Book Reviews: Booke of the Hidden by Jeri Westerson, Gone Gull by Donna Andrews and The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Booke of the Hidden
Booke of the Hidden #1
Jeri Westerson
Diversion Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63576-050-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

To get a fresh start away from a bad relationship, Kylie Strange moves across the country to open a shop in a seemingly quiet town in rural Maine. During renovations on Strange Herbs & Teas, she discovers a peculiar and ancient codex, The Booke of the Hidden, bricked into the wall. Every small town has its legends and unusual histories, and this artifact sends Kylie right into the center of Moody Bog’s biggest secret.

While puzzling over the tome’s oddly blank pages, Kylie gets an unexpected visitor―Erasmus Dark, an inscrutable stranger who claims to be a demon, knows she has the book, and warns her that she has opened a portal to the netherworld. Kylie brushes off this nonsense, until a series of bizarre murders put her, the newcomer, at the center. With the help of the demon and a coven of witches she befriends while dodging the handsome but sharp-eyed sheriff, Kylie hunts for a killer―that might not be human.

Generally speaking, I don’t gravitate towards witchy books but this one had a couple of things going for it before I even started—the description sounds awesome and I already knew I’d enjoy this because it’s written by Jeri Westerson. If you ask me, Ms. Westerson is one of those authors who is way under-recognized and I’ve been happy with everything by her I’ve ever read.

When Kylie finds that book, she does what anybody would do, she opens it. What follows—a coven of witches, a possible demon, murder and a bit of romance—turn this find into something quite out of the ordinary but Kylie keeps her cool, for the most part, and her interactions with Erasmus are often laugh out loud funny. Even the name of the town, Moody Bog, draws out a smile and, while the pacing is a little on the slow side, I chalk that up mostly to setting things up for the books to come. I came to feel really attached to the kind of creepy but appealing Moody Bog and its inhabitants and to the story that leads Kylie and her new “friends” down a most unlikely path on the way to solving the murder.

So, did Booke of the Hidden live up to its description? Yes, it certainly did and its essential differences from Ms. Westerson‘s other work make this a really fun departure from her  straightforward historical mysteries. Despite my slight aversion to witch-related stories, I’ll definitely be back for the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Gone Gull
A Meg Langslow Mystery #21
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07856-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Meg is spending the summer at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center, helping her grandmother Cordelia run the studios. But someone is committing acts of vandalism, threatening to ruin the newly-opened center’s reputation. Is it the work of a rival center? Have the developers who want to build a resort atop Biscuit Mountain found a new tactic to pressure Cordelia into selling? Or is the real target Meg’s grandfather, who points out that any number of environmentally irresponsible people and organizations could have it in for him?

While Meg is trying to track down the vandal, her grandfather is more interested in locating a rare gull. Their missions collide when a body is found in one of the classrooms. Can Meg identify the vandal and the murderer in time to save the center’s name―while helping her grandfather track down and rescue his beloved gulls?

You would think that this series would have begun to show signs of becoming stale and tired by now but that hasn’t happened. Donna Andrews has the magic touch and always seems to come up with fresh ideas and new things to laugh about but the early books still stick with me, especially particular characters beyond Meg.

This time, we have to get along without some of the old regulars (although two of my favorites, Spike the Small Evil One and Meg’s dad, are here) because Meg has gone out of town but her grandparents do a lot to make up for the missing. Meg’s blacksmithing has taken something of a back seat over the course of the series but it’s central to the story in Gone Gull as she’s agreed to teach classes for a few weeks at her grandmother’s new craft studio. Unfortunately, someone seems to have it in for the center, perpetrating small acts of sabotage, and no one is sure who’s doing it. Then Meg discovers a body and the real sleuthing begins.

I have to say the mystery to be solved isn’t as much in the forefront as the wild and quirky activities of the characters but it’s still a good one with some twists and turns to keep the reader occupied while chuckling at what’s going on. Oh, and the gull referred to in the title? That bird and Meg’s grandfather are the source of more than a few laugh out loud moments and, for me, was the icing on the cake. Having said that, I’ll be glad if we have Meg back in her usual surroundings next time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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The End We Start From
Megan Hunter
Grove Atlantic, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-8021-2689-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As London is submerged below floodwaters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place. The story traces fear and wonder as the baby grows, thriving and content against all the odds.

It doesn’t happen often but, every once in a while, I encounter a book that just leaves me cold and this is one of them. On the surface, I should have loved it because it’s apocalyptic (one of my preferred subgenres) and follows the physical as well as mental/emotional journey of a young family trying to cope with a world gone sour. To my dismay, I couldn’t connect with this in any way.

Characters, worldbuilding and plot are the three main components of any work of fiction and there is an interesting plot here in that the protagonist and her husband and baby are forced to find a way to escape the floodwaters and the devastation that has crushed London and the English countryside. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no worldbuilding; we know the water has risen to submerge much of England but that’s all we know. What caused this? A meteor strike, global warming, some dastardly act of a mad scientist, an alien attack of some sort? It’s hard to really feel what the survivors have to deal with when we know so little.

Worst of all, the characters are close to being cardboard cutouts when no one even has a name, just an initial. To me, this is a writing style that is almost pretentious and, coupled with the first person present tense that I so dislike, well, I just didn’t care very much. I find this happens fairly frequently when I read what’s called “literary fiction”.

The one thing that helps to lift this above the abyss is the author’s attention to the bonds between mother and child and she does that extremely well. I think perhaps that was intended to be the core theme and the apocalyptic elements just got in the way. Certainly, a lot of readers and inhabitants of the publishing world have a much more favorable reaction and, although I didn’t care much for this story, I think Megan Hunter is an author to watch..

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Book Reviews: Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older, The Call by Peadar O. Guilin and Better to Wish by Ann M. Martin

Shadowhouse Fall
The Shadowshaper Cypher Book 2
Daniel José Older
Arthur A. Levine Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-545-95282-8
Hardcover

Sierra and her wildly creative companions were captivating in Shadowshaper.   Clever consolidation of mad musical, verbal and graffiti-art skills created a dazzling cultural kaleidoscope that pulsated from the pages, and showed more than the shadowshaping-side of life in Brooklyn.  The sequel, Shadowhouse Fall, is every bit as delightful and dazzling, even as it tackles topics that parallel today’s headlines in an eerily accurate and chilling way.

Sierra has just learned of her role as the archetypal spirit, Lucera, “…the beating heart of the shadowshaping world.”  Never one to shirk responsibility, always a fierce protector; she’s doggedly immersed herself in learning, teaching and practicing shadowshaping.  Before she even begins to realize her potential, Sierra is forced to shift her focus.

The Sisterhood of the Sorrows had vowed revenge when Sierra “jacked up their shrine last summer,” precisely what Sierra and ‘her’ shadowshapers are preparing for; but no one could have predicted an attack so soon. It should have ben impossible.  Unless…the Sorrows are not alone.

To even stand a chance against an unknown in the urban spirituality system, each shadowshaper will need to be strong and smart independently; swift to support and assist when needed.  Basically, battling as they live, to save the community they dearly love.  Accustomed to every day prejudices and profiling, Sierra and her friends knew to expect hassle, rather than help, from the largely racist civil servants.

Mr. Older’s scintillating style swiftly hooks even the reluctant reader.  The scramble to fight the good fight is gripping and the escalation towards the end, engrossing.  When Sierra is left with only two choices, neither of which would result in a happy ending for her; Mr. Older presents a decision that, while not actually surprising, is absolutely unexpected.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2017.

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The Call
The Call, Book 1

Peadar O’Guilin
David Fickling Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-1338045611
Hardcover

Nessa was celebrating her 10th birthday when her childhood abruptly ended.  Instead of giving gifts and baking a cake, her parents explain The Call.

The little girl that built an emotional armor against people’s perceptions; both the pitying looks as well as the ones filled with contempt and disbelief, is intelligent enough to understand the uselessness of her efforts.  Her legs, twisted by polio into more of a hindrance than a help, have gone from a focal point to a genuine liability.

Held hostage and wholly isolated these Irish folks have but one focus: teaching the children to survive The Call.  From the age of ten through the teenage years, training is vigorous and relentless.  Just shy of cruel, the grueling paces are unquestionably a necessary evil.  Almost one in ten survive today, an exponential improvement over the one in one hundred from decades ago.  An amazing accomplishment, as fairies have an undeniable advantage when they pull a human child into their world.

Irish fairies may be my very favorite folklore creatures, and Mr. O’Guilin portrays them perfectly in The Call.  The one universal fact seems to be that fairies cannot lie and they possess a perverse pride in always keeping their word.  Bad to the core, but bound by these rules, Sidhe are as clever and cunning as they are cruel.

The hideous game of fairy versus human, produces a plot that is exciting, fast-paced and adventurous, accented with awesome action scenes.  Of course, nothing is so simple and definite in reality and Mr. O’Guilin does not settle for solely myth against man.   Most humans are considerate, committed to the greater good; but a few are slimy and self-serving.  Mystique makes the tale even more compelling and builds suspense creating compulsory page-turning.  Coupled with colorful, captivating characters and sharp and witty dialogue, The Call is a brilliant book that I enjoyed immensely.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2017.

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Better to Wish
Family Tree Series, Book 1
Ann M. Martin
Scholastic Press, May 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-35942-9
Hardcover

Initial intrigue blossomed into complete captivation as Abby’s narration revealed an inexplicably sweet, strong and resilient girl—a compassionate, sympathetic soul–in spite of circumstances.  The centenarian’s story begins on a summer evening in 1930.  As one memory leads to another, her life unfolds like a map.

Abby’s father feels that Maine should be “white”.  Specifically, Protestant and Republican.  His daughters aren’t allowed to befriend a girl because her parents emigrated from Quebec—she’s “French”, not “white”.  Also below his determined Nichols’ Family Standards; “lazy bums…Irish-Catholics.”  Certainly vocal with his opinion, he nevertheless does not seem to stand out to the family, or the community, as a particularly obnoxious, racist fool.

Although Abby’s mother has many bad days with “her mind stuck thinking” of two tremendous losses that left permanent holes in her heart; Dad wants a son.  Baby Fred arrives.  At home, Dad can pretend that Fred is developing, learning and growing at an average rate. Abby, Rose and their mother know differently, but it has no impact on their love and devotion to the charming child.

At the age of 5, Fred behaves like any toddler—including the time he is forced to sit through a high school awards ceremony.  Due to the perceived public embarrassment, the head of the household deems his son less than perfect.  Imperfection is unacceptable, leaving Mr. Nichols with no choice.  He informs the family after exercising his “only” option.

Throughout the tumultuous times,  Abby intuitively empathizes and instinctively protects those she loves and holds dear first, all other human beings second, thinking of her own wants and needs last, if at all.   Abby is the epitome of “good people” and her story instills hope.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

Book Review: The Church of the Holy Child by Patricia Hale—and a Giveaway!

The Church of the Holy Child
Patricia Hale
Intrigue Publishing, August 2017
ISBN 9781940758596
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A woman with a history of domestic abuse is missing. Her sister hires private investigators Cole and Callahan.

When the woman is found dead, her husband is charged but when a second body appears showing the same wounds, questions arise and what looked like a slam-dunk becomes anyone’s guess. The case goes to John Stark, a veteran cop and close friend of Griff Cole.

The bodies are piling up, and one person knows where the killer is. Father Francis, a priest at The Church of the Holy Child, listens to the killer’s disturbed account of each murder and wrestles with the vows that bind him to secrecy.

The case takes an unexpected and personal turn when Cole’s ex-wife goes missing and a connection to his past points to the killer.

To me, too many thrillers and suspense novels focus on plot and action to the detriment of character development. That’s not to say they can’t be good; some really are very entertaining and exciting. In The Church of the Holy Child, Patricia Hale does a nice job of rounding out her story by having some very appealing and/or interesting characters and still maintains a high level of tension. The title alone was enough to gain my attention and I was not disappointed in reading this.

Britt and Griff hit just the right note with me in their working and personal relationships although their first names struck me as too…I don’t know, fashionable or something, so I’m glad they’re usually referred to as Callahan and Cole, respectively. This pair is clearly in love, not quite ready to fully commit but Cole is comfortable in their current status while Callahan is slightly more angsty. They each bring another element to their work because she is a former family lawyer and he used to be a cop. Because he has kept up his connections with the police force, they are frequently called upon to help out on certain cases.

John, a cop friend trying to cope with some real baggage, is appealing in his neediness, and Father Francis is a priest who struggles mightily with the confessional secrecy when his devotion to his chosen path and his sense of justice bang up against each other. All four of these people must find their own way in this current morass of evil in which women are being slaughtered.

Not every reader cares for multiple points of view or for being “in the head” of the killer but Ms. Hale’s approach worked very well for me. Britt speaks in first person while Father Francis is presented in third person and the killer’s infrequent, brief appearances are…well, you’ll have to see for yourself because any explanation I give would be difficult to explain without being spoilery.

The last thing that kept me reading is a plot that makes sense yet is full of tension. I did guess the killer’s identity at a certain point but that didn’t matter because the ride-along with the private eyes and the police is well worth the journey. I really am looking forward to the next Cole & Co. outing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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An Excerpt from
The Church of the Holy Child

Inside the wooden confessional there’s a man who talks to God. At least that’s what my mother told me the last time we were here. But a month has passed since she disappeared so today I’ve come to the church alone. I no longer believe that she’s coming back for me like she said. Instead, I’ve become her stand-in for the beatings my father dishes out. That’s what he calls it, dishing out a beating, like he’s slapping a mound of mashed potato on my plate. He swaggers through the door ready for a cold one after coming off his seven to three shift, tosses his gun and shield on our kitchen table and reaches into the refrigerator for a Budweiser. I cringe in the corner and make myself small, waiting to hear what kind of day he’s had and whether or not I’ll be his relief. More often than not, his eyes search me out. “’C’mere asshole,” he says, popping the aluminum top, “I’m gonna dish out a beating.” If anyone can help me, it has to be this guy who talks to God. I open the door of the confessional with my good arm and step inside.

Twenty-three years later

ONE

His breath was warm on my neck, his lips hot and dry. His tongue searched the delicate skin below my ear. Heart quickening, back arching, I rose to meet him.

The phone on the nightstand vibrated.

“Shit,” Griff whispered, peeling away from me, our clammy skin reluctant to let go. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and flashed me his bad-boy, half-smile. “Cole,” he said into the phone.

At times like this, cell phones rate right alongside other necessary evils like cod liver oil and flu shots. I leaned against his back and caressed his stomach, damp dunes of sculpted muscle. Not bad for a guy north of forty. Griff still measured himself against the hotshots in the field. But in my book he had nothing to worry about; I’d take the stable, wise, worn-in model over a wet behind the ear, swagger every time.

He pried my fingers from his skin and walked toward the bathroom still grunting into the phone.

I slipped into my bathrobe and headed for the kitchen. I have my morning priorities and since the first one was interrupted by Griff’s phone, coffee comes in a close second.

Twenty minutes later he joined me dressed in his usual attire, jeans, boots, tee shirt and sport jacket. Coming up behind me, he nuzzled my neck as I poured Breakfast Blend into a travel mug. Coffee splashed onto the counter top.

“Gotta run,” he said taking the cup from my hand.

“What’s up?”

“Not sure yet. That was John. He said he could use a hand.

“Sobering up?

Griff flinched like I’d landed one to his gut.

“Sorry,” I said. “Cheap shot.”

“Woman found dead early this morning.”

“When’s he going to admit that he can’t run the department with a pint of scotch sloshing around in his gut?”

“The job’s all he’s got left, makes it hard to let go.”

“I’m just saying that he shouldn’t be head of CID. Not now. I’m surprised Haggerty has put up with it this long.”

“There’s a lot going down at the precinct. Internal Affairs is having a field day after that meth bust.

They’ve got so many guys on leave right now that a bottle of Dewar’s in John’s desk is the least of Haggerty’s problems.”

“I just don’t want you to get sucked into CID.”

He slipped his hands inside my robe and nuzzled my neck. “No chance of that. Nobody on the force feels like this.”

I pushed him away halfheartedly.

I’ll call you when I know what’s going on.”

The door closed behind him.

I sank onto a kitchen chair and flipped open the People magazine lying on the table. Griff and I had just finished an investigation for an heiress in the diamond industry whose sticky handed husband had resorted to blackmailing her brother as a way around their pre-nup. The ink on her twenty-thousand-dollar check made out to Cole & Co. was still wet. And being that I was the & Co. part of the check, I’d earned a leisurely morning.

The phone rang just as I was getting to the interview with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell on the secrets of a long-term relationship. Caller ID told me it was Katie Nightingale, our go-to girl at the office. Katie kept track of everything from appointments to finances to take-out menus.

I lifted the phone and hit ‘answer’.

“Britt?” Katie spoke before I had a chance, never a good sign.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Missing woman.”

“Since when?”

“Last night.”

“What makes her missing? It hasn’t even been twenty-four hours.”

“The woman who called said her sister was leaving an abusive husband and was supposed to let her know when she was safe by ringing the phone once at seven-thirty. The call never came. Now she can’t get hold of her. She said her sister carries your card in her wallet.”

“What’s her name?”

“The woman who called is Beth Jones. Her sister is Shirley Trudeau.”

I nodded into the phone. I can’t remember every woman I encounter, but Shirley’s name rang a bell. Since giving up my position as a Family Law attorney with Hughes and Sandown, I’d been offering free legal aid for women who needed advice but couldn’t afford it. Mostly I worked with wives trying to extricate themselves from abusive marriages. Given the reason I’d abandoned my law career, it was the least I could do. Shirley hadn’t been living at the women’s shelter, but she’d spent enough time there to have Sandra, the shelter’s director, hook her up with me.

“And Beth thinks Shirley’s husband found her?”

“That’s what it sounded like once she’d calmed down enough to form actual words.”

“I’m on my way.”

I set the phone down, making a mental note to call Sandra. She’d upgraded from a caseworker in Connecticut to Director in Portland, Maine a few months ago. I’d stopped by her office to introduce myself when she started and left my business cards. Our paths didn’t cross that often but we respected each other’s work and always took a few minutes to chat. I knew she’d been on the swim team in college and that she could bench-press her weight. We were close in age and like minded when it came to the politics of non-profits. No doubt Beth Jones had called her too.

After a shower and a quick clean up of last night’s wine glasses, Chinese takeout containers and clothes that we’d left strewn around the living room, I locked the apartment door and began my fifteen-minute trek to our office on Middle Street. I savored my walk through the Old Port, the name given to Portland, Maine’s waterfront. The summer heat that a month ago had my shirt stuck tight against my back was a thing of the past and the snow and ice that would make walking an athletic event had not yet arrived. The cool, crisp air was like a shot of espresso. As long as I didn’t let my mind wander to what nature had in store, I could enjoy the rush.

I hit “contacts” on my phone and scanned the names for Sandra’s.

“Sandra, it’s Britt,” I said when she answered. “I wish this was a social call, but it’s not. Shirley Trudeau is missing.

“I know. Her sister called this morning. I’m on my way in now. How did you find out?”

“Her sister hired us to find her. “Was someone helping her leave?”

“She had a caseworker, but I wasn’t in on the plan. I’ll know more once I get to my office and talk to the person she was working with.”

“Okay if I call you later?”

“I don’t know how much I’ll be able to tell you. You know the rules. If she was on her way…”

I stopped mid-stride and lowered the phone from my ear. Sandra’s voice slipped away. That dead body that Griff went to look at… my gut said, Shirley Trudeau.

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Excerpt from The Church of the Holy Child by Patricia Hale. Copyright © 2017 by Patricia Hale. Reproduced with permission from Patricia Hale. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Patricia Hale received her MFA degree from Goddard College. Her essays have appeared in literary magazines and the anthology, My Heart’s First Steps. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Revenge, was published in 2013. The Church of the Holy Child is the first book in her PI series featuring the team of Griff Cole and Britt Callahan. Patricia is a member of Sister’s in Crime, Mystery Writer’s of America, NH Writer’s Project and Maine Writer’s and Publisher’s Alliance. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two dogs.

Catch Up With Our Author On:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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Follow the tour:

08/14 Interview @ BooksChatter
08/15 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
08/16 Showcase @ Mythical Books
08/17 Showcase @ The Book Connection
08/18 Showcase @ A Bookaholic Swede
08/18 Guest Author @ Killer Crafts, Crafty Killers
08/19 Promo @ Tracey A. Wood
08/21 Blog Talk Radio w/Fran Lewis
08/21 Review @ Buried Under Books – GIVEAWAY
08/21 Review @ The Literary Apothecary
08/21 New Release @ Judy Penz Sheluk
08/22 Interview @ Writers and Authors
08/22 Review @ Rockin Book Reviews
08/23 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
08/30 Review/showcase @ CMash Reads
08/31 Interview @ CMash Reads
08/31 Review @ just reviews
09/01 showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
09/05 Review/showcase @ Ctrl, Alt, Books!
09/15 Review @ FUONLYKNEW
09/22 Review @ Lets Talk About Books
10/12 Review @ Celticladys Reviews
10/13 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews

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To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of The Church of the Holy Child,
leave a comment
below. The winning
name will be drawn
Wednesday evening,
August 23rd, and the
book will be
sent out after the tour ends.

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Book Reviews: It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell and The Devil’s Cold Dish by Eleanor Kuhns

It’s Always the Husband
Michele Campbell
St. Martin’s Press, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-08180-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, despite being as different as three women can be. Kate was beautiful, wild, wealthy, and damaged. Aubrey, on financial aid, came from a broken home, and wanted more than anything to distance herself from her past. And Jenny was a striver―brilliant, ambitious, and determined to succeed. As an unlikely friendship formed, the three of them swore they would always be there for each other.

But twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge, and someone is urging her to jump.

How did it come to this?

Kate married the gorgeous party boy, Aubrey married up, and Jenny married the boy next door. But how can these three women love and hate each other? Can feelings this strong lead to murder? When one of them dies under mysterious circumstances, will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband?

I’m kind of conflicted about this book because, while I think the story of these women’s friendship is interesting, I can’t say I actually liked them or the police chief very much. As college students, they seemed like an oddly matched trio and they aren’t really any more compatible as they get older. It’s all just a little sad in a way and, although it’s true I didn’t connect emotionally with any of the three, I was still compelled to keep reading.

The first section drags a bit or perhaps it would be fairer to say that the pacing is on the slow side, deliberately so, and that makes the contrast with the second section even more noticeable. That second section is when I began to pay attention and wanted to know what would eventually happen but I still couldn’t find much in any of these women to care about. Kate in particular is an enigma or, rather, everyone’s near adoration of her is the enigma as she is one of the most unpleasant, better-than-thou people you can imagine.

An awful event in their younger years cements their connection to each other and that secret from the past has deadly implications in the present. This is the interesting part, getting bits and pieces from earlier years that begin to come together now, but it doesn’t quite make up for my dislike of these people. All in all, this is not a book I was crazy about.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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The Devil’s Cold Dish
Will Rees Mysteries #5
Eleanor Kuhns
Minotaur Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09335-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Will Rees is back home on his farm in 1796 Maine with his teenage son, his pregnant wife, their five adopted children, and endless farm work under the blistering summer sun. But for all that, Rees is happy to have returned to Dugard, Maine, the town where he was born and raised, and where he’s always felt at home. Until now. When a man is found dead – murdered – after getting into a public dispute with Rees, Rees starts to realize someone is intentionally trying to pin the murder on him. Then, his farm is attacked, his wife is accused of witchcraft, and a second body is found that points to the Rees family. Rees can feel the town of Dugard turning against him, and he knows that he and his family won’t be safe there unless he can find the murderer and reveal the truth…before the murderer gets to him first.

There’s a special place in my reading heart for historical mysteries and I especially like the 17th and 18th centuries in America so this book was sort of calling my name. Happily, I was not the least bit disappointed.

Rees and his family don’t have an easy life on the farm and relations with his sister and his son are very strained but they’re basically content and Will is happy to be back home in Dugard. The politics of the time cause arguments among the townspeople and Will is frequently right in the midst of the fracas but he’s not really prepared for the physical fight he has with an old friend, Mac McIntyre. When another man, Zadoc Ward, is murdered, Constable Caldwell invites Will to come along to see the body.  It’s during his investigation with Caldwell that Will becomes aware of a certain animosity in the community towards him, much stronger than he had thought, but this murder is only the beginning of the attacks on the Rees family.

Ms. Kuhns has a real grasp on this time period and the nuances of the lives of people who experienced the Revolution and its aftermath. Her research is obviously extensive but it doesn’t stilt her writing at all and I could really envision the setting, the times and the people. Not everyone can write historical fiction well but this author certainly does and now I need to reward myself with the previous books in this series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

Book Review: Shadows on a Morning in Maine by Lea Wait

shadows-on-a-morning-in-maineShadows on a Morning in Maine
An Antique Print Mystery #8
Lea Wait
Perseverance Press, September 2016
ISBN:978-1-56474-577-4
Trade Paperback

Maggie Summer has taken a sabbatical from her teaching job, moved to Maine and, along with her “guy” Will Brewer, plans to open an antique mall where she can sell her antique prints. Finally, she is in the process of adopting an older child.

She runs into trouble when she learns the child does not necessarily want to be adopted, being weary of going from one foster home to the next. Another complication is that Will is not enthused about the situation. Maggie wonders if they can stay together and run the business if she goes ahead with acquiring a daughter, especially one as troubled as Brook.

Also troubling, seals have been killed in the harbor, their bodies left for all to see. Maggie is afraid Brook, who shows a fondness for seals, will see one and decide not to become her daughter. All bad enough until a young man, a lobsterman, is also murdered. Now Maggie is under a time pressure for the murder and seal killings to be solved before Brook’s next visit.

I always enjoy stories set along the coast of Maine, especially when the scene is set as well as this one is. Love the small town, closed community atmosphere. I don’t find Will a good match for Maggie, but that’s part of what I enjoyed about the story. One does wonder how it’s all going to turn out, meaning I’ll need to read the next installment to find out. I will, because the book is well-plotted and entertaining. I also enjoy the short descriptions of the prints Maggie sells in her antique shop, one of which heads up each chapter.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Death at Breakfast by Beth Gutcheon

Death at BreakfastDeath at Breakfast
Beth Gutcheon
William Morrow, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-243196-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Indulging their pleasure in travel and new experiences, recently retired private school head Maggie Detweiler and her old friend, socialite Hope Babbin, are heading to Maine. The trip—to attend a weeklong master cooking class at the picturesque Victorian-era Oquossoc Mountain Inn—is an experiment to test their compatibility for future expeditions.

Hope and Maggie have barely finished their first aperitifs when the inn’s tranquility is shattered by the arrival of Alexander and Lisa Antippas and Lisa’s actress sister, Glory. Imperious and rude, these Hollywood one-percenters quickly turn the inn upside-down with their demanding behavior, igniting a flurry of speculation and gossip among staff and guests alike.

But the disruption soon turns deadly. After a suspicious late-night fire is brought under control, Alex’s charred body is found in the ashes. Enter the town’s deputy sheriff, Buster Babbin, Hope’s long-estranged son and Maggie’s former student. A man who’s finally found his footing in life, Buster needs a win. But he’s quickly pushed aside by the “big boys,” senior law enforcement and high-powered state’s attorneys who swoop in to make a quick arrest.

Maggie knows that Buster has his deficits and his strengths. She also knows that justice does not always prevail—and that the difference between conviction and exoneration too often depends on lazy police work and the ambitions of prosecutors. She knows too, after a lifetime of observing human nature, that you have a great advantage in doing the right thing if you don’t care who gets the credit or whom you annoy.

Feeling that justice could use a helping hand–as could the deputy sheriff—Maggie and Hope decide that two women of experience equipped with healthy curiosity, plenty of common sense, and a cheerfully cynical sense of humor have a useful role to play in uncovering the truth.

I nearly always enjoy a cozy mystery series that features senior sleuths so Death at Breakfast had a head start with me from the beginning. I also enjoyed the setting in a bed and breakfast because such a location allows for a diverse cast of characters rather than the usual somebody-in-this-small-town-must-be-the-killer scenario and it accommodates a group of people who are mostly strangers to each other. Those points open up the solution to the crime to a wide range of possibilities.

Another aspect of the story that works well is that the murder doesn’t occur until well into the book. Normally, I prefer it to happen early on but, in this case, the delay gives the reader the opportunity to get to know the B&B guests and staff as well as a few townspeople so I really didn’t mind.

Maggie Detweiler and Hope Babbin are a pair of sleuths I’m happy to have met. Intelligent and friendly, they’re using this trip to Maine to see if they can stand each other well enough to do some traveling together, a terrific idea. They’re not snoopy, either, just well-suited to think about various potential clues and come to a rational conclusion. Very appealing sleuths, indeed. I also liked deputy sheriff Buster Babbin, Hope’s son, who’s definitely conflicted in his feelings about his mother and who suffers from a lack of self-confidence; watching some of those issues get worked out was a worthy side trail.

I have to admit that I figured out the general solution to who hated the obnoxious Alexander enough to kill him in a rather gruesome manner fairly early but not the details so the actual denouement held some surprises for me.  I suspect each succeeding entry in the series will be tighter and I’m hoping this will become a long run.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2016.

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About the Author

Beth GutcheonBeth Gutcheon is the critically acclaimed author of eight previous novels: The New GirlsStill MissingDomestic PleasuresSaying GraceFive FortunesMore Than You KnowLeeway Cottage, and Good-bye and Amen. She is the writer of several film scripts, including the Academy-Award nominee The Children of Theatre Street. She lives in New York City.

Find out more about Beth at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Book Review: The House on Stone’s Throw Island by Dan Poblocki

The House on Stone's Throw IslandThe House on Stone’s Throw Island
Dan Poblocki
Scholastic Press, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-64556-0
Hardcover

Dealing with an older sibling’s wedding, especially when the participants seem to have outgrown you, is no picnic. Add in the fact that it’s a big production on a remote island where you’re expected to be dressed up, play nice and let adults embarrass you, and you know how Eli Barker feels. Things get more uncomfortable when the adults try to jokingly pair him off with Josie Sandoval whose brother Bruno is marrying Eli’s sister Aimee.

Fair weather is predicted for the wedding weekend, but inside Eli’s head, the weather is gloomy and stormy, made worse when he thinks Josie is trying to embarrass him in front of the adults. As a threatening storm front moves in from the open ocean, Eli decides to become scarce and heads for the decrepit brick building on a small peninsula he spotted from his bedroom. The closer he gets, the more uneasy he feels, but he’s unable to stop. Josie, feeling bad about how she treated Eli, sees him sneaking off from her upstairs window and decides to follow.

They hear a disembodied voice asking for help in German and after gathering their courage, the two explore what appears to be a dungeon below the old building where they find and soon lose an old button with a swastika on it.

No one believes them about the voices, but Josie’s become a true believer in the possibility that there are ghosts on the island because she saw a disheveled girl a couple years older than she is, dash into her room and then hide in her closet, but when she looked, the girl was gone. Eli witnesses a repeat performance while in her room. Convinced that there’s something very strange and scary going on as the freak storm intensifies, they become partners as they try to solve the mystery.

Meanwhile communication with the outside world has stopped, the ocean is so rough the ferry that brought them to the island is unable to bring the wedding feast or more guests and the strange happenings become more frequent. Solving the island’s mystery involves ghosts, a secret from World War Two, a diary written by a girl in 1942 and a connection between her and one of the people involved in the wedding.

I was initially put off by foreshadowing at the beginning of the book, but once the story took off, I was hooked. Be warned that there’s violence in the book, but that’s no deal breaker. Younger teens who crave mystery and supernatural twists will like this one a lot.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.