Book Reviews: Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton, Speak of the Devil by Allison Leotta, and The Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings by Raymond Benson

Sister Eve, Private EyeSister Eve, Private Eye
A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery #1
Lynne Hinton
Thomas Nelson, December 2014
ISBN 978-1-4016-9145-5
Trade Paperback

Sister Eve has been a Benedictine nun for twenty years, but changes in Church policy are making her question her vocation.  When she learns that the Captain, her detective father, is about to lose a leg to diabetes, she takes a leave to nurse him, whether he likes it or not.  The irascible Captain–a retired police officer–was hunting for a missing movie producer when his illness spiraled out of control.  The discovery of the man’s body and Sister Eve‘s conviction that his client, the producer’s mistress, did not kill him, leads her to join in the investigation.

I like Sister Eve, the Captain, Meg Finch, his client–all of the characters feel real to me.  I love the Southwest setting.  The plot twists around nicely, and I didn’t spot the killer.  I spotted the clues after I finished the book.

I can see no easy answer to Sister Eve‘s spiritual dilemma.  Her talent for and love of detecting call her one way, her Community calls her another.  Her family needs her, but so does her Church. The situation isn’t resolved in this book, so I’m really glad that it’s the first in a series.   I hope there will be many more.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

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Speak of the DevilSpeak of the Devil
Anna Curtis #3
Allison Leotta
Touchstone, August 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-4485-2
Hardcover

Anna Curtis, a tough sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington D.C., is in the process of asking her lover to marry her when she’s notified of a horrific murder and mutilation case. Assigned the investigation, she soon finds even the victims who lived through the attack are unwilling to testify. Why? Because “the Devil,” leader of the wicked MS-13 street gang, will retaliate, and he is brutal beyond compare.

The story sweeps the reader along with Anna as she builds her case, finds her witnesses and, as the gang leaders come to trial, almost becomes another of the Devil’s victims. I thought Ms. Leotta did a particularly good job of showing the reader how certain gang members became murderers and rapists, among their other crimes, whether that was their nature or not.

Even as all of this is going on, Jack, who first turns down Anna’s proposal, turns the tables and asks her to marry him. She says yes, but troubles are on the horizon, partially because Jack is African-American with a young daughter from a previous marriage.

The rest of the tale gets messy (in a good way) and I’m not giving out any spoilers here. The twist at the end is quite emotional. The plot, pacing, and characterization in the story are excellent. There is one rather graphic sex scene that would’ve been better omitted, in my opinion. Otherwise, this is a most satisfying book.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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The Black Stiletto Endings and BeginningsThe Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings
The Black Stiletto #5
Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing, November 2014
ISBN: 978-1-60809-103-4
Hardcover

Prolific crime writer Raymond Benson has a genuine flare for the use of words. He demonstrates that talent many times in this overlong tale. He also is talented in his ability to translate narrative and dialogue into the flavor of words and phrases that might be used by a young troubled girl growing up in Texas in the latter half of the Twentieth Century

A lot of girls grew up in Texas during that era but none of them had the kind of family represented by the mystery woman known as the Black Stiletto. She was a woman who traveled fast and quietly, associated with gangsters and cops and carried a very sharp knife. She embodied the legend of Lilith, the first woman. A woman who could take a life when necessary.

This novel moves effectively back and forth between time periods, delineates characters precisely and often wittily, and drives the twisted complicated plot and its many intertwined relationships to final fruition with multi-generational windings. It’s a fascinating novel, well-done in nearly every aspect and will undoubtedly expand the legion of followers.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Waiting On Wednesday (13)

Oops, posted this on Tuesday accidentally!
Here it is again 😉

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Continue reading

A Brief Note About A Missing Post

Many of you wonderful readers participated in a post
by Sunny Frazier titled “When Life Imitates Art”
back at the end of September. This post was about
a mysterious letter and package Sunny received and
your discussions led to the solution to the mystery.

Continue reading

Book Review: Thread and Gone by Lea Wait

Thread and GoneThread and Gone
A Mainely Needlepoint Mystery #3
Lea Wait
Kensington, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-61773-008-5
Mass Market Paperback

At first glance, Mary Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette and a coastal Maine village would seem to have little in common. But when a young couple ask Angie Curtis, who runs a needle-craft business, if an old piece of needlepoint they found in the woman’s house is valuable, a tangled history leads to a new crime. Murder.

The piece is obviously very old. Local legends and local history hint that either Mary, Queen of Scots or Marie Antoinette could have stitched it, which would make it extremely valuable. Angie’s Gran, a needlework expert, is off on her honeymoon, so Angie consults Sarah, who owns an antiques shop. She also asks her lawyer to keep the piece in her safe. That turns out badly. The lawyer is murdered, and some jewelry and the needlepoint piece vanish. Was the killer after the jewelry or the needlepoint? If the jewelry, is the beautiful old piece now buried in a dumpster, or destroyed?

Feeling responsible, Angie takes on the tasks of digging out the history of the missing artifact, and finding it. As she previously worked for a private detective, she has some skills. She also has friends on the local and state police forces–who warn her to keep out of it. She can’t. It makes an interesting tale.

Lea Wait writes well about history and small-town Maine. I really enjoyed spending time in Haven Harbor. This is the third book in what I hope will be a long and successful series.

Extra nice touch: chapter headings taken from needlepoint pieces worked by children long ago. Fascinating.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.

Book Review: What’s Broken Between Us by Alexis Bass

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Title: What’s Broken Between Us
Author: Alexis Bass
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: December 29, 2015
Genre: General Fiction, Young Adult

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What's Broken Between UsWhat’s Broken Between Us
Alexis Bass
HarperTeen, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-227535-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Look to the left, look to the right. We’re all going to die. But someone has to do it first. So who’s it going to be?

Tragedy struck Amanda Tart’s town a year and a half ago when a sophomore girl was killed in a car accident on graduation night.

Amanda’s brother, Jonathan, was behind the wheel and too drunk to drive. He’s spent the past year in prison and has cut off all ties. But now Jonathan is coming home. Just as Amanda’s trying to figure out what that means for her family and herself, she’s paired up for a school project with Henry Crane—a former crush, and brother of Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend, who survived the crash with horrible injuries.

Everyone is still incredibly damaged by the events of that night. Can Amanda and Henry finally begin to heal what’s broken and find some peace?

I’m full of conflicting feelings about this book and I both like and don’t like it, leaning more heavily to the liking end.

Who among us has not been affected, either directly or indirectly, by a drunk driving incident in high school, almost always revolving around either prom or graduation. For me, having grown up in a fairly good-sized city and its surrounding counties, such memories do exist and it almost seems like a required rite of passage. The problem hasn’t gotten any less serious, either; there are still drunk driving deaths every spring and, whether we know the kids or not, we all mourn the loss of so much promise.

There have been books on this subject before but Ms. Bass quite imaginatively approaches it very differently. We still see the fallout suffered by family and friends but the main character is the sister of the drunk driver, not the direct victim or a survivor. Amanda is damaged almost as much as anyone else and I see her as someone who tries her level best to not do or say anything that’s going to cause the slightest bit of controversy. Amanda walks through life like a shadow of her true self, very carefully, like a tightrope walker who must place each step extremely carefully, looking neither to left or right. Some of the decisions she’ll make once Jonathan has come home are really questionable but perhaps not surprising although I can’t condone her treatment of Graham no matter what her reasons.

Jonathan is also a surprise. Unlike other stories in which the drunk driver “sees the light” and takes his punishment to heart, this boy is doing his utmost to alienate everyone and he’s a poster child for recidivism. There doesn’t seem to be any way for him to make up for what happened but, perhaps more importantly, Jonathan doesn’t appear to care or to want any kind of redemption.

There is a lot of darkness and unhappiness in What’s Broken Between Us and the ending will not satisfy some readers. For me, it made the most sense because, after all, terrible events rarely have unabashedly happy resolutions. Most of all, drunk driving must always be seen as the worst choice to make.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

About the Author

Alexis BassAlexis Bass grew up in Washington, went to college in Arizona, and spent her early twenties in Seattle. She currently lives in Northern California with Dylan McKay, her gorgeous and rambunctious golden retriever. She loves good fashion and good TV as much as a good book, and is a huge advocate of the three C’s: coffee, chocolate, and cheese. LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES is her first novel.

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Website: http://alexisbassbooks.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7264073.Alexis_Bass

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Book Reviews: Perfect Sins by Jo Bannister and A Song of Shadows by John Connolly

Perfect SinsPerfect Sins
Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best #2
Jo Bannister
Minotaur Books, December 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-05420-3
Hardcover

In the first book of this new series by Jo Bannister, the highly recommended Deadly Virtues, the reader met Gabriel Ash, in his mid-20’s, “an intelligent, astute man who had once been highly regarded in national security circles,” a well-educated insurance investigator and later a Government analyst before the traumatic events of 4 years ago when his wife and two young boys had been taken by persons unknown, their present whereabouts a complete mystery.

The follow-up book takes place two months later, and reunites Gabriel with Hazel Best, a 26-year-old rookie cop, now on probation after the events which took place in that earlier novel, during which she had saved his life more than once.  As the book opens, Gabriel is accompanying Hazel to visit her father, the gatekeeper at Byrfield estate, the lord of the manor being Lord Pete (“Peregrine”) Byrfield.   Also present is David Sperrin, Hazel’s old friend and an archaeologist who lives with his mother on neighboring property, who shortly embarks on an excavation on Byrfield land resulting in the discovery of what is determined to be the body of a ten-year-old child in a makeshift grave, apparently dead for over 30 years.  DI Edwin Norris is the cop assigned to the ensuing investigation into the child’s murder, and the identity of the murderer.  In the process we learn a lot about British aristocracy, much of it fascinating.

Of course Gabriel’s family’s whereabouts, and the question of whether they are even alive, is always in the forefront of his mind.  Their disappearance during Gabriel’s investigation into African pirates’ hijacking of British arms shipments has him still continuing that investigation.

The writing is wonderful throughout, in particular the author’s descriptions:  “I don’t know what Guy would have grown up to be.  An entertainer, possibly.  Or a politician.  Something where the ability to tell barefaced lies is a major advantage.”  And a shopkeeper:  “an elderly woman with a froth of white hair and the apple cheeks of the terminally jovial.”  As in the earlier novel, all the characters are very well-drawn, especially Gabriel, Hazel, and DI Norris, and the relationship between Hazel and Gabriel seems to be evolving into something more intimate.  The suspense keeps building, right up until the very last page, which ends in a cliffhanger which makes me all the more anxious to read the next book in the series, Desperate Measures, due out in December, 2015 – can’t wait!

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2015.

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A Song of ShadowsA Song of Shadows
A Charlie Parker Thriller #14
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, September 2015
ISBN: 978-1-5011-1828-9
Hardcover

This latest Charlie Parker novel has a more intriguing plot while combining many of the elements of earlier books in the series.  It begins with Charlie having survived a near fatal gunshot attack, leaving him extremely weak, renting a house on a small bay in Boreas, ME, in which to recuperate.  There is only one other home on the bay, occupied by a woman, Ruth Winter, and her daughter, Amanda.  In earlier decades, a large German population settled in the area, and after World War II an influx of supposed displaced persons arrived nearby.

When the body of a man washes ashore on the beach, questions are raised as to whether he is a suicide or the victim of foul play since he had traveled from Florida.  Then another fact emerges:  His friend and partner is found murdered in the Sunshine State, raising additional suspicion.  When Ruth Winter is murdered, there can be no question there is evil in the air, and Charlie, despite his debilitation, begins to act like a detective.

So much for the background.  The central theme is the post-war arrivals and their link to a Nazi concentration camp.  The description of the government’s investigations to identify and deport Nazi war criminals is affecting.  And Charlie’s efforts to unravel the mystery of the deaths, whether they are related, and if so to what, are, of course, aided by his usual cohorts, Louis and Angel and FBI agent Ross, along with Rabbi Epstein.  Naturally a Charlie Parker novel without the presence of the Collector or introduction of the occult would not be in keeping with the series, so, naturally, both are present and play a major role in the unraveling of the plot, along with the presence of Charlie’s daughters, the living Sam and the deceased Jennifer.  All in all, this is John Connolly at his best, with a most serious story, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2015.

Book Reviews: The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush by Susan Wittig Albert and One by Sarah Crossan

The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar BushThe Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush
The Darling Dahlias #5
Susan Wittig Albert
Berkley Prime Crime, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-425-26060-9
Hardcover

It’s 1933, and the little town of Darling, Alabama is running out of money. Its only bank has closed, and depositors are out of luck. Businesses can’t meet payroll commitments. People can’t buy necessities, let alone luxuries. Shops, even if they could extend credit, can’t restock their shelves without funds. Only Mickey LeDoux, supplier of moonshine while folks await the end of prohibition, seems to be doing okay—for the time being, anyway.

Who is to blame for the bank’s closing and the town’s woes? Is it the former bank president, who sold the failing financial institution to a big corporation and quickly retired? Perhaps it’s the new president, Alvin Duffy, the person who proposes saving the town by issuing scrip, which seems like counterfeit money to some mistrusting townspeople. And what about Charlie Dickens, the drunken newspaper man, the one who agrees to print the scrip and then somehow “loses” it? Verna Tidwell, acting county treasurer and an officer of the Darling Dahlias Garden Club, resolves to find out who can or cannot be trusted.

If you haven’t read any of the four previous Darling Dahlias mysteries, you’ll delight in the personalities and foibles of the various Dahlia Club members and their fellow townspeople. There’s a guide at the beginning of the book in case you become confused by the plethora of characters. But not to worry—by the time Verna Tidwell gets busy checking out clues, you’ll know the main character, the town of Darling, quite well. During the Great Depression, the welfare of the town depends on the fortunes of the country and the deeds of the townsfolk. The Dahlias are committed to the preservation of Darling and stand ready to deal with its challenges.

Enjoy this book on its own, as I did, or start with the first book in the series and learn to know all the Dahlias well, as I want to do now I’ve been introduced. These gals seem to have grit enough to cope with the times and the crimes to take care of their town.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, December 2015.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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OneOne
Sarah Crossan
Greenwillow Books, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-211875-2
Hardcover

Tippi & Grace weren’t expected to live past their second birthday, but now they’re sixteen and for financial reasons, must go to school instead of being homeschooled. They’re conjoined from the waist down, sharing two legs and a blended lower digestive system as well as a single set of reproductive organs. Despite physical and emotional hardships, not to mention their younger sister, a promising ballerina, having her own health/emotional issues, the girls are happy and cannot imagine being surgically separated.

When something serious begins to affect both of them, the choices facing them force the girls to look at something they never expected to deal with. Further complicating things are their parents’ financial and emotional problems as well as their first real friends at school, Yasmeen who has her own health issue that allows her to understand the sisters in ways nobody else can, and Jon, a boy who thinks they’re beautiful and isn’t scared off by their physical differences. In fact these two friends give them the courage and motivation to feel alive and free for the first time in their lives.

Told in short verse chapters with the more quiet and shy Grace as the narrator, this is an immensely powerful book, one that is a fast read, but will stay long after readers close the cover because of its sadness and beauty. It’s an excellent book on a very poorly understood condition and deserves to be in any school and public library where good and thought provoking young adult fiction is valued.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.