Category Archives: Book Reviews

Fantastic Mystery Series

Two fantastic mystery series that I find engaging are the Barker and Llewelyn series by Will Thomas (Some Danger Involved) and the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs). These first books in each series take place in London.

fantastic mystery seriesCyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn live in Victorian London at about the same time as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson. Barker, an independent enquiry agent, hires Llewelyn as his assistant. Baker and Llewelyn share lodgings like Holmes and Watson do. Although there is more of an age difference between Barker and Llewelyn than between Holmes and Watson, both Barker and Holmes act as mentors to their associates. Although Llewelyn is the junior partner, he is given more agency to help in the case than Watson. Like Watson, Llewelyn is the chronicler and narrator of the stories and novels.

fantastic mystery seriesMaisie Dobbs grows up in Edwardian London at the beginning of the 20th century. She serves as a nurse during the First World War and begins her detective agency in London between the World Wars. Dobbs initially works at her agency alone. But Maurice Blanche, a friend of her previous employer, serves as a behind-the-scenes mentor.

Both series give insight into London before and after the turn of the 20th century. The first book in the Maisie Dobbs series denotes the effect of the First World War on England. In the Barker and Llewelyn series, detection is definitely a man’s world. Maisie Dobbs sets the record straight. She is portrayed as an independent woman as capable of deductive reasoning as men.

These fantastic mystery series will keep you reading for some time to come.

Some Danger Involved
by Will Thomas
© 2004
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Maisie Dobbs
by Jacqueline Winspear
© 2003
Soho Press

Sherlock Holmes – Consulting Detective

Being a fan of almost everything in print regarding Sherlock Holmes, I read up on my favorite fictional character recently. The following works prove that the world’s best-known consulting detective is still plying his trade, hints at his retirement to beekeeping on the Sussex Downs notwithstanding.

Sherlock Holmes best-known consulting detectiveSherlock Holmes - best-known consulting detective

 

 

 

 

 

Murder in Baker Street: New Tales of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower, is an anthology of short stories. Set in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle’s (ACD) Holmes oeuvre, the stories zip along at a hansom cab’s pace. Master mystery writers such as Anne Perry, Loren Estleman and Edward D. Hoch are represented.

Resurrected Holmes: New Cases from the Notes of John H. Watson, M.D., edited by Marvin Kaye, is another anthology of short stories by modern-day writers. These stories stem from cases mentioned in passing by Dr. Watson in ACD’s original canon, but which were never given their own complete story.

Brief essays rather than stories provide facts and insights about ACD, Watson and Holmes in The Bedside Companion to Sherlock Holmes: A Unique Guide to the World’s Most Famous Detective, by Dick Riley and Pam McAllister. Included are numerous illustrations, both original and modern-day, plus facts about Victorian London where Holmes and Watson lived. Various stage, screen and TV adaptations of the original canon round out this offering.

Finally, Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography, by Nick Rennison, gathers details of Holmes’ life embedded in ACD’s stories, expands on them, and places them in perspective with the history of Victorian England. From Holmes’ interaction with Professor Moriarty and his criminal underworld to Holmes’ undercover work finding Jack the Ripper, this book posits many new details in the life of the world’s most famous consulting detective.

Great reading for any Sherlock Holmes fan.

Chet and Bernie – Investigative Duo

Chet and Bernie - Investigative DuoBernie Little, a private investigator, and Chet, his dog, make an appealing investigative duo. Chet, the narrator of Dog on It, by Spencer Quinn, implies that the brains of this duo doesn’t always walk on two legs. He considers himself an equal partner with Bernie.

Bernie and Chet search for a smart, pretty teenager in this. their first recorded case. Is she just a runaway as her divorced father insists? Or is it something more sinister like kidnapping? In the heat of the case, the kidnappers wallop Chet and kidnap him, too. He ends up in an animal shelter staring down a technician who’s about to euthanize him. How can Chet get home to Bernie and tell him the case is virtually solved?

Spencer Quinn created a smart, believable and likeable narrator in Chet. Since dogs feature prominently in everything from Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang to W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans, Chet is in good company. Indeed, Chet’s intelligence and persistence keep Bernie on track more than once. Chet and Bernie insinuate their way into your life with their tough-guy exteriors and good-guy hearts. Cue up the next book in the series about Chet and Bernie, investigative duo par excellence.

Dog on It
©2009 Spencer Quinn
Atria Books

Beware the Spider – a moving read

Beware the SpiderHang on, Beware the Spider by David L. Haase, moves like a speeding train. As in the first novel, nature photographer Sebastian Arnett still searches for a way to rid himself of Empaya Iba, the Bornean spider spirit which has become his familiar. Again, Arnett goes back to Borneo, this time via Australia. An Australian aboriginal spirit and a secret Chinese agent have other plans for Arnett.

Fireworks erupt when Arnett fights off an aboriginal spirit, gets caught in a typhoon-like storm in Borneo and hitches a ride atop a moving train in the American Rockies. As in the first book, various efforts to help come from Jimmy Beam (an Australian undercover intelligence operative), Mike Owens and others in the U.S. military who attempt to keep tabs on Arnett, Pony That Sees Far, a Native American medicine man (or Joe as Arnett thinks of him), Tom Kingston (or T, to his friends), and Amanda Cox Campion (Arnett’s love interest).

Great Addition to Series

Beware the Spider is a great addition to Haase’s Black Orchid Chronicles, a supernatural/magical realism series. (See my review of The Mark of the Spider, the first book in the series.) The pacing is quick and even, an improvement over the first book in the series. Arnett and Tom Kingston (son of Campion’s ex-husband) begin to form a closer relationship throughout the book and come to rely on each other for safety. Also, we learn that Amanda Campion is always well dressed, even in the wilds of the Borneo jungle. But well-pressed pants with knife-sharp creases in the humid jungle? Hmm, maybe.

A very engaging read. I look forward to reading the next installment and learning the ongoing fate of Arnett, Campion and Kingston.

The author gave me a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Otherwise, I have no ties or interaction with the author.

Beware the Spider
© 2019 by David L. Haase
C. Lawrence Publishing

Life-and-Death Decisions

Life or Death Decisions in the Canadian PrairiesLURE by Jeff Marschall (© 2019) begins on an interesting, fast-paced note. Dr. John Mueller is an intern doing a research project at a university lab in somewhat remote Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Mueller is bored with the dark, cold winter weather as well as his minor research project. His outlook abruptly changes as two supposed “agents” of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration accost Dr. David Devilliers, Mueller’s lab director, and demand that Devilliers turn over his cancer research. Mueller witnesses the altercation, takes Devilliers’ laptop and escapes with it, with the bogus agents in hot pursuit. Life-and-death decisions could result.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book does not maintain the fast pace. A close third-person narration that follows Mueller as the protagonist dominates LURE and effectively crimps the story’s style. For most of the book, the reader is subject to Mueller’s uncertainty and indecisiveness about what to do with Devilliers’ research. Such flip-flopping indecision creates an all-too-human, but unsympathetic protagonist.

In addition, women in Mueller’s life are rather stereotypical. Stephanie, Mueller’s ex-girlfriend, exhibits self-centered, egotistical attitudes. “Stephanie had natural presence and loved attention.” “She always wore jewelry…She could talk passionately and knowledgeably about amber, pearls, the many varieties of agate and jasper, and more that he couldn’t remember.” “She was always very careful about her appearance.” Signs of expensive tastes? When having a few drinks during a meeting with Stephanie later in the book, Mueller notices, “Stephanie wasn’t far behind, although she was definitely more accustomed to drinking wine; he suspected her tolerance was quite a bit higher than his, despite his greater body mass.” Signs of a drinking problem for Stephanie? Even Mueller’s mother is stereotypical. “When he got home, his mother was there, standing in her spotless kitchen, quivering with curiosity.”

Population Expansion, Life-and-death Decisions

On the positive side, Marschall takes on hot, current social topics such as population expansion and, to a lesser degree, climate change. (Population expansion comes up because Dr. Devilliers’ research involves a cure for cancer and, thus, a longer life expectancy for some people.) Conversations with some of the folks wanting to steal Devilliers’ research highlight Mueller’s indecisiveness. The reader is never certain what Mueller’s definitive opinion is about these topics. Who gets to decide who lives and dies by withholding medical cures, among other means? Unless readers take the final actions of Mueller and new girlfriend, Julie, as an answer. One that involves a seeming lack of remorse and a good helping of current-state capitalism. (The movie, Avengers: Infinity War, in its way, also looks at population control on a universal scale.)

I received a free copy from the author to give my honest opinion.

Autism and Sex-trafficking

Novel about autism and sex-traffickingTrue Mercy by Idelle Kursman is a page-turning thriller. Marina, kidnapped from her native Moldova by a sex-trafficking ring, escapes once she and her captors land by ship in America. While running from her captors, Marina meets Adam Hutchins, an 18-year-old who happens to have autism. Taken in by Adam and his father, Bruce, the rest of the plot revolves around Marina’s attempt to evade recapture by Igor, one of the kidnappers.

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Foodie Memoir – Save Me the Plums

Foodie Memoir - Save Me the PlumsI just finished reading Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl, one-time editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. She steered the magazine for about 10 years, up until they closed it about 10 years ago now, I think.This foodie memoir is fantastic, quick paced and easy to read. It takes you inside the monied, glitzy world of Condé Nast  (not sure if it’s still that way, more bean counters now, I assume) and upper-crust, white-tableclothed restaurants. While at Condé Nast, Reichl got limo service and a clothing allowance….

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Short and Sweet-Short Literature Pro Market

Short and Sweet reference book for writersDo you write short fiction, nonfiction or articles? Want to get paid? If so, Short Literature Pro Market 2019 by TC Michael is your go-to reference for getting your short and sweet writing out into the world. With more than 170 listings, this reference book covers a lot of ground.

Short Literature Pro Market 2019 consolidates the information needed to approach markets that pay for articles and short stories. This reference work covers Continue reading

More Murder and Mayhem

More murder and mayhem are on tap. Some of us are always on the lookout for the next great mystery read. Whether you like Golden Age mysteries, cozies, or something more modern or hardboiled, here are a book and a few websites that can help you to get your fix.

MYSTERY AND MAYHEM IN PRINT

Whodunnit - More Murder and Mayhem DescribedWhodunit? A Who’s Who in Crime & Mystery Writing
Edited by Rosemary Herbert
© 2003

An enlightening and entertaining information compendium on hundreds of classic and contemporary characters who populate the mysteries we love to read and the authors who created them. Are academic sleuths like Amanda Cross’s Kate Fansler your thing? How about sharp-tongued narrators or sidekicks like Archie Goodwin in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series? What about Ian Rankin’s noir offerings? As Dennis Lehane says in the Preface, “Rosemary Herbert has gone to great pains to compile a compendium of not only the elder statesmen and stateswomen…of crime fiction history, but also the new blood…”

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Love Gone Savage – Gripping Love Poems

Love Gone Savage by Shana Marlayna ChowLove Gone Savage
By Shana Marlayna Chow
© 2013-2017
Published March 2017

The poems in Love Gone Savage by Shana Marlayna Chow grip you in a vice. From the instant you begin reading they pull you into a world of love, trust, distrust and brokenness on the one hand and optimism and perseverance on the other. These poems are not about cooing and infatuation, but about love somehow gone awry.

Her poetry stands on its own but is as clear and intense in vision as the love poems of Pablo Neruda, Ted Kooser (see especially his book, Valentines © 2008) and various poems of Rumi. Although Chow’s vision may sometimes seem harsh, it reverberates today when love may never feel like a sure thing—the search for a soulmate by a passionate, independent woman. But a sense of purpose and confidence shines through the poems that on the surface seem only to reflect a sense of emptiness and the pessimism of another broken affair.

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