Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wings of Fire (An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery, Book 2)

Wings of Fire by Charles Todd (1998)

Pages: 294

ISBN: 9780312965686

Description: In Cornwall, England, three members of the same family have suddenly died. Among the dead is Olivia, the reclusive writer whose war poetry gave Ian Rutledge a handhold on sanity while he fought in the trenches of France. Although no evidence indicates foul play, a concerned and influential relative suspects that the deaths are actually murders, and she convinces Scotland Yard to send someone for a thorough investigation. Rutledge’s rival, Bowles, sees the Cornwall incident as an opportunity to get the shell-shocked World War I veteran away from London, where a recent Ripper-style killing spree promises celebrity for the detective who can crack the case.

Accompanying the Inspector to Cornwall is Rutledge’s constant “companion” Hamish, the young Scot whom he unwillingly had to execute on the battlefield and whose tormenting voice sounds in Rutledge’s head, forcing him to face unpleasant truths.

Review: Inspector Ian Rutledge returns to London still fighting his own demons. Scotland Yard is on an all out manhunt for a Ripper copycat. In order to get the glory for himself, Bowles sends Rutledge out on the case in Cornwall to keep Rutledge out of the way in London. When Rutledge arrives to Cornwall, the case seems pretty straight forward. A double suicide and an accident. What really shocks him is that one of the suicides happens to be the author of the poems that got him through the war. As he makes more inquiry's, Rutledge discovers there is more to this case than meets the eye. Will the town recover from the revelations made and will Rutledge ruin the one person that helped get him through the horrible war?

This was a more emotional book that I had anticipated. I was able to connect to the characters as a large part of the book dwells on people returning and changing from war. Although I myself have not been to war, I am a military spouse and have sent my husband to war. There are changes that people go through and I felt that Todd really captured those feelings. Another big part of the book was how appearances (especially in the family) are deceiving and how families deal with their secrets. I couldn't put the book down as it completely captivated me. The characters are beautifully written and very much believable. I cannot wait to get the next book in the series. A must read.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rashomon Gate (A Mystery of Ancient Japan Featuring Sugawara Akitada)

Rashomon Gate by I.J. Parker (2002)

Pages: 383

ISBN: 9780143035602

Description: Sugawara Akitada is the son of impoverished nobility toiling at a low-level job in the Ministry of Justice. When an old friend, Professor Hirata, asks him to investigate a colleague's blackmail, Akitada takes leave of his stultifying job for a temporary post at the Imperial University. There he finds gossip and rivalry abounding. A young girl is murdered. An old man mysteriously vanishes, and the Emperor declares it a miracle. Plunging into a labyrinth of conspiracy among the court's most esteemed nobles, Akitada must step carefully while gathering clues to the puzzle before him.

Review: When his former professor and guardian asks for his help, Sugawara Akitada feels obligated to assist him in his investigation. To do this, Akitada must return to his former university and it reminds him of things he would rather forget. Not long after he begins teaching at the university, Akitada stumbles upon not one but three murders he hopes to solve. He is not alone. His servant, Tora is there to help with his investigation. Not only does Akitada have the task of solving three murders and protecting a young prince, he also has to deal with the most troublesome thing of all... a matter of the heart.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this novel. Out of sure luck I picked this up at the library due to my fascination with the Japanese culture. Not only was this an enjoyable read on the history and culture of eleventh-century Japan, but it was a fantastic mystery. Once I started reading, I could not put the book down. Parker created a wide variety of vivid characters. The plot was also fast paced and not drawn out. Overall, this was a fantastic mystery that both historical fiction and mystery fans will enjoy.

As a side note, I discovered that I.J. Parker is a local author here in Virginia Beach.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Test of Wills (An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery, Book 1)

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd (1996)

Pages: 329

ISBN: 9780061242847

Description: Its 1919 and the War to End All Wars has been won. But for Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, recently returned form the battlefields of France, there is no peace. Suffering from shell shock, tormented by the mocking ever-present voice of the young Scot he had executed for refusing to fight, Rutledge plunges into his work to save his sanity. But his first assignment is a case certain to spell disaster, personally and professionally.

In Warwickshire, a popular colonel has been murdered, and the main suspect is a decorated war hero and close friend of the Prince of Wales. The case is a political minefield, and no matter what the outcome, Rutledge may not escape with his career intact. But, win or lose, the cost could be even higher, the one witness who could break the case is himself a shell shock victim, teetering on the edge of reality. And in this war-ravaged man, Rutledge sees his own possible future, should he lose grip on his mind...

Review: Inspector Ian Rutledge returned from the war a broken man with a broken heart. All he wants to do is try to do his job and silence the ever-present voice in his head. One of his rivals in Scotland Yard is hoping he will fail and sends him off to Warwickshire to solve the murder of a popular colonel. The suspect is none other than an honored war hero who is friend to royalty. Rutledge tries to remember his skill at investigation but years of war have sapped him of that skill. With secrets revealed and political pressure, will it be too much for Rutledge or will he return to London with his wits intact?

A great opening for a very promising series. I instantly liked the character of Rutledge and found Hamish to be a witty commentator. The characters were well written and full of life. The mystery was fantastic and was pleasantly surprised that I could not figure it out right away. So many mysteries today are too obvious. I can't wait to read more from Todd and learn more about Ian Rutledge. A fantastic historical mystery that is a must read.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Wicked by Gregory Maguire (1995)

Pages: 406

ISBN: 9780060391447

Description: When Dorothy triumphed over the so-called Wicked Witch of the West in Frank Baum's tales, we heard only Dorothy's side of the story. The Wicked Witch we think we know is the predictable, green-faced villainess straight out of MGM's imagination. But there's more to the story than that. Where did the Wicked Witch come from? How exactly was she wicked? Why shouldn't she want her sister's charmed shoes? And, most important, what is the true nature of evil?

Years before Dorothy and her dog crash-land, another little girl makes her presence known in Oz. This girl, Elphaba, is born with emerald green skin-no easy burden in a land as mean and poor as Oz, where superstition and magic are not strong enough to explain or to overcome the natural disasters of flood and famine. But Elphaba is smart, and by the time she enters the university in Shiz, she becomes a member of a charmed circle of Oz's most promising young citizens: her roommate Glinda, a dippy socialite with a knack for sorcery; Boq, the lovelorn Munchkin; Fiyero, a tribal prince from the primitive West of Oz; and Nessarose, Elphaba's beautiful, religiously witchy sister, who lacks nothing save two arms and the spirit of compassion.

Elphaba's Oz is no utopia. The Wizard's secret police are everywhere. Animals-those creatures with voices, souls, and minds-are threatened with exile. Young Elphaba, green and wild and misunderstood, is determined to protect the Animals-even if it means combating the mysterious Wizard, even if it means risking her single chance at romance. Ever wiser in guilt and sorrow, she can find herself grateful when the world declares her a witch. And she can even make herself glad for that young girl from Kansas.

Review: We all know the story of the Land of Oz... or do we? This is an alternate version of the classic tale by Frank L. Baum. We follow the life of Elphaba, later known as the Wicked Witch of the West. From her birth all the way to the classic melting death scene, we follow Elphaba on the journey of her life and try to determine if she really was "wicked".

This is most definitely not the "Oz" I remember. Maguire sets the story on its side with this new version of events. I was interested to see where he was going to go with the Witch's side of the story. The one word that comes to mind when I try to describe the story is disturbed. It was dark and not at all what I had envisioned. We encounter the dismal land of Oz on the brink of dictatorship and left with those following an obscure religion. Then we are introduced to Elphaba who is born to a loose mother who isn't sure who the father is for two of her three children. Elphaba was left to her own devices and also paraded as a sign that her "father" was cursed for not saving the souls of his town. The only bright moment of her life is her brief affair with Fiyero who shows her she is indeed capable of love. All the way to the end I couldn't help but feel for Elphaba and her bad life. I am morbidly curious as to how the series will progress so I will check out the second book, Son of a Witch. All in all, an interesting fantasy novel not for the light of heart.

Score: 3 out of 5

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Slightly Shady

Slightly Shady by Amanda Quick (2001)

Pages: 343

ISBN: 9780553583366

Description: From the moment he burst into her antiquities shop in Rome, Lavinia Lake knew the stranger as nothing but trouble. He said he was in pursuit of a killer. He swore he was only trying to save her. Yet no mater wheat he claimed, Lavinia was convinced that Mr. Tobias March was bent instead of destroying her. And when the self-descried spy hustled her and her niece out of the shop and back to England, Lavinia could only hope that one day she would find a way to repay Mr. March in full.

But Lavinia never imagined the shocking circumstances under which they would meet again.. or that soon he would become her partner in a quest that would grow more deadly-and more compelling-with each passing day.

In the business of making private inquiries, Tobias March had been hired to track down a powerful villain who even now as intent on assuming control of a vast criminal organization. Yet in his search he had found nothing but one dead end-and one dead body-after another. And then, just as his investigation was heating up once more he found his mission and his life complicated by the most ungovernable, unpredictable, exasperating woman he had ever met.

Faced with a tangled web of deceit and danger, Tobias had no choice but to form a partnership with Lavinia, a lady whose past could only be described as slightly shady. Yet when he persuaded her to become his associate, neither Tobias nor Lavinia realized that their heated disputes would spark a sizzling desire-or that the deeper they keep digging for the truth, the deeper they were digging their own graves...

Review: Lavinia Lake's business is being destroy by Tobias March. He claims she is in danger, but she thinks he is up to something. After much urging (breaking all of her merchandise) she agrees to pack a bag and leave town. Once back in England, Lavinia needs to think of a new career to support her and her niece. Her new career, a private inquiry agent, forces her to renew her acquaintance with Tobias March. They are both on the trail of a murderer which leads them into danger and more.

A fun read right from the start. I really enjoyed reading all of the banter between Lavinia and Tobias. The characters were written well and had spirit. This was a great introduction to the two characters who are part of a trilogy (so far). I look forward to reading the continuing tales of Lake & March.

Score: 4 out of 5