Book Reviews: Booke of the Hidden by Jeri Westerson, Gone Gull by Donna Andrews and The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Booke of the Hidden
Booke of the Hidden #1
Jeri Westerson
Diversion Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63576-050-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

To get a fresh start away from a bad relationship, Kylie Strange moves across the country to open a shop in a seemingly quiet town in rural Maine. During renovations on Strange Herbs & Teas, she discovers a peculiar and ancient codex, The Booke of the Hidden, bricked into the wall. Every small town has its legends and unusual histories, and this artifact sends Kylie right into the center of Moody Bog’s biggest secret.

While puzzling over the tome’s oddly blank pages, Kylie gets an unexpected visitor―Erasmus Dark, an inscrutable stranger who claims to be a demon, knows she has the book, and warns her that she has opened a portal to the netherworld. Kylie brushes off this nonsense, until a series of bizarre murders put her, the newcomer, at the center. With the help of the demon and a coven of witches she befriends while dodging the handsome but sharp-eyed sheriff, Kylie hunts for a killer―that might not be human.

Generally speaking, I don’t gravitate towards witchy books but this one had a couple of things going for it before I even started—the description sounds awesome and I already knew I’d enjoy this because it’s written by Jeri Westerson. If you ask me, Ms. Westerson is one of those authors who is way under-recognized and I’ve been happy with everything by her I’ve ever read.

When Kylie finds that book, she does what anybody would do, she opens it. What follows—a coven of witches, a possible demon, murder and a bit of romance—turn this find into something quite out of the ordinary but Kylie keeps her cool, for the most part, and her interactions with Erasmus are often laugh out loud funny. Even the name of the town, Moody Bog, draws out a smile and, while the pacing is a little on the slow side, I chalk that up mostly to setting things up for the books to come. I came to feel really attached to the kind of creepy but appealing Moody Bog and its inhabitants and to the story that leads Kylie and her new “friends” down a most unlikely path on the way to solving the murder.

So, did Booke of the Hidden live up to its description? Yes, it certainly did and its essential differences from Ms. Westerson‘s other work make this a really fun departure from her  straightforward historical mysteries. Despite my slight aversion to witch-related stories, I’ll definitely be back for the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Gone Gull
A Meg Langslow Mystery #21
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07856-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Meg is spending the summer at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center, helping her grandmother Cordelia run the studios. But someone is committing acts of vandalism, threatening to ruin the newly-opened center’s reputation. Is it the work of a rival center? Have the developers who want to build a resort atop Biscuit Mountain found a new tactic to pressure Cordelia into selling? Or is the real target Meg’s grandfather, who points out that any number of environmentally irresponsible people and organizations could have it in for him?

While Meg is trying to track down the vandal, her grandfather is more interested in locating a rare gull. Their missions collide when a body is found in one of the classrooms. Can Meg identify the vandal and the murderer in time to save the center’s name―while helping her grandfather track down and rescue his beloved gulls?

You would think that this series would have begun to show signs of becoming stale and tired by now but that hasn’t happened. Donna Andrews has the magic touch and always seems to come up with fresh ideas and new things to laugh about but the early books still stick with me, especially particular characters beyond Meg.

This time, we have to get along without some of the old regulars (although two of my favorites, Spike the Small Evil One and Meg’s dad, are here) because Meg has gone out of town but her grandparents do a lot to make up for the missing. Meg’s blacksmithing has taken something of a back seat over the course of the series but it’s central to the story in Gone Gull as she’s agreed to teach classes for a few weeks at her grandmother’s new craft studio. Unfortunately, someone seems to have it in for the center, perpetrating small acts of sabotage, and no one is sure who’s doing it. Then Meg discovers a body and the real sleuthing begins.

I have to say the mystery to be solved isn’t as much in the forefront as the wild and quirky activities of the characters but it’s still a good one with some twists and turns to keep the reader occupied while chuckling at what’s going on. Oh, and the gull referred to in the title? That bird and Meg’s grandfather are the source of more than a few laugh out loud moments and, for me, was the icing on the cake. Having said that, I’ll be glad if we have Meg back in her usual surroundings next time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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The End We Start From
Megan Hunter
Grove Atlantic, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-8021-2689-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As London is submerged below floodwaters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place. The story traces fear and wonder as the baby grows, thriving and content against all the odds.

It doesn’t happen often but, every once in a while, I encounter a book that just leaves me cold and this is one of them. On the surface, I should have loved it because it’s apocalyptic (one of my preferred subgenres) and follows the physical as well as mental/emotional journey of a young family trying to cope with a world gone sour. To my dismay, I couldn’t connect with this in any way.

Characters, worldbuilding and plot are the three main components of any work of fiction and there is an interesting plot here in that the protagonist and her husband and baby are forced to find a way to escape the floodwaters and the devastation that has crushed London and the English countryside. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no worldbuilding; we know the water has risen to submerge much of England but that’s all we know. What caused this? A meteor strike, global warming, some dastardly act of a mad scientist, an alien attack of some sort? It’s hard to really feel what the survivors have to deal with when we know so little.

Worst of all, the characters are close to being cardboard cutouts when no one even has a name, just an initial. To me, this is a writing style that is almost pretentious and, coupled with the first person present tense that I so dislike, well, I just didn’t care very much. I find this happens fairly frequently when I read what’s called “literary fiction”.

The one thing that helps to lift this above the abyss is the author’s attention to the bonds between mother and child and she does that extremely well. I think perhaps that was intended to be the core theme and the apocalyptic elements just got in the way. Certainly, a lot of readers and inhabitants of the publishing world have a much more favorable reaction and, although I didn’t care much for this story, I think Megan Hunter is an author to watch..

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Book Reviews: Gin and Panic by Maia Chance and The Burning by J.P. Seewald

Gin and Panic
Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries #3
Maia Chance
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-10905-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Former socialite Lola Woodby is now struggling to make ends meet as a not-so-discreet private eye in Prohibtion-era New York City, along with her stern Swedish sidekick, Berta. When they’re offered a piece-of-cake job―retrieving a rhinoceros trophy from the Connecticut mansion of big game hunter Rudy Montgomery―it seems like a no-brainer. After all, their client, Lord Sudley, promises them a handsome paycheck, and the gin and tonics will be plentiful and free. But no sooner do they arrive at Montgomery Hall than Rudy is shot dead.

When the police arrive to examine the scene, they conclude that Rudy had actually committed suicide. But Lord Sudley can’t believe his friend would have done that, and there’s a houseful of suspicious characters standing by. So Lord Sudley ups the ante for Lola and Berta, and suddenly, their easy retrieval job has turned into a murder investigation. Armed with handbags stuffed with emergency chocolate, gin flasks, and a Colt .25, Lola and Berta are swiftly embroiled in a madcap puzzle of stolen diamonds, family secrets, a clutch of gangsters, and plenty of suspects who know their way around a safari rifle.

When I think back on this book, the first word that comes to mind is “charming” followed very shortly by “fun”. This is a pair of sleuths I loved spending time with and the plot and setting did a lot to hold my attention; overall, I was reminded of those lighthearted mysteries that take us back to the more innocent-seeming time of 1923.

Lola isn’t really the brains of the duo but she’s learning to adapt to her altered circumstances and her previous position in society opens doors to them while Berta has a knack for figuring things out while keeping the Lola ship steered in the right direction, so to speak. They have an unlikely friendship for their time but it really works for them and lays the groundwork for a successful detecting business. Lola’s constant companion, the furry Cedric, adds to the ambience.

The whole idea of someone asking them to “retrieve” a rhinoceros head trophy seems a bit outrageous in today’s world but it had me chuckling early on, imagining these two women having to smuggle such an item out of its current place of honor just to settle a grievance. Still, Lola and Berta are game, pun intended ;-), having no idea they’re about to land smackdab in the middle of a locked room mystery complete with dead body. A cache of diamonds and the bumbling efforts of our sleuths lead to enough adventure and madcappery to while away a very pleasant afternoon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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The Burning
J.P. Seewald
Annorlunda Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-944354-26-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

George Ferris has worked hard to make a good life for himself and his family without going into the coal mines that shortened his father’s life. Now, a slow-moving catastrophe is threatening to take it all away. How far will he go to protect everything he has worked for? And will he realize what really matters before it is too late?

The first time I heard about coal fires burning under a town, years ago, I was horrified and I still am. It seems almost like science fiction and the idea that people would either have to live with such a never-ending threat or leave the homes and neighbors they had known for so long is little short of overwhelming.

George is a man who’s easy to understand because his whole way of life is undergoing a major transformation, beginning with the huge divide between him and his brother, Larry, a man who chose to leave his blue collar background behind. George takes pride in his life and it’s painful watching him have to make choices that he never wanted or expected to have to make. He’s watching his very existence, everything that makes him who he is, turn to ashes and not only because of the fire burning under his gas station. The frustrations that come with dealing with the bureaucracy that is more obstructive than helpful make George and the people around him begin to think they’ve been abandoned; as one catastrophe piles on another and another, it’s easy to see the despair George feels and his desperation to find solutions. Unfortunately, fear and a lingering denial, even self-pity, lead to some very wrong choices.

In the midst of devastation, the unbreakable but shaky bonds between George and Larry come to the fore and just may be the saving grace that the brothers need. The Burning is a short but intense story and, once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down; knowing it’s based on true events makes this a truly compelling read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Reviews: Sleep Like a Baby by Charlaine Harris and Hair Brained by Nancy J. Cohen

Sleep Like a Baby
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery #10
Charlaine Harris
Minotaur Books, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-09006-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Robin and Aurora have finally begun their adventure in parenting. With newborn Sophie proving to be quite a handful, Roe’s mother pays for a partially trained nurse, Virginia Mitchell, to come help the new parents for a few weeks. Virginia proves to be especially helpful when Robin has to leave town for work and Roe is struck with a bad case of the flu.

One particularly stormy night, Roe wakes to hear her daughter crying and Virginia nowhere to be found. Roe’s brother Philip helps her search the house and they happen upon a body outside… but it isn’t Virginia’s. Now, not only does she have a newborn to care for and a vulnerable new marriage to nurture, Roe also has to contend with a new puzzle — who is this mystery woman dead in their backyard, and what happened to Virginia?

Roe seems to be in the midst of a lot of relatively new life experiences, what with a fairly recent marriage, a younger brother who hasn’t been in the picture all that long, a brand new baby and, now, a new dead body. Goodness, what’s a sleuthing librarian to do?

When Robin has to leave town for a few days and Roe is sick, they call for help from Virginia who had been a nanny/housekeeper/mother’s aide after Sophie’s birth and she’s happy to come do night duty. Roe’s much younger half-brother, Philip, who lives with them now, will help out in the daytime as much as he can so Roe feels comfortable sending Robin off to his book convention. That comfort is, of course, the trigger for dastardly things to start happening. This time it’s a double whammy when Virginia goes missing and there’s a strange woman lying dead in Roe’s backyard. Obviously, the police have to be called but this IS her backyard and her missing nanny so, naturally, she’s going to do some investigating on her own, right? One of the first things that comes to light is that the dead woman is no stranger and then the clues begin to mount.

Now, I’ve been making a little fun of Roe and her latest exploits but the truth is she’s one of my go-to amateur sleuths when I’m feeling the need for some light mystery reading. Roe is a smart woman, well-educated, and she has the chops to do the snooping what with her amateur criminology background. Belonging to a club of people who like to solve mysteries gives her a one-up on most sleuths and some cops. And Robin, well, he’s one of the very good guys and I appreciate their relationship and their respect for each other even though I sort of wish they hadn’t gotten married. I also am not thrilled with her having a baby.

Robin and Sophie kind of throw this series into the land of those TV shows where we wait for years for that special relationship to happen and when it does everything starts to go flat. That hasn’t happened yet but there’s no doubt Roe’s behavior and perspective are different now and the family issues were a bit too front and center. Still, I really did enjoy this book and I’ll just have to see where things go from here.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

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Hair Brained
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #14
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-9970038-8-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Was the car crash an accident or a deliberate attempt to run Marla’s friends off the road?

When hairstylist Marla Vail’s best friend is hurt in a suspicious car accident, Marla assumes guardianship of her infant son. No sooner does Marla say, “Baby want a bottle?”than she’s embroiled in another murder investigation. Her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, determines the crash may not have been an accident after all. But then, who would want Tally–or Ken in the car with her–out of the way? As Marla digs deeper into her friends’ lives, she realizes she didn’t know them as well as she’d thought. Nonetheless, it’s her duty as their son’s guardian to ensure his safety, even if it means putting her own life at risk. Can she protect the baby and find the culprit before someone else ends up as roadkill?

Marla and Dalton have been struggling with the idea of having a baby—he wants one, she doesn’t—so it’s fortuitous, if unhappily, that Marla takes guardianship of her best friend Tally’s four-month-old son when Tally and her husband, Ken, go missing. Having little Luke around might give their dilemma a bit of clarity but the reason for his presence is ominous.

Marla had already been thinking that Tally had recently been a little reserved and uncommunicative as though there was something she wan’t prepared to share with Marla. Now, she has to consider that this secret, if that’s what it is, has something to do with the disappearance. A lot about the couple going out makes no sense even though it was New Year’s Eve; they hadn’t planned on an outing so why did they suddenly change their minds just because Ken got a business call? When Marla and Dalton learn that Tally was hurt and Ken killed in a car accident, their immediate attention is on Tally’s survival and what they can do for her and the baby but then they find out the accident may have been no accident after all.

Spending time with Marla and Dalton is like visiting old friends and I think Hair Brained is one of Ms. Cohen‘s better entries in the series. The mystery itself and their investigations are absorbing and the baby issue is a question that confronts many couples that are in a more “settled” time in their lives. Marla is directly invested in this particular case and rightfully so, creating a natural rationale for her sleuthing. With the story concluding in an open-ended fashion, I can’t wait for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 2

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…

 

All the Little Liars
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery #9
Charlaine Harris
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09003-4
Hardcover

Charlaine Harris has to work really hard to make me not like any of her books and this one is no exception. Aurora Teagarden is her fluffiest series and I was SO excited when she brought it back with this book, 13 years after the last one.

Roe is a librarian—now married and pregnant—in a small town in Georgia and, as librarians are wont to do, falls over dead bodies on a regular basis. This time, a bunch of kids have gone missing and her teenaged brother is somehow involved. I enjoyed this story even though I thought it was just a little weak but I chalk it up to the difficulties of rebooting a series and fully expect the upcoming Sleep Like a Baby to be back on top.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Gizelle’s Bucket List
My Life with a Very Large Dog
Lauren Fern Watt
Simon & Schuster, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-2365-8
Hardcover
Simon & Schuster Audio, March 2017
Narrated by Lauren Fern Watt
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

I both read and listened to this one and was glad I did because the audio edition added a strong connection between me and the author. This is a true story and, as you can guess from the title, it’s all about this wonderful dog’s last days. Get out a box of tissues because you’re going to need them. Yes, it’s terribly sad but also joyful and uplifting as Lauren helps Gizelle do the things she loves best and those Lauren is sure she’ll enjoy before it’s too late. The love and devotion between Lauren and Gizelle are as real as it gets and I appreciate the time I spent with them.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Smugglers & Scones
Moorehaven Mysteries, Book 1
Morgan C. Talbot
Red Adept Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-940215-87-7
Trade Paperback

Moorehaven is a bed and breakfast in Oregon that caters to crime fiction writers—what a great setting for murder and mayhem, right? Pippa Winterbourne, manager, gets pulled into the investigation when a local is killed and a boat mysteriously crashes on the rocks, leaving her to house an intriguing injured man who just might be guilty of murder. This is a delightful tale full of the history of coastal Oregon and a beautiful setting and featuring some very appealing folks. The setup with the B&B is unusual in that a trust is actually in charge so this is not the typical scenario in which the innkeeper has to scrimp and save to keep things going. That frees Pippa to do some sleuthing on her own while she rides herd on her crochety great-uncle and the current group of author guests. This is a clever, charming series debut and I’m looking forward to the next one, Burglars & Blintzes.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Still Life
A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery #1
Louise Penny
Narrated by Ralph Cosham
Blackstone Audio, August 2006
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

When murder is done in a small town in the Quebec province, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate. Most of the villagers think it must have been a hunting accident but Gamache is quite sure something else is going on.

I’m hanging my head in shame, I think, because I’m apparently at odds with the mystery reading world. I’d always avoided this series ( now up to #13) for no particular reason other than I have a bit of distrust when everybody raves about the first book, then the second, the third… But, I finally started feeling kind of silly about it and bit the bullet and, well, I’m kind of underwhelmed. The narrator was quite good (I understand fans were devastated when he passed away a few years ago, after recording the tenth book) and the story was good but I just didn’t connect with it. Still, a gazillion readers can’t all be wrong so I’m going to try the second book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Introvert
Michael Paul Michaud
Black Opal Books, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-626945-47-0
Trade Paperback

He’s a vacuum salesman, a quiet individual, kind of a loner but only because solitude is usually easier. He’s Everyman. He also has moments of inner rage so intense he imagines the other person “red and open” but he’s perfectly normal. Right? Well, there was that incident a couple of years ago…

{{Shudder }}

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

 

Book Review: Another Man’s Ground by Claire Booth—and a Giveaway!

Another Man’s Ground
Sheriff Hank Worth Mysteries #2
Claire Booth
Minotaur Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-08441-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It starts out as an interesting little theft case. Branson, Missouri’s new Sheriff Hank Worth is called out to look at stands of trees that have been stripped of their bark, which the property owner had planned to harvest for the booming herbal supplement market. At first, Hank easily balances the demands of the investigation with his fledging political career. He was appointed several months earlier to the vacant sheriff position, but he needs to win the fast-approaching election in order to keep his job. He thinks the campaign will go well, as long as he’s able to keep secret the fact that a group of undocumented immigrants – hired to cut down the stripped trees – have fled into the forest and he’s deliberately not looking for them.

But then the discovery of a murder victim deep in the Ozark backwoods sets him in the middle of a generations-old feud that explodes into danger not only for him, but also for the immigrants, his deputies, and his family. He must rush to find a murderer before election day, and protect the vulnerable in Branson County, where politicking is hell and trespassing can get you killed.

When I discover a new—or, new to me—author and they knock my socks off, I’m always a little trepidatious that the next book will let me down, be a bit disappointing. That sad occurrence has happened more often than I like to think but, happily, I had no need to worry this time. The Branson Beauty was a wonderful book and it made my 2016 Favorite Books list; Another Man’s Ground is every bit as entertaining and Sheriff Hank Worth is still one of my best-loved smallish-town cops.

Hank is a man who loves what he does, protecting and defending others besides using his considerable intellect to solve crimes. He left the Kansas City police department in hopes of finding a more congenial place for his family and, indeed, he did but detective work is in his blood and he enjoys being Sheriff. Not so enjoyable is the campaigning he has to do for the upcoming election and looking into what he thinks is a fairly simple theft is a welcome distraction but, of course, it’s anything but simple.

Claire Booth brings the Ozarks to life and, in what I can only call a touch of love, she lets us come to know the people of this rural area as far more perceptive and quick-witted than stereotypes from the past persisting today would lead us to believe. The good folk of Branson and its environs are likeable and intelligent and its criminals have their own brand of cleverness. On the other hand, the notion of a decades-long feud is straight out of the hills and adds an element of curiosity and intrigue to what should have been, as I said, a simple theft.

With a little help from a deputy named Sheila Turley and not so much from the DEA and some US Marshals, Hank brings sanity back to Branson but it’s Guapo, a kind of ridiculous dog, who steals hearts on the campaign trail and all the townfolks together make me add this to my favorite books read in 2017. And now I’m really curious about what’s in store next time for Guapo and friends 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iTunes
Amazon // Indiebound // Books-A-Million

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About the Author

Claire Booth spent more than a decade as a daily newspaper reporter, much of it covering crimes so convoluted and strange they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series takes place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in, yes, strange and convoluted ways.

For more about Claire, her books, and some of the true crimes she’s covered, please visit www.clairebooth.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

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Follow the tour here.

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“The second in Booth’s regional crime series … is both an
excellent police procedural and a surprisingly humorous
look at politics and family feuds.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Booth’s affectionate treatment of the decent and shrewd
people of Branson and Worth makes this a series
worth following.” – Publishers Weekly

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Another Man’s Ground, leave a
comment below. The winning name will
be drawn Saturday evening, July 15th,
and the book will be sent after the tour ends.

Open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Book Reviews: It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell and The Devil’s Cold Dish by Eleanor Kuhns

It’s Always the Husband
Michele Campbell
St. Martin’s Press, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-08180-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, despite being as different as three women can be. Kate was beautiful, wild, wealthy, and damaged. Aubrey, on financial aid, came from a broken home, and wanted more than anything to distance herself from her past. And Jenny was a striver―brilliant, ambitious, and determined to succeed. As an unlikely friendship formed, the three of them swore they would always be there for each other.

But twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge, and someone is urging her to jump.

How did it come to this?

Kate married the gorgeous party boy, Aubrey married up, and Jenny married the boy next door. But how can these three women love and hate each other? Can feelings this strong lead to murder? When one of them dies under mysterious circumstances, will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband?

I’m kind of conflicted about this book because, while I think the story of these women’s friendship is interesting, I can’t say I actually liked them or the police chief very much. As college students, they seemed like an oddly matched trio and they aren’t really any more compatible as they get older. It’s all just a little sad in a way and, although it’s true I didn’t connect emotionally with any of the three, I was still compelled to keep reading.

The first section drags a bit or perhaps it would be fairer to say that the pacing is on the slow side, deliberately so, and that makes the contrast with the second section even more noticeable. That second section is when I began to pay attention and wanted to know what would eventually happen but I still couldn’t find much in any of these women to care about. Kate in particular is an enigma or, rather, everyone’s near adoration of her is the enigma as she is one of the most unpleasant, better-than-thou people you can imagine.

An awful event in their younger years cements their connection to each other and that secret from the past has deadly implications in the present. This is the interesting part, getting bits and pieces from earlier years that begin to come together now, but it doesn’t quite make up for my dislike of these people. All in all, this is not a book I was crazy about.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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The Devil’s Cold Dish
Will Rees Mysteries #5
Eleanor Kuhns
Minotaur Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09335-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Will Rees is back home on his farm in 1796 Maine with his teenage son, his pregnant wife, their five adopted children, and endless farm work under the blistering summer sun. But for all that, Rees is happy to have returned to Dugard, Maine, the town where he was born and raised, and where he’s always felt at home. Until now. When a man is found dead – murdered – after getting into a public dispute with Rees, Rees starts to realize someone is intentionally trying to pin the murder on him. Then, his farm is attacked, his wife is accused of witchcraft, and a second body is found that points to the Rees family. Rees can feel the town of Dugard turning against him, and he knows that he and his family won’t be safe there unless he can find the murderer and reveal the truth…before the murderer gets to him first.

There’s a special place in my reading heart for historical mysteries and I especially like the 17th and 18th centuries in America so this book was sort of calling my name. Happily, I was not the least bit disappointed.

Rees and his family don’t have an easy life on the farm and relations with his sister and his son are very strained but they’re basically content and Will is happy to be back home in Dugard. The politics of the time cause arguments among the townspeople and Will is frequently right in the midst of the fracas but he’s not really prepared for the physical fight he has with an old friend, Mac McIntyre. When another man, Zadoc Ward, is murdered, Constable Caldwell invites Will to come along to see the body.  It’s during his investigation with Caldwell that Will becomes aware of a certain animosity in the community towards him, much stronger than he had thought, but this murder is only the beginning of the attacks on the Rees family.

Ms. Kuhns has a real grasp on this time period and the nuances of the lives of people who experienced the Revolution and its aftermath. Her research is obviously extensive but it doesn’t stilt her writing at all and I could really envision the setting, the times and the people. Not everyone can write historical fiction well but this author certainly does and now I need to reward myself with the previous books in this series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

Book Review: Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison and Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck

Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall
A Honeychurch Hall Mystery #4
Hannah Dennison
Minotaur Books, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-06549-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

When the only copy of Ravished, Iris Stanford’s new manuscript, never arrives at her London publisher’s office, her daughter Kat investigates the tiny local village post office, where it appears the package never left the building. Iris is on tenterhooks―not only is her novel gone with the wind, but she’s deathly afraid that Muriel Jarvis, the postmistress and notorious busybody, will expose her secret identity as the bestselling romance writer Krystalle Storm. Meanwhile, Muriel has her own problems with the sudden death of her husband Fred, which has left her heavily in debt. In the spine-tingling climax, both past and present collide as Kat fights for her life and those she holds most dear, dancing once again with the dark forces lurking behind the grandeur of Honeychurch Hall.

I think I’ve found my new one-of-my-favorites British cozy/traditional series (although I’m apparently the last in my local book club circle of cozy readers to get around to trying it). I’m not bothered by reading out of order and, while I expect my purist friends would disagree with me, I really think this is a good starter. The author does a nice job of dropping in those little tidbits you need to understand prior activities and her characterizations of the people are as full as I could ask them to be. These people are just downright funny and a little bit crazy.

However, murder has been done and somebody has to pay attention. Since Kat is one of the very few levelheaded folks around, the task naturally falls to her. There’s a local copper (named Cropper), of course, but he’s overrun by Lord Rupert as well as Kat and her mum, Iris, when it comes to looking into the death of the centuries-old skeleton found in a sewer line trench. It’s all curiously coincidental considering the upcoming English Civil War re-enactment and, before long, Kat finds herself in the midst of a plethora of mysteries including Iris’ missing manuscript, a suspiciously behaving man in possession (momentarily) of a vastly expensive doll, a prison escapee, and, oh, another body.

There’s a good deal of silliness here—how can there not be with such wacky villagers—but I truly loved this book. Kat’s a great sleuth, although there are no easy denouements, and she has mastered the art of dealing with all these people. I can just imagine driving through the countryside and coming across this lovely little place. What fun!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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Bad Boy Boogie
A Jay Desmarteaux Crime Thriller
Thomas Pluck
Down & Out Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-943402-59-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Jay Desmarteaux steps out of from prison after serving twenty-five years for murdering a vicious school bully, he tries to follow his convict mentor’s advice: the best revenge is living well.

But questions gnaw at his gut: Where have his folks disappeared to? Why do old friends want him gone? And who wants him dead?

Teaming with his high school sweetheart turned legal Valkyrie, a hulking body shop bodybuilder, and a razor-wielding gentleman’s club house mother, Jay will unravel a tangle of deception all the way back to the bayous where he was born. With an iron-fisted police chief on his tail and a ruthless mob captain at his throat, he’ll need his wits, his fists, and his father’s trusty Vietnam war hatchet to hack his way through a toxic jungle of New Jersey corruption that makes the gator-filled swamps of home feel like the shallow end of the kiddie pool.

This is one of those times when you can’t help sympathizing with the bad guy; after all, he’s served his time so why is he now facing these unexpected troubles? And since law enforcement isn’t interested in helping him find answers, how is he going to? Clearly, he’ll have to form what current slang would call a posse and what a group of misfits these are!

To understand Jay, we’re taken back to his unhappy childhood that, even so, had times of normalcy—young love and friendships as well as conflicts with bullies—and we learn what caused the teenaged Jay to commit the ultimate act of violence. Perhaps the “friends” that didn’t support him then are the ones that want him out of town now, except for the mayor who has his own reasons. A bright point, maybe, is the connection he makes with high school sweetheart Ramona but Jay is driven by a need to settle things in New Jersey before he heads to Louisiana, the place he really wants to be.

Jay is a complex man and the author truly brings him to life, this ex-con with a hard outer shell that’s slightly penetrated by the life he finds on the outside after 25 years on the inside. There’s a considerable amount of graphic violence, including sexual, here but it’s understandable although this man’s sense of justice is often very different from yours and mine. This is a book that could have resided in the old black & white, hardboiled days just as well as today and I suspect I’ll remember Jay and his story for a long, long time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.