Review: Venom by Fiona Paul

 

 

 

Title:  Venom

Author:  Fiona Paul

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Love, lust, murder, mayhem and high society converge in one thrilling debut

Cassandra Caravello has everything a girl could desire: elegant gowns, sparkling jewels, invitations to the best parties, and a handsome, wealthy fiancé—yet she longs for something more. Ever since her parents’ death, Cassandra has felt trapped, alone in a city of water, where the dark and labyrinthine canals whisper of escape.

When Cass stumbles upon the body of a murdered woman—with a bloody X carved across her heart—she’s drawn into a dangerous world of secret societies, courtesans, and killers. Soon, she finds herself falling for Falco, a poor artist with a mischievous grin . . . and a habit of getting into trouble. Will Cassandra find the murderer before he finds her? And will she stay true to her fiancé or succumb to her uncontrollable feelings for Falco?

Beauty, romance, and mystery weave together in a novel that’s as seductive and stunning as the city of Venice itself.


Review:

When I read that Venom is set in Renaissance Venice, I couldn’t wait to read it.  I love Venice, and think that it’s a great backdrop for any story.  Fiona Paul’s descriptions of the city and culture give Venom a splash of color and excitement; with her vivid descriptions, I could almost hear the water splashing from the oars of the gondoliers and the hustle and bustle of the city.  With its network of twisting , turning canals, Venice is the perfect setting for murder, mystery, and the constant threat of danger.  It’s also home to glamorous parties, wealthy nobles, and exquisite architecture.    I loved all of the details packed into this novel, from the graveyards to Cass’s smoldering old home. 

Cass is an orphan. She is being raised by her elderly Aunt Agnese, a strict matron who expects Cass to behave as her station demands.  Cass, however, wants nothing to do with all of the gentle pursuits expected of her.  Embroidery bores her to tears, she has no patience for timidity, and she wants to question everything around her.  She longs to live.  This gets her into quite a bit of trouble, and Agnese is worried that Cass will cause a scandal and get them both kicked out of her cousin’s house, where they both live until he achieves his majority. While Cass does try to rein in her wilder side, when she stumbles upon the corpse of a murdered woman she just can’t help herself.  She needs to know who she was, and why she was in her friend’s family crypt, instead of her friend, Livi, who died after losing a fight against an illness.

Cass immediately sets the expectation that she is an impulsive, bold girl, and she lives up to that.  She wants to live life instead of just sitting still and watching it spin by her.  She is curious and wants to know what makes the world tick.  Her recklessness gets her into so much trouble, and her aunt’s sternness  just makes her long to do everything that is reckless and exciting.  When she meets Falco, an artist, she is instantly attracted to him.  He is mischievous and spirited, and completely different from her boring, studious finance, Luca.  Even though there is no hope that they could ever be together because of their class differences, Cass is still drawn to Falco again and again.  When the murderer sends Cass a note that she will be the next victim, she feels an even greater compulsion to be with Falco and to savor all of the forbidden attraction that she feels for him.  While I completely bought into the intensity of her emotions and the undeniable charisma between the two characters, I had a hard time liking Falco.  Sweet and fun-loving one moment, he could also be sarcastic and evasive the next. 

There were two plot points that kept me from enjoying Venom as much as I would have liked.  Both are commonly used plot devices in YA fiction that I just can’t connect with.  The first was Cass’s recklessness.  She is impulsive to the point that I began to wonder how she survived into her late teens.   She frequently waited until dark, when all of the aging residents of the household were sound asleep, to creep out of the house and sneak into the graveyard behind the palazzo.  She repeatedly engaged in this dangerous activity, so she could think or write in her journal.  I don’t know about you, but hanging out in a graveyard in the wee hours of the night, alone, with a lantern to announce my presence and my location, just doesn’t seem an intelligent activity to pursue.  Add in one brutal murderer, who has sent a note to you proclaiming the intention to make you the next victim and, I’m sorry, but you obviously have serious issues making a rational decision or you have a death wish.

The second plot point that made me want to rip my hair out – both Luca and Falco, Cass’s love interests, expected her to accept  them at face value, to believe in them and trust them, while not trusting her enough to share potential life saving secrets with her.  This drove me crazy.  Cass catches Falco in a blatant lie, one that causes her to question his character and everything that he has told her, and still he won’t tell her the truth.  All the while proclaiming his intense love for her.  Luca does the same thing later in the book.  Both young men claim to love her, and both are well acquainted with her stubbornness.  She isn’t going to meekly do what they say and stop putting herself in danger.  They both know this about her personality, yet they both remain silent, putting her life at risk.  Whenever I run into this plot device, it just comes across as condescending to me.  These guys claim to care for her, but they are keeping secrets that are going to get her killed.  Trust is a two way street.  I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life with a guy would can’t be upfront with me.  This isn’t romantic; it’s manipulative. Rant off.

While Venom left me disappointed, fans of Hush, Hush and Fallen should enjoy this suspenseful and atmospheric mystery. 

Grade:  C+

Review copy provided by publicist

Review: The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich

 

Title: The Midwife of Venice

Author: Roberta Rich

Publisher: Gallery Books

ISBN: 978-1451657470

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Hannah Levi is renowned throughout Venice for her gift at coaxing reluctant babies from their mothers—a gift aided by the secret “birthing spoons” she designed. But when a count implores her to attend to his wife, who has been laboring for days to give birth to their firstborn son, Hannah is torn. A Papal edict forbids Jews from rendering medical treatment to Christians, but the payment he offers is enough to ransom her beloved husband, Isaac, who has been captured at sea. Can Hannah refuse her duty to a suffering woman? Hannah’s choice entangles her in a treacherous family rivalry that endangers the baby and threatens her voyage to Malta, where Isaac, believing her dead in the plague, is preparing to buy his passage to a new life. Not since The Red Tent or People of the Book has a novel transported readers so intimately into the complex lives of women centuries ago or so richly into a story of intrigue that transcends the boundaries of history.,

Review:

After reading this book, I wonder how anybody survived childbirth in the 16th century.  Ugh!  I found this historical drama about Hannah, a Jewish midwife, fascinating, and couldn’t put it down.  I didn’t find the chapters chronicling Isaac’s captivity on Malta as compelling, but I did find that their alternating POV worked well for this novel. 

Hannah is a Jewish midwife living in the Jewish ghetto of Venice.  Her husband, Isaac, has been captured by at sea while trying to make a fortune trading, and is waiting in Malta to be ransomed.  Desperate to free her beloved husband and have him returned to her, Hannah agrees to help a wealthy Christian deliver a baby, despite the Papal edict prohibiting Jews from rendering medical aid to Christians.  Immediately at odds with the Rabbi, Hannah’s decision could bring disaster to the ghetto.  The Christians don’t need much of an excuse to bring death to the Jews, but Hannah is determined to earn the money to free her husband.

The first few chapters of this book are INTENSE.  Hannah is willing to put the lives of everyone in the ghetto on the line to deliver the Contessa’s baby, and she is going to need a miracle if both mother and baby are to survive.  Lucia has been in labor for days, and is bleeding uncontrollably.  The baby is turned and won’t survive for much longer.  Hannah has a terrible choice to make; save the mother or save the infant?  This entire scene had me on the edge of my seat, and I couldn’t stop reading until I learned the outcome.  The thought of Hannah having to use the crochet was just horrifying!  And the thought that her contemporaries believed the crochet a more acceptable instrument than Hannah’s forceps gave me pause.  To be accused of being a witch for developing a valuable medical tool makes no sense to my 21st century mind, but within the religious confines of 1575 Venice, witchcraft it was.  If discovered, Hannah would have been imprisoned and tortured for performing witchcraft.

At times the prose kept me distanced from the characters.  It felt sparse, with only the most necessary of emotions and details peppered throughout the narration.  While I quickly grasped Hannah’s damp and dreary Venice, as well as Isaac’s imprisoning Malta, I wanted more.  I wanted to know more about Hannah’s life in the ghetto.  The historical framework was so interesting that I would have welcomed more of it.

The ending is too convenient to be believable, but overall, The Midwife of Venice is a tense, gripping read.  If you enjoy historical drama, this book will be right up your alley.

Grade: B

Available in both Print and Digital

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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