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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.