Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Murder in Misdirection (Doyle and Acton #7) by Anne Cleeland: Reading Room Review

There are characters in a series in whom readers become so invested that reading a new book in their continuing story is like receiving a letter from home detailing the news of kith and kin.  You tear open the letter/book and dive in, reading to the end in a breathless aura of suspense, and there is always plenty of suspense in a Doyle and Acton story.  Murder in Misdirection, the seventh book in this series is a particularly satisfying one, as the storyline of Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle and her pregnancy has kept readers on pins and needles for several books now. 

Kathleen is on maternity leave from Scotland Yard, and so Michael Sinclair, Lord Acton and DCI at the Yard, has some peace of mind that she is safe and out of the Met's business (and his) that usually puts her in harm's way.  As Acton says more than once, he's got to stop underestimating his wife.  Being close to giving birth doesn't sideline Doyle from trying to help solve problems, problems that usually end up tangled in the web of Acton's maneuverings.  A request from Father John, the priest at Doyle's church, to aid in his efforts to convince the bishop that a recently departed man be granted burial in sacred ground has Doyle looking into matters best left undisturbed. 

And to further plunge Doyle into the fray of business which Acton wants her to stay clear is the appearance of a ghost in the form of a dead priest.  Ghosts are just a normal occurrence to Doyle, whose fey abilities are both a useful resource and a curse.  The dead priest is urging Doyle to take action where blood money and arson involve a relative of his.  It's clear that Acton is in the middle of this puzzle, but Doyle once again has to keep her investigations secret from her husband, as he is keeping his actions secret from her, to help prevent Acton from damning his soul any more than he already has.  Of course, Acton's view of the matter is centered around making Doyle's life and the life of their unborn child safe in perpetuity.  Although the story is told from Doyle’s POV, we are allowed glimpses into Acton’s unspoken thoughts through the author’s use of beginning each chapter with one of his observations.   

There are some fascinating subplots going on in this book, too.  Philippe Savoie, dangerous criminal and friend of the fair Doyle’s, is sitting in prison awaiting either a trial or a prison escape.  And, of course, Savoie is involved with Acton’s plans to tidy matters up from the corruption ring at the Met that Acton uncovered in the last book.  Savoie’s adopted son Emile is staying with Doyle and Acton while the criminal is incarcerated, as is the young girl Gemma, the ward of Mary, who is the intended nanny for Doyle’s and Acton’s soon-to-be-arriving Edward.  Emile and Gemma have secrets about themselves that will be uncovered, too, secrets that will gobsmack the adults in charge. Reynolds, Lord and Lady Acton’s butler and jack-of-all-trades, shows a new skill as he deftly handles the young children underfoot.  Lizzie Mathis, Acton’s no-nonsense partner in shady doings is back and doing Acton’s bidding.  Detective Inspector Thomas Williams is doing some bidding, too, but for Doyle.  And Detective Sergeant Isabel Munoz is on hand to spar with Doyle, always some favorite pieces of dialogue.

At this point in reading Anne Cleeland’s writing, the Acton and Doyle series and her adventure books, too, I have probably sung Anne’s praises with untold number of superlatives.  However, I don’t think I can ever thank her enough for creating the Doyle and Acton series that gives me such a thrill in each book.  Fans of this series, and there are many, aren’t just fond readers.  We have rather the same diagnosis as Acton in his uncontrollable passion for Doyle, happily addicted.  

Doyle and Acton series, first six books: covers and reviews

Murder in Thrall: Reading Room Review 

Murder in Hindsight: Reading Room Review

Murder in Retribution: Reading Room Review

Murder in Containment: Reading Room Review

Murder in All Honour: Reading Room Review

Murder in Shadow: Reading Room Review

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Birthday Month of Plenty

February is my birth month, and I have been getting presents all month long due to the outstanding number of great new book releases from favorite authors.  I'm beginning to suspect someone planned this for me.  Hahaha!  I can't help but show my gratitude by posting about the books I've read for February already and the ones that I'm scrambling to get to.  Happy Birthday to me!

I just finished this new one with a new character by Kristi Belcamino and posted my review yesterday.  My words upon finishing Shadow Man were, "Hot damn!"  Most used phrase for Kristi's characters is "kick-ass." 

Although The Dark Angel doesn't come out until May in the U.S., I couldn't wait until then to post something about this amazing tenth anniversary book in the Ruth Galloway series.  If you can't wait, and with this series who can, it's available through U.K. ordering resources.  I've already posted a review for this one, too.

The second book in the Agnes Luthi series seals the deal for me that this Swedish set series is a new favorite for me.  My review for this book is already here on the blog, too.

When this book arrived today, I actually squealed with delight.  I've only just started it, and I am thrilled to have another Doyle and Acton book in my hands.  I will be reading happy tonight.

Here are the books of February that I am running toward as fast as I can.  My birthday month may spill over into the next month just a bit.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Shadowman by Kristi Belcamino: Reading Room Review

I would have read this book in one sitting, but I made myself get a few hours sleep. When you read Shadowman, you will understand just how hard it was to put down this book even when I knew I had to. As it was, I didn't acquiesce to the needed sleep until 4 in the morning. There is just no good stopping point in Shadowman, as it grabbed me hard with its prologue and just kept on grabbing and grabbing. Kristi Belcamino creates female leads who blaze across the page as passionate in their loyalty to those they love as they are about justice for those wronged. Already established as an author of kick-ass characters with Gabriella Giovanni and Gia Santella, Belcamino now gives us Maggie Bychowski in the Sanctuary City Mysteries.

Maggie has moved to the hills of northern California to take a job as the lone female on the Sanctuary City Police Force. Her work place is an unfriendly atmosphere at best. At worst, well, that comes later. Maggie is willing to put up with the town nepotism, the behind-her-back name calling, the police cruiser that smells like vomit, and other general lack of respect to be close to her twelve-year-old daughter who must live in a care home nearby. The job is essential for Maggie to pay for the quality care her daughter receives, and so she tries to not stick out too much and blend into a routine of doing her job without making waves.

However, Maggie rather quickly gets on the wrong side of the dominant Earl family, whose positions include everything from police chief to D.A. to mayor. She sees Sgt. Earl doing something nobody was supposed to see. It becomes as much a matter of keeping her job as doing it, and then a matter of much more severe consequences. Maggie is not without allies on the police force, with a couple of law abiding as well as law enforcing co-workers who take her seriously. But, the well is poisoned in the town of Sanctuary City by the Earls and those who fall under their influence.

And, there is another poison infiltrating the community, an unseen source of evil and secrecy. A trio of twelve-year-old girls are in online communication with a dark fantasy figure called Shadowman, who works on the insecurities and fears of the young to corrupt them. Shadowman’s lure of leaving all their troubles behind to join him in living at his castle where life is all video games and freedom comes at the price of a barbarity of unimaginable horror. Not unlike the Earl’s family hold on many of the residents of Sancturary City, Shadowman threatens retaliation for non-compliance with his commands. When Shadowman’s urgings result in tragedy, will Maggie be able to uncover the truth as the wagons of Sanctuary City circle? Will Maggie be able to save herself in the process?

I can only add that Shadowman is a book readers don’t want to miss. It is sure to be on “must read” lists throughout 2018 and in contention for awards. Kristi Belcamino is an author with deep resources of the imagination, and she knows how to put pen to paper to bring them to life. The suspense of this novel is constant, an edge-of-your-seat experience that is as thrilling as it is frightening. And, the ride is only over when it’s over, and it’s not over.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway Mysteries #10) by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review

The Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths is celebrating its 10th Year Anniversary this year with the publication of The Dark Angel. Do not expect it to be a light-hearted celebratory tale. This book is Elly Griffiths at her most devilish best. It’s light and dark and all shades in-between. I love it and hate it and love it again and want to read it all a second time.

At this point in the series, it’s impossible to review a book in it without spoilers from previous books, so do yourself a favor and don’t read this review if you’re just starting the series, and for goodness sake, you will want to read them from the beginning anyway. They’re too good to skip any.

So, the big bombshell in the book before this one, The Chalk Pit, was that Michelle, DCI Harry Nelson’s wife, is pregnant at age 46. With Nelson’s pull towards Ruth Galloway, the star of this series and forensic archeologist, and trouble in his marriage, the pregnancy is a stunner to all. And, then there’s the matter of Michelle’s lover, Tim, who used to be on Nelson’s serious crime team. Oh, what a tangled web indeed. But, with such great crime stories contained in the Ruth Galloway series, isn’t the romantic storyline just a minor part. NO! Well, I may be a little over involved with these fictional characters.

The storyline in this thrilling new book take us to Italy’s Liri Valley when Ruth is asked by a fellow archeologist Angelo Morelli to come to Italy and help him identify some bones he has uncovered. He is hoping that Ruth’s expertise will help lure back a television filming of the event. For Ruth, who is still reeling from the news of Michelle’s pregnancy, it is an opportunity to take a much-needed vacation while still working. So, she and her six-year-old daughter Kate, Ruth’s friend Shonna, and Shonna’s four-year-old son Louis take off for a couple of weeks of relaxation and fun. But, all is not fun and games for Ruth as she discovers that the small hill towns of Italy have long memories that affect their attitudes toward everything, including archeological digs. 

Castello degli Angeli is a town that is particularly sensitive concerning WWII memories and stories, when the Nazis occupied their area and the Resistance fought valiantly against the enemy. Even the apartment where Ruth and company are staying, an apartment that had belonged to Angelo’s grandfather, seems to hold dark secrets from that war. When someone is murdered in the town, Ruth’s work vacation becomes a little too reminiscent of her crime solving involvement back in Norfolk. The unexpected appearance of Harry Nelson in this Italian setting really brings home, well, home. 

Nelson has left a worrisome situation back in Norfolk, although it’s one he thinks he has under control. Mickey Webb, a criminal convicted of murdering his wife and children, has been released from prison. Mickey threatened to get even with Nelson, who arrested Mickey, and before Nelson’s spur-of-the-moment trip to Italy, he spies the ex-convict walking in his neighborhood. But, a talk to Webb convinces Nelson that the man has gotten the message to stay away. There, of course, is more to deal with here in a subplot of unexpected danger.

In the previous novel, The Chalk Pit, there is a move towards Ruth and Nelson facing their feelings for one another. Michelle’s pregnancy throws a real monkey wrench into that. But, The Dark Angel continues the examination of feelings and commitments. The issue of whether the baby Michelle is carrying is Nelson’s or Tim’s and just what Michelle’s feelings are for Tim gives some room to still hope for a Ruth and Nelson pairing. But don’t expect any easy or final solutions to feelings in this book. You can expect a major shock at the end though. 

The Dark Angel doesn’t come out in the U.S. until May 15th, but it is already out in the UK. I was fortunate to receive an ARC from the publisher and thus read it before its U.S. arrival. I’m publishing the review now and again right before the May publication date. There will be plenty of time for fans of this consistently thrilling series to pre-order Ruth Galloway #10. Fans will be rewarded with a tenth anniversary firecracker of a read.  

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Well-Timed Murder by Tracee de Hahn: Reading Room Review

In her debut novel, Swiss Vendetta, Tracee de Hahn introduced readers to a wonderfully unique new crime series character, Swiss-American police officer Agnes Luthi.  Luthi is 38 years old, a recent widow, mother of two sons, lives with her parents-in-law (because of her job hours), and a fairly new member of the Violent Crimes unit.  Although raised in Switzerland, Agnes Luthi was born to American parents, and so by the strict observances of the Swiss, she will never be considered quite one of them.  But that doesn't prevent Agnes becoming an integral part of serving and protecting in the Swiss police.  Tracee de Hahn has created a character that is an admirable one, a complex one and placed her in one of the world's most beautiful settings, Switzerland.  It's a fresh look at crime, as this setting is definitely an underutilized font of rich storytelling.

It is just three weeks after Agnes Luthi's case at the Vallotton estate in the first book, Swiss Vendetta.  Agnes is three days away from returning to work after recuperating from her injuries suffered in that case when her former boss, Marcel Aubrey of the Financial Crimes division, asks her to witness the capture of a criminal she had pursued before her transfer to Violent Crimes.  The scene is at the Messe Basel Exhibition Halles or Baselworld and leads to her encounter with Julien Vallotton from her previous case.  A friend of his has died, and the friend's daughter doesn't think it was an accident, so Julien asks Agnes to investigate.  The friend, Guy Chavanon, was a well-known Swiss watchmaker, and Baselworld happened to be opening its yearly trade show for the revered art of watch making.  Those involved in the Swiss specialty of Swiss-made are most proud and take the business of it most seriously, making it difficult for Agnes to infiltrate their barriers of secrecy and mistrust of outsiders.  

Guy Chavanon's death had been ruled an accident due to anaphylactic shock from exposure to peanuts, a deathly allergy for him.  It happened at his son's exclusive boarding school where a roomful of parents, students, and teachers witnessed him collapse.  Julien Vallotton is godfather to Guy Chavanon's son, as well as being on the board of directors at the school, so he is anxious for Agnes to uncover whether or not there is any basis to the daughter's suspicions.  The starting point is, of course, the scene of the death, or crime, as it may be, and that is Moutier Institut de Jeunes Gens, a boarding school for boys only.  It seems there are some questionable things going on at the school outside of the recent death, and soon Agnes is investigating a death and the peculiar events at the school.  Her investigation of Chavanon's death takes her back and forth between the Baselworld trade show and the school.  

Swiss watchmaking is a high stakes, competitive industry, and Guy Chavanon had possibly been on the verge of an industry changing invention.  There are those who would give anything to have such a invention, and there are also those who might want to prevent its inception.  Helping to smooth the way for some of Agnes' interviews with these prickly professionals is Julien, who has a personal interest in Agnes, as well as his friend's death. The closeness Julien and Agnes experienced when she was investigating the death at his family estate, Chateau Vallotton is heating up for both of them.  De Hahn's use of Julien in the investigation is not at all forced or contrived, but flows naturally into the course of events. 

Tracee de Hahn has a gift for writing a well-paced, thrilling, captivating story.  Her style presents a smooth narrative through a deftness at handling language and sentence structuring to ensure a steady flow from page to page, chapter to chapter.  The story is rather exclusive, a treat to something different in the crime/mystery world, as the setting so aptly provides access to this.  The precise artistry of Swiss watchmaking proved a fascinating subject matter in which to place a murder.  I'm particularly enjoying the setting of Switzerland because de Hahn brings in so much of the Swiss culture and history to the stories.  Having lived in Switzerland for a time herself and married to a Swiss citizen lends much authenticity to this series.  Who hasn't heard of Swiss chocolate and watches and banking, but to read about these icons of Swiss culture in a thrilling mystery/crime story truly presents a delightful learning experience as well as an amazing reading one.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley: Reading Room Review

Flavia de Luce is one of the best characters to come along in mystery fiction. I've been hooked on this precocious eleven, now twelve-year-old, since the first book in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia's brilliant mind in chemistry and solving murders has filled each book with a magical presence. The setting, largely at her rundown family estate Buckshaw outside of the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey in the 1950s adds charm to the quirky stories of murder and deceit in which Flavia seems to find herself. And, then the last book, Thrice the Branded Cat Hath Mew'd, placed the series in a seemingly darker than usual place where readers were looking to the current book, The Grave's a Fine and Private Place, to answer questions of what was to become of Flavia and her two tormenting sisters, Feely and Daffy, and the rest of the endearing household. Of course, no reader expects all her questions to be answered, but I very much needed a sense of direction from The Grave's a Fine and Private Place. I can't say that this was a favorite book in the series for me, but I do think Flavia grew up a lot in this book and is in a good place to take control of her destiny back into her own hands. It felt like a necessary book, to advance the direction of those characters we've come to love who reside at Buckshaw. 

As so many of Flavia's adventures do, this one starts with a dead body, when Flavia makes quite a catch from the river on which she, her sisters, and Dogger are boating while on vacation. The oddly dressed man who is the victim appears to have drowned, or at least to the unpracticed eye of murder and mayhem, but Flavia, along with Dogger, immediately begin to have suspicions and gather evidence to disabuse the coroner's pronouncement of accidental drowning. Of course, rarely does the case rest on the murder of one victim and one set of secrets. Their discovery has landed the group in St.-Mildred's-in-the-Marsh and almost at the door of the church where two years earlier the presiding priest poisoned three elderly women attending communion. And, the victim Flavia brings to shore on their landing turns out to be the adult son of that "Poisoning Parson." 

As Flavia, Feely, Daffy, and Dogger are all witnesses to the discovery of the dead man, they are required to stay in St. Mildred's-in-the-Marsh while the constable tidies up his report, but also for Flavia's own purposes of investigating what she and Dogger are labeling murder. The characters of this sleepy little hamlet have much to reveal about themselves and the events of the past two years. In the course of their stay and scrutinizing the facts, Flavia makes a new friend in the undertaker's son, and Dogger reconnects with a lady friend, who seems aware of his history and troubles. Flavia will come as close to a killer and being a victim herself as she ever has in this latest quest for truth and justice. Her rescuer will surprise all.

I didn't think I was going to like this book at first, which was a huge disappointment to me as a Flavia super fan. And, as I said, while it might not be my favorite in the series, I ended up appreciating it on many levels. People grow up and so are the characters in this series, and Alan Bradley gives us a maturation that is most satisfying in the characters of Flavia, Feely, and Daffy. And, how pleased I was to have the spotlight shine on Dogger and in turn on his and Flavia's relationship. Life is moving on, and everyone must choose their paths. And, that was the most satisfying part of the book, that Flavia finally starts coming into her own and realizing that she does have a say. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

For the Love of February: New February Reads

February certainly lives up to its name as the month of love for book lovers this year.  I'm still trying to catch up with the outstanding new publications from January, and now February arrives with its treasure trove of new reads.  There are authors whom I've come to rely on for a great read, including Sara Blaedel, Charles Todd, Elly Griffiths, Kristi Belcamino, Rhys Bowen, Laura Lippman, Vicki Delany, M.C. Beaton, and Charles Finch.  There are authors who are leaving the debut circle and coming out with their second novel, including Jane Harper and Tracee de Hahn.  And, for me, there are a few authors' works that I need to dive into, including, J.D. Allen, Frances Brody, and Yrsa Sigurdardottir.  Also included are a new-to-me author, Catherine Ryan Howard, and an author I haven't read for ages, Robert McCammon.  Quite the impressive lot.  I hope this list helps other readers get their ducks in a row for their February reading.  Of course, it isn't an all-inclusive list.  I will probably have to add a few titles in the next couple of weeks.  But, this list should certainly get everyone started on reading and ordering their new reads for February. 

February 2018

The Undertaker’s Daughter (Ilka Jensen #1) by Sara Blaedel (Feb. 6th)

Force of Nature: A Novel (Aaron Falk #2) by Jane Harper (Feb. 6th)

A Well-Timed Murder: An Agnes Luthi Mystery by Tracee de Hahn  (Feb. 6th)

The Gatekeeper (Ian Rutledge #20) by Charles Todd (Feb. 6th)

19 Souls (A Sin City Investigation) by J.D. Allen (Feb. 8th)

UK edition of The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway Mysteries #10) by Elly Griffiths (Feb. 8th)

Death in the Stars: A Kate Shackleton Mystery (#9) by Frances Brody (Feb. 13th)

The Legacy: A Thriller (Children’s House) by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Feb. 13th)

The Cat of the Baskervilles: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery by Vicki Delany (Feb. 13th)

The Woman in the Water (Charles Lenox Mysteries) by Charles Finch (Feb. 20th)

Shadow Man by Kristi Belcamino (Feb. 20th)

Sunburn: A Novel by Laura Lippman (Feb. 20th)

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen (Feb. 20th)

Death of an Honest Man (A Hamish Macbeth Mystery, #34) by M.C. Beaton (Feb. 20th)

The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard (Feb. 27th)

The Listener by Robert McCammon (Feb. 27th)