Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Myth-Chief - Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye

Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye


At the outset, I should state that I read a couple of the MYTH books ages ago and remember really liking them. Those books were early in the series, though, and I haven’t kept up with this world since then. My long hiatus from the series makes me feel pretty much like a newbie; and I can say that it’s not at all difficult to pick up this novel and understand the characters and setting. The only problem new readers may face is that they want to go back and read the previous books.

The wizard (of dubious skill) Skeeve, known as the Great Skeeve and head of M.Y.T.H., Inc, decides that retirement is more boring than restful and decides to go back to work. After some consideration, he decides that the only place for him to hang out his new shingle is in the Bazaar that is, essentially, the crossroads of all worlds and dimensions. But he didn’t think his plans all the way through, and discovers that, while his old friends at M.Y.T.H., Inc are happy to see him personally, they’re a little confused as to his new role. At first glance, it looks like he’s going to be competing against his old outfit for business.

Skeeve, and his assistant Bunny, do all they can to avoid stepping on toes, and even refer business back to the guys at M.Y.T.H., Inc. But it’s inevitable that their paths will cross, and they do. It’s clear that there can only be one Boss (chief,) so Skeeve and Aahz, who now heads things, decide on a little wager. They’ll each take on the next case that comes in, and their success or failure will determine which of them is in charge. Anyone who has even seen a sitcom will understand that this plan has ‘trouble’ written all over it.

Maybe it’s just rose-colored hindsight, but this installment does not live up to my memories of the first few MYTH books. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining; it most certainly is. I just got a different vibe from this installment. The plot is a bit thin and the finale seems rushed and unexpected. New readers will feel pulled into the MYTH world along with Skeeve as he returns and sets up a new business. There’s plenty of action, a good bit of humor, and a great cast of characters. Readers who like their fantasy mixed with more than a bit of noir will enjoy this series.

Rating: 7
February 2009
ISBN# 978-0-441-01687-7 (paperback)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Undone - Rachel Caine

Outcast Season: Book One
Rachel Caine

Urban Fantasy

This is the first book in new series based on the author’s Weather Wardens novels. It’s very clear, at least in the first portion of the book, that most of the characters and relationships were established in the previous series. I haven’t read any of the Weather Warden books, but the author did such a good job at sketching in the background that I never felt lost. I do wish I had read the previous books, just on general principles, though, because it’s clear that I missed some good reading.

Cassiel was a Djinn; a being of the aetheric plane. When she refuses a request from Ashan, her ruler, he punishes her by casting her out of the aetheric and dumping her on the human plane in a human body. In order to survive, she needs regular infusions of energy from Wardens, keepers of elemental forces. Due to previous problems with the Djinn, the Wardens are not too happy to have to work with Cassiel, but realize the value in her ability to focus their powers.

Cassiel teams up with Manny Rocha, an Earth Warden. During their first job together, averting a potentially devastating earthquake, the two are attacked by an unknown force. There’s an attack by fire at Manny’s office that puts Cassiel, Manny, and Manny’s brother Luis, in danger. During this attack, an unknown Djinn pulls Cassiel to safety. The attacks escalate, eventually putting Manny’s family in danger, too. Luis was a gang member before discovering his Earth Warden gifts, and still has enemies from those days. Cassiel has lived forever as a Djinn and made plenty of enemies.

The biggest surprise for Cassiel is discovering that being human means actually caring for the people around her. The opening pages detail her ‘fall’ to human status and make the pain of that transition abundantly clear. Her adjustment to being human and all that it entails is the real story. Discovering who or what is behind the attacks and dealing with her feelings for humans, including Luis, is a bonus. I’m sure that readers of the first series will enjoy this novel more thoroughly, knowing all the background. I enjoyed the novel even without that; but I plan to read the Weather Warden series as soon as possible, and look forward to the next installment in the Outcast series.

Rating: 8
February 2009
ISBN# 978-0-451-46261-9 (paperback)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Evil In Carnations - Kate Collins

Evil In Carnations
A Flower Shop Mystery
Kate Collins


Coming home from a romantic vacation is always a downer; especially when you took the red-eye home and only have time for a quick shower before heading off to work. It’s even worse when the police come knocking on the door. Abby Knight, no stranger to trouble due to her penchant for getting in the middle of investigations, figures the officers want her. Not so. They’re after her roommate, Nikki.

Nikki is newly single and not happy about it. In an effort to get her back in the groove, Abby convinced Nikki to try speed dating, even volunteering to go along to the event. Nikki met a handsome guy, Jonas Treat, but Abby had him pegged as trouble from the first second. While Abby was away, Nikki went on a date with Jonas. Now he’s dead and the police would like to talk to Nikki about that. Obviously, Abby knows that Nikki would never hurt anyone. And it doesn’t take long for her to find out that Jonas was well known in certain circles as a scammer, so there might be any number of people who would want him dead. Trying to clear her friend’s name while running her flower shop is tough enough. It gets even more complicated when her boyfriend’s over-enthusiastic family enters the picture.

This is the latest installment in a long-running series (ACTS OF VIOLETS, A ROSE FROM THE DEAD, SHOOTS TO KILL) but the author does a great job of crafting each novel so that it can be read by newbies as easily as longtime fans. Abby is a fun character who manages to insert herself into police investigations without seeming to try. In this case, it makes sense that she’d be protective of Nikki, her best friend since third grade. Especially since Abby feels partly – or, a lot – responsible for pushing the speed dating in the first place. There’s a wealth of suspects, making the mystery nicely complicated. Another solid entry in this very entertaining series.

Rating: 7 ½
February 2009
ISBN# 978-0-451-22623-5 (paperback)

Malice In Miniature - Margaret Grace

Malice In Miniature
A Miniature Mystery
Margaret Grace
Berkley Prime Crime


Retired teacher Geraldine (Gerry) Porter (MURDER IN MINIATURE, MAYHEM IN MINIATURE) is putting the finishing touches on her latest miniature creation while enjoying some time living with her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter Maddie. Gerry’s current project is a box room representing the Lincoln-Douglas debate for the upcoming “Real President’s Day,” celebrated by the residents of Lincoln Point. Mary Lou, Gerry’s daughter-in-law, will be contributing a watercolor painting of the same debate. In fact, the local art community has come together in a big way for the event, which will be documented by the local TV station.

In a small town, everyone is more or less connected to everyone else. Gerry’s next-door neighbor, June, arrives one evening, looking for Gerry’s nephew, Skip, June’s boyfriend and a local detective. June is beside herself because her best friend, Zoe, has been arrested for murder. It soon comes out that Skip did the arresting. The victim was Zoe’s boyfriend, another local artist. June is adamant that Zoe couldn’t possibly have done it, and Gerry wants to help her neighbor, but isn’t sure what to believe about the alibi June provided for her friend.

The whole thing sounds very convoluted as a summary, but as written, it makes perfect sense. It’s a small community and the various relationships between residents are realistic. Eleven-year-old Maddie’s glee at being involved in “another case” might seem a bit distasteful, but at her age, the excitement of investigating with her grandmother is the draw; the reality of death doesn’t really occur to her, especially that of a stranger. Like most kids her age, Maddie is a child one moment and a young woman the next. In fact, all of the characters are quite well written.

There’s very little (ha) chance that I’ll ever want to start building miniature rooms or decorate dollhouses, but the descriptions given throughout the text allow me to understand the allure of finding just the right ‘something’ to use as a piece of furniture or a tiny painting on a wall. Gerry’s involvement is understandable, since the victim is a few degrees removed from Gerry yet still part of the loose artistic group to which she belongs, and she wants to help June. The plot is complicated enough to keep the reader’s interest to the end, and leaves Gerry, a truly likable character, with plenty of room to grow.

Rating: 7
February 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22558-5 (paperback)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Run For Your Life - James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Run For Your Life
James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
Little, Brown and Company


Recently widowed, NYPD detective Michael Bennett has his hands full with his job and taking care of his ten adopted children. Good thing he’s got Irish nanny Mary Catherine, who seems to love the kids as much as he does. When he gets a call from the Commissioner, asking him to take a case, Bennett knows that it’s not going to be good. In one afternoon, a man walked into the Ralph Lauren flagship store and shot a clerk. Hours later, a man calmly entered 21 and shot the maitre’d . In a possibly-related incident earlier that day, a well-dressed businessman knocked a woman off a subway platform into the path of a train.

It doesn’t take long for Bennett to realize that these three acts are somehow related; and all perpetrated by the same man. The killer is calling himself The Teacher. He’s provided the press with a sort of manifesto, detailing his reasoning and explaining why his actions are to better the quality of life in New York. Regardless, Bennett and his team hit the ground running, trying to catch this guy before he kills again.

Some of the chapters are written from Bennett’s pov; some are from The Teacher’s. It’s very interesting to watch these two men, both good at what they do, try to outsmart and outmaneuver each other. Even though the reader is privy to much of The Teacher’s thoughts and logic, the authors still manage to hold back a good deal of information until later in the book. The Teacher is a worthy adversary; smart, tough, and scary.

Bennett was last seen in STEP ON A CRACK. I enjoy his character when he's on the job. The scenes of him at home with his ten flu-ridden children, though, feel a bit too much like “Cheaper By The Dozen” and tend to interrupt the flow of the story. Seeing him balance his personal and professional life makes him realistic; I just think there could have been a bit less of that. The final scenes are a bit over the top, but by the time I got there, I was fully invested in the story and had no problem just going with it. As usual, Mr. Patterson and his co-authors serve up a good story at a breakneck pace.

Rating: 7 ½
February 2009
ISBN# 978-0-316-01874-6 (hardcover)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Flirting With Temptation - Kelley St. John

Flirting With Temptation
Kelley St. John
Forever/Grand Central

Contemporary Romance

In her thirty-four years, Babette Robinson has followed several different career paths. She’s studied for several degrees (and has the student loan debt to show for it) and has held twenty-three different jobs. She’s just not sure what she wants to do with her life. That all changes when Babette attends a wedding for Richard and Genie, a couple she helped to reconnect. During the groom’s toast, Richard specifically thanks Babette for reuniting the two and calls her their “personal love doctor.”

This gives Granny Gert, Babette’s irrepressible grandmother, an idea. Babette’s current fascination is reading people through body language. Why not translate those skills into a business? Plenty of people out there would love to get back with an old flame; or wonder what might have happened with someone who was ‘just a friend.’ Babette grabs the idea and runs with it. She becomes The Love Doctor. The income is great, and she’s got a 100% success rate so far. Too bad she can’t use it on her old flame, Jeff Eubanks. The two were on-and-off for three years until a silly fight over the phone ended things. Now he’s engaged to Kitty Carelle, a local socialite.

The wedding date for Jeff and Kitty comes and goes with no wedding. Turns out the two broke up, but Kitty’s aversion to publicity has kept the details out of the society pages. Babette is shocked and dismayed when Kitty wants to hire her – at triple her usual fee – to get Jeff back for her. Talk about a conflict of interest! But Babette can’t turn down the payday, and wants to remain professional, so she agrees. Kitty has no idea that Babette and Jeff used to see each other. Babette decides to give it her best shot. Jeff instantly shoots her down, but comes up with an interesting counter-proposal: if Babette can get through the next week without flirting with other men (he believes women can’t commit) then he’ll agree to at least talk to Kitty. That should be easy. Right?

Babette is written as a sort of free spirit. But, really, what kind of mid-thirties woman would find it nearly impossible to stop flirting like a teenager for a week or so? That shouldn’t be that much of a challenge. And throwing Jeff and Babette together practically ensures that those old sparks are going to fly. There really isn’t a whole lot of suspense about what’s going to happen there. So it’s a good thing that Granny Gert, a widow, asks for Babette’s help in reconnecting with an old flame from her very distant past. Between this subplot and the various other senior citizens who live in Jeff’s resort/condo building, things remain interesting.

This novel is based on one of my pet peeves: the fight/misunderstanding that could have been solved, long ago, with one direct, honest conversation. When Babette and Jeff fight on the phone, they’re both too stubborn to be the one who calls back, and allow that fight to widen into a rift. It’s silly for a couple of adults. (Other readers love this plot device, I know.) On the very bright side, Babette’s transformation from unemployed to The Love Doctor is handled in a brilliantly realistic way. It’s not just another goofy venture; it’s something she’s good at and a real career for her. The secondary characters, including various family members are all funny and believable and make the trip more than worthwhile. Over all, this is a fun, light read.

Rating: 6 ½
February 2009
ISBN# 0-446-61923-X (paperback)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Corked By Cabernet - Michele Scott

Corked By Cabernet
A Wine Lover’s Mystery
Michele Scott
Berkley Prime Crime


Nikki Sands is the manager of Malveaux Estates, an operation in the Napa Valley that includes a winery and a hotel and spa. She and Derek Malveaux finally decided to live together, and Nikki is busy moving her stuff into Derek’s home. While there, Derek’s brother, Simon, asks a favor. A huge, enormous favor. It seems that Simon’s new guru needs a place to hold his latest retreat. And Simon volunteered the hotel and spa. Guru Sansibaba and his group, including his wife and three grown children, will be arriving in a week. Since the entry fee for enlightenment at the feet of Sansibaba is a cool $100,000, it’s more than clear that everyone will expect top-flight service.

When the group arrives, it’s hardly the hippy-dippy bunch Nikki expected. They are just as demanding as she feared. She also finds it not a little ironic that the man who teaches a stress-free existence has such a dysfunctional family. But, the show must go on, and Nikki leads a dinner trip aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train. During the trip, Nikki and the guru’s two daughters (one of them seriously inebriated) find Iwao Yamimoto, a member of the group, dead. Someone slit his throat and stuffed a cabernet cork in his mouth. Perhaps someone took exception to his characterization of the guru’s program as “horseshit.”

There have been several installments in this series, (SILENCED BY SYRAH, A VINTAGE MURDER) but newcomers will have no problems jumping in at this point. The murder takes place on a moving train, lending a bit of an Agatha Christie air to the proceedings. The guests are all strangers to the area, providing a new and interesting pool of suspects. The author does a great job at delineating each character and suggesting compelling motives for each. For those so inclined, there are recipes and wine pairings scattered throughout the story. You don’t need to know anything about wine to enjoy this mystery. CORKED BY CABERNET is the most consistently entertaining entry in the series to date.

Rating: 7 ½
February 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22644-5 (paperback)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Renegades - T. Jefferson Parker

The Renegades
T. Jefferson Parker


The old Wild West never really disappeared. Now, instead of ‘cowboys and Indians’ it’s cops and drug-runners. The modes of transportation may have changed, but the mentality is still very much there. Charlie Hood is now working in the high desert north of Los Angeles as a Sheriff’s Deputy. It’s a lot of wide-open spaces, desert, tumbleweeds, and a whole lot of driving. Charlie doesn’t mind the driving; he loves it. Maybe he’s chasing something, maybe something is chasing him, but the movement makes him feel better.

His new partner is Terry Laws, known throughout the department as “Mr. Wonderful,” not only for his bodybuilder physique, but also for his charity work and arrest record. But lately, Mr. Wonderful isn’t looking like he feels so wonderful. After a routine call, a dark figure wearing Blood colors shoots up the patrol car with an automatic weapon, killing Laws. Internal Affairs asks Hood to help them with the investigation into the shooting.

Part of the investigation is considering the possibility that Laws was a specific target. Looking into his past, Hood discovers that Laws had quite a bit of income without a definable source. Right about the time the money started coming in, something in Laws changed. The timing coincides with a major arrest Laws made while partnered with reserve deputy Coleman Draper. Finding out what really happened on the night of the arrest will be the key to breaking the case.

The reader knows exactly what happened on that night, right from the start, since it’s told in flashbacks, narrated by Draper. This removes a lot of the suspense from the story, since we’re just watching Hood piece together what we already know. The portions of the story that deal with his pursuit of the actual shooter and figuring out his involvement are more interesting, since that hasn’t been completely spelled out for the reader.

Since we know that Draper and Laws are/were involved in some seriously illegal activities, it’s hard to really care about finding justice for the murdered Laws. Hood is the only person to root for here, and maybe that’s a deliberate choice by the author. Hood is forced to work alone, pulled out of his normal duties by IA, putting everything together even when it seems that maybe no one really wants to know the truth. Hood is a character worth following, since his sense of justice is crystal clear and unwavering. The desert setting adds to this sense of isolation. The vast emptiness and extreme temperatures make for a hostile and unforgiving environment; the harshness a kind of metaphor for Hood’s situation.

Rating: 8
February 2009
ISBN# 978-0-525-98095-0 (hardcover)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Seeing Red - Susan Crandall

Seeing Red
Susan Crandall
Grand Central/Forever

Romantic Suspense

Sixteen years ago, when Ellis Greene was thirteen, her adored cousin Laura was brutally attacked, beaten, and left for dead. She never regained consciousness, and died after four years. The immediate prime suspect was Nate Vance, Laura’s boyfriend at the time. Ellis, however, was sleeping over with Laura when the older girl was taken from her home. She managed to catch a glimpse of the man, and it clearly wasn’t Nate. In face, Ellis’ eyewitness testimony made it possible to convict Hollis Alexander for the crime.

Life moved on, and Ellis grew up and became an elementary school teacher. She won’t go out after dark, and lives in a gated community behind locks and alarm systems. And she teaches young girls self-defense moves so they’ll be able to fight back in case of trouble. Then the unthinkable happens. Hollis Alexander is granted parole. The family had appeared at each of his previous hearings and told their story in order to keep him behind bars. This time, they weren’t notified.

Hollis Alexander on parole, living in a halfway house. And he has very serious plans for those people he claims wrongly convicted him. He starts with reporter Wayne Carr, convincing him to write a series of articles, pointing the finger back at Nate. What no one knows is that Nate is back in town. It’s only sheer luck that brings Nate and Ellis back together. When a young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Laura is murdered in much the same way, Carr alludes to the fact that Nate is back after a long absence. Nate and Ellis work together to try to catch Hollis. And Ellis has to remind herself that she has no idea what kind of man Nate has become in the intervening years.

While the author attempts to create doubt about Nate’s past and present activities, it’s not too successful, given Ellis’ view of him, then and now. I will admit, though, that his referring to Ellis as “pure,” more than once, is a bit creepy. Ellis’ family doesn’t share her view, and they and her recently-ex-boyfriend try to warn her off him. Hollis Alexander is a seriously scary character, making his machinations that much more believable. There’s a lot going on in this novel, with townspeople and various family members, and the author effortlessly keeps all the balls in the air until the conclusion.

There are some very interesting and surprising twists included; always a very big plus. Really, this novel could be read as ‘suspense with romantic elements’ just as well as ‘romantic suspense.’ To me, the romance portion was a foregone conclusion. The suspense plot was crafted very well and kept my interest right up until the end. The writing, as always from Ms. Crandall (PITCH BLACK) is excellent. I look forward to her future novels.

Rating: 7 ½
February 2009
ISBN# 0-446-17857-8 (paperback)

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Brass Verdict - Michael Connelly

The Brass Verdict
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown and Company

Legal Thriller/Police Procedural

This novel, which brings together two of Connelly’s best inventions, veteran cop Harry Bosch (ECHO PARK, THE OVERLOOK) and criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller (THE LINCOLN LAWYER) begins with the latter asserting that, in a court of law, everyone lies. In Mickey’s view, this is useful. The trick is to find the one lie that you can use to completely deflate the prosecution’s case and save your client. There was a time when prosecutor Jerry Vincent didn’t agree; then he lost a high-profile case and crossed the aisle to become a defense attorney.

Mickey has been out of the game for over a year, due to a gunshot injury and resulting addiction to painkillers. His call to come back is just about as big as it gets. Jerry is dead; shot to death by persons unknown. Bottom line, Jerry is leaving Mickey his practice and his cases. That includes the very public case of a Hollywood producer accused of killing his wife and her lover. Mickey is trying to play catch-up and suggests delaying the start of the trial. The producer flatly refuses. He’s either supremely confident, or he knows something Mickey doesn’t.

Meanwhile, the investigation of Jerry Vincent’s homicide has fallen to Harry Bosch. Where Mickey sees the worlds in a myriad of shades of grey, Bosch is a moralist. During the course of the investigation, the two men form an alliance of sorts. Both respected Vincent, and both want to nail his killer.

Far too often, an author with more than one successful character will bring the two together with less than stellar results. Not here. Here, it works perfectly, since Harry – the better-known character – is essentially a supporting player. Much of the action centers around Mickey and his court cases. While this might stall a lesser author, Connelly’s brilliant use of set pieces and dialogue make these scenes come to life. Expect to spend a couple of very late nights navigating the twists and turns on the way to The Brass Verdict.

Rating: 9
October 2008
ISBN# 978-0-316-16629-4 (hardcover)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Fool And His Honey - Charlaine Harris

A Fool And His Honey
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery
Charlaine Harris
Berkley Prime Crime


In this latest installment of the long-running series (see list below for previous titles) Aurora (Roe) Teagarden and her husband, Martin Bartell get a surprise visitor. Martin’s 22-year-old niece, Regina, arrives without warning, without her 18-year-old husband, and with an infant. The whole situation is just strange. No one in the family had any idea she was pregnant. She clearly intends to stay a while, so Martin and Roe install her and the baby in the apartment above the detached garage.

The presence of a baby in the house makes Roe’s biological clock tick ever louder, especially since she’s got fertility problems and an older husband who has already raised one family. Roe and Martin decide to attend a dinner party that evening, as planned. When they return home, Regina’s car is gone, but another car is in its place. Far worse, Regina’s husband is lying on the steps up to the garage apartment, dead. The baby is hidden under the bed. It’s not until the following morning that Roe and Martin discover another unexpected houseguest, hidden behind the couch.

Too much time is spent on the ins and outs of heating bottles, changing diapers, and setting up travel cribs. It’s very true, though, that the care of a baby is hugely time-consuming, and Roe’s conflicted feelings (wanting a baby of her own v. having one dumped in her care) are interesting. The search for Regina, Martin’s strangely distant behavior, and the truth about the baby make for an absorbing mystery. There’s a subplot involving ordinary people behaving in odd ways that is brought up, dropped for most of the book, then inadequately explained in a few paragraphs. It seems that many readers were outraged by the final events in this book, but I found them logical and realistic. This may mark a turn for the darker in this series; only time will tell.

Rating: 6 ½
February 2009 (reprint)
ISBN# 978-0-425-22639-1 (paperback)
The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries:

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Turn Up The Heat - Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant

Turn Up The Heat
A Gourmet Girl Mystery
Jessica Conant-Park and Susan Conant
Berkley Prime Crime


Business is booming at Simmer, an upscale restaurant in Boston. That means long, hard hours for executive chef Josh Driscoll, and not a lot of time for his girlfriend, Chloe Carter. Chloe misses time with Josh, but she’s got her plate full with studying to be a social worker and the pregnancy of her best friend, Adrianna. Both of them were worried about Adrianna’s fiancé, Owen, since he seemed happy to float from one odd job to the next. Since the pregnancy, he’s really turned himself around. He’s got a job taking orders from restaurants around town and delivering fresh fish each day. It’s a real job, and it’s steady.

Owen is so proud of his new job that he wants everyone to see his truck, complete with refrigeration unit mounted on the back. When Chloe sees the truck, she’s less than impressed. That might have a little something to do with the fact that she discovers Leandra, a waitress from Simmer, dead in the refrigeration unit. Leandra and the owner of the restaurant were involved; and Chloe saw Leandra arguing with another server the night before her death. But that doesn’t explain why anyone would want to hurt the young woman. Clearly, it’s time for Chloe to put on her sleuthing hat before the bad publicity hurts the restaurant and her boyfriend’s career.

This is the latest in a series, but no prior knowledge is needed to enjoy it. It’s clear that the characters have some history with each other, but that’s all sketched in quite nicely in the opening scenes. Those scenes also introduce the restaurant and cuisine. Recipes are included at the back of the book. During the investigation, some interesting things pop up, letting the reader feel that the conclusion could go a couple of different ways. The tone is quite light and has a real element of ‘chick lit’ about it, making it a good choice for a wide spectrum of readers.

Rating: 6
February 2009
ISBN# 978-0-425-22663-6 (paperback)