Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Becoming the Queen

Daisy Goodwin
St. Martin's Press
November 22, 2016

Victoria is a fictionalized account of the brief period of the future Queen's life just before her eighteenth birthday, the subsequent death of her uncle, the King, and her ascension to the throne. It ends with her proposal to Prince Albert and his acceptance. Having been raised in almost total seclusion at Kensington Palace by her over-protective mother and her mother's smarmy, power-mad equerry, Victoria is ill-equipped for her role. She is naive, innocent, and very badly educated. She does, however, take steps to free herself from her mother's control. With the help of her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, she begins to grow into a Queen who will have an entire age named after her. There are some serious missteps in the first year of her reign, but Victoria learns from them. In Victoria, the relationship between Lord Melbourne grows from respect, trust, and a shared sense of humor, to something much more. Victoria thinks that she is in love with him, and Lord Melbourne has a great affection for her. Thankfully, he understands that a match between a man some forty years her senior, plagued by scandals of his own, would be an impossibility. He steps aside when the time comes with considerable grace.

I love coming-of-age stories and historical fiction with some romance. Victoria has all of those elements backed up with known facts. Victoria and Lord Melbourne had a long-lasting and close relationship. Whether it was romantic, or simply mentoring can only be guessed at. There is no doubt that he did a splendid job of mentoring her through the rough first days. I can see why she might have fallen for the Prime Minister if he was anything like the version presented here, especially as her own father had died early. Prince Albert, however, is almost an afterthought in the story, and one that I did not find all that appealing. I enjoyed Victoria and am looking forward to seeing the mini-series based upon it when it comes to PBS in 2017.

Thanks to St. Martins and NetGalley for a digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Superstition, Feuds and Murder in Hertfordshire

A Kurland St. Mary Mystery
Catherine Lloyd
Kensington Books
November 29, 2016

It is autumn in Kurland St. Mary and the plans for the nuptials of Miss Lucy Harrington, the vicar's daughter, and Major Robert Kurland are proceeding, but not nearly quickly enough for the Major. As Lucy is the niece of an Earl, her highly born London family wants everything to be just so. Both Robert and Lucy want a quiet village wedding but Lucy doesn't want to offend the family. The trouble in the village starts when Robert is called upon to judge the vegetable competition. Lucy warns him that it is a highly political competition, one in which each contestant should be rewarded in some way or peace in the village will be destroyed. Stubbornly, Robert insists on judging solely on merit. The result is that the church verger, Ezekial Thurrock, wins the bulk of the prizes. Sentiment turns ugly quickly but no one knows how ugly until Lucy finds Thurrock dead in the church, his head crushed by a stone gargoyle. His death is ruled an accident, but Lucy is not so sure. As she and Robert investigate, they turn up dark secrets that Lucy is unaware of even though she has lived in Kurland St. Mary all her life. More murder and suggestions of witchcraft place Lucy and Robert in real danger.

Death Comes to the Fair is the fourth book in this highly enjoyable cozy mystery series. I recommend it for its excellent plotting and period setting. The characters have been well developed throughout. I particularly enjoy the fact that Robert is finally learning to listen to Lucy and granting her freedom that the average man of the period would not. Thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sara Driscoll
Kensington Books
November 29, 2016

Lone Wolf opens with Meg Jennings, FBI K-9 agent and her Labrador, Hawk, in hot pursuit of a child murderer. The two track him down to his home and bring in waiting units to capture him. It has been a grueling chase and Meg is expecting some down time. That expectation quickly disappears when she and Hawk are summoned to the scene of a bombing at the US Department of Agriculture in DC. Not only are the Secretary of Agriculture and his employees at risk, but a classroom of children is also in the building. Ten grueling hours later, Meg and Hawk are pulled out of the scene of carnage, totally exhausted and heartsick. The bomb was delivered by drone and the FBI's first assumption is foreign terrorism. However, when an anonymous letter is emailed to Clay MCord, an investigative reporter at the Washington Post, it becomes clear that the bomber is home grown and isn't finished, not  by a long shot. The bombings escalate and Meg, the FBI, and Clay McCord scramble to find out who he is and stop him.

I  enjoyed Lone Wolf tremendously, so much in fact that I was up way past my bedtime reading. There are all sorts of K-9 and FBI terms that I had never heard before and the look into the mind of the bomber was chilling. This is the kind of person who has failed at everything in life, from personal relationships to business ventures. The government has become a convenient scapegoat for all his troubles and he doesn't care who he hurts or kills in order to make his point. The heart of the book, however, is the relationship between Meg and Hawk. Since I am the sort of person who has been trained by rather than trained the dogs in my life, I am awed by their closeness and trust. The secondary characters, however, are not as well developed as Meg and Hawk. Hopefully, this will change in future books, which I will certainly  read. Thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A WHOLE LATTE MURDER (A Java Jive Mystery # 3)
Carline Fardig
Random House Alibi
November 8, 2016

Life seems to be setting down for Juliet Langley. Business is good at Java Jive, the Nashville coffee house that Juliet manages for her best friend, Pete Bennett. She finally has a staff that works well together, and her romance with police detective, Ryder Hamilton, is simmering nicely. Things begin to go awry when Ryder is promoted to Homicide. Juliet is dismayed that Ryder will be dealing with more dangerous criminals, knowing how obsessed he can get with cases. Things get even worse when a girl in Juliet's apartment building, the roommate of one of her employees is murdered. Her employee, Kira, then goes missing. It's Ryder's case and it seems to tie back to the murder of his wife several years previously. Juliet and Ryder are immediately at loggerheads; he wants her to stay out of the investigation, and she can't, even though she tries.

Sometimes, pure escape reading is just what the doctor ordered. A Whole Latte Murder fits the bill nicely. I enjoyed the previous two books in the series but this seemed a bit too convoluted and it bogged down somewhat in the description of the search for Kira. I enjoy the characters and Juliet's feisty attitude and loyalty.  A Whole Latte Murder has the humorous touches that I look for in a cozy/chick-lit type mystery. Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Alibi for an advance copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3 Stars

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Split-Second Decision With Tragic Consequences

Suzanne Chazin
Kensington Books
October 25, 2016

It's a cold night in December when Detective Jimmy Vega responds to a radio call of a home invasion in progress. Upon his arrival, he sets off in pursuit of a man fleeing the scene and heading into the woods. The Hispanic man refuses to surrender, reaches into his pocket and Jimmy has to make the split-second decision that every cop dreads. He kills the man and the consequences are tragic, not only for Jimmy but for those he loves. The man was unarmed and clutching only a well-worn photograph. Jimmy is placed on administrative leave, the press gets wind of the incident and immediately convicts him. Even worse, his lawyer tells him not to talk to anyone, even his girlfriend, Adele Figueroa, or his daughter, Joy. His enforced silence sows doubts in Adele's and Joy's minds. Adele's position as head of an immigrant outreach agency comes under threat when she is pressured to join in the general mob mentality surrounding the incident. When Jimmy finds out that the man he killed has a connection to his mother's unsolved murder in the Bronx, it becomes even more personal and dangerous.

I am one of those who thinks that some cops are too quick to use lethal force. However, Jimmy Vega is not one of them. Chazin's vivid description of the thought processes that Jimmy goes through during the incident and afterward are gut-wrenching. I am a big fan of Suzanne Chazin's previous books in the series, Land of Careful Shadows and A Blossom of Bright Light. No Witness but the Moon continues the series with a very emotional but measured look at two hot-button issues: police violence and illegal immigration. She reminds us that killing someone, no matter whether it is considered justified or not, changes a person forever. Jimmy is changed, but for the better, as he copes with PTSD and his unavoidable guilt.

I highly recommend the Jimmy Vega series to anyone looking for an intense and very topical crime fiction read. Thanks to Kensington Books and Netgalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 5 Stars

Monday, November 7, 2016

Good and Evil in a Sleepy Hudson Valley Village

Susan Breen
Random House Alibi
November 8, 2016

Sixty-two-year-old widow and Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove has opened a detective agency along with her two friends, Agnes and Helen. Sleepy Darby-on-Hudson does not seem to be particularly fertile ground for a detective agency and the ladies have had no clients. But when Racine Stern comes to the office with a problem, Maggie is ready to spring into action. The Stern family is the wealthiest in the village and the most reclusive. Racine has given the last 40 years of her life over to caring for her ailing mother. She is distraught that her younger sister, Domino, is returning for a visit. Domino, who married a rock star has been tabloid fodder for years. Racine says that Domino is evil, a witch, and she wants Maggie to keep her from coming. It's too late though and Domino returns with the rock star, her son, and an entourage. When Domino plummets from a balcony at the "welcome home" Halloween party she throws for herself, is it suicide, an accident or murder? There is a lot more going on in the village than Maggie ever knew, including a coven of witches.

I received an advance digital copy of Maggie Dove's Detective Agency  in return for an honest review. I was not aware that it was the second in the series and feel that I might have had a more positive reaction had I read the first. While I like Maggie as a character, the book was much more Sunday School than sleuth. That being said, I was completely surprised by the solution and found the book interesting overall. I am intrigued enough to read the first in the series, Maggie Dove, if only to discover how these three very different women came to open a detective agency. Thanks to NetGalley and Alibi.

RATING- 2.5 rounded up to 3

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Back On London's Mean Streets

WORTH KILLING FOR (D.I. Fenchurch #2)
Ed James
Thomas & Mercer
October 11, 2016

D.I. Simon Fenchurch and his wife, Abigail, are out for dinner when Simon notices a young woman approaching, clutching her cell phone. His policeman's instincts tell him, from her body language, that she is being followed. She begins to run toward him when a figure on a bicycle appears, snatches her purse and cell and plunges a knife into her neck. The young woman is left, dying in a pool of blood . Her last word is the name, Kamal. Simon sets off in pursuit of the bicyclist. He apprehends him but is unable to put together the evidence to hold him. His investigation leads him into the world of gangs, a group of cell phone thieves led by a vicious killer and the financial double-dealings of the 1%. The death of this young woman is only the beginning.

The second book in the D.I. Fenchurch series, after The Hope That Kills, does not disappoint. It is fast moving, action packed and features some epic chases on the streets of East London and the tunnels of the Underground. The characters are well-rounded with all the flaws of real people. The loss of their daughter, Chloe, eight years earlier to an unknown fate colors everything that Simon and Abigail do, but this case is not really about Chloe. Snappy dialogue and characterization lift this series above the usual run of crime stories. I highly recommend the D.I. Fenchurch series to fans of British crime fiction.

Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for a digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 5 Stars