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