Wednesday, May 31

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith

Review by Claire McManus
My book club read The Full Cupboard of Life for our meeting last month, and (as I have long been a fan of this series), I felt the need to read the next book in the series!  I like to wait for the softcover version, so I was thrilled to get it for the nicer softcover price.  
After the last book, which I enjoyed greatly but found to sometimes stretch the boundaries of believability, I felt that McCall Smith returned to his usual good form in this book.  The introduction of two major new characters (a new employee for the garage/detective agency, and a new beau for the somewhat challenging Mma Makutsi, or as everyone else seems to call her, Mma 97%) breathes fresh life into the series.  Both are very lovely and likable characters who are perfect extensions to the family that Mma Ramotswe likes to surround herself with.  The detective stories seem to be taking an increasing back seat, which isn't really a problem as they've never been the focus of the series anyway.  The mysteries to be solved are usually resolved by someone simply flapping their gums and telling a secret - though, strangely, the mystery that opens the book is never solved (perhaps it will be revisited in the sequel).  One thing that I really enjoyed was the author's increasing exploration of the occasionally moderately contentious relationship between Mma Ramotswe & Mma Makutsi has come into her own more and more, she has begun to chafe a bit under Mma Ramotswe's direction, and the two occasionally get on each other's nerves.  This is a lovely breath of realism in a series noted for its idealism.  All in all, recommended, though newbies should probably start with the earier books in the series.

Tuesday, May 30

Tilt a Whirl by Chris Grabenstein

Review by Andrea Maloney

Sea Haven, New Jersey's quiet fun in the sun is suddenly shattered when Ashley Hart comes screaming down the street covered in blood. John Ceepak having newly joined the Sea Haven police and his partner Danny Boyle, a part time summer cop,  rush to help her and find she has been the sole witness to her father's brutal murder on the Tilt a Whirl at the town's seedy amusement park. 

Ceepak, a cop 24/7 who follows his own personal moral code leads the investigation assisted by Boyle.  Soon they find themselves with plenty of suspects in the murder of Ashley's father who was a billionaire real estate tycoon with numerous enemies. Many twists and turns keep Ceepak and Boyle one step behind a ruthless killer until the final shattering denouement.

Chris Grabenstein has written a fast and furious, exhilaratingly different mystery with a touch of humor, a dash of Springsteen and a dose of murder. Stirred together and you have a mystery that grabs you from the very first page and doesn't let go until the unexpected ending.

The characters of Ceepak and Boyle are like a breath of fresh air and a study in contrasts.  Ceepak is strong and steady with his own moral code that he follows at all times while Boyle is just working as a cop for the summer to make money and doesn't look upon it as a career choice. But Boyle will question whether he wants to be a full time cop as he comes to admire Ceepak and all he stands for.

The contrast between Ceepak and Boyle is beautifully handled, the characters have depth and life and the plot twists and turns like an amusement park ride on overdrive. Chris Grabenstein's first novel is a wonderfully written who-done-it that will leave you wanting more.

Monday, May 22

The Dead Place by Stephen Booth

Review by Andrea Maloney

The police are receiving anonymous calls from someone taunting them that a killing is imminent and all they have to do is find "The Dead Place". It could be a hoax .  But Detective Diane Fry believes that they are dealing with a murderer and becomes close to obsessed with finding the caller whose calls are eerie with horrifying descriptions of death and decay.  

Meanwhile DC Ben Cooper is dealing with the first case of body snatching in Derbyshire. The investigation takes him into the secret world of people who lives revolve around the dead and their disposal, funeral directors, crematorium staff and a professor whose area of expertise is the study of death.

Fry and Cooper are soon looking for "The Dead Place" and find themselves learning much more about death and it's aftermath than they had ever wanted to know.

Wonderful descriptive detail gives an atmosphere that is dark and chilling. Fry is a character who appears to be deeply psychologically affected by the calls and who finds herself fixated on finding the threatening caller. Cooper finds himself dealing with death in ways very personal to him.

In depth characterization gives you a good sense of what makes these two tick and brings about an interest in learning more about them. Cooper appears to be a smart and caring detective with a brilliant mind for details. While at times Fry comes across as cold and uncaring but you come to see that deep down she perhaps cares too much.

Some of the descriptive details of what goes on behind the scenes at a funeral parlor are quite chilling and you will find yourself cringing and trying to get the images out of your mind.

The Dead Place offers a terrific storyline that moves along at a nice clip, offering up details and clues that will have you trying to figure out what is going on, but you'll find yourself one step behind until the very end.

Stephen Booth has written a brilliantly dark and disturbing police procedural that will leave you gasping for breath as you find yourself surrounded by death and all it entails.

Tuesday, May 16

Consigned to Death by Jane K. Cleland

Review by Andrea Maloney

Josie Prescott has left New York behind to start a new life in New Hampshire.  Everyone thought she was crazy to leave behind her big New York auction house job and her steady boyfriend for a new start in New Hampshire. Things are now beginning to look up for Josie as she has her very own antiques auction business up and running and it's beginning to be a successful venture.  She then meets up with the eligible and handsome local police chief unfortunately he pegs her as the prime suspect in the murder of a local resident. Things go from bad to worse when a painting belonging to the victim turns up at Josie's business. Suddenly, Josie finds herself trying to identify a killer who has set their sites on Josie with the intention of trapping her in a web of death and deceit. With everything to lose Josie sets out to prove her innocence.

A delightful addition to the mystery genre with an engaging new heroine. Josie Prescott is a fiercely determined heroine with an appealing personality full of purpose and life. Cleland presents to us the cutthroat world of antiques and auctions. Loaded with insider details of the auction world, Consigned to Death, is a beautifully written mystery, with a deft plot and loveable and detailed characters that pull you into the story and will keep you up into the night until you get to the satisfying finale. I for one am greatly looking forward to another mystery with the charming Josie Prescott.

Mallory's Oracle by Carol O'Connell

Review by Andrea Maloney

A serial killer is on the loose. Wealthy elderly women living in Gramercy park are being brutally murdered in broad daylight. The police are baffled.  There aren't any witnesses despite the fact the murders are taking place practically out in the open in the daytime.  Then Louis Markowitz, the detective in charge of the case, is murdered along with another elderly victim.  And here the serial killer has made his first mistake for Markowitz's adopted daughter is Kathleen Mallory and she's enraged at his murder and out for vengeance.  Adopted by Louis and Helen Markowitz when she was eleven (he found her living on the street) Mallory is a strong and forceful woman who tends to work outside the law when it suits her. Her troubled past is hinted at and it goes a long way to explain how she came to be the way she is. Forced on leave from the police department Mallory begins investigating the murders on her own along with the help of, Charles, a friend of the families and Riker another police officer. Mallory's investigation takes her from psychics, the occult and beyond into SEC investigations and stock fraud. She soon finds herself in the sights of a killer and it will take all her skills, intelligence and even her sociopathic qualities to bring the killer to justice.

Mallory is an intriguing character, extremely flawed …almost a sociopath and yet you can see cracks in her façade that indicate there may be more humanity in her than even she knows of. It will be interesting to see how her character evolves in the later novels. O'Connell writes with a deft hand. Her characters are well written, given depth and allow us into their lives. In the end we come to care for them even though they are flawed.  Nicely plotted with a plethora of suspects the storyline is believable and had me guessing until the revealing end. The plot drives the story along but it is the characters who are the soul of the book. You will be thinking about them and remembering them long after you have finished reading Mallory's Oracle.

Monday, May 8

Poison Ivy by Misty Simon

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Ivy Morris inherits her great aunt's house and business.  She is thrilled as she was still living with her father in the room her mother decorated over a decade ago. 

She is quite surprised when she arrives at her new business.  It's not only a costume shop.  Plus the assistant doesn't seem too pleased to have her there.  Ivy's not used to being assertive and finds it difficult dealing with her.  But with the Harvest Ball looming so close, she needs the help.  So, she puts up with her planning to talk to her later. 

Ivy decides to try to solve the mystery of the missing lingerie from the side business, but is soon sidetracked when her new friend is found murdered at the ball.  Ivy had just given her a matching costume to hers right before the ball.  Who could have murdered such a nice woman? 

Ivy's new friend Bella, and Ben, a local journalist and probably the hottest single male in town, help Ivy try to uncover the killer without being the next victims.  There are some hot scenes with Ivy and Ben that almost distract them from their quest. 

I thoroughly loved this book.  I can't wait to read the next in the series.  Ivy is such a hoot!  Misty has such a wonderful way of telling a story through Ivy's eyes.  I feel as if I know her.  I found myself laughing out loud quite often while reading this book.  I also found it difficult to put down and read it in 1 day. 

I highly recommend this book.

Jill 9 by J. D. Tynan

Review by Dawn Dowdle

There's a serial killer loose and FBI Agent IAN Hamlin is determined to stop him.  He feels responsible for letting down the 4th Jill that was killed and vows to not let that happen again.  As the killing moves around the country, Ian and his partner Will follow his path. 

Then Ian discovers a Jill in another part of the country that he recognizes from his past as well as is concerned for her safety.  Since no one has been notified about there being a serial killer loose, Jill is totally unaware.  She begins to receive strange gifts and calls, but thinks they are just stalkers.  She is the first weathergirl in Vancouver and knows stalkers come with the territory. 

She soon starts dating Elias, but she isn't too sure what her feelings are for him.  She keeps him at a distance as long as possible. 

Ian finally gets permission to protect Jill and that sets off sparks of its own.  Can Ian keep her safe without getting personally involved?  Can Jill decide about Elias?   

This book not only is a great suspense, it has a wonderful love triangle in it.  I do want to caution that there is quite a bit of sex in this book.  Normally, I don't like that.  It was so integral to the story in this book, that it added to the story.  I found this book so hard to put down. I read it in 1 day!  I just had to find out who did it and which man Jill would pick.   

I highly recommend this book.

Better Off Wed by Laura Durham

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Wedding planner Annabelle Archer and her assistant stumble over the body of the dead mother-of-the-bride during the reception.  Not a good thing at all. 

The caterer, and Annabelle's friend, Richard Gerard comes under suspicion.  So, Annabelle sets out to find out who killed the most hated socialite in D.C., which is no easy task.  Her assistant and Richard assist her.  Her neighbor does her fare share as well, including continually getting the handsome detective to return to Annabelle's.   

Can Annabelle help Richard, run her wedding planning business, and uncover a killer all without finding herself the next victim?  She finds herself in many sticky situations while trying. 

I truly loved this book.  I now know why it won Best First Novel at Malice Domestic this year.  It is a fun, fast read!  Bad thing was that I finished it so fast.  I can't wait to read the next one.  Annabelle is such a great character.  She's witty and fun and has wonderful people around her.  The handsome detective helps stir things up as well. 

I felt the plot was well written as well.  Plenty of red herrings and twists to keep you thinking who could have done it.  I highly recommend this book.

And Only To Deceive by Tasha Alexander

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Soon after Emily and Philip's wedding, Philip dies while on safari in Africa.  Since Emily only married him to escape her overbearing mother, she doesn't really grieve him. 

Nearly two years later, near the end of her grieving period, Emily begins to learn more about Philip and find out who he really was.  He wasn't what she thought.  She also discovers that he was madly in love with her.  She immerses herself in learning about ancient artifacts and begins to study Greek to be able to understand him even more. 

She meets many people and learns about stolen and forged artifacts.  During this time, she finds herself juggling two wealthy suitors.  She sets out to solve the crime of the stolen and forged artifacts and that leads her to more surprises about Philip. 

First, let me say that I normally don't read books set overseas, let alone in the 1800s. I started reading it because I met the author at Malice Domestic and heard so much about the book it intrigued me.  I kept reading because it was so well written, and I loved Emily.  I found I just couldn't put it down.  I like Emily so much because while she's a regal lady, she is also a rebel.  She doesn't let society tell her what she can and cannot do.  I liked her interactions with the two suitors as well.  The fact that she falls in love with Philip after his death was a great twist, too.  She does a great job in uncovering the truth and bringing the crime to light without putting herself in too much danger. 

I love Tasha's writing style.  I would definitely like to read the next book in this series.  I highly recommend this book.

Death Takes a Honeymoon by Deborah Donnelly

Review by Dawn Dowdle

Wedding planner Carnegie Kincaid goes back to Sun Valley in Idaho because her cousin died.  He was a smoke jumper--jumped out of planes to fight fires.  Carnegie wasn't that close to Brian, but she returns because her friend B.J. needs her.  Plus their old friend, Tracy Kane, was marrying Jack Packard, an old flame of Carnegie's.  Jack was also a smoke jumper. 

Carnegie ends up helping with the wedding, against her better judgment.  There are constant problems with flowers, etc., and most importantly the mother of the bride.  The bride has her fair share of problems as well.  Carnegie has to handle all of them.  Can she handle Jack as well without getting into trouble?  There are also all of Tracy's Hollywood friends.  Tracy is a famous TV actress.   

All the while, Carnegie is missing her boyfriend Aaron in Seattle.  And she's looking into the death of Brian. Things don't quite add up to an accident in her mind.  Can she help B.J. and discover the truth about Brian's death while creating the wedding of Tracy's dreams?  And can she do it without anyone else dying? 

This is the second in this series that I have read. I really enjoy it.  Carnegie is such a fun character.  Deborah throws in lots of great humor and still has a well-constructed mystery.  I find I devour the books quickly as they are so much fun to read. 

In this book, I really liked how she had so many different things going on at once.  Carnegie is being pulled in many different directions at once, but she handles them well.  It seemed very believable to me.  I also did not figure out the killer ahead which is a real plus to me. 

I look forward to reading many more books in this series.  I highly recommend this book and the whole series.  It's such a fun read!

Friday, May 5

A Vision of Murder by Victoria Laurie

Review by Andrea Maloney

Abby Cooper finds herself being a ghostbuster after her sister, Cat, talks her into investing in a fixer-upper. Soon after she closes on the property Abby witnesses a replay of a long ago murder that took place in the house and her handyman becomes victim to flying drills and other ghostly activity as the ghosts in residence stir up trouble. Aided by her boyfriend, FBI agent Dutch Rivers, Abby discovers the key to the murder involves a hidden treasure lost since World War II.  As she follows the trail to the truth Abby finds herself in the sights of a madman who will stop at nothing to find the treasure and keep Abby from learning the truth.

Another fun installment in the Abby Cooper, A Psychic Eye mysteries with a nice twisty plot and likeable characters. I figured out who was after Abby early on but it didn't detract from this likeable and fun story. Again we find Abby putting herself into situations that her psychic intuition is warning her about so hopefully in the future Abby will develop a little more sense but Abby Cooper is a highly likeable character and this book is chock full of romance, suspense and a great mystery.  Abby Cooper is a character I hope will be around for a long time.

Better Read than Dead by Victoria Laurie

Review by Andrea Maloney

Abby Cooper is back in the next installment of the Psychic Eye Mysteries.  Her new boyfriend, FBI agent Dutch Rivers is due back and Abby is ready to finally spend some time getting to know him while settling into her newly renovated house.  But that doesn't come to pass as a friend calls her and asks her to read tarot cards at a, her boyfriend is sent off on an assignment with his sexy new partner and the police need her help to solve the case of a serial rapist who has been attacking local women. She finds some very suspicious characters at the wedding and soon realizes she is in over her head and soon she is in trouble with the Mob, the police and her FBI agent boyfriend. 

I really enjoy the Abby Cooper books.  I find them fun and entertaining with a likeable cast of characters and fast paced plots. I just wish the characters would stop "smirking" so much as I'm finding it rather distracting and Abby needs to look before she leaps. She's psychic and yet she keeps putting herself into dangerous situations even when she knows trouble is brewing. But terrific writing, a delightful plot and a great cast of characters more than make up for these small flaws.

The Guards by Ken Bruen

Review by Andrea Maloney

Irishman Jack Taylor is a former member of Ireland's Garda Siochana, living in Galway,  who was relieved of duty because of his heavy drinking.  Now he is a finder of things (which in most cases would be a private eye but the Irish won't abide by private eyes) so he is just a finder of things.  One day the mother of a teenage suicide comes to him and asks him to find out the truth about her daughter who she believes didn't commit suicide. Jack who is drunk, as he usually is,  agrees to help her.  He sets out to try to find out the truth while also trying to drink himself into oblivion. The mystery practically solves itself while along the way we are treated to a brilliant look at a fascinating character.

If you are looking for a nice private eye novel with a deliciously intricate mystery this book isn't for you. Instead if you like a wonderful character driven noir type novel then run out an grab this book.  It's a fascinating in depth look into the tortured life of Jack Taylor with a post modern twist. It's at times funny and in the same breath fills you will despair. A lightening fast read with sparse prose that grabs you right from the beginning and holds you enthralled until the surprising end. The sparseness of the prose just adds to the impact of this book for each word written by Bruen is used with maximum effectiveness to capture the anguished world of Jack Taylor.

Wednesday, May 3

Feint of Art by Hailey Lind

Review by Andrea Maloney

At a young age Annie Kincaid was a brilliant painter.  At the age of seventeen she became a crook because her brilliance at painting led to forgery. Now she is putting her talent to use, honestly,  as a faux finisher in San Francisco.  She's put her past behind her and has finally started to make a name for herself in her new business.  But sometimes the past just won't stay in the past.  Her ex-boyfriend, Ernst Pettigrew,  asks her to authenticate a Caravaggio painting for him at the Brock Museum where he works.  Unfortunately the painting is a fake and the same night Annie makes this revelation a janitor at the museum is murdered and Ernst disappears. On top of all this a well known art dealer has disappeared with a fortune in old master drawings, her new landlord is doubling her rent and a charming art thief keeps leaving her in the lurch. She soon finds herself up to her eyeballs in forgeries, fakes and trouble is knocking at her door.

Hailey Lind has written a fun and fast moving mystery novel that is sure to delight mystery readers everywhere especially art fans. Feint of Art is loaded with interesting information about the art world and the shadowy world of art forgers and forgeries.  Her characters are full of life and rich in details. Annie Kincaid is an amusing and fascinating woman who is flawed but not too much. And the plot is intriguing and will keep you ensnared until the end. Readers will be left wanting to hear more about Annie Kincaid and her far from quiet life.

Monday, May 1

Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye by Victoria Laurie

Review by Andrea Maloney

Abby Cooper is a P.I., psychic intuitive living a rather bland life. But all that changes when a client winds up dead, she goes on a blind date with a handsome fellow who turns out to be the lead investigator in the murder and the police become suspicious of her because she seems to know too much about murder. Feeling guilty for the death of her client Abby determines to look into the murder using her own special abilities but even being psychic may not be enough to save Abby when a killer sets their sights on her.

Whether you believe in psychics or not this is a fun and entertaining read and the character's psychic ability and other people's reactions to it is dealt with in a realistic and thoughtful way. This book is perfect for the times you want to read a book that's fun & exciting but not too heavy.  Abby Cooper is a well written, delightful character, there's a steamy hot romance and an exciting mystery that will keep you involved from beginning to end. Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye looks to be the beginning of a wonderful series with an engaging heroine and an author who knows her stuff.

The Smoke by Tony Broadbent

Review by Andrea Maloney

Jethro is a cat burglar and jewel thief in 1947 postwar England. He has told everyone he has gone straight and is now working as a stagehand in London's many theaters and music halls.  But in reality he is still committing capers against the wealthy in Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Belgravia.  The top villains in London don't believe he has gone straight and neither does Messima the local crime boss.  And each at one time or another want him to do a little job for him. He finds himself in a tight corner after he burglars the embassy of a Soviet satellite country taking the Ambassador's wife's and daughter's jewels. For he then finds himself under the scrutiny of MI5 when even they ask him to burgle for him and if he doesn't things could go very badly for himself, his friends and family. What ensues is a fast paced game of cat and mouse with gangsters, MI5 and secret agents.

What we have here is a terrifically atmospheric caper novel which showcases with depictive descriptions, post-war London. Jethro is a down to earth, intelligent, wise cracking, caring  and capable cat burglar who is brought to life with Tony Broadbent's skillful writing. And a wonderful supporting cast of characters makes for some terrific reading. The smoke is an enjoyable caper novel which in some spots moved a little slowly but the terrific post-war London details and the loveable character of Jethro more than made up for any slowdown in the plot.