Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Alehouse Murders - Maureen Ash

The Alehouse Murders
A Templar Knight Mystery
Maureen Ash
Berkley Prime Crime

In the summer of 1200 A.D., Templar Knight Bascot de Marins is staying at the castle in Lincoln town. De Marins, who served the late King Richard, was held captive for years by the Saracens, and tortured. He now walks with a limp, and lost an eye. But an eye isn’t his most grievous loss; he may have lost his faith, as well. When he arrived in Lincoln, accompanied by a mute Italian boy, Nicolaa de la Haye, wife of the sheriff, and inheritor of the castle, immediately gave him shelter.

One morning, a rider brings the news to Nicolaa and Gerard, the sheriff, that murder has been done in town. There are four dead bodies in the local alehouse, all stabbed to death. This is bad, not only on its face, but because the midsummer fair is about to begin, bringing much-needed business to Lincoln. No one wants the town to be tainted as the hunting grounds of a murderer.

Ever practical, and with a good sense of the people around her, Lady Nicolaa turns to de Marins for help in investigating the murders. De Marins is looking for a way to bring purpose back to his life, and what better way, reasons, the good Lady, than to bring justice to the dead? It doesn’t take long to discover that one of the dead men is the illegitimate son of a local landowner, leading de Marins into the tangled web of family relations and family business.

This is the first installment in a new series, and it is, in a word, excellent. The author perfectly evokes the time and place, weaving details and customs into the narrative in a very natural way. Lady Nicolaa and her husband have worked out a relationship that is, while not usual, perfect for both of them. De Marins is a fascinating character, a man wounded in body and soul, searching to find his place in the world again. His internal struggle makes an interesting counterpoint to the murder investigation that is the centerpiece of the novel. There’s a second book planned for January, and I hope to see many more to come. THE ALEHOUSE MURDERS is outstanding and will appeal to fans of historical fiction, historical mystery, and character study.

Rating: 9
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21765-8 (paperback)

The Girl With Braided Hair - Margaret Coel

The Girl With Braided Hair
Margaret Coel
Berkley Prime Crime


When a skeleton is discovered at the bottom of a ravine on the Wind River reservation, thirty-year-old hurts are uncovered, as well. The skeleton still has a long braid of hair attached, and experts determine that the woman had given birth. There’s also a bullet hole in the back of the skull, clear evidence of murder. Some women on the rez feel that the police aren’t doing much to find the killer, and they turn to Vicky Holden, an Arapaho attorney.

Looking into the case quickly draws Vicky to the past, the 70s, when AIM (American Indian Movement) was strong in the American West. While many of their goals were admirable, there were some who used AIM to carry out their own agendas, using violence. A woman called Liz Plenty Horses was at the Wind River rez during this time, helping fugitive AIM members blend in with other residents. When the FBI came calling, Liz was called an informant, and fled the rez with her infant daughter. No one saw her or the child again.

This investigation causes some personal problems between Vicky and her partner, Adam Lone Eagle, who takes a slightly different view of things. In an attempt to avoid the tension, Vicky recruits Father John to help her. It’s not long before the threats begin. When one of the women who was questioned by Vicky turns up dead, it’s obvious that the killer is still around, and still very willing to kill to keep the past quiet.

Part of a long-running series, THE GIRL WITH BRAIDED HAIR can be read by newcomers quite easily, since the author is careful to include pertinent information throughout the book. No previous knowledge of the location or culture is necessary, and each book provides enough detail to educate any reader. The author creates a very real atmosphere, and even those readers who have never been near a rez will come to understand the unique set of challenges and tradition that reside there. With each new installment, the characters grow and deepen, making the series a find for the new reader, while giving continuing rewards to longtime fans.

Rating: 8
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21712-2 (hardcover)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Die For Me - Karen Rose

Die For Me
Karen Rose
Grand Central

Mystery/Romantic Suspense

Detective Vito Ciccotelli arrives in a frozen field in Philadelphia to investigate an uncovered grave. An older man, the new owner of the property, was out playing with his metal detector, but called the police when he uncovered an arm. The body of a young woman lies in the grave; her hands and arms held in an attitude of prayer by wires and metal rods. The ground is frozen solid, but the edges and corners of the grave are precise. It’s obvious that the killer dug the grave months in advance.

Realizing that there may be more to this scene than a single body, the police contact Sophie Johannsen, an archaeologist currently working as head curator at the Albright Museum. Sophie has access to ground-penetrating radar equipment, and, since she’s known the ME since she was a child, she can be trusted. It doesn’t take Sophie long to discover sixteen graves in the field. Nine of the graves contain bodies; seven remain empty. Obviously, the killer is still at work.

While a relationship between Sophie and Vito develops during the story, this novel keeps the hunt for the serial killer on the front burner. There are scenes from the killer’s point of view that contain some very graphic images. This may turn off some readers who are more interested in the ‘romance’ aspect, but it should bring the author a much wider, and well-deserved, audience. Lock the doors and turn on the lights before you start reading this one. And make sure you’ve got some time available; this one hits the ground running on the first page and never stops. An excellent look at a hunt for a terrifying serial killer.

Rating: 9
September 2007
ISBN# 0-446-61691-5 (paperback)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Unforgettable - Julie Ortolon

Julie Ortolon
Signet Eclipse

Contemporary Romance

Riley Stone spent a very unhappy childhood in Hope, Texas, and couldn’t wait to leave it. Her mother, an alcoholic, dumped Riley with her disapproving grandmother and left. Taunted and ostracized by the other kids, Riley nurtured a love of music. She also nurtured an unrequited love for Jackson Hope, son of the family that owns the town and land. Unknown to Riley, Jackson was feeling much the same way.
When Riley left for Austin, she thought she was leaving for good. But the death of her grandmother brought her back to the place she still thinks of as home; back to the same sharecropper’s house inhabited by generations of her family. Over time, Hope has been turned into a tourist destination, although business has been falling off lately. Even so, Riley loves her familiar house and the job she has as a singer at the local restaurant and lounge.

Jackson, who will inherit Hope from his father, spent the intervening years becoming a lawyer in Austin. He’s as shocked to see the grown-up Riley as she is to see him. The two attempt to avoid one another, but are thrown together over the issue of tearing down the now-closed dance hall. Jackson is determined to stop the town from falling into bankruptcy and wants to rebuild. Riley knows and loves the history of the place and wants it to stay. As usual, the two are on opposite sides. And, as usual, those sides are not nearly as incompatible as Riley and Jackson might think.

Both main characters are drawn as individuals who have lived very different lives, but share a history and a sense of purpose. Both are intelligent but guarded. It’s fun to watch the two of them spar while they come to realize their true feelings. The history of the town is fascinating, too, and is woven inextricably into the fabric of the story. This is a sweet story about two good people getting a second chance in life.

Rating: 7
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22204-6 (paperback)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Musketeer's Apprentice - Sarah D'Almeida

The Musketeer’s Apprentice
A Musketeers Mystery
Sarah D’Almeida
Berkley Prime Crime


The musketeer Porthos would seem to be a man impervious to almost anything. He’s taller, wider, and stronger than most other men; and his skill as a swordsman is known far and wide. His one weakness is his vanity. And when the twelve-year-old son of a minor noble plays on that vanity, saying he wishes to be taught by a master, Porthos allows himself to be swayed.

The truth is, the boy, one Guillaume Jaucourt, first tried his hand at a rather clumsy blackmail proposal, but quickly turned to flattery. The boy took the lessons very seriously, never missing one, never arriving late. Porthos realized that the boy was taking the lessons in secret, but was of the opinion that a young man living in Paris in these uncertain times would do well to have a bit of skill with a sword.

So it is that when Guillaume fails to appear for a lesson, Porthos is very worried about him. Never good at waiting around, but not knowing where the boy lives, Porthos uses clues from previous conversations to trace the boy’s path to their practice room. Porthos finds the boy lying in an alley, face red, eyes bright, babbling about angels flying. By the time he gets the lad back to the practice room, he’s dead. Porthos suspects poison. It’s clear that he needs the rest of his friends (Athos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan) to discover what happened to the boy.

Porthos’ arrival at the office of Monsieur de Treville, the captain of the musketeers causes quite a stir, not least for his pallor and general air of shock. Closeted in the captain’s office with Athos and Aramis, the talk turns to the true motive of the boy. While Porthos maintains that the boy had a sincere interest in sword fighting, the others wonder if he might have been sent to Porthos by the devious Cardinal Richelieu. After all, it’s not likely that the son of a minor noble, recently arrived in Paris, would know the details of Porthos’ past. Given the papers found on the boy, it begins to look more and more like some kind of set-up. Whatever the case, the musketeers are determined to discover the truth. And Porthos wants vengeance for the dead boy.

Based on the characters created by Alexandre Dumas, this series continues to excel. If you haven’t read THE THREE MUSKETEERS, or the first two installments of this series, DEATH OF A MUSKETEER and THE MUSKETEER’S SEAMSTRESS, you’ll have no problem jumping in at this point. The author takes great care to introduce each of the characters, along with pertinent background. Written in a voice and style consistent with Dumas’ original, each novel in this series delves deeper into the lives of the musketeers. A wealth of historical detail makes the time come to life. This series should delight any fan of historical mysteries.

Rating: 7 ½
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21769-6 (paperback)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Body Surfing - Anita Shreve

Body Surfing
Anita Shreve
Little, Brown and Company

Women’s Fiction

At the age of 29, Sydney Sklar has been divorced once and widowed once. After the tragedy of her second husband’s death, Sydney finds that she is unable to complete her own studies, and subsists on a series of unrelated jobs acquired for her by well-meaning and well-connected friends. When the story begins, Sydney is living in a beach house, working as a live-in tutor for 18-year-old Julie Edwards. Sydney’s job, as explained by Mrs. Edwards, is to prepare Julie for her senior year in high school and matriculation to a first-class college. Julie is a lovely and sweet girl, but intellectually slow; her mother’s wishes notwithstanding, Julie simply cannot succeed in a college setting.

The arrival of Julie’s adult brothers changes the feeling and rhythms of the days; it changes the dynamics of those living in the beach house. Jeff, a political science professor, expects his girlfriend, Vicki, to arrive soon. Ben, in corporate real estate, puts Sydney on her guard. The three (Jeff, Sydney, and Ben) go bodysurfing one night, and Sydney is sure that Ben groped her during the swim. Trying to maintain distance in a beach house with a revolving guest list isn’t easy.

As the summer progresses, Sydney makes extraordinary discoveries about Julie’s abilities and fears, and wonders at the family who would allow such things to go unnoticed. At the same time, she envies the Edwards their sense of family and feels like the perpetual outsider. She doesn’t seem to realize that any family unit comes with its own unique set of tensions. When a traumatic event pulls Sydney closer into the family fold, she realizes that this may be a double-edged sword.

The novel is written entirely in present tense, and uses mostly set pieces to tell the story. While this makes for a somewhat disjointed reading experience, it mirrors Sydney’s fractured emotional state. Told in small bites, with no extraneous descriptive passages, the narrative seems superficial at first. But, I believe this was entirely intentional, as it echoes the way the characters display mainly surfaces; only digging deeper when forced to do so. Even without long descriptions, the author is able to perfectly evoke the time, the place, and the characters who are content to let social convention stand in for true interaction.

Rating: 7
May 2007
ISBN# 0-316-05985-4 (hardcover)

Monday, September 24, 2007

My Immortal - Erin McCarthy

My Immortal
Erin McCarthy

Paranormal Romance

In 1790, Damien du Bourg, bored with his staid plantation life in Louisiana after living in the French court of Louis and Marie, makes a bargain with a demon. He wishes for immortality and he gets it, at a price. The demon who granted his request, Rosa, embodies greed and lust. Damien must spend the rest of eternity bringing new converts to her. Realizing too late that this bargain comes with terrible strings attached, Damien attempts to gain some kind of redemption by denying himself sex for over a century.

Two hundred-plus years later, Marley Turner, a schoolteacher, is on a summer retreat at a convent. She’s felt a vague sense of dissatisfaction with her life, and hopes that quiet contemplation will bring answers. Just before leaving the convent, she gets a months-old email from her younger sister, Lizzie. Lizzie is the wild child of the family, throwing herself recklessly into love and adventure. The email says that Lizzie has met a man, Damien, who is everything she wants; and she is determined to marry him.

When Marley is unable to contact Lizzie, she decides to follow the clues in the email and start at Damien’s plantation. The place is quite well known locally for the ‘sex parties’ hosted by the owner. Marley, determined to find her sister, continues. When Damien and Marley meet, Damien is shocked. For the first time in more than a century, he finds himself truly attracted to everything about a woman. But he knows that, if she stays with him, she’ll belong to the demon, too.

Fans of Erin McCarthy’s previous novels, be warned: this is not a light, comedic story. There are some seriously dark things happening here. Marley learns of Damien’s past by reading letters his wife left, and by discussions with those who know. These scenes are very well written and compelling, showing a real depth of character for all those involved. The only drawback is that the reader experiences these things, as does Marley, through second and third party accounts. We never really get to see it happen, and that’s disappointing.

I have no idea if the author intended this or not, but there’s a very clear madonna/whore dividing line for the women in this book. The women who are “bad” are sexual. The women who are “good” are not. That’s kind of disturbing for a book aimed at women. On the other hand, this may just be an accidental by-product of a book that explores forgiveness and possible redemption in very dark surroundings. The author perfectly evokes each time and place; and the characters are real originals. There’s great potential here for a series, and I hope that’s in the works.

Rating: 7
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-515-14348-5 (paperback)

Friday, September 21, 2007

String of Lies - Mary Ellen Hughes

String of Lies
A Craft Corner Mystery
Mary Ellen Hughes
Berkley Prime Crime


After several months in tiny Abbotsville, Maryland, Jo McAllister is making great strides. Her shop, Jo’s Craft Corner has become a popular destination for casual crafters and workshop attendees. The owners of the other small shops along the street share a camaraderie not found often outside of small towns. Jo is understandably surprised when she sees that a successful florist is going out of business. The owner tells her that developer Parker Holt bought the building that houses her shop, and declined to renew her lease. In fact, he plans to buy up as many of the quaint shops as he can, tear them all down, and build something modern on the land.

Parker Holt is not a well-liked name in Abbotsville. Most recently, he managed to tear down the library and erect a block of offices. With only two months left on her own lease, Jo attempts to contact her landlord to see if she’ll be looking for a new space. When that is unsuccessful, she decides to go straight to the source. It just so happens that Dan, the husband of Jo’s best friend and part-time employee, Carrie, is doing renovations on Holt’s home. Having secured the address, Jo wastes no time in driving out to see the man who might control her future. Or, maybe not, since Jo finds him lying dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Realizing that Dan and his assistant will be the obvious suspects, Jo and her loyal group of crafters put their heads together to assemble the clues.

Jo is a wonderful character; a sort of everywoman, trying to put her life back together after being widowed at only thirty-six. She’s neither impulsive nor foolish, and her involvement in this mystery makes perfect sense. There are plenty of scenes that take place in the craft shop, and enough craft tips (this time, the topic is beading) to make you want to clear off the table and get to work/play. This is the second installment in this delightful cozy series, following WREATH OF DECEPTION, and already the shop regulars seem like old friends. I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon.

Rating: 7 ½
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21767-2 (paperback)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Greywalker - Kat Richardson

Kat Richardson

Urban Fantasy

Harper Blaine was working what should have been a by-the-numbers case, when her target suddenly exploded into violence. The attack on her was so vicious that she was clinically dead for roughly two minutes. Unaware of this, Harper is haunted – literally – by the strange fog and shapes that seem to seep into the edges of her vision. Once aware of what happened, Harper enlists the aid of the Danzingers. Ben, a linguist, and aficionado of the theoretical aspects of the paranormal; and Mara, a witch; help Harper to acclimate to her newly acquired skill.

Harper will need to acclimate as quickly as possible. She is now a Greywalker: an individual who can exists both “here” and “there.” She’s still intent on living her life as normally as possible, working a missing persons case, and tracking down a long-lost antique; but the denizens of “there” recognize her for what she is, and are drawn to her to help them with their unfinished business. As a new Greywalker, Harper is often unsure which side of the line she’s working until it’s too late. In short order, she finds herself in contact with ghosts; and embroiled in the politics surrounding the area’s most powerful and ruthless vampire.

This novel, the first in a proposed series, displays great promise. The ideas are interesting and the execution is unique. Something feels vaguely unfinished, though. Perhaps this was a stylistic choice by the author, mean to echo Harper’s continued resistance to her new status. Harper is involved in a lot of cases, many overlapping. Each one is interesting, but since there are so many, each one gets rather short shrift. The cast of characters is widely varied, and I hope to see them developed further in future novels.

Rating: 7 ½ (trade paperback)
October 2006
ISBN# 0-451-46107-X

Friday, September 14, 2007

Perfidia - Elspeth McKendrick

Elspeth McKendrick

Romantic Suspense/Historical Romance

In 1937, Sophie de Havilland left England for Germany once she discovered the shocking truth about her fiancé, vowing never to return. For the past two years, she’s lived in Berlin with her Aunt Augusta, widow of a German Baron. Sophie admires the way the German government has pulled Germany out of the complete chaos that followed World War I. According to Herr Hitler, SS officers have a duty to procreate both in and out of marriage with young Aryan woman, the better to increase the Aryan race. When war is declared in September of 1939, Sophie, like many others, assumes that Germany will win quickly and that their lives will remain mostly undisturbed.

In the days leading up the declaration of open war, Aunt Augusta asks Sophie to help her leave the country. Augusta wants Sophie to come with her, but Sophie refuses. An incredibly clumsy attempt at blackmail puts Sophie in the hands of an intimidating SS officer, Karl von Richten. Karl agrees to help smuggle Augusta out of Germany, but demands payment. Sophie must move into his home, live with him, and pose as his mistress. Such arrangements carry no stigma after Hitler’s edict, but Sophie is wary. Only when Karl promises that she will be a mistress in appearance only does she agree. Karl tells Sophie in no uncertain terms to stay out of his business, but Sophie becomes curious. Her curiosity could get them both killed.

I admit that, at the outset, I wanted to shake Sophie for her incredibly naïve and myopic view of the Nazi regime. Then I realized that, as a member of the aristocracy, and as someone who enjoyed the good favor of high-ranking officials, Sophie would be mostly sheltered from the horrible realities. It’s amazing that the author manages to take this rather selfish woman and turn her into a heroine with a spine and a brain; in short, a character who is likeable. But that’s what happens here. Sometime around the midpoint of the story, I realized that I was rooting for Sophie.

The story takes place between September and November of 1939, the very early days of what would become World War II. Set in Berlin, the reader gets a rare inside glimpse of the enemy camp during this time. Even characters who are dedicated to the Nazi ideals do not come off as caricatures. They’re real people, caught up in events that are too overwhelming to comprehend. It’s obvious that quite a lot of research went into this novel, and each chapter begins with a date and the historical highlights. It’s fascinating to juxtapose what we know now to the actions and beliefs of the characters who are “living” through the events. The romance is lovely, but it’s really the historical context that makes this one a real standout.

Rating: 8
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-505-52739-4

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cashed In - Jackie Chance

Cashed In
A Poker Mystery
Jackie Chance
Berkley Prime Crime


Note: This review contains unavoidable spoilers regarding the outcome of the first book in the series, DEATH ON THE FLOP.

Belinda (Bee) Cooley’s life has changed quite a bit in the six months since she won a pro-am Texas Hold ‘Em tournament in Vegas. The win came as a complete surprise to everyone, not least to Bee, who had never played the game until events forced her into the tournament. Bee, whose upset win in Vegas has earned her the moniker “Bee Cool,” and a fair amount of fame in poker circles, used her winnings wisely, but still finds that money and fame bring their own brand of problems.

At the moment, her fame has led her, with the very insistent help of her brother, Ben, to the inaugural cruise of the Sea Gambler, complete with poker tournament. It was supposed to be partly a romantic getaway for Bee and Frank, the security expert she met while in Vegas. In a fit of temporary insanity, she also invited her parents along for the ride. Frank calls to cancel at the last minute, and Bee finds herself forced to share a cabin with her lothario brother. Not the trip of which dreams are made.

Bee soon discovers that the Sea Gambler is pretty much a floating version of a Vegas casino, complete with desperate players, burly security guards and security cameras everywhere. And what Vegas experience would be complete without a little danger? Someone is knocking off tournament players, and Bee could be next.

No prior knowledge of poker is required to enjoy this second installment of the series. The author carefully and succinctly lays out the basics, and allows the reader to ‘watch’ the proceedings. Bee is an appealing character; no dumb bunny, she’s hit forty and changed her life for the better, all in the same year. Her interactions with her family are realistic and humorous, but painfully recognizable to anyone with parents. The mystery is interesting and will keep readers guessing. A very solid entry in this fun series.

Rating: 7
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21768-9 (paperback)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Goodbye, Dolly - Deb Baker

Goodbye, Dolly
Deb Baker
Berkley Prime Crime


Gretchen Birch left Boston when she discovered her longtime boyfriend cheating on her. With a summer intern. Now living with her mother in Phoenix, Gretchen feels like she’s really come home. She’s started her own doll repair business under the tutelage of her mother, Carolyn, an expert on collecting and repairing all kinds of dolls. This is a bit of a problem for Gretchen, since this leaves her alone for her first doll show. Her Aunt Nina has promised to help, but Carolyn and Gretchen know that Nina marches to her own drummer.

In fact, Nina takes a table with a doll appraiser and spends her time showing off her miniature puppies. She trains tiny dogs to ride around in their owners’ purses. Looks like her business is going to be taking off in a big way after this show. Meanwhile, Gretchen is taking in dolls for repair and selling vintage Vogue Ginny dolls from her mother’s stock. She should have more to sell; twelve more, in fact. She purchased them at an auction, but somehow the box of Ginny dolls got switched with a box of Kewpie dolls. The Kewpie buyer disappeared, and his address turned out to be phony. It was at the same auction that Brett Wesley, the auctioneer’s business partner, was killed in a bizarre car accident.

Also in attendance at the show is one Ronny Beam, a sleazy reporter who just started his own weekly paper and is aiming for the big time. Sadly for everyone, he plans to get there by printing stories of a fantastical and possibly actionable ilk. Having Ronny hanging around her table is bad for business, so Gretchen is almost glad to see her ex, Steve, arrive. Almost. Steve has decided that he’s waited long enough for Gretchen to come to her senses and take him back, and he’s come from Boston to make sure that happens. Gretchen isn’t having it, Ronny and Steve have a heated argument, and Ronny leaves the show. Soon after, Ronny is found in the parking lot, dead. He was beaten with a tire iron, but there’s a utility knife in his back. A knife marked with the same pink polish that Gretchen used to mark her tools before the show.

There are plenty of suspects in this follow-up to DOLLED UP FOR MURDER. Ronny was not well liked; nearly everyone he ‘interviewed’ might have reason to do him harm. As before, the members of the Phoenix Dollers are on hand to lend help, advice, and a bit of interference. Detective Matt Albright, son of the doll club president is making progress in getting over his phobia of dolls; and he and Gretchen are edging closer to each other. A nice dollop of humor keeps the tone mostly light, and the pace is every even.

The author makes great use of Phoenix, its gorgeous surroundings, and its sometimes-eccentric inhabitants. As an added bonus, some of the chapters begin with ‘excerpts’ from Carolyn’s book about dolls and contain information fascinating to collectors and neophytes alike. This cozy series looks to have some serious staying power.

Rating: 6 ½
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21770-2 (paperback)

You've Been Warned - James Patterson, Howard Roughan

You’ve Been Warned
James Patterson and Howard Roughan
Little, Brown and Company

Psychological Thriller

Kristin Burns moved to New York three years ago, hoping to start a career as a photographer. It’s her habit to carry her camera everywhere and photograph whatever catches her eye. While she’s waiting, though, she’s working as a nanny in the Turnbull home. She’s completely devoted to seven-year-old Dakota and five-year-old Sean. Their mother, Penley, a trust fund kid from an incredibly wealthy family is a pill of a woman who has little interest in her children except as accessories. Their father, Michael, runs a successful hedge fund company. He’s also having an affair with Kristin.

When the story begins, Kristin has a portfolio of photographs submitted to a gallery for a possible show. She’s wildly in love with Michael and envisions a life with him and the children. The only downsides to her life at the moment are the existence of Penley, whom she keeps telling Michael to dump, and the recurring nightmares that wake her, screaming, every morning. These nightmares soon seem to spill over into her waking life when her dream of four body bags on gurneys in front of an upscale hotel becomes reality one morning.

The photos she took that morning of the body bags have a strange, ghostly quality: it looks like the body bags are transparent. Later, Kristin sees and speaks to her father on the street. Her father has been dead for over a decade. A pony-tailed man approaches her in a club and warns her to behave herself. Events quickly spiral out of control as Kristin desperately tries to find the meaning in these seemingly unrelated and surreal incidents.

This is not the normal James Patterson thriller. That may disappoint some readers, but I found it inventive and unique. Kristin tells the story from her point of view, so the reader goes along for the ride as she experiences it. Characterization is a bit thin, but the ambiguity of each character is, quite possibly, the point here. The pacing is lightning-fast, as usual. I stayed up late just to discover the truth behind the photographs. Readers who are open to a different kind of book from two very skilled authors won’t want to miss this one.

Rating: 8
September 2007
ISBN# 0-316-01450-8 (hardcover)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Leopard Prince - Elizabeth Hoyt

The Leopard Prince
Elizabeth Hoyt

Historical Romance

Lady Georgina (George) Maitland is in a rather unique position for an unmarried woman in 1760. She owns an estate, willed to her by an aunt, to run as she sees fit; she is not made to answer to a father or brother. While traveling to the estate with her land steward, Harry Pye, George notices that Harry is, in fact, quite male. Of course, the timing of this observation could be better, since she makes it after their carriage overturns on a muddy road. That he behaves like a perfect gentleman when they are forced to seek shelter in an old cottage irks George for reasons she doesn’t quite understand.

Harry grew up on the neighboring estate of Lord Granville, the county magistrate. Granville is also well known amongst the common populace to be of exceedingly bad character. When sheep belonging to his tenant farmers begin to die, everyone decides it must be someone with a grudge against Granville. Someone precisely like Harry, who has good reason to despise Granville.

George spends quite a bit of time with Harry, getting to know the estate. Although he almost never smiles, he occasionally displays a very dry wit, and George finds she lives for those moments. At the ripe old age of 28, and with no marriage prospects, George embarks on an affair with Harry. Truth be told, she doesn’t give the future much thought, given the glaring disparity between their classes. Then a local woman turns up dead of the same poison that killed the sheep, and Granville would like nothing better than to see Harry hang for it.

During that first, innocent night together in the cottage, George, who collects fairy tales, begins to tell Harry the story of the Leopard Prince. This story is woven, bit by bit, throughout the novel. The relationship between Harry and George is born of mutual respect and attraction between two mature adults. The rest of the cast of characters runs the gamut from George’s wonderful brothers to Granville’s very different sons, to the various farmers and tenants that populate the countryside. Tiggle, George’s maid, is especially fun. THE LEOPARD PRINCE is a thinking reader’s fairy tale, populated by mature adults, and a joy to read.

Rating: 8 ½
April 2007
ISBN# 978-0-446-61848-9 (paperback)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Violet On The Runway - Melissa Walker

Violet On The Runway
Melissa Walker
Berkley Jam

Young Adult

Violet Greenfield feels like a freak. When she hit six feet during her junior year of high school, she figured that would be it. But, no; now starting her senior year, she’s gained another inch. And she’s super-skinny, too. But on this first day of school, Violet is keeping a secret, even from her best friends, Roger and Julie. While working her usual shift at the movie theater, Violet was sort of ‘discovered’ by an agent from Tryst Models. The agent, Angela, gave Violet her card, and told her to call anytime to set up a meeting in New York.

When Violet breaks the news to her parents, they’re more supportive than she imagined. And, by the weekend, she’s in New York, having a makeover and shopping for clothes before meeting designers at go-sees for Fashion Week. Her success leads to bigger things, and a move to New York. She’s leaving her lifelong friends for a chance at the glamorous world of modeling. Wallflower Violet is about to take on New York. But, can she take New York?

Violet is great. She’s someone that anyone who’s ever been to high school can relate to and sympathize with, especially those not in the “in” crowd. The author not only knows and understands what it’s like to be a teenager; her work at several magazines gives her a great insight on the fashion world, as well. Some of the things that Violet has to confront are dark, but they’re realistic. This story is complete in itself, but the ending makes it clear that there’s more to come.

Rating: 7
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21704-7 (paperback)

Catnapped - Gabriella Herkert

An Animal Instinct Mystery
Gabriella Herkert

As an investigator for a law firm, Sara Townley is pretty far down the food chain. When she’s asked to look into the disappearance of the beneficiary of a $2 million trust, she’s briefly excited. Until she finds out that said beneficiary, Flash, is a cat. Still eager to impress her boss, she starts at Flash’s last known residence, the palatial home of an eccentric billionaire, Stuart Masterson. Jeff Randle, who lives in the guesthouse and cares for the cat, has nothing concrete to offer, except to note that the owner of the cat, and the author of the trust, was the billionaire’s personal assistant. A search of the house turns up nothing solid.

Sara may be missing a cat, but there’s someone waiting for her at home: her husband. Connor McNamara, the Navy man she married in Vegas four months ago after a week of great sex, and hasn’t seen since. Sure he’s there for a divorce, she’s shocked when he reminds her that he told her from the beginning that divorce is not for him. All they have in common is that one week in Vegas. Who builds a marriage on that?

When Jeff gets an anonymous tip about the whereabouts of Flash, Sara leaps at the chance to investigate, not least because it gets her out of the house. The meeting is at midnight, in a dark alley. Sara may be the only one surprised when she trips over a dead body at the scene. At this point, Connor insists on being let in on the investigation, if only to protect his wife. First order of business is finding out whose body was lying in the alley. From there, the trail widens to encompass Masterson’s grown and resentful children, his company, his oddly timed disappearance, and a very disgruntled former business partner.

First in a new series, this novel contains a serious flaw. Sara, 34 and a bona fide adult, is not a very likeable character. She makes consistently bad decisions; lies to her husband, even after promising not to do so; rushes into dangerous situations after agreeing on a more careful approach; and overreacts with maddening regularity. She does have some very nice moments, though, and those were honest enough to show that she’s deeply conflicted about something. There are hints at something darker in her past that might partially explain these actions, but that is never explored in this installment. Perhaps more light will be shed on that in later volumes.

On a very positive note, the rest of the characters are likeable and realistic. Even minor characters, like a waitress in a diner, have fully-formed personalities and backgrounds. Everyone should have a best friend as good as her neighbor Russ. This helps to anchor the mystery, since Sara feels bound to continue looking into the case in order to help bring some kind of closure to a widow. Animal lovers should be warned that Flash is very much a tertiary character here. He’s more of a point of entry to the case proper than the subject of the novel, and in this case it works very well, allowing him to be a sort of bookend to the narrative. I’ll be very interested to see where the story goes from here.

Rating: 6 ½
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22197-1 (paperback)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Caressed by Ice - Nalini Singh

Caressed by Ice
Nalini Singh
Berkley Sensation

Paranormal Romance

Note: This is the third volume in this series, following SLAVE TO SENSATION and VISIONS OF HEAT. If you have not read the first two books, this review contains spoilers.

The Psy are beings who live almost exclusively on the mental plane, connected through the PsyNet. Their Silence Protocol has left them without emotions. Breaking Silence can have disastrous, even fatal, effects. No one knows this better than Judd Lauren. As an Arrow, a member of an elite assassin squad, he’s been off the grid for some time. When his sister committed suicide, the entire family was slated for “rehabilitation,” that would effectively wipe their minds clean. Judd risked his own life to help his family create their own Net. According to the Psy Council, the all-powerful ruling body, the Lauren family is dead.

Brenna Kincaid, member of the SnowDancer wolf Pack, is still recovering from being kidnapped and tortured by a Psy serial killer. She’s healed physically, but the psychic damage remains. Something keeps drawing her to Judd Lauren, the Psy. The Pack allows the family to live with them, for the sake of the children, but the adults are not trusted. Brenna has no idea what Judd did before arriving in SnowDancer lands, but she’s sure she can melt his icy exterior.

Judd is fairly sure of it, too. But, for him, it could mean death. There are Psy who can break Silence and still function. Judd isn’t one of them. His set of abilities, the ones that make him an effective assassin, must be chained by Silence at all times, lest he kill someone with a stray thought. For Judd, breaking Silence will eventually cause irreparable brain damage. He channels most of his energy into missions for a mysterious “Ghost” who works against the Council. Someone is trying to set the Packs against one another, and is using any means necessary to do it.

Many of the events here, particularly Brenna’s abduction, have their roots in the first novel, SLAVE TO SENSATION. The inner dealings and political maneuvering of the Psy Council is an arc that began in the first book, and still continues. Readers of the series will see the progression; newcomers will be brought up to speed fairly quickly. Judd, the first male Psy to be featured in this series, is a fascinating character. Not your average ‘bad boy,’ Judd has real blood on his hands, leaving his fate in real doubt. There’s a multi-layered mystery going on, dealing with current events and stretching back to the first book. All of this is handled deftly, as the author continues to deepen this complex world in a very realistic way. I hope there are many more installments to come.

Rating: 8
September 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21842-6 (paperback)