Review of A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (2007) (Three Pines Mysteries #2)

Bottom line: A strong continuation of a very good series.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone in the hamlet of Three Pines, right up to the moment she died. When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache begins his investigation, it seems like an impossible murder: CC was electrocuted on a frozen lake, in front of the entire town, during the annual curling tournament. With compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find long buried secrets, while his own enemies threaten to bring something even more chilling than the bitter winter winds to Three Pines.

Review:

I went into this book expecting it the all-too-common sophomore slump – a great debut followed by a much less than stellar number two. I was pleased to discover that I enjoyed this one almost as much as the first book. I was even more pleased when I picked it up at the library in November, knowing only that it was the second book in the Inspector Gamache series (see a quick review of the first here) and discovered that it was set during Christmas. Yay!

I would definitely recommend that you read Still Life first, as many of those characters reoccur here. There were still the frequent POV changes that irked me from the first book, and several times she wrote scenes to be intentionally misleading or used words like “the object” to keep the suspense up, which I hate (though this may have been magnified since I had just read Dan Brown’s Inferno), but overall it was a very good mystery. She wove some trouble into Gamache’s life in such a way as to leave me dying to get my hands on the next seven or so books to see how that will resolve itself.

There was also an underlying theme of how brokenness can be passed down through the generations – something that I’ve been thinking a lot about as I’m finishing up my first year as a parent. Nothing will make you more aware of your own faults than raising a child and wanting desperately not to screw up too badly.

But anyways, it was very good, and I can see that I’m going to have to continue haunting my library’s on hold section as I work my way through the series. The depictions of village Christmas life were a charming backdrop to the murder – so get in the holiday spirit and read about a murder!

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Have you read any Louise Penny? What did you think?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of The Anatomist’s Wife by Anna Lee Huber (2012) (Lady Darby Mysteries #1)

Bottom line: A powerful mystery with a great new detective.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

Scotland, 1830. Following the death of her husband, Lady Darby has taken refuge at her sister’s estate, finding solace in her passion for painting. But when her hosts throw a house party for the cream of London society, Kiera is unable to hide from the ire of those who believe her to be as unnatural as her husband, an anatomist who used her artistic talents to suit his own macabre purposes.

Kiera wants to put her past aside, but when one of the house guests is murdered, her brother-in-law asks her to utilize her knowledge of human anatomy to aid the insufferable Sebastian Gage—a fellow guest with some experience as an inquiry agent. While Gage is clearly more competent than she first assumed, Kiera isn’t about to let her guard down as accusations and rumors swirl.

When Kiera and Gage’s search leads them to even more gruesome discoveries, a series of disturbing notes urges Lady Darby to give up the inquiry. But Kiera is determined to both protect her family and prove her innocence, even as she risks becoming the next victim…

Review:

This was one of those books where I finished it and had the awesome-new-author-discovery jitters. The more I look back on it, I’m able to think more analytically about it and figure out what I liked and what I didn’t like and so on, but not many books actually make me giddy with joy when I’m done with them. So, as I do my review, keep that in mind.

First my complaints – I didn’t really like the male lead, and didn’t think he was extraordinarily well handled. We get interesting hints about him, that he pretends to be shallow and pretentious, but underneath is a serious and intelligent detective, but we’re only told the former for a few pages in the beginning, and suddenly he’s the latter, with no hints as to why he would pretend otherwise in the first place. Also, I’m not crazy about the “reformed rake” style hero (or in this case “could-possibly-reform-in-the-future-for-the-right-woman rake”). My other annoyance was that this novel takes place in high society in 1830, where apparently everyone cheats on their spouses with hardly any consequences, or batted eyelashes. Perhaps that’s true to the time, I’m not a historian, but it did irritate me.

Apart from those things, I loved it. This might be one of the few novels where I’ve seen angst well handled, and certainly one of the very few novels written in recent times where this is the case. The heroine is both strong and suffering from things in her past. Her level of angst over it, as well as society’s reaction seemed very believable considering the novel’s time and place.  Remember that these were things no one would have been able to see on TV and therefore become desensitized to. (If my wording here seems more awkward than usual, it’s because I’m trying to avoid spoilers, even little ones, as is my policy.)

The murder plot/discovery was very good, as were the pace, supporting characters (for the most part), and setting. I thought the author did an excellent job conveying the time period and location without overdoing it. There were several interesting facts dropped about oil painting in that time, but again, you never felt like you were listening to an info dump. She also conveyed what was necessary about clothing to help you picture the scene without making my eyes glaze over about corsets and petticoats and whatever else people wore back then (I’m even less of a fashionista than I am a historian).

However, despite really loving Kiera, the main character, the best part of this book, in my humble opinion, was how well the author handled Kiera’s emotions after the murder takes place. Authors all too often seem to err either on the side of “character barely affected by gruesome murder” or “character overly affected by murder of someone she barely knows and spends the whole book fainting and throwing up.” The horror Kiera feels at what is a particularly terrible murder is extremely well depicted. Though I have read far more graphic and violent murders, I was drawn in to all the pain and injustice that accompanied this one, much more than in other mysteries I’ve read. Reading about Kiera’s feelings seemed to echo and magnify my own in a powerful way. So, consider yourself warned.

Clearly, as you can see by how much I had to say about this book, it was one that really did affect me, and I mean that in a good way (I’ve got book two on hold at the library). If you are at all interested in historical mysteries – or willing to try them – this one is well worth the read.

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of Temperance Brennan (A.K.A. Bones) Series by Kathy Reichs

Bottom line: A good look at the behind the scenes of police work and what a forensic anthropologist does – extremely violent and sometimes sub-par storytelling.

Rating: Recommended if you’re a fan of police procedurals or the TV show Bones.

Review:

I watched several seasons of Bones before giving up. It’s a good mystery show, but I got tired of the sexual tension being the main focus and the jerry-rigging done by the writers to keep that tension…tense. That being said, if you’re a mystery fan, it’s worth checking out, especially the first couple seasons or so. Anyways, a few years ago I had been wandering my library looking for something fun to read and randomly grabbed one of the Temperance Brennan mysteries that inspired the show. It was very good, although the show has practically nothing in common with the books except the name of the main character and the fact that she’s a forensic anthropologist. So I read a few more over the years and always found them to be clever and entertaining.

On my recent library run I had picked up several first-in-a-mystery-series books to review, and Deja Dead was one of those. I was looking forward to reading it, based on my previous experiences with Kathy Reichs. This, my friends, is a good example of why I’m not an optimist. I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was tedious and gruesome and slow. I didn’t identify with the main character at all, and despite the extremely graphic nature of the violence, didn’t find it all that interesting until the last 70 or so pages. For a book that clocks in at 532 pages, that’s kind of a big deal. I did see some hints of why I enjoyed some of the other books in the series. Towards the end, the characters felt more fleshed out. The murder(s) part of the plot was believable if grisly. The ending was genuinely a page turning, oh-no-what-next kind of thing for me. So overall I’m going to rate the series as a “Recommended If” with the first book a “Not Recommended”. From what I recall, the murders/violence stay pretty graphic but less so than this book (I’d skip the series entirely if you’re not a fan of that sort of thing), but the writing improves tremendously: the action starts rolling earlier in the book and the characters feel more realistic. I will say that I found the science-y parts to be well done and interesting.

Available:

Deja Dead (Book 1) Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Death Du Jour (Book 2) Amazon, Barnes & Noble

First Season of BonesAmazon, Barnes & Noble

What did you think? Did you like the series?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Mystery Series Roundup

We have moved recently, and I have been a little disappointed with my new library. For one, the online e-book lending system has been upgraded since I used it last and I can’t figure out how to browse for Kindle books. It’s very unwieldy. For another, they put all their fiction in one category. ONE. That means mysteries are next to literary fiction, romance next to sci fi, all lumped into one big heap. Of course it’s neatly organized alphabetically by author, but one of the great pleasures of the library is browsing. I find it far too overwhelming to do so when you have such a large and varied selection of books. However, the redeeming feature I’ve discovered is the online hold feature. Essentially you get to shop for books online, for free, and they collect them and put them on a shelf at the front of the library for you. It’s wonderful. I came home with 11 books the last time, many of them first in a mystery series. So here are three that I’ve recently read or reread, and I hope you can find a new-to-you series to enjoy.

How do you like your mysteries? Intensity varies from low (over-easy) to high-ish (over-hard).

Over-easy: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (1998) (series by the same name) Alexander McCall Smith Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’ve read the first eight or so of these mysteries, and they’re just lovely. Set in Botswana, the pace is slow and rambling, like a story shared by an old friend on a back porch with iced tea. Though there is sadness in the books, the intensity level is very low. The mysteries investigated have more to do with everyday problems than murder and the books themselves are more about the characters than the investigations. A pleasant lazy Sunday afternoon read.

Blurb of first book:

This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

Over-medium: Still Life (2005) (Chief Inspector Gamache series) Louise PennyAmazon, Barnes & Noble

This was a new read for me. It had been recommended by a few different people and I finally got around to reading it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be reading the rest of the series. Two things I wasn’t crazy about were 1) there are a lot of characters introduced pretty quickly and 2) the point of view shifts pretty quickly and seemingly randomly. But those were fairly minor annoyances. The setting was great – a small town in Quebec, the characters were very good, and the murder itself was cleverly plotted. Her detective was interesting without being forcibly quirky and I can’t wait to learn more about him.

Blurb of first book:

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

Over-hard: Track of the Cat (1993) (Anna Pigeon series) Nevada Barr Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’ve read perhaps six or seven of this series. Each murder mystery is set in a national park, and investigated by Park Ranger Anna Pigeon. I give high marks to Barr for creating a complex main character – Anna is middle aged, stubborn, occasionally bad-tempered, and very capable – and for setting – I love the idea of using national parks as a background. Although I wouldn’t say the first book, Track of the Cat, is particularly grueling, some of her stories can be very violent and graphic. I have avoided Hard Truth, my “local” national park mystery because of fairly consist reviews saying how graphic the content matter (child abuse). Winter Study was also fairly gritty. That being said, I have continued to read books in this series. If you’re looking for an intense, page-turning mystery with great settings and interesting characters ,this just might be the series for you.

Blurb of first book:

Patrolling the remote West Texas backcountry, Anna’s first job as a national park ranger is marred by violence she thought she had left behind: the brutal death of a fellow ranger. When the cause of death is chalked up to a mountain lion attack, Anna’s rage knows no bounds. It’s up to her to save the protected cats from the politics and prejudices of the locals – and prove the kill was the work of a species far less rare.

 

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Alphabet Mysteries Series by Sue Grafton

Bottom line: A great example of the hard boiled genre, featuring a strong female P.I.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb for First Book: A is for Alibi (1982)

A IS FOR AVENGER
A tough-talking former cop, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has set up a modest detective agency in a quiet corner of Santa Teresa, California. A twice-divorced loner with few personal possessions and fewer personal attachments, she’s got a soft spot for underdogs and lost causes.

A IS FOR ACCUSED
That’s why she draws desperate clients like Nikki Fife. Eight years ago, she was convicted of killing her philandering husband. Now she’s out on parole and needs Kinsey’s help to find the real killer. But after all this time, clearing Nikki’s bad name won’t be easy.

A IS FOR ALIBI
If there’s one thing that makes Kinsey Millhone feel alive, it’s playing on the edge. When her investigation turns up a second corpse, more suspects, and a new reason to kill, Kinsey discovers that the edge is closer–and sharper–than she imagined.

Review:

It’s been a while since I’ve read any of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mysteries, so I got A is for Alibi from the library and started over at the beginning (not all of them – I’m dedicated to you, my loyal readers, but not THAT dedicated). I’ve read up through T, though Grafton has published up through V (W is for Wasted comes out this fall). For a series that has 22 published books, plus some short stories (none of which I’ve read), the level of quality is surprisingly consistent – and high. The mysteries and characters are interesting and varied enough so that you don’t feel like you’re reading the same book over and over again. There are, obviously, some books that are better than others, but for the most part they’re very good reads.

One thing to note is that just because this series features a female detective, do not mistake these for cozies. They are definitely hard boiled: gritty and full of the realities of life – sex and bad language and all the rest of it. Kinsey is a tough, prickly, character, one that you come to respect before you necessarily start to like her. In the first book, you get enough details about her earlier life to keep you interested, without there being an info dump of backstory. I find it annoying when within a few strategic conversations in the first chapter you learn everything you need to know about a character. Real life doesn’t work that way. You do learn more about her as the series progresses, in a very natural way.

I’d recommend this series for anyone who likes the hard boiled mystery genre, or even mystery fans in general. Be warned that there is quite a bit of detail involved in tracking down various aspects of the cases; facts don’t seamlessly fall into place on the first try, which I quite like. Another great thing about these books is that any library is almost guaranteed to stock them. So, pick one up and give it a try – if you like it, you’ll eventually have 25 more great books to keep you entertained. Even for someone who reads as fast as I do, that’s at least a hundred hours of happiness.

 Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of the Chronological Man Adventure Series by Andrew Mayne

Bottom line: A fun, historical, science-y, steampunk-y, adventure-y series of short stories.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

I really like this series. It consists (so far) of two short stories, telling the tale of Smith, time traveler extraordinaire, who shows up to save the day whenever he is needed. The books are short enough to be read in one sitting (Ok, so I read most books in one sitting, but I’m a bit obsessive that way. Normal people could read these books in one sitting), but long enough to feel balanced – you get good characters, good settings, AND a good story. I wouldn’t put the premise in the “terribly plausible” category, but the ride is such a good one that it doesn’t matter. My favorite aspect of the series is the characters. The assistant, April, is smart and capable and takes action when it’s called for. She’s no Watson-esque sidekick, perpetually stumbling around in the dark. Teddy Roosevelt, more big stick than speaking softly here, is a hilarious and brilliant addition to the crew in the second story. And of course there’s Smith, a strange genius who suffers from amnesia due to his time travelling.

Continue reading

Review of Murder on the Cote d’Azur by Susan Kiernan-Lewis (2012) (Maggie Newberry Mysteries)

Bottom line: I didn’t enjoy it very much, but it would be a good book if you were looking for a free book to read on a plane to France.

Rating: Not Recommended

Blurb:

The first in the Maggie Newberry mystery series takes Atlanta Copywriter Maggie Newberry to the south of France and Paris in her search for her sister and her niece’s killer. Along the way, she meets Laurent–a sexy Frenchman who is not at all what he appears. Is he helping her in her quest? Or is he the reason for it?

Review:

I’ve had this on my Kindle for quite a while, as it consistently show up on the Amazon’s top 100 free bestsellers. I finally read it today and was disappointed. I wanted to like it, I just didn’t. I’m having a hard time putting my finger on what exactly it was that bothered me. It’s set in Atlanta and France, but other than the use of “y’all” and several French lines (which was kind of fun, dusting off my very poor high school French), this isn’t a book that really immerses you in the locations. The story doesn’t flow very well, you jump around in time and place a lot, with no warning that a switch has occurred. The main family was set up to have some really interesting, complex relationships, but the characters still seemed somehow flat to me. And there are a lot of secondary characters, none of whom seem particularly likeable or realistic. In addition, I didn’t feel like all the loose threads were tied up at the end.

I did think the murder and unraveling of it were handled well. Amateur detectives often are given unrealistic insight or access to information, but this protagonist used means that any ordinary person would be able to pursue. There were also some plot layers that were handled well – you aren’t quite sure which crimes are connected, or who is involved – without it feeling like elements were introduced solely to trick you.

All in all, it works better in theory than it did in execution for me. There just wasn’t anything I loved about it, and I found myself pushing myself to read quickly to get it over with.

Available: Free e-book at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Smashwords.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

Review of Timekeeper by Heather Albano (2012)

Bottom line: A very strong sequel to Timepiece, and a very fun read.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

An alternate history adventure featuring time travelers, freedom fighters, Frankenstein’s monster, the Battle of Waterloo, and Napoleon invading Britain by dirigible.

In Timepiece, young adventurer Elizabeth Barton and her suitor William Carrington used a mysterious pocket watch to travel from 1815 to 1885. Horrified by what they found—a steampunk dystopia patrolled by Gatling-gun-wielding robots—they joined fellow time traveler Mr. Maxwell in his quest to prevent that future from taking form…and accidentally set in motion a chain of events that allowed Napoleon to win the Battle of Waterloo.

Now they are trapped in a second 1885, one even worse than the first, where the tricolor flag flies from the Tower of London and Britain has long since accepted its fate as a conquered possession of the globe-spanning French Empire. In Timekeeper, Elizabeth, William, and Maxwell struggle to undo the damage they caused—and gradually come to realize the stakes may be even higher than they initially supposed, for they are not the only ones attempting to affect the timeline.

Review:

I really, really enjoyed this book. It was well worth waiting for. The plot ran smoother, the characters had more depth, and the writing was just as strong as the first book, Timepiece (review here). All of the minor quibbles I had with the first book were nonexistent here. I think you could read this book as a standalone, but I wouldn’t really recommend it – it definitely follows straight on from the first, and you’d miss a lot of the context. I think one of the great strengths of this book was how she took the same people and made them believably act differently due to their external circumstances, yet consistently with their characterization in the alternate timeline.

The story wraps up satisfactorily for two of the main characters, and there is enough closure for the third that you don’t feel left hanging, although his story is certainly not finished. I’ll certainly read that when/if she writes it, but I was very happy with the way things concluded.

Available:E-book currently $2.99 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and in all e-formats at Smashwords.

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

Review of the Lord Peter & Harriet Vane mysteries by Dorothy Sayers

Bottom line: Great mysteries, great characters, great writing. I cannot recommend these highly enough.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

Gaudy Night is my all-time favorite book. Not just mystery, but book. The other three books in this series are all very, very good (though I’d rate Have His Carcase a bit below the other three – it’s slow in places). The depth of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, combined with their interactions, feel more real than any other characters I’ve read. It feels more like being in a room with two people you know well than reading a story about fictional creations.

Continue reading

Review of The Emperor’s Edge Series by Lindsay Buroker

Bottom line: This is one of my favorite ongoing series. These are great stories, extremely well written, with awesome characters. The first book is free, so give it a try and see what you think!

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

I was going to do a review on each of the books that are out, but then I realized the reviews would be virtually identical for all books, so I’m going to do it in one fell swoop for the books of the series that are currently out, and I’ll update as the other books come out. There are six planned total in the main storyline.

These books are excellent. It was one of those where I read the first one because it was free, not really expecting all that much from it. When I was done, I immediately downloaded the next two books in the series (the only ones that were out at the time), read all through the night, got an hour of sleep, and had to go to work the next day. I then discovered that there were short stories with the same characters, but not in the main storyline/time frame and bought and read those immediately as well.

 

Continue reading