Book Review: Reservations for Murder by Tim Myers

Reservations for Murder
A Lighthouse Inn Mystery #2
Tim Myers
Berkeley Prime Crime, 2002
ISBN 978-0-425-18525-4
Mass Market Paperback
Currently available in trade paperback and electronic editions

Proprietor of the Hatteras West Inn, Alex Winston would  just as soon not get involved with another murder. Unfortunately, some people just aren’t very considerate and blacksmith Jefferson Lee has been literally skewered to a timber of Alex’s new building, hoist on his own petard, so to speak. The Golden Days Fair, showcasing old-fashioned artisans and crafters, is about to open on the inn’s grounds and there are way too many potential suspects. If Alex is going to prevent more bad publicity, he’s going to have to do some snooping of his own…

Author Tim Myers brings back a delightful cast of small-town characters in this sequel to Agatha-nominated Innkeeping With Murder and introduces us to a few more we’ll hope to meet again. Alex’s sleuthing, hindered somewhat by an old girlfriend’s amorous hints and the dislike that nearly everyone felt for the murdered man, is not
especially appreciated by the local sheriff but Alex is convinced the sheriff is heading in the wrong direction. In the meantime, his housekeeper and friend, Ellie, has left town and gossip has it she’s not coming back. So what else can go wrong?

Reservations for Murder and it’s predecessor, Innkeeping With Murder, are highly recommended for everyone who loves a true cozy mystery.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2002. Slightly revised 2018.
Review first published on murderexpress.net in 2002.

{Note: resurrecting this old review has reminded me how much I liked Tim in my bookstore days and has prompted me to do a series re-read 😉

Book Reviews: Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon, Need by Joelle Charbonneau, and The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Come Rain or Come ShineCome Rain or Come Shine
A Mitford Novel #11
Jan Karon
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-399-16745-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Over the course of ten Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls.

Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple.

So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun.

An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis.

And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends.

Piece of cake, right?

In Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon delivers the wedding that millions of Mitford fans have waited for. It’s a June day in the mountains, with more than a few creatures great and small, and you’re invited—because you’re family.

By the way, it’s a pretty casual affair, so come as you are and remember to bring a tissue or two. After all, what’s a good wedding without a good cry?

Like so many others, I’m a longtime fan of Mitford and its wonderfully normal citizens, quirks and all, and I’ve laughed and cried my way through every book in the series. Come Rain or Come Shine fits right into the mix and I loved being back in the center of this delightful place. It’s even better that the story centers on one of my favorite characters, Dooley, adopted son of Father Tim and Cynthia, and his upcoming wedding to Lace Harper.

There’s a lot going on in Dooley’s life all at once—graduation from vet school, starting his clinic, getting married—but that really isn’t so unusual and it’s even less unusual that money could be a little tight at such a time. What’s so heartwarming is the way others in the community come together to make this wedding happen, good evidence of the affection the townspeople have for one another.

I do wish there had been more of Father Tim and Cynthia but this is the way life evolves from one generation to the next, isn’t it? Truthfully, there isn’t any real plot here but that’s not what comfort fiction readers look for and the important things, the characters, just sail off the page and into the readers’ hearts.

Technically, this is not part of the original Mitford series but more like an offshoot. When it’s all said and done, I don’t really care because I love this book as much as the earlier ones. I do think there’s a bit too much headhopping and, because of that, I heartily suggest that readers new to the series start at the beginning because, otherwise, you just won’t get the full effect and you won’t understand the characters. Guaranteed, you’re going to love Mitford and it’s citizens 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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NeedNeed
Joelle Charbonneau
HMH Books for Young Readers, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-41669-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

One of the many things that concerns me about today’s society is that we’ve been teaching our children to expect far more than they’ve ever earned, a sort of privilege in which many of them believe that all good things must come their way. Such is the darkness at the heart of the social networking site, NEED. It’s a hopeful sign that Kaylee recognizes the fallacy behind what NEED offers but she joins anyway. She’s a smart girl, though, and it doesn’t take her long to begin to realize the truly awful things happening and the demands that teens are facing in exchange for having their needs met.

The action takes off exponentially and tension continues to build as teen and adult readers alike go along for the rollercoaster ride until a most satisfying ending. If I have any reservations, it’s that I don’t really think that teens, despite their feelings of privilege, are quite this gullible (although they DO tend to behave like sheep and follow the latest fads just because everybody else does). I also think there are way too many narrators but, on the whole, I do recommend this. It’s not Ms. Charbonneau‘s strongest work—she’s one of my favorite authors—but it kept me up at night and that’s a good thing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Katarina Bivald
Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-4926-2344-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy’s funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor―there’s not much else to do in a dying small town that’s almost beyond repair.

You certainly wouldn’t open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You’d need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy’s house is full of them), and…customers.

The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel’s own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.

A heartwarming reminder of why we are booklovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.

Being a former bookstore owner and current bookblogger, it’s only natural that I would be drawn to a book about, well, books and the love of books. As it turns out, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was not exactly what I thought it was going to be but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this quiet yet quirky story.

From the beginning, I had to suspend a lot of disbelief. For instance, I found it hard to credit that Sara would leave Sweden and her life behind just because she lost her job even though her life really was all wrapped up in that job and in her correspondence with Amy. I also found the willingness of the townsfolk to have Sara move into Amy’s house more than a little puzzling.

Putting those issues aside, this is an appealing story and, having had a bookstore myself, I totally get Sara’s desire to share her love of books with the town. There’s something truly uplifting about finding the right book for a person or just in helping them experience the joy of escaping into whatever world a particular book offers. I don’t mean to sound silly about it but being a bookseller is a passion that never goes away and I know that librarians and individual readers lending books to their friends feel the same joy. That goes for today’s book bloggers, too, who simply have to tell people about the books they want others to know about. Because of all that, and Sara’s general aimlessness, I did believe in her idea of having the bookstore.

The other aspect of the tale that I found interesting is the juxtaposition of the dying town, Broken Wheel, with the nearby more prosperous town of Hope. Without knocking the reader over the head with the comparison, Ms. Bivald brings the two towns into the full light of day and watching what happens to Broken Wheel and to Sara when she opens her bookstore is endearing to say the least. Bookstores really can be the heart of a community and that’s why I long to be running one again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Book Review: Poisoned Ground by Sandra Parshall

Poisoned GroundPoisoned Ground
A Rachel Goddard Mystery
Sandra Parshall
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0226-1
Trade Paperback
Also available in hardcover

From the publisher—

When a powerful development company sets its sights on Mason Country, Virginia, as the location for a sprawling resort for the rich, the locals begin taking sides. Many residents see the resort as economic salvation for the small Blue Ridge Mountains community, while others fear the county will become financially dependent on a predatory company.

Few oppose the development more vocally than veterinarian Rachel Goddard. She sides with locals reluctant to sell their land and, in the process, complicates the life of her new husband, Sheriff Tom Bridger.

When a beloved couple is gunned down on the very farm they refused to sell, it seems supporters will stop at nothing to ensure the success of the resort. Now disagreement in the community has exploded into civil war with both sides lashing out. As the violence escalates, Rachel discovers the attacks are more sinister than they appear.

Can she bring the truth to light before her community tears itself apart?

It’s hard to say whether Poisoned Ground and earlier books in this series should be called mystery, suspense, police procedural or thriller because, in reality, none of those subgenres is inappropriate. There’s even a dash of cozy at times or perhaps traditional would be a more accurate term. That’s the beauty of Sandra Parshall‘s books—they appeal to a wide spectrum of crime fiction readers (although the hardcore cozy bunch might not find them entirely to their liking). All I know is, when I see Sandra Parshall‘s name on it, I’m quite sure this is a book I’m going to like and this latest entry is no exception.

The intimidation and divisiveness that goes on when a big corporation wants to take over large swaths of land is at the core of Poisoned Ground. We’ve all seen it, even if only remotely, when Walmart tries to move into an area that has survived quite nicely without a megastore and the arguments for and against go on endlessly until, in the end, Walmart almost always wins. It’s difficult for a governing body to ignore the economic benefits such a company might bring to the locality but that means that personal fallout is inevitable, particularly the loss of land or a beloved business. Throw in the animosity that arises when holdouts prevent financial windfalls to others and the fuse is lit on the powderkeg.

Such is the atmosphere when veterinarian Rachel Goddard stops by her friend Joanna’s farmhouse and finds her holding a local banker at bay with a shotgun. Robert McClure’s transgression? He’s there to offer a deal for Joanna’s land, a deal she doesn’t want, and he just won’t give up. When shots ring out, though, they’re not from Joanna’s gun. They seem to come from a neighboring farm, home to Lincoln and Marie Kelly who also oppose the development causing tempers to flare all over the area.

Tom Bridger, Rachel’s husband and recently elected sheriff, arrives on the scene and immediately knows he’s looking at murder but is it really because this well-liked couple didn’t want to sell? Tom and his deputies follow up one lead after another, none leading to full answers, and suggestions begin to point at other possible motives. Rachel, in the meantime, while not sleuthing per se, learns even more about some of their neighbors than she could ever have suspected.

I’ll admit I had a pretty good idea of who was killing people somewhat before any of the characters did (and I was right although I didn’t know why) but that didn’t matter in the least. Rachel and Tom are one of my very favorite crime fiction couples and the reasons are simple: they’re both very astute, they love and respect each other, they’re both good at their jobs and Rachel does not behave as though Tom is incapable of investigating the crimes that occur around them. Add to my affection for them the well-drawn, interesting people they live among, plots that are clever and full of puzzling leads and quality writing and, as I said before, each book is one I’m bound to like. Poisoned Ground  by Sandra Parshall is the latest in a string of intelligent mysteries and I’m just sorry I now have to wait for the next one—but at least I don’t have to wonder if it’ll be good 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2014.

Please stop by tomorrow when Sandra Parshall
will be my guest, ruminating on the never-ending
journey aspiring authors take.

Book Review: Poison Flower by Thomas Perry, Champagne for Buzzards by Phyllis Smallman, Under the Dog Star by Sandra Parshall, The Good, the Bad and the Murderous by Chester D. Campbell, and Baronne Street by Kent Westmoreland

Poison FlowerPoison Flower
Thomas Perry
Mysterious Press/Grove Atlantic, March 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2605-4
Hardcover

Thomas Perry has brought back his wonderful protagonist, Jane Whitefield, in his 19th novel, and the seventh featuring the part-Seneca woman whose credo has always been that “to save innocent people from the enemies who wanted them dead, there would be times when she must fight.” When her plans to free James Shelby from jail go immediately awry, she is forced, as perhaps never before, to make her own life and safety as much a priority as that of her client.

Shelby, described as “a man in his late twenties with light hair and a reasonably handsome face,” is still recovering from a stabbing two months prior while wrongfully imprisoned.  His sister had come to Jane at her home in Deganawida, New York, to enlist her help after he had been convicted of killing his wife, of which crime he is innocent, and given a life sentence.

For the uninitiated, “over the years she had taken dozens and dozens of them away.  Shelby was only the most recent.  They had almost all come to her in the last days of wasted, ruined lives, sometimes just hours before their troubles would have changed from dangerous to fatal.  She would obliterate the person’s old identity and turn him into a runner, a fugitive she would guide to a place far away, where nobody knew him, and certainly nobody would ever think of killing him. She would give him a new identity and teach him to be that new person for the rest of his life.”

The author once again has crafted a terrifically entertaining, meticulously plotted and suspenseful novel, one I couldn’t put down until the final page.  It is, obviously, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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Champagne for BuzzardsChampagne for Buzzards
Phyllis Smallman
McArthur & Company, September 2011
ISN 978-1-55278-912-4
Trade Paperback

In the fourth of Phyllis Smallman’s Sherri Travis mysteries, the protagonist, who co-owns a restaurant/bar with her lover, Clay Adams, is planning his surprise birthday party at his ranch, 300 acres of jungle in Riverwood, Florida, near that state’s west coast.  The title derives from the fact that champagne is high on her shopping list, the ‘buzzards’ part from those unexpected carrion birds who have discovered and feasted upon a body under the tarp covering the back of her pickup truck  [The truck had been her husband’s, murdered two years prior and the subject of an earlier book.]

Also living at the ranch are Sherri’s father, Tulsa (“Tully”] Jenkins, and “uncle” Ziggy [not related by blood but might as well be], both in their sixties but still as feisty as Sherri, which is saying something.  She describes herself and Clay as “cultured and refined met smart-mouthed trailer trash,” she being the latter [called by Clay his “little beach-bar Mona Lisa].”  Their differences include the fact that she is 31, and he about to turn 45.  With her best friend, dental hygienist Marley, the two women start out bringing the upcoming party to fruition, but end up trying to solve the murder of the man who had gotten the attention of the aforementioned buzzards, to their peril. [The women, that is, not the buzzards.]

What ensues is a terrific and fast-paced mystery, complete with psychotic neighbors with a secret that they would do anything to protect, and a missing employee from whom Clay had earlier bought the ranch.  I had been unfamiliar with the work of this author [who apparently divides her time between Salt Spring Island, British Columbia and Manasota Beach, Florida], but will certainly keep an eye out for future offerings.  This was a thoroughly enjoyable novel, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.

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Under the Dog StarUnder the Dog Star
Sandra Parshall
Poisoned Pen Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-878-9
Hardcover

This is the fourth entry in Sandra Parshall’s Agatha Award-winning series, which brings back Rachel Goddard, veterinarian in Mason County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where there has been a rash of mysterious disappearances of family pets from all over the area, posters of which cover the walls of Rachel’s animal hospital. At the same time, reports have been coming in of a pack of feral dogs attacking ranches and homes at night, stealing eggs and killing chickens, threatening the safety of the homeowners and the local farmers’ livestock, and causing somewhat of a panic among the citizenry.  Some of them are up in arms, literally, and want nothing more than to form hunting parties, rifles at the ready, to find and kill the animals.  Rachel has other plans:  She is setting up a sanctuary, where she can house the animals and try to get them to bond again with humans, rather than the other members of the pack.

The stakes suddenly escalate in fast and furious manner when a local man is viciously killed, and when it appears that an animal is to blame, those already planning to hunt them down become crazed.  But Chief Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger, with whom Rachel has been living for the past month, sees the evidence as pointing to a human killer who uses a trained and vicious dog as his weapon.  The powerful novel details some very real horrors and ugliness in our society [a hint of which was provided in real life by football player Michael Vick].

The ensuing investigation and chase becomes more and more complex: The victim was not without enemies, outside of and perhaps within his own household, which includes several adopted children and not a small amount of animosity.  The author has created some beautifully drawn characters, who come vibrantly alive in the hands of a terrific storyteller.  The suspense mounts to very high levels as the tale draws to an end, much too soon.  I loved it, and it is highly recommended.  [It should perhaps be noted that the book is also available in trade paperback and as an e-book.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

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The Good, The Bad and The MurderousThe Good, the Bad and the Murderous
Chester D. Campbell
Night Shadows Press, November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9846044-4-9
Trade Paperback

In his seventh novel [six have featured p.i. Greg McKenzie], Chester Campbell has brought back for only the second time Sid Chance.  Chance is a former member of the Army Special Forces in Vietnam, and had been a National Parks ranger for nineteen years, as well as a small town police chief for ten.  He has now set up shop as a private investigator in Nashville, Tennessee, occasionally but ably assisted by his good friend, “Jaz” LeMieux.  At Jaz’ behest, and despite Sid’s skepticism, he agrees to look into the arrest of a young man accused of murder.  One of the major factors in how convinced the cops are of his guilt is the fact that he had served several years in prison after killing another young man when he was all of twelve years old in the aftermath of a drug deal.  The current murder, of which he protests his innocence, and as Sid and Jaz investigate it, appears to have connections to a Medicare fraud set-up.  As the investigation proceeds, Sid becomes more and more convinced that the boy is innocent, and that moreover his own personal integrity is at stake, and things heat up.  On a more personal level, Jaz herself has been accused of racial harassment of an employee of her company, which morphs into something much more serious as the tale unfolds, and she and Sid believe that they are both being set up.  The good, the bad and the murderous indeed.

Jaz is a fascinating character:  Now a successful businesswoman, she had served in the Air Force Security Police, and spent a few years as a professional boxer before becoming a patrolwoman with the Metro Nashville police force.  This is a well-written and strongly plotted novel, and is a welcome addition to the series.  I loved the regular poker group to which Jaz and Sid belong, which they call the Miss Demeanor and Five Felons Poker Club, among whose members are a former Criminal Court Judge and a retired reporter, as well as the tip of the hat from the author to Tim Hallinan and his Bangkok mystery novels, and to Lee Child and his Jack Reacher books.

A very enjoyable read, and one that is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.

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Baronne StreetBaronne Street
Kent Westmoreland
CreateSpace, September 2010
ISBN: 978-1-45370271-0
Trade Paperback

This first novel by Kent Westmoreland introduced Burleigh [“Burr”] Drummond, and takes the reader on a wild ride down Baronne Street, home to, in less than equal parts, sleaze, beautiful women, horny men, free-flowing liquor, old money, drugs, prostitutes and corruption of all kinds. Shocking, to find all that in N’Awleens, right?  A place where, among the tantalizing smells emanating from the wonderful restaurants, it takes “a little longer to identify the sickly sweet odor of unearned wealth.”

Now a private investigator for three years, twenty-eight-year-old Drummond is hired by a beautiful, moneyed woman to find out why her husband is suddenly behaving in a ‘peculiar’ manner, paying him very handsomely for the privilege.  The ensuing investigation turns up much more than either the client or Drummond bargained for, much of it very, very personal to the detective.

He is assisted in his endeavors, as usual, by Morgan Cross, 35 years old and ‘the coolest guy’ he’d ever known, reputed to be many things [among them mercenary, hit man, and spy], and indispensable to Drummond.  The latter has his own “special talent,” to wit, to “manipulate delicate situations discreetly and keep the consequences quiet.”  A tall order in this case, as it turns out.

This was a delightful read, with believable characters and terrific setting and dialogue, and one I highly recommend.  I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Burr Drummond and his New Orleans in the next book, one I certainly hope is in the pipeline.  [It should be noted that the book is available in paperback or as an e-book online or by ordering through your favorite bookstore.]

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.