Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Review - Kerry Greenwood's Cocaine Blues

Cocaine Blues (Phyrne Fisher Book 1) by Kerry Greenwood
Published by: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: 1989
Format: Hardcover, 175 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Phryne Fisher is a little bored in England. One more tedious yet perfectly prepared dinner party and she might lose it. Fast cars, aeroplanes, dancing lessons by gigolos only go so far as to fill the void. The night Bobby tried to make off with the Ambassador's wife's jewels, which Phryne quickly stopped, she is given an interesting alternative to her current life. The Colonel is worried about his daughter Lydia. Lydia has taken herself with her new husband off to Australia and her parents are convinced something is wrong. Phryne has always played with the idea that one day she would return to Australia. Having been raised out of the gutter and spirited away to wealth in England was well and good, but Australia is still her true home. She agrees to help the Colonel, if she is allowed to do it her way, with her money, and in her own time.

On the way to Melbourne, she befriends a female Scotch doctor, Dr MacMillan, and once she disembarks, Phryne picks up associates and friends left and right like they are strays. From the cab drivers, Bert and Cec, to her new maid Dot, who she stopped from committing a heinous crime, to the luscious Russian dancer Sasha, they soon all become her confidantes. Phyrne plans on approaching Lydia obliquely and naturally in a social setting so that she will never guess that Phyrne was sent by Lydia's parents. To do this Phyrne starts to mingle in society, a society she notices that has several flaws. One being a rather robust trade in cocaine, the other being an abortionist who rapes his patients. Seeing as by taking the Colonel's job she has ostensibly set herself up as a detective, Phryne figures she might as well solve these cases too. She doesn't expect to be shot at, set up, sapphically seduced, detained, and threatened. At least this is far more interesting then England.

Back in 2011 someone recommended the Phryne Fisher books to me. I really can't for the life of me remember who it was, but I have a feeling that it was because of my love of Daisy Dalyrymple and Amelia Peabody and my having just read The Forgotten Garden by fellow Aussie writer, Kate Morton, that this mysterious someone said "read this now." I obligingly bought Cocaine Blues and then promptly forgot to read it as it worked it's way into the morass of my reading pile. About a year after that forgotten purchase I was down in Illinois for a book signing with Lauren Willig and Tasha Alexander and afterwards I headed out to the local bookstore, because that's what I do. If I have an event to go to, I immediately find all the bookstores in the vicinity and try to visit as many as possible. This happened to be a Half Price Books Store. I hadn't been to this branch in, oh, at least a year, which is a long time for me. In the mystery section there was a large display of about eight of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher books. I immediately remembered that I had been recommended to read Kerry Greenwood and promptly bought all of them, not realizing I was re-buying Cocaine Blues, but on a side note, a hardcover edition when I only had a paperback, so score. This was one of those days I remember as a windfall bookstore day of awesomeness! Who would sell these books? Oh, what do I care, their lose is my gain.

Flash forward yet another year and I haven't started reading them yet. Let's be honest, I have so many books I shouldn't be allowed to buy anymore and just be forced to read what I own... I probably would never have to buy another book, want, yes, need, no... ok, yes, need, yes, I have an addiction, I need them! Anyway, back to my story. So anyway, I'm a huge fan of Acorn Media, they release all the best British shows on DVD, I mean seriously, look at all the best releases and they are from Acorn. Anyway, in their "new and exclusive" section this past January they had a new series that had aired in 2012 called Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. As it so happened I was reading the description and I realized that this show was based on all those lovely Kerry Greenwood books I had languishing. I rarely buy the DVDs direct from Acorn, usually waiting the extra months till they are no longer "exclusive" and are therefore about $20-40 cheaper, but it being my mom's birthday (handy right?) I figured I'd splurge and get her the DVD set and therefore get to watch the show. Now I rarely, and I mean rarely, will watch a show before reading the book, but my mom insisted. I instantly fell in love with the show, and, I must say, the clothes. Therefore, going to pick up the first book I was a little hesitant. I mean, the show was fresh in my mind and now I was worried it would color the book! Thankfully all my fears were unjustified.

Cocaine Blues has the bare bones of what the show is, but it's so much more. And you know what? While I like the show, the book has more interest and depth... but then again, it's hard to fit a truly ripping mystery into a rather small time slot. So if your love of the series has been putting you off picking up the series, hesitate no longer! The book is sexy and a little bit raunchy and has a younger more vibrant feel. There is also a rawness to the book that makes it seem more real then other books set in the 20s. Instead of a golden aura of nostalgia that envelopes a lot of this type of fiction, there was an immediate realness. The description of what the evil abortionist, Butcher George did, made the horror that much more real then if it had been glossed over. Now of course I have too too vivid ideas of getting septicemia and loosing my womb... but by forging this connection to me and my insides, wow, it packed a punch. Of all the other books I've read this summer, I would say that Kerry Greenwood's style most reminds me of Dashiell Hammett and Red Harvest. There's a noir sensibility that I just adored. Add to that that Bert has a tendency to say "yair" which just might replace my love of saying "Hodor" and it's a series that I don't think will be languishing in my "to be read" pile much longer.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kerry Greenwood

"I write Golden Age Detective stories because they have a lovely, complex puzzle, they keep gore to a minimum, they have made the sort of strict form, as strict as a sonnet, but inside which the poet can say anything she wants. They are an intoxicating combination of severe rules and broad, expansive landscapes, exactly fitted to my 'post-impressionist' form of writing." - Kerry Greenwood

Kerry Greenwood is getting far more exposure these days with the success of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, based on her Phryne Fisher books, which has finally been shown stateside, with the second series about to start in Australia. A second series where Kerry is going to have a cameo! Born in Australia, she has had many occupations having worked as a folk singer, factory hand, director, producer, translator, costume-maker, cook and is currently a solicitor. When she is not writing, she works as a locum solicitor for the Victorian Legal Aid. Yet her writing is what has garnered her international attention with awards flying in left and right. She seems to also possess my secret superpower, which is she can detect second-hand bookshops from blocks away and is often found within them, which has led to her being the unpaid curator of seven thousand books. She is also a cat person, as am I, so I think we should totally hang out and I can teach her how to knit. So far Kerry has written nineteen Phryne Fisher books with her signature wit coupled with the darker deeds of man, and I look forward to reading every single one. I am pleased to welcome Kerry Greenwood to my Golden Summer, her and Phryne are great additions to a great tradition.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Rise of Five by Pittacus Lore
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 27th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Fall of Five is the fourth novel in the New York Times bestselling I Am Number Four series by Pittacus Lore. The Garde are finally reunited, but do they have what it takes to win the war against the Mogadorians?

John Smith—Number Four—thought that things would change once the Garde found one another. They would stop running. They would fight the Mogadorians. And they would win.

But he was wrong. After facing off with the Mogadorian ruler and almost being annihilated, the Garde know they are drastically unprepared and hopelessly outgunned. Now they're hiding out in Nine's Chicago penthouse, trying to figure out their next move.

The six of them are powerful, but they're not strong enough yet to take on an entire army—even with the return of an old ally. To defeat their enemy, the Garde must master their Legacies and learn to work together as a team. More important, they'll have to discover the truth about the Elders and their plan for the Loric survivors.

And when the Garde receive a sign from Number Five—a crop circle in the shape of a Loric symbol—they know they are so close to being reunited. But could it be a trap? Time is running out, and the only thing they know for certain is that they have to get to Five before it's too late.

The Garde may have lost battles, but they will not lose this war.

Lorien will rise again."

For my bestie who is addicted to these books, which I promise I will eventually get around to reading.

The Morning Star by Robin Bridges
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: August 27th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Lush and opulent, romantic and sinister, The Morning Star, Vol. III in the Katerina Trilogy, reimagines the lives of Russia's aristocracy in a fabulously intoxicating and page-turning fantasy.

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1890

Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, wants to be known as a doctor, not a necromancer. But Tsar Alexander III forbids women to attend medical school; his interest in Katerina extends only to her ability to raise the dead. Twice now, Katerina has helped him by using her power to thwart the forces of darkness—vampires bent on resurrecting the lich tsar Konstantin Pavlovich so that he can take what he sees as his rightful place on the throne. Katerina thought she had bound Konstantin to the Greylands, the realm of the dead, but he has found a way out. Now he is searching for the Morning Star, a sword that will allow him to command a legion of supernatural warriors.

Katerina must find the sword before Konstantin does—and she must travel to Egypt to do so. Along the way, she puts up with unwanted attention from her former fiancé, the nefarious Prince Danilo, and struggles with her feelings for her true love, George Alexandrovich. But with the looming threat from Konstantin, Katerina's focus remains on the sword. Russia's fate will be determined by whoever wields the Morning Star—and delivers the final blow."

The final volume!

Cast in Sorrow by Michelle Sagara
Published by: Harlequin Luna
Publication Date: August 27th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

The Barrani would be happy to see her die. So Kaylin Neya is a bit surprised by her safe arrival in the West March. Especially when enemies new and old surround her and those she would call friends are equally dangerous...

And then the real trouble starts. Kaylin's assignment is to be a "harmoniste"-one who helps tell the truth behind a Barrani Recitation. But in a land where words are more effective than weapons, Kaylin's duties are deadly. With the wrong phrase she could tear a people further asunder. And with the right ones...well, then she might be able to heal a blight on a race.

If only she understood the story..."

I've been wanting to read this series for awhile... better late then never.

Ann Aguirre by Michelle Sagara
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: August 27th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

The prison ship Perdition, a floating city where the Conglomerate’s most dangerous criminals are confined for life, orbits endlessly around a barren asteroid.

Life inside is even more bleak. Hailed as the Dread Queen, inmate Dresdemona “Dred” Devos controls one of Perdition’s six territories, bordered on both sides by would-be kings eager to challenge her claim. Keeping them at bay requires constant vigilance, as well as a steady influx of new recruits to replace the fallen. Survival is a constant battle, and death is the only escape.

Of the newest convicts, only one is worth Dred’s attention. The mercenary Jael, with his deadly gaze and attitude, may be the most dangerous criminal onboard. His combat skill could give her the edge she needs, if he doesn't betray her first. Unfortunately, that's what he does best. Winning Jael’s allegiance will be a challenge, but failure could be worse than death…"

Even if prison ships always make me think of the 'Justice' episode of Red Dwarf, which leads to me giggling, this looks like a kick ass new series like Aguirre's now ended Sirantha Jax series.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review - Carola Dunn's Murder on the Flying Scotsman

Murder on the Flying Scotsman (Daisy Dalrymple Book 4) by Carola Dunn
Published by: Kensington Books
Publication Date: 1996
Format: Paperback, 256 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Daisy has indulged herself with a first class ticket to Edinburgh on the Flying Scotsman to write her next article for Town and Country magazine. Little does she know as she debates to face towards or away from the engine in the stifling train compartment that the daughter of the object of her affection, Belinda Fletcher, has run away from home and decided to follow Daisy on her journey. Belinda has stowed away on the train and is frantically searching for Daisy. Soon Belinda finds Daisy, but someone else has also found her... Daisy's old classmate Anne Bretton, nee Smythe-Pike, is also aboard the train. Anne doesn't just have a precocious five year old and a baby in tow, oh no, she has her entire family. Four generations totalling fifteen relatives, not to mention servants and the stray heir.

The entire McGowan family tree is rushing towards Dunston Castle as fast as the Flying Scotsman will take them. Called there by the head of the family, Alistair, who thinks his time has finally come. Alistair, whose will is draconian and who has clung fiercely to his money like the miser he is. The will states that he is planning on leaving everything to his brother Albert, and after that his nephew if Albert should die before him, believing that money should be inherited along the male lines. Only now Anne has a son, who she believes should inherit, being Alistair's great-grandson.

Yet there is one thing the family all agrees on, Alistair's brother Albert should under no means inherit. Albert plans to leave his money to an Indian doctor! Doctor Jagai is not only unrelated, but not one of them, in the most racist sense. If Alistair where to die before Albert, then all the family's fortune would end up in the hands of Doctor Jagai. This is unacceptable, which Daisy has to listen to from the endless parade of McGowan's that come through her compartment. Therefore it is not shocking when Albert turns up dead. Every single member of his family had means and motive being trapped on the train together. Daisy just has to figure out who, all while taking care of Belinda. If she could just finagle Belinda's father Alec to be assigned to the case then perhaps things will start looking up.

There is something about trains that so eloquently lends itself to mysteries of the Golden Age of Detection. Whether it's just the bygone means of transport and all the elegance it bestows on the traveler or just the fact that you are locked in a box hurtling through space with someone who might be a killer. Trains bring a frisson of excitement to mysteries. Far more likely then any other reason it is probably because of Agatha Christie and the fact that Murder on the Orient Express is one of, if not the most famous of the books she has ever written. Because of this trains have become staples in mysteries, from Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, to Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest, to the most recent adaptation of The Lady Vanishes, trains lend themselves to murder and mayhem. Murder on the Flying Scotsman taps into this most delicious of tropes and gives us a mystery that you will be speeding through, much as the train hurtles towards Edinburgh.

Where Carola Dunn's writing excels is in her characterization. Besides Daisy and Belinda, she juggles fifteen relatives, a doctor, a lawyer, and several functionaries from porters to police without ever confusing the reader. Christie was only juggling thirteen characters in her famous murder mystery on a locomotive, and here Carola ups it by a considerable number. Not only does she keep each character concise and clear, they are all very distinct people. Sure you could remember them by their broad strokes, anger issues and gout (Anne's father) or bright young thing (Anne's sister Judith) or shell-shock victim (Judith's cousin and true love Raymond), but these traits aren't the sum total of who they are. Carola delves into Judith and shows that despite her more superficial aspects, she could just as easily be a farmer's wife, just so long as that farmer is Raymond. While Raymond, even though he is a prime suspect, you feel so deeply for him with his attacks that come on from loud noises, that if he does turn out to be the killer, well, you know in your heart that you would forgive him. Then there is Doctor Jagai. Can he just be my friend please? Not only is he sweet and philosophical about the whole situation, he is caring and compassionate, looking after Belinda and also trying to help Raymond, someone who should be his rival because of the inheritance, but whose suffering he wants to help remediate.

Though the character that deserves the highest of praises is young Belinda Fletcher. It is so rare to get children right in books. Either they are too precocious or too vicious. The Roald Dahl syndrome if you will. Kids are either too too good or rotten to the core. As a reader, there is no swifter way to alienate me then to have unrealistic children. When Belinda found Daisy, the first thing I could think of was, oh dear, now we enter the overly doting Daisy and the soppy Belinda. My how I was relieved. Belinda was nicely refreshing. She was complex and was able to be sweet and childlike, but not cloying. Polite but not an ingratiating ass. Accepting of others and their differences. Able to keep things together when faced with a dead body. Yet, she was still a child. She did not have that feeling of being written as an adult in miniature. If more authors could get this right I think that the old axiom that applies to actors which can apply to books too "never work with children or animals" could soon become obsolete.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book Review - Carola Dunn's Requiem for a Mezzo

Requiem for a Mezzo (Daisy Dalrymple Book 3) by Carola Dunn
Published by: Kensington Books
Publication Date: 1996
Format: Paperback, 249 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Daisy Dalrymple has some interesting neighbors in her little bohemian community of artists and writers, like Daisy herself. Out back her roommate has set up a photography studio, while right next door is the famous opera singer Bettina Westlea, who lives with her spinster sister and her older vocal coach of a husband who has students coming and going all the time. While fixing a cake for her roommate's birthday she runs out of flour and rushes next door to ask Bettina's sweet sister Muriel for the loan of some. Daisy walks right into a house full of divas, with Bettina practicing for her big performance that coming weekend of Verdi's Requiem at Albert Hall, while her husband coaches Miss Olivia Blaise, the talented singer who was up for the part Bettina snagged, and then in walks their conductor, Mr. Eric Cochran. To get Daisy off the front line, Muriel plies her with tickets to the performance, as well as the flour she so desperately needed.

Daisy knows exactly who she wants to take to the concert. Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher. Sure she tends to nose in on his cases... but it gives her a chance to see him. This would be a first outing for them without murder and mayhem, until Bettina drops dead on stage right after the interval. Alec takes charge of the scene but he knows, no matter how hard he tries, that Daisy will worm her way into his case and take someone under her protective wing. The suspect list is very fixed, but they are all of an artistic temperament and therefore have drama and secrets born in their very bones. From Bettina's cuckolded husband, Roger Abernathy, to conductor Eric Cochran and Olivia Blaise, the object of his affection, to Bettina's sister and her secret love interest, the Russian Jew, Yakov Levich, too the other soloists, the Spanish soprano Consuela de la Costa, the Welsh tenor Gilbert Gower, and the hostile bass, Dimitri Marchenko... to various spouses... well, Alec will have his job cut out for him untangling this mess. Luckily for him Daisy is there to help him, even if he doesn't see it as such.

While I really enjoyed the first two mysteries in Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple series, they were very much more in the traditional vein of Golden Age "Manor House" Mysteries. Daisy arrives at a grand estate and murder ensues and Alec is called in. While this is all well and good and enjoyable, for the purpose of a series, setting each book up like this, well, the plot would get old fast. That's why I love how Carola has stepped it up a notch with Requiem for a Mezzo. In the previous two volumes we had heard how Daisy had bucked the conventions of her "honourable" and gone working girl, but it's one thing to hear about it as just a part of her character's background, it's another thing to get to be a part of that life as we see her typing away on her behemoth typewriter on the gorgeous Georgian writing table from her ancestral home in the heart of Chelsea while her roommate is out back in the mews cum photography studio taking portraits of the neighbors Opera students. You get a firmer grip on who Daisy is. In the manor houses we saw who she was, the honourable that can blend into any social setting, but here, here is the life she has chosen for herself. The beans and toast meals, the struggling to get by. The life that she has made for herself makes it far more likely that her and Alec are compatible. Which for me is a strong yeah.

What takes the cake, sponge of course, is the artistic temperaments and the petty jealousies, secret affairs, grudges, and just plain hatred that live within the world of Opera. For many years I worked in theatre, even on a few Operas, backstage of course, doing the painting and the props. I had minimal interaction with the actors on the whole, but I did have many classes with them, and while there were dramas backstage with the crew, it was really the dramas and intrigues of the actors that trickled down to us that we fed off of. Who was seeing who, which of the men was a real whore, who was the biggest diva, which actors weren't talking to each other, sadly never a murder in the lot, but one can see how that could easily happen. They are high strung and I wouldn't say they are all promiscuous, but within a fixed community, you will get some bed jumping, as Gilbert Gower shows with his predilection to international beauties. So, what struck me is that Carola was just spot on with showing the inter dynamics of her cast of characters. I lived in that world and she took me right back there.

While I was reading this book, one thing struck me, and that's this. Requiem for a Mezzo NEEDS to be made into a British TV Movie. It can even be a one off instead of a series, because seriously, I have the dream cast in mind. Firstly, Gilbert Gower, the Welsh playboy... who has the voice and the talent and the raw sex appeal and is Welsh? Tom Jones! Tom Jones as Gilbert Gower, and really, my job here is done. But, I will take the time to round out the cast. While she can't sing, that I know of, I think Consuela de la Costa needs to be played by Sofia Vergara. She has the diva attitude and the sex appeal, plus her and Tom Jones, I KNOW you want to see that. Now for the starring role as our murder victim... Katerine Jenkins. Such an amazing and gorgeous voice, and a real opera singer to boot. I think it would be totally spiffing to have her play against her sweet demeanour by being a bitchy diva. As for Daisy and Alec, I've always pictured Alec as Dominic West... I don't know why, but I always have. Perhaps he just lends himself to being a cop, or he has those expressive eyebrows of Alec's, or is just wonderful in period pieces, but anyway, he would be perfect. And then, after recently watching The Hour, I think we need Romola Garai to be Daisy. First, she has the chemistry with West, second, she has the dirty honey blond hair that would look so cute in the bob Daisy gets, as well as being an amazing actress. So I want and need this to happen, so minions or whomever at the BBC reads this, get this going, ok?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Published by: Random House
Publication Date: August 20th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 624 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Brilliant, haunting, breathtakingly suspenseful, Night Film is a superb literary thriller by the New York Times bestselling author of the blockbuster debut Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.

Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.

The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page."

Already getting advance praise as being "the book" of this summer... and I'll still read it despite them denying me an e-galley... see, I'm magnanimous. 

A Fatal Likeness by Lynn Shepherd
Published by: Delacorte
Publication Date: August 20th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"With The Solitary House, award-winning author Lynn Shepherd introduced readers to Charles Maddox, a brilliant private detective plying his trade on the gaslit streets of Dickensian London. Now, in this mesmerizing new novel of historical suspense, a mystery strikes disturbingly close to home—and draws Maddox into a world of literary legends, tormented souls, and a legacy of terrible secrets.

When his great-uncle, the master detective who schooled him in the science of “thief taking,” is mysteriously stricken, Charles Maddox fears that the old man’s breakdown may be directly related to the latest case he’s been asked to undertake. Summoned to the home of a stuffy nobleman and his imperious wife, Charles finds his investigative services have been engaged by no less than the son of celebrated poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his famed widow, Mary, author of the gothic classic Frankenstein. Approached by a stranger offering to sell a cache of rare papers allegedly belonging to the legendary late poet, the Shelley family seeks Maddox’s aid in discovering whether the precious documents are authentic or merely the work of an opportunistic charlatan.

But the true identity of his quarry is only the first of many surprises lying in wait for the detective. Hardly a conniving criminal, Claire Clairmont is in fact the stepsister of Mary Shelley, and their tortured history of jealousy, obsession, and dark deceit looms large over the affair Maddox must untangle. So, too, does the shadow of the brilliant, eccentric Percy Shelley, who found no rest from the private demons that pursued him. With each new detail unearthed, the investigation grows ever more disturbing. And when shocking evidence of foul play comes to light, Maddox’s chilling hunt for the truth leads him into the blackest reaches of the soul.

Steeped in finely wrought Victorian atmosphere, and rife with eye-opening historical revelations, A Fatal Likeness carries the reader ever deeper into a darkly magnetic tale of love and madness as utterly harrowing and heartbreaking as it is undeniably human."

Whereas I did get an e-galley for this one, realized I needed to read the first book first (and realized I've been reading too many British books and just typed realise)... so I'll get to this... one day. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler
Published by: Gallery Books
Publication Date: August 20th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Brilliant, idealistic Esme Garland moves to Manhattan armed with a pres­tigious scholarship at Columbia University. When Mitchell van Leuven— a New Yorker with the bluest of blue New York blood—captures her heart with his stunning good looks and a penchant for all things erotic, life seems truly glorious . . . until a thin blue line signals a wrinkle in Esme’s tidy plan. Before she has a chance to tell Mitchell about her pregnancy, he suddenly declares their sex life is as exciting as a cup of tea, and ends it all.

Determined to master everything from Degas to diapers, Esme starts work at a small West Side bookstore, finding solace in George, the laconic owner addicted to spirulina, and Luke, the taciturn, guitar-playing night manager. The oddball customers are a welcome relief from Columbia’s high-pressure halls, but the store is struggling to survive in this city where nothing seems to last.

When Mitchell recants his criticism, his passion and promises are hard to resist. But if Esme gives him a second chance, will she, like her beloved book­store, lose more than she can handle? A sharply observed and evocative tale of learning to face reality without giv­ing up on your dreams, The Bookstore is sheer enchantment from start to finish"

The cover and the title had me sold before I read the description and went, "yeah, I'd read that..."

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review - Carola Dunn's The Winter Garden Mystery

The Winter Garden Mystery (Daisy Dalrymple Book 2) by Carola Dunn
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: 1995
Format: Paperback, 256 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Wherever Daisy goes death is sure to follow. This time she's off to Cheshire and Occles Hall, which thanks to her old school chum, Bobbie Parslow, she has been able to wrangle an invite. Bobbie's mother, Lady Valeria, is notoriously bad tempered and also very protective of her unnaturally good looking son, Sebastian. In fact, the first thing that Daisy hears upon arriving in the picture postcard perfect village of Occleswich is the raging feud between Lady Valeria and Stan Moss, the local car mechanic. Stan wants to put in a gas station, and Lady Valeria will not hear of it blighting her perfect town. Stan has had a rough time of it of late, his daughter Grace, who worked up at the Hall as a parlor maid and took care of him in her spare time, ran off with a travelling salesman a few months back. Daisy instantly loves the hall and sees the picture possibilities for her article and is grateful to Bobbie and her father, Sir Reginald. The Tudor facade hides much turmoil and secrets though. Sir Reginald has an obsession with his Dairy so is rarely seen by anyone. Sebastian's famed good looks did nothing to prepare Daisy for the Adonis that is brought before her. Then there's the family's secretary, Ben Goodman, who was injured in the war and who Sebastian is very protective of. But what lies in the family tree is not important to Daisy who is there to capture the house, not the inhabitants, for her article. Daisy is lucky enough to get a tour of the grounds and the famed winter garden, in blooms though it is not quite spring. Owen Morgan, the assistant gardener and jilted boyfriend of Grace, is showing Daisy the wonders of blossoms in winter when Daisy notices a disturbance in the flowerbed. A disturbance which happens to be Grace Moss. She didn't run off with that travelling salesman after all.

It's not long before the local coppers decide that Owen Morgan is their man. They claim that the Welshman lost his temper when Daisy declared she was pregnant and in love with Sebastian and he hide her among the flowers. But Daisy knows this is wrong. She was there when Owen found Grace, and the conclusion the cops have reached couldn't be farther than the truth. Daisy starts to dig and soon finds out all manner of secrets the family was concealing, none of which really have a bearing on the case. Fearing for her safety and sensing she is once more in over her head, her old friend Phillip Petrie comes with the cavalry of Inspector Fletcher, there to get to the bottom of things and fix the mess the local police have made of this case. But when Bobbie disappears and the locals start to close ranks, it looks like the answer might never be found and that Daisy might be excommunicated from Occles Hall without her article finished. But which is worse? Not finding the killer or looser her job?

There's something fun and infectious about Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries. They're the quick little mystery fix that you need on a cold winter's day to while away the hours. I am drawn to them because they do have an Agatha Christie feel to them, and most Christie novels, even if I haven't read them, have been adapted to death so that the killers and plots are second nature to us bibliophiles. Therefore it's like fresh new Christie, but a period feel with a modern sensibility. Also I felt that unlike the first installment, the cast of characters was not so unwieldy, and that you grasped the basic suspect pool fairly fast. Also, how much fun is it that we actually get to have the inquest in this one? That staple of British mysteries was sadly lacking in the first book. On a final note I'd like to say, how cool is Daisy's job. Sure she's "tarnishing" the family name by working for a living. But getting to travel to all these great houses, which Carola Dunn brings such life and reality to, makes me just wish for more time to pick up the next book and then the next.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Book Review - Carola Dunn's Death at Wentwater Court

Death at Wentwater Court (Daisy Dalrymple Book 1) by Carola Dunn
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: 1994
Format: Paperback, 252 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy
Daisy Dalrymple, despite being an "honourable" has decided to ditch the title and make a name for herself as a writer (and photographer, cause she really needs the money). She's on her way to Wentwater Court, where her title did happen to wrangle her an invite, to feature the house for Town and Country. On a crisp January day she arrives to see Lord James Beddowe, the Earl of Wentwater's eldest son ice skating with his sister Majorie, his fiance Fenella and Fenella's brother Phillip. Poor Phillip, still perpetually in love with Daisy. Once Daisy arrives in the house she is introduced to an even greater assortment of characters. There's the Earl himself, his gorgeous but extremely young new bride, Annabel, and his other children, the gambling Wilfred and the sporty Geoffry. Not to mention his sister and her husband, Lady Josephone and Sir Hugh. But the odd one out is really Lord Stephen Astwick, who is neither a relative or apparently a friend of anyone there. In fact he seems to be a bit predatory towards Annabel, which is not going down well with the others. After a tour and some ancestral gossip from Lady Josephine, the family convene for a family portrait then dinner. It is a rather awkward and dour affair and eventually, after a rubber or two, they all troop off to bed, Lord Stephen proudly proclaiming that he will be up at dawn to ice skate as part of his exercise regime. But come morning, when the others go to skate, it's Lord Stephen's body that is discovered half submerged in the icy lake. Daisy, head firmly planted on shoulders, decides she should take pictures of the accident scene, for the police, should they need them. After many protests as to whether the police should be called or not, a detective Alec Fletcher arrives direct from the jewel heist he is investigating at nearby Flatford. It transpires that Daisy was very forward thinking in taking those pictures, because they show not a man who accidentally fell through the ice, but a man who fell through a whole that had been cropped in the ice with an axe. Daisy then helps the dishy Alec get to the bottom of who killed Lord Stephen, when apparently everyone had a motive! Annabel was being blackmailed, Wilfred owed him money, Majorie was jealous of his attentions to Annabel, and the Earl watched it all.

In the classic style of Agatha Christie we have a country house murder where everyone's a suspect and one of them has to be the murderer. Set at a languid pace, once you get a hold of the unwieldy number of characters and their basic relationship to each other and the victim the story really gripes you. At times I think even the author realizes her unwieldy cast, due to the repetition of their motives and where they were when the crime happened. Set between the wars we have a heroine who lost her love on the front lines, a trope used in many of these types of story, look at Maisie Dobbs. We also have the dashing detective who, for some reason, trusts and is drawn to the heroine and views her as a confidant and confederate. Besides this love interest the story moves apace with enough red herrings and new evidence to keep you guessing. But it's the ending that takes the cake. I did not see it coming, and not that it's shocking, but the way it is handled and what happens to the guilty party I think are what make this book stand out from the pack and made it a truly memorable read for me. Even if I have now developed a bizarre desire to speak only in colloquialisms from the 20s and 30s I heartily recommend it. So, read this jolly good book if you're a fan of English cozies because you shan't be disappointed. It's a spiffing good time. Toodle Pip!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Clockwork Heart by Liesel Schwarz
Published by: Del Ray
Publication Date: August 13th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"FOR BETTER OR CURSE. That might as well have been the wedding vow of Elle Chance and her new husband, the ex-Warlock Hugh Marsh. For the couple has scarcely returned from their honeymoon when the ancient battle between Light and Shadow tears them apart.

As Elle devotes herself to her duties as the Oracle—who alone has the power to keep the dark designs of Shadow at bay—Marsh finds himself missing the excitement of his former life as a Warlock. So when Commissioner Willoughby of the London Metropolitan Police seeks his help in solving a magical mystery, Marsh is only too happy to oblige. But in doing so, Marsh loses his heart, literally.

In place of the flesh-and-blood organ is a clockwork device—a device that makes Marsh a kind of zombie. Nor is he the only one. A plague of clockwork zombies is afflicting London, sowing panic and whispers of revolution. Now Elle must join forces with her husband’s former flame to track down Marsh’s heart and restore it to his chest before time runs out."

I don't think it's possible for the world to have too much Steampunk... because there are those of us who never tire of it.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Carola Dunn

"Why the 1920s? I'd been writing books set in the Regency (early 1800s) for 15 years before I started writing mysteries. I wanted a change of period and I saw certain parallels between the Regency and the 1920s that intrigued me. Both were periods of great changes, especially for women. 

For a start, consider clothes. Around 1800, the enormous hoops and tight lacing of the 18th century gave way to the Empire gown. The clothes allowed women to move more freely--There's a charming picture from the Regency of young women playing badminton. Of course, Victorian fashion regressed to crinolines and bustles and tight lacing. Worse followed, the Edwardian "Grecian Bend," corsetted to make the bosom stick out in one direction and the bottom in the other. Then came World War I, truly a liberating event for women however catastrophic otherwise. Because of the shortage of men during and after the war (about 1 million British soldiers killed), women were able and needed to work at jobs they'd never aspired to before. Land Girls even wore trousers! 

Another revolution was in transportation. Again around 1800, roads were improving, highwaymen and footpads were much reduced in numbers, and someone invented springs for carriages. Travel was so much easier that gentlemen going up to London for Parliament and the court took their wives and daughters along, and the London Season was born. Later came the railways, but still a respectable young lady would not travel without a male or older female relative for chaperon. World War I and the automobile age put an end to that. By the 1920s, a young woman who had driven generals about during the war were not about to be satisfied with sitting meekly behind the chauffeur. They owned and drove their own motor cars. 

By 1919, women over 30 could even vote in national elections and graduate from Oxford University (though not from Cambridge for another 30+ years!). 

For Daisy Dalrymple, finding her way in a swiftly changing world is as much of a challenge as solving any of the crimes she just happens to stumble upon." - Carola Dunn

Carola Dunn started out her writing career with historical romances set in that most favorite period of mine, Regency England. But it was her mysteries staring the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple that really caught the reading public, me included. The series now spans to twenty volumes, with the twenty-first coming out later this year. What I love about this series is that it has the Golden Age mystique, but there's a modern sensibility to Daisy that gives you an immediate connection to the narrative. I am so happy to include Carola in my Golden Summer and I hope you'll check out her wonderful books... if I haven't tempted you yet, hopefully my reviews over the next few days will.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review - Catriona McPherson's The Burry Man's Day

The Burry Man's Day (Dandy Gilver Book 2) by Catriona McPherson
Published by: Robinson
Publication Date: 2006
Format: Kindle, 372 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Dandy and her dear friend Daisy are off to Queensferry to reconnect with an old classmate and to go to the Ferry Fair. Freddy, nicknamed Buttercup, has finally returned from her sojourn in America with her new husband Cad in tow. Cad has lived his entire life in America and upon inheriting Cassilis he has decided to come to Scotland to play lord of the manor. Because in Dandy's eyes that's what the newlyweds are doing. They don't quite understand their duties to their people. You don't just get to live in a castle and while away the day lounging about. Take the fair for example. Freddy has agreed to open the fair and judge various competitions, like "The Bonniest Baby," when anyone who knows Freddy sees that this is the worst idea possible. Indeed Dandy gets a bit of a sinking feeling that perhaps the invitation extended to her and Daisy had ulterior motives...

Dandy is quickly thrown right into the middle of everything as Freddy does indeed expect Dandy's help. Not only is the fair a big to-do, there are factions within the small community that are at war. The local folk tradition of the Burry Man is the focal point of this struggle. A local man is covered from head to toe in Burdock burrs and he parades about the town being given sips of whiskey and coins. The three local churches view this as paganism and superstitious nonsense. On top of that, the temperance league led by the local schoolmaster, doesn't approve of the alcoholic aspect of the Burry Man, which is a bit ironic because bottling whiskey is the main source of income for the villagers. Yet for a short while, it looks like there might not even be a Burry Man this year. Mr Robert Dudgeon has declared the night before the fair that he will not be able to do his Burry Man duties, though he has successfully done it for 24 years. Dandy carefully talks him around but has deep regrets when the next day, after the fair has opened and the Burry Man's procession is done, Robert Dudgeon dies while participating in the greasy pole competition. The coroner quickly passes it off as a heart attack brought on by too much drink and exertion, but can that really be true? Cad and Freddy, hearing from Daisy about Dandy's previous sleuthing success, beg her to look into the case, because they think it might just be murder.

With The Burry Man's Day, which for some reason whenever I try to say it comes out as "The Burry Man's Dray," as if a man covered in burrs could ride a dray horse... is certainly a far more cohesive and satisfying book then After the Armistice Ball. There was a satisfying beginning, middle, and end, that didn't leave me floundering for pages upon pages wondering who everyone was or where the book was taking place. From the outset we are given a distinct place and time, the second week in August after the bank holiday in Queensferry, Scotland. As Dandy journeys there, she reminisces on her past, so we get some nice exposition. Ah, if only the first book had been so well structured, much of my issues would have been washed away down the Forth as we stand on the impressive bridge that inadvertently led to Dandy marrying Hugh and becoming a Gilver.

Though, now that structure has finally been imposed, Dandy's character flaws come a bit more to the forefront. At times I was wanting to just smack dumb dumb Dandy for not noticing obvious things. I'm not saying that I would have solved it faster if I where in her shoes, I'm just saying, dear lord, that took a long time. Cut out about a hundred pages and Bob's your uncle. Her stupidity was too much to be born, and it didn't help that Alec seemed more then a little useless this time around. Yet, I will say, that at least it didn't take them months, the murder happened on a Friday and by, what, Wednesday, Thursday it was solved. So, good job there. Yet Dandy wasn't the only one with flaws... there was a pervasive flaw in all the lower caste of characters. I don't remember a single character in the first book talking in dialect, but here we have dialect up the wazoo. And not consistent dialect either. It's all over the place. The thing that really got me was that the Widow Dudgeon at one point totally drops out of dialect and is speaking just like Dandy. That made it seem a little fake and forced... which applies to all those speaking as such. If you can't do dialect right, don't do it.

The thing I loved about this book was the Burry Man. I mean, I cannot say how much I loved this. The fact that this is a real tradition that McPherson was able to weave into her book and hang her mystery off of made it just fascinating to me. If I had the time and money I would quite literally be getting on a plane to Scotland to celebrate this interesting event which is happening so soon! I mean I could not have read this book at a better time. I have also now started to troll the net reading more about the Burry Man. There is nothing more magical then when a book inspires you to search out more knowledge and more information. Of course, I now might have nightmares because Dandy doesn't understate the kind of horrific aspect of the Man himself.

If you look closely you can see the eyes! There is a person in there! As Dandy said:

"I do not know what I had been expecting, and I felt foolish for being surprised. After all, I had known that the Burry Man was a man covered in burrs and here was a man covered in burrs, but the effect was staggering... Mouldy, encrusted, vegetative and obscene, when he walked it was the stuff of nightmares... I saw with a shudder that his hands were bare and somehow this evidence that there really was a man in there was the chillingest of all."

Yes, I can see nightmares in my future... also, as a side note, because my bookclub just read The Shining... topiary coming alive, not that scary... if King had used this, absolutely terrifying!

Going beyond just the Burry Man, I love how the local folklore and scary stories the village children told each other was incorporated into the truths and therefore lent itself to the solving of the crime. Most people will just push away fairy tales and folklore as the stuff of children, but those gifted few know that the simple truths, distorted through tall tales, are real. These stories were written originally to teach morals and give warnings. But what it all boils down to is that Fairy Tales are real. Terry Pratchett comes back to this again and again in his writing, and I think that's why The Burry Man's Day reminded me of his Tiffany Aching series. While we have fetes and fairs and stories around the fire, it all comes down to truths that can not be overlooked. Listen to the stories, they might just solve a mystery for you.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Passion of the Purple Plumeria

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: NAL Trade
Publication Date: August 6th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 480 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Colonel William Reid is retiring to England to live out his life in leisure with his two daughters, Kat and Lizzy, leaving behind three very different, one very difficult, sons in India. Little does he know that the school in Bath that Lizzy has been attending, Miss Climpson's Academy, seems to be the epicenter of spies in the battle between the French and the English. For two years Miss Gwendolyn Meadows has been at the center of that fight, or slightly next to the center wielding a dangerous parasol as the second in command to Britain's chief operative, The Pink Carnation, aka, Jane Wooliston. She has ostensibly been the dragonish chaperone of Jane while they lived in France with Jane's cousin. Jane has received a missive from her family that finds Jane and Gwen on the steps of Miss Climpson's just as Colonel Reid arrives.

As fate would have it, these three must unit in their cause because Jane's sister, Agnes, has gone missing along with Colonel Reid's daughter Lizzy. William doesn't grasp the seriousness of this, thinking it's just girls being girls. Jane knows that this is probably not the case. Somehow Agnes and therefore Lizzy's disappearance has to do with Jane's subversive activities. When William and Gwen are attacked while inquiring after Lizzy with his other daughter Kat, he comes to see that his little girl is truly in danger. He might have not been the best parent so far, but he was going to fix that. Though the reason for the girls disappearance might just not be Jane's fault and might actually be tangled up with William's most dubious of children, Jack, and not Jane at all... or at least not directly. Rumors are that, besides playing for both the French and the English, Jack has also made off with the famous jewels of Berar... the jewels which are rumored to have been sent to his little sister. This means that they aren't the only ones looking for the girls. That most dangerous of French spies, The Gardener, is also on their trail.

Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series is like the ultimate comfort read, like watching The Princess Bride mixed with Bridget Jones's Diary. There's "fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles"... well, maybe not giants, monsters, or fencing per se, but there is Miss Gwen with a rapier parasol, and Lizzy Reid with a bow and arrow, and Lizzy alone is just as dangerous as those three things together. The release of yet another book in this series brings joy to my heart which was tripled when I realized that The Passion of the Purple Plumeria (an alliteration worthy of Gwen's lurid prose) was yet again raising the bar of this series. To have a long running series, ten books and counting, and to have each entry just as fresh and alive is a fete that Lauren needs a round of applause for. Yet in this installment we have a character we have loved since day one and who has been desperately demanding her own book, seriously, ask Lauren, Miss Gwen said her book was next and so it was.

Miss Gwen has always been a pillar of strength and fortitude. Ready to take down the French with an arch look or a well placed parasol to shin or other vulnerable body parts. We have seen this hilarious yet adept spy trailing behind The Pink Carnation, almost as an accessory to Jane. It is as if Gwen herself was Jane's multifunctional parasol weapon. In The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, we see that the reserve that Jane has always exhibited doesn't exclude Gwen. Gwen is just as in the dark as other agents, just hoping that in lying to herself, that she has found a place where she belongs, working beside Jane. Holding on to the dream that her life has purpose and that this work will continue. Lauren brings such depth to Gwen, showing that while she is strong and kicks ass at her job, there's a vulnerability. Gwen could lose Amy and therefore lose her calling. Beneath the gruff exterior Gwen really does have a gooey center. Yet in revealing Gwen's weaknesses, in showing us her painful history, Lauren doesn't take away anything, Gwen can be both vulnerable and strong. Like a parasol, something light and frilly, but with a hidden sword in the shaft. Gwen is just simply remarkable, "beneath that stern exterior was a lifetime's worth of adventure for the man brave enough to win her."

What we see in Gwen's past sins and also in the destitute life that William's daughter Kat is living, is a different world from the one we are used to in this series. Up until now, any people from lower classes, which weren't that numerous, were always seen in the setting of the world of prosperity. Laura Grey was a governess in a Parisian home, Arabella Dempsey is a teacher at the aforementioned Miss Climpson's Academy, and Letty Alsworthy's family is just a little hard up. Yet they are still in the sphere of influence. They are not in the gutter or in crummy little houses taking in laundry to just get by. Yet these people existed. The children out of wedlock, the family scraping by, these are incidents straight out of Jane Austen that are there, pushed into the corners but never talked about, not really. Here Lauren tackles that to some degree, and in doing so, she has made her world more whole. Every level of humanity makes up the world and in showing us something not quite pleasant there is a satisfying feeling of completion.

And in speaking of completion... how many more books till the end? Lauren has often said that this series would be ending soon with Jane's book, yet characters are always speaking up and demanding their own book, ie Sally Fitzhugh coming out next year I hope. I personally would be happy to see this go on for quite some time, as long as Lauren's writing the Pink Carnation series, I will read it. Yet, with her first stand alone, The Ashford Affair, you can see that Lauren has considerable talent and a lot more to offer and that to keep her churning out this series is unfair to her as a writer, I mean, the series does have it's limitations with time period and historical authenticity. But with her second stand alone coming next year, perhaps a happy medium will be reached. Yet one does feel that in the final pages of this book there is a big game changer at the hands of The Gardner. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria does lend itself to flipping the page to the final chapter of The Pink Carnation's story. A final chapter that will be bittersweet.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig
Published by: NAL Trade
Publication Date: August 6th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation novels have been hailed as “sheer fun”* and “charming.”** Now she takes readers on an adventure filled with hidden treasure and a devilishly handsome English colonel....

Colonel William Reid has returned home from India to retire near his children, who are safely stowed at an academy in Bath. Upon his return to the Isles, however, he finds that one of his daughters has vanished, along with one of her classmates.

Because she served as second-in-command to the Pink Carnation, one of England’s most intrepid spies, it would be impossible for Gwendolyn Meadows to give up the intrigue of Paris for a quiet life in the English countryside—especially when she’s just overheard news of an alliance forming between Napoleon and an Ottoman Sultan. But, when the Pink Carnation’s little sister goes missing from her English boarding school, Gwen reluctantly returns home to investigate the girl’s disappearance.

Thrown together by circumstance, Gwen and William must cooperate to track down the young ladies before others with nefarious intent get their hands on them. But Gwen’s partnership with quick-tongued, roguish William may prove to be even more of an adventure for her than finding the lost girls…"

While there's a part of me that's really really sad this isn't in hardcover and now my other hardcovers will feel lonely, there's another part that realizes, my favorite book in the series, Mischief of the Mistletoe, while hardcover, wasn't the same size as the others so therefore, size or binding doesn't matter. And truly, it doesn't, this book is so awesome you'll just devour it in whatever format it comes in.

Heirs and Graces by Rhys Bowen
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: August 6th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"As thirty-fifth in line for the throne, Lady Georgiana Rannoch may not be the most sophisticated young woman, but she knows her table manners. It’s forks on the left, knives on the right—not in His Majesty’s back…

Here I am thinking the education I received at my posh Swiss finishing school would never come in handy. And while it hasn’t landed me a job, or a husband, it has convinced Her Majesty the Queen and the Dowager Duchess to enlist my help. I have been entrusted with grooming Jack Altringham—the Duke’s newly discovered heir fresh from the Outback of Australia—for high society.

The upside is I am to live in luxury at one of England’s most gorgeous stately homes. But upon arrival at Kingsdowne Place, my dearest Darcy has been sent to fetch Jack, leaving me stuck in a manor full of miscreants…none of whom are too pleased with the discovery of my new ward.

And no sooner has the lad been retrieved than the Duke announces he wants to choose his own heir. With the house in a hubbub over the news, Jack’s hunting knife somehow finds its way into the Duke’s back. Eyes fall, backs turn, and fingers point to the young heir. As if the rascal wasn’t enough of a handful, now he’s suspected of murder. Jack may be wild, but I’d bet the crown jewels it wasn’t he who killed the Duke…"

New Rhys Bowen? Yes please.

Possession by Kat Richardson
Published by: Roc Hardcover
Publication Date: August 6th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Harper Blaine was your average small-time PI until she died—for two minutes. Now Harper is a Greywalker, treading the thin line between the living world and the paranormal realm. And she’s discovering that her new abilities are landing her all sorts of “strange” cases.

When a comatose woman suddenly wakes up and starts painting scenes she’s never witnessed, with a skill she’s never had, medical science has no explanation. As more bizarre phenomena manifest, including mysterious writing appearing on the patient’s skin and strange voices issuing from her mouth, even her doctors start to wonder whether the woman may be possessed.

Frustrated, frightened, and at the end of her rope, the patient’s sister reluctantly turns to Harper Blaine to discover who—or what—is occupying her sister’s body. As Harper digs into this case of apparent possession, she discovers other patients struck with the same mystifying afflictions and a disturbing connection to one of the most gruesome episodes in Washington’s history...."

Oh, new Greywalker Novel... makes me remember I forgot to pick up the last one, oops.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Thoughts on the 'New' Doctor

So, I don't think that I can forgo mentioning the biggest geek news of the year... meaning that we now have a 12th Doctor (or is he the 13th? I guess we'll have to wait for the 50th Anniversary special to see if they are renumbering the Doctors with the introduction of John Hurt). While there was tons of hoopla, aka, worldwide simulcast broadcast, I actually decided to just wait till after the announcement and watch the web go ape shit crazy. That, and I don't think my nerves could have taken the countdown, I'll probably watch it later, so the suspense is less suspenseful. As I was talking with one of my friends yesterday, we were commenting on how cool it would be if we just learned who the new Doctor was say, at the end of this years Christmas special at the time of the regeneration. But sadly, we live in an age of spoilers and telephoto lenses, and well, as the bookies showed, news had gotten out that Peter Capaldi was the odds on favorite with 5 to 6 odds, meaning that, yes, he had been seen and they had to make the announcement on some random Sunday in August... well, I guess less random to use stateside because it is the bank holiday weekend... but still, it didn't have the holiday hoopla that Smith's announcement had.

Now to my impressions... so, they actually chose a "someone"! This is a little surprising to me. And not just a someone, but a someone familiar to Doctor Who, in that he had a role in the abysmally laden in Latin jokes Donna episode 'The Fires of Pompeii' as well as a staring turn in Torchwood: Children of Earth... so in other words, upon looking in the mirror for the first time, if he doesn't say "hang on a minute, this face looks familiar" I will be greatly disappointed. As to my opinions of Peter Capaldi... well... here are the ways in which I will accept Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. He HAS to use his Scottish accent. There's no getting around this fact. He is Scottish, and I don't want him doing a David Tennant and using an English accent. His Scottish accent is a must. Secondly, the evil goaty beard and moustache he's been seen sporting lately, keep it. Makes him look more like The Doctor in my mind, though I have a feeling that I won't get my wish if you look at the first official photo above. Finally, he must publicly apologize for breaking Geraldine's heart on Vicar of Dibley (the one sad note in perhaps the best episode of tv of all time). Yes, I know it's a tv show, but he hurt Geraldine and yes, I know she ended up with Richard Armitage and all was well in the end, but still, would an apology be too much to ask? I liked him in The Hour so I'll give him a chance... but take note on the Scottish accent, he used it in The Hour, so I reiterate a must.

As to all the disappointed people... the people saying, oh, he's not a she, or a minority, or young... well, actually, the older actor gives me faith that they will realize that kids aren't the main fan base for the show and are going to placate us older fans. The fact that he's a he... while making The Doctor a woman might have been cool, it might have looked too much like stunt casting and gimmicky. Also as to the, it's not Benedict Cumberbatch argument.. well, he would have never done it, and well, Peter Capaldi originated the role of Islington in Neverwhere, which is a role Benedict just took on in the new radio production... so it's like we're getting the older Benedict, if that makes sense. In the end though, I'll have to wait and see. I thought Tennant would be awful, I was wrong. I really really really hated the idea of Matt Smith and he's turned out to be, possibly, my favorite Doctor. Also a lot will depend on the rest of the cast, who his companion will be, what the dynamic between them is, because if there's one thing I can state, it's that anything is better then the limpid chemistry of Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman. How did that go so wrong?

Psst... come back in October for even more Doctor Who...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Book Review - Catriona McPherson's After the Armistice Ball

After the Armistice Ball (Dandy Gilver Book 1) by Catriona McPherson
Published by: Robinson
Publication Date: 2006
Format: Kindle, 308 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Dandy Gilver has never thought that she might be a detective. Yet that's exactly what her friend Daisy is begging of her. Their mutual "friend" Lena Duffy claims that her very expensive diamonds were stolen at Daisy's estate after Daisy's grand Armistice Ball. It has taken awhile for the "crime" to come to light because they were replaced with paste and it wasn't until a jeweller pointed this out to Lena's daughter Cara a few months later that the "crime" was discovered. Now Lena, whose husband is shockingly in trade, and insurance at that, is demanding that they pay for the diamonds, despite the fact that it can't be proven if the theft occurred when Lena says it did, and the more obvious fact that the insurance had lapsed on the jewels.

Daisy has invited the Duffy's back to her house and has begged Dandy to come along too. Daisy admires that Dandy is able to bluntly cut to the gist of a matter without overly offending anyone by just being herself. Daisy wants Dandy to wrinkle Lena out, find out what is really going on and why Lena is trying to extort them! After the house party, Dandy is still hot on the trail of the truth when she is invited to a small cabin by the sea that Lena and her two daughters have taken. Dandy is able to enlist the help of Cara's fiance after he receives an abrupt letter from Cara ending their engagement with the wedding only a few days away. When they arrive in the small hamlet, the delightful cottage has burned to the ground with Cara inside. They must all stay for the inquest, and in that time Dandy has time to mull things over. There is no way the death and the diamonds are not connected. Dandy's first full fledged case will take her where she never thought she'd go, and will risk more then just her own life.

When I was at my local bookstore one day I picked up a book by Catriona McPherson. The book was titled, Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains. The title and the lovely cover designed by Jessica Hische made it a no-brainer buy. Of course, as is often my luck, whenever I find a great book at a store it invariably ends up being not the first or even the second in a series... in this case it is the fifth. I cannot read a book out of order, but, you know what, I think that this series my be an exception to my hard and fast rule. After the Armistice Ball has some issues right from the first chapter, mainly, you feel as if you've been dumped unceremoniously into the middle of a story with people who you should remember at an event you know you've been invited to, but you have no idea who they are or where it is. This lack of introductions and place meant that I could have easily picked up any book in the series and still had the feeling that I was missing something. The first book should neatly establish place and characters, with subsequent volumes doing only a short recap. A good editor could have quickly fixed this by just having Catriona write a nice intro paragraph or two setting up where the action of the book takes place, it's Scotland by the way, so as you won't be confused for a quarter of the book, and have Dandy fleshed out a little more then her friends just dropping veiled hints as to her personality. Something can't be "so Dandy" unless we know what she is so like! Luckily the readers ignorance wanes as the book progresses.

Dandy Gilver has got to be one of the most unique creations in twenties historical fiction today, that is once we get to know her properly. She doesn't fit into any well defined sleuth category and this makes her a breath of fresh air. She is not male. She is not a young single woman who has been disowned or at the very least frowned upon by her family as being "eccentric" and "beyond the pale." She isn't widowed and therefore at leisure to travel hither and yon without the gimlet eye of society fast upon her. Instead she is married, one could argue for, not happily, but at least contentedly, with a slightly oblivious spouse. She has no intentions of leaving her husband either, he just bumbles around talking about drainage ditches while she does as she pleases. She has children! Not fully grown, so that they put Dandy into the spinster category, she is still young enough to be of child bearing years, hear that? Young! Also handily the children are usually off at boarding school, which is a blessing, because children can get underfoot when one is sleuthing. So that means Dandy can move about society without impunity and she can closet herself away and solve crimes with male friends without eyebrows (or at least too many eyebrows) being raised. A respectable crime solver, how about that?

Yet Dandy is by no means perfect. While it takes awhile to get the gist as to why she would be the perfect crime solver, it basically comes down to the fact that she is overly blunt and has a tendency to stick her foot in her mouth by saying something that no one else would dare say. "Discussing loud and plain what everyone else is thinking about but dare not mention." But this habit of hers makes her come across as a little callow, though she is far from it, and therefore leads people to confide in her, the ideal trait for someone who wants to root around in your life to have. She may be a little dense, a little artless, sometimes easily confused or led astray, with it being hard for her to know where her facts end and her fancies begin. Yet all this together does make a good-ish detective. Like most of the best detectives, she tends to take awhile to get to the point and gets the wrong end of the stick, but this is what makes a book have a compelling narrative. You don't want it over and done with five pages in. Though there is one random trait of Dandy's that I just can't wrap my head around. She really puts down men. Now I'm not saying she's a man-hater (which her overly protective maid obviously is), but she does tend to put down the opposite sex quite a lot, and while Dandy might be befuddled by clues most of the time, this odd character trait has me a little befuddled.

As for the plot itself... once I came to gripes with what was going on, ie, Scotland, Dandy, the rest of the characters all fell into place. While the diamond theft and the murder are relatively simple plot devices, Catriona does a good job of layering the mysteries and doling out the clues so that the book clips along. Yet there was the nagging feeling I had, quite early on, about a third of the way through the book, that I was on the right track, unlike Dandy. It turned out that I was indeed right, but the little wrinkle thrown in helped to make the ending still satisfying. Though with all the tiring to and fro across the countryside, I really do realize that the lure of the Golden Age of Detection was the actually leg work, but this was a bit much, it was the small details that made this book have memorable moments, excluding the vagueness of the ending. The most striking of these moments is the photographs of the dead Cara. They way they are discussed and how they play into the plot make a book that would have just been average reach new heights.

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