Book Review: A Promise Given by Michelle Cox—and a Giveaway!

A Promise Given
A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel #3
Michelle Cox
She Writes Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-63152-373-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Anxious to be married, Henrietta and Clive push forward with their wedding plans despite their family differences, made worse now by Oldrich Exley’s attempts to control the Von Harmons. When the long-awaited wedding day arrives, there is more unfolding than just Clive and Henrietta’s vows of love. Stanley and Elsie’s relationship is sorely tested by the presence of the dashing Lieutenant Harrison Barnes-Smith and by Henrietta’s friend Rose―a situation that grows increasingly dark and confused as time goes on.

As Clive and Henrietta begin their honeymoon at Castle Linley, the Howards’ ancestral estate in England, they encounter a whole new host of characters, including the eccentric Lord and Lady Linley and Clive’s mysterious cousin, Wallace. When a man is murdered in the village on the night of a house party at the Castle, Wallace comes under suspicion―and Clive and Henrietta are reluctantly drawn into the case, despite Clive’s anxiety at involving his new bride and Henrietta’s distracting news from home.

Delicately attempting to work together for the first time, Clive and Henrietta set out to prove Wallace’s innocence, uncovering as they do so some rather shocking truths that will shake the Linley name and estate forever.

Following their Chicago wedding, Henrietta Von Harmon and Clive Howard leave tumultuous family issues behind, heading for a honeymoon in England at the ancestral Howard estate, Castle Linley, but their romantic interlude is affected by current events. It’s 1935 and the lingering effects of World War I can be seen and felt along with financial troubles stemming from the Great Depression but it’s a murder in the nearby village that shocks everyone.

Detective Chief Inspector John Hartle quickly suspects Wallace Howard, Clive’s cousin. Formerly a police detective, Clive is drawn in by his fondness for Wallace to investigate with Henrietta’s help; meanwhile, she’s trying to accustom herself to the trappings of British society and then receives unwelcome and distracting news from home regarding her family. The two are very surprised when they discover why Wallace has been so secretive but this knowledge may not lead to Wallace’s being cleared.

To me, this installment focused too much on the romance elements and even provided more, er, details than I cared to know while the mystery kind of took a back seat. Still, the setting is delightful, the nods of appreciation to Pride and Prejudice are fun and I particularly enjoyed seeing the beginnings of a brand new private investigation agency.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.

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To enter the drawing for a trade
paperback copy of A Promise Given,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on the evening of
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Book Review: ToxiCity by Libby Fischer Hellmann

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Title: ToxiCity
Series: The Georgia Davis PI Series, Book 3
Author: Libby Fischer Hellmann
Narrator: Beth Richmond and Derek Shetterly
Publication Date: September 20, 2016

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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ToxiCity
The Georgia Davis P.I. Series, Book 3
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Narrated by Beth Richmond and Derek Shetterly
The Red Herrings Press, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

A prequel to Libby Fischer Hellman’s Georgia Davis PI series.

There’s an inventive killer at large in Chicago in this dark thriller and police procedural from best-selling crime writer Libby Fischer Hellmann.

When three bodies turn up in rapid succession, all in landfills or waste disposal dumpsters, rookie cop Georgia Davis is drawn into the investigation. Teaming up with her detective boyfriend Matt and his friend, Detective Sergeant John Stone, Georgia must work out who’s responsible for the killings, but there’s little evidence to go on. The case also tests the strength of Georgia’s relationship with Matt – complicating the situation is the daughter of a real estate mogul, who also happens to have her eye on Matt.

Who’s behind these gruesome killings in this normally quiet neighborhood? Why are children developing cancer? And will Georgia’s relationship withstand the demands of this particularly complex investigation?

Find out in ToxiCity.

Oftentimes, police procedurals are rather linear, taking the reader down a straightforward path from crime to solution, but that is definitely not the case with ToxiCity. Here, we have a tale full of complexity and a plethora of twists and turns leading to answers that are tinged with a bit of ambiguity. I couldn’t help having some sympathy and certainly a good deal of understanding for the killer even while deploring that person’s actions.

Adding to the ins and outs of the investigations is the look into Georgia Davis’s early days as a cop. Georgia is young but that can’t fully excuse some of the dumb things she does or her overwrought emotional reactions when things don’t go her way. On the other hand, we also get to see the beginnings of her investigative talent, her sharp intellect and keen desire to figure things out.

As narrators, Beth Richmond and Derek Shetterly do fine work and both have good pacing and clear voices with just the right emotional tones when needed. There is not a lot of distinction between characters but I found that didn’t get in the way of my enjoying the story.

Bottomline, this is a good entry in the series but I would encourage readers not to assume “prequel” means this should be read first because you could end up not liking Georgia. Much better to meet her in the two previous books when she’s matured a little 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

About the Author

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago over 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first.

She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony and four times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.

Her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 5-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and four stand-alone historical thrillers set during Revolutionary Iran, Cuba, the Sixties, and WW2. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection. Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. All her books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook.

Libby also hosts Second Sunday Crime, a monthly podcast where she interviews bestselling and emerging crime authors. In 2006 she was the National President of Sisters in Crime, a 3500 member organization committed to the advancement of female crime fiction authors.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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About the Narrators

Beth Richmond

Narrator Beth Richmond has recorded more than 100 audiobooks in the last decade from her studio on the Mendocino coast. Among her favorites are those from Georgia Davis series. “It is a privilege and pleasure to return repeatedly to such a vividly drawn character and world. Ms. Hellman’s books live inside me now, as if they were memories from my own life. What fun!”

She can be reached at brich@mcn.org

Derek Shetterly

Derek’s love for performance began onstage in the 3rd grade as the star of “Captain Hook”.   Hooked, he was, and stage acting carried him through high school and into college. In 1988 he earned a BA in Radio/Television from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, with a minor in Theater.  For the next 15 years, Derek worked in radio as an on-air talent. But his main interest was in creative production; writing scripts became a forte, and performing the characters, a passion. In 2003, Derek took a leap of faith to devote his career to self-employment in voiceover work.

He has never looked back, and continues as a full-time professional voiceover talent, based in Oregon. In addition to audio books, Derek’s voice is on countless corporate narrations, eLearning modules, radio and television commercials and several documentaries. He has met his calling, is in his element behind the mic,  and so grateful to be doing what he loves every day. When he’s not narrating, or walking his faithful terrier “Max”, he’s probably on a mountain bike or planning his next travel adventure.

WebsiteLinkedIn

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

$100 Amazon Giftcard
Runs June 2nd-23rd⎮Open internationally

Enter here.

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Book Review: High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann

High Crimes
The Georgia Davis PI Series #5
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-938733-95-6
Trade Paperback

High Crimes by Libby Fischer Hellmann is the fifth book in her Georgia Davis private investigator series. It closely reflects the unsettled U.S. political climate of the past two years. Dena Baldwin is the leader of a resistance movement that begin after the U.S. presidential election of 2016. At the beginning of a major protest demonstration in Chicago, a sniper shoots her and several of her colleagues from a nearby hotel roof and is presumed to have killed himself with a bomb. Baldwin’s mother hires Georgia to learn more about the killer and what prompted him to kill her daughter, since the local police and the FBI have drawn a blank. Sifting through the backgrounds of more than 40,000 members of the organization to identify potentially problematic members is the only lead she has, and she enlists tech support to help her. She learns the victim’s estranged father is a political lobbyist in Washington, DC, with questionable associates, giving her another avenue for her research. And the shooter’s sister has vanished, leaving Georgia to wonder why.

In the meantime Georgia’s lover is pressing her to move in with him. Georgia is seriously considering it, as her younger sister and baby have taken over her small apartment. But when she mentions it to her sister Savannah, Savannah takes the idea as a sign of abandonment, creating family complications that Georgia is at a loss to deal with.

Georgia balances family needs against a progressively more complex investigation, creating an involved mystery with multiple threads that come together in a credible but not-too-neat conclusion. Well-written, smoothly paced. For fans of books with strong women leads, private investigator mysteries, and contemporary political thrillers.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is a versatile award-winning writer with two crime series, stand-alone thrillers, and many short stories in her bibliography.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, November 2018.

Book Reviews: Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed and One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman

Love, Hate and Other Filters
Samira Ahmed
Soho Teen, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-847-3
Hardcover

First and foremost, this book is exquisitely authored. Beautiful, not in a flowery, colorful sort of way; but rather in a raw, natural, simple-yet-stunning kind of way. And so, a snap-shot of Maya’s senior year: dating, spring break, planning for college…as an Indian Muslim American…would be wholly satisfying, entirely engaging and enlightening. But it would only scratch the surface. With a wide lens, Ms. Ahmed provides perspective; contrived categories soften into truer compilations.

To most of Maya’s peers, her parents are almost unreasonably strict. Maya may secretly agree, but at least they “aren’t exactly the fire-and-brimstone types”.  Aware of her family’s (limited) leniencies, Maya is surprised when Kareem, a desi Muslim, has a glass of wine. But, as he points out, “…it’s not like I eat pork.” More importantly, he is not a white American boy. Like Philip.

And so, the scene is set.

But, a somber tone seeps through. Snippets of seething anger and frustration simmer to a frenzied, desperate desire for revenge. Building tension becomes tangible. An explosion is imminent.

The inundation of information immediately following a blow-up is, unfortunately, often inaccurate and incomplete. Even more egregious, these initial errors are what people tend to remember. By the time facts have been collected and the whole, true story can be told; no one is there to listen. Life goes on, public perception remains unchanged.

Except for the person presumed guilty. And his family. Or everyone with his last name.

Love, Hate and Other Filters is the rest of the story and it is relatable and relevant.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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One Silver Summer
Rachel Hickman
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-80892-7
Hardcover

Despite knowing full well that I was reading-for-review, I became so caught up in the very love story that little-girl-me always dreamed of, that I devoured this book like a starved Cookie Monster demolishes cookies.  Even at this frantic pace, I was aware of the ‘something more’ to the story—hints were subtle, yet almost undeniable—perhaps somewhat subliminal.

One Silver Summer is more than the whole-hearted-head-over-heels love story of a shattered girl and a stunning, spirited mare.  There are mysteries to be solved: what horrific happening has sent Sass across the pond to live with the uncle she only just learned of?  Maybe that’s moot.  Perhaps this was her path all along—the past has a tendency to come back, after all.

The guarded groomsman, Alexander, is a bit of a mystery himself.  To Sass, his mannerisms don’t seem to fit his position, although understanding hierarchy is not her forte—no need for that in New York City.  His moods shifts are also perplexing.  Sometimes he seems relaxed and happy with company, while other times he’s oddly secretive and suspicious.

Sass and the silver horse are certainly central, but Alexander, his quite proper British grandmother, and affable artist, Uncle David, take the tome to another level.  A love story in the broadest sense: fondness developing among family members just getting familiar; the unconditional, admiring adoration between grandparent and grandchild; forbidden love, lost in a flash (but with a lingering fondness); and love formed from empathy and nostalgia.

Also, this is a story of learning to separate who you are from a persona based solely on other people’s perceptions.  A reminder of the need to be flexible, reflective and always open-minded.  An understanding that even adults must continue to grow, to adapt—not to survive, but to thrive.  A narrative of hope and heartbreak that is fantastically fabulous.  Immediately after reading the very last words, Acknowledgements and About the Author; I turned to the first page and read the entire book again.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Review: War, Spies, and Bobby Sox by Libby Fischer Hellmann

 

War, Spies, and Bobby Sox
Stories About World War II At Home
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, February 2017
ISBN 978-1938733970
Trade Paperback

From the author—

As World War II rages across Europe and the Pacific, its impact ripples through communities in the heartland of America. A farm girl is locked in a dangerous love triangle with two Germans soldiers held in an Illinois POW camp … Another German, a war refugee, is forced to risk her life spying on the developing Manhattan Project in Chicago … And espionage surrounds the disappearance of an actress from the thriving Jewish community of Chicago’s Lawndale. In this trio of tales, acclaimed thriller author Libby Fischer Hellmann beautifully depicts the tumultuous effect of war on the home front and illustrates how the action, terror, and tragedy of World War II was not confined to the front lines.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is one of the few authors who can surprise me nearly every time I pick up one of her books. Here, the surprise comes in her clear understanding of the World War II homefront, almost as though she had lived it herself.

Three tales provide a glimpse of how people, especially women, coped with the hardships, opportunities and moral pitfalls here at home while the main attention was on events overseas. Lena, a young Jewish girl, is sent to America before our involvement and makes her way in the world supported by her aunt Ursula and uncle Reinhard eventually getting a secretarial position in a university physics department. That, in itself, seems innocuous but this is the time when scientists are in the early stages of developing nuclear fission and Lena finds herself in a world of trouble.

Mary-Catherine lives in rural Illinois and helps her mother and siblings keep the farm running. When ten German POW soldiers are assigned to work the harvest, Mary-Catherine can’t help being interested by one in particular, a man who gives her the tiniest of smiles. To her, Reinhard is intriguing; to Reinhard, she is an “Irish mongrel” and, in that moment of meeting, a scheme is born that will change Mary-Catherine’s life while another POW will find a new direction.

Life as a Jewish gangster calls to teenaged Jacob Forman but he doesn’t bargain for what happens to a beautiful actress he admires from afar as she starts walking out with the charming gangster, Skull. When Skull invites Jake and his friend, Barney, to work for him as runners, they think they’ve hit the jackpot but can’t help noticing the sad distance that has grown between Skull and Miriam. Not long after, murder and a local Nazi open Jake’s eyes to a world much grimmer than he ever thought.

Once again, Ms. Hellmann has knocked it out of the park and, if you haven’t tried her mysteries and other work yet, this is a good place to start 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2017.

Book Reviews: The Highwayman by Craig Johnson and Fallout by Sara Paretsky

The Highwayman
A Longmire Story
Craig Johnson
Penguin  Books, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2090-4
Trade Paperback

The author prefaces this Longmire novel by stating he always wanted to write a ghost story.  And now he has, thrusting Walt Longmire and his friend, Henry Standing Bear, into the middle of an enigma.  At the request of the head of the Highway Patrol, Walt and the Bear seek to determine what is happening to Rosie Wayman, who patrols a stretch of highway in the Wind River Canyon, an area where radio communication is almost nonexistent.

On the other hand, Rosie begins receiving calls from Bobby Womack saying “officer needs assistance.”  The problem is that Womack, a respected highwayman who patrolled the same route, died 35 years previously.  Walt and the Bear have to determine whether Rosie really is hearing the signal, or is in need of psychiatric evaluation.  What follows during the investigation is a series of events which might be ethereal, or explained by logic in the real world.  It is up to the two men (along with the reader) to determine which.

It is a clever plot and, while it is a deviation from the 11 prior entries in the series, The Highwayman is a welcome addition to the earlier books, and it is recommended.

The 13th novel in the series, The Western Star, will be published by Penguin on September 5th!

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.

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Fallout
A V.I. Warshawski Novel
Sara Paretsky
William Morrow, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-0662-584-2
Hardcover

It all begins in Chicago, and ends up in Kansas, but VI Warhawski needs more than ruby read slippers to return home.  Apparently, a black retired movie star decided on a moment’s notice to leave the Windy City, ostensibly to visit the town where she grew up, dragging a young man man along to film her reminiscences with stops along the way to Lawrence, KS.  When the two seem to disappear, VI is retained by the woman’s concerned neighbors to find them.  The young man also is a person of interest in a drug theft at his place of employment, and Vicky becomes more wary when she discovers his apartment ransacked.

So off goes VI on the long drive to Kansas, tracing the woman’s journey and attempting to pick up a trace of the pair.  She visits Fort Riley, where she learns they stopped, but little else.  So Vicky continues on to Lawrence, where she encounters all kinds of obstructions, and becomes involved in all kinds of side issues, other than her original purpose to locate the actress and her photographer.

The reader has to plow through a rather dry start to the novel, about one-third the length of the book, before the plot begins to develop.  Then it turns into a complicated story that probably could have served as the basis for one or more novels.    All in all, Fallout is an interesting work and can be recommended despite these reservations because the author and the series are so deservedly popular.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.

Book Reviews: Night School by Lee Child and The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

Night School
A Jack Reacher Novel #21
Lee Child
Delacorte Press, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-041-7880-8
Hardcover

From the publisher:  It’s 1996, and Reacher is still in the army.  In the morning they give him a medal, and in the afternoon they send him back to school.  That night he’s off the grid. Out of sight, out of mind. Two other men are in the classroom – – an FBI agent and a CIA analyst.  Each is a first-rate operator, each is fresh off a big win, and each is wondering what the hell they are doing there.  Then they find out:  A Jihadist sleeper cell in Hamburg, Germany, has received an unexpected visitor – – a Saudi courier, seeking safe haven while waiting to rendezvous with persons unknown. A CIA asset, undercover inside the cell, has overheard the courier whisper a chilling message: “The American wants a hundred million dollars.”  For what?  And who from?  Reacher and his two new friends are told to find the American.  Reacher recruits the best soldier he has ever worked with:  Sergeant Frances Neagley.  Their mission heats up in more ways than one, while always keeping their eyes on the prize:  If they don’t get their man, the world will suffer an epic act of terrorism.  From Langley to Hamburg, Jalalabad to Kiev, Night School moves like a bullet through a treacherous landscape of double crosses, faked identities, and new and terrible enemies, as Reacher maneuvers inside the game and outside the law.

Reacher is an imposing figure.  He is a military cop, 35 years old, a major with twelve years in, with rare attributes:  He is brilliant, with admirable reserves of intelligence and strengths (both mental and physical, at 6’ 5” and 250 pounds).   He thinks of himself as “a good street fighter.  Mostly because he enjoyed it.”  He thinks of his new “assignment” as a cooperation school, these disparate government agencies not known for getting along well together.  When the men fly to Hamburg, Reacher thinks:  “He had dealt with German cops before.  Both military and civilian.  Not always easy.  Mostly due to different perceptions. Germans thought they had been given a country, and Americans thought they had bought a large military base with servants.”  The identity of their primary target, known only as The American, is not known till 160 pages in, and the item[s] being sold not known until page 300.  We are reminded of the callous mindset when one character says “soccer wasn’t so bad. He had once seen it played with a human head.”

The book is intricately and meticulously plotted.  It was different from prior books in the series in that it is not as taut and edge-of-your-seat as previous entries, but the reader is carried along from beginning to end, just somewhat more sedately.  It is trademark Lee Child/Jack Reacher, however, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.

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The Second Life of Nick Mason
Steve Hamilton
Putnam, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-3995-7432-0
Hardcover

From the publisher:  A career criminal from Chicago’s South Side, Nick Mason got his start stealing cars and quickly graduated to safe-cracking and armed robbery.  But he left that life behind when he met and married his wife and settled down with her and their young daughter – until an old friend offered him a job he couldn’t refuse.  That fateful night at the harbor landed him in prison with a 25-to-life sentence and little hope of seeing his wife or daughter ever again.  When Nick is offered a deal allowing his release twenty years ahead of schedule, he takes it without hesitation or fully realizing the consequences.  Once outside, Nick steps into a glamorous life with a five-million-dollar condo, a new car, ten grand in cash every month, and a beautiful roommate. But while he’s returned to society, he’s still a prisoner, bound to the promise he made behind bars:  whenever his cell phone rings, day or night, Nick must answer it and follow whatever order he is given.  It’s the deal he made with Darius Cole, a criminal mastermind serving a double-life term who still runs an empire from his prison cell.  Whatever Darius Cole needs him to be – – a problem solver, bodyguard, thief, or assassin – – Nick Mason must be that man.  Forced to commit increasingly dangerous crimes and relentlessly hunted by the detective who brought him to justice in the past, Nick finds himself in a secret war between Cole and an elite force of Chicago’s dirty cops.  Desperate to go straight and rebuild his life with his daughter and ex-wife, Nick will ultimately have to risk everything – – his family, his sanity, and even his life – – to finally break free.

How does Nick resolve this second life he is now forced to live?  The manner in which he does so is revealed in this fascinating novel by Steve Hamilton, and the suspenseful way he accomplishes it is typical of what we have come to expect from this author, in this newest page-turner, just the first in a new series.  It goes against anything Nick had believed in:  Although admittedly involved with several kinds of illegal acts, he had never – and believed he never could – taken another man’s life.  But after five years and twenty-eight days in prison, and with the hope of re-starting his life with his beloved Gina and their little girl, he would do almost anything.  The book opens with quotes from two very different sources: Nathaniel Hawthorne and Bruce Springsteen.  But expect the unexpected from this wonderful author.  I was delighted to learn that the next book in the series, Exit Strategy, will be published by Putnam in May, and I can’t wait to read it!   The Second Life of Nick Mason is, you will have guessed, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2017.