Book Review: Paw of the Jungle by Diane Kelly @DianeKellyBooks @StMartinsPress

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Book Review: Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Lucky in Love
Kasie West
Scholastic Press, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-05801-7

No matter how hard Maddie works, no matter how much she worries about her family and academic situations, things don’t get any better. Her dad’s been out of work for several years, her mom works double shifts, her older brother dropped out of college and hides in his room. There are times when she feels like a hamster on a giant warped wheel and no matter how fast she runs or how much she studies, it’s as though the river of life is pulling her backward.

When a convenience store clerk convinces her to buy a Powerball ticket on her 18th birthday, she has zero expectation of winning, but she does. Thirty million is her lump sum payout. After giving her parents and brother a million each and paying off the mortgage on the family home, she thinks things will be okay. Hardly. There’s an increase of parental fighting, her brother’s dishonesty overwhelms her and she’s confused about who’s really a friend as opposed to who just wants her to throw cash at them,

The more Maddie tries to figure out who she can trust, the greater her paranoia becomes and her behavior and ability to think rationally get more messed up. The line between friendship and opportunistic greediness in those around her becomes completely blurred. Maddie loses her ability to recognize what’s real, leading her to lash out at Seth Nguyen, the one person not affected by her new wealth and her co-worker at the nearby zoo. It takes a very upsetting incident involving a newspaper article and a near meltdown confrontation with friends and family before the ship called Maddie can start sailing properly again. In the process, Maddie learns some valuable lessons, mainly that family might be messy, but is very important and that some people are worth risking yourself for. Watching how all this unfolds and what she learns is an interesting journey.

I’ve read all of Kasie West‘s books and this was as satisfying as the rest of them.

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

Book Review: Endangered by Ann Littlewood

A Zoo Mystery #3
Ann Littlewood
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2012
ISBN 978-1-59058-621-1

Such a well written book as this held my interest all the way through. When you add an exciting plot involving drugs, murder and smuggled exotic birds and turtles to the mix, you’ve got a real winner. The author, Ann Littlewood, comes from a background of working in a zoo. From her first-hand knowledge, she provides realistic and accurate details, descriptions and information about exotic birds and reptiles.

When Iris Oakley and her companion are sent to a farm recently found to house a meth lab, the last thing she expected to find was a dead girl in the bushes and the escaped meth dealers on a deserted road. Thanks to a timely rescue, the crooks flee but they aren’t finished with Iris yet, believing she has information that will lead them to further riches.

Until adequate facilities can be found, Iris takes the birds to her own basement. Unfortunately, this keeps her in the cross hairs of the smugglers, further endangering her and her infant son.

Iris feels the need to investigate the murder. With the help of a friendly reporter and her friends, she learns that not all information, people or circumstances can be taken at face value.

This book contains fascinating details about drugs and smuggling exotic birds and reptiles in the United States. Little do we know about the smuggling of such creatures, often right in our own back yard.

Entertaining, exciting and informative, I found Endangered to be a winner all the way around and give it a thumbs up for mystery readers everywhere.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, April 2015.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy and Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer.

Book Review: The Koala of Death by Betty Webb

The Koala of Death
Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59058-756-0
Also available in trade paperback

This novel is the second in a new series, following the author’s well-received Lena Jones detective stories.  The protagonist in the current Gunn Zoo Mysteries is Theodora “Teddy” Bentley, who prefers working at the zoo to the ease of living the life of Riley with her well-to-do mother who is forever attempting to get her daughter married off to some rich man.  Instead, Teddy is in love with the widowed Sheriff Joe, and regularly gets into trouble.

In the present tale, Teddy fishes the body of Koala Kate, her fellow zookeeper, out of the harbor in which her houseboat is docked.  It turns out she was strangled.  Soon, another nearby “liveaboarder” is found murdered with a similar MO. It remains for Teddy to solve the mysteries.

A zoo is a strange setting for a crime novel series, but it enables the author to develop material about the animals and the people who care for them as excellent background.  The novel is more of a cozy than a hard crime mystery, but that, of course, is what it is intended to be.  Many of the characters seemed to me to be stilted, especially the Sheriff, who seems merely to utter the usual hackneyed phrases and take the expected stance that Teddy should not become involved in the case.  Of course, Teddy has now, with this book, solved his cases in two novels, so the roles are pretty well set.  In any case, the novel is light and enjoyable reading, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2010.

Book Review: Did Not Survive by Ann Littlewood

Did Not Survive
A Zoo Mystery
Ann Littlewood
Poisoned Pen Press, 2010
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-747-8
Trade Paperback
(Also available in hardcover)

Damrey and Nakri are two Asian elephant cows residing at Finley Memorial Zoo near Vancouver, Washington.  As Iris Oakley walked towards the Commissary after her night volunteer shift, she heard noises coming from the elephant barn.  It was 7:00 a.m. and Iris was possibly the only human on the grounds of the zoo.  As Iris got to the elephant barn, she found Damrey very agitated with a person face down in the stall with the elephant.

Iris Oakley’s husband was killed at the zoo.  Iris is pregnant, has no training with elephants, and does not have the slightest idea of what action to take.  Iris managed to reach Sam who was in charge of the elephants on her cell phone. Sam instructed Iris as to how to handle the elephants until he arrived and Iris did the best she could.  She finally was able to coax the elephants into a stall and away from the body.  The body on the floor of the elephant barn was Kevin Wallace, her boss.  Although Wallace was still alive when rescued from the elephant barn, he later died of his injuries.

The police decide that Damrey is the murderer but others at the zoo were not convinced.  Things are unsettled at Finley Memorial Zoo.  Animal rights activists who want the elephants sent to a sanctuary are picketing the zoo.

Soon other incidents happen that can’t be explained.  A zoo van is stolen along with the body of Rajah, a tiger, which had died that was in the van.  Then two turtles disappear from an exhibit.  Iris and her friends speculate but no one can come up with an answer.  Iris is nominated by her friends to find the underlying cause of the murder of Kevin Wallace and discover who is behind the incidents at the zoo.

Did Not Survive gives readers an inside look at life from the eyes of zoo employees and information about the lengths that some animal rights activists will go to whether they are right or wrong.  The mystery presented in Did Not Survive is a good one and the setting unusual.

The author worked as a zookeeper at the Oregon Zoo for twelve years and is a life-long environmentalist.  If you enjoy Littlewood’s writing, you will want to look for her previous book Night Kill.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, November 2010.