Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Charming Beginning to a New Cozy Series

Gail Oust
St. Martins Press
December 2013

Rosemary and Crime by Gail Oust combines three of my favorite things: a plucky heroine, quirky supporting characters and food! Piper Prescott, a transplanted Yankee living in a small Georgia town, suddenly finds herself dumped by her husband of 20 years for a much younger ex-pageant queen. So, making lemons out of lemonade, she takes her divorce settlement and fulfills a longstanding dream, opening her own gourmet spice shop. It's a risky plan, since adventurous gourmet cooking is not exactly the thing in the land of fried chicken and pimiento cheese spread. Piper does, however, have a big plan for her grand opening. She persuades a local well-known chef, known not only for his cooking but his womanizing and temperament, to do a cooking demonstration. Too bad that the chef is found stabbed through the heart on the morning of the grand opening by none other than Piper herself. As the person who found the body Piper is the logical first suspect and the town's new Chief of Police thinks she looks good for it.

As evidence piles up against Piper-some planted- she enlists the help of her flamboyant best friend, Reba Mae. These two very accurately describe themselves as the Lucy and Ethel of crime investigation, getting themselves into trouble and driving Chief McBride crazy in the process. Piper is also dealing with a rebellious teenage daughter, her smarmy ex, the attentions of a charming veterinarian and an unexpected attraction to Chief McBride himself . When someone tries to run her down, she knows she will have to find the killer or face jail or worse.

Rosemary and Crime is a charming beginning to a new cozy series. I am looking forward to spending more time with Piper and the quirky citizens of Brandywine Creek, Ga. 

RATING-4 Stars

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Wild Justice (Nadia Stafford Trilogy, #3)

WILD JUSTICE (Nadia Stafford Trilogy #3)
Kelley Armstrong
Sphere Books
November 2013

Wild Justice is a fitting and exciting ending for the Nadia Stafford Trilogy- one that fans of the first two have waited for for years. The book opens with a hit that has gone horribly wrong. Nadia goes into a complete tailspin and Jack (her hit man mentor) goes looking for her. When he finds her, he has a "gift". He has found Drew Aldritch, the man who kidnapped her and her cousin as early adolescents. He raped and murdered her cousin but Nadia escaped and survived. The experience scarred her emotionally, plaguing her with guilt and setting her on the path to life as a vigilante killer for hire.

By the time they pay a visit to Aldritch, someone else has gotten to him by a matter of minutes. Jack and Nadia need to find out who and why. Their journey takes them into the highest reaches of Canadian and American power and prestige in the search for a serial rapist and killer; one who has partnered with Aldritch in the past. Nadia discovers much that her family kept from her and much that she has kept from herself about that awful kidnapping. By the time we get to a very satisfying ending, most of Jack's many secrets are out in the open (finally). This is no hearts and flowers ending but a believable coming together of two very flawed people.

I had a minor quibble about Wild Justice while reading. I thought the bad guy almost a cartoon in his arrogance but upon reflection I thought he was probably just what a true megalomaniac looks like, especially one who is a good actor. Serial killers are usually not high profile types, dwelling in the shadows by inclination and necessity, and that was bothersome until I remembered a case of just such a high profile real-life killer in Canada in recent years.

It's a testament to Kelley Armstrong's writing ability that the reader can come to care about two people who kill for a living. That fact is never far from the mind, but one can almost understand. I highly recommend Wild Justice to thriller/mystery fans and if you haven't read the first two books- then you really should!

4.5 stars

Deadly Shadows ( Dylan Scott Series # 6)

DEADLY SHADOWS ( Dylan Scott #6)
Shirley Wells
Carina Press Kindle Edition
October 7, 2013

In this sixth outing of the Dylan Scott Mysteries from Shirley Wells, Dylan is back in Dawson's Clough, going undercover in an operation with the local police. Dylan had participated in another operation when he was still with the London force. The target then and now is Joe Child, sleazy and violent drug dealer. Joe supposedly has gotten religion and now runs a commune that reaches out to the homeless and discontented in the area. Dylan knows from past experience of Joe that he has not reformed and is up to no good. The fact that two young women have disappeared from the commune has prompted the investigation and as always, Dylan won't stop until he gets answers despite serious problems at home.

Dylan is a very flawed, yet likable and believable character. When he gets his teeth into an investigation, everything else gets put aside. Deadly Shadows is a much darker story than some of the earlier books- sometimes it is difficult reading. But overall I like the way the series is going and look forward to the next in the series. I recommend Deadly Shadows to any fan of British mysteries.

RATING- 4 Stars

News from Alaska from the Very Funny Molly Harper

Molly Harper
Pocket Books
December 31, 2013

Molly Harper has been one of my favorite authors since reading Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs. Seldom has a book made me laugh out loud even on a second reading. Whenever a new book by Molly Harper is published I know that I will be thoroughly entertained and finish the book with a smile. How to Run With a Naked Werewolf is no exception even though it dips into some pretty serious issues.

Anna Moder, "Doc", has been in the background of the the two previous Werewolf novels. Physician to the quirky werewolf and human community of Grundy, Alaska, it's been clear that Anna has a story to tell. Anna has fled Grundy when How to Run With a Naked Werewolf opens. She has been running for several years from her abusive, obsessed stalker husband and has very good reason to be afraid. She does not hesitate to assist someone in trouble, however. The consequence are dire for Anna as she loses all the possessions she was able to bring on her headlong flight. Caleb Graham is a bounty hunter, part of the Graham werewolf pack. He seldom needs any help (werewolf strength and all that) but a hunt goes very wrong and he is badly injured. To repay Anna for her help, Caleb replaces her lost possessions and promises to get her to Fairbanks where a new identity is waiting. He just has a few stops on the way for bounty hunter business. Anna has major trust issues and Caleb appears to be pretty ethically challenged so it's a rocky road for both of them.

How to Run with a Naked Werewolf is filled with Molly Harper's trademark snarky humor even though the stakes for Anna are very high. She knows that a confrontation is coming with her stalker; one that she might not survive. The question is whether she can depend on Caleb or does he have underlying motives of his own? Highly recommended for paranormal romance fans who like a dose of laughter along with the romance. I would also recommend the audible audio editions read by the excellent Amanda Ronconi. Thanks to Pocket Books and for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Study in Darkness Hits the Ground Running

A STUDY IN DARKNESS (The Baskerville Affair #2)
Emma Jane Holloway
Del Rey Books
September 29, 2013

A Study in Darkness opens just a few months after the events of A Study in Silks. Evelina Cooper, niece to Sherlock Holmes, has been spending some time with her Grandmama Holmes in Devon after being unceremoniously booted out of the home of her friend, Imogen Roth, daughter of Lord Bancroft. The efforts of Holmes and Evelina exposed Lord Bancroft's involvement in the Baskerville Conspiracy to overthrow the Steam Council's stranglehold on the Empire. Her discoveries were disastrous for both Evelina and Tobias Roth, who is now in the employ of that most loathsome of the Steam Barons, Jasper Keating, The Gold King. Tobias has also agreed to marry Keating's daughter, Alice. Evelina is bereft of both Tobias and Nick, her childhood friend.

The action starts when Evelina arrives on the doorstep of 221B Baker Street to find her uncle held hostage by a man with a gun and bomb and ratchets up from there. Evelina finds herself also in the employ of Keating under threat to Sherlock's and Mycroft's life. She finds herself on the streets of the East End and Whitechapel. The year is 1888 and Jack the Ripper is abroad. A Study in Darkness puts Evelina in life threatening danger and only the use of her magic can save her.

Full of battles, pirates, thieves, shady ladies, squalor, sorcerers and very scary automatons, A Study in Darkness is very entertaining in general. However, as in the first book, 500+ pages seems excessive and the action bogs down about the mid-point. It also ends with a double cliff-hanger that I would find annoying, if I did not know that A Study in Ashes is coming in December. The concept is extremely clever and offers a solution to the Jack the Ripper mystery that I doubt anyone ever thought of before! Thanks to Del Rey and netgalley for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 3.5 Airships

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Speaking of Long-Awaited...Nadia Stafford Trilogy from Kelley Armstrong

EXIT STRATEGY (Nadia Stafford #1)
Kelley Armstrong
Bantam Books

Exit Strategy opens with a "hit" in a NY City Subway Station on a mafia thug. The difference here is that the assassin is a woman, a disgraced Ontario cop and now hunting lodge owner. Nadia was kicked off the force for taking justice in her own hands. A rapist and pedophile had just been released by a jury and something snapped in Nadia. What most people don't know is that Nadia and her cousin Amy were kidnapped by a pedophile when in their early teens. Nadia survived; Amy did not and the killer got away with it. Now Nadia takes on a contract or two a year from a small NY "family", usually another mafia thug. The work helps her keep the lodge afloat as well as satisfy the need to dispense her own brand of justice. But when it becomes clear that another hit man has gone rogue and become a serial killer Nadia must team up with her mentor, Jack, and other hit men to find him. Rogue hit men are bad for business. What follows is an exciting ride as the group looks for the rogue and a fascinating look at the culture of professional assassins.

MADE TO BE BROKEN (Nadia Stafford #2)
Kelley Armstrong
Bantam Books

Nadia is at home at the lodge when one of her employees along with her baby goes missing. Sammi is a not too bright and usually hostile, but beautiful, teenager who works for Nadia. Brought up by a drunken and abusive mother, Sammi is one of those kids that the town expects nothing of, but she is a devoted mother, determined to get away and bring up her child with love. When the two go missing no one seems interested except Nadia. Jack is recovering from a broken leg at the lodge and the two investigate the disappearances, leading them into a world of murder and baby trafficking with a hit man connection. 

The Nadia Stafford books were not all that well received when they first came out. Armstrong was in the midst of her very successful "Women of the Otherworld" series and these are very, very different. It's hard to make a hit woman sympathetic but Armstrong succeeds brilliantly. Jack and the other recurring characters are utterly believable. There is the retired hit woman, Evelyn, and Quinn, a vigilante hit man who is still a federal cop. Wild Justice is coming from Sphere on November 26 and should wrap up the series. I am really looking forward to seeing how Armstrong wraps up the story and whether Nadia and Jack overcome their mutual reticence. 

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rose Strickland Returns in DINER IMPOSSIBLE

DINER IMPOSSIBLE: A Rose Strickland Mystery
Terri L. Austin
Henery Press
November 2013

I have been waiting what seems to be a long time for the third entry in Terri Austin's Rose Strickland series. It felt so long in fact that I actually re- read the first two books, something that I almost never do! So I was delighted when Henery Press and allowed me to read a digital galley.

After two previous successful amateur investigations taken on for her extended family of misfit friends, Rose is stunned when she is approached by Andre Thomas (Officer Hard-Ass). Officer Thomas wants her to investigate the murder of the secretary and mistress of Martin Mathers, the Police Chief. He knows that Mathers is a sleazy character but does not think he killed her. Rose is even more stunned when her social butterfly mother, Barbara, also asks her for help. Mathers' wife is a friend of Barbara's and she wants to help her. Rose did not know that Barbara even HAD a friend that she will go to bat for and risk social disapproval. A secondary mystery involves her friend Ax and his Trekkie friends. Much hilarity (from the Trekkies) and tragedy follows in the form of Mather's messed up teenage children. Rose also has to juggle her relationship with Sullivan, bad boy and blossoming love interest.

The Rose Strickland series is almost perfect escapist reading. Ma and Roxy from are back in Diner Impossible; along with Ax they are a formidable back-up for Rose. My only quibble was the interference from Barbara. I can only take her in small doses and she was very much present in the book. However, there are plenty of laughs and just the right amount of romantic tension. Highly recommended!

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Friday, October 4, 2013

Charles Paris Makes a Welcome Return in A Decent Interval

Simon Brett
Creme de la Crime
July 2013

It has been nearly fifteen years since the last Charles Paris mystery from Simon Brett and I was delighted have him return in A Decent Interval. Charles Paris is a mediocre actor, unfaithful husband, terrible father and alcoholic. Just about the only thing he really seems to be good at is amateur sleuthing, or is it just plain snooping?

Charles has been out of work for eight months so he is delighted to get a dual role in a new production of Hamlet to start out in Marlborough and travel to the West End. He will be playing both Hamlet's Ghost and The First Gravedigger.The play is being produced by one of those bottom-line companies that are so prevalent everywhere, and feature two young "stars"- winners of two different reality talent shows. Our Hamlet refuses to do read throughs and thinks that rather than learn to project to the back of the house, he should just be mic'ed. Ophelia thinks that she should sing something from her upcoming pop album in the mad scene. The objective of the production is to get "bums in the seats" after all. The set design is meant to represent Hamlet's cranium. When part of the set collapses one actor is injured, and another is found dead in a dressing room a few days later. Charles of course begins to snoop.

The first hundred pages or so of A Decent Interval are vintage Charles Paris. Despite his shortcomings, Charles has always been oddly appealing and lovable. Watching him try to navigate the brave new world of Twitter, Facebook, celebrity culture and reality shows is simply hilarious. His quoted reviews, such as "With Charles Paris as Julius Caesar, I was surprised that Brutus and his cronies didn't take action earlier" are as funny as ever. After those first pages the cracks begin to appear. Charles is  barely on the sunny side of 60 but still looking for action with younger actresses. His drinking is worse than ever and despite multiple vows, it is obvious that he can't quit. His estranged wife, who decamped long ago and raised their daughter on her own, is showing strong signs of not even wanting to tolerate even their limited communications. In short, Charles is isolated, lonely, and has no real career any more. At the book's end I thought this would surely be the last Charles Paris. However, there is another forthcoming. The series has always been a mixture of comedy and tragedy, but I hope there is some light dawning in the next as I just felt sad when I finished A Decent Interval.

A Decent Interval is a difficult book to rate. The first hundred pages are a solid four and the remainder two, so I will average it out to three.

RATING- 3 Craniums

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

'Tis the Season for the SCARY!

HALLOWEEN: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre
Paula Guran, Editor
Prime Books
September 2013

'Tis the season for the scary and Halloween: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre delivers. Prime Books and Paula Guran have put together a great collection of stories built around the legends of Halloween. The anthology features traditional tales and some very non-traditional ones from a wide range of authors, some well known to me and some not. As I was reading I was amazed by the different interpretations and flights of imagination that inspired these stories.

All of the stories are excellent but Maria V. Snyder's "The Halloween Men" and Carrie Vaughan's "Unternehmen Werwolf" particularly struck a chord for me. I also enjoyed A. C. Wise's "For the Removal of Unwanted Guests" and Jonathan Maberry's "Long Way Home: A Pine Deep Story". One of the joys of an anthology is the opportunity to discover new authors so I will be looking into the work of many of these authors in the future. Halloween: Magic, Mystery and the Macabre, with it's 18 stories is a great way to get into the spirit of the season.

Thanks to Prime Books and for an advance digital copy in exchange for a free and fair review.

RATING- 4 Jack O'Lanterns

Friday, September 27, 2013

Very Mixed Feelings about The Anatomist's Wife.

THE ANATOMIST'S WIFE (A Lady Darby Mystery #1)
Anna Lee Huber
Berkley Trade Books
January 2012

It is Scotland in 1830 and Kiera, Lady Darby, has taken refuge at her sister's estate.  She is reviled by Society and even threatened with criminal prosecution for her illustrations accompanying the manuscript for her husband's anatomy book. The infamous Burke and Hare body-snatching case was in the recent past so there was hysteria about the possibility of another outrage. Since Sir Anthony Darby has recently died, she faces Society's fury alone.  What Society does not know is that Sir Anthony married her only for her artistic talents and forced her to do the illustrations. Only her family remains steadfast in their support.

After sixteen months in Scotland her sister and brother-in-law venture to host a house party. Kiera knows that she will be the object of derision and scorn, but hopes to keep a low profile. When a house guest is murdered she knows that she will be the logical suspect among the harpies at the house party. Her only hope is to help another of the house guests investigate the murder in the roughly three days before the prosecutor arrives at the estate. Sebastian Gage is a sought out member of Society and has some experience as a private inquiry agent. Despite her initial dislike of Gage, she and he forge an uneasy alliance. That alliance is sorely tested before the murderer is unmasked.

I initially gave 4 stars to The Anatomist's Wife because I thought the mystery very well done. I did not figure it out on my own at any rate.  While I don't have to particularly like the characters in a book I really need to understand their motivations. Kiera was by turns passive and aggressive about her plight, then clever and/or stupidly impulsive. I never knew what sort of dangerously ill-considered action she might take next. She was a moderately successful portraitist before her marriage so I find her passive consent to an arranged marriage hard to understand. It was difficult for a woman of her station to avoid marriage, but it could be done. The fact that she was content to let her father make such an important decision for her was incomprehensible to me.

There have been many comparisons of The Anatomist's Wife to the Lady Julia Gray mysteries. I don't see it, even though their situations as widows involved with inquiry agents are similar. Lady Julia has a backbone of steel and a will to match; and Sebastian Gage is no Brisbane! The fact that The Anatomist's Wife lingered in my head after I finished gives me hope for the next book in the series, Mortal Arts, which I will certainly read.

RATING- 3 Stars

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kelley Armstrong's New Cainsville Series Always

OMENS (Cainsville # 1)
Kelley Armstrong
August 2013

Imagine this- you are the only daughter of one of Chicago's wealthiest families; Ivy League educated, pursuing volunteerism and philanthropy, and engaged to a handsome tech firm CEO (and Senate hopeful). In one day you discover that you are adopted and are really the daughter of notorious serial killers, Todd and Pamela Larsen. Your already distant adoptive mother distances herself even further and your fiance thinks you should "postpone the wedding". On the run from the papparazzi and refusing any financial help from "mother" you go on a voyage of self-discovery and a search to find out if there is anything of your real parents in you. And could they be innocent? I was immediately riveted by Olivia's sudden reversal of fortune and Omens kept me turning the page throughout nearly 500 pages.

Olivia lands in Cainsville, a small town on the outskirts of Chicago. Cainsville is a very strange place indeed, filled with even stranger inhabitants with unusual abilities. They all seem to have been expecting Olivia. With the help of Pamela Larsen's most recent lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia meets Pamela and agrees to investigate the last killing the couple was charged with. Pamela thinks that if they can be proven innocent in that murder, the evidence for the others will fall apart. Along the way, Olivia finds her own strange abilities and a strong streak of pragmatism she never suspected in herself. 

Olivia and Gabriel are two of the more complex characters I have encountered.  Gabriel is " a riddle wrapped up in a mystery, inside an enigma". For much of the book he seems to be somewhat of a sociopath, but there are definitely layers underneath. I am anxiously awaiting the second of the series! Omens is highly recommended for paranormal and mystery fans.

RATING: 5 Stars

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Promising New Steampunk Series

Emma Jane Holloway
Random House/Del Rey
September 24, 2013

It is 1888 in London and Evelina Cooper, the niece of Sherlock Holmes, is preparing for her first season in society. Wait- you didn't know Sherlock Holmes had a niece? Well- never mind- that is just one of the "facts" that Emma Jane Holloway plays with in this clever beginning book of a trilogy coming out in rapid succession this fall. Evelina's England is in love with technology and in servitude to a group of Steam Barons who control all the power and materials used to make and run the technology and therefore, power the Empire. Needless to say, the Barons are no benevolent despots. They have the ability to wreck businesses and lives by "Disconnecting" and are not shy of using it. Disconnection spells ruin financially and socially, no matter high born you may be. Into this London steps Evelina who has the ability to meld magic and technology thereby cutting out the Barons. If the rebels who oppose the Barons knew this, she would be in great danger from both sides. And, magic usage is a crime that can be punished by burning or incarceration in one of Her Majesty's "research laboratories". Then there is the evil Mage who wants Evelina for his own nefarious purposes.

A Study in Silks attempts to mix steampunk, mystery, a romantic triangle and a coming of age story into a cohesive whole, mostly successfully. My feeling is that the book, at 500+ pages, bogs down in the middle and could stand some cutting. Holloway writes description very well but gets a little carried away and stalls the narrative flow.  I am a reader that really enjoys descriptive passages and I was thinking, "Just get on with it!". That being said, I  enjoyed the book and characters and I am looking forward to Book 2, A Study in Darkness, coming in October. Thanks to Random House/Del Rey and for an advance digital copy in return for a free and fair review.

RATING- 3.5 Devas

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Thieve's Quarry

THIEVE'S QUARRY (Thieftaker Chronicles #2)
D.B. Jackson
July 2, 2013

Thieve's Quarry by D.B. Jackson is a worthy follow-up to last year's Thieftaker. Jackson takes us back to Boston in 1768, where revolutionary politics coexist uneasily with magic. Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker and "speller" or conjurer. Even though the events in Salem took place nearly a hundred years earlier, he tries to keep his spelling quiet as much as possible. Business has been pretty steady since the events of Thieftaker, despite run-ins with Sephira Pryce, the chief thieftaker in Boston, and her band of thugs. But when Ethan is awakened one morning by a massive wave of magic, he knows that problems are coming his way. An occupying force of British warships is in Boston Harbor and on one of them the full complement of men- nearly 100- are found dead. The Crown hires Ethan to find out the identity of the rogue speller and threatens to hang Ethan and every other conjurer in Boston if he does not succeed in five day's time. 

Thieve's Quarry is a fine merging of historical fact and fiction. It is true that the British occupied Boston in 1768 and such figures as Samuel Adams and John Hancock make appearances. Ethan himself is a royalist but I think we will see changes in his beliefs- he along with the rest of Boston does not like the occupation. The Thieftaker Chronicles are great adventure tales packed with period detail, mystery and vivid characters. I highly recommend them to fans of urban fantasy and historical fiction.

RATING 4.5 Tricorns

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Jazz Age Grand-Guignol

THE BONES OF PARIS (Harris Stuyvesant #2)
Laurie R. King
Random House
September 10, 2013

The Bones of Paris (Harris Stuyvesant #2) is set in Jazz Age Paris in 1929.  After World War I Paris was flooded with American expats escaping US Prohibition and diving into the Art Scene and fleshpots of Monmartre and Montparnasse. One of the most popular songs of the day included the line, "how you gonna keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" Paris was cheap and wide open to young men and women who wanted nothing more than to live it up with no restrictions after the devastation of the "War to end all Wars". Such expats included Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, Man Ray, Lee Miller, and Ada "Bricktop" Smith. After a decade of partying though, the shine is wearing off and the party is getting meaner.

Harris Stuyvesant, American PI and ex-FBI agent is down on his luck in Berlin when a letter catches up to him asking him to find Philippa "Pip" Crosby, a 22 year old girl who has gone missing in Paris. After a year of living in Paris and writing home faithfully, nothing has been heard from her since March and it's now the end of August. The writer of the letter, Pip's uncle, believes that Harris may have met her at some point in Paris. Met her indeed- the two had a five day "fling". Harris desperately needs the money offered and knowing Pip as he does, thinks she has just run off with friends, forgetting to write. When he gets to Paris she has literally disappeared without a trace. No one can remember seeing her for months and nothing is missing from her apartment, other than her passport.  Her roommate, Nancy, has been away herself and knows nothing. But Nancy and Harris begin to fear the worst as they learn of a string of missing persons in Paris and the surrounding area. Paris has gotten mean in truth and the evil centers on the Theatre Grand-Guignol, where simulated death and dismemberment is entertainment.

I am a big fan of Laurie King's Russell and Holmes books and the Kate Martinelli books. No one can evoke far off times and places quite as well as Ms. King. She does this through exhaustive research and evocative prose. I had read almost all her books, but not "Touchstone", which introduced Bennett Gray and Sarah Gray, Harris's lost love. It was not a problem, but I plan to remedy that very soon. For one thing, I'd like to see Harris in a less "tattered " condition than in The Bones of Paris. Drinking and brawling too much, his disillusionment makes him the perfect "noir" detective, but not a healthy one. I highly recommend The Bones of Paris for fans of historical fiction, colorful characters and meticulous plotting.

Thanks to Random House and for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mystery and Ghosts in Old San Francisco

Jamie Lee Moyer
MacMillan Tor/Forge
September 17, 2013

Delia's Shadow is a combination of a ghost and detective story with a little romance thrown in for good measure. Set in San Francisco in the years following The Great Quake and prior to World War I, I thoroughly enjoyed  the blending of both period detail and mystery. Delia Martin lost her parents in the Quake and was taken in by the family of her best friend, Sadie. On top of the loss of her parents, Delia can see the ghosts of the disaster's victims- some of whom seem to be haunting her particularly. After several years of this Delia flees to New York and is free of the ghosts for several years. However, one ghost appears in New York, that of a young woman that Delia calls "Shadow". Shadow follows her everywhere and Delia knows instinctively that she will never be free of Shadow unless she finds out why the ghost is haunting her. When word comes of Sadie's engagement and the ill health of Sadie's mother, Esther, Delia knows the time has come to return to San Francisco.

Sadie's fiancé, Jack, is on the SFPD detective squad and along with his partner, Gabriel Ryan, is investigating a series of particularly nasty murders which emulate killings investigated by Gabe's father thirty years before. Gabe is even receiving taunting letters from the killer, just as his father did. Gabe also has his own sorrow, the loss of his wife and unborn child in the fire after the Quake. How Jack, Gabe, Delia, Sadie and the killer are all bound together make up the mystery of Delia's Shadow.

Jamie Lee Moyer has done an excellent of job of tying the various elements of the story together. The four main characters are both likable and believable and the supporting characters well-rounded. There are some very scary and unsettling moments in the book, especially when the killer appears. Delia's Shadow kept me turning pages late into the night. My only quibble was that the solution to the killer's identity seemed a little too easy after stumping everyone for thirty years and the ending felt a little rushed. I am giving Delia's Shadow 3.5 stars and rounding up to 4.

Thanks to and MacMillan for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Solid Urban Fantasy Debut

Elliott James
Sept. 24, 2013 

A vampire and a blonde walk into a bar......and John Charming knows that something is up, something that he really doesn't need to get mixed up in. John is one of a long line of Charmings who have fought and died to uphold the Pax Arcana, essentially a spell which keeps the human population unaware of the things that go bump in the night. The mission of the Knights is not to kill all monsters, but only those who behave badly enough to expose the existence of supernaturals. After decades in the order, John has become one of the monsters (at least according to the Knights) and he has been on the run. After a close encounter with an order death squad in Alaska, John has ended up tending bar in a small Virginia town. Despite being under a death sentence, he still tries to uphold the Pax Arcana and knows this vampire is up to no good. What is an ex-knight to do but team up with a motley crew of monster hunters which includes a Valkyrie, a Slavonic psychic, a cop, an exterminator and a female Episcopalian priest. The question is: who is going to kill him first, the Knights, the vampires, or someone from his own team?

Charming is a very promising new entry into a crowded urban fantasy field. Fans of Jim Butcher and Kevin Hearne will enjoy the humor and action particularly. John Charming has an innate core of goodness that makes him easy to cheer for, even though John himself doubts the health of his own soul. There is just enough twist on the standard vampire and werewolf lore to make it all interesting. I enjoyed Charming greatly and look forward to the next book. Thanks to Orbit and for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4 Blades.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Fatal Likeness

Lynn Shepherd
Random House
August 20, 2013

The third entry in the Charles Maddox Victorian mystery series (after Murder At Mansfield Park and The Solitary House) finds Charles living in his Great-Uncle and mentor's home, also named Charles. The elder Charles was a famous and respected thief-taker but is now suffering the effects of what appears to be Altzheimers. When a caller leaves a card for the younger Charles, the uncle sees it and has a stroke, leaving him even more impaired. The name on the card is Percy Shelley, son of the famous Romantic Poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The younger Shelley and his wife, Jane, ask Charles to discover who is in possession of papers centering on the famous summer spent at Lake Geneva by Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and Claire Clairmont (Mary's stepsister). This is the summer of 1816 in which the idea for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was born.  Shepherd has intensively researched the remaining records for that year and the two years proceeding. Filling in the gaps of those records , she has come up with an ugly brew of suicide, murder, madness, and possible infanticide among a group of monstrously overwrought and entitled young people.  There was genius among them, but they were also obsessive in their loves and more importantly, hates. As Charles tries to find out what really happened, he discovers that his uncle was involved. Indeed, his uncle has hidden all records of his involvement.  

While I applaud Ms. Shepherd's research and encyclopedic knowledge of the times, I am afraid that I can't recommend A Fatal Likeness. The various plot lines are so convoluted, the names so similar I found it somewhat difficult to keep up with just exactly who was who. The novel was a slog for me throughout and the characters and story left me with a "bad taste". I had liked Charles Maddox very much in the first two novels of the series but his ability to ignore unpleasant facts about himself surprised and disappointed me.  The use of an "omniscient narrator" is at best annoying, and at worst, somewhat condescending.

Thanks to Random House and for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 2 stars

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Exciting but Somewhat Disappointing Entry in the Newbury and Hobbes Series

THE EXECUTIONER'S HEART (Newbury and Hobbs #4)
George Mann
July 2013

It seems like a very long time between the release of The Immorality Engine, # 3 in the Newbury and Hobbes Series and #4, The Executioner's Heart. In my opinion, Newbury and Hobbes is one of the best steampunk series out there, but I was vaguely disappointed. I don't know whether it was the long wait, but many of the events described as happening in the past seemed unfamiliar to me. In The Executioner's Heart a hired killer has surfaced in London; a woman, beautiful, heavily tattooed and showing a porthole on her chest with her withered heart visible. She is killing the Queen's Agents, cracking their chests open and stealing their hearts. Bainbridge, Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes are called in to find the killer, but both the Queen and the Prince of Wales are throwing obstacles in their way. In addition a level of distrust has developed among the three partners.

George Mann has the ability to construct characters that are grotesque but believable. The Executioner herself is completely mad, but oddly sympathetic. Queen Victoria is like a particularly malevolent spider in a web of machinery keeping her alive. There is literally nothing that she won't do to expand her power. The characterization in The Executioner's Heart is as strong as ever, but the mystery of who hired the killer is somewhat obvious. I was also surprised that the shattering event that serves as a cliff-hanger for the next in the series is revealed in the first chapter.

As I said, I was vaguely disappointed but will be looking forward to the next in the series, The Revenant Express.

RATING- 3 Stars

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Demon Trappers Daughter (Demon Trappers #1)

Jana Oliver
St. Martin's/Griffin
February 2011

The Demon Trapper's Daughter was a great surprise for me and exactly what I needed for a hot summer day's read. I had not heard of it until I read positive reviews on goodreads from Maria V. Snyder and D.B. Jackson. As they are two of my favorite Fantasy authors I decided to give the book a try and was not at all disappointed. Even though I tend to steer away from books billed as YA (I can hardly keep up with my "Adult" TBR list) The Demon Trapper's Daughter was pure escapist fun.

Riley Blackthorne is seventeen and living with her father,the legendary trapper Paul Blackthorne, in Atlanta. Riley has always wanted to follow in her father's footsteps and is now his apprentice. The two have only each other as Riley's mother died of cancer several years earlier. Paul was not always a trapper; he was a teacher and the family lived in tony Buckhead. That was before the economy collapsed and her mother got ill. Saddled with huge medical bills and the loss of his job and home, Riley and Paul live in a small apartment.

The Demon Trapper's Daughter has a well constructed dystopian world and very memorable characters. There is plenty of action; Hell is sending in demons to take over the city and only the Trapper's Guild stands in it's way. Since a very powerful Level Five Demon has Riley in his sights, it may be up to her to stop the Apocalypse. I can see that I will be reading the four books in the series in very short order!

RATING- 4.5 Level 5 Demons

Monday, July 15, 2013

Brilliant Historical Thriller from David Morrell

David Morrell
Mulholland Books
May 2013

It is 1854 and London is being terrorized by a series of senseless, savage mass murders which mirror those of 43 years earlier, "The Ratcliffe Highway Murders". Thomas De Quincey, who scandalized England with his "Confessions of an English Opium Eater" also wrote an account of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders which seems to be the blueprint for the new murder spree. Naturally the powers that be would love to pin the crimes on De Quincey. De Quincey himself is an unlikely suspect as he is small, thin, elderly and suffers from a life-long opium addiction. Without the help of his capable daughter, Emily, and two members of the Constabulary, De Quincey will no doubt swing for the crime.

Murder as a Fine Art moves through every level of British society, from the lowest strata to the upper echelons of British government. I have always had a fascination with the Victorian Era, because it is so alien to our own; yet at the same time is a mirror for us. The same ever widening divisions between the "haves" and the "have-nots" are at play today, as well as the deep strain of hypocrisy and callousness in our public life. All of this is touched upon in Murder as a Fine Art, as well as a suspenseful and harrowing crime story. We get to take a walk in the mind of a murderer that is both illuminating and deeply disturbing.

I highly recommend Murder as a Fine Art to fans of historical fiction and crime.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Not so much...

HUNTED (Iron Druid Chronicles #6)
Kevin Hearne
Del Rey
June 2013

I wish I had better things to say about Hunted(Iron Druid #6). The Iron Druid Series has been a favorite since the first three were brought out in quick succession a couple of years ago. I loved the originality and especially the internal dialogue between Atticus and Oberon, his wolf hound. This book just didn't feel like it went anywhere in terms of advancing the story line. In terms of other movement- there was plenty. Atticus, Oberon and Granuaile were running (literally) through Europe, pursued by two angry goddesses, Artemis and Diana. 

The three companions have managed to get just about all the gods of all the pantheons angry, mostly due to Atticus' ill-considered actions. Not only that- Loki, the Norse god of fire wants to start Ragnarok, the end of all the worlds. Not to mention the vampires, fairies and dark elves. I feel that there is just way too much going on. There were things that I enjoyed but I found myself easily putting down the book to do something else. I still love Oberon- the dialogue remains fresh and funny. I don't doubt that I will read the next book but it will probably not be a day of release read.

RATING- 3 Magical Swords

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Summer Reading List, Part the Second

Lynn Shepherd
Random House
August 20, 2013

With The Solitary House, award-winning author Lynn Shepherd introduced readers to Charles Maddox, a brilliant private detective plying his trade on the gaslit streets of Dickensian London. Now, in this mesmerizing new novel of historical suspense, a mystery strikes disturbingly close to home—and draws Maddox into a world of literary legends, tormented souls, and a legacy of terrible secrets.


Laurie R. King
Random House
Sept 10, 2013

New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King, beloved for her acclaimed Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, consistently writes richly detailed and thoroughly suspenseful novels that bring a distant time and place to brilliant life. Now, in this thrilling new book, King leads readers into the vibrant and sensual Paris of the Jazz Age—and reveals the darkest secrets of its denizens.

Elliott James
Orbit Books/Hachette Group
Sept. 24, 2013

John Charming isn't your average Prince... He comes from a line of Charmings -- an illustrious family of dragon slayers, witch-finders and killers dating back to before the fall of Rome. Trained by a modern day version of the Knights Templar, monster hunters who have updated their methods from chain mail and crossbows to kevlar and shotguns, he was one of the best. That is-- until he became the abomination the Knights were sworn to hunt. That was a lifetime ago. Now he tends bar under an assumed name in rural Virginia and leads a peaceful, quiet life. A life that shouldn't change just because a vampire and a blonde walk into his bar. Right?

I was delighted to get my hands on advance copies of these upcoming titles. Laurie King is a favorite, and even though The Bones of Paris is not a Russell/Holmes mystery, Ms. King is a writer I always enjoy reading. I have not read The Solitary House but it was very well-received and I probably will read it very soon. Charming looks like fun and comes with a positive blurb from Kevin Hearne.  Reviews will be forthcoming closer to the publication date.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Short Visit to Deadwood SD with the hilarious Ann Charles

BOOT POINTS (Deadwood Mystery Series Novella)
Ann Charles
Ann Charles pub. Kindle
June 2013

I'm a big fan of Ann Charles' two series, the Deadwood series and the Jackrabbit Junction series. I am always happy when she gives us a taste of her worlds between major full length releases. Boot Points is a short story from the Deadwood Series, somewhere between #3 and#4. Violet's Deadwood SD is a fun mixture of mystery, romance and the paranormal written with Ann's great sense of humor. Violet Parker is the single mother of twins, Layne and Addie, and has had her share of bad luck. Her sister, "the daughter of Satan" and her cheating ex, father of her twins, being just a part. Now that she has settled in Deadwood she is being plagued by trouble of the supernatural variety. Boot Points explained the importance of Violet's purple boots in her life and the loyal back-up of quirky characters she has acquired. Just about all of her back-up makes an appearance, not least "Doc" Nyce, Violet's current (and maybe forever)love interest. 

There are also three short stories,"Dancing with Dialogue","Rainstorms" and "Metro Madness"; also a deleted scene from Nearly Departed in Deadwood. The stories are a good example of Ann's evolution as a writer. Now that she is writing full-time I am hoping to see much, much more!

RATING- 5 Purple Boots

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Longings of Wayward Girls

Karen Brown
Washington Square Press
July 2, 2013

Set in a middle-class Connecticut neighborhood, The Longings of Wayward Girls explores the events of three summers that have a profound effect on the lives of it's residents. A school age girl has gone missing in the neighborhood in 1974 and 1979, and twenty years later Sadie Watkins, a child herself at the time of the disappearances, is a mother and a wife living in the same community. Sadie is married to a good man but is suffering from the effects of many miscarriages followed by the late-term loss of her third child. When a boy that Sadie had a crush on years ago reappears after years away Sadie is tempted to throw away everything for his sake. As events unfold we discover not only the secrets of the missing girls, but those of Sadie's own family.

Beautifully written, The Longings of Wayward Girls summons up the heat, light and smells of childhood summers. It also accomplishes what is almost impossible, at least for me, an emotional investment in a character that I can neither like or relate to. Sadie is almost completely self-absorbed both as child and woman. As a child she is capable of carrying out a sustained prank on another child; a child who is extraordinarily vulnerable. As a woman she can only see the effects of her actions on herself. The fact that I was carried away by the narrative is a testament to Karen Brown's writing. I can't say that The Longings of Wayward Girls will ever be a favorite summer read, but I did enjoy it for the writing and masterful interweaving of timelines.

Thanks to Washington Square Press (Atria) and netgalley for an advance digital copy in return for a free and fair review.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Friday, June 21, 2013

If you are suffering CALL THE MIDWIFE withdrawal....

I ran across this blog post from the Penguin USA Blog by Julie Schaeffer about the book on which the hit PBS series "Call the Midwife" is based and wanted to share it with you. Call the Midwife is one of my favorite PBS shows ever. I think that it even surpasses Downton for me, as each episode packs a real emotional punch. I have been leery of the books (there are actually 2 memoirs) since I love the show so much. After reading this post both books are going on my summer reading list! 

Staff Picks: Call the Midwife, by Julie Schaeffer | Penguin USA Blog:

'via Blog this'

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Raven Flight (Shadowfell #2)

RAVEN FLIGHT (Shadowfell #2)
Juliet Marillier
Knopf Books for Young Readers
July 9, 2013

Juliet Marilier's Shadowfell Trilogy continues with Raven Flight, second in the trilogy. Neryn is safe at Shadowfell with the rebels and training to gain strength after three years of flight from King Keldric's Enforcers and an arduous journey to the rebel stronghold. Flint, the hooded man who rescued Neryn has been revealed not only as a trusted member of Keldric's court, but a double agent for the rebels. As he continues his dangerous game of deception at court, Neryn prepares to set off on another journey to reach the Guardians and continue her training as a Caller. It becomes more and more critical that she can hone her skills quickly and enlist the aid of the "Good Folk" in the fight to overthrow the King.

Tali, the rebel leader's trusted female bodyguard, is not happy with the assignment. Despite working with Neryn, Tali does not entirely trust her and definitely does not want to leave Regan's safety in the hands of someone else. Tali also considers Neryn's love for Flint a weakness and a danger to the cause. As the two women set off to find the Hag of the Sea and face many dangers and tests, they have to learn to trust each other. Meanwhile, Flint is facing questions about his loyalty from the king; questions which lead to a confrontation which exposes Keldric as not only power mad, but deranged. At the end of the novel all the rebel's plans must be changed in a twist I could not have imagined.

I found Raven Flight very slow moving in spots but a good follow-up to Shadowfell, a book I really loved. Both Neryn and Tali are terrific fantasy heroines; Tali, the unparalleled warrior and Neryn, steadfast in her convictions. It is a relationship that I enjoyed watching develop. I wish there had been more of Flint but expect him to be much more present in the next book. I would recommend the Shadowfell Trilogy to both adult and young adult fantasy fans. Deeply rooted in Celtic mythology, Juliet Marillier's novels are always a treat. Many thanks to Knopf and for a digital copy in return for a free and fair review.

RATING- 4 stars

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Murder and Mayhem in an English Country Village

INTO THE SHADOWS (Jill Kennedy and DCI Max Trentham #1)
Shirley Wells
C and R Crime

Forensic psychologist Jill Kennedy has recently moved to the village of Kelton Bridge, having quit police work after a case went wrong. A man arrested as a serial killer based on Jill's profile committed suicide in jail. He was not guilty and after another woman turns up murdered, everyone knows that the killer,"Valentine", is still at large.  Valentine is a particularly vicious killer who carves hearts into the flesh of his victims. The pressure of what Jill perceives as her failure and the infidelity of her policeman lover drives her into a new career writing books. However, both Valentine and DCI Max Trentham have different plans for Jill. When the vicar's wife is murdered, Jill is drawn inexorably into the investigation and back into Max's life.

Into the Shadows is a very well constructed mix of the English village mystery and police procedural. Max and Jill are strong characters, both likable and fallible. The supporting cast of villagers and suspects are equally memorable. Valentine is suitably creepy and Wells kept me guessing until the end. I am looking forward to reading the next book in this five book series.

The Jill Kennedy and DCI Max Trentham Mysteries were published several years ago in England and are now available in kindle editions in the US. I am a fan of her Dylan Scott Mysteries so I was delighted that I was finally able to read this earlier series.  

RATING- 4 Hearts