Monday, April 30, 2012

Stunning Historical Mystery set in old NY


Lyndsay Faye
Amy Einhorn/Putnam
March 2012

It's August 1845 in New York City and everything seems to be looking up for Timothy Wilde. Orphaned at an early age, Timothy has a steady job, $400 in his mattress, dreams of starting his own business and is finally ready to approach the girl he has known and loved for years. He has accomplished all this by keeping his nose clean, working hard and staying out of the orbit of his venal, vice-ridden Tammany Hall operative brother, Valentine. All of this disappears in just a few hours when fire destroys his neighborhood, workplace and partially disfigures his face. All his dreams are gone and he is homeless as well as penniless. The effects of the Economic Panic of 1837 are still being felt so recovery from the disaster will not be easy.

Brother Valentine gives him an offer he really can't refuse, a job as a "copper star" in the newly formed NYPD. Valentine himself is a volunteer fire-fighter as well as Captain on the new police force. New Yorkers are not at all sure that they want a police force and Timothy has no desire to be a part of it. His choices are limited but he does not want to be beholden to Valentine for his living or home. He accepts the job which entails a workday from four in the morning until eight at night in the poverty-stricken Sixth Ward, bordering Five Points, the most notorious slum of the time. Returning home one night footsore and heartsick from the day, a small girl barrels into him; a small, barefoot girl clad in a nightgown and covered in blood. Tim's job demands that he take her to the "House of Refuge" for indigent children but Tim would never take a child there. He takes her home and cleans her up with the help of his landlady, Mrs. Boehm. It becomes clear that the girl, Bird Daly, is a "kinchin-mab", a child prostitute from the house of Madame Silkie Marsh. Silkie is a former intimate of Valentine and large Tammany Hall contributor, further complicating matters.

Bird refuses to say what caused her to run but is clearly terrified. She does tell him that she knows where dozens of graves are located. Tim and the Police Commissioner investigate and find 19 small corpses buried in a meadow in shallow graves. In all probability they are Irish children.The fledgling NYPD does not want the story getting out and assigns Tim to investigate. Of course the story does get out and the tensions between "native" and Irish residents become a powder keg waiting for a match. The NYPD and Tammany Hall try to put a lid on the investigation but there is no way Tim will let the the deaths of 19 children be ignored. When he finds the answers everything he knows and believes about the people he either loves or respects is upended.

Lyndsay Faye throws us into a Manhattan landscape both alien and familiar at once. It is alien in it's total squalor. Her descriptions of a Manhattan before refrigeration and basic hygiene are so vivid that one can feel the heat and smell the smells of the time. It is familiar in the underlying tensions simmering in the city. Americans have always had a tendency to blame immigrants and those who are "other" for economic downturns and unwanted social change. The Irish just happen to be the targets this time and the hatred is particularly virulent due to their Catholic faith. I was completely enthralled by the historical detail and powerful descriptions in Gods of Gotham. The use of "flash", the street slang of the day adds to the "being there" feeling. Usually I love a book that I can't put down. I was able to put down the book this time but only to savor the writing and story. 

I am delighted that Ms. Faye is working hard on a sequel. A story as rich as this with characters so indelibly written deserves a sequel. Highly recommended!!!

Rating- 5 Copper Stars

Friday, April 27, 2012

It’s OK to Read Romance Novels « Beyond Her Book

It’s OK to Read Romance Novels « Beyond Her Book:

This is a great post from Barbara Vey, Publishers Weekly Romance Novel maven. I thought I would share it as I used to be the lady with the eReader. 

'via Blog this'

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Never make a deal with a Trickster God

TRICKED (Iron Druid Chronicles #4)
Kevin Hearne
Del Rey
April 2012

Tricked, # 4 in the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne is another rocket ride with Atticus O' Sullivan, 2000 year old Irish Druid now based in Arizona. Atticus may be 2000, but looks and acts like a tattooed 25 year old and maintains himself by drinking an elixir called Immortali-Tea. The series is a hilarious mash-up of Norse, Celtic and now Native American mythology. In the first book, Hounded, Atticus has to deal with Aenghus Og, Celtic God of Love. Aenghus wants his sword, Fragerach the Answerer back but Atticus is not co-operating. The confrontation with Aenghus Og sets off a whole sequence of events that may just bring Ragnarock, the Norse Apocalypse.

In the events covered by Hexed and Hammered, Atticus and his faithful wolfhound companion, Oberon, ricochet from one major battle to another aided or hindered by various gods as well as werewolves and vampires. He has also gained an apprentice, Granuaile, and just wants some peace and quiet to spend the required 12 years training her. At the close of Hammered it becomes clear that Atticus needs to fake his own death. Way too many powerful gods are out to get him.

Tricked begins with Atticus staging a particularly bloody and violent death. In this he is aided by Coyote, Trickster God of the Native American pantheon. Coyote is a shape shifter who is immortal, which Atticus is decidedly not. He is hard to kill but it can be done even with his advanced healing skills. The price of Coyote's help is a deal that gets him in even more trouble facing an enemy that almost kills him several times- Skinwalkers. By the time it's over, Atticus finds that many of his decisions have been unwise (to say the least) and he is betrayed by someone he trusted.

There are so many things I love about this series from the non-stop action and snarky humor to the mythology. The Celtic Gods are pretty familiar to me but not so the Norse. I got lost somewhere between Asgard, Midgard and Vanaheimr when I read about Norse Cosmology in high school. Never mind the six other home worlds.Thor is pretty much a jerk in all the accounts I have read though! Granuaile is a welcome and helpful addition to the team. But the relationship between Oberon and Atticus is best of all and source of most of the good laughs. Atticus and Oberon can converse through a mental bond and are the closest of pals and companions. Oberon does have a bit of an obsession with sausages and poodles, but hey- he's still a dog if a really smart one.

The Iron Druid Chronicles are fun, clever and quick reads. I look forward to the last two books which should finish the series. Kevin Hearne is an author to watch. Highly recommended!

Rating- 5 Druid Staffs

Fly down to the bookstore to buy this one!

AS THE CROW FLIES (Walt Longmire Mysteries #8)
Craig Johnson
Viking Adult

I would never have read the Walt Longmire mysteries had I not heard Craig Johnson speak at the National Book Festival several years ago. I belong to that generation of Americans whose appetite for Westerns was completely destroyed by TV and Hollywood in the 1950's and 60's. The very notion of a series about a present-day sheriff in Wyoming never appealed even though I was aware of it. However, Mr. Johnson was so humorous and self-deprecating that I had to give the books a try. Now the Walt Longmire series is at the top of my favorites and a must read as soon as a new book is published. So I was thrilled to get an advance copy and dived right in.

Most of the books are set at home in Wyoming, but Johnson has set a book as far afield as Philadelphia. As the Crow Flies takes place closer to home, on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation,"the rez". Walt's Philadelphia lawyer daughter, Cady, is coming home to be married at a spiritually important and scenic site on the rez. Two weeks before the wedding, the arrangement to use the site falls through- a disaster that Walt and his life-long friend, Henry Standing Bear, must try to salvage somehow. As Cady's unofficial "wedding planners", they set out to find another acceptable location. In the course of the search they see a young Crow woman, Audrey Least Bull, plummet to her death from Painted Warrior peak, clutching an infant in her arms.

Mr. Johnson has the skill (and gift) of writing absolutely indelible characters, fully fleshed out human beings with all their quirks and follies. In As the Crow Flies, he introduces another fascinating character, the beautiful Lolo Long, Iraq war veteran and new Tribal Police Chief. Lolo has a whole lot of attitude and seemingly little natural ability for the job. She also appears to have an ax to grind with Henry Standing Bear. As a result of the many deficiencies in Henry's old truck, she even arrests Henry and Walt. Walt, of course feels the need to find out who pushed Audrey to her death and to mentor Lolo through her first major investigation. Many old favorites make an appearance and Henry is very much present. 

I highly recommend As the Crow Flies and if you have not read the series start at the beginning, "The Cold Dish". There is a whole lot of reading pleasure packed into the series if you enjoy well-crafted mysteries, rich characters and a thoroughly decent protagonist in the person of Walt Longmire.

Rating- 5 Stars

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Prophet (Graveyard Queen #3)


THE PROPHET (Graveyard Queen #3)
Amanda Stevens
April 2012

The Prophet, 3rd in the Graveyard Queen Series by Amanda Stevens continues as Amelia Gray returns to her home base in Charleston,SC. Amelia's devastating experiences in Asher Falls and the discovery of her true heritage have left her wondering if her ability to see ghosts might have a higher purpose than she has always thought. She knows that by breaking her father's rules about never interacting with ghosts and never becoming involved with a "haunted" man she has opened a door to the other side that she has no idea how to close. But John Devlin has texted her that he needs her.

The Prophet brings back a character from The Restorer, Robert Fremont, the ghost of Devlin's former partner. Fremont is unlike any ghost Amelia has seen before. Not only can he appear in the daylight, he is corporeal and can actually speak to her. He wants her to help him find out who murdered him so that he can pass over. Not only is Fremont making demands, Shani, the ghost of Devlin's daughter becomes more and more able to invade Amelia's space, even her home. And Mariama, Devlin's dead wife becomes even more threatening. A new threat has come back to Charleston as well. Darius Goodwine, cousin to Mariama, is following Amelia and seems to have strange power over her. All these demands and threats are sapping her energy and will. All of these people, Mariama, Shani, Fremont, Darius and John Devlin are intertwined. Amelia is the only person who can stop the destruction, if only she knew how. By the time she solves the murder of Fremont both she and Devlin are placed in mortal danger.

There are multiple twists and turns in The Prophet, questions answered and new questions posed. The eerie atmosphere evoked in the previous two novels is even more oppressive in this newest novel. I am impressed by Amanda Stevens' ability to keep us guessing and wondering what will happen next! I also enjoy the look at Gullah culture and root-lore that is so important in The Prophet. I am looking forward to # 4 in this gripping series and as I have said before-I'm not a fan of spooky books in general.

Rating 4 Stars


Monday, April 23, 2012

200 and Counting!!

Nora Roberts
April 2012
Brilliance Audio, Narr. Julia Whelan

The Witness is Nora Robert's 200th novel, an amazing feat and an automatic NYT Bestseller.  Back in my Book Snob days Nora Roberts is an author that I would never read- first because they were "romances" and second because she is so prolific. "How can she write so many books and still write anything of quality?", I'd ask myself. Then a friend of mine whose judgement I respect recommended the In Death series written under Roberts' alter ego, J.D. Robb. I downloaded "Naked in Death" in audio form and was hooked! After listening my way through all the available In Death audios, I branched out into her stand alone novels and trilogies.I have to say that I am much more in tune with her later work rather than the early Harlequin Romances. She is still developing her story-telling and character skills with each new novel.

The Witness is the story of Elizabeth Fitch, daughter of a cold and controlling mother, a real "Mommie Dearest" without the physical abuse. There is no father involved in her life as Elizabeth is the product of a carefully screened sperm donor. A brilliant child, she has had every move and thought controlled. At the age of 16 she has completed a year of pre-med at Harvard and knows she does not want to be a surgeon. After her first argument with her mother she rebels, forging ID's, dying her hair and shopping for slinky dresses. She meets an acquaintance and the two girls head to a club rumored to be owned by the Russian Mob. This one rebellion changes her life forever when she witnesses a horrible crime and goes on the run for the next thirteen years.

Brooks Gleason is the Police Chief in a small resort town in the Ozarks and is fascinated by Abigail Lowery, a new area resident. She is always perfectly polite but makes no effort to be a part of the community. This is a red flag in any small Southern town where one always needs to know who your "people" are! He also notices that she is carrying a concealed gun, no crime in the Ozarks, but decidedly odd. When he goes out to her cabin to introduce himself, he finds a woman with extreme security, a very large and well-trained dog and packing a Glock on her hip. Brooks has a need to know why she is on the run and he is the personification of amiable persistence.

The story of their relationship forms the heart of the novel. Abigail finds that she must share her predicament with Brooks in order to break out of her isolation and have a normal life.She knows that she is still being pursued so this a very tall order. Abigail's use of her formidable intellect and hacking skills aid her, as well as Brooks' support. Abigail's "coming out" and her complete lack of social skills provide several welcome touches of humor.

The narration is excellent, even though I had to adjust to the very girlish sound of Julia Whelan's voice. My only quibble with The Witness is that the ending was not as full of fireworks as I had expected. It was, however, satisfying so that's just me.

Rating- 4.5 Stars

Friday, April 6, 2012

Impressive Debut Young Adult Fantasy- Grave Mercy

GRAVE MERCY (His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Book 1)
Robin LaFevers
Houghton Mifflin Children's Books
April 2012

Set in late 15th century Brittany, then it's own sovereignty, now a province of France, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is a very impressive debut YA Fantasy. Part of a projected trilogy, it is firmly rooted in history with very strong fantasy elements.

The strong young heroine, Ismae, is rescued from an unloved and abusive childhood and even more abusive forced marriage to a pig farmer by the local parish priest. As far as she knows she just the daughter of a farmer but she knows that her father has always hated her and made her life miserable. Anything is better than what she has known so when the Abbess of the Convent of St. Mortain tells her she is the daughter of Mortain, God of Death, and she is to be trained as an assassin in his service, she embraces her training completely. "Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?"

Trained in the poisoner's art and all other methods of assassination, she is sent out on her first mission at the age of 17 after about 3 years of training. Having succeeded in the mission the Abbess sends her on a more important mission to the court of Anne, Duchess of Brittany who is besieged on all sides by importunate suitors and the Envoy of France. France would very much like to absorb Brittany. Under the terms of a treaty, the King of France must approve any marriage she makes. Accompanying her is Gavriel Duval, a courtier loyal to Anne (and Anne's illegitimate half-brother). The Abbess wants her to watch him and any of Anne's advisers for signs of disloyalty.If they manifest the "marque," a dark shadow on the skin placed there by Mortain, she is to dispatch them.

The novel really shines after Gavriel and Ismae arrive at court. It seems that everyone is involved in some sort of intrigue and possible double-dealing. As Ismae grows closer to Gavriel, she begins to wonder about the motivations of the Abbess and her purposes. Perhaps there is a more positive way for Ismae to use her burgeoning powers. In the absence of the "marque," can she move against Anne's enemies? And has the Abbess told her everything she needs to know? And who of those close to Anne is at the heart of treasonous activity?

The combination of a strong heroine, a selfless hero and a intricate mystery should appeal to the older end of the spectrum of Young Adult readers, and adults as well. Anne of Brittany is an actual historical figure who did have the marital difficulties described in the novel, but St. Mortain is completely fictional. However, it was common for the Catholic Church to integrate local pagan deities into worship as saints when wooing converts to Christianity in Europe. Grave Mercy is a exciting and promising debut for a new trilogy. I particularly like the positive new direction for Ismae and her understanding of her mission as a Daughter of Mortain.  

Thanks to Houghton Mifflin and netgalley for access to a digital copy of Grave Mercy.

Rating 3.5 stars

British Spies and Bad, Very Bad Poetry

The Garden Intrigue, #9 in the Pink Carnation Series
Lauren Willig
Penguin Audio
February 2012

The Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig is a mixture of history and romance concerning the exploits of a group of aristocratic British spies active in the early 19th century. The group is headed by a Englishwoman with close ties to the Bonaparte regime through her brother are determined to foil the plans of Napoleon Bonaparte. Owing much to the Scarlet Pimpernel stories by Baroness Orczy, the series manages to combine farce with romance and action, while staying firmly rooted in history. I have enjoyed all of the Pink Carnation series even though I found the first one, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, much more fluff than substance. I think the series has improved with each book and The Garden Intrigue is the best yet. 

Augustus Whittlesby has been in France for more than 10 years, posing as an affected poet who writes perfectly execrable poetry and goes about declaiming it. The poetry is indeed so bad that Augustus can send intelligence back to England through his poetry and have no fear that French Security will stick with it long enough to crack the code. However, Augustus is feeling the loneliness of his exile harder to bear than ever. When he is told by another agent that Napoleon is having a "secret device" demonstrated at Maimaison, Josephine's country home, he knows he must wrangle an invitation somehow. Jane Wooleston, the Pink Carnation, teams him up with Emma Delagardie who has been commissioned by Josephine to write a Masque for the gathering. Emma is an American, niece to the American Envoy and a very fashionable widow, close friend to both Josephine and her daughter, Hortense. Emma has no idea that Augustus is an agent and she is far from a favorite of Augustus as she makes fun of his poetry unmercifully. Besides, Augustus has fallen in love with Jane or so he thinks.

One of the things I have enjoyed the most about the series is the way that Willig can take a character who appears unlikable throughout several books like Lord Vaughn or as comic relief like "Turnip" Fitzhugh and develop them into characters who are well rounded and human. While we may not love Lord Vaughn, we at least understand him and "Turnip" turns into a real romantic hero--even though still not the brightest bulb! Willig accomplishes this once again in the Garden Intrigue. Augustus  has appeared in several of the previous books, mostly as a comic character even though we know he is an agent. With Emma and Augustus we have two characters whose lives are all pretense. They are both lonely and and feel unanchored. The dialogue between Emma and Augustus is witty and charming throughout. Now one has to wonder when Jane is going to "crack!" So far she has been all business with no hint of the young woman hiding beneath the facade.

The Pink Carnation series also has a secondary, present-day story of Eloise and Colin. Eloise is an American doctoral candidate on fellowship in England and Colin is the descendant of the Selwick family. The Selwick family and friends figure prominently in the series. Eloise is investigating his family archives for her doctoral dissertation. Eloise and Colin have a developing relationship in the background of the main story. It is a nice addition but I have to say  that I personally would run from Colin's family baggage! It appears that the action may pick up on that story line in the next book in the series.

I can't say enough good things about Kate Reading's performance of all the Pink Carnation books. I enjoy them so much that this series is a "must" in audio book form for me. Highly recommended, especially the audio books, but I would start at the first book and stick with the reading order.

Rating  4 Pink Carnations