Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Defector by Daniel Silva

The Defector is the latest offering in the Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva and it is clearly a sequel to Moscow Rules. Silva is one of my current favorite authors and I eagerly anticipated the release of this novel all winter long. It is one of those books that you just can't put down, definitely a page-turner.

To quote Machiavelli, "
If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared. " and so begins The Defector with its theme of revenge. Six months have past and Gabriel is back at the Umbrian villa with his bride Chiara. He is trying to finish the restoration of a painting for the Vatican when he is informed that Grigori Bulganov, the Russian who saved his life, has disappeared from his sanctuary in London. Russian officials insist that he has redefected to Russia, but Allon and those from King Saul Boulevard contend that he was really kidnapped. And so the stage is set for Gabriel to assemble his team to find out what really happened.

The novel is full of plot twists and the usual globe-trotting... from Umbria to London to Paris to Saranac Lake and the Adirondacks to Langley, to Russia, Zurich, Lake Como, and ultimately Saint Tropez. Of course at the center is the Russian arms dealer, Ivan Kharkov, whose wife was smuggled out of the country by Allon in
Moscow Rules. There is no length to which he will achieve his revenge and it will be Gabriel who will pay. As Ari Shamron, the Israeli spymaster, cautions, the key to success for any operation is silence, speed, and timing. All three elements must be in place as the novel reaches it climax in the snowy, cold birch forests of northern Russia. Here we hold our breath as helpless bystanders watching the action that tests men and women's courage and fortitude unfold.

Silva has mastered Shamron's mantra in his own writing. His command of words is timed perfectly, eloquently silent when the mood commands it, and proceeds with speed when he needs it all to come together. Although the plot can be misconstrued as formulaic, the complexity of interweaving all the elements is incredibly sophisticated. The only downside of having read this book as soon as it was published is that we now will have to wait an interminably long time for the next Daniel Silva tome.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

As someone who has always been interested in college marketing, helping students find the right place for them to continue their education, and understanding the selection process, I was excited to learn of this new book and immediately put it on my "Wish List." I was even more excited when my daughter purchased it for me for Mother's Day. Admission is a multi-faceted novel based on some experiences of Korelitz who was an applications reader at Princeton University, the setting of the novel.

On one level it is a fascinating look at how the admissions departments at exclusive
institutions of higher education build their classes each year. For many of us who have spent our lives in the educational sphere, understanding how bright kids get passed over for admissions, has been a major concern. Portia Nathan is nearly forty, has worked for numerous colleges, and is sharing her life and her house with Mark, an English professor. It is a routine admissions trip to high schools in the northeast that proves to be the catalyst for all the action in the book. Portia travels to the Quest School, an experimental school in New Hampshire where she meets two people who will turn her life upside down. John, a teacher at the school, was in the class behind Portia at Dartmouth College and Jeremiah, a student who definitely marches to the sound of a different drummer, impact her life and the novel's progression.

On another level, the novel is an admission of what Portia's life has been and will be. The reader meets her mother, Susannah, best friend Rachel, significant other, Mark, and Helen, a dinner guest who was anything but gracious. Portia needs to balance all these relationships with the demanding job of reading and recommending for admissions a record number of applications. the insights into both are heart-wrenching and worth the lengthy read.

I was fascinated with the book. I never really thought about the role of a college recruiter as a double edged sword. On one hand s/he entices students to apply to a college, but then knows that not all qualified students can be accepted. It drives home the point that guidance counselors need to be proactive with admissions counselors, students need to show what they can bring to a college class, and parents don't help a son or daughter's chances by multiple contacts with admissions offices. Portia's journey takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions. It's a scary ride at times, full of ups, downs and curves that are unexpected.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Death at Blenheim Palace by Robin Paige

A colleague gave me a copy of Death at Blenheim Palace for a quick and easy read. It is #11 in the Charles and Kate Sheridan detective series by Robin Paige, the pseudonym of the husband and wife team of Susan Wittig and Bill Albert. The novel takes place at the home of Winston Churchill early in the 20th century during the rule of Edward. It was an entertaining novel that also included many references back to Woodstock, Rosamund's Well and the time of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Kate and Charles are visiting Blenheim Palace - he to investigate the theft of jewels and she to research a book. Upon their arrival they realize that all is not really well in the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. The duchess, formerly Consuelo Vanderbilt, and the Duke are in the midst of marital woes. She has produced the heir and the spare and so the Duke has turned his attention to Gladys Deacon who would eventually become his wife.

Events become more complicated when one of the housemaids is murdered and Charles enlists the aid of a young man, Ned Lawrence, who is consumed with making brass rubbings in neighborhood churches. Lawrence was later known by the name Larwrence of Arabia. If he were not scared of breaking into churches, he surely could be a "mole" downstairs in the Blenheim household. He does manage to get some information as the mysteries.

The resolution to the mysteries was fairly obvious, but the read was enjoyable and about England. How bad can that be?