A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 4

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…

Unsub
Unsub #1
Meg Gardiner
Dutton, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-101-98552-6
Hardcover

If you’re ever in the mood for a nail-biting, gut-wrenching tale of police work, this is it. Detective Caitlin Hendrix comes very close to her own kind of obsession that plays like a counterpoint to the unsub’s sick and deadly obsession and, at times, it’s a little difficult to tell them apart. I don’t mean that literally—on the page, of course you know who is who—but the emotional turmoil that each feels has a sort of certain similarity and you can’t help wondering just how much the killer is affecting her, perhaps even twisting her mind, not to mention the agitation stemming from her own baggage. This unsub is pretty well terrifying and Ms. Gardiner had me flying through the pages.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Poor Things
Daniel Barnett
CreateSpace, June 2016
ISBN 978-1533613080
Trade Paperback

Are you ready for some creepy vibes of the horror variety? From the opening scene of a deer dying on the road, I had a sense of what the title might refer to in a vague sort of way but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would like these characters, especially Joel and a new friend, Ash, a tomboy with an inner strength and a no-nonsense attitude. A high school superjock, Joel is typically obnoxious and a bit of a bully towards his kid brother but his life changes in an instant. He’s naturally full of anger and resentment but a kernel of compassion is there. All he can really hope for is to find acceptance for his new circumstances and, just maybe, a little happiness.

Too bad there’s something evil beginning to stir, maybe the end of the world…

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Renting Silence
A Roaring Twenties Mystery #3
Mary Miley
Severn House, December 2016
ISBN 978-0-7278-8653-8
Hardcover

Jessie Beckett isn’t really a private investigator but she seems to have a knack for it so, when Mary Pickford asks her to look into a starlet’s death, she agrees, having no idea where her search for the truth will take her. Vaudeville’s colorful past, blackmail, an impending death sentence…all come into play but will these varying pieces lead Jessie to Lila Walker’s real murderer before Ruby Glynn hangs?

The mystery here is topnotch but it’s Ms. Miley‘s evocation of Hollywood in its early days that’s really the star of the show, pun intended. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Myrna Loy, Zeppo Marx,  even Rin Tin Tin fill the pages with so much history and fun it’s easy to become mesmerized. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode in Jessie’s life and will be staring the next book, Murder in Disguise, as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Resurrection Mall
A Penns River Crime Novel #3
Dana King
Down & Out Books,
ISBN 978-1-943402-65-6
Trade Paperback

A town that’s down on its luck, economically speaking, is ripe for drug trade and mob activity along with a rise in petty crime and that’s what’s happened to Penns River, leading to corruption on multiple fronts and a police department that’s sorely tested. The “Resurrection Mall” of the book’s title actually is a shopping mall, one that’s being refurbished by a minister trying to help the community or so he says.

Doc Dougherty, the quintessential cop we all want on our side in a crunch, still goes home for Sunday dinner because that’s the kind of guy he is, rooted in family and the truly important things in life. Police work in Penns River is generally not exactly unusual but this time it most certainly is, beginning with the mass murders of five top level members of the drug trade.

Resurrection Mall is a little more dismal than I usually like but Mr. King‘s elegant writing, his plot development and his characters (who are refreshingly normal) all kept me going because I became invested in this Rust Belt community and in Doc. There are two earlier books and I think I’m going to have to check them out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Crimson Earth
Modi Series #2
Anna Soliveres
Anna Soliveres, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-9960149-3-9
Trade Paperback

Aeva is a most unusual girl, even in her world that’s so different from our own, and is currently passing as the missing Queen Violet. Aeva is also right in the midst of the fight against a man who is obsessed with power, no matter what he has to do to obtain it and Aeva’s people look to her intelligence and strength to protect and lead them in this time of crisis. To do that, this remarkable young woman has become the strong, self-reliant heroine she was destined to be.

Crimson Earth is the sequel to Violet Storm which I read and enjoyed more than three years ago (https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/book-review-violet-storm-by-anna-soliveres/). I didn’t feel quite the same connection to this second installment but I blame myself for not re-reading the first book before getting into this one and I really do recommend reading them in order to get the full effect of a really well-conceived dystopian tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Book Reviews: Seeds of Revenge by Wendy Tyson and Eight Days on Planet Earth by Cat Jordan

Seeds of Revenge
A Greenhouse Mystery #3
Wendy Tyson
Henery Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-275-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It’s time to cuddle up with a holiday whodunit. Smell the crisp pines and baking cranberries as you sip your hot apple cider. It may be the season, but the mood in Winsome is anything but jolly.

Megan Sawyer is determined to farm year-round. So much so that she braves a December snowstorm to pitch her fresh greenhouse greens to Philadelphia chefs.

And then she sees a stranger stranded on the side of the road.

But this woman is no stranger to Winsome. It’s Becca Fox. A love chemist (you read that right). She’s headed to her aunt’s house to sell her love potions at holiday events.

Or so Becca thinks.

Her sneaky aunt only invited Becca home to reunite her with her estranged father. It sounds noble and kind-hearted, until the man ends up dead.

Megan soon finds herself in the middle. She realizes Becca’s not the only one getting iced over. Megan’s own aunt, the famous mystery author, is dragged into the drama. Her novels implicate her and she’s in trouble.

Now it’s personal. Our Megan must follow a cryptic trail of literary clues, all while sifting through the victim’s sordid past. She gets closer to the truth as the murderer gets closer to her.

How’s that for a ho ho ho? Don’t let your fresh apple crisp burn in the oven because you’re lost in this holiday homicide.

Once upon a time, Megan Sawyer was a high-powered attorney in Chicago, recently widowed, but she put all that behind and moved to the small town of Winsome, Pennsylvania, to help her grandmother run her organic farm and cafe. It doesn’t seem like a natural career change but Megan has settled in well and had just been meeting with Philadelphia chefs to set up vendor accounts for her greenhouse wares when she encounters Becca who used to live in Winsome. Becca’s aunt Merry invited her to set up a holiday shop for her love potions but Merry actually had an ulterior motive, to reunite Becca and her estranged father. Megan doesn’t know any of this but she certainly notices Becca’s angry reaction when she sees her father.

When Paul is murdered, suspects and motives begin to come out of the woodwork, as it were, and Megan gets into the thick of it first to help Becca but later to help her own aunt Sarah, a mystery author, who’s one of those suspects. That suspicion is not necessarily arbitrary—she had an odd connection to the dead man—but, before long, the victims begin to pile up and Megan herself might be in serious jeopardy.

Although this series is labeled as “cozy”, I think it’s actually more in line with the “traditional” subgenre for several reasons. There’s a bit of an edge to this story and Megan’s background as a lawyer gives her a believability as a sleuth that many cozy protagonists don’t really have. It’s also a nice touch that Police Chief Bobby King is not averse to her investigating and Megan gets some assistance from staff, friends and family rather than trying to go it alone. There are no TSTL episodes, thank heavens. All in all, this was a well-crafted mystery and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Fair warning, that end is a bit of a humdinger 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Eight Days on Planet Earth
Cat Jordan
HarperTeen, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-257173-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

How long does it take to travel twenty light years to Earth?

How long does it take to fall in love?

To the universe, eight days is a mere blip, but to Matty Jones, it may be just enough time to change his life.

On the hot summer day Matty’s dad leaves for good, a strange girl suddenly appears in the empty field next to the Jones farm—the very field in rural Pennsylvania where a spaceship supposedly landed fifty years ago. She is uniquely beautiful, sweet, and smart, and she tells Matty she’s waiting for her spaceship to pick her up and return her to her home planet. Of course she is.

Matty has heard a million impossible UFO stories for each of his seventeen years: the conspiracy theories, the wild rumors, the crazy belief in life beyond the stars. When he was a kid, he and his dad searched the skies and studied the constellations. But all of that is behind him. Dad’s gone—but now there’s Priya. She must be crazy…right?

As Matty unravels the mystery of the girl in the field, he realizes there is far more to her than he first imagined. And if he can learn to believe in what he can’t see: the universe, aliens…love…then maybe the impossible is possible, after all.

In many ways, Eight Days on Planet Earth is a look at how a teenaged boy copes with the downturns in his life, including his father’s abandonment of the family, and finds hope in the most unlikely of places. When his dad runs off with his own brother’s wife, Matty reacts with a bit of a stiff upper lip and some disdain for his mom’s apparent inability to accept the situation. As far as Matty can tell, his dad has been less than a great family man for a long time but he’s not about to show his deep hurt. On top of that, he has pretty much zero chance of developing anything with his secret crush and he and his mom are having a rough road financially. What should be that wonderful last summer before senior year is turning out to be anything but.

Then he finds an almost otherworldly girl in the field next to the farm, the field where a UFO landed years before, and Priya is a puzzle on many levels beginning with why she’s in the field in the first place. When Priya tells him she’s waiting for the spaceship to come back for her, he certainly doesn’t know what to think but he’s drawn to her. Priya appears to need looking after and she’s the perfect distraction from his woes but she becomes much more to him. Matty does feel a need to protect this strange and wonderful girl but, to his surprise, a deep emotional connection begins to develop.

Those eight days are slowmoving but they also pass in a flash and the ending tore my heart out while, at the same time, it gave me a glimpse of the fine young man Matty is destined to become. This is a story of hurt and hope and love of all kinds and I’m very glad to have made Matty’s acquaintance.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Reviews: Gin and Panic by Maia Chance and The Burning by J.P. Seewald

Gin and Panic
Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries #3
Maia Chance
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-10905-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Former socialite Lola Woodby is now struggling to make ends meet as a not-so-discreet private eye in Prohibtion-era New York City, along with her stern Swedish sidekick, Berta. When they’re offered a piece-of-cake job―retrieving a rhinoceros trophy from the Connecticut mansion of big game hunter Rudy Montgomery―it seems like a no-brainer. After all, their client, Lord Sudley, promises them a handsome paycheck, and the gin and tonics will be plentiful and free. But no sooner do they arrive at Montgomery Hall than Rudy is shot dead.

When the police arrive to examine the scene, they conclude that Rudy had actually committed suicide. But Lord Sudley can’t believe his friend would have done that, and there’s a houseful of suspicious characters standing by. So Lord Sudley ups the ante for Lola and Berta, and suddenly, their easy retrieval job has turned into a murder investigation. Armed with handbags stuffed with emergency chocolate, gin flasks, and a Colt .25, Lola and Berta are swiftly embroiled in a madcap puzzle of stolen diamonds, family secrets, a clutch of gangsters, and plenty of suspects who know their way around a safari rifle.

When I think back on this book, the first word that comes to mind is “charming” followed very shortly by “fun”. This is a pair of sleuths I loved spending time with and the plot and setting did a lot to hold my attention; overall, I was reminded of those lighthearted mysteries that take us back to the more innocent-seeming time of 1923.

Lola isn’t really the brains of the duo but she’s learning to adapt to her altered circumstances and her previous position in society opens doors to them while Berta has a knack for figuring things out while keeping the Lola ship steered in the right direction, so to speak. They have an unlikely friendship for their time but it really works for them and lays the groundwork for a successful detecting business. Lola’s constant companion, the furry Cedric, adds to the ambience.

The whole idea of someone asking them to “retrieve” a rhinoceros head trophy seems a bit outrageous in today’s world but it had me chuckling early on, imagining these two women having to smuggle such an item out of its current place of honor just to settle a grievance. Still, Lola and Berta are game, pun intended ;-), having no idea they’re about to land smackdab in the middle of a locked room mystery complete with dead body. A cache of diamonds and the bumbling efforts of our sleuths lead to enough adventure and madcappery to while away a very pleasant afternoon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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The Burning
J.P. Seewald
Annorlunda Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-944354-26-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

George Ferris has worked hard to make a good life for himself and his family without going into the coal mines that shortened his father’s life. Now, a slow-moving catastrophe is threatening to take it all away. How far will he go to protect everything he has worked for? And will he realize what really matters before it is too late?

The first time I heard about coal fires burning under a town, years ago, I was horrified and I still am. It seems almost like science fiction and the idea that people would either have to live with such a never-ending threat or leave the homes and neighbors they had known for so long is little short of overwhelming.

George is a man who’s easy to understand because his whole way of life is undergoing a major transformation, beginning with the huge divide between him and his brother, Larry, a man who chose to leave his blue collar background behind. George takes pride in his life and it’s painful watching him have to make choices that he never wanted or expected to have to make. He’s watching his very existence, everything that makes him who he is, turn to ashes and not only because of the fire burning under his gas station. The frustrations that come with dealing with the bureaucracy that is more obstructive than helpful make George and the people around him begin to think they’ve been abandoned; as one catastrophe piles on another and another, it’s easy to see the despair George feels and his desperation to find solutions. Unfortunately, fear and a lingering denial, even self-pity, lead to some very wrong choices.

In the midst of devastation, the unbreakable but shaky bonds between George and Larry come to the fore and just may be the saving grace that the brothers need. The Burning is a short but intense story and, once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down; knowing it’s based on true events makes this a truly compelling read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Review: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender

The Dead Girls of Hysteria HallThe Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall
Katie Alender
Point, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-63999-6
Hardcover

Precisely what I wanted from practically every book I picked up in high school; I simply cannot wait to share The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall with “my” students.  Teen-age angst, quintessentially captured in the sharp, witty and biting dialogue creates characters that are real and relatable.  Fabulous and freaky foreshadowing sets a quick, compelling pace making this a page-turner that causes the reader to declare “one more chapter” many, many times.  The sprawling haunted house/former institution “For the Care and Correction of Troubled Females” that Delia inherits from her former pen-pal and namesake Aunt Cordelia, serves as spot-on setting for this mesmerizing mystery.

While the plot pulled me in and kept me puzzling, the charisma of the characters captured my heart.  The familial and friend drama (with a dash of romance) that distract Delia from her ghost-saving goal of finding and eliminating the source of evil feels familiar.  Plotting escape from the house, Delia matures.  Refreshingly, Ms. Alender reveals this perfectly, in an honest way by allowing Delia to backslide…maybe she learns from this mistake the first time; but just like in real life, she doesn’t stop screwing up and she doesn’t learn from every mistake as quickly.

The history of Piven Institute, where female hysteria could mean anything from schizophrenia to too many opinions, coupled with her dad’s casual dismissal of anything uttered by a female, subtly introduces misogyny and its ill effects.  Conversely, the relationships Delia builds with the girl ghosts and her growing admiration for her little sister, “the prettiest, wittiest, most sparkling complete twerp of a human being you ever wanted to backhand on a daily basis” illustrates girl-power in its finest form.

There is so much to absolutely adore in this adventure peppered with amazing zingers that one highlighter was not enough to get me though this book.  I won’t be lending this out, I’ll need to read it again….at least once; but I will most certainly be giving it as a gift for a long time.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2016.

Book Review: In the Woods by Merry Jones

In the Woods Merry JonesIn the Woods
A Harper Jennings Mystery #5
Merry Jones
Severn House, February 2015
ISBN 978-0-7278-8444-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Harper Jennings – mother, Iraqi war vet and archaeology graduate – knows she should be counting her blessings that she’s able to enjoy a child-free camping trip with husband Hank. Hank’s recovery from a brain injury after falling from their roof is nothing short of miraculous. But . . . Harper misses baby Chloe. And she worries that, in being so wrapped up in her toddler, she’s lost her own identity.

But her worries pale into insignificance when she stumbles across a body in the woods. Accident? Harper doesn’t think so, and nor does Ranger Daniels, who seems to blame local militia known as the Hunt Club – who will do anything, it seems, to protect the land they see as their birthright.

Harper wonders what exactly she’s doing, in some dark state forest, tripping over corpses, when she could be at home with her little girl – but when a fellow camper’s husband goes missing, she finds herself reluctantly sucked into the hunt, and into a waking nightmare . . .

What should be a nail-biting tale full of suspense misses the mark a bit although there are qualities about this book that I liked.

To me, it makes no sense that Harper and Hank would go on a camping trip in an area where hunting is a local and tourist pastime. Harper’s PTSD is severe enough that she frequently slides into an episode , triggered by predictable events. Is it any surprise that gunshots and explosions would set her off? Why on earth would she subject herself to the sound of gunshots? Perhaps someday when she’s farther along on her path to healing that might be part of her treatment but now?

The other thing that concerned me is the behavior of one of the possible killers, behavior that can only be termed silly . Yes, a killer of this type is deranged and his…or her…behavior is going to be beyond what the normal human being can fully understand but we don’t generally think of them as silly, do we?

On the positive side, Ms. Jones has created enough scenarios to confuse the reader as well as the good guys. In fact, identifying the good guys is not always an easy thing to do and coming up with motivations that adequately explain things is a little dicey, too, especially regarding a pair of guys named Pete and Bob. Figuring out how the disparate motives and deaths and potential killer(s) all fit together is what kept me reading (although I wondered why the author wanted to hide the identity of the Sector Chief when I spotted him almost immediately).

I have to make a couple of comments about the construction of this book. First, the author knows how to string a sentence together and grammatical/typo errors were infrequent. What I didn’t like was the lack of chapter divisions; a simple paragraph break is just not enough, particularly when the scene is changing. Many times while I was reading, I’d have to stop for a few seconds to get my bearings, so to speak, and that always lessens the tension, not a good thing in a crime novel.

On the whole, while I have some issues with In the Woods, it’s a decent mystery and I certainly don’t regret the time spent.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2015.

Book Review: Rebel Spirits by Lois Ruby

Rebel SpiritsRebel Spirits
Lois Ruby
Point, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-42623-7
Hardcover

The first feature to grab me was the tone of Rebel Spirits. It is more than confident, not yet cocky; accepting, unapologetic; charming; and totally void of any defensive vibe. As the story centers around “nearly seventeen” year old Lorelei; this reader was stunned by Ms. Ruby’s ability to, seemingly effortlessly, capture the open desire, the willingness to believe, that most teens still carry inside of them (albeit, some much…much deeper than others). While her steadier, yet clearly open-minded older brother, leans more towards logic and rational explanations; even he has that tiny glimmer of hope….the “why not?” that is sometimes lost in adulthood.

Yes, Lori’s parents truly are startlingly naïve and absent-minded with matters of upmost importance; yet oddly tenacious and relentless on the most trivial of things. The “caretakers” are undoubtedly a bit past odd, edging toward dangerous. The “lawn-boy”…well, okay, he seems like a typical, bleary-eyed, sun-baked kid. Nathaniel Pierce has a starring role, as…..well, Nathaniel is: of course, and why not; a ghost. Not just “a ghost”; but the ghost of a Civil War Soldier, calmly and curiously, standing over Lori’s shoulder, in her tower room, in the creepy, creaky bed-and-breakfast that she can now call home…in Gettysburg.

None of the aforementioned could be construed as spoilers, and that is one of the coolest quirks of Ms. Ruby’s story. At a blush, it would seem that with all of this already in the open, there can’t be room for mystique and intrigue; on the contrary, the plot thickens….and thickens. As quick as Lorelei is to end an annoying conversation; this reader was immersed. Mysteries abound, romance flickers and flutters by, all while Miss Lori boldly plows through, looking for answers and keeping careful watch on the caretakers and some pretty suspicious guests.

Rebel Spirits is historical fiction, but with Ms. Ruby’s characters feeling oh, so human; the history revealed in such a heart-felt fashion, this reader effortlessly let the “fiction” part slip away, to become fully mesmerized in the few, time-critical, fast-paced days Lori & Nathaniel spend together. Ms. Ruby’s enviable skill of combining a story that in turn; elicits chills, danger, even fear and yet references “red-checkered Vans” under an 1860s(ish) hoop skirt is impressive and makes for a fascinating book.

 

Reviewed by jv poore, June 2014.

Book Review: Buyer, Beware by Diane Vallere

Buyer, BewareBuyer, Beware
A Style & Error Mystery
Diane Vallere
Polyester Press, February 2013
978-1-939197-01-6
Trade Paperback

This is book #2 in author DianeVallere’s “A Style & Error Mystery” series. I haven’t read book #1, but it wasn’t necessary in order to be swept up in Buyer, Beware. Samantha Kidd has returned to her hometown, bought a house, and is looking for a job. Short on money, she and a group of friends enter a department store’s grand-opening contest that features a $10K prize. That the contest also involves a bit of skullduggery just makes the effort more fun–especially when they pull it off. But when Samantha discovers a murder, thing go a bit awry. The only good thing is that Sam is offered the dead woman’s job–handbag buyer. Or maybe that isn’t such a good thing!

Typical of cozy mysteries, Samantha has plenty of quirky friends, but here it’s a little iffy on which ones she should trust. And there are a couple men in her life; one on scene and one somewhere in Europe. I’m rooting for one of them; you might choose the other. There’s even a cop Sam has questions about.

This is a fun story, a good mystery, and features excellent characters. Tidbits detailing a buyer’s job add to the whole. I’ll certainly read more of this series.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, May 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.