Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dead Write by Sheila Lowe

Reviewed for "Review the Book"
I have always found forensics of any type interesting and this forensic handwriting mystery did not let me down. Well-formed plot and characters, with suspense building throughout the book.  This is the third in the Claudia Rose series by Sheila Lowe, but the first I have read. There are a few hints here and there that bring the reader up to date without going into a lot of repetition for those who have read the previous books.

On the strength of a television interview, Claudia receives an offer, albeit a rather demanding offer, to come to New York for an interview to work with Baroness Grusha Olinetsky -- immediately. The Baroness is a "world class matchmaker" and just fired her handwriting expert who also happens to be Claudia's nemesis. Claudia's first instinct is not to go, she is still recovering from the recent murder of a close friend and was nearly a victim of a psychopath herself. Her partner Joel Jovanic doesn't want her to go, nor does her ward, Annabelle. However, Grusha has arranged a flight the next day from California to New York, and offered a sum she feels she can not refuse. Besides, she is concerned about how serious the "bad mistakes" were that the previous expert made.

Once in New York her life becomes a whirlwind of unique characters, handwriting with "red flags" that were ignored, and too many coincidental deaths. Who is trying to bring Grusha and her business to ruination? The action picks up as the book goes along and Claudia becomes more involved with every page, while problems are also stirring back at home.

I found the book held my attention, loved learning bits and pieces of graphology, and will definitely be reading more of  Sheila Lowe's books, starting with the first. Fascinating characters, bodies piling up, until the final diabolic debacle comes crashing down. An entertaining, cohesive story with lots of conceivable suspects.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

Review based on Advance Reading Copy

A fairytale within a fairytale.  This book was a wonderful surprise to me. The inner fairytale took me back to my childhood, but it did not leave me there once the outer fairytale began.  The Rosenthals had been a very close and loving family, but after the sudden death of her husband Jude, Meg discovers an alarming amount of debt that she will be unable to deal with in present circumstances.  Their teenage daughter Sally is not dealing with the loss of her father well, which is creating a rift between herself and her mother.

Meg is a folklorist and has entertained her daughter with some of her favourite fairytales as she grew up.  In particular, she has followed and studied fairy tales written and illustrated by two women who created a school of fine arts. The school was originally opened in Arcadia Falls to women only at a time when women were expected to marry, have children and stay home.  Meg is thrilled when she is hired to teach at Arcadia, now a co-ed boarding school a few miles from the town of Arcadia Falls. As isolated as the school is, it is here that she feels Sally will finally begin to heal.

Carol Goodman has a wonderful descriptive flow in her writing.  The story of "The Changeling Girl", a favourite tale of both Meg's and Sally's, was written in this location.  On their arrival, they see many parts of that fairy tale in the surroundings, in particular the copper beech tree, central to "The Changeling Girl" tale. Thus begins a new chapter in their lives which quickly takes on the flavor and nuances of a new fairy tale, or perhaps better said, an entwined tale of past and present.  Upon arrival at the school, the reader feels a sudden shift of reality.  Meg has been offered free use of the very cottage the original story-tellers had lived in, but Sally has chosen the dorm, leaving her mother to live in the cottage alone.

In flowing prose, Ms. Goodman has written side by side the original story and the current happenings at the school in parallels. It doesn't take long for Meg to realize that the atmosphere is heavy with strange events and a feeling of evil lurking in the background. There are many secrets, pagan holidays are celebrated by the students and  the woods are said to be haunted by the ghost of Lily, the original partner, who died in a fall... or was she murdered?  Her death left Vera, her partner, devastated.  A brilliant setting for fairy tales and an enjoyable read.  This is a winner, and is the seventh novel by Carol Goodman.  From the description of her previous book, "The Lake of Dead Languages", I will definitely want to read it too. 4 ½ stars.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Six Geese A-Slaying by Donna Andrews

I want to go to Caerphilly next Christmas to watch their parade.  Better still, I wish I had been there to see the one just past! Who knew putting together a Christmas parade could entertain a reader throughout most of a book, have an acting "Mary" go into labor on the nativity float, and in between have and solve a murder? Not to mention the llamas and camels and elephants, oh my!  Elephants? Well, it is really a Holiday parade incorporating several December holidays and Meg Langslow has been put in charge.

Donna Andrews knows how to entertain and be completely unexpected at the same time. In her several books, she consistently brings to her reading audience laughter, mystery, and a cast of characters that must be read to be believed. This is one author I would love to meet, her imagination knows no bounds, even to the name of the town. She also has the uncanny ability to combine characters both human and animal and this time she has done it in a big way.

Her cast of regular characters is surprisingly large and interactive and yet there is always room for more. Who will solve the murder? Why was it committed in the first place, and why at Christmas? There are enough suspects with motive to fill the jail and then some. I’m always sad in a way when the mystery is solved and the story ends, but very thankful that so far there is always another on its way. This is one series you can depend on to lift your spirits. A great cozy read that makes you feel like part of the family.