Saturday, December 24, 2016

DEATH AT ST. VEDAST by Mary Lawrence

Mary Lawrence

            Bianca Goddard is back! Her adventures continue in Mary Lawrence’s latest book, Death At St. Vedast, available December 27, 2016.

Mary Lawrence’s Bianca Goddard Mystery series are Historical Fiction set in Tudor England. We first met Bianca in The Alchemist’s Daughter (reviewed March 24, 2015) and were reunited with her in The Death of An Alchemist (reviewed January 4, 2016). Death At St. Vedast is Lawrence’s third installment in the series.

            Bianca Goddard is the Alchemist’s daughter. She creates balms and salves and the like in her room of Medicinals and Physickes, where she also performs her experiments and chemistries. Bianca’s husband, John, is apprentice to the silversmith, Boisvert. As Boisvert is getting married and moving, John arranges for them to move to Boisvert’s rent that adjoins the forge. The conditions of the arrangement, however, require that Bianca “forgo her chemistries” (Advance Reader’s Edition p. 14). Needless to say, Bianca was reticent about the impending move.

            While moving to the new home, Bianca encounters the body of a dead woman at St. Vedast Chuch, the nearby church where Boisvert is to be married. Was it “self-murder”? Was the woman pushed? Did she fall? Naturally, the curious Bianca wants to know. But, as the threads tied to the woman’s death weave closer to home, Bianca becomes curiouser. There is trouble at St. Vedast, and it impacts Boisvert’s wedding. More deaths follow. Although these appear to be disparate, isolated incidents, Bianca perseveres. By following the few, meandering, twisting-turning threads, she is able to tie them together and solve the mystery.

            As I have said in previous reviews of Lawrence’s work, the Bianca Goddard series provides a refreshing look at Tudor England, as Bianca is neither royal nor noble – she is simply common. However, Bianca is anything but ordinary. She is an intelligent and refreshing heroine.

            Death At St. Vedast is a well written, good, solid mystery. As with Death of An Alchemist, Lawrence includes a much appreciated Author’s Note at the end of Death At St. Vedast, although I would have liked to read more there about the mysterious illness encountered by Bianca. Completing Death At St. Vedast has left me feeling as I did after completing the first two Bianca Goddard mysteries: I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of Bianca’s adventures.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

KILLER LOOK by Linda Fairstein

Linda Fairstein

            SPOILER ALERT: The following may contain revealing information about this book, as well as prior installments in the series.

Killer Look is Linda Fairstein’s latest installment in her Alexandra Cooper series. The focal point for Alex’s latest adventure with Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace is the death of Wolf Savage, the creative genius behind, and head of, his own fashion empire. As is usual with Fairstein, Wolf Savage’s death is not all it appears to be on the surface. And, as we have come to expect, Alex’s ease in worlds outside of the district attorney’s office is vital to this investigation.

            I am not a fashionista. However, I am an aficionado of Fairstein’s Alex Cooper. So, you will understand any ambivalence that may be found in this review.

            In Killer Look, Alex is still recovering from her abduction, the focus of the previous book in the series, Devil’s Bridge. This changes her, her relationships with Mike and Mercer, and the usual formula Fairstein uses in many of her Alexandra Cooper novels. I have no doubt that Fairstein is in a better position to accurately portray the aftermaths of Alex’s horrific experience. I simply do not like Mike – particularly his reaction to, and treatment of, Alex – as he is portrayed in much of Killer Look.

            I usually love Fairstein’s exposition of some historical point of interest about New York City that permeates each of her novels. But, Killer Look does not include what I have come to think of as the usual history from Fairstein; what is included pertains to the Garment District and the fashion industry, unappealing to this non-fashionista.

            In addition, the version of Killer Look that I read was an Advance Uncorrected Proof provided for a review. This proof included a number of errors, mostly grammatical but also a few substantive errors. Although this is to be expected with proofs, as one who does a bit of editing in addition to reviewing, and hence who is hypercritical, the errors were a bit off putting.

            Despite these shortcomings, I enjoyed my experience with Killer Look. I love Alexandra Cooper and was excited to be back in her world.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

I’LL BE RIGHT HERE by Sandra H. Moore, M.D.

Sandra H. Moore, M.D.

            I’ll Be Right Here is a nonfiction work. Specifically, it is a work of Inspiration, composed of essays and poems written by Sandra H. Moore, M.D. The book also includes six watercolors. These beautiful illustrations were provided by Carol Watson.

The writings are divided into six parts, although the parts are not labeled, and I could not discern the reason for the groupings. The subject of many of the writings involves overcoming grief and depression, anger and sorrow, and finding the inner strength to deal with (or overcome) these times in our lives.

            One of my favorite parts of the book is the title essay, “I’ll Be Right Here”. As Dr. Moore explains, the title of the book is a phrase her father used to say to her when she left him. (Introduction) The essay talks more about her father and about how those we love stay with us after we are parted from them.

             Dr. Moore is herself an inspirational person. As the description of the author tells us, “she was the first Black female anesthesiologist to join a private group practice in Houston.” This mother – and grandmother – is now retired, after twenty-four years of practice.

            Although nonfiction in general – and inspiration in particular – is not my forte, I found I’ll Be Right Here to be a lovely book. It was as enjoyable to read from beginning to end as it was to page through and select certain poems or essays on whim. This little book will look very pretty on your coffee table – or, it would make a nice gift for someone in need of inspiration or support.

            In my opinion, I’ll Be Right Here is, quite simply, inspirational.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Release Day - Death of An Alchemist!

Book two in Mary Lawrence's Bianca Goddard Mystery Series is here! Read DEATH OF AN ALCHEMIST today!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

BROKEN HARBOR by Tana French

Tana French

            Broken Harbor is book four (of five) in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. I listened to this audiobook third (after the number five book, The Secret Place, and the number three book, Faithful Place). This book features Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy, whom we met in Faithful Place.

            In Broken Harbor, the Spain family was murdered in their home at Broken Harbor, a half built, deserted housing development. Kennedy is assigned to the case. He finds oddities in the Spain home: holes in the walls, an open attic hatch, lots of video baby monitors.

            Although Scorcher Kennedy is one of the best detectives, he has a history with Broken Harbor. As we work the murder case with Scorcher, we learn about his family, the nuances and complexities of his personality, and the secrets of this history with Broken Harbor.

            As always, French is masterful in the weaving of her tale and in the superb development of her characters. Her writing in general is magical. For example, at one point Scorcher talks about how murder is chaos. In the old days, Scorcher notes, people smiled at strangers, talked to their neighbors, left their doors unlocked, and helped old women; the murder rate during this time was almost zero. But now, Scorcher goes on, people are “turning feral” – and the final step into feral is murder. This sort of poignant development is typical Tana French and makes reading her work truly a memorable experience.

            I greatly enjoyed Broken Harbor, and I look forward to the two Dublin Murder Squad books I have not yet read (despite the mis-ordering of my reads). I am rapidly becoming a devoted Tana French fan.


Monday, January 4, 2016


Mary Lawrence

            When I reviewed Mary Lawrence’s first book, The Alchemist’s Daughter, I stated that I looked forward to reading about more of Bianca Goddard’s adventures. Well, Bianca is back, and she does not disappoint. Lawrence’s second novel, Death Of An Alchemist, is even better than her first.

            Death seems to follow Bianca. In Death Of An Alchemist, Bianca consults a well known alchemist, Ferris Stannum, seeking advice from him about an alchemical process that she needs in making some of her healing concoctions. She leaves him alive and expects to find him that way when she returns: “The next day, Bianca expected to find Ferris Stannum busy at work. Instead, she found Ferris Stannum busy being dead.” (p. 52) Stannum’s alchemical journal, in which he had recorded his making of the elixir of life, was missing. Bianca desperately needed to locate the journal so that she could concoct an elixir to heal the ailing John. Meanwhile, other deaths followed Stannum’s.

            While I enjoyed The Alchemist’s Daughter, Death Of An Alchemist is even better. The writing, which was good in the first book, is even better in the second, as it feels more relaxed and more natural. Furthermore, this mystery seems to involve more action and adventure.

            I continue to be amazed by Lawrence’s Tudor era mysteries in that they depict this historical time from the ordinary person’s point of view. The pictures that the books paint from this point of view are not as attractive as those painted by many historical novels set in this time period; nonetheless, as uncomfortable as the pictures might make me feel, I find them to be novel and much more realistic.

At the end of the book, Lawrence includes a much appreciated Author’s Note in which she discusses the sweating sickness that was feared so in Tudor England, hemorrhagic disease, and the historicity of this work of historical fiction. As one who values historical accuracy in historical fiction, I welcome this addition.

            At this point I feel as I did after reading and reviewing The Alchemist’s Daughter: I thoroughly enjoyed Bianca’s latest adventure, and I look forward to sharing many more with her in the future. Even though Death Of An Alchemist will not be published until January 26, 2016, I already cannot wait for book three!


(Quotation and citation are from the Advance Uncorrected Proof provided by the author.)