Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Heart Mate - Robin D. Owens

Heart Mate
Robin D. Owens
Berkley Sensation

Fantasy/Paranormal Romance

At the age of 6, Rand T’Ash, member of one of the elite GreatHouses on the planet Celta, watched as his entire family perished in a fire set by another GreatHouse. In hiding, the young boy fled to the slum area and scraped out a living until such time that he could return and claim his heritage. Now, having secured his house and his place, by violence when necessary, T’Ash is a master jeweler. Most of the inhabitants of Celta have some form or another of psychic power. T’Ash’s power allows him to shape gems like no other. One such gem, in particular, waits for the arrival of his Heart Mate. On Celta, everyone is free to marry as they wish, but the best match and fondest hope of each person is to find his or her Heart Mate; the perfect match, the soul mate.

Danith Mallow was also orphaned in childhood, but her heritage is much more common than that of T’Ash. She has been in his shop often, however, and is drawn to a specific necklace. When T’Ash informs her that it is his HeartGift, she believes he’s deceiving her with some kind of cheap seduction spell. Why would a noble be interested in her? She’s a commoner with no real psychic power. But T’Ash continues to pursue her, certain that he’s found his Heart Mate. The more Danith withdraws, the more T’Ash pursues.

The world building is rock solid and includes a complex yet realistic society. Both main characters are strong individuals who have very legitimate reasons for acting in the ways that they do. No silly misunderstandings here. There are real issues that both stand in their way, and bring them together. I also enjoyed the telepathic byplay between T’Ash and his familiar tomcat. Anyone who enjoys good fantasy will want to seek out these books. I’m very much looking forward to reading the rest of them.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006 (reissue)
ISBN# 0-425-21240-8

Fear of the Dark - Walter Mosley

Fear of the Dark
Walter Mosley
Little, Brown and Company


All mild-mannered Paris Minton wants is to be left alone to run his bookstore in peace. In 1956 Watts, that peace is becoming ever more strained and precious. So when his cousin, Ulysses S. Grant IV (known familiarly as “Useless”) comes knocking on his door, saying that he needs help getting out of yet another jam that is, in some way, not his fault, Paris does the only sensible thing: He keeps the door closed.

When Useless’ mother, Three Hearts, arrives some time later, asking Paris to help find her son, he can’t refuse her. Naturally, he enlists the help of friend Fearless Jones. The two reluctant knights descend into the underground of 1950s Los Angeles, finding more than they want, and less than they’d like.

Walter Mosley’s depth and breadth as an author is astounding. Here, he combines the percolating racial tensions of Watts in the 50s with the tensions and loyalties that exist within every family, no matter where or when. The spare prose and style perfectly counterpoint the essentially noir adventure. The author takes care to draw parallels between the men and mythic figures, but he needn’t have bothered. Most of us are already with him on that score.

Rating: 9
October 2006
ISBN# 0-316-73458-6 (hardcover)

The Collectors - David Baldacci

The Collectors
David Baldacci
Warner Books


Jonathan DeHaven loves his job as the director of the Rare Books and Special Collections at the Library of Congress. His routine includes arriving early each day to open the vault. When he’s found dead, one of his employees, Caleb Shaw is outraged. Sadly for the unknown murderer, Shaw is a man who knows how to exact revenge. A former assassin for the CIA, Shaw reunites the Camel Club to investigate DeHaven’s death. The Camel Club is comprised of four highly intelligent, and rather dangerous men, who know for a certainty that the government hides the truth.

Across the country, con artist Annabelle Conroy is setting up her biggest game yet. For personal reasons, she’s assembling a team that will end of depriving a certain Atlantic City casino owner out of several million dollars. And back in D.C., CIA operative Roger Seagraves, now retired from active duty in the field, has essentially gone rogue; exacting justice on those who, he feels, deserve it, with a bit of help from some like-minded friends. His first target of assassination was the Speaker of the House. And, in his downtime, Seagraves keeps his contacts active by selling classified US secrets to the highest bidder.

As readers of THE CAMEL CLUB (2005) can attest, the author excels at weaving together seemingly disparate strands of plot into a cohesive whole. This time around, he seems to have toned down some of the eccentricities of the Camel Club members, and with the addition of Annabelle and her group of cons, this works out perfectly. The action moves seamlessly from one group to another, the pace never flagging. Never start a Baldacci book late at night if you have to be up early the next morning. They’re almost impossible to put down, and they never disappoint.

Rating: 9
October 2006
ISBN# 0-446-53109-X (hardcover)

Secret Society Girl - Diana Peterfreund

Secret Society Girl
An Ivy League Novel
Diana Peterfreund
Delacourte Press

Chick Lit

As a junior at prestigious Eli University, Amy Haskel figures her life path is mapped out quite nicely for the next couple of years. She’s editor of the campus literary magazine, which makes her a sure thing to be tapped for the “secret” society for writers, Quill & Ink. That, along with being editor, will look great on the old resume. So, when Amy gets the cloak & dagger invitation to show up for an interview, she’s not too worried. But when the people in the darkened room start asking her about her third grade teacher and claim to have her FBI file, Amy quickly figures out that this is not the innocuous Quill & Ink.

Figuring she’s blown her chance at joining whatever society tapped her, Amy mopes until she gets the invitation. Then she goes straight from bummed to shocked. The invitation is to join the super-elite society of Rose & Dagger. This is the society, rumor has it, that has launched Presidents, CEOs and the rest of the people on those “World’s Richest” lists. One point of confusion, though: Rose & Grave only takes men. So why Amy?

Amy is pretty much the quintessential college junior. She simultaneously thinks she knows everything, and is terrified that she doesn’t. This manifests in her cracking one-liners at virtually every situation. If she’d stop talking and pay attention, she’d have an easier time of it. This is sometimes very annoying but also has the effect of making her a sympathetic and realistic character. The author writes with a breezy style that makes the pages seem to turn themselves. No matter how long you’ve been out of college, you’ll recognize a lot here. And the author leaves a few loose ends dangling, to be picked up in a sequel. I’m looking forward to it.

Rating: 7
July 2006
ISBN# 0-385-34002-8 (hardcover)

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Mission Song - John Le Carre

The Mission Song
John Le Carré
Little, Brown and Company

Political Thriller

Bruno Salvador, Salvo to his friends, has a talent he jealously guards and in which he takes great pride. Salvo’s genius is for languages. Born in the Congo, Salvo attended a school set up to educate the sons of misbehaving priests. It was there that he first discovered his facility with words. Being the product of a Congolese woman and an Irish Catholic priest left him with something of a confused personal identity. As an adult, Salvo landed in London and further muddied his cultural waters (in his estimation) by marrying a white journalist.

Salvo makes his living as an interpreter, which is, as he never fails to point out, several steps in skill above a translator. He works for whatever corporations or law firms care to hire him. It’s when he goes to work for the British Secret Service, eavesdropping on sensitive phone conversations, that the story really begins. His talent lands him an assignment interpreting for a highly secret meeting between Congolese warlords and Western finance people. During the course of the meeting, Salvo hears some things he shouldn’t, and is drawn into an international web of conspiracy and intrigue.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this novel is that all of the players, on all sides of the issues, are guilty, to one degree or another. Even Salvo, the narrator, is tainted by his adulterous affair. It’s the degrees of guilt and complicity that make this a cut above the usual global conspiracy novel. Obvious parallels will be drawn between this novel and THE CONSTANT GARDENER, but this novel, for all the seriousness of it’s subject, had something of a lighter feel. He’s been writing for decades, but this author is still at the top of his game.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006
ISBN# 0-316-01674-8 (hardcover)

Scrapped Princess - Ichiro Sakaki

Scrapped Princess
A Tale of Destiny
Ichiro Sakaki
TokyoPop/ HarperCollins

Young Adult/ Fantasy

Every year, the people in Linevan Kingdom await the newest prophecy, delivered by the priests. Each year, for more than 5,000 years, there has been a prophecy, and only two of them have not come to pass. That makes the prophecies infallible and non-questionable. So, when the 5111th prophecy tells the people that the Queen will give birth to a daughter, who, on her 16th birthday, will bring about the apocalypse, they’re stunned. When the prophecy orders the people to kill this child, they’re shocked. Prophecies don’t usually come with orders of action.

Later that year, the Queen gives birth to twins, a girl and a boy. She has the girl infant spirited out of the city and raised by trusted members of her guard. Rumor has it that the child was killed, and life goes on as normal. Fourteen years later, the girl, called Pacifica by her adoptive family is living in one of the outermost cities of the kingdom. Her adoptive parents hid her well, because it took that long for the assassins to find them. With her parents dead, she has to trust her brother, Shannon, a warrior, and her sister, Raquel, a sorcerer, to protect her.

This novel, the first in a series that inspired the hit anime series, introduces the characters and shows the siblings setting out on their endless journey. There’s nowhere that’s safe; they have to rely on their wits and skills to keep themselves alive. There are some very dark things that happen here, and some violence. Probably best for ages 12 and up, and ideal for those who enjoy anime stories, this is a promising beginning to the wanderings of the siblings.

Rating: 7
October 2006
ISBN# 1-59532-984-6 (paperback)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy

The Black Dahlia
James Ellroy
Warner Books


Taking inspiration from a real unsolved case, James Ellroy fashions a possible solution and an absolute masterpiece of noir detective fiction. Part of a sort of quartet of L.A. novels that includes L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, this novel takes all that is great about noir and mystery and improves upon it.

In 1947, the battered, mutilated body of a lovely young aspiring actress named Betty Short was found in an empty lot in Los Angeles. Detectives Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard were assigned to the case. The case became an obsession for both men. The two, rivals for the affections of the same woman, were now even more tightly entwined by the dead woman, dubbed Black Dahlia, and their inability to let go of the case. The search for her killer leads them through Hollywood’s seamier side and through their own inner selves.

This author does not deal in happy endings. The characters are all flawed, some fatally and disgustingly so. Not many of them are very likeable. But they’re all very realistic, undeniably human, and none of them emerges from the case unscathed. The author excels at evoking this period of time, complete with language, locations, and attitudes that have, for the most part, now passed into obscurity. The cast of characters is huge, and there are any number of twists to this tale. A story that’s not easy to read; a book that’s impossible to forget.

Rating: 9 ½
September 2006 (reissue)
ISBN# 0-446-61812-8 (paperback)

A Fatal Appraisal - J. B. Stanley

A Fatal Appraisal
A Collectible Mystery
J. B. Stanley
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery/ Cozy

The moment Molly Appleby, staff writer for “Collector’s Weekly,” arrives in Richmond to cover a taping of the hit TV antiques show, “Hidden Treasures,” it’s clear that this assignment isn’t going to be dull. For a start, a china collector owns the bed-and-breakfast where she, and many of the visiting appraisers are staying. Each of the beautiful rooms is named for, and decorated with, a particular type of china. Arriving at the taping location, a museum, Molly quickly learns that divas thrive in all professions.

Frank Sterling, the head appraiser, works with antique furniture, but claims he’s allergic to dust. While various pieces are being cleaned, he shows Molly a blanket chest, and what will be the centerpiece of the show, an almost perfect slant-top desk, made in Colonial days. Victoria, the host of the show, is openly hostile to Frank. Turns out, they’re married. When Frank turns up dead, Molly has a feeling that the desk is the key to finding his killer.

This second installment actually it surpasses the first book (A KILLER COLLECTION) in the series. The characters are a varied and eclectic bunch. As a group of people who work together on a regular basis, there are plenty of interrelationships to keep things interesting. The characters who populate the office of “Collector’s Weekly” add an extra layer of office intrigue. I hope we see more of Clayton, the Queen of Classifieds, in future books. Readers with even a casual interest in collecting and antiques will enjoy this engaging mystery; and the author provides tips on collecting, to those who are more serious about it. I’m looking forward to more.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21264-5 (paperback)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Secret Heiress - Judith Gould

The Secret Heiress
Judith Gould
New American Library


On her 21st birthday, Niki Papadaki plans to take over her father’s business. No small undertaking, since, in Niki’s case, that business is Papadaki Private Holding, Ltd (PPHL,) the largest privately held corporation in the world. She’ll be in charge of, and responsible for, interests and factories on several continents. Niki has been groomed for this since early childhood, but her hedonistic, partying ways and unpredictable behavior in business quickly begins to take a toll on the bottom line. In addition, some of her thoughtless decisions have angered a radical environmental group, who decide to ‘take out’ this particular executive.

The environmentalists are not alone in wanting a change in leadership from PPHL. The board of directors makes the decision to replace Niki with her twin sister, Ariadne. Ariadne was given up for adoption at birth, due to her father’s irrational belief that twin heiresses would be cursed. Ariadne, unaware of her heritage, has been raised by a foster family and brings a completely different outlook to the business, including concern for workers and the environment over pure profit. But if Ariadne inherits all of Niki’s wealth and power, she also inherits all the animosity felt toward Niki. That’s where bodyguard Matt comes in; to protect her from dangers, including assassination attempts. Ariadne and Matt quickly find that theirs will be more than a professional relationship.

To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of the ‘secret twin’ plot device. But here, it works beautifully. The personalities of the characters are a bit outsized, and there’s plenty of glitz and glamour. This novel reminded me a lot of the ‘mind candy’ works by Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon. That’s a good thing; those books are just plain fun. So it is here. Behind the glamour and high-stakes business, there are tangled loyalties, romance, betrayal, and intrigue. This book does exactly what it’s supposed to do: entertain.

Rating: 8
October 2006
ISBN# 0-451-21966-X (hardcover)

Paint it Black - Janet Fitch

Paint It Black
Janet Fitch
Little, Brown and Company


When she was a teenager, Josie Tyrell ran away from her white trash home in Bakersfield, sure that she’d find her own paradise in Los Angeles. Part of the early-80s punk rock scene, Josie supports herself by working as an artist’s model. Meeting Michael Faraday seems like the workings of Fate to her. Michael, a sometimes genius, comes from a wealthy family, is educated, and has traveled all over the world. To Josie, he embodies all the qualities she lacks. He is also a painter prone to deep depressions. He enraged his parents, a concert pianist and a writer, by dropping out of Harvard to paint. His pride makes him refuse financial help from his mother, leaving Josie to work multiple jobs just to support the two of them.

In the tradition of blind first love, she finds their situation somehow romantic. That is, until the call comes, informing her that Michael committed suicide in a rundown motel. In an instant, her world is shattered. The arrival of Michael’s mother, Meredith, does nothing to comfort her. In fact, Meredith initially places the blame on Josie. At first glance, these two women have nothing in common. But slowly, their shared pain binds them together.

Black, or perhaps charcoal, is the best descriptor for this novel by the author of WHITE OLEANDER. There’s a lot of pain, a lot of baggage, and not too many answers. This is quite realistic in the wake of a loved one’s suicide. The painful truth is that, sometimes, there are no ‘good’ answers. Josie and Meredith, very different characters are each given an astounding depth and complexity. While the overall tone is somber, the final pages hint at hope for the future.

Rating: 7
October 2006
ISBN# 0-316-18274-5 (hardcover)

Piece of Work - Laura Zigman

Piece of Work
Laura Zigman
Warner Books

Chick Lit

When Julia Einstein left her PR job on maternity leave, it was supposed to be temporary. But at the end her leave, she found that all she wanted was to stay home and raise her son. Now Leo is 3 years old, and Julia is still a happy stay-at-home mom. That is, until her husband is laid off, and it’s up to Julia to return to the workforce.

It’s never easy to return to work after a long absence, but it’s especially difficult when you’re several sizes larger than you were; and you’re used to spending your days conversing with a three-year-old. But Julia’s game, and she quickly lands a job at a firm that specializes in taking has-beens and making them relevant again. Julia is assigned to Mary Ford, a former movie star whose demanding nature is not at all unlike Leo’s. More problems arise when Mary’s comeback vehicle, a perfume, doesn’t sell. Then it gets out that the perfume was animal-tested, and predictable mayhem ensues. Fortunately, a few activists are nothing to a mom who’s used to handling preschool and play dates.

PIECE OF WORK is a fun, light, read. And, not for nothing, but it has one of the more amusing covers I’ve seen in quite a while. Julia is a little too super-mommy to be real, but she’s likeable and good at her job. There’s plenty of name-dropping going on, too. The cast of has-beens is large and very recognizable. The outcome is never in much doubt; it’s the journey to the outcome that makes it fun.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2006
ISBN# 0-446-57838-X (hardcover)

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Peach of a Murder - Livia J. Washburn

A Peach of a Murder
A Fresh-Baked Mystery
Livia J. Washburn


Phyllis Newsom, a retired schoolteacher, looks forward every year to the local Parker County Peach Festival. Everyone in the area agrees that Parker County peaches are the best peaches to be had. And the highlight of the festival is the cooking contest. This year, Phyllis is toying with recipes for a spicy peach cobbler that she’s sure will finally secure her the coveted blue ribbon. For the past two years, her friend Carolyn Wilbarger has taken the blue ribbon. Although the ladies live together in Phyllis’ home, along with two other retired teachers, they’re very competitive when it comes to the festival.

As the contest nears, Phyllis gathers peaches from Newt Bishop’s orchard. He’s not a terribly nice man, but he grows excellent peaches. And Phyllis is horrified when she hears screams and finds him in the barn, crushed under his car. At first, it appears the car simply slipped off the jack, but recent events might indicate otherwise. Just over that shock, on the very day of the contest, one of the judges literally drops dead in the middle of the contest. Unfortunately for Phyllis, he dies immediately after sampling her spicy peach cobbler. Although she is quickly cleared, she can’t help but look into these suspicious deaths.

This is the beginning of what promises to be a very entertaining series. The setting is a charming small town, peopled with realistic characters. Even though she’s investigating, Phyllis does not remain unmoved by the deaths and other events. She, like everyone else in town, is affected, making her very sympathetic. The mystery is involving and contains a few unexpected twists. Rounding out the experience are some very tasty-looking recipes, including Phyllis’ spiced peach cobbler. I’ll be looking forward to more in this series.

Rating: 7
October 2006
ISBN# 0-451-21974-0 (paperback)

Death Drop - Alina Adams

Death Drop
A Figure Skating Mystery
Alina Adams
Berkley Prime Crime


During a morning practice just before Nationals, there’s a surprise spectator. Harris Knox, the referee running the practice, spots an infant in a car seat, and takes the baby to the stadium office to call the police. But before the officers even arrive, a body is found hanged by a sparkly belt in a costume room. It’s Allison Adler, who at 19, suddenly dropped out of the skating world. The baby is hers, but the identity of the father seems to be in doubt. It’s possible that her former coach, the married Idan Ben-Golan, fathered the child. He immediately claims the child, and tells the police that Allison was at the rink that morning to leave the baby with him, permanently. Then there’s Allison’s former boyfriend and fellow skating star, Cooper Devaney, who claims he knows nothing about a baby.

When the police determine that Allison was actually strangled and the suicide was staged, everyone is a suspect. And too many people have motives. As usual, the skating world is a small world, and it’s up to Bex Levy, head researcher for 24/7 Television Network to ferret out the truth.

This is the latest in a series of very satisfying mysteries. Anyone with even a passing interest in the world of competitive figure skating will enjoy this insider’s look. Bex is still dealing with issues stemming from her last case, and is a bit unsure of herself here, but that’s completely believable. The rest of the characters are a varied lot and add depth to the proceedings. It’s always a good day when a new Bex Levy mystery arrives, and fans won’t be disappointed with this one.

Rating: 8
October 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21266-1 (paperback)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Austere Academy - Lemony Snicket

The Austere Academy
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fifth
Lemony Snicket

Young Adult

Note: The best thing to do is start reading about the Baudelaire children’s terrible and sad adventures at THE BAD BEGINNING. If you haven’t read the previous books, this review contains spoilers. You have been warned.

After their very unhappy time at the Lucky Smells Lumberyard in the previous book, the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny, are low on options. So Mr. Poe, who takes care of the fortune that will come to them when Violet is of age (and, it is to be hoped, is taking better care of that fortune than he is of the children) takes the three to Prufrock Preparatory School. While the Baudelaires are happy to return to school and socialize with people their own age, they’re not encouraged when the see the school. For one thing, the buildings are all shaped like tombstones.

Then they meet Vice Principal Nero, who believes he’s a genius at playing the violin, but is really quite terrible. He also has a nasty habit of mimicking other people. He tells the children about the nice dorms with a living room, lending library, and fresh fruit. Then he tells them that, since they have no parents to sign permission slips, they’ll be living in a tin shack. And, since Sunny is a baby and there are no classes for babies, she’ll have to work for him as a secretary, answering phones and doing paperwork. The bright spot in all this is that the orphans do make friends. Duncan and Isadora Quagmire are orphans, too. They spent several semesters in the Orphan Shack, and offer advice on how to deal with the general nastiness of the place. Then, the new gym teacher, Coach Genghis arrives. It should come as no surprise that Coach Genghis, despite his attempted disguise, is none other than the odious Count Olaf.

It’s very nice to see the Baudelaire children go to school and make a few friends. But, as everyone reading this series knows, bad things follow the Baudelaires. And, of course, Count Olaf follows them, too. Once again, there’s sadness, the metric system, generally unhappy events, a horrible little girl named Carmelita Spats, and lots of interesting new words.

Rating: 8
ISBN# 0-06-4408363-9 (hardcover)

The Miserable Mill - Lemony Snicket

The Miserable Mill
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fourth
Lemony Snicket

Young Adult

Note: The best thing to do is start reading about the Baudelaire children’s terrible and sad adventures at THE BAD BEGINNING. If you haven’t read the previous books, this review contains spoilers. You have been warned.

This installment of the terribly sad tale of the Baudelaire orphans begins with the children in question on a train, arriving in Paltryville, where everything seems to be gray. They’ve been told to report to the lumber mill in town, where their latest guardian is waiting. When they arrive at the Lucky Smells Lumberyard, they find a letter, directing them to Foreman Flactuono. The Foreman immediately puts them to work, even though children should not be working in a dangerous place like a lumber mill.

They’re told that their new guardian, whose name no one can pronounce, will “try” to protect them from the evil Count Olaf, and they will repay this attempted kindness by working in the lumber mill until Violet comes of age. The children don’t think this is a fair deal, but they’re not in a position to complain. Charles, who is their guardian’s partner, tells them that, at least there’s a library on the premises. Sadly, there are only three books in the library, one of which is “Advanced Ocular Science.” This alarms the children because the image on the cover is exactly the same as the tattoo of an eye on Count Olaf’s ankle. To make things worse, just down the street, there’s a building that looks exactly like the tattoo. The children, who are quite intelligent, realize that Count Olaf is not far away.

No matter what happens, the children stick together and try to find something positive about their situation. Which, honestly, is no easy task. If you’ve been reading the horrible adventures of the Baudelaire orphans all along, you know that you should expect bad things to happen. If you haven’t been, and you like happy stories, you shouldn’t read these books at all. These books are good for children who like this sort of story, and fun for adults, too.

Rating: 8
ISBN# 0-06-440769-1 (hardcover)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Protector's War - S.M. Stirling

The Protector’s War
S. M. Stirling

Fantasy/Alternative History

Note: This novel is the sequel to DIES THE FIRE.

The Change of 1998 has drastically altered human civilization. For instance, anything electronic or battery-powered is now non-functional. Also, explosives and gunpowder are useless. Because of these changes, humanity has been decimated by starvation, violence, and disease. Mike Havel, an ex-military pilot, and Juniper Mackenzie, a practicing Wiccan, lead one group in the Portland area. They’ve formed a new society based on old clan structure and farming. This group is heavily influenced by the writings of Tolkien, thanks to the near-obsession with his books shown by some members.

The Protectorate, on the other hand, is headed by former professor Norman Arminger. His new society is based on medieval feudal models, complete with serfs, oppression, and violence. As the Protectorate and its army grows, it’s clear that they need more land to farm. The most fertile land in the vicinity is occupied by the Bearkiller clan, who, despite their speedy master of farming and smithing, are ill equipped to defend themselves from attack. Adding to the confusion is the arrival of British survivors of a ship stuck at sea when The Change hit.

As with many second installments of trilogies, THE PROTECTOR’S WAR essentially provides the linking exposition between the shock of The Change in the first book, and the inevitable conflict to come in the third. While many books might suffer greatly for this, here, the author uses the time to broaden and deepen many of the characters, particularly The Protector. The contrast between the two societies is fairly clearly drawn and realistic; it’s the difference between re-starting society based on peaceful farming, or based on iron-fisted dictatorship. It’s interesting, and accurate, to note that, faced with a total breakdown of society, many people would turn to literally any leader, no matter how despotic, as long as he promised safety and food. Not quite up to the level of the first book, this is still a solid entry in the alternative history genre.

Rating: 7
September 2006
ISBN# 0-451-46077-4 (paperback)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Wide Window - Lemony Snicket

The Wide Window
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Third
Lemony Snicket

Young Adult

Note: The best thing to do is start reading about the Baudelaire children’s terrible and sad adventures at THE BAD BEGINNING. If you haven’t read the first books, this review contains spoilers. You have been warned.

The children, Violet (14,) Klaus (12,) and baby Sunny have just arrived at Lake Lachrymose via the Fickle Ferry. They’ve come to live with a very, very distant relative, Aunt Josephine Anwhistle. Since they’re arriving during cold weather, the lake is dark and freezing. It’s also filled with leeches, but the leeches live there year-round. And the small town around the lake is nearly deserted. But they’re not staying in the town; they’re headed to Aunt Josephine’s house, which is perched on top of a very steep hill, overlooking the lake.

She’s very nice, but Aunt Josephine is afraid of everything. She shows them around the house, pointing out the endless dangers, including the welcome mat, the radiator, the stove, and several doorknobs. And she can’t move, because she’s afraid of realtors. The best part of the house is the library, filled with books on Aunt Josephine’s favorite subject in the world: grammar. The library also has a huge, wide window that gives a perfect view of the lake.

While grocery shopping for food that doesn’t need to be cooked, the children and Aunt Josephine meet Captain Sham. The Baudelaires see through his terrible disguise instantly. It’s Count Olaf! Tragically, Aunt Josephine is fooled. That night, there’s a crash in the library. When the children arrive, they find the wide window broken, and a note from Aunt Josephine, saying that Captain Sham should take care of the children. Being intelligent, they immediately realize that Aunt Josephine would never have left this note filled with grammar mistakes. They have to find their aunt during a hurricane to escape the loathsome Count Olaf again.

On the back of each book, the author makes sure to warn readers that these are not happy, sunshiny books. It’s true; they’re not. But there’s nothing terribly scary in them, either, in case you’re worried about that. And you’ll learn some new and interesting words that you can use in polite conversation without getting grounded, too. These chapter books are intended for ages 10 and up and are perfect for kids and adults to read together.

Rating: 8
ISBN# 0-06-440768-3 (hardcover)

The Reptile Room - Lemony Snicket

The Reptile Room
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Second
Lemony Snicket

Young Adult

If you read Book the First, you know that the Baudelaire orphans, Violet (14,) Klaus (12,) and infant Sunny, have very bad luck, indeed. Their parents died in a terrible fire, and they were sent to live with the horrible Count Olaf. They managed to escape, and now they’re on their way to a new home. Of course, the route to their new home begins on Lousy Lane and crosses over the Grim River.

Dr. Montgomery Montgomery is a herpetologist, which means he studies snakes and reptiles. The orphans don’t know what to expect, so imagine their delight when he greets them at the door with coconut cake, and asks them to call him Uncle Monty. In a week, they’ll all be leaving on a grand adventure to Peru so that Uncle Monty can collect more specimens. While they’re waiting for the new assistant, Stephano, to arrive, the Baudelaires help Uncle Monty prepare for the journey. Violet tests and repairs traps, Klaus reads about the terrain in Peru, and Sunny bites rope into useful lengths.

When Stephano arrives, the children immediately recognize him as the evil Count Olaf. They try to tell Uncle Monty, but he’s too excited about the trip, and Count Olaf has said he would do terrible things if they told. Since this is not a happy book, it should be obvious that things do not turn out well for the children. But, being the smart children that they are, they manage to work together to escape Count Olaf again.

This series is full of dark humor, unlucky events, and interesting words. Intended for ages 10 and up, grownups of all sizes will enjoy the stories and the wit, as well. Because bad things happen to the children (and the author does warn the reader, so you can’t blame him) very sensitive children and overly delicate adults may want to avoid these books and read something nice and happy. For the rest of us, these are highly entertaining chapter books and perfect for sharing with the whole family.

Rating: 8
ISBN# 0-06-440767-5 (hardcover)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dolled Up For Murder - Deb Baker

Dolled Up For Murder
Deb Baker
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery/ Cozy

Any time the phone rings at 3 a.m. you know it can’t be good news. Gretchen Birch answers one of those late night phone calls to hear her Aunt Nina, dramatic as always, telling her that Caroline, Gretchen’s mother, is missing. And that an acquaintance of her mother’s was just found, dead. Gretchen isn’t at all convinced that anything is really wrong, but takes the next flight from her home in Boston to her mother’s home in Phoenix. For once, it appears that Nina wasn’t being quite dramatic enough.

Martha Williams, a one-time doll collector until bankruptcy took everything she had, has spent the past few years homeless, and in an alcoholic haze. Her sad life ended when she took a fall on Camelback Mountain. In her hand was a note that read “Caroline Birch. Put her away.” It’s certainly enough to make the police want to take a look at Caroline, a collector and restorer of antique dolls. Add in the fact that Caroline’s house is situated at the foot of the Mountain, and that witnesses identified Caroline leaving the scene, and it’s clear that she’s in deep trouble. She’s also missing. Gretchen and Nina, both very familiar with the doll collecting community, know that Caroline would never have killed anyone, no matter how bad it looks. They decide to do a little investigating themselves.

This is the first in a new cozy series, and it’s very entertaining. Each chapter is headed with an appropriate quote from a book written by Caroline. While the book may not exist, the information is fascinating, and most helpful to those unfamiliar with the world of dolls and doll collecting. Gretchen is a great new character. She’s intelligent and realistic, and doesn’t simply leap into situations without thinking. Nina, who trains purse dogs, is a more free-spirited character, but the author takes care to make her believable and likeable. The story follows Nina and Gretchen investigating in Phoenix; and Caroline, as she frantically moves around, trying to remain undetected. This sort of dual storyline works perfectly here, and keeps the plot moving at a brisk pace. I’ll look forward to seeing more of these characters in the future.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21263-7 (paperback)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Cat Who Reunion Cookbook - Julie Murphy, Sally Abney Stempinski

The Cat Who… Reunion Cookbook
Julie Murphy and Sally Abney Stempinski
Berkley Prime Crime

Cookbook/ Mystery related

As anyone knows who reads the CAT WHO books by Lilian Jackson Braun, not only are they fun mysteries starring some very clever felines, but they’re also filled with mentions of great-sounding food. Clearly I’m not the only reader who wished for some of the recipes, since these same authors published THE CAT WHO… COOKBOOK in 2003 (paperback available this year.)

This cookbook is arranged in menu form, making it easy to pair and combine dishes. And there are certainly plenty of enticing options. From coffee and tea drinks to breads and biscuits; from appetizers to salads; from entrees to desserts; there’s something here for everyone. And that includes your furry friends. The last section is dedicated to recipes for your feline counterparts, and includes possible after-dinner games like Yarn Ball Unraveling Contest, Pin the Leash on the Dog, and Wastebasket Treasure Hunt.

The authors thoughtfully include a metric conversion chart for quantities and cooking temperatures at the end, and the index makes it easy to see all salads, for example, at a glance. The excerpts from various books and the forward by Ms. Braun make for fun reading for fans. And if you’re just looking for a fun and unusual cookbook with recipes the whole family can enjoy, you’ll want to pick up this one.

Rating: n/a
October 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21188-6 (hardcover)

Parallel Heat - Deidre Knight

Parallel Heat
Deidre Knight
Signet Eclipse

Fantasy/Paranormal/Science Fiction

Note: This is the sequel to PARALLEL ATTRACTION. If you haven’t read the first book, this review contains plot spoilers.

Taking up where PARALLEL ATTRACTION left off, Jared Bennett, kings of an exiled people, and his queen, Kelsey, prepare their people for war. Jared’s people have been settled on Earth for years, but it’s clear that their enemy is willing to bring the war to them; endangering Earth in the process. Sadly, this danger isn’t the only complication facing the royals. A member of Jared’s army is captured by the Air Force, which mistakenly assumes that Jared’s people constitute a threat to Earth.

Thea Haven, Jared’s intelligence officer, grew up secure in the knowledge that she would one day marry the king. She was shocked when he chose to disregard their betrothal and marry another. The arrival of Marco McKinley, an elite warrior and one pledged to guard the king and his household, disturbs Thea for reasons she can’t quite articulate. Marco is immediately attracted to Thea, but resists his feelings because of a specific warning given to him: If he should give in to his desire for Thea, he will go on to betray his king.

Having just read the first novel, I’m pleased to say that this second installment does not suffer at all in comparison. Some threads that were left dangling at the end of the previous book are tied up here, as new plotlines begin to unfurl. These novels defy easy description, and that’s both rare and wonderful. There’s politics, paranormal elements, split timelines, and romance. While perhaps not as straightforward a read as some are used to, the effort is well worth it. I understand that there are more books planned in this series. I wouldn’t miss them.

Rating: 9
October 2006
ISBN# 0-451-21965-1 (paperback)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Parallel Attraction - Deidre Knight

Parallel Attraction
Deidre Knight
Signet Eclipse

Fantasy/Paranormal/Science Fiction

Years ago, vacationing with her parents in Yellowstone, Kelsey, 14, meets the boy she thinks is her soul mate. Jareshk, 16, won’t tell her where he’s from, just that it’s quite far from Yellowstone. In fact, the planet that he rules is light years from Earth. The two share a few innocent but intense days until the transport ship appears and Jareshk must leave. As a precaution, a member of the council erases the memories of both young people.

Kelsey Wells is working on her graduate thesis in geology. She’s always felt inexplicably drawn to a particular area of Yellowstone. One night, while camping out on a sample-collecting trip, she investigates a strange noise. To her shock, at the lake’s edge, she encounters an alien being. Even more amazing, she’s not afraid. She somehow knows that he means her no harm, even though he’s seriously injured and sliding between a human form and some kind of energy form.

Jared Bennett is a warrior and king of an alien race. For the past six years, he’s been based on Earth, hiding in the Tetons, building up the remains of his rebel force. King since the age of ten, Jared is tired. He’s starting to take risks and get sloppy. One night, while testing a new ship, an Air Force jet shoots him down over Yellowstone. Appearing before Kelsey in his injured state, knowing that he might be dying, he takes an enormous risk. Trusting her for reasons he doesn’t quite understand, he bonds with her, transferring vital data to her in the process. Now Kelsey is in danger from the enemies of Jared’s people, and, possibly, from Jared himself.

It’s hard to believe that this is a first novel. The world building is complex and rock solid. The various societies presented here are alien but completely understandable. Both Kelsey and Jared are believable and sympathetic characters. Jared, especially, is effective as a leader who is pulled in many different directions. The prologue, detailing the first meeting of the young couple, is beautiful and heartbreaking. The rest of the novel builds on that, and throws in a very interesting twist. There’s something here for just about any reader: elements of science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, romance, politics, and action. PARALLEL ATTRACTION will keep readers up late at night, unable to stop turning pages. The sequel, PARALLEL HEAT, is available now, and I can’t wait to get started.

Rating: 9
April 2006
ISBN# 0-451-21811-6 (paperback)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Kino No Tabi - Keiichi Sagsawa

Kino No Tabi
Book One of The Beautiful World
Keiichi Sigsawa

Young Adult / Fantasy

When Kino was 11, and not yet calling herself Kino, a traveler came to her village during the final week of her childhood. Kino explained to him that, in order to become a proper adult, every child had an operation that removed the child and left only the grownup. When the traveler questioned this practice, the results were horrific. The end result was that Kino fled the village that was the only home she’d ever known, with only a talking motorcycle as a companion.

Together with Hermes, the motorcycle, Kino travels to different countries, staying only three days in each one. Sometimes they’re nice places. More often, they’re strange, or confusing, or scary, or just plain dangerous. Kino learned how to take care of herself, but she must still use all her wits and skills to survive some places.

This book, taken from the popular anime series, is arranged as several short stories, detailing Kino’s travels. Each chapter is the story of her adventures in a particular country. Although Kino lives in an imagined world, there are plenty of similarities to our own. She’s independent, and can fight if she must, but she’s very relatable. Readers looking for action and adventure will find it here. Readers looking for deeper meaning will find it, too, with thoughtful reading. There are several more installments planned in this series, and I’ll be looking forward to more of Kino and Hermes.

Rating: 7
October 2006
ISBN# 1-59816-455-4 (paperback)

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Priest of Blood - Douglas Clegg

The Priest of Blood
The Vampyricon
Douglas Clegg

Dark Fantasy / Vampire

Aleric was born into the world when Christianity was just taking hold, while the older generations and the peasants still clung to superstitions and pagan beliefs. Born in medieval Brittany to a peasant woman who sells her body to feed her children, Aleric’s future looks bleak. As a child, his grandfather told him stories about how their family was once nobility. Stories his mother, a peasant forced into prostitution to feed her children, denies. An old woman, a healer, tells him that, although he is small, he may come to great things, depending on the path he chooses.

As he grows, he discovers that he has an amazing talent for training predatory birds. Hired by the local Baron and put in charge of his falconry, Aleric becomes known as Falconer. This unexpected elevation in status might have assured him of a decent life, and the ability to help his many half-siblings, had he not fallen in love with the Baron’s daughter. In a rage, the Baron forced Falconer into the army headed to the Holy Land to fight the Crusades.

Far from home, Falconer frees a beautiful woman called Pythia. In return, she turns him into a vampire. Through this change, Falconer receives a vision of a destiny in which he is vampire royalty. He decides to determine the origin of his new species, and to discover the truth (or lack thereof) of his vision. Others of his kind are less than helpful, especially when it becomes clear that he possesses powers that are a bit different from theirs.

This is the first novel in a series, and concentrates mainly on Falconer’s youth. The author takes the conventions of several genres, (medieval fantasy, dark fantasy, and vampire legends) spins them around, and mixes them together to magical result. Told in first person by Falconer as a sort of memoir, looking back over centuries, the voice and writing perfectly evoke the time and place. The pacing is spot-on; the settings, from Brittany to the Holy Land to an alternate reality beyond the Veil, are complex and realistic. The second book in this series, THE LADY OF THE SERPENTS is available now in hardcover from Ace. The final scenes here are something of a cliffhanger, so you’ll want to have both volumes on hand.

Rating: 9
September 2006
ISBN# 0-441-01374-0 (paperback)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Dies the Fire - S. M. Stirling

Dies the Fire
S.M. Stirling

Fantasy/Science Fiction

It’s been said that society is roughly three hot meals away from total anarchy. Meaning that, if essential services like electricity, transportation, and communication break down, society as a whole begins to dissolve. This is the case when The Change happens. The Change occurs in 1998, in a blinding flash of white light. Instantly, all electronic devices are rendered inoperative. It’s after dark, and it quickly becomes clear that battery-operated flashlights and gas-powered generators are also useless. As it happens, The Change has altered gunpowder and other explosive materials, making them harmless. This has its upside and its downside.

There’s no way to fix what’s happened. And it’s happened everywhere. The government finds itself unable to restore order, and chaos reigns. A huge percentage of the population dies off, some because of famine (no modern harvesting or transportation methods available to move the food to the people) and disease (ditto medicines.) The survivors begin to group together and re-establish society. Juniper Mackenzie, a Wiccan, organizes her group of survivors based on Wiccan beliefs and clan structure, seeing The Change as a way to return to a more simple and peaceful lifestyle. Mike Havel, an ex-military pilot forced to land a private plane full of passengers when his engines died during flight, organizes his group along more military lines, believing that ability to defend themselves is paramount in this uncertain time. Norman Arminger, a medieval scholar, decides that power means survival and sets his group to attacking others and stealing their food and resources.

One of the groups in situated near Portland, in Corvallis, site of many a Ren Faire. These people do have a distinct advantage, since the art of blacksmithing, for example, is not lost or completely foreign to them. While this might be a bit of a convenience in storytelling, it’s woven into the plot in such a way that it makes sense and moves things forward, since mankind has suddenly been tossed back into the Dark Ages, technologically speaking. There are many characters and storylines to follow here, making it a rich experience. There are two further novels in this series, THE PROTECTOR’S WAR and A MEETING AT CORVALLIS, both of which will be reviewed here soon. If you enjoy apocalyptic or ‘end of society’ stories, you won’t want to miss this one.

Rating: 8
September 2005
ISBN# 0-451-46041-3 (paperback)

The Beautiful Fall - Alicia Drake

The Beautiful Fall
Little, Brown and Company
Alicia Drake

Nonfiction / History / Fashion

The 1970s were a time of tumult and revolution in fashion. And Paris was ground zero. Fashion reporter Alicia Drake paints a vivid picture of Paris and other fashion hot spots in THE BEAUTIFUL FALL. Of course, no one book could really encompass the entire fashion scene of the time. Instead of taking the broad approach, the book tells the stories of two fashion giants: Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent. These two designers, perhaps above all others, were instrumental in rejuvenating haute couture and its relevance to society at large. They managed this by making couture, once the province of staid ladies who lunch, both accessible and desirable to the international jet set.

Despite their similar iconic status, the two men were virtually polar opposites. While Saint Laurent was quiet and introverted, Lagerfeld was a flamboyant extrovert. Using interviews with an amazing array of friends, colleagues, and fans, a very clear picture emerges of each man and his vision and impact. Anyone from the most casual fashion watcher or student of cultural trends, to “Project Runway” addicts, to dedicated fashionistas will be enthralled with this work. Far from a dry recitation of facts, the author makes those decadent and heady days come alive again. The photo section alone is a time capsule, and worth the price of admission. A very enjoyable, and fashionable, social history.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006
ISBN# 0-316-76801-4

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Oh My Goth - Gena Showalter

Oh My Goth
Gena Showalter
MTV Books

Young Adult

Jade Leigh is a Goth girl, and very proud of it. A little too proud, maybe. She doesn’t care what all the boring Barbies in her high school think about her and her small group of Goth friends. She doesn’t care what her dad, a single father since the death of her mother two years ago, thinks about it. But, inevitably, she crosses the line. She talks back to her trig teacher and arrives at Principal Hamilton’s office one too many times. Expecting to be suspended, at worst, Jade is very surprised when Ms. Hamilton tells her to report back first thing tomorrow morning, when she’ll get her punishment.

The following morning, Jade’s surprise increases when she realizes that her dad has been in conference with the principal already. And she’s confused, if a little amused, to see her nemesis, Mercedes Turner, blonde Barbie and all-around “it” girl, awaiting punishment, too. That punishment will take the form of a field trip. Jade expects a lame trip to a drug rehab or a home for unwed mothers. Instead, she and Mercedes are strapped to tables, injected with who-knows-what, and placed in a virtual reality simulation. Doesn’t sound too bad? Right. Until Jade looks around and realized the whole school is Goth, she’s the much loved “it” girl dating the captain of the football team, and the Barbies are now the outcasts. Her own friends are now Barbies and despise her. No one believes the virtual reality thing. And what's with the hot new guy, Clarik?

Jade narrates the story in first person, and anyone who has ever been to high school will be able to identify with most of what she has to say. Doesn’t matter if you are/were Goth, Barbie, freak, or geek, some things about high school are the same for everyone. Each chapter starts with a great quote from Jade’s journals. Jade’s first day as Popular Girl is both kind of scary, and very funny. Mercedes’ parallel experience as part of the outcast group is entertaining, both for the reader and for Jade. The author blends a great high school story with some interesting fantasy elements. Readers from high school age to adult will find it hard to put this one down.

Rating: 7 ½
July 2006
ISBN# 1-4165-2474-6 (paperback)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Motif for Murder - Laura Childs

Motif for Murder
A Scrapbooking Mystery
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery / Cozy

Carmela Bertrand, owner of New Orleans scrapbooking store Memory Mine, has been through Hurricane Katrina and a very nasty two-year estrangement from her wealthy husband, Shamus. Now, with the store back in operation and her marriage seemingly back on track, she’s living with Shamus in their beautiful Garden District Home. When Shamus offers to cook breakfast, Carmela is worried about the very possible lack of edible result and the very sure presence of a huge mess in the kitchen. Hearing bangs and crashes from the kitchen, she decides to tactfully interfere. To her shock, when she arrives in the kitchen she sees a black Cadillac Eldorado pulled up to the back door, a man quickly closing the trunk, and the car tearing across the back lawn.

Her first reaction is to dial 911 for help. Then, trying to remember what Shamus, whose family owns the Crescent City Bank, told her to do in just such an event, she dashes a few doors down to enlist the aid of Shamus’ Uncle Henry. She finds Uncle Henry, seated in his beloved library, with a bullet hole in his forehead. Returning home, she attempts to explain the incredible events of the back few moments to the police, with the help of her unflappable friend, Ava. Naturally, the two women are unable to stay out of the investigations, and, in short order, have located Shamus. But the murderer is much more evasive. Carmela begins an altered book scrapbook in memory of Uncle Henry that may reveal more than the murderer wants her to see.

Clearly, any series set in New Orleans must mention Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. The author manages to do so here in a manner that is respectful without being overbearing. The first two chapters are a complete flurry of Carmela’s understandably panicked activity, which makes a good contrast to the relative calm of the investigation that follows. I have to admit that I’m more than ready for an end to the on-again, off-again relationship between Carmela and Shamus. Watching an otherwise capable, independent, and intelligent woman dither over this particular man takes a good deal of the fun out of the series. On the other hand, the murder mystery is done very well, and the various secondary characters add an original flair. Ava, in particular, is always a delight. The inclusion of scrapbooking tips at the end rounds out this cozy mystery.

Rating: 6 ½
September 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21204-1 (hardcover)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Witchling - Yasmine Galenorn

Yasmine Galenorn


When the faeries and elves and other ‘legendary’ creatures came out of the closet, so to speak, the world was stunned. But, very quickly, individuals from Otherworld became celebrities of a sort. The D’Artigo sisters are covert operatives, based in a Seattle suburb. They work for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. When they were sent through a portal from Otherworld, they figured that Earthside was the last stop before being fired from the OIA. Instead, life has been about as quiet as could be expected for a trio of sisters who are half human and half Faerie. As covers, Camille, the eldest, a witch with unpredictable powers, runs a bookshop. The youngest, Delilah, a werecat (as in, the cute, tabby housecat variety) keeps a PI office upstairs from the bookshop. And Menolly, recently turned into a vampire in an episode she prefers not to discuss, works nights at the Wayfarer Bar & Grill, one of the hot place for humans to meet other species.

The OIA is tasked with keeping Earth safe from demon overlords and various evil factions from the Subterranean Realms. So far, no problem. But, on a rainy morning, the giant (really) bouncer of the Wayfarer is found dead in the alley. The killer, who had to be huge, strong, and not-human, used a leather cord to strangle the giant. One touch, one smell of the cord tells Camille that the killer was demonic. Camille’s ex, and that’s a whole different story, sends word that the demon behind the killing is most likely Shadow Wing. This is beyond bad. Shadow Wing is ruthless, even by demon standards, and reached his high position by eliminating everyone in his way. Now he wants not only Earth, but Otherworld, as well. And the only ones standing in his way now? The D’Artigo sisters.

This is an excellent start to what promises to be a highly entertaining and magical series. The paranormal elements are blended seamlessly into the “real” world elements. The three sisters are very unique individuals, with very distinct personalities and traits. While Camille’s power is sometimes thrown off-course by her human blood, the author never veers into the absurd. The sisters enjoy their jobs, both covert and overt, and it’s fun to watch them walk the line in between the two. The world building is excellent, making this first novel very satisfying, yet leaving plenty of room for growth. Fans of the paranormal won’t want to miss this one.

Rating: 9
October 2006
0-425-21254-8 (paperback)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Shooting Gallery - Hailey Lind (Review and CONTEST)

Shooting Gallery
An Art Lover’s Mystery
Hailey Lind

Annie Kincaid has packed quite a bit of living into her few decades. After studying at her Grandpapa Georges’ knee, she spent her seventeenth birthday in a Paris prison, accused of art forgery. She was exonerated only because the Parisian experts refused to believe that an American teenager, and a girl, at that, could reproduce such incredible masterworks. But all that’s behind her now, and she’s spent the last several years establishing a very legitimate faux finishing business in San Francisco. Attending an art gallery show should be a fairly routine evening. And it is, until Annie notices something decided wrong in the guest of honor’s sculpture installation.

Seamus McGraw, the sculptor in question, uses the themes of death and torture for his work. Or, as Annie terms it, he’s front the “Life is a Suppurating Cesspool school of art.” But even McGraw wouldn’t go so far as to put his own dead body in the installation. And, just as the police arrive to sort out that mess, the alarm at the Brock Museum next door begins blaring. Someone stole a (relatively minor) Chagall, and one of Annie’s friends looks like he’s the prime suspect. Since she has an alibi for both crimes, Annie’s feeling pretty lucky. Until her wayward mother shows up for an unexpected visit. And it becomes clear that Annie is going to have to use her expertise and the help of one Michael X. Johnson, art thief and fine human specimen, to get to the truth of things.

It’s clear that the writing duo, sisters, know their subject. Information about art history and restoration is sprinkled liberally throughout the novel, making it either more realistic, or more educational, depending on your level of art appreciation. Even readers who wouldn’t know a Chagall from a Picasso will enjoy this second installment of a series. And there are plenty of light-hearted moments to keep things from getting too grim. The quotes from Annie’s larcenous grandfather that begin each chapter are wonderful. My only quibble is that the last scenes tend a bit too much toward slapstick for my taste. But taste is personal, after all. The many threads of mystery are finely woven at the end, making for a satisfying mystery.

Keep reading below for contest details. Contest begins on 10/3.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2006
0-451-21973-2 (paperback)

Author/Artist Announces
Plans for Art Lover's Mystery Contest:
Winner to Receive Portrait by the Author In the
Style of an Old Master!
Details : www.haileylind.com!

SAN FRANCISCO, CA: Julie Goodson-Lawes and her sister Carolyn Lawes, who write under the pen name of Hailey Lind, have announced plans for an unusual contest for readers of their Art Lover's Mystery Series. A fine artist in addition to an author, Ms. Goodson-Lawes will paint a portrait of the winner (or loved one of the winner) of the Art Lover's Mystery Contest in the style of an Old Master - such as Da Vinci, Michaelangelo or Raphael -- from a photograph.
Most art students spend time copying from the works of established artists, and Ms. Goodson-Lawes is no exception. "In the old days, painters trained themselves by copying the Old Masters. I skipped art school in favor of learning by mimicry as well." Her abilities as a copyist led naturally to a career as a decorative painter and muralist based in Oakland, California. "If you want a Monet covering the bathroom walls or your daughter's portrait in the style of John Singer Sargent, I'm the artist to call."
Readers, booksellers, reviewers and other interested parties will be invited to enter the Art Lover's Mystery Contest beginning October 3. (Employees of Penguin Putnam and its subsidiaries will not be eligible to enter.)

Touch A Dark Wolf - Jennifer St. Giles

Touch A Dark Wolf
Jennifer St. Giles
Pocket Books


When Erin Morgan woke up this morning, it was to a nicely ordered life. She worked at the clinic run by hematologist/oncologist Dr. Cinatas. The clinic often treated very wealthy clients, so secrecy was no big surprise. Until Erin walked into a lab and discovered several bodies, medically drained of their blood. Unable to puzzle out the ‘why’ of it all, Erin ran. By evening, she was driving along mountain roads in Tennessee. Nearly blinded by swirling fog, she hits an unseen animal on the road. The animal, a huge black wolf, is thrown onto the hood of her car. One look into its eyes makes her feel that something coldly evil lives inside the wolf. When a silver wolf attacks the black, she makes her escape, only to run off the road in her panic.

Unknown the Erin, the silver wolf is the shifted form of a race known as Shadowmen. Pledged throughout time to protect a group of mortals known as Elan, when in the mortal world, they must take on mortal forms, but are able to shapeshift. Unfortunately for this silver wolf, Jared, the black wolf, an evil Tsara, managed to bite him during the melee. The bite of a Tsara will inevitably turn Jared to evil, as well. The only hope, a long shot at best, will be if Jared can find love in the mortal world. Erin has no idea that she is Elan. Or that Dr. Cinatas does know, and hired her for that very reason, to further his hematology studies. When Erin regains consciousness, she finds Jared, naked and injured, on the hood of her car. She’s seen a lot of strange things in the past 24 hours. Is it enough to make her believe?

Ms. St. Giles has come up with some very interesting twists on the shape-shifter mythos. There are good guys, bad guys, bad guys who used to be good, and bad guys who like it that way. In fact, the political and social structure she has created provides the necessary framework for the story. Not just a tale of paranormal or love, there are political alliances and immortal souls at stake. Erin is believable as a woman who is suddenly shown a whole different world that exists side-by-side with her everyday world. The author keeps the pace brisk, and the plot nicely layered. Another book in this series is planned for sometime next year. I know I’ll be there.

Rating: 8
September 2006
1-4165-1332-9 (paperback)