Book Review: Forgiving Maximo Rothman by A.J. Sidransky

Forgiving Maximo RothmanForgiving Maximo Rothman              
A.J. Sidransky
Berwick Court Publishing, April 2013
ISBN: 978-0-9889540-0-7
Trade Paperback

Wow. What an undertaking. What an accomplishment. This intense detailed examination of several lives on three continents that spans six decades grabs and holds one’s interest immediately. It is in part a tale of the Jewish diaspora in the Twentieth Century, an obscure Jewish colony in the Dominican Republic, the sundering of families, and the support and damage the slavish observance of ancient tradition can bring. It is a tale of resolution of old wounds and new loves. And it is a tale of murder.

Max Redmond is bludgeoned to death in his apartment in Washington Heights. The New York detective assigned to the case is Tolya Kurchenko, whose family left the USSR. In the course of his investigation, he discovers diaries and records that resonate closely with his own estrangement from his father. Tolya’s father wanted him to attend Princeton, not become a cop.

Pursuit of the killer involves racial, religious, political and cultural dimensions. The novel is very well written, the characters are fascinating and the emotions and motivations are real. The story is not a slam bang action pumped thriller. Rather it is a meticulously and carefully detailed examination of several lives, multiple generations and the long-tailed consequences of their random and fateful interactions. This is a marvelous crime novel well illustrating it’s central theme that “Life is indeed too short to make enemies of those we love.”

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2015.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Confessions of a Queen B* by Crista McHugh

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Title: Confessions of a Queen B*
Series: The Queen B* #1
Author: Crista McHugh
Publication Date: July 28, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, General Fiction, Young Adult



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Confessions of a Queen BConfessions of a Queen B*
The Queen B* #1
Crista McHugh
Crista McHugh, July 2015
ISBN 978-1940559629
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Alexis Wyndham is the other type of Queen B—the Queen Bitch.

After years of being the subject of ridicule, she revels in her ability to make the in-crowd cower via the exposés on her blog, The Eastline Spy. Now that she’s carved out her place in the high school hierarchy, she uses her position to help the unpopular kids walking the hallways.

Saving a freshman from bullies? Check.
Swapping insults with the head cheerleader? Check.
Falling for the star quarterback? So not a part of her plan.

But when Brett offers to help her solve the mystery of who’s posting X-rated videos from the girls’ locker room, she’ll have to swallow her pride and learn to see past the high school stereotypes she’s never questioned—until now.

Before I get into what I liked about this book, I should probably mention the things I didn’t like so…

Um, well…hmm.  It seems I can’t think of anything. So, does that mean I really, really liked Confessions of a Queen B*? Why, yes, I did.

Alexis aka Lexi is a girl I admire even with her shortcomings. She’s prickly as can be but, because of her own experiences, she’s determined to protect the underdog and expose the wrongdoings that go on in the hell known as high school. As mentioned, she does have shortcomings, especially her inability to believe that she has much to offer of herself and her need to keep her distance from all but her two best friends, Morgan and Richard, and her mom and sister. Lexi’s relationship with her mother is the most poignant because it’s so weak, sort of the “ships passing in the night” kind.

Of all the boys in the fictional world, I think Brett may just be the most perfect. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you why because that would just spoil your own opportunity to peel back all the layers of this young man but, suffice it to say, he kept surprising me all the way through the book.

Solving the mystery of who’s filming the girls in the locker room never really takes first place in the storyline but what both Lexi and Brett believe what must be done with the information is critical and shows us who these two kids are at heart. We like to think that high school seniors have a certain level of maturity but actually seeing it on the page is really nice.

Finally, the romance. Ms. McHugh earned my undying gratitude in the way she handled this aspect of the story, so much so that I can’t wait to see how things will unfold in future books and that is a true rarity for me. Essentially, Confessions of a Queen B* is a book that should not have drawn me in because I’m not usually attracted to romance or teenaged angst but Crista McHugh surprised me into thinking I just might like such things every now and then.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

About the Author

Crista McHughGrowing up in small town Alabama, Crista relied on story-telling as a natural way for her to pass the time and keep her two younger sisters entertained.

She currently lives in the Audi-filled suburbs of Seattle with her husband and two children, maintaining her alter ego of mild-mannered physician by day while she continues to pursue writing on nights and weekends.

Just for laughs, here are some of the jobs she’s had in the past to pay the bills: barista, bartender, sommelier, stagehand, actress, morgue attendant, and autopsy assistant.

And she’s also a recovering LARPer. (She blames it on her crazy college days)

For the latest updates, deleted scenes, and answers to any burning questions you have, please check out her webpage,

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Book Review: Hunter by Renee Donne

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Title: Hunter
Author: Renee Donne
Publisher: Anaiah Press
Publication Date: November 14, 2014
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult



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Renee Donne
Anaiah Press, November 2014
ISBN 978-0996329033
Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-0-9909085-2-4

From the publisher—

Moving across the country isn’t Hunter’s ideal start to her Junior year of high school. She has no friends to hang out with, no beaches to lounge on, and she’s living just a few miles from the secluded hiking trail where her father died when she was a baby.

Living in Wyoming isn’t all bad, though, thanks to Logan, the handsome veterinary assistant at the animal clinic where she lands an after school job. And he seems just as interested in her as she is in him.

As Hunter begins to settle into her new home, she learns more about the circumstances surrounding her father’s tragic death, and it may not have been the accident everyone believes. The truth lies in the woods bordering her grandfather’s ranch, and Hunter might be the next victim.


Poor Hunter is being dragged off to Wyoming to live after her mother loses her job and, before they even get there, odd things happen including a woman dashing across the road in front of them. This is a prelude to other strange events but Hunter at least soon finds that living in the middle of nowhere might not be so bad, especially after she meets a hottie named Logan and lands a job with the local veterinarian. A chance encounter with a Native American named Gus intrigues her while also creeping her out a bit until her grandfather reassures her that Gus is a good guy.

Religion plays a big part in the storyline, portrayed in both a natural, comforting manner and also as a tool for those who distort and use people’s faith for their own purposes. It’s all part of the mystery surrounding Hunter’s dad’s death many years earlier but Hunter and her mom find the town to be as welcoming as they could wish.

If you’re looking for a light mystery to while away a few hours, Hunter is not a bad choice. There are some stumbling blocks—Hunter fits into her new school with nary a hiccup which is pretty unrealistic in a high school environment, it was way too easy to spot the bad guy and the writing was a bit stilted—but, on the whole, I enjoyed the story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

An Excerpt from Hunter

The early morning air was crisp when I stepped out of the house dressed in an old pair of denim shorts, a tee, and a beat up pair of sneakers. I’d tried to prepare for my hike, eating a fair breakfast and tucking some water, a sandwich, and a few granola bars into my backpack. But I hadn’t even considered it might be chilly. Probably because in South Carolina, chilly was a word that just didn’t exist in late August. I was grateful for the mild weather, though, since I would have to ride my bike forever before I would even reach the hiking trail.

“Where you off to?” Grandfather Birchum’s gruff voice stopped me in my tracks just as I was about to descend the steps from the porch to the driveway.

I turned to face him. He was completely outfitted and ready for a day of ranch work in old jeans, boots, and a button down plaid shirt. He even wore a Stetson, which seemed to be typical attire around here. “Exploring,” I answered, waving my printed map in the air as proof.

“You got a trail in mind, or are you just planning to wing it? The land can be dangerous out there, you know.” There was a warning in his tone.

“I’m a big girl, Grandpa. And yes, I do have a trail in mind. I pointed toward what I hoped was West, toward the area of Grandpa’s land that bordered the forest.

He nodded and reached into his pocket. “Take my truck.” He tossed his keys at me, and I caught them with an arm against my chest. Grandpa was clearly a man of few words, but I was happy for the offer. It sure beat biking out to the trail just to walk some more.

In no time, I’d reached the edge of Grandpa’s land and pulled to a stop when the vegetation became too thick to drive anymore. The air was warming a bit, but it was still on the cool side when I stepped out of the truck. I couldn’t remember ever seeing such gorgeous blue skies without it being ninety-five degrees outside. I slung my backpack over my shoulder and took the path leading away from Grandpa’s truck.

About an hour into my hike, I found myself wishing I had a pair of boots. My old sneakers just weren’t made for this terrain. The plant life around the path had thinned, and this was the perfect place to take a rest, sit and enjoy the solitude of nature. I slid down against a tree and pulled my snacks out of my bag.

I was just washing down my second granola bar with a bottle of water when I heard a faint shuffling noise behind me. Thinking some wild animal had happened upon me, I hopped up and spun around to face it far less gracefully than I’d intended.

Rather than a wolf or fox or whatever they had out here, it was a man. An old, Native-American man, standing no more than ten feet from me, and dressed like something straight out of a Western movie. How had he gotten so close without me hearing him? He stared at me, and not sure what to do, I just stared back.

He perched on a nearby boulder. “Relax Hunter. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“How do you know my name? What do you want?” I was relieved there was no wild animal about to pounce, but I was still wary of this odd stranger.

“I have been expecting you. Before you were born, you had a purpose.” That cryptic response was apparently the only one I was going to get. He stood and began to walk away. When I didn’t follow, he turned to look over his shoulder at me. “Don’t just stand there. Let’s go.” He sounded so much like an annoyed father speaking to a child that, without even considering my actions, I followed him.

He motioned to a multi-colored blanket which lay folded on the ground against a large rock. “Sit,” he barked and crouched several feet away. Then he used his finger to draw a line in the dry earth. Unable to deny my curiosity, I sat and watched intently, trying to figure out what he was doing.

I observed in silence while he worked, not wanting to break what appeared to be intense concentration by asking what he was doing. For almost twenty minutes, he sat creating an intricate design. I couldn’t quite tell what the image was, but he seemed quite pleased with the finished product.

“It is done. You may leave now.” He hadn’t spoken since telling me to sit, and now he wanted me to just get up and leave?

“What’s done?”

“What you came for. I have learned all I needed. Now, you better leave, return to your vehicle, and go home before anyone realizes you’re here. They won’t like that you visited. You should stay away from here; it’s too close.”

This guy was obviously more than a little on the crazy side. Leaving was starting to look pretty appealing. Granted, I kind of liked him for the eccentricity, but if there were others like him, I didn’t want to be around when they showed up and the crazy party really started. I stood and moved slowly away from him. I headed back down the path, grabbing my pack from where I left it, and slipping my arms through the straps as I walked.

I made my way back to the truck, replaying the last bizarre hour in my head all the while. It seemed like a much shorter trip back than it was to get all the way out there, but I wasn’t going to complain. I was suddenly in a hurry to get home.

Trailer for Hunter


About the Author

Renee DonneRenee Donne is a native Floridian with a penchant for writing books with a western theme. In her head, she’s a world traveler and an amateur chef. In real life, she’s a hometown girl with an affinity for fine wine and good friends. Her favorite place to write is sitting on her veranda, overlooking the beach.

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Dogs I Have Known

Kathleen with Lefty, Millie and Maggie

Kathleen with Lefty, Millie and Maggie

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to share tales of the dogs she’s known and loved.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in a new series, will be out in August 2015.

It started when I was maybe twelve. My brother and I had been pestering my parents for a dog a long time. However, we lived in an apartment (nothing like the big complexes of today, but still, an apartment) and a dog was out of the question. But not after we bought a house. They were out of excuses and my brother and I started searching for a dog. Not just any dog, mind you, but an Irish setter. I’d been given Big Red for my birthday and convinced my brother that was the kind of dog we wanted to own. We found her, too. An undernourished, filthy thing living chained to a dog house in the Hollywood hills. She had marks on her neck from a too tight chain, and a burn on the end of her tail from her owner’s cigarette. My mother was appalled, my brother and I were determined. Penny rode all the way home on my lap. She got a sorely needed bath before she entered the house and for her first month she ate anything she could scrounge. She even ate the soap in the bathroom and gave the fake fruit in the bowl on the dining room table a try. She was a wonderful dog.

I married young and while my husband was finishing up his college degree and I was working we couldn’t afford a dog. Then the children came but somehow a dog didn’t. A cat claimed us, but finally my oldest daughter made him promise if she found a sheltie for free, we could have a dog. Enter Mindy. My daughter, who was a 4 H member, took Mindy to obedience training. Mindy took to obedience like it was the best game in town. She sat, stayed, came, heeled with a smile on her face and her tail held high. She was with us once at a county fair. My daughter put her on a bale of hay and told her to sit, stay. We all went to the ring to watch her show her calf, and forgot about Mindy. When we returned, jubilantly waving the blue ribbon my daughter and Poly Jayne, her calf, had just won, Mindy was still there, sitting on her bale of hay. Now that’s a good dog.

Millie the Mop

Millie the Mop

After that, dogs seemed to flow through my life with great regularity. There was Roxie, my oldest daughter’s Seeing Eye dog project for 4H. She went back to the institute when she was about a year old to start training for her career, but had hip dysplasia and was washed out of the program. We were all despondent when Roxie left, but one day the phone rang, it was the director saying she would be put up for adoption, were we interested. We all were there to meet her plane. Then there was Ira, an English cocker spaniel, who I found walking down the middle of the road, almost tiptoeing his pads were so sore, full of burs and other filth. Ira loved calves and spent a lot of time at the fence that separated us from the pasture next door, licking the calves’ noses. And Thea, who was tossed out of a car at the top of our hill. She crept down toward my barn, apology for what I don’t know written all over her, wondering if she might have a bite to eat. I thought I was fattening her up nicely until the day she presented us with 6 puppies. And then there was Bandit, an Italian Greyhound, the first of 5 IG’s who would eventually share my home and bed. Bandit, however, was the only one who was insane. But I adored him, and he me. Bandit’s unconditional love got me through some tough times.

Then came Shea, another German Shepard and a very special dog. Shea and her companion, Laney, the shyest of all my IG’s, crossed the US three times with me by car. They loved to travel, were really good in elevators, and I felt very safe with Shea by my side.

She passed over the Rainbow Bridge a few years ago, followed not too long after by Laney. I decided I wouldn’t get another dog. I would just keep the cat and make my life easier. However “the best laid plans of mice and men…” There are 3 dogs stretched out on the floor of my office, keeping me company as I write this. Lefty is missing a left leg (hence Lefty but that wasn’t my idea) after an unfortunate encounter with a car. His owners never claimed him, so now he spends his days at my home and nights and week-ends at my grandchildren’s. Maggie, another IG, came to me just in time to escape the gas chamber. She’s wild, is fond of leaping into my lap as I write. I blame all my typos on her. Millie, ah, Millie. She was tossed out of a car behind Tractor Supply and was smart enough to go into the store looking for help. She found it. We’re not sure of her ancestry, but think she may be a cocker/poodle mix. But maybe not. What she is, is wonderful, loving, very hairy, and very cute. She was partly my inspiration for Purebred Dead.

There were others, all deeply loved and loving. After all those dogs, I had to write a book where the dog is a main character, now didn’t I?


Purebred DeadPurebred Dead is the first in the new Mary McGill canine mysteries. Mary McGill, retired school teacher, is a pillar of the community. She has a finger in every pie, a seat on every committee. Everything Mary organizes runs smoothly—until today. The traditional Christmas pageant is this year hosting a Posada, but the manger isn’t empty. It contains a bloodstained corpse and a black and white puppy. Two local children see a shadowy figure fleeing from the scene—but there are no other clues as to the identity of the killer. Mary, who has no experience with dogs, finds she’d better learn, and fast. She’s sure if she can find out why the puppy was there, she will be one step closer to helping find the killer. Instead, she finds another corpse, and Millie, a cocker spaniel who unexpectedly needs a home. Mary, Millie, and the children discover who the murderer really is and…well, let’s say it wasn’t the safest day of their lives. To find out what happened, you’ll just have to read the book.

Publishers Weekly gave this book a lovely review, so did Library Journal. It will be released Aug 1., so be sure to ask for it at your local bookstore, or ask your librarian if they have their copies yet.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8501-2

Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Daniel Jose Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, July 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-59161-4

To be sure, when a “random old white dude” fancies himself as THE anthropologist guru of urban spirituality systems, and thusly thrusts himself into the mythology of the shadowshapers; no good can come from it. Oddly, the offended fury of the spirits and entities enraged by his pompous presumptions pales in comparison to the wrath of our plucky Puerto Rican narrator.

Sierra is tougher-than-nails-kinder-than-a-kitten, cajoling the reader to dive in and hang with her and the vibrant, charismatic, tightly-knit crew that beautify their Brooklyn with gorgeous graffiti art and energetic, enchanting rap battles.

“She inhaled and the world caught its breath; exhaled
and a tidal wave of space emptied out around her.”

In the quest to find the archetypal spirit Lucera, Sierra’s stumbling blocks signify social issues of today. The answer to her original query, why shadowshapers aren’t well known, is sad but true: “people don’t see what they’re not looking for.” The Columbia librarian, coincidentally examining the very anthropologists that study the spirit worlds, reminds us of potential fallacies when making snap judgments. The horrendous havoc following Lucera’s disappearance is, disappointingly, confirmation that no one realized how crucial she was…..until she was gone.

Mr. Older artfully unravels urban spirituality lore in a mesmerizing mystery that feels fascinatingly fresh, crisply colorful and invigorating; while simultaneously seeming familiar, somewhat nostalgic. The dazzling dialogue amuses and delights. Initially, Shadowshapers can be gobbled up….an indulgent, pleasure-filled immersion. Soon, though, subtle layers leap into the reader, like spirits into shadowshapers’ murals, conveying hope, inspiration and a calming, centering of the soul.

“The true source of shadowshaper magic is that
connection, community…we are interdependent.”

I applaud absolutely every part of this courageous, bold book and recommend it to essentially every reader, middle-grade and beyond. Undoubtedly, I’ll be bouncing around the room for my Shadowshaper Book Talk when I encourage my beloved High School English classes to check this out. Tomes tailored to the open and hungry minds of our young adults build bridges and embolden the youth to join like-minded, Not-So-Much Young Adults.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2015.

A Real-Life Mystery

Lois Winston 2USA Today bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit Lois/Emma at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, Follow everyone on Tsu at, on Pinterest at, and on Twitter @anasleuth. Sign up for her newsletter at

I often get many of my plot ideas from real-life events I’ve read about or seen on the news. My latest release, A Stitch to Die For, Book 5 in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, is no exception. I’ve woven several recent news stories into the book.

Shortly after I finished writing A Stitch to Die For, our little suburban commuter town made national news. A short walk from my home is a house that is being stalked by someone calling himself The Watcher. Or so the owners claim. Here are the facts:

In June 2014 the house, built in 1905 and located on a street that has been designated historical, was sold for 1.35 million dollars. (By contrast, my little bungalow, built in 1927, is valued at less than a third of that!) The sellers had lived in the house since 1990. The new owners made extensive renovations to the house but never moved in. Last month they filed a lawsuit against the former owner for not disclosing that the house had been stalked for decades.

According to the new owners, the seller received a letter from The Watcher several days prior to settlement but failed to disclose it. Three days after settlement the new owners received the first of three letters from The Watcher. The Watcher claimed the house “has been the subject of my family for decades” and that he was put in charge of “watching and waiting for the second coming” after his father and grandfather before him. He went on to make threats against the new owners’ three children. No letters were ever received after mid-July of last year. Meanwhile the new owners went ahead with their renovations.

The Watcher House

The Watcher House

The new owners turned the three letters over to the police who investigated but found nothing. No letter addressed to the former owner has surfaced, and she hasn’t admitted ever having received any. Other former owners have stated there was never any problem regarding the house and all had happy memories of living there.

In February of this year the new owners put the house up for sale without ever having lived in it. The lawsuit claims they haven’t been able to sell the house, even after repeated price reductions, because of The Watcher. However, no one knew anything about The Watcher and the letters until the lawsuit became public record last month when it was filed.

Home disclosure laws vary from state to state. In some states the seller would have had to disclose information about The Watcher prior to closing. Not in New Jersey. Here the seller only has to disclose prior physical problems such as a fire or flood. And who’s to say the seller had even heard of The Watcher, let alone ever received a letter from him? That’s only on the word of the new owners, and how do they know the seller received a letter?

I have my own theories about all of this, but I’ll leave that for Book 6 in my series. It’s so nice when a plot just falls into your lap! For now, though, I hope you’ll find the real-life inspired plot of Book 5 interesting.

A Stitch to Die For
An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 5

A Stitch to Die ForThe adventures of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack continue in A Stitch to Die For, the 5th book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series by USA Today bestselling author Lois Winston.

Ever since her husband died and left her in debt equal to the gross national product of Uzbekistan, magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack has stumbled across one dead body after another—but always in work-related settings. When a killer targets the elderly nasty neighbor who lives across the street from her, murder strikes too close to home. Couple that with a series of unsettling events days before Halloween, and Anastasia begins to wonder if someone is sending her a deadly message.

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(Other books in the series include Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, Death by Killer Mop Doll, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, and three mini-mysteries: Crewel Intentions, Mosaic Mayhem, and Patchwork Peril.)

Book Review: Aunt Dimity and the Summer King by Nancy Atherton

Aunt Dimity and the Summer KingAunt Dimity & the Summer King
Aunt Dimity #20
Nancy Atherton
Viking, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-670-02670-8

I thought it would be fun to begin my Aunt Dimity adventure with this twentieth book in the series. By now, the series is fully developed and later I could go back and work my way forward, if I liked what I read.What’s not to love in the premise of the series? Lori Shepherd from Chicago has relocated to Finch, a small cottage in England’s Cotswolds she inherited from her Aunt Dimity. And Aunt Dimity has even stuck around after her death, always available to communicate with Lori by mysteriously writing to her in a blue journal whenever Lori looks inside. Aunt Dimity is a guide/best friend for Lori, helping her to develop her thoughts about the current mystery taking place in Finch. That mystery is why the two empty cottages in Finch have not been sold.

Lori also has her newborn daughter in this book and is just as involved with her as she is with solving the current mystery. Unfortunately, this baby is a very normal baby and reading about the details of caring for a baby becomes rather tedious at times (breastfeeding, naps, diaper changes) – nothing really different here than a normal healthy baby. She is much loved and tended and there is barely a conversation which isn’t interrupted by the baby. It is a realistic portrayal of life with a newborn. This might be entertaining or even enlightening for a reader who doesn’t realize how much a baby can change your life and I would recommend it to those readers. For the rest of us, we may need to just skim those parts and not let ourselves get bogged down.

In solving the empty cottages mystery, Lori meets the Summer King who lives just over the town line, and seeks to understand the rivalry between the two towns. We are introduced to lots of colorful characters in the town. I would have liked more of the book to be about them and Aunt Dimity and the Summer King and his family. These sections of the book are delightful and the book is at its most charming when Lori gets to know him and his family and visits his home.

If you are already an Aunt Dimity fan, I think you will enjoy this book too. If you’re not yet a fan, you may want to start with an earlier volume.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, June 2015.