Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Dance of the Scarecrows (A Jonathan Wilder Mystery #1)

Author:  Ray Sipherd
Genre:   Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback;
ISBN #:  9780312143060; 9780373262878
Worldwide Mystery
252 Pages
Various Prices Amazon
September 1, 1998


It's a scene straight from Hitchcock.  Renowned ornithologist and bird artist Jonathan Wilder finds the body of local politician Rod Ramsey dressed in a scarecrow costume and propped up in the middle of a cornfield in the company of crows.

Unfortunately, Jon is also the prime suspect.  He's had a very public argument with Ramsey, but worse, the murder weapon has Jon's fingerprints on it.  In fact, the knife was taken from Jon's house.  Is the killer nursing some grudge against Jon?  Is he about to become prey to a murderer who's struck once and could do so again?

Now Jon is hunting for a killer as if his life depends on it.  It just might.


Jonathan Wilder is a bird artist and a birder - someone who spends time watching birds and noting where they found them - and one morning he's teaching a group of people how to draw them.  But while they're watching the ducks feeding, they hear two shots ring out and two young females are dead.  Jon recognizes the hunter as Rod Ramsey - the town's first selectman (akin to mayor), who's hunting illegally.

Angered, he goes to Rod's business and confronts him, calling him a murderer.  But he can't prove it was Rod, so he leaves.  At a Halloween event where several men are dressed as scarecrows (Ramsey among them) entertain the crowd dancing a funny bit, Jon and everyone leave once it is over.  The next morning Jon is out hunting a bird rare to the area when he comes across a scarecrow in someone's field.  The scarecrow turns out to be the body of Rod, still wearing his outfit from the night before.

He reports the crime and wonders who hated him enough to kill him.  Ramsey had plenty of enemies, from spurned lovers to angry clients and everyone in between, but someone wanted him dead.  When Jon learns that his prints were found on the murder weapon, he has a personal stake in finding the killer, even though several people tell him to leave it be.  Now Jon, usually a mild-mannered person, finds himself in the cross hairs and if he's not careful he'll be next to die...

I wanted to read this book because I was intrigued by the title and the fact that it takes place at Halloween, and I love to 'read the season,' as it were.  Unfortunately, it began extremely slow and I almost gave up on it at several points.  While the murder occurs almost immediately, we don't discover Jon's involvement until at least a third of the book is past, and the conversations before that are rather mundane.  They involve thinking and talking about bird (if you're an avid bird watcher you will probably love this book) and general conversations and thoughts about the town and its businesses and people.  Nothing much to keep one interested.

But once Jon realizes that he's the only suspect and begins to ask questions, then it picks up a little.  Not much, but a little.  This book wasn't one I couldn't put down.  In fact, I put it down several times to do other things, which tells me that it's a bit of a ho-hum read.  The possibilities are there, but they just aren't followed through.

What does follow is another death, and Jon begins to start connecting the two into something that he thinks is bigger.  He looks for a connection between the deaths, all the while keeping it to himself because, as he thinks, he brought information to the police once and was wrong.  Knowing he could put himself in danger, he continues to look for the clues.

All in all, the mystery wasn't bad, but it wasn't great, either.  It was a book to pass the time although I was disappointed that it wasn't really a book about the two holidays it encompasses.  When the killer is revealed the reasons for the murders seemed rather odd, nothing worth killing for.  As I stated, it wasn't a bad book, but I don't think I'll read this author again.


More on Ray Sipherd's Books:

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Trick or Treat and Murder: A Freshly Baked Cozy Mystery Book 2

Author:  Kate Bell, Kathleen Suzette
Genre:   Mystery

Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781981016297
163 Pages
$8.09; $2.99 Amazon
May 5, 2018


It's Halloween in Sandy Harbor, Maine, and time for Tricks and Treats of the deadly kind.  Blogger and foodie Allie McSwain finds the body of Sandy Harbor's event coordinator at the Halloween bazaar and sets out to find the murderer.  Romance is blossoming between Allie and Detective Alec Blanchard, who is determined to keep her out of harm's way, but Allie has other ideas.


Allie McSwain is preparing for her booth at the Halloween bazaar, and when she arrives she begins decorating her booth.  However, when she steps behind the booth, she finds the body of Diana Bowen underneath it.  Now she's trying to find a killer while keeping herself alive...

I really wish I'd gotten a sample of this book before I purchased it.  The writing is puerile.  This is part of a sentence in the first paragraph: "...I thought the place would be bustling with people decorating the place and..."  Wouldn't it have been more effective to use a different word instead of using 'place' twice in the same sentence?

The author(s) also proceed to tell us every single movement of the protagonist from that sentence on.  Everything.  I have to wonder why Allie would kick the door with her foot and expect that to open it?  Most outside doors on buildings open out, not in, so what good would kicking it do?  (Pull from the outside, push from the inside.  Just sayin').

Then, she's not worried about the dead woman inside her booth, she's worried about the bazaar being cancelled.  Yes, that's right.  Heaven forbid they cancel a bazaar because a body was found.  By all means, go ahead and use the booth where someone was lying dead underneath it a few hours ago.  What the hey - it will be fun.  And oh, let's make it even more fun!  Let's wear costumes!  Who are these people?  Ghouls?

Everyone goes on as if nothing had happened just a few hours before.  She continues selling her items like no one had died.  Her friend just goes on selling stuff at the booth of the dead woman, and neither one seems broken up or upset - did I mention they were having fun wearing Halloween costumes?

Needless to say, I never read any more of this book since if it was this unbelievable in only a few chapters, the rest would have me rolling my eyes so hard I'd get a headache.  Sorry, but I won't be reading any more by this author.


More on Kate Bell's Books:

In Cold Chamomile (A Tea and Read Mystery #3)

Author:  Joy Avon
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781643852881
Crooked Lane Books
$26.99; $12.99 Amazon
February 11, 2020


Callie Aspen can't think of a more appropriate place to spend Valentine's Day than her adopted hometown of Heart's Harbor, Maine.  When she's not helping out at Book Tea, her great-aunt Iphy's vintage tearoom, Callie's adorning Haywood Hall with hearts and roses for the big Valentine's event, where townspeople will fall in love with sweet treats, heartwarming music, and delightful books.  But tension is brewing: The librarian argues with the expert who is on hand to appraise precious volumes.  And Iphy is shocked to recognize the baritone who's slated to sing at the event as an old acquaintance - one she'd hoped she'd never meet again.  And then, when a dead body is discovered, the stirring spoon of suspicion points at the many people who has reasons to want the victim dead.

When Iphy's old acquaintance draws the attention of Deputy Ace Falk, Callie finds herself in a spot.  Ace, as usual, doesn't want Callie involved, but how can she ignore Iphy's anguish over the fate of a man she cares for more than she will admit?  Bringing the killer to justice may endanger Callie's budding relationship with Ace - and, quite possibly, her own life.

Callie and the Book Tea crew may think they have this case in the bag, but un-kettling truths are yet to be decanted.


Callie Aspen is looking forward to the Valentine's Day event that is being held at Haywood Hall, an historical mansion in Heart's Harbor, Maine.  Everything is going well and she's excited about the way it's turned out.  However, it seems that the town's librarian, Miss Forrester, has persuaded a television antiques appraiser to appraise books at the event, and he seems pretentious to her.

Then, the baritone who was scheduled to appear has been replaced by another man - Sean Strong - and her Aunt Iphy seems shaken by this fact, but won't tell her why.  Everything else seems to be going along swimmingly, until the librarian's assistant comes to her and asks her to call the police, stating as how the appraiser is dead.  What Callie doesn't know is that Mr. Strong and her aunt have a history, Deputy Falk's sister is having issues of her own, and now it's all beginning to cause problems for Callie herself.  Will she be able to find the truth or will her questions put herself or someone else in danger from a killer?...

I was looking forward to reading this third book in the series, but I'm left wondering exactly what was going through the author's mind when she wrote it.  The reason I state that is the fact that this book is nothing like the first two in the series, and it seems as if an attempt is being made to create an entirely new series after only two others have been written.  Why, you ask?

However, I have hidden the entire thing in a spoiler due to the fact that not only has this book not as yet been published, but there are people who probably have not read the first two in the series and so will have not noticed the changes.  I have, and I did.  Please be aware that this spoiler not only contains major plot points, but major points regarding the ending (although not of the murderer or the reason why the victim was killed.  So please do not read unless you don't mind the ending exposed.

Having enjoyed the first two in the series, I really wanted to like this book.  However, with the way it was, this was not possible.  Sorry.


More on Joy Avon's Books:

Monday, October 7, 2019

The Glass Thief (A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery #6)

Author:  Gigi Pandian
Genre:   Mystery/Suspense

Hardcover: Trade Paperback: Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781635115550; 9781635115558
Henery Press Publishing
274 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $6.99 Amazon
November 12, 2019


A locked room mystery at a Paris mansion.  A supposed ghost haunting a French family who looted treasure from Cambodia.

A reclusive thriller author writing a novel in honor of historian Jaya Jones - is it a work of fiction or a devious device to lure Jaya into solving a chilling mystery?

Three unsolved murders spanning seventy years have befallen the same French family, each taking place two nights before Christmas at their Paris mansion - and blamed on the family ghost.

When Jaya realizes the truth hits closer to home than she realized, she must risk everything as she flees San Francisco for France and Cambodia to find a missing sculpture known as the Serpent King and stop a flesh and blood killer.


Jaya Jones is a professor of history at a San Francisco university.  She’s nearing the end of the semester when a couple of students - Wesley and Becca - bring her what appears to be an old letter that was found inside a book at the library.  Both are excited that it could be from the Gold Rush days and want to know what she thinks.  Jaya, who also has her own ‘history’ of finding treasure - for museums to display, of course - is excited for them and urges them to pursue it as part of their papers.

Meanwhile, she’s also been a huge fan of author Rick Coronado, who writes a series about adventurer Gabriella Glass.  He’s been out of sight for seven years, though, since he was found after missing for six weeks and apparently suffering from amnesia.  Now it appears that he’s begun to write again, but there’s a catch - his latest book is going to be titled The Glass Thief, with the emphasis on thief, not glass, since Glass is the last name of his protagonist - the catch being that Jaya is going to be part of the book.

But is she?  Once Jaya receives - without asking for any part of this - a couple of preview chapters, she’s intrigued.  She finds that Rick knows of her and her escapades through newspaper articles written of her and the fact that a reporter once saw one of his books in her messenger bag.  When Jaya reads the pages, she begins to wonder about the story, and after doing a little research of her own she discovers that it might not be a story after all, but a real-life tale of greed, intrigue, theft, adventure...and murder.  

Then her love Lane Peters, an ex-thief himself, surprises Jaya one evening in more ways than one.  The shock sent her running from him and she hasn’t spoken to him since, trying to decide what she’s going to do about their relationship or even if she wants to do anything about it.  

But when she gets Rick to agree to meet her to find out what he’s really after, he never shows up.  She’s also warned off doing anything at all in a most dramatic way, but Jaya doesn’t scare easily.  Now she finds herself in Paris trying to solve a long-ago murder, search for hidden treasure, and find out who wants her out of the way...

I have to say that I absolutely love Ms. Pandian's Jaya Jones mysteries.  I have never found one that disappoint, and this latest is no different.  Jaya is an enigma of a woman.  She's a professor at a university in San Francisco, but when she's not teaching she travels all over the world seeking lost treasures so that she may return them to their own countries' museums.  She loves her family but has little to do with them, involving herself instead with the friends she's made and grown to love as much, if not more, than her own family; and her relationship with former thief Lane Peters has caused strong emotions within her, and not limited to love.  She's not afraid to take risks or face danger, yet would rather not her friends join her in this.  As I said, she's an enigma.

Jaya, having received the book chapters from her idol Rick Coronado, reads between the pages as she's supposed to do: Rick is asking for her help.  But is it help in finding a ghost who supposedly killed a man seven years ago, or finding a lost treasure that more than likely led to the death?  Or is it both?

After an altercation with Lane that doesn't go well, leaving her refusing to speak to him, she tells Rick if he doesn't meet with her she won't help him.  But when he never shows, and something occurs to make her realize that there's more at stake than she at first thought, she sets out for France as soon as possible and asks an old friend for help in her quest. 

Soon it's apparent that there is more going on than a ghost wandering the grounds of an old mansion, and Jaya begins putting the puzzle together piece by piece.  But it's only when she realizes that Lane plays a bigger role in her hunt for lost treasure, and someone has been playing her much like her own tabla, that Jaya is able to see the truth for what it is.

The story is intriguing, suspenseful, and fascinating.  It's tightly woven with each thread started on it's own and pulled through slowly piece by piece to create a tapestry of misdirection and mystery intended to make the reader watch carefully for each clue that is given.  Ms. Pandian has indeed created a wonderful tale that takes us once again to other countries where many of us may never have the chance to travel.  It is an exquisite journey of history, riddles, and secrets revealed - which also bring revelations to Jaya herself.

In the end, it only leaves us wanting more, and I find myself eagerly awaiting the next adventure to see where Jaya will take us.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

One Taste Too Many (A Sarah Blair Mystery #1)

Author:  Debra H. Goldstein
Genre:   Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781496719478
Kensington Publishing
323 Pages
$7.81; $1.99 Amazon (Sale)
December 18, 2019


Married at eighteen, divorced at twenty-eight, Sarah Blair reluctantly swaps her luxury lifestyle for a cramped studio apartment and a law firm receptionist job in the tired hometown she never left.  With nothing much to show for the last decade but her feisty Siamese cat, RahRah, and some clumsy domestic skills, she's the polar opposite of her bubbly twin, Emily - an ambitious chef determined to take her culinary ambitions to the top at a local gourmet restaurant...

Sarah knew starting over would be messy.  But things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by Emily's award-winning rhubarb crisp.  Now, with RahRah wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and Emily wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out.  Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death - being in the kitchen!


When Sarah Blair gets a phone call from her sister telling her that Sarah's ex-husband is dead, she's stunned.  But when Emily tells her that she's now suspected of murdering him, Sarah does the only thing she can do.  She gets her attorney boss, Harlan, to defend her sister and decides to find out who really killed Bill and why...

Well, I'm probably going to go on a rant here, so you've been forewarned:  I really, really, get tired of reading about divorcees who were married to wealthy men but somehow left the marriage penniless and not able to cook, clean, or handle finances in any way.  Seriously?  She's been married ten years but hasn't managed to figure out how to cook?  In whose world is this reality?  It's just crazy how many of these protagonists have no idea what a grocery store looks like.

It's also hard to feel sympathy for Emily at all.  We never get to meet Bill because he's already dead when the book opens, and we only have Sarah's recollections of how things were.  What was Bill's relationship to Emily?  Did she have a real reason to want him dead?  You can amass evidence, but if there's no motive, what do you have?  That's called reasonable doubt.

I also dislike books where we're just slapped in the face with a victim.  We never get to meet the person, there's no build up as to who might want them dead or why, etc.  We didn't get to see any relationship between Emily and Bill.  I never enjoy that in mysteries because there's nothing to draw you into the murder. 

Also, how shallow is Sarah?  She keeps talking about Harlan’s bald spot.  Seriously?  She's such a prize that she's thinking about him wearing hats to cover a bald spot, or that she can see it?  Does it mean he’s less attractive in any way?  Sean Connery.  Bruce Willis.  Yul Brynner.  Dwayne Johnson.  Having hair on your head doesn't make men any sexier than those who don't.  She doesn’t deserve Harlan with that kind of attitude.  It doesn’t make her likable at all.  This is probably the biggest reason I don't really care for Sarah in this book.

Anyway, reading the ending was a bit disappointing for me, since the clues were there but Sarah was so focused on yelling at Harlan and looking for anyone else to pinpoint the murder on that she couldn't see what was right in front of her.  Maybe the next book will be better; I'll give it a chance and see.

Death With An Ocean View (Kate Kennedy Mysteries #1)

Author:  Nora Charles
Genre:   Mystery

Mass Market Paperback
ISBN #:  9780425194881
Berkley Publishing
198 Pages
Various Prices Amazon
September 10, 2004

Nestled between fast track Ft. Lauderdale and nouveau riche Boca Raton, the once sleepy beach town of Palmetto is plagued by progress.  The latest news has Ocean Vista condo board president Stella Sajak and other residents in an uproar.  Developers plan to raze the property and put up a glitzy resort.  But when Stella says she'll go to City Hall and fight this to the death, no one thinks to take her statement literally.

And when Kate begins to investigate the murder, she discovers that this little corner of the sunshine state is cursed with corruption, unsavory characters, and a very dark cloud overhead...


Kate Kennedy moved to Palmetto, Florida, because her husband wanted to live there.  But he died within twenty-four hours of the move, and since they sold their old home, she's pretty much stuck.  He's been gone a mere six months, and she misses him.  However, she's decided to try and make the best of it.

When it's discovered that a developer wants to buy out their condo community and put up a resort, the board president isn't going to give up without a fight.  But unfortunately, she doesn't last the night after a scheduled meeting, and now Kate wonders who hated Stella Sajak enough to kill her...

This is an older book, but I really wished it would have been better.  I was a bit thrown after finding out that Kate hadn't shaved her legs since her husband died.  Six months?  Through an entire Florida summer?  While she must have worn slacks all summer (or people would have definitely noticed), I can't imagine that it wouldn't have been extremely uncomfortable, not to mention quite a sight to behold.  One I'd rather not see.  (Personal opinion, but hey...)

Then, Kate sees a couple of residents walking along the beach, hears one of them yell, "Stella!" (Shades of Stanley Kowalski), and calls 911.  Fair enough.  But how did she know she should call 911?  How did she know that Stella was dead if she couldn't see the body from her window?  Does she always call 911 if she hears a resident yelling a name?

Then, the police seem as if they don't believe what she's telling them in her statement and want her to come to the police station the next day to give it again.  Why?  She was standing on her balcony, couldn't see anything, and only heard the man say, 'Stella'.  She didn't actually see a body or have anything to do with it, so why would the police need her to come to the station?  She had no other information to give, wasn't a suspect, and basically only heard the man say a name.  How is this relevant in any way that she needs to go to a police station?

Also, in the beginning of the story Kate mentions as how Stella has a great body and is wearing a swimsuit with a halter top and skirt bottom while walking around, but when she sees a friend wearing a midriff-showing outfit to a costume party she thinks it's scandalous.  Say what?  Isn't this Florida?  Don't seniors ever go swimming?  Showing your stomach is scandalous?  What.  A.  Prude.

But the kicker was an ex-nun pours a can of Coke over another resident because said resident asks the woman if she murdered Stella.  Asks.  A. Question.  Probably even tongue-in-cheek.  Was this supposed to be funny?  It wasn't.  It was over the top, and if someone did that to me because I merely asked them a question, there would be consequences.  Trust me.

I couldn't even read the book after this.  I'd had enough of Kate's judging people and self-righteousness, her boring personality and resentfulness of anything and anyone she didn't like.  Kate is truly unlikable, and I'm sorry I have the rest in this series.  They'll be donated to the library.  Maybe someone else will find the humor in these books.  I sure didn't.

Tragic Toppings (A Donut Shop Mystery #5)

Author:  Jessica Beck Genre:   Mystery Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9780312541095 Minotaur Books 290 Pages [Various Prices];...