Thursday, October 25, 2007

Moon Fever - Sizemore, Shayne, Handeland, Pineiro

Moon Fever
Susan Sizemore, Maggie Shayne, Lori Handeland, Caridad Piñeiro
Pocket Books

Paranormal Romance/ Short Fiction

This collection of four novellas by some of today’s best voices in paranormal fiction is perfect for Halloween-time reading. My favorite was Lori Handeland’s “Cobwebs Over The Moon,” that tells the story of Carly Kelly. The eldest daughter of a multi-millionaire, Carly becomes the target of an assassin on the way to a charity function. When her bodyguard shoots the attacker, the attacker bursts into flame. That’s different. Visiting her father in his office, Carly finds his body, along with that of his secretary. They appear to have been mauled by some large animal. With his final breath, Carly’s father tells her that her mother, contrary to what she’s been told all her life, is not dead, but living in Alaska. But her mother is missing, and the attackers have followed Carly. It’s up to Dylan Shepard to help her find her mom, and stay alive long enough to discover the family secrets.

In Susan Sizemore’s “Tempting Fate,” Desiree, descendant of a voodoo priestess, has been having some very physical dreams about her rock idol, Jon Coyote. She thinks they’re only incredibly vivid dreams, until incontrovertible evidence proves otherwise. The question is, just what is John Coyote, and how is he able to invade her dreams? Maggie Shayne’s story, “The Darkness Within” is a great haunted house story combined with a second chance at love. And Caridad Piñeiro’s “Crazy for the Cat” takes readers to South America, where the cats are more exotic that you might think.

Each of the stories is very strong; combined, they make for a great collection. Readers who are new to these authors will get a good indication of what’s in store for them in novels, and longtime fans will get a nice ‘fix’ of their favorites.

Rating: 8
October 2007
ISBN# 978-1-4165-1490-9 (paperback)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An Ice Cold Grave - Charlaine Harris

An Ice Cold Grave
Charlaine Harris
Berkley Prime Crime


The end of January is not the best time to visit the Carolinas if you’re there for the scenery. Harper Connelly and her sort-of-stepbrother, Tolliver Lang, are not there for the scenery, exactly. In the small town of Doraville, six teenaged boys have disappeared over the space of five years. There’s no connection between them, they weren’t thought to be suicides or runaways. They simply vanished. The grandmother of one of the boys raised the money to hire Harper, and cleared it with the sheriff. Harper is there to locate the missing boys.

Harper has a unique ability. Since being struck by lightning at the age of fifteen, she’s been able to sense the presence of dead bodies. Not everyone believes her; many think she’s a scam artist. But no one can argue with her success rate. Retracing the steps of the last missing boy, Harper finds an abandoned house on a back road. Buried in the yard around the house are corpses. Not six; eight. There’s a serial killer loose, and, given the burial location, it’s obviously someone local. As the remains are being exhumed, Harper and Tolliver decide to change hotels to avoid the media. While Harper is loading the car, someone attacks her, nearly breaking her arm and giving her a concussion. Obviously, the killer is very close.

This is the third in an ongoing series, (following GRAVE SIGHT and GRAVE SURPRISE) and in many ways, this one is the most tightly plotted so far. Harper is an interesting character; repelled by her own ability, unable to turn it off, and more or less forced to make a living using it. She’s ambivalent about what she does, but generally takes the view that she’s helping loved ones gain closure, and, sometimes, making sure a crime is brought to light. The plot is quick-paced and original. If you like your mysteries spiced with a good dose of the paranormal, you won’t want to miss this one.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2007ISBN# 978-0-425-41729-0 (hardcover)

Poltergeist - Kat Richardson

A Greywalker Novel
Kat Richardson

Urban Fantasy

Months ago, as the result of an unexpected altercation with a client, Seattle private investigator Harper Blaine was clinically dead for almost two minutes. That experience (not a spoiler, it happens on the first pages of the first book, GREYWALKER) left Harper with the unique ability to walk in the real world and the world of spirits and shadows. She’s a Greywalker; but without any other Greywalkers to teach her the ropes, she’s learning, bit by bit, with the help of a couple of professors whose house holds a ghost, and a possibly-friendly local vampire.

In this second installment of the series, Harper is called in to investigate a case that should be perfect for her. A local university professor is attempting to repeat an experiment performed in the 70s. A group of researchers may or may not have actually created a poltergeist. Whether it was real or not; whether it was the spirit of a person or the result of the combined mind energies present; is still at issue. In the present, something is going wrong with the experiments. After ‘priming the pump’ with artificially positive results to increase the confidence of the participants, the researcher is now recording results that are completely off the charts.

The question, it would seem, is whether someone else is manipulating the data; or is there a real poltergeist in the house? And if there is a real poltergeist, they’ll need Harper’s unique abilities to verify it. Before that can happen, one of the participants is found murdered in his apartment. Some believe that the entity may have caused his death; others believe a more earthbound agent caused his death. Either way, it’s up to Harper to find out what happened.

Those who enjoyed GREYWALKER will, no doubt, enjoy this second outing. Sadly, the author falls victim to the sophomore slump a bit here. The story involving the experiments is quite interesting, but far too much time is spent following Harper around, questioning various individuals. The characters remain much the same in terms of development, and, most disappointing, “the Grey” is not explained in any further way. POLTERGEIST could easily be read as a murder mystery with a paranormal backdrop. As such, it’s very entertaining. I’m hoping that future installments will delve more deeply into the continuing characters, and “the Grey.”

Rating: 7
August 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-46150-6 (trade paperback)

Blonde Faith - Walter Mosley

Blonde Faith
The Tenth Easy Rawlins Thriller
Walter Mosley
Little, Brown and Company


As the subtitle says, this is the tenth in the incredible Easy Rawlins series, and time has moved on, both for Easy and the city of Los Angeles. Readers unfamiliar with Easy will no doubt want to read the previous novels, and they should; these are some of the most beautifully written mysteries of our time. However, going back to the beginning, while rewarding, isn’t necessary to understanding Easy in 1967.

Time has, indeed, moved on, but has done very little to temper the racial tensions brewing in Los Angeles, particularly on the heels of the Watts riots. Overseas, Vietnam continues to claim victims, even after they arrive back Stateside. On the home front, Easy has waged a battle of his own, and may have lost the war. His long-time love, Bonnie, is having an affair. Easy throws her out of the house, determined to raise their adopted kids on his own. When Bonnie announces that she’s going to marry the other man, Easy has to confront the possibility that his mistake might have been the greater of the two. His feelings about his personal life and his past necessarily color his every action.

His present includes a search for his best friend, Mouse, who is missing. Mouse is well known to the police and is suspected in a recent murder. Mouse’s wife, Etta Mae asks Easy to find Mouse before something (else) bad happens. And the military appears on Easy’s doorstep, looking for his friend, Christmas Black, one of their men, and the subject of a manhunt. Christmas has been to Easy’s home, but only to drop off his adopted Vietnamese daughter and leave without a word of explanation. Easy knows his friends, he knows that in the wrong – or right – situations, they’re dangerous. And he knows that the chances are quite good that if he doesn’t find them first, they might well end up dead.

Walter Mosley is a master of elegant, almost minimalist prose that, nevertheless, manages to evoke the time and place and experience of Easy in a way that seems effortless. This time out, Easy’s problems with Bonnie, and the knowledge that his own pride has contributed greatly to the situation, tend to override much of the rest of the action, but that seems completely realistic. The tandem storylines of the searches for Mouse and Christmas never seem to compete for time or attention. The eventual outcome is quite unexpected, and could serve as a finale to the series. I truly hope not; the world is much richer with Easy Rawlins in it.

Rating: 9
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-316-73459-2 (hardcover)

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Tisket, A Tasket, A Fancy Stolen Casket - Fran Rizer

A Tisket, A Tasket, A Fancy Stolen Casket
A Callie Parrish Mystery
Fran Rizer
Berkley Prime Crime


As a mortuary employee, Callie Parrish knows that everyone reacts to death in different ways. But the death of Bobby Saxon, a car salesman, occasions some of the more bizarre reactions in recent memory. First, his widow arrives, tells the mortician that she’s grateful Bobby died before she divorced him, says she’d like to give him a great send-off so no one can speak badly of her, then wonders how soon they funeral home can “plant him.” She also asks for a morning funeral so as not to ruin the whole day for everyone. Next to arrive is a rival salesman, who is irrepressibly thrilled that Bobby is gone, since Bobby continually beat him in promotional contests. It’s pretty clear that no one is terribly sad to see Bobby dead.

Bobby drowned, and the coroner immediately declared the death accidental, obviating the need for an autopsy. While Callie is doing Bobby’s makeup, something on his neck snags her sponge. The morticians, Otis and Odell Middleton, are as puzzled as Callie, and call an immediate halt to the proceedings when she pulls a broken hypodermic needle out of Bobby’s neck. By this time, the body has been washed and embalmed, but it’s still a problem for the authorities. There’s no shortage of people who might have wanted Bobby dead, but who would bother stealing his casket?

This is the first in a new series, and there are some fairly rough edges showing. As you might expect, given the title, it’s just a bit too cutesy. Callie narrates the story in first-person, and the author has made the choice of using phonetics spellings like “puh-leez,” “ex-cuuze me,” and “buh-leeve me.” Buh-leeve me, that gets annoying very quickly, and tends to stop the flow of the narrative in its tracks. Morticians have lives, of course, and Callie, newly divorced and a mystery buff seems like an interesting character. Her interest in mysteries, and her lifelong friendships in her hometown make it plausible that she would jump into the investigation. With some of those edges sanded, and the ‘cute-factor’ toned down, this series could be a winner.

Rating: 5 ½
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21800-6 (paperback)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Frill Kill - Laura Childs

Frill Kill
A Scrapbooking Mystery
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime


Halloween in New Orleans’ French Quarter is a serious celebration. The shops go all out to promote anything related to the supernatural. Of course, that’s easier for some shops than for others. Ava Grieux, owner of the Juju Voodoo Shop, has a built-in Halloween theme. To capitalize, she’s throwing an open house, with free food and wine. The place is completely packed, and there are almost more customers than her clerks can handle. Of course, her best friend, Carmela Bertrand, owner of the scrapbooking store Memory Mine, is on hand.

One of the major attractions is a handsome young man called Giovanni, who mesmerizes the crowd with tarot readings and magic. Among the guests, Carmela recognizes Amber Lalique, a model poised for international fame, on the arm of famed local designer, Chadron. When Giovanni pulls Amber aside, Chadron looks none too pleased, but his business partner, Gordon, is clearly enjoying the party.

After the party, Carmela is headed to her car, parked in an alleyway, when she discovers Amber’s lifeless body behind a Dumpster. Before Carmela can react, she’s knocked to the ground from behind. Giovanni is there to help her to her feet, but Carmela wonders why he was really in the alley. According to the police, there are what appear to be animal bite marks on Amber’s throat. According to Ava, there’s no way Giovanni could possibly be involved. And everyone is looking to Carmela to figure out what really happened. Everyone but the police, and her soon-to-be ex-husband, that is.

The New Orleans setting really lends itself to a Halloween-themed mystery, and the author clearly loves the city and its residents. Carmela and Ava are great as best friends and business owners. Longtime readers of the series (MOTIF FOR MURDER) will recognize lots of returning characters, but newcomers will have no problems jumping in at this point. The mystery is interesting, and there are enough potential suspects to make it a real puzzle. Rounding things out are crafting tips and some delicious-looking recipes. If you can’t get to the French Quarter for Halloween, this is the next best thing.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21730-6 (hardcover)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hidden Moon - Lori Handeland

Hidden Moon
A Nightcreature Novel (Book 7)
Lori Handeland
St. Martin’s


After high school, Claire Kennedy left the little town of Lake Bluff, Georgia and declared she’d never return. She landed in Atlanta, pursuing a career as a reporter. After an attack, afraid and unexpectedly nostalgic, she decides that the best place to recover is in her hometown. Her father, the mayor, has died, and Claire takes up his office for the remainder of the term. The Full Moon Festival is quickly approaching, the town’s major source of tourist income. As entertainment, the town hires a band of gypsies.

The gypsies arrive, led by Malachi Cartwright, traveling in a caravan of what they say are their ancestors’ wagons. They’re mysterious and strange, but everyone thinks that’s just all part of the act. Local feelings change, however, when residents begin to hear wolves howling in the night. There have never been wolves around Lake Bluff before now. When a tourist goes missing, the gypsies immediately come under suspicion.

The story concerning Claire’s return home and the way she deals with past events makes her a realistic and sympathetic character. It’s completely believable that she wouldn’t be happy to realize she’s attracted to a man; much less the leader of some traveling carnival. While there are some common elements, each of the Nightcreature novels is different than the ones before, (RISING MOON, MIDNIGHT MOON, CRESCENT MOON) making this a truly entertaining series. It also means that new readers can jump in anywhere and enjoy the story, without feeling like they’ve missed crucial points. As always, the paranormal aspects are top-notch, making this a perfect novel for Halloween-time reading, while listen to the wind howl outside.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2007
ISBN# 978-0-312-94917-4 (paperback)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold

The Almost Moon
Alice Sebold
Little, Brown and Company


“When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily.” With these words, readers enter the world of Helen Knightly, daughter and killer. She’s also a mother, an ex-wife, and was once a child in an incredibly dysfunctional household.

At the time of her death, Helen’s mother, who once upon a time defined herself by her physical beauty, was eighty-eight years old, but still refused to leave her home. Neighbors and members of a local church kept an eye on her, brought her food, washed and took away the empty dishes, all in spite of the way she treated them. Helen was much the same. It all came to a head very quietly one afternoon, as Helen labored to take her mother up the steep stairway to clean and re-dress her.

All it took was a couple of minutes, and a towel over the face. It wasn’t until later that Helen began to consider the consequences of her act. Dimly, she was aware that the fact that she broke her mother’s nose during the weak struggle ruled out passing off the death as accidental. As afternoon fades to evening, Helen moves in and out of memory, and tries to decide what might come next.

The novel covers roughly a day, beginning minutes before the murder. The past comes in bits and pieces, through Helen’s memories of her mother. Some of them are happy, most are bitter, some are scarring. What emerges is the portrait of how one family lived, keeping their secrets behind closed doors; never letting on to the world the kind of pain they inflicted upon one another. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the novel is the feeling one gets of the author trying to somehow vindicate Helen’s final act against her mother. The writing itself is lyrical, but the story is a darkness from which very little in the way of light can escape. And perhaps that is its final lesson to the reader.

Rating: 7
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-316-67746-2 (hardcover)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Devour - Melina Morel

Melina Morel
Signet Eclipse

Paranormal Romance

There’s a werewolf loose in present-day New York City. His name is Pierre de Montfort, and his lupine nature was passed down to him through his family line. When he was a boy, his grandfather, who also had the gene, taught him about it. Now, he’s alone; the last of his line. He makes a nice living as a high-end jewelry designer, and is not ruled by the phases of the moon. His changes take place during times of emotional stress.

Paul DuJardin has written a book about the history of the Montfort family. His book has become a best seller in France, where the legend of the beautiful young Countess, cruelly savaged by her werewolf husband, is well known. The book has sold so well in France, that it’s going to be translated into English for sale in the States. When Paul meets Julie Buchanan, a descendant of the sister of that ill-fated Countess, he knows she’s the one to do his translation justice.

By the time everything is in place in New York, Julie and Paul have embarked on a romantic relationship. Julie has also met Paul’s friend, Catherine, the daughter of French aristocrats. Unknown to Julie, Paul and Catherine spend their time together hunting and killing werewolves. They’ve tracked the last of the Montfort werewolves to New York, and have a plan to smoke him out of hiding. In the meantime, Paul is worried about Catherine’s increasingly close relationship with a centuries-old vampire.

All the elements are in place here for a great paranormal story; but, somehow, it just doesn’t quite hang together the way it should. For me, the main problem was that the characters tend to be mostly surface. Aside from an obvious common interest in his book and the Montfort family, it’s hard to see what really draws Paul and Julie together as a couple. The author simply tells us they’re in love, but doesn’t show us why. The paranormal aspects are nicely done, with an interesting twist on the usual werewolf tale. The action sequences are fast-paced and realistically violent. Overall, the novel shows promise, and it will be interesting to see where the author goes from here.

Rating: 6
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22251-0 (paperback)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Overkill - Linda Castillo

Linda Castillo
Berkley Sensation

Romantic Suspense

Six months ago, Marty Hogan was a patrol officer in Chicago when her career imploded. Some fine citizen videotaped her beating a suspect during an arrest. That video was played, nonstop, on television. What no one saw, of course, was the dead child, killed by the suspect. Although the jury acquitted her, Marty clearly couldn’t stay in Chicago. The only police force that would have her was located in tiny Caprock Canyon, Texas.

The chief of that small department, Clay Settlemeyer, knew Marty’s background, but was willing to give her a second chance. From her first day in town, though, he begins to wonder if he’s made a mistake. Marty is showing all the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, both with suspects and with her fellow officers. When she radios in to say that she’s under fire in a remote canyon, officers respond, but can find no proof of her claim that there were two shooters. Marty knows what happened; Clay wants to believe her, for increasingly personal reasons.

The suspect in the video that killed Marty’s career was sent to jail for his crimes. Child-killers are the lowest form of life among prisoners, and he’s been abused to the point of needing his bowel reconstructed. His brother and sister, no strangers to killing, vow revenge for their brothers’ disgrace. They begin with Marty’s former partner, still on the beat in Chicago, then follow to her Texas, where they endanger everyone and everything important to Marty.

For readers of “sweet” romantic suspense, this one may be a little too raw. There’s language and violence, and none of it is sugarcoated. For readers who enjoy thrillers, with a bit of romance on the side, though, this is a real treat. Marty is a seriously conflicted character; she has internal issues that could destroy her and the people around her. The relationship between Marty and Clay is depicted, and rightly so, as incredibly problematic, from several perspectives. There’s the boss-subordinate problem; the fact that the relationship will most likely forever ruin Marty’s credibility with the other men on the force; and the problem that Marty is in no condition to start a relationship in any case.

The bad guys, introduced in the first few pages, along with their motives, are quite scary, but understandable in their own, twisted ways. From the first page, the author sets a fast pace that never flags. Recommended for readers of thrillers, mysteries, and those romantic suspense readers who like the ‘suspense’ element front and center.

Rating: 7 1/2
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21829-7 (paperback)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Fright of the Iguana - Linda O. Johnston

The Fright of the Iguana
A Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mystery
Linda O. Johnston
Berkley Prime Crime


Kendra Ballantyne, attorney and part-time pet-sitter, was making her early morning rounds to check on her animal clients before going into the office to deal with the more-difficult human clients. Her last stop was the palatial home of movie super-producer Edmund Dorgan. The Dorgans took their entire staff to the south of France, leaving only Zibble the Shar-pei and Saurus the iguana at home. When Zibble doesn’t greet her at the door, Kendra knows something is wrong. When she sees Saurus’ empty custom-built outdoor cage is empty, she becomes alarmed. And, when she sees the ransom note pinned to the frame of the cage, she immediately calls the police.

After dealing with the police, Kendra starts networking with other area pet-sitters. Her first call is to the president of the local pet-sitters’ club, Tracy Owens. Tracy’s first reaction is to tell Kendra that she’s not the first. In fact, this is the third such pet-napping that has happened, and that’s just among the members of the club. Tracy quickly calls a meeting for the next evening, during which stories are shared, everyone brought up to date, and progress (of which there is none) discussed. Everyone agrees to be more vigilant with their animal charges. Tracy vows to continue her habit of carrying a baseball bat for protection.

The following day, Kendra gets a frantic call from Tracy, who is at the home of one of her clients. Tracy walked in and found Nya, the vice-president of the pet-sitters’ club there, where she shouldn’t be. But that’s not the worst of it. Nya was lying on the floor of the kitchen, and it looks like she was beaten to death with a baseball bat. Kendra knows that Tracy’s couldn’t possibly have done it, but the police aren’t so sure.

One of the best things about these books, aside from the animals, obviously, is that the author generally manages to jump right into the action, or crime. Since this is the latest in a series (most recently MEOW IS FOR MURDER) there’s some background, but the author manages to work that in very nicely while still getting the plot moving very quickly. Newcomers will have no problems getting up to speed. Kendra’s life and character have evolved over the course of the series, but she’s always very likeable. Whether she’s defending her animal or human clients, she’s always looking out for their best interests. The mystery is very different, with the pet-napping scheme that may or may not be connected to the murder. Mystery readers and animal lovers alike will adore this clever installment.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21802-0 (paperback)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Murder By The Slice - Livia J. Washburn

Murder By The Slice
A Fresh-Baked Mystery
Livia J. Washburn


Phyllis Newsom, a retired teacher, knows first-hand how difficult it is to raise any decent amount of money with a bake sale. Which is why she’s dismayed to find that she and her friend Carolyn have been roped into helping out at the local elementary school’s fall carnival by hosting… the bake sale. This time around, though, Carolyn has some ideas that will make this sale stand out from the others. There will be an auction of fancy cakes donated for that purpose; and the baked items must all be healthy. The healthy snacks will be judged by anyone who buys a ticket, and a ribbon will go to one with the most votes.

This plan, when presented to Parent-Teacher Organization president Shannon Dunston, does not go over well. But, with support from other mothers on the board, the vote quickly passes and the plan put into motion. Shannon is not pleased to be overruled. Shannon, to be honest, is not pleased with much of anything these days, and the rest of the moms on the board deeply regret electing her as their president. Phyllis suspected as much when, arriving at the school, she and Carolyn witness a nasty argument between Shannon and her ex-husband.

On the day of the carnival, things seem to be going fine. The judging of the healthy snacks may bring in more money than the regular bake sale. The principal is just about to begin the auction for the fancy cakes, when screams erupt from the hall outside the gym. Rushing to investigate, Phyllis is shocked to see Shannon, lying on the floor, obviously dead. She was stabbed, and it’s just possible that one of the cake knives was the murder weapon. Phyllis feels sad for the woman; she was strident and snippy, true, but she had her share of problems, too, and maybe one too many enemies.

This is the second in a series, following A PEACH OF A MURDER, and the author deftly avoids the dreaded sophomore slump, turning in another winning entry. The atmosphere of a small town in Texas is brought to life by the many returning characters, and the way that each character has at least some passing connection to the others. Phyllis is a woman of a certain age, nostalgic for times gone by, but more than realistic enough to live in the here and now. Her competitive friendship with Carolyn is complicated and bespeaks a decades-long familiarity. There are plenty of suspects in the murder, making the culprit difficult to spot. And, to round out the experience, recipes are included for a few of the healthy snacks, as well as a couple of the fancy cakes.

Rating: 7
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22250-3 (paperback)

Tapped Out - Natalie M. Roberts

Tapped Out
A Jenny T. Partridge Dance Mystery
Natalie M. Roberts
Berkley Prime Crime


The world of dance is a small and competitive one, rife with jealousies and backbiting and, sometimes, even sabotage. And that’s just the non-professional, under-15 set in Ogden, Utah. In the bleak of February, Jenny Partridge is working with her dance students, getting ready for the Hollywood Starmakers Convention and Competition. The dancers are broken up by age groups, but there’s always a “psycho dance mom” (a subspecies of the psycho stage mom) who flips out if her precious child isn’t front and center, never mind the child’s aptitude or desire.

Running a dance studio that’s still a start-up doesn’t bring in the big bucks, so when old friend Bill Flanagan calls Jenny and asks her to fill in for a couple of MIA instructors and teach a couple of classes during the Convention weekend for $2500, she jumps at the chance to put a little money in the bank. She’s shocked when she arrives home that evening and hears a threatening message on her answering machine. She immediately calls her maybe-boyfriend, Detective Tate Wilson, who quickly ascertains that the caller ID was effectively blocked, and that the caller altered his/her voice.

Jenny and Tate make a trip to the site of the Convention and meet with Bill and some of the other teachers. Bill’s girlfriend is frosty, as usual, but no one admits to making the call. No one seems concerned about the missing instructors, feeling fairly sure that they were simply poached by the organizer of another competition. With little resolved, Jenny returns home. That night, someone sets fire to her car, destroying it. Obviously, someone is very serious about keeping Jenny away from the Convention. And things have only begun to get dangerous.

This is the second in the series, following TUTU DEADLY, and I’m happy to report that Jenny has matured quite a bit since the first novel. She’s no longer flailing around like a teenager; she’s behaving much more like the thirtysomething woman she is supposed to be. The author has toned down the “wacky” aspects a bit, too, but there’s still a good dose of humor and some funny situations. The recurring characters are continuing to develop quite nicely; and the mystery seems to be more centered and tightly plotted this time. Anyone who has ever been a dance student as a child, or has a child taking dance classes will instantly recognize the reality of the dance and dance school scenes. This one is a fun, solid mystery, and I’ll be happy to follow Jenny’s progress in the future.

Rating: 6 ½
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21801-3 (paperback)

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Courtesan's Daughter - Claudia Dain

The Courtesan’s Daughter
Claudia Dain

Historical Romance

Lady Caroline appears to have everything a young woman of her time could want. The daughter of an Earl, she is titled, wealthy, and quite beautiful. Her problem, however, is quite fundamental: she is, for all practical purposes unmarriageable. The reason for her plight is her mother’s past. Her mother, Lady Sophie, was once a courtesan before marrying the Earl and entering Society. Finding a husband from a good family will be nearly impossible. Lady Sophie did not rise to her present position in life without a cunning mind, however, and she presently hits upon a plan. She will simply purchase her beloved daughter a husband.

The proposed husband is one Lord Ashdon, a man whose gambling debts have left him, if not precisely amenable, then at least susceptible to such a humiliating arrangement. When Caroline discovers the plot, she is dismayed. She refuses to have a husband purchased for her, and decides that she will become a courtesan; completely unaware of the harsh realities of the path she’s chosen. Upon meeting Lord Ashdon, however, Lady Caroline is uncomfortably aware that she may have made a terrible mistake. And, with the rules of the game changed, Lord Ashdon declares that he will take Lady Caroline, but as his mistress.

While the cast is large, each character plays a specific role in this involving novel. Lady Sophie is quite intelligent and very good at moving people around like game pieces. That she does so to secure a good and solid future for her daughter is what makes her sympathetic. Caroline is quite realistic; young and idealistic, she makes rash decisions without thinking them through, then must deal with the consequences. Ashdon’s reaction to everything seems quite reasonable, really. The fun is watching the characters move through what seems, in hindsight, to be a very complicated set of dance steps. This delightful novel, awash in historical detail, is the first in a proposed series, and I’ll be glad to see more from this talented author.

Rating: 8
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21720-7 (trade paperback)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Some Like It Hot-Buttered - Jeffrey Cohen

Some Like It Hot-Buttered
A Double Feature Mystery
Jeffrey Cohen
Berkley Prime Crime


Elliot Freed is the new owner of a seventy-year-old, single-screen movie house in Midland Heights, NJ. The closest Elliot has even been to the movies was when he sold his novel to be made into a film. And, come to think of it, even that was a little too close, since what hit the screen was barely recognizable as his story. But the money from that sale bought him the movie house, now renamed Comedy Tonight. During a double bill of Young Frankenstein and the latest Rob Schneider ‘comedy,’ a patron dies. Elliot thought there was something wrong with the guy when he didn’t laugh at the Gene Hackman scene in Young Frankenstein, but figured everyone is entitled to a moment of bad taste.

What really leaves a bad taste, though, is that the cops quickly determine that the man was poisoned. And that the poison was in the popcorn. High school junior Sophie mans the snack counter, and her worst crime is that of being a half-hearted Goth. Since there’s no real break in between films (they show shorts) there’s no way to know exactly when the guy died. But it obviously happened at Comedy Tonight. While the police are investigating, they discover several boxes of pirated DVDs in the unused basement of the theater. The chief suspect there is the projectionist, Anthony, a Cinema Studies student at Rutgers. Up until now, his worst crime has been… being a Cinema Studies student at Rutgers.

When the police decide that the two crimes are connected, Anthony becomes their number one murder suspect as well. But Elliot isn’t so sure about that. With help from Officer Leslie Levant, and his ex-wife (a doctor who pays Elliot alimony,) Elliot decides the best thing to do for Anthony, and for his fledgling theater, is to look into the case himself.

Even if you’re not a movie buff, you’ll love this first book in a new series. There are movie references sprinkled throughout the narrative, but you don’t have to ‘get’ them to enjoy the mystery. Elliot is a unique character who is living his dream by owning and refurbishing the old movie house. His relationships, especially with his dad and his ex-wife, contain little quirks that speak to long familiarity and make the characters seem very real. The author doesn’t go for the zany approach here; Elliot, who narrates, has a very dry and sarcastic wit. The mystery is almost a locked room affair, and will keep the reader guessing until the end.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21799-3 (paperback)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rising Moon - Lori Handeland

Rising Moon
A Nightcreature Novel, Book 6
Lori Handeland
St. Martin’s

Paranormal Romance

Anne Lockheart’s normal life ended three years ago, when her sister, Katie, vanished without a trace. Anne, a private investigator, would have thought that, in this day of constant surveillance and computers, that kind of disappearance would be impossible. Opening her mail one morning, she discovers an anonymously sent photo of her sister, alive and vibrant, standing in front of the Rising Moon. It takes no time at all for Anne to locate the Rising Moon, and she’s in New Orleans’ French Quarter the very next day to start her search. Strangely, no one at the Rising Moon will admit to having seen her sister.

When she visits the police, Detective Sullivan informs her that Katie is not the only young woman who went missing in the area. Several of the missing women worked at the Rising Moon, a jazz club. It’s Mardi Gras time, and extra help is needed, so Anne has little problem gaining employment, and a room, at the club. She’s almost immediately drawn to owner John Rodolfo, but he seems uninterested. Appearances can be deceiving, though, as John is just as drawn to Anne. Even as their relationship escalates, Anne’s suspicions of John grow stronger. Could she possibly be falling for the man who caused her sister’s disappearance? Or is this all part of his game?

New readers will have no trouble jumping into the series here. While there are some recurring characters among the books, most recently MIDNIGHT MOON and CRESCENT MOON, the plot works very well as a standalone. I have to admit that I didn’t completely buy into the relationship between Anne and John, if only because I thought that a private investigator would be more circumspect. But, in the end, suspending my disbelief wasn’t too difficult. This installment takes full advantage of the New Orleans setting, and makes great use of the various cultures and beliefs. This series is a winner for fans of paranormal romances.

Rating: 7 ½
January 2007
ISBN# 978-0-312-93850-5 (paperback)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sisters On The Case - Sara Paretsky, editor

Sisters On The Case
Celebrating Twenty Years of Sisters In Crime
Sara Paretsky, editor

Mystery/Short Fiction

Did you know that Ebenezer Gryce was Sherlock Holmes a full decade before Holmes even existed? It’s true. And while you may never have heard of Mr. Gryce, the Holmes novels have not gone out of print since they were created. The author of the Ebenezer Gryce books was Anna Katherine Green, the most popular crime author of the early twentieth century. Is it coincidence that Ms. Green and her books are largely lost to obscurity, while Holmes lives on; that crime fiction written by a female author fades away while the male author’s creation is known to all? Maybe not. And that’s why, twenty years ago, several great female mystery writers got together and formed Sisters In Crime as a way to promote female authors in the field of mystery and crime.

This collection of stories, written by women who were instrumental in creating and perpetuating Sisters In Crime, shows that crime fiction today runs the gamut from the beautiful almost paranormal story “Sister Death” by Sue Henry; to a couple of old players sitting on a park bench reliving the glory days in Nancy Pickard’s “I Killed.” There’s a story by the late Charlotte MacLeod, “Lady Patterly’s Lover,” concerning a love triangle and a murder plot in the refined atmosphere of English estates. Speaking of triangles, Barbara D’Amato’s contribution, “Steak Tartare” proves (as if there was a doubt) that having dinner with the husband of your paramour might not be the best of ideas.

There are nineteen stories here, some quite short, a few almost novella length. Other authors include Carolyn Hart, Claire McNab, Patricia Sprinkle, Margaret Maron, and Dorothy Salisbury Davis. The names may be very familiar, but the interesting thing is that, for the most part, the authors seem to be exploring new ground in each of their stories. So, while the stories are often quite different than their novels, they’re still very entertaining. There’s something here for every taste: murder in the past, possible murder in the future, 60s radicals, the Mob, and a tiny fishing village. Mystery fans will find great new material from old favorites, and some new authors to explore. I know I’ll be looking into a few new-to-me names after this.

Rating: 8
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22239-8 (paperback)