Category Archives: mystery

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

mistress of the art of death coverAdelia is a forensic pathologist, a doctor who studies corpses to discover the cause of death. Alone, this isn’t a shocking or particularly special characteristic. When you add “in 12th-century England” it becomes much, much more interesting. Adelia trained to become a doctor in Salerno, Italy, a quite progressive town for the mid-1100’s, not only because the people who live there know so much about medicine, but because they trained a female doctor. Adelia is even more of an oddity because her particular field of study – that of death. While she is respected by those in the medical profession in Salerno, she is still so unique that her foster father must take credit for her work. Thus it becomes a shock for absolutely everyone when Adelia is the “death doctor” chosen to fulfill the King of England’s request for a doctor to help the determine the cause of death of the several children in Cambridge.

I was intrigued by this novel before reading it. The idea of a “death doctor” in the 12th Century was enough to make me want to pick up this book – the fact that the lead character was a woman made me even more interested, and I was not disappointed. Adelia is a strong, independent, and brilliant young woman. She is faced with an exceptionally difficult task, taking a long journey to England, a country that is much more conservative, and practically even backwards by the standards of Salerno that she is accustomed to. Her servant and dear friend dies on the journey. She must pretend her other servant is really the doctor, as female doctors in England are unheard of, and she would be accused of witchcraft and executed. Not to mention she’s living in a time period where women are considered property of their man, and without a man are regularly taken advantage of. Adelia faces her challenges with her head held high and never backs down from those who consider themselves her betters. She makes mistakes as she learns her way, but she learns from them, and this only makes her more human and relate-able.

Some other reviewers complained about Adelia’s indecision about her belief system. At times she rejected religion, and at other times prayed and called upon God, Allah, or whoever came to mind at the time. I found this understandable rather than obnoxious. Adelia comes from a place where science and medicine are appreciated and practically worshiped, which does not often lend itself to belief in a higher power. Traveling to England, she finds herself in a location where God is the ultimate power, believed to be the only thing that can take pain away, and any sort of science or medicine is not just disbelieved, but frowned upon and reviled. Being surrounded by these varying ideologies, it only makes sense that Adelia would question and at times change her views.

There was some romance in the novel, but it was not essential to the plot and did not distract from the story in any way. Most of the supporting characters were well-written and had their own depth and backstory. I enjoyed the history in the novel as well. I recently read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, and noticed Kind Henry II and some other events in this novel were similar to those in Follett’s novel, which took place about 100 years later. Had I not read Pillars so recently, I would not have noticed, and while this might bother the more historical minded, it didn’t effect my enjoyment of the story. I am looking forward to A Serpent’s Tale, the next book in the series.

I give the novel 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to fans of mystery and historical fiction.

Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk

Everything has a cost. And every act of magic exacts a price from its user – maybe a two-day migraine, or losing the memory of your first kiss. But some people want to use magic without paying, and they Offload the cost onto innocents. When that happens, it falls to a Hound to identify the spell’s caster – and Allison Beckstrom’s the best there is.

COV_Magic to the Bone.inddDaughter of a prominent Portland businessman, Allie would rather moonlight as a Hound than accept the family fortune – and the strings that come with it. But when she discovers a little boy dying from a magic Offload that has her father’s signature all over it, Allie is thrown into the high-stakes world of corporate espionage and black magic.

Now Allie’s out for the truth – and must call upon forces that will challenge everything she knows, change her in ways she could never imagine … and make her capable of things that powerful people will do anything to control.

Allie Beckstrom is an interesting character. She is in some ways the typical urban fantasy heroine, with an attitude and a chip on her shoulder. She is also paranoid to the extreme, refusing to trust anyone and making stupid decisions based on her paranoia. The really intriguing part about her was how using magic could cause her to lose memories. It made her much easier to sympathize with when thinking of how she had to write her life down in her little black book to keep track of both little things like her current cases, to big things like her own name. The rest of the characters I did not find very interesting. Zayvion was the typical tall-dark-handsome-mysterious love interest, who mysteriously pops into Allie’s life and she falls in love with him despite her better judgement, and then pushes him away when she thinks he might love her back. Been there, done that. Allie’s best friend Nola was the “I’m going to shun magic in the magical world” type. Again, not new or exciting.

The world building in this novel was relatively unique. Magic being somewhat controlled and flowing through pipes underground was something I had not read before. I didn’t buy into it though. Sounded pretty silly, along with magic just being “discovered” only 30 years ago. There were some hints about magic being around much longer, and secret societies trying to control its use, but they weren’t particularly subtle or surprising, so I didn’t really care. When Allie uses too much magic in a way that’s not supposed to be possible, strange tattoos show up on her arms. I wish they would have been described in more detail, because that intrigued me, but the only mention of them was how Allie thought they would be a swell conversation starter at parties and then she moved on. Like, hello, you have cool new magical tattoos that no one else has or understands! Let’s talk about them! *sigh*

Overall, I would give this book 2 stars out of 5. I might read the next one, but not any time soon. Happy reading,

-Branwen

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Written in Red coverAs a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

It’s not every day I read a book I like so much I don’t want to start another book, because I want to keep living in the world of the book I just read. Written in Red, first novel of The Others, was one of those books. I thought this book was pretty cool because in this world, which parallels the one we live in, humans are not the top of the food chain. This isn’t really new, but the fact that they KNOW they are not the top of the food chain was new (at least to me). The Others, or terra indigne, own the land in Thaisia, which they “allow” the humans–who they consider clever meat–to live on. At least, until they piss them off and then the Others just eat them, or find other creative ways to use their powers to kill them. Very creepy. In large towns, the Others live in places called Courtyards where humans are generally not allowed except for a few stores. Others know humans are intrigued by them, but they have no interest in developing relationships with them. That changes in at least one Courtyard, when Meg Corbyn stumbles into Howling Good Reads, bookstore owned by Courtyard leader Simon Wolfgard, and gets hired as the new Human Liaison.

Meg is a blood prophet, considered property by the Controller. She risked everything by escaping the Compound, and risked her life again by taking the job in a Courtyard, where she believes she will be safe because human law does not apply. The Controller educated her enough to be able to understand the prophetic visions she sees, but not enough to do anything for herself. Meg has to work hard to figure out not only how to take care of herself, but live with creatures who may look human, but aren’t anything like her. It is this very naivete that helps Meg survive. She is afraid of the Others, like any other human who knows they could be lunch at any second. But as she learns how to exist on her own, she comes up with creative ideas no “normal” human would even consider, and her unusual ideas and positive attitude help endear her to the hearts of the Others she lives with. I loved Meg Corbyn, and wanted to be her friend. In her place, I would not have had her courage, and I certainly wouldn’t have bought the Wolves dog beds to keep them happy, or put a Wolf cub on a leash to take him for walks.

I liked the way Anne Bishop portrayed The Others in this novel. I would love to know what other kinds of shifters there are, in addition to the Wolves, Bear, Coyotes, Crows and Hawks that live in this particular Courtyard. I tend to think vampires that can turn into smoke are a little weird, but they were so scary in this novel I didn’t mind. The way the Others characters would so casually talk about eating humans would give me chills. In addition to the “standard” supernatural creatures, this book also had Elementals. My favorite part of the Elementals was their steeds, ponies who controlled elements as well, like Thunder and Lightning. And then there was the mysterious Tess, who no one is sure about other than she is very powerful and frightening. All of these characters were interesting and exciting, and I’m already looking forward to reading more about them.

Everything about this book was excellent. I am very excited to read the next one. The expected publication is March 2014. I’ll be first in line at the library to read it when it comes in.

Happy reading,

-Branwen

The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

king of plagues cover“Are you ready to come back to work?” asked Mr. Church.
He didn’t say hello, didn’t ask how I’d been. He got right to it.
“Haven’t decided yet,” I said.
“Decide now,” said Mr. Church.
“That bad?”
“Worse. Turn on the TV.”
I picked up the remote, hit the button. I didn’t need to ask which channel. It was on every channel.
“Okay,” I said. “I’m in.”

Just like that, Joe Ledger’s sabbatical from the Department of Military Sciences is over, and he and his new four-legged companion, a white German shepherd named Ghost, are back in the fight against terror. And this is terror on an epic scale. It starts when the Seven Kings, a secret society that DMS has long been chasing, bombs the London Hospital. And that is only the beginning.

It doesn’t seem possible that every Joe Ledger novel Maberry writes could get any more intense and terrifying that the last, but this one scared the crap out of me. The Seven Kings is a frightening secret society of powerful, often famous evil men from around the world whose main goal is to sow chaos and reap the benefits. They are nasty villains in their own right. To make matters worse, Sebastian Gault, lunatic from the first Joe Ledger book (Patient Zero reviewed here!) who tried to start a zombie apocalypse with his actual mad scientist girlfriend Amirah, is initiated into the Seven Kings group and becomes the King of Plagues. He adds his knowledge of weaponized lethal diseases to the Kings’ plan for chaos. Gault plans to weaponize ebola and make it airborne, killing as many people as possible. This was an especially creepy plot point for me, since I just finished reading The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, about an ebola outbreak near Washington DC not so very long ago. I didn’t review that one, since it was non-fiction, but it was rather paranoia-inducing, and reading another book about ebola right after it was enough to have me running out to buy gas masks. Jonathan Maberry sure knows how to write convincing horror.

Along with Sebastian Gault’s reappearance, which I have been waiting for since he sailed away at the end of Patient Zero, came the reappearance of his assistant Toys. When Gault becomes one of the Seven Kings, Toys becomes his Conscience, the fancy name for an advisor of a King. Though Toys is no saint, and plenty corrupt in his own right, he is nowhere near as insane as Gault. As Gault concocts wild plans that will cause higher and higher death tolls, Toys begins to feel this is not where he belongs. It could be said he grows a conscience of his own (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). Anyway, the point is, I actually liked Toys in this novel. I sympathized with him, and I was rooting for him to at least stay alive.

There were several other things I liked about this book. Joe Ledger, his psychologist and best friend Rudy Sanchez, and of course the mysterious Mr. Church were all present and as entertaining as always. We met some new characters too, the first being Henry Vox, world-renowned expert on security who trains government agents in counter-terrorism. Vox gets the world’s best thriller, spy, suspense, and horror – genre authors together to come up with worst case scenarios for his agents to train against. I thought that was extremely clever of Maberry. After all, any spy-novel reader would tell you those authors can come up with situations that are much scarier than anything that could happen in real life–at least, I hope. Another new character we meet is Circe O’Tree. She is a researcher for Vox, and has been collecting information on “the Goddess,” who she believes is the leader of the Seven Kings. She ends up working with Ledger and the rest of the DMS team to figure out the Seven Kings’ next move and stop them. She is brilliant, tough, and drop dead gorgeous. Both of these new characters come with their own twists at the end of the novel. I’ll admit, I predicted them (well, I guess I predicted one and a half of the twists, I didn’t predict everything), but I didn’t mind because I was  busy worrying about whether DMS would stop mass murder, and was not distracted by figuring out who Circe was before Ledger did.

I love that Joe Ledger got a dog. Even better was the fact that it was a gorgeous white German shepherd, which before reading this book I did not know existed. In case you haven’t ever seen one either, here’s a picture for you.

white-german-shepherd

Additionally, Maberry made two wonderfully fun Doctor Who references in this book. I finally caved to quite a bit of peer pressure from friends and started watching Doctor Who a few weeks ago, so I was extra amused when Dr. Hu, scientist who works for DMS, said his call sign was “Dalek” and Ledger remarks “He was a nerd on several continents.” Later, Ledger mentions they label their boxes full of “ultra-high-tech doodads” with TARDIS stickers. I was amused.

These Joe Ledger novels are great. Each one is better than the last, and I can’t wait for the next one. Happy reading!

-Branwen

Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

trail-of-the-spellmans coverYou wouldn’t think another book about the misadventures of Izzy Spellman would continue to be interesting. After all, most of the Spellman Files books follow the same basic premise: Isabel Spellman, a 34-year-old private investigator, never acts her age and constantly gets herself in trouble by bucking the rules and doing what she feels is right no matter what. The thing is though, I like each one of these books more than the last.

In this novel, Izzy and her father are working on cases with conflicting interests, and he refuses to share information with her. Their conflict escalates, because Izzy is sure there is something suspicious about the clients and her father won’t listen to her. Meanwhile, her mother has taken up a plethora of extra-curricular activities with no explanation, and is never home. David has thrown Rae out of the apartment below his house and refuses to give anyone an explanation. Rae has been surveilling a 18-year-old girl with paranoid parents, but has been faking the surveillance reports. And finally, Demetrius Merriweather, wrongly-convicted man freed by Izzy and her sister-in-law Maggie in Document #4 is living in the Spellman house, and Izzy’s mother is determined to find him a girlfriend.

This might sound like a ridiculous amount of mysterious to some, but for Izzy it is just a day in the life of San Francisco’s more irreverent PI. Throughout the novel, Izzy solves all these problems by spying on and interrogating both family and clients alike. The novel is full of both humor, surprises, and tender moments that teach a lesson for both Izzy and the reader. Izzy actually starts to grow up a little in this novel and think about her future, which hasn’t happened often before. She gets along better with her family members–but not well enough to not have amusing Spellman family dinners of course. Old characters like Bernie make reappearances, and new characters show up too, like Granny Spellman and Henry Stone’s mother Gerty. I especially liked Gerty and how different she was from Henry, and how well she and Izzy got along. SMALL SPOILER ALERT: Gerty eventually meets and falls in love with Bernie, a relationship Izzy desperately wants to sabotage, and watching her collect affidavits from Bernie’s previous girlfriends (some available to read in the Appendix!) is pretty hilarious.

In this novel, Izzy spends more time interacting with her older brother David, his wife Maggie, and their 18-month old daughter Sydney. I loved seeing more of David and Maggie, they are my favorite characters, aside from Izzy of course. I missed Rae though, since she wasn’t in this book as often, and Izzy did not have much interaction with Henry Stone either, so that was a bummer. Granny Spellman and Demetrious made up for their absence though, so I didn’t mind too much, and it was nice to read about characters that were a little different. I like Lisa Lutz and the Spellman Files book a lot, and I’ll definitely keep reading them.

Happy reading,

-Branwen

The Devil You Know by Mike Carey

Devil you know coverFelix Castor–known as Fix by the people who can stand him–has the unusual ability to exorcise ghosts. But ever since the disaster that left his friend Rafi possessed by the demon Asmodeus, he hasn’t been practicing. In fact, despite the urging of his friend and landlady Pen, Fix swears he has given up exorcising ghosts for good. Then, on one of his rare visits to his office, he gets a call with a job offer. On the heels of this offer is a warning from Asmodeus that taking this job will get him killed. This spikes Fix’s curiosity in spite of himself, and he meets with Peele, the h

ead of the archive that claims to need the exorcism. Fix’s limited contact with the ghost when he visits the archive makes him hedge his bets and take the job, which thrusts him back into the world of exorcising ghosts with much more enthusiasm then he is ready for.

I enjoyed this novel much more than I thought I would. Felix Castor was a great character, and I really liked solving the mystery of the archive ghost along with him. This novel actually read much more like a murder mystery novel to me, with just a few paranormal elements thrown in, which I thought was great. I read plenty of urban fantasy novels that are all about the paranormal and action packed scenes, with some plot/mystery thrown in almost as an afterthought. This book was very different, with the mystery being more important that the ghosts or other paranormal creatures. There almost wasn’t enough world building, or enough explanation about the ghosts, weres and zombies. But I didn’t mind, I just wanted to know who the archive ghost was and how she came to be.


Felix Castor, exorcist turned children’s magician turned unwilling exorcist was a great leading character. He made smart decisions, took actions when he needed to even if didn’t want to, and grew up and learned about himself as the novel went along. I liked him very much. This was definitely one of those stories where I wanted to live in the world and be friends with the main characters: Felix, his landlady and best friend Pen, and even some of the people Felix met at the archive, like Cheryl. Then there was the interesting addition of the succubus Juliet. She’s going to be back in the next books, and I really want to know what happens with her. I’m very excited to read the next Felix Castor novel. It’s nice to read a book series where I can go get the next book right away, and don’t have to wait for it to be published for a change.

Happy reading,

-Branwen

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore

Sacre Bleu coverIn July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers attempt to take his own life…and then walk a mile to a doctor’s house for help? Who was the crooked little “color man” Vincent had claimed was stalking him across France? And why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue?

These are just a few of the questions confronting Vincent’s friends–baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec–who vow to discover the truth about van Gogh’s untimely death. Their quest will lead them on a surreal odyssey and brothel-crawl deep into the art world of late nineteenth-century Paris.

I will admit, I had some reservations about this book going into it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last Moore book I read, Fool, and I’m not really a fan of art, so I wasn’t sure I even wanted to read this one. But then I read the above summary from the inside cover flap and figured I would give it a try. It gave me high hopes. They were dashed. I didn’t love it. It wasn’t terrible. But I’m having a hard time coming up with things I liked. First, let me complain:

The timeline was very difficult to follow. I had to keep skipping back to the beginning of the chapters, and to the previous chapters to figure out if what I was reading happened before or after the previous chapter. Eventually I gave up and tried to stop caring haha, but the timeline was pretty important in this story and I just couldn’t follow it. I also had trouble keeping track of which character was which. Maybe it was the French names (I really don’t like reading French things) but I didn’t even realize Henri and Toulouse-Lautrec were the same person at first. I either missed something which is definitely possible, or it wasn’t clear, which is also unfortunately possible. I did like Henri’s character a lot. He was probably my favorite. And I liked Lessard’s mother, too.  I didn’t dislike Lessard, the main character, I just wasn’t terribly interested in him. Books don’t work very well when you can’t get at least a little emotionally invested in the main character. Oh well.

Sacre Bleu cover 02I think my overall problem with this story was it just didn’t read like a typical Moore book to me. Christopher Moore’s Lamb and Fluke, or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings are some of my favorite books, that I read every time I need to relax or have a good laugh. This book was not like those. There was only one really funny line I wanted to quote here, but I didn’t have a place to write the page number down at the time, and I can’t remember it well enough now to go back and find it, so I guess it wasn’t amusing enough to stick with me. Essentially, this book wasn’t what I expected, and I was disappointed. Oh well. Next time I wanted to entertained by a Christopher Moore book I will just grab The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove off my shelf.

Happy reading,

-Branwen