Monday, June 29, 2015

Little Black Lies by Sharon (S.J.) Bolton

First Sentence:  I believe just about anyone can kill in the right circumstances, given enough motivation.
      
Catrin Quinn, her best friend Rachel, and Faulklands war veteran Callum Murphy are have been joined together by the death of Catrin’s two children, but not in a positive way since they were in Rachel’s care when they died.  Now, they are joined, with the rest of the island, in a search for three missing children.  Resentments, accusations, and distrust are renewed, but can they still find the person who is responsible?
       
A powerful opening is quickly followed by a highly intriguing first chapter filled with evocative descriptions of both places…”Something is moving.  Not the water surrounding me, that seems frozen in time, but the reflection of a bird.”, and of emotions…”Tonight, it seems, my thoughts are determined to stray along the shadowy path, where furtive plans creep like snaring roots across the forest floor, where the darker reaches of our minds run free.” 
      
There is something truly wonderful about an author who makes one pause and consider.  Her descriptions of devastating loss, and being haunted by those who have been lost, is truly remarkable and wrenching.  Then, to add another layer, the descriptions of a mass beaching of pilot whales only adds to the sense of tragedy.  Bolton truly is a master at conveying emotions, and with a very good turn in the plot, another level is added.
      
The construct of the story is interesting and somewhat unusual.  One gets to know the three primary characters well, yet is constantly surprised, while not altogether trusting, by what one learns.  Although it may seem a small thing, she is remarkably effective at making animals very important to the plot.  What is very well done is that each section of the book avoids being repetitive, and very much has its tone.
      
It is a pleasure having a book set in a location new to most readers.  While one applauds Minotaur for including a map, Bolton brings the Faulkland Islands, its people and history, to life.  If there is any criticism, and very small would it be, it is that the first section is so powerful, the other two sections are slightly diminished by comparison.  However, that is also a true reflection of each character’s strength of emotion and, thus, appropriate.
      
Little Black Lies” is an excellent book with a very powerful, did-NOT-see-that-coming ending.  One does love being completely surprised.

LITTLE BLACK LIES (Myst-Catrin/Callum/Rachel-The Falkland Islands-Contemp) – Ex
Bolton, Sharon – Standalone
Minotaur Books – May 2015

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Once Burned by Gerry Boyle

First Sentence: He bought the wick online from a candle-supply shop in Houston, calling the people up first to ask which type of wick burned the hottest.
             
Money is tight, in the McMorrow family, now that Jack and Roxanne have a daughter, Roxanne is no longer working as a social worker, and they have to depend on the free-lance stories Jack sells to the New York Times and other outlets.  An arson fire in the small town of Sanctuary just might prove the story Jack needs.  Rather than being a single incident, it quickly becomes clear that someone has an agenda, and the town is happy to accuse those who are most vulnerable.  Roxanne finds she can’t separate from her old job as much as she’d planned when she, and her family, are threatened by the drug-addicted mother whose child died when placed in foster care.
      
There’s nothing like a strong opening, and Boyle starts us off with a very frightening, yet compelling, prologue, immediately followed by a beginning which guarantees impending disaster.
      
Boyle has created a cast of characters we what to know on an ongoing basis.  As well as Jack and Roxanne, he has also created one of the most appealing, least annoying, children in Sofie.  Then there are their neighbors and friends Mary and her husband, Clair, the ex-Marine Commando who always has Jack’s back. Additionally, there are secondary characters who are fully developed and hold their own.
      
The dialogue is excellent.  It flows very naturally and is appropriate to the characters and their relationships.  “Are you going to return our firearms?” Clair said.  “What if I don’t?” Foley said.  “I’ll have to back to the house and get some more.”  Clair said. 

There are also good lessons to be learned about how much control one does, and does not, have and where one’s responsibilities ends, as well as providing those moments that cause one to stop and consider…”Every society has a warrior class.  Without that we have anarchy.  You’d see way more suffering, way more carnage.  We fight to keep humanity from going totally crazy.  Somebody has to step up.”  Even if one may not completely agree with the philosophy, it does cause one to think.  It is the inclusion of such moral questions that elevate a book beyond the ordinary to someone about which one thinks long after closing the cover.

Boyle is an author who also knows how to convey emotions and people reactions to tension and stress.  That's not an easy thing to do, but he does it extremely well.
   
Once Burned” is a very good book that is well-plotted and with excellent tension all the way through. 

ONCE BURNED (Lic Invest/Reporter-Jack McMorrow-Maine-Contemp) – VG
Boyle, Gerry – 10th in series
Islandport Press – May 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Finding Fraser by kc dyer

First Sentence:  I met Jamie Fraser when I was nineteen years old.
      
Emma Sheridan has had a series of less-than-auspicious jobs and relationships, a fact that her sister is happy to point out.  In frustration and depression, she decides to sell everything and travel to Scotland in search of a man who represents her ideal—Jamie Fraser from the book “Outlander”—writing a blog along the way. 
      
In Emma, Dyer has created a character with aspects which can be recognized by each of us, at some point of our lives.  Many of can us also sympathize with her relationship with her sister.  However, what is particularly nice, however, is that the character grows and develops with the story. 
      
Emma has some help along with way from wonderful secondary characters, such Morag with the sheep farm, Katy the librarian, and Ashwin from the café in which Emma worked, and others.  There is a lovely cameo/homage to Diana Gabaldon, Herself, which is delightful.  And, it’s nice to know that the real Diana Gabaldon approves of this book
      
The book does have shades of “Julie and Julia,” but that’s okay.  One can appreciate that the blog segments are printed in courier; a nice touch, and it’s delightful to see her following grow.  It also becomes a lesson in distinguishing those who are fans, and those who are truly supportive fans.  There is even a bit of a mystery to the plot.
      
An exceptional aspect to the story is Ms. Dyers ability to convey the beauty, power and history of Scotland, along with descriptions of Edinburgh Castle, and references to Braveheart and Canterbury Tales.  Dyers genuinely makes one feel her love for the country and its people.
     
Finding Fraser” is an absolutely delightful read, particularly for those of us who love the series “Outlander.” 

FINDING FRASER (Novel-Emma Sheridan-Scotland-Contemp) – Ex
Dyer, KC - Standalone
Lions Mountain Literary – May, 2015

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

First Sentence:  It is the hottest summer for years.
      
The Blackstock family has sold a large piece of land to a developer for homes.  Work comes to a halt when the crew unearths a World War II plane with the pilot still inside.  But not all is as it seems when forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway discovers that the pilot had been killed by a gunshot wound, and that the body belongs to Fred Blackstock who had been reported as having died at sea in a different plane.
      
This is the type of prologue that works.  It sets up the story, but is in chronological time with the rest.  Excellent descriptions put the reader in the location and sensing the heat wave which has encompassed region.  The sense of impending threat is palpable and is a nice contrast to the next scene, which has a positive excitement to it.
      
Griffiths creates wonderful characters, every one of them very real.  She also handles the relationships, even the awkward ones, very well.  Ruth is such an appealing character; the perfect combination of intelligent and professionally capable, yet personally somewhat insecure about her looks and parenting abilities.  Her daughter Kate is delightfully written without intruding on the story.  Kate’s father, DCI Nelson, is married to Michelle, which adds a nice level of complication.  A very interesting spanner is thrown into the lives of our characters.
      
Dialogue is so important and Griffiths does it very well, indeed.  “You’re exactly the sort of person who’s against competition,” says Nelson, putting away his camera.  “What sort of person’s that?”  “The sort of person who does well in competitions.”  Ruth’s brilliant, sardonic humor is also present throughout.
      
Well-written description paint mental pictures, enhancing the atmosphere…”Nelson’s not a fanciful man but, just for a second, he imagines the sky full of lumbering Second World War planes, rising into the clouds and heading out to sea.”  With Griffiths, the weather becomes an additional character to the story…”There’s a dull roaring in the distance.  Is that the wind or the sea?  She thinks of sea sprites and nixes and the ghosts of dead children singing under the sea.”
      
The Ghost Fields” focuses on the relationships of the characters, yet the plot takes us down a wonderfully twisted road, with excellent twists, a good resolution and a somewhat bittersweet ending. 

THE GHOST FIELDS (Trad Mys-Ruth Galloway-England-Contemp) – G+
Griffiths, Elly – 7th in series
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – May 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015

HADES by Candice Fox

First Sentence:  As soon as the stranger set the bundle on the floor, Hades could tell it was the body of a child.
      
Hades makes bodies disappear, but even he has a code by which he lives.  That includes raising two traumatized children, rather than disposing of them.   Det. Frank Bennett starts his new assignment being partnered with Eden Archer, whose previous partner was killed literally in front of her.  Although she’s unusual, Frank feels he can work with her.  Their first case is a bad one; toolboxes dumped in the harbor containing body parts.  Their challenge is to stop a serial killer while protecting the one victim who escaped.
      
The book opens with an incredible setting description, but this is not a place one really wants to be.  One also realized the protagonist is very different from the norm.  One ends the chapter with a definite sense of “Wow!”. 
      
The characters are fascinating.  Each one is deeply flawed, yet they also make you stop and think.  It is sadly brought home that racial discrimination exists everywhere.  Frank has a less-than-reputable past with domestic abuse and a DUI.  Eden and her brother are products of their past.  Martine, the survivor, is excellent in her strength and vulnerability; her emotions as a survivor define how no one else can truly understand what one has been though.  Hades, in an odd way, elicits the most empathy of them all. 

      “Hades” is very dark, yet it is compelling and extremely well written. It takes you places you don’t really want to go but can’t avoid. It leaves you uncertain as to whether you really want to read another in this series, yet knowing you probably will. 

HADES (Thriller/Pol Proc-Det. Frank Bennett-Sydney, Aus-Contemp) – VG+
Fox, Candice – 1st in series
Kensington – January 2015 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Unidentified Woman #15 by David Housewright

First Sentence:  It was snowing heavily when they rolled the girl off the back of the pickup onto the freeway.
      
Driving in a blizzard is always hazardous, but Rushmore McKenzie and his partner Nina didn’t expect to have a naked, bound woman dumped out of a pickup in front of their car.  Although he rescues her, it does result in a massive pile-up.  Taken to the hospital, the woman is suffering from amnesia and given the sobriquet of “unidentified woman #15” by the police.  McKenzie’s former partner and friend ask for help identifying her.  When she steals money and five guns from him, it’s clear she may not be such a victim after all.
      
Housewright has a style that captures you from the start.  His descriptions put you in the scene and in the middle of the action.  His voice and expressions are a perfect reflection of an ex-cop.  However, one also can appreciate his quoting Sherlock Holmes.
      
Housewright creates a strong sense of place… ”Beyond that, it was like any other middle-class suburb you’ve ever driven through, houses with all the personality of paper cups set in orderly rows.”…by providing both enough information, and sometimes history, that you have a real sense of the location, but not so much as to slow down the flow of the story.   However, it is also interesting to learn about the types of amnesia and how they differ, as well as about styles of shoplifting.  For those who believe in “buy American,” it’s nice to see McKenzie uses Chicago Cutlery knives. 
      
McKenzie is an appealing protagonist with an interesting internal dialogue…”as far as I was concerned, anyone who carried a concealed weapon who wasn’t involved in some manner of law enforcement or security was an asshole.  There were no exceptions—myself included.”  There is a wonderful relationship between him and this lover Nina providing both excellent dialogue and details of mouth-watering food…”Dinner was pan-seared scallops with a bean and pancetta ragù…”
      
Unidentified Woman #15” is a fast-paced, exciting read with plenty of action and some great characters.  It is your perfect weekend/travel book.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #15 (Lic Invest-Rushmore McKenzie – Twin Cities-Contemp) – VG
Housewright, David – 12th in series
Minotaur Books – June 2015

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

First Sentence:  My cousin didn’t try to catch the bride’s bouquet.
      
Having Asperger’s Syndrome, Sara Thomas finds it is much easier to work on her own.  A computer programmer, she uses Sudoku as a way to control her episodes.  Given the the challenge of breaking a cipher, which she does in 17 seconds, leads her to a job within a family home in Paris deciphering and translating the journal of Mary Dundas, a Jacobite exile yearning for freedom, and a place to belong.  Divided by centuries, these two women have their own puzzles to solve while on journeys of self-discovery.
      
Kearsley is an absolute delight to read.  She introduces us to an interesting, unusual character creating an immediate affinity, and then adds a very intriguing puzzle.
      
Her evocative descriptions allow us to walk into the middle of a scene…”It was, I thought, the perfect postcard view of what an English village green should look like, right down to the pond at the far corner, with its trailing golden willows and its noisy scrambling ducks…”  Yet it’s the details of something seemingly insignificant, such as a man and his gun-shy Gordon Setter, that make such a difference…”He took his glove off when he shook my hand—the mark, my father always said, of a true gentleman.”
      
Kearsley does a wonderful job of providing a very concise, yet informative, lesson on Scottish history and the Jacobites.  She also brings characters across from past books, but in a way that someone reading this, and no other, aren’t left wondering.  Sara, our present day protagonist, is a very interesting character and the information on Asperger’s is fascinating but included in such a way that is natural and fits with the flow of the story.  Luc, to whom Sara is attracted, is a bit too good to be true, yet he is neither egotistical nor overbearing.  However, it is through him that we learn interesting about French laws related to children and the school schedule. 
      
The dialogue is excellent, capturing the structure of English, French, and Scots characters.  There are lovely descriptions of meals, from the simple snack of bread with lots of butter, chocolate and milk or coffee, to a festive dinner…”We had champagne and oysters, smoked salmon on toast and roast pork and a platter of delicate cheeses, with wines for each course and a chocolate log cake for the finish.
      
While dual time-period stories can often be frustrating, Kearsley handles them beautifully.  The character and plot in each period holds its own; one doesn’t feel to be less important or significant and both are equally intriguing.  What is even more impressive is that it reflects what usually happens when reading historic texts or journals.  We, in the present, have only an overview, somewhat of a summarized view of the events of the past.  By including the story from Mary’s point of view, we are privy to the event as she experiences them.  It is within Mary’s story that we also find wonderful suspense and tension.  It also opens the door to learning things with otherwise might not, such as the history of fairy tales.  And for those who love stories of Highlanders, McPherson is a true, red-headed Scot with two swords, one being a basket-hilt Scottish sword, and a dirk.     

The depth of Kearsley’s research is very impressive.  Within the historic period, much is based on actual figures, places and events, all of which adds richness and veracity to the story. 
      
A Desperate Fortune” is, in essence, a story, within a story, within a story.  It begins in the present, and ends in the past, yet each story is complete, satisfying, completely wonderful and touches your heart.  This may well be Kearsley’s best book…yet.

A DESPERATE FORTUNE (Susp/Rom/Hist-Sara Thomas/Mary Dundas-England-Contemp/1732) – Ex
Kearsley, Susanna – Standalone
Sourcebooks Landmark – April 2015

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Theft of Life by Imogen Robertson

First Sentence:  The body was staked out in the north-east corner of the churchyard.
      
The murder of a former West Indies planter causes suspicion to fall on a runaway slave who is now working as a bookseller in London.  It also has an emotional impact on Harriet Westerman’s senior footman, William Geddings.  As Harriet and her friend, anatomist Gabriel Crowther, become more involved in the murder, they become more aware of how much of Britain’s wealth is built on the shameful trade of human lives.
      
It is an excellent touch that the book opens from the perspective of a character rarely the focus of historical mysteries.  We also know we are in for a story that is difference, and possibly uncomfortable as Robertson gives us a perspective and insight into the English involvement in the slave trade.
      
The quality of an author’s dialogue makes such a difference to a story.  Robertson writes excellent dialogue with enough sense of the period to make it realistic.  But it also tells us a lot about the characters. …”You were doing better when you were praising my talents, Crowther, rather than taking the chance to insult my husband and my intelligence.  I told you, as a friend, what William said about my husband.  Please do not use it to try and play on me like a cheap fiddle!”  The repartee between Harriet and Crowther is always a delight.
      
As for characters, they are fully-developed and very memorable.  Harriet and Crowther come to life and each holds their own.  Theirs is a relationship of friendship and respect.  Jane Austin would definitely have approved, although she might have been a bit intimidated by Harriet.  She is very much in the style of Mrs. Croft from “Persuasion,” while Crowther has slight shades of Colonel Brandon, as played by Alan Rickman, from “Sense and Sensibility.”  One knows that the characters, and the series, truly speaks to readers when one imagines who would be cast in their roles.  There is also a very good introduction to those who surround Harriet and how they all fit together.
      
Robertson has a wonderful voice and ability to convey emotions.  Through them you not only get to know the character, but you feel the pique of Harriet, the sorrow of a young boy, and the apprehension of a free black man.  You truly feel what the characters feel.  Yet Robertson also paints visual descriptions…”The hedgerows were thick with the stars of Queen Anne’s Lace, and the hawthorn bushes heavy with blossom—and the quiet cut through him.”
     
Theft of Life” is wonderful in so many aspects; not the least of which is an excellent mystery with well-done twists and a suspenseful climax.  It is a remarkable book and one which should be read.

THEFT OF LIFE (Hist mys-Harriet Westerman/Gabriel Crother-England-1785/Georgian) – Ex
Robertson, Imogen – 5th in series
Headline – 2014

Friday, May 29, 2015

Thin Air by Ann Cleeves

First Sentence: The music started.

The gathering of university friends for a wedding hamefarin’ on Unst in the Shetlands Islands comes to an end with the discovery of one of the friend’s body the next morning. Was it suicide, as indicated by an email received from the dead woman the next day? Was her death foretold by Perrie Lizzie, the ghost of a young girl who’d died there years before? Inspector Jimmy Perez and his team travel to the outermost island to find out.


Cleeves excels at creating a sense of place and painting visual pictures which employ all the senses. Even though few will be able to visit these rather remote islands, you have a true sense of being there, with the long days and weather contributing to the plot. To this, she adds just a touch of the supernatural, leaving you to question what is real.

All of her characters are fully dimensional. You know their appearance, enough of their back story to have a true sense of them, and even insights into their personalities and insecurities. The relationships are realistic, understandable and important. The interplay between the investigating team and those associated to the victim are equally important and well balanced in the story. Yet it is Perez, his slowly maturing Sergeant Sandy Wilson, and Detective Willow Reeves brought in to oversee the case, who most hold our interest.

Thin Air” is very well done, with a plot that takes us around and amongst the islands, leading us down one path to another, with very good twists along the way. Cleeves is a wonderful writer and one who should be on any mystery-reader’s list.

THIN AIR (Pol Proc-Insp. Jimmy Perez-Shetlands, UK-Contemp) – VG+
Cleeves, Ann – 6th in series
Minotaur Books – May 2015