Monday, May 30, 2016

Three Fun Cozies for a Long Holiday Weekend

A SCONE TO DIE FOR (Oxford Tearoom Mystery # 1)
H.Y. Hanna
Wisheart Press
January 2016

Oxford native and graduate Gemma Rose has returned from several years in Australia working at a high-powered job in the corporate world. All her money is sunk into her dream, a tearoom that she is running along with her best friend, Cassie, an aspiring artist. Things are going well even though Gemma has had to move in with her overbearing mother and absent-minded father. After all, she has hired a wonderful baker, Fletcher, and has regulars who are willing not only to help out but praise the tearoom all over Oxford. Things go very wrong when an obnoxious American tourist is discovered in the tearoom's courtyard with a scone shoved into his mouth; the same tourist who made a huge scene in the tearoom the previous day. Devlin O'Connor, CID Detective, and Gemma's former university boyfriend promptly closes the tearoom while the investigation proceeds. What's a girl to do but try to get to the bottom of the case before her business goes under?

TEA WITH MILK AND MURDER begins at an Oxford cocktail party in a new art gallery where Gemma's friend and employee Cassie is showing her work. Cassie is not only the focus of the exhibit but is romantically involved with the gallery owner. Gemma does not like the new boyfriend but is determined not to interfere. When a University student collapses and dies at the party after Gemma overhears a sinister conversation, she must investigate. She thinks that the gallery owner was part of the conversation and is afraid that Cassie is going to be badly hurt. Meanwhile, Gemma's mother is causing chaos at the tearoom and trying to matchmake for her. The old sparks with Devlin O'Connor are still there but murder keeps getting in the way.

A phone call in the wee hours of the morning is the beginning of TWO DOWN, BUN TO GO. Gemma's old university side-kick, the shy academic, Seth, is in trouble and needs her help. A professor has been murdered in the college cloisters and Seth is the chief suspect. The professor and Seth had a heated argument earlier in the evening and Seth was seen in the cloisters. The clues, however, point to some long buried feud at the university. Gemma and Cassie know that Seth could not have murdered anyone but things are looking bad for their old friend.

The Oxford Tearoom Mysteries are a real find. All three books are charming, quick reads with lovable characters and lots of humor. They bring back memories of my visits to Oxford with the descriptions of the city and the colleges. The inclusion of the four "Biddies", elderly ladies who like to meddle in murder are often hilarious. Another great "character" is Muesli, Gemma's mischievous cat who sometimes turns up a clue herself. Each of the books kept me guessing and thoroughly entertained. I am looking forward to the next in the series and highly recommend them.

RATING-4 Stars

Monday, May 23, 2016

Early Review of Borrowing Death (Charlotte Brody Mystery #2)

BORROWING DEATH (Charlotte Brody Mystery #2)
Cathy Pegau
Kensington Books
June 28, 2016

Borrowing Death opens shortly after the close of Murder on the Last Frontier. Charlotte Brody has decided to extend her stay in Cordova, a small town on the Alaska frontier. She has found a job reporting and typesetting at the local newspaper and is still sending her serial about frontier women to be published back east. She likes her job, the people of Cordova and seeing her brother, Michael, the town doctor, on a regular basis. She especially likes the handsome Deputy Marshal, James Eddington.

The novel opens with Charlotte's editorial about the Volstead Act, which would establish National Prohibition. Charlotte, as a free-thinking suffragette, thinks it is a very bad idea which will open the doors to all sorts of crime. She expects her editorial to stir up controversy in the town. It indeed does, but is eclipsed by a fire that guts the town hardware store and takes the life of its' owner, Lyle Fiske. Cordova has recently had a series of arson fires, but none have caused such property damage, much less loss of life. It is soon clear that it was not arson, but murder. Lyle Fiske and his wife, Caroline, have many secrets, but which of those secrets would lead to murder? Charlotte wants to find out and get the story.

The Charlotte Brody Mysteries are a nice mixture of history, mystery and just a little romance. I particularly enjoy the portrayal of the characters and setting. The social issues of the day have not changed very much in the ninety plus years since the era of the novel. Prejudice and discrimination are still with us, as well attempts to legislate morality and limit the rights of women. Despite the admitted failure of National Prohibition that Charlotte predicts in her editorial. Thanks to Netgalley and Kensington Books for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3 Stars

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Real Estate Can Be Deadly

Sarah T. Hobart
Random House Alibi
May 17, 2016

Sam Turner is a fledgling real estate agent in her hometown of Arlinda in northern California. Life has not been simple for Sam since her husband disappeared, leaving her to raise her son, Max, thirteen years earlier. She and Max are finally in a position to purchase a home of their own. She even has hopes for selling a new listing, 13 Aster Lane. The house is a crumbling Victorian, more of a tear down than a fixer-upper, and rumored to be haunted. But when she gets three bids in rapid succession and the bidders are turning up dead, Sam begins to wonder just what is going on. Not only that, someone is trying to kill her, and her ex-husband shows up at her door. Never mind the simmering romance between her and the Arlinda Chief of Police.

Death at a Fixer-Upper is a fast-paced and often humorous first book in a new series. Sam is a likable heroine with a great kid. She is tough, but then she has had to be. Arlinda is one of the quirkiest towns ever, full of some very strange characters; in fact, I found the wealth of characters a little overwhelming and confusing at times. Otherwise, Death at a Fixer-Upper is a promising debut in a new series.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Alibi for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3 Stars

Monday, May 16, 2016

Things Done and Not Done, Known and Unknown

Phaedra Patrick
MIRA Books
May 3, 2016

Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper rises at the same time every morning in his home situated outside the city walls of York. He gets dressed, has a bit of breakfast and often putters around in his garden. Always a bit of a "stick in the mud", Arthur has almost become a recluse in the year since the death of his beloved wife, Miriam. Its seems that Miriam was the glue that held his small family together. His son, Dan, has moved to Australia, and Arthur seldom sees his daughter, Lucy, even though she lives nearby. The family is not exactly estranged, just distant. If it were not for the ladies of the neighborhood, the "Bereavement Biddies", who have stepped up and provided food, Arthur might have just faded away. Chief among the "Biddies" are his neighbor, Bernadette, and her unprepossessing teenage son, Nathan.

Shortly before the first-year anniversary of Miriam's death, Arthur decides that the time has come to clear out Miriam's possessions. There are no great surprises until he reaches into the toe of one of Miriam's winter boots and finds a charm bracelet that he has no memory of. The charm bracelet is gold, obviously expensive, and nothing that he would ever expect his wife to possess. One charm, in particular, catches his eye; an elephant set with a small emerald. On closer inspection, the word "Ayah" and a phone number with country code are engraved on the elephant. The results of the phone call to that number send Arthur on a journey both geographical and into his memories of and beliefs about Miriam. There was much more to Miriam than Arthur ever knew or even thought to question.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a wonderful debut novel from an author to watch. I have always thought that age is no barrier to growth and change, as long as the willingness is there. Arthur Pepper proves that theory, in a very heartfelt and human way. Thanks to Netgalley and MIRA for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Violent, Poetic and Heartbreaking

John Hart
Macmillan Audio, Minotaur Books
January 2009

Twelve-year-old Johnny Merrimon's life and family have fallen apart in the year since the abduction of his twin sister, Alyssa. They know that it was an abduction because there was a witness. His father, unable to deal with his wife's blame over Alyssa's disappearance, left the family and has not been heard from since. His mother has descended into a fog of drugs and alcohol and fallen into a violently abusive relationship with the town's richest man. Johnny is left to fend for himself, doing the cooking and cleaning that gets done. His main mission, however, is to find his sister and somehow put his family back together. There are no limits to what Johnny is willing to do to find his sister. The ripples of the abduction have touched on other families as well in the small North Carolina town. The detective in charge of the case, Hunt, is obsessed both by the case and Johnny's mother, Catherine. Hunt's wife has left him and his son has changed completely, becoming distant and sullen. As the novel unfolds, long-hidden secrets come to light.

It took me years to get to this book; it has been sitting in my audible library since it was released. I started it several times but honestly, child abduction and parental abandonment are two circumstances that push all my buttons. I have read all of John Hart's books and loved them to a greater or lesser degree but somehow kept putting this one off. When I finally decided it was time, and past time, I was blown away by the poetry of John Hart's prose and the authenticity of the location and characters. I grew up in Eastern North Carolina myself, so I know the territory and the people, along with the small town pettiness that ends up somehow blaming the victims rather than the perpetrators. That pettiness, of course, is not confined to the South or North Carolina.

The Last Child is a great crime novel, a little slow to start but once it hits its' stride it never lets up. It is meticulously plotted and full of surprises. I wavered about the rating because I felt that some of the circumstances were just a shade contrived and entirely too coincidental. I wasn't all that bothered while listening to the book, so I think I have to go with 5 Stars. The audio edition is superbly narrated by Scott Sowers and I highly recommend it.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Riveting Dual Timeline Story with a Touch of the Paranormal

Sarah Painter
Lake Union Publishing
April 1, 2016

It is 1938 in Brighton and Grace Kemp is entering nurse's training at the Royal Sussex Hospital. It's clear that nursing is not her choice, but that of her family. Grace has been exiled by her family in disgrace. Eighty years later, Mina Morgan is recovering from a catastrophic automobile accident; one that left her in a coma for several days. Mina is on staff at the Royal Sussex and has been having an affair with her boss, Mark. She has few friends and is estranged from her family but at least Mark is supportive, or is he? Mina is suffering from a head injury that has left her with memory loss and she does not understand why she can't reach her twin brother, Geraint, the only member of her family she wants to speak to. Poor Grace Kemp doesn't even have a minimal support system except the one she builds for herself. Mina has seen portents in the form of "ghost birds", signaling bad things to come all her life. She has never seen the ghost of a young nurse in antiquated uniform before the accident, though. As the two stories told In the Light of What We See unfold and Mina's memories come back slowly, we can see the parallels between the two women's lives. Both Grace and Mina are under threat from those who should have their best interests at heart.

I applaud Sarah Painter's ability to portray a character as essentially unlikeable as Mina and make her sympathetic. Mina is closed up to emotion and doesn't seem to need human connections. Grace, on the other hand, is a character one cares about from the beginning. The various strands of the dual timeline are woven seamlessly into a riveting narrative of love, loss, and redemption for both women. I highly recommend In the Light of What We See, as well as Painter's earlier novels, The Secrets of Ghosts and The Language of Spells.

Thanks to Netgalley and Lake Union for a digital copy in return for an honest review.

RATING- 4 Stars