Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Winter hits Wisconsin with a Vengeance

Mattie Winston Mystery #10
Annelise Ryan
Kensington Books
March 2, 2019

An early morning call brings Death Investigator Mattie Winston her most challenging case yet in this ten book series. A battered, nameless teenage girl has been left at the local hospital and has succumbed to her injuries. The man who left her disappeared, giving no information other than she supposedly was involved in a traffic accident. Upon examining the body, Mattie discovers many old injuries and evidence of IV drug use. The possibility of human trafficking is definite, not the norm in small Sorenson, WI. Even more troubling, the teenager indicated in her last words that her younger sister was being held. This event leads Mattie, her new husband Detective Hurley, and the Coroner's Department on a race to find the younger sister before it's too late.

I have always enjoyed the Mattie Winston series for its well-constructed mysteries, often lightened with zany humor. I am somewhat disappointed by Dead of Winter, however, as the joke was of the "bathroom" variety and occupied too much of the storyline. A secondary case of domestic abuse against an acquaintance of Mattie's plays well into the main story. There is another murder at the local theater which had no relevance and felt like padding. The Mattie Winston series is taking on a darker tone, which I don't object to. Mattie is a likable character and doesn't have to suffer all the silly mishaps, especially those that are avoidable. While this book was a disappointment, I am not ready to give up on the series.

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

RATING-3 Stars

Monday, February 25, 2019

Something Extra Buried in the Garden

An English Cottage Garden Mystery #1
H.Y. Hanna
Wisheart Press
February 16, 2019

There are times when one needs to leave all the strife and noise of daily life in the 21st century behind and dive into a novel without any of that sort of discord.Thankfully, H.Y. Hanna is prolific and always provides an escape, The first in her new series, Deadhead and Buried. Poppy Lancaster is a London city girl, who is all alone in the world after the death of her free-spirited but irresponsible mother. Her job is a dead-end, her boss is a harridan, and her only caring friend is her kindly landlady. Imagine her surprise when she receives a solicitor's letter with the news that she has inherited a property in the countryside from a grandmother she never knew.

At last, it seems that Poppy will be able to sell the property, have some money to spare, travel a bit and perhaps find her father, who she also never knew. Upon her arrival though, she finds a run-down cottage, a defunct garden business and a body buried in a shallow grave. And perhaps a whole new life, far from what she has ever envisioned for herself.
Deadhead and Buried is a charming and well-written cozy mystery with a likeable heroine in Poppy, and plenty of quirky characters. Poppy has an elderly "mad scientist" and a handsome but curmudgeonly crime writer for close neighbors, and a previously unknown cousin who thinks that he should have inherited. The bossy, talkative ginger cat, Oren, who adopts Poppy as his own adds to the plentiful humor. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, Silent Bud Deadly.

Disclosure: A review copy of this book was sent to me by the author. All of the above opinions are my own         

RATING- 4 Stars

Monday, February 18, 2019

For fans of Louise Penny, a new series set in Quebec

A Russell and Leduc Mystery #1
Ann Lambert
Second Story Books
February 19, 2019

This excellent debut novel takes place in the Laurentian Mountains, north of Montreal. Marie Russell is a divorced nature writer and mother of two grown children. She lives quietly in a cottage with no close neighbors. One of her neighbors, however, is Madame Newman, a woman in her eighties living a spartan and reclusive life. The semi-retired handyman, Louis Lachance, is perhaps the closest person to being a friend, but even he knows nothing about her past. When he finds her outside her cottage, strangled and frozen, he is the only one to mourn her. Chief homicide investigator, Roméo Leduc is just days away from his first vacation in two years, but this investigation will put an end to that. Leduc at first thinks that it might be a botched break-in by a local biker gang but quickly realizes there is more to this crime than meets the eye. Finding out just who Madame Newman was is the key. Marie and Leduc cross paths when Marie's mother, who suffers from dementia, identifies the dead woman from a photo in the paper as a Mrs. Kovak, who lived in the same suburban neighborhood that Marie grew up with. Marie is not at all sure that her mother is correct, but does remember the Kovak family, They were refugees from the Hungarian uprising in the 1950s. Her remembrances are spurred in part by the sale and closing of her childhood home and moving her mother into a care facility make her do a little detective work of her own.

The Birds That Stay takes us from post-WWII Hungary to Canada in the 70s and 80s, not all that different to the US of the same era. Many women of the time lived stifled by the mores of the day. Marie's mother and Mrs. Kovak were no different. Mr. and Mrs. Kovak had secrets of a more severe kind and those secrets led to not only her death but others. There are multiple overlapping stories told but all the characters are beautifully realized and memorable. Along the way, Roméo and Marie form the tentative beginnings of a relationship, one that I am looking forward to watching in the future.

I highly recommend The Birds That Stay for its characterization, sense of place and well-plotted mystery. I am already looking forward to the next in the series. Thanks to NetGalley and Second Story Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

It's never a good idea to get on a Duke's wrong side

A Charles Lenox Prequel #2
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books
February 19, 2019

The second prequel of the long-running Charles Lenox series after last year's The Woman in the Water shows the 26-year-old Lenox at somewhat of a career ebb. This ebb occurs after Lenox has solved a case that Scotland Yard could not. A summons comes from the immensely rich and powerful Duke of Dorset, "the third man in England". A painting has been stolen from the Duke's private study but not the painting the Duke might have expected; a small and unassuming portrait purported to be of William Shakespeare. The Duke wants Lenox to not only find the stolen portrait but to find out why it was stolen rather than the Shakespeare. Lenox is aware that there are facts hidden by the Duke, but one does not say no to the Duke of Dorset. HIs quest takes him into the highest and lowest parts of society in 1853 England and the dangers inherent in getting on the "wrong side" of a Duke. There is also the search for a missing Shakespeare play, family drama, the mystery of a man in Bedlam who claims to be not mad, but there because he ran afoul of the Royal Family, and a meeting with "The Vanishing Man" of the title. "The Vanishing Man" may just help Lenox hone his detecting skills in the future. I certainly hope so.

I have been a fan of the Charles Lenox series since the first novel, "A Beautiful Blue Death". However, the most recent prequel novels have increased my appreciation exponentially. Seeing the difficulties he encountered, the mistakes he made, and his determination to pursue his career make him even more attractive than the 40-something gentleman we first met. I can see the support and love of his family that made his career possible, and that of his now-wife, Lady Jane. One of the greatest pleasures of the Charles Lenox Mysteries are the little facts inserted into the text so effortlessly. For example, the origin of the word "tips", the "cock and bull story" and a description of Italian pudding. It turns out that it is an Italian variation of the English "trifle". Italian pudding, "Zuppa Inglese", is made with a liqueur not available in North America, but I plan to work on that!

I highly recommend the Charles Lenox mysteries and the prequel novels in particular. Thanks to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Secrets Must Be Kept

A Rockton Novel #4
Kelley Armstrong
Minotaur Books
February 5, 2019

Watcher in the Woods begins almost immediately after the events of This Fallen Prey. A resident of this strange little town in the Canadian Yukon, a refuge for both the innocent and the guilty, Kenny, was paralyzed by a gunshot wound. The Sheriff, Eric Dalton, and his deputy and partner, Casey Duncan are well aware that the basic medical services in the town aren't sufficient to help him. Luckily, Casey knows that her physician sister, April, is just the person to help him recover. Unluckily, the two sisters are opposites and have been estranged for years. Eric and Casey also know that the "council" who control the Rockton finances and who comes and goes will never agree to bring her in. It will be up to the pair to persuade April to consent and to smuggle her in and out. Surprisingly April agrees but having her in Rockton for even a short time will be a challenge. On the heels of April's arrival, Eric and Casey discover a man watching the town from the surrounding woods. As they pursue him, it becomes clear that he has not just happened to find Rockton. He is there for a purpose and must be found and questioned. The watcher will throw Rockton into chaos once again. The closely held secrets of the town cannot be exposed, for everyone's safety. 

Watcher in the Woods is another high energy thriller from Kelley Armstrong. This series has quickly become a favorite. The premise of the books is fascinating, and I never see who to trust. Everybody has a story and most of them aren't the real truth. No matter what happens Eric and Casey know that they can trust each other, however. I did find the numerous characters a little difficult to keep sorted this time. Some were not as well characterized as I would like and I had to keep thinking back to previous books to remember their places in the town. Watcher in the Woods could be read as a standalone, but I don't recommend it.

I am looking forward to the next one though. Thanks to Netgalley and Minotaur for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 4 Stars