Sunday, July 30, 2006

Flirting With Forty - Jane Porter

Flirting With Forty
Jane Porter
5 Spot

Women's Fiction

Somehow, this is not exactly where Jackie Laurens thought she’d be in life at age 39. She’s divorced, with two kids, and her own decorating business in Seattle. Life is full, but Jackie feels strangely unfulfilled. When one of her friends suggests a trip to Hawaii to celebrate Jackie’s 40th birthday, Jackie jumps at the chance to leave her obligations, and often-dreary Seattle, behind her temporarily. When the friend backs out of the trip, Jackie decides to go it alone. Who knows what might happen?

To her dismay, Hawaii is filled with middle-aged men who have no business walking around in swimsuits. It’s downright depressing. Just when she’s almost given up hope, she meets surf instructor Kai. He’s gorgeous, tan, fit, and much younger. The two have a passionate affair, but Jackie must eventually return home. Once back in her ‘real’ life in Seattle, she can’t stop thinking about Kai. Several more trips to Hawaii convince her that they might have something real. Her friends are less than supportive, but Jackie is beginning to wonder if perhaps it’s worth taking a real chance for some real happiness.

Many women of all ages will be able to relate to Jackie. Real life and real responsibilities have a way of creeping up on you, snuffing out those youthful dreams. How many women have thought, even momentarily, of finding a way to make those dreams co-exist with their adult lives? My guess would be, plenty. While there are moments of seriousness here, for the most part, FLIRTING WITH FORTY is a fun, frothy read, perfect for an afternoon spent poolside. Or just in front of a fan with a tall, frosty lemonade.

Rating: 7
July 2006
ISBN# 0-446-69726-5 (trade paperback)

The Farm - Scott Nicholson

The Farm
Scott Nicholson


Katy Logan thought she was providing stability and security for herself and her 12-year-old daughter, Jett, when she married Gordon Smith and moved to his family’s historic farmstead in tiny Solom, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Gordon is a professor and expert in Appalachian religion. One of his ancestors, the preacher Harmon Smith, known as the Circuit Rider, roams the mountain, occasionally taking unfortunate souls to the great beyond. It quickly becomes clear that Gordon is far more interested in religious sects than in his wife.

Almost immediately, Katy attempts to re-invent herself as the perfect farm wife in order to please her new husband. Determined to make it work, she tries to ignore the strange smells, the sound of heavy footsteps, the goats that seem to watch her, and the jars that fly off of shelves. Jett isn’t having an easy time, either. In the barn, she’s terrified at the appearance of a shadowy man in a wide-brimmed hat. She’s afraid that she’s hallucinating when she continues to see and hear him everywhere. Suddenly, Gordon’s folk tales about a blood-drinking scarecrow don’t seem so amusing.

The atmosphere is completely claustrophobic from the first page. Katy and Jett seem to be completely cut off from the world at large; trapped in Solom, both physically and mentally. The inhabitants of Solom, far from being backwoods caricatures, all have histories and unique personalities. The pacing and dialogue are spot-on, adding to the air of mounting dread. THE FARM should keep you awake and flipping pages long into the night. Another winner from Nicholson.

Rating: 8 ½
July 2006
ISBN# 0-7860-1712-0 (paperback)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Glasshouse - Charles Stross

Charles Stross

Science Fiction

In the 27th century, backing up human consciousness and uploading it into newly created bodies is commonplace, giving individuals a kind of immortality. This new level of technology and human interaction gave rise to the censorship wars. Many participants in the wars elected to undergo a procedure called a memory wipe in order to erase information that was too painful or too dangerous to retain. When Robin wakes up in a rehab clinic, he finds a letter next to his bed from his past self, informing him that past-him opted for the memory wipe. The letter is sketchy on details, but makes it clear that Robin was involved in the wars on a level that made him dangerous to many others.

During his initial rehab, Robin is offered a chance to participate in a sort of social experiment. Scientists want to re-create the society of the “dark ages” of the mid-20th century. Robin hesitates. He’s having memory flashes from his previous life. And these flashes give him the sense that he may still be in danger. He decides to participate in the experiment, hoping that it will shield him until he understands what’s really going on. Taking on the role of a housewife from the 1950s seems pretty safe. But, more and more, Robin begins to suspect that this is all just a construct created by his former, and present enemies when attempts are made on his life. And this time, they don’t want to leave a backup copy.

Fans of cyberpunk and far-future SF will love this one. If you’ve never read this type of novel, GLASSHOUSE will convert you. Readers are immediately immersed in Robin’s world. Not having read the previous novel, ACCELERANDO (pb, 7/06) I was a bit lost at first, but that sort of mirrored Robin’s feelings, so I just decided to go with it. In fact, it may have made me more sympathetic to his situation. There’s a lot of technical information and jargon here, but it’s certainly not necessary to understand the inner workings of cyberspace to enjoy this novel. The author skillfully blends the genres of cyberpunk, SF, espionage, and thriller into a very enjoyable and memorable read. I’ll be looking for more from this author.

Rating: 8
July 2006
ISBN# 0-441-01403-8 (hardcover)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Of Fire and Night - Kevin J. Anderson

Of Fire and Night
The Saga of the Seven Suns – Book 5
Kevin J. Anderson
Warner Aspect

Science Fiction - Space Opera

NOTE: This is the fifth volume in an enormously complex space opera series. If you haven’t read the first four novels, it’s pretty likely that you’ll be lost/spoiled for a good part of this, even though the author provides a prologue.

As this installment opens, the human race is embroiled in a war that looks ever-more-hopeless with the alien hydrogues. Unknown to the Hansa League, which includes Earth, the Ildiran Empire has brokered a deal with the hydrogues in an attempt to stave off their own extermination. The hydrogues have powerful allies in the Klikiss robots. Both are determined to eradicate human life. The Klikiss have managed to infiltrate the human forces through use of what the humans believe are simple soldier robots.

In addition to the very real external threats, the Hansa League is crumbling from within. The Chairman, Basil Wenceslas, is becoming more and more unstable. This is problematic since he has long been the true power behind the throne. King Peter and Queen Estarra, who were supposed to be mere puppet rulers for the Chairman, fear for themselves and for their unborn child. The Roamers, sort of gypsy energy miners have cut ties with the Hansa. Somehow, the various human factions need to pull together or face annihilation, together.

The above is really a bare-bones sketch of what is a complex and multi-layered epic. The world the author has created is stunning in its realism and diversity. The fact that he manages to tell very real, personal stories in the midst of a galactic war is a real testament to his talent. The cast of characters is huge, but each has his or her moment to shine. Or not, as the case may be. And, for readers (like me) who need a scorecard to keep names and terms straight, the author thoughtfully provides a very complete glossary. I would recommend reading the first four books, not merely for backstory, but for the enjoyment. As the ending makes clear, there’s more to come, and I’m looking forward to it.

Rating: 8 ½
July 2006
ISBN# 0-446-57718-9 (hardcover)

The previous volumes, all currently available in pb from Warner Aspect:
Hidden Empire
A Forest of Stars
Horizon Storms
Scattered Suns

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Enemy of God - Robert Daley

The Enemy of God
Robert Daley


In the 1950s at Fordham Prep, four young men, members of a swim team relay, bonded in a friendship that stood the test of time. Now all well into middle age, one of their number is gone. Frank Redmond became a priest and activist. Gabe Driscoll became chief of NYPD Internal Affairs. Andy Troy is a journalist with a Pulitzer Prize to his credit. And Earl Finley is a prosecutor.

When he hears the news that Frank is dead, Gabe insists on attending the autopsy. Frank’s death was ruled a suicide, but Gabe has serious doubts that a devout Catholic priest would leap to his death. While Gabe reaches out through his PD network, Andy uses his own methods. Soon, the trail will lead them back through their pasts to unravel the puzzle of the present.

While this novel works wonderfully as a character study, coming-of-age story, and a sort of time capsule; as a murder mystery, it’s not as involving as it should be. There’s at least one twist that ought to be surprising, but, for me, at least, was quite obvious. The author handles the past and present elements gracefully, without interrupting or confusing the narrative flow. Although not up to the author’s usual standards, this is still a solid read with memorable characters.

Rating: 6 ½
July 2006
ISBN# 0-15-603228-7 (trade paperback)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

California Demon - Julie Kenner

California Demon
Julie Kenner


NOTE: If you haven’t read the first book, CARPE DEMON, this review contains spoilers.

Kate Connor thought she was through with being a Demon Hunter. She’d been retired for fifteen years when evil reared its head in idyllic and previously demon-free San Diablo, California. Then, due to the lack of available Hunters, she was forced back into action in order to protect her family and the world.

Now things seem to be settling down a bit. Allie, Kate’s teenaged daughter, is going to the local high school and weathering her first serious crush. There’s something strangely familiar about the new teacher at the high school. Timmy has hit the ‘terrible twos,’ and husband Stuart is about to announce his intentions to run for county attorney. Now is not a good time to be distracted from her home life. Demons have no consideration.

Together with her best friend Laura, the only non-Hunter aware of her secret identity, Kate pieces together what appears to be some kind of demonic plan that centers around the high school, and Allie. She’s also beginning to have doubts about the circumstances surrounding the death of her first husband, Eric, who was her partner in all things, hunting included.

The second installment of this entertaining series is a bit deeper and more complex than the first. There’s still a good deal of not-too-graphic mayhem, injected with a substantial dose of humor. Bringing Laura in on the secret is not only a help to Kate, but also a help to the series, since less time is now devoted to Kate attempting to find a babysitter at short notice with no explanation. That leaves more time for plot development. Like the first, this is a fun, frothy read, perfect for summertime.

Rating: 7 ½
June 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21043-X (trade paperback)

Rating Scale: 1-10

Carpe Demon - Julie Kenner

Carpe Demon
Julie Kenner


To all outward appearances, Kate Conner is your average suburban mom, living in San Diablo, CA, with her husband, teenaged daughter, and toddler son. Fourteen years ago, Kate retired (for good, she thought) from a very demanding career. She was a Demon Hunter.

Imagine her surprise when, after fourteen years of nothing, and in the middle of getting ready to host a dinner party, a demon comes crashing through the kitchen window. Using reflexes she’d almost forgotten she had, Kate manages to dispatch the demon. A late night call to one of her old contacts reveals that there’s something big going on in San Diablo.

The coastal city of San Diablo, with its huge cathedral, has always been pretty much demon-free. Thus, the reason Kate lives there. Clearly, times are changing. According to Kate’s contact, Goramesh the Decimator is active in the area. He’s looking for something, but no one is clear on what that might be. Since he’s not corporeal at the moment, Kate can't fight him, and will have to resort to figuring out what he wants and finding it first. And, while she’s at it, she’ll have to keep her life as a Demon Hunter secret from her husband, children, and friends. No problem.

This is the first novel in a new series, and while it will invite inevitable comparisons to Buffy, in all fairness, Buffy never had to come up with a way to get a husband, a teenager, and a toddler out of the house in order to quietly dispose of the dead demon hidden in the pantry. Readers who don’t appreciate strong violence or gore, fear not. This is pretty much Buffy Lite. It’s a fun story, and Kate is an engaging and sympathetic character. My preference is for a bit more paranormal and a bit less domesticity, but the author manages to blend the two aspects of Kate’s life quite believably. It’s a fast, fluffy read, great for a paranormal fix. The sequel, CALIFORNIA DEMON is already available, so watch this space.

Rating: 7
July 2005 (mass market pb coming in October 2006)
ISBN# 0-425-20252-6 (trade paperback)

Rating Scale = 1-10

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Virtu - Sarah Monette

The Virtu
Sarah Monette
Ace Fantasy

Fantasy - Dark Fantasy

NOTE: This novel is the sequel to MELUSINE (pb, 7/06.) If you haven’t read the first book, this review contains plot spoilers.

After being used most cruelly by his former mentor in a casting ritual, wizard Felix Harrowgate lost his position, his magic, and his mind. Branded a heretic and accused of shattering the Virtu, the stone that contains and controls the magic of Melusine, Felix barely escaped the city with this life. As the second novel begins, Felix and his half-brother Mildmay the Fox, a thief, are living in relative safety. Healers and wizards have restored Felix’s sanity. Mildmay is dealing with the aftereffects of a curse that left him crippled.

It doesn’t take long before both brothers realize that it’s time to leave. With his mind and magic in place, Felix believes that it is his duty to return to Melusine and attempt to restore the Virtu. As Mildmay plots a course back to the city, he realizes that Felix will be lucky not to be arrested and burned as a heretic the instant he enters the city. The journey back to the city is long, and along the way, the two brothers pick up some interesting traveling companions. Even Felix doesn’t realize that one last, possibly insurmountable obstacle awaits him in Melusine: his former mentor, Malkar.

If MELUSINE was the journey “there,” then THE VIRTUE is the journey “back again.” This time, however, Mildmay has to deal with his own physical affliction, along with a sane and capable Felix. Felix is now, sometimes unfortunately, aware of every step of the trip. And both brothers are fighting a decidedly un-brotherly attraction. (Readers offended by homosexuality or profanity should skip this one.) As before, the story is told alternately by Felix and Mildmay, giving the reader deeper insights into both characters and a good overview of the story as a whole. The rest of the cast of characters is diverse and deep. There are no stock characters here. The author maintains a unique and dark-tinted tone befitting the subject matter. Both installments are highly recommended for readers of dark fantasy.

Rating: 9
July 2006
ISBN# 0-441-01404-6 (hardcover)

Rating Scale = 1-10

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Ruins - Scott Smith

The Ruins
Scott Smith

Thriller - Horror

Four American friends, Jeff and Amy, Eric and Stacy, are on vacation in Cancun after finishing college. They’ve spent weeks sunbathing, drinking and dancing on the beach. While snorkeling, they meet Mathias, a German tourist who is worried about his younger brother, Heinrich. Heinrich went missing after he decided to follow a female archaeologist into the jungle to explore some ruins. After a fight between the brothers, he left only a note (in German, which none of the Americans can read) and a hand-drawn map to the site of the ruins. The Americans, along with a Greek tourist who speaks neither English nor Spanish, decide that following the map and finding Mathias’ brother will be an adventure.

It’s right here that things clearly begin to go wrong. The driver they hire begs them not to proceed to the ruins, and becomes irate when they won’t listen. When they arrive at the village on the map, the Mayans completely ignore them, as if willing them to leave. The group only finds the path to the ruins by crossing muddy fields and dismantling a screen of branches, but doesn’t stop to consider the strangeness of this. When they arrive at the hillside site, a few Mayans from the village try to warn them away. Once one of the group sets foot on the hill, the Mayans make it clear that they will use deadly force to stop them from coming back down again. It slowly dawns on the group that they’re meant to die at the site. It isn’t long before it becomes horrifyingly clear that they are not alone there. Something is hunting them.

At each point, a decision is made to continue. At each point, the reader knows that this decision, as reasonable as it seemed at the time, will cost them. The true horror of this novel is not just what awaits them at the site; but that the reader can see disaster getting closer and closer to the group of travelers. Each character has been clearly defined before they arrive at the site; once they’re placed in jeopardy, each character’s traits are amplified in a very realistic way. Jeff, the natural leader, takes over all decisions. Stacy, always the passive, quiet girl, becomes more helpless and dependent on everyone else.

The claustrophobic atmosphere of being trapped at the site, in the blazing Mexican sun, away from any civilization, mimics the feelings of the characters. They’re stuck on a hill, with only the food and water they happened to bring for what they thought was a daytrip, no way out, no hope of rescue, and they’ve now become prey. It’s a tribute to the author that, once the identity of the predator is revealed, it all seems so very logical in hindsight. The very structure of the book contributes to the feeling of creeping terror. There are no chapter breaks at all, only small breaks to denote the various characters’ points of view. There is no escape. Just like the travelers, once you get started on “The Ruins,” there’s no way to stop. Highly recommended horror by the author of “A Simple Plan.”

Rating: 9
July 2006
ISBN# 1-40004387-5 (hardcover)

Rating Scale = 1-10

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Adored - Tilly Bagshawe

Tilly Bagshawe
Warner Books


Looking for the perfect beach/heat-wave read? This is it. Glamour, wealth, back-stabbing, a dysfunctional multi-generational family, ruthless climbs to the top, fashion, jet-setting, it’s all here in one great summer read.

Siena McMahon seems to have it all. Her grandfather is the legendary screen icon Duke McMahon; her father is his ultra-successful producer son. So what’s Siena doing in a convent boarding school? Mostly being bored, and counting the days until she can leave. She dreams of her triumphant return to Hollywood, and taking up her ‘rightful’ place as a superstar. When she manages to leaves school and begins to work as a model, her outraged father makes the mistake of threatening to disown her if she doesn’t get her derriere to college. Naturally, this only encourages her in her ambitions.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, there’s plenty of family angst brewing when Duke’s pregnant mistress, poor little formerly rich girl Caroline, arrives. Duke has the bad taste to die of a heart attack soon after, leaving the family to pick up the pieces, each in his or her own way. The author introduces a large cast of characters, including good-guy half-brother Hunter, user Randall, and oft-wronged boyfriend Max, in addition to the legion of characters in the modeling and movie industries.

This novel will certainly appeal to fans of Jackie Collins and Judith Krantz. The term “mind candy” fits, and I submit that “mind candy” is not a bad thing at all. In fact, sometimes, ‘Rich People Behaving Horribly’ is exactly what I want. This is a big, fun, sprawling book. There’s scandal and dish; sturm und drang; catfights and multimillion dollar deals. Just entertaining from beginning to end. Readers who enjoy this one should check out the authors latest, “Showdown,” currently available from Warner Books.

Rating: 8
May 2006
ISBN# 0-446-61753-9 (paperback)

Rating Scale = 1-10

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Dead Hour - Denise Mina

The Dead Hour
Denise Mina
Little, Brown

Mystery - Contemporary Scotland

Three years ago, Paddy Meehan, then still a teenager, managed to uncover the killer(s) of a small boy in her hometown of Glasgow. (“Field of Blood,” 2005) These days, she’s a reporter, working for the Scottish Daily News. After five months on the night shift, following up on police calls, she’s starting to feel a bit out of sync with the rest of the world. She believes she’s hit on a big story when she follows the police to a posh neighborhood on a disturbance call. At the front door of the imposing home is a very attractive man. Inside, is a blonde woman with a bloody face, who refuses help. Not unexpectedly, the man asks both the police and Paddy to keep things quiet. What is unexpected is the fifty pound note he presses into Paddy’s hand. She’s shocked, but work is scarce in Glasgow in 1984, and with Paddy the only employed person in her six-member family, the money is desperately needed.

The following morning, Paddy sees the news on television. The blonde, Vhari Burnett, a prosecutor and political activist, is dead. Murdered. Paddy is wracked by the guilty knowledge that she left the woman to her fate for fifty pounds. She wants to make things right. If she admits to the bribe, not only will her career as a journalist be over, but the police officers at the scene will be impacted, as well.

Her dilemma increases when the body of a suicide is pulled from the river. The man, a friend of the dead lawyer, leaves a note in which he expresses regret for having let her down. The police seem to take this as an admission of guilt. When Paddy discovers that Gordon Sullivan, the officer in charge of the investigation, isn’t quite so sure about this pat solution, she joins forces with him. They’re not alone in their belief that the killer is still free. Kate, Vhari’s drug-addicted sister, is terrified and on the run from the killer.

Paddy is an interesting and unique character. She’s a young woman with morals, ethics, and a real sense of justice. Her ambivalence at accepting the money is quite real; her horror the next morning is palpable. The author does an excellent job at depicting Glasgow in 1984, complete with the economic and social pressures impacting young women. The point-of-view shifts from Paddy to Kate are executed flawlessly and, far from being distracting, add an extra layer of perception to the story that would be impossible were it only shown through Paddy’s eyes. Not only the story of the hunt for a killer, but the story of a young woman’s search for her place in the world, “The Dead Hour” is a feast for mystery lovers. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9
July 2006
ISBN# 0-316-73594-9 (hardcover)

Rating Scale = 1-10

Death on the Diagonal - Nero Blanc

Death on the Diagonal
Nero Blanc
Berkley Prime Crime


The Collins family is about as close as you can get to being royalty in Newcastle, their little corner of New England. They’re also about as close as you can get to being a living, breathing nighttime soap. Patriarch Todd Collins, at 74, is on his third wife, Ryan. Ryan, at 37 is younger than two of Todd’s three children. She also insisted, when moving onto the estate-cum-horse farm, upon removing all traces of her predecessors. Not the best way to endear yourself to the already-hostile stepkids. When one of the horse barns goes up in flames, the locals figure it's a case of the rich trying to get richer by bilking the insurance company.

Belle Graham, famed creator of crossword puzzles and puzzle editor for the local evening paper, learns all this and more from the resident gossip columnist. Of course, she knows enough to take it all with a grain of salt. That is, until her husband, Rosco, a private investigator, is hired by the insurance adjustor to investigate the events surrounding the claim.

The family tells the story of a barn manger knocking over space heater and then a bottle of liquor, sparking the blaze. The man, who know lies unconscious in the hospital, was then struck on the head and was carried from the burning building by Todd and a horse trainer. Not impossible, but when other family members weigh in, it starts to look like there’s more to the story.

When a family member is murdered by means of a hoof pick to the temple, the whole incident is cast in different and very sinister light. This gives Belle and her unstoppable curiosity all the reason she needs to join the investigation. As an assistant to Rosco, naturally.

This mystery series is unique in that it includes several crossword puzzles, designed by the authors, that must be completed in order to solve the mystery. For puzzle amateurs, the authors have provided the solutions at the back of the book. This is the latest in a series, but newcomers will have no problems jumping in here. My only quibble is that, somewhere along the way in the series, Belle went from being an ordinary person to being a kind of annoyingly cute and hapless female who is, nevertheless, adored by all. If you can overlook that, and I suggest that you do, you’ll find an interesting story. The mystery itself is interesting, and the authors excel at using slices of everyday life to provide backstory and to propel events forward. The series is a must for anyone addicted to crosswords.

Rating: 7
July 2006
ISBN# 0-425-20998-9 (trade paperback)

Rating Scale = 1-10

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Melusine - Sarah Monette

Sarah Monette

Fantasy - Dark Fantasy

Felix Harrowgate is a respected wizard living in the city of Mélusine. And, while he takes on the trappings, mannerisms and accent of a courtier to the Lord Protector, he is always mindful of the need to cover his beginnings. Truth be told, and it will be, the wizard Malkar discovered Felix as a boy working as a prostitute. Malkar became his protector and mentor, but at a horrible price. Malkar uses Felix, physically and mentally; combining their magics to break the Virtu, the seat of the magical power that permeates the city. Broken in mind and body, and unable to defend himself because of compulsions laid on him by his erstwhile mentor, Felix is captured and imprisoned for “his” crime.

Mildmay the Fox grew up in training to be a thief and, when needed, an assassin. After getting free of his Keeper, he maintains a low profile and makes a living as a cat burglar for hire. His life is quite different from Felix’s life, but despite his underworld status, he is his own man. He has little time for the higher bits of society, and even less for the wizards. When the two men’s paths cross and their connection is revealed, Mildmay finds himself embarking on a seemingly impossible quest to repair the Virtu at the urging of a deranged wizard. But even Mildmay’s street smarts are about to be put to the test, since nothing is quite as it appears to be.

The reader is literally dropped into the fully realized world with no preparation. While this might have been a problem in less talented hands, here it allows the reader a sense of immediate immersion and discovery. The story is told, alternately, by the two characters, Felix and Mildmay, and their voices couldn’t be much more different. Felix quickly moves from quiet authority to despairing insanity. Mildmay’s voice is that of a Fagin-esque street thief, littered with profanity and gutter slang. Readers offended or bothered by homosexuality or profanity should steer clear. Others will be hooked from the very first pages.

“Mélusine” is enthralling; a very dark fantasy, filled with nuanced characters that inhabit a very complex world. It’s sometimes difficult to tell the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad guys’ since neither ever devolves into stereotypical behavior. Given the assurance with which she writes, it’s hard to believe that this is the author’s debut novel. The next book, “The Virtu,” a continuation of this story, is available now. That’s a good thing, since you’ll want to start on it the minute you finish this one. Highly recommended for those who enjoy dark adult-oriented fantasy.

Rating: 9
July 2006
ISBN# 0-441-01417-8 (paperback)

Rating Scale = 1-10

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Dark Lover - J.R. Ward

Dark Lover
J.R. Ward

Paranormal - Romance

Beth Randall, at 25, is wondering if perhaps a life change is in order. Raised in foster homes, she’s living and working in Caldwell, New York. She works at a middle-quality newspaper, covering the police blotter. Her colleagues are, variously, has-beens and never-weres. Maybe it’s time to leave the paper, and Caldwell, for something more exciting. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ would seem to be appropriate advice here. Unknown to Beth, she is a half-breed vampire. Although she’s living as a human, she’s beginning to notice various changes that she can’t quite explain, even to herself.

Darius is Beth’s father. He’s also a member of the Black Dagger Brotherhood, a small group of vampire warriors whose mission is to protect vampires from those who seek to kill them. The last remaining pureblood vampire is Wrath, the powerful leader of the Brotherhood. He’s got a lot of anger and a score to settle. When Darius asks Wrath to help Beth attempt a transformation to vampire, he refuses. He has neither the patience nor the desire for it, even though he realizes he’s bitterly disappointed Darius.

When Darius is killed, almost immediately after making the request, Wrath feels bound to carry out his old friend’s last wish. It would be an understatement to say that the half-breed human (who has no idea what she really is) and the pureblood vampire whose only joy is killing those who oppose him have a profound and surprising effect on one another.

This is the first in a series, followed by “Lover Eternal,” also available now. The author creates a dark, vicious, and very realistic world for these characters to inhabit. In this series, the vampires are not cute or conflicted. They don’t despise themselves for their nature. They kill. They both have to kill and want to kill, and they’re fine with that. There’s a good deal of gore and profanity here, which may scare off some readers. For readers who enjoy horror, however, this is an excellent introduction to the popular world of paranormal romance. This book sets the bar quite high. “Dark Lover” is a fun, violent, sexy, compulsive read. Here’s hoping that future books live up to the incredible promise shown here. I plan to find out in the very near future, so watch this space.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2005
ISBN# 0-451-21695-4 (paperback)

Rating Scale = 1-10

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Brethren - Robyn Young

An Epic Adventure of the Knights Templar
Robyn Young

Mystery - Action - Historical/Knights Templar

In Jerusalem in 1260 A.D., the Mongol hordes attack the Mamluk army. The Mamluk, Egyptian slave warriors led by the fearless, and fearsome, Amir Baybars, manage to destroy the Mongols. Baybars, sold into slavery as a young man, only to rise through the ranks of the Mamluk to become its leader, sees this victory as one more step toward reclaiming the city of his birth. His sultan does not agree, and this sparks a conflict that will turn deadly.

In Paris, a young clerk is running for his life. Forced to steal a book from his Templar Order, he is running from both Templars and an unknown assassin for reasons he does not understand. And in London, young Will Campbell is in training to become a Knight Templar. He can hardly remember a time he did not dream of following in his father’s footsteps and joining the Order. As the Temple in London readies for a parley with the King, news of the stolen book arrives. This news will be kept from all but a select few, for the nature of the missing book could destroy the Temple and its Brethren.

As Will learns after becoming a Knight, the missing volume is the Book of the Grail. To those who are even capable of reading it, it will appear to be a Grail Romance, one of many popular stories of the Grail. To those who know its secrets, however, it presents a plan known only to a small group within the Order. He who controls the book, controls the Temple. As Will searches for the volume, he discovers that there are many people, both inside and outside the Order who will kill for that book and the power its secrets can bestow.

The story opens with a vicious battle between the Mamluk and Mongol forces. Moving back and forth between the forces of the East and West, the author paints a vivid picture of the events and personalities that shaped the Crusades and the Knights Templar. Men on both sides are forced to choose between what they know is right and what they believe is right for the times. While the interrelationships and plot points are often complex, the author keeps things moving at a brisk pace. A little effort yields incredible rewards here.

The underlying research gives the book real depth and resonance in details without ever overpowering the story. The cast of characters is deep, but each is unique and real. This volume covers roughly six years of politics, religion, and intrigue. This is truly a sweeping work of historical fiction, the likes of which does not come along often. Epic battles. History in the making. Will keep you up all night. Pick your “wow” cliché. It will be accurate. This is the first in a trilogy, so set aside some time next year for CRUSADE, the second volume. I know I will.

Rating: 9 ½
July 2006
ISBN# 0-525-94975-5 (hardcover)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Vanishing Point - Marcia Muller

Vanishing Point
Marcia Muller
Mysterious Press


Sharon McCone isn’t going to let a little thing like getting married slow down her work at her investigative agency. Arriving home from their spontaneous wedding in Reno, Sharon and Hy are greeted by friends, a party, and a very cold case involving the disappearance of a wife and mother.

Jennifer Aldin was ten years old on the night her mother, Laurel Greenwood, read her a chapter from their current book, kissed her goodnight, and vanished. What followed were days of confusion and fear for Jennifer and her younger sister, but by the third day, their father decreed that they must continue their lives. Twenty-two years later, following her father’s death, Jennifer is completely obsessed with what happened to her mother. Obsessed to the point that it’s affecting her job, friendships, and health.

After talking with Jennifer and seeing her condition first-hand, Sharon agrees to take the case. It’s not long before she begins to uncover some unpleasant facts about Laurel Greenwood. It seems that the devoted wife and mother than Jennifer remembers might have had a far darker side.

The author does a masterful job of showing the juxtaposition between the marriage of Jennifer’s parents, Jennifer’s marriage, and Sharon’s hasty marriage to Hy. The case raises questions about the reality of marriage; what it looks like to outsiders, versus what it is to the two people living it. She also points up the sad truth that what we remember as children may be only what we wish to remember. For all that, the pace never flags, and the pages seem to turn themselves. This is only the latest in this long-running series. Here’s hoping for many more installments in the future.

Rating: 8 ½
July 2006
ISBN# 0-89296-805-2 (hardcover)

Rating Scale = 1-10

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Murder Over Easy - Jimmie Ruth Evans

Murder Over Easy
A Trailer Park Mystery
Jimmie Ruth Evans
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery - Cozy

Wanda Nell Culpepper has just returned home from her overnight job stocking shelves at Budget Mart. She’s looking forward to a day without a shift at either Budget Mart, or Kountry Kitchen, a restaurant where she has been a waitress for years. After only a few hours’ sleep, the phone wakes her. It’s Melvin Arbuckle, who runs the restaurant. He’s frantic. He’s in jail, and this is his one phone call. He needs Wanda Nell to call a lawyer, because he’s been charged with the murder of Fayetta, another waitress.

It gets worse. The previous evening, Melvin and Fayetta, who were involved, had an argument. According to Melvin, he left her alive and well at the restaurant. The following morning, when he arrived to open the place, Fayetta was dead, and Kountry Kitchen looked like a slaughterhouse. Knowing that Melvin would never do such a thing, Wanda Nell leaps into action. The case against him looks bad, but Fayetta was the kind of woman who could make all kinds of enemies. She liked to keep several men at her beck and call at one time; and it didn’t matter to her if some of them were married. There were plenty of people who might have wanted her dead, and Wanda Nell is determined to find the real killer.

As is obvious by the subtitle, Wanda Nell and most of her friends live in a trailer park. While the author does make an effort to overcome the inherent stereotypes, they tend to creep in fairly regularly. There’s the unmarried, mostly shiftless, teenaged daughter with the infant son, for example. The liberal use of “ain’t,” for another. Beyond that, however, is an entertaining small town mystery. Wanda Nell is a strong woman, determined to make a better life for herself and her kids. And if part of that is irritating the local sheriff and finding a murderer? Well, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Rating: 6
July 2006
ISBN# 0-425-20924-5 (paperback)

Rating Scale = 1-10

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Covent Garden Mystery - Ashley Gardner

A Covent Garden Mystery
A Mystery of Regency England
Ashley Gardner
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery - Historical - Regency England

Captain Gabriel Lacey, late of the 35th Light Dragoons, is strolling through the Covent Garden marketplace early one morning when a young lady catches his attention. She’s purchasing peaches at a stall, and the vendor, perhaps noticing her slight French accent, is attempting to double the price of the fruit. After that’s sorted, Lacey realizes that the girl looks strangely familiar. When her mother appears, both she and Lacey freeze in shock. The girl’s mother is Carlotta, Lacey’s estranged wife. With another jolt, Lacey realizes that the girl is his daughter, although she is clearly unaware of the fact.

Carlotta left Lacey for a French officer nearly fifteen years ago, when their daughter was only two. Since then, there has been no contact. Lacey knows that, according to English law in 1817, he could have Carlotta arrested and charged with adultery and kidnapping his daughter. But, while both Laceys want to see the marriage dissolved, neither wants to travel that path.

Arriving at Bow Street to ask that a Runner make sure Carlotta does not flee with the girl, Lacey learns of a strange series of crimes. Girls have been vanishing from Covent Gardens. Since they’re street girls, the news has not stirred public interest, but the Bow Street Runners are concerned. They ask Lacey to look into it. As much to occupy his mind as anything else, he agrees. When his daughter disappears, Lacey will stop at nothing to find her.

This is the latest in this exceptional series, and it does not disappoint. Longtime readers of the series will enjoy seeing old friends; newcomers will have no trouble at all jumping in at this point. The author writes, as always, with a real sense of the time and place, seamlessly weaving period details into the engrossing narrative. Lacey is a unique character. A wounded officer and son of a landed gentleman, he lives in fairly shabby rooms. He counts both members of the aristocracy and habitués of the seedier parts of London as friends. One thing that is always consistent is his sense of justice. Fans of historical mysteries won’t want to miss this one.

Rating: 8
July 2006
paperback isbn# 0-425-21086-3

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What Is Mine - Anne Holt

What Is Mine
Anne Holt
Warner Books

Mystery - Contemporary Norway

In Norway, nine-year-old Emilie disappears on her way home from school. All she leaves behind is her bookbag. The following week, a five-year-old boy is taken out of his own home. The two families are not connected in any way, and the kidnapper makes no ransom demands. Detective Inspector Adam Stubo realizes that he’s not dealing with a garden-variety kidnapper, and asks Johanne Vik to assist on the case. Johanne, a former FBI profiler, is hesitant to get involved in this kind of case. She has her hands full, trying to unravel a decades-old case that contains what appears to be a wrongful murder conviction.

Days later, the kidnapped boy reappears. The boy’s mother finds him in the cellar of the family home, dead. The kidnapper/killer wrapped the child in plastic and placed him there for the parents to find. Attached to the tiny body is a note that reads, “Now you’ve got what you deserved.” As children continue to disappear, and bodies reappear, the police begin an all-out hunt for a child-killer. When Johanna finally agrees to join the investigation, she and Adam determine that this is not a clear-cut case. The killer is working from some twisted, personal script.

Extremely well written, this is a unique and complex novel. Clearly, this is not for those readers who avoid the ‘child in jeopardy’ plots. But for readers who dare, this is one compelling, if disturbing tale. As Johanne and Adam work to unravel the present-day case, the murder case from the past exerts its pull, as well. While this takes place in Norway, the story is universal in what it has to say about the many facets of human nature. I hope to see much more from this author.

Rating: 9
July 2006
Hardcover isbn# 0-446-57802-9

Rating Scale = 1-10

Monday, July 03, 2006

Crime Beat - Michael Connelly

Crime Beat
A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown and Company

True Crime - Compilation

Michael Connelly, now a best-selling author of crime fiction, started out as a crime reporter. In both south Florida and Los Angeles, Connelly covered the crime beat. He saw every kind of crime, from the fascinating and intricate to the utterly banal and obvious. He dealt with beat cops, detectives, attorneys, investigators, victims and their families, and criminals of every stripe. It’s this background that infuses his fiction with realism.

Here, readers get a look at the work Connelly did before he began his Detective Harry Bosch series. And, if you’re looking for the next Harry Bosch novel, this isn’t it. You’re going to have to wait a few months for that. This is a collection of the articles and columns Connelly wrote as a reporter. It’s interesting to pick out the various little things that, perhaps, inspired various elements of his novels.

In the Introduction, Connelly tells the story of the single event in his young life, the one moment that set him on the path to crime writing. It’s the little moments that most inform his fictional events. While some of his novels were based on actual cases, some are amalgams of those little moments and the author’s imagination. Readers interested in becoming writers of fact or fiction can view this collection as a treasure trove of exemplars. Fans of Connelly will appreciate the chance to see the early days and evolution of the author.

Rating: 8
May 2006
Hardcover isbn# 0-316-15377-X

Rating Scale = 1-10

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Stupid and Contagious - Caprice Crane

Stupid and Contagious
Caprice Crane
5 Spot

Chick Lit

It’s that age-old story. You know how it goes. Boy moves into new apartment, sans furniture. Boy spends night testing the echo effects in his new, empty place by yelling “Hello!” over and over again. Girl next door responds to this by banging on the wall at 2 a.m. and telling her new, insane neighbor to shut up, already. Boy and Girl resent each other instantly. How can it not be magical?

Brady Gilbert is an aspiring music producer who spends a lot of time going to indie music conferences and gloating over his incredible record collection. The horror of his existence really gels for him on a flight full of guys who look, think, and act exactly. like. him. And what he sees isn’t pretty. This is just not the future he envisioned for himself back in his college radio days.

Heaven Albright went from rising star in a PR firm to waitress, literally overnight. Now she spends her days balancing trays, fending off offending customers, and dealing with her annoying managers. This is clearly not what she envisioned, either. The fact that, weeks ago, she was making huge money at a job she loved? And that today she actually pre-emptively spit into a mean customer’s salad? So very not pretty.

Then Brady comes up with a scheme that may save them both. You know that milk that’s left in the cereal bowl after you eat cinnamon-flavored cereal? That sort of cinnamon-y milk? Brady decides to pitch this as a new, and very obviously needed product, to the founder of Starbuck’s in Seattle. He calls it Cinnamilk. Heaven agrees to make the trip with him. What could go wrong?

While the results of both the trip and the relationship are almost predictable, they’re also very funny. This debut author writes with wit and flair, walking that line between fluff and deep-thought stuff with ease. Brady and Heaven alternate narrating duty on a chapter-by-chapter basis. While this could have been confusing in less skilled hands, here, it works perfectly. The pop culture references are thick on the ground, and that, too works quite well. Pick this up for a fun summer read.

Rating: 8
May 2006
trade paperback isbn# 0-446-69572-6

Rating Scale = 1-10