Monday, October 24, 2016

Commonwealth ~ Ann Patchett

I have never read anything by Ann Patchett, though I had heard of Bel Canto.  When I saw the description, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read Commonwealth: too many books on dysfunctional families are already on the market!  But I am so glad I decided to give this one a try.  I was able to experience what it is like to be in the hands of a literary master.  Every time I picked this book up, I completely lost track of the world around me and fell deeply into the narrative of the story.

In brief:  one stolen kiss at a Christening party in southern California has far-reaching consequences for two couples and their six children over a period of five decades, causing each of them to redefine the meaning of family.

The story is narrated mostly by Franny, the baby whose Christening starts the whole spiral of events.  The book goes back in forth in time, and at times it can be challenging to keep track of all the characters – there are six step-siblings whose lives are deeply affected by that simple kiss.  Two of the characters divorce their spouses and marry, causing two families to be blended, and not in the best way.

This book is kind of a challenge to review because so much happens to the characters, and I don’t want to give too much away.  The author manages to tie up each story line in a way that is so very satisfying. The book follows each of the children as they grow up, some overcoming the damage done by their parents’ actions, others struggle their whole lives. I think that many readers will be able to relate to this novel who grew up in blended families. After reading a novel like Commonwealth it’s hard to go on to the next book in your TBR stack without comparing it to the wonder you have just read!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Magic Binds ~ Ilona Andrews

I've been a fan of the Kate Daniels Urban Fantasy series since it's inception and was thrilled to receive an ARC of Magic Binds from the Publisher through NetGalley!  This is the ninth book in the series, so if you are unfamiliar with it, start reading Magic Bites and escape into this unique world of action-packed magic and mahem.  It's one of the best UF series out there.....

As Kate and her lion shifter fiance, Curran, approach their wedding date, we are not surprised to see that a number of situations have occurred that may foil the event: Frost god Saiman is kidnapped and needs rescuing; the witches are having horrible visions of Kate's loved ones dying; and squabbles within the shape-shifting pack are ongoing.

When Kate realizes that she is between a rock and a hard place, she enacts a plan to save Saiman, Curran, her unborn son and all of Atlanta: no problem!  Magic Binds is great addition to the series, with more information being revealed about side characters that contribute to the plot, and plenty of surprises.  The best part, as always, is the dialogue between the characters and the evolving relationship between Kate and Curran.  These characters are well-developed and unique, and spending time with them is very satisfying, even if one has to suspend one's belief a few times as the plot develops.  I know that there are going to be many happy readers when this latest in the series is published tomorrow. Congrats to the authors, editors and publisher for continuing to deliver in this excellent Urban Fantasy Series!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Playing Dead ~ Julia Heaberlin

I so enjoyed Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin that I recently picked up her debut novel, Playing Dead¸ and finished it at 1:00 a.m. this morning! It’s a great mystery, with characters so real you’d think they lived in your neighborhood (if y’all are from Texas)!

Tommie McCloud has just moved back home to Ponder, Texas, population 1,101, to handle her recently deceased father’s business affairs and help her sister, Sadie, with their mom, who is suffering from dementia.  Unexpectedly, Tommie receives a letter from an unknown woman in Chicago who claims to be Tommie’s birth mother and states that Tommie was kidnapped as a baby 30 years before.

What follows is a suspenseful mystery as Tommie follows a trail of clues that somehow link her life with the slaughter of a family in Chicago, the murder of a beauty queen in Oklahoma and a mafia don named Anthony Marchetti.

Tommie is a great narrator, a former rodeo queen who pokes fun at southern quirkiness, yet still extols the vast beauty of the land and skies of her native state.  The reader will get caught up in the suspense of the story as Tommie comes to understand that everything she thought she knew about her childhood is suspect.  With the help of a former lover, her hippy sister, a gruff newsman and a suspicious writer, Tommie unravels her past and uncovers unexpected secrets and lies about the family she thought she knew.  This one kept me turning the pages and had some fantastic twists I didn’t see coming.  Can’t wait to see what Ms. Heaberlin comes up with next!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Black-Eyed Susans ~ Julia Heaberlin

Nominated for the 2014/2015 TLA Lariat Adult Fiction Reading List, Julia Heaberlin’s third outing, after Playing Dead and Lie Still, is an intricate and suspenseful story of memory and sacrifice, within the confines of a serial killer tale.  Avoiding the usual graphic and gruesome descriptions commonly found in this type of book, the author instead relies on excellent character development, figurative language and nail-biting suspense as she alternates between the year 1995, when Tessie Cartwright was found barely alive in a mass grave, surrounded by Black-Eyed Susan flowers, and the present day, shortly before the man accused of the crime is to be executed.

Tessa Cartwright is an artist with a teenage daughter who has struggled, somewhat successfully, to overcome her horrific youthful trauma.  She doesn’t let anyone know that she sometimes hears the voices of the other women who did not survive The Black-Eyed Susan Killer, whispers that tell her that the actual killer might not be the one behind bars.  The author very deliberately sprinkles clues in each chapter, present and past, and the reader is inexorably drawn into the story, unwilling to stop reading until the next part of the plot is revealed.

I actually started this book on audio for my work commute, checked out the print version at my library and downloaded the digital version, as well, so that I could keep reading the story, no matter where I was!  The narrator is excellent on the audio book, handling the various characters and the Texas accents with ease.  I became emotionally attached to the characters: Tessie/Tessa, her daughter Charlie, the elderly neighbor Effie and the other characters who are working hard to prove that an innocent man is in jail for this heinous crime.  The book also provides keen insights into the experience of death-row inmates, most of whom probably deserve to be there, but not all; and this makes the reader think about our justice system in a new and different light.

I read so many books that I feel I can say, without a doubt, that this is a well-written, well-constructed and mesmerizing tale of psychological suspense, and as an added bonus, I had absolutely no clue how it would end!  Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Time of Departure ~ Douglas Schofield

Schofield, Douglas. 2015. Time of Departure. New York, NY: Minotaur Books, a division of Macmillan Books.  ISBN  978-1250072757 $25.99 USD.

Time of Departure is a bit hard to classify, in terms of genre.  It is a solid mystery, with newly discovered skeletal remains being uncovered, along with a handsome older man who knows more than he should about the crime; it’s a romance, as two star-crossed lovers meet and fall in love, and eventually, it falls into the realm of science fiction, but if I say much more about that, I’ll give too much of the story away!

Claire Talbot is the youngest female Florida State Prosecutor to be promoted to Felony Division Chief, and not everyone is happy about it.  She has a lot to prove.  When a road construction crew uncovers old skeletal remains of two women, Claire reopens a 30 year old case involving a string of abductions that were never solved.

During her investigation she meets retired homicide detective, Marc Hastings, who once worked the case and later disappeared.  Marc knows a lot about the case, obviously, but also knows a lot about Claire – much more than he should.  Together, with Marc’s steadfast guidance, they follow the clues to solve the mystery of the dead women and try to catch the killer.

Time of Departure is an engrossing mystery and a poignant love story and ultimately provides a shocking, mind-bending twist – one that you might or might not see coming.  I had fun with this one!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Forgotten Room ~ Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig

White, Karen, et. al. 2016. The Forgotten Room. New York, NY: NAL/Berkley Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0451474629. $26.00 USD

It’s unusual to come across a novel written by three authors, and one would wonder how the three different writing styles would mesh.  I’m happy to say that these three prolific authors have done an excellent job of telling one story, in three parts.  Set in three different eras in New York City, the late 1800s, the 1920s and mid-1940s, this novel tells the story of one mansion, its inhabitants over the years, and secrets that were born in a forgotten room on the top floor.

With three different narrators, and times-shifts between the historical eras, the writing is nonetheless seamless.  And some of the chapters end in such a way that you have to resist flipping forward to the continuation of the story line (I admit I didn’t resist a few times)! If you enjoy historical fiction, with a bit of romance, this emotionally satisfying novel will be a treat for you.

Friday, August 5, 2016

All the Time in the World - Caroline Angell

Angell, Caroline. 2016. All the Time in the World. New York, NY: Henry Holt & Company, a division of MacMillan Publishing. ISBN 978-1627794015. $15.00 USD

Caroline Angell’s debut, All the Time in the World, doesn’t seem like the work of a first time author. The narrative, dialogue, tricky time shifts, and characters are all extremely well done.  I found myself getting lost in this story of family drama, and rooting for the characters.

Charlotte is a twenty-something gifted music composer, who for reasons not at first apparent, finds herself employed as a babysitter for a wealthy couple in New York, Scott and Gretchen McClean. Her two charges, Georgie and Matt, play a large role in the story, and the author does a good job of capturing the temperament and dialogue of these two young boys. (My own sons had the same issues with the letter “L” and hard “C’s” so I was nostalgic when I read some of their conversations- though some readers might be critical of this type of dialogue).

Very shortly after the novel begins, Gretchen McLean is killed in an accident, and Charlotte finds herself stepping into a much more demanding role in the family than she expected.  The novel shifts back and forth in time, before and after the accident, to give us perspective on Charlotte’s life and the reason she hasn’t written any music in several years.  The most poignant scenes in the book are between Charlotte and the family as they try to navigate their new reality without Gretchen, who held the family together.

This is a story that delves deeply into the emotional lives of very real characters that the reader will come to care about. Yet it doesn’t fall into maudlin territory: we are shown love, wisdom, even humor in the midst of their suffering – just like we experience in real life. Ms. Angell handles her debut with a deft hand, and I am hoping we will see more from this author.

Only one criticism: the author includes a couple of fairly explicit sex scenes that don't seem to match the tone of the rest of this family drama.  It doesn't add anything to the narrative, and seems to be not thoughtfully considered in her construction of the plot. Other than that, though, it was a satisfying read.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

American Blood ~ Ben Sanders

Sanders, Ben. 2015. American Blood. New York, NY: Minotaur Books, a division of MacMillan. ISBN 978-1250058799.  $24.99 USD

I was intrigued by the premise of this thriller, about a former New York undercover cop in the witness protection program living in New Mexico and hiding from the mob. Warner Bros. has optioned the film rights, with Bradley Cooper tapped to produce and star in the lead role. When I took a look at the author’s bio, I was amazed to learn that this native New Zealander had his first book published when he was 20 years old, and still an engineering student at the University of Auckland.  American Blood is the first book set in the United States; his previous three-book series is set in New Zealand and they were all national best sellers.  I am amazed at the talent that a single person can possess!

Marshall Grade is living in relative anonymity in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after an undercover job gone wrong forces him into the witness protection program.  He has some seriously bad guys after him, including an assassin named “The Dallas Man.”  He subleases his house to a clueless tenant in order to stay even further off the grid, and is hiding from the federal marshal in charge of his case, whom he doesn’t really trust.  He doesn’t really trust anyone.

One evening he sees a news story about a missing young woman who reminds him of someone from his past that he apparently could not save, so he decides to save this unknown woman instead.  And….it’s off to the races!

Marshall uses his skills honed as an undercover cop and his survival instincts to track down information on the missing woman.  He encounters a female detective recovering from a personal tragedy, and together they proceed to outwit the kidnappers in order to rescue the girl.  Marshall is a bit of an anti-hero, as we learn he did some pretty nasty things during his undercover work, and most of the villains in this book are really, really, bad.  I had to skim over some of the more gruesome scenes.  But I commend the author for creating a compulsive page-turner (he was under 25 when he wrote this, folks)!  He can definitely hold his own against other more mature and prolific writers out there.

This one’s not for the faint of heart, but the main characters are so well-drawn, with fully-realized back stories, that you can’t help but root for them, despite some not-quite-legal actions they take to save the missing woman.  Ultimately, Marshall realizes that his actions can’t replace what he’s lost, but salvation can be found in all sorts of places.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

I'm Thinking of Ending Things ~ Iain Reid

Reid, Iain. 2016. I’m Thinking of Ending Things. New York, NY: Gallery/Scout Press, a division of Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1501126925. $22.95 USD.

I read this slim volume, which packs the punch of a much bigger novel, while on vacation in July and it scared me silly! I was sitting in the common area of our cabin in the woods, the black night making visibility opaque through the windows, and had to stop and read something else, deciding this book is best read during the daylight!  It is not a horror novel, per se; it’s actually rather difficult to classify. But the suspense toward the end is so intense that I felt like closing my eyes (except that I wouldn’t have been able to read, of course!  That reminds me of Groucho Marx’s famous quote, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read”)!  A little levity in this rather dark and deep book review!

A man and a woman, who are dating, are on a drive to a farm in the country (somewhere) so that she can meet his parents.  During the drive, all kinds of interesting things are discussed.  But we know from the beginning  that the woman is “thinking of ending things.”  We also know something terrible is going to happen, because between chapters, written in italics, are conversations of unknown people saying things like, "How did this happen? Did anyone see it coming; What a tragedy; Did he bleed out?"  So we have in-your-face-foreshadowing that the narrative is leading us to something bad, bad, bad. 

After a very strange visit to the man’s parents’ house, on the way back home, with the woman still considering “ending things,” the man makes a stop at his old high school, and then disappears, leaving the woman alone, in the dark, in the snow, in a creepy abandoned building.  It was at this point that I had to stop reading, and pick up some light chic lit!  I can’t write any more without giving too much away, but be prepared to have your mind blown by the ending.  I’ve read the reviews on Amazon, and a number of people didn’t seem to understand what happened at the end and gave it negative reviews.  All I can say is that it’s worth a re-read if you aren’t quite sure what happened, and think about the title of the book from a different perspective.  Outstanding debut!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Little Beach Street Bakery ~ Jenny Colgan

Colgan, Jenny. 2015. Little Beach Street Bakery. New York, NY: William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0062371225. $14.99 USD.

I have fallen in love!  Jenny Colgan’s Little Beach Street Street Bakery was a delightful vacation read, with a strong sense of place, local color and well-developed, quirky characters including a hilarious Puffin named “Neil.”

Image result for puffin

Polly Waterford, together with her long-term boyfriend, owns a graphic design business in Plymouth, England that is failing.  Polly has done everything she can to save the business, but ultimately finds herself facing bankruptcy, a depressed boyfriend and homelessness. Seeking an affordable place to live (harder than it looks), she eventually lands, single again, in a flat above an abandoned bakery located in a quiet seaside town on the Cornish coast, only accessed by a causeway that has high tides twice a day.

 As she rests and tries to figure out what she is going to do for the rest of her life, she bakes bread for comfort, and ends up starting a business, caring for her neighbors, falling in love and finding her place in the world.  Brimming with vivid descriptions of a Cornwall coastal town and its inhabitants, this book is a treat for the senses, a feel-good novel of pure escapism.  And admit it, sometimes that’s just what we need!  A sequel, titled Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery, was published in March.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Blood of the Earth - Faith Hunter

Hunter, Faith. 2016. Blood of the Earth. New York, NY: Roc Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. ISBN 978-0451473301. $7.99 USD.

I was looking forward to this spin-off from one of my favorite Urban Fantasy series involving Jane Yellowrock, an American Indian Skinwalker, set in a New Orleans not quite like our own.  One good thing about this title is that it is not necessary to be familiar with the Yellowrock series to enjoy this book, though the background is helpful, especially with all the were-creatures discussed.

Nell Ingram, a young widow, grew up in a cult-like church community in the south, and although she has escaped and is no longer obligated to the discipline of the church, she still has family ties. However, with the location of her land so near theirs, she is regularly harassed by certain misogynistic male members of the "church."

Nell has a type of supernatural power that is connected to her land, and I enjoyed how the author used anthropomorphism to reflect the emotions of the land and unique descriptions of its power.  It was intriguing to watch the main character, Nell, grow and change over the course of the book, coming out of her shell and gaining confidence in her self and her powers. I like that we aren't told too early what kind of magic she possesses, which keeps the mystery fresh and propels you to keep reading.  I do have to admit I wasn't fond of the dialect that Nell uses at times, what she calls the "church" language; though after some research, I found out "you'uns" has been around for a long, long time and represents a diminutive of "you ones" from Scottish or Irish settlers.  Very interesting, but a little awkward - it interrupts the flow of reading and makes the characters seem not so bright.  Other than that, I enjoyed Blood of the Earth, and the appearance of some of the characters from the Yellowrock series.  A second title in this spin-off series will be published in November: Curse on the Land.  And of course, I will continue to look for the next Yellowrock title!

Monday, July 25, 2016

All is Not Forgotten ~ Wendy Walker

Walker, Wendy. 2016. All is Not Forgotten. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-1250097910. $26.99 USD.

Beginning with an enticing premise, Wendy Walker's new novel asks an intriguing question - if you had the chance to erase a traumatic memory, would you, or more thought-provoking, should you?

The concept of the unreliable narrator has been so popular lately that I was almost put off by yet another psychological suspense/literary thriller with that kind of set-up. However, the author does such a good job of examining each character, and their motives, that it felt fresh and new, especially with that unique question that readers will be asking themselves: which memory would I erase, and what would be the ramifications to my life, and the lives of those around me, if I could do so?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

How to Murder a Millionaire ~ Nancy Martin

Martin, Nancy. 2002. How to Murder a Millionaire. New York, NY: Signet Publishing Company, a division of Penguin Random House. ISBN 978-0451207241.  $7.99 USD

I realized that I’ve been reviewing a lot of pre-pub titles that folks don’t have access to yet (I get them because….I’m a librarian with a blog!  Great perk)!  However, that doesn’t help those reading the blog, except to perhaps create interest and excitement over forthcoming titles.  I was walking the “stacks” at the library (another word for the book shelves) and saw a series I have been reading since it first came out.  It’s one of my favorites, so I thought I’d review it.  Most libraries should have this series.

Written by the prolific Nancy Martin, the Blackbird Sisters Mystery series is set in Philadelphia and has a great cast of unique characters.  The main character, Nora Blackbird, comes from an old, wealthy family and lives in the rather dilapidated family home.  Her parents, apparently not good money managers, have left the country, leaving her the property, land and a two million dollar tax bill.  Finding herself needing to work to make ends meet, Nora raids her grandmother’s vintage clothing cache in the attic and goes to work as a society page columnist for a local paper, using her connections to gain entrance to the upper crust establishment society gatherings.  Her sisters, wild child Emma, and flaky, earth mother, Libby, round out the quirky cast.

On Nora’s first assignment, she unwittingly stumbles across a murder: a millionaire art collector who is an old family friend.  As she investigates the crime, using resources she didn’t know she had, she crosses paths with a variety of intriguing characters, including the son of a rumored New Jersey crime boss, who shows more than a little interest in the down-on-her-luck blue blood.

Currently, there are ten titles in the series, and a two-book spin-off series about a relative of Mick Abruzzo, Nora’s love interest.  I’ve read all these mysteries and have enjoyed the experience and characters.  Give them a try!  The first title in the series is How to Murder a Millionaire, followed by Dead Girls Don’t Wear Diamonds.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

An Obvious Fact ~Craig Johnson (Pub. Date September 13, 2016)

Johnson, Craig. 2016. An Obvious Fact. New York, NY: Viking Books. ISBN 978-0525426943. $28.00 USD

Craig Johnson’s Longmire series has a large following, with a popular TV series on Netflix keeping fans entertained, as well.  His new novel, scheduled for a September release, takes the laconic sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming on a road trip with his trusty side-kick, Henry Standing Bear, to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.  This novel has one of the best opening chapters Johnson has penned!

The title of the book comes from one of the many Sherlock Holmes quotes that Henry voices, deadpanned, during the novel, to Walt’s irritation and chagrin (Hank “borrowed ”Walt’s copy of the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, you see).  Henry takes his car, Lola, and his two motorcycles, also named after women, to compete in a race he won at a much younger age.  While in Sturgis, the original Lola, whom Henry had a relationship with many years ago, approaches the duo to investigate a motorcycle accident that has left her son in a coma.  During the course of this entertaining read, new quirky characters are introduced, droll dialogue is displayed on every page, and a complex plot is revealed featuring motorcycle gangs, a reality TV star, an ATF agent and a MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle named “Pequod” (Moby Dick, natch).

Image result for white mrap

An Obvious Fact was a wholly satisfying and entertaining read, and I am only disappointed at having to wait another year for the next title in the series.  Luckily new episodes of the TV show are scheduled for September.  This is one of my favorite reads of the year, so far.

The Hating Game ~Sally Thorne (Pub. Date August 9, 2016)

Thorne, Sally. 2016. The Hating Game. New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks.
 ISBN 978-0062439598. $14.99 USD.

Reading The Hating Game by Sally Thorne reminded me of some of the Hepburn/Tracy films with their love/hate relationships, snappy dialogue and large city workplace settings, updated for the 21st century (with language and sex, of course)!  As Sarah Hudson wrote in a blog post for "Arts and Literature Review Blog," the Hepburn/Spencer “films tended to be about the clash between personal ambition and personal relationships, something that men and women [still] haven’t really been able to reconcile.”  This seems true about Thorne's book, as well.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman work for a fictitious publishing company, comprised of two smaller firms that merged.  They are each executive assistants to co-CEO’s who despise each other, and Lucy and Josh work in a small office with desks that face each other.  The title of the book “The Hating Game” comes from the fact that Lucy and Josh’s interactions are combative and competitive, like a sports match - a bit like tennis, with the verbal volleys being batted back and forth between them.  Lucy’s bright clothing, optimistic attitude and quirkiness seem to grate on Josh’s nerves, and his joyless, OCD, passive-aggressive tendencies are driving Lucy insane!  They indulge in various other games:  “The Staring Game,” where they see who will blink first, and “The Mirror Game,” where they copy each other’s movements, as well as other “games” of one-upmanship.

When Lucy and Josh both are presented an opportunity for the same promotion, things really get tense.  But somewhere along the line, Lucy and Josh realize another game is afoot:  The Game of Love.  Watching these two characters, to whom the author has given well-developed back stories, we are treated to an entertaining romance that sizzles when they finally stop all the games and start embracing their attraction to each other.  This is an entertaining and satisfying romance, and the HEA is well-deserved for these “players.”

Geared toward mature audiences.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Vacation Break!!

Took a break from real life and spent a week in the woods!

It was beautiful, but HOT, in East Texas!

Our "cabin" with amazing amenities.  No camping for me!

I read and finished 7 books, but haven't had time to review them since I've been back at work.  Here's the list of what I'll be reviewing soon:

An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson
Time of Departure by Douglas Scholfield
The Forgotten Room by Karen White, et. al.
The Hating Game by by Sally Thorne
The Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
American Blood by Ben Sanders

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series ~ Louise Penny

Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery Book 1) by [Penny, Louise]

I am currently reading/listening to the Chief Inspector Gamache series (set in and around Quebec) by author Louise Penny, which has turned into such a joyous experience that I am sad to know I only have one book left before the August, 2016 release of book eleven, A Great Reckoning. All of these books, save the newest, are narrated on audio book by the amazing Ralph Cosham, who passed away in September, 2014.  Mr. Cosham narrated over 100 books over the course of his life, and he made the characters in this wonderful series, especially the intelligent, calm and wise Gamache, come to life.  There really is no comparison to this outstanding series, though, as a librarian, I often attempt to find read-a-likes for fans hungry for titles to satisfy them during the long wait before a new Inspector Gamache novel is published.  If you haven't heard of this series, and are interested in checking it out, you won't be disappointed.  Some are better than others, as you find in all series, but the author does such an incredible job of revealing a bit more about her characters in each book, that you can't help but keep on reading.  Enjoy!

The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay ~ Kelly Harms (Pub. Date: August 9, 2016)

Harms, Kelly. 2016. The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay. New York, NY:  Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 978-1250070616. $25.99 USD

Looking for a beach read?  Or something to beat the heat?  In August, you’ll want to immerse yourself in this charming tale set in Chicago and Wisconsin in the middle of winter.

Lily Stewart is a painter in Chicago, just starting to show her work in the gallery owned by her sometimes-boyfriend, when she finds herself evicted from the only home she’s known for the past ten years.  She finds that all her art school friends have moved on to settle down in marriages with families, and both her boyfriend and her best friend refuse to help her out, thinking she needs to grow up and stop “playing” at art.  As she is packing up her few household items (she mostly owns paints and canvases), she comes across a letter from the State of Nevada, requiring her to submit certain documents to annul a quickie Vegas wedding from ten years earlier.  With no place to live, she embarks on a road trip to Minnow Bay, Wisconsin, to deliver the news to Ben Hutchinson, her still-husband, and finish the annulment. But the universe has other plans for Lily Stewart…..

This fairly simple description doesn’t do justice to the incredible character development that the author of The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane has created in her new novel.  With a cast of well-developed supporting characters and a small town Wisconsin setting that is almost a character itself, reader’s will fall in love with this feel-good read about a down-on-her-luck artist and her attempts to turn her life around.  I truly enjoyed this refreshing novel that hits all the right notes.

Borderline ~ Mishell Baker

Baker, Mishell. 2016. Borderline. New York, NY: Saga Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.
ISBN 978-1481453066. $25.99 USD

Mille Roper is a paraplegic film director with Borderline Personality Disorder.  Did you ever imagine reading that description for a heroine/protagonist in an Urban Fantasy novel??  Well, you will be surprised how well this works in Mishell Bakers debut, Borderline.

Millie is in a psychiatric unit after a failed suicide attempt that has left her missing parts of both legs and struggling to learn to deal with her BPD diagnosis, when she is visited by an aloof stranger offering her an unusual job with a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality, filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales. Millie knows her chances of working any other type of job are slim, so she takes the offer, despite the severe reservations of her therapist, with whom she has made quite a bit of progress.

This author has done her homework on BPD, and we are educated in the coping skills used by people suffering from this disorder. I actually read some articles just to educate myself (information junkie that I am), and was pleasantly surprised at the accuracy written into the book’s main character.

Millie joins a group of rag-tag mental patients who are tasked with keeping track of (and keeping out of trouble) a number of fey who are masquerading as celebrities in Hollywood. Millie’s first assignment is tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. In order to find him, she’ll have to interact with some of Hollywood’s power players and immerse herself in what lies beneath the glamour of Tinseltown. Millie’s own inner demons are giving her enough trouble, but if she fails to locate the missing nobleman, she’ll be out of a job and possibly contribute to the shattering of a centuries-old peace which could spark an all-out war between worlds. No pressure.

With the unusual set-up of this fresh Urban Fantasy novel, you wouldn’t think it would work.  But, somehow, it does and we are treated to a unique new world where protagonists with real disabilities co-exist with a secret world, unseen by most of society.  Luckily, this is book one of the Arcadia Project series, and hopefully we can look forward to more of Millie and her co-workers’ adventures in the next novel to come.  As with most novels these days, expect some language and graphic descriptions interspersed with a surprising amount of humor.  I was surprised how much I enjoyed this unconventional novel and the curmudgeonly heroine, who, in spite of her circumstances, still manages to convey hope for her future.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

First Star I See Tonight ~ Susan Elizabeth Phillips (Pub. Date August 23, 2016)

First Star I See Tonight by [Phillips, Susan Elizabeth]
Phillips, Susan Elizabeth. 2016. First Star I See Tonight. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
ISBN 978-0062405616. $26.99 USD

Welcome back, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a consistently enjoyable romance author who has provided many hours of escapist reading for her legion of fans!  She took a slight detour in her last novel, Heroes are my Weakness (puppets?) and now returns to the Chicago skyline and the fictional Chicago Stars NFL football empire in her new novel, First Star I See Tonight, to be published August 23rd.

Cooper Graham is a retired Stars quarterback, who went out on a professional high by winning the Super Bowl for the team.  He now owns a celebrity nightclub where he is the main draw.  Piper Dove is a struggling private investigator in debt from purchasing her father’s PI Agency from her step-mother, since her deceased father never allowed her to work with him.  But she is feisty and determined.  She gets caught following Cooper for someone vetting his company as an investment opportunity and loses her only client.  An irritated and angry Cooper blackmails her into doing some investigative work for him, and…..sparks fly!

Piper is anything but a girly-girl, wholly unlike the models and actresses Cooper usually dates. She’s tough, argumentative, and in some ways, more masculine than he is; but there is something about her…..Piper thinks Coop’s ego is the size of the Star’s football stadium, although his physical presence is the stuff of daydreams.  Shakespeare’s statement that  “the course of true love never did run smooth” is quite apt in describing this delightful novel, full of snappy dialog, a cast of quirky supporting characters, including some favorites from previous Stars novels, and a HEA that Cooper and Piper struggle to reach.  Though this novel can be read on its own, I highly recommend all of the Chicago Stars books, starting with It Had to be You.  Looking for beach reads?  This series is perfect for you, then!

Monday, June 20, 2016

All the Missing Girls ~ Megan Miranda (Pub. Date June 28, 2016)

Miranda, Megan. 2016. All the Missing Girls. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
ISBN 978-1501107962. $25.00 USD.

YA author Megan Miranda makes her adult fiction debut in All the Missing Girls, and has created an unusual and challenging mystery written in reverse chronological order.  Nicolette Farrell left Cooley Ridge, North Carolina after her best friend, Corrine, went missing one night after attending the local fair.  Nic left behind her family, her boyfriend, Tyler, and a number of secrets.  Ten years later, now engaged to a main line Philadelphia attorney, Nic is called home by her brother to help get her childhood home ready to sell, and deal with her father’s increasing dementia.  She has also received a note from her father saying, “I saw that girl,” and Nic is convinced he’s talking about Corrine.

Once she arrives in Cooley Ridge, she is visited by her old boyfriend, and within a day the girl he is now dating goes missing.  History seems to be repeating itself, the box of secrets is about to be opened, and Nic’s closest family and friends may be implicated.

What makes this novel different from other mysteries I’ve read is the author’s clever use of reverse chronology, so that each chapter steps backwards in time, over a two week period, and clues are revealed which alter the reader’s perspective and understanding of the events that have, and are, happening.  I recommend paying close attention while reading this one, even keeping notes and a timeline.  The unusual narrative of this excellent novel kept me fascinated right up to the satisfying end.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Vinegar Girl ~ Anne Tyler (Pub. Date 6/21/2016)

Tyler, Anne. 2016. Vinegar Girl. New York,NY: Hogarth Shakespeare/PRH/ The Crowne Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0804141260. $25.00 USD.

I was a huge fan of Anne Tyler’s early work, especially “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,” “The Accidental Tourist,” and “Celestial Navigation.”  I spent four years studying classic literature as an English major in the 1980’s, and was so burned out, I didn’t read anything remotely “literary” for years!  Eventually, I discovered the early works of Barbara Kingsolver and Anne Tyler and have been a voracious reader of contemporary fiction ever since.

 Ms. Tyler, in my opinion, put the “fun” in “dysfunctional” families!  Recently there have been a spate of novels dealing with the subject of dysfunctional families, but I have found many of them to be depressing.  As an author (which I am not), I think you need a balance of humor with the family dysfunction in order to not turn off your readers.  Anne Tyler seems to understand this.  I have to admit, I have not read many of her later works, but I was looking forward to her contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, “Vinegar Girl.”  This novel is part of an ongoing project to provide contemporary adaptations of some of Shakespeare's best known plays. Other authors who have signed on include Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood, Tracy Chevalier, Gillian Flynn and Jo Nesbo, to name a few.

What the reader needs to understand about this book is that it is the author’s interpretation of the major themes in Shakspeare’s play, one of his most challenging.  It is not a “re-telling” of it.  In “Vinegar Girl,” we meet Kate Battista, a college dropout and assistant preschool teacher who lives at home with her father, a stereotypical absent-minded scientist, and her sister, Bunny, an airheaded teenager.  Dr. Battista is about to lose his valued lab assistant, Pyotr, due to work visa issues and concocts a plan to marry him off to Kate in order to get him a green card.  Simple, right?  In Anne Tyler’s capable hands, these characters come alive.  Kate’s curmudgeonly inner and outer dialogue is juxtaposed with Pyotr’s sweetness (for the most part) and his challenges with the English language, providing some of the greatest scenes in this slim volume (“Khello, Katya!”).  So long as the reader has a little background on The Taming of the Shrew, and understands the author’s intent, I feel this novel will be an entertaining and satisfying experience.

Missing, Presumed ~ Susie Steiner (Pub. Date 6/26/2016)

Steiner, Susie. 2016. Missing Presumed. New York, NY: Random House. ISBN 978-0812998320. $27.00 USD.

I read a lot of books for my work as a librarian, to keep current for readers advisory, and for my personal pleasure, as well, as time allows.  I have never really developed an attraction for British police procedurals (though I’m a fan of Ian Rankin and Ken Bruen (Scottish and Irish detectives, respectively). However, I know British mysteries are popular here in the states, so I’m familiar with the most well-known authors of this genre.  I was intrigued by "Missing, Presumed," because, based on the description, the main character, a female DS named Manon Bradshaw, seemed like someone I wanted to know more about.

Although it was a slow start for me, I eventually became very invested in the police investigation, the supporting characters and Manon’s personal life. In this mystery, set in Cambridge, a beautiful graduate student goes missing, leaving behind very few clues. Her parents are highly connected in the area, and the Cambridgeshire police force knows the spotlight will shine brightly on the investigation. As Manon and her colleagues follow what few clues they have, we are treated to a solid police investigation, as well as the inner lives of several characters affected by the crime.

Not all successful books are written in short chapters with cliffhangers, lots of dialogue and graphic violence, though that seems to be what often makes it to the best-seller list these days.  So, for me it was a pleasure to read a novel like this one, with well-done POV changes, engaging dialogue, and real-life characters, flaws and all.  I will be recommending this one to my patient readers who aren’t in such a hurry to get the finish line and who can enjoy the journey.

The Highwayman ~ Craig Johnson

Johnson, Craig. 2016. The Highwayman. New York, NY: Viking Press, a division of Penguin Random House. ISBN: 978-0735220898. $20.00 USD.

Craig Johnson is an author who knows how to take care of his fans.  As we eagerly, impatiently, await his one full-length Longmire novel to be published each year, he gifts us with short stories, sometimes on his website, and sometime published as novellas mid-year.  Such is the case with "The Highwayman>" Thank you, Mr. Johnson!

In this short title, Wyoming Highway Patrolman Rosey Wayman, who first made an appearance in the Longmire title "Another Man’s Moccasins," has been transferred to the remote Wind River Canyon area, known to be a “no-man’s land” due to the lack of radio communication caused by mountain tunnels.  It’s also known as a haunted area where, 50 years ago, a Native American highway patrolman, Bobby Womack, met a fiery death.  When Rosie starts to hear “officer needs assistance" calls on her patrol car radio at the same time each night, her supervisor thinks she’s losing her mind. Hence, the call to Walt and Henry Standing Bear to help solve this supernatural puzzle.

This isn’t the first Longmire story where Johnson uses references to supernatural occurrences in his narratives, usually related to Native American folklore. Walt actually wears a ring belonging to a deceased Native American whose ghostly presence helped him survive a blizzard in another novel. Sometimes these literary tangents work well, and sometimes, not so much.  In "The Highwayman," reality and other-worldliness co-exist well and make for a satisfying story.  A cast of interesting side characters round out the usual entertaining dialogue between Walt and Henry, and a surprising twist to Rosey’s backstory leaves the reader with a satisfied sigh.

As we wait for September’s "An Obvious Fact," the next full-length Longmire novel set in an around the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, "The Highwayman" serves as a pleasant balm to our Longmire withdrawal.  For those of you who enjoy the Longmire TV show on Netflix, episodes are currently being filmed in Santa Fe and Las Vegas for a binge-watching release, hopefully in September.  And, having had a sneak peak at the new Longmire title coming in September, as well, all I can say is….best opening chapter, ever!

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Second Life of Nick Mason ~ Steve Hamilton

Hamilton, Steve. 2016. The Second Life of Nick Mason.New York, NY:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN:  978-0399574320.  $26.00 USD.

The controversy surrounding this new novel by Steve Hamilton caught my eye months ago, and based on the description of the book, I was intrigued.  Mr. Hamilton left his publisher of 17 years and moved to G.P. Putnam after making a statement that he wasn’t well treated by St. Martin’s Press, causing an extended  delay in publishing the first title in his new series, The Second Life of Nick Mason.  I was happy when the book came in, and since I’m a librarian, I had one of the first holds – a secret perk of working in a library!

Nick Mason was a thief, a very good one who partnered with some childhood friends, primarily stealing cars. But he changed his ways after wanting to settle down with his wife and child, and tried to “go straight.”  He is reluctantly drawn back into one last job, where, unfortunately a DEA agent was killed.  He refused to implicate his friends and was sentenced to 25 years in a federal prison.  After 5 years of keeping his head down and avoiding trouble, he is approached by a fellow inmate named Cole who wields a tremendous amount of power, both in and out of prison.  And Nick makes a devil’s bargain for the opportunity to get to know his daughter, who he hasn’t seen since he was imprisoned.  His sentence is vacated in exchange for some future unnamed favors for Cole, and he finds himself free, twenty years earlier than expected.

At first, his life is a dream: a mansion to live in, classic cars to drive and a beautiful roommate, all the property of the devilish Cole.  He tries to reestablish a relationship with his daughter, but his ex-wife has remarried and doesn’t want anything to do with Nick.  And one of the former police investigators of the case, Sandoval, is extremely suspicious of Nick’s early release and has Nick on his radar.

All these elements seem to be a great mix for an excellent thriller. But…it just doesn’t really work. The characters are rather flat and underdeveloped, the money/mansion/cars/love interest are unrealistic.  And when the phone rings, and Nick finds out he is required to become an assassin for Cole, and does, I kind of lost respect for this character. It’s supposed to the first in a series, and I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say, that the devil’s bargain won’t be paid anytime soon.

This novel was snatched up by Lionsgate, and I have to say, it will probably make a good film, along the lines of Taken or The Equalizer. But a book is supposed to be better than the movie, and in this case, I doubt that will end up being true.  This novel was almost universally praised by many well-known authors and professional media, so please take my review with a grain of salt.  I read a lot of books, and some I just enjoy more than others - like any book-lover!

A Wife of Noble Character ~ Yvonne Georgina Puig (Pub. Date 8/2/2016)

Puig, Yvonne Georgina. 2016. A Wife of Noble Character. New York, NY: Henry Holt & Co. ISBN 978-1627795555. $27.00 USD

I adore contemporary adaptations of classic literature, so I was intrigued to see an attempt to modernize Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth.  I grew up in Houston, so I enjoyed reading references to places I’ve been and the representation of the types of people I’ve encountered in that sprawling city.

Vivienne Cally is part of the privileged Houston society, but in name only.  The sole child of a wealthy family, she is orphaned while young, and has been raised by a stern aunt.  The family money has long since been depleted, and though Vivienne enjoys being part of the Houston social elite, she has always been on the outside looking in.  She strongly feels, at the beginning of the novel, that her only goal in life is to marry the rather boorish Bucky in order to have the stability she so longs for.

Preston Duffin, childhood friend of Vivienne and her social circle, has never had the wealth that they share, and is finishing up a degree in architecture in order to make a name for himself.  He has long been enamored with Vivienne, but realizes that he will never be able to compete with the wealthier men surrounding her.  However, he is her friend and tries to help her see that there is more to her than her outward assets.  This novel is considered an examination of social manners, and first time author Puig creates an almost pitch perfect example, updated for the 21st century - including references to sexual situations and language one would not find in the classic examples.

However, I feel that to get the big picture of this book, one needs to be a bit knowledgeable of its classic counterpart, The House of Mirth; otherwise, Vivienne comes across as fairly shallow, and her motivations – to marry Bucky and improve her position in society – seem unenlightened in this day and age. On the other hand, by sticking with this novel, one gradually witnesses Vivienne’s growth as a person, one who has something to offer other than her name and looks.  The characters in the book are larger than life and may seem like caricatures, except I’ve known some of those people!

Ultimately, the best characters are Vivienne and Preston, who keep ebbing and flowing in and out of each other’s lives until they’ve reached a level of esteem in themselves that allows them to be their true selves with each other.  I much prefer the ending of this book than Edith Wharton’s.  Enough tragedies are around us every day and in many of the dark novels so popular right now.  By the end, the reader feels Vivienne and Preston deserve their chance at happiness: they’ve worked so hard for it, you see.

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living ~ Louise Miller (Pub. Date 8/9/2016)

Miller, Louise. 2016. The City Baker's Guide to Country Living. New York, NY:  PRH/Viking/Pamela Dorman Books. ISBN: 978-1101981207.  $26.00 USD.

What a joy and pleasure it has been to read Louise Miller’s debut, The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, especially since I was laid up recovering from knee surgery!  From the opening scene involving a flying, flaming Baked Alaska to the last walk through the Vermont woods, this novel kept me entertained, moved, and eager to enjoy every last “crumb,” so lovingly written and shared by the author.

Olivia Rawlings, a talented pastry chef with a penchant for crazy hair color, causes a disaster by dropping her Pistachio Baked Alaska in front of an elite crowd at the Boston Emerson Club where she works, including her married lover, no less. Fleeing the scene, she lands in Guthrie, Vermont, home to her best friend Hannah, who is married and expecting.  She is offered a temporary job at the nearby Sugar Maple Inn making desserts and, though missing being in a large city where she has always lived, she gradually comes to find life in the country more satisfying than anything she has ever known.  With a cast of quirky characters, a realistic examination of small town life, some surprising secrets, and a slow and sweet romance, this novel reveals how a lonely, banjo playing chef learns a lot about herself in the year she spends in Guthrie, and what it means to call a place “home.”A nice respite, in more ways than one, from the literary thrillers I've been reading lately!

Friday, May 13, 2016

What She Knew ~ Gilly MacMillan

MacMillan, Gilly.  2015. What She Knew. New York: William Morrow. $15.99 USD.  ISBN. 978-0062413864

This novel of literary suspense was a hard one to read at first, because it deals with a topic that is horrifying to any parent: the abduction of a child.  We feel very vividly the terror, guilt, grief and anger of the mother, especially, but also of the other family members, as well as the frustration of the detective who investigated the case.  Once the author has overloaded you with more emotion than you can quite handle, the book moves more swiftly into a mystery to be solved.  I am not ashamed to admit that I read the end of the book first, to make sure I could handle spending all the time I would have to with the main character's anguish.

 The sections from the detective's point of view were interesting, as they were in the format of his therapist's notes from his work-mandated therapy sessions.  Grueling is the word that comes to mind, but they also shed light on the impact that traumatic cases can have on the officers who investigate them.  It's not a book I would choose to read more than once, but it was very well done.

Sleeping Giants ~ Sylvain Neuvel


Neuvel, Sylvain. 2016. Sleeping Giants. New York: Del Rey Books, a division of Ballantine Books.  $26.00 USD.  ISBN 978-1101886694

This novel, a debut written by linguist and translator Sylvain Neuvel, is a fascinating mystery and an elegant piece of science fiction. Written entirely in the form of interviews with an anonymous interrogator, it explores the lives of various characters involved in the discovery and reclamation of a giant robot, body part by body part, buried by an unknown entity or advanced alien species sometime in the past. The story is revealed gradually through the interviews, and the author does a fantastic job of giving distinct personalities to each of the novel's characters. It is also the first novel of a series, so we are left with some unanswered questions to look forward to being resolved in a future title. What is distinctive about this novel is its format.  I've seen novels written in diary or journal entries, emails or text messages, or a mixture of these with prose. But the interrogation/interview format is new to me, and Mr. Neuvel has used this technique to write a novel of propulsive suspense.

My Name is Lucy Barton ~ Elizabeth Strout

Strout, Elizabeth. 2016. My Name is Lucy Barton. New York: Random House.
$26.00 USD.  ISBN 978-1400067695

From the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Olive Kitteridge.  In this slim volume, a young mother is recovering from a surgery gone bad in a New York hospital sometime in the 1980's in the shadow of the Chrystler Building. She is missing her husband and children, who cannot visit her.  One day, her estranged mother shows up and spends five days with her in the hospital, and from there the story begins.  The simple, almost child-like narrative is jarring at first, until one realizes that her mother's visit has caused the protagonist, Lucy Barton, to revert to the insecure, abused and abandoned child she once was, still hoping for some show of affection from her mother.  The story slips by like snapshots from the past and casts shadows on Lucy's childhood, marriage, writing career and her relationships, including those with her daughters.  It is a poignant read of "poverty and abuse," but also of love, which is so fragile, yet resilient as well.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos ~ Dominic Smith

Smith, Dominic. 2016. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. New York: Sarah Crichton Books.  ISBN 978-0374106683. $26.00 USD.

I am not usually a fan of historical fiction.  I much prefer contemporary fiction, literary suspense, mysteries and urban fantasy.  However, this rather slim volume caught my eye, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  The Last Painting of Sara De Vos explores the history of one painting and the lives it impacts, from three separate time periods and locations: the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, Manhattan in the 1950's and Sydney, Australia in the year 2000.

This novel is a mesmerizing look at the lives of a fictional female Dutch painter, the owner of the painting and its forger, and how these lives intersect in history and mystery.  The author writes in alternating chapters from the perspective of each of these three characters, and wonderfully develops each one.  The novel provides voluminous details about the Dutch Golden Age of art and the intricate techniques involved in painting restoration and forgery. The details of the different eras are so exquisitely described that I felt I was entering into those time periods. I got so caught up in this story that I did not want to stop reading as it raced to a surprisingly suspenseful resolution.  I admit this novel may have changed my opinion about reading historical fiction! Very well done.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Shadow Rites ~ Faith Hunter

Hunter, Faith. 2016. Shadow Rites. New York: Roc Publishing.

Faith Hunter continues her Jane Yellowrock series with the 10th book, Shadow Rites, in which Jane and her entire crew get caught up in some extreme magical attacks enacted by two angry witches out for revenge.  The witches and vampires have hated each other for centuries and have enacted wars to rid the earth of each others' species.  In previous books, the ruling councils of witches and vampires in the U.S. have grown closer to a d├ętente, and in this novel they are scheduled for a formal meeting to adopt new rules for dealing fairly with one another.  There are some witches with powerful magical abilities who refuse to accept the easing of tensions and embark on violent attacks on Jane and her crew throughout this book.

It’s always a good day when I get to spend time in this excellent urban fantasy world that Faith Hunter has created.  Jane has grown and allowed herself to become attached to her unusual slew of friends, which in this book now include a vampire Primo, a werewolf and a Grindylow.  My only negative comment about this latest title in the series has to do with something I’ve noticed over the past couple of books.  The descriptions of the magical workings and other paranormal situations are very complicated and, at times, difficult to follow.  I found myself skimming some of it because it was doing my head in!  The denouement also feels a little rushed, and I would have liked to have seen a final image of how Jane is settling in with the new characters, as well as a preview of the status of the upcoming visit from the European Council of Vampires, which has been alluded to in the past several books.  Other than that, as always, I enjoyed spending time in Ms. Hunter’s unique urban fantasy world with Jane Yellowrock, a skinwalker who shares a soul-home with, and can shift into "Beast," a large puma concolor.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Fire Touched ~ Patricia Briggs

Briggs, Patricia. 2016. Fire Touched: A Mercy Thompson Novel.  New York: The Berkley Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0425256763. $27.00 USD.

It’s always a good day to get to spend time in Patricia Briggs’ unique urban fantasy world set in the south-eastern area of Washington state.  In the world of Mercy Thompson, a coyote shape-shifter, you will definitely encounter werewolves, fae, vampires and ghosts, along with very creative monsters for Mercy and her friends to overcome.  In Fire Touched, the ninth full-length novel in the series, the action starts off fast and furious when a colossal troll released by some angry fae takes over a cable bridge and begins to use automobiles and their human cargo like Matchbox toys.  The troll was released to create a distraction while the unfriendly fae try to retrieve a missing and powerful “fire touched” boy who has escaped from the fae reservation.

The pace of this addition to the series is brisk and the interactions among the main characters are as enjoyable as ever.  The enchanted Walking Stick makes numerous appearances and plays a major role in the book.  However, the actions of the character Thomas Hao in this novel are based on a continuation of a short story from Shifting Shadows, (an anthology) which readers would need to have read to completely understand, and the penultimate scene in Underhill is too similar to one in a previous novel for it to be particularly interesting.  I always enjoy the books in this series and was really looking forward to the latest. However, I was a bit disappointed in this one as it did not cover much new ground.  And Mercy doesn’t shift into coyote form even once, which really surprised me in a full length novel about….a coyote shifter!  All in all, this is still one of my favorite urban fantasy series, and the books have a tremendous following.  Holds are high in my library.

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Madwoman Upstairs ~ Catherine Lowell

Lowell, Catherine. 2016. The Madwoman Upstairs. New York: Touchstone Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.  ISBN 978-1501124211. $25.99 USD

For an English major and Librarian, Catherine Lowell’s A Madwoman Upstairs is just about perfect.  A mysterious inheritance, an Oxford, England academic setting, a somewhat revisionist  history of the Bronte family, and a main character, Samantha Whipple, who is the last remaining descendent of that infamous family, all combined in a tale of literature, love, loss and lunacy.  Who could resist?

Samantha, twenty years old, has enrolled as a literature major at Oxford, hoping to move forward from the unresolved grief of losing her father, who homeschooled her, rather unconventionally, until the age of 15.  Her mother left the family when she was young, and her father, infamous for being among the last of the Bronte descendants, raised her on the literature of her historic literary relatives, when he was sober.

This novel is a mystery, as Samantha tries to figure out the location of the inheritance her father cryptically told her he left her; it’s a coming-of-age story, as Samantha learns to be her own person – separate from whom her father wanted her to be; and it’s a story of literature, as the author uses the texts written by Emily, Anne and Charlotte Bronte to create a narrative on how we understand and misunderstand authors and their intent.  Samantha is an intelligent, lonely and driven character, with a snarky voice that instills some great dialogue, especially between her and her tutor, a blatantly obvious Rochester archetype.  Ms. Lowell has hit the ball out of the park in her debut novel.  Highly recommended!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Dark Turns ~ Cate Holahan

Holahan, Cate. 2015. Dark Turns. New York: Crooked Lane Books.
ISBN 978-1629531939. $24.99 USD.

Dark Turns is another novel that was on my Christmas wish list from Amazon (thanks, wonderful family)!  I was drawn to this book because of its academic setting (love academic mysteries!) and ballet dancer main character.  Nia Washington, a talented ballerina, is recovering from a broken heart and taking a break from her ballet touring company to heal from severe tendonitis (which she is hiding from everyone).  She is hired by an elite boarding school as an assistant dance instructor and Resident Advisor for a year.  On the first day of her job, she discovers the body of a drowned student in a nearby lake, which is believed to be a suicide. Nia immediately gets caught up in the investigation by the police, the petty jealousies and mean-girl shenanigans of some of her students, and the admiration of an attractive thirty-something history teacher and advisor.  But all is not what it seems, and Nia has to decide whom to trust before another student comes to a dangerous end.  I did guess the main plot twist before the end, but it did not really dim my enjoyment of the book.  Ms. Holahan has another title coming out in August, The Widower’s Wife, and I will probably give that a try, as well.

Dark Alchemy ~ Laura Bickle

Bickle, Laura. 2016. Dark Alchemy. New York: Harper Voyager Books.
ISBN 978-0062404923.  $6.99 USD.

I am a big fan of urban fantasy, but not so much westerns, so I was a little uneasy about reading Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle, which would be classified more as contemporary dark fantasy than urban. It ended up being so good that I immediately ordered the second book in the series, Mercury RetrogradeDark Alchemy seems to fall into a genre all its own, with hints of Native American mythology and medieval alchemy running through the book.

Petra Dee, a geologist, travels to Temperance, Wyoming, to try to find information about her father who has been missing for many years. She is escaping memories of a deadly oil rig explosion which cost her a job and the life of her lover. What she finds in Temperance is a run-down trailer, a strange magical artifact, a drunken Native American seer, a coyote familiar, two antique guns and a whole lot of trouble brewing between the local drug dealer/alchemist and a brutal rancher with strange control over some individuals she comes to find out are called The Hanged Men.

Petra has a lot of courage, and her desire to find out about her father’s disappearance sometimes drives her to dive head-first into danger without thinking of the consequences. This excellent first book ends in a cliff-hanger, and pretty dark one at that.  However, with the sequel already published (and more books coming) I am looking forward to more of Petra’s adventures with The Hanged Men and her coyote sidekick, Sig. I recommend this one!

Burying Water ~K.A. Tucker

Tucker, K.A.  2014.  Burying Water. New York: Atria Books.
ISBN:  978-1476774183.  $15.00 USD.

I picked this book out and put in on a Christmas list on Amazon last year and promptly forgot about it once I opened it.  I’m glad it jumped off my bookshelf into my hands last week!  K.A. Tucker is a prolific writer of New Adult books, and came onto the scene with the 2013 publication of Ten Tiny Breaths, which I have not read.  The description of Burying Water reminded me of another New Adult novel I really enjoyed, The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, which was a 2015 Lariat winner (5 stars on Amazon, with over 1,150 reviews)!

In Burying Water, the traditional plot of an amnesiac awakening in a hospital is enhanced by the alternating chapters which go back in time and quickly impart the identity of main character.  You would think that revealing this information so early in the novel would take away from the story; but it actually propels the narrative and entices the reader to keep turning pages to find out the whole story, which isn’t revealed until the very end.

Jesse is a twenty-something mechanic in Portland, Oregon who agrees to repair a classic car for a Russian businessman, whom he soon suspects is a mobster.  He meets Alex, the very young wife of the Russian, and her obvious abuse by her husband brings out Jesse’s protective instincts.  In the future time-line, Alex awakens in a hospital with extremely severe injuries and has no idea who she is.  She eventually takes the name “Water” instead of the Jane Doe everyone calls her in the hospital, and goes to live with a cantankerous friend of her doctor in a small Oregon town.  Over time, she notices an attractive neighbor working on his muscle car who seems to be more than a little interested in her.

 As Jesse and Alex/Water’s stories alternate, the reader is drawn into not only their lives, but the lives of the surrounding characters. The author adeptly pulls all the plot threads together to a satisfying conclusion, making the amnesia theme fresh and unique.  This book is the beginning of a series, with three additional titles exploring the lives of other characters introduced in Burying Water.  Recommended for fans of New Adult novels, which deal with more mature themes than Young Adult books, and typically are more explicit.

The Crooked House ~ Christobel Kent

The Crooked House: A Novel

Kent, Christobel. 2016. The Crooked House. New York: Simon & Schuster.
ISBN 978-0374131821. $26.00 USD. 

I was intrigued by the premise of this new novel by Christobel Kent, a prolific London born novelist who now lives in Cambridge.   The main character, Alison, is a London accountant with an academic boyfriend who has been hiding her past from everyone.  As a teenager, when she was known as Esme, her entire family was murdered and only she survived, along with her father, whom everyone assumes committed the atrocity.  She moved away from the village of Saltleigh, assumed a new name and tried to put her past behind her.  When her boyfriend is invited to a wedding in her hometown, Alison agrees to accompany him, despite severe misgivings.  The novel moves back and forth between the current events and Esme’s memories of what happened to her family.  Once she is back in Saltleigh, people, places and events conspire to gradually reveal more and more about the night of her family’s murder, and she comes to believe that her father is not the true mass murderer.  Plenty of twists and turns, and an unsettling feeling throughout, made this book an enjoyable read.  I did figure out “who done it” before the end, and the outcome left a bittersweet feel, as Alison’s life has been filled with so much tragedy.  Worth the read, but I was not a fan of the endin

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Career of Evil ~ Robert Galbraith

Galbraith, Robert. 2015. Career of Evil. Boston: Mulholland Book Books.

I didn’t get very far in my first attempt to read the third title in this series by Robert Galbraith, the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling.  I loved the first book, Cuckoo’s Calling, and the curmudgeonly private detective, Cormoran Strike, along with his savvy and determined assistant, Robin.  The second title, Silworm, was a lot darker, with a ritualistic killing that was hard to stomach.  I wanted to give the third title a chance, but the evil thoughts of the serial killer in the first few chapters were too dark and disturbing, so I decided to give it a pass.  Subsequent to a discussion with a colleague who informed me that the book got better, I decided to try again, once the library holds on the book diminished. 

I did end up enjoying the mystery, the interactions between Cormoran and Robin, and the various characters they encounter in their investigation of an unusual mystery: Robin receives a severed leg delivered by motorcycle courier at their office.  Cormoran believes that the leg was sent by one of four enemies he has made, his step-father or one of three criminals he investigated when he was in the army. The novel alternates chapters conveying the thoughts and actions of the unknown killer, Cormoran and Robin.  I, obviously, preferred the latter chapters to the former and had to skim some of the darker chapters.  Maybe it’s my age, but I find I have less patience reading descriptions of evil and cruelty, and I feel that many authors feel they need to keep raising the “shock” value of their novels as we become increasingly desensitized to dark crimes.

I will continue to give Ms. Rowling a chance with this series, and, as she left a bit of a cliff-hanger in Career of Evil, I will be eagerly looking forward to learning more about the main characters in the next book.