Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Best Innkeeper Yet

Innkeeper Chronicles # 4
Ilona Andrews
July 16, 2019

Sweep of the Blade is the fourth installment of the Innkeeper Chronicles published in serial form on the husband and wife authors' blog in a (more or less) weekly basis. This is the first that I have read on the blog, even though I am a fan. I found myself looking forward to every Friday and being disappointed when life got in the way for the authors. Not that I would dream of complaining about a free look at the book! The newly re-edited edition, with the plus of some terrific illustrations, does not disappoint.

We first met Maud in Innkeeper # 3, One Fell Sweep. The daughter of Innkeepers, and sister to Dena and Klaus DeMille, Maud fell in love with a dashing Vampire knight, married him and departed to a faraway planet. Maud transformed herself into a perfect vampire wife and produced a daughter, Helen. Maud was a good fit since she was tough and skilled at martial arts but still undervalued because of her humanity. Everything falls apart when her husband, Melizard, turned out to be a jerk and tried to kill his own brother and overthrow his family. All three, even little Helen are exiled to Karhari, a dry wasteland full of vampire outlaws, Once there they hire out as mercenaries and eke out an existence, but Melizard once again betrays his employers and pays the ultimate price, right in front of Helen's eyes. A blood debt must be paid, and Maud spends the next months making sure that all those who killed Melizard die in their turn. When she has a chance to send a message to Dena, she seizes it and hunkers down in the hope the message arrives. Dena does get it and calls in a favor from Arland Krahr, Marshal of the House of Krahr, one of the most influential and wealthy vampire Houses. Arland falls in love with Maud almost immediately as they battle their way out of a sleazy vampire roadhouse and escape Karhari. Maud, however, doesn't want to have anything to do with vampires again. She is attracted and agrees to a visit to his homeworld, but not to his marriage proposal.

Sweep of the Blade has all of the intrigue and action for which the Andrews are known. I enjoy the idea of the earth as a neutral planet with inns and powerful Innkeepers providing a way station for other galactic beings. The battle scenes, the various creatures, all are vivid and make for an exciting mix. This book can be read on its own, but why miss the fun of the previous three? 

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A New Series and Character from Annelise Ryan

A Helping Hands Mystery #1
Annelise Ryan
Kensington Books
July 30, 2019

Needled to Death is a spin-off from Annelise Ryan's Mattie Winston series, featuring diminutive Hildy Schneider. Hildy is a hospital social worker, dedicated to her clients, and as a result of her painful upbringing in the foster system, has several psychological "tics" of her own. One of them is a mild case of kleptomania that kicks in when she is under stress. Hildy runs a grief therapy group at the Sorenson WI hospital where she works. When a new member shows up, saying that her son died recently in what the police called an overdose death. The woman swears it was murder. The woman triggers Hildy's memories of her own mother's unsolved murder when Hildy was only seven years old. From time to time, Hildy will take a look at the police files of her mother's case in the hope something will pop up that might reopen the case. Not only is Hildy sympathetic, but she also hopes that Bob Richmond of the Sorenson PD might help her. Hildy and Bob, who has been a regular character in the Mattie Winston series, begin to co-operate when Hildy points out some discrepancies. Bob also has his doubts about the death of the young man and finds Hildy interesting, maybe in a romantic way. Hildy hopes so at any rate! Hildy's golden retriever is a charming addition to the story, as well as Hildy's young neighbor, PJ.

While the humor in this new series is not as broad as in the Mattie Winston series, it is present. Annelise Ryan uses her medical knowledge as a real-life ER nurse as a plus for all her books. Needled to Death is a strong opening with a complex and likable, despite a tendency to be manipulative heroine and believable supporting characters. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4Stars

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Libraries, Cats and Murder

Cat in the Stacks Mystery #11
Miranda James
Berkley Prime Crime
July 16, 2019

Widower Charlie Harris retired from his job in the Houston TX library system upon the death of his Aunt Dottie. He now works part-time as a librarian/archivist at his alma mater, Athena College in Anthena MS. Dottie left him her home and a formidable housekeeper and cook named Azalea who looks after him and the boarders he has taken in since moving in. His grown children and new grandchildren are also in the area. Along the way, he found Diesel, a huge and intelligent Maine Coon cat and now has a new kitten, Ramses. Since coming back to Athena, he has discovered a talent for solving mysteries, much to the displeasure of Azalea's detective daughter, Kanesha, and his family.

Murder strikes the Athena campus when the charismatic and gifted medieval history professor whose course Charlie was auditing is murdered, as well as another auditing student. There are plenty of rumors swirling around the dead professor and his wife. Both might be carrying on affairs with multiple partners. Even a new boarder at Charlie's home may be involved. There are many characters, both old and new in The Pawful Truth, but James manages to make them all stand out. Diesel's calm presence is always welcome, and Ramses adds comic relief. Even though this is a long-running series, a new reader could start here with no confusion. 

Thanks to Berkley and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. This series never fails to deliver a well-plotted mystery and lots of Southern charm. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Gossip Can be Fatal

A Countess Harleigh Mystery #2
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books
June 25, 2019

Frances, the recently widowed Countess of Harleigh, is settling into her independent life in London. Despite her American origins, Frances is well-liked and well-placed in Society, enough so to be a sort of matchmaker for young ladies making their debuts. She has introduced her young sister, Lily, to her future husband and is sponsoring a friend of Lily's, Charlotte, in Society. The grateful parents of her charges have added to Frances' limited income, but more importantly, Frances is determined that their marriages not as unhappy as her own. To that end, she has introduced her cousin Charles Evington to another widow, Mary Archer. When Mary is murdered in her own home, and Charles admits to being in the neighborhood at the time, he becomes the prime suspect. Frances, and her neighbor, the handsome and capable George Hazelton, set out to clear him. It turns out that there was much more to Mary Archer and her relations than met the eye.

A Lady's Guide to Gossip and Murder is a delightful romp through the darker places of polite society. There are several new characters that I enjoyed, especially the klutzy, but bright and capable Charlotte and Charles who has made an art of appearing but not being, dim. The progress of the romance between George and Frances is more than satisfactory, and I look for more investigations featuring this well-matched pair.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Hurricane Hits New England

Murder, She Reported #2
Peg Cochran
Random House Alibi
May 28, 2019

Manhattan socialite Elizabeth Adams, now reporter and photographer on The Daily Trumpet, is making her way home from work when she is caught in a blackout and tremendous rain and wind storm. Little does she know that it is the edges of the 1938 Long Island Hurricane. The storm formed on the coast of Africa as a category 5 and stuck New York and New England as a category 3, killing nearly 700 and destroying millions of dollars worth of property. The next few days are taken up with storm coverage, but when a young woman is found in the wreckage of one mansion on Long Island, it's clear that she was not killed by the storm. This young woman was murdered, and it becomes the story that everyone is chasing. Elizabeth called "Biz" by her crusty partner, Kaminsky, dive headfirst into the story of the murdered girl, who immigrated from Ireland and worked for one of the wealthy summer families. Everyone describes Roeleen, the murdered girl, as a quiet and devout girl with no boyfriends and no enemies in the beginning. But as they look beneath, a different picture emerges. Several people may have wanted her dead, 

Murder, She Uncovered is an excellent follow-up to the first in the series, Murder She Reported, and one I have been looking forward to. The historical detail is exceptional, and I enjoy Biz's struggle to navigate her wealthy and well-connected family's disapproval and her own desire to not become just another rich man's wife. The secondary characters are just as impressive, from Kaminsky to her friend, Irene, who was crippled by polio in childhood. Biz herself had a brush with the disease, leaving her with a slight limp at times. Biz won't let that stop her though. There is a very promising romance with the dishy Detective Sal Marino, one that I hope continues to blossom.

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

RATING-4 Stars

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Old Hatreds Resurface on the Outer Islands of the Hebrides

The Lewis Trilogy #1
Peter May
Quercus Books, Hachette Audio
February 1, 2011

Detective Inspector Finlay "Fin" Macleod has spent the last 18 years of his life trying to escape his traumatic childhood on the Outer Hebridean Island of Lewis. In the grip of grief over the death of his only child in a hit and run accident and the collapse of his marriage, he finds himself returning to Lewis. A grisly murder has occurred on Lewis: a crime that echoes one in Edinburgh that Fin was in charge of investigating. The victim on Lewis was a childhood enemy, Angus MacRitchie, a man who bullied both Fin and all the other boys on the island in their shared youth. Fin left behind his best friend, Artur, and the only girl he ever really loved, Marsali. The search for Angus' killer will lead to the resurfacing of old hates and crimes that Fin has never allowed himself to examine.

The Blackhouse has been on my to-be-read list for a long time. It is brilliantly characterized and utterly atmospheric. I have never been to the Hebrides, but watching Shetland on TV helped me visualize the desolate beauty of the islands. The novel won multiple international prizes when it was published and deserves every one. It is a crime novel, but so much more, exposing the darker regions of the human heart and mind. The audiobook is brilliantly narrated by Peter Forbes, who voices the accents, both Scots and Gaelic, perfectly. If I could give a book more than 5 Stars, this would be it, and definitely one of the best of my 2019 reading. Highly recommended!

RATING- 5 Enthusiastic Stars

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

"King Cholera" Strikes Victorian London

A Florence Nightingale Mystery #2
Crooked Lane Books
Christine Trent
May 7, 2019

It's a sweltering August in 1854 when "King Cholera" strikes London, not for the first time. The deadly disease is no respecter of persons, affecting rich and poor alike, strikes unannounced and can disappear as quickly as it came. This time it seems to afflict the notorious slums of SoHo. The common wisdom says that the disease is airborne, occurring in the form of "miasmas," a theory that Florence Nightingale subscribes to. Even though she is fully involved with her hospital for women, Florence would become involved in the current outbreak no matter how busy, but a call from her friends, Sidney and Elizabeth Herbert sends her to SoHo on a different mission. Elizabeth and her father, a retired General, are attacked in their carriage, resulting in the death of their coachman. When Sidney sends a second servant into SoHo, the man returns suffering from cholera and dies quickly. Based on  Florence's success with her first case, Sidney is frantic for her to investigate. The General, however, is less than forthcoming. The search for answers will bring Florence and her assistant, "Goose," into contact with many historical figures and the lowest residents of the London slums. It also shines a spotlight on British Army conduct in Afghanistan.

I admit to only the most superficial of knowledge of Florence Nightingale, other than her history as "The Lady of the Lamp" during the Crimean War. While I doubt that she ever had the time or energy for detecting, she was close to the center of current events and associated with the movers and shakers of the era. The mystery, in this case, has plots and
sub-plots that were sometimes difficult to follow and the solution eluded me. I did like Florence and her dogged persistence in leading the life she wanted for herself. A number of the characters are well documented historically, and Trent provides appendices of their lives and works. There was a fascinating short history of the last 200+ years of Afghan history; one that clearly indicates the utter futility of imperialist designs on that country. The next book will take her to her most significant triumphs in the Crimea, and I look forward to that.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for an advance copy. Thee opinions are my own.

RATING-3.5 Stars