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 😉

Book Review: Written in Blood by Layton Green—and a Giveaway!

Written in Blood
Layton Green
Seventh Street Books, November 2017
ISBN:978-1-63388-361-1
Trade Paperback

In Written in Blood, author Green introduces readers to Detective Joe “Preach” Everson. Following a common path, Green has given readers a flawed protagonist, though Preach’s baggage goes well beyond the ordinary. After suffering a tragedy as a young man, he had a sort of breakdown and fled his hometown of Creeksville, North Carolina. His life path from then until the book opens took him to Bible college, time as a church preacher, a prison chaplain and then as a police officer in Atlanta, where another incident led to another breakdown.

Here we reach the first thing about the novel that just doesn’t quite work. Preach has returned to his hometown and has been hired as a police detective even though he has not been cleared to work from his breakdown. He promises to see a therapist who happens to be a relative. One has to question what police force would hire an emotionally unstable person as a detective and what therapist would risk his or her reputation and licensing to sign off on a deeply troubled soul who has suffered at least two emotional breakdowns to serve as a detective. But let’s accept this as written for the sake of the story.

Preach is barely on the job when he and his partner Kirby are called out to a murder scene in a bookstore. Kirby notices some odd marks on the body which he correctly surmises may be a clue. With the help of Ari, a law student who works part time in the bookstore and is an avid reader, they determine that the crime has been staged to resemble the murder of the pawnbroker  in Crime and Punishment. As I’m sure you can guess, this is the first in a series of murders that happen around town, each with a literary connection. This theme is not new by any means to crime fiction, but for the most part Green does a good job of putting his own twist on the theme.

The two things I liked most about Written in Blood are the character development and the  literary tie-ins to the crimes.  I understand that some avid crime fiction fans do not care for wordy descriptions, but I found the detailed descriptions of the various people very helpful in visualizing them. The murders being staged like murders in well known works of literature was done well.  While I was familiar with all of the works used, I found that I had forgotten some of the details of the various crimes. I loved this part in a geeky sort of way, though I’m not sure a reader unfamiliar with the books would be quite so on board.

Besides the improbability of Preach actually being hired as mentioned before, the only thing that left me a bit cold is that while the focus never exactly was off the murders, the plot took some odd and meandering detours along the way through just about every depravity known to man. I think the book might have been a bit better had those parts been shorter.

Overall, Written in Blood is a good start in what could be an interesting series.

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

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Written in Blood by Layton Green,
just leave a comment below. The winning
names will be drawn on Friday night,
  April 6th, for one Advance Reading Copy
and one finished trade paperback copy. This
drawing is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams

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The Secret, Book & Scone Society
The Secret, Book & Scone Society, Book 1
Ellery Adams
Kensington Books, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-4967-1237-0
Hardcover
From the publisher—

Miracle Springs, North Carolina, is a place of healing. Strangers flock here hoping the natural hot springs, five-star cuisine, and renowned spa can cure their ills. If none of that works, they often find their way to Miracle Books, where, over a fresh-baked “comfort” scone from the Gingerbread House bakery, they exchange their stories with owner Nora Pennington in return for a carefully chosen book. That’s Nora’s special talent—prescribing the perfect novel to ease a person’s deepest pain and lighten their heaviest burden.

When a visiting businessman reaches out to Nora for guidance, she knows exactly which novels will help. But before he can keep their appointment at Miracle Books, he’s found dead on the train tracks.

Stunned, Nora forms the Secret, Book, and Scone Society, a group of damaged souls yearning to gain trust and earn redemption by helping others. To join the society, members must divulge their darkest secret—the terrible truth that brought each of them to Miracle Springs in the first place.

Determined to uncover the truth behind the businessman’s demise, the women meet in Nora’s cramped and cozy bookstore to share stories and trade support. And as they untangle a web of corruption, they also discover their own courage, purpose, and a sisterhood that will carry them through every challenge—proving it’s never too late to turn the page and start over . . .

Ellery Adams has to work really hard to write a book I don’t like and that’s not me blowing smoke. I don’t think all of her work is 100% on point but I do find something to like about every single book. Disclaimer: I’ve known the author for years from back when I had my bookstore and she lived in Richmond and, although I haven’t seen or talked to her in far too long, I think of her fondly. Having said that, I truly think Ellery Adams is one of the best cozy writers around.

One of the best things this author does is come up with settings and/or concepts that are a little out of the norm and she’s done it again with this series debut. I quite simply adore a mystery set in or around a bookstore  (how could I not, considering my background?) but to put that store in a spa town is just terrific. Better yet, the club Nora puts together is near genius, not only to solve murders and the like but to bond these women together in such a unique fashion. Bibliotherapy at its best.

Nora’s idea is that there are few problems that can’t be remedied by reading the right book—a premise I can truly buy into—and the women she has recruited for the club all need that connection to other people with a common love for books. When you get right down to it, don’t all face-to-face book clubs thrive on reading but, perhaps more importantly, on those personal relationships? And then the icing on the cake here is the chance to be sleuths 😉

Nora, Hester, June and even Estella are unique individuals, all smart women who’ve been damaged in some way but they’re open to healing and they grow to like each other in a perfect evocation of the bonds that women form when they’re very, very lucky. Along the way, they put their heads together to figure out why this man, a visitor in town, has been murdered and why the local law is kind of ignoring it. Before everything comes to a head, these women unearth a corruption they had no idea existed.

Added to the fun of sleuthing, we’re treated, literally, to scrumptious food and beverage, enough so I was really hungry while I was reading! I’m pumped by this series debut and will definitely follow it; in the meantime, it goes on my list of favorite books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

An Excerpt from
The Secret, Book & Scone Society

Still scanning the park square, Nora wondered where the trolley passengers had gone. The lodge’s green trolley was parked in its usual place, but no lodge guests strolled the sidewalks or meandered from the row of quaint shops on Bath Street to the Pink Lady Grill or the Gingerbread House.

Just then, a flash of red caught Nora’s eye and she groaned inwardly as a tall, shapely woman passed in front of the bookshop window. The woman yanked the door open, ignoring the riotous clanging of the sleigh bells, and settled into the closest chair like a queen awaiting the adulation of her subjects. Her pouty lips curved into a cat-with-the-cream grin. “Consider your next bibliotherapy session canceled.”

“Hello to you too, Estella.” Nora picked up the stray paperbacks a customer had left on the table next to Estella’s chair. “I assume you’re referring to the man I met on the park bench. Why isn’t he coming? Did you scare him off?”

“Me?” Estella pretended to be affronted, but Nora wasn’t falling for the act. “I didn’t even get a chance to meet him. I was up at the lodge wasting my time on a man I thought had some potential, but he’s already making payments to an ex-wife and needs to send three kids to college. There’d be nothing left for me.” She waved a manicured hand in dismissal.

Nora was itching to reshelve the books and check on the coffee. Though she didn’t dislike Estella, she was rarely at ease in her company.

Recalling the strange sensation she’d experienced as the second train whistle blew, Nora felt an inexplicable prickle of dread. She jerked a thumb toward the window. “Where is everyone?”

Estella’s grin returned. “At the train station. They’ve been drawn there like flies to sugar. The sheriff rolled in a few seconds ago, and since he and I have never gotten along, I made myself scarce.”

Nora, who made it a point not to look people directly in the eye, forgot her rule and gave Estella an impatient stare. “What happened? Just spit it out.”

Crossing her arms in disappointment, Estella murmured something about no one being any fun, but eventually complied with Nora’s request. “When your man on the bench placed an order for one of Hester’s comfort scones, he asked her to box it because he was heading over here to see you. He left the bakery, box in hand, but he never made it to Miracle Books.” Estella leaned back in the chair and smoothed the skirt of her white sundress. “I’m sure he’d rather be sitting in this comfy chair than where he is now.”

Nora knew she wasn’t going to like the answer to her question, but it had to be asked. “Which is?”

“On the tracks,” Estella declared breathlessly. “Someone pushed him in front of the three o’clock train.”

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