Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tightening the Threads (A Mainely Needlepoint Mystery)

Author:  Lea Waits
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback, Ebook
ISBN #:  9781496706287
Kensington Publishing
304 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
March 28, 2017

✮✮✮✮✮


In the coastal town of Haven Harbor, Maine,blood runs thicker than water - and just as freely...

Antique dealer Sarah Byrne has never unspooled the truth about her past to anyone - not even friend and fellow Mainely Needlepointer Angie Curtis.  But the enigmatic Aussie finally has the one thing she's searched for all her life - family.  And now she and long-lost half-brother, Ted Lawrence, a wealthy old artist and gallery owner in town, are ready to reveal their secret connection...

Ted's adult children are suspicious of their newfound aunt Sarah - especially after Ted, in declining health, announces plans to leave her his museum-worthy heirloom paintings.  So when Ted is poisoned to death during a lobster bake, everyone assumes she's guilty.  If Sarah and Angie can't track down the real murderer in time, Sarah's bound to learn how delicate -and deadly - family dynamics can truly be.

********

When Angie Curtis is invited to her friend Sarah Byrne's home for dinner, she doesn't expect bombshell news:  that Sarah is the niece of Ted Lawrence, an artist and gallery owner whose father was the famous artist Robert Lawrence.  It seems Robert had once had an affair during World War II that resulted in Sarah's father, and since he died when Sarah was a child, she has been searching for years for her family, which is the real reason she wound up in Haven Harbor all the way from Australia.

But it seems finding her uncle and cementing their relationship with DNA tests is bittersweet:  When his children - Abbie, her husband Silas, sons Michael and Luke - are summoned from their homes for a birthday party with their father, Ted tells them he is dying of cancer, and that this will be the last visit they will all have together.  But even more shocking - and more important to his children - is the fact that Ted tells them he is going to change his will and leave all of his father's paintings to Sarah.

But before he can do so, Ted dies, poisoned from a bad clam.  While at first it looks like it might be an accident, the police think it might have been murder, and when another family member dies, Angie is hired to find out who the murderer of the two of them might be.  With nearly everyone having a motive - the three children weren't close to their father and more than one had reason to hate him - Angie has her work cut out for her.  She knows it's only a matter of time before the offspring hire attorneys and clam up themselves...

This is the fifth book in the Mainely Needlepoint series, and in my opinion, the best one.  While I enjoyed the previous books in the series, in this new one we learn more about Sarah and her background, and how deep the desire to find one's roots can be in another human being.  I will say though that I didn't truly understand why the subplot of the discovery in Angie's yard was added; it didn't have any bearing on the story at all, unless it was to bring in one of the other Mainely Needlepointers, who were missing throughout most of this tale.

Aside from that, I found this book highly readable and the plot well written.  It shows the keenness that is felt when one wishes for something that is always slightly out of reach; and that what seems to be the overt reason for a murder might not be the true meaning after all.  When we reach the end and the killer is revealed, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion; and I await the next in the series.  Highly recommended.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

Single Malt Murder (A Whiskey Business Mystery)

Author:  Melinda Mullet
Genre:  Mystery

Ebook
ASIN #:  B01HL180QG
Alibi Publishing/Random House
275 Pages
$4.99 Amazon
March 21, 2017

✮✮✮✮


When Abi inherits her uncle's quaint and storied single malt distillery, she finds herself immersed in a competitive high-stakes business that elicits deep passions and prejudices. An award-winning photojournalist, Abi has no trouble capturing the perfect shot—but making the perfect shot is another matter. When she starts to receive disturbing, anonymous threats, it’s clear that someone wants her out of the picture. But Abi’s never been one to back down from a fight.

Arriving on the scene with her whisky-loving best friend, Patrick, and an oversized wheaten terrier named Liam, Abi seems to put everyone in the bucolic village on edge—especially her dour but disturbingly attractive head distiller. Acts of sabotage and increasingly personal threats against Abi make it clear that she is not welcome. When one of Abi’s new employees is found floating facedown in a vat of whisky, Abi is determined to use her skills as an investigative journalist to identify the cold-blooded killer and dispense a dram of justice before he strikes again. But distilling truth from lies is tricky, especially when everyone seems to have something to hide.

********

After her Uncle Ben's death, Abigail Logan inherits his whiskey distillery, Abbey Glen, in Scotland.  She has no interest in it, being a photojournalist, but decides to see for herself before selling the business.  When she arrives, however, she discovers there's much more to it than meets the eye - including 'accidents' that have befallen the distillery since she inherited, but before she can dig much deeper, she begins receiving threats, and it escalates when a murder occurs onsite the distillery.  With too much at stake, and her own life on the line, Abi decides to stay and try and find out who exactly wants her dead, and why...

To give the things that bothered me first: I figured Abi must be a little slow on the intake, since it didn't take a genius to figure out why the place was called 'Abbey Glen"; I knew that right away.  The second thing that bothered me is the fact that I wondered if Balfour was at the ends of the earth.  Because if it isn't, then the police sergeant is also a little slow on the uptake.  He was under the impression that she worked for a tabloid and warned her to keep her mouth shut about the murder; yet the rest of the village knows everything about who she is and what she does for a living because Ben has been bragging her up for fifteen years, including the fact that she's award-winning, and hanging her photos about his home.  Either the sergeant isn't as smart as he appears to be or he lives under a rock, I don't know which.

That aside, this is a worthy effort for a first-in-a-series book.  The characters are given leeway to personality traits, and most have quite interesting ones indeed.  Abi is a strong woman who doesn't back down from men, and I enjoyed that aspect when she was outright threatened.  She managed to earn the respect of those around her, even when they didn't much care for her being there at first.

The mystery itself was pretty decent, but it was a tad easy to figure out who the killer was, since there weren't that many people who were johnny-on-the-spot every time an accident occurred.  However, the mystery itself was done well and it made sense, just as it should.  Although I wasn't thrilled by the ending, (and I won't go into detail as to why since I don't want to spoil it for those who might not have read the book or even agree with me on that subject) I still thought it to be a worthy read, and I will read the next in the series.  Recommended.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

Every Trick in the Rook (A Birds of a Feather Mystery #3)

Author:  Marty Wingate
Genre:  Mystery

Ebook
Alibi - Random House Publishing
251 Pages
$4.99 Amazon
March 7, 2017

✮✮✮✮✮


Julia Lanchester is flying high.  She's nesting with her boyfriend, Michael Sedgwick, and she's found her niche as manager of the tourist center in her picturesque British village.  Thanks to all her hard work, visitor traffic is up - way up.  Her reward is an even more hectic schedule.  Michael's busy, too, traveling all over as well as the personal assistant to Julia's father, celebrity orinthologist Rupert Lanchester.  With precious little time together, Julia's romantic weekend with Michael can't come soon enough.

But the getaway is spoiled when Julia's ex-husband is found murdered on her boss's estate.  And after a witness reports seeing Michael near the scene of the crime, the press descends, printing lies and wreaking havoc.  To protect Julia, Michael vanishes into thin air, leaving her to pick up the slack on Rupert's show and track down the real killer - even if it means putting herself in the flight path of a vicious predator.

********

Julia Lanchester is the manager of the TIC (Tourist Information Center) on the estate of the Earl of Fotheringill.  Her boyfriend Michael Sedgwick works for her father Rupert who is a famous British avian expert with his own television show, A Bird in the Hand.  Since their schedules are very different - Michael is gone quite a bit traveling with Rupert - they've managed to snag a weekend away together.  But before their weekend is over, they're contacted by both Rupert and the police and need to return immediately.

The reason?  Julia's ex-husband Nick Hawkins has been found dead on the Fotheringill estate, and  
the police want to know why he had a photo of Julia and Michael on his person and if they know anything about the murder.  While they both deny any knowledge of Nick's unexpected arrival from his isolated home on St. Kilda in the Hebrides they're now being hounded by 'journos' - those of the magazine rag profession (tabloids) who make up headlines when they can't locate the truth (or don't care to look).

In order to protect Julia from the jackals and unwanted press, Michael (whom they have decided is guilty of the murder) leaves her, hoping to draw them off with him.  Her one saving grace is a young girl named Tennyson who has a pet Rook (of the Corvid family) named Alfie, who is both intelligent and protective, and a master of learned tricks.  He's taken a liking to Julia and leaves gifts for her in the pocket of her Mackintosh.  In fact, he's taken such a liking to her, he shows his displeasure of the journos whenever they come near (if you get my drift).

With her life slowly unraveling before her Julia refuses to allow the police to take their time in finding the true killer and searches for clues herself.  But she doesn't count on being the next target on the killer's list, and it's almost too late before she realizes the person she's been looking for has been using clever tricks of their own...

I enjoyed reading this book immensely.  The characters are given depth; they are believable and have faults like everyone else, which makes them more human somehow.  You can sense the caring that surrounds Julia, from her father to her friends, and while she tries to do it all by herself, there are still those that watch out for her throughout, which makes for a delightful read.

While it may seem to some that the tabloids shouldn't have had this much interest in Julia's ex-husband, we must remember that Rupert is very famous indeed, Julia works for an Earl, and the body was found on the latter's estate.  Those things do make news.  Not to mention the fact that there was someone who was 'feeding the fire' as it were, and keeping the interest alive.  Keeping that in mind will help you enjoy the story.

This is the third book in the series, following The Rhyme of the Magpie and Empty Nest.  This time around, Ms. Wingate has given us a story that merges love and hate together, drawing them tightly into a tale of suspense and uncertainty, and keeps the reader drawn into the narrative until the very end.  When we finally discover the murderer, it is a reason that is as old as time, but always relevant; and it never ceases to amaze me what can be created in the human mind.  Highly recommended.



More on Marty Wingate's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/w/marty-wingate/ 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Bitter Harvest (A Greenhouse Mystery #2)

Author:  Wendy Tyson
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Audio CD; Ebook;
ISBN #:  9781635111767; 9781635111736; 9781520066691
Henery Press
264 Pages
$27.37; $15.95; $28.39; $2.99 Amazon
March 7, 2017

✮✮✮✮✮


Megan Sawyer should be shouting from the barn roof.  Washington Acres survived its first year, the café has become a hotspot for locals, and Winsome's sexy Scottish veterinarian is making house calls - only not for the animals.  But as summer slips into fall and Winsome prepares for its grand Oktoberfest celebration, beer isn't the only thing brewing.  When the town's pub owner is killed in a freak accident, Megan suspects something sinister is afoot in Winsome - but no one is listening.  As nights grow longer and temperatures chills, Megan must plow through Winsome's fixation with autumn festivities to harvest the truth - before another dead body marks the season.

********
Megan Sawyer left a lucrative law practice, returning to her hometown of Winsome, Pennsylvania to take over the running of her family's farm, Washington Acres.  She's doing a pretty good job so far, not only working her way toward being certified organic, but also the running of a café and fresh produce market, not to mention a budding romance with the local Scottish veterinarian.

With everyone in town preparing for an Oktoberfest celebration the town is bustling indeed; but on one particular morning she notices that the two local brewers - Otto Vance and Ted Kuhl - are having an argument, and guessing it's because Otto won the coveted sponsorship instead of Ted (who has a much better product).  But when Megan returns home she receives a phone call in which she's told that Sauer farms won the local farm sponsorship; a decision that seems odd because Sauer runs a much bigger operation - plus they only grow GMO food and treat their animals inhumanely.  Megan soon realizes the rules have been changed, and she's not getting any answers why from event planner Ophelia Dilworth, who refuses to talk about it.

But when her grandmother Bibi finds the body of Otto at a local solar farm and Ted disappears, Megan knows that not only have the rules changed, but the game.  Once murder enters the equation, Megan's not only going to be busy trying to harvest her autumn crop, she's going to have her hands full trying to find a killer before the Grim Reaper decides to do some more harvesting of his own...

After reading the first book in this series, A Muddied Murder, I was waiting impatiently for the next in the series, and I have to say it was worth the wait.  Ms. Tyson's characters are believable and full of vitality, giving us people we'd want to spend time with in a small town setting that's warm and inviting.  Megan is capable, strong and intelligent, but yet, like any human, has insecurities which rise to the surface when she allows her emotions to get the better of her.  This makes her more endearing and authentic.

With Megan searching for answers, wondering why certain businesses were handed 'golden tickets' and others ignored, she must also deal with the fact of who's been watching her and the farm and why and if she's truly ready to let go of the past and move on with her life; and the omnipresent question of Otto's murder.  When a second murder occurs she's left in no doubt that somehow it's connected to the Oktoberfest celebration, but finding out how could be the key.

Which brings us to the mystery itself which is very good indeed, taking us on a winding path of twists and turns that coil together tightly; leaving Megan to unwind each strand piece by piece until it is almost too late.  Ms. Tyson weaves the mystery so well that when we do find out the killer it comes as a complete surprise, giving us a satisfying end to a riveting tale; one that kept me reading in one sitting; and that is a very good thing indeed.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Bitter-Harvest-Greenhouse-Mystery-2/dp/1635111730/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1912412622

More on Wendy Tyson's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/t/wendy-tyson/

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Art of Vanishing (A Lila Maclean Academic Mystery)

Author:  Cynthia Kuhn
Genre:  Mystery, Suspense

Hardcover; Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781635111729; 9781635111699
Henery Press
262 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $2.99 Amazon
February 28, 2017

✮✮✮✮✮


When Professor Lila Maclean is sent to interview celebrated author and notorious cad Damon Von Tussel, he disappears before her very eyes.  the English department is thrown into chaos by the news, as Damon is supposed to headline Stonedale University's upcoming Arts Week.  The chancellor makes it clear that he expects Lila to locate the writer and set events back on track immediately.  But someone appears to have a different plan:  strange warnings are received, valuable items go missing, and a series of dangerous incidents threaten the lives of Stonedale's guests.  After her beloved mother, who happens to be Damon's ex, rushes onto campus and into harm's way, Lila has even more reason to bring the culprit to light before anything - or anyone - else vanishes.

********

When Lila Maclean, a professor at Stonedale University in Colorado, is requested by the school chancellor  to interview Damon Von Tussel, she's reluctant but has no choice but to agree.  So she attends a book reading by the reclusive author, who, on this particular night, does what he does best - is rude and belligerent, cutting the question and answer session short.  Unable to see him before the reading, she attempts to do so afterward, only to find that he has apparently vanished into thin air.  While she's not looking forward to explaining her failure of her task, she's going to have to - since Van Tussel is the featured author for Stonedale's Arts Week.

Damon Van Tussel is famous for only one book written decades ago and has been living off that laudatory fame since then,  But now he's managed to write another celebrated book and the university considers it a coup to even get him to speak.  Since no one can find him, it's soon discovered that Lila's mother, famous artist Violet O, once dated the man, so she's put in charge of seeing that he shows up.  After reluctantly asking her mother for help, he agrees to appear.

But then Lila receives a threatening email stating not to let Van Tussel speak "or else" and it seems the entire English department received the same but are, for the most part, blowing it off until during a featured panel discussing the author, one of the guest speakers is 'accidentally' hit on the head with a stage light, sending him to the hospital, and a loaned manuscript of Damon's famous novel is stolen from the library.

It doesn't help that Lila's mother shows up and decides to renew her relationship with the churlish author; a colleague does her best to sabotage her in front of everyone; and it's close to Valentine's Day and she begins to notice everyone around her seems to be coupled except her.  What's worse, she's worried about eventually getting tenure and is feeling the pressure to publish her dissertation, and soon.

While this isn't your typical mystery in that nobody dies, it is still a very good one.  It gives the reader an inside view into academia and the push to 'publish or perish' in order to gain tenure.  There is an intense desire to be recognized in the academic world, and that depends not only upon your teaching ability, but your ability to create something others will want to read - and find a university press willing to publish the same.  (One look at the giant e-tailer Amazon and you can see the massive collection of books published on various subjects).  It is this world that the novice professor is trying to navigate, and her insecurities show throughout the book.

Of which this is a very good thing as it makes Lila quite a believable character, watching her try to navigate her career and still manage her personal life, which sadly seems lacking when she looks around her; and while I do believe it is a good thing, in future books I wouldn't take it amiss if Lila were to develop a bit of a backbone and bite back at certain people (I'm looking at you, Simone).  There is a very cute subplot regarding this, and gives a nice break while we try to find out who wants Damon dead (and why).  We also learn more about her mother, who is a delight, and their relationship.  I do hope to see more of her in other books.

When we find out the reason for the many 'accidents' surrounding Damon, it comes together nicely.  Even though we are not given a murder to investigate, the book is so interesting and so involved that we stop looking for a body and just enjoy the process.  I think the nicest way I can summarize the end of the book is: when it rains it pours; but I implore you not to peek because the journey is as much fun as the destination.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Vanishing-Lila-Maclean-Academic-Mystery/dp/1635111692/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1891828376

More on Cynthia Kuhn's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/k/cynthia-kuhn/

A Hiss Before Dying (A Mrs. Murphy Mystery)

Author:  Rita Mae Brown Genre:  Mystery Hardcover; Ebook ISBN #:  9780553392494 Bantam Publishing 384 Pages $14.16; $13.99 Amazon Ma...