Monday, March 31, 2014

Killer Librarian

Author:  Mary Lou Kirwin
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Champion of the mystery section at a small-town Minnesota library, Karen Nash is about to embark on a dream trip to London-a literary tour inspired by every murderous intrigue, wily suspect, and ingenious crime found in the pages of the British mysteries that she devours.  But she's clueless why the love of her mid-life, Dave, would dump her hours before takeoff-until she spies him at the airport with a young honey on his arm!  She decides the best revenge (for now) is to get on that plane anyway...and entertain schemes for Dave's untimely demise while crossing the pond.
After touching ground in the hallowed homeland of Christie, Sayers, and Peters, she checks into a cozy B & B run by charming bibliophile Caldwell Perkins.  Soon she's spilling tears in her pint at the corner pub, sharing her heartbreak saga with a stranger.  That night, a B & B guest drops out of circulation-permanently.  And when Dave and his cutie turn up in London, Karen realizes they are an assassin's target.  With the meticulous attention to detail that makes her a killer librarian, Karen sleuths her way through her own real-life mystery-in which library science meets the art of murder.  (From the back cover).
When I began reading this book, I thought it would be pretty much like many other "cozy" mysteries: dead body, amateur sleuth, sleuth becomes the hunted.  Well, it's yes and no.  And I'm not going to tell you which part is which.  But I found the book quite different and completely entrancing, in the fact that I read the entire thing in one night (I usually take a break and read in two days, not one).  But this book was different.  As the back cover reads, Karen is a librarian, her boyfriend breaks up with her, and she decides to take her trip anyway since she has the two weeks' vacation already planned.  But when she arrives in London, things really become interesting. 
The owner of the B & B is, as stated, a bibliophile like herself.  So much so, that he has books spilling out from every corner and crevice of the place (a man after my own heart!)  While the other guests - Americans Betty and Barb (referred to as the Tweedles), Howard and Annette Worth, and Frenchwoman Francine - aren't even interested in books, Karen is in heaven.  When she discovers the dead body of one of the guests, she's shaken - and realizes she is most likely staying in a home with a killer, which obviously unnerves her, but stoic Minnesotan that she is, decides to enjoy her vacation while she can. 
I really won't say more than that, because to do so would be giving away much of the plot.  And a delightful plot it was.  I felt as if I were with Karen, meandering through the streets of London, discovering things she was discovering; and finding out things about herself that she never knew existed.  Her sheer pleasure at being in London shines through the pages, and honestly, for myself I found that watching Karen find herself was more interesting than watching her find a killer.
Highly enjoyable, highly recommended and I can't wait to read more from this author.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Biscuit, A Casket

Author:  Liz Mugavero
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars
The small town of Frog Ledge, Connecticut, has wholeheartedly embraced Kristan "Stan" Connor's new business - preparing quality organic treats for dogs and cats. On a healthy diet, the animals may live longer...but one local farmer won't be so lucky. As Halloween approaches, Stan is asked to cater a doggie costume party hosted by the Happy Cow Dairy Farm. Part of a local co-op, Happy Cow specializes in organic dairy products, and farmers Hal and Emmalee Hoffman have started opening up the farm for parties, offering a "haunted" corn maze as an added attraction. When Hal's lifeless body is found in the maze, the police at first suspect his wife, but Stan soon learns the dairy farmer had plenty of enemies - from bitter family members to shady business associates. If Stan can't extract a kernel of truth from the labyrinth of lies, she may be the next one to buy the farm...(from the back cover)
I really didn't know what to expect, but I must say, this book was a delight to read.  The characters are not one-sided; you get to know them, and even though this is the second book in the series, the author explains enough (but not too much) about them that you understand who they are, and better yet, what they are feeling.  You don't go through the book trying to figure out why they would think the way they do.  I was caught up in the mystery almost immediately (and that is when it occurs, so there is no spoiler or surprise).  It is while we are immersed in the story that you begin to find out the type of person Hal was; and even so the people of the town.  You are left to solve the mystery along with Kristan (Stan), not in front of her or behind her, and that is a good thing.
The book takes place at Halloween (note, people!  This is a great book to re-read when it rolls around), and, as the blurb states, the Hoffmans have opened a corn maze as a way to bring in extra money for the farm.  The maze is closed as quickly as it is opened, and everyone in the co-op is more than willing to help, but that leads to more suspects.  Stan has determined to stay out of the investigation, but when she is begged to help by a friend of the family, she just can't say no.  Add to that you have a police officer, Jessie Pasquale, who really doesn't like her; the officer's brother, Jake, whom Stan really likes but doesn't want to say anything, also wants her to stay away, and Breanna, the youngest sibling and Stan's friend who asked her to investigate, and you have a tangled situation indeed. 
I would suggest you don't cheat and look at the end of the book to find the murderer (and I know some people do), because you will find, and you can trust me on this, that the journey to the end is well worth the wait.  Highly recommended, and I would also read the first in the series, Kneading to Die. 
I received a copy of this from the publisher but it in no way affected my review.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sticky Situations

How would you handle a situation that can only be referred to as 'sticky?'  By that I mean, someone who wants to do a good turn for someone else, but it winds up leaving you in the muck.  Here's what I'm talking about:

Often I receive requests to read books by others, and generally, they're really pretty good.  But now and again, you're going to see a self-published author that JUST CAN'T WRITE.  I regularly haunt the bookstores (as I'm sure many of you do), and I have a friend who works at one of them.  Recently a local author came into her shop and wanted to know if she could sell copies of his book, which he had priced at $5 each.  It sounds like a reasonable price, in the beginning.  The books weren't really books, but only novellas; stopping at around 80 or 90 pages each. 

Here's where the problem begins: she told him I have a blog, and she'd ask if I would read the books and review them for him.  Since I've done this many times before, it didn't seem like a problem.  So I took them both home, and the same night I called and let him know I had them and would get to them in a couple of weeks because I had other books I had to finish first.  A couple of days later he called and asked if I had a chance to read any of them, and I told him no, I hadn't been able to get to them yet.

And then I read them.  And wished I hadn't.  One was a police procedural that had way too many errors, beginning on the first few pages.  Example:  A body is found fully clothed, but the attending detective tells everyone to "round up all the sex offenders."  Why?  If the body was fully clothed, and you hadn't even brought it to the morgue to check for sexual activity, why would you haul in all the sexual offenders?...and it went downhill after that...with error after error after error, and just plain bad writing.

So now I'm in the position of having to notify this person and tell him he needs to rewrite most of the book because it's just plain awful; and having to ask my friend if she read the book before she passed it on to me (guaranteed she didn't).  Don't get me wrong; if I read a book and it's terrible, I have no problem putting that on my blog.  You can't change bad writing, bad plot, or bad ideas no matter how hard you try.  I just hate the idea of dashing someone's aspirations, especially since it was self-published and he paid to publish it.  I'm going to put it as nicely as I can, and hope for the best, but I don't know how nicely you can say, 'you can't write.'

I'd be interested to hear how others have handled this situation, if you've ever had it happen.  If not, I'd still like to hear from you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Deadly Cliche

Author:  Ellery Adams
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars
While walking her poodle, Olivia Limoges discovers a dead body buried in the sand.  Could it be connected to the bizarre burglaries plaguing Oyster Bay, North Carolina?  The Bayside Book Writers prick up their ears and pick up their pens to get the story...
The thieves have a distinct MO.  At every crime scene, they set up odd tableaus: a stick of butter with a knife through it, dolls with silver spoons in their mouths, a deck of cards with a missing queen.  Olivia realizes each setup equals a cliche.
Who better to decode the cliche clues than the Bayside Book Writers group, especially since their newest member is Police Chief Rawlings?  As the investigation proceeds, Olivia is surprised to find herself falling for the widowed policeman.  But an even greater surprise is in store.  Her father-lost at sea thirty years ago-may still be alive...
At first, I was a little leery about reading this book, considering I read the first and didn't like Olivia nor her actions.  I'm not going to say that everything has changed - I still don't like the way she parks wherever she wants, such as loading zones and in front of fire hydrants - but she seems to have become softer in this book, and actually shows that she truly cares for her fellow book club members.
When her friend Laurel is considering a job with a local newpaper, Olivia reluctantly agrees to help her by pretending to be her photographer.  They are investigating the home invasions that have taken place recently.  The people who were robbed are all known to one another, albeit tenuously in some instances, but there is definitely a link; and even though Laurel and Olivia are told to be careful, they still try to find that link. 
In the midst of this, there are a few subplots weaving through:  her co-members' personal problems and lives, (which are interesting, by the way), and Olivia's own life.  She has become involved with Flynn McNulty, the owner of the local bookstore, and although he wants to take the relationship to a deeper level, Olivia still finds herself buried in the past and isn't able to bring herself to forge any kind of a deeper relationship with him.  Eventually, we see the reasons why, but we are taken along on a decent journey to that destination.  It also eventually brings her to a different realization, but one in which you will have to read the book to find out.
I like the fact that Olivia was able to grow as a person; she is able to - reluctantly - begin to trust her newfound friends and is beginning see that living the solitary life isn't as satisfying for her as it once was.  In the end, I'm glad I capitulated and decided  to continue reading this series.  Maybe Olivia will turn into a real human after all.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Witness Wore Red

Author: Rebecca Musser/Bridget Cook
Genre:  Non-Fiction

Five Stars
Rebecca Musser grew up in fear, living downstairs from her father's "real" family, and concealing her family's polygamous lifestyle from the "dangerous" outside world.  Covered head-to-toe in modest clothing, she attended Alta Academy, a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints school headed by principal Warren Jeffs.
In her teens, she became the nineteenth wife of her people's Prophet: eighty-five-year-old Rulon Jeffs, Warren's father, and watched as forty-eight additional wives were added to her marriage.  After she was widowed, Warren Jeffs threatened her with remarriage, so she pulled off a daring escape and sought to built a new life and family on her own terms.
But by 2007, though far from the church, she was no longer able to stand for the abuse and underage marriages still being perpetuated within it - ones that she believed put her own sisters at risk.  So Rebecca took the witness stand against Warren Jeffs, the new, self-proclaimed Prophet of the FLDS.
I read this book because living where I do (Nevada), we are very close to the polygamists and I was interested more in how Warren Jeffs was prosecuted.  I have seen the polygamists firsthand many times, and my sister lives in San Angelo, Texas, where the trials took place, so between us there is a slight knowledge of what goes on.
However, it is only slight; and this woman, Rebecca Musser, is one of the most courageous women I have ever heard of.  She could have done what others have; just left the 'cult' and gone on building a new life, but she chose to come forward and expose the abuse.  Abuse that she herself felt at a very young age; when her father's first wife would beat her and her siblings every time her mother and father were away.
It saddened me to hear how every one of her brothers were driven from their home and left on the side of the road to fend for themselves; we have many of these "lost boys" here in Las Vegas where they have luckily managed to find help and a new life.  Her sisters, being more valuable to the FLDS, were traded for favors, as one might trade a book for another.  While Rulon was alive, girls were married from the ages of eighteen on.  Rebecca herself was 'married' off to this old man, and while she achieved a semblance of status in the FLDS, she also had to spend nights with him - and I don't believe I need to go into detail.  Her entire life, she was taught 'boys are like snakes,' and to have nothing to do with them.  She knew absolutely nothing about sex when she married, and was horrified at some of things required; she began to find ways to avoid spending "her night" with Rulon.  After six years with him, once he died, she never wanted to marry again.
However, Warren had other ideas.  For years, while his father was ill, he was taking over the FLDS and instituting new 'laws.'  There would be no more television, no radio, no playing outdoors, no toys, etc.; only work and school lessons.  As horrific as it sounds, nothing compared to the fact that he decided eighteen was too old to be married.  He began giving young girls, as young as twelve, to older men, some nearly eighty.  He married a twelve-year-old himself.  
Rebecca's sister, Elissa Wall, (who wrote her own book, Stolen Innocence, also recommended), brought suit against Warren Jeffs because of a forced marriage, and Rebecca volunteered to help the Texas Rangers bring Warren down.  She worked with them for months on end, putting her own life, and that of her family's on hold so that Warren could not ruin the life of another young girl.
What is in this book sickens and saddens me.  These people blindly follow 'the prophet,' and cover pedophilia under religion.  I ask anyone if they would allow their pre-teen daughter to be 'married celestially' to someone as old as their own grandfather?  If you are in your right mind, I think not.  Her own mother saw nothing wrong, being raised in it herself. 
The title refers to the fact that Warren Jeffs refused to allow the color red because 'it was the color of the devil.'  To show her own independence and freedom from him and the FLDS, she wore it to court every day.  Kudos to Ms. Musser.
This is a powerful book, strongly written; and a compelling read.  For anyone who has any knowledge of Warren Jeffs and the FLDS, highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Iced to Death

Author:  Peg Cochran
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars

Gigi Fitzgerald, owner of Gigi's Gourmet De-Lite, knows how to put her clients' cravings on ice.  But catching a slippery killer is more of a challenge...

Gigi's business may be hot, but her homelife is leaving her cold.  Her sister, Pia, has dropped in for an unannounced visit and, much to Gigi's chagrin, has immediately fallen for handsome bar owner Declan McQuaid.  So when Declan asks Gigi to help him prep for a big engagement party, she's not only dealing with the heat of the kitchen and her own feelings for Declan, but Pia's jealousy.

However, Gigi's rising temperature quickly chills when the host of the party is found stabbed to death with an ice pick in the back of the pub.  Now, as Gigi's beau, Detective Mertz, hones in on Declan as a possible murderer, Gigi will have to shave down the growing list of suspects quickly, before Pia's newfound love interest finds himself locked in the cooler...(from the back cover).


There were problems with the beginning of the book which irked me a little: Gigi has a diet meal company that she runs from home, which is fine.  She delivers her meals to clients three times day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)  I began to wonder: Why?  Why didn't she just make all the meals for the day the night before and deliver them all at once?  They had to be reheated anyway, so why make the trip three times a day?  It's an awful lot of extra work and driving, especially in winter.  It seemed she wasn't managing her time efficiently, and with all of the sleuthing she was doing, it must have taken only minutes in the kitchen for all of the meals, packaging, etc., and I began to think everyone lived a block away from each other.  She even added extra clients to her schedule, and had time along the way to stop and visit with all her friends in between the deliveries.  Wonder Woman does exist.  The other problem I have is bad grammar. The author kept repeating how people "felt badly" for others, when she should have said they "felt bad."  To feel 'badly' means that you are probably groping around in the dark.  This wasn't a one-time thing, it was used several times (and used correctly once). 

Aside from that, the book was a nice enough, if quick, read.   After leaving Declan's restaurant, Gigi nearly falls over a dead body in the dark parking lot.  Since the murder weapon belonged to Declan, he would naturally be the first suspected.  So when Gigi's sister Pia, who is infatuated with Declan, insist she help find the real murderer, Gigi reluctantly agrees even though she knows it won't please her police detective boyfriend, Bill Mertz.  It doesn't help that she told Mertz she wasn't able to go to the engagement party with him because she would be working with Declan, whom Mertz is jealous of, because he believes Gigi has feelings for Declan.  Not having read any previous books in the series, the only thing I can tell you is that she "blushes every time" she sees him and thinks he has a "hot body," but none of her actions in this book would indicate she has any true feelings for him; in fact, there isn't a lot of interaction between Gigi and Declan.

Gigi knows she should stay out of the investigation, but wants to help her sister, and doesn't believe that Declan is guilty.  Pretty soon, though, she has a whole roster of suspects to sift through, and all of them had a reason to want the man dead.  Just when she thinks she's found the killer and has the murder solved someone else dies, which throws her theory into the trashcan and she has to start all over again, looking for more clues and going over the ones she already has.

Fortunately, this book picked up after the first half.  There were enough red herrings to keep me interested, and although I can't say I was truly surprised when the murderer was discovered, it was a nice enough journey along the way, and one I think others will enjoy.

Jealousy Filled Donuts (A Deputy Donut Mystery #3)

Author:  Ginger Bolton Genre:   Mystery Trade Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781496711915 Kensington Publishing 276 Pages $10.29; $9.78 A...