Book Review: The Catalain Book of Secrets by Jessica Lourey

The Catalain Book of Secrets
Jessica Lourey
Toadhouse Books, December 2014
ISBN: 978-0-9908342-1-2
Trade Paperback

The Catalain women share more than a bloodline. Each woman, whether the eldest, now a great-grandmother, or the youngest, a teenager not yet understanding her inborn powers, has a particular magic. Sometimes it seems as small as an overdose of charming sexuality, sometimes a capability to see the future, and sometimes, as we see as the story opens, it is the power of persuasion strong enough to cause murder. The problem is, the one murdered won’t stay dead. And the twelve-year-old murderer, though innocent in intent (remember the power of persuasion aspect) has lived almost her whole life consumed by guilt.

Each woman in this story has her own chapters, so readers are brought into the plot with varying viewpoints. First is Velda, where the story begins, then Ursula, who is central to the murder. Next comes Ursula’s daughters. Jasmine, who, due to a traumatic incident in her childhood totally refutes her magic, and Katrine, who ran all the way to England to escape it. Lastly in this story, although certainly not the least, is Tara, Jasmine’s daughter.

Danger gathers around these women as a swarm of serpents awakens in an earthen hideout and prepares to take over the city to complete a twenty-five year cycle. It will take all the Catalain women and their collective powers to finally put the murder to rest  and save their family.

Well-written, with intriguing characters, I think you’ll find this a fine story to while away an evening or two.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Haunting Investigation by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Haunting Investigation
A Chesterton Holte Mystery #5
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Smoke & Shadow Books, December 2015
ISBN: 978-1-943052-01-1
Hardcover

First of all, detective Chesterton Holte is a ghost, and only newspaper reporter Poppy Thornton can see or hear him⏤aside from her Aunt Jo’s old dog and the cat. And the only reason he’s haunting her is because he directly led to her father being executed as a spy during World War I and this is his way of making it up to her.

The year is 1924 and the country is still reeling not only from the war, but from the millions of lives lost to the Spanish Flu. Women are taking jobs usually considered the male prerogative and Poppea Thornton is one of them. She is a budding newspaper reporter, up to now assigned to the society pages as she is one of Philadelphia’s upper crust. But when one of society’s own is murdered, Poppy, to her satisfaction, receives the job of reporting the news. In her duties, she meets a handsome police detective, which serves her well when she becomes the murderer’s target, but it is the ghost, Chesterton Holte, who helps Poppy root out the clues.

Against a whole lot of opposition, Poppy works hard and diligently to make her way in a man’s world.

I liked the characters. I formed good pictures of Aunt Jo, cousin Stacy, the widow, and all the others. The setting is well done. I enjoyed the descriptions of the cars, the attire of the day, and especially, the food and drink⏤lots of drink. And during prohibition, too, wink, wink. However, the murder methods seemed odd to me. Also, there didn’t seem to be any real resolution to the story, ending more with a whimper than a bang. Even so, I enjoyed the journey with Poppy and Holte and Detective Loring. One assumes it is to be continued.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Woven by Michael Jensen and David Powers King

wovenWoven
Michael Jensen and David Powers King
Scholastic Press, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-68572-6
Hardcover

When I was very young, I was in 4-H.  There were projects.  Mine: sewing.  Always, sewing.  Much to my chagrin, we did not live on a farm.  Sewing was difficult.  And frustrating.  At first.  But, I learned.  I realized this brand-new way to create and express myself.  Also, a pretty handy skill.  Like magic!

Imagine my delight (many years later) upon discovering Woven, the rare, needle-in-a-haystack book to spotlight sewing as actual magic.  Brilliant concept.  Mr. Jensen and Mr. King weave a wondrous yarn, spinning back to a time when royalty and peasants were distinctly different and most certainly did not mingle.  On the outside, each class is separate and easily identified.  Underneath, unseen…some souls are stitched together; hierarchy be damned.

It’s easy to envision everyone’s enchantment and immediate empathy. The authors unravel overt appearances; the true characters of the noble peasant boy and the prim, proper, petulant princess are displayed.  Your heart may feel a tug here and there.  Unapologetically honest and open-minded, Nels is as refreshing as an arctic breeze on a sticky-hot summer day when his bafflement turns to frustration as he hears prejudices against the traveling, gypsy-esque Vagas.  He flatly informs everyone: “You can’t blame a whole people for one crime.”

And.

(Yes, there’s more.)

Woven is a ghost story.    Also, an adventure with wonderful wrestling matches, smashing swords, and an epic quest to free two kingdoms, right countless wrongs and save their own lives.  I found Woven to be happy and hopeful without being determinedly cheerful, sickening sweet.  It hooked me and carried me along, weaving me right into the fabric of this fantastic and fanciful tale.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2016.

Book Review: Wear White to Your Funeral by Lisa Acerbo

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Title: Wear White to Your Funeral
Author: Lisa Acerbo
Publication Date: October 28, 2016
Genres: Mystery, Romance, Young Adult

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wear-white-to-your-funeralWear White to Your Funeral
Lisa Acerbo
Destiny Whispers Publishing, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-943504-17-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

She died wearing white, now it’s time for your funeral. Rory is your average high school senior. Or she was, until her mother banishes her to hell, also known as Trumbull, Connecticut. The small suburb with only a mall and movie theater, sure feels like the netherworld until Rory’s first day at her new school. That’s the day she meets Bowen, who begs her to join him on a class project. But when Bowen drags her to a graveyard after dark for research purposes, Rory wants to fly back home to Atlanta, or at least return to her aunt’s house unharmed and unmolested. Nothing could go wrong, right? They talk, they laugh, and they wander among the tombstones looking for information on the local ghostly legend known as the White Lady. Then they have to run, but they cannot outrun a ghost.

A half buried dead body and the ghostly apparition lead Rory and Bowen into a deadly game of cat and mouse, but who is the killer? Is it human or something long dead and otherworldly? The police are of little help, Rory’s aunt just wants her to remain safe, and Bowen, who she can’t stay away from, keeps finding ways to get her into more trouble than she has ever known. Whether breaking into a suspected killer’s house, being followed by a menacing ghost, or being stalked at school, Rory hopes finding the killer will put an end to the supernatural haunting. Before Rory can discover the identity of the killer, she is drawn into the mystery of the White Lady, which opens the door for some very real danger.

Rory is a girl from the big city and moving from Atlanta to a dinky town in Connecticut is definitely not her idea of a fun thing to do, especially since it’s her senior year in high school. There is absolutely nothing to do in Trumbull so, when she meets Bowen and gets partnered with him for a school project, at least life gets a little more interesting…until they see the woman in white in the cemetery one night. That ghost is nothing, though, compared to the body they practically fall over after Bowen convinces Rory to go back to the cemetery another night.

From that point on, this appealing pair of teens become more and more enmeshed in the mystery of the dead body but they can’t ignore what seems to have been a ghost. Are the body and the ghost connected in some way? Is there a human killer or perhaps something a bit more supernatural and is this adventure turning into an otherworldly nightmare?

Wear White to Your Funeral was a fun read that I found quite entertaining with a nice blend of adventure, suspense and romance along with just enough spookiness to add a touch of creepiness while the teens step further and further into danger. The actual mystery is a little lightweight but not so much that I couldn’t enjoy the story entirely and I’m really glad this book engaged me as much as an earlier one by Ms. Acerbo (https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/book-review-remote-by-lisa-acerbo/) .

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.

About the Author

Lisa AcerboLisa Acerbo is a high school teacher and holds an EdD in Educational Leadership. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, daughters, three cats, and horse. She is the author of Apocalipstick and has contributed to local newspapers, news and travel blogs including The Patch and Hollywood Scriptwriter.

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Book Review: Aunt Dimity and the Summer King by Nancy Atherton

Aunt Dimity and the Summer KingAunt Dimity & the Summer King
Aunt Dimity #20
Nancy Atherton
Viking, April 2015
ISBN 978-0-670-02670-8
Hardcover

I thought it would be fun to begin my Aunt Dimity adventure with this twentieth book in the series. By now, the series is fully developed and later I could go back and work my way forward, if I liked what I read.What’s not to love in the premise of the series? Lori Shepherd from Chicago has relocated to Finch, a small cottage in England’s Cotswolds she inherited from her Aunt Dimity. And Aunt Dimity has even stuck around after her death, always available to communicate with Lori by mysteriously writing to her in a blue journal whenever Lori looks inside. Aunt Dimity is a guide/best friend for Lori, helping her to develop her thoughts about the current mystery taking place in Finch. That mystery is why the two empty cottages in Finch have not been sold.

Lori also has her newborn daughter in this book and is just as involved with her as she is with solving the current mystery. Unfortunately, this baby is a very normal baby and reading about the details of caring for a baby becomes rather tedious at times (breastfeeding, naps, diaper changes) – nothing really different here than a normal healthy baby. She is much loved and tended and there is barely a conversation which isn’t interrupted by the baby. It is a realistic portrayal of life with a newborn. This might be entertaining or even enlightening for a reader who doesn’t realize how much a baby can change your life and I would recommend it to those readers. For the rest of us, we may need to just skim those parts and not let ourselves get bogged down.

In solving the empty cottages mystery, Lori meets the Summer King who lives just over the town line, and seeks to understand the rivalry between the two towns. We are introduced to lots of colorful characters in the town. I would have liked more of the book to be about them and Aunt Dimity and the Summer King and his family. These sections of the book are delightful and the book is at its most charming when Lori gets to know him and his family and visits his home.

If you are already an Aunt Dimity fan, I think you will enjoy this book too. If you’re not yet a fan, you may want to start with an earlier volume.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, June 2015.

Book Reviews: Day Shift by Charlaine Harris and Lowcountry Boneyard by Susan M. Boyer

Day ShiftDay Shift
A Novel of Midnight, Texas #2
Charlaine Harris
Ace Books, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-26319-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

There is no such thing as bad publicity, except in Midnight, Texas, where the residents like to keep to themselves. Even in a town full of secretive people, Olivia Charity is an enigma. She lives with the vampire Lemuel, but no one knows what she does; they only know that she’s beautiful and dangerous.

Psychic Manfred Bernardo finds out just how dangerous when he goes on a working weekend to Dallas and sees Olivia there with a couple who are both found dead the next day. To make matters worse, one of Manfred’s regular—and very wealthy—clients dies during a reading.

Manfred returns from Dallas embroiled in scandal and hounded by the press. He turns to Olivia for help; somehow he knows that the mysterious Olivia can get things back to normal. As normal as things get in Midnight…

It’s practically impossible for Charlaine Harris to disappoint me so I can really only say one thing negative about Day Shift—it’s not my favorite of all her work. You could look at it another way, that this falls behind such series as Sookie Stackhouse, Harper Connelly, Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard, not to mention various non-series books. However, placing it behind all those other Harris books that I love so much doesn’t exactly say it’s no good, now does it? Let’s face it, the woman can’t be perfect ALL the time, just close to it 😉

Midnight, Texas, is a most unusual place as are its inhabitants. In fact, psychic Manfred Bernardo is probably a tad more normal than some but he certainly never expects to find Olivia in a deadly situation or, worse yet, himself. It’s Olivia the town turns to in hopes of solving the case and returning Midnight to its usual obscurity when the ravenous press follows Manfred home. In the meantime, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the renovation of an old hotel into a home for some senior citizens and lodging for temporary workers. Why anybody would want to open such a place in this dusty little town is a matter for much conjecture and some alarm.

As can be anticipated in any Charlaine Harris book, there’s a good deal of humor in Day Shift along with the relatively slight mysteries and the various characters are all a tad strange and very interesting. All that aside, I didn’t quite connect with the players or the story but it’s my own fault for not reading the first book before this one. Normally, reading out of order doesn’t bother me in the least but it was a mistake this time so I caution readers new to the series—read Midnight Crossroad first. I intend to rectify my error forthwith 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

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Lowcountry BoneyardLowcountry Boneyard
A Liz Talbot Mystery #3
Susan M. Boyer
Henery Press, April 2015
ISBN 978-1-941962-47-3
Trade Paperback
Also available in hardcover

From the publisher—

Where is Kent Heyward? The twenty-three-year-old heiress from one of Charleston’s oldest families vanished a month ago. When her father hires private investigator Liz Talbot, Liz suspects the most difficult part of her job will be convincing the patriarch his daughter tired of his overbearing nature and left town. That’s what the Charleston Police Department believes.

But behind the garden walls South of Broad, family secrets pop up like weeds in the azaleas. The neighbors recollect violent arguments between Kent and her parents. Eccentric twin uncles and a gaggle of cousins covet the family fortune. And the lingering spirit of a Civil-War-era debutante may know something if Colleen, Liz’s dead best friend, can get her to talk.

Liz juggles her case, the partner she’s in love with, and the family she adores. But the closer she gets to what has become of Kent, the closer Liz dances to her own grave.

I’m drawn to crime fiction set in the South, partly because I’m a Southerner myself but also because there’s a certain “feel” that makes such books just a little more interesting to me. Can’t identify or explain it; it’s just there. Whatever my nebulous reasons might be, Lowcountry Boneyard and Susan M. Boyer did not let me down.

Liz Talbot is a woman who knows who she is besides being really good at what she does so she gives the impression from the beginning that she will, indeed, get to the bottom of the task in hand. In this case, the disappearance of a wealthy society girl will lead Liz and her significant other and partner, Nate Andrews, in a number of different directions and there is no shortage of dark secrets in Kent Heyward’s family. Twists and turns abound before Liz will ultimately find herself in grave jeopardy.

I truly enjoyed this third book in Ms. Boyer‘s series (having read the first, Lowcountry Boil, a few years ago) and Liz is a woman I’d like to have as a real-life friend but Colleen, Liz’s long-deceased best friend, appealed to me the most. She’s a ghost who proves herself to be helpful when needed but also adds a humorous touch, especially when she shows up in unexpected places. Still, Colleen should be considered the invaluable third investigator on the team.

This is one of those series that can be read out of order if need be although, naturally, it’s probably best not to. I didn’t feel there were gaping holes because I hadn’t read the second book but I do intend to go get it; that will tide me over till Lowcountry Bordello comes out in November.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

Book Review: Death by Misadventure by E. E. Smith

Death By MisadventureDeath by Misadventure
E. E. Smith
Phoenix International, Inc., November 2013
ISBN 978-0-9899356-0-9
Ebook

Alexis J. Smith has opened a detective agency in a time when it is very unusual for a woman to work at that occupation. Her office door reads “ALEXIS J. SMITH-Discreet Inquiries”. The last person Alexis expected to find in her office when she arrived at work was a former classmate, Kate Faraday.

Both women attended Sacramento High School, class of 1941 but Alexis fails to recognize her old classmate Katie O’Toole. Kate announces that she wants Alexis to find her husband Frank Faraday. It seems Frank has left Kate and according to the post card Kate shows Alexis he has taken their baby Daisy. The post card reads, “Daisy sends her love.” When Alexis asks what Kate would like her to do if she did take the job and if she did find Frank, Kate announces she wants him killed. Alexis has always had a soft place in her heart for Frank so she finally agrees to take the case and do nothing but report back to Kate if she finds Frank and Daisy.

After receiving a huge retainer from Kate, Alexis goes shopping, purchases an entire new wardrobe and arranges to travel to England to look for Frank. With the help of an investigator from Scotland Yard, Alexis manages to find the Old Vicarage where Frank is staying. The Vicarage is said to be haunted and Alexis has a very exciting time dodging the ghost while trying to figure out what is going on with Frank and Kate. Alexis is not finding a baby named Daisy.

This novel is a fast read with interesting characters that Alexis meets when she decides to stay at the old vicarage.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, April 2014.