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