Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Terrible State

Author:  Kathryn Nelson
Genre:  Non-Fiction

Four Stars

'...The glaring fact, that this is my country, by its careless consideration with regards to journalistic control had allowed to occur, the devastation and destruction of its beloved child: Child of Ireland, lover of Ireland, now victim of Ireland's indifference.'

Kathryn Nelson had enjoyed successful careers as a teacher and then an international advisor, relishing her life and work in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.  Her world came crashing down around her when she was wrongly implicated in money laundering after the biggest bank robbery of the time, when robbers had walked out of the Northern Bank in Belfast with 26.5m pounds in cash.

********

Kathryn Nelson was accused of a crime, that being the theft of millions in pounds from a bank in Belfast, Ireland.  This book is the story of her journey towards the reclamation of her reputation, which had been shredded by the Irish media.

She tells us of her state of mind, and goes from incredulity, fear, shame, depression, and anger.  She tells of a long journey, nearly six years, to fight her way back and regain her good name.  She endures physical as well as mental and emotional pain, trying every which way she can to garner the help she needs to achieve this, asking anyone she knows for advice and a way to start her on this journey.  It is interesting to watch her travel from the lowest rung of the ladder back to the highest.

What happened to Kathryn was devastating, life-changing, and indeed, terrible.  The scariest fact is that is could have happened anywhere to anyone, not just to Kathryn.  The merest acquaintance of someone could have harsh consequences.  But Kathryn refused to be a victim, and fought back as hard as she could.

Then why only four stars:  Because of things like repeatedly calling herself "a Kildare woman," as if this had significance.  It obviously means something to her, but to those of us not of Ireland, no.  Tell us why this is significant enough to mention it several times.  And because of the repetition of words such as Garda/Gardi, which, after seeing it often, I took to mean 'police officer.'  If you're not in Ireland, unless you read Irish books or speak the language, you probably won't know what it means.  

When Kathryn finally finds justice, it is sort of an anticlimax.  Yes, she received vindication (not really a spoiler, since it's all in the blurb) but I would have liked to have known what happened to the people that actually libeled her in the press.  I would have liked to have known more about her past and what exactly an 'international advisor' does.  

At the last, I hope that Kathryn regains the joy she feels she has lost and is able to trust and be happy again.  Recommended.



Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Icing on the Corpse (A Pawsitively Organic Mystery Book 3)

Author:  Liz Mugavero
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Kristan "Stan" Connor is thrilled to be invited to the Groundhog Day festivities in quirky Frog Ledge, Connecticut. Her organic, home-baked pet treats are a big hit at the annual celebration, though an important guest is curiously absent . . . 

When Helga Oliver, the town's elderly historian, is found crumpled in the basement of the Historical Museum, the close-knit town is devastated. But after some tenacious digging, Stan discovers Helga was pushed down the stairs--and that this picture-perfect New England town may hide some dark secrets . . .

Stan's dogged determination reveals Helga's ties to an unsolved death in 1948 . . . but how does that connect to Adrian Fox, who's just arrived in town to shoot an episode of Celebrity Ghost Hunters? Stan is going to have to be very careful in chasing down the killer--if she wants to live to see another winter...

********

Stan Connor is the owner of Pawsitively Organic, where she makes home-made pet food and treats for dogs and cats.   She is attending the Groundhog Day festivities in the small town of Frog Ledge, Connecticut where she lives. So when she meets Sarah Oliver, a self-proclaimed psychic, who immediately claims there's something wrong with her mother, Helga, the town's historian, and she is later found at the bottom of the stairs of the museum, Stan knows that something Just Isn't Right.  Especially when Helga's friend Betty notes that Helga's cane wasn't with her, and at 87 years old, she tells Stan Helga never went anywhere without it.

Shortly after this, Stan's friend Izzy, along with Stan's maybe-boyfriend Jake are renovating a building that just might turn out to be haunted.  When the host and crew of a television reality show called Celebrity Ghost Hunters shows up unannounced, claiming someone gave him an anonymous tip regarding the haunting, Stan finds out that it may have something to do with an unsolved murder from 1948, and something that just might connect Helga to it.

To make things worse, Helga was like a grandmother to Jake and his family, and it is causing tension between the two, especially when Stan lets the star of the show, Adrian Fox, know that she's all for going on the ghost hunt with him.  Things are also strained between her and Jake's two sisters, Breanna, and Jessie Pasquale, the trooper who is investigating the murder - not to mention that she and Jessie don't have the best relationship anyway.

As if this weren't enough, Stan is asked to cater a 'doggie wedding' for a town resident, Dede Richardson, and she wants it done Valentine's Day, with a cake and treats for the bride and groom and all their guests.  Stan is really running it close this time.

This is the third book in the "Pawsitively Organic" series, and it is just as delightful as the other two.  I really enjoyed the tie-in with an old murder (I love novels that have old, unsolved murders in them, just slightly macabre, but not too) and the way the story was written was completely believable.  An old murder that's been hushed-up, people refusing to talk about it...well, these are the things of a book that you can really dig into.  And this one was completely riveting.

When we discover who killed the dead man (and we know we will,) it was well-thought-out and precisely how things could have happened if they really occurred.  This, folks, is how it's done.  

I also implore you to read the 'end credits' as it were, because you're going to get a nice surprise about one of the characters in the book (when I read a book, I read a book.)  An admirable addition to the series, highly recommended.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Meet Your Baker (A Bakeshop Mystery #1)

Author:  Ellie Alexander
Genre:  Mystery

Three Stars

After graduating from culinary school, Juliet Capshaw returns to her quaint hometown of Ashland, Oregon, to heal a broken heart and help her mom at the family bakery.  The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is bringing in lots of tourists looking for some crumpets to go with their heroic couplets.  But when one of Torte's customers turns up dead, there's much ado about murder;;;

The victim is Nancy Hudson, the festival's newest board member.  A modern-day Lady Macbeth, Nancy has given more than a few actors and artists enough reasons to kill her...but still.  The silver lining?  Jules's high school sweetheart, Thomas, is the investigator on the case.  His flirtations are as delicious as ever, and Jules can't help but want to have her cake and eat it too.  But will she have her just desserts?  Murder might be bad for business, but love is the sweetest treat of all...

*****

Juliet "Jules" Capshaw used to work as a pastry chef for a cruise line.  But a blowup with her husband, Carlos, made her leave and hurry home to Oregon, back to spend time with her mother and help run the family's bakeshop, Torte.

While visiting with a friend she knew from long ago, Caroline, an actress in the Shakespeare company, Nancy Hudson enters the shop and starts making snide, backhanded compliments to both Caroline and Jules.  Immediately pegging her as a troublemaker, Jules can't wait for her to leave.  

When Nancy is found one morning dead in the kitchen of the shop by Jules, she calls on her friend, Thomas; who now is a police detective, to come and sort things out.  Soon Jules finds out that there really isn't anyone in town who liked the woman, and many had a valid reason not to.  So she starts investigating on her own - the woman was found dead in her shop, after all - and what she finds isn't pleasant, nor is it easy to digest, as Jules wonderful creations are.

I started off reading this book, hoping it was as delightful as the blurb on the back proclaimed it to be.  But I found that while it could have indeed been interesting, too many things just seemed not to grab my attention.  First, we are told - in bits and pieces spanning several chapters - why she left Carlos, an executive chef on the cruise line.  I had believed it to be (and I'm probably not the only one) that he had had an affair.  I was wrong,  I thought, that's it?  The reason she left seemed to me to be something they could have sat down and talked about.  It wasn't dire; it wasn't anything that should have split up over.  Yes, it was a shock, yes, it was tragic.  But it wasn't marriage-ending by any rate.  Especially if she loved him as much as she says she does.  I could get in a huge discussion about this, but I can't, lest I give away too much.  Just my opinion...

There are also things said and implied about her relationship with Thomas, but this left me wondering as to why?  Just why?  Another thing that bothered me is that she's convinced she knows who the killer is - every time.  What do I mean by that?  The fact that she accuses practically everyone she comes in contact with of being the killer.  Really?  Why would the police even listen to her anymore?  First she decides it's this person, then it's that person.  And the last is the fact that Jules herself seems so - remote.  It's like she just walks through life, not enjoying it at all.  Most protagonists have a quality about them where you can empathize with what is happening, but not Jules.  You don't feel as if you've gotten to "know" her.  

In the end, it was a pleasant, if not enticing, read.  Decent enough plot, but Jules has a lot of things she needs to figure out if she's going to be an interesting character.  Since it is the author's first book, I am assuming it is a learning process, I will read the second in this series to see if the next book is better.  I hope you do, too.




Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lowcountry Boneyard (A Liz Talbot Book #3)

Author:  Susan M. Boyer
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Where is Kent Heyward?

The twenty-three-year-old heiress from one of Charleston’s oldest families vanished a month ago. When her father hires private investigator Liz Talbot, Liz suspects the most difficult part of her job will be convincing the patriarch his daughter tired of his overbearing nature and left town. That’s what the Charleston Police Department believes
.
But behind the garden walls South of Broad, family secrets pop up like weeds in the azaleas. The neighbors recollect violent arguments between Kent and her parents. Eccentric twin uncles and a gaggle of cousins covet the family fortune. And the lingering spirit of a Civil-War-era debutante may know something if Colleen, Liz’s dead best friend, can get her to talk.

Liz juggles her case, the partner she’s in love with, and the family she adores. But the closer she gets to what has become of Kent, the closer Liz dances to her own grave.

********

When Liz Talbot, a private investigator, is asked by Colton Heyward to find his daughter, Kent, she doesn't have a clue of what she's getting into.  It seems Kent disappeared without a trace, after leaving the house for a night out.  Colton is upset because he thinks the police aren't doing enough to find her and have almost closed the case.  And that doesn't sit well with him because Colton is a very rich and powerful man and wants it done.  Now.  So Liz takes the case, but on her terms.  She tells him she isn't going to give him a daily update, but will inform him when she has something to report.  For the time being, Colton is appeased.

But when Liz starts an earnest search for the missing girl, she and her partner/boyfriend Nate Andres find themselves sucked into a whirlpool of secrets, lies, and hatred that goes far deeper than just the missing girl, but also but something that has been buried by several people; both pleasant and not-so-nice. 

Along the way, Liz has help from a guardian spirit:  Her friend Colleen, who died seventeen years ago, but has been sent back to keep Liz safe.  Her addition to the story, while adding a slight paranormal slant, is indeed useful, as Colleen can go places Liz can't, and helps her with her investigations, albeit as a "silent partner."

This book starts out as a simple missing persons case, but turns into something else.  Ms. Boyer adds a layer of intrigue and deception, all the while masking it in the fact of a father who loves and is afraid something awful has happened to his daughter.  For we find that there is more than meets the eye:  There is the boyfriend, Matt Thomas, whom the father doesn't like, friends that neither parent knows about, including Evan Ingle, an art gallery owner, Kent's best friend Ansley, who has things herself she may be hiding, and Mrs. Heyward's nasty mother Abigail, who unsuccessfully tries to manipulate Liz into doing what she wants.

Liz soon realizes she's onto something when she is "warned off" the case in an ugly and very scary way.  But instead of leaving it be, she digs deeper, which doesn't bode well for either her or Nate.  To worsen the situation, she and Nate, the love of her life, are having problems themselves.  He knows he loves her, but is still unsure of her commitment to him.  I found this side story just as interesting as the main one.

I'm not going to reveal any more about the book, but I think it is well written, absorbing, and worth the read.  It might even make you appreciate your own family more.  I can't wait to read the next installment in the series (please, Ms. Boyer, don't disappoint!  Hustle the next book!)  Highly recommended.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Treacherous Trader (Antiques and Collectibles Mystery #4)

Author:  Ellery Adams/Parker Riggs
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

In the world of antiques and collectibles, it helps to have a sharp eye for quality, a good ear for gossip, and a nose for murder.

Molly Appleby is on cloud nine.  The talented reporter and senior staff writer for Collector's Weekly just got engaged to the man she loves.  When she takes time off to plan her wedding and shop for a vintage gown, the spunky writer with a growing reputation for finding corpses and solving murders vows to her family and and fiancĂ© to avoid trouble at all costs. Until the wedding photographer she visits turns up dead in his home, the victim of foul play. 

So when she’s not busy shopping for the perfect dress or sampling endless varieties of cake, Molly once again finds herself attempting to unravel a mystery, and the endless string of women spurned by the playboy photographer leaves no shortage of suspects. When another corpse turns up and Molly discovers that the woman who sold her a gorgeous vintage gown might be the murderer—and that the gown itself may be linked to a decades-old crime—Molly must summon all her sleuthing skills to find the killer before her preparations for the big day become plans for her funeral. 

********

Molly Appleby is in Vermont with her mother, Clara, to plan Molly's wedding.  Shortly after arriving, she has an uncomfortable encounter with a bridal shop owner named Bristol, who insults her by practically telling her outright she's too fat to fit in a wedding dress.  Molly should have cancelled her trip then and there, but being who she is, didn't, of course, and it could have saved her the nightmare that followed...

After meeting a couple of other people staying at her hotel, Violet and Lindsay, it is learned that Lindsay has discovered her father, a photographer - who left her and her mother shortly after her birth, and permanently physically injured Violet - lives there, and Lindsay has been attempting to avoid him.  But Violet wants to know if he's even curious about them, and so is Molly, with her own insatiable curiosity, so she goes to his studio under the guise of hiring him for her wedding, and finds out on her own that he is just as unpleasant as she's heard.

When Alec Portman, the father, is killed, (and we know he will be, because he is a nasty human being, and this is a mystery, after all,) Molly finds there are no dearth of suspects.  Nearly every female in town had reason to hate him, for it turns out he was a womanizer of the worst kind, not caring who he hit on.  And when he is killed, more things come to light about Mr. Portman and his activities.

I found the backstory quite intriguing.  It tells a tale of pre-war Germany and moves to the United States, bringing with it a true historical feel (and I love all things historical).  It ties in completely with what is happening to Molly in present-day Vermont, and with others in the book, and I enjoyed the trips back in time as they related to what things were going on in the story today.  Quite a bit of thought was given to the story, and it shows.

We watch Molly as she tries to plan her wedding, and how she is sidetracked at every turn with something having to do with the murder.  And when Detective Lombardi, the policeman assigned to the case, becomes fascinated with her, and her abilities to "wring information out of" people who knew Alec and may have a stake in his death, it is entirely plausible, and fun to watch.

If anything about the book bothered me - and naturally this would have - as Molly is offended by Bristol's remarks to her, I was offended by Molly's remarks about Las Vegas weddings being "the chapel of cheap weddings."  I would like to inform 'Molly' that Las Vegas is a Destination Wedding, and it is anything but cheap.  Having been married myself here, and several relatives also, it can get quite pricey, as much as anywhere else; and many, many people do it and I don't believe any of them would care for the fact it was considered they did it on the "cheap."  (Yes, some elope, but people elope in many states).

Other than that one thing, I found the book quite nicely done and a good addition to the series.  It connects several people (mostly by tenuous threads, but connections nevertheless) and everything appears to come full circle, which was very nice indeed.  Highly recommended.




Friday, March 6, 2015

The Union Street Bakery (A Union Street Bakery Novel Book 1)

Author:  Mary Ellen Taylor
Genre:  Fiction/Historical Fiction

Four Stars

Life can turn on a dime. It’s a common clichĂ©, and I’d heard it often enough. People die or move away. Investments go south. Affairs end. Loved ones betray us...Stuff happens. 

Daisy McCrae's life is in tatters.  She's lost her job, broken up with her boyfriend, and has been reduced to living in the attic above her family's store, the Union Street Bakery, while learning the business.  Unfortunately, the bakery is in serious hardship.  Making things worse is the constant feeling of not being a "real" McCrae since she was adopted as a child and has a less-than-perfect relationship with her two sisters.

Then a long-standing elderly customer passes away, and for some reason bequeaths Daisy a journal dating back to the 1850's, written by a slave girl named Susie.  As she reads, Daisy learns more about her family-and her own heritage-than she ever dreamed.  Haunted by dreams of the young Susie, who beckons Daisy to "find her," she is compelled to look further into the past of the town and her family.

What she finds are the answers she has longed for her entire life, and a chance to begin again with the courage and desire she thought she lost for good.

********

Daisy McCrae has just lost what she thinks to be everything - her job and her fiance.  She returns home at the request of her parents to help run the bakery that has been passed down generation through generation.  Her sister Rachel is baking the confections but totally overwhelmed with the financial aspects.  When Daisy digs in she finds that the situation is worse than she at first thought, and the bakery is in serious trouble of going under.  Thinking this is merely a temporary situation, Daisy, with her background in financial investment, digs in and attempts to bring it all back into the black.

But things aren't so cut and dried.  Daisy is being haunted by a yet-unnamed ghost in the attic of the bakery where she resides, and haunted by her past:  At three years old she was left in front of the bakery by her birth mother, and has never gotten over it.  To add to it all, Mabel Woodrow, an elderly resident of Alexandria, dies and bequeaths a diary from the pre-Civil War era to her, something that Daisy doesn't understand now but will soon bring many things to light.

I really liked this book, for the most part.  It told an interesting tale of the life of a young slave girl in the 1850's; albeit in bits and pieces that are filled in throughout the book.  Daisy's life, and that of her sisters, Rachel and Margaret, were also strong in the book and fleshed out well enough that you come to know them.  Daisy isn't happy to be returning to a place she hoped never to have to visit again, but rallies when she realizes just how much her help is needed.  Watching her grow through her pain and emotions is quite intense at times.

What I didn't care for (and caused the removal of one star) was the fact that she carried a "poor little me" attitude through most of the book.  Yes, she was abandoned by her birth mother at age three in front of the bakery (not really a spoiler since it's all written out fairly early,) but she's 34-years-old.  So for 31 years, in the arms of what appears to be a very loving family, she can't let go of the fact that her birth parent just walked away.  I am sure that there are people born into families that aren't treated as well as her and still manage to go on.  At some point, and I don't know where, I wanted to scream at her 'Yes!  You were abandoned by your birth mother!  But no one in your life has ever left you since!'  Where on earth she got the idea that people were leaving her right and left is beyond me.  I got the feeling that everyone in her family truly loved her and were there for her, no matter what.  There wasn't a single indication that anyone in her family ever thought of leaving her anywhere, from the day she was given to them, and that's why her attitude didn't make any sense.  I have a bit of advice for Daisy:  It doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you are now.

Other than that, the book was written very well, and all in all I enjoyed it.  Recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Union-Street-Bakery-Ellen-Taylor/dp/0425259692/

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

With Vics You Get Eggroll (A Mad for Mod Mystery #3)

Author:  Diane Vallere
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Business as usual for mid-century modern interior decorator Madison Night involves a rundown ranch restoration and endorsing a set of retro paint colors. But when an investigation into a string of recent abductions turns up a murder vic, and evidence at the scene links the flirtatious Lt. Tex Allen to the crime, Madison’s priorities shift faster than she can say “Doris Day.”

Voluntary suspension keeps Tex off the case, and pesky reporters force him to live in his car. Madison’s own life is complicated by the return of her hunky handyman and her new demanding client. She immerses herself in routine, but suspects come out of the freshly-painted woodwork. When seemingly unrelated events lead back to the abductions, she exposes a secondary agenda, a copycat crime, and a vengeful plot to destroy someone she loves.

********

Madison Night is a 48-year-old interior decorator/contractor who not only shares a birthday with Doris Day, she dresses like her too.  Her business specializes in retro style, and right now she is redoing a home for Cleo and Dan Tyler, California transplants to Dallas.

One night when Madison is driving home, she is pulled over by a police officer, but waits until she reaches a well-lit area before stopping.  The reason?  A man masquerading as a police officer, known as the Lakewood Abductor, is kidnapping women - and killing some of them.  Discovering her traffic stop was merely that, when she arrives home, she turns on the news to hear that another body has been found and the police badge found near her is that of Lt. Tex Allen - the same Tex Allen that Madison finds so attractive, and has become a close friend to her.  Knowing he is innocent of these crimes, Madison uses her moral compass to try and help find the real killer, even when she is cautioned against it by Lt. Allen.

When more women are kidnapped, and the police are no closer to finding the real killer, Lt. Allen tells Madison to stay out of the case,but she is already involved, and thinks she might be targeted as well.  It doesn't sit well with her when the case hits close to home, and someone she knows is kidnapped, and there is a rush against time to save the woman.

This is a very good book.  Madison considers herself, like the Doris Day screen persona, an independent woman who can achieve success in the world.  But being independent doesn't necessarily mean being alone, and this is something Madison needs to learn.  Because the book isn't all about the kidnapping/murders; it is also about the fact that Madison needs to realize that sometimes you just can't do it all.  During the course of the investigation, her relationships with both Lt. Tex Allen and Hudson James are tested, as well as her tenacity and faith in her beliefs.  

When we discover the true identity of the killer, there weren't really many overt clues; which isn't to say they weren't there, it is just that they were done in a manner as to be as natural as dew on grass, so you will have to use your own "powers of deduction" along with following the storyline.  While there were plenty of viable suspects, when the final scenes arrived, the ending was as scary as it was believable in the fact that knowing how people think in the real world, it could have been factual.  Highly recommended, and I look forward to the next installment in this mystery series.





Monday, March 2, 2015

Archie in the Crosshairs (The Nero Wolfe Mysteries)

Author:  Robert Goldborough
Genre:  Mystery

Five Stars

Archie Goodwin is chipper as he strolls home from his weekly poker game, money in his pocket and a smile on his lips.  He has just reached Nero Wolfe's stately brownstone on West Thirty-Fifth Street when a sedan whips around the corner and two gunshots ring out, nearly hitting Goodwin.  It is a warning, and the message is clear:  The next bullet will not miss.

Rotund investigator Nero Wolfe has made more than his fair share of enemies over the years, and it seems one of them has decided to strike, targeting Wolfe's indefatigable assistant.  Some might run for cover, but Archie Goodwin is not the type.  With the help of Wolfe's brainpower, Goodwin will find the man who wants him dead-unless the killer gets to Goodwin first.

********

When Archie Goodwin returns home from a weekly poker game, he is barely missed by a couple of bullets that plant themselves in the brownstone he lives in with his boss, Nero Wolfe.  The next day, Archie and Wolfe receive a threatening telephone call that informs them that the next bullets will not miss - and Archie will be dead.  Since Wolfe knows he has made many enemies over the course of his life and work, he and Archie proceed to go through recent (two decades worth) files to attempt to discover the identity of the would-be killer.  The calls do not stop, and it is discovered that another attempt has half-heartedly been made, with someone again firing a gun into the brownstone.

Then Archie gets a phone call from a distraught young woman who insists she must hire Wolfe because she is being blackmailed, and that money is no object.  When Wolfe agrees to the meeting, he also agrees to take the case, with conditions...

When Archie and friends Saul Panzer and Fred Durkin prepare to "make the drop," of the blackmail money in return for incriminating photographs, something transpires that neither Wolfe nor Archie expected, and they discover that the two cases are connected, and to solve one will also bring resolution to the other, and Archie's life will no longer be in danger.

What we have here is a fitting tribute to the previous works of Rex Stout, the original creator of Nero Wolfe; and Mr. Goldsborough is indeed the rightful heir to the series.  We have Archie and Wolfe, faithful in voice and in action, in a compelling tale of blackmail, greed, and revenge.  We follow Archie as he first is not allowed to roam freely, due to circumstances surrounding the threats, and then later in his usual charming and sharp manner, questioning all those involved with Cordelia Hutchinson, the blackmail victim, in order to find out who might have knowledge of the scheme.

Then we watch patiently as Archie relays his new found information to Wolfe, and we see the final deduction from that brilliant sleuth as he confronts everyone involved, with the resulting expected tempers flaring, heated denials, and final acceptance of the facts as laid before them.  A worthy addition to the series and I look forward to the next.  Highly recommended.

http://www.amazon.com/Archie-Crosshairs-Nero-Wolfe-Mysteries/dp/1497690412/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1216583183



The Clock Strikes Nun (A Giulia Driscoll Mystery Book 4)

Author:  Alice Loweecey Genre:  Mystery, Suspense Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781635112184; 9781635112153 Henery...