Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Delightful Debut Mystery from South Africa

Sally Andrew
November 3, 2015
Ecco Books

Coming in under the wire in 2015, Recipes for Love and Murder has risen to the top of my favorite list. I ran across a review and thought it might be something I might enjoy; food, love and murder in a place I have very little real knowledge of. It ticked all the boxes.

Tannie (a respectful Afrikaans address for ladies of a certain age) Maria is a widow living in a cottage on the veldt in South Africa. She has her chickens and her food for company and writes a recipe column for the local newspaper. The column has been very successful, but the syndication agency governing the paper has decreed that they want an advice column. Tannie Maria and her boss, Hattie, come up with the notion that advice and recipes can be combined, thereby pleasing both the big bosses and the readers. Tannie Maria doesn't think that she will be any good at giving advice but Hattie has confidence in her. One of the first letters she receives is from a woman living with a violently abusive husband. Tannie Maria lived for years in a very abusive marriage so the letter triggers unwelcome memories. She sends the woman a mutton curry recipe and advises her to make a plan to escape as soon as possible. When the woman is murdered, Tannie Maria is sure that the husband is guilty and goes to the police with what she knows. Of course, the solution is not so simple. Tannie Maria's knowledge and attempts at independent investigation place her and her friends in great danger. It's a good thing that the handsome police officer, Henk Kannemeyer, is determined to protect her.

Recipes for Love and Murder is a delight from beginning to end; packed with descriptions of the veldt and the life there. Marauding baboon packs and jackal's calls in the  night are not exactly a part of my daily experiences. The food descriptions are drool-worthy and are accompanied by liberal sprinklings of Afrikaans words and expressions. Tannie Maria was so wounded by her marriage that she has shut herself off from all notions of romantic love. All her love goes to her friends at work and into her cooking. The characters are wonderfully fleshed out; supportive Hattie, intrepid investigative reporter Jessie, the steady Kannemeyer, and many others spring to vivid life. The subject matter is serious but there are many humorous moments. The incident of the purple flowered dress comes to mind, for one. Watching Tannie Maria slowly open herself up to the possibility of love and trust was a pleasure I won't soon forget.

Now I think I may go out and get the ingredients for vetkoek and babootie from the extensive recipe collection provided at the end of the book! Highly Recommended!

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Twisted Tale from The Great North Woods

Sarah Graves
January 5, 2016
Bantam Books

The Girls She Left Behind begins 15 years ago on the mean streets of New Haven, CT. Two young cousins, Jane and Cam, make a mistake that has far reaching consequences. Jane is a bit of a goody-two-shoes who is often led astray by her "wild child" cousin, Cam. The two sneak away from their youth group meeting to go to an outdoor party in the park. When they leave the party they are abducted by a sexual predator and imprisoned in a basement with two other girls. Jane manages to escape and tells no one, believing that Cam is dead. But is she? And what about the other girls?

In the present day, Lizzie Snow is settling into her new job as a deputy in Bearkill, ME, on the edge of The Great North Woods. We left Lizzie (Winter at the Door) in a blizzard, in the midst of one of the worst winters on record. Now the area is suffering from extreme drought and fighting widespread wildfires. Bearkill itself is threatened and local manpower is stretched to the limit. When a local girl goes missing, Lizzie is just about the only one available to search. The girl has gone missing before and showed up unharmed, and her mother is oddly unforthcoming. Lizzie has a bad feeling about this disappearance, though. Maybe it is her ongoing search for her lost niece that has her spooked, but Lizzie doesn't think so. Strange people and connections to the earlier New Haven case keep popping up as well.

The Girls She Left Behind is a very dark look into the effects of sexual crimes on the victims. Secrets and revenge play a part in those effects and lead to a pulse-pounding conclusion. The Lizzie Snow Series is one that I greatly enjoy, but it is by no means cozy or light reading. I highly recommend The Girls She Left Behind for thriller and suspense fans. Thanks to NetGalley and Bantam for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Downton Abbeyish" Mystery Set in Aftermath of World War I

Alyssa Maxwell
December 29, 2015
Kensington Books

I was delighted to receive a copy of Allyssa Maxwell's new mystery set in England in the immediate aftermath of WWI. I had greatly enjoyed her series set in Gilded Age Newport, RI Murder at the Breakers, Murder at Marble House, Murder at Beechwood). They seemed to me well-researched and were populated with fully formed and believable characters. I wish I could say the same for Murder Most Malicious.

Set in the large country house of Lord Wroxley, the story takes place at Christmas in the immediate aftermath of WWI. Lady Phoebe, 19-year-old second granddaughter of the house, overhears a heated argument between her icy older sister, Lady Julia, and a houseguest, Lord Allerton. It is clear that Lord Allerton is a cad and the expected engagement between the two will never happen. The next morning, Boxing Day, dawns with the discovery that Lord Allerton is missing from the house. Later in the day, some very unpleasant inclusions are found in the Christmas boxes of several servants and villagers. The search for the body of Lord Allerton is unsuccessful, but it appears that he must be dead. When a footman falls under suspicion, Lay Phoebe and her maid, Eva, join forces to clear his name.

I found it very difficult to keep the large cast of characters sorted and kept putting the book down in sheer frustration. All the country house mystery tropes were trotted out; the bumbling village policeman, the eccentric houseguests, the rakish valet and the martinet housekeeper. This was an uncorrected proof, which I usually take into account when reviewing. Hopefully, errors get corrected before publication, but there were a couple  in the early part of the book that seemed to betray a lack of knowledge and research that I couldn't overlook. Finishing the book was a struggle. I don't require a mystery that keeps me guessing, but I do need characters that seem real to me. Other than Lady Phoebe and Eva, such characters are not present.

I wish I could recommend Murder Most Malicious. It was a great disappointment to me, especially after Maxwell's earlier Gilded Age mysteries. Those I do recommend highly to fans of historical mysteries. Thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING-2 Stars

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

EMPTY NEST (Birds of a Feather # 2)
Marty Wingate
Random House Alibi
December 1, 2015

Long-time travel and gardening writer Marty Wingate has branched out in the past couple of years and produced not one but two utterly charming series; The Potting Shed Mysteries and Birds of a Feather Mysteries. I have had hours of enjoyment from each series and Empty Nest does not disappoint. It is a feast for the unashamed Anglophile. Julia Lanchester, daughter of famed environmentalist and birder, Rupert Lanchester, is settling into her new position as head of tourism for the Fotheringill Estate. Her relationship with her father's assistant, Michael Sedgewick, is going well despite frequent job-related separations. Her only problems are her mold contaminated cottage and Lord Fotheringill's evident infatuation with her. She has been bunking at the Hall while the cottage is being decontaminated and longs to get back her own place. When Lord Fotheringill's son Cecil arrives unexpectedly with an obnoxious friend in tow, things begin to go downhill fast. Cecil shows every sign that he would like to get rid of Julia and sets up roadblocks to her every plan. The new estate manager seems to be set against her as well. A murder at the Hall makes things even more complicated.

Empty Nest  has wonderful descriptions of the countryside and village life, lots of birding and environmental lore and many of the wonderful characters we met in the previous book, The Rhyme of the Magpie. The addition of a very twisted mystery and a little romantic spice make for a very enjoyable read. Thanks to NetGalley and Alibi for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Promising Debut set in 1919 Alaska

Charlotte Brody Mystery #1
Cathy Pegau
Kensington Books
November 24, 2015

I know you shouldn't judge a book by its' cover, but the cover of Murder on the Last Frontier really sold me. I could tell that it was set in a favorite time period, just after WWI, and the Alaska setting was something new for me. Charlotte Brody has traveled from her Yonkers, NY home to the small Alaska town of Cordova to visit her brother, one of the town's doctors. She is a journalist and her plan is to send a serial to her publisher about the women of Alaska. She is also hoping to get a new start. Charlotte has had to make difficult decisions and deal with heartbreak in the past year and hopes to turn things around in Alaska. As a committed suffragette and an outspoken opponent of the Volstead Act (Prohibition), she is bound to make waves.Charlotte finds a town that is striving to become more "civilized" but has a dark underside. She has also found a much-loved brother who appears to be greatly changed; a brother with as many secrets as she. When a local "working girl" is brutally murdered, Charlotte puts herself in the center of the investigation, despite warnings from the investigating deputy, James Eddington, and her brother, Michael. The murderer, too, takes an interest in her activities; an interest that might be fatal to Charlotte and those around her. 

Murder on the Last Frontier is a promising debut for a new series and I look forward to the next installment, due in July 2016. As much as I liked Charlotte, I also found her alarmingly naive about the danger to not only herself but others. The writing and pacing are very good, as well as the setting in frontier Alaska. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review. 

RATING- 3 Stars

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Winemaker Detective visits Beaujolais

The Winemaker Detective # 9
Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen
Le French Book
November 19, 2015

Guillaume Périthiard has spent thirty years building a business empire and after selling it, is still young enough to enjoy his billions. But retirement is not in the cards for him; his new dream is to buy a vineyard and begin producing a premier Beaujolais Nouveau. The fact that his wife has no desire to leave their home in Versailles and move to the provinces has no bearing on his decision-making. So who would he call to advise him on the purchase of a defunct vineyard other than the premier winemaker and critic, Benjamin Cooker. Mr. Cooker is more than happy to help (for a very large fee) but refuses to be bulldozed by the hard-driving businessman. Guillaume manages to offend quite a few people in the region. He hires away two employees of the powerful wine merchant family of Dujaray; one a Dujaray family member. He gets involved with a local real estate agent, hires a cousin with a long-standing grudge against him, and let's not forget his unhappy wife. What follows is vandalism escalating to murder and can only be solved by Benjamin Cooker and his assistant, Virgile.

Backstabbing in Beaujolais is aptly titled as well as being a very entertaining read. As usual with this series, one learns about a new region of France, and much about wine and wonderful food. I really enjoy this series, perfect for an evening read and I look forward to the next visit with Benjamin, Virgile and the other characters in the Winemaker Detective series. Thanks to NetGalley and Le French Book for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Home by Nightfall

Charles Finch
Minotaur Books
November 10, 2015

It is 1876 and Charles Lenox has left Parliament and founded his own detective agency. The agency is prospering despite the efforts of a powerful peer to scuttle it. London is abuzz with rumors of the disappearance of a famed German pianist. The Yard is getting nowhere, but Charles has not been called in. His associates are eager for involvement, but Charles' mind is elsewhere; his elder brother, Edmund, has recently lost his much-loved wife. Edmund is still deep in grief and Charles is concerned. He decides to visit his brother in their childhood home in Sussex in an effort to help where he can. He is expecting a quiet time, but strange events are happening in the village; thefts, a missing dog, and most seriously, a break-in at the home of an insurance agent.  As time goes on, it becomes clear that something very serious is happening in the village. Meanwhile, the search for the missing pianist is heating up, especially after the Yard calls in a rival detective agency and Charles' associates feel that they must investigate, with or without Yard approval.

The Charles Lenox series has always been a pleasure to read, but a bit uneven at times. I found the books covering his Parliamentary years less involving, so I am very happy to see Charles back to full-time detection. The village investigation was of greater interest to me, but Charles' efforts to supervise the London inquiry from a distance were very well handled. The village mystery was almost Sherlockian; lots of odd, seemingly unrelated events adding up to a sinister whole. It was great fun, as a reader, to try to put the puzzle pieces together. The depiction of  the symbiotic relationship between village and "great house" shows the depth of knowledge that Charles Finch has of Victorian life in England.  All in all, Home by Nightfall is one of the best books so far in the series. I look forward to many more! 

RATING-4.5 Stars

Monday, November 9, 2015

Susanna Kearsley
October 6, 2014

Susanna Kearsley has been one of my favorite authors since The Winter Sea. I had long wanted to read Named of the Dragon but was unable to get my hands on a copy. It has been out of print for quite awhile. So when Sourcebooks offered me the opportunity to read and review a digital copy I was delighted.

London-based literary agent Lyn Ravenshaw allows herself to be persuaded to spend Christmas in Wales with her flighty and flamboyant client, Bridget Cooper. Little did she know that she would be stepping into a world in which Arthurian legend is still very much alive. Lyn is a young widow who has suffered another devastating loss; a still-born child. Her grief is always with her along with dreams of her child. In Wales, the dreams increase in intensity; meeting another young widow whose child seems to be in some sort of jeopardy does not help. Lyn's conflicted feelings for an irascible playwright who lives near the farm she is visiting add to her turmoil.

The excellent world-building and lyrical descriptive language I have come to expect from Susanna Kearsley is very much present in Named of the Dragon. I have never visited Wales, but I have some clear pictures in my head now. I enjoyed the book but thought the characterization was a little weak and the ending rushed. Perhaps if I had a better understanding of Arthurian legend I might have enjoyed it more.The romance element didn't work nearly as well as in her later work. Susanna Kearsley has grown tremendously as a writer over the years. Overall, Named of the Dragon is a good read, but not a great one.

Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for a digital copy of Named of the Dragon in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Very American Historical True Horror Tale

THE WITCHES: Salem 1692
Stacy Schiff
Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Audio
October 27, 2015

In the summer of 1692, after a long and bitter winter in Salem Village, Massachusetts, the forces of superstition, religious fervor, and paranoia erupted into the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Before the madness subsided, twenty men and women were executed for practicing witchcraft; one by "pressing". The hangings were gruesome enough, but the death of Giles Corey is in a league by itself. His body was crushed over the course of several days by rocks. All the hysteria was begun by the accusations of adolescent girls, whose numbers grew and accounts became increasingly ridiculous as time went on. The girls threw fits, talked about specters in the courtroom and gave absurd accounts of black masses and flying on "poles". The fact that spectators in the court could not see the ghosts seemed to bother no one.

The Puritans of Salem did have some reason for their paranoia. Raids by the natives were commonplace, with French collusion. The colonial government was inept insofar as it even existed.The Puritans of Salem were also known far and wide for their litigious and argumentative ways. A strong component of the Puritan belief system dictated that if things were going badly, someone must be to blame. Perhaps it was the sufferer's fault; he or she must have offended God if the crops failed or a pig died. Or it might be the doing of one's neighbor. Another feature of Puritan doctrine required watching and if need be, denouncing another's faults. The addition of the usual misogyny made the whole spectacle irresistible to the 17th-century mind. Indeed, there were men accused and executed, but those could be traced back to such things as land disputes and old grudges. Even a former preacher in Salem fell victim to the hysteria. Anything resembling proper judicial procedure flew out the window aided by what can only be described as "hanging judges". Mothers denounced daughters and sons, husbands denounced wives, ad infinitum. The act of refusing to confess and to name names was a near guarantee of a guilty verdict. By the time the madness passed, the Salem community was in ruins. Then the cover-ups began. The New Englanders were inveterate record keepers, but the records of the summer of 1692 are suspiciously scarce.

Stacy Schiff has given us an exhaustive- and I do mean exhaustive- account of the mindset of the times and the individual cases. I can't fault her on that, but I did find it rambling and confusing. There were so many characters involved that I was sometimes at sea. Her style is one that I can only describe as "chatty" for lack of a better word. It may be that is the fault of the narrator but I found her style inappropriate at times. She does convey the full horror of and injustice to the victims, caught in an inescapable trap. The description of the 72-year-old  Rebecca Nurse, dragged from her cell and excommunicated by her community is simply heartbreaking. To Rebecca, a devout and harmless woman, it must have been a punishment far worse than the hanging awaiting her.There is no real explanation for the actions of the girls or the credulousness of the populace. We have seen this happen many times in America, whenever we feel threatened. The internment of Japanese citizens in WWII, the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, and our present Islamaphobia are just a few examples. Rating The Witches is somewhat difficult for me. The material is well worth study, but I found the delivery somewhat lacking.

RATING- 3 Stars

Sunday, November 1, 2015

An Intrepid Heroine in a Glittering Era

Ashley Weaver 
Minotaur Books
October 13, 2015

Death Wears a Mask begins about two months after the events of Murder at the Brightwell. Milo and Amory Ames have retired to their country estate, mostly to avoid the press, but also to try to repair their faltering marriage. Things on the relationship front seem to be proceeding well and they hope the tabloid furor has died down. However, when you are young, rich and beautiful in 1930s London, the press is always on hounding you. Milo's well-deserved reputation as a playboy doesn't help.

Upon their return to London, one of the first invitations they receive is from Lady Serena Barrington, an old friend of Amory's mother. Their presence is requested at a dinner party. When they arrive, they encounter a group that is only somewhat familiar. The group includes a woman of mystery, a voluble nephew of the Barrington's, two sisters, a tennis star, a highly placed foreign office official and his American wife, and the very dodgy Lord Dunmore. Lord Dunmore delights in scandalizing Society at every opportunity. Serena Barrington has a personal agenda, however; there have been a series of jewel thefts occurring at her dinner parties. All the guests at the dinner party were also guests at the parties in question. She asks Amory to investigate the thefts, based upon her success at the Brightwell Hotel. When her old acquaintance, Inspector Jones, now of Scotland Yard, also asks for her help she accedes. After all, Amory can go places in Society where Inspector Jones cannot. When a murder occurs at a masquerade ball hosted by the dodgy Lord Dunmore, Amory is committed to the investigation fully. Everyone at this particular ball seems to be wearing a mask, both literally and figuratively. Things are not good on the homefront, though; Milo appears to be embroiled in more playboy behavior with a French actress.

The fact that I enjoy this series so much is quite a tribute to Ashley Weaver's writing chops. Everyone in Amory's world seems to be living useless lives of shopping, lunching and partying. No one even seems to be aware that there is a world depression, not to mention events in the rest of Europe at the time. In spite of that, I like Amory quite a lot. She is reckless at times but dogged in her search for answers. I can't find the same liking for Milo who seems to be determined to hurt Amory with his seeming philandering and poor excuses. I have my pet theories about Milo and while he redeems himself somewhat at the end of Death Wears a Mask, I am not convinced! The relationship tension is a plus, though; will she kick him to the curb or will he come clean at last?

Death Wears a Mask is a very enjoyable look at an era long gone; one in which there were idle aristocrats who lived lives of complete leisure. No wonder they got up to so much hanky-panky! I also have to give Minotaur kudos for the beautiful, evocative covers on both books in the series.

RATING-4 Stars

Friday, October 30, 2015

Murder and Manners in Regency England

Kurland St. Mary Mystery #3
Catherine Lloyd
Kensington Books
November 24, 2015

Lucy Harrington has returned from a less than successful visit to London. No marriage proposal, at least none that interested her, has come her way. The irascible Major Robert Kurland proposed, in possibly the most spectacularly inept manner since Darcy and Elizabeth, but managed to only offend and hurt her in the process. It is unfortunate that her good friend, Sophia is marrying the Major's cousin. Lucy and Robert must learn to live in the close confines of Kurland St. Mary peaceably.

Things become even more complicated when the Chingford family, made up of Robert's former fiance, her disagreeable mother and younger sister arrive for the wedding. Mrs. Chingford sets her cap for Lucy's vicar father but when she dies in a fall down the stairs that courtship is over. It seems clear that it was no accident and Robert and Lucy must form an uneasy alliance to find the murderer. There are plenty of candidates among the wedding guests; Mrs. Chingford was universally hated. 

I find the Kurland St. Mary mysteries entertaining and quite different from the usual Regency era fare. Lucy is that most disparaged "managing female", competent and outspoken. Robert is irascible, domineering and in great need of Lucy's "managing", whether he likes it or not. The two have an irresistible attraction for each other in spite of themselves. I hope to see more from Kurland St. Mary in the future. Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy of Death Comes to Kurland Hall.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Genre-Bending Debut Novel Set in the Deep South

Hester Young
G. P. Putnam Sons
September 1, 2015

I had picked up an advance reader's copy of The Gates of Evangeline at Book Expo this year but somehow had never gotten around to reading it. That in itself was surprising as the jacket copy indicated that it just might be up my alley; a Southern Gothic with a mystery and mystical overtones. Last weekend our local paper ran an in-depth story on Hester Young and I found that she is a resident of my own Central New Jersey town. So, in keeping with the "spooky season"  I dove in and never put it down until I finished.

Charlotte "Charlie" Cates is a thirty-something journalist and a quintessential New Yorker. She has worked for a fashion and lifestyle magazine for the previous dozen years and has risen to chief editor. However, life has gone very wrong for Charlie in the previous two years; first divorce, followed by the death of her 4-year-old son, Keegan. Charlie is overwhelmed by sorrow and in danger of losing her job; a job that she admittedly has very little interest in anymore. When she is coming out of the worst of her grief she begins to have dreams and visions about children in danger. These children are asking for her help, but she has no way of figuring out who or where they are. One of the children is a small dark-haired boy in a boat. An old friend offers her a deal for a true-crime book about the disappearance of Gabriel Deveau thirty years before. Gabriel was the son of a prominent and wealthy Louisiana family who will allow her access to the family records. Could the boy of her dream be Gabriel? Charlie goes to Louisiana and moves into the family plantation mansion, Evangeline. The Deveau family and the house harbor more secrets and danger than she could have ever imagined.

The Gates of Evangeline kept me entertained and guessing from beginning to end. The characters are extraordinarily well drawn, even the more secondary ones. Charlie is a mix of toughness and vulnerability that I found appealing. I have never suffered the sort of losses that she has, but I can empathize with her and her reactions. I have seen some negative feedback for Young's portrayal of Southern manners and mores; as a transplanted Southerner I found them more realistic than not. There is a saying that "the past is never really past" and that is very true in the South. People everywhere will kill to keep their secrets.

I am looking forward to the next book in the trilogy and the surprises waiting there. Highly recommended!

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Monday, October 26, 2015

And Now for Something a Little Lighter

Caroline Fardig
Random House Alibi
November 27, 2015

Juliet Langley's life is pretty much a mess. She first had to give up her singing career because of her extreme stage fright. She moved back home to Indiana from Nashville and became a waitress. After working her way up the ladder she, along with her fiance Scott, opened a cafe. The cafe was a great success until no-good Scott cleaned out the bank accounts and apartment and ran off with the head waitress. She couldn't keep the business afloat, so when her old college friend, Pete, asked her to come back to Nashville to manage his family coffee house she jumped at the chance. She worked at Java Jive while attending college so she thinks it will be a cinch. When she finds Java Jive in financial and kitchen disarray, a hostile staff and a dead body in the dumpster she begins to think moving in with her parents might not be such a bad idea. Fearing that her earlier arguments with said dead body make her the lead suspect, Juliet shifts into an all-out sleuthing mode.

Her sleuthing is complicated by a resurgence of old feelings for Pete, which were always more of a crush than the friendship that he always seemed to prefer. Then there is the sexy professor who is pursuing her; a sexy professor who seems to have a lot of questions about her and the happenings at Java Jive. Death Before Decaf is a very promising start to a new series; mixing up mystery, chick-lit, romance and a lot of laughs. I am looking forward to the next in the series to find out what firecracker Juliet gets up to next.

Thanks to Alibi and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Look at Post-War, Cold-War Britain and a Good Mystery, Too!

Elizabeth Edmondson
Thomas and Mercer
October 27, 2015

A Question of Inheritance begins a few months after A Man of Some Repute in December 1953. Hugo Hawksworth and his sister, Georgia, along with Freya Wryton are still in residence at Selchester Castle; all three wonder what will happen to them upon the arrival of the long-lost heir. Housing is very scarce in post-war Britain and even though Freya is a cousin of the Selchester family she is afraid she will lose her much loved and convenient tower residence.
The heir to the Earldom is American, after all.

Gus Mason and his two teenage daughters, Polly and Babs, never expected to be moving into an ancient castle, much less owning one. Gus had lived in England while attending Oxford, but he is a Classical scholar, not a British one. He is very unsure of his surroundings and it's history. His daughters are also unhappy about leaving America for this unknown world. He never expected an onslaught of visitors at the castle, chief among them Lady Sonia Richardson. Lady Sonia thought that she was the sole heir. Her plans to strip the estate of it's liquid assets while cheating the Inland Revenue of its' due share have been thwarted. Needless to say, she is livid and will do whatever she can to recoup at least some profits. Still less does Gus expect multiple attempts on his life and a dead body in the hothouse.

A Question of Inheritance, like its' predecessor, is an interesting look at a bleak time in British history. Despite having won the War, rationing is still in effect and social upheaval has everyone on edge. The exposure of the Cambridge Spy Ring (Burgess, McClain, Philby, has shaken the government and the British public to its' core, especially Hugo's employers. If well-born, well-educated, highly placed people can turn out to be Russian spies, who can one trust?

A Question of Inheritance combines history and mystery, along with some dysfunctional family dynamics into a satisfying read. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its' cover, but I love both covers in the series. They are very evocative of a bygone era. Thanks to Thomas and Mercer and for and advance digital copy.

RATING- 4 Stars

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Jim Butcher Hits it Out of the Park

Jim Butcher, Narr. Euan Morton
Orbit Books, Penguin Audio
September 29, 2015

Jim Butcher's long awaited foray into steampunk lives up to every possible expectation, and they were high. I'm a big fan of the Dresden Files and if possible, enjoyed Codex Alera even more. The world of The Aeronaut's Windlass is entirely different; mankind lives in tall spire cities, away from the dangerous surface of the earth. Peopled by monsters, the surface is to be avoided at all cost. The Spire Cities, Albion and Aurora, are fiercely competitive with a history of warfare. A new round of warfare, initiated by Aurora, is the focus of The Aeronaut's Windlass. Aurora is clearly willing to use whatever means necessary to destroy Albion.

Captain Francis Grimm is loyal to Spire Albion, despite having been treated badly by the Admiralty; drummed out for cowardice unjustly. After his privateer airship, HMS Predator, is badly damaged in an Auroran ambush he must limp home for major repairs. He is recruited for a mission by the Spirearch with the promise of repairs and new crystals for The Predator.
He will be aided in his mission by a motley crew of characters ranging from the admirable to the just plain strange. He is also up against a female adversary who rivals Queen Mab of The Dresden Files and the Vord Queen of Codex Alera for sheer evil. The action of the book is relentless with the characters jumping from frying pan to fire nonstop.

I waffled about the rating on The Aeronaut's Windlass. The world building was almost too organic in that you are thrown into the action with no foundation. I don't mind saying that I had difficulty forming a mental picture of the Spires and airships, at least at the beginning. Euan Morton's narration pushed it from a 4.5 to a 5 for me. I was glued to my device until I realized there is actually no good stopping point in the action. His portrayal of Rowl, Prince of the Silent Paws is spot-on. I highly recommend The Aeronaut's Windlass.

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, October 3, 2015

October is the Spooky Season


CYNTHIA LOTT, Narr. Courtney Patterson
ListenUp Audio
August 2015

We all know that October is the time for "ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night" so I got the month off to a good start with The Feathers". Set in New Orleans in the first few days of 1978, Detectives Brenda Shapira and Roy Agnew are faced with a horrific murder scene. A talented teenager living in the Garden District has been discovered, murdered and dismembered, in her own bedroom. In fact, the family let the murderer into the home; a man wearing one of the fantastical feathered masks so common at Mardi Gras time. He seemed to have some sort of hypnotic effect on the family, making them trust him completely. As the days go on, the bodies are piling up and the Detectives scramble to discover what links there are between the victims. Everything points to a man who has been dead for a hundred years.

The Feathers is a unique twist on the traditional ghost story coupled with a police procedural. Both Brenda and Roy are people who have dealt with loss and grief and we get to know them intimately in the course of the book. Brenda is much more open to a supernatural solution than Roy, but even he eventually can see no other explanation. The suspense builds steadily to an ending that I never saw coming; one that is far from a traditional "happy ever after". There are more stories here and I am looking forward to them. I especially liked the 1978 setting, back when the police actually had to use libraries and cross-directories for research. DNA and cell phones were not even on the radar. I remember those days!

Courtney Patterson does a very nice job with the narration. It is well-paced and consistent. The New Orleans accent is very distinct, so I was glad that she did not attempt it. Better no accent than a badly done one and this was a pleasant experience. The Feathers won't scare you silly or keep you awake, but it's a very good ghost story for the ghostliest month of the year.

"This audiobook was provided by the author, narrator, or publisher at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review courtesy of AudiobookBlast dot com."

RATING-4 Stars

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Suzanne Chazin
Kensington Books
October 27, 2015

On one of their few free nights together, Jimmy Vega and his girlfriend, Adele Figueroa, make a bad decision. That decision not only has a devastating effect on their relationship but wide-ranging effects in the immigrant community. Adele receives a call from her community center telling her that a well-known drunken vagrant has come in raving about seeing the Virgin Mary in the woods with a baby. Adele thinks she should go over and check it out, but Jimmy persuades her that it's nothing. No one can believe a story from such a notorious source. The booze has addled his brain. When Jimmy's cell phone rings in the early morning hours, calling him out to a death scene in those same woods, the two are devastated. Jimmy has been feeling that Adele is pulling away from him for several weeks; will this end the relationship for good? The dead body in the woods sets in motion a chain of shocking discoveries about some of the highest placed persons in Lake Holly. Not only are there predators among the immigrants, but those who pretend to be advocating for them.

A Blossom of Bright Light kept me on the edge of my seat and reading into the early hours. Once again, Suzanne Chazin has written a suspenseful novel with all too fallible characters. The innocence of the victims was, for me at least, very hard to deal with. Adele is fighting hard to keep the Serrano family from deportation, find out who is guilty of the murder and to resolve her own issues with her daughter as well as decide on a change of career. Jimmy, too, has his own family issues and the guilt of ignoring the telephone call. The ending is a real nail-biter, with what has to be the most unusual attempted murder imaginable. 

I highly recommend A Blossom of Bright Light for anyone who likes a thriller with heart as well as thrills. Both this and the earlier book, Land of Careful Shadows, address issues that are all too often glossed over in the politically charged discussions of immigration today. Thanks to and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Final Visit with the Knott Clan of Colleton County

LONG UPON THE LAND (Deborah Knott #20)
Margaret Maron
Grand Central Publishing
August 11, 2015

Long Upon the Land brings to an end the long running and multi-award winning Judge Deborah Knott series. As a native North Carolinian, the series has been a must-read for me. From the first in the series, Bootlegger's Daughter, the series has centered around the huge Knott clan. Deborah is one of twelve, the only daughter of Kezzie Knott and his second wife, Susan. Susan came from a upper-class family, the daughter of a prominent local attorney; Kezzie is a semi-literate farmer and a reformed (?) bootlegger. They don't come much more shrewd than Kezzie, however, and he was always a great father to his huge family. 

The final installment of the series revolves around the discovery of a dead body on Knott land by Kezzie himself. Kezzie says that he doesn't know the dead man, but  it turns out that there has been a history of conflict with him and his family. Kezzie and Deborah's older brothers have been at loggerheads with them over a long-ago land purchase. The local paper gets wind of it and publishes stories hinting that the Judge and her husband, Deputy Dwight Bryant of the Colleton County Police are somehow using their influence to cover things up. Meanwhile, Deborah is trying to solve the mystery of an engraved cigarette lighter that was always carried by her long-dead mother. 

I wish I could say I loved the final act of the Deborah Knott Series but to be truthful, I am glad that Maron has chosen to close it out here. I was happy to get more background on Kezzie and Susan through flashbacks to 1945 and their courtship. Knowing how rigid the social system in the South can be, I could never quite see how Susan could jump the divide. Maron has never shied away from the ugly parts of the South and I have always appreciated that. She also shows the flip side though the love and support that the Knotts have for each other. North Carolina has changed a lot since I grew up there. For instance, North Carolina was a very progressive state and I got a great education in the public schools. The fact that it is now number 48 of 50 in school funding levels is nothing short of a tragedy in my opinion. Hopefully, the pendulum will swing back and soon.

I will miss Deborah and family, but as I understand it, Maron is picking up her Sigrid Harald series based in New York City; that earlier series was always underrated. Since Sigrid has connections to Colleton County, we may see Deborah again in passing. Who knows? I recommend this final outing, but I liked, not loved it.

RATING- 3 Stars

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Double Dealing on the French Riviera

THE ADVENTURESS (Lady Emily #10)
Tasha Alexander
St. Martin's Minotaur
October 13, 2015

Lady Emily's latest adventure takes her along with her husband, Colin Hargreaves, to the French Riviera on what should be a happy occasion. Her childhood friend, Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge is to be married at last to Amity Wells, an American heiress. The Wells family has invited all of Jeremy's friends and relations to a celebration lasting two weeks in Cannes. Amity's marriage to a Duke is the culmination of all her mother's ambitions for social prominence. Emily should be happy for Jeremy, who has been using a supposed infatuation with her to avoid marriage for years. However, having met Amity, she is a little uneasy. Everything goes awry when a close friend of Jeremy supposedly commits suicide. Everyone, including Colin, accepts the coroner's verdict; everyone but Emily that is. The gathering descends into a morass of suspicion, ugly pranks directed at both Emily and Amity, another death and tension. Just what is going on?

The Adventuress is told from the alternating viewpoints of Emily and Amity. Since Amity is anything but a reliable narrator, it kept me guessing throughout; not so much the who but the why and how. Tasha Alexander is a wonderful storyteller, bringing Cannes in the Victorian era to vivid life. I have followed this series from the beginning and liked some books more than others. The Adventuress was a single-sitting read for me. I needed to find out the answers to the puzzle. I was particularly charmed by the reference to "an eccentric lady and her even more eccentric archaeologist husband". The Adventuress is the second book that brought Amelia Peabody to mind this month. She is gone but decidedly not forgotten.

I highly recommend The Adventuress for readers of mystery and historical fiction. Thanks to St. Martins/Minotaur and for an advance copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Winemaker in Paris

MONTMARTRE MYSTERIES (Winemaker Detective #8)
Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noel Balen
Le French Book
September 3, 2015

Number 8 in the Winemaker Detective Mysteries, Montmartre Mysteries, takes winemaker extraordinaire Benjamin Cooker and his assistant, Virgile, to the Montmartre District of Paris. Paris holds many memories for Benjamin and he is looking forward to introducing Virgile to the less well-known sights of the City of Lights. One of his first stops in Paris is to the shop of an old friend, Arthur Solacroup. Arthur is a former Legionnaire that Benjamin helped to make a success by including his shop in one of the Cooker Guides. I was not even aware that the French Foreign Legion is even still in existence, still less it's long history; as my knowledge was confined to the performance by Claude Raines in Casablanca! Benjamin finds Arthur bleeding and seriously injured on the floor of the shop. It may have been a robbery gone wrong, but Benjamin suspects a murder attempt. His quest for the answer takes him to Arthur's Legion past and a crime that calls out for revenge.

Montmartre Mysteries is another fun read in this series, full of intrigue and gastronomic delights; just right for a cool autumn evening. Thanks to and Le French Book for an advance digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

RATING- 3 Stars

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Worthy Successor to Amelia Peabody

A CURIOUS BEGINNING (Veronica Speedwell # 1)
Deanna Raybourn
September 1, 2015

I was one of the many mourners of the death of Elizabeth Peters, prolific and world-wide best-selling author of numerous mystery, suspense and romantic suspense novels. Perhaps her best-loved series are her Amelia Peabody mysteries. Featuring intrepid Amelia, her archaeologist husband Emerson, son "Ramses" and a wide supporting cast, the Amelia Peabody mysteries painted a vivid picture of the "golden" age of Egyptian tomb exploration. Elizabeth Peters' background as an egyptologist educated at the University of Chicago lent added expertise to her Amelia and Emerson novels. Deanna Raybourne's new series slots very neatly into both the literature of the intrepid victorian lady traveller and the light-hearted Peabody mysteries. Veronica Speedwell is also a world explorer, but not an archaeologist. She is a lepidopterist, catering to the Victorian obsession for collecting specimens of all kinds of the natural world. She also lacks Amelia's deep pockets and occasional grandiosity. As a foundling raised by two maiden ladies, she has neither money nor family connections.

A Curious Beginning starts at the funeral of her last remaining "aunt" in an English village during Queen Victoria's Jubilee year. Veronica has done her duty in nursing the elderly lady and plans to set out on her next journey that very afternoon. Returning to the cottage the "aunts" inhabited she surprises a thug ransacking the cottage; one who seems intent on abducting her as well as robbery. She is helped in her escape from the thug by an elderly gentleman whom she noticed at the funeral. He introduces himself as Baron Von Stauffenbach and tells her that she needs protection; her life is in danger. His assertion that he knew her birth mother and the offer of a carriage ride to London persuade her to accompany him. His courtly manner and the saving of the price of a train ticket are added inducements not to be resisted. Once in London the Baron places her under the protection of the mysterious and scarred Stoker, a discredited natural historian. Veronica does not believe for an instant that she is in any danger but wants to find out whatever she can about her birth parents from the Baron. The murder of the Baron proves her wrong and sends Veronica and Stoker on a dangerous quest involving Irish Republicans, travelling shows and members of the royal family itself.

A Curious Beginning is a fun read, packed with adventure, peril and just the right hint of developing romance. Stoker and Veronica are battling partners, at least verbally, and learn to trust each other in their first collaboration. I am looking forward to the next in the series, secure in the knowledge that Veronica will get over her long-standing policy of no dalliances with Englishmen. Deanna Raybourn is a gifted writer with a talent for creating vivid and often eccentric characters with a humorous touch.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, September 14, 2015

DINER KNOCK OUT ( Rose Strickland #4)
Terri L. Austin
Henery Press
October 20, 2015

The Rose Strickland Mysteries have been favorites of mine since the first in the series; Diners. Dives and Dead Ends. The series features quirky characters, lots of laughs and a developing romance. All the characters revolve around Rose Strickland; a refugee from a stifling upper-middle-class upbringing whose escape has landed her in a precarious financial situation working as a waitress at Ma's Diner and going to college part-time. Too bad Rose doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. She does know what is important, though; protecting her friends Axton, Ma. Roxy, the mysterious Sullivan and her family (whether they like it or not).

Rose has solved several mysteries and paid a price, both physical and emotional in doing so. She has a second job now, working for a former cop, now P.I., Andre Thomas. Thomas is a by-the-book guy and doesn't think Rose is ready for field work. Rose is sure that she is and takes a missing person case without Andre's knowledge, and even worse on a pro bono basis. The case takes her into dangerous territory, illegal fight clubs, and murder. Of course, Sullivan is involved with the fight club, as he is with just about every shady enterprise in town. Sullivan wants to protect her, but Rose, as usual, does exactly what she thinks is right.

I like the way this series is developing. Rose is gaining a direction that she lacked without really changing her core. The conflict between her feelings for Sullivan and his criminal associates is believable; it's hard not to like Sullivan, bad guy or not. I'm looking forward to seeing how they can resolve their differences, It seems like I waited a long time for this book and now I am back to waiting for the next one. The Rose Strickland Series is a very clever mix of Chick Lit, Romance and Mystery and great escape reading.

Thanks to Henery Press and for an advance digital copy of Diner Knock Out.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Lives of Desperation in a Land of Hope

Suzanne Chazin
Kensington Books
November 2014

It is not every day that I pick up a mystery novel that not only keeps me on the edge of my seat but expands my understanding of a very current issue. In the case of Land of Careful Shadows, the issue is that of illegal immigration. The novel is set in a small upstate New York town, a town torn apart by racial tensions resulting from an influx of undocumented workers from Latin America. Jimmy Vega, a detective of Puerto Rican descent on the Lake Holly force is called when a body is pulled from the local reservoir. The body is that of a young woman, obviously a Latina. Even worse, on the body is a picture of the victim with a small child and a note telling her to "go back to her own country". Who is she, who could have killed her; and where is the child?

Before those questions are answered, Jimmy gets a very personal look at the lives of undocumented workers. Having survived the brutal journey north, they arrive in a country that is entirely unwelcoming. Hampered by a lack of language skills and a lack of documentation, they live lives of despair. They are exploited by the very people who hire them to do the jobs that are "beneath them" and even worse, by those who arrived with proper documentation. The victim is only one of the immigrants whose story is told in Land of Careful Shadows. I was especially affected by the story of Rodrigo who survived not one but two journeys north. Rodrigo is a man of honor, a man with flaws, but one who only wishes to provide a better life for his family back in Guatemala. Rodrigo suffers abuse, backbreaking work, hunger and suspicion without breaking, retaining his dignity no matter the cost. Whatever your political stance on illegal immigration, I fail to see how anyone could not be affected by his struggle

Land of Careful Shadows also illuminates the personal journey of Jimmy Vega. Born in the Bronx, he went to school and grew up in Lake Holly. He has lost touch with his heritage, but the case and his acquaintance with an immigration activist bring him "home" again. The solution to the case is much closer to him than he could ever have imagined. I highly recommend Land of Careful Shadows. I look forward to A Blossom of Bright Light, coming in October from Kensington Books.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Friday, August 28, 2015

Darkly Absurd Novel from the Mean Streets of New London, CT

Stephen Dobyns
Penguin Group
September 1, 2015

I have read several of Stephen Dobyns' books in the past; his Saratoga series and the chilling Church of Dead Girls.  Therefore, I was expecting something that would be well-written at the very least. What I wasn't expecting was a book quite as diverting as Is Fat Bob Dead Yet?. Any novel featuring a group of small-time con men whose scams include Ex-Prom Queens Anonymous and Free Beagles From Nicotine Addiction has to be entertaining.  The addition of bikers, thugs, a homeless man, vengeful wives and femmes fatale, battling detective partners, a hacker savant whose conversation is made up of malapropisms; and an innocent (somewhat) trying to navigate it all make a heady brew. I kept thinking of what the Coen Brothers could do cinematically with this material. 

The narrator is omniscient which can be off-putting, but Dobyns manages it with a good deal of "snark" and a flowing storytelling style. The many characters are ridiculous on the face of it, but also completely human. Perhaps the book went on a bit long, but I enjoyed its dark absurdity. Thanks to Penguin's First to Read Program for an advance digital copy of Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars