Book Review: Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis

Baby Blue
Stratos Gazis Series, Book 1
Pol Koutsakis
Translated by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife
Bitter Lemon Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-908524-91-1

Modern day Athens is rife with corruption. Stratos Gazis makes his living by dealing with that corruption. He doesn’t consider himself a hit-man, although plenty of other people do. He sees himself as more of a problem solver; often the problem requires removing a person from a given situation on a permanent basis. Stratos is OK with that; some people deserve their fate. Stratos does have a code: if a client lies to him, he keeps the deposit and doesn’t do the job. Many people don’t believe this. Stratos believes that when you’re the best, you can afford to make the rules for your job.

One evening a friend, Angelino, calls in a favor. Angelino has a protégé, Emma. Emma wants Stratos to find out who killed her adoptive father several years ago. Definitely a cold case. Emma is blind, and has an amazing talent for card tricks. Angelino, who normally deals in information in and around Athens, plans on making a bundle of money by promoting Emma. Concurrently, there is a group (or maybe just one person) who killed pedophiles; there is a definite signature to the killings and this resembles the way in which Emma’s father was killed. Was Themis Raptas, once a well-known and respected reporter, a pedophile?  Why is there virtually no trace of him on the Internet?  Why was his adoption of Emma expedited?  The more Stratos looks into this old case, the worse everything looks for practically anyone and everyone involved.

There is a sub-plot related to Stratos and his past. The woman he is living with, Maria,  is pregnant. Stratos is not sure he is the father; there is at least one other potential candidate, who happens to be Maria’s previous boyfriend and a man Stratos considers to be his best friend, Kostas Dragos. Drag is also a policeman, a detective. He is investigating the pedophile murders; there may be some overlap with Emma’s situation. Maria isn’t sure where her relationship with Stratos is going, considering his occupation. Life is complicated.

Koutsakis paints a very dark portrait of Athens. Corruption is the rule and there seem to be almost no exceptions to that rule. Good people are difficult to find in this city, and their lot is not generally a pleasant one. Stratos comes by his world view via American film noir; references to classic films are scattered throughout the novel. Like back alleys in some Greek neighborhoods, the plot twists and turns many, many times before the truth (if that what it actually is) is revealed. There are lots of dead bodies, most of them justifiably so. This is the second book in the Stratos Gazis crime series; if one is prone to dark reads, tracking down ATHENIAN BLUES (the first) would probably be time well spent. BABY BLUE can stand quite well on it’s own two feet.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2019.

Book Review: The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

The Girl and the Grove
Eric Smith
Flux, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-018-7
Trade Paperback

Once in a while, a book means so much to me that I need my metaphorical sandwich-board and bell to adequately express my adoration. It is entirely in that spirit that I introduce The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith. Immediately irresistible, the anomalous story of amateur arborist, Leila, branches out and grows faster than her rescued sapling, Major Willow.

Since Leila has basically bounced around Philadelphia, popping in and out of the group home, she and her best bud bonded by creating their own constant. After all, Leila’s connection with nature is certainly undeniable, somewhat surreal. It’s an interest she shares with Jon that may make this adopted-as-an-adolescent adjustment easier.

He is great, in an awkwardly adorable, always affable way. And Lisbeth, well, it would take a cold heart and hard head to ignore the quiet strength, patience and abundance of love within her. If it doesn’t work out, Leila will have only herself to blame. Being the perfect daughter will have to take a backseat though, something bigger is about to go down.

A gorgeous grove with a trio of trees that have, thus far, stood the test of time, is about to be destroyed. Leila’s new nature-loving friends will fight for the trees, the history and the elusive, endangered field mouse, but there is something more valuable—vital that must be saved, while being kept secret.

Social issues surrounding prejudices and racism are addressed alongside examples of ignorant questions that can be uncomfortable and awkward for an adoptee. A casual, conversational tone, dotted with diabolical dialogue and spot-on samples of sharp-tongued teens ensures an easy read. Laid out in a linear, fluid fashion; lean without being bare, the quest moves quickly. A splash of suspense, mixed with maybe a bit of magic and myth, makes a magnificent tale.

I dig The Girl and the Grove as a Not-So-Young-Adult; but teen-aged-me would have carried this book like a teddy bear and copied quotes all over my kicks.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.

Book Reviews: Stolen Memories by Mary Miley and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Stolen Memories
Mary Miley
CreateSpace, November 2015
ISBN 978-151-8883705
Trade Paperback

If you asked me for a book that you could really sink your teeth into—a murder-mystery with just a hint of romance—one that is a delight to read, but not “light reading”…..you know, something that keeps your eyes glued to the pages you are frantically turning and sneaks into your thoughts at random times; but doesn’t necessarily rip out your heart & run away with it–I’d happily hand you Stolen Memories.

1928 was a fabulous time to be a young woman in Europe.  It was particularly exciting and opportunistic for the intelligent, courageous woman carving a path for her own independence and paving the way for others to follow. Eva Johnson, however, is not that woman.   Rather, she is a self-serving, manipulative, nasty thief who has no problem spilling a bit of blood along her way.

When she awoke under the concerned eyes of a doctor in France, Eva had no idea what landed her in a hospital bed.  She has no memory, at all.  She surely does not remember marrying that angry giant hulking around her bedside.  More importantly, she can’t fathom being married at all.  Even in the absence of her memories, she’s sure there’s been a huge mistake.  This initial unease and uncertainty perfectly set the tone for her tale.

Eva desperately wants to regain her memory to reclaim her true self, nothing about being a part of this eccentric family feels relatable.  Those around her share her goal, but for very different reasons.  Deciding who to trust is a daily challenge.  Information is fed to her intermittently and often, inaccurately.  Her every move is watched and scrutinized.

Under such close inspection, we begin to see some interesting things.  While some may simply want to recover their stolen property, someone wants her dead.  Further muddying the waters, Eva is just not herself.  With seemingly natural inclinations towards kindness, she stuns her family.  It is particularly entertaining to watch a mystery unravel while the participants continue to be puzzled.  The many moving parts make for a quick, compelling read.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

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Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Puffin Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-14-242286-1
Trade Paperback

This is one of those treasures recommended for ages 10 and up that I believe everyone can thoroughly enjoy, not just older elementary and middle-grade people.

I can’t imagine the person who would not be charmed, then completely smitten with young Willow, who at the tender age of 12 has her world shattered.  An admirable and awe-inspiring person Before, her strength, courage and resolve After show the reader what a real-life super-heroine is all about.

Even cooler, we see her spirit, determination and natural kindness pour out and touch so many.  Those touched by Willow intuitively and impulsively stand a little straighter, try a little harder and become more generous.

Few books have the ability to render sobs, then a smile, but this one does.  I would chastise myself for letting this sit on my shelf for so long instead I’m going to consider the timing serendipitous, because now I can pass this jewel on to my son’s middle-grade classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

Book Review: Shadows on a Morning in Maine by Lea Wait

shadows-on-a-morning-in-maineShadows on a Morning in Maine
An Antique Print Mystery #8
Lea Wait
Perseverance Press, September 2016
ISBN:978-1-56474-577-4
Trade Paperback

Maggie Summer has taken a sabbatical from her teaching job, moved to Maine and, along with her “guy” Will Brewer, plans to open an antique mall where she can sell her antique prints. Finally, she is in the process of adopting an older child.

She runs into trouble when she learns the child does not necessarily want to be adopted, being weary of going from one foster home to the next. Another complication is that Will is not enthused about the situation. Maggie wonders if they can stay together and run the business if she goes ahead with acquiring a daughter, especially one as troubled as Brook.

Also troubling, seals have been killed in the harbor, their bodies left for all to see. Maggie is afraid Brook, who shows a fondness for seals, will see one and decide not to become her daughter. All bad enough until a young man, a lobsterman, is also murdered. Now Maggie is under a time pressure for the murder and seal killings to be solved before Brook’s next visit.

I always enjoy stories set along the coast of Maine, especially when the scene is set as well as this one is. Love the small town, closed community atmosphere. I don’t find Will a good match for Maggie, but that’s part of what I enjoyed about the story. One does wonder how it’s all going to turn out, meaning I’ll need to read the next installment to find out. I will, because the book is well-plotted and entertaining. I also enjoy the short descriptions of the prints Maggie sells in her antique shop, one of which heads up each chapter.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: What You Wish For by Janet Dawson

What You Wish ForWhat You Wish For
Janet Dawson
Perseverance Press, September 2012
ISBN 978-1-56474-518-7
Trade Paperback

Daytime soap operas have nothing on Janet Dawson‘s latest novel. Vivid memories brought to bear on the present day as four friends struggle with personal and familial issues. From Latin America to San Francisco to Oregon, this a tale woven with strings of heartbreak, discovery, manipulation, and revelations.

Lindsey. Gretchen. Claire. Annabel. Four friends who met in college in San Francisco. Each went onto separate lives, but remained friends. Decades later Annabel suffers a stroke. Her daughter asks Lindsey to look into finding her real father. This is only the tip in this iceberg of a soap opera. Lindsey’s own daughter is back from college and still upset about not knowing HER father. Lindsey’s research into an El Salvadoran massacre brings to light an issue relating to Gretchen’s adopted son. Claire is angling for control of the board of directors at her company now that Annabel is incapacitated and what connection did she have with a coffee kingpin? Connections and complexities all culminate in the forever changing of lives between four friends who thought they knew each other.

Dawson does a wonderful job with detailing the past and making it relevant to the situations in the present. From college days to time in El Salvador, the intermingling circumstances make for an inevitable conflict between the parties involved. While some of the answers are easy to figure out, there are still some surprises left to keep the pages turning.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, February 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Reviews: Bad Weeds Never Die by Christopher Valen, The Good, The Bad and The Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, Murder in the 11th House by Mitchell Scott Lewis, and Danger Sector by Jenifer LeClair

Bad Weeds Never Die
Christopher Valen
Conquill Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001730
Trade Paperback

“Santana is destined to become one of my favorite detectives,” is a quote from my review of White Tombs, the book that introduced Detective John Santana.  The Black Minute, the second Santana book, was even more exciting than the first book.  Now author Christopher Valen has brought Detective John Santana back in Bad Weeds Never Die.  “Bad weeds never die,” is an old Colombian saying and turns out to be an excellent title for this book.

John Santana was born in Colombia.  He had avenged his Mother’s death and he was forced to flee leaving behind his younger sister Natalia.  Santana hopes someday to locate her.  He knows that his sister could be dead but his dreams and his senses tell him that she is still alive.

Santana’s current case is the death of Teresa Blackwood.  Teresa’s vehicle is found in a parking lot. The car is full of blood and some dirt and an orchid are on the floorboard of the car. Although the vehicle was empty, the police felt that someone had died in that car and that the body had been moved.  When Santana and his partner Kacie Hawkins call on Jonathan  Blackwood, Teresa’s father, they discover that Teresa has a twin sister, Maria.  Blackwood tells the detectives that although the twins are identical their personalities are very different. Teresa is head of an adoption agency.  Maria is a part time musician and mystery writer with a history of some drug problems.  The twins were adopted by the Blackwood’s when they were six months old. The twins were adopted in Colombia.

As Santana delves deeper into the case, he finds suspects at every turn.  Teresa lived with Steven Larson, a man who was cheating on her.  Blackwood’s family attorney was having an affair with the other daughter, Maria.  To make things even more tedious in the investigation Rita Gamboni, Santana’s boss, admitted that she had dated Jonathan Blackwood.

When the case becomes more complicated Santana decides that he has no choice but to travel to Colombia and investigate the agency that was working with Teresa’s adoption agency in the states.  No one wants Santana to make this trip since he has enemies in Colombia that would like to see him dead.

Santana feels that in order to solve his current case as well as face his demons and hopefully find his sister he must make the trip.  The trip does prove to be a dangerous move and readers will be shocked at the facts that Santana discovers in Colombia.

The case is finally solved but there are no end of surprises and no way to predict the final outcome.  An excellent book that will keep the reader on edge until the last page.  It is not necessary to read the first two books in the series to enjoy the current book.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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The Good, The Bad and The Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, LLC, November 2011
ISBN No. 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

At the request of Jaz LeMieux, private investigator Sid Chance agrees to help Djuan Burden, who is accused of murder.   Djuan’s grandmother is a long time friend of Jaz’s live-in housekeeper, Marie Wallace.  Djuan has only been out of jail for about six months and now he is back in jail on a murder charge.   His grandmother is convinced that he is innocent and Jaz wants to do everything she can to help a friend of Marie’s.

Jaz is an ex-cop and wealthy business owner but enjoys being a sidekick on Sid’s investigations.  When the two visit Djuan’s grandmother, they discover that Djuan went to a small medical equipment store in Nashville’s Green Hills section. The purpose of his visit was to complain about charges on his grandmother’s Medicare account.  Djuan’s grandmother, Rachel Ransom, had not paid a lot of attention to the many notices she received from Medicare but when Djuan saw that she had been charged for items such as a power wheelchair he decided to complain.  Rachel has never owned a wheel chair and has no need of one.    When Djuan went to the equipment store to complain, he found a dead man behind the desk.  Frightened that he would be accused of murder because of his prison history, he ran.  A witness spotted Djuan leaving the scene of the crime and the police immediately charged him with murder. A crooked cop who had no qualms about planting evidence didn’t help Djuan’s case one bit.

Besides trying to assist Sid in the murder investigation Jaz was also dealing with a problem of her own. Jaz’ company has been accused of racial discrimination.  There was no basis for the accusation, but the fact that it had been made brought about a lot of bad publicity for Jaz and her company.

Before Sid can prove that Djuan did not commit murder, Jaz finds that she is in trouble with the police.  As the two work together to clear both Djuan and the false accusations against Jaz, it becomes obvious to Sid that there is a professional hit man in town and it would appear the hit man has decided that Sid will be his next victim.

This is a great addition to the Sid Chance series.  The problem of Medicare fraud needs to be addressed because so many older people like Djuan’s mother don’t take time to analyze all the information they receive from Medicare so phony charges many times are paid and go unnoticed.

Chester Campbell’s books always make good reads but the Sid Chance series is special.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Murder In the 11th House
Mitchell Scott Lewis
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-950-2
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

David Lowell is not your run of the mill detective.  David is an astrological detective and is very good at his job.  David has studied astrology and has become such an expert that he has used his knowledge of to buy and sell in the stock market and is now a wealthy man.

When Lowell is asked to use his skills to prove the innocence of Johnny Colbert, a woman accused of murdering Farrah Winston, a Judge in the Debit Claims Court in Lower Manhattan, Lowell’s first inclination is to decline.  The fact that Johnny Colbert is represented by Melinda Lowell, David Lowell’s daughter, is a convincing enough fact to make him take the case.

Johnny proves to be loud-mouthed and a rather rough person on the exterior but further investigation proves that there is a lot more to her than meets the eye.  When Johnny is attacked in the jail Melinda talks her father into posting bail and letting Johnny stay in his townhouse.  Lowell is not too pleased with this arrangement but tends to do most anything his daughter asks.

Lowell is helped in the investigation by his assistant Sarah as well as Mort, a talented computer hacker.   Lowell’s bodyguard is always right around the corner when Lowell needs him.

It seems that Judge Winston had big plans for her future and, as Lowell finds out, that certain people did not want her plans to become a reality.

This first book in the Starlight Detective Agency series is a good one and shows that astrology can be used in many ways.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.

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Danger Sector
Jenifer LeClair
Conquill Press, July 2011
ISBN No. 978-0980001709
Trade Paperback

The last place you would expect to find a Minneapolis Police Detective on leave is working aboard a sailing ship but that is exactly what Brie Beaumont is doing.  The Maine Wind is a working ship owned by Captain John DeLuc.   Brie and John are very attracted to each other but Brie is still uncertain what the future holds for her and is unwilling to make a commitment to John on a personal level or to the ship as a permanent job.

Brie left the police department after her partner was killed and she felt she needed some distance from police work but when the ship makes a stop on Sentinel Island to help John’s friend repair an old lighthouse Brie is immediately caught up in a mystery surrounding the lighthouse and the small island.

Amanda Whitcombe is an artist, a prominent member of the Sentinel Island community and a good friend of Ben, the owner of the lighthouse.  Amanda has disappeared and when Brie finds her cottage unlocked she investigates and some clues lead Brie to believe that Amanda did not leave voluntarily.

Ben inherited the lighthouse when the previous owner died after an accident at the lighthouse.  The previous owner of the lighthouse was also a good friend of Amanda’s.  When John and Brie accidentally discover an old journal hidden in the lighthouse, belonging to the previous owner, the two decide there are mysterious happenings on the island that might bring danger to Ben as well as Brie, John and the crew of The Maine Wind.

Danger Sector is a good mystery.  The descriptions of the scenery around Sentinel Island and the food served by the cook on The Maine Wind makes the reader want to experience a trip by sailing ship although life aboard the ship is anything but easy.

This is the second book in The Windjammer Mystery series.  Rigged for Murder is the first in the series and both are recommended.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.

Book Reviews: Cold Vengeance by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child and Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Cold Vengeance
(Special Agent Pendergast)
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing, August 2011
ISBN No. 978-0-446-55498-5
Hardcover

Pendergast has discovered that Helen, his wife, was murdered and now he seeks revenge.  Judson Esterhazy, Helen’s brother, is equally determined that Pendergast be stopped from investigating Helen’s death and if the only way to stop Pendergast is to arrange for him to die then that is what must be done.

Judson thinks that he has managed to put an end to his brother-in-law’s inquiries but he is wrong.  Pendergast is still alive and more determined than ever to find out the whole story behind the death of his beloved wife.

Pendergast’s search into the past is a journey that moves from Scotland to New York and on to Louisiana.  Old secrets are uncovered and the story is like a jigsaw puzzle with such odd shaped pieces that it is hard to determine how it will ever come together.  Pendergast is shocked to find that Helen may have played a large part in her own death.

This book involves many of the characters from previous Pendergast novels and brings back a young woman who first became involved with Pendergast in the book Still Life With Crows. She was my favorite character from that book and she is just as daring in Cold Vengeance.

Cold Vengeance is an exciting book and one I’m very glad I read but the puzzle isn’t finished.  Pendergast’s fans will have to wait for the next book to know the entire story.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2011.

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Started Early, Took My Dog
Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown and Company, March 2011
ISBN No. 978-0316066730
Hardcover

Reading Started Early, Took My Dog is a little like working a giant, complicated jigsaw puzzle.  There is a neglected dog who finds a home and a neglected child who finds a new mother.

Jackson Brodie, private investigator, is on a mission to find the biological parents of his client, Hope Masters, who was adopted and moved with her new parents to New Zealand when she was a child.    Brodie picks up a dog named The Ambassador when he catches the dog’s owner mistreating the dog.  Jackson saves the dog and The Ambassador travels with Brodie as Brodie works to discover what happened in Hope’s past and how her adoption came about.

Matilda Squires, whose nickname is Tilly, plays the mother of Collier, the star of a popular TV series.  Tilly is in the early stages of dementia and is about to be killed off on the TV show.  Just where Tilly fits into the puzzle is a little difficult to figure out but Tilly is a likeable character.

Tracy Waterhouse is a retired police detective who was one of the first on the scene in a murder that happened in 1975.  The story jumps from the present time to 1975 and back again. Tracy has been haunted for years by the death of the prostitute and the fact that the prostitute’s child had been in the apartment with the dead mother for weeks.  When the present day Tracy sees an opportunity to save another child she jumps on it even though buying a child is against the law.

Linda Pollister is a social worker who fits into the present day as well as the period in 1975.  She plays a small but important part in solving the puzzle.

When all the puzzle pieces come together, the truth of what happened back in 1975 when a prostitute is found murdered is revealed, and the book ends with a satisfying and surprising conclusion.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, March 2011.