Monday, October 28, 2013



I only rarely read a cozy mystery so I tend to forget how much fun they can be.  This one is a good reminder of that because of its quirky main character.  Aunty Lee lives in Singapore where she has a small restaurant.  She is a wealthy widow more interested in the people she serves than in building a huge business.  Her stepson and his wife have been having wine and food tasting events to promote the business.  The wife is a witch, spelled more correctly with a "b."

One evening a tourist couple, a man presenting himself as a sort of jaded world traveler, and Aunty Lee's sister-in-law show up.  Another woman who was supposed to help has texted to say she won't be there.  Later, during dessert, a young American woman shows up in a panic because she can't find her friend or the other woman who didn't show up that evening.  Meanwhile, a body has been found on a beach and no one knows who she is.

Aunty Lee loves a good mystery so right away she sticks her eccentric little nose into everyone's business to solve this one.  And solve it she does, but only after lots of red herrings and taking food along to insinuate herself into the right situations to get information.  Her employee Nina goes along with her and, since no one notices a lowly serving girl, acts as a spy.

These characters are only a slight exaggeration of people we've all met at one time or another and Aunty Lee is really funny.  There's a cop that she more or less trails in her wake as she investigates the crime.  I'm kind of proud of myself that I figured out who the murderer was and why fairly early, but I still loved following the story.

Now the Giveaway.  I actually have two copies of this lovely book to give to two lucky readers.  I like to keep things simple, so all you have to do to enter the contest is leave a comment at the end of this post saying you want to enter.  The deadline is November 15th, at which time I'll draw two names at random.  I'll need your email address to let the winners know, after which you can send me your address and you'll soon have the book.  Good luck!

Source:  William Morrow Publishers

Sunday, October 20, 2013


This is the biography of Empress Dowager Cixi, the woman who at the age of 12 became a concubine of Emperor Xianfeng which is a great honor even though she was initially only a low level member of his harem. Fortunately for her, she gave birth to the emperor's first son, and was therefore elevated to #2 concubine. She and #1 were both mothers to Cixi's son.

When the emperor died, Cixi and #1 managed a coup which made them regents over the four-year-old new emperor. The two women acted on Cixi's ability to keep her eye on the big picture as she instituted gradual reforms to pull the country out of abject poverty. Later her son died young and she got her sister's young son designated as the heir. Once again Cixi was the regent, keeping China on a steady course toward power, respectability, and prosperity.

Unfortunately that nephew undid much of the good Cixi had accomplished and he mismanaged relations with Japan so badly that the country was once again plunged into dire poverty. Only when he admitted Cixi into negotiations and political dealings did things improve.

Cixi was virtually a prisoner in the emperor's harem most of her life and yet was able to maneuver the men in power to her way of thinking. When they listened to her, China prospered, when they didn't, the country failed. She died in 1908.

The author was born in China, coming to Great Britain in 1978. This is a work based on scholarly research and the book will have footnotes, bibliography, photographs, and an index. However, it is accessible to the general reader. I didn't know anything about her, so I learned not only her story but quite a bit I had forgotten or didn't know about Chinese history. I come away from my reading with a great admiration for Cixi and for the journey China traveled from a closed country to the power it is today.

Highly recommended especially for women's history
Source: Amazon Vine

Thursday, October 17, 2013


The subtitle of Book of Ages, The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, is what drew me to request this book.  Jane was Benjamin Franklin's youngest sister, and as they were close in age they were also close in spirit.  This, however, is a cautionary tale about the differences between them, not in intelligence, but in opportunities.  We know what kind of life Benjamin Franklin lived and of his inventions, diplomacy, writing, and other accomplishments.  Do you know anything about Jane?  No.  And that is simply because she was a woman in the 18th century who was not given the opportunity to rise above the restrictions on women of her time.

I know this book will anger many readers but unfortunately the history is correct.  Jane's life was sad and mostly lived in poverty.  Her brother was kind to her because he loved her so, and also recognized that her mind was capable of great thought.  He tutored her when they were young, but then he left home and there her lessons had to stop.  In future years as she struggled through her marriage to a weak, failure of a man and her almost steady pregnancies, her brother helped her financially and provided her with books.  Reading is probably what saved her sanity through much of her sad life.

This book is thoroughly researched and Lepore seems to feel close to Jane and sympathy toward her situation.  There are appendices, footnotes, and all the scholarly information that support her manuscript.  It is written, though, so that amateurs in women's history and actually general readers  as well can read it with great interest.  Warning - it will make the modern reader angry at the waste of such an intelligent person, and also angry at the lack of help available for her with her children's medical and mental problems.

Recommended, especially for women's history readers
Source:  Amazon Vine

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


This is sort of an odd book.  It's funny in places, especially as it features a bunch of not-so-wise guys from Wilmington, Delaware.  But then it's deadly serious in others, with a family man striving to go straight, and a butcher of a serial killer on the loose in Brooklyn.  You don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Frankie Donovan and Nicky Fusco have been lifelong friends.  They and their families and the other people in their part of Wilmington are close, and when Donovan's father dies, all of them show up for the wake and the funeral, all the women bearing food of course.  Fusco served ten years in prison and has turned his life around for his beloved wife and daughter, and for himself.  Unfortunately, the old friends and neighbors are more likely to remember him as he was before.

Donovan is now a homicide detective in Brooklyn, but when he comes home for his dad's funeral, his presence brings out all the old grudges and suspicions about everyone.  It's like walking on eggs as everyone tries to honor his parents while avoiding offending anyone.  Meanwhile, in Brooklyn there is a serial killer on the loose, one of the worst villains I've read about in years.  Donovan needs to get back to work.  He is delayed because his brother-in-law gets killed, conveniently just after Donovan has tracked him to a bar and beat him up badly.  The law likes Donovan for the murder.

The two plot lines are interesting and so are the characters but for some reason I just couldn't get into this book.  Some of the details were too much of a stretch for me, and some of the characters were more like caricatures of gang leaders and their enforcement types, and the "wise guys."  All in all the book was disappointing, but I can't say it isn't worth reading.

Verdict:  Good, not great
Source:  Partners in Crime Book Tours

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Product DetailsRuin Value is subtitled "A Mystery of the Third Reich."  Actually it is set in Nuremberg in 1945 as the world gathers in that bombed-out city for the Nazi War Crimes Trials.  I had read Jones' earlier book, Time of the Wolf, a thriller set in Vienna, in 2012 so I knew that no one transports his readers to another time, another place better than he does.  I wanted to know what Nuremberg was like in those momentous days, and that's what I got.

It isn't only how real the setting becomes for me as I read though.  He creates believable characters of every sort and there is a plot that is worthy of the setting.  In this book I realized who the killer was early, which isn't normal for me, but that fact only added to the edge of your seat thrill of the story.  There is a serial murderer in the streets of the city, striking every three days, and highlighting the history of the Nazi reign.  The nationalities of the victims are appropriate to that event as well.  We meet black marketers, displaced persons scrabbling to stay alive, Nazi holdouts eager to damage the victors in any way possible, along with the military, the press, the judicial presence - all gathering in one city.

Most of the center of the city is composed of buildings in ruins.  People live where they can, and outsiders there for the trials compete for decent accommodations.  Our hero is an American cop who had been a spy during the war.  He is assigned the task of stopping the killer, and he chooses as his partner a German cop he finds imprisoned.  They are an odd couple but both focused on the same goal.  I liked both of them immensely.  The best developed character though was the killer.  Jones has created a background for this person that lends understanding but still horrifies. 

I see on the back cover that J. Sydney Jones has written two more mysteries, again set in Vienna.  Since he lived there for many years,  these should be just as good as his others.

Highly recommended.
Source:  Open Road Media 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

DARKNESS FIRST by James Hayman

This is, surprisingly enough for me, an e-book.  E-readers have become so ubiquitous that even I have been pulled into the web; not that I like them, but too often that's the only way I can get a title I want.  So, my Kindle is becoming a constant companion.

Darkness First was well worth reading this way.  It is set in Machiasport, Maine, a major factor in my choosing this book.  My husband is from southern Maine and I lived there for several years.  Although this is set in northern Maine, we traveled and camped in various parts of the state so I know the area fairly well.  

I'm happy to report that only once was Hayman unable to resist the corny old jokes about people from Maine answering questions with absolute minimum effort, and their accent (ayuh, that too).  An old codger questioned on a boat at the dock is the stereotypical Downeaster.  On the other hand, our heroine's father, Sheriff Savage, is the real thing.  Look to him for what a real Maine man is like.  Hayman, who lives in Portland, gets it just right.

The story is one of Hayman's McCabe and Savage thrillers, part of the new Witness Imprint from HarperCollins.  

The sheriff's daughter has followed him into law enforcement, currently working in Portland at the Crimes Against People unit.  She grew up in Machiasport though and hasn't been home to see her dad in too long.  When she gets a middle-of-the-night call from him that her lifelong best friend, Dr. Emily Kaplan, has been run over by a car and is severely injured, Maggie Savage immediately heads north.  

The villain has not only injured Emily, he has gruesomely murdered a young woman.  Going by the alias Conor Riordan, he is one of the scariest bad guys I've come across in a long time.  He is a sexual pervert and killing is one outlet for him; this guy gets off on torturing women.  I spent a good deal of the book worrying myself silly for Maggie and Emily.  There is a credible alternate suspect, but it didn't take me long at all to figure out who Mr. Evil was.  As I've said before, I'm not really good at that normally.  It didn't detract from the story at all; getting the goods on him and cornering him were still to come.

As you read this book, you get a feeling for the various types of people who have been born in northern Maine or have settled there.  Hayman has obviously spent some time with these people who are among the most individualistic in the country.  I enjoyed his depiction of that part of that vast and vastly interesting part of our country.

Maggie's younger brother is involved in this story and he too is well drawn as a veteran of the Iraq war with PTSD.  Their loyalty to each other despite his mental problems is invaluable to the investigation and the denouement.  

I can't tell much more of the story without spoilers, so I will just recommend this book.  Even though there is violence and the villain may keep you up a night or two, the writing and the plot are excellent.  If you like character-driven thrillers, this is for you.

Source:  Publisher via Partners in Crime Book Tours

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


First, I have to admit that I've been a Jance fan for many years.  I love her Sheriff Joanna Brady series but I'm just as much a fan of J. P. Beaumont, her Seattle homicide detective.  Earlier this year I read her novella about Beau called Ring in the Dead and if you also read it, you have a kind of head start on characters and locations in Second Watch.  Reading that one isn't necessary before reading this one though.

The novella ended with Beau's wife, Mel Soames, driving him to the hospital to have a double knee replacement.  Second Watch begins there.  Since I was in the hospital part of the time I was reading this book, the part where he is gradually awakening from anesthesia and he's in that weird place where you just don't know for sure what's real and what isn't, I was laughing in empathy.  During the drug-induced dreams post-op Beau is visited by two "ghosts" from his past, both of which send him on an investigation.

The first is the victim in his first murder case as a homicide detective, and while we're at it, that promotion was so sudden as to be positively hinky.  The investigation is intense and pulls skeletons out of many closets.  

The second visitor was his lieutenant in Vietnam.  The guy had loaned him a paperback copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, insisting he read it.  Later the book saved his life when schrapnel dug into the book rather than his chest.  Suddenly Beau is determined to learn more about the guy and the girl Lennie D. had been engaged to.

All of the characters are, as usual for Jance, excellent but one will have you laughing out loud.  Since the doctor won't let Beau go home alone and Mel is out of town on an important case, he hires a nurse his doorman knows.  She is one of those old-fashioned nurses who gives you your marching orders and you had better behave, or else.  It doesn't take Beau long to learn that if he wants to live, he should shut up and do what she says.  You will absolutely love her.

Please read the afterword.  It tells us one reason the characters in this one are obviously created from the heart.  Hint:  the lieutenant was from Bisbee where Jance grew up.

Recommended highly.  Please do read this book.  As they say, you'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll have a wonderful time.  This is one you'll sigh and hold to your heart as you turn the last page.

Source:  publisher via Partners in Crime Book Tours