From Chicago author Libby Fischer Hellmann, here’s a top-notch mystery with a strong female main character, Georgia Davis.  She’s feisty, proud, confident and able.  She’s a good PI who isn’t a “superhero” type…meaning she get afraid and is not ashamed to show it.  In Doubleback, Davis gets involved with a kidnapping/murder/financial malfeasance plot that takes her from Chicago to the Arizona-Mexico border.  Hellmann’s writing style is good, though I think sometimes she can be a bit choppy.  But, the great character construction and well-laid-out plot make up for this. Though the plot can be a bit far-fetched (as most thrillers and mysteries can be), Davis also seems believable in her role…meaning she doesn’t just happen to “fall” into situations, rather the escapades she finds herself in are essential to the plot.   I would read more tales about Georgia Davis and her sometimes partner-in-crime Ellie Foreman (Hellmann does a series with Foreman as more of a primary character too).

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Knowing I’m always in the market for a good mystery, especially a good British one, I recently got a recommendation to read the Ruth Galloway series from Elly Griffiths.  And what I discovered is a fantastic new writer who weaves an excellent British mystery with an archaeological spin. Set in the eastern English county of Norfolk, Ruth is an archeologist who gets called in by the local authorities to check the age of a skeleton that was found. This find leads to Ruth getting emerged in a missing person’s case and a whole web of mystery and murder. I VERY MUCH liked the chemistry between Ruth and the inspector who works with her…Nelson. And a surprise at the end of the book means that their relationship is only beginning.  Nelson is the kind of “man-you-love-to-hate…” meaning he’s gruff and harsh, with a sweet side and a heart of gold.  And Ruth herself is a refreshing female mystery character, who is less amateur sleuth and more “right place, right time” gal.  She never ASKS to be involved in the police investigation…it just sort of happens.  And Ruth is full of spunk and vitality, though she’s more than her fair share of self-effacing. I will read more from Griffiths and look forward to where she leads Ruth and Nelson next!

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First of all, I don’t want to give the impression I am pitting these authors against each other. Anytime I see “vs.” between two names, I think of an anticipated boxing match. My goal here is to compare, non-violently, these two historical romantic suspense authors and help readers decide if one or both of these authors are for them.
First, Deanna Raybourn, who I have loved since her first book featuring Lady Julia Grey, Silent in the Grave, is an author with an exceedingly light touch. A light touch in writing style…a light touch when it comes to Lady Julia and a light touch when it comes to the story. Nothing ever gets too dark or threatening here. Even when Lady Julia or another character, such as her P.I. husband Nicholas, encounters a dangerous and potentially fatal situation, Raybourn always shines a little air of affability into the mix. Saying that, this does not mean I do not savor everything Lady Julia does. I do and I try my best to wait patiently for her next book. All I’m saying is that there is no sense of continual doom with Raybourn like there are with some suspense writers. She keeps it light…and I keep reading.
Onto Tasha Alexander, who I first discovered at a mystery writer’s conference where I bought a book and had Alexander sign it based on hearing her speak. But, the book sat on my shelves for over a year until Julia Keller, the Chicago Tribune’s Cultural Critic, wrote a piece on Alexander (December 4, 2011, Arts and Entertainment) for Keller’s LitLife column. So, I got the book, A Fatal Waltz, out, dusted it off and began, quite pleased I did. Unlike Raybourn, Alexander’s writing style is a little more refined, a little more literary. I hesitate to say more polished, since I think Raybourn is a good writer, but Alexander’s entire style does enhance the affluent world that her main character, Lady Emily Ashton, lives in. Both Raybourn’s Lady Julia and Alexander’s Lady Emily are wealthy Victorian London crime-solving ladies, but the way Alexander writes her tales includes the required upper-class effect. Does this mean I like Alexander more? No. It means that when I’m looking for something lighter, I will reach for Raybourn and Lady Julia. When I am ready for something more meaty and more challenging, I’ll pull out another Alexander and Lady Emily.
Both writers create fiercely strong ladies who enjoy solving crimes, even though it’s highly unladylike in late 1800s London. Both writers weave compelling stories that hold the reader’s interest from start to finish. Basically, both writers excel in this genre (or is historical romantic suspense a SUBgenre?). Try both and see for yourself.

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Lucy and Nate kiss under the famed Venice “Bridge of Sighs” which has years of legend and mysticism about it, saying anyone who kisses under it is sealed for a lifetime.  After the couple loses touch, years later they reconnect.  Can the legend be true?  At first, Lucy thinks it might be, but then things change.  Not deep (it is chick lit after-all), but one of the better new chick lit authors I’ve read in a while, even though it gets a little silly towards the end.  And when the “mysterious” artist Lucy is trying to win over (she works for a NYC art gallery) is named ARTSY, ala Banksy, I almost lost the faith.  But, my persistence paid off with a rewarding ending.  Overall, this one is LOTS of fun and VERY sweet. 
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OK — I LOVE this series but some of the more recent ones of the series have been just so-so. As with all of them in the Lady Julia Grey series, Raybourn pairs Grey with her now-husband, private investigator Nicholas Brisbane, who is trying his best to control Julia’s wild and un-ladylike impulses. In this book, Brisbane and Julia find themselves embroiled in a murder inquiry where psychics and séances are par for the course. Naturally, their lives are in perpetual danger as they do their investigating, but that never slows them down much. Since they are now married, the sexual tension has been replaced by a type of fun, bickering tension…Brisbane is always worried about Julia…Julia is always upset he does not include her in his investigating. Yes, it sounds a little tedious, but somehow Raybourn makes it work. The first one in this series, Silent in the Grave, is still the best, but this one is a close second! I’m glad Raybourn is back in top form!

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This is my first novel from Chicago-area novelist Laura Caldwell and I loved it.  It’s fun and light, but it has enough oomph to surpass romances and other lighter chick lit fair.  Caldwell’s writing style is easy going and breezy, just like the story here, which revolves around three friends who have been pals for years but are going through a “seven-year itch” in their friendship. The storyteller of the book, Casey, has been in a relationship for a while and that has changed the friendships she has. So, all three friends decide to take a trip to Italy and Greece to have fun and re-bond, but things begin to go awry quite quickly.  So, basically, you have the best of both worlds here…travel and light romance.  It’s fun and entertaining, while never being too fluffy.  Another author for me to savor! 

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Once again, Isabel Wolff and her chick lit do not disappoint.  Yes, it’s light.  Yes, it’s predictable.  But, it’s fun.  And Wolff is a strong author who can create strong characters and semi-believable tales.  This one finds the main character Ella Graham as a popular portrait painter in London’s inner circles.  Her newly-engaged sister commissions a portrait of her fiancé and Ella encounters problems when she finds herself attractive to the fiancé.  Other fascinating storylines stem from the different clients Ella is assigned to paint, but the main focus is Ella’s woes with her sister’s fiancé.  Wolff combines just the right combination of wispy prose with heartfelt stories and quality writing for this to be a perfect weekend read! 
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Not one of Berg’s best but still a strong tale of woe among 50-something divorcees.  The main female character, Irene, got a little tiresome after a while since I so disagreed with a lot of choices in both parenting and dealing with her ex-husband.  But, John, the ex, is a strongly written, interesting male voice in modern-day America.  I felt John had his feet planted more in the real world than Irene, especially when dealing with their 18-year-old daughter.  If you’ve read Berg (and other women’s fiction) and liked her, you will mostly like this one.

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In a previous post, I spoke of all of the books I read on my iPad while on vacation. Here short reviews of the titles that I read:

Brett, Simon — The Body on the Beach – The first of Brett’s Fethering mysteries, this is a fun cozy mystery set in a smallish coastal town in the South of England. The two main characters become amateur sleuths as they investigate a body that one of them found on the beach.

Crombie, Deborah — Where Memories Lie – An intense mystery featuring Crombie’s English police team of Kincaid and James. This one involves a diamond brooch that was stolen by the Nazis and belongs to a woman who needs to get to the bottom of why people associated with the brooch are turning up dead.

Fielding, Joy — Missing Pieces – A page-turning thriller that also has its fair share of family drama. Married with teen kids, Kate is a therapist whose former flame has just reentered her life and sister is in love with a serial killer. As Kate’s home life continues to unravel, her sister makes some decisions that jeopardize all of their lives.

Keyes, Marian — Sushi for Beginners – Lisa finally gets the promotion she’s been waiting for…but it’s Dublin, Ireland…not NYC, where all the movers and shakers are. On the other hand, Ashling LOVES Dublin and her new job working for Lisa. As always with chick lit, there are several different men who add complication to the plot. LOTS of fun…as usual from Keyes.

Rendell, Ruth — Murder Being Once Done – Rendell’s Chief Inspector Wexford is at it once again…this time in London, where he’s recuperating after a heart attack. But Wexford doesn’t know the meaning of the word REST, especially when he stumbles into a case of multiple murders.

Wickham, Madeleine — The Gatecrasher – Wickham (who also writes under her pen name Sophie Kinsella) once again scores with a weightier, meatier tale than she writes as Kinsella. This time, she features a main character who crashes funerals, hoping the new widower will be wealthy. Vivid characters outshine Wickham’s plot…but still lots of fun!

Winspear, Jacqueline — A Lesson in Secrets – Winspear’s 8th outing with her continuing sleuth Maisie Dobbs, who’s a spunky young PI in England between WWI and WWII. This time, Maisie is undercover in a college when the principal is murdered. Dobbs then reveals her true identity as a detective and begins to solve the crime.

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Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver is a novel set in Grace, Arizona.  Codi and Hallie are the daughters of eccentric Doc Homer who watches them with great concern.  They are sweet and gentle girls.  Doc Homer insists they wear orthopedic shoes to their dismay. 
The stories take place during the revolution in Nicaragua.  Hallie joins the cause to help the people, not to fight, but to teach the children and to heal people.
Codi keeps looking back at her dreaded childhood.  She also has to keep track of Doc Homer who is sinking into dementia.  She doesn’t feel confident of herself.  Yet, as the story progresses, she becomes a fine teacher.  She concerns herself with the students.  Codi gives them sex education.  The class tests the nearby waters and finds the Ph is off the charts.  So they alert the town about the water problem.
The native citizens of Grace loved displays of religious objects.  “Some people had business with the saints on November 1, and went to Mass, but on November 2 ‘everybody’ had business at the graveyard.”
The intricacies of the Navaho, Apache, and other tribes are realistic. The romance is dreamy.  The writing is fantastic-a poetic journey ending in a paradise on earth.
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