Book Review: Baby’s First Felony by John Straley

Baby’s First Felony
A Cecil Younger Investigation #7
John Straley
Soho Crime, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-878-7
Hardcover

Baby’s First Felony brings back Cecil Younger and the wonderful setting of Sitka, Alaska.  Before even starting the book, I would strongly urge readers to turn to the end and read through the A Guide to Avoiding a Life in Crime. The rules as outlined are referenced frequently, so you might want to keep a book mark there as well.

Cecil is called to the jail to arrange bail for a client who asks that he go pick up a box containing things that will prove her innocence which she left with friends. Two things about this cause Cecil angst. First, the box contains money. Lots of money. And secondly the place she left the box is the house where a friend of Cecil’s daughter’s friend is now living and a place that his daughter Blossom has run off to when her mother gets on her nerves. But that is just the beginning of Cecil’s problems. There are drugs, a kidnapping and a murder to contend with causing Cecil to break nearly every one of his rules as outlined in the book.

Along with the criminal plot is an interesting side story involving the use of humor as therapy for autism leading the book to be packed with jokes as told by Todd, the sort of adopted son of Cecil. Some of these are really pretty funny. There is a very brief note at the end of the book lending credence to this as a real therapy. This also brings in the very real issue of who has a right to post someone’s comments on line.

It has been a very long time since the last of the Cecil Younger book was published so it was especially fun to catch up with Cecil and life in Sitka, Alaska.  Perhaps an odd benefit of the long delay in bringing Cecil back to print is that it gives readers new to the series a chance to jump in as Baby’s First Felony does not rely on past plots and Straley does an excellent job of giving readers what little back story is necessary. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more Cecil very soon.

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

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Book Review: Echoes by Alice Reeds

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Title: Echoes
Author: Alice Reeds
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication Date: August 7, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Indiebound // Entangled Publishing

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Echoes
Alice Reed
Entangled Teen, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-64063-247-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

They wake on a deserted island. Fiona and Miles, high school enemies now stranded together. No memory of how they got there. No plan to follow, no hope to hold on to.

Each step forward reveals the mystery behind the forces that brought them here. And soon, the most chilling discovery: something else is on the island with them.

Something that won’t let them leave alive.

Well, my goodness. To say I was surprised by this book would be a mild understatement. I thought it sounded like it could be good—otherwise, I wouldn’t have signed on to review it for this blog tour—but this is better than good. This is the Young Adult thriller that might just convert some of those adult readers out there who think YA isn’t interesting enough or able to grab their attention.

The stakes are high from the very first page when Fiona is relating the abject fear setting in on Miles and herself as their plane begins to go down and the tension never really lets up from then till the end. Sure, there are some quiet moments, but here they are on an island, all alone with no idea where they are or if anyone knows the plane crashed. Survival has to come first but little hints here and there pull them hither and yon as to what’s real and what isn’t, all while these two teens who really don’t like each other have to learn to get along. If they don’t, the consequences could be deadly.

Or might the truth be something else entirely? An alternate timeline weaves in and out and we don’t know any more than Fiona and Miles do. That, my friends, is a perfect setup to mess with your minds as well as theirs and I promise you’ll be scratching your head the whole time.

Fiona and Miles are not my favorite characters ever and, truthfully, there are flaws in this story plus I could do without some of the teen angst, but I truly do think this is a tale worth a few hours of a reader’s time. Fair warning, though—you won’t get all the answers you want and I, for one, am certainly hoping a sequel is in the works 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

About the Author

Alice Reeds was born in a small town in Germany but spent her first eight years in Florida, USA. Later on, she moved back to Europe, where her family moved around a lot. She was raised trilingual and has a basic understanding of Russian, read and spoken. After getting her International Baccalaureate Diploma, Alice is studying English Language and Literature at University. In her free time Alice mostly writes, reads, figure and/or roller skates, or watches countless let’s plays and figure skating videos.

Author Links:

Website // Goodreads // Twitter

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway
3 print copies of Echoes (US only)
Enter here.

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Book Reviews: The Dark Clouds Shining by David Downing and The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver

The Dark Clouds Shining
Jack McColl Series #4
David Downing
Soho Crime, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-606-6
Hardcover

With this, the fourth Jack McColl spy story, David Downing concludes the series.  It takes place just as the civil war in Soviet Russia is ending and developments are dire with respect to the original high hopes that accompanied the Revolution, and the nation suffers from all kinds of shortages, especially food for a starving populace.  Jack is not faring any better, languishing in jail for assaulting a Bobby, when his Secret Service boss visits him and presents Jack with a way to get out if he accepts an unofficial assignment.  Jack is disillusioned by the slaughter of so many in the Great War and can’t abide spying for his country any more, but accepts the assignment to get out of jail.  So he goes to Russia to learn what other British spies are planning at the behest of MI5.  And unknown to him, he will again meet with the love of his life, Caitlin, who is now married to one of the men involved in the MI5 scheme which Jack was sent to investigate and possibly foil.

The author’s ability to recreate the environment of the historical period, along with descriptions of the economic and political atmosphere, is outstanding, as is the recounting of the action resulting from the hunt by both Jack and the Cheka, the Russian secret service and forerunner of the GPU, for the plotters.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2018.

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The Cutting Edge
A Lincoln Rhyme Novel #14
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4555-3641-2
Hardcover

What starts off as a murder mystery turns into a multi-faceted conspiracy in the latest Lincoln Rhyme novel.  It begins with the murder of a prominent diamond cutter in the heart of New York’s jewelry district on 47th Street, although the murderer apparently left behind a small fortune in gems, so the motive remains obscure.  A young apprentice walks in during the murder and is shot at but is saved when the bullet hits a bag filled with rocks instead.

Subsequent murders take place, ostensibly by a psycho who is out to save diamonds from being defaced as engagement rings and who trails young couples in the act of making purchases and killing them.  Meanwhile Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are analyzing the few clues available and seeking to locate the apprentice, who is hiding from view.  Then a series of explosions take place, believed to be earthquakes in the heart of Brooklyn.

And as a sidelight, Rhyme agrees for the first time to assist a defendant, a murderous Mexican drug lord on trial in Federal court for illegal entry and murder, by reviewing the evidence in the hope of establishing an error.  This gives the author another chance to fool the reader with another twist.

Of course, the whole plot is premised on Mr. Deaver’s ability to surprise readers by leading them down a path only to divert them finally by revealing something else in the end.  The series is long- standing and always diverting, especially when forensics are analyzed and explained.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.

Book Review: The Quiet Child by John Burley

The Quiet Child
John Burley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2017
ISBN: 978-0-06-243185-1
Trade Paperback

This is not a novel for the faint of heart. Dark, moving, at times excruciating, the pain author Burley evokes from his characters is a palpable presence through the entire novel. One wonders how many readers have ever been faced with the community disdain and rejection based, not on race, but on more common attributes. And a reader wonders what the response might have been.

In Cottonwood, California, multiple unexpected deaths are occurring. The family of Michael and Kate McCray are beginning to feel isolation as it grows, the odd looks, the loss of friendly interactions, the murmurs behind their backs. McCray is a valued teacher at the local high school. He and Kate have two sons, Danny and Sean. Danny, the youngest, is the focus of the growing community concern. He doesn’t speak. At all.

Kate is becoming ill and the doctors are worried but non-committal. The novel moves smoothly back and forth in time which can at times confuse a reader, but the technique works extremely well to heighten the tension and overall feeling of dread.

One evening, Michael drives the boys to a nearby convenience store and with a startling suddenness the tension rises. The boys are kidnapped. The rest of the story concerns the police attempts to find the boys and rescue them, Kate’s accelerating deterioration, and the rising suspicions from the community.

Ultimately, of course, there are resolutions, nearly all of which are unforeseen and startling in their placement and evolution. Enthralling, mesmerizing and surprising, a dark, moving thought-provoking experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 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: The Sorbonne Affair by Mark Pryor

The Sorbonne Affair
A Hugo Marston Novel #7
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-6338-8261-4
Trade Paperback

The seventh book featuring Hugo Marston, former FBI agent and now head of security for the U.S. embassy in Paris. Helen Hancock, an internationally famous romance author, is staying in Paris working on her latest opus and teaching a seminar on writing with a small group of students. She reports a hidden camera in her room of the exclusive hotel where she is staying. Shortly thereafter a hotel employee with a gambling problem is found stabbed in a hotel stairwell. When images from the camera in Helen’s room are found on his laptop, the police assume that he intended to blackmail Helen to pay his gambling debts. Helen has a rock-solid alibi for the time of his murder, leaving the police to wonder who else he’d tried to extort. Then a video showing Helen in an embarrassing situation, clearly from the camera hidden in her room, finds its way onto the internet, causing much consternation to her fans and upsetting her publisher. Two more murders follow in short order, complicating the investigation being conducted by Hugo and a Paris police lieutenant.

In the meantime the convicted bank robber from the last case Hugo worked as an FBI agent has managed to obtain parole and disappears from the United States. Tom Green, Hugo’s former FBI partner and current tenant, is convinced that the man is heading for Paris to obtain revenge upon them both. Tom is something of a hothead and Hugo serves as a brake on his impulsive actions, leading to a lot of dialog along the lines of “I’m going to….” “No, no, that would be (dangerous/illegal/not good/(fill in the blank)”.

Pryor loves Paris, every inch of it. The people, the food, the streets and parks, the architecture, all are glowingly described. The book is well worth reading just for the travelogue.

In an interesting twist, the crisis with the bank robber that would lead to both Hugo and Tom leaving the FBI is described in a series of flashbacks presented in reverse chronological sequence. That is, the scene foreshadowing a showdown with their boss over what he considered their mishandling of the situation comes early in the book and the initial scene where Hugo and Tom realize they are witnessing a bank robbery is at the very end of the book, while the contemporary crime is treated in straightforward as it occurs order.

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, July 2018.

Book Review: Fiction Can Be Murder by Becky Clark

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

Mystery writer Charlemagne Russo is an up and coming, best selling author, who is having a bit of trouble with her agent, Melinda Walter. According to the agent, Charlee’s royalties are falling off, and no one seems to know why. Angry words pass between them. Then Melinda is murdered and the method used is the exact way Charlee’s latest fictional victim dies. Who is the easiest potential murder suspect for the police to glom onto? Why, Charlee, of course.

Afraid she’s going to be hauled in on a murder charge at any moment, Charlee frantically begins investigating on her own. Her interests center on her critique group, all of whom have read the manuscript and may have a reason to dislike Melinda, who is well known for her harsh rejections.

Now, in order to avoid any spoilers, I’m going to say Charlee is one of those TSTL heroines. The surprise at the end when the guilty person is unveiled is a good one, even if getting there was sometimes a bit torturous. And I’m afraid Charlee’s love interest just didn’t turn me on. Awkward!

That said, the writing is good, and the story is paced well, although Charlee’s investigative questions and the answers received became a bit repetitious. And since the story takes place in a Denver winter, I think Fiction Can Be Murder would make a good book for a hot weather beach read.

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

Book Review: The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover by Susan Wittig Albert—and a Giveaway!

The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover
The Darling Dahlias #7
Susan Wittig Albert
Persevero Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-9969040-3-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It looks like the music has ended for Darling’s favorite barbershop quartet, the Lucky Four Clovers—just days before the Dixie Regional Barbershop Competition. Another unlucky break: a serious foul-up in Darling’s telephone system—and not a penny for repairs. And while liquor is legal again, moonshine isn’t. Sheriff Buddy Norris needs a little luck when he goes into Briar Swamp to confront Cypress County’s most notorious bootlegger. What he finds upends his sense of justice.

Once again, Susan Wittig Albert has told a charming story filled with richly human characters who face the Great Depression with courage and grace. She reminds us that friends offer the best of themselves to each other, community is what holds us together, and luck is what you make it.

Darling, Alabama, is home during the Great Depression to the Dahlias Garden Club, ladies who solve local crimes almost as much as they garden and socialize. The latest town problem is that the telephone system is suffering from equipment failures because half-owner Whitney Whitforth won’t pony up to fix it and then the Lucky Four Clovers barbershop quartet go into crisis mode when one of the members is killed before the Regional Barbershop Competition.

Was it an accident or murder? Sheriff Buddy Norris is determined to figure it out, with a little help from Ophelia Snow, Elizabeth Lacy and the other Dahlias, and they soon find a possible link to the local bootlegger, Bodeen Pyle. When Whitney goes missing, the plot thickens but the Dahlias are up for the challenge.

Added touches such as Liz Lacy’s Garden Gate newspaper column, town gossip and a look into how people managed when money was hard to get, along with a good puzzle help make this return to a charming series a welcome treat. A taste of class distinctions and the place women held in the Depression-era South make it even better and, best of all, a cast of garden club characters is included, and there are recipes. What more could any cozy mystery reader want?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

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I’d love to send somebody my very
gently used print advance reading copy of
The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover.
Leave a comment below and I’ll draw
the winning name on Saturday evening,
August 4th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.