Book Reviews: The Highwayman by Craig Johnson and Fallout by Sara Paretsky

The Highwayman
A Longmire Story
Craig Johnson
Penguin  Books, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2090-4
Trade Paperback

The author prefaces this Longmire novel by stating he always wanted to write a ghost story.  And now he has, thrusting Walt Longmire and his friend, Henry Standing Bear, into the middle of an enigma.  At the request of the head of the Highway Patrol, Walt and the Bear seek to determine what is happening to Rosie Wayman, who patrols a stretch of highway in the Wind River Canyon, an area where radio communication is almost nonexistent.

On the other hand, Rosie begins receiving calls from Bobby Womack saying “officer needs assistance.”  The problem is that Womack, a respected highwayman who patrolled the same route, died 35 years previously.  Walt and the Bear have to determine whether Rosie really is hearing the signal, or is in need of psychiatric evaluation.  What follows during the investigation is a series of events which might be ethereal, or explained by logic in the real world.  It is up to the two men (along with the reader) to determine which.

It is a clever plot and, while it is a deviation from the 11 prior entries in the series, The Highwayman is a welcome addition to the earlier books, and it is recommended.

The 13th novel in the series, The Western Star, will be published by Penguin on September 5th!

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.

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Fallout
A V.I. Warshawski Novel
Sara Paretsky
William Morrow, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-0662-584-2
Hardcover

It all begins in Chicago, and ends up in Kansas, but VI Warhawski needs more than ruby read slippers to return home.  Apparently, a black retired movie star decided on a moment’s notice to leave the Windy City, ostensibly to visit the town where she grew up, dragging a young man man along to film her reminiscences with stops along the way to Lawrence, KS.  When the two seem to disappear, VI is retained by the woman’s concerned neighbors to find them.  The young man also is a person of interest in a drug theft at his place of employment, and Vicky becomes more wary when she discovers his apartment ransacked.

So off goes VI on the long drive to Kansas, tracing the woman’s journey and attempting to pick up a trace of the pair.  She visits Fort Riley, where she learns they stopped, but little else.  So Vicky continues on to Lawrence, where she encounters all kinds of obstructions, and becomes involved in all kinds of side issues, other than her original purpose to locate the actress and her photographer.

The reader has to plow through a rather dry start to the novel, about one-third the length of the book, before the plot begins to develop.  Then it turns into a complicated story that probably could have served as the basis for one or more novels.    All in all, Fallout is an interesting work and can be recommended despite these reservations because the author and the series are so deservedly popular.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.

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A Passel of Teeny Reviews Part 1

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Colin Goodwin
2QT Limited, July 2015
ISBN 978-1-910077-60-3
Trade Paperback

This book had me chuckling quite a bit with its premise—blackmailing an English village’s cricket club to either win  a trophy or lose its playing ground. Along with this audacious crime, we have village ladies who truly appreciate the hired ringer’s skills and a shady real estate development plan. It’s all great fun even with sabotage and perhaps a little murder.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Cat in an Alphabet Endgame
The Midnight Louie Mysteries #28
Carole Nelson Douglas
Wishlist Publishing, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-943175-05-5
Trade Paperback

I confess, I put off reading this as long as I possibly could, so long I’m really embarrassed but I just did NOT want to see the end of this series I love so much. I didn’t want to know who Temple would marry, didn’t want all the little loose ends tied up in neat bows. Midnight Louie is the alpha and omega of feline sleuths and I adore his hardboiled, attitudinous self and, even knowing he was going to continue in different adventures sometime in the future, letting go was so very hard. But…I eventually had to give in and, of course, I enjoyed this book as much as all the others. Temple is distracted by thoughts of saying yes to one guy or the other, the mob has reared its ugly head, there are hints of terrorism and Louie and his Cat Pack are on the case(s). When it’s all said and done, Louie leaves us—and multitudes of Las Vegas felines—with a rousing speech and an offer of appetizers. Ah, Louie, Temple and the rest, I’m going to miss you (until you show up again).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Memory
Sharon Ervin
The Wild Rose Press, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5092-1290-3
Trade Paperback

Mistaken identity takes on a whole new meaning when a woman is killed and everyone thinks it’s Memory Smith. She hasn’t been run over but somebody certainly has thrown a punch at her and Assistant DA Mac McCann wants to know what’s going on with his former classmate. Did someone really mean to kill her? Memory is an odd woman but Mac is drawn to her and the mystery surrounding her supposed death. As you might expect in romantic suspense, an emotional attachment between the two of them soon takes on a life of its own but Memory may not survive long enough to see what might develop with Mac.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Crepe Factor
A Scrapbooking Mystery #14
Laura Childs with Terrie Farley Moran
Berkley Prime Crime, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-26670-0
Hardcover

Ms. Childs and Ms. Moran continue their collaboration in a charming mystery featuring the death by fork of a food critic (stick a fork in me, I’m done, anyone?) practically right in front of Carmela and Ava, sleuthing duo extraordinaire. Carmela’s previous relationship with the #1 suspect makes sticking her nose in a little dicey and her current boyfriend, police detective Edgar Babcock really wants her to stay out of his investigation but she and Ava can’t resist. A nifty whodunnit and characters that feel like old friends, not to mention a few recipes and scrapbooking tips round out this entertaining entry in the series. I always enjoy these two, especially the slightly loony Ava, and for a few hours while I’m reading one of these books, I can’t help wishing I had the patience and dedication to get into scrapbooking…but the urge passes until the next book 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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The Locket
On Dark Shores #0
J.A. Clement
Weasel Green Press, December 2016
Ebook

Every child gets excited and exceedingly nosy when Yuletide approaches and the seven-year-old Nereia is no exception. Her father has brought her a special surprise, her Godmother, stopping off for a visit before returning to her diplomatic duties in the midst of war and a beautiful silver locket marks Nereia’s first time taking part in the Yule ceremony. This is a sweet story, very short, and a prequel to Ms. Clement‘s On Dark Shores fantasy series. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I knew anything about the series and I don’t understand the description’s reference to “there is mystery in the air…” but I spent a pleasant few minutes with this small family.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Review: The Color of Fear by Judy Alter

The Color of Fear
A Kelly O’Connell Mystery #7
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-9990371-0-2
Trade Paperback

From the author—

The Color of Fear marks Judy Alter’s return to mystery fiction and the Kelly O’Connell series after an absence of more than a year. This time, the indomitable Keisha narrates the short tale wherein Kelly and her family live under the threat of infant Gracie’s kidnapping. The story serves as a reprise of many of the previous novels in the series, as Keisha, in her search for the kidnapper, recalls Kelly’s earlier adventures.

Keisha remains outspoken and independent as she balances her need to protect Kelly and her family with her love for new husband, José Thornberry. Some but not all of Kelly’s friends and foes from previous stories appear here, along with such new characters as Clyde, the guard dog, and Cowboy, the homeless guy with a soft heart.

For anyone who hasn’t read all the preceding books in this series or for those who haven’t read any of them, this nifty little novella (or short story depending on your definition) can fill some of the gaps. Besides the current adventure, Keisha also shares tidbits about past exploits so we’re pretty much up to date…although, of course, reading the full length novels will offer much more. Here, we get tiny teasers.

Keisha is the standout character in this particular story, seemingly the only one except Mike, Kelly’s police captain husband, who keeps a level head in the current crisis. Threats are being made against a little baby and everyone has different ideas about who could be making these threats and why but it’s Keisha who does the most to avoid panic. Her sixth sense comes into play and her love for all these people—well, not so much for Miss Cynthia—sees her through to the end.

That end isn’t entirely satisfactory because it’s rushed and a bit out of nowhere but that’s often the case with short stories and novellas, just not enough time to flesh it out properly. This is a story that will introduce or re-introduce readers to Kelly and those in her circle and I hope to see more of these folks soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Reviews: Mightier than the Sword by K. J. Parker and Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe by Judy Alter

Mightier Than the Sword
K. J. Parker
Subterranean Press, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-59606-817-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

An Imperial legate is called in to see his aunt, who just happens to be the empress running the civilized world while her husband’s in his sick bed. After some chastisement, she dispatches her nephew to take care of the dreaded Land and Sea Raiders, pirates who’ve been attacking the realm’s monasteries.

So begins a possibly doomed tour of banished relatives and pompous royals put in charge of monasteries like Cort Doce and Cort Malestan, to name a few. While attempting to discover the truth of what the pirates might be after, the legate visits great libraries and halls in each varied locale and conducts a romance of which he knows but doesn’t care his aunt will not approve.

With enough wit and derring-do (and luck), the narrator might just make it through his mission alive…or will he?

Mightier than the Sword is a sort of Canterbury Tale-like retelling of “Concerning the Monasteries”, the personal document of the narrator that relates how he traveled  in search of the pirates who were attacking and pillaging monasteries throughout the Empire of the Robur in medieval times.  Our somewhat reluctant hero is the nephew of Empress Eudoxia Honoria Augusta and, along the way, he spends time with his aunt’s best friend, Svangerd, Abbess of Cort Doce, and his own best friend, Stachel, Abbot of Cort Sambic as well as others before discovering the truths behind the raids.

What ends with a number of surprises is mostly a pleasant story with interludes of off-scene violence at a handful of monasteries. The surprises, though, turn everything topsy-turvy but what happens to, and because of, our narrator are what had to be to complete the story and his destiny.

K. J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt, used for his fantasy writings. I first read Holt‘s many novels that are a wacky sort of science fiction and fantasy blend chock full of humor and satire and loved them so much that, when the bookstore was open, I had an account with a British book wholesaler just so we could stock his books (and a few others). The man makes me laugh out loud so I was not surprised to see hints of his comical side in Mightier than the Sword like this exchange:

“Rabanus isn’t a Mesoge name. What do they call you back home?”

He grinned. “I’m Hrafn son of Sighvat son of Thiudrek from Gjaudarsond in Laxeydardal.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll call you Rabanus.”

Although I don’t read a lot of high fantasy, this novella called to me because of the author but it also sounded like just the sort of thing to while away a couple of hours and, besides, how could I resist a tale that has so much to do with books? 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Murder at the Blue Plate Cafe
A Blue Plate Cafe Mystery #1
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-9960131-6-1
Ebook

From the author—

Small towns are supposed to be idyllic and peaceful, but when Kate Chambers returns to her hometown of Wheeler, Texas, she soon learns it is not the comfortable place it was when she grew up. First there’s Gram’s sudden death, which leaves her suspicious, and then the death of her married sister’s lover. Kate runs Gram’s restaurant, the Blue Plate Café, but she must defend her sister against a murder charge, solve the murders to keep her business open, and figure out where the café’s profits are going. Even Kate begins to wonder about the twin sister she has a love-hate relationship with. Gram guides Kate through it all, though Kate’s never quite sure she’s hearing Gram—and sometimes Gram’s guidance is really off the wall.

Note: I read the digital copy of an old paperback edition that’s out of print but it appears the ebook listed above, with the same 2013 copyright date, is unchanged with the possible exception of some minor editing.

Judy Alter has written a ton of books including mysteries in three series and, when she wrote this one in 2013, it was the first in the Blue Plate Cafe series. Now, there are three books and it’s my own fault I lollygagged around for so long and have just now read this.

When Kate’s grandmother dies, she decides to leave her job as a paralegal—and an uncomfortable situation—and run Gram’s cafe but her twin, Donna, has her sights set on opening a bed and breakfast. That’s a good thing because the sisters are not at all alike and working closely together could be disastrous but it also adds to Kate’s growing suspicions about what really happened to Gram. Surely Donna didn’t do anything she shouldn’t, right?

Still, Donna’s attitude towards her life and family, her greed and her unrealistic ambitions are only part of Kate’s unease and Gram whispering in her head is unsettling at first until Kate begins to appreciate it. Is it possible that someone might have poisoned her? Then, when Donna is suspected of murdering her new B&B partner, all bets are off and Kate’s paralegal instincts kick in.

Now that I’ve met Kate and the people of Wheeler, I’d like to know more so I think I’ll pick up the second book as soon as I have a chance. Ms. Alter puts together a good mystery and I’m ready to see what’s happened with these folks and this little town while I’ve been dawdling 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

Book Review: Last Breath by Karin Slaughter

Last Breath
Good Daughter .5
Karin Slaughter
Witness Impulse, July 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-274215-5
Ebook
Available soon in paperback

From the publisher—

Protecting someone always comes at a cost.

At the age of thirteen, Charlie Quinn’s childhood came to an abrupt and devastating end. Two men, with a grudge against her lawyer father, broke into her home—and after that shocking night, Charlie’s world was never the same.

Now a lawyer herself, Charlie has made it her mission to defend those with no one else to turn to. So when Flora Faulkner, a motherless teen, begs for help, Charlie is reminded of her own past, and is powerless to say no.

But honor-student Flora is in far deeper trouble than Charlie could ever have anticipated. Soon she must ask herself: How far should she go to protect her client? And can she truly believe everything she is being told?

With this being a novella, it would be far too easy to spoil things by running my mouth in my usual fashion 😉 so I’ll limit myself to just a few comments.

Charlie is SUCH an interesting character, compassionate and smart yet inherently flawed by her own past but, as is the nature of a novella, we don’t get to know her nearly well enough. Never fear, though—she’s front and center in the full-length novel, The Good Daughter, due out in just a few days. In the meantime, we get a glimpse of how the horrific event in her childhood colors her very essence and, in some ways, makes her a little less clear-sighted than she needs to be.

Is Flora what she seems to be? Maybe. Maybe not.

Ben, Charlie’s husband, just may be the nicest guy around. Instead of being a pushy, overly manly man who always has to be right, he shows himself this way:

“If you’ve got problems, I get that. Everybody has problems. But you don’t talk that way in front of your kid. Especially if it’s a girl, because you’re saying it’s okay for men to talk to women that way, and it’s not.”

…”You know, scratch that. It’s the same if you have a boy. He’s going to learn from his dad that it’s okay for boys to be assholes to women.”

And then there’s the plot, the story. All I can say is, holy crap. You’ll just have to read this yourself and, while you’re at it, become a huge Karin Slaughter fan if you aren’t already.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

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An Excerpt from Last Breath

From Chapter One

“Come on now, Miss Charlie.” Dexter Black’s voice was scratchy over the jailhouse payphone. He was fifteen years her senior, but the “miss” was meant to convey respect for their respective positions. “I told you I’m’a take care of your bill soon as you get me outta this mess.”

Charlie Quinn rolled her eyes up so far in her head that she felt dizzy. She was standing outside a packed room of Girl Scouts at the YWCA. She should not have taken the call, but there were few worse things than being surrounded by a gaggle of teenage girls. “Dexter, you said the exact same thing the last time I got you out of trouble, and the minute you walked out of rehab, you spent all of your money on lottery tickets.”

“I could’a won, and then I would’a paid you out half. Not just what I owe you, Miss Charlie. Half.”

“That’s very generous, but half of nothing is nothing.” She waited for him to come up with another excuse, but all she heard was the distinct murmur of the North Georgia Men’s Detention Center. Bars being rattled. Expletives being shouted. Grown men crying. Guards telling them all to shut the hell up.

She said, “I’m not wasting my anytime cell-phone minutes on your silence.”

“I got something,” Dexter said. “Something gonna get me paid.”

“I hope it’s not anything you wouldn’t want the police to find out about on a recorded phone conversation from jail.” Charlie wiped sweat from her forehead. The hallway was like an oven. “Dexter, you owe me almost two thousand dollars. I can’t be your lawyer for free. I’ve got a mortgage and school loans and I’d like to be able to eat at a nice restaurant occasionally without worrying my credit card will be declined.”

“Miss Charlie,” Dexter repeated. “I see what you were doing there, reminding me about the phone being recorded, but what I’m saying is that I got something might be worth some money to the police.”

“You should get a good lawyer to represent you in the negotiations, because it’s not going to be me.”

“Wait, wait, don’t hang up,” Dexter pleaded. “I’m just remembering what you told me all them years ago when we first started. You remember that?”

Charlie’s eye roll was not as pronounced this time. Dexter had been her first client when she’d set up shop straight out of law school.

He said, “You told me that you passed up them big jobs in the city ’cause you wanted to help people.” He paused for effect. “Don’t you still wanna help people, Miss Charlie?”

She mumbled a few curses that the phone monitors at the jail would appreciate. “Carter Grail,” she said, offering him the name of another lawyer.

“That old drunk?” Dexter sounded picky for a man wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. “Miss Charlie, please can you—”

“Don’t sign anything that you don’t understand.” Charlie flipped her phone closed and dropped it into her purse. A group of women in bike shorts walked past. The YWCA mid-morning crowd consisted of retirees and young mothers. She could hear a distant thump-thump-thump of heavy bass from an exercise class. The air smelled of chlorine from the indoor pool. Thunks from the tennis courts penetrated the double-paned windows.

Charlie leaned back against the wall. She replayed Dexter’s call in her head. He was in jail again. For meth again. He was probably thinking he could snitch on a fellow meth head, or a dealer, and make the charges go away. If he didn’t have a lawyer looking over the deal from the district attorney’s office, he would be better off holding his nuts and buying more lottery tickets.

She felt bad about his situation, but not as bad as she felt about the prospect of being late on her car payment.

The door to the rec room opened. Belinda Foster looked panicked. She was twenty-eight, the same age as Charlie, but with a toddler at home, a baby on the way and a husband she talked about as if he was another burdensome child. Taking over Girl Scout career day had not been Belinda’s stupidest mistake this summer, but it was in the top three.

“Charlie!” Belinda tugged at the trefoil scarf around her neck. “If you don’t get back in here, I’m gonna throw myself off the roof.”

“You’d only break your neck.”

Belinda pulled open the door and waited.

Charlie nudged around her friend’s very pregnant belly. Nothing had changed in the rec room since her ringing cell phone had given her respite from the crowd. All of the oxygen was being sucked up by twenty fresh-faced, giggling Girl Scouts ranging from the ages of fifteen to eighteen. Charlie tried not to shudder at the sight of them. She had a tiny smidge over a decade on most of the girls, but there was something familiar about each and every one of them.

The math nerds. The future English majors. The cheerleaders. The Plastics. The goths. The dorks. The freaks. The geeks. They all flashed the same smiles at each other, the kind that edged up at the corners of their mouths because, at any time, one of them could pull a proverbial knife: a haircut might look stupid, the wrong color nail polish could be on fingernails, the wrong shoes, the wrong tights, the wrong word and suddenly you were on the outside looking in.

Charlie could still recall what it felt like to be stuck in the purgatory of the outside. There was nothing more torturous, more lonely, than being iced out by a gaggle of teenage girls.

“Cake?” Belinda offered her a paper-thin slice of sheet cake.

“Hm,” was all Charlie could say. Her stomach felt queasy. She couldn’t stop her gaze from traveling around the sparsely furnished rec room. The girls were all young, thin and beautiful in a way that Charlie did not appreciate when she was among them. Short miniskirts. Tight T-shirts and blouses opened one button too many. They seemed so frighteningly confident. They flicked back their long, fake blonde hair as they laughed. They narrowed expertly made-up eyes as they listened to stories. Sashes were askew. Vests were unbuttoned. Some of these girls were in serious violation of the Girl Scout dress code.

Charlie said, “I can’t remember what we talked about when we were that age.”

“That the Culpepper girls were a bunch of bitches.”

Charlie winced at the name of her torturers. She took the plate from Belinda, but only to keep her hands occupied. “Why aren’t any of them asking me questions?”

“We never asked questions,” Belinda said, and Charlie felt instant regret that she had spurned all the career women who had spoken at her Girl Scout meetings. The speakers had all seemed so old. Charlie was not old. She still had her badge-filled sash in a closet somewhere at home. She was a kick-ass lawyer. She was married to an adorable guy. She was in the best shape of her life. These girls should think she was awesome. They should be inundating her with questions about how she got to be so cool instead of snickering in their little cliques, likely discussing how much pig’s blood to put in a bucket over Charlie’s head.

“I can’t believe their make-up,” Belinda said. “My mother almost scrubbed the eyes off my face when I tried to sneak out with mascara on.”

Charlie’s mother had been killed when she was thirteen, but she could recall many a lecture from Lenore, her father’s secretary, about the dangerous message sent by too-tight Jordache jeans.

Not that Lenore had been able to stop her.

Belinda said, “I’m not going to raise Layla like that.” She meant her three-year-old daughter, who had somehow turned out to be a thoughtful, angelic child despite her mother’s lifelong love of beer pong, tequila shooters, and unemployed guys who rode motorcycles. “These girls, they’re sweet, but they have no sense of shame. They think everything they do is okay. And don’t even get me started on the sex. The things they say in meetings.” She snorted, leaving out the best part. “We were never like that.”

Charlie had seen quite the opposite, especially when a Harley was involved. “I guess the point of feminism is that they have choices, not that they do exactly what we think they should do.”

“Well, maybe, but we’re still right and they’re still wrong.”

“Now you sound like a mother.” Charlie used her fork to cut off a section of chocolate frosting from the cake. It landed like paste on her tongue. She handed the plate back to Belinda. “I was terrified of disappointing my mom.”

Belinda finished the cake. “I was terrified of your mom, period.”

Charlie smiled, then she put her hand to her stomach as the frosting roiled around like driftwood in a tsunami.

“You okay?” Belinda asked.

Charlie held up her hand. The sickness came over her so suddenly that she couldn’t even ask where the bathroom was.

Belinda knew the look. “It’s down the hall on the—”

Charlie bolted out of the room. She kept her hand tight to her mouth as she tried doors. A closet. Another closet.

A fresh-faced Girl Scout was coming out of the last door she tried.

“Oh,” the teenager said, flinging up her hands, backing away.

Charlie ran into the closest stall and sloughed the contents of her stomach into the toilet. The force was so much that tears squeezed out of her eyes. She gripped the side of the bowl with both hands. She made grunting noises that she would be ashamed for any human being to hear.

But someone did hear.

“Ma’am?” the teenager asked, which somehow made everything worse, because Charlie was not old enough to be called ma’am. “Ma’am, are you okay?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, thank you. You can go away.” Charlie bit her lip so that she wouldn’t curse the helpful little creature like a dog. She searched for her purse. It was outside the stall. Her wallet had fallen out, her keys, a pack of gum, loose change. The strap dragged across the greasy-looking tile floor like a tail. She started to reach out for it, but gave up when her stomach clenched. All she could do was sit on the filthy bathroom floor, gather her hair up off her neck, and pray that her troubles would be confined to one end of her body.

“Ma’am?” the girl repeated.

Charlie desperately wanted to tell her to get the hell out, but couldn’t risk opening her mouth. She waited, eyes closed, listening to the silence, begging her ears to pick out the sound of the door closing as the girl left.

Instead, the faucet was turned on. Water ran into the sink. Paper towels were pulled from the dispenser.

Charlie opened her eyes. She flushed the toilet. Why on earth was she so ill?

It couldn’t be the cake. Charlie was lactose intolerant, but Belinda would never make anything from scratch. Canned frosting was 99 percent chemicals, usually not enough to send her over the edge. Was it the happy chicken from General Ho’s she’d had for supper last night? The egg roll she’d sneaked out of the fridge before going to bed? The luncheon meat she’d scarfed down before her morning run? The breakfast burrito fiesta she’d gotten at Taco Bell on the way to the Y?

Jesus, she ate like a sixteen-year-old boy.

The faucet turned off.

Charlie should have at least opened the stall door, but a quick survey of the damage changed her mind. Her navy skirt was hiked up. Pantyhose ripped. There were splatters on her white silk blouse that would likely never come out. Worst of all, she had scuffed the toe of her new shoe, a navy high-heel Lenore had helped her pick out for court.

“Ma’am?” the teen said. She was holding a wet paper towel under the stall door.

“Thank you,” Charlie managed. She pressed the cool towel to the back of her neck and closed her eyes again. Was this a stomach bug?

“Ma’am, I can get you something to drink,” the girl offered.

Charlie almost threw up again at the thought of Belinda’s cough-mediciney punch. If the girl was not going to leave, she might as well be put to use. “There’s some change in my wallet. Do you mind getting a ginger ale from the machine?”

The girl knelt down on the floor. Charlie saw the familiar khaki-colored sash with badges sewn all over it. Customer Loyalty. Business Planning. Marketing. Financial Literacy. Top Seller. Apparently, she knew how to move some cookies.

Charlie said, “The bills are in the side.”

The girl opened her wallet. Charlie’s driver’s license was in the clear plastic part. “I thought your last name was Quinn?”

“It is. At work. That’s my married name.”

“How long have you been married?”

“Four and a half years.”

“My gran says it takes five years before you hate them.”

Charlie could not imagine ever hating her husband. She also couldn’t imagine keeping up her end of this under-stall conversation. The urge to puke again was tickling at the back of her throat.

“Your dad is Rusty Quinn,” the girl said, which meant that she has been in town for more than ten minutes. Charlie’s father had a reputation in Pikeville because of the clients he defended—convenience store robbers, drug dealers, murderers and assorted felons. How people in town viewed Rusty generally depended on whether or not they or a family member ever needed his services.

The girl said, “I heard he helps people.”

“He does.” Charlie did not like how the words echoed back to Dexter’s reminder that she had turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in the city so that she could work for people who really needed her. If there was one guiding ethos in Charlie’s life, it was that she was not going to be like her father.

“I bet he’s expensive.” The girl asked, “Are you expensive? I mean, when you help people?”

Charlie put her hand to her mouth again. How could she ask this teenager to please get her some ginger ale without screaming at her?

“I enjoyed your speech,” the girl said. “My mom was killed in a car accident when I was little.”

Charlie waited for context, but there was none. The girl slid a dollar bill out of Charlie’s wallet and finally, thankfully, left.

There was nothing to do in the ensuing silence but see if she could stand. Charlie had fortuitously ended up in the handicapped stall. She gripped the metal rails and shakily pulled herself up to standing. She spat into the toilet a few times before flushing it again. When she opened the stall door, the mirror greeted her with a pale, sickly-looking woman in a $120 puke-spotted silk blouse. Her dark hair looked wild. Her lips had a bluish tint.

Charlie lifted her hair, holding it in a ponytail. She turned on the sink and slurped water into her mouth. She caught her reflection again as she leaned down to spit.

Her mother’s eyes looked back at her. Her mother’s arched eyebrow.

What’s going on in that mind of yours, Charlie?

Charlie had heard this question at least three or four times a week back when her mother was alive. She would be sitting in the kitchen doing her homework, or on the floor of her room trying to do some kind of craft project, and her mother would sit opposite her and ask the same question that she always asked.

What is going on in your mind?

It was not contrived to be a conversation starter. Her mother was a scientist and a scholar. She had never been one for idle chitchat. She was genuinely curious about what thoughts filled her thirteen-year-old daughter’s head.

Until Charlie had met her husband, no one else had ever expressed such genuine interest.

The door opened. The girl was back with a ginger ale. She was pretty, though not conventionally so. She did not seem to fit in with her perfectly coifed peers. Her dark hair was long and straight, pinned back with a silver clip on one side. She was young-looking, probably fifteen, but her face was absent of make-up. Her crisp green Girl Scout T-shirt was tucked into her faded jeans, which Charlie felt was unfair because in her day they had been forced to wear scratchy white button-up shirts and khaki skirts with knee socks.

Charlie did not know which felt worse, that she had thrown up or that she had just employed the phrase, “in her day.”

“I’ll put the change in your wallet,” the girl offered.

“Thank you.” Charlie drank some of the ginger ale while the girl neatly repacked the contents of her purse.

The girl said, “Those stains on your blouse will come out with a mixture of a tablespoon of ammonia, a quart of warm water and a half a teaspoon of detergent. You soak it in a bowl.”

“Thank you again.” Charlie wasn’t sure she wanted to soak anything she owned in ammonia, but judging by the badges on the sash, the girl knew what she was talking about. “How long have you been in Girl Scouts?”

“I got my start as a Brownie. My mom signed me up. I thought it was lame, but you learn lots of things, like business skills.”

“My mom signed me up, too.” Charlie had never thought it was lame. She had loved all the projects and the camping trips and especially eating the cookies she had made her parents buy. “What’s your name?”

“Flora Faulkner,” she said. “My mom named me Florabama, because I was born on the state line, but I go by Flora.”

Charlie smiled, but only because she knew that she was going to laugh about this later with her husband. “There are worse things that you could be called.”

Flora looked down at her hands. “A lot of the girls are pretty good at thinking of mean things.”

Clearly, this was some kind of opening, but Charlie was at a loss for words. She combed back through her knowledge of after-school specials. All she could remember was that movie of the week where Ted Danson is married to Glenn Close and she finds out that he’s molesting their teenage daughter but she’s been cold in bed so it’s probably her fault so they all go to therapy and learn to live with it.

“Miss Quinn?” Flora put Charlie’s purse on the counter. “Do you want me to get you some crackers?”

“No, I’m fine.”

Excerpt from Last Breath by Karin Slaughter. Copyright © 2017 by Karin Slaughter. Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Karin Slaughter is one of the world’s most popular and acclaimed storytellers. Published in 36 languages, with more than 35 million copies sold across the globe, her sixteen novels include the Grant County and Will Trent books, as well as the Edgar-nominated Cop Town and the instant New York Times bestselling novel Pretty Girls. A native of Georgia, Karin currently lives in Atlanta. Her Will Trent series, Grant County series, and standalone novel Cop Town are all in development for film and television.

Catch Up With Our Author:

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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07/24 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
07/24 Review @ Brooke Blogs
07/25 Review @ Hezzi-Ds Books and Cooks
07/25 Showcase @ A Bookworms Journal
07/25 Showcase @ Cozy Up With Kathy
07/26 Review @ Kritters Ramblings
07/26 Review @ The Book Divas Reads
07/27 Review @ A Book A Week
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07/28 Review @ Bookishly me
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08/01 Review @ Mystery Suspense Reviews
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08/03 Review @ Buried Under Books
08/04 Review @ Colloquium
08/04 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
08/05 Showcase @ Suspense Magazine

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More Teeny Reviews

lost-in-wonderlandLost in Wonderland
The Twisted and the Brave #1
Nicky Peacock
Evernight Teen, May 2016
ISBN 978-1-77233-867-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Monsters, serial killers, and imaginary friends—being a Wonderlander can be murder… Once upon a time, Kayla was lost. Then she found Wonderland, but not the one you know. Run by ex-government agents and funded by an eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire, this Wonderland is the name of a collective of highly trained vigilantes who hunt serial killers. Now Kayla, aka Mouse, works tirelessly alongside her fellow Wonderlanders, Rabbit and Cheshire, baiting dangerous murderers. But even her extensive training hasn’t prepared her for the return of her older brother…

Shilo has spent most of his life in an insane asylum, convinced his mother was abducted by a sinister Alaskan monster who lures the lost away to feast upon their flesh. And now he’s certain that his sister is in the same monster’s crosshairs. But if Shilo is going to save what’s left of his family, he’ll have to convince his sister that maybe, just maybe, we’re all a little mad.

The retelling of fairy tales has become almost a cottage industry but, for me, the fun is in discovering how a particular author approaches the task. Now, Wonderland is not, precisely speaking, a fairy tale but, hey, it’s close enough and I quite simply loved all the oddities and eccentricities, the madness, to be found in any Wonderland, even one that involves vigilantes and serial killers. That does mean there’s a certain amount of violence and the tale is quite dark so the squeamish may want to think before reading Lost in Wonderland. Still, I believe many will like Kayla a great deal and appreciate the story as much as I did.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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house-of-silenceHouse of Silence
Sarah Barthel
Kensington Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-4967-0608-9
Trade Paperback
From the publisher—

Oak Park, Illinois, 1875. Isabelle Larkin’s future—like that of every young woman—hinges upon her choice of husband. She delights her mother by becoming engaged to Gregory Gallagher, who is charismatic, politically ambitious, and publicly devoted. But Isabelle’s visions of a happy, profitable match come to a halt when she witnesses her fiancé commit a horrific crime—and no one believes her.

Gregory denies all, and Isabelle’s mother insists she marry as planned rather than drag them into scandal. Fearing for her life, Isabelle can think of only one escape: she feigns a mental breakdown that renders her mute, and is brought to Bellevue sanitarium. There she finds a friend in fellow patient Mary Todd Lincoln, committed after her husband’s assassination.

In this unlikely refuge, the women become allies, even as Isabelle maintains a veneer of madness for her own protection. But sooner or later, she must reclaim her voice. And if she uses it to expose the truth, Isabelle risks far more than she could ever imagine.

Desperation sometimes leads to dire measures and none is more dire than pretending mental illness and landing in an asylum. In the days when treatment of mental patients was something close to horrific, such an escape would have been even riskier but Isabelle certainly couldn’t have expected to find friendship with such a woman. That in itself leads to some interesting conversations and behaviors but the overall tone wasn’t as ominous as it should have been considering the setting and the times. The appeal of the story was further lessened for me by somewhat stilted language that could have been “softened” just a little to make it more amenable to the modern reader and yet there were also occasional anachronisms that simply didn’t work. Overall, while I don’t really consider this to be one of the better historical fiction novels I’ve read, I do see potential for future works from Ms. Barthel.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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the-purloined-poodleThe Purloined Poodle
Oberon’s Meaty Mysteries
Kevin Hearne
Narrated by Luke Daniels
Audible, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

Thanks to his relationship with the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, Oberon the Irish wolfhound knows trouble when he smells it – and furthermore, he knows he can handle it.

When he discovers that a prizewinning poodle has been abducted in Eugene, Oregon, he learns that it’s part of a rash of hound abductions all over the Pacific Northwest. Since the police aren’t too worried about dogs they assume have run away, Oberon knows it’s up to him to track down those hounds and reunite them with their humans. For justice! And gravy!

Engaging the services of his faithful Druid, Oberon must travel throughout Oregon and Washington to question a man with a huge salami, thwart the plans of diabolical squirrels, and avoid, at all costs, a fight with a great big bear.

But if he’s going to solve the case of the Purloined Poodle, Oberon will have to recruit the help of a Boston terrier named Starbuck, survive the vegetables in a hipster pot pie, and firmly refuse to be distracted by fire hydrants and rabbits hiding in the rose bushes.

At the end of the day, will it be a sad bowl of dry kibble for the world’s finest hound detective, or will everything be coming up sirloins?

There are a handful of series that I always read by listening because I’m so entranced with the narrator and the Iron Druid Chronicles is one of those. Further, I also always get the ebooks because there are foreign and/or mythological names and terms that I can’t always pick up by listening so I play the audio books and then use the ebook to verify those words.

Besides the delights of Luke Daniels‘ narration, Oberon, a goofy Irish wolfhound, is one of my all-time favorite characters. Oberon talks to his druid pal, Atticus, and is totally charming while being very dog-like, focused largely on his next meal, and he has an eye for the ladies, particularly of the French poodle variety. When he finds out that a nefarious ring of dognappers is operating in the Northwest, he naturally feels it’s his duty to sniff out these bad guys so off he goes, with a little help from his friends. What ensues is an entertaining story with a satisfying resolution and I smiled all the way to the end. As always, Oberon’s voice alone had me going and I highly recommend readers who haven’t tried the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne listen to this tale for a taste of the joy you’ll get from these audio books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Review: Consoling Angel by Denise Alicea

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Title: Consoling Angel
Author: Denise Alicea
Publication Date: September 6, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

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iTunes // Audible

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Consoling AngelConsoling Angel
Denise Alicea
Denise Alicea, November 2011
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book
Read by Emily Peot
Other Editions Available

From the author—

Mira did not know what she had in store the day she fell asleep while wanting to escape her current situation. Overcoming a death from someone so close and burying herself in school and an internship has kept her somewhat awake and alive. An admiration for the actor, James Dean was all that kept the memory of her father alive. If she couldn’t be with her father, she could at least remember what they shared an admiration for together. She always wanted to meet James Dean… she didn’t know it would come true. Be careful what you wish for. It may just come true.

This is an interesting little story and it is indeed little—whether you read it visually or listen to the audio book, as I did, it will only take a few moments of your day.

Ms. Alicea poses the question: what would happen if you had a chance to prevent someone’s death? In this case, Mira can’t do anything about her father but then she has a powerful dream about the actor who meant so much to Mira and her dad. Meeting him, even if in a dream, is an experience of a lifetime but can she—or should she even try to—do anything to stop what she knows is going to happen to this amazing young man? Not only that, a surprise in Mira’s real life is just around the corner.

In a story that’s heartwarming and more than a little sad, the author has created an appealing protagonist and shed a bit of light on what is a dark time in anyone’s life. The narrator, Emily Peot, is new to me but her voice is a good one for Mira—young, unsure of her emotions, very sad at the loss of her dad. I believe this is Ms. Peot’s first audio book and her lack of experience shows but she has the “bones” to become an effective reader.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2016.

About the Author

Denise AliceaBorn to the great lively city of Manhattan, NY, and raised in quiet Connecticut. Denise started writing when drawing and painting were not enough. Deciding to try a new type of medium, she thought to start with poetry. After her first success and first reading at the age of fifteen. Her writing began to take on new life with her own worlds of fantasy, time travel, action, adventure and of course romance. She draws inspiration from her favorite childhood cartoons and experiences to her current day ones. When not writing, Denise loves technology, reading (romance, YA, anime, nonfiction,fiction), blogging, watching movies and TV shows and of course volunteering for many RWA chapters. She also enjoys blogging at her personal blog and book review blog at The Pen & Muse.

Author Links:

Website  // Twitter  // Facebook  // Goodreads

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