Friday, September 28, 2012

Death on a Longship

Death on a Longship by Marsali Taylor is a quiet little mystery. Most of the action is on or around one of two boats. One boat is the home of the main character, Cass Lynch. The other boat is a Viking longship that is being used as a movie set. Cass is the skipper of the longship.

One of the film people is killed on the longship. The first two suspects are Cass and her father. She decides she must find the real killer. There are plenty of people with motives around. Cass uncovers a lot of secrets during her investigation.

Overall, I liked this book. It's a decent mystery even if I did figure it out before Cass did.  I'm not too thrilled with the "twin" aspect of the story. I've always thought using a twin was a bit of a cheat.

I've been reading too may books where the female protagonist is borderline anti-social and wallowing in her own past. I guess bright, happy women don't get accused of murder. I was sort of wishing that Cass would make it with the cop in the kilt.

I received a review copy of this book.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Guest Post: Marsali Taylor

Costume is vital - and fun too! 

I love clothes, so my way into the past is through costume - what did my characters wear, and what did those clothes feel like?

It started with my very first novel, A Crown of Roses, in which a lost Jacobite heiress is returned to the rowdy London of 1770.  It's the prettiest china-shepherdess period, all lace frills and powdered hair - except that for my poor Sovra, brought up in a Spanish convent, the clothes are as uncomfortable as the morals of those around her.

But how uncomfortable?  I started my research in London, at the V & A and City museums, and spent a couple of hours sketching their 1770s robes.   I also bought a book, Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion. When I got home I drew my pattern, bought 6 metres of old-gold lining fabric, got out my dressmaker's dummy, oiled my 1906 Singer sewing machine, and set to work.

Stays first.  I wouldn't have used whalebone, even if I could have got it, but I laid short lengths of the stiffest Rigilene so close together on the stay shape that I could only just get my needle between them.  In London, my Sovra's 'boning' would have been made of iron rods.  Long shoelaces provided the back lacing.  Our school's technical teacher made me a hoop out of fencing wire, and I attached a waistband.

Once I'd got the underwear, I began on the robe (the noun dress, then, meant formal attire, rather than an article of clothing).  The intricate looking 'saque-back' is surprisingly easy - a wide back, pleated to fit, sleeves, fronts pleated to fit, and a decorative stomach panel.  I even discovered what 'furbelows' were: the thrifty woman's trimming, left-over material cut into long, narrow strips with pinking shears, and gathered to make decoration.

When I put it on, I was surprised at how easy it was to wear.  The skirt hung out around me, rather than being underfoot, and the hoop waistband took the weight of the material.  However, I couldn't bend my body at all, which made normal tasks hard.  But then, ladies wearing this finery wouldn't normally be trying to wash dishes.  I soon realised why the fan was a must-have - to hold over your cleavage when you're talking to someone taller than you!

Even though Death on a Longship is contemporary, I've managed to squeeze costume into it.  My heroine, Cass, is the skipper of a Viking longship being used as the set for a big Hollywood movie, and Cass has recruited the crews of the local rowing teams as oarsmen.  Naturally, they're able to supply their own Viking costumes - because they've all been involved in an Up Helly A.  It's one of the most spectacular reminders of our Viking heritage: a fire festival which takes place in Lerwick, Shetland's capital, in late January.  It's led by a squad of Vikings, stunningly attired in velvet tunics, shining breastplates and horned or feathered helmets.  Up to a thousand guizers march in a torch-lit procession through the streets of Lerwick (the streetlights are put out specially), with the chief Viking, the Jarl, brandishing an axe from his replica galley.  There are special songs, the galley is burnt, then everyone parties till morning.  The country version of Up Helly As aren't quite so large, but the lead Vikings are still resplendent in swirling cloaks and sheepskin boots. 

The star of the film in Death on a Longship, Favelle, has a long, green velvet dress (dyed to match her eyes) and Cass tells DI Gavin Macrae: 'Green velvet, floor-length, very heavy ... I can't believe the real Gudrid went anywhere near a ship wearing something like that.  It tangled round ropes and trailed everywhere.'

It means that when a rock is rolled down towards the actors, Favelle has the least chance of getting out of the way ...  Is it sabotage of the film in general, or an attempt at murder?

Cass doesn't do pretty dresses.  They'd ruin her equality image in the male world of sailing.   When her opera-singer mother arrives, elegant in French black-and-white chic, then Cass is horrified to find herself being dolled up in a dress and heels, to give her a better image with the press.  Her Maman says, 'They have seen you as the captain of the ship, and the one who found the body, and perhaps a love interest for this Ted Tarrant.'  She said the name French-style, with a disapproving intonation.  'Now we will do the young girl with her family around her.'

Cass's Maman knows the importance of clothes to make you look like, feel like, a different person - and it's a great way to begin getting inside the heads of characters who lived centuries ago.

Giveaway Info

Marsali is giving away THREE prizes; a copy of Death on a Longship at each blog stop on her tour, a 1st place grand prize giveaway at the end of the tour of some silver Viking-inspired jewelry from the Shetland Islands, and a 2nd place $15 Amazon gift card.

To win a book: leave a comment on this blog post to be entered to win a book (open internationally for ebook or the US, UK, and Canada for a print book). Be sure to leave your email address in the comments so we can contact you if you're the lucky winner. This giveaway ends five days after the post goes live.

To win Viking-inspired Jewelry OR a $15 Amazon gift card: Click the link to go to the contest's website and enter the Rafflecopter at the bottom of the post. A first and second place lucky winner will be selected on October 1st. First place person gets to choose which grand prize he/she wants. The second place person gets the remaining grand prize. Open to every country. Click to enter

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Killer Librarian

Killer Librarian by Mary Lou Kirwin is a cozy set in London, England. Karen Nash is a librarian from Minnesota who gets dumped by her boyfriend, Dave, the night before the couple are supposed to go on a dream trip to London. She decides to go on the trip alone but sees him and his younger girlfriend at the airport.

After that, Dave becomes a subplot which I found a bit ridiculous. Karen tells a stranger in a pub about being dumped and he offers to take care of it. When she sobers up, Karen thinks she's sent a killer after her ex. I had a suspicion about who the stranger was and I was right. Still I kept waiting for Dave to turn up dead. It was a long wait. He was an ass.

Meanwhile Karen is having "something" with the owner of her B&B. It's cute until another woman shows up and Karen feels she can't compete. I don't understand why many mysteries written by women set up this competition (usually only in one woman's head) between women. It's the 21st century, haven't we got better things to do than compare ourselves to other women and find ourselves lacking?

Overall, I liked this book. It was an easy read and entertaining. The "main" death in this mystery is almost an after thought - not a lot of time is spent on it compared to other mysteries. I also have a bit of a nitpick with a sentence on the front cover:
When she checks in someone always checks out...
It sounds like librarian is the killer and that couldn't be farther from the truth. I guess I have a nitpick with the title too.

I received a review copy of this book.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Targets of Deception

Targets of Deception by Jeffrey S. Stephens is the first Jordan Sandor thriller. Originally published in 2009, it was republished in 2011 along with Targets of Opportunity.

I like the occasional thriller but I'm kind of particular about them. I want them to make sense first of all. I want them to be plausible. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief to a certain point. I'm willing to believe that the hero is trained to kill and is the best fighter on the planet. Having said that there is only so much punishment the human body can take. Only so many hours one can stay awake.

Luckily Stephens didn't push any of my buttons. This book is highly enjoyable. Jordan Sandor is a likable hero. I wanted him to figure out what's going on. I was proud of him for not accepting the easy answer. The bad guys plans are a little convoluted and a lot more complex than they should have been. Then again, if bad guys didn't over think everything they wouldn't get caught so often. And that would be bad for book sales.

I did feel sorry for some of the people who died needlessly throughout the book. I'm kind of resigned to the fact that thrillers have a high body count on both sides. I read both of the Sandor books back to back -- I read book #2 first for some strange reason -- think I should have read another book in between. I had to stop in the second book and go back because I was remembering things from the first book that I thought happened in the second. Lesson learned.

I like the Jordan Sandor series and will definitely be reading any other books featuring him that come along.

I received a review copy of this book.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Missing Rebecca

I like to take part in virtual book tours when I can. Today I was supposed to post a review of Missing Rebecca by John Worsley Simpson but, due to some kind of snafu, the book never arrived. Too bad. I want to read this book. Hopefully, I'll review it some time in the future.

Here's the book description:
Death and deception. After a whirlwind romance, Liam and Rebecca marry, knowing almost nothing of each other's backgrounds. Only months later, on an afternoon shopping trip to a mall in the Buffalo, New York, suburb of Cheektowaga, Rebecca vanishes, seemingly abducted. Or did she make herself disappear? Was the marriage a sham? Was Liam a dupe? This is a novel of high crimes and dark shadows, involving the immensely profitable drug industry in which exclusive access to the market for a medication can mean billions of dollars, and holding on to that exclusivity might lead to lies, deceit, corruption, payoffs, and even murder.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Collared by L. A. Kornetsky is the first book in a new series of mysteries. It's a non-traditional mystery in that there is no dead body at the beginning of the book. The mystery is not a whodunit but a what did who do? Frankly, it's a little convoluted. I'm not really sure I understand who all the players were and what they were playing at.

The book is competently written and the main characters are likable. I even laughed out loud a couple of times. The one thing I didn't like were the sections (in italics) of the dog and cat talking to each other. I found it rather twee. The back cover of the book says that the pets help the humans solve the mystery. They don't. They just hang around being cute. The dog does bite a bad guy but that's it for helping. I would be willing to read more of the books in this series if she dropped the pet sections.

If you want to read some great mysteries with an animal protagonist, I suggest the Midnight Louie series by Carol Nelson Douglas. Start with Catnap.

I received a review copy of this book.