Thursday, November 30, 2006

One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson

One Good Turn
Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown and Company


Jackson Brody (last seen in CASE HISTORIES) is hanging around outside a theater in Edinburgh, when he witnesses a traffic accident. A Honda rear-ends another car. Pretty standard, so far. Until the Honda driver emerges from the vehicle and beats the other driver with a baseball bat before leaving the scene. The victim of the beating, currently using the name Paul Bradley, is a criminal trying to stay incognito. Getting beaten in a public street in front of several witnesses is not the best way to do that. As a retired detective, Jackson has had his fill of crime. He thinks that giving his report will be the end of it. He has no way of knowing that, later that day, he’ll be the one to discover the dead body of a young Russian woman.

Another witness to the accident is writer Martin Canning. In fact, he actually saved Bradley’s life when his intervention stopped the attack. When Martin arrives home to find that Bradley has paid him a call and done him the dubious favor of snuffing out the life of a supremely irritating houseguest, Martin asks Jackson to be his bodyguard. Then there’s Gloria Hatter, also a witness, who is in the process of ending a long-term marriage to a man of questionable ethics.

If you’ve never read a book by this author, prepare yourself to be amazed, to be awed, and to be slightly and happily confused. Her writing is unique, her storytelling style original. The story is told in an almost elliptical style, with the point of view changing often. There are some clues that are left for the reader to piece together, given what has been said or done by other characters in other scenes. This makes the reader a more active participant in the story, giving the experience a real sense of immediacy. Read it as a mystery, read it as a social commentary, read it as a character study. You won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 9
October 2006
ISBN# 0-316-15484-9 (hardcover)

What Happened to Cass McBride? - Gail Giles

What Happened to Cass McBride?
Gail Giles
Little, Brown and Company

Young Adult/ Suspense

Cass McBride was a golden girl. She’d taken her father’s negotiation (or, maybe, manipulation) lessons very seriously. After all, they’d gotten her dad from nothing to a millionaire. Using her skills and talents for maneuvering people, Cass is all set to become the first junior in her school’s history to be elected Homecoming Queen. Everything is running smoothly. Until one day, before class, hopeless loser David Kirby has the nerve to ask her out on a date. She turns him down, of course. Then leaves a note about it for her best friend. But David finds the note first. The next day, David commits suicide.

While Cass is desperate to hide her stress and guilt over David’s death, David’s older brother Kyle is angry, devastated, and formulating a plan. He’s going to get even with the girl who drove his brother to suicide. He’s going to ruin her life in a way that she cannot imagine. And he’s going to enjoy it. David is dead in his grave. Cass is going in a grave, too. Only she won’t be dead when it happens.

This story is told in a series of flashbacks, beginning with Kyle’s arrest. The chapters alternate between Kyle, Cass, and a police detective. While this might normally be confusing, it’s a very effective device here; and really necessary to tell the entire story. The story and emotions are very dark and intense, possibly too dark and intense for many younger readers. For older readers, though, say 15 and up, it’s one of those books that you read in one sitting, racing to discover the fate of each character. What happened to Cass McBride? It isn’t pretty; and you’ll probably have trouble forgetting.

Rating: 8
November 2006
ISBN# 0-316-16638-3 (hardcover)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dead Man Rising - Lilith Saintcrow

Dead Man Rising
A Dante Valentine Novel
Lilith Saintcrow
Warner Aspect

Dark/Urban Fantasy

Note: This is a sequel to the excellent novel WORKING FOR THE DEVIL. If you haven’t read the first book, this review contains some serious plot spoilers.

You might say that Dante Valentine’s life is a bit complicated. For instance, she’s not an ordinary bounty hunter; she’s a highly trained psion. Just a year ago, she did a job for Lucifer. During that time, she became lovers with the partner she was forced to work with: Japhrimel, a demon. In order to save her life, Japh turned her into a half-demon, making her very powerful and impervious to nearly everything. His act of kindness/love made him a fallen demon. His death, and the sacrifices he made for her, haunts Danny. In a bid to regain his place in her life, her ex, Jace, a Shaman, moved back in with her.

For the past year, Dante has tried to escape her grief by throwing herself into her work, with some impressive results. When her friend, a police detective, asks for her help on a serial killer case, Dante is more than willing. Especially when she discovers that the victims were all psions. It’s pretty clear that no ordinary killer could get through their protective wards. In addition, all of the victims once attended Rigger Hall. That little fact hits Dante hard. She spent much of her childhood at Rigger Hall, a training school for psion children. It was not a happy experience, and she’s managed to block out most of it. Now it’s obvious that she’s going to have to revisit the place and people that made her childhood a living hell.

Dante Valentine is one of the best new characters to come along in urban fantasy. While she’s tough as nails in a fight, she’s still able to reveal a vulnerable, human side. The murder mystery makes perfect use of her background and skills, and nicely contrasts her current life with her past. While it’s not absolutely necessary to read the first novel in the series before reading this one, I’d recommend it. The first novel gives so much background and history, that it makes this one just that much richer. These books are dark, so readers looking for ‘happily ever after’ may want to look elsewhere. Readers looking for an exceptional, gritty, dark fantasy should pick up this one immediately.

Rating: 9
September 2006
ISBN# 0-446-61671-0 (paperback)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Playing With Fire - Gena Showalter

Playing with Fire
Gena Showalter


Belle Jamison has had all manner of menial and low-level jobs. Currently, she’s a “coffee wench.” She’s taken this job, and others like it, in an effort to support her ailing father, who lives in an assisted living facility. Far from being resentful, she’s happy to do this for her dad, in return for her own happy, carefree childhood. When she wakes up late for work one morning, Belle figures it’ll be just another normal day. But, during her morning break, a man in a lab coat bursts into the coffee shop, pursued by two burly men. He begs Belle for help, saying his life is in danger. While Belle phones 911, the man disappears in the confusion.

Heading home that evening, Belle suddenly feels like she’s got the world’s worst flu. She barely makes it to her bed, where she spends untold time sick, in pain, and hallucinating. When she wakes up, she sees what she thinks is the Angel of Death next to her bed. The (incredibly attractive) Angel of Death is talking into a walkie-talkie. Turns out, his name is Rome Masters and he works for an outfit called the PSI. The man in the lab coat slipped something into Belle’s mocha-latte-cchino-thing, and Rome is there to eliminate her if she poses a threat. Which she does, since she now possesses the power to control the four elements. But Rome offers a deal: he’ll teach her how to use her new powers if she helps him protect his daughter.

As a rule, I’m not a big fan of the first-person perspective in novels. I make a serious exception for Gena Showalter. I’ve only read two of her books thus far (this one, and OH MY GOTH) but they’re both examples of how first-person can be perfect in the right hands. Belle is sarcastic and irreverent; but she’s never abrasive or mean. Rome is definitely an alpha male, but he never edges into savage/jerk territory. The relationship between them starts out in dire circumstances, but grows in a very believable way. The paranormal aspects were done very well. Belle’s powers; the rules of the fictional world; and the power struggle between Belle and Rome; and the two shadowy paranormal agencies looking for them all add extra depth. I’m looking forward to much more from this talented author.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006
ISBN# 0-373-77129-0 (paperback)

Cross - James Patterson

James Patterson
Little, Brown and Company


Longtime readers of the Alex Cross books will know that, back in 1993, Maria, Alex’s beloved wife, was gunned down in an apparent drive-by shooting. The first part of this novel takes readers back to that time and details the events leading up to her death. During that time, a mob hit man who calls himself The Butcher was operating in the DC area. It was The Butcher’s extra-curricular activities during this time that brought him into Cross’ orbit.

In the present, Alex is still working with the FBI. That is, until an all-night, emergency call to a hostage situation during what should have been a family weekend sets off explosions at home. The children, Damon, Jannie, and little Alex, are disappointed. It’s Nana, Alex’s grandmother, who’s nuclear. At her rather firm insistence, Alex decides to ditch the danger and all-night calls for the more stable life of a private psychology practice. It isn’t long, though, before John Sampson, Alex’s longtime friend and partner in the DCPD, asks for his help. They’re tracking a serial rapist through Georgetown. When Alex discovers a possible link to the death of his wife, Maria, there’s nothing that could get him off the case.

Like many of the author’s constructs, The Butcher is a very scary character. It’s a testament to the author that he’s able to work in background details of the killer and how he got to this point in life. It makes things more interesting. As always Nana is the center of family life, and I enjoyed the scene where she, angry that Alex is still taking risks, “quits the family.” The story is told in trademark Patterson style, with very short chapters seeming to add urgency; and certainly encouraging the reader to continue turning pages. As always, make sure you’ve got some time blocked out before you start this one. You’ll find yourself reading compulsively from the first page.

Rating: 8 ½
November 13, 2006
ISBN# 0-316-75979-4 (hardcover)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cirque Du Freak: Sons of Destiny - Darren Shan

Sons of Destiny
Cirque Du Freak, Book 12
Darren Shan
Little, Brown

Young Adult/Horror

WARNING: This review gives away plot points from previous books in the series. You should probably read those books before reading this review.

This installment picks up mere moments after the cliffhanger ending of Book 11. The confrontation inside the old movie house is over, and the evil Steve Leonard, Lord of the Vampaneze (cousins to the more well-known vampires) fled with his remaining minions. Vampire Prince Darren Shan is left to contemplate, however briefly, the aftermath of their meeting. Part of the group breaks off to return to the Cirque Du Freak. Darren, his fellow Prince, Vancha, and the strange with, Evenna, have other work to do.

The odd trio makes its way to Darren’s childhood home, which is now occupied by his adult sister Annie and her son. Somehow, they have to convince Annie that vampires really exist and that her son is in terrible danger. During this tense conversation, news reaches the group that police have surrounded the campsite of the Cirque Du Freak. The police believe that dangerous individuals are inside the site (if they only knew!) and are ready to storm the place, using lethal force. Darren and his friends have no choice. It’s clear that the endgame will begin in the middle of the Cirque Du Freak campsite.

This is the final installment of this series. You might think that, at this point, there’s nothing new to find out about the various characters. You would be very wrong! The finale is just as exciting and unexpected as everything that went before it. For new readers, or readers who just need a bit of a refresher after eleven books, the Prologue perfectly sums up what has gone on in previous novels. I won’t give anything away about the ending, but I will say that it was not at all what I expected; but it was very interesting and, thinking back, it seems like the right way to end things. Not for very young readers or readers who scare easily, this novel contains violence and gore. For young adult readers (and plain old adult readers) who enjoy horror, this is an exceptional series and a great addition to vampire literature.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006
ISBN# 0-316-15629-9 (hardcover)

Cirque Du Freak: Lord of the Shadows - Darren Shan

Lord of the Shadows
Cirque Du Freak, Book 11
Darren Shan
Little, Brown

Young Adult/Horror

WARNING: This review gives away plot points from previous books in the series. You should probably read those books before reading this review.

This book picks up roughly two years after Vampire Prince Darren Shan and Little Person Harkat were sent to the wasteland to discover Harkat’s previous identity. The two friends have been spending time traveling with the Cirque Du Freak. Everything is fairly quiet until the Cirque’s manager, Mr. Tall, tells Darren that their next stop is Darren’s hometown. Darren hasn’t been home in almost two decades. His family believes that he is dead. While he appreciates Mr. Tall’s warning, he decides to stay with the Cirque. Everyone feels that this is one of those turning points in history.

Darren manages to stay inside the Cirque’s camp for most of their stay in his hometown, but, eventually, the desire to see old places and maybe catch a glimpse of people from his past proves too great. His trip has consequences that even he could not foresee. It doesn’t take long before the vampires’ enemies, the vampaneze, show up, taunting Darren and committing a foul act of murder. The victim was someone known to both Darren, and the leader of the vampaneze, the evil and power-hungry Steve Leonard. With all the players in the same place, Darren is unable to forget the prophecy stating that either he, or Steve, will become the Lord of the Shadows, who will lay waste to the world.

If you haven’t read the previous books in the series, you’re probably not going to understand any of that. If you have, you must realize that we’re getting very close now to the final battle. In fact, the next book is the finale. This one brings Steve and Darren face to face. This time, Steve has a secret weapon that’s pretty shocking. It should be pretty clear that there’s violence, blood, and gore, here, so this is not a good choice for younger kids or young adults who are easily frightened. Anyone who likes a good, scary story, though, will love this series.

Rating: 8
May 2006
ISBN# 0-316-15626-0 (hardcover)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Straight On 'Til Morning - Christopher Golden

Straight On ‘Til Morning
Christopher Golden

Dark Fantasy

Kevin Murphy is 13 and in love with his neighbor and best friend, 15-year-old Nikki French. That this love is unrequited makes the situation only slightly more painful, as anyone who has ever been a teenager can tell you. Kevin’s anguish worsens when it becomes clear that Nikki is one of those girls who is compulsively attracted to the ‘bad boy’ sort. She swears this new boy is different, but when Kevin meets Peter Starling, he knows that Nikki is very, very wrong.

While Kevin attempts to get Nikki to see reason without losing her friendship, her relationship with Peter progresses. One night, Kevin witnesses Nikki’s abduction by Peter. To his shock, he watches Peter and Nikki fly over his head, and hears Peter say something about “second to the right… and straight on ‘til morning.” Enlisting the help of his brother and friends, Kevin mounts a rescue attempt. He has no idea that they’re about to enter a world that no human was meant to see: Neverland.

This is not the Neverland that Disney envisioned. This is a dark, and violent place, populated by various mythological creatures, and being torn apart by a civil war. While the pacing in the first half of the story is a bit slow, the deep characterization makes everything that comes after that much more important. It’s a beautiful rendering of the pain and joys of being 13 and poised between childhood and adulthood. The second part, set in Neverland, has a dark beauty of its own, and seems to move more quickly. I was honestly disappointed when this one came to an end. I hope there will be a continuation of some sort in the future. This is an unusual blend of coming-of-age and dark fantasy, and not to be missed.

Rating: 8 ½
September 2006 (reissue)
ISBN# 0-451-46106-1 (trade paperback)

NOTE: Despite the Neverland and Peter Pan references, this book is not intended for children/young adult readers.

Bubbles All The Way - Sarah Strohmeyer

Bubbles All The Way
Sarah Strohmeyer


Bubbles Yablonsky, reporter, amateur sleuth, and ardent proponent of big hair and short skirts, may be in the most bizarre predicament of her life. And trust me, that’s saying something. On the one hand, there’s the gorgeous Steve Stilleto, former photojournalist and willing groom. Bubbles has been waiting for this proposal, hoping for it, and now that it’s happened, she has to refuse to marry him. Why? Because her snake of an ex-husband, Dan, has also asked her to marry him. Not for love, because they despise each other; nor even, as he claims, for the good of their daughter, whom they both adore. No, he’s blackmailing her into this remarriage by threatening to have her declared an unfit mother. The why of it? You’d have to ask Dan.

Across town at the House of Beauty, Debbie Shatsky finally grants the fervent and long-held wishes of the local society wives and dies. She leaves behind a husband who cooks, hates sports, and looks practically perfect in every way. Bubbles gets involved when her best friend, Sandy, owner of the House of Beauty, is blamed for the death. According to early reports, Sandy intentionally caused a fatal allergic reaction. Bubbles doesn’t believe it, and puts aside her current marital strife (yes, she’s having strife without even being married) to look into the suspicious death. Did I mention that Santa is stalking Bubbles? With anyone else, that might be surprising.

This latest installment of the Bubbles series should please longtime readers. There are plenty of hijinks, some interesting developments with Dan and with Steve, and Bubbles’ patented outlook on life. The one major problem is that the solution seems very rushed and insubstantial. That aside, readers who look forward to visiting Bubbles and her friends will enjoy this frothy, dare I say, bubbly, novel.

Rating: 7
November 2006
ISBN# 0-451-41227-3 (paperback)

Friday, November 17, 2006

High Heels Are Murder - Elaine Viets

High Heels Are Murder
Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper
Elaine Viets


You’d think that being a mystery shopper sent to a high-end shoe boutique would be a pretty posh assignment. In this case, you’d be incorrect. Josie Marcus is getting bonus pay for this job. The store’s management has been getting some complaints about their top salesman, Mel Poulaine. It seems that Mel likes shoes. A lot. A whole lot. So, Josie’s job, in addition to trying on fabulous shoes she can’t keep, is to figure out if there’s really something off about Mel. When she catches him in the storeroom, about to defile her blameless secondhand Prada pumps, her subsequent report leads, naturally, to the termination of Mel’s employment.

While all that would make for an amusing story, things get serious the very next day when Josie sees a newspaper article, detailing Mel’s violent death. As it turns out, Mel lived in a very exclusive area where houses start at a couple million. How could a shoe salesman afford the house, and the housekeeper who found his body? It isn’t long before the snoop of Josie’s neighborhood, Mrs. Mueller, is at Josie’s door. Mrs. Mueller has always disliked Josie, and holds up her daughter, Cheryl, as a woman living a perfect, upscale, married life. To Josie’s chagrin, her own mother agrees with this assessment. But karma works in mysterious ways. Mrs. Mueller wants Josie’s help. It seems that Cheryl is linked to Mel, possibly in a romantic relationship, and she’s the prime suspect in his death.

This is the second in this highly entertaining series, and works quite well as a standalone novel. Josie’s reactions to Cheryl’s problems, after a lifetime of living in her shadow, are absolutely realistic. Josie is a great character; believable, likeable, a single mom working to give her daughter the best in life, and coming to understand her own mother in the process. The mystery moves from the upper echelons of St. Louis society to some very seedy places, keeping readers guessing as to the final outcome. The author alternates between the case, Josie’s home life, and her work, which sometimes makes the pacing a bit uneven, but all in all, the book doesn’t suffer for that. And, for shoe lovers, there are some great tips included to help you shop for, and find, that elusive ‘perfect’ shoe.

Rating: 7 ½
November 2006
ISBN# 0-451-21988-0 (paperback)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Television Without Pity - Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting

Television Without Pity
752 Things We Love to Hate (and Hate to Love) About TV
Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting
Quirk Books

Nonfiction/ Humor

Television Without Pity ( may be the most entertaining website out there. If you like TV, if you hate TV, if you like to hate TV, it’s your kind of place. There are hilariously funny recaps of hundreds of shows and specials; and discussion forums for each. I admit, up front, that I’m a fan of the site and post fairly frequently, albeit under an assumed name to avoid prosecution. This site, and the wickedly funny recapper, Demian, kept me watching “Charmed” long past saturation point, just for the recaps. Demian, I don’t know how to thank you. No, scratch that. I don’t know why to thank you. (He’s not the only one, but we’re not here to discuss my addiction.) Each entry in the book reads like a tiny, little recap.

A few sample entries include:
- Crying Pam, about the lady from Trading Spaces who tried to tell Doug not to touch her fireplace

- Kutcher, Ashton, whose entry reads in its entirety: See: That 70s Show and “TV Producers, Unqualified Celebrities As”

- Melrose Place, that directs readers, at the end of the entry to: “Amanda Woodward;” Beverly Hills 90210; Cross, Marcia; Scenery, Chewers Of; Shue, Andrew; Spelling, Aaron; and Spin-Offs

- New York City, Clichéd/Inaccurate Portrayals Of, whose entry ends with, see also: Felicity; Friends; Law & Order Franchise; Real Estate, Vastness Of; Seinfeld; and Sex and the City.

This volume is arranged like an encyclopedia of all things TV. Actors, characters, shows, producers, commercials, catchphrases, they’re all here. Beginning with “Aames, Willie” and ending with “Zoboomafoo” (the who in the what now?) the authors managed to cover an amazing amount of material here. Which is only fair, since TV has provided the viewing public with a cornucopia of material on which to snark. And sometimes it was even intentional.
Rating: 9
November 2006
ISBN# 1-59474-117-4 (trade paperback)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Death of a Musketeer - Sarah D'Almeida

Death of a Musketeer
A Musketeers Mystery
Sarah D’Almeida
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery – Historical

In 1625 Paris, 17-year-old D’Artagnan believes he’s about to die. For various reasons, he has duels scheduled with three musketeers: Athos, Aramis, and Porthos. He’s in the middle of his first duel, with Athos, outside the convent of the Barefoot Carmelites, when a group of the Cardinal’s guard stops them, reminding them that dueling is against the law. Naturally, this results in the Cardinal’s guard squaring off against the musketeers. D’Artagnan acquits himself so well in battle that he joins the other three for a day of drinking to their victory. At the end of that day, the group stumbles upon the body of a musketeer in an alley.

There are several points for concern. First, the musketeer did not die honorably; he was clearly murdered. Second, the musketeer is not a male at all, but a young woman. Last but certainly not least is the fact that the dead woman looks exactly like Queen Anne of France. Realizing that the death of the Queen would cause problems on an international scale, not to mention the scandal surrounding the reasons for her being out of the palace alone, the four decide to investigate the murder. No matter who the woman was, they reason, she deserves to have her murderer brought to justice. It quickly becomes clear that the dead woman was a double for the Queen. Instead of clearing things up, this revelation only muddies the waters. Their investigation takes them from filthy alleyways to the rooms of the most nobly born.

The novel opens with a note from the author, discussing her receipt of several very old diaries written by D’Artagnan, with many additional notes by the other three. The diaries detail a series of investigations undertaken by the famous musketeers. Reader of Dumas will recognize many events in this installment, the first in a wonderfully promising new series. The author clearly loves Dumas and his characters and does an excellent job of furthering their adventures. The next installment is due out next spring, and I can’t wait.

Rating: 8
November 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21292-0 (paperback)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

River's Edge - Marie Bostwick

River’s Edge
Marie Bostwick
Kensington Books

Women’s Fiction – Historical

Elise Braun was born in 1925 to a proudly Prussian military family. Her father was fifth-generation military, and descended from General Yorck, a hero of the Napoleonic Wars. Her early childhood was quite orderly and content until her mother became ill. Elise cared for her mother as long as she was able, but in those days, consumption killed. Her mother’s legacy to Elise was her skill at the piano, a skill that would carry her through some very rough times.

In 1939, with Hitler gearing up for war, Elise’s father sent her to America to live with distant relatives, Reverend and Mrs. Muller. The Muller family, including five children, lived in the Connecticut River Valley near the village of Brightfield. Elise has a difficult time adjusting to life in a noisy, bustling Yankee household. When the war begins, she worries for her father, an officer in the German army. It’s not until the United States enters the war that her loyalties are truly divided. By this time, she’s come to love her new family and friends, but still feels loyalty to her country of birth and her father.

This is a lovely story of a young girl losing her mother, being uprooted from everything she knows, and finding the strength to make a new life for herself. Elise tells the story in first person, and admits that, quite often, she was childishly self-centered when larger issues surrounded her. Since the story is told from her point of view, it’s nice to watch things unfold; especially her different takes on various events as she matures. This story should appeal to readers of Christian fiction, of romantic fiction, historical fiction, and those who enjoy a well-done coming-of-age story.

Rating: 7
September 2006
ISBN# 0-7582-0991-6 (trade paperback)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

When Gods Die - C. S. Harris

When Gods Die
A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery
C. S. Harris
New American Library

Mystery – Historical

In June of 1811, George, Prince Regent, is holding a series of musical evenings at the Pavilion in Brighton. During one such evening, he enters to find a young woman reclining on a couch, apparently waiting for him. Then, as happens often, George (Prinny) seems to black out; when he comes to, it’s clear that the young woman is dead. Now Prinny is in a spot. To be caught in a compromising position with a young woman is one thing; to be caught in the same circumstances with a young woman who is not only the wife of a Marquis, but also dead, will be a great scandal. When a guest opens the door to the room, all is revealed. The local magistrate and the royal physicians quickly declare that the woman, Guinevere Anglessey, committed suicide. An interesting trick, considering the jeweled dagger protruding from her back.

Lord Jarvis, distant cousin of Prinny and widely acknowledged brains behind the monarchy, sends for Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. Jarvis wants someone intelligent to look into the matter, and, having weathered a similar investigation recently, not to mention acquitting himself well during battle, he feels that Sebastian is just the man for the job. It soon becomes obvious that this death is more than suspicious. First, Guinevere was a woman of impeccable reputation; not one to cuckold her much-older husband. In addition, it was well known that she was newly with child. Her body was far too cold for her to have died that evening. And there was a conspicuous lack of blood around the dagger wound. Was she killed by someone looking to discredit Prinny? Or by her husband’s nephew, in order to eliminate an heir and secure his inheritance? Or is there even more to the case than meets the eye?

Sebastian is a great character. He’s a member of the ton, which means he can move about in Society with ease. But he’s equally at ease in the slums and back alleys, talking to informants. His experience in war and at home (in WHAT ANGELS FEAR, 11/05) has taught him the harsh realities of life, making him very realistic. His intelligence and sense of justice make him an intriguing character. The author brings the world of Regency England to vivid life, through description, dialogue, and attitude. The mystery to be solved looks deceptively simple on the surface, but takes the readers through all strata of society before arriving at the solution. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9 ½
November 2006
ISBN# 0-451-21968-6 (hardcover)

Heart Quest - Robin D. Owens

Heart Quest
Robin D. Owens
Berkley Sensation

Fantasy/Paranormal Romance

On the faraway planet of Celta, everyone is free to marry as they please. But the fondest wish of most is to find their destined soul mate, called a HeartMate; the two will then bond so closely and irrevocably that the death of one often means the death of both. The inhabitants of Celta are gifted with psi powers to varying degree. Trif Clover, although young, is searching for her HeartMate. She’s made a charmkey to aid her in her desperate and (literal) door-to-door search for him.

Ilex Winterberry, a Guardsman, is more than aware that he is Trif’s HeartMate. In the normal course of things, the two would come together and remain together. But Ilex has grave misgivings. First, he’s more than twice her age. Second, and more importantly, Ilex has foreseen, through his psi power, that his life will be short. He feels that it would be cruel to sentence Trif to an early death, as well. And he has other pressing problems. He’s investigating a series of murders. Someone is targeting individuals with unstable psi powers, killing them, and consuming their hearts as a means of absorbing their power. When Trif’s unstable psi makes her an irresistible target, Ilex has to get involved.

This is the latest in a series, but the author cleverly connects the books so that they can be read in any order, or as standalone novels. As in HEARTMATE, the first book in the series, the world building is excellent. The city, the society, the interaction of the people, all flow together, underpinned by realistic detail. The characters are complex and all act according to their beliefs; their motives make perfect sense to them. This time, there’s the added layer of the murder investigation to keep things fresh. Anyone who enjoys fantasy or paranormal romance will be thrilled to discover this series. I’ve read two volumes so far, and they’re both keepers.

Rating: 9
September 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21084-7 (paperback)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Gaits of Heaven - Susan Conant

Gaits of Heaven
A Dog Lover’s Mystery
Susan Conant
Berkley Prime Crime

Mystery / Cozy

Holly Winter, dog trainer and writer, is learning the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished. She had such good intentions when she offered up obedience classes for a charity auction. The winners, Ted Green and Eumie Brainard-Green are therapists. If you live in Cambridge or its environs, you know that means they’re psychotherapists. You also knows that means they’re… eccentric. So, when they show up for obedience classes with a golden Aussie huskapoo (the newest, pointless designer breed, comprised of Golden retriever, Australian shepherd, Siberian husky, and poodle) it’s not a big surprise that they’re a couple of weeks late. Nor is it surprising that they don’t like to impose limits on their dog, which means no leash and no training.

Unwilling to inflict Dolfo the huskapoo on a beginner class, Holly eventually agrees to conduct some training at Ted and Eumie’s home. While the first session goes fairly well, with Dolfo doing far better than his bipedal parents with the concept, there’s clearly a lot of work to be done. When Holly arrives for their second meeting, she finds Ted waiting for a phone call and Eumie still in bed. When Ted says he can’t rouse Eumie, Holly, despite her trepidations, tries to help, but it’s obvious that Eumie is dead. Caprice, Eumie’s daughter from a previous marriage, tells Holly that both Ted and Eumie availed themselves liberally of the services of a psychopharmacologist. Translation: they take pills, lots and lots of pills. For all that, Caprice claims that her mother was careful with them and doesn’t believe the accidental overdose theory. Holly finds herself in the middle of a severely dysfunctional family and a murder investigation. And all to help poor, happy, good-natured Dolfo learn to be a good boy.

This is the latest in a long series of mysteries from this author. Although I’m owned by cats, I love dogs and enjoy vicariously interacting with the canine characters in Ms. Conant’s books. The mystery set-up here is interesting, and the follow-through is done well. One strangely sour note is Holly’s odd reaction to the sad, overweight Harvard student, Caprice. She seems fixated on the girl’s weight as if she’s never met a fat person before in her life. Seriously, Holly, the girl lost her mother three hours ago, and you’re worried about feeding her tuna salad with mayo for lunch because it’s fattening? That’s just weird. Unfortunately, this issue crops up numerous times over the course of the novel, to the point that other characters start to call her on it. While I enjoyed the mystery, this book proves that often, dogs are nicer than humans.

Rating: 5
November 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21187-8 (hardcover)

Cooking Up Murder - Miranda Bliss

Cooking Up Murder
A Cooking Class Mystery
Miranda Bliss
Berkley Prime Crime


At 35, Annie Capshaw thought she’d be in a much different place in her life. Instead, she’s just finalized a divorce after her erstwhile husband found “true love” with the girl who works for the dry cleaner. Eve DeCateur, Annie’s best friend since preschool, thinks she’s found a way to cheer up Annie. She’s enrolled them both in a ten day cooking class. For Eve, it’s just another in a long line of opportunities to meet men. For Annie, it’s a potential disaster, since she can’t cook at all. When they arrive and meet the instructor, Jim MacDonald, they’re both glad to be there.

On the way home from the first class, Eve realizes she’s left her watch behind and the two return to retrieve it. Arriving at the site, they find one of their classmates having a terrible argument with a large man. Exiting the building, Annie nearly trips over the man, who now lies dying on the pavement. Before his death, he utters a few words and gives Annie a receipt. Not trusting the police to thoroughly investigate, and worried about their classmate’s odd behavior, Annie and Eve decide to get to the bottom of things.

The first in a promising new series, COOKING UP MURDER introduces two very different, but very likeable, main characters. Annie and Eve are very different in outlook and personality, but they are supportive of each other as only lifelong friends can be. The cooking class provides an interesting mix of people, and plenty of interesting characters. The cooking segments make me want to head for the kitchen, as do the included recipes. Here’s hoping to see more of these two amateur cooks and sleuths.

Rating: 7 ½
November 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21291-2 (paperback)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Meeting At Corvallis - S. M. Stirling

A Meeting at Corvallis
S.M. Stirling

Alternative History

Note: This novel is the third volume in a trilogy that begins with DIES THE FIRE and continues in THE PROTECTOR’S WAR.

Ten years ago, an event now known as The Change obliterated all modern technology. In a second, anything that relied on electricity or batteries ceased to function. Explosives and weapons underwent a fundamental change, rendering them useless. Soon after, widespread famine and disease killed off a huge percentage of the population. But many pockets of humanity managed to thrive.

In Oregon, the city-state of Corvallis provides a safe haven. The university still operates, trade and transportation are accomplished by using riverboats, and farming using medieval methods has provided enough food. The Bearkillers, led by ex-military pilot Mike Harvel, keep the peace and defend the area around Salem; and a short distance away, Clan Mackenzie lives in peace and pagan ways under high priestess Juniper Mackenzie. Lord Protector Norman Arminger, a self-styled warlord who keeps his people in line through brutality, war, and inquisition controls the area around Portland. And like any warlord, is never satisfied with the size of his holding. Other groups include a monastery at Mount Angel, one of the only places that provides asylum to those who have escaped the Lord Protector; and those who model their society after Tolkein’s Middle Earth.

This huge cast of characters requires extensive set-up, which is provided in the first two installments. With so many factions, there’s plenty of political maneuvering and jockeying for power. What’s clear is that conflict between the peaceful settlements and the Lord Protector is inevitable. For readers who enjoy the details of military actions, there’s plenty to enjoy here. And, for those who are more interested in the characters, some very interesting subplots come into play in this third installment, making it perhaps the most satisfying of the three.

In many post-apocalypse books, the cast spends a great deal of time pouting and bemoaning what has been lost. In this series, the characters are amazingly adept at putting the past behind them, dealing with the present circumstances, and moving forward. That makes for a much more enjoyable read. With the characters fully invested in their present, it makes it much easier for the reader to invest, as well. It also means that the characters are far less interested in why The Change happened than in how to cope with current life. While some readers might not be happy with the ending, I found it to be very fitting.

Rating: 8 ½
October 2006
ISBN# 0-451-46111-8 (hardcover)

Grave Surprise - Charlaine Harris

Grave Surprise
Charlaine Harris
Berkley Prime Crime

Paranormal Mystery

Harper Connelly is used to disbelief when it comes to her unique ability. Thanks to being hit by lightning at the age of 15, she’s capable of detecting dead bodies. Of course, there are plenty of people who think she’s performing parlor tricks and scamming desperate families. One such person is Professor Clyde Nunley. As a sort of test, he invites her to come to Memphis and perform in a controlled experiment.

Dr. Nunley’s field of battle turns out to be an old graveyard. Not a tough place to find dead bodies. But Harper can also get a sense of how long the person has been dead, something of the manner of that death, and sometimes a name. Standing on a grave, she startles everyone by announcing that there are two bodies buried there. One, dead several centuries, belongs there. The other body belongs to young Tabitha Morgenstern. Harper knows the name; she was called in on the search when the child disappeared two years ago in Nashville. The fact that Harper knows this body is a bit too much of a coincidence for the police, particularly when Nunley is found dead. Once again, Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver need to solve the case to keep themselves out of jail.

This is the second in the new series by the writer of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. There are plenty of secondary characters here that move in and out of Harper’s base of operations. The family of the dead girl, the police, Nunley, the FBI, all take part in the story. In this case, readers get a more complete picture of Harper’s and Tolliver’s family and past; and also fleshes out the very complex relationship between the stepsiblings. The plotting and pacing is more sure in this second outing, making it just a cut better than the first. This is a nice way to beat the infamous sophomore slump! I’m looking forward to more in this series.

Rating: 8
October 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21203-3 (hardcover)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Grave Sight - Charlaine Harris

Grave Sight
Charlaine Harris
Berkley Prime Crime

Paranormal Mystery

You might naturally assume that getting hit by a bolt of lightning would change your life. What you might not assume is that the bolt would leave you with a unique ability. Harper Connelly, 24, the recipient of that life-changing bolt, can sense dead bodies. She can also get a general sense of the manner of death and how long they’ve been dead. Sometimes, she can even get a partial name to go with the remains. You’d be surprised how many are just lying around, everywhere, patiently waiting to be found.

That ability brings her and her stepbrother/manager, Tolliver, to the small Ozark town of Sarne. A young couple briefly disappeared. The boy was soon found, the victim of an apparent suicide. The girl has not been found, leaving the dead boy as the obvious suspect. It doesn’t take long for Harper to locate the girl’s body. And she’s hardly surprised when the people who hired her to do this very thing are less than thrilled that she succeeded. What she doesn’t expect is threats on her life, and the arrest of Tolliver before they’re able to blow town. It’s clear that something much more sinister is going on in the little town.

This is the first in a new paranormal series by the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Harper is an interesting character with a talent that’s both fascinating and semi-repellant. Her stepbrother, Tolliver, makes an interesting ‘normal’ foil for her paranormal ability. The little town of Sarne is pretty creepy all on its own. As with many very small towns, there are the power players, some more benevolent than others; and hidden secrets, some better hidden than others. I’m anxious to see how this series progresses.

Rating: 7
September 2006
ISBN# 0-425-21289-0 (paperback)