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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review - Dying on the Vine

The first forensic science mystery series, Gideon Oliver's debut was in 1982.  This series began before forensics or anthropology were cool in mysteries.  Aaron Elkins has won an Edgar for "Old Bones", as well as a subsequent Agatha (with wife Charlotte), and a Nero Wolfe Award.  Check out his recent novel in this weeks review.   Incidentally, this is the final book in the Gideon Oliver mysteries.

Author: Aaron Elkins

Copyright: December 2012 (Berkley) 294 pgs

Series: 18th in Gideon Oliver Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Police Procedural, traditional

Main Characters: Forensics professor Gideon Oliver, know as the Skeleton Detective

Setting: Modern day, Florence and Tuscany Italy

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Gideon Oliver and his wife, Julie, are in Tuscany for an international symposium on science and detection.  Gideon is a featured speaker, but Gideon, his wife and their family friends, FBI agent John Lau and wife Marti, and making a vacation out of the trip.  During the symposium a recent case is used for Gideon to utilize in a demonstration for the class.  The body of Nola Cubbiddu, who the Italian police had determined was killed by her husband who then killed himself.  But Gideon blows all their findings apart and says it could not possibly have happened that way, it was a double homicide.  When Gideon finds out this is the case of Pietro and Nola, the head of Tuscany’s Villa Antica wine empire - and personal friends they were to stay with after the symposium at their vineyard, Gideon is in the middle of a hornet's nest.  The Olivers and friends stay at the vineyard at the hospitality of the heirs to Villa Antica while the case if reopened. 

This is my first Gideon Oliver mystery.  I don't feel I got a very good picture of him other than his skill.  I did like his enjoying the culture and food.  His friend and FBI agent JOhn has quite a sense of humor and makes an excellent side kick to balance Gideon.  Although the wives are on the trip, they are not as involved and have less "page time" than Gideon and John.  Rocco, of the Italian carabinieri, is an interesting character that you actually miss since he will not likely be in another novel.

Tuscany Italy is solidly described and provides a colorful backdrop along with the politics of the Italian police.

The premise is good and the story took me on a nice ride, but there wasn't as much mystery for me.  The science was there giving tidbits, and in the end there were only two factors that mattered, neither of them resulting from Gideon's findings.  The pacing was maintained as the investigation develops.  But this is not a suspenseful mystery with any sense of imminent danger.  It seems more like a traditional puzzle mystery when all is done, rather than a forensic police procedural. 

The reader has been following Gideon pick through the skeletal evidence, making it through types of bone fractures etc. only to have the police solve the murder without the use of Gideon's science.  Essentially Gideon's expertise only gets the case reopened and the bodies re-examined, Gideon is mostly along for the drama for the rest of the book.  That was a bit of a let down.  There is no confrontation with the killer, the police just arrive and take somebody away.  Very anti-climatic.

If you like more traditional puzzle mysteries, this will be up your alley.  Don't think Kathy Reichs or CSI with this story, because it is unique in its own right.  The science is only one aspect, ultimately Elkins brings it back to the basics of any good mystery.  Although Professor Gideon Oliver is retiring, I look forward to discovering Aaron Elkins other writings now.

Rating:  Good - A fun read with minor flaws. I like mine with a bit more sense of urgency.  Maybe read an excerpt before buying. 

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review - City of Exiles

This is the newest book from the author of the best-seller "The Icon Thief."  Although I have not read the first book, I dove into the second book in this trilogy with no expectations.  I enjoy suspense/thriller books, so read on to find out my thoughts on this new book.

Author: Alec Nevala-Lee

Copyright: December 2012 (Signet) 416 pgs

Series: 2nd in this trilogy

Sensuality: references, nothing explicit

Mystery Sub-genre: Police Procedural, Suspense

Main Characters: Rachel Wolfe, FBI liason with British Serious Organized Crime Agency

Setting: Modern day, London

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Agent Rachel Wolfe and her partner Alan Powell go to investigate the murder of gun runner.  The murder is unusual because the chemical potassium permanganate is used to douse the victim and set him on fire.  This method starts the investigation down the road of Russian Intelligence involvement.  There also appears to be a possible leak within the department.  Additionally, the Russian thief and assassin Ilya Severin, know as the Scythian, has successfully survived an attempted hit on him and is in London to get some answers.  As former Russian intelligence he begins to put some pieces together and, for his own survival, gets involved.  There are more deaths and Agent Wolfe and Powell are desperate to get more solid leads.  In the midst of this crucial case, Rachel Wolfe is facing her disillusionment with the Mormon faith that she was raised in which causes personal struggles.  Ilya brings the bizare events of Dyatlov Pass (nine ski hikers died under suspicious circumstances) in 1959 Russia to light as part of a bigger plan that has Wolfe and Powell racing to make connections in the puzzle.  

Rachel Wolfe is a sad little character. She has her strong game face, but she also comes across as very damaged and even stunted in interpersonal relationships. Her crisis of faith is the most the reader really knows about her life.  Alan Powell is a mentor of sorts, but we only get a glimpse of what he is made of with this book.  So far his character is solid but must needs more depth. Ilya Severin, the Scythian, is a surprise as he reminded me of the currently

popular older man who is deadly with a dangerous past.  He is studious and a bit of a mystic, which was a great counter to his deadly side.  Yes, there is a leak, and that person is so well camouflaged I gasped when the individual is revealed.

London is where the majority of the story takes place, with the Russian Dyatlov Pass incident discussed (a true story, incidently), there is a chapter in Spain,and some action in Helsinki too. 

Several view points makes it a bit jarring sometimes.  I normally don't mind multiple viewpoints, but a few times it wasn't obvious right away whose eyes you were seeing through.  The Jewish/Christian mysticism angle didn't work for me, it seemed contrived and forced.  I didn't mention it in the summary because it honestly didn't seem to play any real role and could have been removed all together without any difference in the real storyline.  The main plot had some good ideas and twists.  The story takes a bit of setup over several chapters before it was rolling along and pulled me in.  By one-third of the way in, the pace was set and kept my interest from there.

I enjoyed the climax with a good cat and mouse chase. The wrap up somehow felt a bit unsettled when pieces that could have been used much earlier in the story were brought out only in the ending.  But it does a good job of setting up the next book to be even bolder.

It is a good suspense novel with a veneer of intrigue that sets situations and players into motion for a show down coming in the next book.

Rating: Good - A fun, enjoyable read for suspense/thriller fans.  If you read the prior novel, The Icon Thief, you will enjoy this book.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

2013 Left Coast Crime Award Nominees

2002 Lefty Award
The Left Coast Crime Awards are given annually, voted on by Left Coast Crime attendees. The Left Coast Crime is an annual mystery convention sponsored by mystery fans, for mystery fans. It is held during the first quarter of the calendar year in Western North America, as defined by the Mountain Time Zone and all time zones westward to Hawaii. The awards will be presented on March 23, 2013, at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Perhaps some of these nominees will spark your interest and introduce you to a new series.

Lefty Award for Most Humorous Mystery
  °      Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder by Mike Befeler
  °      Swift Run by Laura DiSilverio
  °      December Dread by Jess Lourey

  °      Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz
  °      The Girl Next Door by Brad Parks

  °      Fit to Be Dead by Nancy Glass West

Bruce Alexander Memorial Mystery Award
(historical mystery, covering events before 1960)
  °      The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen (click here)
  °      A City of Broken Glass by Rebecca Cantrell
  °      Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
  °      Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson
  °      Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

Rocky Award
(mystery novel set in the Left Coast Crime Geographical Region)
  °      Buffalo Bill's Dead Now by Margaret Coel (click here)
  °      Hush Money by Chuck Greaves
  °      Wicked Eddies by Beth Groundwater
  °      Sonora Crossing by Darrell James
  °      As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson (click here)

Watson Award
(mystery novel with best sidekick)
  °      In a Witch's Wardrobe by Juliet Blackwell (click here)
  °      Taken by Robert Crais
  °      Fun House by Chris Grabenstein
  °      When the Past Haunts You by L.C. Hayden
  °      Bruja Brouhaha by Rochelle Staab

Please share if you have read any of these and who you would vote for in the categories listed.  What book do you wish was nominated that isn't listed here?

Don't forget the Historical Mystery Reading Challenge - 2013 (click here).  Please consider participating and help spread the word.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review - A Crimson Warning

Previously I had reviewed the book just prior in the series, Dangerous to Know (click here.) Are you a Lady Emily fan already? Find out how this book, with Emily and Colin in London, delivers drama and mystery.

Author: Tasha Alexander

Copyright: October 25 2011 (Minotaur Books) 413 pgs

Series: 6th in Lady Emily Mysteries

Sensuality: Victorian mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Suspense

Main Characters: Lady Emily Hargreaves, Wealthy and titled

Setting: 1890s Victorian era, London England

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Part of my Historical Mystery Reading Challenge (click here).

Lady Emily is back in London and amidst the dances and rides in the park, high society's dirty little secrets are being revealed.  It begins as a mansion is splashed with bright crimson paint that can't be washed away.  Then the family's deepest secret gets revealed in a public display.  Additionally, there is a warehouse fire and a highly respected man is killed in the blaze.  Colin has his hands full investigating the fire because of some suspicious aspects to it, and trying to stop the person making high society afraid to breath.  Then a kidnapping of  the fiance of the man who died in the warehouse fire increases the pressure. While Lady Emily is assisting Colin with his investigations, she is also getting involved with the Women’s Liberal Federation pushing for women to vote.

Lady Emily continues to push the envelope by joining ranks with the Women’s Liberal Federation, but goes even further when she goes against societal pressure and befriends Lady Glover who is shunned by high society.  Lady Glover had been an actress before she married into society.  As if that weren't bad enough, she uses zebras rather than horses on her carriage and is flamboyant.  Lady Emily works with Colin in a manor that they can both agree on in this book, giving her some due while keeping her safe.  Colin's character shines in this addition, he has some secrets and is pushed hard to quickly find answers that aren't easily uncovered.  Even Emily's sweet best friend Ivy has a secret that she lives in terror will be revealed.  Emily's long standing friend Jeremy gives a touch of humor in this tense story.  I would have to say that both Ivy and Jeremy are the surprise standouts in this book.

When I read the cover it did not do justice to the story.  The level of tension among the privileged class each time a mansion has red paint splashed over it as a warning that their deep secret will be publicly revealed is skillfully portrayed.  The fabric of high society's structure being ripped apart and exposed as hypocrits is surprisingly dramatic as death and kidnappings bring a serious note.  Even the darker side of London is shown with the deplorable factories having a small role and the double standards for upper verses lower classes are shown.  There is even a bit of a scavenger hunt for the final evidence which was a different twist.

The plot has plenty of red herrings and different aspects and subplots that keep the story moving and the reader engaged.  The confrontation of the killer is realistic and emotional.  The wrap up ties up all loose-ends neatly and leaves the reader satisfied. 

Fans of Lady Emily will enjoy this outing and readers being introduced to the series with this book will likely become fans.  Lady Emily continues to be a strong lead character with a bit of quirkiness.

Ratings:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.

Library Lovers' Month at local library

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Historical Mystery Reading Challenge - 2013

I have recently gotten into historical mysteries again and thought I would share the fun in a reading challenge.  So signup with me for the next few months.
* This reading challenge runs February 11 - June 30 2013.

*  Suspense, amateur sleuth, cozy, or police procedures and the entire menagerie under the mystery genre are all available for the challenge.

From now until the end of June read seven (7) historical mysteries.

*  Any format of book is eligible, from ebooks, audio, and print.  Go for it!

  * Cross overs / overlaps to other challenges are okay and the more you can utilize your TBR stack the better.

* Sign up below with the Linky, if you like. If you don't have a blog then post your list of books here in the comments and return to share what you read.  Sharing in the comments proves to be very interesting for all, so consider bookmarking this post and come back to share about the books you've read and if you recommend them.

* If you have given the book you chose a good chance and you just can't read/finish it, feel free to pick a new one.

* Those who complete the challenge get a Badge of Completion that can be posted on their blog or website and entered for a random drawing for one of five Challenge winners bookmarks to be given away.  I scrapbook and stamp so they are handmade.

* Prize restrictions - bookmarks will only be mailed within the U.S and Canada.

Random drawing of challenge participants who completed the challenge will have 2 weeks from prize notification to provide a mailing address. If a mailing address is not provided then a new person will be drawn and notified.

* The books I am planning to read (subject to change) for the Historical Mystery Reading Challenge are:

-  A Crimson Warning by Tasha Alexander (click here)
-  What Darkness Brings by C.S. Harris
(click here)
-  India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy by Carol Carr (click here)

-  The Paris Affair by Teresa Grant (click here)

-  Her Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal (click here)

-  Unnatural Habits by Kerry Greenwood (click here)

I look forward to reading about everyone's books and discovering some new series!  Also, please consider submitting your blog post on these challenge books in the Mystery and Crime Fiction Blog Carnival here (

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review - Dogs Don't Lie

I admit that I was primarily attracted to this book because it is labeled as "pet noir." Noir is defined as crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings. Read my review to see what pet noir is and how this debut book in a pet psychic series rates.

Author: Clea Simon

Copyright: April 2011 (Poisoned Pen Press) 260 pgs

Series: 1st in Pru Marlow Mysteries

Sensuality: mild references

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, Pet Noir

Main Characters: Pru Marlowe, animal psychic

Setting: Modern day, Berkshires

Obtained Through: Library

Pru was working on her degree to be an animal behaviorist, but when Pru starts hearing the animals it isn't the sunny world of Dr. Doolittle for her.  She ends up sleep deprived and overwhelmed and consequently drops out of school with only a few weeks remaining to have completed her degree, and pulls up stakes to go to her small hometown.  The idea was to get away from New York with its multitudes of pets while going home to take care of her ailing mother.  

The story begins with Pru restraining Lily, the pit bull of her best customer in her animal behavior business.  Lily is hysterical because she witnessed the murder of her human.  Since Pru discovered the body and Lily, frantically trying to awaken Charles, is covered in blood, the police believe that either the dog turned violent or Pru trained the dog to kill Charles.  Pru is still coming to terms with her growing ability to hear animals while she starts piecing together who would want to kill the kind-hearted and geeky Charles.  Lily is not much help since she is traumatized, so Pru must deal with people - not her strong suit.  Her relationship with her crotchety cat Wallis goes through rough spots, but that is all Pru has to bounce ideas around with.

Pru Marlowe is mostly why this is considered Pet Noir.  She is a little hard-boiled, a splash anti-social, and sowed some wild oats in her youth.  Pru is a bit resentful about this "gift" of talking with animals, but Charles' murder forces her to come to some degree of utilizing it.  Wallis, the snippy tabby cat of Pru's, has plenty of attitude and doesn't understand Pru's drive to help Lily.  Wallis has some serious snark and is a solid character in her own right.  There is the Officer Creighton that may qualify as a love interest in following books since a little flirting was done in this book.  The hard part for characters is that Pru really only has a cat for her sidekick and the other characters are either suspects or minor characters thus far.  This results in the story leaning heavily on just Pru, which leaves the book feeling a touch flat.

The Berkshires is a standard small town thus far and doesn't add much to the story per say.  The plot has some good twists I did not see coming and I did not suspect the killer until just before the confrontation.  The pacing had a few periods where it slowed a tad, but picked up before long and suspense builds as the story develops.

The "pet noir" aspects probably are not what you really expect.  The noir part is only partially met with Pru being fairly cynical, but bleak or sleazy settings are not a main feature.  The pet psychic part is more a vehicle to get a few clues, sometimes obscure and not obvious.  Except for Wallis, Pru's cat, the animals aren't chatty and their minds work differently.  Not a Beverly Hills Chihuahua style at all, more serious and much less silly animal fluff.  Undoubtedly, this is not for everybody, but it just might surprise you.

The killer confrontation had some tense moments, which was closer to the noir label.  The wrap-up could have had a little more to it, the end came quickly after the killer was revealed.  The premise is great, but the story would have benefited from a stronger supporting cast and a more enticing ending to bring the reader back.  Overall it was a  solid mystery with a good plot that didn't succumb to stereotypes with the pet communication.

Rating:  Good - A fun read with minor flaws. Maybe read an excerpt before buying.

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Monday, February 4, 2013

International Book Giving Day Feb 14‏

There is no monthly blog carnival this month because there were not enough entries.  We will shoot for next month.

If a blog reviews mystery/suspense/thrillers (even occasionally) then I would like to feature those reviews.   Multiple entries from a blog are welcome.  Submit your blog entry for next month's Carnival here: (

Please help the newsletter for the blog carnival to get more subscribers.  I send the newsletter out once a month announcing the deadline for submitting to this blog carnival.  

Subscribe to our carnival reminder mailing list

But today I would like to share the news about International Book Giving Day, which is on February 14th.  It is a day dedicated to getting new, used and borrowed books in the hands of as many children as possible and it is an international holiday.  In 2012, International Book Giving Day was celebrated by people in Australia, Canada, South Africa, France, India, Ireland, Japan, the Phillippines, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the US.

There are three simple ways to celebrate International Book Giving Day!

1. Give a Book to a Friend or Relative.
Celebrate International Book Giving Day by giving a child a new, used or borrowed book.

2. Leave a Book in a Waiting Room or Lobby.
Choose a waiting room where kids are stuck waiting and there are few to no good books available. Purchase a good book, and deposit your book covertly or overtly in your waiting room of choice. The goal here is to spread the love of reading to kids, so choose a fun book, nothing controversial.

3. Donate a Book.
Wrap up a box of children’s books that your kids have outgrown and get them in the hands of children who could really use a book or two. Donate your books to your local second hand store, library, children’s hospital, or shelter. Alternatively, donate your books to an organization working internationally to get books in the hands of kids, such as Books for Africa. 

In addition, they encourage people to support the work of nonprofit organizations (i.e. charities) that work year round to give books to children, such as Room to Read, Books for Africa, Book Aid International, The Book Bus, Indigenous Literacy Foundation and Pratham Books. 

Check out  International Book Giving Day's website (click here.)  The website has bookplates, more information, and events.

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