Book Review: The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey—and a Giveaway!

The Widows of Malabar Hill
A Mystery of 1920s Bombay #1
Sujata Massey
Soho Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-778-0
Hardcover

Summary: Perveen Mistry, while assisting her father with an estate case, uncovers family secrets and deceit among the household of wives and children left behind after the patriarch’s death. Her English friend from school assists with her investigation.

The Widows of Malabar Hill begins what will hopefully be a long series with Perveen Mistry as the protagonist. Perveen is an Oxford educated lawyer working with her father in his law practice in the 1920s in Bombay, India. While at that time women could not be admitted to the bar and therefore could not represent clients in court, Perveen was able to perform much of the paper work of the law practice from writing wills to helping clients understand their legal positions. As the book opens, that is where readers find Perveen. Her father is the executor of a recently deceased mill owner who leaves behind three widows and a number of children. The person acting as their guardian has presented a document signed by the three widows stating they wish to forgo their rightful inheritance and turn their dowry gifts over to the trust which the guardian controls. There are two concerns with the document.  First there is some question regarding the signatures and secondly, the document also changes the focus of the trust’s mission, something that cannot so easily be done.

Because the women follow the custom of purdah (complete separation of the sexes), Perveen’s father would not be able to meet with the women, but Perveen can. Perveen goes to the widows’ home to speak with each of the women separately to have them each sign an individual agreement  but also to make sure the women understand exactly what they have agreed to give up and what the stated new mission of the trust is to be. While she is visiting with the second widow, the  guardian returns, overhears what she is saying and orders her to leave. Later she realizes she has left her briefcase and returns to retrieve it only to find the guardian has been murdered. What follows is an excellent murder mystery in which Perveen enlists her English friend from Oxford now living in Bombay to assist her.

There are so many things to love about this book beyond the murder mystery.

Besides the obvious crime to be solved, there is another entire story told throughout the book involving Perveen’s earlier marriage to a handsome businessman from Calcutta. Shifting back and forth from 1916 and 1917 to the story’s present day 1920s, we learn the details of how the couple met, married and why the marriage fell apart. Through this we also have a mini look into the marriage customs of India at that time, some extreme as well as some even then archaic practices.

The historical details the author has included really puts the reader in the 1920s in Bombay. The jumble of the various religious and cultural entities that somehow manage to co-exist is interesting and quite impressive.  Many cultural traditions are included and explained through actions giving readers a sense of being there rather than lectured to.

Included at the end of the book are some historical notes from the author. I would recommend reading those before reading the book. The notes really set the stage for the book.

This was the first book  I read in 2018 and a book I was sorry to see it end. What a great way to start the year.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, January 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of The Widows of Malabar Hill
by Sujata Massey, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be
drawn Thursday evening, June 21st.
This drawing is open to
residents of the US and Canada.

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To All the Great Dads in the World

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Book Review: No Saints in Kansas by Amy Brashear

No Saints in Kansas
Amy Brashear
Soho Teen, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-683-7
Hardcover

In your debut novel, do you dream of going up against somebody like Truman Capote and his seminal novel, In Cold Blood? I don’t think so. I also don’t think you take your story to a Young Adult level and tell the story through the eyes of a deeply distressed teen aged girl who is a relative newcomer to a small Kansas town named Holcomb.Well, author Amy Brashear has done exactly that in her stunning debut novel. Through the persistent and sometimes blurry eyes of Carly Fleming, a horrible multiple murder of a farmer family near the town upends many of the town’s long-time relationships. The principal player in the novel is Carly, relative newcomer to Holcomb, transferring with her criminal defense attorney father from the big city of Manhattan, NY.

Carly’s transition to small town life is not without trouble and as she proceeds into the mid-levels of high school, things become less placid. She has few friends, her brother has problems with his athletics, and Carly’s persistent nosiness is becoming a hindrance.

And then, the multiple murders happen. Carly’s inquisitive nature irks the local sheriff, leads her into multiple fraught situations, attracts and repels her classmates and drives her family nuts.

Carly is a very real rural teen who jumps off the page almost immediately. The author, probably drawing on her own teen experiences, has almost perfectly created a charming, irritating, typical teen-aged girl on the verge of womanhood who will persist in her attempts to solve the crime and live through her father’s experience as the hated defense attorney for a killer.

The atmosphere is true and relevant, Carly’s language and that of her friends and high school adversaries is real and the shifting reactions of the community as the search for a killer and the resulting trial is also real. This is a fine young adult novel that will appeal to a wider adult audience. It is true, there are no saints in Kansas.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

On Stepping Out of Time

In 2008, Joanne Guidoccio took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romance, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio

Website // Twitter // Facebook // LinkedIn // Pinterest // Goodreads 

A non-athlete, it took me a while to find a preferred physical activity, but once I discovered yoga, I was hooked.

That was nine years ago.

Since then, I’ve gone off the “yoga wagon” several times—interestingly enough right before prolonged writer’s blocks—but have now settled into a practice that both challenges and centers me.

In the early days, I struggled with some of the poses and wondered if I could ever duplicate (or even approximate) the pretzel-like abilities of the lithe and limber instructors. Thankfully, my instructor, who also exuded a Zen-like calm, encouraged me not to give up. I can still recall her advice: “A yoga pose is a journey, not a destination.” How reassuring to learn that I didn’t have to get it right the first time, the second time, or the fourteenth time. What matters is that I find the courage to keep trying and failing.

Relaxing into the slow movements and poses, I have experienced gradual stretching of muscles and improved range of motion. I am amazed by the difference yoga has made in everything from my flexibility to my posture to my enhanced creativity.

Yoga has taught me to be still when I’m uncomfortable and to breathe through the twinges of pains I experience in some of the poses. If the pain persists, however, I know when to stop and try alternate poses or reach for a bolster, strap, or foam block. With my writing, I’m becoming more aware of my limits, realizing when to stay at the edge and when to back off and rest.

The meditative quality of yoga has also helped with my moods. The life of a writer is filled with ups and downs—good and bad reviews, contracts and rejections, flows and blocks—that can be alleviated by a short session on the mat. Those twenty minutes or hour I spend on the mat help quiet my monkey mind and imagine possibilities beyond my present circumstances. At times, the session acts as a writing prompt, and I find myself rushing back to the computer.

I still have my personal challenges, but I am less reactive and more inclined to let things go. Instead, I gravitate toward that beautiful place where I can step out of time and leave all my concerns behind.

Namaste

While not usually a big deal, one overlooked email would haunt teacher Gilda Greco. Had she read it, former student Sarah McHenry might still be alive.

Suspecting foul play, Constable Leo Mulligan plays on Gilda’s guilt and persuades her to participate in a séance facilitated by one of Canada’s best-known psychics. Six former students also agree to participate. At first cooperative and willing, their camaraderie is short-lived as old grudges and rivalries emerge. The séance is a bust.

Determined to solve Sarah’s murder, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers shocking revelations that could put several lives—including her own—in danger. Can Gilda and the psychic solve this case before the killer strikes again?

Trailer

Giveaway

Click on the Rafflecopter link below for your chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/628069207/

Buy Links

Amazon (Canada) // Amazon (United States) // Kobo // Indigo 

Barnes & Noble // iTunes // The Wild Rose Press 

Book Review: Treble at the Jam Fest by Leslie Budewitz

Treble at the Jam Fest
A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery #4
Leslie Budewitz
Midnight Ink, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5240-2
Trade Paperback

Jazz guitarist Gerry Martin, one of the headliners at the Jewel Bay, Montana, jazz festival, falls to his death from the rocks above the Jewel River. Local police call it an accident, that Martin slipped while out hiking, but Erin Murphy has her suspicions. Erin is manager of Murphy’s Mercantile, a general store in this food lovers’ town. There seems to be bad blood between Martin and Dave Barber, local musician who upstaged Martin in the concert on opening night. Newcomer Gabrielle Drake and her pushy stage mother also seem to have a problem with the headliner.

When Erin examines the crime scene, she notices a discarded coffee cup overlooked by the police, as well as the footprints left by the victim. Would Gerry Martin wear dress boots when setting out for a hike along rugged terrain? No, but he might if he was planning to meet someone.

Subplots and supporting characters surround Erin and her store—she hires a new salesperson, finally gets to meet her boyfriend’s best friend from childhood, and her mother has news of her own. Erin is more level -headed and believable than many of the protagonists in cozy mystery series, and Jewel Bay is a setting than carries the story along. Who wouldn’t like to visit a town with such a variety of restaurants, shops, and festivals, set in the natural beauty of Montana? Recipes are included, rhubarb fans will be especially pleased. This is the fourth book in the series, but it stands well on its own.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2018.

Give a Dog a Job

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about working, service and companion dogs and the parts they play in her Mary McGill series.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net

A little over a year ago my granddaughter decided she wanted to raise a service dog. My oldest daughter had raised a puppy for Guide Dogs as a 4H project and the stories about Kris and Roxie had sparked her imagination, so she got online and researched various options. Ultimately, Believe arrived, an 8 week old bundle of love and destruction.

Canine Companions, the organization who breeds and places the dogs in the hands of people who need them after they are fully trained, had a list of goals that my granddaughter and Believe had to reach, so the adventure began. The dog spent a great deal of time at my house as she wasn’t old enough to go to school and my daughter worked, so I had to follow the list of commands she needed to learn as well. For instance, when potty training, we said, ‘hurry’, not ‘go potty outside, for heavens sake”. I would never have guessed.

Anyway, Believe grew and learned, charmed us and made us furious when the last pair of slippers in the house disappeared. And then the day came for her to go back. We took her to Florida for the ceremony, the puppy raisers passed the leash to the trainers, and the recipients of the fully trained dogs took possession of their new companions. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and the trip home to Georgia was pretty quiet.

I tell you this because the motto of Canine Companions is ‘Give a dog a job’.

Many dogs want one. If you don’t believe me give a Border Collie a sheep and see what happens. German Shepherds love to herd. I know because I’ve had a couple, one who used to herd the grandkids into a corner when they were toddlers and hold them there. Good dog.

Dogs pull carts, pull skiers out of snow banks, find lost children, and on a sadder note, rescue people after disasters, some natural, others man made. They guide the blind, alert epilepsy sufferers before a seizure, and serve the public as police dogs. The list goes on, but I won’t. Why do they do all that? Because we’ve bred them to. The retrievers and the pointers are hunting dogs and are never happier then wading through sticky bushes or swimming in scummy ponds after their prey. We’ve bred them so their coats will protect them and their minds have a single purpose. Then there are the lap dogs. Mostly toy dogs (that’s the category they are shown in), these little guys love to cuddle and will spend any amount of time in your lap. Especially when you’re typing something.

Where am I going with all this?

To canine mysteries, of course, or any book that features or includes a dog. Maybe more than one dog. Dogs have personalities, and goals, as diverse as any two legged characters in the books we write. They need to be portrayed as fully as the human characters. They deserve to be.

I write the Mary McGill canine mysteries. Mary’s dog, Millie, is a cocker spaniel. Cockers were originally bred to be small gun dogs but over the years they have become mostly companion dogs. However, they can be fierce when they feel the need to protect the person they love. Just ask the guy whose leg Millie tried to gnaw off. But there are some things they really can’t, or probably won’t do, like jump a 6 ft board fence and take down a bad guy while being shot at.

A ‘visiting’ dog appears in each of the Mary McGill mysteries, a dog whose breed and talents fit the plot line. So far it’s been poodles, a three legged hound dog, and a German shepherd. I know something about each of those breeds, and have let the dogs I know guide me. So, in the upcoming Mary McGill and Millie mystery, Boo, You’re Dead, I have included a black lab, a certified service dog named Zoe. She isn’t Believe, she’s not a puppy, but I like to think she is the kind of dog Believe will become when her training is finished and she goes on to make someone’s life a little better. This one’s for you, Believe.

Phooey, It’s Monday Again

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Juanita the Taxidermied Weasel, Courtesy of the Bloggess