Book Review: Blood Red, White and Blue by Kathleen Delaney

Blood Red, White and Blue
Mary McGill Canine Mystery #3
Kathleen Delaney
Severn House, July 2017
ISBN 978-0-7278-8689-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s the 4th July and the town celebrations have gone off without a hitch. Except for the body in the oak grove, shot in the back. The unfortunate victim was a visitor to the town. Mary McGill and her cocker spaniel Millie had seen him only that morning, staring in the window of Lowell’s Jewellery store, his German Shepherd, Ranger, at his side. Could the diamond and sapphire necklace which caught his attention have some connection with his untimely death? What brought him to Santa Louisa in the first place?

Having agreed to look after Ranger temporarily, Mary is unwillingly drawn into the murder investigation. She never dreamed that her enquiries would lead her into serious danger … and more murder.

Santa Louisa’s 4th of July celebrations are underway when Mary and Millie have a casual meeting with Ian Miller and his German Shepherd, Ranger, in front of the jewelry store. Everything is pleasant among humans and dogs and, certainly, Mary has no inkling that the next time she sees him, Mr. Miller will be dead. The only good thing about it is that the glorious fireworks show went off without a hitch but, of course, it’s probably those very fireworks that covered up the shot.

Mary and her “crew” are soon doing what they do so well, sniffing out clues and even being a fair amount of help to Mary’s nephew-in-law, Police Chief Dan Dunham. Dan is a police chief with sense, recognizing that there are some things civilians can do better than the police can while he’s also cognizant of the dangers inherent in murder investigations. Mary is the one who’s most likely to figure things out with the information that comes her way but she couldn’t do it without the help of her family and close friends.

Mary is such a delight, thoughtful and intelligent without being ridiculously nosy, and she never lets the routines of life get pushed aside by snooping. Instead, she does much of her thinking about a crime while having her morning coffee or taking Millie for a walk. This time, there are repercussions beyond the community because it turns out that Ian was with the California Bureau of Investigations and was in Santa Louisa following up on leads about a series of jewelry store robberies. His death naturally brings state investigators to town, some helpful, some not but, once Mary suddenly sees the truth, it’s Ranger who becomes so very important.

Spending a few hours with Mary McGill and her friends and family is always so nice and I have fun with these people while I appreciate the camaraderie and the feelings they all have for each other, canines as well as humans. Kathleen Delaney‘s series is one of my favorites and I really, really wish that I could have their next adventure right now 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

Book Review: Matrimony in Miniature by Margaret Grace

Matrimony in Miniature
A Miniature Mystery #9
Margaret Grace
Perseverance Press, September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-56474-575-0
Trade Paperback

Matrimony in Miniature, the ninth book in the Miniatures series, finds protagonist Gerry Porter hustling to wrap up plans for her wedding to Henry Baker. Or, more to the point, her friends are hustling  while Gerry pretty much goes about business as usual. The couple agreed to a small, low key wedding, but Gerry is beginning to suspect that with her friends involved, there will be all sorts of  added frills. She is okay with that as long as the wedding happens and everyone involved has a good time. However, Gerry’s hopes for that diminish considerably when she receives a phone call from the wedding’s venue alerting her that there has been an accident on the premises. Of coarse the accident turns out to be a murder and Gerry being Gerry, she is soon nosing around to see what she can find out. This leads to her granddaughter Maddie also becoming involved.

It’s always good to visit Lincoln Point, California and the cast of characters who range from police officers to small town business owners to the crafting group who meet regularly at Gerry’s craft store. While I am not into miniatures, I am fascinated with the ongoing project in each of the books. In Matrimony in Miniature, Maddie and Henry’s granddaughter Taylor are working on Maddie’s science fair entry, a miniature water treatment plant, while Gerry is working on a new Victorian home.  I am forever impressed by the creative use of everyday things in making props for miniature models and houses.

The murder in this book was a bit more personal to Gerry than in some books as it occurred at the location that was to host her wedding and the victim was the wife of one of her craft group. Those connections give Gerry a reason to be more than a bit anxious to have the case solved. She does try to discourage Maddie from becoming involved, but Maddie has picked up the “investigator bug.”  I hate seeing children in peril. Author Grace skirts dangerously close to that but manages to keep Maddie safe.

The one thing that is a bit of a distraction with this series and seemed especially so in this book, is that the author in an effort to portray the characters’ lives gives the readers a bit too much of their comings and goings. My head hurt from all of the shuffling back and forth of the girls to and from school, Henry’s house and so forth. It seemed like every time the plot was humming along, there would be paragraphs of interruptions while Gerry, Henry or both drive back and forth and numerous phone calls to coordinate the driving. It is a small quibble, but this reader found it distracting.

I suppose it wouldn’t be necessary to have read any of the previous books in the series to enjoy this one. Certainly a lot of the characters’ backstories are given to readers along the way, but I suspect if readers jump into the series with this book they will find themselves seeking out the earlier books.

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

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: The Violated by Bill Pronzini

The Violated
Bill Pronzini
Bloomsbury, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6328-6600-8
Hardcover

From the publisher:  The novel begins with the body of a dead man lying “face up on the grassy riverbank, legs together and ankles crossed, arms spread-eagled above his head with palms upturned and fingers curled, in a grotesque parody of the crucifixion.”  The victim, Martin Torrey, according to public opinion, is not a victim but instead the lead suspect in an on-going investigation of four brutal rapes and assaults against four women taken place in the span of four months, each more violent than the last.  Tasked with solving the rapes and finding the murderer of Martin Torrey, chief Griffin Kells and detective Robert Ortiz are placed under increasing pressure from the public at large and from an over-ambitious Mayor. As a result, everyone is a suspect. As the story unfolds, readers find themselves in a guessing game trying to deduce who done it?  Was it one of the rape victims or was it one of their friends or family member?  Told in multiple perspectives, everyone is a suspect.  Everyone had opportunity, and everyone had motive, even Martin’s widowed wife.

From the author of more than eighty novels, this most recent standalone from Mr. Pronzini is right up there with the best of them.  The p.o.v. changes from chapter to chapter, e.g., Chapter I of Part I is told in first person by Liane Torrey, the wife and now widow of the murdered man, the next chapter by the police chief Kells (only the 2nd homicide during his seven-year tenure as chief), the next by the politically ambitious Mayor Hugh Delahunt, the next by Ione Spivey, one of the rapist’s victims, and on and on – – I must say that each was  conspicuously in the believable voice of the speaker, not an easy task!

There had been four assaults in four months, “despite increased police patrols, stepped-up neighborhood watches, public warnings to women not to go out alone at night and to take security precautions when home by themselves.  And each one committed without leaving a single solid clue to his identity.”  The cops obviously have their work cut out for them, their job made that much harder with the firestorm of negative media coverage seeking to oust the chief.

A subplot concerns Robert Ortiz, who admittedly has “no difficulty commanding men, but no aptitude for administrative duties and little for public relations, and I do not suffer fools well,” whose Hispanic heritage does not help his “goal is to become a high-ranking detective with the state police or the police department of one of the larger cities.”

The multiple p.o.v. chapters include other victims and their spouses, each one entirely true to their characters (as I’ve already mentioned), and the case becomes dramatically more difficult with another attack, making it rather obvious that the dead man was surely not the man responsible for the first four.  The entire tale takes place in just over a week, the suspense rising as the hunt for the attacker/murderer goes on.  An excellent addition to this author’s oeuvre, it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2017.

Book Review: The Decorator Who Knew Too Much by Diane Vallere

The Decorator Who Knew Too Much
A Madison Night Mystery #4
Diane Vallere
Henery Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-195-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Interior Decorator Madison Night accepts an assignment in Palm Springs with handyman Hudson James, she expects designing days and romantic nights. But after spotting a body in the river by the job site, she causes a rift in the team. Add in the strain of recurring nightmares and a growing dependency on sleeping pills, and Madison seeks professional help to deal with her demons.

She learns more about the crime than she’d like thanks to girl talk with friends, pillow talk with Hudson, and smack talk with the local bad boys. And after the victim is identified as the very doctor she’s been advised to see, she wonders if what she knows can help catch a killer. An unlikely ally helps navigate the murky waters before her knowledge destroys her, and this time, what she doesn’t know might be the one thing that saves her life.

Madison Night is really not fond of surprises but they keep on coming, starting with a hit-and-run accident on the way to Hudson’s brother-in-law’s jobsite. That surprise doesn’t hold a candle to the one the next day when she discovers a body in the river at the jobsite but the real corker comes when the police can’t find any body.

Roiling the waters is our sleuth’s attraction to two very different men, Hudson and Tex, and I must say I don’t envy the choice she’ll have to make eventually. She did choose Hudson a few months ago but…

Madison is a woman who appeals to me because of her love of mid-century modern and all the trappings of the 50’s and 60’s. Doris Day is her muse, so to speak, and Madison does her best to recreate that world of charm and kindness. Madison is also middle-aged, not in perfect health and living with chronic pain from a knee injury which makes her unusually relatable for somebody like me who’s definitely not young and fit.

With a plot full of twists and turns and a certain edge to the story that makes it a little grittier than the usual cozy, I found myself making more than one guess as to the final denouement. I’ve read and enjoyed Ms. Vallere‘s work before and she’s solidified her status with me once again. Longtime fans and new readers will find much to like here.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

Book Reviews: Lifers by M.A. Griffin and When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling

 

lifersLifers
M.A. Griffin
Chicken House, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-06553-4
Hardcover

Particularly pertinent in current political climate, this fresh Middle-Grade mystery-adventure is a phenomenally fantastic read for all ages.  Mace may be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but when weird news of missing teens and strange sights at night hits close to home, even practical Preston is pulled in.  Also….he is pretty sure he is partly to blame for the most recent disappearances.

Attempting to trace Alice’s steps, Preston walks the night streets of Manchester and senses a spooky truth to the recent rumors.  He enlists Mace to delve deeper and the two stumble onto a pseudo-futuristic-sci-fi scene.  Children are trapped in a prison prototype with dwindling supplies and absolutely no way out.  The only way in, is scheduled to be permanently shut down in less than twenty-four hours.

The juvenile delinquents are not completely alone.  One young lady is the daughter of a recently deceased politician, her “crime”: doubting that her father’s death was an accident.  She is not going down until the guilty party pays.  Two Urban Explorers snuck into the prison to help facilitate an escape and two workers who never wanted their creations to be used in this manner will fight for freedom.

The story plays out in a matter of days; the pace is very quick and quite captivating.  A bit of sharp wit, an unexpected kindness keeps the book from becoming bleak.  Many questions are answered, but nothing is too pat; there’s plenty to think on…..in a sneaky kind of way.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

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when-my-heart-was-wickedWhen My Heart Was Wicked
Tricia Stirling
Scholastic Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-69573-2
Hardcover

Lacy is clearly conflicted and completely compelling. At the tender age of sixteen, she has become so very good in spite of her tumultuous, tangled life; but, things change. The loss of a parent is heart-breaking and often life-changing.  When that loss is followed by an abrupt and unwelcome custody change, the downward spiral spins out of control.

Flashbacks and memories reveal the characteristics of Lacy’s parents allowing the reader to understand Lacy’s influences.  The vibes emanating from the recollections reach from the pages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  Parents are palpable presences and when Lacy thinks of her father, sunshine shoots from the pages.  She is light, happy, hopeful……joyous and buoyant when considering her father and his charming hippie-chick wife, Anna.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Lacy’s mother, Cheyenne.  Her unique “teaching techniques” and willingness to spend weeks without electricity did not result in a nurturing home.  Rather, she burned her daughter’s wrist for asking “too many questions”, tied her to a tree to prevent “wandering”, then completely vanished without a word, leaving a broken 13-year old girl all alone.

When My Heart Was Wicked is a captivating and quick read that bravely tackles taboo topics such as “cutting”.  More than merely acknowledging the existence of a disorder that plagues so many teens, by offering an answer to the common question: “why?” On some level, problems that plague Lacy are the same, or at least similar to the challenges every teenager faces.  The importance of identity is not easy to address, but Ms. Stirling demonstrates how strong will, determination and knowledge can carve a unique path, even when it seems all forces are fighting to make you march down a different road.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2016.

Book Review: Seldom Traveled by Marilyn Meredith

seldom-traveledSeldom Traveled
Tempe Crabtree Mystery Series #15
Marilyn Meredith
Mundania Press, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-59426-433-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The tranquility of the mountain community of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three.

One of the things that makes the Tempe Crabtree series by Marilyn Meredith so appealing is its setting in a mountain community where the issues facing law enforcement that can be common in urban areas are rather unique in a more rural environment. Certainly the fugitive seen near Bear Creek could have just as easily headed for a big city but he didn’t do so, meaning Tempe will have to deal with the situation along with…or, rather, in spite of…the dismissive Marshal Gallegos. Unfortunately, that isn’t all she has on her plate; a woman, Mariah Konstanzer, has gone missing from her family’s remote vacation home and is found murdered.

Detectives Morrison and Richards take control of the murder investigation but it isn’t long before Tempe is pulled in to assist and is soon interviewing a lengthy list of potential suspects. Before she can shorten the list, a third crisis erupts, a wildfire high on the mountain. Tempe races to warn residents to evacuate and it isn’t long before all three issues intersect.

Tempe is a deputy I’ve followed for years and, once again, she’s the diligent, thoughtful investigator I’ve come to expect as well as a caring wife and member of the Bear Creek community. For some reason, Tempe always gives me a sense of confidence that all will be right with the world when it’s all said and done and she pulls it off once again. I hope we won’t have to wait long for the next adventure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.