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.

Book Review: A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

A Handful of StarsA Handful of Stars
Cynthia Lord
Scholastic Press, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-70027-6
Hardcover

Simply stated lessons about friendships, both fleeting and forming, blend beautifully with little lessons about tiny blue bees and Wabanaki blueberry legends.

A mature little girl, Lily (because “Tigerlily” is a weed, not a name) spends her summers helping in her grandparents’ general store….which is to say the only store in a blueberry-harvesting Maine town busy with migrant workers, locals and tourists from America and Canada. Painting bee houses at her very own table, Lily earns money for an operation that may help her cherished Lucky see again.

“People want us to come and work, but they want us to be invisible.”

The beloved bond built on the unconditional love between girl and dog is artfully illustrated in this book. It is a vibrant thread throughout pulling Lily to Salma, the young migrant worker who shares the affinity for dogs and the sorrow of loss. The girls aren’t exactly alike. Lily’s bee houses are carefully stenciled where Salma’s are impulsive and colorful.

“That’s what I like about art. It lets me become more like myself, not more like everyone else.”

Lily is engagingly open-minded and inclusive with a bit of a stubborn streak. Her growth, while not monumentally exponential, is enlightening and reassuring. Realizations are sluggish; but sweet and hopeful, like a slowly waking rose bud bursting open to brilliancy.

While this is clearly a compelling, captivating story for young readers, it should not be pigeon-holed as a “children’s” book. I honestly and truly believe that every single person deserves to experience the magic of an unapologetically honest, delightful friendship and the benefit of shifting perceptions.

“(Tigerlilies are weeds) only because somebody said so. Lilies are proud and sassy. They don’t know they’re weeds.”

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2015.

Book Review: Thread and Gone by Lea Wait

Thread and GoneThread and Gone
A Mainely Needlepoint Mystery #3
Lea Wait
Kensington, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-61773-008-5
Mass Market Paperback

At first glance, Mary Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette and a coastal Maine village would seem to have little in common. But when a young couple ask Angie Curtis, who runs a needle-craft business, if an old piece of needlepoint they found in the woman’s house is valuable, a tangled history leads to a new crime. Murder.

The piece is obviously very old. Local legends and local history hint that either Mary, Queen of Scots or Marie Antoinette could have stitched it, which would make it extremely valuable. Angie’s Gran, a needlework expert, is off on her honeymoon, so Angie consults Sarah, who owns an antiques shop. She also asks her lawyer to keep the piece in her safe. That turns out badly. The lawyer is murdered, and some jewelry and the needlepoint piece vanish. Was the killer after the jewelry or the needlepoint? If the jewelry, is the beautiful old piece now buried in a dumpster, or destroyed?

Feeling responsible, Angie takes on the tasks of digging out the history of the missing artifact, and finding it. As she previously worked for a private detective, she has some skills. She also has friends on the local and state police forces–who warn her to keep out of it. She can’t. It makes an interesting tale.

Lea Wait writes well about history and small-town Maine. I really enjoyed spending time in Haven Harbor. This is the third book in what I hope will be a long and successful series.

Extra nice touch: chapter headings taken from needlepoint pieces worked by children long ago. Fascinating.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.

Book Reviews: Perfect Sins by Jo Bannister and A Song of Shadows by John Connolly

Perfect SinsPerfect Sins
Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best #2
Jo Bannister
Minotaur Books, December 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-05420-3
Hardcover

In the first book of this new series by Jo Bannister, the highly recommended Deadly Virtues, the reader met Gabriel Ash, in his mid-20’s, “an intelligent, astute man who had once been highly regarded in national security circles,” a well-educated insurance investigator and later a Government analyst before the traumatic events of 4 years ago when his wife and two young boys had been taken by persons unknown, their present whereabouts a complete mystery.

The follow-up book takes place two months later, and reunites Gabriel with Hazel Best, a 26-year-old rookie cop, now on probation after the events which took place in that earlier novel, during which she had saved his life more than once.  As the book opens, Gabriel is accompanying Hazel to visit her father, the gatekeeper at Byrfield estate, the lord of the manor being Lord Pete (“Peregrine”) Byrfield.   Also present is David Sperrin, Hazel’s old friend and an archaeologist who lives with his mother on neighboring property, who shortly embarks on an excavation on Byrfield land resulting in the discovery of what is determined to be the body of a ten-year-old child in a makeshift grave, apparently dead for over 30 years.  DI Edwin Norris is the cop assigned to the ensuing investigation into the child’s murder, and the identity of the murderer.  In the process we learn a lot about British aristocracy, much of it fascinating.

Of course Gabriel’s family’s whereabouts, and the question of whether they are even alive, is always in the forefront of his mind.  Their disappearance during Gabriel’s investigation into African pirates’ hijacking of British arms shipments has him still continuing that investigation.

The writing is wonderful throughout, in particular the author’s descriptions:  “I don’t know what Guy would have grown up to be.  An entertainer, possibly.  Or a politician.  Something where the ability to tell barefaced lies is a major advantage.”  And a shopkeeper:  “an elderly woman with a froth of white hair and the apple cheeks of the terminally jovial.”  As in the earlier novel, all the characters are very well-drawn, especially Gabriel, Hazel, and DI Norris, and the relationship between Hazel and Gabriel seems to be evolving into something more intimate.  The suspense keeps building, right up until the very last page, which ends in a cliffhanger which makes me all the more anxious to read the next book in the series, Desperate Measures, due out in December, 2015 – can’t wait!

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2015.

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A Song of ShadowsA Song of Shadows
A Charlie Parker Thriller #14
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, September 2015
ISBN: 978-1-5011-1828-9
Hardcover

This latest Charlie Parker novel has a more intriguing plot while combining many of the elements of earlier books in the series.  It begins with Charlie having survived a near fatal gunshot attack, leaving him extremely weak, renting a house on a small bay in Boreas, ME, in which to recuperate.  There is only one other home on the bay, occupied by a woman, Ruth Winter, and her daughter, Amanda.  In earlier decades, a large German population settled in the area, and after World War II an influx of supposed displaced persons arrived nearby.

When the body of a man washes ashore on the beach, questions are raised as to whether he is a suicide or the victim of foul play since he had traveled from Florida.  Then another fact emerges:  His friend and partner is found murdered in the Sunshine State, raising additional suspicion.  When Ruth Winter is murdered, there can be no question there is evil in the air, and Charlie, despite his debilitation, begins to act like a detective.

So much for the background.  The central theme is the post-war arrivals and their link to a Nazi concentration camp.  The description of the government’s investigations to identify and deport Nazi war criminals is affecting.  And Charlie’s efforts to unravel the mystery of the deaths, whether they are related, and if so to what, are, of course, aided by his usual cohorts, Louis and Angel and FBI agent Ross, along with Rabbi Epstein.  Naturally a Charlie Parker novel without the presence of the Collector or introduction of the occult would not be in keeping with the series, so, naturally, both are present and play a major role in the unraveling of the plot, along with the presence of Charlie’s daughters, the living Sam and the deceased Jennifer.  All in all, this is John Connolly at his best, with a most serious story, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2015.

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
A Ghost Story

Dan Poblocki
Scholastic Press, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-64556-0
Hardcover

A quintessential ghost story, The House on Stone’s Throw Island immediately elicits chills and thrills with introductory glimpses of uniformed men, seemingly from another place, a different time. Plainly panicked, a muddy girl appears and disappears, as if stuck in a loop.

With a permanent population totaling two solemn care-takers, Stone’s Throw Island was crowded when two families preparing to unite via a fairy tale wedding, pour from a ferry, followed by the wedding director and her trusty assistant. In an almost unreliable-narrator style, the curiously detailed background of the aforementioned, anxiety-riddled wedding director unravels. Obviously imperative, this character nonetheless seems better fitted for the supporting cast. Of course there is a method to his madness, but Mr. Poblocki is fantastically sly and sneaky about the reveal.

Intrigue and mystery beckon as myths and legends swirling the surrounding isles off the coast of Maine are shared. Soon, wickedly weird phenomena plague the guests. There’s barely time to ponder the peculiarities before a storm overtakes the tiny land mass, scattering the inhabitants.

An oddly appealing teen-aged duo, recently forced into friendship, grab the reins and drive the adventure down two totally different paths. Separately, they discover the true tragedy of Stone’s Throw Island. The theory that Germans actually invaded the United States during World War II seems unfathomable; but an old diary lends credence. With one junior sleuth trapped in a secret passage, the other packed like a sardine in the rapidly flooding, ancient jail cell; it seems their acquired knowledge will become futile.

Mr. Poblocki boldly brakes the breath-taking race against time and elements, evoking unexpected emotions and hope. The bond built between the compelling, quiet comic-book writer and polar-opposite, outspoken skeptic, along with the friendships formed when pseudo strangers are tossed together, smooth and sweeten the story. The storm passes, some lives go on.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2015.