Book Review: The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Shadow ThroneThe Shadow Throne
The Ascendance Trilogy #3
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-28417-2
Hardcover

Oh how I’ve missed these colorful characters! Jaron’s wit sharpens with anger and whenever he and Roden are in the same country, Jaron fairly idles at anger. Admittedly though, his previous journeys seem to have smoothed out some of his rough edges and forced a bit of maturity. From the first leg of adventure when Jaron, Tobias and Roden were yanked from the orphanage in The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, Book I) , to Jaron’s capture by pirates in The Runaway King (The Ascendance Trilogy, Book II), this young man has had no choice but to learn quickly, fight hard and follow his heart in order to survive.

The Shadow Throne (The Ascendance Trilogy, Book III) is quite simply, the quintessential conclusion. Still nursing a broken leg, courtesy of Roden, the young king has no time to focus on healing as his arrival home brings the news that his land of Carthya is targeted for immediate attack from three countries, each coming from a different direction. Compounding the horror, the very girl who captured Jaron’s heart has been taken hostage and is being held by one of the threatening countries. Clearly none of this is a coincidence, but with no time to consider the bigger plan, Jaron rapidly begins barking out orders, only to be reminded that he is no longer alone. Jaron had only recently learned the value of trusted friends. Always open-minded, but now quicker to be flexible, Jaron acknowledges that to conquer, they must divide.

True to nature, first implementations of his new kingly power were unprecedented and shocking. Releasing his betrothed Amarinda from their arranged vows to then declare her a princess of Carthya was unheard of. Knighting the charming chatterbox Fink was ridiculous. The boy couldn’t lift a sword with both hands.

When Jaron’s tiny group scattered, his enemy makes the ultimate move. With diabolical focus on the strength of friendship, love and loyalty; Jaron’s nemesis gleefully informs separated individuals immediately whenever a companion has been captured or killed. Details are not spared. Will the youngsters, so strong and cohesive together, find the strength and will to survive solely, in spite of the aching emptiness?

Ms. Nielsen impressively combines ferocious battles, brilliantly clever tricks and traps, quick thinking and scintillating dialogue with kindness, empathy and loyalty to end the attack on Carthya. In doing so, many mysteries meandering through the trilogy are resolved without a perceived need to answer each and every question ever raised along the way.

To me, Ms. Nielsen has a unique, uncanny ability to reveal more than generally meets the eye, without deliberately and emphatically lecturing. Immersed in her words, I’m wide open. I feel eager to take everything in, mull it over; carefully consider all facets and options. I’m far enough removed to view an entire picture, yet close enough to be totally vested. I’m highly entertained, amused and delighted. Simultaneously, impulsively…I’m reflective. Always, I’m hopeful and happy when visiting the world created by Ms. Nielsen.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2015.

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Book Reviews: Love Lies Bleeding by Jess McConkey, Where All the Dead Lie by J. T. Ellison, Fever Dream by Dennis Palumbo, Collateral Damage by H. Terrell Griffin, and No Bells by F.M. Meredith

Love Lies Bleeding
Jess McConkey
William Morrow, July 2011
ISBN No. 978-0-06-199968-0
Trade Paperback

Love Lies Bleeding has a little bit of everything to offer.  A bit of mystery, a little bit of woo woo and a good cast of characters.

Samantha Moore has lived a very successful life.  Samantha holds a prominent position in her father’s company and is engaged to Jackson, a man who had presented her with a beautiful diamond and a promise of a wonderful life.

Then  tragedy hit. Samantha is attacked when leaving work and is in a coma for sometime.  When she awakes from the coma, she is quite a different person.  She repeatedly relives the attack and rebels against the medication prescribed for her.  The meds make her sick and forgetful.

Jackson and Samantha’s father decide that Samantha needs to spend some quiet time to recover and rent a cottage for her in a quiet town.  Spirits from the past seem to haunt the cottage and Samantha begins to believe that she is losing all control over her life.

When Anne Weaver decides to take the position as nurse to Samantha, both lives are changed. The two clash but soon find a middle ground and Samantha begins on her road to recovery.  Samantha also bit by bit pieces together the history of the cottage she is living in and reveals a long buried mystery.

The author, Jess McConkey, also writes under the name of Shirley Damsgaard.    I found this book to be a very fast read.  I will be anxious to read more stories by Jess McConkey.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.

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Where All the Dead Lie
J.T. Ellison
Mira, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-0778312680
Trade Paperback

This is my first Taylor Jackson novel but it won’t be my last.  The story grabs the reader and doesn’t let go until the entire story is revealed.

Taylor Jackson is a Nashville, Tennessee homicide detective.  Taylor is recovering from a case where she was shot in the head and fellow officers were injured.  Taylor has lost her ability to speak.  It is unclear whether the loss of speech is caused by the injury or by the guilt Taylor is feeling because she didn’t do more to help her best friend who lost her child because of the case that brought about Taylor’s injury.

Against the advice of Taylor’s fiancée, Dr. John Baldwin, she accepts the offer of Memphis Highsmythe, an old friend, for Taylor to recuperate in his family’s estate in Scotland.  Taylor knows that Memphis has romantic feelings towards her but feels that she is strong enough to handle any advances he might possibly make.  Highsmythe is a detective inspector with the Metropolitan Police in London and Taylor and Memphis have a lot in common.

Memphis introduces Taylor to Madeira James, a doctor friend, in the hope that she can be of help to Taylor with the problem with her voice but Taylor begins to believe that Madeira is not to be trusted.

The trip to Scotland turns into a real adventure with even a ghost or two making an appearance.  Even though Taylor’s voice is giving her problems, she is able to sift through all the strange happenings and solve the puzzle presented to her in Scotland.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, November 2011.

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Fever Dream
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, November 2011
ISBN No. 978-1590589595
Trade Paperback

“Treva Williams, the only hostage to be released, sat on the curb beyond the cordoned-off area, wrapped in an EMT blanket.”  This sentence is the opening line in Fever Dream and immediately captures the reader’s sympathy for Treva.

Meanwhile, Detective Eleanor Lowrey is on the phone to Daniel Rinaldi, psychologist.  Rinaldi is also a trauma expert and consults with the Pittsburgh police.  Detective Lowrey asks Rinaldi to come right away to the scene of a bank robbery that has gone bad.  The criminals are still inside the bank but one hostage, Treva Williams, has been released.   Treva is badly traumatized and Detective Lowrey is hoping that Rinaldi can perform some magic that will calm Treva and help the police in their handling of the standoff situation.

When Rinaldi arrives on the scene he is able to immediately connect with Treva and learn a little more about the situation inside the bank.  Then suddenly everything explodes as shots ring out and police converge on the scene.  Rinaldi promises Treva to ride to the hospital with her in the ambulance, though he is prevented from keeping that promise.

Rinaldi works with Detective Lowrey and Sgt. Harry Polk, another investigating officer, but Polk’s mind seems to be someplace other than the investigation and at times he drops out of sight and doesn’t appear where he is supposed to be.

When District Attorney Leland Sinclair receives a death threat, Rinaldi begins to wonder if there is a connection between the situation at the bank and the DA Sinclair’s current political campaign.  Rinaldi continues to stay in touch with Treva.   She is released from the hospital but Treva is still suffering from the traumatic events of the robbery, including the murder of her boyfriend, Bobby Marks, as she looked on.

The story is complicated but Dennis Palumbo pulls all the pieces together for an exciting and surprise conclusion.  This is the second book in the Daniel Rinaldi series.  I haven’t read Mirror Image, the first book in the series but I do intend to correct that soon.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, December 2011.

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Collateral Damage
Matt Royal Series
H. Terrell Griffin
Oceanview Publishing, December 2011
ISBN No. 978-1608090266
Hardcover

This newest addition to the Matt Royal series manages to keep the reader on pins and needles until the very end of the book.  Matt is an attorney living in Longboat Key, Florida.  Matt has pretty much given up the practice of law and is just enjoying a leisurely life.

Jim Desmond, a young groom,  is killed on the beach in Longboat Key the day following his wedding.  On the same day three other murders occur on a local dinner cruise.  Longboat Key detective and close friend of Matt, Jennifer Diane Duncan (J. D.) isn’t coming up with any answers.  The groom was from Atlanta.  One of the victims killed on the dinner cruise was a lawyer from Jacksonville, Peter Garrison.  Another victim was a twenty-five year old woman from Charlotte, North Carolina.  The third victim was the Captain of the dinner cruise.

Matt is puzzled by the deaths but has no reason to become involved until an old buddy from Matt’s years in VietNam  stops by for a visit.  Charles T. Desmond (“Doc”) reveals that the young man killed was his son.  Doc pressures Matt to file a civil case in order to gather evidence that the police can’t access and hopefully find out who killed Jim.  Doc agrees that any evidence that is turned up from the civil action can be turned over to the prosecutors.  Matt finds it difficult to say no to a man that saved his life so he agrees to take on the case.

Logan Hamilton and Jock Algren, Matt’s friends, join Matt  to help with the investigation and the clues keep Matt on the move.  More and more it seems that the deaths are part of some international plot.  Before Matt and his friends can discover what is really going on there are more unexplained deaths and Matt fears for the life of J. D.

This sixth addition to the Matt Royal series is very good.   It is not necessary to read previous Matt Royal novels prior to reading  Collateral Damage but each book in the series reveals more  about Matt Royal and the crew that usually steps up to help him out.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2012.

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No Bells
F. M. Meredith
Oak Tree Press/Dark Oak Mysteries, March 2012
ISBN No. 978-1610090865
Trade Paperback

Gordon Butler is a member of the Rocky Bluff Police Department.  Nothing ever seems to go Gordon’s way.   He is single and previously lived with another officer on the force, Doug Milligan.  When Doug married Stacey Wilbur, Gordon moved in with Stacey’s parents.  Where relationships are concerned, Doug always seems to be on the outside looking in at other people’s happiness.  Not so in the latest Rocky Bluff mystery.  Doug finally works up the courage to ask Benay Weiss for a date and she accepts.  Now Gordon and Benay are spending a lot of time together.

Gordon receives an early morning phone call from Benay and she is very upset.  Her best friend Geri Rowe has disappeared.  Geri’s husband Philip called Benay to see if she had any information about Geri.

Gordon’s first case of the day takes him to the scene of a murder.  Some teenagers have found the body of a woman and Gordon immediately thinks of Geri.   The body does turn out to be that of Benay’s best friend.  As the investigation goes forward Gordon’s girlfriend, Benay, becomes the number one suspect.  Gordon knows in his heart that Benay couldn’t be guilty and he makes up his mind that he will find out the identity of the real killer.

Risking his reputation as well as his job, Gordon covers the calls assigned to him during working hours and spends his time off attempting to discover everything he can about Geri, her husband and who might have a motive to end Geri’s life.

There are some humorous sections in the book and updates on other members of the Rocky Bluff residents.  You will have to read the book to know if Gordon’s courageous efforts on Benay’s part bring him the respect and appreciation he deserves.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, June 2012.

Book Reviews: Vanish by Tess Gerritsen and Vanish In Plain Sight by Marta Perry

Vanish
Tess Gerritsen
Ballantine Books, 2006
ISBN 0345476980
Mass Market Paperback

Medical Examiner Dr. Maura Isles receives a big shock when the Jane Doe in her morgue suddenly opens her eyes.  Jane Doe is rushed to the hospital but before her identity can be discovered, she shoots a security guard and seizes hostages.

One of the hostages happens to be homicide detective Jane Rizzoli.  Jane is pregnant and ready to deliver her baby but is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The police and Jane’s husband FBI Agent Gabriel Dean work frantically to try to get the hostages out but just when they think they have the situation under control a swat team rushes the scene and Jane Doe as well as the man with her is killed.

Jane, her husband and Maura eventually find Jane’s identity and uncover a scheme for bringing young women into this country that reaches into the top levels of the government.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, November 2006.

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Vanish In Plain Sight
Marta Perry
Harlequin Books, May 2011
ISBN 978-0373775767
Mass Market Paperback

Link Morgan has returned to his home and family in Lancaster County.  Link has inherited his uncle’s old farmhouse and is in the process of preparing the property for sale.  Link is planning to sell the farm and move.  Link is knocking down the paneling in a later addition to the farmhouse and discovers an old stained and battered suitcase concealed in the wall.  The suitcase contains women’s clothing, including an Amish woman’s black apron and a white prayer kapp.   The suitcase also included a photograph of a woman and child. The child is about four or five years old.  Link contacts the Spring Township police. The police arrive and take possession of the suitcase.

One of the officers recognizes the woman as Barbara Angelo.  Barbara was an Amish woman who came to town to visit relatives.  Barbara met and fell in love with Russ Angelo.  The couple married and had a daughter, Marisa.  The town gossip spread around that Barbara could no longer live in peace away from her Amish family and had gone home to them leaving her husband and her daughter.

Marisa Angelo had grown into a beautiful woman and is very successful as an illustrator of children’s books.  When Marisa was contacted by the police, she returned to claim her mother’s suitcase and try to find out what had really happened to her mother.  The Amish in the area were not willing to discuss the matter with her.  It is only with the help of Link’s mother and Link’s family that she finally began to piece together what really happened so many years ago when she had lost her mother.

The main flaw that I found in the book was the fact that Barbara found herself in danger when she overheard a meeting that was taking place at Link’s uncle’s home but the purpose of that meeting was never revealed in the book. Overall, the book was an enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, June 2011.

Book Reviews Galore by Ted Feit

The House at Sea’s End
Elly Griffiths
Quercus, January 2011
ISBN: 978-1-84916-367-5
Hardcover

[It should perhaps be noted that this review is based on the UK and Canada edition; the US edition is now available in the US from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]

As the book opens Kate, the baby born to Ruth Galloway, the forensic expert, as a result of a one-night stand with Detective Inspector Harry Nelson in the prior entry in the series, is now four months old and the mother is still juggling her maternal and professional duties, sometimes to much criticism from friends.  But the baby seems to survive.

In any event, her motherly demands don’t seem to prevent Ruth from getting involved with more forensic investigations and police investigations.  Especially when six skeletons are discovered on a beach and her examination indicates that they are probably from Germany, perhaps dating back to an invasion during the early days of World War II on a lonely Norfolk beach.  Indications are that each was shot in the back of the head.  The question arises:  Did the various persons in the Home Guard play any role in their deaths?

As in the previous two novels featuring Ruth and D.I. Nelson, they combine to discover the facts surrounding the mystery of past and present.  The prose is lean and the plot moves apace with agility.  The characters remain immensely human and intriguing, and the novel lives up to the standards of the predecessor novels.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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The Troubled Man
Henning Mankell
Translated by Laurie Thompson
Alfred A. Knopf, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59349-8
Hardcover

Nothing is as it seems, and all good things come to an end.  And so, the time has come to bid adieu to Kurt Wallander.  But not before he undertakes a deeply introspective journey at the behest of his daughter, Linda, who has just made him a grandfather (although she and the baby’s father have not yet decided to marry).  It appears that her putative father-in-law, a retired naval commander, has disappeared, and she and her significant other, the man’s son, ask Wallander to try to find out what happened.  Is he the victim of foul play?

Wallander has vacation time available and undertakes to investigate, but not before the missing man’s wife is found dead, perhaps murdered. Wallander muddles along, picking up all kinds of extraneous information, misleading clues, and, perhaps just as important, discerning more about himself as he more frequently suffers from lapses of memory.

The author is well-known for his ability to address significant political themes in his novels.  And this last Wallander novel is no exception, delving deeply into the Cold War, and Sweden’s “neutrality” policy.  I found the novel somewhat slow reading and difficult, and wonder if it is the writing or the translation.  Nevertheless, it is a touching look at “the great detective,” and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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Hanging Hill
Mo Hayder
Bantam Press, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-593-06384-2
Hardcover, 428 pp., 12.99 BPS

[It should be noted that this book is presently available only in the UK/Canada and will be available in the US in February 2012 from Atlantic Monthly Press]

The author is known for writing thrillers, sometimes with horrific plots and graphic details.  This novel pales by comparison, with merely an offstage rape scene to occasion a police procedural of somewhat questionable means, and a side story about two sisters who have had virtually no contact for 20 years but are in a sense joined at the hip by the rape victim, and then that thread develops into an evolving family relationship.

The story is more about the various characters—the two sisters, their lovers, their own background and history—and how each is affected, rather than the crime and ensuing investigation which seems to be an afterthought to contribute to the main plotline.

Written with verve, the novel seems to drag along except for some more “exciting” portions.  Much of the descriptions of one sister’s divorce and subsequent life seem labored, and the ending was to this reader quite unsatisfactory.  In fact the title of the book might be a fit description for its conclusion:  It seems to just hang without any wrapping up.  That notwithstanding, the novel still bears reading, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Bad Boy
Peter Robinson
Harper Paperbacks, November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-0613-6296-5
Mass Market Paperback

Murphy’s Law seems to apply to the premise behind this novel.  After a well-earned vacation touring the U.S. Southwest and the wonders of LA and San Francisco, DI Banks finds, upon his return to Eastvale, that an old friend has died after police tasered him, Banks’ daughter is missing, and everything is in an uncontrolled mess.

It starts when a former neighbor of Banks discovers a gun which had been hidden by her daughter in her bedroom when visiting her parents.  The mother visits the police station hoping to discuss the situation with Banks who, unfortunately, is still away.  When the police raid the house, the woman’s husband dies of a heart attack after the aforementioned taser incident; Banks’ daughter, Tracy, infatuated with the man who owned the gun (the “bad boy” of the title) warns him of the police inquiries and hides him in her father’s cottage.  And from that point on, as Banks returns, everything goes downhill.

The chase begins with Tracy’s status changing from willing lover to hostage, and Banks and the rest of the police force struggling with the lack of clues as to where the fugitive and his captive are.  As usual, Banks doesn’t always play by the rules.  But then, neither does the bad boy.  Another well-written and off-beat story in the series, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Raylan
Elmore Leonard
William Morrow, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-211946-9
Hardcover

Resurrecting Raylan Givens, the U.S. Marshall from Kentucky given to wearing a Stetson cowboy hat and shooting instead of apprehending, Elmore Leonard once again uses his unusual talent for writing droll dialogue and creating amusing and unusual characters to entertain the reader.  This time, he begins in Harlan County, where marijuana is king instead of coal (100 pounds of weed can fetch $300,000) which apparently doesn’t satisfy two nincompoop sons of the dope-grower who turn their attention to reaping and selling body parts.

Then the author goes on to tell us about another cast of characters, with the slyness only he can muster.  It’s a world only people created by Leonard inhabit, and they talk as only he can make them speak.  Read it and laugh.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.