Tour’s Books Blog

March 16, 2016

Who is your favorite……….?

I’m on a number of Good Reads forums where this question invariably comes up? What’s your favorite book? Who is your favorite author? What’s you favorite series?

You know, that hard to say because even in a single genre you have sub-groups and then mashups and …….. well, you get the picture.

But it got me thinking about some of the best reading  – mostly because my doctor needed some ideas for books that she and her sister, someone with very different taste in tropes, would like.  That’s not easy.  I have very strong ideas about what makes a book memorable.

I looked at some lists of the ‘Greatest Historical Fiction of All Time’ and most made me cringe.  I thought Wolf Hall was – meh.  So did my brother.  Now Anya Seaton’s Kathrine – yeah that was brilliant.  George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman was there as well, and though I loved it – and the series in general -not sure it belongs.  Many choices were written long ago, like Tolstoy and Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities (Oh, just kill me now.  I hate Dickens.)  I, Claudius by Robert Graves, I can kind of get behind that one.  The Name of the Rose by recently deceased Umberto Eco was not that good for me despite it often being named to the top 20 of the mystery genre as well.  Most of the others, not so much.

It seems when I was growing up there were many great choices for historical fiction.  Thomas B. Costain was at the end of his career, but for a man who didn’t start writing till his 50’s, he did some remarkable work.  His 4 book non-ficion history of the Plantagenet kings starting with Henry II to Richard III is just excellent.  Then he wrote The Black Rose, later made into a film starring Tyrone Power, Jack Hawkins and Orsen Wells.  Set in the time of  The Three Edwards (the third book of is Plantagenet history) it is just a great historical adventure read.  For my brother, Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo will always be a favorite along with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

But my favorite historical fiction these days tends to run to mysteries and SteamPunk – which is any alternate history paranormal genre often done with a mystery trope.  But in plain old real world history, I was impressed by Mary Miley’s Roaring Twenties series, The Impersonator and Silent Murder (the better of the two by far).  A third book is due this year, and another complete for 2017.  A history major, she writes very well and has created a terrific character with Jessie Carr blending in real life people in Vaudeville and silent movies.

Agatha Christie was married to an archeologist and spent a lot of time in the Mideast and other locations.  This led her to write Death on the Nile, Murder in Mesopotamia (set at an archeology dig site), and Evil Under the Sun (movie filmed on various island locations off Spain, but the book is set on an island off of the south of England) set in the 20’s and 30’s as part of her Poirot series.  In retrospect, it’s amazing how good she was with plots that involved various ‘isolated’ groups as well as standard locations.  She was light years better than the typical cozy writer of today.  She also wrote one true historical mystery, Death Comes at the End, set in ancient Thebes.

Lindsey Davis sets her Falco series in Vespasian’s Rome and is a favorite for me.  She aged  out Falco (which was overdue) and his daughter, Flavia Alba has taken up her father’s private informer business.  John Maddox Roberts, better known in the fantasy genre, wrote his terrific SPQR mysteries set at the time of the rise of Julius Ceasar.

A big favorite among historical fiction fans is the adventure series Outlaw Chronicles that’s a spin on the legend of Robin Hood by Angus Donald.  They can be hard to find as he no American publisher, but I get them used or new from Book Depository, an Amazon-owned company, in the UK.  Best read in order, Outlaw is book 1 and The King’s Assassin is the most recent publication.  The last book in the series is due out next year.  His following is a mix of male and female readers, so give his stuff a try.

Bernard Cromwell is most famous for his Sharpe’s Rifles series that was made into a BBC series starring Sean Bean as Sharpe, but he writes non-fiction including Waterloo: 4 Days 3 battles 3 armies.  Jeri Westerson is another British author who sets her stories around a disgraced knight, Crispin Guest.  Described as Medieval Noir mystery, it has the same edgy sardonic humor as Lindsey Davis and John Maddox Roberts.  Book 7, Silence of the Stones, was just released in Feb, but all mysteries, the main story arc wraps up in a single novel, but to follow the origins of the lead character, read the first few in order.  Two other reliable historical mystery fiction authors are Ruth Downie who writes the Gais Ruso series set in Roman Britain, Gaul, and Rome.  The other is Rosemary Rowe who uses Roman Britain for her Libertus series.  Both can be expensive and hard to find, but are available.  Like Angus Donald, most are published by Severn House and no US publisher picks them up, hence buy used, get ebooks, or get it from your library.

Tasha Alexander does the Lady Emily mysteries set in Victorian London and throughout Europe.  (Her husband is English born action thriller author Andrew Grant.)  Deanna Raybourn has two series out – her famous Lady Julia Grey, which I was not crazy about until book 4, Dark Road to Darjeeling.  I really liked that one.  She’s started a new series featuring Veronica Speedwell, a female physician in London.  Like the Julia Grey series, it’s set in the 1880’s.  It is sitting on Mt TBR.  Set in Regency England are the Sebastian St Cyr books by C.S. Harris.  I tried the first few and was bored, but friends like them.  Too angsty for me.  Anna Lee Hubler’s Lady Darby books are a big favorite of my sister-in-law while my brother loved loved Steven Hockensmith’s Amlingmyer Brothers Holmes on the Range books set out west in the late 1800’s.  He ended the series at the famous Chicago Exposition.

Rhys Bowen has three series, her Evan Evans, Molly Murphy, and Her Royal Spyness.  I know the Molly Murphy series and liked quite a few, but prefer Her Royal Spyness, even though her lead character, Lady Georgiana, can get on my nerves, but Ms Bowen does a nice job weaving real people though her stories – from Noel Coward, to Edward VII (her cousin), to Charlie Chaplin.  Her prose really is a pleasure to read.

Historical mystery is a rich and broad genre moving across thousands of years and lots of fine authors.  Pick a period and you’ll likely find something.  Here are some other authors you might enjoy:

Will Thomas – Barker and Llewelyn series set Gaslight London; Collin Cotterill – Dr Siri series set in 1970’s Laos;  Laura Joh Rowland – Sano Ichiro series set in Edo in 1600’s Japan; Ellis Peters – her famous Brother Cadfael series set in 12th century England (also a BBC series); Gary Corby – Nicolaos series set in ancient Athens/Greece in 460BC; C.J. Samson – Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer, in mid-1600’s England; Carol Nelson Douglas – Irene Adler, opera star, in mid 19th century Europe; Alex Grecian – Murder Squad set in late 1800’s London (but a bit uneven in quality); Dennis Wheatly – Roger Brook special agent for British PM Pitt late 1700’s to early 1800’s.

There are simply too many to name and more all the time.  Those who like both historical fiction and mystery – like me – are delighted at the growth in this area.  Like all other genres, some are good, some not.  Find one that suits you and enjoy!

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October 22, 2014

October Reviews – Mystery Week!

I love fall, but it came much to early thanks to a drought.  After several years of wicked fall storms and epic floods, this year we haven’t had anywhere near enough rain.  The trees behind my place turned in September and peaked just as October arrived.  Usually it’s the 3rd week of October before peak color on those trees. Now it’s not even mid-month and they’re nearly bare.  Too many months with nothing green except the pines now lay ahead.  God, I hate winter!  I hate the cold, the snow, the cold, the ice, the cold, the short days, the cold………  I HATE COLD!  I’m not sure how my parents managed it, but they had a son who is apparently part polar bear and a daughter who is part hot house plant.  My poor brother sweats (Really, like beads running down his face when he does any work at all.) when I’m up at Christmas and keep the thermostat up even while bundled in layers of sweaters and fleece.  That’s the price of being family.  He’s learned to live with it a few days a year.

It’s already dark so early, the nights seem endless.  The light was noticeably  different in July and now, the sun is in a very different part of the sky, light slanting and a different color.  It is nice to live in the country with hills.  Nice color, and very scenic drives everywhere.  Unfortunately, that means folks taking day trips in the area to ‘see the color’.  It’s much worse up by my brother in the Berkshires.  This weekend the roads will be packed with ‘leaf peepers’.  The historic main street of Deerfield with it’s beautiful houses dating back to early 1700’s is over run with tour buses.  He’ll drive down on a beautiful day during the week, often taking his 1912 Buick roadster, and should be park, even for a few minutes, crowds will gather around his brass age car as it it were another museum attraction.  Soon, he’ll be draining the radiator and crankcase and putting the car up for the winter.  He’s already been bringing in wood for the stove.

October new releases have mostly arrived and still nothing amazing.  SIGH!  Where is that gem of book by a new author?  Apparently very well hidden.  But, let’s see what’s been passing through my hot little hands.

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The Impersonator

New author with a new series and award winner from the Mystery Writers of America, The Impersonator by Mary Miley made it’s debut last year in hardcover and I got it this year in trade paperback shortly after its release.  I bought the next book in the series, Silent Murder.  The Impersonator has a fascinating historical setting in the 1920’s with its lead character part of a vaudeville act.  Throughout the book, the author slips in tidbits about many acts that later became famous on the screen and much later on TV.

She calls herself Leah Randell, but for this act she is known as Carrie Darling.  She was raised in vaudeville and made her own since her mother died years ago when she was 12.  Small and youthful looking, she can still pass as a teen despite her 24 years.  She sees a fat man in her show several nites running. Luckily, the other older members of the ‘Seven Little Darlings’ stick together, even though they’re not related, so when the fat, old man calls her Jessie, she isn’t alone.  But ‘Uncle Oliver’ is insistent she and her two friends dine with him at the best hotel in town.  That’s where he makes his pitch.

Jessie Carr was his niece and would now be 20 years old.  She ran away from the family estate in Oregon after her parents died and her aunt came to live there with her 4 children to raise her.  Her own family had been disinherited because of the wayward nature of her husband, so despite the fact her sons were Carr’s, they stood to inherit nothing if she appeared by the age of 21.  That birthday is fast approaching and her ‘Uncle Oliver’ needs to gain access to the Carr fortune – or at least some of it  Then along came Leah, a dead ringer for her cousin.  So he’ll train her to be Jessie and she can get rich, then he can get a small share of the family fortune his sister married into.

Initially, Leah refuses.  The act breaks up and finding work is hard.  Eventually, she agrees to impersonate Jessie Carr.  Oliver trains her in everything from correct fork and spoon to who is who in the family, where she lived as a child, the lawyers managing the estate, etc.  Then the accidents start.  The boarding house she lived in burns down.  She feels like she’s being watched and switches trains and hotels – and the hotel she was booked in has another ‘accident’.  Oliver feels she’s being sensitive.   Then she passes the first test, Oliver’s mother, Jessie’s grandmother, and the family lawyers.  Arriving at the ‘cottage’ in Oregon, the real fear starts.  Her two male cousins had spent the last nearly 7 years expecting to inherit, now Jessie is back and they want her gone.  As in dead and gone.

And suddenly, the book stalls.  It loops between a small town and the isolated ‘cottage’ with her creepy cousins and their sweet mother.  A ‘cowboy’ shows up and becomes part of the gang, but he’s not creepy, he’s cute.  Unfortunately, I knew what happened by page 120.

The Impersonator has very strong beginning, a stalled middle that was meant to build tension, but basically just looped because physically, it could go nowhere, and then it had a good ending that seemed a bit rushed with revelations about family all coming at once.  It was a good read, but not great.  Had the middle of the book paced as well as the first 100 pages, it would have been great, but the isolation, though authentic, had limited opportunities for characters and plot twists.  You can only do so much with running a car into and out of a small coastal town.

The Impersonator gets a C+ to B- (3.6*) from me mostly due to middle of the book and the rushed pacing at the end with one surprise after another.  The killer is anticlimactic, but the rest is good.  As an historical, Mary Miley does a great job of capturing the period and the character of Leah/Jessie.  The book is certainly well above the usual crop of new authors.  Ms Miley is a former history professor at the U of V, and worked at Williamsburg, so she has a sound background for the kind of research into vaudeville and period settings here and it shows to great advantage.  Enjoyable and you can speed read the middle.  I bought the second book in the series set in early Hollywood.  Looking forward to it.

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One Potion in the grave

Heather Blake writes two paranormal cozy series, the Wishcraft series that I’m not fond of and Magic Potion series that I like.   One Potion in the Grave is book two of the Potion series and as enjoyable as book 1.  Hitching Post, Alabama is one busy small town with Senator Calhoun’s son getting married this weekend at Carly Hartwell’s mother’s chapel.   But there’s another surprise for Carly, her old friend, Katie Sue Perriwinkle has come back to town after leaving to get away from her greedy relatives.  Katie Sue cared for grandfather and younger sister when her Momma moved out and her sister married and left.  Turns out, granddad was a shrewd investor and his estate was several million dollars.  After fighting her mother in court and winning, Katie Sue took off and got her MD, living in the big city in a gated community.  She was known as Kathryn Perry now and at a B&B operated by one of Carly’s aunts.  She’s here for the wedding ……………. and to make trouble for the Calhoun’s, a dangerous family to cross.  Carly’s ‘spidey sense’ is screaming danger all around her old friend.

As if that wasn’t surprise enough, the bride to be, beauty queen Gabi Greenleigh, comes in looking for a love potion for her groom.  And her cousin, with whom she has the beginnings of a relationship, Delia, stops in.  Just a day for surprises – including her cranky aunt having coffee with her mom’s arch competitor and looking mighty friendly ………. and conniving.  Kathryn has her room ransacked at the B&B, then she’s found dead and the groom is a prime suspect.

With verve and lively characters, Ms Blake keeps the story rolling and Carly involved in investigating her death.  When the younger sister she tried to gain custody of lands in the hospital on life support, she starts to look at who benefits ……….. and finds two different answers.  The answers were given away to any mystery fan in a scene well before the big denouement.

One Potion in the Grave is a good paranormal cozy read.  Ms Blake writes well, but I like this setting and group of characters more than her Wishcraft books set in Massachusetts.  I give One Potion a B- (3.8*) and suggested read for any cozy lover.  The series deserves more fans than it has garnered so far.  I got it for just over $7 at Amazon and I’m passing it along to a PBS cozy fan.  Like most cozies, an easy, fast read, but with much better than average plot and characters.

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the skeleton takes a bow

The Skeleton Takes a Bow by Leigh Perry, book two in the Family Skeleton series, is another amusing story featuring Sid the skeleton, one of the livelier skeletons out there, and often a hoot.  Playing Yorick in Madison’s high school production of Hamlet (which, according to Richard Armour is Twisted Tales from Shakespeare, means ‘little ham’), and Sid is ready and willing to play his part.  Sitting in Madison’s locker during the day is like Nirvana for the busybody skeleton.  Dr. Georgia Thackery, adjunct professor at the local college reluctantly agrees.  Then Madison does what too many teens do.  She got busy, left school and forgot Sid’s skull in the prop room.  Mother and daughter go back, but no answers their banging and they leave Sid for the night.  And what a night it was.  Sid overheard a murder.

The fun begins when Georgia gives in and allows Sid to investigate.  Then it seems an unrelated natural death from pancreatic cancer of fellow college adjunct seems to somehow be related.  Despite two anonymous calls to the cops, there’s no evidence of a crime or a body.  At least only her very practical sister thinks she’s nuts.  Soon, strange letters from a foundation that has to internet presence or apparent records starts cropping up all over.  Then the two start tying back to a powerful local politician.

The book moves along quickly and Sid is by turns funny and occasionally a drama queen.  He certainly has a personality.  It will be interesting to see where the author goes with this when Georgia’s parents, both tenured faculty at the college, come home from their sabbatical.  I give The Skeleton Takes a Bow a B- (3.7*) for a good cozy read.  Funny and a bit fluffy, but kind of what a cozy should be.  I bought this from Amazon for $7.19, which to be honest is a bit high.  Try and get it cheaper.  Cozies don’t exactly make the keeper shelf.  And for true laughs, try Richard Armour’s Twisted Tales from Shakespeare.  It remains one of my favorite humor books and the more you know his works, the funnier it is.  Available used, but not as an ebook.

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Children of war

In book 7 of the Bruno Chief of Police series, Children of War, Martin Walker once again takes readers on a sad journey into France’s past, this time to Algeria.  Published in the UK, it is not due out in the US till 2015 under the title The Children Return.  I purchased this from The Book Depository in the UK, a company started by a former Amazon employee and now owned by them.  They have free worldwide shipping via media mail, but waiting 10 to 2 weeks beats waiting 10 months for the US publisher.

The book opens with the brutal torture killing of an undercover policeman that Bruno knew well.  The manner of his death takes him back to years he served in the French military in Algeria and later in Sarajevo.  Such brutality seems so out of place in the bucolic French countryside where the grape harvest is starting and people still largely in the old way.  But the world stops for no one, as Bruno well knows, and all he can do for his colleague now is find the killer.

This book introduces a new love interest for Bruno, an American, and like all his love interests, she is badly injured.  As usual, he’s cooking, watching out for his investment in a winery, and training his new hound.  But the mystery is darker and more gruesome than the early books and it deals with a less than stellar bit of French history in North Africa.  Even worse, the bad guy is smart and lives.

This little patch of bucolic French countryside does seem to have the highest violent crime rate outside St Mary Mead where Miss Marple lived.  Unfortunately, this entry in the really good series was a little too dark to be enjoyable.  That level of gruesome torture/murder, while accurate for what it portrayed, is not an easy or entertaining read.  When juxtapositioned with the country village life in St Denis, well, it was hard to understand how anyone could compartmentalize to the extent that Bruno did.  Still, the nature of the crime is what drives everything that comes after, so it was essential to the plot.

By now, Walker has established a pattern to his Bruno books and it’s a formula he follows here.  Mixing ordinary village life with the plague of fighting off the encroachment of the larger world, the simple pleasures of living against the greater backdrop of violence and dark deeds.  As usual, an ongoing character has a secret in her past that gets revealed and dealt with by the truly evil man at the center of all this, as does another issue, again tied to this man, tying up the seeming disparate sub-plots.

Children of War gets a B- (3.8*) because the darkness of the crimes seemed to overwhelm the rest of the story and frankly, I wanted the bad guy D-E-A-D, preferably in some horrible way.  A good mystery, but far more in the noir genre than traditional mystery.  Will I buy his next book?  Yes, but if he continues down this grim path, I might hesitate on future ones.  My copy has moved on to someone in PBS through a swap.  Mostly, Bruno fans are women and this book was not aimed to please those readers.  As a devout action thriller/spy- assassin book reader, I found myself a bit put off.

July 31, 2014

Beach Reads 5 – International Part 2

Filed under: espionage/intrigue,General,opinion,Reading list — toursbooks @ 3:59 pm
Tags: , ,

OK, we’re talking books set outside the US, preferably ones that provide a lot of atmosphere and capture the feel of the locations.  Certainly some are better at that than others, and places and times change things.  But Europe has always been a local used in mysteries for authors from all countries.  Even Edgar Alan Poe used Paris for her Murders in the Rue Morgue.  It’s also a favorite spot from paranormal and horror, especially with the resurgence in vampire books.  The United Kingdom accounts for a HUGE number of mysteries, paranormals, and Steampunk.  This will be a challenge, but again, I’ll try and stick to authors I know and like.

France – If you’re a devout foodie, read some of the fine books by noted French chefs or Americans who studied in France, including Julia Child.  For me it’s mysteries and thrillers.  Naturally The DaVinci Code takes center stage since it starts and ends in Paris, though in all honestly, I find Dan Brown a boring – maybe tedious is a better word – writer.  My current favorite series in France is Martin Walker’s Bruno Chief of Police books.  He does a great job of folding together a ‘slice of life’ in the French countryside, with their love of food and wine, and twining in history and grudges and how the past impacts the present.  There is always an historical element in his plots, but it’s his gift for capturing French country life, something rapidly disappearing, and creating characters that seem real that make the books a cut above.  But France has been home to many famous detectives from George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret to Daniel O’Brian’s Inspector Jacquot to Cara Black’s Amie Leduc.  Frederick Forsyth’s brilliant thriller based on a real assassin, The Day of the Jackal, is set in France, as well as David Dodge’s To Catch a Thief.  Both books were made into movies, but the remake of Jackal was a butcher job while Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief was a gem.  Jean Auel’s series, Earth’s Children, covers pre-historic man, based all over Europe including France.  It’s a speculative kind of ‘historical fiction’ in that there is nothing to support or deny her assumptions about the evolution of pre-historic society.  You name it in historical fiction and France and Great Britain will be there.  From The Templars to the Terror, to WWI and WWII, you have thousands to pick from.

England,Great Britain – Now we have a problem, because there just so MANY to choose from!  Start with Agatha Christie and go to Martha Grimes, adding Ngaio Marsh, John Dickson Carr, Josephine Tey for classic mysteries. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have come to loathe Sherlock Holmes, he lives on even with other authors.  Historical mysteries – well, Will Thomas with his Barker and Llewellyn series, Susanna Gregory has two early historical series going, Rosemary Rowe covers Roman Britain, Rhys Bowen has the 1930’s with Her Royal Spyness books, Charles Finch, C. S. Harris, and the immortal Ellis Peters with her Brother Cadfael books.  Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans series is set in Wales, while M.C. Beaton sets her Hamish Macbeth books in Scotland.  It’s also home to the most famous spy series ever written, Ian Flemming’s James Bond.  No where near as famous but a brilliant book and equally brilliant movie is The Ipcress Files by Len Deighton, a fine author.  Graham Green and John LeCarre are certainly worthy reads as well.  Might I suggest Our Man in Havana (book and movie), a classic not to be missed.  Actor Hugh Laurie penned The Gun Seller, a rather brilliant and off-beat caper novel that is funny, deadly, and just really well done.

As for historical fiction, heavens, the list is as long a Broadway.  The Black Rose by Costain, Within the Hollow Crown by Barnes, just about everything by Phillipa Gregory, and wonderful Katherine by Ana Seaton.  That’s the book that tells the story of how the War of the Roses came to be and is possibly one of the great love stories ever in the Royal family.  The fact it’s still in print 60 years after it was first published says a lot.

Dorothy Dunnett does the Lymond Chronicles and Nigel Tranter has done numerous historical fiction books set in Scotland, including a personal favorite that I bought while there, Black Douglas.

England also plays home to almost too many paranormal/fantasy/ UF/Steampunk series to name.  A few notable ones – The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger, Bec McMasters’ London Steampunk romance adventure series, Alex Verus UF series by Benedict Jacka, The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovich, Mindspace Investigation series by Alex Hughes, and pretty much everything written by Simon R. Green.  Riffs on classic and real historical characters are also fodder for mystery and horror writers, like Pride, Prejudice and Zombies by Steve Hockensmith to Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter.  Personally, I stick with UF and Steampunk mystery books.  Of all of them, Benedict Jacka, Simon R. Green, and Gail Carriger are the best for me.

Over the years, I’ve likely read a thousand books set in whole or part in the UK, so go nuts and just read what you like.

Ireland – Well there is one really well done 6 book series (now complete) by Karen Marie Moning, the Fever series.  Although a spin-off featuring a character from the series, Dani O’Malley, is underway, the initial series with MacKayla Lane is done – after a fashion, meaning the author will write short shories and novellas for epubs and anthology, but they will be ancillary to the series.  This series is one of the best out there for fantasy/UF readers.

Ireland is also home of some great mystery writers, though they tend to be grim and dark.  Ken Bruen is a favorite of mine with his anti-hero Jack Taylor.  Benjamin Black has the Quirk series set in the 1950’s, but he’s now writing Phillip Marlowe stories set in California.  (His latest is The Black-Eyed Blond)  Though Jack Higgins used two Irish lead characters, Liam Devlin and Sean Dillion, Dillion spends his time in the UK and only goes in and out of Ireland.  Liam’s stories were all much earlier – the most famous being The Eagle Has Landed.  All fast easy reads and good for spy novels.  Adrian McGinty does the Sean Duffy series set in 1950 Northern Ireland.  Peter Tremayne writes the long running, popular, historical mysteries featuring Sister Fidelma, a Celtic sister in 7th century Ireland.

Italy – I covered Rome separately for a reason, it’s like you have two countries in one.  Donna Leon and Andrea Camilleri are the two most prolific and best known for the modern Italian mysteries, police procedural types.  And author’s from Daniel Silva to Dan Brown have used Italy’s abundance of art and antiquities as main drivers in their plots in spy, assassin, and suspense novels.  There is a lot to work with.  Even Maddy Hunter’s Passport to Peril series stopped in Italy with Pasta Imperfect and she would later marry the handsome police inspector she met there.

With families like the Borgia’s, there’s lots of fodder for historical fiction as well, and much of it is centered around Venice.  Kate Quinn does a Borgia based series.  Even C.W. Gortner wrote The Confessions of Catherine de Medici  – another favorite historical family.  You even find some paranormal historical novels set back then – Jon Courtney Gimwood’s Assassini – Vampire Assassin series.  (I didn’t like it)

Spain and Portugal – The first name that springs to mind is Arturo Perez-Reverte with his Captain Diego Alariste historical swashbuckling mysteries.   His more modern The Club Dumas features hunts for rare books.  Spain may not be a hot bed for mysteries popular in the US, but is certainly plays host to plenty of historical fiction, much of it based on Isabella and Ferdinand and Columbus.  And the ever popular subject of the lovely Inquisition, just the happy time we all want to read about on vacation.  For genuine buckle and swash, go back to the original, Rafael Sabatini, an Italian who wrote everything from Captain Blood to Scaramouche to The Sea Hawk – and yeah Errol Flynn got the lead in 2 of those 3 made into films, but Stewart Granger was a memorable Scaramouche.  All worthy beach reads, but none set in Spain proper, though 2 of the 3 are about battles between Spain and England – and The Sea Hawk throws in Barbary coast pirates for luck.  His prolific output is scattered all over Europe and through many time periods.  From The Mapmaker’s Daughter to The Inquisitor’s Wife, historicals take us to many place and many perspectives on the complicated history that is Spain.  Portugal remains more of cipher, not often used even in spy novels except in passing, and it’s empire building taking place mostly in the New World and Africa.

Aztec is one of the best historical fiction novels written in the last 30 years.  Though set in Mexico, is as much about the Spanish and what they did in the name God, King, and Country as it is about the Aztecs themselves. Highly recommended.

Everywhere Else – Well, naturally we have the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larson – which you’ll love or hate.  I kind of had enough after book 1. Too much social commentary for me.  Jo Nesbø has the very popular Harry Hole mysteries set in Norway.  Kjell Eriksson does the Ann Lindell and Ola Haver series in Sweden.  Russia gets tapped by Stuart Kaminsky and Martin Cruz Smith of Gorky Park fame for their mysteries.  And every spy from 007 to Gabriel Allon have tramped through Red Square.

All of these places have plenty of historical fiction, especially Russia, but you pick up The Brothers Karamazov for a beach read and don’t blame me if you get whacked by an irate student forced to read the damn thing.  You might get away with reading Dr Zhivago.  Catherine the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great – all prime historical fiction characters.

Pick you poison – or gun – or knife, or romance if you prefer, or a little buckle and swash, and settle in under that beach umbrella or on a lounge on you lanai looking out at the water, and have some long and cold ones while reading for the sheer pleasure of the story.

 

 

 

July 20, 2010

Short Reviews: 4 Mysteries/Thrillers from Paranormal to Historical

I like mysteries in general, and their frequent partner, action thrillers.  I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew and Dame Agatha so it’s  no surprise really.  I admit that I am a bit particular about them, though.  I have little patience with certain tropes and character types.  Here are 4 very different books, and my reactions to them.

  • Title: A Glimpse of Evil
  • Author:  Victoria Laurie
  • Type:  Paranormal mystery
  • Genre: Amateur sleuth; Psychic Eye series; meddling psychic works for FBI
  • Sub-genre:  Meddling profiler violates FBI procedures and gets in trouble
  • My Grade: C  (3.0*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full length novel; about 90,000+ words for $7.99 discounts available
  • Where Available:  book available at any book store
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from online bookstore (more…)

June 13, 2010

Super Short Reviews: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery and Erotic Romance

Wow, I’ve read a lot of books since I last posted, so all I can do is start to provide some really short reviews on some titles I’ve read.

  • Title: Web of Lies
  • Author:  Jennifer Estep
  • Type:  Urban Fantasy
  • Genre:  Retired female assassin helps a family in trouble
  • Sub-genre:  Action thriller with magical setting
  • My Grade: B-  (3.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full length novel; about 90,000+ words for $7.99
  • Where Available:  ebook available at at any book store; 4-for-3 program on Amazon
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased book from online bookstore

The second installment of the Elemental Assassin series Jennifer Estep moves solidly into an action thriller format that’s familiar as the most recent Jack Reacher book by Lee Child.  It lacks the slam-bang beginning of Spider’s Bite, but has a bit more development of Gin Blanco and her interesting supporting cast.  A fast, fun summer read, with a rather predictable ending.

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December 13, 2009

Book Review: SPQR XII: Oracle of the Dead by John Maddox Roberts

  • Title: SPQR XII: Oracle of the Dead
  • Author:John Maddox Roberts
  • Type: Roman Mystery
  • Genre: Decius Caecilius Metellus series; wise cracking sleuth
  • Sub-genre: Roman politics and murder as Cesar rises to power
  • My Grade: C+ to B- (3.5*)
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Length and price:  Full novel, about 90,000 words, for $10.11 on sale, $14.99 cover price
  • Where Available: Anywhere books are sold
  • FTC Disclosure: Purchased from online bookseller

I’m always anxiously awaiting the latest installment in the excellent SPQR series by John Maddox Roberts.  I’ve been a fan since he first started it back in the early ’90’s.  It’s taken all the way to book twelve for me to be disappointed.  In Oracle for the Dead Decius Caecilius Metellus and his wife Julia, Cesar’s niece, are lingering in Campania region where we left them in Under Vesuvius.  Post dinner conversation with the local politicians turns to local temples the Oracle of the Dead that’s nearby.  Julia wants to visit, so off they go.  They come upon a temple of Apollo first as it shares the sacred grounds with the oracle.  Though Apollo is Greek god long established in the region, it is the seen aspect of Apollo as the avenger that is worshiped here.  Behind and beneath Apollo’s temple is the Oracle dedicated to the Greek goddess Hecate, usually associated with ghosts.  First they visit the white robed priests of Apollo and next they go with the black robed priestess of Hecate.  After drinking wine likely spiked with herbs, the party begins the decent into a cave supposedly on the banks of the river Styx.  Wading into the water as directed by the high priestess, Decius asks about Cesar and the Senate.  Insistent, he steps further and something grabs is ankles.  It’s the body of Eugaeon, the high priest of Apollo. (more…)

June 14, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen

If Rhys Bowen was a dancer, she’d be Fred Astaire. Her writing is effortless grace that makes everything around shine with glamor and class. It’s amazing really, how easily you’re drawn into the world and the characters that populate 1932 London – Britain’s upper crust, especially the ne’er do well ones used to living well and suddenly unable to do so on their own due to the depression. From the first page you’re lost in vaguely decadent pre-war London seen through the eyes of the still innocent, observant, increasingly less naïve Lady Georgiana Rannoch.

A Royal Pain is the second book in Bowen’s new Her Royal Spyness series and it’s even better than the first. Not only is there more of a mystery, but Ms Bowen dances Georgie through a tale filled with Noel Coward characters – not to mention a cameo appearance by Mr Coward himself – mixing fictional with real people easily and with her usual attention to detail. Bits of history, like the relationship between Prince George, later the Duke of Kent, and Noel Coward, the communist and fascist party conflicts, and most importantly, the infatuation of her cousin David – know to the world as Edward the VIII – with a notorious American woman, Wallis Simpson. (more…)

May 29, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Alexandria by Lindsey Davis

Alexandria is the 19th outing for the intrepid Marcus Didius Falco. Davis writes in the first person and Falco is our amiable and sardonic guide. The wryly witty Falco has grown assured and comfortable with himself over the years. He’s married now and the father of 2 girls with a third child on the way. His wife, Helena Justina, is the daughter of a Roman senator and he greatly respects her and her intelligence. The story of his private life with Helena – she was married when they first met and loathed each other on sight – tells so much of Roman life. I highly recommend reading all the books – just the story of Falco and Helena will make it worth your while. Now, as his personal life has become that of a settled man, a father and a husband, the mysteries have also changed. The last few have seen him and his little family traveling outside Rome to places like Delphi in Greece.

As the book opens, Falco, his little family and his restless brother-in-law Aulus are arriving in Alexandria, still the most valued center of learning in the ancient world. They intend to do some sightseeing and try and get Aulus accepted into the Museion. Rumor says Falco is also here on Vespasian’s errand, (before anyone goes running to check, the year is 77AD, about 100 years after the death of Julius Caesar) and more than one person is worried by his presence. Falco’s very real vacation plans get sidetracked when the Head Librarian of the Great Library, Theon, a dinner guest at his uncle’s house the previous night, is found dead at his desk in a locked office. (more…)

May 4, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen is an Agatha Award winner for her Molly Murphy historical mysteries and also writes the Constable Evans series, both period mystery series.  With Her Royal Spyness she tackles a different time period, the early 1930’s, and very upper class – impoverished royalty.  The story is told in the first person by Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, known as Georgie, is the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and 34th in line for the throne, making her a very minor royal, but a royal nonetheless.  The Great Depression has hit Europe as hard as the US and bread lines and soup kitchens are a common sight.  Georgie’s older half-brother, Binky, the current Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch has even more financial troubles having the estate decimated by the combined effects of gambling losses by his father, the stock market crash and the death duties on his inheritance.

While sitting on the loo, Georgie overhears Binky and his wife, Fig, discussing a request from Her Majesty, Queen Mary, to entertain Prince Sigfried.  They haven’t the money and frankly don’t want the visitors.  It’s still snowing in Scotland and there just isn’t any way to entertain them with the usual activities like hunting.  The real reason for the visit is to try and get Georgie married off to someone of the right social station.  Knowing full well what the goal is, Georgie, who has no funds of her own, decides to do a bunk to London under the pretense of helping a friend with their wedding. (more…)

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