Book Review: Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany

Elementary, She Read
A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery #1
Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-68331-096-9
Hardcover

In Elementary, She Read, author Delany introduces quite an interesting set of characters along with a new twist on mysteries set in bookshops. While Gemma Doyle is the protagonist of this new series, the history behind the story begins when Gemma’s Great Uncle Arthur seized the opportunity to buy a building at the famous address of 222 Baker Street- though this Baker Street is located in West London, Massachusetts rather than London, England. With such a well known address, it was a given that her mystery loving uncle would open a Sherlock Holmes bookstore.  When he found a bookstore alone wouldn’t make it, he expanded to include any and all things pertaining to Sherlock Holmes. Along the way, the opportunity arose to open a tea shop, named appropriately Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, next door but connected by an internal door. That shop is run by Gemma’s good friend Jayne. That is the story behind the story.

In a nutshell, the main plot of Elementary, She Read is this. The store is swamped one afternoon by a traveling bridge group, and while tidying the store after the group has left, Gemma finds an old Strand magazine that is not part of the store’s inventory hidden among the other magazines. Curious as to how it came to be there, she thinks back over the people who had just left the store and remembers one lady who was carrying a plain white plastic shopping bag that did not appear to be part of the group. She searches the store, finds the bag the woman was carrying and in it found a clue as to where the woman might be staying. Puzzled as to why the woman left what could well be a valuable magazine in the store, she puts the magazine to her home safe and sets off to find the woman. From there the plot follows a familiar path of amateur sleuths. Gemma tries to do the right thing and ends up finding a dead body or two and lands in the middle of a police investigation as a prime suspect. Eager to clear her name she starts snooping around trying to solve the murder, as well as unravel the original mystery as to why the magazine was placed in her store. The plot is well done with plenty of twists to keep readers on their toes. When the solution was finally revealed, I have to say I had figured out that the guilty person was involved but had not worked out how or why. I felt like Delany played fair with the readers by giving them clues to follow yet making the puzzle complicated enough to keep us working at it.

Readers don’t see much of Uncle Arthur in the book, and I hope that changes as the series moves forward. He seems to be a character ripe for development. Gemma is a great protagonist and has the eye for noticing details like Sherlock himself. There is a book about thinking like Sherlock mentioned several times throughout the book. The book actually exists (I checked on Amazon) and I plan on getting a copy. Readers get to know Jayne a bit but I suspect we’ll get a better read on her in future books. There were a couple of “villains” among the characters giving readers people to despise. One was a police woman who seems to have taken an instant dislike to Gemma, while the other was a fellow shopkeeper who has the need to control everyone else’s business. I’m sure we’ll get more of them as well.

There are the standard animals in the book-Gemma’s pet dog and the store’s resident cat who seems to like everyone except Emma.

Elementary, She Read is a wonderful beginning to what I hope is a long running series.

I volunteered to read and review this book which I received from the publisher.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, February 2017.

Book Review: Best Friends for Never by Adrienne Maria Vrettos

best-friends-for-neverBest Friends for Never
Adrienne Maria Vrettos
Scholastic Press, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-56149-5
Hardcover

YA readers will recognize the cast of charismatic characters who roam the middle school halls and the neighborhoods of small town Trepan Grove. Hattie moves to the town from Brooklyn, New York during the summer and becomes friends with a group of girls with whom she’s trying desperately to fit in. If that means repressing her love of reading fantasy and wearing cute cat T-shirts, it’s totally worth it. Almost totally. She misses her best friend in Brooklyn and their nerdy common interests.

After witnessing a classmate endure a public, humiliating defriending in the school cafeteria one day, Hattie wonders if her tenuous, new friendships are safe. She devises a loyalty pact designed to assure that the friends will never mistreat each other. The four girls sign.

Then, Hattie unwittingly breaks the pact. Consequences are immediate, and the next months become a nightmare journey down a rabbit hole, as she seeks a way to correct her mistake and regain her friendships. And, as does Alice in Wonderland, Hattie runs into obstacles that seem unbeatable and finds help from improbable sources.

This reviewer is on the far downside of being a YA reader, but I was enchanted by this story. I’d like to visit the little New England town of Trepan Grove, meet Hattie’s group of “middle popular” girls, and see the attic repository of the town’s historical society books and documents. I’m not too much of an old dog to appreciate being reminded of the lesson Hattie learned, either.

The author’s delve into a bit of fantasy is a clever way to obviate her message without preaching. The inviting, realistic characters and relationships will have kids appreciating their own positions in their various micro societies. An intriguing plot and appealing ending will have them recommending the book to their own friends and classmates.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, July 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: Murder Most Fowl by Edith Maxwell

murder-most-fowlMurder Most Fowl
A Local Foods Mystery #4
Edith Maxwell
Kensington Books, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0025-4

It’s spring in Westbury, Massachusetts. Organic farmer Cam Flaherty is busy tilling and planting and raising baby chicks when her neighbor, Wayne Laitinen is found dead. It soon develops that he’s been murdered. The question is why. He’s always seemed a pleasant hardworking man, generous with good advice for his fellow farmers. Could it be a wealthy neighbor wanted to buy some of his land to pasture her daughter’s horse, and Wayne said no, he didn’t want to sell? Or was it the group of animal rights activists who vandalized his farm? Or even his wife because money (the lack thereof) problems have derailed their marriage?

Cam, who is a concerned neighbor, discovers a vital piece of evidence, which she promptly⏤and correctly⏤turns over to the police. Helpful to her police detective boyfriend, but it will take Cam, who in the final denouement ends up shot and wounded, plus the whole department to bring the murderer to light.

I liked the premise of this story. I liked Cam and her boyfriend Pete Pappas. They seemed to work well together without getting in each other’s way. Rare, as quite often the larger part of tension in a cozy seems to be between the main character and her policeman boyfriend.

The writing is competent, the plotting tight and fast moving. The animals in the story serve a purpose besides just being there. The book is an enjoyable read with which to while away an evening.

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

Book Review: Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell

Depraved HeartDepraved Heart
A Scarpetta Novel #23
Patricia Cornwell
William Morrow, October 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-232540-2
Hardcover

Dr. Kay Scarpetta works out of Cambridge, Massachusetts these days. In Depraved Heart, she’s been called to a historic home where a woman has been found dead in rather gruesome circumstances. The death is supposed to be a straight forward accident, but of course, Kay finds much to rouse her suspicions. In the midst of this, a message arrives on her cell phone, consisting of video clips of her niece Lucy which would seem to make Lucy into an enemy of the state. No sooner has Kay watched the whole video (and it seems to take forever) than the whole thing disappears.

Kay is recovering from a near death harpooning and is still not at her best. She almost doubts herself, but surely Lucy is in danger. So Kay, aided by her raucous partner, Pete Marino, is out to save those she loves from a dangerous woman from the past. One who is supposed to be dead. As for the FBI, they appear to be as big an enemy as Carrie Grethen.

The plot is good, convoluted and devious, with surprises around every corner. Still, I’m sorry to say I don’t enjoy Scarpetta like I used to. The characters by whom she’s surrounded never seem like anyone I’d care to meet, let alone spend time with. Especially Lucy, who always plays such a large part in the stories. Kay herself spends a lot of time whining, always distrustful, even of those she should be able to count on. I thought this novel overwritten, rather slow moving, and with a lot of people saying the same things over and over.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: The Body in the Wardrobe by Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the WardrobeThe Body in the Wardrobe
A Faith Fairchild Mystery #23
Katherine Hall Page
William Morrow, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-243950-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Minster’s wife, caterer, and part-time sleuth Faith Fairchild pairs up with Sophie Maxwell, last seen in Body in the Birches and now a newlywed living in historic Savannah, Georgia, where Sophie crosses paths with murder.

Attorney Sophie Maxwell has come to Savannah to be with her new husband, Will. But nothing throws cold water on a hot relationship faster than a dead body. Worse for Sophie, no one believes the body she knows she saw is real, Will is spending an awful lot of time in Atlanta on a case he claims is urgent, and she’s been tasked with house hunting for them with his former sweetheart, who Sophie can’t help but suspect wishes Sophie would return to her Yankee roots!

Fortunately, Sophie has a good friend in Faith Fairchild. With teenage Amy being bullied by mean girls and husband Tom contemplating a major life change that will affect all the Fairchilds, Faith is eager for distraction in the form of some sleuthing. In between discussions of newlywed agita, surprising Savannah customs and, of course, fabulous low country food, Faith and Sophie will pair up to unmask a killer!

In a departure from other books in the series, Faith Fairchild was not the primary protagonist in the most recent book, The Body in the Birches nor is she in The Body in the Wardrobe; rather, the storyline follows Faith’s friend, Sophie Maxwell, as she marries and moves to her new husband’s home in Savannah. It’s Sophie who’s confronted with disappearing bodies, family secrets, a hostile stepsister-in-law and a new husband who seems to be a bit too close to an old girlfriend, all while learning to live in and love a city radically different from her native Long Island. While all that’s going on, Faith is dealing with family issues including her husband, Tom’s, interest in possibly leaving Aleford for a new parish and her teen daughter, Amy’s, unhappiness in a new school. Her connection to all that’s going on in Savannah is limited to phone calls with Sophie until the last pages.

Savannah, a city I’ve visited several times, is itself a character with all its history, architecture, ghosts and unique culture. Ms. Page brings this quintessential Southern town to vivid life and makes me want to go back as soon as I can.

Truthfully, there are multiple threads in the story, some of which turn out to be mysteries while others are focused on family and town issues in both Savannah and Aleford. Sophie’s husband, Will, is a private investigator working on a case in Atlanta so he’s in and out as Sophie navigates her adopted town and family but he still manages to make enormous mistakes with his new wife and is remarkably uncommunicative. It’s a good thing he’s usually quite likeable but I still had moments of thinking Sophie should make a run for it. She sticks it out, though, even when no one believes she saw a dead man tumble out of her wardrobe and she excuses a lot of Will’s shortcomings. . .until he vanishes and that’s when Faith comes to the rescue.

In a few short hours, the women solve the immediate problem which leads to a denouement that’s little short of implausible and pretty much totally unexpected. In short, this is not the greatest crime story but Ms. Page’s series is so charming overall that a lot can be forgiven and I’ll think of this as a pleasant entry featuring a young woman I’ve come to like very much. I’m looking forward to seeing whether future books will concentrate on Faith again or periodically focus on Sophie.

Note: one thing plucked my last nerve more than once. The word “y’all” is the subject of an ongoing argument as to whether it’s always intended to be second person plural or can sometimes be addressed to a single person, the latter usage being almost entirely in areas not part of the South. I’ve been a Southerner all my life and cannot imagine a native of Savannah addressing one person with this word as happens several times in this story.

Second Note: the foods described are so mouthwatering they can make you feel weak with hunger.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.

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About the Author

Katherine Hall PageKatherine Hall Page is the author of twenty-two previous Faith Fairchild mysteries, the first of which received the Agatha Award for best first mystery. The Body in the Snowdrift was honored with the Agatha Award for best novel of 2006. Page also won an Agatha for her short story “The Would-Be Widower.” The recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic, she has been nominated for the Edgar Award, the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and the Macavity Award. She lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and Deer Isle, Maine, with her husband.

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Book Reviews: Death Takes Priority by Jean Flowers and World Gone By by Dennis Lehane

Death Takes PriorityDeath Takes Priority
A Postmistress Mystery #1
Jean Flowers
Berkley Prime Crime, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-425-27910-6
Mass Market Paperback

One of my dearest friends works for the Post Office, so I was pleased to find this book about Cassie Millar, who trades life as a manager in the Boston Post Office for a job as postmistress in her small hometown in the Berkshires.  Cassie’s been away for a long time, so she’s only gradually finding old friends and making new ones.  She loves her new job, though, until the day she unlocks the door and finds that someone has stolen several stacks of phone books.  Why?

Then a body turns up in the nearby woods, and Cassie’s lunch date, a handsome antiques dealer, is arrested.  Concerned for her new friend, Cassie starts asking questions.  She finds answers, new friends and some very dangerous people before she’s done.

I enjoyed spending time with Cassie and learning about the workings of a small town post office and will certainly buy the next book.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.

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World Gone ByWorld Gone By
Dennis Lehane
William Morrow Paperbacks, January 2016
ISBN: 978-006-235181-4
Trade Paperback

The life Joe Coughlin has lived began in The Given Day as a young man rebelling against his stern police captain father in Boston, and continued in Live By Night as he turned to a life of crime, rising in the ranks to run the rackets in Florida and elsewhere.  Now, World Gone By brings the story to a conclusion.

This segment takes place around the time the United States entered World War II and takes a deep look at Joe’s machinations as he operates between the various elements of society, government and the disparate areas of their less reputable members with whom he comes into contact.  At the same time, we see Joe as a doting father of a motherless son, having lost his Cuban wife in a horrible murder at the end of the last novel.

For all his money and power, the fear of death always pervades a gangster’s life, and the plot has Joe learning that a contract has been taken out on his life, his murder scheduled for Ash Wednesday, less than a week away.  The steps Joe takes to learn of the plot and what to do about it has ramifications for the remainder of the story, which is as about well-written and -plotted as anything recently read.

This novel, as the entire trilogy, is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2016.

Book Reviews: Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics and Kittens Can Kill by Clea Simon

Daughters Unto DevilsDaughters Unto Devils
Amy Lukavics
Harlequin Teen, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-373-21158-6
Hardcover

Isolation in a small cabin on a mountain during a very harsh winter would make anyone a bit strange, but in the late 1800s it’s worse. When sixteen year old Amanda Verner has to endure the additional stress of watching her pregnant mother thrash and moan for months after getting sick, the birth of her deaf and blind baby sister, Hannah, has her on the edge, alternating between guilt and anger…Anger at how unfair life is and guilt because of her wish that Hannah was dead. When she looks out the window and sees a demon coming toward the cabin, it tilts her over the edge.

As spring comes, Amanda isn’t feeling much better, but has decided to lie, particularly to her younger sister Emily, so she won’t be constantly confronted about her strangeness which hasn’t abated since she saw the demon. When she meets Henry, a boy who makes a living delivering things, it doesn’t take long for her to start having sex with him in the forest. It makes her feel wanted and drives tormenting thoughts away, but when she becomes pregnant herself, things go back to awful as she tries to hide her condition and keep the lies going.

After her father returns from the nearest town and tells his family that another harsh winter is predicted, he also tells them that he heard of empty and larger cabins on the prairie and has decided to move his family there. Amanda, grateful for a temporary reprieve, is hopeful that the move will somehow allow her to find a way to tell the family about her condition.

The cabin they find looks good from the outside, but the interior has a torn up floor and reeks of rotting blood. Even so, the family camps on cut grass outside while working to clean things up. There’s a working water pump behind the house and they soon learn that it’s being used by Zeke, a boy about Amanda’s age and his physician father who live a couple miles away. Zeke tells Amanda, Emily and their two younger siblings, Joanna and Charles, ghost stories that have some eerie similarities with ones Henry told Amanda before the family came to the new home.

From that point on, there’s no break and no peace for Amanda and her family. Horrible things follow one another involving demons and natural disasters, leaving it up to Amanda and Emily to assume responsibility at a level well beyond their years. This is a grand debut novel that’s horror at its best. Teens who love creepy and unexpected will devour this one. The blurb on the cover is completely accurate when author Cat Winters says: “Imaging Stephen King writing Little House on the Prairie.”

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

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Kittens Can KillKittens Can Kill
A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir #5
Clea Simon
Poisoned Pen Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0358-9
Hardcover

This is the fifth book in the Pru Marlowe Pet Noir Series. So far, Simon has written about dogs, cats, parrots, panthers and now for #5, we have kittens. If it’s hard for you to turn down a kitten who may be a witness or the cause of death, I think you will enjoy this book.

The animals in this book communicate with Pru, an animal behaviorist who hides her ability, from the kitten to Pru’s own cat, Wallis, and the animals in the animal hospital. Unfortunately for Pru, the animals (not to mention, some of the humans) are very cryptic with what they are willing to share. And Pru gets to put it all together after she finds a kitten next to the wealthy dead lawyer, David Canaday.

A pet peeve of mine (no pun intended, well, maybe) is when several of the character names in a book begin with the same first letter. It only increases the difficulty of keeping them straight in the reader’s mind and I don’t know why an author would want to do that. Yes, I think it’s a little cute if a parent wants to name their children in that fashion – as in Kittens Can Kill, the sisters are: Jackie, Judith and Jill but it probably is misguided and should have been resisted. Don’t parents want to encourage their kids’ individuality? Don’t authors want the same for their characters?

Anyway, since that’s all I found to complain about, I would definitely recommend this book. It was my first in the series and I didn’t feel I was beginning in the middle. It’s an easy, quick, and pleasurable read.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, November 2015.