Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cause to Kill by Blake Pierce


Synopsis From Publisher: 

Homicide Detective Avery Black has been through hell. Once a top criminal defense attorney, she fell from grace when she managed to get a brilliant Harvard professor off—only to watch him kill again. She lost her husband and her daughter, and her life fell apart around her.
Trying to redeem herself, Avery has turned to the other side of the law. Working her way up the ranks, she has reached Homicide Detective, to the scorn of her fellow officers, who still remember what she did, and who will always hate her.
Yet even they cannot deny Avery’s brilliant mind, and when a disturbing serial killer strikes fear into the heart of Boston, killing girls from elite colleges, it is Avery that they turn to. It is Avery’s chance to prove herself, to finally find the redemption she craves. And yet, as she is soon to find out, Avery has come up against a killer as brilliant and daring as she.
I'm not normally a fan of self published books. I actually tend to stay as far away from them as I can, but when this one popped up on my radar, I was intrigued by the synopsis, and absolutely in love with the cover. It was free, so I had nothing to lose. Once I downloaded it, it sat on my Nook for a week or two, then with nothing else to do, I opened it up, and I was a goner from that point forward.
In many ways Avery is the stereotypical fictional homicide detective. She is married to the job, to the extreme detriment of her family. She has a a painful and traumatic childhood, chock-full of despair and secrets. She is a deeply flawed character, driven to prove herself better than those around her, and determined to leave her past behind. But despite all the stereotypical attributes, she is complex in nature and three dimensional in scope. Truthfully, at this point in time, I'm not even sure I like her all that much, but I'm not so sure I need to. She can hold her own with some of the best fictional detectives out there, and she is the detective that this story requires.
The supporting characters are just as important to the overall feel of the book. Some of a little more developed than others, but I'm sure that they, along with Avery, will continue to grow as the series goes forward.  
As for the mystery itself, I was pulled in right away. To be perfectly frank, not only do I normally pass on self published books, I'm rarely sucked in by serial killer narratives. I've always considered them to be a little cliché, and to a large extent unoriginal. I don't know if it's the imaginative motive behind the killings, the tension level that the author so expertly maintained throughout the entire story, or the complexities of Avery’s character that hooked me from the start, but I was enthralled from the get go. The few quibbles I had with the overall story were few, and they never interrupted my willing suspension of disbelief. This was a tension filled, expertly crafted mystery that has me rethinking some of my more snobbish tendencies.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Favorite Fictional Character --- Apollo Adama

To be perfectly frank, I was only 13 months old when Battlestar Galactica first aired.  Since it only lasted one season, I'm assuming not many people watched it, which is just damn stupid. Thanks to reruns, which seemed to happen a lot more often when I was a kid, I was able to enjoy all twenty-four epsidoes in all their glory. I was able to get lost in a story that pitted the last remaining humans, against merciless Cyclons bent on their eradication. It was space opera at its best, and I loved every second of it. The strangest thing, I have never been a huge fan of science fiction, but there is something about this show that has never left me.

My favorite character, by far, was Captain Apollo. There was nothing abut this guy a young kid wouldn't have looked up to. He had a swagger all his own, but never took himself too seriously. He had a sharp mind, but knew how to enjoy himself. He was loyal, brave, fearless in danger, took risks when he needed to, but nevery acted recklessly without thought and consideration.

He was fiercely protective of those he loved, and had faced tragedy on so many levels. He lost his brother to a Cylon attack, his mother to another Cyclon attack, and his newly married wife Serina to a third attack. After her death, he steps up and adopts her son, becoming a single father. He was killed in action, only to be revived by the Beings of Light. He took care of his squadron members, backed his best friend Starbuck up when needed, and never thought of himself over others. He is the perfect hero, which at times can be pretty damn boring, but when you are constantly fighting for the salvation of the human race, stagnation never sets in.

Of course it helped that the actor who played Apollo, Richard Hatch, was hot, which resulted in a huge childhood crush. But that's not as important as the role he played on the show, and his overall influence on pop culture.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Had She but Known by Charlotte MacLeod


Synopsis From Publisher: 

In the decades since her death in 1958, master storyteller Mary Roberts Rinehart has often been compared to Agatha Christie. But while Rinehart was once a household name, today she is largely forgotten. The woman who first proclaimed “the butler did it” was writing for publication years before Christie’s work saw the light of day. She also practiced nursing, became a war correspondent, and wrote a novel—The Bat—that inspired Bob Kane’s creation of Batman.

Born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, before it was absorbed into Pittsburgh, and raised in a close-knit Presbyterian family, Mary Roberts was at once a girl of her time—dutiful, God-fearing, loyal—and a quietly rebellious spirit. For every hour she spent cooking, cleaning, or sewing at her mother’s behest while her “frail” younger sister had fun, Mary eked out her own moments of planning, dreaming, and writing. But becoming an author wasn’t on her radar . . . yet.

Bestselling mystery writer Charlotte MacLeod grew up on Rinehart’s artfully crafted novels, such as the enormously successful The Circular Staircase—“cozies” before the concept existed. After years of seeing Christie celebrated and Rinehart overlooked, MacLeod realized that it was time to delve into how this seemingly ordinary woman became a sensation whose work would grace print, stage, and screen. From Rinehart’s grueling training as a nurse and her wartime interviews with a young Winston Churchill and Queen Mary to her involvement with the Blackfoot Indians and her work as doctor’s wife, mother of three, playwright, serialist, and novelist, this is the unforgettable story of America’s Grande Dame of Mystery.   


I don't think it will come as a surprise that when a friend of mine pointed out a cheap copy of this book, that I jumped at the chance to read a biography of Mary Roberts Rinehart. For those of you who don't know, next to Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart is my second favorite mystery writer of all time. I never heard of her until Yvette of in so many words... did a review of The Circular Staircase. While reading her review, the plot sounded really familiar to me, and I quickly learned that one of my favorite movies, The Bat starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, was actually based off of a Rinehart novel. Actually, the movie is an adaptation of the The Bat, which was a novelization of a play of the same name, which was actually based off of The Circular Staircase. After that little discovery, I was hooked. I've since read and reviewed twenty-three of her books, and while I like some more than others, I would take them all over a lot of the "cozy" stuff being written today.

When I first started to delve into Had She But Known, which by the way is named after a major plot device used by Rinehart, I wasn't sure I was going to like it. The affection and admiration Charlotte MacLeod had for her subject was obvious from the start, almost too obvious. I understand that, for the most part, if someone is going to take the time to write a biography of someone else, that they are going to have to respect the subject, otherwise the writing would be a horrible experience. However, there should also be distance and objectivity between the writer and the subject, otherwise it can cloud the information coming across. If I can't trust you to be objective, how can I trust the information being given?  Her admiration comes across too much, especially in the beginning, and just could have done without her commenting on the worth of individual Rinehart books. The language got too flowery and flattering at times, but thankfully I plowed through and I ended up loving the book.

What saved it for me was my own love for the subject. This is a writer whose work I enjoy so much, how could I not love exploring her life in far more detail than I ever had before. And what I discovered only heightened that admiration. From the way she handled herself as an overseas war correspondent during WWI, to the scrappy determination to do whatever it took to take care of her husband and three sons, I discovered a woman worthy of the admiration and respect Charlotte MacLeod so obviously heaped on her. It was interesting to read how some of my favorite novels came about, even the ones MacLeod didn't share my views of. It's hard to believe the speed at which some of these had been written, given the complexities of the plots.

Mary Roberts Rinehart became a household name in her day. From her exploits with Theodore Roosevelt, to her advocating for Indigenous tribes, to becoming one of the highest paid authors of her time, she did everything with a style all her own, and I wish that she somehow regains the popularity she enjoyed so long ago.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen


Synopsis From Back Cover:

Caught between my high birth and empty purse, I am relieved to receive a new assignment from the queen. The king's youngest son, George, is to wed Princess Marina of Greece, and I shall be her companion, showing her the best of London - and dispelling any rumors about George's libertine history.

George is known for his many affairs with women as well as men - including the great songwriter Noel Coward. But things truly get complicated when one of his supposed mistresses is murdered.

The queen wants the whole murder hushed. But as the case unfolds - and my beau, Darcy, turns up in the most unlikely of places, as always- our investigation brings us precariously  close to the Prince himself.

It's with a heavy heart that I'm writing this review. I love Lady Georgiana. I've highlighted her in a Favorite Fictional Character post, and I truly want her to be happy with Darcy, but as of tonight, I'm doomed to never find out if that wish comes true. Malice at the Palace may be the ninth book in an ongoing series, but it's my last.

The one note side characters that have been annoying me for a while, actually improved in this book, but not by much. Queenie still needs to disappear for good, but Belinda won back some of my sympathy. Georgie's common grandfather, and her aristocratic brother and sister-in-law all made reappearances, and I was happy to see them.  They haven't been around much, so they hadn't been getting on my nerves. Darcy is still as dashing and charming as ever, and everytime he's on the scene, I grow just a tad bit jealous of Georgie for hooking him. Sadly, this isn't enough for me to continue with the series. Overall, her charcters are one note caricatures, and no improvement in this area is enough to make up for my real issue with this series.

I am absolutely done with the author's homophobic attitude. She treats gay and bisexual men as jokes. For nine frickin books I've been patiently dealing with it for Georgie's sake. I prayed that her treatment of them would improve, but it's only gotten worse. Every single gay or bisexual man is portrayed as either someone to pity, someone to scorn, the butt of a joke, a manipulator looking for a wife to hide his gayness behind, a money hungry twink, and now a full fledged murderer.  The poor guy is being blackmailed, so he decides to kill his oppressor, not that I blame him, but come on already. Naturally when Georgie stumbles upon the solution, he tries to take her out, but is summarily pushed down the stairs to his death, by ghosts of all things. I liked the guy, he was an interesting character, and we knew nothing about his sexuality until the end.  He didn't deserve the treatment he got.

The authors attitude almost seems pathological and deliberate in nature. Over the course of nine books, there is not a single gay or bisexual male character that breaks the mold I mentioned before. The author seems obsessed with gay and bisexual men, as they appear in every one of the nine books. But why are none of them not somehow portrayed in the manner I listed earlier. Of course I could be over thinking this. Maybe it's simply that she can't write characters, outside of Georgie and Darcy, that are more complicated than a paperdoll. Her other side characters are one dimensional stereotypes, so why should gay and bisexual men be any different.

Either way, I'm over it. I'm going to miss Georgie and Darcy, and I'm sad I'll never see them married.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Favorite Fictional Character --- Helen Roper


It's March 15th, 1977 and I'm exactly 7 months old. Jimmy Carter is in the White House, Evergreen (Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born’) by Barbara Streisand is the number one song on the charts, Joe Hahn of Linkin Park was born, it had been exactly 2,021 years since the assassination of Julius Caesar, and Three's Company made its broadcast debut.

To be perfectly frank, I'm not a huge fan of the show. I didn't understand a lot of the humor when I was a kid, and I find the gay for laughs thing rather offensive as an adult. The one redeeming factor for me is the caftan wearing, sex starved character of Helen Roper, played by the amazing Audra Lindley.


Helen is the neglected wife of the building's landlord, Stanley Roper. I'm not going to pretend that she doesn't have her faults, because some of the things she says to him can be pretty mean. But, much like Endora from Bewitched and Mona from Who's the Boss, Helen has a style and wit that while it can be caustic at times, has nothing but affection behind it. She takes the three "kids" under her wing, and acts like a second mother to them. Granted it's not the normal kind of mothering we expect in sitcoms, but it's love all the same. 

I'm not sure I could take Helen in large doses, but I would love to have her as a neighbor. I bet she is the kind of person I would love to hang out with occasionally, drinking a few margaritas and gossiping up a storm. I think she is the kind of person who's advise I would actually listen to, as long as I filtered it first. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Red Hook by Gabriel Cohen


Synopsis From Publisher:

Unlike the other members of the elite Brooklyn South Homicide Task Force, Detective Jack Leightner prefers his murders baffling. He likes to lose himself in tough cases, and he just caught a murder that will consume him like no other: an unidentified body, bound execution style, on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.

Leightner is finishing his first look at the corpse when he discovers a knife wound and loses his lunch. He has seen a thousand dead bodies, but nothing brings back bad memories like death by knife.

The victim was a hardworking Dominican man with a family, a job, and no ties to the underworld. Investigating this murder will Auckland Leightner back into Red Hook, the neighborhood of his youth - now a labyrinth of empty docks and crumbling housing projects. It's a tough case, but not half as hard as going home.

I'm half way convinced that in order to be a fictional homicide detective, you are not allowed to be a well adjusted, happy person. You have to have painful secrets in your past you refuse to talk about. You have to be distant and socially awkward with your family. You have to have no skills in love, and live a stoic life revolving around your career. As a mystery fan, it makes great reading, but I'm always feeling bad for these characters.

I, through a twist of fate, reviewed the second book in this series, The Graving Dock, back in 2011. I fell in love with Jack back then, but for whatever reason it's taken me this long to get the first book reviewed. It was interesting to see how truly damaged Jack is in the beginning, and how far he had come in The Graving Dock. He is carrying a horrible secret about how his younger brother was killed when they were kids. He has a painfully uncomfortable relationship with his grown son. He has a woman he sees, and I mean has sex with, but from what I can tell they don't actually like each other. He is not a happy man, and he's drowning it with alcohol. I think he is a man of his generation.

In Red Hook, the author not only introduced one of my favorite homicide detectives, he proves his skill in creating a world for Jack to shine in. The city of New York, the borough of Brooklyn, and the Red Hook neighborhood are living, visceral characters unto themselves. Jack would not exist if it wasn't for where he lives. This would not be a character that could be shifted to Chicago or St. Louis. The setting runs through Jack's veins, and he would cease to exist otherwise. The author writes in such a way that I thoroughly enjoy as a reader. He brings the location to life. As a reader, you are able to walk the streets with the characters, seeing the landscape through their eyes.

He crafts the mystery the same way.  It's tactile and tangible. He allows the reader to experience the horror and pain through Jack. He builds the suspense, all the while instilling the need to solve the case in our gut, just as strongly as it resides in Jack's. It's something I don't experience in a lot of mystery fiction, but when I do it stays with me. Don't get me wrong, I'm always curious to see the outcome of a case, but I rarely feel a need for solve it myself.

Friday, July 7, 2017

My Favorite Reads of 2016 (Really, Really Late)


Since I wasn't blogging at the beginning of the year, I never got to do a recap of my favorite reads of 2016. I was just going to let it go, but I have decided that I really want one last chance to convince someone, anyone to read the books that I fell in love with last year. To make it easier, I'm only including books I reviewed, and only books that were not rereads. This is going to be a fairly short list, mainly because I didn't review the vast majority of books I read last year. 

So here are my favorites:


Security by Gina Wohlsdorf


Final Admission by Sue Brown


The Children's Home by Charles Lambert 




Manhattan Mayhem edited by Mary Higgins Clark


Frog by Mary Calmes


The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker