Book Review: Careless Whiskers by Miranda James @MirandaJames57 @BerkleyMystery

Careless Whiskers
A Cat in the Stacks Mystery #12
Miranda James
Berkley Prime Crime, January 2020
ISBN 978-0-451-49115-2
Hardcover

Librarian Charlie Harris is excited when his daughter Laurie reveals that she is starring in a local production of a new play, “Careless Whispers.” Frank Salisbury, Laura’s husband, is the director, and in order to stir up more interest in the play, professional actor Luke Lombardi will be Laura’s co-star. Laura and Luke worked together in the past and, despite his Tony nomination, Luke was an overbearing egotist. When he arrives, it’s with an entourage—a French couple. The man, Anton, is Luke’s valet and the woman, Madame, is Luke’s mistress.

The rehearsals are plagued with practical jokes directed at Luke. On opening night, when Luke is onstage and pours a drink from a bottle and immediately collapses, Laura becomes a suspect. She was to drink from the same bottle, but hesitated, and police suspect she might have known about the poison. Other members of the cast, the stage crew, the French couple, and the playwright are also under suspicion. Because Charlie’s life revolves around his two adult children, his grandkids, his job at Athena College, and his Maine Coon cats, Diesel and Ramses, he gets involved in the investigation, much to the consternation of local law enforcement.

The conclusion wraps up quickly, and offers up a character new to the story near the end as a possible red herring. The origin of the murder weapon also seems far fetched and unlikely, which is a small disappointment in an otherwise entertaining mystery. This is book twelve in the series, which combines libraries, a small southern town community, and cats, and has a male protagonist—rare in a cozy series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2020.

Book Review: Bound for Murder by Victoria Gilbert @VGilbertauthor @crookedlanebks

Bound for Murder
A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #4
Victoria Gilbert
Crooked Lane Books, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-64385-243-0
Hardcover

Subtitled “A Blue Ridge Library Mystery,” Bound for Murder is the fourth in this series.  The amateur sleuth, Amy, is a librarian, and the director of the Taylorsford Public Library.  Her best friend and employee, Sunny, is running for mayor of their town.  When a skeleton is found on property owned by Sunny’s grandparents, Carol and P.J., it becomes the talk of the small town.  Bolstered by the fact that Carol and P.J. used their land for a hippie commune back in the 1960s, and a couple of hippies left the commune and were not seen again, the incumbent mayor insinuates that Sunny’s family had something to do with the death which, as it turns out, was a murder.  And, when the skeleton is identified as someone who lived in the commune, suspicion of Carol and P.J. intensifies.

Amy, who does not believe that Carol and P.J. could have been involved in a murder, becomes determined to investigate, despite her fiancé’s concern for her safety.  In this she has the backing of the local Chief Deputy – at least partially – who asked her to do some research into the commune and its time.  However, he did not ask her to do any live investigating!  But, when Carol and P.J. ask Amy to deliver a message to former members of the commune, it seems like a perfect opportunity to ask questions without further raising suspicions.  Would that it was so!  Shortly after completing her round of questioning, Amy starts getting threats and the message that she should back off.  Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t do so.

Bound for Murder is an engaging cozy mystery, perfect for a weekend read and, as such, I recommend it.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, February 2020.

A Teeny Book Review Trio @dpeterfreund @ABRAMSbooks @martywingate @BerkleyMystery @atticalocke @mulhollandbooks

In the Hall with the Knife
A Clue Mystery #1
Diana Peterfreund
Harry N. Abrams, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-4197-3834-0
Hardcover

I whiled away many, many hours with friends years ago playing Clue, one of the best board games ever, and then I fell in love with the game-based movie starring Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Brennan and the rest of a wonderful cast. A series of novelizations came along; a new movie is in pre-production and there was a movie or mini-series (hard to tell which) that bears no real resemblance and I wasn’t impressed. Now, there’s a new book and, I must say, I had a lot of fun with this.

Ms. Peterfreund has turned this into a teen cast and they all have names that fit the game, names such as Finn Plum and Scarlet Mistry. Rather than a gloomy mansion with guests who must discover a murderer before they’re all killed, we have a small group of students who are stranded in their forest-bound school with the headmaster who is soon found murdered. The game is on, not only to find the killer but to figure out who can be trusted and who has much to hide. Readers of all ages will really enjoy this.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

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The Bodies in the Library
A First Edition Library Mystery #1
Marty Wingate
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-984-80410-5
Hardcover

Hayley Burke recently started her dream job as curator of a book collection focused on the women authors of the Golden Age, authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. The late Lady Georgiana Fowling’s personal assistant and now permanent The First Edition Society secretary, Glynis Woolgar, views Hailey with suspicion but she hasn’t figured out the curator’s big secret yet—while Hayley has experience with libraries and literature, she knows next to nothing about the Golden Age or, in fact, mysteries and detectives. The two women do NOT see eye to eye on how Hayley is running things, including hosting a fan fiction writing group in the library, and things certainly don’t get better when a body is found in their own locked room mystery. To get to the answers she needs before her position as curator implodes, Hayley reads her first mystery, The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie, and is soon assisting the police with their investigation, whether they want her help or not.

Marty Wingate has been one of my favorite traditional mystery authors for some time although I’ve been seriously remiss about writing reviews. With this new series, she has created an ambience of the very Golden Age mysteries the Society promotes but with a charming modern-day setting and the de rigueur sleuthing works really well. Kudos to the author for what looks to be a clever and appealing new series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

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Heaven, My Home
A Highway 59 Mystery #2
Attica Locke
Mulholland Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-0-316-36340-2
Hardcover

Being a black Texas Ranger comes with its own set of problems, as you might expect, and Darren Mathews is indeed dealing with those issues as well as repercussions from his last case. On top of that, his own mother is blackmailing him, his marriage is strained and alcohol is getting the better of him. Investigating the disappearance of a young boy draws him back into the world of white supremacy when the Rangers think Darren is the best man to work with the local white sheriff because the boy, son of a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, was last seen in a black community.

Darren is confronted by racial prejudice from the white people in town, including the sheriff, but also believes that Leroy Page, an elderly black man who saw the child, is not cooperating with the hunt for the boy. Darren’s friend, Greg, a white FBI agent, shocks Darren when he posits that Leroy just might be guilty of a hate crime in reverse. Could he be right?

Several threads in this story reflect the racial stress that has been growing in this country but Ms. Locke has a deft way with words and creates a kind of tension we don’t often see. Getting to the resolution of this disappearance is rough but I couldn’t look away until I knew what really happened.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

A Trio of Teeny Reviews @ajhackwith @AceRocBooks @DeanStPress @GrandCentralPub

The Library of the Unwritten
A Novel from Hell’s Library #1
A. J. Hackwith
Ace, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-98480-637-6
Trade Paperback

In a unique way of looking at what Hell must be like, there are books that never got finished, or even started, by their authors and someone—Claire—has to be in charge of those books. Why? Because the characters in those stories can escape and create havoc, of course 😉

When one particular hero goes on the run, looking for his creator, Claire is in hot pursuit along with her assistant and a demon. They all soon discover they’re really on a quest to find a particular powerful artifact, the Devil’s Bible, that Heaven also wants and a fallen angel is determined to redeem himself by recovering. If Claire and her crew don’t find it first, Heaven and Hell are likely to explode into war with Earth caught in the middle.

To put it simply, I loved this book that’s full of adventure, mystery, humor and a wealth of marvelous beings and, when it comes time to re-read it—and I’m very sure I will—I think I’ll try the audiobook for a fresh take.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye
The Anthony Bathurst Mysteries #3
Brian Flynn
Dean Street Press, October 2019
ISBN 978-1-913054-39-7
Trade Paperback

Gentleman sleuth Anthony Bathurst and Scotland Yard’s Chief Detective-Inspector Richard Bannister work together to discover how three separate cases are indeed not separate but intertwined to a fare thee well. Blackmail, murder, indiscretions, thievery, hidden identities and a “magnificent blue-shaded emerald”…all come together clue by clue in this delightful traditional mystery full of red herrings that had me coming and going, always eager to follow the next lead.

Aficionados of Golden Age mysteries will want to get their hands on this long-forgotten book as soon as possible. You might say it’s criminal that Brian Flynn‘s works fell into a black hole many years ago but, now that new editions of some of his titles are being released, we all have a chance to savor a journey back in time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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Old Bones
Nora Kelly #1
Preston & Child
Grand Central Publishing, August 2019
ISBN 978-1538747223
Hardcover

We’ve met Nora Kelly before in some of the Pendergast novels and I’ve always liked her so I’m delighted she has her own series now. Along with Nora, we meet another character from the past, Corrie Swanson, who used to be a Goth teen with purple hair and attitude. Her connection to Pendergast when he hired her to drive him around during a case led her to become an FBI agent and she’s still trying to corral her mouthy rebellious streak.

When historian Clive Benton convinces archaeologist Nora Kelly and her employer, the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute, to undertake a search for and excavation of the Lost Camp, an offshoot of the Donner Party’s known snowbound locations, no one expects the FBI to intervene in the dig on site. Agent Corrie Swanson has been investigating the possible ties among a string of grave robberies and a missing person and has, perhaps precipitously, connected them to the dig. Her arrival at the site leads to a shutdown and murders and she and Nora are forced to work together to find the killer(s).

Although the identity of the killer(s) was a bit too predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed Old Bones and relish the promise of more collaborations between Nora and Corrie with a little Pendergast thrown in 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

Book Review: Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson

Quiet Neighbors
Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-4762-0
Hardcover

We all live in neighborhoods, some loud and raucous, some quiet and peaceful. In either case, we may know a good deal about those who live in those sheltering houses, and we may not. We might also be surprised to learn somethings good or not so good about our neighbors.

Neighborhoods are a collective façade behind which we often protect our privacy, letting others make assumptions without question until something upsets the even and normal fabric.

People have secrets and this is a novel of revelation, of history and secrets and the results of false assumptions. In some neighborhoods, or tiny towns, such as this one on the Scottish coast, the insertion of a new force, such as a stranger, can be benign or upsetting.

London librarian Jude comes on vacation with her husband to this tiny town of bookshops, fabric stores and teashops. It’s a quiet Scottish town and Jude discovers an odd bookstore nestled amongst other quirky shops. Lowland Glen Books turns out to be a treasure trove of used books. But the place is, to say the least, not well organized. But the store and its proprietor offer some quirky calm in the midst of Jude’s deteriorating life and marriage.

Weeks later, she needs a place to go to ground in a hurry and for unfathomable reasons, the town around Lowland Books rises in her memory and there she goes to hide. The mystery of her need to hide is one of the many mysteries so carefully unraveled as this story progresses. She needs shelter and a job wouldn’t be amiss, either. When the bookstore owner, possessor of his own secrets, offers her the job reorganizing the bookstore, and a roof over her head, the situation seems heaven-sent.

Naturally, in a small community like this, Jude discovers some people with secrets of their own and when a young pregnant woman, claiming a relationship with the bookstore owner, shows up, more yarn begins to unravel.

The revelations, the discoveries, intertwined with startling personality bends, are masterfully handled, retaining and enhancing wide-ranging literary comment, examination of some life styles and amazement as the sometimes slyly revealed truths come to the fore. Any reader who loves mystery, countervailing personal forces and a persistent, forward-moving narrative, will find this novel interesting and difficult to put  down.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2018.
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: February Fever by Jess Lourey

February Fever
A Murder-By-Month Mystery #10
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-7387-4214-4
Trade Paperback

February Fever finds librarian Mira James’s sizzling relationship with her boyfriend Johnny Leeson in jeopardy when Johnny gets a month long internship across the country. Because Jess is not wild about flying she figures the relationship will be on hold until Mrs. Berns comes to the rescue by suggesting the two of them travel cross-country via train. Sounds like a good idea until it turns out the train is a Valentine special for singles to meet. And then the train gets stuck in a snow storm. Those two things would be bad enough, but this is after all Mira and the series is called Murder by Month so of course Mira once again has a murder happen in her vicinity and Mira being Mira  is soon investigating.

Things to like about this book are that the main characters, or at least those on the trip, stay true to form. Once again, Ms. Lourey delivers a book that while very funny in some places isn’t quite your typical cozy. The plot is interesting, and while snowbound trains are not exactly new to the mystery genre, the author does it very well.

There are a couple of things about the series as a whole that rub me wrong. I hate the near slap stick comedy routines that show up throughout the series. In this book  Mira agrees to dance with a guy once, only one dance, but then trips and face plants into his crotch. This and things like it just add too much silliness to a book that doesn’t need it for laughs and in my opinion takes away from the good writing.

The other thing that I definitely did not like, nor I imagine will other readers who follow this series,

 

(semi spoiler alert)

is that the author kills off one of the regular characters. I don’t want to spoil the book for readers, so I won’t say who or how, but this was a shocking development.

(end spoiler)

 

This is the tenth book in the series with March and April to go to finish the year of murders. Since this book came out in 2015, I’m not sure the series will wrap up or not. I hope so. In spite of a few quibbles, I enjoy visiting with Mira and the other characters.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, January 2018.

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.