Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Strange Scottish Shore: Emmaline Truelove #2 by Beatriz Williams

A Strange Scottish Shore: Emmaline Truelove #2. Beatriz Williams. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2017. 400 pp. ISBN#: 9780425277089.

To begin with, note that there is a selection from an old tome, The Book of Time, before each chapter, telling the tale of a Scottish selkie, who rose from the sea in ancient times and married the Lord of a Castle, had two lovely children but who was swayed to return to her former marine life. Each section parallels the unfolding action in this tale in which it is 1906 which begins with a selkie suit being found. Maximilian Haywood and Emmeline Truelove have traveled to the past to solve other mysteries. Now they discover that their friend, Lord Silverton, has disappeared as well as another mysterious, very suspicious character.

The majority of the action in this novel takes place in the 1300s in a small Scottish country town with a man named Max and of course, Lord Silverton and Emmeline who are transported to that error. It turns out that Silverton has already been there for three years. Emmeline, on the other hand, has quite a period of adjustment to the language, dress, food, and Silverton’s acceptance that he will never return to his former 20th Century life.

Emmeline is quickly accepted and her initial balking at Silverton’s declaration of undying love is slowly eroded and their fiery romance takes off like a rocket. Emmeline, however, believes she has been sent here to complete a mission and that is what gradually evolves. It’s a grand tale indeed (no spoilers here) involving a past legend resembling one of the many selkie legends floating in Scottish folklore. The tension and surprising scenes of violence are inserted in all of the right places, and Silverton, Emmeline and Max the new Lord, conspire to prevent a travesty occurring that would make a past legend fleshed out in the present turn disastrous. The care and concern these characters share is what solidifies a unpredictable, quick-paced plot.

This is a stand-alone novel but there is a prequel to this tale which this reviewer knows readers will want to read after finishing this exciting, romantic, mysterious, adventurous work of historical fiction mixed with paranormal qualities. Nicely done, Beatriz Williams!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Scarred Woman: A Department Q Novel Series #7 by Jussie Adler Olsen

The Scarred Woman: A Department Q Novel Series #7. Jussie Adler Olsen. Penguin Random House Publishing Group. September 2017. ISBN #: 9781524702489.  

Get ready for a thriller rollercoaster ride!  Carl Marck, the head of Copenhagen’s Department Q dealing with cold cases, becomes interested in parallel details of two cases, one the murder of an elder woman years ago and a similar present murder.  Department Q is in trouble and in competition with upstairs Divisions, as the politicians and police brass are interested in the number of cases completed and reported on and those begun but never finished. The outcome could be financial cuts. That is until Carl enters the scene.

In a Social Services office in Copenhagen, a social worker, Anneli, is sick and tired of young woman dressed quite fashionably who show up for their unemployment benefits. They can’t or won’t get jobs.  Anneli wishes she could do something about it but doesn’t do anything.  But then disaster strikes when she is diagnosed with breast cancer and decides to not only fight for her life but to make her job meaningful by taking care of these leeches on Dutch society.  From that decisive moment, her portion of the story becomes non-stop riveting, pulse-pushing horror!  Denise, Michelle and Jazmine, predators on society, love their lives but are now the hunted rather than hunters.

Rose, the main character in this novel, starts the ball rolling by being yelled out in Department Q for not completing her reports.  There’s something about one of these cases that completely unravels Rose’s sanity, and the eventual involvement of Carl and Assad turns up Rose’s nightmare past, including twists and turns with murders and familial hatred beyond one’s imagination.

These stories eventually coalesce, with a balanced amount of humor and serious investigation, that is pleasing.  Although many of the actions in these scenes are quite wrong, this author makes the reader root for all the characters involved herein.

This reviewer hasn’t read the other novels in this series but intends to do so soon.  Fans of Stieg Larsson will love this novel as the desire for revenge wreaks its path across the city of Copenhagen.  The Scarred Woman is a remarkable crime thriller highly recommended for all readers!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Bloody Black Flag - A Spider John Mystery by Steve Goble

The Bloody Black Flag: A Spider John Mystery. Steve Goble. Prometheus/ Seventh Street Books. September 2017.  237 pp.  ISBN #: 9781633883598.

What child has read a book about pirates or seen pirate movies and imagined living such an adventurous, constantly thrilling life.  Well, that hunger can be sated again with Steve Goble’s novel about Spider John, a man who feels safer as a pirate at sea than a landlubber always having to watch his back for fear of the hangman or jailkeeper because of past deeds.  The time is 1722 and the place is the Colonial Coast of America.  Spider John and his good friend, Ezra, have escaped capture ashore and are now part of the crew of the Plymouth Dream, with a captain who would not think twice about killing any crew member if his rules are broken.

Early on, a young, bitter looking “bloke” keeps eying Ezra and it turns out he believes Ezra is the descendant of witches and therefore to be burned at the stake or hanged.  This is an area of Massachusetts still carrying shadows of the earlier “witches” frenzy that wound up with rash charges made and confirmed, followed by death.  Imagine Spider John’s devastation when Ezra is found dead in his room.

Spider John is determined to find the murderer, but in between his investigation steps are battles to be fought against attackers of their ship.  These are the swashbuckling battles that are expected by the reader and do not fail to satisfy with their minute descriptions of hand-to-hand combat as well as sword-fighting duels that are life and death matters.

There is no law on a pirate ship and Spider John has no intention of capturing Ezra’s killer but instead will kill him.  Surprises aplenty will thrill the reader as this search continues!  Nicely done and hopefully the first of many more Spider John stories to follow!

The Border by Steve Schafer

The Border. Steve Schafer. Sourcebooks. September 2017. 360 pp. ISBN#: 9781492646839.

Imagine going to a “quincinera,” a 15th birthday party in a small Mexican town, which turns into a mass murder scene!  When it’s all over, three young men and a young woman are the remaining survivors who know that drug gang members or narcos have wiped out their entire family!

It’s a quick, brutal beginning and the reader would think that anything that follows is anticlimactic but the journey these youths are about to undertake “to the north” is anything but sedate.  Marcos and Gladys are siblings, and Pato and Arbo are cousins.  Marcos is a strong but shady character.  He’s obviously not always telling the truth but he knows more about the dangerous situation they are attempting to escape.  Gladys is a vulnerable young girl whose brother is very protective of her.  Pato and Arbo are simple guys who seem to be having the hardest time dealing with the memories.  One of the guys wonders over and over if he could have prevented the disaster if he had spoken about the suspicious looking car parked outside of the party. 

The journey begins with a phenomenal car chase in which Marcos’s ability to use a gun saves them from immediate capture.  But then they must deal with serious physical problems from a cactus plant, rattlesnakes, and the devastating effect of being dehydrated.  The desert is a brutal, merciless place where the furnace-like heat parches them all to exhaustion.

Snippets of memories fill the moments while they travel, juxtaposing the life-threatening present situation in which they now find themselves.  When it’s all done, they know they will have each other’s backs forever!

The Border is a starkly realistic story about immigrants seeking asylum in America, Mexicans who are not criminals or evil people.  Indeed, this scenario is probably true for the majority of those escaping brutal regimes or criminals in many countries.  It certainly forces the reader to rethink the reality that so contrasts with political statements presently being touted and certainly forms a laudatory background for those fighting the effort to stop immigration with a blanket law that ignores life and death decisions calling for phenomenal courage and action!

Recommended reading, indeed! Food for soul-searching thought!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Address: A Novel by Fiona Davis

The Address: A Novel. Fiona Davis. Penguin Publishing Group. August 2017. 368 pp. ISBN#: 9781524741990.

Millions of readers might recognize the name of the Dakota Hotel as the place where John Lennon was killed, but lovers of Manhattan and its history will know this same hotel as one of the first most glamorous buildings built to house and entertain the rich and famous of the business, entertainment and political world in 1884. Our story begins in London but quickly moves to New York City where Sara Smythe has been hired as the new “Managarette” of the hotel by architect Theodore Camden. Both have very difficult jobs, trying to please aristocratic residents used to being pampered and coddled at any time of day or night.

The story quickly shifts to the same place in 1985. Bailey Camden is trying to recover from alcoholism. She’s just returned from rehab and found out her job is gone as the last drunken scene she put on gave her too much of a reputation and one that the owners didn’t want to smear the Dakota Hotel. Her cousin, Melinda, hires Bailey to do architectural work but that doesn’t last long with the appearance of someone who turns out to be a real friend.

It also turns out a mysterious object is about to be found that might lead to Bailey finding out more about her history than she’d ever imagined. But not without threats and trouble galore!

The Address is a plot-driven account of a lovely Manhattan Hotel, its founders, designers, interior decorators, and more. Even famous places have their notorious, as well as lovely, sides and Fiona Davis does a grand job of providing the reader with a mystery that brings the Camden family full circle, perhaps contrived but well done all the same.

More than that, Sara Smythe and Bailey Camden discover they are valuable human beings with and without fancy names, places and connections! THAT is the magical part of this highly recommended story!

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Plague Diaries: Keeper of Tales Trilogy #3 by Ronlyn Domingue

The Plague Diaries: Keeper of Tales Trilogy #3. Ronlyn Domingue. Atria Books. August 2017. 432 pp. ISBN#: 9781476774282.

Secret Riven is no longer advertising her magical powers.  Instead she has become somewhat of a self-educated scholar who works as an archivist in the magnate Fewmany’s offices.  This is not your local library, but rooms and rooms of books in every possible subject, including books and objects to do with magic, sorcery, legends, myths, etc.  The formerly very close relationship between Secret and Nicholas the Prince has changed with their separation, something Secret doesn’t realize until they meet again well into the novel. 

The story herein grows at a sedate pace in which the reader grows to share Secret’s love for animals, plants, and nature wherever they are found.   Little by little, the reader finds that Fewmany has a purpose in befriending Secret, although she doesn’t really figure that out until much later.  Meanwhile, Fewmany seems to be trying to broaden Secret’s horizons, inviting her to dinners, etc. at which some guests and scenes frighten Secret.  These pages are replete with weird costumes, animals and figures with strange powers, and strange events.  One gets to know many of the main characters in the government.  The author does a marvelous job in stretching all of this out in an intriguing way so that the reader doesn’t really mind that the crux of the quest isn’t revealed immediately.

The Old Woman who was introduced in the first novel of this series, a new character Harmyn, Nicholas and Secret eventually will try to discover the connection between a certain symbol in an ancient manuscript and other symbols available elsewhere.  No spoilers here, but it all ties together eventually.  In the process, Secret Riven becomes aware that her repressed gifts of connection to nature and languages can be used maturely when appropriate.

This reviewer appreciates this final version of the Keeper of the Tales Trilogy as well-written, even though it is a stand-alone novel, and highly recommended to readers who love a good mystery with paranormal features, friendship, loyalty and engaging quests. 

Forgotten Memories: A War Story by Young-Im Lee

Forgotten Memories: A War Story. Young-Im Lee. Yei Won Lim/Bn Publishing. June 2017. 484 pp. ISBN #: 9781684113828.  

1945 ended WWII and South Korea is still recovering from the Japanese Occupation.  Anything that was edible was stolen by Japanese troops, therefore the poverty and struggles of farmers and local businesses is an ever-present, poignant reminder of the terrors of war. 

Ji-Iseul, Jung-Soo and Yeong-Hoon are the three main characters in the story, which changes from present to past repeatedly.  Ji-Iseul initially is an elderly person being moved into a hospice as she is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease.  The granddaughter Jia encourages her to tell what she can remember, inspired by a guitar that sits in the corner of her grandmother’s room. An old piece of paper is found inside the guitar and that is the catalyst that makes the memories return to Iseul. 

The relationship between the three characters is depicted as a close one, although the reader is never sure whether a romance is developing or not between Iseul and Jung-Soo.  Iseul is not that attractive but instead is admired by her father because she is such a hard work at “making paper,” a task that is quite difficult.  Jung-Soo’s father is a rich man forcing the neighborhood to pay high taxes and living in a rich man’s home known as “The Golden Palace.” Yeong-Hoof is crippled but works hard for ISIL’s father.  He is betrothed to Iseul but nothing further comes of that until the Korean War.

The life of the Koreans before and after the Korean War is a hard one, fraught with poverty and suspicion.  One character, it is believed, steals rice that the people desperately need.  American soldiers are portrayed as caring one minute but callous to the needs of the people the next.  During war, some can leave without worrying about the future of the people left behind.

This isn’t a comforting story but it’s a necessary one. The author writes an epilogue about the Korean people being victims who have not truly decided what their country should be, democratic, communist, or otherwise.  They believe more war will come.  Whether that happens or not, this is a novel for the world to read, to realize that work, relationships and growth with change is vital for a people to become secure in themselves and not always dependent on the prevailing opponent waiting to devour more of a victimized South Korea. Recommended, despite some minor flaws in plotting, historical fiction!