Friday, July 31, 2015

Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow

Author:  David Stenn
Genre:  Biography

Hardcover
ISBN: 9780385421577
Doubleday
370 Pages
Price Varies
September 1, 1993
Five Stars

Her name epitomizes an era, a decade of Depression in which harsh reality created a demand for lush film fantasy - and no Hollywood star was as luscious or fantastic as Jean Harlow.  She was MGM's most bankable asset, a blonde bombshell whose bleached hair, voluptuous body, and bawdy humor inspired a fervent cult following that remains to this day.

Despite Harlow's blinding fame, the events of her life have been obscured by a fifty-year haze of secrets, lies and silence.  Until now.  Finally, after years of research, critically acclaimed biographer David Stenn has unearthed the truth behind the improbable rise of this tow-headed tomboy from Kansas City, her huge success, and her tragic fall.

Harlow's life was a host of contradictions.  She was both "the Platinum Blonde," a woman who iced her nipples and bleached her pubic hair, and "the Baby," a shy, sweet woman-child who liked to hem-stitch on film sites.  A bizarre cast of characters surrounded her, including Howard Hughes, Bugsy Siegel, George Cukor, and David O. Selznick, as well as Harlow's obsessive mother, her gigolo stepfather, and her second husband, Paul Bern, the mystery of whose grisly death is solved in Bombshell.

Controversy surrounds her death.  How could a twenty-six-year-old star with no history of serious illness leave work with 'a cold' and die ten days later?  Why, if her condition was critical, had she been confined to her home?  Now, after fifty-six years, David Stenn has persuaded Harlow's family, friends, colleagues and employers to break their silence and provide previously sealed legal, financial, and medical records, which solve the mystery of her death.  His account is confirmed by scores of exclusive interviews with eyewitness sources, including Harlow's nurses during the last days of her life.

Exhaustively researched and compulsively readable, Bombshell will stand as the definitive Harlow biography.

********

Loving classic movies the way I do, I am always anxious to get my hands on biographies of stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Sometimes I find them to be very good, other times they can be real stinkers that, shall we say, stretch the truth slightly; and others that are filled with downright lies about stars and their lives.  You will get the ones that are biased either in favor of or against the person they are writing about.  A recent one I read was so filled with lies and distortion that I regretted the fact I'd even bought it, wishing I could return it to the store.  I already know enough about most of the true stars of Hollywood that if there is an exaggeration or lie in a book I'll spot it right off.

That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by Mr. Stenn's book.  He obviously has a fondness for Jean Harlow and who she was; or should I say who she wasn't.  Because, you see, she wasn't really anyone.  Let me clarify that statement.

Jean Harlow was born into a wealthy family as Harlean Carpenter.  Her mother, Jean Harlow Carpenter, was a grasping, miserly, greedy, selfish and controlling woman.  Almost like a female Scrooge - except there was no redeeming this woman.  She wanted to be an actress, and when that didn't pan out, she had Harlean, and decided to groom her for stardom.  So an actress Harlean became, taking her mother's name.

She married three times - Charles McGrew II, Paul Bern, and Hal Rosson.  None of the marriages lasted very long, and all for the same reason - her mother broke them up.  She had a tremendous hold on Jean, and was afraid of losing control of "her Baby," which is the name Jean would be called throughout her short life.  She would have married a fourth time - to the actor William Powell, but he refused to marry her, not wanting to marry another actress because he was divorced from Carole Lombard, and hated being known as "Mrs. Carole Lombard."  Perhaps if he'd had his great success as an actor earlier in his career instead of later, things might have changed his mind and married her, but they hadn't, and he didn't.  I have often wondered if he felt he'd made a mistake after Jean's death.

Jean was loved by everyone who knew her, and she was always considerate of others' feelings, both on and off the set.  She was natural in herself, yet had very little self-confidence and was always looking for others' approval.

For years she played the tramp, fallen woman, mantrap, etc.  She hated the roles and wanted something better, but it wasn't until Red-Headed Woman (a favorite of mine) that she was given the opportunity to shine, and her best role was in Bombshell, where she truly showed her acting chops.

But none of it made any difference.  Her mother (and stepfather Marino Bello) lived off her earnings and told her what to wear, what to eat, etc.  Mother Jean had such control over young Jean that unlike Jean herself, Mother Jean was universally detested.

When Jean died of kidney failure at the age of 26, the entire world was shocked.  Hollywood mourned.  Her mother insisted almost to the end that she merely had influenza, and by the time she called for real help, it was too late to save her daughter.

Her life was a sad one.  Wife, widow, actress, daughter - but never a mother, and that is what Jean Harlow wanted most.  A husband and family, but somehow that happiness managed to elude her.  I would guess that a large part of that was because of her mercenary mother.  How different her life would have been if Baby could have escaped her mother's clutches.  But her short life was not wasted.  In her films, we are able to glimpse her life, how beautiful she was, and her winning smile is magical.

This is a heartfelt biography, and highly recommended for all fans (or future fans) of Jean Harlow and her mystique.

http://www.amazon.com/Bombshell-Life-Death-Jean-Harlow/dp/0385421575/

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Murder at Barclay Meadow

Author:  Wendy Sand Eckel
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; ebook
ISBN #:  9781250058607
Minotaur Books
320 Pages
$13.48 Amazon; $12.99 ebook
July 28, 2015

Five Stars

Rosalie Hart's world has been upended.  After her husband confesses to an affair, she exiles herself to her late aunt's farmhouse on Maryland's Eastern Shore.  With its fields untended and the house itself in disrepair, Barclay Meadow couldn't be more different than the tidy D.C. suburb she used to call home.  Just when Rosalie feels convinced things couldn't get any worse, she finds a body floating in her marsh grasses.  When the sheriff declares the death an accident, she becomes suspicious.  The dead girl, Megan, reminds her of her own daughter, who has recently gone off to college, and she feels a responsibility to find out the truth.

Rosalie confides her doubts to her friends in her creative writing class, and they ask to join her investigation, beginning in earnest.  Meanwhile, Rosalie works on restoring Barclay Meadow to its former glory - with the help from the rugged Tyler Wells, a farmer who once leased the land.  When Rosalie discovers her aunt's favorite bread recipe on a yellowed index card, she begins baking, and with her deep love for nourishing others rekindled, she starts to feel alive again.  But as she zeroes in on the truth about what happened to Megan, she begins getting ominous threats.  Determined to get justice for Megan and protect the new home she's begun to build for herself, Rosalie races to catch the killer in this deftly plotted and heartwarming debut.             

********

Rosalie Hart has just discovered her husband Ed is having an affair, and told her he's in love with the woman, so Rosalie moved out and headed off to the Maryland Shore for Barclay Meadow, the farm her Aunt Charlotte left to her in her will.

But all is not well.  She steps outside her house one afternoon and notices something in the nearby water - that something appears to be a dead body.  She calls the sheriff and after a few questions and the removal of the body, it is ruled a suicide.  But Rosalie knows it was something else - why would the girl kill herself in a nice dress and wearing a backpack?  When she suggests the same to the sheriff, he becomes belligerent - no, angry - with her and tells her to leave it alone and get on with her life.  She soon learns the girl's name was Megan, a student at the local college.

But Rosalie thinks she owes it to the girl to find out who killed her, the reason being she has a daughter, Annie, about the same age as Megan, and can't leave it alone.  So she attends Megan's funeral, and after talking with one of the attendees, Rhonda, her suspicions are growing.

So Rosalie joins a creative writing class but can't think of anything to write.  She makes friends with three of the students - Sue Ling, Tony Ricci, and Glenn, who find out her dilemma and think that they should investigate the drowning and prove it was murder.  

But how to go about it?  They can't let anyone know what they are doing, because the sheriff has taken an unreasonable dislike to Rosalie and threatens her every chance he gets, so she vows to stay out of his way.  Yet they make a list of suspects and try to figure out ways to decide which one of them committed the murder, knowing that because of where Megan was found, the killer must be close by.  And Rosalie knows that if someone killed once and gets away with it, there is a possibility they will kill again.

She also finds out that her husband Ed has frozen all her accounts and she has to figure out a way to stay on the farm without an income.  But there is a guardian angel - sort of.  A hunky farmer/handyman named Tyler shows up at her door and tells her he has farmed the land for years for Charlotte and will do the same for her - all she needs to do is accept the check he gives her and he gets to keep all the profits from the crops.  As a temporary fix, it will work, but Rosalie needs to find a way to make more money.

To add to her problems, her daughter Annie wants her to get back with Ed, never mind the fact that he has moved his new love Rebecca into her home and obviously isn't interested in a reunion, and Rosalie doesn't know what to do help her.  And Tyler is very secretive about his life, showing up ever day to work and helping himself to coffee in her kitchen throughout the day - but keeping mum about his private life and past.

But again back to the murder - Rosalie and her friends have split up duties - Sue is using the internet (including Facebook - like it or not, it's a big part of today's culture) to find answers, Glenn is keeping close to Lila, who works for the sheriff, and Tony is helping Rosalie do "recon" work when needed.  But the closer she gets to the truth, the more threatening the sheriff gets to her, which only fuels her belief that Megan was murdered, and there seems to be a cover up, and Sheriff Wilgus might be a part of it.

This is the first mystery from Ms. Eckel, and she has a welcome voice in the mystery writing community.  The writing is crisp, the plot tight.  Even though there are actually many subplots occurring within the solving of Megan's murder, Ms. Eckel manages to make it all work and keep it interesting throughout the book.  Everything flowed; everything was believable.  There were no outlandish situations (I never once had to say to myself, 'yeah, that would happen in real life,') and that is a huge plus in this novel.  It also takes place over several months - the mystery isn't solved in a week or two.  It's not your typical cozy; the characters are three-dimensional and you can immerse yourself in their lives as you read.  The ending completely satisfying, and I enjoyed spending time with Rosalie and the people who surround her.  Mystery lovers should enjoy this book.  Highly recommended.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Murder Comes Calling (A Rex Graves Mystery)

Author:  C. S. Challinor
Genre:  Mystery, Suspense

Paperback; ebook
ISBN #:  9780738745480
Midnight Ink
216 Pages
$11.95; $11.99 Kindle
August 8, 2015

Five Stars

When a spate of murders takes place in the quiet riverfront community of Notting Hamlet in South-Central England, Scottish barrister Rex Graves is called upon to lend his investigatory expertise.  For the first time in his sleuthing career, Rex finds he has good reason to fear for his life.

********

Rex Graves is a Scottish advocate (barrister) who has traveled from his home in Edinburgh to the small community of Notting Hamlet in England to help his friend from college, Malcolm Patterson, a retired pathologist.

It seems Malcolm was called on by a neighbor when she went calling on another, Ernest Blackwell, 81, and saw his feet sticking out from his piano through the window of his home and feared something had happened to him.  Something had happened indeed.  Ernest had been murdered, nearly decapitated by a piano wire.  Shortly thereafter, three more bodies were found - Barry Burns, 79; Vic Chandler, 55; and Valerie Trotter, 47 - all murdered, and all in different fashion.  Odder still was the fact that all four had their homes up for sale and were planning to move from Notting Hamlet.  The chief suspect in the murders is their real estate agent, Clint Walker, his footprint having been on the mat of Mr. Blackwell, although no prints were found inside.

But the reason Malcolm called Rex to help - Rex being very good at solving murders in the past - was because of what Malcolm had found on the victims' foreheads:  The letters MNP, his initials, written in the victims' blood.  Fearing someone was out to frame him, he erased the letters and told no one of their existence.  He was afraid that the police may have the wrong man, and he needs Rex's help to find the true murderer.

So when Malcolm tells Rex of this development, he is naturally upset and insists that Malcolm go to the police with this information, telling him it is a serious crime to tamper with evidence and that he has now brought him into it.  After agreeing to do so, Malcolm tells Rex one more thing that didn't make sense; the letter N was backwards, and he wondered if Mr. Walker, if he indeed committed the crime, was dyslexic.

So Rex now has the beginnings of a mystery to solve, and indeed it is quite a mystery:  Four victims, all murdered, and in different fashion.  There is no one M.O. to indicate it was the same person, they had nothing in common except the fact that they were going to sell their homes.  Or did they?  For as Rex digs deeper and finds ways to talk to the residents of Notting Hill, he soon finds that there may be more to the murders than just wanting to sell their homes, and he begins to doubt that the agent may have committed the murders.

And before he discovers the killer or killers, he may inadvertently - with the unwitting help of his old friend Malcolm - put himself and Malcolm in danger from being the next victims in Notting Hill.

This mystery was all I could have asked for, and more.  Rex Graves, Scottish lawyer with a penchant for solving murders, has a wonderful ability to take bits of information and figure out how they piece together, adding snippets of conversations and things he, with his wonderful mind, finds out on his own by doing heavy research.  He never forgets the details; and it is the details that make all the difference in finding out the truth.

I must admit that Ms. Challinor threw in a couple of red herrings, which I followed, unfortunately, and would have brought me to the wrong conclusion in the end.  But isn't this the way a mystery should be?  If you find out the murderer too soon, you've spoiled the book for yourself.  I love a good mystery that makes me think right along with the protagonist, and this was such a book.  Highly recommended.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mrs. Pargeter's Principle (Mrs. Pargeter #7)

Author:  Simon Brett
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; ebook
ISBN #:  9781780290744
Creme de la Crime; First World Publication edition
192 Pages
$21.11 Hardcover Amazon; $20.05 Kindle
August 1, 2015


Five Stars

For Mrs. Pargeter, it is a matter of principle that she should complete any of her late husband's unfinished business.  Amongst the many bequests he made to her, perhaps the most valuable is his little black book, in which he listed all the people who ever worked for him, with details of their particular skill sets.  This means that whenever Mrs. P has a crime to solve she can readily contact someone with the relevant expertise to help her in her enquiries.

Attending the funeral of the rich and respected Sir Normington Winthrop, because his is one of the names in the little black book, Mrs. Pargeter sets out to discover the connection between Sir Normington and her late husband.  Her investigations will draw her into a shady world of gun-runners, shifty politicians - and a kidnapped vicar.

********

Mrs. Pargeter, her friends Gary, her chauffeur, and Truffler Mason, owner of a detective agency, are attending the funeral of one of her late husband's former employee, Sir Normington Winthrop.  Not because she knew the man, but because he was listed in the little black book Mr. P willed to her, and Mrs. P thought it was the right thing to do.

While there, she is approached by a man named Edmund Grainger who warns her to stay away from Winthrop's widow, Helena.  Mrs. Pargeter refuses to be cowed by the man but takes her friends and leaves, stating 'not to be where she isn't wanted.'  However, she is now curious as to why she was being warned off, and decides to find out.

But before she can begin her investigation, she needs to meet with more of the people in the little black book, 'Gizmo' Gilbert, whom she has learned has fallen on hard times...and Samantha Pinkerton, whose father has recently died (another employee) and wants to marry her boyfriend Kelvin, but doesn't approve of what he does for a living "he's a criminal," she tells Mrs. P;...and Erin Jarvis, the daughter of another deceased employee.

She proceeds to help out Gizmo without his knowledge; assure Samantha of a glorious wedding that won't cost her anything, including providing the vicar, and ask Erin to help her find information on the elusive past of Normington Winthrop - for it seems, aside from a first page in the little black book, there appears to be very little other information to go on.  And since she was approached by Edmund Grainger, she becomes very curious indeed.

When she meets another former employee, a vicar by the name of 'Holy' Smirke, and asks him to officiate at the wedding, she also asks him about his early days with her husband.  Yet he has another appointment who has just arrived to meet him, and requests she call him later and they will discuss it.   But when she calls, the vicar has disappeared; and it appears from a witness nearby that he has been kidnapped.  Now Mrs. P, with the help of Truffler and Gary (also former employees), is determined to find her vicar in time for the wedding in three weeks.

And here we have a very detailed plot, which is quite a bit of fun to read.  It seems that Mr. Pargeter was more than just the philanthropist Mrs. Pargeter says he was, yet when we are given bits and pieces of stories about his past, Mrs. P pretends not to understand what anyone is talking about, and the subject is immediately changed.  The book is filled with colorful characters with just as colorful names, and they all seem to have a certain set of specialized skills - skills that Mrs. P. calls upon, and they are happy to provide, having a great fondness for their late employer and his widow. 

And as she gets closer to finding information about the late Sir Winthrop, greater steps are taken by Mr. Grainger to ensure she does not.

We soon find out that all these subplots are connected somehow, and trust me when I say that blending them all together is a masterpiece of sheer delight.  I can only imagine what an interesting life Mr. and Mrs. Pargeter must have led, and Mrs. P carrying on for him as best she can.  Highly recommended.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Drape Expectations (A Caprice Deluca Mystery #4)

Author:  Karen Rose Smith
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback, ebook
ISBN #: 9781617737701
Kensington
352 Pages
$7.99
July 28, 2015

Five Stars

Caprice Deluca's former client and now friend Ace Richland - an 80's rock star - asks her for a favor.  Can she quickly stage his girlfriend's house to sell?  Widow Alanna Goodwin, a transplanted Southern beauty, will be moving in with him!  Immediately Caprice realizes Alanna's southern charm can be turned on and off at will.  Caprice agrees to stage Alanna's Kismet antebellum-styled mansion for Ace's sake.  But she soon learns Alanna doesn't have a genuine love for her cat Mirabelle and also uncovers a plot her new client is hatching to sabotage Ace's comeback.  However, before she can tell Ace, Alanna is murdered and Ace is the prime suspect.

As Caprice investigates, she learns Alanna had more secrets than pie safes.  With her Cocker Spaniel Lady by her side, she tracks down clues and adopts Alanna's cat.  In the midst of some of her own family upheaval - her uncle has moved in with her parents - she finds herself with a dilemma.  Grant Weatherford, her brother's law partner, advises Ace and reveals more of his past to her.  Seth Randolph, the doctor she dates, wants her to meet his family.  She must choose between them.

Danger stalks Caprice.  Will her refresher self-defense course save her life?  Only if she keeps her wits about her and Lady by her side.

********

Caprice Deluca is a home stager, and because of this, she sometimes makes friends of her clients.  Ace Richland, a former rock star on the way to a comeback, is one of those friends.  He has called Caprice because his girlfriend Alanna Goodwin is going to sell her house and move in with him.  He wants Caprice to stage it for her.

When Caprice acquiesces, she soon realizes that Alanna won't be easy to work with; and has a pretty good reason to dislike her:  she doesn't seem to care for her beautiful cat Mirabelle, and puts her 'out of the way' on a whim.  With Caprice's love of animals, this is enough for her to be suspicious of Alanna's motives where Ace is concerned, and even more so when she inadvertently hears a conversation between Alanna and one of Ace's bandmates that doesn't bode well for Ace.

So when Caprice arrives at Alanna's for a scheduled meeting regarding the house, she finds something she didn't count on - Alanna's body.  With Ace the prime suspect, and Caprice acquiring a new pet in the form of Mirabelle, she does what she can to prove Ace innocent:  Find the real killer, even though the police have warned her away.

This was another delightful entry in the Caprice Deluca mysteries.  Ms. Smith has a unique flair for bringing us into her sphere of Caprice's life:  Her work, her family, her pets, and her love life.  We are treated not only to Caprice and her way of 'subtlety' going about unmasking a murderer without getting herself killed, but are privy to the closeness she shares with her family, including the latest problem:  Her Uncle Dom, her father's brother, who hasn't spoken to the family in twelve years.  It seems his marriage didn't work out, and now, homeless and jobless, he has moved in with Caprice's parents, which is causing problems with her beloved Nana, his mother.

She also has the slight problem of deciding who she wants to spend her life with.  With her thirty-third birthday coming up close, she has to choose between the elusive doctor Seth Randolph, whom she has been seeing, or the possibility of pursuing a relationship with Grant Weatherford, her brother's law partner with a troubled past, and who might just be opening up to Caprice.  A devilish dilemma indeed...

And, of course, there is the matter of Caprice's beloved pets:  Lady, her Cocker Spaniel, who adores her; Sophia, her calico cat who tolerates her; and her newest acquisition, Mirabelle, a Persian who is skittish and is afraid of human contact.  

While not giving anything away, I can truthfully say that for anyone who is a fan of this series, or anyone who has just discovered it, read on:  You won't be disappointed.  Highly recommended.                
http://www.amazon.com/Drape-Expectations-Caprice-Deluca-Mystery/dp/1617737704/

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Killer Jam (A Dewberry Farm Mystery)

Author:  Karen MacInerney
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback, (ebook)
ISBN #: 9781503945463
Thomas & Mercer
272 Pages
$11.99 Amazon ($4.99 Kindle)
July 28, 2015

Five Stars

When Houston reporter Lucy Resnick cashes in her retirement to buy her grandmother's farm in Buttercup, Texas, she's looking forward to a simple life as a homesteader.  But Lucy has barely finished putting up her first batch of Killer Dewberry Jam when an oil exploration truck rolls up to the farm and announces plans to replace her broccoli patch with an oil derrick.  Two days later, Nettie Kocurek, the woman who ordered the drilling, turns up dead at the Founders' Day Festival with a bratwurst skewer through her heart and one of Lucy's jam jars beside her...and the sheriff fingers Lucy as the prime suspect.

Horrified, Lucy begins to talk to Nettie's neighbors, but the more she gets to know the townspeople, the more she realizes she's not the only one who had a beef with Nettie.  Can she clear her name, or will her dream life turn into a nightmare?

********

Lucy Resnick has recently purchased her grandmother's farm from Nettie Kocurek, who bought it fifteen years ago.  Just as she's settling in, an oil exploration truck shows up and tells her that although she bought the land, she didn't buy the mineral rights and Nettie still owns them...and has ordered the drilling, which could destroy Lucy's farm.  And even though they tell her they'll repair any damage, the short term devastation could ruin her financially.  So Lucy confronts Nettie at the Founders' Day Festival, but Nettie ignores her and turns up dead later that day, a portion of one of Lucy's jam jars found next to her.  Unfortunately, Lucy has two things against her:  Nettie's nephew is the sheriff, and she's a newcomer, so he's decided she's the killer, but can't prove it - yet.  

Lucy knows she didn't kill Nettie, but hasn't any idea who did, and sets out to find the real killer since it appears she isn't getting any help from the sheriff's department.  Along the way she compiles her own list of suspects, which could be anyone, and it seems everyone in town had a reason to hate Nettie, including her own daughter.  As Lucy gets closer to finding the killer, she also gets closer to putting herself in the running as prime candidate of Nettie's killer.

Along with trying to solve the murder, Lucy is beginning to have feelings for the town's veterinarian, Tobias, and noticing that other strange things are happening - farm animals taking ill, farm equipment damaged - among other things, and Lucy stumbles into something that could cost her not only her farm, but also her life.

Which gives us an intriguing mystery.  And this book gives me what I like best:  an old mystery cradled inside a new one.  For within the mystery of who killed Nettie, we find an even older mystery that reveals itself to Lucy piece by piece; one that connects Lucy's grandparents to Nettie's parents and grandparents, and Nettie herself; a mystery that has been unsolved for years without any clues.  

This is what truly makes this book outstanding.  Ms. MacInerney has given us a tale of greed, love, hatred and revenge that is truly a compelling read, one that is put together seamlessly with the pieces meshing perfectly.  I hope this series goes on for a very long time.  Highly recommended.





Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Double Mint (A Davis Way Crime Caper Book 4)

Author:  Gretchen Archer
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback
ISBN #:  97819419627705
Henery Press
267 Pages
$15.95 Amazon
July 21, 2015

Five Stars

It's convention season at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino and Davis Way Cole barely notices.  It's hard to pay attention when you live in a Jambalaya Junkyard.  But when Special Events Coordinator Holder Darby walks off the job just as five hundred Alabama bankers pour in the front door, Davis steps up.

Or would that be in?  Definitely in.  Davis steps in.

Not only has the convention director vanished, but a certain Bellissimo guest is missing.  One who forgot to pack the million dollars he left in the bathtub.  It looks like our redhead newlywed Super Secret Spy's lazy summer is over when the Bellissimo's vault is robbed.  Can Davis connect the dots before it's too late?  Can she get her Taser gun back from Bianca Sanders?  Will she be stuck with Eddie Crawford's 1962 Cadillac forever?  What Davis needs is a little faith.  And a lot of luck.

********

Davis Way Cole is newly married to Bradley, the General Manager of the Bellissimo Casino.  Because of this, along with other factors, they have to temporarily reside in the mini-mansion upstairs which is, to Davis, Creole Hell.  She also refers to herself as the casino's Super Secret Spy, often disguising herself when going out 'on a mission'.

When the casino's wedding/events planner, Holder Darby, quits, Davis has to step in as the "temporary Holder".  And when things start to get sticky, she goes looking for Holder, but only finds her cat - or not.  Taking the cat home with her, it turns out to be the cat from hell, screaming through the apartment at warp speed...

There is also the fact that a bankers' convention is taking place, and have installed their own slot machines, named Double Mint, and the security assigned is from Paragon, who has brought in their own techs to install the machines...

And the fact that Davis discovers a million dollars in counterfeit money in the room of a missing banker, and more than that in counterfeit platinum in the casino's vault...

And the fact that Davis' refrigerator is again on the fritz (a huge red monster), and she's smelling magnolias in her home, insisting to anyone around that the wife of the former general manager, the nutcase who designed the interior, Magnolia Thibodeaux, is coming in and snooping around looking for something.

Now we have laid the groundwork for an intricate mystery indeed.  I hesitate to give you any more information, but will tell you that while it all starts out so simple - Holder quitting after having the mother of the groom put her in a headlock and Davis having to take her place - it turns into something more twisted and crazy than could be imagined.  And no matter how Davis tries to convince everyone she knows what's going on (or possibly going on), no one believes her and tells her she's imagining things...which we know isn't the case.  

Davis has a sixth sense when it comes to JDLR - just doesn't look right.  And she's not above using subterfuge to find out the truth, even when it gets her into trouble.  And trouble comes her way, in droves.  Yet she pushes on, convinced that the missing real platinum is still on the hotel premises, that Paragon is trying to pull a fast one, that Magnolia is after something in Davis' mini-mansion, and that her friend and coworker Fantasy is getting in over her head...well, hopefully you get the picture.

This is not a quick read, nor should it be.  Because it's like a chain that that you have to put together yourself, link by link.  You get one piece, which leads to another, and another, etc.  Yet through it all, Davis manages to maintain her sense of humor (which is hilarious), and my favorite scene in the book is the one with moonshine between her and Fantasy.  Priceless!  

Ms. Archer is one of the most talented writers I've come across, and this series is definitely a winner.  Highly recommended, and I eagerly await the next in the series.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Scents and Sensibility (The Chet and Bernie Mysteries #8)

Author:  Spencer Quinn
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover
ISBN #: 9781476703428
Atria Books
320 pages
$14.98 Amazon
July 14, 2015

Five Stars

In the latest entry in the immensely popular Chet and Bernie mystery series, Private Investigator Bernie Little and his canine companion Chet return home to encounter some alarming developments.  First off, Bernie's wall safe - normally hidden behind the waterfall picture in the office - is gone, and with it Bernie's grandfather's watch, their most valuable possession.  And next door, old Mr. Parsons is under investigation for being in possession of a saguaro cactus illegally transplanted from the desert.  Bernie and Chet go deep into the desert to investigate.  Is it possible that such a lovely old couple have a terrible secret in their past?  

Chet and Bernie discover bad things going on in the wilderness, far worse than cactus smuggling, and all connected to a strange but innocent-seeming desert festival called Arrow Bright.  They unearth leads that take them back to a long-ago kidnapping that may not have been a kidnapping and threaten a ruthless and charismatic criminal with a cult following, a criminal who sees at once what Chet and Bernie mean to each other and knows how to exploit it.

********

Chet and Bernie have just returned from a trip to visit his girlfriend Suzie.  When they arrive home, Bernie sees that someone has entered his home - not broken into - and stolen his wall safe.  After clearing with his ex-wife Leda, that she wasn't in the house, he goes next door to his neighbor Mr. Parsons, where Leda left the house key, and begins to ask questions.  During the course of the conversation he discovers that Mr. Parsons' son Billy was visiting, and brought them a lovely saguaro.  Soon after, a Department of Agriculture officer arrives and tells them that the saguaro was stolen, and wants to know where they got it.

Eventually, Bernie convinces her to give him twenty-four hours to find the culprit, since Mr. Parsons is elderly and his wife is in the hospital.  But it isn't too long after that that Bernie goes to the desert to try and find out about the cactus, and gets more than he bargained for.

When he starts digging deeper, he finds that Mr. Parsons' son is an ex-con who spent fifteen years in jail for a kidnapping gone wrong.  But soon he discovers that this is only the tip of the iceberg, and the kidnapping leads to bigger things, including murder.

In this latest entry in the series we have another winner from Mr. Quinn.  Chet and Bernie are, as always, entertaining and methodical in their thinking.  This time out, however, it is Chet who takes center stage - more than just narrating the story - and he proves his mettle, value and intelligence as he finds himself in a dire situation and must find his way back to his beloved Bernie, along with a charge of his own. We are shown that Chet is as much of a P.I. as Bernie, and can dig his way out of trouble just as resourcefully as Bernie.

But it is the fact that what appears to be a case of saguaro-napping that turns into an old kidnapping case, that leads into something more sinister involving drugs and murder that draws Bernie's attention.  And Bernie is like a dog with a bone, he won't give up until he has the answers he's looking for.

The book was an engrossing read that I finished in one sitting, not wanting to put it down because it is just that good.  For any fans of this series, read it.  For anyone who is picking up a Chet and Bernie for the first time, you can start with this one; because even though it is part of a series it can be read as a stand alone.  Highly recommended.




  

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Destined for trouble (A Jules Cannon Mystery)

Author:  Claudia Lefeve
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback
ISBN #: 9781477829837
Thomas & Mercer
232 Pages
$11.99 Amazon
June 23, 2015

Three Stars

After getting dumped by her boyfriend, FBI crime analyst Jules Cannon flees to her hometown of Trouble Island, Texas, to nurse her wounds.  All she wants to do is unwind, forget about her failed relationship, and work on her tan.

But when the owner of the local crab shack is murdered at Jules’s welcome-home party, she is forced to scrap her rest-and-relaxation plans. Now her best friend, Abby Lee, is the prime suspect, and her high school sweetheart, Deputy Chief Justin Harper, is working the case. Even though Jules knows she shouldn’t, she just can’t keep herself from getting involved in the investigation—and entangled with handsome Assistant District Attorney Hartley Crawford. While an old flame threatens to rekindle and a new one sparks, Jules must find a killer and prove her friend’s innocence. But will she put two and two together before trouble catches up with her.

********

Jules Cannon is an FBI crime analyst whose boyfriend has just broken up with her, and since she still has to work with him, she's decided to cash in her vacation and take a two-month leave of absence to visit her family in Trouble Island, Texas.  

While things should go swimmingly for her, unfortunately, they don't.  At the coming home party her mother has planned, there happens to be a guest that didn't leave - Harvey, the owner of the local crab shack.  And when the will is read, her best friend Abby Lee receives Harvey's restaurant instead of his wife, which also makes her the main suspect in his murder.  So Jules decides that the only thing she can do is solve the crime herself, since she thinks the local police aren't looking any further for another suspect.

But what is complicating things is that her high school boyfriend, Justin Harper, is the Deputy Chief, and isn't sharing information with her; and Harvey's widow Sheila is acting suspicious; and Jules' Aunt Lula has railroaded her into working at Lula's boutique - even though Jules hates having to deal with people.

Then someone is obviously stalking her, sending her messages that are graphic and brutal, and eventually it escalates and Jules is forced into calling the police and telling them what happened, leading her to look harder into what has been there all along.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the book, because the writing was done well and the plot was interesting.  But a couple of things just didn't ring true:  (And here I am going to give a couple of slight spoilers, because you have a right to know why I rated it less than five stars).  For an FBI analyst, she wasn't very smart.  She couldn't figure out where the black roses came from.  One, it's a small island.  There can't be more than one florist if any.  Two, florists don't carry black roses (at least none I've known), three, the box would state the name of the florist - it's not like you can buy rose boxes in the local department stores.  Why didn't she do research and find out who bought a rose box from any nearby florists?  If she had done that, the next paragraph wouldn't even be included.

But the thing that really got me the most was the animal cruelty.  I felt that it wasn't necessary at all to the book, and totally turned me off.  To tell the truth, if I had known the author thought violence to animals was alright, I would never have read this book.  I can't stress this strongly enough.  This is a light mystery, not a thriller, and it shows an insensitivity to pet owners and animals themselves.  There were other options to prove the stalker was crazy without resorting to this.

In the end, the murder was solved, of course, and everything was explained satisfactorily, which made for a mystery that's a quick read.  







Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cherringham - The Last Puzzle (Mystery Shorts Book 16)

Author:  Matthew Costello, Neil Richards
Genre:  Mystery

Kindle
Bastei Entertainment
116 pages
$1.99 Amazon
June 1, 2015
Five Stars

When amiable old village eccentric Quentin Andrews dies, the good folk of Cherringham are astonished at the crowd that turns up to his funeral.  But even more astonished are the beneficiaries of his will:  Quentin has left a veritable fortune to whomever is the first to solve an intricate 'Cherringham crossword.'  That puzzle is only the first of many that Jack and Sarah will uncover as they follow the treasure hunt for clues and learn the truth about who Quentin Andrews really was...and the biggest mystery of them all...was he - in fact - murdered?

(Cherringham is a serial novel a la Charles Dickens, with a new mystery thriller released each month.  set in the sleepy English village of Cherringham, the detective series brings together an unlikely sleuting duo:  English web designer Sarah and American ex-cop Jack.)   

********

Sarah's father Michael has a standing weekly chess game with his friend Quentin Andrews.  Upon arriving at Quentin's home, he finds the lights on, door open, and no Quentin.  He searches for his friend and finds him apparently asleep, until he looks closer and realizes he is dead.  It seems like a natural death for the old man, at least to him...

At the reading of the will, Sarah and Jack are asked to be 'observers' for a crossword puzzle that Quentin has laid out for four possible heirs, with a ten thousand pound prize for the winner - and only two days to solve it.  As Jack and Sarah follow along the game, they also begin investigating and find that it was very possible Quentin was murdered.  So which, if any, of the four people involved caused the old man's death?

This is a delightful, quick read.  For a novella, it keeps you on your toes.  The plot is well written and the characters likable, and solving the murder along with Jack and Sarah, you solve your own puzzle as well.  When the answer comes at the end, it is believable and a nice twist to the story.

I have not read any of the other Cherringham mysteries, but will definitely go back and start at the beginning.  Highly recommended.



********


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth

Author:  John Szwed
Genre:  Biography


Hardcover; (Kindle, Audible)
ISBN #:  9780670014729
Viking
240 Pages
$21.11 Amazon; ($11.99; $20.95)
March 31, 2015
Four Stars

When Billie Holiday stepped into Columbia's studios in November 1933, it marked the beginning of what is arguably the most remarkable and influential career in twentieth-century popular music.  her voice weathered countless shifts in public tastes, and new reincarnations of her continue to arrive, most recently in the singers like Amy Winehouse and Adele.

Most of the writing on Holiday has focused on the tragic details of her life-her prostitution at the age of fourteen, her heroin addiction and alcoholism, her series of abusive relationships-or tried to correct hte many fabrications of her autobiography.  But now, Billie Holiday stays close to the music, to her performance style, and to the self she created and put into print, on record and on stage.

Drawing on a vast amount of new material that has surfaced in the last decade, critically acclaimed jazz writer John Szwed considers how her life inflected her art, her influences, her uncanny voice and rhythmic genius, a number of her signature songs, and her legacy.    

********
I first heard of Billie Holiday years ago, reading a rumor about her song Gloomy Sunday.  Then, listening to the song itself, I was hooked, and wanted to know more about this woman, who led such a sad and storied life.

John Szwed has written a comprehensive biography, but it is also not a biography per se:  While there is plenty of information about Lady Day, a great part of it is background about jazz/blues, the people who played it, loved it, wrote it.  We don't get a lot of information about Billie's early life growing up, but we do get the essentials.  We understand she is tough and meticulous, but most of the information we see is in regard to her performances; what she did and didn't do, the people she knew, the other performers' reactions to her.  While that may seem enough, it left me wanting somewhat more.

However, I knew going in, as they say, that this would be no ordinary biography on Billie Holiday.  I knew it would center on her voice, her performances, her songs, her influences - and I learned all this and how she created what she did.  How she had an uncanny ability to listen to the music and make it her own; how she knew exactly what to do and let the musicians follow her; how she needed no rehearsals to create what she created.

For these facts alone, it is worth reading the book.  What I already knew about her and what I learned meld nicely together, creating a package of the woman and her music that lives on in her voice.  Recommended.


Watching the Detectives (The Country Club Murders Book 5)

Author:  Julie Mulhern Genre:  Mystery, Suspense Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Audio CD; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781635112146; 978163511211...