Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Step On A Crack - James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Step On A Crack
James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
Little, Brown and Company


Patterson begins a new series here, starring detective Michael Bennett of the NYPD who acts as investigator, negotiator, and all-around troubleshooter. He’s got plenty of trouble on the home front, too. He and his wife, Maeve, adopted ten children of various backgrounds, and now he and the children are watching cancer whittle Maeve down day by day. His attention is forced back to his job, however, when armed men take over St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the funeral of a beloved former First Lady.

After a bit of negotiating, Bennett is able to get the men to release a good number of the mourners. Those released are the everyday people; the celebrities, movers, and shakers are still inside. It quickly becomes clear that the armed men had this planned all along, as they demand millions from various celebrities. When those demands go unanswered, the killings begin.

As first books in new series go, this is a pretty good example. There’s a lot of ground to cover, since Bennett is constantly being pulled from the hostage site to the hospital to his children. And the authors spend a good deal of time with the coldly efficient killers, as well. Characterizations are a bit thin on the ground, but the opening scene between the former President and former First Lady, while necessarily a set piece that drives the rest of the action; rings true and emotionally invests the reader from the first paragraphs. From the surprising first chapters on, the pace is quick and assured. Another page-turner.

Rating: 7 ½
February 2007
ISBN# 0-316-01394-3 (hardcover)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Damage Control - Robert Dugoni

Damage Control
Robert Dugoni
Warner Books


Dana Hill is used to performing a daily balancing act as both mother to a three year old, and a practicing attorney. Her life looks pretty good, all things considered. Then, within a week, she’s diagnosed with breast cancer; she discovers her husband is cheating on her; and her twin brother, James, is brutally murdered in what looks like a botched robbery attempt in his home.

Never one to shrink from unpleasantness, Dana decides that the best thing she can do at the moment is pursue her brother’s killer. This means putting off her own medical treatment, but Dana is on a mission. Looking through the mess left in her brother’s home, she’s shocked to discover a unique and obviously wildly expensive diamond earring. Using this piece of jewelry as a starting point, she enlists the aid of skeptical detective Mike Logan. Even he can’t deny that something strange is going on as the body count begins to rise.

First, a personal quibble. Mike Logan makes me think of nothing but “Law & Order.” Maybe that’s what the author wanted, but it was a bit distracting at first. Piling all these tragedies on the main character in such a short span of time requires the reader to suspend a decent amount of belief. On the very bright side, the story takes off in the first chapter, and the pacing remains very fast throughout the story. This is one of those great page-turners that make time fly.

Rating: 7 ½
February 2007
ISBN# 0-446-57870-3 (hardcover)

The Lost Madonna - Kelly Jones

The Lost Madonna
Kelly Jones


In 1999, Suzanne Cunningham gets a call from an old friend. She’s needed to fill in as an art history professor for a semester in Florence, Italy. Not a bad job if you can get it. She begins thinking of the unforgettable months she spent in Florence after her freshman year of college, in 1966. Not only was Florence the location of her first great love, and greatest heartbreak; she was in the right (or wrong) place at the right time to witness the flooding of Florence when torrential rain sent the Arno River over its banks. Although the water receded quickly, students from all over the world worked together in an attempt to save the priceless art treasures that had been damaged by the water and mud.

Doing a bit of research for her more specialized class, Suzanne comes upon an article written in the mid-80s that references a particular work, Madonna and Child, and refers to it as having been destroyed in the flood of 1966. This disturbs Suzanne, since she knows it isn’t true. Suzanne and her first love, Stefano Leonetti, worked together to restore the painting after the flood. It could just be a translation problem from the original Italian text of the article to English, but she can’t let it go. She’s determined to discover what really happened to the Madonna. And, in the process, maybe put to rest a few ghosts from the past.

For readers with even a casual interest in art or art history, this is a treat. The author effectively portrays, through extended flashbacks, the way a seemingly chance event or encounter can profoundly change the course of a life. The flashbacks are used to great effect, since the character is looking back over thirty years of life and experience, and is better able to place events in context. The search for the painting is almost inextricably tied to the search for a sort of closure to that long-ago love affair. Both are handled with equal dexterity and charm.

Rating: 8
February 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21419-0 (paperback)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Odyssey - Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt

Science Fiction

Set several centuries in the future, humanity as a whole is a bit disenchanted with space exploration. There has never been a viable space colony set up anywhere; and, perhaps more importantly, space travel never really paid off in corporate terms. It costs a lot, but brings in extremely little. That’s why journalist and newspaper editor Gregory MacAllister, along with many others, has begun loudly questioning the wisdom of continuing the deep space program. In his articles, he argues quite persuasively that the money going to the space program could be put to much better use on Earth, where global warming continues to be an issue.

Patricia “Hutch” Hutchins, once captain of deep space exploration vessels is now flying a desk at the Academy, the future equivalent of NASA. While she’s disappointed with her friend’s editorial stance, it’s not entirely unreasonable, based on recent events. While she, and the Academy, are facing massive cutbacks, sightings of moonriders, space objects that look like some kind of spacecraft, increase sharply. When it looks like some of these objects changed the path of a meteor, causing the destruction of an off-world hotel, and a very near miss with Earth, Hutch puts together a mission to discover the truth.

This is clearly the latest in a series of books concerning Hutch. It’s easy to read as a standalone, but I admit that it made me want to go back and read previous volumes, too. While much of the story obviously takes place in space, it’s really the characters that are the center of the book. Hutch and MacAllister have a long history, and the characters are nicely nuanced. I could have done without the teenager on the crew, but that’s just a personal preference. The author does a fine job of projecting realistic issues, both large and small, into the future, and populating his book with believable characters.

Rating: 7
November 2006
ISBN# 0-441-01433-X (hardcover)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Because She Can - Bridie Clark

Because She Can
Bridie Clark
Warner Books

Chick Lit

One year ago, Princeton grad Claire Truman was working as an associate editor for a mid-sized publisher in Manhattan. The good news? Her boss is great, and pretty much an icon in the publishing business. The bad news? It doesn’t look like there’s much room for advancement, unless her boss leaves. Also, the salary is barely enough to pay the rent on her small apartment. More good/bad news: Claire just broke up, for the fourth and final-final time, with her boyfriend. When her boss decides to retire, Claire thinks she sees a light at the end of the tunnel. In hindsight, it was more of an oncoming train.

At a party, Claire reconnects with her college sweetheart, Randall Cox. Randall comes from a wealthy family, is a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs, and is smart, funny, and handsome. And he loves Claire. Through him, Claire meets another publishing icon, the dreaded Vivian Grant. Vivian is well known as a terror, but working for her means being an editor. And being able to write your own ticket when you leave. Soon, Claire is busy helping author Luke Mayville with his upcoming book. And she’s starting to see him as more than a client.

The novel begins with Claire in her wedding dress, an hour away from walking down the aisle to marry Randall, in an incredibly elaborate wedding. We meet Vivian as she bursts into the dressing room, demanding a meeting, this instant. Because she can. There will be inevitable comparisons to “The Devil Wears Prada,” so there’s that out of the way. Claire is a very believable character. Raised by a poet who held writing seminars, she’s always known what she wanted in a career; it’s the personal life that’s the problem. The sections of the book that deal with Claire dealing with Vivian are more interesting than her love life. But, in the end, every woman has to learn that maybe you shouldn't marry the guy who’s perfect on paper, just because you can.

Rating: 8 ½
February 2006
ISBN# 0-446-57924-6 (hardcover)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Warrior and Witch - Marie Brennan

Warrior and Witch
Marie Brennan
Warner Aspect

Dark Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

NOTE: If you have not read the previous novel, DOPPELGANGER, this entire review is one long spoiler.

Once upon a time, there was a Hunter called Mirage who went on an assignment to find the assassin of a high-level witch. There was also a witch called Miryo. The two were doppelgangers, since, when a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. In order to access all her powers, the witch must destroy the doppelganger. But this time, something very different happened. The two beings merged into one, now called Mirei.

Some hail Mirei as the next step in evolution, or as a way for the doppelgangers to coexist. Others see her as unnatural, an abomination that must be destroyed. Each side of the question has its supporters, and it isn’t long before debate devolves into bloodshed and war. What no one else knows is that the power and magic unleashed within Mirei when she merged her two halves may be enough to destroy her. Unless she can find a way to control it, everyone else may be fighting for nothing at all.

I would highly recommend reading DOPPELGANGER before WARRIOR AND WITCH. It’s not absolutely necessary, but the story is incredibly good, and lays a great deal of the groundwork for this novel. The world created by the author is completely authentic. The characters that inhabit the world are all drawn in various shades of grey. No one is merely black or white; they’re all trying to deal with an unknown situation in the best way they can. The disagreements and conflicts are organic to this premise. If you’re a fan of dark or urban fantasy, this is one author you won’t want to miss.

Rating: 8 ½
October 2006
ISBN# 0-446-61697-4 (paperback)

Velvet Rope Diaries - Daniella Brodsky

Velvet Rope Diaries
Daniella Brodsky

Chick Lit

On the surface, and on the back cover, this book looks like your normal chick lit light read. In fact, it’s much darker in tone than most of the chick lit I’ve read. While that’s a bit surprising, it’s not at all a bad thing. It gives the story and the characters depth and resonance.

When she was eight, Anna Walker killed her father. That’s what she believes. There was a house fire, and she ran to get help. Her father, still in the house, died. Anna has never gotten over her incredible feelings of guilt over this incident. It affects every decision, every relationship, every single day of her life. When we meet her, she’s working at a newspaper in a pretty much dead-end and very much boring job as a glorified secretary for a woman she calls Nasty. Her name? Ms. Jackson.

Anna is completely apathetic about her career. She knows, in her late twenties, she should be doing something more about getting her journalism career off the ground, but she lets each day slip by, secretly believing that she doesn’t really deserve anything more. It takes an embarrassing incident regarding her boss, and getting fired from her nowhere job to jolt Anna out of her rut. She’s amazed to be offered her own column, covering the local hot spots, which, in New York City, are numerous and ever changing. The problem? Anna is not exactly a club kid. Her self-doubt surfaces on her very first assignment, but so does an attractive stranger who gets her past that first velvet rope, and, quite possibly, into a whole new life.

The author does a wonderful job of taking what could have been another fluffy chick lit book and infusing it with actual human pathos. Anna is a damaged person. She’s not just someone with a string of bad relationships; she’s a woman who truly believes that her actions killed her father. Fortunately for her, she’s got a best friend who pushes her to get therapy. The road to happiness is not presented as an easy, one-step thing. There are problems and setbacks and even some laughs along the way. If you’re looking for chick lit that’s entertaining, but a bit deeper than usual, you won’t want to miss this one.

Rating: 8
October 2006
ISBN# 0-422-20782-X (trade paperback)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Meow is for Murder - Linda O. Johnston

Meow is for Murder
A Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mystery
Linda O. Johnston
Berkley Prime Crime


Life is looking pretty good for Kendra Ballantyne at the moment. She’s got her law license reinstated, she’s a partner at a firm doing interesting work, and she’s still able to fit in her pet-sitting duties. She’s also dating Jeff Hubbard, possibly the best-looking (in her opinion, anyway) PI in Los Angeles. And, just recently, he told his gorgeous but poisonous ex-wife, Amanda, that he’s through being pulled back into her life and referred her to another PI. In front of Kendra. Which was pretty gratifying. Even the fact that he’s out of town on a case isn’t cause for concern, with nightly phone calls.

Life never stays so good for long. Amanda is back, but this time she wants Kendra’s services. According to Amanda, her former boyfriend, Leon Lucero is stalking her. In order to escape him, she’s leaving town for a few weeks. She skillfully manipulates Kendra into cat sitting for her while she’s gone. On her first visit to Amanda’s, Leon angrily confronts Kendra, demanding to know where Amanda is. Kendra doesn’t know. Until a few hours later, when she discovers that Amanda is, just coincidentally, in Chicago with Jeff. In the same hotel, no less. So much for his not being pulled back into her life.

And, when Amanda returns home, there’s more trouble. She calls Kendra, in hysterics, demanding that Kendra come to her home and fix the situation. Worried for the cats, Kendra complies. What she finds is Amanda, covered in blood. And Leon, lying dead on the bedroom floor with a screwdriver nearby. Amanda says she tried to revive him. The cops aren’t buying it. And Amanda makes Kendra an amazing offer: help prove that she’s innocent, and Amanda will get out of Jeff’s life for good. Really.

New readers will have no trouble jumping in at this point. The mystery here is interesting, since, while there’s no shortage of suspects, even new readers will feel pretty ambivalent about Amanda’s fate. It’s to the author’s credit that she manages to inject some humanity and reality into Amanda, and not merely present her as a cardboard ‘mean girl.’ Kendra and the author do a great job of balancing the pet sitting, the law firm cases, and the amateur sleuthing. Any animal lover will understand why Kendra enjoys that part of her life. The animals are as fully characterized as the people. As they should be.

Rating: 7 ½
February 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21430-5 (paperback)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Slawter - Darren Shan

The Demonata: Book 3
Darren Shan
Little, Brown and Company

Young Adult/Horror

NOTE: If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, this review contains plot spoilers.

Grubbs Grady (last seen in Book 1, LORD LOSS) is getting back to a normal life. He and his Uncle Dervish survived an encounter with demons, and while Grubbs is anxious to move on, Dervish sometimes shows signs that he’s not quite over it. Aside from that, life is pretty good with school and friends and all the usual stuff. Then something completely amazing happens. Dervish gets a call from David A. Haym, perhaps the best-known producer of horror movies in the world today. Haym wants to make another movie, a masterpiece, and wants Dervish to consult about occult stuff.

At Grubbs’ urging, Dervish agrees. Filming takes place in an abandoned town that the production crew dubbed Slawter. Grubbs is thrilled to go along with his uncle and watch a new horror movie being made by a master. But something isn’t quite right. Or, rather, something is a little bit too right. When the first movie demon appears, it looks much too real to Grubbs. Naturally, everyone tells him that it’s just movie magic. But Grubbs thinks it’s real magic and decides to investigate. It isn’t long before he discovers that the Demonata are back.

While it isn’t strictly necessary to have read the first two books to enjoy this one, you’ll understand Grubbs and Dervish a lot better if you do so. This time around, the action and scares start out a big slowly, but everything starts moving a lightning speed once they arrive on the movie set. The ending makes it clear that there’s more to come, and the next book is due out in May. If you haven’t discovered this series yet, now is the time. If you’re already a fan of this author, you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 8
November 2006
ISBN# 0-316-01387-0 (hardcover)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Demon Thief - Darren Shan

Demon Thief
The Demonata, Book 2
Darren Shan
Little, Brown and Company

Young Adult/Horror

Ever since he was very young, Kernel (short for Cornelius) Fleck has seen lighted shapes in the air. They just sort of float there, and if he concentrates, he can move them around to form patterns. He thought everyone could see them until he hit school and a concerned teacher called in his parents. By then, the damage was done, and the other kids thought he was a freak. Lonely and bored one evening, Kernel starts idly moving the shapes around. Then he discovers something amazing: If he puts all the pulsing shapes together, they form a kind of window.

Somehow, he knows this is a window to another world and to his destiny. The good news is, he’s right. The bad news is that, the minute the window forms, a demonic sort of face appears. He’s able to push it back, but feels compelled to go after it. When he wakes up, he’s got his baby brother in his arms and several days have passed. He remembers nothing. His parents are completely freaked out by this, and move the family, in the middle of the night, from the city to the small village of Paskinston. The village is ok, and no one there knows about the lights. But Kernel still feels like an outsider. Until he finds out what happened to him and what it all means.

Intended for readers grade 7 and up, even adult horror readers will find a lot to enjoy here. There’s quite a bit of graphic violence and gore, so if that’s not your thing, you might want to skip this one. It’s the second book in a series, but can be read as a standalone, since there’s only minor overlap with Book #1. The action starts very early, and once that happens, you won’t be able to put down this book. It’s a very fast and entertaining read.

Rating: 8
June 2006
ISBN# 0-316-01237-8 (hardcover)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Faux Finished - Peg Marberg

Faux Finished
An Interior Design Mystery
Peg Marberg
Berkley Prime Crime


With her daughter grown up and married, and her husband retired and dedicated to golf, Jean Hastings realized that she needed a purpose of her own. She found that purpose in interior design. She went to school, got the right certifications, and now, with her daughter Jean, Jr. (JR), she owns Designer Jeans, the one and only interior design firm in the small town of Seville, Indiana.

Their biggest and most public job to date is the updating of the main dining room at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club. Designer Jeans ripped out the shag carpet, crumbly wallpaper and broken light fixtures and re-imagined the place in all its original Art Deco glory. Not that there wasn’t some opposition. The club’s manager, Harrison Fowler, would have preferred to spend that money on paving the parking lot. But, as usual, the wishes of board president Vanessa Higgins overrode all else. The only real flaw in the grand reopening is the absence of board member Harmon Brinkman, who died recently in a freak fall. During the gala party, Harrison Fowler rises to give a speech, makes a few coughing sounds, and collapses, dead.

FAUX FINISHED is a solid beginning to what is sure to be a winning mystery series. Jean is the kind of woman who might live next door to you. She’s realistic, and unwilling to let a wrong go un-righted. The rest of the cast is interesting without veering into eccentricity. The story is full of interesting decorating details, and is sure to please fans of home decorating shows and do-it-yourself enthusiasts. There are a lot of great ideas floating around here, and they’re nicely incorporated into the mystery. I look forward to my next visit to Seville, Indiana.

Rating: 7
February 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21428-2 (paperback)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Murder Can Depress Your Dachshund - Selma Eichler

Murder Can Depress Your Dachshund
A Desiree Shapiro Mystery
Selma Eichler


On this particular afternoon, all Desiree Shapiro, Manhattan PI, wants is to browse Bloomies on the nice checks that arrived this morning. But fate, and Blossom Goody, have other plans. Blossom tells Desiree that her friend’s son was killed recently and the police have no leads. Oh, and that she promised the man that Desiree would call him that evening and drive to his home in upstate New York the following day. Since there’s no saying “no” to either fate or Blossom, Desiree bows to the inevitable.

Meeting Byron Mills is a sobering experience. The man is clearly shattered by the death of his son, Jordy. No one seems to know exactly what happened. What they do know is that Jordy went to the hospital to visit his older brother, Cornell, then disappeared. He was found, shot, in the trunk of his car the next morning. Jordy was supposed to donate a kidney to his ill brother that very day. Only days later, realizing his hope for a normal life was gone, Cornell swallowed a bunch of pills. Byron buried both his grown sons within three weeks.

At first, it seems that no one has anything bad to say about Jordy. Then Naomi, his widow, mentions that Jordy and Cornell had a falling out about something. But Cornell was confined to the hospital and would hardly be likely to kill the man who planned to save his life. The final straw for Desiree is Tootsie the dachshund, who doesn’t eat and just wanders around listlessly since Jordy’s death.

Desiree is not your average sleuth. She has an outlook on life that’s both realistic and compassionate, making her feel deeply for those who are victims of tragedy. Her outlook seems to allow her to pick up on clues and nuances that the more hard-boiled of her profession might miss. If you’re looking for a fun cozy mystery, spend a little time with Desiree Shapiro.

Rating: 7
February 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22060-8 (paperback)

Guess Who's Coming to Die - Patricia Sprinkle

Guess Who’s Coming to Die?
A Thoroughly Southern Mystery
Patricia Sprinkle


At sixty-something, MacLaren (Mac) Yarbrough is the sitting magistrate of her small hometown of Hopemore, Georgia. In small towns like this, the magistrate is pretty much a part-time job, so Mac also owns and runs Yarbrough Feed, Seed, and Nursery, along with her husband of forty years. Upon returning from an eventful trip (detailed in a previous novel) she finds an invitation on her desk. To her amazement, it’s an invitation to join the Magnolia Ladies’ Investment Club. Everyone knows that the club is limited to the “ten most influential women” in Hopewell. In other words, the ten most wealthy. Apparently, a recently deceased member requested that Mac be given her spot.

Not at all sure about the prospect, Mac attends a meeting. The members run the gamut from the merely idle rich, of whom there are several in this small town, to a real estate broker, a lawyer for the Poverty Law Center, and even a former actress. In this meeting, Willena Kenan steps down as president to make way for her cousin, Wilma. Wilma presents her cousin with a sterling silver bar set. After a presentation by Augusta broker (and Willena’s new beau) Grover Henderson, the group breaks for refreshments. When Mac tries to enter the rest room, she’s greeting with the sight of Willena, dead on the floor, a sterling silver corkscrew protruding from her throat.

Everyone is a suspect, since the ladies were milling around, going outside to make phone calls or smoke. Things look especially bad for Cindy, Mac’s daughter-in-law, though. The police found her car keys under Willena’s body. And it’s not exactly a secret that Willena and Cindy, who are both part of many of the same organizations, never really saw eye to eye. Mac knows that Cindy is innocent. The corkscrew came from Wilma, who was clearly enamored of her cousin’s new love. As Mac knows, even in a small town, some secrets run deep; but if you dig enough, you can usually bring them to light.

While this is part of a series, newcomers (like me) will have no problem jumping in at this point. Mac makes reference to other cases, and the author is kind enough to identify the appropriate books via footnotes; a nice touch, indeed. Mac is instantly likeable; a southern lady, she’s also a magistrate and looks at events with a clear eye. The cast of characters is varied, and they’re all completely believable. There are no goofy southern caricatures here. The characters and story will engage the reader immediately, making it a pleasure to follow Mac as she uncovers the real culprit. This was my first visit to Hopemore, but it certainly won’t be my last.

Rating: 7 ½
February 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22061-5 (paperback)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Yellow House - Martin Gayford

The Yellow House
Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles
Martin Gayford
Little, Brown and Company


For two months at the end of 1888, a pair of struggling artists shared a house in Arles. For those two months, although they would never see one another after, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin profoundly influenced one another’s works. This pivotal time in Arles ends with van Gogh cutting off part of one of his ears during a psychological breakdown. During this time, the two men lived together, ate together, dreamed and despaired and painted together; each one influencing the other through ideas, inspirations, or use of materials.

In the months that led up to what would be known to van Gogh as “the Crisis,” the two artists created masterpieces that are still studied today as exemplars of their school. The author includes illustrations of many of these paintings, but they are, of necessity, in black and white. Do yourself a favor and look them up on the internet as you read the author’s informed but easily accessible discussions about techniques and use of color in various works.

It might seem that a work depicting the day-to-day lives of two artists would be rather dry. On the contrary, the author does a wonderful job of fashioning a narrative as dramatic as any fiction. Even a casual student of art history will be enthralled by this account of that groundbreaking fall of 1888. Readers looking for fascinating character studies will be no less pleased. This book really conveys what it might have been like to be present in that studio, in the presence of undiscovered greatness.

Rating: 8 1/2
November 2006
ISBN# 0-316-76901-0 (hardcover)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Crimson Portrait - Jody Shields

The Crimson Portrait
Jody Shields
Little, Brown and Company

Fiction/ Historical

When Charles left home to fight in World War I, he asked his young wife, Catherine to make him a promise: If he were to die in battle, she would allow their estate to become a field hospital. Catherine agreed. Upon news of her husband’s death, the new widow at first retreated into isolated grief. Then, attempting to feel closer to her husband, she carried out his last wish. The first floor of the estate became a hospital, mainly treating patients with facial injuries. Unprepared for the onslaught of suffering and nonstop movement, Catherine began to retreat again.

Then she met Julian, a young soldier whose face had been torn apart by shrapnel. Attending Julian was Dr. McCleary, a pioneer in what is now known as facial reconstruction. With the help of an artist, Dr. McCleary hopes to fashion masks of sorts to allow the men to lead normal lives. Catherine can’t see Julian’s face, as it remains covered. But in her lonely desperation, she comes to believe that she resembles her late husband, and expresses her desire that Dr. McCleary will use his experimental techniques to fashion a face for Julian that will resemble Charles. McCleary has reservations, but realizes the enormous significance of his work.

This novel is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. On the surface, it’s a story of love lost and life in a field hospital. But underneath, the emotions of the participants hold sway. Catherine’s loneliness and desire to have her husband returned to her are understandable; it’s her actions that are questionable. McCleary is a man doing work that will revolutionize the treatment of facial injuries, but he must balance that against the ethics of allowing Catherine to attempt to resurrect her husband through another man. Ironically, or perhaps not, the character who sees most clearly through the layers of desperation, despair, and self-delusion, is the artist, Anna, who paints pre-injury faces on the masks that may give normal lives back to the injured. The book raises some very interesting questions, and will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Rating: 8
December 2006
ISBN# 0-316-78528-8 (hardcover)

Valley of Silence - Nora Roberts

Valley of Silence
Book Three of The Circle Trilogy
Nora Roberts


NOTE: If you have not read the first two books, MORRIGAN’S CROSS and DANCE OF THE GODS, this review contains significant plot spoilers.

The final installment of this inventive trilogy begins with the circle of six preparing for war in Geall, the ancient homeland of cousins Larkin and Moira. The battle, against the evil vampire Lilith and her followers, will take place in the Valley of Silence. The outcome will affect not only Geall and this world, but all worlds. Upon their return to Geall, Moira took her rightful place as queen, and the populace backs her and the rest of the Circle in their quest to destroy the darkness personified by Lilith.

During the build-up to the final battle, Moira finds that she is drawn to Cian, and he to her. There are several problems inherent in his relationship; not the least of which is that Cian is a vampire. Lilith made him a vampire, and even though he now fights with the Circle, there are many who consider him untrustworthy at best, a demon at worst. While the two realize that a future is not possible for them, they’re also very aware that the coming battle may mean the end of all things and decide to be together while they can.

It’s almost inevitable in a trilogy that leads up to one final all-or-nothing battle for that battle to be a bit anti-climactic. Such is the case here. The battle is fought, and issues are resolved in ways that almost seem too simplistic to be truly satisfying. But, as with most things, the journey is more important than the destination, and the journey here is highly entertaining. The relationship between Moira and Cian is more complex than the relationships in the previous two books, and carries a bittersweet quality throughout the book. The author has done a good job here of walking the line between dark fantasy and romance, and this series should appeal to the majority of her existing fans while winning her some new readers.

Rating: 8 ½
November 2006
ISBN# 0-515-14167-4 (paperback)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Motor Mouth - Janet Evanovich

Motor Mouth
Janet Evanovich


Your reaction to MOTOR MOUTH will depend almost entirely on your tolerance for madcap antics. While the story is set in and around NASCAR, absolutely no previous knowledge is necessary. In this follow-up to METRO GIRL, Alexandra (Barney) Barnaby is working for the Stiller Racing Team, as a race spotter for driver Sam Hooker. The Stiller Racing Team has three cars, and fellow spotter “Gobbles” is clearly agitated about something to do with rival racing team Huevo Motor Sports. He’s not clear on exactly what’s bothering him about the other outfit, but things become clear fairly quickly.

Barney, an engineer by education, has her own suspicions that the Huevo cars are somehow getting help from illegal traction technology. She has no proof, though, since the cars are inspected after each race and passed. The night after the final race, won by a Huevo car, Barney and Hooker are getting ready to leave the track when Gobbles calls in a panic. He’s locked in the main Huevo hauler where he hid after overhearing something that could get him killed. Barney and Hooker manage to get Gobbles out of the hauler, but there’s a new problem in the form of a dead body wrapped in plastic. Even worse, it’s one of the Huevo brothers. Now there’s really only the option of trying to cover their tracks while staying ahead of the cops and the killer. One enormous problem: they left Beans, Hooker’s very large St. Bernard puppy, sleeping in the hauler when they dumped it in a parking lot.

What Hooker and Barney refer to as a dognapping, I refer to as criminal carelessness and hope that the killer who found Beans is more careful with him. Poor Beans. The mystery picks up quickly and is perfectly paced throughout the first two thirds of the book. Unfortunately, it flounders a bit during the last sections, relying a bit too heavily on zany hijinks for my personal taste. The characters seem a bit thin, but I didn’t read the first book in the series, so it’s possible I missed some initial development. The secondary characters are quite funny without being too over-the-top. While not up to early Stephanie Plum standards (and those standards are quite high) this is a fun, fast read.

Rating: 6 1/2
October 2006
ISBN# 0-06-058403-3 (hardcover)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Wild Indigo - Sandi Ault

Wild Indigo
Sandi Ault
Berkley Prime Crime


When Jamaica Wild, an agent with the Bureau of Land Management in New Mexico, hears that buffalo on the Tanoah Pueblo are wandering out of their enclosures, it’s her job to investigate. When she arrives, she finds Jerome Santana, standing in the midst of the herd, clad in traditional apron over his jeans, arms outstretched, eyes fixed on Sacred Mountain with a strange kind of joy. He wears the same look on his face as he starts the stampede that kills him. Jamaica is stunned. Was it some form of ritualistic (and very uncertain) suicide? Was he high?

The Tribal Police, who have authority over such things on the pueblo, clearly can’t get rid of her fast enough. In fact, they seem a lot more worried about her leaving than the man who just died. Outsiders are not allowed on the pueblo during Quiet Time, the holy days before the pilgrimage to Sacred Mountain, so the investigation is over before it begins. Jamaica’s mentor and medicine teacher on the pueblo, Momma Anna, imparts ancient wisdom, but as a family member of Jerome, her loyalties are divided. When others go missing, Jamaica knows she’s not going to be able to leave this alone.

WILD INDIGO is an astonishingly assured debut novel. The author carefully notes that she’s blended the cultures and traditions of several peoples for purposes of the story, and the result is magic. There will be inevitable comparisons to Hillerman, and, for my money, Ms. Ault is more than up to the task. The novel includes mystery, mysticism, native traditions, action, and some fascinating information about raising a wolf cub. Having raised one, the author clearly knows whereof she speaks, and Mountain the wolf is an integral character. I’m looking forward to the further adventures of Jamaica and Mountain.

Rating: 8 ½
January 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21369-8 (hardcover)