Short Takes on Recent Reads

I write a lot of reviews for Booklist so many of my "Recent Reads" are reviewed there rather than here.

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear is 10th in the Maisie Dobbs series and seems
to be wrapping up her years as a London private investigator in the years following WWI. This is set in 1933 when Maisie takes on the job of investigating the murder of an accomplished and well liked Indian woman, Usha Pramal, who was found shot through her bindi and left in a canal. After setting up an interview with a young woman who lived in the same house as Usha, she is found murdered, too. While working on the investigation Maisie decides to make a big change in her life, James Compton returns from Canada with a proposal for her, and her two employees are offered new challenges.

The Old Turk's Load by Gregory Gibson is set in 1960s New Jersey and does a good job playing into the flavor of mid-twentieth century noir. It features a load of uncut heroin, a riot, a PI, an unscrupulous land developer, a down and out mailman who lost his voice to throat cancer, mobsters, and a young woman with the unlikely name of Gloria Mundi.

The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr is about one-time piano prodigy Lucy Beck-Moreau who walked away from her musical career when her family conspired to keep the death of her beloved grandmother from her when she was participating in a prestigious competition. Now her ten-year-old brother is the star of the family and a new teacher has come into their lives. This look at Lucy's life will have strong appeal to teens who are or have been serious about music.

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum feels like nonfiction, like collective biography as memoir. It is the stories of their lives as told by a collection of teens living in an institution much like a nursing home and by a woman who works there who even though she was in a terrible accident that cost her the use of most of her body. They are not their disabilities or handicaps. They all become living, breathing, individuals. I listened to this in audiobook format which worked very well with different narrators reading each character's story. By turns it was funny, sad, heartwarming, and wrenching. Highly recommended.

Unbreakable by Kami Garcia is the first novel in the Legion series. Kennedy Waters sees something strange in a cemetery one night when she chases her cat who has uncharacteristically run away. It looked like a woman, barely suspended over a grave. The next day her entire life changes. She comes home to find her mother dead. Because her father had abandoned them long ago, Kennedy is given over to the care of an aunt who arranges for her to go to a boarding school. The night before she is to leave, Kennedy discovers identical twin boys in her room who save her from a vengeful spirit. Basically this novel sets up the premise that a powerful demon is responsible for her mother's murder and that a group of five teenagers, all with special skills, are the only ones who can stop him. It is a quick read and readers who like Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed in Blood should find it a good readalike.

In Diane Gaston's spicy Regency romance, A Reputation for Notoriety, widowed Lady Celia Gale ventures into a gambling hell called the Masquerade Club to try to win some of the funds she desperately needs. Her husband, a baron, gambled away his fortune and now she is responsible for  her harridan mother-in-law and a step-daughter, Adele, who is the closest to a daughter Celia with ever have even though only a few years separate them. If Adele is going to make a good match during her London season she will need a proper wardrobe. Celia has skills at cards learned from her father. The Masquerade Club is owned by Rhys, the bastard son of Lord Westleigh who has never acknowledged him. His half brothers convinced him to open the Masquerade Club as an investment for them because their profligate father has put them all on the edge of ruin. When Rhys sees how well Celia plays cards her offers to hire her to help spur on the gamblers. A very enjoyable story that shows a different side of Regency life. It put me in mind of Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer.

Bad Nights by Rebecca York starts with young widowed professor Morgan Rains discovering, near her rural cabin, a handsome, buff man who shows obvious evidence of torture. Jack Brandt, a former Navy SEAL had been investigating militia that had established a base near Morgan's cabin but something has gone very wrong and if he and Morgan are going to survive he will have to fill in some of the blanks in his stolen memories. Fast paced romantic thriller. York is a master of the romantic suspense genre.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier made me think of the wonderful books of Quaker life, The Friendly Persuasion and Except for Me and Thee by Jessamyn West that I read while in high school. Chavalier's story of a recently jilted young woman from England who accompanies her sister who is to be married in America makes Quaker life in 1850s Ohio come vividly to life. Honor Bright is horribly  sick the entire voyage to America, then after arriving in the journey from New York to Ohio, her sister is taken ill and dies. Honor must make her way alone to Ohio to tell her sister's fiancĂ© that she has died. Before she gets that far she encounters a slave catcher and spends some time with a milliner who befriends her. Living uneasily with her sister's fiancĂ© and his widowed sister-in-law, Honor soon accepts the proposal of a young man in the Quaker community. She finds herself drawn into helping escaping slaves even though her new family forbids it. Throughout the book quilting and the difference between English and American designs plays a role. A slave catcher, the brother of the milliner, makes frequent appearances.

The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero. I picked this up because as a Hispanic I'm always on the lookout for books that are by or about other Latinos. I loved Pam Munoz Ryan's excellent, award winning book for children, The Dreamer which was about Pablo Neruda. Recently the long dead poet was back in the news when his body was exhumed to see if his death had been murder via poison. Ampuero's mystery novel features Cayetano Brule, who in the 1970s meets Neruda and is offered a case that turns him into a private detective. Neruda advises Cayetano to read the Georges Simeon mysteries featuring the Belgian sleuth Maigret to learn how to learn his new trade. Neruda, who is suffering from cancer wants Cayetano to find a doctor who lived in Mexico City in 1940. Cayetano's quest takes him from Valparaiso, Chile to Mexico City, to Cuba, East Berlin, and back again as he uncovers all kinds of things about the poet, communism, socialism, democracy, and revolution. Readers who like literary mysteries will enjoy this intricate but slow paced story.

A Fistful of Collars, he fifth Bernie and Chet mystery by Spencer Quinn is a fast-paced enjoyable mystery tale told from Chet's point of view. Chet is a German Shepherd who washed out of the police academy and became Bernie Little's sidekick and partner in the Little Detective Agency. When a movie starts filming in the valley Bernie is hired by the mayor's office to provide extra security for Thad Perry, a top box office draw. They end up investigating two murders and come into conflict with Bernie's ex who wants their young son Charlie to be in movies and Thad's constant companion, a cat named Brando. Endearing characters and an entertaining listen.
mystery. private investigator. human-animal team

Cargill, C. Robert
Dreams and Shadows
Harper Voyager 9780062190420
Take every supernatural character you've ever heard of-- faeries, angels, wizards, tricksters, jinn, monsters, even the Green Man--and mix in some graphic violence, detailed fight scenes, and stories within stories and you have this fascinating fantasy. The main characters are two boys, one stolen away as an infant, a changeling left in his place, and the other we meet as a neglected eight-year-old who makes an imprudent wish when found by a jinn. The hype for this book likens it to Neil Gaiman and there are elements that bring him to mind as well as things that made me think of Charles deLint, Brenna Yovanoff, and Holly Black. I enjoyed it but it isn't a favorite because most of the characters were rather mean spirited and the book had some pretty major info dumps.
fantasy, paranormal-horror, audiobook