Book Review: Witch Wish by Jacqueline Seewald

Witch Wish
Jacqueline Seewald
Black Opal Books, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-626949-45-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Val Williams believes she will never be as pretty or popular as her older sister Ailene. When Ailene dumps her on an unfamiliar road after an argument, Val decides to ask directions of the only person she sees—an old woman engaged in a garage sale. Val purchases a music box that the old woman claims has magical qualities and will grant Val one wish. In a fit of pique, Val wishes that that her sister would stop being so perfect. When Ailene starts acting oddly, breaks up with her boyfriend, stops talking to her friends, starts dating a “bad” boy, and cuts classes, Val is troubled. She begins to fear she caused all this to happen by making her wish and suffers a guilty conscience. How she goes about setting matters right makes for some unusual complications and surprises.

“Be careful what you wish for” should have been Val’s mantra but, of course, she didn’t really mean for anything to go wrong for Ailene when she picks up that old woman’s music box and inadvertently wishes Ailene wasn’t so perfect. On the other hand, it’s not easy to live with a sister who is truly the golden child and is obnoxious on top of everything else. Could this music box really be magical?

At its core, though, this is a story about a family in a world of hurt and each member of the family contributes to that condition, the inability to get along with each other or be the kind of peaceful, loving family we all want. On the surface, Ailene is the one who is most disruptive and certainly she is incredibly self-absorbed and can be downright cruel to her younger sister but, in reality, she’s not the real issue.

As Ailene seems to be falling apart, Val takes the first wobbly steps towards seeing her own self-worth and her sister’s true vulnerability, the cracks in her facade. Tangentially, Val’s friend has her own family dysfunction to deal with that eventually involves everyone in the Williams family as they work to protect Toni and her sister, Kathy.

While Val finds her inner strength, the rest of her family each have their own “awakening” and, as a reader, I took comfort in going along with them on their journey. Val, in particular, became a young woman I’d like to spend more time with.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

Book Review: Hometown Homicide by C. K. Crigger

Hometown Homicide
C. K. Crigger
Black Opal Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-626947-67-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Former soldier, Frankie McGill has returned home from Afghanistan minus half of her left foot and with a plate in her head. After some months in medical care, she’s ready to take on the new battle of finding and holding a job. But not just any job. Frankie is a combat-trained paramedic. When all she can find is a position in the small, mostly volunteer fire department of her old hometown, Frankie is immediately plunged into much more than dealing with her own trauma and holding down a job. She moves into a duplex that the previous tenant abruptly abandoned and quickly discovers someone has some dark secrets to hide–and they don’t care who they have to kill to keep them hidden. Will Frankie’s military training and experience be enough to save her life?

Most of us are fortunate enough to never know the troubles that come with either PTSD or wounds incurred in war but it’s good for us to at least see it secondhand and, hopefully, develop an understanding of what our returning veterans face. With Frankie, author C. K. Crigger gives us that opportunity.

In the opening paragraphs, we get a first glimpse of who Frankie is, a woman who is doing her best to put her life back together, starting with a job that fits her capabilities as a paramedic while letting her keep to herself to a certain extent. Her own hometown should bring her the peace she craves and the time for healing or so she thinks…small towns have a way of holding secrets that can be deadly as she soon learns, at home and on the job.

Frankie’s new place gives her the “collywobbles” but it’ll do for her and Banner, her rescue Samoyed, although it’s odd that the previous tenant left literally in the middle of the night. Then they find that somebody apparently had an unhealthy interest in the apartment and in Denise, the tenant. The next day, Banner becomes so agitated he wakes up Frankie and alerts Howie, the next door neighbor. Digging a hole under the flimsy fence, he leads Frankie and Howie to a small tragedy, another item on a growing list of troubling facts.

Frankie is a very appealing young woman, aged immeasurably by her experiences in Afghanistan but fighting to recover some semblance of her former self. Coming back to her hometown means reconnecting with people from her past and those familiar folks become even more important when whatever happened in her apartment begins to ensnare Frankie. I liked this little town and its citizens, even those who aren’t necessarily bright shining citizens, and the county deputy sheriff, Gabe Zantos, is a really nice addition to Frankie’s life. Frankie has a mystery to solve, not because it’s her job, but because it’s in her nature to find answers. Those answers are complex and disturbing and become very dangerous for her but Frankie is no weak-kneed maiden. I want to spend more time in Frankie’s world and really hope to see her again soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

Book Review: Desert Kill Switch by Mark S. Bacon

Desert Kill Switch
A Nostalgia City Mystery #2
Mark. S. Bacon
Black Opal Books, 2017
ISBN 978-1-626947-19-1
Trade Paperback

A great cover for a novel with excellent possibilities. Unfortunately, the opportunities were never quite realized. To be clear, this is a largely enjoyable story with an eminently satisfactory conclusion. The characters are interesting and have elements which are unusual, intriguing and certainly worth following in future stories.

The beginning of the novel is particularly interesting. Lyle Deming, the stepfather of a college girl, is driving her through the desert so she can get some pictures for a class project. They happen on a murder scene and Deming is desperate to shield the girl from the bullet-riddled body. He drives away, calls the local sheriff and a short-time later learns they can’t find either the body or the vintage 1970 Pontiac that was parked next to the body. The car is important because Deming is working as a cab driver for a new Arizona tourist attraction called Nostalgia City, designed as a trip back to the nineteen seventies.

The public relations and marketing office of the Arizona nostalgia site is run by Kate Sorenson. Readers meet her first in Reno where she is attending Rockin’ Summer Days, an annual Reno event, as a vendor for Nostalgia City to recruit travelers. When she has a confrontation with a local auto dealer of questionable reputation, things get complicated.

The two characters come together, become entangled at several levels and ultimately murder and thievery get sorted. The use of kill switches is explained, although the kill switch of the title seems to almost be an afterthought. The novel is neither memorable or inferior, it just is, neither memorable nor especially disappointing.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 2

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…

 

All the Little Liars
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery #9
Charlaine Harris
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09003-4
Hardcover

Charlaine Harris has to work really hard to make me not like any of her books and this one is no exception. Aurora Teagarden is her fluffiest series and I was SO excited when she brought it back with this book, 13 years after the last one.

Roe is a librarian—now married and pregnant—in a small town in Georgia and, as librarians are wont to do, falls over dead bodies on a regular basis. This time, a bunch of kids have gone missing and her teenaged brother is somehow involved. I enjoyed this story even though I thought it was just a little weak but I chalk it up to the difficulties of rebooting a series and fully expect the upcoming Sleep Like a Baby to be back on top.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Gizelle’s Bucket List
My Life with a Very Large Dog
Lauren Fern Watt
Simon & Schuster, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-2365-8
Hardcover
Simon & Schuster Audio, March 2017
Narrated by Lauren Fern Watt
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

I both read and listened to this one and was glad I did because the audio edition added a strong connection between me and the author. This is a true story and, as you can guess from the title, it’s all about this wonderful dog’s last days. Get out a box of tissues because you’re going to need them. Yes, it’s terribly sad but also joyful and uplifting as Lauren helps Gizelle do the things she loves best and those Lauren is sure she’ll enjoy before it’s too late. The love and devotion between Lauren and Gizelle are as real as it gets and I appreciate the time I spent with them.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Smugglers & Scones
Moorehaven Mysteries, Book 1
Morgan C. Talbot
Red Adept Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-940215-87-7
Trade Paperback

Moorehaven is a bed and breakfast in Oregon that caters to crime fiction writers—what a great setting for murder and mayhem, right? Pippa Winterbourne, manager, gets pulled into the investigation when a local is killed and a boat mysteriously crashes on the rocks, leaving her to house an intriguing injured man who just might be guilty of murder. This is a delightful tale full of the history of coastal Oregon and a beautiful setting and featuring some very appealing folks. The setup with the B&B is unusual in that a trust is actually in charge so this is not the typical scenario in which the innkeeper has to scrimp and save to keep things going. That frees Pippa to do some sleuthing on her own while she rides herd on her crochety great-uncle and the current group of author guests. This is a clever, charming series debut and I’m looking forward to the next one, Burglars & Blintzes.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Still Life
A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery #1
Louise Penny
Narrated by Ralph Cosham
Blackstone Audio, August 2006
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

When murder is done in a small town in the Quebec province, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate. Most of the villagers think it must have been a hunting accident but Gamache is quite sure something else is going on.

I’m hanging my head in shame, I think, because I’m apparently at odds with the mystery reading world. I’d always avoided this series ( now up to #13) for no particular reason other than I have a bit of distrust when everybody raves about the first book, then the second, the third… But, I finally started feeling kind of silly about it and bit the bullet and, well, I’m kind of underwhelmed. The narrator was quite good (I understand fans were devastated when he passed away a few years ago, after recording the tenth book) and the story was good but I just didn’t connect with it. Still, a gazillion readers can’t all be wrong so I’m going to try the second book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Introvert
Michael Paul Michaud
Black Opal Books, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-626945-47-0
Trade Paperback

He’s a vacuum salesman, a quiet individual, kind of a loner but only because solitude is usually easier. He’s Everyman. He also has moments of inner rage so intense he imagines the other person “red and open” but he’s perfectly normal. Right? Well, there was that incident a couple of years ago…

{{Shudder }}

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

 

Book Review: Deviant Acts by J.J. White

Deviant ActsDeviant Acts
J.J. White
Black Opal Books, November 2015
ISBN: 978-1-626942-85-1
Trade Paperback

A road novel, a saga that takes readers from Charlotte, North Carolina to Vermont, New York, Mexico, Albany and many points between. We follow an inept former marine who was booted from the service for various illegal acts. Now a civilian, Jackson Hurst has become a destitute low-level criminal, doing and selling drugs, burgling his neighbors and driving his mother slightly mad.

But Jackson Hurst has a singular asset, a very wealthy aunt who needs his help to locate her adopted daughter, Cheryl. She’s willing to pay Jackson a lot of money, finance the search and even set Jackson up as a private investigator, a job for which he appears to have no particular talent, if he will just find Cheryl Ebert and bring her home.

Naturally with his troubles and knowing he’s hunted by several law enforcement agencies, he agrees to find Cheryl and bring her back to the Vermont mansion. And so the story begins. And now we start to learn that Cheryl is not merely a runaway. She’s been a member of the Weather Underground. The novel begins in 1973 and ends in 1977. The road trip is long and littered with nearly every deviant act one can imagine one human perpetrating against another, mostly violent and costly.

The plot is convoluted and clever, the author’s writing style is sometimes puzzling and shifty, but it’s fair to observe that his style serves the novel well and once readers become comfortable, it should prove not to be a problem. The novel raises some troubling questions and because of that and Hurst’s sometimes cavalier approach to certain deviant acts like killing, some readers may be uncomfortable. That said, I found Deviant Acts to be a worthwhile reading experience and do recommend it.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Cornered by Alan Brenham

CorneredCornered
Alan Brenham
Black Opal Books, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-626941-38-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

He’s haunted by the memory of a kidnapping case gone wrong…

Not wanting history to repeat itself, Detective Matt Brady struggles to solve the disappearances of seven young women, but he quickly finds himself pitted against a criminal organization that knows as much about police procedure as he does-an organization that will do whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of him. His troubles are compounded when a young veterinarian injects herself into the investigation and is targeted to become victim number eight. When he tries to protect her, he finds himself in the crosshairs of a professional cop killer. Can Brady solve the case in time to save his new love, or will this investigation be the death of both of them?

Kidnappings are often difficult to solve but when there is one after another with no real apparent connection other than the physical type of women involved, investigative leads are few and far between. Such is the case Brady finds himself up against and he has no idea going in of the damage that will be done or the manipulative brilliance he’ll have to somehow overcome.

Betrayal is at the core of Cornered, the kind of betrayal that evil-minded, greedy people are more than willing to carry out against others. Another kind of betrayal hits Brady close to home and could lead to the end of his career. Which betrayal is worse? Certainly, these young women suffer the most but the second type is more personal and can also have longlasting effects. Brady needs to be strong enough to not let his circumstances get in the way of bringing these horrific crimes to an end but he also has to acknowledge the part he has played in all this. An uncomfortable position to be in, indeed.

A few things pulled me out of the story  temporarily. For one thing, there really isn’t a whole lot of money being made by these criminals, nowhere near as much as I would expect considering what they’re doing. Also, a conversation between Brady and Detective Ruiz regarding Brady’s personal life didn’t ring true, mainly because her comments are ill-considered and unnecessarily mean with no provocation. Still, I enjoyed Cornered on the whole and will be interested in trying more of Mr. Blenham’s work starting with his first book, Price of Justice. (Note: these two books are both standalones at the present time but I understand Price of Justice is the first of a series and, in my opinion, Cornered has left Brady in position to return in future volumes.)

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2014.

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“Alan Brenham’s Cornered is a taunt thriller filled with murderous twists
and turns that will satisfy readers who love good crime fiction. As a cop
and a lawyer, Brenham has been there and done that and in this, his second
outing, the authenticity of his storytelling ability continues to shine through.”
– Michael McGarrity, New York Times Bestselling Author of Hard Country & Backlands

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About the Author

 

Alan BrenhamAlan Behr served as a law enforcement officer and criminal investigator for seventeen years before earning a law degree from Baylor University. After obtaining his law license, he worked as a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney for twenty-two years. His personal and official travels took him to several European and Middle Eastern countries, Alaska and almost every island in the Caribbean. He has lived in Berlin, Germany while working with US military forces. After retiring from government service, he has authored two crime novels – Price of Justice and Cornered – under the pen name of Alan Brenham. He is presently working on two more novels. Alan and his wife, Lillian, currently live in the Austin, Texas area.

 

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Book Review: Murder in Devon by Maggi Andersen

Murder in Devon
Originally published as Casey’s Luck by Maggi Coleman
Maggi Andersen
Black Opal Books, February 2012
ISBN 978-1-937329-33-4
Ebook
Also available as a trade paperback

From the publisher—

She wants the truth, but it may cost her more than she thinks…

An ex-patriot-American living in England, magazine reporter Casey Rowan wakes to find one best friend murdered and another seriously injured. Casey is determined to find the killer, despite running afoul of the detective in charge of the case—a blue-eyed Scot named Rod Carlisle, who considers her a prime suspect. As Casey gets closer to the truth, losing her heart to the sexy cop isn’t the only thing she risks. Now her life is danger, too.

He wants her, but he may have to choose between love and duty…

Rod has no patience with civilians who interfere in police matters, even hot little numbers like Casey. Though he tries to keep things professional, Casey’s beauty and spunk are hard to resist. He warns her that what she’s doing is dangerous, but he only succeeds in alienating her. She refuses to listen and goes off on her own with disastrous results. Now Rod’s in a race to find the killer before the woman he loves becomes the next victim.

On the surface, Murder in Devon is not much different from many other English mysteries and that’s not a bad thing. There’s a certain comfort to be found in familiar locales and with British police and homes and personalities. A developing romance is not unwelcome and our leading lady is intelligent and perfectly capable of ferreting out some answers although she does jump into the fray a little precipitously perhaps because she herself starts out as a prime suspect. Having said that, I must confess that there’s one thing about Casey that I particularly liked.

Casey stands up for herself.

So often, the heroine defies the police behind their backs and puts herself in harm’s way without thinking through the possible consequences. Casey, though, has a different modus operandi—she tells the detective what she intends to do, listens to him tell her why she shouldn’t do it, and then tells him she’s going to do it anyway. No sneaking around avoiding Rod and, while he may be unhappy about it, Rod knows the score and deals with it accordingly. How refreshing is that?

The mystery here is solid with plenty of possible motives and killers and I, for one, did not figure it out too early. I had my suspicions but that’s all they were until near the end and the unearthing of powerful secrets added a great deal to the story.

Maggi Andersen lives in Australia but has set this mystery in England. Was that a good idea? Well, there are two ways I look at that. I truly love fiction set in the British Isles, especially mystery, and that setting certainly can’t be beat for atmosphere. On the other hand, Australia calls to me and I find myself searching for genre fiction set there so I would not have been unhappy if Ms. Andersen had chosen to locate her story in that part of the world. Then again, the fact that Casey is an American ex-pat probably makes more sense, logistically, if England is her second home. So, I was more than content to be “visiting” England this time and perhaps the author will favor us with an Australian mystery down the road. In the meantime, I’ll look forward to what I hope will be many more investigations for Casey and Rod.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2012.

Come back tomorrow for a chance to win a copy of

Murder in Devon by Maggi Andersen

and to enjoy Maggi’s guest blog.