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Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: A Cast of Shadows

Title: Cast of Shadows
Author: Hailey Edwards
Page Count: 110 pages (novella)
Publisher: Samhain
Genre: fantasy romance
Copy for review sent by the publicist in anticipation of an honest review

Back Cover Summary:

"The strongest net is no match for destiny. "

An "Araneae Nation" Story

Daraja has grown up watching her brothers journey down the river on the traditional Deinopidae rite of passage. Each returned with riches from their travels, and lovers with whom to share their lives.

Now she has reached the age where she would strike out on her own to seek her fortune-if she were male. Instead, she is expected to sit patiently, weave her nets and wait for the river to bring a husband to her.

Patience, however, has never been her strong suit.

Brynmor haunts the forest surrounding the city of Cathis, his disembodied spirit inextricably bound to the wild canis roaming his lands. Until the day he stumbles across a brazen trespasser in his woods.

Compelled to step in when the canis suspect her of poaching one of their own, Brynmor fears he has lost a piece of his ragged soul to the feisty, adventure-seeking female. And when the canis confront the real poachers, he is forced to choose which life to sacrifice. Hers...or his own.

Warning: This book contains one heroine with a knack for weaving nets and one hero who relishes getting caught. Expect singing, some howling, ghostly shenanigans, and the start of a love that transcends death.

So I'm pretty much in love with the Aranae Nation series at this point and was so excited to be offered a copy of this novella for review that I broke my "no more books for review" rule.  This has seriously been the only exception and it was totally worth it.

I'm usually on the fence about previous villains coming back as the hero in future books.  There's just something about a person being a douche in the past that makes it hard to imagine them getting their own happily-ever-after, you know?  I think it takes a lot of skill for an author to work with this element convincingly, and the author here did a great job.

Spoilers (sort of) ahead, ye be warned.

If Brynmor was on the Aranae equivalent of Facebook, his relationship status would definitely have to be "it's complicated."  While he was alive, he was married to Isolde, who was in love with her soul mate, a cornerstone of her religious beliefs, to the extent that she stepped out on her marriage to Brynmor and had a child with her soul mate after bearing Brynmor a son of his own.  Brynmor flew off the handle and killed Isolde's lover, and Isolde (naturally) never forgave him, and the bitterness between them seeped over into every facet of their lives, including their relationships with the two sons that were involved.

Fast forward to after Brynmor has died.  He's still kicking around in a sort of spiritual waiting room, watching over his loved ones.  That's the odd thing- despite the fact that his marriage to Isolde was to settle a debt and she was clearly in love with someone else to the exclusion of all others, he genuinely loved Isolde and was hurt by her actions.  He understood after the fact that he had committed a serious moral transgression (even though as paladin he can do pretty much what he wants and none of his clansmen would have faulted his actions) but also realized that he couldn't change the past.  All he could do was secure a safe future for Isolde and both of the boys, even the one who wasn't his.  He understood he had tanked his relationship with his biological son.  He didn't know what to do about any of this.

When he meets Daraja while she's fishing, he's immediately attracted to her but isn't sure how to make the first move.  When he was paladin, he just did what he wanted; now he's a nobody and he has to reassess his entire way of thinking and doing things to fit his new situation.  He's bound to a wolf alpha because he needs a body in order to stick around, and he finds himself in a new situation - being unsure how to proceed.

Daraja doesn't want to hear that, though.  She's on a quest to find herself a husband, and her future husband has to meet a few pretty obvious criteria.  One, he has to be emotionally available.  Two, he has to be a decent person.  Three, he has to be willing to become her husband, that is, not sticking around in limbo forever living with wolves in the forest.  Daraja is decisive and bold; Brynmor doesn't stand a chance.

Like all good novellas, in my opinion, this one covers a lot of ground in a few short pages but doesn't shortchange any aspects of the story. I think it was a wise choice to tell this story this way- at the end I felt satisfied with how things had turned out.  I think Brynmor will probably make some different choices this time around.

I have no idea when the next book in this series is coming out but whenever it is, I will definitely be reading it.  What a fun story!

Overall Rating:

What's Next at What Book is That?: Planning a Series Catch-Up

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: A Lack of Temperance

Title: A Lack of Temperance
Author: Anna Loan-Wilsey
Page Count: 304 pages
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: historical mystery, first in a series
Copy for review obtained via my public library

Back Cover Summary:
Have typewriter will travel...and track down dead bodies. Not the usual motto for a Victorian private secretary and certainly not what Miss Hattie Davish has in mind when she responds to the latest summons for her services. On the eve of the 1892 Election, Hattie arrives in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a booming health spa and vacation resort, hoping to hike the hills, botanize and placate the demands of her newest high-society employer. Yet her employer is missing, and this idyllic Ozark village is being plagued by a league of temperance women attacking saloons with hatchets and bricks, a city council candidate fighting in the streets and a trail of cryptic death threats. With her reputation and life on the line, Hattie will put more than her trusty typewriter to the test.

I had seen this title pop up in my Google Reader a couple of times and the interesting and unique historical setting is what first grabbed my attention.  The setting of Eureka Springs is almost a character unto itself throughout the story, which was a good first offering from a debut mystery author.

Hattie Davish is refreshing as a protagonist- astute, observant, curious but not nosy, she shows up in Eureka Springs to do a job and is thoroughly put out that her employer is such an enigma and that the workings of the Temperance movement are so chaotic.  All she wants is some clarification on what she's supposed to be doing, and where, and with whom, and what she gets is an entry way into a murder mystery.  Investigation is not in her job description, certainly, but she isn't one to just sit back and let injustice pass.

This is one of those mysteries where the reader can certainly figure out who the murderer is if he or she keeps track of the details, and the conclusion is logical, which is nice.  There are a couple of times where the plot slowed a little for my tastes- one too many scenes of the police not taking Hattie seriously and maybe one too many red herrings- but these are matters of personal preference, and let's face it, I'm not sure how seriously Hattie's discoveries would have been taken at the actual time in history either.

There were also lots of references to Hattie's mysterious benefactor/reference/previous/current employer, and I admit I wasn't quite clear on how he and Hattie were connected.  I'm hoping we'll find out more about him in future stories.

There was also Hattie's interest in the town doctor in Eureka Springs.  He seems like a nice guy, but I'm curious if we'll see him again since the next book is set in Georgia.  Time will tell, eh?

Overall this was a fun book and a good way to pass a Friday night after work.  It's not a hardboiled crime novel and falls squarely in the realm of cozy mysteries, and if that's your scene then I definitely recommend picking this one up.

Overall Rating:

Up Next at What Book is That?:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Review: The Labors of Hercules

Title: The Labors of Hercules
Author: Agatha Christie
Length: 8 hours, 48 minutes
Publisher: Harper Audio
Genre: mystery
Copy for review was purchased by me

Back Cover Summary:
In appearance Hercule Poirot hardly resembled an ancient Greek hero. Yet, reasoned the detective, like Hercules, he had been responsible for ridding society of some of its most unpleasant monsters.

So, in the period leading up to his retirement, Poirot makes up his mind to accept just 12 more cases: his self-imposed "Labors". Each would go down in the annals of crime as a heroic feat of deduction.

From what I understand, these stories were published in various magazines and sources and whatnot and then organized into this collection with the labors of Hercules theme.  Some of the stories are better than others, some are more cohesive than others, but this is one of the first Christie short story collections I remember reading and it was just as much fun to listen to this time around.

Rather than go through and summarize each individual story, I'll send you to the really well-done wikipedia page about the collection and move on to other things.  The only thread that connects each of these stories together is the Hercules theme, so you can read as many or as few of the stories as strike your fancy.

My favorite one of the bunch was "The Flock of Geryon," wherein Poirot enlists the help of, oddly enough, one of the guilty parties from a previous story to infiltrate a religious cult.  Turns out the character from that story (I'm not giving her name as that would be a spoiler obviously) is having trouble turning her mind from criminal enterprise to honest pursuits and figures helping with Poirot's investigations might help her sublimate her urges a little bit.  I liked this one because it felt so different from how a Poirot mystery usually turns out.  Usually you've got the stately old manor houses and high bred people wandering around doing the things they do and then someone gets murdered and it turns out everyone had a motive and an opportunity and the devil is in the details, and here it was more like a thriller, with suspected wrongdoings and bits and pieces of information from which a case had to be made.  Good stuff.

My least favorite one was "The Arcadian Deer," mostly for the reason that you just had to believe that things were the way that they appeared and the way that Poirot explained.  There wasn't any evidence to go back and double check, just a bunch of hunches that ended up explaining the mystery.  Not the best offering in my opinion.

The mythology reference and thread connecting all the stories also made me want to go dig out my collection of Greek myths and enjoy those again too.

This is another good book for a winter afternoon- lots to keep you interested and each story is short and sweet so there are lots of good opportunities for breaks.  Enjoy!

Overall Rating:

What's Next at What Book is That?
Review: A Lack of Temperance by Anna Loan-Wilsey
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