Book Review: The Sinners by Ace Atkins

The Sinners
A Quinn Colson Novel #8
Ace Atkins
Putnam, July 2018
ISBN: 978-0-399-57674-4
Hardcover

Quinn Colson finally is going to tie the knot, but events tend to interfere with the planning, much less the ceremony itself.  It’s a good thing Maggie Powers, his betrothed, is an understanding woman.  As sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, Colson is hoping for some quiet, but an invasion of a couple of gangsters, a drug war and assorted underworld internecine strife tends to interfere.

Moreover, Quinn’s best man, Boom Kimbrough, gets a job driving trucks for a shady outfit that traffics in drugs and women.  When a couple of wannabes, the Pritchard brothers, who grow the best weed, want to branch out and hijack Boom’s semi, the gangsters blame Boom as a conspirator and almost kill him, giving Quinn additional incentive to take action.

The latest in this long-running series, the novel is written in the inimitable style Ace Atkins has developed to portray the south inhabited by the characters he writes about.  The series consists of excellent crime novels, filled with colorful characters.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2018.

Book Reviews: The Final Vow by Amanda Flower and Sip by Brian Allen Carr

The Final Vow
A Living History Museum Mystery #3
Amanda Flower
Midnight Ink, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4592-3
Trade Paperback

A hugely important wedding is taking place at the Barton Farm Living History Museum. Museum director Kelsey Cambridge is in charge of corroborating with the wedding planner to make sure everything goes smoothly. Tough times. Not only are they contending with a supreme bridezilla, but the wedding planner gets thrown from the church steeple.

Turns out Vianna Pine was not only rather unpleasant, but was almost as demanding as her clients. Not only that, she’d just found out she was the real heiress to the Barton Farm property and people are running scared. Plenty motive for murder.

Meanwhile, Kelsey is under time restraints to have the murder solved before the wedding and so, predictably, she takes a hand in the investigation. The catch? Her ex-husband is the bridezilla’s groom.

I admit I found myself annoyed with Kelsey. For a character supposedly in charge of a project like the living history museum, I thought she lacked backbone. I’d like to have seen her much stronger and more decisive. A great many of her employees, to whom she was so loyal, were thoroughly unpleasant. And the motive for the murder seemed too light. The chemistry between Kelsey and her boyfriend Chase was almost non-existent, seemingly thrown in because she needs a romantic interest.

Even so, the book moves along at a lively pace, and is clean fun read for a summer evening.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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Sip
Brian Allen Carr
Soho Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-827-5
Hardcover

What a premise! Mr. Carr has an extraordinarily creative mind to have come up with the idea of people who get high by drinking their own shadow. A sort of disease afflicting one child quickly took over the world, with only small pockets of non-addicted people. Soon, certain factions moved into domes and shut the addicts out. Trains began running in circles⏤I’ve got to admit I never did figure out the purpose of this⏤and folks began cutting off limbs and drinking the shadows these arms and legs made. Violence, destruction, and death became commonplace. And apparently nobody cared.

Except Mira, whose shadow has been stolen, and is friends with Murk, who is an addict, and they are joined by Bale, a “domer” who was thrown off a train to die because he wasn’t murderous enough. Together, they go on a quest to discover a cure to the shadow addiction, but there’s a time problem. They have to find it before the return of Halley’s Comet in just a few days.

What did I think of this story? To tell the truth, I’m not quite sure. I keep asking myself why? Why would anybody do the things they do, or think the things they think. But then I turn on the news or read a paper and it all becomes almost logical.

The characters in this story are strong personalities, each and every one. The dialogue is sharp, the frequent obscenities seeming normal in context. There are twists and turns and puzzles at every point, so you don’t dare miss a word. And the end makes sense. Don’t expect this novel to give you the warm fuzzies, by any means. But be assured this is a book that will make you think, and that you won’t forget⏤ever.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: A Deadly Eclair by Daryl Wood Gerber—and a Giveaway!

A Deadly Eclair
A French Bistro Mystery #1
Daryl Wood Gerber
Crooked Lane Books, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-68331-341-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s always been Mimi Rousseau’s dream to open her own bistro, but it seems beyond her grasp since she’s been chased back home to Nouvelle Vie in Napa Valley by her late husband’s tremendous debt. Until her best friend Jorianne James introduces her to entrepreneur Bryan Baker who invests in promising prospects. Now, working the bistro and inn until she’s able to pay it off and call it her own, Mimi is throwing the inn’s first wedding ever.

The wedding will be the talk of the town, as famous talk show host Angelica Edmonton, daughter of Bryan’s half-brother, Edison, has chosen the inn as her perfect venue. Anxious, Mimi is sure things are going to turn south, especially when Edison gets drunk and rowdy at the out-of-towners’ dinner, but by the evening, things begin to look up again. That is until six AM rolls around, and Bryan is found dead at the bistro with an éclair stuffed in his mouth. And the fingers point at Mimi, whose entire loan is forgiven in Bryan’s will.

An interesting thing occurred to me while I was reading this cozy—the main characters were not always very likeable, or relatable for that matter, but it didn’t really matter all that much. In fact, I’m usually bothered by a very large cast but not this time because Ms. Gerber makes them all so individualistic and memorable.

Most satisfying to me, the protagonist, Mimi Rousseau, has a very legitimate reason to do her own investigating because she’s been pegged as a prime suspect. That’s what happens when the death of a murder victim benefits one person in such a generous fashion. Mimi is a smart lady, not inclined towards putting herself in jeopardy (which I appreciate greatly) and a wedding party full of hostile relatives of both the bride and groom gives her a plethora of potential killers to check out. That’s the trouble, actually—too many possibilities send Mimi and the reader in so many directions that solving Bryan’s murder becomes something like wading through a bog but Mimi finally gets to the other side. As for me, I was kept guessing almost to the denouement, mainly because I kept changing my mind.

This author clearly has a sure hand with whodunnits. I haven’t read any of Ms. Gerber‘s earlier work and there’s a lot of it but, if A Deadly Eclair is any indication, I think I need to start reading.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of A Deadly Eclair by Daryl Wood
Gerber, leave
a comment below. One
winning name will
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Book Review: All Signs Point to Murder by Connie di Marco—and a Giveaway!

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Title: All Signs Point to Murder
Series: A Zodiac Mystery #2
Author: Connie di Marco
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Publication Date: August 8, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Cozy

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Purchase Links:

              

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All Signs Point to Murder
A Zodiac Mystery #2
Connie di Marco
Midnight Ink, August 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5107-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Rob Ramer was the perfect husband until he committed the ultimate family faux pas — he shot his sister-in-law to death. Believing himself under attack by an intruder in his home, he fired back. But when evidence is discovered that Rob’s wife, Brooke, was plotting his murder, Brooke is charged with conspiracy in her sister’s death. Geneva, a third sister, is desperate for answers and seeks the help of her friend, San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti. Geneva’s lost one sister and now it seems she’ll lose the other. Was this a murder plot or just a terrible accident? Julia vows to find the answer in the stars.

Generally speaking, I like cozies but I find some of them overly simplistic and too often one is just like the next—different occupation but the same romance, the same reasons for sleuthing when the police haven’t even had a chance to do their jobs. Still, they can be a nice change from the grittier, perhaps more violent crime fiction I usually choose.

All Signs Point to Murder is a good blend of types and I appreciate that. The initial crime is interesting because of the circumstances and the people involved and, while I’m not a true believer in astrology, I understand why it appeals to so many and why Geneva turns to Julia for help. Perhaps someone who reads the stars, and does it well, could see possibilities others might not. As it turns out, Julia does begin to discover things that lead to more questions and, eventually, to answers.

While I enjoyed this book, I do think the author missed a golden opportunity. Readers like me who don’t understand much about astrology are potential sponges for learning but there’s very little explanation here, mostly just statements. Because of that, I skimmed a fair amount and gave my attention to solving the puzzle which, by the way, was not all that easy; I figured out the simple who early on but not the broader who or the why so there was plenty for me to think about.

Besides crafting an intriguing cozy with an edge, Ms. di Marco also has a knack for characters and I found I especially liked Cheryl and Gale as well as Julia and won’t mind spending more time with them in the future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

An Excerpt from All Signs Point to Murder

The building on Guerrero was a once proud Victorian with bow front windows. It had since been broken up into six small units and fallen into disrepair. I drove around the block several times before I managed to find a parking spot a few doors down. The shops on the main street were long closed and the streets deserted. I shivered and let the car heater run another minute to warm up before I left the comfort of my little metal box. There was something about this chore that made my stomach go into knots. Rummaging through a dead woman’s possessions was bad enough, but what if I found something that implicated Moira in a crime? Should I remove it and risk the police finding out?

I climbed out of the car, careful to lock it and approached the long stairway leading to the front door. The wind had died down and now fog danced around the streetlights. It was eerily quiet. No lights shone from any of the windows. I hoped all the residents were safely tucked up in their beds by now. I climbed the cracked granite stairs to the entrance. The weathered door stood ajar, listing slightly on its hinges. I grasped the handle and twisted it, but the lock mechanism was out of commission. Inside, a bare overhead light bulb hung from a chain. It cast a meager glow down the long corridor, cannibalized from a once grand entryway. The hallway smelled of dirty cat litter, moldy vegetables and cigarette smoke. I followed the corridor to the end, and stopped at the last door on the right.

I slipped the key into the lock. It offered no resistance. The door opened immediately. Had it not been locked? I caught a slight scuffling sound and cringed. I hoped no furry long-tailed creatures were waiting inside for me. I reached around the doorway and felt along the wall. My fingers hit the switch. A rusting chandelier with two bulbs missing illuminated the one large room that was both Moira’s living room and bedroom. I tested the key with the door open, locking and then unlocking it. Now I felt the resistance. The door had definitely been unlocked. I stepped inside and shut it behind me, making sure the lock was secure. Was it possible someone had been here before me and left without locking the door? Or had Moira simply been careless?

I had to make sure I was alone in the apartment. There were no hiding places in this sparsely furnished room. I checked under the bed just to be sure and opened the closet, terrified that someone or something might jump out at me. The closet was narrow, filled with a jumble of clothing, half on the floor. I walked into the kitchenette and spotted a doorway that led to the back stairs and the yard. I tested the handle on the door. Locked. I checked the space between the refrigerator and the wall, and then the shower stall in the bathroom. I was alone. I had been holding my breath and finally let it out in a great sigh.

I started with the drawers in the kitchen and checked the counter, looking for any notes with names or phone numbers. There was nothing. The kitchen was surprisingly clean, as if Moira had never used the room. Inside the refrigerator were a few condiments, a half-eaten unwrapped apple and a loaf of whole wheat bread. I quickly rummaged through the drawers and the freezer to make sure there were no bundles of cash disguised as frozen meat.

The main room housed a collection of hand-me-downs and broken furniture, ripped curtains and piles of clothing in various spots around the floor. Had she really lived like this? I heaved up the mattress, first on one side and then the other, making sure nothing was hidden between it and the box spring. Under the bed, I spotted only dust bunnies. I pulled open each of the bureau drawers, checked their contents and pulled them all the way out to make sure nothing was behind them. I opened a small drawer in the bedside stand. Amid a loose pile of clutter was a dark blue velvet box embossed with the letter “R” in cursive gold script. Could this be from Rochecault? I was fairly certain it was. Rochecault is an infamously expensive jeweler on Maiden Lane downtown. How could Moira have shopped there? Was this what Geneva had meant when she said her sister seemed to have a lot of money to spend?

I opened the box and gasped. An amazing bracelet heavy with blue stones in varying colors rested inside. The setting had the slightly matte industrial sheen of platinum. Moira couldn’t possibly have afforded this. Shoving the box into a side pocket of my purse, I decided I was definitely not leaving this for the police to find, and slid the drawer shut.

I scanned the room. Moira hadn’t been much of a housekeeper and it didn’t appear as if there were many hiding spots. I headed for the desk, a rickety affair with two drawers and a monitor on top. I clicked on the hard drive and waited a moment. The monitor came to life and asked for a password. It would take someone much more talented than I to unearth its secrets. Under a jumble of papers and unopened bills, my eye caught a small black notebook. This looked promising. Perhaps it was an address book that would give us all of Moira’s contacts. I dropped my purse on the floor and reached for the book. A searing pain shot through my skull. Blinded, I fell to the floor.

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Excerpt from All Signs Point to Murder by Connie di Marco. Copyright © 2017 by Connie di Marco. Reproduced with permission from Connie di Marco. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Connie di Marco is the author of the Zodiac Mysteries from Midnight Ink, featuring San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti. The first in the series, The Madness of Mercury, was released in June 2016 and the second, All Signs Point to Murder, was released on August 8, 2017.

Writing as Connie Archer, she is also the national bestselling author of the Soup Lover’s Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. Some of her favorite recipes can be found in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Connie is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Catch Up With Connie di Marco:

              

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7/23 Guest Post @ CMash Reads
7/23 Review @ Lauras Interests
7/24 Interview @ BooksChatter – GIVEAWAY!
7/24 Showcase @ A Bookworms Journal
7/25 Review @ Booklove
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7/26 Review @ Socrates Review Blog
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7/28 Interview @ Loris Reading Corner
7/28 Review @ Cozy Up With Kathy
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7/30 Guest post @ Cozy Up With Kathy
7/31 Review @ Hott Books
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8/03 Review @ A Holland Reads
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8/04 Guest post @ Jane Reads
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8/07 Review @ the Blacksheep Reader
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8/09 Review @ Book Babble
8/09 Review @ Hezzi-Ds Books and Cooks
8/10 Review @ Puddletown Reviews
8/11 Review @ Carols Notebook
8/12 Review @ Bookishly me
8/13 Showcase @ Suspense Magazine
8/14 Showcase @ Brooke Blogs
8/16 Review @ Buried Under Books – GIVEAWAY
8/17 Showcase @ Sleuth Cafe
8/18 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
8/21 Review @ Melinas Book Blog
8/22 Review @ A Room Without Books is Empty
8/23 Blog Talk Radio w/Fran Lewis
8/23 Review @ Just Reviews

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To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of All Signs Point to Murder,
leave a comment
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Book Review: Matrimony in Miniature by Margaret Grace

Matrimony in Miniature
A Miniature Mystery #9
Margaret Grace
Perseverance Press, September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-56474-575-0
Trade Paperback

Matrimony in Miniature, the ninth book in the Miniatures series, finds protagonist Gerry Porter hustling to wrap up plans for her wedding to Henry Baker. Or, more to the point, her friends are hustling  while Gerry pretty much goes about business as usual. The couple agreed to a small, low key wedding, but Gerry is beginning to suspect that with her friends involved, there will be all sorts of  added frills. She is okay with that as long as the wedding happens and everyone involved has a good time. However, Gerry’s hopes for that diminish considerably when she receives a phone call from the wedding’s venue alerting her that there has been an accident on the premises. Of coarse the accident turns out to be a murder and Gerry being Gerry, she is soon nosing around to see what she can find out. This leads to her granddaughter Maddie also becoming involved.

It’s always good to visit Lincoln Point, California and the cast of characters who range from police officers to small town business owners to the crafting group who meet regularly at Gerry’s craft store. While I am not into miniatures, I am fascinated with the ongoing project in each of the books. In Matrimony in Miniature, Maddie and Henry’s granddaughter Taylor are working on Maddie’s science fair entry, a miniature water treatment plant, while Gerry is working on a new Victorian home.  I am forever impressed by the creative use of everyday things in making props for miniature models and houses.

The murder in this book was a bit more personal to Gerry than in some books as it occurred at the location that was to host her wedding and the victim was the wife of one of her craft group. Those connections give Gerry a reason to be more than a bit anxious to have the case solved. She does try to discourage Maddie from becoming involved, but Maddie has picked up the “investigator bug.”  I hate seeing children in peril. Author Grace skirts dangerously close to that but manages to keep Maddie safe.

The one thing that is a bit of a distraction with this series and seemed especially so in this book, is that the author in an effort to portray the characters’ lives gives the readers a bit too much of their comings and goings. My head hurt from all of the shuffling back and forth of the girls to and from school, Henry’s house and so forth. It seemed like every time the plot was humming along, there would be paragraphs of interruptions while Gerry, Henry or both drive back and forth and numerous phone calls to coordinate the driving. It is a small quibble, but this reader found it distracting.

I suppose it wouldn’t be necessary to have read any of the previous books in the series to enjoy this one. Certainly a lot of the characters’ backstories are given to readers along the way, but I suspect if readers jump into the series with this book they will find themselves seeking out the earlier books.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, June 2017.

Book Review: Scorched Eggs by Laura Childs

Scorched EggsScorched Eggs
A Cackleberry Club Mystery #6
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2014
ISBN 978-0-425-25559-9
Hardcover

A trio of likable characters—Suzanne, Toni,, and Petra– own the Cackleberry Club, a café in the small town of Kindred. While Suzanne is sitting in her red plastic chair getting her hair dyed Blond Bombshell No. 4, the county social services building next door goes up in flames. She watches, horrified, while the lifeless body of longtime county employee Hannah Venable is carried out. Sheriff Doogie lets it slip that the fire chief believes that the fire was intentionally set.

Suzanne and her friends investigate the crime. They can’t believe someone would have wanted Hannah dead, but realize that the arsonist must be someone they know. While they are investigating, they are committed to help with the wedding of Kit Kaslik, former exotic dancer and sometime Cackleberry employee who is marrying her fiancé Ricky Wilcox, due to be sent to Afghanistan.

Suspects are plentiful, and include Marty Wolfson, an angry man whose wife was rescued from the fire, Jack Venable, the husband of the victim, and Darrel Fuhrman, recently let go from the fire department. But at the wedding service of Kit and Ricky, the town is shocked by the arrest of the groom before he’s had a chance to say “I do.”

Childs includes all the elements that epitomize a cozy mystery—the small town setting, a cast of interesting characters, and a plot that can sustain interest throughout the book. Suzanne, a widow in her forties who has just started to date again, uses her skills and knowledge to help find the killer.

This is sixth in the Cackleberry Club mysteries. The author also writes the Tea Shop mysteries and the Scrapbooking mysteries.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2016.

Book Review: The House on Stone’s Throw Island by Dan Poblocki

The House on Stone's Throw IslandThe House on Stone’s Throw Island
Dan Poblocki
Scholastic Press, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-64556-0
Hardcover

Dealing with an older sibling’s wedding, especially when the participants seem to have outgrown you, is no picnic. Add in the fact that it’s a big production on a remote island where you’re expected to be dressed up, play nice and let adults embarrass you, and you know how Eli Barker feels. Things get more uncomfortable when the adults try to jokingly pair him off with Josie Sandoval whose brother Bruno is marrying Eli’s sister Aimee.

Fair weather is predicted for the wedding weekend, but inside Eli’s head, the weather is gloomy and stormy, made worse when he thinks Josie is trying to embarrass him in front of the adults. As a threatening storm front moves in from the open ocean, Eli decides to become scarce and heads for the decrepit brick building on a small peninsula he spotted from his bedroom. The closer he gets, the more uneasy he feels, but he’s unable to stop. Josie, feeling bad about how she treated Eli, sees him sneaking off from her upstairs window and decides to follow.

They hear a disembodied voice asking for help in German and after gathering their courage, the two explore what appears to be a dungeon below the old building where they find and soon lose an old button with a swastika on it.

No one believes them about the voices, but Josie’s become a true believer in the possibility that there are ghosts on the island because she saw a disheveled girl a couple years older than she is, dash into her room and then hide in her closet, but when she looked, the girl was gone. Eli witnesses a repeat performance while in her room. Convinced that there’s something very strange and scary going on as the freak storm intensifies, they become partners as they try to solve the mystery.

Meanwhile communication with the outside world has stopped, the ocean is so rough the ferry that brought them to the island is unable to bring the wedding feast or more guests and the strange happenings become more frequent. Solving the island’s mystery involves ghosts, a secret from World War Two, a diary written by a girl in 1942 and a connection between her and one of the people involved in the wedding.

I was initially put off by foreshadowing at the beginning of the book, but once the story took off, I was hooked. Be warned that there’s violence in the book, but that’s no deal breaker. Younger teens who crave mystery and supernatural twists will like this one a lot.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.