THE CYPRESS HOUSE, by Michael Koryta

This is a beautifully-plotted novel set in the 1920's, with a creepily compelling talent the book's hero, Belleau Wood veteran Arlen Wagner, possesses: he can see when someone is going to die. If you enjoyed the spare, pared-down writing of the late, great Elmore Leonard, you'll feel at home with this novel. But Leonard never did much with the supernatural, and Koryta's got that part nailed, particularly during the final confrontation. There's a cast of flawed characters, a lot of truly bad guys (all evil in their own unique way), and the moody, steamy setting of Gulf Coast Florida in hurricane season. Click for more...

COMFORT FOOD, by Kate Jacobs

As the title suggests, this is about the world of food, particularly the life of longtime food channel TV star Augusta "Gus" Simpson who discovers she's not a job-secure as she thought. Thrown in with a tempermental upstart beauty queen, bedeviled by two daughters who aren't achieving to Gus's high (not to say unreachable) standards, saddled with a new (although handsome) prep cook, dissed by the food channel owner, Gus enters the fight of her professional life. Lots of fun. Nice choice of gift for a foodie friend. It's a 4.



It's about a dog named Millie. When she was a puppy, she and two litter mates were taken to Pet Pal, a no-kill shelter in St. Petersburg Florida. All three were adopted out. When Millie was a year old, her adoptive family brought her back, saying she was much bigger than they had expected. Right. Like they hadn't been informed that a Catahoula Lepoard hound mix would not stay the size of a Shi Tzu.
So Millie was returned to Pet Pal, which is apparently the only kindness these "owners" ever did for Millie. She is a beautiful ivory and fawn color, short haired, with legs like a greyhound. Imagining her in a crate is pretty hard, but it's a safe bet that's where she spent a lot of time. Today, Millie wants a new home, but she does not present well as she is horribly shy and does not like to go for long walks. She is accustomed to being restricted. She sits in the corner of her compartment, her back into the two walls, and doesn't move, even if you sweet-talk her.
Pet Pal is a great shelter for an active, outgoing dog. Millie is not active, not outgoing. She's going to require a bit of dedication and work. As a no-kill shelter, Millie could be here a long time. Who says there's no fate worse than death? Millie really, really needs a home.
You can go to www.petpalanimalshelter.com and scroll through Adopt Dog, to the M's where you will see her. Think of a slightly hefty greyhound, but prettier. She's got a very calm demeanor, the staff says she's good with other dogs, but she has got to have a home that's willing to commit to bringing her back to life.
Any takers?



10/series. Amy Leduc, Paris' sexiest private investigator, prowls the back streets of the City of Light, this time the pursued, not the pursuer. Her partner Rene Friant as been shot and lies near death in a private hospital; Melac, the handsome and tenacious police think Amy did it; her alibi proves to be a happily married man who claims he never met her; and her old mentor and godfather refuses to once again rescue her. And then it gets worse...click for more...


ROSE'S CHRISTMAS COOKIES, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

This month's marvelously appropriate cookbook gives you all the recipes for perfect holiday baking: gift cookies, cookies to make with kids, party and open house cookies, cookies for sending. Each recipe is perfectly described and all processes are user-friendly; unless you're like me, who only does drop cookies. Even I might try the fabulous Stained Glass Cookies that begins the book, and will certainly make the ;uscious Black and Whites on page 66. The author is a world-class baker; her book The Cake Bible is exactly that. Explore and indulge your inner kid: bake come cookies! It's a 5. Happy holidays.

STRANGE BEDPERSONS, by Jennifer Crusie

Another entertaining romantic romp with the mistress of witty dialogue and sly social commentary. Handsome Nick Jamieson is forced to pretend his ex-girlfriend Tess is his fiancee in order to wangle a lucrative client for his law firm. Ever intent on his career, Republican Nick has always failed to realize it's the one thing that bleeding-heart liberal Tess detests about him. Their host for the big weekend is an author who's about to change careers. His plans will trample Tess's dearest-held convictions and memories. And that's all you'll get from me, the rest would spoil it. If you haven't read Crusie, you are in for a treat. In addition to entertaining, the writing is text-book fabulous, and the plot has got enough twists to keep Sherlock Holmes busy. A 4. The sex is vanilla, forthright, entertaining and 3 on the 1 - 5 scale.


THE WRECKAGE, by Michael Robotham

Skillfully written, drawing two seemingly disparate story lines into one compelling whole. Starring retired London Serious Crimes cop Vincent Ruiz, bolstered by his psychologist friend Joe, hampered by Holly the pickpocket and a psychopath named The Courier, the author's finely-drawn characters are all stand-outs. In his closing remarks, the author writes that this novel is based on fact, but that all main characters are fictional. Australia-based, award-winning Robotham was an investigative journalist; he knows where the bodies are buried and where the money went. This novel deals with the money, click to read more...

OLEANDER GIRL, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Satisfying on many levels: as a beautifully-written story, as the chronicle of an Indian girl's coming-of-age, as a social history, as a skilfully-woven tale of multiple love stories. If you love the intertwining of many threads, and a not-always-perfect heroine (actually, nobody's perfect in this story), this lyrically-written contemporary drama will keep you entranced. click here for more...


19/series. The perfect cozy series for lovers of off-screen mayhem, the incredibly prolific Beaton serves up another Cotswolds-based adventure. The indominable Agatha Raisin, still looking for romance in all the wrong places, gets involved in a church fete that turns deadly when a parishoner decides she can fly from the top of the steeple. Aided by staff from her detective agency plus several old friends, Agatha can't connect the dots until almost too late. It's a 4. Read these in order if you can; while they're individually entertaining, Agatha's personal history carries from one to the next, so they're not the ideal stand-alone read.


LOW PRESSURE, by Sandra Brown

Contemporary romance/mystery by one of the greats of the genre, this complicated Texas-based tale has its share of Stetsons and cowboy boots, but also a troubled, high-flying hero and a gawky little girl turned adult femme fatale. When Bellamy Lyston decides to write, as fiction, what happened to her sister Susan during a long-ago Memorial Day family/company picnic, she brings to life more than her faltering memories. Once suspected of the murder of his then-girlfriend Susan Lyston, Denton Carter has painful memories of police interrogations and publicity that, years later, ultimately cost him his job. Can Dent hold a grudge? Well, he tries to. What neither of them know is that a host of others don't want this trip down memory lane to continue. Do I hint at more? Burlaries? Bent cops? Grandstanding DA's? Parental problems? A good weekend read, it's a 4. Sex: the usual vanilla, but nicely done, a 2.5.



Subtitled My Secret Life as a CIA Assassin, this chronicles the life of a first-generation American whose childhood was marked by vicious chronic bullying, parental indifference, and almost total non-communication. Brilliant but emotionally shut down, Haas was spotted by the CIA while in college. His contact "Phil", who often popped up out of nowhere, arranged Haas's improbable future as a covert agent. The resulting life was anything but boring. Even the complex explanations of various governmental agencies and situations was an eye-opener. It's a 3.5, worth reading if you are a devotee of spy stories.



5/series. I love Flavia deLuce, quirky (to put it mildly) pre-adolescent heroine and sleuth of this marvelous series. This time the organist at St. Tancred's Church is found dead in the crypt where the venerable saint's bones are scheduled to be exhumed. Flavia, of course, is front and center, and notes that the victim is wearing a World War II gas mask. When she falls into an open grave, things get really interesting. The old adage that all crime has a previous crime connected to it is true with this delightful almost-cozy. Flavia, chemist extraordinaire, decodes blood samples, concocts her own much-needed drycleaning solvent, and boils eggs a la Flavia in her fabulous laboratory. Read these in order. Start with award-winning The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. They are worth every moment of your time. It's a 5; they're all 5s.And they'd make great presents.


BET ME, by Jennifer Crusie

Righteous, prissy David, frustrated because his new girlfriend won't hop in the sack with him, chooses The Long Shot club as their break-up site. Minerva Dobbs, not exactly bereft at the news she's no longer shackled to David, thinks a swizzle stick through his heart would be nice. Moments later, Min meets handsome (I feel for not-handsome guys, life gives them such disrespect) Calvin Morrisey. It's disinterest at first sight. David has bet Calvin Morrisey $10 he can't walk out the nightclub door with Min. She overhears the bet and it's all downhill from there. Mostly. click to read more...


GETTING RID OF BRADLEY, by Jennifer Crusie

Contemporary romance at it's most entertaining, Crusie's dialogue is world-class, and her character are almost always one-of-a-kind finely drawn. Crusie got her PhD in women's studies (today she teaches English at Ohio State University), took to romance writing, and we're all richer for her decision. Turn the page for more...


THE BONES OF PARIS, by Laurie R. King

This delicious, compelling  return of Harris Stuyvesant takes place in Paris, France in 1926, where Amercan flappers come in droves to sample la vie de boheme. Among the artists and their hangers on, however, is a skilful murderer stalking pretty girls. The avant garde art world also wants to shock, and the Theatre du Grand-Guignol offers more than enough perversion - brutal, bloody, deliberately shocking. Click for more (but no spoilers)...


6/series. A Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mystery, set in the then-popular seaside resort of Lyme. Once again you'll be swept into the elegant world of this couple in a seamless continuation (almost improvement)of the famed Jane Austen book. A week's seaside vacation turns to intrigue when a woman is found dying from a fall on the town's famous seawall. Two men, relatives, turn up to claim responsibility for the newborn boy who is delivered as the mother dies.The family is not one Mrs. Darcy would want for a small child, and the couple is drawn into the intrigue. No spoiler. If you've read the preceding five tales, you know you're in for another Darcy treat. A 4.



ANYONE BUT YOU, by Jennifer Crusie

Newly-divorced Nina Askew, reveling in her newly unstuffy life, decides to get the one thing her ex would never allow: a dog. Off to the pound she goes, where the gamboling puppies are overshadowed by a morose, saggy, middle-aged Bassett mix whose main charm is the Big Sigh. With typical Crusie wackiness and flair, Nina soon decides Fred's nightly walks will start with a trip down the fire escape from her third floor apartment. Read more...


TRIP WIRE, by Lee Child

3/series. Jack Reacher is once again sucked into a perilous situation, this time whisked from Key West (and his job digging swimming pools) to the home an old mentor who lives on the Hudson River not far from West Point. The same two men who tried to rough him up in Key West appear at a funeral. Reacher handily disarms them and, with a woman who adored Reacher when she was just a skinny kid, goes on the run. As the thugs try to hunt him down, their boss - wealthy, violent, psychopathic - tries to keep his dangerous secret hidden. If I tell you any more you may as well not read the book. If you like heightened violence and a lot of it, this is the author for you. It's a 4. Very little sex, all of it discrete and gentlemanly (not even a 1).



Devotees of Crusie often say this is their favorite book. I must confess I'd have a tough time singling any one of these hilarious tales as my favorite; I like them all. Sophie Dempsey and her film-making sister Amy come to the town of Temptation, Ohio (Phineas Tucker, Mayor) to do a promotion video for the town's most famous native, has-been movie star Clea Whipple. Still head-turning gorgeous, Clea has the same effect on the hometown boys as she did years before. The boys, sadly, have not aged well. Enter the mayor, and the city council led by a grandstanding mayor-wannabe, which decides, over Phin's objections, to pass an anti-porn law designed to thwart Sophie and Amy's filming. But they're not shooting porn...or are they? As the disagreements escalate, so does the attraction between Sophie and the pool-playing, book-loving mayor. Read Welcome to Temptation and laugh yourself silly. It's a 4.5. As always with Crusie's novels, there's a delicious amount on agreeable vanilla sex: it's max a 3 on the scale.


THE ANDALUCIAN FRIEND, by Alexander Soderberg

Wow! What a fabulous novel!  Don't start this if you have to go to work in the morning because you won't be able to put it down. Translated from the Swedish, read this before it's made into a movie. From the opening car chase to the final scenes, this debut novel sizzles with action, greed, treachery and betrayal. Click to read more...

CROSSROADS COOKING, by Elizabeth Rozin

For those of us who love to cook, I can recommend a select few authors, among them long-time ethnic food guru Elizabeth Rozin.  This book is subtitled The Meeting and Mating of Ethnic Cuisines - from Burma to Texas. She offers an eclectic mix of international cuisines, 200 recipes in all. Click for more delicious details...

SAVING ITALY, by Robert M. Edsel

Non fiction, I think, should teach you something. But it also has to be a good read. You'll get both with this marvelous book, the perfect gift for the World War II enthusiast, the arts major, the lover of art, or the reader who just wants a cracking good true story. Highlighting the Monuments Men, Allied soldiers who in civilian life mostly were art teachers or art scholars, and were sent to the front to oversee protection and rescue of priceless art works. Art-rich Italy was their first theater, and the tale is at time hair-raising. The author not only tells of the magnificent work done by these dedicated men, but gives the war and personality background of the major players, including the players in the Nazi art-theft machine. Truly a book that you can't put down. It's a 5+. In the same vein by the same author: Saving DaVinci.


Yes! An homage to P. G. Wodehouse, England's funniest writer! I hope this is the start of a new series starring the imperturbable butler and his hapless charge, Wooster, B as they rollick through Between the Wars London. If you have never enjoyed the originals, don't read this: go directly to your book source and buy some of the original Wodehouse. The Inimitable Jeeves is the first, with 13 more hilarious and wildly improbable romps to follow. Then, when you've wallowed in them, read this one. It's got the mark of the master...click to read more


CRIME FRAICHE, by Alexander Campion

2/series. Paris flic Capucine le Tellier and her gourmet restaurant-reviewer husband Alexandre are invited to a family weekend at Oncle Aymerie's Normandy chateau. What is supposed to be an idyllic time of picnics, sumptuous meals by oncle's fabulous cook, and a spot of mushroom-hunting turns out to be a hunt for a murderer the local police don't believe exists. To complicate matters, Capucine's Paris office is embroiled with a mysterious young woman who faints in public places, then fleeces her would-be saviors of valuable art works. With is usual mix of mystery and food, wine and skulduggery, this sprightly series will keep any foodie on the edge of her seat. It's a 4.



A rewarding tale, set in England just prior to the start of The Great War, showcases three sisters who couldn't be more different. Rowena and Victoria Buxton are acknowledged daughters of the family; Prudence Tate is the illegitimate daughter of the family governess.  While they may share a father, they do not share the same destiny. Pru makes a hasty marriage to a handsome, ambitious footman; they flee to London to make their fortune. Rowena finds herself in a daredevil sport completely unsuitable for women, at the same time embarking upon a daredevil romance. Victoria, the family invalid, manages to regain her health and attempts to become a scientist. With predictable disastrous results, she is excoriated as a pretentious fraud. The story follows all three young women - and their men - as the world lurches toward war. Very well written with enticing characters. It's a 4.



5/series. Despite what I regard as somewhat sappy titles, these are marvelously-constructed, beautifully-written books starring a feisty married woman with a slightly roving eye and a penchant for getting involved in really dicey situations. This one starts with her Range Rover falling off a cliff and goes onward and upward from there. But the best part is...Aunt Dimity is dead and communicates through a blue book in which her handwriting appears when our heroine, Lori Shepherd, "talks" to her. What a fabulous character! What marvelous settings! I love English country house situations, and this one's perfect, ranging from present day to World War I when the cream of British youth was slaughtered on the fields of France. For me, these are the perfect melding of plot, character, setting, history, and humor. They are, of course, a 5+.


FADE AWAY, by Harlan Coben

3/series. Mryon Bolitar's back in the world he knows best: basketball. A long-ago rival has vanished, and Myron's asked to find him. But memories come along with the investigation, and Bolitar relives the long-ago harrowing night he was injured, ending his new pro-basketball career. He soon learns that his old rival's life wasn't the above-board lifestyle advertised. But he does get to revisit an old flame: is it cinders or is it still love? As deadlines hover, he races to find answers he might jsut as soon not know. Another 5. Myron is such a mensch. Boy, I love this series!



Swedish author Mankell writes a great contemporary crime novel series starring Kurt Wallender, but this epic is not one of them. This stand-alone book about Hanna Renstrom, sent away from her marginal existence on the edge of a Swedish forest by her own mother, takes the reader on a journey to East Africa. In 1904, the country was brutally controlled by the Portuguese, its tiny white minority living atop a cauldron of hate and resentment, hating the natives as they silently, almost subconsciously, fear them. How does Hanna get there? What happens when she regains consciousness, bleeding, in a brothel? No spoilers, you know how I hate them. If you have a friend who enjoys fascinating fiction with a literary-style twist, this could be the perfect present. It's a 4.5. Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson.



Years ago, a girl vanished in Cabot, a small town in rural Mississippi, and Larry Ott was accused of killing her. The body was never found. He admitted to being the last person to see her. Now, ostracized and nearing middle age, Ott lives alone, friendless, in the cabin he inherited form his parents. Known locally as Scary Larry, he is periodically visited by the sheriff simply because of his history. Silas Jones, town constable, is known as 32 Jones, his baseball number back when he was a star high school player. A young girl, daughter of the town's leading family, goes missing. Tempers run high and Larry is targeted. Silas knows Larry is innocent of both disappearances. Then someone tries to kill Larry. This tightly-plotted mystery will keep you guessing and, even if you figure it out, you'll stay glued to the pages until the last words. A 4.5.



Set in Baltimore, where a childhood friendship between three brothers and two neighbors ends in tragedy the night of a hurricane, and the unresolved issues stirred up are never directly addressed. Years later, one of the brothers, Gordon (Go Go) Halloran, dies, and a chain of events is set in motion that will bring long-shrouded secrets and lies into the open. Lippman's meticulous exploration of the personalities of the main characters covers three generations, from childhood to old age, in a carefully-plotted tale that will keep you mesmerized. A terrific read for chill winter nights. Could be good for a book group. A 4.5.


HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, by Louise Penny

9/series. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete de Quebec, isolated and threatened by Chief Superintendent Francoeur, is now surrounded by inept subordinates who daily veer close to outright mutiny. His assistant Inspector Isabelle Lacoste, the lone holdout from an office once filled with loyal people, watches his back. Unlike the grayed slush of Quebec City, in the tiny, isolated town of Three Pines, the snow is deep and clean. Myrna Landers, bookstore owner, expects a friend to visit. click to read more...


CROSS AND BURN, by Val McDermid

8/series in the Dr. Tony Hill/Carol Jordan epic. This is one of those books that's better if you've read the ones before. Characters arrive, die, are disgraced or have life-shattering events, but as it's in a previous book you're fumbling around in the dark thinking, "Shoulda read the ones before." So, if you're new to this stellar series, start with #1, Mermaids Singing. McDermid is prolific, click to read more...

BACK SPIN, by Harlan Coben

4/series. There are at least 15 novels starring Myron Bolitar, this one published in 1997. What does this mean to you? You've got a lot of great reading in store! Coben has created one of those enduring human characters, a mensch in Bolitar's parlance. Myron's a good man often placed in impossible circumstances. Fortunately, his darker side is easily taken care of by his ice-in-the-blood best friend Win, a Main Line Philadelphia aristocrat with sociopathic tendencies. This novel takes place in the rarified world of pro golf, during a finals match between a rising young star and a has-been who's showing the world his rejuvenated stuff. Bolitar, called in to find the older golfer's missing son, is soon sucked into a multi-generational slugfest. No spolers. Read. You'll thank me. And please do. A 5.


DROP SHOT, by Harlan Coben

3/series. Myron Bolitar, sports agent, is in one of his lesser favorite worlds, that of tennis. He's here to see Duane Richwood, his newly-signed client, beat the pants off his opponent in the U. S. Open. As the match ends, outside in the Food Court, Valerie Simpson, once headed towards tennis super-stardom, is shot. Myron had not returned Valerie's calls. Now, consumed with guilt and a need to do something, Bolitar will - against his sidekick Win's advice, plus the blunt counsel of his gorgeous, petite assistant, Esperanza (AKA Little Pocahontas, a female wrestler) - find out who and why Valerie was killed. Well, do you want spoilers? I thought not. With Coben's usual flair, Myron's endless wisecracking, and an intricate plot that will keep you guessing right to the end...this is your series. A 5.


THE GOLDEN EGG, by Donna Leon

19/series. The real treasure in a series this long and complex is getting to know the flow of the lives of the characters, whether major or minor. Getting to know Venice better is a plus. Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates the life of a deaf mute who has died of what appears to be an overdose. As he slowly peels away the layers surrounding the past of this often overlooked man, he discovers increasingly distressing details. More subtle than the usual tales in this series, but as always a fine read with interesting characters. It's a 3.5; not one I've liked best, but a must-read if you enjoy Brunetti and his world.

THE DOCTOR DIGS A GRAVE, by Robin Hathaway

1/series. Dr. Andrew Fenimore, cardiologist and sleuth, a traditional doctor with an individual practice and a keen dislike for "modern" American medicine. He discovers a boy trying to bury something and rescues him from a security guard. It's a cat in that young kid's sack, and Fenimore knows just where to inter the poor beast. BUT...


EMPIRE FALLS, by Richard Russo

This is one of those books you pick up intending to browse (it's and inch and a half thick, and the print is not oversize) and then, wham, you're hooked, you're reading about people you know, who are familiar to you. At first it seems meandering, a tale told by a slow-talking old man by a campfire, a recounting of the long and slow but inevitable slide into poverty of a mill town in central Maine, and of Miles Roby, who once thought he'd broken free. But the future rarely hold what we had planned...


THE ART DETECTIVE, by Phillip Mould

Anyone with any interest in historic art works - Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell - will devour this non-fiction book like a chocoholic would a truffle (I speak of myself in both instances). This highly-entertaining book, written by a world authority on old master paintings, will keep you amused and mesmerized as you take a wide-ranging journey deep into the exotic realms of the high-end art business. With wit and humility, Mould details the chase of unknown art treasures, the workings of auction houses and restoration studios, and what happens to anonymous works destined to become superstars. If only this could be made required reading for all art students! It's a 5.


ONE FALSE MOVE, by Harlan Coben

5/series. This is one of the best-plotted books I've read this year, a tense and in places very funny page-turner. Featuring Myron Bolitar, sports agent, stand-up guy, good son, mensch and a man you'd seek out as a friend. But Myron's got problems, not least of which is his let's-keep-it-light girlfriend. Then there's FJ who wants to kill him, a sexy basketball player who wants to jump his bones, an old friend who's vanished, a sincere politician (yeah, right)...it just keeps getting more and more tense as the tale barrels to a really outstanding, unexpected finish. Read the whole series in order, beginning with Deal Breaker, if you can. Like the Jack Reacher tales, out of order isn't so good (but I like Mryon a helluva lot more than Jack). A 4.5

MASTER AND GOD, by Lindsey Davis

Rome, 80AD. The Flavian dynasty is still in power, the popular Emperor Titus away on one of Imperial Rome's endless campaigns. In the vigili's office, where the safety of the city is their prime task, it's a drowsy afternoon. And then the fire starts. Three days later, much of ancient central Rome has been destroyed, and a young, fire-exhausted vigile meets future Emperor Domitian. And this is just the first few pages of this massive, entertaining, completely compelling book. Read more...


DARKEST FEAR, by Harlan Coben

7/series. Mryon Bolitar is up against unwelcome visitors from his past as he is sucked in to finding a missing bone marrow donor for a child. He soon finds that the donor doesn't exist. The search leads him to a wealthy family who will do anything to protect their privacy. Bolitar wisecracks himself through a half dozen dicey situations, pushing and pushing against not only the hyper-secretive family, but an FBI Task Force. Do I tell you more? But then I would spoil it for you and I'd never do that. Coben writes a gripping tale full of threat, but also a multi-layered tale of love and family. What a mensch. It's a 5. You should be reading the series, but this one could stand alone. But why would you do that??


MASTER OF THE DELTA, by Thomas H. Cook

Another stand-alone Southern hair-raiser by this marvelous writer, this one taking place in Louisiana, and marching to a slowly falling drumbeat. Cook is a master at mixing times, deftly sliding from past to present, carefully laying out his minefields, illuminating his characters in tiny lightning strikes of perfect words and images. This one's no exception. Jack Branch, proud and courtly heir to Great Oaks plantation and all its traditions, teaches high school English in his home town, in the same school his father taught. He is drawn in to the lives of several of his students, notably Eddie Miller, the son of the notorious Coed Killer. Jack's misplaced noblesse oblige will set in place a series of subtle events that culminate in a horrific event that nobody could have foreseen. A 4; if you are a Southern literature fan, you will sink right into this (at times molasses-slow) novel.

THE PINK CARNATION, by Lauren Willig

Series. A recent computer disaster, completely of my own making, wiped out nearly a dozen reviews of this delightful historic romance/spy series, set in Napoleonic England and France. Rather than try to replicate them - great reads though they are, I am not one to re-visit a book - I will merely give you an overview, along with the advice to read these books. The first one in the series is The Pink Carnation, all that follow have a color and a flower. It's a bit labored after a while, but the quality of the books stays high. Turn the page for more...


TROUBLE IN HIGH HEELS, by Christina Dodd

When her fiance dumps attorney Brandi Michaels only days after she'd moved to Chicago to be near him, she takes her engagement ring to a pawn shop and then goes on a shopping spree. But the spree is only the beginning of her revenge: she's going to go out and find herself the hottest one-night stand in the Windy City. From CFM shoes to fresh manicure to wildly sexy underwear making her momentous bosom ever more noteworthy, Brandi attends her mentor's cocktail party and...there he is. Count Roberto Bartolini. Let your imagination run riot, and you'll have him in your mind's eye: hotter than a volcano. If there's one thing Brandi believes, it's that revenge ought to be hot, hot, hot. But, the morning after, she discovers to her horror that the Count is not at all what he seems. Sure, he still makes her head swim with desire, but what's with the court date for jewel theft? A fun, feisty heroine, a hero for the ages, a good plot with lots of thuggy types, and lots of humor from this Rita-winning author. To say nothing of the great sex. It's a 4 (sex is also 4).


WHAT'S SO FUNNY, by Donald E. Westlake

Yet another Dortmunder caper to laugh yourself silly over. This time the morose burglar has been blackmailed into swiping a long-hidden Imperial Russian chess set. Problem is, it's in the sub-sub basement of a bank. As always, Dortmunder is resourceful (although never cheerful). Westlake's cast of characters is always Oscar-worthy, and this time includes cameos from two on-the-lam teenagers, an aging heiress, and too many security guards. It's a 4. Sadly, we will get no more books from this funny guy, he passed away in 2008. But, there's about a hundred novels waiting for you to discover, all of them still funny, still topical, and still dealing with the deep and imponderable verities of life...and laughter.



8/series. Poison pen threats, flaming topiary, a family reunion involving a will, old retainers with old grudges, all set in a grand Palladian villa. And then there's the ghost of sophisticated Aunt Dimity, still hanging around helping her great-niece solve mysteries. Lori and her husband, Bill, are house guests: Bill to do his lawyerly thing, and Lori to help "protect" a friend's husband. Lori, always with an eye to the seductive male, again finds a soul-mate while husband Bill slaves away at his client's behest. Boy, Atherton really knows how to dish up a dandy. Another 5 for this marvelous cozy series.


You might think this is going to be a funny story a la Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum; well, it ain't. We've all known - or have been, or maybe even still are - toughies like Roxy Abruzzo: she's seen too much, heard too much, all at too early an age to understand or escape. Now as an adult, she's prickly and feisty, a tough-love (or worse) mother, but author Martin has given her enough humanity to capture a reader's interest. Roxy runs a salvage business, which leads her to the occasional lapse of honesty, particularly the removal of an old marble statue from a murdered client's estate. Turns out the statue is priceless, a genuine BC Greek art work. The family of the deceased - all weird, all millionaires -  want the statue. As does a mysterious killer who's driven to more murder to keep secrets and get the statue. With a charming but scheming lawyer, a drug-addled art lover and a granny who fakes comas, and lots of compelling reasons to act as she does, Roxy finally comes face to face with the murderer...but on whose terms? I'll give this a 3.5; you might give it more...or less. What do you think of the title? Does it have anything to do with the story? For me, it was misleading, just a catchy title that didn't have a thing to do with the story. What'd I miss??


1/series. A delightful spin-off from Gabaldon's Outlander series, Lord John Grey moves among some of Georgian London's highest circles, where unapologetically dissolute behavior is the norm, and the idle life led by most of the nobility leads to bizarre excess. But not Lord John's behavior: as a gay man, he treads a wary path that has acquainted him with the seamier side of the city's offerings. Click below for more...



Elvis Cole series. Gritty realism in the California mold, that's Crais's style. But it's way more than that, also being a chronicle of friendship, of revenge, and of how far people can be driven. A man's body, dead a week, is discovered when police evacuate a community threatened by wildfire. Police soon discover the dead man could be a serial killer, with the murders of seven women to his credit. On one of them, Elvis Cole had proved the cops wrong and the man was freed. Shortly, Cole, world's best detective, gets life-threatening calls. Questioning his previous work, he must go back to the crimes and see what went wrong. As usual, top-notch suspense and an intricate plot leads the reader to a surprising conclusion...no, two surprising conclusions. A 4.5.


FALLING ANGELS, by Tracy Chevalier

Author Chevalier, whose marvelous Girl With A Pearl Earring was a best-seller, has created another world in which a woman's narrow life and limited options drive her to incautious action. The story begins the day of Queen Victoria's death in 1901, in London.


THE EYRE AFFAIR, by Jasper Fforde

1/series. Okay, I've got a new off-the-wall author hero: Jasper Fforde. I picked this up at the library, expecting a Jane Austen-oriented cozy of some sort, and was plunged almost instantly into a time-warped Britain in 1985, where the Crimean War is entering its 185th year, a single gigantic corporation runs the country, and cloned dodos are everyday pets. Thursday Next, our heroine - and a great one - has a 1.2 version dodo. Thursday's father is a fugitive from the time police and


THE GHOST WAR, by Alex Berenson

4?/series. Indomitable John Wells of Times Square fame (read best-seller The Faithful Spy) returns in this complex and edgy suspense novel. Stalked by images of those he's killed, Wells constantly pushes his luck (weapon of choice: motorcycles). When his lover, CIA agent Jennifer Exley, discovers evidence that the Taliban is getting outside training help, Wells volunteers to return to Afghanistan (where he spent a harrowing decade as an undercover spy) and join a special mission. Meanwhile,


AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD, by Laura Lippman

Lippman's style of writing puts her in a class by herself: she sneaks up on you with what could be perceived as a benign tale about Helen Lewis, a woman who runs a high-end call girl operation. The story shuttles back and forth from her childhood, when her vicious father called her "nothing face", through the various years - and men - that formed her, to the present day as she juggles the boxes of her life. She's compartmentalized everything to keep it all separate...and safe. But she really isn't safe at all, in fact she's a prime candidate for murder. I love being blind-sided by a writer, and Laura Lippman, a New York Times bestselling author, does a flawless job of just that. She also gives a compelling portrait of a woman trying to get by, and of other women struggling to do the same. Her voice is accurate and telling. All in all, a great read. This is a 5.

THE VALCOURT HEIRESS, by Catherine Coulter

Don't you just love a romance story that isn't full of dithering maidens with heaving bosoms pursued by snorting, ground-pawing males? You'll love this one, too. Coulter is a highly accomplished author both in the historical romance genre and in the modern FBI suspense genre. Her characters are always nicely drawn; Merry, the mysterious but lovely (of course) heroine, handsome (of course) Garron of Keswick, the new Baron Wareham of forbidding Wareham Castle.


THE ASTRONOMER, by Lawrence Goldstone

Paris, 1535: Martin Luther had posted his condemnation of corruption in his church only 17 years before, but the new religion that has sprung from Luther's words has brought the fury of the Catholic Church - in the person of the Inquisition's French agent, the vicious Ory - to stamp out all traces of the upstart faith. A young student at the church's infamous College de Montaigu - Amaury de Faverges - is chosen to replace a murdered Inquisition courier.


LAST TO DIE, by James Grippando

The last thing Miami attorney Jack Swyteck wants is to take on the sullen Tatum Knight - enforcer, tough guy - as a client, but he owes Tatum's brother, who's Jack's best friend. At first glance, Tatum may not be in serious trouble: he stands to inherit a large amount of money. Sally Fenning, wealthy widow, murdered as she sits in her car at a stoplight, leaves her considerable fortune to six people whose positive connections to her are, at first glance, obscure.



Essex writes about Georgian England and the independent Lizzie Paxton, who only wants to be a widow. Married life, such as it was back then (not much fun for women) was not to Lizzie's liking. Despite an ogre for a father, she's managed to refuse all suitors until a long-gone flame returns. Captain James Marlowe - exiled for his attraction to the then-teenage Lizzie - now offers marriage with the understanding that he'll die in the next few years. Really?


SUSPECT, by Robert Crais

A wonderful stand-alone book from a skilled crime writer, this novel stars a K-9 dog names Maggie, discharged from the Marines after she was wounded and her handler killed in Afghanistan. Now, LAPD officer Scott James, recovering from the horrific night his partner was killed and he nearly died from his own wounds, has come as a trainee to the K-9 unit. Maggie, who has failed to pass the examination, is to be sent home. But Scott sees the PTSD Maggie suffers, and takes her on. Crais, whose many award-winning novels usually star private eye Elvis Cole and his enigmatic friend Joe Pike, has departed from his usual human-oriented tales and turned out a marvelous, compelling tale of love and trust and the terrible price some must pay for our freedoms. It's a 5+.

A MURDER OF CROWS by P. F. Chisholm

2/series. I'm a sucker for Elizabethan-era England stories, and this mystery is as good as any I've read in a long while. Author Chisholm knows her stuff, and brings historical accuracy comfortably into the dialogue and mannerisms of the story.You'll sink right into the action and intrigue of the Queen's Court.


THE GRAVE GOURMET, by Alexander Campion

1/series. Foodies, it's time to celebrate! We have a great new series of cuisine-related mysteries set in the world's most foodie place: Paris. France, of course. Campion, who was sent on a six month assignment to Paris and never came home, has the insider's sure command of places, customs, food, and everything that makes Paris such a magnet. Starring food critique Alexandre LeTellier and his adorable policewoman wife, Capucine, must investigate the death of an auto manufacturer. How did the corpse wind up in the cooler of one of Paris' most elegant restaurants? What killed the man? Are there undercurrents of national security? How to defeat the inevitable friction between various departments of law enforcement? And how will Capucine, newly-transfered to a criminal squad, earn the respect of her subordinates? A charming start to a fun series. It's a 4.

BAIT, by Nick Brownlee

A first novel that reads like a very smooth tenth! Brownlee is a long-time journalist, so the usual errors by an emerging writer are absent. Set in chaotic, corrupt Mombasa on Africa's Kenyan coast, the novel opens with a horrific murder and a boat explosion which proves to have killed Dennis Bentley, a friend of ex-flying squad copper Jake Moore.


BILLY BOYLE, by James R. Benn

1/series. This well researched and written World War II mystery series stars a young Boston cop - Billy Boyle, Irish and no lover of the English - whose Uncle Ike (General Dwight Eisenhower) brings him onto his staff in London during the Blitz. I love finding new authors to enjoy - particularly of a series character - and Benn's a new fave.



This book, complete and detailed, could change the way you cook. It almost certainly will change the way you entertain. None of what chef and foodie Mark Bittman writes - that I've read, anyway - is fiction: he writes about food and cooking. Every recipe of his I've tried has been excellent, and his commentary is low-key and spot-on.


THE DAMASCENED BLADE, by Barbara Cleverly

3/series. India, 1922. Scotland Yard Inspector Joe Sandilands is still trapped in India, this time on the treacherous North West Frontier (present day Pakistan) where his old WWI friend James Lindsay is in charge of Gor Khatri, the last outpost before the Khyber Pass. Then pampered American heiress Lily Coblentz and an assortment of agenda-driven guests both military and private arrive at the fort, followed by an Afghani escort from beyond the Khyber. Startlingly handsome, British-educated Zeman Khan and his second-in-command are guests in the fort; Zeman quickly captures the heiress's interest. But in the morning, everything changes, and between murder, kidnappings and the threat of starting a new Afghan War, Joe has seven days to bring a killer to justice. A 4; for me, the chatty tone of dialogue gets a bit much after a while, but the authenticity and plot keeps the tale interesting. A 4.



This is my first Cristina Garcia book, but it absolutely won't be my last. I adore authors who have a quirky unique voice, mix the awfulness and the beauty of life in one delicious story. Six protagonists - a half-Japanese female matador with a foot fetish, a guerilla fighter turned waitress, a murderous army colonel, a depressed and suicidal Korean mill owner, and a former Cuban jailbird who's adopting a baby - all stay at a luxury hotel in an anonymous Central American city.


THE BARBED CROWN, by William Dietrich

6/series. The intrepid, forever-in-trouble-up-to-his-ears Ethan Gage, frontier marksman and sometimes confidante of Napoleon Bonaparte, is once again at the helm of a ship heading for a reef. Literally. This time he's sneaking back into France, intent upon avenging his beloved family's death: both the deliciously ornery Astiza and their son Horus (Harry) have died and Gage wants revenge. The gorgeous French aristo at his side wants something, too, but increasingly Gage isn't sure their aims are similar.

DEAL BREAKER, by Harlan Coben

1/series. If you're looking for a great author with a finely-tuned sense of the absurd, tight-as-a-new-boot plots, and sidekicks worthy of Oscars, Harlan Coben is your guy. And Myron Bolitar, 6'6" ex-basketball superstar, mensch, and sports agent is a lead character to love. Myron's new client, Christian Steele, an engaging, humble, photogenic quarterback just breaking in to the big time, is beset by problems, chief among them the disappearance the year before of his fiancee. Myron, a hands-on agent who gets involved in his clients' lives like a substitute father, copes with sleazy team owners, even sleazier porn mag publishers, a stunningly gorgeous ex-girlfriend, and Esperanza, ex-wrestler and business associate who pulls no punches. And then there's Win, once Mryon's FBI sidekick, now gone a bit over the edge. By now, this series has nearly a dozen books and a devoted following; join the throng and enjoy. It's a 5.


RAGTIME IN SIMLA, by Barbara Cleverly

2/series. Finding a series I like that's been running for over a decade is always a treat for me, as it means I can gobble them all up in one big banquet. And this one is absolutely delicious, chock full of authentic detail of an exotic setting, and with an intricate plot that turns up surprise after surprise. Set just after The Great War, in 1919, veteran of the bloody Flanders trenches Joe Sandilands, now a Scotland Yard Inspector, is induced to visit India.


RIVAL TO THE QUEEN, by Carolly Erickson

Well-known historical author Erickson is more known for non-fiction, but this book - told in first person, as a memoir - concentrates on the life of Lettice "Letty" Knollys,  acknowledged as the most beautiful woman at Elizabeth I's court (therefore banished most of the time by her imperious Queen, as Elizabeth was inordinately jealous of any woman who one-upped her).  Lettie is married off to the dull and brutish young Lord Essex, by whom she has a handsome, winning (but, as history teaches us, ultimately deluded) son.



1/series. The accomplished historical novelist has done it again: young Simon Maldon is a delightful addition to the Elizabethan genre as he aids the princess in ferreting out a murderer. Simon, whose father is a well-known physician (banished from court for telling Henry Eight he must go on a diet), and who takes Simon on house calls. He is called to set a broken leg in the princess's household, and before he leaves Simon is invited to come the next day to converse in Greek with her highness. As the friendship grows between the young people, women are being murdered in London, dressed in nun's garb, then beheaded. Little has been done, as most are prostitutes (some things never change). When it becomes obvious the killer can strike at will, the king orders one of his Welsh Guards, assisted by Simon, to find the madman. This cross between cozy and killer hunt will keep you pinned to your chair. A 4.


GODS AND BEASTS, by Denise Mina

A book review of a newly-discovered crime fiction author is always a pleasure. Perhaps you haven't heard of Mina, who has ten books and a number of awards to her credit. This, the tenth, begins with a horrific shooting in a Glasgow, Scotland sub-post office. The victim, a well-respected retired school bus driver, had taken his four year-old grandson on an outing. Behind them is Martin Pavel, sending Christmas presents home to America. When the police begin their investigation into the murder, it becomes clear nobody is who they seem to be. Mina's fabulously deft and subtle handling of the plot, of the characters and their complex lives, will put her at the top of your must-read list, right along with Martha Grimes and Ian Rankin. The denouement will blind-side you. I'd like to have seen more depth to the wrap-up, but the comeuppance scene is stellar. A 4.5, with writing you could teach an MFA class on.



26/series. If you haven't gotten hooked on the best-selling adventures, trials, tribulations and upsets of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, you've got a golden opportunity to mend your ways. Start with #1, The Cater Street Hangman, and you'll have seasons of satisfaction, ending (for the moment) with this darkly colorful tale. Perry always selects an aspect of Victorian culture not generally talked about. In past novels, it's been child prostitution, pornography, and other ills. This time, her theme is rape, and both victims and perpetrators are members of the upper class, the movers and shakers of London. Pitt, now elevated to Head of Special Branch, moves in the world his wife was born to, knowing it's not his world but one he must master to succeed. His predecessor, Lord Victor Narraway, is drawn into the affair, as is the supremely elegant Lady Vespasia Cuming-Gould. Well, no spoilers here, so you'll have to either pick up this latest or start from the beginning and enjoy these highly-detailed tales of life, love, death and scandal in the Victorian world. It's a 4.

C, by Tom McCarthy

The cover blurbs on this dense book gushed with praise: "an avant-garde epic" said one, "terrifically stylish, acrobatic and insidious", said another. Well, says I, I couldn't finish the damn thing. I hate not finishing books, I feel (particularly in this case what with all the encomiums) I'm lacking something. But, here's the thing: I had no sympathy for any of the major characters, and all the long bits of exquisite prose (it was exquisite, no argument there) finally bored me stiff. Too much navel gazing for me. Set mainly in pre- and post-Great War England, and in Germany, the juxtaposition of the minutae of daily life and the coming great political upheavals, still didn't capture me. Serge, the protagonist (I suppose), is a coke-sniffing adult...he was a nasty little boy who pulled the wings off moths. I didn't like him as a kid, as a young aviator in World War I, or as a post-war adult. I didn't care much for his family, either, although some of the early scenes at the family home/school for the deaf/silkworm farm were spookily perfect. There are whole worlds in the book, and perhaps if I'd had more patience I could've entered them. But I couldn't, so with apologies to Mr. McCarthy who I am sure is a fine, fine writer of fine books that just aren't for me, the book gets a 3.


THE WARLORD'S SON, by Dan Fesperman

The skilled hand of an experienced journalist shows in this contemporary novel set in war-ravaged Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. The time is shortly after 9/11's horrific events; Osama bin Laden is still at large. Najeeb, a border tribal leader's estranged son, agrees to translate for an aging, one-last-time American journalist, Skelly. The American only wants to get into Afghanistan, file what he thinks will be his best work. In the shadows lurk two other Americans, an opportunistic commercial agent and an equally unsavory man connected, possibly, to the U. S. Embassy. In the always-changing world of the mountainous border, where nothing is as presented, Najeeb must do his duty...but which side will claim him? And how will he protect the American he has come to like? A 5; not for the terminally optimistic or trusting. The ending will blow you away.

THE SMOKE, by Tony Broadbent

London, post World War II, when Britain is on tighter rationing than during the Blitz. The Black Market thrives, crime doesn't take a holiday (although it's largely without the firepower of America across the Pond), and creeper (burglar) and jewel thief Jetthro barely escapes his latest spot of work in a hail of gunfire. He's aimed high, our conniving but charming Jetthro: a foreign Embassy and the fabulous jewels of the Ambassador's wife and daughter. But he also stole two little black books which set crime lords, rivals, despicable international thieves, Communist spies, assorted psychopaths and the authorities after him and his mentor, Ray "Buggy Billy" Karmen. Author Broadbent - this was his first book (2002), which for some reason I found on a new-book shelf - has recreated the era with great detail, believable characters (most of them not so nice, but each with a clear, and believable separate character) and a fascinating list of Cockney/thieves rhyming cant; if you love London - once called The Smoke, and it really was - you'll love this book. It's a 5+ for me, and I can hardly wait to review the next Broadbent book.


TEARS OF PEARL, by Tasha Alexander

I should have read this series - the adventures, murders and loves of the very independent Lady Emily Ashton - in order. They can stand alone nicely, but once you're bitten by the Lady Emily bug, you'll want to read them all...so why not start at the beginning? This one deals with an extended honeymoon (typical of their class, it could take six months), this portion in Istanbul, in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire (1892, to be exact). Author Alexander has the atmosphere spot on, although I personally would like a bit more travelogue info (my shortcoming; most will find it just about perfect), and way more about food (my other shortcoming). A young girl dies in the Sultan's harem; Lady E is whirled in to the mystery, meeting along the way a fascinating bunch of characters. Alexander is adept at showing the passionate side of our heroine without getting into the trenches; this could be required reading for Flirting 101. The ending may come as a big surprise as Alexander is an adept author and her psychological underpinnings are rock solid. Pay attention to details and you may figure out the villain earlier than I did. I gotta give this whole series a 5.



This small book is told as a monologue to a western stranger by a Pakistani man, once a Wall Street darling, but post 9/11 an educator/protester in his native Lahore. Seated at a restaurant at the edge of an old market, Changez tells this stranger his life story, and how western education and money and position beguiled him, and how the 9/11 tragedy gradually sent him home. And what he does once home. And then he walks the American man back to his hotel. The last page is...you figure it out. My friend Lea is polling readers: what do you think happened next? You tell me, and I'll let her know the count. It's a 5+ and it'd be great for a book discussion group.



Too often, I find only a handful of recipes in a cookbook that are actually usable. Author Wyler (who was editor of Food & Wine for a decade), however, seems to have me and my large gatherings in mind, and I think this small soft cover book will become part of my cookbook collection. How many of us have cursed a cookbook writer who callously...



Charlotte Heath, who until she contracted polio had been active, particularly enjoying long fast gallops astride her horse (frowned upon in 1900 Massachusetts), has recovered use of her legs. She goes for a sleigh ride, delighting in the speed and the beautiful snowy day. Then she sees her husband, Hays, embracing another woman. Without thought, she flees to Boston, fetching up at The Berkshire, where the Heath family's former cook rules the kitchen. Numb with cold, Charlotte is put into a warm bed and the next day discovers she's in her husband's aunt's private room. What is Aunt Lily, a respected doctor and married woman, doing here? And why do so many handsome young men act as porters? The story meanders through Charlotte's struggles with her decision to leave Hays, the side alleys of thought and memory colorful and entertaining, the characters quirky and full of life. This is not a fast-paced book of betrayal and anger, it's a leisurely reflection of how life was probably lived a century ago: slow-paced, refined, gracious, with plenty of time to smell the roses...and get to know a porter. When you finally come to the end, it may surprise you. It's a 4.


CHILL FACTOR, by Sandra Brown

Cleary, North Carolina, is set in the mountains: a small, quiet town...but five women have disappeared in the past two years, and a blue ribbon has been found where they were last seen. Lily Martin, returning to tie up lose ends after her divorce from Cleary's police chief, Dutch Burton, is stranded in their former mountainside cabin during a blizzard. With her is Ben Tierney, a man she met and was attracted to the year before; her car struck him as she was trying to get off the mountain as a major blizzard was beginning.


MAYBE THIS TIME, by Jennifer Crusie

What fun! What a great heroine! What a perfect hero! What a marvelous plot! Boy, does Jennifer Crusie know how to deliver a fabulous read. Andie has been divorced from North Archer - and his never-stop work ethic - for a decade. When she decides to marry Will the writer, she gives North back ten years of alimony checks. Is the old spark still there? Is her brain functioning? Then why does she


THE IDES OF APRIL, by Lindsey Davis

1/series. I've long enjoyed Davis's Marcus Didius Falco series, set in Imperial Rome. There's been 20 of the tales over the years, starting with The Silver Pig, all carrying us along with the wise-cracking "informer" as he maneuvers through life, pursuit of criminals of every stripe, and navigating the intrigues of the Roman political system. Now Davis takes us into a new life with Falco's adopted daughter, Flavia Albia. Once a street urchin in Londinium, now a young widow in Rome, she's living is dad's falling-apart old apartment at Fountain Court.



Adler writes deliciously fun romances - without the totally explicit sex that other authors employ - in far-flung and exotic settings. I used to sneer at this genre; you know, anybody can write this junk. Well, my friends, lemme tell ya that anybody can NOT write them.


SANDRINE'S CASE, by Thomas H. Cook

This is such a pleasure to review. I don't know where the dividing line between mainstream and literary novels actually lies, but I'm pretty sure Sandrine's Case straddles it. Author Cook, with about thirty fiction books, a dozen or so non-fiction and anthologies, plus many awards (Edgars and such), shows his mastery of the writer's craft with this intricate, time-leaping novel.


BEAUTIFUL LIES, by Clare Clark

London, 1887, a time of social and political ferment, of the dawning of worker's rights and an end to the endless cruel brutality that marked the lives of the not wealthy. For beautiful, independent Maribell Campbell Lowe, whose husband is one of the few socialists in Parliament, surface life is placid, privileged. Possibly perfect. But under the facade there exists an unbelievable past. When her husband Edward's career is endangered and  ruthless, self-promoting newspaper publisher Alfred Webster (shades of Rupert Murdoch!) taken an unhealthy interest in Maribell, she fears her lies will be exposed and their lives destroyed. Beautifully researched, with main characters based on real historical figures, this novel has all the flavor and ferment of its time. A great read: 4+.


THE JASMINE TRADE, by Denise Hamilton

Meet Eve Diamond, an LA Times reporter driven to succeed, to advance, and to take no crap from anyone (except her editor) while doing it. A young Chinese woman is murdered as she goes to pick out her bridesmaids dresses; Eve is sent to cover the story and meets the girl's father, the powerful banker Reginald Lu. Something isn't ringing true, and Eve continues to investigate what really should be a one-day heart-wringer. Eve stumbles into the world of the "parachute kids", Asian youths sent to the U.S. for education, but whose families stay in Asia. These wealthy, lonely, unsupervised kids live lives of tremendous ease but no comfort; they get into trouble easily, and some find that getting out isn't as simple as they thought. You'll find it easy to rush along with the unstoppable Eve, and won't want the book to end...which it does, but not how you may think. This is a 5 and could be a good book group due to its subject matter. www.denisehamilton.com 



Laker's evocation of the world of haute couture at its haute-est, of France on the edge of World War I, is letter perfect. It's a frenetic and glamorous world inhabited by those in the fashion houses, by the many Russians who prefer Paris to Moscow, such as young and handsome Nicolai Karasvin, a sculptor who has worked with Auguste Rodin's studio. Young Jeannine Cladel arrives in Paris to make her mark in the fashion world, a world that her selfish and scheming elder sister has already conquered. After Nicolai returns to Russia and is reported killed in the war, Juliette - who has borne her lover's child - marries a mutual Italian friend and moves to Venice. She meets one of her heroes, Mariano Fortuny, the famous designer, and goes to work with him. Historical fiction with real historical characters is so satisfying; I'm not only being entertained but am leaning about a man - the famous Spanish textile genius Mariano Fortuny - I've always been curious about. This is a 4+. Take it to the beach!


SLOW POISON, by Sheila Bosworth

Published in 1992, pre-Oprah Booklist, this heart-rendingly funny book about four generations of the Cades of  Covington LA (suburban New Orleans) is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's not a 5, it's a 15! If your book club is searching for a fine, laugh-out-loud, three hankie read, this is it. It's got everything, all in perfect prose that'll make you think the author is a poet in her spare time: it's got love, thwarted love, lust, lust thwarted and unthwarted, babies alive and not, alcoholism and drug-addiction, Roman Catholic weirdness, Viet Nam, Crosley radios, life and death. Each character (and that they are) is fully fleshed out, distinct, wildly idiosyncratic. You'll love the "loyal family retainers". I cannot for the life of me figure out how the author did not put one word out of place. What a great voice Bosworth has!



Meet Vish Puri, who considers himself India's best Private Detective. You'll agree when this entrancing book is done, and you'll rush out and see if there's any more (my next trip). Author Hall has lived in India and knows the attitudes, prejudices, habits, shortcomings and delights of the sub-continent...but he doesn't rub them in your face, they just tiptoe out in front of you, charming and immersing you in this tale of murder and attempted murder, kidnapping, mayhem, cheating, conniving, lying and ultimately justice for all, one way or another. This is a fun-filled and authentic 5.


LONDON IN CHAINS, by Gillian Bradshaw

Who knew the English Civil War was plural? Neither, confesses this very talented author, did she. Set in London in 1647, young Lucy Wentnor - rejected by her father after she is raped by three soldiers - goes to London to stay with her uncle. Uncle's wife, a bitter and contentious harridan, never looses a chance to stir up trouble; her particular focus is on her husband's political leanings. Quickly, Lucy is swept into the world of political life that could put her in the Tower, as she becomes a printer's apprentice despite the loud objections of her Uncle's wife. And if all the intrigue between king and Cromwell's troops isn't enough, the plague arrives. If you have any interest in British history as seen through non-royal eyes, this is the perfect read. I'll give it an 4. You'll be happy to know there is a sequel.

THE GHOST, by Robert Harris

Harris, the author of the fabulous Imperium and Fatherland, does it again in this contemporary novel dealing with terrorism, politics, honor and honesty and the judgment of history. The ghost in question is a ghost-writer hired to replace a dead man to finish the autobiography of Britain's former PM Adam Lang. Handsome, captivating, Lang was excoriated when he left office for supporting America's wars on terror and toadying to American demands for renditions. As the ghost (I checked to page 100 and his name isn't mentioned even though the work is told in first person) immerses himself in the Lang life story, he begins to sense something isn't quite right. With Harris's sure style - witty, quick-moving, detailed, engrossing - you'll find it hard to put this one down. It's a 5.


THREE QUARTERS, by Denis Hamill

From the graphic opening prison scenes right through confrontations, fistfights, shootouts, lies, deceptions and betrayals, author Hamill keep his hero - disgraced ex-cop and prison inmate 6'2" hyper-fit Bobby Emmet - fighting for his reputation and his life. The conmen, wiseguys, sleazy lawyers, desperate victims and crooked cops of New York City are portrayed with vigor and a dark edge that fans of this genre will enjoy. Hamill, an NYC-based reporter, has got the seamiest sides, and the provocative actions, the perversions and psychoses of the city down pat. Now I wish he'd get a little more realistic with his dialogue and knock off the holier-than-thou why'd-you-do-it? passages. I give this easy read a 3+.

GONE BAMBOO by Anthony Bourdain

I thought Tony Bourdain was just an edgy, attitudinous ex-chef with wonky knees and a talent for eating icky local food without dying, but I now have to re-think. This book, published in 1997 (pre-Kitchen Confidential?), has a few minor flaws but if you're in for a feisty pair of killers (a gone-to-seed Mr and Mrs Smith) and their dilemma when one of their victims shows up near their St Martin beachfront hotel, this is a fun read. It ain't heavy literary fiction, but the plotting is good, the action almost non-stop, the characters (mostly) believable, and the denouement vintage Bourdain. And the author's photo on the flyleaf is edible; actually, it's hilarious because at one point in the book he writes of the uber-competent female "even at 36 she was stunning" and the same could be said of the author. It's a 4 and I'd love to read more like this.



Published in 1999, this noir-ish mystery introduces gutsy Aimee Leduc, a part-American Paris (France, not Texas) PI. An elderly Jewish woman is murdered minutes before Aimee, at the request of a holocaust scholar at a local synagogue, brings a photo to her. On the old woman's forehead is carved a swastika. Aimee and her partner, the dwarf Rene, are both computer hacker geniuses, and can get into almost any database. Then the holocaust scholar is hit by a bus...Aimee is attracted to a neo-Nazi...memories of World War II and the Nazi occupation come pouring forth...someone takes pot shots at Aimee...a diplomat searches for his lost love...an election is in the offing...mystery inside mystery inside memory. If you have read little about this war and its horrors, this book will shake you up. And the denouement is a surprise. It's a 4, and I look forward to more Aimee Leduc tales.

THE DROWNING RIVER, by Christobel Kent

The river in question is the Arno, sweeping picturesquely through Florence, Italy. Introducing Sandro Cellini, a "defrocked" police detective who has turned to private detecting. He's approached by the widow of a recently-drowned man; the woman believes her husband didn't throw himself in the river. At the same time, Cellini investigates the disappearance of a British student from one of the many art schools that thrive in the city. The author's sure hand with the characters' emotions gives this tale a lot of depth, and her knowledge of the city (I may take the book next time I visit, get off the beaten path) is encyclopedic. This is a 5 for me...no, make it a 5+. My kind of stuff: suspenseful, probing, merciless, very sure-footed...I can hardly wait for more.


MURDER IN THE DARK, by Kerry Greenwood

Phryne Fisher (the Hon., as she insists) is a heroine/role model/sleuth for us all: at home with herself and her wealth, with her aberrations, her lovers (a tall Chinese gentleman who calls her his concubine)(plus an undercover agent)(and anyone else who might strike her very picky fancy),  her friends and faithful staff...but she's not too comfortable with an invitation to the Last Best Party of 1928. This bash-to-end-all-bashes is thrown by The Golden Twins - one excruciatingly beautiful male, one otherworldly female - in an old mansion not far from Melbourne, Australia. And then things - and people - start to disappear. Guns are fired. Ground glass is put in face cream. Who is doing what and why? This is a delicious weekend read; get your bonbons and settle in! The prolific Greenwood has written nearly a score of Phryne Fisher stories, plus others, all set in Australia. I can hardly wait to get my hands on the next one. Give the lady a 5!

DON'T LOOK NOW, by Richard Montanari

Contemporary serial killer novel by one of the acknowledged current masters of this genre, Cleveland police detective Jack Paris must bring a sadistic killer who targets professional women with a certain attribute. Paris, struggling with an emotional downturn caused by his recent divorce, slogs through the investigation, and encounters the most terrifying situation he's ever had to deal with. While the plot is fairly solid, and Paris is a very believable protagonist, there are so many loose ends to this I can't give it a good mark; when you've got eight books under your belt, somebody should be checking the manuscript for those "what happened to...?" situations. A 3.5. www.richardmontanari.com


SUGAR SKULL, by Denise Hamilton

2/series. Continuing the series starring gutsy, intrepid LA Times reporter Eve Diamond (and her enviable though disastrous love life), this novel examines life in the Mexican immigrant community. As with all Hamilton's novels, they are populated with excellently-drawn characters with complex and believable lives. There's an old saying in the crime bizniz: there's always an earlier crime. Hamilton is adept at bringing past and present together. Sugar Skull takes its name from the Day of the Dead candies that many Mexicans adore. The next novel in the series is Last Lullaby, then comes Savage Garden and Prisoner of Memory (Russian immigrants; a really chilling, complex tale). I read them non-stop and was glad I did it. This is a heroine I don't get tired of. Give them a 5! And give me more, more, more! www.denisehamilton.com 

SISTER, by Rosamund Lupton

Beautifully written, in part an essay on sisterhood, but also a carefully-plotted mystery set in present-day London. Contemporary crime fiction rarely comes better than this complex novel of two sisters, Beatrice and Tess. Beatrice, the older and more conventional sister, flies home to London when her mother tells her Tess has gone missing. Beatrice's attempts to find her sister are stymied by her own lack of knowledge about her artistic, free-spirited sibling, whom she had thought she knew well. If I tell you any more, this would contain spoilers, so you'll have to read it. The harrowing tale will keep you up late, and the ending will shock, so lay in a supply of bonbons. It's a 4.5, and an accomplished first novel. Lupton will go on your A-list for forthcoming books. She can be reached at www.rosamundlupton.com.


GRAVEYARD DUST, by Barbara Hambly

Benjamin January, a free man of color in 1830's New Orleans, is once again beset by problems, this time concerning his sister Olympe, a voodooienne accused of poisoning a young man. Introduced in the novel A Free Man of Color, January's beautiful, ice-in-the-veins mother was born a field slave, freed and installed as a palacee (mistress) by a wealthy planter; the benefactor educated his son and January - now in his early 40's, widowed, and returned from Paris to his home town - is a trained surgeon but earns a very precarious living as a musician. All these novels set a grim and unsparing tone of the rough, filthy, cruel life that the non-wealthy lived in New Orleans; if you're tender-hearted and don't want to look at what it could have been like pre-Civil War for those who'd been enslaved (or were without money), skip them. But you're missing a great series of stories that bring to vivid, tragic, and compelling life the conditions that all but the most wealthy lived in. They're all 5's for me.

THE LION OF CAIRO, by Scott Oden

"A fast-paced, sweeping saga of war, intrigue and bloody revenge set in the squalid confines of ancient Cairo (circa 1300) and the opulence of the Caliph's palace." So sayeth a critic.
For a fanciful take on the Arab's view of the Crusades, this is the book for you. Assad is a child survivor of the Crusaders' siege and destruction of Askalon, a port city in present-day Lebanon, and his memories dominate his dreams and waking hours. Now an Assassin, Assad's current mission is to meet and evaluate the youthful Caliph of Egypt, an opium-addled youth dominated by his evil vizier. Can Rashid al-Hasan be saved from the poisoned cup? Will the harem-girl Parysatis find the courage to act? What about her slave Jasmine who falls afoul of the necromancer? Will the Crusader army turn back? And how can Assad, Emir of the Knife, withstand the magick of his possessed sword?
A fast-paced read from an author who never lets facts get in the way of a good story...and he says so right from the start. Too bad he's never met a pomegranate. I give this a 3.

A FLORENTINE DEATH, by Michele Giuttari

A best-seller in Italy, translated from the Italian. A police procedural from the former head of Florence, Italy's police force (and then advisor on the Mafia to the Italian government). Giuttari knows his procedures, and the basic story line is interesting. As written, however, it has a fair number of faults which make reading tedious at times. The protagonist, Squadra Mobile leader Michelle Ferrara, is targeted by a murderer who sends taunting messages; Ferrara discovers he is also sending messages through homosexual murder victims. No more spoilers; try this first novel for a flavor of Florence and an insider's look at how Italian police work. Hopefully, the information dumps the author employs will become a thing of the past in the next novels. A 3.


BLOOD AND FIRE, by Nick Brownlee

2/series. You thought Bait was good, read Blood and Fire, the next Jake and Jouma hair-raiser set in Mombasa and points around. Peopled with people you could barely term human (most of whom we'd cross the street to avoid), this fast-moving thriller pits ex-Flying Squad cop Jake and the indefatigable Inspector Daniel Jouma against the usual appalling Kenyan corruption and cronyism, plus a juggernaut development corporation. Brownlee's depictions of how most Kenyans live is unsettling but almost never crosses into the not-believable. How they die is the same. And why was Sister Gudrun kidnapped? Read it and find out. It's a solid 5. www.nickbrownlee.com for updates.


FREEDOM, by Jonathan Franzen

Some books have such unsympathetic characters I just can't slog through them, even if their travails are so unusual and/or erotic and/or bloody-minded. And then there's the very well-written book, thicker than a Dagwood sandwich, whose characters are beyond unsympathetic but the writing is so damn good I just keep on slugging away until I find out What Really Happened.
Such a book is Freedom. Nobody could suggest the author isn't a stellar writer. He invents and animates an odd bunch of people. Uber-wife/mother Patty Berglund and uber-unselfish, liberal, trusting, good



Edinburgh-based Rankin is one of my favorite writers, and this is a good read. Sadly, the protagonist isn't Rankin's usual copper Inspector Rebus, but  Malcolm Fox is still interesting, a member of the Complaints group. In the US we call it Internal Affairs; I like the forthrighness of the Scottish title, don't you? Fox is sent to investigate a man he grows to like. Soon, they are on parallel tracks investigating the same thing. But can Jamie Breck be what he claims to be: an honest cop? What I like about Rankin's writing is the economy of overt emotion and adjectives; I'm a writer who thinks adjectives are the first line of writing, Rankin obviously doesn't. That's why he's published, I guess. It's a 4. www.ianrankin.net


A ROYAL PAIN, by Rhys Bowen

2/series. Lovers between-the-wars upper-crust British mysteries will adore intrepid, dead broke Lady Georgiana Rannoch who chars for the aristocracy and is invited to "Buck House" (us colonials call it Buckingham Palace) to consult with the Queen. Pushed into hostessing a Bavarian princess destined to take errant Prince of Wales eyes off an American divorcee, Georgie disguises her poverty by hiring her granddad and his culinary wizard-neighbor as staff. But the blonde, busty princess, a trash-talking devotee of American gangster films, wants only to party. And the Prince wants only to be alone with Wallis (and we all know where that went). Why, then, do people keep turning up murdered? This is a great summer read: entertaining, educational (I find nuggets of fascinating lore in all of these books) and very well written. I like Georgiana, very down-to-earth, and her hilarious attempts to stay independent. Have I mentioned handsome, devil-may-care Darcy O'Mara, an Irish "royal" with a yen for Georgie? It's a 4+. www.rhysbowen.com


THE BELLS, by Richard Harvell

What a fabulous first novel! Famous singer Moses Froben recounts his life in a letter to his son, beginning atop a bell tower in a Swiss alpine village, his survival of a murder attempt, and his rescue by two itinerant monks. Taken to St. Gall where the abbot wants nothing to do with the waif, Moses is drawn to the cathedral during choir practice. The choir master sees the boy has extraordinary hearing and pitch; suddenly almost-mute Moses is a choir member, then a soloist and then, in a harrowing scene, a castrato. This horrible practice castrated young boys with beautiful voices so that they remained musicos: singing angels, or sopranos with the vocal power of full-grown men. Moses, not fully understanding what happened, but knowing he would be an outcast, conceals his condition for years, even from the woman who loves him and whom he loves but cannot claim. What follows is mesmerizing, heart-rending, gratifying, unbelievable and completely enthralling. It's a 5+. www.richardharvell.com


THE EMPEROR'S BODY, by Peter Brooks

The front story of this well-written book is the exhumation of Napoleon I's body from the end-of-the-world island of St. Helena. The plan is to return the body to France for re-burial in the Invalides (where you can see it today...the tomb, not the body a la Lenin). The novel's other stories, so skilfully woven you will barely notice, involve a well-known, ageing author; an aristocratic young diplomat; and a young upper-class woman who is not your ordinary simpering wife-to-be. Two of the side stories are the vicious political games played in France during that time (echoes of the USA!), the last days of Marie Antoinette (including a chilling recollection of the guillotine in operation), and the suspense as Napoleon's body is exhumed: is there a body in the casket and is it the Emperor's? The author presently teaches at Princeton; his deft handling of all the issues is smooth as silk..and the final chapter comes as a bit of a surprise. A 4+; could be a good book group choice.


FADEAWAY GIRL, by Martha Grimes

Twelve-year old Emma Graham, unflappable and inventive, thinks too much is happening around the Hotel Paradise: murder, attempted murder (of Emma!), and a twenty-year old unsolved kidnapping. Martha Grimes' other series, which I totally adore, features Richard Jury; this tale shares the sly, dry humor that is Grimes' great strength (along with her rich cast of oddball supporting characters, her impeccable timing, and her unsurpassed plotting). Unlike the Jury series, though, this moves at a leisurely speed while racking up scene after scene of quirky people, unfinished thoughts, train rides, greedy drinkers and Emma's efficient mother. The drinks recipes are worth the trouble to get the book. It's a 4+...you'll probably think the whole series a 5.
NOTE: On my list of always-read authors, Martha Grimes is one of the stars. Her old pub titles (The Horse You Came In On, The Lamorna Wink, The Old Silent...and 20 others) are just a hint of the entertainment you'll get. If Ms. Grimes wrote a laundry list, it'd probably hold my attention.

JULIET, by Anne Fortier

I wonder if this is a trend: a novel set in two far-apart centuries in Italy. I've seen more than one recently. This one, a debut novel from an author I'll no doubt be reading for the rest of my life (she's very young, I'm very not), is set in Siena, Italy, home of the still-running Palio horse race, and one of the world's most lovely piazzas. Julie Jacobs, newly grieving the death of her godmother, goes to Siena to trace her roots. The scene shifts to the 16th century, when the tale of Romeo and Guilietta unfolds in all its dramatic and futile glory. Back and forth we go, from medieval vendettas to lost treasure to unfolding love stories (successful? read on!) to siblings and relatives from hell to enemies you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Ancient cities are built over the ruins of previous cities, Siena is no exception, and the climax is acted out in the Bottini, the tunnels underneath the city. Author Fortier has captured the cadences and mannerisms of both centuries with awesome ease, and each character has a distinctive voice and character. This is a solid 5, a fascinating, quality read. PS: The second two-centuries-in-Italy novel is The Medusa Amulet, also reviewed. www.annefortier.com

THE MEDUSA AMULET, by Robert Masello

Masello has authored six other books in this genre, plus several books on the occult. He eminently knows his subject. Lovers of cutting-edge intrigue, of the occult, of alternative history, lots of nasty bad guys and two engaging good guys (one a female Italian art historian with a conspiracy complex) will find this cross-century thriller a lot of fun. Benvenuto Cellini, 16th century Italy's bad boy genius goldsmith dabbles in the occult with terrifying results. The action switches to 21st century Chicago where talented art historian David Franco is sent on a quest by the mysterious Kathryn Van Owen: find a mirror with a medusa head on one side and bring it back to her. Unaware of VanOwen's real motives, and that all previous searchers have turned up dead, Franco arrives in Florence and at once meets obstreperous Olivia Levi, whose take on the occult includes the fascination Hitler and Nazi Germany had for such things. The chase heats up: bodies turn up everywhere, Franco is followed, Olivia's flat is burgled, and the back story twists and turns. Switching from one era to another can be tricky, but Masello easily accomplishes this feat. It's a long weekend read, but you'll stay up late to finish it, and will love the surprise ending. It's a 4. www.robertmasello.com


ITALIAN FEVER, by Valerie Martin

Who killed Lucy Stark's employer? Why did DV - an inexplicably successful writer of awful prose - leave his secluded Tuscan villa and wander in the moonless dark over the rough countryside? Did he really fall down a well? That's what Massimo - sexy, seductive, self-contained Massimo - says. So does weird, supercilious Allesandro, whose passionate love note to DV's girlfriend Lucy finds in DV's night table. Cool, organized, efficient Lucy is sent to Tuscany to wind up DV's affairs, instead falls dangerously ill in the remote farmhouse (no villa...but then DV rarely told the truth about anything) and then falls into an affair of her own. And who else is telling the truth, and who is lying? This enticing novel will mesmerize Italiafans and lovers of detailed romances. The author's descriptions of Lucy's reactions to art works is worth the read alone. I adored this book, it's my kind of stranger-in-a-strange-land escape. My rating is 100% my own (if I like it, it gets high marks), others may not agree. The writing style is clear and straightforward, the setting perfectly exotically Italian (this writer knows her Italians), the plot sufficiently torturous, the emotions fascinating and just complex enough: 5!



1/series. London, 1930-ish. Prolific prize-winning author Bowen has created an easy-to-like heroine in Lady Georgiana Rannoch, an impoverished royal who chars for a living; at 34th, she's so far down the Line of Succession she doesn't rate any bodyguards...or a living allowance. Granted, it's posh charring - she readies London houses for their owners' returns - but still she skulks around in her maid's uniform. This first novel introduces the entire gang: Georgie's half-brother Binkie, perhaps not as muddle-headed as he seems; the snooty sister-in-law, Hilda aka Fig; old school chum and nighlife-addict Belinda; Irish hottie Darcy O'Mara; Georgie's commoner grandpa, a retired bobbie; and a murderer or two. A nasty Frenchman  - a gambler who claims he had won the Rannoch ancestral estate in a card game - turns up drowned in Rannoch House's bathroom. Binky has fled to Scotland, then returns only to be arrested. Georgie knows Binky couldn't have done it...who did? And why? A great start to a posh English series you'll completely enjoy. A solid, fun-filled 4!


THE SECRET SOLDIER, by Alex Berenson

Iron man, ex-CIA undercover agent John Wells, the indominable one, is back...and about time. Once again immersing himself in the Muslim world of intrigue and jihad, this excellent tale takes a turn with a look at the internal working of the Saudi royal family. The story wraps up the preceding Wells novel by finishing off a traitor, holed up in Jamaica's wide-open drug culture. Then events in the mid-east force King Abdullah to ask Wells for help. A meeting in Nice is followed by a series of outwardly unconnected terrorist attacks in the mid-east. But Wells find the link - through an abandoned terrorist camp in the Bekka Valley - and traces it to an unexpected kidnap plot. But is ransom the goal? Berenson, a former New York Times correspondent, knows his settings and their culture and politics. He's produced a gripping, only-slightly-unbelievable, suspense novel that you'll thoroughly enjoy. It's a 4.

FIRST LADY, by Michael Malone

This murder mystery sucked me in and kept me in its grip until the very last page. Malone has created the perfect cop: Homicide Detective Justin Savile V, recovering alcoholic, bereft father, separated husband, loyal friend and polite Southern Gentleman. When Irish rock star Mavis Mahar comes to town, Justin's life goes haywire. The troubled Mavis is irresistible; Justin's best friend Police Chief Cuddy Mangum is beset by a press ravening for his resignation; the City Council is bitterly divided over an on-going murder trial of one of the town's aristocrats; brutally murdered women (one with a taunting toe tag) show up; and what's with the two little Nicaraguan ladies? This is one of the few mysteries where I've actually got the killer right...but even if you do as well, you'll still be gripped by the wild, no-holds-barred ending...and Justin's own ending as well.
This has been called a Southern Novel, and I suppose it is...even if you don't like Southern Novels, read this one. There's nothing about it not to like. It's the perfect summer read. I give it a 5 and I bet you will, too.


THE AMATEUR SPY, by Dan Fesperman

Freeman and Mila Lockhart, just-retired, have seen man's brutality up close for decades, as they set up and operate refugee camps and feeding stations in the world's grimmest hot spots. Now, they think, it's time to kick back and relax, find out what normalcy is all about. Enter Black, White and Grey, three tough-as-nails agents who force Freeman into spying on an old aid colleague, Palestinian Omar al-Baroody, now a prosperous Amman entrpreneur trying to set up a hospital in a Jordanian refugee camp. Spying isn't Freeman's game, nor is it Mila's, and soon they have provoked their handlers into chillingly casual retaliation. Is Omar what he appears to be? Why the sudden trip to Athens? Who do the three agents really represent? What's their game? What's anyone's game? And why did Aliyah Rahim, a troubled Palestinian-American woman from Washington DC, come to the camps to talk with Hamas agents? The last few pages tie it all together in a terrorist bomb cliff-hanger. This is a 4+, a good read, a good flavor of Amman and the Arab world of convoluted, ancient hatreds and power struggles. A person could get hooked on Fesperman.


THE MISTRESS OF ABHA, by William Newton

The Romans called the Tihama, a coastal area in present-day Saudi Arabia, Arabia Felix (happy Arabia or good Arabia...as opposed to desert Arabia). This story takes place in the Tihama, much in the mountaintop city of Abha, where an English officer named Willoughby is attached to Lawrence of Arabia's force and subsequently "goes native" to become part of the region's history. Decades later in 1930, his son Ivor Willoughby, newly graduated from Oxford with a degree in Arabic languages, goes in search of his father. But he can't find him, nor can he find anyone who will even admit the man - called Ulloby by the


A DEAD MAN IN TANGIER, by Michael Pearce

Pearce's voluminous output is all entertaining: he is also the author of the Mamur Zapt mystery series, set in British Cairo. This series - the Dead Man series - is set all over the Mediterranean in 1912 and, as with all Pearce's works, is full of authentic flavor, intriguing and amusing conversations, and plenty of action. A man, Bossu, is found dead in odd circumstances, during a pig hunt just outside Tangier. Seymour of Scotland Yard is sent from London to investigate. He is at once adopted by two engaging thugs whose lives Seymour unwittingly saved. The conversations between Idris and Mustapha are worth the read alone. Bossu left a witless wife and a witty mistress, and a lot of questions about how he'd accumulated his wealth. Seymour sorts it out, with a lot of smiles along the way. It's an 4+. This is the perfect summer afternoon entertainment.



4/series. Further adventures of now-married Charles Lenox and the beauteous Lady Jane Grey, this time as soon as they return to Chelsea from their honeymoon. A neighbor and casual friend of Charles' has a footman murdered in the alley behind his home, and no sooner does the neighbor enlist his help than he turns him off. Meanwhile, a usually-congenial Scotland Yard investigator is surly and threatening. Amidst the stresses of combining (literally, in this case) two households, Charles' new seat in the House of Commons, the birth of close friends' baby, and the confession of a friend of the murdered man, Charles has his hands full. This is a 4+, mostly because I just love historical mysteries with a gentle atmosphere. This is a very civilized series; Author Finch has created two sympathetic lead characters you'll enjoy following.


British-controlled India 1947: Americans Martin Mitchell, his wife Evie and their five year old son, Billy, go to a tiny town near Simla, a summer “hill station” for the ruling British. Viceroy Lord Mountbatten has advanced the partition of India (creating Muslim Pakistan). Martin, on a scholarship, will report on the Partition, the passions, the displaced, the danger. Meanwhile, Evie finds letters behind a brick in the kitchen wall, and begins an odyssey to discover the fate of two Englishwomen of the 1860’s during a bloody rebellion. Among these threads is also the deterioration of their marriage, and Martin's war memories. The author has painstakingly created a believable Indian world, the color and scents, the poverty and spirituality, the history of a land that was old when America was still unknown, and even Brtiain was unknown. The story unfolds easily and despite a few slow moments you’ll find this a very enjoyable summer read. I‘ll give this a 3+.


RED STAR RISING, Brian Freemantle

A lifetime of writing has brought Freemantle an entire shelf of his own in most libraries. I’ll never understand why his name isn’t mentioned in the same breath as John LeCarre, as his writing is just as subtle. BUT! Don’t even think to start with this one, published in 2010. This story is set in corrupt, sinister, Putin-era Moscow, and pits Charlie against an array of foes, both in and outside the British Embassy. The Charlie Muffin (really, that’s this spy’s name) series began in the 70’s and comprises 13 other books. The name may be a bit silly, but there's nothing silly about the story, and the ending will leave you gasping. I just picked up Charlie M and Here Comes Charlie M, the first two, and hope that the writing is as good (might not be; that was 30 years ago and almost every writer except those who decide to do it the farm-it-out route improved with age). This a 4+, but you ought to read them in order.


EXIT THE ACTRESS, by Priya Parmar

London 1600's. The life of legendary actress Nell Gwynne, once an orange seller in London’s theatres, then - after a long, heart-wrenching chase - mistress to England’s Charles II (he had a lot of them, but Nell was one of the longest running). If you like historical romances, this first novel fills the bill, and in an unusual fashion: it’s written as exerpts from Nell’s diary, from playbills, and from archly-written gossip sheets of the day. Very "flavorful" and readable: you’ll step with into the mid-1600’s and enjoy every moment. This is a first novel, and I'm waiting eagerly for future stories from Parmar. Give this a 4.


A DEAD MAN'S SECRET, by Simon Beaufort

8/series. Continuing the murder mysteries set during the Crusades, starring the beautifully-drawn Sir Geoffrey Mappestone. This writing duo (one a historian, the other an establish author) brings a flavor of total authenticity to the characterizations of grasping and devious King Henry, various merchants and knights (boy, were they a crass and bloodthirsty lot) and wives from faithful to up-for-grabs, clergymen from a scuttling whiner to a power-wielding bishop. Sir Geoffrey is coerced into carrying letters to Wales, and King Henry gives him a number of odd instructions Why? How did a nobleman die seven years ago? Why did a bishop die in Sir Geoffrey’s outhouse? And don’t you just love a wife who’ll wield a sword as well as her spouse can?  It’s a 4 (4 seems to be my new 5) But read these in series...they're well worth the time.


THE DESERT OF SOULS, by Howard Andrew Jones

Hooray for 8th century thousand-and-one-night type fantasy! This first novel from an excellent writer gets my vote if only for the great cover art: an arabic warrior leaping across space, scimitar flashing. And the story line, beautifully told in the first person, takes us from Baghdad to Mosul to long-buried cities with sleeping djinns. An evil priest abandons nice-nice and decides to create havoc and ruin with the undead. Our hero, Captain Asim, recounts his adventures with the scholar Dabir, the impetuous princess Sabirah, and a host of icky undeads. This is GREAT! Read it! You'll love it even if you don't like fantasy. A 4+....I'm not giving 5s out any more unless I am breathless.


LION IN THE VALLEY, by Elizabeth Peters

If you have not read any of this author's many books, you are missing a treat. Peters, an archeologist and Egyptologist, brings such marvelous authenticity to her stories of indomitable Amelia Peabody Emerson and her larger-than-life archeologist spouse Radcliffe Emerson, two oddball Egyptologists in the late 1800's, the heyday of antiquities excavating. The cast of supporting characters is vast and varied, the sensibilities of everyday Egyptian life bring to story to vivid life, and the plots always have dead bodies, mysterious happenings, exorcisims (one of Radcliffe's specialties; the Egyptians nicknamed him Father of Curses), kidnappings, thefts on a grand scale...these books have everything. The entire series covers over thirty years of the Emersons' adventures, from births to deaths, disappointments and triumphs, all based on Amelia's diaries. The entire series will take you a summer or more to get through, and you'll enjoy every minute. They're all 5's for me.


THE CLUB DUMAS, by Arturo Perez-Reverte

This highly-detailed contemporary mystery by the extremely popular Spanish author is for the lover of intellectually-challenging tales. Expertly weaving the story of the life and lusts of Alexandre Dumas (including photos), the occult, bookselling and book finders (not the musty old past time you might think), several murders, the appearance of a man who resembles one of D’Artagnan’s foes (Dumas, remember, one of the story’s lynchpins), a femme fatale or two, a mysterious young woman with emerald green eyes…read this, but be prepared to do a little brain work, as the author doesn't spare the erudition, complication or the reader's intellectual capacity. The writing is impeccable, a pleasure to anyone who appreciates the craft.  It’s a 4+...not a 5 because I usually don’t enjoy stuff this cerebral. Okay, the dummy will give it a 5, everyone else will.



Another of Perry’s excellent Victoria mysteries starring William and Charlotte Pitt, this one deals with the political ferment of the end of the 19th century: anarchists, protesters, politicians angling for advantage, and members of the Special Branch (where Pitt, formerly a London detective, now is employed), murderers, liars, manipulators. Pitt chases a murder suspect to France; at the same time, his superior is accused of embezzling and, in an effort to forestall his ruin, Charlotte Pitt goes to Dublin with the man. Perry is so accomplished at pacing, you’re most of the way through the book before the plot knits together. Satisfying, evocative, excellent characters. The entire series is well worth reading if you enjoy Victorian mysteries. It’s a 4.


ROGUE'S ISLES, ROGUE'S JUSTICE...etc..by Thomas Gately Briody

Carl Hiaasen and S. V. Date fans, pull up a comfy seat and get ready to enjoy somebody new! These tales are the absolutely perfect beach read! Who ever thought the nation's smallest state is so chock full of comic corruption and characters from chillingly nuts (but in great ways...how about death by 25' boat constrictor?) to chillingly venal to flat-out unlucky. Author Briody knows his state and the state it's in. Enter Michael Carolina, ex- star reporter, laid-back charter boat captain, tempted by Shirley Templeton (really) to return to TV. At once, he is plunged into the wicked world of Rhode Island politics, and the disappearance of Frankie Falcone, president and looter of Amerigo Vespucci Loan & Investment. Frankie's virtual reality sex scenes will leave you gasping. Read the whole series, they're entertaining, and will make a visit to Providence a lot more interesting.  They are, because of what they are (not Hiaasen but close) 4's.


BEAUTIFUL LIES, by Clare Clark

London, 1887, a turbulent time when workers' rights are being fought over, when the grim struggle of impoverished workers comes head-to-head with entrenched wealth unwilling to give an inch (sound familiar?). Beautiful Maribel Campbell Lowe, self-described as a Chilean heiress, hides a secret that could ruin not only her but her beloved husband Edward, a fiery socialist politician. But Edward seems to be doing a pretty good job of ruining his own prospects, particularly once the conniving, self-promoting newspaper editor Alfred Webster zeros in on them. Follow Maribel, a photographer and Bohemian, as she treads a very fine line to assure that her life doesn't crumble to dust. A book group might find this interesting, as there's great political detail, a clear-eyed look at women's positions and the plight of the poor in industrialized England; plus, the story is based on a true person who managed to pull of for decades what Maribel's trying to do. A 4, great for a long weekend on the porch (with bonbons, of course).