Book Review: A Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones @Darynda @StMartinsPress

A Bad Day for Sunshine  
Sunshine Vicram Series, Book 1  
Darynda Jones
St. Martin’s Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-14944-2
Hardcover

I haven’t quite made up my mind what I think of this book, the first in a new series from author Darynda Jones. On one hand I find it supremely entertaining, with a couple mysteries to be solved although, despite strong hints, we’re left still wondering about one of them.

Strong characters people the town of Del Sol, New Mexico in this romantic suspense tale. They are a quirky bunch, and as Sunshine Vicram takes over the role of newly elected sheriff, (although she didn’t actually run for the office) she has to deal with an odd “book club,” a group of hormonal teenagers, and a couple potential kidnappers, all on her first day. As though getting run over by a Mercedes, looking for an escaped convict and fighting through a blizzard aren’t enough. Oh, and the fact her fourteen-year-old daughter is having just such a day herself, what with making enemies left and right and falling in love.

Sharp dialogue and pointed characterization carry the suspenseful plot in a story rife with heartwarming friendships—once you get past the old enemies. These are the parts I particularly enjoyed.

But then, there were things that irked me. For instance, the “Where is Bobby Britton” schtick got old fast. Quite often it was hard to tell who was the more mature, Sunshine or Auri, her teenage daughter. This character is supposed to be a sheriff, for goodness sake. Have a little gravity. Giggles? Way too many giggles.  But I repeat, supremely entertaining.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
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 Review: Death of a Rainmaker by Laurie Loewenstein

Death of a Rainmaker
A Dust Bowl Mystery #1
Laurie Loewenstein
Kaylie Jones Books/Akashic Books, October 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61775-679-5
Hardcover

I’ll start out by saying this is a book that’s already been added to my “Best Books Read in 2019” list.

Death of a Rainmaker features dust storms so brilliantly written they’ll have you choking from the dirt and grit filling your eyes, your mouth, your lungs. Historical fact: Did you know Dust Pneumonia was/is a real malady? It killed many a child during the dust bowl years. You’ll also learn about the everyday life of the inhabitants of this small and steadily shrinking Oklahoma town. They’re people you’ll get to know as if they’re your own neighbors.

Be prepared to feel the despair of the people, families, especially the rural families, who tried everything they knew to make a living during this heartbreaking time, but who could only watch their wells dry up and their livestock die. As they watched their children die. And their hopes and dreams die, buried in dust that piled in drifts around the buildings and got in through every little crack in the boards of their dried-out houses.

So, when a stranger claiming to be a rainmaker shows up vowing to bring moisture to the parched earth, why is he murdered outside a movie house run by a blind man, in the middle of a huge duststorm?

Was it because he failed to bring rain? Was it because of a fight he got into with a young CCC worker when they’d both had too much to drink? Or was it because he eyed another man’s wife?

These are all questions Sheriff Temple Jennings is going to need to answer. Quickly, because the election is coming up and for the first time in years he has a man running against him for the job. Etha, his wife, has her own ideas about the murder, and they don’t coincide with her husband’s.

So much goes on in this novel. It’s a history of those years when poverty stalked a large portion of the population, especially in the rural areas of Oklahoma and thereabouts. It’s a grouping of character studies. It’s a mystery. And it’s wonderful.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2019.
Author of Five Days, Five Dead, Hereafter and Hometown Homicide.

Book Reviews: The King of Fear by Drew Chapman and The Vulture by Frederick Ramsay

The King of FearThe King of Fear
A Garrett Reilly Thriller
Drew Chapman
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-2591-8
Trade Paperback

A rousing episodic thriller with thoughtful implications for today’s economic world. Smoothly written and discerning readers can tell after just a few chapters that the author has written for series television. The structure of the novel falls neatly into segments with alarm, partial resolution and danger or abrupt cliff-hanger, every few chapters. That isn’t a bad thing, even if it gets predictable.

Readers of thriller fiction and television crime series aficionados will recognize many of the characters assembled in these pages to help the protagonist, Garrett Reilly, meet and best an insidious foreign plotter who is attempting to destroy America’s economy in one massive attack. The novel ranges over the entire world allowing readers to experience both spare and flowery location descriptions and to introduce a large number of unusual and talented characters. Character descriptions with background information is plentiful throughout the book as are a large number of competing organizations.

Lead defender, Garrett Reilly, is wanted by the FBI and the New York Police as a person of interest in the murder of the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. While dodging law enforcement, Reilly goes back to work for the Federal government as the only economist with the talent and intelligence to possibly save the nation’s economy from this massive attack. He leads a group of rag-tag hackers, thinkers and off-the-grid creative young people called Ascendant, a secret government experiment in cyber exploration.

It all has the frightening feel of reality and real possibility. A good solid thriller.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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The VultureThe Vulture
An Ike Schwartz Mystery #10
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0476-0
Hardcover

This tenth book in the Ike Schwartz series sends Ike and his college president wife Ruth into turbulent hiding from a wealthy, vengeful oligarch. A huge bomb destroys the sheriff’s vehicle and soon another explosion of a large propane tank eliminates his cabin in the woods where his wife, Ruth, is said to be hiding. Ike and Ruth are believed to be dead.

The cliché, ‘ripped from the headlines,’ is very appropriate here. A ruthless, obscenely wealthy oligarch who believes himself to be the savior of a failing nation, has created a kingdom on a huge private tract of land. From this base he hopes, one day, to launch a government takeover. The kingdom is located in, of all places, Idaho. Martin Pangborn’s radical racist militia has been dubbed the Fifty-first Star. He is the classic case of the public ultra-conservative hiding the most despicable of slimy self-indulgent beings. The intellectual duel between the sheriff of Picketsville and the bad guys is almost biblical in its structure and resolution.

All the characters fans of the Ike Schwartz crime novels will know are here, and they all have important roles to fill in weaving together a host of fibers aimed at entrapping Mr. Pangborn. Pangborn has been at pains over the years to corrupt and insert law enforcement personnel, ordinary murderers, civic officials at various levels, up to the Senate of the United States. So, the plot is tangled, textured and complicated. Or at least the moves to resolve an up-to-the-minute plot are so.

Anyone reading this fine novel who is aware of public affairs in this country during the last decade will recognize some of the incidents and many of the players. Fast-paced, filled with emotional ups and downs, the author has fashioned an excellent and enjoyable reading experience.

As is usual, I received a free copy of the novel from the publisher with no expectations whatsoever.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Strong Light of Day by Jon Land and Lord of the Wings by Donna Andrews

Strong Light of DayStrong Light of Day
A Caitlin Strong Novel #7
Jon Land
Forge, October 2015
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3512-8
Hardcover

Author Jon Land, in the seventh adventure featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, once more takes the reader on a breathless thrill ride of a story. As is his method, Land ties Caitlin’s present day case to an operation her father began years ago. Strong Light of Day has its roots in the 1980s–the historical aspect more recent than most of the series, and the enemy, aside from a home-grown psychopath who just might scare you to death, are Russian.

Caitlin is drawn into the story when thirty high school students disappear while on a camping trip. One of the students is Luke Masters, the son of her lover, Cort Wesley Masters. At the same time, not far from the campers last position, a herd of cattle die, with only bones left to tell the tale.

Where are the kids? What happened to the cattle? Why are there dead fields? And why is billionaire oilman Calum Dane and his conglomerate buying the land up? This is the mystery Caitlin has to solve, and she’d better do it quickly because when the Russians join Dane and close in, time is about to run out.

This is a Caitlin Strong novel. Expect a mile-a-minute pace and a high body count. Not that the bad guys don’t deserve it. Expect Caitlin to get a lot of help from a recurring cast of characters, including Cort Wesley Masters, Captain Depper, and especially, Colonel Paz, a seemingly indestructible giant of a man who, through a sort of supernatural tie, has appointed himself her guardian. And thank goodness for that!

With the historical ties played down in this outing, I appreciate the short excerpts from Texas Ranger archives and some of the best researched non-fiction that Land always includes at the front of the chapters.

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

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Lord of the WingsLord of the Wings
A Meg Langslow Mystery #19
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, August 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-04958-2
Hardcover

It’s Halloween in Caerphilly.  Meg, who heads the Goblin Patrol, AKA the Visitor Relations and Police Liaison Patrol, is mildly puzzled to hear that Dr. Smoot’s Haunted House has been burgled. What is there to steal?  She’s more upset when a fake body part turns up in her grandfather’s alligator exhibit during her six-year-old twins’ school visit.  But when two Goblin Patrollers find a real body, she goes into full investigative mode.  Is the body connected to her brother Rob’s latest computer game release? Or to one of the “treasures” in Dr. Smoot’s local history museum? Or to one of the many, many costumed tourists who have flocked into Caerphilly’s town-wide Halloween bash?

Strange occurrences abound, stranger friends and relatives dive in to help out (or not), and Meg copes with everything with her usual humor and competence.  Not even a horde of LARPers and the Rancid Dreads, a truly awful rock band, can get her down.

I’m so glad I got to review this book.  Despite other glowing reviews, I’d avoided the series because I have a thing about overbearing families.  I hate seeing a heroine pushed around. Boy, was I wrong.  Meg’s wildly eccentric family is a delight–to read about, anyway, and seeing Meg deal with their antics is enormously entertaining.  I rushed to the library for Murder with Peacocks and devoured it.  I’m just about done with We’ll Always Have Parrots now, and I have the next two right by my comfy-chair, ready to go.  Thank you, Donna Andrews, for writing such cheerful, funny, fascinating books.

I highly recommend Lord of the Wings.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, September 2015.

Book Reviews: The Blood Whisperer by Zoe Sharp and Drowning Barbie by Frederick Ramsay

The Blood WhispererThe Blood Whisperer
Zoe Sharp
Murderati Ink, August, 2013
ISBN:  978-1-909-34432-7
Trade Paperback

Kelly Jacks is the eponymous protagonist in what promises to be a new series by Zoe Sharp.  I wondered to myself, ‘blood whisperer’?  Is that anything like a ‘horse whisperer?’  Well, yes, it is, actually. Kelly is, as the author puts it, “someone who seemed to be able to coax evidence out of the most unpromising of scenes.”  Now 40 years old, the former CSI now works for McCarron Specialist Cleaning Services, the services in question being performed at crime scenes after they are released by the police.  She’s gone from being the first on the scene for nearly 10 years as a CSI, to being the last. The crime scene Kelly is working as the book opens is one where a woman’s body has been found in her bathtub, an apparent suicide.  But Kelly has her doubts.  And those doubts open up a world of threats, hurt and violence as others try to stop her from pursuing them.

After the wonderful Charlie Fox series, including ten novels, a short story collection and a novella, the author has managed to create another strong female lead with an intriguing background:  Kelly started her new job upon her release from five years of incarceration after having been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, still proclaiming her innocence.

Ms. Sharp has produced a complex plot which includes Russian gangsters and the top tiers of English horse-racing, with steadily increasing suspense and a sense of calamity to come as the book races to its conclusion, neither the protagonists nor the reader knowing how it will end, but bracing for the worst: they’ve already seen the brutality of which their foes are capable and suspect that something far wore is still to come.  There is an unexpected twist near the end, and another one I certainly never saw coming after that!

This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel.  I particularly loved the author’s descriptions of, among other things, the English weather, e.g., “The rain had peered out into indifference leaving behind dirty grey clouds like a sulk.”  As with all Ms. Sharp’s earlier books, this one too is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.

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Drowning BarbieDrowning Barbie
An Ike Schwartz Mystery
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2014
ISBN: 9781464202148
Hardcover

Ike Schwartz is an ex-CIA operative who has gone to ground and become a sheriff in a small community in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Picketsville is an unremarkable town except for its inhabitants, carefully and enjoyably described by the author. This being the tenth in the series, one might wonder how the town attracts so many really nasty people.

Sheriff Ike and his lady love, Ruth Harris, after, several episodes, have now decided, at long last, to marry. Town and Gown will thus be joined in what, for a lot of outsiders will be an uneasy alliance. Harris is the hustling president of the local college, determined to make it an outstanding liberal arts institution.

Ike became the sheriff with a short-term goal to rid the county of a completely corrupt administration and evil law enforcement agency. But he likes being sheriff and needs must intrude. Two dead bodies are discovered in a local park and the game is on. Are they related, in spite of the time lapse between their interment? Will the bailed-out ex deputy, now back in town locate and kill his primary target? Will the sheriff and his happy band of deputies stem a rising tide of drug infiltration?

The pace in this suspenseful mystery is relentless, particularly in the last half of the novel. The dialogue throughout is snappy, well-considered and appropriate. This is another well-written novel. It survives a few unfortunate political asides and roars to a fully enjoyable, appropriate finale. Strongly recommended, as are the previous nine adventures in this series.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: Dark City Blue by Luke Preston, In the Bleak Midwinter by M. R. Sellars, and The Trajectory of Dreams by Nicole Wolverton

Dark City BlueDark City Blue
Luke Preston
Momentum/ Pan Macmillan Australia, December 2012
ISBN 9781743341018
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

When the bad guys wear blue, who do you trust? Strap in tight, because this trip will be fast and furious, and if you’re not careful, fatal. The action never slows in this shoot ’em up and heavy hittin’ tale of one man’s mission to halt the widespread corruption in the law enforcement community.

Detective Tom Bishop is on the trail of dirty cops. After a takedown of an illegal pornography operation, one of the felons squeals about robbery going down the next morning involving bad cops. Bishop discovers the robbery too late, but subsequent investigation puts him on the run from members of his own department. Not knowing who to trust, beaten, shot and pursued, Bishop wades through the muck of the city to find the answers and to reveal the mysterious entity known as Justice.

Yes, the action is fast, the chapters short and I wish the story would have slowed down a little to let me see some more depth. The story never mentions in what town this all happens. Everything went so quickly, I think the author forgot first names for some of his characters. However, Dark City Blue might leave you blue in the face trying to catch your breath and leave you wanting another go-round at the end.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, December 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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In the Bleak MidwinterIn The Bleak Midwinter
A Special Agent Constance Mandalay Novel
M. R. Sellars
WillowTree Press / E.M.A. Mysteries, Ocober 2011
ISBN 9780979453380
Trade Paperback

A case to span the decades. A girl lost in time. A small community haunted by an annual murder. An FBI agent forced to spend her Christmas hunting a murderer. This is what you’ll find in the latest Sellars supernaturally laced mystery novel. Travel to northern Missouri where Christmas isn’t celebrated with the usual traditions. It’s a story to give you chills…and not because of the cold weather.

In 1975, a few days before Christmas, a little girl in the small Missouri township of Hullis runs afoul of a child molester. Deputy Skip Carmichael receives the first call on the case, but his discoveries are more than he imagined. Thirty-five years later, Sheriff Skip is dealing with a serial killer who drops bodies off in his town seven years running. This year, he receives a visit from the fifth FBI investigator to handle the case in the form of Constance Mandalay. Will this year be any different or can Mandalay and Carmichael ferret out the anomalies and inconsistencies to the string of murders?

Something about this story kept me reading. I had questions right along with Mandalay and I wanted answers. This story compelled me to turn more pages. There isn’t much “shoot ’em up action” because it isn’t that type of story. Rather, it brushes you with eeriness, caresses with a soft touch of spooky. You’ll wait for it, but love when it’s revealed. Then, maybe, just as I did, walk away wondering if it will ever end.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, January 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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The Trajectory of DreamsThe Trajectory of Dreams
Nicole Wolverton
Bitingduck Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-1-938463-45-7
Ebook

A woman shaped by her mother’s abusive nature and her father’s wisdom. A scientist convinced if she doesn’t keep a close eye on certain subjects, disaster may strike. Who is prepared to kill to keep her secrets. This is the story of Lela White. A strange tale that may confound some readers and fascinate others. Caution is the word here not because of any violence or graphic detail, but because this book is different from any other I’ve ever read and even after finishing it, I wasn’t quite sure I had absorbed it all.

Lela White works for a sleep study center in Houston. Part of her study involves the psychological condition of astronauts for upcoming shuttle missions. Not part of her study is her enigmatic compulsion to break in to the astronauts’ homes for a closer study on how they sleep…and to possibly kill them if she suspects they will be a danger to the mission. However, when she meets cosmonaut Zory Korchagin, who quotes poetry and speaks of his grandmother, her plans go awry as her attraction to him grows. Also messing with her plans are: a pesky librarian, a coworker and unwanted roommate and a janitor with whom she trades sexual favors for information. How does she solve her dilemma of whether Zory will be an asset or a liability to the upcoming space flight? Find a way to put him in mortal danger.

This one is a bit surreal, a bit of suspense, and not for the quick reader. This is something to be studied, analyzed, discussed. Layers flow through this story that, and as I mentioned earlier, I don’t think I quite touched upon them all. Lela is all but emotionless in that there is almost no distinction of her thoughts between sex and death. She’s a little paranoid, a little quirky, and just might stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, March 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.