Ice Shear, by M.P. Cooley
The small town of Hopewell, New York sees a murder maybe twice a year. So when the daughter of a Congresswoman winds up dead at the bottom of a frozen waterfall, it’s bound to stir up trouble. Local cop June Lyons, formerly an FBI agent, knows all about trouble from past experience. But as she begins to investigate the murder, she realizes that she may be in over her head. Drugs, gangs, and small town social affairs don’t mix well, and soon a second body shows up. Can June find the killer before the killing spree continues?
Set in a small town in the depths of a brutal winter, this is an excellent mystery debut. June Lyons is both endearing and clever as she works to solve the murder, and the book’s cast of characters are finely drawn. The mystery was skillfully woven, and I found myself unable to stop turning pages as June raced to find the murderer. Hopefully, this will be the first of an ongoing mystery series.
Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls
Lily Casey, oldest of three children, was a tough young girl. Born in 1903 in West Texas, Lily had to be tough to help her family live daily life. By eleven, she was in charge of hiring help for her father, who raised carriage horses. At fifteen, she rode 500 miles alone on horseback to take a teaching job in Arizona. She learns to ride like a cowboy, to play poker like a card shark, and she isn’t afraid to draw her pistol when necessary. The American West has been romanticized by our movies, TV shows, and books. In “Half Broke Horses,” we see what life was really like, and honestly, I think that Lily Casey puts all those TV and movie cowboys—men or women—to shame. She is a strong woman, and she leaves an impression wherever she goes. Lily is the grandmother of the author, Jeannette Walls, of “The Glass Castle” fame. Jeannette wrote this book based upon family stories of Lily’s life, and in doing so, she gives us a wonderful glimpse of the true “Old West.” Her prose captures Lily’s voice, which Jeannette says she still clearly remembers. Lily Casey accepted life as it came to her, and dealt her hand as best she could. I will remember her no-nonsense, direct attitude toward life for a long time to come.
The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen
Princess Kelsea is the heir to the Tearling throne, but she is raised in isolation and taught by a couple who were loyal to her mother, Queen Elyssa. When she turns nineteen, the Queen’s Guard arrive to take her to the capital; it is time for Kelsea to take the throne. She is unprepared for the difficulties that await her; she is not familiar with the political maneuverings of the royal court, nor is she aware of how her uncle, the regent has been ruling the kingdom. And most notably, she is not familiar with her enemy, the Red Queen of Mortmesne, who possesses control over a fearsome, dark magic. Kelsea learns that the blue stone necklace she wears around her neck is one of the Tearling sapphires, a jewel of great power. The jewel has a twin, and this is also for her to control, if only she knew how to do it. Kelsea must learn a great many things very quickly if she is to save her kingdom. With the support of the Queen’s Guard, led by the stoic, yet resourceful Lazarus, she at least stands a chance of surviving.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I liked it because Kelsea is a strong female character, and is not looking for her lost love to save the day. Her relationship with Lazarus, the captain of her guard, is based upon the growing respect they have for each other, and seems likely to turn into a real friendship. However, as a reader of fantasy, I pay a lot of attention to world building, and in that regard, this book is lacking. The first half of the story is much stronger than the second. We get some new characters telling things from their point of view about at the midway point, and somehow, when the viewpoint changed to the minor characters, the story lost focus for me. This debut is the first of a trilogy, and I can hope for improvement in the second book. The movie rights for this book have already been sold, and Emma Watson is already rumored to be signed on for the role of Kelsea. For that reason alone, this book will be a best seller.
Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie
In Joe Abercrombie’s latest fantasy we meet Prince Yarvi, born with a crippled hand. When his father and brother are killed, Yarvi unexpectedly finds himself king. Yarvi never wanted to be king, and feels he is woefully unprepared to take on the role. A king should be able to swing a sword and carry a shield, and he can do neither. How can a crippled king truly lead his people? Quickly, his fears are realized as betrayal takes the throne from him. Now Yarvi must fight for his life while withstanding brutal hardships. Yet, Yarvi endures, and through his trials, his true strengths begin to be revealed. Now on a quest to reclaim his throne, Yarvi may find that half-a-king is the strongest king of all.
Joe Abercrombie has written a number of brilliant fantasy titles, but many of them are too grim and dark for me. And at first, I was not overwhelmed by the brilliance of Yarvi’s story, as some of the story choices seemed a bit cliched, and feared this was going to be a rehashing of older, more familiar tales. I kept reading, and I can tell you that the story is not cliched; if anything, it just took an extra chapter or two to truly grip me.
But grip me it did. With Yarvi’s coming-of-age tale, Joe gives us a compelling character and a marvelous fantasy world, but one where hope and possibilities are allowed to live and flourish. Highly recommended.
Muzzled, by Eileen Brady
Veterinarian Kate Turner said she’d fill in for Doc Anderson for a year because she thought working in the small town of Oak Falls, New York would be relaxing. Battle-scarred from a relationship gone wrong, Kate needs a change of pace to regroup and heal. But on one of her house calls, she discovers an elderly couple dead and their dogs running loose. The police decide that the deaths are a result of a murder-suicide, but Kate isn’t so sure. The Langthornes would never leave their beloved show dogs without proper care, no matter what other problems they faced. The issue bothers Kate, and she can’t help but snoop. Her questions stir up trouble, and Kate quickly learns that small towns and dog shows are much more complicated than she first thought. This is a delightful debut cozy mystery. Kate is no-nonsense and likeable as she deals with the lively residents of Oak Falls, both the humans and the animals.
This book starts out with Kate rescuing a hamster from a vacuum cleaner, and the whole scene was adorable. I love animals, and I very much enjoyed the veterinary aspects of the story. “Muzzled” is a compelling start to what I hope will be an ongoing series.