Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Fatal Stain by Elise Hyatt

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A Fatal Stain
by Elise Hyatt

ISBN-13: 9780425255230
Mass Market Paperback:
304 pages
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Released: October 2, 2012

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
As her wedding to detective Cas Wolfe approaches, Candyce "Dyce" Dare, sole owner (and employee) of the furniture refinishing business Daring Finds, desperately needs to find something to do to avoid sitting down and planning the event. Working on a table she recently bought at a yard sale fits the bill...until her sanding efforts uncover a disturbing stain. One that looks like it might be blood.

Dyce knows that, with a fiancĂ© who’s a policeman, parents who own a mystery bookstore, and a recent history of inadvertent involvement in murder cases, she can be prone to jumping to wrong conclusions. But then she discovers that the table’s previous owner has gone missing—and once more, she is drawn into a solve-it-yourself mystery project. And when Dyce starts a project, she just has to see it through…

My Review:
A Fatal Stain is a humorous cozy mystery involving a missing (and possibly dead) woman. It's the third in the series, but you don't need to read the previous mysteries in order to understand this one. However, this book did vaguely spoil the whodunit of the previous mystery.

The story was funny because Dyce was a bit out of touch with reality, but you see why when you meet her parents. She acted childishly and thoughtlessly at times, but she didn't come across as selfish. She was trying to be more mature in her behavior, but she still had a funny outlook on life, and she knew it. Her friends loved her for her odd behavior even though it's sometimes exasperating to them.

For all that she's a bit over the top as a character, Dyce somehow came across as very realistic at her core, and we certainly got to know her well. Her gay best friend also came across as a realistic person with depth as he struggled with the give-and-take required in relationships.

The mystery was clue-based, but I didn't guess the ending though I guessed many of the elements (before Dyce did). Dyce didn't spend much overall time working on furniture refinishing, but the times that she did gave readers a good feel for what the process is like and gave some tips on it.

There was a minor amount of explicit bad language. Sex was implied (mainly between Dyce and her fiancé), but there were no sex scenes. Overall, if you enjoy crazy-humor and mysteries, you'll probably enjoy this novel.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mrs. Malory and a Necessary End by Hazel Holt

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Mrs. Malory and a Necessary End
by Hazel Holt

ISBN-13: 978-0-451-41538-7
Mass Market Paperback:
244 pages
Publisher: Obsidian Mystery
Released: October 2, 2012

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
When Sheila Malory fills in for a friend at a local charity shop in the quiet English town of Taviscombe, she's happy for the change of scene. The work is interesting, but the store supervisor, Desmond Barlow, is arrogant and always finds fault with the workers. That is, until Desmond is found stabbed to death in the shop.

Desmond was disliked by pretty much everyone, but who did it? Mrs. Malory listens to the gossip around town as she visits friends and runs errands. She discovers important information that could reveal whodunit which she passes on to the detective on the case, who happens to be the son of a friend.

My Review:
Mrs. Malory and a Necessary End is a cozy mystery. This book is the 20th in the series. You don't need to read the previous novels to enjoy this one, and the answers to previous mysteries were not discussed in this one. However, the author did assume that the readers already knew the reoccurring characters and how they were related to Mrs. Malory. This information usually wasn't given when the characters were introduced, yet it became more clear as the story went on.

The story was very fast paced. Each scene focused on adding more clues about the mystery and was mainly dialogue. The descriptions (setting, job, characters, etc.) were brief unless more description was needed to understand and solve the mystery.

The whodunit in this puzzle-mystery was guessable but not obvious. I liked how Mrs. Malory picked up important information simply by her willingness to listen to people talk, that she encouraged them to give this information to the police, and the mutual respect between her and the detective on the case.

There was no sex. There was a very minor amount of explicit bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this novel to those who enjoy puzzle-mystery whodunits.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Marked Man by Barbara Hamilton

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A Marked Man
by Barbara Hamilton

ISBN-13: 9780425251638
Mass Market Paperback:
336 pages
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Released: October 2, 2012

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
1774: Ten weeks after the Boston Tea Party. Abigail Adams, wife of attorney John Adams, who is deeply involved with the Sons of Liberty—a secret organization opposing the Crown. The arrest of one of the Sons comes as a shock to both of them because it isn’t for treason, it’s for murder...

The accused is young Henry Knox; the victim is a royal representative to the colonial court. Did the murder indeed arise from the competition between the two for the affections of the daughter of a prominent Loyalist, or was it politically motivated?

Abigail and John believe Knox to be innocent, despite the strong evidence against him. Since John is currently working on another urgent case, Abigail begins the investigation. But as she pursues the truth, the killer pursues her—threatening not only Abigail but her vulnerable family...

My Review:
A Marked Man is a historical mystery set in 1774 in Boston. This book is the second in a series. You don't need to read the previous novel to understand this one, and this novel didn't spoil the previous mystery.

Vivid historical details about the everyday life and politics were skillfully woven into the story. The characters were people of the time period (as in, their ideas and ideals were accurate to the time), and they accurately portrayed the time without being cliche personalities. The characters reacted realistically to the situations, and I always understood why they were acting the way they were. I found the characters very engaging and interesting.

The mystery was an interesting clue-based puzzle. It was nice that Abigail was supposed to be investigating the murder and that she had a mutually-respectful working relationship with the official investigator. Whodunit was guessable but not immediately obvious. I realized where the clues were pointing at about the same time Abigail did.

There was no sex (though rape was referred to in conversation). There was a minor amount of explicit bad language. Overall, I really enjoyed the characters (and the mystery and the history) of this novel and would highly recommend it.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer

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Footsteps in the Dark
by Georgette Heyer

ISBN: 0-425-08769-7
Mass Market Paperback:
246 pages
Publisher: Berkley Mystery
Released: 1932, 1986

Source: Bought through

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
It wasn't the lack of modern conveniences that made a summer spent at the ancient priory mansion such an unsettling experience. It was the footsteps and unearthly moanings in the night combined with the tales of a ghostly monk haunting the place. But the siblings that inherited the place don't believe in ghosts, so they set out to discover who is trying to scare them off and why. Things turn deadly when a man turns up dead after claiming to be very close to discovering who the Monk really is...

My Review:
Footsteps in the Dark is a historical mystery set in England. It was first published in 1932 and was set in the late 1920's, so it was written as a contemporary mystery. Of the Heyer mysteries I've read so far, this is my favorite. It's very funny, especially since the group (3 siblings, a spouse, and an aunt) get spooked despite their determination not to believe in ghosts. Though there wasn't a lot of depth to the characters, they were engaging and likable.

The whodunit was well done. About halfway through, I predicted who were "bad guys" and who were "good guys." Closer to the end, I was certain who the Monk was. Yet I still felt elated to discover that I'd guessed correctly. I think I was elated because the clues were subtle things that were "off" more than evidence directly linked to the crime, so I knew my guess about the Monk was not a sure thing even though I felt certain.

The suspense was created by wondering what was causing the moans and groans (it does come across as spooky) and by the potential physical danger to the main characters.

There was no sex. There was some explicit bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this novel to those who enjoy humorous mysteries.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Giveaway on my ChristFocus Book Club blog

In case anyone here was interested, I'm hosting a book giveaway (of a Christian nonfiction book) on my ChristFocus Book Club blog.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Full Disclosure by Dee Henderson

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Full Disclosure
by Dee Henderson

ISBN-13: 9780764210907
Trade Paperback: 374 pages
Publisher: Bethany House
Released: October 2, 2012

Source: Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher and won through a Facebook contest.

Book Description, my take:
When Ann Silver drops information vital to tracking down a hired murderer onto Paul Falcon's desk in the FBI building, she leads him to believe she's a nobody sheriff of a small town instead of the well-known and loved Midwest Homicide Investigator. The information that she provided heats up an old, cold case, but Ann goes back home leaving Paul to ask around about who she is.

Despite learning she's an intensely private person and introvert who is content as a single, Paul Falcon decides she's a woman of mystery that he'd like to get to know and he wants to fix her deep hurts. And marriage to him with his huge, loving extended family would be just the thing!

Despite having little opportunity to spend meaningful time with her, his protective instincts kick in when he realizes she was involved in a cover-up of a high-profile crime and she'll be forced to endure public scrutiny when the case is exposed to the public. But the trick is getting Ann to trust him enough to share her many secrets and to want to share her life with him.

My Review:
First, I've read all of Dee Henderson's novels, and I'm happy she's feeling well enough to write again. I received an Advanced Reader Copy of her newest novel.

Full Disclosure is a Christian novel. Dee Henderson usually writes romantic suspense, but this wasn't really a suspense-genre novel. Both of the cases that Paul worked on were cold cases where no one was currently in any physical danger. There were spikes of suspense when an information leak could ruin the first investigation and when Ann suggests that the second case might ruin their potential relationship, but Paul doesn't seem overly concerned. The first case also had so many long interruptions that any suspense disappeared for me. The cases were interesting, but there wasn't a high level of sustained suspense involved.

It's also not a romance-genre novel. Almost the entire story was from Paul's point-of-view, and only a couple of Ann's few point-of-view scenes involved interacting with Paul. We get a few scenes of Ann thinking over whether she wants anything besides friendship with Paul--since she knows he wants marriage with her--and she decides she honestly doesn't. So I found it confusing when Ann would then allow Paul to hug and kiss her since that would be leading him on.

Paul was an interesting character and worthy hero, but I just didn't understand his attraction to Ann. The focus was on all their differences, how to overcome them, and all the sacrifice that would be involved (like she didn't want children and he did, so he gave up his dream of having children). Since the two never worked directly together as a team or spent time engaged together in meaningful activity, I never had a chance to say, "Ah, they are good together! They bring out the best in the other!" The interactions were mainly question-based "are we compatible?" rather than immersing us in the emotions of growing to love everything about the other person that is typical of romance novels.

We got to know a lot about Ann, but I never felt like I got to know her. I didn't understand why she went from happy with her life to deciding to risk facing her many fears about marriage (and why did she have these fears?) to enter a marriage where she had to sacrifice so much and gained little additional benefit. (Paul wasn't going to abandon her if she said no.)

And Ann was almost too perfect--everyone loved her, everyone thought her writing was perfect, she's a perfect airplane pilot, she has an extremely close relationship with God, and she can easily get any murder case unstuck. Yet she's such an introvert that she must have 4 hours a day completely to herself, and she's unwilling to let people know basic information like she's the MHI even if it creates a hassle for them. We never learn what causes these extremes in her life or how they combine to make a realistic whole.

In the story, Ann is the one who wrote the Dee Henderson novels. She explains that she used the true romances of her close friends but with a fictional suspense case. And this novel is her love story. Trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't was very distracting to me. And, unfortunately, since Ann is just so super-expert on so very many things, it came across as the author praising herself.

However, the cases were interesting and involved unexpected twists. The details about the jobs were vivid and interesting. I liked how Paul felt so comfortable talking with God about things. There was a strong Christian element to the story since Paul and Ann discuss their relationship with Christ with each other, and both talk with God about their relationship.

There was no sex or explicit bad language. Overall, as the ARC was written, I came away with rather mixed feelings and no desire to re-read the book as I have Dee's other novels. Hopefully some of this will be fixed in the final version.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Murder in the Rue Dumas by M.L. Longworth

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Murder in the Rue Dumas
by M.L. Longworth

ISBN-13: 9780143119524
Trade Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books
Released: September 25, 2012

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
When Dr. Georges Moutte is found murdered, Judge Antoine Verlaque is stumped. Certainly the director of theology at the Universite d'Aix had his enemies. Moutte was just about to name the recipient of an elite fellowship as well as his own successor--a highly coveted position that includes a lavish apartment in a seventeenth-century mansion--when his lips were sealed permanently. Yet Verlaque isn't convinced that any of the academics are capable of murder. Aided by his on-again, off-again girlfriend, law professor Marine Bonnet, Verlaque turns Provence upside down, uncovering a world far more complicated than university politics.

My Review:
Murder in the Rue Dumas is a "detective"/cozy mystery. While Judge Verlaque has legal right to investigate the murder, the level of everyday detail was more like a cozy mystery. It certainly had more mystery and less travelogue than the previous novel, Death at the Chateau Bremont. Murder in the Rue Dumas is the second novel in the series, but it didn't spoil the previous mystery and you don't need to read the previous novel to understand this one.

The details about the university, France, etc., were woven into the story and didn't slow the pacing more than in a cozy mystery. The mystery was clue-based, and I had accurate suspicions (though not a firm idea) about whodunit before the reveal. The characters were interesting and reacted realistically to the various situations. The suspense was from curiosity about whodunit, relationship tensions, and some threat of physical danger.

There were no graphic sex scenes. There was some explicit bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this mystery novel.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Two Crosses by Elizabeth Musser

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Two Crosses
by Elizabeth Musser

ISBN-13: 9780781405003
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook
Released: 1996; June 1, 2012

Source: Ebook review copy from the publisher through Netgalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
When Gabriella Madison arrives in France in 1961 to continue her university studies, she doesn’t anticipate being drawn into the secretive world behind the Algerian war for independence from France.

The people who surround her bring a whirlwind of transforming forces—a wise nun involved in smuggling children out of Algeria, a little girl carrying secret information, and a man with unknown loyalties who captures her heart. When she discovers a long hidden secret from her past, it all leads to questions about trust, faith in action, and the power of forgiveness to move beyond the pain of the past.

My Review:
Two Crosses is a Christian historical romance/suspense novel. The story was set in 1961 in France and Algeria. The vivid historical and setting details immersed me in the story. Many of the scenes were of characters in a terrorist-attacked area, so people died (including women and children), people were tortured, etc. This was more mentioned than described, and any descriptions were short and not very graphic. Still, since I wasn't sure that main characters wouldn't be killed off at any moment, it was somewhat difficult to read as I didn't want them to get hurt.

The story maintained a high level of suspense from start to finish. The suspense was created mainly by physical danger to the characters, but also from relationship tensions. The characters reacted realistically to their situations and were well-developed (though sometimes I wasn't sure about why they were acting that way), and I did want the "good guys" to survive and succeed.

Some French words were used, but you could either tell what they meant by the context or the translation was worked into the text. The characters talked frequently about trusting God and why God lets bad things happen. This was woven into the story in a natural way, and it didn't come across as lecturing to the reader or other characters.

There were no graphic sex scenes. There was a minor amount of "he cursed" style of bad language. The novel ended with everyone out of immediate danger and the story threads resolved, but with a major character headed off into danger. Overall, I'd recommend this suspenseful novel.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

And the winner is...

It's time to announce the winner of the Back to the Book Giveaway Hop. Including Twitter entries, we had 38 entries. Using a random number generator and numbering the entrants in the order I received them, the winner is:

Christy Maurer
who won "My Hands Came Away Red" by 
Lisa McKay

Congratulations! I'll be contacting you for your address.

For those who didn't win, you can always buy a copy of these books from your favorite bookstore or see if they have them at your local library.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer

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Black Sheep
by Georgette Heyer

ISBN: 0-451-17259-0
Mass Market Paperback:
232 pages
Publisher: Signet
Released: 1966, 1992

Source: Bought through

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Abigail Wendover, on the shelf at 28, is kept busy when her niece falls head over heels in love with a handsome fortune hunter. Abby asks for the help of Miles Calvery, the uncle of her niece's suitor, who has recently returned from a long stay in India.

Miles refuses to get involved citing that he has no influence over his nephew due to his long absence and his status as the shamed black sheep of the family. Abby finds Miles to be disconcertingly blunt and notices that he only conforms to those social manners that don't get in his way.

Abby loves how Miles can make her laugh, but how can he possibly be considered eligible when she has worked so hard to rebuff his own nephew's suit for her niece? And how can she possibly detach from an ailing sister who needs her? This is a heroine who has to be, literally, swept off her feet...

My Review:
Black Sheep is a regency-era historical romance. It's also an extremely funny story once Miles turned up. I usually enjoy how Heyer's main romantic pair are better people for having known each other and how well they work together. This story was different. I could understand the mutual attraction between Miles and Abby, but they don't work together (Abby only needed help with her niece, and Miles refused to get directly involved) and one could make a case that they're actually a bad influence on each other in terms of society standards.

As always, though, the author used her excellent understanding of human nature to craft realistic characters and an enjoyable story. The setting and historical details were woven into the story. It's not a thick book and not much actually happened, but it's still worth reading if you're a Heyer fan.

There was some explicit cuss words and some explicit swearing (with much more swearing that cuss words). There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this fun novel.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Under Eastern Stars by Linda Chaikin

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Under Eastern Stars
by Linda Chaikin

ISBN-13: 9781556613661
Trade Paperback: 378 pages
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Released: August 1, 1993

Source: Borrowed from the library.

Book Description, my take:
Coral Kendall and her sisters have been summoned home from London because their mother is seriously ill. They arrive in Calcutta, India only to discover that fighting with Burma will make it too dangerous to travel home. But Coral has the medicine her mother needs to get well! (For some unexplained reason, there is no medicine where her mother is and no one thinks to send the medicine ahead using cavalry messengers, who still safely travel the area.)

Jace Buckley is back in uniform as a British officer. His father wants him to discover if the attack really was from Burma or if someone else is causing trouble. Beautiful Coral convinces the dashing Major Buckley not only to look for her missing son Gem but to escort her and her family home while on his way to the outpost he'll be stationed at. On a road already full of hardship and danger, things get even more dangerous--someone wants him dead.

My Review:
Under Eastern Stars is a historical romance set in 1799 in India. It's the second book in the series. It picked up exactly where the author left off in the previous novel. To follow what's going on, you need to read Silk first.

Unlike the first book, this read like a romance novel: physical admiration, inexplicable attraction, constant rescues of the heroine, etc. But the hero realized he wasn't a good match for Coral. I agree with his choice for her perfect match, yet that character played an ever-dwindling role.

All of the characters felt that Coral was a devout Christian woman, yet I kept forgetting this was even a Christian novel despite the missionary references and periodic conversions. Why? With two exceptions (out of many instances), she wouldn't submit to any authority and didn't even think to trust God to work things out. If she encountered opposition, she forced her will--usually in the name of a noble goal--on everyone else even when it put other people in danger.

For example, she was willing to take a dangerous boat trip to get home. She was given her way even though it endangered those who would escort her, but that wasn't enough. To make sure her choice was seen as valid, she bullied her two sisters into taking the trip even though they didn't want to.

Coral was unrealistically naive. She suspected certain people of lying to her and having evil intent toward her. She even had proof. The hero--who was very clever and had the remarkable ability to always show up in time to save Coral from her foolish behavior--told her to not trust these characters, and suddenly she refused to believe anything bad against them. Huh?

The other characters were realistic and interesting, though. The villians were fairly subtle and cleverly manipulative. There was plenty of historical detail, though some scenes felt like they occurred mainly to provide a lesson on Indian culture. Coral constantly wandered around dangerous areas unescorted, which would never have been allowed. It made me wonder how accurate the rest of the historical detail really was. Still, it was interesting to learn more about how the East India Company worked to spread their power in India and how missionaries started reaching out to the Indians.

There was no bad language or sex. I got very tired of Coral's willful, thoughtless behavior, but it's an interesting and even suspenseful story if you don't mind that.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.