Sunday, January 18, 2015

Red Queen by Victoria Avelard

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard 
  • ISBN-10: 0062310631 - Hardcover $ 17.99
  • HarperTeen (February 10, 2015), 400 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program

The blurb:
Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood—those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly Reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but when her best friend is conscripted into the army she gambles everything to win his freedom. A twist of fate leads her to the royal palace itself, where, in front of the king and all his nobles, she discovers a power of her own—an ability she didn't know she had. Except . . . her blood is Red.
To hide this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks her new position to aid the Scarlet Guard—the leaders of a Red rebellion. Her actions put into motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince—and Mare against her own heart.
From debut author Victoria Aveyard comes a lush, vivid fantasy series where loyalty and desire can tear you apart and the only certainty is betrayal.

I'd been drawn to Red Queen largely because it was described as similar to "Graceling" and while the lead character, Mare, does have special skills that are both unexpected and not immediately apparent, Red Queen doesn't deliver the same level of excitement or wonder.

In Red Queen, there are two main classes, the silver blooded and the red blooded.  The Silvers have power and wealth and each Silver has one special power.  The special powers enable them to draw upon their physical world and to perform amazing feats.  The Reds lack this magical ability and are removed from power as well as riches.  Mare is a Red who holds a unique power and to maintain the social order, those in power decide that Mare should be disguised as a Silver to shield the truth that a Red can wield magical power as well.  Mare's power is so great that the King betroths her to his son, the Prince, to maintain this fiction and co-opt her.

Mare is brought in with young Silvers to train and learn how to master her powers.  There's plenty of young romance brewing but I found that I didn't care about Mare.  While Red Queen has the building blocks of a strong adventure story, I had hoped for more.

About the Author:
Victoria Aveyard recently graduated from USC, where she majored in screenwriting. She has sold several television pilots and feature-length screenplays, and is currently represented by the Hollywood management company Benderspink. Red Queen is her first novel. She lives in Los Angeles, and you can visit her online at

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fear in the Sunlight: A New Mystery featuring Josephine Tey and Alfred Hitchcock by Nicola Upson

Fear in the Sunlight: A New Mystery featuring Josephine Tey 
and Alfred Hitchcock by Nicola Upson
ISBN-10: 0062195433 - Paperback $14.99
Harper Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 9, 2013), 432 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The blurb:
Summer 1936.  Mystery writer Josephine They joins her friends in the resort village of Portmeirion, Wales to celebrate her fortieth birthday.  Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, are there to sign a deal to film Josephine's novel, A Shilling for Candles.  But things get out of hand when one of Hollywood's leading actresses is brutally slashed to death in a cemetery near the village.  The following day, as fear and suspicion take over in a setting where nothing and none is quite what it seems, Chief Inspector Archie Penrose becomes increasingly unsatisfied with the way the investigation is ultimately resolved.  Several years later, another horrific murder, again linked to a Hitchcock movie, drives Penrose back to the scene of the original crime to uncover the shocking truth.

While Fear in Sunlight is the most recent Josephine Tey mystery by Nicola Upson, it isn't necessary to have read the earlier novels in the series to be drawn to the characters and her lead detective,  Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose.   We quickly learn that Josephine Tey and DCI Penrose have a complicated history linked in part to World War I, but the Great War has left its mark on most everyone in Great Britain.

Fear in Sunlight takes us back to the days when Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma have brought together Josephine Tey and several actors with the intent of producing Tey's A Shilling for Candles into a Hitchcock film.  But as Hitchcock has a penchant for cruel jokes of sorts, he's arranged an elaborate prank that goes awry.  Two deaths and a suicide later, DCI Penrose must try to make sense of the violence and to parse through the many levels of deception.

Engaging, well crafted, and beautifully written, Fear in Sunlight is a treat for those who love a fun British mystery and have a particular fondness for Josephine Tey.  I've ordered the first book in the series and plan to go through them all.

About the Author:
Nicola Upson has written for a variety of publications, including the Nw Statesman, where she was a crime fiction critic.  She also regularly contributes to BBC radio and has worked in the theater for ten years.  She divides her time between Cambridge and Cornwall.  Learn more about her at

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No Safe Houses by Linwood Barclay

The blurb:
Seven years ago, Terry Archer and his family, who first appeared in No Time for Goodbye, experienced a horrific ordeal that almost cost them their lives.  Today, the echoes of that fateful night are still audible.  Terry's wife, Cynthia, is living separate from her husband and daughter after her own personal demons threatened to ruin her relationship with them permanently.  Their daughter, Grace, is rebelling, against her parents' seemingly endless overprotection.  Terry is just trying to keep his family together. And the entire town is reeling from the senseless murder of two elderly locals.

But when Grace foolishly follows her delinquent boyfriend into a strange house, the Archers must do more than stay together.  They must stay alive.  Because now they have all been unwillingly drawn into the shadowy depths of their seemingly idyllic hometown.

For there, they will be reconnected with the man who saved their lives seven years ago, but who still remains a ruthless, unrepentant criminal.  They will encounter killers for hire working all sides. And they will learn that there are some things people value much more than money, and will do anything to get.

Caught in a labyrinth between family loyalty and ultimate betrayal, Terry must find a way to extricate his family from a lethal situation he still doesn't fully comprehend.  All he knows is that to live, he may have to do the unthinkable.

I read No Safe House without having read No Time for Goodbye or any of Linwood Barclay's earlier novels.  I enjoyed it thoroughly and feel that the past relationships were well explained in the later book. 

Terry Archer's wife Cynthia had lived through a massacre. She'd long felt guilty for not having been able to save her family and she's nervous that her daughter might make the same wrong choices that she'd made. Unfortunately, Cynthia isn't able to communicate her anxiety and she ends up hurting her daughter and moves out of the house.  The daughter, Grace, is acting out and follows her boyfriend into a dangerous situation.  

Terry, Cynthia and Grace reach out to Cynthia's old friend Vince for help. Vince had been Cynthia's "delinquent boyfriend" when she was young but he's since progressed to become a well known and highly feared man.   Vince has problems of his own both in the family and health department.   Vince, Terry, Cynthia and even Grace work together to get out of the growing danger.

Fast paced, complicated, and deeply engaging, I thoroughly enjoyed No Safe House.
  • ISBN-10: 0451414209 - Hardcover $25.95
  • Publisher: NAL Hardcover; 1ST edition (August 5, 2014), 464 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Linwood Barclay is the New York Times #1 international bestselling author of eleven critically acclaimed  novels, including A Tap on the Window, Trust Your Eyes, which has been optioned for film, Never Look Away which has been option for television and No Time for Goodbye.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu

The blurb:
Rosie “Aunty” Lee, the feisty widow, amateur sleuth, and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home cooking restaurant, is back in another delectable, witty mystery involving scandal and murder among the city’s elite.
Few know more about what goes on in Singapore than Aunty Lee. When a scandal over illegal organ donation involving prominent citizens makes news, she already has a list of suspects. There’s no time to snoop, though—Aunty Lee’s Delights is catering a brunch for local socialites Henry and Mabel Sung at their opulent house.
Rumor has it that the Sung’s fortune is in trouble, and Aunty Lee wonders if the gossip is true. But soon after arriving at the Sung’s house, her curiosity turns to suspicion. Why is a storage house she discovers locked? What is the couple arguing about behind closed doors? Where is the guest of honor who never showed up?
Then, Mabel Sung and her son Leonard are found dead. The authorities blame it on Aunty Lee’s special stewed chicken with buah keluak, a local black nut that can be poisonous if cooked improperly. Aunty Lee has never carelessly prepared a dish. She’s certain the deaths are murder—and that they’re somehow linked to the organ donor scandal.
To save her business and her reputation, she’s got to prove it—and unmask a dangerous killer whose next victim may just be Aunty Lee.

I'd read Ovidia Yu's first Aunty Lee mystery and immediately fell in love with the cast of characters in her Singaporean mystery series.

We have Aunty Lee, a wealthy Tai Tai, widow and second wife of a wealthy Chinese merchant. Her stepson and daughter-in-law are annoyingly mercenary and quite crass with their requests for money and advances on their inheritance. Aunty Lee's patience and kindness towards them make her a sympathetic character. But Aunty Lee's generosity come through in other ways - the way that she treats her Filipina assistant, Nina, and the people that come to her restaurant. In many ways, Aunty Lee reminds me of Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple - she understands what makes people tick, she's always willing to help out, she's recognized by all as a bit of a busybody.

The Aunty Lee series also makes good use of Singapore as a location - for those of us who haven't visited Singapore in years, it's fun to read about the food, the culture, and the location.

While Ovidia Yu's murder mysteries aren't as complex as Agatha Christie's, Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials is a fun read and a satisfying second novel in the series. I'm looking forward to the next installment of the Aunty Lee books.

  • ISBN-10: 0062338323 - Paperback $14.00
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (September 30, 2014), 384 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore's best-known and most acclaimed writers. She has had more than thirty plays produced and is also the author of a number of mysteries. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Iowa's International Writers Program and has been a writing fellow at the National University of Singapore.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jackaby by William Ritter

The blurb:

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.

Jackaby's story is told from the point of view of Abigail Rook, a young and educated English girl. who decided to leave school in search for an education through archeological digs.  Her father is a palentologist but recommended that she finish her schooling and find a husband to care for her.  Instead, Abigail absconded with her tuition money to join an archeological dig which went bankrupt.  Abigail then decided to try her luck in America where she meets young Jackaby, a self proclaimed detective with the ability to find and see supernatural creatures.

Jackaby is young, arrogant, disturbingly observant - much like a young American Sherlock Holmes dedicated to reason and science which he uses to explain illusions and supernatural phenomena.  Rook is funny, spirited, and equally observant; she's an excellent foil for Jackaby and a valuable assistant.  "Jackaby sees things more extraordinary still, the things that no one else sees.  But Rook - Rook notices mailboxes and wastebaskets and . . . and people.  One who can see the ordinary is extraordinary indeed."  So,  Rook is hired as Jackaby's assistant.

As a Sherlock Holmes type character, Jackaby does get a lot of teasing from Abigail Rook, Chief Inspector Marlowe, and the people that he encounters.  While Jackaby does get respect, the ribbing he suffers adds to the fun. 

The murder mystery that makes up Jackaby's main case comes with a strange map, a banshee, goblins, and other supernatural creatures.  Still, the detective skills used to find and interpret the clues are based in reason.  

ISBN-10: 1616203536 - Hardcover $16.95
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers (September 16, 2014), 304 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

About the Author, courtesy of Amazon:
Reports of William Ritter's birthplace are unreliable and varied, placing his hometown either in a series of mysterious Catacombs in Malta or in a nondescript town in Oregon. His parents, it can be confirmed, raised him to value intelligence, creativity, and individuality. When reading aloud, they always did the voices.

At the University of Oregon, William made questionable choices, including willfully selecting classes for the interesting stories they promised, rather than for any practical application. When he wasn’t frivolously playing with words, he earned credits in such meaningful courses as Trampoline, Juggling, and Seventeenth Century Italian Longsword. These dubious decisions notwithstanding, he regrets nothing and now holds degrees in English and education with certificates in creative writing and folklore.

He currently teaches high school language arts, including reading and writing, mythology and heroes. He is a proud husband and father. When reading aloud, he always does the voices.

Jackaby is his first novel. It was born in the middle of the night and written on two different hemispheres. It has survived typhoons and hurricanes and was fostered into publication through the patient care of many hands.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence (The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins #1) by Holly Webb

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence by Holly Webb
  • Age Range: 9 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 - 7
  • ISBN-10: 0544339282 - Hardcover $14.99
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (September 2, 2014), 176 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Maisie Hitchins is a noticing sort of person.  That's why she's convinced she would make an excellent detective if she ever got the chance!  But instead of detecting, she's usually polishing the banisters at her grandmother's boarding house or fetching fish for the lodgers' dinner.  Maisie is willing to bet that her idol, Detective Gilbert Carrington, never fetches his own fish.

So when Maisie discovers and abandoned, half-drowned puppy in an alley, she takes on the crime as her very first case.  On top of bringing the person behind the troubles of her new canine sidekick, Eddie, to justice, Maisie is intrigued by recent thefts at the butcher shop.  With Eddie as her faithful assistant, Maisie seizes her clue notebook and searches the streets of London for the evidence she needs to crack both cases -- and maybe, just maybe, become a real detective herself.

Twelve-year old Maisie Hitchins lives at 31 Albion Street, London, in a boarding house run by her grandmother. Though Holly Webb doesn't specify that they live during the Victorian era, people rely on horses and carriages to get around and snack on aniseed balls, lavender lace, and sugared violets. Maisie's smart, curious, and dreams of being a detective, like her hero Detective Gilbert Carrington (who is much like Shelock Holmes).

When Maisie comes across a nearly drowned puppy in a sack, she undertakes to find the perpetrator of the deed. Her beloved puppy makes off with George, the butcher's delivery boy's sausages, and Maisie feels responsible when George loses his job. Though George was fired when he was found with a "marked" sixpence and not because of the sausages, Maisie resolves not to rest until the true culprit is found.

Maisie is helped by two lodgers with unusual expertise. Disguises, acting, careful detective work and her new puppy help Maisie solve the puzzles. This first detective adventure with Maisie Hitchins is funny and sure to appeal to young mystery lovers.

About the Author:
Holly Webb is a former children's book editor who has written more than 60 books for children published in the United Kingdom.  Webb lives in Berkshire, England, with her husband, three boys, and two cats.  This is her first book with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Learn more about Holly Webb at

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Poached by Stuart Gibbs

ISBN-10: 1442467770 - Hardcover $15.99
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; 1ST edition (April 8, 2014), 336 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Kazoo the Koala is missing!  And Teddy Fitzroy is the primary suspect.  The only way Teddy can clear his name is to crack the case and bring Kazoo back home to Funjungle where he belongs, all while steering clear of Vance the bully. Otherwise, Teddy will be shipped off to juvie as a convicted koala-napper.

I wish Stuart Gibbs's books had been around when I was growing up.

Teddy Fitzroy lives with his parents in FunJungle, a commercial zoo and amusement park. His mother is a biologist who works with primates and his father is a wild animal photographer. Teddy's in the local public middle school and often finds himself bullied. One awful day, he's forced to prank FunJungle and drop body parts in the shark tank. He later finds himself accused of the larger crime of having made away with the zoo's single koala bear. The animal is on a 6 month loan to FunJungle and its disappearance is dangerous both for Teddy and the koala.

FunJungle's head of security, Madge, has fixated on Teddy as the main culprit. The only way that he'll be able to clear his name is if he finds the actual thief.

Set amidst wild animals in a zoo and told from 12-year old Teddy's point of view, Poached is a fun, mad caper.

About the Author:
A few interesting things that Stuart Gibbs has done:
Worked at a zoo;   Researched capybaras (the world's largest rodents); Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro; Faced down a charging elephant; Ice-climbed a glacier in Patagonia; Visited the cockpit of the Space Shuttle Atlantis; Helped rescue sixteen children from drowning off the coast of Israel; Written a few movies that actually got made (See Spot Run; Repli-Kate; Showdown); Worked on a few animated movies (Anastasia; Open Season 3; Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers).

He is currently at work on some more books. "Space Case," a mystery set on the first moon base, will be out in September 2014. "Evil Spy School" will be out in spring, 2015. And the third book in the FunJungle series will be out some time in 2015.

You can learn more about what Stuart is up to at