Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Pie Can Be Deadly

 Death By Chocolate #6
 Sarah Graves
 Kensington Books
 April 25, 2023

Jake (Jacobia) and Ellie are gearing up for a new season at Eastport, Maine's bakery, The Chocolate Moose. Since the opening of The Moose, they have been successful and are an institution. This year, however, they have competition from Choco's, another bakery nearby owned by Brad Fairway, a newcomer to Eastport. Fairway is not above undercutting the Moose's prices and spreading rumors about bad hygiene at The Moose. The opening of the annual arts festival brings matters to a head. Jake and Ellie confront Fairway about his business practices and get no satisfaction. Both women are suspects when Fairway is found dead later, especially Ellie, whose gun was the murder weapon. The State Police are zeroing in on Ellie, and the Eastport chief of police, Bob Arnold, can't seem to divert them. Even worse, Jake thinks she recognizes Fairway from the "bad old days" in New York. Is the other shoe about to drop finally? As the arts festival goes on, there are more murders and attacks on the artists, muddying the waters considerably. 

I have been reading Sarah Graves' books for years, beginning with her long-running Home Repair is Homicide series. All are set in Eastport and feature the same main characters, Jake and Ellie, and their extended families and friends, with others coming in and out (quite often as victims). They are remarkably full of action for cozy mysteries, but at their heart are about friendship and the ties that bind. All the books are atmospheric, presenting Eastport very much as it is, perhaps a bit busier. Eastport was once a vast shipping center with its deep harbor. Those days are long gone. 

Death by Chocolate Marshmallow Pie is another enjoyable book in the series, but in some ways has the feeling of an ending. One significant character leaves, and many plot loose ends are wrapped up. I sincerely hope not. I will miss my visits to Eastport if so. 

Thanks to NetGalley.com and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING 4 Stars

Friday, April 7, 2023

Plucky Heroine and German Spies

PLAYING IT SAFE (Electra McDonnell #3)
Ashley Weaver
St. Martins Minotaur
May 9, 2023

The previous book in the Electra Mac Donnell series ended on the night the Blitz began in London on September 7, 1940. Electra had just finished a job for His Majesty's Government. As part of a safecracking family, she has agreed to use her considerable skills at picking locks in service to the war effort. In return, the government will exonerate them from previous crimes, as long as they commit no more. However, Electra and the MacDonnell clan are patriots and would have helped without the extra incentive.

Things have been disastrous in the East End, with nightly German bombers. Much loss of life and property has not defeated the people of London, not by a long shot. She has yet to hear anything from the straitlaced and upright Major Ramsey, who is her contact in the government and supervisor. As always, he appears suddenly and sends her to Sunderland. He tells her to get a room at a particular boardinghouse, tells her he will see her there and hands her a book on birdwatching. Electra considers his close-mouthed attitude ridiculous but has learned to trust him. Electra is very good at making contacts and friends wherever she goes and soon finds herself a part of a group of young people. When one of the group drops dead in front of her in the street, she begins to think that the members are a part of whatever mission she is on. When the Major tells her the nature of it, the two are entangled in their most dangerous mission yet.

Playing It Safe is an excellent addition to this series. I enjoy the interaction among the MacDonnell family, who have looked after her since infancy. Although her mother died in prison, accused of killing her father. She has never discussed it with her uncle, who was her father's brother. But Electra needs to learn more about her mother and seems to be on the verge of doing so. Then there is the undeniable attraction between herself and the Major, which explodes into fireworks this time, despite themselves. There is plenty to look forward to in the next book, and I certainly do!

Thanks to NetGalley and St.Martins Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

1926, Instanbul-Anything can happen

Erica Ruth Neubauer
A Jane Wunderly Mystery #4
Kensington Books
March 28, 2023

I discovered the Jane Wunderley series about a month ago and binged through the first three (Murder at Mena House, Murder at Wedgefield Manor, and Danger on the Atlantic). I have always been fascinated by the period between WWI and WWII when the world went through one cataclysmic event after another. First, the Great War was meant to be the "war to end all wars." Following that, the Great Depression an economic disaster that took away the livelihoods of millions worldwide. Finally, the rise of fascism in Europe and the advent of WWII. For Jane Wunderly, the Great War ended a personal nightmare and set her on a path toward independence. Her sadistic first husband went off the war and never came back. Jane took back her maiden name and swore never to marry again. She has an opportunity to travel first to Egypt, then to England, and then a voyage back to America. Accompanying her is her annoying, alcoholic Aunt Millie. Millie has the money to travel, and Jane has always wanted to understand her aunt better. On that first trip to Egypt, she meets Redvers, a handsome and somewhat secretive English Englishman with a shadowy job with the British Government. Adventures with spies, assassins, and thieves ensue, and Redvers is always at her side. Jane is rethinking the single life.

Intrigue in Istanbul takes Jane and Redvers to Jane's childhood home in Boston. Redvers wants to present himself to her widower father, Henry, a historian. They discover an empty house, and nobody knows when or where he may have gone. While going through her father's mail, she finds that he has mortgaged their home for a large sum and is in arrears. The loan is due in just three weeks. Jane has an idea where he might be, however. He specializes in the history of Suleiman the Magnificent and has been obsessed with a storied object called the "Sultan's Heart." He has to be in Istanbul; she has a good idea of where he has lodged and some of his associates. As they reach Instanbul, she finds she has no idea what danger he has gotten himself into or of Redver's associates from his past there.

I am a fan of '30s and '40s movies that portray Americans abroad in a lighthearted and somewhat glamorous manner. Intrigue in Istanbul fits the bill very well. There are spies, assassins, and all sorts of colorful characters in an exotic and mysterious setting. It's a lot of fun and a perfect escape read. The author has visited the city and takes pains to be accurate. Thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy in return for an honest opinion.

RATING- 4 Stars

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The First Book in an Explosive Trilogy from Spain

Juan Gomez-Jurado
MacMillan Audio
February 14, 2023

 So far, 2023 has been a good year for thrillers, and Red Queen is outstanding. Originally published in Spain in 2018, it has gained a worldwide following and is now available in English. Juan Gomez-Jurado has introduced a detecting duo and a cast of characters as fascinating as any I have ever read. Inspector Jon Gutierrez of the Madrid Police is in hot water, not for the first time. He is a clothes-horse, despite being barrel-chested and overweight. Gutierrez also still lives with his mother and is gay, neither of which makes him popular on the force. This time he may have finally ruined his career by planting evidence on a pimp and drug dealer. Gutierrez did it to help one of the pimp's girls get loose from his influence. The girl, however, filmed it and put it on social media. Suspended without pay and with Internal Affairs on his heels, he has no idea what to do. Then he receives a phone call from someone only known as the "Mentor," who offers him an opportunity to resurrect his career.

The "Mentor" is part of a shadowy organization that pursues the worst of criminals, serial killers, killers-for-hire, and terrorists. "Mentor" wants him to meet with a former operative, half-English, half-Spanish Antonia Scott. She is a genius forensic expert with a mind like a high-functioning computer. They need her to solve several high-profile kidnappings of influential and wealthy people and the death of one of the children of the families involved. Antonia, however, has refused since her husband was shot and has been in a coma for three years. Her father has taken her young son away and assumed custody of him. She only leaves her apartment to go and sit with her husband in the hospital every night. Her life has collapsed, and she blames herself. The killer was after her, not her husband. Gutierrez has a tall order to get her out of her apartment, but the situation escalates when Carla Ortiz, the daughter of one of the world's wealthiest men, is kidnapped. There is no ransom demand, at least financially, but the families involved are not forthcoming about the orders made. Carla has only 40 hours left to live. 

There is non-stop action in Red Queen, kidnappings, car chases, subterranean pursuits, bombings, and encounters with some of the worst people one could imagine. If you aren't afraid of shadowy international organizations who think they have the right to decide the fate of everyone, you will be after reading this novel. Through skillful character-building, Juan Gomez-Jurado has written a story of love, friendship, and healing. I can't wait for the next book in this trilogy.

I received the audiobook of Red Queen from McMillan Audio and NetGalley. It was superbly narrated by Scott Brick, who I was aware of, but this is the first time I heard him. I will be on the lookout for his work in the future. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Friday, March 10, 2023

Bluestockings and Blackguards

 A Dear Miss Hermione Murder # 1
 Anastasia Hastings
 Minotaur Books
 February 7, 2023

Of Manners and Murders is the first book in a new series set in the late 1800s in England. Violet has returned with her half-sister, Sephora, from many years in India upon the death of her diplomat father. Having lived in India for years, encouraged by her father to see and learn everything, Violet has managed to avoid the prejudices of the English abroad. She would be called a "bluestocking" in every sense. Sixteen-year-old Sephora, however, is as empty-headed as a young lady was expected to be in Victorian England. The sisters are living with their flamboyant Aunt Adelia, who has suddenly taken off to the Continent with her "gentleman friend." Imagine Violet's surprise when Aunt Adelia discloses that she is Miss Hermione, author of England's most popular advice column. Not only that, she expects Violet to take over the column. Violet is in her twenties, firmly considered "on the shelf," and has no romantic experience other than one unhappy love affair. She feels obliged to act as her Aunt's proxy due to her fondness for Adelia.

Opening the first letter, she finds something far removed from a plea for romantic advice. Ivy Armstong, from a village close to London, is a newly married woman convinced that someone is trying to kill her. She even encloses newspaper clippings with pictures of her suspects circled. Violet feels that the matter is pressing enough to travel to the village of Willingdale to speak with her. Upon her arrival, however, she finds that Ivy's burial service is taking place. Violet presents herself as a friend of Ivy's from boarding school and sets out to find the culprit. Is it the handsome new husband, a jealous curate in love with Ivy, or a woman from the village angling for the new husband herself? What part did the village doctor play? While traveling back and forth from the village, she needs to pay attention to Sephora, who gets herself in massive trouble.

I found Manners and Murder enjoyable, with a couple of exceptions. I don't usually object to multiple POVs, but the breakaways to Sephora were annoying in this case. The reader already knows Sephora is an empty-headed, selfish, and self-involved twit. Her secondary drama was not particularly interesting, at least to me. One of the villains, and there were several, was almost cartoonishly evil. I do, however, like Violet very much and am interested in what may happen between her and the dashing American gentleman. He might be Violet's perfect match.

Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Hilarious, Horrifying, and Engaging New Novel From Australia

Benjamin Stevenson
Harper Collins
January 17, 2023

Meet Ernest Cunningham, "Ern," the narrator of Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone. Ern is the self-published author of numerous books telling others how to write crime fiction. He begins with Ronald Knox's 1929 Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction. Knox was a Catholic Priest and member of the legendary Detection Club. Other members included Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton. You should take a look at them, as they are essential. 


Ern is attending a family reunion at a ski lodge in the mountains of New South Wales, AU. He never looks forward to reunions because he has always felt like an outsider. This reunion promises to be particularly fraught as Ern's brother, Michael, is getting out of prison after a stretch for murder. Ern happens to be the person who testified and put Michael there. The Cunninghams are unhappy with Ern, not his mother, Audrey, and her husband, Marcello, not Michael's ex-wife, Lucy, not Ern's soon-to-be ex-wife, Erin, or his managing Aunt Katherine. The only one who seems happy to see him is his half-sister, Sofia. That may be because she needs money and somehow knows about the bag containing 267 thousand dollars Ern has been holding onto for Michael. Soon after their arrival, a body is found, the victim of a particularly horrible death. Very quickly, the lodge is snowed in, and the temperatures drop precipitously. Not only is the snow falling, but so are the Cunninghams. Is there a serial killer loose known as The Black Tongue? Can one of the Cunninghams be the killer, or is someone seeking revenge for Ern's father, Robert, and his notorious criminal past? People don't often forget about cop-killers, even if they are long dead.

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone is one of the most original pieces of crime fiction I have ever read; horrifying and hilarious at once. Anyone who has read Golden Age mysteries will recognize all the tropes of the snowed-in scenario but with a new spin. Stevenson's Ern has a terrific "voice," sly, ironic, and likable. I was suspicious of his claim to be a reliable narrator, but that is what he proved to be. I don't expect to read another book this year that will engage me as much as Everyone in my Family has engaged me.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Accident or Cold Blooded Murder?

 Veronica Speedwell #8
 Deanna Raybourne
 Berkley Books
 March 7, 2023

Veronica Speedwell has been not precisely pining but concerned by the absence of Stoker for several months. The two parted at an impasse due to events in An Impossible Imposter, previous in the series. She has an idea where he might be but has decided to take him at his word and give him space. However, when his older brother, Tiberius, Viscount Templeton-Vane, visits her and asks her to help him find Stoker, she drops everything. Tibirious has a problem that requires Stoker's talents. Twenty years previously, Tiberius made his "Grand Tour" in the company of several young men, self-named "The Seven Sinners." When the seven finished their tour and were dispersing from the Devon Templeton-Vane estate, one of their number met his end on the crumbling Devon cliffs. Lorenzo d'Ambrogio was a fossil enthusiast and had just made the discovery of a lifetime, a megalosaurus buried in the cliff. When the cliff crumbled during a storm, it took both the megalosaurus and Lorenzo. Long thought to be an accident, Tiberious was none the wiser until he received news cuttings about the deaths of two of the "Sinners" enclosed in a threatening note, proclaiming "Revenge for Lorenzo" and a threat to Tiberius. His response is to set up a reunion of sorts with the remaining survivors. 

When Veronica and Tiberius find Stoker wandering in the forests of Bavaria and present the plan to him, Stoker thinks it a hare-brained and dangerous scheme. But Tibirious knows his brother well and baits the trap with a commission to build a life-sized model of a megalosaurus. As a natural historian and taxidermist, Stoker cannot resist the challenge. He is also troubled about his brother's safety but downplays it. The people who gather at the Estate are not seemingly murderous, but there are undercurrents. At least some of them are hiding secrets regarding the death of Lorenzo and are willing to do anything to keep those secrets.

Veronica Speedwell, modeled on various "Lady Travelers" from the Victorian Era, is completely emancipated, a lepidopterist by trade. She has traveled the world bringing back rare butterfly specimens to earn her living. She is also stubborn as a mule and perfectly matched to Stoker. The verbal by-play between the two is always entertaining, and the scrapes they get into are often hair-raising. I enjoy this series tremendously and look forward to each one eagerly. Thanks to NetGalley.com and Berkley Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars