Book Review: The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott

The Christie Curse
A Book Collector Mystery #1
Victoria Abbott
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-425-525528-5
Mass Market Paperback

The Christie Curse is the first book in Victoria Abbott’s Book Collector series. This book, first published in 2013, deserves a second look for folks who may have missed it when it first came out because it sets up and introduces the wonderful characters for the series which is still going strong four years later. The “author” is a mother-daughter team and unlike some collaborations, this team gets it right.

Jordan Bingham is back in her hometown of Harrison, New York without a job or a place  of her own to live. She’s broke, alone and really needs to reboot her life. Through a want ad, Jordan falls into what appears to be the perfect position-working for an interesting if odd boss and ends up living in quite an unusual household. Vera Van Alst, the last of her family, is seeking a research assistant to work for her researching works for her massive library. Desperate for a job and with no other prospects apparent, Jordan accepts the job, moves into the house and settles in as best as she can. The household is run with near military precision with rules that seem to pop up for everything from how to dress to when and how much Jordan should eat (Vera basically doesn’t eat whereas Jordan eats just about everything in sight especially since Signora Panetone’s meals are so delicious.)

It seems Vera is a bit of a mystery buff and has long sought rare books by Agatha Christie. The one she is after now is what Jordan is hired to research–a play supposedly written during Christie’s legendary disappearance. Of course if such a play exists, it’s a safe bet that Vera is not the only collector who is hot to own it. And so the mystery begins.

There are several excellent characters in the book besides Vera and Jordan.  Readers find out that Jordan was raised by her two uncles who sometimes might not quite be on the right side of the law. The cook Signora Panetone who mothers over Vera and now Jordan,  and the police officer who Jordan calls Officer Smartypants. Some of the minor characters such as the rival book collectors and book sellers are also well developed.

This book The Christie Curse is definitely worth reading to set up the series, which continues with The Wolfe Widow, The Sayers Swindle, The Marsh Madness and The Hammett Hex, with hopefully more to come.

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

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A Passel of Teeny Reviews Part 1

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Colin Goodwin
2QT Limited, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-910077-60-3
Trade Paperback

This book had me chuckling quite a bit with its premise—blackmailing an English village’s cricket club to either win  a trophy or lose its playing ground. Along with this audacious crime, we have village ladies who truly appreciate the hired ringer’s skills and a shady real estate development plan. It’s all great fun even with sabotage and perhaps a little murder.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Cat in an Alphabet Endgame
The Midnight Louie Mysteries #28
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-943175-05-5
Trade Paperback

I confess, I put off reading this as long as I possibly could, so long I’m really embarrassed but I just did NOT want to see the end of this series I love so much. I didn’t want to know who Temple would marry, didn’t want all the little loose ends tied up in neat bows. Midnight Louie is the alpha and omega of feline sleuths and I adore his hardboiled, attitudinous self and, even knowing he was going to continue in different adventures sometime in the future, letting go was so very hard. But…I eventually had to give in and, of course, I enjoyed this book as much as all the others. Temple is distracted by thoughts of saying yes to one guy or the other, the mob has reared its ugly head, there are hints of terrorism and Louie and his Cat Pack are on the case(s). When it’s all said and done, Louie leaves us—and multitudes of Las Vegas felines—with a rousing speech and an offer of appetizers. Ah, Louie, Temple and the rest, I’m going to miss you (until you show up again).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Memory
Sharon Ervin
The Wild Rose Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5092-1290-3
Trade Paperback

Mistaken identity takes on a whole new meaning when a woman is killed and everyone thinks it’s Memory Smith. She hasn’t been run over but somebody certainly has thrown a punch at her and Assistant DA Mac McCann wants to know what’s going on with his former classmate. Did someone really mean to kill her? Memory is an odd woman but Mac is drawn to her and the mystery surrounding her supposed death. As you might expect in romantic suspense, an emotional attachment between the two of them soon takes on a life of its own but Memory may not survive long enough to see what might develop with Mac.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Crepe Factor
A Scrapbooking Mystery #14
Laura Childs with Terrie Farley Moran
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-26670-0
Hardcover

Ms. Childs and Ms. Moran continue their collaboration in a charming mystery featuring the death by fork of a food critic (stick a fork in me, I’m done, anyone?) practically right in front of Carmela and Ava, sleuthing duo extraordinaire. Carmela’s previous relationship with the #1 suspect makes sticking her nose in a little dicey and her current boyfriend, police detective Edgar Babcock really wants her to stay out of his investigation but she and Ava can’t resist. A nifty whodunnit and characters that feel like old friends, not to mention a few recipes and scrapbooking tips round out this entertaining entry in the series. I always enjoy these two, especially the slightly loony Ava, and for a few hours while I’m reading one of these books, I can’t help wishing I had the patience and dedication to get into scrapbooking…but the urge passes until the next book 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Locket
On Dark Shores #0
J.A. Clement
Weasel Green Press, December 2016
Ebook

Every child gets excited and exceedingly nosy when Yuletide approaches and the seven-year-old Nereia is no exception. Her father has brought her a special surprise, her Godmother, stopping off for a visit before returning to her diplomatic duties in the midst of war and a beautiful silver locket marks Nereia’s first time taking part in the Yule ceremony. This is a sweet story, very short, and a prequel to Ms. Clement‘s On Dark Shores fantasy series. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I knew anything about the series and I don’t understand the description’s reference to “there is mystery in the air…” but I spent a pleasant few minutes with this small family.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Review: Pekoe Most Poison by Laura Childs

Pekoe Most Poison
A Tea Shop Mystery #18
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-425-28168-0
Hardcover

Old cities have some pretty odd traditions and Charleston is no exception. However, even though the tradition was originally for a good cause, the idea of “Rat Teas” is perhaps one of the oddest.  According to author Childs‘ latest Tea Shop Mystery, the  idea of holding fancy teas with servers dressed up in rat costumes comes from an effort to raise funds for rodent prevention early in the city’s history. In Pekoe Most Poison, the eighteenth book in the Tea Shop Mystery series, the tradition was revived by socialite and philanthropist Doreen Briggs. Although the costumed “rat Servers” are a little unnerving, the tea seems to be going quite well until a fluke accident causes a fire at one of the tables and the hostess’s husband ends up dead. Worse yet for Theodosia Browning, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop, it initially appears as though it was the orange pekoe tea that caused the death.

I have been a fan of both the Tea Shop books and Childs’ Scrap Booking series, because each puts readers right in an old American city like none other. In the Tea Shop books, it is Charleston. Over the years the author has done an excellent job of setting each book’s plot around something unique to that area. Having visited Charleston fairly regularly over the years, it is fun to see how very accurate some of her descriptions are. But setting alone won’t carry a book. The main characters need to be well developed letting readers get to know them over the course of the series. And the characters need to be true to themselves.  It is with the main characters in this book, and frankly the previous book in the series, that things have gone off track. Something is different. The characters just aren’t the same. Theodosia isn’t acting at all like herself nor is Drayton. I for one don’t like the change.

Another thing that needs to be present for a series to survive is a strong plot. Again, in the last couple of books the plotting has fallen off the mark. The idea behind this one–the Rat Tea–is fun, but that part is over very quickly leaving the rest of the book to a sort of jumble of helter-skelter actions by some seriously obnoxious supporting characters.

I will probably give the series another try, but the author needs to get it back on track.

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

Book Review: Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs

egg-drop-deadEgg Drop Dead
A Cackleberry Club Mystery #7
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-28170-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In Laura Childs’s New York Times bestselling mystery series, Suzanne, Petra, and Toni—co-owners of the Cackleberry Club café—are back to track down another bad egg…
 
Maintaining good personal relationships with their suppliers is one of the secrets of the Cackleberry Club café’s success, so Suzanne doesn’t mind going out to Mike Mullen’s dairy farm to pick up some wheels of cheese. She’s looking forward to a nice visit with the mild-mannered farmer before heading back to their hectic kitchen.
 
But when she arrives, Mike’s nowhere to be found. The moaning of his cows leads her to look in the barn, where she discovers a bloodcurdling sight—the farmer’s dead body. Apparently not everyone was as fond of Mike Mullen as the Cackleberry Club.
 
Churning with grief and outrage, Suzanne, Petra, and Toni vow to find the farmer’s murderer—but as they get closer to the truth, the desperate killer gets whipped into a frenzy and plans to put the squeeze on them…

Why on earth would anyone want to brutally kill a quiet, likeable dairy farmer? Cafe owner Suzanne has no idea but her best friends and partners, Toni and Petra, push her to do her own unofficial investigation. Reluctant at first, Suzanne caves in, mainly because she found the body and, to her way of thinking, she’s already involved because of that.

One thing about this series that amuses me is that those who are supposed to be investigating know they shouldn’t let Suzanne stick her nose in but they also recognize the futility of such a lofty goal, especially since she’s engaged to the doctor who’s called to the scene. Sheriff Doogie won’t actually volunteer information if he can help it but he doesn’t try awfully hard to keep her out of it so Suzanne sets out to snoop, aided and abetted by Toni and Petra.

Unfortunately, life goes on for all (except poor Mike) and sleuthing has to be crammed into a busy schedule of Halloween festivities, afternoon teas, a pizza party and planning for the big wedding Sam has in mind. Suzanne soon discovers that potential motives and suspects abound including a teen with odd behavior and an overly protective mother, a land developer and the local drug trade but it’s Suzanne herself who makes a really bad move.

As with nearly all cozies, our intrepid sleuth does some things that make me shake my head in dismay and her cohorts act a bit more clueless than they should but I really enjoy the folks of Kindred. Egg Drop Dead proved to be as entertaining as I’ve come to expect in this series and the included recipes sound just plain scrumptious. I think I’ll be trying Suzanne’s Chicken Pickin’ Stir-Fry first 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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To enter the drawing for a gently
used advance reading copy of
Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs
, just
leave a comment below. The winning

name will be drawn on Monday night,
January 23rd. This drawing
is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: A Disguise to Die For by Diane Vallere

A Disguise to Die ForA Disguise to Die For
A Costume Shop Mystery #1
Diane Vallere
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2016
ISBN: 978-0-425-27828-4
Mass Market Paperback

When Margo Tamblyn’s father has a heart attack, she returns to Prosper City, Nevada to help out in her dad’s costume shop. The shop has the intriguing name of Disguise DeLimit. In fact, the whole fictional town is filled with shops with imaginative names.

Raised by Ebony Welles and her father, Jerry, Margo is tremendously loyal to Ebony. When Ebony, a party planner, is framed for the murder of a wealthy client, Margo takes a hand to clear her friend’s name. Along the way, she meets old friends, finds a prospective love interest, and almost gets herself killed.

There’s never a dull moment in the story. I found the background of the costume business interesting, as dressing up as someone else is something I’ve never done. Sounds like fun. I liked the characters, and even the murderer, whom I did guess, was more likable than some of the others. It all worked out well, in my opinion.

By the end, Margo will take over the family business, leading the reader into another Margo Tamblyn story, which, from the teaser, sounds just as good as this one. I hope we’ll find some of the same characters.

The book also gives us a few recipes, as well as a list of costume ideas. Get ready for Halloween–or any other time you feel like throwing a dress-up party.

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

Book Review: Scorched Eggs by Laura Childs

Scorched EggsScorched Eggs
A Cackleberry Club Mystery #6
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2014
ISBN 978-0-425-25559-9
Hardcover

A trio of likable characters—Suzanne, Toni,, and Petra– own the Cackleberry Club, a café in the small town of Kindred. While Suzanne is sitting in her red plastic chair getting her hair dyed Blond Bombshell No. 4, the county social services building next door goes up in flames. She watches, horrified, while the lifeless body of longtime county employee Hannah Venable is carried out. Sheriff Doogie lets it slip that the fire chief believes that the fire was intentionally set.

Suzanne and her friends investigate the crime. They can’t believe someone would have wanted Hannah dead, but realize that the arsonist must be someone they know. While they are investigating, they are committed to help with the wedding of Kit Kaslik, former exotic dancer and sometime Cackleberry employee who is marrying her fiancé Ricky Wilcox, due to be sent to Afghanistan.

Suspects are plentiful, and include Marty Wolfson, an angry man whose wife was rescued from the fire, Jack Venable, the husband of the victim, and Darrel Fuhrman, recently let go from the fire department. But at the wedding service of Kit and Ricky, the town is shocked by the arrest of the groom before he’s had a chance to say “I do.”

Childs includes all the elements that epitomize a cozy mystery—the small town setting, a cast of interesting characters, and a plot that can sustain interest throughout the book. Suzanne, a widow in her forties who has just started to date again, uses her skills and knowledge to help find the killer.

This is sixth in the Cackleberry Club mysteries. The author also writes the Tea Shop mysteries and the Scrapbooking mysteries.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2016.

Book Review: Plot Boiler by Ali Brandon

Plot BoilerPlot Boiler
A Black Cat Bookshop Mystery #5
Ali Brandon
Berkley Prime Crime, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-26155-2
Mass Market Paperback

Even though he’s willful and contrary and seems convinced that he, not Darla Pettistone, owns Pettistone’s Rare Books, cat Hamlet is a treasured member of the bookshop gang, along with retired Professor and rare book expert James T. James and goth Robert, barista in Darla’s new coffee bar. It’s July, and Darla and her Brooklyn business neighbors are hosting a Fourth of July block party with music and dancers and Martial Arts demonstrations and booths. Almost everyone is enthusiastic. Only George, who is convinced that Darla opened her coffee bar to drive his coffee-shop out of business, is dragging his feet. As the heat and the problems build up, Darla works to keep the party going. Then Hamlet finds a body in George’s shop.

There are plenty of suspects and lots of interesting incidents. I enjoyed the camaraderie between Darla and her friends, and followed her sleuthing with enthusiasm. And Hamlet was his infuriating, adorable self. Long may his plumy tail wave.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.