Tuesday, January 26, 2016

'Til Death Do Us Part- Amanda Quick

'Til Death Do Us Part- Amanda Quick
Berkley Publishing Group
Advanced Reader Copy: Release Date April 19, 2016 

Synopsis:  In this all new novel of deadly obsession Calista Langley operates an exclusive “introduction” agency in Victorian London, catering to respectable ladies and gentlemen who find themselves alone in the world. But now, a dangerously obsessed individual has begun sending her trinkets and gifts suitable only for those in deepest mourning—each engraved with her initials.  Desperate for help and fearing that the police will be of no assistance, Calista turns to Trent Hastings, a reclusive author of popular crime novels.  But as Trent and Calista comb through files of rejected clients in hopes of identifying her tormentor, it becomes clear that the danger may be coming from Calista’s own secret past—and that only her death will satisfy the stalker...

Amanda Quick begins this book with a note to readers that “things have changed in my Amanda Quick world”. Like her recent Secret Sisters (written as Jayne Ann Krentz), Til Death Do Us Part is edgier, more suspenseful than earlier books.  However, long-time readers shouldn’t worry that this means drastic or unwelcome changes to one who is, for me, a go-to author under all of her pen names. 

Til Death is a fast paced mystery featuring one of Victorian England’s more unnerving trends: memento mori items.  Mourning jewelry is made even creepier by being sent to the dearly departed before they die.  When Calista Langley finds a mourning ring with her initials on it in her bedroom, not the first “gift” of its kind, she’s disturbed enough to look for help.  Mystery writer Trent Hastings figures with his research in creating his popular detective Clive Stone, he can help.  And, much like Richard Castle in ABC’s Castle, his ability to look at situations from a slightly different point of view leads to figuring out the way the story should be told. 

Like most of Quick’s mysteries, we are given a large enough suspect pool that, while we are sure all of them are “bad guys”, figuring out THE “bad guy” keeps us guessing until the very end.  I always find it very satisfying trying to figure out why certain characters can or can’t be the main villain.  As with her other books, peeling back the layers of motives and dangerous obsessions kept me glued to the book until the last page.

Quick’s strong characters are once again engaging, enjoyable, and realistic.  Calista is a woman both willing and able to chart her own path and create a career when society still disapproved of women having careers.  Trent has come to accept that “everyone’s a critic” and while his name opens doors to getting vital information in the guise of “research”, everyone he talks to feels free to share their thoughts on his latest book.  Which would be more annoying to an author: today’s readers who have to wait until they’ve read the entire book to critique it but then have an endless web platform to discuss the book (the irony is not lost on me here!) or the Victorian author who serialized his book- meaning people could critique new chapters every week and worry about the direction a book may be going? 

Personally, I don’t think a look at Til Death  is complete without a nod to Quick’s wonderful sense of humor, often in some of the most unexpected places.  The business of funerals, funeral items, and mourning items included so-called “safety bells”- designed so that the person in the coffin could ring them if they were accidentally buried when not quite dead yet.  A truly disturbing gift for a murderous stalker to send someone- especially when it has your initials already on it! But you have to see the humor in the proprietor only guaranteeing the bell will work with the specially designed coffin it is intended to be sold with.  Personally, I thought the bell was even creepier than the mourning ring that was actually left on Calista’s bed, but the bell redeemed itself in a particularly satisfying way at the end, possibly also making it my favorite piece.

Another excellent book by Amanda Quick: a must read for her long time followers and an excellent introduction to newer readers.

Warning: As with All Krentz/Quick/Castle books, do not start this book at night if you have to get up early in the morning. You will find yourself unable to put it down!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Obsession- Nora Roberts

The Obsession- Nora Roberts
Berkley Publishing Group
April 12, 2016

The Obsession- Nora Roberts
Berkley Publishing Group
Advance Readers Copy. Release Date: April 12, 2016

Synopsis: Naomi Bowes was 11 years old when she followed her father into the woods one night, and freed the girl he was keeping in the cellar. Discovering her father was a serial killer/rapist haunted her entire family and changed Naomi's life forever. As an adult Naomi is a successful photographer who abandons a nomadic lifestyle to settle in the small town of Sunrise Cove. Before she knows it, she's making friends, rehabbing a house, and developing a "thing" with local mechanic Xander Keaton.  But the past casts long shadows, and nightmares never go away completely.

Naomi Carson (unsurprisingly, the family changed their last name) is one of the best and most realistic characters I've read in a long time.  She's a wonderful combination of who we all wish we were (you'd like to imagine yourself brave enough to save someone from a serial killer, or moving forward from childhood trauma), and who we realistically are (she has panic attacks and nightmares- who wouldn't?). In Naomi, Roberts gives us a character that's completely relatable instead of an idealized perfection.

My favorite parts of the book actually came from the descriptions of Naomi's photography. They are so well written you have no trouble seeing the photographs she's taking, whether it's a mossy log or a bookcase.  You become as immersed in the process as the character, and absolutely have your own favorite photographs by the end of the book.

I was a little disappointed by the slow pace of much of the book.  The book begins fast-paced and tightly focused on young Naomi. Discovering her father's victim, rescuing her, moving with her family to keep from being recognized. The tight family unit of brother and sister, mother and uncles is well done, and the constant looming shadow of her father, manipulating her mother even from prison, keeps the conflict and challenges front and center.  The end of the book introduces a serial killer obsessed with Naomi and her father, and the upheaval he brings to Sunrise Cove before being caught.  The tension is kept up by seeing some scenes through the killer's eye, and I was pleased I wasn't able to figure out who the killer was before the big finale (and equally please to think, when we discover who it is, "That makes perfect sense. Why didn't I think of that?").  However, most of the book is much slower paced than I remember other Nora Roberts books being.  While full of great descriptions and characters, I kept waiting for something to happen.  I don't need a book to be edge-of-your-seat action from beginning to end, but when I'm more than halfway through a book and find myself asking if there's ever going to be more to the plot, it might be time for some extra editing.

Overall a book worth reading, especially for its great descriptions, although I could have used a little more mystery in the plot.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon

Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon
Mark C. Jorgensen, photographs by Jeff Young.

This new book offers a glimpse into the lives of the elusive desert bighorn sheep: their habits, their social lives, and their natural habitats.  It is written for the general reader in a casual and engaging writing style that contains enormous amounts of fascinating information without feeling like a science lecture. I was particularly interested in the inclusions at the end of the book, where Jorgensen discusses sheep conservation and the current status of the sheep in the U.S. and Mexico in regions they traditionally call home.  This included not only their current numbers, but conservation efforts, hunting restrictions, challenges they face- such as the inclusion of non-native plant species in their habitat, and successes like Arizona's highway overpasses, allowing sheep to successfully travel from one location to another without crossing highways. Mark Jorgensen, who has served as a state park ranger, resource ecologist, and superintendent of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in his 36-year career in California State Parks and has spent 5 decades studying desert bighorn sheep, is clearly dedicated to sharing his love for and understanding of these amazing animals.

The truly unique aspect of this book, however, are the incredible photographs taken by Jeff Young. Young has been an avid photographer for over 40 years and since 2008 has focused on desert bighorn sheep.  There are over 200 photographs in the book, including rarely photographed behaviors such as the "taunting" and posturing of sheep before they battle.  The photographs make you feel as if you are right there, hearing the clash of horns, or the scrape of rocks as a sheep makes a seemingly impossible headlong dive down a cliff.  Some images, like one looking down at a ram balancing all four hooves on a small rocky peak, make you wonder not only how the sheep can do that- but how Jeff was able to take such an incredible shot! Action shots of jumping sheep show more clearly than words their amazing dexterity in seemingly impossible rocky landscapes. I was especially struck by images of the sheep in the red sandstone region of Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, where the red backgrounds seems to glow, highlighting the sheep instead of allowing them to blend in as they do in our local Sonoran Desert. And I defy anyone not to grin at images of newborn lambs exploring their new world.    

Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon is the perfect book for nature lovers and photography lovers of all ages, and a must-have for those living in the regions the sheep continue to call home.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reading, Writing, and Reviewing- Welcome to My Blog!

One of the things everyone knows about me is that I'm a big reader. Some people brag if they read 20 books in a year. I feel like a slacker if I read less than 20 books a month.  Fiction, non-fiction, histories, biographies, sci-fi, fantasy, romance- I'm a pretty omnivorous reader.

I worked for almost 10 years at one of the largest independent book stores in the NorthEast, Book Revue, before going to Simmons College in Boston for a Masters in Library Science.  Now I'm the archivist/curator at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum in Ocotillo, California.  When I read a good book I recommend it to museum visitors (we have a branch of the Imperial County Free Public Library in the museum), and often recommend them to friends at Book Revue (everyone there knew I was the person to ask for romance and fantasy recommendations and that still often holds true!).

Now I've decided to go from just doing Amazon reviews to starting a book review blog. Hopefully I'll read enough of a mix that there will be titles that interest a range of people. Mostly I plan to review newer books but will probably mix in some older titles that I'm discovering for the first time.

Thanks for joining me in the book world!