Saturday, May 18, 2013

Murder Past Due

Murder Past Due (Cat in the Stacks Mystery, #1)Murder Past Due by Miranda James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, actually.

Charlie Harris is a part-time college archivist and reference librarian who lives in the house his Aunt Dottie left to him. He takes in boarders to both help with finances and alleviate the loneliness he's lived with since both his wife and his aunt died three years ago. Soon after 18-year-old Justin Wardlaw, Charlie's current boarder, learns his biological father is the famous novelist Godfrey Priest, he argues with both his dad and then his biological dad over plans for his future. However, Justin never imagines he'd return to Godfrey's hotel room to discover his body lying on the floor, and he panics, turning to Charlie for help. Since the acting Chief Sheriff's Deputy is the daughter of Charlie's housekeeper, he promises Azalea he'll do what he can to poke around and help uncover the murderer--interference that is not always welcome nor prudent.

This is book one in a lovely cozy mystery series. I accidentally read book three first, but thankfully it was long enough ago that I had forgotten many of the continuing details of the characters. (I hate reading series books out of order.) The library theme is what first caught my eye: I love books that have librarian heroes and heroines!

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways are primary. The book is set in Athena, Mississippi. All the sex mentioned happened nearly 20 years in the past, and if there is any swearing, I can't recall it right now.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

The Serpent's Tale

The Serpent's Tale (Mistress of the Art of Death, #2)The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adelia Aguilar, a doctor trained in the medical schools of Salerno, Italy, is learning to enjoy her new life in the fens of medieval England when she receives a summons from the Bishop of St. Albans, her former lover and the father of her infant daughter. King Henry II's mistress has been murdered, and Adelia's services are required to investigate and discover who poisoned Rosamund. Queen Eleanor is being blamed for her death, and their respective allies are on the brink of another civil war. On the way to Godstow Abbey, the bishop's traveling party stumbles across the body of a young man, and suddenly Adelia has not one but two murders to solve. Her efforts at solving the crimes are hampered by weather, quarreling soldiers, and the presence of one or more killers in their midst. As bodies pile up and food supplies dwindle, Adelia struggles to uncover the truth before she or someone she loves becomes the next victim.

I think I loved book two in this series even more than book one. For one thing, Ms. Franklin skipped the odd Greek chorus opening and closing in this one. For another, I already knew the main protagonists, so I was able to dive in to the world of twelfth century England much faster. And the story moved right along so that it was very difficult to put the book down at the end of my lunch breaks.

The language was much...saltier...this time around. Perhaps because there were more mercenary soldiers speaking? Then again, even the supposedly religious men frequently peppered their language with swearing. It is, after all, barely more than a century after the Norman Conquest demoted Anglo-Saxon (i.e. Old English) to be the dialect of the lower classes and categorized it as coarse.

I very much appreciated the author's note at the end, giving some historical context and background. Ms. Franklin managed to fit this story into one of the convenient gaps in the medieval records. After reading this novel, I'm curious about the real lives of Henry and Eleanor and may need to go locate a couple of biographies on the pair.

For readers' advisors: story, character, and setting doorways are all strong. There are some brief moments of sexual innuendo and one sex scene with virtually no details. And, of course, there is a fair amount of use of the ordinary Anglo-Saxon terms for things (what we now think of as swear words).

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Tailor's Daughter

The Tailor's DaughterThe Tailor's Daughter by Janice Graham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Veda Grenfell comes from a prosperous tailoring family, but her brother longs to be a scholar rather than take over the family business one day. Veda, on the other hand, loves tailoring and has a knack for design, but is stymied by her gender and the societal restrictions of 1860s London. A series of tragedies plague her small family, including the illness that leaves Veda deaf. She struggles against the overwhelming isolation that causes, determined to find a way to communicate and make a life for herself. Love and marriage seem unlikely in the extreme when society equates physical disability with mental incompetence, but hope is hard to extinguish, despite cruel disappointments and heartbreaking betrayals.

My aunt and uncle recommended this book to me, and I am so grateful! It's a very character-driven story, where I felt immersed in Veda's life and the strangeness of her silent world. I agonized alongside her when she lost loved ones, and I cheered her on as she fought to make those who remained understand and communicate with her. My heart broke for her many times, and I KNEW she was not told the truth when she was in France.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary; setting secondary. The relaxed pace might frustrate those who read for story, although the end gets much more exciting. There is no onscreen sex or bad language.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Dream Lake

Dream Lake (Friday Harbor, #3)Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alex, the youngest of the three Nolan brothers, is an outstanding carpenter and contractor who sinks deeper and deeper into depression and alcoholism with each passing day. His decline is a source of sadness and frustration for the ghost who has been tethered to him since Alex first began helping his brother Sam renovate the Rainshadow Road house. The ghost remembers only bits and pieces of his past and needs Alex's help to figure out who he is and how he came to haunt the Rainshadow Road house in the first place, decades ago, and for that, Alex must be sober and cooperative.

Zoe Hoffman is the chef and co-owner of Artist's Point, a bed-and-breakfast in Friday Harbor, Washington. Her grandmother raised her after her mother took off when she was tiny, and her father abandoned her at his mother's house when Zoe was in the third grade. Now Emma's health is failing, and Zoe hires Alex to renovate the old cottage Emma still owns on Dream Lake so that she can bring her grandmother to live with her there. Zoe and Alex met once several years ago, and it didn't go well: Zoe looks like a blond, vintage pin-up girl, and Alex resorted to rudeness to keep himself from drooling over her. Growing up with abusive, neglectful, alcoholic parents left Alex convinced he is undeserving and incapable of being in a loving relationship, and he recognizes that is exactly what Zoe needs and wants. Still, the two are unwillingly drawn together, and slowly learn that love is worth fighting for.

I absolutely fell in love with these characters and this book. I think my favorite character was the ghost, and I so appreciate that Ms. Kleypas made even a spectral person seem real. I was also grateful that Alex struggled so hard and for so long against both his alcoholism and his phobia of commitment. It drives me crazy when romance novels (or any type of story) make obstacles dissolve once boy meets girl, like somehow the power of attraction alone can overcome addiction or abuse. The closest Kleypas came to doing that was to have Zoe's cooking help Alex cope with the DTs, but that made sense for a book in a series laced with gentle magic.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is definitely primary, but story is strong, too. There are sex scenes and some occasional swearing.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Crystal Cove

Crystal CoveCrystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Justine Hoffman was raised by a mother who never wanted to settle down and stay in one place, never allowed her daughter to put down roots. Consequently, Justine craves stability, and as the co-owner of a bed-and-breakfast in Friday Harbor, Washington, she strives to make her guests feel at home. The one thing she despairs of ever finding, though, is love. Justine and her mother are hereditary witches, and it turns out that when she was a child, her mother placed a geas on her, cursed her to never find love so that she would never experience the pain of loss. Justine decides to break the curse, no matter the consequences.

Jason Black is a very wealthy video game designer and reclusive mogul. When his assistant books rooms for Jason and his team at Justine's B&B, he has ulterior motives. Jason knows he has no soul, and he believes Justine's grimoire holds the key to saving him, whether she wants to loan it to him or not. He just didn't plan on falling for her first.

This book could have been so good. It's the fourth installment in a lovely series of magical realism romances, although I accidentally read it third. Unfortunately, Kleypas jumped on the 50 Shades of Grey bandwagon, opted for explicit sex scenes with bondage, and lost interest in making the characters or main relationship likeable.

The concept of Jason having no soul was muddled: supposedly all that meant was that when he died, that was No afterlife. Which really made him desperate enough to do genealogical research on hereditary witches and enlist his assistant's family's help to do the impossible, regardless of the cost to himself or anyone else? So if he was in all other ways "normal," why did he have to be such a ruthless, controlling jerk? Why are his eyes described as "fathomless...shrewd and opaque as blackstrap molasses--could have belonged to Lucifer himself"?

The fact that Jason was manipulative instead of kind completely undermined the story's central relationship. There was just no foundation for any kind of believable romance--nothing in common, no real friendship or companionship, nothing whatsoever to form a scaffolding for building a life together.

The tipping point for me, however, was when the hemp ropes came out and Justine allowed Jason to turn her into a human pretzel during a graphic sex scene. How can I put, NO. A thousand times NO! There isn't anything wrong with choosing to be passive. Being tied up, restrained, unable to move, on the other hand, I find neither sexy nor erotic. All I could think was, "OW!! Use your safe word! USE YOUR SAFE WORD!!" But she never does, and then she wakes up to find him vanished, having stolen her most valuable possession. Yep. What's even better is that she only stays furious for a few days and then melts for more explicit sex when she catches up to him. Because, see, he "loves" her. Yes, indeedy--this relationship is solid!

Ugh. The more I think about this book, the more the bad parts eclipse the good parts. So I'm going to stop concentrating on this one and move on to writing my next review. (Of book 3 in this series, which I adored!)

For readers' advisors: story doorway. Do not suggest it to anyone who didn't love 50 Shades of Grey or similar titles.

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