Monday, February 15, 2010

To Catch a Thief

To Catch a Thief
By Christina Skye

For reasons probably best left unexamined, I have a real fondness for stories about forgery. Pretty much any kind of forgery will do, but art forgery in particular is a personal favorite. There’s just something about a plot that hinges on linen content, pigments, and brushstroke techniques that fascinates me. When To Catch a Thief first came out, all I could recall from the reviews I had read was something about a Navy SEAL and a mountain climbing heroine fighting a shadowy terrorist organization, and I thought “menh, lots of those around.” I picked up the book last week and read the back cover and Bingo! Daughter of world renowned art forger attempts straight arrow life as conservator, only to be sucked into shadowy underworld during a hunt for a missing Da Vinci sketch. That had definite potential, so I took the book home and devoted a weekend to it. I was not disappointed.
Jordan MacInnes was a very successful art thief with a signature style; his daughter Nell prefers to get her thrills from climbing mountains and helping with Search and Rescue operations. Her day job is that of art conservator, where her extensive formal education and the informal one she received from her father and his associates have given her formidable expertise. When a recently discovered Da Vinci sketch disappears from a museum where it was being evaluated, Nell’s father is implicated. Suddenly Nell is in the middle of a firestorm: her father has disappeared, a group of thugs attempts to kidnap her, the FBI wants her for questioning, and special government agent Dakota Smith has to keep her out of harm’s way and convince her to help track down the missing sketch before it is sold to fund terrorist operations.
This book if full of over the top action sequences that would do The Bourne Identity proud. It’s fast-paced, suspenseful, and has some really interesting details about both mountain climbing and art conservation, which give it a little more depth. There were a few plot elements near the end where the author lost me a little, because they didn’t make sense in light of previous statements by the characters, but this in no way ruined the story for me. Both hero and heroine are likeable and their motivations are reasonable. This story is also connected to a series of books that revolve around Draycott Abbey and its resident ghost. I wasn’t familiar with these but have decided to read them since I enjoyed that element a great deal. If you like fast action in romantic suspense, or if you just have a soft spot for forgery, pick up To Catch a Thief.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Short and Sweet

A Matter of Class
By Mary Balogh

This Regency novella tells the story of Reginald Mason and Lady Annabelle Ashton, forced to marry each other by their feuding fathers. Reggie is the son of a fantastically wealthy coal merchant, and has been well educated and brought up to be a gentleman. His father Bernard’s dearest ambition is to see his son marry into the aristocracy, a group that has always snubbed him because he made his money in trade. In fact, Lady Annabelle’s father, the Earl of Havercroft and the Mason’s nearest neighbor, is so affronted by Bernard Mason’s offer of friendship that he refuses to have anything to do with the man or his family; his own wife and daughter are forbidden to even acknowledge their existence. Bernard Mason responds in kind, and so Reggie and Annabelle grow up living next door to each other, attending services in the same small church, and never once exchanging any public greeting. As the story opens, Reggie is busy spending his father’s money in all sorts of inappropriate ways, and Annabelle has just attempted to elope with an extremely inappropriate man. Both fathers are livid, and all sorts of dire threats are made. The Earl of Havercroft has lost a fortune in bad investments, and now that the chances of Annabelle making an advantageous marriage of virtually gone, he threatens to send her to one of his country houses as a scullery maid, since he certainly cannot afford to keep her in style not that she is a social pariah. Reggie is also threatened with being cut off, the difference being that his family is still wealthy. Very wealthy. As he points out to his father, he has not squandered both money and reputation the way Lady Annabelle and her father have. At this point his father comes to a brilliant conclusion: what Reggie needs is a wife to settle him down and that wife will be Lady Annabelle Ashton, since what she needs is a wealthy husband. This will also provide him with revenge against the Earl, who is in no position to refuse. And thus Annabelle and Reggie find themselves betrothed, a Regency Romeo and Juliet who end up married rather than dead as a result of coming from feuding families. How they reach a happily ever after involves a few plot twists and turns. Any fan of Regency romance or Mary Balogh will find this short book charming and clever and lots of fun.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Unhallowed Ground

Unhallowed Ground
By Heather Graham

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved a good ghost story. As I got older, the addition of a love story made the good ghost story that much better. Give me a haunted house, a fearless heroine, and a hunky hero, and I’m a happy girl. Unhallowed Ground has them all, and I raced through it. The book opens with a prologue set during the Civil War, as two women walk through a cemetery until they reach the edge, where just outside the walls suicides and criminals are buried. The atmosphere is fantastic – gravestones, Spanish moss hanging from the trees, darkness – and let’s not forget that one of the women is the local witch. As the creepy scene draws to a close, we’re left with the suspicion that one of the women has met an untimely and gruesome end. Fast forward to present day, where historian Sarah McKinley has moved back to her hometown of St. Augustine, Florida and purchased an historic mansion that she has always loved. The place has been neglected and gotten very rundown, but Sarah has a crew hard at work on it and is starting to bring back its faded glory. All is going well right up until the workmen find all those skeletons in the library wall. Fortunately, they all seem to be over a century old, which means it’s more a matter for university historians than the local CSI unit. (Not to mention that the creepy details will only enhance the house’s reputation, no bad thing given the plummeting value of Florida real estate…) It turns out that the house was used as a funeral home during the Civil War, so the bodies in the wall may just be the result of an unscrupulous businessman reselling coffins and stashing the contents. Or the answer may be more sinister – several young girls went missing in the same time frame, and others died in mysterious “carriage accidents.” The home’s original owner was suspected, but with a war going on no one really wanted to start talking about a potential serial killer. Sarah believes all of this can remain in the past until private investigator Caleb Anderson shows up. The mysterious and handsome man is looking for a young woman who disappeared in the area a year ago, and believes his case is linked to that of another girl who disappeared more recently, and that both are somehow connected to Sarah’s house. Then some spooky and unusual things start happening to Sarah, including visits by a “ghost” who looks remarkably like Caleb, and she gets drawn into the investigation of crimes both new and old.

This is a fast paced, suspenseful book, with great elements of haunted house stories, historical fiction, and mystery. Graham creates a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, and though the present day secondary characters didn’t do a lot for me, the historical characters were both vivid and interesting. If you are looking for a quick, fun read check out Unhallowed Ground, and prepare for a pleasantly scary afternoon!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

On the Book Cart

February releases are in, and our annual display of romance novels new and old can be found on the table in the periodical department. Among the new arrivals:

Louise Allen The Viscount's Betrothal
Jennifer Blake Triumph in Arms
Connie Brockway The Golden Season
Louise Greiman Charming the Devil
Sabrina Jeffries The Truth About Lord Stoneville
Laura Kinsale Lessons in French
Stephanie Laurens The Elusive Bride
Lynsay Sands Taming the Highland Bride

Robyn Carr Angel's Peak
Kristan Higgins The Next Best Thing
Penny McCall The Bliss Factor
Linda Lael Miller McKettricks of Texas: Tate
Lori Wilde The Sweetheart's Knitting Club

Sherrilyn Kenyon Born of Ice

Beverly Barton Dead by Midnight
Heather Graham Nightwalker
Karen Harper Down River