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.

Book Review: A Fatal Twist by Tracy Weber—and a Giveaway!

A Fatal Twist
A Downward Dog Mystery #4
Tracy Weber
Midnight Ink, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4878-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Yoga instructor Kate Davidson’s life takes a chaotic turn once she agrees to not only be the doula for her pregnant best friend, but also play foster mother to two puppies. The chaos only gets worse when Kate finds the dead body of a philandering fertility doctor and Rachel, one of her yoga students, fleeing the scene.

Kate is convinced her student is innocent, and she sets out to find the real killer before her testimony condemns Rachel to a life behind bars. But her hands are full with caring for three dogs, teaching yoga classes, and gaining an unexpected crime-solving partner. If she’s not careful, Kate’s next yoga pose may be a fatal one.

Babies! They’re springing up everywhere, both humans and puppies, and Kate has her hands full learning to be a doula for her best friend, Rene, as she and her husband Sam await twins. In the meantime, Kate’s boyfriend, Michael, has brought home a pair of six-week-old abandoned labradoodles, Mutt and Jeff, and Kate agrees to foster them for a short while as long as Bella, her anxious German Shepherd with special needs, doesn’t get a chance to kill them.

First to get killed, though, is a doctor Kate knows superficially, a man who appears to have been as low as a man can be. His wife is a student of Kate’s and the killing happened in a birthing center where Rene plans to go so Kate has reasons to snoop among a plethora of girlfriends (current and ex), nurses and other doctors, not to mention prospective parents who might have had reasons to hate the fertility doc. She really needs to step in because all clues seem to nail the wife, Rachel, and the police don’t want to look further.

With each murder Kate encounters, she becomes more adept at investigating and at least one of the homicide detectives doesn’t really object so much because Kate frequently has something useful to offer. Humor abounds as does a cracking good sleuthfest, not to mention reminders of the perils of puppiedom and the joys and heartbreaks of animal rescue. Tracy Weber never lets me down.

This time, Rene would have been justified—and I would have approved—if she killed Sam who’s incredibly obnoxious and obsessed with what Rene eats. On the positive side, Bella and the puppies are delightful and I’m more enchanted with her than I was before, especially since she reminds me of my beloved granddog who also suffers from social anxiety around people and other dogs. All the characters I’ve come to enjoy are back, even the somewhat annoying ones, and I felt right at home with old friends.

On a personal note, I’ve been taking warm water Yogilates classes and have become more interested in the ins and outs of yoga. I actually paid more attention this time to Ms. Weber‘s pointers and got more out of it; I won’t say I’m ready for land yoga but I love the water kind and can’t help thinking how my instructors compare to Kate (other than running around looking for killers). I just need to figure out how to listen to these books on my iPod when I’m in the pool 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

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Book Reviews: Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations by Simon Brett and Desperate for Death by Judy Alter

Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations
A Mrs Pargeter Mystery #8
Simon Brett
Crème de la Crime/Severn House, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-78029-092-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It is her characteristic generosity rather than her love of animals that finds Mrs Pargeter supporting her friend, Jasmine Angold, at a charity reception for PhiliPussies, whose worthy aim is to rehabilitate stray cats from the Greek island of Atmos into caring English homes. But the evening is to have unexpected consequences. At the event, Mrs P is taken aback to meet a woman who claims to be the sister of her late husband, the much-missed Mr Pargeter.

This surprising encounter leads to unwelcome digging into past secrets, the discovery of a body in Epping Forest, an eventful trip to Greece – and unexpected danger for Mrs Pargeter. In the course of her investigations, she learns the true nature of charity and the dubious skills by which Public Relations can make evil look good.

The Mrs Pargeter series is beguiling and delightful and this particular installment is no exception. Once again, the very wealthy and very kind widow finds herself in the midst of a puzzling crime and perhaps more.

Mrs Pargeter is always ready to help worthy causes with her money and her time but the latest, a cat rescue program, doesn’t really speak to her as she’s not particularly fond of cats. She agrees to go to a fundraiser because it’s important to her friend, Jasmine Angold, and Mrs Pargeter is all for supporting friends and those who are good to her, people such as Gary, her driver-on-call, and a security expert, Parvez. She found both in her late husband’s little black book full of experts in all sorts of activities. These experts were all connected in one way or another to her husband’s, er, illegal enterprises and while Mrs Pargeter would just as soon not know anything about said enterprises (to the point of not allowing anyone to mention them), she certainly appreciates the resulting wealth and the contents of the little black book.

When a very expensive necklace disappears from the charity auction, Mrs Pargeter is intrigued but even more so by the out-of-the-blue appearance of Rochelle Brighouse, a sister-in-law she never knew existed. Now, she has two mysteries to look into, the theft and this rather unpleasant woman, and she begins with a few questions to Gary and Parvez but is stymied by their surprising unwillingness to talk.

When Rochelle makes her agenda known and Mrs Pargeter realizes her husband’s reputation is at stake, she’s mobilized to do something about it. Add to that a murder connected to the cat rescue and our intrepid sleuth is soon doing what she does best.

 Mrs Pargeter is a woman wedded to fighting for good and against evil and this crime caper is as entertaining and full of dry humor as one could wish despite a bit of silliness (it’s puzzling why Brits would feel compelled to rescue cats from Greece when there are plenty of needy felines at home). She also is an unusual sleuth with her vast wealth and her ability to call on some of her husband’s very capable associates with their particular talents. All in all, it’s really easy to be charmed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

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Desperate for Death
A Kelly O’Connell Mystery #6
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-9960131-7-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Just when Kelly’s life has calmed, she faces yet another of life’s puzzles. Except the pieces in this one don’t fit. First the apartment behind her house is torched, then a string of bizzare “accidents” occur to set her off-balance. Who is stalking her? Where does the disappearance of a young girl and her disreputable boyfriend fit in? And why are two men using the same name? Is the surprise inheritance another part of the puzzle? At a time when she is most vulnerable, Kelly can’t make the pieces fit. Before Kelly can get the whole picture, she helps the family of a hostage, rescues a kidnap victim and attends a wild and wonderful wedding.

Most of the time in a cozy, I get irritated with the love interest who’s a cop and he demands that his lady, our amateur sleuth, stay out of his business. This time, I’m irritated because Mike, the cop in question, blows off Kelly’s suggestion that the fire in her unoccupied guest house might have been set by someone out for revenge against him, a convict perhaps. Instead, he wants Kelly to think of someone who’s out to cause her trouble while he’s off doing his thing. Sure, she’s gotten involved in murders and other nefarious activities but surely any cop must know he’s a prime target. Weirdly, while dismissing any connection he might have, he also tends to disregard Kelly’s thinking about the case.

On the other hand, Kelly has a few other things on her mind.

My favorite character is definitely Keisha, Kelly’s completely indispensable assistant who’s flamboyant, nosy and very intuitive, not to mention streetsmart. I didn’t care for others quite so much, including Kelly and Mike, but the story was engaging. The action was a bit choppy but that actually kept things moving and the various leads and hunches gave me plenty to think about before all became clear.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

Book Review: Facials Can Be Fatal by Nancy J. Cohen

Facials Can Be Fatal
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #13
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-4328-3282-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

During the frenzy of the December holidays, the last thing salon owner Marla Vail needs is a dead body slathered in a green facial mask at her new day spa.The victim, Valerie Weston, had been a major donor for Friends of Old Florida, a nonprofit historic preservation society.Marla’s stylists are scheduled to work backstage at their upcoming gala fashion show, but Val’s demise might put a crimp in their plans.

Hoping to salvage her reputation, Marla determines to track down the suspects. Although Val had been well liked by most people, she may have stumbled onto secrets that others would kill to keep. What are the connections between a greedy land developer, a dress designer whose husband may have links to the Asian mob, a mortician who might be involved in the human hair trade, and members of the nonprofit group’s board of directors? Are the latter as dedicated to their cause as they’d like Marla to believe, or do they have their own self-interests at heart?

Sparks are sure to fly when this smart stylist joins forces with her sexy detective husband to solve a decades-old mystery that includes a secret journal, pirate tales, and shipwrecks along the Florida coast. With the rollercoaster excitement, you might need a trip to the day spa to relax.

When a philanthropist dies in Marla Vail’s day spa while having a facial, the police step in since it was an unattended death but early thoughts are that Val Weston had a medical condition. Marla is horribly sorry, of course, but can’t help being trepidatious when she realizes the woman’s connection with an upcoming fashion show for which Marla and her stylists are contracted to do the models’ hair.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of talk going on about babies as in when will Marla and Dalton have one. Why does everybody think babies must necessarily follow marriage? Isn’t a teenaged stepdaughter enough? Even Dalton is talking about it even though he knows why Marla doesn’t want a baby.

Marla’s also stressed just thinking about the upcoming gala, holiday plans, a pending lawsuit and the educator position she’s applied for but, when Dalton tells her Val was murdered, her snooping instincts come out. That predilection for finding useful information soon leads to a plethora of odd things that may or may not have anything to do with the murder…but someone clearly wanted Val dead.

The nice thing about this series—one of the nice things, that is—is that Dalton, Marla’s police detective husband, actually values her input in his investigations. It’s always a pleasure to see familiar folks in Marla’s life and a cast of characters was most welcome in keeping track of potential suspects. I’ve stuck with this series since the beginning and enjoyed this installment as much as any of them. I wonder what Marla and her crew will be up to next time 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Review: Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

Elementary, She Read
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #1
Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-68331-096-9
Hardcover

In Elementary, She Read, author Delany introduces quite an interesting set of characters along with a new twist on mysteries set in bookshops. While Gemma Doyle is the protagonist of this new series, the history behind the story begins when Gemma’s Great Uncle Arthur seized the opportunity to buy a building at the famous address of 222 Baker Street- though this Baker Street is located in West London, Massachusetts rather than London, England. With such a well known address, it was a given that her mystery loving uncle would open a Sherlock Holmes bookstore.  When he found a bookstore alone wouldn’t make it, he expanded to include any and all things pertaining to Sherlock Holmes. Along the way, the opportunity arose to open a tea shop, named appropriately Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, next door but connected by an internal door. That shop is run by Gemma’s good friend Jayne. That is the story behind the story.

In a nutshell, the main plot of Elementary, She Read is this. The store is swamped one afternoon by a traveling bridge group, and while tidying the store after the group has left, Gemma finds an old Strand magazine that is not part of the store’s inventory hidden among the other magazines. Curious as to how it came to be there, she thinks back over the people who had just left the store and remembers one lady who was carrying a plain white plastic shopping bag that did not appear to be part of the group. She searches the store, finds the bag the woman was carrying and in it found a clue as to where the woman might be staying. Puzzled as to why the woman left what could well be a valuable magazine in the store, she puts the magazine to her home safe and sets off to find the woman. From there the plot follows a familiar path of amateur sleuths. Gemma tries to do the right thing and ends up finding a dead body or two and lands in the middle of a police investigation as a prime suspect. Eager to clear her name she starts snooping around trying to solve the murder, as well as unravel the original mystery as to why the magazine was placed in her store. The plot is well done with plenty of twists to keep readers on their toes. When the solution was finally revealed, I have to say I had figured out that the guilty person was involved but had not worked out how or why. I felt like Delany played fair with the readers by giving them clues to follow yet making the puzzle complicated enough to keep us working at it.

Readers don’t see much of Uncle Arthur in the book, and I hope that changes as the series moves forward. He seems to be a character ripe for development. Gemma is a great protagonist and has the eye for noticing details like Sherlock himself. There is a book about thinking like Sherlock mentioned several times throughout the book. The book actually exists (I checked on Amazon) and I plan on getting a copy. Readers get to know Jayne a bit but I suspect we’ll get a better read on her in future books. There were a couple of “villains” among the characters giving readers people to despise. One was a police woman who seems to have taken an instant dislike to Gemma, while the other was a fellow shopkeeper who has the need to control everyone else’s business. I’m sure we’ll get more of them as well.

There are the standard animals in the book-Gemma’s pet dog and the store’s resident cat who seems to like everyone except Emma.

Elementary, She Read is a wonderful beginning to what I hope is a long running series.

I volunteered to read and review this book which I received from the publisher.

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

Book Review: A Ghostly Mortality by Tonya Kappes

a-ghostly-mortalityA Ghostly Mortality
A Ghostly Southern Mystery #6
Tonya Kappes
Witness, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-246697-6
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

That ghost sure looks . . . familiar

Only a handful of people know that Emma Lee Raines, proprietor of a small-town Kentucky funeral home, is a “Betweener.” She helps ghosts stuck between here and the ever-after—murdered ghosts. Once Emma Lee gets them justice they can cross over to the great beyond.

But Emma Lee’s own sister refuses to believe in her special ability. In fact, the Raines sisters have barely gotten along since Charlotte Rae left the family business for the competition. After a doozy of an argument, Emma Lee is relieved to see Charlotte Rae back home to make nice. Until she realizes her usually snorting, sarcastic, family-ditching sister is a . . . ghost.

Charlotte Rae has no earthly idea who murdered her or why. With her heart in tatters, Emma Lee relies more than ever on her sexy beau, Sheriff Jack Henry Ross…because this time, catching a killer means the Raines sisters will have to make peace with each other first.

The first book in this series, A Ghostly Undertaking, came out two years ago and it’s been on my need-to-find-time-for list ever since but I just never got around to it so here I am jumping in with the sixth title. I’m here to tell ya it’s my own darned fault that I’ve been missing out.

There are cozies and there are cozies. The best of them have an appealing protagonist, a small town atmosphere (even if it’s an urban area), a decent puzzle to solve with red herrings here and there, maybe a bit of romance, and a healthy dose of humor. A Ghostly Mortality hits all those hotbuttons and more.

Ever since I “discovered” the Hitchcock Sewell series by Tim Cockey way back about 17 years ago, I’ve appreciated the humor that be found in a mystery involving undertakers and, after all, haven’t we all indulged in occasional black humor regarding those fine folks? The difference here is that the undertaker in question is a woman…oh, and that she sees and talks to murder victims. With ghosts popping up willy-nilly, Emma Lee keeps busy (inbetween funerals) finding out who killed them so they can finally cross over.

What makes the case unusual this time is that the ghost happens to be Emma Lee’s sister, Charlotte Rae, who pulled out of the family business and joined a much flashier outfit. Certainly Charlotte Rae isn’t the nicest sister in the world and she’s not entirely trustworthy but who on earth would want her dead?

Emma Lee is just the kind of lead character I enjoy in a cozy—intelligent, snoopy without being stupid, and caring about the ghosts she tries to help. The other player I especially liked is Emma Lee’s cantankerous Granny and then there’s Sheriff Jack Henry Ross. All I’ll say about him is yum. Oh, and a stray ghost cat shows up, too, a really nice touch.

So, maybe I did myself a favor being so lackadaisical about starting this series; now I can go back to the first book and catch up with all five that came before A Ghostly Mortality and I’m sure I’ll smile all the way through 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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An Excerpt from A Ghostly Mortality

Lawdy bee.” Granny scooted to the edge of the chair and lifted her arms in the air like she was worshiping in the Sunday morning service at Sleepy Hollow Baptist and the spirit just got put in her.

I sucked in a deep breath, preparing myself for whatever was going to come out of Zula Fae Raines Payne’s mouth, my granny. She was a ball of southern spitfire in her five-foot-four-inch frame topped off with bright red hair that I wasn’t sure was real or out of a L’Oréal bottle she’d gotten down at the Buy-N-Fly.

“Please, please, please,” she begged. “Let me die before anything happens to Emma Lee.” Her body slid down the fancy, high-back mahogany leather chair as she fell to her knees with her hands clasped together, bringing them back up in the air as she pleaded to the Big Guy in the sky. “I’m begging you.”

“Are you nuts?” My voice faded to a hushed stillness. I glanced back at the closed door of my sister’s new office, in fear she was going to walk in and see Granny acting up. I sat in the other fancy, high-back mahogany leather chair next to Granny’s and grabbed her by the loose skin of her underarm. “Get back up on this chair before Charlotte Rae gets back in here and sees you acting like a fool.”

“What?” Granny quirked her eyebrows questioningly as if her behavior was normal. My head dropped along with my jaw in the “are you kidding me” look.

“Well, I ain’t lying!” She spat, “I do hope and pray you are the granddaughter that will be doing my funeral, unless you get a flare up of the ‘Funeral Trauma.’ ” She sucked in a deep breath and got up off her knees. She ran her bony fingers down the front of her cream sweater to smooth out any wrinkles so she’d be presentable like a good southern woman, forgetting she was just on her knees begging for mercy.

“Flare up?” I sighed with exasperation. “It’s not like arthritis.”

The “Funeral Trauma.” It was true. I was diagnosed with the “Funeral Trauma” after a decorative plastic Santa fell off the roof of Artie’s Meat and Deli, knocking me flat out cold and now I could see dead people. I had told Doc Clyde I was having some sort of hallucinations and seeing dead people, but he insisted I had been in the funeral business a little too long and seeing corpses all of my life had brought on the trauma. Truthfully, the Santa had given me a gift. Not a gift you’d expect Santa to give you, but it was the gift of seeing clients of Eternal Slumber, my family’s funeral home business where I was the undertaker. Some family business. Anyway, a psychic told me I was now a Betweener. I helped people who were stuck between here and the ever after. The Great Beyond. The Big Guy in the sky. One catch . . . the dead people I saw were murdered and they needed me to help them solve their murder before they could cross over.

“I’m fine,” I huffed and took the pamphlet off of Charlotte Rae’s desk, keeping my gift to myself. The only people who knew were me, the psychic and Sheriff Jack Henry Ross, my hot, hunky and sexy boyfriend. He was as handy as a pocket on a shirt when it came time for me to find a killer when a ghost was following me around. “We are here to get her to sign my papers and talk about this sideboard issue once and for all.” Granny stared at me.

My head slid forward like a turtle and I popped my eyes open.

“I’m fine,” I said through closed teeth.

“You are not fine.” Granny rolled her eyes so big, I swear she probably hurt herself. “People are still going around talking about how you talk to yourself.” She shook her finger at me. “If you don’t watch it, you are going to be committed. Surrounded by padded walls. Then—She jabbed her finger on my arm. I swatted her away with the pamphlet.

“Charlotte Rae will have full control over my dead body and I don’t want someone celebrating a wedding while I lay corpse in the next room. Lawdy bee,” Granny griped. I opened the pamphlet and tried to ignore Granny as best I could.

“Do you hear me, Emma Lee?” Granny asked. I could feel her beady eyes boring into me.

“Don’t you be disrespecting your elders. I asked you a question,” she warned when I didn’t immediately answer her question.

“Granny.” I placed the brochure in my lap and reminded myself to remain calm. Something I did often when it came to my granny. “I hear you. Don’t you worry about a thing. By the time you get ready to die, they will have you in the nut-house alongside me,” I joked, knowing it would get her goat. The door flung open and the click of Charlotte Rae’s high-dollar heels tapped the hardwood floor as she sashayed her way back into her office. The soft linen green suit complemented Charlotte’s sparkly green eyes and the chocolate scarf that was neatly tied around her neck. It was the perfect shade of brown to go with her long red hair and pale skin.

“I’m so sorry about that.” She stopped next to our chairs and looked between me and Granny. She shook the long, loose curls over her shoulders. “What? What is wrong, now?”

“Granny is all worried I’m going to get sent away to the nuthouse and you are going to lay her out here.” The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them. Or did my subconscious take over my mouth? It was always a competition between me and Charlotte, only it was one-sided. Mine. Charlotte never viewed me as competition because she railroaded me all my life. Like now. She’d left Eternal Slumber with zero guilt, leaving me in charge so she could make more money at Hardgrove’s Legacy Center, formerly known as Hardgrove’s Funeral Homes until they got too big for their britches and decided to host every life event possible just to make more money.

Excerpt from A Ghostly Mortality by Tonya Kappes. Copyright © 2017 by Tonya Kappes. Reproduced with permission from Witness. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

tonya-kappesTonya Kappes has written more than fifteen novels and four novellas, all of which have graced numerous bestseller lists including USA Today. Best known for stories charged with emotion and humor and filled with flawed characters, her novels have garnered reader praise and glowing critical reviews. She lives with her husband, two very spoiled schnauzers, and one ex-stray cat in northern Kentucky. Now that her boys are teenagers, Tonya writes full-time but can be found at all of her guys’ high school games with a pencil and paper in hand.

 

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Book Review: Practical Sins for Cold Climates by Shelley Costa

practical-sins-for-cold-climatesPractical Sins for Cold Climates
A Val Cameron Mystery #1
Shelley Costa
Henery Press, January 2016
ISBN: 978-1-943390-41-0
Trade paperback

Val Cameron is a senior editor with a NY publisher in a bit of financial trouble. The story opens with Val on her way to Canada to persuade an author to sign a contract they hope will be lucrative. The Canadian island resort she lands in is nothing like she expects, or like her boss, who owns a house there, has indicated. Far from luxurious and barely accessible, she immediately runs into violence at a community meeting she attends, hoping to meeting her author. Everyone on the island has an agenda. Those who want to preserve the land as pristine wilderness. Those who want to exploit the island’s resources. Those who barely eke out a living and want jobs.

And worse, the first thing she discovers is an old, unsolved murder that overshadows everything and everyone to this day. Including the widower with whom Val immediately forms an attraction, and the author she’s been sent to find.

The book is well-written, well-plotted, and quite literary in texture, with plenty of twists and turns. These aren’t characters who immediately endeared themselves to me, but that’s not to say others will have the same reaction. I liked the setting and the ecological aspects of the story. I did wonder why, although the murdered woman was always on Val’s mind, after two years and the death going unsolved, nobody else seemed terribly concerned or anxious.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.