Monday, April 21, 2008

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

The Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith

Mass Market Paperback: 235 pages
Publisher: Ancor
First Released: 1998

Source: Library

Back Cover Blurb:
This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

This book is not a typical "who murdered him/her" mystery. The first few chapters focus mainly on the heroine, how her agency got set up, and a bit about her country. The book then focuses on the local-flavor of crimes she solves by mainly using her wits. If you're a person who likes to learn about different cultures, then this is an entertaining way to do so. If you like straight who-do-its, then this book (or, at least, the first few chapters of the book) may have less appeal for you.

There are no explicit sex scenes or cussing. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe--the only lady private detective in Botswana--brewed redbush tea. And thee mugs--one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client. What else does a detective agency really need? Detective agencies rely on human intuition and intelligence, both of which Mma Ramotswe had in abundance. No inventory would ever include those, of course.

But there was also the view, which again could appear on no inventory. How could any such list describe what one saw when one looked out from Mma Ramotswe's door? To the front, an acacia tree, the thorn tree which dots the wide edges of the Kalahari; the great white thorns, a warning; the olive-grey leaves, by contrast, so delicate. In its branches, in the late afternoon or in the cool of the early morning, one might see a Go-Away Bird, or hear it, rather. And beyond the acacia, over the dusty road, the roofs of the town under a cover of trees and scrub bush; on the horizon, in a blue shimmer of heat, the hills, like improbable, overgrown termite mounds.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

Crown Duel

Crown Duel
by Sherwood Smith

Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Firebird Fantasy
First Released: 2002

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Blurb:
Battle on and off the field, with sword and fan, with might and manners...

It begins in a cold and shabby tower room where young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king. That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, a war that threatens the homes and lives of the very people they are trying to protect.

But war is simple compared to what follows, when the bloody fighting is done and a fragile peace is at hand. Although she wants to turn her back on politics and the crown, Meliara is summoned to the royal palace. There she soon discovers that friends and enemies look alike and intrigue fills the dance halls and the drawing rooms. If she is to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting--with wit and words and secret alliances. In war, at least, she she whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one...

This book was originally published as two books: Crown Duel and Court Duel. While this is a traditional fantasy, Meliara isn't a very good swordwoman and mainly relies on her wits and the friendships she builds. The first book centers around a war, so there is a good bit of fighting and running. In the second book mainly focuses on court intrigue and has very little swordplay.

The worldbuilding is strong, and the culture is unique. Meliara is a bit exasperating at times in the first book, but that's fixed in the second book. The characters are engaging, and the pacing is good. There are no sex scenes, but there is kissing. In the second book, there is some traditional magic wielded by the villain. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
The broken shutter in the window creaked a warning. I flung myself across the table, covering as best I could my neat piles of papers, as a draft of cold wind scoured into the room. Dead leaves whispered on the floor, and the corners of my moat of papers rustled. Something crashed to the floor behind me. I turned my head. It was the soup bowl I'd set that morning on an old, warped three-legged stool and promptly forgotten.

The rotted blue hanging in the doorway billowed, then rippled into quiescence. The whispers and rattles in the room stilled, and I sat up with care and looked at the bowl. Could it be mended? I knew Julen would be angry with me. Julen was the blacksmith's sister, and the mother of my friend, Oria. After my mother died she looked after me, and she had of late taken over cooking for us. Crockery was hard to come by these days.

I reached for the pieces, my blanket ripped--and cold leaked up my arm.

I sat back on my cushion, staring down in dismay at the huge tear at my elbow. I did not look forward to the darning task ahead--but I knew that Julen would give me one of those looks she was so good at and calmly say that practicing my darning would teach me patience.


The voice was Bran's. He tapped outside the door, then lifted the hanging. "Meliara, it's time to go see Papa."

Ordinarily, Branaric never called me Meliara, but I was too distracted to notice right then.

"Bran!" I leaped to my feet. "I did it--just finished! Look!" I pulled him into the room, which had once been a kind of parlor for the servants, back when the castle had had plenty of servants. Pointing proudly at the table, I said, "I know how to cheer Papa, Bran. I've found us a way to pay this year's taxes! It's taken me two days, but I really believe I have it. It'll buy us another year--you know we need another year. Look," I babbled, stooping down to tap each pile of papers. "Every village, every town in Tlanth, and what it has, what it owes, and what it needs. Not counting the gold we set aside for our Denlieff mercenaries--"


I looked up, my mouth still moving; but when I saw the stricken look in Bran's eyes, all the plans fled from my mind...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The More I See You by Lynn Kurland

The More I See You

The More I See You
by Lynn Kurland

Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Berkley Romance
First Released: 1999

Source: Library

Back Cover Blurb:
A wish upon a star transports the luckless-in-love Jessica Blakely back in time to the thirteenth century. But her desire for a fair and gallant knight yields the fearsome Richard De Galtres. Though wary of Jessica's mysterious ways, Richard protectively harbors her in his castle by the sea. Though her stubborn will nearly drives him mad, the very sight of her puts a smile on a face that has known too few. And when Jessica's tender desire pierces the armor around his heart, Richard fears he may never be able to recover--or resist...

The book is a historical romance set in the medieval period. The world-building in this book is excellent, and the characters are well-drawn. The pacing is good, and every scene serves a purpose. There are no explicit sex scenes, but the main characters do have sex after they're married. The only magic is the wish upon a star that transports Jessica through time. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
Jessica Blakely didn't believe in Fate.

Yet as she stood at the top of a medieval circular staircase and peered down into its gloomy depths, she had to wonder if someone other than herself might be at the helm of her ship, as it were. Things were definitely not progressing as she had planned. Surely Fate had known she wasn't at all interested in stark, bare castles or knights in rusting armor.


She took a deep breath and forced herself to examine the turns of events that had brought her to her present perch. Things had seemed so logical at the time. She'd gone on a blind date, accepted said blind date's invitation to go to England as a part of his university department's faculty sabbatical, then hopped cheerfully on a plane with him two weeks later.

Their host was Lord Henry de Galtres, possessor of a beautifully maintained Victorian manor house. Jessica had taken one look and fallen instantly in love--with the house, that is. The appointments were luxurious, the food heavenly, and the surrounding countryside idyllic. The only downside was that for some unfathomable reason, Lord Henry had decided that the crumbling castle attached to his house was something that needed to remain undemolished. Just the sight of it had sent chills down Jessica's spine. She couldn't say why, and she hadn't wanted to dig around to find the answer.

Instead, she'd availed herself of all the modern comforts Lord Henry's house could provide. And she'd been certain that when she could tear herself away from her temporary home-away-from-home, she might even venture to London for a little savings-account-reducing shopping at Harrods. Yet before she could find herself facing a cash register, she'd been driven to seek sanctuary in the crumbling castle attached to Lord Henry's house.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

The Blue Sword

The Blue Sword
by Robin McKinley

Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Ace Fantasy
First Released: 1982

Source: Bought from Walden Books

Back Cover Blurb:
This is the story of Corlath, golden-eyed king of the Free Hillfolk, son of the sons of the Lady Aerin.

And this is the story of Harry Crewe, the Homelander orphan girl who became Harimad-sol, King's Rider, and heir to the Blue Sword, Gonturan, that no woman had wielded since the Lady Aerin herself bore it into battle.

And this is the song of the kelar of the Hillfolk, the magic of the blood, the weaver of destinies.

Book Description:
Since the blurb is a bit cryptic, here's a quick description:
Harry Crewe is brought to live in a desert country named Damar. Her life is quiet until the night she's kidnapped by Corlath and taken deep into the desert. She doesn't understand why she's been kidnapped, but she's treated kindly. She discovers that she's learning the new language, culture, horseback riding, and even swordplay exceptionally quickly. She's shocked when discovers why, and why the kelar in Corlath's blood demanded she be brought back with him. For war is coming...

The book is a "worldbuilding fantasy." The world-building in this book is excellent and a lot of time is spent on it. The pacing is a bit slower, but every scene serves a purpose. The characters are engaging. There are no sex scenes, but there is some kissing. There is hereditary magic ("kelar") in this book which only the two main characters have, and it comes with a price. I'd rate this book as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
She scowled at her glass of orange juice. To think that she had been delighted when she first arrived here--was it only three months ago?--with the prospect of fresh orange juice every day. But she had been eager to be delighted; this was to be her home, and she wanted badly to like it, to be grateful for it--to behave well, to make her brother proud of her and Sir Charles and Lady Amelia pleased with their generosity.

Lady Amelia had explained that the orchards only a few days south and west of here were the finest in the country, and many of the oranges she had seen at Home, before she came out here, had probably come from those same orchards. It was hard to believe in orange groves as she looked out the window, across the flat deserty plain beyond the Residency, unbroken by anything more vigorous than a few patches of harsh grass and stunted sand-colored bushes until it disappeared at the feet of the black and copper-brown mountains.

But there was fresh orange juice every day.

She was the first down to the table every morning, and was gently teased by Lady Amelia and Sir Charles about her healthy young appetite; but it wasn't hunger that drove her out of her bed so early. Since her days were empty of purpose, she could not sleep when night came, and by dawn each morning she was more than ready for the maid to enter her room, push back the curtains from the tall windows, and hand her a cup of tea.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

This Is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland

This is All I Ask

This Is All I Ask
by Lynn Kurland

Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Berkley Romance
First Released: 1997

Source: Library

Back Cover Blurb:
This Is All I Ask is a sweeping, emotional novel capturing all the passion and majesty of the medieval period. Set near the Scottish border at a rugged castle on the edge of the sea, this is the story of a courageous lord who lost everything he held dear. Of a strong young woman willing to sacrifice everything for happiness.

Book Description:
Since the blurb is cryptic, here's a quick description: Gillian is a young woman who is heavily abused by her father. Christopher, the fearsome Dragon of Blackmour, marries her because he promised her brother William he would give her a safe place to live if William died. However, he doesn't wish to love her because his first wife betrayed him before she died. He's also afraid Gillian will despise him if she discovers his secret: he's blind. Neither expects how their lives will change once they marry.

The book is a historical romance set in the medieval period. The characters are well-drawn and act in realistic ways. The pacing is good, and every scene serves a purpose. There are no explicit sex scenes, but the main characters do have sex after they're married. There are three witches (of the "brewing potions" kind) that are minor characters, though no actual magical potions are consumed. One of these witches can see the future because she has "the Sight," and she helps move events in subtle ways. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun" for those who like a little heat in their clean romances.

Excerpt: Chapter One
The twigs snapped and popped in the hearth, sending a spray of sparks across the stone. One of the three girls huddled there stamped out the live embers, then leaned into the circle again, her eyes wide with unease.

"Is it true he's the Devil's own?"

"'Tis the rumor," the second whispered with a furtive nod.

"He was spawned in the deepest of nights," the third announced. She was the eldest of the three and the best informed on such matters. She looked over her shoulder, then looked back at her companions. "And I know what happened to his bride."

Gillian of Warewick paused at the entrance to the kitchens. She didn't like serving girls as a rule, what with their gossiping and cruel taunts, but something about the way the maid uttered the last of her boast made Gillian linger. She hesitated, waiting for the girl to go on.

"'Tis said," the third began, lowering her voice and forcing the others, including Gillian, to edge even closer, "that his lady wife found him one night with his eyes as red as Hellfire and horns coming out from atop his head. He caught her before she could flee and she's never been heard from since. 'Tis common knowledge that he sacrificed her to his Master."

Gillian felt a shiver go down her spine. Her knowledge of the world outside the castle walls was scant indeed, but she could well believe that England was full of witches and ogres who wove their black magic in the dead of the night. Her brother had told her as much and she'd had no reason to doubt his tales.

"He never leaves his keep, or so I'm told," the second girl said suddenly, obviously trying to sound as important as the third. "He has familiars see to his affairs."

"Perhaps he fears someone will learn what he truly is," the youngest of the three offered.