Historical Fiction: The Glassblower of Murano, by Marina Fiorato

The Glassblower of Murano

My rating:  3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction meets contemporary romance in this tale of two glassblowers. Leonora Manin, an artist with some skill in glassblowing, has been reading about her ancestor, the illustrious Venetian glassmaker Corradino Manin (fictional). Now reeling from her recent divorce, she decides to make a new start in Venice, which is also the city of her own birth. Leonora fortuitously lands a job and a new love interest during her very first week as a native Venetian. Author Marina Fiorato spins out her debut novel by juxtaposing, in alternating chapters, the lives of 18th century Corradino and 21st century Leonora. By far the most effective of the two story lines is that of Corradino, who, during the downfall of his wealthy merchant family, is taken in by the master of one of Murano’s best glassworks. He grows to become one of the greatest glass artists of all time, and while this sounds wonderful to modern readers, the Republic closely guarded those artists with an eye to preventing them from selling secret formulas and techniques to other countries. But to save his illegitimate daughter, Corradino is reluctantly drawn into a plot to do just that, by traveling to Paris to create the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Leonora will learn that she is the direct descendant of that girl.

Leonora’s story is far less compelling, and, because it relies so heavily upon coincidence, less than satisfying. In these sections, Ms. Fiorato resorts to extravagant description, perhaps to dress up a somewhat prosaic plot, in which she is fired when a columnist accuses Corradino of treason. The love match between Leonora and Alessandro Bardolino, descendant of another of Venice’s patrician lines, looks like “someone who stepped out of a painting”, quite literally. So for that matter does Leonora; in her case, it’s the famous Primavera. It takes a while to get started, but things do heat up a bit, and avid romance readers are likely to enjoy their tale more than I did.

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Romantic Suspense: The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley

The Shadowy Horses

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tired of her job at the British Museum, archaeologist Verity Grey accepts a post in a small fishing village in Scotland. Peter Quinnell, legendary for his unusual theories, is searching for the campsite of a Roman legion that vanished without a trace around 117 AD. His evidence? The young grandson of his caretaker, known to have “second site”, routinely sees the ghost of a Roman sentinel parading about the grounds at night. Verity is charmed by Quinnell, and in spite of grave reservations, commits to helping him on the dig. Soon she begins having some eerie experiences of her own. During the course of the summer, Verity comes to know the big, handsome Scotsman David Fortune. As the dig progresses, she begins to fear that some malevolent, supernatural force may be preventing the dig from succeeding in its goals.

The best feature in this book is its atmospheric setting, which author Kearsley brings to life with evocative descriptions. The plot itself is simple, with a predictible ending. With respect to romance and suspense, both are present but minimal, and characters tend toward types (eccentric archaeologist, philandering smuggler, salt of the earth Scotsman).
Readers who enjoy the books of Mary Stewart or Nora Roberts are likely to enjoy this one. Those in search of something pithier must look elsewhere.

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Watch This: Last Chance Harvey

4.0 out of 5 stars Taking chances



Harvey is a failed American husband, father, and musician who flies to London to attend the wedding of his only daughter. Kate is a lonely English woman who had spent her life playing it safe and expecting disappointment. When their paths happen to cross, Harvey strikes up a conversation with Kate, and they spend the rest of the day walking about London together. Kate is attracted to Harvey’s simple, humorous chatting-up approach, and he likes her straightforwardness. Over the course of two days, these two “failures” form a bond that just may last.

Hoffman and Thompson turn in a pair of subtly nuanced, genuine performances in which each “becomes” their character, allowing the audience to forget that they’re actors. In keeping with the overall mood of the piece, lighting and backgrounds are consistently muted, while supporting performances are competent yet ancillary. Last Chance Harvey is a wistful, gentle, and appealing little romance, perfect for spending a quiet evening at home. No bells and whistles here, just a really good picture.

Paranormal Fiction: Casting Spells, by Barbara Bretton

3.0 out of 5 stars Maple syrup


The quaint, picture perfect town of Sugar Maple in rural Vermont is far from ordinary, though you wouldn’t guess by looking at it. You see, it’s populated entirely by otherwordly beings – faeries, trolls, and the like. And the magical town has been protected from harm for hundreds of years by a special spell, and not a single crime has ever occurred. Now the spell is losing its strength, and the fate of Sugar Maple is in the hands of single, mostly human, yarn shop owner Chloe. In Sticks and Strings, “yarn never tangles” and “you always get gauge.” But the natives are getting restless, and they want Chloe to produce an heir to the spell. When an outsider drowns one night in the icy skating pond, and the state sends in a detective to get to the bottom of it.

This is a fluffy, whimsical plot that demands total suspension of any sense of reality. Recommended for those who enjoy light romance novels with a hefty dose of faery dust.