Book Review: Empire by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

EmpireEmpire
Book 2: The Chronicles of the Invaders Trilogy
John Connolly & Jennifer Ridyard
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4767-5715-5
Hardcover

The middle novel in a planned trilogy about earthling Paul Kerr and his beloved Syl Hellias, an alien female born on planet Earth, continues in separate adventures that keep them apart.  After Syl aided Paul and his brother in escaping from Edinburgh castle in Conquest, they were subsequently captured and given a choice to join the brigades, eventually assigned to investigate a distant planet.  Syl, on the other hand is given the option with her friend Ani of entering the sisterhood on a moon satellite of the Illyri planet and trained to become a member of the order.

Individually, Paul and Syl during their separate adventures discover an evil so horrible it could destroy the Earth and the rest of the known world.  As they struggle with their knowledge they must find ways to develop their abilities and make known the truth of what they have learned, much less to save everything before it is destroyed.

While the books were primarily intended for a teenage audience, an adult can also read and enjoy the novel, which is no less a sci-fi fantasy and what is loosely a love story.  The two novels, and the third yet to come, were written by John Connolly, the Irish novelist perhaps best known for the Charlie Parker mysteries, and his partner and mother of his two sons, Jennifer Ridyard.  This is not the first time Mr. Connolly has turned his attention from Charlie Parker to a different type of novel.  He also is the author of a trilogy for younger readers and even a modern fairy tale.  Now we have the completion of another trilogy to look forward to.  Empire, like Conquest, is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2015.

Spotlight on Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna by Maia Chance—and a Giveaway!

Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna

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Title: Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna
Series: A Fairytale Fatal Mystery, Book 3
Author: Maia Chance
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Publication Date: February 2, 2016

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Synopsis

Variety hall actress Ophelia Flax has accepted the marriage
proposal of the brutish Comte de Griffe to nettle her occasional
investigative partner—and romantic sparring partner—the
pompous if dashing Professor Penrose.

But the Comte’s boorish table manners, wild mane of hair,
and habit of prowling away the wee hours has shredded Ophelia’s
last nerve. She intends to disengage from her feral fiancé at
his winter hunting party—until Penrose, his lovely new fiancée,
and a stagecoach of stranded travelers arrive at the Comte’s
sprawling château. Soon she can’t tell the boars from the bores.

When one of the guests is found clawed and bloody in the
orangerie, Ophelia is determined to solve the murder before
everyone starts believing the local version of Beauty and the Beast.
But until the snows melt, she can’t trust her eyes—or her
heart—since even the most civilized people hold beastly secrets.

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An Excerpt from Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna

“What’s this?” Ophelia had almost stepped on something at the base of the cave wall.

Penrose crouched and held the lantern over it. “Good God,” he muttered. “Is it . . . a shrine?”

Small earthenware dishes held what appeared to be chocolate drops, purple berries, and loose pearls. A clay vase held a red and white striped rose.

Churches in New England didn’t have shrines. They didn’t even have stained glass windows or statues.

“Pearls,” Ophelia said. “Madame Dieudonné was missing a pearl necklace.” But—she looked carefully at the shrine—no ruby ring. Still, the pearls connected the shrine, very loosely, to the missing ring. There was hope yet.

“This resembles the offerings people of the Orient assemble for their gods or ancestors,” Penrose said.

“Those are belladonna berries, professor.” The skin of Ophelia’s back felt all itchy and crawly, and she stole a glance to the black gap where the cave continued into the earth. Someone could be back there. Watching.

“Miss Flax,” Penrose said slowly. “Look at this.” He lifted the lantern, illuminating the picture on the wall above the shrine.

Heavens to Betsy. A carved, black-painted beast, half-man, half-boar, undulated in the light.

The body of the beast was like a man’s, although the feet seemed—Gabriel squinted—yes, they seemed to have hooves. But the head! It was unmistakably that of a furry boar, with large pointed tusks and tiny round ears.

A slight crunching sound made Gabriel and Miss Flax freeze. Their eyes met.

Silence.

Gabriel knew that somewhere in the shadows, someone or something lay in wait.

Miss Flax, wide-eyed, in those awful trousers, seemed at once horribly vulnerable and dear beyond measure. The pistol tucked into Gabriel waistband felt newly heavy. He picked up the lantern and slowly stood, willing himself not to exude the essence of fear in case whatever was watching was an animal.

“Come,” he mouthed to Miss Flax, wrapping his free hand around her wrist. “Slowly.”

She stayed very close to him as they walked steadily out of the cave.

They emerged into the cold, damp night. The moon glowed whitely above. The air tasted of soil and rot.

“Shouldn’t you extinguish the lamp?” Miss Flax whispered as they started down the rocky, ice-slicked slope. “So they can’t see us?” She tugged her wrist free of his hand so she could climb.

“Wild animals are afraid of light.” Gabriel longed to grab her wrist again, to enfold her, keep her safe. If something were to befall her—

“It wasn’t an animal in there,” Miss Flax said. “It was a human being. I could feel it. Animals don’t make one feel so frightened.”

“Not any animals?”

“No. Animals never seem evil, and I felt something evil up there in the cave.”

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About the Author

Maia Chance 2Maia Chance writes historical mystery novels that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She is the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal series, The Discreet Retrieval Agency series and the Prohibition-era caper, Come Hell or Highball.  Her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, was a national bestseller. Maia lives in Seattle, where she shakes a killer martini, grows a mean radish, and bakes mocha bundts to die for. She is a Ph.D. candidate for English at the University of Washington.

Visit Maia on the web:

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“Readers who enjoy their mysteries with a humorous
flair need to take a chance with this author.”
–RT Book Reviews

National bestselling author Maia Chance, who is famous
for her cozy mysteries, dazzles with humor and folklore.”
–What Is That Book About

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna by
Maia Chance, leave a comment below.
The winning name will be drawn
Sunday evening, February 7th and the
book will be sent out in early March. This
drawing is open to residents of the US.

Waiting On Wednesday (18)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Continue reading

Book Review: A Fatal Winter by G. M. Malliet

A Fatal WinterA Fatal Winter
A Max Tudor Novel #2
G. M. Malliet
Minotaur Books, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-312-64797-1
Hardcover

This book established itself immediately as being a traditional mystery, reminiscent of the Golden Age of detective fiction, by having one of those delightful lists at the start which describes all of the characters and their relationships. As well, the story began with two church ladies in the small village of Nether Monkslip fighting over the Christmas church display, so I knew for certain that I was in Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh or Dorothy L. Sayers territory.

However, the setting of the book is current, and this becomes especially clear when the protagonist, Max Tudor, enters the picture. Max is a modern man, a handsome Anglican priest who has come to this second career only after spending much of his adult life as an agent for MI5. He’s unusual not only for making such a dramatic change in his working life, but also in his unconventional appreciation of Awena , the village’s lovely pagan.

As Max goes about his regular life, preparing sermons for the Christmas season, trying to placate the feuding flower ladies by taking in an adventurous cat, and struggling to find ways to maintain the church which is always in need of repair, he is called away to nearby Chedrow Castle, to help the local police investigate a murder.

Chedrow Castle is owned by Oscar, Lord Footrustle, who, in a bold move, decided to invite his three children (one middle-aged, two teenagers), his ex-wife, and his two nephews to stay with him for the festive season, despite the fact that none of them get along very well at all. Normally, the elderly Lord Footrustle resides quietly at the castle with his twin sister, Letitia, and her unhappy granddaughter, Lamorna, neither of whom was in favour of having guests to stay. Add a butler with a bit of a mysterious background, and his forthright wife, the cook, and you have the perfect characters for a locked-room mystery.

I felt Malliet was very successful at creating an updated cozy mystery. I loved the setting of Nether Monkslip, which seemed very appealing with its small mix of shops and restaurants, and inhabitants who might disagree but who also look out for one another. And Max, despite his similarities to Poirot or Lord Peter Wimsey or Roderick Alleyn, is definitely his own distinct character.

The mystery itself was satisfying, and I was completely fooled by the set-up, which was done fairly.

Malliet is clearly a mystery lover herself, and the fun she had in creating a story which pays tribute to the writers who came before her, can be felt throughout the book. I will definitely be looking for the rest of the books in this series.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, January 2016.

Growing Up With A 50’s Mom

Sunny Frazier 2Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today with her thoughts on her own mom of the 50’s.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

My house is a mess. Writers have a nasty habit of blocking out their environment when they’re writing. The same with reading. We attract paper, all of it important, notes scribbled on every scrap and post-it. If it can be written on, we do. Our friends are not invited over, we meet at neutral places like restaurants. Let someone else do the dishes.

I didn’t grow up like this. I was raised by a mother who was a product of her time. She devoted her life to cleaning the house, cooking great meals, taking care of her husband and seeing her daughters were immaculate when we left the house. She tried to instill these attributes into me. It obviously didn’t take.

To keep her house clean, we were kept out. We were ordered to “Go out and get some fresh air.” If it was raining, we played in the garage. You never went into other people’s homes and kids didn’t come play in yours. And you’d better be in shouting distance for dinnertime.

My mom was like all the other moms in the neighborhood. She didn’t work outside of the home. The only woman I knew that did was a teacher who was divorced. That in itself was unusual. Few women I knew drove because nobody had two cars. My mother didn’t get her license until she was in her late 50’s, and then only to drive to the bank three blocks away. I sometimes feel sorry for her that she had to beg for rides to go shopping and never felt the luxury of an afternoon shopping on her own.

I never went to kindergarten because my mother thought it was a Communist plot. She didn’t trust penicillin, so I was told I was allergic to it (I was 62 when I found out I wasn’t). She didn’t trust anyone to take care of her children so I never had a babysitter. But, she thought nothing of letting us ride the city bus to school or enrolling ourselves. And, because she didn’t drive, she never attended a teachers’ conference or open house.

Back then, nearly everyone’s parents smoked and drank gallons of coffee. I’m sure we all came to school reeking of tobacco. Second hand smoke wasn’t a worry. Neither was cancer. I remember my mother putting out a cigarette in a supermarket by dropping it on the floor and grounding her shoe on it. Hard to picture that today.

The 50’s mom always did her hair and makeup and dressed for the day in a duster or housedress (no pearIs like they show in old TV programs). I also remember something called “Come As You Are” parties. After the men went to work, one of the women would call everyone else and they had to leave the house in bathrobes and curlers to join the rest for coffee and pastries. I was dragged along and remember being shocked to see the neighbor ladies with curlers under headscarves, cold cream on their faces, bathrobes and slippers. All of her life my mother stayed at home dressed in a girdle and hose under her muu muus. I’m lucky if I make the effort to get out of my pajamas on a given day.

The house was always ready for anyone who dropped by. When my parents had company, they all sat in chairs, set coffee cups on coasters, were offered refreshments. In college, my friends sat on beanbag chairs or the floor, brought snacks to be shared and drank cheap wine. Bookcases were bricks and boards, the coffee table was a large wooden spool. Or, if you could steal them, milk crates. A mattress on the floor was fine for a bed—or a couch. Totally acceptable in the 70’s.

Female friendships were limited for my mother. Socializing was done by being a couple. A single woman was suspect, someone to guard your husband from. I have plenty of single women friends and my married friends are comfortable with my single status. They enjoy shedding their husbands to do things with girlfriends. I have friendships that go back to grade school, high school, college, the military, law enforcement and my writing life. These are women I value and who will be with me until death do us part.

A Snitch in TimeMy mother wanted my sister and I to have good marriages and give her grandchildren. Unfortunately, she raised strong, independent daughters who failed on both counts. We worked all our lives, bought our own houses and cars and didn’t look for a man for financial support. We were contented with cats (lots of cats!) and settled for a life of cat hair and shredded furniture.

My untidy lifestyle would have made me a pariah in the ‘50’s. Conformity wouldn’t have worked for me. Maybe I would still be a writer, but probably not a mystery writer because I wouldn’t have much experience outside the home. I never would have traveled all over the world on my own. I’m a product of my time, just as my mother was symbolic of hers. So, let the dust settle on every surface, the bed go unmade because the cats are comfy, meals cooked only when necessary. From what I can tell, there are many messy, busy women out there like me. And I can live with that.

Just Because…

Another Monday Kitty

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Birds at Feeder

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Doggie and Zombies

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Hamster Situps

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Juanita the Taxidermied Weasel, Courtesy of the Bloggess

Juanita the Taxidermied Weasel, Courtesy of the Bloggess

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Snails of Doom

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Know It All Hermione Gator

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Sleeping In Doggie

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Penguin Shadow

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Kitty Judging Book Covers

Book Reviews: January Jinx by Juliet Kincaid and The Beige Man by Helene Tursten

January JinxJanuary Jinx
The Calendar Mysteries #1
Juliet Kincaid
AzureSky Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-9899504-9-7
Trade Paperback

Arminta (Misty) Wilcox watches a soldier fall off a landing near the train depot in Kansas City, and a man claiming to be a sheriff from a nearby Kansas town accuses her of pushing the man. This is in 1899. The West Bottoms is a dirty, dusty area filled with railroad tracks, shanties, and manufacturing plants. Nineteen-year-old Minty lives some blocks away on Quality Hill and is out seeking employment after attending business college.

We follow Minty through hilarious misadventures as the spunky young lady goes to great lengths to clear her name and find out what happened to the soldier. In the process, she experiences a budding romance with a young private investigator. At the same time, we learn what Kansas City was like at the turn of the century, its layout and people. The author did extensive research in order to authentically portray the dress, manners, occupations, and mores of the various social strata as well as descriptions of the buildings and businesses.

In the first book of this new cozy mystery series, bullheaded Minty’s humorous escapades keep us engaged. The characters and setting jump off the pages and pull us into Kansas City as it was in 1900.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, November 2015.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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The Beige ManThe Beige Man
An Irene Huss Investigation Set in
Sweden #7
Helene Tursten

Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
Soho, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61695-400-0
Hardcover

This is the 7th and newest in the series featuring Inspector Irene Huss, head of the Violent Crimes Unit of the Goteborg police in the west of Sweden and former jujitsu champion more than 20 years ago (now past 40).  It is February, and they have been enduring a very harsh winter (not unexpectedly).  As the story opens, the police are in hot pursuit of a BMW automobile which had been reported stolen.  As the policemen are chasing  the car, they witness that same car as it hits a pedestrian, sending him crashing into the ground before it continues to speed along the roadway, leaving its victim lying where he landed.  Ultimately, the ensuing investigation reveals that the dead man was a retired police officer known to most of the cops looking for the killers.  And things only get worse from there:  Shortly after this episode, the body of a young girl, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, is discovered in a root cellar a short distance away, the body apparently having been there for several months.

Her colleagues are still Superintendent Sven Andersson [62 and seriously overweight, with high blood pressure and asthma, now something of a lame duck, as he was about to move to the Cold Case Squad], and Tommy Persson, and Hanna Rauhala, with whom she was frequently partnered.

The story lines alternate between the crime-solving and Irene’s personal life, itself very interesting.  Her home life centers around her gourmet chef husband and her twin daughters, now 19 years old and about to begin independent lives (always a challenge for the about-to-be empty-nest parents), and her mother, Gerd (77 years old and becoming more frail) and her 82-year-old significant other, Sture.

As the investigation proceeds, there are indications that sex slavery is involved, and the Human Trafficking Unit joins the hunt.  The head of that unit offers “The fact is that human trafficking today turns over more money than the narcotics trade.”  The investigation takes Irene to Tenerife, where the body count rises precipitously.  She is told “the demand from the clients rules the market. . . If they’re ready to pay, then everything is for sale, and I mean everything.”

I loved the tip-of-the-hat given to the late Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct tales.  The plot is somewhat complex, but no less interesting for that, and the writing is very good.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2015.