Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Was Damien Mosley Edited Out?

EDITED OUT (Mysterious Detective Mystery #2)
E.J. Copperman
Crooked Lane Books
May 16, 2017

Edited Out continues the clever premise begun in the Mysterious Detective series with the first book, Written Off. Rachel Goldman is a middling successful writer of mysteries who lives and works in New Jersey. Her mystery series features a Sherlock-like protagonist named Duffy Madison. Imagine her surprise when a man who looks like her fictional detective shows up at her door claiming to be the living embodiment of Duffy Madison. He calls himself Duffy Madison and has no memory of a life prior to five years before when her first book was published. He even works as a consultant for the Morris County Prosecutor's Office. Rachel justifiably thinks that he is nuts but neither she, her terrifyingly efficient assistant Paula, or her friend Ben in the prosecutor's office can prove that he isn't Duffy Madison. But since he saved her life in the first book she is willing to roll with it, up to a point.

Rachel is working on her next book and having problems. Inspiration seems to have dried up and she is avoiding Duffy. That avoidance ends when Duffy contacts her about a man named Damien Mosley who went missing in Poughkeepsie, NY five years ago. Duffy thinks that Mosley might be the answer to his real identity. She, Duffy and Ben head off to Poughkeepsie to find out about the missing man. Their questions lead the local police to think that the missing Damien was actually murdered and Duffy is the most likely suspect. Or is someone setting him up for it?

E.J. Copperman has an easy and humorous writing style. I particularly like Rachel's "Jersey Girl" vibe and her absolute insistence on writing at least 1000 words a day, even if she thinks they are garbage. I can't predict where the series is going but it is an entertaining, quick read. 

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

RATING- 3 Stars

A Journey Through History and the Human Heart

Elizabeth Kostova
Penguin Random House
April 11, 2017

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova (The Historian) is a sprawling journey through the 20th-century history of Bulgaria framed by the story of Alexandra Boyd, a young American. Alexandra has just arrived in Sofia where she is to teach English. She lost her brother, Jack, as a young teenager and has carried a sense of guilt ever since. Jack disappeared while her family was on a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The two had had an argument and Alexandra's last words to Jack were "Get lost". He was never seen again. Jack had always been fascinated by Bulgaria so her job is somewhat of a pilgrimage for his sake. She arrives a month early and plans to travel through Bulgaria. A chance encounter in front of a Sofia hotel changes all her plans. Somehow her luggage is tangled up with that of a small group of Bulgarians; an old lady, an old man in a wheelchair, and a handsome man. When Alexandra opens the bag, she discovers a beautiful wooden box carved with the name Stoyan Lazarov. To her horror, the box contains human ashes. Alexandra immediately hails the nearest cab and sets off, along with her driver, to find them and return the urn. The journey takes them not only through the villages and mountains of Bulgaria but also into its haunted history. War and strife are no strangers to Bulgaria and the country is still recovering from a brutal Communist regime.

Told in many viewpoints, The Shadow Land is beautifully written and entirely engrossing. The story of Stoyan Lazarov, a violinist, is tragic. While still a young man, he runs afoul of the Communist regime and is sent to a labor camp with no trial and no charges. Even his young wife, Vera, has no idea what has happened to him. Stoyan comes out of the camp in some ways broken by the brutality of what he witnessed and suffered, but still full of the courage that ensured his survival. Alexandra, too, discovers her own courage and comes to terms with her guilt at last. The Shadow Land is packed with memorable characters, from her driver, "Bobby", who is not exactly what he seems to a homeless dog Alexandra picks up along the way. I was particularly taken by Baba Yana. Baba Yana is an ancient village lady, who in telling Alexandra her life story, also tells the story of Bulgaria in the 20th-century.

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Shadow Land, I felt that the framework of the story; the travel through Bulgaria was a little implausible. Too many things seemed to fall a bit too easily into place and finding a driver who would go along with it, if even for his own reasons, too fortuitous. That being said, I still would recommend it for its historical depth and emotional impact. A review copy of The Shadow Land was provided by Penguin Random House and NetGalley. The opinions are my own.


Monday, April 10, 2017

A Long -Awaited Return to the Warlands

WARDANCE (Chronicles of the Warlands # 5)
Elizabeth Vaughan
Birch Cove Press
April 11, 2017

Some of the regular readers of this blog might take a look at this cover and say....what? My first love has always been mystery/thriller with some fantasy and general fiction thrown in. Sometimes I take a step away for something entirely different. Elizabeth Vaughan's first book in the Chronicles of the Warlands way back in 2005, Warprize, was well reviewed everywhere. I gave it a spin and promptly fell in love with the world of the Warlands, and and the wonderful characters inhabiting it. Lara, Princess of Xy and master healer; and Keir, Warlord of the Plains are simply unforgettable.They go from a place of total personal and cultural misunderstanding to a partnership of strength and love, each hoping to blend two very different cultures for the benefit of both.The next three volumes, Warsworn, Warlord, and Warcry, see them enduring great success and failure. Vaughan then published the three volume Epic of Palins, set in the same world, but in a different place and culture. I enjoyed all three but never felt a connection as intense as in the first four books. The last volume of the Epic of Palins was published back in 2010 and nothing has been heard from Vaughan since. So when I was offered an ARC of a new book (yay!) in the Chronicles of the Warlands I was delighted, to say the least.

Wardance takes place immediately after the events of Warcry and centers on Simus of the Hawk, one of the most memorable of the Plains warriors. Simus is Keir's "second"; arrogant, impulsive, bigger than life, and full of joie de vivre. He is completely loyal to Keir and has traveled back to the "Heart of the Plains" for the annual challenges in order to reach Warlord status himself. Upon arrival, he and his men are stopped by the hated warrior priests of the Plains. They are not allowed to proceed to the Heart and on that first night, amazed to see a pillar of bright light and sound reaching to the heavens. What are the warrior priests up to this time? Nothing good, as usual. When Snowfall, a warrior priestess, challenges to become "token-bearer" to Simus, a position of trust, she is met with nothing but suspicion. But the two have an undeniable and growing attraction.

I do not recommend reading Wardance as a stand-alone. Each book builds on the one before and even The Epic of Palins has elements that play into the plot. That being said, I just did a binge re-read of the first four, and am starting on the Epic re-read. I have to say that I enjoyed re-reading them as much as the first time around. Vaughan's novels are high adventure and romance, built in a fascinating world of conflict with plenty of swordplay and unforgettable characters. Lara and her Warlord, Keir, make only brief appearances, but I am looking forward to much more. Oh, and there are dragons too!

Thanks so much to the author for bringing back The Chronicles of the Warlands and for an advance copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Who Killed Margot Browne?

DEVIL'S BREATH (Max Tudor #6)
G.M. Malliet
St. Martin's Minotaur
April 11, 2017

After the shattering events of The Haunted Season, Anglican Priest and ex-MI5 star agent Max Tudor has come to the conclusion that one can never really leave FIVE and has agreed to step in on investigations on an "as needed" basis. When aging movie star Margot Browne is found floating in the bay near Monkslip-super-Mare on the coast of England, they ask Max to aid his friend and colleague DCI Cotton. Margot Browne was sailing on a yacht owned by a famous director of Hollywood action films. If the tides had cooperated with the murderer, the body might never have been found. It was found, however, and her death was clearly murder and no accident. But who among the yacht's passengers; the famous director, his self-involved girlfriend, an aging but still well-respected stylist, a screenwriter, Margot's young male companion, the hanger-on Baron and Baroness? Or could it be the chef or yoga instructor on the crew? Also on the ship is a female MI5 female agent with whom Max has a history. She has an entirely different investigation ongoing.

The characters are introduced to us in the beginning extensively, as is usual in Malliet's books. It's a helpful device when there are so many characters to consider and as the various connections to Margot are revealed, absolutely necessary in keeping them sorted. I really admire Malliet's deft parody of the Agatha Christie novels and others published during the "Golden Age'. The Max Tudor novels require a definite "suspension of disbelief" however. The notion that Max's bishop would approve of his marriage to a well-known Pagan and that MI5 could call on him at will is a bit hard to swallow. But if you can do that, the Max Tudor novels are a treat to read with great characterization and plotting. Malliet has a witty and engaging style; one that has brought her many awards and legions of fans. I did miss Max's village of Nether Monkslip and the presence of his wife, Awena, and hope he will return there in the next book. An added plus for Devil's Breath is more background on the dashing DCI Cotton and the revelation of his first name!

I highly recommend the Max Tudor series and Devil's Breath. Thanks to St. Martin's Minotaur and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions above are my own.

RATING-4 Stars