Wednesday, August 29, 2012

False Impressions by Laura Caldwell

Chicago attorney Izzy McNeil is ready to take a break from private investigation and focus on her career in criminal law. But as a favor, she agrees to work with Madeline Saga, a beautiful art gallery owner who fears that artwork she has sold is fake. Who in Madeline's tight circle of artists and gallery owners is guilty of the forgeries?
When Madeline's life is threatened, Izzy is suddenly asking a more troublesome question: Who wants the gallery owner dead?
As the case spins out of control, there's only one person who makes Izzy feel safe—Detective Damon Vaughn. But getting close to her former nemesis is full of surprises. Astonishing truths about the glittering Chicago art scene will introduce Izzy to the deadliest art of deception.…(Synopsis from

Paperback, Harlequin, 320 pages
I got my first taste of the Izzy McNeal series when I went to BEA ( Book Expo America) and got autographed copies of the first two books in the series. After voraciously reading them in my hotel room, I was ready for the next one and ran to the bookstore to get it when it came out shortly after. False Impressions is book number six in this excellent murder mystery series.
 Izzy is taking a break from detecting after she has lost one fiancé and a serious boyfriend through involvement in previous cases.  She decides to concentrate on her legal career when n her old friend Mayburn asks her to take on another case as a favor. Izzy finds herself in the middle of the art world in Chicago trying to find out who has been targeting Madeline Saga and her art gallery. It's a heady world that Izzy finds herself in and she has to work to keep her wits about her.  Madeline is focused on her art collections and mentors Izzy in the appreciation of it. Madeline vacillates from friendly and focused to aloof and disoriented. Izzy finds out that there are many possible suspects, old lovers, competitors and customers who unknowingly purchased fakes. There are plenty of red herrings in the book and a final twist that works perfectly.
 During her investigation, Izzy finds herself attracted to a gallery customer involved in a messy divorce and also having run-ins with CPD's Damon Vaughn that seem to be leading down an interesting road.  She also discovers an wild side of her that she has not let loose in a long time, and finds that she enjoys letting go sometimes. She also meets a quirky group of artists and art lovers that help her add to her new self-awareness.
 One of the things I like about this series is that Izzy learns from her mistakes and listens when her experts give advice on her cases.  She has learned the hard way what can happen when you rush in unprepared. She mostly follows the law and doesn't do anything egregiously wrong. She has a difficult relationship with her father and brother and it doesn’t get whitewashed or neatly resolved.
Even though this is the sixth book in the series, it can stand alone so new readers don't need to be afraid to jump in.  I suspect that you will like it so much you will go back and read all of the prior books.  Enjoy them!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”

But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.  ( synopis from

Publication date 8/28/12  Hardcover, Minotaur, 373 pages
If I could rate this book 10 stars I would. When I finished the last page, all I could think was that I can’t wait for another year to see what happens with the story.  When I first started reading the book and realized that it all takes place in a monastery with no Three Pines interaction, I wondered how the emotional pull in all of Ms. Penny’s books, would happen in this book.  No worries on that score!
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his second in command Jean-Guy Beauvior have been sent to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups to investigate the murder of one of the monks.  The monastery is a closed one and the monks follow the vow of silence.  Hundreds of years before the monks fled France and the Inquisition and had supposedly disappeared as an order.  Two years prior to the murder, the monks had released a recording of them singing Gregorian chants and “blown their cover”.  No-one is allowed into the monastery and the resultant fame from the recording has caused dissention among the monks.  Gamache and Beauvior have to work through the stories of the men living in a closed environment and find the truth about the murder.  The isolation of the location and the certainty that the murderer is one of the monks adds to the eeriness of the situation.
The recurring theme of the book seems to me to be that the men who have come to live there regard it as their own slice of Eden.  They live for love of their God and the music.  They lead simple but fulfilled lives and the music recording meant to raise money for repairs and to maintain their way of life has actually introduced the serpent in the garden.  Gamache and Beauvior find a group living in harmony with a common bond but they  also find the cracks and need to find out what was the issue that led one of the monks to kill.  There is also an overlapping theme about the nature of the chants and the history of written music as it relates to Gregorian chants that is quite interesting.
Gamache and Beauvior have put the trauma of two years before behind them and are seemingly in a good place. Beauvior has become free of his addiction to pain killers and is secretly dating Gamache’s daughter Annie.  He is happy with his life. Gamache still carries the physical and emotional scars from that time as well  but he has made a sort of peace with it.  The two men are forced to re-evaluate their feelings when their own personal serpent arrives at the monastery and begins to spread his poison.  The ending of the book is heart wrenching and will leave the reader hungry for the next installment in the series.  Ms. Penny does a wonderful job of putting the reader into the minds of the characters so that their hurts become our hurts and we really care about what happens next. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sweet Talk by Julie Garwood

When FBI agent Grayson Kincaid first encounters Olivia MacKenzie, she makes quite an impression.
The beautiful, tough, young attorney has stumbled into the middle of an FBI sting operation and has reduced it to chaos.  Months of surveillance and careful planning down the drain, Kincaid's partner is furious and lets Olivia know that she's ticked off the wrong guy.  After all, he's FBI.
Olivia isn't intimidated by his partner's bullying because she's something even scarier...she's IRS.  And working for the IRS isn't for the faint of heart.  She's on the trail of an elaborate Ponzi scheme, one that threatens to ruin the lives of naive and unsuspecting victims, and one she has personal reasons to be angry about.  But after she asks questions of the wrong people, her life is suddenly endangered.  She's accustomed to fighting for the underdog but being vulnerable herself is a very different story.  Smart enough to know when she need reinforcements, she looks to Grayson Kincaid.
Together they make an excellent team to fight corruption, but Olivia is also fighting the immediate and intense attraction she feels for Agent Kincaid, and that may be a battle she is bound to lose. ( synopsis from

Hardcover, Dutton, 368 pages

Every one of Julie Garwood’s FBI themed books has been a great read and this one continues the streak. The book opens with a look back at the Four Pips, young girls all undergoing a highly experimental treatment for a life threatening illness. The girls, Samantha, Jane, Collins and Olivia, have banded together to survive the grueling treatment and Olivia is the ringleader of this band of pranksters.
Twelve years later, Olivia is having lunch with smarmy CEO, Eric Jorguson ostensibly to talk about a position with his accounting firm. She is worried about her current position as there is talk of cutbacks and she is the new kid on the block. When she tries to steer the conversation away from her famous financier father, she triggers Eric’s suspicions and he rips her blouse thinking she is wearing a wire and trying to trap him. Olivia responds by punching him and breaking his nose, only to be set upon by his thug bodyguard. Keep in mind this is all happening in full view of the other diners in the restaurant but when other people try to help the thug pulls a gun and then backhands her. All of a sudden the man is on the ground being cuffed by an FBI agent. Apparently Olivia has accidentally gotten into the middle of an FBI operation and disputed months of planning.  The best line of the book occurs when the Agent in charge threatens “I could make your life a nightmare.” He put his hand in front of her face and unfolded three fingers as he said. “I’m F...B…I.”   She smiled. It wasn’t the reaction he expected. “You want to talk nightmares?” she said. She put her hand up to his face and unfolded her three fingers.  “I’m I…R…S.”
Olivia meets FBI Agent Grayson Kincaid at this lunch debacle and the chemistry sizzles right off the page. Unfortunately, Olivia is up to her neck trying to get evidence to prove her father is a crook and it is consuming her life. Her family is distant and disapproving with the exception of her maternal aunt.  She is also getting death threats. Grayson has problems of his own.  He is raising his nephew and watching out for his ailing father.  He is also still trying to connect Jorguson to a serious crime.
Circumstances throw the two together and romance blooms. There is a lot going on in this book with death threats, attempted murder, recurring illness of one of the Pips, and lots of other mayhem.  This book cannot be put down once you start it!  The story is fast paced and the relationship between Olivia and Grayson makes your heart beat faster.  There is the sense that some of the other Pips might be featured in future books, I really hope so.   Write fast Ms. Garwood, please!

The Last Victim by Karen Robards

A sought-after expert in criminal pathology, Charlie Stone regularly sits face-to-face with madmen. Obsessed with learning what makes human monsters commit terrible crimes, Charlie desires little else from life—no doubt because when she was sixteen, she herself survived a serial killer’s bloodbath: A man butchered the family of Charlie’s best friend, Holly, then left the girl’s body on a seaside boardwalk one week later.

Because of the information Charlie gave police, the Boardwalk Killer went underground. She kept to herself her eerie postmortem visions of Holly and her mother. And even years later, knowing her contact with ghosts might undermine her credibility as a psychological expert, Charlie tells no one about the visits she gets from the spirit world.

Now all-too-handsome FBI agent Tony Bartoli is telling Charlie that a teenage girl is missing, her family slaughtered. Bartoli suspects that after fifteen years, the Boardwalk Killer—or a sick copycat with his M.O.—is back. Time is running short for an innocent, kidnapped girl, and Bartoli pleads for Charlie’s help.

This is the one case Charlie shouldn’t go near. But she also knows that she may be the one person in the world who can stop this vicious killer. For Charlie—whose good looks disguise a world of hurt, vulnerability, and potent psychic gifts—a frantic hunt for a madman soon becomes a complex test of cunning, passions, and secrets. Aiding Dr. Stone on her quest to catch a madman is a ghostly presence with bad intentions: the fiery spirit of seductive bad boy Michael Garland who refuses to be ignored, though in his cat and mouse game they may both lose their hearts. ( Synopsis from

Hardcover, Ballentine Books, 336 Pages

When I started this book, I figured it was going to be the typical former victim meets hot FBI agent and romance blossoms.  Wow, was I ever wrong!  This is a romance like no other I have read in a while.
Charlotte “Charlie” Stone is a psychologist studying serial killers for the Department of Justice.  She is uniquely qualified for this because she is the only survivor of a killer known as the Boardwalk Killer. She has dedicated her life to finding out what makes these killers do what they do.  At the present time she is working with Michael Garland who is on death row for the murder of seven women.  Garland is a handsome and charismatic man who tries to play Charlie whenever she works with him.
Her latest session is interrupted by two FBI agents who have come to ask her help on an urgent case of a missing girl whose family has been slaughtered at a beach area.  This scenario is the exact thing that happened to Charlie when her friend Holly was killed a week after her family was murdered. Charlie does not want to get involved for many reasons but eventually agrees to do so. Before she can leave, Garland is stabbed by another inmate and despite her best efforts to save him, dies on the prison floor.
This is when the book gets interesting. It turns out that Charlie has otherworldly skills that involve recently dead people who have died violently.  This is more of a curse than a blessing and causes Charlie all kinds of problems with the FBI unit when she arrives at the scene of the murder. At first it is kind of amusing reading about Charlie trying to act normal while ghostly activity is happening around her, making her seem a bit of a strange one to FBI people.   There is a budding romance with Bartoli, the handsome but solid team leader. The other two members, Crane and Kaminski, are quirky and interesting with a history between them
The major twist in the book is the continued appearance of Garland and how his appearance impacts the case and Charlie’s equilibrium.  Suffice it to say, it is unexpected to say the least. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about how the story played out but I found myself reading faster and faster to see what happened.   According to the end notes there will be future books with Dr. Stone in them and it will be interesting to see how this series works.  Charlie is an unusual character, a mix of strength and fears who find herself in a situation she would have never imagined.  The whole premise could have gone wrong but it works.  I am actually looking forward to reading more of the series and I wasn’t sure about that mid-way through.  My advice is keep reading and you will be surprised how the book pulls you in.

How to Romance a Rake by Manda Collins

What’s a nice girl like Miss Juliet Shelby doing in a place like Lord Deveril’s ballroom? With her shy demeanor, she’s a total stranger to the dance floor and a source of mockery for the ton. So imagine her surprise when Deveril gallantly comes to her defense—and offers to teach her to dance! Juliet can hardly believe the most handsome bachelor in London would notice her, until he takes her in his arms and sets her heart ablaze…
Lord Alec Deveril has never felt such a spark of attraction for an unmarried lady before. Unlike the “fashionable” women he’s accustomed to, Juliet possesses a generous spirit, a fiery intelligence—and an explosive secret. Deep in the London underworld, a dear friend has vanished, and Juliet fears the worst. Deveril insists on helping, escorting her through the darkest alleys in town. But he too is hiding a shocking secret—and the only way he can defeat the devil in his past is to seduce the angel in his arms …
(synopsis from

Paperback, St. Martin's Press, 336 pages   

This is the second book in Manda Collins’ Ugly Duckling Series. The heroine of this book is Juliet Shelby a lovely young girl with two strikes against her, a limp and a viper for a mother. Juliet has long concealed the severity of her leg injury and in fact has a missing foot and makes use of prosthesis. Interestingly, Ms. Collins reveals in her forward that she herself has a “high tech above the knee prosthesis”. In Juliet’s circle such a situation would make her a pariah in society and she has kept it a secret even from her two cousins, the other Ugly Ducklings Cecily and Madeline.
Alec, Lord Deveril, has secrets of his own dating back to his childhood with an abusive and dissolute parent. He finds himself attracted to the interesting Miss Shelby and steps in to protect her from society and her mother’s vitriol.  The relationship flowers and they end up involved in the search for a missing friend of Juliet’s and Alec becomes the caretaker of the friend’s infant child, Alice.
The book is based on an interesting premise. Deveril has had to rise above his father’s terrible reputation to remain in favor with society.  Juliet had had to conceal her physical nature to do the same but with much less success.  They both have had to deal with difficult family issues and find each other to be a compassionate friend that turns into much more.  Their relationship with the characters first introduced in “How to Dance with a Duke” adds to the likeability of both characters. The shrewish Amanda and Felicity from the first book also make trouble in this book as they did in the first. 
“How to Romance a Rake” is a sweet romance between two people who have had difficult family situations and have decided that love and marriage would not be in their future. Although they could both have become mean and self-pitying, they are both kind and empathic people who find each other and fill the missing parts of their hearts.  I can’t wait to see what happens with Madeline in the next book!