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Monday, October 28, 2013


There are legions of Fern Michaels fans out there just waiting for Classified (#343), the latest book in her popular Godmother series.  I discovered from reading my first Fern Michaels book that I'm not one of them.

There is a very disturbing Prologue in this book, which never does have any further connection that I could tell to the rest of the book.  A gaggle of extremely well-heeled women in their seventies living in Charleston have man trouble (in that they all have handsome, rich men who want to marry them hanging around!) while succeeding at making yet more money in their respective businesses.  There's Toots, the leader of the gang with her obscene wealth and Midas touch; her daughter Abby who's convinced she's terminally ill.  Angst and sturm und drang until she finally figures out it's just morning sickness.  Toots can't figure out a way to tell her main squeeze she's been married eight(!) times previously.  Then there's Sophie, the psychic, who tells the Charleston Police where to find two missing children just before they meet a fate worse than death.  Oh, and she can tell what's physically wrong with animals, too.  Ida, who's made a fortune with face cream and is the acknowledged bottom position on the godmother totem pole takes up with the much younger prodigal son of Bernice, an unofficial godmother.  She and Bernice, a rather nasty piece of work if you ask me, mutually loathe each other and spend a great deal of the book swearing at each other and making obscene gestures and suggestions.    Language, ladies, language! 

Sound like something you'd want to read?  Frankly, the dialogue was so unexpectedly rude and crude, and the plot, if you can call it that, so meandering, vague and unrealistic (Ha! I'd like to see a Catholic priest agree to the type of baptism Ms. Michaels describes in this book!) that it reminded me of just why I watch so very little TV.  Not worth the time or effort.

If you're a fan, you'll love this book despite anything I say.  If you haven't read any of her work to date, don't waste your time.  There are so many books out there much more worthy of your attention.


Crossings (#342) is the second book in Robert Bruce Stewart's engaging Harry Reese mystery series.  Harry's an investigator for an insurance bureau in the New York City of 1901.  He and his co-workers are just finishing up the compiling of an Insurance Fraud Manual, so he's grateful when a rather mundane investigation comes his way.  Is an insurance agent's death really the suicide it appears to be?  And is there any connection with the deaths of two policy holders he recently insured?

Harry sets about investigating in his own inimitable way, which of course includes eluding his wife Emmie whenever possible, as she attempts to solve the case on her own.  The fact that Harry's investigation leads him to poolrooms, betting parlors and the race track don't help matters with Emmie's penchant for gambling.  With a few too many tall, statuesque blonds littering the landscape including Elizabeth Custis, one of Emmie's chums from Smith, things go from routine to risky as additional bodies pile up.  Will Tammany Hall and Willoughby Street politics as usual keep Harry from solving the case?

What makes this series so enjoyable to me is the interplay between Harry and Emmie.  She's always springing surprises on him, usually at the most inopportune times.  Harry's life wouldn't be half so entertaining if it weren't for her frolics.  He does manage to turn the tables on her often enough to nominally maintain the upper hand.  Or so he thinks.... 

The New York City of the turn of the century is brought vividly to life in this series.  Taking the ferries and the cars across the bridges was a way of life for New Yorkers, but enough of an impediment to create separate and distinct societies on either side of the rivers, and influence the local politics.  As an added bonus, Mr. Stewart also provides an interesting website with maps and articles to flesh out the background on his stories if you're curious.  A fun series, and highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Where Somebody Waits

I received Where Somebody Waits (#341) by Margaret Kaufman in a GoodReads giveaway.  It's a little different, in that it's a chronological collection of short stories about an Arkansas downriver girl just as World War II is ending.  Ruby has bright red hair and nails, and stands six feet tall.  She's bound to be noticed, and in the first chapter, she attracts the attention of her future husband.  Ruby's life isn't always easy, but it's always interesting, whether the stories are told from her point of view, or those around her.

Considering the sensation that Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge caused several years ago, I'm amazed that no one has compared Where Somebody Waits to that darling of book clubs.  It just seems like a natural comparison since the format of the book is the same.  In general, I don't like short stories, but since these stories were all connected with Ruby Davidson as their common thread, it made for an interesting read.  Now that surprised me because I wasn't a fan of Olive Kitteridge.  Maybe it's because Ruby, while not perfect, is a much more appealing character.

This book was published by Paul Dry Books, and I wanted to comment on what a beautiful job they did producing this volume.  Holding this book gave me such pleasure from the feel of the cover to the turning of the pages.  It's positively elegant.  Where Somebody Waits is the complete package if you're in the market for a quality read.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Live Wire

Now that we've discovered Harlan Coben's excellent thrillers, my husband and I are busy catching up with what we've been missing.  This week it's a Myron Bolitar story, Live Wire (#340).  From the sound of it, this one may be the last Myron narrative although, through his nephew Mickey's character, Mr. Coben is launching a new Young Adult series, so the Bolitar saga will continue.

Live Wire takes Myron back sixteen years to the beginning of his career as a budding sports agent but a time of personal turmoil.  His own family may hold the key to what's going on today, and it isn't a pleasant journey for Myron.  He's warned to mind his own business, but he can't, and as a result he puts himself and those near and dear to him in danger.  When all is revealed, the answer is a true shocker.  But since this is Harlan Coben, you wouldn't expect anything less.

Live Wire is an excellent read, but Mr. Coben did strike a chord with both of us in his dialogue when Myron offers to take his visiting parents out to dinner.  They're now living in Boca Raton, Florida, but staying in the old family home in Livingston, New Jersey which Myron now owns.  What does his mother want?  "Can we do Chinese?  I don't like the Chinese in Florida.  It's too greasy."  Amen to that, Mrs. Bolitar!  Visiting our old favorite Chinese food restaurant while we were in New England a couple of weeks ago was a priority on our to-do list, and I know we're not alone in that.  And yes, it was every bit as good as I remembered it.  When a writer gets the little things like that right, you trust him to get the rest of it right, too.  No wonder Harlan Coben has so many fans.  If you've never read any of his books, there's no time like the present to get started.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Arrangement

The Arrangement (#339) by prolific Regency romance author Mary Balogh, is the second in her series The Survivor's Club, recounting the tales of each of the seven members of a group of physically and psychologically damaged survivors of the Peninsular War.  The Proposal, the first book in that series, a decided disappointment, was all about the steamy sex with very little story.  (See my post of 8/11/12.)  I decided to give The Arrangement a second chance by entering a GoodReads giveaway.  I think Ms. Balogh succeeds better in this offering, placing the emphasis more on the story rather than the sex.

In this case, the story is about Vincent, Viscount Darleigh, blond, beautiful and blind.  His mother, grandmother and sisters have taken over his life and the estate he unexpectedly inherited four years prior.  His problem is that they are all inclined to be too helpful; they've even gone to the trouble of selecting a suitable bride for him without his knowledge or consent.  So what does he do?  He runs away, of course, with his faithful valet and friend Martin Fisk.  He winds up back in his childhood home in Barton Coombs where he intends to hide out.  When his rich neighbors try to maneuver him into a match with their daughter, their plans are foiled by their poor, nearly invisible orphaned niece.  When they turn Sophia out in the middle of the night, you can see exactly where this story will end.

Again, I'll say that I would have enjoyed this book more had the author "drawn a curtain discretely" over the couple's intimate relations rather than spelling everything out in graphic detail.  Ah, well, if you're like me, you can just skip over those pages and you won't miss a thing!  Georgette Heyer, I'll wager, will still be read a hundred years from now with the same delicious relish as her audiences did when she was originally published.  And she didn't have to write a single sex scene to make a much greater impact than Mary Balogh will ever do. 

And now for my other personal hobby horse: the cover art!  If I hadn't won this book, I never, ever would have picked it up because of the cover.  The half dressed male model on the cover is supposed to appeal to panting female readers, but frankly it has just the opposite effect on me.  I don't even want to touch the book.  In this case, it's a double cover with a scantily clad female model draped over the guy on the inside cover.  Can anyone spell "bodice ripper"?  What is really insulting is that the illustrators didn't even bother to glance at the contents of the book, not even casually, because neither model bears even the faintest relationship to the descriptions of The Arrangement's hero and heroine.  Those who want a "bodice ripper" will be sadly disappointed by the lack of sex, yet those of us who like a romance to leave most of the details to the imagination, will be served up a little too much flesh.  Ah, marketing.... 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Spider Woman's Daughter

I thought Tony Hillerman's popular Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee Navajo mysteries ended with Mr. Hillerman's death.  A shame, I felt, because his books created a unique window on the residents of the Navajo Nation and those who risk their lives to protect them and their way of life.  He captured the physical beauty of the area in way that made me long to visit it and see it for myself.  But after reading Spider Woman's Daughter (#338), I'm very happy to say that his daughter, Anne Hillerman, seems to have picked up right where her father stopped.  The mantle has been successfully passed.

Bernadette Manuelita is now married to Jim Chee and back on the Navajo Police force after a stint with US Border Patrol.  She's happy and honored to be the patrol officer invited to this week's breakfast briefing with  senior law enforcement in Window Rock.  She's just behind retired Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn when he heads out to the parking lot; he's working on an insurance appraisal and she needs to get back to Shiprock.  That makes her an eyewitness when a lone gunman walks up to Leaphorn and shoots him at point blank range.  It also makes her ineligible to work the case as Joe hovers close to death and the Navajo Police and FBI scramble for the identity of the shooter and a motive for the crime.  Could a cold case of Joe's be the key to the shooting?

Most of the characters in Spider Woman's Daughter will be familiar to readers of Hillerman's previous work, but Anne has taken Bernie and Jim Chee's relationship further.  Not precisely newlyweds any longer, the couple is working out both their private and professional strengths and weaknesses.  Jim must deal with the probable loss of his mentor, Joe, and Bernie has her hands full with a sister who doesn't take care of their dependent mother and who seems to be slipping into a an aimless and unsatisfying life.  But one thing Bernie and Chee can agree on, and that's the urgency to find Joe Leaphorn's shooter.  Their skills mesh as both contribute important pieces to solving this puzzle.

If you're a Tony Hillerman fan, you won't be disappointed by his daughter Anne's work; you'll just naturally become her fan as well.  Recommended.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kalorama Shakedown

Do you like your mysteries firmly tongue-in-cheek?  Then Robert Bruce Stewart's latest Harry Reese mystery Kalorama Shakedown (#337) is for you.  Harry is a New York City based fraud investigator for insurance companies and this time his work brings him to Washington, D.C..

Fraudulent insurance claims, lobbyists working social events, real estate schemes, journalists in hot pursuit of a new source of free drinks.  If any of this seems familiar, it just goes to prove that things really haven't changed much in Washington circles since 1901, when this colorful story is set.  Except that the literary sensation everyone is talking about here is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, instead of Harry Potter.

Harry's new wife, Emmie, has insisted on accompanying him to D.C., ostensibly to catch up with an old school friend.  It's not Harry's first encounter with Elizabeth and he strongly suspects that Emmie, Elizabeth or possibly both of them are up to something, and he isn't necessarily sure he wants to find out just what that could be.  If I were in his shoes, I'm not sure I'd want to know, either!  Add in Elizabeth's employer, the Countess, and you have a delightfully duplicitous trio of women playing off each other in the course of the investigation.  And they're on the positive side of Harry's ledger!Things turn deadly when bodies turn up in two different cities.  Can Harry make the connection between them in time to earn his commission and avoid jail?

This is the second book in a row that I've read that evokes the silver screen for me.  In this case, it's my favorite screen couple, Nick and Nora Charles, played so ably by William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series.  The only thing you would need to change is their costumes to suit the 1901 fashions.  That's exactly how I pictured Harry Reese and his wife, Emmie, with their bantering and misdirection, and Harry's perennial amusement and bemusement with her.  I can't wait to go back and catch up on their earlier adventures, as well as new ones as they come along.  What fun!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Shadows Against the Empire

Love the idea of a Steampunk British Raj that includes interplanetary colonies?  Then Ralph Vaughan's latest novel,  Shadows Against the Empire (#336) is for you.  It certainly suited me to a T(ea)!

Mysterious things are happening on Venus and on Mars, and Captain Folkestone and Sergeant Hand, his faithful Martian comrade-in-arms, are assigned by London to investigate the attacks and the perpetrator behind them.  What these intrepid soldiers find leads them from Mars to Venus and back to Earth again in pursuit of followers of the ancient Dark Gods. Lady Cynthia is right there alongside them with her powerful connections and mad skills to give them a hand whether they like it -  Sergeant Hand is definitely in favor! - or not!  Doth Captain Folkestone protest too much?

As I was reading Shadows Against the Empire, I couldn't help but think of some of those classic black and white films set in India like King of the Khyber Rifles, Gunga Din, or even some scenes in Wee Willy Winkie.  I pictured Captain Folkestone as Erroll Flynn or perhaps Tyrone Power, but Sergeant Hand, who out-Britished the English themselves, would get the juiciest character actor part with his clockwork heart replacing his original by the finest British medical artificers.  Lady Cynthia could be played by a number of blond athletic actresses who could simultaneously play the society beauty presiding over a tea table as well as a diplomat, or pilot of an experimental aethercraft.  Hmm.

Mr. Vaughan has created some gorgeous settings on his planets, bringing the sense of ancient and forgotten races and their places of worship to life with his prose.  Threaded throughout are allusions to the mythology of the ancient Greeks, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to the narrative.  The one nitpick I have is a wish that he could find an alternative for the word "crystalline".  It was appropriate, but a tad overused here, I thought.

I certainly hope that there are going to be further adventures of Captain Folkestone, Sergeant Hand and Lady Cynthia.  I know there have to be fascinating back stories for all of them, and there is certainly the possibility of romance in the future.  Perhaps the Sergeant will have to lend a "Hand"!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans (#335) by M. L. Stedman is a powerful morality tale set in Australia just after World War I. 

Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia, whole in body, but damaged in mind and soul by events at home and during the war.  He meets and marries Isabel when he is assigned to a light keeper's post at Janus Light, off the southwestern coast.  Their isolation is complete until the day a small boat washes up on shore with a the body of dead man and a tiny infant girl on board.  Isabel is suffering grievously from two previous miscarriages and a still birth just days before, and begs her husband not to report that the baby is found alive.  That decision  is the crux of the book as the consequences of Tom's action affect not just their own lives, but many others.

No character in this book is totally bad, nor totally good, yet the author manages to convey the emotional impact on those most involved in this drama in a truly empathetic way.  I was torn between how I thought the plot should go, just as the author intended.  There are no easy choices in life; we can just do the best we can with what we know at the time and hope for the best, or what we can live with.

This book did provide a fascinating glimpse into a lifestyle that is long gone now, but which touches anyone who has ever seen a lighthouse either on shore, or on a remote island.  The privations of such a life are easy to imagine, but M.L. Stedman has done a marvelous job at showing what the rewards of such a life could be as well.

A complex book with much to ponder.  Well worth reading thoughtfully.

The Salinger Contract

When I saw The Salinger Contract (#334) on GoodReads, it wasn't the Salinger connection that attracted me; it was the promise of a literary mystery.  And although J.D. Salinger is an author much admired by this novel's narrator, Adam Langer (also the name of the real life author!), you don't have to be an admirer of Salinger yourself to thoroughly enjoy this book. 

The fictional Adam Langer enjoyed a brief career in the literary world as the editor of a magazine in New York City.  His days of interviewing up-and-coming authors are over after the magazine folds and his wife accepts a tenure-track position at an Indiana university.  Now his days are filled with housework and child care until the day he runs into popular author Conner Joyce on a speaking tour in the Bloomington Borders bookstore .  Conner recognizes him from the flattering interview Adam had done on him and insists on getting together.  When Conner begins to tell Adam about a bizarre proposal he has received from a wealthy individual, Adam has no idea that his life is about to be turned upside down, too.  Things are murky, mysterious and menacing in the world Conner pulls him into.  Is the danger real, or is it in their heads?  You'll have to read The Salinger Contract to find out.

I liked the almost casual tone of this book which creates a very intimate atmosphere between Adam and the reader.  It doesn't have the erudite air that one might expect from a literary mystery involving some of the twentieth century's most revered writers. 

Did I mention that the mystery's revelation is quite satisfying and unexpected?  I'm passing The Salinger Contract along to all my friends, and I'll be waiting eagerly for Adam Langer's next novel.