Review: Burning Man by Alan Russell

4 Stars

Michael Gideon is a LAPD cop who became a reluctant hero and celebrity along side his K-9 partner, Sirius, when they shot to fame by capturing a notorious serial killer in the midst of a raging wildfire.  For their heroism, and continued PR appearances for the LAPD, they are chosen to head up the new Special Cases Unit.  They are picked to take on the more unusual and unexplained cases.  Given almost full autonomy, Gideon can’t pass up the chance to work together with his partner without all the red tape and bosses breathing down your neck.  Perfect job for someone who is still trying to fight his own inner demons that have been haunting him since the night he and Sirius captured the serial killer known as the Weatherman, a man still haunting his dreams.

Those dreams that haunt Gideon also provide him unexplained information.  He will wake from his dreams where he is walking through fire again, actually feeling the flames and the pain of the fire.  He will also wake with unusual and unexplained insights into the cases that he is working on.  A skill that he and Sirius need to learn to trust in so they can not only solve this case, but also save a bit of themselves in the process.

In their first Special Case, a teenager is found crucified in a city park.  There are few clues and a whole lot of questions.  Who would go to such lengths to not only kill this young man, but to give further insult by crucification?  At the same time, another case appears that is close to Gideon’s heart.  An infant is found dead, left in a box by what seems to be an uncaring mother.  This discovery plays havok on Gideon’s PTSD and hits very close to home, as he was a foundling, dropped off as an infant in the parking lot of a church.  Gideon must face his own inner demons as he unravels the threads of these cases.

While the dialog is a little sophomoric at times, the wit and sarcasm of Michael Gideon does make up for it at times.  He reminds me a bit of Harry Bosch or even Harry Dresden.  His sarcasm is biting and his wit is quick.  His jokes and sarcasm hide the insecurity and the PTSD, you can see the defense mechanism at work and it makes him all the more human.  I wish the interaction with Sirius was a little more pronounced, he seems to spend an awful lot of time in the car.

The connection that he has with the serial killer called the Weatherman is never fully explained and it more than a little creepy.  It reminds me at times of the relationships that Hannibal Lecter had with his victims and those who brought him down.  Definitely a bit of a creep factor there.  I’m hoping that this gets fleshed out and explained in subsequent novels.

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Review: The King’s Traitor by Jeff Wheeler

4 Stars

This is the third installment in the Kingfountain series and picks up seven years after The Thief’s Daughter.  Owen has gone from a frightened child, cowering in the kitchen to one of the most trusted confidants of King Severn Augustine.  He has watched his King grow ever more ruthless and mad with power.  Owen knows that it’s just a matter of time the King will fail, someone will come to topple this man he has loyally served yet come to fear and revile.  This man who has taken so much from Owen and still demands more.

Owen is ordered by his King to incite war with a neighboring kingdom.  His appetite for power has taken over his reason, Owen sees this but feels he has no choice but to obey.  Or at least appear to do so.  It seems that Owen has an agenda of his own.  It seems that there is a limit to Owen’s loyalty.  He’s been robbed of everything that he has held dear.  His protector, his mentor, his safe haven and his true love.  As Owen’s understanding of his fountain-blessed powers grows, he begins to understand the role that he must play.

Watching Owen grow over these three books has been a treat.  He has gone from a scared little boy into one of the most formidable men in the realm.  His presence and power is only enhanced by his humanity and his internal struggle with what is truly right and what is wrong.  He is taken through a gauntlet of trials and tests, each one harder than the one before.  You spend much of the book wondering if Owen will truly do the right thing or will he fall into the same trap that his King fell into before him.  Will he take the power for himself or will he allow it to transfer to its rightful owner?

There is even more magic in this book and while we are only introduced to a couple new characters, they have a huge impact on Owen and the story as a whole.  There are times where the prophesy and the powers of the fountain threaten to take over the entire narrative, but the author skillfully brings everything back together again as the story runs its course.

I was dreading the end of the book, but only because I didn’t want the story to end.  I didn’t want to leave Owen and his world.  It was bittersweet to see the story end.  I was happy and sad at the same time.  I truly enjoyed how the saga unfolded and how it concluded.  But all the same, I would really love to see Owen and his friends again.

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Review: Exhume by Danielle Girard

3 Stars

Dr. Annabelle Schwartzman has started to get comfortable.  She has found a new home and a place where she feel she finally belongs.  She is the Medical Examiner for the San Francisco Police Department and she enjoys her work, her calling, helping the dead find their voice.  Her job is a safe haven from her past, a former life she left seven years ago.  A life that included an abusive husband.  A life that still has her looking over her shoulder to make sure there’s no one there.

Schwartzman’s latest case threatens to shatter her feelings of safety.  A woman is found murdered in her home.  As she begins her initial examination, she’s struck by the striking resemblance this woman has to Schwartzman.  The colors and the layout of the apartment remind her of a life that was left behind, a life she fled.  The necklace the young woman is wearing is an exact match to the one that Schwartzman wears around her own neck.  Is this just a coincidence or is someone sending Annabelle Schwartzman a message?

I did enjoy this novel.  It was fast paced and very well written.  I know that some people took issue with how Annabelle Schwartzman was portrayed.  I thought she was a little flat, but I can definitely understand why she could appear so strong and then so fragile.  She had an abusive husband who nearly killed her, what woman wouldn’t be afraid?  She is a damaged woman who still has some steel in her spine.  Now that she has a new life and people who care about her, she doesn’t want to let them go and she’s willing to face the past and the man she ran away from years ago.

There are a lot of twists and turns in the beginning and the middle of the book, which make for a very satisfying read and it really does keep you turning the pages.  But the story definitely loses steam at the end.  What looked like a very carefully woven plan completely unravels and becomes nearly incoherent and unbelievable.  I don’t mind a nice, tidy ending.  But I think that the climax and end need to at least make sense.  I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Dr. Annabelle Schwartzman and I’m looking forward to see if the next installment will improve.

 

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Review: Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

4 Stars

Most people associate Queen Victoria in her later years.  A portrait of a serious woman dressed in black, endlessly mourning the loss of her beloved husband.  Most people forget that Queen Victoria ascended to the throne less than a month after her eighteenth birthday.  She came to the throne as a time when most women were more preoccupied on who they were going to marry and learning how to run a household.  This young woman was learning how to govern an empire.  Queen Victoria was small in stature, quiet in voice and had lived a life of seclusion with her mother, far removed from the court and its drama.

Victoria was known by another name to her family.  A hated nickname.  Drina, which was short for her given name, Alexandrina.  She felt she had been kept under the thumb of her mother and Sir John Conroy, her mother’s counsellor.  She had been smothered and hidden away from the world and now that she was Queen, she was now able to be independent for the first time in eighteen years.  She went so far as to move from Kensington Palace to Buckingham House and give her mother apartments as far away from her own as she possibly could.  Much to the chagrin of Sir John Conroy, the young Queen refused to give him a position of power and influence.

Victoria comes to rely on the advice and guidance of her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne.  She affectionately refers to him as Lord M.  They have to whether many storms together, including scandals that threaten to rock the very foundation of the Monarchy and give those who would rather see a Regent in power than a young Queen more fuel for their ambitious fires.  You watch as Victoria gives her heart away for the first time and the possible scandal that can arise when you love the wrong person.

This version of Victoria is hard for many to read because we are used to the Queen Victoria after she marries the love of her life and after she is already on her way to being one of the most beloved monarchs in the history of Great Brittan.  The author used historical documents, including Queen Victoria’s journals, while researching for this novel.  So the picture that we have of Queen Victoria is that of a young woman, alone for the first time in her life and facing an almost impossible challenge.  You’re led through the ups and downs of the first years of her very long reign and a glimpse into the mind of the woman who would become one of the longest reigning monarchs in English history.  If you can set aside the vision of Queen Victoria that you know from your school history books and the images of her on stamps and coins and just imagine that woman as a young girl, a very young Queen…you will ultimately enjoy this book.

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Life Update – Short Hiatus

Life has been rather hectic lately.  I’m starting a new job this week and the transition is taking a lot of my time away from fun things, like reading and blogging.  Once I get settled in and on track with my new schedule, I’ll be back and posting like crazy.  Bear with me!  I have to go from being an early morning person to being a late night person due to a schedule change.

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Review: The Thief’s Daughter by Jeff Wheeler

3 1/2 Stars

This is the second installment of the Kingfountain series, the sequel to The Queen’s Poisoner.  To get the most out of this book, you will want to read the series in order or much of the plot will not make any sense and you will not get a full scope of the setting and the machinations in place.

It is now nine years later and Owen Kiskaddon has grown from a shy and nearly mute hostage into a strapping young knight, one of King Severn’s most trusted advisors.  He has been living in the North, being trained by the Duke of Horwath and growing up along side his best friend and granddaughter of the Duke.  Owen and Evie have deepened their friendship into something more.  The future that Owen and Evie see for each other seems bound to be destroyed by the machinations of their King, a man who demands loyalty above all else.

A test of that loyalty comes in the most unexpected way.  A challenger has appeared to try and take the crown from King Severn.  A pretender who is claiming to be one of the King’s nephews, who were believed to have been killed if not by the King, then by his command.  This threat is taken seriously by the King, are  man who has lived under the shadow of these rumors for the entirety of his reign.  King Severn charges Evie and Ow en with securing an alliance with their neighbors, the very country that has been harboring the man who claims to be one of King Severn’s “lost nephews”.

There is also the appearance of a new poisoner, trained by Mancini, who is now the head of the Espion, the spy network.  She becomes a very pivotal character throughout this book and her loyalty is inspiring as is Owen’s struggle to be loyal to his King without betraying his own heart.  There are many twists and turns and a lot of action and intrigue packed into this book.  There is also more focus on the Fountain and the magic that comes from the Fountain.  We get to see how not only Owen uses this magic, but how it grows and manifests itself and how others use it as well.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this book and it was nice to see Owen as an adult rather than an eight year old child, scared of his own shadow.  He’s turned out to be a very strong young man.  The conflict between his heart and the loyalty he feels toward his King is an amazing struggle and you really do feel for Owen as he struggles to find the right path.  I didn’t always agree with the path that the characters did end up taking, but they were well thought out and well written.

I did get tired of the whole loyalty thing, it was the whole reason that I dropped half a star.  I understand the strong ties that are formed and wanting to be loyal to your leaders and those you admire or even fear.  But it’s harder to take when the person you are giving your loyalty to doesn’t deserve it.  Time and again, King Severn has proved himself unworthy of the loyalty that Owen, Evie and others show to him.  But time and again, they ignore their reservations and their own feelings to keep an increasingly unstable leader happy.  At this point, it’s become blind loyalty and I don’t think that does any favors to a character as strong as Owen.  We’ll see what happens in the next installment.

Again, the author is using historical context and figures to draw the world in which Owen lives.  He has re-imagined what the world would have been like had King Richard III survived the Battle of Bosworth.  The similarities are very clear for anyone who has ever looked into the history of King Richard III and the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.  A fantasy novel with real historical context, pretty cool if you ask me.

 

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Review: Her Final Breath by Robert Dugoni

4 Stars

This is book two in the Tracy Crosswhite Series.  While you will still enjoy reading this book by itself, you will definitely understand the back-story and get more out of the book itself if you read the previous book My Sister’s Grave.

Tracy is back in Seattle after finally solving the mystery surrounding the murder of her sister two decades earlier.  She comes back to a new killer who the media has dubbed The Cowboy.  He’s killing women in a manner that’s eerily familiar to Tracy.  The women are all hog-tied and die by strangulation.  Is this a copycat or did the wrong person end up behind bars 10 years ago?  A case that involved her captain, Johnny Nolasco and one that he would prefer to keep buried.  Just to add more intrigue, it seems that someone has it out for Tracy after leaving a noose behind at the shooting range for her to find.  Is it the Cowboy or is someone else targeting Tracy?

This is another fairly solid police procedural.  There is drama between Tracy and her captain that gives some additional tension.  He’s a slime ball who has had it out for Tracy ever since they were in the police academy.  The man can definitely carry a grudge.  Their negative chemistry was really good.  He second-guesses every move she makes and he undermines her at every turn through some pretty under-handed methods.  Ever wonder how the media got some of their juiciest tidbits?

The Cowboy was definitely an interesting serial killer.  I was definitely surprised to see who the killer ended up being.  I did enjoy how the case was solved.  I really didn’t see it coming.  It was just one small detail.  One vigilant police officer.  And that’s all it takes sometimes.  I really did enjoy the interaction that Tracy had with the killer in the end.  And I would have paid good money to see the look on her captain’s face.

I did not enjoy the stalker angle.  I know that it ties in the first and second book.  But I just didn’t think that it fit with the rest of the story.  It was nice to see Dan is still in the picture and their interaction and chemistry is still there.  They make a really great team.  I hope that they’ll continue to be able to team up together in the future, because this is certainly not the end for Tracy Crosswhite.

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