Book Review: Taking Notes on Murder by C.S. McDonald @CSMcDonald7 @iReadBookTours

************

Welcome to one of the July 12th stops on the blog tour
for Maxed Out by C.S. McDonald with iRead Book Tours.
(Tour schedule linked.) There are multiple books being
reviewed on this tour and today’s post is my review
of Taking Notes on Murder. Be sure to follow the rest
of the tour for spotlights and reviews on all included
books, other bonus content, and a giveaway!
More on that at the end of this post.

************

Taking Notes on Murder
A Fiona Quinn Mystery #9
C.S. McDonald
C.S. McDonald, September 2020
Narrated by Maren Swenson Waxenberg
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

Mysterious notes are showing up in Fiona’s kindergarten classroom, claiming a suicide from 2005 was actually a homicide. Detective Landry maintains the messages are too vague, possess no integrity, and do not warrant a review of the old case.

Fiona’s not convinced. She’s determined to find the author of the enigmatic notes and uncover the truth about a man who had many secrets and countless enemies, including Fiona’s mother and former suspect Nancy Quinn!

Can Fiona crack this cold case, and what will it take to get Detective Landry involved? Don’t miss taking notes on this murder!

Following their cruise in the last book, Fiona and Nathan are back home, keeping the secret that they got married. Fiona is once again in her kindergarten classroom and it isn’t long before she’s enticed into investigating another death, prompted by a series of notes claiming that a suicide from years ago was, in fact, not a suicide. Fiona needs nothing more to start snooping but her detective husband, Nathan, says the notes alone are not enough reason to re-open the case. Naturally, he changes his mind when Fiona herself is threatened.

As it turns out, high school teacher James Arnold was a most unlikeable man, a real creep, so there’s no shortage of suspects including his own family and colleagues. Fiona and Nathan have enough investigating to keep them busy but they also have to contend with the latest shenanigans of her unseen but present ghostly grandmother. Those interludes are refreshing and funny, helping to break the tension.

In my earlier review of the previous book, I mentioned that I was undecided as to whether I liked the narration of the audiobook. Unfortunately, this entry confirms my thought that the main character’s voice is really annoying—Fiona sounds like an overgrown version of one of those kindergartners she teaches. She plucks my last nerve but Ms. Waxenberg does a nice job with the other characters and maintains appropriate pacing so I was willing to overlook the distraction. All said, Taking Notes on Murder is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

************

Purchase Links:
Audible // Amazon

************

About the Author

For twenty-six years C.S. McDonald’s life whirled around a song and a dance. Classically trained at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School, The Pittsburgh Dance Alloy, and many others, she became a professional dancer and choreographer. In 2011 she retired from her dance career to write. Under her real name, Cindy McDonald, she writes murder-suspense and romantic suspense novels. In 2014 she added the pen name, C.S. McDonald, to write children’s books for her grandchildren. In 2016 she added the Fiona Quinn Mysteries. Presently, the Fiona Quinn Mysteries has nine books.

Cindy’s newest venture is The Owl’s Nest Mysteries. Once again, she has set her cozy mystery in Pittsburgh. The Owl’s Next Mysteries has a little grit, a little time travel, a little romance, and a whole lot of cozy!

Cindy resides on her Thoroughbred farm known as Fly by Night Stables near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Bill, and her poorly behaved Cocker Spaniel, Allister.

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook

************

About the Narrator

Ms. Waxenberg is a voice over artist and presentation coach.  She serves as a consultant to the Professional Development Company, Inc. teaching presentation and interview skills seminars to a variety of clients, Columbia MBA, and SIPA graduate students.  Maren has a 30-year background in special events, performing arts production and the entertainment industry.   In 1996, she founded Maren Productions which produces audio books, radio and television voice-overs, and podcasts.  Maren Productions also offers special event production and consultancy services. 

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Facebook

************

Follow the tour here.

************

Giveaway

Autographed copy of MAXED OUT, plus
other gifts (USA only) (ends Jul 23)

Enter here.

************

Book Review: Bon Voyage to Murder by C.S. McDonald @CSMcDonald7 @iReadBookTours

************

Welcome to one of the July 6th stops on the blog tour
for Maxed Out by C.S. McDonald with iRead Book Tours.
(Tour schedule linked.) There are multiple books being
reviewed on this tour and today’s post is my review
of Bon Voyage to Murder. Be sure to follow the rest
of the tour for spotlights and reviews on all included
books, other bonus content, and a giveaway!
More on that at the end of this post.

************

Bon Voyage to Murder
A Fiona Quinn Mystery #8
C.S. McDonald
C.S. McDonald, November 2020
Narrated by Maren Swenson Waxenberg
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

Hooray! Fiona has finally convinced her boyfriend detective Nathan Landry to go on a romantic Caribbean cruise. Unfortunately, their fun on the high seas is interrupted by murder. It isn’t long before they discover a boatload of suspects, who have motives deeper than the ocean for wanting the victim out of their lives.

Pittsburgh teacher Fiona Quinn got her man, Nathan Landry, long ago and the pair have gone on a cruise with friends Julia and Rob Bell. Isn’t it handy to have a real detective nearby when a woman disappears, possibly overboard? Nathan’s presence gives Fiona entry to the investigation and Captain Baptiste is grateful for their help. Country singer Cassidy Kinsman was an aging, crabby drunk and there is no shortage of potential suspects but, as the sleuthing progresses, why would anyone want to attack a shy, skittish maid? Did she see or hear something she shouldn’t have?

The secondary storyline regarding Fiona’s brother, Chad, doesn’t add anything to the resolution of the mystery and I couldn’t help thinking she would never have left him to house-and-pet sit. These two are siblings so she would have known how out of touch with reality he is. Chad’s RPG buddies are pretty funny, though, and all these guys are like the modern day version of the Three Stooges so they’re worth a smile.

I haven’t quite made up my mind about Ms. Waxenberg’s narrative skills—there’s something a bit grating about Fiona’s voice in particular—but I’ll have another chance to evaluate when I listen to a second book next week. I do think Ms. Waxenberg handles the pacing nicely and does a variety of voices well.

All in all, Bon Voyage to Murder is a fun cozy, taking me back to my own cruising days, and I enjoyed the trip 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

************

Purchase Links:
Audible // Amazon

************

About the Author

For twenty-six years C.S. McDonald’s life whirled around a song and a dance. Classically trained at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School, The Pittsburgh Dance Alloy, and many others, she became a professional dancer and choreographer. In 2011 she retired from her dance career to write. Under her real name, Cindy McDonald, she writes murder-suspense and romantic suspense novels. In 2014 she added the pen name, C.S. McDonald, to write children’s books for her grandchildren. In 2016 she added the Fiona Quinn Mysteries. Presently, the Fiona Quinn Mysteries has nine books.

Cindy’s newest venture is The Owl’s Nest Mysteries. Once again, she has set her cozy mystery in Pittsburgh. The Owl’s Next Mysteries has a little grit, a little time travel, a little romance, and a whole lot of cozy!

Cindy resides on her Thoroughbred farm known as Fly by Night Stables near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Bill, and her poorly behaved Cocker Spaniel, Allister.

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook

************

About the Narrator

Ms. Waxenberg is a voice over artist and presentation coach.  She serves as a consultant to the Professional Development Company, Inc. teaching presentation and interview skills seminars to a variety of clients, Columbia MBA, and SIPA graduate students.  Maren has a 30-year background in special events, performing arts production and the entertainment industry.   In 1996, she founded Maren Productions which produces audio books, radio and television voice-overs, and podcasts.  Maren Productions also offers special event production and consultancy services. 

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Facebook

************

Follow the tour here.

************

Giveaway

Autographed copy of MAXED OUT, plus
other gifts (USA only) (ends Jul 23)

Enter here.

************

Book Review: The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

The Silent Girl
A Rizzoli and Isles Novel #9
Tess Gerritsen
Ballantine Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-553-84115-2
Mass Market Paperback

An interesting departure from the usual circumstances in this powerful series. The novel begins in San Francisco when an unknown woman stalks a teenaged girl. We learn quickly that the stalker has benign designs on the girl. She is challenged to become a warrior child.

The novel switches to Boston, home of the main protagonists of this series. Maura Isles faces an unusual situation. As the Medical Examiner for the city of Boston, she must testify against the actions of one of Boston PDs most revered officers, a circumstance which causes her considerable anxiety and difficulty with the thin blue line, as well as distance with her friend, detective Jane Rizzoli.

A local boy, Billy Foo, who chooses to conduct paid walking tours of the central city of Boston, often takes groups to the site of a nineteen-year-old multiple murder, the Red Phoenix restaurant. And then, as night falls, one of the tour members discovers a freshly severed hand, lying in the alley beside the building housing the closed Red Phoenix. Murder, mystery, perplexing clues pile up and the atmosphere woven by this master storyteller grab readers forcefully.

This story examines in a thoughtful way some of the interesting and complicated and ancient mythology of the Asian world. But it is important to note that the author has not fashioned a fantasy. This novel is carefully rooted in the real and dangerous world.

The principal characters, as always, are exceedingly well and carefully drawn, the action persists in a steady drumbeat of action and reaction, interspersed with quiet intellectual or social scenes. The result is a fine strong novel that should satisfy any Gerritsen fan and bring her new devotees.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 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: Criminal Misdeeds by Randee Green

************

Title: Criminal Misdeeds
Series: A Carrie Shatner Mystery #1
Author: Randee Green
Publisher: Coffeetown Press
Publication Date: July 1, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Police Procedural

************

Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

************

Criminal Misdeeds
A Carrie Shatner Mystery #1
Randee Green
Coffeetown Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-60381-709-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

As far back as the Shatners can be traced, they have been breaking the law and running from it. It’s a family tradition. Now Carrie Shatner is a detective and crime-scene technician with the Wyatt County Sheriff’s Department in Eastern Texas. Over the years, she has tried to distance herself from her family’s criminal activities. But that is easier said than done.

The Shatner family is celebrating New Year’s Eve at the Wyatt County Fairgrounds in their usual style: illegal fireworks, homemade moonshine, and a near brawl. After shutting down the party, Carrie does a final sweep of the fairgrounds and finds a dead body in a dumpster.

Good news: the dead man is not a Shatner. Bad news: the Shatners are now suspects in a homicide investigation. Soon the fairgrounds are overrun with law enforcement, including Sergeant Jerrod Hardy, a Texas Ranger. The victim is Kyle Vance, Carrie’s ex-boyfriend and a member of the Palmer family, who have been feuding with the Shatners since the Civil War.

Despite serious misgivings, Hardy allows Carrie to help him investigate. He knows she physically couldn’t have beaten Vance to death, but he wonders if she is covering for a family member.

There’s something about backcountry Texas crime fiction that grabs me by the throat and won’t let go but I don’t really know what it is. Some of my affection is because it’s almost always rural and it’s Southern; granted “Southern” is not the same in Texas as it is in Virginia or Alabama but Texas still falls into the category. Then there’s the Wild West romantic aspect that is always there in the background so, all in all, I’m a patsy for Texas law enforcement 😉

Carrie is a pure delight, in her profession and also as part of a riproaring criminal family and, while I know it’s wrong of her to protect them I also understand it and can totally empathize with her. I also couldn’t help laughing at this eccentric, kinda weird family that Carrie has to cope with, all the while loving them just because they are family. She sort of escaped their clutches but not really.

When murder occurs at a Shatner clan party, Carrie’s colleagues don’t really trust her to get involved, hardly a surprise, but the arrival of Texas Ranger Jerrod Hardy changes everything, especially when he grudgingly lets her help out. It’s a wonder he does, given that the dead man is Carrie’s ex and a member of the Palmer clan that’s the Shatners’ mortal enemies.

I really did have fun with this book and, although I thought the actual mystery was a little lightweight, it’s the journey to get to the answers that really matters. Carrie and Hardy could very well grow into one of my favorite law enforcement couples/partners so, Ms. Green, please hurry up with the next book!

An Excerpt from Criminal Misdeeds

CHAPTER ONE

I come from a long line of criminals.

Moonshiners, rumrunners, and drug dealers. Horse thieves and carjackers. Bank robbers, burglars, pickpockets, and con artists. And then there has been the occasional killer. You name it, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor, somewhere along the line a member of my family has committed it.

As far back as the Shatner family could be traced – from southern England to the mountains of western North Carolina, and now to the Piney Woods of East Texas – we had been breaking the law. And running from it, too.

It was a family tradition.

You see, the Shatners have never swum in the baby pool of life. We’ve always been out in the deep end, and we jumped in headfirst.

As for me, every day I fight my genetic predisposition to break the law. Some days I’ve been more successful than others. You see, I can’t break the law when I’m the one who is supposed to be upholding it.

My name is Carrie Shatner, and for the last three-and-a-half years I have worked as a detective and crime scene technician for the Wyatt County Sheriff’s Department in East Texas. That would put my Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University to good use except there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of serious crime in Wyatt County. I mainly sat behind my desk all day, twiddling my thumbs, playing Sudoku, and keeping up with my various social media accounts.

While my official job was to process crime scenes and deal with all parts of criminal investigations, my unofficial job was to cover up my family’s illegal activities and keep them out of jail. I’d be the first to admit that what I have been doing wasn’t ethical. It was probably also criminal. I tried not to think about that too much. To be honest, I tried not to think about any of it too much. Most days I felt like quitting my job. Family obligation prevented that.

I’m not saying that all of the Shatners have been hardened criminals. Sure, most of the older ones were. But at least some of the younger ones shied away from the family business and seemed to be sticking to the straight and narrow. And they were the reason why I do what I do. Yes, I clean up the crimes of the guilty. But I do it to protect the innocent.

These days, the laws my various family members break have been fairly minor ones. Okay, some were still kind of major. But it was nothing compared to what we used to engage in. I mean, I’m pretty sure we were no longer involved in contract killing or organized crime.

What I did know was that my great-uncles had a moonshine still out in the woods and a marijuana crop concealed in a bunch of old Cold War bomb shelters. Every time I caught one of my family members selling the homebrew or the pot, they would promise me it was the last time. I didn’t believe them. I didn’t arrest them either, because I knew it wouldn’t stop them. It would also infuriate the rest of the family. And, while tempting, that wasn’t a risk I was quite willing to take. At least not yet.

Occasionally, one of the younger Shatners would steal a car or deface some public property or get busted for underage drinking. The older Shatners were always getting nabbed for public indecency and public intoxication. Some of them were also heavily involved in insurance scams. And then there had been the occasional assault. But we hadn’t killed anyone – accidently or on purpose – in years. Or, if someone had, I didn’t know about it.

When you got down to it, the majority of the bad things that the Shatners have done were just plain dumb. And, as far as I knew, being stupid wasn’t illegal. We would have been in serious trouble otherwise.

I don’t want you to go into this thinking that all of the Shatners were bad people. Most of them have just been a little misguided.

At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

Until I found the body.

************

About the Author

Randee Green’s passion for reading began in grade school with Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, as well as a master’s and an MFA in Creative Writing. When not writing, she’s usually reading, indulging in her passion for Texas country music, traveling, or hanging out with her favorite feline friend, Mr. Snookums G. Cat.

Catch Up With Randee Green On: randeegreen.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

************

Follow the tour here.

************

Book Review: Robicheaux by James Lee Burke

Robicheaux
Dave Robicheaux #21
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-7684-5
Hardcover

Detective Dave Robicheaux returns from his last adventure in Montana to the sheriff’s department in Iberia, Louisiana, an area about which James Lee Burke writes poetically in the long tradition of southern writers like Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren.  Robicheaux is a haunted person, suffering from the loss of his wife, Molly, who was killed in an auto accident, nightmares from his time in Vietnam, and alcoholism.  In fact, he goes off the wagon (a devotee of Alcoholics Anonymous) and wonders if he could have murdered the victim, the person who caused his beloved wife’s death, while drunk, even as he conducted the investigation into the incident.

The novel is filled with all sorts of nefarious characters, ranging from outright gangsters to a Huey Long type who glibly mesmerizes the populace and plays a prominent role in events by representing how wealth and imagery can lead to undermining American traditions.  And, of course, Clete Purcel, Dave’s closest friend, is front and center in the story, as is his daughter, Alafair, who writes a screenplay for a movie based on a Civil War event.

The piercing prose and the sweep of the tale, combined with the extraordinary characters, are incomparable.

It is interesting to note that while Mr. Burke writes about the South with such feeling, he lives in Montana.  I guess distance makes for perspective.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

Book Reviews: A Casualty of War by Charles Todd and The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd

A Casualty of War
A Bess Crawford Mystery #9
Charles Todd
William Morrow, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-0626-7878-2
Hardcover

In the waning days of WWI, Bess Crawford was stationed at a forward medical base close to the fighting when a Captain was brought in with a head wound.  It turned out that the bullet merely scraped his scalp and he returned to his men the next day, but he claimed he was shot by a British lieutenant resembling his great grandfather, perhaps his cousin, Lieutenant James Travis. A few days later, he was returned to the facility, shot in the back.  Again he told Bess the same man shot him.  Bess got to know the Captain and believed his story.

The Armistice soon took place, and Bess was asked to accompany a convoy of wounded back to England and was granted a week’s leave.  Instead of visiting home in Somerset, accompanied by Sgt. Major Brandon, she traveled to a hospital in Wiltshire where the Captain was being treated.   She was appalled to find him strapped to his bed under horrible conditions (the medical staff thought him mad because of his outbursts regarding his claim to have been shot by a relative, attributing his condition to his head wound).  Strengthening the diagnosis was the fact that James was killed a year before.  Bess insisted he be unshackled and permitted to enjoy fresh air.

She then traveled to Sussex, James’ home, to determine the accuracy of James’ death, discovering even more complications, including the fact that after a brief meeting in Paris earlier in the war, James named the Captain his heir.   Meanwhile, the Captain escapes from the Wiltshire hospital when taken for a walk.  And the story goes on as the complications of the plot unfolds.  The Bess Crawford mysteries, of which this is the ninth, artfully weave the agonies of war with the crimes Bess attempts to solve. With the end of the war on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, where will the series now go?  It deserves to continue in peace, as well!

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Gate Keeper
An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery #20
Charles Todd
William Morrow, February 2018
ISBN: 978-0-0626-7871-3
Hardcover

Charles Todd, the mother-son writing team, offers two different series:  The Gate Keeper is from the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series (the other is the Bess Crawford novels).  Both series take place in a similar time frame, during or after World War I, and are based in England (or France, of course, in the trenches).  Rutledge served as a Captain and saw bloody action and was responsible for the execution of his Corporal, Hamish McCleod, who refused orders to lead his men into another futile charge over the top.  Hamish still haunts Rutledge, and his memory serves as sort of assistant to the Inspector by offering observations and warnings when warranted.

As a result of shell shock, Rutledge was, for a time, treated for his mental condition, but now serves as a Scotland Yard detective.  Since his release from the hospital, he has been living in the family home with his sister, who is married at the start of this novel.  Returning from the wedding, he is unable to sleep and decides to go for a drive, ending up far away from his London apartment, where he finds himself witness to a murder.  He insists on taking over the investigation and when another murder occurs, it becomes more important to uncover the reason for each.  Rutledge learns of a third murder far away that might be related to the two he is working on, but it is assigned to another Scotland Yard detective.

The plot is fairly simple, but the solution is a lot more complicated and unexpected.  Rutledge plods on until he finds a common thread to all three murders, then has to turn his attention to the question of who has actually performed the murders.  And this he does with smoothness in this, the 20th novel in the series.  On to the 21st.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

Book Review: The Holy Thief by William Ryan

The Holy Thief
William Ryan
Minotaur Books, September 2010
ISBN 9780312586454
Hardcover (ARC)

“I’m investigating the murders,” [Korolev] managed to say. “If it’s in my power, I’ll bring whoever committed them to justice.”

“Soviet justice?”

“It’s as good as any. The system may not be perfect—I’m not blind. These are eyes in my head. But we work for the future, a Soviet future. And it’s as fair as any damned justice system the capitalists ever lied about.” He could feel his leg trembling against the bale of hay. Was it anger or some other emotion? He wasn’t sure of anything any more. But if he didn’t believe the leadership weren’t working for the People’s future—well, where would he be? What hell would he find himself in then—if it all turned out to be a blood-soaked lie? He spat on the floor to ward off the thought, and then fumbled for another cigarette. He put it in his mouth, reaching for his matches, but Kolya had already extended a lighter.

“Thank you,” Korolev said, hearing the gruffness in his voice. He offered the Thief the packet.

“You’re an honest man. And you are a Believer, aren’t you?” Kolya seemed to be weighing him up.

“It’s none of your business.”

“Maybe it isn’t. But what if, at some stage, you have to decide between your loyalty to the church and your loyalty to Comrade Stalin. How do you think you would decide?”

In 1936 Moscow, as Stalin’s notorious Great Purge was heating up, Comrade Alexei Korolev is a battle-scarred, world-weary veteran who publicly swears fidelity to the Soviet Union and privately hides a Bible beneath a floorboard in his bedroom. A captain in the Moscow Militia’s CID, Korolev is charged with investigating the torture and murder of a young woman. It’s not an easy case to begin with, but when the victim turns out to be an Orthodox nun from America and then a second body turns up, Korolev realizes the stakes are far higher than he imagined. With State Security watching his every move, Korolev must seek the assistance of an American antiques dealer, the leader of Moscow’s criminal underworld, a wily street kid, and the writer Isaac Babel to find both the killer and the motive for the crimes. Eventually his leads take him full circle, back to State Security and the Soviet Union’s efforts to raise money by selling antiquities, including icons confiscated from churches after the 1917 Revolution. At the center of the mystery is the missing Kazanskaya, an icon believed to possess miraculous powers.

I’ll come right out and admit that I know next to nothing about Russian culture and society, much less about the short history of the Soviet Union (I turned to Wikipedia for a brief primer on the Great Purge, and it was through another review that I learned that Isaac Babel is a historical figure). Short of the “In Soviet Russia, books review you!” meme started by comedian Yakov Smirnov, I don’t even know enough about Russia in the 20th century to name popular clichés and stereotypes. That said, there’s something about The Holy Thief that seems off to me. For one thing, it has a very British feel to it, particularly in the repeated references to Sherlock Holmes and Korolev’s past as a football star. Perhaps Arthur Conan Doyle was a popular writer in Russia a century ago, and maybe football was as much a part of their entertainment as it is in England; I truly don’t know. But it doesn’t seem right to me.

Korolev is a bit of a tough nut to crack. He seems to be an amalgam of characteristics rather than a fully-fledge character. War veteran, divorced father who hasn’t seen his son in years, former football star, skilled detective, loyal Communist, clandestine Christian, respected by his colleagues, literary figures, football fans, Thieves, and street kids alike – and yet I feel like I don’t know him at all. I might say the same about the plot: all the different bits of intrigue don’t quite add up to a well-rounded story. In the end, I just didn’t find The Holy Thief or Alexei Korolev all that engaging.

Reviewed by Laura Taylor, January 2011.