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Archive for August, 2016

Romance Review – Illusion Town by Jayne Castle

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Illusion Town by Jayne Castle (Jayne Ann Krentz)

Review by Cynthia F. (frazerc)

Whenever a new book by Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle/Amanda Quick comes out, it immediately pops to the top of my ‘MUST READ IMMEDIATELY’ pile because I know I’m going to be entertained. Illusion Town IS entertaining but there are better books in the series. This feels like what I call a ‘bridging’ book – its primary purpose is to lay down threads for books to come. Still, it’s an entertaining read – just not an outstanding one. I am still be looking forward to more sequels!

This is a Harmony world novel, the first in the sub-arc set in Illusion Town. If you’re thinking Las Vegas transported to the Harmony world of ghost hunters and dust bunnies you’d be mostly right. At the heart of Illusion Town are some very unusual alien ruins, ruins that are marked by signs of an ancient cataclysmic event, ruins that leak oddly twisted alien psi and create markedly different sections of the town.

The hero is Elias Coppersmith, yeah, he’s a Coppersmith of Coppersmith Mining – we met them a few books back in The Lost Night and Siren’s Call, not to mention the contemporary Krentz stories of Copper Beach and Dream Eyes. [No you don’t have to have read the others before this one, JAK is very good at dropping any background information you need along the way.] The heroine is Hannah West, an unusual dreamlight talent known as Finder in certain circles as she is VERY good at finding what has gone missing. And of course there is a dust bunny, this one is named Virgil and has a thing for all things edible.

After completing a commission from Elias, Hannah allows herself to be talked into a blind date [blind because all previous communication between them has been via email]. It’s a night both of them would really like to remember since they wake up in bed together with a marriage of convenience license and the remains of a psi-burn buzz… Trying to track the missing evening they start retracing their steps which lead first to a tacky wedding chapel called ‘Enchanted Night’ and then to the ‘minister’ who operates under the name of Elvis. This leads to more steps and more information and more danger and more secrets – you get the drift.

There are several subplots running through this besides the ‘What happened and why did we think getting married was the solution?’ – there’s her priceless legacy, the Midnight Carnival, that everyone wants, there’s her dreamlight skills that someone thinks will be useful in getting in and out of Elias’ Ghost City jobsite, the slimy para-researcher and the genealogist with agendas of their own… There might have been too many plots actually as it seemed a little murky. I’m sure future books will be clearer.

Series:

Harmony World

H00.5 Bridal Jitters

H01 After Dark

H02 After Glow

H03 Ghost Hunter

H04 Silver Master

H05 Dark Light

H06 Obsidian Prey

H07 Midnight Crystal

Harmony World, set on Rainshadow Island

H08 R00.5 Canyons of Night

H09 R01 The Lost Night

H10 R02 Deception Cove

H12 R04 Siren’s Call

Harmony World, set in Illusion Town

H13 IT01 Illusion Town

 

 

 

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Mystery Monday – Murder to Go

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Murder to Go by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (buffalosavage)

The Sloan Guaranty Trust has invested 12 million dollars in Chicken To Go, a home delivery chicken franchiser, when hundreds of their customers are taken ill – with one codger’s death in Elmira, NY – due to product tampering. That is, the Chicken Mexicali was dosed with zinc salt. Our series hero, John Putnam Thatcher of the Sloan bank, unwittingly finds himself with the responsibility of protecting Sloan’s huge investment with a little investigating of the case. He uses the investigation to sidestep another responsibility, however: getting involved in the cut-throat office politics of planning an anniversary reception for a colleague.

Published in the late Sixties, this is the 10th of the 24 Thatcher business mysteries. Lathan gently satirizes company cultures, corporate fads such as mega-mergers, and franchisers, who range from the rich and well-off to people who sunk their life savings and lives into the business. She also deftly describes the range of troublemakers, from those just born to raise to hell to those who fight out of fear of the future and everything else.

Lathen’s portrait of the founder of Chicken To Go is a portrait of a stoic business executive who exercises self-control so his emotions won’t cloud his business acumen and practices negative visualization (identifying the worst thing that can happen and taking measures to stave it off). Thatcher concludes: “Thatcher was beginning to appreciate why Frank Hedstrom had shot to the top in the business world. Understanding money is a rare talent. Understanding people is even rarer. Understanding both is damn near nonexistent.”

Thatcher has the knack for ingratiating himself with all kind of people. So he’s able to put disparate pieces of the puzzle together to arrive at the reveal. Still, he’s rather a funny detective in that he doesn’t do much except talk to people. He doesn’t stir the pot like a Perry Mason does.

The reveal is a little twist on the “gather all the suspects in a room” gambit. Like other Lathen mysteries, the small pool of suspects makes this a little bit easy to figure out, but the prose is so agreeable that I don’t have any qualms recommending this to readers who like old mysteries.

 

 

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Mystery Monday – Murder Charge

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Murder Charge by Wade Miller

Review by Matt B. (buffalosavage)

In this noir thriller from 1950, the Syndicate sends its rep Harry Blue to sunny San Diego to organize the local vice barons. Taking exception to outsiders bringing competition and Eastern ways, the barons greet Harry with shotgun blasts. With the shot-up gangster in hospital, the city cops persuade PI Max Thursday to impersonate the gangster and collect information on the merchants of vice in order to break up their rings of iniquity.

In his travels, Max deals with a diplomatic spiritualist faker, a one-armed WWII veteran gone bad, a Basque thug, and two female troublemakers. Max undergoes both distress and violence.

I know, like time travel stories, impersonation stories cross the border Into Lame Land in terms of plausibility. Plus, the prose in this novel, though always lucid, often feels grey and flat. Making up for these downsides, the action and incidents provide surprise and interest. The rapid pace and jumpy tone will appeal to fans of the noir genre.

Wade Miller was the brand name for the writing team Robert Wade and Bill Miller. They teamed up to write about 30 hard-boiled and adventures stories. They are best known for A Touch of Evil (a great noir movie by Orson Welles) and the wonderfully titled Kitten with a Whip (later made into a movie with Ann Margaret and John Forsythe).

 

 

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Fiction Review – Made in the U.S.A.

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

Made in the U.S.A. by Billie Letts

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

 

Many years ago I read Where the Heart Is and I really enjoyed it.  When I saw Made in the U.S.A. on the shelf, I decided to give it a chance and, once again, Billie Letts didn’t let me down.

Told with the same straight-forward voice as Where the Heart Is, Made in the U.S.A. introduces us to Lutie and Fate McFee.  Children of a ne’er-do-well father who has left them with his girlfriend in Spearfish, South Dakota while he goes to Las Vegas to make his fortune, Lutie and Fate are used to a life with difficulties.  They soon find themselves struggling to take care of themselves in a world where they are at a serious disadvantage with limited resources and support.

When hope is lost and times beyond desperate, enter in a helping hand and support system that seems to be too fantastic and heaven-sent to be real.  A stranger with a way to help and a possible family where Ludie and Fate can finally find a place to belong.  But this stranger has issues of his own that the children don’t understand.

There were some very difficult passages in Made in the U.S.A.; passages that were painful and heartbreaking to read. Children who have been hurt and traumatized due to the actions of those who were meant to protect them leaves them in situations that are precarious, dangerous, and demoralizing.  Made in the U.S.A. is a story about being more than the tragedy of our circumstances.  Heartfelt and powerful, Letts provides a commentary of hope and faith during the darkest of times.

 

 

 

Mystery Monday – Rose’s Last Summer

Monday, August 8th, 2016

Rose’s Last Summer by Margaret Millar

Review by Matt B. (buffalosavage)

A long-forgotten actress is found dead in a family’s garden. The sudden death is officially ruled natural causes, but a small town police chief and a psychiatric social worker feel reservations. The alert reader, thanks to Millar’s skill in inducing misgivings, feels that something is not quite right. Anyway, our qualms focus on the odd personalities and behaviors of the family in whose garden the remains were found. As the pair ask around discreetly they meet a range of other odd people.

Millar is enjoyable to read because her writing – especially the dialogue — is beautiful. Her carefully plotted stories have lots of incidents and surprises. Millar draws characters sharply. She gives nods to social issues and problems in abnormal psychology, such as the psychopathic personality. But she’s skilled at ordinary everyday zaniness too:

. . . Mrs. Cushman, who had arrived late and taken a seat in the back row, assumed she had somehow come to the wrong funeral and she immediately rustled out again to look for the right one.

Malgradi could stand the agony no longer. He slipped out into the corridor. Here he met Mrs. Cushman who had been wandering in and out of rooms finding out a good deal about the embalming business. The experience had unnerved her and left her quite unprepared to cope with this sudden meeting.

‘Eeeee,’ Mrs. Cushman said, and made a frantic beeline for the nearest door, which happened to be that of the chapel. So she didn’t miss Rose’s funeral after all.

In the early 1940s she wrote Craig Rice-type comic mysteries. But by the early 1950s, her humor became less clowning and more witty, coming out of genuine characters and outlandish situations. So, the analogy would be Craig Rice is to The Lucy Show as Margaret Millar is to The Dick Van Dyke Show (I know – I date myself with these references).

Readers that enjoy Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy B. Hughes should try novels by Margaret Millar.

Historical Fiction Review – The Soldier’s Wife

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy

Review by Mirah Welday (mwelday)

I feel like I have been blessed by the book gods lately.  I have been getting my hands on some really great reads!  The Soldier’s Wife was another to add to my list of 5 star books.  And I read it in just one day.

I seem to have an affinity for historical fiction set during World War II.  I am not sure what the attraction is but I imagine it is the pockets of hope and light that emerged during such a dark time.  I like to read about the triumphs in spite of the evil that was attempting to control the world.

The Soldier’s Wife takes us to the island of Guernsey.  The Germans are advancing ever closer to their oasis untouched by the war.  Even though some of their men have left to fight, ladies are still meeting for tea, food is still available, and home gardens are for flowers, not food. However, Guernsey would soon find itself occupied by German forces and bring with them a life that was nothing like the locals had experienced before.  Friendships are tested and the bonds of what hold us together as a human race are frayed but then sewn together again.

The Soldier’s Wife was thought-provoking and sentimental.  Leroy lets the reader see the impact of war through the eyes of three generations of women in one household.  The brutality of war and its impact on their minds and hearts effects them all differently, thus causing tension and even distrust within their household.  But, in the end, Leroy reminds us that in spite of the forces around us, we are all more alike than we are different.

 

 

Mystery Monday Review – Johnny Under Ground

Monday, August 1st, 2016

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Johnny Under Ground by Patricia Moyes

Review by Matt B. (buffalosavage)

The British mystery writer Patricia Moyes created Detective Chief Superintendent Henry Tibbet and his Emmy. Her 19 mysteries appeared between 1959 and 1993.

Johnny Under Ground is based on Moyes’ WWII Royal Air Force experience where she served as a radar operator and flight officer.  Set in 1966, the opening takes Emmy to a reunion of officers served at an airbase in England during the war. Scandal around the sudden demise of a long-dead colleague re-surfaces. When one of the reunited officers ends up murdered, Emmy becomes a prime suspect. All the old comrades in arms, who may or may not have something sinister to hide, turn on Emmy to protect themselves. One thing about these old-timey English mystery writers – they sometimes had a stoical view of the roads to hell people take with their eyes wide open. Kind of grim, but kind of real.

In fact, though, the appeal of Moyes’ Henry and Emmy series offers various attractions. For one, the characters are very English. As an example of the deep English respect for privacy, Emmy realizes that she didn’t even know the name of the boy she loved because everybody during the war used nicknames or last names. For another, their marriage represents a stability in personal relationships that readers like to see. Of course, Henry’s job reassures us that most murders won’t going running around doing in folks like us.

Finally, this mystery lays down smart clues to follow for readers that like puzzles but also turns out as novel of manners with a genuine literary sensibility a la the work of Margery Allingham.