Book Review: House of Desire by Margaret Lucke @MargaretLucke @OakledgePress1

House of Desire
A Claire Scanlan Haunted House Mystery
Margaret Lucke
Oakledge Press, June  2020
ISBN: 978-1-939030-06-1
Trade Paperback

A haunted house story is always fun, and when it’s mixed with time-travel, murder, and ghosts, the whole spectrum is covered. In House of Desire, the precept is intriguing. A grand old Victorian mansion has passed into the hands of the present generation heirs. Though none want the house as a home, one wants to sell to a developer; one wants to sell to a museum that will preserve the house and its history; one doesn’t know what to do. Her heart votes for the museum, her head tells her she needs the most money. Meanwhile, the sales reps negotiating for the museum are hosting a big bash to raise funds for the preservation, which the developer also attends. And then a man is murdered. The odd thing is, no one seems to have a motive.

Claire Scanlon is one of the agents advocating for the museum, but she is more than that. A psychic (although I’m not sure she meets the exact criteria for that) when she meets a young woman on the mansion’s stairs, she soon realizes the girl, Roxane, is invisible to everyone but her. What is Roxane’s story? Why is she here? Why is she wearing the same necklace Claire has on? And why is she so afraid? Claire will have to travel into the past to discover the answers to these questions, and discover the present day murderer.

The novel is written with four different points of view, something that occasionally becomes a bit clunky. Although this book is evidently part of a series, I didn’t find Claire’s character especially strong as the heroine. And although I went back and reread parts, the answer to how Roxane and Claire had the same necklace was never answered. Since I read an ARC, perhaps that is addressed in the final version. I hope so. Loved the setting of a house of ill-repute and found its denizens excellent; the current characters not so much.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2020.
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Reviews: The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon, Bears With Us by Marilyn Meredith, Triple Shot by Sandra Balzo, and A Perilous Conception by Larry Karp

The Twisted Thread
Charlotte Bacon
Hyperion/Voice, June 2011
ISBN 978-1401341503
Trade Paperback

Madeline Christopher has landed a job at Armitage Academy.  Armitage is a prestigious school with many traditions but some of the traditions are not common knowledge among the faculty.  When Claire Harkness is found dead in her dorm room, the investigation brings some of these secret traditions to light.

Madeline is one of the first to view Claire’s body and was shocked that it appeared that Claire might have just given birth.   Madeline’s intuitions turn out to be accurate but the baby has disappeared. Not only is Armitage faced with the death of a very popular student but a student who has managed to keep her pregnancy hidden from the faculty.  Only a few trusted friends were aware that Claire was pregnant.

The only student deaths that Armitage had experienced were that of three other students.  One student died in a car accident, one died of leukemia and another in a climbing accident.  Now the police were out on the campus in full force.  Both the students and the faculty were in turmoil.

Three of the students came to Madeline’s room frightened and unsure what to do.  The students confided in Madeline about a secret society that Claire and her friends were involved in.  As soon as they confided they were sorry that they had revealed their secret and pressed Madeline not to report their conversation to the police.

The detective in charge of the investigation was a former Armitage student now employed by the police department.  Madeline was quick to fill in the police on the information that had been revealed to her in spite of the warnings she received.

This is a book that takes a good long look at college life and the teachers committed to educating children.  The end was a surprise for this reader.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2011.


Bears With Us
Tempe Crabtree Mystery Series
Marilyn Meredith
Mundania Press, LLC, August 2011
ISBN 978-1606592649
Trade Paperback

Bears are all over Bear Creek, the small mountain community in the southern Sierra where Tempe Crabtree lives with her husband Hutch.   Hutch is a pastor in the local church.  Tempe is a deputy in the small community and it seems she is being called out so much that she hardly has time to eat or sleep.  The bears are preparing for their period of hibernation but are having a hard time finding sufficient food so a few have decided that they will forage for food wherever they can.   Tempe has been called when a bear is tearing up a Bear Creek resident’s kitchen and helping itself to whatever is available in the refrigerator and creating quite a mess.   A local apple orchard attracts a bear that is dead set on eating the entire crop before the owner of the orchard can get the apples picked and sent to market.  Some new residents of the community find a bear on their deck enjoying a nice big roast.  A bear even tries to get into the local school.

But it isn’t all about bears.   Tempe is called to the home of a new family who has moved into the community.  Their son has committed suicide.  Although Hutch, serving in his capacity as a minister, tries to offer comfort and help to the family he is not very well received.  The family is acting very strangely and seems to want the death of their son kept very quiet.

The mother of a young girl calls upon Tempe to investigate the young man her daughter wants to date.  That isn’t exactly in the line of duty for Tempe but she tries to reassure the mother that the boy is a nice young man and well liked in the community.  When Hutch invites the daughter to attend his youth group and the young man is in the group the girl’s mother decides to file a complaint with Tempe’s boss.

The most tragic of the episodes that Tempe becomes involved in is that of an older woman who is suffering from dementia.  The woman keeps wandering away from home.  The first few incidents turn out okay but finally the woman wanders too far and Tempe has to try to figure out what has happened to the woman.

This new Tempe Crabtree novel brings Hutch into the action.  If you want a few tips on how to keep a bear away from your residence and your food this is the book for you.  A very entertaining way to learn bear habits and understand what it is like to work in a small community as a Deputy.  When a hitman attempts to harm a local resident, it is even more dangerous than trying to scare away a big bear.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2011.


Triple Shot
A Maggy Thorsen Mystery
Sandra Balzo
Severn House Publishers, LTD, December 2011
ISBN 978-0727880796

There is story after story written about the Mafia.  Many of the stories are fact and have been proven true.  Others are tales that have been passed around by word of mouth and might have some basis in fact but are mostly legends.

Maggy Thorsen and her partner Sarah Kingston have Uncommon Grounds, their Brookhills coffee house up and running in the town’s historic train station.  The current specialty at Uncommon Grounds is the store’s autumn drink, Triple Shot, a drink full of caffeine and sugar. Customers coming into the coffee house are complaining about the odor.  Although Maggy and Tien Romano, a coffee house employee, have investigated the source of the odor remains a mystery until Sarah remembers the waiting room underneath the coffee house. This is a special waiting room designed for members of the Mafia to wait for the trains to Chicago without having to associate with any of the other travelers.

When Ward Chitown, a faded Chicago television personality, arrives in town to film a show,   He joins Sarah and Maggy in the investigation of the waiting room.   The group discovers the corpse of Brigid Ferndale, a sales apprentice for Sarah’s Kingston Realty.  Jake Pavlik, Maggy’s boyfriend, is not at all surprised to find that Maggy has found a corpse. She seems to have an uncanny ability to stumble into situations that other people would run from.  Pavlik has been investigating the deaths of a couple of real estate brokers who have met their death while showing homes and he feels that this victim is another to add to the list.

Ward Chitown is quite excited about finding Brigid’s corpse since he thinks it will add something to his show on “The Brookhills Massacre”.   He plans to televise the incident that occurred years ago at a local restaurant where the FBI broke up a Mafia meeting and lots of money disappeared.

Maggy can’t help sticking her nose in the investigation and although she finds facts that will help Pavlick, she puts herself in a lot of danger.  Her maneuvers make for good reading.  This is a good addition to the Maggy Thorsen series.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, December 2011.


A Perilous Conception
Larry Karp
Poisoned Pen Press, December 2011
ISBN No. 978-1590589731
Also available in trade paperback

In vitro fertilization is a common occurrence now but in 1975, the subject was very controversial.  Dr. Colin Sanford, an obstetrician in Emerald, Washington, is determined to be the first doctor to produce a baby by this method.  He has recruited Dr. Giselle Hearn, a laboratory geneticist-embryologist to work with him.  Because of Hearn’s department chair, their work must remain a secret.  Joyce Kennett, a patient of Dr. Sanford, is determined to have a baby.  With the help of Sanford and Hearn, Kennett gives birth to a healthy baby boy.

Dr. Sanford has assured Kennett that when he is in a position to make a public announcement about the baby’s birth, there will be no end to the publicity and Kennett will gain financially through the publicity.

However, before any announcement can be made, James Kennett, Joyce’s husband and the baby’s father, goes on a shooting spree, kills Dr. Hearn, and then kills himself.  This is where Detective Ernie Baumgartner steps in and determines to discover what motivated James Kennett to murder a doctor and then commit suicide.

The reader hears the story from the viewpoint of Dr. Colin Sanford as well as from the viewpoint of Detective Baumgartner.  Detective Baumgartner’s superiors keep pressing him to close the case since they feel it is obvious that James Kennett is simply a man who suffered a mental breakdown but Baumgartner is sure there is much, much more to the story.  Not only risking the wrath of his superiors Baumgartner neglects his wife to the point where she leaves him and he has to beg a place to sleep from an old acquaintance.

Larry Karp, in my opinion, has written an outstanding and intriguing book.  A Perilous Conception is a mystery I am very glad I read and would recommend the book as an exciting read.  The conclusion is a surprising and satisfying end to this excellent book.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, January 2012.

Book Review: Murder Half-Baked by Kathleen Delaney

Murder Half BakedMurder Half-Baked
Kathleen Delaney
Camel Press, May 2011
ISBN 978-1-60381-828-5
Trade Paperback

Real estate agent Ellen McKenzie is in the midst of preparations for her wedding to Dan Dunham, the local police chief, and has to contend with the horror of a wedding dress, ruffled hoopskirt and all, her mother has sent to this forty-something bride. The wedding is just a few weeks away, finding a caterer is proving to be the seemingly impossible dream and there’s a problem with the wedding cake, a big problem.  Thanks to Ellen’s and Dan’s moms, the guest list is growing past the point of no return and even the flowers aren’t going to be what Ellen wanted.

In the meantime, Grace House, a home for women who are in a difficult time in their lives and in need of some assistance, is bursting at the seams. Ellen has been asked to sell the current house and find a bigger one, not an easy task in the currently stressed real estate market.  Dr. Owen Sadler’s wife, Francis, left a legacy to Grace House and, if  Owen donates more as expected, the board of directors will have the funds needed to pay for a new location.

Unfortunately, Dr. Sadler won’t be making that donation. There is no shortage of people who don’t like the unpleasant man and one of them has apparently bashed his head in at the cemetery.  Not long after, Grace House burns to the ground and arson is suspected.  Dan and Ellen offer their home as a temporary haven for the residents of Grace House and that puts Ellen right in the middle of the investigation whether Dan likes it or not.

Murder Half-Baked would seem, on the surface, to be in the “cozy” subgenre but that label doesn’t quite do full justice to this story.  Much attention is paid to the grim facts of domestic violence and dark family secrets and the author blends those themes well with the usual cozy attributes. The result is appealing and a bit edgy. I must also commend the author, and perhaps her editor, for a job well done when it comes to writing style and the quality of the actual product—what a pleasure it is to read a good story with attention paid to such pesky details as grammar and spelling!

Delaney has given her fans a nice follow-up to And Murder for Dessert and I will look forward to the next in the series as well as the first in the new series she has making the rounds with her agent.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2011.