Book Review: Rhythm and Clues by Sue Ann Jaffarian @SueAnnJaffarian @midnightinkbook

Rhythm & Clues
An Odelia Grey Mystery #11
Sue Ann Jaffarian
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-1885-9
Trade Paperback

This is the eleventh in Sue Ann Jaffarian’s popular Odelia Grey mystery series.  Odelia is a 220-pound, 5 ft. 1inch paralegal/amateur detective who, as far as I can  tell, doesn’t actually work at her paralegal job very much.  The story begins with Odelia having coffee at a Starbucks (where else?) with Shelita Thomas whose father, Art Franklin, lives in the Seaside Retirement Community where Odelia’s mother, Grace, also lives.  Shelita asked to meet with Odelia to discuss a phone call she received from the management at Seaside complaining that Grace and Art were repeatedly complaining to them about another resident, Bo Shank, who appears to have gone missing.  In fact, they have gone so far as to file a missing person report with the police.  Shelita wants Odelia to do something to stop her mother whom she believes is goading Art into taking action.  Odelia, quite sensibly it seems to me, believes they are both adults and there is nothing she can or should do to stop them from looking for their friend.

However, Odelia is drawn to the problem because Bo Shank happens to be the former lead singer of Acid Storm, a band Odelia adored when she was a teenager.  So, she agrees to help look for Bo.  And therein lies the story.  Odelia is assisted in her search not only by her mother and Art but also by her niece, Lorraine, a somewhat ditzy young woman who is visiting from Chicago.  When Grace and Lorraine go off without Odelia to sleuth they find a dead body and the chase is on.

Despite the dead body, this is an amusing mystery, fast-paced and full of memorable characters with the obligatory detective that Odelia does not get along with.  Rhythm & Clues is a great summer read!

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, July 2019.

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Book Review: The Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre @MsAnnAguirre @midnightinkbook

The Third Mrs. Durst
Ann Aguirre
Midnight Ink, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-7387-6131-2
Hardcover

Marlena Altizer left home as soon as she could—she had a mother addicted to meth and younger brothers and sisters who had different fathers. The children often went hungry and Marlena was raped by one of her mother’s boyfriends when she was eleven. She scraped together enough money to buy a bus ticket to Nashville when she was sixteen and lived on the streets, where she met another teen runaway, Jenny Song. She caught the attention of a talent agent, who got her a modeling job. Her career took off, and she travelled to Europe for modeling jobs and attended classes at a Germany university.

Marlena was determined to find a rich and powerful man, and leave poverty behind. However, the man she found, Michael Durst, was rich and powerful but also cruel, controlling and sadistic. He concocted a false history for her, and arranged for her to be adopted by a Croatian couple. All her movements were watched by henchmen of her husband.  Marlena realized she was in over her head and she couldn’t see a way to escape.

While I enjoy a good tale of revenge, Marlena is not a very likable or sympathetic character. She uses her husband, who gets what’s coming to him, but she also manipulates her bodyguard in a cold and calculating way, who was one of the only people on her husband’s staff who was kind to her.   While she is loyal to her sisters and her friend Jenny, they also become entangled in the dangerous world of Michael Durst. A violent and gritty tale of deception and control.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, August 2019.

Book Review: The Time for Murder is Meow by T. C. LoTempio—and a Giveaway! @RoccoBlogger

The Time for Murder is Meow
A Purr N Bark Pet Shop Mystery #1
T. C. LoTempio
Midnight Ink, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-7387-6036-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Crishell “Shell” McMillan sees the cancellation of her TV series as a blessing in disguise. The former actress can now take over her late aunt’s pet shop, the Purr N’ Bark, and do something she loves.

While getting the shop ready for re-opening, Shell is asked to loan her aunt’s Cary Grant posters to the local museum for an exhibit. She finds the prospect exciting―until a museum board member, who had a long-standing feud with Shell’s aunt, votes against it. When she discovers the board member dead in the museum, Shell becomes suspect number one. Can she, her Siamese cat Kahlua, and her new sidekick―her aunt’s Persian Purrday―find the real culprit, or will her latest career go up in kitty litter?

A pair of cute felines are part and parcel of this fun cozy but fear not, those of you who cringe at the idea—they don’t really help solve the crime(s) unless you count some judicious nudges and they don’t talk to Shell 😉 That doesn’t mean she doesn’t talk to them; any self-respecting cat person knows that’s a given, right?

When Shell inherited her aunt’s pet shop, she fully expected a quiet life, much less stressful than her former acting world, but she didn’t allow for the animosity she encountered from Amelia Witherspoon. Shell never knew her Aunt Tillie had a feud going with Amelia but, then again, maybe Aunt Tillie wasn’t as invested in the feud as Amelia still is. This crabby woman won’t even allow the local museum to have a showing of the marvelous Cary Grant memorabilia just because the collection belonged to Tillie and Shell is determined to change the woman’s mind. Unfortunately, she won’t get the chance because somebody has done away with the woman and Shell is the popular choice as the murderer thanks to rumors and gossip. Meanwhile, why is the publisher/reporter, Quentin Watson, of the village rag so interested in her shop and why is he pointing the finger at Shell as the killer?

There are a number of likely suspects and, as you might expect, a potential love interest in Detective Josh Bloodgood who wisely doesn’t really believe she’s guilty but my favorite character is Gary, Shell’s former co-star, entirely because…well, you’ll see ;-). The mystery here is a bit lightweight, especially in Shell’s supposed motivation for the murder and I figured out who done it too early, but an appealing cast of characters and a healthy dose of humor make this a nice way to while away a few hours. I’m already looking forward to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2019.

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To enter the drawing for an Advance
Reading Copy of The Time for Murder is Meow
just leave a comment below. Two winning
names will be drawn on Wednesday evening,
August 7th. Open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Under the Shadows by Gwen Florio

Under The Shadows
A Lola Wicks Mystery #5
Gwen Florio
Midnight Ink, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5053-8
Trade Paperback

We’re all creatures of habit and the older we are, the more ingrained those become. Lola Wicks spent much of her adult life being independent and free to follow her instincts into dangerous locations as an investigative journalist. It took her late husband Charlie, who was a member of a Montana Indian tribe and a county sheriff, years to wear her down and marry him. Part of those wearing down years involved the birth of their now eight year old daughter, Margaret.

When Charlie was killed, smothering a bomb planted by eco-terrorists, while they were on vacation in Arizona, the unexpected wave of grief was so strong and unexpected that Lola found herself not only shadowed by Charlie’s ghost, but so distraught that she couldn’t take care of herself or her daughter. Her best friend, Jan, along with the Aunties (women elders of the tribe) did an intervention.

The result isn’t something Lola is initially willing to consider. The Aunties and Jan will care for Margaret while Lola goes to Salt Lake City where Jan has arranged for her to do a story on foreign adoption by Mormon couples for a church owned publication. Everyone’s hope is that the challenge, the geographic change, and the threat of losing her daughter to the Montana social services department will provide the kick in the rear she needs to return to the ranks of the living.

What Lola alone knows is that her nails-screeching-on-the-blackboard hold on sanity is being held together by industrial strength pain pills, sometimes the only thing that allows her any sleep and relief from Charlie’s ghost. They also compound her gradual distancing from caring and life.

No sooner does she arrive in Salt Lake City and gets off on the wrong foot with her new boss by almost sleeping through her initial meeting, than she discovers that Trang, now called Frank, the Vietnamese teen adopted at age ten, has been arrested and accused of the murder of his girlfriend’s mother. Since it was his hockey stick that cracked her skull, although her death was the result of a vicious slash across the woman’s throat, nobody seems interested in looking for an alternate suspect.

What this major upset in plans does do is start a faint rekindle of the spark that used to drive Lola’s investigative instincts. After she’s bought Vicodin from a nervous teen in a sketchy downtown park, nearly had her own throat cut, realized a smell from her own youth is attached to someone who might be the real killer, made friends with the accused teen’s girlfriend, discovered just how strange and inflexible Mormon culture can be around certain social issues and nearly been thrown in a Vietnamese jail, you, the reader, are feeling a bit like you just got off a wild carnival ride.

While many elements of the story are straightforward mystery plot items, what sets this apart are the intensity of Lola’s grief, how that has spread to impact others and how much secrecy and deceit occurred long before Lola ever landed in Salt Lake City. It’s part of a series, but can be enjoyed a lot without having read any of the others by Gwen Florio.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, May 2019.

Book Review: Deadly Dog Days by Jamie M. Blair

Deadly Dog Days
A Dog Days Mystery #1
Jamie M. Blair
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-5018-7
Trade Paperback

Start with a soon to be forty woman who feels like a fish out of water. Meet Cameron Cripps-Hayman, currently living in Metamora, Indiana and wondering what happened to her life. She is currently estranged from her husband, Ben, grew up here and convinced her to move when he took the job as town sheriff. Between his arrogant and opinionated, (did I mention, she was also snooty and greedy as well), mother’s coldness and Ben’s working all sorts of hours, the marriage started to unravel and they have been separated for the past six months.

Cameron is feeding a flock of ducks while mulling over her lot, as well as the sad state of things in town when she realizes there’s a hand sticking out of the water on the opposite bank. She can tell by the slender fingers that the deceased is female and notices a red something wrapped around the corpse’s wrist. What Cameron will quickly learn is that the victim is Jenn Berg, a young woman who was not only starring in the play everyone hoped would bring tourists and begin the revitalization process, but who was pregnant and rumored to be dating Ben.

What follows includes Cameron becoming a suspect in the eyes of some community members, her assuming responsibility for Jenn’s four unruly dogs, her mother-in-law trying to steal everything of value from the home she gave Ben and Cameron, plus the added chaos created by the five volunteers Cameron is supervising. Their original mission was to sell tickets to the play through a phone bank in the church basement, but that goes south when the play is canceled and the phone bank is asked to leave because of Cameron’s supposedly being a suspect.

While there is a murder to be solved, it often takes a back seat to the antics of the phone bank folks who decide they all want to play detective. One is a kleptomaniac who spends more time knitting than calling, another is a drunk, yet another is doing community service for an unspecified assault, and the other two are nerdy high school kids. At other times, the drama between Cameron and Ben takes center stage. Then there are other townspeople who share the suspicion spotlight at various times, the bartender who was involved with the victim as well as her younger sister, a shopkeeper with dementia, an elderly philosopher who is constantly dowsing, an aspiring film maker and a wealthy eccentric who lives in a castle take center stage, plus the surly kennel owner who Jenn owed money to for a fifth dog. Add in a scheme to thwart the mother-in-law by painting the house in violation of a town ordinance, another dead body and a promising home-made dog treat business, not to mention the antics of Ben’s fifteen year old daughter Mia who knows how to play Ben against Cameron and you have a delightfully chaotic murder mystery. Cozy lovers will find this a delight.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, April 2019.

Book Review: Pairing a Deception by Nadine Nettmann

Pairing a Deception
A Sommelier Mystery #3
Nadine Nettmann
Midnight Ink Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5063-7
Trade paperback

The heroine of this story, Katie Stillwell, is on the brink of taking her Advanced Sommelier exam, a difficult test which only a talented few are able to pass. At the same time, she, accompanied by her boyfriend, John Dean, a detective in the Napa Valley, are attending a wine festival where Katie will pour wines for attendees at one of the seminars. Almost immediately things begin to go awry. A young woman causes a scene at the hotel front desk, and then another one involving the major presenter, Master Sommelier Hudson Wiley, who will be one of Katie’s judges when she takes the test.

It isn’t long before the young woman is found murdered outside Hudson’s door, and Katie and her detective friend are on the case. And then, as Katie and John come closer to discovering the murderer, Katie becomes a target.

For the wine aficionado, there is a lot of information packed into this novel. Each chapter begins with a pairing suggestion for wine of specific varietals, and flavor notes are often indicated. For this reader, the information so imparted held the most charm, and hey, I learned how to pronounce sommelier. (sam-all-yay) I have to admit I thought the motivation for the crime a bit weak, and some of the characters hard to care for. Katie and John, however, are well fleshed out and likable, the writing just fine, and the setting interesting. The Santa Barbara wine country sounds like a great area to visit.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2018.
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Reviews: Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski and Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark

Fairest of All
Whatever After #1
Sarah Mlynowski
Scholastic Press, April 2013
978-0-545-48571-5
Trade Paperback

I am a fan of the fairy-tale re-tell.

It is always delightful when a familiar story gets a fresh twist. But, to take an already awesome creation to a totally new height—in the same way that Jimi Hendrix covered Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”—well, that really rocks my socks. So, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I absolutely adored Ms. Mlynowski’s Whatever After: Fairest of All.

And, you can well imagine my enthusiasm upon discovering that the author has already written an entire series of these treasures. I’m going to have to buy the whole set for some classroom library, but I should probably read them quickly, before turning them over.

In the meantime, I happen to have Special Edition: Whatever After: Abby in Wonderland in my hot little hands right now…

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2019.

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Fiction Can Be Murder
A Mystery Writer’s Mystery #1
Becky Clark
Midnight Ink, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5332-4
Trade Paperback

Semi-successful mystery writer, Charlee, has penned the perfect murder. At least according to her critique group, beta readers, boyfriend and agent. And yes, even if she does say so herself. But before it goes to print, her diabolical plan is implemented in the real-life murder of her agent.

Melinda Walters wasn’t well-liked. Maybe not even respected. Actually, not even an awesome agent. Few will weep when hearing of her untimely demise. The apparent automobile accident is instead, the result of a properly executed plan. Although there may be many with apparent motive, the suspect pool shrinks to only those who could have set the scene exactly as it was written.

Charlee has no reason to doubt the local law enforcement. Her father died in the line of duty. There was some speculation, but she assumed it must be normal and willfully blocked it out. Besides, her brother is a policeman and he is successful, trusted and well-liked. Probably.

Regardless, it’s clearly best if she conducts her own investigation. Charlee kicks relationships to the curb and treats everyone in her inner circle as a suspect. Turns out, even when not involved in criminal activity, there are a plethora of reasons to maintain privacy.

I found Ms. Clark’s Fiction Can Be Murder to be a very quick and (this must sound strange) but…light read. I quite enjoyed the moment that Charlee spent writing anything-but-murder-mysteries. Although this novel falls into the Fiction: Mystery genre, as opposed to my usual Young Adult, I’ll be passing it on to my favorite classroom library where I’m sure it will be well-received.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2018.