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Their ogres relish throwing roadblocks in their way. Billy Youngwolf Floyd and Madison (Mads) Murray. Billy’s mom, Anna, threw herself off Seattle’s Aurora Bridge. Mads, in Seattle to study for the real estate license she doesn’t want (but her mother does), discovers the body (although Billy doesn’t know this). After the discovery, Mads becomes obsessed with finding what could have possibly pushed Anna to the brink.

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Of course, Billy and Mads must meet…under awkward circumstances…and fall for each other. Of course the ogres are in their glory, setting up roadblocks to their budding romance. Of course there is heated passion. Of course there is disappointment.

Billy and Mads are savers. He wants to save animals from cruel owners. She wants to save her infant next door neighbor, Ivy, from her lousy parents. The question is can they save themselves from themselves, either alone or together?

Have you ever read a book that you like at the beginning, but about two thirds of the way through, it’s too much of a good thing and you speed read to finish because you’re invested? Well, Essential Maps for the Lost by Deb Caletti is just such a book.

Caletti, author of the popular The Last Forever, The Six Rules of Maybe, Wild Roses and, of course, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart begins Essential Maps for the Lost as follows:

“Here’s the biggest truth right up front: The way Mads and Billy Youngwolf Floyd met was horrible, hideous. Anyone will agree. You will, too. You’ll think it’s awful. And then maybe beautiful, which is precisely the point. When the story gets sad and terrible, when there are too many mistakes to count, hang on for the beautiful parts. Wait for them. Have some faith they’ll arrive. This is also precisely the point: the hanging on. The waiting, the faith.”

It is certainly an unusual use of language. However, after 270 pages, it was too much of a good thing. I was ready for ‘normal’ language. I was invested. I liked Mads and I liked Billy. I wanted a happy ending. So I read on…actually skimmed the remaining 60 pages…to find out what happened.

Essential Maps for the Lost is a good book, no doubt about it. Something, though, made it miss being a great book.

 

Madly by Amy Award

Despite commitment issues…with trilogies, that is…I was convinced to read Madly by Amy Alward, the first in the Potion trilogy. I’m glad I did. Will I read volumes 2 and 3? I can’t commit!

Madly

When Princess Evelyn mistakenly drinks the love potion she prepared for Zain, she falls in love with the first person she sees, which happens to be her reflection in a mirror. Of course the royal family can’t have this. Plus it’s wreaking havoc with her magic…and her life.

The King calls a Wilde Hunt, an ancient tradition in which alchemists the world over try to find the exact ingredients for the antidote, for anything less will kill Princess Evelyn. Taking place in the current century, the Hunt pits the Kemi family, primarily Samantha Kemi apprenticing as an alchemist to her grandfather, who hails from a long line of famous, old-school alchemists against the ZoroAster corporation, a manufacturer of synthetic potion ingredients.

Madly nicely blends the old and the new. Characters zip around in cars and trucks, fly on airplanes and teleport. They communicate via social media, telecasts, cell phones, etc. Yet they use Bunsen burners, test tubes, and mortars and pestles. They look for ingredients including flowers, unicorns, abominable snowmen…the things fairy tales are made of. There is danger at every turn.

And what would a fairy tale be, old or modern, without a wicked witch and a love interest, both of which are here in full force. For a fun read, fairy tale, adventure, romance, try Madly out. You may be bewitched.

 

A Darker Shade of Sweden

When a book states “original stories from Sweden’s Greatest Crime Writers” one ( or I) would assume that the stories in the anthology would be mystery stories. But you know what happens when you ‘assume’. So, as you can guess, many of the stories in A Darker Shade of Sweden were far from mysteries, most glaringly a story about brain transplants from Steig Larsson, who apparently preferred science fiction to mystery, regardless of his huge selling Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series.

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A Darker Shade of Sweden, indeed, contains stories from some of Sweden’s greatest crime writers including Larsson, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Henning Mankell and Hakan Nesser, Asa Larsson and Eva Gabrielsson (Larsson’s partner). And it does have some good mysteries such as Katarina Wennstam’s Too Late Shall the Sinner Awaken about someone explaining a murder 25 years after the fact or Veronica von Schenck’s Maitreya about stolen artifacts.

The most notable odd, non-mystery story was clearly Steig Larsson’s Brain Power followed by Stowall and Wahloo’s The Multi-Millionaire about a millionaire father who makes his son rough it for a year before inheriting the fortune.

As a huge fan of Nordic mystery TV (The Bron) and books in Arnaldur Indridason’s Inspector Erlendur series, my expectations of this book were not met. What did I get out of this? Well, an author or two that I might try out, primarily Katarina Wennstam and Veronica von Schenck. Other than that, not much. Is A Darker Shade of Sweden going to stay in my library? Probably not.

 

When a fishing party casts a line and snags what looks like a person, Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef and her team are called to the scene. However, what looks like a human body under water turns out to be a mannequin. The police divers who retrieved the ‘body’ state that it was weighted down.

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Further investigation revealed numbers on the mannequin which turn out to be an internet address. Micallef and team locate the website to find a body being tortured in what looks like real time.

Simultaneously, the ‘summer story’ in the local newspaper bears a striking resemblance to the mystery Micallef is trying to solve.

Thus starts what, in my mind, is almost a Keystone Kops search for the truth. While I enjoyed reading The Taken and its predecessor, The Calling, the bumbling that seemed real and even endearing in the previous book became too much. By the end of The Taken, I believe that the Port Dundas Detective Inspector succeeds in spite of herself rather than because of her understanding of the situation.

In addition, my favorite characters were either not included in The Taken (renegade Detective Sergeant Adjutor Sevigny) or only make a cameo appearance (thorn in her side Detective Howard Spere).

The plot in The Taken is totally unbelievable. Even Micallef’s relationships with her ex-husband and his new wife don’t ring true. While I’d probably give The Calling 4 stars because of its novelty, The Taken is down to 3 1/2. I think I’ll pass on the last two books in the series to stifle the downward trend in star ratings.

When Delia Chandler is found dead in her home with her throat slit, it is up to 61 year old Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef to find the killer. She is acting head of her small police force, three detectives, in the sleepy town of Port Dundas. Rarely is there a murder to investigate. Usually the excitement consists of speeding tickets, car accidents, drunken driving and between herself and Detective Sergeant Ray Greene, everything gets taken care of.

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Always under the assumption that her boss is trying to consolidate local police forces to reduce overhead and manpower, Micallef is reluctant to ask for help. However, when a similar murder arises, help is required and is supplied in the form of James Wingate, a replacement for a retired detective, to the shock of Micallef and her staff.

As Micallef and her detectives dig deeper, they find similar unsolved cases and realize they have a very smart and efficient serial killer on their hands, traveling from one coast of Canada to the other. Does this small force have the resources and knowledge to catch him before he commits another murder?

Wolfe, pseudonym for Canadian author Michael Redhill, has created a group of detectives and ancillary characters that should carry them further than the current three books in the series, if that’s his intention. Micallef is your typical divorced 60 year old, with a shaky relationship with her ex-husband, their children and her mother, with whom she lives. Ray Greene is her trusted second in command and Jim Wingate is the smart newcomer. Of course there’s also the loose cannon in the form of Detective Sergeant Adjutor Sevigny, on loan from Toronto.  Rounding out the detective squad is Detective Howard Spere, normally offputting, but actually helpful and key to the investigation.

Micallef’s 80+ year old mother, the former mayor of Port Dundas, is trying to slim her daughter down so she can find another man and feeds her inedible, unsatisfying food, yet she eats what she wants, has weekly poker games and knows how to live. It is an interesting contrast.

The plot of The Calling is interesting and can pose some food for thought. The ending is a little too abrupt but that’s OK because the journey to get there is both funny, sad and mystifying.

 

 

Unbecoming by Jenny Downham

There are two major things going on in Katie’s life simultaneously: (1) Katie kissed her best friend, Esme, and now they’re not friends and (2) Mary, the grandmother Katie never met, has come to live with them. Mary’s partner, Jack, suddenly passed away, listing Katie’s mother, Caroline, as the person to contact in an emergency. The thing is, Mary has dementia and she and Caroline do not get along.

Unbecoming

As the school term has just ended, Katie volunteers to care for Mary while proper care is arranged, which suits her mother. The two form a close bond and Mary in her lucid moments tells of her life, both sad and happy. Katie learns that Mary left Caroline in the care of Mary’s sister, Pat, since Mary at 16 was not capable of raising an illegitimate child. Katie learns of Mary’s ‘carefree’ life in the London theater, as well as the regrets of losing Caroline.

There is so much going on in Unbecoming, a wonderful, bittersweet novel. Downham gently explores Katie’s sexuality, the family’s intergenerational dynamics and Katie’s special needs brother, Chris. The rapport between grandmother and granddaughter is gratifying. The contrast between a ‘carefree’ grandmother and her overly careful daughter makes one wonder which traits are genetic and which are learned. Although none of us can really know how a person with early Alzheimers feels, moments of lucidity offset by moments of clouded memory, Downham ably puts us in Mary’s head, a difficult feat.

One of the best books I’ve read this year and one that will probably make my 2016 Top Ten list, Unbecoming is a tender novel that will warm your heart.

 

There’s a reason that Black Mask is/was the premier pulp mystery magazine for so long. It had the best. In the introduction to A Cent A Story! The Best from Ten Detective Aces, editor Garyn G. Roberts makes the case that Ten Detective Aces magazine was cutting edge at the time. Well, based on the 10 stories in this anthology, it is nowhere near cutting edge.

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Debuting in 1928 and originally entitled The Dragnet and changed to Detective-Dragnet Magazine and ultimately to Ten Detective Aces in 1933, Roberts states that “…a small detective pulp debuted which would in its own way substantially mold the form for detectives to come.” “…and for his dime, the reader got ten fast-paced mysteries, complete in each issue.” Only a cent a story!

True, the anthology does contain stories by some of the pulp greats: Norvell Page, Lester Dent, Frederick C. Davis. However, if you are looking for hard boiled mystery, gritty, noir, the stuff of Hammett and Chandler, you won’t find it in A Cent A Story! The stories are strange, off beat, which is OK. It just isn’t my cup of tea.

I love everything mystery pulp and am glad I read this, but if you’re a novice in the pulp mystery genre and want to start slow, I’d suggest The Black Mask Boys: Masters in the Hard-Boiled School of Detective Fiction edited by William F. Nolan with eight great stories or The Hardboiled Dicks edited by Ron Goulart.

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