Book Review: The Usual Santas, Foreword by Peter Lovesey

The Usual Santas
A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers
Foreward by Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-775-9
Hardcover

Here’s a collection that is sometimes amusing, sometimes dark, sometimes teaches a lesson, and is always entertaining. Set in most time periods, the stories will take the Christmas season all around the world. Thieves, murderers, revenge seekers and even cranky old women take their turns in making a memorable holiday.

In an outstanding collection, to my personal taste (yours most certainly may differ), some stand out. In a book with three different sections, the first being “Joy to the World: various acts of kindness at Christmas,” the lead-off story is a hoot. Suffice it to say, “don’t mess with ninety-year-old ladies. In “An Elderly Lady Seek Peace at Christmastime” by Helene Tursten, Maud is sick of the man in the apartment upstairs abusing his wife. The blows, the cursing, the sobbing destroy every vestige of her peace. And so, she takes matters into her own hands.

All the stories in this section are surprising. With a cast of authors like Timothy Hallinan and Teresa Dovalpage, among others, it’s what you can expect.

The second section is “Silent Night: the darkest of holiday noir.”  My favorite—or perhaps I should say, most standout story, one that stays with me, is by James R. Benn titled “Red Christmas.” The tale involves a discharged soldier arriving in a small town to give details of his friend’s death in a North Korean POW camp to the parents. He just doesn’t quite know how to begin. As he remembers back to their time in the POW camp, the events are dark indeed. Colin Cotterill, one of my favorite authors, also has a story in this section, as do Henry Chang,   Ed Lin, Stuart Neville, and Tod Goldberg.

The final section, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and other Holiday Secrets,” will certainly give a fresh slant on cozy kisses, peace on earth and all the other tropes whether 1920s  Bombay with Sujata Massey or Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesarev Borgia, those fine sons of Italy, with Gary Corby.

The foreward by Peter Lovesey, along with the final story in the book, gives fair warning. Be prepared to see the season in a whole new light. Could it be the Christmas star? Because every story is a shining star.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: The Giggler Treatment by Roddy Doyle

This is an old review, slightly updated. Twenty years ago,
it made
me laugh…no, cackle out loud…and it’s every bit
as funny today.
Maybe more so since we can all probably
think of at least one person
these days who could
be a perfect target for The Giggler Treatment
🤣🤣🤣

 

The Giggler Treatment
Roddy Doyle
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2000
ISBN 978-0-439-16299-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When grownups are mean to children, they get a visit from the mischievous Gigglers–elfin creatures who punish wayward adults–in a delightfully rude, laugh-out-loud adventure. Mr Mack’s dog Rover sells his own poo to the gigglers – small creatures who take revenge on any adult who treats children unfairly by making the unsuspecting adults step in poo. When the gigglers set out to exact punishment on Mr Mack, Rover knows he doesn’t deserve it, and the race is on to get to him before he takes that fatal step. A cheeky tale of revenge, dogs and poo by a seriously famous writer.

Laugh Alert!! Seldom do I actually laugh out loud when I’m reading but, not only did I do that with this book, I also had to keep interrupting myself to read a passage to someone else. Have you ever wished something yucky would happen to a grownup who is mean to a child? You know the type, the guy who tells a kid something tastes like chicken when it doesn’t. Well, here’s where you can find out all about the secret revenge of the Gigglers, small little furry critters who change colors like chameleons.

This is one of those books that are meant for children but appeal to all ages. Silliness runs rampant throughout the story — even the chapter headings are comical — and the illustrations by Brian Ajhar are wonderful. Please, run to your favorite bookstore and buy this book. Buy two so you can give one away! Better yet, buy all four books starring Rover!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2000.

Book Review: Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton @KiraJaneWrites @petkoff @HachetteAudio @GrandCentralPub

Hollow Kingdom
Kira Jane Buxton
Narrated by Robert Petkoff
Hachette Audio, August 2019
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle’s wild crows (i.e. “those idiots”), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos.

But when Big Jim’s eyeball falls out of his head, S.T. starts to think something’s not quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies – from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim’s loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis – fail to cure Big Jim’s debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he suddenly discovers that the neighbors are devouring one another. Local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators. Humanity’s extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a cowardly crow whose only knowledge of the world around him comes from TV.

What could possibly go wrong?

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton is unlike any other zombie book I’ve read and I’ve read quite a few in my time. The story is told by S.T., a very well-educated crow (educated via the tv, internet and his human), and he first realizes something is wrong when Big Jim’s eyeball falls out.

Yeah, I know, sounds gross but…

This is the tale of how S.T. and his bloodhound, Dennis, set off to save the domestics who’ve been left behind, trapped, when the virus swept through humanity. Along the way, they encounter many other animals, wild and domestic, and a lot of them join in the mission. Most of the commentary is from our trusty crow but there are interludes from such creatures as an octopus and a polar bear.

There’s a great deal of humor and a few sad scenes that really tapped into my emotions but very little time is spent on gory zombie details so you don’t have to be concerned about that. This is all about the animals and the author clearly has a point to make, several points, in fact. BTW, this is not a kid’s or middle grade book despite all the animals, birds and sea creatures because S.T. can occasionally be foulmouthed and there are a couple of scenes in which animals get hurt (but even those have redeeming qualities).

The narrator, Robert Petkoff, does a great job with S.T.’s voice as well as a few others (especially the octopus) and his sense of pacing and comedic/emotional tones are spot on. My daughter read the print edition and was just as entranced. I know, Hollow Kingdom sounds, er, strange but I was completely captured and this is going on my list of best books read in 2020. A sequel, Feral Creatures, is in the works and I can hardly wait.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2020.

Book Review: Lovestruck by Kate Watson @katew223 @fluxbooks

Lovestruck
Kate Watson
Flux, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-63583-030-9
Trade Paperback

Picture Cupid.

Now, destroy that image and any other preconceived notions that accompany it. Apparently, we are wrong and it is the Romans’ fault.

Of course, Kali does seem quick to blame the Romans for most misunderstandings of Greek gods and goddesses; but the image of a chubby cherub with an illogically-sized bow, well that one certainly chaps her ass. Then again, she is the crankiest Erote anyone could fathom. Traits that tend to be exhausting and annoying when exhibited by a mere human are like an adorable child venting frustration when this present-day deity pitches a fit. It should not be amusing and delightful, but it actually is.

Which is not to say that Kali should be dismissed or even taken lightly. Like all great goddesses, she is terrifying and revels in vengeance. Plus, she hasn’t always been a bitter anger-ball. At a time when she was happy in life and love, Kali took her matchmaking training very seriously. She stayed sharp and constantly competed with her cousin, Deya, to be the best student.

Until she abruptly ascertained that the Fates have already paved our paths and nothing she does truly matters. At that Kali, becomes the most cynical, careless matchmaker to ever come out of Olympus. And she just completed her fourth mismatch.

Not good for any student, it is entirely unacceptable for the very daughter of Eros to perform so poorly. Consequences for continuing in this fashion will be dire at best, so it is almost implausible that she should so royally ruin her last chance.

I love this modern-day myth and I believe Ms. Watson’s writing may have a bit of a goddesses’ blessing as she magnificently manages to share a fun story with some intriguing food-for-thought undertones. Yet another treasure that I am super-excited to take to “my” students.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2019.

Book Review: Of Mutts and Men by Spencer Quinn @ChetTheDog @ForgeReads

Of Mutts and Men
A Chet & Bernie Mystery #10   
Spencer Quinn
Forge Books, July 2020
ISBN: 978-1-250-29769-3
Hardcover

The story opens with Chet and his partner, Bernie Little of the Little Detective Agency, in hot pursuit of an art thief. Across rooftops, no less, and when the thief jumps from one roof to another, he drops the painting. But Chet, superb partner that he is, catches the painting in mid-air. He saves the thief also, whose leap has fallen short, almost by himself. Except Bernie is there and hauls them both in. All in a day’s work, which lands them a new client.

Unfortunately, when the partners show up at the client’s place of business, they find him dead. Since Bernie—and Chet, that goes without saying—distrusts the inept sheriff in charge, they take on the job of finding the killer. It’s what they do best, and as you’ll see, though investigating is not without peril, they’re very good at it. Pay or no pay, something Chet always worries about, Bernie not so much. Just like Bernie always worries about the aquifer in the dry California desert country, but Chet not so much.

From this, if you haven’t read any of Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie novels, you might not realize that Chet (the jet) is a police-schooled dog who failed his final test, and Bernie is, indeed, a private eye. If you haven’t read the novels, why not? You’re missing out, especially as each novel just seems to get stronger. I think Of Mutts and Men is arguably the best one yet. The reader can always count on an excellent mystery/adventure, always the very best of characterizations with lots of action, and stories rife with humor. In other words, riveting page turners.

Chet is the narrator, and believe me, he’s a great one. Yes, Chet is the dog. But he’s not a humanized dog. Not at all. He thinks how a dog thinks and acts like a dog acts. Love, loyalty, and a healthy appetite all wrapped up into one package. The story gets my highest recommendation.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, May 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: 15 Minutes by Larissa Reinhart @LarissaReinhart @AnAudiobookworm

Title: 15 Minutes
Series: Maizie Albright Star Detective, Book 1
Author: Larissa Reinhart
Narrator: Joan Dukore
Publication Date: May 28, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Cozy

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Synopsis

She played a detective on TV, but now that her life depends on it, can Maizie Albright play a detective for real?

Three Teen Choice Awards, one Emmy nomination, and several Maxim covers later, Maizie Albright was an ex-teen star, stuck in reality show hell, and standing before a California judge. She has one chance for a new life: return home to Black Pine, Georgia, and get a job that has nothing to do with show business. So why not become a private detective – the person she played during the happiest days of her life?

Maybe because…

First: She’s got 10 days to get and keep the job.

Second: She has to convince the only private investigator in town to hire her.

Third: She lost the client’s wife on the first day. (And the woman may be dead…)

Fourth: She just might be falling in love with her new boss. And she just might have lost him his business.

But what has she got to lose, other than imprisonment, her dignity, and possibly, her life?

For fans of romantic comedy mysteries like Meg Cabot’s Size 12 Is Not Fat and Stephanie Bond’s Body Movers, The Wall Street Journal best-selling author Larissa Reinhart brings her listeners the first in the Maizie Albright Star Detective series, Hot Mystery Reviews’ “Top 10 Mysteries for Book Clubs”.

”Child star and hilarious hot mess Maizie Albright trades Hollywood for the backwoods of Georgia and pure delight ensues. Maizie’s my new favorite escape from reality.” (Gretchen Archer, USA Today best-selling author of the Davis Way Crime Caper series)

Start the Wall Street Journal best-selling series and download 15 Minutes today! 

“Sassy, sexy, and fun, 15 Minutes is hours of enjoyment.” (Phoebe Fox, author of the Breakup Doctor series)

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My Review

There are times when I need a few good laughs with a book and I had more than a few with Maizie and everybody else in 15 Minutes. The premise of a young actress, a former teen reality star, being effectively sentenced to get a new life is unique and the author made the most of it, sending Maizie off to her dad’s town, Black Pine, Georgia, where the donuts are hot and the private investigator she’s about to meet is equally hot.

A celebrity doesn’t naturally fit well in a small town but Maizie is determined and what better way to fulfill her obligation than to become a real-life private eye? After all, she played one on TV so it can’t be all that hard. Needless to say, mayhem ensues shortly after Wyatt Nash, her new and reluctant employer, assigns her to follow a client’s wife and Maizie loses her but she didn’t realize she’d also have to deal with her momager who wants her back where she belongs in LA. Even that irritation is topped, though, when bodies begin to turn up. The missing woman’s husband is one of the victims so maybe Maizie can redeem herself by finding the woman. Piece of cake! Or donut 🙂

This story is full of charm and humor as well as a good puzzle and narrator Joan Dukore brings it all to life. Truthfully, her voice grated on me a little, sounding kind of screechy, but I think the problem was in my own hearing and Ms. Dukore certainly did a terrific job with her pacing and comedic sense. I’m looking forward to more of Maizie’s adventures.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2020.

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Purchase Links:
Audible // Amazon

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The Characters of 15 MINUTES
from an Audio Perspective

By Larissa Reinhart

In the past when my other books became audiobooks, my publisher took care of all the details. Basically, I signed a contract and months later I was given a copy of the audiobook. 15 MINUTES was my first experience working with an actress and producer, and I loved the collaboration. My narrator, Joan Dukore, has been a dream. She’s professional, prompt, and engaging. Fabulously funny, Joan understands comedic timing. I love her version of Maizie Albright and I love the way the book (books, actually, since she just finished the second) sound.

I prepared a small character profile with the audition script that accompanied short excerpts from the three scenes I chose. This was all Joan had to go on, so you can see below the challenge presented in her audition. Just the basics for the main characters. And of course, she nailed these voices.

●     Maizie Albright: a twenty-five-year-old actress born in Georgia but raised in LA (heroine/first person). She’s insecure but optimistic. A buxom redhead like she walked out of a noir detective novel, but with the personality of rom-com heroine.

●     Wyatt Nash: a thirty-two-year-old private investigator from Georgia. Looks like Dwayne Johnson. A little rough, capable and confident, and has a soft spot (and growing attraction) for Maizie that he hides. Mainly because he doesn’t want to admit it to himself.

●     Lamar: an ex-police officer and Nash’s friend. He owns the building and donut shop below Nash’s detective office. Lamar’s an older African-American man from Georgia. Confident and curious. He likes Maizie immediately.

●     Vicki Albright:  Maizie’s stage-monster mother. She’s a beauty queen originally from Black Pine, Georgia (but wouldn’t have an accent). Cool, confident, and ruthless. Her phrases are crisp and often sarcastic.

●     Jolene Sweeney:  Nash’s ex-wife from Georgia. A businesswoman. Detests Maizie. Mean like a hellcat, thirtyish.

●     Giulio Belloni: an Italian man in his early thirties. He’s Maizie’s ex-costar and her sort-of ex-fiance. He’s very dramatic and self-obsessed but still charming and friends with Maizie. He used to star in Italian soaps.

●     Lucky is her childhood dirt bike she drives after her car is repossessed.

●     Most of the characters are from Georgia. The books are set in Black Pine, a mountain and lake resort town. However, the characters shouldn’t have strong or twangy Southern accents.

Nothing I hate more than Southerns portrayed with a strong or twangy accent.

Before Joan started the actual recording, I gave her a more detailed character profile for the main characters in the entire series. I wrote Joan a note that said, “As an actress, I know you need to develop the character as you hear them, too, but I hope this is helpful. If you want more backstory notes, let me know.”

Here you can see a little more of backstories and appearances but not much. I wanted her spin on the characters. The profiles were just to create boundaries so she’d be free to range within.

Maizie — 25, lived in LA for most of her life. She should sound young and bubbly and a little insecure. No discernable accent. I imagine a young Christina Hendricks. The series is a long character arc for her, so she grows more confident in each book.

Nash — 32, from Georgia. Big guy with a deep voice, a little gruff. Kind of like Dwayne Johnson. No heavy Southern accent, just speaks slower, likes he’s slowly simmering beneath the surface. Usually with impatience. Sometimes with heat. He doesn’t suffer fools.

Lamar — approaching 60. He sounds like Morgan Freeman in my head. 😉 He’s the voice of wisdom.

Vicki Albright — around 50 (antagonist). Maizie’s stage mother grown into tv/film producer. She speaks in crisp, short sentences. I always hear Jessica Walter’s characters, Lucille Bluth on “Arrested Development” or Meryl Streep’s in The Devil Wears Prada. Even though she’s an ex-beauty queen from Georgia, she abandoned her accent to adapt to LA and the industry.

She’s Machiavellian, but I think she does care about Maizie, even though it appears Maizie’s become the means to her own end. The entire series has a mother-daughter theme.

Boomer Spayberry — 50ish. He’s Maizie’s father and a hunting apparel tycoon. He’s very “old boy.” Big guy with a big beard. Deep voice, but a little like Sam Elliot or Tommy Lee Jones. He’s self-made, practical, and stubborn. A little narrow-minded. Remarried. He has no patience with Maizie’s old lifestyle and harbors a lot of resentment toward Vicki, his ex-wife who left him when she took Maizie to LA for her career.

Remi Spayberry — 6, Maizie’s half-sister. A country girl, very independent, smart, and speaks her own mind. She reminds me of Tatum O’Neil’s character, Addie Loggins, in Paper Moon.

Guilio Belloni — He’s Italian, so his name is pronounced Julio with a hard J sound. I take some of his affectations from Bruno Tonioli of “Dancing With the Stars” even though Guilio is a lot younger. He speaks fast. When he’s in trouble or trying to get away with something, his accent is more pronounced on purpose. His first career was in Italian soap operas, so he’s like an Italian Telenovela star.

Tiffany and Rhonda at LA HAIR — both are young, around Maizie’s age, and working class.

Rhonda — is African American with a soft Southern accent, like a young Octavia Spencer or Raven Goodwin. She’s friendly, warm, and excitable.

Tiffany — is sarcastic and practical, tiny and sharp. Squints when she talks (I don’t know if that’s helpful, but that’s how I imagine her).

Jolene — Nash’s ex-wife (antagonist).  A bit of a femme fatale. She’s smart and successful, vindictive, and very jealous of Maizie. She’s mostly in the first 2 books and more in reference or short scenes in the other ones. Her Southern accent shouldn’t be too strong because she wouldn’t want to appear too “townie.”

I hope these profiles give you as listeners/readers an indication of the personalities at work in the Maizie Albright Star Detective series. I had a lot of fun creating the characters and hope you have as much fun meeting them! Thanks so much for having me here today.

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About the Author

The Wall Street Journal bestselling author Larissa Reinhart writes the award-winning Cherry Tucker Mystery, Maizie Albright Star Detective, and Finley Goodhart Crime Caper series. She loves to tell funny stories about women, looking for love (and sometimes dead bodies) in all the wrong places.

Larissa, her family, and Cairn Terrier, Biscuit, lived in Nagoya, Japan, but have returned to Peachtree City, Georgia. You can see them on HGTV’s House Hunters International “Living for the Weekend in Nagoya” episode. Larissa loves books, food, and traveling with her family. You can often see her adventures on Instagram (and her little dog, too).

Visit Larissa’s website to join her VIP Readers email group and get the free prequel to The Cupid Caper plus other exclusive bonus content! www.larissareinhart.com

Website // Facebook // Goodreads // Instagram

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About the Narrator

Born in Honolulu, HI, Joan DuKore began her performing career as a ballet dancer, and attended Virginia School of the Arts to continue her education. Her hobby of magic later became her profession, and she continues to perform in Las Vegas and around the world. Her love of reading eventually led to voice acting. She has produced over 30 audiobooks in numerous genres such as thrillers, romances, memoirs, mysteries and fantasies. She loves locking herself in her booth and living in the worlds that authors create.

Website // Twitter // Facebook

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones @Darynda @StMartinsPress

A Bad Day for Sunshine  
Sunshine Vicram Series, Book 1  
Darynda Jones
St. Martin’s Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-14944-2
Hardcover

I haven’t quite made up my mind what I think of this book, the first in a new series from author Darynda Jones. On one hand I find it supremely entertaining, with a couple mysteries to be solved although, despite strong hints, we’re left still wondering about one of them.

Strong characters people the town of Del Sol, New Mexico in this romantic suspense tale. They are a quirky bunch, and as Sunshine Vicram takes over the role of newly elected sheriff, (although she didn’t actually run for the office) she has to deal with an odd “book club,” a group of hormonal teenagers, and a couple potential kidnappers, all on her first day. As though getting run over by a Mercedes, looking for an escaped convict and fighting through a blizzard aren’t enough. Oh, and the fact her fourteen-year-old daughter is having just such a day herself, what with making enemies left and right and falling in love.

Sharp dialogue and pointed characterization carry the suspenseful plot in a story rife with heartwarming friendships—once you get past the old enemies. These are the parts I particularly enjoyed.

But then, there were things that irked me. For instance, the “Where is Bobby Britton” schtick got old fast. Quite often it was hard to tell who was the more mature, Sunshine or Auri, her teenage daughter. This character is supposed to be a sheriff, for goodness sake. Have a little gravity. Giggles? Way too many giggles.  But I repeat, supremely entertaining.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel