Tag Archives: England

Curiously Consistent

Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone: A Novel by Phaedra Patrick (Park Row Books, $24.99, 368 pages)

rise and shine benedict

Fans of Phaedra Patrick’s debut novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, will be delighted with her next heartfelt novel, Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone.  Ms. Patrick has created a signature theme that permeates the tales.  The main character is a man adrift in life, not connecting with reality.  The setting is a small village in Yorkshire, England.

Benedict Stone is a jeweler, as was his father before him.  Stone’s wife, Estelle, has decamped from their home, ostensibly to look after the apartment of a friend who is working in New York.  Benedict knows that Estelle has tired of his obsession with having children.  So far that hasn’t happened for them.  He’s proposed adoption and Estelle has rebuffed this alternative.  The emotional distance between them is growing, much to Benedict’s horror.  He relies on food to calm his nerves and we all know where that leads.

Stone’s jewelry store is fading into oblivion, due in no small part to Benedict’s insistence on making simple pieces that aren’t on trend with popular styles.  He is stubborn and resists change, especially when it comes to his trade.  Cecil, his salesman, offers advice on how to win back Estelle and Benedict considers it.

One dark and stormy night, there is a knock at the front door.  Benedict imagines it is Estelle returned home.  But, no, instead there’s a teenage girl on the front porch and she is dripping wet.  She introduces herself – Gemma Stone, his estranged brother Charlie’s daughter.  Gemma has traveled alone from the United State and invites herself in for a stay.  She may or may not have her father’s permission to make the journey!

And that is the beginning of a wonderful tale of redemption and awakening for everyone.  Ms. Patrick infuses her chapters with fascinating information about the gemstones contained in a bag that Gemma has brought on her trip.  Each has historically associated attributes.  Together, Benedict and Gemma make these gemstones part of their strategy for creating a better life for both of them.

Ms. Patrick enlivens her characters with foibles and quirks.  Her scenes are full of color and details that will delight the reader.  It’s not often that an equally engaging novel follows a marvelous debut.  Happily, this author has succeeded with Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone.  Look for Benedict Stone in mid-May.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  Rise & Shine, Benedict Stone will be released on May 16, 2017.

“Phaedra Patrick understands the soul.”  Nina George, New York Times bestselling author of The Little Paris Bookshop.

 

 

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Four on the Floor

Four British Mysteries featuring Inspector Banks by Peter Robinson.

peter-robinson

Peter Robinson is an author who has been busy creating an engaging series of mystery novels since 1987. He’s wildly popular and yet, somehow this reviewer has missed out on the entertaining Inspector Alan Banks series. Enter a selection sent by the publisher containing the most recent work, When the Music’s Over (#23), and two trade paper versions of previously released books, In a Dry Season (#10) and In the Dark Places (#22).

What followed was a marathon session of immersion into this series. The bonus was finding a dated advance reader’s copy of Bad Boy (#19) that had been shelved in our library since 2010! Author Robinson is a master at bringing the reader into the atmosphere of his tale. City or country, each is thoroughly believable. Music also performs a role in setting the pace of the action as well as giving the reader a sense of his characters’ tastes and temperaments.

Robinson often develops two strong plot lines that converge in the solution to the mystery/murder case being investigated. These plot lines can be set in the past and the present, or simultaneously occurring the present. Of the four books I’ve read, all have been primarily located in London and rural areas of England with some travel to other countries.

The characters one comes to know and appreciate are: Inspector Alan Banks – later in the series he’s Detective Superintendent Banks; Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot – Banks’ sidekick and onetime love interest; Banks’ daughter, Annie, who ages as the series progresses; and various members of the police squads wherever Banks is assigned.

The main crime topic is always murder, usually with a side dish of criminal enterprises including kidnapping, drug sales, and general mayhem. As one would expect, there are ample red herrings to keep the reader working along with Banks, Cabbot, et al.

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In a Dry Season: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $14.99, 442 pages)

In a Dry Season opens with a prologue dated 1967. A woman who has been recently widowed has a secret past. She travels to the town where she grew up, Hobbs End, which is now at the bottom of a reservoir. Next, the story shifts to present day (1999) where a young boy is exploring the ruins of Hobbs End that have been recently exposed due to a drought. The boy, much to his horror, unearths a skeleton.

What follows is a British police procedural complete with the attitudes toward female detectives prevalent in that era. Three well-developed plot lines provide the reader with a most engaging read.

Highly recommended.

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Bad Boy: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $25.99, 352 pages)

Bad Boy features Tracy Banks, at this time a young adult, who is distancing herself from her father. Tracy is working at a dead end job after doing poorly on her college exams. Roommate Erin Doyle is not much better off in her waitressing job; although she does have an attractive boyfriend who gives her gifts and shows Erin a good time. Jaff, the boyfriend, has no visible means of support – hence he’s most likely the bad boy of the book’s title.

The young women and their respective families have been friends for many years. All the normal life that went before is horribly derailed by misguided acts that result in consequences that neither girl could have possibly anticipated. The tale brings the reader with Annie Cabbot and Alan Banks as they traverse the English countryside hunting for Tracy and Jaff.

Highly recommended.

In the Dark Places: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $14.99, 336 pages)

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In the Dark Places has the most convoluted and intricate plot lines of the four books I read. Inspector Banks and his team are challenged by several peculiar disappearances and subsequent murder discoveries. Their best detecting skills are needed when a young man goes missing and a truck driven by a seasoned driver tumbles off a slick and twisting road during a hailstorm killing the driver and tossing his cargo onto the steep hillside below the road.

DNA, cell phone records and GPS tracking are heavily relied upon in order to crack the multiple crimes committed by a devious and thoroughly ruthless mastermind whose obsession with money powers his actions. Author Robinson’s smooth writing allows the reader to be engaged while navigating the plot developments that are clever and even subtly misleading.

Well recommended.

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When the Music’s Over: An Inspector Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $25.99, 421 pages)

When the Music’s Over is a slowly developing police procedural that follows two cases. The first is a cold case involving the rape of vulnerable underage teens perpetuated by a highly successful man in show business who is now in his mid-eighties. The second is the discovery of a brutally murdered white teen whose life was ended on a country road after being brutally attacked by men in a van.

The two cases are simultaneously investigated; the cold case is assigned to DS Alan Banks and the teen murder is assigned to DI Anne Cabbot. Although the exploitation of teen girls is the common theme of the cases, that’s where the similarity ends. A rich white man and a group of scheming Pakistani men could not be more dissimilar in their social standing. Regardless, the end justifies the means for both.

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This, the most recent of the series, tends to develop at a painstaking pace for nearly half the book. Once the groundwork has been completed, the action picks up and the reader is rewarded with some serious detective work involving bravery and solid instincts. Caution, this tale is not for the faint of heart.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

When the Music’s Over was released on August 9, 2016.

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Music Review: Ten Years After – ‘British Live Performance Series’

BLPS

After Alvin Lee’s death in March of 2013, Rainman Records released The Last Show, a fine recording of Lee’s final on stage performance in May of 2012. Due to the excellence of that recording, I looked forward to hearing the recent Rainman release, British Live Performance Series. It captures Ten Years After (TYA) recorded live in 1990 at “Studio 8” television in Nottingham, England. (This is a reissue of an earlier release.)

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Does this release meet the standard set by The Last Show or the 1990 TYA album Recorded Live? Well, let’s take a look at the 11 tracks in order to answer the question.

“Let’s Shake It Up” – This song demonstrates that the band was, at least initially, in fine form that day.

“Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” – “Sonny Boy” Williamson’s blues standard from 1937 is transformed into a Cream-style workout. I prefer the original arrangement on the Ssssh album. This version comes off as tight, yet frantic.

“Slow Blues in C” – An OK track but nothing special. At least it feels shorter than its length of 5:39.

“Hobbit” – Most drum solos in rock should have been eliminated – IMHO, including this one (or at least shortened).

“Love Like A Man” – One of the best tracks from Cricklewood Green, it sounds positively husky here.

“Johnny B. Goode” – It’s not as good a choice as “Sweet Little Sixteen” – both Chuck Berry tunes – on Watt.

“Bad Blood” – Lee, Leo Lyons (bass), Ric Lee (drums) and Chick Churchill (keyboard) in a fine groove, just shy of six minutes. They probably should have kept it going for at least 12 to 15 minutes.

“Victim of Circumstance” – A song from the 1989 release About Time (the album TYA was promoting at the time). It’s not one of their best numbers.

“I Can’t Keep From Crying Sometime” – From the 1967 debut album Ten Years After. The song effectively segues from blues-rock into psychedelia, before speeding up to become just another TYA jam. It borrows a riff from The Doors’ “When the Music’s Over” and drags on until boredom sets in.

“I’m Going Home” – On a 10-point scale, this one’s about a 4. Twenty-one years after Woodstock, the thrill was gone. Here, TYA sounds like a cover band. Clearly, they became bored with the song, which should have been reserved for nights when the band was fully cooking.

“Sweet Little Sixteen” – The live version on Watt is better.

The sound quality on this recording is poor, especially considering that it was recorded in a major TV studio. As a friend said, “It’s a harsh mix with too much high end and snare” – the snare drum being annoyingly front and center, and Lyon’s generally exemplary bass work is mostly missing in action aurally. Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to hear a single note from the keyboard played by Churchill.

To quote my friend again, “Despite the harsh mix, this concert demonstrated how TYA was able to fill venues for years. When the lights were on, they were right at home giving it their all.” Yes, like The Kinks, TYA gave it 110% each and every night.

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recorded live tya

It’s a shame about the sound on this release. The Last Show or Recorded Live are definitely better choices.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-ten-years-after-british-live-performance-series/

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The Ghost Soldier

no shred

No Shred of Evidence: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 341 pages)

Hurray for the mother and son writing team known as Charles Todd! In this, the 18th episode of the post-Word War I saga of Inspector Ian Rutledge, the story line is brilliant. Moreover, the intrepid inspector is moved on in the resolution of his wartime grief and haunting. The presence of Corporal Hamish MacLeod, the ghost of a soldier from Rutledge’s horrifying wartime experience, is kept firmly in the background, which allows Rutledge the opportunity to stay calm and focused through much of the tale.

Make no mistake; the usual British class warfare, so prevalent in novels depicting the early 20th Century between the haves and have-nots, is in full swing. The landed gentry of the town of Padsow, Northern Cornwall, or rather two of their daughters and two girlfriends have the misfortune of being spotted by a local farmer while they are out rowing on the River Camel. This particular farmer has more than one reason to seize upon the apparent attempted murder by the young ladies as they struggle to bring another boater onto their craft. Never mind that his craft is sinking rapidly!

Inspector Rutledge is called in to investigate the farmer’s claims because the original investigator has suffered a heart attack. Rutledge is unable to find his predecessor’s notes on the case and must start afresh. He is surprised to realize that he has a connection to one of the accused. To his credit, Rutledge manages to keep his cool and meticulously search for solid evidence that might lead him to the exoneration of the young ladies and the capture of a cold-blooded killer.

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This mystery is a must-read for Charles Todd fans.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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A Step Back in Time

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The Taxidermist’s Daughter: A Novel by Kate Mosse (William Morrow, $26.99, 412 pages)

In a remote village near the English coast, residents gather in a misty churchyard. It is St. Mark’s Eve, when the ghosts of those who will die in the coming year are thought to walk.

Alone in the crowd is Constancia Gifford, the taxidermist’s daughter. Twenty-two and unmarried, she lives with her father on the fringes of town, in a decaying mansion cluttered on the remains of town, in a decaying mansion cluttered with the remains of his once world-famous museum of taxidermy. No one speaks of why the museum was shuttered or how the Giffords sank so low.

As the last peal of the midnight bell fades to silence, a woman is found dead – a stranger Connie noticed near the church.

A step back in time brings us to the early 1900s in Fishbourne, Chicester, West Sussex England. The author Kate Mosse (New York Times bestselling author of Labyrinth) is an accomplished writer of novels, non-fiction books and plays. Her writing style is consistent with the time she portrays. The specificity with which she slowly and gently unfolds her grisly tale is riveting, especially in light of the super fast action/thriller/mysteries we see today.

The physical book alerts the reader to the crafting and care embodied in The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Deckle pages add a touch of aged elegance, as do the illustrations marking each of the three parts of the tale and the start of each chapter. There is a detailed map of Fishbourne circa 1912 up front, which adds dimension and a sense of relationship between the sites where the action takes place. Readers would be wise to use a Post-It or page marker for ease in referencing the map. The Deckle edged pages are a bit difficult to separate for leafing back to the map.

taxidermist

Connie, the taxidermist’s daughter, lives with her father, Gifford, on an isolated marshland in an old house. A sequence of events in the marsh, nearby town and church is set forth by an unseen narrator in one type font and a series of first-person missives in a flowing italic font is interspersed between events. The missives are haunting and threatening. Clearly, there is a past deed that warrants retribution.

A murky mystery unravels as though the past is meeting up with the present. Author Mosse provides a wealth of information about the indigenous birds and plants of Fishbourne. The detail with which she lays out Connie’s skillful practice of taxidermy approaches textbook accuracy.

Be very aware that this tale is not for the casual reader of English mysteries. There is much to be learned within these pages both in terms of technical knowledge and human psychology.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on March 29, 2016.

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Saint Dominic’s Preview

Last Enchantments (nook book)

The Last Enchantments: A Novel by Charles Finch (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 336 pages)

Charles Finch has created a fictional memoir centered on a young man’s year in England studying at Oxford University. The narrator’s name is unknown as he prepares to depart New York and his long time live in girlfriend, Alison. We enter his life as he finishes packing while disentangling himself from Alison. We join him on his ride to the airport and flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Is disillusionment with the political scene all that is spurring him back to academia? Perhaps distancing himself from a failed political campaign and Alison is just what he needs.

There are clues to the era including references to working the campaign trail for John Kerry that provide the reader with a timeframe. Our narrator, Will, is a graduate student in the Oxford English department. After Finch establishes Will as his main character, he indulges himself with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the total Oxford experience, about which he possesses firsthand knowledge.

To his credit, Finch has the wonderful ability to create fresh phrases and hold the reader’s attention with well-described conflicting human emotions. Will and his fellow graduate students, both male and female, are influenced deeply by these emotions. There is a delicate balance among dialogue, inner musings and narrative. Alas, no quotes may be provided, as the review copy of the book sent by the publisher is an Advance Reader’s Edition.

This reviewer was surprised at the sheer volume of beer drinking, punting on the river and hooking up that takes place during Will’s year of living unencumbered. The pompous image this American has of students at Oxford was quickly erased! What’s striking is the ambiguity with which the characters view their relationships. Perhaps the delay of making adult commitments woven throughout The Last Enchantments is the norm for a certain group of folks these days.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Found In Translation

The Baker Street Translation: A Mystery by Michael Robertson (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 288 pages)

The Baker Street Translation

Author Michael Robertson crafts a charming series set in London based on a famous locale – 221B Baker Street. As any mystery/crime fan knows, that’s the address for Sherlock Holmes. The sleuthing duo for the Baker Street series consists of Reggie and Nigel Heath. Reggie, a barrister, keeps offices at the famous address. Reggie’s love interest, Laura Rankin, is torn between two suitors. Laura’s other suitor, Lord Robert Buxton, is a self-serving tabloid publisher who is easily deluded. Since he is ridiculously wealthy, what better name than Lord Buxton, a brand of wallet! Nigel has moved to the USA and is often called back to the United Kingdom to assist in solving the dilemmas Reggie becomes entangled in due to the Sherlock Holmes connection.

As usual, the intertwined plot lines are charming but a bit simple. The characters are perfect for the tale. Reggie enjoys swooping around corners and through the streets of London in his Jaguar. Laura is a beautiful movie star and the secondary characters are a bit eccentric. There’s an odd request made to Sherlock Holmes from a language translator, an elderly wealthy American woman wants to bequeath her estate to Homes and Lord Buxton goes missing.

The dialogue and scene descriptions contain plenty of puns and double entendres that enrich the reader’s experience. The story picks up where the prior book left off; however, readers new to the series will have no trouble following along. The book reads like a movie or TV show with a somewhat comical and stilted feeling. It’s reminiscent of a series written by astrologer Mitchel Scott Lewis that center around horoscopes – Death in the 12th House, Murder in the 11th House.

The newest addition to the Baker Street series is perfect for leisure reading! Cheerio.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book will be released in a trade paperback edition ($15.99) on February 25, 2014. A prior book, The Brothers of Baker Street, was reviewed earlier on this site:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/baker-street/

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