Book Review: A Promise Given by Michelle Cox—and a Giveaway!

A Promise Given
A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel #3
Michelle Cox
She Writes Press, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-63152-373-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Anxious to be married, Henrietta and Clive push forward with their wedding plans despite their family differences, made worse now by Oldrich Exley’s attempts to control the Von Harmons. When the long-awaited wedding day arrives, there is more unfolding than just Clive and Henrietta’s vows of love. Stanley and Elsie’s relationship is sorely tested by the presence of the dashing Lieutenant Harrison Barnes-Smith and by Henrietta’s friend Rose―a situation that grows increasingly dark and confused as time goes on.

As Clive and Henrietta begin their honeymoon at Castle Linley, the Howards’ ancestral estate in England, they encounter a whole new host of characters, including the eccentric Lord and Lady Linley and Clive’s mysterious cousin, Wallace. When a man is murdered in the village on the night of a house party at the Castle, Wallace comes under suspicion―and Clive and Henrietta are reluctantly drawn into the case, despite Clive’s anxiety at involving his new bride and Henrietta’s distracting news from home.

Delicately attempting to work together for the first time, Clive and Henrietta set out to prove Wallace’s innocence, uncovering as they do so some rather shocking truths that will shake the Linley name and estate forever.

Following their Chicago wedding, Henrietta Von Harmon and Clive Howard leave tumultuous family issues behind, heading for a honeymoon in England at the ancestral Howard estate, Castle Linley, but their romantic interlude is affected by current events. It’s 1935 and the lingering effects of World War I can be seen and felt along with financial troubles stemming from the Great Depression but it’s a murder in the nearby village that shocks everyone.

Detective Chief Inspector John Hartle quickly suspects Wallace Howard, Clive’s cousin. Formerly a police detective, Clive is drawn in by his fondness for Wallace to investigate with Henrietta’s help; meanwhile, she’s trying to accustom herself to the trappings of British society and then receives unwelcome and distracting news from home regarding her family. The two are very surprised when they discover why Wallace has been so secretive but this knowledge may not lead to Wallace’s being cleared.

To me, this installment focused too much on the romance elements and even provided more, er, details than I cared to know while the mystery kind of took a back seat. Still, the setting is delightful, the nods of appreciation to Pride and Prejudice are fun and I particularly enjoyed seeing the beginnings of a brand new private investigation agency.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.

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To enter the drawing for a trade
paperback copy of A Promise Given,
leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on the evening of
Thursday, July 11th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Book Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillan

Murder in the City of Liberty
A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #2
Rachel McMillan
Thomas Nelson, May 2019
ISBN 978-0-7852-1696-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Hamish DeLuca and Regina “Reggie” Van Buren have a new case—and this one could demand a price they’re not willing to pay.

Determined to make a life for herself, Reggie Van Buren bid goodbye to fine china and the man her parents expected her to marry and escaped to Boston. What she never expected to discover was that an unknown talent for sleuthing would develop into a business partnership with the handsome, yet shy, Hamish DeLuca.

Their latest case arrives when Errol Parker, the leading base stealer in the Boston farm leagues, hires Hamish and Reggie to investigate what the Boston police shove off as a series of harmless pranks. Errol believes these are hate crimes linked to the outbreak of war in Europe, and he’s afraid for his life. Hamish and Reggie quickly find themselves in the midst of an escalating series of crimes.

When Hamish has his careful constructed life disrupted by a figure from his past, he is driven to a decision that may sever him from Reggie forever . . . even more than her engagement to wealthy architect Vaughan Vanderlaan.

Ahh, Reggie and Hamish are a charming couple although, strictly speaking, they aren’t really a couple because they’re studiously resisting any kind of romantic attraction. They do, however, have a strong partnership in their detective agency and, even in these early days, they’re getting noticed.

Their latest case involves a black man, a baseball player who wants to break the color barrier in the big leagues. Errol Parker retains Hamish and Reggie to look into what the police call pranks being played against him but they soon realize these are acts of racism and there is nothing prankish about these attacks. This is 1940 and Boston is a hotbed of racism, particularly against blacks and ethnic minorities, so they have a formidable task identifying the perpetrator(s) and stopping them.

Meanwhile, Hamish is dealing with a kind of anxiety disorder and a tricky relationship with the criminal world and Reggie is fighting to maintain a distance from her high society background. This story is, realistically. more of a character study of Reggie, Hamish and a variety of peripheral players than a mystery but, for all that, Murder in the City of Liberty is an entertaining tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2019.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes  & Noble // Kobo // Amazon
Books-A-Million // Indiebound

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About the Author

Rachel McMillan is the author of the Herringford and Watts mysteries, the Three Quarter Time series of contemporary romances set in opulent Vienna, and the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries praised for bringing an authentic 1930’s Boston world to life while normalizing the fictional conversation surrounding mental illness. Her first work of non-fiction, described as a romantic’s guide to independent travel, releases in 2020. Rachel lives in Toronto, Canada.

Connect with Rachel
Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder by Dianne Freeman

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder
A Countess of Harleigh Mystery #2
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-1-4967-1690-3
Hardcover

Lady Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, has been doing a little matchmaking. Her sister Lily is almost engaged to Leo Kendrick, a match Lade Frances approves of, although she would like them to wait just a bit longer to announce their engagement. Her cousin Charles Evingdon has been discreetly seeing Mary Archer, a local widow with society connections although apparently little to no money. Lady Frances is encouraging the match; Charles is that geeky, clumsy cousin with minimal social skills who could do much worse than the widow Archer. This match, however, has come to naught; Charles informs Lady Frances that he and Mary Archer will not suit and won’t say why. This isn’t really a problem until Inspector Delaney arrives to ask Lady Frances why Mary Archer is in possession of information she shouldn’t have. He, for obvious reasons, decided that Charles is a suspect in Mary Archer’s murder. So Lady Frances needs to clear Charles (he is her cousin, after all), as well as niggle out how Mary Archer came to have such intimate details about the Harleigh family finances.

Lady Frances and her next-door-neighbor George Hazelton have had interactions, social and private, in the past. They are once again working on the same case. Mary Archer has been supplementing what little income she had by writing a local gossip column, Miss Information. George’s political connections are such that Inspector Delaney has been required to pass all the gossip column research to George for perusal and discreet intervention. George, having other problems on his plate, delegates that task to Lady Frances and, in the interest of speed, her household. All sworn to secrecy, of course.

Freeman seems to have done her research. London, during the summer, is fairly somnolent in terms of high society and the events that revolve around aristocrats. This means Lady Frances has fewer people on her suspects list, and more time to deal with all the questions that arise during her investigations. Freeman has built a good supporting cast for Lady Frances, and the new introductions bode well for future entries in the series. George Hazelton features prominently, as one might imagine, and his mixed messages do their best to keep Lady Frances in a tizzy. In the meantime, Charles finds his own match, and there is plenty of opportunity for another Countess of Harleigh mystery in the future.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, June 2019.

Book Review: A Veil Removed by Michelle Cox

A Veil Removed
A Henrietta and Inspector Howard Novel #4
Michelle Cox
She Writes Press, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-63152-503-2
Trade Paperback

Short intro: Clive and Henrietta Howard return to Chicago after his father’s unexpected death; whether or not Alcott’s death is the accident it seems is unclear.

Clive Howard was an Inspector for the police before his return to Chicago.  When his father dies in an apparent accident, Clive is called home from his honeymoon to manage the family business.  Clive and Henrietta had made other plans, plans which are tossed by the wayside in light of this recent death.  The Howard Detective Agency is not, at least for now, an option.  This does not, however, mean that Clive and Henrietta are done with detecting.  Based on discoveries made by Clive as he takes over the business, the two decide that Alcott’s tragic demise was no accident.  Finding out who killed him will answer a myriad of other questions.   Why?  Why now?  Where’s the money?  Who can Clive trust?  How much does his mother know, if anything?  What does Alcott’s partner, Bennet, know?  Who is Susan?  The list goes on.  Every stone the pair turns over leads to another rock or another hard place. Trying to deal with all of this, and the business, and his grieving mother . . . Clive is under considerable pressure.  As tenuous connections to Henrietta are solidified, the pressure only gets more intense.

Henrietta has problems of her own to confront.  Her younger sister Elsie is “a fallen woman”, having succumbed to the charms of a ne’er-do-well.  The family, meaning Clive’s mother and Elsie’s grandfather, believe her best option is to make the best marriage she possibly can under the circumstances; a love match is out of the question, given her poor taste so far.  Elsie is not enthused about this option; she is also not truly in a position to do what she wants, even if she knows what that is, which is pretty much not the case.  She knows she does NOT want to marry the men who are interested in her, no matter how honest they are about their motives, which are not all that pure.  Henrietta thinks Elsie should go to college – a local, Catholic college run by nuns and affiliated with Loyola.  Elsie is smart, although she doesn’t think her self-taught knowledge is good enough to get her into any college.  She is wrong, and Mundelein College proves to be a wonderful place for Elsie.  She does have some delightfully collegiate interactions with the boys from Loyola.   The German custodian brings some adventure into her life, although certainly nothing that anyone would have thought of, given the chance.  Elsie, of all the characters, probably makes the greatest leap in personal knowledge and growth over the course of the novel.  It’s a pleasure to read.

There are other sub-plots and story lines, some of which connect previous books in the series to this one.  There is ample room for at least one or two more books about Clive and Henrietta, given some of the loose ends left lying around.  Chicago in the 1930s has so much to offer a historical novelist: gangs, high society, the changes in technology, societal mores shifting, the immigration landscape changing.  Cox mines what she needs for her story, and makes it all work very nicely.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Clive and Henrietta, although the sex scene in the middle did seem VERY gratuitous, considering the general tone of the book around that scene.  Other than that, I’m inclined to go start reading this series from the beginning.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2019.

Book Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann—and a Giveaway!

Trial on Mount Koya
A Hiro Hattori Novel #6
A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-6338-8415-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

November, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo travel to a Buddhist temple at the summit of Mount Koya, carrying a secret message for an Iga spy posing as a priest on the sacred mountain. When a snowstorm strikes the peak, a killer begins murdering the temple’s priests and posing them as Buddhist judges of the afterlife–the Kings of Hell. Hiro and Father Mateo must unravel the mystery before the remaining priests–including Father Mateo–become unwilling members of the killer’s grisly council of the dead.

Anyone who is a fan of Agatha Christie will recognize the tip of the hat this book is to her And Then There Were None with the isolated setting and the killer who picks off the victims one at a time and that really adds an element of fun to the story. This unusual pair of sleuths—a Portuguese Jesuit priest and his shinobi companion/bodyguard—have come to this remote temple because Hiro has been ordered to deliver a message to an Iga spy but they soon find themselves looking for a murderer among the monks and a couple of visitors. Although each investigation these two have conducted has its own peculiarities, this time Hiro is off-center, partly because of a personal sorrow but also because he comes to believe his friend may be in real jeopardy.

Along with the investigation, we also learn a little about the Buddhist religion in the 16th century and why the killer might be posing his victims, one by one, as the judges of the afterlife. The juxtaposition of the Buddhist tenets with those of a Catholic priest is striking and sheds more light on the relationship between Hiro and Father Mateo, two men who are vastly different and yet so respectful of each other. Each brings a unique perspective to the investigation and they are made even more interesting by their positions in feudal Japanese society.

Ms. Spann, as I’ve come to expect, creates vivid settings—her ability to evoke a visual understanding of the surroundings is full of the small details that bring them to life—and her characters are so fully fleshed out as to make our sleuths seem like people we actually know. It’s not just the two investigators that draw the attention, though; others are just as memorable, such as their housekeeper, Ana (a favorite of mine from earlier books).

Wonderful use of atmospheric language, very appealing players and an intriguing plot make Trial on Mount Koya another brilliant entry in this series I’ve come to love. Hiro and Father Mateo are among my very favorite historical investigators and I can barely wait for their next adventure, Ghost of the Bamboo Road, due out later this year.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2019.

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Re-issue/New Cover Reveal

Claws of the Cat
A Hiro Hattori Novel
A Shinobi Mystery, Book 1

A master ninja and a Portuguese priest investigate the murder of a samurai in medieval Kyoto. May 1564: When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, master ninja Hiro has no desire to get involved. But the beautiful entertainer accused of the crime enlists the help of Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit Hiro is sworn to protect, leaving the master shinobi with just three days to find the killer in order to save the girl and the priest from execution. The investigation plunges Hiro and Father Mateo into the dangerous waters of Kyoto’s floating world, where they learn that everyone from the elusive teahouse owner to the dead man’s dishonored brother has a motive to keep the samurai’s death a mystery. A rare murder weapon favored by ninja assassins, a female samurai warrior, and a hidden affair leave Hiro with too many suspects and far too little time. Worse, the ninja’s investigation uncovers a host of secrets that threaten not only Father Mateo and the teahouse, but the very future of Japan.

Re-issued by Seventh Street Books, April 23, 2019.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment
below. There will be two winners. One
winner will receive a trade paperback copy
of Trial on Mount Koya and the second
winner will receive a trade paperback copy
of the re-issued Claws of the Cat. The drawing
will be held on the evening of Thursday,
April 25th and is open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Scar Tissue by Patricia Hale

Scar Tissue
Cole and Callahan #3
Patricia Hale
Intrigue Publishing, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-940758-85-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Track star, Ashley Lambert, has just been accepted into the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, so when she jumps eighteen stories to her death her parents hire the PI team of Griff Cole and Britt Callahan to find out why. The investigation exposes a deeply disturbed family hiding behind a façade of perfection and follows Ashley’s descent into performance enhancing drugs and blackmail. Ashley’s coaches, peers and even her parents come into question. The disturbing truth behind Ashley’s death is testimony to lines crossed and allegiances sworn…. in the name of love.

Meanwhile, things don’t add up next door. Britt’s working overtime researching their new neighbors whose one-year-old son disappeared four years ago. Rhea McKenzie has a secret and bruises aren’t the only thing she’s trying to hide. When an off-hand comment discloses a connection to Ashley Lambert the two cases become entwined, setting off an unstoppable chain of events. Britt is sucked into an alliance with Rhea and driven to make decisions that challenge her ethics, threaten her relationship and in the end, push her over a line she never thought she’d cross.

With each Cole and Callahan story, I become more and more enthusiastic about this series. Griff and Britt are a pair that works as a professional private investigation duo but also as a couple and, with each book, Ms. Hale develops their working and personal relationships a little more.

Britt and Griff have just bought their first house and, right off the bat, Britt has a feeling that something is not right with the neighbors. Their son went missing several years ago so they certainly have reason to be “off” but she’s sure there’s more to it. Griff would rather she stay out of whatever drama is going on but she can’t make herself ignore the bruises she saw on Rhea.

When Ashley Lambert’s parents approach Cole and Callahan, it’s because they are absolutely positive the medical examiner’s determination that she committed suicide is wrong. After all, she would never do such a thing to her father and, with that revelation, Greg Lambert shows what a control freak he is. Living with the pressure of never letting her parents down could have been enough to make her jump but, reluctantly, they agree to take the case. It isn’t long before some dire secrets begin to come out and, the two cases begin to show signs there may be connections.

Once again, Patricia Hale has crafted a story full of suspense and vivid characters and I’m already looking forward to the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2018.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon // Indiebound

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An Excerpt from Scar Tissue

“I don’t believe my daughter jumped. She wouldn’t have done that. I told the police, but they dismissed me. Evidently, they knew my daughter better than I did.”

“What’s your feeling on that, Mrs. Lambert?” I asked. Parents don’t always share perspectives on their children.

When she looked at me, her eyes were moist. She cradled the columbine in her palm. “Call me Gwen.”

I nodded.

“Ashley was a good girl. She worked very hard at everything she did.”

“She was the best, always. She made sure of it,” Greg chimed in.

Or else you did, I thought.

“It would have gone against her nature to jump off that building. It just wasn’t her way,” Gwen added.

“Her way?” Greg squinted at his wife, his face twisted in disgust as though studying an insect on flypaper. “What the hell does that mean?” He stood and walked around the circumference of our seating arrangement and then came back and took his chair again. “My girl did as she was told. And only what she was told.”

“It’s not always easy to tell a senior in college what to do,” I said. “At some point they start making their own choices even if some are ones their parents might not like.”

“Not my girl.” Greg shook his head, knocking my theory out of the park. Dismissed as impossible.

I couldn’t help but notice he kept referring to Ashley as my girl not our girl as though he’d created her, given birth and raised her throughout her short life singlehandedly. I didn’t like him. My assessment of Gwen was still up in the air, but she was wrapped so tight I couldn’t get a glimpse inside. It’s never easy to work for someone you don’t like, but Ashley’s case held the interest factor. Why had this seemingly perfect child jumped to her death?

“She was a star athlete at the top of her class and a week from graduation,” Greg continued. “She’d been accepted at Johns Hopkins Berman Institute for Bioethics. And you’re telling me that’s a kid who makes bad decisions? I don’t think so, Ms. Callahan.”

Okay, he shut me up. (A momentary lull.)

“Mr. Lambert,” Griff spoke up. “I have a daughter. I can’t imagine what you must be going through dealing with all this. What is it you think we can do for you?”

“I told the police and the medical examiner that my daughter wouldn’t take her own life. Cops shook their heads, said it wasn’t their call to make. The medical examiner said it presented as a cut and dried suicide.”

“And what do you say, Mr. Lambert?”

“My daughter was murdered.”

I glanced at Gwen. “Do you agree, Mrs. Lambert?”

She raised her eyes, glanced at her husband and then to me. “I’m not convinced, but I do agree that suicide doesn’t fit with who my daughter was.”

Griff kept his focus on Greg. “What makes you think someone would have killed your daughter? Did she have enemies that you’re aware of?”

“No, no enemies that I know of, but her jumping makes no sense. She had everything going for her and absolutely no reason to end her life. She would never have done that to me.”

Strike two. The selfish bastard assumed his daughter’s tragic death had more to do with him than whatever had driven her to that fateful state of mind. “Suicide is about what’s going on within the person themselves,” I said trying not to let my voice betray my disgust. “I doubt Ashley was consciously doing anything to you at the moment she jumped. If she jumped.”

“She knew the goals we’d set,” he said dismissing my remark. “And she had every intention of attaining them.”

“Goals?” I asked.

“Johns Hopkins, her PhD, an Olympic gold medal.”

“Had she been accepted to compete in the Olympics?” Griff asked.

“It was in the works,” he said annunciating each word as though we were hard of hearing.

“Did you let the medical examiner know how you felt?”

“Of course, I did.”

“And was an autopsy performed?”

Greg Lambert glanced at his wife. She looked away. Touchy subject, I gathered.

“Useless,” he said. “They found nothing.” He turned to Gwen. “Go get my checkbook.”

She rose and disappeared inside the house without a word, still holding the columbine in her hand.

I caught Griff’s eye and he raised his eyebrows as though asking, should we? “Look Mr. Lambert,” he said. “Britt and I like to discuss a case before we

commit to it. We want to feel some degree of surety that we can help you before money changes hands and we sign a contract. Give us time to talk it over and we’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

Gwen reappeared holding a large, black-spiraled checkbook. Greg took it from her along with the pen she offered and flipped open the front of the book. He looked at Griff. “How much do you want?” he asked.

“Mr. Lambert, I…” Griff started.

“We’ll give you the information you need to get started. I don’t have any doubt you’ll see it my way. What’s the retainer?” He held the pen poised over the checkbook.

“Five thousand,” Griff said.

I thought that was a little high. He must be thinking about the pool we wanted to install.

“And a list of names. Professors, coaches and friends,” he added.

Greg pointed to his wife. “Put that together.”

Dismissed, Gwen went inside to gather what we needed.

Once we had the necessary information from Gwen, and Greg’s check was folded inside Griff’s pocket, Carole stepped onto the deck and offered to show us out.

“We’ll be in touch,” Griff said. He stood extending a hand toward Greg.

Greg Lambert rose from his chair and placed his hands on his hips. “When?”

“As soon as I have something to tell you,” Griff said lowering his arm.

Griff’s ability to come off unfazed by blatant rude behavior is beyond me. I couldn’t get off that porch fast enough. If I’d lingered I would have placed a well-directed snap kick to Greg Lambert’s groin.

We followed Carole to the front door. She swung it wide and stepped with us outside then pulled the door closed behind her. On the front step she glanced from one of us to the other then dropped her head and stared at the granite, clearly trying to make up her mind. We waited. When she looked up she extended her arm toward Griff as though intending to shake.

“Look,” she said. “I’m probably way out of line here and dipshit in there will have me banned if he knows I’m talking to you. I’m already on probation around here so whatever I say stays between us, all right?”

Griff nodded and reached for her hand, keeping his eyes on her face.

She slipped a folded piece of paper into his palm. “I’m Carole Weston, Gwen’s

sister. Call me,” she said. “There’s more to this. A lot more.”

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About the Author

Patricia Hale lives in Standish, ME with her husband. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Goddard College, a member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and the NH Writers Project. Scar Tissue is the third book in the Cole & Callahan thriller series. When the computer is off, you can find Patricia on the sideline of her grandsons’ sporting events or hiking the trails near her home with her German shepherd and one very bossy Beagle.

Catch Up With Our Author On:

Website, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

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Book Reviews: Durable Goods by Patricia Hale and Your Robot Dog Will Die by Arin Greenwood

Durable Goods
The Cole and Callahan Thriller Series #2
Patricia Hale
Intrigue Publishing, April 2018
ISBN 978-1940758695
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Detective John Stark approaches the PI team of Griff Cole and Britt Callahan with a postcard he’s sure is from his estranged daughter, Kira. She’s been listed as a runaway for three years by Portland, Maine police but John isn’t convinced that her continued absence is by choice. As Stark’s long-time friends, Cole and Callahan agree to look into the postcard marked only with the letters OK. The postmark leads them to Oracles of the Kingdom, a farm where women sell fresh produce in return for a fresh start with God. But nothing seems right about the town or the farm and Britt goes undercover to look for Kira. Once inside, she realizes that Oracles of the Kingdom is not the refuge it appears.

I look forward to crime fiction that combines police work with private investigation because, while they’re very different occupations, they also are very complementary when each respects the other’s profession. A PI has limitations by virtue of not having access to national and international resources (unless it’s a huge security firm) while a police detective is restricted by laws intended to protect the public from overreach. That’s simplifying things, of course, but there’s no question that collaboration can make for a rich story.

When John Stark approaches his friends for help finding his daughter, it’s a logical thing to do. After all, his emotions and objectivity are compromised, just as a doctor’s would be if he tries to treat his critically ill child. Add to that, John has burned a few bridges in his department over the past three years that Kira has been missing and, when he finally gets a potential lead, he can’t drum up much interest in the police in localities near where he thinks she might be. Now, he’s come to Britt and Griff and they can’t turn him down; this man is too important in their lives. The plan they come up with will put all of them, especially Britt, in terrible peril.

Although the case in this book is very different from that in the first book, The Church of the Holy Child, the drama and emotion in that story are no less intense here and the subject matters, including sex trafficking, drugs and physical violence, are important topics in today’s world more than ever before. This is no tale for the squeamish but is nevertheless recommended.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Your Robot Dog Will Die
Arin Greenwood
Soho Teen, April 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-839-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Seventeen-year-old Nano Miller was born and raised on Dog Island: home to Mechanical Tail, the company behind lifelike replacements for “man’s best friend.” The island is also home to the last living dogs, all but extinct. When a global genetic experiment went awry and canines stopped wagging their tails, mass hysteria ensued and the species was systematically euthanized. Here, they are studied in a natural and feral state.

Nano’s life has become a cycle of annual heartbreak. Every spring, Mechanical Tail gives her the latest robot dog model to test, only to tear it from her arms a year later. This year is complicated by another heartbreak: the loss of her brother, Billy, who recently vanished without a trace. But nothing can prepare her for a discovery that upends everything she’s taken for granted: it’s a living puppy that miraculously wags its tail. There is no way she’s letting this dog go.

Take a good look at that doggie sitting next to you or at your feet and imagine, if you will, that you can only keep her for a year and then you’ll be given a replacement. Can you fathom the heartache? Would you even be willing to have a dog in your life?

Now, take it a step further—your dog is a machine, a robot, very cleverly built and every year’s model is better, more lifelike, than the last. Would you want your annual dog? Would you be as attached?

Nano is heartbroken when the “executioner” comes to end Derrick’s existence and brings her his replacement. Nano names this one Billy, for her brother who has been missing for a while. Nano and her friends, Jack and Wolf, grew up on Dog Island and have never left it. The few families on the island are kind of a marketing focus group that tests all the new mechanical dogs before they hit the shelves and they help look after the six remaining real dogs. When Nano discovers four living puppies, she hides one and what that act leads to will change life for every one, for better or worse to be determined.

On the surface, this seems like a fairly straightforward story but it actually has a lot of layers, so many that I don’t actually know what the author’s main intent was. Along with the idea of mechanical dogs, attention is given to the causes and repercussions of scientific experimentation, budding romance, severe drought, isolation, misguided societal control, the vegan lifestyle, euthanasia…the list goes on and one. Finally, I decided to not look for meanings and just enjoy this shaggy dog tale with a few twists.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.