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 NetGalley.com 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 NetGalley.com 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 netgalley.com 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 netgalley.com 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