Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Beach Bags and Burglaries

Author:  Dorothy Howell
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars
 
The island has everything Haley has imagined: pristine beaches, posh accommodations, and possibly Brad Pitt. But trouble soon looms on the horizon when Jaslyn Gordon, a maid at the island resort, goes missing. And while practically looting the resort for a Sea Vixen beach bag, Haley of course finds the maid - on the beach...and clearly dead. Everyone at the resort says Jaslyn's death was just an accident, but Haley thinks there's a lot going unsaid...especially when she spots hunky FBI agent Luke Warner. He claims to be on the island only for a wedding but Haley's not buying it. Haley's faced down clever criminals before and always come out on top, but this malicious murderer might be too crafty. And though she's dying to get her hands on a Sea Vixen, she also wants to live long enough to be seen with it!
 
********
 
Haley Randolph, in this latest installment of the series, wins a vacation to Rowan Resort, a private vacation island.  She brings her three BFFs with her - Bella, Marcie and Sandy - and decides that this will be a "girls' vacation".  Everything they want is theirs merely for the asking, they even have their own private attendant, Avery, who is responsible for making theirs a memorable stay.
 
Unfortunately for Haley it will be memorable in more ways than one - one of the resort's maids has been missing for a few days - and she's just discovered the body.  When she is questioned by police and the head of security, Walt Pemberton, she figures that's the end of it.  But it's only just the beginning...
 
She spots Ben Oliver, a reporter she knows (and he's not too fond of her, to use one of Haley's lines: it's a long story).  He insists he's onto something big, but also insists it has nothing to do with the murder.  Not long after that, FBI agent Luke Warner shows up - and he insists he's not there for the murder, either - he's there for a wedding.  Then, Haley is cornered by Yasmin, a woman she knows who is getting married, and insists Haley help her plan her wedding and attend (with her friends) as a guest, since most of Yasmin's guests have cancelled because of the murder. 
 
Okay, so maybe this vacation isn't going the way she wanted.  And maybe the new guy she's trying to get her friend Sandy interested in isn't what he appears to be.  And so what if a couple more guys she knows - and are hot - show up?  It's all good as long as she gets her hands on the Sea Vixen, the latest tote that she must have...
 
While Haley weaves herself in and out of situations that would make a lesser woman give up in defeat, she tries to juggle time with her friends and tries to figure out why her male friends are showing up in droves; and get her hands on the Sea Vixen tote which is eternally out of her reach.  This book is fun, amusing, enchanting and delightful.  Although we're not any farther into the Haley-Ty where-is-it-going-to-go relationship, what we have here is an enjoyable ride that I'm glad I was able to take part.
 
Highly recommended.
 
 
 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Embellished to Death

Author:  Christina Freeburn
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars

When Faith Hunter agrees to help PI Bob Roget find an identity thief at a local scrapbook retreat, her friendly croppers’ weekend quickly morphs into a dangerous one. As croppers share their own memories, a killer collects them for her new identity, and doesn’t appreciate Faith in the picture.
Faith struggles to balance her professional, detecting and personal lives as threats and secrets keep her off-balance. Things turn deadly when a woman is killed and Faith is blackmailed. Truth and lies collide when Faith discovers croppers aren’t the only ones embellishing, and the results might end her life.

********
 
Faith Hunter is the owner of Scrap This, a scrapbooking shop.  She is working at a "scrapbook retreat" called Cropportunity for the weekend, accompanied by her boyfriend Steve, an attorney.  On the way there, she receives a phone call from Ted Roget, a detective who is interested in her, asking if she is alright.  The reason he wants to know is a car was found on the side of the road and has some of her personal information in it.  As if that isn't enough, when she arrives, she barely avoids getting hit by an out-of-control car, but another woman isn't so lucky, and is hit and dies.
 
By this time Faith is pretty sure is wasn't an accident.  Especially when she finds out that Ted's brother Bob, a private investigator, is also there looking for an identity thief.  Even though she is told to stay out of the investigation by the lead detective, Bell, she finds she is thrust right in the center of it when she is accosted by Morgan, who is not all that he appears to be, and he accuses her of committing previous murders and having someone else take the fall.
 
Okay, that's the gist of it.  Things get sticky pretty quick.  Steve is injured pushing her out of the way of the car, so he's pretty much MIA through most of the action.  Morgan is trying to get her to admit she committed previous murders and pinned it on someone else, and he's not above using physical force to do so.  Bob is there to find the identity thief, but finds more trouble than he wanted and is distracted by having to protect Faith from Morgan.  Morgan is a nasty human being, and will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.
 
The plot weaves and turns, and you're never sure exactly where it's going.  Are we looking for an identity thief?  Or are we looking for a murderer?  Or are they the same people?  These are the questions for Faith - and her innate desire to help people pulls her into the action.  Unfortunately, that same desire puts her in situations she should never be in.  Even when she knows there's probably danger ahead, she pushes on.  Naive or incautious, I can't say.  But there is very definitely a murderer in their midst, and it could be any one of the people attending the retreat.  The question is, how do you keep an eye on them all? 
 
She knows she has to tell Steve about her past - about how her husband Adam murdered someone and set her up to take the fall - but is putting it off.  Believe me, this is a big part of the plot.  Personally, I didn't think it was that big of a deal:  she got conned by her ex-husband, was cleared of the charges, and one would hope to move on with their life, but apparently she hasn't.  She's still fretting over what he will think of her.  My opinion:  What is she afraid of?  She's not guilty of anything, and she's not the first woman who has ever been conned by her husband.  (Maybe none have ever tried to set their wife up for murder, but women have been married to them without knowing.  I just didn't understand why she wouldn't talk to him about it.  If he loved her, he'd understand.
 
I would have given it five stars, but I didn't really care for the ending.  I'm not going to tell you anything about it, but it seems to ask more questions than it answers.  That doesn't mean it's not worth reading; it is.  The plot is tighter, the book is intriguing, and there is a lot of action so you won't be bored.
 
 
 
 


Monday, July 28, 2014

Best Supporting Role

Author:  Sue Margolis
Genre:  Romance

Five Stars

When her gambling-addict husband died, Sarah Green was left penniless-and with two children to raise.  Since then, she's been left desperate to keep her professional and personal lives on firm financial footing.  And what could be safer than dating an accountant and working at a non-emergency crime help line?

But then Sarah's aunt dies, leaving Sarah her once-famous-now failing-lingerie shop.  With her fashion background, Sarah reluctantly decides to make a go of it, even if that means breaking up with her too-prudent boyfriend over the risk.

Suddenly Sarah finds herself falling for Hugh, the handsome struggling actor she hires to renovate her new boutique, and entering a prestigious lingerie competition.  Taking chances has never been her forte, but the built-in support of family and friends could give her the boost she's looking for.

********

Sarah Green lives a comfortable life with her adman husband, Mike, and their two children, Dan and Ella, 8 and 5, respectively.  Mike makes plenty of money, and Sarah, who before her marriage was an up-and-coming fashion designer, is happily renovating their new home, and is lucky she can afford to send her two children to a private school.  When she discovers that Mike, who started gambling only to "blow off steam," due to his stressful job, has taken it up full-time and put them in serious debt, her world begins to crumble around her.  And when he dies in a freak accident one evening (the same evening she has decided to ask him for a divorce), her world completely falls apart.

She has no income, two fatherless children and is completely lost.  She speaks to a friend who is a financial adviser, and he tells her that she must sell her beloved home and plan to 'economize.'  While seriously trying to keep things together, she also finds out that her Aunt Shirley, her mother's sister, is dying.  To keep her mother happy, she goes to visit her aunt, and during the visit, Shirley sort-of extracts a promise from her:  that Sarah take over Shirley's failing lingerie shop and try to make a go of it.

Sarah, who has for months lived with the fear of having nothing because of Mike's gambling, and has nearly ended up that way, is determined to sell the shop for what she can get out of it and try to move on.  But when a sudden windfall - almost a last gift from Shirley - comes her way, she realizes that she has a chance to try and Sarah's life.  We are with her as she tries to find her way after Mike's death; her obligation to keep her childrens' lives stable, and to find some stability in her own life while juggling a fledgling business and a budding relationship.

Although this would by no means be catalogued as a 'fun' read, it is a genial one, well-written and with depth; it is a book filled with hopes, dreams, loss, renewal, and ultimately the satisfaction that comes with finding a place to call home, which doesn't always mean a house.

Highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Supporting-Role-Sue-Margolis/dp/0451240138/

The Zoo Box

Author:  Ariel Cohn & Aron Nels Steinke
Genre:  Children

Three Stars

When Erika and Patrick's parents leave them home alone for the night, they head straight to the attic to explore. When they open a mysterious box, hundreds of animals come pouring out! Soon the town is awash in more and more zoo animals, until Erika and Patrick discover that the tables have been turned... and the animals now run a zoo full of humans!

With simple text and bright, graphic art, Ariel Cohn and Aron Neils Steinke have created a gentle, fantastical adventure for the very youngest of readers. The Zoo Box will be a terrific introduction to comics and both learning readers and their parents.

********

The book is exactly as stated above:  Erika and Patrick's parents leave them home alone while they go out for the evening.  The two children decide to explore in the attic, and discover a box that allows animals out and running off, much in a Jumanji style.  However, they follow the animals and find they are all going to a zoo; and the children, dressed in pajamas that look like animals, enter and discover that the zoo is peopled with humans.

I wasn't sure what to make of this book.  Admittedly, it is drawn rather cutely.  It also has a nice premise in bringing the human vs. animal zoo idea.  However, I found it disturbing on a couple of levels.

First, these are children.  The oldest cannot be more than 8.  Where is the babysitter?  They are obviously not old enough to be left alone, and I can see it now after someone reads it to their child:  "But mom, if they can be left alone, why can't I?"  Yes, I know they're only cartoons, but still...

Secondly is what I'm not sure of:  were the authors going for a 'wouldn't it be cute if there were a zoo that had humans instead of animals?' or: 'what if we show people that it's not nice to cage animals?'  Either scenario is disturbing.  The facts are this:  Zoos exist, and there's no way around it.  One can only hope that the animals are truly loved and well-treated.

It is a cute book in itself, but could give some children nightmares, in the fact that they might think they could be trapped into a zoo, and the ending itself is rather disturbing.  (Spoiler:  after the parents get home, they mention that the kids were good so they'll take them to the zoo tomorrow, and the kids are in bed staring at the ceiling after this remark.  Are they thinking the parents are bringing them to the zoo as exhibits?  Who knows?)

Anyway, basically okay, but if you have curious children, be prepared to answer questions.

http://www.amazon.com/Zoo-Box-Ariel-Cohn/dp/1626720525/

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse

Author:  Robin Hutton
Genre:  Biography/History/War

Five Stars


She might not have been much to look at-a small "Mongolian mare," they called her-but she came from racing stock, and had the blood of a champion.  Much more than that, Reckless became a war hero-in fact, she became a combat Marine, earning staff sergeant's stripes before her retirement to Camp Pendleton.

This once famous horse, recognized as late as 1997 by Life magazine as one of America's great heroes-the greatest war horse in American history, in fact-has unfortunately now been largely forgotten.  But author Robin Hutton is set to change all that.  Not only has she been the force behind recognizing Reckless with a monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and at Camp Pendleton, but she has now put between hard covers the full story, the rousing-sometimes comic, sometimes tragic-life of this four-legged war hero who hauled ammunition to frontline Marines and inspired them with her relentless, and reckless, courage.

Seabiscuit, Misty of Chincoteague, Dan Patch, Man O'War, Secretariat...Reckless belongs in their number as one of America's most beloved horses.  Hers is a story to inspire young and old, military veteran and casual equestrian.  Here is the story of the horse they called Reckless.

********

Reckless began life in Korea just before the war.  She was bred as a racehorse, and owned  Huk Moon (a pseudonym), the young jockey who rode her.  He had owned her dam, Ah-Chim-Hai, or Flame of the Morning.  He was given her as a gift for his many acts of bravery and kindness during World War II.  Because he loved her so much, when she was finally bred, he named her offspring Flame of the Morning also.  But when her mother died suddenly, he wanted nothing to do with the young filly..  So a friend of his took her to be raised by one of his own mares, and it wasn't until some time later when he saw her playing with other young horses that he realized she was much like her mother and his love for her grew.  When war struck in 1950, Kim and his family had to temporarily leave their home, taking Flame with them.  When they returned, two years later, there wasn't much left.

The family did what they could to survive; but one day his sister Chun, working in a rice paddy, was badly hurt.  A worker next to her stepped on a landmine, and Chun's leg was mangled and would have to be removed.  It was soon after that, that Kim realized he would have to sell his horse to purchase a prosthetic leg for his sister.  This is where the marines stepped in.

I won't go into a lengthy detail of the recoilless rifle.  It is enough to say that it took three or four men to carry it, and more to carry each 75mm shell.  It was a powerful gun, and each man could carry no more than two shells, due to the weight.  It was backbreaking work.  Watching his men run up and down the hill to secure more shells was dangerous work, and Lt. Eric Pedersen, commander of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, knew something needed to be done.

Leave it to say that after searching for a horse, he discovered Reckless. Paying $250 American dollars for her, Kim knew he could now obtain the leg for his sister, heartbroken though he was to lose his precious Flame.  Little did he know that she would go on to a greater destiny, one that would more than likely save the lives of many Americans.  For it was she, renamed Reckless by the marines, who would be trained to carry the shells to the soldiers.

It was dangerous work.  She must be trained carefully.  Reckless would travel on her own, up and down the treacherous hills, with anywhere from four to ten rounds strapped to her back, in a specially made pack.  She made the journey many times, herself being wounded twice and still continuing on in battle.

I will say no more, except that you need to read this book.  Not only did I read the book, I read much of it to my husband, when I came across something particularly striking; and he listened intently, which is an achievement since he really only reads technical manuals or things of that sort.  This is how riveting the book is. 

There are books that excite us, agitate us, soothe, enamor and make us feel giddy.  Only once in a while does a book come along that pulls from our soul.  This is one of those books.  I dare you to read this book without it bringing tears to your eyes.  It did mine, many times.  It was a beautiful story, yet heart-wrenching to read.  It is beautifully written, and I can only hope that I felt some of what the author felt while she was researching Reckless's life. 

If one can say that a horse lived life to the fullest, then Reckless is that horse.  Not only did she work as hard, if not harder, than any marine ever did, she also joined with them in their play.  She slept alongside them in their tents when the nights grew cold; she ate what they ate-and that included cookies, pancakes, peanut butter; she drank what they drank, including Coca-Cola and beer.  In fact, many of the stories of Reckless are downright humorous; and show what an intelligent being she was.

My regret is that I did not know anything about her before, but due to the generosity of Regnery Press in providing this book for my review, I plan to remedy that.  On one of my travels back east I plan to visit her memorial in Triangle, Virginia.  However, I am looking forward to it as soon as possible.

Hopefully, this book will renew interest in one of the bravest marines ever - Sgt. Reckless of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon.

Highly recommended for anyone, and especially for everyone.

http://www.amazon.com/Sgt-Reckless-Americas-War-Horse/dp/1621572633/

I was also given the opportunity to interview the author, Robin Hutton.  Below you find her thoughts and why she felt she needed to write this book.

1.  What made you determined to tell Sgt. Reckless's story?
When I discovered the story of Reckless eight years ago in Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul, I thought this is indeed the GREATEST horse story I had ever read - so why had I never heard of her before?  I googled her name, and only 4 - FOUR! - items came up on the internet.  I thought that was a travesty, especially as I researched her story I discovered how iconic she had been in the 50's, and that she had sadly disappeared from the pages of history.  She had become another forgotten hero from the Forgotten War known as the Korean War.  As I interviewed the Marines that served with her and learned their stories, and understood the love they had for this horse, I made it my mission that she, and they, would NEVER be forgotten again.  Her spirit lived through them, and I was determined to tell this story.  She deserves her rightful place in history - and with my book, the monuments, and hopefully a movie, I know that will happen.

2.  There were passages that were difficult to read.  In fact, I spent a lot of time with tissues in my hand.  Was it difficult to write passages of this book and were you crying at times as I was?

I have cried many, many, many times throughout the writing of this book.  Some were difficult tears, some were incredibly joyful tears.  I'm so glad you did too!  That means I did my job!  Her story just does that to you, doesn't it?

3.  What was your favorite part of the book and why?

My favorite part of the book was interviewing and incorporating the wonderful stories of all the Marines and other people whose lives have been touched by Reckless - especially when they sent me their personal pictures!  I just loved it when I opened my mail and would see a different image of Reckless!  She came to life for me.  Most of them have beome my "forever friends," because of the bond we have developed over the years.  To hear them describe their experiences, even though most were interviewed over the phone, you could HEAR the emotion in their voices as they talked about this wonderful horse.  There is one Marine who still calls me on occasion to tell me how proud he is of me and thanks me for all that I've done to bring her story out to the masses, and every time he has to hang up because he is choking back his tears.  You can hear it in his voice, and that makes me cry too!

4.  How do you feel now that this book and memorial have become a reality?

It is difficult to put into words the gratitude that is in my heart.  TRULY.  The book turned out better than I ever could have imagined!  It is STUNNING!  And I feel that it does Reckless justice, and I am so PROUD of that!  I am so incredibly excited to finally get it out there and spread the word even better now because I have the book I can give to people and say, "Here...here is a story you will never forget.  Here is a hero you will never forget.  Here is a book you will want to share with everyone you know."  And my publisher, Regnery History, understood and loved this story from the get-go, and they have done everything in their power to make it the MAGNIFICENT book that it is - including the exclusive trading cards in the back!  As I said - so grateful!

The dedication of the monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps will be a day that is etched in my head and heart forever.  There is no way to describe the emotions that overwhelmed me as I would look across the sea of people who were there to honor this horse and see the beaming faces of those Marines that were able to attend the dedication ceremony of the monument.  With tear-filled eyes they gazed upon this magnificent sculpture - it was as if their comrade-in-arms had come back to life and was with them in the flesh.  Their tears made me cry because I understood the emotions they were feeling.  To see the highest levels of the Marine Corps (the Commandant, General James Amos and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Michael Barrett) turn out to honor Reckless that day -- well, I think I was having an out of body experience at some point because it was just beyond anything even my mind could have imagined - and I had imagined a pretty awesome event!  It was just a GLORIOUs day for all of us to experience, and I tried to capture some of that in the book in the last chapter entitled, "Operation: Reckless."

And now we get to continue the honors with another monument to Reckless at Camp Pendleton, where she lived out her days and is buried.  That will most likely be dedicated next spring.  And I'm excited to announce that there is also the possibility of putting a third monument in South Korea, in an area where the hills are stained with the blood of so many heroic Americans.  So there's still much to do!

And don't even get me started on the movie - which obviously will be the icing on the cake!

5.  Finally, a question just for fun (and to let readers connect with you a little) are you a morning person or a nightowl?

Back "in the day" (and if I told you how many days ago that was, I'd have to shoot you) I was a night owl because I loved to go out and dance!  (still do - dance, that is!)  But now I've become a morning person, and I do love it.  I find that if I can get up early in the morning and hit the ground running (with coffee cup in hand, of course!) I can get stuff done by noon, if I'm lucky.  I still work all day long and into the night because I have lots to do, but I LOVE what I do, so I really don't consider it work.  And now I'm excited because the hard work of writing the book is done, and the FUN work of selling the book is upon me!  Woo hoo!!!

I want to thank Robin and Regnery for the interview, I truly appreciate it.  I hope that this gives you an understanding of what drove her to write this book, and also hope that you'll read it yourselves.  You'll be glad you did.

 


Friday, July 18, 2014

Fit to Be Dead

Author:  Nancy G. West
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars

Aggie Mundeen, single and pushing forty, fears nothing but middle age. When she moves from Chicago to San Antonio, she decides she better shape up before anybody discovers she writes the column, “Stay Young with Aggie.” She takes Aspects of Aging at University of the Holy Trinity and plunges into exercise at Fit and Firm.

Rusty at flirting and mechanically inept, she irritates a slew of male exercisers, then stumbles into murder. She’d like to impress the attractive detective with her sleuthing skills. But when the killer comes after her, the health club evacuates semi-clad patrons, and the detective has to stall his investigation to save Aggie's derriere.

********

Aggie Mundeen is a single woman who has left her bank job (after investing a tidy amount) and moving to San Antonio, Texas, to be near the only real friend she has, her police detective friend Sam.  Sam was married to Aggie's friend Katie, but after she died, he moved to San Antonio to start again.  She wants to be more-than-friends with Sam, but doesn't know how he feels about her.

Aggie is taking classes at the local university in aspects of aging.  Aggie, it seems, is terrified of getting old, and is willing to do anything to delay that process.  Even if it means joining a health club, which she reluctantly does.  (Reluctantly, because she doesn't like to exercise).  On her first visit, she decides to use the pool, and when she gets in, there is a young woman apparently dead or dying.  She pulls her from the pool and the paramedics are called.  When the young woman, Holly, recovers, she starts blurting things out, and Aggie discovers that Holly had a child she recently gave away and now regrets.  Before Aggie can find out any more, Holly bolts.

Soon after, Holly is run over by a car and killed.  Aggie suspects it wasn't an accident, and doesn' think the "accident" at the pool was one, either; and decides to find the killer herself, because she figures that it will impress Sam and he will like her enough to want to be with her (I have no idea why she thinks this, but you soon find out Aggie's mind is a little warped on some things).  She also knows if she mentions anything to Sam about Holly being murdered, he will tell her to stay out of the investigation.  So, when Aggie starts to nose around, things begin to happen - to her.  Yet does she give up the investigation?  No.  Does she tell Sam?  No.  She plunges forward, even involving her friend Meredith; Without telling Meredith what she's really doing, of course.

I felt the beginning of the book was slow, when Aggie was sick.  (Let's just say nothing she ate would stay where she originally put it).  Anyway, as things progressed, the book definitely got better.  And, in fact, there were some flat out funny scenes that made me laugh out loud.  An especially funny one that included the members of the health club.

As we get closer to the murderer (and the person who was making the attempts on Aggie's life), things get twisted.  So twisted, that you could be driving down that road in San Francisco and it would be more direct.  Subplots wove in and out of the main one - which was to find Holly's killer - and you couldn't find closer connections if you were knitting an afghan.  Yet the clues weren't easy to spot (and even if I did, I never made the connections myself - mainly because it didn't appear that there were any).  Everything that was supposed to be a clue, panned out to be something else entirely.  But the clues are there.  Just don't give yourself a headache looking for them.  Even Aggie's story was woven into all the others - and she does have a story, true enough; and I found it interesting how everything tied together.

An easy read, enjoyable; recommended for anyone who likes mysteries with a bit of humor thrown in.  Four stars for the slow beginning, but stick with it, you'll be glad you did.

http://www.amazon.com/Fit-Dead-Aggie-Mundeen-Mystery/dp/1940976375/

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mad as Helen

Author:  Susan McBride
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars



When tiny River Bend, Illinois, is hit by a string of burglaries even Sheriff Frank Biddle can't solve, the clients of LaVyrle's Cut 'n' Curl can hardly talk of anything but. There are no signs of forced entry and no fingerprints, and valuables are missing from secret hiding places, as if the thief knew what he wanted and just where to look.

Helen Evans wonders what the world has come to if even their once-quiet town isn't safe anymore. Then Grace Simpson, a big-city psychotherapist who had opened up shop in River Bend, is found dead on her bedroom floor, and Helen's granddaughter is caught with the murder weapon in hand.

Sure of the girl's innocence, Helen embarks on a little investigation of her own and turns up plenty of folks who aren't grieving a bit now that Grace is dead...

********

Grace Simpson is a psychoanalyst who practices in River Bend, with plenty of clients from among the townspeople.  She also has an assistant, Nancy, who just happens to be Helen Evans' granddaughter.  Grace is not only a demanding boss, she is also a very nasty one.  She berates Nancy constantly, and expects her to do everything for her, including waiting at her house while the carpenter does work.

But Grace has now decided to write a non-fiction book about her clients.  She figures as long as she changes the names and some of the details, she's good to go.  So when she finishes her book, she's under the impression tha Nancy has shredded all of the pages she hand-wrote out (not trusting computers and refusing to own one).  But when Nancy bumps into a local while in front of the beauty salon, the notebooks fall out and one of them falls into the hands of Mrs. Beamer, who is none too happy to hear what is included in the book.  A nasty scene follows between the townspeople and Grace, with the culmination of Nancy being fired.

When Grace doesn't show up for a scheduled meeting with her publisher, the sheriff and the publisher go to Grace's house the next day and find Nancy exiting, with a bloody bat in her hand, hysterical.  The sheriff assumes that Nancy is guilty, but Helen, tenacious as she is, is having none of it, and if the sheriff won't look for the guilty party, she will.

The book was a nice, quick read.  But a couple of things bothered me.  Even if the sheriff assumed (erroneously, of course) that Nancy was guilty, how could her fingerprints on the bat make her guilty if there was no blood on her or her clothes?  Blood spatter, people.  Plus, it was obvious she was only there for a few minutes.  If she's pounding on the door to ask Grace to let her in, and no people were around, if she was guilty, what was the point of that?  Why not just go in if she knew she was dead?  Why didn't the sheriff ask the neighbors if they saw anything?  (One did, and knew she had knocked on the door - surely she wouldn't lie just to make it seem the girl was guilty).  And Sheriff Biddle wasn't really looking at any of the other people, even though they, as being in the book, would have had a much better reason to kill Grace.  In my mind, Sheriff Biddle is inept or lazy, plus his wife talks a lot about his cases and really shouldn't.  That could sink a conviction one day.  Sorry.

Aside from that, I liked the book.  As I said, it was a nice, quick read.  It had enough of the mystery element to keep me interested, and the secondary plot of the burglaries was done nicely, and tied in well.  I did feel that more about the people of the town would have been nice, but maybe in later books we'll learn more so that the town becomes 'real.'  When all was revealed, it made sense, and came together nicely.  So, in the final analysis, four stars, which would have been five if it weren't for the problems with the sheriff.

http://www.amazon.com/Mad-Helen-River-Road-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00IRCZJY0/

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1024618645



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Paw and Order

Author:  Spencer Quinn
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

In the seventh book in the brilliant New York Times bestselling mystery series, canine narrator Chet and P.I. Bernie journey to Washington, DC, and the dog-eat-dog world of our nation’s capital.

Stephen King has called Chet “a canine Sam Spade full of joie de vivre.” Robert B. Parker dubbed Spencer Quinn’s writing “major league prose.” Now the beloved team returns in another suspenseful novel that finds Chet sniffing around the capital city and using his street smarts to uncover a devilish plot.

Chet and Bernie pay a visit to Bernie’s girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez, a crack reporter living in far-off Washington, DC. She’s working on a big story she can’t talk about, but when her source, a mysterious Brit with possible intelligence connections, runs into trouble of the worst kind, Bernie suddenly finds himself under arrest.

Meanwhile Chet gets to know a powerful DC operative who may or may not have the goods on an ambitious politician. Soon Chet and Bernie are sucked into an international conspiracy, battling unfamiliar forces under the blinking red eyes of a strange bird that Chet notices from the get-go but seems to have slipped by everybody else. Most menacing of all is Barnum, a guinea pig with the fate of the nation in his tiny paws.

As Harry Truman famously quipped, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Too bad he didn’t get to meet Chet!

********

For those of you who have never read any of these wonderful mysteries, Bernie Little is a private investigator, along with his partner, Chet.  Together they will take on practically any case, and they are very good at what they do.  There is an early scene in this book in which Chet and Bernie are at a barbeque restaurant full of bikers.  In the ensuing action, you discover that Bernie is no ordinary detective.  He is not only able to hold his own, he has wit, intelligence, speed and strength.  Chet is no slouch, either.

This book is different in that everything is told from Chet's point of view.  Did I mention that Chet is Bernie's dog?  He's an (almost) hundred pound K-9 dropout who is just as smart as Bernie, and not only protects him, actually helps him in his cases.

This time around, Bernie is a little bored with his routine, and missing his girlfriend Suzie Sanchez, who has moved to Washington, D.C. to further her career as a journalist.  So he decides, unannounced, to visit her, and when he arrives he sees a well-dressed man exiting the cottage where Suzie lives.  Obviously not happy about this turn of events, he confronts Suzie, whose tells him that the visior, Eben, a British national, is someone she is working with on a story.  When Eben is murdered shortly thereafter, Bernie is first arrested for the murder, then released just as quickly.  Now making it much more personal for Bernie, he is stunned when Eben's father hires him to find out who killed his son.

While ferreting out the fact from fiction, Chet and Bernie realize that between the politics and intrigue lies something that covers two continents and could possibly lead straight to the White House if Bernie doesn't figure it out in time.

Chet is his usual self, discovering things the humans don't find out until later, and trying to understand why Bernie acts as he does; but never questioning anything, because he knows that Bernie is the smartest person he's ever met.  What puzzles Chet the most is the strange bird that follows them everywhere, from Suzie's house to when they're on the road in Virginia.  Although he keeps trying to let Bernie know, he's oblivious to Chet's attempts to call his attention to it.  When Bernie finally sees what Chet sees, he realizes that Suzie has stumbled upon something that could put her in danger, and his highest priority is to keep her safe.

This is a highly enjoyable read, with Chet at his dogged best (pun intended), and Bernie hot on the trail of a cold-blooded killer; not willing to rest until he finds the answers he's looking for, no matter who the murderer is.  A highly recommended read, especially for those looking for something just a little bit different.

http://www.amazon.com/Paw-Order-Bernie-Mystery-Series/dp/1476703396/

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1024625287

Friday, July 11, 2014

Diamond Rings Are Deadly Things

Author:  Rachelle J. Christensen
Genre:  Mystery
 
Four Stars

Adrielle Pyper knows how to plan a wedding.  But when her biggest client and best friend is murdered three days before the wedding, Adri's world falls apart.  She moves to the posh resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho, and starts from scratch.  Thanks to her impeccable taste and unique style, Adri lands two celebrity clients and her business is headed for success, until someone vandalizes the specialty wedding dresses she imported.  It is a race to uncover the secret hidden within the yards of satin and lace before Adri becomes the next victim.

                                       ********

Adrielle (Adri) Pyper has a burgeoning wedding planner business, due to the fact that her two newest clients are ex-soap star Sylvia Rockport and Natalie Berlin, who is marrying movie star Brock Grafton.  Adrielle met Natalie through her partner and co-worker, Lorea Zubiondo, who is Natalie's best friend.  Sylvia is Brock's ex-girlfriend, and wanted to use the same wedding planner in the hopes of outdoing Natalie and possibly finding out information on her wedding plans.

The catch is that Sylvia is the epitome of bridezilla.  She throws tantrums, screams, and decides that nothing is exactly the way she wants.  So when Adri and Lorea receive a shipment of wedding dresses they had specially made, Sylvia's dress is certainly among them, but not her alternate choice.  After filing a complaint with the company that sold, and the one that delivered, them, they realize that there is a need for some fast talking to keep Sylvia happy.

Regardless of the fast footwork of Adri, she has more than one thing to be concerned about:  trying to plan two weddings at the same time, and handle the attentions of her new boyfriend, Dallas - well, while Adri is reluctant to call him that, Dallas is well on his way to falling in love with her.  And if that weren't enough, the new lawyer in town, whom Adri refers to as "the hottie," appears to be taking an interest in her also.  The problem in that: he specializes in divorces, pre-nups, and, rumor has it, has a penchant for talking couples out of getting married, if he can.  A dilemma indeed.

The reason Adri moved to Idaho is because when she started her business, her first client was also her best friend, Briette.  Briette was brutally murdered three days before her wedding, and the killer was never caught.  Because of this, Adri has been gun-shy about dating, and doesn't want to get involved with anyone, despite the fact that one of the men is persistent and patient, a fact she can't miss.

When some of the wedding dresses, along with her office safe, are stolen, Adri is at a loss to understand why.  That is, until one night when she is meticulously taking the hem down of the dress which is currently too short for Natalie.  A small package falls out - filled with various uncut diamonds.  Since the police have confiscated the rest of the wedding dresses, and Adri refuses to let that happen to Natalie's dress, she hides the diamonds and decides to call the police later.  Which may be the worst mistake she ever makes.

When photos of herself appear on her doorstep and it seems she is being stalked, she realizes that she will have to tell Tony, (a local detective who is also her brother's best friend) what is happening, but not before she extracts a promise that he won't take the dress.  Almost too late, everything becomes totally clear, and Adri has to keep her wits about her if she is to stay alive.

While I really enjoyed the book, I thought that Adri could have saved herself some trouble and given up the diamonds earlier instead of hiding them.  When she finally extracts a promise from Tony to allow her to keep the gown, after explaining why, I thought that if she had told him the reason earlier he would probably still agree with her and go along.

I also didn't like the fact that she rescued a tuxedo kitten (whom she named "Tux"); but because she occasionally brought wedding dresses home kept him on the patio as an outdoor cat (He's a kitten, and you leave him alone on an outdoor patio?).  And in one scene where she spent the night somewhere else, she forgot to feed him.  I don't believe in outdoor cats, as they are prone to shorter lifespans.  If she couldn't keep him as an indoor pet, she should have found him a home with someone who could.  It would have made more sense to confine the dresses to one room, and train him to stay out of that room - I know from experience it can be done. 

Aside from this, I really liked the book. The plot is good, even the subplots, as they are woven into the story nicely.  There are even some nice wedding ideas at the beginning of every chapter, for those who might be interested.  Recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Diamond-Rings-Are-Deadly-Things/dp/1609078616/

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1024631098

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Last Night at the Blue Angel

Author:  Rebecca Rotert
Genre:  Literature

Two Stars

It is the early 1960s, and Chicago is teeming with the tensions of the day - segregation, sexual experimentation, the Cold War, and Vietnam-but it is also home to some of the country's most influential jazz.  Naomi Hill, a singer at the Blue Angel club, has been poised on the brink of stardom for nearly ten years.  But when her big break, the cover of Look magazine, finally arrives, it carries with it an enormous personal cost.  Sensual and magnetic, Naomi is a fiercly ambitious yet self-destructive woman whose charms tend to hurt those around her, and no one knows this better than her daughter, Sophia.

As the only child of a single mother growing up in an adult world, Sophia is wise beyond her years, a casualty of her mother's desperate struggle for fame and adoration.  Unsettled by her home life, she harbors a terrible fear that her world could disappear at any moment, and compulsively maintains a list of everyday objects she might need to reinvent should nuclear catastrophe strike.  Her only constant is the colorful and unconventional family that surrounds her and her mother, particularly the photographer, Jim, who is Sophia's best friend, surrogate father, and protector-but Jim is also deeply in love with Naomi.

Weaving between the perspectives of Sophia and Naomi, Last Night at the Blue Angel is aa poignant and unforgettable story about what happens when our passion for the life we want is at sharp odds with the life we have.  Part stylish period piece, part heartbreaking family drama, it's a novel rife with revelations, a vivid and propulsive page-turner-and the major debut of an extraordinary new writer.

********

According to the information above, the book was supposed to be about the tensions surrounding the 60s, a woman with a great passion for life and her child, and her need for adoration.  Well, one out of three I guess.

I was intrigued by the title and the blurb, and literally slogged through the book.  Although it takes place in the 60s, there is so little mentioned about the current events of the time that you would think nothing was happening.  I can't recall anything about Vietnam nor the Cold War.  There was a mention of President Kennedy's assassination and because of that, Sophia thought there might be nuclear war (?).  What I found in Naomi was a woman who was so indulgent in what she wanted out of life that she expected everyone around her to just go along with it.

Sophia is ten years old, yet Naomi thinks nothing at all of bringing lovers into her apartment whenever she feels like it, not even trying to hide the fact from her daughter.  Not even when they are still there in the morning - male and female alike.  Yet she is a good mother, right?  Her "sexual experimentation" began in the 50s, and - get this - a lesbian nun helped her - how should I put this? - 'find herself' while she had a tryst with another teenager (Laura) who decided she wanted Naomi.  So, Laura wanted Naomi, not even thinking of the consequences or the fact that maybe Naomi might be the one to suffer, her not being rich like Laura...Naomi does whatever she wants, and Sophia just goes along with it, because she's ten, thinks her mother is this amazing singer, and hasn't figured out yet that her mom's more concerned with her career than she is with her daughter.  

I wish I could say this book was wonderful, that it had a redeeming message, and/or that it was a page-turner.  But it was not.  The dialogue was in italics, not parentheses, so it appeared that everyone was thinking instead of speaking, and as such, it read as if everyone was just sleepwalking through the book.  Not one character was interesting: not Jim, who was pining for Naomi while she just used him, not Sister Eye, not Sophia, not Naomi.  Even when there was a tragedy, and Naomi discovered what was important in life, I didn't care.

It was slow, boring, and the blurb was misleading.  While I expected it to be a book with statements/events relating to the occurences of the 60s, all I found was a book regarding a woman who slept around and hurt people while trying to get famous.

http://www.amazon.com/Last-Night-Blue-Angel-Novel/dp/0062315285/

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1024638606


I Said Yes to Everything: A Memoir

Author:  Lee Grant
Genre:  Autobiography

Five Stars

Born Lyova Haskell Rosenthal in New York City, actress Lee Grant spent her youth accumulating more experiences than most people have in a lifetime: from student at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse to member of the leg­endary Actors Studio; from celebrated Broadway star to Vogue “It Girl.” At age twenty-four, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Detective Story, and a year later found herself married and a mother for the first time, her career on the rise.

And then she lost it all.

Her name landed on the Hollywood black­list, her offers for film and television roles ground to a halt, and her marriage fell apart.

Finding reserves of strength she didn’t know she had, Grant took action against anti-Communist witch hunts in the arts. She threw herself into work, accepting every theater or teaching job that came her way. She met a man ten years her junior and began a wild, liberat­ing fling that she never expected would last a lifetime. And after twelve years of fighting the blacklist, she was finally exonerated. With cour­age and style, Grant rebuilt her life on her own terms: first stop, a starring role on Peyton Place, and then leads in Valley of the Dolls, In the Heat of the Night, and Shampoo, for which she won her first Oscar.

Set amid the New York theater scene of the fifties and the star-studded parties of Malibu in the seventies, I Said Yes to Everything evokes a world of political passion and movie-star glamour. Grant tells endlessly delightful tales of costars and friends such as Warren Beatty, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Sidney Poitier, and writes with the verve and candor befitting such a seductive and beloved star.

********

What can I say about this biography?  It's stark, all-encompassing, heartfelt and honest.  Ms. Grant lays bare her soul.  I wanted to read this because I have always liked her as an actress.  My favorite movie with her is Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell.  Admittedly, she has a supporting role; but in my opinion, she stole the movie without trying to upstage anyone.  Her mere presence on the screen is riveting, and so is this autobiography.

She begins literally at the beginning:  her relatives emigrating to Ellis Island, how her parents met, her birth, her parents' divorce and subsequent remarriage, etc.  She explains how difficult it was growing up Jewish in New York, and how she survived it. 

She became an actress as a teenager, and was nominated for an academy award in 1952.  She married Arnold Manoff, a Communist; and while he attempted to get her to join the party, she was basically apathetic about it.  Yet because of him, and friends they socialized with, her career was completely and finally cut off.  The marriage was tempestuous, and everything she did had to be with Arnie's approval.  When she finally struggled her way back to acting, she eventually did win the coveted Oscar, for Shampoo.

I was extremely interested in hearing her stories about the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committe), which was started by Senator Joe McCarthy.  For those who have no knowledge (and I am sure that is not many), it was a time in America where famous people were expected to 'name names' if they wanted to keep on working.  Many would not, and their careers would be over forever.  Ms. Grant was one of the lucky ones; she was able to find her way into acting again, although it was not easy.

Ms. Grant tells some interesting stories about the people she knew, the sets she worked on, the movies she made.  She tells us about the mistakes she made, her life with her husbands (her second husband is Joey Feury) and her children, Dinah Manoff and Belinda Feury.  She is honest in her mistakes in parenting, and the things she did right.

Not all of the stories are flattering to the people portrayed; but neither are they intended to be hurtful.  I believe they are honest, and although I already knew some of them, there were still quite a few revelations about others.

I believe that anyone who is interested in biographies, or Ms. Grant herself, will enjoy this book immensely, if only for the honesty with which it is written.  Highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Said-Yes-Everything-Memoir/dp/039916930X/

A Grave Matter

Author:  Anna Lee Huber
Genre:  Mystery/Suspense

Three Stars



Scotland, 1830.  Following the death of her dear friend, Lady Kiera Darby is in need of a safe haven. Returning to her childhood home, Kiera hopes her beloved brother Trevor and the merriment of the Hogmanay Ball will distract her. But when a caretaker is murdered and a grave is disturbed at nearby Dryburgh Abbey, Kiera is once more thrust into the cold grasp of death.

While Kiera knows that aiding in another inquiry will only further tarnish her reputation, her knowledge of anatomy could make the difference in solving the case. But agreeing to investigate means Kiera must deal with the complicated emotions aroused in her by inquiry agent Sebastian Gage.

When Gage arrives, he reveals that the incident at the Abbey was not the first—some fiend is digging up old bones and holding them for ransom. Now Kiera and Gage must catch the grave robber and put the case to rest…before another victim winds up six feet under.

********

Lady Kiera Darby is celebrating the New Year with her family when she learns that Dodd, a caretaker at Dryburgh House, has been shot.  He apparently interrupted graverobbers and was murdered because of it. 

Lady Darby, who was ostracized from society because of her late husband forcing her to draw the anatomical parts of the dead (due to his work), has been asked once again (this is the third book in the series) to use her knowledge of human anatomy and find the people responsible for being body snatchers.  And again, Sebastian Gage is called in to help.  Although Sebastian and Keira did not part happily (I gather) in the last book, they are given the time to repair that breach between them.

I didn't really enjoy reading this book, perhaps because the language used is not that which would have been in 1830.  It appears to be more modernized:  In an early scene, her brother mentions that she had vomited on him once; he does so in a public place, at a ball.  While someone may have mentioned that in this day and age, I can hardly believe that in that time he would not be a little more discreet, so as not to embarrass her.

I also found it a little hard to believe that she requested her father to arrange her marriage.  After all, the person you married you would be expected to spend a lifetime with; so naturally you would want to be able to live with them - have things in common, enjoy each other's company, etc.  You would be - to put it bluntly - sleeping with this person and have children with them, so wouldn't you want to not only tolerate them, but like them?  Admittedly, it did not always happen this way, and there were many arranged marriages; but if one had a choice (and I'm assuming she did, since she asked her father to intervene for her), then why would you go willingly into a marriage without taking the time to choose your own mate?  Her art consumed her, so she had not the time.  Really?  She couldn't take a few weeks of her time to find someone she liked?  So, now she is told by her brother that she won't look at her father's grave because she is angry at him for choosing Sir Anthony (the late husband).  What?  Did I miss something?  In a previous paragraph, she says she asked her father to arrange her marriage, and now she's angry at him for doing so?  Really?  And then later on she states that her father didn't force her to marry Sir Anthony, but she did anyway.  So she's transferring her own stupidity to her father?  Issues, issues...I won't give more examples of why I didn't care for the book, but you get my drift.

At any rate, the book could not hold my interest, and I really love mysteries of any kind.  Suspense, thriller, etc.  I'm not saying it was a bad book; it had parts I thought were decent.  It was just not for me.  For someone else, who enjoys historical mysteries, and has read the first two in the series, might find it to their liking. 

http://www.amazon.com/Grave-Matter-Lady-Darby-Mystery/dp/0425253694/

Monday, July 7, 2014

Too Hot Four Hula

Author:  Jill Marie Landis
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

A marauding monkey, a mysterious murder, middle-aged hula maidens, and mugs full of Mai Tai's. Just another day in Tiki Goddess Paradise . . .

Crime-solving sleuth Em Johnson and her Uncle Louie, owner of the famous Tiki Goddess Bar on Kauai, head for the Cocktail Shake Off Competition in Honolulu. What is supposed to be a fun trip to a mixology contest turns weird when Louie's legendary "Booze Bible" is stolen, and Em's ex-husband winds up dead-with Em the number-one suspect. Sexy Kauai detective and part-time fire dancer Roland Sharpe rushes to Em's side along with the unpredictable Hula Maidens, whose detective skills are even more haphazard than their dance routine at the island tiki bars. Toss in an escaped monkey and a killer who wants to make this the last call for someone's honky-tonk, tiki-tossing night out, and it's going to be another wild escapade for Em and her Hula Maidens.

********

Em Johnson and her Uncle Louie are headed to Honolulu for the Annual Cocktail Shake Off Competition, Western Division.  The night before they leave, they are informed by Kiki and the rest of the "Hula Maidens" that they will be joining them.  Although Em isn't too happy about it, both her and her Uncle Louie are resigned to the fact that these catastrophe-finding women are going to join them.

When Em arrives, she tells Louie that her ex-husband Phillip called and wants to see her.  When their marriage ended badly (due to Phillip's over-spending and con artist ways), Em agrees, thinking that at least she will be able to gain closure.  However, when she meets Phillip, he isn't alone.  He has brought along his plastic Barbie doll girlfriend, Felicity Duncan, who is younger and obviously high-maintenance.  After an uncomfortable lunch, she tells Phillip goodbye and heads back to her hotel, realizing that the past is past and he is never going to change.

Shortly thereafter, Em and Louie discover his famous "Booze Bible" is missing, and purportedly stolen.  Em is sure the thief is someone attending the convention, and decides to 'go undercover' at the costume party to see if she can find the guilty party.  After she is nearly arrested for burglary (it's a long story), Roland, her almost-boyfriend-police-detective from Kauai appears on the scene and agrees to keep an eye on her in return for her being released on her own recognizance.  It turns out that Nat, another friend and neighbor on Kauai, had to leave for Los Angeles but called Roland realizing that Em needed help.  So when Phillip is discovered dead the next morning, Em is on the suspect short list.  So there are two mysteries to solve and the Hula Maidens are on it - without telling anyone, naturally.

I don't want to say more than that, because I would be giving too much away.  This book was truly hilarious.  You have the "Hula Maidens," six hula-dancing (or what they think passes for it) elderly ladies dancing whenever they hear Hawaiian music (including on the plane), and trying to avoid being arrested for the same; Little Estelle, the ninety-year-old mother of one of the women trying her best to 'get it on' with any available good-looking man and disappears for hours at a time; and a cocktail-taste-testing capuchin monkey that hates women and loves alcohol (this is really funny and has a significant part in the book).

At any rate, this is the fourth book in the series and a must-read even if you haven't read the first three.  That shouldn't stop you because it can be read as a stand-alone as need be; but I would recommend going back to read the others.  Highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Four-Hula-Jill-Marie-Landis/dp/1611944600/

Ill-Gotten Panes

Author:  Jennifer McAndrews
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

After a banking scandal loses Georgia her job and fiancĂ©, she decides that a change of scenery will help piece her life back together.  But escaping to her grandfather's house in the old-fashioned, brick-making Hudson River hamlet of Wenwood, New York, turns out to be less relaxing than she expects.  Not only is the close-knit community on edge about their beloved brickworks being turned into a marina to draw in tourists, one of those most opposed to the project winds up dead-cracked over the head with a famous Wenwood brick.

Georgia wouldn't be broken up over the news except for the fact that the main suspect is the deceased's biggest adversary-her grandfather.  Now, to remove the stain from her grandy's record, Georgia will have to figure out who in town was willing to kill to keep the renovation project alive, before someone else is permanently cut out of the picture...

********

Georgia Kelly has recently moved to Wenwood, New York to put her life back together.  After being involved in a banking scandal (and no, she didn't do anything wrong), her fiance couldn't handle it and asked her to move out; so she decided to move back to her grandfather's house and lick her wounds.

While trying to keep a low profile and just take care of her grandfather (who really doesn't need it), she is approached by a woman who owns an antiques shop and has heard about her skills in stained glass.  Carrie, the owner, asks her to repair a lamp for her, and becomes a fast friend.  Her grandfather, Pete, owns a movie theater and restaurant, and even at eighty is still going strong.

While deciding to shop for a caulking gun to repair her grandfather's bathtub, she makes the mistake of going to the local hardware store for supplies, and overhears a heated conversation between the owner and another man.  When the owner, Andy Edgers, sees her and knows who she is, he practically orders her to leave the store immediately.  Stunned, she returns home and tells her grandfather about it, who is incensed and confronts Andy.

Later, when Andy is killed, her grandfather becomes the prime suspect.  And even though no one believes it, the police insist they have evidence, which only makes Georgia more determined than ever to find the real killer and get her grandfather off the hook.
I really enjoyed this book.  I liked the fact that for one, it wasn't the tale of someone's grandmother in trouble -  very rarely will you find that it is the grandfather, and an active one, at that - and I can tell you that it pleased me no end.  It let me know first off that this was not going to be your run of the mill mystery.

Georgia is out of her element in this small town, and is finding her way around.  She's not making a lot of friends, but she's not making enemies, either.  There are enough elements thrown in that you can imagine her spending summers with her grandfather here, but there are hints (which will probably be revealed later down the road) that all those summers weren't happy ones, for whatever reason.

The clues leading to the actual killer (since we know it couldn't possibly be Pete) are there, but you have to look for them.  It's not an easy road to travel, but a fun one just the same.  I think Ms. McAndrews has the beginning of a great series here, and I fully intend to read them as they are issued.  Highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Ill-Gotten-Stained-Glass-Mystery-Jennifer-McAndrews/dp/0425267954/

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Silence of the Lamb's Wool

Author:  Betty Hechtman
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Dessert chef Casey Feldstein has learned one end of a knitting needele from the other after inheriting her aunt's yarn retreat business, but a murder threatens to unravel her latest event...

Casey's running a new retreat called "Sheep to Shawl" at a resort on the atmospheric Monterey Penninsula.  Participants will learn about sheepshearing, fixing up the fleece, and spinning, and will eventually knit a lovely shawl.

Nicole Welton has been hired to teach the fleece-to-fiber portion of the retreat.  She's an expert spinner, and her small shop in Cadbury by the Sea houses a beautiful assortment of spinning wheels and drop spindles.  But when the new teacher fails to show up for class and is found lying dead on the boardwalk, it leaves everyone's nerves frayed.

Now Casey has to knit together clues faster than she can count stitiches, before someone else at the retreat gets dropped...

********

Casey Feldstein lives in Cadbury by the Sea, having moved there after a failed run of semi-careers.  While her mother wants her to go to culinary school, because she knows Casey loves to bake, Casey has other ideas.  She has inherited her aunt's business of running knitting retreats, and wants to keep doing it.  So, in her latest retreat, her hiree, Nicole Welton, is found dead the first morning, of what is an apparent suicide.  But Casey thinks things don't add up, and although she can't convince Lieutenant Borgnine that Nicole was murdered, she herself is convinced and won't give up trying to find a killer.

But this may not be as easy to do as she thinks.  Given free reign of Nicole's workshop by Nicole's grieving widower, Will, she finds bits and pieces of what might point to blackmail.  When she starts thinking back of things she's seen, and begins to see things around her differently, she starts to piece together the whole picture.

To make matters more complicated, her crush on Dane, her policeman neighbor, is halted temporarily when she finds out there's a woman staying with him; a replacement knitting instructor has appeared out of nowhere; Cora Delacorte has become engaged to a smarmy man; and there has been another attempted murder - which only convinces Casey she was right all along.

This book was engaging indeed, and quite difficult to put down, so I just kept on reading until I finished.  Casey is intelligent, and thinks things through, which I like; but no one really seems to want to take her seriously except her friend Lucinda, whom she bakes for.  She is different in that she doesn't just rush off on tangents putting herself in danger, and I really like that a lot.  It's nice when you find a main character who actually has the foresight to think of a way out of a situation before she puts herself in a situation.  An excellent read and highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Silence-Lambs-Wool-Retreat-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00HDMMF56/

Muffin But Murder

Author:  Victoria Hamilton
Genre:  Mystery

Three Stars

Muffin maker Merry Wynter hopes to find a buyer for the castle she's recently inherited.  But when she throws a party to draw interest, she finds someone who's bought the farm instead...

Merry's career as a New York City stylist has crumbled, but her passion for muffins has helped her rise upstate in Autumn Vale.  Everyone in town loves the tasty treats.  Still, she would like to return to her glamorous life.  Besides, the upkeep of Wynter Castle is expensive, and Merry's cup isn't exactly overflowing.

So in order to bring some prospective buyers into the mix, Merry whisks together a spooky soireee and decorates the castle with dashes of fabric and a sprinkling of spider webs.  Friends new and old are invited, and everyone has a blast.  But as the revelers empty out, Merry notices one partygoer who isn't leaving - or breathing.  Now Merry must hurry to unmask a killer before her perfect plans turn into a recipe for disaster.

********

Merry inherited the castle from her uncle, as his only living heir.  Unless you count Cranston Higgins, who showed up claiming to be Uncle Melvyn's long-lost grandson.  Which Merry isn't too sure about, and wants to consider the matter further - and do some DNA testing to make sure.  She lives there with her friends Shilo and Pish, and is renovating (slowly) the castle so that she can sell it.  In the meantime, she bakes muffins to take to the local bakery (!) and the retirement home, and a couple of other places.

When she decides to throw a not-so-Halloween party (not scary, just a little decorating), she invites some of her wealthier friends, hoping that one of them - or someone they know - will be interested in purchasing the castle from her, and she can go back to her life.  What she doesn't admit, though, is that she likes the new life she has and wants to stay.  She just can't afford to do so.  So, after cleaning up the night of the party, she comes across a dead body, her life suddenly becomes complicated.

Okay, here's the thing:  I really wanted to like this book.  A lot.  But it took over 90 pages before we got to the murder (and isn't that why you read a murder mystery?  To get to the murder and solving it?)  In my mind, that's like watching a murder mystery movie and the 'deed' doesn't occur until an hour in.  By that time, would you still be interested in the movie?  The first 90+ pages were basically revisiting people and getting background, which is fine, but it dragged on and on...

One thing I really didn't get is the fact that Binnie, the bakery owner, bakes things like ciabiatta and such, but refuses to bake mundane things like muffins!  Really?  In a small town?  A bakery owner?  Who does she think is residing there?  I'm not saying that there isn't a desire for things like that in small towns; not at all.  What I'm saying is the fact that if that's all you sell, you might as well put the 'for sale' sign up now.  I live in the big city, and if our bakeries didn't sell muffins and cookies, they wouldn't be in business.  People eat what they're used to, but no one (I hope) makes a diet of ciabiatta and foccacia bread. 

Okay, rant over.  That being said, there isn't a whole lot of time spent on her muffin-baking.  That's because she finds out one of her friends is sort-of-a-suspect, so she figures she has to find out who the real killer is, even after she's told to leave it alone by the hunky deputy, Virgil.  But she doesn't want to get involved with Virgil, because for some strange reason, she's still being loyal to her dead husband, who passed away eight years ago.  I get the fact that she loved him; but they were married only two years, and after eight years without him, a little of that memory might fade; and even if it didn't, she either needs to move on with her life or go into permanent mourning.

Now that I've said what's wrong with the book, let me tell you what's right:  The mystery itself is tight, and when all the information comes out, it makes sense.  It ties in with the first book of this series, Bran New Death, so it's recommended that you read that one first.  But if you haven't, you can always go back and read it to get the full picture.  I'm hoping the series improves as it moves along; and like a firm rule I have, I always read at least three books before I decide to either go or stay with it.  Recommended for mystery lovers; but be aware that the first part of the book drags a little.  As a bonus, there a few recipes in the back of the book.

http://www.amazon.com/Muffin-But-Murder-Merry-Mystery/dp/042525884X/

The House on Mermaid Point

Author:  Wendy Wax
Genre:  Fiction

Two Stars

Maddie, Avery and Nikki first got to know one another-perhaps too well-while desperately restoring a beach-front mansion to its former grandeur.  Now they're putting that experience to professional use.  But their latest project has presented some challenges they couldn't have dreamed up in their wildest fantasies-although the house does belong to a man who actually was Maddie's wildest fantasy once...

Rock-and-roll legend "Willliam the Wild" Hightower may be past his prime, estranged from his family, and creatively blocked, but he's still worshipped by fans-which is why he guards his privacy on his own island in the Florida Keys.  He's not thrilled about letting this crew turn his piece of paradise into a bed-and-breakfast for a reality show...though he is intrigued by Maddie.  Hard as that is for her to believe as a newly single woman who can barely manage a dog paddle in the dating pool.

But whether it's an unexpected flirtation with a bona fide rock star, a strained mother-daughter relationship, or a sudden tragedy, these women are in it together.  The only thing that might drive them apart is being trapped on a houseboat with one bathroom...

********

Maddie, Nicole and Avery became friends after losing everything they had to a ponzi scheme.  In order to build their finances up again, they decide to accept the offer of renewing old homes into something modern.  Their latest assignment is in the Florida Keys; the home of William Hightower, a former rocker known as "William the Wild."  They're there to turn his house into a bed-and-breakfast.  He's not happy about the idea; in fact, he wants them gone.  But having blown all his money and just getting out of rehab, he doesn't have a choice.  What he doesn't count on, though, is that Maddie's being there just might help him stay on the straight and narrow, and find himself again.

Now the bad:  The book sounded interesting from the blurb; but there are times when it can be misleading.  This was one of them.  Some things I just didn't understand:  Avery is an architect, but she actually wears a toolbelt and hard hat and does the work herself.  I have a friend who's an architect, and years ago I worked for one.  They don't do the work themselves.  They design the building.  (Here's an article describing what architects actually do:  http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/what-does-an-architect-do/).  Nowhere in the article does it read that they do the work themselves.  So, if Avery is doing the construction part, I would really have liked to know her background.  We know that her father owned a construction company, but it doesn't make her a contractor.

Here's the Big Thing:  In my opinion, the book was a little too focused on Dustin, the child of Kyra and married actor Dan Deranian.  I don't read tabloids, but I know enough that they're not covered in photos of children of celebrities.  I can't even imagine it being so huge the paparazzi would be taking hours upon hours of film of the child just to increase ratings.  Honestly, no one cares.  You might want to see a famous actor/actress, but their children?  According to this book, the show is basically there because of Dustin.  Really?  I found it just too hard to believe.  The way actors/actresses cheat on their spouses, it's not a big deal to see the resulting child.  And I've yet to see paparazzi chasing them down every minute of the day.  In fact, I would guess that photographers would stay away from this kind of thing.  Plus, what kind of a mother does it make Kyra that she would basically put her child on a television show as if he were some kind of exhibit?  The producers says to make sure 'they get lots of shots of Dustin.'  Who is this actor?  Some kind of god that his child is the Favored One?  I just didn't get that storyline at all.  Also the fact that he's a child who can't even enunciate his words and they have him on a jobsite.  Yeah, that works.  It's also like a daily reminder that Dan cheated on his wife.  That's going to help the marriage (and humiliate his wife constantly).  Somehow, I don't think the press wants to alienate movie stars.  Besides, in the real world, if Kyra was exploiting her son for money, Dan would probably file for custody saying she was an unfit mother - and win.

As if that weren't enough, supposedly when they renovated the house of a former vaudvillian, Max Golden, something happened.  The show is being run on network television, and they all sit down to watch.  Well, there's a scene where someone is shooting at Kyra and Dustin, and Max jumps in front of Dustin and he gets shot...and killed, and they show that and the body being taken away...and they show this on TV.  On network TV, no less.  I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure they don't show someone being murdered on television.  (We get the impression this is a 'filmed' show, so it's not live and they can edit out a murder.)  I'm pretty sure that episode never would have aired.  There are people across the country who wouldn't want to see that, you know.  (Can't you see the TV Guide:  Tonight on Do Over: Max Golden gets killed.  Tune in at 8).  How would you promo that one?  They might do a tribute, but...

The last thing is that this book is obviously part of a series.  You're given enough information to know that, but you really need to begin at the first one to get the whole picture, and the ending leaves you hanging, so that you have to read the next in the series (not that it doesn't resolve some things; it does, but there are new questions that aren't answered).

So, in my opinion, read this if you're already into the series.  If not, it's up to you if you want.  I just couldn't buy the whole Dustin-is-the-best-thing-that-ever-happened idea.  Or the fact that they show a death on television.  No offense to the author, but it just didn't make sense.

http://www.amazon.com/The-House-Mermaid-Point-Wendy/dp/0425263320/

 


The Red Bikini

Author:  Lauren Christopher
Genre:  Romance

Five Stars

For the last five years, Giselle McCabe's life has been about sippy cups and playdates. But when her husband suddenly leaves her, Giselle flees to her sister’s California beach house for a two-week getaway. Out of her element, she’s surprised to receive such a warm welcome—especially from gorgeous celebrity athlete Fin Hensen…

Fin is escaping his pro tour for a season, trying to lie low until all the hubbub over a huge mistake in his past blows over. And when he sets his sights on Giselle, he realizes that the beautiful good girl just might be the ticket to his success.
But Giselle never expected romance to enter the picture again—especially with a hot twentysomething from a completely different world. And even though it feels like Fin is everything she’s trying to run away from, she can't help coming back for more...

********

Giselle McCabe Underwood has just been divorced from her husband of eleven years, Roy.  He walked away without a backward glance for her or their five-year-old daughter, Coco; and now Giselle needs a break from her life in Indiana and decides to visit her sister Lia in California.  But Lia is in another city for business, and has offered the use of her beach house to Giselle and Coco.  Lia has also asked her next-door neighbor, Rabbit, to keep an eye out for them.

While visiting Rabbit and his friends, Giselle turns to the door and sees the most gorgeous man she has ever seen in her life standing there.  He's Fin Henson, a pro surfer, and there is an instant attraction that neither can shake.  After they see each other on the beach and get to know each other, he asks her for a favor: will she go to a business meeting with him so he can impress his boss; and she asks one in return:  will he go to her ex-father-in-law's funeral with her so she can let her ex-relatives know she's not pathetic.  Deal struck, the two tentatively enter into a fragile friendship that gradually turns into romance.

This book surprised me.  I finished it and thought 'wow.'  Really.  You have two damaged people: he, damaged by his parents and upbringing in the fact that he felt hungry in more ways than one; and her, damaged by a doctor husband who cheated on her throughout their marriage and made her feel like less than a woman.  In a sense, they are both impoverished, scared, and alone.  And they find each other.  But it is not an easy journey.  There are misunderstandings, because they are both afraid to share with another human being:  share love, share sorrow, share pain, share joy.  Their common bond of loneliness, and the fact that Fin obviously cares as much for Coco as Giselle does, goes a long way into bringing these two hurt souls together.  It is a final revelation - one that is a surprise to both Fin and Giselle - that finally gives them their strength.

Don't let the fact that this is a romance keep anyone from reading it.  It is very well-written, and carries the emotions of the characters well; and the secondary characters buoy the relationship between the two, sometimes without knowing they are doing so.  Highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Red-Bikini-Lauren-Christopher/dp/0425274411/

Deadly Assets

Author:  Wendy Tyson
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

An eccentric Italian heiress from the Finger Lakes. An eighteen-year-old pop star from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Allison Campbell’s latest clients seem worlds apart in every respect, except one: Both women disappear on the same day. And Allison’s colleague Vaughn is the last to have seen each.

Allison’s search for a connection uncovers an intricate web of family secrets, corporate transgressions and an age-old rivalry that crosses continents. The closer Allison gets to the truth, the deadlier her quest becomes. All paths lead back to their sinister Finger Lakes estate and the suicide of a woman thirty years ago.

********

Allison Campbell is an Image Consultant: That is, she teaches people how to better present themselves to the world, and this includes not only the outside trappings, but also the inside.  She has received a telephone call from Francesca Benini, who needs her help:  Francesca's brother Paolo is dying, and she intends to take over the family business.  The only problem is that Francesca has not left her home for almost forty years.  After meeting with Francesca, it is determined that she will leave her home and come to the city for her lessons.

On top of that, the latest client in her office is Tammy Edwards.  Tammy is a singer, poised to be on a television show, America's Next Pop Star.  The problem is - according to Tammy's manager, Denise Carr, and apparent to Allison - Tammy won't talk.  She won't do anything.  Denise leaves Tammy in Allison's hands, where she will be for a week to see if Allison can break through the surface.  Between these two, Allison will definitely have her hands full.

But something happens:  Allison sends her employee, Vaughn, to drop Tammy off at her home and pick up Francesca and bring her back to the city.  So he drops Tammy off at her apparently empty home, and heads back to the city with Francesca, with only a quick stop for a bathroom break...where Francesca disappears...and so does Tammy.

Panicked, Vaughn discovers that he was the last one to have seen both Tammy and Francesca.  Allison, knowing the terrible past of her employee, vows to find both women before something terrible happens to either of them. 

This book has more twists and turns than a roller coaster.  What starts out as a simple missing persons case turns into something darker and more sinister than either of them could have imagined.  And when Allison's ex-mother-in-law, Mia, decides to help on her own, things become even more tangled than anyone could have thought.  Little does Allison know that the more she probes into these cases, the more she discovers that they are tied into the life (and death) of Paolo's late wife, Gina.  While trying to discover the truth about the circumstances surrounding Gina's death, Allison is figuring out that she may be close to something more sinister than she ever would have believed.

It is sharp, intense, and immensely pleasing to read.  The story melds together all the pieces beautifully and keeps you interested.  The clues aren't that easy to deciper (at least not right away), and when you realize that what has happened to both Tammy and Francesca are tied together, it is woven in such a way to be believable. 

A highly enjoyable and satisfying read; highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Deadly-Assets-Wendy-Tyson/dp/1940976219/

The Tell-Tale Tarte (A Five-Ingredient Mystery #4)

Author:  Maya Corrigan Genre:  Mystery Hardcover; Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #: 9781432840457; 9781496709172 Kensington Publishing 3...