Friday, May 30, 2014

Spinning in Her Grave

Author:  Molly MacRae
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Kath Rutledge is settling in as the owner of the Weaver's Cat, a fiber and Fabric shop in Blue Plum, Tennessee.  But nothing, not even the ghost haunting her shop, prepares her for the mystery that will leave the whole town spinning...

It's time for Blue Plum's annual historical festival, and everyone-including Kath and her spunky fiber and needlework group, TGIF-is getting in on the action.  Expert spinners are being gathered, and a businessman has approached Kath about using the second-floor windows of her store for part of a reenactment.  But the reencactment ends in real-life bloodshed when local baker Reva Louise Snapp is shot-with a bullet from a modern-day gun.

Kath has her theories about who wanted to end Reva Louise's life.  But there's also talk of a sniper stalking Blue Plum, and Kath's shop is suspected of being the murderer's hideout.  Now Kath, her TGIF pals, and the gloomy ghost, Geneva, must unravel the mystery quickly, or someone else might be left hanging by a thread...


When the annual Blue Plum Festival heads into town, Kath and her friends are making plans to not only take part, but hope that the festival will bring business from tourists heading toward her shop.  She is soon approached by J. Scott Prescott, a businessman who not only wants to use her second story windows as part of the "pig skit," but also to purchase her building.  She says no to both, partly because she likes her shop and wouldn't sell under any circumstances; partly because Geneva, the gloomy ghost, lives upstairs and she doesn't want people traipsing through there.

Reva Louise Snapp is a half-sister of Mel, the local diner's owner.  But unlike Mel, nobody likes Reva Louise.  From the beginning, you realize the kind of person Reva Louise is, and it's not a nice one.  So when the pig skit takes place, and people are shooting (blanks) all through the town, no one notices right away that one of the bullets was real.  And has killed Reva Louise.

Sheriff Cole Dunbar, Kath's sometime nemesis, has decided the fatal shot has come from Kath's building, and closed it off as a crime scene.  Now Kath and her friends decide that they need to find the killer as soon as possible, not only to get the shop reopened, but because they realize there is more to it than meets the eye.

I loved this book.  I have always said that I enjoyed books which can draw me in right away, and this is one of them.  I didn't like Reva Louise any more than Kath or her friends (probably because we've all known someone similar to her in one way or another).  And I absolutely love Geneva.

This actually is more than the mystery surrounding Reva Louise's death: it also draws us into the mystery of Geneva.  We are given little snippets of her memory here and there; you never know what might be revealed, really without Geneva noticing that she's even telling Kath anything.  (Unfortunately, I have to wait until the next book to find out more).  That, I found, was the most interesting parts of the book.

But the mystery surrounding Reva Louise's death is just as good.  There are times when you're sure who the killer is; but you might find yourself wrong all along.  I must confess I was somewhat surprised myself, and I suggest that you don't peek at the end to see 'whodunit.'  It's a much more fun book if you don't know until Kath does.  Highly recommended.

To Helen Back: A River Road Mystery

Author:  Susan McBride
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars

In this fun and sassy new mystery, USA Today bestselling author Susan McBride introduces us to Helen Evans, a modern-day Miss Marple who must expose a murderer in a town full of suspects!
When Milton Grone turns up dead in tiny River Bend, Illinois, nearly all the would-be suspects have the perfect alibi: attending Thursday night's town meeting. And as Milton was hardly beloved, plenty of folks had a reason to do him in ...

Grone's next-door neighbor was furious about a fence that encroached on her property, among other wicked deeds. A pair of zealous tree huggers wanted Grone's hide for selling a parcel of pristine land to a water park. Grone's current and ex-wife both wanted a cut of the profits, which Grone seemed unwilling to share. Even the town preacher knew Grone's soul was beyond saving.
Though most of River Bend would rather reward the killer than hang him, Sheriff Biddle's not about to let this one go … and neither is Helen Evans. With a penchant for puzzles and an ear for innuendo, Helen quickly fingers the culprit before Biddle puts the wrong suspect in jail.


Milton Grone is not well-liked in River Bend; in fact, he's pretty much hated by everyone in the town.  He's shot at his neighbor's cat and yells at the elderly woman; he mistreats his present wife and refuses to have anything to do with his ex-wife and children; and he's rich, but makes both live like paupers because of his cheapness.

He has sold some acreage to a company that wants to build a waterpark, and the townspeople are upset because it will destroy the environment in that area, yet no one knows how to stop him.  So, one night while everyone is at a town meeting, Milton is killed.  At first the sheriff and doctor thinks it might have been an accident, that Milton merely had a heart attack, fell, and hit his head on a rock, because the doctor knows that Milton had a bad heart.  Yet not too soon after, the doctor discovers something that shows Milton was murdered:  he was struck on the head with something heavy, and it was staged to make it look like an accident.

In steps widow Helen Evans.  With a mind that operates much like Christie's Miss Marple (as the sheriff says), she is trying to keep her friend Felicity, Milton's next door neighbor and the owner of the shot-at cat, from being taken in as the murderer,  and find the real killer herself.

I liked this mystery:  It was fast, detailed, and a good beginning to a series.  Helen is unassuming, yet she notices things and has a way of putting herself in the middle of the action without seeming pushy.  There wasn't a lot of character development as of yet, but since this is the first book in the series, I am hoping to see more in the next.

The only thing I didn't care for was the fact that Helen bemoans the fact that someone might injure a bird in a tree, yet sees nothing wrong with allowing her own cat to roam outdoors and kill small creatures.  I would like to see her opt to keep her pet indoors, where it would be safer and have a much longer lifespan (yes, I am a huge animal lover!).

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a light mystery with likeable characters, and look forward to the next in the series.

Music in the Shadows

Author:  Sheri Chinen Biesen
Genre:  Performing Arts/Film/Criticism

Five Stars

Smoke. Shadows. Moody strains of jazz. Welcome to the world of "noir musical" films, where tormented antiheroes and hard-boiled musicians battle obsession and struggle with their music and ill-fated love triangles. Sultry divas dance and sing the blues in shrouded nightclubs. Romantic intrigue clashes with backstage careers.

In her pioneering study, Music in the Shadows, film noir expert Sheri Chinen Biesen explores musical films that use film noir style and bluesy strains of jazz to inhabit a disturbing underworld and reveal the dark side of fame and the American Dream. While noir musical films like A Star Is Born include musical performances, their bleak tone and expressionistic aesthetic more closely resemble the visual style of film noir. Their narratives unfold behind a stark noir lens: distorted, erratic angles and imbalanced hand-held shots allow the audience to experience a tortured, disillusioned perspective.
While many musicals glamorize the quest for the spotlight in Hollywood's star factory, brooding noir musical films such as Blues in the Night, Gilda, The Red Shoes, West Side Story, and Round Midnight stretch the boundaries of film noir and the musical as film genres collide. Deep shadows, dim lighting, and visual composition evoke moodiness, cynicism, pessimism, and subjective psychological points of view.

As in her earlier study of film noir, Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir, Biesen draws on extensive primary research in studio archives to situate her examination within a historical, industrial, and cultural context.


Since I am a huge classic film - especially noir - lover; I couldn't wait to read this book.  Ms. Biesen has written an outstanding book on the use of music in film noir, and the impact it makes.  Drawing upon such films as Gilda, Young Man with a Horn, Blues in the Night, Double Indemnity, and even The Major and the Minor - a film which uses the song "A Woman's a Two Face" sung by a cadet to Ginger Rogers (masquerading as a teenager, believe it or not) - she has written a comprehensive and extensive work that is well-written and fascinating to read.

Anyone who is interested in film noir would find this indispensable as a reference - after all, who can forget Dooley Wilson in Casablanca crooning 'As Time Goes By?'  She covers both well-known and not so well-known films - Christmas Holiday being one of my favorites - Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin in a dark noir film, both playing against character  (I suggest you try to find a copy; it will definitely be worth your while) - and offers a description of the Musician's Strike of 1942, which has long since passed into history, yet spawned some of the greater singers of the century (Frank Sinatra among them).

A highly recommended book for both film fans and music lovers alike; after all, who can go wrong with a book that has the sultry Rita Hayworth as Gilda on the cover?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman

Author: Robert L. O'Connell
Genre:  Biography, History

Five Stars

America’s first “celebrity” general, William Tecumseh Sherman was a man of many faces. Some of them were exalted in the public eye. Others were known only to intimates—his family, friends and lovers, and the soldiers under his command. In this rich and layered portrait, Robert L. O’Connell captures the man in full for the first time. From his early exploits in Florida, to his role in California at the start of the Gold Rush, through his brilliant but tempestuous generalship during the Civil War, and to his postwar career as a key player in the building of the transcontinental railroad, Sherman was, as O’Connell puts it, the “human embodiment of Manifest Destiny.”

Here is Sherman the military strategist of genius, a master of logistics whose uncanny grasp of terrain and brilliant sense of timing always seemed to land him in the right place at the most opportune moments. O’Connell shows how Sherman’s creation of an agile, improvisational fighting force—the Army of the West—helped turn the tide of the Civil War and laid the foundation for modern U.S. ground forces. Then there is “Uncle Billy,” Sherman’s public persona, a charismatic hero to his troops and quotable catnip to the newspaper writers of his day.

Here, too, is the private Sherman. He was born into one powerhouse family—his grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence—and was adopted into another. His foster father, Thomas Ewing, was an influential politician and cabinet member who helped provide key opportunities for Sherman throughout his career. But Sherman’s fraught relationship with Ewing, coupled with his appetite for women, parties, and the high life of the New York theater, certainly complicated his already turbulent marriage to his foster sister Ellen, a relationship O’Connell likens to a mix of “gunpowder and gasoline”—altogether a family triangle that might have sprung from the pages of a Victorian novel.

As he peels away the layers of the Sherman persona, O’Connell dispels a number of common misperceptions about his subject. He sheds new light on Sherman’s relationship with Ulysses S. Grant, and also on his struggle against Nathan Bedford Forrest and the insurgency that was the other half of the Civil War along the Mississippi. Later he reveals Sherman’s fabled march from Atlanta to the sea not as a campaign of unmitigated destruction, as it is often portrayed, but the careful execution of a necessary piece of strategy calculated to scare the South back into the Union. O’Connell’s Sherman is no Attila, but a complicated soldier/statesman—perhaps the quintessential nineteenth-century American.

Warrior, family man, American icon, William Tecumseh Sherman has finally found a biographer worthy of his protean gifts. A masterful character study whose myriad insights are leavened with its author’s trademark wit, Fierce Patriot will stand as the essential book on Sherman for decades to come.


I am extremely interested in The Civil War, and of course, the generals that commanded during that time.  So, that is what initially drew me to this biography.  But what I came away with was a greater understanding not only of the man himself, but why he chose to do the things he did in the way he did them.  For all of you who only know of 'Sherman's march to the sea,' I will tell you that after reading this book, you will see him in a different light.

It begins with his being adopted into the politically powerful Ewing family, along with his brother John, how he was sent to West Point and continues on to his long and illustrious military career.  He was aligned with the Ewing family in more than this; he married daughter Ellen, and proceded to have several children; he genuinely loved his family.  The book details his desolation at the loss of his son, yet he continues on with his duty as a soldier even so; through his periods of what was considered insanity but which probably was not, and his alliance with another great Civil War general.

General Sherman was a brilliant strategist, and aligned with the above-mentioned general, Ulysses S. Grant, we have two of the strongest military figures in history.  Referred to as 'the drunk and the crazy,' together there is no doubt that they saved the Union and ended the war between the states.  That Grant trusted him above all others, and they understood each others' strengths and weaknesses speaks volumes.

Mr. O'Connell has put together a well-researched and extensive book on W.T. Sherman, and it should be an essential book to have for anyone who interested in the Civil War and the history behind its leaders.

Lethal Lily

Author:  Jim and Joyce Lavene
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Part-time garden shop owner/part-time forensic botanist Peggy Lee is trying to discover if the death of Ann Fletcher 20 years ago was an accident - or foul play. In return, she hopes to receive more information about her late husband's death. She knows John Lee was murdered, but questions have arisen as to why he was killed.  She is working with a private detective who stumbles across his own feet, but her Internet friend, Nightflyer, says that Harry Fletcher has the answers.  When Harry is murdered by convallatoxin, from the lily of the valley plant, Peggy begins to understand her role in everything. Now she has to stay alive long enough to prove her theories - and keep her son, Paul, out of trouble, too!


 Peggy Lee owns a garden shop and is also a part-time forensic botanist with the ME's department, and gives lectures at the local university.  When she receives information that her late husband, John, was murdered and did not die accidentally, Peggy knows she needs to find out the truth, since she has always suspected the same.  But the answers have to come from a hapless private detective, Harry Fletcher, who wants something in return for the information he may have on John.  He wants her to prove that his late wife Ann did not commit suicide and was murdered also. 

So when she finds out that in order to gain access to the files, which are at a storage unit and up for auction, she arrives ready with checkbook in hand.  But she is outbid by another person, Arnold Hauck, who has his own reasons for wanting the files.  It seems Ann was Arnie's sister, and he thinks that Harry murdered Ann, and wants Peggy to go through the files to find out the truth of that...and therein lies the beginning of Peggy's troubles.

Peggy is thrust not only into the problem of finding out the truth about John; while her now-husband Steve, an FBI agent that John was working with, wants her to leave it alone; her son Paul wants the answers in his own way; John's partner Al wants her to let it go but knows she won't, and if that's not enough, she's being stalked and threatened and knows that she's getting close to the truth and must continue with her investigation even if she doesn't want to.

I absolutely loved reading this book; so much so that I read well into the night until I finished.  The authors know how to draw the reader in and keep them interested all the way through the book.  The plot has twists and turns that the reader needs to keep abreast of, because otherwise you will find yourself going back to check pages you've read for the clues. 

When I finally got to the end, I only wanted to read the next book in the series to find out how everything turns out.  A highly recommended read for everyone who likes mysteries; even for those who aren't interested in gardening.  A superb book.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Boiled Over

Author:  Barbara Ross
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars

For Julia Snowden, the Founder's Day summer celebration in Busman's Harbor, Maine, means helping her family's clambake company to prepare an authentic taste of New England seafood. Any Mainer will tell you that a real clambake needs wood for the fire . . . so why is there a foot sticking out of the oven?
The townspeople want to pin the murder of the RV park owner on Cabe Stone, a new employee of the Snowden Family Clambake Company--who bolted from the crime scene and disappeared. Julia knows having another murder associated with her family's business is a recipe for disaster . . . but who is the killer? Cooking up a proper investigation doesn't leave much time for the rest of Julia's life, and this is one killer who'll do anything to stop her from digging up clues . . .


Julia Snowden has returned from Manhattan to her home in Maine to help run the family's sea food business.  When her brother-in-law Sonny is preparing his "claminator" for the local Founder's Day celebration, body parts are discovered falling out of the woodpile used to cook the food.  Once it is discovered who the dead person is, Julia finds that she is in the middle of a murder investigation, due to the fact that the suspected murderer is an employee of hers.

Not believing the man guilty of such a crime, Julia sets out to clear him.  But an unforeseen chain of events makes that harder than she would ever imagine.  Even though her faith in his innocence never wavers, it seems everything keeps pointing toward him.  And the more she tries to prove him not guilty of the crime, more and more keeps pointing toward him.

Add to this the fact that her personal life is taking a hit as well: her relationship with her high-school-crush-turned-boyfriend is getting serious and she's not sure if she wants it to or not; she is finding out that she needs to make some hard decisions that may very well change the entire course of her life, something she's not sure she wants to do.

I found this book quite delightful to read, and even though I haven't read the first in the series, Clammed Up, I definitely plan to read it when I get the chance.  The characters are not one-dimensional, and the townspeople are exactly what you would expect:  they realize they live in a tourist town and that is how they make their living, but they keep themselves to themselves and have their own little camaraderie between them, silently loyal to each other while careful not to alienate the tourists (living in a tourist town myself, I can relate). 

At the last, I wasn't sure how to take the ending.  While the book itself is good, I never like it when I'm left "hanging in the air."  I know this is the author's way to ensure the next book gets read, but for me, I like resolution.  Which isn't to say don't read the book - I am sure you'll like it because it is written well, and I didn't put everything together at once (in fact, for awhile I thought someone might have been the killer but it was a red herring - and those are interesting themselves anyway).  I suggest you do read the book, because I fully intend on reading the next in the series.  I just wish I didn't have to wait for the next one to be published.

I was given a free copy of this in return for an honest review, but this in no way affected the above.

Antiques Chop

Author:  Barbara Allan
Genre:   Mystery

Three Stars

Brandy Borne and her dramatically ditzy mother, Vivian, are stars of the new reality show, Antiques Sleuths.  The season opens in a perfect location - a quaint old house echoing with the unsolved whispers of a 60-year-old axe murder.  But when the show's producer meets a similarly grisly end, Brandy and Mother must chop around for clues, axe the right questions, and get the edge on a murderer's mysterious motives.  Otherwise our sharp-witted sleuths may face cancellation-on the cutting room floor!
Okay, I know I've said this before, but does any author ever read the blurb on the back of the book?  Brandy and her mother do not have a new reality show; they are asked to start one, but before it can even get off the ground, the producer is indeed murdered, so there's no question of cancellation at all.  That being said, I will add the book is well-written, and the plot is nicely knitted together, in the fact that I wasn't sure who the killer was until the very end.  This is what you definitely want in a mystery.  I felt that there were really no clues to point to the killer until about then anyway.
Brandy and her mother are approached with the idea of a reality show based on their past experiences with solving murders.  The producer decides the best place to host the show would be an old murder house in town, which they can turn into an antiques shop and use while the show is not filming.  It sounds ideal to Vivian, and Brandy, as usual, just goes along with it.  When the producer is murdered practically the next day and a friend of theirs is accused of doing it, Brandy and Vivian feel the only way to clear him is to find the killer themselves.
It was Brandy's son Jake who found the body, dismembered; and what I don't get, is the fact that he's like 'it's no big deal,' through the rest of the book.  He's not traumatized; he has no bad dreams; he acts like it's an every day occurrence to see this and just goes on with his day-to-day life.  I know kids are resilient, but really?  Not even one teeny tiny nightmare?  Nothing?  Just go on a picnic and go hiking?
I didn't like the fact that the book read like you were watching a documentary: Brandy, her mother, and her son Jake are all narrating as if we're sitting in a room with them and they're telling their story to a police detective or something.  (Right along with notes from their editor).  Some people might enjoy that, but I don't.  I also wasn't too pleased with the ending.  Brandy's choice in men sucks, and she needs to get a dating service or something.  I don't like Brian at all, he doesn't really even seem to like Brandy all that much. 
But in the end, if you enjoy this series, you'll probably read this and the next book.  I myself just don't really care for the style in which it is written, nor the ending,  and that is why I felt I could only give it three stars.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee

Author:  Michael Korda
Genre:  Biography

Five Stars

In Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Michael Korda, the New York Times bestselling biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ulysses S. Grant, and T. E. Lawrence, has written the first major biography of Lee in nearly twenty years, bringing to life America's greatest and most iconic hero. Korda paints a vivid and admiring portrait of Lee as a general and a devoted family man who, though he disliked slavery and was not in favor of secession, turned down command of the Union army in 1861 because he could not "draw his sword" against his own children, his neighbors, and his beloved Virginia.  He was surely America's preeminent military leader, as calm, dignified, and commanding a presence in defeat as he was in victory. Lee's reputation has only grown in the 150 years since the Civil War, and Korda covers in groundbreaking detail all of Lee's battles and traces the making of a great man's undeniable reputation on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, positioning him finally as the symbiotic martyr-hero of the Southern cause.
First off, let me say that I love anything to do with The Civil War, and will read nearly any book regarding it.  I have been highly anticipating this book, and dove into it with both feet.  I must say that it is the most comprehensive account of Robert E. Lee that I have read to date.
The book begins with the Harper's Ferry fiasco, wherein John Brown expected to cause a slave rebellion; but of course, it all ended quite differently, and John Brown lost his life and that of his sons.  We are given the history of General Lee's upbringing; from birth on, and the type of father he had - a wastrel and scoundrel to be sure - and his mother, from whom he learned his frugality and nearly everything else, and they were very close throughout his life.
He was lucky enough to marry a woman he truly loved, even though her father, George Washington Custis, opposed the match.  They had seven children and he completely doted on them, giving them everything he could while still being parsimonious about himself.  He felt he could get by 'on very little,' but never refused a reasonable request from them.  Indeed, we learn that General Lee was a wonderful, loving, and generous parent.
Mr. Korda deals extensively with General Lee's military career, from it's early beginning to the end.  It is a very detailed account, and he intersperses throughout the letters from Robert to Mary about his feelings regarding the situations he was thrust into.
Although I may not agree with everything that has been written about him, feeling personally that some of it may have been extraneous, I found this a fascinating biography of a great General who gave everything he had to the service of his country, and even more so, to the family he loved so well.
A highly recommended book.
I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Supreme Macaroni Company

Author:  Adriana Trigiani
Genre:  Fiction

Three Stars

For over a hundred years, the Angelini shoe company in Greenwich Village has relied on the leather produced by Vechiarelli & Son in Tuscany.  This ancient business partnership provides the twist of fate for Valentine Roncalli, the schoolteacher turned shoemaker, to fall in love with Gianluca Vechiarelli, a tanner with a complex past...and a secret.

But after the wedding celebrations are over, Valentine wakes up to the hard reality of juggling the demands of a new business and the needs of her new family.  Confronted with painful choices, Valentine remembers the wise words that inspired her in the early days of her beloved Angelini Shoe Company: "A person who can build a pair of shoes can do just about anything."  Now the proud, passionate Valentine is going to fight for everything she wants and savor all she deserves-the bitter and the sweet of life itself.

Romantic and poignant, told with humor and warmth, and bursting with a cast of endearing characters, The Supreme Macaroni Company is a sumptuous feast of delights: an unforgettable narrative about family, work, romance, and the unexpected turns of life and fate.


Valentine has inherited the shoe company that her grandfather and grandmother started.  She makes custom shoes, and takes pride in her work.  She employs a cutter, Gabriel, who is also her roommate, and her brother Alfred handles the financial end of the business.  She buys her leather from Italy, and it is because of this she has met Gianluca, a tanner and part owner of the company which provides the leathers.  Gianluca is older than her and divorced, and he has asked her to marry him.

This is where I felt the book began with problems.  She is very concerned with the fact that he is older than her;  when people note he's "twenty years older," she practically screams "eighteen!" as if she has to defend herself.  She even lies about the age difference to an old boyfriend, which I didn't understand.  If you're not concerned with the age difference, why lie?  This was only the beginning.

While I truly enjoyed Gianluca - he seemed to have real love for Valentine, and wanted her to be happy, no matter what it took, even if it meant giving up residing in Tuscany, his home - she didn't appear to have the same concern for him.  Everything she did had to be "her way or the highway," even when she promised him she would discuss things with him first.  She appeared to be selfish and self-serving, putting Gianluca on the back burner for her career and what she wanted out of life.  This doesn't seem to be a very good recipe for marriage; nor even one for a partnership.  She believed that marriage wouldn't change anything, and at one point I felt that she was only concerned with the fact that she was "gaining a tanner."  I found myself wondering if they had merely been business partners how long the professional relationship would last.  He tolerated an awful lot from her, and it was as if she knew what he was giving up, but her wants were more important than his (marriage is a partnership, not a plan.  You need to have consideration and respect for each other; and if it's not good for one, it won't be good for the other).

I'm not saying this is a bad book, or not to read it.  It is written very well, and there were moments that brought tears to my eyes, which is why I gave it three stars instead of two.  There are some very descriptive scenes of Italy and the surrounding countryside; and you understand why her rooftop garden in New York means a lot to her.  Yet while she remains 'a fixer' in her own family (taking care of problems so they don't escalate), I didn't get the feeling that she was willing to take care of those between her and Gianluca.  She acted as if there were no problems at all.  When this was pointed out several times by Gabriel, I felt she listened, but didn't act on anything.

Plus, the cover of the book is extremely misleading.  Point: I have never read any of Ms. Trigiani's works before, so I didn't know what Valentine was supposed to look like.  It wasn't until almost halfway through the book that she was described as having "black hair," yet the cover most definitely shows a BLONDE!  By the time you're halfway through, you've already decided in your mind's eye what these people look like, and if they're described differently, then that's not good.  Why would you put a blonde on the cover if the lead character has dark hair?  (Yes, I know they're Italian-American, but there could be blondes, and if not, anyone hear of dye?)  Who's the woman on the cover?  It's obviously Not Valentine.  Didn't the author look at the cover first?

In all, I was a little disappointed that Valentine seemed to do whatever she wanted without expecting any consequences (and for someone who's supposed to be an adult in their thirties running a business, that's a little unbelievable).  Still, as I said, the writing is good and there are a few good moments; but I think you'll come away believing as I did that Valentine didn't deserve Gianluca, and really needed to grow up and take a look at what life really is or she will end up just like her Aunt Feen.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, but in no way did it influence the same.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fleur de Lies

Author:  Maddy Hunter
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

When intrepid travel agency owner Emily Andrew-Miceli takes her band of tech-savvy seniors to France, they say “Bonjour” by cruising down the Seine River. Along for the ride are a colorful cast of cruise-goers, including four sales reps who are the crème de la crème of the cosmetic industry and a group of morticians looking for a little joie de vivre as they sort out business conflicts. But once a guest is found dead along Normandy’s famed Alabaster coast, Emily bids adieu to the hopes of a fatality-free trip. Was it a mishap? Or was murder the entrée du jour? Traveling from the medieval alleyways of Rouen to Monet’s famous water lily garden, Emily must untangle a web of lies that began a half-century ago, on the very eve of the D-Day invasion.


Emily Andrew-Miceli is back at it again.  She is a tour guide par excellence, ferrying her band of senior citizens all over the world.  This small and colorful group of people enjoy traveling, and even though Emily in her turn enjoys being with them, they are usually (okay, always) quite a handful to deal with.

This time out, the group is on a river cruise in France.  Not only are they discovering the country, but a few of them - along with other travelers - are rediscovering the France they knew during World War II.  At first all seems harmless enough, but when a "home visit" to a local family reunites one of Emily's charges with an old love, suddenly things begin to get sticky.  Not that that's anything unusual for this group - anyone who has read the previous books in this series knows that the unusual is the usual for the seniors, but the chance meeting starts a chain of events that not only involves Emily's charges, but other people on the tour as well.

And there are plenty - Emily's ex-husband-turned-transsexual Jackie is aboard, as a star representative for Mona Michelle cosmetics, along with the other three women who have pushed sales through the roof - Krystal, Dawna and Bobbi; the company's owner, Victor Martin and his wife Victoria; funeral home owner Woody Jolly, and his son/partner Cal, who are with a group of others in their profession.

So when one of the guests on the cruise is killed in what is at first thought to be accidental but eventually discovered to be murder (and we would expect no less, knowing that Emily could not be so lucky to have an accidental death on one of her tours), everyone on the ship is scrutinized, and while Emily is trying to control her group, she realizes that the murder is tied into something she discovered early on during their trip.

This book is funny when the seniors are running around; and you discover that Emily really doesn't have any control over them at all (although she likes to pretend that she does anyway).   You have Woody spouting funeral arrangements to anyone who will listen and his son Cal trying to get him to knock it off, while the female sales reps are as catty as you would expect them to be (except poor naive Jackie, who hasn't been a female long enough to really get it).  There are interesting tidbits about World War II scattered throughout the book, so any history buff should enjoy that; and the plot is woven in a tangle of knots and red herrings that even I was surprised when I found out the killer (and I'm usually pretty good at it, but this time she surprised even me).  I would recommend this and the rest of Ms. Hunter's books to anyone who enjoys a humorous read along with historical facts and 'armchair traveling'.  Purely delightful.

Monday, May 5, 2014

I Never Met a Book I Didn't Like...

...I'd really like to be able to say that, but it isn't true.  I've met plenty of books I didn't like, and while I don't enjoy giving bad reviews, I've always felt that if all anyone saw on this site were five-star books, they probably wouldn't be interested in what I have to say.

Well, they might read the reviews, especially if they agreed with me, but would they think I was being honest?  Or would they think I was only reviewing "great books" because I either didn't want to offend anyone or hurt their feelings?  Whatever the reason, I personally feel that if you choose to review books, you have an obligation to let people know not only about what you consider to be great books, but about the stinkers, too.  After all, not everyone is going to see books the same way.  What I might think were terrible books someone else might think they rate right up there in Books to be Remembered Forever.

And that same person might also see some of my five-star reviews and agree with those (or not).  The point is, I, myself, feel that I would be doing an injustice in even having this blog if I refused to review the books I didn't like.  Trust me, I never go out of my way to find a book that sounds like a stinker to review; and if the "blurb" doesn't sound interesting, I won't even pick it up.  But even the blurb can be misleading:  I've read quite a few that weren't really accurate on the plot - they might have something here and there that had to do with it, but as I got farther into the book, realized that some of the facts were entirely wrong (which is another post altogether).  But I figure that if I've read half of the book already I may as well finish, because the second half might be a whole lot better (and that's happened, too). 

I don't think anyone can pick up a book and know whether it's going to be good or not.  Even a prolific author can have a book that just isn't up to par.  It's up to us, the readers, to let them know that.  I'm not going to feel bad about what I think about a book or telling others what I think about it.  Not only am I entitled to my opinion; I feel that in all honesty, I owe it to anyone who reads my blog to tell them the truth.  For myself, - and I'm NOT disputing or knocking anyone, so be nice - I'm not interested in reading only blogs where everyone 'plays nice' and 'absolutely LOVES ' every book they read.  Because I don't believe it.  Not for a minute.  It's not human nature to feel that way. 

I will say that I'm pretty lucky in that most books I read are pretty good, because I stick with what I like.  I'm not going to set out trying a genre I'm not interested in, because I feel I shouldn't have to slog through a book and be disappointed on purpose.  That doesn't mean that I don't read genres I'm not comfortable with (there is a difference between being not interested and not comfortable).  On the contrary.  I have done so in the past and will do so in the future.  Books can surprise us, they can astound us, they can change us.  They can make us think differently, act differently, react differently.

Yet if I do find a book I don't like, I will tell you.  Not only is it my obligation, it's what I feel is right.  I'm not going to put it aside and pretend I didn't read it just because I don't want to offend anyone.  You can't go through life being afraid of making waves, any more than you can go through life doing it on purpose.  So while you may not always agree with my assessment of someone's book, you will always know that it was done with honesty and thought.

Happy reading. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hanging by a Hair

Author:  Nancy J. Cohen
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Hairstylist Marla Vail and her detective husband Dalton are delighted by every aspect of their new home, until their next-door-neighbor illegally erects a fence on their mutual property line.  Marla's hopes for making friends are ruined by a resultant argument between Dalton and the man, who happens to be the homeowners' association president.  Things grow worse when their neighbor is found dead in his home the next day.

Despite a suicide note, Dalton suspects foul play, but he's removed from the case due to a conflict of interest.  At her husband's suggestion, Marla works to know her neighbors better.  One of them might have had a reason to want their president dead.  Is it another board member?  Or a local woman he's spurned?  Perhaps the guy's nephew wants his inheritance?  And what about the protesters who disrupt the community garage sale?  As Marla learns more about the guy next door, she discovers ugly truths that a murderer wants to keep hidden.  Can a sharp-witted salon owner untangle the web of secrets before the killer strikes again?

Marla and her husband Dalton have just moved into a new neighborhood and are attending their first HOA meeting.  Almost immediately they clash with the board's president, Alan Krabber, who is also their next-door neighbor.  It seems that Alan makes everyone else follow the rules, but does whatever he wants to do:  he tells a resident that she can't have her visiting sister park her recreational vehicle in the driveway, but he himself keeps a boat there.  When Dalton calls him on it, he gets nasty and combative.  Later on that same night after the meeting, Alan hits on Marla, and when Dalton overhears the conversation, confronts him.

So, when Alan is murdered (and no spoilers here since I am sure everyone figured out he's the one getting killed) the next day, witnesses tell the police about the confrontation and Dalton is removed from the case, being a 'person of interest.'  But is Marla going to take it lying down and let her husband stand accused of a murder she knows he didn't commit?  Anyone who has read the previous books in this series knows the resounding answer: No.  And even when Dalton tells her to leave it alone, we (and he) know she isn't going to do that), even if it means she's on the killer's scope.

To add to her problems at home there are two things occuring at her salon that are giving her a perpetual headache, and she also needs to juggle her stepdaughter Brianna's birthday party, her first Passover at her house, and Easter the following weekend (the problems of a mixed-religion marriage - you have double the holidays every year).  This is one busy woman.

I will tell you that I, myself was getting a little ticked at Alan and his attitude.  Not that it couldn't be; I've heard horror stories about HOA members myself, so I was on Marla and Dalton's side right from the beginning - which is what I was supposed to do anyway.  Putting that aside, the book drew me in and I read until the wee hours of the night, because with the supposed-suicide-turned-murder and the problems with the salon and at home, I just wanted to finish and find out what happened.  And isn't that what a book is supposed to be about?

The nice thing about this book is that you don't have to read any of the previous ones to enjoy this one.  Ms. Cohen "keeps you in the loop" per se, and you have enough information about the characters to really enjoy it.  Highly recommended for anyone who wants a quick read that keeps you interested throughout.

Revenge Is Sweet (Vintage Sweets Mysteries Book 1)

Author:  Kaye George Genre:   Mystery Trade Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781516105434 Lyrical Underground 193 Pages $14.36; $3.9...