Book Review: Swamp Thing: Twin Branches by Maggie Stiefvater @mstiefvater @DCComics

Swamp Thing: Twin Branches
Maggie Stiefvater
Illustrated by Morgan Beem
DC Comics, October 2020
ISBN 978-1-401-29323-9
Trade Paperback

There have been innumerable iterations of DC Comics’ super-hero, the Swamp Thing. The monster that most resembles a mobile mound of plant matter first appeared in a comic book the summer of 1971. Inspiring films, television shows, an animated series and even participating in a Public Service Announcement; he generally fought to protect his Louisiana swamp lands, the environment as a whole, with hope for humanity.

Ms. Stiefvater’s graphic-novel, Swamp Thing: Twin Branches, illustrated by Morgan Beem, does feature an Alec Holland, albeit the youngest one I am aware of. Alec and his twin, Walker, are high-school students unexpectedly spending their summer in the dismal swamps of Virginia. While the two brothers seem to be as different as dark and light, collectively they are worlds away from their wilder, rambunctious cousins.

Walker will always be ready for more friends and tons of fun. Alec is entirely engrossed in his scientific experimentation of isolating plant memories and experiences from his beloved Boris and transferring them to a new seedling. Preoccupied and prickly generally, Alec was snarly about having to upend and move his fragile work. Transportation tumult adversely affected not only all of Alec’s hard work, but also the canine companions of his cousins.

As Alec focuses on resurrecting a year’s worth of work, he is surprised to meet like-minded folks in his new, communal, lab. Through his new acquaintances, he learns that these swamps have harbored their own secrets for quite some time.

I feel like this could be the introduction to a simply stellar Swamp Thing series. If so, I am all in.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2020.

Book Review: The Merlot Murders by Ellen Crosby

The Merlot Murders
A Wine Country Mystery #1
Ellen Crosby
Scribner, August 2006
ISBN 978-0-7432-8990-0
Hardcover

Lucie Montgomery is drawn home to Virginia, to the family vineyards, when she receives news her father has died in a shooting accident. She has been living in French wine country after an automobile accident crippled one of her legs. From the moment she arrives in Virginia, barely in time for her father’s funeral, she is beset with demands for money. Some are to repay a small fortune in loans in order to keep the winery running, which may mean selling the vineyard that has been in the family for more than two hundred years. There are even those who want to be paid for snippets of information when it comes down to solving the mystery.

You see, all too soon it becomes clear her father did not die in an accident, but was murdered. Then, after speaking with her uncle Fitz, he, too, is murdered. And when Lucie is run off the road one night, it becomes apparent that she, too, may have become a target. Why? Is it because she refuses to sell the property, sure that the business can be saved when properly run? Her brother and her sister, co-inheritors, certainly have differences of opinion.

So who is the killer? One of her family? Or could it be the mysterious consortium who wants to buy the property to build a theme park?

This is one of those books that has a good mystery. It also teaches the process of winemaking in a most engaging way. However, I’m sorry to say my enjoyment stopped there. I found the characters singularly unlikeable, even Lucie. The brother was an obnoxious cad, and Lucie herself a terrible judge of character. I guess if you want to read about a dysfunctional family along with the wonderfully descriptive details of the vineyard, this will suit quite well.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 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: A New Place, Another Murder by Christa Nardi @ChristaN7777 @SDSXXTours

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Title: A New Place, Another Murder
Series: A Sheridan Hendley Mystery #1
Author: Christa Nardi
Publication Date: June 22, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Cozy

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Amazon // Indiebound

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A New Place, Another Murder
A Sheridan Hendley Mystery #1
Christa Nardi
CreateSpace, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-7218369-1-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for.

Pretty much settled into her new home in Appomattox with Brett and his daughter, Sheridan longs for something to keep her busy.  That is, until Maddie and her new friend are framed for theft and murder.  Not quite the distraction she had hoped for, but she’ll turn over every rock to prove their innocence.  In the process, she learns about the powerful Buchanan family and the history of the local community.  Will the truth come out before the person calling the shots takes Sheridan and Maddie out of the picture?

You never know what will draw you to a particular book or series; in my case with A New Place, Another Murder, it was the setting in Appomattox County because I’ve frequently driven through there on my way from Richmond to visit family in Roanoke. And, of course, there’s an awful lot of history there.

As for the storyline, Ms. Nardi has crafted a good one with fully-fleshed characters and a puzzling mystery that was credible and not too easy to figure out. It’s also a story of a blended family and how nice things can be when the family members actually like and trust each other, something that doesn’t always happen when a new parent figure steps in.  When Maddie and Alex are targeted as the possible thieves and a man has been killed, Sheridan dives in out of necessity because Maddie’s dad, Brett, is on the state police force and has to stay out of it, being her dad.

The main characters come from a previous series that I haven’t read but that didn’t matter too much as it was easy to connect with them in their new surroundings even though I didn’t know the details of their backstories. Brett doesn’t discourage Sheridan’s sleuthing skills, which is a nice touch, and Sheridan does have some experience so her investigation comes naturally. While I found the pacing to be a bit too slow for my liking, I did enjoy this book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2020.

About the Author

Christa Nardi is an accomplished author of cozy mysteries. Christa’s background is in higher education and psychology, much as her protagonist, Sheridan Hendley in the Cold Creek mystery series. She has always loved mysteries – reading them, writing them, and solving them. Christa is a member of Sisters in Crime.

Connect with Christa:

Website // Facebook // Twitter //
Bookbub // Amazon // Goodreads

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

$15 Amazon Gift Card

Enter here.

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Book Review: The Hidden Key by David E. Grogan

The Hidden Key
A Steve Stilwell Thriller #3
David E. Grogan
Camel Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-60381-580-2
Trade Paperback

Having never read David E. Grogan’s previous books, when I finished this one, I read reviews of Sapphire Pavilion and The Siegel Dispositions.  Having done so I discovered I am definitely in a minority when it comes to Grogan’s books.  Praise for those previous stories abounds but I just could not get on board (no pun intended).  I found both the story and the writing not even close to believable including his use of verbs that just did not match the emotions being communicated.

The Hidden Key begins with two men breaking into the home of a former Navy Seabee looking for an artifact, a clay tablet stolen from Iraq, that he advertised for sale on the internet.  Unbelievable violence ensues when the Seabee denies any knowledge of the artifact.  This is just the beginning of the body count.

About a week later Steve Stilwell, a lawyer in Virginia and a retired Navy JAG officer, meets a prospective client for dinner in London, having been contacted by the man and asked to join him in London as soon as possible.  The prospective client wants to hire Stilwell to probate his estate in the US.  As they are discussing the matter, two armed men enter the restaurant and the client ends up dead.  Stilwell later discovers that the client has wills in the US, India, and Italy but his job involves only the one in the US.  However, in addition to his will, the client has  left specific instructions as to how cash he left in a safe deposit box was to be distributed and where he was to be buried, specifying that his wife in India might not agree to either but he wanted his wishes honored.

Of course, the man’s wife needed to be informed of these instructions so Stilwell’s law partner, Casey, a former Army helicopter pilot, is dispatched to India to meet with her.  Despite a warm welcome from the woman, Casey ends up being attacked after their meeting.  Meanwhile, Stilwell has gone to Italy to meet with his client’s mistress where, perhaps you guessed it, more violence and murders ensue.  Meanwhile, the artifact that started this whole venture has been found, then lost, then found again.  It turns out that the artifact is a map to the Garden of Eden.  And, oh yes, the FBI, New Scotland Yard, and the Italian Carabinieri (because of a heist of the Shroud of Turin) are also involved.

Because I found this book beyond fantastical, I cannot recommend it but if you liked Grogan’s previous books you will probably like this one too.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, April 2020.

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: Bearskin by James A. McLaughlin

Bearskin
James A. McLaughlin
Ecco, June 2018
ISBN 978-0-0627-4279-7
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Rice Moore is just beginning to think his troubles are behind him.  He’s taken a job as a caretaker for a remote forest preserve in Virginia, tracking wildlife and refurbishing cabins.  It’s totally solitary – – perfect to hide from the Mexican drug cartels he betrayed back in Arizona.  But when Rice finds the carcass of a bear killed on the grounds, his quiet life is upended.  Rice becomes obsessed with catching the poachers before more bears are harmed. Partnering with his predecessor, a scientist who hopes to continue her research on the preserve, Rice puts into motion a plan to stop the bear killings, but it ultimately leads to hostile altercations with the locals, the law, and even his own employers.  His past is catching up to him in dangerous ways and he may not be able to outrun it for much longer.

The underlying plot line has to do with the killing of bears so that their galls and paws may be harvested and sold to what apparently is a steady demand by drug cartels’ clients.

Rick Morton is using the name of Rice Moore so his real identity could not be tracked by those trying to find and kill him, apparently not a short list, headed by a Mexican drug gang against whom he had testified a year prior.   (He already apparently had a glass kneecap.)  I was amused when he introduces himself to someone using a name he had picked from the phone book “because he didn’t want to use his real fake name.”  The owners of a cabin Rice is working on wanted to turn the cabin into a guest house for scientists. The people from whom he is hiding are not to be trifled with.  One man they were hunting had his face skinned, then sewed back on, just to “prove they could do whatever they wanted.”  A woman with whom Rice is very close had been kidnapped and then raped.  As Turk Mountain Preserve Caretaker, Rice, who was born in New Mexico and grew up mostly in Tucson, is a target whose capture is always a threat.  Rice is “intrigued by the concept of bear culture,” leading to the reader doing likewise.  Much of this is fascinating stuff, I have to say (although it may not seem that way at first blush).  Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2018.

Book Review: The Devil’s Triangle by Howard Owen

The Devil’s Triangle
Willie Black Series #6
Howard Owen
The Permanent Press, June 2017
ISBN: 978-1-57962-499-6
Hardcover

The eponymous area of Richmond, Virginia had had an unsavory reputation, although not so much in recent years. The opening lines of the book are quite attention-getting:  “In the flaming hell that used to be one of my watering holes, last call came about eight hours early.  You don’t really expect a twin-engine Beechcraft to crash through the plate-glass window during happy hour.”

The author doesn’t really lose that initial grab of the reader’s attention through the remainder of the book, with tight plotting and wonderful writing, complete with sympathetic main characters, especially the protagonist, one Willie Black, a newspaperman of mixed race in a dying profession, one of many in a “dystopian march to obsolescence marked by layoffs, furloughs, and shortened hours.”    We are told that more “staples of twenty-first century print journalism are on the way.”  We meet Mal “Wheelie” Wheelwright, the editor, and the “print journalists” of which Willie is one.  Willie says they “have to be like sharks. Keep moving or die. Either take a promotion or move to a bigger paper. . . At fifty-six, you want to be the SOB, not the person who works for SOBs. You aren’t likely to fire yourself.”  Especially so for those in the “Fatal Fifties – – too young to retire, too old to outwork or underbid the damn millennials and their younger siblings.”

There is initially the suspicion that the “tragic air disaster in Richmond” was the work of foreign terrorists.  The reporters on The Triangle go to the scene of the crime, where Willie finds Larry Doby Jones, the chief of police, standing “half a block from the carnage.”  Of course, TV reporters were there en masse, as were print journalists from every paper from the Washington Post on down.  We soon meet Willie’s family:  His mother Peggy, 74, whose significant other is referred to simply as “Awesome Dude;” his daughter Andi, and grandson, William, typically, it would seem, a young boy born out of wedlock, as is Willie himself.  Willie is renting a place from his third ex-wife, Kate, and lives there with his current romantic attachment, Cindy.

From the publisher:  The obvious answers, though, just don’t pan out.  All the shoot-from-the-hip purveyors of vigilante justice have to stand down when it becomes clear that the pilot of the suicide plane was a disaffected former Richmonder, David Biggio, with no known links to any terrorist organizations, foreign or domestic.  For Willie Black, the daily newspaper’s hard-charging, hard-drinking night cops reporter, the question still remains:  Why?

The story soon seems apparent:  “Crazy guy gets crazier when his wife leaves him and takes his only child.  He steals a plane and makes some kind of cataclysmic statement a few blocks from where his former family lives.”  The number of dead reaches 25.  The tale follows Willie’s investigation and its culmination, where every loose end is neatly tied up.   This is the author’s fifteenth novel, and the sixth in the Willie Black series.  It is really a page-turner, and I can’t wait for the next in the series. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2017.