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2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
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Book Review: Isabella’s Painting by Ellen Butler

I thoroughly enjoyed this one – despite a few head-shaking moments… I was familiar with Ellen Butler’s historical fiction (the very enjoyable The Brass Compass) and looking forward to seeing how she would handle the transition into contemporary fiction. She handled it with aplomb – which should not have surprised me, because the topic she chose – stolen artwork – was one she clearly spent nearly as much time researching as she did the female spies of World War II, and with just as successful a result, to my mind.

The premise here is interesting, as are the characters (for the most part – a few felt like stereotypes, but in hindsight I think that was the point). There is a great narrow-miss romantic backstory with an FBI friend that makes for some fun sexual tension though – I’m hoping for more Mike in future books. He’s a great foil for Karina; they are similar enough to make their long-term friendship not only believable but enjoyable to partake in, yet different enough to serve as great cross-characters when the situation gets a little less than crystal-clear, legally (which, as you might imagine from a mystery, happens with some startling regularity).

I don’t know very much about the art world – particularly the stolen art world – or the Dark Web, and found those bits fascinating. I do know a bit about being a young DC lawyer in the policy/trade association world, having been at various times all of those things, and found those bits generally quite credible and well managed. There was one BIG “oh come ON?!” moment for me though, and I can’t tell you what it is because it’s a spoiler, but suffice to say that I can’t imagine a lawyer as smart and generally savvy as Karina making the decision to act as she did – a decision that is, admittedly, necessary to trigger the action and resolution, but nevertheless one that I can’t imagine making in her place… (You’ll know it when you get there, trust me.) Still, fortune favors the bold I suppose and without this decision and its attendant suspension of disbelief, it’s difficult to see where things would have gone – or at least, where they’d have gone in as interesting and enjoyable-to-read a way, so I’m willing to concede that in the end it advanced the story more than it made me roll my eyes (by far). And as the lone exception to an otherwise very credible story, I’m more than willing to call it a success on balance!

If you are looking for a female protagonist who serves as a sort of grown-up lawyer version of the spunky Nancy Drew and sassy Veronica Mars, I say give Karina Cardinal a try. She’s got the stick-to-it-ivness of both of them, along with a take-no-prisoners sensibility that brings her to choices (like the one so obliquely referenced above) that may not be comprehensible to the average person but are wholly within her indomitably straightforward character. It was a thoroughly enjoyable tale, and I look forward to more adventures!

My review copy was graciously provided by the author. This provision in no way affected my decision to review it or the content of said review.

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