Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer Reading 2016: Oberon's Meaty Mysteries: The Purloined Poodle


What's not to love about a mystery story narrated by an intelligent Irish wolfhound? Add in the enticements of humor, great references to pop culture (of all ages), and the presence of the coolest druid ever and it's a shoe-in. Oberon is the canine companion of Atticus, the Iron Druid. Because of the skills he has perfected over the last 2,000 years, Atticus has been able to bond his mind and Oberon's so that they can communicate telepathically. Oberon is incredibly smart and loves to have Atticus tell him stories, discuss the plots of books he has read, or for the two of them to watch movies and television together. The result of all this exposure to human culture is that Oberon can make great references to books and videos. For instance, he shares, "Whenever I walk into a park all the other dogs are like hobbits saying, "It comes in pints?" because they have never seen a hound as big as me before." 

On this particular visit to the local dog park, Oberon and Atticus learn that there has been a crime spree of sorts in the Pacific Northwest. Grand Champion dogs of all breeds have been abducted and other dogs in those homes tranquilized with spiked treats or with a dart gun. Oberon convinces Atticus that they should look into the matter and tells him, "The game is afoot, Atticus!" Of course they have lots of funny dialogue that no one else can hear, but which made me laugh out loud frequently while reading. Oberon throws out references to Gandhi, Jack Nicholson, Sherlock, Lord of the RingsThe Great Gatsby and even Battlestar Galactica. At one point they have to do a stakeout and wait for some suspected bad guys to show up. Oberon says, "I hate waiting. I'm like Inigo Montoya that way."

Fans of the Iron Druid series will love this latest addition to the world that Kevin Hearne has created. For first-timers just encountering Atticus and Oberon, this is self-contained enough that it can be read on its own - but they should be warned that it will probably whet their appetites and pull them into the series (sort of like promising Oberon a sirloin). Seeing Atticus use his druidry for the good of dognap victims rather than fighting evil vampires or enraged trolls is a nice change of pace.

Highly recommended for current fans, urban fantasy readers, and those looking for a new series with magic, mayhem, and a handsome hound. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 The Walled City


A city within a city. The walls of an ancient fort enclose Hak Nam, a city with its own rules. Those who want to live beyond the reach of the law stay within its walls. So do those who have no choice. Dai is a bit of both. In one tragic night he lost his brother and used a gun to defend himself, now there is a warrant for his arrest. But if he can find the information that the police outside the walls want to know, then they have bargained to give him his freedom. The problem is Longwai and the Brotherhood. They are the criminals who control much of what goes on illegally within Hak Nam. He also owns the brothel where Mei Yee and other girls are held after being sold off by their families, or snatched off the streets. She has seen other girls punished for defiance or escape attempts. Does she have the courage to help Dai get the needed information so that he can help her escape? And there is Jin, the slim runner that helps Dai ingratiate himself with Longwai. Jin has been searching for a missing sister for 2 years in Hak Nam. The money Dai pays helps to buy food and continue the search. They all have their reasons for being in the city, and for wanting to escape from it. Will they succeed? Can all of them make it out alive?

The idea of people living on the edges of society, marginalized and disenfranchised from the protection that civilization is suppose to offer, is nothing new. But the way Graudin has pieced together this intricate ecosystem of criminals, vagrants, and impoverished is masterful. The descriptions of the tenements, the tiny shops selling noodles or clothing, even the details of the litter on the ground all build the scene in the reader's mind. The way the story alternates between the viewpoints of the three main characters makes the differences in their lives very apparent. Dai has his guilty conscience and desperation to make things right. Mei Yee is stuck inside the claustrophobic walls of the brothel, only seeing daylight through a tiny barred window. Even if she escapes, she can't go home; her father would only sell her again. It is nearly impossible to keep any hope alive in such conditions. And Jin is filled with the determination to find and rescue that lost sister, powered by love and determination. They all see and react to things in such different ways.

If you enjoy thrillers with the clock ticking on the chance to make it out alive, then you should give The Walled City a try. Of the other books I have read, The Young World is sort of similar in the need to get out of a city and the fight to survive long enough to do it.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Murder at the 42nd Street Library


Fans of "Castle"may have a new series to follow. Murder at the 42nd Street Library features a curator of crime fiction who is an amateur detective of sorts. Ray Ambler manages the crime fiction collection, both the books and the donated papers of various authors. He also likes to help out the police by sharing facts with them. And he has even made friends with a detective on the force, Mike Cosgrove. But when a murder takes place inside the library, Ambler becomes much more involved than he could ever imagine. 

This case, and the story, has plenty of suspects, lots of complicated relationships, and secrets. What can I say without giving too much away? Hmmmm. There are two biographies being written about a prominent author, while the author himself is dealing with dementia and trouble with his current wife (who's half his age). All these folks are converging on the library along with their wives and assistants, plus the library runners who pull materials from the stacks for them, the curators, and the library's director. So how can it be that no one can describe or identify the murderer, even though the shooting took place in the director's office and the perpetrator walked right past security on the way out of the building?

Along with trying to dig up clues for the police department (whether they want his help or not), Ambler is also helping a friend cope with the death of her mother, dealing with his own son, and worrying about his position at the library being cut. His friend Cosgrove has a strained relationship with his wife and daughter and his partner on the force resents Ambler's interference in the case. Nothing is ever easy, right?

Lehane has come up with a likable character in Ambler. The bits of his history that come up help to add depth to his personality and explain his reluctance to pick up on the advances from a coworker. Each person in the story is more than just a cardboard placeholder; the other characters have their own issues - unhappy marriages, death in the family, moody teenage kids, etc. The description of the library itself is well done and captures the atmosphere of a research library with its massive stacks, requests for materials, and security procedures. The mention of various crime authors adds in another layer of enjoyment for readers who are fond of the genre. 

This promises to be an entertaining series, both in the mysteries that Ambler will become involved in and also in watching the relationships between the characters evolve.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through edelweiss.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Ghostly Echoes: A Jackaby Novel


At the end of their last case (chronicled in Beastly Bones), Jackaby and Rook come home to find that their ghostly landlady has decided to hire them. Jenny Cavanaugh was murdered in her home 10 years ago, the home which Jackaby now uses as his base of operations. But before they can even properly decide where to begin searching for clues, a murder remarkably like Jenny's occurs. When they approach the chief of police and the mayor about those similarities, they find that several other people are either dead or missing. The fact that all these new victims were involved in the mayor's project to update the the city is a coincidence that is hard to ignore; Jenny's fiancee was also involved in a project for the previous mayor. What exactly is going on? And is the creepy, pale-faced man that Abigail has seen around town somehow involved? After all, his photo is in Jenny's case file.

Ritter has set up another great case for our detectives to pursue. The ties to Jenny's murder lend the case a personal meaning, although we know that Jackaby would have investigated anyway. Rook continues to become more familiar with Jackaby and his odd way of doing things, while also using her own keen skills of observation and society manners. While her boss goes on about auras and energies, Abigail notices that there are diapers and wooden blocks in the house of a couple who do not have children. She picks up on cues in conversations that he misses, such as the reference to benefactors that have supported the mayor's project. When she describes a person of interest in the case, the mayor says, "It's certainly a start, Miss Rook. You should lead with her next time, Jackaby. She's better at this than you are." He means she's better at sharing facts and descriptions that other people can understand, rather than saying a suspect has "an anathematic aura with distinctly lavender accents."

Since this is only a Sneak Peek, and since I wouldn't want to spoil any of the surprises, I'll leave you to ponder Jackaby's statement that "Questions are good... Questions are to the clever mind as coal is to the stoker." We all have plenty of unanswered questions as we await this third installment in the series.

I read the Sneak Preview offered by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 Beastly Bones: A Jackaby Novel


After reading the first of the Jackaby books I said - The way the story is told from Abigail's point of view reminds me of Laurie King's Sherlock Holmes adventures told through the eyes of Mary Russell. The story-line itself is like mixing Holmes with a dash of Sleepy Hollow. I would love to see more books about this Holmes and Watson type arrangement that Jackaby and Miss Rook are forming. - Well, now I have been granted my wish.

For those who don't know, Jackaby is a detective of sorts who specializes in the supernatural. When he and his assistant, Abigail Rook first meet, she has just landed in America and needs a job. Taking the post as his assistant she helps with a case involving a serial killer. That was in the first book. Now she has settled into her role a bit more and is eager to prove that her employer has not made a mistake in hiring her. She is especially excited by a new case they are asked to consult on because it offers the chance to visit a paleontology dig. They will also be able to check in on the policeman who worked with them on the serial killer case; Charlie Barker has been transferred to a more rural post that happens to be the location of the dig site.

There are so many things going on in this story. The ghost who is the former owner of Jackaby's house is behaving somewhat erratically. A local woman calls them in because her cat, Mrs. Wiggles, has transformed into a fish and her kittens all have scales. There is a murder in town, as well as a dead body at the dinosaur dig. A sinister figure is seen outside their home and again at the train station as they leave for the country. A tracker/hunter who is a friend of Jackaby's shows up with a Stymphalian bird. Rival paleontologists are arguing over who is in charge of the dig. A newspaper reporter (picture a Nellie Bly clone), shows up to cover the story of a farmer finding fossils in his field. More dead bodies turn up, as well as livestock disappearing and strange footprints are left behind. What can be causing all this? Are they separate problems, or are some of these things related? And will Jackaby figure it out before more dead bodies pile up?

I enjoy the characters in the story. As I've said, Abigail reminds me of Mary Russell or perhaps Penelope from the Irene Adler stories. Seeing Jackaby's world and his work through her eyes makes it more understandable for us as readers. After all, we don't see auras or lingering traces of magic the way he does, so we have to go with what she sees and records. I also find Jackaby to be intriguing. Someone who quotes Darwin, but also wears a hat supposedly made from the fur of a yeti is bound to be interesting, even when he is being hopelessly clueless in social skills. And the things he worries about can be very amusing. Near the end of the story he is explaining his concern that there is a "criminal manufacturing paranormal mayhem." He worries that this villain could turn loose supernatural creatures such as redcaps and brownies, or even "Promote the adoption of the Dewey decimal system in libraries across the continent." When Abigail questions that last bit he tells her, "It's gaining popularity. I don't trust it." Could Jackaby be behind the rise of the Library of Congress cataloging system?

If you enjoy the mysteries of Holmes and Russell (by Laurie King), or Irene Adler (Carole Nelson Douglas), or other stories set in the late nineteenth century with some paranormal elements, then you really need to check out the Jackaby series.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Summer Reading 2016 The Witch Hunter


In the kingdom of Anglia magic is illegal. And in this time of swords and sorcery they don't hand out citations, they burn you at the stake. The king's uncle, Lord Blackwell has a team of witch hunters that are specially trained to find and capture anyone who uses magic. Elizabeth Grey is the only female in the group of hunters. When she is accused of witchcraft herself and sentenced to be burned, she is rescued by public enemy number 1, Nicholas, the magical counselor of the former king. When a plague killed the king and half the population, it was said that Nicholas had used his magic to start the plague because he hoped to take over the throne. So why would he bother to rescue a witch hunter from prison and death? As Elizabeth recovers from her imprisonment, she learns that the magic users aren't what she has been told. When the time comes, will she choose her old companions or the new ones who have saved her life?

If you look for stories with an historical feel - the swords and kings and peasants living in thatched huts - then the setting of this book is perfect for you. If you like stories where the protagonist goes through a shift in their world view and realizes they have been lied to about major events and their causes, then this is a book for you. If you want a strong female character who can survive tragedy and betrayal and rebuild her life, then...well, you know, THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU. Anyone who enjoys books that mix a period feel with the fantasy element of magic will find plenty that appeals to them in The Witch Hunter. From the tavern scenes, to the sumptuous gowns worn by the noblewomen, to the descriptions of the foods and the cottages, you will be pulled into a place and time very different from our own. The character of Elizabeth reminds me of Alexa in Sara Larsen'sDefy. They both have been trained to serve the rulers of their lands, and they both discover that there are hidden plots and outright lies about the past that the leaders will do anything to protect.

Highly recommended for YA readers of historical fantasy. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.