Book Review: Below the Tree Line by Susan Oleksiw

Below the Tree Line
A Pioneer Valley Mystery #1
Susan Oleksiw
Midnight Ink, September 2018
Trade Paperback

Felicity O’Brien has taken over her father’s farm, raising vegetables and fostering a few sheep to pay her dad’s way in an assisted living facility. Occasionally, a logger (timberer?) comes in and thins the forest that grows on the farm’s poor soil. But just lately, Felicity, who lives alone except for her cat, has become aware of someone, or something, coming around at night, digging holes and snooping. Jeremy Colson, with whom she has a relationship, has his own business to run and isn’t always there to provide backup. And then two women are killed in separate occurrences, one just outside Felicity’s house in a car wreck, and one found dead on Felicity’s land. Both deaths are suspicious, and since she⏤or her land⏤seems to be involved, she feels called upon to investigate. If she doesn’t, she may be the next to die.

There’s an interesting premise for the motivation of this crime, which I’ll leave for the reader to discover for her/himself. But I’ll tell you what threw me for a loop, and it’s nothing that concerns the story itself, which is well-written, interesting, and moves along well. But who knew that in Massachusetts logging is evidently called timbering, and the log itself is called a timber? In my neck of the woods, harvesting the timber is called logging, upon which the cut timber becomes logs. I have to say the nomenclature threw me off every time and I found myself distracted. But that’s just me.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

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Book Review: Big Woods by May Cobb

Big Woods
May Cobb
Midnight Ink, July 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5781-0
Trade Paperback

It’s 1989 in Longview, Texas, and ten year old blonde Lucy Spencer disappears. The community assumes that her body will be found in the Big Woods, like other unresolved kidnappings that have happened in years past. Her sister Leah, 14,  receives a computer message that she believes is from Lucy. It says “underground. By the woods.” Leah is convinced that Lucy is alive, and the message signals her sister’s whereabouts.  Longview is gripped by paranoia surrounding the satanic cults of the 1980s.

Chapters are told alternately  from the point of view of Sylvia, a 75 year old retired nurse, and Leah. What, if anything, does Sylvia  have to do with the kidnapping? Sylvia married John and had no children. After she was widowed early, she went back to school to become a nurse and works with newborns. In fact, she was the nurse on duty when both Leah and Lucy were born.

On the day Lucy disappeared, It was her dad’s day to dress her, feed her, and get her to the school bus. A witness saw a man with a mustache in a small green convertible push Lucy into the car. Dad, an architect, begins to drink heavily and stay away from home after Lucy disappears.

Four children went missing before, but all were from the nearby town of Starrville, that is, until Lucy. Their bodies were found in the woods next to pentagram symbols and other signs pointing to cult activity.

This psychological thriller is written in short chapters, each only two or three pages, which helps to quicken the pace and heighten expectations. There is no on-page violence or descriptions, yet the book is tense and suspenseful.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2018.

Book Review: Déjà Moo by Kirsten Weiss—and a Giveaway!

Déjà Moo: For Whom the Cowbells Toll
A Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery #3
Kirsten Weiss
Midnight Ink, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5036-1
Trade Paperback

There’s a Halloween-ish vibe to San Benedetto’s Christmas celebration. Perhaps it’s the 30-foot straw cow erected by the Ladies Aid Society, in honor of their Swedish sister-city. Or the fact that, most years, someone is going to turn that bovine-tribute into the ultimate bonfire.

This year’s event surpassed haunting and was actually horrible, even with Fran Kosloski herself standing guard. The sacred statue was still attacked and set ablaze. When the smoke cleared, a human casualty was discovered. A humorous prank gone horribly wrong, or a devious plan perfectly implemented?

Maddie Kosloski knows she isn’t actually to blame, although she is beginning to rethink her decision to dust off the cursed cowbells to display in her paranormal museum. The story of death following their delivery is spooky, but not so old. Plenty of people recall those events and talk around town tightens tensions and creates panic leaving Maddie and her mother no choice but to try to solve the maybe-murder themselves.

Ms. Weiss has crafted the quintessential cozy mystery. A relatively new sub-genre that I’ve heard about, but had a hard time envisioning. I can definitely dig the downplaying of s-e-x, and the absence of graphic violence is not annoying, but I didn’t grasp the groovy vibes of an unconventional crime-solver in a small community. I get it now.

As the title implies, Déjà Moo: For Whom the Cowbells Toll is not a stand-alone story. Although I started the Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery series with the third book, I didn’t feel lost or less invested. And I learned about the Icelandic Christmas Ogress. So, I am going to go back and read the first two. Just for fun.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

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

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Déjà Moo, just leave a comment below.
Two winning names will be drawn on Sunday
night, December 23rd, for one Advance
Reading Copy and one trade paperback copy.
This
drawing is open to the US and Canada.

 

Book Review: The Second Goodbye by Patricia Smiley

The Second Goodbye
A Pacific Homicide Novel #3
Patricia Smiley
Midnight Ink, December 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5236-5
Trade Paperback

The Second Goodbye by Patricia Smiley is the third book in her contemporary police procedural series, featuring Detective Davie Richards in the Pacific Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Davie’s lieutenant is determined to clear the backlog of cold cases and has all his staff working them when current crimes do not occupy their time. He’s given Davie a case that was closed out as a suicide but the original case detective thought something was off about it and the lieutenant thought so too. He wants Davie to review and investigate to find sufficient grounds to re-open it. She also is looking for the drive-by shooter of a gang member, whose hard-working conscientious family is still distraught by their son’s death.

Sara Montaine’s death was ruled a suicide because no one was around her when she was shot in a gun dealer’s store. Davie can’t seem to get a fix on who the victim was. Her stepson thought she was a gold-digger, the animal rescue she supported and a neighbor thought she was wonderful. That she appeared to live comfortably without a job before she married also raised a lot of questions.

Not surprisingly, no one in the gang member’s circle is willing to talk to Davie about the drive-by shooting but she continues to ask questions of anyone who was even peripherally known to the victim, leading to a painful and anonymous assault in the yard of one of the apartment houses where she was interviewing potential leads.

I liked the unusual plot, which unfolds at a steady pace to reveal surprises throughout with a credible motive and solution at the end. Mostly the police procedure seems accurate. Davie took a chance or two too many in this book, operating on her own when she should have taken a partner and thereby putting herself in jeopardy a little more than she needed to. Still, overall solid entertainment and worth any mystery reader’s attention.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, October 2018.

Book Review: Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson

Quiet Neighbors
Catriona McPherson
Midnight Ink, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-4762-0
Hardcover

We all live in neighborhoods, some loud and raucous, some quiet and peaceful. In either case, we may know a good deal about those who live in those sheltering houses, and we may not. We might also be surprised to learn somethings good or not so good about our neighbors.

Neighborhoods are a collective façade behind which we often protect our privacy, letting others make assumptions without question until something upsets the even and normal fabric.

People have secrets and this is a novel of revelation, of history and secrets and the results of false assumptions. In some neighborhoods, or tiny towns, such as this one on the Scottish coast, the insertion of a new force, such as a stranger, can be benign or upsetting.

London librarian Jude comes on vacation with her husband to this tiny town of bookshops, fabric stores and teashops. It’s a quiet Scottish town and Jude discovers an odd bookstore nestled amongst other quirky shops. Lowland Glen Books turns out to be a treasure trove of used books. But the place is, to say the least, not well organized. But the store and its proprietor offer some quirky calm in the midst of Jude’s deteriorating life and marriage.

Weeks later, she needs a place to go to ground in a hurry and for unfathomable reasons, the town around Lowland Books rises in her memory and there she goes to hide. The mystery of her need to hide is one of the many mysteries so carefully unraveled as this story progresses. She needs shelter and a job wouldn’t be amiss, either. When the bookstore owner, possessor of his own secrets, offers her the job reorganizing the bookstore, and a roof over her head, the situation seems heaven-sent.

Naturally, in a small community like this, Jude discovers some people with secrets of their own and when a young pregnant woman, claiming a relationship with the bookstore owner, shows up, more yarn begins to unravel.

The revelations, the discoveries, intertwined with startling personality bends, are masterfully handled, retaining and enhancing wide-ranging literary comment, examination of some life styles and amazement as the sometimes slyly revealed truths come to the fore. Any reader who loves mystery, countervailing personal forces and a persistent, forward-moving narrative, will find this novel interesting and difficult to put  down.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 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: Mercy’s Chase by Jess Lourey

Mercy’s Chase
A Salem’s Cipher Novel #2
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5755-1
Hardcover

I became a fan of Jess Lourey’s series last year when I was privileged to review Salem’s Cipher. Salem Wiley, half-Persian, half-Irish, agoraphobic genius whose special talent is cracking ciphers and codes so difficult even the most sophisticated computer programs can’t do it, is now working for the FBI. She’s also perfecting a special computer program of her own, one that plays an important role in this story.

Posted to England, Salem’s first fieldwork comes when tasked with investigating a mysterious, and very old, miniature copy of Stonehenge an Irish farmer lady has found. What is it’s meaning? Is it something to do with the Order, a group of men with an unlimited desire for wealth and power? Or does it concern the women whom since ancient times have had to hide their own wealth and intellectual property from these men?

In the previous novel, Salem became a sort of guardian to a young girl, Mercy, when the girl’s brother was murdered helping Salem. She cares deeply for the child, and when Mercy is kidnapped and threatened with death, Salem is pitted against some of the worst the Order has to offer in a quest to discover the origins of Stonehenge..

The story will keep you guessing. Who can be trusted and who cannot is another cipher Salem must solve, and the answers may come as a surprise. Meanwhile, Salem grows in both her intellectual strength and her psyche as she fights her own fears to save Mercy. Recommended.

Action-packed, great writing taut with suspense, an appealing main character to root for–who could ask for anything more?

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Picks and Chews by Linda O. Johnston

Pick and Chews
A Barkery and Biscuits Mystery #4
Linda O. Johnston
Midnight Ink, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5245-7
Trade Paperback

In Pick and Chews,Barkery and Biscuit owner Carrie Kennersly is busy planning a rescue animal adoption event, but when her boss at the aniaml clinic she also works at is accused of murdering his fellow veterinarian, Carrie again begins to investigate.

There are a few things that really stand out in this series. The author has really developed the community of Knobcone Heights. It is the idealistic community many readers would like to visit. And for the most part, the characters are well fleshed out so that readers feel like they are people. And of course, as one would expect from this author, there are many animals most of whom are adorable. The animal shelter was for the most part heartwarming as well. The series takes the issue of pet adoption very seriously, another plus.

However, there are some issues as well. Carrie and Dr. Reed Stone are apparently in a relationship of sorts, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. In fact,  aside from their obviously “intimate” relationship it often doesn’t seem like the two of them are much more than acquaintances. The author seems to do a better job with animal-human relationships than she does with human-human relationships.

Another issue I had with the book is the way Carrie was involved in the investigation. I understand that in cozy mysteries with amateur detectives the person investigating is not a police officer and is often a major thorn in the police’s side, but here is our Carrie going beyond subtly investigating facts. Instead, she is running around interrogating people and raising a lot of  unease. Subtle she is not.

Lastly, for me at least, the book had more dog and dog rescue in it than actual mystery. There were clues, though I found the actual murderer more than a bit of a surprise. Looking back, yes there was a point or two pointing in that direction, but it seemed more of a last minute “who shall I have be the murderer” than a plot plan.

However, if readers enjoy animals, believe in animal adoptions and want a easy way to spend an afternoon, Pick and Chews might be just the book.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, September 2018.