Book Reviews: A Strange Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray and The Gardener’s Secret by Jamie Cortland

A Strange Scottish Shore
Emmeline Truelove #2
Juliana Gray
Berkley, September 2017
ISBN 978-0-425-277089
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Scotland, 1906. A mysterious object discovered inside an ancient castle calls Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia, and his fellow researcher Emmeline Truelove north to the remote Orkney Islands. No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing that, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea and married the castle’s first laird.
 
But Haywood and Truelove soon realize they’re not the only ones interested in the selkie’s strange hide. When their mutual friend Lord Silverton vanishes in the night from an Edinburgh street, their quest takes a dangerous turn through time, which puts Haywood’s extraordinary talents—and Truelove’s courage—to their most breathtaking test yet.

After Miss Emmeline Truelove sets off by train to Scotland to join her employer and colleague, Max Haywood, the late Queen Victoria appears, not an unusual occurrence, to warn her that she’s being followed, no surprise to Emmeline. Then, her friend and would-be suitor, Marquess Frederick Silverton, boards the same train and chases after the stranger who jumps off. Clearly, we’re off on an adventure.

An odd man named Hunter Spillane later disappears after attacking Emmeline and Max at a house party in Scotland. When James Magnusson, Earl of Thurso, shows them a box found in a castle’s ruins, the mystery deepens and yet holds a hint of their own recent past. Affairs of the heart and Emmeline’s visions of her deceased father and the late Queen add to the mystery they must solve without undue attention from others.

In a blend of mystery and fantasy, people literally come and go through centuries in a time-traveling kind of vortex as the puzzle begins to come clear and a beautiful woman named Helen tells an incredible tale. The story itself is highly entertaining but it’s the various characters who really engaged me and kept me turning pages. Now, I need to find the first book and do some catching up.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Gardener’s Secret
Jamie Cortland
World Castle Publishing, June 2017
ISBN 978-1629897318
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Vince Giardini is believed to have perished in a plane crash over the Rockies, his beautiful wife, Dannie, becomes the target of handsome and charismatic, Eddie Haywood who is a psychopath with a borderline personality disorder. After discovering she needs a gardener and a handyman to care for her mansion on AIA, he applies for the position.

As his fascination with her intensifies, he vows to make her his one way or another and he begins to stalk her. Danni knows she is being stalked, especially after the break-in. Alone, without Vince, she has no one to save her from Eddie’s devious plans except her friends, Sal Catalano, her husband’s partner and Peter Langley.

A plane crash sets the tone for this tale that drips menace on the page, particularly when Eddie Haywood sets his sights on Danni Giardini. Eddie is the kind of man who makes women shudder, not only because we know what he is but also because of his public persona that keeps his nature hidden. It’s the kind of facade that we fear because it’s so easy to not really see the monster beneath.

Occasional inconsistencies pulled me out of the story such as the time when Danni rushes to meet her friend, Lainey, because she’s late for their lunch date but she stops at a coffee shop and reads part of the newspaper. Also, Danni can be annoying, with a sense of entitlement that comes from being rich and bored. Another example is when Sal, Vince’s partner, flies from Denver to Palm Beach hoping to give the bad news to Danni before the airline does. Why on earth would anyone do that, knowing a telephone call is almost certainly going to reach her first? As it turns out, there was no help for it since she was away from her home and her phone but he didn’t know that. There’s also a scene in which a pregnant woman drinks wine and there’s no indication from her or the man with her that this is just a once a week thing.

Despite content and editing flaws of this sort, the tale moves along, building suspense about the missing man, the one who wants to do harm and, eventually, a murdered woman. Tension rachets up a few chapters in and, for the rest of the book, the main thing that threw me off was something that I expect might be more common in romance books than in the genres I’m used to. I can’t say what it is without spoiling but it had to do with the interactions of certain characters and, since I rarely read romance per se, I’m not holding it against The Gardener’s Secret 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Book Review: Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers—and a Giveaway!

Thief’s Mark
A Sharpe & Donovan Novel #8
Carla Neggers
MIRA, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-778-33031-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

A murder in a quiet English village, long-buried secrets and a man’s search for answers about his traumatic past entangle FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan in the latest edge-of-your-seat Sharpe & Donovan novel 

As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.  

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma’s grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the likable, reclusive Englishman, an expert in Celtic mythology and international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at York’s country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished. 

As the danger mounts, new questions arise about Oliver’s account of his boyhood trauma. Do Emma and Colin dare trust him? With the trail leading beyond Oliver’s small village to Ireland, Scotland and their own turf in the United States, the stakes are high, and Emma and Colin must unravel the decades-old tangle of secrets and lies before a killer strikes again.  

My favorite mystery setting, an English village, and a pair of FBI agents who are definitely out of their geographic element…what more could I want? Throw in an art thief (which I’ve always found fun and exciting, probably because these art thieves are daring and, well, sort of James Bond-ish, even the women) and a heinous crime from the past and the stage is set for an engrossing read.

Emma’s grandfather is an art detective in the private collector realm and has a strange tale for Emma and Colin. It seems that he’s had a break-in by someone apparently interested in items connected to one Oliver York. To add a little more mystique, Oliver used to be an accomplished art thief but then became an MI5 agent. Emma and Colin have years-long ties to Oliver through both of his professions but, when a dead man is found at his home, the case becomes ever-expanding and eventually involves multiple countries and law enforcement organizations.

While this is part of the Sharpe & Donovan series, it’s essentially a standalone and focuses largely on Oliver. He is a fascinating man and he makes it easy to understand why cops and robbers sometimes can’t help liking and even respecting each other. Emma and Colin are a delightful couple as well as being really good agents and Oliver’s colleague, Henrietta, is a force of nature but it’s Wendell, Emma’s grandfather, who really stole my heart. All in all, Thief’s Mark was a grand introduction, for me, to this series and the rest of the books are going on my wishlist right now.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Purchase Links:

         

    

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About the Author

Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, including her popular Sharpe and Donovan and Swift River Valley series. Her books have been translated into 24 languages and sold in over 35 countries. A frequent traveler to Ireland, Carla lives with her family in New England. To learn more and to sign up for her newsletter, visit CarlaNeggers.com.

Connect with Carla:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Follow the tour here.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers
, just leave
a
comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Friday
night,
September 22nd and the book will be sent
out after the tour ends. This drawing is

open to residents of the US and Canada.

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Book Review: Blood, Salt, Water by Denise Mina

blood-salt-waterBlood, Salt, Water
An Alex Morrow Novel #5
Denise Mina
Back Bay Books, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-316-38056-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  A wealthy businesswoman disappears from her Glasgow home without a trace, leaving her husband and children panicked but strangely resistant to questioning.  Tracing the woman’s cell phone records, police detective Alex Morrow discovers a call made from an unlikely location.  A sleepy seaside community, Helensburgh is the last place you’d go looking for violence.  But Morrow’s investigation uncovers disturbing clues and a dead body in a nearby lake.  When a connection to someone close to her surfaces, the case gets more personal than she could have imagined.

In this newest book featuring DI Alex Morrow, she is assisted by DCs McGrain and Thankless [the anticipated jokes I looked for never appearing, surprisingly], working out of the London Road Police Station of Police Scotland.  There is a lot made of the upcoming referendum on independence, with every inhabitant apparently wearing stickers identifying which side they were on.

There are a number of men and women introduced who indulge in local crime, many of them having spent time in prison.  It became a bit difficult to distinguish among them after a while, I must admit.  One who stands out, however, is Danny McGrath, Morrow’s half-brother, “a well-known and feared Glasgow gangster until he was sentenced to eight years for conspiracy to commit murder . . . who was carrying on his business vicariously from prison,” who appears almost exclusively in Morrow’s preoccupation with him.  “They all knew that the black economy was essential.  Men like Danny were responsible for twenty percent of global GDP. If justice was done and they were all imprisoned, the world economy would collapse.  Civilisations would fall.”

The title references the two substances, salt and water, that can wash away the first of them, blood.

The novel is engrossing, although I found this entry in the series somewhat hard to follow, as were its characters.  However, this author always provides interesting narratives, and as all her earlier novels, it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.

Short Story Review: The Piper by Charles Todd

the-piperThe Piper
An Inspector Ian Rutledge Story #19.5
Charles Todd
Witness Impulse, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-06-2678096
Ebook

 

From the publisher—

Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge returns shell shocked from the trenches of World War I, tormented by the spirit of Hamish MacLeod, the young soldier he executed on the battlefield. Now, Charles Todd features Hamish himself in this compelling, stand-alone short story.

Before the Great War, Hamish is farmer in the Scottish Highlands, living in a small house on the hillside and caring for a flock of sheep he inherited from his grandmother. When one spring evening he hears a faint cry ringing across the glen, Hamish sets out in the dark to find the source. Near the edge of the loch he spots a young boy laying wounded, a piper’s bag beside him. Hamish brings the piper to his home to stay the night and tends to his head wound, but by the time Hamish wakes the boy has fled. He tracks the footsteps in pursuit of the injured lad and finds him again collapsed in the grasses—now dead.

Who was the mysterious piper, and who was seeking his death? As Hamish scours the countryside for answers, he finds that few of his neighbors are as honest as he, and that until he uncovers a motive, everyone, including Hamish, is a suspect.

As a longtime fan of this series by Charles Todd, I’m hardpressed to find much fault with this short story but there is one thing I must mention—this is billed as “An Inspector Ian Rutledge Story” but that is very misleading as Ian Rutledge is not in this story at all. I have no idea why the publisher chose to do that except that it’s a way to identify it with the Ian Rutledge series.

This is a simple little story that gives a bit of background on Hamish MacLeod, the young World War I soldier who will later come to haunt Ian Rutledge. I enjoyed having this window into Hamish’s life as a Highlands farmer and his compulsion to discover who the murdered teen is and why anyone would want him dead. While the sleuthing is interesting, the real star of the show is the setting; no one evokes time and place better than Charles Todd and this story really pulled me into the wildness of the Highlands, particularly during the storm.

The second half of this novella is the first two chapters of the next full-length book, Racing the Devil. I didn’t read that because I learned long ago that I don’t like reading teaser chapters. Inevitably, when I finally get to read the book, I think I already did because I remember the teaser, but I have no doubt this will be another fine addition to the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2017.

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

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About the Authors

charles-toddCharles Todd is the New York Times bestselling author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, the Bess Crawford mysteries, and two stand-alone novels. A mother-and-son writing team, they live on the East Coast.

Catch Up with the latest Charles Todd news on their Website, Twitter & Facebook.

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Follow the tour:

02/01 Showcase @ A Bookworms Journal
02/02 Guest post @ Mythical Books
02/02 Showcase @ The Way I See It
02/03 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
02/04 Showcase @ The Pen and Muse Book Reviews
02/05 Showcase @ A Dream Within A Dream
02/06 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
02/06 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
02/07 Review @ Buried Under Books
02/08 Showcase @ 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, &, Sissy, Too!
02/10 Review @ A Bookaholic Swede
02/15 Review @ Beths Book-Nook Blob
02/17 Showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
02/20 Showcase @ A Holland Reads
02/22 Review/Interview/Showcase @ CMash Reads
02/26 Review @ WTF ARE YOU READING?
02/28 Review @ Reading Is My SuperPower

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Partners in Crime Book Tours

Book Review: The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan—and a Giveaway!

the-bookshop-on-the-cornerThe Bookshop on the Corner
Jenny Colgan
William Morrow, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-246725-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling.

From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

Sometimes a book just reaches out to you because it triggers things within, you know? No one who knows anything about me will be surprised that I wanted this one, considering my past as a bookshop owner, but there was another enticement pulling me in….one of my all-time favorite countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting is Scotland. So, I ask you, did I have any hope of resisting? In fact, as the Borg would say, “resistance is futile” 😉

Just a side note before I forget: this book is also available in hardcover but, if you think the synopsis sounds a little familiar, it came out back in February in the UK under a different title, The Little Shop of Happy Ever After.

Ahh, Nina, what a lovely protagonist. She is by turns overly shy, brave, vulnerable, adventurous, a little sad with life and especially with the closing of the library, and full of quixotic hope for her future. Nina overcomes her reluctance to stand out in the world and throws caution to the wind, reinventing herself while she brings treasure to a small corner of Scotland. She personifies librarians and booksellers everywhere with her passion to share the right book with the right reader.

So, Nina sets out to Scotland to the little village of Kirrinfief, a place where people are mostly content but don’t know what they’ve been missing until Nina brings books back to the community. Slowly but surely, Nina finds her new home and heart and is surrounded by folks who take in this newcomer and perhaps give back as much as they’re getting.

Another side note: Ms. Colgan includes a Message to Readers that’s an absolute must-read. Trust me, don’t skip over this even if you’re so inclined—you will be rewarded 😉

I’m adding this to my favorite books read in 2016 list and it may just be #1 because it gave me pleasure in so many ways including charming characters and a setting…and dream…that took me back in time in my own life. The Bookshop on the Corner is my introduction to Jenny Colgan but it certainly won’t be the last book I read by her. She has an extensive backlist and I intend to get started on it ASAP.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

  Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Amazon

HarperCollins | Indiebound

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About the Author

jenny-colganJenny Colgan is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including Little Beach Street Bakery, Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop, and Christmas at the Cupcake Café, all international bestsellers. Jenny is married with three children and lives in London and Scotland.

Find out more about Jenny at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Follow the tour:

Tuesday, September 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Wednesday, September 21st: I Wish I Lived in a Library

Thursday, September 22nd: Lesa’s Book Critiques

Friday, September 23rd: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Monday, September 26th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Tuesday, September 27th: Kahakai Kitchen

Wednesday, September 28th: Wall-to-Wall Books

Thursday, September 29th: Buried Under Books

Monday, October 3rd: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, October 4th: BookNAround

Wednesday, October 5th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

Thursday, October 6th: Melissa Lee’s Many Reads

Friday, October 7th: A Bookish Affair

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I’d love to send somebody my very
gently used print advance reading
copy of The Bookshop on the Corner.
Leave a comment below and I’ll draw
the winning name on Sunday evening,
October 2nd. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Reviews: The Yid by Paul Goldberg and Burning Down George Orwell’s House by Andrew Ervin

The YidThe Yid
Paul Goldberg
Picador, February 2016
ISBN 978-1-2500-7903-9
Hardcover

A very different novel is this.  Extremely well researched, a flight of fancy, original in form and content.  It chronicles the history of Soviet Russia from World War I to the death of Stalin in three acts starring an odd collection of characters ranging from an elderly Yiddish actor to a Yiddish surgeon and a Black Yiddish-speaking American engineer.  The novel takes place in a week following a late night attempt to arrest the actor, who turns the tables on the three security personnel by killing them.  This was at a time when Stalin was planning a “final solution” to the Jewish “problem,” planning to collect the minority population, pack them in cattle cars and ship them out of the Soviet Union.  It was also the period during which the so-called “doctor’s plot” was in the news: a group of Jewish doctors were arrested and accused of plotting the murder of Soviet officials.

The actor, Solomon Levinson, is soon joined by the surgeon, engineer and others, and conceives a plot to prevent Stalin’s massive pogrom by assassinating him, cutting off the head of the serpent.  In the intervening days the group debates, remembers the past, trades banter on a variety of subjects, from Shakespeare and Pushkin to anti-Semitism and racism and the broken promises of Socialism.  The novel is strewn with Yiddish phrases and poetry (conveniently translated).

For a debut novel, The Yid is most original, a flight of fancy based on reality, filled with excellent dialogue and innovative characters.  It has to be read to be appreciated, and it is hoped this suggestion is well taken.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2016.

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Burning Down George Orwell's HouseBurning Down George Orwell’s House
Andrew Ervin
Soho Press, April 2016
ISBN 97-1-6169-5652–6
Trade Paperback

This introspective debut novel chronicles the ups and downs in the life of Ray Welter, a farm boy who rose to the top of his profession until his inner self caught up with him.  Then he tossed it all away in effort to escape everything he had left behind in Chicago: a high-paying advertising job, a wife, and a way of life with which he had increasingly become disenchanted.  He takes off to the Scottish Isle of Jura.  And rents, for six months (with the last of his funds which he hopes to spend before his wife grabs the money in the divorce settlement), the cottage where George Orwell wrote and finished the satirical novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The inhabitants of Jura are an eccentric bunch, protective of each other and their way of life, especially disdainful of outsiders, tourists and the like.  Ray’s intrusion sets up many amusing situations.  That Inner Hebrides island is known for its single malt scotch, and Ray consumes a prodigious amount in an effort to either lose or find himself.  In the meantime, not only does he have to cope with his own troubles but also deal with the foibles and problems arising from the various characters in the community.

The author uses comedy to mask the seriousness of the novel, which deeply probes Ray’s thinking, seeking to define the good and bad of his life as he knows it and distilling the results until Ray can reach an inner peace.  It is quite an achievement, rarely seen in a first effort.  Can Ray reach his nirvana?  Read and enjoy the book, which is highly recommended, and find out.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2016.

Book Reviews: The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway and Unfed by Kirsty McKay

The Magician's DaughterThe Magician’s Daughter
A Valentine Hill Mystery
Judith Janeway
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0338-1
Hardcover

It is rare for a reviewer of crime fiction to encounter a truly fresh protagonist with a unique voice. Reviewers are reluctant to say so because we haven’t read everything, but I’m sticking my neck out here to suggest Valentine Hill, a busking, itinerant street magician with heady aspirations, is that character. She’s blunt, honest to a fault, scrappy, young and aggressive when necessary. She’s in Las Vegas as the tale begins, in the middle of a nine-year search for her mother. Not out of love, but because of some vital missing information in her life. Valentine wants a social security number and she wants to know her birthdate, her father’s name and where she was born. Her mother, Elizabeth is a grifter, highly adaptable, a consummate but amoral actress who used and abused her daughter, Valentine, in prior scams.

Valentine has learned from those experiences and become an honest magician, struggling through life. She learns her mother is probably in San Francisco. Her plans to go there are upset by her companion who steals her stash and disappears. When Valentine tracks her mother to an apartment in Pacific Heights, her world dissolves into mayhem, murder, multiple law enforcement operations and several characters who are not what they seem.

The novel is relentless, positing solution after explanation that dissolve almost as rapidly as they are presented, leaving the reader guessing as much as does poor Valentine. But then, even as the danger escalates, things begin to sort themselves and some really bad guys get conned out of their shorts. A fast, coherent, fully enjoyable novel featuring a young, vibrant protagonist. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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UnfedUnfed
Kirsty McKay
Chicken House, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-53672-1
Hardcover

Beginning with our main character waking from a coma to devastating news; totally unrelated to the current crisis: roaming diseased humans (whose behaviors suspiciously mimic those of the Late-Night-Movie Zombies); I certainly did not think, “Wow, this is going to be a fun read!”. Intriguing, fast-paced, action-adventure: sure; fun, no.

I was so very, very wrong. I find myself still ridiculously impressed and pleased that Ms. McKay presented Bobby’s story in such a fashion. This sequel to Undead is consuming. Comprised of small, deliberate mysteries, complete with obscure, baffling clues; this reader’s mind never strayed.

The display of dynamics within the small group of teens, forced together, just to have a glimmer of hope against the Zombie-like crowd is spot-on. Underlying currents: wariness, jealously, admiration, fear and sadness, swirl around the characters, twisting, enveloping and confusing. Churning emotions decrease focus, increase discord, frustration and distrust.

With the action-adventure aspect of physical battles between teens and Zoms, the mystery of where Bobby’s best friend, Smitty, is hiding (assuming he is still alive); never-minding the why of Bobby’s mom abandoning her; comatose, alone in a strange hospital, and pants-less; to run off and hide Smitty; it is so easy to be drawn in and invested in the tale. With the shocking revelation that The Enemy is quite likely made up of both Good Guys and Bad Guys, it becomes nearly impossible to stop reading.

These attributes are almost secondary to Ms. McKay’s charming and delightful writing style. As if the author feels immediate remorse for scaring (or grossing out) her audience, in comes the comic relief, effortlessly. A perfect fit, the humor enriches the entire book, keeping the tone from dropping to down-right dismal. Unexpected joy came from Bobby’s predicament of being pants-less, thus flashing her pals as she fights for her life, or making hilarious and embarrassing suctioning noises as naked thighs stick to a desk-top on which Bobby perches. Chastising herself harshly when Smitty-themed fantasies sneak into her mind; coupled with her comfortable and correct use of “dorky” endeared me to Bobby.

Although I started this trilogy right in the middle, I simply must know how Bobby’s story ends. I am already looking forward to Ms. McKay’s next book.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2014.