lot about US Cold War foreign policy, other than that in Italy there had been some kind of secret anti-communist army called Gladio that was set up by NATO. It sounded like good background for a conspiracy thriller, so I stole it. But as I did more research, I became more and more amazed by the things the US had done in Italy in order to keep the communists out of government. From letting the mafia out of the prisons where Mussolini had put them, to creating and bankrolling newspapers and political parties, to recruiting or bribing government ministers or Vatican officials, there was almost nothing they wouldn’t do.

So on one level, I was just thinking ‘Wow, this is great material’. But on another, I was genuinely surprised by the extent of the US’s interference in the democratic process of a sovereign country.

Now, you could argue that Italy was already so chaotic, and so corrupt, that it needed to be interfered with. Or you could argue that the chaos and corruption partly stemmed from the interference.

I try, as a thriller writer, not to take sides in the debate, only to milk it for drama… and of course, the parallels between ‘the war on communism’ and ‘the war on terrorism’ also make for some thought-provoking plotlines.

All of which is a longwinded way of saying that I really hope my books don’t come across as anti-US, just as interesting and topical. THE ABDUCTION actually ends with one character admitting to another, an ex-CIA agent, that he jumped to an anti-American conclusion at one point which turned out to be wrong. But where I find a good fact that reveals how the most powerful country in the world operates, I use it.

And thank goodness he does.

If you enjoy a gripping mystery and exceptional writing, you will love The Carnivia Trilogy. And you will join me in anxiously awaiting the third one. You may even join me in hoping that Aldo and Kat realize they belong together (that’s a hint to Jonathan Holt, by the way).

Light up the comments and let me know what you think of this fantastic series.

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Blog Tour & Review: The Hurricane Sisters

The Hurricane Sisters

The Hurricane Sisters

by Dorothea Benton Frank
Published by William Morrow
336 pages
Genre: women’s literature
3.5 / 5

Summary:

Hurricane season begins early and rumbles all summer long, well into September. Often people’s lives reflect the weather and The Hurricane Sisters is just such a story.

Once again Dorothea Benton Frank takes us deep into the heart of her magical South Carolina Lowcountry on a tumultuous journey filled with longings, disappointments, and, finally, a road toward happiness that is hard earned. There we meet three generations of women buried in secrets. The determined matriarch, Maisie Pringle, at eighty, is a force to be reckoned with because she will have the final word on everything, especially when she’s dead wrong. Her daughter, Liz, is caught up in the classic maelstrom of being middle-age and in an emotionally demanding career that will eventually open all their eyes to a terrible truth. And Liz’s beautiful twenty-something daughter, Ashley, whose dreamy ambitions of her unlikely future keeps them all at odds.

Luckily for Ashley, her wonderful older brother, Ivy, is her fierce champion but he can only do so much from San Francisco where he resides with his partner. And Mary Beth, her dearest friend, tries to have her back but even she can’t talk headstrong Ashley out of a relationship with an ambitious politician who seems slightly too old for her.

Actually, Ashley and Mary Beth have yet to launch themselves into solvency. Their prospects seem bleak. So while they wait for the world to discover them and deliver them from a ramen-based existence, they placate themselves with a hare-brained scheme to make money but one that threatens to land them in huge trouble with the authorities.

So where is Clayton, Liz’s husband? He seems more distracted than usual. Ashley desperately needs her father’s love and attention but what kind of a parent can he be to Ashley with one foot in Manhattan and the other one planted in indiscretion? And Liz, who’s an expert in the field of troubled domestic life, refuses to acknowledge Ashley’s precarious situation. Who’s in charge of this family? The wake-up call is about to arrive.

The Lowcountry has endured its share of war and bloodshed like the rest of the South, but this storm season we watch Maisie, Liz, Ashley, and Mary Beth deal with challenges that demand they face the truth about themselves. After a terrible confrontation they are forced to rise to forgiveness, but can they establish a new order for the future of them all?

Frank, with her hallmark scintillating wit and crisp insight, captures how a complex family of disparate characters and their close friends can overcome anything through the power of love and reconciliation. This is the often hilarious, sometimes sobering, but always entertaining story of how these unforgettable women became The Hurricane Sisters.

My Review:

The eponymous “hurricane” barely makes an appearance in this book, which means we need to look deeper and figure out what the storm really is.

In the case of the Waters women, only one actually battles physical elements. The rest fight off storms of the emotional, psychological, and internal variety.

The matriarch, Maisie, is one of those crotchety old gals who says what she means because, really, the clock is ticking. She’s just turned eighty, so why put off till tomorrow what you can say today? Her typical target is her younger daughter Liz, a former model (she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition!). Maisie isn’t all that thrilled with Liz, although Liz has never done anything wrong. It’s just that she isn’t what Maisie wanted. Liz is a critical mother, not encouraging daughter Ashley’s artistic sensibilities, and even – in a moment Liz herself admits was misguided – sending her gay son to a “conversion” camp. Maisie is very much one of those steel magnolias who rules with an iron fist and a blunt mouth.

For her part, Liz approaches her fifties knowing that her current life isn’t quite what she thought it would be. Husband Clayton spends the weekdays in New York, a situation that suits Liz until she begins to wonder if it’s all that healthy for her marriage. Her children are grown, but she and Clayton subsidize Ashley, something Liz thinks could – and should – stop. But so long as Ashley earns a meager $10 an hour working for an art gallery, Liz and Clayton help her financially. Then there is the matter of Liz’s life’s calling. It isn’t modeling, certainly not now. She’s been working for an organization that helps battered women, and it gives her purpose, even if it draws heavily on her emotional resources. Clayton doesn’t understand why she bothers, but Liz tells him, pointedly and somewhat plaintively, that she wants her life to have a purpose.

However much Ashley deplores needing her parents’ financial handouts, she refuses to give up her dreams of being an artist. She and her best friend Mary Beth live in a family beach house, and each woman also faces romantic obstacles. Ashley finds herself drawn to a charismatic, good looking state senator who exudes a predatory dominance.

As the book summary asks, where is Clayton? Well, he’s in New York, entangled in an affair. He is not just physically absent from the home, but – more critically – emotionally.

The telling of these women’s (and Clayton’s) stories is told with Frank’s typical wit and breezy Southern charm. But it doesn’t feel fulfilling like some of her previous books. Clayton’s story arc resolves particularly quickly and without the messiness you expect. Other than providing a stock character presence, Maisie is also incidental. She passes judgment – both good and bad – but even the advice she dispenses is mediocre.

Where Frank’s book finds its heart is with Liz and Ashley. Their mother-daughter dynamic is thinned to the breaking point, with Ashley’s financial dependency just one point of contention. Liz bears several grudges against her daughter, but Frank draws Liz in such a way that we don’t blame her for those. We empathize. Liz is a woman who has provided for everyone in her family, both in good ways and bad, and now she seeks something for herself, not the least of which is a faithful husband.

Ashley, too, is a character we understand. She’s out of college, with a degree in something she loves but unable to make a living doing it. Mary Beth finds herself in the same position, and Frank is frank when it comes to forcing us to confront what happens to college graduates in today’s economy. These are intelligent young women who want to work and earn a living, but circumstances have forced them to work for hourly pay. That Ashley is attracted to the senator is almost expected. He’s almost an exotic figment in her artistic mind. But here is where Frank’s story becomes not so much weak as disappointing. The unfolding of Ashley’s relationship is not well done by Frank at all. After learning what we do through Liz, we deserve better than how Frank handles Ashley’s romance.

That titular storm, meanwhile, hovers over the story, offering a potential threat. The thing about hurricanes is that they can be forecast. You can see when one is forming. Its track may be unpredictable – maybe it will veer off at the last minute – but you still prepare for it. You still have to fortify yourself and be ready to survive. And such it is with these Hurricane sisters. They see the storms forming; it’s just a matter of preparing and surviving them.

 

LINKS:Dorothea Benton Frank

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Review: Is This All There Is?

is this all there is

Is This All There Is?

by Patricia Mann
Published by Booktrope Editions
180 pages
Genre: women’s literature
3 / 5

Summary:

Beth Thomas’ seemingly perfect life is about to take a detour. At thirty-five, she’s married to her college sweetheart, has two adorable kids, and finds fulfillment teaching part time at the local university.

But when a friend persuades her to go dancing on a rare night out, a chance meeting with a handsome former student changes the course of her life. Loud music, too much to drink, and the thrill of feeling young again lead to an unforgettable kiss that was never supposed to happen. Beth feels wanted again, listened to, cared for, but she knows it’s wrong.

She tries to put the memory behind her, but he pursues her, drawing Beth back to temptation. As she travels deeper into Dave’s world, Beth struggles to choose between what her mind says is right and what she truly craves.

 

My Review:

There is something about the sort of miasma that afflicts women, especially those whose lives are taken up by children, husbands, household managing. It happens, and how the woman reacts to it dictates the rest of her life. She can’t see it, of course; she can’t see that one small movement will hold her hostage to that decision forever.

Such is the case with Beth. It isn’t that she is unhappy or discontented or any of those things. She is a mother, she works part-time as a professor, her husband isn’t abusive or demanding. He may not notice her the way she would like, and the passion may be gone from their relationship, but that will improve, right? When the kids get older?

When Beth goes dancing, everything changes. Her former student clearly has a massive crush on her, and he wants to claim her as his own. Beth doesn’t recognize that his obsession with her makes no sense. Instead, she is flattered. He appeals to the parts of her she thought were dead or nonexistent. He makes her feel good when no one else in her life does.

But of course the kiss they share does not occur in isolation. It isn’t so much that Beth kisses this man as it is that there are reasons for it, and those reasons will not go away. They in fact become exacerbated and intensify. Beth begins to look around and wonder if, really, this is all there is for her. Or does the student represent the possibility of what might be?

In her more lucid moments, she does realize that whatever she shares with this boy may not withstand the test of time. She ponders how passionate their union would be if she had to clean up after him in the bathroom. Those sparks of reality help make Beth less annoying, because otherwise, I wanted to knock some sense into her.

Yet I can understand her wanting to be wanted. Desire is a powerful urge, both to feel it and to feel it directed toward you. Beth makes mistakes, sure, but her reasons for them are very real.

I did not like the ending, only because I felt like there was a tremendous build-up and then it sort of petered out. I also didn’t like Beth a lot because she is so caught up in herself that she fails to see how she affects the lives of those around her. But then again, being a mother – always putting your children before you – is why Beth is in the place she is.

It’s an interesting book and will make you think. I just wish the ending had been as powerful as the rest of the book deserves.

 

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