Saturday, August 21, 2010

Almost To Die For - Tate Hallaway

Almost To Die For
A Vampire Princess Novel
Tate Hallaway
New American Library

Young Adult/Paranormal

Anastaija Parker’s life so far has not been exactly normal. Her mom is a True Witch; a witch who can do real magic. Her dad is gone. Her best friend, Bea, is a True Witch, too. At 16, Ana and Bea haven’t been initiated into the circle yet, but Bea can obviously do magic. Ana can do nothing. She knows that if she can’t show some kind of power, she won’t be allowed to attend the Circle meetings anymore. It’s a humiliating experience for those who have faced it. So far, Ana has been able to hide her lack of talent. But the days are ticking down to the moment she’ll be exposed.

As if all that isn’t enough, some guy shows up at the door, claiming to be her father. Her mom shows some pretty impressive magic skills to throw him out, but, naturally, Ana wants to know more. Who is this guy and why has she never met him? Have you noticed how the answers to those questions are never quite the answers you wanted? Turns out, her dad is in charge of the Vampires. Right. That makes Ana half True Witch and half Vampire and totally confused. Her dad wants her to follow his side of the family. Her mom is just as adamant that Ana follow hers. In her dad’s favor would be escaping her over-protective mom and not having to face the Circle as a no-talent dud. Also, the incredibly handsome Captain of the Guard sent to protect Ana. In her mom’s favor would be the entire past 16 years.

This is written for a young adult audience, but anyone who enjoys paranormals (or who remembers what it was like to be 16 and caught between parents) will love it, too. Ana’s background is different, but she was raised in the regular world, with regular friends, and is completely relatable as a high school girl. Her relationship with her mom has a few extra layers, but rings true; and her friends are all great characters. The history of the characters is rich and complex, and there’s obviously a lot more to come. This novel sets the stage for what could be a very entertaining series.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2010
ISBN# 976-0-451-23057-7

Saturday, August 14, 2010

How To Host A Killer Party - Penny Warner

How To Host A Killer Party
A Party Planning Mystery
Penny Warner


Don’t call Presley Parker a party planner. She’s an event planner, thank you. Currently, she’s planning the biggest event of her career. The mayor of San Francisco wants a theme party on Alcatraz. Guests will come costumed as their favorite criminal or crime-solver. All of this is to hide the real reason for the party: it’s a surprise wedding. The mayor is engaged to the gorgeous Ikea Takeda, a novelist, and budding socialite. Sadly, Ikea is not at all happy with the surprise. She tosses her champagne in the humiliated face of the mayor and storms out into the night. The following morning, her body washes up on the shore.

The list of possible killers is impressive, starting with the mayor and ending with Presley. Presley comes under suspicious because, the day before the party, Andi Sax, another event planner ended up dead. It’s true that Andi was supposed to plan the Alcatraz gig, until some falling-out with the mayor. That’s how the party ended up in Presley’s lap. Making matters worse is the fact that Ikea didn’t drown; chocolates served by Presley’s caterer were poisoned. Trying to save her business – and her freedom – Presley starts looking into the crime, using her party-planning guide, with a few changes, to lead her to the killer.

This is the first in a series that shows some real promise. The cast of characters is varied and interesting. There are the city hall denizens, of course. Then there’s the eclectic group of individuals who live and work on Treasure Island, a former military base now given over to artists, a movie studio, and small businesses. It wouldn’t be San Francisco without at least one protester, and there are a couple of them here, both with more or less legitimate axes to grind. The group of people who work with Presley are, to a person, engaging and fun, making for a lively environment.

I found myself more than a little annoyed that Presley feels the need to constantly remind the reader that she has ADHD (this has not stopped her from getting an education, becoming a college instructor, or starting her own business; and doesn’t seem to figure into the story in any way.) I had the killer pegged fairly early on, but there were more than enough other possible suspects to make me doubt my choice. Each chapter is headed by party tips, culled from a book written by Presley’s mom, the former party queen of SF. My personal favorite was Party Tip #9, which says that even perfect plans can go awry, which is why there are party books and jail cells. There’s a nice humor and a breezy style to the writing that really fits Presley. I’m looking forward to seeing what else she’s got up her event-planning sleeve.

Rating: 7
February 2010
ISBN# 978-0-451-22930-4 (paperback)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Sketch Me If You Can - Sharon Pape

Sketch Me If You Can
A Portrait Of Crime Mystery
Sharon Pape
Berkley Prime Crime


When Rory McCain’s beloved Uncle Mac died suddenly, she inherited his house, his car, and his detective agency. As a police sketch artist, Rory doesn’t have a lot of investigative experience, so she decides to refund retainers and refer clients to other agencies. One client, however, Jeremy Logan, has faith in her abilities. Mac was investigating the death of Jeremy’s sister, Gail Oberlin. Gail was a sought-after interior designer who also had a lot of enemies in both her personal and professional lives. She died after a fall down a grand staircase in a house she was working on, and the authorities ruled it accidental. Jeremy isn’t so sure, and after a little digging, Rory agrees.

Along with the material inheritance, Rory also gains custody, so to speak, of one Ezekiel Drummond, a federal marshal from the Arizona Territory. Make that a “late” federal marshal. Zeke’s last case was investigating the serial deaths of several young girls in 1878. His search led him to the house that would become Rory’s, where someone stabbed him in the back. Ever since them, Zeke has been hanging around, held by a need to solve his last case and his own murder. Apparently, Mac, unlike several previous owners of the house, found Zeke’s help quite valuable in solving modern cases. Rory isn’t sure how this ghost thing is going to work out, but she’s willing to give it a try. Especially if it can help her figure out how Uncle Mac really died.

This is the first in a new series, and it looks like it’s going to be a fun ride. Rory is quite believable as a not-quite-cop who feels the need to finish her uncle’s business. She’s part of a police department, but without investigative experience, she’s still very much an amateur sleuth. Her discovery of Uncle Mac’s Big Secret (Zeke) and her reaction are very realistic. As for Zeke, he’s very much the 19th century lawman dragged into the current century. Readers get to see him during his life via several flashbacks. By the end, neither of Zeke’s cases is resolved, but that feels right, too.

The villain of the piece isn’t too difficult to suss out, really. The flow of the narrative is quite good until the final scenes, in which the villain suddenly goes nutty as the big reveal. Those final scenes that complete the investigation into Gail’s death feel strangely different than the rest of the book. Maybe the author’s heart is really with Zeke and his problems. That’s ok with me, since I was always much more invested in his story than in Gail’s. Somehow, the author manages to make a ‘ghost stuck in the house’ story fresh and interesting. I liked Rory as an individual, and I like Rory and Zeke as partners in detection. I’m sure Zeke’s story arc will last for a few books, and I’m looking forward to all of it. I just hope he doesn’t disappear at the end.

Rating: 7 ½
August 2010
ISBN# 978-0-425-23604-8 (paperback)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

False Impressions - Terri Thayer

False Impressions
A Stamping Sisters Mystery
Terri Thayer
Berkley Prime Crime


In the seven months since she’s been home, April’s life has changed dramatically. She’s living in a barn restored by her dad and his partner, Vince. Vince’s parents, having lost everything, are living in the barn with her. It’s an arrangement that’s difficult for everyone, but necessary. April is dating a nice guy and has her restoration business and her line of craft stamps. The stamps are sold by Stamping Sisters, a craft supply business that works on the same model as Tupperware. Her deal with the original owner of the local franchise was that she’d get royalties from the stuff she designed. The new owner wants her to be a saleswoman, too. And to design a whole new line of stamps to be introduced and sold at the local Ice Festival. Which is next weekend.

During one snowy afternoon’s cleanup project, April discovers that one of her friends has a brother, J.B., she’s never mentioned. In fact, it turns out that J.B.’s cremains are still sitting at the local funeral home, unclaimed by his family. Characteristically, April sticks her nose into that situation far beyond the dictates of friendship or even good taste, and alienates her friend. She quickly learns that J.B. was killed when a meth house exploded. All that seems moot when J.B. shows up in town, very much alive. Temporarily, at least. In part to make up for her earlier behavior, but also because she just can’t resist a mystery, April decides to find out just what is going on in her little town.

This series (STAMPED OUT, INKED UP) seems to improve with each new installment. The basic mystery plot here grows from questions about a friend’s brother to something that really affects everyone in town. The pacing is very fast and even and the plot develops very organically. The author makes some choices that may be unsettling for cozy readers, but that are very effective. There is no explicit violence or drug use here, so while cozy fans may be surprised, they can read without fear. I’m still not sure I’d like to have April as a friend, but she shows signs of deepening as a character, and the series continues to find solid footing.

Rating: 7
August 2010
ISBN# 978-0-425-23555-3 (paperback)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Red Hot Fury - Kasey Mackenzie

Red Hot Fury
A Shades of Fury Novel
Kasey Mackenzie

Urban Fantasy

Marissa Holloway is a Fury living in Boston. In fact, she’s been the city’s Chief Magical Investigator for the past five years. Despite a truce after the Time Of Troubles (the p.c. name for a war between the arcanes and the mortals that nearly decimated both sides) many aspects of daily life are still divided. Arcane beings, not mortals, investigate crimes against other arcanes. As a Fury, Marissa (Riss) is sworn to avenge death and violence done by magic.

The story and series begin with Riss called to the scene of a murder. The corpse is that of a sister Fury. That’s bad enough, but even worse, the body is that of Vanessa, Riss’ best friend, who disappeared several years ago. Upon closer inspection, though, and after the initial shock, it seems that this body only appears to be that of Vanessa. Some strong magic is at work here, but before Riss can find out what that is, she’s summarily suspended from her job. A little detail like that isn’t enough to stop a Fury.

She enlists the help of her ex, Scott Murphy, a Warhound. Their story comes with a built-in Big Misunderstanding that has already kept them apart for nearly two years. The explanation for this, and it comes fairly early on, is at least believable as something that would separate two adults. Their romance plays out as a subplot and there are no surprises there. What is surprising is that the author has managed to find some untapped potential in the crowded urban fantasy field. Her world is a fascinating mix of magic and modern technology. In fact, the technology is what allowed mortals to hold their own during the War.

There’s a fair amount of political intrigue going on under the surface, as there are apparently some individuals who would like to see another War, with a more decisive end. Marissa’s family story is fairly complicated, but family relationships are often messy. Furies start life as mortals and manifest their powers in adolescence, so Marissa is an interesting blend of mortal past and arcane present. I could nitpick some of the reveals and twists, but the story is written in such a fun, fresh way that that would be mean-spirited. I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy, and I’m happy when I find something that seems new. This series seems to have a new slant on things and there’s clearly more to come.

Rating: 7 ½
July 2010
ISBN# 978-0-441-01892-5 (paperback)