Monday, September 17, 2018

Scots Whisky Can be Deadly

A Whisky Business Mystery # 3
Melinda Mullet
Random House Alibi
September 4, 2018

Abi Logan, co-owner of Abbey Glen Distillery, is still very new to the business after it was bequeathed to her by her uncle. She has not yet given up her career as a photojournalist and returns to Scotland to attend the prestigious Quaich competition. The competition is a four-day event at a 5-star hotel and promises to be more contentious than usual. Several non-Scots distilleries are competing, and one, in particular, seems very strong. Abi and her partner, Grant McEwan think that the foreign competitors will be a positive influence, but others are adamantly opposed. When two of the judges are poisoned the short-handed local police include Abi in the investigation, mostly to take pictures at the crime scenes. But her dear friend, Patrick, is a suspect and Abby jumps in with both feet. When Grant McEwan is targeted, she is even more determined to get to the bottom of the plot.

The Whisky Business mysteries are an excellent read, with vivid descriptions of the business and Scotland. The characters are well-drawn, and the mystery itself is intricately plotted. I certainly did not figure out "whodunnit" until the end, along with Abi herself. I also enjoy the developing romance between Abi and Grant. After some failed relationships Abi is skittish, but the return of Grant's former flame makes her rethink her position.

Thanks to Random House Alibi and NetGalley for a digital advance copy. The opinions are my own, and I look forward to the next in the series!

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Series that Continues to Improve

October Daye # 12
Seanan McGuire
September 4, 2018

Toby Daye's life is unsettled as usual, but more so after the events of The Brightest Fell. Toby's lover and fiance, Tybalt, King of Cats, and roommate, Jazz, were kidnapped and tortured by Toby's mother, Amandine the Liar. Jazz sleeps most of the time, and Tybalt has almost completely withdrawn from her life. Her problems explode when her mortal daughter, Gillian, is kidnapped by someone in Fairie-again. Toby must find who, and why to save Gillian, this time without the support of some of her most important allies. Along the way, there are significant surprises for Toby, old enemies,  and new beginnings.

I am continually surprised by the imagination and solid grounding in Celtic Mythology that Seanan McGuire employs in the October Daye Series, only one of the series she writes. She weaves Shakespeare references and mythology seamlessly into a fascinating whole. Toby's world is fantastic but believably built. Night and Silence is one of the better books in the series, and I am eagerly waiting for the next in the series. It is critical to begin at the beginning with October Daye and understand the changes she has gone through. 

Thanks to DAW and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING-4.5 rounded up to 5

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Not What I All

Hester Thursby # 1
Edwin Hill
Kensington Books
August 28, 2018

The first thing I want to say about the debut novel, Little Comfort, is that it was not what I expected. The description ticked specific boxes: librarian, amateur sleuth, missing person, New England setting. All those boxes indicated a straightforward, undemanding, somewhat escapist mystery, at least to me. How much trouble can a librarian get into? A tremendous amount evidently.

Hester Thursby is 36 years old, 4 foot.9 (and 3/4) inch librarian at Harvard University. She has a rather odd living arrangement in an old house with Hester's "non-husband" Morgan, her best friend from college, Daphne, and Daphne's three-year-old, Kate. Daphne disappeared months previously, leaving Kate and a note. Morgan is Daphne's brother, and the two decide to take on parenting responsibility until Daphne returns. Most of that responsibility has fallen to Hester, something about which she is very conflicted. She has even taken leave from her job to stay at home with Kate although she never felt any desire for a child. Hester has built a sideline using her research skills to help find people, mostly old schoolmates, prom dates, out of touch relatives and the like. Her interest is piqued when she is approached by Lila Blaine to find her brother, Sam, who disappeared from their lakeside home in New Hampshire. Apparently, his friend Gabe vanished with him. The two could not be more different. Sam was handsome, charismatic, and evidently willing to do whatever it would take to elevate himself into the life of the rich people who come to the lake in the summer. Gabe was "invisible", both to himself and others, and bounced from one foster home to another. Lila provides Hester with a stack of postcards sent from cities Sam has lived in over the years, complete with cryptic messages. It takes Hester precisely two days to find Sam and Gabe, right in Boston, and a trail of death and destruction in their wake.

I won't say any more about the plot, which has twists and turns that made my head spin. The characters in Little Comfort are the real stand-out, however. Sam and Gabe are chilling psychopaths, but somehow Edwin Hill makes one of them if not sympathetic, at least pitiable. Hester herself is a flawed character whose cavalier disregard for her own safety and Kate's made me want to shake her at times. Her job as an investigator is not a "take your kid to work" situation. Hester is the embodiment of "tiny but fierce." 

Many thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. Little Comfort won a coveted "Starred Review" by Publishers Weekly and deserves it. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A Visit With an Old Friend in Maine

Lucy Stone 3 & 16
Leslie Meier
Kensington Books
August 28, 2018

Halloween Murder is a reissue packaging two of the books in the long-running Lucy Stone Series. I have dipped into this series from time to time through the years for a cozy taking place in the Maine setting I enjoy so much. The first of the two books is Trick or Treat Murder, just after the birth of Lucy's fourth child, Zoe, and Lucy is still a stay-at-home mom. In Wicked Witch Murder, she is a new grandmother, and a reporter on the local paper, The Pennysaver. When I say long-running series, I'm not kidding. Over the course of the books, Lucy has never lost her insatiable curiosity, and her job has enabled that aspect of her character.

In Halloween Murder, Tinker's Cove is experiencing a spate of arson fires. Most have been minor, resulting in no injuries, until a summer resident who unexpectedly was in her showplace residence died in the fire that completely destroyed it. She was a close friend of Lucy and her husband, Bill, and the two are devastated. Lucy has her own ideas on who may be behind it, but there are plenty of suspects. Big-time development is encroaching on Tinker's Cove, and tensions are high between those pro and con.

The Wicked Witch Murder begins with a new resident in Tinker's Cove; Diana Ravenscroft, a self-proclaimed witch who has opened a Wiccan shop. Most of the townspeople laugh it off, but another new resident, Ike Stoughton, is very outspoken on the subject of witches, along the lines of "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live." Lucy is not happy that her own teenage daughter is attempting spells under Diana's influence as well. Lucy, too, is the unlucky person who discovers a burned body tied to a tree when she was out walking her dog. That body belongs to a so-called wizard who is a close associate of Diana.

Leslie Meier always provides a good puzzler, with much-loved characters to back it up. I enjoy the family dynamics of the Stone family. The Stone kids are not perfect but are turning out to be solid citizens like their parents. I think I may have read both of the books in the past, but that did not detract from my enjoyment this time around. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are voluntary and my own.

RATING- 3.5 rounded up to 4 Stars

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Perfect Ending to a Favorite Series

Kate Daniels #10
Ilona Andrews
Ace Books
August 28, 2018

This 10th book in the stellar Kate Daniels urban fantasy series brings to an end the story arc of Kate Daniels and Curran, Beast Lord of post-shift Atlanta. For those who may be unfamiliar with the world of the series, post-shift refers to the return of magic to the world after an absence of millennia. For those who survived, the entire landscape changed. Monsters, gods, giants and magic users rose again from legend. People have learned to cope with periodic shifts from "magic" to "tech." When tech is in the ascendant, cars, electric lights, telephones, etc. work. When magic is up, they do not, causing some clever adaptions. Humans have learned to adapt too, as they always do.

When we first met Kate, she was a lowly mercenary, with some serious sword and fighting skills. She keeps a low profile because she is actually the daughter of Roland, the "Tower Builder," who originated in ancient Mesopotamia and woke up when the first shift occurred.
Since then he has rebuilt a power base in America, destroyed thousands, and spent his time looking for Kate, who he tried to kill in her mother's womb. Kate was raised by Voron, Roland's renegade Warlord and trained in the expectation of either killing or being killed by Roland. She came to the notice of the Beast Lord of Atlanta, Curran, head of all the shape-shifters in the Southeast. The two have formed an alliance of love and loyalty, but know that the day is coming when Roland will attack. The birth of Conlan, their son, only cements the knowledge. Roland will either kidnap the child or kill him. Conlan burns so bright with magic that it is inevitable.

Roland and Kate have had an uneasy truce, but it's clear that he is testing the boundaries. Just when we are set for a final confrontation, a new enemy from legend appears. This one is so powerful that only an alliance between Kate and her allies and Roland himself can defeat him. Can Kate and Curran trust him though?

I am sad that the Kate Daniels Series has come to an end. I came late to it, but have read and reread the previous books. The characters are vivid and multi-layered, some that I love and others that I love to hate. The fight and battle scenes are extraordinarily well-plotted and easy to follow, and there are plenty of them. This final book wraps up the story very satisfactorily, but I will miss Kate, Curran and their extended family, There are hints of more stories to come with other characters, and a recent spin-off, Iron and Magic, featuring one of the worst of bad guys.

Thanks to Ace and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own. Thanks also go to Ilona and Andrew Gordon, the writing team who have imagined and brought these characters to life.

RATING- 5 Stars.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Bellewether Brings American and Canadian History to Life

Susanna Kearsley
Sourcebooks Landmark
August 7, 2018

Bellewether is told in three voices, those of Charlotte (Charley) Van Hoek in the present day, and Lydia Wilde and Jean-Philippe De Sabran in 1759. Charley has been hired to spearhead a historical renovation of the Wilde House on Long Island, Lydia's home, with plans to open it as a museum. The Bellewether of the title is the name of the ship captained by renowned (fictional) Revolutionary War hero, Benjamin Wilde, Lydia's brother. The French and Indian War is raging when Zebulon Wilde is called upon to billet two French soldiers in his home who are waiting for a prisoner exchange. This is a problem, as Lydia's fiance was killed by the French in battle, and her brother, Joseph, returned from the war significantly changed. Legend has it that Lydia and Jean-Philippe fell in love, and Joseph murdered Jean-Philippe. Lydia then walked into the waters of Long Island Sound and drowned herself. It's said that the French soldier haunts the woods surrounding Wilde House. Charley herself has a history of sorts with the area. Her father fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War draft and has never reconciled with his Long Island family. The only family member still remaining is Charley's grandmother, whom she has never met.

I am a fan of Susanna Kearsley's work, which is well-researched in any period she chooses. She has a light hand with characters, both fictional and historical that brings the period to life. I began Bellewether knowing next to nothing about the French and Indian War and its causes and consequences. I now see that the seeds of the American Revolution were already planted and growing 15 years before it began. Issues such as taxation, the "pressing" of men into service in the British Navy and unfair trade practices all are chafing the colonists. Also, the issue that we in America cannot reconcile; slavery.

Kearsley mixes two quiet love stories with a touch of a ghost and history to make an absorbing read. Some might question the love story of Lydia and Jean-Philippe because they were hampered by language and did not often speak with each other. I think they did their speaking through their actions, quite often a better indicator of character than mere words. I can't say that Bellewether rises quite to the level of The Winter Sea and A Desperate Fortune, my personal favorites, but it is still an absorbing read that I am happy to recommend.

Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.  


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Times are Changing in Gilded Age Newport

A Gilded Newport Mystery
Alyssa Maxwell
Kensington Books
July 31, 2018

When we last saw Emma Cross she was excitedly heading off to New York for a new job at The New York Herald. The owner, James Bennett, had more or less promised her more substantial reporting assignments, but instead, she has been given the same old Society News that so frustrated her in Newport. While it was pleasant living with her well-heeled Vanderbilt relations, she missed her home and family in Newport. She has a decision to make and is seriously considering returning home for good.

Emma still has her entree to the "400" events in Newport, so the Herald sends her to cover the society debut of Cleo Cooper-Smith. Mrs. Ogden Goelet, the widowed owner of Ochre Court, promised Cleo's mother, also deceased, a perfect launch into society thereby ensuring a suitable (and monied) marriage. Emma, on the other hand, is on the trail of Silas Griggson, who will be in attendance. Griggson is a wealthy real estate developer in New York whose tenement building collapsed, killing many inside. Griggson escaped taking responsibility for the collapse, but Emma thinks he is responsible by using shoddy materials and workmanship. Emma aims to prove his culpability but is sidetracked by a bizarre death at the debut ball. Could Griggson also be responsible for that death?

The Gilded Newport Mysteries are well- researched and bring to life the manners and mores of the late 1890's. Even the notorious Five Points Gang of New York plays a part in Murder at Ochre Court, and Emma has an encounter with the famous Nellie Bly, a woman who made a successful career in journalism. Emma wants to emulate Bly but is drawn to two different men with roots as deep in Newport as her own.

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars