Teeny Reviews: A Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry and How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews

A Christmas Revelation
Christmas Novella #18
Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, November 2018
ISBN 978-0-399-17994-5
Hardcover

I stopped reading Anne Perry‘s books a few years back when they started getting so much longer than I care for but I’ve remained a fan of her stories about William and Hester Monk and Thomas and Charlotte Pitt plus a myriad of wonderful secondary characters. When this novella came along, I decided I needed to touch base again, so to speak, and I’m glad I did.

This episode is set in and around Hester Monk’s clinic where a young boy has found a family of sorts with a volunteer and a bookkeeper. When Worm sees a woman being abducted, he goes to Squeaky, the bookkeeper, for help and, against his better judgement, Squeaky jumps in. What the pair learns about the woman puts a real twist on things but, bottomline, the mystery surrounding the woman takes a back seat to the growing relationship—and mutual caring—between a child who’s had to grow up too fast and a rather crotchety older man. It’s a sweet story in many ways.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

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How the Finch Stole Christmas
A Meg Langslow Mystery #22
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-11545-4
Hardcover

When Meg Langslow’s actor/professor husband decides to put on a production of “A Christmas Carol”, it becomes a family affair with the twins and Meg actively involved but it’s the actor Michael hired to play Scrooge who becomes the star of his own self-important, drunken show. Meg follows him, hoping to find out who’s supplying alcohol to Malcolm and also accidentally discovers an illegal exotic animal trafficking operation. Naturally, Meg and her animal devotee family have to get involved but finding a dead body wasn’t part of the bargain nor did they expect Malcolm to be pegged as the killer. And is the killing connected to the smuggling outfit or something else entirely? Meanwhile, a rescue group has Gouldian Finches being fostered everywhere and more are coming.

Anybody who hasn’t read a Meg Langslow book needs to run right out and remedy that omission but, please, start with the first one in the series. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot of the humor and the family dynamics. Plus, you won’t get the full effect of Spike 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

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Book Review: Déjà Moo by Kirsten Weiss—and a Giveaway!

Déjà Moo: For Whom the Cowbells Toll
A Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery #3
Kirsten Weiss
Midnight Ink, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5036-1
Trade Paperback

There’s a Halloween-ish vibe to San Benedetto’s Christmas celebration. Perhaps it’s the 30-foot straw cow erected by the Ladies Aid Society, in honor of their Swedish sister-city. Or the fact that, most years, someone is going to turn that bovine-tribute into the ultimate bonfire.

This year’s event surpassed haunting and was actually horrible, even with Fran Kosloski herself standing guard. The sacred statue was still attacked and set ablaze. When the smoke cleared, a human casualty was discovered. A humorous prank gone horribly wrong, or a devious plan perfectly implemented?

Maddie Kosloski knows she isn’t actually to blame, although she is beginning to rethink her decision to dust off the cursed cowbells to display in her paranormal museum. The story of death following their delivery is spooky, but not so old. Plenty of people recall those events and talk around town tightens tensions and creates panic leaving Maddie and her mother no choice but to try to solve the maybe-murder themselves.

Ms. Weiss has crafted the quintessential cozy mystery. A relatively new sub-genre that I’ve heard about, but had a hard time envisioning. I can definitely dig the downplaying of s-e-x, and the absence of graphic violence is not annoying, but I didn’t grasp the groovy vibes of an unconventional crime-solver in a small community. I get it now.

As the title implies, Déjà Moo: For Whom the Cowbells Toll is not a stand-alone story. Although I started the Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery series with the third book, I didn’t feel lost or less invested. And I learned about the Icelandic Christmas Ogress. So, I am going to go back and read the first two. Just for fun.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Déjà Moo, just leave a comment below.
Two winning names will be drawn on Sunday
night, December 23rd, for one Advance
Reading Copy and one trade paperback copy.
This
drawing is open to the US and Canada.

 

A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Trimmed to Death
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #15
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, September 2018
ISBN 978-0-9985317-6-2
Trade Paperback

This is a series I’ve been enjoying ever since the author came to our store and, if I recall correctly, met with one of our book clubs. Nancy may have also participated in a big mystery authors gathering we hosted but I honestly am not sure about that and my records from back then are gone, burned up in a computer surge. At any rate, we go back to at least 2000 or 2001 and I haven’t missed a book since. There’s a reason for that—these are really good books with a protagonist I like a lot and, unlike some amateur sleuths, Marla Vail has a brain.

This time, hair salon owner Marla has entered a baking contest at a farm festival and joins in a scavenger hunt during the wait for the judging. As you might expect, Marla finds a body in the strawberry field, a competitor in the contest. Naturally, she’s compelled to investigate, especially after a friend asks her for help. Fortunately, her husband, Dalton, is tolerant of her stepping in even though he’s the investigating detective.

As Dalton says upon seeing the body, “Good God, Marla. Not another one.” Not a surprising comment after so many bodies over the years but at least he’s used to Marla doing her sleuthing thing 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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Bono
The Amazing Story of a Rescue Cat Who Inspired a Community
Helen Brown
HarperCollins/ABC
ISBN 978-0–7333-3804-5
Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-4607-0797-5
Ebook

Look at that cover—is that not just about the cutest cat you ever saw? Of course, that’s what I say about pretty much any cat I see, especially rescues, but there’s something about Bono that really catches the eye, right?

Helen Brown has written about cats before or, rather, cats and her own life, telling tales about how these little beasties have influenced her and made her life so much more complete. This time, Helen was talked into fostering a cat for just one month while visiting New York City but Bono turned out to be not at all like the sweet, docile sweetie she envisioned; instead, Bono was an opinionated, demanding guy with special needs, badly in need of a forever home.

Needless to say, Bono and Helen develop a fierce fondness for each other and their story is one of love and the search for Bono’s forever home. I cried and I smiled and fell in love with this beautiful Persian as I’m sure you will.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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Darkest Before the Dawn
A Sgt. Windflower Mystery #7
Mike Martin
Ottawa Press and Publishing, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-988437-13-2
Trade Paperback

There’s something about Canadian police procedurals that really appeals to me and I can’t really put my finger on it. Sure, I love the whole idea of red-jacketed Mounties on their grand steeds—who doesn’t?—but those guys don’t show up all that often and most of the procedurals are with cops and detectives that could just as easily be found in Phoenix or Cleveland. I do know one thing and that’s that Canadian police procedurals tend to have a gentler tone, easier on the psyche than many American books of the same subgenre.

Now, as it happens, Sgt. Windflower really is a Mountie based in a small village in Newfoundland. Even tiny towns in remote places have their issues with crime and, not surprisingly, this one is also dealing with the dissatisfaction of its youth. Still, life is pretty pleasant until Winston and his colleagues are faced with a a rash of violence and financial crimes and he starts looking into potential connections to the Dark Web.

On the whole, Darkest Before the Dawn and, I believe, the whole series, is a feel-good kind of story. Sgt. Windflower and his family, including Lady the Collie, have a happy life. Winston, a member of the Cree tribe, has dreams that he ties to his First Nation status and sometimes interprets in his criminal investigations and those investigations are good puzzles. At the same time, we get to spend a lot of time with the family and with Sgt. Windflower’s fellow officers, not to mention the townspeople. All in all, this was an exceedingly enjoyable read and I intend to go back to the beginning of the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

Book Review: Glitter Bomb by Laura Childs with Terrie Farley Moran—and a Giveaway!

Glitter Bomb
A New Orleans Scrapbooking Mystery #15
Laura Childs with Terrie Farley Moran
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2018
ISBN 978-0-451-48954-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans and scrapbook shop owner Carmela Bertrand is excited to be attending the Pluvius Parade along with her best friend Ava. Carmela’s ex-husband Shamus rides by the duo on his float at the head of the parade, when suddenly the revelry turns to disaster. Shamus’ float crashes and explodes, and although Shamus escapes unhurt, a member of his krewe is killed.

Carmela and Ava plunge into an investigation of the krewe-member’s death, but as they dig deeper it starts to look less like an accident and more like a murder….and Shamus seems less like a victim, and more like a suspect.

Just as New Orleans scrapbook shopkeeper Carmela Bertrand and her best friend, Ava Gruiex, are gleefully getting into the Mardi Gras festivities, all hell breaks loose when the Pluvius parade’s King Neptune float explodes with a huge plume of glitter. Carmela’s ex-husband Shamus Meechum goes flying and lands practically in front of them, battered and shaken but alive, unlike the captain of the krewe, Hughes Wilder, who’s quite dead .

Very soon, evidence points towards a deliberate bombing and Shamus begs Carmela to investigate before he gets arrested by Carmela’s boyfriend, Detective Edgar Babcock. It seems that Shamus has a good motive because he made a dodgy investment with Wilder, CEO of a hedge fund, and used bank funds to do so but there are several other potential suspects. Against her better judgement, and not because she’s overly fond of her philandering ex, Carmela agrees to look into who’s the real Neptune Bomber with Ava’s excited assistance and despite Edgar’s objections (useless, as he well knows from previous investigations) and a pond full of hungry alligators.

Scrapbooking tips and delicious recipes help make Glitter Bomb as charming and fun as the earlier books in the series and I’m already counting the days till Carmela’s and Ava’s next adventure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Glitter Bomb, just leave a comment below.
Two winning
names will be drawn on Sunday
night,
November 18th, for one Advance
Reading Copy
and one hardcover copy. This
drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Picks and Chews by Linda O. Johnston

Pick and Chews
A Barkery and Biscuits Mystery #4
Linda O. Johnston
Midnight Ink, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5245-7
Trade Paperback

In Pick and Chews,Barkery and Biscuit owner Carrie Kennersly is busy planning a rescue animal adoption event, but when her boss at the aniaml clinic she also works at is accused of murdering his fellow veterinarian, Carrie again begins to investigate.

There are a few things that really stand out in this series. The author has really developed the community of Knobcone Heights. It is the idealistic community many readers would like to visit. And for the most part, the characters are well fleshed out so that readers feel like they are people. And of course, as one would expect from this author, there are many animals most of whom are adorable. The animal shelter was for the most part heartwarming as well. The series takes the issue of pet adoption very seriously, another plus.

However, there are some issues as well. Carrie and Dr. Reed Stone are apparently in a relationship of sorts, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. In fact,  aside from their obviously “intimate” relationship it often doesn’t seem like the two of them are much more than acquaintances. The author seems to do a better job with animal-human relationships than she does with human-human relationships.

Another issue I had with the book is the way Carrie was involved in the investigation. I understand that in cozy mysteries with amateur detectives the person investigating is not a police officer and is often a major thorn in the police’s side, but here is our Carrie going beyond subtly investigating facts. Instead, she is running around interrogating people and raising a lot of  unease. Subtle she is not.

Lastly, for me at least, the book had more dog and dog rescue in it than actual mystery. There were clues, though I found the actual murderer more than a bit of a surprise. Looking back, yes there was a point or two pointing in that direction, but it seemed more of a last minute “who shall I have be the murderer” than a plot plan.

However, if readers enjoy animals, believe in animal adoptions and want a easy way to spend an afternoon, Pick and Chews might be just the book.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, September 2018.

Book Review: Premeditated Peppermint by Amanda Flower

Premeditated Peppermint
An Amish Candy Shop Mystery #3
Amanda Flower
Kensington Books, October 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0643-0
Mass Market Paperback

New York chocolatier Bailey King has moved to Amish country to help her Amish grandmother with her sweet shop. It’s Christmas and the shop is terrifically busy, as this is the most profitable part of year. Tourists are lining up to visit the picturesque village. This rather frenetic time is rudely interrupted when an old flame of Bailey’s shows up. He’s supported by a film crew bent on taking over the candy shop to create a Christmas special TV show. Everything Amish is all the rage right now. Trouble is, Bailey’s and Eric Sharp’s break-up was not especially amicable, and she is not at all pleased to see him. And the fact Bailey’s new beau, Deputy Aiden Brody, might take offense is also a consideration. What a set-up, right?

Then the show’s producer is murdered in the town center and a plethora of suspects is rounded up. Chief among them is Eric Sharp. Everything points to him but, much as she now dislikes him, Bailey doesn’t think he did it, and sets out to discover the true murderer.

The story is filled with quirky characters. My personal favorite is Jethro. Uh, Jethro the polka-dotted pig. There are plenty of suspects to point a finger at, as well as plenty of regular folks. The plot is convoluted enough to hold your interest, and of course, the writing is excellent. For someone who doesn’t know a lot about the Amish and their customs, this is a way to provide some education in the best possible way–with a story.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Scot Free by Catriona McPherson—and a Giveaway!

Scot Free
A Last Ditch Mystery #1
Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, April 2018
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5386-7
Trade Paperback

Having read several of the author’s psychological suspense novel in the past, I didn’t know quite what to expect from Scot Free being billed as similar to the early Stephanie Plum books. While I think that the reviewers who made that comparison were a bit overstating their case, Scot Free is both a huge departure from McPherson’s previous books and frankly pretty darned funny.

Lexy Campbell left her native Scotland for the sunny climate of California following what she thought was going to be the love of her life. She set up her marriage counseling business and was living the American Dream California style. That is until suddenly she wasn’t. Her life long soulmate turned out to be a divorce waiting to happen, her business failed and she was broke preparing to return to Scotland.  But as often happens, the flukes of happenstance intervened and sent Lexy’s life in an entirely different direction.

Before leaving California, Lexy was determined to clear her last client charged with killing her husband with of all things, a fireworks rocket. It was at that moment that I knew this was going to turn out to be a bizarre book to read.

While Lexy works on Mrs. Bomarro’s case, she needs a place to stay. A CHEAP place to stay. And so she checks into the Last Ditch Motel which introduces Lexi to an entirely different side of California.  At this point things get more than a bit weird. I felt that the author was trying too hard to make the characters off beat, unique  individuals but for me she tried too hard and instead ended up with some characters that were more caricatures than actual people. The action got a bit too outrageous for me, and at times I was a bit confused with what was going on.

I feel the series has potential and will find its audience, but I would hope with the next book she would tone down the over the top people a bit and focus more on developing the plot.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, August 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Scot Free by Catriona McPherson
,
leave a comment below.

The winning name will be drawn
Friday evening, September 14th. This
Open to residents of the US and Canada.