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.

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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.

Book Review: Whispering by Gerrie Ferris Finger

Whispering
Gerrie Ferris Finger
Crystal Skull Publishing, November 2011
Kindle e-book
Also available in trade paperback

Step back into 1921, that free-for all time of flappers and bobbed hair, shortened hemlines, this romantic historical mystery gives one a glimpse into the lives of the privileged in a melee of fortunes won and lost all in the span of a few years.

Cleo, who has lost her fiancé in the Great War, takes a vacation with her wealthy cousin, Neill, south to Sago Island, Georgia, where they will vacation with his best friend and war buddy, Graham Henry, the son of a steel tycoon and his family.

Cleo is soon swept up in the beauty of this southernmost island and the indolent lifestyle with servants and dinner parties, and in a very short time, she’s also falling in love with the handsome Graham.

But, when the young and unhappy wife of a family member goes missing, and her note indicates that she’s leaving the husband for Cleo’s new love, she’s confused and hurt, and now sure that she’s been made a fool of, she’s anxious to run away from her indiscretion and Graham’s awkward attempts to make amends.  She soon realizes that she needs to stay and resolve the mystery of Josie’s disappearance, if only to prove either Graham’s culpability or his innocence.

Drug running, fortunes won and lost, a mysterious man, who may or may not be the subject of a man hunt by the Pinkertons, a couple of East European refugee servants whose backgrounds make them suspect in Cleo’s sleuthing for the truth in Josie’s death. The mystery is solid and Cleo has reason enough to want to find out what happens, but I also enjoyed stepping back in time into this bucolic setting where big houses and bigger fortunes were reveled in before the crash of 1929 destroyed it all.

This was a very enjoyable read. I also really liked Ghost Ship for its historical mystery, sailing and the southern settings in Georgia.

Reviewed by guest reviewer RP Dahlke, January 2012.

Book Review: The Desert Waits by J. Carson Black

The Desert Waits
J. Carson Black (writing as Margaret Falk)
Kindle e-book
Amazon link: http://tinyurl.com/7hnseo9
Also available in used bookstores as a mass market paperback from Kensington, 1996

“A breeze had sprung up, worrying the edges of the Jeep’s windows. A crow, its rusty voice

harsh in the stillness, rowed to a nearby fencepost and folded its wings.”—excerpt from The Desert Waits

Tucson Arizona naturalist photographer, Alex Carifarelli, is called to the aid of a childhood friend. Someone she hasn’t seen in years, but then, Caroline Arnet’s life is a luminous star with a life that revolves around a glamorous Hollywood life, and these two grown women now have little in common. Except, that Caroline has incredible secrets. And, when Alex finally gets to the secluded Hotel Sonora where the movie crew is staying, she’s surprised to see the normally elfin beauty thin, drawn and shaken by the threats of a stalker who appears to be closing in.

But in less than a day Caroline has been accidentally killed when the prop gun’s ammo has been switched with live rounds.  Feeling overwhelmed and terribly sad at her friend’s death, Alex heads for the mountains where she hopes to get some photos of an elusive, and perhaps extinct, Jaguaranda.

As the story unfolds, Alex is only drawn ever deeper into the investigation and because of her own recent unhappy divorce, she’s reluctant to trust anyone, and certainly not the handsome sheriff deputy, Nick McCutcheon. But, time and a killer teach Alex that she has to trust someone, and Nick is the most likely ally in helping her bring Caroline’s killer to justice.

The story isn’t linear and neither are the characters. The author gives the reader subplots that appear to have a life of their own until they converge at the exciting conclusion. I also appreciated that there are no innocents here; Maybelle Deering, the crusty, weather beaten rancher who rescues and rehabilitates hurt animals, Ted, Caroline’s grieving husband, the strange prop man Booker Purlie, Luther the leading man, the director, and everyone else who might have had a grudge against Caroline.

A complex story told with originality and style.

Reviewed by guest reviewer RP Dahlke, author of The Dead Red Cadillac & A Dead Red Heart, January 2012.

Book Review: Night Game by Carol Davis Luce

Night Game
Carol Davis Luce
Revised edition December 2011
Kindle e-book
Amazon link: http://tinyurl.com/7xgjjjq
Also available in used bookstores as a mass market paperback from Zebra, 1996

I don’t read suspense very often and there’s a reason for that… if done right, I’m up late, biting my nails, turning pages, unable to sleep until I get to the end. Night Game is that kind of book and Carol Davis Luce has a winner with both wonderful characters and a slimy bad guy whose quirks are a house of horrors all his own.  This is a very satisfying read. Full of interesting, behind the scenes facts and stories of the Nevada gambling scene that only comes from hard research.

Enter Kasey Atwood, a self-employed “spotter” whose talent at spotting cheats and thieves saves thousands for the casino and store owners who hire her services on a job per job basis. Kasey lives outside Reno, Nevada in a renovated garage on the dwindling acreage that might or might not be her heritage. Her mom, ever the optimist, struggles to make ends meet after divorcing her drunk husband and dealing with the upkeep of the big old rambling house full of boarders.

An old friend whose advantageous marriage to a wealthy hotel/casino owner looks like the ticket she needs to help with those bills, but the plot thickens when an elderly woman is found dead in her hotel room. Kasey, asked to take a look at the room where the woman died, sees a clue, asks the right questions, and what looks like an accidental death is revealed to be a homicide. I like it that she’s clever and smart. Yeah, she’s got issues, but she soldiers on throughout the book, and never lets us, the readers, down.

Another death in the hotel, then threats to the owner, his wife, and the fears and tempers escalate to a boiling point. And, into the mix, Kasey finds that not only is she still attracted to the handsome hotel owner who is also her friend’s husband, he’s feeling much the same towards her.

As in any really good suspense novel, we see the tension raised in every scene: between Kasey and the murderer it escalates until it becomes personal, and then there’s Kasey and the hotel owner and whether or not their attraction will ever become reality.

The author does the suspense just right, but she’s also given the reader a mystery to solve: Who’s behind the out-of-control mad man? I think you’ll be surprised. I know I was.

Reviewed by guest reviewer RP Dahlke, January 2012.

Book Review: Magical Alienation by Kris Neri

Magical Alienation
Kris Neri
Red Coyote Press, November 2011
ISBN 9780976673316
Trade paperback

Samantha Brennan thinks her cushy new job as fake psychic with a fading Mick Jagger like rock star feels like just the thing to boost her wobbly career. Jetting from LA to Sedona for his comeback performance and a support rally for a local politician all feels great to her too. But, Sedona brings her smack dab in the middle of trouble… again. This time with a puckish alien whose real identity will startle not only his Army captors but annoy the Celtic gods and goddesses who,  unknown to Samantha, are about to bring on a celestial war.  All is centered around the harmonic convergence that will create not only changes in the atmosphere but changes for Samantha and her FBI friend and Celtic goddess, Annabelle Haggerty.

I found myself laughing at the whimsy and humorous characters, scowling at the bad guys and just plain enjoying the start to finish wild ride of this very humorous, very creative and entertaining read. Fun, Fun, Fun!

Reviewed by guest reviewer, RP Dahlke, January 2012.