Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Crimson Warning

A Crimson Warning
Tasha Alexander
St. Martins
October 2011

I had almost given up on this series after the two most recent books, but I am really glad that I decided to give it one last try with A CRIMSON WARNING. Lady Emily is back on her own turf in London society, and back to being her clever, feisty, reckless self. The two books set in Constantinople and in France with her harridan of a mother-in-law just didn't work for me.

Crimson paint is being splashed on the houses of some of London's wealthiest and influential citizens, followed quickly by the exposure of scandals. Even though a man so victimized by the paint has also been horribly murdered, the "ton" is much more afraid of scandal than death. The Queen asks Colin Hargreaves, Emily's husband, to investigate and put an end to the pervasive atmosphere of fear abroad in the city. Emily of course becomes fully involved and proves again that she is an equal partner with Colin. They are convinced that the crimes and scandals are the product of rage at being slighted and a wish for revenge. But could it be even more sinister and who is the perpetrator? Even Ivy, Emily's closest and most gentle friend, has a secret that must be kept.

The path that they follow has many twists and turns, with code-breaking and many a trip to the British Museum and Library. I had settled on my candidate for the crimes early on instinct alone, but was misdirected by Alexander very neatly. It takes one more innocent death to solve the crimes and to see that Hargreaves doorstep defaced as well. Many of the characters we have met before reappear in A CRIMSON WARNING, and a host of new ones, all either eccentric, shallow or dangerous. A CRIMSON WARNING is very ingenious and entertaining- Welcome Back, Lady Emily!
Rating- 4 Stars

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Back to the Iron Seas in Airships

Heart of Steel
A Novel of the Iron Seas
Meljean Brook
Penguin Audio
November 2011

Following the first book in Meljean Brook's Iron Seas series, Heart of Steel continues the adventures of two characters from the Iron Duke, Archimedes Fox and Yasmeen, mercenary airship captain. Archimedes Fox is an adventurer specializing in retrieval of antiquities lost in territories infected by the zombie plague. He is also the hero of "pulp" novels written by his sister, Zenobia. The mysterious Yasmeen is not only one of the few female airship captains, but is one tough cookie- the "heart of steel" of the title. She kicked Archimedes out of her airship into a zombie infested Venetian canal. Needless to say, Archimedes fell madly in love with her at that instant (even though he doesn't quite know it)! She kicked him off the ship, but kept an unknown Leonardo Da Vinci sketch that he had salvaged.

The action starts when Yasmeen goes to see Zenobia- not only to report the probable death of her brother, but to offer her a portion of the proceeds of the sale of the sketch. When she arrives, she finds Zenobia held hostage. The existence of the sketch has somehow become public and lots of people want it. Including Archimedes who needs it to repay a debt, one that will cost him his life if not repaid. Archimedes and Yasmeen join forces and the great adventures begin. Yazmeen loses her hard won fortune and her beloved airship, Lady Corsair, along with her crew but gains much more.

I can't even attempt to describe the intricate world that Meljean Brook has built in the Iron Seas series. I can only recommend that you begin with the Iron Duke and follow up with Heart of Steel. High adventure, steampunk gadgets, zombies and romance make Iron Seas a must-read. I really cringed at the cover of the book and the audio book, but managed to ignore its general cheesiness. There is plenty of lusty romance here, but I personally enjoyed the adventure more. My only quibble was that the various scrapes and dilemmas of Archimedes and Yasmeen seemed too easily resolved. One expects a book like this to have a happy ending, but it just was a little too neatly done. Otherwise, I highly recommend Heart of Steel as a fast-paced, enjoyable escapist read. The audio book is very competently performed by Faye Adele

Rating  4 Airships


An Incredible Romp through Victorian London (Steampunk Style)

The Immorality Engine
Newbury and Hobbes Investigations
George Mann
August 2011
Tor Books

The third in George Mann's Newbury and Hobbes Investigations Steampunk series is great fun from beginning to end. Sir Maurice Newbury, Queen Victoria's agent, is continuing to sink into his opium addiction, much to the dismay of his great friend, Sir Charles Bainbridge of Scotland Yard. Still more distressed is Sir Maurice's assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes.

When the body of a suspected jewel thief turns up murdered in one of the seedier sections of London, yet robberies identical to to the corpse's earlier crimes are still happening, Sir Maurice must rise to the occasion. Bainbridge and Hobbes must literally drag him out of an opium den. To add to the mystery of the corpse, there also seems to be a threat to the life of the Queen.

The plot includes clairvoyants, clones, a wacky resurrection cult, spectacular war engines in the best Steampunk tradition, and a vision of Queen Victoria that is truly creepy. Kept alive by the machines of the the diabolical Dr. Fabian, she sits like a spider in the web of her own mad plots and deceits. Newbury and Hobbes are forced to decide whether their loyalty has been misplaced.

The Immorality Engine completes the first story arc of the series and I can hardly wait for the next installment of the Newbury and Hobbes investigations. I would, however, recommend reading The Affinity Bridge and The Osiris Ritual before diving into The Immorality Engine. While Mann does a great job of bringing us up to speed, the first two books help build the world and characters. The Newbury and Hobbes Investigations are a great blend of mystery, horror, steampunk and a little romance.

Rating- 5 Opium Pipes

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Black Dagger Brotherhood-Paranormal Romance on Steroids

The Black Dagger Brotherhood, a mega-selling mass-market Paranormal Romance series by J.R. Ward is a publishing phenomenon. These books sell like the proverbial hotcakes. As of this writing, there are ten books published and more to come. Ward has brewed a heady mixture of the standard Gothic Romance conventions- tortured hero, female in jeopardy, suspense, adventure, hero redeemed by love for same female in jeopardy- added in large doses of somewhat kinky erotica and violence and put the whole mess on a steroid regimen- with vampires!

The basic premise is this- the vampires of mythical Caldwell, NY are a separate species, not at all the undead but pretty much immortal, at least until someone slaughters them. A centuries long war with a group called the Lessening Society is being fought to save the vampire race. Enter the Black Dagger Brotherhood, lethal, mega-sized, leather-clad, trash-talking, booted and vice-ridden vampires who battle the evil Lessors, who really aren't all that scary, especially since they are colorless and smell like baby powder(?). No kidding. You want tortured heroes with hideous childhoods-these brothers are the ones for you. But they mate for life and are redeemed by the women they love. Well, not really, but they do cut down on their self-destructive behaviors and come to terms with their various hideous childhoods.

I really don't know how I stumbled across the first book in the series, Dark Lover, but to say that I was underwhelmed is an understatement. First of all, I laughed my way through the glossary of terms that appears at the beginning and does so in every book. I'm still snorting my way through that glossary. Then, there are the names of the original brothers: Wrath, Rhage, Zsadist, Vishous, Phury and Tohrment. Are you seeing a pattern here? Throw in some extraneous letters- they still sound the same. After the original six brothers are dealt with in the series, we have Rehvenge, Dhestroyer and John Matthew (huh?). As the series progresses, female warriors have been added, along with a quasi-religious and social system that is mired somewhere circa 1174. The most recent entry introduces a cadre of Slayers from Europe who are even more anti-social than the original Brothers. I counted Dark Lover as a waste of good trees. However, I kept hearing buzz and decided that I must have missed something. No, not really.

So, after my snide comments-why am I still reading them? Well, I don't really know. Despite the names, the weak world-building, the egregious "branding" sprinkled throughout each book, the street lingo that I can't believe is spoken anywhere on this planet and the general silliness, I am hooked. Enough to download them free from the library, anyway. In spite of, or maybe because of all their faults these books are oddly compelling. Ward is one heck of a story-teller and the Black Dagger books have a breakneck narrative flow that just drags you with it. The best analogy I can come up with is the compulsion to rubber-neck a traffic accident. It's a guilty pleasure and so is the Black Dagger Brotherhood.

New York to Dallas

New York to Dallas
J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)
Putnam Adult
September 2011

Number 33 (!) in J.D. Robb's (Nora Roberts) IN DEATH series is a departure in both title and location for this long-running, bestselling series. I have been a sucker for this series since the beginning and look forward to each new release. In fact, it is a must have on the day of release for me, despite the fact that I found the last three or four to not quite measure up to the previous books. New York to Dallas is a home run, however, and I think I can put my fears to rest about the series winding down. Thirty-three novels in one series is pretty amazing but then Nora Roberts is amazingly prolific.

Eve is summoned to Dallas to engage in a battle of wits with Isaac McQueen, a violent pedophile known as "The Collector". Eve put him away twelve years earlier when she was still a  rookie beat cop in New York. Somehow, McQueen has managed to escape and kidnap one of the girls that Eve rescued from his "collection". McQueen wants payback and to outwit her this time around. As any reader of the series knows, the city of Dallas has great significance to Eve. She was given the name last name Dallas when she was found wandering there as an 8 year old. Beaten and abused, she had no memory of her own name. Eve has been dealing with the issues left from her horrific childhood throughout the series. This time, she is back in Dallas dealing with those issues (and a very big one gets wrapped up in New York to Dallas), along with the politics of working with an unknown police force and without her usual assorted New York back-up. Of course, she has her husband, Roarke. I can only say that every woman should have back-up like Roarke!

New York to Dallas is an emotional roller coaster ride, suspenseful and well-plotted. While I missed the characters I know so well, Peabody, Feeney, Mavis, and Somerset, who were not present for the bulk of the action, there were enough new characters to keep me interested. Isaac McQueen is an evil psychopath who needs to be taken down, and Eve is just the woman to do it. I have listened to, rather than read all the In Death series. Susan Erickson is a superlative narrator and pitch perfect for all the characters. Very highly recommended, with the warning that this book is not the one to start the series with.

Rating- 5 NYPSD badges

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Always Surprising Carina Press

I usually hesitate to blog about books that are only available in electronic form, but Carina Press is publishing some extraordinarily good books at very reasonable prices. The very first downloaded book I read from Carina about a year ago was Presumed Dead by Shirley Wells, an English author who has several books published in the U.K., but not so widely available in the U.S. I was really impressed by Presumed Dead, first in the Dylan Scott Mysteries, and it is now also available in a print version.

In Presumed Dead, Dylan Scott is having a very bad patch in his life, disgraced, imprisoned on a charge of excessive force and losing his career in the London Police Force as a detective. Not only that, he is nearly penniless, booted out by his wife and living in "the smallest flat in the land". When he is approached by Holly Champion, a young woman in Lancashire obsessed by the disappearance of her mother thirteen years earlier, he really has no choice but to take on the case.

Dylan is generally clueless about personal relationships and his marital situation, but he is nothing if not dogged in the pursuit of answers. Presumed Dead is a very well constructed mystery with a nice balance of procedural and personal life. The characters are memorable and the mystery is solved neatly with a number of surprises.

The second book in the Dylan Scott Mysteries, Dead Silent, is just as enjoyable. Dylan is going on with his life, and after his success in the Champion investigation is once again hired to investigate a missing person case in Dawson's Clough in Lancashire. Sam Hunt, an attractive young woman, has been missing for ten months and Dylan is hired by her father to find her. Before he even arrives in Lancashire, he gets warned off and beaten up by a tough. After meeting Sam's father, Dylan feels that something is definitely "off". His impression grows even stronger after meeting her mother and stepfather.

The case of Sam Hunt has far-reaching consequences, as far away as Romania and the Orkney Islands. I find Dylan's investigative methods extremely realistic- Dylan just keeps on and doesn't give up until he gets the answers. He is a man with a strong sense of right and nothing deters him. in Dead Silent, his personal life is on an upswing, even though the estrangement from his wife is still unresolved and his aging hippie mother is still living with him. 

I highly recommend Presumed Dead and Dead Silent to fans of Peter Robinson's Inspector Alan Banks novels, and anyone who enjoys atmospheric British mysteries with a little edge.

Rating- 4 stars

Monday, August 29, 2011

Want witty and charming? Try Tom Violet

Domestic Violets
Matthew Norman
Harper Perennial
August 2011

Domestic Violets has been on my TBR list (compliments of so I decided to read it this Hurricane Irene weekend. To be honest, I had read a few pages earlier but was put off by the beginning, which features an episode of erectile dysfunction. Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I tend to think erectile dysfunction belongs neither in a book I want to read, nor as ads placed in televised golf matches! Despite a slow start, I soon found myself chuckling and caught up in Tom's various dilemmas.

Tom Violets thought his life would be perfect by the age of 35, full of fame, fortune and success. Instead, he is trapped in a soul-destroying copy writing job for a company that doesn't do anything that can be quantified, which Tom refers to as the "Death Star". He has an inappropriate crush on his cute young assistant, and his marriage is on shakier ground than even he imagines. Even the family dog has an anxiety disorder. Tom has a finished novel sitting in a desk drawer, but since his father is a "real" celebrated novelist this,too, is problematic. Then his father wins a Pulitzer, another in a long line of literary prizes, it sets off a whole chain of events that Tom stumbles, and often trips, through.

Other reviewers have called Domestic Violets hilarious. I don't go that far, but I found it witty, clever and charming- and very poignant in its look at unrealized expectations and dysfunctional family dynamics. My major laughs came from Tom's snarky comments about the emptiness of American Corporate culture and the publishing industry, which gives a book contract to Snooki of Jersey Shore, and lets real writers languish. No "hook" no book!

Tom Violet is a great character, bright, funny and subversive. His moral compass may be a mite skewed, but his heart is pure. The cast is vivid and fully realized, from famous father Curtis Violet (a Norman Mailer-esque figure but with loads more charm), to Tom's equally conflicted wife, to Curtis' latest whack-job ex-wife, to Katie, Tom's assistant.

By the book's end, Tom's life has completely changed, at least in all the ways it should have. Essentially, Tom has grown up. In fact, I see Domestic Violets as a coming of age tale, with a couple of satisfactory twists at the end. Domestic Violets is one of the best reads I've had in a long time and I look forward to more of Matthew Norman's work. Highly recommended!

Rating 5 Stars

Sunday, August 7, 2011

No Sophomore Slump For Charley Davidson and Darynda Jones!

Second Grave on the Left
Darynda Jones
August 2011
St. Martins

Product Description-When Charley is rudely awakened in the middle of the night by her best friend who tells her to get dressed quickly and tosses clothes out of the closet at her, she can’t help but wonder what Cookie’s up to. Leather scrunch boots with a floral miniskirt? Together? Seriously? Cookie explains that a friend of hers named Mimi disappeared five days earlier and that she just got a text from her setting up a meet at a coffee shop downtown. They show up at the coffee shop, but no Mimi. But Charley finds a message on the bathroom wall. Mimi left a clue, a woman’s name. Mimi’s husband explains that his wife had been acting strange since she found out an old friend of hers from high school had been found murdered a couple weeks prior. The same woman Mimi had named in her message.

Meanwhile, Reyes Alexander Farrow (otherwise known as the Son of Satan. Yes. Literally) has left his corporeal body and is haunting Charley. He’s left his body because he’s being tortured by demons who want to lure Charley closer. But Reyes can’t let that happen. Because if the demons get to Charley, they’ll have a portal to heaven. And if they have a portal to heaven…well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty. Can Charley handle hot nights with Reyes and even hotter days tracking down a missing woman? Will Cookie ever get a true fashion sense? And is there enough coffee and chocolate in the world to fuel them as they do?

Once again I have to thank the folks at St. Martins Press for an advance look at Second Grave on the Left. Charley hits the ground running, juggling multiple cases in this outing: Cookie's missing friend, Reyes' missing body, demons, a 20 year old case of a missing girl, her father's odd behavior, and last but not least, the dead guy in Cookie's trunk. The action is fast and furious, and the humor never falters. Charley has abilities she never even imagined, and she needs all of them to get through the most chaotic week of her life. Never does she lose her ability for the quick verbal comeback though!

Most of the characters from First Grave on the Right are back, some good and some definitely bad. Reyes is alluring and enigmatic as always. I often don't get his motivations, but neither does Charley. This lack of understanding leads to a cliffhanger at the end of Second Grave but I trust we won't have to wait too long for Third Grave Dead Ahead. Darynda Jones deftly avoids "sophomore slump" in this second entry. Highly recommended!

Rating- 4 Scythes

Friday, July 22, 2011

Those Who Hunt the Night

Those Who Hunt the Night
Barbara Hambly
Open Road Media
March 2011

Those Who Hunt the Night was another great find at and comes from Open Road Media. It is the beginning book in the James Asher Series by Barbara Hambly. James Asher is an Oxford Don who is also a veteran of the "Great Game" of British espionage. After retiring, disgusted by the actions he has been expected to take in service to Queen and Country, he has married Lydia, a young woman he has loved for years and settled down to a peaceful life in Oxford, or so he thinks. Upon returning home one evening he finds his household staff and Lydia deep in unnatural sleep, and a vampire waiting in his study. Don Simon, an ancient Spanish vampire wants James to find out who is killing the vampires of London, and the life of both James and Lydia hang in the balance.

No sparkling, sexy vampires here! Most of the London vampires are evil creatures, steeped in blood and death. Don Simon is more enigmatic, appearing to retain at least a sense of honor. But, even if James and Lydia succeed-will he let them live with their knowledge of the reality of vampires?

Set in the first decade of the 20th century, this is a very atmospheric and thrilling vampire tale. Also, I find it refreshing to get back to the more traditional idea of vampires, beings who have lived so long, they are not even remotely human. There is also a sense that the life of a vampire is no bargain, truly more of an endless existence than anything to be sought out.

Those Who Hunt the Night is a tightly plotted and often frightening story with characters that are well-rounded, characters that I came to care about. I enjoyed it greatly-so much that I plan to start Book 2 (Traveling With the Dead) right away despite my ginormous TBR pile.

Check out this video from Open Road about and with Barbara Hambly.

Rating- 4 bats

Monday, July 4, 2011

"A good book should leave you . . . slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it." ~ William Styron

  John Hart     
  Thomas Dunne Books
  July 2011
 "A good book should leave you . . . slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it." ~ William Styron

I ran across this quotation from William Styron while in the process of reading Iron House and thought that it was particularly apt—I was more than slightly exhausted after reading this really fine thriller. I have been an admirer of John Hart’s work since The King of Liars. Iron House is several steps beyond that first novel in complexity and scope.

Michael is a professional killer whose allegiance since his teenage years has been to the only father figure he has ever known, Otto Kaitlin, racketeer and killer. Michael has met a woman that he loves and gets permission from the dying Otto to get out of the “life”. However, he knows that after Otto dies there are others in the organization that are not so willing to let him go. On the surface, Iron House is about what Michael has to do to make good his escape, but there is much more going on here; family, old sins coming to haunt the present and the possibility of redemption and change.

My thought at the outset was that Hart would have “a hard row to hoe” to convince me to like and root for a professional killer. However, he had me by Chapter Six. The early events of his life, and that of his brother, Julian, in the orphanage named Iron House are important pieces of the puzzle. Julian was adopted by the wife of a senator, and Michael fell into the hands of Otto Kaitlin, but Julian is by far the more wounded brother. There is literally nothing that Michael will not do to save those he loves from his enemies.

Iron House is meticulously plotted, proceeding at a breathtaking pace. The characters are well fleshed out and believable, from the wounded Julian to the wife of the sleazy senator to one of the scariest psychopaths I’ve ever encountered in a book. It is also extraordinarily violent but never falls into a “violence for violence’s sake” trap. Why only 4 ½ stars? The only element I found missing was a sense of place. The bulk of the action takes place in North Carolina, but the events could have taken place anywhere in America where poverty, ignorance and violence meet. As a native North Carolinian, I have always enjoyed that sense of place in Hart’s first three books. However, I doubt that my one small caveat will detract from any one else’s enjoyment of Iron House.

Rating-4 1/2 stars

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hounded: The Iron Druid Chronicles
Kevin Hearne
Del Ray

Product Description-Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

I really loved this first book of a back-to-back trilogy-it was more fun than I've had for a long time! Atticus is a great character, one who has seen it all in his twenty-one centuries of life, yet manages to keep himself young in body through his magic, and young in mind through total immersion in pop culture. He is the last of the Druids and plans to keep on living despite being on the hit list of several fae baddies, primarily Aenghus Og, the Celtic God of Love. The book opens with an ambush by fae hit men and the action never stops. Along the way we meet the Morrigan, Bridget and many others in the Celtic pantheon.

While Atticus is a strong character, the supporting cast is as well drawn and fascinating as he is. Especially his Irish Wolf Hound, Oberon, with whom he has a speaking mind bond. The exhanges between hound and master are not only humorous, but endearing. Any dog lover would enjoy the relationship, and wish for a bond like it. Full of laughs and action, this is a feast for the urban fantasy lover, despite what I saw as a couple of small holes in the plot. The best part is that the next two books are coming soon!

Rating-4 1/2 Druid Staffs

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Absolutely Delicious!

BBC Audiobooks WW
Georgette Heyer, narrated by Clifford Norgate

Product Description-Rich and handsome, the hope of ambitious mothers and despair of his sisters, the Marquis of Alverstoke sees no reason to put himself out for anyone. But when a distant connection applies to him for help, he finds himself far from bored.

I have been feeding my other addiction lately, audio books, with the works of Georgette Heyer, a tremendously prolific British writer most active in the 1930s and 40s. I had read some of her mysteries years ago and found them interesting period pieces and not much more. As I was in my book snob phase at the time I turned my nose up at the label "regency romance" and never read any of her other work. Was I ever wrong! One day I was checking on Audible and noticed that her titles had glowing reviews for both the stories and the narrators. Her books are better described as comedies of manners reminiscent of Jane Austen, full of wit and charm and yes, romance. I have listened to several, but Frederica is my favorite. 

The Marquis of Alverstoke, rich and easily bored, is not known for his benevolence. When he is approached by a distant relation, Frederica, and asked to sponsor her beautiful sister, Caris, in a London season, he decides to comply. This is no kindly impulse on his part-he simply wants to annoy his sisters who also have daughters to launch into the matrimonial pool. He finds Caris to be a beautiful "ninnyhammer" but to his own surprise becomes more and more involved with Frederica and her brothers, Jessamy and Felix. Having never had a happy family life, he is enchanted by the family and Frederica in particular, the one woman who never bores him.

Frederica is full of humor with many laugh out loud moments and a wonderful "happy ever after" ending. The evolution of the Marquis from a cold, selfish man to a loving one is a pleasure not to be missed, ably narrated by Clifford Norgate.

Rating- 5 Well-tied Cravats

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Return of Lady Julia and Brisbane

The Dark Enquiry                    
Lady Julia Grey Mystery
Mira Books
June 2011

Product Description- Partners now in marriage and in trade, Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane have finally returned from abroad to set up housekeeping in London. But merging their respective collections of gadgets, pets and servants leaves little room for the harried newlyweds themselves, let alone Brisbane's private enquiry business. Among the more unlikely clients: Julia's very proper brother, Lord Bellmont, who swears Brisbane to secrecy about his case. Not about to be left out of anything concerning her beloved—if eccentric—family, spirited Julia soon picks up the trail of the investigation. It leads to the exclusive Ghost Club, where the alluring Madame Séraphine holds evening séances…and not a few powerful gentlemen in thrall. From this eerie enclave unfolds a lurid tangle of dark deeds, whose tendrils crush reputations and throttle trust. Shocked to find their investigation spun into salacious newspaper headlines, bristling at the tension it causes between them, the Brisbanes find they must unite or fall. For Bellmont's they'll face myriad dangers born of dark secrets, the kind men kill to keep….

I was delighted to get the galley for The Dark Enquiry and meet Deanna Raybourn at the same time as I have been a fan of the series since the first book, Silent in the Grave. Silent in the Grave has one of the best "grabber" openings ever---"To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor". If that doesn't catch your attention, nothing will! One of the thing I enjoy most about the series is the way Ms. Raybourn plays with classic forms in her books, from whodunit to country house murder to gothic thriller.

The Dark Enquiry carries on the quality seen in the previous four books with a solid mystery and a good foundation for a long running series-I hope! The enigmatic half gypsy, half Scots Brisbane is becoming less inscrutable and more willing to show his feelings. Julia is becoming his investigative partner in truth, yet coming to understand why Brisbane is often overbearingly protective of her. So often a series with a romantic partnership comes to a halt after marriage, but I think Ms. Raybourn has jumped that hurdle. Both Julia and Brisbane are so complex that I can foresee enough complications to keep me interested.

Some, but not all of Julia's huge and eccentric family make an appearance and "The Mad Marches" are as entertaining and exasperating as ever. However, I do miss Monk, Brisbane's former mentor and majordomo. Hopefully, we will see more of him in the future.

By the way, if you are an audio book fan, the audible download editions are excellent and highly recommended.

Rating- 5 Gypsy Violins

Monday, May 30, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different

I was really delighted to receive this ARC from St. Martins, as paranormal romance/fantasy is just about my favorite brain candy. What a fresh and unexpected spin on the genre First Grave on the Right is, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Charley Davidson is a P.I. in New Mexico and also THE Grim Reaper-not one with cape and scythe, but a grim reaper who shines brightly and is tasked with persuading the recently dead to cross over into the next world. In the course of her work she is occasionally called on to solve the murder of those recently killed. The book begins with the murders of three law partners who call on Charlie to solve their deaths before crossing over. In the course of her investigation she runs into some extremely nasty corporeal beings and encounters with the Big Bad (a hooded entity who has has saved her life several times)who just may be the man of her dreams.

Charley is a wonderful character, full of heart and humor. She is surrounded by a supporting cast of friends and family, most of whom I'd like to meet again in future books. Cookie, her assistant, is just about the best friend anyone could wish for. Then there is Reyes, the mystery man she has meet before in the flesh and thinks is now visiting her in her dreams.

The only reason I hesitated to give First Grave on the Right a full five stars was that I found the "world building" in the first part of the novel a little slow paced for my tastes. I will give it 4 1/2 stars though and say I'd thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a fast paced, paranormal read.

Rating- 4 1/2 scythes

Historical Fiction at Its' Best--With a Touch of Romance

The Winter Sea
Susanna Kearsley

Product Description: In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her...

Susanna Kearsley is most often described as the logical heir to Daphne DuMaurier, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt. As a young adult I discovered the books of all three of those great ladies and was immediately launched into many, many hours of happy reading. To a small-town North Carolina girl, they epitomized romance and intrigue in far-away times and places. They also made me into a life-long anglophile. 

I was completely enthralled by The Winter Sea from the very first page. Kearsley has successfully woven two stories, one from the past and one in the present, no small task for a writer. I was very familiar with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, but not that of 1708. Kearsley obviously does her research, with historical figures appearing throughout, but her story is built around ordinary people caught up in great events. The story of Sophia touches the heart and will stay with you for a long time. I am not ashamed to say that I wept with both sorrow and joy in the course of this magical novel. I also acquired a burning desire to see the real Slains Castle!

Rating-5 Hearts 

The Aftermath of World War I

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller is both an engrossing mystery and a look at the aftermath of WWI in England that "grabbed" me at the beginning and kept me guessing until the end.

Laurence Bartram has returned to England, having lost both wife and child in childbirth while he was away fighting in the trenches of France. Most of his contemporaries have either been killed in battle or irrevocably changed. Lawrence himself is adrift and aimless, alienated from everyone except his bluff old school friend, Charles. Another old school friend's sister, Mary Emmett, writes to him in the hope that he can help her understand the purported suicide of her brother John. Captain John Emmett was AWOL from a convalescent hospital specializing in the treatment of shell-shocked veterans. While Laurence doesn't think he can help Mary, he is interested enough in Mary, as well as John's suicide to start asking questions. With Charles' help the investigation proceeds, revolving around a military execution that Captain Emmett was forced to lead. Almost all the surviving participants in the firing squad have met violent ends after the war.

The mystery of Captain Emmett's death is very well plotted with enough red herrings to satisfy "who done it" fans. However, I found the evocation of the period most compelling, as well as the illumination of that most bankrupt of British Army practices, the execution of traumatized soldiers for cowardice.

I would highly recommend The Return of Captain John Emmett to fans of Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge series and Jacqueline Winspear's Maizie Dobbs series. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Long Awaited and Worth It

Product Description- The latest installment of Julia Spencer-Fleming's Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries revolves around Rev. Clare's return to Millers Kill after an 18 month deployment as a helicopter pilot serving in Iraq. Among those who have also returned are Eric McCrea of the Millers Kill PD who tries to control his explosive anger; Will Ellis, dealing with the effects of double amputation; Orthopedist Trip Stillman, denying the seriousness of his traumatic brain injury; and bookkeeper Tally McNabb who is guilty over an in-country affair and worse. But coming home is much harder than any of them could have imagined. One vet will struggle with addiction, one will lose his family and friends and one will die.

Wow, it was a long wait for this one, but it is probably her best. Clare just wants to come home to Russ and pick up where she left off, but Iraq and its' aftereffects derail her. The bond between she and Russ has been forged through adversity and remains strong, but is severely tested. The real strength of the series has always been its' characters with Russ and Clare at its' emotional center. Spencer-Fleming's portrayal of two decent people dealing with moral dilemma has been masterful throughout the series. Many old favorites reappear and new ones are introduced, all fully fleshed out. I wouldn't attempt One Was a Soldier if you have not read the rest of the series, beginning with In the Bleak Midwinter. I highly recommend One Was a Soldier and can't wait for the next one. Once again it ends with a great  big cliff-hanger that takes the breath away. I can wait however, if need be for another book as well written as this one!

Rating-5 stars

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Joys of Free kindle downloads.

For many moons I dug in my heels and said "only paper and ink will do for me". However when I received my first kindle as a gift, I changed my tune pretty darn quick. Not only are they easy to carry around and store an unbelievable number of books, eBooks have that whole instant gratification thing going on. Just click and you have the book you want at whatever hour of the day or night you might want it. All the major purveyors also have free downloads of many classics and an ever changing list of more recent publications, often back list volumes of ongoing series. Of course, this is just good business-offering a free book in the the hopes of getting new readers for the entire series which are not free, needless to say. At this point I own an embarrassing number of reading devices and am thinking now of chucking them all and combining everything on one tablet device by way of the free reading apps. You take a risk on some of the free stuff, but occasionally you find a gem that otherwise you might have missed. The following is my most recent free download that was worth the storage space and then some.

Bound by the Heart
Marsha Canham
Amazon Digital Services

Product Description: In this swashbuckling adventure Captain Morgan Wade, a notorious privateer and blockade-runner, rescues, then kidnaps the daughter of the British governor of Barbados after she and her brother are shipwrecked. Summer Cambridge is betrothed to Wade's arch-enemy, Commodore Bennett Winfield, who will go to any lengths, even start a war between two countries to get her back.

Bound by the Heart starts out with a  bang with the shipwreck and rescue of Summer and her brother by Captain Morgan Wade. Summer is a spoiled society favorite whose sense of entitlement is truly awesome, rivaled only by the equally awesome arrogance of Wade himself. At bottom though, Summer is determined to protect her younger brother and her own reputation and that of her family. After some epic clashes and misunderstandings, Summer and Wade are no longer able to deny the attraction between them. However they are unable to trust each other so Wade fulfills his promise to return her to her father and betrothed.

The action and adventure of Bound by the Heart is non-stop. While I know pretty much nothing about naval battles of the era, this book has it all; narrow escapes, spectacular sailing, chases, duels-you name it. Plus not only one but two villains you love to hate and a colorful cast of supporting characters round out what I call a rattling good read.

Rating- 4 Rattling Sabers