Sunday, February 26, 2017

Echoes in Death

Echoes in Death: An Eve Dallas Novel (In Death, Book 44) by [Robb, J.D.]
















Echoes in Death (In Death series #44) - J. D. Robb
St. Martin's Press
Release Date: February 7, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: As NY Lt. Eve Dallas and her billionaire husband Roarke are driving home, a young woman—dazed, naked, and bloody—suddenly stumbles out in front of their car. Roarke slams on the brakes and Eve springs into action.

Daphne Strazza is rushed to the ER, but it’s too late for her husband Dr. Anthony Strazza. A brilliant orthopedic surgeon, he now lies dead amid the wreckage of his obsessively organized town house, his three safes opened and emptied. Daphne would be a valuable witness, but in her terror and shock the only description of the perp she can offer is repeatedly calling him “the devil”...
While it emerges that Dr. Strazza was cold, controlling, and widely disliked, this is one case where the evidence doesn’t point to the spouse. So Eve and her team must get started on the legwork, interviewing everyone from dinner-party guests to professional colleagues to caterers, in a desperate race to answer some crucial questions:
What does the devil look like? And where will he show up next?

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While some long running series start to grow stale after awhile, J. D. Robb's In Death series is one of those rare few that keep running strong.  Echoes in Death is no exception.  Full of red herrings, brutal murders and assaults, and enough echoes of Eve's own past to shake her up, Echoes is a fast-paced thriller from start to finish.

When Eve and Roarke find Daphne Strazza wandering the side of the road- dazed, naked, and bloody- they have no idea the extent of the evil they will uncover.  At first it seems like a burglary and assault with the accidental murder of Dr. Anthony Strazza, and Strazza's unpleasant, god-complex and abusive behavior leave plenty of people on the suspect list for who'd want him dead.  As a series of like-crimes is uncovered it becomes less about Strazza's abusive tendencies and more about one very sick, very twisted man with a hidden agenda all his own.

Echoes in Death did an exceptionally good job of balancing Eve's personal and professional lives.  We saw more sweet, private moments between Eve and Roarke than usual- including a lovely blizzard scene.  There was also a very touching moment between Eve and Galahad that we don't usually see, though of course that was followed by the cat tricking a second breakfast out of Eve!  My only complaint is that I find it absolutely criminal that Roarke is only now introducing Eve to that "classic" vid- The Avengers.  Reading this book over Oscars weekend, I was a little disappointed not to get a scene between Nadine and Eve (or Nadine, Peabody, and Eve) congratulating Nadine on seven Oscar nominations for The Icove Agenda- but that would have been a bit too much added to the book, and I expect we'll come back to that in a later book since it will probably involve a glitzy party that Eve can't get out of! 

The mystery is a bit more traditional than some of Robb's more recent books- we don't see anything from the killer's point-of-view, and solving the crime is based on solid cop work and instinct.  Not a complaint, but a change of pace from some of the more recent books like Thankless in Death  and Apprentice in Death.  As always, I enjoyed not being sure of the killer until the end- although to my credit I suspected him at the first meeting, then fell for the red herrings Robb threw out to forget about him.  But I refuse to give away the finale, so you'll have to read Echoes in Death for yourself to discover the killer ending.  Robb does a great job writing villains who feel so entitled that they assume they'll get off even after confessing.  And the final twist reminds you once again why this book "Echoes".

Echoes in Death may be one of the best In Death books in awhile (although I'm biased, I love them all).  Fast-paced, smart, and a perfect blend of violence, murder, wit, and love.  Red herrings and plenty of suspects lead to a must read new Eve Dallas mystery!


Friday, February 17, 2017

Sinful Scottish Laird

Sinful Scottish Laird: A Historical Romance Novel (The Highland Grooms) by [London, Julia]

















Sinful Scottish Laird- Julia London
HQN Books
Release Date: February 28, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Synopsis:  Widowed and forced to remarry in three years' time or forfeit her son's inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand…and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly—though unwillingly—bewitched.  

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy's brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

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Sinful Scottish Laird is the second in Julia London's new Highland Grooms series and takes place about 30 years after Wild Wicked Scot.  Cailean Mackenzie (eldest son of Arran and Margot) may be set to one day inherit the leadership of the Mackenzie clan, but he seems to enjoy being on his own more than being surrounded by people.  He enjoys smuggling French goods with his brothers and building his own home in an isolated glen.  His isolation is disturbed when Daisy, Lady Chatwick, comes to the Highland hunting lodge her son has inherited. 

 Thanks to Daisy's first (older) husband, she can't enjoy being a widow and raising her son, Ellis, alone. Instead of appointing an executor to the estate to handle finances (which Daisy couldn't possible be trusted with, since she's a woman) the will says that if Daisy doesn't remarry in 3 years, she forfeits her son's inheritance.   Every fortune hunter in London is thrilled to try to win her hand and Daisy enjoys parties and flirting.  But she remains aware that they don't want her, just the money, and wishes she could meet someone who didn't care about the money.  A letter from Daisy's first love Rob announces that he will soon be resigning from the Navy and hopes to see her again.  To give Rob time to come back to London, and to take a break from the fortune hunters, Daisy packs up the household and goes to Scotland to see her late husband's hunting lodge.  Despite the disrepair and isolation of the house and the unfriendliness of her neighbors (until the local fortune hunters hear about the will), Daisy falls in love with the lodge and the Highlands.  And eventually, despite the reappearance of Rob, she falls in love with Cailean.

With a few simple descriptions, Julia London brings a little corner of the Highlands to life. Beautiful lochs, glens and rustic homes make the reader feel more comfortable than all the glitz and glamor of a London ballroom.  Despite this talent, and despite what the fast-paced and character-driven Scot promised, Laird fails to deliver.  The plot is plodding and we almost never see below the surface of the characters.  We learn that as a youth Cailean fell in love and proposed to an English beauty, who refused him because he was Scottish.  Is that the only reason Cailean is dour and anti-social?  This one event, despite being brought up in a loving and large family seems to be enough to turn him off marriage, love, and people altogether.  Despite his strong talk about how a Highlander grabs what he wants, he finds it easier to walk away than to grab the love that is offered to him.  Daisy's situation seems off from the beginning.  If her husband didn't believe she could be trusted to manage the estate for Ellis, why didn't he appoint an executor who would?  If marrying preserves the fortune for Ellis, Daisy isn't the one with the money and all the fortune hunters in the world wouldn't be able to access it.  Through Daisy's stubbornness in coming to Scotland and repairing the lodge we get glimpses of a strong and stubborn woman.  She recognizes that she was nothing but a means to an heir for her first husband and seems to rebel against that realization with flirtations and a somewhat desperate gayness after his death.  While Daisy is refreshingly honest with herself about what she wants from life (as well as regarding her desire for physical intimacy), the magnetic chemistry London proved she could write in Scot is nowhere present in Laird.  The politics of the time period get brief mentions in terms of smugglers and tension between England and Scotland, but unlike Scot where potential betrayal to the crown helped drive the story and prove the mettle of the characters, in Laird it only seems to offer an excuse for the few faceless Scots we meet to send dirty looks at the Chatwick family.  Since the ending of the book mentions that a mere 3 years from the setting of Laird will be 1746 and the Battle of Culloden (and the third book in the series) I would have expected a little more of the England-Scotland tension to be building here.

Overall Sinful Scottish Laird proves to be a slow book where the reader alternates between waiting for something to happen and the book to get moving, and hoping the book is almost over.  A disappointing and flat performance from London, who is normally a historical romance powerhouse.

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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Falling for the Highlander

Falling for the Highlander by [Sands, Lynsay]
















Falling for the Highlander- Lynsay Sands
HarperCollins/AvonBooks
Release Date: January 31, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Synopsis: Lady Murine Carmichael has known her share of bad luck. But when her debt-ridden half brother tries to sell her off in exchange for a few Scottish horses, it’s the final straw. If keeping her freedom means escaping through harsh countryside alone, so be it. She has barely begun her journey when she lands an unlikely escort—the brawny Highlander who just refused to buy her virtue.


Dougall Buchanan was disgusted by Lord Danvries’ shameful offer, but Murine tempts him beyond measure. Even bedraggled and dusty, the lass glows with beauty and bravery. Dougall wants to do more than just help her flee. He wants to protect her—with his life and his heart—if she’ll only let him. For Murine may be pursued by a powerful foe, but nothing compares to the fiery courage of a Highlander in love.

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The latest in Lynsay Sands' historic Highlander series follows Murine Carmichael, who readers familiar with the series will remember as the woman who was fainting all the time in previous books.  Readers less familiar with Sands' work will wonder if it is possible to turn a woman known for fainting into a heroine strong enough to match one of Sands' fiery Highland heroes.  Fear not- it can be done!

Heroine Murine Carmichael may have had more than her share of bad luck over the last few years (both parents dead, several siblings dead, getting stuck with a reprehensible English half-brother as a guardian, her father thinking she was too weak to lead her clan and leaving it to a cousin she's never met . . .) but she has finally reached the end of her patience.  Her half-brother and guardian has not only gambled away her dowry, he is now trying to barter her off in exchange for some horses.  When horse-breeder Dougall Buchanan refuses to accept the deal, brother Danvries starts thinking about who else he could loan Murine out to in order to get enough coin to pay for the horses.  Murine isn't stupid and knows even after Dougall refuses to do business with him, Danvries isn't going to let this new money-making idea go.  She takes the only option she can and runs away.  Her plan is to get to her friends Saidh and Joan, but she quickly lands an unlikely escort- Dougall Buchanan and his brothers!  The Buchanan brothers are gentlemanly enough to offer to help Murine get to safety, but aren't sure how to handle a weak woman on a journey. When they realize Murine is their sister Saidh's best friend (and the woman who saved Saidh from being murdered), they have a hard time reconciling Murine's different facets. Brave, strong, and weak?  As they get to know her they realize the fainting fits are more a lack of food than anything else and that Murine is as brave and strong as any Highland warrior.  Dougall is attracted to her from the beginning and soon the idea of marrying her to protect her from Danvries seems like the perfect solution.  But mysterious accidents, disappearances, and attempted murder soon have them realizing that nothing is as simple as they thought! 

Murine is the type of heroine that I like best- someone who doesn't believe she is brave or strong but is obviously that to those around her.  The more time she spends seeing herself through the Buchanan's eyes instead of her half-brother's the more she comes to believe in herself.  She acts when there is trouble and doesn't depend on others to save her.  These very things appeal to Dougall while at the same time drive him crazy- how can he fall in love with a woman so prone to trouble and so determined to help herself instead of letting him do the rescuing?  It takes the poor man a little while to figure out his emotions and for Murine to believe he's genuine, but in classic Lynsay Sands style, after the mayhem settles, our heroes are confident in both themselves and each other's love.

Falling for the Highlander is everything long-time Lynsay Sands readers expect: full of humor, mayhem, disasters, sweet romance, and sizzling chemistry.  Those new to Sands' books will want to read more (each book in this series is stand-alone and they don't need to be read in order, but characters cameo in them all and if you enjoy one you'll certainly enjoy them all).  If asked to choose a favorite scene I'd be torn between a highly memorable waterfall scene and Murine rescuing the Buchanan brothers from a burning building.  The younger Buchanans are great and scenes where we get to see all the brothers interacting are lots of fun! While the mystery behind who is trying to kill Murine seems pretty obvious- brother Danvries seems pretty tailor made for the role of bad guy- I enjoyed how the Buchanans, Sinclairs, and others pieced together their suspicions and helped Murine to realize that she had a lot of people in her corner. Four armies by the end of the book!  Long-time Sands readers will also keep in the back of their minds that Lynsay likes to throw curve balls to her readers and even a straight-forward mystery is never entirely what it seems!

A fast-paced and fun read full of wit, humor, and heart.  You'll fall in love with Dougall and cheer Murine on to a guaranteed and well-deserved happy ending.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Norse Mythology


Norse Mythology by [Gaiman, Neil]



















Norse Mythology- Neil Gaiman
W.W. Norton  Co
Release Date: February 7, 2017

Rating (out of 5):
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SynopsisIn Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.
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The much anticipated Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman brings new life to many of the traditional Norse myths, ranging from the creation of the world to the inevitable Ragnarok.  Gaiman says in his introduction that he was first introduced to Norse mythology in a way that would be familiar to many today: Marvel comics.  The success of the current movies with Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston    probably has as much to do with interest in the book as the original Mighty Thor Marvel comics had for Gaiman.  Gaiman's introduction gives readers a taste of the research that must have gone into the writing of this book, original sources and theories, connecting the myths to the geography of the people who told them.  However, it is done in an approachable way that will not scare off young readers or those not sure about the book.

The book itself is a collection of traditional myths, mostly focusing around some of the most familiar of the Norse gods: Odin, Thor, and Loki.  We learn how Thor got his hammer, Mjollnir; how Odin sacrificed himself on the world-tree Yggdrasil to gain knowledge; and how Loki tricked a giant into building the walls of Asgard without being paid.  There are stories of dwarfs and giants, monsters and magic, Fenrir the wolf who will eat the sun during the final battle and the Midgard serpent Thor will battle. We learn the Norse explanation for earthquakes and why salmon are shaped as they are.  We watch with a sense of inevitable doom as the gods make poor choices and alienate those who could have been their allies but will instead fight against them in Ragnarok.  Deception and betrayal, love, greed, intrigue, and complicated family life show us not only the world of Asgard but give us hints of the world of the Norsemen who first told these tales.  

The most striking feature of Norse Mythology is Gaiman's beautiful writing.  Gaiman surpasses his reputation as a brilliant story-teller with tales that manage to both retain their original, epic, flavor and blend a subtle modern feel that will ensure they appeal to today's readers- young and old.  The gentle cadence of each story nearly demands they be read aloud (whether you have an audience or not).  Adventure and emotion infuse each tale and by the last stories "The Last Days of Loki" and "Ragnarok: The Final Destiny of the Gods" I was moved to tears by battles both grand and individual.  But Gaiman ends on a gentle note of hope- Ragnarok may be an end, but it is also a beginning.  You close the book wondering what happens next.  The answer Gaiman hints at is that all things are possible and what comes next is what we make of it.

Neil Gaiman brings to life the tales of the ancient Norse sagas with every bit as much talent, wit, and emotion as any of the fictional novels he is so well known for.  Fans of any age, of American Gods and Marvel alike, will love the new life Gaiman infuses into these classic stories and be left hoping for more.

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