Book Review: Flowers over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti

Flowers over the Inferno
A Teresa Battaglia Novel #1
Ilaria Tuti
Translated from the Italian by Ekin Oklap
Soho Crime, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-64129-068-5
Hardcover

Set in a quiet village in a small community in Northern Italy, the naked body of a man has been found with his eyes gouged out. Detective Superintendent Teresa Battaglia is sent to investigate. A woman in her mid sixties, Teresa has earned a reputation as a highly experienced detective and profiler. But Teresa is beginning to feel the pressures of ailing health. She has Diabetes, and of late she has been dealing with periods of mental fatigue, and wonders if this is a portent of worse things to come.

A new assistant has been assigned to Teresa and she’s not sure whether to trust him or not. The local police try to downplay the death of one of the locals, but she is sure there is something sinister lurking beneath the surface and she intends to pursue the case.

Several children in the village have been aware of sinister happenings as well as experiencing strong feelings of being watched. More victims have the authorities wondering if a serial killer is on the loose. And when an infant is kidnapped the urgency to find the child escalates.

I found Detective Battaglia interesting and very human. Her concern for the victims is uppermost in her thoughts as she digs into the strange history of the area. And while finding the infant alive is her priority, she is also questioning her own state of mind and whether she will succeed. I thought at times the plot wandered somewhat without focus and direction. But the climax and ending worked well as the secrets of the past were revealed.

Detective Battaglia may possibly return in another tale as this is possibly the first in a proposed series.

Meanwhile…check it out….

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, May 2019.

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Book Review: Run Away by Harlan Coben

Run Away
Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing, March 2019
ISBN 978-1-5387-4846-6
Hardcover

First I have to confess I am a big fan of Harlan Coben. His latest book RUN AWAY is a complex tale about the Greene Family who live in New York City. Simon Greene and his wife Ingrid have three grownup children, Paige, Sam and Anya. Simon runs a financial company and Ingrid is a Pediatric Surgeon.

Life had been fairly normal until Paige, away from home attending Lanford College, became involved with a man named Aaron Corval, a drug addict. Stunned at the changes in their daughter, they tried to intervene, but Paige refused to listen and to their horror, left college with Corval and became an addict.

Months have passed and now, unbeknownst to his wife, Simon has been trying once again to find Paige with the intention of persuading her to leave Corval and enter rehab. A tip takes Simon to Central Park where he does find Paige, but Corval confronts him. A fistfight ensues and while Paige escapes, bystanders call the police. Simon is arrested.

A month later Aaron Corval is found brutally murdered in a run-down apartment in Mott Haven, The Bronx. The police pay Simon a visit. When he asks about Paige, thinking she might be a possible suspect in Corval’s death, he learns she is missing. Simon and Ingrid decide to check out the apartment where Corval was killed in the hope of finding a clue to where their daughter might have gone. They find no trace of Paige but as they leave they are confronted by a couple of armed drug dealers and in the contentious exchange Ingrid is shot.

Meanwhile we are introduced to two new characters, Ash and Dee-Dee and quickly realize they are killers, working their way through a list of people they have been hired to kill. While there seems to be no connection between the victims there is a strange and eerie logic to what they are being paid to do.

A combination of guilt, frustration and anguish over all that has happened to his daughter and wife (who is still in hospital), drives him to attend Aaron Corval’s funeral in the faint hope he’ll unearth a clue to where Paige is hiding. He gets an opportunity to talk to Corval’s step-mother at the bar she runs but learns little. But when he is approached by a woman who turns out to be a Private Detective looking for a missing young man they discover both Corval and the missing man were both adopted. Can this be the connection that will unravel the mystery?

This is indeed a twisted tale but at no time did I lose focus or interest in what was going on. As always the author did a commendable job of juggling the different story lines as they sped toward an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, April 2019.

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver #bookreview #tarheelreader #thrunsheltered @b_kingsolver @harperbooks #unsheltered

It’s been a long time since I read a Kingsolver novel but,
thanks to Jennifer’s review, I think I may have to try Unsheltered.

Jennifer ~ Tar Heel Reader

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Happy Saturday! Today I have a review of Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver and publishing on Tuesday via Harper Books! I’ve only read one other Kingsolver book, The Poisonwood Bible, which I deeply enjoyed. If you visited my blog yesterday, you saw my First Line Fridays post featuring this book. I ended up finishing it tonight and figured I would go ahead and post my review because next week looks pretty busy! Please read on for my thoughts on Kingsolver’s newest effort!

My Thoughts:

Willa Knox is the epitome of a responsible wife and mother. She has always put her family first, and when she reaches middle age, she is shocked to discover her life is not exactly what she had planned for her efforts. Her historic house, Vineland, is a money pit, her once successful job has dissolved, her husband’s career ends abruptly, she is behind on her bills, her…

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Book Review: Blood and Wisdom by Verlin Darrow

Blood and Wisdom
Verlin Darrow
The Wild Rose Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-5092-2086-1
Trade Paperback

Aria Piper runs a New Age Spiritual Center near Santa Cruz, California. Karl Gatlin is a private investigator but has training as a counselor. The two are connected because they were both interns at the same center, though Karl decided he was much more cut out for a career as a PI than counseling people through their personal troubles. However, when Aria begins receiving threats and a beheaded body turns up at Aria’s center, she turns to Karl to investigate. That is the basic set up for the book, however, if readers are expecting a straight forward PI book, they are in for a surprise or two as this is a book that never quite settles on what sort of a book it wants to be. It has a little bit of something for just about everyone, but I was left wondering if there was enough of any one thing to satisfy anyone.

The number one strength of the book is the character development. What an interesting cast of characters Darrow has given readers! First we have a main character who is a PI with psychotherapy training, a second main character who is running a spiritual center which might or might not be a cult, some sort of flaky “enlightened” folks, some seriously bad dudes and lastly my favorite, Larry the dog who has so many human traits it is sometimes hard to remember he is a dog.

The second strength is the off beat humor in the book. This is really not my favorite type of book (think Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey), but I do appreciate their craft and Darrow has the skills to carry this type of humor off.

I would like the author to firm up what genre he is writing though. Suspense, thriller, PI novel, or something completely different. Also, as fascinating as the odd set of characters were, sometimes their idiosyncrasies became a distraction from the plot.

Blood and Wisdom is the debut book for author Verlin Darrow. While I did have some issues with the book, there is definite potential for him as an author. It will be interesting to see what the next book brings.

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

Book Review: Kale to the Queen by Nell Hampton

Kale to the Queen
A Kensington Palace Chef Mystery #1
Nell Hampton
Crooked Lane Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1-68331-104-1

The basic plot of Kale to the Queen is this. The protagonist, Carrie Ann Cole, has an incredible bit of luck and meets the Duchess of Windsor in New York. Because of this meeting, Carrie Ann is offered the position of personal chef for the royal family in Kensington Palace. When Carrie Ann arrives jet lagged, late and soaking wet from a down pour, she finds that she is in charge of  food for a children’s party that very day. So Carrie Ann is off and running in her new career without having time to catch a breath let alone settle in. Not the greatest of beginnings. Things get considerably worse when she finds one of her assistants dead in the kitchen green house and is questioned by the police. Because Carrie Ann is the protagonist, of course she starts nosing around the investigation and finds out some things that others would like to remain hidden. In the end, things work out for Carrie Ann and presumably we’ll see more of her each Spring for the foreseeable future. This is is a good thing. For while the book and Carrie Ann fall into some of the traps of cozy type mysteries, for the most part this is a solid first book leaving at least this reader wanting more.

Kale to the Queen is the first mystery the author  has written. This is an important point because there are a lot more things that can go wrong in writing mysteries versus other types of fiction. For the most part, Hampton was up to the task. In a mystery the characters, even the minor ones, need to be fairly well developed to make them believable as witnesses and potential suspects. This was done quite well. The plot needs clues for the readers to follow. The author needs to “play fair” with the readers. This was done well. Going right along with that, the plot needs some unexpected twists to keep the readers on their toes and again, this was done, though this could be improved on. Also there were red herrings, but not really enough to camouflage the solution. This left the reader with a good puzzle but  maybe not a great one to solve. Hopefully, now that Carrie Ann and the supporting cast are established, there will be more details to the mystery in following books. The one truly troublesome aspect of this book is that Carrie Ann falls into the “cozy mystery trap” of telling too much to too many people. Not only could this have gotten her hurt or possibly killed, in the real world would probably have resulted in her being fired. As for the standard elements of cozies, yes there are recipes, but just three and at the end of the book, not sprinkled throughout the story. I personally MUCH prefer the recipes at the end. No, Carrie Ann does not have a pet. Yes, there is a potential love interest-both a boyfriend left behind in Chicago and some potentials in England.

I assume I will not be the only reader who from the first page of the book looks for comparisons to Julie Hyzy’s delightful White House Chef books with Ollie Paras as the protagonist. And indeed, there are some easy comparisons to make. Both chefs cook in very high profile positions and are surrounded by tight security measures. Both have some issues with fellow staff members feeling like the chef is not quite up to the position-in Ollie’s case because she is a woman, in Carrie Ann’s case because she is an American. Both protagonists have high demand jobs so much of the action takes place in and around their jobs unlike many cozies where the protagonists seem to be free to treat their jobs more like hobbies than  professions. Also, both protagonists tend to rush into things and share information that perhaps should be given only to the police. By the end of the book though, Carrie Ann has established herself and her series. I look forward to reading many more adventures of Carrie Ann Cole.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, March 2017.

Book Review: Celine by Peter Heller

Celine
Peter Heller
Alfred A. Knopf, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-451-49389-7
Hardcover

Celine is one of the most fascinating and hard to describe books I have read recently. In many ways, it is really two books in one. In the prologue, readers watch a happy family outing turn tragic and meet the little girl who will eventually be Celine’s client. If you are a reader who generally skips prologues, DON’T skip this one. It is important.

Moving on to the first chapter readers are introduced to Celine, one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve met. In her sixties, she works as a PI specializing in reuniting families but is also an artist using mostly found items that can be best described as macabre. For instance, in the opening scene she is creating a sculpture of  the skeleton of a mink looking down on it’s own skin drying on a rock with a crow’s skull nearby. Celine suffers from emphysema from her many years of smoking. There is a sadness about her that readers should realize right away explains much of what she does. She has suffered many losses in her life from her father’s absence from his family to the death of her sisters. But even as her story unfolds, we sense that Celine has lost even more.

Fast forward to the call from a much younger woman who has read about Celine’s work in a college alumni magazine. The woman, Gabriela, has also suffered losses in her life. The first painful loss was her small cat who disappeared when she was seven. But that loss is quickly overshadowed by a much bigger loss, that of her mother. As terrible as that was it was at least clear cut. Her mother drowned. Sadly that brought about the loss of her father at least emotionally. But it was  the actual death of her father many years later that  haunted her and brought her to Celine. Her father, a world renowned photographer, supposedly was killed, and possibly eaten, by a bear just outside of Yellowstone. No body was ever recovered. Gabriela has long questioned the circumstances surrounding her father’s death. Too many things in the investigation just didn’t quite add up. Celine takes the case and proceeds to Wyoming to investigate.

From that point on, the book shifts from Celine’s investigation and flashbacks to her own story.  In the end, readers find out what became of Gabriela’s father, but sadly, the mystery of Celine’s deep sadness is not fully revealed. I am hoping that there will be another case for Celine. Readers (and Celine) want closure.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, March 2017.

Book Reviews: Devine Intervention by Martha Brockenbrough and Clarity by Kim Harrington

Devine InterventionDevine Intervention   
Martha Brockenbrough
Arthur A. Levine Books, June 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-38213-7
Hardcover

I am not a big fan of YA novels, other than the Potter series, but Devine Intervention surprised me.  The book started out with interesting subject matter and continued to be a great read.  The point of view and witty dialogue was funny and witty.

The main character has several voices in his head and is quickly required to make a decision to either go along with a new program or to Hell.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the ending will catch you off guard.

The dialogue was easy to follow, which was good because as stated earlier, numerous voices are talking to the main character at a time! The concept for the book I thought was unique and the writing was very good.  I would highly recommend this book for teenagers, YA, and even older folks looking for a great read.

Reviewed by Chris Swinney, September 2013.
Author of Gray Ghost.

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ClarityClarity
Clarity Series #1
Kim Harrington
Point, March 2011
ISBN 978-0-545-23050-6
Hardcover

Clarity is a teenage girl with psychic “abilities” and from a family with abilities. Together, in their home, they run a psychic reading establishment.  This proves wildly unpopular for Clarity, known as a freak in her small town. When their small town which relies on the summer tourist season experiences a murder during that peak season, it’s Clarity they go to for help. That leaves Clarity stuck between her ex-boyfriend who she still has feelings for even though her ability has gotten in their way and the new chief of police’s dreamy son who doesn’t want to like her but can’t seem to stay away.

The trio is using Clarity’s psychic abilities to try to solve the murder and, when all signs point to someone close to Clarity, she’s torn between what she feels and what she can prove. Clarity deals with her love triangle, her teenage rebellion with her mother, the town’s teenagers that are not fond of the “freaky girl” and the stress of more murders as she gets closer to the truth with sarcastic wit that keeps you turning the pages.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Christina Macias, October 2012.