Book Review: Crimson Phoenix by John Gilstrap

Crimson Phoenix by John Gilstrap

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an eARC from Netgalley to read and review.
I did not intend to read this book in one sitting, but once I started it I could not stop. I am now impatient for the next in this series!

Victoria Emerson has to make a lot of tough decisions, starting with refusing to accept the shelter offered to her as a Congresswoman. When she learns that she cannot bring her sons with her into the Annex, a top secret bunker designed for the members of Congress and one member each of their staffs to shelter in for 60 days, she resigns from the House immediately and leaves with her sons. Major Joe McCrea and First Sergeant Paul Copley, the soldiers tasked with getting her safely to the bunker, accompany her and lead her to a mine where they wait out the blasts. Vicky wants to get to Top Hat Mountain, where she should be able to meet up with her oldest son, Adam. The family agreed long ago that if a disaster should strike, they would meet up there. But Vicky can’t stop herself from trying to help the people she meets, and her natural leadership puts her in charge whether she wants to be or not.
The subject matter could be dark and depressing but it isn’t. Vicky refuses to give up and you can’t help but root for her and the other good people she finds along the way, even as you are disgusted by the evil ones who threaten them. In the end, there are more good people than bad ones and you are left feeling confident that, no matter what else befalls them, the Emerson clan will find a way through it.

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Weekly Reader – Weeks 43 & 44

I didn’t complete any books over this two week period. I was in the midst of one book but it didn’t grip me enough to stick with it. Between migraine attacks and an addiction to Sneaky Sasquatch, I haven’t been doing any reading. I’ve decided it’s time to set aside the non-grippy book and move on. I’m looking forward to the latest from Rhys Bowen, the latest in her Royal Spyness series, and will be back next week to report on it.

This week I am helping to host an online book club meeting for the library. We’ll be talking about the first book in Judi Lynn‘s Houseflipper mystery series, The Body in the Attic. Judi will be joining us (yay) AND giving away a copy of the lastest in that series, The Body From the Past to one lucky attendee. You don’t have to have a library card to attend the meeting and I encourage you all to consider coming by. You can register here, you’ll just have to scroll down to get past a few other online meetings to find the Whodunnit one.

I hope your reading has been going better than mine!

Weekly Reader – Week 42 of 2020

I completed one book this week.

I read The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel this week. It is a collection of short stories about Sir Percy. Some are told from his enemies, notably Chauvelin, while others are told by the people he rescued. In each, Sir Percy is shown to be a master of disguise. Despite being taller than average he is easily able to deceive both the French authorities and many of the people he was helping. You have the impression that Percy spent quite a lot of time in France, and I have to wonder how Marguerite felt about that. She’s referred to in a couple of stories, once helping look after someone Percy was helping and once asking to be remembered by Chauvelin. It is entertaining to watch Percy outwit his enemies – you know he will somehow but you’re never quite sure how, though usually I could spot him before his enemies or his help-ees could.

What have you been reading lately? Do you enjoy short story collections? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Weekly Reader – Week 41 of 2020

I finished one book this week.

I re-read The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. This novel is where the hero with a secret identity trope began. Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet, appears to be a dim-witted, foppish Englishman, more concerned with setting the latest fashions than anything else. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a mysterious Englishman who manages to smuggle French aristocrats out of revolutionary France before they can be executed. The French seek him here, they seek him there, but they have no idea who he is or how to stop him. Chauvelin, a member of the Committee for Public Safety, is determined to unmask the Pimpernel. He learns that Armand St. Just is a part of the Pimpernel’s league and he blackmails Armand’s sister, Marguritte, to help him learn the identity of this man. Marguritte is Lady Blakeney and has no idea of her husband’s secret and dangerous work. She treats him with contempt, clearly regretting her decision to marry him. When she realizes, after doing Chauvelin’s bidding, that her husband and the Scarlet Pimpernel are one and the same, her feelings change. She realizes she does love Percy and she sets out to try to save him.

I was drawn to this book the first time I read it by having seen a tv movie based on it. Many years ago my parents recorded the movie. (I remember my father being excited about the sword fight that takes place at the end but I don’t think that was the whole reason why he decided to record it so we could all watch it.) It was a very enjoyable movie, borrowing a lot from two of Orczy’s novels. I was drawn back to this story because I happened to stumble on the movie on Amazon (I can watch it for free thanks to my Acorn subscription). I enjoyed it every bit as much this time as the first time. Anthony Andrews revels in the role, especially in assuming the various disguises the Pimpernel uses to evade the French authorities. Jane Seymour is a beautiful Marguritte, and a young Ian McKellan is Chauvelin. They diverge from the novel in a few places, namely in the way Marguritte treats Percy and in having Marguritte and Chauvelin in a relationship prior to her meeting Sir Percy. I’ve gone on to read the next in the series (Orczy wrote many novels about the Pimpernel).

What have you been reading? Have you ever been drawn to a book by seeing a movie version of it? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Weekly Reader – Week 40 of 2020

I finished one book this week.

Tell Me No Lies is the second Lady Dunbridge mystery by Shelley Noble. When we last saw Phil, Lady Dunbridge, she was settling into a suite at the Plaza Hotel, paid for by the mysterious Mr. X, and ready to take New York society by storm. As Tell Me begins, it’s November and, after spending much of the summer being entertained at the creme-de-la-creme of New York society’s summer homes, Phil is happily back in the city and in her luxurious suite. She wakes to find she’s been visited during the night by her mysterious Mr. X. He warns that she’ll have a visitor soon who will need her help, and sure enough her butler arrives to tell her that Luther Pratt, her host at a ball the previous evening, has arrived. One of his guests has turned up dead, in the laundry chute of the house. Pratt would like Phil to come support his wife, Gwen, much as she supported her friend Bev Reynolds last spring when Bev’s husband was murdered. Phil is happy to oblige, hoping to participate in another investigation in which she’d get to battle with Detective Sergeant John Atkins of the New York City police while also, she hopes, learning more about Mr. X. As the investigation progresses, Phil finds herself questioning Mr. X’s motives. She is determined to see justice done for the murdered young man, but Mr. X seems more concerned with the revelations of a stock market scheme and the financial fall-out it will produce. I was more than a little annoyed at Phil’s willingness to accept the suite from Mr. X in the first place, not knowing what strings would be attached to the gift, and so was fighting back I-told-you-sos the whole way. This one was slow to grip me, as was the first book in the series. I like Lily and Preswick more than Phil and I find the mystery of Lily equally if not more intriguing that the murder mysteries. We don’t seem to be making any progress on that front though and unless that changes I don’t know that I’ll stick with this series.

What have you been reading lately? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Weekly Reader – Week 39 of 2020

I finished two books this week, both from author Annie Sullivan.

First, I re-read A Touch of Gold, Annie’s first book. In ATOG we meet King Midas’s daughter, Princess Kora. When she was seven, Midas accidentally turned her to gold. He was able to cure her but because he didn’t follow all of Dionysus’s instructions, Kora retained her golden hue. She also has the ability to sense the items her father turned to gold while under the curse, and she can also absorb gold from golden objects and turn other objects to gold. Because of this ability, Midas’s brother, Pheus, orders all gold removed from the palace. Kora is kept in the palace, her golden skin hidden beneath gowns, veils, and gloves. Now, at age 17, she has suitors seeking her hand. All of them are scared away when her golden skin is revealed, fearing that her curse will spread to them. When her latest suitor, Aris, is not repelled, Kora begins to feel hope. Then her father’s cursed gold is stolen. Aris agrees to help her seek it out, using her ability to sense it. Kora has always wanted to sail away from Lagonia and explore other places, but not like this. The sailors are afraid of having a woman aboard, and then more afraid when they realize she’s cursed. The ship’s captain seems hostile, though he stops his men when they try to attack Kora. But people are not always what they seem, and Kora’s abilities may not be the curse she’s always thought they were. I greatly enjoyed this story both times I’ve read it. Kora is stronger than she thinks she is and it was wonderful to see her grow.

The second book I read this week was the sequel, A Curse of Gold. Princess Kora is struggling to be the future leader Lagonia needs, despite being a victim of her father’s curse. Her love, Royce, is returning to the Armada and is about to sail away for 3 months. Her cousin and best friend, Hettie, is keeping to herself as she deals with the court’s suspicions of her after her father’s treachery. But before Kora can find herself left alone, satyrs attack Lagonia, sent by Dionysus. The attack sets Kora off on another journey, first to find the Oracle who predicted her father’s crowning and then to find the magical island of Jipper, where Dionysus lives. Along the way she’ll meet Triton and his father, Poseidon; battle Gorgons; ride pegasi; and face other cursed beings as she fights to reach Dionysus in the hopes she can trick the trickster and save not only Lagonia, but the entire world, from the god’s evil plans. It’s a thrill ride as Kora and her friends go from one challenge to the next on their quest. Kora grew a great deal in the first novel, and that growth continues in this one as she works to learn what leadership means, and comes to realize that she must find her own way to be a leader.

What books have you been reading recently? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Weekly Reader – Week 38 of 2020

I read one book this week.

The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair is the first in a new mystery series. Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge run The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. They are match-makers in post-World-War-II London, trying to match up men and women with someone suitable. Applicants pay a fee to be added to the bureau’s roster and, should they marry someone the bureau matched them up with, they pay an additional fee. The book begins with us following a young woman named Tillie, who is going to the bureau to sign up. She wants to find a man to take her out of her current life, preferably someone with a little money. After she departs the office, we stay with Sparks and Bainbridge and learn that they have very different ways of looking at things and this differing perspective is an asset in their business. Despite their different world-views, they both select the same man as a good match for Tillie and get to work to arrange a meeting. Sadly, Tillie turns up dead and the man the women matched her with is the police’s top suspect. This is disastrous press for the bureau and both women are upset. They have their reasons for wanting to start their own business and make a success of it. Gwen is determined to help their living client, certain he couldn’t be guilty of the crime. Iris is reluctant to investigate at first, but a pushy reporter makes her realize the bureau is in jeopardy. Over the course of the investigation the two women’s differing ways of viewing the world continue to prove an asset, and both women learn a good deal more about one another. I found this a thoroughly enjoyable read. I liked both Gwen and Iris and was rooting for them (and their client) all through the novel. I look forward to the next in this series.

What have you been reading this week? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Weekly Reader – Week 37 of 2020

I read just one book this week.

Chasing Jack is the latest from Parnell Hall. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Parnell at Magna cum Murder many times and even picked him up from the airport one year to drive him to Muncie for the conference. After that 90 minutes or so in the car, I hear his voice whenever I read his books. I was looking forward to this one and it did not disappoint. Chasing Jack is a dark comic mystery. A pair of hit-men are killing people in New York City. It appears that they are searching for a Jack Jones. With all of New York City to cover, there are a lot of Jack Jones’s to choose from and it’s quickly apparent that our killers don’t know which one they’re seeking. Meanwhile, homicide detective Murphy has just received a devastating diagnosis from his doctor and assignment to the task force investigating the string of homicides. Murphy’s made some mistakes in his career and in a drug-induced haze realizes he wants to make some things right. Finally, a Jack Jones is covering actress Angela Fontaine’s performance in a Broadway play while trying desperately to get assigned to a “real” story for a real newspaper again. With Jack’s presence, it seems inevitable that the killers and Murphy will eventually be drawn to the play, and they are. I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced thriller, written with Parnell’s signature dry humor. Good news if you’re curious too – it’s available through Kindle Unlimited right now.

What have you been reading lately? Do you have a reading goal, via Goodreads or elsewhere? If so, how are you doing on it? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Weekly Reader – Week 36 of 2020

I completed one book this week, an ARC I was given by the author in exchange for an honest review. I had read an earlier draft of this story a few years ago and was glad to learn that the author was going ahead with self-publishing it.

Fool’s Proof by Eva Sandor read like high fantasy written by the Monty Python troupe. Malfred Murd is the former royal fool from the Isle of Gold. Now he makes his way from village to village, performing without a license and collecting whatever coins he can before the licensed entertainers run him out of town. He’s accompanied by a magpie, Corvinalias, who is primarily interested in shinies and adventures. Along the way, Fred runs into a hapless messenger and a highly successful businesswoman before he finally finds himself in the technologically-advanced lands of the de Whellen’s. Dame Elsebet de Whellen is the ruler of these lands, at least for now. She is desperate to keep her title and for that purpose has sent her healer, Doktor Lively, to the King on the Isle of Gold. Unfortunately she’s received a message from the Doktor saying “Help” and Fred, who wound up with the messenger’s bag and the note, is swept up in her mission to save the Doktor and appease the king. The hapless messenger and the successful businesswoman have their parts to play in this epic adventure, as do Corvinalias and another royal family of a neighboring principality. There’s mistaken identities, magic, pirates, smugglers, and more as Dame Elsebet and Fred go on their way. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read!

I am part-way through the latest book from Parnell Hall, an author I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at Magna cum Murder many times (I once picked him up from the airport back when the festival was still held in Muncie and now when I read anything he writes, I hear his voice in my head). I’m enjoying his black comedy and look forward to reviewing it here next week.

What are you reading these days? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Weekly Reader – Week 35 of 2020

I completed just one book this week, an ARC I received from NetGalley. I completed it just in time to review it on it’s release day.

Payback is the second Tank Rizzo mystery from Lorenzo Carcaterra. I found this one felt a bit flat compared to the first in the series. It read more like a story for a script than a novel to me, with the characters’ emotions not coming across well for me. A central character has a confession to make and that confession, which was supposed to be him talking to the people he regards as his family, was way too wordy and way too descriptive – it read like prose rather than dialogue. Given that this was revealing a big secret hinted at in the first book and used as a threat by a bad guy in this one, there just wasn’t the pay-off there that I was expecting. This time the team was working two cases at once, trying to bring down a corrupt accounting firm and trying to clear an innocent man who’d been rail-roaded by a dirty cop. This was supposed to be a big problem – two sets of vicious baddies who’d come after them hard – but it never turned into a problem at all. This wasn’t a bad story, but it wasn’t a great one either.

I am part-way into another ARC, this time from a writer I met at Midwest Writers Workshop a few years ago. She sent me an earlier draft of this story which I enjoyed and I was excited to see that she’s self-publishing it. It releases later this month. I am enjoying the read and look forward to sharing more about it here next week.

What have you been reading? Leave me a comment and let me know!