Category Archives: Books

Review: The Art Whisperer by Charlotte and Aaron Elkins

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The art whispere

Title: The Art Whisperer (Alix London #3)

Authors: Charlotte and Aaron Elkins

Published: August 19, 2014 by Thomas Mercer

Genre: Mystery

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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When art conservator Alix London spots a forgery, she knows trouble will follow. So she’s understandably apprehensive when her connoisseur’s eye spots something off about a multimillion-dollar Jackson Pollock painting at Palm Springs’s Brethwaite Museum—her current employer. Alix is already under fire, the object of a vicious online smear campaign. Now the Brethwaite’s despicable senior curator, obsessed with the “maximization of monetized eyeballs,” angrily refuses to decommission the celebrated Pollock piece. But it’s only when a hooded intruder attacks Alix in her hotel room that the real trouble begins. And when FBI Special Agent Ted Ellesworth—with whom Alix had inadvertently, but thoroughly, botched a budding relationship just a year prior—turns up to investigate the Pollock, Alix knows she’s about to have her hands full. In her third mystery, Alix London must see through mirages in the desert to uncover the knotted history of the painting—and save herself in the process.

The Art Whisperer is my second Alix London mystery, although I think it would work fine as a stand-alone: recurring characters are introduced with enough background so you know who they are but not so much that it bogs down the story. Alix is doing some restoration work for a small museum in Palm Springs, but, of course, it can’t be that simple. The Pollock is probably a fake, someone’s trying to kill her, and the head curator at the museum is just a bit sleazy. First, a disclaimer – I like art mysteries. The combo of art and the people who surround it, collectors, experts, forgers with murder, theft, mayhem tends to draw me in. Add a smart female amateur sleuth, very light bit of romance and I’m hooked. The mystery this time around comes down to whose blacklist is Alix on and why? Between the smear campaign and the threat to her life, she’s obviously in somebody’s line of fire, but who. We’ve got a nice list of suspects, folks who work at the museum mostly, each with their own quirks and possible motives. And of course, it’s not surprise that I guessed wrong. The FBI Agent/love interest shows up near the end, but he doesn’t save the day. Actually he doesn’t do much for the plot itself, but I like him. Although I admit the scene at the end where they declare their feelings seemed a little cheesy and awkward. This is one of those mysteries where there’s nothing really outstanding, but it’s a fun, and quick, read.

Audiobook Review: The Devil’s Workshop by Alex Grecian

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Devil's Workshop

Title: The Devil’s Workshop (The Murder Squad #3)

Author: Alex Grecian

Narrator: John Curless

Published: May 20, 2014 by Penguin Audio

Genre: Mystery

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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London, 1890. Four vicious murderers have escaped from prison, part of a plan gone terribly wrong, and now it is up to Walter Day, Nevil Hammersmith, and the rest of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad to hunt down the convicts before the men can resume their bloody spree. But they might already be too late. The killers have retribution in mind, and one of them is heading straight toward a member of the Murder Squad, and his family.

And that isn’t even the worst of it. During the escape, the killers have stumbled upon the location of another notorious murderer, one thought gone for good but now prepared to join forces with them.

Jack the Ripper is loose in London once more.

I’ve mentioned before that my ratings are entirely subjective. It’s my reaction to the book. I feel like a 2 is perhaps unfair to The Devil’s Workshop, but really I didn’t enjoy for several reasons. I’ve read the other two in the series and enjoyed them well enough, especially the first, but this one just didn’t work for me.

Day and Hammersmith are still good as partners. They’re determined, dogged, and upstanding. They’re determined to do the right thing, even when it’s not necessarily the easiest. And Hammersmith seems to be unkillable.

If I had read more reviews or spoilers I may have known to skip this one.

Things I didn’t like –

1. Jack the Ripper – really? Couldn’t we have a new bad guy, not one who’s been written and re-written a million times? It just annoyed me.

2. Day’s wife Claire has her babies in this one. Not only was she annoying, but I really don’t want to read about labor.

3. I didn’t quite buy into the whole vigilante group setting the prisoners free just to torture them more. The prisons then were not exactly nice places. On the other hand, people in any time period can be nuts.

This is a bit more gory than most mysteries I read, but that didn’t really bother me. I don’t know that it’s really a mystery, more a thriller. We know who the killers are already and the other bad guy is pretty obvious from the beginning.

I will say John Curless did an excellent job as reader. He kept the characters separate and there were several longer dialogues that he kept interesting and moving along. I felt like he read it as it was meant to be read, melodrama and all. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if it had been in print instead of audio.

But even though I didn’t like this one, it was more problems with plot rather than writing or character development, so I’ll probably give the next one a chance, maybe.

Audiobook Review: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

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crimson

Title: The Crimson Campaign (Powder Mage Trilogy #2)

Author: Brian McClellan

Narrator: Christian Rodska

Published: May 6, 2014 by Hachette Audio

Genre: Flintlock Fantasy (whatever that is)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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GUNPOWDER AND BULLETS WILL DETERMINE THE VICTOR.
When invasion looms… Tamas’s invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god, Kresimir.

But the threats are closer to home…
In Adro, Inspector Adamat wants only to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers will lead Adamat on a darker journey.

Who will lead the charge?
Tamas’s generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself as the last line of defense against Kresimir’s advancing army.
In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets?

I read the first of the Powder Mage trilogy earlier in the year and enjoyed it. I have to say that The Crimson Crusade was even better. The Crimson Campaign puts us right back in the story where Promise of Blood left off. Tamas is in an enemy land working his way home. Adamat’s wife and children are being held by Lord Vetas. Taniel is “recovering” from the final events. Nila is still trying to protect her young charge and is being held by Lord Vetas.

I love this world and these characters! But it’s hard to review. It’s the second book and you really do need to read the first one before it or you’ll be lost. It keeps building, the action is virtually non-stop and everyone I like was in danger at some point. Okay, there are probably a couple of exceptions to that statement, because there are a couple of characters with more power than we realize, I think. It’s one of those books that I get so wrapped up in, I just need to know what happens next.

It’s a hard to book to review though. The audiobook is 20 hours long with something going on every minute. We’ve got four points of view: Tamas, Adamat, Taniel, and Nila all with a piece of the story. For me, this time around, it was Tamas and Taniel who caught my attention, one behind enemy lines, one at the front. Tamas is committed, although I hate to say one revelation was a little disappointing, but in character, if that makes sense. Taniel is a talented powder mage and his partner Kar-Poel, a foreign sorceress, are just an awesome pair. I’m thinking Nila might get a bit more interesting in the third book, because her character is developing along different lines than I expected. Up to now, she’s been the protector of the heir to the throne if there was still a throne. We know she’s a strong, resourceful young woman, but she’s got some surprises in her.

Christian Rodska does an excellent job, for the most part. For me, he fits Tamas’ point of view best, he sounds like I picture him, a bit weary, with a rather dark sense of humor. Rodska’s tones and inflections really bring out the thoughts behind the dialogue. There were a couple of characters that I didn’t really like his voices for, but that’s just me, they didn’t seem right to me, you might disagree. All things considered, with so many characters, and it is a huge list when you think about it, he keeps them all separate and identifiable.

I have a couple of minor quibbles. I like books, even in series, to be mostly self-contained and this simply wasn’t. It’s clearly a middle book, with no real beginning or end. The other thing is McClellan’s tendency to switch points of view right at major turning points, leaving us with mini-cliffhangers throughout the book. Yes, it wants you to keep reading/listening, but it gets a little annoying.

How about a couple of quotes?

“You missed the morning’s festivities,” Bo said to Adamat.
“You call torturing a man ‘festivities’?” Adamat asked.
“I’m not a good person,” Bo said.”

and a conversation between Taniel and a member of the Wings of Adam

“Even if you are a pompous ass with no respect for authority, you’re worth fifty men, and I mean to see you in my army.”
“That was an incredibly backhanded compliment.”
“I meant every word.”

And the quote on the front cover, “The hounds at our heels will soon know we are lions,” made me think- yeah, that’s why I love military fantasy. It’s a rousing speech that can only be pulled off for military campaigns.

This is just a great book, and I can’t wait ’til next year when the final bit comes out. I’m assuming the good guys will win, but McClellan has a way of leading me down roads I’m not expecting, of throwing in complications or outcomes I didn’t see coming. It’s one of the reasons I’m hooked.

About Brian McClellan

Brian McClellan is an American writer of epic fantasy. He is best known for The Powder Mage trilogy. Brian lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife, two dogs, a cat, and between 6,000 and 60,000 honey bees (depending on the time of year).

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