Book Reviews: Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan and Longbow Girl by Linda Davies

Eden Summer
Liz Flanagan
David Fickling Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-12120-9
Hardcover

Words are influential, able to constructively and destructively affect both the speaker and the audience. Final words feel eerily efficacious; especially when there is absolutely no expectation that they are indeed, last words. Vicious, venomous verbalizations can compound an already catastrophic event. In and of itself, crippling in its cruel randomness; devastating and gut-wrenching when choked with guilt.

A cloud of culpability completely cloaked the sun inside of Eden just as its rays tentatively began to reach out again.  Regret remained whenever she recalled begging her bestie, Jess, to walk her to the bus stop in a dismal downpour months ago.  Of course, she did not commit the heinous hate-crime, nor could she have stopped it; but that knowledge isn’t enough to alleviate feeling at fault.

Being the best nurse-cheerleader-therapist-buddy that she could be, Eden was instrumental in Jess’s healing and found that she was also helping herself move forward and focus on the important matters.  After all, she is a normal teen girl and she did catch the eye of the admittedly adorable Liam that Jess was always talking about.

Liam and Jess, comfortable chums and coffee-shop coworkers, both love Eden with the all-encompassing, unconditional, wholly-heart-felt love of fierce friendship. The bond built from “…looking after Eden all summer.” seems strong enough to support Eden indefinitely, until she disappears.  Will their devotion, even when paired with resilient determination and dogged belief, be enough to find Eden?

“She’d gone inside herself, somewhere a long way down, and I didn’t know how to follow.”

Wonderfully woven with stunning, unique, yet complimentary, threads; Eden Summer is a familiar, but fresh fabric.  Ms. Flanagan’s finesse in tackling two terrifying topics results in a relatable, engaging read that is as enjoyable as it is significant. Fast-paced with flashbacks filling in details, the story quickly captivates and keeps hold, even after “the end”.

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2017.

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Longbow Girl
Linda Davies
Chicken House, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85345-3
Hardcover

One of the coolest things about Longbow Girl is that while the events happen in present day, one character lives in an actual castle and another on a working farm; so it feels a bit like it is set in the past.  A pretty groovy way of lending an authentic feel to a story entrenched in history.

When an old tomb is inadvertently uncovered, Merry discovers an old book that appears to be one of the tomes from the Middle Welsh collection known as Mabinogion.  Although some folks believe whole-heartedly that the narratives are filled with truths, many others insist there are only myths.  Either way, there is no argument as to the value of the text.  Merry’s find may be the very thing to save the farm that has been the life and heart of her family for more than seven hundred years.

Of course there are challenges with having the artifact authenticated and obstacles in the way of proving it was found on her family’s land.  Weighing heavier than the legal red tape is the unshakable feeling that disturbing the grave will exact a higher price than the book could bring.  Nothing about this “solution” is sure or easy.

Fortunately, Merry is vibrant, fierce, cunning, and strong.  Often, a heroine struggles to come to terms; drum up courage to conquer that which seems insurmountable. Merry does not.  It’s not that she’s oblivious.   For her, doing the right thing is intuitive.  She is aware of the risks and possible loss, personally; but that is of small consequence when compared to the potential greater good for the masses.

Longbow Girl is a spectacular smash-up of Historical Fiction, Action and Adventure, Mystery and Suspense, with a shot of Science Fiction that features heroes, heroines and horses and touches on relatable social issues, family feuds and friendships.  And that’s just a few of the things that I dearly loved about it.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2016.

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Book Reviews: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh and Endure by Sara B. Larson

i-let-you-goI Let You Go
Clare Mackintosh
Berkley, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-98749-0
Trade Paperback

I Let You Go grabbed me by the lapels and pulled me into a suspenseful, fast-paced mystery with tight twists that had me paging backwards a couple of times to truly keep up.  The gripping, heart-stopping story unfolds from different perspectives, revealing varying pieces of the puzzle until suddenly I saw the big picture and it was nothing I envisioned.

Two victims of a random tragedy try to piece their lives together—independently, and wholly alone.  As a year stretched out, the crime remained unsolved and it seemed as if each of them may be successful.  After an arrest, a trial, new information revealed and slowly, the big picture shimmers and changes.

So happy to have a new author to add to my list of favorites; I cannot wait to read more by Ms. Mackintosh.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2017

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endureEndure
A Defy Novel #3
Sara B. Larson
Scholastic Press, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-64490-7
Hardcover

Endure is the final book in the Defy trilogy by Sara B. Larson.  I didn’t realize that, going into it.  Earnestly entering Antion, enchanted by Alexa and King Damien, it was evident the story did not begin here.  (Yes, thus the title.  I get it, now.)  While I did immediately add Defy and Ignite to my To-Be- Read stack, I never truly felt late to the party.

The bond between Alexa and Rylan blatantly had background, but was too authentic to warrant doubt.  Maybe that hot fudge sundae wows with whipped cream, but it’s also delectable despite the absence.  Similarly, Damien’s trust in Alexa—both in her abilities as well as her commitment to him, is astounding…and unquestionable.

But this isn’t just a story of passionate people, complex choices and difficult, dangerous decisions….it’s about community, doing for the greater good, even if incurring loss.  Listening and learning, evolving, even—or especially—when plowing forward.

And there’s magic!  Good and bad; healing and harmful.  Also, a battle! One that’s been brewing, boils over, beating down kingdoms. It is a fantastically furious, frantic, ferocious fight to a final victory.  Grief and hope, strength and support, friendships and fondness bring balance to angst and action.

If you happen to know of a Middle Grader searching for good reads, the Defy trilogy may do the trick.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.

Book Review: After We Fall by Emma Kavanagh—and a Giveaway!

After We FallAfter We Fall
Emma Kavanagh
Sourcebooks Landmark, June 2015
ISBN 978-1-4926-0919-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A plane falls out of the sky.
A woman is murdered.
Four people all have something to hide…

Shortly after takeoff, flight 2940 plummets to the snow-covered ground, breaking into two parts, the only survivors a handful of passengers and a flight attendant. 

Cecilia has packed up and left her family. Now she has survived a tragedy and sees no way out.

Tom has woken up to discover that his wife was on the plane and must break the news to their only son.

Jim is a retired police offer and worried father. His beloved daughter has disappeared, and he knows something is wrong.

Freya is struggling to cope with the loss of her father. But as she delves into his past, she may not like what she finds.

Four people, who have never met but are indelibly linked by these disasters, will be forced to reveal the closely guarded secrets that unlock the answers to their questions. But once the truth is exposed, it may cause even more destruction.

From the opening lines, we’re thrust into the overwhelming fear that must come when a plane is about to crash and, almost in the same breath, we begin to learn a bit about four very different people, different and yet not so much so.

Why was Cecilia driven to quit her job as a flight attendant but, more importantly, why has she abandoned her husband and her toddler son? How can Tom, a CID detective accustomed to seeing and hearing terrible things,, summon the courage and the right words to tell little Ben that his mom was on that plane and, worse yet, she meant to leave them behind?

After thirty years on the force, Jim never thought he’d have to cope with the disappearance of his daughter, Libby. herself a cop on the beat. The signs are all there, though, to a man trained to see them. And Freya, well, this poor girl is about to hear the TV news story that will turn her life upside down.

Four people. Four lives that will be irrevocably changed by murder and the freefall of an airplane.

Multiple points of view don’t always work, in my opinion, but they do in this case. In fact, I don’t think any other style would have been nearly as effective, primarily because only two of the four are clearly connected. Ms. Kavanagh has done a really nice job of bringing these diverse and interesting characters into the reader’s life and I felt a good deal of empathy with each and every one. Also, while it would have been easy for the horror of a plane crash to overwhelm the murder of one person, Ms. Kavanagh never lets that happen.

Part psychological thriller, part character study, After We Fall is well worth a reader’s time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

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Emma KavanaghEmma Kavanagh was born and raised in South Wales. After graduating with a PhD in psychology from Cardiff University, she spent many years working as a police and military psychologist, training firearms officers, command staff, and military personnel throughout the UK and Europe. She started her business as a psychology consultant, specializing in human performance in extreme situations. She lives in South Wales with her husband and two young sons.

Leave a comment below to enter the
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After We Fall by Emma Kavanagh.
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Book Reviews: Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Phantom Limb by Dennis Palumbo, and The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

Can't Look AwayCan’t Look Away
Donna Cooner
Point, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-42765-4
Hardcover

From an outside perspective, Torrey Grey is your typical 16 year old in today’s age. She thrives to be popular, focuses her time on fashion and makeup, and social media are her go-to’s. But when her sister is killed by a drunk driver while filming her latest video blog – and the worlds finds out – she discovers celebrity status on the internet can make you or break you.

When I first started reading Donna Cooner‘s book, I was apprehensive about reading a modern day take on a teenager’s life. But as I continued, there are so many themes that Cooner covers. Sisterhood is a main theme, as Torrey is trying to hold on to the memories of her sister, Miranda. By combining in the celebration of the Spanish holiday el Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), Cooner shows that grief and acceptance of the loss of a close family member as Torrey’s family try to pick up the pieces of their life after moving from Colorado to Texas. One of Cooner‘s bigger themes is the presence of bullying and cyberbullying, from students making fun and commenting on a student who may be seen as different to the norm of society, to strangers blaming Torrey for the death of her sister when a video leaks of the moments before the accident. Torrey deals with all of these themes as she struggles to decide if popularity and being seen with the right cliques are really the most important things in her life anymore.

While some of the characters seem “too-good-to-be-true,” Cooner manages to keep her main themes alive throughout the novel and presents a solid take on a teenager living in today’s world. I enjoyed the book more than I expected to, and was glad to see somebody take on these heavy themes and relate them to issues many teenagers may be going through today.

 

Reviewed by Kristina Akers, September 2014.

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Phantom LimbPhantom Limb  
A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0254-4
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

Author Dennis Palumbo is an experienced writer of screen plays, short stories and crime novels. It shows in this episodic story that features his protagonist, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a licensed psychologist and consultant to the Pittsburgh, PA police department. This fourth adventure pits the good doctor against a macho cabal of former military who formed up in Afghanistan and took many of their less savory skills into the criminal culture of Western Pennsylvania.

Dr. Rinaldi has an initial session with the younger wife of a local extremely prominent businessman. She professes a need and a decision to commit suicide that very evening. Dr. Rinaldi, in attempting to dissuade the woman, is drawn instantly into a convoluted interesting plot to extract millions of dollars from her wealthy husband. Inevitably, Rinaldi is required to deliver the ransom and things go seriously awry.

There are some stalwart continuing characters who return from earlier books in this novel. There are some predictable scenes. Overall the novel is very well written and there are several scenes of excruciating high tension and exciting action. There are clever lines and some well-thought-out twists, and, unfortunately for this reviewer, just a little too much predictability in the structure of the plot. I really like Daniel Rinaldi. I like his style, his attitudes and the moral strengths displayed in this novel. And I like the books of his creator.

 

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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The Bones BeneathThe Bones Beneath
A Tom Thorne Novel
Mark Billingham
Atlantic Monthly Press, June 2014
ISBN: 978-1-8021-2248-3
Hardcover

Tom Thorne returns in the twelfth novel in this series.  Most of the action takes place over a period of three days, set in a remote, isolated and nearly inaccessible island off the Welsh coast, said to be the resting place of 20,000 saints (in addition, that is, to King Arthur).  (This appears to be a very real location, one ‘steeped in myth and legend,’ and is a very real presence in the novel.)  Tom is brought here as part of a very ‘un-spiritual pursuit of long-dead murder victims,” a prisoner escort operation.

Many years ago, and only briefly, the island was the site of a home for young offenders.  Two of these were 17-year-old Stuart Nicklin, and one Simon Milner, the latter of whom never left the island alive. His murder was never solved, and only now Nicklin has claimed to have killed him, and offered to lead the police to the place where Simon’s bones were buried so long ago.  The condition being that the man who had arrested him ten years earlier, Tom Thorne, be the one to take him there to identify the site. Nicklin is thought to be one of the “most dangerous and manipulative psychopaths” the police had ever encountered.  The suspense inherent in the situation leaves the reader waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And waiting.  And waiting.

Somewhat jarringly at first, there are flashbacks to the time, twenty-five years earlier, when the seeds of the current action were laid, and when the boy whose bones were at the core of their search was killed.  And there are also scenes, at the outset in a Prologue and then every hundred pages or so, that appear to be contemporaneous, their connection to the main plot difficult to discern.

It may be obvious that I felt that the book could have benefited from some tightening, but in retrospect perhaps I should have had more confidence in the author, because the conclusion was very exciting and unexpected.  It may be that the bar being set so high by this author in the preceding books made it a tough act to follow.  My current reservations aside, I will certainly look forward to the next Tom Thorne book.

 

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2014.

Book Reviews: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhorn and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

The Wife, the Maid, and the MistressThe Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress
Ariel Lawhorn
Doubleday, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-53762-9
Hardcover

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon is one of the best novels I’ve recently read.

Lawhon brilliantly reconstructs a real-life mystery – the unsolved disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater in 1930. She does this through the eyes of his wife, their maid, and his mistress.

Lawhon jumps back and forth between 1930 and 1969, when the judge’s aging wife Stella Crater meets with the detective who had then been investigating Crater’s disappearance. They meet at Club Abbey, once a famous speakeasy during the Jazz Age. Every year since his disappearance, Stella Crater salutes her husband with a glass of Whiskey: “Good luck, Joe, wherever you are.”

The main part of the novel takes place in 1930s New York City and Lawhon paints a vividly entertaining picture of the time, complete with dancing girls and mobsters – the infamous Owney Madden is just one.

The tales of Stella, the wife, Maria, the maid, and Ritzi, the mistress, are skilfully intertwined, showing their complex relationships with each other and the judge leading up to his disappearance.

As a reader, I was so drawn to each of the women, which is a testament to Lawhon’s skill, since not much is known about the actual historical figures Stella, Maria, and Ritzi. Lawhon crafted wonderful, believable characters in an enticing setting.

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is a page-turner and I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Anika Abbate, March 2014.

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Hollow CityHollow City
The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children
Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books, January 2014
ISBN 978-1-59474-612-3
Hardcover

Ransom Riggs‘s 2011 debut novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children , began as a multi-media exercise. A collector of vintage black and white photographs, Riggs drew inspiration from found pictures of unknown children, who became the bizarre and magical characters in his novel. From this starting point, Riggs spun the tale of Jacob Portman, a lonely, discontented American teenager who travels to Wales to investigate mysterious photographs left behind by his dying grandfather. There, he discovers the titular home and its inhabitants, along with supernatural wonders – and horrors – that he has never imagined.

Uniquely, Miss Peregrine contains reproductions of the photographs that inspired the story. In the print edition, each picture is laid out on a page after the detailed verbal description of the images it contains. Because of this presentation, Miss Peregrine‘s readers had the chance to absorb the written description, imagine it for themselves, then turn the page and see the picture that inspired the passage. The result was a uniquely inventive reading experience that left audiences clamoring for more.

In Hollow City, Riggs revisits the world of the peculiar children. The sequel picks up exactly where the first novel left off, with Jacob and his companions fleeing the monstrous wights and hollows who want to devour them. This time, they are without the guidance of their guardian Miss Peregrine, who has been transformed into a bird. The children must then go on a mission to restore her to her natural form. In the traditions of quest fantasy, the characters encounter new friends and foes, and many bizarre and terrible obstacles, along their way. Once again, these adventures are accompanied by photographs – of sad clowns, bombed-out-cathedrals, and in one memorable case, a dog wearing aviator goggles and smoking a pipe.

Hollow City is the second book of a projected trilogy, and it has some of the structural problems associated with middle chapters. The plot is essentially concerned with getting the characters from point A to point B, and it piles on new problems and complications without really resolving any. Furthermore, the central conceit of the series – the relation of the story to the found images – sometimes feels more forced and less organic to the story that it did in the first novel.

At its best moments, though, Hollow City gives readers a spellbinding good time. Riggs writes rich, stylish prose, and he has created a memorable cast of characters. Jacob is an appealing narrator, flawed but wrestling honestly with his fears and weaknesses. Emma Bloom, the hot-tempered leader of the peculiars, functions as Jacob’s “love interest,” but she’s also a forceful and competent heroine in her own right. These characters and their many companions should be relatable not only to the older children and teens who are Riggs‘s primary audience, but to the many adult readers who have learned to appreciate today’s Young Adult fiction.

Overall, Hollow City does not always feel as fresh or as thrilling as its predecessor. However, it is by any standard a worthy follow-up, and people who loved the first book will not be disappointed.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Caroline Pruett, March 2014.

Book Reviews: The Memory of Trees by F.G. Cottam and Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham

The Memory of TreesThe Memory of Trees
F.G. Cottam
Severn House, October 2013
ISBN 978-0-7278-8315-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Billionaire Saul Abercrombie owns a vast tract of land on the Pembrokeshire coast.  His plan is to restore the ancient forest that covered the area before medieval times, and he employs young arboreal expert Tom Curtis to oversee this massively ambitious project.

Saul believes that restoring the land to its original state will rekindle those spirits that folklore insists once inhabited his domain. But the re-planting of the forest will revive an altogether darker and more dangerous entity – and Saul’s employee Tom will find himself engaging in an epic, ancient battle between good and evil.  A battle in which there can be only one survivor.

We have a collective unease when it comes to deep forests and that unease has pervaded our storytelling world for a long time. From Hansel and Gretel abandoned in the woods to Dorothy’s trek with her companions to the simple stories of British highwaymen, we’ve been preconditioned to prefer open space. With that mindset, I anticipated a good scary tale in The Memory of Trees. Alas, it didn’t quite pan out that way.

The idea of megalomaniacal men trying to manipulate sorcery to obtain good health or immortality is not a new idea and it’s a serviceable motive for Saul Abercrombie’s desire to rebuild a vast forest on his land but I found his total disregard for what might happen to his daughter rather unlikely. Even more so was everyone’s lack of serious alarm when confronted with abnormal and threatening situations. As an example, Tom Curtis and Sam Freemantle go to a location called Gibbet Mourning where they observe something that is undeniably menacing and actually begins to “rustle and shiver” and make sighing noises when Sam approaches it. Should I find myself in such a scenario, I’d run for the nearest collection of people and hide in a dark corner but Sam and Tom calmly talk about hauntings and agree that they don’t like the place. That’s it. That’s also pretty unbelievable.

The growing malevolence is made very obvious but, somehow, it didn’t really make much of an impact on me, possibly because the cast of characters is too big and too widespread, making it a little difficult to remember exactly who they are. If you can’t connect with a character, it’s hard to really care about what happens to them.  When very strange things begin to occur with the plantings, there’s little reaction beyond noting the strange things.

That lack of reaction to practically everything that goes on in this story is essentially why it didn’t work for me because it meant there was no real tension. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for The Memory of Trees, I enjoyed Mr. Cottam‘s style and obvious ability to write and will try something else by him. I do think other readers would enjoy this book more if they take logic and normal human behavior out of it and just read it as a tale of ancient evil come to life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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Anne Perry and the Murder of the CenturyAnne Perry and the Murder of the Century
Peter Graham
Skyhorse Publishing/W.W. Norton & Company, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-62087-630-5
Hardcover
Originally published in 2011 in New Zealand under the title
So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder That Shocked the World

From the publisher—

The spellbinding true story of Anne Perry, her friend Pauline Parker, and the brutal crime they committed in the name of friendship.

On June 22, 1954, teenage friends Juliet Hulme—better known as bestselling mystery writer Anne Perry—and Pauline Parker went for a walk in a New Zealand park with Pauline’s mother, Honora. Half an hour later, the girls returned alone, claiming that Pauline’s mother had had an accident. But when Honora Parker was found in a pool of blood with the brick used to bludgeon her to death close at hand, Juliet and Pauline were quickly arrested, and later confessed to the killing. Their motive? A plan to escape to the United States to become writers, and Honora’s determination to keep them apart. Their incredible story made shocking headlines around the world and would provide the subject for Peter Jackson’s Academy Award–nominated film, Heavenly Creatures.

A sensational trial followed, with speculations about the nature of the girls’ relationship and possible insanity playing a key role. Among other things, Parker and Hulme were suspected of lesbianism, which was widely considered to be a mental illness at the time. This mesmerizing book offers a brilliant account of the crime and ensuing trial and shares dramatic revelations about the fates of the young women after their release from prison. With penetrating insight, this thorough analysis applies modern psychology to analyze the shocking murder that remains one of the most interesting cases of all time.

We never like to think our children are capable of doing horrific things and it’s even more difficult to understand when two individuals predisposed to such acts find each other. When that happens, behavior that may never have gone beyond thoughts can become reality and this seems to have been the case with Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker. The interesting thing to me is that Juliet was considered the dominant personality and, yet, it was Pauline’s desire to kill her mother that they carried out.

Both girls thought they were “geniuses far above the common herd of mankind”, a personality trait frequently found in anti-social personality disorders. They had developed their own sort of religion in which sin could be a good thing although they didn’t appear to take it seriously; it was mostly a form of self-entertainment. Both were very narcissistic and showed no remorse when they were found out. In many ways, they mirror the 1924 case of Leopold and Loeb. As intelligent as they may have been, especially Juliet, they were really clumsy with their attack on Pauline’s mother and their ineptitude was probably due to lack of knowledge about such things but there is no doubt that impulse control was not a factor as they planned the murder in detail.

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century is a fascinating account of a sensational case. Modern-day readers from  the US and other more “sophisticated” countries won’t recognize this as the murder of the century but it certainly was in 1950’s New Zealand. There are recognizable contributing elements such as the girls’ self-imposed isolation and their obsessive dependence on each other and it’s interesting that Juliet received much rougher treatment in prison for no apparent reason.

Overall, the accounting of Juliet’s and Pauline’s lives after prison takes a harsher approach to Juliet, who took the name of Anne Perry in an attempt at anonymity. In particular, she is painted as an icy woman even in her 70’s and, with this, I must take some exception. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Perry in 2002 at a book event and spent a few moments chatting with her over my display of her books. She was nothing but charming and friendly and I suspect that her demeanor towards readers is quite different from how she reacts to those who pry into her life. At the time that I met her, I had not heard her story but, when I did a year or two later, it did not change my opinion that she is a likeable person. I believe Anne Perry is a prime example of the young person who commits a terrible act but is able to redeem herself in later life and would never pose a threat to anyone again. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of Mr. Graham‘s account of this crime and its aftermath but it’s time to let it rest. Anne Perry’s private life is hers to protect and I’m content to just enjoy her books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

Book Reviews: A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear, Cold Wind by C.J. Box, The Informationist by Taylor Stevens, Past Tense by Catherine Aird, and Bank of the Black Sheep by Robert Lewis

A Lesson in Secrets
Jacqueline Winspear
Harper, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-172767-2
Hardcover

The common characteristics of the Maisie Dobbs series are the growth in the character, developments over time and, of course, current events. In the present novel Maisie, who served as a nurse in France during World War I (after having been a servant girl before), has grown over the years, mentored by Dr. Maurice Blanche.  Now, in 1932, she has been made independently wealthy as Blanche’s heir, profitably operating her investigation business, and is ripe for a new adventure.

Before he died, Blanche predicted that intelligence work for the crown was in Maisie’s future.  And so, it comes to pass that she is recruited to participate in an investigation being conducted by the joint efforts of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Secret Service.  She is to pose as a junior lecturer in philosophy (another of her talents, apparently) at a college in Cambridge founded by Greville Liddicote, a pacifist who has published a number of children’s books, including an anti-war novel that was banned during the Great War.  Maisie is to monitor activities at the school.

However, where Maisie is concerned, can various other sub-plots not arise?  To begin with, she’s trying to get her father to move from his cottage to the manor she inherited (to no avail), induce her assistant, Billy Beale, to accept a house in which to move his growing family, help a woman whose husband is killed in a questionable accident at work, and, last but not least, help solve the murder of Liddicote (while told specifically her brief is her intelligence assignment and not getting involved in the murder inquiry).

The story progresses in a persuasive manner, smoothly written.  It emerges just as Adolph Hitler is rising to lead Germany, giving a hint to the coming of World War II, as Maisie detects Nazi sympathizers in the college, and, indeed in unsuspecting Britain.  A welcome addition to the series, this newest entry is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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Cold Wind
C.J. Box
Putnam, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15735-6
Hardcover

It’s not easy being a game warden, especially if your name is Joe Pickett and you keep getting sidetracked with all kinds of side issues, murders, assignments from the governor and so on.  In this, the 11th in the series, there are a few twists, including a look at the issue of wind energy.

But first for the main plot:  Joe’s less-than-beloved mother-in-law is indicted for the murder of her wealthy fifth husband, “The Earl,” who had begun the largest wind farm in Wyoming at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.  Joe’s beloved wife, Marybeth, implores Joe to find the real killer.  Meanwhile, his mysterious buddy, Nate, suffers the loss of his lover in an attempt on his life, setting up a subplot in which the two men reconcile after a falling out in a previous book.

As the story progresses, smoothly and interestingly, all is not as it seems. As usual, the author provides sweeping and beautiful vistas of the countryside, and in-depth insights into the characters.

Heartily recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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The Informationist
Taylor Stevens
Crown, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-71709-2
Hardcover

A new protagonist, Vanessa (Ness) “Michael” Munroe makes her first appearance in this debut thriller, apparently destined to be a series with the author hard at work on the next two books.  Sort of a bionic woman, Munroe is capable of most anything from finding information for corporate clients to murder.

What she has not done so far is find missing persons, at least until she is retained to accomplish what others over a four-year period have failed to do:  Find a young girl named Emily in Africa, or prove that she has met her death while she was traveling there with two male companions.  The quest brings Munroe back to Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon where she grew up.  It is a trip filled with danger and betrayal, as she seeks the missing girl with the help of Francisco Beyard, whom she met as a 14-year-old when she served in his mercenary band.

It is unusual for a first effort to be as absorbing as is this novel, with a fast pace and intricate plot.  Certainly the denouement is worthy of a more seasoned author.  Ordinarily, this reader reacts with apprehension when the protagonist seems super-human, but was not disturbed by Munroe’s antics.  So it is with no hesitation that the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Past Tense
Catherine Aird
Minotaur Books, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-67291-1
Hardcover

This is the newest in the Sloan and Crosby mystery series, DCI Sloan and Constable Crosby, that is, the quaint English combination resembling Abbott and Costello with an accent.  A couple of seemingly unrelated deaths, one of natural causes, the other perhaps murder, set off a police procedural in which a series of unconnected events and circumstances seem to make no sense.

Written in a style that befits the English countryside, the dialog is of a unique tone.  The plot moves forward without a hint to the reader as to the conclusion, which, may or may not be a good thing.  But it is a light and enjoyable read, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Bank of the Black Sheep
Robert Lewis
Serpent’s Tail, March 2011
ISBN: 978-1-84668-745-7
Trade Paperback

Robin Llywelyn, ostensibly a private detective, wakes up in a hospice with amnesia, handcuffed to a bed after a week-long infusion of morphine. Such a state gives him a real slow start, along with the reader.  Additionally, he is told he has lung cancer with just a couple of months to live. Actually, it seems from what follows that he can go on forever.

It turns out that Llywelyn was involved in some kind of scam, but of course he can’t remember what it was.  And so, he sets out inadvertently to find out about his past, bumbling his way to make a final score and to atone for his past transgressions before his end. For much of the novel, to this reader, it dragged on with a lot of wearying prose and observations.  It is not until near the conclusion that the novel really becomes interesting, and then we are drawn into the real story.

Bank apparently is the last in a trilogy of Llywelyn detective stories and, given the medical prognosis, it would seem to be just that.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.