22.7.19

THE BALTIC PRIZE, by Julian Stockwyn

Number 19 in the Thomas Kydd series. While this could stand alone, it makes little sense to skip the first 18 seafaring novels of this great series. If you liked Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Mathurin series, you should love these as well.
The impetuous, ambitious but supremely talented Kydd, now Captain Sir Kydd of the Tyger, is sent to be part of the Baltic Fleet, and never a more thankless job has he ever had. Shackled by competing monarchies, Admiral Saumarez finds his hands tied by one recalcitrant British Army officer who feuds with the flighty, autocratic Swedish king.
The fleet is hopelessly trapped in a Swedish harbor and cannot depart to challenge the Russian navy without the King's leave, which he will not give until he gets his way. The fact that Russia has declared war and their fleet will leave St. Petersburg any day does not seem to excite the monarch.
Kydd is sent on individual sorties to gather information and, in typical fashion, winds up destroying a Danish fleet of small boats intent on revenge. This feat does not endear him to many of his fellow captains, some of whom feel Kydd is a grandstanding lightweight.
But further feats are coming as Kydd is dispatched on another mission. From page to page, this book fairly bristles with action of one sort or another. Stockwyn is a sailor and for many years was in the Royal Australian Navy (among many other things). The authenticity of both naval life and maneuvers, and historical events and situations, is enthrealling for a reder like me who adores history.
Read the set in order. From the firsgt to the present book you'll ahve a great time. The series is a 5, right up there with Patrick O'Brien.

17.7.19

LADY OF VALOR, by Tina St. John

All too often, historical romances are too predictable, with the hero having a neat laundry list of flaws that make him the exact opposite of the feisty heroine and her own flaws. That is not the case here. St. John has created two interesting and totally invested characters whose ultimate goal is really at odds.
Lady Emmaline of Fallonmour, secretly aghast at how delighted she is to hear of her husband's demise whole on Crusade in the Holy Land, is horrified to learn that the brutal Sir Cabal will manage the property for the crown. Emma has managed the estate for the three years her husband has been raping and pillaging (mostly the former) in the Middle East. She has built up the estate into a flourishing asset. Sir Cabal appreciates the effort but wants her out of his thick, dark hair at once.
Emma's brother-in-law, the sleazy and contemptuous Hugh, is out for her hand. One way or another - he's no more particular about details than his brother was - he'll have her More importantly, he'll have the flourishing and profitable estate.. Once it's in his hands, the Crown - in the person of his friend Prince John - will approve.
But Emmalyn comes to know the dark and brooding Sir Cabal and wonders if she can work with him to secure the future of her beloved Fallonmour. She's right, and she's wrong. And that's where the fun begins...
Part of a series, this book will stand alone as well. Chock full of steamy sex scenes and moments of bloody derring-do, the book should appeal to anyone who enjoy a high-passion historical tale. It's a 4+ (one fatal flaw which some readers may pick up on keeps me from a solid 5). Heat level 4.

11.7.19

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW, by Amor Towles

Shortly after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution tore Russia from the grasp of medieval life and thought, the new Soviet state began its tracking of Special persons, or those deemed dangerous to the new state. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostof was just such a person, but he escaped the usual fate of a firing squad. Instead,in June of 1922  he was forced into internal exile of an unusual sort: he was never again to set foot outside the Metropole Hotel, where he had resided for the past four years in a sumptuous suite furnished with precious family antiques.
The balance of this big book deals with Rostov's life in exile inside the building, and how he adjusts (or doesn't) over the following twenty-odd years.
It is amazing that, in an era and a regime that stripped all human dignity from people, Alexander Rostov managed to retain his innate dignity, humor, courtesy and charm. That last leaps off the pages in scores of moments of stress, surprise, even humiliation and passion. Around him, stupid, petty people were making stupid and petty decisions. People made demands of him few men would have been able to endure with anything approaching good humor. Count Rostov - although nobody referred to him in public other than Comrade Rostov - weather it all and, in the end, triumphed.
A fabulous, elegant read. This is a 5+, one of my favorite books this decade.

10.7.19

UNTOUCHABLE, by Jayne Ann Krentz

Part of the Sons of Anson Salinas paranormal series. The three sons are foster children whose parents were victims of the same deranged killer.
Winter Meadows has come to Eclipse Bay to hide from problems. Jack Lancaster is there to recoup between investigating the cold cases he's so good at. A hypnotist with extraordinary powers, Winter finds she msut support herself through other means: meditation counseling. Jack, an obsessive with a small problem of getting trapped in his dreams, goes to her for help. The attraction comes into the open when one of Winter's problems breaks into her house to kill her. Winter thinks the man is there only because he manged to track her down; Jack's convinced there's more to it. They join forces to find out the truth behind the attack The brilliant Quintin Zane, Jack's old nemesis and his mother's killer, has tracked him down, and will do anything in his considerable power to settle old scores. The chase is two-sided, however, and leads Winter and Jack on an intense chase through a labyrynth of clues to a denouement neither one of them could've foreseen.
No spoilers here. There's plenty of action, a fair amount of hot and heavy sex, and a couple of murders. Typical Krentz. I'll give it, barely, a four. it's a four in the sex department as well.

The prolific Krentz writes under two other names: Jane Castle (futuristic) romantic suspense and Amanda Quick (historical romantic suspense); she has written under a total of seven aliases, but has fined it down to three. She has over fifty New York Times Best Seller titles.).

9.7.19

BLOOD ORANGE, by Harriet Tyce

This may be the shortest book review on record.
I do not like whiny drunk female protagonists. Male ones don't do anything for me either. This one, a female, is particularly repellent as she's not only a drunk (albiet a functioning one, at least during the day), but a cheating, lying drunk wife and mother who is engaged in a particularly repellent and demeaning extramarital affair. What a total turn off.
Did I like this book? No.
The writing is excellent. But I'm not slogging through 200+ pages of sodden misery to find the pearl at the bottom of the compost.
I did not like it, and quit after about fifty pages.
You, of course, may feel differently.

TWICE TOLD TAIL, by Ali Brandon

#6 in the Black Cat Bookshop cozy series.
Everything you love about cozies is here: a winning amateur sleuth with a fascinating job (inherited, a bookshop and brownstone, a very generous auntie),  a wide range of good friends one of whom becomes a corpse.
And the cat, Hamlet: big, black, brilliant, and very adept at pushing books containing clues at his mistress. I personally find extra-intelligent felines a bit much (in our own homes, the beasts are sometimes too intelligent for their owners' good!).
When bookstore owner Darla Pettistone and her boisterous friend Connie Capello find a dear friendof Darla's dead in his own shop, one of his antique pieces (a small pillow) in his lap, Darla finds herself involved in what turns out to be a murder. Connie, on edge from a last-minute wedding gown search, actually finds the body (second of the day), and her fiance is the investigating detective.
Connie is the take-over-your-life kind of friend, and Darla spends a lot of time keeping the fast-approaching nuptials on an even keel, even though she and the soon-to-be-groom have a history. Pushing aside what might be feelings for the detective, she and Hamlet see someone lurking in the shadows near the murder site. Hamlet shows a keen interest in the lurker; is he also tied to the weird wedding dress shop employee? Is he the mysterious book purchaser who rejects a sought-after sale  for being the wrong book? Is it even a he?
A convoluted tale well told. It's a 4.

23.5.19

UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN, by Donna Leon

#28 in the Commisario Guido Brunetti mystery series
Over the years, Donna Leon has given the world a marvelus series of murders set in Venice, Italy, and its surrounding area. Brunetti, the police inspector, is a deeply-drawn character, as is his wife Paola and their two children, Rafi and Ciara. Brunetti's colleagues run the range from brilliant to seriously challenged, but all are handled by the inspector with care and respect. In each book, Leon has managed to bring Brunetti to new realizations and new insights. The reader gets to enjoy the ride, too.
Venice, of course, plays an important part in the tales, as does the Italian system of justice and - in this particular story - the Italian inheritance laws. In Italy, your relations get your estate. None of this cat shelter givewaway decisions.
When Brunetti's father-in-law, Count Falier, asks him to check out a young man the Count's oldest friend plans to adopt, Guido is uneasy. It's a family matter. He knows the man, an accomplished art dealer with a large fortune. A homosexual, the older man has found a new companion after his partner of many years left him. If the young man a fortune hunter? Does it matter? Once he's adopted, the entire estate of the elderly art dealer devolves to the young man.
It not only matters to the art dealer, it matters to his long-time friends. Including a delightful woman who shows up in Venice. Brunetti meets her, is impressed. And then...
Read the book. It's one of Leon's better books, multi-layered and thought-provoking.

17.5.19

BLACK RABBIT HALL, by Eve Chase

Set in Cornwall, at the edge of the sea, Black Rabbit Hall is the crumbling ancestral home of the Altons, a down-at-heels family whose scion. Hugo, and his American wife Nancy bring their four children for a springtime visit. Tragedy strikes, ending one life and upending all the others.
Billed as women's fiction, the story is told in part by the oldest Alton child, Amber, and is loaded with raw emotion. I'm not a crier, but this was a two-hanky read (in a good way).
The other part of the story is told from the point of view of a young couple from London who, forty years later, come to the house to plan their wedding festivities. Fallen on harder times than before, it is either rent out the rooms for events or face selling everything. Lorna is mesmerized by the old house, which she thinks she remembers from childhood caravan trips to the area. Jon, a carpenter by trade and able to clearly see the house's perilous condition, is less than thrilled.
The lady of the house, Caroline, invites Lorna to stay as well as gives the couple a deal on their celebration. Caroline knows that one happy client will encourage others to book. Lorna, despite her intended's reservations, does come to Black Rabbit Hall.
In the spirit of our No Spoiler policy here at Nuts4Books, I can tell you no more. Sadly, you will have to actually read the book to find out what happened to Hugo and Nancy Alton, the four Alton children, how Caroline arrived on the scene, and what happened the fateful night that changed all their lives forever.
It's a 4, a no-rush book of unfolding cross-purposes, desires, bereavements, and bad decisions.

12.5.19

RADIANT ANGEL, by Nelson DeMille

Book seven in series. Further adventures of John Corey, feisty former New York City detective and now part of a task force monitoring the activities of the Russian espionage agents working in New York.
Corey, whose short fuse is legendary as well as the despair of his FBI wife, tracks
When Russian colonel Vasily Petrov of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service and a dozen beautiful escorts walk down the beach and disappear from view at the height of a party Corey has infiltrated, alarms go off in the detective's head but nobody else is disturbed.  Rejecting the conservative approach of asking his superiors for direction, Corey and a reluctant counterpart with mysterious connections follow the fast-vanishing trail.
If you enjoy edge-of-the-seat, high body count tales, DeMille is the author for you, and John Corey is the character, in every sense of the word. Confrontational, confident, smart-ass Corey will keep you entertained as well as terrified.
It's a 5. The series is best read in order as there's quite a bit of carry-over.

WHO SLAYS THE WICKED, by C. S. Harris

Further adventures of Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, Regency-era not-exacty-nobleman sleuth and upsetter of applecarts. Devlin,  acknowledged heir to the Earl of Hendon, is asked to investigate the grisly murder of a sadistic nobleman who happens to be his own niece's dissolute husband. Found slashed to death in his bed, limbs tied with scarlet silk cords,  there is not a single person who mourns the end of Lord Ashworth. But St. Cyr, as always, will try to find the killer. It quickly is evident the murderer well could be a woman. Which leads St. Cyr reluctantly down a path to his beloved neice.
As always, Hero Jarvis plays an important part in the story, as do St. Cyr's physician friend Dr. Gibson. For evil pomposity, we get St. Cyr's father-in-law Charles, Lord Jarvis, and the bloated Prince Regent, Prinny. The great and good are contrasted through Hero's research with the mass of unwashed, uneducated, tragic humans upon whose backs the entire system rode.
I am totally hooked on this series.  They should be read in order if only to keep track of the twists and turns Devlin takes in his search for the truth about his own heritage. The first book will grab you, and the rest is gripping reading and a series of crimes that illuminate the glittering, glamorous, grisly, gruesome era. As always, the rich and connected had it good and the rest did not. Harris brings it to vivid life. A 5+, what else?

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, by Delia Owens

Most serious readers know about this book. Many, many others have reviewed it so there's little to say in that regard. It's beautifully written, with a nice easy-flowing style that will draw you in. For a debut novel, it is extraordinary. Owens has published award-winning non-fiction, but writers know that fiction is a whole other language. Which Owens has mastered on her first shot. Not many writers are that fortunate.
The main characters are finely drawn and compelling, the story likewise. Even minor characters get their hundred words of description. Nobody is a throwaway in this tale. Except, perhaps, Kya.
BUT...if you are the type of reader who compulsively sneaks to the last page of the book and reads it, you may as well not read the book at all. The pacing in this big story is complete, right down to that last paragraph. I urge you to resist that sneak-peek urge.
This is a 5 for me.