Book Review: Endangered by Lamar Giles @LRGiles @harperteen

Endangered
Lamar Giles
HarperTeen, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-229757-0
Trade Paperback

Once again, I’ve found a book that ‘my’ students will want to read. I know this because I borrowed Endangered by Lamar Giles from their classroom library. This copy is clearly well-read.

Panda (it makes me so happy when a name and title go together better than peanut-butter and chocolate) has mastered the art of blending-in-until-invisible. A skill she’s particularly proud of. Imperative for tailing someone and snapping a series of not-so-secret photos. Handy for hiding in the hallways between classes.

What began as one, well-deserved, public humiliation has taken on a life of its own. Panda anonymously prowls to expose the not-so-great traits of seemingly superb human beings. Her photo-blog, Gray Scales, is incredibly popular. Her best friend, Mei, is a true fan. But even Mei has no idea that Panda is the person purportedly balancing the scales.

Things change the night that Panda sees so much more than she ever expected. Which happens to be the very night she, the original school-spy, was spotted. And photographed. Sadly, Panda remains unaware of her shadow until her latest sordid shots are available for all eyes on Gray Scales.

While disconcerting, Panda did not find it to be particularly worrisome. At first. She was absolutely not prepared for the murderous rage that soon follows. She’ll need to do her very best detective working to identify the culprit. Her life, and Mei’s, depend on it.

Endangered by Lamar Giles is a YA Suspense novel, in that the main characters are in high-school; but the plot pulled me in entirely. I stayed up stupid-late one night just because I had to know how it ended.

Oh-and when I later read a nature article that referenced a “camera trap”, I knew what that was because I’d read this book.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2020.

Book Review: Jealousy Filled Donuts by Ginger Bolton—and a Giveaway!

Jealousy Filled Donuts
Ginger Bolton
Kensington Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-4967-1191-5
Trade Paperback

It’s the Fourth of July and Emily Westhill is loving it. Not only does she get to drive her 1950 Ford “donut car” in the parade, with the King and Queen as passengers, her Deputy Donut Café is providing the donuts for the picnic later in the day. How fantastic can life get for a small-town girl making good?  Of course, it can only go downhill, at least in the immediate future. The Queen, a lovely diva named Taylor, decides that the “donut car” doesn’t meet her high standards and pitches a major fit (after the minor fit about how her hair was done) in front of God and everyone until she gets to ride in an acceptable car. Her best friend has some words to say about Taylor, although not where Taylor can hear her. Then Taylor is killed during the fireworks after the picnic. Emily’s donuts were stacked on a rocket-like firework in order to disguise it, and the rocket was deadly at close range. The pictures provided by a convenient photographer place Emily squarely in the frame, at least for a little while. This kind of in-your-face manipulation ups the ante and Emily becomes determined to find out who killed Taylor as well as why she was picked as the scapegoat.

Emily lives in a small town, with all the ramifications of small town life front and center. She’s a small business owner, sharing Deputy Donut Café with her deceased husband’s father, a former police chief. It’s great to have built-in clientele, and also connections that perhaps another amateur sleuth might not possess. It also means she has demands on her time, demands that can’t be ignored too often or for too long. Not to mention she does have a personal life, albeit one that could use a little help. Anyone who runs a business knows how much of a life it can overtake. Emily does her best within these constraints.

Bolton’s third entry in the Deputy Donut series is pretty good, for being as open to the whole “cops and donuts” humor. She doesn’t succumb to the obvious, although there is humor in the book. This is definitely a character-driven story, and Bolton knows how to drive this wagon. There are plenty of by-ways and side roads, although a perspicacious reader should have no trouble finding her way to the correct solution. The small-town insider solution is shared early enough for astute folks to catch on. And there is knitting involved – not enough to warrant a pattern at the end, to go with the recipes, and still a little bit of needlework is usually a good thing.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, June 2019.
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To enter the drawing for a print
advance reading copy of

Jealousy Filled Donuts by Ginger Bolton,
leave a comment below. The winning
name
will be drawn on Tuesday
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August 27th. This drawing is
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Book Review: Celine by Peter Heller

Celine
Peter Heller
Alfred A. Knopf, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-451-49389-7
Hardcover

Celine is one of the most fascinating and hard to describe books I have read recently. In many ways, it is really two books in one. In the prologue, readers watch a happy family outing turn tragic and meet the little girl who will eventually be Celine’s client. If you are a reader who generally skips prologues, DON’T skip this one. It is important.

Moving on to the first chapter readers are introduced to Celine, one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve met. In her sixties, she works as a PI specializing in reuniting families but is also an artist using mostly found items that can be best described as macabre. For instance, in the opening scene she is creating a sculpture of  the skeleton of a mink looking down on it’s own skin drying on a rock with a crow’s skull nearby. Celine suffers from emphysema from her many years of smoking. There is a sadness about her that readers should realize right away explains much of what she does. She has suffered many losses in her life from her father’s absence from his family to the death of her sisters. But even as her story unfolds, we sense that Celine has lost even more.

Fast forward to the call from a much younger woman who has read about Celine’s work in a college alumni magazine. The woman, Gabriela, has also suffered losses in her life. The first painful loss was her small cat who disappeared when she was seven. But that loss is quickly overshadowed by a much bigger loss, that of her mother. As terrible as that was it was at least clear cut. Her mother drowned. Sadly that brought about the loss of her father at least emotionally. But it was  the actual death of her father many years later that  haunted her and brought her to Celine. Her father, a world renowned photographer, supposedly was killed, and possibly eaten, by a bear just outside of Yellowstone. No body was ever recovered. Gabriela has long questioned the circumstances surrounding her father’s death. Too many things in the investigation just didn’t quite add up. Celine takes the case and proceeds to Wyoming to investigate.

From that point on, the book shifts from Celine’s investigation and flashbacks to her own story.  In the end, readers find out what became of Gabriela’s father, but sadly, the mystery of Celine’s deep sadness is not fully revealed. I am hoping that there will be another case for Celine. Readers (and Celine) want closure.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, March 2017.

Book Review: When Krishna Calls by Susan Oleksiw and Forensics by Val McDermid

when-krishna-callsWhen Krishna Calls
An Anita Ray Mystery #4
Susan Oleksiw
Five Star, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-4328-3225-4
Hardcover

Indian American photographer Anita Ray lives at her Auntie Meena’s tourist hotel in South India. She is preparing for a one woman show at a prestigious gallery and her aunt is pleased that she is not involved in solving other people’s problems, for a change. When a young woman abandons her daughter inside the Hotel Delite and then flees, Anita recognizes the child as the daughter of an employee, Nisha. Soon the police come searching for Nisha, whom they want as the suspect in the stabbing death of her husband, Panju. Panju was angry about the local farmers losing their land to people who want to exploit the land, and he made enemies. Anita discovers that Panju owed debts to the unscrupulous moneylender from the family’s village.

When Anita goes to take some more photographs for her show, she sets up her camera for a shot and discovers a piece of paper wrapped around the batteries and someone else’s memory card inside. She doesn’t recognize the photos on the card, but someone is sending her a plea for help. Anita is drawn into the search for Nisha and wants to exonerate the hotel’s employee, while navigating the world of moneylenders and debts of honor.

The author does a wonderful job of capturing the rhythm of the speech and weaves references to food, clothing and customs throughout the story. The juxtaposition of the traditional India and the influence of new technology (cell phones are essential to the plot) make for a delightful journey. Readers who enjoy the mysteries of Tarquin Hall and Michael Stanley may like the Anita Ray series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2016.

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forensicsForensics
What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA, and More Tell Us About Crime
Val McDermid
Grove Press, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-8021-2515-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  The dead talk – – to the right listener.  They can tell us all about themselves: where they came from, how they lived, how they died, and, of course, who killed them.  Forensic scientists can unlock the mysteries of the past and help serve justice using the messages left by a corpse, a crime scene, or the faintest of human traces.  Forensics goes behind the scenes with some of these top-level professionals and their groundbreaking research, drawing on Val McDermid’s own original interviews and firsthand experience on scene with top forensic scientists.

Along the way, McDermid discovers how maggots collected from a corpse can help determine one’s time of death; how a DNA trace a millionth the size of a grain of salt can be used to convict a killer, and how a team of young Argentine scientists led by a maverick American anthropologist were able to uncover the victims of a genocide.  It’s a journey from war zones to fire scenes and autopsy suits and brings McDermid into contact with both extraordinary bravery and wickedness, as she traces the history of forensics from its earlier beginnings to the cutting-edge science of the modern day.

Ms. McDermid starts the book with facts dating from eighteenth-century scientific discoveries, when the term “forensic, meaning a form of legal evidence – science, was born,” to the present time.  The first case, in the opening chapter, describes dates back to 2005, going on to the opening of the first crime investigation lab in 1910 in France, the founder of which wrote a landmark 7-volume textbook on which he called “criminalistics,” and coined the phrase “every contact leaves a trace.”  The second chapter, “Fire Scene Investigation,” goes back to September of 1666, then to a case in County Durham in 1844, one in Derbyshire in 1981, and on from there, covering each milestone reached.  The ensuing chapters discuss at length other aspects of forensics, i.e., entomology, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, blood spatter and DNA, anthropology, facial reconstruction, digital forensics, forensic psychology, as well as the all-important courtrooms where all the evidence is presented, to the ends that justice is, irrevocably, done.

Not a dry recitation by any means, the author has made it very real and intense by recounting the names of victims and the circumstances of many of the cases cited.  The book makes for fascinating reading, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2016.

Book Review: Proof Positive by Archer Mayor

Proof PositiveProof Positive
A Joe Gunther Novel #25
Archer Mayor
Minotaur Books, September 2014
ISBN:  978-1-250-07473-7
Hardcover

A typical Joe Gunther novel has him and his team slogging along attempting to put a picture together to solve whatever crime they’re investigating.  In this novel, the Vermont Bureau of Investigation team Joe heads is involved in looking deeply into the death of a semi-recluse, Ben Kendall, who served as a photographer in Vietnam.  Joe is asked to look into the death, which does not appear to be suspicious, by his girlfriend, Beverly Hillstrom, the state’s medical examiner, who is a cousin to the dead man, who was a hoarder very much like the storied Collyer brothers who gained fame many decades earlier in New York City.

Almost as soon as Joe starts looking into the situation, Ben’s ex-wife is murdered in Philadelphia, where Ben originally came from.  From that point, a full investigation proceeds, complicated by additional deaths and kidnappings and the fact that Beverly’s daughter is cataloguing and photographing Ben’s photos and junk and might be the next victim.  The problem is that no one knows what Ben may have brought back from Vietnam or what the instigator of all the crimes is looking for.

Like the previous novels in the series, the police procedural descriptions are straightforward and logical, and the characters play their accustomed roles, especially Joe’s colleague, Willy.  One quibble:  The conclusion strikes a manufactured false note affecting the usual high quality of a novel in this series.  ‘Tis a pity, because the Joe Gunther novels are as good a series as there is today.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2015.

Book Review: Catwalk by Sheila Webster Boneham

CatwalkCatwalk
An Animals in Focus Mystery #3
Sheila Webster Boneham
Midnight Ink, October 2014
ISBN 978-0-7387-3488-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Animal photographer Janet MacPhail is training for her cat Leo’s first feline agility trial when she gets a frantic call about a “kidnapping.” When Janet and her Australian Shepherd Jay set out to track down the missing party, they quickly find themselves drawn into the volatile politics of feral cat colonies and endangered wetlands.

Janet is crazy busy trying to keep up with her mom’s nursing-home romance, her own relationship with Tom, and upcoming agility trials with Jay and Leo. But the discovery of a body on the canine competition course stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.

It’s unfortunate but some people are not animal lovers. I say “unfortunate” because I think those folks miss out on an awful lot, not least of which is the love between human and pet. It’s been shown that even the most cold-blooded critters know their people and appreciate them to a degree that goes beyond just the recognition of a food source. Cats and dogs, though, have a really special rapport with us so I regret that some people don’t have this kind of bond in their lives.

Then there are the ones who truly have no empathy with animals and don’t value their lives at all. Such is a man named Charles Rasmussen, the sort of man who would drown kittens given the chance and who has no regard for the creatures of the wetlands he wants to develop nor for the feral cats living in the area. As you might expect of such a man, he’s also abusive to his wife, Louise, and to anyone who doesn’t go along with his program. When another mean-spirited bully feels the need to break up an elderly couple’s relationship, Janet MacPhail wonders why “belligerent rich guys” seem to be bent on interfering in other people’s lives. Alarm bells start to clang when she finds out who that particular bully is.

Lots of people have motives to leave the dead body on the agility course, from a surly teen named Rudy to Alberta, a sort of crazy cat lady, to Hutchinson, a cop who was heard to make a threatening comment but no one is prepared when the real killer is revealed. Suffice it to say karma is a bitch for real.

 

{{{SPOILER FOLLOWS}}}

{{{SPOILER FOLLOWS}}}

There’s one scene which strained credulity more than a bit.  Janet decides she MUST go see the body even though she’s shaken to the core and then MUST make sure the victim really is dead because, after all, she recently had first-aid training. This made no sense as there was absolutely no need for her to do this when other people had already done so. Besides, she’s contaminating the crime scene so why on earth would she feel compelled to behave as if she’s the primary investigator or first responder? This is all even more baffling considering the fact that the person who found the body is a firefighter and member of a search and rescue team so he’s certainly qualified to recognize death when he sees it.

{{{END SPOILER}}}

{{{END SPOILER}}}

 

The above-mentioned scene is the only one I found the least bit jarring and I really did thoroughly enjoy this third adventure with Janet and her friends, both two-footed and four-footed.  One really funny occurrence involves dogs, a cat and a porta-potty but I’ll say no more about that 😉

And there’s this:

Hutchinson scratched Jay’s chin and said, “Gooboy, gooboy.” What is it about animals that turns big tough men into baby-talking mushballs?

Isn’t that just so true?

The characters in Catwalk are all so well-drawn that I feel as though I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with them and would thoroughly enjoy their company (except for a handful of unpleasant types). The animals in the story—especially Leo and Jay—are delightful and essential (and I could gladly snatch either or both of them) but readers who shy away from cutesy cat or dog mysteries shouldn’t be concerned. These pets are entirely normal and do no sleuthing or talking to humans or to each other 😉

Once again, Ms. Boneham has come up with an engaging story with a good mystery to be solved and appealing characters to spend time with. I can’t think of a better way to while away a few hours.

 

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

Book Reviews: Dread on Arrival by Claudia Bishop, Exercise is Murder by Janis Patterson, and A Rendezvous To Die For by Betty McMahon

Dread on ArrivalDread on Arrival  
A Hemlock Falls Mystery (#17)
Claudia Bishop
Berkley Prime Crime, April 2012
ISBN 978-0-425-24707-5
Mass Market Paperback

Dread on Arrival, the latest entry in the Hemlock Falls mysteries, is a spoof on TV reality shows featuring antique pickers,  pawnshop owners, and the wildly popular Antique Roadshow. Except I doubt there has been murder done on the sets of these shows. That’s not the case here, and certainly Edmund Tree, star of “Your Ancestor’s Attic”, seems a rather likely victim. Neither he, his fiancee, nor the people who work for him are especially charming folk, all of which provides plenty of suspects when Mr. Tree is murdered whilst the cameras are rolling. And really, amateur sleuth Sarah Quilliam isn’t certain she’d care, except that her town, her sister, her friends, and her hotel are embroiled in the mystery. And any thing that hurts them, hurts her.

Claudia Bishop has created a fun town full of quirky characters, all of whom are people you’d like to know–and you might even find counterparts in your own home town. Everyone wants to get in on solving this newest case of Murder in Hemlock Falls, but only Sarah has the correct expertise. The author includes several yummy sounding recipes, drawn from the meals served in the fictional Inn at Hemlock Falls, NY, as well as a Cast of Characters to help identify the many folk in the book.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Exercise is MurderExercise is Murder
Janis Patterson
Five Star, December 2012
ISBN 978-1-4328-2636-9
Hardcover

Ex-cop Rebecca Cloudwebb, now an antique dealer after an on-the-job shooting has invalided her out of the force, is drawn into a particularly nasty murder when social-climber Laura Tyler drinks a glass of poison on her first visit to a tony exercise club. Rebecca, on the scene to deliver some expensive earrings to a wealthy client, watches in horror as the woman dies. Suspects abound. The problem is that the rich ladies in the class consider themselves above the law, and there seems to be no motive–until it occurs to Flora Melkiot, Rebecca’s client, that perhaps Laura wasn’t the intended victim. Coercing Rebecca into working with her, the two set out to find the murderer, much to the cops’ chagrin.

Wow! What a bunch of dysfunctional women, with not a pleasant one between them. At times I had a difficult time remembering who was married to whom and who was sleeping with whom. Mostly, I didn’t care. I just hoped Rebecca and Flora were able to find the killer before more people died. There’s a lot to this book; politics, grudges, blackmail, affairs, sordid secrets. Working through the mystery revives Rebecca Cloudwebb’s determination to rise above her own depression and despair—a good thing since it seems certain she has more adventures in store.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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A Rendezvous To Die ForA Rendezvous to Die For
A Cassandra Cassidy Mystery
Betty McMahon
Lulu, 2011
ISBN 978-1-257-93132-3
Trade Paperback

Minnesota “nice” turns lethal in this story, pitting freelance photographer Cassandra Cassidy against a murderer who begins his career at a re-enactors fur trader rendezvous.

Ms. McMahon touches a lot of bases with this mystery. Wrapped around the actual murders is information on photography, cow cutting (if you don’t know what this is, you’re about to find out) and re-enactors totally dedicated to their chosen era’s realism. I think you’ll find plenty of research has gone into these details, adding verisimilitude to the whole. Although Cassandra Cassidy wobbles on the TSTL edge, her motivation in solving the whodunit when the cops can’t seems logical, especially since she is one of the main suspects. If the tiny bit of romance seems a trifle “thrown in for good measure,” it, along with the unanswered question of what happened to Cass’s parents, leads me to believe there may be a sequel in the works.  Which is fine with me. I like Cass.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2012.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.