December 30

Lord of Slaughter by MD Lachlan

A year and a half ago I read and reviewed book two in this series, and finally book three has arrived. Like any fantasy trilogy, this one has got to hold the final battle, or does it? This series is getting more and more complicated as it goes.

Fenrir (book 2) was set in Paris at the time of the Viking invasions of Europe. The final book moves the action to the Middle East, and the Fall of Constantinople. My history knowledge fails when it comes to who attacked where and defended what in 10th Century Turkey, but for the sake of the story I am more than happy to go along with Lachlan.

The story opens at the end of a big battle. Death and destruction all around, and a child walks into the tent of the winning general and draws a sword. Who is this kid? And can the prophecy he tells be real? The Vikings are too superstitious to take a chance and offer the orphan a home and protection. At the same time Constantinople is in the grip of a dreadful plague. A young French priest (and his wife) is given the responsibility of finding the cause and ridding the city of the evil curse. Eventually these two tales link together, and the mythical wolfman is unleashed.

Don’t bother picking this book up unless you have read the previous two in the series. They will take a while, but this is definitely a trilogy that would be much easier to read in sequence. And I still love the Viking twist on the Wolfman story!

December 30

Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay

Debut authors, somebody does need to review them, and publishers know that I will, eventually. This one waited longer than usual simply because it seemed overwritten and I kept putting it aside and new reviews arrived. But I am conscientiously trying to clear the backlist, and this one appeared short. So I persevered, and was very glad that I did.

Alida’s life has apparently been on hold since her baby died. She had another daughter, but grief for the lost child overwhelmed everything else. So Mia is off travelling the world, backpacking like so many other young adults. Then Alida gets the call that her daughter is missing. The police in India don’t seem interested, so Alida flies to conduct the search herself. No she has never travelled much, and never been to India, but she does have a mother’s instincts to guide her. Then there is this artist who made friends with Mia just before she disappeared. Can he be trusted?

Jay is a PhD in Creative Writing, and this novel is apparently based on her doctoral thesis. Enough said? Now you understand why the book waited in a box for years. Be warned that it will take patience to get through about the first 100 pages. The plot appears to have little logic and less planning. But eventually Jay lets the story unfold and suddenly it takes off. I read the final third of the book in one sitting, late into the night.

This is an old book now and it may be difficult to locate. But if you can find it anywhere, make the effort and you will be rewarded. Jay definitely sees the world in an unusual way.

 

December 30

The Painter’s Apprentice by Charlotte Betts

I told you that there were going to be a lot of second in a series reviewed over these few days. Well here is another one!

Last year I reviewed the debut novel from this author, and now doing a quick search, it appears that the novel I was lukewarm about, won some awards. Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But now that people may be looking for some relaxed holiday reading, Betts is sure to provide exactly that. Historical romance fans – this one is recommended.

Set many years after the events of The Apothecary’s Daughter, this novel involves many of the same characters, but really concerns the next generation. Susannah’s daughter, Beth is now an adult and learning about painting from a Dutch artist resident in Merryfields, the rest home established by her mother. But soon she receives her first professional commission, and begins to live and work independently, or as independently as a woman can in the late 1600s.

England at this time was still caught up in the Protestant/Catholic conflict. The Stuart kings were still in power, but everything was becoming too Catholic for popular taste. Beth’s commission places her at the heart of the coming conflict, and she proves that she has her mother’s courage and convictions to make a difference herself.

This book was far more about the history than the romance, even though there was the required love interest. The real question is whether Beth is willing to lose her independence for love? And the reader can decide for themselves whether they think she did the right thing.

December 30

You Don’t Want to Know by Lisa Jackson

Regular readers will know that I frequently receive the Lisa Jackson books for review. She is a good writer of romantic suspense or thriller romances, however you like it. There is usually the handsome stranger at hand at all the right times, and only rarely is the woman’s family to be trusted. So you know what you are going to get when you open the cover. Guaranteed an engaging read, not necessarily relaxing, but certainly distracting. Even better, she comes up with some fantastic plots and every one is different.

Two years ago Ava’s two-year-old son disappeared while the house was full of guests. Unable to accept that he is gone forever, Ava has battled mental illness ever since. Only recently has she returned home to her husband from the hospital. She may be home, but she still hasn’t given up hope. Her determination to continue the search appears irrational, but then again, maybe not. The village is buzzing with apparent sightings of the escaped murderer who disappeared from a local prison hospital at about the same time her son disappeared. Just maybe these two events are linked, and maybe they are not. All Ava knows is that she can’t trust anyone. Her family want her drugged and sluggish, and who knows what the new handyman is after.

This book, more than most of Jackson’s books, seems filled with weird personalities. At times it appears to the reader that the whole cast of characters would benefit from some time ‘away’. Most notable is the cousin who carries a grudge in her wheelchair. She definitely bears watching.

Personally I found the resolution just a little too convenient. I can’t say too much without spoilers, but somehow the final dozen pages or so manages to tie up the whole story, Hmmm.

 

December 29

The Black Mausoleum by Stephen Deas

In 2009 I began an adventure. I was asked to review a new fantasy series by Stephen Deas, and I have joyfully continued through that series and then another. I was very happy to unpack The Black Mausoleum and really didn’t care when or where it was set. Then I discovered that it was a return to the damaged world with dragons in control.

Imagine, a fantasy world where dragons rule, and they are out to punish humanity for the centuries of slavery. Angry dragons hunting humans, not a good place for our heroes. And such heroes, a soldier without his army, a treasure hunter trying to remember and an alchemist, those who developed the drug that failed. All of them are looking for a way back to the way life used to be, but that is impossible isn’t it?

Like so many fantasy series, it was wonderful to go back and see what happened. But this time, instead of the good guys winning and life going on, well, lets just say the world is very, very different. Chaos reigns, and the various kingdoms are gone. Wealth and power are different now. As the searchers moved through the landscape, some landmarks seemed familiar, but lost and forgotten.

But that just means that Deas has the opportunity to rebuild the world again!

December 29

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

When this was first released I read dozens of reviews full of praise for this book. I was literally debating whether or not I could go out a buy it when so many reviews were waiting. Instead I simply had to wait for my next delivery, and there it was.

On a remote island in Quebec stands a forgotten monastery. It is a small order, founded as a retreat and creating exquisite music during each service. The choir are masters of the Gregorian chant and the choirmaster is continually striving to find perfection. Then one day that choirmaster is found dead in the abbot’s garden. Since the order is completely secluded, obviously the killer must be among them. Enter Inspector Gamache…

Once again this is a mystery revealed with style and charm. Even more surprisingly, this time I picked the killer! Usually I follow all the distractors and fall for all the misdirections. That is certainly not the fault of the author, more likely it is because of my passion for music.

And the earlier reviewers were right! Although this book leaves Three Pines, the storytelling is still wonderful and the setting magnificent. However, I am worried about Beauvoir.

December 29

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

The publisher claims that Penny has developed a mystery series that is sure to delight readers of PD James. As an avid reader of English mystery novels, including the whole backlist by PD James, I was doubtful, but willing to give it a try. This book is number 7 in the series, too far along to go back to the beginning. So unusually, I begin in the middle.

A gallery opening in Montreal goes off without a hitch. After a lifetime of working in her husband’s shadow, finally Clara is able to make her own statement to the world. Fortunately, nothing is seen of her old friend turned art critic, Lillian. That woman has a nasty pen, and better that she ignores this exhibition. The opening party retires to the artist’s home in Three Pines and proceeds well, until a body is found in the rose garden. Enter Chief Inspector Gamache…

This is a book written in the classic mystery style. Clues sprinkled through the writing, as well as several red herrings. It is no wonder that several of books in this series have received awards. Gamache is an intelligent investigator that sifts through the information he is given, and skillfully separates the lies from the truth as he goes.

I will admit to being a sucker for a good mystery. So it is delightful to find a new series to enjoy! But I may need the odd French refresher first.

December 29

The Disciple of Las Vegas by Ian Hamilton

A few months ago I reviewed the first book in this series. ┬áThen in November as I was sorting through that month’s arrivals, I suddenly realised that I had in my possession the second book! And one week when work was driving me crazy, I spent a couple evenings delightfully escaping into another fantastic forensic accounting adventure.

This time Ava is on the trail of online gambling fraud. The richest man in the Phillipines has been swindled out of $50 million, apparently by his brother. But Ava quickly discovers that the brother was swindled as well. It is time for this online poker game to stop! But that is easier said than done.

This second book doesn’t have the same sense of imminent danger. Ava is in less physical danger this time, and a good thing too, because this book takes up literally from the end of the last one. She is still bruised and sore at the end of this. But that doesn’t mean the tension is any less. This time she is battling technology and the anonymity of the Internet, and we all know that there is no such thing as privacy there.

Then of course there is the contract out on her life – but Uncle said he would take care of that. Didn’t he?

 

December 29

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

This book has been out since July, but it took me ages to rationalise purchasing book 1 in the series and spending the time reading it. Last week I was on a brief holiday in Tasmania and had the perfect excuse to load up the ereader with a bunch of book 1(s). Although Harkness tried valiantly to provide enough background to make sense of the story, I really think that you will want to read ‘A Discovery of Witches’ anyway, so why not in the correct order?

The book opens with Diana and Matthew arriving in Elizabethan England. Although Matthew fits in well, after all he is just reliving the years for a second time, Diana has a much more difficult time becoming an Elizabethan gentlewoman. And it is not only her American accent that causes problems. Just fitting in is a full time job, and yet the whole purpose of the trip into the past was to find her some effective magical training. Impossible in England at this time when everyone is watching out for witches and devils.

Harkness once again demonstrates her attention to detail and thorough research. Her picture of Elizabeth, Raleigh, Kit Marlowe and more is absolutely delightful and credible. As before, her main characters and wonderfully complex. I am in absolute admiration of the way in which she had Diana make the necessary adjustments to her life, avoiding trouble by using the ‘women’s’ network to accomplish what she needed to do.

According to the website, book 3 isn’t even finished yet! How on earth can all of us be expected to wait?

December 29

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I have had book two in this series for about 6 months, and all the time looking at it thinking ‘I must download book 1 and read it.’ Last week I was on a short trip to Tassie, and thought this would be an ideal opportunity to dust off the ereader and enjoy starting a fantasy series. The promotional reading sounded like another paranormal fantasy romance, but so what, thats what holidays are for.

Diana Bishop is a historian, her specialty – the history of science during the Age of Enlightenment. While researching ancient alchemy sources, a strange book appears in her request list from the library. Uncatalogued and unlabelled she isn’t really sure what it is, but it clearly responds to her touch. You see, Diana is a witch, descended from Bridget Bishop of Salem fame. Once the book is safely returned, all hell breaks loose. Every paranormal creature in Oxford suddenly appears in the Bodliean library and follows her around watching her every move. Most disturbing is the vampire Matthew Clairmont.

Clearly, Diana has to get her hands back on that book and work out what it says, but that is easier said than done. Then her rooms are searched, she is attacked by another witch, and her only support and help comes from Matthew. Their relationship grows and before long they are breaking all kinds of ‘creature’ conventions.

I like this book far more than this plot simplification can explain. The reader is treated with intelligence. The story is crafted carefully and the various creature characters behave consistently according to their own customs. Vampires, daemons and witches are all given their particular place in this urban fantasy, and they all work together to create the world that us humans know.

Let’s just say, I could hardly wait to get home and start book 2.