Book Review: Booked for Murder by R. J. Blain @rj_blain @XpressoTours

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Title: Booked for Murder
Series: Vigilante Magical Librarians #1
Author: R. J. Blain
Publisher: Pen & Page Publishing
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Mystery

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // iBooks // Kobo
Google Play // Amazon // Indiebound

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Booked for Murder
Vigilante Magical Librarians #1
R. J. Blain
Pen & Page Publishing, August 2020
ISBN 978-1-64964-003-1
Trade Paperback

From the author:

Life as a bodyguard and driver for the rich, famous, and powerful is dangerous on a good day, and after sustaining a crippling injury while on duty, Janette’s left with few options. Having signed a ‘for life’ contract but unable to work, she uses her skills to disappear.

Her new life as a librarian suits her. Nobody cares she limps and sometimes requires a cane to walk. She’s wanted for her knowledge, not her lethal magic. She’s surrounded by books, a woman’s best friend.

But when her former employer’s best friend is murdered on the steps of her library, old loyalties and secrets might destroy her—or set her free.

Teaming up with her co-workers to find the killer might keep her from being booked for murder, but unless she’s careful, she’ll find out exactly how far her ex-boss will go to reclaim what is rightfully his.

Her. For life.

A mashup of mystery and urban fantasy is one of my favorite reads so I looked forward to this one with great glee but, while I enjoyed many aspects of it, the overall result was not quite as good as I hoped.

The concept of a woman who’s a bodyguard in the top echelons of society, exposed to all kinds of dangers and *stuff* that we can’t quite identify with because this is an alternate universe of sorts, is really appealing. It gets even better, in my opinion, when she decides to take advantage of a dire injury to reinvent the wheel, i.e., herself and what better way to hide out than to become a librarian? Of course, as you might expect, all does not go well for the long run and Janette soon finds herself tangled up with her former boss, Bradley, in a murder investigation. My kind of story!

So why am I not 100% in love with this book? The first hiccup for me is that I didn’t really like some of the characters but, in itself, that wouldn’t be a complete turnoff; I actually think an unappealing character or two makes for a more natural tale. However, the second issue was pacing that dragged in places, largely due to overdumping of info. Sure, the first book in a series needs to have more worldbuilding than later books but this just seemed to take up too much word space.

Bottomline, while this didn’t give me the wow factor, it’s a promising beginning to what I understand is going to be a five-book series and I do want to find out what happens next, particularly since the murder is not solved in this one. Like some other mystery series, Booked for Murder apparently is going to carry that storyarc over at least one more book, perhaps all, so I’ll be watching out for number 2.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2020.

About the Author

RJ Blain suffers from a Moleskine journal obsession, a pen fixation, and a terrible tendency to pun without warning.

In her spare time, she daydreams about being a spy. Her contingency plan involves tying her best of enemies to spinning wheels and quoting James Bond villains until satisfied.

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Giveaway

$50 Amazon gift card

Enter the drawing here.

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Book Review: Murder Off the Page by Con Lehane @clehane @MinotaurBooks

Murder Off the Page
The 42nd Street Library Mysteries #3
Con Lehane
Minotaur Books, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-250-31792-6
Hardcover

When Raymond Ambler, librarian in charge of the crime fiction collection at the 42nd Street Library, and his friend and co-worker Adele Morgan are out for a drink one evening, they see an attractive and somewhat drunk woman in her early thirties, surrounded by a group of men harassing her. Adele recognizes the woman—she had been at the library earlier in the day. The woman notices Adele, and comes over to join their table, sitting on Ambler’s glasses, which he left on a stool. She introduces herself as Shannon Darling. Bartender McNulty steps in, and insists on taking her back to her hotel room.

Shannon told Adele she was writing a book on women mystery writers, focusing on Jayne Galloway. She seemed to be an inexperienced researcher, unfamiliar with how to do archival research, and appeared at the library more elegantly dressed than most researchers. Adele suspects Shannon is hiding something.

When a man is discovered shot in a hotel room registered to Shannon Darling, NYPD detective Mike Cosgrove investigates. He discovers that during Shannon’s visits to the city, she has bouts of uncontrolled drinking and one-night stands with men she meets in the cocktail lounges of posh hotels. Bartender McNulty and Shannon both disappear, and become suspects in the case.

Ambler and Adele investigate, wanting to clear the name of their friend McNulty. What they discover is that Shannon seems to be leading a double life. When not in the city she is a doctor in the suburbs with an upscale Greenwich Connecticut home and a successful husband and a young daughter.

For mystery readers that enjoy librarian amateur sleuths and lots of New York City color, this is reminiscent of Michael Jahn’s Bill Donovan series. This is the third book in the series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, July 2020.

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.