Thursday, August 31, 2006

Slave to Sensation - Nalini Singh

Slave to Sensation
Nalini Singh
Berkley Sensation


In a bid to remove violence from their ranks, the Psy began a program called Silence. A century later, in 2079, all emotions have been removed from members of the Psy race. They function based on logic and order. Indeed, no Psy living today remembers any other way of life. Sascha Duncan is a Psy. Daughter to one of the members of the ruling Psy Council, she should be placed to take a position of power. But Sascha is keeping a secret. She is seriously flawed. She feels emotion. All her life, she has worked to conceal this fact from everyone, including her mother. She knows that, should her secret come to light, she would be sent for rehabilitation; a process that would, at best, destroy her mind.

The Psy share the world with the human and changeling races. The Psy consider themselves superior and have long held sway over politics and business. But things are about to change. Lucas Hunter is the alpha of the DarkRiver leopard pack. In recent months, several changeling women have been tortured and killed. The fact that these murders have been covered up by authorities convinces Lucas and others that there may be a Psy serial killer roaming loose. As part of his duty to protect his pack, Lucas has decided to attempt to infiltrate the Psy and find the killer.

To that end, he proposes a business partnership with the Psy family that controls the San Francisco area. Sascha’s mother, unaware of her daughter’s fragile state, appoints her to act as liaison between the Psy and the changelings. There’s plenty of money to be made, and, logically, it’s a sound business plan. From their first meeting, however, Lucas senses that Sascha is different. She seems to know things, understand things that an emotionless Psy simply shouldn’t know or understand. For her part, Sascha feels assaulted by the sensory world in which humans and changelings live. This both attracts and terrifies her, given the consequences.

This talented author writes with amazing assurance, skillfully blending genres. The sterile world of the Psy is fully realized and includes almost cyberpunk details like the PsyNet, through which all Psy are connected. Sascha’s internal turmoil is portrayed quite convincingly and makes her a very sympathetic character. It’s fairly clear from the start where the interaction between Sascha and Lucas is going, but that doesn’t make the journey any less fun. The issue of the ongoing murders, and Lucas’ suspicions add extra layers of interest. While this story wraps up nicely in this volume, I’m pleased to know that there’s a sequel planned for next summer. It will be interesting to watch this series develop.

Rating: 8
September 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21286-6

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Deceit - James Siegel

James Siegel
Warner Books


Once upon a time, just a few years ago, Tom Valle was a reporter on the fast track at a world-renowned newspaper. Then, his secret was revealed: over fifty of his stories were fabricated. That put an end to that part of his career, and he now lives and works in tiny Littleton, CA. He’s the reporter for a paper that publishes five times a week, if there’s enough news. His most recent assignment is to interview Belinda Washington, resident of a local nursing home, who is turning 100 today. She seems sharp enough, until she starts telling him that she’s seen her son recently. Her son has been dead for decades.

On the way out, Tom gets a call about a car accident. One car, driven by a man from Iowa, is demolished and completely burned, killing the man inside. The other car, driven by a salesman from Ohio, is damaged, but the driver is unharmed. Tom finds it odd that two men from such disparate places would end up in a wreck in a tiny town in California. The local law, knowing Tom’s history, is disinclined to listen to his theories. Tom, feeling that this may be the germ of a story that will put him back on top, starts investigating. It quickly becomes clear that someone doesn’t want the truth revealed.

DECEIT is an excellent novel of the web spun by truth and lies. Untangling that web leads very easily to paranoia. Was it just fate that Tom got the accident story? Or did the accident happen where and when it did, because Tom would not be a credible reporter? Tom is a flawed but ultimately likeable character who tells the story from his point of view. His honesty and self-effacing humor are disarming and entertaining. I enjoyed the forays into the past as much as the action in the present. The author manages to adroitly weave together seemingly unconnected people and events into one whole story.

Rating: 8
August 2006
ISBN# 0-446-53186-3 (hardcover)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sorcerer's Moon - Julian May

Sorcerer’s Moon
Book Three in the Boreal Moon Tale
Julian May

King Conrig, known as Ironcrown, is beset from all sides. The menacing Salka, intelligent amphibian “monsters,” are determined to drive out the human encroachers. Long ago, the humans took control of their lands and built their kingdom there, forcing the Salka into small pockets of swamp. This war could not come at a worse time for Conrig, whose power and sanity are disintegrating daily.

In a bid to consolidate his power, Conrig wants to marry off his son and heir, Orrion, to the daughter of an ally. Orrion wants nothing to do with this plan, and makes a pact with the Beaconfolk, beings of magic, that will allow him to marry his childhood sweetheart, Nyla. Too late, he discovers that the pact carries consequences, and he will be unable to take over the throne from his father. His twin brother, Corodon is the next logical successor, but he is unfit for rule, as well.

Many subjects have forgotten that the King was married once before, to the Princess Maudrayne. Those who remember her, believe that she is dead. As Royal Intelligencer Deveron Austrey discovers, she is very much alive and delivered a son, Dyfrig. As first-born son to the King, Dyfrig is the true heir to the throne. Raised in a foster home as a noble, Dyfrig has no idea that he is the rightful heir.

Readers who missed the first two books in this series (as I did) will find enough background information to begin from here. However, to be honest, I wish I’d read the first two novels, since this is obviously a complex series. The world building is complex and believable; the various inhabitants of the world, while some are fantastical, are rendered with such care that readers will have no problem accepting them. The varied reactions to the existence of magic are refreshingly different than in many other fantasies. An excellent epic fantasy series.

Rating: 9
August 2006
ISBN# 0-441-01383-X (hardcover)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Born to Be Wild - Catherine Coulter

Born To Be Wild
Catherine Coulter

Thriller – Romantic Suspense

Mary Lisa Beverly is an actress on the wildly popular soap Born To Be Wild. In three years, she’s won three Emmys for Outstanding Actress. Her character, Sunday Cavendish is a real villanness, but fans love her. After winning her third Emmy, Mary Lisa is walking near her home in Malibu when a car knocks her down in the street. Several witnesses claim that it was no accident; the driver aimed at her deliberately.

Needing a break and nursing her bruises, Mary Lisa decides to make a trip to her hometown of Goddard Bay, Oregon. Once there, she’s forcibly reminded of the reasons she never visits. Her sister, Monica, is now married to Mary Lisa’s ex-fiancé. Her mother seems resentful and jealous. But the Chief of Police and the D.A. both express interest. For a woman who’s got a red-hot career and a very cool love life, it’s flattering. When bad things seem to follow her to Goddard Bay and back, Mary Lisa has to decide whom to trust in order to stop the attempts on her life.

This novel works equally well as a mystery/thriller or as romantic suspense. Readers more interested in the mystery/thriller aspects will find a fast-paced novel filled with interesting characters. Mary Lisa’s dialogue (both internal and external) is witty and fun. Those who are looking for the romantic aspects will find much to enjoy here, too. There are plenty of ways that both the mystery and the relationship issues can go, and the author doesn’t disappoint. A good dose of humor keeps the action from getting too grim, but the author knows when to pull back to avoid slapstick. While the mystery is wrapped up in the end, there are secondary characters ripe for sequels. All this makes for a fast and very entertaining read.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2006
ISBN# 0-515-14239-5 (paperback original)

Judge & Jury - James Patterson, Andrew Gross

Judge & Jury
James Patterson and Andrew Gross
Little, Brown and Company


On the morning that single mom and aspiring actress Andie DeGrasse arrives for jury duty, she thinks she’s got a foolproof way to get out of it. She acts like a bimbo. Sadly, this in no way disqualifies her to serve on a jury, and she’s assigned to the very high profile case of top Mafia Capo Dominic Cavello. The first witnesses, low-level soldiers, are almost comical. But, when the judge on the case is threatened, she orders the jury sequestered. This does nothing to stop the machinations of the jailed Cavello, who hires someone to stop the trial in an act of stunning violence.

Nick Pellisante, the Senior Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Organized Crime Unit is there to make sure that Cavello gets what’s coming to him. During the arrest, Cavello killed several agents in a botched escape attempt. Nick has worked for years to get to this point. When the trial is derailed by violence, he feels responsible. Nick and Andie, both devastated by the actions of Cavello, form an unlikely alliance, aimed at bringing down Cavello, regardless of personal cost.

This novel opens with an action sequence that immediately draws the reader into the world(s) of Nick and Andie. Cavello is clearly a criminal without a conscience. Over the course of the book, Cavello becomes almost a cartoon bad guy as his level of depravity continues to escalate. As always, the formula of very short chapters, punctuated with action, serves to keep the reader flipping the pages. Interesting locales and a varied cast of characters adds extra layers. Don’t start this one late at night when you have to be up early the next morning.

Rating: 8
July 2006
ISBN# 0-316-01393-5 (hardcover)

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Deadly Yarn - Maggie Sefton

A Deadly Yarn
A Knitting Mystery
Maggie Sefton
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery - Cozy

Kelly Flynn and her friend Megan are visiting Santa Fe to watch another friend, Allison Dubois, receive an award for her wearable art. Allison is thrilled with the award, of course, but overjoyed that renowned designer Sophia Emeraude wants her to come to New York and apprentice. This will put Allison’s career on the fast track! On their way from Santa Fe back to Fort Collins, CO, the ladies stop at various shops. None of the three can resist the siren song of yarn and fiber; and Allison finds some unique beads that will be perfect for her new design.

Once back in Fort Collins, Megan helps Allison pack and clean out her apartment for the big move. Megan and Kelly will drive Allison to the airport for a big send-off. But, when they arrive at Allison’s, they’re shocked to discover their friend, dead. The police believe that she overdosed on sleeping pills, but Kelly isn’t buying it. Why would a young woman, with her professional life just taking flight, want to kill herself? Despite warnings, Kelly investigates Allison’s death. What she finds is that, in contrast to her stellar professional life, Allison’s personal life was in serious disarray.

This is the third entry in this very entertaining series. Kelly is a realistic and sympathetic character. She’s an intelligent woman, and even though she deliberately ignores warnings to keep out of the investigations, it’s clear that she’s doing it to get justice for her friend. There are some interesting subplots that run through the novels, but newcomers will have no problems getting acquainted with recurring characters. The scenes set at the yarn shop, and revolving around knitting all ring perfectly true. Having been one of those people sitting around the table at the yarn shop, I can attest to that. This is a great cozy series, and I look forward to more.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2006
ISBN# 0-425-19461-2 (paperback)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Garden of Eden - Faye Kellerman

The Garden of Eden and Other Criminal Delights
Faye Kellerman
Warner Books

Mystery – Short Fiction

Faye Kellerman is probably best known for her series of mystery novels featuring Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus. Fans will be happy to know that the author wrote two brand-new stories for the pair, specifically for this collection: “Garden of Eden” and “Open House.” For readers unfamiliar with these characters, these stories provide an excellent introduction. For longtime readers, they’re welcome additions to the series.

Possibly the most interesting stories are those that the author wrote in collaboration with her children. “Luck of the Draw,” which deals with how even a close family can be destroying by a sudden influx of wealth, was written with her teenaged daughters. The story written with her adult son, “Mummy and Jack” is much darker in tone, but no less interesting. Rounding out the collection are two autobiographical essays by the author.

Not just for fans of her previous work, this collection has something for everyone. With seventeen short stories and essays, every mystery lover will find something to like. If you’re more of a fan of full-length novels, as I am, you’ll be glad to know that each of these stories is a satisfying piece of fiction. And I enjoyed the little introductions to each piece provided by the author, providing details about how each story came about, or what it means to the author.

Rating: 8
August 2006
ISBN# 0-446-53039-5 (hardcover)

Mysteria - Anthology

MaryJanice Davidson, Susan Grant, P.C. Cast, and Gena Showalter
Berkley Sensation

Paranormal Romance – Short Fiction

Centuries ago, a demon committed an act of kindness and created the town of Mysteria for a group of outcasts. Mysteria provides a haven for magical and nonmagical beings alike. Over the years, the population of witches, werewolves, vampires, fairies, and humans has grown. The town is the connecting thread of this collection of novellas.

In Susan Grant’s “Mortal in Mysteria,” Satan gets wind of the act of kindness that created the town and punishes the demon by sending him, in mortal form, to live in Mysteria. The male demon lands, naked, in the garden of the female pastor. Their relationship, and the consequences of his decision to stay mortal or return to the demon realm, makes for great reading. “Alone Wolf,” MaryJanice Davidson’s contribution, follows Cole Jones, a werewolf in search of a house. As any house-hunter knows, the ‘perfect’ house always has one flaw. In Cole’s case, it’s the presence of a snarky ghost. There are some secondary characters here that could really use a story of their own. Maybe that will happen in a follow-up collection.

Gena Showalter’s entry follows the story of Genevieve Tawdry, a witch, and Hunter Knight, a vampire slayer. While the two are undeniably attracted, they both realize that personal involvement could very well lead to Hunter’s death. Rounding out the collection is P.C. Cast with the tale of a fortysomething high school teacher who finds herself falling for a former student. Before you alert the PTA, the former student is twenty-six. And a werewolf.

A collection like this is the perfect way for new readers to sample authors; and a nice fix for fans in between full-length novels. Beyond that, these stories are just plain fun. The town of Mysteria makes a great vehicle for a compilation. There’s plenty of history, plenty of diversity, and plenty of tension to create good stories. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see more stories of the denizens of Mysteria. In fact, I’m hoping for them.

Rating: 8
July 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21106-1 (paperback)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Mortician's Daughter - Elizabeth Bloom

The Mortician’s Daughter
Elizabeth Bloom
Mysterious Press


Ginny Lavoie is sitting at home, feeling bad because, after 11 years on the force, she’s been suspended from the NYPD. When the phone rings, her first thought is to ignore it. Then she hears the voice of her best friend since early childhood, Sonya Markowicz. Sonya’s son, Danny, 19, is dead. His badly beaten body was found in an abandoned factory. There’s no question about what Ginny needs to do. She immediately heads back to her hometown in Massachusetts. She thought she’d never go back, and it takes about two minutes for her to realize why: the industrial boom is over; buildings that aren’t empty or torn down are being renovated into condos for people from NYC.

As a (former) detective, Ginny is appalled at the slapdash investigation carried out by the local PD. They zeroed in on Jack, a homeless man who’s been known as the town nutcase since he came home from Vietnam with a bad case of post-traumatic stress. True, Danny’s wallet was found in Jack’s coat. But Jack has never been violent before, and both Ginny and Sonya find it impossible to believe that he’s the killer. Sonya begs Ginny to find the real killer, and Ginny feels compelled to do so, despite the fact that the investigation will dredge up a lot of memories best left forgotten. But everything changes when more bodies turn up around the small town that, prior to Danny’s death, had no homicides.

This second outing, from the author of last year’s SEE ISABELLE RUN, is an interesting and complex novel. Some of the townspeople veer uncomfortably close to caricature, but, for the most part, everyone acts in a very realistic way. Ginny is a sympathetic individual, and through her eyes, readers get a real feel for the town, both as it was, and as it is now. The suspect pool widens enough to provide several possible outcomes, and readers will be with kept guessing as to the outcome. No sophomore slump here; Ginny is a great character, solving an intricate crime.

Rating: 8
August 2006
ISBN# 0-89296-786-2 (hardcover)

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Younger Gods - David & Leigh Eddings

The Younger Gods
The Dreamers – Book 4
David & Leigh Eddings


Note: This is the fourth and final book in this series. If you haven’t read the previous volumes, this review may contain spoilers.

In the land of Dhrall, the time of the Elder Gods is coming to an end. The time is fast approaching when the Elder Gods will enter their sleep stage, allowing their counterparts, the Younger Gods to take over their lands and duties. Aracia, one of the Elder Gods has become accustomed to being worshipped and praised by her human subjects, and has no desire to relinquish her power. She plans to stay awake, by any means necessary, even if means the destruction of her Younger counterpart.

While the other Gods are dealing with their sister’s decaying mind, they must also worry about the next attack by the Vlagh. The Vlagh, an immortal, insect-like creature, has failed in her last three attempts to take over the human lands she needs for her children. Despite re-designing her children for maximum destructive capacity, her attacks have been repelled in three of the four kingdoms. Everyone in Dhrall realizes that, when the Vlagh attacks the last remaining land, it will be an all-or-nothing battle for survival. And, since the Vlagh can spawn untold numbers of soldiers, the humans are at a disadvantage.

I’ve been a fan of David Eddings since reading his first fantasy series, The Belgariad. This series, however, just does not measure up. The book is written almost entirely in dialogue. This results in every event being ‘told’ to the reader through characters’ speeches, instead of being ‘shown’ through descriptive passages. As in previous volumes, the dialogue is oddly stilted and quite simplistic. In addition, conversations are repetitive throughout the book. Hearing different characters state the same facts with the exact same words, mere pages apart, is more distracting than helpful. That said, the few bits of descriptive writing are done quite well, particularly the Preface, which is written from the Vlagh’s point of view. The world is unique, the Vlagh makes for a frighteningly alien enemy, and the whole series had a huge amount of potential. In my opinion, the execution just didn’t live up to it.

Rating: 6
August 2006
ISBN# 0-446-53228-2 (hardcover)

Also available:
The Elder Gods – Book 1
The Treasured One – Book 2
Crystal Gorge – Book 3

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Night Gardener - George Pelecanos

The Night Gardener
George Pelecanos
Little, Brown and Company


In 1985, someone killed three young black girls in a poor section of DC. The killer dumped the bodies in community gardens during the night; earning himself the police nickname Night Gardener. At that time, Sgt T.C. Cook threw himself into the investigation, to no avail. The killer was never caught. Two patrolmen at the third murder scene were Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday, both in their second years on the force.

Fast-forward to 2005, and Cook is retired, but cannot forget the case he didn’t solve. Ramone is a Detective Sgt with Violent Crimes, and Holiday is an alcoholic when he’s not working as a driver/bodyguard. Then another body is found, echoing the m.o. of the Night Gardener. The body belongs to a friend of Ramone’s teenaged son, making the case hit even closer to home. Holiday, following the story in the papers, looks up Cook, who can’t let go of the case. The three men find themselves thrown together again, unexpectedly, after twenty years.

It’s clear that the case exists not only as a murder case, but also as an outlet for the three main character’s personal issues. Holiday is out to prove that he could have been a good cop. Cook wants to put the killer away; and Ramone is driven to stop crime and deal with his home life. While the murder case is involving, the more interesting aspect of the novel is the way the crimes, past and present, cause a sort of ripple effect, touching and changing many more lives than just those who were intimately involved. The author shows great depth and strength in his writing. Nothing is easy; there are no simple, pat answers. And even in the few cases when someone confesses to something, those left behind will deal with the fallout forever.

Rating: 9
August 2006
ISBN# 0-316-15650-7 (hardcover)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Play of Knaves - Margaret Frazer

A Play of Knaves
Margaret Frazer
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery – Historical - Middle Ages

In the spring of 1435, Joliffe and the small company of players are traveling. Several months ago, Lord Lovell extended his protection to the group, and now they bear his standard and can claim his protection, should they need it. They are known now as Lord Lovell’s players. They’re traveling south, to the village of Ashewell, due to a request from Lady Lovell. Lady Lovell is friendly with the abbess of the nearby abbey. She tells the players that the abbess is worried about potential trouble in the village. As players, they’ll have access to both the wealthy houses (by putting on plays for them) and to the villagers in general. All she wants them to do is observe, and report any trouble to the village bailiff.

When the players arrive, they find that matters are a good deal more dicey than even Lady Lovell knew. There are three wealthy houses in the area, the Ashewells, the Medecotes, and the Gosyns. The three are quite bristly towards each other, and it looks like problems could erupt from a multitude of sources. When trouble does erupt, it appears in the form of a dead body. This is no longer merely trouble; it’s murder. Using their skills as players, and the skills honed in previous murder investigations, Joliffe determines to get to the bottom of things.

This is the third book in the Joliffe series, and it does not disappoint. The relationships between Joliffe and the rest of the players are always evolving, and very realistic for a group of people who spend all their time together. The author seamlessly weaves in period details that give the reader a true sense of the perils, beauty, and reality of life at this time. The mystery, as always, is expertly done, and revolves around true concerns of the time. Any reader interested in mysteries and history will find this one well worth the time. I always look forward to more from this author.

Rating: 9
August 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21111-8 (paperback)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Kindred Spirit - John Passarella

Kindred Spirit
John Passarella
Pocket Star Books

Paranormal Thriller/Horror

One year ago, Hallie Moore’s twin sister, Heather, died. The death of a twin would be difficult enough, but the fact that she was murdered makes it that much worse; for Hallie, and for Heather’s husband and small son. On the anniversary of her sister’s death, Hallie, a television reporter, visits, not Heather’s grave, but the site of her death. Hallie always feels more connected to her sister there, as if her sister’s energy still inhabits the place. On this particular day, Hallie is stunned to get a flashback of her sister’s death, from her sister’s point of view. True, the two girls had an almost psychic connection as children, but Hallie hasn’t experienced anything like this.

On the outside, Hallie is a pragmatic reporter. But privately, she remembers that connection to her twin and wonders if there’s something else to our existence. Since her sister’s killer was never caught, Hallie takes that violent vision as a sign, and throws herself into her own investigation. She talks to paranormal experts, lets herself be hypnotized, anything that might help. When strange things start to happen, she’s sure that her dead sister is sending her signs. But she doesn’t realize that she’s placed herself squarely in the killer’s sights. The killer believes that something was left undone in his crime a year ago; he believes that “she” will be back, and that he’ll recognize “her” no matter what face she wears. When he sees the twin of his victim, he believes his destiny is clear.

This is an incredibly creepy paranormal thriller. Not precisely horror, per se, readers who enjoy horror novels will still enjoy this one, since it delivers plenty of scares. The atmosphere is effectively established in the prologue, and carried through the novel. It’s obvious that the author did his homework. Each of the characters has a complex and believable life. They’re all trying to go on after Heather’s death; even the killer. The action switches from Hallie’s point of view to that of the killer. In the process, the killer reveals his identity. This is hardly a problem, though, since it lets the reader watch Hallie edge closer and closer to him. If you’re looking for thrills and chills, you can’t go wrong with KINDRED SPIRIT.

Rating: 8
June 2006
ISBN# 0-7434-8480-0 (paperback)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Stabbing in the Stables - Simon Brett

The Stabbing in the Stables
A Fethering Mystery
Simon Brett
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery - British

Carole Seddon, a retiree from the Home Office, found an unlikely friend in Jude. Jude is an alternative therapist. Carole isn’t quite sure exactly what this is, but she knows she doesn’t think it works. Nevertheless, the two women, who live the in village of Fethering in West Sussex, have formed a friendship and partnership. They’ve been instrumental in solving several mysteries, to the varied reactions of others.

At the moment, Jude and Carole are on their way to Long Bamber Stables. Jude has a new, and unusual, client. She’ll be trying to heal a horse, at the request of its owner, Sonia Dalrymple. But, arriving at the stable at the appointed time, Jude and Carole find themselves alone. When Jude ventures into the stable, she finds a man on the floor, recently stabbed to death. It’s Walter Fleet, who along with his wife, Lucinda, owns (or owned) the stables. Against all their better intentions, the two women are completely unable to resist delving for information about the dead man. And, although the police have taken in Donal, a known drunkard and thief who clashed with Walter, for questioning, the ladies are far from sure they have it right.

This is the first Fethering mystery I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last. These two ladies are quite funny, albeit quietly so. The humor is not slapstick, but derives from their very different outlooks on life. Both are understandable, and both will remind you of people you know. The mystery is interesting and involves plenty of potential suspects. Who knew a little seaside village could be such a hotbed of intrigue? Well, clearly Carole and Jude, and we’re lucky to go along for the ride.

Rating: 8
August 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21019-7 (hardcover)

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Mournful Teddy - John J. Lamb

The Mournful Teddy
A Bear Collector’s Mystery
John J. Lamb
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery - Cozy

Brad Lyon and his wife, Ashleigh, recently relocated from San Francisco to Remmelkemp Mill, Virginia. They’re living in a home that originally belonged to Ash’s great-grandparents, situated alongside the Shenandoah River. Brad retired from the SFPD’s Robbery/Homicide division after an assailant’s bullet destroyed part of his leg. These days, their time is spent devoted to Ash’s hobby of creating teddy bears. To his surprise, Brad finds that he’s becoming more and more interested. As the story opens, the two are preparing to attend their first show, the Shenandoah Valley Teddy Bear Extravaganza.

Before they can leave, however, their dog, Kitchener, alerts them to something in the river. Given the dog’s recent preoccupation with dead animals, Brad heads down to the riverbank to head off the dog. What he sees floating in the river is a corpse. When rescuers haul the body to shore, Brad sees telltale signs of strangulation. But the sheriff, without so much as glancing at the body, decrees that it’s an accidental death. Then he makes it clear that Brad’s input is not welcome.

The highlight of the teddy bear show is to be the auction of an extremely rare bear: The Mourning Bear, created by Steiff in 1912, to commemorate the sinking of the Titanic. A limited-edition bear, it’s now the most rare teddy in the world. Bidding is expected to top $150,000. But there’s a snag. The Mourning Bear is AWOL. The man who was supposed to deliver it never arrived. Brad does some checking and discovers a link between the missing bear and the dead body. The sheriff remains strangely uninterested, but Brad’s cop instincts are on full alert.

THE MOURNFUL TEDDY is the first in a very entertaining new series. Brad and Ash have been married for decades, raised two kids, and now share a new hobby. It’s fun to learn about teddy bears along with Brad, and understand why he’s drawn to something that many people dismiss as a child’s toy. His observations, about bears and crime, are insightful and intelligent. This may be because the author is a retired detective who, along with his wife, collects bears. This real experience is evident on every page. The mystery is tightly constructed, and there are plenty of possible outcomes. I’m eager to see what comes next in the series.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21112-6 (paperback)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Murder of a Real Bad Boy - Denise Swanson

Murder of a Real Bad Boy
A Scumble River Mystery
Denise Swanson

Mystery - Cozy

School psychologist Skye Denison finds herself in a unique position on a Friday afternoon. She doesn’t particularly want to go home. Since she broke up with her boyfriend and moved into a house that’s being renovated, there isn’t much waiting at home for her. Certainly not completed renovations. The hunky contractor she hired, Beau Hamilton, rarely finishes anything; and when he does, it’s wrong. But the man is just so handsome and charming that she can’t quite make herself fire him.

That’s about to change, though. When she arrives home to find that literally nothing has been done all day, Skye is furious and ready to fire Beau. There’s one small problem: when she finds him, he’s mortally wounded. Since her house is outside the city limits, technically, the county sheriff should have jurisdiction. That would be one Buck Peterson, who has it in for Skye and her family. The city police chief, Wally Boyd, on the other hand, has feelings for Skye. With one man ready to convict her, and the other trying to protect her, Skye realizes that her safest bet is to do a little investigating of her own. It doesn’t take long to find out that Beau was far from the charmer he appeared to be, and left a string of people behind him who had reason to want him dead.

If you’ve read previous installments of this series, you know that it’s all about the charms (and the warts) of life in a small town. In Scumble River, everyone pretty much knows everyone else, and there aren’t a whole lot of secrets, once you start digging. The narrative moves along quickly, and there are plenty of interesting characters on all sides of the issue. This is great for a fun, quick read.

Rating: 6
August 2006
ISBN# 0-451-21828-0 (paperback)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Winter's Child - Margaret Maron

Winter’s Child
A Deborah Knott Mystery
Margaret Maron
Mysterious Press


It’s an early evening in January, but despite the cold, Mrs. Harper is out picking up litter along the stretch of freeway that she adopted in her late father’s name. When a pickup truck passes her, she hears what she thinks is a tire blowing. In reality, she heard a gunshot that killed the driver. The victim, J.D. Rouse, was well known as bully and wife-beater. No one seems to be too sorry that he’s dead, but as chief deputy, Dwight Bryant begins an investigation.

That night, Dwight’s son, Cal, 8, calls him long after bedtime. Cal pleads with Dwight to come to Shaysville, VA, where he lives with his mother and Dwight’s ex-wife, Jonna. When Dwight arrives the next day, Cal uses him as a live show-and-tell exhibit before begging to come and spend the weekend with Dwight and his new wife, Deborah. A little prodding reveals that Cal hasn’t seen Jonna since the previous morning. No one has seen her, not her mother, not her employer. While Dwight packs up some clothes for the weekend visit, Cal disappears. A neighbor tells Dwight that Jonna appeared, took Cal after some resistance, and left. Now there’s no sign of either of them.

In this installment of the series, Dwight has to contend with both the disappearance of his son and ex-wife, and the murder of J.D. Rouse. Naturally, Deborah, a circuit court judge, lends her expertise, as well. It quickly becomes clear that neither event is as simple as it seems. The author manages to connect seemingly disparate events, and there are some good twists in the tale. Newcomers to the series will have no problems jumping in here. For longtime readers, this is like a visit with old friends.

Rating: 8
August 2006
ISBN# 0-89296-810-9 (hardcover)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Dressmaker - Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck

The Dressmaker
Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck
Henry Holt and Company


Claude Reynaud, 46, lives in the small town of Senlis, north of Paris. His life, like the lives of three generations before him, is dedicated to creating clothing. At one time, he had the opportunity to join a fashion house in Paris. His refusal was the final blow to his marriage, and his wife, Rose-Marie left him. That was eight years ago, and although he hasn’t heard from her since, she has never served him with divorce papers. Claude has developed a following among the elite ladies of Paris, who are willing to make the drive for Claude’s expertise. He’s well known for creating gowns that perfectly complement a woman’s figure and coloring.

His carefully ordered life is thrown into disarray when Mlle Valentine de Verlay appears in his shop. Claude is immediately and deeply smitten with the woman. Indeed, he may be in love for the first time in his life. Sadly, Valentine has come to him for her wedding gown. In time, Valentine begins to reciprocate Claude’s feelings, but is determined to stay true to her fiancé, Victor. Claude eventually makes what, for him, is the ultimate sacrifice for love. He leaves his small shop for the fashion world of Paris.

The author writes with a lyrical quality that reveals a deep compassion for her characters, Claude and Valentine, and echoes the nature of the story. These two main characters are deep and complex; not perfect individuals, but two people thrown by an unexpected connection. The characters of Victor, and Rose-Marie suffer in comparison, seeming much more one-dimensional. Clearly, the author is writing with an insider’s view of the world of fashion, making Claude’s transition from predictable life in Senlis to the chaos of Paris effectively jarring. This is a lovely debut novel, promising great things to come.

Rating: 7 ½
July 2006
ISBN# 0-8050-8033-3 (hardcover)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Blood and Iron - Elizabeth Bear

Blood and Iron
A Novel of the Promethean Age
Elizabeth Bear

Fantasy - Urban/Faerie

Twenty-five years ago, Elaine Andraste became Seeker for the Mebd, the Queen of the Daoin Sidhe. She is of the Fae now, and her job is to locate changelings in the human world and bring them to the Western Isles. Now, the Mebd has a new job for her. A new Merlin has come to maturity. A Merlin is not just a magician, but also the personification of magic. Whoever controls the Merlin, and by extension, the Merlin’s Dragon, would control incredible power over both worlds. Seeker’s task is to find the Merlin, and convince the Merlin to accompany her to the court of the Mebd.

But there are other forces at work in the world. The Queen of the Unseelie Court also wants to control the Merlin and the Dragon. There are mages, humans who can work magic, who don’t want to see the Merlin fall into Faerie hands. One such archmage is Jane Andraste, mother of Elaine. She’d also like her daughter back in the human world. And there’s Keith MacNeill, a werewolf who fell in love with Seeker when she was human, and loves her still. His father is dying; he is next in line to lead; and he desperately wants to find his son. All of them agree on one thing: no matter what you want, there’s always a price to pay.

The above is merely a bare-bones outline of the events that take place in this magical novel. The reader is immediately dropped into a complex and dynamic world. Worlds, really, since there’s the human/Promethean world and the Faerie world. It’s both familiar and strange, commonplace and alien. The author takes various legends and tales and melds them into a unique new story. Make sure you have some time when you sit down with this one, because once you’re pulled in, you won’t want to stop reading. This is a superlative urban fantasy, not to be missed. I’ll be eagerly anticipating more from this very talented author.

Rating: 9 ½
July 2006
ISBN# 0-451-46092-8 (trade paperback)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Murder Most Frothy - Cleo Coyle

Murder Most Frothy
A Coffeehouse Mystery
Cleo Coyle
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery - Cozy

Clare Cosi is a barista in a culture that doesn’t really recognize the skills that go into making a really good coffee. Usually, she’s found managing Village Blend, the Greenwich Village coffee shop owned by her former mother-in-law, Madame Dreyfus Allegro Dubois. Between the two of them, they’ve made the place into a landmark. One of their customers, multi-millionaire David Mintzer, is so impressed that he asks Clare to leave her job and manage his new coffee house in East Hampton, Cuppa J. Clare refuses, but counteroffers her services to train the staff. When David offers her a nice salary in addition to a room in his East Hampton mansion for the summer (on strictly platonic terms) she agrees.

As many in the Hamptons do, David throws a Fourth of July bash. Clare, Madame, Clare’s 21-year-old daughter Joy, and the staff of Cuppa J are all on hand to serve food and drink. Madame manages the kitchen while Clare creates her famous iced coffee drinks and corrals the staff. After the fireworks, Treat, a well-liked and flirty member of the staff, cannot be found. Convinced she’ll find him in some dark corner with a girl, Clare goes looking. She finds him in the master bathroom, shot dead. David had gone to bed in the adjoining master bedroom with a migraine hours earlier and says he heard nothing.

Clare initially assumes that the killer, who shot from outside, must have mistaken Treat for David. But, as she learns that Treat was working his way through the female staff, and doing more than just flirting, she wonders if it was a case of mistaken identity after all. With her daughter and former mother-in-law on hand, Clare wants to clear the mystery up quickly, even if she has to do it herself.

While this is the latest installment in an ongoing series, there’s enough background information given for newbie readers like me to jump in easily. Clare is a great amateur sleuth, mixing intelligence and maturity. The Hamptons in summer is a great venue for a murder mystery, although the author does admit, through Clare, that the murder rate in East Hampton is almost nil. That doesn’t detract from the story, though. The pacing is quick and even, and the overall writing style is a cut above average. I’ll be looking for the previous books in this series, and looking forward to the next one.

Rating: 7
August 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21113-4 (paperback)

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Chocolate Bridal Bash - JoAnna Carl

The Chocolate Bridal Bash
A Chocoholic Mystery
JoAnna Carl

Mystery - Cozy

Lee McKinney is busy planning her wedding in the resort town of Warner Pier, Michigan. Part of that planning involves trying to convince her mother, Sally to come to town for the event. Although she was born and raised in Warner Pier, Sally is oddly reluctant to make the trip. She tries to convince Lee to hold the wedding in Dallas, using the argument that Lee spent much of her youth there. When Sally goes so far as to fearfully ask if a certain sheriff is still around, Lee knows there’s something more to her mother’s stubbornness.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of things, Lee talks to her Aunt Nettie, who runs TenHuis Chocolade, the family business. The story Nettie tells shocks Lee. Sally was engaged to Bill Dykstra, and left Warner Pier on what would have been her wedding day, leaving only a note saying that the wedding was postponed. Later that day, Bill’s father found him dead; an apparent suicide. Sally’s parents, Lee’s grandparents, didn’t hear from her for another six months. Sally never offered any explanation for any of this. Appealing to her future mother-in-law, Mercy, Lee gets a few more details, including the fact that the former sheriff still has the power to frighten people. Mercy reiterates Nettie’s plea for Lee to leave things alone; not re-open old wounds. But Lee’s curiosity compels her to try.

Lee is known for two things: insatiable curiosity and a habit of using malapropisms in her speech. Honestly, in this case, I found her curiosity to be very selfish. The story tries to cloak the investigation in the guise of smoothing things over so that Lee’s mother can visit Warner Pier without fear, but it’s really just an excuse for Lee to poke around in people’s lives and bring back a slew of old, painful memories. Not a great trait in a main character. Putting that aside, I did find the past mystery to be well constructed and quite interesting. I just wish there had been a better way to go about it. For chocolate lovers, there are plenty of interesting facts and recipes that look delicious.

Rating: 5
August 2006
ISBN# 0-451-21918-X

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Twice Kissed - Lisa Jackson

Twice Kissed
Lisa Jackson

Mystery - Romantic Suspense

Maggie McCrae is living with her 13-year-old daughter in rural Idaho. After a long period of very limited contact, Maggie receives a message from her twin sister, Mary Theresa. The message is in her mind, but whether it’s a result of the close bond between twins, or some form of telepathy, Maggie can’t say. These messages only occur during times of great stress, and Maggie has long since given up trying to explain them to people. The message shocks her, as it is a desperate plea for help, and points to Thane Walker as the source of the danger. The twins’ history with Thane is complicated. He’s Mary Theresa’s ex-husband; he was Maggie’s first love.

Shortly after receiving the chilling message, Thane arrives, unannounced, on Maggie’s doorstep. He tells her that Mary Theresa, who long ago took the stage name Marquise, is missing. The police suspect foul play, and they suspect Thane. Maggie suspects him, too, but agrees to work with him to try to find out what happened to her sister. Her journey through her sister’s life reveals that Marquise had plenty of enemies, and a few reasons to engineer her own disappearance. Thane is convinced that the latter is the case, and wants to find Marquise and end the charade. The investigation is made more difficult for Maggie due to her growing attraction to Thane.

The story is told in three parts: first in the present; second in a flashback to the twins’ youth; then back to the present. Far from being confusing, this structure allows the author to present a much more full and complete picture of each of the twins and their relationships. Nothing in a family happens in a vacuum, so this background is essential. I have to admit that I’m not completely on board with the idea of falling for your sister’s ex, especially when you’re her twin. But the author makes it work well enough for me to at least suspend my disbelief on that score. The mystery/thriller aspects are done quite well and are very involving. This is a great page-turner for a late-summer afternoon.

NOTE: This is a re-release/reworking of a book originally published in 1998.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2006
ISBN# 0-8217-7944-3 (paperback)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

One Hex of a Wedding - Yasmine Galenorn

One Hex of a Wedding
A Chintz ‘n China Mystery
Yasmine Galenorn
Berkley Prime Crime


At 37, tea shop owner Emerald (Em) O’Brien never thought she’d get married again. But she is, to Joe, a man almost ten years younger. During an engagement party thrown by friends, her worst fear is realized. Her ex-husband, Roy, appears, due to the loose but well-meaning lips of their ten-year-old son. It isn’t long before Roy is drunk and making a scene. Fortunately, Emerald sent the kids home before the fists started flying. Roy has some choice words for her and her intended, and he threatens them both before he leaves.

The following day, while setting up for a barbeque, an unseen assailant shoots Joe. The injury isn’t life-threatening, but that’s only by chance; it could have been much worse. Of course, the man who tops the suspect list is Roy. Em knows that Roy has a temper, and can hold a grudge a lot better than he can hold his liquor, but she just can’t believe that he would go this far.

Emerald is a self-described “village witch,” and there are interesting tendrils of the paranormal that float through this story. I loved the description of Emerald’s spiral garden path and its calming effect. The mystery is interesting and combines bits of paranormal with the more earthly aspects of whodunit. This is the latest in this series of cozy mysteries. It’s the first I’ve read, but it certainly will not be the last. It’s not necessary to have read the previous books in order to enjoy this one, as the author provides background in a succinct way, without interrupting the flow of the story. Having said that, I’ll be seeking out the previous installments and looking forward to the next one.

Rating: 8
August 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21117-7 (paperback)

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Lucifer Gospel - Paul Christopher

The Lucifer Gospel
Paul Christopher

Thriller - Mystery - Religion/Archaeology

Finn Ryan is on her way to Egypt to participate in a dig. She’s to be the cartographer and technical illustrator for the team. On the plane over, she meets Hilts, a pilot and photographer headed to the site, too. That evening, over an improbable dinner of lasagna in Cairo, Hilts gives Finn some interesting background about the expedition. This dig site was last occupied in the 1930s by an Italian-led team with many of the same ideas. They were looking for the remains of a Coptic Church. In particular, they were looking for the tomb of a monk believed to be the Apostle Thomas. This expedition disappeared in a sandstorm and was never heard from again.

Even before arriving at the site, Finn is chased through the City of the Dead by a man with a large saber and murderous intent. A strange midnight visitor to her hotel room brings more food for thought. At the dig site, the team uncovers evidence of an old murder, most likely from the 1930s expedition. Further digging uncovers a medallion that bears the name of a fallen angel. This discovery sets events in motion that will lead Finn and Hilts around the world in pursuit of a secret that could re-write history.

Readers who enjoy archaeological thrillers and Indiana Jones movies will love THE LUCIFER GOSPEL. The action begins almost immediately, and the narrative sets such a quick pace that the pages practically turn themselves. For all that, the author manages to inject enough realism to keep the story grounded and plausible, never veering into the absurd. That can be a hard line to walk in a thriller like this, but the author does it well. I hope to see more from this author in the future.

Rating: 8
August 2006
ISBN# 0-451-21223-0 (paperback)

A Pour Way To Dye - Tim Myers

A Pour Way To Dye
A Soapmaking Mystery
Tim Myers
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery - Cozy

Benjamin Perkins, along with his mother and six siblings, runs the family business, Where There’s Soap. Ben’s three brothers run the factory production line, his three sisters run the boutique shop and teach classes, and Mom is there to oversee them all. Ben, the eldest sibling, is the business trouble-shooter. And he’s got his work cut out for him today. Arriving at work, he finds the entire back parking area blocked off by a chain-link fence. This fence, which is not exactly visible, and thus, invites ramming by family cars, was erected by perennial pain Earnest Joy, the jeweler whose property backs onto Where There’s Soap.

Joy is in early, and obviously anticipating the confrontation. He tells Ben that a new property survey tells him that his property extends to the back door of Where There’s Soap. Now, not only does the family have no space to park their numerous cars, there’s no room for the shipping of soaps. Joy suggests that Ben confront his grandfather, Paulus about the turn of events. Paulus, after much dodging, confesses that, years ago, after a drunken blackout, he was shown a gambling IOU with his signature, covering the back lot. Before things can progress any further, Ben returns to the jeweler’s, literally seconds ahead of the police. Joy is dead, clutching an unopened bar of Where There’s Soap soap in his hand. The term “trouble-shooter” just took on a whole new dimension.

This is the second in the author’s newest series, and will be a hit with lovers of cozy mysteries. I never thought about making soap as a hobby, but the author makes it sound like a lot of fun. Each sibling has his or her own personality, and the family relationships are complicated and realistic. They’re all loyal to one another when the chips are down, though, and protective of the family business. The mystery is interesting, and Ben’s reactions to it and involvement in the investigation make perfect sense. From making soap to catching killers, Ben is a great addition to the ranks of amateur sleuths.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21115-0 (paperback)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Black Order - James Rollins

Black Order
James Rollins
William Morrow

Thriller - Action

During the last days of World War II, while American scientists perfected the atomic bomb, Nazi scientists were hard at work on a device that could be even more dangerous. Before the fall of Berlin, they managed to smuggle this experiment out of harm’s way, in order to continue their work. Now, events around the world seem to indicate that the experiments continue to this day.

In a Himalayan monastery, a strange sickness inflicts madness and death on the monks, spurring an investigation by SIGMA force operative, Painter Crowe. In Europe, it slowly becomes clear that someone is quietly, but insistently, collecting the books and papers of scientists such as Darwin. Whoever this collector is, he or she is willing to kill for these materials. Grayson Pierce, another SIGMA member, is looking into this strange series of events. It will take time, and some twists of fate, but eventually, these threads and many more will intertwine to create a fabric of conspiracy and danger, centering on the very origin of life.

Readers who have not yet discovered James Rollins would be well advised to block out some time and enjoy BLACK ORDER, and the rest of the SIGMA force novels. Rollins manages to blend action, intrigue, espionage, and global threats into compulsive reading. He presents scientific theories and facts simply enough that they don’t bog down the flow of the story, but in enough detail to be both interesting and relevant. There will be the inevitable comparisons to Clive Cussler and Dan Brown, I’m sure. But Rollins writes his own blend of action-adventure novel. Readers who appreciate intelligent action won’t want to miss this one.

Rating: 9
July 2006
ISBN# 0-06-076388-4

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Cross My Heart - Carly Phillips

Cross My Heart
Carly Phillips

Contemporary Romance

At 17, Lilly Dumont is so desperate to escape her abusive uncle that she enlists two friends, Ty Benson and Daniel Hunter, in a plan to fake her own death. The plan succeeds, and Lilly makes her way to New York City with only the meager summer earnings of her friends to sustain her. She takes the name Lacey Kincaid and, within ten years of hard work and sacrifice, she’s managed to create her own small business. And her investment banker boyfriend, Alex, has proposed marriage, but agreed to give her the time and space she needs to tell him about her past in her own time.

But the past is about to come knocking on her door, literally. Ty, now a PI and part-time bartender, tracks her down to tell her that her nefarious Uncle Marc is about to have her declared legally dead so that he can take over the sizable trust fund left to her by her parents. Deciding that she’s run from her past for long enough, Lacey returns to her hometown. Aided by Ty and Hunter, who overcame his own past to become an attorney, Lacey plans to fight for what belongs to her, and perhaps find some peace of mind.

The setup for the story is done quite well. Unfortunately, things start to go downhill at about the halfway point. Lacey’s rotten treatment of Alex cancelled out most sympathy I felt for her character. Once I was un-invested in the main character, I became very aware of the predictability of the remaining plot. While I’m convinced that this is not the author’s best work, she did interest me enough in Hunter and Molly to want to see more of them in a future book.

On the very bright side, there are some interesting twists and layers presented in the first half of the novel. Each character has an interesting and believable history explaining how they got to this point. Even the villain of the piece, the uncle, is given an explanation for his actions, and, while that doesn’t excuse him, it elevates him from paper cut-out bad guy to realistically flawed character. The author’s breezy narration and dialogue keep the story moving at a brisk pace, making this a fun, light read.

Rating: 6
August 2006
ISBN# 0-373-77126-6 (hardcover)