Book Review: Picks and Chews by Linda O. Johnston

Pick and Chews
A Barkery and Biscuits Mystery #4
Linda O. Johnston
Midnight Ink, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5245-7
Trade Paperback

In Pick and Chews,Barkery and Biscuit owner Carrie Kennersly is busy planning a rescue animal adoption event, but when her boss at the aniaml clinic she also works at is accused of murdering his fellow veterinarian, Carrie again begins to investigate.

There are a few things that really stand out in this series. The author has really developed the community of Knobcone Heights. It is the idealistic community many readers would like to visit. And for the most part, the characters are well fleshed out so that readers feel like they are people. And of course, as one would expect from this author, there are many animals most of whom are adorable. The animal shelter was for the most part heartwarming as well. The series takes the issue of pet adoption very seriously, another plus.

However, there are some issues as well. Carrie and Dr. Reed Stone are apparently in a relationship of sorts, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. In fact,  aside from their obviously “intimate” relationship it often doesn’t seem like the two of them are much more than acquaintances. The author seems to do a better job with animal-human relationships than she does with human-human relationships.

Another issue I had with the book is the way Carrie was involved in the investigation. I understand that in cozy mysteries with amateur detectives the person investigating is not a police officer and is often a major thorn in the police’s side, but here is our Carrie going beyond subtly investigating facts. Instead, she is running around interrogating people and raising a lot of  unease. Subtle she is not.

Lastly, for me at least, the book had more dog and dog rescue in it than actual mystery. There were clues, though I found the actual murderer more than a bit of a surprise. Looking back, yes there was a point or two pointing in that direction, but it seemed more of a last minute “who shall I have be the murderer” than a plot plan.

However, if readers enjoy animals, believe in animal adoptions and want a easy way to spend an afternoon, Pick and Chews might be just the book.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, September 2018.

Advertisements

Book Review: Premeditated Peppermint by Amanda Flower

Premeditated Peppermint
An Amish Candy Shop Mystery #3
Amanda Flower
Kensington Books, October 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0643-0
Mass Market Paperback

New York chocolatier Bailey King has moved to Amish country to help her Amish grandmother with her sweet shop. It’s Christmas and the shop is terrifically busy, as this is the most profitable part of year. Tourists are lining up to visit the picturesque village. This rather frenetic time is rudely interrupted when an old flame of Bailey’s shows up. He’s supported by a film crew bent on taking over the candy shop to create a Christmas special TV show. Everything Amish is all the rage right now. Trouble is, Bailey’s and Eric Sharp’s break-up was not especially amicable, and she is not at all pleased to see him. And the fact Bailey’s new beau, Deputy Aiden Brody, might take offense is also a consideration. What a set-up, right?

Then the show’s producer is murdered in the town center and a plethora of suspects is rounded up. Chief among them is Eric Sharp. Everything points to him but, much as she now dislikes him, Bailey doesn’t think he did it, and sets out to discover the true murderer.

The story is filled with quirky characters. My personal favorite is Jethro. Uh, Jethro the polka-dotted pig. There are plenty of suspects to point a finger at, as well as plenty of regular folks. The plot is convoluted enough to hold your interest, and of course, the writing is excellent. For someone who doesn’t know a lot about the Amish and their customs, this is a way to provide some education in the best possible way–with a story.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: Shares the Darkness by J.R. Lindermuth

Shares the Darkness
Sticks Hetrick Murder Mystery #7
J.R. Lindermuth
Torrid Books, September 2016
ISBN 978-1-68299-196-1
Ebook

The title of this interesting crime novel is from a line by Edna St. Vincent Millay, quoted in an opening page just before the novel opens. Flora Vastine, a police officer about to leave for duty is interrupted by a neighbor who complains that her adult daughter, Jan Kepler, is missing. Jan is a teacher at the local school and an inveterate birder. But Mrs. Kepler is very worried. Flora agrees to check at police headquarters.

The novel spins through a number of crimes in the small town of Swatara Creek and Officer Vastine is at the center of most of them, while the search for Jan Kepler continues. Expertly interspersed with the crimes, perhaps a few too many for such a small town at once, are some personal relationship crises which serve to balance the crimes and provide readers with a sometimes intensive look into the workings of small town police departments and of small towns more generally.

The pace is generally leisurely and insightful but readers will be compelled to follow the characters and the developments in a realistic small community where the final solution to the murder reveals more about the living than it does about the dead woman. An excellent and thoughtful novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2018.
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 Review: The Quiet Child by John Burley

The Quiet Child
John Burley
William Morrow Paperbacks, August 2017
ISBN: 978-0-06-243185-1
Trade Paperback

This is not a novel for the faint of heart. Dark, moving, at times excruciating, the pain author Burley evokes from his characters is a palpable presence through the entire novel. One wonders how many readers have ever been faced with the community disdain and rejection based, not on race, but on more common attributes. And a reader wonders what the response might have been.

In Cottonwood, California, multiple unexpected deaths are occurring. The family of Michael and Kate McCray are beginning to feel isolation as it grows, the odd looks, the loss of friendly interactions, the murmurs behind their backs. McCray is a valued teacher at the local high school. He and Kate have two sons, Danny and Sean. Danny, the youngest, is the focus of the growing community concern. He doesn’t speak. At all.

Kate is becoming ill and the doctors are worried but non-committal. The novel moves smoothly back and forth in time which can at times confuse a reader, but the technique works extremely well to heighten the tension and overall feeling of dread.

One evening, Michael drives the boys to a nearby convenience store and with a startling suddenness the tension rises. The boys are kidnapped. The rest of the story concerns the police attempts to find the boys and rescue them, Kate’s accelerating deterioration, and the rising suspicions from the community.

Ultimately, of course, there are resolutions, nearly all of which are unforeseen and startling in their placement and evolution. Enthralling, mesmerizing and surprising, a dark, moving thought-provoking experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2018.
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 Review: The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover by Susan Wittig Albert—and a Giveaway!

The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover
The Darling Dahlias #7
Susan Wittig Albert
Persevero Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-9969040-3-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It looks like the music has ended for Darling’s favorite barbershop quartet, the Lucky Four Clovers—just days before the Dixie Regional Barbershop Competition. Another unlucky break: a serious foul-up in Darling’s telephone system—and not a penny for repairs. And while liquor is legal again, moonshine isn’t. Sheriff Buddy Norris needs a little luck when he goes into Briar Swamp to confront Cypress County’s most notorious bootlegger. What he finds upends his sense of justice.

Once again, Susan Wittig Albert has told a charming story filled with richly human characters who face the Great Depression with courage and grace. She reminds us that friends offer the best of themselves to each other, community is what holds us together, and luck is what you make it.

Darling, Alabama, is home during the Great Depression to the Dahlias Garden Club, ladies who solve local crimes almost as much as they garden and socialize. The latest town problem is that the telephone system is suffering from equipment failures because half-owner Whitney Whitforth won’t pony up to fix it and then the Lucky Four Clovers barbershop quartet go into crisis mode when one of the members is killed before the Regional Barbershop Competition.

Was it an accident or murder? Sheriff Buddy Norris is determined to figure it out, with a little help from Ophelia Snow, Elizabeth Lacy and the other Dahlias, and they soon find a possible link to the local bootlegger, Bodeen Pyle. When Whitney goes missing, the plot thickens but the Dahlias are up for the challenge.

Added touches such as Liz Lacy’s Garden Gate newspaper column, town gossip and a look into how people managed when money was hard to get, along with a good puzzle help make this return to a charming series a welcome treat. A taste of class distinctions and the place women held in the Depression-era South make it even better and, best of all, a cast of garden club characters is included, and there are recipes. What more could any cozy mystery reader want?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’d love to send somebody my very
gently used print advance reading copy of
The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover.
Leave a comment below and I’ll draw
the winning name on Saturday evening,
August 4th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: Willnot by James Sallis

Willnot
James Sallis
Bloomsbury, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63286-452-9
Hardcover

Although I had heard very fine things about this author’s work, it has [obviously] taken me much too long to catch up to him, but fortunately I have now corrected that oversight.  His newest book, Willnot, is written in what has been described as his “inimitably spare style” and “haunting and immensely readable,” and I found it undeniably very enjoyable.

From the publisher:  In the woods outside the town of Willnot, the remains of several people have suddenly been discovered, unnerving the community and unsettling Dr. Lamar Hale, the town’s all-purpose general practitioner, surgeon, and town conscience.  At the same time, Bobby Lowndes – – his military records disappeared, being followed by the FBI – – mysteriously reappears in his hometown, at Hale’s door. Over the ensuing months, the daily dramas Hale faces as he tends to his town and to his partner, Richard, collide with the inexplicable vagaries of life in Willnot.  And when a gunshot aimed at Lowndes critically wounds Richard, Hale’s world is truly upended.

The reader is told of the discovery of the dead bodies in the opening sentence:  “We found the bodies two miles outside town, near the old gravel pit.”  We are likewise introduced to Bobby only a few pages later.  We are told [p.o.v. is that of Dr. Lamar Hale] that he was only sixteen when “he wound up at the wrong end of a prank gone horribly south.  Left town on the school’s band bus for a football game twenty miles away, came back six days after in an ambulance and a coma.  I’d taken care of him for close to a year, touch and go at first, then the long plateau and rehab.  One of those strange mirrors life can throw up to you.”  When asked by the Sheriff what he thinks of what they have found, his reply is “I think we found a hole in the ground with bodies in it.  There’s not a lot more to be thought at this point, rationally.”

A second story line has to do with another of Lamar’s patients of many years, Stephen, now 23.  “When he was eighteen, his parents and sister died in a car crash, hit and run.  He was supposed to have been in the car as well but had begged off. Over the next couple of years we watched Stephen pass from wanting to find the person responsible, to believing that the crash was intentional, not an accident at all but willful murder.  ‘The boy’s gone gumshoe, as Richard said.’ ”  A little later, the sheriff asks him “You ever figure out why so many kooks wind up living here?  His response:  We are, after all, a town rich with uncommon history.”

I found the writing absolutely wonderful, too many instances to recount here, but e.g., at the hospital, a colleague tells him, “much of the time we don’t help them live longer or better, we only change the way they die.”

I plan to catch up on Mr. Sallis’ prior novels; this one is, obviously, recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2018.

A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Ain’t She a Peach
Southern Eclectic #4
Molly Harper
Gallery Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5133-0
Trade Paperback

Once again, the McCready family of Lake Sackett, Georgia, is back in fine fettle with their McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop and, also once again, they’ve captured my heart. This time the focus is on Frankie, the youngish coroner/embalmer who considers herself well past the age of independence but her parents don’t know how to even begin to think of letting their precious only child spread her wings, so to speak. Sure, she sneaks off to Atlanta occasionally for a night of satisfying rowdiness but she can’t make herself move out (although she has disabled the location service they use to track her). There are very good reasons for this helicopter parenting but, really, she needs to grow a pair!

There’s a new Sheriff in town, Erik Linden, and while Frankie has a few, or a lot, of philosophical differences with Erik, including his queasiness around her dead customers, she’s finding it very hard to resist the man. Meanwhile, the rest of the McCready bunch are around and about and the town’s Halloween Trunk-R-Treat festival is coming up while a teenaged desperado has it in for Frankie for some reason.

The whole rambunctious McCready clan is a family I’d love to be part of and this fourth book in Molly Harper‘s series is just as much fun as all the others. Oh, I do hope there will be more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jurassic, Florida
Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All #1
Hunter Shea
Lyrical Press/Kensington, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0793-3
Ebook

LOL, I’m still chuckling over this book and I have only myself to blame for not having indulged in Hunter Shea‘s work before. Polo Springs, Florida, is a quiet little place but people are starting to notice that the lizard population, specifically small iguanas, seems to be popping up everywhere. Not just popping up—slithering and scampering and the little beasts apparently have lost all fear. Not so the humans in this town, folks like Frank who’s running from the mob and Ann Hickok, the very unlikely mayor who’s only 18 years old. Everyone in Polo Springs has stepped into their own Godzilla movie and the future’s looking very, very dim.

Polo Springs is about to get a rude awakening and they’ll wish they had those little iguanas back. In scenes that are alternately grisly and scream-inducing but also high camp, we learn the answer to the question: can anyone save this town from the invasion of giant people-eating critters?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In His Kiss
Neil Plakcy
Featherweight Publishing, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-64122-112-2
Trade Paperback

There’s nothing easy about high school, as most of us know, but senior Michael has it worse than some. First of all, he’s gay. No big secret there but he’s almost painfully shy and definitely insecure when it comes to actually finding “the right one” or even one who will do for right now. He’s also saddled with his younger brother, Robbie, aka the Big Mistake and family life pretty much revolves around Robbie with his multitudes of allergies and other issues. On the positive side, he has an awesome best friend, Brie, and she makes life in Stewart’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, tolerable although Michael is way past ready to get out of Dodge.

And then along comes Daniel Florez and life for Michael will never be the same again. Luckily for him, Daniel has a little more self-confidence—really, he’s almost oblivious to what’s not supposed to work or maybe his home life has just given him a thicker skin so he’s not quite as vulnerable. Whatever it is, Daniel is not afraid to make the first move and the second and the third… Suddenly, things are looking up for these two really nice kids and the future might be bright but there are some side effects, including resentment from Brie, but why are strange things happening to Michael, like awesome SAT scores? And, minor detail, why is the FBI hanging around spying on Daniel?

With a bit of fantasy and a lot of high school angst, not to mention lots of humor and love of all sorts, Neil Plakcy has created a story that had me smiling a lot and cringing just a little (in a good way) and I definitely want to know what Michael and Daniel are going to be up to next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.