Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Who Inherits?

A Potting Shed Mystery # 6
Marty Wingate
Random House Alibi
October 17, 2017

I am always happy to get my hands on a new Potting Shed Mystery with its mystery, gardening tips and lore, quirky characters and a touch of grown-up romance. Pru Parke is a transplanted Texan whose life dream was to relocate to her mother's native England. Her first year in England was a challenge, but now she has a good reputation and a steady flow of jobs. Not only is she established professionally, but she has married semi-retired police Chief Inspector, Christopher Pearse. All her success comes at the age of fifty-something. Both Christopher and she are feeling the need for a getaway when she receives a request to consult on restoring an Arts and Crafts garden in the Cotswolds.  The creator of the garden, Batsford Bede, has let it slide in recent years and needs help. Christopher and Pru have friends in the area and decide to take a working holiday. But, just as Pru makes a start she discovers Bede, dead, under a piece of garden statuary. What was the ailing, elderly man doing out in the garden alone? It also appears that the inheritance of the property is disputed and a codicil to the will is missing. Since the local police force is small, Christopher takes over the investigation.

The Potting Shed Mysteries are a pleasure to read. I am not a gardener, but this series might even inspire me to become one. I highly recommend Best Laid Plants, which can be read as a stand-alone, but why not enjoy it from the beginning,The Garden Plot? Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Alibi for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, October 16, 2017

A K-9 Nail-Biter

An FBI K-9 Novel # 2
Sara Driscoll
Kensington Books
September 26, 2017

Sara Driscoll's second FBI K-9 novel, Before It's Too Late, hits the ground running and never lets up. A woman in the D.C. area is abducted, leaving her dog running loose. Attached to his collar is a coded note with clues to the woman's location and a time limit. The note is directed to Meg Jennings personally. By the time the FBI unscrambles the code and clues, all based on Civil War history and locations, the time has run out. It's too late for the woman, but this is far from the end. More abductions occur, and notes arrive in quick succession, all to Meg's attention. Even worse, the victims are physically similar to Meg. It's clear that the FBI is up against a very organized serial killer; one with a personal grudge against her. Meg decides to take action that might very well cost her career. Against all Bureau policy, she enlists her sister, Cara, a puzzle-solving genius, and Clay McCord, Washington Post reporter and Civil War buff. The three are able to solve the puzzles more quickly than the FBI computers. But Meg can't imagine who her adversary might be, or why.

I liked the first in the FBI K-9 series, Lone Wolf, very much and Before It's Too Late does not disappoint. The action is non-stop, the mystery well-plotted and the characters engaging. The relationship between Meg and her Labrador, Hawk, is healthy and supportive, based on mutual respect and love. It's impressive what well-trained search and rescue dogs can do. I highly recommend the series to suspense fans and anyone interested in the inner workings of the FBI K-9 Units.

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

RATING-4 Stars

Friday, October 6, 2017

All is not well in Weycombe

G.M. Malliet
MIdnight Ink
October 8, 2017

All should be perfect in the chocolate box pretty village of Weycombe where transplanted American, Jillian White, lives with her titled husband in an upscale gated community. There are cracks though, both in the marriage and the village. Jillian was "made redundant" (a kind euphemism for laid-off) nine months earlier from her job at the BBC, and her marriage to Will White is falling apart. But when Jillian discovers the dead body of Anna Monroe, local real estate agent and femme fatale, on a walking path next to the river, all the pettiness, secrets and evil in Weycombe begin to rise to the surface of this tranquil pond. Anna has always wanted to write a novel, so she begins to investigate the murder on her own, with an eye to using the case as a basis. There are consequences for everyone involved.

It's a challenge to review Weycombe without giving anything away. I have enjoyed Malliet's previous books, but this stand-alone novel is entirely different. I was immediately captured by Jillian's acid voice: she is not someone that I would like, but I wanted to listen to what she had to say. It's not often that I can't put down a book, but I stayed up late just to find out what came next. I began to get the feeling early on that Jillian was a far from reliable narrator, but the extent of her unreliability was stunning. The twists and turns in the plotting kept me intrigued until the end. I highly recommend Weycombe for fans of psychological suspense with a dark edge.

Thanks to Midnight Ink and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own. 

RATING- 5 Stars

Monday, October 2, 2017

Is Our Agatha Finally Growing Up?

Agatha Raisin # 28
M.C. Beaton
St. Martins Minotaur
October 3, 2017

I am a latecomer to the Agatha Raisin series, having discovered them only a few years ago. I was looking for short, undemanding listens and the reviews seemed to fill the bill. I ended up listening to all of the series over time. I often had mixed feelings about them, finding Agatha annoying at times, but entertaining to a greater or lesser degree. The Witches Tree begins with a dreadful dinner party given by the local "wannabe" squire and his flashy wife. The new vicar and his wife, Rory and Molly Devere, can't wait to get home. But their plan is disrupted when they drive by the Witches Tree and see a body hanging from the branches. It's Margaret Darby, an inoffensive elderly spinster and everyone in the odd little Cotswold village of Sumpton Harcourt can't imagine why....or so they say. The Deveres draw Agatha Raisin and her sometimes sidekick, Sir Charles Fraith, into the investigation. Agatha is feeling bored with her usual lost pet and divorce cases, but two more murders and a practicing witches coven add up to almost more than she can handle.

Agatha is a mixture of overconfidence and insecurity, despite great success as a Public Relations executive and now as a PI. She seems to be unable to feel worthy unless she is in a relationship with a man but none of those are ever a success. Her longest relationship has been with Sir Charles, but he is averse to commitment of any kind with the exception of keeping his money pit of an ancestral estate afloat. I admit that I had hopes that he was moving towards realizing how important Agatha is to him, but no such luck. Agatha at least appears to avoid falling for every eligible male she meets in The Witches Tree, which is a welcome development. I do enjoy the sly social commentary that Ms. Beaton injects into all the Agatha Raisin books.

Thanks to St.Martin's Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Intrigue and Ambiguity

Verity Kent Mysteries # 1
Anna Lee Huber
Kensington Books
September 26, 2017

Verity Kent has been adrift in a sea of alcohol-fueled frivolity since her husband, Sidney, was killed in the trenches fifteen months earlier. Sidney left her a very well off widow, but life seems meaningless. Especially since she has also lost her wartime work with the Secret Service, something of which even Sidney knew nothing. When she receives an invitation to a house party on an island, celebrating the engagement of an old friend of Sidney's she initially refuses. The other party guests are men who served in the trenches with Sidney, most of whom she did not know. Then a letter arrives with a cryptic message: ..." I know the secrets you hide. Why shouldn't I also know your husband's?" Verity knows then that she must join the house party, as the clear implication is that Sidney was involved in treasonous activity. The party guests range from slightly offensive to obnoxious, with intense hostile undercurrents. There is no one that Verity can trust, with the possible exception of Max, Earl of Ryde, and her childhood friend, Tom. But everyone has secrets and some are poisonous.

I waffled quite a bit on assigning a rating to This Side of Murder. The period of time during and just after WWI has always been fascinating to me. The war set up huge changes in the established order, with the wholesale slaughter of nearly an entire generation. The treaties at the war's end and the reparations required from the German people sent ripples leading to the horrors of the 20th century and into the present day. Huber has certainly done her research into the period, but I found it a little overpowering at times. Long explanations of cryptography and ciphers tend to make my eyes cross and seemed to bog down the narrative. I also thought that the supporting characters were not as well defined as I would like. It took me quite awhile to get names associated with characters. On the other hand, I kept reading way past my bedtime and was completely knocked back by the identity of the "mastermind." I also enjoyed the homage to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None with all the suspense and ambiguity holding until the end. This Side of Murder promises a series to watch for in the future.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Return of the Red-Headed-She-Devil

A Java Jive Mystery # 5
Caroline Fardig
Random House Alibi
October 24, 2017

Business is good at Nashville's Java Jive Coffeehouse where Juliet Langley is manager and her "best friend" Pete Bennett is the owner. Her fledgling second career as a PI keeps her busy and she is even making progress toward overcoming the crippling stage fright that destroyed her singing career. What could go wrong, right? Trouble comes in the form of Scott O'Malley, Juliet's former fiance who left her high and dry. Scott not only left her for a waitress that worked at the coffeehouse the two co-owned, he cleaned out the bank accounts and emptied their apartment of belongings. The business also failed, bringing Juliet back to Nashville.  No wonder the sight of him strolling into Java Jive prompts Juliet to punch him in the nose. He gives her a garbled story of the waitress he dumped her for (and later married) being kidnapped. He has heard she is a PI and asks her to help him find her. Too bad that he drops dead after drinking a mocha that she served him. Now Juliet is the prime suspect.

Murder over Mochas feels like the end of this humorous series. Questions are answered, and the long-simmering attraction between Pete and Juliet comes to a satisfactory conclusion.  I have enjoyed all the books and recommend it for a quick read with lots of laughs. Thanks to NetGalley and Alibi for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

A Jimmy Vega Mystery #4
Suzanne Chazin
Kensington Books
September 26, 2017

Suzanne Chazin has taken her personal experience with outreach to the immigrant population and her considerable writing skills to produce a stellar series on one of the "hot-button" issues of the day. Jimmy Vega is a Bronx-born Hispanic cop who now lives and works in the fictional upstate New York town of Lake Holly. After his involvement in the shooting of an unarmed man in the previous book, No Witness but the Moon, Jimmy is on desk duty and keeping his head down. His attempt to keep a low profile goes out the window when a teenage volunteer at the local outreach center, La Casa, goes missing and is found dead in the woods. La Casa is run by Jimmy's girlfriend, Harvard educated lawyer Adele Figueroa, so Jimmy can hardly avoid getting involved. Disaster strikes in the form of a botched surrender and Jimmy is assigned to be the driver for a local politician whose primary focus is immigrant bashing. Racial tensions in Lake Holly, always high, ratchet up to a level that threatens the peace of the community, and Jimmy's and Adele's relationship and careers.

A Place in the Wind takes us deep into the lives and hearts of two undocumented Guatemalan brothers, Wilfredo Martinez and Rolando Benitez. Wil has the protection of DACA, works multiple jobs, goes to school, dreams of becoming a doctor and tries to keep tabs on his brother. Rolando is wounded by his experiences, both in Guatemala and in the US and is a barely functional drunk. This case of the dead girl will throw both into the teeth of an unforgiving legal and immigration system. The characters in this series are extraordinarily well-rounded, and most of them from previous books make an appearance. A welcome addition is Mr. Zimmerman, Adele's elderly neighbor, who is much more than he appears to be. I highly recommend the Jimmy Vega Mysteries to fans of suspense and police procedurals that are firmly grounded in the events of today.

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

RATING-5 Stars

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Body at the Book Signing

A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #2
Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books
September 12, 2017

It's a busy summer Thursday afternoon at the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium on Cape Cod. The co-proprietor, Gemma Doyle, receives a phone call from a timid voice inquiring about a possible book signing but Gemma is fully booked for the summer. Until she hears who the author is- Renalta Van Markoff, author of a controversial, and wildly popular pastiche featuring Holmes and Mrs. Hudson. Gemma and her co-owner, Jayne Wilson immediately shift into high gear to accommodate her; no small matter as Renalta wants to appear on Saturday, just two days away. The flamboyant Renalta comes accompanied by an entourage; her mousy and timid assistant, her publisher, a publicist, an assortment of rabid fans and at least one enemy. Excitement is high, at least until Renalta collapses dead on the signing table. Gemma's customer, Donald Morris, a dedicated and somewhat stuffy Sherlockian is the prime suspect. Donald had attacked her verbally in the Q and A session, accusing her of defiling Sherlock's sacred memory. Gemma doesn't think Donald murdered Renalta, but who did? It's up to Gemma and Jayne to find out, using Gemma's incredible powers of observation.

As a former bookseller and Sherlock fan, I really enjoyed the Body on Baker Street. Most of the authors I met at book appearances were gracious and down-to-earth people who were pleased to meet the fans and made no unreasonable demands. Then there were the one or two who were nearly as demanding as Renalta. The fans sometimes, too, could be a little odd. I'm looking forward to the next in the series and I highly recommend it for cozy fans.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, September 11, 2017

Winemaker Detective #13
Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen
Le French Books
September 12, 2017

The latest case of the Winemaker Detective takes us into the Sauternais region in Bordeaux, where the legendary sweet wine, Sauternes, is produced. Benjamin Cooker should be busy revising his most current wine guide, but when he reads of the murder of a seemingly blameless retired couple in their bed, he decides that autumn is just the time to visit the region. Luckily Benjamin and his assistant, charming Virgile Lanissen, have many connections there. The more they learn, the more they want to uncover the murderer of the old couple. The police arrest a local homeless youth, but Cooker thinks the answer lies elsewhere, perhaps the old couple's grand-daughter or some old enemy.

Requiem in Yquem is another short and entertaining novel in this series, upon which a long-running  French TV show is based. The sometimes irascible but kind Cooker and his sidekick, Virgile, use all their contacts and knowledge of wine to solve their cases. I have read the books out of order, but this is the first time I remember them actually seeking out a case to solve. As always, the descriptions of wine, wine making, and food are drool worthy. I always learn a little about wines and how they are made along the way. The characterizations are excellent with even familiar characters adding new dimensions. All of the novels offer a pleasant evening's reading along with an engaging puzzle to solve.

Thanks to Le French Book for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own. 
3.5 Stars

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Into the Rabbit Hole

October Daye # 11
Seanan McGuire
DAW/ Penguin Books
September 5, 2017

I have followed the October Daye urban fantasy series from the beginning, Rosemary and Rue, and it has been a must-read for me. October is a changeling (half human, half-fae) who has struggled to find her place, both in the mortal and in the fae world. In fact, she is the daughter of Amandine, one of the First Born of the fae, but Amandine has been a largely absent and shadowy figure until The Brightest Fell. The book opens on a happy note, during the bachelorette party for Toby at a San Francisco karaoke bar. The party was organized by Toby's "fetch" May, and it is no matter that Toby and her betrothed, Tybalt, King of Cats, have not even set a date. An uproarious good time is had by all until Toby returns home to find Tybalt there, A knock at the door brings Amandine with a demand. She wants Toby to find August, Toby's half-sister who has been missing for over a century. To enforce her demand, she takes hostages of Toby's nearest and dearest.

Amandine's demand takes Toby and her squire, Quentin, into Toby's past and the rabbit-hole that is the fae realm. Accompanying them is Toby's greatest enemy, August's father, Simon Torquil. There is plenty of magic and mayhem and an accounting of some of the decisions and actions Toby has been forced to take in previous books. The character of Amandine becomes clearer, but whether she is a monster or just nuts is still up in the air. The Brightest Fell foreshadows events to come and I hope they come soon, after time to take a breath. Seanan McGuire has built a rich fantasy world and I think that the series needs to be read in order to fully enjoy the latest novel.

I was delighted to receive an advance digital copy from DAW and NetGalley. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4.5 rounded up to 5 Stars

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Darker Shade of Miss Fisher

Phryne Fisher # 12
Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press
September 5, 2017

Murder in Montparnasse takes us back to a time when Miss Fisher was more innocent and less worldly wise, despite her experience as an ambulance driver in WWI. Footloose in Paris, she is intimate with artistic and literary figures, earning her living as a much in demand artist's model, and generally enjoying her freedom. However, she meets a thoroughly evil individual named Rene DuBois and promptly falls for him. Despite warnings from her friends, Phyrne learns the hard way just how wicked Rene is. She escapes him, but the experience colors her memories of Paris ever after. Meantime, her future cronies in Australia, Cec and Bert, are also in Paris with five other soldiers. On a rowdy night, the seven soldiers witness a murder but are too drunk to do anything about it. Years later, two of the soldiers are dead in quick succession in Australia. The deaths are ruled accidents, but Cec and Bert know that can't be true. Phryne is working on another case, that of a kidnapped girl but also wants to help them. The intersection of the three cases brings about some rough Australian justice for all.

I am reading the Miss Fisher Mysteries wildly out of order, but it seems to me that each one can be read as a stand-alone. No doubt it helps that I have seen all the episodes of the TV series. There are differences but nothing that is problematic, at least not for me. Each is a romp through a different time and place, with an unforgettable and unconventional heroine. I particularly enjoyed the integration of real historical figures like Djuna Barnes, Sylvia Beach, and Pablo Picasso. This Phryne Fisher story is a little darker than others I have read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thanks to NetGalley and The Poisoned Pen for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, August 28, 2017

A Perfumed Murder in Paris

Amory Ames #4
Ashley Weaver
St. Martin's Minotaur
September 5, 2017

The fourth entry in the Amory Ames mystery series begins in Lake Como where Amory and Milo Ames are on holiday. The Ames are awaiting a visit from Madame Nanette, Milo's childhood nanny. They receive a message from her, canceling the visit and asking that they see her in Paris. Milo was raised by Madam Nanette, rather than his neglectful father, and he is very fond of her. Her message indicates, at least to Milo, that the nanny is worried about something. They take advantage of an offer from a new friend, Andre Duveau, to fly with him in his plane to Paris. Upon their arrival, they find that Madame Nanette's employer, the wealthy and famous perfumer, Helios Belanger, has died after a plane crash that he was piloting.The death was declared a heart attack as Belanger walked away from the crash but died in his sleep the same night. Madame Nanette and Belanger had a romantic liaison in their youth, and she feels that his death might not have been a heart attack. The heirs of Helios Belanger have more than enough motive to go around with an unsettled line of inheritance. Milo and Amory must try to infiltrate the family to get the answers.

There are many things that I enjoy about the series. Weaver paints a vivid picture of the era and the lives of the idle rich. I have always loved the Hollywood movies of the time with their portrayal of the fashions and carefree lifestyles, at least the lifestyles of those who still had money in The Great Depression. It is interesting to read about the perfume industry and the lengths to which some might go to gain ascendancy. However, I find myself losing patience with the marital difficulties of Milo and Amory. I have never trusted Milo with his untruthfulness and cavalier attitude towards the marriage. The Essence of Malice gives more insight into his character and at least his untruthfulness this time was in the service of protecting Amory. There is just too much going on with Milo that needs to be explained. Hopefully, as the series moves into the unsettled times in Europe of the 1930's, that explanation will come.

Thanks to St. Martin's Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 3 Stars

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache # 13
Louise Penny
St. Martin's Minotaur
August 29, 2017

Glass Houses begins with Armand Gamache on the witness stand. No doubt he has been there many times, but never have we seen him give testimony. It quickly becomes apparent that this is no ordinary trial but one that Gamache takes personally. Additionally, the Crown Prosecutor is taking a very adversarial tone with Gamache, oddly because they are supposed to be on the same side. The murder in question is personal for Gamache since it took place in Three Pines. It all began on the day after Halloween of the previous year when the adults of Three Pines have their Halloween party; the night before being reserved for the children. An apparition clad in a robe, black gloves, a hood, and mask appears at the gathering, unmoving and silent. The party breaks up, and the figure takes his place on the green, where he remains for more than two days and nights. No one sees him move and the village is thoroughly unnerved. Why is he there, and more importantly, for whom? When he is finally absent one morning all of Three Pines is relieved, but perhaps one or more inhabitants are especially relieved.

There is always more than one story being told in Louise Penny's long running series, and Glass Houses is no exception.Gamache is a year into his new position as Chief Superintendent of the Quebec Sureté and fighting a losing battle with the opioid epidemic. Drugs are coming into Canada in vast quantities as well as being smuggled across the border into the US. He has had little success and not only the Sureté but the general public is taking notice. Gamache, however, has a plan, one that is shocking in its audacity, setting up a moral dilemma for Gamache and his subordinates. They are gambling literally everything on the plan's success. Louise Penny does a masterful job of tying together the two disparate stories. She uses misdirection but all the pieces are there. When it becomes clear how the events come together and who the responsible party is, I was surprised that I didn't see it sooner. Then I realized that I just didn't want to see it.

Our familiar friends in Three Pines are somewhat peripheral to the investigation in Glass Houses, at least until the explosive end. They are not the focus of the story but as always provide much of the heart. Gamache's colleagues in the Sureté play a much larger part especially Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste. Both have risen to higher levels of responsibility and are, on the whole, loyal to Gamache and the plan. A new Gamache novel is always a red-letter event and Glass Houses is one of her best.

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Friday, August 18, 2017

Racing Through Time In Search of Salvation

Daniel H. Wilson
Doubleday Books
August 1, 2017

June Stefanov is sixteen when her grandfather, a veteran of the Seige of Stalingrad, presents her with an odd relic and the tale of an "angel" who saved him on the battlefield. His savior dropped the relic, and the grandfather has hidden it away ever since. He gives it to June in the belief that she can find out its secrets but warns her to never show it to anyone. June has become an anthropologist specializing in ancient technologies and while working under a grant from a mysterious conglomerate and examining a mechanical doll, is plunged into a world of violence and beings that she could never have imagined.  There are robots, "avtomat," immensely old and powerful walking in her world, and what they are seeking is the very relic she possesses. She is saved from what assuredly would be death by another avtomat, Peter. 

June and Peter embark on a trip back in time through Peter's memories ranging from 3000 BC China, the reign of Peter the Great and London in 1725 right up to World War II and the present day. Told in alternating chapters, Peter's life, and that of his "sister" Elena, are a fascinating tale of blending into the human populace with greater or lesser success. However, the avtomat are finally dying out, cannibalizing and waging war on each other. The factions think that June's relic will be the answer to survival.

I have read some steampunk in the past and enjoyed it, but I have to admit that the gorgeous cover of Clockwork Dynasty sold me. It is a genre-bending, high action fantasy read that kept me immensely entertained throughout. I need to point out that there is a lot of graphic violence that should be taken into account by sensitive readers. I recommend it for fantasy lovers of all kinds looking for something different, and those who prefer a strong female lead.

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

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Darkly Humorous and Heart-Wrenching

Graham Norton
Atria Books
August 1, 2017

Holding is a mystery wrapped in a story of life in the remote Irish village of Duneen in County Cork. Sergeant PJ Collins has been constable in the village for 15 years when a long awaited crime occurs in the form of human bones turned up on a construction site. The very overweight and lonely 53-year-old Collins has always been certain that he could prove himself, if only if he had a real crime. He begins to investigate but has only a short time before the policemen from Cork arrive. In speaking with the villagers, the name Tommy Burke pops up. Young Tommy Burke was supposedly seen with a suitcase boarding a bus about twenty years previously, leaving two young women broken-hearted. An often told story is that of the two girls coming to blows in the street. One, Evelyn Ross, still lives with her two spinster sisters. The other, Brid Riordan, lives in Duneen as well, sunk in an unhappy marriage and drinking herself into a stupor daily. Other villagers have an interest in the bones, and in keeping the secrets associated with them.

While Holding takes the form of a mystery, it is more about how the choices we make, or have made for us, can color the rest of our lives. It is darkly comic in places and heart-wrenching in others. The village itself becomes a character in its own right, filled with all-too-human beings. I was only vaguely aware of Graham Norton's career as a TV and Radio presenter and talk show host, but I am sure that he can expand into writing novels if TV ever falls through for him. This is an impressive debut. Thanks to Atria Books and Netgalley for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Final Egyptian Excavation with the Peabody/Emerson Clan

THE PAINTED QUEEN (Amelia Peabody #20)
Elizabeth Peters, Joan Hess
Harper Audio, Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat
July 25, 2017

I was saddened by the death of Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz), not only as it signaled the end of the Amelia Peabody series, but all the many books written in her various pen names. She was an author uniquely beloved by her readers and also her many friends. One of the closest of her friends, Joan Hess, undertook the daunting task of producing a final novel taken from Peters' notes at the request of the family. The Painted Queen is the product of three years of labor by Hess in which she put her own career largely on hold. I think that even with some problems in timelines and characterization, the book is a success. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to try to assume another writer's voice.

The Painted Queen takes place during the 1912 excavation season, just after the Emerson's adoptive daughter Nefret's disastrous marriage and widowhood. Nefret and Ramses, the Emerson's son, are estranged over that episode and tensions are running high. A bust of Nefertiti has vanished, along with the head excavator, and forgeries are popping up all over Cairo. To add to the mix, the family of Nefret's dead husband, the Godwins, are trying to take revenge by assassinating Amelia and Rameses. Never mind that he brought his death on himself. There are a number of them, five of the six Godwin sons, but they are no match for the redoubtable Amelia and Emerson. All comes right in the end, with chases, narrow escapes, and suspense to the last page. Some of the characterizations, especially those of our old Egyptian friends seem subtly off, and Hess's humor is not quite like Peters. Still, I was glad to have this one last adventure with old friends.

RATING-4 Stars

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Scandal and Murder in the "Four Hundred"

Gilded Newport Mystery #5
Alyssa Maxwell
Kensington Books
May 25, 2017

What begins as a routine task for reporter Emma Cross, covering the polo match at the legendary Westchester Polo Club in Providence, RI quickly turns into a story that threatens the elite summer residents. Emma herself is far from routine in the town of 1897 Providence. She is a less well-off cousin of the Vanderbilts who runs her own household, works for a living, and has decided ideas about women's equality. Her relations give her entree into most of the social events that she covers for the local paper, but Emma really wants to be an investigative reporter. When a shabbily dressed woman approaches the wife of RI Senator George Peabody Wetmore and asks to speak with her, it causes quite a stir and arouses Emma's curiosity. Emma becomes involved when that same shabby woman is discovered dead at the foot of a staircase in Chateau sur Mer, the Wetmore "cottage". Mrs. Wetmore denies any relationship with the woman. Neither she or her distinguished husband have ever seen the woman before, and she asks Emma to investigate. The investigation leads Emma into the seamier side of Newport, threatening her livelihood and ultimately her life. She is aided and sometimes hindered by Derrick Andrews, a former romantic interest who reappears in her life, and her friend, Jesse Whyte. Jesse is a detective on the town police force, who also has more than a friendly interest in her.

Murder at Chateau sur Mer is another well-researched and plotted book in Alyssa Maxwell's Gilded Newport series. She takes historical figures and builds mysteries around them without sacrificing accuracy in either history or the manners and mores of the day. This time Emma may have gone a little too far with her disregard for proprieties and may have to pay the price. It's an excellent build-up to the next novel in the series, which I will be looking forward to.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

BLOOD DEBTS (Leonidas the Gladiator Mystery # 1)
Jennifer Ashley
JA/AG Publishing
July 9, 2017

Leonidas, the most feared and successful gladiator of   Rome in the first century AD, has finally received his freedom. But what is a retired fighter to do with no money and no skills that easily translate into life in Rome? An unknown benefactor steps in and provides him with an apartment (one room) and a slave.  The slave, Cassia, is the daughter of a scribe who was sold when the master of the house took an undue interest in her. Cassia can't cook, sew or do laundry, but she has the literacy that Leonidas lacks. She is also grateful that Leonidas does not abuse her as she feared might happen. The two are surviving on jobs that Leonidas picks up, such as a guard for incoming merchandise shipments. One such job, for a baker, has not been paid for, is overdue, and the coffers are low.  When Leonidas goes to the baker, Quintus, he is sent to a money-changer to collect. The money-changer, Silenius, owes Quintus and Leonidas must get the money from him.  But when Leonidas arrives, the money-changer is dead in a pool of blood. Leonidas leaves immediately but knows that the guard will be looking for him. After all, everyone in Rome knows him, and he was seen entering. 

Cassia and Leonidas make a good team, each having what the other lacks. Having been taken off the streets as a child and enduring years of training and brutal fighting, it's clear that Leonidas suffers both PTSD and depression. It's a miracle that he has retained a core of inner goodness and a desire to protect others. Cassia's literacy and mathematical knowledge help them to solve the murder and pick up some new friends in the process. Ashley Gardner paints a vivid picture of the streets of ancient Rome; its heat, smells, and general injustice. I am expecting great things from this new series as we learn more about Leonidas and Cassia, and their mysterious benefactor.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

ROOM FOR DOUBT (Carol Childs Mystery #4)
Nancy Cole Silverman
Henery Press
July 18, 2017

Carol Childs is a 40ish single mom with a daughter in college and a 16-year-old son still at home. She is also a radio reporter who doesn't appreciate being called away from her son's birthday party to report on a scene at the famous Hollywood Sign. It's a grisly scene too... a naked man hanging from the sign wearing a red clown nose. The cop on site, Detective Riley, seems very eager to declare it a suicide, without even getting out of his car to walk up the hill and take a look. Carol doesn't think so, as she had had a brief interaction with the man on the sign the day before, and he in no way seemed suicidal. Another person at the scene, PI Gerhardt Chasen (Chase), doesn't think so either and spins her a tale of other recent deaths that have been called suicides, but he thinks are actually murder. Carol thinks that is crazy, and besides, what can she do about it? 

Carol has been given a shot at a late-night talk show and in the era of cutbacks in radio, she is eager to make a success of it. The first night is not going well. The program director suggests talking about City Council matters and there has been not a single call-in. Until Chase calls in and starts talking about his theory of the murders and a woman calling herself "Mustang Sally" calls in suggesting that the dead men were abusers and got what they deserved from the "Tribunal". The switchboard lights up! Can there be a group of women who help other women on the run, and have gone off the rails? Carol and Chase need to find Sally before another death occurs. Carol is not eager to get involved, especially with Chase. She is attracted to him and does not want to be.

Nancy Silverman has taken a realistic look at the problems faced by abused women. It's a serious issue but she manages to inject some humor while coping with job and personal pressures. I was particularly interested in her take on commercial radio. My husband was a radio DJ (a long, long time ago) and we still have friends in the business. The program director and other people at the station ring true to me. She also brings in well-developed secondary characters: her friend, Sheri, and washed-up Hollywood psychic, Misty Dawn. Room for Doubt is the first of this series that I have read but I'm sure I will be catching up.

Thanks to Henery Press and NetGalley for an advance copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, July 10, 2017

Truth or Perception?

A TOAST TO MURDER (Mack's Bar Mystery #5)
Allyson K. Abbott
Kensington Books
July 25, 2017

A Toast to Murder brings to a close an ongoing story arc about Mack Dalton's bar and the people who frequent it. Mac mostly grew up in the bar, as she was the only child of a widowed father and inherited it after he was murdered. Mack is grieving her father but wondering what she can do to solve the crime and enlists some of the long-time customers of the bar to help her. Mack has some unusual abilities that she thinks can help her. She has a neurological condition called synesthesia; one which gives her a heightened perception of stimuli. Synesthesia is described as a phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to an involuntary experience in a second pathway. For instance, she often sees colors and has tastes associated with certain people's voices. It also makes her an excellent lie detector. After a lifetime of coping with often conflicting sensory input, Mack sees a way to put her condition to good use. The detective investigating her father's murder, Duncan Albright, thinks so too.

With the help of the Capone Club, a group of old and new friends who meet in the bar, Mac has solved several cases, including that of her father, but there is a new problem. Two old friends have been murdered and Mac is receiving threating letters containing taunts about her abilities and newfound unwanted celebrity. Unless Mack solves the cryptic clues in the letters more friends will die and she will be the last victim. She must also do this without any help from the police or the Capone Club. The pressure is mounting and Mack decides that she must move to end it and forms a plan to bring all the suspects together at the Bar on New Year's Eve.

The Mack's Bar Mysteries have an interesting concept. Synesthesia is a real condition and Mack's version is an extreme one, as least from what I have read on the subject. My problem with the books is the number of suspects and characters, some of whom are not particularly memorable. Compounding the problem was the fact I missed reading one of the books and felt at sea until I realized it. There is a massive info dump at the beginning of A Toast to Murder but it didn't help so I went back to read the book I had missed. I don't recommend trying to read it out of series order. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for a digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 2.5 Stars

Monday, July 3, 2017

Missing Girls in Melbourne....Miss Fisher to the Rescue

UNNATURAL HABITS (Miss Fisher #19)
Kerry Greenwood
The Poisoned Pen Press
July 4, 2017

It's 1929 in Melbourne, and Miss Fisher is on her way to her club, accompanied by her friend Dr. MacMillan when she comes across a young woman being menaced by thugs. With the help of the bodyguards provided by her Chinese lover, Lin Chung, Miss Fisher rescues her. Miss Fisher is not happy about the bodyguards but even she admits that they come in handy sometimes. The young woman is Polly Kettle, an aspiring investigative reporter with an overblown sense of self-importance and a limited sense of self-preservation. Polly is looking into the disappearance of three pregnant, unmarried girls sent to give birth at the home of a "pious" widow. Polly goes on her way but is reported kidnapped the next day. Phryne's Police Inspector friend, Jack Robinson, asks for her help in the investigation. Not only are the three pregnant girls and Polly Kettle missing, but several others as well, all young and blonde. Phryne's search takes her into a seamy underworld of brothels, piracy, white slavery and the infamous Magdalene Laundries.

I am a big fan of the Australian television version of the Miss Fisher Mysteries, starring the fabulous Essie Davis. I confess that I have read only a few of the books though they are perennially on my "TBR" list. With the background of the series, I was able to jump right into Unnatural Habits, even though there are differences. The books and series have a masterful blend of historical detail, action, highly individual characters, and social commentary presented with a light touch. I also enjoy Greenwoods' Corinna Chapman Series, set in modern-day Melbourne. I recommend Unnatural Habits with no reservations to fans of historical mysteries.

Thanks to NetGalley and The Poisoned Pen Press for a digital copy of Unnatural Habits. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Murder, Treachery and Treason in the Regency

A Wrexford and Sloane Mystery #1
Andrea Penrose
Kensington Books
June 27, 2017

A clandestine meeting of shadowy figures in a church culminates in a grisly murder. The victim is the Reverend Josiah Holworthy, a pompous churchman who has been carrying on a very public feud with the Earl of Wrexford. The Reverend has held up the Earl as the very personification of wickedness. Enter Charlotte Sloane, a caricature artist with a wicked pen and a large following. She works under the pen name of A.J. Quill and guards her real identity jealously. As a woman, she would never be allowed to publish. Her late husband, Anthony, had used the name and she is forced to take up his trade to stay afloat. Charlotte has developed a number of sources and is able to get into the church between the discovery of the body and the arrival of the Bow Street Runners. Not only are the Runners eager to pin the murder on Wrexford, but the drawing Charlotte publishes the next morning of the horrible scene inflames all London against him. Wrexford must investigate the murder to save his own neck and his first order of business is find out the identity of A. J. Quill. Charlotte and Wrexford form an uneasy alliance, aided by a pair of street urchins that Charlotte has befriended. The two plunge into a swirling abyss of murder, alchemy, forgery, and treason with an explosive ending.

The Regency Era is a fascinating time in which there was great interest in science and new discoveries. The scientists working in The Royal Institution, led by Humphry Davy were the celebrities of their day and their discoveries followed and heralded by both the "ton" and the general public. Science and chemistry play a large part in the the story, forming a background to what is an excellent mystery and ripping good yarn. Both Charlotte and Wrexford are well-developed characters: Wrexford, very much the aristocrat of his time, but possessing a soft center, and Charlotte, who is a woman with a steely will and secrets of her own. She was obviously gently born and extremely well-educated but has sunk out of that circle of society. I am looking forward to learning more about her story and watching what is an obvious attraction between Wrexford and herself develop. The supporting characters, particularly Raven and Hawk, Charlotte's two street urchins are also welcome additions.

I thoroughly enjoyed Murder on Blak Swan Lane. Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Scouting for Jane Austen

Death on Location Book 1
Sara Rosett

Kate Sharp is a location scout based in LA who is also a Jane Austen aficionado. In fact, if life hadn't interfered, Kate would have worked on a Doctorate in Literature, specializing in Austen. Her boss, Kevin Dunn, is currently in England and scouting locations for a new production of Pride and Prejudice. When Kevin does not return as scheduled, Kate and her co-workers are very worried. Not only is Kevin a mentor to all of them, he has had substance abuse problems in the past. Rather than raise the alarm and possibly causing rumors in the industry, Kate sets off to the picturesque village of Nether Woodsmoor to find him. Her search takes her on pub crawls and a collaboration with a local scout, handsome if rumpled Alex Norcutt. The two make a good team, digging up information to help solve the mystery of Kevin's disappearance...even if the local constabulary is not all that happy about their efforts.

Book 2, Death in an English Cottage, finds Kate back in England. Her LA company has folded and the original P & P production is canceled. 
Alex, however, gets her a new job on a new Jane Austen documentary to be filmed in the area. Not only does she need the work, but there are definite stirrings of attraction between Kate and Alex. The residents of Nether Woodsmoor seem happy to see her back with the notable exception of her new employer. The producer, Elise, seems to have taken an unreasonable dislike for Kate from their first meeting. Kate soldiers on, dealing with Elise and a celebrity historian, vandalism in the village and a dead body in the cottage next door. Alex seems distant at times and holding secrets of his own. Kate is beginning to think she has made a very bad decision in coming back to England at all.

Death in a Stately Home, Book 3, continues as the Jane Austen documentary is revamped and Kate and Elise have made peace (of sorts). She and Alex are now a couple and preparing for the visit of his 12-year-old sister, Grace, for whom he is the guardian. Kate is a little nervous about Grace and it appears that Grace is not too thrilled about Kate as well. The local stately home, Parkview Hall, is holding a series of Regency weekends in which Regency dress and customs are observed. Elise wants her to attend one of the house parties and Lady Beatrice of Parkview wants her there too. There have been a series of negative comments on the internet, not only about the house parties, but about Sir Harold, Beatrice's husband, and the owner of the Hall. Beatrice and Kate have formed a friendship and Beatrice wants Kate to use her powers of observation on the weekend. Beatrice thinks that the internet postings originate with someone on the staff. It's a motley crew at the weekend; financiers, fashionistas, Jane Austen enthusiasts and a party planning for a wedding. The first night culminates in a murder in a classic locked-room mystery. This is murder with a difference however in that Kate is considered a suspect by some.

I am very much enjoying the Murder on Location series. There is some, but not too much detail on the ins-and-outs of being a location scout. That is a job I had never thought about at all. I did find the character development a little weak in Death in the English Countryside, but as the series progresses I am learning more about Kate and Alex and finding them more likable. The vivid descriptions of the village and its residents are an added plus. The plotting is very good with plenty of twists. I will be reading more of the series in the future. I received a copy of Death in the English from an author giveaway and purchased Books 2 and 3. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4 Star

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Farseer's End

ASSASSIN'S FATE (The Fitz and the Fool # 3)
Robin Hobb
Del Rey
May 9, 2017

It has been a couple of weeks since I finished Assassin's Fate and it has taken me that long to let it settle. In fantasy, several factors play into the execution; world building, coherent social/magic systems and characterization being just some of them. World building and systems are important, but above all (at least for me) are characters I can invest in. I have been fully invested in FitzChivalry Farseer through three trilogies now; The Farseer Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, and now The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. There are many memorable characters in the Six Duchies, but Fitz is indelible in his messy, chaotic, maddening humanity. His small, mysterious daughter, Bee, is another unforgettable piece of the tapestry. Following Fitz's life from bastard child to middle-aged man has been frustrating, rewarding, horrifying and often heart-breaking. 

I'm not going to try to synopsize Assassin's Fate other than to say that after several years of relative peace living as Tom Badgerlock with his beloved Molly, Fitz's life falls apart with the seemingly impossible pregnancy of Molly. After a very long gestation, Molly brings forth Bee, a tiny girl who takes an inordinate amount of time to grow and develop. Molly dies when Bee is still a tiny child. Bee seems backward and odd in the extreme, but Molly gives her all the love and attention a child could need. When Molly dies, Fitz is overcome by grief and at a loss about how to raise Bee. The Fool's sudden reappearance complicates matters. The Fool has been horribly tortured by the sadistic White Prophets on the island of Clerres where the Fool grew up and then returned to, expecting a warm welcome. Fitz's efforts to save the Fool's life ensure that he is not at home when Bee needs him most. Bee is kidnapped by a band of the same White Prophets and Fitz's estate and people are destroyed. Fitz becomes convinced that Bee is dead and wants revenge. The Fool is not sure as he has had dreams about Bee. The two set out on the long journey to Clerres and Fitz's ultimate fate.

Robin Hobb incorporates elements and characters from the Farseer books as well as from the Liveship Traders and the Rain Wild Chronicles. I confess that I have read neither Live Ship or Rain Wild. In fact, after The Soldier Son Trilogy, I laid off Hobb's books. I found the Soldier Son books tough going. No doubt it would have made The Fitz and the Fool a richer experience had I read them but it was always Fitz's voice, and now Bee's, that intrigue me. Fitz's ultimate fate is not what I ever would have chosen or wished for him, but ultimately he is Robin Hobb's creation and her vision. I don't doubt that we will see more of the Six Duchies and the Farseer Dynasty, but Fitz will be missed. To sum up, I ran across a Facebook meme from one of the many "bookish" sites I frequent that expresses my feelings exactly:

 me: This book brutally ripped out my heart and tore it to shreds then stomped it into the
        ground as I drowned in a sea of tears and basked in eternal sorrow.

me:  Here read it.

Thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING-  5 Stars