Book Review: No Substitute for Matrimony by Carolyn J. Rose @CarolynJRose

No Substitute for Matrimony
Subbing Isn’t for Sissies #13
Carolyn J. Rose
Carolyn J. Rose, October 2020
ISBN 978-1-7342412-3-5
Trade Paperback

The author has written a score or more of what can be characterized as cozy mysteries. However, this novel is more of a deep dive into the subtle and not-so subtle characteristics of a lengthy cast of participants and their attitudes on life. They range from husband-to-be-Dave the detective to Barbara’s wealthy and intrusive friend, Mrs. B., to other faculty and staff at the school where Barbara substitute teaches.

Most of those who people the story are friendly, inquisitive, opinionated and talented. The narrative is well-done and the book is the kind that can fill several pleasant and warm afternoons. Yes, there’s a murder and Barbara’s husband-to-be is the detective charged with solving the puzzle. But that isn’t the most interesting element of the book.

The author has a penchant for giving readers access to her opinions about almost anything in sometimes calm, more often snarky terms. Her humor at times I found misplaced, but that’s a minor criticism. The writing is clean, the story proceeds at a reasonable pace and reaches its logical and satisfactory conclusion.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Sins of Edom, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Pronghorn Conspiracy by Boyd Taylor @GreenleafBookGr

The Pronghorn Conspiracy
The Donnie Ray Cuinn Series #5
Boyd Taylor
River Grove Books, January 2021
ISBN 978-1-63299-329-8
Trade Paperback

This is the fifth and last in Boyd Taylor’s series featuring protagonist Donnie Ray Cuinn (pronounced like Quinn).  I did not read the previous four books, but I didn’t feel like that made it difficult to understand the character.  Donnie is a lawyer with a tragic past and a troubled present.  Contemplating what life still holds for him and finding there isn’t much, he is unexpectedly summoned to a meeting with some high-level government officials, FBI agents, and Secret Service agents who inform him of a plot by a terrorist group which has kidnapped the President and is about to steal a weapon from a weapons manufacturing plant.  They also inform Donnie that the terrorists will only negotiate with Donnie who finds this to be an extraordinary demand since he has no knowledge of the terrorist group and doesn’t know its leader.

Nonetheless, Donnie agrees to meet with the leader and see how he can help safeguard the President and prevent the loss of the weapon.  But when he finally does meet with him, he still has no idea who the leader is or why he wanted to meet with Donnie.  When the leader finally does reveal what the purpose of their theft of the weapon is, the plan is chilling and the leader’s connection to Donnie is surprising to say the least.

As you might expect, there is an attempt to escape with the President and stop the group from taking the weapon.  I found that parts of this story stretched credulity so far that it nearly pulled me out of the story.  I also found the President’s behavior in the rescue helicopter beyond absurd but since the similarities between this President and our latest former President cannot be missed, perhaps the behavior is not so unbelievable after all.  The only other thing I found hard to understand is the relationship between Donnie and his wife, Rita.  Maybe earlier novels in this series would make it clearer.

In any case, The Pronghorn Conspiracy is a fast read – just the thing for a lazy weekend.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, July 2021.

Book Review: An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch @CharlesFinch @MinotaurBooks

An Extravagant Death
A Charles Lenox Mystery #14
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, February 2021
ISBN: 978-1-250-76713-4
Hardcover

In Victorian London, Prime Minister Disraeli has asked Charles Lenox to cross the Atlantic to take on a diplomatic mission that concerns international crime. Upon completion, a knighthood is in store. Charles has been rethinking his course in life, which, as a detective, often puts him in danger and separates him from his wife, Lady Jane. Besides, he loves to travel and this may be his last chance to visit America.

Blithely, he sets sail, and soon is the toast of New York high society, partly because of his own reputation, and partly because of  Lady Jane’s societal position, renown on both sides of the Atlantic. He meets everyone of importance and is moving on to visit Philadelphia when he receives a telegram from his New York acquaintances calling him back. A young woman has died in a mysterious fashion. But how? And why? Can he help?

Taking on this case puts Charles in touch with highest New York society, but also makes him a target of a cold-blooded killer. Can he discover this murderer before he becomes the next victim?

The case moves slowly a good part of the time, but I didn’t find the mystery as interesting or as entertaining as the in-depth look at Victorian mores in 1878. From both sides of the pond, the differences are astounding. Plus, the author has given the reader a look from the differing viewpoints of highest rank with the most money, to the servant class who sees to their every need. The depiction of Caroline Astor’s party is a revelation.

This is a big novel well worth your time. The writing is excellent, the characters fully fleshed and believable.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2021.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Six Dancing Damsels: A China Bohannon Mystery

Book Reviews: Pineapple Lies by Amy Vansant and Pineapple Mystery Box by Amy Vansant @AmyVansant @Rosemary_Benson

Pineapple Lies
A Pineapple Port Mystery #1
Amy Vansant
Amy Vansant, August 2015
Narrated by Rosemary Benson
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

Growing up in one of Florida’s age-55-plus communities, Charlotte never expected life to be wild. Golf cart racing with her surrogate mothers Mariska and Darla was about as nutty as life got… until she found the hot pawnbroker’s mom buried in her backyard.

Talk about making a lousy first impression.

Armed with nothing but her wits, Pineapple Port’s questionable cast of characters and a growing crush, Charlotte is determined to solve the mystery of Declan’s mother’s murder.

Hey, at least this guy’s skeletons aren’t in his closet.

Sometimes it takes me what seems like forever to get around to reading a book I really wanted in the beginning. It isn’t usually because I lose interest, although that occasionally happens. Mostly it’s because I am constitutionally incapable of controlling my TBR hoard, a victim of my own book greed.

The result of this is that, once in a while, I’m completely blown away by a book I’ve put off for no good reason other than having too many books to read (!) and then I kick myself for missing out for way too long and that’s what happened with Pineapple Lies. It took me approximately 30 minutes of the audiobook to decide this was going to be a terrific read for three reasons:

1. I love the players and the premise of a youngish woman who lives in a retirement community in Florida being the sleuth. I live in Florida (but not in a retirement village) so I was already predisposed to like the setting and Ms. Vansant has created a bunch of characters who are a little stereotypical but in a very good way and who each bring something to the table, so to speak.

2. The mysteries are entertaining puzzles with the main one, the discovery of the local pawnbroker’s mom buried in Charlotte’s yard, keeping my little gray cells working while the side threads provide plenty of humor and distraction. The author’s pacing is especially good and not once was I the least bit let down as the plot progressed. There’s a budding romance, too, but it’s not obtrusive.

3. I’ve found an audiobook narrator to add to my list of favorites. Rosemary Benson is, in a word, amazing. Her ability to create individual voices is beyond that of most truly good narrators and I’ve listened to some I consider among the best. I’m very sure I would have fallen in book love with Pineapple Lies anyway but Ms. Benson brings it all to life.

So, big kudos to both author and narrator—this book is going on my list of best books read in 2021 and now we’ll see if the trend continues with the second book, Pineapple Mystery Box.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2021.

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Pineapple Mystery Box
A Pineapple Port Mystery #2
Amy Vansant
Amy Vansant, January 2018
Narrated by Rosemary Benson
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

When a giant inflatable Halloween witch goes missing in the Pineapple Port retirement community, Charlotte’s eager to nab the culprit. Before she can lift a fingerprint, someone threatens to kill a new neighbor who looks like an adorable Pomeranian but possesses a disturbing talent for revenge. Moments later, a stranger demands the return of a mysterious wooden box – or else. 

Charlotte’s boyfriend, Declan, isn’t having a great morning either. His calculating ex-girlfriend has returned to claim she’s the rightful owner of his pawn shop. She’s livid he’s found a new lady, too.

Eh. Things could be worse. At least Charlotte doesn’t know that a mojito-swilling killer who fed his grandmother to a cat is on his way to Pineapple Port!

Some series suffer from sophomore slump but this one most certainly does not. Charlotte has decided that her calling is to be a private investigator after her achievements in the previous story and her senior citizen community is more than willing to send cases her way, things like who stole Darla’s Halloween witch and who is moving outdoor decor from one yard to another.

When pawnbroker Declan’s former girlfriend threatens to make his life miserable and a peculiar box draws unhealthy attention, he thinks things are weird enough but they can’t explain his uncle Seamus’s bizarre behavior. Throw in a potentially homicidal newcomer and Charlotte suddenly has a full detecting plate.

Following up on the first book, Pineapple Mystery Box is just as clever and filled with humor and I appreciated narrator Rosemary Benson’s talents every bit as much. I highly recommend this and I’ll soon be starting the next audiobook, Pineapple Puzzles.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2021.

Book Review: Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson @JoshilynJackson @WmMorrowBooks

Mother May I
Joshilyn Jackson
William Morrow, April 2021
ISBN 978-0-06-285534-3
Hardcover

Bree Cabbat is happily married with a handsome and loving husband, Trey, who is a lawyer.  She also has two teenage daughters, and a brand new baby boy, Robert.  While helping out at the Private School her daughters attend where her eldest Anna-Claire is rehearsing for the upcoming adapted school version of  the musical “Grease”,  Bree sets baby Robert, asleep in his car seat, on the floor, at the rear of the Balcony.

It seems like only minutes later Bree’s nightmare begins.  She glances behind her to check on her son, only to find the car seat empty. Robert has vanished. He’s been kidnapped. Left behind on the Balcony floor is a note telling Bree not to speak to anyone, but to go home immediately where she’ll be contacted.

At home she finds a small bag with a cell phone and a small package of pills, hanging on her front door.  The cell phone rings and Bree answers. The woman on the other end of the phone tells Bree if she follows her instructions to the letter, and completes the task she sets, her son will be returned to her.  The caller adds that someone will be watching her and reminds her that if she contacts the Police or her husband or anyone she’ll never see her baby again.

Bree has no option but to agree. The task, while a little unusual, seems harmless.  What choice does she have?  To her horror the result is heartbreaking and devastating, thrusting her into a minefield of guilt and pain.

It’s only been in the last year that I’ve been introduced to this author.  I’ve read two other titles,  Almost Sisters and Never Have I Ever.  In each of her novels the characters are well drawn, strong, emotional and likeable people.

The reader is quickly pulled into Bree’s story.  The welfare and safe return of her son is the driving force behind her actions, nothing else matters.   But as the chilling reason behind the kidnapping is revealed her world is turned upside down.

This will be on my Top Ten books of 2021.  Check it out… I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, May 2021.

Book Review: Not As We Knew It by F. M. Meredith @MarilynMeredith

Not As We Knew It
Rocky Bluff P. D. Mystery #16
F. M. Meredith
ISBN 979-8564552684
Trade Paperback

From the author—

The challenges come one after another for the Rocky Bluff P.D. to handle―from a missing woman to a fatal house fire.Detective Doug Milligan is faced with new and unusual problems to solve, some on the job and others related to his family.Gordon Butler isn’t too happy that his wife was chosen to train the latest new-hire.With the department shorthanded, Chief Chandra Taylor must make some hard decisions in order to protect the town of Rocky Bluff. Her romance with the mayor, which had been put on hold, is refreshed when she seeks his help.

One of the real pitfalls (for me) of accepting review requests from authors is the potential danger of having a request fall into a black hole because of backlogs that get worse and worse due to illness and life conditions in general (specifically the weird funk that has come with the pandemic, leading to a major reading slump and inability to focus). I have several books that have been wallowing in this pit, including this one, and I can only abjectly apologize for slacking off much too long. What’s really sad is that Not As We Knew It is a good book and it deserved better treatment from me.

Although some readers have said they don’t want the pandemic to play a role in the books they choose, Ms. Meredith opted to make it a part of her story and I’m glad she did. One of the hallmarks of police procedural is that they’re rooted in reality and this awful scourge is as real as it gets.

Ms. Meredith has a good hand with building characters we longtime fans love to spend time with and, besides the personal and societal complications of life brought about by Covid, our favorite detectives, such as Abel Navarro and Doug Milligan, are confronted by the crimes we might expect while Chief Taylor does everything she can to keep Rocky Bluff on an even keel, safe from criminals and overstressed, irrational citizens alike. You could say that Not As We Knew It is a police procedural very reflective of this odd world we’re struggling with. Well done!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2021.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a print copy of
Not As We Knew It, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
on the evening of Thursday, September 2nd.
US and Canada entrants only.

Book Review: Falling Into Crime by Penny Grubb @pennygrubb @Fantastic_Books

Falling Into Crime
Annie Raymond Private Investigator
The Annie Raymond Mysteries Books 1-3
Penny Grubb
Fantastic Books Publishing, June 2019
ISBN: 978-1-912053-93-3
Trade Paperback

Here’s a fascinating trilogy of stories that follow the burgeoning career of a fledgling private investigator in the United Kingdom. Annie Raymond is a sharp young girl out of a small town not far from the Scottish border, who looks at her contemporaries and yearns for something more. Now she’s in Hull, a small city just south of Scotland on the Eastern side of the U.K.

Her dad is a local cop and Annie’s desire is to have a career as a private investigator. She’s been recruited to a job in a tiny agency in Hull. It will be her introduction to life as an investigator and her training ground. This story is called Like False Money, the second which takes place several years later with a different cast of characters is called The Jawbone Gang, and the third,  set in a later time after Annie has moved to a larger agency in London, is called The Doll Makers.

Even though the three stories cover a span of many years, nearly all the action takes place in and around Hull. Annie Raymond interacts in meaningful and logical ways with youngsters, adults and even some on the verge of conclusions to their long lives. The crimes she investigates and solves are varied and unusual. There’s a lot of description of people and places in this book, all adeptly handled such that it adds to tension and the narrative pace. Never will you find characters misplaced or misread, the writing is strong, consistent and enthralling.

Annie Raymond is a fine investigator, and an excellent protagonist. There are additional volumes to her life and career and her stories are attractive and addicting. I have no hesitation strongly recommending Annie Raymond as a private investigator readers will enjoy coming to know and follow.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.