Book Reviews: Sleep Like a Baby by Charlaine Harris and Hair Brained by Nancy J. Cohen

Sleep Like a Baby
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery #10
Charlaine Harris
Minotaur Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-09006-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Robin and Aurora have finally begun their adventure in parenting. With newborn Sophie proving to be quite a handful, Roe’s mother pays for a partially trained nurse, Virginia Mitchell, to come help the new parents for a few weeks. Virginia proves to be especially helpful when Robin has to leave town for work and Roe is struck with a bad case of the flu.

One particularly stormy night, Roe wakes to hear her daughter crying and Virginia nowhere to be found. Roe’s brother Philip helps her search the house and they happen upon a body outside… but it isn’t Virginia’s. Now, not only does she have a newborn to care for and a vulnerable new marriage to nurture, Roe also has to contend with a new puzzle — who is this mystery woman dead in their backyard, and what happened to Virginia?

Roe seems to be in the midst of a lot of relatively new life experiences, what with a fairly recent marriage, a younger brother who hasn’t been in the picture all that long, a brand new baby and, now, a new dead body. Goodness, what’s a sleuthing librarian to do?

When Robin has to leave town for a few days and Roe is sick, they call for help from Virginia who had been a nanny/housekeeper/mother’s aide after Sophie’s birth and she’s happy to come do night duty. Roe’s much younger half-brother, Philip, who lives with them now, will help out in the daytime as much as he can so Roe feels comfortable sending Robin off to his book convention. That comfort is, of course, the trigger for dastardly things to start happening. This time it’s a double whammy when Virginia goes missing and there’s a strange woman lying dead in Roe’s backyard. Obviously, the police have to be called but this IS her backyard and her missing nanny so, naturally, she’s going to do some investigating on her own, right? One of the first things that comes to light is that the dead woman is no stranger and then the clues begin to mount.

Now, I’ve been making a little fun of Roe and her latest exploits but the truth is she’s one of my go-to amateur sleuths when I’m feeling the need for some light mystery reading. Roe is a smart woman, well-educated, and she has the chops to do the snooping what with her amateur criminology background. Belonging to a club of people who like to solve mysteries gives her a one-up on most sleuths and some cops. And Robin, well, he’s one of the very good guys and I appreciate their relationship and their respect for each other even though I sort of wish they hadn’t gotten married. I also am not thrilled with her having a baby.

Robin and Sophie kind of throw this series into the land of those TV shows where we wait for years for that special relationship to happen and when it does everything starts to go flat. That hasn’t happened yet but there’s no doubt Roe’s behavior and perspective are different now and the family issues were a bit too front and center. Still, I really did enjoy this book and I’ll just have to see where things go from here.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

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Hair Brained
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #14
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-9970038-8-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Was the car crash an accident or a deliberate attempt to run Marla’s friends off the road?

When hairstylist Marla Vail’s best friend is hurt in a suspicious car accident, Marla assumes guardianship of her infant son. No sooner does Marla say, “Baby want a bottle?”than she’s embroiled in another murder investigation. Her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, determines the crash may not have been an accident after all. But then, who would want Tally–or Ken in the car with her–out of the way? As Marla digs deeper into her friends’ lives, she realizes she didn’t know them as well as she’d thought. Nonetheless, it’s her duty as their son’s guardian to ensure his safety, even if it means putting her own life at risk. Can she protect the baby and find the culprit before someone else ends up as roadkill?

Marla and Dalton have been struggling with the idea of having a baby—he wants one, she doesn’t—so it’s fortuitous, if unhappily, that Marla takes guardianship of her best friend Tally’s four-month-old son when Tally and her husband, Ken, go missing. Having little Luke around might give their dilemma a bit of clarity but the reason for his presence is ominous.

Marla had already been thinking that Tally had recently been a little reserved and uncommunicative as though there was something she wan’t prepared to share with Marla. Now, she has to consider that this secret, if that’s what it is, has something to do with the disappearance. A lot about the couple going out makes no sense even though it was New Year’s Eve; they hadn’t planned on an outing so why did they suddenly change their minds just because Ken got a business call? When Marla and Dalton learn that Tally was hurt and Ken killed in a car accident, their immediate attention is on Tally’s survival and what they can do for her and the baby but then they find out the accident may have been no accident after all.

Spending time with Marla and Dalton is like visiting old friends and I think Hair Brained is one of Ms. Cohen‘s better entries in the series. The mystery itself and their investigations are absorbing and the baby issue is a question that confronts many couples that are in a more “settled” time in their lives. Marla is directly invested in this particular case and rightfully so, creating a natural rationale for her sleuthing. With the story concluding in an open-ended fashion, I can’t wait for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

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Book Reviews: Drag Teen by Jeffrey Self and The Arrow Shooter by James Mather

Drag Teen
Jeffery Self
Push, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-82993-9
Hardcover

Remember the first time you released your inner-most self?  Knowing you, to your very core; adoring and admiring that person so much it had to be celebrated—the joyful, buoyant feeling had to be released, good vibes to everyone.  Imagine being in that moment when a hate-filled, bitter person brings contempt so tangible that the light is smothered; the joy stolen.  Because most of us have experienced that, it is almost intuitive to empathize with JT’s predicament.

His parents do not support his desire to attend college after high school.  They appear offended by his plan, as if his ambition is as an affront to the lives they lead.  Rather than seeing and hearing their son, they seem to have created a persona of an ungrateful, arrogant brat that is easy to dismiss.  But JT has Seth, and Seth has a plan.

A Drag Teen pageant is being held for high school seniors needing financial aid for college; the prize—a full scholarship.  The idea of being a Drag Teen doesn’t bother JT; the terror of doing it again, with the same results is paralyzing.  With the support of his boyfriend, their best friend Heather and an assortment of souls along the way, JT tackles the terror.

I was amused, delighted and entirely invested in this story.  The combination of blue-collar parents, an over-the-top, former country music sensation, teen-agers and Drag Queens is quirky in the best possible ways and works wonderfully for JT’s journey to New York City and self discovery.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2016.

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The Arrow Shooter
Jim Mather
CreateSpace, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-692-46617-9
Trade Paperback

The novel has enormous unrealized potential to provide a long look into what is sometimes referred to as the inscrutable East. Yakuza target Jonathan Lusk leaves Japan and his professional activities as a special undercover operative and enrolls at Stanford University. He is following his father’s trail and seeking the murderer of his father.

Of course his life is complicated by his growing infatuation, a forbidden love for Princess Nanami Yoritomo. A non-Japanese and a commoner, the love between the couple is overladen with difficulties. The campus atmosphere in the 1960s, the threat of a killer stalking Lusk, the efforts of the romantic couple to develop their relationship, all offer great opportunity for emotional soaring narrative.

Alas, the writing is competent, straight forward, efficient and flat. Although we are surely meant to identify with the young couple, the lack of emotion tends to set barriers so we never fully empathize with Jonathan or his princess. On the other hand, the narrative passages that reveal much about Japanese culture are quite interesting. In sum, an interesting read for those who wish to look more closely at a specific cultural element of the East.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 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.

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.