This summer, one of my dearest writer friends, J.T. Ellison, told me about a book she’d just read called Bohemian Gospel by fellow Nashvillian, Dana Chamblee Carpenter. “You must read it. It’s fabulous!” Now, J.T. is a voracious reader, and she doesn’t throw the word fabulous around lightly. She added, “By the way, it’s out from your publisher, Pegasus Books.” Well, one of the nice things about having a publisher that publishes a lot of wonderful books is that you can sometimes get pre-publication copies of books besides your own. So I emailed Dana’s editor and begged for my own copy. (Yes, I’m shameless that way. Oh, and keep reading to the end–it will be worth your while!)
Debut novels are hopeful things. I always pick them up with mixed feelings of trepidation and excitement. Will the story be terrific, and the writing iffy? Will there be lots of first-novel mistakes? (Lord knows I can’t read my own debut, Isabella Moon, without a cringe or two or–okay, who’s counting?)
Mouse, a slight, bold young orphan with mysterious healing skills that have rendered her suspicious to all who know her, saves the life of Ottakar, the handsome, young King of Bohemia. It does not make her more popular with anyone except, perhaps, the king himself. His advisors are skeptical, and when she proposes to accompany the king home to Prague knowing he will die if she doesn’t, most of the other residents of the abbey where she has spent her life are only too happy to let her go. Her spiritual advisor, and only true friend, Father Lucas, is on walkabout, yet she feels utterly compelled to attend the king. But Mouse has little memory of being anywhere but the sheltered abbey and the surrounding countryside, and when she is suddenly exposed to court life and the treachery of those surrounding the king, she takes a while to find her footing. There seems to be no end of trouble for her, and she has to use both her wits and strange skills to keep both herself and the king safe. This is no standard fantasy fare. The story turns dark in unexpected ways and builds to a stunning ending.
You know that part where I was a tad nervous about the writing? It’s a smart and assured debut. Beginning with the first action-filled chapter, I found myself completely immersed in the world of Europe’s High Middle Ages: it felt grubby and earthy, full of a sense of Medieval magic. I love that feeling of immersion, and it was only deepened by the sense that there is much going on that Mouse isn’t quite ready to access. This Medieval magic is not a romantic thing; it has complicated roots in both good and evil, and Mouse is completely entangled. She’s a deliciously complex character, and the beauty of her being so young is that we get to discover her gifts and emerging personality right along with her. Even though this is the first book featuring Mouse, Carpenter knows her character well, and I have the feeling that she is bursting to tell us more, ready to plunge Mouse into further adventures. I’m pleased to say that the ending left me frustrated in just the right way: I demand more of Mouse, asap!
Speaking of J.T. Ellison, this week the paperback of her most recent Dr. Samantha Owens book, What Lies Behind, arrives in stores. Every time she writes a new Sam book, I say it’s my favorite, but I think I’m going to have to start calling each one my new favorite. J.T. is a busy writer-chick, publishing at least two novels a year–one often written with Catherine Coulter–but a part of the reader in me would be perfectly happy if she just wrote Sam book after Sam book.
Samantha Owens is a former medical examiner from Nashville who, after losing all that was dear to her in a horrific flood, is building a life for herself in Washington D.C. One of the joys of reading the Sam books is watching how she grows and changes through her grief. (Looking for the rare character-driven thriller? This is a series you want to read.) What Lies Behind opens with a murder in Samantha’s own neighborhood, and her friend, homicide detective Darren Fletcher asks her to take a look at the crime scene. But when she realizes the crime scene has been staged, the situation gets quickly complicated: more murders, more stonewalling by the people who should be giving them answers. Now a consultant for the FBI, Sam and Fletcher discover a web of lies leading from D.C. to the highest levels of the U.S. government and beyond. Even touching Sam’s fiancee Xander Whitfield. And the pacing for this and EVERY Samantha Owens book? Absolutely non-stop.
Here’s a treat just for you, my favorite blog readers:
Comment below before 11:59 pm on Tuesday, November 24th, and I’ll send one random commenter a copy of Bohemian Gospel.*
*U.S. and Canada residents only, please.