February 21, 2013

Review: Red Hot Murder a Delight!

Red Hot Murder
An Angie Amalfi Mystery, Bk 13
Joanne Pence

Mass Market Paperback, Avon Books, 2006, 334p.
ISBN: 9780060758059

Just Deserts

Dilettante chef Angie Amalfi doubts if she'll actually survive her engagement to San Francisco homicide detective Paavo Smith, what with her meddling mom micromanaging the whole affair.  So Angie leaps at the chance to spend some time away with her fiance in the sun-drenched Arizona desert town where he'd spent time as a boy - and maybe explore the possibility of a Southwestern themed wedding feast.

But her groom-to-be is going back there to help a friend investigate the murder of a wealthy local - and it seems this tiny desert community is a hotbed of deadly secrets.  And when a second course of murder is served up, suddenly Angie's tasty getaway with her lover is starting to look more and more like her final meal.

This is the first Angie Amalfi book I've ever picked up and I have to say that even though I've missed out of 12 other books worth of back story - I loved it.  Angie is a real foodie who doesn't like it when people dis or dismiss her, or her cooking - or her Paavo.

In this book we see her and her fiance, Paavo Smith (odd name combo), on their way to revisit a place from his mostly unhappy childhood.  As with most mysteries, we have a dead body or two, obscure clues, more than a few suspects and a twist that turns the hunt for the killer on it's ear.  I found Angie and Paavo to have a good chemistry even though there wasn't a lot of 'we' time, and unlike most of the leading men of the cop persuasion, he's okay with letting Angie hunt around for some clues.  An Italian girl, we catch glimpses of her family life including a mother who looks like turning into a bridezilla - all on her daughter's behalf, of course - as well as a cast of weird and downright bitchy characters who have hunkered down in the dead man's house.  One of my favourites was the local diner cook who made some of the most disgusting food out, and her reaction to Angie's taste testing is so funny.

This book is much more than a cosy mystery but I wouldn't call it a police procedural/detective mystery either.  Think of this as cosy plus.  Since it's a foodie mystery there are the expected recipes in the back of the book.  Of the three recipes, the Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Pie (see below) makes me drool.  So, if you've enjoyed Stephanie Bond, Karen E. Olsen, Kathleen Bachus or Carolyn Hart then you'll get a kick out of Angie Amalfi.

Angie Amalfi's Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Pie

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (or walnuts if desired)
4 eggs
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup honey
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp bourbon
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground cinnamon
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
pastry for 1 pie crust

Heat oven to 350°F.  Toast the pecans in a small pan over med-high heat, tossing often to make sure they roast evenly.  Set aside to cool.

In a bowl add eggs, corn syrup, honey, sugar, brown sugar, butter, bourbon, vanilla  flour, nutmeg and cinnamon.  Beat until mixture is smooth.

Break your chocolate into little bits, and add with the pecans (or walnuts) into the mixture.  Mixing well so that the chocolate and pecans are distributed evenly.

Pour into uncooked pie crust and bake at 350°F until set.  This should take about 40-50 minutes.  Check using a skewer or toothpick to check if pie is cooked -the skewer/toothpick should come out clean - and put aside to cool.  Best served slightly warm with ice-cream.  Enjoy!

February 20, 2013

Books en route

God it's late, but I just got an email to say that most of my latest book order is now winging their way to me.  Yah!

So hopefully by this time next week I should be blissfully ensconced on my couch, torn between starting the Angie Amalfi Mystery series or finding out who's stalking Blair Mallory this time, with a hot cup of tea by my side and a cat hogging the lap rug.


Review: The Phoenix Rising crashes and burns

Phoenix Rising
A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel, Bk 1
Pip Ballentine & Tee Morris

Mass Market Paperback, Harper Voyager, 2011, 402p.
ISBN: 9780062049766

Evil is most assuredly afoot - and Britain's fate rests in the hands of an alluring renegade ... and a librarian.

These are dark days indeed in Victoria's England.  Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as sorpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone.  Yet the Minister of Peculiar Occurrences - the Crown's clandestine organisation whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling - will not allow its agents to investigate.  Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest ... and she's prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the
perilous fray.
For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons.  And Books and Braun - he with his encyclopaedic brain and she with her remarkable devices - must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot ... or see England fall to the Phoenix!

Sorry about his folks, but Blogger's auto-save function crapped out on me and I lost my whole original review.  So, my thoughts - take 2.

"Malevolence has met it's match in Agents Books and Braun!"

And so did my patience.
I have had Phoenix Rising in my wishlist for about the last three months, so when I saw it discounted at a Collin's Bookshop I was so excited.   I loved Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series so I was looking forward getting stuck into another Steampunk title ... I should have known.
Phoenix Rising was just a disappointment through and through.  Our antagonists, Wellington 'Welly' Books and Eliza D. Braun were just whinny and annoying.  Braun is an loose cannon and arrogant to boot.  She just likes to blow shit up and bucks authority at the drop of a hat.  And while the more sedate Books is the 'by the book' character, he was just as obnoxious and unrealistic.  They annoyed me to no end and I found that I had could make no real connection with these characters.
The protagonists were just annoying and cliche, and I found the Aussie character's stereotyping as the colonial knob more than a little insulting.  The POV changes with every chapter, bouncing back and forwards between these two.  Even the writing style left me hanging.  I eventually gave up reading the book as I just couldn't take any more of this drek.  I skimmed the last few pages hoping that the ending was good enough that I could convince myself to go back and slog my way through, but alas, it wasn't.  I think I must have just fluked reading the Parasol Protectorate first because Braun is just a poor man's Alexia Tarabotti, if that.

The only plus I could find here were some of the gadgets.
This book will now go to the back of the bottom of my bookshelf to collect dust.  I can't believe I wasted my time trying to read this and I even begrudge it the $3.50 I spent on it. If you do come across it, walk away unless you're a major fan of the genre.  If you must try it, find it on the shelves at your local library.

Review: Lucy Valentine to the Rescue

Truly, Madly
A Lucy Valentine Mystery, Bk 1
Heather Webber

Mass Market Paperback, St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 9780312946135

Lucy Valentine is as smart as can be, as single as you can get, and so not qualified to run a matchmaking service.  But when her parents temporarily step down from the family business, Valentine, Inc., it's Lucy's turn to step up and help out - in the name of love.  Plus her rent is due.
Her's the problem: Lucy doesn't have the knack for matchmaking.  According to family legend, every Valentine has been blessed by Cupid with the ability to read 'auras' and pair up perfect couples.  But not with Lucy.  Her skills were zapped away years ago in an electrical surge, and now all she can do is find lost objects.  What good is that in the matchmaking world?  You'd be surprised.  In a city like Boston, everyone's looking for something.  So when Lucy locates a missing wedding ring - on a dead body - she asks the sexy private eye who lives upstairs to help her solve the perfect crime.  And who knows?  Maybe she'll find the perfect love while she's at it...

My thoughts....
Having bought the second book first, and loving it, I had to quickly find this at my old library.  I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed this book.  Lucy Valentine is a sweet, but slightly neurotic character - when you get to know her family can you blame her? - who finds herself thrown into the deep end of matchmaking when she caves in to her father's request to run the family business while her parents take a break.
A former trust fund babe, she lives on her grandmother's estate, with a pushy cat called Grendel.  On her first day in the office she gets a vision from a client that leads her on an Alice in Wonderland journey to find a killer - before they find her.  Add into the mix a quirky group of close-knit friends and family, a bitch of a client, a suspicious cop or two, and a pit-bull of a journalist and you have all the makings of a real page turner.  I did like the way that Ms. Webber was trying to limit the uses of Lucy's 'gift' and I laughted when Lucy met Sean.  However, it's when Lucy's at the matchmaking office, trying to make said matches, that I got a good giggle.  Swatches... ha!
Sean, our very hot P.I, is a refreshing change from the ever popular take charge, healthy as a horse, superman type of mate.  He's a man who's had to face his own mortality, and make lifestyle changes.  This was done in a realistic fashion with humor and sensitivity, and is not at all cliche.
Thoreau and Grendel are the little scene stealers of the group. Just too cute for words.
I enjoyed the first three books (reviews 2 and 3 pending) and will definitely try to get my hands on 4 and 5.  A great start to a quirky new series.

February 17, 2013

Review: Kick up your Heels

Spying in High Heels/ Killer in High Heels
The High Heels Series, Books 1 & 2
Gemma Halliday

Published: Aug 2006/
Mar 2007

Mass Market Paperback, Making It, 324p./310p.
ISBN: 9780843957358 / 9780505527127

Spying in High Heels:  L.A. shoe designer Maddie Springer lives her life by three rules: Fashion.  Fashion.  Fashion.  But when she stumbles upon the work of a brutal killer, her life takes an unexpected turn from Manolos to murder.  And things only get worse when her boyfriend disappears - along with $20 million in embezzled funds - and her every move is suddenly under scrutiny by the LAPD's sexiest cop.  With the help of her post-menopausal bridezilla of a mother, a 300-pound psychic and one seriously oversexed best friend, Maddie finds herself stepping out of her stilettos and onto the trail of a murderer.  But can she catch a killer before the killer catches up to her?
Killer in High Heels:  L.A shoe designer Maddie Springer hasn't seen her father since he reportedly ran off to Las vegas with a showgirl named Lola.  So she's shocked when he leaves a desperate plea for help on her answering machine - ending in a loud bang.  Gushot?  car backfire?  Never one to leave her curiosity unsatisfied, Maddie straps on her stilettos and, along with her trigger-happy best friend, makes tracks for Sin City in search of her MIA dad.
Maddie hits the jackpot, all right.  She finds not only her dad, but also a handful of aging drag queens, an organized crime ring smuggling fake Prada pumps, and one relentless killer.  Plus, it seems the LAPD's sexiest cop is doing a little Vegas moonlighting of his own.  In a town where odds are everything, Maddie bets it all on her ability to out-step a vicious murderer.  She just hopes her gamble pays off... before her own luck runs out.

Gemma Halliday has breathed new life into my bookshelf with her delightful series.  Maddie Springer isn't the most switched on woman ever to grace the pages of a book, but boy is she fun to read.  This woman seems to get into so many awkward situations that she reminds me of Stephanie Plum - one of my all time favourite characters.
Maddie, a successful childrens shoe designer (is that a cool job or what!), seems to stumble into dangerous situations with amazing ease.  For someone who works from home, and has a hot cop for a boyfriend, you'd think life would be easy for her, wouldn't you?  Think again.  With a nose for trouble, and a headstrong can-do attitude, Maddie annoys the hell out of her guy, Ramirez, with her constant digging into other people's business.  His frustration in keeping her out of it runs parallel with her ability to sniff out information vital to his cases.  It doesn't matter that she's often on the wrong track.  Like Stephanie Plum, she falls into crap and comes out smelling like a rose!
I know I haven't gone into book specific detail, but as I'm talking about 2 books, this is just my impression of the series and characters so far.  I am going to collect the rest and will post as I read them.  I want to see what happens with her relationship with Ramirez, and who her man-eating best friend Dana ends up with.  Does her mother stay married?  Does her alternative lifestyle dad reappear?  Will Maddie and Ramirez make it?  Stay tuned.

If you love Janet Evanovich, Stephanie Bond, Karen E. Olson or Mary Stanton then I'm sure you'll enjoy this series.


Review: It's To Die For

To Die For
Blair Mallory, Book 1
Linda Howard
Published 2004
Mass Market Paperback, Piatkus, 378p.
ISBN: 0749935294

After a painful divorce, Blair Mallory follows a dream and opens a health club.  But Nicole Goodwin, a troubled member of the club, develops a strange fixation on Blair, imitating her style and dress, even the car she drives.  Then Nicole is gunned down in the club's parking lot.  And Blair is the only witness to the murder...
At first the police investigation concentratres on Nicole and her acquaintances, but then someone tampers with Blair's car, and sabotages her home and business.  The police - including Blair's old flame Lieutenant Wyatt Bloodsworth - are baffled because these attempts, while serious, are very different in tone from Nicole's murder.  Is Nicole's killer seeking to remove a troublesome witness?  Or was Blair the intended victim after all?
Hi there!  As promised I'm starting to post my thoughts on the books that I've recently devoured as part of my week long book marathon.  To Die For by Linda Howard was a real surprise for me as I'd only read her wonderful Mackenzie's series, or a historical romance.  So when I picked it up I was a little dubious as I either love it or I don't when it comes to Linda Howard.  Thankfully in this case I loved it.
This is the first of two books - Drop Dead Gorgeous being the sequel - and I just couldn't put it down.  In To Die For we are introduced to our protagonist, Blair Mallory.  An independant woman who knows what she wants in life.  As former cheerleader turned successful gym owner, Blair may look like a fluffy and ditzy blonde, but she's got the instincts of a barracuda.  So when Nicole, the copycat, gets dumped from the gym, Blair is delighted.  The copycat psycho is finally out of her life... until closing time that is.  As Blair closes up for the night she sees Nicole and an unknown male waiting for her in the shadows.  When she hears a gun shot and hits the ground, Blair is sure that her life is in danger.  After the police arrive, it is discovered that Nicole is dead.  Could her night get any worse? ... Yep.  
Enter Wyatt Bloodsworth, now a Lieutenant with the local police force. A big man with a forceful personality, he's also the guy who had dumped her 2 years ago - after just 3 dates.  Now he's back.  And much to Blair's annoyance, seems determined to muscle his way back into her life and her bed.  If he can keep her alive long enough to solve the case that is.
Blair is such a fun character great fun character.  The book is told from her POV, but I do like the interaction she has with the reader.  Blair and Wyatt have major chemistry (OMG, you could power a small town on the electricity they produce!), and I love the way that Ms. Howard has Blair writing down lists of Wyatt's misdemeanours for him to read.  It's such a novel idea... I may have to try it one of these days.

My only problem with the book was Bloodsworth's constant ability to get the better of Blair.  I know a strong male lead was called for when there is such a strong female character, but her inability to pull him up short when he needs it is a bit frustrating.  Having said that, Wyatt is a great character who is loving and protective of Blair.  He's a guy who knows what he wants and makes it happen.  I know that's a bit of a circular arguement, but tough ;-D

Blair's family are wonderfully vivid.  My take on her mother is just stand back.  She's one scarily together and practical lady.  Her sisters are very loving and protective, and I love Siana with her dimples.  The idenity of the Blair's attacker is a real surprise.  It crossed my mind for like 2 seconds, but I dismissed it because I didn't see the connection.  When it's all explained it does make sense.

For those of you who don't like very graphic books rest easy.  There is little actual violence in this book, no real swearing and no graphic sex scenes - which I found quite refreshing.  I'd recommend you put this book aside until you have time to read it all the way through as it would be such a hard job to put it down. 

So if you like a good murder mystery, romance or books by Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, etc., then this is a good book to add to your collection.  I have already ordered Drop Dead Gorgeous so will post an update ASAP. 

I give this book

Happy reading!