Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tell Me No Lies (An Ava Logan Mystery #1)

Author:  Lynn Chandler Willis
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Audio CD; Ebook
ISBN #:  978 9781635111484; 9781635111453; 9781520068794
Henery Press Publishing
238 Pages
February 7, 2017

✮✮✮✮✮


Ava Stone, single mother and small business owner, lives deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, where poverty and pride reign.  As publisher of the town newspaper, she's busy balancing election season stories and a rash of ginseng thieves.  And then the story gets personal.  After her friend is murdered, Ava digs for the truth all the while juggling her two teenage children, her friend's orphaned toddler, and her own muddied past.  Faced with threats against those closest to her, Ava must find the killer before she, or someone she loves, ends up dead.

********

Ava Logan is a widowed young mother of two - twelve-year-old Emma and fifteen-year-old Cole.  She lives in Jackson Creek, North Carolina, deep in the Appalachian Mountains, and owns the town's newspaper, The Jackson Creek Chronicle.  Her husband Tommy was a police officer killed in the line of duty and she's doing her best to care for her family and eke out a living.

She's also taking care of Ivy Givens, daughter of her friend Trish, who needed an evening away from the toddler.  When Ava arrives at Trish's trailer to return Ivy she comes across a horrific scene:  the body of her friend, or at least what's left of her.  When the police arrive, headed by Sheriff Grayson Ridge, everyone goes through the motions:  when did you last see her, how long have you had Ivy, did she tell you who she was seeing, etc.  It's not what Ava ever wanted her kids to go through and it puts her in a precarious position.  As the editor of the newspaper she knows the people have a right to know what's going on; but as a witness she has a duty to keep certain facts to herself.

But as in any small town, news gets around and people are afraid there's a serial killer on the loose.  It doesn't help that it's also an election year and Ridge's opponent, Ed Stinger, is purposely trying to cause a stir and get him ousted, not only using the murder but asking Ava to look into the poaching of ginseng (a big market) and use both to his advantage.  With Ed being a big advertiser with his real estate business, she has no choice but to agree.  She soon learns more facts about the poaching and wonders if it might have anything to do with the murder.

Yet she also has problems with her feelings for Ridge - he was her husband's partner ten years ago when Tommy was murdered and Ridge was on vacation that day leaving Tommy alone.  She can't seem to separate the guilt from her feelings for Ridge, leaving things complicated.  But while she thinks she has a handle on her emotions and can ride everything out, what she doesn't count on is that Trish's killer isn't finished yet, and she's next on the agenda...

I cannot convey how much I enjoyed this book.  While the Appalachians took a back seat in the story, it doesn't matter.  What does matter is the characterization, and this Ms. Willis does beautifully.  She can create characters that have character; people who have real emotions and pull you deep into the story she is weaving.  This is the first book in a new series, and as such, is only a prelude of what I hope will be a long one.  Ava Logan is a strong independent woman who loves her children and more than that: she has the capability to spread that love to others, and that love is shown in the people around her and their reaction to her; including her taking into her home a toddler who has suddenly become an orphan.

We are given snippets throughout the book of her past and how it has shaped her life thus far, and this is important as it not only shows us who she is, but her strengths and weaknesses.  It makes her human.  But Ms. Willis does not stop there.  She gives a genuineness to the characters in the book, too: Cole, Emma, Doretha and Ridge.  These are the people most important to her, and they are given a feeling of believability in their own right.

I mention these because without them a book is weak; you can only take it so far with a great plot if you have weak characterization.  Which brings us to the plot, which is very good indeed.  There are a few subplots, but also several red herrings (which I leave to you to discover yourself).  What seems tied together isn't, and what seems irrelevant may not be so in the end.  There is a sadness tied in, and there was a point (I will admit) that I found tears in my eyes for loss, for hurt, for sadness itself.  The discovery of the murderer was a surprise, as well it should be, and you would do yourself a favor to read this.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Tell-Lies-Ava-Logan-Mystery/dp/1635111455/


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Death of a Ghost (A Hamish Macbeth Mystery)

Author:  M. C. Beaton
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Audio CD; Ebook; Audible
ISBN #:  9781455558308; 9781478938958
Grand Central Publishing
256 Pages
$17.10; $30.00; $13.99 Amazon
February 21, 2017

✮✮✮✮✮


When Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth hears reports of a haunted castle near Drim, he assumes the eerie noises and lights reported by the villagers are just local teenagers going there to smoke pot, or worse, inject themselves with drugs.  Still, Hamish decides that he and his policeman, Charlie "Clumsy" Carson, will spend the night at the ruined castle to get to the bottom of the rumors once and for all.

There's no sign of any ghost...but then Charlie disappears through the floor.  It turns out he's fallen into the cellar.  And what Hamish and Charlie find there is worse than a ghost: a dead body propped against the wall.  Waiting for help to arrive, Hamish and Charlie leave the castle just for a moment--to eat bacon baps--but when they return, the body is nowhere to be seen.

It's clear something strange - and deadly - is going on at the castle, and Hamish must get to the bottom of it before the "ghost" can strike again...

********

Once again our unambitious Sergeant Macbeth is back in a new tale of mystery and intrigue.  When he and his policeman Charlie Carson are called to a supposedly haunted castle in Drim by the new owner, Hanover "Handy" Ebrington, a retired superintendent from Glasgow, they take the task willingly, thinking it is merely the wind playing tricks.  After spending the night in the castle and finding no ghosts, they decide to do a bit of exploring, hoping to find the source of the 'moans' that were often heard in the night.  What they do find is a bit more than that: when Charlie falls through a hole in the floor they discover a body.  But once they call for backup and go to find the body, it's gone.  

Sure that smugglers are somewhere about, Hamish has more on his plate than this: Drim's local minister Peter Haggis seems to be taken with Olivia Sinclair, an industrialist's wife, while his sister Sheila is interested in the husband, Selwyn.  And poor Hamish is trying to avoid women altogether, while the wife of Lochdubh's own minister, Mrs. Wellington, has it in her mind that Hamish needs a good woman and sets about summoning her niece Heather, intent on putting them together.

But once the lost body reappears, and there is another murder, Hamish is sure there is more to the story than just smugglers at bay and he is determined to find the truth of the killings all the while dodging the machinations of Mrs. Wellington to see him wed, and his nemesis Blair to see him out of the police force.  And yet there are more subplots woven within, all balancing each other out and a lively part of the final tale.

What we have is quite an involved story, with plenty of threads going out in all directions, and it is up to Hamish to pull them all together and twist them tightly into one coil as a single unit.  With his policeman's instinct and his Scottish intuition, this he does beautifully.  But no, the book does not end with the discovery at last of the murderer; Ms. Beaton pulls together the rest of the tale by gathering each subplot collectively as if it were the easiest thing in the world to do, and leaves us yearning for the subsequent book in the series, if only to find out where Hamish will next find himself.  I, for one, heartily await it and hope it is to be soon.  Highly recommended.                                                                                      


More on M. C. Beaton's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/b/m-c-beaton/

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Fatal Romance

Author:  June Shaw
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781516100958
Lyrical Underground Publishing
192 Pages
January 24, 2017

✮✮✮✮


Twin sister divorcees Sunny Taylor and Eve Vaughn have had their fill of both heartaches and headaches.  So when they settle down in the small Louisiana town of Sugar Ledge and open a remodeling and repair company, they think they've finally found some peace - even though Eve is still open for romance while Sunny considers her own heart out-of-business.

Then their newest customer ends up face-down in a pond, and his widow is found dead soon after.  Unfortunately, Sunny was witnessed having an unpleasant moment with the distraught woman, and suspicion falls on the twins.  And when an attempt is made on Eve's life, they find themselves pulled into a murder mystery neither knows how to navigate. 

With a town of prying eyes on them, and an unknown culprit out to stop them, Sunny and Eve will have to depend on each other like never before if they're going to clip a killer in the bud.

********

Twins Sunny Taylor and Eve Vaughn have a remodeling and repair company in Sugar Ledge, Louisiana.  When one of their recent clients die, they attend the funeral.  When the widow is entering with her husband's urn, she spills some of the contents on Sunny, and in the ensuing chaos, she gets into a minor argument with the woman.  When the widow is then found dead by Sunny and Eve, they become the main suspects in the murder.  Not too long after, Eve is shot at, and Sunny decides to try and find the killer before he or she completes the job they set out to do.

Since this is the first in a new series, I am always willing to give an author leeway.  But when there are questions that can't easily be answered - such as the fact that the urn should already have been in the church, not carried in by the surviving spouse - it tends to make me question other things as well.

Things like the fact the family apparently had a cell phone in 1987 - which, at the time, would have cost around $2300, and since the family doesn't appear to be wealthy, why did they have such an item?  It also seemed odd that the sexual aspects of Sunny's marriage would be equal to a traumatic event that occurred thirty years ago, which also leaves her singing Christmas carols when she gets nervous or afraid.

They also are supposed to be thirty-eight-years old, but act much older, and I kept imagining them as in their 70's:  Eve is sex-crazy with ex-husbands who still shower gifts on her because they're still so attracted to her  (which doesn't even seem realistic), and is about to become a grandmother; while Sunny, who is smothering, needy and co-dependent, doesn't want anything to do with men ever again because of sex with her husband.  It makes me wonder what on earth he did that was so horrifying.

The reason I mention these things is because they are the basis for the story.  Eve is so self-absorbed that she's perfectly fine with letting Sunny do all the investigating while she's busy planning her latest conquest.  Sunny, for her part, is so obsessed with keeping Eve safe because of what happened to their other sister that her neuroses are taking over her life.  In the end, it makes neither sister much of a likable character.  It's obvious that they love each other, but their personality traits are severely lacking somehow.

When we finally come to the end and the murderer is discovered, everything does come together nicely.  The story had a nice flow, and the mystery was done well, which is important in any book and why I gave it four stars.  I hope to see the sisters "evolve" in the next book, and look forward to reading it.  Recommended.



More on June Shaw's books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/s/june-shaw/

Friday, January 13, 2017

Custom Baked Murder (A Pawsitively Organic Mystery)

Author:  Liz Mugavero
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781496700193
Kensington Publishing
304 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
December 27, 2016

✮✮✮✮✮


Summer is winding down in Frog Ledge, Connecticut, but Stan's love life and career are both heating up nicely.  In between planning her new pet patisserie and cafe′, Stan is settling into living-in-bliss with sexy pub owner Jake McGee.  Love's on the menu for Stan's mom, Patricia, too, who's engaged to Frog Ledge's mayor, Tony Falco.

Mayor Falco's dogged ambition isn't popular among locals, but it's his executive coach, Eleanor Chang, who's inspired a dangerous grudge.  When Eleanor is found dead, there's a whole pack of suspects to choose from.  Stan has first-hand experience of Eleanor's unsavory business tactics.  But finding out who forced her to take a fatal plunge off the corporate ladder means unearthing some shady secrets...and a killer who's too close for comfort.

********

Kristan "Stan" Connor lives in Frog Ledge, Connecticut with her boyfriend Jake McGee, owns a gourmet pet food business, and is busy planning the opening of her new pet patisserie.  She's also dealing with the fact that her mother Patricia is engaged to the town's mayor, Tony Falco (not Stan's favorite person), and expects her to attend the engagement party.  But before she can even leave her home her sister Caitlyn arrives on her doorstep along with her daughter Eva, and expects to stay with Stan 'temporarily'.  Stan and her sister have never been close - being polar opposites - yet she decides now isn't the time to deal with it and they head out to the party.

Stan has more surprises waiting for her:  when she arrives she finds Eleanor Chung, an old co-worker who now has Stan's job and aiming to gloat; and when Stan escapes her she comes face-to-face with other ex-coworkers, including her ex-boyfriend Richard Ruse.  But the surprises don't end there:  After a confrontation with Richard he storms out of the house in a drunken stupor and Caitlyn finds Eleanor upstairs - dead in the master bedroom with Patricia's engagement ring in her mouth.  To top it off, Richard is arrested for the crime.

Stan knows he's innocent, but needs help to prove it.  Unfortunately, that help won't come from Jake's sister, Jessie Pasquale, since she's been removed from the case.  It also isn't coming from Tony, who arrived at the party shortly after the murder and isn't telling anyone where he was or why.  Yet she's determined to help clear Richard, even if she has to do it alone.

While Stan thought the move to Frog Ledge would allow her to live a nice, quiet existence she's finding that's not so in this book.  With her business taking off she's busier than ever; along with Brenna's help she's had to hire a new employee to help out occasionally.  And with Jessie temporarily out of commission, she's doing a little investigating on her own, keeping Jessie in the loop and trying to fly under the radar because she's sure the Major Crimes unit knows more than they're saying, and that it all has something to do with Tony.

When she discovers that almost everyone had a motive to kill Eleanor - including her own daughter - it makes it even harder to sift through the suspects.  With the evidence pointing toward Tony, Stan wonders just how well anyone knows him, and if her mother might be marrying a murderer...

I found this book to be delightful.  What a whirlwind of activity, with poor Stan trying to open her business, find a killer, and deal with both her mother's interference in the planning of her new store (since her mother is an investor she decides it gives her the right) and Caitlyn, who is going through a divorce and being courted by an ex-beau who just won't give up, even though she swears she wants nothing more to do with him (or his misguided attempts to win her back).

As the story progresses, we get to know Caitlyn better as a person, which results in surprises for both Stan and the reader.  Stan also discovers some facts about Tony, which makes him more human somehow; and we're drawn into these things as much as we're drawn into Frog Ledge and the rest of its inhabitants.  The characters are real, fleshed out people, not cardboard; and it's easy to want the best for this little town, Stan and her friends.

When we do discover the identity of the killer (for we know there is one, after all) I can truthfully say I wasn't too surprised; I had an inkling (but then, I read a lot of mysteries and can pretty much decipher clues along the way), and it was rather sad yet understandable all the same.  In all, it was done nicely and believable, and that's what mysteries are all about.  Ms. Mugavero has once again given us a mystery we can sink into and enjoy, characters that are lively and quick, and a town I would like to visit.  Nicely done and highly recommended.



More on Liz Mugavero's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/liz-mugavero/

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Live and Let Growl (A Melanie Travis Mystery #19)

Author:  Laurien Berenson
Genre:  Mystery

Hardover; Mass Market Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781496703385; 9781496703408
Kensington Publishing
304 Pages
$18.93; $7.99; $2.99 Amazon
July 26, 2016; May 30, 2017

✮✮✮✮


When her Aunt Peg lands a gig as a judge at a Kentucky dog show, Melanie Travis welcomes the opportunity for a road trip.  Too bad a killer has planned a deadly detour...

For a dog lover like Melanie, the opportunity to attend the Kentuckiana Dog Show Cluster is not to be missed.  Fortunately, the timing coincides with her spring break from teaching, so she heads for central Kentucky with her sister-in-law Bertie and Aunt Peg, who's accepted a week-long judging assignment.  Once there, Aunt Peg reconnects with an old friend, Ellie Gates Wanamaker, a former Standard Poodle exhibitor and a member of a well-heeled Kentucky family.  Miss Ellie has been out of the dog show world for more than a decade, but when Melanie invites her to spectate at the Louisville Kennel Club dog show, she's eager to accompany her.

Miss Ellie's presence at the expo center, however, provokes mixed reactions from exhibitors she hasn't seen in years, including some outright animosity.  The following day Melanie learns that Miss Ellie has suffered a fatal accident while exercising her dogs,  Aunt Peg, however, suspects foul play.  Wishing to avoid any scandal, Miss Ellie's pedigreed family prefers to let sleeping dogs lie, but as Melanie begins to sniff around, she discovers Miss Ellie had many secrets, both in the dog show world and amongst her Kentucky kin...

********

Melanie Travis' Aunt Peg is a judge at a dog show in Kentucky, and has also learned that she's now the proud owner of a very pregnant Thoroughbred broodmare.  Peg wants to see the horse and see the stables, and Melanie, of course, after gentle prodding from her husband Sam, heads off to the Kentuckiana Dog Show.  When they arrive, Peg reconnects with an old friend, Ellie Gates Wanamaker, who grew up on a Thoroughbred farm and once showed standard poodles herself.  She's hoping Ellie can give her some pointers on horse ownership, racing and care.

For Melanie's part, she's delighted with Miss Ellie.  Ellie is larger than life and still a force to be reckoned with.  Melanie is surprised by the woman's energy and number of people she knows.  While Ellie is greeted with affection by many, Melanie can't help but notice there are some who keep their distance, and while she notices the looks and whispers of some people, Ellie appears to be unfazed.  What Melanie does learn is the reason Ellie retired was due to a tragic car accident that killed her Champion Poodle.  What she doesn't know is the rest of the story.

After Miss Ellie is discovered dead on her family's land, Peg suspects foul play.  Even though it was deemed an accidental fall, Peg is suspicious given the fact that Ellie knew the land inside and out, and had walked it on a regular basis, along with her four Jack Russell Terriers.  And when they encounter someone else who doesn't believe it was an accident either, a plan is hatched to discover the truth.

While I enjoyed the book, I will tell you that much of it is devoted to dog shows and Thoroughbreds.  There is detail after detail regarding show dogs and judging; if you don't derive pleasure from watching the Westminster Dog Show (et al) you might find it slightly boring and it seems extraneous.  On the other hand, while there is nearly as much information regarding race horses, much of this information is crucial to the book.  

The mystery itself seemed to be forthright:  Someone dies, it looks suspicious, and Peg decides to find out the killer, asking Melanie to investigate.  Unfortunately, the mystery itself got bogged down in all the information on the dog show; and I felt that Melanie allowed herself to be pushed around a little too easily.  I love my aunts, too, but I wouldn't let them order me around this way.  I got the feeling reading this book that Peg had no respect for Melanie and thought she was rather dim-witted.  She never asked her what she thought or what she wanted to do; she just told her this was the way it was going to be, period.

Even though this is the 19th book in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone, as there is enough information given to where the reader doesn't feel lost, and it's pretty easy to gauge personalities of lesser characters, which is a nice touch.  A decent book worth the read.  Recommended.



More on Laurien Berenson's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/b/laurien-berenson/