Sunday, January 29, 2017

Judith Flanders
St. Martins Minotaur
February 21, 2017

Our solitary and self-sufficient 40-something London book editor, Sam Clair, has seen a lot of changes in her life since we first met her in A Murder of Magpies. She has formed a supportive relationship with her reclusive upstairs neighbor, Mr. Rudiger, gotten closer to her other neighbors, the Lewises and their son Bim, and made other friends in her North London neighborhood. She has also acquired a part-time live-in, Jake Field, a London Police Detective. Sam has never enjoyed the endless meetings, schmoozing, and socializing that are so much a part of the publishing world but has learned to function well in it. Jake calls it "after-work work" which Sam views with an acid tongue and jaundiced eye. 

Sam has been a reluctant and fearful sleuth on previous occasions and she hopes that is behind her. Jake, understandably, views her meddling in police work unfavorably and is concerned for her safety. However, her new friend, Viv, gets her involved in a mystery. The elderly Viv, who knows everyone and everything about them is concerned that her upstairs neighbor, Dennis Harefield, has not been seen for several days. Dennis is an apparently blameless council employee but he has also not shown up at work. Viv does all the usual things, calls the hospitals and the police who are not particularly in interested. Dennis, after all, is a grown man in his forties. She persuades Sam to help her do a spot of breaking and entering at Dennis' flat. Nothing seems amiss other than general untidiness and no sign that he might have gone on a trip. It is a dead end until there is a fire in an empty house nearby and the body of Dennis Harefield is found in the wreckage. It appears that he was the arsonist and this is the most recent in a string of local fires. Upon searching Harefield's apartment, the police find a substantial amount of cash, leading them to suspect drug dealing. The problem is, there was no money there when Viv and Sam searched. Sam's questions about Dennis Harefield lead her into great danger. Someone is prepared to kill her to stop her.

I highly recommend the Sam Clair mysteries. Sam is very likable, with her often laugh-out-loud take on publishing, management consultants, and life in general. After a lifetime of stubborn self-sufficiency, she has gathered a group of loyal supporters headed by her terrifyingly efficient mother, Helena, and Jake. She adds more people to her circle with Sam, a street kid whom she befriends, and the squatters who were living in the supposedly empty house where Dennis Harefield's body is discovered. My only quibble is her rather drawn out and somewhat unbelievable escape from thugs intent on killing her. Sam is far from athletic, in spite of bicycling on her errands, but "needs must" I suppose. Sam Clair is a character I would love to meet in real life.

Thanks so much to Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Partially Satisfying Ending to Long Running Set of Trilogies

DAWN STUDY (Soulfinders #3)
Maria V. Snyder
January 31, 2017

Dawn Study brings to an end a long-running "trilogy of trilogies" set in the world of Ixia and Sitia. Ixia is a country in which magic is prohibited and Sitia runs on magic. As might be expected, the two countries do not co-exist comfortably. Sitia lives in fear of Ixia with good reason. Ixia is an entirely militaristic culture run by the Commander, who can only be described as a tyrant. At the heart of the trilogies are Valek, chief assassin for the Commander, and Yelena, who was food taster for the Commander in order to avoid execution. The two lovers have changed both Sitia and Ixia, with the help of a vast and wide-ranging cast of characters. In Dawn Study, invasion appears to be imminent and in spite of all the Commander's precautions, he appears to be controlled by an evil cadre of magicians. Valek, Yelena, and their friends from both countries are trying to avert disaster. Their efforts are hampered by Yelena's loss of her magic and the Commander's attempt to assassinate both she and Valek.

The end of the story of Valek and Yelena is satisfactory in many ways, as the two appear to be in a place that they can settle down together peacefully and enjoy life. The road to that end is as always fraught with difficulty, multiple kidnappings, and escapes. I found all the escapes a bit too easy and repetitive this time around. I did enjoy seeing characters that have been absent for a while, even though Valek and Yelena have always been the main attraction. I will miss them, even though I think it's time that the story comes to an end. 

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

RATING- 3 Stars

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Eleventh Grave Picks Up the Pace

Darynda Jones
St. Martin's Press
January 24, 2017

It's not normal for your average Albuquerque PI to have
archangels tailing her. Neither are a spectral Rottweiler as a bodyguard, demons, hell-hounds, ghosts, and gods. That is, unless the PI is Charley Davidson; Grim Reaper, Goddess, and married to the Son of Satan, who tries very hard to be a good guy. Charley and her husband, Reyes Farrow, are also the parents of an infant girl who may (or may not) save the world. When we last saw Charley and Reyes they were leaving the child in hiding from an evil god who wants to kill her and break down the walls between Hell and our world. While Charley and Reyes try to figure out that problem, the PI business has to go on. This time the case involves very human villains who lead a nasty cult and have a connection to Reyes. Also, Charley's police detective Uncle Bob is acting strangely. The whole thing ends with a cliff-hanger of monumental proportions.

If the plot summary seems confusing, I have to say that Eleventh Grave in Moonlight is decidedly not a stand-alone in any sense of the word. Each book, starting with First Grave on the Right, sets the scene and builds the world for the next. I have enjoyed them all to a greater or lesser degree, primarily for the sheer imagination of the premise, snarky humor and likable characters who gather around Charley. In the past, I have thought that the story line was moving a bit slowly but Eleventh Grave picks up the pace. I saw a lot of growth in Charley's attitude and in her grasp of her powers. Darynda Jones has a sense of humor that I found fresh and engaging in the first book and I still do. I always look forward to the sayings at the beginning of each chapter; they are often small masterpieces of snark. I am looking forward to the next book to see how this cliff-hanger is resolved!

Thanks to St. Martins and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review. The entire series is great complete escape reading.

RATING- 4 Stars

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Heart-Warming and Heart-Wrenching Novel Set in WWII Britain

Jennifer Ryan
Crown Publishing Group
February 14, 2017

It's 1940 in the Kent village of Chilbury and the village has just suffered its first war-related loss, that of Edmund Winthrop, torpedoed in his submarine. It can't be said that there is great mourning, as young Edmund was a scoundrel and a bully. Not even his father, the brutal Brigadier Winthrop, is much saddened, other that he now lacks an heir. He has two daughters, the beautiful Venetia and irrepressible 13-year-old Kitty, but they cannot inherit. Luckily, the Brigadier's wife is pregnant. Of real interest to the ladies of Chilbury is the decision of the Vicar to disband the choir. All the men of the village are gone to war and one can't have a choir without men! All that changes with the arrival of Primrose Trent, a new music tutor from London who means to resurrect the choir.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is an epistolary novel, told in journal entries, letters and notices. The story revolves around the writers; the middle-aged widow Mrs.Tilling, Venetia and Kitty Winthrop, the conniving midwife Edwina Paltry, and Silvie, a refugee Jewish child. It is by turns funny and heart-breaking. The ladies of the choir provide support for those who suffer the loss of husbands and sons in the War and in lifting their voices, also find their voices. Many lives are changed and nothing will ever be quite the same in Chilbury or Britain.

I usually shy away from epistolary novels but the letters and journals are employed to great effect in The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan. The multiplicity of characters are so well described in the entries and I felt that I could take the true measure of the writers in their own words. This novel is a feast for those who love character-driven stories. I have always been in awe of the women of Britain, and those in America, who stepped up to the plate and kept things running at home so well during World War II. The Chilbury Ladies' Choir is the best novel I have read in 2017 and I suspect that it will be one of my top reads for the year.

Many thanks to the First To Read program for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 5 Stars

Monday, January 2, 2017

Impressive Debut Police Procedural Set In Portland Maine

AMONG THE SHADOWS (Detective Byron #1)
Bruce Robert Coffin
Witness Impulse
September 13, 2016

Anyone who follows my reviews knows that I have a particular interest in books set in Maine. Among the Shadows is a very impressive debut from Bruce Robert Coffin. a retired Portland police detective with 30 years of experience on the streets of Portland, as well as anti-terrorism work with the FBI after 9/11. All that experience shows to good effect in his first novel.

Detective John Byron, a second-generation cop, has all the problems associated with police work. He is working towards a full blown case of alcoholism, his 20-year marriage is in shambles and he has no respect for his politically minded superiors. When he is called to the scene of an unattended death he finds that it is a retired Portland policeman in hospice care. The autopsy shows that the victim was suffocated and the logical conclusion is that it was a mercy killing. Byron and his team zero in on the nurses in attendance. But when other retired cops are murdered in quick succession it's clear that there is a serial killer at work. All the cops were part of the same SWAT team in the 1980's, along with Byron's deceased father. The bodies continue to pile up and Byron is in a race to stop the killer, in spite of roadblocks set by his superiors.

The writing and plotting in Among the Shadows are top-notch. The dialogue and descriptions of police procedures all ring true: as well as the characterizations. It is clear that Coffin has been honing his craft for a long time. I look forward to the next Detective Byron novel and highly recommend Among the Shadows to fans of police procedurals.

RATING 4.5 Stars