Review: The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily
The Betrayal of the Blood Lily
by Lauren Willig
Dutton Adult, 416 pages
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In the newest adventure in Lauren Willig’s “Pink Carnation” series, all about nineteenth-century British flower spies (the first of which, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, was an affectionate sequel to Baroness Orcy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel), we move from England to colonial India, and the change of locale breathes new life into this series.

As is usual for Willig’s work, we’ve met our heroine Penelope Deveraux (now Lady Frederick Staines) before, when she made a brief appearance in the previous novel, The Tempation of the Night Jasmine. In that book, she was involved in a minor sex scandal…now we find her married off to the other party, but it’s a marriage that was forced upon two people who are really completely unsuited for each other simply to give the appearance of propriety to their relationship.

To further avert scandal, the couple’s been sent to India, where Lord Staines (Freddy) will take the position of Governor Generall Wellesley’s Special Envoy to the Court of Hyderabad. He, of course, begins an affair with a local “bibi,” – a mistress – and Penelope, who is quite the tomboy, with shooting and riding skills rivaling those of the men around her – makes her own niche, befriending Captain Alex Reid, who is escorting the couple and their entourage.

What follows is a rollicking adventure that includes murder, mayhem, passion, and politics, all rolled into a steamy climate. It’s a great read – so much so that for the first time, I wasn’t looking forward to contemporary character Eloise Kelly’s interludes (Eloise serves as narrator, as these adventures are all part of her graduate research project) with the dashing young relative of the original Pink Carnation, although, I will admit that reading about her grilled cheese dates are much more fun than reading lipozene reviews.

While these books are better when read in order, this novel can stand alone without the reader missing too many details.

Goes well with: grilled cheese sandwiches and good beer. Or a really tasty curry.

Review: Dead in the Family

Dead in the Family
by Charlaine Harris
Ace Hardcover, 320 pages
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Even though it’s been less than two weeks since I’ve read Charlaine Harris’ latest addition to the Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire Mystery series, I don’t remember much about it. I don’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, or that it wasn’t well-written, because it was, but that it seemed like it didn’t really have a definitive plot. Oh, I mean, there was a stray faerie, and an unidentified shifter, but most of the book seemed transitional.

For example: Sookie is dealing with the aftermath of losing her “fairy godmother,” forging a relationship with her young cousin, who shares her ability, trying to find boundaries in her relationships with Eric (romantic) and Bill (who, quaintly, is still referred to as Vampire Bill by most of the folks at Merlotte’s, but, while there’s some wrapping up of loose threads, and some setup of future events, book ten feels very much like the middle novel of a trilogy, making it one of the rare books in this series that HAS to be read in order or the reader will be left completely confused.

Diehard Sookie Stackhouse fans will not want to miss this book, which came out six weeks ago (giving book clubs enough time to discuss it before last Sunday’s beginning of season three of True Blood), but I’m left feeling like the story wasn’t complete. Less is more, of course, as the adage goes, but…this book included a visit to Eric’s house, and I’m not certain if I know whether or not his taste runs to modern furniture, or something much more exotic.

Goes well with: peach pie and sweet tea.

Review: The God of the Hive

The God of the Hive
The God of the Hive
Laurie R. King
Bantam, 368 pages
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I’ve been a fan of Laurie R. King’s series about Mary Russell and her older husband, the legendary Sherlock Holmes, since the first book hit the stores, so of course, I had to have the latest adventure the very second it came out. When The God of the Hive arrived, however, I put it aside, planning to savor it while on vacation. Instead, I read all the paperbacks I’d brought with me, so that I could leave them for my mother, and didn’t read this novel until I got home.

One of the things I love about this series is the level of detail King includes. While she doesn’t have to know what passed for the best acne treatment in Holmesian London, she does have to know where one can find certain kinds of stationery, or where a bolthole might be located.

In this book, which is a direct sequel to the previous installment, The Language of Bees, Russell and Holmes are still separated by the requirements of their current case – Holmes fleeing with his injured long-lost son, and meets up with a Scottish doctor, who ends up being a fabulous addition to the existing cast of characters. Mary, on the other hand, has the aeroplane pilot, and Holmes’ half-Chinese granddaughter to contend with, though she, too, hooks up with a helper who turns out to be quite beneficial to all concerned.

There isn’t much detection in this novel – there is character and there’s plot, but it’s basically a chase scene interrupted by action.

The good news, however, is that it’s still, undeniably King’s work, which is always incredibly compelling reading.

Teaser Tuesday: The God of the Hive

On Teaser Tuesdays readers are asked to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between 7 and 12 lines.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given.

Laurie R. King’s Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell novels are some of my favorite mysteries ever, and not just because I like taking a break from a world where we discuss hair growth shampoo and spending time in a world where high tea is a normal event. I’ve been a Holmes fan since as long as I can remember, but I love the relationship that King has created with his protege’ cum wife Mary. It just works.

Like many of her readers, the “to be continued” ending of the last novel really disappointed me, which is why I’ve been counting the days until The God of the Hive was ready. My copy arrived today. I can’t wait to read it!

Evening, and I might have curled up to sleep fully clothed except it had occurred to me that children required putting to bed. Estelle and Goodman were in front of the fire, he on the floor with Damian’s sketch-book on his knee, she stretched with her belly across the tree-round he used as a foot-stool, narrating the drawings for him. I had found the book in my rucksack, astonished that it had survived this far, and leafed through its pages before I gave it to her, making sure it contained none of his detailed nudes or violent battle scenes. Some of the drawings I had found mildly troubling, but doubted a small child would notice.

— from The God of the Hive, by Laurie R. King (page 80)

Review: The Barbary Pirates, by William Dietrich

The Barbary Pirates
The Barbary Pirates: an Ethan Gage Adventure
William Dietrich
Harper, 336 pages
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A few weeks ago, I was offered the chance to receive an ARC of the latest Ethan Gage adventure, The Barbary Pirates, by William Dietrich. In less time than it takes a patient on House to shake off a finger pulse oximeter, I leaped at the chance. After all, I love historical action/adventures – why else would The Eight, by Katherine Neville, be one of my favorite books.

In truth, I’d never read an Ethan Gage adventure, but I’m planning on spending some money at new and used bookstores in town, because I am hooked.

At the risk of ruining the plot, because this book is a mystery, or at least a puzzle, I won’t rehash it. What I will say is this: The Barbary Pirates is a wonderful swashbuckling adventure through history, and includes Napoleon and Robert Fulton as characters, has the Lousiana Purchase and the first submarine as important plot keys, and involves Atlantis, Egyptian History, and a mysterious and creepy (not to mention dangerous) organization called the Egyptian Rite, and of course, all of this has to do with a race to find the Mirror of Archimedes – the device rumored to have incinerated a Spanish fleet – before the “bad guys” can do so.

With romance, action, mystery, and historical figures popping up (Ben Franklin is quoted. A lot.) willy-nilly, this book is a wonderful romp akin to the National Treasure movies and Clive Cussler’s novels. Translation: it’s great fun, and you HAVE to read it.

This review is based on an uncorrected proof of the book. The Barbary Pirates will be available at your favorite bookstore on Tuesday, March 30th.

Review: The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion by Alice Kimberly

Ghost and the Haunted Mansion, theThe Ghost and the Haunted Mansion
Alice Kimberly
Berkley, 304 pages
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I don’t know what the prices of homes for sale in Alice Kimberly’s fictional Quindicott, RI are like, but considering the number of murders in that town, I bet they’re falling. The most recent death occurs in the most recent – to date – novel in the Haunted Bookshop series, and involves an old woman who lives as a recluse being literally scared to death. Local mailmain Seymour Tarnish inherits the woman’s mansion – in the toniest part of town, of course – and that’s when the real hijinks begin.

Pen and her ghostly partner, private investigator Jack Shepard are back on the case of course, though their relationship is a bit cooler than it was in the previous novel. Maybe the author figured out she’d painted herself into a corner with these two, or maybe she merely wanted to focus on plot, but I like them better as a mismatched pair who fight crime, than lovers separated by death…mostly. Of course, some of that coolness may be due to the fact that one of the other characters can SEE and HEAR Jack.

Speaking of Jack, can you believe it’s taken me this long to figure out he’s got the same name as the ersatz leader of the LOSTaways? I wonder if that’s intentional, or mere coincidence – of course there is a spelling difference.

In any case, this was, as always, an enjoyable, entertaining read, if not exactly great literature.

My only complaint? There’s no more of this series…yet.

Review: The Ghost and the Femme Fatale

The Ghost and the Femme Fatale
The Ghost and the Femme Fatale
by Alice Kimberly
Berkley, 235 pages
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In the fourth installment of the Haunted Bookshop mysteries, The Ghost and the Femme Fatale, Pen McClure and the ghost of Jack Shepherd are once again teamed up to solve a mystery, this time, a multiple murder centered around old Hollywood, a film festival, and (of course) a tell all book about the sordid history of two actors. I don’t like rehashing plots, especially with mysteries, because even the smallest detail can be a spoiler, but I will say that the Jack/Pen relationship in this one moves into new territory – and I don’t mean HAVC filter maintenance – I’m a bit worried, actually, about where this relationship can go, and how Ms. Kimberly plans to address it, or if she does. Fantasy is nice, after all, but eventually Pen’s going to have to live entirely in the world of the, well, living.

Still, the detective duo works. In the dreamscape representation of Jack’s past, he begins to accept her help, and in the modern waking world, Pen is becoming more and more self-reliant, with Jack’s involvement reduced to cheering her on in more than once scene.

It’s refreshing to see Pen, the woman who still uses her dead husband’s name, standing more on her own feet, and even if the mysteries are sort of predictable, the ghost and Mrs. McClure remain compelling.

A word of advice, though: Never fall for a ghost.

Mini-Review: Decaffeinated Corpse

Decaffeinated Corpse
Decaffeinated Corpse
by Cleo Coyle
Berkley, 288 pages
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Let’s face it, the recipes in the backs of Cleo Coyle’s coffeehouse mysteries are not exactly keys to quick trim weight loss, but the reality is, as much fun as the recipes are (and I’ve actually tried some of them) it’s the cozy Village Blend coffeehouse and the adventures of cafe manager Clare Cosi that keep us reading.

In Book 5 of the Coffeehouse Mysteries, Clare is investigating her husband’s friend, a coffee grower and playboy from Costa Gravas, who just happens to be the breeder of a decaffeinated coffee plant – as in, no need to water process the beans. There are, of course, corpses in the story, and the mystery this time seemed a bit trickier than the first four novels, but I also read this one out of sequence, since I reviewed another of Ms. Coyle’s books, Holiday Grind in All Things Girl over the holidays.

In that book, the relationship between Clare in NYPD Detective Mike Quinn had become pretty solid; in this one, they shared their first kiss.

As always, Ms. Coyle’s blend of romance, mystery, intrigue, and coffee suits me perfectly when I want light reading.

Mini-Review: The Ghost and the Dead Deb

Ghost and Dead Deb
The Ghost and the Dead Deb
by Alice Kimberly
Berkley, 272 Pages
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Reading about dead debutante’s is not exactly the way to lose weight fast. I mean, skinny rich girls, even when they’re corpses, are hardly good role models. Fortunately, I don’t read Alice Kimberly’s haunted bookshop novels for fitness inspiration, but to be entertained, and this book succeeded wildly in its humble mission.

In this, the third outing for Penelope McClure and the ghost of Jack Shepherd, we have drug abuse, fickle lovers, fashionistas, and, of course, a mystery of how one pretty rich girl became the latest in a pair of connected murders.

As always, while the mystery is enjoyable, the developing Jack/Pen relationship is why I read, and in this installment the friendship between ghost and bookseller continues to deepen.

Am I the only person wishing a haunted bookshop was in my neighborhood?

Review: The Ghost and the Dead Deb by Alice Kimberly

The Ghost and the Dead Deb
The Ghost and the Dead Deb
Author: Alice Kimberly
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Berkley (September 6, 2005)
Language: English

Penelope “Pen” McClure, co-owner of the fictional “Buy the Book” in Quindicott, RI, should really consider investing in some sort of business insurance, because in this second installment of the Haunted Bookshop series, another visiting author is murdered.

Alice Kimberly once again weaves a charming romance/mystery pairing Pen with Jack Shepherd, the ghost of a noir private investigator, who himself was gunned down in the store decades before. In this book, we learn a bit more about Pen, and, in the related case from Jack’s memory, we also learn a bit more about Jack.

Young deb-turned-author Angel Stark could easily be ripped by any number of today’s tabloids, but the recurring characters are also as vivid as they were in the first novel – especially the group of business owners affectionately referred to as the Quibblers (which name, I confess, reminds me of another fictional mystery series, Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who…).

What really makes this book sing, however, is the developing relationship between Pen and Jack – they’re clearly friends now – which is heightened when Pen finds a way to take Jack with her (so to speak) when she leaves the store.

Goes well with hot tea and a warm quilt.