Book Reviews: Hell with the Lid Blown Off by Donis Casey and Battle Not With Monsters by Overton Scott

Hell with the Lid Blown OffHell with the Lid Blown Off
An Alafair Tucker Mystery #7
Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen Press, June 2014
ISBN 9781464202988
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

The farming community of Boynton, Oklahoma, in 1916 is like most of small town America, with parents wondering of their sons will be going off to fight in the War. Alafair and Shaw Tucker have ten children and have additional worries—two of their older daughters are about to deliver babies, and daughter Ruth is living in town with the piano teacher, Mrs. MacKenzie.

During a terrifying tornado, the Tucker homestead is damaged. Their son-in-law is seriously hurt, and some of their neighbors are killed, including local troublemaker Jubal Beldon. It’s when the undertaker is preparing Beldon’s body for burial that he discovers that Beldon was dead before the twister hit. Beldon had plenty of enemies, including his own brother. The question is: who didn’t want him dead?

It’s easy to get caught up on the lives of the Tucker family members—Ruth has a budding romance with the deputy sheriff, the Tucker’s take in a young cousin, and they find a baby amidst the debris of the tornado. Seventh in the series, the appeal of a close knit and loving family draws the reader in. If you loved the “Little House” books as a child, you’ll find much to like in this appealing series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2014.

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Battle Not With MonstersBattle Not with Monsters
Overton Scott
Good Heart Press, March 2014
ISBN 978-0615989556
Trade Paperback

This author has come up with an interesting and fresh protagonist. Justine Ford, commonly called Neen, comes into the story while going through her lower middle class life as an underpaid security guard working for a Dallas, Texas firm. One discovers she is firmly committed to a healthy body and a rigorous athletic routine. She also teaches children at a local dojo.

When she observes her partner being bludgeoned to death in the garage of the building they are supposed to be guarding, her first reaction is to run to his aid. It’s an important clue to her view of the world, but her reaction is still deficient, something she recognizes and which plays an important part in the rest of the novel. Because she arrives on the scene too late to save her partner’s life.

The novel develops a clear pro-gun, pro-state’s rights, libertarian stance, when a man shows up to lead Justine away from her roadway of ordinary existence. He is her savior in a number of important ways, but Justine does retain her innate sense of independence and self-awareness. As the story progresses, through several rambling and overly-detailed segments, Justine develops a plan to visit retribution on the killer who has murdered her partner and attacked Justine.

The novel is wordy, rambling and desperately needs a firm editorial hand. I confess I do not make the connection to the title. At the same time, it is an exciting and credible novel to read, beyond a typical frothy beach read, but the pace is uneven while we repeatedly learn about aspects of her physical training. The action scenes are excellent, each time ratcheting up the tension and feeding Justine’s uncertainties as she walks step by step into new and dark violent confrontations.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: Doing It at the Dixie Dew by Ruth Moose and Chilled to the Bone by Quentin Bates

Doing It at the Dixie DewDoing It at the Dixie Dew
Ruth Moose
Minotaur Books, May 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-04638-3
Hardcover

This is a charming little cozy mystery, set in the small town of Littleboro, North Carolina. Beth McKenzie is doing her best to remodel her late grandmother’s Victorian mansion into a charming Bed and Breakfast. But when Levinia Lovingood, an elderly woman from a wealthy family, returns to town after many years, and becomes one of Beth’s first overnight guests, she is murdered in her sleep.

The very next day, the local parish priest is also murdered. What on earth is happening to the peace and quiet in this picturesque little town where everyone knows your name and no one ever locks their doors at night?

In the midst of scraping paint, redecorating the porch into a Tea Room and polishing hardwood floors, Beth is dragged into a nest of intrigue, suspicious notes and harrowing experiences as she attempts to find the answers to the murders.

Quaint characters flit through the story including a crazy bag lady living under a tree and several octogenarians who behave in bizarre ways. Verna takes her rabbit on a leash everywhere she goes and Miss Tempie visits the cemetery daily where she buried her dog next to a mausoleum.

Secrets abound and threats on Beth’s life turn ugly and all too real as she gets closer to the truth.

Miss Ruth Moose has created a fun mystery with just the right touch of humor, plot and suspense. Recommend this as a good summertime read for all cozy mystery lovers.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, September 2014.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy.

 

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Chilled to the BoneChilled to the Bone
An Officer Gunnhildur Mystery
Quentin Bates
Soho Crime, December 2013
ISBN 978-1-6169-5330-0
Hardcover

A police procedural is a police procedural, whether it takes place in Brooklyn, Los Angeles or Iceland. And in this, the third novel in the series, Police Sgt. Gunna Gisladottir, gets into a complicated investigation when an elderly retired ship-owner is found dead in a hotel room, nude and tied to the four corners of the bedstead. It turns out he had a heart attack, so no murder, but it is followed by a series of similar attacks at various hotels, during which each victim was relieved of cash, and credit and debit cards, which were milked for whatever they were worth. Moreover, the laptop of one of the victims was confiscated, leading to the knotty issues raised during the plodding investigation, including two murders. It seems the laptop contains information embarrassing to the ministry of foreign affairs.

Gunna is unlike many protagonists: A relatively subdued, ‘normal’ woman, with a home, husband and family, who goes about her business quietly and steadily, snow or ice. The author, who lived in Iceland for ten years before moving back to the UK, writes for a commercial fishing magazine, so he knows the island well and writes about it and its environment with authority.

The novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2014.

Book Review: A Dark Inheritance by Chris D’Lacey

A Dark InheritanceA Dark Inheritance
Unicorne Files Book One
Chris D’Lacey
Scholastic Press, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-60876-3
Hardcover

Three interminable years ago Michael’s father left for a business trip, never to be heard from again. That dilemma, however; is not the strangest quandary in Michael’s life. Since his father’s disappearance, he has become aware of seemingly small, random but wacky occurrences. Being a logical kid, he was able to theorize and dismiss these happenings…..almost. Now, the incidents happen all too often, and there is truly no explanation. Assuming that the oddities and his father’s vanishing are related, Michael determinedly searches for answers.

This engrossing, brisk Book One of the Unicorne Files treats the reader with intriguing speculations such as time travel, mental telepathy, and ghosts. There are so many paths and parallels that if Mr. D’Lacey wasn’t so ridiculously gifted, the tale would look like a giant, sloppy knot. In his more than capable hands, however, it becomes an intricate, fascinating and beautiful tapestry.

Taking an extreme implausible concept; say time traveling five years into the past, and whittling it down to something more palatable, like jumping mere seconds into the future, is one way that this author could easily have any skeptic second-guessing. Setting the scenes by painting pictures with words had this reader envisioning jagged cliffs, hearing the loud crashes of a churning, belligerent sea pounding against unforgiving rocks. The sprinkling of subtle hints throughout kept me engaged and invested. Tiny twists kept me going in different directions and rethinking theories.

While this is indeed highly entertaining, it is more than just “mental popcorn”. Michael’s saga is an active adventure in which readers will quickly embrace this troubled young man and cheerfully root for him to solve the mysteries that plague him. I am already looking forward to the second book.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2014.

Book Review: Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon

Peter Pan Must DiePeter Pan Must Die
John Verdon
Crown Publishers, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-34840-9
Hardcover

This is the fourth entry in the series featuring retired NYPD detective David Gurney who, according to New York magazine, is “the most successful homicide dick in the history of the Big Apple.” Now in his late 40’s, he and his second wife, Madeleine, live on an old farmhouse in the rural Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, leaving New York City three years earlier (“the city where they’d both been born, raised, educated, and employed”) after 25 years on the job. Dave has agreed to help out his old friend, Jack Hardwick, with whom he has a long and somewhat fraught history: Jack had had a ‘forced departure” from the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation after a difficult case they had worked on together. (Hardwick is described as having “a sharp mind and sound investigative instincts . . . concealed behind a relentless eagerness to offend.”)

Continue reading

Book Review: Spies and Prejudice by Talia Vance

Spies and PrejudiceSpies and Prejudice
Talia Vance
Egmont USA, June 2013
ISBN 978-1-60684-260-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Berry Fields is not looking for a boyfriend. She’s busy trailing cheaters and liars in her job as a private investigator, collecting evidence of the affairs she’s sure all men commit. And thanks to a pepper spray incident during an eighth grade game of spin the bottle, the guys at her school are not exactly lining up to date her, either.

So when arrogant—and gorgeous—Tanner Halston rolls into town and calls her “nothing amazing,” it’s no loss for Berry. She’ll forget him in no time. She’s more concerned with the questions surfacing about her mother’s death.
 
But why does Tanner seem to pop up everywhere in her investigation, always getting in her way? Is he trying to stop her from discovering the truth, or protecting her from an unknown threat? And why can’t Berry remember to hate him when he looks into her eyes?

 

Talia Vance just may be a genius of sorts. There were all kinds of things in Spies and Prejudice that niggled at me but, when it came down to it, I had a blast reading this and that’s why I think the author might qualify as a genius. So, let me get the negatives out of the way first and then I’ll tell you why I still loved this book.

I couldn’t figure out why Mr. Moss would get so upset just because he catches Berry and Tanner kissing. It’s unbelievable that Mary Chris and Jason set Berry up on a date with Tanner when they know she’s not comfortable with him. I don’t get why toppling stacks of soft drink crates would stop anyone from selling them since the bottles are plastic and unbroken. Berry is driven by the need to find out the truth about her mother’s death but, when she does find out, she sort of dusts off her hands and moves on. The resolution to the mystery is pretty lame.

There, that’s it. On the surface, one or more of my objections would seem to be pretty significant but—and here’s where Ms. Vance’s ability to write comes in—none of them matter a whit because I fell in love with Berry and her friends and their approach to solving her mom’s death. Even the romance didn’t get under my skin as it usually does because it was entertaining and nobody was unduly obsessed. I like that Berry works for her dad as a private investigator and is quite successful at it.

Berry Fields is smart and pretty (but the pretty part never takes precedence) and has a silly name and the adorable Mary Chris is a wonderful best friend, the kind every girl should have. They hang out with a pretty cool collection of guys, too, Jason being my favorite even though he’s not the heartthrob.

The mystery and how the teens go about investigating is fun if entirely improbable and the spy tactics and gizmos are amusing. That said, this is not all happy endings. Berry learns some harsh lessons, primarily that you what you wish for is not always what you really want. Still, this mashup of Veronica Mars and Pride and Prejudice is perfect for any reader looking for an entertaining mystery, niggles or not.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

How Not to Be Buried…Under Clutter, That Is

Jan ChristensenJan Christensen grew up in New Jersey and now resides in Texas. Buried Under Clutter is her latest published novel. She’s had over fifty short stories appear in various places over the last dozen years, two of which were nominated for a Derringer Award.

Jan mainly enjoys writing mysteries, but every once in awhile steps out of that comfort zone and goes for something else, including non-fiction articles. She has a column about reading in the ezine, “Mysterical-e” and blogs regularly at her website. Learn more from: www.janchristensen.com

 

What fun to be here on Buried Under Books today. Not just because Lelia’s a delightful hostess and runs a terrific blog, but also because my latest book is called Buried Under Clutter.

It all began when I was flailing about a few years ago, trying to decide on the profession for a new series character. I needed two things. Something different, and something I knew a little (preferably a lot) about.

One of my main interests has always been organizational skills. Even in school, I loved setting up notebooks, putting things in order. Then I read Cheaper by the Dozen. What the father put his family through to find out the most efficient ways to clean a room or Buried Under Cluttertake a shower when you have a dozen kids and two parents in the same house amazed me. And this family lived only a few towns away from me in New Jersey at the time.

When I got married, I set up a schedule for doing each chore on a weekly basis. My husband was in the military and gone a lot of the time, so I took over managing our finances.

In the nineteen-nineties, several books came out about getting organized. I read them with interest. Then professional organizers appeared on the scene, and I was fascinated by what they did.

So, it was natural enough to create a character who decided to become a professional organizer. Since I like to write mostly mysteries, it was a lot of fun to have my character, Tina Shaw, both solve the mystery and clean up a mess or two.

You may be wondering about how I organize both my personal life and my writing life. It can be a struggle. I’m not perfect, and I stumble around just like most people. But I do have a few hints that can make life easier, so I’ll list them here.

1) Do make up to-do lists and then a weekly schedule. My trick is to have only four mandatory things to do every day. One is to write on the current project and to edit some words daily. Two is exercise and personal care. Three is to keep the house in order so I won’t be embarrassed by unexpected visitors. Four is to keep papers and office-type things under control by taking twenty minutes each day to work on that—dealing with mail, paying bills, sending out birthday cards, filing, and so forth.

2) Follow your own schedule the best you can and don’t beat yourself up if you get off-track some days. Just start again fresh the next day. Making good habits takes some time, but once they’re in place, life is so much easier.

And that’s basically it. Oh, you wanted more? Okay. If you’re buried under clutter, then you need to include getting rid of it in your daily routine. As for any addition to your routine, do this: Pick an amount of time and a specific time of day (this really helps—say Organized to Death 2after lunch, or first thing in the morning). Then give yourself a time limit. At first, make it really short—say ten minutes. As you get into the mindset of this being doable and figure out the best way to accomplish it, you can increase that time until you’re up to half an hour or more daily. Some days you may even work longer, but stick to having a limit and give yourself permission to stop as soon as that limit is reached. Experts claim it takes three weeks to form or break a habit, doing the desired habit every day without a break. If you break for a day or more, the twenty-one days start over.

One more hint—this one to prevent clutter. After you bring something new home, put it away. Do not sit down until it’s stashed. And, if it’s not food, try to get rid of one item—maybe a similar one. For example, a new pair of jeans? Toss your oldest or least-liked pair. A new knick-knack? Take your least-favorite one to a charity shop. Better yet, if you’re feeling crowded, remove two items for each one you bring home from now on. After you’re down to the absolute basics, do the one-for-one swap from then on.

I’ll stop now. I think you get the idea. There are always a few tips interwoven into the Tina Tales novels, but the main thrust of the story is the mystery. The first in the series is called Organized to Death, second one is Buried under Clutter, and coming soon (this month or next) is Cluttered Attic Secrets.

Thanks, Lelia, for having me here. And good luck to all becoming or staying organized.

 

Book Review: Murder at Midnight by C.S. Challinor—and a Giveaway!

Murder at MidnightMurder at Midnight
A Rex Graves Mystery
C.S. Challinor
Midnight Ink, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-7387-3976-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When barrister Rex Graves and his fiancée Helen d’Arcy host a New Year’s Eve party at Gleneagle Lodge, friends and colleagues alike enjoy the evening with drinks flowing freely. Despite the oncoming storm, unlucky number of guests, and argument over long-lost treasure, Rex has high hopes that it will be a memorable and murder-free night of celebration.

But as the clock strikes midnight and the power goes out, Ken and Catriona Fraser are found dead. Suspecting they were murdered for money or revenge, Rex starts to investigate. Will his formidable intellect and detection skills be enough to uncover the culprit?

Rex Graves is comfortable for me. Especially thrilling? No, but I could gladly spend an afternoon with him whenever he’s available and Murder at Midnight filled my wants just fine, even though I think this particular entry in the series is a little weaker than previous books. So, let me tell you first what I think those weaknesses are:

1. One particular clue-gathering scene by the police seems very unlikely as to whether it would be possible at all but especially in a country locale and with power out.

2. The denouement is kind of boring because of its manner with no real confrontation, and the resolution is thin.

Yep, that’s it, not a whole lot to complain about ;-)

What we have here is almost, but not quite, a closed room mystery and I really love such scenarios. The potential killers are limited in number and the snow, plus the remoteness of the manor, make intruders unlikely but not impossible so Rex and the reader can’t get too complacent. The guests at this New Year’s Eve party are a strange bunch, perhaps a reflection that we all have friends and colleagues that aren’t the most compatible, and even their idea of a New Year’s Eve party is a bit odd, downright sedate for such an occasion.

The Scotland locale is ideal for this kind of mystery, one that doesn’t include overt violence, gore, vicious behavior and the like. Ms. Challinor creates understated puzzles that require thinking and Murder at Midnight is a pleasure for a rainy—or snowy—afternoon’s read. As for the characters, the country house setting is the perfect place to get to know such a diverse collection because they’re almost forced to be in one another’s company and actually talk among themselves, dropping little tidbits about their lives. I enjoyed them all, just as much as my old friends Helen and Chief Inspector Dalgerry.

This latest Rex Graves story  is a nice example of the traditional mystery and fans of Agatha Christie will most certainly be entertained.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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I have an elderly but unread print copy of the
the first in this series, Christmas Is Murder. Just
leave a comment below to enter the drawing.
I’m about to go on vacation so this will be a
“quickie”, drawing to be held tonight, October 16th.

Open to residents of the US and Canada.