Monday, November 21, 2016

First Degree Mudder (A Pacific Northwest Mystery)

Author:  Kate Dyer-Seeley
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781496705099
Kensington Publishing
304 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
November 29, 2016

Five Stars


When a mud marathon champion bites the dust, Meg Reed has to go the distance to make sure a killer comes clean...

Back home in Portland, Oregon, Meg is ready to take her career as an outdoor writer for Extreme magazine to the next level.  Lesser journalists sling mud - Meg plans to run through it.  To train hard for Mud, Sweat & Beers, an extreme 5K mud run, she's signed on with the Mind Over Mudder team, run by ten-time mud marathon champ - and former drill sergeant - Billy the Tank.  But when Meg finds her tenacious trainer dead in the locker room, she has a sinking feeling someone may have been pushed too far.  Digging through the hidden secrets at Mind Over Mudder is a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.  Meg will have to tread carefully, though - or she may soon be running for her life...
********

Meg Reed is a journalist for Extreme magazine, and as such has found her niche in life - writing about the grueling experiences she puts herself through.  Unfortunately, with each new experience she's apparently found herself in sticky situations, and the current one is no different.  With a new idea at hand, she's training for Mud, Sweat & Beers, an extreme 5k run that actually involves mud.  It's run by Billy the Tank, an ex-drill sergeant who believes in pushing his clients hard.  Unfortunately, after a particularly tough workout, Meg decides to hit the sauna in the locker room and instead hits something else when she finds Billy's dead body.

While there's no denying Billy wasn't the friendly type, she still can't understand why someone would want him dead.  The people who signed up didn't know him well enough to have a grudge against him, or did someone sign up to get revenge?  Meg begins to look at her team partners differently, wondering if one of them isn't such a team player after all.

On top of this, she discovers that her life is about to change, and she's not happy about those changes.  Everyone from her best friend, her mother and her job are causing her to rethink things she's been avoiding, to make decisions she never thought she'd have to even face, and there's a policeman involved in the murder investigation that would like to do some investigating of his own - with Mary Margaret Reed.

This was truly an entertaining read, and although I'd never consider doing a mud run myself (I don't even like to eat messy food) I still enjoyed reading about the event.  I also liked the way Meg interacted with Jill and Matt, even though the scenes were fairly brief.  Meg's burst of courage was the nicest thing to see, without her having put herself in danger.

The plot was well thought out and I was delighted to see that it was a new twist on an old subject.  But what really made the book were the subplots that were happening in the background, the ones that will eventually change Meg's life in unknown ways.

This is the fourth book in the series, and in my opinion, the best one yet.  Ms. Dyer-Seeley has given us another winner.  When we come to the end and everything comes together, it is both satisfying and bittersweet.  It is about endings and beginnings, and changes to come.  In other words, it is about life.  This is indeed the hallmark of a well-written book, and I look forward to the next in the series.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Degree-Mudder-Pacific-Northwest-Mystery/dp/1496705092/


More on Kate Dyer-Seeley's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/d/kate-dyer-seeley/

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Catered Tea Party (A Mystery with Recipes)

Author:  Isis Crawford
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Audio CD; Ebook; Audible
ISBN #:  9781617733334; 9781520017105
Kensington Publishing
304 Pages
$21.37; $27.06; $11.99 Amazon
August 30, 2016

Three Stars


Quiet Longely, New York is abuzz with excitement over the opening of a revamped art complex - and catering sisters Bernie and Libby Simmons are helping put on an elaborate tea party for the opening night gala fundraiser.  But when the billionaire behind the project drops dead, the Simmons sisters find themselves steeped in a whistling kettle of murder...

Everyone in Longely is talking about Blue House, an art complex that will bring the town a theater, an art gallery, and even a restaurant and coffee bar.  But they're less than enthusiastic about Ludvoc "Zeb" Zalinsky, the self-made billionaire who's funding the complex - and rubbing everyone the wrong way.  Bernie and Lbby reluctantly agree to cater the Alice in Wonderland themed tea party he's planned, but it quickly becomes clear that Zeb is madder than the hatter he'll be dressed as...

The night of the benefit arrives and Westchester's finest show up in droves, having paid $500 apiece to attend Zeb's meticulously-orchestrated tea party.  But just when it seems the production is going according to plan, Zeb lifts an eletric tea kettle, clutches his chest, and falls to the floor in fittingly dramatic fashion.  The kettle shorted out and his pacemaker malfunctioned - but it doesn't take long for police to decide that this seemingly random accident was actually cold-blooded murder...

As Bernie and Libby set out to find the culprit, they realize Zeb might have had more enemies than money.  With so many culprits to sort through, only one thing is clear:  Zeb was poured a steaming cup of revenge - and a second serving may be on the menu...

********

Bernie and Libby own A Little Taste of Heaven cafe and bakery and have been hired by Ludvoc Zalinsky to cater his themed tea party, Alice in Wonderland at his new venue The Blue Heron.  He's created his version of the story, featuring a Chinese tea pot he paid an exorbitant amount for, but during the play he is electrocuted.  When the director is accused of the crime, Bernie and Libby agree  to help him find the real killer.  As they start investigating it becomes apparent that Zalinsky wasn't the billionaire he claimed to be, and that more than one person had a reason to want him dead...

The murder occurs early in the book, which is always good because we get a head start in trying to identify the murderer.  With a plethora of suspects in the running Libby and Bernie have their work cut out for them.  It seems everyone who worked for Zalinsky hated him, and no one was sorry to see him departing this life.  It also seems that every suspect had a reason to point them toward another suspect, which sends them in a different direction looking for answers.

Although he mystery was done well, being quite interesting; and it never hurts the plot to have many suspects at hand, we were never given enough time to actually 'get to know' any of them, so were never really given any true clues as to who the murderer could be.  There were plenty of twists and turns, and it came as a surprise even though the reasons why Zalinsky was killed are age-old.

This was a difficult review to write, mainly because I have always loved Ms. Crawford's Catered mysteries.  However, I found this latest book in the series disappointing, and I never really felt that "involved" in this book, for more than one reason, some of which I will list below:

How whipped is their father that he can't see Michelle for what she is?  Even the act of allowing the cat outside though he told her it was an indoor cat should have alerted him somewhat.  She opens a cafe with a name and recipes that are almost identical to his daughters' and he doesn't see it?  I get that he thought they might merely be jealous, but any loving father would have at least tried to figure out if they were being rational.  Not this one - he took Michelle's side without question.  He's supposed to be an ex-cop, but he was a pretty stupid one if he can't figure it out.

As this is the 12th book in the series, these women have been with their boyfriends since forever, so it seems odd that neither of them are engaged or married (or even living together).  Maybe they're just comfortable living in an apartment above their shop with their dad, but this doesn't explain why Brandon and Marvin have never felt the need to move on and/or want some sort of commitment.  I know some people might think this is fine, but really, both sisters are perfectly happy with this arrangement and the guys are okay with this?  For myself, I believe this is the reason the sisters seemed so "whiny" in this book, stressing about Sean and Michelle.  They're content with the status quo - living with dad above their shop - but maybe they need to move out of their comfort zone and actually have relationships.  I'll bet they'd relax, and they certainly wouldn't be so accessible to Michelle, would they?

Also, I've said many times over - and this was the biggie for me - that I detest books that hold you hostage.  I consider this a dirty trick.  This is especially true since it's usually a year before you get the next one.  Even though we pretty much know what will happen - eventually - it's unfair to the reader to make them wait.  Unfortunately, these are the things that count and make a book enjoyable to read.  While I have always enjoyed these books, I think that this particular one was the weakest in the series.  Hopefully, the next will find Libby and Bernie back to their old selves.

https://www.amazon.com/Catered-Tea-Party-Mystery-Recipes/dp/1617733334/


More on Isis Crawford's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/c/isis-crawford/

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Semester of Our Discontent (A Lila Maclean Mystery)

Author:  Cynthia Kuhn
Genre:  Mystery

Hardover;  Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  871635110128; 9781635110098
Henery Press
246 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $2.99 Amazon
April 5, 2016

Five Stars


English professor Lila Maclean is thrilled about her new job at prestigious Stonedale University, until she finds one of her colleagues dead.  She soon learns that everyone, from the chancellor to the detective working the case, believes Lila - or someone she is protecting - may be responsible for the horrific event, so she assigns herself the task of identifying the killer.  More attacks on professors follow, the only connection a curious symbol at each of the crime scenes.  Putting her scholarly skills to the test, Lila gathers evidence, but her search is complicated by an unexpected nemesis, a suspicious investigator, and an ominous secret society.  Rather than earning an "A" for effort, she receives a threat featuring the mysterious emblem and must act quickly to avoid failing her assignment...and becoming the next victim.

********

Lila Maclean is a first-term professor at Stonedale University in Colorado, and happy to be there.  After a contentious meeting with her department chair, Roland Higgins, wherein he basically told her to keep her mouth shut and listen, while still expecting her to publish on a regular basis in order to eventually - perhaps - receive tenure.  Afterward, her cousin Calista James, who is another professor, tells her not to worry about it and continue on.  But a short time later when Lila and her assigned mentor, Judith Westerly, enter department library for a scheduled faculty meeting, they find Roland dead - with a knife embedded in his chest.

It is not too long after that the murder weapon is discovered to be the same one which was once in the possession of her cousin.  And when Calista is arrested and charged with the murder, Lila knows she's not guilty and decides to help her any way she can.  Then Judith is attacked and left unconscious in her own home while hosting a faculty party, and Lila notices the same design on both weapons:  the knife and a very heavy book that was used to hit Judith; and starts to question people, although she doesn't get anywhere, and even though she's convinced Calista knows something, no one will tell her anything.

It isn't long before, as they say, the plot thickens, and she's convinced someone is trying to either frame her or kill her, too.  With a detective that's suspicious about her involvement, Lila finds she's in a race against time to save her cousin and her own neck...

This is the first book in a new mystery series, and as such, quite nicely done.  There is enough given on academia to inform the reader as to how a university faculty ticks, as it were; but not so much that I ever felt the details dragged down the plot.  If anything, they gave me a nice insight into tenure, the pressure to publish, and 'daggers drawn' between colleagues - who might work with each other, but still have the same office rivalries as anywhere else.

I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that the main character kept true to her profession as a professor; she didn't "drop everything" and decide to poke around asking one and all nosy questions and accusing everyone she met of being the killer.  No, she gleaned information and sorted it out in her mind while asking only things that were relevant at the time.  A welcome relief from the amateur sleuth who expects everyone to start gossiping around her - in this book, people would do just the opposite - clam up and not tell her anything, which only made her (in the words of young Alice) "curiouser and curiouser".  It kept me engaged throughout and I found it utterly delightful.

When the bodies keep piling up, and 'accidents' occur, Lila is left to wonder not only who's behind it, but why; and with no answers forthcoming from those around her, and a police detective who's not sure but that she's in on it herself, she needs to find answers before she becomes the next victim on the killer's hit list.

For myself, didn't like either Roland or his brother, their misogynist attitudes grating on me to the point where I wanted to slap either of them on the back of their heads; a testament to the writing ability of Ms. Kuhn; who brings us a new protagonist I hope to see more of in future books.  The ending was enough of a surprise with a twist that fit believably into the plot, and giving us a satisfying conclusion to a good mystery.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/SEMESTER-OUR-DISCONTENT-Cynthia-Kuhn/dp/1635110122/


Friday, November 4, 2016

The Book of Beloved (Pluto's Snitch 1)

Author:  Carolyn Haines
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; MP3 CD; Ebook; Audible
ISBN #:  9781503938069; 9781522650157
Thomas & Mercer
330 Pages
$8.81; $8.81; $4.99 Amazon
August 9, 2016

Three Stars


As a young woman widowed by World War I, Raissa James is no stranger to ghosts.  But when an invitation arrives from Caoin House, her uncle's estate in Mobile, Alabama, she's finally ready to cast off the shadows of her past.  And what better way to do so than with a grand party in her honor?  An aspiring authoress, Raissa's eager to soak up more of life - and immerse herself in the dark history that haunts the estate.

But the revelries come to an abrupt end when one of her uncle's guests takes a deadly plunge.  And when a ghost from the property's past, a Confederate soldier, reveals himself to Raissa, she's more determined than ever to get to the heart of the mysterious deaths that plague Caoin House.  Enlisting the help of Reginald Proctor, a self-proclaimed medium, she holds a seance to shed light on old secrets.  But she discovers that some secrets, even those long dead, still have a startling hold on the living...

********

Raissa James is a schoolteacher in Savannah, still grieving the loss of her husband in World War I.  She is visiting her Uncle Brett, in Mobile, Alabama.  While there, she decides to use her talent as a writer, informing any and all that she wants to write ghost stories.  But what she also discovers about herself is that she has a talent for seeing and hearing ghosts...

When she departs for Mobile, she meets Robert Aultman on the train, a charming and handsome stranger, and finds out he is also headed to Caoin House, her uncle's estate.  When Robert dies while at the party given in her honor, she wonders why he was somewhere he never should have been in the first place.  While her decision is to find out more about him and how he died - she thinks it might have been murder instead of the accident the doctor proclaimed - she discovers the house holds old secrets, and someone would rather they weren't known.

Raissa soon also discovers that she can see and communicate with ghosts, especially the handsome Confederate soldier who stands beneath her bedroom window beckoning to her.  But when Raissa digs deeper and begins finding more than she bargained for, she puts her life in danger, and discovers it's not only the long dead ghosts that don't want you to find out the past...

I felt that the book began well, and I enjoyed reading it for the most part.  I actually like books that mix fact with fiction, but this book was...different.  The historical references that were mixed in seemed more like 'moral lessons'.  Unfortunately, every time I was deeply engrossed in the book, I was given another 'moral lesson' on society, and that pulled me back out, which greatly decreased my enjoyment.  History I enjoy, but preaching in a novel has never sat well with me at all.

There were also other historical aspects that bothered me.  A schoolteacher in 1920 smoking?  It would not have been tolerated - after all, they were teaching children and were expected to be held to a certain standard.  Wearing shorts to a garden party and no one was scandalized?  Not one single person thought she was 'fast'.  I understand that these scenes were to make us realize Raissa was an independent, forward-thinking woman, but it didn't work for me.  I also had reservations about the pictures and who photographed them, but that's another story altogether.  I also didn't feel that Robert was in the book long enough to even care about him, nor that his death was much a part of the storyline.

I really wanted to like this book, but there were so many situations that just didn't seem believable to me, which I won't go into here.  I also felt that there were many questions that were left unanswered  (ones I would like to have known the outcome).  Still, this was interesting enough to be a good start to a new series that left us with a tantalizing ending to the next book.



More on Carolyn Haines' Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/h/carolyn-haines/

Cremains of the Day (A Tallie Graver Mystery)

Author:  Misty Simon Genre:  Mystery Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781496712219 Kensington Publishing 293 Pages Octob...