Book Review: Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut by Sarah Graves @SarahGraves2011 @KensingtonBooks

Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut
A Death by Chocolate Mystery #3
Sarah Graves
Kensington Books, February 2020
ISBN 978-1-4967-1134-2
Hardcover

There are more than 4,000 islands off the coast of Maine; in fact, there are more islands in the Gulf of Maine than on the entire East Coast of the United States.  Pirates have been known to Maine’s shores since Dixie Bull (nicknamed “The Dread Pirate”), an Englishman, operated in Maine waters in 1632.  The other pirate most associated with Maine was Black Sam Bellamy in the early 1800s.  So, why am I telling you this?  Well, it’s because Sarah Graves’ latest book, Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut, set in Eastport, Maine, takes place with a Pirate Festival as its backdrop.  And the real town of Eastport, Maine, really does hold a Pirate Festival every September.

So, Jake and Ellie, her best friend and business partner in their bakery, The Chocolate Moose are baking up a storm anticipating crowds of hungry tourists (and locals) from the festival.  Approached by a celebrity foodie, Henry Hadlyme, who wants to film a podcast episode in their bakery, Jake and Ellie decline because he is obnoxious and has not had a good word to say about Eastport eateries so far so why take the chance that he will bad mouth their bakery too?  Henry becomes angry and insistent and Jake tells him in no uncertain terms not to come back or something bad might happen to him.  Unfortunately, Henry is later found dead in the basement of The Chocolate Moose and when the state police arrive to investigate, Jake becomes the prime suspect.  Only an intervention by Bob Arnold, Eastport’s police chief and a friend of Jake and Ellie, keeps Jake out of jail.  Obviously, Jake and Ellie have to find the murderer to get Jake off the hook before she is arrested.  The investigation they undertake has points to several people with possible motives and takes some unexpected twists and turns, not to mention involving others who are also at risk – enough, I think, to add up to an interesting and not obvious resolution.

For anyone who is not familiar with Sarah Graves’ work, she has a 16-book series, “Home Repair is Homicide” in which Jake, a transplanted New Yorker, and Ellie, a native Mainer, solve mysteries while Jake works on restoring her old house.  The author also has a newer series (2 books so far) featuring Lizzie Snow, a police chief who moves to Maine to try and solve what happened to her murdered sister and the disappearance of her sister’s daughter.  I love Sarah Graves’ work and hope she writes many, many more books.  To quote Margaret Maron, “Sarah Graves writes with grace and intelligence….”  I could not agree more, and I can’t wait for the next book, Death by Chocolate Snickerdoodle, due out in 2021.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, December 2020.

Book Review: A Bottle of Rum by Steve Goble @Steve_Goble @SeventhStBooks

A Bottle of Rum
A Spider John Mystery #3
Steve Goble
Seventh Street Books, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-64506-003-1
Trade Paperback

Spider John Rush and his sidekick Odin are pirates in the process of retiring from the business. What with one thing or another, Spider John has decided to become an upstanding member of society. No more riding the bounding main, pillaging and killing. Or so he says. Odin not so much. But when the innkeeper where they do their serious drinking is murdered right under their noses, they can’t help becoming involved. John has discovered the murder weapon to be a throwing knife he made and gave to a young pirate friend named Hob. Hob became enthralled with the notorious Anne Bonny and sailed away to further adventure in piracy. The thing is, Spider John caught up with the murderer, and it wasn’t Hob. So where is his friend, and why did that man have his knife?

A naturally noticing and curious man, Spider John means to find out. Perforce, Odin goes along with him, bellyaching all the way.

Soon they find themselves in a predicament at what seems to be an asylum for the insane and the sick. There is a cemetery with several fresh graves, as well.  Since they only ever see one of the patients, a young woman obsessed with death, John doesn’t know for certain if Hob is shut up somewhere within the creaky manor house or if he inhabits one of those graves. And when confronted with Half-Jim, a one-armed, one-legged, all the way crazy pirate who’d as soon kill a man as look at him, finding Hob becomes a real problem. Apparently, Half-Jim has set his sights on Spider John to add to the body count.

The dialogue is wonderfully written for an entertaining bunch of foul-mouthed pirates. The action proceeds at a goodly pace. I often forgot this was supposed to be a mystery as I got wound up in the actions of the worst bunch of ruffians a reader ever met. A fun read.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2020.
https://carolcriggercom.sitelio.me/
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Devil’s Wind by Steve Goble—and a Giveaway!

The Devil’s Wind
A Spider John Mystery #2
Steve Goble
Seventh Street Books, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-63388-484-7
Trade Paperback

A second helping of pirate noir is served up by author Steve Goble. Former pirate Spider John signs on to an honest job on the ship “Redemption, ” but shortly after the ship puts out to sea, Captain Brentwood is murdered in his locked cabin. Spider John is joined on this ship by his ex-pirate friends, 15 year old Hob and one eyed Odin, who brags of sailing with Blackbeard, wrestling giant squid and screwing mermaids. The crew must avoid the Royal navy ships, who are pursuing Spider John and his friends for piracy and espionage, and evade the ruthless pirate Ned Low, on the prowl in these waters.

There are suspects aplenty in the other crew members and passengers: Sam Smoke, a pirate suspected of being a spy for Ned Low; Abigail, the captain’s beautiful daughter, who has caught the interest of Nicholas Wright, another sailor; Rufus Fox, an educated man and tinkerer; and Hadley, a former slave.

These are not the Disney-fied pirates of the theme park, but pirates who are scarred, filthy, and curse with a vengeance, ie “bubble headed lobcocks.” At one point Spider John muses, “He suddenly wished he owned all his fingers and all his teeth, and perhaps a razor and some soap.” No swashbuckling to be found in these pages, only a cast of interesting characters, lots of seaworthy action, and a right smart plot.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy of
The Devil’s Wind by Steve Goble,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Thursday evening,
December 6th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: The Bloody Black Flag by Steve Goble

The Bloody Black Flag
A Spider John Mystery #1
Steve Goble
Seventh Street Books. September 2017
ISBN 978-163388-359-8
Trade Paperback

Avast landlubbers! Author Steve Goble introduces a new detective in this first book of a new series. Spider John Rush, a former pirate, is trying to find his way back to his wife Em and his son Little Johnny, now age eight. Spider had served on a whaling ship and then on a pirate ship. Now he signs on to a ship sailing to Jamaica, in hopes of making some money, with his friend Ezra Coombs.

Ezra and Spider were on Lama, which went down in a storm.  Ezra’s grandmother had been hung as a witch and his mother also. Spider’s gram had been burned. It was a bond they shared. The two escaped from Boston ahead of an angry mob.  Ezra is accused of being the son of a witch by a tattooed crew member named Tellam from Salem.

Ezra is found dead on deck, with a flask beside him, murdered in cold blood by a shipmate. But which one? In this adventure on the high seas, set in 1722.  Spider uses his skills of observation and the tools of his trade as a ship’s carpenter, to discover the murderer. A clever twist on the amateur detective character—fans of historical mysteries and seafaring tales will enjoy sailing with Spider John and the crew.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2018.

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: Taken by David Massey

Taken MasseyTaken
David Massey
Chicken House, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-66128-7
Hardcover

Understandably apprehensive, Rio focused on the yacht that would carry her and the five wounded veterans she’d yet to meet, around the planet. The mission of the self-described group of misfits isn’t just to prove that a disability doesn’t disable the individual. The true goal is raising money for the Hidden Children, kids whose families have been destroyed by war. As the “able-bodied” mate, Rio is confident in her sailing skills. As a civilian rather than a veteran, she hopes for the strength and resolve to genuinely contribute to the crew.

The badly burned Marcus uses outstanding humor to keep the crew relaxed. Rio adores his hilarious t-shirts that draw attention away from his stretched, scarred skin. The youngest soldier, Izzy, had fallen from a helicopter, shattering one of her legs. While being treated, it was discovered that she was diabetic and required daily insulin shots. Charis has both a gorgeous Welsh accent and a robotic arm.

Ash looked like a super-hero to Rio when she saw him on his blades-in-lieu-of-legs. His charm, intelligence and warmth stole her breath and stopped her heart. An endeavor of this magnitude, establishing relationships based on trust, would be paramount; looking for love…distracting. Make that dangerous. Jen, the one crew member to take an instant dislike to Rio, keeps a close watch on Ash.

The Lord’s Resistance Army which began in Uganda, touting their goal of ruling according to the biblical ten commandments has, in truth, broken each one. Moses Mwemba, 2nd in command of the LRA, views the disabled veterans’ mission as an opportunity to garner attention, thus notoriety. The Sangoma (Witch Doctor) will sabotage the ship. Once stalled, his young, crazed army will abduct the crew, and move them deep into the jungle. Huge ransoms will be demanded, but hardly the point.

Taken elicits tangible sensations. Heavy, humid air of the jungle is suffocating. The stench of spreading infection is stomach churning. Torture and gratuitous killings invoke horror, anger, and disbelief. Critical observations without prejudices poignantly present different points of view. Emotions aren’t mutually exclusive. Fear, anger and hatred towards the captors don’t necessarily override empathy, compassion or even an odd affinity for the half-starved, frightened, bark-munching child captors.

Mr. Massey brilliantly displays that stark fear, even coupled with harsh, deplorable, unimaginable conditions, can’t smother the basic human will to survive. He shows that through the absolute worst, most dismal of situations, life goes on. Kindness, compassion, selflessness, qualities not always evident, usually do exist, in most people.

Taken is not just an outstanding, exceptional book. The issues, terroristic groups, senseless acts of violence and killings are very real. Mr. Massey provides imperative education while simultaneously gifting a compelling story packed with clever characters, spot-on dialogue and thought-provoking prose.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2015.

Book Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Runaway KingThe Runaway King
The Ascendance Trilogy, Book Two
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-28415-8
Hardcover

Before the ink was dry on my glowing review of The False Prince, (the first in the Ascendance Trilogy), I was deep into The Runaway King.  This is the second book in the Ascendance Trilogy and it is absolutely everything that I hope for in a continuation.

We met King Jaron earlier, when he was Sage (aka Prince Jaron) hiding away in an orphanage.  He was stubborn, argumentative….a total wise-guy, but he had a pure heart.  Now, his identity established, Jaron will rule Carthya.  He only needs to survive the attempts on his life and thwart the pirate invasion to do so.

On the eve of his family’s funeral, Jaron learns that he has 10 days before the Avenian pirates, supported by King Vargan, wage war on Carthya.  His army simply cannot prepare to defend his country in such a short time.  His only choice is to stop the invasion.  Thus begins a suspenseful adventure, packed with action and intrigue.

While The Runaway King features thrilling sword fights, death-defying escape attempts and fool-hardy challenges, it also demonstrates strong-will, resolve and determination.  All along his journey, Jaron is forced to evaluate the few people close to him.  There are false loyalties, and they must be weeded out.  Friendship needs to be re-established with Roden, the ferocious, vendetta-seeking enemy consumed by his desire to destroy Jaron.  Above all, Jaron must protect those that have supported and assisted him along the way.

To me, Jaron is the ultimate character for a Middle-Grade book.  Outwardly, he appears flippant, arrogant and condescending.  He may truly possess and exhibit those characteristics, but they are not the ones that define the person he is.  Rather, the reader gets to know a determined young man that must pursue that which is right.  With a heart so pure and true, Jaron is driven to protect those he cares about and the country that he loves.  He is a fine example of a true hero.

The Runaway King was just released in March, so I have no idea how long I will need to wait for the conclusion; but I am confident that, however, long; it will be worth the wait.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2013.