Thursday, March 30, 2017

Atmospheric and Absorbing Southern Gothic Paranormal

THE AWAKENING (Graveyard Queen #6)
Amanda Stevens
MIRA Books
March 28, 2017

The Awakening brings an end to The Graveyard Queen series. While paranormal Southern Gothic is not my usual reading choice, the imaginative and atmospheric writing of Amanda Stevens sucked me in from the first novel in the series, The Restorer. Amelia Gray is a restorer of forgotten and often historic graveyards throughout the South, and she has been able to see ghosts since she was a small child. Her father also had that ability and warned her to never let a ghost know that she sees it. Amelia began breaking that rule in The Restorer and has been led into many life and soul threatening situations since, as well as learning more about her ability, her family history and perhaps her destiny. She has been hired to restore Woodbine Cemetery, just outside her home base of Charleston. She is happy to be working close to home but unhappy to be so near to John Devlin, scion of an aristocratic Charleston family. The two were lovers, and it was to save John Devlin that she first broke her father's rule. It has been about a year since John broke with her abruptly and returned to his family. His engagement to a Charleston beauty has made her lose hope of a reconciliation.

On her first day at Woodbine, Amelia discovers that the site is the burial ground for the secrets of Charleston society. She is drawn to one monument, in particular, that of a child with the inscription, "Shush...lest she awaken...". Something wakes up for sure, the ghost of an angry little girl who follows Amelia home and shows her visions of the girl's murder. Who is the child and can she have a connection to the Devlin family? Amelia's suspicions only increase when she discovers that she got the job through the machinations of John Devlin's grandfather. 

The Awakening conjures all the ominous and foreboding atmosphere of the previous books and brings to a satisfactory close the story of the Graveyard Queen and John Devlin. I have to say that following The Graveyard Queen has been an uneven experience for me. There have been many times that I thought Amelia was walking into danger even when it was clearly the wrong move. Each of the preceding books seemed to end with more questions than answers. But still, I kept reading to see where Stevens was going with the story. These are definitely not books to be read in the dead of night! I recommend it for fans of the occult and all around spooky events. Thanks to MIRA and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING-3 Stars

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Envy is Poisonous

THE DEVIL'S FEAST (Avery and Blake #3)
M. J. Carter
Penguin Books
March 28, 2017

It is 1842 and Captain William Avery has traveled from his home in Devon to try to reason with Jeremiah Blake. Blake is languishing in Marshalsea Debtor's Prison on a trumped up charge because of his stubborn refusal to take on an investigation for Her Majesty's Government in the person of Sir Theo Collinson. Blake and Collinson loathe each other, but Collinson finds Blake useful and wants him bent to his will. Captain Avery is unsuccessful in persuading Blake and decides to visit Matty Horner, a girl he rescued from the streets in a previous book. Matty is working in the kitchen of the Reform Club, whose famous chef, Alexis Soyer, is a friend of Blake. He is invited to a dinner given by Soyer for some friends and other chefs, a lavish affair resulting in the horrible death by poisoning of one of the guests. The Club is desperate to keep the death quiet and approach Avery to investigate. There is to be a huge banquet for an Egyptian potentate at the Club which must go on and as more men die after eating at the Club it becomes clear that the poisonings come from Soyer's kitchen. Even Matty comes under suspicion. We meet the poisoner in the opening pages of the book and he is a true monster...but who is he and how can he be stopped?

The Avery and Blake Mysteries have become an eagerly awaited series for me. Blake is as stubborn, irascible, slovenly and brilliant as ever. Avery is the very picture of country gentry, a Tory "born and bred", a little dim and priggish, but a true friend to Blake. The wealth of historical detail and political intrigue might be a little off-putting to some, but I enjoy it greatly. The description of Soyer's dinner goes on for pages and is stomach churning in its excess. Especially when one considers the dire poverty and hunger of much of London at the time. Alexis Soyer and the coroner, William Wakley are real historical figures whose personalities appear to be captured exactly here by Carter. Both men were progressive thinkers and deserve to be better remembered than they are. 

While I do somewhat miss the "ripping yarn" feeling of the first Avery and Blake, The Strangler Vine, The Devil's Feast does not disappoint. I highly recommend the series for historical mystery fans and history geeks in general. I received a digital advance copy from Penguin Books and NetGalley. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Whisky and Murder in the Highlands

Melinda Mullet
Random House Alibi
March 21, 2017

Award-winning photojournalist Abigail Logan is grieving the death of her uncle Ben, who raised her after the death of her parents in an auto accident. Fifteen years prior to his death from cancer Ben sold up his London holdings and purchased a small whisky distillery in the Scottish Highlands. Abby is now the owner of the distillery but has no plans to continue. She loves her globe-trotting career and has no intention of taking up distilling single malt and settling down in a small village. But Ben made a success of the distillery and she wants to make sure that any buyer will preserve his vision for the business. Abi takes her wheaten terrier, Liam, for a stay at Abbey Glen in order to sort things out. The village and the distillery staff are far from welcoming and a series of petty vandalisms culminate in murder and fire at Abbey Glen Distillery. Someone wants Abi gone, but who is it, the various prospective buyers, someone who works at the distillery or someone in the village itself? Abi must use all her investigative skills to find out the culprit and perhaps save her own life.

I am a fan of all things Scots (except haggis, perhaps) but I have never developed a taste for single malt and knew absolutely nothing about distilling. Single Malt Murder is packed with information about the methods, history, and lore of Scots whisky. It's never boring and woven seamlessly into the story. Many interesting and intriguing characters, especially Grant MacEwen, Ben's right-hand man, appear and I did not figure out who the murderer was until the end. 

I highly recommend Single Malt Murder and am looking forward to the next in the series.Thanks to Random House Alibi and NetGalley for an advance copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, March 20, 2017

Age has slowed but not stopped Charlie Bradshaw

SARATOGA PAYBACK (A Charlie Bradshaw Mystery)
Stephen Dobyns
Blue Rider Press
March 14, 2017

I read several of the Charlie Bradshaw Saratoga mysteries way back when and liked them a lot but somehow lost track of them. I wish I had read the intervening books as I had forgotten much of what I knew about many of the characters who appear to be staples in the series. Charlie is much older now, married with three stepdaughters. His ongoing meddling in police business, which I did remember, has ended with him losing his P.I. license and pistol permit. He is supposed to a regular retired senior citizen but a case lands in his driveway one night. One of his most obnoxious acquaintances is dead with a cut throat and a severed tongue. Since Charlie thinks that the victim, Mickey Martin, could only have been coming to see him he wants to know what's up. It appears that a serial murderer is on the loose, and Charlie may be a target.

Saratoga Payback is very entertaining, if somewhat slow-paced until the nail-biting ending. There is a lot of humor involving Charlie trying to stay under the police radar and the ravages of age. I had not met his wife Janey before but there is one particularly hilarious passage in which she gives Charlie's nemesis on the force a memorable dressing down. Things really get serious before the end and Charlie fears the loss of not only his life but those of his family and friends. Since the series is set in Saratoga Springs horses and a horse theft ring are also involved. I was thoroughly entertained and plan to get caught up on Charlie Bradshaw. I also wanted to give a shout-out to The Church of Dead Girls, written as a stand-alone novel in the late 1990's. It is a novel that has stayed with me all these years and is one of the best portrayals of the effects of suspicion and vigilantism on a small town that I have ever read.

I received Saratoga Payback through the First to Read Program. The opinions above are my own.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Jazz Scene in 1950's London

LONDON CALLING (Mirabelle Bevan #2)
Sara Sheridan
Kensington Books
February 28, 2017

It's 1952 and Mirabelle's debt collection agency is thriving in Brighton. She and her assistant, Vesta Churchill (no relation to the famous Churchill) are kept so busy that they are looking for another collector to work with them. One rainy cold morning a young man is slouched outside her office door. The young black man is Lindon Claremont, a musician in London. Lindon is a childhood friend of Vesta and is in trouble. A debutante, Rose Bellamy Gore has disappeared and Lindon was the last person to be seen with her. He swears that he has nothing to do with it so Mirabelle persuades him to turn himself into her friend, Inspector McGregor of the Brighton police. She is not too surprised that Lindon is transferred to London for questioning but the police keep him in custody. The girl has not been found but the police think that Lindon killed her. Vesta is insistent that Lindon could never hurt anyone and the two set off to London, a city that holds many memories for Mirabelle. It seems that a memory of her dead lover, Jack, is around every corner. Mirabelle's wartime training in the British Secret Service stands her in good stead as she and Vesta visit jazz clubs, the London underworld and the homes of the high and mighty.

When we first met Mirabelle in Brighton Belle, she was a lonely, friendless woman, sunk in her grief over the death of Jack. Taking over the agency that she once managed, meeting Vesta and making new friends are bringing her back to life. She is as stylish and intrepid as ever; also as stubborn. She is determined to help Lindon, no matter the cost. The atmosphere of London and its nightlife are very much an element in London Calling. Some interesting new characters are also added to the cast that I am looking forward to meeting again.  

Thanks to Kensington and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

All We Wanted to Know about Sarah

TIGHTENING THE THREADS (Mainely Needlepoint #5)
Lea Wait
Kensington Books
March 28, 2017

In Tightening the Threads, we finally learn the background and reasons for Aussie transplant Sarah Byrne's move to Haven Harbor, ME. She has always been very secretive, even with her best friend, Angie Curtis, the owner of Mainely Needlepoint. Author Lea Wait also shines a light on a little-known episode in British and Australian history. In the years after WWII and up into the 1960's, the British foster care system was overflowing and the solution was to send children to Australia. The idea was to supposedly give the children a better life. In reality, many faced slavery and abuse on Australian farms. Sarah's father was one of these children who was sent out, leaving a teenage unwed mother behind. Sarah's mother died when she was an infant and her alcoholic father hung himself two years later. Raised by her Australian grandmother, Sarah had a happy upbringing and had little interest in learning about her parents until her grandmother was near death and told her the history. Upon her death, Sarah left Australia to find her British grandmother. She did find her, but the British grandmother died shortly after. It turns out that Sarah's American soldier grandfather was Robert Lawrence, the deceased famous artist and Haven Harbor resident. His son, Ted, is also a painter and still has a gallery in the village. Over the course of months, Sarah has formed a friendship with Ted and finally reveals her identity. Ted's response is to invite his three adult children home to celebrate his 75th birthday, introduce Sarah to them and announce that he will be including her in his will.

Sarah is delighted that she will be meeting the family that she always wanted and nervous as well; so nervous that she asks Angie to be at the family gathering. It turns out that the three siblings are predictably displeased. After a blow-up at the dinner, Ted insists that they have a family clambake regardless the next day. When Ted dies at the clambake, they assume he ate a clam contaminated with Red Tide. But further investigation determines that he was poisoned. Who did it? Was it the grasping children, Sarah, or someone else? There is plenty of motivation, as Ted turns out to have been a pretty poor father to his own children.

Tightening the Threads is another solid entry in this cozy series. I was kept guessing until the end, especially since there is another death after Ted's. The Mainely Needlepoint series is packed with Maine charm and characters that continue to evolve. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance copy. The opinions are entirely my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Courtyard Arc of the Others Series ends

ETCHED IN BONE (The Others #5)
Anne Bishop
Penguin Audio
March 7, 2017

I am very sad to see the ending of the story of the Courtyard, the blood prophet Meg Corbyn, and the wolf shifter leader Simon Wolfgard come to an end. On the other hand, it was an entirely satisfactory end. The world that Anne Bishop has built bears so many resemblances to our world, but has important differences. The humans of Bishop's world are definitely in the underdog position at least in terms of power and need a reminder occasionally. The retribution of the Others made up of shifters, Elemental beings, and all-powerful Elders in the previous book, Marked in Flesh, was terrible, leaving wide destruction, loss of life, and very few human controlled cities. The city of Lakeside and The Courtyard are notable exceptions, mainly due to the bridges built between Wolfgard and Lakeside humans.

But what happens when a seemingly unimportant predator invades The Courtyard? Lakeside policeman, Crispin Montgomery, has a ne'er-do-well, criminal brother named Jimmy who brings his wife and children looking for shelter. Lt. Montgomery fears that Jimmy brings nothing but trouble with him, as he has always done. However, the Elders, who are lurking around The Courtyard want to observe the effects a single bad apple can have. This leads to the predictable bad results, putting The Courtyard and Meg Corbyn in grave danger and possibly tipping the delicate balance.

The Others Series is one of the best Urban Fantasy series out there.The world building, characterization, and plotting are meticulous, keeping me on the edge of my seat throughout. I particularly enjoy the humor sprinkled into all the danger and drama. I have listened to all the books in audio format and Alexandra Harris does a wonderful job with voices. It's a satisfying ending, but I am very sorry to say goodbye to all the characters. I am looking forward to a new story arc set in the same world with new characters in 2018.

Anyone who has read The Others will know what I mean when I say.....Arooo!


Monday, March 6, 2017

Life in Wildwood Cove is Anything But Uncomplicated

A Pancake House Mystery # 2
Sarah Fox
Random House Alibi
March 14, 2017

Marley McKinney has given up her career as a paralegal in the city to run The Flip Side, a pancake house in Wildwood Cove, a beach resort on the Northwestern Pacific Coast. Sadly, she inherited the restaurant from her Uncle Jimmy who was murdered in the first book in the series, The Crepes of Wrath. Marley spent her summers growing up in Wildwood Cove and has picked up old friendships, as well as making new ones. She is also in a serious relationship with her teenage crush, Brett Collins. One person decidedly does not like Marley or anyone else in town; Ida Winkler, the town troublemaker. After several incidents of vandalism at the restaurant, prank calls and a theft, Marley goes to face down Ida in her lair, only to find her dead in a shed on the property. As the person who found the body who was involved in a dispute with her, Marley is immediately a "person of interest". Marley is justifiably worried about the effect this might have on her business and life.

There is a lot going on under the placid surface of Wildwood Cove: illicit affairs, blackmail, and a meth lab operation. Marley uncovers it all, and in the process becomes the target of a dangerous and conscienceless killer. Ida knew too much and now Marley does too. For Whom the Bread Rolls has a lot of small-town charm, plenty of quirky characters and a stubbornly endearing heroine in Marley. I would recommend the series to fans of "foodie" mysteries with a dash of romance.

Thanks to Random House Alibi and NetGalley for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3 Stars

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Birds of a Feather Mystery
Marty Wingate
Random House Alibi
March 7, 2017

Julia Lanchester is happily settled into her newly refurbished cottage with her boyfriend, Michael Sedgewick. Both are thriving in their jobs, Michael as personal assistant to Julia's celebrity TV ornithologist father, and Julia as the tourist manager for the Fotheringill estate. The problem is that they are both working every available hour. On the eve of taking off on a getaway weekend, both Julia and Michael receive a cryptic email from Julia's ex-husband, Nick Hawkins, asking for a meeting. Independently, they decide not to deal with it until returning. After all, Julia has heard nothing from Nick since he took off to St.Kilda to follow his passion for "vagrant" birds and solitude. They both turn off their phones, only to turn them on to many messages. Nick's body has been found on the Fotheringill estate, dead in a derelict summerhouse. Naturally, the police want to talk to them, in the person of the formidable DI Tess Callow. Upon returning they find the village overrun with the press and the assumption that Michael must have killed Nick. Michael decides to move out and step away hoping that it will protect Julia from the press invasion. Instead, Julia ends up trying to do both of their jobs, resulting in predictable exhaustion and added stress. And the press will not stop hounding her, especially one very strange and aggressive woman.

Every Trick in the Rook has the characters I loved in the first two books; the villagers, Lord Fotheringill and Julia's loving family. There are welcome additions; Gwen, a widow, and her daughter, Tennyson. Tennyson has a pet rook named Alfie who quickly becomes a character in his own right. I confess to having little interest in birds but if I had known how intelligent rooks are, I might have felt differently. I am now searching for Esther Woolfson's Corvus, a book that Marty Wingate mentions as her inspiration for Alfie. I had not connected with Julia as a character so much before but now I feel I have more insight into what makes her tick. Every Trick in the Rook is a delightful read with a satisfying puzzle.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Alibi for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Sherlock on Cape Cod

Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books
February 14, 2017

Elementary, She Read is the first book in a new series from the extremely prolific Canadian crime author, Vicki Delany. As I am a fan of her Constable Molly Smith series, I was delighted to have a chance to read this new effort. Gemma Doyle is the part-owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium in West London, MA on Cape Cod. Oddly enough, Gemma is not a particular fan of the Sherlock canon. It's the other part-owner, her great-uncle, who is the true fan. But when Gemma's marriage fell apart and her great-uncle offered her the opportunity, she jumped at the chance to leave her native England and make a new start on Cape Cod. Five years in, she has made a success of the shop and expanded into the next door space with Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room. Her best friend, Jayne, is the baker and owner of Mrs. Hudson's, along with Gemma.

When a large tour group arrives Gemma and Jayne are welcoming and expecting brisk business. In the tumult of shoppers, Gemma notices a woman who is clearly not with the group. She seems distraught and furtive, not behaving normally. Gemma is a person who notices everything going on around her but she loses sight of the woman. In the clean-up after the group leaves, Gemma finds a what appears to be a bound and cellophane wrapped magazine copy of A Study in Scarlet stuffed into one of the shelves. If this is an original copy, signed by Arthur Conan Doyle himself, it could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Gemma thinks that the odd woman could have left it and sets out to find her. The problem is that when she finds her in a low-rent hotel, she is dead. Gemma is less than pleased to find that an old flame, Ryan Ashburton, is leading the investigation and that she is the chief suspect. Word gets out about the magazine and Gemma is quickly inundated with book collectors, greedy relatives and sensation seekers in general. Gemma and Jayne must spring into action to clear her of suspicion.

Gemma is a mixture of recklessness and an ability to reason in a very "Sherlockian" way. She can be an uncomfortable person to be around, I think, as she seems cold and dispassionate at times. But Jayne, her "Dr. Watson" and she are a formidable investigative team. I enjoyed Elementary, She Read and am looking forward to the next in the series. I hope that we actually get to meet Gemma's globe-trotting Uncle Arthur in the next book!

Thanks to Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars