Monday, September 29, 2014

An Intimate Murder

Author:  Stacy Verdick Case
Genre:  Mystery

Three Stars

Catherine O'Brien, the irreverent detective, is back in An Intimate Murder. When Jonathan and Susan Luther are murder in their home, St. Paul homicide detective Catherine O'Brien and her partner Louise discover this isn't the first time the Luther family has been visited by tragedy. Is it a case of bad family luck or is there something more?

********
When I first saw this book, my interest was piqued.  Mainly because it takes place in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I grew up in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul).  So I wanted to read it like all others who find a book that takes place in an area they know well.
 
Catherine O'Brien is a homicide detective, along with her partner Louise.  When Louise rousts her from home to the scene of a double homicide, she isn't happy, since she was about to "get busy" with her husband.  Hmmm...being a homicide detective, she should be aware of those type of interruptions and should be used to it and not whining about it.  Just my opinion...
 
Anyway, it appears the couple have been murdered, and, as the title suggests, it was an intimate murder.  The lack of defensive wounds shows that it was someone that they both knew.  Their son Chad found the bodies, and appears to be in shock.  So the investigation begins.
 
I almost didn't finish this book because a few things didn't make sense.  Catherine, upset with the press, calls them "vultures" and tells them to leave the boy alone.  The press, in turn, are trying to 'climb over' the police to get to the boy.  Whaa...?  I have never known the press, as hard-nosed as they can be sometimes, to try and infiltrate a police investigation.  Why?  Because they would be banned from further investigations, and if they needed help, wouldn't be able to get it in the future.
 
Also, because she "insults" one of the aggressive reporters, the mayor calls her boss and tells him that she has to give an exclusive interview to one of the reporters.  Election year?  I can't imagine that happening, unless she slugged the reporter or something, which she definitely didn't.
 
And, as if that's not enough, because she called the reporters vultures, somehow she 'botched the investigation.'  How?  Did she give out privileged information?  No.  Did she allow them access to the house?  No.  Did she allow them access to Chad?  No.  Did she give them the as-yet-to-be-found murder weapons?  No.  Then how did she botch the investigation?  By calling the press vultures!  Personally, I don't see how that botches an investigation, and I don't think readers will think so, either.  There was no indication the investigation was botched.  They hadn't even begun the investigation to any point; they had just found the bodies.  You can't "botch" an investigation by calling the press vultures.  You can make the press angry, but it doesn't really affect the investigation unless one of the reporters is the killer (they aren't.)  And the reporter runs for help every time Catherine offends her.  Really?  Whining is how reporters get ahead in the business?  Jane Katts is unlikeable, and I can't believe any police officer would have anything to do with her after the way she finagles herself into the investigation - which wouldn't happen in real life in a homicide investigation.
 
Catherine stumbles on the steps of the house slightly just before she makes her statement.  So one of the reporters (Jane Katts) calls her drunk in her story.  In any large police department they would have demanded proof that she were drunk or a retraction.  Or, how about this:  The editor of the paper never would have printed the story without proof.  It's called libel.  These things, unfortunately, stuck with me.  Especially when people who had read the newspaper mentioned her botched (as yet unstarted) investigation.  One owner of a company had to decide whether to allow the detectives to interview her employees.  Excuse me?  It's a homicide investigation.  You don't have a choice.  You cannot tell the police they can't question your employees.  Police ask questions, employees answer.  Also, I'm pretty sure employees don't tell a police detective that her husband is "hot." 
 
Now, you are going to think that I didn't like the book from what I have said.  Not so.  I just didn't like the fact that these things didn't make sense.  I also didn't care for the foul language.  (the f-bomb).  For those of you who don't like swearing, it was strewn throughout the book.  But I didn't let it affect my reading.
 
So, anyway, the rest of the book seemed to improve, and the detectives handled it nicely, for the most part.  I liked how the murders were tied in with an older murder, and the resolution seemed believable.  So three stars for the mystery and the resolution.
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mr. Miracle: A Christmas Novel

Author:  Debbie Macomber
Genre:  Christmas/Angels

Five Stars
 
Harry Mills is a guardian angel on a mission: help twenty-four-year-old Addie Folsom get her life back on track—and, if the right moment strikes, help her find love. Posing as a teacher at a local college in Tacoma, Washington, Harry is up to the task, but not even he can predict the surprises that lay in store.

After trying to make it on her own, Addie has returned home to Tacoma for the holidays, but this time she plans to stay for good, enrolling in the local community college to earn her degree. What she doesn’t plan to do is run into Erich Simmons.

Addie and her next-door neighbor, Erich, are like night and day. Growing up, he was popular and outgoing while she was rebellious and headstrong, and he never missed an opportunity to tease her. Now she intends to avoid him entirely, yet when they’re suddenly forced to spend Christmas together, Addie braces for trouble.

Perhaps it’s the spirit of the season or the magic of mistletoe, but Addie and Erich soon find they have more in common than they thought—and that two people who seem so wrong for each other may actually be just right. With a little prompting from a certain angelic teacher, the two are in for a holiday miracle they’ll never forget.
 
********
 
Addie Folsom has returned from Montana with her tail between her legs.  She is home for the first Christmas since her father's death, and home for good.  For the past six years she has been trying to make a living on her own, but has been unable to do so.  She has returned home to finish high school (she is lacking one credit) and then go to college in order to become a doctor, as her father was.
 
Believing it will be just her and her mother for Christmas, she decides to decorate the trees outside her house the way her father always did.  That's when her mother decides to drop a bombshell...since  her mother and their next door neighbor Julia are both widows, they have booked a Christmas cruise and Addie will be alone for the holidays.  After discussing it, Addie decides her mother should go and she will be fine.
 
While decorating the trees, her neighbor's son Erich Simmons shows up to help, which she doesn't want.  You see, Erich is the bane of her existence.  All through school he was her brother's best friend, and she idolized him.  However, the feelings weren't mutual.  While she was following him around, trying to get him to notice her, he was doing the exact opposite: trying to get her to leave him alone.  Still humiliated by his past actions, she doesn't want anything to do with him.
 
But now there's a problem:  the next day, Addie finds out Erich was in a car accident and broke both his wrists.  He is in casts up to his elbows and virtually helpless, and will need constant care, Julia can't afford a full-time nurse.  Which means her mother will have to cancel her trip, and won't be able to afford another one.
 
Enter Harry Mills, her guardian angel/literature teacher at the college.  Harry is here to help Addie find her way, and he must find his also.  You see, this is Harry's first earthly assignment, and his new body and emotions are giving him trouble.  Luckily, he has help in his supervisor, Celeste, but she is allowing him to also find his own way, while watching the proceedings.
 
So Harry, in order to help Addie, must convince her to help Erich.  In doing so, Addie and Erich must face their past, their present, and what they both want out of life.
 
I found this book delightful.  It is the type of book that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling when you finally finish it.  I believe it is a lovely addition to Ms. Macomber's Christmas tales, and I think anyone who reads it will enjoy it.  Watching Addie and Erich navigate their feelings for each other (and I don't think it's a spoiler since anyone who is familiar with her work knows that this is what the book is about) is nice to watch; and the secondary characters of Addie's co-students in her class bring a little more heart to the story.  Highly recommended.
 
 
 
 




Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Seeing the Dead

Author:  Sheila Connolly
Genre:  Paranormal/History/Genealogy

Four Stars
 
 
Ever since her first ghostly sighting, Abby Kimball has been trying to unravel the mystery of her newly discovered ability. So when she sees the apparition of a Revolutionary War soldier in the middle of the town green—just days before the annual Patriot’s Day celebration, no less—she’s determined to figure out her connection to the man.

The ethereal soldier is not the only mystery in Abby’s life. She’s also trying to sort out her connection to Ned Newhall, the man who shares her ability and is playing a more serious romantic role in her life every day. But with plans for the celebration ramping up and her job becoming more chaotic by the minute, Abby’s finding it hard to catch her breath, much less come to grips with all the new turns her life has taken.

And when another eerie episode is followed by the appearance of a very curious young girl who seems wise beyond her years, Abby discovers she and Ned may have only scratched the surface of their special ability, and that Ned may hold the biggest surprise yet.

********
 

Abby Kimball sees ghosts.  She doesn't see all ghosts, only the ones she's somehow related to.  And she doesn't communicate with them, she can see them as they were in their lives, but they cannot see her.  It is as if she is watching an old movie.  What she can see, however, has been amplified by her relationship with her boyfriend Ned, with whom she shares a distant connection.  When the two of them hold hands, things become clearer and more visible to her.  That being said...

She lives in Concord, Massachusetts and the town is getting ready to celebrate Patriots' Day.  Abby works for a local museum and has recently discovered her 'ability.'  She has also figured out that Ned amplifies that ability.  While wanting to know more about her family tree, she is taking the opportunity to find out about a relative who participated in the Revolutionary War, Henry Perry.  She enlists Ned's help to find out the deeper connection, and what this means to her, and to them collectively.

Then, when she discovers that her employer's daughter Ellie can also see ghosts, and knows Abby can, too, her new life, of which she has just begun to put together, is slowly starting to come unraveled, and Abby must decide what is important to her and what can be discarded.

I wasn't sure how to take this book at first.  I was aware of the plot, but I thought the beginning moved a bit slow for me.  For one thing, I'm not interested at all in the Revolutionary War.  Which isn't to say I'm not interested in history, because I am deeply interested in the Civil War.  I guess I just haven't decided to go that far back yet!  At any rate, in the beginning there is a lot about Abby's ancestors and the revolutionary war, and I found myself becoming bored with it all, hence the four stars instead of five.

But in the second half of the book things began to pick up.  So never give up - if you've started a book, most times it's well worth it to finish.  I've read quite a few books that started slow and picked up toward the middle.  Once Abby meets Ellie and things start get confusing to her, they also begin to start making sense.  And when it leads Ned to make a couple of confessions, Abby reacts with disbelief and anger, that she will have to backpedal on later.  I don't get why Abby is so stubborn when it comes to Ned: he's a nice guy who truly loves her, but she has this streak of not believing in herself - no self-confidence maybe, because she's always feeling the need to prove something to herself.

But the writing is good, the story does pick up, and I enjoyed the book.  It is a quick read and recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Seeing-Dead-Relatively-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B00NSWX5Z4/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1063449206

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Homegrown Berries

Author: Timber Press
Genre:  Gardening

Five Stars
 
What says summer more than a bowl full of fresh blueberries, sweet strawberries, and perfectly ripe raspberries? How about a yard full of them? Homegrown Berries makes it easy to have tasty and beautiful berries in any home garden.
 
Homegrown Berries includes a primer on the basics of growing berries, with details on site selection, when and where to plant, soil preparation, sun requirements, disease prevention, pruning, and dealing with pests and wildlife. Incorporating berries into the garden is made easy with tips on using them in borders and containers, as well as hedges and fences. In addition to complete growing information for strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, and elderberries, the book suggests cultivars for a variety of climates and situations.

This accessible guide will lead you down the proven path to a bountiful, berry-filled garden.

********
 
For anyone interested in growing their own berries, this nifty book will give them all the information they need.  Packed with photographs and illustrations, it also has a guide to the best regions for each type of fruit.  It lists the names of each type of berry (such as Sequoia or Tillamook for strawberry), where it grows best, and whether it can be used in a plant for edging, etc.
 
It even has illustrations of the root process, and layouts of how each berry should be planted.  There are listings for the problems that may occur and what to do to correct this, pests, diseases, choosing the right soil/area and even how to harvest the plants.  In the back there is a handy guide that notes which variety of each plant will grow best in each area of the country (United States).
 
In short, it is a comprehensive guide to anyone who already gardens or those who have never grown berries before and would like to begin.  Highly recommended.
 
 


Monday, September 22, 2014

Murder at the Brightwell

Author:  Ashley Weaver
Genre:  Mystery

Four Stars
 
Amory Ames is a wealthy young woman who questions her marriage to her notoriously charming playboy husband, Milo. Looking for a change, she accepts a request for help from her former fiancĂ©, Gil Trent, not knowing that she’ll soon become embroiled in a murder investigation that will test not only her friendship with Gil, but will upset the status quo with her husband.

Amory accompanies Gil to the luxurious Brightwell Hotel in an attempt to circumvent the marriage of his sister, Emmeline, to Rupert Howe, a disreputable ladies’ man. Amory sees in the situation a grim reflection of her own floundering marriage. There is more than her happiness at stake, however, when Rupert is murdered and Gil is arrested for the crime. Amory is determined to prove his innocence and find the real killer, despite attempted dissuasion from the disapproving police inspector on the case. Matters are further complicated by Milo’s unexpected arrival, and the two form an uneasy alliance as Amory enlists his reluctant aid in clearing Gil’s name. As the stakes grow higher and the line between friend and foe becomes less clear, Amory must decide where her heart lies and catch the killer before she, too, becomes a victim.
 
********
 
Amory Ames is young, wealthy, and married - to a man who would rather travel the globe than spend time with her (or so it seems).  After five years together, she is beginning to question why she married him in the first place - especially after her former fiance, Gil Trent, shows up at her home asking for her help.  He wants her to accompany him to the Brightwell Hotel in order to help convince his sister that her forthcoming marriage to a rogue similar to her husband, Rupert Howe, is a mistake and must be avoided at all costs.
 
Not sure if she has made the right decision in agreeing, her encounter with her recently-returned husband convinces her otherwise.  She agrees to do it, and lets her husband know in no uncertain terms, that what-is-good-for-the-goose-is-good-for-the-gander.  While she has no illusions about her marriage, she also has no intention of having an affair with Gil, taking her marriage vows seriously even if her husband doesn't.
 
But shortly after her arrival, she hears Gil and Rupert arguing below her terrace, and the next morning Rupert is found dead, victim of an apparent murder.  With all the evidence pointing toward Gil, and the sudden appearance of her husband at the Brightwell, Amory is determined to clear him of the charge of murder with or without her husband's help.
 
This book takes places in England in the 1930s, after World War I but before World War II, and it is a delightful read.  Although not much description is given to the hotel, we do know that it is by the sea, and caters to people wealthy enough to afford it.  The description of clothing during that period is accurate, and the life of the privileged few shines through.  The murder occurs fairly early on in the book, and there are enough characters who are suspect.  Everyone Amory comes in contact with seems to have some sort of secret about them, although the clues are not overt.  The inspector on the case is no bumbler, but appears to be a man used to watching people try and hide the truth, and is quite adept at putting things in perspective.
 
Amory's relationship with her husband is more complicated, since he is wealthy in his own right, a case of money marrying money as it were.  He appears to travel on a whim and spends more time away from home than not, which not only frustrates her, but keeps her wondering if he is a philanderer or not.
 
The only thing that bothered me was the ending, which I won't go into detail about, but I don't think that this is the first of a series, just a stand-alone; and as such, I wish I would have been given more of a resolution (don't fret; we do find out the killer). It just sort of makes you wonder if there was going to be one or not.
 
 
 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

Author:  Emily W. Leider
Genre:  Biography

Four Stars
 
From the beginning, Myrna Loy's screen image conjured mystery, a sense of something withheld.  "Who is she?" was a question posed in the first fan magazine article published about her in 1925.  This first biography of the wry and sophisticated actress best known for her role as Nora Charles, wife to dapper detective William Powell in The Thin Man, offers an unprecedented picture of her life and extraordinary movie career, which spanned six decades.  Opening with Loy's rough-and-tumble upbringing in Montana, the book takes us to Los Angeles in the 1920s, where Loy's striking looks caught the eye of Valentino, to her films of the 1930s, when Loy became a top box office draw, to her robust post-World War II career.  Throughout, Emily W. Leider illuminates the actress's friendships with such luminaries as Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Joan Crawford and her collaborations with the likes of John Barrymore, David O. Selznick, Sam Goldwyn, and William Wyler, among many others.  This highly engaging biography offers a fascinating slice of studio-era history and gives us the first full picture of a very private woman who has often been overlooked despite her tremendous star power. 
 
********
 
I love Myrna Loy.  She was a terrific actress, and her mannerisms conveyed everything she didn't say.  A twist of her head, a sidelong look...well, you get the idea.  At any rate, I was looking forward to this new book about her, and I was not disappointed.
 
Ms. Leider gives us a comprehensive account of Myrna Loy's life and career.  She starts with Myrna's beginnings - namely, her parents' and grandparents' lives, who they were and their effect on Myrna.  Her mother wanted more for her; her father expected that women were basically to be 'seen and not heard,' in other words, stay home and take care of the house.  Her mother rebelled against this, and it did not sit well with her father.  When her father died early, young Myrna felt she was the one to take care of the family - her mother and younger brother.  In this sense, Myrna was an enabler - by not forcing her brother to go out and get a permanent job.  For much of his life he depended on her largesse to support him.  I personally don't see how that can be healthy in any way.
 
Aside from this, when she first started in pictures she was shunted into "exotic" roles, usually playing the part of the 'bad girl who gets hers in the end.'  She was fortunate enough not to be typecast the rest of her life.  When she finally came into her own as an actress, she proved she could play any part - good or bad - and carry it with aplomb and grace.
 
In her marriages she wasn't as lucky.  Her first husband, Arthur Hornblow, Jr., it appears to me, only wanted a mistress and not a wife.  He certainly didn't treat her like a wife; but then again, neither did any of her husbands.  For some reason, she chose overbearing men who were not nice to her and cheated with other women.  Maybe she was looking for a substitute for her father, or maybe she just had bad taste in men.  This is something we may never know.
 
She had a long and storied career, with a record fourteen films with William Powell.  They were never lovers, but were electric together on the screen, perfect foils for each other.  To this day I watch The Thin Man every year at Christmas (it does take place at Christmas so therefore qualifies as a holiday film).  My favorite of theirs, though is I Love You Again with Powell as a dull husband turned con man.  A terrific turn for both of them.  She brought something to all her films, a quality of elegance and poise; even when she was insulting someone you couldn't get mad at her - they'd turn to her and think 'did she just say what I thought she did?', but it was said in a way that you were never quite sure.  She was one of a kind.
 
The reason I gave it four stars instead of five is because of the extensive background of her films.  No, I'm not referring to what went on with the stars and such, I'm referring to the plots.  Every time a film is mentioned, the author tells us the entire plot.  Now, I want to know as much about the films as anyone else, but I feel that there is a perfect place for that: at the back, where you can place a filmography.  Give the reader the opportunity to decide if they want to read about the film or not.  Don't put it throughout the biography, where it bogs down.  You're going to list the credits anyway (director/producer/actors, etc.) so why not put the plots there?  Yes, the biography itself  will be shorter, but it will be more concise and therefore more interesting to the reader.
 
A lovely book, recommended.
 
 
 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

No Christmas Like the Present

Author:  Sierra Donovan
Genre:  Christmas/Romance

Five Stars

Lindsay Miller is knee-deep in  Christmas cards and homemade fudge, but she's never felt more like a Grinch. Why can't Christmas be full of magic, like in her favorite movie, A Christmas Carol. . .?

. . .Enter Fred, a sexy and eccentric stranger who arrives at Lindsay's door out of the blue. Dressed like he just stepped out of a Dickens novel, complete with British accent, Fred claims he's a Messenger, sent from "Headquarters" to help her discover the joy of Christmas. But is Fred an angel from above--or just stone cold crazy?

Fred's used to dealing with skeptics. Telling a stranger you've been ordered to inspire holiday cheer is a tough sell. But there's a further complication. Fred's mission is to help Lindsay right the wrongs from her past that have been holding her back. But somehow along the way, they've become wildly attracted to each other--and falling in love is not part of the plan. Fred only has ‘til the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve to guide Lindsay to the magical future she deserves--even if it's a future without him...

********

Lindsay Miller is a hard-working career woman who has lost the Christmas within her.  She sees everything as a chore - she 'has to' send out Christmas cards; 'has to' make fudge for everyone, 'has to shop,' etc.  She feels overwhelmed and just wants to make it all go away...one night, while watching her favorite black-and-white version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol on television, she notes how handsome Scrooge's nephew is, how gentlemanly...

So on December 16th, there is a knock on her door, which she opens gingerly, and - there he stands: Fred, the nephew.  Believing she is either insane or he is, she attempts to close the door on him.  But he uses his cane as a leverage, and finds a way in.  When he lets her know that he knows a few things about her (such as her eggnog is close to expiring, and where she keeps the nutmeg), she begins to think he's a figment of her imagination.  But Fred persists - and when she attends a Christmas party given by her boss, and everyone there can see him, she realizes he must be real - sort of.

She has dubbed him Fred Holliday (using the first names that came to mind at the party), and he has informed her that he is there to help her.  He wants her to reconcile with her high-school boyfriend, Steven, and keeps telling her that he just wants to do what's best for her.  So while trying to help her find her "inner Christmas," and try to get her to see Steven, something else appears to be happening.

Fred is falling in love with his 'assignment.'  And she is falling in love with him.  Although he is trying to keep her at arms' length, he has to spend the remainder of days with her until December 25th, which may be harder than either of them expected it to be.

I found this book enchanting.  Fred was so real that I think I started falling in love with him myself a little (don't tell my husband).  There were a few passages toward the end that actually brought tears to my eyes.  It is written beautifully, the imagery is magical.  Ms. Donovan has a lively way with words, and the result is lovely.  You can actually sense the attraction between Lindsay and Fred, feel the electricity, without anything more having occurred than kissing.  But what kissing!  The description is such that you actually feel them fall into each other; touch each others' soul.  And I would rather have that than sex scenes any day; there is definitely romance here.

When Lindsay finally comes to grips with the fact that she will have to contact Steven - and Fred, having elicited that promise from her, realizes he must leave - it touches your heart, being tender and wrenching at the same time.  But there is a promise left...

And I will not tell you any more, since I would not want to give away too much.  I will tell you that if you love Christmas, and you love Hallmark movies (which this should definitely be one!), then you will love this book.  I plan to read it every year at Christmastime.  Highly recommended for anyone with a touch of romance in their heart; a love of Christmas in their soul. 

http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Like-Present-Sierra-Donovan/dp/1420134205/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1056669921

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bloom and Doom

Author:  Beverly Allen
Genre:  Mystery

Two Stars
 
As the co-owner of the Rose in Bloom, Audrey Bloom creates magnificent flower arrangements for brides to be.  Though helping to plan a wedding can be stressful, it's nothing compared to the groom turning up dead.
 
A designer of eye-catching bridal bouquets-many of them based on the Victorian meanings behind each flower-Audrey Bloom is used to celebrations that end with happily ever after.  In fact, every couple she's worked with is still together, living in wedded bliss.  But her perfect record is about to be broken,
 
Her childhood friend Jenny Whitney has reeled in the most eligible bachelor in Ramble, Virginia, and she's hired Audrey to design the bouquet.  But before Jenny can walk down the aisle clutching her blend of anemone, scabious, and pussy willow (a floral disaster in Audrey's mind), the groom is found dead-sprinkled with bits of a bouquet.  This is bad for business-not to mention for Jenny, who has become the prime suspect.  So Audrey decides to do a little digging herself, hoping she won't be the next Ramble resident pushing up daisies...
 
********
 
Okay, so the blurb pretty much tells you what the book is about.  But there were so many things wrong with it that I had a hard time finding what was right.  Please don't believe I am attacking the author at all - I would never do that and I am sure Ms. Allen tried really hard to make this a good book.  But the fact is: it isn't. 
 
As stated above, Audrey has a floral shop that is unique in the fact that every one of the couples she's done bouquets for are still married.  And since she's being interviewed because of this fact, I tend to wonder if she is the only floral shop in town.  Why, you ask?  Because why would anyone go anywhere else?  Everyone who gets married wants their marriage to stick, so of course, knowing this fact - and if the television crew knows it, others must too - no one would go anywhere else.  Not to mention the fact that after the piece airs, all the other floral shops will be put out of business, because weddings are a huge market, and who wants their flowers done if there's a chance the marriage might go sour someday?  Just a thought...
 
So Jenny is engaged to Derek, but doesn't want to be.  Her mother wants her to be, so she does (spineless girl, it's not her mother who will have to live with the jerk).  Anyway, she comes to Audrey and somehow convinces Audrey to allow Jenny to work for her, so Audrey gives her some supplies and sends her home to practice.  Then, when Derek is found dead, killed with the 'practice knife' that Audrey gave Jenny, Jenny is immediately suspect.  (Although I couldn't really think that if she was intending to marry a rich, handsome man, that killing him would be a viable alternative unless she was already in the will, but hey, just a thought...)
 
So the police go to Audrey's shop and take ALL OF HER TOOLS!  They have the murder weapon, but they feel the need to confiscate EVERY SINGLE TOOL she has!  This effectively puts her out of business, since she can't work without tools.  I mean, c'mon!  If you were a carpenter, and they already HAD the murder weapon, which might have been a hammer, WHY would the police take ALL of your tools?  How could you work without them?  So you have to lose business even if they know you probably didn't do anything?  Just a thought...
 
Plus, as if that isn't bad enough, a delivery guy comes to Audrey's the next day and a cop THROWS HIM UP AGAINST THE WALL and calls him a PERP!  Again, c'mon!  Really?  What kind of cop would just grab someone and throw them up against the wall without finding out what they were doing there?  Was he afraid the guy was going to attack him with flowers?  Just a thought...
 
Plus, later on, Audrey remarks that there are no blue roses, and that one she sees must be dyed.  Hmmm...I have blue roses in my yard, and I can tell you, they are hybrid, but not dyed.  Unless some garden gnome is going out there in the middle of the night and using a paintbrush or something.  So yes, there are blue roses. 
 
The most annoying trait she has is telling us the meaning of every single flower she comes across.  Do people really care about this?  I sure don't.  I look for beauty, color, scent.  I'm not picking out flowers because of hidden meanings.  I'm choosing them because they're attractive to me, and that's what counts in the long run.
 
At the end, you can see that I've had a few thoughts or two.  I really wish I could give this book a better rating, but it would be unfair to both the reader and the author.  Perhaps in the next book in the series Audrey won't go on spouting nonsense about flower meanings, and the police won't do unbelievable things.  I'm hoping the next book will improve.
 
 
 
 
 


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Not a Chance in Helen: A River Road Mystery #3

Author:  Susan McBride
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars
 
In the third  River Road Mystery from USA Today bestselling author Susan McBride, Helen Evans knows her friend is not guilty of murder … she just has to prove it!

When 80-year-old Eleanora Duncan is found dead on her kitchen floor, Sheriff Frank Biddle suspects it isn't from natural causes. Eleanora wasn't exactly your average senior citizen. She was a widow worth millions, although all her money couldn't buy her happiness—not after losing both her husband and son.

Eleanora's bitterness alienated those around her, but did that bitterness make her the victim of foul play? Soon Jean Duncan, Eleanora's daughter-in-law, becomes the prime suspect. But the sheriff gets more than he bargained for when Helen Evans comes to the aid of her friend.

Helen knows that Jean didn't murder Eleanora, despite the very bad blood between them. So she uses every means at her disposal in order to clear Jean's name and track down Eleanora's killer.

********

Helen Evans is out taking a walk when she sees her elderly neighbor, Eleanora Duncan, nearly hit by car.  It is only narrowly avoided when Helen grabs Eleanora and pulls her out of harms' way.  Eleanora, overcome with emotion, confesses to Helen that someone is trying to kill her.

Eleanora is a wealthy widow who lives with her housekeeper Zelma.  Her husband died a few years ago, and her only child, a son, died when his wife lost control of their car.  Eleanora still blames his widow Jean for the death and refuses to have anything to do with her.  After the near-miss with the car, Helen visits Jean and tells her what happened.  Jean is trying to start a catering company, and has been hard at work cooking all morning.  After hearing what Eleanora told Helen, Jean decides to visit and perhaps reconnect with her, bringing along some of the food she has been preparing as a peace offering.  However, when she arrives she finds that nothing has changed; Eleanora refuses to have anything to do with her, so she leaves the food in the care of Zelma and vows to tell Helen she will never have anything to do with Eleanora again.

When Eleanora dies soon afterward, it is discovered that she has been a victim of food poisoning, and Jean is suspected of the crime.  There isn't a dearth of suspects, however:  It seems Eleanora had several visits the day she died:  Jemima Winthrop, who has been accusing Eleanora and her husband for years of stealing everything her family ever owned; Eleanora's brother-in-law Stanley, who was taken care of for years by her husband and expects to inherit everything; and a crazy Save-the-River crusader, who wanted Eleanora to contribute money to his cause.  Any one of these people could have poisoned the food, but in his typical fashion, Sheriff Biddle focuses on the closest target and tries to take the easy way out - this time on Jean.  Helen knows Jean is innocent, and it is up to her to find the real killer before Jean loses every chance at making a new life for herself after her husband's death.

The verdict:  I loved this book.  In my opinion, it was better than the first two in the series.  I still think that the sheriff needs to get a clue, but the plot flowed smoothly, the characters were interesting, and Helen was her usual feisty self, willing to do almost anything for her friends.  Even though she is a tad bit of a busybody, it's never because of gossip, but because she wants to do the right thing and make sure the wrong person isn't convicted of a crime they didn't commit.  Highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Not-Chance-Helen-River-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00IRCZJWM/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1054992224

 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Safari

Author:  Parnell Hall
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Stanley Hastings on safari?  I don’t think so. Neither did Stanley, until Alice’s small inheritance—coupled with scrimping on a few luxuries like food and rent—allowed them to book a group trip to Zambia. Now the New York PI is hiking with lions, canoeing with hippos, and having close encounters with elephants and giraffes.
It’s a dangerous safari. The leader is a reckless, gung-ho, great white hunter who delights in leaping from the jeep with a hearty “Come on, gang, let’s see where this lion is going!” And a series of bizarre accidents quickly dwindles the group’s numbers. Why was the guide’s young spotter foolish enough to walk under a sausage fruit tree . . . just as one of the huge sausage fruits fell? How did the leaves of a poisonous plant wind up in a tourist’s salad? Are these really accidents?

A stabbing tips the scale. It’s murder, and the only policeman in a hundred miles is a park ranger (whose only murder case was that of an ivory poacher shot dead in plain sight).
It’s up to Stanley to crack the case . . . if he can just avoid being eaten by a lion.

********

Stanley Hastings and his wife Alice are heading for an African Safari.  It seems Alice came into an inheritance and this is what she wants to do with it, and Stanley, never wanting to argue with Alice when she sets her mind to something, just goes along.  Not that he's thrilled about it, but he's willing to go.

Stanley knows things aren't going to go well when he's approached at the airport by a young woman he calls "Lolita," if you get my drift.  Managing to hurry out of that situation, he doesn't know that this is the easiest thing he'll have to worry about on this trip.

Along for the trip are a young married couple; two women Stanley refers to as "Biker Chick #1 and #2; two men, Keith and Jason; an attorney also named Alice, whom he dubs Alice 2; and, of course, the randy Lolita and her "mother." 

Shortly after they begin their African trek, one of the local guides is found dead.  Although everyone is told the death was due to "sausage fruit," Stanley, PI extraordinaire, knows better.  He's seen enough crime scenes to know a murder, although even suggesting that it might have been is scoffed at by everyone.  Especially by the tour owner/guide, Clemson, who insists it was just an accident.  Even so, Stanley isn't sure.  While trying to make the best of the situation and also trying to keep his Alice happy, Stanley treks along on the safari attempting not to think about the man who was killed - until there's another death.  At this point Stanley knows his instincts were right even if no one else will believe him, so he keeps his ideas to himself, while doing a little investigating on his own.

Although he's trying to openly stay out of the investigation, he's somewhat being pushed into it by Alice (who insists she's not telling him anything but tells everyone proudly that he's a private investigator), he just wants to enjoy the rest of his vacation - until Clemson asks for his help in finding the killer.  Clemson is now convinced that it has to be one of the tourists, and wants Stanley to discreetly question them in the hopes someone will let their guard down.  Now officially involved, Stanley has to try and find a killer before he becomes the next victim.

This is a very funny book.  There were several points where I just started laughing outright.  Poor Stanley being cornered by a younger woman while his wife is nearby was just too funny for words.  His inner thoughts are better than anything that actually comes out of his mouth, and I found this not only delightful, but the mystery was very, very good.  A highly recommended read that I am sure others will enjoy.

http://www.amazon.com/Safari-Stanley-Hastings-Parnell-Hall/dp/1605986372/ref

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1053215419

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bullet Catch: (An Eli Marks Mystery #2)

Author:  John Gaspard
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars
 
 
Newly-single magician Eli Marks reluctantly attends his high school reunion against his better judgment, only to become entangled in two deadly encounters with his former classmates. The first is the fatal mugging of an old crush’s husband, followed by the suspicious deaths of the victim’s business associates.
 
At the same time, Eli also comes to the aid of a classmate-turned-movie-star who fears that attempting The Bullet Catch in an upcoming movie may be his last performance. As the bodies begin to pile up, Eli comes to the realization that juggling these murderous situations -- while saving his own neck -- may be the greatest trick he’s ever performed.

********
 
Eli Marks is a professional magician who moved back in with his Uncle Harry, also a professional magician, after his divorce.  He lives above Harry's magic shop in Minneapolis.  He's in therapy trying to discover why his fear of heights has morphed into something worse.  Not merely a fear anymore, it has become a panic if he's anywhere near high areas.  This has definitely started taking over his life, and he needs to know why.
 
When he's asked by an old high school friend for help he agrees.  Jake, the friend, is now an actor who is making a movie about the life and death of an old magician, Terry Alexander.  It seems Terry died while trying to perform the bullet catch - the trick where someone shoots a bullet and the magician catches it in their mouth.  Harry and his magician cronies don't much like the trick; it seems no magician does, because the risk is too great (I ask you: how comfortable would you be with a bullet coming straight at your face?), so while Eli has reservations, he agrees to help Jake.
 
But before the movie starts filming, Jake convinces Eli to go to their fifteenth high school class reunion.  Which is in a hotel in Minneapolis.  High up.  Very high up.  And Eli has to take a glass elevator.  (I have to tell you, with Mr. Gaspard's imagery, my knees were getting weak just reading about it, and I'm not afraid of heights!)  Anyway, they connect with several friends, including Eli's high school crush, Trish.  It seems Trish married the school's "bad boy," Dylan, and is now regretting that decision.  She spends the evening reconnecting with Eli while Dylan spends his time flirting with other women.
 
But there's a surprise the next morning when Eli's ex-wife's (who is now the Assistant District Attorney) husband, a homicide detective, shows up at his door informing him that Dylan is dead, the victim of a mugging gone bad, and what does he know about it?  This is all news to Eli, who really doesn't know much.
 
Now here is where it gets sticky:  Eli, wanting to help Trish, the grieving widow, decides to do a little investigating on his own.  He is asked to do a party which turns out not to be a party:  He finds himself at the house of a very old man who obviously still has his wits about him.  He calls himself Harry Lime.  For those of you who don't know:  Harry Lime was the name of Orson Welles' character in The Third Man.  Let me tell you, they couldn't have gotten a better person to read this book, because I'm a huge, repeat: huge fan of classic movies (they're practically all I watch as far as film goes).  Anyway, Mr. Lime not only repeats movie lines, he has names for everyone involved in the murder.  Lucky me, I recognized them all before Mr. Gaspard had to explain.  (The one that stumped me at first was his name for Dylan, but after a few minutes I figured that one out because it was the only one that made sense.)  Anyway, Mr. Lime plays a pretty big part in this.
 
And then there's Jake, who is convinced the only way the movie will make money is if he really dies at the end, just like Alexander, and thinks the crew is planning on killing him for real.  So now on top of trying to solve the murder he has to convince his friend that he'll make sure he stays alive.  You also have Eli trying to navigate his his new relationship with his ex-wife, and his temporarily-on-hold relationship with Megan, the psychic who owns a shop down from his.  And, of course, there are Harry and his magician friends, who are fun to watch interact.
 
The first chapter in this book is riotously funny.  It begins with Eli and his new therapist, and ends on a hilarious note that made me glad I decided to read it.  I don't want to say anymore, because I don't want to give away too much of the plot.  I will say that I was born in Minneapolis so recognized quite a bit of the places he was talking about, which was nice.  And that I liked this book so much that when it is issued, I plan on buying few copies to give to relatives who still live there.  I liked it so well that I plan on reading the first in the series (sorry I missed it) and will continue on as long as Mr. Gaspard continues to write it.
 
A great read, interesting, funny and intriguing.  Highly recommended.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Finding Sky

Author:  Susan O'Brien
Genre:  Mystery/Fiction

Four Stars
 
Suburban widow and P.I. in training Nicki Valentine can barely keep track of her two kids, never mind anyone else. But when her best friend’s adoption plan is jeopardized by the young birth mother’s disappearance, Nicki is persuaded to help. Nearly everyone else believes the teenager ran away, but Nicki trusts her BFF’s judgment, and the feeling is mutual.
 
The case leads where few moms go (teen parties, gang shootings) and places they can’t avoid (preschool parties, OB-GYNs’ offices). Nicki has everything to lose and much to gain — including the attention of her unnervingly hot P.I. instructor. Thankfully, Nicki is armed with her pesky conscience, occasional babysitters, a fully stocked minivan, and nature’s best defense system: women’s intuition.

********
 
Nicki Valentine is a widow with two small children (Sophie, 4 and Jack, 6).  She is also training to be a private detective.  So when her best friend and near neighbor, Kenna, asks for her help in finding someone, how can she refuse?
 
It seems Kenna and her husband Andy have been trying to have a baby, but with no luck; so they turned to an agency that will allow them to adopt.  Having met Beth, the birth mother, and followed her throughout her pregnancy, Kenna is distraught when Beth, still pregnant, disappears.  She wants Nicki to help her find Beth, since she thinks she has been abducted.  Her reasoning for this is that the birth father, Marcus, is in a gang and Kenna believes he had something to do with it.  So, against her better judgment (the fact that being only a P.I. in training and doesn't know if she can help), Nicki agrees.
 
But she doesn't do it alone: she has the help of one of her instructors, a hottie named Dean, who helps her through her first case.  Even though Nicki eventually realizes she has put herself in real danger, she still wants to find Beth and presses on.  Nicki is competent, intelligent and doesn't put herself in harm's way, like some cozy heroines.  I did find the reason she was in danger to be somewhat unbelievable, but hey, I'm not a PI, so...and there were a couple of uncomfortable situations (such as when she decides to search a house with the tenant still in it), that didn't seem like it would occur in real life (unless you were insane or something.) 
 
However, Ms. O'Brien drew me in immediately, and kept me reading with very good writing.  But be aware that it's not a murder mystery.  I know that "mystery" is a broad spectrum, but let's face it: when you hear that a book is a mystery, you kind of expect a murder at some point.  Even if it's not in the "blurb," you still figure that someone will be killed.  Don't get me wrong; I've read mysteries before where there was no murder, but not many - and none of them were as good as this book..  And, as I said, the writing was good and I enjoyed chasing Beth's trail along with Nicki.
 
I enjoyed the book very much and will probably read others by this author.  Recommended.
 
 
 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

Author:  William J. Mann
Genre:  Biography/History

Five Stars
 
The Day of the Locust meets The Devil in the White City and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in this juicy, untold Hollywood story: an addictive true tale of ambition, scandal, intrigue, murder, and the creation of the modern film industry.
 
By 1920, the movies had suddenly become America’s new favorite pastime, and one of the nation’s largest industries. Never before had a medium possessed such power to influence. Yet Hollywood’s glittering ascendency was threatened by a string of headline-grabbing tragedies—including the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, a legendary crime that has remained unsolved until now.

In a fiendishly involving narrative, bestselling Hollywood chronicler William J. Mann draws on a rich host of sources, including recently released FBI files, to unpack the story of the enigmatic Taylor and the diverse cast that surrounded him—including three beautiful, ambitious actresses; a grasping stage mother; a devoted valet; and a gang of two-bit thugs, any of whom might have fired the fatal bullet. And overseeing this entire landscape of intrigue was Adolph Zukor, the brilliant and ruthless founder of Paramount, locked in a struggle for control of the industry and desperate to conceal the truth about the crime. Along the way, Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties: a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, newly-minted legends and starlets already past their prime—a dangerous place where the powerful could still run afoul of the desperate.

A true story recreated with the suspense of a novel, Tinseltown is the work of a storyteller at the peak of his powers—and the solution to a crime that has stumped detectives and historians for nearly a century.

********
 
In February of 1922 the famed director William Desmond Taylor was murdered.  His murder was never solved.  What made it so spectacular was the fact that he was a Hollywood director and involved - in one way or another - with three women:  Mabel Normand, a top star; Mary Miles Minter, an up-and-coming young star; and Margaret "Gibby" Gibson, a fading actress who refused to accept her lot.  But Mr. Taylor was not a womanizer; far from it.  This, I will let be known, is not a sordid tell-all.  Although Mr. Mann does lay forth many interesting facts, everything he imparts is of importance, and is crucial to the story.
 
I hesitate to use the words "page turner," since I don't like them at all, but there is no other way to describe this book (the reason being that the words are overused and really don't impart any information on a book.  Telling me it's a 'page turner' doesn't tell me anything about why I should read it).  It is so well-researched that each chapter drew me irresistibly into the next.  There is no other way to say it. 
 
The book begins with the murder and the discovery of his body the next day by his valet, Henry Peavy.  From there Mr. Mann backtracks, beginning sixteen months earlier into the life of Mr. Taylor.  He gives us an unusual view into the lives of all those I listed and more - Adolph Zukor, Marcus Loew, Don Osborn (a small time grifter), Wallace Reid; and others who were connected with Mr Taylor and/or the studio system.  He gives us an especially detailed account of the beginnings of the Hollywood film structure, as seen through the eyes of Mr. Zukor.  We are even given an account of the Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle trial; and allowed to see the perceived decadence of Hollywood drugs and scandals; we see the press at work, willing to go to any lengths to get a story.
 
One finds sympathy with the characters within this book - Misses Normand, Minter, and Gibson.  The tale is so well woven that I even found myself shedding a tear upon the death of the beloved Marcus Loew (and I am not one to get emotional that way).  But knowing this was not a novel, but the history of people who were once living and breathing as you or I made it that much more real.  This was history.  And while the murder remains unsolved to this day, Mr. Mann gives us a supposition that is actually the only thing that makes sense, and, in my opinion, was probably how it occurred.
 
I highly recommend this fascinating look into American history and the Hollywood system, and a murder that was not only sensational for its time but remains so today.
 
 
 


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dance Floor Democracy: The Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen

Author:  Sherrie Tucker
Genre:  Non-Fiction/History

Four Stars

Open from 1942 until 1945, the Hollywood Canteen was the most famous of the patriotic home front nightclubs where civilian hostesses jitterbugged with enlisted men of the Allied Nations. Since the opening night, when the crowds were so thick that Bette Davis had to enter through the bathroom window to give her welcome speech, the storied dance floor where movie stars danced with soldiers has been the subject of much U.S. nostalgia about the "Greatest Generation." Drawing from oral histories with civilian volunteers and military guests who danced at the wartime nightclub, Sherrie Tucker explores how jitterbugging swing culture has come to represent the war in U.S. national memory. Yet her interviewees' varied experiences and recollections belie the possibility of any singular historical narrative. Some recall racism, sexism, and inequality on the nightclub's dance floor and in Los Angeles neighborhoods, dynamics at odds with the U.S. democratic, egalitarian ideals associated with the Hollywood Canteen and the "Good War" in popular culture narratives. For Tucker, swing dancing's torque—bodies sharing weight, velocity, and turning power without guaranteed outcomes—is an apt metaphor for the jostling narratives, different perspectives, unsteady memories, and quotidian acts that comprise social history.

********
 
As an avid reader of all things history, especially American history, I was excited to read this book.  However, it was not as I expected it to be.  Let us not say I was disappointed, per se, but rather a slight tad disillusioned.  What I thought was going to be a history and description of the Hollywood Canteen (how it started, stories of the servicemen who visited, etc.), turned out to be something entirely different.
 
What it is is how there was a division between the African-Americans and whites at the canteen.  Please don't get me wrong: there is quite a few stories of the workers at the canteen, and several of the guests.  But there are questions asked of the workers:  Did you see a lot of colored soldiers?  Were there colored hostesses?  and other questions of the like.  The author touches upon the fact of Mexican-Americans and Asians, but basically sticks to the subject of why there was a division, why white workers were instructed to not dance with "coloreds" who might 'inadvertently' show up, why there was a lack of 'colored' hostesses/performers, when the answer is very simple:  It was the 1940's, and we, as a people, did not have the interaction that we do today.  Today, I am glad to say, clubs are open to all races.  But this era of American history cannot be changed; the best we can hope for is that it is understood.  It is worth noting that many members of Hollywood refused to accept racial discrimination in any form (Clark Gable and Mervyn LeRoy among them), but, unfortunately, they were in the minority.
 
I enjoyed the section on "jitterbugging," having learned quite a bit about that beforehand.  Let us say that it is not a dance for the timid, nor for the frail of body.  My own opinion is that the soldiers enjoyed dancing this way because it helped get rid of a lot of their emotions as to what they were facing in the future - going overseas and not knowing what was going to happen.  Expending a lot of energy ahead of time might have calmed them down somewhat and made them less anxious. 
 
Ms. Tucker touches upon the Communism scare which struck Hollywood - and came to fruition with the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s - the Zoot Suit riots (which is another story in itself), how female military personnel were treated differently; there was no Hollywood Canteen for them, although they were given time of their own as an afterthought.
 
While I cannot say that this book would be interesting to everyone - it is far too technical for that - it will be interesting to students of race relations, history, Hollywood during the war. etc.  It is more a specialized read, not one that is for the general public.  Still, I enjoyed the book and was impressed with the work that went into writing it.
 
I was given a copy of this book in return for an honest review, but it in no way influenced my decision.
 
 

Altered to Death (Faith Hunter Scrap This Volume 6)

Author:  Christina Freeburn Genre:  Mystery Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781635112825; 9781635112795 Henery Press...