Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Murder at the Academy Awards by Joan Rivers and Jerrilyn Farmer

Few books and even fewer mysteries have me laughing out loud and Murder at the Academy Awards is one of those few. Of course, very few women are accomplished comediennes like Joan Rivers. With her comedic timing, it was easy to tell where Rivers’ snarky and acerbic wit ended and Farmer’s more serious tomes took over.

Rivers’ protagonist Maxine Taylor is a thinly disguised version of herself, hosting a Red Carpet review prior to the start of the Academy Awards with her daughter Drew. As fashionistas, they comment on what everyone is wearing and who they’re wearing. Sound familiar?

In Murder at the Academy Awards, Drew gets a text message from her dearest and closest friend Halsey Hamilton, the nineteen year-old Best Actress nominee who is currently in rehab. Apparently, Halsey is showing up at the Oscars and she’s granted an exclusive interview to Max and Drew. When her limo pulls up, Max’s wrangler Cindy has to help the young actress out of the vehicle. Halsey, clad in only a strapless bra and skimpy panties collapses on the red carpet. She manages to whisper a few words to Max before she dies.

Suddenly, Max is the hottest ticket in town. Everyone wants to know why Halsey, well on her way to recovery from muscle relaxers, would relapse and start using again. Max is convinced Drew’s ex-boyfriend Burke who had been dating Halsey, is involved. Drew understandably is certain he isn’t and begs her mother to clear him of suspicion. Although Max would prefer to do the opposite, she agrees hoping that Drew will see Burke for the low-life she thinks he is.

Max goes so far as to check herself into the rehab clinic where Halsey had been recuperating. It isn’t until she has to break out of rehab and attend Halsey’s funeral that the pieces come together.

They mystery itself is rather ho-hum and it’s Joan Rivers and her sarcastic sense of humor that elevates the story, making it an enjoyable and funny read. Unfortunately, it is necessary to keep the story alive as well, since there are some confusing aspects. Why introduce a character for only his cell phone, then have him disappear for most of the novel? Why have a limo driver usher in important clues and then have him vanish for the rest of the novel?

Certainly, it’s Joan who makes this novel, so it’s a work that even mystery non-lovers will enjoy.

To Ruin a Queen by Fiona Buckley

Fiona Buckley continues her excellent Elizabethan series featuring Lady Ursula Faldene Blanchard La Roche in To Ruin a Queen. Buckley advances Ursula’s life, marriage to Matthew La Roche and her daughter Meg, but it seems that Elizabeth I cannot do anything without tricking Ursula into investigating threats to her throne. She knows that Queen Elizabeth is cunning and devious but still finds herself brought into a pit of treachery and treason.

After she loses a son in childbirth in France, she longs to have her daughter Meg, still in England, back with her. Ursula sends her loyal servants, Dale and Brockley to fetch her, but they return empty-handed. Meg is missing.

Ursula immediately departs for England, suspecting that Elizabeth is somehow behind her daughter’s mysterious disappearance. She doesn’t have to wait long. When she arrives at the manor where Meg was staying, Elizabeth and Cecil are waiting.

The queen tells her where Meg is, but there is a mystery at Castle Vetch as well. Elizabeth knows Ursula can’t resist unraveling a complicated knot of conspiracy and intrigue, but to sweeten the pot, she promises to return lands confiscated from Matthew. Ursula promises the queen two weeks, then she will return to France with Meg.

The Castle Vetch is occupied by the innately ambitious Mortimers. The mother of the lord in residence is convinced her son is plotting something against the crown, since he keeps hinting at it. She has no idea what it is.

Ursula is charged with finding out if there is anything to Mortimer’s boasts. When she arrives, she finds Meg in good condition so she sets out to uncover the secrets of Mortimer.

She finds out there is a lot more going on than plots against Elizabeth: an aging woman desperate to cling to her youth, an old crone accused of being a witch, a lovesick girl promised to an older man and two manservants fiercely loyal to their lady.

It seems to me that Buckely inserts more Tudorian history into this story than before with references to Anne Boleyn and her purported lover Mark Smeaton. She also gives a clearer insight as to what Elizabeth’s thoughts on love, marriage and family might have been since the queen remained unmarried throughout her reign. How would she have regarded someone’s sense of family through love and devotion, something she may not have experience personally since her father beheaded her mother on baseless rumors. This paints a plausible picture of a grand woman often portrayed as cold, tough and ruthless. It’s good to see the woman underneath the crown, and not just the queen.

To Ruin a Queen raises the bar on Elizabethan mysteries, although the whodunit was a tad predictable. However, Buckely does leave the reader with a tantalizing and surprising taste of the supernatural at the end.

Almost Perfect by James Goss

I love the BBC Wales television series Torchwood, so I was happy to find a series of novels based on the show. I read Almost Perfect by James Goss only to find out halfway through that it was the fifth in the series, not the first. Oh, well. My bad. I’m not aware of the timeline of the first four but Almost Perfect takes place after the deaths of Owen and Tosh. I still haven’t forgiven the writers and producers for killing them off.

In this fifth book, Ianto Jones wakes up one morning to find he’s changed into a woman – a very beautiful woman. Almost perfect. While Jack and Gwen search for the reason behind his sudden change in gender, across town a skeleton appears in a restaurant out of thin air and a frumpy young woman has found a strange device that promises to make her perfect and create faults in her enemies.

Unfortunately (and naturally), these aren’t the only odd things happening in Cardiff. A ferry overturns under mysterious circumstances and Jack discovers a strange cloud of static energy increasing in size and strength just over the city.

As is typical in Torchwood episodes, all the bizarre events are connected and, as Ianto suspects, alien technology is involved.

Goss’ story is a lot of fun but there is a lot going on, too. Goss has good imagery and describes scenes with vivid details. However on occasion, the story becomes a confused mess and a lot of it remains unexplained at the end. Maybe it was the author’s intent that the reader could connect all the dots, but gaps remain as do a lot of questions. Not everything is cleared up.

However, Goss’ writing style is witty, smart and hilariously punctuated with numerous pop culture references. For fans of the show, it’s easy to see Jack, Gwen and Ianto in this adventure and hear their voices from the pages. Goss keeps everyone in character which is paramount for us fans.

If you’re not familiar with the show or the series, begin with the first novel or start watching!

One of the best lines I ever read: Gwen Cooper to Captain Jack Harkness, “When will you learn that you can’t solve a problem by shagging it?”

If I had a dollar for every time…

Easy A is here!

It's now available at loveyoudivine.com! I've already had a reader begging for a sequel. Awesome!