Book Review: The Time for Murder is Meow by T. C. LoTempio—and a Giveaway! @RoccoBlogger

The Time for Murder is Meow
A Purr N Bark Pet Shop Mystery #1
T. C. LoTempio
Midnight Ink, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-7387-6036-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Crishell “Shell” McMillan sees the cancellation of her TV series as a blessing in disguise. The former actress can now take over her late aunt’s pet shop, the Purr N’ Bark, and do something she loves.

While getting the shop ready for re-opening, Shell is asked to loan her aunt’s Cary Grant posters to the local museum for an exhibit. She finds the prospect exciting―until a museum board member, who had a long-standing feud with Shell’s aunt, votes against it. When she discovers the board member dead in the museum, Shell becomes suspect number one. Can she, her Siamese cat Kahlua, and her new sidekick―her aunt’s Persian Purrday―find the real culprit, or will her latest career go up in kitty litter?

A pair of cute felines are part and parcel of this fun cozy but fear not, those of you who cringe at the idea—they don’t really help solve the crime(s) unless you count some judicious nudges and they don’t talk to Shell 😉 That doesn’t mean she doesn’t talk to them; any self-respecting cat person knows that’s a given, right?

When Shell inherited her aunt’s pet shop, she fully expected a quiet life, much less stressful than her former acting world, but she didn’t allow for the animosity she encountered from Amelia Witherspoon. Shell never knew her Aunt Tillie had a feud going with Amelia but, then again, maybe Aunt Tillie wasn’t as invested in the feud as Amelia still is. This crabby woman won’t even allow the local museum to have a showing of the marvelous Cary Grant memorabilia just because the collection belonged to Tillie and Shell is determined to change the woman’s mind. Unfortunately, she won’t get the chance because somebody has done away with the woman and Shell is the popular choice as the murderer thanks to rumors and gossip. Meanwhile, why is the publisher/reporter, Quentin Watson, of the village rag so interested in her shop and why is he pointing the finger at Shell as the killer?

There are a number of likely suspects and, as you might expect, a potential love interest in Detective Josh Bloodgood who wisely doesn’t really believe she’s guilty but my favorite character is Gary, Shell’s former co-star, entirely because…well, you’ll see ;-). The mystery here is a bit lightweight, especially in Shell’s supposed motivation for the murder and I figured out who done it too early, but an appealing cast of characters and a healthy dose of humor make this a nice way to while away a few hours. I’m already looking forward to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2019.

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To enter the drawing for an Advance
Reading Copy of The Time for Murder is Meow
just leave a comment below. Two winning
names will be drawn on Wednesday evening,
August 7th. Open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Idyll Hands by Stephanie Gayle—and a Giveaway!

Idyll Hands
A Thomas Lynch Novel #3
Stephanie Gayle
Seventh Street Books,
ISBN 978-1-63388-482-3
Trade Paperback

Not to mince words, this is an excellent novel. The story travels between 1972 in Charleston, Massachusetts, and 1999 in Idyll, Connecticut. In its emotional beginning, Susan, the sixteen-year-old sister of a new policeman, Michael Finnegan, is running away from home, at least for a few days. Why, we don’t know for sure.

Twenty-six years later, in a town not far from Charleston, the new chief of police in Idyll, Connecticut, named Thomas Lynch, is confronted with allergies and the preserved bone of an unknown woman or girl, the cops in that town have named Colleen. The bone is from a body unknown and unnamed found years earlier.

And so the story begins. As it unfolds, Michael Finnegan, now an experienced detective and his boss, Chief Lynch, working together and separately, among the small force of law enforcement people, confront questions of other missing young women. And throughout the novel, the hard loss of Finnegan’s still missing sister is always present.

In carefully measured chapters, the search for the woman found in the grave in Idyll is laid out and the detectives draw ever closer to the murderer. At the same time, detective Finnegan continues to pick away at random small clues to the enduring mystery of his sister’s disappearance.

Scenes are carefully and sometimes elaborately described; the pace of the novel is intense, and readers will be treated to a small cadre of police individuals whose emotional investments in their careers are carefully laid out, along with the civilian sides of life. Readers will also be treated to an interesting look at the process of crime detection in this town where the authorities are anything but idle.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Idyll Hands by Stephanie Gayle, just leave
a
comment below. The winning name will

be drawn on Thursday night, May 9th.
This drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Return to Dust by Andrew Lanh

Return To Dust
A Rick Van Lam Mystery #2
Andrew Lanh
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0426-5
Hardcover

Billed as a Rick Van Lam Mystery, the novel has more atmosphere and character than one usually expects from a good crime novel. As a consequence, the characters and their backgrounds take up far more space and time than does the careful, sometimes plodding, efforts of the novel’s detective, Rick Van Lam, to answer a rather simple question. Was Marta Kowalski murdered or did she simply slip and fall of a bridge while under the influence?

Rick Van Lam is an Amerasian, a sad by-product of that disastrous war in Viet Nam. Van Lam makes a dangerous trek to America as a young boy. Now he’s a relatively calm and accomplished investigator for a large insurance company. He’s stationed in a bedroom community outside Hartford, Connecticut, where lives a sizeable group of Hmong and other refugees from SE Asia. His relationship to the community is fraught because Lam is not pure blood and many in the small community resent his very existence. That attitude interferes with his investigation. It also offers the author many opportunities to expound on the unique troubles of this group of Asian transfers as they continue to struggle to adapt to their new country.

The woman who died seemed to be an inoffensive sort, semi-retired, she cleaned houses and apartments for a wide assortment of people in the small bedroom community and despite resistance at almost every turn, Investigator Lam persists, wading through thickets of prejudice, suspicion and occasional assistance. Ultimately, of course, he solves the mystery of Marta’s death and in the process, delivers a long and occasionally tortuous dissertation on the outflow of the disaster that was that war in Vietnam.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2018.
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: The Quiet Child by John Burley and The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

The Quiet Child
John Burley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-0624-3185-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  It’s the summer of 1954, and the residents of Cottonwood, California, are dying.  At the center of it all is six-year-old Danny McCray, a strange and silent child the townspeople regard with superstition, who appears to bring illness and ruin to those around him.  Even his own mother is plagued by a disease that is slowly consuming her.  Sheriff Jim Kent, increasingly aware of the whispers and rumors surrounding the boy, has watched the people of his town suffer, and he worries someone might take drastic action to protect their loved ones.  Then a stranger arrives, and Danny and his ten-year-old brother, Sean, go missing.  In the search that follows, everyone is a suspect, and the consequences of finding the two brothers may be worse than not finding them at all.

This is a tale of what appears to be a kidnapping gone horribly wrong.  But put aside any preconceptions you may have with regard to kidnappings – this is not like any conjecture you can imagine.

This is a difficult time for the residents of Cottonwood, where “it seemed everyone had something wrong.”  The protagonists are Michael McCray, a science teacher at Anderson Union High School, and his wife of 12 years, Kate.  Days go by, and no headway is made in finding their two kidnapped sons, despite the best efforts of Michael and Jim Kent, 65 and “the town’s only plumber and part-time sheriff,” who thinks “there was something out here, some trace of them.  There had to be.  People do not just disappear.  There was a concerted law enforcement effort under way.  They would find them – – soon, he thought.  He only hoped it would be soon enough.”  The boys are 6 and 10 years old, of whom Michael thinks “one a constant source of chatter and energy and the other an enigma, silent and indecipherable,” the eponymous brother.

The reader is introduced to Richard Banes, who is at the crux of most of what takes place in this novel, and who “had harbored the suspicion that he might be going insane. True, it was not a condition that had plagued him in the past.  But the recent events had been wild and unpredictable – – and beyond his ability to control.  If he had heard the story from someone else and not experienced it for himself, he would have scoffed at it and questioned their mental stability.    But here he was: incapacitated by a small child . . . ”

This is a psychological thriller of the highest order, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2017.

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The Last Mrs. Parrish
Liv Constantine
Harper, October 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-266757-1
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Amber Patterson is fed up.  She’s tired of being a nobody:  a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background.  She deserves more – – a life of money and power, like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted.  To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne – – a socialite and philanthropist – – and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, a man of apparently limitless wealth, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale.  Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn’t have a plan.  Amber uses Daphne’s compassion to insinuate herself into the family’s life – – the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her.  Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrishes and their lovely young daughters, and growing closer to Jackson.  But a skeleton from her past may destroy everything that Amber has worked toward, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces.

Part I of the novel is told from Amber’s perspective, Part II, roughly half-way through the book, from Daphne’s.  The two women meet at a gym they both attend, and are drawn together by a shared interest:  It appears that Daphne, through an organization called the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, puts out a magazine dealing with that disease.  Daphne tells Amber, when questioned, that she had lost her younger sister to that disease, 20 years earlier at the age of 16.  When Daphne asks, Amber reveals that her own younger sister had died of the disease at the age of 14.  That is the beginning of a friendship that becomes much more than just that, with Amber becoming almost of the Parrish family

The reader discovers late in the novel that Amber’s name isn’t even Amber – it was Laura Crump.  She had made everything up, including the ostensible existence of a sick sister, an abusive father, when in actuality she was a criminal, a fugitive.   But we are told very early on that the only sisters she does [or ever did] have are all alive and well.  She apparently makes monthly pilgrimages to the main library in Manhattan and to museums, the better to display her apparent knowledge and acumen to others, most importantly to Jackson Parrish.  She inveigles her way into the family dynamic and, in doing so, into the “world of the rich and mighty, mingling and toasting each other, smug and confident in their little one percent corner of the world,” and ultimately landing a job as Jackson’s new office assistant.  I have to admit I found myself at one point I could not help but admire Amber’s success in achieving her aim of worming herself into the Parrish world in many aspects, although that didn’t last too long.  The Parrish marriage of 12 years soon is threatened.   I also have to admit that once the 2nd half of the book is under way–from Daphne’s p.o.v.–that admiration quickly ended.

This novel received starred reviews from each of the most highly respected review sites in the industry, each comparing it favorably with “Gone Girl,” one of the mostly highly lauded novels of its kind in the last couple of years [and one I must admit I have never read, unlike, I suspect, most of the readers of this review, I humbly realize].  That said, “Mrs. Parrish” kept me turning the pages as quickly as I could until the very end.

Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine., a remarkable job, considering they live several states apart!  They have created a book that captivates the reader, and one I highly recommend.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

Book Review: Death Overdue by Allison Brook

Death Overdue
A Haunted Library Mystery #1
Allison Brook
Crooked Lane Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-68331-386-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Carrie Singleton is just about done with Clover Ridge, Connecticut until she’s offered a job as the head of programs and events at the spooky local library, complete with its own librarian ghost. Her first major event is a program presented by a retired homicide detective, Al Buckley, who claims he knows who murdered Laura Foster, a much-loved part-time library aide who was bludgeoned to death fifteen years earlier. As he invites members of the audience to share stories about Laura, he suddenly keels over and dies.

The medical examiner reveals that poison is what did him in and Carrie feels responsible for having surged forward with the program despite pushback from her director. Driven by guilt, Carrie’s determined to discover who murdered the detective, convinced it’s the same man who killed Laura all those years ago. Luckily for Carrie, she has a friendly, knowledgeable ghost by her side. But as she questions the shadows surrounding Laura’s case, disturbing secrets come to light and with each step Carrie takes, she gets closer to ending up like Al.

Carrie has itchy feet, never staying in one town very long, and she’s just about ready to take a hike again when the library director in Clover Ridge offers her a full-time position to head up programs and events. Her immediate reaction is that she doesn’t want to be tied down but a ghostly voice in her ear prompts her to at least ask for details. When Evelyn Havers reveals herself to Carrie, it’s all Carrie can do to not freak out but she’s really distracted by the frightening idea of actually settling down.

So, when Carrie decides to stay in town and accept the job, she jumps in with enthusiasm, taking on the position’s pleasures as well as its normal glitches plus some pointed small acts of sabotage by the woman who wanted the job. Carrie finds a way, with Evelyn’s help, to get Dorothy to stop and peace descends on the library, at least momentarily, until guest speaker Al Buckley, a former police detective, drops dead during a presentation regarding new evidence in the cold case murder of Laura Foster fifteen years earlier. Carrie immediately suspects foul play, contrary to her boss’s belief, but it’s days later before the police say that Al was poisoned.

As with many cozies, Carrie really hasn’t got any valid reason to investigate but that’s OK with me. I enjoyed going along as she followed one clue after another to finally get to the truth and she’s smarter than many amateur sleuths, avoiding the TSTL syndrome although she does suffer from running her mouth too much 😉 A plethora of potential murderers keep her busy as does a bit of romance but even that has its own surprises. Speaking of surprises, I was more than a little bemused by Carrie’s reaction to having a ghost in her life.

With Halloween right around the corner, the timing couldn’t be better for this supernatural cozy and, while Carrie can be abysmally self-absorbed and downright immature, I do like her and I adore Evelyn. The icing on the cake is the library setting, my second favorite book-related backdrop, and Carrie is actually a pretty good sleuth with this first case…or, two cases, in reality. I’m going to be eagerly awaiting the next adventure hoping especially to spend much more time with Evelyn.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

Book Review: Dressing A Tiger by Maggie San Miguel

Dressing A Tiger
Maggie San Miguel
Orchard Drive Press, June 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9970360-0-8
Trade Paperback

In many ways this memoir is an amazing work. In several others, however, it is an insecure narrative of growing up in a world of adult criminals, labor organizers, thoughtful and brutal animalism and deep and sincere love from surprising sources.

Most of the turbulence or action takes place in the Twentieth Century, between 1960 and 1975. A vibrant Teamster Union, a dark wide-spread criminal enterprise often referred to as the mob or the Mafioso, due in part to its Sicilian roots. Much of the action, until the mid-nineteen-sixties, concerns the developing young maiden in Greenwich, Connecticut. Maggie’s narrative voice seems to develop from both conflicting and imperfect memories, thoughtful research among family members, and total fiction to fill in blank narrative, based on logical development.

In some areas, the narrative skips around in confusing fashion. Mostly engagingly written, indeed, sometimes truly lyrical and evocative, the writer has admitted to fabricating some things, deliberately omitted other stories, and at times laid bare in devastating language, embarrassing incidents from behind her family’s private walls.

This reviewer, a close if inadvertent observer of some elements of her story, suggests that readers read the acknowledgments at the end of the book first and possibly more than once. Regardless of the occasionally flawed writing, Dressing A Tiger is an interesting and unique look at a piece of Americana that was sad, uplifting, dangerous, turbulent and in many ways, a positive experience for all of us. It is not an entirely accurate nor complete memoir but it is fascinating and worth reading.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 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.

Book Review: Presumed Puzzled by Parnell Hall

Presumed Puzzled
A Puzzle Lady Mystery #17
Parnell Hall
Minotaur Books, January 2016
ISBN: 978-1-2500-6123-2
Hardcover

The Puzzle Lady novels are meant to be cute, and this one has some light moments, but since the lady in question ends up tried for murder it turns out to be anything but.  Actually, there are two courtroom scenes. First, the wife of the murder victim is initially charged with the crime, but halfway through the trial those charges are dismissed when a witness for the prosecution provides an alibi for her and another implicates Cora Felton, the Puzzle Lady.

It seems Cora was having an affair with the murdered man, and the irony is that she is employed by the wife’s attorney to find him after the wife reports him missing when he doesn’t come home from work.  And, to add insult to injury, Cora accompanies the Police Chief to his home only to discover him lying on the floor, having bled to death, and his wife covered with blood holding a butcher knife.

A series of clues appear to indicate Cora is guilty, and the courtroom drama plays out until she unravels the mystery by testifying for the prosecution in her own trial in typical Puzzle Lady fashion. While events throughout both trials are dramatic and push the story forward, it is unlikely that such occurrences could possibly take place in a real trial.  Of course, there is always a last minute fact or witness that occasionally pop up in real life, but hardly to the extent that this plot requires.  Other than this objection, the Puzzle Lady mysteries are always cute and fun, and so is this novel.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2017.