Book Review: Blood Family by Jacqueline Seewald @JacquelineSeewa @encirclepub

Blood Family
A Kim Reynolds Mystery #5
Jacqueline Seewald
Encircle Publications, May 2020
ISBN 978-1-64599-043-7
Trade Paperback

When people delve into their own pasts, they sometimes get much more than they bargained for and that’s definitely the case when librarian Kim Reynolds goes in search of her biological father. Just when she finds James Shaw, he passes away unexpectedly but this was no ordinary death. Not only that, Kim learns that her newly-discovered family has a litany of problems and now she’s been drawn into the middle of it all.

Claire, Kim’s very needy half-sister, is the one who pulls Kim into the mess and, to make matters worse, her wealthy biological father named her in his will, putting a target squarely on her back. That, and a strong element of family mystery over and above her father’s death, compel Kim to delve into whatever has been going on in this troubled, dysfunctional family. As an academic librarian, she’s no stranger to research and mental investigating but that might not be enough and it’s a good thing that her fiance, police lieutenant Mike Gardner, and his partner, Sergeant Bert St. Croix, are watching her back as well as doing their jobs. The three of them make an effective team.

Ms. Seewald has been known for her strong characterizations and tight plotlines and Blood Family is certainly no exception. Kim, Mike and Bert, as well as Bert’s SO, Fred, are very easy to like and each brings something different to their investigations while the plot itself is full of what seem to be minor hints here and there that, at the end, add up to a satisfying conclusion.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2020.

Book Review: The Boy From The Woods by Harlan Coben @HarlanCoben @GrandCentralPub

The Boy From The Woods
Harlan Coben
Grand Central Publishing, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-5387-4814-5
Hard Cover

At the start of this novel we are introduced to the boy referred to in the book’s title.  Thirty years ago, Wilde, as he is now known, was discovered living in the woods in a rural area of New Jersey.  According to the police there was never any report of a missing child. No relatives ever came forward to claim him.

Intriguing as that opening of Coben’s new stand alone is, the novel moves to the present and concerns another child who has gone missing. Her name is Naomi Pines and she’s a teenager who attends a local high school in the town of Westville, New Jersey.   Matthew, a  fellow student, is concerned for Naomi’s welfare.  He’s contacted his grandmother, Hester Crimstein, a well-known New York criminal attorney to enlist her help.

Hester sets things in motion in the search to find Naomi, calling on the local police and contacting Wilde, who’d been befriended by Hester’s son David, Matthew’s father, years ago.

The relationships in this novel are complicated and there are a few more characters  to meet who are involved in a political plot pertaining to a candidate running for President of the United States.

I’m sure you’ll agree that this might be hard to keep track of,  but rest assured you are in the hands of a well known and loved Master.  Jump in…you’ll be glad you did.  I thoroughly enjoyed this and hope Mr. Coben will return to with a sequel so that we might learn more about the Wilde boy from the woods.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, May 2020.

Book Review: Witch Wish by Jacqueline Seewald

Witch Wish
Jacqueline Seewald
Black Opal Books, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-626949-45-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Val Williams believes she will never be as pretty or popular as her older sister Ailene. When Ailene dumps her on an unfamiliar road after an argument, Val decides to ask directions of the only person she sees—an old woman engaged in a garage sale. Val purchases a music box that the old woman claims has magical qualities and will grant Val one wish. In a fit of pique, Val wishes that that her sister would stop being so perfect. When Ailene starts acting oddly, breaks up with her boyfriend, stops talking to her friends, starts dating a “bad” boy, and cuts classes, Val is troubled. She begins to fear she caused all this to happen by making her wish and suffers a guilty conscience. How she goes about setting matters right makes for some unusual complications and surprises.

“Be careful what you wish for” should have been Val’s mantra but, of course, she didn’t really mean for anything to go wrong for Ailene when she picks up that old woman’s music box and inadvertently wishes Ailene wasn’t so perfect. On the other hand, it’s not easy to live with a sister who is truly the golden child and is obnoxious on top of everything else. Could this music box really be magical?

At its core, though, this is a story about a family in a world of hurt and each member of the family contributes to that condition, the inability to get along with each other or be the kind of peaceful, loving family we all want. On the surface, Ailene is the one who is most disruptive and certainly she is incredibly self-absorbed and can be downright cruel to her younger sister but, in reality, she’s not the real issue.

As Ailene seems to be falling apart, Val takes the first wobbly steps towards seeing her own self-worth and her sister’s true vulnerability, the cracks in her facade. Tangentially, Val’s friend has her own family dysfunction to deal with that eventually involves everyone in the Williams family as they work to protect Toni and her sister, Kathy.

While Val finds her inner strength, the rest of her family each have their own “awakening” and, as a reader, I took comfort in going along with them on their journey. Val, in particular, became a young woman I’d like to spend more time with.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

Book Review: Edited Out by E.J. Copperman

Edited Out
A Mysterious Detective Mystery #2
E.J. Copperman
Crooked Lane Books, May 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6295-3599-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Rachel Goldman is getting used to the idea that her fictional creation, Duffy Madison, has somehow taken flesh-and-blood form and is investigating missing person cases not far from where Rachel lives. Wait. No. She’s not getting used to it at all, and the presence of this real-life Duffy is making her current manuscript – what’s the word?  – – lousy.  So she doesn’t want to see Duffy – the living one – at all.  To make matters worse, when he shows up at her door and insists on talking to her, it’s about the one thing she doesn’t want to do:  find a missing person.  But the man Duffy seeks this time around might be able to solve Rachel’s problem.  He might just be the man Duffy was before he became Duffy five years ago.  The only problem is she could be letting Duffy lead her into danger yet again.

This is the second in a new series by E.J. Copperman, which finds author Rachel Goldman working, with some difficulty, on the next book in her Duffy Madison series, due to her publisher in three months.  Duffy is the consultant to the county prosecutor’s office, whose forte is finding missing persons.  Thinking back on the origin of her fictional character, she ruminates that she flashed on the idea of a consultant to the police, a very specific kind of genius who would be able to find lost things and, more important, lost people when the authorities could not.  It is now 6 months since a man had called Rachel “claiming to be the living incarnation of my fictional character.  He called himself Duffy Madison. .. . he believed I had actually created him four years earlier, because he had no memory of anything before that time.”  She speaks of him as “the raving lunatic who is using my character’s name and personality.”

Rachel is hard pressed to decide whether the man is insane, or if there is some other – or no – explanation as to his claims.  But after he had saved her life [in the events in the first book], she tries to give him some benefit of the doubt. This time their quest takes her from her home in Adamstown, New Jersey, to Poughkeepsie, New York [necessitating several trips across the barely passable Tappan Zee Bridge] where Duffy apparently went to high school, although proving that is difficult.  This time we learn a bit more about Rachel’s love life, such as it is.  Speaking of her invaluable assistant, she says “Paula dates more than I do, but then the pope probably dates more than I do.”

As I wrote in my review of the first book in the series (Written Off) this could only be an E.J. Copperman creation, as any reader of the author’s Asperger’s and Haunted Ghosthouse series can attest.  There is a mystery here, and quite creative and suspenseful it is, but the overriding aspect of this book is the author’s singular and trademark humor.  I can attest to the fact that every page, and nearly every sentence, of this delightful book is literally laugh-out-loud funny, and the smile almost never left my face for the two days it took me to read it.  As was the predecessor book, it is simply terrific, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 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.

Book Reviews: Love and Death in Burgundy by Susan C. Shea and Another Man’s Treasure by S.W. Hubbard

Love & Death in Burgundy
The French Village Mysteries #1

Susan C. Shea
Minotaur Books, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-11300-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

After three years of living in the small town of Reigny-sur-Canne, all Katherine Goff really wants is to be accepted by her neighbors into their little community. But as an American expat living in the proud region of Burgundy, that’s no easy task.

When the elderly Frenchman who lives in the village chateau is found dead at the bottom of a staircase, the town is turned into a hot bed of gossip and suspicion, and Katherine suddenly finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into the small town’s secrets. A motherless teenager, a malicious French widow, a brash music producer, and a would-be Agatha Christie are among those caught up in a storm that threatens to turn Katherine’s quiet life upside down. As more and more of the villagers’ secrets are brought to light, Katherine must try to figure out who, if anyone, in the town she can trust, and which one of her neighbors just might be a killer.

I almost didn’t get past the first couple of chapters in this book because, not only was the lunch party a disaster for poor Katherine, it was a disaster for me. Rarely have I encountered a group of characters that completely turned me off so early in a story. Many Americans think the French are rude and unfriendly; I’ve never been there so I don’t really know. My experience in another country (Greece) is that those who live in the countryside are much friendlier than the city folk but that surely wasn’t the case in this small French village. To be fair, though, much of the rudeness and unpleasant attitude came from expats, American and British with a German (naturalized French) thrown in for good measure. No matter what country these people at the lunch represented, at least half of them were so disagreeable that I wondered why I would want to continue in their company.

But…I pushed on and, wonder of wonders, I began to like some of these people. The main character, Katherine, annoyed me a bit with her need to be accepted into the community and I wanted to tell her to ease up, that having lived there for three years is a pretty good sign that, well, it is what it is. Still, I understood her sort of oozing into doing her own investigating when the almost universally disliked Albert Bellegarde is found dead, perhaps murdered, and I enjoyed the way her snooping led to a better look at the villagers and the expats.

On an interesting sidenote, the feelings some had against Albert, especially his German background which they couldn’t help tying to the Nazis, rightfully or not, reminded me of the emotions that run high in some parts of the Southern US regarding the Confederate legacy.  I live here in the South and, quite honestly, understand some of the emotional attachment to the past from a historical standpoint even while I deplore the hatefulness. Ms. Shea has shown, in an unobtrusive way, that grudges and hatred can live a very long time no matter who or where.

The mystery here is actually pretty lightweight but Love & Death in Burgundy is, at its heart, a warm, welcoming visit in a charming village. Reigny sounds like a delightful place and the food had me salivating. I’d love to visit the French countryside someday to see for myself what the people and the scenery are like, not to mention gorge myself on some wonderful food. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting to see what Katherine and her neighbors will get up to in Dressed for Death in Burgundy next May.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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Another Man’s Treasure
Palmyrton Estate Sale Mystery Series Book 1
S.W. Hubbard
Read by Janelle Tedesco
S.W. Hubbard, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

On a snowy Christmas Eve, a beautiful young mother goes out to buy a few last minute gifts and never returns….

….thirty years later, her daughter picks up her trail.

As the owner of an estate sale business, Audrey Nealon knows a lot about art, antiques, and the unlikely places old people hide their treasures. But the shabby home of an elderly widow holds alarming surprises: street drugs in the silverware drawer, a trunkful of jewels in the attic, and the distinctive ring Audrey’s mother was wearing the night she disappeared. Believing the truth will bring her peace, Audrey relentlessly pursues clues to her family’s troubled history. But each fact Audrey uncovers drags her further away from the love she craves, and puts her on a collision course with people more determined, more ambitious, and more dangerous than she can fathom. As the twist ending reveals, some truths are too awful to bear, and too terrible to share.

The print edition of this book was reviewed here in May 2013; Carol said pretty much everything I was thinking about the story itself so I’ll focus on the audiobook aspects this time.

Janelle Tedesco is a new narrator to me and, in that situation, I always tend to be a little picky, looking for things I don’t like as well as those I do. Ms. Tedesco checked off all my hot buttons, I’m happy to say.

Clarity of voice—Ms. Tedesco has a very clear voice, easy to understand, no mumbling, no breathy sounds.

Accents—Audrey and some of the other characters don’t have the New Jersey accent that’s so familiar to the rest of us but some others have hints of a stronger Northern inflection. In addition, there are distinguishable intonations for races, a variety of backgrounds and the impressions of life in general.

Pacing—This is excellent, maintaining an even speed that’s a perfect, pleasant tempo with urgency where it belongs.

Variety of character interpretations—It’s very hard for a voiceover actor to handle a mix of gender and ages but Ms. Tedesco manages it seemingly with no trouble. Each character is recognizable, particularly Audrey’s assistants, Jill and Tyshaun, who are vastly different from each other. There are a fair number of people in this story so the contrasts are all that more important.

All in all, I was quite impressed with the narration of this book and will be happy to listen to the next Estate Sale Mystery, Treasure of Darkness.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

Book Review: The Question of the Felonious Friend by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen—and a Giveaway!

the-question-of-the-felonious-friendThe Question of the Felonious Friend
An Asperger’s Mystery #3
E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen
Midnight Ink Books, September 2016
ISBN: 978-0-7387-4351-6
Trade Paperback

Samuel Hoenig has opened a business where he, along with his partner, Ms. Washburn, find answers to questions their clients are not able to discover on their own. A young man named Tyler Clayton, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, has come to him with a question, and now Samuel is faced with a moral question of his own. Can he report back to his client with an objective answer? Tyler, unsure of his own perceptions, wants to know if a store clerk in a convenience store is his friend. Samuel, himself contending with Asperger’s, is intrigued with the question and resolves to find out. Unfortunately, before he can bring the case to a satisfactory close, the store clerk is murdered and, according to Tyler himself,Tyler is the killer. Why?

The story is a mystery as to motive. It also explores friendship and loyalty. Most interesting to me, however, is the depiction of Asperger’s Syndrome. As one who didn’t know much about it, the story opened this reader’s eyes and I enjoyed the bit of information I gained.

In the previous books I’ve read by the author, Jeff Cohen/E.J.Copperman, there’s been a major element of humor. This book lacks that, although there are moments that drift toward being funny, seemingly by accident. In accounting for the crime, Samuel’s challenge is understanding the personalities of the characters, even as his total objectivity leads him through a difficult maze.

I won’t say this is a great book, but it did prove interesting, not only in the exploration of Asperger’s, but in the mystery. Mr. Cohen is a very good writer who knows how to entertain.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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