Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

The Inner Circle (The Culper Ring #1)
By: Brad Meltzer
Publisher: Grand Central
ISBN: 978-1455561391


Working in the National Archives, surrounded by documents both anecdotal and critical to to the history of the United States, Beecher White was content to revel in his role as a guardian of history -- never a player. The past possesses a comforting finite quality, one Beecher has found himself increasingly retreating towards since the dissolution of his engagement and the future he'd thought was within his reach. Until one day, Clementine Kaye, the childhood crush he'd never been able to forget, comes whirling back into his life with the force of a hurricane. Eager to impress her and prove that he's more akin to the adventurous side of Indiana Jones than that famous fictional archaeologist's bookish and professorial "day job," he agrees to help her find her long-lost father. But a simple records request turns complicated when, on impulse, he agrees to let her in one of the top-secret vaults where high-profile guests -- in this case, the President -- can request and review documents. 

But Beecher's rule-breaking impulse backfires when an accident in the vault uncovers something they were never meant to find -- a centuries-old, gutted dictionary that may have once belonged to George Washington. Washington, the founder of the legendary spy network the Culper Ring, known for hiding messages in plain sight, under the most innocuous of pretexts. But if the dictionary is a message, it raises the question of who would be trying to reach the president in one of his most secure, private locations...or, who could the president be trying to reach outside normal channels, and why? When the security guard who let him into the vault turns up dead, Beecher finds himself thrust into the fight of his life to discover the meaning behind the dictionary, uncovering a web of conspiracies and cover-ups reaching the highest levels of government. When everyone has something to lose, who can he trust...for one thing Beecher is sure of, no one can take on a sitting president and emerge unscathed...

Those who have been reading my reviews for a while may note that The Inner Circle is somewhat out of my reading norm. But having heard Brad Meltzer on the radio last week promoting the third installment of his Culper Ring series, I knew I had to check these books out. The concept sounded too irresistibly akin to the National Treasure movies, which I loved. This was a reading gamble that paid off. I cannot remember the last time I read a novel so quickly -- over the course of four days I could barely bring myself to put this book down. 

The Inner Circle is a highly readable, thoroughly entertaining blend of history, mystery, and suspense. Sure, it's arguably unrealistic and convoluted, but I found myself enthralled by every twist and turn. (Though, seriously, a chapter is not two pages long. And most of these "chapters" are. But it does give you the sense that you're reading the book faster, I suppose...) If more political thrillers of this ilk were made into television shows or films I would be so there.  

This is entertaining, escapist fiction that should drive anyone who finds themselves intrigued by what they find within its pages to their history books. And the best part, for me at any rate, is the sense one gets of excavating history's secrets right alongside Beecher in his adrenaline-fueled quest for the truth. Comparing this series to an Indiana Jones film feels on target, but rather than physical exploits in far-flung lands, Meltzer gives us a thirty-something, bookish hero whose most remarkable quality is arguably that he is so average. Beecher, for all his mistakes, embodies the idea that given the chance the most ordinary individual is capable of being a world-changer. 

If this book has a fault, it's that it perhaps tries too hard to be clever. The puzzle Meltzer sets forth within these pages contains enough twists, turns, and red herrings to give one whiplash, and occasionally the ultra-short chapters -- including viewpoint changes and flashbacks -- make the narrative feel choppy and disconnected. That said, I still devoured every word...and any book that I literally can't put down deserves all credit for not just holding my attention but captivating it. 

The Inner Circle is an incredibly fun, roller-coaster ride of an introduction to Meltzer's work, and I look forward to exploring his backlist -- especially catching up with Beecher's second and third adventures. Meltzer writes with a cinematic flair, the result a blend of NCIS-style suspense and The West Wing's political intrigue. If you're looking for a summer read blending history and cutthroat political intrigue, look no further...the only problem you may run into is finding time to sleep. :)

About the book:

There are stories no one knows. Hidden stories. I love those stories. And since I work in the National Archives, I find those stories for a living.
Beecher White, a young archivist, spends his days working with the most important documents of the U.S. government. He has always been the keeper of other people's stories, never a part of the story himself...

Until now.

When Clementine Kaye, Beecher's first childhood crush, shows up at the National Archives asking for his help tracking down her long-lost father, Beecher tries to impress her by showing her the secret vault where the President of the United States privately reviews classified documents. After they accidentally happen upon a priceless artifact - a 200 hundred-year-old dictionary that once belonged to George Washington, hidden underneath a desk chair, Beecher and Clementine find themselves suddenly entangled in a web of deception, conspiracy, and murder.

Soon a man is dead, and Beecher is on the run as he races to learn the truth behind this mysterious national treasure. His search will lead him to discover a coded and ingenious puzzle that conceals a disturbing secret from the founding of our nation. It is a secret, Beecher soon discovers, that some believe is worth killing for.

Gripping, fast-paced, and filled with the fascinating historical detail for which he is famous, THE INNER CIRCLE is a thrilling novel that showcases a brilliant author writing at the height of his craft.

Friday, June 19, 2015

This weekend on Masterpiece...

It is a BIG weekend on Masterpiece, y'all! I am SO EXCITED. Sunday night sees the premiere of both Poldark and The Crimson Field (FINALLY!).

Poldark, for those not in the know, is based on a series of Winston Graham novels detailing the life, loves, and dramas of Ross Poldark, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, recently returned to his home in Cornwall. This is the stuff of period drama GOLD, my friends! The original Poldark series from the 1970s, starring Robin Ellis (WHO ONCE TALKED TO ME ON TWITTER), was a breakout smash hit and helped launch the Masterpiece brand.

Earlier this month I started watching the first series of Classic Poldark and was immediately hooked. Trust me, people, do not let film quality or changes in filming styles put you off -- this is a drama that has HELD UP. And not only held up but still has the ability to shine and captivate new viewers (like yours truly) with its pacing, characterizations, and energy. I'm about a fourth of the way through the second series and it is just as fantastic!

I've also been reading the first novel, aptly entitled Ross Poldark, and I have a very serious question for the universe here: WHERE HAS THIS BOOK BEEN ALL MY LIFE? I cannot BELIEVE I am just NOW discovering these amazing, thoroughly entertaining stories! This first book was published in friggin' 1945...so it's been out there and I've (sadly) been living in a black hole of Poldark-deprivation. BUT NO MORE...and I am here to shout from the blogging rooftops that these stories are very much Ruth-approved! Seriously, if you love history, romance, intrigue, social commentary...this book has it all, and in SPADES. Go forth and read, my friends!

(Just because I can, here is the cover of the gorgeous, recently released Sourcebooks tie-in edition! Beautiful, no?)

Aidan Turner...SWOON. (I realize this is a controversial statement, but he was the best thing for me in the Hobbit films. *whew* I feel so much better now that that's out there...) ;-)

Here are a couple of trailers and clips:

I am so excited I can hardly stand it!!

Following Poldark we get the premiere of The Crimson Field, a six-part series following the lives of nurses on the fields of World War I. It's my understanding that this was originally envisioned as a multi-season series, but was not renewed...so hopefully it doesn't end on too much of a cliffhanger. But I think the subject matter is fascinating and the cast is fantastic, so I'm looking forward to checking this out. Here's a preview:

Enjoy! And watch (and read) ALL THE POLDARK THINGS. Totally worth it, promise. :)

Friday, June 5, 2015


This is probably the most obvious statement in the world to anyone who knows me or has read this blog for any length of time, but here you go: my reading/reviewing game has been way off. I mean WAY off. I can be something of a completest, so when I started to fall behind on reviews last summer my reading slowed to a crawl, in part, I think, because I kept telling myself I'd "catch up" eventually. Add in various personal, work, and family issues, and the backlog just kept growing as fast as my TBR pile. Well today my friends we are letting that pipe dream go. :)

What follows is my attempt to "review" some of the books that have been queued for ages. There are novels that I'd like to discuss in more depth, but at this point that will probably require a re-read in order to do them justice, so they are not represented here.

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard:

Philadelphia 1876. The Dead are rising. A zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor Fitt. Whoever controls the Dead Army has her brother. She avoids her mother's choice of husband for the lab of Spirit Hunters, including the maddeningly stubborn yet handsome Daniel. The situation threatens her reputation, and the lives of everyone in the city.

Spunky female heroine, late nineteenth century setting, gorgeous dress on the cover, and ZOMBIES. I liked Eleanor, liked the concept...but ultimately this book wasn't for me...far too much zombie-related gore (which is ironic, since I love the CW show iZombie with everything in me). 3 Stars.

I Married the Duke by Katharine Ashe:

I Married the Duke begins the Prince Catchers series by Katharine Ashe, award-winning author of historical romance.
Arabella Caulfield, one of three orphaned sisters, has clung to an ancient gypsy prophecy as the only way to save her family from endless heartbreak. Now she has twelve days to reach a remote French castle and fulfill her destiny: to marry a prince.
Along the way, Arabella meets Lucien Westfall, decorated naval captain and the new Duke of Lycombe. She thought he was a pirate. He thought she was a governess. Two wrongs have never made such a scandalously perfect right.
Readers of Regency romances and the works of Eloisa James and Lisa Kleypas will fall in love with the Prince Catchers books by Katharine Ashe.

While I thought the "gypsy prophecy" conceit unnecessarily stretched the bounds of credulity, Ashe is a gorgeous writer. Articulate prose, well-drawn characterizations, and a lush romance make this a memorable read. I look forward to revisiting Ashe's world and discovering the stories of Arabella's sisters. 4 Stars.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie:

When penniless Michael Rogers discovers the beautiful house at Gypsy’s Acre and then meets the heiress Ellie, it seems that all his dreams have come true at once. But he ignores an old woman’s warning of an ancient curse, and evil begins to stir in paradise. As Michael soon learns: Gypsy’s Acre is the place where fatal “accidents” happen.

I wanted to read Endless Night after seeing the deliciously creepy Masterpiece adaptation (which inserted Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple into the storyline). This has to rank as one of Christie's best standalone mysteries, a masterful study in the use of the unreliable narrator from the Queen of Crime. Well worth reading for a fresh perspective on Christie's capabilities, especially if -- like me -- you tend to gravitate towards Poirot or Marple stories. 4 Stars.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James:

A rare meeting of literary genius: P. D. James, long among the most admired mystery writers of our time, draws the characters of Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice into a tale of murder and emotional mayhem.
It is 1803, six years since Elizabeth and Darcy embarked on their life together at Pemberley, Darcy’s magnificent estate. Their peaceful, orderly world seems almost unassailable. Elizabeth has found her footing as the chatelaine of the great house. They have two fine sons, Fitzwilliam and Charles. Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; her father visits often; there is optimistic talk about the prospects of marriage for Darcy’s sister Georgiana. And preparations are under way for their much-anticipated annual autumn ball.
Then, on the eve of the ball, the patrician idyll is shattered. A coach careens up the drive carrying Lydia, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister, who with her husband, the very dubious Wickham, has been banned from Pemberley. She stumbles out of the carriage, hysterical, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered. With shocking suddenness, Pemberley is plunged into a frightening mystery.
Inspired by a lifelong passion for Austen, P. D. James masterfully re-creates the world of Pride and Prejudice, electrifying it with the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly crafted crime story, as only she can write it.

I love mysteries and I love Jane Austen, particularly Pride and Prejudice, so theoretically this book should be full of win, no? Alas, that was not to be. I wanted to read this prior to the premiere of the Masterpiece adaptation last fall, and let me tell you that film is superior in every way in my view, particularly as regards pacing and characterization. There are moments in this book that I liked, particularly James's view of an older and more settled Darcy and Elizabeth (even stripped as they are of the spark they possess in Austen's work), but the execution was so uneven that in the end I was left wondering why James was considered such a popular mystery author to begin with and with no desire to further investigate her work. When a book clocks in at a a mere 300-odd pages and that feels about 30% too long, you have a problem. 2 Stars.

Well, this is all the catch-up I have time for at the moment. Going forward there may be more short review posts, but I really hope I can also get back into the rhythm of writing longer, more in-depth pieces as well. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Macbeth trailer

To be honest I'd kind of forgotten this was coming (which begs the question, how do I, a Shakespeare/Michael Fassbender loving person forget something like this?!), but it looks fantastic!!

New Rogue Nation trailer!

This wins the day if not the week if not the month!! I can't wait for this to release!!