Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen: Reading Room Review

Oh, it's so delightful to be back with Lady Georgie and her handsome new husband Darcy O'Mara. It is a balm to my soul, a respite from the world. Knowing that when I open a book in this series I will be swept away by great storytelling, some good humor, and characters that I love is a reassurance that feeling good is still an option in our challenging world. And, then there is the history that I crave in a story, an authentic connection to the time period in which the story takes place. There is certainly nothing didactic about Rhys Bowen's writing, but you will absolutely come away having learned something about the 1930's in England, and in this instance Africa, too, from reading Georgie's experiences and adventures. The "Historical Note" page at the end of the book will inform the reader of any historical inconsistencies in the story and point out the facts upon which the story is based. It is the perfect blend of imagination and fact that makes this series, and this book, so thoroughly enjoyable. Although the issues of what's going on in the world at the time of this book are serious, and the author doesn't gloss over the bad behavior of the British colonists in Kenya, there is still the wit and charm of Georgie and Darcy to satisfy fans of the series.

It is the end of July 1935 in England and the end of supplies on the houseboat on which Lady Georgie and her just-wedded husband Darcy are honeymooning on the Thames River in London. Georgie is yearning for some cucumber sandwiches and Darcy is ready for some additional space beyond the cramped confines of the houseboat, although for a short time neither food nor space was the most important focus. So, back to regular life and hopefully some more honeymoon elsewhere. It won't be at Georgie's brother's home in London, with sister-in-law Fig's sour reception, but as often happens with Georgie and Darcy, something turns up, and they don't have to return to their new home in Eynsleigh either. Darcy surprises Georgie at the Queen's garden party with the news that they will be traveling to Kenya for an exciting extended honeymoon, and that they will be traveling by plane via Imperial Airlines, an adventure in itself.

Once in Kenya, Georgie and Darcy meet up with Freddie Blanchford, an old friend of Darcy's and an employee of the British government. He takes them along the rutted roads to the rich enclave of British aristocrats called Happy Valley, where the newlyweds will be staying during their visit. Of course, Georgie catches on fairly quickly that Darcy is not just in Kenya to enjoy a honeymoon and that Freddie is part of whatever is going on. She also catches on that life in Happy Valley is far removed from anything she's ever known or imagined. Drinking, partying, and mate swapping seem to be accepted as the norm, and one of the biggest players in this depravity is Lord Cheriton. Georgie and Darcy have no interest in what passes for Happy Valley norm though, and Georgie firmly rejects a pass from Lord Cheriton. Things go from shocking social behavior to murder when Lord Cheriton is found murdered in the brush off the side of the country road. Georgie and Darcy find this leader of the pack dead after one of the community’s wild parties. There is no shortage of suspects for the murder, and the possibilities include jealous husbands, jealous wives, and Nazi sympathizers. Our favorite couple soon find themselves fearing humans more than the wild animals as they try to figure out if a murderer or someone connected to Darcy’s mission is out to get them. 

One of the ways I determine if a book was a good read for me is if it keeps me thinking beyond the story and wanting to know more about a setting, either the time or place, and the events that happened. At the end of the book, Rhys Bowen not only includes her brief historical notes, but she also includes a bibliography of research sources she used. I appreciate having these titles to further explore. So, Love and Death Among the Cheetahs was a most satisfying read in giving me reading beyond a single book or story. 

As always, Rhys Bowen has given readers an engaging tale, full of adventure that is uniquely Georgie. The minor characters in this book were not always likeable, but they were interesting.  And, it's always fun when Wallace Simpson shows up and Georgie has to interact with her.  I rather wish that Queenie had accompanied Georgie to Kenya for that unique Queenie humor that would have so baffled the aristocrats there, but I expect we will see more of her soon. This series continues to be one of my favorite. I can't wait to see how Georgie and Darcy settle into married life at Eynsleigh, with all the supporting cast of home.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan: Reading Room Review

Sometimes an experience in life comes along that leaves you quite tongue-tied in describing its full effect. Those of us who consider reading one of our favorite experiences are fortunate to have that words-are-not-enough experience happen when we read an exceptional book. So, it is with praise that will inevitably fall short of describing its target that I am reviewing The Murder List by Hank Phillippi Ryan. It is as near a perfect tale as words can achieve. Hank, always brilliant with character development, pacing, suspense, and layering of a story, has created a twisted tale that grabs the reader into a delightful confusion of who and what to believe. And, for those of us who are obsessed with the thematic play of a book’s title throughout the book, the author continues to feed this passion. 

The use of past and present, the now and the before encompassing six years of a cat-and-mouse game, in which not all players are even aware of being in the game, will keep readers guessing. Is justice a possibility where it’s hard to tell who the good guys are? The author cleverly makes that a hard question to answer by telling the story from the perspective of three different sides. Jack Kirkland is the renowned Boston defense attorney who is dedicated to giving the best defense possible to his clients. Rachel North is Jack’s younger wife who, at 36, is nearing the completion of law school at Harvard and plans to go into practice with her husband, a dream team fighting for justice for those unable to fight for themselves. It is their voices we hear most clearly in the first two parts of the book. The “before” look at Rachel’s job at the State Capitol, where she worked for the President of the Senate and a past time narrative about the trial that brought Rachel and Jack together fills out much of the background. The trial was a murder trial that pitted arch-rivals Jack Rafferty, for the defense and Martha Gardiner, prosecutor, against one another. Rachel was on the jury that found the defendant guilty. 

By Part Three of the book, when prosecutor Martha Gardiner’s voice becomes a larger part of the narrative, the reader feels comfortably familiar with Jack and Rachel. Martha is more of an unknown quantity, and even after we begin to be privy to some of her thoughts, Ryan plays this character close to the vest. The other characters, those Hank Phillippi Ryan fascinating minor characters, are often like mysterious chess pieces being moved around by the major players, and it is this moving that keeps readers riveted to the pages and unable to put down the book. 

The story begins at the time when Jack and Rachel have known each other and been married for six years. It is the summer between Rachel’s second and third year in law school, and she is required to do an internship during that time. Unfortunately, her internship is with Middlesex County Assistant District Attorney Martha Gardiner, someone Jack has battled in court many times and considers an archenemy. In fact, he describes her as evil and is adamant that Rachel not take the assignment. But, Rachel assures him that it will be a good opportunity to learn about the other side, especially about Martha’s tricks of the trade. Rachel has no idea just how crafty those tricks are. As uncomfortable as it might be, Rachel forges ahead. She’s eager to become Jack’s law partner and eligible for the “murder list,” a list of attorneys who are called on to represent those who cannot afford representation. 

Rachel is surprised when Martha Gardiner singles her out as a promising intern, but Rachel wonders if Martha is keeping her close to get to Jack. Martha acts like she wants to work with Rachel, but then she hides things from her, too. When Martha decides to pursue a cold case, Rachel doesn’t know what to think. It’s the case of Rachel’s murdered co-worker back when Rachel was chief of staff for President of the State Senate, a case where Jack got the charges dismissed against the state’s, or Martha’s, main suspect. Knowing what that dismissal cost Martha, Rachel’s suspicions about Martha’s interest in having Jack’s wife work for her are quickly growing. 

When the curtain rises on the last act of The Murder List, readers, you will be well and truly sitting with your jaws hanging wide open. Part Four is one of the best endings I’ve ever read in a mystery/crime book or any book, and the epilogue is cold stone chilling. The minor characters step into the light and take their places on that chess board that leads to checkmate. I was gobsmacked, but I was delighted to be. 

I don’t often want to reread a book, mainly because there are so many other new books waiting for me, but what fun it would be to go back and read The Murder List after knowing the whole truth of the story. I actually did read a few passages again, and I had to smile at Hank Phillippi Ryan’s cleverness. Reading it from the perspective of the whole truth, the clues are there. But, don’t feel bad if you can’t see them the first time through. It’s like one of the characters says in the book about looking at a picture. You must look at it more than once because “later, the second time or the third time, you’d see something that hadn’t mattered before.” 

Hank Phillippi Ryan has given readers the best legal thriller of the year. Or, is that a psychological thriller? It’s certainly one of the best books of the year, and I think it’s Hank’s best, too.  I've placed it on all my personal favorite lists, including Favorite Books of All Time.  It is so much wonderful murder and courtroom drama and mind games wrapped into a story that weaves a spectacular tapestry and drops not a stitch. 

For full disclosure purposes, I will add that I received an advanced reader’s copy of The Murder List, and I have given my honest review of it.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Favorite Reads for the First Half of 2019

It has been a strange, off reading year so far.  I've had some hard deaths and personal health issues to deal with, which have slowed down my reading and reviewing and blogging.  But, I'm hanging in here because those activities are my passion, and I especially need them when I can get them now.  I feel bad that I haven't gotten to some reading and reviews I want to, but I hope that the rest of the year will go a little more smoothly.  However, even though it's been a slow reading year, I have read some spectacular books, and I want to share with you some of my favorites for the first half of the year, through June 2019.   Here are twenty titles that have been especially great reading for me, including a couple of older titles that are new reading to me, or not so older titles that I have finally gotten to settle down to.  All of the books are ones that have thrilled me and given me great stories into which I could escape during a year that escape has been much needed.  

The Wrong Boy by Cathy AceCathy Ace categorizes The Wrong Boy as a "psychological suspense thriller," and there is no doubt that it is that.  Her finesse at building from the roots of village character life to a the chilling and thrilling story of a family's secrets tearing the village apart is the stuff of great storytelling.The setting of the small coastal village Rhosddraig in southern Wales with its ancient stone formations and the Dragon's Back island twisting into the sea comes alive for readers under the masterful writing of Ace.  The author makes it easy to become immersed in the Welsh culture of this village, which is both charming and sinister.  For the rest of my review, click on this link:  

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths
The 11th Ruth Galloway book, The Stone Circle, may be the most perfect book in the series. Author Elly Griffiths has stolen my heart all over again with this tale.  Set in Ruth’s home turf, or home marsh, this story takes us back full circle to where it all began in Crossing Places. With the Saltmarsh and Erik Anderssen and missing children and dead children and Ruth and Nelson working a case together and Cathbad the Druid involved. The very roots of this series guide this story, with ghosts of the past looming large. Truths are faced with the pain of a decade dancing around them.  Oh, how I loved this book. 
For the rest of my review, click on this link: 

Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs by Aimee Hix
Sometimes when reviewing a book, a single word speaks to me that encompasses what stands out about said book. With Aimee Hix's Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs, my mind goes to the word "solid."  Willa is a character who is evolving both in her personal issues and in her romantic relationship, and she takes both on in the same way she does bad guys, full force. Her strong character drives the action of the story, kicking ass and taking names as she goes. However, Hix has infused Willa with intense feelings for love and for those she loves, which keeps her from becoming a cold kickass. If Willa drives the story, her feelings for her loved ones and her desire for justice drive her.
For the rest of my review, click on this link:

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
There must always be people willing to stand up against the ills of society, the mistreatment of fellow human beings, and Lyndsay Faye gives readers these people’s stories so poignantly that we are forever touched by them. Her characters aren’t perfect people, they have their flaws, but they step up when the stepping is needed.  The Paragon Hotel is an important read. 
For the rest of my review, click on this link:

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

Pick a night or a day when you are in one of those waiting jobs, such as having plumbing work done or being without your car because it's in the shop. Or maybe not a waiting day, maybe a day when you are treating yourself to a pajama day of only doing something you want to do. Then, pick up Watching You by Lisa Jewell and have a gobsmacking good read.  
For the rest of my review, click on this link: 

The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Jane Harper has harnessed the power and vastness of the Australian outback into a story of a family struggling against the constant hardships of man versus nature and man vs. man. The small dot on a large map that encompasses the best and the worst of humankind, the story of the Bright family of Queensland, Australia could be a tragedy right out of Shakespeare or an epic saga of a generational farming family trying to hold on against the elements and their own personal shortcomings.  The Lost Man is not to be missed.
For the rest of my review, click on this link:

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen captures the tragedies and hardships of the English people during WWI on a level of realism that places the reader in the minds and hearts of those struggling on the home front.  Young women who had previously been in well-defined roles according to their class in society found themselves coming together to fill the void on farms, in industry, in family-owned businesses, and as medical personnel both on the battlefields and in the hospitals. The Victory Garden truly takes you back in time and makes you feel it.
For the rest of my review, click on this link:

Murder in Just Cause by Anne CleelandWhat gives me so much enjoyment from these stories is that they are police procedurals with the procedure thoroughly tweaked by Acton. With his own sense of justice and Kathleen trying to tame it, the cat and mouse game is a hallmark of the series, the vehicle for the unraveling of clues.  DCI Acton's a man of many secrets, but his wife is one wily woman and manages to ferret them out with unerring accuracy.  Murder in Just Cause is another amazing read from Anne Cleeland, who always delivers.
For the rest of my review, click on this link:

Daughter of Moloka'i by Alan BrennertI have just realized that I didn't write a review for Daughter of Moloka'i by Alan Brennert.  I'll try to rectify that, but in the meantime let me just say that this book is the long-awaited sequel to Brennert's Moloka'i book, and it was well worth the wait.  The "daughter" is Ruth, the only child of the woman (Rachel Kalama) who was banished to the island of Moloka'i when she was found to have leprosy as a child.  Forced to give up the baby at birth, Rachel hasn't seen her daughter Ruth for 35 years when they are reunited.  During that time Ruth, who was adopted by a Japanese couple, moved with her adoptive family to California before WWII and suffered being interred in a Japanese Internment Camp.  It's a beautiful family story
as well as an historical look at California during WWII.

Drowned Under by Wendall ThomasThere is so much to love about Drowned Under, as Wendall Thomas is an extraordinary storyteller and writer. The characters are all fascinating, both the good eggs and the bad ones. Cyd's tasks may seem to be impossible, but the characters who become her partners in crime solving work with her in one crazy scenario after another to accomplish that impossible. From eighty-one-year-old Sister Ellery Magdalene Malcomb, former nun and Cyd's former teacher, to Koozer, the young steward who is fond of large tips, to the doctor, who makes Cyd's stomach feel bubbly in a god way.
For the rest of my review, click on this link:

The Night Visitors by Carol GoodmanThe Night Visitors by Carol Goodman begins on a bus ride at night in the cold and often unforgiving conditions of an upper New York state winter. The setting speaks to the desolation of Alice and Oren, two battered souls traveling on the bus to escape their abuser. Alice, in her thirties, and Oren, a ten-year-old boy who uses his love of Star Wars to dissociate from the brutalities of his situation, arrive in the small town of Delphi, New York in the middle of a snowstorm, Alice having called a hotline for help and being directed to that location. Mattie Lane is a seasoned, fiftyish social worker who is used to getting the late night calls to meet a bus.  The Night Visitors is a story of survival on so many levels, with twists from the past and the present that will rise up to shake the foundations of what you think you've figured out. It's a reader's paradise of unpredictability.   For the rest of my review, click on this link: 

Murder on Cape Cod by Maddie DayAs I anticipated, I loved the Cape Cod world seen in the small town of Westham, Massachusetts. Small local shops with a sense of real community amongst the people living there was just what I had hoped to find and did. After some years away, Mac Almeida returned to Westham to settle down and live in the comfort of her family and old friends. She is now ensconced into the area with her own business, a charming house behind the business, an African Grey parrot, the delectable owner of the local bakery as her boyfriend, and a cozy mystery book club she enjoys. Her parents are minutes away and her brother works in her bicycle shop.  Mac is making her way home from a meeting of the Cozy Capers Book Club in a dense fog when she stumbles upon the body of local handyman Jake Lacey, only feet away from her home sweet home.  You don't want to miss what happens next in Murder on Cape Cod by Maddie Day.
For the rest of my review, click on the link:

Catriona McPherson is a born storyteller, and whether it's a gruesome, dark tale or spirited, witty romp, she creates the characters who are perfect for their parts. The Last Ditch mysteries will entertain you page after page with humorous antics and witty dialogue, and Scot Soda is a great follow-up to Scot FreeLexy is trying hard to make her Halloween party on her houseboat an American celebration, in spite of her unfamiliarity with many of the non-Scottish traditions. There are some glitches, but Lexy and her friends from the Last Ditch are enjoying the infected toenail chips, the phlegm cups, and the hen's feet treats and the festive atmosphere of the creepy holiday. But, there's creepy cool and creepy bad, and when Lexy tries to pull up the beer chilling in the slough off her boat, the creepy gets way too bad and way too real. Tangled up in the rope and beer is a dead body, a real body …  For the rest of my review, click on this link: 

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry ShamesLoretta Singletary has a new haircut and is wearing make-up. But, Samuel Craddock has no idea what has sparked Loretta's new interest in her appearance until she turns up missing. Then he learns that his old friend, whom he had taken for granted as a pillar of the community and predictable down to the delicious cinnamon rolls she bakes has joined the 21st century by signing up for a senior citizens' online dating service.  While allowing for the fact that Loretta was spreading her wings into new territory outside of Jarrett and her beloved Baptist Church, Samuel knows that Loretta would not have just taken off without informing someone. A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames will please fans mightily.  For the rest of my review, click on this link:

A Deadly Feast by Lucy BurdetteA Deadly Feast sees Hayley gearing up for a busy Thanksgiving week. Not only is there the big turkey dinner with family and friends, she and Nathan Bransford are getting married the day after Thanksgiving. So, Hayley's trying to keep other activities to a minimum and have an uncomplicated build-up to her big day. There will be enough stress with her father, step-mother, and step-brother coming to town for a Thanksgiving Day meal and the wedding. Hayley is nervous about her father meeting Sam, her mother's new husband, and Nathan, Hayley's husband-to-be. Hayley's job as food critic at Key Zest, the online cultural zine for Key West, is looking like a breeze to get through during wedding week, as she only has to go on a seafood tour her friend Analise is running and do a write-up on it. But then, one of the attendees on the food tour dies, drops dead on the last stop, which is sadly her last stop ever. Lucy Burdette has given fans another great adventure in this series.   For the rest of my review, click on this link:

Queen of Spades by Kristi Belcamino
Queen of Spades by Kristi Belcamino is the story fans have been waiting for about Gia Santella's aunt from Sicily who is called the Queen of Spades for her particular calling card she leaves at her scenes of justice or revenge.  I have yet to read a Kristi Belcamino book that doesn't grab me up in its excitement. Her ability to engage the reader is masterful. And, who writing novels creates more kickass characters than Kristi--Gabriella Giovanni, Gia Santella, and now Eva Santella. Kristi Belcamino is truly the queen of kickass characters. Perhaps there should be an addendum to that title though, Queen of Kickass Characters with Heart. Each of these three strong women show their strength not only in how tough they can be, how they can fight, but also in how dedicated they are to righting a wrong. Eva, the Queen of Spades, could be a super-hero in any world of right versus evil. She is someone you will be invested in from the beginning of her tale.  For the rest of my review, click on this link:

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards was a much anticipated read for me, and although I had to wait to read it longer than I wanted to, it was so well worth the wait. Martin Edwards is as close to the King of Golden Age Mysteries as one can get. His work with the British Library Crime Classics series has resulted in the most thrilling anthologies and introductions to the collections. Martin's non-fiction The Golden Age of Murder, which is a comprehensive study of detective stories between WWI and WWII, won the Edgar, the Agatha, the H.R.F. Keating, and the Macavity awards, in addition to being shortlisted for an Anthony and the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction.Jacob Flint is a young journalist who is currently lead crime reporter for The Clarion. The manner in which he became the head of the paper's crime writing is one of the mysteries surrounding a rash of horrific murders in London. The former lead reporter was tragically hit by a car while pursuing the stories behind the murders. Jacob is sure that the scoop he's awaited lies with interviewing and gaining access to Rachel Savernake, the wealthy daughter of the deceased Judge Savernake, a judge known for his harsh reputation and his madness that lead him to live out his final years on an isolated island named Gaunt. Rachel has only recently left the island after her father's death there and returned to London where she has taken an interest in amateur detective work. Rachel herself has some questionable involvement and motivation behind this interest in the current murders and subsequent confessions of her father's former colleagues.   For the rest of my review, click on this link:   

Murder at Morrington Hall is the first book in the exciting new Stella and Lyndy series by Clara McKenna. Stella Kendrick is excited that her father has included her in his trip to England where he is taking his prize thoroughbred and a couple of other horses to an English estate where their stable is in dire need of new blood. Her father even included Stella's horse Tully that she rides so that she wouldn't miss him while in England.  And, while visiting, there will be a wedding to attend.  Or, this is the scenario Stella believes up until it becomes painfully obvious upon arrival and upon meeting Viscount "Lyndy" Lyndhurst, the son of Lord and Lady Atherly, that the real reason for the horses accompanying them is a marriage deal between the set of parents, that the wedding is to be hers.  One of the aspects of the series that interests me is the historical fact in which it's based of the American "Dollar Princesses," who married into British aristocracy for a better social standing and for a much-needed infusion of money for the British aristocrat whom the rich American woman was marrying.  For the rest of my review, click on this link: 

The Detective's Daughter by Lesley ThomsonAnother favorite for which I haven't written a review yet, but I have to include here is The Detective's Daughter by Lesley Thomson.  I have just started this amazing series called by the

same name as the title of this first book, the Detective's Daughter series, and I can't wait to get up to speed on it.  Stella is a cleaner (houses, businesses, etc.) who has inherited her detective father's astute, organized mind at solving murder.  Her quirky partner in solving murders is Jack Harmon, who drives a train for the underground tube and has a fantasy world that too often proves more real than not.  Up next is Ghost Girl in the series, and #7, The Playground Murders,  just came out in June.

They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell HallAnd, one more that I want to include sans review is They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall.  You probably know Rachel for her Detective Elouise Norton series, but this one is a thriller stand-alone, and it is indeed thrilling.  In a salute to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, one of my favorite Christie novels, Miriam Macy accepts an invitation to a private island, thinking she will have a luxurious vacation, only to find that she and the six other guests have come to face their sins.  It is an intense game of cat an mouse that will leave the reader breathless.