“Black-Eyed Blonde” by Benjamin Black

14 Apr
"Black-Eyed Blonde" by Benjamin Black

“Black-Eyed Blonde” by Benjamin Black

Fans of specific authors often bristle when someone else takes on a character or style. After all, it’s rare to best the originator. Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black is an exception. It’s a Raymond Chandler-style detective story (complete with Phillip Marlowe) and it’s true to the noir style and plots while being elegantly written and fast moving.

Marlowe is hired by a beautiful perfume heiress, Claire Cavendish, to find an ex-boyfriend, Nico Peterson. Peterson doesn’t strike Marlowe as Claire’s type, and as he investigates, his intuitions are confirmed. He uncovers a complicated circle of shady characters. There’s Claire’s loutish husband, her ne’er-do-well brother and coarse, overbearing mother. There are suspicious bartenders, club owners, and dangerous thugs. The case grows to include mistaken identity, both accidental and purposeful, as well as drugs and murder.

Black writes in Chandler’s style, without a hint of parody. It’s no surprise that he’s so accomplished; Black is the pen name of John Banville, the Booker Prize-winning author. If you are looking for a noir detective story, this one won’t disappoint.

–Leslie Tate

“Where Monsters Dwell” by Jorgen Brekke

7 Apr
"Where Monsters Dwell" by Jorgen Brekke

“Where Monsters Dwell” by Jorgen Brekke

The curator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, is found decapitated and flayed alive. In the meantime across the Atlantic, the archivist of the Gumnerus Library in Trondeim, Norway, is found slaughtered in a similar fashion. It turns out both the victims were researching a rare text known as the Johannes Book, a journal of a suspected sixteenth-century Norwegian serial killer that is disturbingly bound in human skin. Upon discovering the common factor between the two recent murders, the respective American and Norwegian homicide detectives, Felicia Stone and Odd Singsaker, join forces to catch a sadistic monster.

I began this book expecting more of a Dan Brown type of thriller, what with the author’s literary references to Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie and hints to secret societies, but I quickly realized this narrative veered more into Thomas Harris Hannibal Lector territory. While the story unfolded in a different direction than I originally anticipated, I still enjoyed this fast paced mystery, which though grisly was not overly bleak.

–Sabrina Pollock

“A Place of Confinement” by Anna Dean

31 Mar
"A Place of Confinement" by Anna Dean

“A Place of Confinement” by Anna Dean

The sharp-witted spinster, Miss Dido Kent, is dependent upon the good will of her brothers, but when she turns down the marriage proposal of a dismal clergyman, she is in disgrace. As punishment, Dido is exiled to act as a companion to her hypochondriac-but-wealthy Aunt Manners, who is visiting her childhood home, Charcombe Manor. However, the ladies’ arrival coincides with the disappearance of another visiting houseguest, the heiress Letitia Verney. When Letitia’s suitor, Mr. Tom Lomax, is suspected of spiriting her away, Dido is inclined to believe in the young man’s claims of innocence against her better judgment. While Dido has no personal liking for Tom, who is a known fortune hunter (and the feeling is mutual), she does have decidedly tender feelings for his father, William. Dido is determined to keep the Lomax family name respectable, at least for William’s sake, but to do so she will have to solve the mysteries of Charcombe Manor.

A Place of Confinement is the fourth book in the Miss Dido Kent Regency mystery series.  The story is an engaging whodunit, while staying true to the era by gently exploring its social norms such as inequality in gender and rank. Written in prose similar to the style of Jane Austen, Anna Dean’s work is a great choice for fans of this classic novelist.  Readers may also enjoy Stephanie Barron’s mystery series featuring Jane Austen herself as the intrepid sleuth.

–Sabrina Pollock

“World After” by Susan Ee

21 Mar
"World After" by Susan Ee

“World After” by Susan Ee

In the sequel to Angelfall, Penryn has found her kidnapped sister Paige only to lose her again when other survivors of the angel apocalypse, thinking Paige a monster, stage an attack. Paige has now fled for cover into the ravages of what’s left of San Francisco, with Penryn mounting a desperate search to find her before an angry mob does. But Penryn’s search will lead her directly into the heart of the angels’ nefarious plans for humans, and her path will once again cross with the hunted angel Raffe, who is still on a search of his own for his stolen wings.

Thankfully, this urban fantasy sequel does not suffer from the “sophomore slump” like many second books in a trilogy. World After picks up right where the action left off in the previous book and continues at a breakneck speed, and fortunately Susan Ee has managed not to sacrifice her characters’ development for the sake of said action. I eagerly await the next installment in this series.

–Sabrina Pollock

The “Ashes” trilogy by Ilsa Bick

14 Mar
"Ashes" by Ilsa Bick

“Ashes” by Ilsa Bick

During The Walking Dead’s hiatus, I went back and finished Ms. Bick’s Ashes series, featuring Alex, her resourceful 17-year-old heroine, which I had started some time ago. Alex, who is suffering from an inoperable brain tumor, goes camping in the Michigan wilderness with the intention of scattering her parents’ ashes and ending her life, when a series of electromagnetic pulses renders all electronic devices useless in addition to turning almost every post pubescent into cannibalistic, zombielike creatures. Saddled with a sullen, obstinate 8-year-old, who witnessed her backpacking grandfather die when his pacemaker stopped, and short on supplies, Alex must struggle to stay alive for Ellie’s sake. In consequence, she finds a love interest in Tom, a young soldier on leave from Afghanistan, and a possible sanctuary from the ever-involving “Changed” in Rule, a village run by descendants of the Amish.

Like most trilogies, I thought that the first book in the series was the best in spite of its cliffhangers and unresolved mysteries. While the author was able to successfully convey suspense in Ashes, she manages to lose the tension somewhat in her second and third offerings, Shadows and Monsters. Also, some reviewers find the series too gory and would classify it as horror instead of post-apocalyptic, though it should still please fans of dystopia. I had always remained somewhat curious as to how Ms. Bick would end her trilogy and am glad I came back to it.

–Kassandra Pollock

“The Assassination of the Archduke” by Greg King and Sue Woolmans

7 Mar
"The Assassination of the Archduke" by Greg King and Sue Woolmans

“The Assassination of the Archduke” by Greg King and Sue Woolmans

Unfortunately, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary is a mere footnote in history. If you have heard of him at all, it is in the context of his and his wife’s assassination at Sarejevo on June 28, 1914, which sparked the outbreak of World War I. With this in mind, the historians Greg King and Sue Woolmans rescue the Archduke from obscurity, shedding new light on his life as a whole.

A nephew of the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand never expected to inherit the kingdom. However, when the emperor’s son committed suicide, Franz Ferdinand became next in line to the throne. At this time, Franz Ferdinand was suffering from tuberculosis, so he was written off by courtiers, who took to fawning over his younger brother, the likely successor. But showing his tenacious will, Franz Ferdinand conquered his illness, and he was just as determined to marry Sophie Choteck, the woman he loved. Unfortunately, Sophie as a mere countess was not considered sufficiently royal enough for the Habsburg dynasty, but the determined Franz Ferdinand refused to renounce his rights to the throne. A compromise was finally reached when the archduke agreed that while Sophie may be his wife she could never be Empress and any children born of their union would be ineligible for the throne.

However, in his refusal to give in to all his uncle’s demands, Franz Ferdinand had forever earned the emperor’s animosity, and in his enmity, Franz Joseph allowed the court to deliberately demean and insult Sophie. Her husband was naturally upset by the slights she endured and consequently at court earned the reputation of being an ill-tempered man. While it is true Franz Ferdinand held grudges against his wife’s worst offenders, the authors’ meticulous research proves that above all the archduke was a dedicated family man, devoted to his wife and their three children.

In their biography of the archduke, the authors have chosen to primarily focus on his private life with just the necessary amount of coverage to the complex politics leading up to World War I. This makes for a very touching read, and a very fitting tribute to a loyal, loving man who has been so long neglected and misrepresented.

–Sabrina Pollock

“Through the Ever Night” by Veronica Rossi

27 Feb
"Through the Ever Night" by Veronica Rossi

“Through the Ever Night” by Veronica Rossi

This time it is different for Aria. Unlike in the first book of the Under the Never Sky trilogy, Aria is not new to the aether and she is not a weak dweller; she is an Audile, and she is a survivor. The same holds for Perry, a boy-grown-into-a-man and now commanding Blood Lord of The Tides. That makes all the difference for their relationship and who they are.

And it made all the difference to me as a reader.

In Under the Never Sky, I was so drawn to Aria and Perry because they’re relationship wasn’t what this was all about; above all else, they put their love aside to strive for survival and to uphold their own duties to themselves and the ones they love. That was so relieving from what you normally find in YA romance. So when I read the synopsis and started reading the book to the sequel, I was a little beset to find that the romance was so upfront and prominent in this book.

But I quickly learned the truth and I found addiction to this book and its beauty. I don’t know if I have ever felt such pain, realism, and heartache for another character as I felt through this book. Aria has been given so much growth and strength in this book that it is phenomenal. My heart pleaded with her and I felt like my soul wept for her. She is everything that you want in a heroine.

And the other characters are all on the same exact and astonishing caliber as Aria. What we get in this book is a new, deeper look at Roar and he has quickly become my favorite support character. He has his own story, his own existence and desires and drives but his loyalty and love for Aria is wonderfully placed. There is a new take on Soren and Hess. We are introduced to Liv and the infamous Sable. There is just the right amount of hints towards a love triangle while remaining utterly unique.

Veronica Rossi really raised the bar from her debut and it can only mean good things to come. She has developed her pacing and shown that she is capable of strong, masterpiece characterizations. I simply cannot wait to read Into the Still Blue and would recommend this book to anyone.

–Leila McGuire

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