Book Review: Tracking Game by Margaret Mizushima @margmizu @crookedlanebks

Tracking Game
A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #5
Margaret Mizushima
Crooked Lane Books, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-64385-135-8
Hardcover

Deputy Mattie Cobb is at a local gathering enjoying an evening with Cole Walker the local vet, when there is an explosion nearby.  As they rush to the site they find a van on fire and a dead body, a body with two bullet holes.  The body is that of Nate Fletcher married to the daughter of Doyle Redman from a nearby ranch.

Who would want to kill Nate Fletcher? As the investigation quickly gets underway Mattie and her K-9 partner Robo make a few important discoveries including finding the gun used to kill Nate.

As the local police, along with Mattie and Robo focus on unravelling the mystery, another body turns up. The case grows ever more complicated as questions regarding possible drug running and other dangerous activities slowly surface.

This one started with a Bang, literally. The pace slowed somewhat during the investigation.  Mattie is dealing with some personal issues regarding her relationship with Cole, but she determinedly sets those aside to focus on finding the perpetrator or perpetrators.  There are a number of viable suspects and the mystery takes an unusual turn that sends Mattie, Robo and Cole on a tracking mission up into the mountains.

This is the fifth book but my first introduction to the Timber Creek Series, and even though there is back story regarding Mattie’s past referred to in the book, I didn’t feel I was missing too much and enjoyed meeting Mattie and her very smart K-9, Robo.

I was drawn in reading how Mattie and her K-9 worked together.  The author also vividly captured the beauty as well as the danger of the Timber Creek landscape.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, January 2020.

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.

Book Review: Burning Ridge by Margaret Mizushima

Burning Ridge
A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery #4
Margaret Mizushima
Crooked Lane Books, September 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-778-4
Hardcover

Mattie Cobb is a Deputy Sheriff in Timber Creek, Colorado, with a special talent. She’s a highly accomplished K9 officer. With her faithful Shepherd, Robo, she’s trained and refined both her own and the dog’s capabilities to a very high level. The pair provides a rich vein of activity, characterization and plot movement. She’s of mixed ethnic heritage and though she spent early years in a troubled household, her grasp of right and wrong are strong. Timber Creek lies in the Redstone Ridge area, an immensely beautiful vista of rugged mountain, plains and streams, much of it covered with dense forest.

When she and a close friend find a partially burned body with signs of restraint and possible torture, Mattie begins a search that develops into a strange journey for her involving family, her law enforcement community and her future emotional life. The plot is intricate, the setting excellent and the tension rises on a continuum that almost compels readers to continue turning pages, exactly what every thriller author strives to accomplish.

As the story progresses, more and more intriguing, carefully delineated, characters are introduced. And, as Mattie and Robo draw ever closer to the answers she finds her family somehow entangled, as well. There are several violent scenes and a forest fire, all of which serves the story well. If there is any flaw here it is in the unwinding of some of the puzzling aspects of the plot. That takes somewhat more time than one would like but it is a small price to pay for an enthralling thriller of a crime novel peopled with varied and interesting characters.

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: Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater

pip-bartletts-guide-to-magical-creaturesPip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures
Pip Bartlett #1
Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-70926-2
Hardcover

Little-Girl-Me would have loved every single thing about this book.  The Not-Young-Adult-Me was completely captivated and charmed.  In the interest of full disclosure, I expected nothing short of stunning brilliance with two of my very favorite authors joining forces.  My expectations were exceeded.

Pip Bartlett not only loves Magical Creatures more than life itself, she can actually talk to them.  They understand her and when they “speak” she understands them.  Although absolutely no one believes her, this spunky soul is unstoppable.  Her curiosity, tenacity and determination are admirable and this reader could not stop rooting for her.

When Pip spends the summer with her aunt, a Magical Creature veterinarian, the tiny town is invaded by cute, yet combustible, Fuzzles.  The townsfolk may see the situation as hopeless, but I had no doubts about Pip’s ability to save the day…..and the Fuzzles.

I sat down and read this cover to cover, coming up with at least a dozen children that I’ll need to give this book to.  I can easily recommend it for the reluctant reader because I believe the drawings and journal-esque style make it easy to read and I like it for the voracious reader because it is stand-out-something-different.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2016.

Book Review: Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere by Dr. Bo Brock and The Room with the Second-Best View by Virginia Smith

crowded-in-the-middle-of-nowhereCrowded in the Middle of Nowhere
Tales of Humor and Healing from Rural America
Dr. Bo Brock
Greenleaf Book Group Press, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-62634-264-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing from Rural America is a collection of humorous and poignant stories from a veterinarian in a small, dusty farming and ranching community in rural West Texas. Dr. Brock gives you an intimate look into his small-town and big-hearted perspective on life, animals, and their owners. His unique perspective and tales of doctoring beloved pets, cantankerous livestock, and occasionally their owners will make you smile, laugh, cry, and evoke every other emotion under the sun.

Mention the words “veterinarian” and “book” to me and I’m a very easy mark. In fact, I’m a pushover. My near-obsession started years ago with James Herriot—I re-read and re-listen on a regular basis—and I’m always on a subconscious mission to find more vets/authors like him. So far, I’ve never been disappointed though some are slightly less successful than others.

Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere falls into the latter end of the range but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, not at all. The main thing I found missing was a sense of time, of when things were happening and my other quibble had to do with the brevity of many of Dr. Brock‘s stories, making it difficult to get invested sometimes. This book is a collection of vignettes, some as short as a few paragraphs, rather than the longer episodes you usually see that give you the chance to get to know the vet and other characters and, of course, the animals.

Still, this gave me a few hours of pleasure and I must say I won’t soon forget the pregnant mouse or the indestructible little red pig while Leonard’s horses brought tears to my eyes. In fact, Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere gave me both tears and smiles and that’s what a vet book should do. Should Dr. Brock write another one, and I hope he will, I’ll certainly want to read it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

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The Room with the Second-Best ViewThe Room with the Second-Best View
Tales from the Goose Creek B&B #3
Virginia Smith
Harvest House Publishers, September 2016
ISBN 978-0-7369-6481-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The B&B Is Open for Business!
Shhh…

Excitement is in the air in Goose Creek, Kentucky, as the small town prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary and the veterinarian’s upcoming wedding. But trouble is brewing in this provincial paradise…

Al Richardson agreed to open a B&B with his wife after his retirement in two years, but Millie secretly invites some guests to stay for the wedding. She plans to be the most gracious Southern hostess—until a tumble down the stairs leaves her unprepared for their quirky and cantankerous first guest.

Meanwhile, the town’s anniversary plans are in a state of chaos as the celebration committee scrambles to raise the necessary funds—an effort spearheaded by a “newcomer,” which ruffles the townsfolk’s feathers.

Goose Creek has lasted 150 years. Can it survive the next month?

When I first made the acquaintance of the folks in Goose Creek back in July (see my review of Renovating the Richardsons), I fell in love with the town and its citizens and I could hardly wait to catch up with the rest of the books in the series. I haven’t yet gotten to the first book, The Most Famous Illegal Goose Creek Parade, or Dr. Horatio vs. the Six-Toed Cat, a novella that was published following Renovating the Richardsons but chronologically precedes the first book. Instead, I jumped right into the third novel and I couldn’t be happier.

Al and Millie are moving ahead with the renovations on their large house, turning it into a B&B that they plan to open when they retire but Al’s suspicions are raised by Millie’s culinary bribery tactics. When he hears she wants to do a “practice run”, he’s not the least bit pleased because, as he puts it, he won’t retire for another two years and eight days and they agreed on that timeline. Never mind, Millie gets her way because, after all, Al is nearly unable to seriously say “no” to this woman who’s the center of his life but a simple hosting of a few wedding guests soon mushrooms into so much more. Al has been forced into taking charge, grudgingly, because Millie suffered a mishap so when the first guest to arrive, the groom’s meddling eccentric Aunt Lorna, is three weeks early and exceedingly annoying, the problems are just beginning. One might question if Goose Creek can survive this wedding. Even if it can, will Millie be able to work on a civic program with the aggravating Lulu Thacker whose obnoxiousness is only exceeded by that of her husband, Franklin?

There are no overwhelmingly important issues in this kind of story but I love the comfort and pure pleasure to be found with no gratuitous anything…sex, violence, what have you. Humor and concern for one’s neighbors abound in this book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I have no problem reading series out of order but I truly believe this one can be comfortably read in any order and you won’t feel that chunks of backstory are missing. Goose Creek, as always, is a wonderful town to visit at any time and Ms. Smith never disappoints.

Now, I really need to get those two missing books and I’m thrilled there’s another novella coming, A Goose Creek Christmas, at the end of November. I’ve pre-ordered it and, because I know I’ll forget all about it by the time it’s released, I’ll have a most delightful surprise 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

Book Reviews: Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon, Need by Joelle Charbonneau, and The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Come Rain or Come ShineCome Rain or Come Shine
A Mitford Novel #11
Jan Karon
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-399-16745-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Over the course of ten Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls.

Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple.

So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun.

An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis.

And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends.

Piece of cake, right?

In Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon delivers the wedding that millions of Mitford fans have waited for. It’s a June day in the mountains, with more than a few creatures great and small, and you’re invited—because you’re family.

By the way, it’s a pretty casual affair, so come as you are and remember to bring a tissue or two. After all, what’s a good wedding without a good cry?

Like so many others, I’m a longtime fan of Mitford and its wonderfully normal citizens, quirks and all, and I’ve laughed and cried my way through every book in the series. Come Rain or Come Shine fits right into the mix and I loved being back in the center of this delightful place. It’s even better that the story centers on one of my favorite characters, Dooley, adopted son of Father Tim and Cynthia, and his upcoming wedding to Lace Harper.

There’s a lot going on in Dooley’s life all at once—graduation from vet school, starting his clinic, getting married—but that really isn’t so unusual and it’s even less unusual that money could be a little tight at such a time. What’s so heartwarming is the way others in the community come together to make this wedding happen, good evidence of the affection the townspeople have for one another.

I do wish there had been more of Father Tim and Cynthia but this is the way life evolves from one generation to the next, isn’t it? Truthfully, there isn’t any real plot here but that’s not what comfort fiction readers look for and the important things, the characters, just sail off the page and into the readers’ hearts.

Technically, this is not part of the original Mitford series but more like an offshoot. When it’s all said and done, I don’t really care because I love this book as much as the earlier ones. I do think there’s a bit too much headhopping and, because of that, I heartily suggest that readers new to the series start at the beginning because, otherwise, you just won’t get the full effect and you won’t understand the characters. Guaranteed, you’re going to love Mitford and it’s citizens 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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NeedNeed
Joelle Charbonneau
HMH Books for Young Readers, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-41669-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

One of the many things that concerns me about today’s society is that we’ve been teaching our children to expect far more than they’ve ever earned, a sort of privilege in which many of them believe that all good things must come their way. Such is the darkness at the heart of the social networking site, NEED. It’s a hopeful sign that Kaylee recognizes the fallacy behind what NEED offers but she joins anyway. She’s a smart girl, though, and it doesn’t take her long to begin to realize the truly awful things happening and the demands that teens are facing in exchange for having their needs met.

The action takes off exponentially and tension continues to build as teen and adult readers alike go along for the rollercoaster ride until a most satisfying ending. If I have any reservations, it’s that I don’t really think that teens, despite their feelings of privilege, are quite this gullible (although they DO tend to behave like sheep and follow the latest fads just because everybody else does). I also think there are way too many narrators but, on the whole, I do recommend this. It’s not Ms. Charbonneau‘s strongest work—she’s one of my favorite authors—but it kept me up at night and that’s a good thing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Katarina Bivald
Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-4926-2344-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy’s funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor―there’s not much else to do in a dying small town that’s almost beyond repair.

You certainly wouldn’t open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You’d need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy’s house is full of them), and…customers.

The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel’s own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.

A heartwarming reminder of why we are booklovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.

Being a former bookstore owner and current bookblogger, it’s only natural that I would be drawn to a book about, well, books and the love of books. As it turns out, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was not exactly what I thought it was going to be but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this quiet yet quirky story.

From the beginning, I had to suspend a lot of disbelief. For instance, I found it hard to credit that Sara would leave Sweden and her life behind just because she lost her job even though her life really was all wrapped up in that job and in her correspondence with Amy. I also found the willingness of the townsfolk to have Sara move into Amy’s house more than a little puzzling.

Putting those issues aside, this is an appealing story and, having had a bookstore myself, I totally get Sara’s desire to share her love of books with the town. There’s something truly uplifting about finding the right book for a person or just in helping them experience the joy of escaping into whatever world a particular book offers. I don’t mean to sound silly about it but being a bookseller is a passion that never goes away and I know that librarians and individual readers lending books to their friends feel the same joy. That goes for today’s book bloggers, too, who simply have to tell people about the books they want others to know about. Because of all that, and Sara’s general aimlessness, I did believe in her idea of having the bookstore.

The other aspect of the tale that I found interesting is the juxtaposition of the dying town, Broken Wheel, with the nearby more prosperous town of Hope. Without knocking the reader over the head with the comparison, Ms. Bivald brings the two towns into the full light of day and watching what happens to Broken Wheel and to Sara when she opens her bookstore is endearing to say the least. Bookstores really can be the heart of a community and that’s why I long to be running one again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Book Review: Purebred Dead by Kathleen Delaney

Purebred DeadPurebred Dead
A Mary McGill Mystery #1
Kathleen Delaney
Severn House, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-7278-8501-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Pillar of the community, Mary McGill has a finger in every pie, a place on every committee. She’s the one the townsfolk can count on when they need help. Everything Mary organizes runs smoothly – apart, that is, from the town’s traditional Christmas pageant. For the festivities are rudely interrupted by the discovery of a blood-stained corpse lying in the manger. Cowering beside the body is a small black-and-white puppy.

Two local children report seeing a shadowy figure fleeing from the scene – but there are no clues as to the murderer’s identity. If Mary could only find out what the puppy was doing there, she would be one step closer to finding the killer. As someone who knows nothing about dogs, purebred or otherwise, Mary had better learn – and fast – before she and the children become the next victims.

Like many other mystery aficionados, I enjoy a good cozy set in a small town where everybody seems to know everybody else, where the sleuth has some common sense and where the murderous activity turns out to be a puzzle that keeps me guessing for a while. Such is Purebred Dead and this one has the added attraction of a pet-related theme that is quite evident in real life, the very profitable world of dog breeding.

As in many mysteries of this type, character development is paramount and I have to say I found Mary to be very appealing in her normalcy. Here’s a woman we’ve all run into before, the retiree who throws herself into civic and charitable work first because she believes she should but also because she simply can’t NOT do it. Mary is actually a little annoying because she complains, very mildly, that she just can’t take on one more task and then she does anyway. That annoyance is overshadowed, though, by her intelligence and her determination to set things right as well as she can while not interfering with police efforts.

Other characters are also quite likeable, especially the children and Mary’s family, and the canine element is interesting as well as educational. I don’t think it’s farfetched that dog breeding would be at the core of the crime as this has become a sort of cottage industry with too many opportunities for abuse, fraud, greed, etc. Puppy mills abound and small towns are certainly not immune to the dark side of breeding; they may even be more likely settings since official scrutiny is probably less intense.

Killing a veterinarian, even one who is disgraced, is a bit unusual since there’s no immediately apparent motive and Mary doesn’t have any particular expertise in investigating crime nor does she know much about the dog world. What she does offer is a logical mind and concern for truth plus she knows the people in her town. It’s not surprising that the chief of police, who happens to be her nephew, recognizes that Mary might be an asset in his investigation and I really appreciated the mutual respect between Mary and Dan, not always evident in a small town cozy.

The solution itself is not especially deep but it’s a good puzzle full of potential suspects and motives. Ms. Delaney is an accomplished mystery author with multiple books to her credit and it shows in this new series, one I’ll be following with much enjoyment. Besides, how can I resist Millie?  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.