Book Reviews: State University of Murder by Lev Raphael and Cattle Kate by Jana Bommersbach @LevRaphael @PPPress

State University of Murder
A Nick Hoffman Mystery #9
Lev Raphael
Perseverance Press, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-56474-609-2
Trade Paperback

Satirical, amusing, sometimes funny, scalpel sharp and relentless, this Nick Hoffman murder story will engage most academics, offend a few and, in the bargain, offers up a classic who-dunnit. Raphael’s writing, as always, is incisive, often cutting and mostly to the point.

The author provides an extensive context of the lives of the two principal characters, Professor of Literature, Nicholas Hoffmann, a semi-professional investigator and his marriage and life partner, Stefan, also a professor at the State University of Michigan (SUM) and a highly thought-of successful crime novelist.

Their department has recently been renamed English and Creative Writing, in the apparently usual manner, by Trustees of the University with little or no faculty consultation. This gives the author opportunity to swing wider his cleaver of criticism, aimed at all members of the academic community, top to bottom. A new chair has also been named, a flamboyant, self-centered, egotistical man of letters from France. He endears himself immediately to all full-time and adjunct faculty by making a series of unilateral decisions without consultation, thus raising to untold levels the ire of the department. Hoffman deplores the new office spaces as well.

The author carefully introduces us to many department members and sets the stage for murder, pointing to faculty jealousies and resentments which abound on this campus. The story moves along at a reasonable pace, with many side trips to drinks, dinner, a dog and social activities. All of it is precisely and clearly written with many quips and even sarcastic references to the world at large.

The story is well-placed in the world of today and reflects accurately the author’s world view and that of a more compressed academic community. The mystery is solved, the murderer arrested and the academics return to their emotionally fraught tasks of educating eager young people.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cattle Kate
Jana Bommersbach
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-4642-0302-2
Hardcover

Award-winning journalist and author, Bommersbach brings to this moving thoughtful novel, years of careful research, good writing and yes, a jaundiced eye. Those attributes are particularly important for this project because the author is directly confronting long-standing scurrilous myth about the subject of the novel, a woman named Ella Watson, and about the mythology of the settlement of the west.

Every child alive in America today as well as previous generations grew up on stories of the men who settled the western plains of North America in the years following the Civil War. There were strong mountain men, trappers, taciturn cowboys, sodbusters and cattlemen. Mostly missing from the narrative are the stories of the strong women who proved up on land grants, herded cattle and made homes for the men in their lives.

This is the story of once such strong woman, secretly married, who owned land in Wyoming Territory and was murdered, along with her husband on a July day in 1889. The couple was murdered by several landowners who claimed, along with help from local newspapers, that she was a pimp and a prostitute and a cattle rustler. Her attackers simply wanted her land and water rights.

The author meticulously tells the story of Ella Watson from her early life in Canada and Kansas to her death. Bommersbach’s canvas is broad and richly colored with the times, the trials and the triumphs of so many women on the frontier. The characters are clever and vividly portrayed. The pace at times slows to a thoughtful meander, but never loses focus. Here is a novel of the true old west to be read, savored and read again.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Charity Island by Dennis Collins

Charity Island 
Dennis Collins
Dennis Collins, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-692-76295-0
Trade Paperback

Rick Todd has an ideal—well, sort of—job as the caretaker on a lonely but idyllic island in Lake Michigan. It’s not far from the shores of Michigan and when he stumbles across the body of a young woman on the beach he realizes that his peace and quiet are going to be disturbed. He does the right thing, he calls the local authorities. What he doesn’t realize is how lengthy and complicated the search for answers to this simple appearing death will become.

The local medical examiner arrives on the Sheriff’s patrol boat and soon determines that the woman didn’t drown after falling off a passing boat, she was strangled. What’s more, she has an Adam’s apple. Sidney Benson is a middle-aged doctor, comfortable in his active role as the county medical examiner and he has carefully protected eyes for his secretary, Jennifer.

These two become the central law enforcement characters in this story which, while it is certainly a police procedural in most ways, it also features several chapters in which readers are treated to the dark maneuverings of Sammy, the local drug czar and his thugs. Their attempts to keep track of Sid and the rest of the county law forces and the violent way Sammy solves small problems is interesting and will keep readers turning the pages.

The characters are nicely described and the narrative moves forward in a way to keep readers’ interest. There are a few brief digressions into politics, but nothing to distract readers. A fun and interesting story.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Beyond the Pale by Clare O’Donohue

Beyond the Pale
A World of Spies #1
Clare O’Donohue
Midnight Ink, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5650-9
Trade Paperback

Hollis Larsson is a tenured university professor married to her college sweetheart.  She has a comfortable middle-class life in Michigan and she is bored senseless. Her husband Finn is an internationally recognized expert in European literature. He enjoys interacting with his students and watching baseball more than spending time with his wife, who keeps trying to reignite his interest in her. When a former friend from her brief fling with the CIA shows up and asks them to go to Ireland to buy a rare manuscript to save the life of a U.S. agent, it seems just the break from monotony she’s been looking for. Her husband is not interested but eventually agrees to the trip with the understanding that the task is a fast and simple one and they will be home again after a long weekend. Oh, and Holly owes him big time.

Once in Ireland, equipped with a large amount of cash, Holly and Finn approach the store to make the purchase, only to find their designated contact has disappeared. They retreat to regroup and quickly discover that they are being followed by competing CIA and Interpol agents who plan to take the manuscript as quickly as it can be acquired, followed by an unfortunate accident for Holly and Finn. Their search for the manuscript while eluding the agents who all claim the others are part of a criminal gang takes them across much of the country with wonderful descriptions of the scenery and history. The verbal sniping between Holly and Finn that opened the book vanishes as their teamwork kicks into gear to keep them both alive.

O’Donohue’s previous books include five mysteries in the Someday Quilts series. This title is the first of a new spy series that will take occasional agents Holly and Finn around the world.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, May 2018.

Book Review: Where I Can See You by Larry D. Sweazy

Where I Can See You
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-211-9
Trade Paperback

Disgraced Detroit detective Hud Matthews has come home to a small lakeside Michigan community. His old friend, Police Chief Paul Burke has wrangled him a job in order to restart his career, even though both men have doubts. Hud had hardly been able to wait to get away when he was eighteen. He came back to bury his grandmother and to finally solve the mystery of his mother’s disappearance when he was eight.

Almost the first thing to happen is a murder, once which also leaves a young boy motherless. Why was she killed? The motive is obscured, and as Hud and the rest of the department strives to figure it out, more murders occur in rapid succession. What, wonders Hud, is the tie between these different people?

Overall, Hud’s desire–no, make that obsession–to find out what happened to his own mother, overrides every part of his life, and every relationship, whether with women or old friends. Even his job, which hangs by a thread at best, and rampant murder loses focus to his quest.

As a general rule, I love Sweazy’s books. HIs entry from last year, See Also Deception, was one of my favorite books in 2016. Unfortunately, for me, this one didn’t make the cut. The writing, as always, is excellent. But for me, the plot just didn’t quite meld and I found the characters, including Hud, unsympathetic, even though I felt for a child who lost his mother and never knew why.

The setting, however, is terrifically written. If you’ve ever been to one of these old, almost forgotten resorts, you’ll get the exact feeling Sweazy has provided in this book. Wonderful descriptions and atmosphere.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

phantom-limbs-tour-banner

************

Title: Phantom Limbs
Author: Paula Garner
Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Genres: General Fiction, Young Adult

************

Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble Buy Button     Kobo Buy Button     Amazon Buy Button     Indiebound Button 2

************

phantom-limbsPhantom Limbs
Paula Garner
Candlewick Press, September 2016
ISBN 978-0763682057
Hardcover

From the publisher—

How do you move on from an irreplaceable loss? In a poignant debut, a sixteen-year-old boy must learn to swim against an undercurrent of grief—or be swept away by it.

Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis’s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara—part drill sergeant, part friend—who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be. But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.

I read a lot of young adult fiction but much more of the action-oriented type—science fiction, mystery, thriller, horror, etc.—than general fiction or the angsty high school drama kind. I don’t mean to be the least bit disparaging about that last one; I just don’t have a better term for it. Anyway, my point is that Phantom Limbs isn’t my usual cuppa tea….and, yet, I was interested.

Now, I happen to believe there’s at least a slight thread of mystery in nearly all fiction, even if it’s just the mystery of why people do what they do. That’s certainly the case here and there are other mysteries such as what really happened to that little boy years ago and why did Meg’s family leave town, almost run away?

Three characters share center stage and, while the relationship between Otis and Meg is important, especially in whether they can, or should, try to resurrect it, it’s Dara who grabbed my attention and held it. At turns caring, dictatorial, abrasive,  encouraging, Dara has every reason to resent what’s happened to her but she chose to use her skills in the best way possible by training someone else to be a champion swimmer. Does Otis appreciate it? Maybe not as much as she would hope and, now, Meg is distracting him even more.

This is a story of terrible loss that causes worlds to fall apart and the love that can make things just a little better. While Dara, Otis and Meg are frequently at serious odds, they also have much in common in their perhaps subconscious quests for happiness, and their journeys towards the future kept me reading into the night. Paula Garner has a lovely and effective way with words and I hope to read much more by her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

About the Author

paula-garnerPaula Garner spends most of her time making food, drinks, and narratives, despite being surrounded by an alarming TBR pile and a very bad cat. Her debut YA novel, Phantom Limbs, comes out from Candlewick in 2016. Paula is represented by Molly Jaffa of Folio Lit, and lives in the Chicago area with her family.

LINKS: Website | Twitter

************

Follow the tour:

Week 1:
9/5: Such A Novel Idea – Guest Post
9/6: The Litaku – Review
9/7: The Irish Banana Review – Top 10
9/8: Pretty Deadly Reviews – Review
9/9: Resch Reads and Reviews – Guest Post

Week 2:

************

the-irish-banana-review-button

Book Review: The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta—and a Giveaway!

The Last Good GirlThe Last Good Girl
Anna Curtis #5
Allison Leotta
Touchstone, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-4767-6111-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It was her word against his…until she disappeared.

Emily Shapiro has gone missing. A freshman at a Michigan university, Emily was last seen leaving a bar near Beta Psi, a prestigious and secretive fraternity. The main suspect is Dylan Highsmith, the son of one of the most powerful politicians in the state. At first, the only clue is pieced-together surveil­lance footage of Emily leaving the bar that night…and Dylan running down the street after her.

When prosecutor Anna Curtis discovers a video diary Emily kept during her first few months at college, it exposes the history Emily had with Dylan: she accused him of rape before disappearing. Anna is horrified to discover that Dylan’s frat is known on campus as the “rape factory.”

The case soon gets media attention and support from Title IX activists across the country, but Anna’s investigation hits a wall. Anna has to find something, anything she can use to discover Emily alive. But without a body or any physical evidence, she’s under threat from people who tell her to stop before she ruins the name of an innocent young man.

Inspired by real-life stories, The Last Good Girl shines a light on campus rape and the powerful emotional dynamics that affect the families of the men and women on both sides.

There are a handful of women who are former sex crimes prosecutors and have made use of their knowledge and expertise to create compelling protagonists and series featuring such crimes. Allison Leotta is one of the best and, with each book, I think she gets better. That, of course, is as it should be.

Anna Curtis is such an appealing character that she alone can draw me back; she’s intelligent, focused but not driven, compassionate towards the victims and passionate about giving them justice. Anna isn’t perfect and that makes her all the more human. When the investigation into Emily’s disappearance reveals that she had claimed that Dylan raped her, Anna is determined to do what’s right by the girl.

Campus rape has become more and more publicized in recent years and, in many cases, it’s a he said/she said situation. Ms. Leotta has crafted a storyline that brings this crime even more to the fore, largely by making her characters so vivid, so alive, that I literally felt the fear and anger that a friend of Emily would feel upon learning what had happened to her. What makes it even worse is the uncertainty that so frequently occurs when the young man involved may or may not actually be guilty and, yet, his future is in dire jeopardy. Add to that the privileged status of Dylan and so many of his counterparts in real life and you have to wonder if true justice is even possible.

In Ms. Leotta‘s hands, this tale becomes so intriguing, with twists and turns everywhere, that I was riveted, unable to put the book down until sleep deprivation forced me to. Anna is up against time and some powerful adversaries who could easily destroy her career but finding out what really happened to Emily is paramount.  That search for the girl—and the truth—kept me fully engaged until the very end and I’m already wanting Anna’s next book 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for a print
copy of The Last Good Girl
by
Allison Leotta, just leave
a comment
below. The winning
name will be
drawn on Friday
night, June 10th.
This drawing
is open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: When I’m Gone by Emily Bleeker—and a giveaway!

When I'm GoneWhen I’m Gone
Emily Bleeker
Lake Union Publishing, March 2016
ISBN 978-1503953383
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Dear Luke,
First let me say—I love you…I didn’t want to leave you…

Luke Richardson has returned home after burying Natalie, his beloved wife of sixteen years, ready to face the hard job of raising their three children alone. But there’s something he’s not prepared for—a blue envelope with his name scrawled across the front in Natalie’s handwriting, waiting for him on the floor of their suburban Michigan home.

The letter inside, written on the first day of Natalie’s cancer treatment a year ago, turns out to be the first of many. Luke is convinced they’re genuine, but who is delivering them? As his obsession with the letters grows, Luke uncovers long-buried secrets that make him question everything he knew about his wife and their family. But the revelations also point the way toward a future where love goes on—in written words, in memories, and in the promises it’s never too late to keep.

This book has everything going for it: a heart-tugging widower, a mystery to be solved (actually, more than one although they’re not the kind you find in mystery novels, strictly speaking), family secrets to be revealed, a promise of hope for the future. There are surprises both good and not so much so and it’s clear that Natalie truly cared for her husband and children. It was—and still is—a loving family and the secrets that are revealed towards the end are maddening as well as sad. Why, then, didn’t I connect with this story as much as I should have?

When I’m Gone is beautifully written and the characters are vividly drawn but I think perhaps it was a wrong choice for me. Truthfully, there is nothing actually wrong with it and I think most other readers will really appreciate it whereas I just never was emotionally invested and that may be partially because I find the idea of these letters coming for such a long time kind of unhealthy for those who are left behind. It seems to me that the healing process is dragged out much longer than is natural and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. One heartfelt letter, yes; a string of them, maybe not.

When I think about the story Ms. Bleeker has given us, I’m quite sure my reaction isn’t fair but I also believe I understand it. I had five deaths to cope with in 2015 and, by the end of the year, I was continually on edge wondering what horrible thing would be happening next. Perhaps it’s too soon for me to read a tale like this one because my own emotions are still fragile. Because of that, I fully intend to read this again when I’m more receptive and I’m pretty darned sure I’m going to love it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

************

Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble Buy Button        Amazon Buy Button

************

About the Author

Emily Bleeker 2Emily Bleeker is a former educator who discovered her passion for writing after introducing a writer’s workshop to her students. She soon found a whole world of characters and stories living inside of her mind. It took a battle with a rare form of cancer to give her the courage to share that amazing world with others. Emily lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and four kids. Between writing and being a mom, she attempts to learn guitar, sings along to the radio (loudly), and embraces her newfound addiction to running. Connect with her or request a Skype visit with your book club at emilybleeker.wordpress.com.

Connect with Emily:

Website Button     Twitter Button     Facebook Button     Goodreads Button 2

************

Follow the tour here.

************

To enter the drawing for a print
copy of When I’m Gone by Emily
Bleeker, leave a comment below.
The winning name will be drawn
on Saturday evening, March 19th,
and the book will be sent out
after the end of the tour. This
giveaway is open to residents  of
the US and Canada.

************

TLC Book Tours Button