A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 6 @nancyjcohen @JSpencerFleming @MinotaurBooks @CharlesFinch @BevLongBooks @HarlequinBooks @SusanSpann @SeventhStBooks

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

Easter Hair Hunt
A Bad Day Hair Mysteries #16
Nancy J. Cohen
Orange Grove Press, March 2020
ISBN 978-09997932-7-5
Trade Paperback

Marla Vail is visiting Tremayne Manor to do her hairstyling thing for Blinky Morris so she’ll be ready for the Easter egg hunt but, after the hunt when Marla is helping to look for unfound eggs, she finds something else, a dead body dressed as a bunny. When it’s discovered that Blinky is missing, the very pregnant Marla jumps right in to investigate,  as fans will expect. Her poor husband, homicide detective Dalton, is right by her side, knowing full well he can’t stop her.

Marla is a character that becomes more appealing with each adventure, largely because she’s an intelligent woman who takes things in stride and doesn’t continually do stupid things. Dalton is her equal and recognizes how good she is at sussing out the facts and following leads; he long ago gave up trying to keep her out of investigations and the pair make a good team. This time, they’re dealing with a plethora of clues and suspects and the twists and turns abound. I’ve followed this series from the beginning and I’m already anticipating the next book because Ms. Cohen never lets me down 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Hid from Our Eyes
A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery #9
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur Books, April 2020
ISBN 978-0-312-60685-5
Hardcover

It seems like years since the last Clare and Russ story because, well, it has been and when I first heard about this one, I was SO excited. I’m not the least bit surprised that Ms. Spencer-Fleming is still at the top of her game.

Three different but very similar cases over a period of many decades have involved three police chiefs but Russ, the current chief, was once accused of the second killing. As this third case ramps up, Russ is under enormous pressure to find the killer before suspicion focuses on him again. Are the three cases really connected in some way or could there be a copycat killer? Who were these young women and why were they targeted or is it possible one or more were, in fact, not murdered?

Russ’s wife, an Episcopal priest and mother of a new baby, has her own issues going on but of course she’s going to help Russ and she brings a lot of intelligence and creative thinking to this case, as she always does. The personal lives of Clare and Russ are given as much weight as the investigation, enough so that I felt like I was seeing old friends again but that didn’t take anything away from the mystery of these three deaths. Leads take them in all directions and I was forced—forced, I tell you!—to stay up late into the night to keep reading. An intriguing plot and great characters make for a story I can heartily recommend but readers new to the series will enjoy it more by starting with the first one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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The Vanishing Man
A Charles Lenox Mystery #12
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-31137-5
Trade Paperback

In this second prequel, Charles Lenox has recently become known as the young man who bested Scotland Yard in a perplexing case and he’s called upon by the Duke of Dorset to help with an art theft. It seems a second painting was left behind and the Duke is concerned the thieves will return and, if they do, it’s possible a family scandal will be revealed as well as an enormous secret involving a priceless artifact. It isn’t long before there are other crimes and Lenox must delve into long-kept secrets that threaten the family as well as himself.

Fortunately, Lenox has the assistance of his friend, Lady Jane, who once again proves herself to be an intelligent ally, and a coterie of secondary players who bring real depth to the story. This particular adventure drags a little here and there but it’s still an engaging puzzle, especially the question of why the more valuable painting really means so much to the Duke. Mr. Finch brings Victorian London and its people to life again and I really do think this is one of the very best series with the setting and time period.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Ten Days Gone
An A.L. McKittridge Novel #1
Beverly Long
MIRA, February 2020
ISBN 978-0-7783-0958-1
Mass Market Paperback

Hunting a serial killer is no doubt one of the most difficult things a police department may ever have to do but, this time, detectives Rena Morgan and A.L. McKittridge are also faced with the nearly impossible task of preventing a fifth murder once the likely victim has been identified. Tess Lyons already suffers psychological damage from previous events and is anything but ready to understand her present danger. Meanwhile, leads in the case are sketchy at best and the detectives are caught up in a cat and mouse game with few obvious answers until they find a petition signed by all four of the murdered women. Figuring out why the petition and the ten day intervals are important may be their best chance to stop this killer.

A.L. and Rena are a well-matched partnership, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and they complement each other in their search for a wily killer. The pacing is a little slow but Ten Days Gone shows promise and is the first in what I hope will be a long-running series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

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Ghost of the Bamboo Road
A Hiro Hattori Novel #7
A Shinobi Mystery
Susan Spann
Seventh Street Books, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-6338-8550-9
Trade Paperback

Even in 16th-century Japan, a list of agents, in this case the shinobi agents of Hiro Hattori’s own clan, can cause deadly problems if it falls into the wrong hands. Hiri needs to warn his clan that a rival warlord is in possession of the list so he travels to a small village where he believes a fellow agent to be on a mission. Accompanied by Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit he protects, along with their housekeeper, Ana, and Hiro’s cat, Gato, he sees that the agent is missing. Hiro and Father Mateo are then drawn in to the investigation of multiple murders that are believed to have been caused by a ghost in the eerily half-deserted village but the situation becomes even more pressing when Ana is accused of stealing from the inn’s proprietor. And where is the missing agent?

Ms. Spann never fails to entertain me and educate me as well since her stories are full of medieval Japanese history. I love the primary characters and their interactions with each other; for instance, Gato always manages to get in the thick of things but Father Mateo can only suffer around him, being highly allergic. The two men have grown to be quite fond of each other (not that they would say so) and the priest accepts the shinobi’s protection as gracefully as he can manage while Ana is irascible and, yet, attentive. The author has a way with words and conveys the times and the setting vividly, so much so that I can practically smell the tea served in the teahouse. My only regret after reading this entry is for the too-long wait for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2020.

Book Reviews: The One That Got Away by Joe Clifford and Murderabilia by Carl Vondereau @joeclifford23 @DownAndOutBooks @CarlVonderau @midnightinkbook

The One That Got Away
Joe Clifford
Down & Out Books, December 2018
ISBN: 978-1-948235-42-6
Trade Paperback

An upstate small town where almost everyone has at least one scurrilous or dangerous secret, is the fall setting for this story. Alex Salerno is the flawed, inept and persistent hero of this long and winding tale.

A decade ago she was one of several girls in the town, located in upstate New York, who was abducted and held for unnamed assaultive practices in a dark space. Waiting there, she knew the other girls had been killed. And then, a small miracle, she is rescued by the local detective who becomes her lover. Her abductor now resides in prison.

The experience, naturally, has permanently damaged Alex’s psyche and her life in New York State, at least as she relates it, is fraught, unrooted and filled with booze, drugs and impermanence. For uncertain reasons she has now returned to her home town to meet a reporter who may or may not be preparing a story for the local paper on the history of that time when so many young women and girls had been abducted and murdered.

She knew her abductor was in jail and the reporter was focusing on the later disappearance of another teenager named Kira Shanks. The rambling torturous plot is further obscured by the belief in some corners of this conflicted community that the man now held in a nearby mental institution was not responsible for Kira Shanks disappearance.

As the plot slowly unwinds and layer after layer of a depressing community are revealed, against her better judgement and with menace ever closer, Alex Salerno persists in sticking her nose in unwanted sometimes dangerous places. She is physically and mentally abused and even her tenuous family ties in the town are stressed. The narrative blends the viewpoints of several characters and at times readers may be confused as to who is speaking. Ultimately some of the mysteries and secrets of this town are resolved but one is left wondering about the future life of Alex Salerno.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
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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Murderabilia
Carl Vonderau
Midnight Ink Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-007387-6130-5
Trade Paperback

A dark, intense story of murder and family destruction, this novel, after a slow start, will engage readers in a way that will leave them in thoughtful contemplation of family relationships.

Will McNary has a successful career as a private banker who works with individual clients on their financial investments and other monetary activities. He’s married with two young children and living in San Diego. His life is generally calm and ordinary, although he’s feeling a little heat in the form of competition from other officers of the bank. His sister Polly and their aging mother share an unsettling secret.

When Will was a child of only eight, his father was sent to prison for murdering and butchering several women. He compounded his heinous crime by posing and photographing the women, pictures that were circulated and sold on the underground market. McNary’s father was convicted and when the novel opens, has been in prison for more than thirty years. Now, a copy-cat killer linked to Will’s father has emerged, one who appears to be targeting Will and his family.

The story follows Will along a sordid twisting trail as he attempts to protect his loved ones, help law enforcement find the vicious copy-cat, and plumb the emotional depths of the knowledge that he is the son of an incredibly twisted killer.

The novel is well-written and once moving along its trail, enthralling. I hesitate to call it a page turner, however, for those readers attracted to the truly dark side of humanity in several of its manifestations, this carefully crafted story is insistently engaging.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
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: A Stone’s Throw by James W. Ziskin

A Stone’s Throw
An Ellie Stone Mystery #6
James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, June  2018
ISBN 978-1-63388-419-9
Trade Paperback

A Stone’s Throw strikes me, for some reason, as more indicative of the 1940s or 50s than of the 60s. Lordy, Lordy, didn’t people just smoke, then? Or at least the characters in this book do. But that’s only a small, amusing detail in a book with a heroine as downright cool as Ellie Stone.

A Jewish “girl reporter” –yes, I’m reminded of Lois Lane–who is determined to make it in a man’s world, Ellie is Johnny-on-the-spot when a fire destroys a rundown barn on an abandoned property. The property used to be the center of a horsebreeding operation, until a long ago fire put an end to it. Owned by the wealthy, and politically important Shaw family, the barn is deemed to be no particular loss until Ellie walks through and discovers two bodies, both burned beyond recognition, in the ashes. Who are they? Ellie is determined to find out.

Even then the sheriff isn’t terribly concerned, and it isn’t until Ellie starts investigating that secrets are revealed which will involve many in the horse racing community of Saratoga Springs, New York. Owners, trainers, jockeys, and bookmakers all have something to hide, and it will take Ellie and a cadre of quirky friends to discover the truth.

The writing is good, the dialogue snappy, the setting appropriate. Most of all, the subject of horse racing, which is dear to my heart, a hoot to visit. I’m worried about Ellie, though. Her lovelife is a bust and I’m afraid she may have a drinking problem, although a full bottle of Dewars proves a godsend. A fun read.

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

Book Review: Heart of Stone by James W. Ziskin

Heart of Stone
An Ellie Stone Mystery #4
James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, June 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63388-183-9
Trade Paperback

Ellie Stone is in the Adirondacks visiting her aunt for the month of August. She is lounging on the dock while her aunt swims (nude) when the sheriff comes  and after hassling her aunt for nude swimming asks Ellie to come with him to photograph a death scene. He needs her to do this because Ellie has an expensive camera and the sheriff has no camera at all. She goes. There is a high cliff that dare devils use to dive from into the lake below. It is not the wisest sport as there is rocky ledge that juts out which divers have to miss. From the looks of things, these two did not miss the shale shelf. Ellie notices some oddities at the scene such as the way the two are dressed and the station wagon parked so close to the edge of the cliff. When the state police become involved they find even more odd things. While one of the victims is a stranger to the area, the other is a young man staying at the music camp. It seems more than a little odd that these two would be stunt diving together.

Ellie is in a good position to investigate which as a newspaper reporter she is inclined to do. Ellie has spent time in the area most of her life and knows many of the people who are staying at the nearby arts camp. She also has an uncanny ability to snoop out the truth.

This is the fourth Ellie Stone book and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I like the mystery presented in Heart of Stone a great deal. I also enjoyed Ellie on vacation, away from her job. On the other hand, the author has a tendency to be overly wordy. In the previous books, I found that this added to the atmosphere of the book. It gave the books a feel of more substance. It seemed to me that  in this book he ramped up the wordage even more. More than once I wanted to shout, “just get on with it!”  The overuse of language was just annoying.

In spite of the language, it is still Ellie Stone who is a most likable protagonist. I would recommend the book and hope that Ziskin can curb the need to use more words when fewer will suffice.

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

Book Review: How Will I Know You? by Jessica Treadway

How Will I Know You?
Jessica Treadway
Grand Central Publishing, August 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5409-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  On a December day in upstate New York, the body of high school senior Joy Enright is found in the woods at the edge of a frozen pond.  An autopsy reveals that her death was not simply a tragic accident – – the teenager’s body shows unmistakable signs of murder.  The discovery upends an otherwise quiet small town.  As the investigation unfolds, four characters tell the story from widely divergent perspectives: Susanne, Joy’s mother, tries to reconcile past betrayals with their painful consequences; Martin, a black artist, faces ostracism when blame is cast on him; Tom, a rescue diver, doubts both the police and his own perceptions; and the hopelessly awkward Harper, Joy’s best friend, tries to figure out why Joy disappeared from Harper’s life months before she actually went missing.  As a web of deceit comes to light in a tiny community where there are few secrets, How Will I Know You? explores how easily boundaries can be breached and how seemingly small choices can escalate – – with fatal consequences.

In fascinating manner, the book’s sections are separated into “Before;” “After;” quite near the end of the novel “During;” and, about a dozen pages before the final page, “After – – The Last,” June 9, 2014.  “Before” (initially May 14, 2009, then jumping to September 7th, then to October 22nd and then the 31st) and “After,” initially December 7th, quite obviously, refer to the time periods before and after Joy’s murder, on the 1st Sunday of December; “During” describing, in manner to keep the reader glued to the pages, the murder itself.  The reader doesn’t discover the significance of the book’s title until nearly one-third of the way through the book:  It was apparently Suzanne’s question of her husband, Gil, before their first date.

Early on, in the pages after December 7th, and then again in the earlier time frames of May 14, 2009 and, later, October 22nd and 31st and later still, in the “After” pages, the tale is related for long stretches in first person by Martin Willett, the black man initially arrested in the case   (At one point during these pages, in mid-November, he muses “. . . now that I’ve come to the end of it, I’m no closer to understanding what might have happened than I was when I began.”  Abut mid-way into the novel, p.o.v. is that of Tom, son-in-law of the [interim] police chief, Doug, thought of by many as “Tom Carbone, the dumb jock, married to [Alison,] a teacher,” and the kindest way in which Doug thought of him.  And towards the very end, in the “During” section, p.o.v. is that of Joy, most interestingly.

The characters presented in these pages are each very well-drawn, regardless of their generation or race.  I found Martin most fascinating, as well as his art:  I had never before even been aware of “hyperreal art” or the work of “high realists.”  The pages seemed to fly by, until one has reached the end and realize how perfectly the author has brought the suspenseful tale to its conclusion.  The novel is, obviously, recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2017.

Book Review: No Good Deed by Goldy Moldavsky

No Good Deed
Goldy Moldavsky
Point, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-545-86751-1
Hardcover

Imagine Carl Hiaasen collaborating with Alan Sherman and you’d be on your way to understanding this book. Gregor Maravilla met his idol, Robert Drill, at a book signing when he was fourteen. The tech guru and philanthropist’s words inspired him to come up with a way to save the world. He settled on feeding all the hungry kids. He’s also read Drill’s autobiography nine times. Sandwiched between a nerdy and really rude older brother who plays Minecraft constantly and is raking in bucks from ads accompanying videos of him doing so online and a younger sister who’s a perfect speller, Gregor’s desperate to find his own niche

When he learned that Robert Drill is sponsoring a summer camp for humanitarian teen activists, he applies, expecting to be turned down because the competition is intense. Surprise! He’s selected and even the humiliation heaped upon him by his brother, sister, parents and grandfather on the ride to camp in upstate New York can’t completely dampen his enthusiasm.

His growing awareness that all is not as it seems, begins when he starts meeting the other campers and starts him not only down a road of introspection, but one of gradual cynicism about his plans for saving the world. Everyone there has a cause, including teen movie star Ashley Woodstone (imagine Luna Lovegood channeling some of the ditzier heroines in 1980s Rom-Coms), whose thing is convincing everyone to eat dirt. Add in a men’s rights activist, a boycott camp activist, a teen artist who can’t speak a word of English, an anti Styrofoam activist and dozens more who are equally oddball and you have the recipe for a perfect storm of sniping, backstabbing and cutthroat competition.

While the party line is that everyone’s there to promote a better world, the realization that there are various types of competitions to earn points toward an internship to be awarded to the camper with the highest total, turns any hope of cooperation into a free for all. Gregor’s constant insecurity and self-doubt put him in the fish out of water category, so much so that every time he opens his mouth, he’s nibbling his own toes.

Despite his attempts to avoid Ashley, they seem to be thrown together at every turn and as the summer insanity progresses, their conversations become the sanest part of his day. It takes a virtual war between the guys and gals at the final competition, a frightening experience involving Ashley and some hard looking in the mirror for Gregor to realize what’s truly important, not only in terms of saving the world, but in terms of how he sees others.

This is a funny and wacky story, but make no mistake, under all the goofiness beats a very strong heart.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, July 2017.

Book Review: Two Summers by Aimee Friedman

two-summersTwo Summers
Aimee Friedman
Point, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-51807-9
Hardcover

Fifteen-year-old Summer Everett is set to fly off to the south of France for a visit with her artist father and a chance to see his painting, Fille. Her father’s painting of his daughter as a young girl hangs in a museum there, and Summer has never seen it in person. Summer’s divorced mother discouraged the visit from the beginning, and Summer waits at the boarding gate with a heavy heart because of the terrible quarrel with her mother just before her best friend picked her up to drive her to the airport.

Just as she’s about to hand over her boarding pass and walk onto the plane, Summer’s cell phone rings. It’s a number she doesn’t recognize. From that point, we are swept into the story of two possible summers. In one, she ignores the call and goes to France. In the other, she answers the call and stays home in Upstate New York. In both, she breaks from her normal life, learns about herself, and must process changes in her life that include her best friend breaking bonds and a devastating family secret.

We learn about these scenarios through Summer’s first person descriptions, actions, and thoughts. Sometimes her inner thoughts sound profound, more like mature reflection on her actions, and sometimes her thoughts are childish. Altogether, she’s split, like her summer, thus becoming realistic and worthy of our concern.

I couldn’t put the book aside for long without wondering what would happen. How would the two summers (Summers) fit together and become whole? This is an imaginative coming-of-age story, or two stories, that include beautiful descriptions of a picturesque French village in Provence, exciting New York City, and a tranquil small town in New York State. There’s as much here for an adult as there is for a teenager.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, October 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.