Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Intrigue and Ambiguity

Verity Kent Mysteries # 1
Anna Lee Huber
Kensington Books
September 26, 2017

Verity Kent has been adrift in a sea of alcohol-fueled frivolity since her husband, Sidney, was killed in the trenches fifteen months earlier. Sidney left her a very well off widow, but life seems meaningless. Especially since she has also lost her wartime work with the Secret Service, something of which even Sidney knew nothing. When she receives an invitation to a house party on an island, celebrating the engagement of an old friend of Sidney's she initially refuses. The other party guests are men who served in the trenches with Sidney, most of whom she did not know. Then a letter arrives with a cryptic message: ..." I know the secrets you hide. Why shouldn't I also know your husband's?" Verity knows then that she must join the house party, as the clear implication is that Sidney was involved in treasonous activity. The party guests range from slightly offensive to obnoxious, with intense hostile undercurrents. There is no one that Verity can trust, with the possible exception of Max, Earl of Ryde, and her childhood friend, Tom. But everyone has secrets and some are poisonous.

I waffled quite a bit on assigning a rating to This Side of Murder. The period of time during and just after WWI has always been fascinating to me. The war set up huge changes in the established order, with the wholesale slaughter of nearly an entire generation. The treaties at the war's end and the reparations required from the German people sent ripples leading to the horrors of the 20th century and into the present day. Huber has certainly done her research into the period, but I found it a little overpowering at times. Long explanations of cryptography and ciphers tend to make my eyes cross and seemed to bog down the narrative. I also thought that the supporting characters were not as well defined as I would like. It took me quite awhile to get names associated with characters. On the other hand, I kept reading way past my bedtime and was completely knocked back by the identity of the "mastermind." I also enjoyed the homage to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None with all the suspense and ambiguity holding until the end. This Side of Murder promises a series to watch for in the future.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Return of the Red-Headed-She-Devil

A Java Jive Mystery # 5
Caroline Fardig
Random House Alibi
October 24, 2017

Business is good at Nashville's Java Jive Coffeehouse where Juliet Langley is manager and her "best friend" Pete Bennett is the owner. Her fledgling second career as a PI keeps her busy and she is even making progress toward overcoming the crippling stage fright that destroyed her singing career. What could go wrong, right? Trouble comes in the form of Scott O'Malley, Juliet's former fiance who left her high and dry. Scott not only left her for a waitress that worked at the coffeehouse the two co-owned, he cleaned out the bank accounts and emptied their apartment of belongings. The business also failed, bringing Juliet back to Nashville.  No wonder the sight of him strolling into Java Jive prompts Juliet to punch him in the nose. He gives her a garbled story of the waitress he dumped her for (and later married) being kidnapped. He has heard she is a PI and asks her to help him find her. Too bad that he drops dead after drinking a mocha that she served him. Now Juliet is the prime suspect.

Murder over Mochas feels like the end of this humorous series. Questions are answered, and the long-simmering attraction between Pete and Juliet comes to a satisfactory conclusion.  I have enjoyed all the books and recommend it for a quick read with lots of laughs. Thanks to NetGalley and Alibi for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

A Jimmy Vega Mystery #4
Suzanne Chazin
Kensington Books
September 26, 2017

Suzanne Chazin has taken her personal experience with outreach to the immigrant population and her considerable writing skills to produce a stellar series on one of the "hot-button" issues of the day. Jimmy Vega is a Bronx-born Hispanic cop who now lives and works in the fictional upstate New York town of Lake Holly. After his involvement in the shooting of an unarmed man in the previous book, No Witness but the Moon, Jimmy is on desk duty and keeping his head down. His attempt to keep a low profile goes out the window when a teenage volunteer at the local outreach center, La Casa, goes missing and is found dead in the woods. La Casa is run by Jimmy's girlfriend, Harvard educated lawyer Adele Figueroa, so Jimmy can hardly avoid getting involved. Disaster strikes in the form of a botched surrender and Jimmy is assigned to be the driver for a local politician whose primary focus is immigrant bashing. Racial tensions in Lake Holly, always high, ratchet up to a level that threatens the peace of the community, and Jimmy's and Adele's relationship and careers.

A Place in the Wind takes us deep into the lives and hearts of two undocumented Guatemalan brothers, Wilfredo Martinez and Rolando Benitez. Wil has the protection of DACA, works multiple jobs, goes to school, dreams of becoming a doctor and tries to keep tabs on his brother. Rolando is wounded by his experiences, both in Guatemala and in the US and is a barely functional drunk. This case of the dead girl will throw both into the teeth of an unforgiving legal and immigration system. The characters in this series are extraordinarily well-rounded, and most of them from previous books make an appearance. A welcome addition is Mr. Zimmerman, Adele's elderly neighbor, who is much more than he appears to be. I highly recommend the Jimmy Vega Mysteries to fans of suspense and police procedurals that are firmly grounded in the events of today.

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

RATING-5 Stars

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Body at the Book Signing

A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #2
Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books
September 12, 2017

It's a busy summer Thursday afternoon at the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium on Cape Cod. The co-proprietor, Gemma Doyle, receives a phone call from a timid voice inquiring about a possible book signing but Gemma is fully booked for the summer. Until she hears who the author is- Renalta Van Markoff, author of a controversial, and wildly popular pastiche featuring Holmes and Mrs. Hudson. Gemma and her co-owner, Jayne Wilson immediately shift into high gear to accommodate her; no small matter as Renalta wants to appear on Saturday, just two days away. The flamboyant Renalta comes accompanied by an entourage; her mousy and timid assistant, her publisher, a publicist, an assortment of rabid fans and at least one enemy. Excitement is high, at least until Renalta collapses dead on the signing table. Gemma's customer, Donald Morris, a dedicated and somewhat stuffy Sherlockian is the prime suspect. Donald had attacked her verbally in the Q and A session, accusing her of defiling Sherlock's sacred memory. Gemma doesn't think Donald murdered Renalta, but who did? It's up to Gemma and Jayne to find out, using Gemma's incredible powers of observation.

As a former bookseller and Sherlock fan, I really enjoyed the Body on Baker Street. Most of the authors I met at book appearances were gracious and down-to-earth people who were pleased to meet the fans and made no unreasonable demands. Then there were the one or two who were nearly as demanding as Renalta. The fans sometimes, too, could be a little odd. I'm looking forward to the next in the series and I highly recommend it for cozy fans.

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

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, September 11, 2017

Winemaker Detective #13
Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen
Le French Books
September 12, 2017

The latest case of the Winemaker Detective takes us into the Sauternais region in Bordeaux, where the legendary sweet wine, Sauternes, is produced. Benjamin Cooker should be busy revising his most current wine guide, but when he reads of the murder of a seemingly blameless retired couple in their bed, he decides that autumn is just the time to visit the region. Luckily Benjamin and his assistant, charming Virgile Lanissen, have many connections there. The more they learn, the more they want to uncover the murderer of the old couple. The police arrest a local homeless youth, but Cooker thinks the answer lies elsewhere, perhaps the old couple's grand-daughter or some old enemy.

Requiem in Yquem is another short and entertaining novel in this series, upon which a long-running  French TV show is based. The sometimes irascible but kind Cooker and his sidekick, Virgile, use all their contacts and knowledge of wine to solve their cases. I have read the books out of order, but this is the first time I remember them actually seeking out a case to solve. As always, the descriptions of wine, wine making, and food are drool worthy. I always learn a little about wines and how they are made along the way. The characterizations are excellent with even familiar characters adding new dimensions. All of the novels offer a pleasant evening's reading along with an engaging puzzle to solve.

Thanks to Le French Book for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own. 
3.5 Stars

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Into the Rabbit Hole

October Daye # 11
Seanan McGuire
DAW/ Penguin Books
September 5, 2017

I have followed the October Daye urban fantasy series from the beginning, Rosemary and Rue, and it has been a must-read for me. October is a changeling (half human, half-fae) who has struggled to find her place, both in the mortal and in the fae world. In fact, she is the daughter of Amandine, one of the First Born of the fae, but Amandine has been a largely absent and shadowy figure until The Brightest Fell. The book opens on a happy note, during the bachelorette party for Toby at a San Francisco karaoke bar. The party was organized by Toby's "fetch" May, and it is no matter that Toby and her betrothed, Tybalt, King of Cats, have not even set a date. An uproarious good time is had by all until Toby returns home to find Tybalt there, A knock at the door brings Amandine with a demand. She wants Toby to find August, Toby's half-sister who has been missing for over a century. To enforce her demand, she takes hostages of Toby's nearest and dearest.

Amandine's demand takes Toby and her squire, Quentin, into Toby's past and the rabbit-hole that is the fae realm. Accompanying them is Toby's greatest enemy, August's father, Simon Torquil. There is plenty of magic and mayhem and an accounting of some of the decisions and actions Toby has been forced to take in previous books. The character of Amandine becomes clearer, but whether she is a monster or just nuts is still up in the air. The Brightest Fell foreshadows events to come and I hope they come soon, after time to take a breath. Seanan McGuire has built a rich fantasy world and I think that the series needs to be read in order to fully enjoy the latest novel.

I was delighted to receive an advance digital copy from DAW and NetGalley. The opinions above are my own.

RATING- 4.5 rounded up to 5 Stars