Book Reviews: The Final Vow by Amanda Flower and Sip by Brian Allen Carr

The Final Vow
A Living History Museum Mystery #3
Amanda Flower
Midnight Ink, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4592-3
Trade Paperback

A hugely important wedding is taking place at the Barton Farm Living History Museum. Museum director Kelsey Cambridge is in charge of corroborating with the wedding planner to make sure everything goes smoothly. Tough times. Not only are they contending with a supreme bridezilla, but the wedding planner gets thrown from the church steeple.

Turns out Vianna Pine was not only rather unpleasant, but was almost as demanding as her clients. Not only that, she’d just found out she was the real heiress to the Barton Farm property and people are running scared. Plenty motive for murder.

Meanwhile, Kelsey is under time restraints to have the murder solved before the wedding and so, predictably, she takes a hand in the investigation. The catch? Her ex-husband is the bridezilla’s groom.

I admit I found myself annoyed with Kelsey. For a character supposedly in charge of a project like the living history museum, I thought she lacked backbone. I’d like to have seen her much stronger and more decisive. A great many of her employees, to whom she was so loyal, were thoroughly unpleasant. And the motive for the murder seemed too light. The chemistry between Kelsey and her boyfriend Chase was almost non-existent, seemingly thrown in because she needs a romantic interest.

Even so, the book moves along at a lively pace, and is clean fun read for a summer evening.

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

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Sip
Brian Allen Carr
Soho Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-827-5
Hardcover

What a premise! Mr. Carr has an extraordinarily creative mind to have come up with the idea of people who get high by drinking their own shadow. A sort of disease afflicting one child quickly took over the world, with only small pockets of non-addicted people. Soon, certain factions moved into domes and shut the addicts out. Trains began running in circles⏤I’ve got to admit I never did figure out the purpose of this⏤and folks began cutting off limbs and drinking the shadows these arms and legs made. Violence, destruction, and death became commonplace. And apparently nobody cared.

Except Mira, whose shadow has been stolen, and is friends with Murk, who is an addict, and they are joined by Bale, a “domer” who was thrown off a train to die because he wasn’t murderous enough. Together, they go on a quest to discover a cure to the shadow addiction, but there’s a time problem. They have to find it before the return of Halley’s Comet in just a few days.

What did I think of this story? To tell the truth, I’m not quite sure. I keep asking myself why? Why would anybody do the things they do, or think the things they think. But then I turn on the news or read a paper and it all becomes almost logical.

The characters in this story are strong personalities, each and every one. The dialogue is sharp, the frequent obscenities seeming normal in context. There are twists and turns and puzzles at every point, so you don’t dare miss a word. And the end makes sense. Don’t expect this novel to give you the warm fuzzies, by any means. But be assured this is a book that will make you think, and that you won’t forget⏤ever.

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

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Book Review: Pacific Homicide by Patricia Smiley

Pacific Homicide
A Pacific Homicide #1
Patricia Smiley
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5021-7
Trade Paperback

Pacific Homicide introduces LAPD Homicide Detective Davie (Davina) Richards, a newly promoted officer with a reputation for getting the job done no matter what it takes. She is also the daughter of a former LAPD officer whose last case led to the embarrassment of the District Attorney who now oversees “officer involved shootings.” This sets up the first of two plots in Pacific Homicide.

While her dad is now retired, the attorney has set his sights on Davie as a way to get his personal revenge for his embarrassment. Before her promotion, Davie shot a suspect to save her partner’s life. The shooting was ruled justifiable, but now, the DA has  reopened the investigation of the shooting.

The first case she catches in homicide as lead detective is of a badly decomposed body of a woman found in the sewer system. The case leads Davie into the world of Ukrainian immigrants which although not a new plot in crime fiction is done well in Pacific Homicide.

There are several things that are especially likable in this book. First, Davie is a great protagonist. She’s passionate and hard working. She goes on with her job regardless of the investigation that could end her career. Secondly, the police procedural details ring true. The author seems to know her way around a police department.

Also, the pace of the book is perfect. The author gives the reader enough new material frequently enough to keep us guessing while we try to solve the young woman’s death. And she plays fair. I was surprised at how the case was ultimately resolved, but thinking back over the book, the clues were there.

I would recommend this book for people who enjoy strong women protagonists, police procedurals, books set in Los Angeles.

I had assumed that this was to be a series, and indeed, I checked and the second book in the series, Outside the Wire was just released.

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

Book Reviews: Bad to the Bone by Linda O. Johnston and SALT by Daniel Boyd

Bad to the Bone
A Barkery & Biscuits Mystery #3
Linda O. Johnston
Midnight Ink, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4628-9
Trade Paperback

Everyone in Linda Johnston’s latest cozy mystery owns a dog, and they all want to feed their furry friends treats. That’s a good thing for Carrie Kennersly, a veterinary technician who owns Barkery & Biscuits, a bakery that sells healthy snacks for pets. The store is next to her people bakery, Icing on the Cake. A large pet food company, VimPets, wants to buy some of Carrie’s recipes to add to their line of products. Jack Loroco, the local sales representative for VimPets, has been trying to convince her that it would be a win/win situation for her.

Enter Wanda Addler, a VimPets employee who is trying to woo Carrie to deal with her. She’s attractive, brash, and not above manipulating people to get her way. Wanda has discovered that Jack is dating local city councilwoman Billi Matlock, and threatens his job security. When Wanda is found stabbed to  death in the parking lot behind the Knobcone Heights Resort, both Jack and Billi are suspects.

An  entertaining mystery set in a resort town in southern California. Two recipes are included—one for people and one for dogs.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.

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SALT
The World After CARBON
Daniel Boyd & Predrag Ivanovic (Illustrator)
Caliber Comics, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-9423516-9-6
Trade Paperback

I open a new Daniel Boyd graphic novel feeling the same anticipation-tingle-of-excitement that I get pulling off the top of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Diving into SALT: The World After CARBON was like my first taste of Boom Chocolatta! Cookie Core.  Immersed in fond familiarity, awaiting the unexpected ingredient, it was so easy to indulge and just enjoy.

Until the caffeine kicked me into the adventure and the ferociously fast-paced action invaded my mind, capturing my focus.  Art erupts from the pages.  Adrenaline-inducing drama, cliff-dangling suspense and baseball are accounted for and in full force.  Corrupt politicians ignore the environmental impact of hydro-fracturing, causing conflict with the folks that want clean water; a right-here-right-now-relevance.  The Cookie Core is an unlikely combination of West Virginians that dismiss and destroy stereotypes by performing super-heroic actions, otherwise known as doing exactly what they’ve always done—sticking together to fight the good fight.  Nature Ned is a delightful addition, definitely a deeply desired, chocolate cookie crumb.  The River Rat reprise is the caramel that is not like the other things and shouldn’t belong, but inexplicably works perfectly.  And serves as a reminder of this author’s ornery streak.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Boyd’s recent release.  It pleased me tremendously and gave me plenty to think about, but…..without the ice-cream headache.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

Book Review: An Imperfect Past by Eve Seymour

An Imperfect Past
A Kim Slade Novel #2
Eve Seymour
Midnight Ink, March 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7387-4867-2
Trade Paperback

Kim Slate is a psychologist/psycho-therapist in Cheltenham. She has apparently had some serious troubles in the past, losing her lover to violent death and being under suspicion. The incident has left Kim with a general suspicion of authority and law enforcement specifically. This complicates an already fraught situation.

One of her former patients, a young woman named Mimi, beset by an invidious eating disorder and a mother who also needs some family therapy, returns at fourteen to Ellerslie Lodge, the clinic serving anorexia-afflicted young women. Mimi, dying, tasks Kim with finding her long-lost brother. Mimi’s mother, a hard-driving successful business woman, entangled with a lover twenty years her junior, is in deep denial about her son. When the lover is discovered dead of a knife wound and expertly eviscerated, police naturally question Kim and look closely at a champion chef with whom Kim Slate has had a casual relationship.

There are even more complications as Kim sets out to avoid the police inquiry and attempt to track down Mimi’s long-lost brother. The novel is driven by people with night terrors brought flailing into the harsh light of day. Kim struggles to retain her sanity, manage clients in the clinic and complete her efforts to locate Mimi’s brother.

Several surprising events occur along the way to keep readers glued to the pages of this dark and well-written novel. In some ways, it is depressing to realize there are a great number of similarly afflicted individuals roaming about our landscape and interfering with our attempts to manage our own daily lives. This thoughtful, complicated story does not foster joy and laughter but it does explore a number of troubling aspects of our complicated lives.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2017.
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: The Elusive Elixir by Gigi Pandian

The Elusive Elixir
An Accidental Alchemist Mystery #3
Gigi Pandian
Midnight Ink,  January 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4236-6
Trade Paperback

Who isn’t interested in Alchemy? Can there be anything more intriguing than the ability to transform one thing into something completely different? Lead into gold is probably the conversion of matter most people know of–not that in reality anyone has ever succeeded. But close to that is the search for an elixir to make a living person immortal. And there begins the story.

Zoe Faust, who is 340 years old but appears 30ish, has found the way to transform her own life while keeping her age secret. She moves frequently when her lack of aging becomes too obvious. She states she’s a granddaughter of the original Zoe. And now she’s on a quest to preserve her friend, Dorian Robert-Houdin, a gargoyle who came to life, from turning back to stone. Zoe travels to France, where she once lived, to discover someone from her past, an old lady who says that as a child, she knew Zoe. She also tells Zoe that the police want her for the murder, during WWII, of the man who ran Zoe’s shop and was burned beyond recognition when the shop fell victim to arson.

Zoe flees, which lands her in a peck of trouble when more people from her past follow her to her home–and right to Dorian. These people expect her to provide an old book they believe will show them the way to make the elixir of life–except the elixir needs the sacrifice of a living person. Who will they chose to be this sacrifice? That’s what Zoe has to find out  and prevent. Complicating all she does is the relationship she has with a lover, a partner after more than one hundred years. If he finds out what she really is, what will happen?

This is a good plot. I greatly enjoyed Dorian (although his “brother” not so much) and most of the rest of the cast are good, too. Given her great age, sometimes Zoe struck me as insipid. Well, maybe because of her great age, yes? Some passages are quite repetitive, as well, but overall, I did enjoy the book.

As for alchemy, Dorian is a marvelous cook. He’s found a way to transform common vegan ingredients into wonderful meals. His greatest discovery? Avocado! The book contains the recipe for his special chocolate mousse, which I actually made and found it pretty darn good!

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

Book Review: Uncorking a Lie by Nadine Nettmann

Uncorking a Lie
A Sommelier Mystery #2
Nadine Nettmann
Midnight Ink, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5062-0
Trade Paperback

After being introduced in Decanting A Murder,  Sommelier Katie Stillwell returns in Uncorking a Lie. Paul Rafferty is a regular customer at the restaurant where Katie works. When he is the highest bidder for a rare bottle of wine at an auction, he hosts a dinner for the uncorking at his home and invites Katie.  Katie is the only one there that is not part of an apparently tight knit group of friends, who are most curious about who she is and why she was included. Though she is a guest, she offers her expertise at uncorking the special bottle of wine. After the wine is served, she is immediately suspicious that the wine is not what the label says and in fact is neither old nor special. When she shares her doubts with Cooper, Paul’s assistant who is seated next to her, he decides to go to the wine cellar to retrieve the second bottle of wine Paul bought at the auction. When Cooper doesn’t return, Katie goes to get him only to find him unconscious at the bottom of the stairs. From there the mystery really kicks up. There are deaths and other attacks on people connected to the wine. Katie is clearly in danger. But why? What has she stumbled into?

I love the premise of this series. The author is a sommelier and her knowledge shines through. She is able to give readers a good bit of wine history and general information on how wine ages without it becoming preachy. The plot is well developed though I strongly suspected who the culprit was well before the case was solved.

The series is set in and around  the Bay area, from San Francisco to Sonoma. The author really puts the reader in that location including enough local details to make it come alive for readers.

The one thing that keeps it from rating higher for me is  that regardless of how smart Katie might be, she has a tendency to go rushing off into obviously dangerous situations. She seems to feel as though only she is capable of handling even the most dangerous people. This is known as the “too stupid to live” flaw of many mystery protagonists. For me, as much as I really liked this book, if the author doesn’t give Katie a bit more common sense, I won’t be reading any future books in the series.

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

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 3

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

Deep Cover Jack
The Hunt for Reacher Series #7
Diane Capri
AugustBooks, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-940768-70-0
Trade Paperback

If you’ve never tried any of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, you need to read at least one before you tackle this series because this is all about the “other side” of the equation, the law enforcement folks who think they need to apprehend Reacher because he’s such a horrible person, a desperately wanted man. Well…our FBI Special Agents, Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar have learned a few things by the time we get to this seventh book and they’ve picked up a little help along the way from other interested parties but they haven’t yet caught the man. Will they this time when they head for Houston? Hmm…if you know Jack, you know their chances are on the slim side but will they at least get close?

This is an intriguing, entertaining companion to the Jack Reacher series and, yes, Lee Child himself speaks highly of it. Oh, and before you think these must be the most incompetent agents ever if they’ve been chasing him through seven books, think again. Try it, you’ll like it 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Stalking Jack the Ripper
Stalking Jack the Ripper Series #1
Kerri Maniscalco
jimmy patterson, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-316-27349-7
Hardcover

As you might surmise from the name of the publisher, this is “presented” by the megawatt author James Patterson himself and, if I do say so, this is a good ‘un. Audrey Rose Wadsworth loves to spend time in her uncle’s lab learning medical stuff but gets drawn into a serious criminal investigation, that of the gory deaths of some women of ill repute. With the assistance of Thomas Cresswell, apprentice to her uncle, Audrey Rose really wants to get justice for these poor women as well as bring a killer to justice but the stakes get even higher when the long arm of the law reaches out to someone close to her.

I like the Victorian era, young adult mysteries and the Jack the Ripper case (plus I love the cover) so trying this was a no brainer for me. Mounting clues and hair-raising theories lead to a horrifying discovery but, throughout it all, Audrey Rose maintains her intelligent, thoughtful focus even if she can’t be completely objective. The next case for this young lady and the charming if annoying Thomas, Hunting Prince Dracula, involves another string of killings while Audrey Rose studies forensic medicine in Romania and I can hardly wait to dive in.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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March of Crime
A Murder-By-Month Mystery #11
Jess Lourey
Midnight Ink, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5263-1
Trade Paperback

This cozy series has been fun and frothy since the beginning and I continue to like them a lot, especially because they never seem to get stale, if you know what I mean. They have plenty of humor along with tension and Mira Ross might as well be called the Jessica Fletcher of Battle Lake, Minnesota, since people seem to drop like flies in her vicinity. No wonder this mild-mannered librarian has aspirations of being a private eye!

One thing that intrigues me about cozies is the myriad ways authors find to present a dead body without offending sensibilities and I think Ms. Lourey has outdone herself and everyone else this time. Lifesize dolls are kind of creepy anyway (to me at least) but when one turns out to be an actual corpse sitting proudly right next to Mira, well I ask you, how could she NOT want to snoop? Mira and her assorted crew of cronies and nemeses are soon hot on one trail or another and I chortled all the way to the end.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Enemy Within
Scott Burn
Scott Burn, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-9978429-1-3
Trade Paperback

There have been people throughout history who have had visions of the future, some believable, many more not so much, but I had to have a lot of sympathy for the 17-year-old Max who has been seeing hellfire and damnation at the apparent end of the world. In his situation, I’m not sure I wouldn’t at least consider his way of ending these horrific sights that just won’t stop but one thing that would prevent me from  doing such a drastic thing is my own suspicion that I’d bungle it. And he does, landing himself in an institution.

Three other boys have found each other but know that they’re missing one and can’t do what they’re supposed to do without him. Who are they? Suffice it to say, there’s a new unclaimed satellite in orbit and things are about to get very unsettling for us and for our survival on this planet.

This was such a fun story with aliens and other cool science fiction-y stuff. Technically speaking, this is Young Adult but I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good apocalyptic story full of adventure and mayhem, not to mention some pretty appealing characters. I hope we’ll see more of Max before too long.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Matthew Sullivan
Scribner, June 2017
ISBN 978-1501116841
Hardcover
Narrated by Madeleine Maby
Simon & Schuster Audio, June 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

As a former bookstore owner, I naturally had to read this and, while I enjoyed it, I also had some reservations. The Bright Ideas Bookstore is a strange sort of place, attracting some rather odd people called the BookFrogs, some of whom seem to spend all their waking hours just hanging out, rarely buying anything. And, since Lydia Smith was Joey Molina’s favorite bookseller, you have to wonder why he would commit suicide in the bookstore, leaving his supposed favorite to find him.

But so he does and he leaves all his worldly goods to Lydia leading her to puzzle over certain things that pique her curiosity, not only because she thought Joey was a nice young man but also because she seems to have an odd connection to this mystery, a connection that takes her back to a most unpleasant murder-tainted past.

The ebook of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore grabbed my attention despite my initial reluctance and I decided I wanted to try listening to the tale. Narrator Madeleine Maby has a pleasing tone with identifiable vocalizations and I do think the audio edition helped evoke emotions a bit more easily than the written version. Bottomline, while the rampant dysfunction in these characters’ lives made me somewhat unsettled, the mystery itself was engaging.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.