A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 5

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

Peachy Flippin’ Keen
Southern Eclectic #3
Molly Harper
Pocket Star, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-7894-8
Ebook

Molly Harper has a ton of books but I had never “met” her until I came across the first book in this 4-book series and fell deeply, madly in love with Lake Sackett, Georgia, and the McCready clan, not to mention the folks in their town. These books are Southern fiction at it’s best and this novella is no exception. Nothing earthshattering happens here as it’s pretty much a set-up for the book coming out in June, Ain’t She a Peach (and I can hardly wait to start that one).

Frankie McCready has to be the cutest, most unusual county coroner and embalmer you ever did see but she fits right in with the family and the McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop which is exactly what the name says. One day, there’s a new lawman in town, Sheriff Eric Linden, fresh from Atlanta, and he apparently never read the Southern charm book. Pranks are being perpetrated on the McCready premises but it’s questionable whether the sheriff will help solve the case or drive Frankie to murder (of him) first. Then again, they did have a previous encounter so keeping that secret is one thing they have in common, probably the only thing. Can you guess where this is headed?

These books can be read out of order because each one focuses on different members of the family but, for a real treat, read these in order.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Death Promise
Jacqueline Seewald
Encircle Publications, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-893035-94-2
Trade Paperback

On the surface, this sequel is a thriller involving human trafficking and organized crime as well as maybe Russians and international intrigue but, for me, the core story is that of Daniel Reiner and the family dysfunction that suddenly mushrooms when he learns he has a much younger teenaged sister, daughter of the father who abandoned him as a child. Who is Beth and is she truly his half-sister? International consultant Michelle Hallam agrees to help Daniel look into the situation but what they learn in Las Vegas sends them into a tornado of more and more questions with frightening answers. This is a nice blend of suspense and romance with lots of action to keep the pages turning.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place
A Flavia de Luce Novel #9
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-0-345539991
Hardcover
Random House Audio
Narrated by Jayne Entwistle
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

Great sadness and a near-cliffhanger enveloped our cheeky pre-teen detective at the end of the previous book and fans had to wait, with huge anticipation, for this newest book to find out what would become of the de Luce family and its faithful servants, Dogger and Mrs. Mullet. When Aunt Felicity becomes overbearing and a bit of a bully, Flavia decides to do away with herself but Fate intervenes when Dogger suggests an outing, a boat trip on a nearby river. Is anyone surprised when Flavia quite literally catches a corpse, setting her off on another investigation?

Rumor has it the next book, The Golden Tresses of the Dead (January 2019), will be the last we see of Flavia but, oh my goodness, I hope not and the surprise at the end of The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place gives me a little bit of hope for her future. Who knew, back in 2009 when the series began, that so many mystery readers would fall in love with this kid?

As always, narrator Jayne Entwistle kept me entranced and, at times, sitting in the car in my driveway or a parking lot so I could continue to listen. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: Jayne Entwistle brings Flavia to life and I highly, highly recommend the audiobooks and/or the print books (I do both so I won’t miss anything) but reading in order is a must.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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The Library Ghost of Tanglewood Inn
A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Short Story
Gigi Pandian
Henery Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-314-3
Ebook

“Jaya, for the love of all that’s good and holy, please remember that not everything is a murderous plot.”

With that, Jaya and Tamarind (the latter wearing stylish purple combat boots) are rescued from the Denver airport in a snowstorm by a pair of friendly guys and are soon ensconced at a Victorian hotel, the Tanglewood Inn. Did Jaya really see someone at the window of the turret room she’s been assigned? Kenny thinks the hotel is perfect but it puts Jaya more in mind of a spooky haunted house. Sure enough, the owner, Rosalyn, shares the tale of her hotel library’s “avenging ghost”.  A former guest, a Mr. Underhill, died there in the 1930’s and an Agatha Christie book had something to do with it in a classic locked room mystery.

And then they hear a scream in the night…

I’m already a devotee of Jaya’s historic treasure hunting adventures and this little story is a perfect interlude before the next novel. Besides, who could ask for more than a locked room mystery?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Book Reviews: IQ by Joe Ide and Righteous by Joe Ide

IQ
An IQ Novel #1
Joe Ide
Mulholland, September 2017
ISBN: 978-0-3162-6773-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  East Long Beach.  The LAPD is barely keeping up with the neighborhood’s high crime rate.  Murders go unsolved, lost children unrecovered.  But someone from the neighborhood has taken it upon himself to help solve the cases the police can’t or won’t touch.  A high school dropout, Isaiah Quintabe has an unassuming nature that disguises a ferocious intelligence.  Most people call him IQ.  Word has gotten around:  If you’ve got a problem, Isaiah will take care of it, his rates adjustable to your income or lack thereof.  Because of his unconventional business model, cash is getting tight for Isaiah, forcing him to take on the case of a rap mogul whose life is in danger.  The list of suspects includes a socially inept marksman who never misses, a crew of hangers-on that conceals that one man with a dangerous agenda, and an attack dog the size of a horse.  IQ finds his investigation encompassing much more than he bargained for.  No one expects a kid from East Long Beach to have what Isaiah’s packing – – a blistering intellect, an incredible sense of percepti9on, and some serious skills behind the wheel.  It all adds up to one major advantage:  When you come from nothing, nobody sees you coming.

 

This is the first in a very original new series from Joe Ide, an author of Japanese-American descent, who has created an even more original protagonist in IQ, in a book which won the Macavity Award for best first novel.

The year is 2013.  In the opening pages, we meet Isaiah, an unlicensed detective described as six feet tall and rail thin, his roommate, Juanell Dodson, 17, who has been sharing IQ’s apartment since the death of the latter’s beloved brother, Marcus, 25 years old, in a hit-and-run incident in 2005 which completely devastated IQ. We also meet Juanell’s sometime girlfriend, an innocent teenage girl named Deronda. We are told that IQ had more work than he could handle but not many who could pay him.   A client who could “pay his per diem gave him enough income to support himself” but often the only compensation given him would be “with a sweet potato pie or cleaning his yard or one brand-new radial tire if they paid him at all.”  In one instance payment came in the form of a chicken named Alejandro.  After his brother’s death IQ dropped out of school and quit the academic decathlon team he was on.

IQ likes rap because “music without words let him fill his head with images of his own making or no images at all.”  Juanell brings IQ a new case, if they can split the fee, the client being one Calvin Wright, a rapper known as Black the Knife. Juanell tells IQ “you lucky you got skills, son, ‘cause if you had to survive on your personality you’d be working at the morgue with dead people.”  But the team does just fine.

The author creates some fascinating characters here, primarily of course IQ, and a book that won’t soon be forgotten.  One of the many glowing reviews of this book [from fellow author Ben Winters] ended with the words “you’ll be as excited as I am for a sequel.”  I couldn’t, and can’t, disagree, and when that sequel was published, less than a month ago, I read it as soon as I could, the result of which can be found in the review which will be written as soon as this one concludes – it’s every bit as excellent as is this debut novel and, like this one, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

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Righteous
An IQ Novel #2
Joe Ide
Mulholland Books, October 2017
ISBN: 978-0-3162-6777-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Ten years ago, when Isaiah Quintabe was just a boy, his beloved brother was killed by an unknown assailant. The unsolved crime has gnawed at his gut and kept him up nights, boiling with anger and thoughts of revenge.  The search for the killer sent him plunging into despair and nearly destroyed his life.  Now, Isaiah has a flourishing career, a new dog, and a near-iconic status as a PI in his hometown of East Long Beach, but a chance encounter reopens a wound that never fully healed.  He has to begin the hunt again – – or lose his mind.  A case takes him and his skeptical don’t-call-me-a-sidekick partner, Dodson, to Vegas, where Chinese gangsters and a terrifying seven-foot loan shark are stalking a beautiful DJ and her deadbeat boyfriend.  If Isaiah doesn’t find the couple first, they’ll be murdered.  Awaiting the outcome is the love of IQ’s life:  fail, and he’ll lose her.  Isaiah’s quest is fraught with treachery, menace, and startling twists, leading to the mastermind behind his brother’s death, Isaiah’s own sinister Moriarty.  Rich with action, suspense, and ingenious surprises, Righteous confirms Joe Ide as one of crime fiction’s most exciting new voices.

 

To say that Marcus was “the best person in the world” is only an understatement to Isaiah.  He’d never gotten over his brother’s death, which haunts him more each day, and he is determined to track down the person responsible.  Everything that follows in this second book in the series stems from that.  And this book is everything that the initial book led the reader to expect from this author.  And the more he discovers leads him to only one conclusion:  “This was no accident.  This was a hit.”

Chapter One introduces Janine Van, a young Asian woman working as a DJ, whose name as a DJ is Dama, so chosen because “it was different and the Chinese word for weed.”  Only 21 years old, she gets paid $750 a set, and plays 2 sets a week, but the gambling she does in her hometown of Vegas eats up her paychecks very ably. Now she and her boyfriend Benny are deeply in debt; the 20% vig has now raised that debt to $9,000, $1400 for the vig alone.  She loved Benny, but he was a lousy gambler, “More than half the debt was his.”  The loan shark is getting very impatient for his money, Janine and Benny were living out of a seedy motel room, “a dump to begin with,” and the collector, a man named Balthazar, was seven feet tall, from Saskatchewan, “right across the border from Montana.”  Their reaction to the unpaid debt is to dump Benny in a 360 acre, 200 foot deep landfill, threatening to give the same punishment to Janine if the debt isn’t paid by the end of the week.

The author has a new assortment of fascinating characters to whom his readers are introduced in this book, including Sarita, a young woman who had been Marcus’ girlfriend “back when Isaiah was in high school, and he’d always had a crush on her.”   The bad guys in this series entry are pretty frightening, and there’s a great deal of violence and gunplay, reader be warned.  But the tale is brilliantly told, Isaiah a fascinating protagonist.  Can’t wait for the next in the series!  And this entry, as was the first one, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2017.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews Part 1

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Colin Goodwin
2QT Limited, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-910077-60-3
Trade Paperback

This book had me chuckling quite a bit with its premise—blackmailing an English village’s cricket club to either win  a trophy or lose its playing ground. Along with this audacious crime, we have village ladies who truly appreciate the hired ringer’s skills and a shady real estate development plan. It’s all great fun even with sabotage and perhaps a little murder.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Cat in an Alphabet Endgame
The Midnight Louie Mysteries #28
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-943175-05-5
Trade Paperback

I confess, I put off reading this as long as I possibly could, so long I’m really embarrassed but I just did NOT want to see the end of this series I love so much. I didn’t want to know who Temple would marry, didn’t want all the little loose ends tied up in neat bows. Midnight Louie is the alpha and omega of feline sleuths and I adore his hardboiled, attitudinous self and, even knowing he was going to continue in different adventures sometime in the future, letting go was so very hard. But…I eventually had to give in and, of course, I enjoyed this book as much as all the others. Temple is distracted by thoughts of saying yes to one guy or the other, the mob has reared its ugly head, there are hints of terrorism and Louie and his Cat Pack are on the case(s). When it’s all said and done, Louie leaves us—and multitudes of Las Vegas felines—with a rousing speech and an offer of appetizers. Ah, Louie, Temple and the rest, I’m going to miss you (until you show up again).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Memory
Sharon Ervin
The Wild Rose Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5092-1290-3
Trade Paperback

Mistaken identity takes on a whole new meaning when a woman is killed and everyone thinks it’s Memory Smith. She hasn’t been run over but somebody certainly has thrown a punch at her and Assistant DA Mac McCann wants to know what’s going on with his former classmate. Did someone really mean to kill her? Memory is an odd woman but Mac is drawn to her and the mystery surrounding her supposed death. As you might expect in romantic suspense, an emotional attachment between the two of them soon takes on a life of its own but Memory may not survive long enough to see what might develop with Mac.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Crepe Factor
A Scrapbooking Mystery #14
Laura Childs with Terrie Farley Moran
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-26670-0
Hardcover

Ms. Childs and Ms. Moran continue their collaboration in a charming mystery featuring the death by fork of a food critic (stick a fork in me, I’m done, anyone?) practically right in front of Carmela and Ava, sleuthing duo extraordinaire. Carmela’s previous relationship with the #1 suspect makes sticking her nose in a little dicey and her current boyfriend, police detective Edgar Babcock really wants her to stay out of his investigation but she and Ava can’t resist. A nifty whodunnit and characters that feel like old friends, not to mention a few recipes and scrapbooking tips round out this entertaining entry in the series. I always enjoy these two, especially the slightly loony Ava, and for a few hours while I’m reading one of these books, I can’t help wishing I had the patience and dedication to get into scrapbooking…but the urge passes until the next book 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Locket
On Dark Shores #0
J.A. Clement
Weasel Green Press, December 2016
Ebook

Every child gets excited and exceedingly nosy when Yuletide approaches and the seven-year-old Nereia is no exception. Her father has brought her a special surprise, her Godmother, stopping off for a visit before returning to her diplomatic duties in the midst of war and a beautiful silver locket marks Nereia’s first time taking part in the Yule ceremony. This is a sweet story, very short, and a prequel to Ms. Clement‘s On Dark Shores fantasy series. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I knew anything about the series and I don’t understand the description’s reference to “there is mystery in the air…” but I spent a pleasant few minutes with this small family.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Reviews: Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg and Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey

GangsterlandGangsterland
Tod Goldberg
Counterpoint Press, August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61902-578-3
Trade Paperback

The idea of juxtaposing the mafia, a hit man, and a Reform Jewish temple in Las Vegas forms the basis for this outrageous but satisfying novel.  It is filled with a variety of characters and a plot that carries the theme with aplomb.  While the concept may appear to be beyond the realms of reality, the author carries it out with grace and humor.

It all begins in Chicago, where Sal Cupertine is an extraordinary hit man for the mob, efficient, careful and never caught.  Until one day he is assigned to meet with some purported drug sellers who turn out to be FBI agents and, for the first time, his face becomes known, so he has to kill them for self-preservation but has to flee the Windy City hidden in a refrigerated truck.  Sal ends up in Las Vegas, undergoes facial surgery and, because he has a retentive memory, is turned into Rabbi David Cohen, part of a new racket.

While many of the Talmudic and Biblical references, which colorfully emit from David’s (Sal’s) lips throughout the novel, may be questionable, they set the tone for the incredible plot.  If there is one drawback to the novel it is the final passages which to this reader did not ring true, although, supposedly, are intended to provide a morality to this mafia story.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2015.

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Shark Skin SuiteShark Skin Suite
Serge Storms #18
Tim Dorsey
William Morrow, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-224001-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  “Bottom feeders beware: The Sunshine State’s favorite psychotic killer and lovable Floridaphile, Serge Storms, has found a new calling, legal eagle, and he’s going to make a killing as a crusading attorney – – and star as a dashing lawyer on the big screen – – in this madcap escapade . . . When it comes to swimming with the sharks, there is no bigger kahuna than Serge Storms.  Binging on a marathon of legal movies set in Florida, Serge finds his vocation:  the law.  Never mind law school or that degree; Serge becomes a freelance fixer – – wildcat paralegal and pilgrim to the hallowed places where legal classics of the big screen such as Body Heat, Cool Hand Luke, and Absence of Malice were filmed practically in his own backyard.”

I found it nearly impossible to summarize the plot of this book; suffice it to say that I began and ended the book with a silly smile on my face, which was the default display for much of everything in between.  As stated above, much of the novel is an homage to those classic films; to say that Serge is a movie buff is a huge understatement.  In addition, the author captures the feel of the Florida streets in, e.g., downtown Miami:  “The foot traffic was determined in the midday heat.  Folded newspapers, briefcases, take-out bags with Cuban sandwiches.  A teenager sprinted up the middle of the street with a fistful of wristwatches.  A whiskered man on the corner of Flagler had been screaming and kicking his own bicycle for five minutes.  A shopowner chasing the shoplifting teen was hit by an ambulance.  One of the folded newspapers told of a mysterious eyeball the size of a cantaloupe that had washed upon the beach.  Everything was normal.  Pedestrians continued chatting on cell phones.”

The author’s writing style is certainly unique, and the resulting work is recommended.  Just what I needed after a fairly steady recent diet of dark, death- and danger-filled books.  (Although I should perhaps add that there are a couple of dead bodies before the book comes to a close.)

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2015.

Book Review: Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit by Carole Nelson Douglas.

Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit 2Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit
A Midnight Louie Mystery #27
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing,
ISBN 978-1-943175-02-4
Trade Paperback

From the author—

In Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit, feline PI Midnight Louie’s roommate, powerhouse PR freelancer Temple Barr, discovers a strip club opening in a nearby empty building threatens her elderly landlady’s wedding chapel business. Electra Lark’s troubles go supernova with a murder charge for a death that echoes a bizarre slaying decades earlier. While Temple’s fiance, Matt Devine, ex-priest radio shrink, plays detective with a rough crowd getting rougher, her ex, magician-counterterrorist Max Kinsella, dodges IRA remnants in Ireland, where psychotic stalker Kathleen O’Connor claims she’s found his cousin, presumed dead from a pub bombing years earlier. All the investigators’ pasts draw them into shocking revelations of present peril. Temple and Louie must solve why a forgotten fifties night club, Zoot Suit Choo-Choo, is again a nexus of death and greed.

He’s short, he’s debonair, he’s a savvy man about town and private eye. He’s the inimitable Midnight Louie, CEO of Midnight Investigations and the only roommate he thinks Miss Temple Barr, amateur detective and red-headed PR maven, needs in their Las Vegas condo. Unfortunately, Temple’s main squeeze, Matt Devine, doesn’t see things the same way.

I’m a fan of series although I’ve become very lax about keeping up with even my favorites just because there are so many good books to be read. Some series, in my opinion, become kind of tired when they go on too long so I tend to skip an entry or two and then pick it up again; the break usually works and I find the series entertaining again. Very few keep my undivided attention and Midnight Louie is one of those few. I’m one title out of sequence—haven’t read Cat in a Yellow Spotlight yet—but that’s OK because time moves glacially from one book to the next and it’ll be easy for me to pick that one up. In the meantime, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit as I knew I would. The thing about really good series is that you can trust the author and her characters to not let you down.

This go round, it’s Electra, Temple’s landlady, who’s in trouble when her ex-husband gets killed and she had a really good motive to do him in. Meanwhile, Temple’s former boyfriend, Max, is busy avoiding killers in Ireland, not to mention fending off his crazy stalker, Kathleen, and Matt is contemplating a career move while doing a little undercover work of his own. While the humans are thus engaged, Louie and his unacknowledged daughter, Louise, are intent on finding out why someone broke into the condo and scared the heck out of the sleeping Temple (who was, of course, rescued by her wrathful kitty). He’s also wondering why the snooty bookstore cat, Ingram, has once again come into his life, much to his dismay.

I love dogs and all sorts of other animals but my heart belongs to the feline tribe and a visit with Louie and his colleagues on the mean streets of Las Vegas is like indulging in comfort food. Better yet is comfort food and Louie 😉 I’m of two minds about the next book in the series, Cat in an Alphabet Endgame, because I want another Louie adventure but it will be the last in the series. The wonderful Ms. Douglas isn’t leaving her fans in the lurch, though—she’s promised that Louie will have a new set of adventures and I can hardly wait!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2015.

Book Reviews: The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway and Unfed by Kirsty McKay

The Magician's DaughterThe Magician’s Daughter
A Valentine Hill Mystery
Judith Janeway
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0338-1
Hardcover

It is rare for a reviewer of crime fiction to encounter a truly fresh protagonist with a unique voice. Reviewers are reluctant to say so because we haven’t read everything, but I’m sticking my neck out here to suggest Valentine Hill, a busking, itinerant street magician with heady aspirations, is that character. She’s blunt, honest to a fault, scrappy, young and aggressive when necessary. She’s in Las Vegas as the tale begins, in the middle of a nine-year search for her mother. Not out of love, but because of some vital missing information in her life. Valentine wants a social security number and she wants to know her birthdate, her father’s name and where she was born. Her mother, Elizabeth is a grifter, highly adaptable, a consummate but amoral actress who used and abused her daughter, Valentine, in prior scams.

Valentine has learned from those experiences and become an honest magician, struggling through life. She learns her mother is probably in San Francisco. Her plans to go there are upset by her companion who steals her stash and disappears. When Valentine tracks her mother to an apartment in Pacific Heights, her world dissolves into mayhem, murder, multiple law enforcement operations and several characters who are not what they seem.

The novel is relentless, positing solution after explanation that dissolve almost as rapidly as they are presented, leaving the reader guessing as much as does poor Valentine. But then, even as the danger escalates, things begin to sort themselves and some really bad guys get conned out of their shorts. A fast, coherent, fully enjoyable novel featuring a young, vibrant protagonist. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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UnfedUnfed
Kirsty McKay
Chicken House, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-53672-1
Hardcover

Beginning with our main character waking from a coma to devastating news; totally unrelated to the current crisis: roaming diseased humans (whose behaviors suspiciously mimic those of the Late-Night-Movie Zombies); I certainly did not think, “Wow, this is going to be a fun read!”. Intriguing, fast-paced, action-adventure: sure; fun, no.

I was so very, very wrong. I find myself still ridiculously impressed and pleased that Ms. McKay presented Bobby’s story in such a fashion. This sequel to Undead is consuming. Comprised of small, deliberate mysteries, complete with obscure, baffling clues; this reader’s mind never strayed.

The display of dynamics within the small group of teens, forced together, just to have a glimmer of hope against the Zombie-like crowd is spot-on. Underlying currents: wariness, jealously, admiration, fear and sadness, swirl around the characters, twisting, enveloping and confusing. Churning emotions decrease focus, increase discord, frustration and distrust.

With the action-adventure aspect of physical battles between teens and Zoms, the mystery of where Bobby’s best friend, Smitty, is hiding (assuming he is still alive); never-minding the why of Bobby’s mom abandoning her; comatose, alone in a strange hospital, and pants-less; to run off and hide Smitty; it is so easy to be drawn in and invested in the tale. With the shocking revelation that The Enemy is quite likely made up of both Good Guys and Bad Guys, it becomes nearly impossible to stop reading.

These attributes are almost secondary to Ms. McKay’s charming and delightful writing style. As if the author feels immediate remorse for scaring (or grossing out) her audience, in comes the comic relief, effortlessly. A perfect fit, the humor enriches the entire book, keeping the tone from dropping to down-right dismal. Unexpected joy came from Bobby’s predicament of being pants-less, thus flashing her pals as she fights for her life, or making hilarious and embarrassing suctioning noises as naked thighs stick to a desk-top on which Bobby perches. Chastising herself harshly when Smitty-themed fantasies sneak into her mind; coupled with her comfortable and correct use of “dorky” endeared me to Bobby.

Although I started this trilogy right in the middle, I simply must know how Bobby’s story ends. I am already looking forward to Ms. McKay’s next book.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2014.

Book Reviews: Propinquity by John Macgregor, The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan, and Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce

PropinquityPropinquity
John Macgregor
John Macgregor, June 2013
ISBN 9781301702114
Ebook
A 2013 release of a 1986 original

One of the definitions of the title is a nearness in time. This highly imaginative novel deals with both the twentieth century and the thirteenth. It would appear at first blush there isn’t much. Propinquity. The novel begins in Australia and it ends there. In between, the uncertain narrator touches down in England and Haiti. Moreover, the principal character in the novel is Berengaria of Navarre, wife of Richard I, King of England. She appears to have been a student and perhaps a dispenser of gnosis. Gnosis comes from the Greek for internal secret knowledge which, if properly recognized, leads to an exalted and serene existence.

When the novel begins, Clive Lean is a young student in school in Australia. With friends he muses over the meanings of life and the roles of religions. Once his life develops and he becomes wealthy he journeys to England and through a chance encounter with a randy student of the medieval, is able to explore the crypts of Westminster abbey and to make a surprising discovery. Here, in an unmarked coffin, lies the body of a queen of England. Perhaps.

Why here? Why now? And what messages lie in the ancient documents discovered with the remarkably well-preserved queen, a queen whom, so far as is stated by the chroniclers, never set foot on fair England’s shores. Those questions will only be answered by readers of the novel. I hasten to point out this is not a history text, nor is it a mystery in the conventional sense. Yes, crimes are committed, crimes that result in an international outcry and a multi-continent chase. All of this activity is related with considerable wit and erudition and a propinquity that will satisfy most readers.

The dialogue is often crisp and sometimes meandering, occasionally thrilling. The many characters in this morality play are clearly and humanely drawn. Unlike many novels in the genre, a good many questions raised during the narrative are never answered and that, ultimately, is, I suppose, the point. At least, one of the points. Because, finally, frustrating though it may be, I suspect that each thoughtful, careful reader will finish the novel with a sigh, a smile and a nod of recognition.

The novel was originally released in 1986 by a publisher who promptly went out of business. Thus, this is, in one sense at least, its original release, since the book had almost no circulation at that time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

 

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The Fame ThiefThe Fame Thief
A Junior Bender Mystery #3
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2013
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5280-8
Hardcover

Junior Bender, the protagonist in this, the third in this series, has a franchise, according to the eminence grise of Hollywood, the powerful Irwin Dressler, the 93-year-old mob boss. Junior prides himself as a burglar’s burglar, and has found himself much in demand by criminals as their own private investigator. And that’s why Dressler has two of his goons snatch Junior off the street and bring him to his home. He asks Junior to find out who was responsible for ruining a minor actress’ career over 60 years earlier.

This gives the author an opportunity to describe the Hollywood scene of the 1950’s, together with the glamour of Las Vegas and the prevalence of mafia bigwigs and run-of-the mill hoodlums. It is a mystery why a minor starlet became so important to the mob that she had a single starring role: testifying at the Estes Kefauver crime hearings.

I did not find Junior quite as amusing this time around as he was in the first two novels in the series, Crashed and Little Elvises, but Mr. Hallinan makes up for it in the dialogue delivered by Dressler, a Jew who was sent west by the Chicago mob to develop Hollywood and Los Angeles, as well as Las Vegas, for it. This book has quite a plot, and Junior has a tough road to hoe to solve the mystery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2014.

 

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Cold SpellCold Spell
Jackson Pearce
Little, Brown and Company, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-24359-9
Hardcover

There is something about Ms. Pearce’s writing that calls to me like a siren from the sea. Her words leap from the pages to wrap me in comfort. Picking up one of her books feels like wrapping chilly hands around a steaming mug of cocoa. The anticipation must be savored for a moment, before diving into the bliss. Cold Spell, her most recent novel, is no exception.

This enchanting interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” captivated this reader immediately. Brimming with exceptional characters exhibiting quirks, wit, sweetness, determination, talent and compassion; this seemingly simple tale of one girl persistently pursuing her soul-mate becomes a book that cannot be put down.

At the tender age of 17, Ginny has known and loved Kia for a decade. With just a twist, a typical romance is transformed. You see, Kia loves her right back. Where does a story go when it starts with an uncomplicated, true and shared love? Well, in this case, on an epic adventure including Fenris, gypsies (Travellers), a compassionate and ultra-cool couple and the sinister, selfish Snow Queen, Mora.

When the Snow Queen chooses Kia for own court, she has no clue how far Ginny is willing to go to prevent this. Even during her time as a human, Mora has never known real love; therefore, she simply can’t fathom what one person may do to save a cherished soul from a life-time of suffering, servitude and pain. Until faced with it; The Snow Queen never anticipated that a girl would be willing to kill her own soul-mate as the last resort to free him.

This alone would make a fabulous book, but true to form, Ms. Pearce gives us so much more. Ginny’s chase after Kia and his captor is enriched with colorful characters, unique life-styles with funky traditions, and surprising common bonds. As Ginny meets new people, this reader enjoyed subtle reminders that translate to real-life such as; things are not always as they seem, trust your gut-feelings; sometimes, good people appear to be doing “bad” things and, on occasion, the proverbial “bad-guy” is a hurt, frustrated and confused being with no one to turn to.

Although the story and characters are fictional; emotions, concerns and certain dilemmas aren’t really that far from reality. It is to that end, I think, that Ms. Pearce’s books bring me happiness and satisfaction. Not only are they tremendously entertaining, but they help me remember that the story-book wrap-up I tend to carry in my head is not always the best ending.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2014.