Book Review – Fatal Fortune



Fatal Fortune
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

As an avid reader, one of my favorite things in the world is a book that’s part of a larger series with repeating characters. Picking up where the last book left off always feels like visiting old friends, and it’s always fun to check in with the gang to see what’s new. It’s no surprise, then, that I was excited to get my hands on the newest Abby Cooper mystery, this one entitled Fatal Fortune.

In this twelfth installment of the Psychic Eye series, Abby finds herself defending the reputation of her best friend Cassidy against what can only be described as damning evidence. Cassidy is caught on surveillance footage killing a man in cold blood. But, as Cassidy tells Abby, “It’s not how it looks.”

When even Cassidy’s FBI husband doubts her innocence, it’s up to Abby to feel out the ether and use her intuitive abilities to find Cassidy and clear her name…even if it puts her own life and freedoms at risk.

Fans of Laurie’s Psychic Eye series are sure to love this latest edition. It’s fast-paced and has the reader sitting on the edge of his seat throughout every page. The twists and turns keep the reader guessing, and it’s truly not until the last few pages are turned that the reader fully grasps the complexity of planning that casts suspicion on Cassidy in the first place.

New readers to this series can rest assured that they can pick up in the middle and not feel the gaping holes of missing background information that often accompanies a book in the midst of a larger series. One of the things Laurie does best is bring a new reader up to date on the characters without boring long-time fans with what feels like extraneous information. She gives exactly enough information to refresh the memories of old readers while bringing new readers up to date.

Fatal Fortune is definitely a good read and one I’d recommend to both longtime fans of this series and those unfamiliar with it. It’s simply a great summer read!

Good reads all summer long!

Review by Helen McIver

Summer is a time for indulgence – a time to get away from it all.
You don’t have to travel, skip the trip and get lost in a good book!
Enjoy the ‘forbidden’ pleasures of reading by the pool, in the shade, in a hammock, on the beach. And remember to read to your child, a grandchild, any child!

Sarah Jio. Goodnight June 2014

I have recommended several of her books before: I simply loved her first novel The Violets of March (which also won a library journal best book of 2011 award, and especially Blackberry Winter and The Last Camellia (still my favourite). Her books take place in a variety of places, from NYC to PNW to England to the Pacific and are often historical love stories/mysteries. I think they are perfect summer reads, for escapes in time, place with fascinating characters and interesting historical events. This tale is also published by Penguin Books, notes for their good literary reads.

Once again she has written a lovely tale, this time about one of our favourite childhood stories Goodnight Moon, (Margaret Wise Brown 1947) because no one knows what inspired her to write this story.
This is a delightful heartwarming story that will make you wish you had a bookstore. It is an important story about installing a love of reading in children (and grandchildren). There are a number of mysteries and secrets that are uncovered mostly through letters between Aunt Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown. Don’t miss this tender story, foremost of family and the importance of being there, forgiveness and second chances.

“When you are looking for something, it is right where you find it.”

“We didn’t have much, but we always had books.”

4 stars (only because, while charming, it was predictable. And disbelief with Bill Gates)
Popular with book clubs


“I know not how the world is went.”

Review by Helen McIver

I love it when scholars turn their hand to historical novels. Their fiction can breath new life into characters we know remarkably little about. Or indeed some we think we know quite a bit about. For example, Hilary Mantel (Pulitzer prizes: Wolf Hall, Bringing up the Bodies) Deborah Harkness (Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night) Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series- yes I am well into the throes of the 7th installment).

And now:

Bruce Holsinger with A Burnable Book. He is an award medieval literary scholar (University of Virginia) whose debut fiction immerses you immediately into medieval London (1385). This is the world of Chaucer, whom we all recognize for his historical significance if you haven’t actually read his Canterbury tales (and really, don’t miss them, in almost any translation!). He has been vividly brought to life within these pages, and yet this book is about another poet John Gower and their complex interwoven lives and political intrigues of Richard IIs England. There is a missing manuscript which prophesies the death of the kings of England.
This is a riveting tale of poets, princes and politics with London as a central character. It is actually three cities, the walled city of London, and Outside: Southwark and Westminster. Several voices from these locations reveal the intricate layers of the story. The time is after the Black Death and the portrayal of medieval life from the slums and stews to clergy and castles is fascinating. It was also a pivotal year for the aristocratic classes. Holsinger’s use of unusual documents to create characters based on actual historical figures makes for a very compelling read. This is a clever, entertaining literary mystery full of period detail which intrigues you while forcibly repelling you. I have zero desire to live in Chaucer’s England. But I had to investigate more on who Gower was, and what he wrote.

“Agnes ….suspects the import of what she holds. A woman has just died for it, a man has just killed.
For what? ….
A cloth, a book, a snatch of verse.
Which was worth dying for?”

“If you build your own life around the secret lives of others, if you erect your house on the corrupt foundations of theirs, you soon come to regard all useful knowledge as your due. Information becomes your entitlement. You pay handsomely for it, you use it selectively and well. If you are not exactly trusted in certain circles, you are respected, and your name carries a certain weight. You are rarely surprised, and never deceived. Yet there may come a time when your knowledge will betray you.”
“London often treats the passing of winter into spring with cold indifference. That year was no different. February had been an unforgiving month, March worse, and as the city scraped along towards April the air seemed to grow only more bitter, the sky more grey, the rain more penetrating as it lifted every hint of warmth from surfaces of timber and stone.”
“However innocent on its face, no request from Chaucer was ever straightforward.”

My next new author!

The Collector of Lost Things (2013) by Jeremy Page

Review by Helen McIver
My next new British author – I must immediately find his first two books, Salt and Sea Change. Page is also a great photographer and screenwriter. He grew up on the north Norfolk coast where half of his world was the sea. The first book has biographical elements and this book he says he was always interested in the Arctic. The meticulous research creates a wonderfully vivid prose, while his poetic language transports you to the place and time: the desolate, freezing, dangerous beauty of the Victorian Arctic. A young researcher/ naturalist Eliot Saxby joins an 1845 arctic expedition to find the mythical possibly extinct (1844) Great Auk. But he’s on a trading (hunting) ship The Amethyst with a dubious motley crew. It used to be a slave ship, which also provides a sense of foreboding. There are excellent seafaring details and life on board: oil lamps. Sheep’s head clocks, canvas sinks, lime washed shiplapped wood of his tight quarters, mizzensail, masts (14 sails) and salt. You are in the middle of the icy, grey weather, the frigid relentless cold, and the devastating isolation in which you are easily lost. In a sea of madmen, how could it get worse? It does. Don’t read this in winter.

The Collector of Lost Things is a dark gothic tale filled with haunting mystery, obsession and doom. The use of the claustrophobic ship in an isolated harsh environment with an uneven, barbaric crew feels like a descent into madness at times. There is a building tension between the moral sensibilities and commercial motivation, with questionable sanity, violence and cruelty. But here is also the possibility of love, wonder of nature, and hope that creates a thrilling tale.

The Collector is an engaging historical novel which was inspired by true stories by European explorers / traders, who exploited the marine environment. It is a rather brutal telling of profit especially for the last known specimens which were sold to museums and collectors. That this happens to be particularly relevant to our own times with the destruction of the environment, and specifically the Arctic and Antarctic, is depressing. The graphic descriptions of slaughter and animal cruelty was an horrific reality then, worse, it is still happening. The detailed butchery of seals, walrus, seagulls, anything in its wake can make for difficult but still essential reading. This is a complex but ultimately rewarding tale. (Perhaps not a beach read!)

“It felt as though the ship was a tree among a forest of trees, further hidden by a thicket of thorns and climbers, rigging growing over her and the ships moored alongside, purposefully disguised….I couldn’t see the ship and perhaps I never saw it for what it was.”
“These things move towards us from the horizons, whether we set sail for them or not.”
…”I worried that I might not be able to cope with his enthusiasms, in such confined quarters.”
“It was an unknown environment with its own rules.”
“The worlds of ocean and ice were meeting in a frontier of rage, as if the earth had torn in two along this line.”
“We have filled the hull of this ship with dead things. It is the weight of their souls that has caused us all to suffer.”
“Perhaps one day, man will save the Arctic in all it’s multitude of extraordinary life, but perhaps by then man will be too late, as he always seems to be.”

Literary Hitmen?!!

The Way of All Fish by Martha Grimes

review by Helen McIver

Martha Grimes is a superb mystery writer, official Grand Master, known for a number of series (the proper British Richard Jury/Melrose Plant, the teenage amnesiac Andi Oliver who battles animal abuse, and the literary mysteries of 12 year old sleuth Emma Graham). I highly recommend her poetry and short stories/novellas.
In 2003 after Grimes was “let go” from her long time publisher Knopf, she published a wickedly funny satire on the publishing industry, Foul Matter. Now in a sequel The Way of All Fish, we meet again Candy and Karl, the two literary hit men with conscience. This time they can’t take out the target (a literary agent) because they want to protect the writer Cindy Sella. She would become the prime suspect as the agent has a nuisance suit against her. Instead, they develop a zany rather convoluted plot, with a motley crew to harass him, and succeed admirably! There are many laugh out loud moments during the literary ride from NYC, to the Florida Everglades to Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh to a Pennsylvanian monastery. There are many clever literary allusions to classical mystery writers which you will enjoy. I am still laughing a few months later over some of the Monty Pythonesque moments and their amateur literary critiques/ opinions, and thought this would be a good beach read. It is more romp than mystery but very entertaining. I would like to see Candy and Karl again in another mystery.
I just saw it on display at Barnes and Noble and know the library has her mysteries. Altho not necessary, I would recommend reading Foul Matter first (to be familiar with many of the characters who reappear).
“Oddly, given all the cordite misting the air like cheap champagne, the customers (of the Clownfish Cafe) didn’t get shot; it was the owner’s aquarium…that exploded.”
(40 fish flopped around, 1/3 clownfish and were rescued by customers to water pitchers and wine glasses in the opening sequence!)
“They holstered their weapons as efficiently as they’d drawn them, like the cops they were not……the book business is like rolling around Afghanistan on skateboards” ….
“Books had added a new dimension to their lives. Books were to die for. Literally….how would they have ever guessed that the publishing world was so shot through with acrimony that they’d just as soon kill you as publish you?”
“Lawyers to the right of her, lawyers to the left, lawyers in front, lawyers behind,” one person remarks. “Is there a vision of hell, even in Dante, that could possibly compete with that?”
If you liked Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants (humour) or Richard Condon’s hit man Prizzi, you will like this. I would also suggest the Thomas Perry mystery series featuring another hit man, beginning with The Butcher’s Boy (1982). These are not for the feint of heart, but are tremendous reads.


Time Abroad is Never Wasted


The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch. Given the title and the name of the author I thought “Oh! Another Victorian mystery, but set in Oxford!” As in the gentlemen detective Charles Lennox in 7 erudite mysteries, with the 8th to be published this year The Laws of Murder. This book, however, is contemporary literary fiction, with more than a twist of memoir I suspect. It is also a well written, readable, interesting thought provoking novel. The privileged WASP protagonist is in his mid twenties, somewhat immature, naive and untempered, feeling adrift with the political campaign loss. He decides to take a hiatus/sabbatical (i.e graduate studies in literature) at Oxford. It is an older coming of age story, concerning a contemporary generation and gender I am somewhat removed from. I thought Will was a cad with unusual remarkable American charm, but still a bounder. That you like him and sympathize with his interior life is due primarily to excellent writing, clever plotting and intriguing host of characters which are integral to the story. Certainly an interesting perspective of the younger generation, with literary twists. The atmosphere is spot on, with wonderful descriptions of British academia and Oxford. The title is a relevant, haunting Mathew Arnold quote from his Essays in Criticism (1865): “Oxford whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age . . . Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties!”

Thoughts of this book lingered over several discussions concerning the themes of this book. Who are the speech writers of campaigns, how young is idealism, what differences in American and British universities, cultural differences in generation and privilege (the phrase American pet irks), noting marriage is no longer the next step on graduating (either high school or college), men’s behaviour vs women’s, teenage to adult angst – while I am also hunting for the greater good and personal responsibility. I understand a sense of greater freedom, perhaps more potential, but those aren’t irrevocably lost by aging.

“When you’re finally grown-up, one of the things you find is that there are no grown-ups.”

You will like this if you are a reader (great literary references), an English major (including former degrees!), an expat, anyone who loves the magic of Oxford (as the town plays a central character) or an academic (without having to experience office politics). I am ready to go back to his Victorian era any time too.



Summer books!

Have you made your book selections/reading list for summer yet? There is so much to chose from! And many much awaited soon to be published sequels!
These are some (20) of my (Helen McIver) favourite books so far, as well as a few I have on preorder!
**Bruce Holsinger A Burnable Book (Anyone who liked Pulitzer Prize winner Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies will love this.)
**Deborah Harkness The Book of Life (Much anticipated final chapter (gasp) Discovery of Witches trilogy)
*Nancy Horan Under the Wide and Starry Sky (interesting historical novel about Franny Stevenson wife of Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson)
*Anthony Holden Poems that make Grown Cry (You might even memorize a few!)
*Gabrielle Zevin Storied life of AJ Fikry. (Highly entertaining, thought provoking)
Diana Gabaldon Written in my own Heart’s Blood (Long awaited next installment in the Claire and Jaime time travel saga. Don’t forget the television series in August!)
Charlaine Harris Midnight Crossing. (A new series, with a few old friends from previous series, you might end up reading something other than Sookie, and enjoying them more.)
Craig Johnson Any Other Name (Walt Longmire, legendary Wyoming sheriff)
*Charles Todd Unwilling Accomplice (Bess Crawford, WWI English Army nurse, 6th installment)
*Nicola Upson Death of Lucy Kyte (This series breathes life into Scottish mystery writer Josephine Tey. Be warned you will read all of her original novels too.)
*Jacqueline Winspear Care And Management of Lies
Amanda Quick Otherwise Engaged (Historical English romp)
Children’s /YA
Kathy Reichs Exposure (continuing the Virals series)
**Ransom Riggs Hollow City (Miss Peregrine) (The series continues.)
**Maria Semple Where’d You Go Bernadette? A MUST read book; you will thank me.
*Janice MacLeod Paris letters (Making young love work in the city of light.)
*Carol Wall Mr Owita’s Guide to Gardening (Gardening is good for the soul, although you will need hankies.)
Science fiction
Terry Pratchett Raising Steam (Yes it feels a bit like saying goodbye to your favourite characters but don’t miss this installment.)
*Douglas Nicholas Something Red, The Wicked (Medieval mystery that grabs you and doesn’t let go. Especially if you are still missing Game of Thrones.)
Elizabeth Kolbert The Sixth Extinction (Everyone needs to read this sobering environmental book. The next cataclysm is us. Look in the mirror, we are responsible, and need to be.)
* denotes great read
** denotes a MUST read!

Mystery for summer!

Midnight Crossing by Charlaine Harris

Review by Helen McIver

This is the first of a trilogy, in a new urban fantasy, cosy mystery series. I was a fan of the Harper Connolly series which had elements of supernatural but realistic stories, more so than Sookie and so this book appealed to me (although vampires are still involved). There are characters that have appeared in her other books, in fact two major ones, Bobo and Manfred, were youngsters with unrequited love. They have moved on in a sense, but moved here? Midnight Texas is an unusual western town at best, peculiar to say the least, but completely interesting. I enjoyed the descriptive style which unveils secrets and character development layer by layer…. Each character has secrets, and even knowing the back stories of some, there are many unanswered questions for book two. There is a charming witch (with an hysterical cat, mr snuggles) who’s interested in the owner of the pawn shop who’s depressed after his girlfriend left him, but who’s corpse becomes the mystery but only part of the plot. The band of quirky misfits also include an ominous minister, a possible assassin, the online psychic and a dangerous religious gang. You will have to figure out who the serial killer is. However, you will also still be curious about the continued stories and the expected character development and can’t wait to discover what else that cat can do.