Friday, December 11, 2009

Devil May Ride - Wendy Roberts

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Howl Deadly - Linda O. Johnston

Howl Deadly
A Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mystery
Linda O. Johnston
Berkley Prime Crime


Kendra Ballantyne was once a high-powered, go-go attorney. Now, she’s finding much more happiness balancing her life between her pet-sitting business and a much more laid-back law firm that specializes in animal rights cases. She’s also got a new flame. Dante DeFrancisco is the owner of HotPets, a national chain of pet supply stores. He also funds and operates HotWildAnimals, a wild animal sanctuary in the San Bernardino Mountains of California.

Aside from the lions, tigers, coyotes and other animals housed in the sanctuary, the star resident at the moment is a mother wolf and her three newborn pups. Kendra is understandably thrilled when she gets an opportunity to give a bottle to one of the pups. Unfortunately, the reason for the bottle is that mommy wolf is somehow missing from her enclosure. Everyone, from the director to the most junior of volunteers, realizes that someone would have had to let her out of the pen. Or perhaps someone took her to ransom back, knowing about Dante’s financial status.

While trying to find the missing wolf, Kendra meets Brody Avilla, movie star and a buddy of Dante’s. In fact, the two of them seem to prefer to have discussions without Kendra in the room, and clearly share some kind of past that they’re not willing to talk about with her. Ever resourceful, Kendra checks the history on Dante’s computer after one of these closed-door meetings and finds searches of a prison, the U.S. Treasury Department, and one of the senior caretakers at the sanctuary with the unlikely name of Jon Doe. Before she can make anything of this revelation, she finds Jon in the wolf enclosure. He’s dead, and there’s a bloody knife on the floor beside him. Even in a wildlife sanctuary, Kendra manages to find a murder mystery.

New readers will have no problems jumping into the series (MEOW IS FOR MURDER, THE FRIGHT OF THE IGUANA, DOUBLE DOG DARE, NEVER SAY STY) at this point. The author skillfully sketches in Kendra’s background at the outset. Longtime readers will be interested to see Kendra in a new setting, with a whole new group of suspects. Mystery readers and animal lovers alike will find much to enjoy in this mystery series. The mystery is tightly plotted and a bit of a departure this time around, making the story feel fresh while we follow Kendra, who always has the animals’ best interests at heart.

Rating: 7 ½
December 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-23159-3 (paperback)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Heart's Blood - Juliet Marillier

Heart’s Blood
Juliet Marillier


The circumstances of one’s life can change in an instant. When she went to sleep one night, Caitrin was the beloved daughter of a master scribe, learning her father’s trade. When she awoke the next morning, her father was dead. Soon after, distant kinfolk arrived and took over, telling all and sundry that Caitrin was undone by grief. Alone in a house with abusive relatives, Caitrin finally found the courage to leave. Taking only a change of clothing and her writing box, she escaped.

Living on the road was nearly impossible without money. Caitrin soon heard of a job for a scribe at a local chieftain’s home, Whistling Tor. The job would last for some months. While the locals warned her away from the place, telling fantastic tales of a century-old curse and a supernatural host that wander the surrounding forest, to Caitrin it seemed the perfect situation: A place to hide and be safe, and a place to practice the craft she loves.

The job involves translating family historical documents from Latin to Irish, so that the current chieftain, Anluan, can read them easily. The locals warned Caitrin about Anluan, too. They told her that he was an ineffective and absent chieftain, physically afflicted and prone to anger. Caitrin’s first encounter with Anluan goes badly, with Anluan predicting that she’ll leave Whistling Tor like everyone else has done. Caitrin, who honestly has nowhere else to go, vows to stay.

The heart’s blood of the title refers to both a plant used to make costly purple ink for royal decrees and to the hearts of the inhabitants of the house, all of whom need a bit of healing. I don’t want to spoil the journey of discovery for readers, so I’ll say only that the household is strange in many ways. This story is written like a fairy tale for grown-ups, and I often found myself lingering over a passage or description, unwilling to rush the beautifully-written narrative. I wanted to explore the moldering library and uncover its mysteries along with Caitrin.

In truth, I was sad to see this novel end. It’s one of those rare fantasy novels that manages to divide itself between the fantasy/magical aspects of the story and the development of characters without sacrificing either one. The reader gets to know the characters as Caitrin does, and the unfolding of each individual is just as complex and interesting as the story itself. It’s no exaggeration to say that, by the end, I was emotionally invested in the outcome for each character. This is one that goes directly to the keeper shelf. It will be a pleasure to re-read and re-discover in years to come.

Rating: 9 ½
November 2009
ISBN# 978-0-451-46293-0 (hardcover)