Book Review: Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon by Donna Andrews

Crouching Buzzard, Leaping LoonCrouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon
A Meg Langslow Mystery #4
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, January 2003
ISBN 978-0-312-27731-4
Hardcover

Poor Meg Langslow—injured in a freak accident, she’s agreed to work temporarily in her brother’s hot computer game company until she can get back to her blacksmithing. Rob can’t give her any real details but he thinks something “fishy” is going on in the company and wants her to be his undercover sleuth.

Mutant Wizards is full of the usual bizarre computer geeks and has a bunch of definitely strange psychotherapists sharing the office space because they refuse to vacate the premises. Rob is continually leaping around in his decidedly untalented attempts to master the martial arts. Among the other crazies are rabid computer game fans trying to steal secrets, a large and very scary biker whose reason for staging menacing appearances is not quite clear, an injured and cranky buzzard recuperating on a perch in the reception lobby and a practical joker named Ted who likes to ride around the office on the mail cart pretending to be dead. So how could Rob notice that anything’s fishy? To Meg, it all seems fairly normal, considering what kind of business this is, except maybe for the buzzard.

Fairly normal, that is, until she realizes that Ted isn’t pretending anymore…

Replete with a cast of decidedly odd characters, nearly all of whom look like pretty good suspects with a wealth of motives, this latest in the Meg Langslow series is laugh-out-loud funny and has a good mystery to boot. Author Donna Andrews, winner of multiple awards, delivers again and I can only say “I want more!”

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2002. Slightly revised 2016.
Review first published on murderexpress.net in 2002.

Note 7/3/16: After years of following this wacky and wonderful series, Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon is still one of my very favorite cozies 😉

Book Review: Lantern by Chess Desalls

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Title: Lantern
Author: Chess Desalls
Publisher: Czidor Lore
Publication Date: December 11, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

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Links to get your free copy:

Barnes & Noble // iTunes // Amazon

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LanternLantern
Chess Desalls
Czidor Lore, December 2015
Ebook

From the author—

Five days before Halloween, all sixteen-year-old Tori has on her mind is vacationing with her family and scoring lots of candy. Her grandmother’s estate, with its Gothic spires and trails that lead out to the woods, holds an unexpected secret: a lantern that lights up for Tori and nobody else. Certain that it’s a ghost or a prank, she investigates further and discovers a mysterious life that shines in the darkness.

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Chess Desalls has other books under her belt, none of which I’ve seen, and I’m curious now as to whether Lantern is reminiscent of those or totally different. It definitely is not what I was expecting but that’s not a bad thing.

Sort of a modern-day fairy tale, sort of a romance (although a light one), Lantern is a sweet story, I might say even sugary, the story of a girl who believes in the impossible. That “impossible” includes a family dynamic we’re never likely to see in real life in which teenaged Tori is always happy to look after her 3-year-old brother and her perfect relationship with her parents is marred only by a brief episode of rebellion.

Jared is another oddity, a young man who barely questions his transition from another world to this one and he fits in astoundingly well. Miraculously, he speaks Tori’s language and dresses much like any young man in our society despite being from a world that exists  somewhere out there.

I like everyone in Lantern and enjoyed the story even though it’s much fluffier than my usual fare…but I still have no idea what actually happened 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2016.

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About the Author

Chess DesallsChess Desalls is the author of the YA time travel series, The Call to Search Everywhen. She’s a longtime reader of fantasy and sci-fi novels, particularly classics and young adult fiction. Her nonfiction writing has led to academic and industry publications. She’s also a contributing editor for her local writing club’s monthly newsletter. The California Writers Club, South Bay branch, has awarded two of Chess’ stories first place for best short fiction. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys traveling and trying to stay in tune on her flute.

Travel Glasses is YA fantasy filled with metafiction and other literary twistiness. Sign up for Chess’ newsletter to receive updates on giveaways and new releases.

Author Links:

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook

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Book Reviews: The King of Fear by Drew Chapman and The Vulture by Frederick Ramsay

The King of FearThe King of Fear
A Garrett Reilly Thriller
Drew Chapman
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-2591-8
Trade Paperback

A rousing episodic thriller with thoughtful implications for today’s economic world. Smoothly written and discerning readers can tell after just a few chapters that the author has written for series television. The structure of the novel falls neatly into segments with alarm, partial resolution and danger or abrupt cliff-hanger, every few chapters. That isn’t a bad thing, even if it gets predictable.

Readers of thriller fiction and television crime series aficionados will recognize many of the characters assembled in these pages to help the protagonist, Garrett Reilly, meet and best an insidious foreign plotter who is attempting to destroy America’s economy in one massive attack. The novel ranges over the entire world allowing readers to experience both spare and flowery location descriptions and to introduce a large number of unusual and talented characters. Character descriptions with background information is plentiful throughout the book as are a large number of competing organizations.

Lead defender, Garrett Reilly, is wanted by the FBI and the New York Police as a person of interest in the murder of the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. While dodging law enforcement, Reilly goes back to work for the Federal government as the only economist with the talent and intelligence to possibly save the nation’s economy from this massive attack. He leads a group of rag-tag hackers, thinkers and off-the-grid creative young people called Ascendant, a secret government experiment in cyber exploration.

It all has the frightening feel of reality and real possibility. A good solid thriller.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 2016.
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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The VultureThe Vulture
An Ike Schwartz Mystery #10
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0476-0
Hardcover

This tenth book in the Ike Schwartz series sends Ike and his college president wife Ruth into turbulent hiding from a wealthy, vengeful oligarch. A huge bomb destroys the sheriff’s vehicle and soon another explosion of a large propane tank eliminates his cabin in the woods where his wife, Ruth, is said to be hiding. Ike and Ruth are believed to be dead.

The cliché, ‘ripped from the headlines,’ is very appropriate here. A ruthless, obscenely wealthy oligarch who believes himself to be the savior of a failing nation, has created a kingdom on a huge private tract of land. From this base he hopes, one day, to launch a government takeover. The kingdom is located in, of all places, Idaho. Martin Pangborn’s radical racist militia has been dubbed the Fifty-first Star. He is the classic case of the public ultra-conservative hiding the most despicable of slimy self-indulgent beings. The intellectual duel between the sheriff of Picketsville and the bad guys is almost biblical in its structure and resolution.

All the characters fans of the Ike Schwartz crime novels will know are here, and they all have important roles to fill in weaving together a host of fibers aimed at entrapping Mr. Pangborn. Pangborn has been at pains over the years to corrupt and insert law enforcement personnel, ordinary murderers, civic officials at various levels, up to the Senate of the United States. So, the plot is tangled, textured and complicated. Or at least the moves to resolve an up-to-the-minute plot are so.

Anyone reading this fine novel who is aware of public affairs in this country during the last decade will recognize some of the incidents and many of the players. Fast-paced, filled with emotional ups and downs, the author has fashioned an excellent and enjoyable reading experience.

As is usual, I received a free copy of the novel from the publisher with no expectations whatsoever.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2015.
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: Charlotte’s Story by Laura Benedict—and a Giveaway!

Charlotte's StoryCharlotte’s Story
A Bliss House Novel #2
Laura Benedict
Pegasus Crime, October 2015
ISBN 978-1605988788
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The fall of 1957 was a seemingly idyllic, even prosperous, time down in southern Virginia. A young housewife, Charlotte Bliss, lives with her husband, “Press” Bliss, and their two young children, Eva Grace and Michael, in the gorgeous Bliss family home. On the surface, theirs seems a calm, picturesque life, but soon tragedy befalls them: four deaths, with seemingly simple explanations.

But nothing is simple if Bliss House is involved.

Charlotte, nearly crippled with grief, feels more and more isolated from everyone around her. The only thing that brings her solace is going through the old photos and curiosities left behind by her mother-in-law. Then she makes a startling discovery that points not to tragedy, but to murder. How far will Charlotte go to discover the truth? And how far will she get without knowing who her real enemy is?

Not for the faint of heart, or those disturbed by sexual situations and violence, Charlotte‘s Story injects new levels of horror into the classic Southern gothic.

When I was first offered the opportunity to review Charlotte’s Story, I jumped right on it. I was unfamiliar with Laura Benedict or the first book in the trilogy, Bliss House, but I was immediately captivated by the notion that the setting for the house in question is Virginia, my home state. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed 😉

Melding a ghost story with a mystery and a far-reaching, torturous family dynamic is pretty much the essence of a Southern gothic and Ms. Benedict does this quite well. Almost from the first page, there’s an aura of creepiness rather than fright and, as the word indicates, the feeling creeps up on the reader more and more as time goes on till you find yourself mired in a sense of doom and total sympathy for Charlotte, a woman being driven to madness. There’s also a lot of sadness here, not only with multiple deaths but also in the downward spiral of love and trust.

I did feel that the story is too slow to develop and I put the book down a couple of times. Still, I couldn’t just walk away from it and I’m glad I stuck with it. The pace does pick up and, long before I reached the very unexpected ending, I was madly turning pages to see what would happen next. Appropriately, Ms. Benedict left me wishing the third book, The Abandoned Heart, was ready to read but, alas, I’ll have to wait a while.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

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Purchase Links:

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About the Author

Laura BenedictLaura Benedict is the author of Charlotte‘s Story and Bliss House, the first two novels in the Bliss House trilogy, as well as several other novels of dark suspense. Her work has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. She lives with her family in Southern Illinois. Visit laurabenedict.com.

Connect with Laura on Facebook and Twitter.

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Leave a comment below to enter
the drawing
for a print or ebook
copy, winner’s choice, of the first

novel in the trilogy, Bliss House by
Laura Benedict. The winning name
will be
drawn on Saturday evening,
November 21st. Print is
open to residents
of the US, ebook is open internationally.

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“Expertly paced revelations help build a sense of encroaching horror.
A satisfyingly creepy tale for a rainy night.”—Publishers Weekly

“An evocative, frightening and flawless gothic, Charlotte’s Story 
is guaranteed to send a delicious chill down your spine. Nobody
does more for the modern southern gothic than Laura Benedict.” 
—J.T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of What Lies Behind

“Laura Benedict spins an ever-shifting web of shadow and light.
A thrilling read. Benedict writes with passion and authority. 
Charlotte‘s Story is not to be missed.” —Carolyn Haines, author
of the Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries, and The Seeker

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Book Reviews: Strong Light of Day by Jon Land and Lord of the Wings by Donna Andrews

Strong Light of DayStrong Light of Day
A Caitlin Strong Novel #7
Jon Land
Forge, October 2015
ISBN: 978-0-7653-3512-8
Hardcover

Author Jon Land, in the seventh adventure featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, once more takes the reader on a breathless thrill ride of a story. As is his method, Land ties Caitlin’s present day case to an operation her father began years ago. Strong Light of Day has its roots in the 1980s–the historical aspect more recent than most of the series, and the enemy, aside from a home-grown psychopath who just might scare you to death, are Russian.

Caitlin is drawn into the story when thirty high school students disappear while on a camping trip. One of the students is Luke Masters, the son of her lover, Cort Wesley Masters. At the same time, not far from the campers last position, a herd of cattle die, with only bones left to tell the tale.

Where are the kids? What happened to the cattle? Why are there dead fields? And why is billionaire oilman Calum Dane and his conglomerate buying the land up? This is the mystery Caitlin has to solve, and she’d better do it quickly because when the Russians join Dane and close in, time is about to run out.

This is a Caitlin Strong novel. Expect a mile-a-minute pace and a high body count. Not that the bad guys don’t deserve it. Expect Caitlin to get a lot of help from a recurring cast of characters, including Cort Wesley Masters, Captain Depper, and especially, Colonel Paz, a seemingly indestructible giant of a man who, through a sort of supernatural tie, has appointed himself her guardian. And thank goodness for that!

With the historical ties played down in this outing, I appreciate the short excerpts from Texas Ranger archives and some of the best researched non-fiction that Land always includes at the front of the chapters.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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Lord of the WingsLord of the Wings
A Meg Langslow Mystery #19
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, August 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-04958-2
Hardcover

It’s Halloween in Caerphilly.  Meg, who heads the Goblin Patrol, AKA the Visitor Relations and Police Liaison Patrol, is mildly puzzled to hear that Dr. Smoot’s Haunted House has been burgled. What is there to steal?  She’s more upset when a fake body part turns up in her grandfather’s alligator exhibit during her six-year-old twins’ school visit.  But when two Goblin Patrollers find a real body, she goes into full investigative mode.  Is the body connected to her brother Rob’s latest computer game release? Or to one of the “treasures” in Dr. Smoot’s local history museum? Or to one of the many, many costumed tourists who have flocked into Caerphilly’s town-wide Halloween bash?

Strange occurrences abound, stranger friends and relatives dive in to help out (or not), and Meg copes with everything with her usual humor and competence.  Not even a horde of LARPers and the Rancid Dreads, a truly awful rock band, can get her down.

I’m so glad I got to review this book.  Despite other glowing reviews, I’d avoided the series because I have a thing about overbearing families.  I hate seeing a heroine pushed around. Boy, was I wrong.  Meg’s wildly eccentric family is a delight–to read about, anyway, and seeing Meg deal with their antics is enormously entertaining.  I rushed to the library for Murder with Peacocks and devoured it.  I’m just about done with We’ll Always Have Parrots now, and I have the next two right by my comfy-chair, ready to go.  Thank you, Donna Andrews, for writing such cheerful, funny, fascinating books.

I highly recommend Lord of the Wings.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, September 2015.

Book Reviews: Nine Lives to Die by Rita Mae Brown and An Intimate Murder by Stacy Verdick Case

Nine Lives to DieNine Lives to Die
A Mrs. Murphy Mystery
Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown
Illustrated by Michael Gellatly
Bantam Books, June 2014
ISBN 978-0-345-53050-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Winter has come to Crozet, Virginia, bringing with it a fresh blanket of snow. Harry and her husband, Fair, are hip deep in their usual end-of-the-year activities: distributing food to needy residents, and shopping for outfits for the Silver Linings youth organization’s annual fundraising gala. But buried beneath the white stuff are dark secrets from Crozet’s past—and Harry and her posse of pet detectives are determined to sniff them out.
 
Two Silver Linings mentors have been found dead in suspicious circumstances. If that weren’t enough to chill the bones of the locals, a pair of severed human fingers has turned up in a pencil jar in the bookkeeper’s office at St. Cyril’s church. What does this grisly display have to do with the mysterious disappearance of Harry’s voluptuous high school Latin teacher, a quarter of a century ago? Maybe nothing. But when the animals make another gruesome discovery in the woods behind Harry’s farm, it becomes clear that terrible crimes have been committed in Crozet—and somebody’s gone to great lengths to cover them up. It’s time to stop shoveling snow and start digging for clues.
 
The truth will be revealed. A cold case will be solved. And a twenty-five-year-old love triangle is about to get untangled. The weather outside may be frightful, but Harry and her four-legged friends refuse to be spooked off the case.

It’s hard to believe this series has been going on for so long but, indeed, it has—this is the twenty-second adventure for Harry and her four-footed pals and I still think spending a few hours with this crew is just about the most comforting and entertaining way to indulge my fancy for a cozy mystery. I’m a reader who generally prefers edgier crime fiction but sometimes I need a break from the dark stuff and Rita Mae Brown always delivers or almost always. There have been a few books that I felt were written as a means of sharing an agenda but Nine Lives to Die is back on track. (There is one unexplained oddity when Harry is referred to as “Harriet” which is not her name.)

Harry and the rest of her rural locality are appealing people (other than the ones who will turn out to be the bad guys) and, after all these years, I consider them friends. Harry and Fair are a couple I wish were in my life for real and the rest of the town denizens always give me a sense of coming home after a time away. I especially like the faith they have in each other and in a higher power and the way they come together as a community to solve problems.

In this case, modern-day murder and some years-old questions become entwined, beginning with what appears at first blush to be a fatal car accident.  Missing fingers are one of the first clues that foul play might have occurred. Not long after, Harry’s pets find a great Christmas present for Mom even if it was originally on a human arm bone. Does the rest of this skeleton have anything to do with current events?

A cast of characters makes it easy to keep all these folks—and a bunch of critters—straight but it is a couple of cats and a dog who are the real stars of the show. Mrs. Murphy, Pewter and Tee Tucker all have one common goal: keep Mom (Harry) from getting herself into too much trouble. Their conversations with each other and other creatures as they track down clues are a lot of fun and, no, I have no problem with talking animals, whether they talk to humans or only to each other. This is fiction, folks, and we’re allowed to have fun with it.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.

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An Intimate MurderAn Intimate Murder
Stacy Verdick Case
Before the Fall Books, October 2014
ISBN 978-0-9837137-6-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Jonathan and Susan Luther are murder in their home, St. Paul homicide detective Catherine O’Brien and her partner Louise discover this isn’t the first time the Luther family has been visited by tragedy.  Is it a case of bad family luck or is there something more?

Having a reporter tag along as you investigate a murder is not any detective’s dream but that’s precisely what happens when Detective Catherine O’Brien mouths off about the media and her punishment is to have Jane Katts along for the ride. It’s even more aggravating when it becomes apparent that Jane has little interest in portraying how the police do their jobs.

Catherine is the kind of detective you’d want on the case should you ever find yourself involved in a murder. She’s determined to root out the truth but she’s not one to believe the ends justify the means; she’ll get the job done honestly and with good oldfashioned hard work. Her friendship with Louise Montgomery is what makes their partnership so successful and, like many partnerships, their differences solidify their compatibility and mutual trust.

Getting to the truth of the Luthers’ murders is a complex and tangled mystery and could easily turn totally dark and depressing but Catherine’s brand of humor adds a dimension that not only helps protect the sanity of cops doing a tough job but also keeps this particular tale a bit more engaging than the usual police procedural and the twists and turns kept me guessing. I really like these women and will be going back to read the first two books as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.

Book Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Lily, Lily BlueBlue Lily, Lily Blue
Book III of the Raven Cycle
Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press, November 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-42496-7
Hardcover

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third installment in the four-book Raven Cycle. That is a tough spot; a lot of pressure for a book. Readers’ expectations are high. We yearn for answers to burning questions. Crave sneaky and clever clues to help us unravel the mysteries shrouding Henrietta, VA. Those secrets resonating from Cabeswater, while rushing through the veins of the kaleidoscopic cast of characters must be uncovered.

Does Ms. Stiefvater deliver? I’ll use a line from the book. My “… heart exploded with furious joy.”

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