Kirkus Reviews –
Avast, ye varlets, intergalactic and otherwise: There are new bad boys and girls afoot on Mars and in Middle Earth, and you'll like them, even if you'll count your silverware after they leave. There are lovable rogues, like Johnny Depp of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and unlovable ones, like Sarah Palin. They have in common an irresistible penchant for gaming the system, no matter what mess they leave for others to pick up. They also nurse a narcissistic dose of self-worth relative to other people, as well as a conviction that whatever they're doing is right; thus, as Joe Abercrombie writes of one femme criminale, "To be caught by these idiots would be among the most embarrassing moments of her career." Exactly: for a rogue, the worst crime is to be busted. Martin, of Game of Thrones franchise fame, and Hugo Award-winning editor Dozois assemble a lively collection of original stories across several fictional genres that have in common Conan-like qualities—in the sense that, as they write in their introduction, Conan is "a hero, but…also a thief, a reaver, a pirate, a mercenary, and ultimately a usurper who installed himself on a stolen throne." (There's another thing about rogues, too, and that's that their victories tend to be fleeting, if not pyrrhic.) The biggest draw in this sprawling collection is a new Song of Ice and Fire yarn by Martin, giving back story to a mid-Targaryen dynasty scamp whose "bold deeds, black crimes and heroic death in the carnage that followed are well known to all." But then, arguably, all the men of Westeros are rogues. Of particular interest, too, are a grandly whimsical piece by Neil Gaiman that begs to be turned into a Wes Anderson film; a shaggy dog tale by Paul Cornell of a Flashman-ish character gone to seed; and, especially, an utterly arresting, utterly surprising tale by Gillian Flynn that begins, "I didn't stop giving hand jobs because I wasn't good at it." Rambunctious, rowdy and occasionally R-rated: a worthy entertainment, without a dud in the bunch, that easily moves from swords and sorcery to hard-boiled Chandler-esque.
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport
Kirkus Reviews –
The daughters of Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra are just the right subjects for Rappaport's (A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy, 2012, etc.) specialties in Russian and 19th-century women's history.This story of the four girls—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia—is not just a standard Russian history; witness the passing references to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and 1905 and the revolution of 1905. The author's goal is to expose the characters of these girls, brought up very much in their mother's vision of a simple, sheltered life. Rappaport manages to maintain reader interest even as she ticks off the repetitious tale of their boring lives: long walks with their father, sewing, study, tennis and heavy doses of religion. Each year, the family would leave the palace for vacations aboard the Shtandart, the imperial yacht, in the Baltic Sea or the Crimea, where they would pretty much do the same things. A visit to their English cousins on the Isle of Wight illustrated how little social freedom they actually had. Assassination was a way of life in Russia, and the Romanovs' security network was so strict that the family members were restricted from leaving the ship. Their social lives were nonexistent, and their playmates were the sailors on the yacht or members of the czar's guard. Alexandra's weak constitution initially created the family's isolation, which the populace saw as snobbery from the German-born czarina. Add the inept autocrat, Nicholas, the hemophilia of Czarevitch Alexei and the presence of the despised Rasputin for Alexandra's obsessive protection, and the monarchy was ripe for a fall. A gossipy, revealing story of the doomed Russian family's fairy tale life told by an expert in the field.
Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews
Andrews (Christmas Bliss, 2013, etc.) produces another happily-ever-after with the usual complications; her heroine this time is a Savannah florist trying to gain a foothold in the bridal industry. Bloom owner Cara Kryzik is barely keeping her business afloat creating innovative flower arrangements for weddings, and the last distraction she anticipates is historic-building restorer Jack Finnerty. The two met when Cara accused him of stealing her runaway goldendoodle puppy, and now Jack seems to show up at every wedding she designs. Cara isn't immune to Jack's charms, but she initially attempts to ignore their developing attraction. Her experience growing up with an emotionally distant and sometimes physically absent military father and her recent divorce from a philandering husband have left her feeling jaded when it comes to love. But Jack's sincerity and persistence win her over, and soon they're sharing a bed. Cara's career also is looking up. She wins a lucrative contract to design and direct a society wedding, and the money she's slated to receive upon completion will enable her to pay off a loan, solidify her reputation as a floral designer and plan some much-needed improvements for her business. However, troubles multiply, and it's not long before Cara is juggling her time between the unhappy bride and the bride's micromanaging stepmother. In addition, Bert, her assistant and friend, becomes increasingly distant and unreliable; a competitor tries to undermine her business; and a client's family heirloom goes missing. As Cara tries to sort out problems and repair damage, she's ultimately forced to face her own beliefs and make some tough decisions. But, in trademark Andrews style, things end on a high note in another light, predictable and pleasant diversion. A deft mixture of romance and humor in a story featuring a likable protagonist and cute critters: It's a date Andrews fans won't want to miss.
The Skin Collector (Lincoln Rhyme Series #11) by Jeffery Deaver
Kirkus Reviews –
Even the genre's leading magician has his off days, as Deaver shows in this over-inventive yet highly derivative sequel to The Bone Collector (1997), The Cold Moon (2006) and quadriplegic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme's other adventures. Someone—OK, let's not be coy, someone named Billy Haven—has developed a new way to kill people as novel as it is repellent: poisonous tattoos. The first to benefit from Billy's artistry is aspiring actress Chloe Moore, lethally inscribed "The Second" in an underground passage beneath the boutique where she works. The NYPD's Amelia Sachs, Rhyme's longtime collaborator, foils an attack on visiting tourist Harriet Stanton, but IT whiz Samantha Levine, who isn't so lucky, ends up dying of a tattoo that reads "Forty." Why is an apparent fan of the Bone Collector scurrying through the elaborate system of tunnels beneath Manhattan and emerging to kill these inoffensive victims? Rhyme staves off boredom between the discoveries of the corpses by prepping Officer Ron Pulaski to masquerade as a mourner at the services for Richard Logan, the Watchmaker, after this connoisseur of timepieces and serial homicide suffers a fatal heart attack in prison. But a dead adversary can hold Rhyme's attention for only so long, and eventually he moves on to posing a highly pertinent question: Is his quarry yet another of the fiendish, interchangeable, solitary psychos who keep challenging his mettle, or are larger forces at work here? The author's many fans won't be surprised to hear that the answer is yes, no and sort of. Four false endings, which must be a record even for Deaver. It's reassuring to think that as the bad guys grow ever more ingenious, so does Rhyme. And indeed, so does Deaver, though not necessarily in such a good way.