Friday, June 29, 2007

The Bourne Betrayal - Eric van Lustbader, Robert Ludlum

The Bourne Betrayal
Eric Van Lustbader – from characters created by Robert Ludlum
Warner Books

Spy Thriller

NOTE: The last book I read in the Bourne series was THE BOURNE IDENTITY. I can only assume that this review contains spoilers for readers who have not read the previous books in the series.

The novel hits the ground running, with Martin Lindros, a deputy director of Central Intelligence, on his first field mission in years. He’s been tracking the movements of a possible terrorist cell, said to be buying up components needed to make and detonate nuclear weapons. His search leads him to an isolated area in Africa, where his instruments show gamma radiation readings. The dead body that shows classic signs of radiation poisoning is a good clue, too. Before Lindros and his men can take off, they’re attacked and Lindros is taken hostage. It’s all just the first set of moves in a global terrorist chess game.

Jason Bourne is still trying to put his fractured psyche back together, this time with the help of a cutting-edge therapist who assures him that he can, at least, suppress the memories that haunt Bourne in dreams and waking flashbacks. When Bourne hears that Lindros, his only solid friend in the organization, has been taken by terrorists, Bourne immediately mounts a rescue operation. This operation goes surprisingly well, and he manages to retrieve Lindros. Something still isn’t right about this scenario, but Bourne can’t tell if it’s his paranoia talking, or sound reason. As they say, it’s not paranoia when everyone really is out to get you.

This is one of those great, edge-of-your-seat, action adventure spy novels. The action takes place all over the world. There’s a huge cast of characters, and an intricate plot to be unraveled. As the reader follows Bourne and experiences most of the book from his perspective, it makes it easy to empathize with him. Bourne is a hero who is flawed emotionally, and maybe mentally, too. But when it comes to action and cutting-edge (or maybe even futuristic) technologies, he’s the best there is. If you’re new to Jason Bourne, this is a fine place to start. But you may find that you want to go back and read the previous novels, too. I know I do.

Rating: 8
June 2007
ISBN# 978-0-446-58037-3 (hardcover)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Murder on the Menu - Miranda Bliss

Murder On The Menu
A Cooking Class Mystery
Miranda Bliss
Berkley Prime Crime


Annie Capshaw’s life is very full. Not only does she work her day job as a bank teller; she works nights and weekends as the manager for a new restaurant, recently inherited by her new guy, Jim MacDonald. Annie is equally worried about the budding relationship after enduring a very better divorce, and the never-ending invoices that come with redecorating, revamping, and restocking the restaurant. The restaurant’s name? Bellywasher’s. Sadly, Jim cannot change the name, since his Uncle Angus (who claimed it was a drinking term) specified in his will that the name must stay. But Jim is determined to change it from a hole-in-the-wall neighborhood bar to a high-visibility place to eat in Alexandria, VA.

Annie’s best friend, Eve is pitching in, too. She’s putting her southern charm and good looks to good use as the new hostess. And she’s already spreading the word among friends. On opening day, Sarah Whittaker, a woman they haven’t seen since high school, appears to check out the place. Sarah has done quite well for herself and is currently on staff with Senator Douglas Mercy. The Senator is rumored to be a contender for the office of vice president in the next elections.

Arriving at Sarah’s high-security building for dinner later the next week, Annie and Eve are unable to get her to answer her phone or buzzer. After much discussion, a maintenance man admits that he’s been getting complaints about Sarah’s apartment all day. Her dog’s constant barking is annoying the neighbors. Entering the apartment, everything looks fine until Annie finds Sarah in the tub. Her wrists are cut and a bloody knife rests on the floor next to her. Sarah had everything going for her; it's hard to believe that she’d kill herself. A couple of suspiciously timed “accidents” convince them that Sarah’s death wasn’t suicide; it was murder.

The first book in the series, COOKING UP MURDER, revolved around a cooking class helmed by Jim. This time around, the venue is completely different: a start-up restaurant. There are plenty of suspects around, both in politics and in the food business. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant in any capacity will tell you that it's a wild mix of personalities. Emphasis on the love lives of Annie and Eve slants this series toward chick lit, but with these characters, it works very well. Whether you enjoy cozy mysteries, foodie mysteries, or chick lit, you’ll find something to enjoy here.

Rating: 6 1/2
June 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21607-1 (paperback)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Changeling - Yasmine Galenorn

Yasmine Galenorn


The half-human, half-Fae D’Artigo sisters live in a Seattle suburb and work for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency (OIA.) The fae creatures have revealed themselves to human society, so they don’t have to keep that part of their existence secret; but, the fact is that they were assigned to what they call Earthside because the OIA has little to no confidence in their abilities as agents. Recent events proved the OIA wrong, when the sisters managed to stop a group of demons who managed to sneak to Earth to wreak havoc in the name of Shadow Wing, a very big baddie.

This time around, it’s Delilah’s story. Delilah is a werecat. When stressed, or during certain phases of the moon, she transforms into a cute little tabby cat. In her cat form one evening, she senses a larger source of cat magic around the edges of their property. The arrival of a client at her PI office the following day confirms her suspicions. Zachary Lyonesse is a werepuma, and part of the Rainier Puma Pride. The pride has lived in isolation and peace for some years. Now they’ve begun losing members to murder. And not just ordinary murder: whoever is doing the killing removes the hearts and essentially mummifies the insides of the victims.

Delilah begins the investigation with the help of her human lover, Chase. Her sisters Camille, a witch, and Menolly, a new vampire, help, too. At first, rumors suggest that this is more demon activity. Then clues begin to point at a rival pride. Most ominously, some clues lead to the Hunters Moon Clan, a deadly clan of shapeshifters supposedly created by evil shamen. And, while dealing with this trouble Earthside, the sisters must contain their concerns about the civil war that has begun back home in Otherworld; a war that already involves their father, and could easily involve the three of them, as well.

Oddly, Delilah, who turns into a tabby cat, seems a much more realistic and layered character than her witch sister, Camille, who was the focus of the first installment, WITCHLING. Maybe it’s because Delilah has always been treated as the baby of the family, and feels like she has something to prove. She has room to change and grow, and it’s interesting to watch. The plotting seems a bit tighter and more complex this time around, too. There’s a good mystery to be solved, and their concerns about the goings-on in Otherworld are always on the back burner. Good reading for paranormal fans who enjoy mystery with their mysticism.

Rating: 8 ½
June 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21629-3 (paperback)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Overlook - Michael Connelly

The Overlook
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown

Mystery/Police Procedural

LAPD detective Harry Bosch is working his first fresh case in years. After spending time in cold cases, he’s been reassigned to Homicide Special, which encompasses anything related to politics, celebrities, or looks like it will be a time drain. On this particular night, he arrives at an overlook above Mulholland Drive to find the body of man lying in the dirt. The man, Dr. Stanley Kent, according to all kinds of ID badges on his person and in his car, was shot twice in the back of the head, execution style.

Each ID badge is for a different hospital. A quick check on Dr. Kent reveals that he was a medical physicist. And, more importantly, he had access to radioactive materials at hospitals across southern California. Tracing his last movements reveals that thirty-two units of cesium are missing from a lab vault. Cesium could easily be used to make a dirty bomb. While the FBI and various other federal agencies duke it out, Bosch decides that finding the killer will lead him to the cesium.

This story was originally serialized in sixteen parts, but the author revised and expanded it for publication as a novel, completely removing any episodic quality. It’s a bit shorter than other Bosch novels, but it’s so tightly plotted and deftly paced that the pages almost turn themselves. Bosch is still a world-weary veteran of the L.A. streets, and it’s interesting to watch him get to know his new, younger partner during the course of the investigation. In short, THE OVERLOOK is classic Harry Bosch.

Rating: 9
June 2007
ISBN# 978-0-316-01895-1

Saturday, June 23, 2007

frenemies - Megan Crane

Megan Crane
5 Spot

Chick Lit

What could be worse than walking in your perfect boyfriend (Nate) kissing a woman you’d thought was a friend since you were freshman roommates? How about getting smashed on Jagermeister and standing on a chair screaming Janis Joplin lyrics at the so-happy couple? How about in front of practically everyone you know? You might think it doesn’t get any worse than that. You’ve never met a frenemy. A frenemy is someone who claims to be your friend, while acting like your enemy.

The worst part, for Augusta (Gus) about this whole thing, though, is that Helen, the frenemy in question, doesn’t seem to understand why Gus is upset. Gus describes Helen as “that girl,” the girl who is effortlessly and unattainably cool. The girl that all the boys want, and all the girls hate, even while wishing they could be like her. Gus is lucky to have two real best friends, Amy Lee and Georgia, who have her back. But, you know, after a while, even a real friend needs to tell you to get over it.

Gus is pretty much any woman who hits 29 and has some idealized vision of her life as an “adult” when she hits 30. For Gus, everything was nicely on track, with a job she loves, and a dream boyfriend. She figured that, by 30, she’d be picking out china patterns. When that blows up, and in such a hurtful way, it’s understandable that this topic is foremost in her mind. A lot. The problem is that, as we follow Gus through the time following Nate’s betrayal, she never lets go.

I’ve read Megan Crane’s previous novels, EVERYONE ELSE’S GIRL and ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE and enjoyed them both. Both of those novels had a weight and a depth that I think is somewhat lacking here. The humorous scenes are jarring when set against Gus’ raw hurt. That’s not to say that this is a bad book. Taken on its own merits, it’s a light, frothy read that’s perfect for the beach. And even when Gus is at her most annoying, she’s still very human. Anyone who has been betrayed will empathize with her.

Rating: 7
June 2007
IBN# 978-0446-69855-9 (trade paperback)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Death Reins In - Michele Scott

Death Reins In
A Horse Lover’s Mystery
Michele Scott
Berkley Prime Crime


Michaela Bancroft finds herself in the enviable position of needing to buy more horses to expand her riding instruction business. Michaela has been working with Gen, an autistic girl and the daughter of one of her high school friends. This friend recommended Michaela as a therapeutic riding instructor. She’s resistant at first, but realizes that she does enjoy working with the kids. Now she needs horses.

As luck would have it, she’s scheduled to attend the races at Los Alamitos with her friend, Audrey Pratt. Audrey used to work with racehorses, but now confines her activities to purchasing those horses that don’t make the big money, and re-selling them to riding ranches or private owners. These days, Audrey’s main occupation is the management of fledgling singers. One of them will be performing as an opening act at Los Alamitos. But a day at the races turns sour when trainers find Audrey’s body. The question is, who would want her dead, and why?

This is the second in a series, following SADDLED WITH TROUBLE, and works very well as a standalone novel. While it’s based around the world of horses, you don’t have to be an enthusiast to enjoy the book. Michaela is a very strong and realistic character, and her decisions and feelings really drive the story. There are plenty of suspects, from a starstruck stage mom to big business. This is one that could go in any of a number of ways, and it’s a lot of fun to watch Michaela track down the truth.

Rating: 7 ½
June 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21609-5 (paperback)

The False-Hearted Teddy - John J. Lamb

The False-Hearted Teddy
A Bear Collector’s Mystery
John J. Lamb
Berkley Prime Crime


Brad Lyon, a retired detective with the SFPD, and his wife, Ashleigh (Ash) are making the most of his retirement. They’ve always been collectors of teddy bears, but recently they’ve begun making their own custom bears and showing them. As they head out to the Har-Bear Expo in Baltimore, Brad finds that he’s actually nervous and excited about showing his very first bear, Dirty Beary, an homage to Clint Eastwood’s movie character.

Setting up for the show, Brad witnesses the behind-the-scenes activities of Tony and Jennifer Swift. Tony is your basic abuser, and asthmatic Jennifer, his victim. Inside the expo, their display is 180 degrees from their real life. The Swifts have created an award-winning line of bears called Cheery Cherubs; bears dressed as angels. Their display space is over-the-top, but the bears are undeniably adorable. Each one comes with a children’s book, written and illustrated by their new partner, Todd Litten. The big news at this show is that the Swifts have just inked a deal with a large manufacturer to mass-produce the angel bears; and there’s talk of an animated series, too, all of which means big money.

At the next morning’s breakfast, the Swifts make the formal announcement. There’s polite applause and an obnoxious display from Tony, as usual. But all good will evaporates when another bear designer accuses the Swifts of stealing their idea from her. Both Swifts look uncomfortable, and Jennifer begins to get an asthma attack. Tony says her inhaler is upstairs in their room, and runs to get it. One puff on the inhaler, however, and Jennifer collapses. While performing CPR, Ash, who is giving mouth-to-mouth, gets a strange chemical taste that does not correspond to the medicine in the inhaler. When Jennifer dies, there are plenty of suspects, starting with her own husband.

Brad narrates the books, which began with last year’s THE MOURNFUL TEDDY in first-person, and his sarcastic, dark humor, a holdover from his days on the force, saves the series from being too cutesy. He’s still adjusting to life as a retired detective, and investigating a murder that took place right in front of him makes perfect sense. His longtime marriage to Ash is what grounds him, and their relationship is deep and mature. The convention participants make for an interesting pool of suspects, and there are plenty of viable motives. This second entry proves that you don’t need to be a bear collector to enjoy this lively, well-plotted series.

Rating: 7
June 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21610-1 (paperback)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Death Rides The Surf - Nora Charles

Death Rides The Surf
A Kate Kennedy, Senior Sleuth Mystery
Nora Charles
Berkley Prime Crime


It’s fall in Palmetto Beach when retired widow Kate Kennedy’s granddaughter, Katherine, arrives for a visit. Kate’s worries about trouble at school (Katherine in a freshman at NYU) are instantly overshadowed when Katherine announces that she’s never going back to school. It seems that, during a trip to Acapulco over the summer, Katherine met Jon Michael Tyler, a surfer. Now Katherine fancies herself in love and made the trip to Palmetto Beach simply to be near him.

Aside from being part of a group that calls themselves The Four Boardsmen of the Apocalypse, Jon Michael has little else to recommend him. He has a part-time job at a local “gentleman’s club,” and lives with his grandmother, who gives him an allowance. But that’s not the worst of it for Kate, and her best friend, Marlene. Last summer in Acapulco, the surf buddies were suspects in the disappearance of another young woman. While the Mexican authorities did little to solve the case, the girl’s mother is determined to shadow the group until she finds out exactly what happened to her daughter.

When fishermen find Jon Michael’s body floating near a dock, police initially conclude that he was the victim of a shark attack. Further evidence, however, points to homicide. To make a bad situation worse, Kate saw Katherine arguing with Jon Michael just before he rode his last wave. And Katherine’s disapproving mother was in town for a suspiciously timed meeting. It doesn’t take long before detective Nick Carbone, Kate’s maybe-suitor, is on the case, and looking right at Katherine.

Of all the books I’ve read in this series, this was probably the most intricate, plot-wise. While there are some dark aspects to the story, the overall mood is kept light, as befits a cozy. As usual, Marlene, Kate’s lifelong best friend, makes sure she’s right in the thick of things. Kate is a great character. While she obviously doesn’t want to believe that her granddaughter would commit murder, she’s realistic enough not to whitewash Katherine’s motives, even in her own mind. The southern Florida atmosphere and an interesting mix of supporting characters and suspects, add to the overall charm.

Rating: 7
June 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21627-9 (paperback)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Shadowed By Wings - Janine Cross

Shadowed By Wings
The Dragon Temple Saga – Book Two
Janine Cross

Dark Fantasy

Warning: If you haven’t read the first book in this series TOUCHED BY VENOM this review contain plot spoilers.

At 17, Zarq begins an apprenticeship with the dragonmaster of Re. Her very presence is hotly debated by the Temple that governs the land. No woman has ever been allowed to hold such a position, lowly as it is. But Zarq, named for a male rebel, and daughter of poor potters, is determined to succeed. She believes that she will be able to become a dragonmaster, and begin to right some of the many wrongs and injustices that plague the kingdom. Women have very few rights, and the poor are brutally suppressed. Zarq is the living embodiment of rebellion. This makes her extremely dangerous.

She knows that the Temple is against her, as are most of the apprentices. If Temple rules against the current dragonmaster, he will be expelled, along with his apprentices; Zarq threatens not just the social order, which is fairly incomprehensible to these boys, but their very lives, in a very real and immediate way. While Zarq labors to gain at least a modicum of respect, she attempts to hide her addiction to dragon venom. She hates it, but she needs it to keep the ghost of her mother (or the ghost of her mother’s anger) at bay.

Everyone knows that dragons are divine power. And the Clutch, or kingdom, that owns the most dragons is always the most powerful. But there’s a serious problem. No bull dragon is ever born in captivity. They must be captured from the surrounding jungles. No one knows why this is so, but there are many who know of the intimate rite by which the venom can allow a mortal to see and hear a dragon’s thoughts and memories. There are many who are desperate to know the secret of the dragons, and will stop at nothing to get it.

If you like your fantasy bright and cheery and filled with cutesy hobbits and elves, this is not the series for you. Like the previous installment, this is dark fantasy in every sense of the word. The world created by the author is brutal and unforgiving. Death, torture, rape, and grinding poverty are simply realities to be faced. And Zarq is a deeply conflicted character. Her life has been unimaginably hard. She is neither a wilting flower nor an ass-kicking heroine. She lives in the world in which she was born; and while she dreams of changing it, she must still submit to the overwhelmingly male-dominated power structure. It’s her flaws and struggles that make her a believable character, and this a standout fantasy series.

Rating: 8
April 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-46102-5 (paperback)

Minor tech note: Yes, I know the covershot is smaller than usual. That's what I got.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Touched By Venom - Janine Cross

Touched By Venom
The Dragon Temple Saga – Book One
Janine Cross

Dark Fantasy

Life as a serf in the potter’s clan of Clutch Re has never seemed easy for Zarq. For a start, her name is traditionally male, and the people of her Clutch, a dragon estate ruled by a warrior-lord, hold tradition in very high esteem. Of utmost importance is The Temple of the Dragon, a body that rules all Clutches of the nation in a theocracy. Dragons are revered and cared for, from hatching to death. Each year, a festival takes place to induct new apprentices of the dragonmaster, and reaffirm those who already serve. The apprentices are publicly beaten with whips coated in sacred dragon’s venom. Some die, and some go mad from the venom’s effects; but those who survive are honored.

Competing with a young boy of her clan (not a good idea, since women are inherently inferior in this patriarchal society) Zarq manages to win a race and claim a whip. The first touch of venom on her bare hand burns her and causes infection. Her actions set off a chain of events that end with her father’s execution, her mother’s mental breakdown, and her sister, Waisi, being sold into sexual slavery. Zarq’s mother becomes obsessed with finding Waisi and rescuing her.

Unwelcome in their Clutch, Zarq and her mother travel. A convent of holy women, dedicated to serving old bull dragons that can no longer breed, shelter them. Several years in the convent change Zarq from the lost and confused nine-year-old she was to an angry young woman, tormented by past events. Close proximity to the dragons opens her eyes to new possibilities in life, and she determines to right old wrongs.

This is dark fantasy in every sense of the word. The world presented here is brutal. There are scenes of whippings, abuse, deaths, and female circumcision. Obviously, this is not a book for younger readers. The world building is incredibly detailed; the structure of society, the rules and strictures by which each person must live, the various classes of individuals, is consistent and complete. Zarq tells the story in first-person, and her travels and travails make for riveting reading. The final pages are and ending of sorts, but also, clearly, a beginning for the next volume. This novel is the excellent debut of a new voice in fantasy; and not one to be missed.

Rating: 8 ½
August 2006
ISBN# 0-451-46079-0 (paperback)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cover Girl Confidential - Beverly Bartlett

Cover Girl Confidential
Beverly Bartlett
5 Spot

Chick Lit

Addison McGhee has come a long way from her birth in a refugee camp in Turkey. Her parents were granted permission to immigrate to the U.S. when she was a small child, and a careless bureaucrat mangled her true name into something that sounds Irish. Her family settled in rural Nebraska, but Addison had bigger plans. When she was able, she went to Hollywood and spent a few years doing TV and film roles. She was on a downward career skid that included an embarrassing stint on Hollywood Squares when a producer spotted her and hired her for a new show.

The program was supposed to last a week, and cover the impending weddings of several minor royals and the sitting U.S. President. The chemistry between Addison and her co-host, Hughes Sinclair, was so good that it morphed into a regular morning infotainment program. Addison and Hughes and their new coworker, Baxter Bailey, the curmudgeonly weatherman, became household names. Then events spiraled out of control. In quick succession, Addison got married, unmarried, convicted of assault (it happened on the air) and set for deportation. The lesson here? Always read the fine print on anything you sign.

The author manages to deftly blend a breezy style with real issues. Gay marriage, and the culture of celebrity both come into play in a big way, but the tone is never preachy or dull. There are plenty of celebrity names dropped throughout the story, all used fictitiously of course, but they add to the overall atmosphere of the story. I have to admit that I found Addison to be a bit of an airhead but I think that was completely intentional. And she still manages to be a likeable and sympathetic character.

You can read this as fluffy chick lit, or as a parable about what happens when celebrities start to believe their own press releases. And, honestly, in this weekend after the whole world watched Paris Hilton being dragged, screaming, back to jail, the story carries even more immediacy and resonance. Either way, this is a quick and enjoyable read that gives an unusual twist to the genre.

Rating: 7
March 2007
ISBN# 0-446-69558-0 (trade paperback)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Scene of the Grime - Suzanne Price

Scene of the Grime
A Grime Solvers Mystery
Suzanne Price


The New England hamlet of Pigeon Cove is a quiet tourist attraction, filled with Bed & Breakfast inns, gorgeous views of the sea, and eccentric inhabitants. That goes for both full-time residents and the visitors. A newcomer to Pigeon Cove, Sky Taylor has relocated after the death of her husband. While rebuilding her life, she’s managed to put her love for order and cleanliness to good use by starting her own cleaning business. Her customers include various inns and local businesses.

One of Sky’s favorite regular visitors is Abel Monahan, whom she affectionately calls Old Abe. Abe visits several times each year, and owns a parcel of empty property at the edge of town. As hobbies, he scours flea markets and estate sales for old books; nothing makes him happier than finding a rare book at a bargain price. And, to relax, he builds a never-ending wall of found stones on his piece of property.

During her regular cleaning rounds, Sky hears Abe’s cat crying from his room. Worried about the welfare of the animal, she enters the room to find it shut up in the closet. Following the cat further into the room, she finds Abe, lying on the floor, dead of a head wound. Although the Sheriff is investigating the crime, Sky feels compelled to look into the death of her friend. Contrary to what she thought, not everyone in town loved Abe. And Abe had his share of secrets.

This is the first in a promising new cozy mystery series. Sky is a wonderful character. She’s naturally upset at finding her friend dead, but pragmatic enough to find non-confrontational ways to investigate. Unlike too many amateur sleuths, Sky thinks before acting; she’s not the kind of person to throw herself into an obviously dangerous situation. There are enough suspects among the locals to make the mystery interesting; and there’s a great twist that I never saw coming. Throughout the book, Sky gives simple and useable cleaning tips (lemons clean chrome; denture tablets clean the cloudy stuff out of vases) and there’s a whole list of tips at the end. I hope to see much more of Sky and the residents of Pigeon Cove.

Rating: 7
June 2007
ISBN# 978-0-451-22109-4 (paperback)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Play Dead - David Rosenfelt

Play Dead
David Rosenfelt
Warner Books

Mystery/Legal Thriller

Andy Carpenter, an independently wealthy lawyer who can be a wise-ass at the best of times, has just taken on a new and unique client. His name is Yogi, and he’s a golden retriever. Yogi is currently on death row at a local animal shelter after biting his abusive owner. Andy, who runs a rescue operation for goldens, has no intention of letting this dog die. He manages to successfully argue self-defense for Yogi and takes him home as a new friend for his dog, Tara.

While walking the two dogs, a woman on the street recognizes Yogi. If his reaction of rushing to her, knocking her over, and bathing her face with his tongue is any indication, he knows her, too. Her name is Karen Evans. She saw Andy and Yogi during the TV coverage and realized that the dog, whose real name is Reggie, belonged to her brother. She thought Yogi died five years ago on a night that essentially ended her brother’s life, too.

Her brother, Richard, is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his fiancée, Stacy. The two, plus Reggie, were out on Richard’s boat when an unexpected storm blew in. When no one aboard their boat responded to emergency messages, the Coast Guard boarded and discovered Richard, alone, unconscious, with an empty pill bottle next to him. He had no memory of that evening, but when Stacy’s body washed up weeks later, investigators called it a murder-suicide. Prevailing theory was that the dog drowned after being thrown overboard.

Karen claims this is ridiculous, since her brother loved Reggie. She’s done a bit of research into Andy’s background and wants to hire him to try to get her brother a new trial. Since one huge part of the prosecution – the killing of the dog – is clearly untrue, Andy is cautiously optimistic, but needs time to do his own investigation. Very quickly, Andy realizes that there are some powerful people with an interest in keeping everything just the way it is.

As usual, David Rosenfelt writes a tightly plotted, fast-moving story with enough twists to keep readers guessing until the final pages. The mystery is very involving, and watching it all come together is quite satisfying. Part of a series, each Andy Carpenter novel can be read as a stand-alone without trouble. Andy is a great character. He only takes cases that interest him, but when he takes a case, he’s completely devoted to it and the law. Like his fictional creation, David Rosenfelt runs a rescue for golden retrievers, and his love of animals and devotion to these beautiful dogs is evident throughout the story. You don’t have to be an animal lover to enjoy these books, but if you are, you’ll get an extra layer of enjoyment from this always-entertaining series.

Rating: 8 ½
June 2007
ISBN# 0-446-58241-7 (hardcover)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Midnight Moon - Lori Handeland

Midnight Moon
A Nightcreature Novel #5
Lori Handeland
St. Martin’s


Once upon a time, she was your average suburban mom, driving her daughter to ballet lessons in an SUV, married to a man she thought she knew. Then she found out that things were very different than they appeared. After her daughter died, and she testified against the drug dealer who turned out to be her husband, she relocated, thanks to the Witness Protection people. Now she’s reinvented herself. She lives and works in New Orleans where she runs a voodoo shop and is known as Priestess Cassandra. A petite, white, blue-eyed voodoo priestess is something of an anomaly, but that’s all part of the charm.

Eventually, her study of voodoo leads her to Haiti, in search of a powerful man said to possess the secret of raising the dead. Cassandra is determined to learn this secret, ostensibly to be able to help her friends. But the truth is that she has her own purpose: she wants to resurrect her beloved daughter. (This is not a spoiler; it's detailed in the first few pages.) Her guide through the jungle is adventurer Devon Murphy. The two feel a deep mutual attraction, but Cassandra is intent on her mission. Once she possesses the secret, though, she finds out that such power always comes with a price attached.

Cassandra was a secondary character in the previous novel, and it’s nice to see her get her own story here. Even if you’re new to the series, this novel works well as a stand-alone. The journey through Haiti and the developing relationship with Devon is great adventure. In fact, this book puts the adventure front and center, and lets the romance play second fiddle. Given the characters, though, and Cassandra’s narrow focus, that seems quite natural and the story doesn’t suffer at all. I look forward to future installments of this exciting paranormal series.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2006
ISBN# 0-312-93849-7 (paperback)

Crescent Moon - Lori Handeland

Crescent Moon
A Nightcreature Novel #4
Lori Handeland
St. Martin’s


Diana Malone is a cryptozoologist, which means that she should be on the hunt for a previously unknown animal. Thanks to a promise she made to her dying husband four years ago, though, she spends her time investigating sightings of possibly legendary creatures. When she gets a call from Frank Trallient at 3 am, asking her to travel to New Orleans to investigate the possibility of a werewolf, she’s receptive to the idea. In fact, she’s on a plane the next morning and standing next to a bayou by the following evening.

Several people have been killed over the years in the same general area of apparent animal attacks. Not enough to raise an alarm, but enough for Frank to take notice, and enough for Diana to detect a pattern. The killings occur during the crescent moon. She meets her guide next to the swamp in question, but prefers to go searching at night, when the animal is supposedly active. In the meantime, she investigates a rundown and abandoned mansion, owned by the Ruelle family. Local legend has it that the family was cursed generations ago, although details are sketchy.

That evening, Diana and her guide venture into the swamp. While out of her sight, her guide died, the victim of a large animal. As everyone continues to tell her, there are no wolves in Louisiana. But Diana is fairly certain that’s what she heard. And there’s the mystery of Adam Ruelle, last surviving member of his family. Many locals believe that he’s dead, but Diana knows the man she met in the swamp after the death of her guide was no phantom. Who is he, really? What secrets is he hiding? And how is it that Diana saw his face in a dream before she ever saw him in person?

The character of Diana is an interesting one: four years after his death, she still keenly feels the loss of her husband and best friend. She’s working on getting her PhD, but specializing in chasing Bigfoot-like creatures doesn’t present her with many opportunities for publication. She understands that her promise may be stopping her from living her life, but she feels bound by it. But even with all of that, she’s no shrinking violet; she’s a very capable and intelligent woman.

While this is part of a series, it works very well as a stand-alone novel. I haven’t read the previous books (although I plan to, as soon as possible) and had no problems with this one. The setting is appropriately creepy. It doesn’t get much more atmospheric than a moldering ruin of a mansion set next to a New Orleans swamp. The interaction between Diana and Adam is very natural and believable. The paranormal elements are done very well. If you’re a fan of the genre, and having discovered this author yet, this is a great place to start.

Rating: 8
February 2006
ISBN# 0-312-93848-9 (paperback)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

X-Rated Blood Suckers - Mario Acevedo

X-Rated Blood Suckers
Mario Acevedo


It all began, as it so often does, with a visit from a woman called Katz Meow. Ms. Meow is a stage name, of course, and the woman who sports it is a porn star. Excuse me, an “erotic film actress.” Her reason for being in Felix Gomez’ office in Denver is completely serious. She wants him to investigate the murder of her good friend and co-star, Roxy Bronze. The murder, like most of the porn industry, was in Los Angeles. The police made noises and paperwork, but got nowhere near finding the murderer.

There are plenty of suspects, starting with Cragnow Visoom, president of the video company that made Roxy famous. Roxy bought out her contract and had plans to start her own production company. According to Katz, Cragnow was more than a little worried that Roxy would take a lot of the talent with her. Then there are a couple of politicos who tried to push through something called Project Eleven. Roxy worked hard to stop the project and the resulting scandal cost the politicians enough to make them viable suspects.

But the most worrisome thing, from Felix’ point of view, is the suggestion that vampires might be involved. Not that Katz believes in vampires any more than she believes in fairy tale endings. But other people do, and she’s willing to follow any lead. Felix is shocked at this revelation, since, as a vampire, he knows that the rules of his “family” forbid revealing the secret of vampires to humans. The Araneum, a sort of global governing network for vampires, takes swift and merciless action against those who violate the rules. However, the Araneum is aware of a possible breach in Los Angeles and orders Felix to investigate, beginning with the leader of the Los Angeles nest, one Cragnow Visoom.

The character of Felix, a veteran of the war in Iraq, is an excellent blend of a private investigator and a vampire. The author adds some interesting new twists to the vampire mythos; and, since Felix is a new vampire, his struggles to acclimate are believable. Felix’ unhappy past comes into play here, leavened by a liberal supply of dry wit. Perhaps the most amazing twist of all, though, is the author’s ability to weave the vampire story in with the mystery investigation, without allowing either one to suffer. Readers offended by the porn industry, or don’t enjoy vampire stories… well, if you weren’t warned off by the title alone, I don’t know what else to tell you. I’m sorry that I missed the first book in this series, THE NYMPHOS OF ROCKY FLATS, but I’ll soon be correcting that mistake. Mario Acevedo is a great talent, and an author to watch.

Rating: 8
March 2007
ISBN# 978-0-06-083327-5 (trade paperback)

Friday, June 01, 2007

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Hot - Stephanie Rowe

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Hot
Stephanie Rowe
Warner Forever


The first thing you need to know about this book? It’s humor. The second? It’s the third book in a series. I wasn’t aware of either of these facts going in, and I admit, I was confused for the first few chapters, until I got to know the characters. This could very well be because I haven’t read the first two installments (DATE ME BABY, ONE MORE TIME and MUST LOVE DRAGONS.) I think if I’d read these first, my experience would have been much different.

The setup is anything but straightforward for newcomers. Nick Rawlings is, quite possibly, the last of his kind. The Markku were Satan’s personal warriors until they got tired of taking orders and revolted. As you might expect, Satan didn’t like that, and managed to wipe out virtually all of them. In their place, he created the Rivka, minions that are inextricably tied to his own lifeforce, and, thus, slaves.

One of those slaves is Becca Gibbs, Satan’s favorite Rivka. But Becca, who has been harvesting souls for centuries, is more than tired of slavery and is looking for a way to gain her freedom. It’s not looking too good until she meets up with Nick, who is searching for his sister’s kidnapper. The kidnapper wants Nick to kill Satan by the end of the week, or Dani, his sister, dies. Nick is fine with killing Satan, except for that pesky no-retribution promise he made his father and grandfather. And there’s the slight complication that if Satan dies, so does Becca.

Becca is only interested in Nick because he may hold the key to existing outside of Hell and separate from Satan’s lifeforce. That’s what she tells herself, anyway. Complicating Becca’s existence is Paige, an apprentice and spy sent by Satan. So, Becca wants her freedom, Nick wants his sister, and Paige wants to be the best Rivka she can be. What could possibly go wrong?

The book starts out strong, with a good bit of action, followed by some exposition necessary to new readers like me. The story really takes off when Becca, Nick, and Paige all get together. If you’re looking for supernatural-lite, this is it. There’s just nothing scary about a Satan who dresses in designer clothes, speaks in broken English, and needs advice on his love life. For readers used to urban fantasy and darker stories, this may be a bit disconcerting. The ending lacked a bit of punch, but, again, that might be because I missed the first two installments. However, I enjoyed this one enough that I’d be interested in reading them. Unique characters and an interesting plot make this an entertaining trip to the softer side of Hell.

Rating: 7
May 2007
ISBN# 0-446-61901-9 (paperback)