A Few More Teeny Reviews

a-goose-creek-christmasA Goose Creek Christmas
Tales from the Goose Creek B&B #5
Virginia Smith
Harvest House Publishers, October 2016
ISBN 978-0-7369-6878-2
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

From the publisher—

Al’s Goose Is Cooked!

Forced into early retirement, Al Richardson knows what his wife will say when she hears the terrible news. Millie will insist that they open their B&B early. Where will that leave him? Carrying luggage and waiting tables? No way! He needs time to come up with another plan. With the help of an unlikely accomplice, Al spends his days scanning want ads and frequenting out-of-town coffee shops in an effort to hide his secret from all of Goose Creek—including his wife.

Millie is too busy to notice Al’s odd behavior. Between planning a huge Christmas party and holding tight to the reins of newcomer Lulu Thacker—whose tacky decorating schemes are sure to infuriate Main Street business owners—she has no time for anything else.

One thing is certain: In Goose Creek, no secret stays hidden for long. The most holy of holidays is swiftly approaching. Is Al in for a Merry Christmas or a Marriage Crisis?

Having first met the lovely town of Goose Creek last summer, I’m still completely in love with these characters and their very common issues, told with compassion and humor. I think Goose Creek is a wonderful representation of small town life and there isn’t a single character that doesn’t have at least one small redeeming factor. This time, Al is afraid to tell Millie that he’s been laid off (well, forced into retirement) just before Christmas—I was laid off just before Christmas years ago so I can attest to the nightmare—but, fortunately for him, she’s caught up in the turmoil over some outlandish Christmas decorations. I chortled my way through this tale while Millie and Al and all their neighbors and family dealt with the vagaries of real life and I can’t wait for the next episode.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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rogue-waveRogue Wave
Boyd Morrison
Pocket Books, December 2010
ISBN 978-1-4391-8958-0
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

A minor seismic disturbance in a remote section of the Pacific causes barely a ripple of concern for Kai Tanaka, acting director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu. But when an airliner en route from L.A. to Sydney vanishes in the same location, Kai is the first to realize that a mysterious explosion has unleashed a series of massive waves destined to obliterate Hawaii. In just one hour, Kai will lose all he has ever known–including his wife and daughter– unless he can save them from nature’s most destructive force.

I have a fondness for disaster stories and Boyd Morrison hit every one of my hot buttons with Rogue Wave (which has also been published as The Palmyra Impact and The Tsunami Countdown). When I picked this up, I was already familiar with the author’s talents in the action adventure and thriller fields and I was not disappointed in the least. The tension doesn’t just ratchet up as you go along with the story—it’s high octane from the very first sentence, letting up only for occasional scenes to let us know where certain characters are. We’ve seen what happens in real life with giant tsunamis and Rogue Wave is a top-notch depiction of such an event with characters you can’t help caring about and the overwhelming feeling of doom is compelling. I highly recommend this for anyone who loves disaster and Mother Nature thriller tales.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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Getting Old Is the Best RevengeGetting Old Is the Best Revenge
Gladdy Gold #2
Rita Lakin
Dell, 2006
ISBN 978-0-440-24259-8
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

“NEVER TRUST ANYONE UNDER SEVENTY-FIVE!”

That’s the motto of the Gladdy Gold Detective Agency. Don’t laugh: having solved a case of serial murder, Gladdy and her eccentric neighbors are building their reputation between canasta games and pool exercises–hunting down everything from lost pocketbooks to missing octogenarians. And when a jealous woman sets them after her wayward husband, and a flasher strikes their retirement complex, two seemingly unrelated cases collide with a third: a series of dastardly murders targeting Florida’s wealthiest wives.

But when the girls win tickets for a luxury bingo cruise, they hit the jackpot. Because this ship is carrying not only Florida’s fiercest bingo competitors but also a killer–and it’s up to Gladdy and her friends to stop him before one of them becomes his next victim….

This book was my first introduction to the Gladdy Gold series and I’ve read all but two now, not in any particular order. There have been other senior sleuth series that I’ve enjoyed but this one really finds the sweet spot for me. These retirees are funny and nosy and clever (most of them) and I love the way they’ve decided they’re too young to just rock their lives away. I also appreciate the way the author isn’t the least bit afraid to make use—and fun—of senior citizen sterotypes. I mean, you know, a bingo cruise?? If you’re looking for pure fluffy fun, this would be a good book to start with.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

Book Review: Teetotaled by Maia Chance—and a Giveaway!

teetotaledTeetotaled
Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries #2
Maia Chance
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-072214
Hardcover

From the publisher—

After her philandering husband died and left her penniless in Prohibition-era New York, Lola Woodby escaped with her Swedish cook to the only place she could―her deceased husband’s secret love nest in the middle of Manhattan. Her only comforts were chocolate cake, dime store detective novels, and the occasional highball (okay, maybe not so occasional). But rent came due and Lola and Berta were forced to accept the first job that came their way, leading them to set up shop as private detectives operating out of Alfie’s cramped love nest.

Now Lola and Berta are in danger of losing the business they’ve barely gotten off the ground―work is sparse and money is running out. So when a society matron offers them a job, they take it―even if it means sneaking into a slimming and exercise facility and consuming only water and health food until they can steal a diary from Grace Whiddle, a resident at the “health farm.” But barely a day in, Grace and her diary escape from the facility―and Grace’s future mother-in-law is found murdered on the premises. Lola and Berta are promptly fired. But before they can climb into Lola’s brown and white Duesenberg Model A and whiz off the health farm property, they find themselves with a new client and a new charge: to solve the murder of Grace’s future mother-in-law.

I’m not a strong fan of fiction set in the Roaring Twenties but, every now and then, I come across an author who just does it right, if you know what I mean. I had “met” Maia Chance before with a very different series and knew from that one that I would almost certainly love this book (I haven’t read the first one) and indeed I do.

While Lola does indulge in a bit of wallowing in self-pity—who wouldn’t, considering the circumstances?—she’s a woman who’s not afraid to step out of her society comfort zone when it becomes obvious she needs to make a living. With one sleuthing case under their belts, Lola and Berta have enough confidence to take on a second retrieval which is a good thing if they want to pay the rent and have a cocktail or two, not to mention fulfill Lola’s craving for sweets. Unfortunately for a mother-in-law-to-be, that retrieval turns into a murder investigation and Lola and Berta may or may not be up to the job.

These two very different ladies are a hoot and, as often as not, they come across clues because they sort of stumble their way there, not because they’re really good at what they do (although it must be noted that Berta is probably the more intelligent of the duo). There’s a lot of humor here but also a darned good cozy mystery, one that kept me entertained from beginning to end.

Although there’s a vast difference in wealth, readers who are drawn to Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher and her faithful companion, Dot, will also love Lola and Berta and enjoy the heck out of their adventures. Maia Chance has a fine touch and creates characters and plots filled with humor and more than a bit of pizazz; I am most certainly a fan of Lola and Berta 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2016.

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Lola and Berta may not be Holmes and Watson,
but their deficits in experience and talent are balanced
by determination and an abundance of action.
P.G. Wodehouse fans will find a lot to like.
—Publishers Weekly

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copy of Teetotaled
by Maia Chance,
just leave a comment below. The
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Book Review: The Ninja’s Daughter by Susan Spann—and a Giveaway!

The Ninja's DaughterThe Ninja’s Daughter
A Hiro Hattori Novel #4

A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-63388-181-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Autumn, 1565: When an actor’s daughter is murdered on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are the victim’s only hope for justice.

As political tensions rise in the wake of the shogun’s recent death, and rival samurai threaten war, the Kyoto police forbid an investigation of the killing, to keep the peace–but Hiro has a personal connection to the girl, and must avenge her. The secret investigation leads Hiro and Father Mateo deep into the exclusive world of Kyoto’s theater guilds, where they quickly learn that nothing, and no one, is as it seems. With only a mysterious golden coin to guide them, the investigators uncover a forbidden love affair, a missing mask, and a dangerous link to corruption within the Kyoto police department that leaves Hiro and Father Mateo running for their lives.

Each time I read a new book in Susan Spann’s series featuring a pair of most unusual private investigators, I find more to like and that’s the case this time, too. Father Mateo and Hiro Hattori have completely solidified their status among my very favorite sleuths. A more likeable and appealing duo would be hard to find.

Also, once again, Ms. Spann has broadened my knowledge of the culture and mores of 16th-century Japan, most especially in the way class distinctions were viewed. I doubt that today’s actors would appreciate knowing that the murder of one of their own would evoke absolutely no interest or concern in the eyes of the law but that’s the rigidity of the class system in place at the time. When the Kyoto police consider that the clearly murdered Emi was not murdered simply because no one cares about an actor’s daughter, the Portuguese Jesuit priest is understandably outraged. His samurai companion, on the other hand, discovers an even more compelling reason to investigate, quietly and, he hopes, without alerting the authorities.

Political machinations are also at play and I find this aspect of the series, and this book, to be just as interesting as the murder investigation. I always learn something when I read one of these books and, in The Ninja’s Daughter, I picked up bits about the particular kind of Japanese theater called Noh as well as the societal class distinctions, not to mention some of Hiro’s own family history and, of course, there’s a cracking good mystery and highly intelligent sleuthing.

A cast of characters and a glossary of Japanese words are highlights and make this even more enjoyable while secondary characters Ana, Luis and Gato feel like family to me as they must to the priest and the shinobi. A reader new to the series will be comfortable starting mid-stream since the author gives enough background information to allow the book to work as a standalone.

I had a hard time sleeping while I was reading because I just didn’t want to put it down. Susan Spann has one of the very best historical mystery series being written today and The Ninja’s Daughter has earned a spot on my list of favorite books read in 2016. I’m already anticipating Hiro’s and Father Mateo’s next adventure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2016.

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Goodreads
Pre-order Links:

Barnes & Noble // Books-A-Million // Kobo

Amazon // IndieBound // Seventh Street Books

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About the Author

Susan Spann 2Susan Spann is a transactional publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history, and culture. Her hobbies include cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.

Connect with Susan

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Follow the tour:

Monday, July 25thBuried Under Books
Tuesday, July 26thReading Reality
Tuesday, July 26th:Book Dilettante
Wednesday, July 27thIn Bed With Books
Thursday, July 28thWorth Getting in Bed For
Friday, July 29thWordsmithonia
Friday, July 29thWrite Read Life
Monday, August 1stHoser’s Blook
Tuesday, August 2ndLavish Bookshelf
Wednesday, August 3rdNo More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, August 4thA Holland Reads
Tuesday, August 9thOpen Book Society
Thursday, August 11thLuxury Reading
Friday, August 12thSJ2B House of Books
Monday, August 15thBooks and Tea
Monday, August 15thMusings of a Bookish Kitty
Tuesday, August 16thA Fantastical Librarian
Wednesday, August 17thBroken Teepee

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first book in the Shinobi Mystery
series
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Book Reviews: And Sometimes I Wonder About You by Walter Mosley and Fallout by Paul Thomas

And Sometimes I Wonder About YouAnd Sometimes I Wonder About You
A Leonid McGill Mystery #5
Walter Mosley
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, April 2016
ISBN 978-0-8041-7209-7
Trade Paperback

Leonid Trotter McGill’s New York City office now officially answers its phone “McGill and Son detective agency,” a recent development.  One of his sons, Twilliam (usually just “Twill”), is a new addition.  His relationships with just about all his nearest and dearest being fraught with complexities:  He hasn’t seen his father, Clarence, the charismatic revolutionary who calls himself “Tolstoy” McGill, in years; his wife has recently attempted suicide.  His “blood son” and daughter are Dmitri and Tatyana; Twill and Shelly are the two sired by other men but who Leonid raised exactly the same as his own offspring.  And then there is Gordo, his mentor, boxing trainer, and the man who he considers “his true father.”

Those relationships, and the assorted women who cross his path, either professionally or otherwise, (with several of whom he falls in love or lust, or both) are a major part of this novel, the balance of which are the several cases that come to him.  These multiple plot lines arise in different parts of the book, which is as complex as these may make it sound.  But with this master storyteller, that is not a deficit.  The first of these is introduced in the first pages of the book, and she is a gorgeous woman named Marella Herzog, who fits both definitions:  Client and lover.  Their first meeting, when he is aware of a scent she is wearing, causes “a strong reaction in a section of my heart that had almost been forgotten.”   He describes his secretary as having “gray-blue eyes [which] carried all the sadness of the last days of autumn and her voice was so soft that it could have been a memory.”    Another sometime lover is the “color of pure gold that hadn’t been polished for some years,” with hair that was “naturally wavy and darkly blond.”

He thinks “sadness had as many striations as a rainbow – – only in grays.”  The writing is replete with lines like these:  When McGill visits his wife in the hospital, he thinks “I wanted to say something kind, to slap her and tell her to snap out of it.  I would have torn out my hair if I wasn’t already bald.”  McGill, 55, is self-described as an “old, off-the-rack straphanger;” and “it has always amazed me how a woman’s eyes and her words can find a direct line to my animal heart;” when he speaks to a waitress, she smiles at him, and he muses “as had been its purpose since humans became a species, the smile socialized me.”  I briefly had a difficult time recognizing the quote that provides the title of the book, but the author kindly reminded me:  “Sometimes I think that everybody in the world in crazy, except for me and you – – and sometimes I wonder about you.”  The writing throughout is wonderful, but then we expect nothing less from this author, who carries the reader along swiftly on the ride through his newest, 49th novel, and it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

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FalloutFallout
A Tito Ihaka Novel #5
Paul Thomas
Bitter Lemon Press, April 2015
ISBN: 978-1-908-52449-2
Trade Paperback

This sequel to Death on Demand brings the reader back to New Zealand and the Central Police Dept.  There are a number of cops who alternate in prominence in the plot, among them District Commander Finbar McGrail, who, we are told, became Auckland District Commander and developed an appreciation for wine pretty much at the same time.   McGrail is still haunted by a 27-year-old case, his first, when as a new D.I. he investigated the murder of a 17-year-old girl, Polly Stenson.  The investigation comes to a halt less than a year later when the police still have no viable suspects in her killing, coming to the conclusion that she was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Only a year from retirement, he is approached one day by a man who was present at the murder scene at the time in question, and given a lead as to who might have killed Polly.

We then meet former D.I. Johan Van Roon, and the man who had at one time been his mentor:  Maori cop Tito Ihaka, described as “unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane” and “the brown Sherlock Holmes,” the latter having been banished to the hinterlands several years ago after a case which he had stubbornly insisted was a murder, not, as everyone else was convinced, a ‘simple’ hit-and-run accident.  Now a Detective Sergeant, he is asked by McGrail to follow up on the new lead.  Van Roon has left the force in disgrace, now a pariah in the police force and working, when he can find employment, as a private investigator and security consultant.  He is hired to find a man who disappeared right after the Stenson murder, for a very attractive fee.  Events occur in such a way that both Ihaka and Van Roon reopen the cold case to try to find the murderer.

At the same time, Ihaka starts a completely different investigation, one that involves the death of his father, “a union firebrand and renegade Marxist,” decades ago, thought to have been of natural causes.  To make things even more complex, a man with whom his father was involved died in a supposed accident one week later.  Coincidence?  He thinks not.

The author was born in the UK but has lived for most of his life in New Zealand, which is the setting for his novels.  The biggest hurdle for me in this book was with the local vernacular/regional jargon/idiom, as well as the many political discussions, making it somewhat slow reading.  But the complex plot was very interesting, and on the whole the book was enjoyable.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2016.

Book Reviews: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley, Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff, and The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAs Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
A Flavia de Luce Novel #7
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-345-53993-9
Hardcover
Random House Audio, January 2015
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book
Read by Jayne Entwistle

From the publisher—

Banished! is how twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce laments her predicament, when her father and Aunt Felicity ship her off to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, the boarding school that her mother, Harriet, once attended across the sea in Canada. The sun has not yet risen on Flavia’s first day in captivity when a gift lands at her feet. Flavia being Flavia, a budding chemist and sleuth, that gift is a charred and mummified body, which tumbles out of a bedroom chimney. Now, while attending classes, making friends (and enemies), and assessing the school’s stern headmistress and faculty (one of whom is an acquitted murderess), Flavia is on the hunt for the victim’s identity and time of death, as well as suspects, motives, and means. Rumors swirl that Miss Bodycote’s is haunted, and that several girls have disappeared without a trace. When it comes to solving multiple mysteries, Flavia is up to the task—but her true destiny has yet to be revealed.

There are just a handful of series that I never miss these days and this is one of them, largely because I so adore the protagonist but also because I can always depend on the author to offer a truly good book. In the case of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, I was slightly less enthused but certainly not enough to say I didn’t like it.

My discontent stems from the setting of this particular entry. Much of Flavia’s charm comes from her interactions with her family, her father’s “man”, their home, Buckshaw, and their village, Bishop’s Lacey. This time, though, Flavia has been sent to Canada to attend her mother’s boarding school and, to me, it just seemed awkward to have her suddenly isolated from all she has known in her short life. Having said that, Mr. Bradley soon develops some pretty good reasons for Flavia to be in this particular school and, of course, she becomes involved in a death investigation in her quite inimitable way.

As much as I missed those familiar characters, there are certainly some at Miss Bodycote’s that appealed to me in various ways, especially Collingwood, and it doesn’t hurt that a body appears on the scene quite fortuitously, a most welcome distraction for the homesick Flavia.

No matter her circumstances, Flavia cannot be repressed and my only true concern is that I have to wait till September for her next adventure, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d.

Note: I both read the book and listened to the audio edition and, as always, Jayne Entwistle brings Flavia to life and continues to wow me as a wonderful narrator and voice of this charming young girl.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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Huntress MoonHuntress Moon
The Huntress/FBI Thrillers #1
Alexandra Sokoloff
Read by R.C. Bray
Alexandra Sokoloff, May 2014
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of accidents and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states… while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year-old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and he must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

It would be easy to say that if you’ve read one FBI crime novel, you’ve read them all but authors manage to keep finding ways to make their own stories just a little bit different, enough to catch a reader’s attention. In Huntress Moon, I was drawn in by the notion of a female serial killer. In real life, such a person is rare and that’s what makes the idea so interesting, at least for me.

Special Agent Roarke is an appealing protagonist in a number of ways, not least of which are his intelligence and his dogged determination to track down this elusive young woman. What’s surprising is how fascinating she is, especially since we don’t even know her name. Clearly, she has an agenda and she hunts her victims as much as Roarke hunts her; with each new killing, she becomes more real, as it were, perhaps just a little more understandable. It becomes difficult to see her as entirely evil when she meets a young father and his son and, yet, she is a bloodthirsty killer. How she came to be the way she is and Roarke’s pursuit of her are what make this such a fine story.

R.C. Bray is a new narrator to me and, at first, I wasn’t completely on board with him largely because his voices seemed not very distinctive. As the novel wore on, his performance became more satisfying and he has won awards so it was my problem, not his. He is the narrator of the second and third books in the trilogy and I’m looking forward to spending time with him again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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The Sound and the Furry AudioThe Sound and the Furry
A Chet and Bernie Mystery #6
Spencer Quinn
Read by Jim Frangione
Recorded Books, September 2013
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

When Chet and Bernie happen upon a prison work crew that includes Frenchie Boutette, an old criminal pal they sent up the river, getting a new case is the last thing they expect. But Frenchie, who comes from an old Louisiana family full of black sheep, needs help finding his one law-abiding relative, his brother Ralph, a reclusive inventor who has gone missing with his houseboat. Though he’s tempted to take another job (with a big payday) in Alaska, Bernie decides to set course for the bayous of Louisiana, a trip that will introduce Chet to a world of sights, smells, and tastes that are like nothing he’s ever encountered. Out in bayou country, Chet and Bernie meet the no-good Boutette family and their ancient enemies, the maybe-even-worse Robideaus, and at first it seems as if Ralph’s disappearance is connected to a dispute over a load of stolen shrimp. But when Chet uncovers a buried clue, the investigation heads in a dangerous new direction involving the oil business and an impending environmental catastrophe. The more Chet and Bernie discover about Ralph, the more treacherous the job becomes, and soon they’re fighting not only Big Oil, but also shadowy black ops figures, a violent biker gang from back home, and Iko- a legendary bayou gator with a seemingly insatiable appetite. Meanwhile, deep under the Gulf, the pressure just keeps building.

Ah, it’s always so good to be back in the world of Chet and Bernie, two of my all-time favorite detectives, and following them to the bayous of Louisiana was a special treat. If ever a pair were out of their element, this is it and, to make matters worse, they fall right into the middle of a longstanding feud between two less-than-nice families.

What seems at first to be a rather simple case of thievery soon turns out to be much deeper and the missing Ralph, perhaps the only non-criminal in this unruly and menacing bunch, is still missing. Chet and Bernie learn that there’s much more than stolen shrimp going on and these two may be dealing with their most sinister case yet.

As narrator, Chet is a delight as he always is and there were many moments when I found myself grinning out loud, so to speak. I can’t help it, Chet is a terrific storyteller and his ruminations on life are hilarious 😉

There’s definitely a difference between this book and the earlier titles in the series and I think it has to do with atmosphere. Having lived in Louisiana for several years long ago, I can attest to a certain darkness, for lack of a better word, that comes from the insularity of the bayous, a kind of hostility and distrust towards the rest of the world that can lead to an uneasiness not found elsewhere. In contrast, Chet and Bernie’s usual terrain is open, perhaps deceptively so, and one can’t help feeling a little less threatened so these two are definitely in a different world when they go to the bayous.

Speaking of narrators, I always enjoy Jim Frangione as the voice of Chet and The Sound and the Furry is no exception. A good reader can make all the difference and Mr. Frangione really does the job well. He and Spencer Quinn (and the delightful Chet) are a team that can’t be beat.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Book Review: Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn

Scents and SensibilityScents and Sensibility
A Chet and Bernie Mystery #8
Spencer Quinn
Atria Books, July 2015
ISBN:978-1-4767-0342-8
Hardcover

If there’s anyone out there in Readerland who hasn’t tuned into the Bernie and Chet mysteries, I’ve got one thing to say to you: Why not?

Okay, so the adventures are written up by Chet, the dog—also known as Chet the Jet for his unique abilities—and he sometimes has memory problems, but don’t let that stop you. Chet can’t count beyond two, either, but it doesn’t keep him from being an Einstein of sorts. Anyway, Chet and Bernie Little are partners in the Little Detective Agency, and when these two are on a case, you can be sure the perp is going to wind up breaking rocks in the hot sun, often with tooth marks on his ankle. I didn’t say the path to justice runs easy for this pair. There’s always someone trying to take them out, and in Scents and Sensibility, they’re both in for a hard time.

Bernie and Chet have been away from their California desert home, solving tricky cases in Louisiana and Washington D.C. Now they’re back, only to find their neighbors, an old couple named Parsons, in deep trouble. Mrs. Parsons is in the hospital in a bad way when the cops arrest Mr. Parsons for stealing, and transplanting a giant saguaro cactus into his yard, the saguaro being a protected species. The person in charge isn’t about to give the old man a break, either. But is he the real criminal? As if that isn’t enough, Chet smells his best friend’s, Iggy Parsons, a little dog, scent in his house. And then he and Bernie discover their most valuable object, an antique watch, is missing. How this all intertwines when they find the officer murdered is a real puzzler. Good thing Chet and Bernie are up to the task.

I adore this series. Great characterization—yes, even of the dog. Especially of the dog. I love the way it shows the mutual bond between man and his partner canine. The underlying mystery is, as always, center stage. There’s always derring do and great peril. And in this story, the ending will leave you on pins and needles, panting for the next one. I, for one, can hardly wait.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Reviews: As Night Falls by Jenny Milchman and Dance of the Bones by J. A. Jance

As Night FallsAs Night Falls
Jenny Milchman
Ballantine Books, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-553-39481-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sandy Tremont has always tried to give her family everything. But, as the sky darkens over the Adirondacks and a heavy snowfall looms, an escaped murderer with the power to take it all away draws close.

In her isolated home in the shadowy woods, Sandy prepares dinner after a fight with her daughter, Ivy. Upstairs, the fifteen-year-old—smart, brave, and with every reason to be angry tonight—keeps her distance from her mother. Sandy’s husband, Ben, a wilderness guide, arrives late to find a home simmering with unease.

Nearby, two desperate men on the run make their way through the fading light, bloodstained and determined to leave no loose ends or witnesses. After almost twenty years as prison cellmates, they have become a deadly team: Harlan the muscle, Nick the mind and will. As they approach a secluded house and look through its windows to see a cozy domestic scene, Nick knows that here he will find what he’s looking for . . . before he disappears forever.

Opening the door to the Tremont home, Nick brings not only a legacy of terror but a secret that threatens to drag Sandy with him into the darkness.

As Night Falls is Jenny Milchman‘s third book set in the Adirondacks area and, with this book, she confirms that no one does a better job at making the weather a major character. The middle book doesn’t really have that focus but Cover of Snow and As Night Falls are simply brilliant in their evocation of bonecrushing cold, enhanced by depths of snow that I’ll never see here in Virginia. And the snow never seems to go away, making me feel as though I’m buried in a snowbank with no hope of escape. And, yet, I’m driven to keep reading because I know the author is going to make it worth my while.

In As Night Falls, Ms. Milchman introduces a new element that I find as compelling as the weather and that’s the house. I just cannot imagine a house that would unnerve me as much as this one does. The heavy silence from room to room, the knowledge that no one would hear if something went wrong with the building or one of the residents had an accident, such as falling down the stairs, or intruders forced their way in is mindboggling to me. I don’t get the allure at all and, if I were Sandy Tremont, I’d have to question my husband’s sanity in wanting to live in such a house, especially when it’s out in the boonies where you can’t even hope that a passerby might notice that something is wrong.

Ah, but this is the beauty of Ms. Milchman‘s work, the ability to make her readers so uncomfortable that they must go on to find out how—or if—her characters will find a way to survive. Where Sandy is concerned, the house and the weather make her circumstances even more frightening than they would have been anyway.

Sandy herself is an interesting woman even before we know the truth of her past. I did find her more than a bit ingenuous, thinking that she could escape it forever, but I understood her wanting to once I knew the facts. Still, although Sandy is the purported focus of the story, it’s Ivy that I really came to love. This girl is just like every other teenaged girl who loves her parents but is trying to find her own place in the world and is fighting to be seen as capable of making her own choices. Ivy resonated with me in many ways, not least of which is the connection she forms with one of the bad guys and her sense of betrayal when she learns her mother’s secret.

Then there are the bad guys. They’re both surprising in that Nick intends to be vindictive and vicious but seems to be a little reluctant while Harlan is sort of a very damaged child with remnants of his once-caring soul. He is a tragedy all by himself. When these two men invade the Tremont home, life will change forever for everyone involved and, between beginning and end, the suspense grabs the reader by the throat. Well done, Ms. Milchman!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

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Dance of the BonesDance of the Bones
A J. P. Beaumont and Brandon Walker Novel
J. A. Jance
William Morrow, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-229766-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Years ago, Amos Warren, a prospector, was gunned down out in the desert and Sheriff Brandon Walker made the arrest in the case. Now, the retired Walker is called in when the alleged killer, John Lassiter, refuses to accept a plea deal that would release him from prison with time served. Lassiter wants Brandon and The Last Chance to find Amos’s “real” killer and clear his name.

Sixteen hundred miles to the north in Seattle, J.P. Beaumont is at loose ends after the Special Homicide Investigation Team, affectionately known as S.H.I.T., has been unexpectedly and completely disbanded. When Brandon discovers that there are links between Lassiter’s case and an unsolved case in Seattle, he comes to Beau for help.

Those two cases suddenly become hot when two young boys from the reservation, one of them with close ties to the Walker family, go missing. Can two seasoned cops, working together, decipher the missing pieces in time to keep them alive?

I’ve enjoyed J. A. Jance‘s books for a long time, especially the ones featuring J.P. Beaumont, but hadn’t tried her Brandon Walker series so I thought Dance of the Bones would be a great way to “meet” Walker while spending a little time with Beau.  As things turned out, I sort of bought into their collaboration but, on the whole, it didn’t work as well for me as it could have.

The core of the story is a good one, linking a murder from years past to an ongoing case and also linking two very different locales. The introduction of a group that investigates cold cases off the books is an extra added attraction but I think it also might be at the root of my general discontent because there are just too many people involved to keep track of. Throw in a missing persons case and there’s way too much going on, making things rather cumbersome.

I did like the time Beau is on the page but there’s not enough of him and he actually could have been left out without causing much harm to the tale. As for Brandon Walker, I like him and I like his involvement with The Last Chance so I do intend to go back to the beginning and read more about the Walker family. I should note also that I enjoy learning about Native American lore but a little goes a long way and there was just a bit too much of it in Dance of the Bones, to the point of being distracting.

When all is said and done, the mystery parts of the novel kept me interested but they were overshadowed by the weaknesses I’ve mentioned. I’ll say, however, that every author makes the occasional misstep and, for me, this one was it but I think many readers will be very pleased with this outing. As for me, I’ll look forward with great anticipation to Ms. Jance‘s next book, Clawback, which happens to be in the Ali Reynolds series and is due out in March 2016. While I wait for that one, though, I think I’ll check out No Honor Among Thieves, the novella that brings Ali and Joanna Brady together. Maybe this alliance will suit me better 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.