Book Review: Little Bookshop of Murder by Maggie Blackburn @molliecoxbryan @crookedlanebks

Little Bookshop of Murder
A Beach Reads Mystery #1
Maggie Blackburn
Crooked Lane, September 2020
ISBN 978-1-64385-438-0
Hardcover

As the story begins Summer Merriweather is on her way back to her hometown of  Brigid’s Island, NC from England where, during her summer break she was trying to write a paper for publication in the hope that she could save her job as a professor of Shakespearean literature at a Virginia college.  Her job is in jeopardy because she hasn’t published enough, and she fails too many students.  But the thing that really sealed her possible fate was an embarrassing video of her that went viral.  Summer is returning to her hometown because she learned of her mother’s death – the mother from whom she has been estranged for many years.

Upon her return Summer learns from her aunt Agatha, her mother’s sister, that the coroner ruled her mother’s death a heart attack which Summer refuses to believe because her mother, Hildy, was very healthy and never had heart problems.  Back on Brigid’s Island Summer is immediately surrounded by her mother’s friends who help out in the store, bring huge amounts of food, and with whom Hildy was in a book club for many years.  However, the police chief firmly believes that Summer’s mother did suffer a heart attack and, since he dislikes Summer for personal reasons, is not inclined to take her seriously and investigate.

So, with the help of her cousin Piper, Piper’s daughter Mia, and Summer’s aunt, Agatha, Summer begins investigating.  What she learns makes her even more suspicious that her mother’s death was not from natural causes:  her mother had no symptoms before the apparent heart attack, she had recently seen her doctor for a routine check-up, she went to her yoga class the morning of her death, then to work at the bookstore, and then, according to one of the other book club members who was working with her at the time, dropped to the floor and was dead.

Throughout her investigation there is a side story about Summer reading a book her mother was reading just prior to her death – a romance novel – just the kind of book Summer has always hated but to which she feels drawn.

I enjoyed this book, not because the mystery was tricky, and the outcome was difficult to figure out because neither is true but because I really liked the relationships in Summer’s family and with the women in the book club.  The book was supposed to come out in July 2020 (was delayed to September because of COVID) and I would have said it was a great beach read (a play on the bookstore’s name!) but it’s winter here in New England and we just got a foot of snow so maybe for some of you it’s beach weather but not here!

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, December 2020.

Book Review: The Innocent Girls by B.R. Spangler @BR_Spangler @bookouture

The Innocent Girls
Detective Casey White, Book 2
B.R. Spangler
Bookouture, September 2020
ISBN 978-1-83888-258-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Tears stream down her face as she feels the cold blade press against her neck. The sweet scent of her daughter’s favorite strawberry pancakes all around, her last thought is for her beautiful girl. Please, please let Lisa have escaped.

When Detective Casey White is called early one morning to a beachside vacation campsite in the Outer Banks, she finds the bodies of Carl and Peggy Pearson side-by-side, their throats cut, and their thirteen-year-old daughter Lisa nowhere to be found. Haunted by memories of her own missing girl, Casey fears this could soon become a triple murder: because without the medication found in the bathroom cabinet, Lisa has just days to live.

As her team struggle to untangle the meaning of the cryptic symbol carved into the victims’ skin, Casey searches the area for signs of Lisa: and is rewarded when she finds her blistered and barefoot, staggering along the highway. The girl barely has breath left to whisper ‘he invited me’ before blacking out.

Days later, another couple is found murdered on a vacation yacht. A different symbol is etched on their bodies, and their teenage daughter is also missing. Casey’s only clue is an unsettling ‘invitation’ found on the girl’s phone, to a secluded building out in the cornfields.

Desperate to uncover who is luring these innocent families to their deaths, and certain forensics have missed something vital, Casey matches up the crime scene photos herself. The symbols combine to form an upcoming date. The killer is taunting them with the timing of the next murder.

Racing to follow the invitation in time, when Casey arrives she is shocked to glimpse not the missing girls from this case, but her own missing daughter…

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These days, fictional police detectives seem to be loaded down with a lot of baggage and that’s certainly the case here. Casey’s daughter vanished when she was a small child, a very difficult thing to live with, and now she has to deal with a double murder and missing teen.

This story doesn’t have quite the high-octane tension of most thrillers but there’s a good deal of suspense, particularly because of the problems any resort area police force would have when faced with serious crimes involving vacationers. The usual tactics of interviewing people the victims know back home aren’t as helpful and it’s unlikely that they have had enough time in town to create serious troubles with other people so Casey knows soon enough that the killer(s) are probably strangers. When the teen, Lisa, is found some of the initial pressure is relieved but then another parent is murdered and the daughter goes missing. As leads develop, it seems that a cultish church might have something to do with these crimes but Casey can’t be sure.

There are a few side issues involving Casey’s relationships with the former sheriff, the mayor and her colleagues on the force but she naturally dwells on what happened to her own daughter paralleling, in a way, with the current crimes. A questionable confession takes Casey down ever more twisty paths resulting finally in a diabolical solution.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2020.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Apple
Google Play // Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

B.R. Spangler here. I’m a resident of Virginia along with my family, five cats, two birds, a hamster, and a lizard. During the day, I work as an engineer and spend my off hours writing, editing, and thinking up the next great story.

I split my time across pen names, writing crime thrillers, science fiction, horrors, paranormal and contemporary fiction.

Author Social Media Links:

To keep up to date, sign up for his newsletter by copying and pasting this link into your browser: https://brspangler.com/sign-up/

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/BR_Spangler

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/authorbrianspangler/

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Book Review: Booked for Death by Victoria Gilbert @VGilbertauthor @crookedlanebks

Booked for Death
A Booklover’s B&B Mystery #1
Victoria Gilbert
Crooked Lane Books, August 2020
ISBN 978-1-64385-307-9
Hardcover

First in a new series by the author of the popular Blue Ridge Library mysteries, this new series is “A Booklover’s B&B Mystery.”  Set in Beaufort, North Carolina, we meet Charlotte Reed, proprietor of the Chapters Bed and Breakfast which she inherited from her great-aunt, Isabella.  Having spent the year since her inheritance learning how to run the B&B and host literary events, Charlotte thinks she is prepared for pretty much anything.  But, having planned a literary retreat based on the life and books of the famed Josephine Tey, Charlotte did not expect a murder.  So, when a dealer in rare books turns up dead during the event, Charlotte suddenly finds herself in the position of trying to find out who had it in for the man.

At first the victim’s wife and daughter suspect Charlotte because the book dealer threatened to make public information about great-aunt Isabella that, according to him, would show that Isabella bought the inn with money she received from selling stolen items.  Determined to clear both her own name and Isabella’s, Charlotte sets out to find out who killed the dealer.  Unfortunately, there is no shortage of suspects but fortunately she has some help from a neighbor and some of her book club guests.  But then someone comes after Charlotte.  Can she unmask the killer before the killer gets her?

Booked for Death is a cozy fast read with engaging characters – perfect for the beach (can we even go to a beach these days?).  Or, if not a beach, somewhere outside or on a nice breezy porch.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, June 2020.

Book Review: Miss Julia Knows a Thing or Two by Ann B. Ross—and a Giveaway! @VikingBooks

Miss Julia Knows a Thing or Two
Miss Julia Series #21
Ann B. Ross
Viking, April 2020
ISBN 978-0-525-56051-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Miss Julia has decided to turn over a new leaf. It’s time to stop meddling in other peoples’ lives, she thinks–but her hands are full before long! Her neighbor Mildred is sent into a tizzy when a grandchild she’s never met shows up on her doorstep. And Mildred’s husband keeps forgetting who she is, so she’s all on her own. Meanwhile, Etta Mae is worried about losing her job now that the Handy Home Helpers is up for sale. Luckily, Miss Julia has experience dealing with children dropped on doorsteps, and sweeps in to lend a hand. But there’s something missing in that child’s life, and Miss Julia knows exactly what it is.

Living in small towns such as Abbotsville, NC, tends to make people a little busybody-ish and Miss Julia has recognized in herself an inclination towards being overly critical and obdurate so she’s decided to make an effort to be more open to other ideas, more sensitive and less prideful, especially after what’s been going on with her friend and next door neighbor, Mildred Allen. Poor Mildred really has a lot on her plate right now.

Mildred is coping, not very well, with her husband, Horace’s, growing cognitive impairment while her son, Tony, has recently become estranged, following his transition to daughter, Tonya. Then, out of the blue, a previously unknown grandchild shows up practically on Mildred’s doorstep. What is the beleagured woman supposed to do? Well, quite naturally, she seeks out advice from her friend and it doesn’t take long for Miss Julia to realize that things are more than a little suspicious and her tendency towards snoopiness aka sleuthing rises to this new challenge.

While Mildred’s problems are absorbing much of Miss Julia’s time and effort, she’s also concerned about Etta Mae Wiggins who may be about to lose her Handy Home Helper job for dubious reasons. Miss Julia’s determined to ferret out some truths so her good intentions of becoming more conscious of how she can rub people the wrong way just might have to wait. On top of all this, the Christmas holidays and all that entails are fast approaching and demanding her attention.

The mystery elements are lightweight here but that’s not really what the Miss Julia stories are all about—enjoy this for the appealing characters and setting as well as the warm-hearted, enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for an advance reading
copy of Miss Julia Knows a Thing or Two,

leave a comment below. The
winning name will be drawn on
Monday evening, April 20th.
Open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Miss Julia Takes the Wheel by Ann B. Ross

Miss Julia Takes the Wheel
Miss Julia #20
Ann B. Ross
Viking, April 2019
ISBN 978-0-525-56048-7
Hardcover

This is the 21st in this popular series but it is the first I’ve read.  So, a bit of background for those who also haven’t read others in the series.  The series is set in North Carolina and the main character is Miss Julia, a wealthy white southern woman.  In this book, Miss Julia is very concerned because her doctor and his wife are taking an extended European vacation, leaving the doctor’s practice to a substitute.  Although neither Miss Julia nor her husband, Sam, are ill, she worries that they could become ill and have to see a doctor they do not know.

Having been asked to reach out to the substitute doctor (Dr. Don Crawford) and his wife (Lauren), Miss Julia invites them to dinner and introduces them to other couples who are friends of hers.  While Miss Julia finds the doctor to be charming, the dinner is strained due, in part, to Lauren’s shyness and unwillingness to talk  other than to answer direct questions.  Later her friends raise some concerns about Don.  Nevertheless, Miss Julia and her friend Hazel Marie try, with limited success, to engage Lauren in local activities including play dates with Hazel Marie’s and Lauren’s children.  Meanwhile, Miss Julia is also helping her friend’s teenage son with learning to drive.

There is much going on in this book including a mystery, the outcome of which was not hard to deduce, Miss Julia’s willingness to help her friends in need, and her often self-sacrificing behavior.  While I realize that this series is considered funny and entertaining, this book deals with a serious problem which is neither funny nor entertaining.

Finally, I  want to address the  conversations between Miss Julia and her African- American maid, Lillian.  While Miss Julia turns to Lillian for advice and takes Lillian into her confidence, Lillian’s side of their conversations is written in a particular manner that clearly puts her in a lower social class than Miss Julia.  To illustrate with just a few examples of which there are many:  Lillian’s dialogue includes “ast” instead of “asked”; “liberry” instead of “library”; and “growed up” instead of “grown up.”  This comment is not directed toward any region’s way of speaking but rather to the obvious racial overtones in such conversations.  Because I did not find the book funny, nor the mystery a challenge, and I was put off by the thinly veiled racism in the narrative, I do not recommend this book.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, December 2019.

Book Review: A Very, Very Bad Thing by Jeffery Self

A Very, Very Bad Thing  
Jeffery Self
Push, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-11840-7
Hardcover

Marley is one of a handful of gay teens in his North Carolina town. Things at home are mixed…Good in that his parents, aging semi-hippies, are okay with his gayness, not so good in that Dad blew money he couldn’t afford to and they’re being threatened with losing their house. And Mom and Dad are dealing with it by burning herbs and spouting New Age mumbo jumbo. Even so, Marley’s life is fairly even keel, due in large part to his best friend Audrey.

One look is all it takes when Marley first sees new student Christopher and he’s beyond smitten. It’s not long before he realizes the feeling is mutual, but there’s a huge problem. Christopher’s parents are big time TV evangelists and make their living on contributions to and merchandise sales through the ministry which thrives on anti-homosexual preaching. In fact, they moved from Missouri to North Carolina for a fresh start and new church, in large part due to their son’s coming out.

It takes Marley a while to wrap his head around what’s happened to Christopher…Parental denial about his sexuality, being sent to several ‘pray the gay away’ camps and implied blame for the necessity to move. However, the more time they spend together (and Christopher’s parents make it pretty near impossible for them to have a relationship), the more upset Marley becomes over his boyfriend’s treatment.

When they use Audrey as a beard to get Christopher ungrounded long enough for he and Marley to attend the Harvest Prom, it’s what both boys dream about, until a freshman boy won’t stop with homophobic slurs while everyone’s on the dance floor. Christopher loses his temper, decking the kid and the whole fake date deal blows up. Christopher’s not only super grounded, he’s going to be sent to yet another gay conversion camp. It’s the last straw. He smuggles a letter to Marley through his sympathetic aunt, asking him to meet him at the camp after dark. He’s leaving a suicide note, but his intention is to spend one last night with Marley before taking a bus as far away as possible.

However, an impulsive stop at the town water tower for some last moment romance goes horribly awry. What happens after that night needs to be discovered by you, the reader, but I can attest to its surprising twists, both immediately and over the next several months. Told in alternating parts from before and after the water tower incident, Marley must struggle not only with loss, but guilt. How he and other players deal with it makes for a stellar story, one LBGTQ and straight teens can both relate to equally well. A definite add for school and public libraries where issue rich fiction is in demand by teens.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, May 2018.

Book Review: Reservations for Murder by Tim Myers

Reservations for Murder
A Lighthouse Inn Mystery #2
Tim Myers
Berkeley Prime Crime, 2002
ISBN 978-0-425-18525-4
Mass Market Paperback
Currently available in trade paperback and electronic editions

Proprietor of the Hatteras West Inn, Alex Winston would  just as soon not get involved with another murder. Unfortunately, some people just aren’t very considerate and blacksmith Jefferson Lee has been literally skewered to a timber of Alex’s new building, hoist on his own petard, so to speak. The Golden Days Fair, showcasing old-fashioned artisans and crafters, is about to open on the inn’s grounds and there are way too many potential suspects. If Alex is going to prevent more bad publicity, he’s going to have to do some snooping of his own…

Author Tim Myers brings back a delightful cast of small-town characters in this sequel to Agatha-nominated Innkeeping With Murder and introduces us to a few more we’ll hope to meet again. Alex’s sleuthing, hindered somewhat by an old girlfriend’s amorous hints and the dislike that nearly everyone felt for the murdered man, is not
especially appreciated by the local sheriff but Alex is convinced the sheriff is heading in the wrong direction. In the meantime, his housekeeper and friend, Ellie, has left town and gossip has it she’s not coming back. So what else can go wrong?

Reservations for Murder and it’s predecessor, Innkeeping With Murder, are highly recommended for everyone who loves a true cozy mystery.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2002. Slightly revised 2018.
Review first published on murderexpress.net in 2002.

{Note: resurrecting this old review has reminded me how much I liked Tim in my bookstore days and has prompted me to do a series re-read 😉