Book Review: Deadly Dog Days by Jamie M. Blair

Deadly Dog Days
A Dog Days Mystery #1
Jamie M. Blair
Midnight Ink, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-7387-5018-7
Trade Paperback

Start with a soon to be forty woman who feels like a fish out of water. Meet Cameron Cripps-Hayman, currently living in Metamora, Indiana and wondering what happened to her life. She is currently estranged from her husband, Ben, grew up here and convinced her to move when he took the job as town sheriff. Between his arrogant and opinionated, (did I mention, she was also snooty and greedy as well), mother’s coldness and Ben’s working all sorts of hours, the marriage started to unravel and they have been separated for the past six months.

Cameron is feeding a flock of ducks while mulling over her lot, as well as the sad state of things in town when she realizes there’s a hand sticking out of the water on the opposite bank. She can tell by the slender fingers that the deceased is female and notices a red something wrapped around the corpse’s wrist. What Cameron will quickly learn is that the victim is Jenn Berg, a young woman who was not only starring in the play everyone hoped would bring tourists and begin the revitalization process, but who was pregnant and rumored to be dating Ben.

What follows includes Cameron becoming a suspect in the eyes of some community members, her assuming responsibility for Jenn’s four unruly dogs, her mother-in-law trying to steal everything of value from the home she gave Ben and Cameron, plus the added chaos created by the five volunteers Cameron is supervising. Their original mission was to sell tickets to the play through a phone bank in the church basement, but that goes south when the play is canceled and the phone bank is asked to leave because of Cameron’s supposedly being a suspect.

While there is a murder to be solved, it often takes a back seat to the antics of the phone bank folks who decide they all want to play detective. One is a kleptomaniac who spends more time knitting than calling, another is a drunk, yet another is doing community service for an unspecified assault, and the other two are nerdy high school kids. At other times, the drama between Cameron and Ben takes center stage. Then there are other townspeople who share the suspicion spotlight at various times, the bartender who was involved with the victim as well as her younger sister, a shopkeeper with dementia, an elderly philosopher who is constantly dowsing, an aspiring film maker and a wealthy eccentric who lives in a castle take center stage, plus the surly kennel owner who Jenn owed money to for a fifth dog. Add in a scheme to thwart the mother-in-law by painting the house in violation of a town ordinance, another dead body and a promising home-made dog treat business, not to mention the antics of Ben’s fifteen year old daughter Mia who knows how to play Ben against Cameron and you have a delightfully chaotic murder mystery. Cozy lovers will find this a delight.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, April 2019.

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Book Review: Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie Was Here
Fredrik Backman
Washington Square Press, February 2017
ISBN: 978-1-5011-4254-3
Trade Paperback

Best-selling author Backman (A Man called Ove) is back with a difficult, intense novel about the life of the woman in the title. Britt-Marie is a familiar figure to many, hence the initial popularity of this deliberately paced novel of life in a small Scandinavian town, populated by a surprising number of odd mis-fits and other people who exhibit familiar and unusual traits.

Her unfaithful husband has left her, or she’s left him; I was never quite sure and she needs a job to sustain herself. We discover very early that Britt-Marie is an unusual person with a highly developed sense of necessary cleanliness, and precision-focused life. Appointments are kept, one is never late and one tries desperately at times to maintain a precise even rigid life style.

Written in the first person present tense, the novel is at times slow-moving, hard to penetrate and ultimately satisfying in resolution. However, it is not the sort of book that will appeal to a wide reading audience, unlike the author’s A Man Called Ove, which is charming and enormously popular, or boring and a struggle to complete, depending on whose reviews you read. I watched the movie which was charming.

This novel maintains an even pace and readers, if they complete the story, will be well-informed of the life and times in this small community and they will understand that Britt-Marie was indeed, here.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 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 Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry                 
Jane Harper
Flatiron Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-10560-8
Hardcover

Parts of Australia are in the depth of a persistent drought. Back to the tiny farm town of Kiewarra, comes Aaron Falk. He returns to his childhood home to the funeral of his youthful friend, Luke Hadler, Luke’s wife and their small son. It appears Luke murdered his own wife and son and then dispatched himself with a rifle bullet through the skull.

Falk is not happy to be back because he and his father were run out of town decades ago. Falk, now a member of the federal police of Australia, on short leave, expects to attend the funeral, talk with one or two family friends and then flee back to Melbourne. It doesn’t work out that way.

Like a dripping faucet, piece by casual comment, the possibility that Luke Hadler could not have done this hideous deed grows in Aaron Falk’s mind. Encouraged by the single local law officer and the discovery of interesting anomalies, Falk stays, irritates some residents, and eventually solves not just one but several crimes.

The characters are excellent, the descriptions of the community and surrounding landscape are compelling and the pace is relentless. This is a terrific very well-written novel and the concluding climax is a page-turning grabber.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 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: Anything Could Happen by Will Walton

Anything Could Happen
Will Walton
Scholastic Press, June 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-70954-5
Hardcover

It’s not every book that can convincingly cast a character with such seemingly unrelated skills. A closet dance fiend who can also (albeit a bit dubiously) aid in delivering a calf. Tretch keeps these truths hidden, right along with another fact he hasn’t figured out how to share.

He appreciates the perks of life in a tiny town while acknowledging the total lack of privacy. Also absent, is the population to properly support a funky, refurbished theatre. So, no matter how cool the 1976 King Kong movie is, Matt and his dads will probably be moving to a city soon. The time to come clean is now. Or never.

And it’s here that I could tell you Anything Could Happen is about absolutely true friendship, the strength and support of family and crushing on the wrong kid. Accurate, yet incomplete. To me, it simply shows how sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness.

Tretch is wise beyond his years, in a unique—not unrealistic—way. His uncanny ability to set his own feelings aside to focus on a friend isn’t instinctive, making it all the more admirable. He is incredibly aware of others’ feelings and hasn’t shared particular pieces of himself solely for the purpose of protecting his friends and family.

“…the insults that somehow fly right past me, but I fear would peg each of them smack in the gut.”

Secrets don’t stay hidden forever and often, they are spilled at once. How they come out matters as much as addressing the information, once it’s laid bare. A lot of pressure for an adolescent and while Tretch may not initially handle it smoothly, once he allows himself to be honest, his sincerity is unquestionable.

This was fun, without being frivolous and is appropriate for the Middle-Grade reader, but (I think) appealing to all.

Oh, and now I know who Ellie Goulding is.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2018.

Teeny Reviews: A Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry and How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews

A Christmas Revelation
Christmas Novella #18
Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, November 2018
ISBN 978-0-399-17994-5
Hardcover

I stopped reading Anne Perry‘s books a few years back when they started getting so much longer than I care for but I’ve remained a fan of her stories about William and Hester Monk and Thomas and Charlotte Pitt plus a myriad of wonderful secondary characters. When this novella came along, I decided I needed to touch base again, so to speak, and I’m glad I did.

This episode is set in and around Hester Monk’s clinic where a young boy has found a family of sorts with a volunteer and a bookkeeper. When Worm sees a woman being abducted, he goes to Squeaky, the bookkeeper, for help and, against his better judgement, Squeaky jumps in. What the pair learns about the woman puts a real twist on things but, bottomline, the mystery surrounding the woman takes a back seat to the growing relationship—and mutual caring—between a child who’s had to grow up too fast and a rather crotchety older man. It’s a sweet story in many ways.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

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How the Finch Stole Christmas
A Meg Langslow Mystery #22
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-11545-4
Hardcover

When Meg Langslow’s actor/professor husband decides to put on a production of “A Christmas Carol”, it becomes a family affair with the twins and Meg actively involved but it’s the actor Michael hired to play Scrooge who becomes the star of his own self-important, drunken show. Meg follows him, hoping to find out who’s supplying alcohol to Malcolm and also accidentally discovers an illegal exotic animal trafficking operation. Naturally, Meg and her animal devotee family have to get involved but finding a dead body wasn’t part of the bargain nor did they expect Malcolm to be pegged as the killer. And is the killing connected to the smuggling outfit or something else entirely? Meanwhile, a rescue group has Gouldian Finches being fostered everywhere and more are coming.

Anybody who hasn’t read a Meg Langslow book needs to run right out and remedy that omission but, please, start with the first one in the series. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot of the humor and the family dynamics. Plus, you won’t get the full effect of Spike 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2018.

Book Review: Big Woods by May Cobb

Big Woods
May Cobb
Midnight Ink, July 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5781-0
Trade Paperback

It’s 1989 in Longview, Texas, and ten year old blonde Lucy Spencer disappears. The community assumes that her body will be found in the Big Woods, like other unresolved kidnappings that have happened in years past. Her sister Leah, 14,  receives a computer message that she believes is from Lucy. It says “underground. By the woods.” Leah is convinced that Lucy is alive, and the message signals her sister’s whereabouts.  Longview is gripped by paranoia surrounding the satanic cults of the 1980s.

Chapters are told alternately  from the point of view of Sylvia, a 75 year old retired nurse, and Leah. What, if anything, does Sylvia  have to do with the kidnapping? Sylvia married John and had no children. After she was widowed early, she went back to school to become a nurse and works with newborns. In fact, she was the nurse on duty when both Leah and Lucy were born.

On the day Lucy disappeared, It was her dad’s day to dress her, feed her, and get her to the school bus. A witness saw a man with a mustache in a small green convertible push Lucy into the car. Dad, an architect, begins to drink heavily and stay away from home after Lucy disappears.

Four children went missing before, but all were from the nearby town of Starrville, that is, until Lucy. Their bodies were found in the woods next to pentagram symbols and other signs pointing to cult activity.

This psychological thriller is written in short chapters, each only two or three pages, which helps to quicken the pace and heighten expectations. There is no on-page violence or descriptions, yet the book is tense and suspenseful.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2018.

Book Review: Déjà Moo by Kirsten Weiss—and a Giveaway!

Déjà Moo: For Whom the Cowbells Toll
A Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery #3
Kirsten Weiss
Midnight Ink, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5036-1
Trade Paperback

There’s a Halloween-ish vibe to San Benedetto’s Christmas celebration. Perhaps it’s the 30-foot straw cow erected by the Ladies Aid Society, in honor of their Swedish sister-city. Or the fact that, most years, someone is going to turn that bovine-tribute into the ultimate bonfire.

This year’s event surpassed haunting and was actually horrible, even with Fran Kosloski herself standing guard. The sacred statue was still attacked and set ablaze. When the smoke cleared, a human casualty was discovered. A humorous prank gone horribly wrong, or a devious plan perfectly implemented?

Maddie Kosloski knows she isn’t actually to blame, although she is beginning to rethink her decision to dust off the cursed cowbells to display in her paranormal museum. The story of death following their delivery is spooky, but not so old. Plenty of people recall those events and talk around town tightens tensions and creates panic leaving Maddie and her mother no choice but to try to solve the maybe-murder themselves.

Ms. Weiss has crafted the quintessential cozy mystery. A relatively new sub-genre that I’ve heard about, but had a hard time envisioning. I can definitely dig the downplaying of s-e-x, and the absence of graphic violence is not annoying, but I didn’t grasp the groovy vibes of an unconventional crime-solver in a small community. I get it now.

As the title implies, Déjà Moo: For Whom the Cowbells Toll is not a stand-alone story. Although I started the Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum Mystery series with the third book, I didn’t feel lost or less invested. And I learned about the Icelandic Christmas Ogress. So, I am going to go back and read the first two. Just for fun.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Déjà Moo, just leave a comment below.
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night, December 23rd, for one Advance
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