Murder at the Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell (Gilded Newport Mysteries #1)

murder_at_the_breakersEmma Cross, a society reporter and poorer Vanderbilt relation, borders on respectability with her re-styled gowns and a summer cottage inherited from a forward-thinking aunt. It is 1895 and Alice and Cornelius Vanderbilt II are re-opening their summer cottage, The Breakers.

When one of Cornelius’ business associates is murdered and Emma’s brother is arrested, everyone but Emma ignores the possibility of another suspect within the hundreds of guests. Emma winnows down the choices in this rousing who-dunnit, the first of a new series by debut author, Alyssa Maxwell.

Maxwell, a history lover who married into an old Newport family, recreates the dynamic relationships within the Vanderbilt household. The cobblestone streets and beach mansions of Newport become the setting for family intrigues and murder. A subplot introduces Emma’s potential romantic partners if they can match her independence and sense of adventure which frequently get her intro trouble.

Emma must grow into getting out of scrapes on her own if the series reader is to believe in her plausibility as an independent detective. Emma’s investigation will keep you guessing who is responsible for the Murder on the Breakers, all the way to its clever, semi-comical ending.

This review first appeared in the May 2014 issue of The Historical Novel Society. A copy of the book was provided for the purpose of a review.



Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

mr. penumbra

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store.

Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave. (GoodReads)

Book 26 for the year was Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I am ashamed to say, I thought Robin was a woman at first. No, I didn’t look at the back cover flap. I rarely do.

This is a literary novel I probably would’ve ignored if not for it being a recommendation from a co-worker.  To that individual I’d like to say, “bless you, bless you.”

This post is less a review and more of what an absolute geek I am to love this book, and why you’ll love it too.

I want to be a girl and have Clay’s life (except for the whole interested in girls thing).  I would love to work in a 24-hour bookstore that is creepy and sort of out-of-this-world awesome.  I wouldn’t mind the prior experience as a computer programmer.  And visiting Google’s campus = cool, but it’d be better if it was Apple.

And that’s without talking about Clay’s adventure itself, which is the subject of the book.

Maybe it takes a certain kind of geek to understand this book. Sort of a cross-breed between a RP-ing geek, a computer geek, and a book geek mix.  Am I the only one in the room who hits two or more of those categories?  Anybody 3 for 3? (smile)

I thought maybe so.

This is such a peculiar book. It’s hard to pull off first-person and Sloan does it well I think.  I like the consistent internal monologue of Clay’s that just sits there, no quotation marks, italics or underlines.  This is Clay’s book — maybe even the logbook that he uses to keep tabs on the customers at Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore.

Mr. Penumbra is an interesting character. I’m a little disappointed that he’s only human. I wanted him to be some kind of large dwarf or fantastical figure with the key to ultimate knowledge. Something like that. I’d love to spend a day walking around with him though, maybe check out the street cars of SF and hit up some ethnic food place.

And the library!!!!  Oh my gosh!  You have to read it to understand.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore was an absolute surprise. Probably my favorite aspect about this book is the combination of Clay and his friends and their roles in this “quest” which are comparable to D&D characters. I understood some of Clay’s emotions and frustrations, although I wish I was smart at the Kat-level smart. I’m still trying to decide if I’d get my head frozen like Mr. Disney, another Missouri native. Still not sure.

I spent a little bit of time exploring Sloan’s website this week. Check out the original short story this was based on.

There are illustrations.

Illustrations are awesome.

But read the book first — the short story has spoilers!

Let me know what you think. I’m off to my next fantasy adventure with a grad student armed with only a paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice.

Guess where we’re headed next?

April 2014 Status

Total Abandoned Titles:

(1) A Talent For Trouble by Jen Turano (226pp read)

Total Books Finished: 9

Total Page Count: 1,748


Death Rides The Zephyr by Janet Dawson

dawson_deathDecember 1952. Jill McLeod is a Zephyrette, a stewardess on the California Zephyr (CZ), which is making its Christmas run from California to Colorado. Jill hopes for a quiet run until a rock slide forces the train to a standstill, stranding passengers on board with a thief and a killer. As a Zephyrette, Jill has direct access to every passenger aboard, making her the most likely candidate to find the missing loot and discover the crooks’ identities.

Dawson’s extensive research into train life is translated into a moment-by-moment account of life on the CZ, and we are privileged to see every aspect of being a Zephyrette, from dealing with rude customers to the ticket colors used when scheduling luncheon and the dinner hour. The well-detailed nature of the piece does affect the pacing, which at times feels slow, and dampens the suspense of the actual murder, which comes much later than anticipated.

The highlight of the novel is the Vista-Dome experience as we can only imagine it, a pleasure dome with unobstructed views of the Sierra Nevadas, Great Basin, and the Colorado Rockies. Train lovers will love this glimpse of a life spent riding the rails on this unique streamliner that originally operated from its inauguration on March 19, 1949 to its final westbound run from Chicago to Oakland on March 22, 1970.

This review first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of a review.

Anything But Civil by Anna Loan-Wilsey (Hattie Davish Mystery #2)

loan-wilsey_anythingThirty years have passed since the Civil War erupted, and feelings still run deep in the town of Galena, Illinois, where Hattie Davish, a traveling secretary, is assisting Sir Arthur Windom-Greene, her wealthy employer, in the research of a biography. General Cornelius Starrett is the subject, and his quiet Christmas is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of his son, Henry. Henry stirs up long-buried memories of the war, and when he’s found dead, Hattie’s budding Pinkerton-like traits are put to work to uncover the killer. Readers of A Lack of Temperance will appreciate callbacks to Hattie’s previous adventures in Eureka Springs and the reappearance of Dr. Walter Grice. Like the men in Hattie’s life, the reader will find her keen intelligence insightful and her naiveté endearing. Hattie has a plethora of colorful suspects to consider before Christmas Eve, making this a perfectly cozy murder mystery read, just in time for the holidays.

This review first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of a review.

The Edge of the Earth by Christina Schwarz

schwarz_edgeJourney to the wilds of California’s Big Sur region, where secrets are hidden in the dense fog at The Edge of the Earth, the newest book by New York Times bestselling author Schwarz. The stars of this book are the setting and its inhabitants: the isolated Point Lucia Lighthouse, where young, naive socialite Gertrude “Trudy” Swann and her new husband Oskar run away to work and study in 1898. The Crawley family, austere Henry and formidable Mrs. Crawley, and her brother, Archie Johnston, jointly keep up the lighthouse. The Crawley children, Mary, Edward, Nicholas and Jane (who opens and closes the story), are constantly underfoot, and their tales of a “mermaid” quickly reinforce the need for Trudy to take up the role as the lighthouse’s sole teacher. Trudy’s life changes irrevocably when she discovers the secrets of the light station in the caverns below.

The atmospheric Big Sur is a departure from the Midwestern locales of Drowning Ruth andSo Long at the Fair and far more isolated than Los Angeles is in All is Vanity. The oppressive fog that envelops the lighthouse’s rocky outcropping obscures the wilderness beyond, creating an atmosphere that feels as cold, isolating and as removed from civilization as young Trudy comes to experience firsthand. Schwarz harnesses this setting, hides a few family secrets, and slowly unveils them with a steady amount of suspense, but the pacing could be quicker. The juxtaposition of innocence and corruption is telling and may be off-putting to readers who prefer lighter fare. Fans of Schwarz’s previous novels will quickly recognize her signature approach of delving into the human spirit as Trudy and Oskar take divergent paths to achieving the desires of their hearts.

This review first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of a review.

Angelopolis by Danielle Trussoni (Angelology #2)

trussoni_angelopolisTen years after the Times Square incident, Verlaine has become a lethal angelologist, a hunter, but is haunted by his lost love, Evangeline. A chance encounter before Evangeline is kidnapped leaves Verlaine with an exquisite clue to a mystery touching upon the Romanov Dynasty and the seeds of ancient civilization. While he pursues Evangeline’s captors, Verlaine begins to unravel a secret that could ensure the destruction of all Nephilim.

Angelopolis, the sequel to Danielle Trussoni’s New York Times bestseller, Angelology, is an exhilarating chase as modern angelologists pursue the Grigori family and a warrior class angel from the rooftops of Paris to the Trans-Siberian Railway and an island along the Black Sea. Trussoni interweaves historical figures like John Dee and Rasputin with familiar Biblical stories including the Annunciation and the Deluge.

The decade gap between books glosses over the development of Verlaine’s abilities and readers may find some of his decisions to be out of character from the academic introduced in Angelology. Where Angelology introduced readers to Trussoni’s alternate history, Angelopolis thrusts us deeper into the heart of angelic origins, the fate of the Watchers, and a final confrontation between humans and angels, which Trussoni, perhaps, might call an Angelgeddon.

This review first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Historical Novel Review. I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of a review.

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson #3)

briggs_ironkissedThe term “Iron Kissed” is Mercy’s word for describing Zee, a Gremlin who isn’t really a gremlin because the term was invented only about a couple of hundred years ago and Zee is a LOT older than that.  Mercy bent the rules and used a borrowed fae item twice in Blood Bound and Uncle Mike and Zee need a non-magical person to investigate the scene so they call in a favor.  During the investigation, Mercy finds herself and her friends endangered by her nose and the company she keeps.

[spoiler]Zee is found at one of the crime scenes with blood on his hands and is charged with murder.[/spoiler]

Nobody threatens Mercy’s friends without her having a say in it and it’s up to Mercy to face the Grey Lords, the fae community, and some fae-hating political groupies to find the true killer before someone offs her friends.

I love the incorporation of German in the fae’s speech and the connection between the original folklore and stories like the Brothers Grimm with the worldbuilding that Briggs has created.  Lovely!  The transition between normal to extraordinary is so seamless, you step with Mercy into Underhill and back again and I could almost smell the sea.  Briggs worldbuilding again leaves me wishing there really were an Underhill to travel to, if I could just avoid the selkies.

For those readers following along with the Mercy Thompson books, what is your favorite type of non-human character so far?  Who would you want to be?  Where would you like to travel to?

Grab a cuppa and let’s chat about it!

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson #2)

Blood-Bound-184x3001Mercy is back in Book 2 of the Mercy Thompson series by paranormal fiction writer Patricia Briggs.  

What absolutely draws me into these books is the world that Briggs has created.  It feels real.  Half of me wants to take a trip up to the Tri-Cities to meet the werewolves, but maybe not the vampires.  Great sense of mystery and the story keeps you turning the pages.  I’ve snuck reading time in on the road, in bed, and almost everywhere in between.  Except church. I can’t bring myself to read paranormal romances during church.

I’m also a sucker for romances and there’s plenty of that kind of tension too.  Briggs tastefully deals with the love triangle (or is it quadrangle?) with Mercy by making her the kind of girl not to rush into things.  She doesn’t want to be hurt the way she has been abandoned by her parents.  I adore this series by Patricia Briggs and I strongly recommend you check these out if you enjoy paranormal fiction.  Check them out and let me know your thoughts.

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson #1)

briggs_mooncalledPatricia Briggs introduces us to an alternate universe where werewolves and witches, shapeshifters, fey and vampires live largely unnoticed by humans. In the Tri-Cities area, Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson is a bad-ass mechanic who has connections to several magical beings but she tries to keep a low-profile. She’s a “walker” which means she’s a shapeshifter (into a coyote).

Fans of Twilight and the Vampire Diaries will love this book. It’s a must-read for Urban Fiction readers. This was a can’t-put-it-down novel for me. It kept me excited and plugged into the characters from the first page. The book has a great rhythm. Given that it’s the first in a long series, we don’t get too in-depth into the characters but Briggs gives us enough to show that the characters are complex and they engage our interest.

Some of the colorful characters include Zee, a gremlin; Bran, the Marrok (the head Alpha over all other packs); his sons Charles and Samuel; and Stefan Uccello, a vampire and member of the area seethe (vampire group). There’s also her sexy neighbor, Adam Hauptman, who is the Alpha of the werewolf pack in the area and his daughter, Jesse.

The second book in the “Mercy Thompson” series is entitled Blood Bound. Expect a review as soon as I can get my hands on it. Have an awesome Friday folks!

The Phantom of Pemberley by Regina Jeffers (Pride and Prejudice Murder Mystery #1)

jeffers_phantomThis was a difficult book for me to read as my first foray into the Jane Austen/Regency mystery genre.   Although only 409 pages long, I found the mystery format difficult to embrace.  The traditional whodunit format of investigator questioning and answering that I associate with mysteries was not present until the last 50 pages or so of the book.  Prior to this, the deaths seemed to be unrelated and left me with many questions about the perpetrator(s) involved and their motives.

Then there was the sex.

Like most Darcy/Elizabeth sequels, the sexual tension that existed in Pride and Prejudice is replaced by the intimate relations between husband and wife. Jeffers spares the reader from a too-detailed description, generalizing and in some cases, taking the event off-stage at the beginning. Later, we become voyeurs watching as their coupling is described in more details by the villain(s)’ perspective.

Anyone reading a book entitled The Phantom of Pemberley should be familiar, if not an ardent admirer, of Pride and Prejudice.  So, it came as somewhat of a surprise that Ms. Jeffers chose to include original passages (with some changes to the text) in italics so the reader might re-live pivotal moments in Austen’s book.

There are several sub-plots in this book, notably, the blossoming of Georgiana Darcy under Elizabeth’s wing; an elopement gone awry that thrusts Anne de Bourg out from her mother’s grasp; Lydia Wickham’s irrepressible, unforgivable flirtation with men (and trouble with her husband’s wayward eye); to name a few.

One criticism I have of the book is the lack of characters from Meryton, Kent and Longbourn. Other than Lady Catherine and her daughter, Anne, and Mrs. Jenkinson, we see nothing of the Collinses, or the Bennets, or even the Bingleys. This was a disappointment.

The actual climax of the book has several ‘false endings’ and while the questions you are left with do tidy themselves up, I finished the book feeling less than satisfied.  That said, I do not often read mysteries and perhaps it is not my forte.

If any of you readers IS a mystery reader, I invite you to check this book out for yourselves and please, write back and let me know what you thought of it.  I’d love to hear other perspectives on this work.  Thank you.