Book Review: Hell with the Lid Blown Off by Donis Casey @PPPress

Hell With The Lid Blown Off
An Alafair Tucker Mystery #7
Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen Press, June 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0298-8

I don’t know what number this novel is in the long and winding trail of Alafair Tucker mysteries. It doesn’t really matter, because this author has got the best elements of genre, character development, plot movement and setting so well ingrained in her that every book, every clever plot twist and every resolution is of the highest literary order.

This series of novels also provides a deep insightful look into one of our essentially rural states and the people who live, work love and die within its borders. This novel also provides a clear window into the early Twentieth Century decades of our nation and the many unique qualities of its citizens and troubles that beset.

The author deftly manages a cast of nearly fifty individuals who live through a huge twister in 1916 in Boynton, Oklahoma. One man is discovered dead after the storm leaves and the question then becomes a storm death or did someone take advantage of the storm to rid the town of an evil presence? The resolution may surprise readers as they are so often surprised by the clever mind and talent of this author.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2020.
Traces, Grand Lac, Sins of Edom, Red Sky.

Book Review: Helen of Troy by Tess Collins

Helen of TroyHelen of Troy
Tess Collins
BearCat Press, January 2012
ISBN: 978-1-937356-00-2

Helen, of Troy Hardware, ends up in the middle of a mid life crisis. Will she stay and work things out with her husband Rudy, the same husband whom she caught kissing her oldest and best friend? Or will she be tempted to give it all up and start a new life with the mysterious but alluring Garland Cookson, a man from her past who stirs up all kinds of memories. Not if Garland’s sister has anything to do with it she won’t.

You know, I read this book a week ago and already I’ve forgotten the exact plot. This title is entertaining, well written and will certainly help you while away a rainy afternoon, but it won’t end up on the English Literature syllabus anytime soon. I’m afraid that it’s another example of a ‘romance’ title that will inevitably be soon forgotten in that oversaturated market. The plot is loosely based on that old epic, Helen of Troy. You know the one. Ended up starting a war involving lots of Greek men and took an age to get home. Well, this book is roughly the same only it’s set in modern day Tennessee and involves Helen, a married woman with a rough and ready husband, various townsfolk and the oft-required mysterious male who strides back into town with a tragic past and has a bitch of a sister.

It’s a gentle enough story that’s very easy to read but I think what let it down for me, was the slightly farcical ending. I just couldn’t believe that most of the town would end up taking sides between husband and wife that often descended into snowball fights and building ice homes. I mean, we do some crazy stuff here in Ireland but basically, if someone is having marital troubles we do the normal thing and talk about it behind their backs. You won’t catch me taking a snowball to the face to defend the honour of two people who should know better. Then again, maybe I’m being too harsh. My idea of a good romance is Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice and consequently, very few modern titles live up to those lofty ideals. And after all, the book is well written with a good pace throughout. The characters are well rounded and there is just the right amount of intrigue and high jinx to keep you interested. If romance or chick lit is your thing, then this is a title that shouldn’t disappoint. Or if like me, you prefer your romance to have mad wives locked away in attics and lashings of high class snobbery, then maybe just stick to the classics.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, October 2012.

Book Review: The Alpine Xanadu by Mary Daheim

The Alpine XanaduThe Alpine Xanadu
An Emma Lord Mystery
Mary Daheim
Ballantine Books, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-345-53531-3

From the publisher—

Winter in the small mountain aerie of Alpine should be as quiet as new-fallen snow on the Cascades, but from the Grocery Basket to the Venison Inn, the town is humming. At the Alpine Advocate, editor Emma Lord and her staff are on deadline with a feature about the opening of RestHaven, a new rehab and mental health facility. Front Street is buzzing with gossip about Emma’s recent engagement to Sheriff Milo Dodge. And now that fool Wayne Eriks has climbed an electric pole in the middle of a storm and got himself electrocuted.
Sheriff Dodge doesn’t buy the idea that Wayne’s death is an accident. But how—and, more important, why—he died is only one of the conundrums that keep the sheriff and Emma working overtime. Why is RestHaven giving Alpine so many restless nights? What to make of allegations that someone’s trying to kill the richest man in town . . . or whispers of a rash of indecent behavior at the local high school? After Vida Runkel, the Advocate’s stalwart House & Home editor, disappears into thin air, Milo and Emma suddenly have too many loose ends to solve before they can even think about tying the knot.

It’s February 2005 and small town newspaper publisher Emma Lord is engaged to the local sheriff Milo Dodge but life keeps getting in the way of their finally getting married. Murder, assault, mental patients who go missing, porn in the local high school, former husbands and wives who apparently can’t stay away from each other, convicts released on bond, the wrath of a miffed Vida Runkel, a reporter who thinks he’s still in a big city, endless rain that would dampen the spirits of anybody who’s not used to such weather…sounds like a depressing soap opera, doesn’t it?

Not in the least—this is just life in the small mountain town of Alpine, WA, and its citizens would hardly know what to do with themselves if there wasn’t so much scandalous and criminal behavior going on. Think of it as the West Coast version of Cabot Cove where there’s a body on every corner. Weekly newspaper publisher Emma Lord and Sheriff Milo Dodge might be the only really sane people in town but life is certainly never dull. The big question might be what is Vida up to and why is she in such a snit?

This is (obviously) the 24th in Ms. Daheim‘s series and is a return for me to a series I have loved in the past but had drifted away from. The Alpine Xanadu is every bit as entertaining as the earlier books I’ve read and reminds me of why I loved Alpine and its denizens at the time. Now I think I’ll have to go back and catch up on the ones I’ve missed while I await #25, The Alpine Y…?. I’m also very happy to note that the author hints on her website that the series will continue beyond the completion of the alphabet.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2013.

Book Review: Speechless by Hannah Harrington

Hannah Harrington
Harlequin Teen, August 2012
ISBN 978-0-373-21052-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can’t keep a secret

Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast—and nearly got someone killed.

Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence—to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she’s ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse.

But there’s strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way—people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she’s done. If only she can forgive herself.

Back in the old days, when I was a teenager, bullying was a rare thing in the public schools I attended. That’s not to say cruelty to others didn’t exist but it took a much quieter form, that of dismissal. There were three distinct social groups. The top rung was the popular kids, the “pretty ones”, the jocks and their friends, and they simply ignored the existence of everyone beneath them. The lowest group was a collection of hoods (black leather, no weapons, maybe a little marijuana), nerds (although I don’t think that specific term existed then), economically deprived, shop classers, those bound for blue-collar jobs after graduation. Everybody else fell into the middle stratum, generally those who were college-bound and sociable, on an economic level with the top group but not accepted into the inner circles. Essentially, all three groups cohabited nicely during classes but not in the halls or outside the school grounds. Even with such distinct lines drawn, though, the three groups didn’t actively try to make life miserable for each other. We managed to get along because people “knew their places”.

Today’s world is much different for teens and middle-graders and bullying is visible and frequently vicious, whether it’s physical, verbal or emotional. Physical appearance is a common cause and I can’t help thinking that our love affair with TV, movies and celebrities has fed that particular worm.  Sexual orientation is another major platform and I believe that has become more of a bullying issue as society has changed and LGBT kids are less likely to hide than they used to be. If there were LGBT kids in my schools, I never knew it, and I had known many of my fellow students since first grade. That lack of knowledge is not a good thing, just different from today’s atmosphere.

Author Hannah Harrington has taken an all-too-common problem and expanded it. In Speechless, the victim is not just the gay teen who is exposed and subsequently attacked, it’s also the girl from the highest echelons who not only outed Noah but then turned in the jocks who beat him to the police. Her betrayal of her circle is what they find unforgiveable, not the hate crime itself. Chelsea starts out as a shallow girl whose interests lie in shopping, gossip, partying, and being BFF to the top girl in school but, for some reason, a spark of real decency exists in her. Her vow of silence is at first rather quixotic, an escape from reality, but could it become the means of her salvation?

Chelsea is a complex character, much like a teen in real life, and it’s a pleasure to follow her search for redemption, her journey to maturity. Along the way, the reader meets some people it would be a delight to know and they’re well-rounded with problems of their own while being very appealing individuals, Asha and Sam in particular. Even some of the bullies have the occasional mitigating aspect which surely is the case outside the realm of novels. Ms. Harrington presents a storyline and all its side issues that grips the reader from the very beginning and her characters bring it to life. I wish that any teen in a position of power over others would read Speechless and perhaps gain a little insight into how that power can be misused.

One last note—kudos to the publisher for such a great cover. Think about it. Speechlessness can lead to invisibility, can’t it?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2012.