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

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

From the publisher—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Reviews: Cover Me in Darkness by Eileen Rendahl and Dating Death by Randy Rawls

cover-me-in-darknessCover Me in Darkness
Eileen Rendahl
Midnight Ink, December 2016
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5020-0
Trade Paperback

How do you live with yourself when you believe your little brother was murdered by your half-mad mother, apparently with your help? Amanda Sinclair has tried to put her youthful past behind her, has grown into an important job as a lead quality control testing scientist for a new and exciting company.

Out of that past she receives word that her mother has committed suicide. Far from settling her emotions and closing a door on that episode, she slowly begins to realize that the woman’s death may somehow be linked to the upcoming release from prison of the leader of a cult to which her mother once belonged. Beset by emotions, Amanda concentrates on final verifications of a new product in her lab and the results are raising questions about some of the reports already submitted.

Add a wise and sympathetic cop, suspicious but supportive colleagues and the keen observations of a talented author and here is a novel to be remembered.

While I’m not sure about the title, I strongly endorse this dark emotion-filled novel of suspense. It is very well written, insightful, thoughtful and the central character, Amanda Sinclair, comes alive on the page. The pace and the setting are well handled and easily evoke the locale. Although not for the more timid reader of murder mysteries, Cover Me In Darkness, is well worth the time and attention of serious readers.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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dating-deathDating Death
Beth Bowman Private Investigator #3
Randy Rawls
White Bird Publications, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-63363-151-9
Trade Paperback

Randy Rawls writes a sort of brawling, booted, western-style detective novel. Except this detective is located in southern Florida. Beth Bowman takes no back seat to anyone and in her third adventure actually accepts an insane assignment from the local chief of police. She’s to bodyguard a flamboyant local pol who is due to spill all about crime in their city. Beth is to try to keep the pol alive until he can testify. It doesn’t go well, naturally and now Beth has to try to locate the killer.

That investigation doesn’t go well, either and after a number of fairly exciting adventures, Beth falls in with a homeless shelter operation wherein the street folks domiciled there happen to be the best undercover operatives in the city. So Beth, unable to get necessary help from officialdom, goes to the amateur league. You already guessed it. After stumbling over some pretty obvious clues and missing some others, everybody ends up on the same page and justice prevails, but not before a few dead bodies show up.

Well written and perfectly organized, Dating Death is a good weekend confection.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

A Few More Teeny Reviews

a-goose-creek-christmasA Goose Creek Christmas
Tales from the Goose Creek B&B #5
Virginia Smith
Harvest House Publishers, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-7369-6878-2
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

Al’s Goose Is Cooked!

Forced into early retirement, Al Richardson knows what his wife will say when she hears the terrible news. Millie will insist that they open their B&B early. Where will that leave him? Carrying luggage and waiting tables? No way! He needs time to come up with another plan. With the help of an unlikely accomplice, Al spends his days scanning want ads and frequenting out-of-town coffee shops in an effort to hide his secret from all of Goose Creek—including his wife.

Millie is too busy to notice Al’s odd behavior. Between planning a huge Christmas party and holding tight to the reins of newcomer Lulu Thacker—whose tacky decorating schemes are sure to infuriate Main Street business owners—she has no time for anything else.

One thing is certain: In Goose Creek, no secret stays hidden for long. The most holy of holidays is swiftly approaching. Is Al in for a Merry Christmas or a Marriage Crisis?

Having first met the lovely town of Goose Creek last summer, I’m still completely in love with these characters and their very common issues, told with compassion and humor. I think Goose Creek is a wonderful representation of small town life and there isn’t a single character that doesn’t have at least one small redeeming factor. This time, Al is afraid to tell Millie that he’s been laid off (well, forced into retirement) just before Christmas—I was laid off just before Christmas years ago so I can attest to the nightmare—but, fortunately for him, she’s caught up in the turmoil over some outlandish Christmas decorations. I chortled my way through this tale while Millie and Al and all their neighbors and family dealt with the vagaries of real life and I can’t wait for the next episode.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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rogue-waveRogue Wave
Boyd Morrison
Pocket Books, December 2010
ISBN 978-1-4391-8958-0
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

A minor seismic disturbance in a remote section of the Pacific causes barely a ripple of concern for Kai Tanaka, acting director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu. But when an airliner en route from L.A. to Sydney vanishes in the same location, Kai is the first to realize that a mysterious explosion has unleashed a series of massive waves destined to obliterate Hawaii. In just one hour, Kai will lose all he has ever known–including his wife and daughter– unless he can save them from nature’s most destructive force.

I have a fondness for disaster stories and Boyd Morrison hit every one of my hot buttons with Rogue Wave (which has also been published as The Palmyra Impact and The Tsunami Countdown). When I picked this up, I was already familiar with the author’s talents in the action adventure and thriller fields and I was not disappointed in the least. The tension doesn’t just ratchet up as you go along with the story—it’s high octane from the very first sentence, letting up only for occasional scenes to let us know where certain characters are. We’ve seen what happens in real life with giant tsunamis and Rogue Wave is a top-notch depiction of such an event with characters you can’t help caring about and the overwhelming feeling of doom is compelling. I highly recommend this for anyone who loves disaster and Mother Nature thriller tales.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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Getting Old Is the Best RevengeGetting Old Is the Best Revenge
Gladdy Gold #2
Rita Lakin
Dell, 2006
ISBN 978-0-440-24259-8
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

“NEVER TRUST ANYONE UNDER SEVENTY-FIVE!”

That’s the motto of the Gladdy Gold Detective Agency. Don’t laugh: having solved a case of serial murder, Gladdy and her eccentric neighbors are building their reputation between canasta games and pool exercises–hunting down everything from lost pocketbooks to missing octogenarians. And when a jealous woman sets them after her wayward husband, and a flasher strikes their retirement complex, two seemingly unrelated cases collide with a third: a series of dastardly murders targeting Florida’s wealthiest wives.

But when the girls win tickets for a luxury bingo cruise, they hit the jackpot. Because this ship is carrying not only Florida’s fiercest bingo competitors but also a killer–and it’s up to Gladdy and her friends to stop him before one of them becomes his next victim….

This book was my first introduction to the Gladdy Gold series and I’ve read all but two now, not in any particular order. There have been other senior sleuth series that I’ve enjoyed but this one really finds the sweet spot for me. These retirees are funny and nosy and clever (most of them) and I love the way they’ve decided they’re too young to just rock their lives away. I also appreciate the way the author isn’t the least bit afraid to make use—and fun—of senior citizen sterotypes. I mean, you know, a bingo cruise?? If you’re looking for pure fluffy fun, this would be a good book to start with.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Reviews: Nantucket Five-Spot by Steven Axelrod and Every Boat Turns South by J.P. White

nantucket-five-spotNantucket Five-Spot
A Henry Kennis Mystery #2
Steven Axelrod
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0342-8
Hardcover

Nantucket Island is the setting for this full speed ahead thriller and it stars. Axelrod is adept at inserting appropriate attractive descriptive language in his manuscript and the location of his stories about the adventures of poetry writing police chief Henry Kennis trying to maintain law and order on a restless, tourist-driven island off the Massachusetts coast.

His characters, and there are many, are weird, strange, excellent, upstanding, careful, bright, thoughtful and good-looking specimens. Some of them are patient, evil, criminal and inept. When this author feels the need to bump up the action, he just inserts a new character who may or may not have anything significant to do with the central. So there are small side plots dealing with immigration, smuggling, fighting in the Middle East and so on.

The Chief of Police, a central character in the novel, is beset on all sides by criminal elements and by law enforcement who are often portrayed as rigid and impatient. A possible terrorist bomb attack on a holiday concert by the Boston Pops Orchestra is the apparent target. Law enforcement agencies from every level descend on the poor police chief who must struggle against their incompetence, short-sightedness, and his personal romantic feelings about one of the federal agents.

Plots within counter-plots and world-wide maneuvering infest the pages of this novel. What saves it is the almost relentless action and there is plenty of that, however unlikely in a few places. There’s even an occasional funny bit.

If I was vacationing in a place like Nantucket and wanted some relaxing light-weight down time, this novel would definitely fill the bill.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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every-boat-turns-southEvery Boat Turns South
J.P.White
The Permanent Press, September 2009
ISBN 978-1-57962-188-9
Hardcover

For a great many people the incalcuable persistent rhythms of the seas that surround us, the tides, the fog, crashing surging waves, all serve to remind us of the vast unknown. Water has no permanent shape, it cannot drive a nail. It can form long-enduring shapes on the shores of our continents and drive islands into clusters we label archipelego but no island lasts forever. In the north, when winter comes and water in the ponds freezes into temporary hardness, something often urges us to look to warmer circumstances closer to the equator. We revel in the snow and crave the sun-baked climes of the tropical island.

There are a thousand stories of sailing voyages, likened to the human voyage of life and like life, those voyages are, in turn, filled with storm and peace, ecstasy and sorrow. Here is one such filled with rich images, turbulent emotions, sadness, joy and death. After years separated from his family, second son Matt returns to his home on a journey of expiation. The family torn apart by the death of the favored first-born, needs to heal, at least a little and Matt tries to make that happen. Of course he fails and in the process weaves a tale of life in the islands off our southern coast, replete with passion, drugs, storms, smuggling, love and mixed results. For the sailor there’s great and kindly detail, for the rest, the relentless drive of the author’s poetical structure and language carries us alongside Matt to an uncertain conclusion.

At times the exalted language and structure may bother some readers, just as other readers may find the quantity of technical detail confusing and off-putting. For those, I suggest trying to relax with the story, enjoy the scenery and the passion, but stay with Matt through his adventure in this fine poetical novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2016.
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: Where Wicked Starts by Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Patricia Henley

where-wicked-startsWhere Wicked Starts
Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Patricia Henley
Lacewing Books, October 2014
ISBN: 978-1-938126-26-0
Trade Paperback

We’ve heard how it takes a village to raise a child. In this book, it takes a screwed-up blended family to rescue one while doing some pretty meaningful healing in the process. Nick’s not over her mother’s death and struggles to hold on to good moments. Luna, her slightly older step-sister deals with her parents’ divorce by rebelling and doing risky stuff with boys to try and find happiness. While the two of them are pretty snarky to each other, it’s pretty easy to read between the lines and know they get emotional support from the process. Luna’s dad is an alcoholic con artist who has been promising different outcomes, but delivering the same disappointing results for ages.

When Nick’s dad married Luna’s mother, they uprooted the girls, moving them to Coquina Bay after selling the record store that was home to Nick where she was surrounded by classic rock and a happy cat. There was little or no thought to what the girls were leaving behind. As if being uprooted wasn’t bad enough, the newlyweds are rehabbing a decrepit place, hoping to turn it into a B&B. All Nick sees is her college money courtesy of Mom’s life insurance evaporating into the project.

When the stepsisters go to see a friend do her alligator act at a nearby park, Nick can’t help but notice a really creepy man who’s with a girl about her age. He touches her in inappropriate ways and she’s dressed as though she’s much older, not to mention acting like a zombie. It takes Nick a while to get Luna on board with her suspicion that the girl isn’t with this creep willingly, but once she does, things get really interesting.

By the time the story reaches its conclusion, Luna’s dad has finally come through, Nick’s grandmother has gotten in the act and the stepparents have come up for air and discovered that the girls might be more mature and responsible than they are.

This is not only a good YA mystery, but a good story for teens who have experienced family loss or dysfunction. It’s a smooth read with a cast of intriguing characters.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2016.

Book Reviews: Death Takes Priority by Jean Flowers and World Gone By by Dennis Lehane

Death Takes PriorityDeath Takes Priority
A Postmistress Mystery #1
Jean Flowers
Berkley Prime Crime, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-27910-6
Mass Market Paperback

One of my dearest friends works for the Post Office, so I was pleased to find this book about Cassie Millar, who trades life as a manager in the Boston Post Office for a job as postmistress in her small hometown in the Berkshires.  Cassie’s been away for a long time, so she’s only gradually finding old friends and making new ones.  She loves her new job, though, until the day she unlocks the door and finds that someone has stolen several stacks of phone books.  Why?

Then a body turns up in the nearby woods, and Cassie’s lunch date, a handsome antiques dealer, is arrested.  Concerned for her new friend, Cassie starts asking questions.  She finds answers, new friends and some very dangerous people before she’s done.

I enjoyed spending time with Cassie and learning about the workings of a small town post office and will certainly buy the next book.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.

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World Gone ByWorld Gone By
Dennis Lehane
William Morrow Paperbacks, January 2016
ISBN: 978-006-235181-4
Trade Paperback

The life Joe Coughlin has lived began in The Given Day as a young man rebelling against his stern police captain father in Boston, and continued in Live By Night as he turned to a life of crime, rising in the ranks to run the rackets in Florida and elsewhere.  Now, World Gone By brings the story to a conclusion.

This segment takes place around the time the United States entered World War II and takes a deep look at Joe’s machinations as he operates between the various elements of society, government and the disparate areas of their less reputable members with whom he comes into contact.  At the same time, we see Joe as a doting father of a motherless son, having lost his Cuban wife in a horrible murder at the end of the last novel.

For all his money and power, the fear of death always pervades a gangster’s life, and the plot has Joe learning that a contract has been taken out on his life, his murder scheduled for Ash Wednesday, less than a week away.  The steps Joe takes to learn of the plot and what to do about it has ramifications for the remainder of the story, which is as about well-written and -plotted as anything recently read.

This novel, as the entire trilogy, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2016.

Book Review: Shards of Murder by Cheryl Hollon

Shards of MurderShards of Murder
A Webb’s Glass Shop Mystery #2
Cheryl Hollon
Kensington Books, February 2016
ISBN 978-1-61773-762-6
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

When a glass-making competition turns deadly, glass shop owner Savannah Webb must search for a window into a criminal’s mind…

As the new proprietor of Webb’s Glass Shop, Savannah has been appointed to fill her late father’s shoes as a judge for the Spinnaker Arts Festival, held in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. With her innovative glass works, the clear winner is Megan Loyola, a student of Savannah’s former mentor.

But when Megan doesn’t show up to accept her $25,000 award, rumors start flying. And when Savannah discovers the woman’s dead body on festival grounds, the police immediately suspect her of murder. To keep from appearing before a judge herself, Savannah sorts through the broken pieces of glass scattered around the victim for clues as to who took this killer competition too far…

In the past 10 or 12 years, I’ve thought that the theme-based cozy has gotten completely out of control and craft themes have really gotten overloaded so, when I come across a crafts-based cozy series that I think is more than just fluff, I really appreciate it. Such is Cheryl Hollon‘s Shards of Murder, second in the Webb’s Glass Shop mysteries. Here is a book that actually teaches the reader something about the world of glass art and, having a long-time admiration and respect for what a truly skillful artist can do with glass, I enjoyed the tidbits of information the author included in the story. Better yet, it wasn’t like sitting in on a lecture; I was reminded of a trip to the Waterford Crystal manufacturing facility in Ireland when I saw artisans doing amazing things.

Oh, yes, and there’s a decent mystery here, too, and characters that I feel comfortable with including a pair of dogs named Rooney and Suzy that I wouldn’t mind knowing in real life along with their people. There are plenty of suspects who didn’t care for the deceased and some have good reason but Savannah’s not one of them in spite of what the police believe. The investigating detective knows Savannah but he’s apparently bent on pinning the crime on her and, yet, he seems to expect her to clear her name, making for an interesting dynamic.

Shards of Murder is an intelligent whodunit and Savannah and her cohorts—office manager, Amanda; apprentice, Jacob; and pub owner, Edward—kept me guessing till nearly the end. For anyone looking for an engaging cozy this is an excellent candidate and I’m looking forward to Ms. Hollon‘s next book, Cracked to Death, due out in July.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.