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

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

From the publisher—

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

Book Review: Matrimony in Miniature by Margaret Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Reviews: Love and Death in Burgundy by Susan C. Shea and Another Man’s Treasure by S.W. Hubbard

Love & Death in Burgundy
The French Village Mysteries #1

Susan C. Shea
Minotaur Books, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-11300-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

After three years of living in the small town of Reigny-sur-Canne, all Katherine Goff really wants is to be accepted by her neighbors into their little community. But as an American expat living in the proud region of Burgundy, that’s no easy task.

When the elderly Frenchman who lives in the village chateau is found dead at the bottom of a staircase, the town is turned into a hot bed of gossip and suspicion, and Katherine suddenly finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into the small town’s secrets. A motherless teenager, a malicious French widow, a brash music producer, and a would-be Agatha Christie are among those caught up in a storm that threatens to turn Katherine’s quiet life upside down. As more and more of the villagers’ secrets are brought to light, Katherine must try to figure out who, if anyone, in the town she can trust, and which one of her neighbors just might be a killer.

I almost didn’t get past the first couple of chapters in this book because, not only was the lunch party a disaster for poor Katherine, it was a disaster for me. Rarely have I encountered a group of characters that completely turned me off so early in a story. Many Americans think the French are rude and unfriendly; I’ve never been there so I don’t really know. My experience in another country (Greece) is that those who live in the countryside are much friendlier than the city folk but that surely wasn’t the case in this small French village. To be fair, though, much of the rudeness and unpleasant attitude came from expats, American and British with a German (naturalized French) thrown in for good measure. No matter what country these people at the lunch represented, at least half of them were so disagreeable that I wondered why I would want to continue in their company.

But…I pushed on and, wonder of wonders, I began to like some of these people. The main character, Katherine, annoyed me a bit with her need to be accepted into the community and I wanted to tell her to ease up, that having lived there for three years is a pretty good sign that, well, it is what it is. Still, I understood her sort of oozing into doing her own investigating when the almost universally disliked Albert Bellegarde is found dead, perhaps murdered, and I enjoyed the way her snooping led to a better look at the villagers and the expats.

On an interesting sidenote, the feelings some had against Albert, especially his German background which they couldn’t help tying to the Nazis, rightfully or not, reminded me of the emotions that run high in some parts of the Southern US regarding the Confederate legacy.  I live here in the South and, quite honestly, understand some of the emotional attachment to the past from a historical standpoint even while I deplore the hatefulness. Ms. Shea has shown, in an unobtrusive way, that grudges and hatred can live a very long time no matter who or where.

The mystery here is actually pretty lightweight but Love & Death in Burgundy is, at its heart, a warm, welcoming visit in a charming village. Reigny sounds like a delightful place and the food had me salivating. I’d love to visit the French countryside someday to see for myself what the people and the scenery are like, not to mention gorge myself on some wonderful food. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting to see what Katherine and her neighbors will get up to in Dressed for Death in Burgundy next May.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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Another Man’s Treasure
Palmyrton Estate Sale Mystery Series Book 1
S.W. Hubbard
Read by Janelle Tedesco
S.W. Hubbard, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

On a snowy Christmas Eve, a beautiful young mother goes out to buy a few last minute gifts and never returns….

….thirty years later, her daughter picks up her trail.

As the owner of an estate sale business, Audrey Nealon knows a lot about art, antiques, and the unlikely places old people hide their treasures. But the shabby home of an elderly widow holds alarming surprises: street drugs in the silverware drawer, a trunkful of jewels in the attic, and the distinctive ring Audrey’s mother was wearing the night she disappeared. Believing the truth will bring her peace, Audrey relentlessly pursues clues to her family’s troubled history. But each fact Audrey uncovers drags her further away from the love she craves, and puts her on a collision course with people more determined, more ambitious, and more dangerous than she can fathom. As the twist ending reveals, some truths are too awful to bear, and too terrible to share.

The print edition of this book was reviewed here in May 2013; Carol said pretty much everything I was thinking about the story itself so I’ll focus on the audiobook aspects this time.

Janelle Tedesco is a new narrator to me and, in that situation, I always tend to be a little picky, looking for things I don’t like as well as those I do. Ms. Tedesco checked off all my hot buttons, I’m happy to say.

Clarity of voice—Ms. Tedesco has a very clear voice, easy to understand, no mumbling, no breathy sounds.

Accents—Audrey and some of the other characters don’t have the New Jersey accent that’s so familiar to the rest of us but some others have hints of a stronger Northern inflection. In addition, there are distinguishable intonations for races, a variety of backgrounds and the impressions of life in general.

Pacing—This is excellent, maintaining an even speed that’s a perfect, pleasant tempo with urgency where it belongs.

Variety of character interpretations—It’s very hard for a voiceover actor to handle a mix of gender and ages but Ms. Tedesco manages it seemingly with no trouble. Each character is recognizable, particularly Audrey’s assistants, Jill and Tyshaun, who are vastly different from each other. There are a fair number of people in this story so the contrasts are all that more important.

All in all, I was quite impressed with the narration of this book and will be happy to listen to the next Estate Sale Mystery, Treasure of Darkness.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

Book Review: Kale to the Queen by Nell Hampton

Kale to the Queen
A Kensington Palace Chef Mystery #1
Nell Hampton
Crooked Lane Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1-68331-104-1

The basic plot of Kale to the Queen is this. The protagonist, Carrie Ann Cole, has an incredible bit of luck and meets the Duchess of Windsor in New York. Because of this meeting, Carrie Ann is offered the position of personal chef for the royal family in Kensington Palace. When Carrie Ann arrives jet lagged, late and soaking wet from a down pour, she finds that she is in charge of  food for a children’s party that very day. So Carrie Ann is off and running in her new career without having time to catch a breath let alone settle in. Not the greatest of beginnings. Things get considerably worse when she finds one of her assistants dead in the kitchen green house and is questioned by the police. Because Carrie Ann is the protagonist, of course she starts nosing around the investigation and finds out some things that others would like to remain hidden. In the end, things work out for Carrie Ann and presumably we’ll see more of her each Spring for the foreseeable future. This is is a good thing. For while the book and Carrie Ann fall into some of the traps of cozy type mysteries, for the most part this is a solid first book leaving at least this reader wanting more.

Kale to the Queen is the first mystery the author  has written. This is an important point because there are a lot more things that can go wrong in writing mysteries versus other types of fiction. For the most part, Hampton was up to the task. In a mystery the characters, even the minor ones, need to be fairly well developed to make them believable as witnesses and potential suspects. This was done quite well. The plot needs clues for the readers to follow. The author needs to “play fair” with the readers. This was done well. Going right along with that, the plot needs some unexpected twists to keep the readers on their toes and again, this was done, though this could be improved on. Also there were red herrings, but not really enough to camouflage the solution. This left the reader with a good puzzle but  maybe not a great one to solve. Hopefully, now that Carrie Ann and the supporting cast are established, there will be more details to the mystery in following books. The one truly troublesome aspect of this book is that Carrie Ann falls into the “cozy mystery trap” of telling too much to too many people. Not only could this have gotten her hurt or possibly killed, in the real world would probably have resulted in her being fired. As for the standard elements of cozies, yes there are recipes, but just three and at the end of the book, not sprinkled throughout the story. I personally MUCH prefer the recipes at the end. No, Carrie Ann does not have a pet. Yes, there is a potential love interest-both a boyfriend left behind in Chicago and some potentials in England.

I assume I will not be the only reader who from the first page of the book looks for comparisons to Julie Hyzy’s delightful White House Chef books with Ollie Paras as the protagonist. And indeed, there are some easy comparisons to make. Both chefs cook in very high profile positions and are surrounded by tight security measures. Both have some issues with fellow staff members feeling like the chef is not quite up to the position-in Ollie’s case because she is a woman, in Carrie Ann’s case because she is an American. Both protagonists have high demand jobs so much of the action takes place in and around their jobs unlike many cozies where the protagonists seem to be free to treat their jobs more like hobbies than  professions. Also, both protagonists tend to rush into things and share information that perhaps should be given only to the police. By the end of the book though, Carrie Ann has established herself and her series. I look forward to reading many more adventures of Carrie Ann Cole.

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

Book Review: Lucky Penny by Ellie Ashe

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Title: Lucky Penny
Series: The Miranda Vaughn Mysteries #3

Author: Ellie Ashe
Narrator: Teri Schnaubelt
Publication Date: April 7, 2017

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Purchase Links:

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Lucky Penny
The Miranda Vaughn Mysteries #3
Ellie Ashe
Ellie Ashe, April 2017
Narrated by Teri Schnaubelt
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

A year after her acquittal on fraud charges, former financial analyst Miranda Vaughn is finally getting her life back. Not only does she have a chance for romance with her sexy neighbor, FBI Agent Jake Barnes, but she’s also got a new job…one that’s taking her to a vacation paradise!

Perched above the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe, the Whispering Pines Resort & Spa is a local landmark and a popular destination for the rich and famous who are stressed out from being rich and famous. And down on the water’s edge is the Lucky Penny Casino – an abandoned shell of a once-stylish casino. Max Emmerson, the owner of the Whispering Pines Resort, used to own the Lucky Penny, and he wants it back. Miranda’s job is to get Max’s finances in order so he can borrow the money to buy the casino, and make sure nothing jeopardizes his gaming license. Easy, right?

But the nice boring accounting job spirals out of control with the addition of a Hollywood film crew, an underground gambling ring, and Jake going undercover at the resort as a newlywed – with another woman. As Miranda and Jake each dive into their investigations, they can’t deny their growing feelings for each other. But it’s more important than ever that they keep their attraction hidden. Especially since someone at the resort is watching them very closely, and is willing to do just about anything to keep them from uncovering the truth.

Fair warning to readers new to the series: I had no trouble jumping into it with the third book but those who are chronologically-driven probably would prefer to read in order. I’m just sayin’  😉

Technically speaking, Lucky Penny is a cozy that doesn’t quite meet the so-called requirements because it doesn’t take place in a small town, most of the characters don’t start out as bosom buddies and the protagonist isn’t a cook, crafter, organic farmer, bookseller, yogi, petsitter, etc., etc., etc. So, let’s just call it a cozy chick-lit caper, OK?

Miranda is a very likeable character who got in some legal trouble a while back and, although she was acquitted, her career is in shambles so she takes on a freelance job at a casino, one that she might not have been offered in the past but it could be a real boon for her. Naturally, what seemed to be a pretty simple task, not to mention a free luxury vacation, turns out to be much, much more. Before she knows what’s happening, Miranda is in the midst of financial shenanigans, an illegal gambling investigation, the filming of a movie and a couple of twisty turny romantic developments.

I could do without the woman-has-to-choose-between-two-guys routine but the romantic elements weren’t too intrusive and the various mysteries were entertaining enough plus the main players are appealing. Bottomline, I liked the story and the narration of the audio edition was a big plus. Ms. Schnaubelt is a very good reader with an easy tone and excellent pacing, clear diction and she does different voices quite well. Her interpretation of Miranda is especially good, exactly the right touch to pull me into Miranda’s world. Both Ellie Ashe and Teri Schnaubelt bring Miranda and crew to life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

About the Author

USA Today best-selling author Ellie Ashe has always been drawn to jobs where she can tell stories—journalist, lawyer, and now writer. Writing quirky romantic mysteries is how she gets the “happily ever after” that so often is lacking in her day job.

When not writing, you can find her with her nose in a good book, watching far too much TV, or trying out new recipes on unsuspecting friends and family. She lives in Northern California with her husband and three cats, all of whom worry when she starts browsing the puppy listings on petfinder.com.

WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreadsAmazon

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Play an excerpt here.

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About the Narrator

Teri Schnaubelt is a Chicago-based actor, voice actor and audiobook narrator with over 100 titles, including NY Times Bestsellers.

WebsiteTwitterFacebook

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Follow the tour:

Chasing the Dollar (Book 1)

Apr. 16: CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 17: Dab of Darkness (Review)

Apr. 18: Guilty Indulgence Book Club (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 19: Desert Rose Reviews (Review, Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

The Book Junkie (Spotlight & Interview)

Apr. 20: Lomeraniel (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 21: The Book Junkie (Review)

Apr. 22: Bound 4 Escape (Review)

Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Dropping the Dime (Book 2)

Apr. 23: CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 24: Dab of Darkness (Review)

Apr. 25: The Book Junkie (Spotlight)

Apr. 26: Desert Rose Reviews (Review, Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

Apr. 27: Guilty Indulgence Book Club (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

The Book Junkie (Review)

Apr. 28: Lomeraniel (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 29: Bound 4 Escape (Review)

Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Lucky Penny (Book 3)

Apr. 30: CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 1: Dab of Darkness (Review)

May 2: Read Day and Night (Review)

The Book Junkie (Spotlight)

May 3: Spunky-n-Sassy (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 4: Desert Rose Reviews (Review, Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

May 5: The Book Junkie (Review)

May 6: Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 7: Buried Under Books (Review)

May 8: Lomeraniel (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 9: The Book Addict’s Reviews (Review)

May 10: Guilty Indulgence Book Club (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 11: terriluvsbooks (Review, Author Interview & Giveaway)

May 12: Bound 4 Escape (Review)

May 13: Celtic Lady’s Reviews (Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

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

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

From the publisher—

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

Book 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.