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: I Found You by Lisa Jewell

I Found You
Lisa Jewell
Atria Books, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-5459-1
Hardcover

Is there anything more evocative of a mystery than a stormy beach on the coast of the North Sea? Well, yes. Add in a man who huddles there wearing shirt and trousers for more than twenty-four hours while the rain beats down on his head. This is the scene that leads single mother Alice Lake, whose beach the man has selected to inhabit, out to give him a coat and ask him a question.

“Who are you?” she naturally asks. But he doesn’t know. He’s lost his memory. He’s lost himself.

In an act of kindness, Alice invites him into her chaotic home. Her three children, all from different fathers, and three dogs, all left behind for her to care for, greet the newcomer with varying degrees of welcome.

Since he lacks any other name, Alice’s youngest daughter bestows the name of “Frank”on the stranger. It serves as well as any as Alice and Frank try to discover just who he is and what he’s doing on Alice’s beach.

It’s quite a suspenseful journey.

Alice is a great character, complicated, compassionate, flawed, and ultimately, so worthy of love.

Her children, each very different from the other, are fleshed out real people. Each has a definite place in the story, when they so easily could’ve been thrown in simply for effect. And Alice’s friend Derry’s place is to help the story along.

The book is written in alternating points of view. There’s a present day young bride whose husband has gone missing, and a seventeen-year-old boy from twenty-two years ago whose sister was raped and murdered before him, her body carried out to sea and never found. And of course, both Frank’s and Alice’s.

Tension builds as Frank slowly recovers bits and pieces of his memory. The journey through his ordeal is mesmerizing.

Ms. Jewell’s storytelling and writing is wonderful. I’m already putting this one on my ‘best reads of 2017’ list, and I think anyone who picks it up will too.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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: A Death by Any Other Name by Tessa Arlen

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Book Reviews: Lifers by M.A. Griffin and When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling

 

lifersLifers
M.A. Griffin
Chicken House, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-06553-4
Hardcover

Particularly pertinent in current political climate, this fresh Middle-Grade mystery-adventure is a phenomenally fantastic read for all ages.  Mace may be a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but when weird news of missing teens and strange sights at night hits close to home, even practical Preston is pulled in.  Also….he is pretty sure he is partly to blame for the most recent disappearances.

Attempting to trace Alice’s steps, Preston walks the night streets of Manchester and senses a spooky truth to the recent rumors.  He enlists Mace to delve deeper and the two stumble onto a pseudo-futuristic-sci-fi scene.  Children are trapped in a prison prototype with dwindling supplies and absolutely no way out.  The only way in, is scheduled to be permanently shut down in less than twenty-four hours.

The juvenile delinquents are not completely alone.  One young lady is the daughter of a recently deceased politician, her “crime”: doubting that her father’s death was an accident.  She is not going down until the guilty party pays.  Two Urban Explorers snuck into the prison to help facilitate an escape and two workers who never wanted their creations to be used in this manner will fight for freedom.

The story plays out in a matter of days; the pace is very quick and quite captivating.  A bit of sharp wit, an unexpected kindness keeps the book from becoming bleak.  Many questions are answered, but nothing is too pat; there’s plenty to think on…..in a sneaky kind of way.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

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when-my-heart-was-wickedWhen My Heart Was Wicked
Tricia Stirling
Scholastic Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-69573-2
Hardcover

Lacy is clearly conflicted and completely compelling. At the tender age of sixteen, she has become so very good in spite of her tumultuous, tangled life; but, things change. The loss of a parent is heart-breaking and often life-changing.  When that loss is followed by an abrupt and unwelcome custody change, the downward spiral spins out of control.

Flashbacks and memories reveal the characteristics of Lacy’s parents allowing the reader to understand Lacy’s influences.  The vibes emanating from the recollections reach from the pages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.  Parents are palpable presences and when Lacy thinks of her father, sunshine shoots from the pages.  She is light, happy, hopeful……joyous and buoyant when considering her father and his charming hippie-chick wife, Anna.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Lacy’s mother, Cheyenne.  Her unique “teaching techniques” and willingness to spend weeks without electricity did not result in a nurturing home.  Rather, she burned her daughter’s wrist for asking “too many questions”, tied her to a tree to prevent “wandering”, then completely vanished without a word, leaving a broken 13-year old girl all alone.

When My Heart Was Wicked is a captivating and quick read that bravely tackles taboo topics such as “cutting”.  More than merely acknowledging the existence of a disorder that plagues so many teens, by offering an answer to the common question: “why?” On some level, problems that plague Lacy are the same, or at least similar to the challenges every teenager faces.  The importance of identity is not easy to address, but Ms. Stirling demonstrates how strong will, determination and knowledge can carve a unique path, even when it seems all forces are fighting to make you march down a different road.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2016.

Book Review: Death at Dovecote Hatch by Dorothy Cannell

Death at Dovecote HatchDeath at Dovecote Hatch
A Florence Norris Mystery #2
Dorothy Cannell
Severn House, July 2015
ISBN 978-0-7278-8480-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

November, 1932. Still reeling from the recent murder at Mullings, country estate of the wealthy Stodmarsh family, the peaceful little village of Dovecote Hatch is about to be rocked by news of another violent death. When mild-mannered Kenneth Tenneson is found dead from a fall down the stairs at his home, the coroner’s inquest announces a verdict of accidental death. Florence Norris, however – the quietly observant housekeeper at Mullings – suspects there may be more to it than that.

Florence’s suspicions of foul play would appear to be confirmed when a second will turns up revealing details of a dark secret in the Tenneson family’s past. Determined to find out the truth about Kenneth’s death, Florence gradually pieces the clues together – but will she be in time to prevent a catastrophic turn of events?

There’s something special about English country house and village mysteries, isn’t there? I’m not even all that particular about the time period but I do have a fondness for historical, especially those set in the 1700’s to early 1900’s. In the case of Death at Dovecote Hatch, we’re visiting a time when people (primarily the “upstairs”) had lost that certain innocence prevalent prior to the first World War but not yet aware of the coming horror. They’re all, no matter what class, in the grip of the Great Depression to varying degrees.

All that is background noise to the events occurring in the village of Dovecote Hatch a few months after the affair at Mullings during which housekeeper Florence Norris was seen to be an intelligent, thoughtful woman who became invaluable in solving the crime. Now, though, life has settled down and Florence is on a visit with her cousin, Hattie Fly, in London when Inspector LeCrane seeks a private conversation with George Bird, pub owner and Florie’s intended. LeCrane is quietly and unofficially looking into the recent death at Bogmire of Kenneth Tenneson, ruled an accident at the inquest, but LeCrane is acting on a hunch that something isn’t right. Having experienced Florence’s innate abilities in the Mullings case, he requests that George let her know her assistance—as well as George’s—this time would be most welcome. And thus begins their investigation.

Much of the appeal in this book lies in the village goings-on outside of the case, the day to day lives of its people, and I truly enjoyed spending time with them, as much as with the mystery (mysteries?). These are characters who are so nicely fleshed out that it’s easy to feel that they’re old friends and acquaintances, all with their own concerns whether they be happily content or worried about their circumstances. The interesting thing to me is that there is quite a large cast and, yet, I had no trouble keeping them straight, testament to Ms. Cannell‘s fine characterizations.

The mystery itself is a true puzzle with lots of potential resolutions and, as it happens, one or two other mysteries add to the fun. All in all, the author has once again offered a very pleasing tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Reviews: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh and Endure by Sara B. Larson

i-let-you-goI Let You Go
Clare Mackintosh
Berkley, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-98749-0
Trade Paperback

I Let You Go grabbed me by the lapels and pulled me into a suspenseful, fast-paced mystery with tight twists that had me paging backwards a couple of times to truly keep up.  The gripping, heart-stopping story unfolds from different perspectives, revealing varying pieces of the puzzle until suddenly I saw the big picture and it was nothing I envisioned.

Two victims of a random tragedy try to piece their lives together—independently, and wholly alone.  As a year stretched out, the crime remained unsolved and it seemed as if each of them may be successful.  After an arrest, a trial, new information revealed and slowly, the big picture shimmers and changes.

So happy to have a new author to add to my list of favorites; I cannot wait to read more by Ms. Mackintosh.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2017

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endureEndure
A Defy Novel #3
Sara B. Larson
Scholastic Press, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-64490-7
Hardcover

Endure is the final book in the Defy trilogy by Sara B. Larson.  I didn’t realize that, going into it.  Earnestly entering Antion, enchanted by Alexa and King Damien, it was evident the story did not begin here.  (Yes, thus the title.  I get it, now.)  While I did immediately add Defy and Ignite to my To-Be- Read stack, I never truly felt late to the party.

The bond between Alexa and Rylan blatantly had background, but was too authentic to warrant doubt.  Maybe that hot fudge sundae wows with whipped cream, but it’s also delectable despite the absence.  Similarly, Damien’s trust in Alexa—both in her abilities as well as her commitment to him, is astounding…and unquestionable.

But this isn’t just a story of passionate people, complex choices and difficult, dangerous decisions….it’s about community, doing for the greater good, even if incurring loss.  Listening and learning, evolving, even—or especially—when plowing forward.

And there’s magic!  Good and bad; healing and harmful.  Also, a battle! One that’s been brewing, boils over, beating down kingdoms. It is a fantastically furious, frantic, ferocious fight to a final victory.  Grief and hope, strength and support, friendships and fondness bring balance to angst and action.

If you happen to know of a Middle Grader searching for good reads, the Defy trilogy may do the trick.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.