Thursday, December 13, 2012

Scent of Magic - YouTube

Back on 12/4 I posted a review of the  second book in Maria Snyder's Healer Trilogy. Harlequin UK put together a book trailer that's very nice. Take a look!

Scent of Magic - YouTube:

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Victorian Slice of Life

A Death in the Small Hours
Charles Finch
St. Martin's Minotaur
November 2012

A Death in the Small Hours is another pleasant read in the Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch. While not my favorite of the series, I enjoyed both the puzzle and the character development of Charles and Lady Jane.

Charles is now well settled into his role as a Member of Parliament and has been in fact asked to give the opening speech at the upcoming new session. He and Lady Jane also have a new daughter, Sophie. He only occasionally consults with his protege, Dallington, who has largely taken over the role of the premier private investigator in London. Matters in London have become very hectic with those who want to give him mountains of advice about his speech. When his cousin, "Uncle Frederick", asks him to come to the country for a visit, Charles thinks it would be a fine opportunity to get some peace and quiet, and to work on the speech. Uncle Freddie is also concerned with a series of vandalisms in the idyllic village of Plumbley. 

Charles, Lady Jane, Sophie and Sophie's new governess pack up for a short visit to the country, only to find that the vandalism has continued and become very sinister in nature. Village suspicion has fallen on a Captain Musgrave, newly resident. Musgrave is arrogant, hot tempered and is suspected of mistreating his wife- a girl who grew up in Plumbley. Events escalate, a death occurs and Charles must sort out the puzzle. 

There are many things I enjoy about the Charles Lenox series. The quality of the writing is excellent and one gets a "slice of life" of the Victorian Era. Lenox himself is a quietly decent sort, devoted to his family, his friends and his duty. He is also a doting papa; some of the most charming parts of the book are his enchantment with his new daughter. He is concerned with poverty and the unfairness of laws in that era and hopes that by serving in Parliament he can make a positive change. However, there is no doubt that his first love is investigation. I for one hope that he will return to private enquiry in future books. It's clear that he is feeling rather torn.

There is one lengthy passage that slows the narrative in an otherwise well-paced flow. Charles takes part in a village cricket match and it seems to go on forever without advancing the story. Like many Americans, I find cricket mystifying and the passage did little to enlighten me. To quote Lady Jane, " As far as I understand you play by attaching mattresses to your legs and waddling back and forth between two sticks, while occasionally gesturing with your own personal stick at some sort of red ball. But then I don't call myself a great sportsman." My feeling exactly!

A Death in the Small Hours is another solid entry in the series. I would recommend it to fans of the British Village mystery.

3.5 Cricket Bats

Long Live Rose Strickland!!

Diners, Dives and Dead Ends
Terri L. Austin
July 2012
Henery Press 

Last Diner Standing
Terri L. Austin
November  2012
Henery Press                                            

I really don't remember how I ran across Diners, Dives and Dead Ends. I was probably trolling for something light and funny to download to my kindle and it sounded like the very thing. The price was right so I downloaded and enjoyed every word. Now I am a big fan of Rose Strickland and Terri L. Austin.

Rose is a 24 year-old waitress working at Ma's Diner and attending the local community college. She has been drifting for a while, much to her wealthy and socially prominent family's dismay. Never mind that the same family kicked her out and quit supporting her when she refused to return to the hoity-toity women's college that her parents insisted she attend. Rose may not be doing well financially, but at least she has a wide circle of friends and has a life that she has control of. Sort of.

Diners, Dives and Dead Ends introduces Rose and her motley crew of co-workers at Ma's. There is Ma herself, feisty octogenarian; her son, Ray, the monosyllabic and downtrodden cook; and Roxy,  fashion-challenged, blue-haired ex-juvenile delinquent fellow waitress. These folks are not the cream of society but they are Rose's friends and she is fiercely loyal. When her best friend, Ax, computer geek and stoner, leaves his backpack with her and promptly disappears, Rose is on a mission. Even if no one else cares, Rose is going to find Ax. In the course of her investigation Rose meets Sullivan, handsome criminal mastermind. Sullivan is definitely a bad boy, but he seems to have a soft spot for Rose (and she for him). Rose is confronted with life-threatening danger during her search for Ax and prevails but at a great cost to her peace of mind.

Last Diner Standing finds Rose still suffering the effects of her first investigation. But when another friend from community college, Janelle Johnson, is accused of attacking her ex-husband, "Asshat", and leaving him comatose it's Rose to the rescue again. She knows there is no way that Janelle is guilty and that Janelle's small children need their mother. Sullivan becomes involved when Rose asks him to bail Janelle out. Rose discovers that someone has been keeping Sullivan under surveillance and there is a hit out on him. Added to all that drama is Ma going to war against a competitor for the local lunch business.

Both of the books are filled to the brim with colorful and well-realized characters. Strippers, cops, gangsters and street people are all vivid figures. But it's Rose that I like so much, a good and loyal friend to all. She has the ability to see the good in almost any one. Sullivan is a bad guy, but we don't know how bad exactly. He is always supportive to Rose, though, and I have to hope that he isn't all THAT bad. No doubt we will find out in future books in the series. (I'm thinking Roarke here!)

The Rose Strickland Mysteries are highly recommended well-plotted and fun, quick reads. Stephanie Plum fans should also enjoy Rose and her adventures.

RATING 4.5 Chef's hats

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Healer Trilogy Continues

SCENT OF MAGIC (Healer Trilogy #2)
Maria V. Snyder
Harlequin MIRA
December 2012

I have been a fan of Maria V. Snyder since the first Trilogy she wrote for MIRA, the Study series. While Study remains a favorite, I can't say the same for the Glass Trilogy. I could not make the same sort of connection with the characters. I think that was a matter of personal taste because I know many readers were happy with Glass. Healer # 1, Touch of Power, brought me firmly back into fan territory.

In Touch of Power we met Avry, the last healer in the Fifteen Realms. The Healers were blamed for the plague that killed six million people and were hunted down and killed. Avry alone survived by running and hiding for three years. When she is finally captured it is to heal Prince Ryne of the plague even though the healing will mean her own death. She has other reasons to refuse to heal him however. Her journey, and that of her captors to Prince Ryne's side make up the first of the Trilogy.

Scent of Magic opens where Touch of Power ended. Avry is thought to be dead by all but a few and she can go under cover into the enemy's camps and find her surviving sister, Noelle. Noelle blames Avry because she did not come home to her family while the plague was killing them. Enemies are plentiful, especially King Tohon, the megalomaniacal life magician who is trying to take control of all the Fifteen Realms. Snyder can write a villain that one really loves to hate and Tohon is a prime specimen. Avry's lover, Kerrick, is unwilling to let her go alone, but Avry is nothing if not stubborn. Besides, Kerrick has his own mission to accomplish for Prince Ryne. Scent of Magic switches back and forth between Avry and Kerrick and their individual adventures. Both will suffer much danger and heartache before the are reunited- and Scent of Magic has quite a cliffhanger. Too bad it will be another year before we can find out what happens!

Scent of Magic is a mixture of action of action, adventure and romance that should appeal to a wide audience of readers. Thanks to MIRA and for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 stars

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Gold Standard of Urban Fantasy

COLD DAYS (Dresden Files #14)
Jim Butcher narr. James Marsters
Penguin Audio
November 2012

Who would have thought a dozen or so years ago that the Harry Dresden of Storm Front would grow into the epic and powerful wizard of Cold Days? Not me, that's for sure! When we first met Harry he was the only practicing wizard in the Chicago phone book, subsisting on wizarding jobs here and there and a monthly stipend from the Chicago PD. His contact with the PD is Karin Murphy, who heads up the "woo-woo squad", an investigative arm looking into crimes that can't be explained by normal means. The first few books appeared to be romps through the supernatural world solving crimes with wizardly pyrotechnics. Harry is increasing his power and abilities, putting together a loyal band of allies and making enemies right and left. As his usual method of solving problems involves blowing things up and/or setting things on fire, the enemy part is not surprising.

In the course of the two books leading up to Cold Days Harry has lost everything but his allies and upset the balance of power in the supernatural world. He even lost his life for a while and was brought back by Mab, Queen of the Winter Court of the Fae. Mab has been pursuing Harry for years to take the position of Winter Knight, the Queen's Assassin. Harry has always resisted but when he needs a power boost he swears fealty. Mab, cold-hearted and megalomaniacal, is not one to let a little thing like death thwart her. After months of traditional physical therapy and a daily murder attempt by Mab, he is ready to make his debut as Winter Knight. His first assignment is to kill Maeve, Winter Lady and Mab's daughter! Not only is this impossible as Maeve is an immortal, but back in Chicago Harry has to save the world from a new and very nasty enemy- all in the space of roughly twenty-four hours.

His band of allies are all familiar figures, Karin, Harry's apprentice Molly Carpenter, his half-vampire brother,Thomas, and some folks who may or may not really be allies. Some old villians show up, intent on finally extracting revenge and keeping him from his missions. Plot twists and turns abound and by the book's end everything changes for Harry again. Harry's relationship with Karin, always "one step forward and two back" comes to a resolution of sorts. 

I am always eager for a new installment of the Dresden Files and I think this may be Jim Butcher's best book yet. Long after I have gotten bored with other Urban Fantasy series, the Dresden Files remains the gold standard. I am impressed that in the course of writing about Harry, Butcher also managed to write another favorite series, the Codex Alera. Codex is over and lamented, but Harry goes on.

James Marsters has narrated thirteen of the fourteen books in the series and has become the voice of Harry Dresden for me. I prefer the audio to the print versions now, but I highly recommend them in either format.

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Return to Sevenwaters

Flame of Sevenwaters (Sevenwaters #6)
Juliet Marillier
November 2012

The publication of a new book by Juliet Marillier is always a drop everything and read occasion for me. One set in the Sevenwaters world is even more so. Like many other readers, the first three books remain my favorites in the series, particularly Son of the Shadows. That was a "don't know how many tissues" read. Liadan and Bran remain my favorite Sevenwaters characters.

Set in Druidic Ireland, the Sevenwaters family has the guardianship of mysterious Sevenwaters forest where one can step into the Fey Otherworld if one is not careful. Christianity is growing thoughout the British Isles, but at Sevenwaters they keep to the old religion. Things are very unsettled in Sevenwaters as there have been many disappearances and grotesque murders on Sevenwaters land. These are no doubt the doing of Mac Dara, the evil Fey Lord of the Oak. Mac Dara is desperate to force his half-blood son, Cathal, married to one of the Sevenwaters daughters, to return to the Otherworld and become it's new ruler. The disappearances are a way to accomplish this by stirring up discord among the local chieftains.

Maeve, one of the Sevenwaters daughters, has been living with her Aunt Liadan in Britain for 10 years. Maeve was burned badly in a fire as a child and somewhat scarred. The most serious consequences are scarring of her hands that render her mostly unable to accomplish every day tasks. She does however have a great talent, the ability to bond with and train animals using her voice alone. When her father, Lord Sean, asks that a particularly promising and temperamental yearling be sent from Britain as a peace offering to the Chieftain of Tirconnell, Maeve is the logical choice to accompany the amimal.

Maeve is not happy to return to Sevenwaters. She has settled into a new life in Britain and fears that her disability will make her a liability at home. She has many issues about her hands and face but she can't avoid the homecoming this time. Coming home is indeed difficult, but Maeve reluctantly finds that she and her younger brother Finbar are perhaps the only people who can stop Mac Dara.

Flame of Sevenwaters is a very solid entry into the Sevenwaters series. Intensely suspenseful and unexpectedly romantic, I very much enjoyed it. Juliet Marillier is a wonderful folklorist and a riveting storyteller. I am looking forward to more books from the Sevenwaters world and it seems to me that there are new stories foreshadowed in Flame.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Very Cozy Christmas Murder and Mayhem

A Fatal Winter
G. M. Malliet
October 2012
St. Martins Minotaur

Every once in a while those of us who grew up on the works of Agatha Christie and later, those of Caroline Graham just need a visit to the lovely villages of England for a dose of murder and mayhem. G. M. Malliet filled that need with last year's Wicked Autumn and now A Fatal Winter. I can assure you, though, that Dame Agatha never had as dishy a sleuth as Max Tudor, Anglican Vicar and ex-MI5 operative. Nor was her pen quite as acid.

Max felt a call to the priesthood after the death of his partner in a bombing intended for him. He is well settled now in the picturesque village of Nether Monkslip and if the ladies of the church would stop trying to marry him off, mostly content. He is forming a close friendship (and maybe more) with Awena Owen, proprietor of the local New Age Shop. Matters are not so content however at nearby Chedrow Castle. After years of ignoring his family Oscar, Lord Footrustle, has invited them for Christmas.  Quite a nest of vipers they are too. The permanent residents of the castle are Lady Baynard, Oscar's widowed sister, and her adopted grand-daughter, Lamorna. The invitees include Lady Baynard's two sons, wives and hangers-on; Oscar's failed Hollywood actress daughter from his first marriage and husband; and Oscar's newest ex-wife with adolescent twins. Oscar's relations all wonder just what Oscar is up to and how they can profit. When Lord Footrustle is found brutally murdered in his bed and Lady Baynard a few minutes later dead in the conservatory the fun really begins. It's clear that Lord Footrustle was murdered but what about Lady Baynard?

A call goes out to Max asking for help with the funeral arrangements and a second call from Max's friend DCI Cotton of the Monkslip-super-Mare Police. Can Max help solve these murders? In the days following Max finds out many family secrets and uncovers a diabolical plot. A Fatal Winter is a very tightly plotted puzzle and plays with all the conventions of the traditional country house mystery. The quirky residents of Nether Monkslip all have their respective parts to play in this very enjoyable entry in the series.

RATING- 3.5 stars

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Southern Secrets and Lies

Margaret Maron
Grand Central Publishing
November 2012

The newest installment in the long-running Deborah Knott series returns home to fictional Colleton County in North Carolina after last year's  Three Day Town. As a native North Carolinian I find the Deborah Knott novels almost a good as a visit home. But my, how the place has changed over the years!

The Buzzard Table has the sort of complex and layered plot that I have come to expect, full of the doings of Deborah's large extended family, the challenge of a new marriage to Dwight Bryant and a new step-son as well as the use of the county's small airfield for refueling CIA "rendition" flights. The refueling of the flights is a open secret- one that most don't care about, but some find abhorrent and try to stop by publicizing. A nearby group of citizens is trying it's best to scuttle the flights, the most visible of whom is a nerdy high school student.

Sigrid Harald, NYPD detective and her mother Anne Lattimore are also visiting. Anne's mother, the patrician Mrs. Lattimore is ill and failing. Mrs. Lattimore has asked her daughter and grand-daughter to help wind up her affairs. A long-lost Lattimore cousin, Martin Crawford, has also appeared. Crawford is an ornithologist studying the Southern vulture for an upcoming book. When the murder of a real estate agent, an assault on the nerdy student and the death of an unknown man in a nearby motel happen in swift succession Dwight Bryant has a lot of questions for Martin Crawford. Even though the investigation is taken over by the feds Dwight intends to get answers for what is happening in his county.

Well plotted and full of  colorful characters, The Buzzard Table does not disappoint. Not only do we meet new fascinating characters, the usual colorful folk of Colleton County are back. Margaret Maron provides a wealth of facts about the Southern "turkey buzzard". at the beginning of each chapter. For instance, circling buzzards are called a "kettle"- who knew?  Thanks to netgalley and Grand Central Publishing for an advance reading copy!

RATING- 4 Vultures

New Urban Fantasy set in Colonial Boston

D.B. Jackson
July 2012

THIEFTAKER by D. B. Jackson is a book that has been sitting on my TBR list for quite a while. After speeding my way through this very impressive debut fantasy I could only smack myself in the forehead and ask, "what took me so long"? Set in an alternate 1765 Boston roiling with preRevolutionary fervor and magic, THIEFTAKER tells the tale of Ethan Kaille, a conjurer trying to make a living by using his talents to catch thieves. 

Ethan has had a very tough life. He was convicted as a mutineer against the Crown and lost over a decade of his life to penal servitude in the Indies. He lost the support of his family, his reputation and his first love and was brutalized in body and spirit. He is barely getting by and when he is hired by a rich merchant to discover the murderer of the merchant's daughter and to recover a brooch stolen from her. Ethan usually doesn't investigate murders but the pay is welcome. When he views the body Ethan knows that the murder was done by magic and only he can find out who the dangerous conjurer is. There have been other such murders and it is clear that a larger purpose is at work. Along the way it seems that everyone wants to stop his investigation by fair means or foul, especially Boston's chief thieftaker, Sephira Pryce.

THIEFTAKER is rich with period detail, action and wonderfully rounded characters both historical and completely fictional. Sam Adams, James Otis and Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson make appearances in supporting roles. Ethan himself is flawed and weary but has maintained his humanity despite his many losses. I am fascinated by Ethan's back story and hope that more details emerge of his family and especially the mutiny aboard the Ruby Blade that cost him so much. As for the beautiful and murderous Sephira Pryce, Ethan will surely have to settle up with her in future books.

RATING- 4 1/2 Tricornes

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's an overused word, but Fury's Kiss is .....Awesome

FURY'S KISS (Midnight's Daughter #3)
Karen Chance
Tantor Audio, Audible Download
October 2012

I am a big fan of Karen Chance's Cassie Palmer series but ever since the introduction of Dorina Basarab in the Midnight's Daughter series, Dory has been surging ahead. The dhampir daughter of Mircea Basarab (from Cassie Palmer)and a human mother, Dory is hated and feared by the vampire community. She is a vampire slayer but as she says, only kills the vampires who need killing. She also is subject to black-out periods of intense rage and wholesale killing when her vampire half takes over. Dory's peculiar mix of kick ass toughness and vulnerability has always drawn me to her.

There are some perks to being a dhampir. Dory has lived about 500 years and has tremendous strength, enhanced healing abilities and amazing fighting skills.  All of those come in handy as a vampire slayer when you are a little over five feet tall and weigh about 100 pounds-- with dimples. For most of her long life she has been free-lance but over the course of the first two books (Midnight's Daughter and Death's Mistress) she has contracted her services to the Vampire Senate, on which her father is a powerful Senator and diplomat. The relationship between Mircea and Dory has been strained at best, so the new working arrangement is problematic. Added to that, Dory's attraction to vampire Louis-Cesar is something she never looked for.

I won't go into many plot points here but will talk about Karen Chance's unrivaled ability to plot action. Fury's Kiss starts with a bang and doesn't let up until the end. And by that end, many things have changed for Dory. The Midnight's Daughter series comes with a healthy dose of dark humor along with the action. Dory's interactions with Ray the (formerly) headless vampire she dragged around through Death's Mistress are laugh-out-loud funny in Fury's Kiss. I really look forward to the next book in the series and hope it comes soon. I would recommend reading the first two books in the series before tackling this one, and some familiarity with Cassie Palmer's world is helpful as well.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Atticus, Oberon and Granuaile's Big Olympian Adventure

                                                   TRAPPED (Iron Druid #5)
                                                   Kevin Hearne
                                                   Random House- Del Rey
                                                   November 27, 2012

The fifth book in Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Series begins twelve years after the events of Tricked with a short novella (Two Ravens and One Crow) in between. Atticus, with most of the Gods of the world angry at him faked his death with the help of Coyote in order do the required twelve years of Granuaile's Druidic training. She is now ready for the final stage, binding to Gaia. Trapped begins with a literal bang when first Perun, the Russian Thunder God, crash lands and brings tidings of the destruction of the Slavic plane of existence. Perun is followed closely by Loki, the mad Norse God of Mischief who has escaped his imprisonment, heralding the beginning of Ragnarok or the end of the world. The fact that Atticus is alive is known and the Olympians, especially Bacchus, and the gods of the other pantheons are out to get him. Even the Dark Elves are gunning for him. Worse, Granuaile is not yet fully bound and can't defend herself without a full connection to Gaia. And even worse- Atticus fears that he is to blame for the triggering of Ragnarok. What follows is another bang- up adventure of mythical proportions leading to what I believe will be the final book in the series.

Atticus has made a lot of mistakes that are coming home to roost, mainly due to to his habit of being a smart-mouth and using expediency rather than wisdom. Sometimes it is hard to believe that  a two thousand year old Druid could be so thoughtless, but I guess a life so long is all about living in the moment and above all, survival. Atticus is one of the good guys though in spite of everything.The Iron Druid Chronicles are an extremely entertaining mash-up of mythology, humor, adventure and this time, a little romance. I read a lot of mythology at one time and enjoy trying to remember what I read about the various pantheons. I never could get my head around the Norse pantheon but none of that really detracts from the enjoyment of this series. It's all about fun, not being learned.

A review of the Iron Druid Chronicles is not complete without a mention of Oberon, Atticus's faithful wolfhound. The mind connection and byplay between Atticus and Oberon are by far the most laugh-out-loud parts of all the books. May I say that I am in complete accord with Oberon on the subject of sausage ( and almost everything else)!

Trapped is another highly recommended entry in the Iron Druid Chronicles but start with the first book, Hounded. Thanks to Del Rey and for an advance copy.

Rating- 4 Stars

A Return to Dawson's Clough with Dylan Scott

DYING ART (A Dylan Scott Mystery)
Shirley Wells
Carina Press eBook
November 12, 2012

A visit from an ex-lover plunges Dylan into a new investigation in the dreary northern town of Dawson's Clough, the scene of several previous investigations and a place Dylan never wanted to visit again. Dylan is the quintessential Londoner and Dawson's Clough's rain, cold and lack of  entertainment holds no charm.

When Maddie Chandler approaches Dylan about investigating the death of her sister Prue he is undeniably flattered and besides, business has has been slow. Dylan doesn't remember much about Maddie herself, but he does remember that the sex was great. Since Dylan is not exactly the most introspective guy around this is not surprising. However, he has absolutely no intention of cheating on his wife Bev and losing his family again. Prue was discovered in her Dawson's Clough flat dead of a head wound. The police have chalked it up to a burglary gone wrong, but Maddie says that Prue called her the day before her death and a set up a meeting in London to discuss something Prue was worried about. Maddie presents herself as a concerned sister but as the investigation progresses Dylan wonders about her true purpose. It has become very clear that Maddie and Prue were not close and in fact Maddie was extremely jealous of her sister. When a painting turns up in Prue's flat by a world famous, recently deceased painter, the plot thickens. Why would Prue, with few possessions and a very stripped-down lifestyle have such a painting and who knew about it?

Bev, the children and Dylan's aging hippie mother, Vicky, also play a part in the investigation. Of course Dylan also enlists the help of retired CID Chief Inspector Frank Willoughby, now living in Dawson's Clough. It seems that everyone has secrets; Maddie, her somewhat sleazy husband and his business partner and Maddie's parents. The painter's estranged wife, Prue's creepy landlord and a local wine bar owner also may have motives. When another murder occurs the investigation becomes even more complicated but Dylan is nothing if not dogged. There is also a big twist at the end that I never saw coming!

Dying Art is another extremely well plotted and entertaining puzzle in the Dylan Scott Mysteries. I highly recommend the series to fans of British mysteries. Thanks to Carina Press and for an advance digital copy.

Rating 4.5 Stars

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Something old is new again


I am a big fan of Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series, but had never given much thought to reading the Sigrid Harald series. It just seemed too different from Deborah Knott to interest me that much. That was before I read the most recent Knott mystery, Three Day Town, in which Sigrid played a part. I found her an interesting character, one with an intriguing back story alluded to in Three Day Town. She will also be featured in Maron's upcoming The Buzzard Table.

As ONE COFFEE WITH ( first novel in an eight book series) was written in 1982, it was a bit like a trip back in time. No cell phones, PCs, etc. but as devices played no real part in the story, it was not particularly dated. Sigrid is a detective with the NYPD (one of the first females to reach that level) and she runs into all the male prejudices attendant, but as I don't think that has changed very much I didn't find it jarring. She is called in to investigate the poisoning of an art professor at the mythical NY City Vanderlyn College. During the course of the investigation, she meets characters who will play an important part in her life. The mystery itself is very well handled, but Maron is a much better writer today. 

The characters are what interested me most in One Coffee With. Sigrid herself is blind to her own attractions, so I look forward to the development of her relationship with Oscar Naumann, Department Head at Vanderlyn. There is no doubt that I will read the rest of the series. All books in the series are once again available in digital form.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Secret Keeper

                                 The Secret Keeper
                                 Kate Morton
                                 Atria Books
                                 October 2012 

Kate Morton has long been on my "to be read" list and when I received a galley copy from Atria Books, it looked like something that would be right up my alley. I have always enjoyed books that switch back and forth in time, showing how actions taken in one era can reverberate and affect later generations. 

Laurel Nicholson is a successful actress living in London and her family of three sisters and one brother is gathering to celebrate the 90th birthday of their much-loved, vivacious mother Dorothy. Dorothy is fading quickly and it is clear to all that this will be her last birthday. Laurel's thoughts turn to the summer of 1961 on the day of another family birthday, when Laurel witnesses her mother committing an awful crime. Laurel backs up her mother's story and Dorothy is never charged with the crime. Dorothy and Laurel never discuss it again and Laurel knows she must find out what happened.

As Laurel begins to piece the story together the viewpoints switch back and forth from 2011 to 1941 during the blitz. We get pieces of the story from Dorothy's viewpoint, her friend Vivien Jenkins and Dorothy's then boyfriend, Jimmy. As Laurel learns more and more, she begins to be afraid that she never knew her mother at all. I really don't want to get too specific as this story has twists layered on twists and I don't want to drop any "spoilers"!  

I will say that it was an emotional roller-coaster for me. Much of the book came from the viewpoint of a narcissistic, manipulative person who lives in a fantasy world and spreads destruction to all in her orbit. There were several times that I got so angry that I had to remind myself that she was only a fictional character. The characters in THE SECRET KEEPER are so vivid and the descriptions of wartime Britain so believable I could almost hear the air raid sirens. I became so involved in the story I found it hard to put down and I was afraid that all would be lost for these characters. Thankfully, all comes to a very romantic and satisfactory ending. I never saw it coming though!

THE SECRET KEEPER was a great read and one that I am not likely to forget. I will be reading more from Kate Morton.

RATING- 5 Stars

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ivan's Book at Last

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Vorkosigan # 14)
Lois McMaster Bujold
Baen Books
November 1, 2012

I think all Vorkosigan Saga fans have been waiting for Ivan's book. Ivan Vorpatril is cousin to Miles and considered by just about all as somewhat indolent and a little "idiotish". Indolent Ivan may be but he has also been companion to Miles in some of his darkest hours and a staunch support in Miles' most hare- brained and hair- raising schemes. He is far from being an idiot as well even though he does love his comfort.

Ivan thinks his comfort will be safe in his new temporary posting to Komarr as staff officer to Admiral Desplaines. Not only is Miles far away on Barrayar, so is Ivan's formidable mother, Lady Vorpatril. Lady Alys is not at all subtle in her hints and efforts to get him married off to a suitable Vor maiden. It is long past time that he settle down and continue the Vorpatril line. All his comfort begins to disappear when Byerly Vorrutyer, secret agent for Imperial Security makes an appearance at Ivan's door. By has a small request, that Ivan become acquainted with a young woman who has just arrived on Komarr and appears to be in danger. Ivan has never been able to resist a damsel in distress especially a beautiful one like Tej Arqua. What could go wrong----- right?

By the novel's end Ivan has been in trouble with the Komarran authorities, his own superiors and with the people who are trying to either kill or abduct Tej and her gorgeous blue companion Rish. We learn a lot more about the inner workings of the Great (criminal) Houses on lawless Jackson's Whole and even return to favorite places and people on Barrayar. Miles himself, wife Ekaterin and children make an appearance as well as Lady Alys and former ImSec head Simon Illyan. 

There is much humor and heart in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. No one writes farce with as light a hand as Bujold and no one can combine it with insightful character portrayal so well. Ivan's book feels very much like a wrap- up of the series, even more so than Cryoburn (2010). I hope not as I am in no way tired of the Vorkosigans and their many worlds. I have always looked forward to seeing what Miles would accomplish in the role of Count especially combining it with being "My Lord Auditor". The Vorkosigan District has too long been without a resident Count while Aral, Cordelia and Miles have been making galactic history. Hopefully the Vorkosigan Saga will continue for a very long time. I highly recommend Captain Vorpatril's Alliance.

Rating  4.5 Stars

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

                                               THE SHADOWY HORSES
                                               Susanna Kearsley
                                               October 2012

Sourcebooks is doing readers a service by reprinting Susanna Kearsley's backlist (along with new titles), most of which have been next to impossible to get for a while, at least in the US. I read The Shadowy Horses in an old, musty dog-eared paperback edition a number of years ago and was delighted to get a bright shiny new ARC at Book Expo this year.

Verity Gray is an archaeologist who travels to Eyemouth in Scotland from her London home after hearing about a dig that her old flame, Adrian Sutton-Clark, is working on. Adrian is charming but somewhat immature when it comes to relationships. Verity decided that they were much better as friends than lovers. She is somewhat dismayed when she discovers that the object of the dig is the fate of the legendary 9th Roman Legion that disappeared in Brittania hundreds of years ago. She is charmed by the eccentric head of the dig, Peter Quinnell, and decides to sign on at the dig. It's a pity that the only basis for Quinnell's belief that the 9th Legion might be found at Rosehill are the visions of Robbie, a 9 year-old "seer". Verity is also intrigued by David Fortune, a Scots archaeologist who is working with Quinnell and is decidedly frosty to her. Rounding out the workers at the dig is Quinnell's granddaughter Fabia, a teenage femme fatale with a bad attitude and an agenda of her own. As work on the dig progresses Verity begins to have eerie experiences which convince her that Robbie has the second sight and can talk with a ghostly Roman Sentinel. She hears horses hooves thundering in the meadow every night (the shadowy horses of the title) and often feels that she is being followed by the Sentinel. When real evidence turns up pf a Roman marching camp it becomes evident that someone wants to sabotage the dig. Whether it is a ghostly or real enemy, she doesn't know.

As usual Susanna Kearsley gives us a supporting cast of wonderful characters. David's grandmother "Granny Nan", Robbie and his mother Jeannie are vibrant and alive. The atmosphere is just brooding enough and the slow building romance between Verity and David Fortune entirely believable. My only objection is that the ending feels a little rushed. I would have like to hear more of the story of the Sentinel and his beloved Claudia but will have to be satisfied with an ending that is very romantic in a quiet and understated way.

Many people have compared Kearsley to Daphne DuMaurier or Mary Stewart. I have to agree. Her novels have a kind of quiet romance that you don't often see in current novels. There is almost no sex- certainly not graphic- and no real violence. Kearsley's novels are the perfect reads for a cold fall or winter day spent wrapped up in a blanket.

Rating- 4 Roman Eagles

Monday, September 24, 2012

Russell and Holmes are back in Garment of Shadows

Garment of Shadows ( A Russell and Holmes Novel #12)
Laurie R. King
Recorded Books
September 12, 2012

Garment of Shadows opens with Russell waking up in an unfamiliar room in Morocco with no memory of who she is. All she knows is that she has a blinding headache and that her hands are covered with blood. When she sees soldiers arriving she knows she must escape.

Thus begins the twelfth Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes adventure and Laurie King returns to the territory that I so enjoy in the novels and make them "must buys". Garment of Shadows is an artful mixture of history, adventure and the sort of descriptions that are well written enough to make one feel the heat and smell the odors of the Moroccan bazaar. Mixed in are the return of Mahmoud and Ali Hazr, two of my favorite characters who appeared in earlier novels, O Jerusalem and Justice Hall.

The year is 1924 and Russell and Holmes become embroiled in international politics or "the Great Game" played by Great Britain. The Rif Rebellion by the Berber tribesman of the mountainous northern region of Morocco is ongoing and has nearly defeated the forces of the Spanish. The question is whether France will become involved and if so, will they back Spain or the tribesmen? As Holmes is the cousin of Hubert Lyautay, Resident General of the French Protectorate, he is in a position to influence the French decision. Many historical figures play a part in Garment of Shadows: Lyautey, Abd el-Krim of the Rif and Raisuli, "the last of the Barbary pirates". 

Those who have followed the adventures of Russell and Holmes will be glad to know that Holmes is very much present in Garment of Shadows. The oddly assorted pair of Holmes and his much younger wife are true equals in skill and intellect, making the partnership believeable. Along with the history and adventure there is nail-biting suspense as Russell and Holmes are endangered both together and separately.

The audio book is as always ably narrated by Jenny Sterlin. However, part of the book is narrated by Robert Ian MacKenzie. I generally don't care for dual voice audio books but MacKenzie's narration is also enjoyable. I highly recommend Garment of Shadows in either spoken word or print form.

Rating- 4.5 Stars

Friday, August 31, 2012

What I read on my "Summer Vacation"

I took full advantage of the sale from Sourcebooks of all ebooks by the "Queen of Regency" romance, Georgette Heyer. Many have said that reading Georgette Heyer is the next best thing to reading Jane Austen and I have to agree. Heyer researched the period meticulously and made full use of period slang and terminology. It is easy to read the language in context but I found Jennifer Kloester's Georgette Heyer's Regency World not only useful but interesting reading on it's own merits. I especially enjoyed the short biographies of real historical figures that make an appearance in the books. When I said I took full advantage of the sale I wasn't kidding. I have enough Heyer books to make me smile for a long time to come. 

The Toll-Gate (1954) tells the story of Captain John Staple. "Crazy Jack" is beloved by his comrades and known for his exploits both on and off the battlefield. Back from the Peninsular Wars, he is bored with his country life and being encouraged by his family to marry. Having never met a girl who "levelled" him he is in no hurry to settle down. When he stumbles across a toll-gate with a missing gatekeeper and a frightened child, nothing will stop him from taking over the toll-gate and solving the mystery. When he meets Lady Nell Stornaway at the gate, Jack is finally "levelled". Lady Nell has a sick grandfather and is being plagued by menacing relatives. The road to a happy ending has many twists and turns and a wealth of memorable characters. Reading Georgette Heyer's Regency World would have been very useful as it is full of "thieves cant" but I was able to muddle along. RATING 4 Stars

The Grand Sophy (1950) is one of Georgette Heyer's best known and loved novels- for very good reasons. Lady Ombersley agrees to take in her niece Sophy who has been living and traveling with her diplomat father for the previous 10 years. During those years Sophy has grown into an imposing young woman with a mind of her own and a penchant for "setting things to right". The Ombersley family is much in need of Sophy's help, whether they know it or not. Cecelia is in love with a poet, oldest son Charles has tyrannical tendencies and an annoyingly pious betrothed, Father is of no use at all and the younger children are in need of some fun and freedom. Sophy takes the "ton" and the family by storm and manages to break almost all of society's rules in the process. By the end of the novel all is well with the Ombersleys and Sophy has stolen Charles' heart. This is Georgette Heyer at the very top of her game. RATING- 5 stars

Arabella (1949) is another of Heyer's most beloved heroines. Daughter of a country vicar, Arabella is the eldest of eight children in a happy household and an acknowledged beauty. Her mother has a little money of her own and has scrimped and saved for years so that Arabella might have a London season and make an advantageous match. Her godmother, Lady Bridlington, has agreed to launch her into society. On the way to London, Arabella's ancient coach breaks down in front of Robert Beaumarais' hunting lodge and she asks for shelter. Beaumarais is a "nonpareil" of the ton and very jaded and haughty besides. When Arabella overhears a remark he makes about her, her famous impetuous temper leads her to make up a story about her background and circumstances. This story will haunt her as Robert thinks it would be amusing to spread it about that Arabella is a great heiress. Arabella is a success in society with many marriage proposals but she never knows whether she is being sought out because of herself or her supposed fortune. Meanwhile, Robert is falling in love with her wit, charm and compassionate nature. During the course of their relationship Robert finds a home for a mistreated chimney-sweep, takes in an unprepossessing mongrel dog and saves Arabella's impetuous young brother from certain disgrace and possible prison. None of these things would he have done without meeting Arabella. Arabella is witty and heart-warming, a pleasure to read. RATING- 5 stars

The Haunting of Maddy Clare

Simone St. James
New American Library
March 2012

I have always enjoyed a good ghost story and one set in the post WWI era in England was even more appealing. The historical background and a positive comment from one of my favorite authors, Susanna Kearsley, made The Haunting of Maddy Clare a must read for me.

The utter devastation wrought upon an entire generation by the first mechanized war coupled with the effects of the influenza epidemic of 1918 brought about unprecedented social change. While WWI claimed an estimated 16 million lives, the 1918 influenza epidemic cost an estimated 50 million lives worldwide. It is London in 1922 and Sarah Piper is friendless, without family and working in a series of dreary temp jobs. Jobs have been scarce and Sarah is nearly penniless when she is called out into the rain to meet Alistair Gellis who has a very unusual job offer for her. The very attractive Mr. Gellis is an author who has written books about ghost-sightings in England. His usual assistant, Matthew Ryder, is unavailable to accompany him. Not only that, this particular ghost is known to hate men and the house's owner insists that only a woman can contact the ghost. When the local vicar attempted an exorcism, he was attacked by the ghost and so frightened he gave up his "living" and left the area. As Mr. Gellis is clearly a gentleman and Sarah is so desperate, she agrees to take the job.

Maddy was about 19 years old when she died. She showed up on the family's doorstep 7 years previously, obviously beaten and sexually abused, unable to speak because her vocal cords were damaged in a strangulation attempt. The Clares very kindly take her in and nurse her but they are unable to find out who she is. Maddy remembers her first name, but not her last, and she is known as Maddy Clare from then on. She never leaves the property and is found hanging in the barn with no real explanation. Maddy is a terrifyingly real, powerful, destructive, rage filled spirit and Mrs. Clare is desperate to remove her. Sarah is very frightened by Maddy but made of sterner stuff than she appears.When Matthew Ryder returns the three form a partnership to discover the reasons for the haunting. Alistair, Matthew and Sarah are wounded in body and soul and Maddy threatens all of them. They are also threatened by the living in the village who are guarding a secret or simply believe the three are charlatans.

The Haunting of Maddy Clare is a very effective ghost story and St. James builds believable suspense throughout. It is also a story of friendship, love and healing set in a sometimes forgotten era. I am looking forward to Simone St. James' book and recommend The Haunting of Maddy Clare highly.

Rating- 4 1/2 Stars

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This Pirate Ship takes on Water but doesn't sink (quite).

                                          THE PIRATE KING
                                          Laurie R. King
                                          Recorded Books

I have always been a fan of Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novels, but this one has been sitting on my iPod for a very long time indeed. The early reviews were pretty dismal, citing problems with an improbable and convoluted plot and even worse- not enough Holmes. I knew I would get to it eventually and now that the release of the next novel in the series, "Garment of Shadows", is imminent and coincides with my yearly "reading vacation" in Maine, the time was last week.

Mary Russell is approached by Inspector Lestrade and is asked to sign on with Fflyte Films as an assistant. It appears that whenever and wherever Fflyte Films is working, a sort of mini-crime wave appears, including gun-running and drugs on the street. Mary is not interested in either films or the case but Sherlock's brother Mycroft is coming for a visit. Mary is not at all pleased with the visit after the events of the previous two books in which she found that Mycroft has manipulated British policy in an untoward manner. She takes the job mostly to avoid Mycroft and that's when the plot begins to become convoluted and even somewhat farcical.

The megalomanical Randolph Fflyte is the hope of the fledgling British film industry. Fflyte Films has had some huge hits and also some huge misses. The newest project is "The Pirate King", a film about the making of a film based loosely (very loosely) on Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance". That was a big groaner for me as I find Gilbert and Sullivan both sophomoric and jingoistic. The film has a cast of what feels like thousands what with the 12 daughters and the 12 pirate suitors as well as crew members. Flytte's obsession with realism leads him to refurbish a derelict brigantine and sail off to Morocco with real pirates aboard. Much farce, some fairly agonizing suspense and an international incident later, Mary solves the original mystery with the help of Holmes. I was totally surprised by the culprit but then I had almost forgotten about that plot line.

Having said all that, the elements that I always enjoy most in the Russell/Holmes novels are present in "The Pirate King". Laurie King has a remarkable ability to transport me to a place and time that is completely alien. I think "O Jerusalem" is my favorite of the novels because of the wonderful descriptions of colonial Palestine. She succeeds yet again with her depiction of Morocco. Even though Holmes  is not present in much of the book the oddly assorted but equal partnership still works admirably. I can see that if one has no interest in early film-making those elements might become tedious but I do have at least a passing interest. Laurie King takes a risk with "The Pirate King" and I admire her willingness to do so.

The next novel in the series also takes place in Morocco and features a return of the Hazr "brothers" from "O Jerusalem". I definitely won't wait long to listen to "Garment of Shadows". Jenny Sterlin's able narrations always make Holmes and Russell a "must listen" for me.

Rating- 3 Skulls and Coss-Bones


Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Stunning Memoir from Damien Echols of the "West Memphis 3"

Damien Echols
Penguin Group (Blue Rider)
September 18, 2012

I can't say that "prison writing" has ever been my reading choice, but having seen the HBO documentary, Paradise Lost, about the events and hysteria surrounding the arrests and convictions of three teenagers in the murders of 3 eight-year-old boys I had more than a passing interest in the case. I was able to pick up a readers copy of LIFE AFTER DEATH at BEA this year, even though I missed the actual signing.

On the face of it, the arrests and trials seemed to me one more in a long line of American mob hysterias about satanism and witchcraft. The hysteria was whipped up by the media with sensational and often completely non-factual reporting. Add an incompetent police investigation and you have the classic lynching scenario. Damien Echols was tailor-made to fit the bill as scapegoat. The only "goth" kid in town from an impoverished and thus powerless background the police thought he was an ideal candidate for a quick resolution to a brutal crime. Josh Baldwin made the mistake of being Damien's friend, and Jessie Misskelly was only an acquaintance. Jessie however had a very low IQ and would be easy to coerce into a confession. All three were convicted, but Damien was sentenced to death. Questions were being asked during and as soon as the trial ended about the lack of evidence and the dismal quality of the investigation. Two HBO documentary makers went down to cover the trial and what they expected to be a lurid tale of cult murder and satanism turned into an expose of police and judicial misconduct. Many famous people such as Johnny Depp, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson, and Henry Rollins; along with many private citizens became supporters. One of those citizens, Lorri Davis, a landscape architect from New York City, became his most staunch and tireless advocate. Lorri moved to Little Rock and the two were married while he was still in prison. The State of Arkansas fought them every inch of the way but the three were finally freed in 2011. Freed, but not exonerated, as they could only negotiate freedom under an "Afton Plea", a concept I cannot get my head around. An "Afton Plea is a guilty plea in which they stipulated that they are not guilty.

No one, not even Damien represents himself as a sterling character. I find his recounting of his early life almost painfully honest. The product of a broken home, dire poverty, a rage-filled fundamentalist step-father and an ineffectual mother (the kindest description I can give of her), Damien got into some minor trouble, failed a couple of grades and was in a state of drift. He had a couple of court mandated stays in mental institutions. Those stays were used to great effect in the trial but I have to question whether wearing black clothing and liking Metallica constitutes mental illness. His abortive attempt to run away with a girlfriend while still in high school got him on the local police radar, and they never let him out of their sights. However, Damien loved to read and was always a spiritual seeker. Those two qualities saved his sanity while in prison along with a determination to survive and see freedom again. He used meditation, Zen practices and journaling to save his sanity and exercise to save what he could of his health. 

LIFE AFTER DEATH is a beautifully written and riveting indictment of the judicial system and the penal system. Today's "supermax" facilities are the modern day equivalent of the medieval oubliette, finely calculated to drive men insane. Twenty-three hours of solitary confinement a day and decades without seeing the sun would drive anyone insane. To survive the brutality he was subjected to and come out with a finely honed writing style and intact soul is a true testament to the strength of the human spirit. Damien does not want to be known as just the guy who got off death row but it was that experience shaped him. I look forward to more from Damien Echols.

Rating- 5 Stars