Thursday, September 28, 2006

Midnight Secrets - Jennifer St. Giles

Midnight Secrets
Jennifer St. Giles
Berkley Sensation

Historical/Paranormal Romance

Cassiopeia (Cassie), Andromeda (Andrie), and Gemini (Gemmi) are the three daughters of an Oxford professor. In 1879, that puts them very much on the fringe of polite society, particularly when their parents spend much of their time in remote and exotic locales, on digs. Cassie has always had prophetic dreams, but the dream that wakes her this spring morning is particularly disturbing. In the dream, her cousin Mary is swept away by a huge wave and drowned. When a telegram from their aunt arrives that afternoon, confirming the dream, the three sisters immediately leave Oxford for Cornwall.

Arriving in Cornwall, Cassie finds that the local constable is less than interested in the case. In his view, Mary went swimming and drowned. Cassie points out that Mary had a fear of the water, but the constable ignores this inconvenient fact. Determined to get to the bottom of things, Cassie begins to ask around the village and finds that suspicion rests on the twin sons of an earl, Alexander and Sean Killdaren, who own the estate where Mary drowned. When Cassie learns that the housekeeper is in search of a downstairs maid, she takes the job in order to further her investigation. It doesn’t take long to find out about the mysterious death of another woman, and of the fabled curse that hangs over the brothers. To complicate matters, Cassie finds herself most improperly attracted to Sean; the man she suspects may have killed her beloved cousin.

The author blends elements of mystery, paranormal, and gothic novels to great effect here. The setting, an estate on the Cornish coast, is perfect for this kind of spooky tale. Cassie and her sisters are all very different individuals, each with her own personality traits and quirks. All three are likeable and quite believable. Sean is the quintessential dark and brooding hero, and his choice of reading material is interesting, to say the least. If you enjoy a gothic mystery in a creepy setting, you won’t want to miss this one. I’m looking forward to Andrie’s story, due in December.

Rating: 7 ½
May 2006
ISBN# 0-425-20962-8 (paperback)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Inn At Half Moon Bay - Diane Tyrrel

The Inn At Half Moon Bay
Diane Tyrrel
Berkley Sensation

Contemporary/ Gothic

Kelly Redvers has already made her mark in her chosen profession, engineering. One of the rare survivors of the dot-com bust, she suddenly realized that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do. Closing in on the dreaded thirtieth birthday, Kelly decides it’s time to take on a completely new challenge. She wants to run an inn. In her mind, she envisions something very elegant, with well-heeled guests and rates to match. But when she comes across The Magic Mermaid Inn, she’s inexplicably captivated by its rustic charm. It’s very definitely not what she thought she wanted, but once there, she feels compelled to buy it.

It doesn’t take long before Kelly gets the idea that she may be in over her head, in more ways than one. For instance, after a long time as a single woman, she’s now got three men who appear to be attracted to her: Nick, the handyman; Eli, the billionaire; and Grendel, the mysterious full-time resident in one of the cottages. Before she can sort that out, though, she hears the story (or is it a legend?) of a woman who disappeared from the Inn years ago. She’s inclined to dismiss such fanciful talk, but, strangely, those in the position to know about it seem oddly reticent to discuss it. When peculiar events begin to occur, she’s sure she’s on the right track. To something.

This entertaining novel is set on the gorgeous coastline of Northern California. Location is everything in real estate, and it’s certainly paramount here. An inn with small cottages situated along the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean is the perfect setting for a modern day gothic tale. While I initially found Kelly’s age and sudden change of life to be a bit unrealistic, it became a rather minor nitpick once I was caught up in the story. The author has peopled her novel with realistic creations and given them plausible, if twisted motivations. There are some neat twists in this tale. If you enjoy gothic fiction, you won’t want to miss this one.

Rating: 7
September 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21165-7

Wreath of Deception - Mary Ellen Hughes

Wreath of Deception
A Craft Corner Mystery
Mary Ellen Hughes
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery / Cozy

Jo McAllister, recently widowed, is making a new start in her life. She’s moved from NYC, where she lived with her artist husband, to Abbotsville, Maryland. She’s not alone. Her best friend, Carrie Brenner, and her family live there and have vowed to help out Aunt Jo. Using the small life insurance payment, Jo is getting ready to open Jo’s Craft Corner. With the help of Carrie, her husband, Dan, and teenaged son, Charlie, it’s taken weeks to get in stock and set up everything. Jo even hired a clown to pass out freebies and attract families.

The clown turns out to be an actor, Kyle, who isn’t very happy to be there. He complains about everything and everyone, and at the end of the day cannot wait to leave, even asking to use the back room to change out of his clown costume. Despite that, the grand opening is a huge success. After a celebratory dinner with the Brenners, Jo can’t help but take one last look at her shop before going home. To her shock, in the storeroom, she finds Kyle, sill in his clown suit, on the floor, dead. It only gets worse when the authorities discover that Kyle was stabbed to death with a knitting needle from Jo’s stock. Jo becomes the prime suspect. Worried that the small town police department won’t look much father than her, Jo decides, with the help of a few new, but dedicated, customers, to start asking questions.

This is the first in what promises to be a very entertaining series. The interaction between Jo and the various members of the Brenner family, and the interactions within the Brenner family are all completely realistic. It makes sense that Jo would start asking questions, and she does so in a believable way, realizing that she’s a rank amateur, but determined to clear her name. The cast of characters is diverse and interesting, providing several possible suspects and motives. Rounding out the experience are craft tips and a recipe. I hope to see much more of Jo and her friends.

Rating: 7 ½
September 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21224-6 (paperback)

Monday, September 25, 2006

New Moon - Stephenie Meyer

New Moon
Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown

Young Adult – Horror/Vampire

Note: If you haven’t read TWILIGHT, the first book in this series, this review contains spoilers.

This second book picks up a few months after the events of TWLIGHT. Bella Swan is starting her senior year. She’s turning eighteen. And she’s not happy about it. That’s because her boyfriend, the gorgeous Edward, is a vampire, who will forever be seventeen. Sure, the difference is only one year now, but Bella realizes that the difference in their apparent ages will only increase as time passes. When Bella slices her finger while unwrapping a gift at a party thrown by Edward’s family, the sight and smell of the single drop of blood sends one member into a frenzy. The whole episode drives home the very real differences between the two. And Edward steadfastly refuses to change Bella, for reasons of his own.

Days after the disastrous party, Edward calmly informs Bella that he and his family are leaving. In fact, they’re already gone, and he has stayed behind only to tell her. Bella is heartbroken at losing her first love. But, as time passes, she gains a new friend. Jacob brings action and fun back into Bella’s life. Something she feels she’s been missing since Edward left. Their relationship dances along a line between friendship and romance, but never quite crosses that line. When Bella discovers Jacob’s true identity, their ‘fun’ quickly turns to danger.

The author depicts the heartbreak of first love lost extremely well. Anyone who has been through it will recognize it instantly. Jacob is an interesting character, full of mystery. There are several new twists to this tale, and, the ending, while not quite a cliffhanger, certainly leaves some loose ends to be tied up in the next volume. As with the previous book, there’s nothing graphic. Teens and adults who enjoy vampire fiction will enjoy this series. I look forward to the next installment.

Rating: 7
September 2006
ISBN# 0-316-16019-9 (hardcover)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Roman Dusk - Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Roman Dusk
A Novel of the Count Saint-Germain
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Horror / Vampire / Historical

No good deed goes unpunished. It’s the third century, A.D., and Saint-Germain, known in this time as Ragoczy Germainus Sanct-Franciscus, is residing in his villa outside the walls of Rome. Since he is a Foreigner, there are different laws that apply to him in Rome. It seems that soon, the crumbling Roman Empire may be empowered to seize his villa and lands. But his current concern is serving as a witness as his friend Septimus Desiderius Vulpius signs the documents needed to finalize his late uncle’s will. Corruption is rampant, and officials are always looking for ways to line their own pockets. In this case, Batsho, the official overseeing what should have been an ordinary transaction seems to take particular notice of Sanct-Franciscus.

His suspicions aroused, Batsho goes so far as to hide a spy within the household of Sanct-Franciscus. Although he has no idea of Sanct-Franciscus’ true vampiric nature, this poses a grave threat. Batsho has hopes of charging the Foreigner with failing to pay taxes and possibly treason. As punishment, Sanct-Franciscus could be burned to death. Not even a vampire can survive immolation. Adding to the danger, two opposing, but equally fanatical, early Christian sects begin to pose a real threat to those who continue to worship the many gods and goddesses of Rome. Sanct-Franciscus must not only manage to save himself from death by fire, he must also somehow remove his friends from the same threats.

Ms. Yarbro excels at historical research, and these novels can be read and enjoyed as historical novels with paranormal elements, or as paranormal/horror novels set in historical times. Either one is more than a worthwhile endeavor. This meticulous attention to detail allows the reader to get a real feel for what life was like during the final days of the Empire. The lyrical language and formal speech cadences complete the historical feel. Saint-Germain, or Sanct-Franciscus, as he is called here, remains a lonely, tragic, but ultimately sympathetic figure, moving through centuries more or less alone. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9
September 2006
ISBN# 0-765-31391-X

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Ghost and the Dead Man's Library - Alice Kimberly

The Ghost and the Dead Man’s Library
A Haunted Bookshop Mystery
Alice Kimberly
Berkley Prime Crime


This time, it really was a dark and stormy night! Penelope McClure and her Aunt Sadie, owners of Buy The Book bookshop are driving through a thunderstorm to get to Prospero House, the ancestral home of octogenarian Peter Chesley. Arriving at the house, the two women are stunned to find it, and the owner, in very bad condition. Peter, who claims he’s all alone this evening, explains that, due to his arthritis, he’s no longer able to negotiate the stairs. The upper floors are closed off, and he’s converted a small room on the ground floor for his use. But, if he’s alone, why does Penelope hear movement from the second floor? These concerns vanish in light of the books for sale. It’s a complete set of Poe, the Phelps editions from the early 1930s. He seems quite anxious that the women take the books that very night.

On the way home, Penelope realizes that she’s forgotten her purse and returns. She enters to find Peter dead at the foot of the stairs. The police are content to rule it an accident. But Penelope, with some help from Jack Shepard, the ghost of a P.I. who died in 1949, isn’t sure at all. What was Peter doing on the stairs? Back at the shop, they find a bundle of papers in between two of the books. These papers, obviously decades old, indicate that the Phelps set contains a series of riddles that lead to a treasure. While inclined to laugh it off, Penelope has to wonder if it could be real. Someone certainly seems to think so, because those who buy volumes are meeting with nasty ends. With Jack’s spectral help, Penelope decides to get to the bottom of things.

This is such a fun series. Jack speaks only to Penelope, and he speaks in very hard-boiled, noir style, complete with dated slang. He also has a knack, despite (or maybe because of) being dead, of cutting right to the heart of a matter. Penelope, a widow with a young son, keeps Jack’s existence quiet, for obvious reasons. The author manages to skillfully combine the genres of cozy mystery and paranormal into a cohesive whole. And, since the ladies run a bookshop, this series will also appeal to bibliophiles of all kinds. Fans of Poe, in particular, will find much to entertain them in this installment. I always look forward to a new ‘Haunted Bookshop’ mystery, and they never disappoint.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006
0-425-21265-3 (paperback)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dirty Little Lies - Julie Leto

Dirty Little Lies
Julie Leto
Pocket Star Books

Thriller/ Romantic Suspense

Former gang member Marisela Morales feels fortunate to have found a legitimate job that incorporates all the action and adrenaline rush of her previous life. She’s an operative for Titan International, a worldwide security firm. As the story begins, she’s attending what looks to be a boring gathering of the rich and entitled in Boston. Things start looking up when, while waiting for her shift to begin (she’ll be watching the borrowed jewelry sported by the wives) she spots her ex, Frankie Vega on the other side of the ballroom.

A bit of flirtation takes them up to a balcony that surrounds the dome of the room. She’s shocked to see a gun barrel on the other side of the balcony, and only her honed reflexes allow her to get off a shot at the would-be assassin. As it is, a Congressman lies on the floor, grievously wounded. Marisela chases the assassin and is shocked, and a bit pleased, to find that it’s a woman. A fight ensues, during which the masked assassin displays a gang tattoo identical to the one on Marisela’s wrist. Soon enough, Ian Blake, who runs Titan with this sister Brynn, gives Marisela and Frankie a new assignment: Find out who is after the Congressman, and why.

It’s clear from the opening scene that the motive is revenge, but the ‘who’ and ‘why’ are questions that must be solved during the investigation. This novel, while labeled “Romance,” is really much more of an action-packed thriller, which should give the author a much wider readership. There is an undercurrent of tension among the characters, but it’s hardly the driving force of the novel, and that works out just fine. The female characters are strong, competent, and independent without being harsh or bitchy caricatures. None of them have to rely on a man for rescue. And all of them, assassin included, have complex and sympathetic backgrounds, making their choices and current circumstances understandable. It isn’t necessary to have read the first novel in the series, DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, but once you meet Marisela, you won’t be able to resist. I hope to see much more of her.

Rating: 8
September 2006
ISBN# 1-4165-0163-0 (paperback)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Knitting Under the Influence - Claire LaZebnik

Knitting Under the Influence
Claire LaZebnik
5 Spot

Chick Lit

Kathleen is a triplet. Not many people are aware of that, since her two sisters are identical twins, and she’s most definitely fraternal. The twins have made a fortune on TV and in movies. After college, Kathleen went to work for them. It was a good job; great money, not a lot of responsibility, always a cleaning crew or a catering team on call. Then it happened. During a party, Kathleen got drunk and spilled some family beans to a reporter about the twins’ real age, and that their father was essentially a deadbeat dad. Faced with her family’s wrath, Kathleen decides, at 27, to finally move out of the family home and fend for herself. She’s got little in the way of savings and even less in the way of real job experience, but a girl like Kathleen usually manages to make do.

Sari and Lucy, the other two members of the Sunday morning knitting circle, are having their own problems. Sari works with autistic kids as a behavior modification therapist. She’s stunned to learn that the father of her new patient is Jason Smith, the BMOC from high school. He’s also one of the guys who made life hellish for her autistic brother, Charlie. Jason doesn’t seem to remember any of this, though, and Sari refuses to take out the sins of the father on the helpless son. Lucy, a research scientist, is dating the gorgeous postdoc who supervises her project. Since she was a self-proclaimed fat girl in her youth, having a handsome and desirable boyfriend is a heady experience for her. But lately, she’s starting to really understand that beauty is only skin deep.

The three women share a strong and genuine bond of friendship, despite the differences in their lives. The unifying thread, to use a dreadful pun, is their knitting. Readers can chart the changes in the characters’ lives not only by what they say and think, but also by how their knitting attitudes change. One goes from being almost entirely self-centered and believing you should knit only for yourself, to becoming more open and aware, expending energy and creativity by knitting something for someone else. It may seem like a stretch, but knitters will understand the concept perfectly. As a knitter, I thoroughly enjoyed these scenes and talk of the latest projects. Even if you’ve never held a knitting needle (or never plan to) you’ll be able to instantly identify with the ups and downs of the friends’ lives. The author, a knitter with an autistic child, writes with great understanding about both subjects.

Rating: 8
September 2006
ISBN# 0-446-69795-8 (trade paperback)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Bad Beginning - Lemony Snicket

The Bad Beginning
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the First
Lemony Snicket

Young Adult

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” So says the author, and he’s very, very right. But that certainly doesn’t stop the book from being fun.

Violet (14), Klaus (12), and infant Sunny Baudelaire are walking along Briny Beach when Mr. Poe arrives to tell them the terrible news that their house has burned down and they are now orphans. At first, the three siblings go to live with Mr. Poe. But, soon enough, a relative steps forward and offers to care for them. Unfortunately, that relative is the evil Count Olaf. Despite their best efforts, the children can do nothing to please him, and it becomes clear that he simply wants their family fortune.

The fun here is in watching Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny, work as a team to get out of one bad situation after another. The Baudelaire children are clever, resourceful, and committed to staying together, as a family. The author, a mysterious fellow, goes to great lengths to use interesting words, and is kind enough to explain what they mean. Parents will be glad to know that there is nothing graphic or overly scary here, unless, of course, you’re afraid of waiting for the next book. I know of at least one family that enjoys reading the books aloud to each other, and some adults, including yours truly, that read them just for enjoyment. The author is working up to the final installment, wherein all will (maybe) be revealed, so watch this space for more reviews and information.

Rating: 8
ISBN# 0-06-440766-3 (hardcover)

Twilight - Stephenie Meyer

Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown

Young Adult – Horror/Vampire

Isabella Swan, Bella to her friends, is in the midst of a huge life change. She’s moving from sunny Phoenix, AZ to almost-always-rainy Forks, WA to live with her dad. As if being the new kid in high school in a tiny town where everyone has known each other since their grandparents were babies isn’t tough enough, her dad just happens to be the Police Chief.

On her first day at school, Bella notices a group of kids in the cafeteria. They don’t look alike, exactly, but they’re all incredibly beautiful. Also? They go to the cafeteria every day for lunch, but not one of them ever eats. Bella is irresistibly drawn to the beautiful Edward. As they get to know each other, and come to care for each other, they forge a trust that allows Edward to reveal a secret. They’re vampires. They’re doing their best to live normal lives; and they never prey on humans, only animals. The rest of the group accepts Bella because of Edward. But when an outside group of vampires arrives, Bella discovers that falling in love with a vampire is far more dangerous than she ever imagined.

Suitable for readers from 12 up to an including adults, this novel is a love story with very real emotional tension. There are some scares, but no graphic content. The author does a wonderful job of making everything seem very realistic, from the living arrangements of Edward’s clan to the danger posed by the rival group. Anyone who enjoys a good vampire novel will want to pick up TWILIGHT. The next installment, NEW MOON, is available now in hardcover. Look for that review very soon.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006
0-316-01584-9 (trade paperback)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Book of Fate - Brad Meltzer

The Book Of Fate
Brad Meltzer
Warner Books


“Six minutes from now, one of us would be dead.” If that opening line doesn’t grab you, then you, my friend, are un-grabbable.

The narrator of the story is Wes Holloway, a 23-year-old presidential aide at the time the story begins. He’s used to juggling the myriad demands on the time and presence of President Leland Manning, and on this particular morning, Deputy Chief of Staff Ron Boyle is livid that a scheduling mistake means that he’s going to miss his meeting with Manning. In an attempt to assuage him, Wes arranges a seat for Boyle in the Presidential limousine. That decision changes everything for Wes, when the occupants of the car come under fire from a would-be assassin. Boyle dies. Wes is hit in the face, undergoes months of surgeries and rehab, and emerges from the experience with scars both physical and mental.

Eight years later, Wes is still working as an aide for now-former President Manning. While on a trip to Malaysia, Wes catches a stranger in a restricted area. A tussle ensues, and to his shock, Wes believes he recognizes Ron Boyle. Of course, he just got off the flight to Asia, and he’s running a fever, so he omits that salient detail when reporting the incident to the Secret Service. Later, doing his own checking, Wes discovers that someone had been staying at the same hotel. That individual was checked in under an old code name for Manning, known only to Wes and Boyle. The address given is Manning’s private family home. Either this person intended to be found, or someone invited him. Riddled with guilt for his perceived role in Boyle’s death, Wes can’t let this go. Following the trail leads him to corruption, secrets, a code invented by Thomas Jefferson, and a mystery that stretches back to the founding of the United States.

The book begins with a moment-by-moment description of the events leading up to the shooting. It’s excruciating, knowing that death and injury is seconds away, and being able to do nothing but watch as events unfold. This perfectly articulates the feelings of Wes, even years after the fact. He relives those moments and that guilt daily. It affects him in very realistic ways. The author writes all his characters as fully fleshed-out human beings, complete with flaws. And he includes the kind of behind the scenes political detail that makes every scene ring true. The pacing is perfect, the plotting excellent. A word of warning: Make sure you’ve blocked out some time for reading when you start this one. It’s almost impossible to put down this intelligent thriller.

Rating: 9
September 2006
ISBN# 0-446-53099-9 (hardcover)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Kill All The Lawyers - Paul Levine

Kill All The Lawyers
A Solomon vs. Lord Novel
Paul Levine
Bantam Books

Legal Thriller

You might think that, once you wake up to find a dead 300 pound marlin impaled on your front door, that your day isn’t going to get any worse from there. You might think that, but you’d be so very wrong.

When attorney Steve Solomon finds the dead fish impaled on his door, he immediately begins running through a list of people who might be angry enough with him to do such a thing. He doesn’t get very far before his partner, in life and the law, Victoria Lord, arrives with news. She’s been listening to the radio. To Dr. Bill, aka Dr. William Kreeger, a pop psychologist who is just as popular now as he was when he was convicted of manslaughter. Being an ex-con has knocked him down a few rungs on the entertainment and respect ladder, but it certainly hasn’t stopped him. This morning’s show contained a rant about his former defense attorney, Steve Solomon, and his incompetence.

Despite his bravado in front of Victoria and his 12-year-old nephew, Bobby, Steve is worried. Years ago, he defended Kreeger and lost the case. There was no talk of incompetence at the time, and when the appeals (handled by a different attorney) were denied, that should have been the end of it. This new, public challenge can only mean that Kreeger is now aware that Steve pretty much took a dive on the case. Steve knows that telling Victoria about it is the least of his worries. Because, now that he’s free, Kreeger wants revenge. And, being a highly intelligent psychiatrist, Kreeger knows just how to wound. He’s going after the people around Steve, his law practice, and, last but not least, Steve’s life.

In the third installment of this very entertaining series, the author takes a walk on the darker side, without sacrificing the wit and humor that readers have come to expect. The characters continue to become more complex, in realistic yet unexpected ways. The pacing is fast and never falters. Kreeger makes a great villain and a worthy opponent for Steve, as he attacks from all sides. Longtime readers and newcomers alike will enjoy this visit with Solomon and Lord, and wait impatiently for the next installment.

Rating: 8
September 2006
ISBN# 0-440-24275-4 (paperback)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Renfield - Barbara Hambly

Slave of Dracula
Barbara Hambly


From his cell at Rushbrook Asylum, Ryland Renfield observes the actions of those around him. He senses the approach of a powerful presence; one he misidentifies at first as the great god Wotan, from Norse mythology. By the time he realizes his error, he’s completely in thrall to his Master, Dracula. Through His eyes, Renfield watches the slow, torturous death of the beautiful Lucy, and the effects of her death on those around her. One of those affected is Dr. Seward, who runs the asylum. Naturally, it’s impossible for Renfield, as an inmate given to consuming insects, to make Seward understand the truth about what is happening.

When Mina Harker arrives with her husband Jonathan, Renfield fears for her life, too. He knows his Master wants Mina to replace Lucy, released from her undead state by those who loved her. In order to try and save Mina, Renfield makes a pact with the Three Sisters, wives of Dracula, who hold little love for their Master after so many years. The deal he made doesn’t turn out quite as he planned, but it puts him in position to help the wives and the mortals try to stop the Lord of Darkness.

This is Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” as told through Renfield’s journals, ruminations, and letters to his beloved wife and daughter. Interspersed with these ruminations are omniscient narrative passages and a few passages from other characters’ points of view. These bits round out the story nicely. Readers familiar with the tale of Dracula will enjoy this new perspective on an oft-told tale. Putting an imprisoned character on center stage, necessarily moves some of the action off-stage, but this is all handled quite well. Renfield, as an individual, has a story to tell, and his surprisingly sympathetic story has a few twists and turns that Stoker probably never imagined. Some of the twists change the original tale a bit, but the author makes it work beautifully. If you’re a fan of the original, or just enjoy vampire fiction, you won’t want to miss this one.

Rating: 8
September 2006
0-425-21168-1 (hardcover)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dirty Little Secrets - Julie Leto

Dirty Little Secrets
Julie Leto
Downtown Press

Romantic Suspense/Thriller

At 28, Marisela Morales has already lived a lifetime. As a teenager, she was part of a street gang called las Reinas. After winning her independence by literally fighting her way out of the gang, she found a bail bondsman willing to give her a chance and a job tracking down bail jumpers. But a nasty little altercation resulted in Marisela’s losing her license to carry a gun, ending her employment. Now she’s looking for a new job and a fresh start. She’s about to get her wish, in a big way.

Francisco (Frankie) Vega was Marisela’s teenage love. Now he’s in a whole different place in his life, too. The DEA recruited Frankie as an informant while he did a stint in prison. He found he had an aptitude for the work and continued his undercover life. Now, fate is throwing Frankie and Marisela together again. In fact, Marisela, as a personal favor to Frankie’s parents, is making sure that he doesn’t jump bail on his latest arrest. Her methods are original, to say the least.

Ian Blake, head of Titan International, recruits Marisela and Frankie to handle a missing child case. This is not your average parental kidnapping. The mother is from old Boston money. The father is Puerto Rican, and an international arms dealer. He kidnapped the girl when she was a toddler, and has moved through Central and South America to avoid the authorities. Frankie and Marisela must infiltrate the operation, get close enough to gain the girl’s trust, and get her out safely. In one week.

This is that most entertaining type of romantic suspense story. It’s unique, features strong, original characters, and a lot of action. While there’s plenty of tension between various characters, the real story is Marisela. She’s a great character, a real kick-ass heroine who, while undeniably feminine, can take care of herself and everyone around her. In this genre, it’s not often that the main characters are truly flawed. The author pulls it off perfectly, detailing the realities of their previous lives, and allowing them to make the tough choices along the way. The narrative is fast paced, the action sequences well written, and the plot features some interesting twists. The sequel, DIRTY LITTLE LIES, is available now, so watch this space.

Rating: 7 ½
June 2005
1-4165-0162-2 (trade paperback)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The House of Storms - Ian R. MacLeod

The House of Storms
Ian R. MacLeod


Alice Meynell has managed, by use of hard work, scheming, use of magic, and even murder to overcome her low birth to rise to the top of the social ladder. In this alternate Victorian-ish England, Alice is Greatgrandmistress of the very powerful Telegraphers Guild. But all that power is useless in her fight to save her consumptive son, Ralph. There is neither magic nor medicine that can heal him. Desperate to save her son, and her family dynasty, Alice does something nearly unthinkable. She takes him to those called the Changed.

Almost a century ago, the world’s technology was changed forever by the discovery of magic, known as aether. Those who were exposed to aether for prolonged periods where altered in a fundamental way. They are now known as the Changed, and they live apart from the rest of society. When they are able to heal her son, Alice believes she is free to continue her machinations. But Ralph isn’t following his mother’s plan for him. He becomes fascinated with the natural sciences, and evolution in particular. He falls in love with Marion Price, a serving girl who Alice feels is beneath their family’s status.

As Ralph grows into adulthood, tensions begin to escalate between the more technological society of the East and the agrarian slaveholding society of the West of England. It’s clear that a civil war is brewing, and thanks to the maneuverings of Alice, Ralph and Marion soon find themselves on opposite sides of a brutal war. The key to ending the conflict and moving the world forward may lie with the Changelings and a very special child entrusted to them.

The book is split into two sections. The first details Ralph’s youth and contains complex character development and beautiful world building. The second section builds on this foundation and deals with the civil and political strike that threatens to destroy their society. Each character is truly layered. There are no cardboard cutout characters here. Even the most villainous character has moments of decency; even the good guys falter. The co-existence of magic and technology gives rise to unusual, but realistic problems. The narrative weaves together social, economic, political, and personal stories in an amazing tapestry of human experience. This is a very successful melding of alternative history and fantasy, not to be missed.

Rating: 9 1/2
August 2006
ISBN# 0-441-01342-2 (trade paperback)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Case of the Roasted Onion - Claudia Bishop

The Case of the Roasted Onion
The Casebook of Dr. McKenzie
Claudia Bishop
Berkley Prime Crime


Retired from his position as departmental chair of Bovine Science at Cornell, veterinarian Austin McKenzie still manages to keep busy. He and his wife, Madeline started a large animal vet practice; a sound business move, given the number of horse and cattle farms in the area. Eventing, or competing in horse shows, is also big business in the area, and the Earlsdown Three-Day Event is coming up soon. Dr. McKenzie is more than a little surprised when he receives an invitation to join the Veterinary Delegation, a group of vets that work the show, making sure horses are sound, and drug-free. In truth, another local vet, Larky Schumacher was scheduled to serve. But Larky was found dead at the side of the road; shot by an unseen rifleman while doing his rounds.

Dr. McKenzie is discomfited by the lack of time that passed between Larky’s death and the issued invitation. He’s quite surprised to discover that Larky had decided not to serve at Earlsdown days before his death. It isn’t long before another local vet is gunned down in the same manner. This vet was also scheduled for Earlsdown. When someone takes a shot at Dr. McKenzie, it’s clear that the events are connected. When he's hired by the odious Brewster McClellan, head of this year's Earlsdown, who hits not only his wife, but his horse, Dr. McKenzie, foe of bad grammar, violence, and those who mistreat animals in any way, identifies McClellan as a possible suspect, and decides to turn his estimable mind to the puzzle. With the help of his lovely wife, and two new assistants, he sets out to crack the case.

Austin McKenzie, a bit prickly and irascible, is a great new amateur sleuth. Watching the events unfold through his eyes works quite well, since, as a vet, he has insight into both the horses and the people who work around them. His devotion to his wife is endearing, and his sense of fair play is absolute. While the investigation takes a while to get started, that time is used nicely to introduce and assemble the characters and lay the groundwork. I’m looking forward to another visit with the venerable Dr. McKenzie.

Rating: 7
September 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21223-8 (paperback)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Killer Insight - Victoria Laurie

Killer Insight
A Psychic Eye Mystery
Victoria Laurie


Abby Cooper is a professional psychic. Unfortunately, her gift didn’t give her any warning about what was in store for her on Valentine’s Day. She anticipated a romantic dinner with her FBI boyfriend. What she got was dumped. Sure, he tried to be nice about it, tried to hold out hope. But it’s pretty tough to fool a psychic once her antenna is up and working. The following morning, with perfectly bad timing, Abby gets a call from childhood friend Ellie, whose wedding she’s set to attend in a couple of weeks. It seems that one of the bridesmaids has run off, and Ellie wants Abby to fill in the gap. Abby finds herself agreeing, realizing that perhaps getting away will do her good.

Arriving in Colorado, she’s thrilled to be reunited with Ellie, whose family has known about and accepted her gift since early childhood. She’s more than a little surprised to see Duffy, Ellie’s older, and now quite handsome brother, who works as a sheriff. It’s a good thing for Abby that there’s a cop in the family. She begins getting visions that tell her that the missing bridesmaid isn’t just missing; she’s dead. When a second bridesmaid goes missing, Abby gets the same feeling. As the wedding party continues to dwindle, Abby turns to Duffy to help her sort things out before it’s too late for Ellie. But it may already be too late for the newest bridesmaid: Abby.

This is the latest in a wonderfully entertaining mystery series, and it starts with a shocker. Abby, shot and dying. She tells the story as a sort of final memory. It’s tremendously effective, especially for longtime readers. The author does a wonderful job of making Abby’s gift seem like a very normal part of her life. Sometimes it’s a good thing to have, and sometimes it makes for some very unhappy situations. Through it all, Abby seems very realistic and sympathetic. The mystery is quite involving and moves along at a nice clip, pulling the reader along with it. I’m always happy to see a new novel from this author. This one is no exception.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2005
ISBN# 0-451-21933-3