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From time to time we have reviews written by family members, customers and authors!
Here is what they have to say!
This is a brave story about mental illness. The first paragraph tells you what's in store: “When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily. Dementia, as it descends, has a way of revealing the core of the person affected by it. My mother’s core was rotten like the brackish water at the bottom of a weeks-old vase of flowers. She had been beautiful when my father met her and still capable of love when I became their late-in-life child, but by the time she gazed up at me that day, none of this mattered.” The details of this family’s reality make you want to put the book away. However, I couldn't put it down.
The book evolves over the course of one day in the life of Helen Knightly. It is interwoven with flashbacks that come at you unexpectedly, so you feel as if you have not only lived the present day, but lived the life as well. In retrospect the difficulty I sometimes had with the time sequences mesh with the unsettling nature of the whole book. Helen tells you about killing her mother, and then takes you on a journey of living with her parents, management of her mother's illness, how it impacts her whole life, and how she copes with the aftermath. As mentioned in the story, her mother has agoraphobia, however, if you have any knowledge of mental illness, you also see strong personality traits all over: Bi-Polar Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Histrionic Personality Disorder. The author is able to describe the dimensions of these illnesses with uncomfortable clarity.
I didn't necessarily "like" Helen. But, that's not the point. I ached for her tragic position in this family and how it leads to her lifelong decision-making foibles. How does one unwrap themselves from the cocoon of a parent, a mother with this illness? And so the story is told.
The writing is beautiful. With phrases and insights that made me read the sentence again – it is as beautifully crafted as was her previous book, The Lovely Bones, which I adored. This book reminds me of another that I recommended, Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. If you enjoy deep, twisted family stories spoken in vivid language, this is the book for you.
Guest Reviewer: Bryon (Amber’s husband)
In American Elsewhere, an ex-cop with more problems than money is given a brief chance at picking up the shards of a normal life when she inherits a house in New Mexico. Shortly after Mona Bright is informed of her inheritance, this divorced ex-cop packs her few possesions into a cherry-red 1969 Dodge Charger and heads out of town.
She is guided by crumbs of information about a mother she barely knew to an unexpected town pulsing with the quintesential perfection of nostalgic Americana, with a buttery crust of unconventional assassins, a vigorous drug trade and a secret behind each perfect lawn. Nearby a top secret laboratory - shrouded and dormant - lights up for the first time in decades. Their esoteric research pushed the limits of science and the boundries of what we knew was possible.
Sooner than later, Mona will discover her mother's involvement in both the Town where the sky touches the earth and the Lab that Earth forgot.
I suggest drinking this story down shaken, not stirred. Sip it, savor it and don't look too deeply at the reflection in your mirror...
While Robert Jackson Bennett explores the world from a twisted point of view, his characters are busy dealing with science run amok, deep childhood abondonment and the deep dark secrets small towns never talk about.
Here are the readers for this book; people who enjoy books which fall between the genres of mystery and sci-fi - it does a good job in touching the important points of both styles. As well as having a kick-ass female protaginist who is determined to find the truth. It also helps to explain the small town mentality which I have encountered over the years, they are all aliens!
Gina, the cookie lady and Sunday volunteer recommends:
If you were to ask what impels me to pick up a debut novel I’d likely give you a variety of reasons; depending on the moment, it could be attributed to planet alignment, a recommendation from a fellow bookworm, eye-catching cover art, or my insatiable curiosity upon reading the synopsis on the back cover. In this case, it was the back cover that tweaked my interest.
Jason Stafford doesn’t sound like your typical thriller hero. After serving two years in prison for illegal trading practices he is now concentrating on gaining custody of his autistic son. Seems rather bland until you throw in his current consulting job at a high profile firm, where he is asked to audit the trades of a junior partner who has died in an accident. Or was it an accident? The further Jason digs into the trading history, the more questions and layers of cover ups emerge, all the while Jason is trying to cope with a completely new lifestyle as he attempts to bond with his son.
Michael Sears writes passionately about Wall Street trading and gives the reader a small window into what goes on behind the scenes without boring or making it hard to grasp for the common reader. I, for one, am uninterested in how it works, but for the purpose of the story I was able to follow along and grasp the important aspects that made it so personal to the protagonist. And Jason is a guy I found myself rooting for. From someone who seemed to have the world on a platter, to a guy struggling to put his life back together, we watch a determined individual try to make sense of the craziness around him and discover what matters most.
This is an enjoyable read and an author to watch in the future.
Gretchen recommends: Not a mystery, however, a fantastic read.Set in the Kaw River Valley outside of Lawrence, KS (where Sara grew up) - this is a story of feuding families - with the feud going back generations. We are introduced to the Grelliers, Fremantles, and the Schapens, with not only information from the present, but also from the past with diaries that Abigail Comfort Grellier had written about her journey to Kansas and setting in the valley. A “stranger” from - gasp! - New York arrives to live in the dilapidated house where one of the families had grown up. Not only is she from the east, but she is rumored to be a Wicca lesbian. Quell Horror! This begins the shake-up of the town, from the religious conservative crowd who want her gone, to the current Grellier family who is trying to be more tolerant. As Susan Grellier befriends the new woman, she begins branching out in her self-expression – participating in naked fire dances and protesting the war. The impact trickles down to her own two teenagers, to her husband, to the rest of the town. This is a rich story, family drama, religious conservatives, the culture of mid-west farmers and the rest of the world. Highly Recommended
Gretchen recommends: And on another note – as I am often behind everyone else in reading - I’ve just (almost) finished reading my first Don Winslow. OKAY, if you haven’t read him, you have to stop what you are doing and get with it! I am reading California Fire and Life and am told that the rest are just as amazing. Jack Wade is a claims investigator and former arson investigator for the Orange County Sheriff department. He is called in to examine a suspicious fire in millionaire Nicky Vale’s house. Discovers the dead wife and the suspicions begin. Nicky Vale used to be Daziatnik Valeshin in Leningrad – his story adds to the mix… Great details about all the properties of fire and arson investigation. Witty, hilarious, sharp, spot-on writing. Absolutely amazing. Too bad I have other things to do with my life.
Guest Reviewer: Adele’s best friend Marita:
This is an amazing fast-paced mystery book that I could not put down or quit thinking about. The fact that our criminal "justice" system could evolve into this story, making it a fiction, not a non-fiction, is the most shocking revelation.
I was spellbound and ripping through the pages as the characters got deeper into this insidious plot of what happens when a town no longer has state money to afford police protection and the judicial system works hand and hand with police to put kids in a for-profit "camp" for boys which the parents have to pay $6,000 a month for!
Read it and weep for what our future could look like! This is the first Robert Dugoni book I've read but you can be sure I'm going to get his other books and get to know his key character David Sloane much better!
Signing on June 16th at Noon Guest Reviewer: Gina ‘the cookie lady’ In this 8th book in the Walt Longmire series, Craig Johnson once again places his protagonist in a setting outside his normal jurisdiction, albeit a bit closer to home than the streets of Philadelphia. The story takes place on the Montana Indian Reservation, a few hours north of Absaroka County, Wyoming. When Walt discovers the location designated for his daughter's upcoming wedding has suddenly become unavailable, he and his best friend Henry Standing Bear are faced with the prospect of finding another suitable area for the event. Following the advice of the Cheyenne Chief Lonnie Little Bird, the two travel to a place known as Painted Warrior Cliffs. There Walt witnesses a woman falling to her death. The investigation is headed by the newly appointed tribal police chief, Lolo Long, a woman reminiscent of most in Walt's life: headstrong, outspoken, and beautiful. Lacking experience, Lolo convinces Walt to assist with the investigation and he takes on the role of mentor. Caught up in the investigation, playing go-between with an old friend from the FBI, and his daughter's imminent arrival, Walt has more than enough to keep himself occupied. Henry remains a steadfast anchor, providing timely advice and assistance that Walt relies on. The best thing I've discovered about Craig's books, what keeps me re-reading them, isn't just the beautiful sense of location he paints with words, and the laid back, sometimes subtle, humor laced throughout, but the people and their relationships. Craig captures the essence of people, their motivations, fears, and wonder at life and situations they face, and is able to project that onto the page. Highly recommended series, and is slated for broadcast as a 10-episode, television series on A&E later this year, entitled “Longmire”.
Right about now, the timeless combination of a great slice of pie and a good cup of joe, or a more upscale latte or cappuccino, could be of great comfort which is just what readers will find in A Good Day to Pie, the August debut of a new series from accomplished author Carol Culver who has over 30 books in her portfolio.
This cozy inhabits a small coastal town within driving distance of Silicon Valley, and features Hanna, a 30-something returning home to lick her wounds and start all over after both her high-tech firm and her relationship go bust. The family pie shop seems a safe haven, but thank goodness she and the former town bad-boy turned police chief have a history when her Grannie complicates life: Grannie is the only murder suspect of a bridge competitor in the upscale retirement community located up the hill in the best part of town.
How Grannie could move uphill after running a down-home pie shop for 30 years, how Hanna tentatively re-engages her hometown, and how Grannie and Hanna dance their dependent relationship is engaging, believable, and as satisfying as pie and coffee.
Speaking of pie, this fun read includes three recipes of which either the Apple Southern Pecan Caramel Pie or the Black-Bottom Raspberry Cream Pie definitely would fill the bill for comfort food.
Gretchen Recommends: I continue my march thru this author’s books. I am hooked. Now I’ve not read Ian Rankin – but that’s who he’s been compared to. Mercenary bad boy Michael Forsythe gets involved in a special FBI assignment to avoid jail time in Mexico. The group he is to infiltrate is an Irish gang known for their ruthless torture methods. As he joins the gang, hiding his identity he begins to fall for the daughter of the gang leader. He hopes to use her to help in his escape. However, her loyalties are elsewhere. The explosive, amazing, kidnapping, torture and escape at the end of the book should be legendary. It matches the escape from the Mexican jail described in the first Forsythe, Dead I Well May Be (which his publisher has let go out of print). Michael is a very likable character who manages to get out of his jams with fortitude and wits. I like him, I love the dry humor and the colloquial terms. If you like undercover action, start reading these books!
Another book where I've jumped in mid-series and now am going to have to go back and catch up, (The First Cut and Cut to the Quick). Lucky for all of us, it's not imperative to read them in order, but once you read one - you'll want to read them all.
In her previous book, Police Detective Nan Vining was attacked by a serial killer. She and her daughter escaped. As did the killer. However, the trauma remains fresh. They both have a name for the elusive killer - TB Mann, (The Bad Man). As they are trying to put their lives back together, he strikes again, this time killing a Park Ranger. As Detective Vining is investigating a low level gang murder, she runs across eerie similarities and clues that make her believe "her" killer is somehow involved.
She begins to investigate on her own, in addition to attempting to solve the gang murder. This of course puts her in peril with the department and her on again off again romance with fellow investigator Jim Kissick.
One of the things I appreciated about Nan is that she has some secrets - that could jeopardize her job. She has sneakily kept some things from the investigation. I was both intrigued as to where this would end up for her, and impressed with the author letting her character have these "flaws" related to her trauma. Full of twists and turns, secrets and just great story telling.
Gina The Cookie Lady Recommends:
I tend to read a fair share of books, around 200 a year, and I will admit to a snobbish preference for series characters. The norm in reading a higher percentage of thrillers and mysteries is that the men protagonists tend to outnumber the females, especially when it comes to the rough and tumble. Yes I admit to watching Tomb Raider, all the time shaking my head in the knowledge that the action sequences were unbelievable. A 140lb woman swinging at the jaw of a 245lb man and decking him tends more toward the fantasy realm.
This is where Zoe Sharp’s character Charlie Fox succeeds. Using wit, firepower, and jujitsu moves we are immersed in the world of personal protection specialists through Charlie’s eyes.
In this recent escapade, Charlie and her long-term partner Sean are asked to provide protection for a previous client during a gala fund-raiser in New Orleans on behalf of Katrina victims. Charlie is hesitant to offer Sean a spot on the team as he coming off rehabilitation after recovering from a gunshot wound that left him in a coma for 4 months. Close to his physical prowess at the time of the shooting, it’s his memories and thoughts that have suffered the largest setback, leaving Charlie confused and second-guessing in critical situations. The person she’s tried to emulate and live up to has suddenly reverted to an unknown.
Throw in money, missiles, plenty of spent brass, and revenge and we have the makings of an un-put-down-able book. I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish Die Easy, and worth every minute of lost sleep. This is the best of the series thus far and I am already anticipating the next book from Zoe.
Jo Beckett is a forensic psychiatrist. As in it’s her job to discover why people have died. She enters the scene of a horrific car crash. Apparently, the high powered attorney did not stop as she launched her BMW off the highway overpass. Written on her leg in lipstick is the word, “dirty”. Her passenger is barely alive and taken to the hospital. Beckett and Lieutenant Amy Tang begin a twisted journey into the dark secrets of a group known as The Dirty Secrets Club. The details of how one becomes a member and who knows about this organization draws them into secrets held by all levels of the public and private sector. Are the deaths revenge? An accident? A set-up? I was amazed at the complexity of the club, and how it came to exist. Extremely fabulous twists and surprises. Not only is there a traumatic back story for Jo, a possible new romance and an unsolved death, but there are escapes, blackmail and government intrigue. Wow! A full book! You will want to read this debut.
Gretchen Recommends I got very excited when Adrian McKinty's reading copy arrived. I really love his stuff. I enjoy his hard-ass descriptions of escapes, fights and journeys. I always end up being amazed at the jarring details he is able to formulate. His newest, Fifty Grand is no exception. It begins with a torture/interrogation description on a frozen lake – AAAAAAAAAAA! Detective Mercado is a Cuban police officer who is investigating the death of her father. She “sneaks” out of Cuba and then Mexico – traveling as an illegal immigrant (another harrowing journey). Her father died in Colorado under curious circumstances and had been out of touch with Mercado for years. She feels like this is her last chance to connect with the man who she has mourned forever. She arrives in Colorado under the auspices of being a maid and begins her search. What she discovers, of course, is more information than she was bargaining for – and danger around every corner. Because she is a police officer, she has skills and techniques that allow for her to complete her task and barely make it back to Cuba. But it doesn’t end there. People aren’t who she thinks they are and I’m left wondering if there will be a sequel… Good, hard read. FIND IT HERE. BUY IT HERE. KEEP BOOKS HERE.
Have you discovered the smooth and cerebral writing of author Charles Finch whose detective series set in 19th century England should delight readers who enjoy a Sherlockian flavor?
If not, don’t wait any longer to enjoy and, perhaps, match wits with an engaging amateur sleuth whose exploits to expose an elusive arch criminal conclude most satisfactorily in The Fleet Street Murders (Minotaur hc, $24.99), the third Charles Lennox book.
Charles Lennox, whose delicate relationship with Scotland Yard is strained by his past successes, now is preoccupied with a sudden opportunity to fulfill his ambition for a seat in Parliament and by his recent engagement to Lady Jane Grey, long-time neighbor and life-long love.
Then murder most foul dispatches two journalists, murders unconnected except by shared occupation. Lennox is torn between his bid for Parliament, which requires frenzied and time-consuming activities in Stirrington, near Durham, and London murder investigations that intriguingly hint of the handiwork of his nemesis, a person with unfettered access to the Royal Mint.
What’s my excuse for the delay in sharing how enjoyable I found this book? The past holiday season and all its craziness: mea culpa.
Signed copies on order from publisher
This is the twelfth book in the Joe Pickett series and CJ Box once again provides a riveting story with a pace that will have you believing that in Wyoming a New York minute is considered slow. Don't expect to put this one down until you turn the last page.
Focusing on Nate Romanowski - falconer, ex-Special Forces, sworn friend of the Picketts, and an escaped convict - the authorities quickly conclude Nate's responsible for three dead bodies found in the bottom of a boat floating downstream. Only Joe seems somewhat convinced of his friend’s innocence, and sets out to prove it.
While Joe is chasing errant leads, with the assistance of a new trainee, we begin to follow Nate's investigation into the killing of members of his former military unit, and the attempt on his life. From Wyoming to Colorado, the hunted becomes the hunter, leaving a lot of dead bodies in his wake. Uncovering not only a plot to systematically eliminate those who served together, but providing back story to a very enigmatic character, we finally catch a wide glimpse into the events and history that forged Nate's outlook. His cold demeanor matches that of the harsh, snowy landscape, and provides the determination and fortitude to carry him through using any means necessary for survival.
Joe's loyalty is called into play as he struggles with his conscience, trying to determine if putting friendship above the law is the right thing. And who can he trust when his family is threatened? Always pushing the line while trying to maintain his balance on the precipice, Joe forges ahead trusting instinct and sometimes bull-headedness to accomplish his goals.
Amidst all the bloodshed and violence depicted in this book, there is an underlying theme of loyalty, perseverance, and looking out for those we care about.
Not only a highly recommended series, but one of the top books of the year.
Gina the Cookie Lady (and Adele agrees completely!)
I have enjoyed all of Lisa Unger’s books. They range from dark, disturbing thriller to webs of psychological family drama. Her current falls into the latter category. Fragile tells the story of a family caught in a skein of disappearance. Maggie and Jones have a teenage son Ricky who is suspected in the disappearance of another teen, Charlene.
Although Maggie is convinced that Ricky has nothing to do with this, many details point to him. As they live in a small town, it is inevitable that the history of another disappearance 20 years ago resurfaces. Although the, “killer” is in jail, many questions remain unanswered and this current disappearance brings it all back again.
I love books in which the current story plot weaves in between the back story. We watch and learn about what Jones had to do the last time. And what he chooses to do now. Excellent story telling, characters to love, hate and commiserate with.
Gina The Cookie Lady Recommends:
What if your best friend had been missing for the last ten years, and suddenly you discover the picture of a heroic rescuer on the subway tracks looks very familiar? And then every file related to that picture just as suddenly begins to disappear?
Alafair has written a compelling and multi-layered stand-alone novel that threatens to tear apart a marriage and leaves one wondering just how many secrets are kept by those around us. Her newest protagonist, a magazine journalist Mckenna Wright, begins a search for the missing woman who pulled a young man to safety moments before an arriving train. Convinced it is her missing friend a bystander captured on a video clip, she begins investigating and finds herself stonewalled at every turn. No one believes her, including her husband, and the police detective that initially investigated the disappearance almost a decade ago.
A solid outing with a satisfying ending, Alafair’s hit gold with If You Were Here.
Special Guest Review: Karen Miner (Amber's mom!)
Cotton Malone spent 12 years as an agent for the Magellan Billet, a covert U.S. intelligence group. It is headed by Stephanie Nell, his close and trusted friend to whom he is very loyal. Although the experienced and well-educated Cotton has retired and now runs an antique book shop in Copenhagen, he returns to his former profession when Stephanie sends a note asking to meet him in New York and to "trust no one". The meeting turns into an asssassination attempt on the President and Stephanie is missing. Cotton learns of a secret society, the "Commonwealth", which has its roots going back to Americain Revolutionary-era pirates.
Berry weaves the past and the present into a fast moving story that involves solving a code which has remained unsolved for 200 years and modern day "pirates". It's Cotton versus the "Commonwealth" to see who can possess the "letter of marque" that could give the "Commonwealth" unbelievable power.
I am a dedicated Steve Berry fan who has devoured each of his books as soon as they are released. His books are meticulously researched and the historical elements support the story line, adding to the overall appeal of the book. In Jefferson Key, he has blended Americain history with present day events where the past will have serious unforseen consequences in the present. All made very believable. My personal favorite part of his books is his "Writer's Notes" where he tells you what is fact and what is fiction. I like history and a good mystery and with Berry I get both!
By Gina (aka the Cookie Lady)
This is one of those books you put on your wish list then slowly watch the calendar to see if it's actually made it to the bookstore. Aside from the bright orange cover, I'd read nothing but high praise for Jussi Adler-Olsen and once I had the book in hand there came that moment of trepidation. One thought going through my mind: if he's an international best-selling author why has it taken so long to get published in the States? Be that as it may, not every Scandinavian author can be as good as Stieg Larsson, even though every dust-jacket would have you believing so.
I started the prologue on the way home from the bookstore via the Link Lite Rail. And just that small piece, a little more than a page long, I knew the author had me hooked.
Carl Mørck is a homicide detective recovering from a gunshot wound to his temple. His two colleagues weren't as lucky, one dead and the other paralyzed from the neck down. The other detectives in the squad deem him a belligerent pest and don't want to work with him. The solution of how to handle the independent and outspoken detective comes down through parliament when a new directive is posted, creating a cold cases department within the police station.
This new post seems the perfect nook for Carl and he finds himself relegated to a far corner of the basement with a door propped against the wall next to his office and no case files. At first he finds this suitable to his needs as propping his feet on the corner of his desk and leaning back for an afternoon nap is all he has the energy for. We discover quickly why Carl wasn't kicked out the door and forced into retirement. He's rather good at what he does. Detecting.
It isn't long before he discovers the allotment for his new department, Department Q, already has funding being redirected into other areas. Bringing this discrepancy to light for his superior, he is able to make a few demands and soon he's got an office complete with a large screen television, unlimited internet access, his own vehicle and an assistant, Assad. Assad is the spark that ignites the fire under Carl, but in a very subtle way and with all his quirks and secrets, he's one of the more interesting sidekicks around. At first only thought of as the cleaner, he's soon given more important tasks, such as chasing paperwork from the secretaries upstairs or following leads via the phone. His timely insights and perspectives keep Carl focused on the first case he decides to pursue.
A missing person's case over five years old, involving a politician. Following the paper trail in the case file, Carl soon thinks it is a fairly easy open and shut case. It doesn't take long to realize there is much more involved in the disappearance and new facts begin to come to light.
Overall, Carl is an interesting character. He's dealing with the trauma of being shot and blaming himself in part for the outcome, he's playing surrogate father to his step-son while his wife (who doesn't want a divorce) is living with another man and still calling on him for financial backing. He's a bit lazy, short-tempered and has a wry sense of humor. His deals with those he works with in almost a state of tolerance, and is quick to point out their shortcomings while being just as quick to offer assistance. They're on the same team, but they don't have to get along.
Part mystery, part thriller, Jussi Adler-Olsen does a fantastic job of weaving a storyline and feeding out just enough clues to keep you guessing. Forget about the comparisons, he ranks beside the top in his field. And the dogged persistence of his detective leads us to believe Department Q will provide a few more cases worth reading about.
“For a moment Carl tried to picture everything in his mind, and then it happened. Somewhere inside of him, where cause and effect were not weighed against each other, and where logic and explanations never challenged consciousness, in the place where thoughts could live freely and be played out against each other – right there in that spot, things fell into place, and he understood how it all fitted together.”
I read the first 2 pages before I realized that this main character was a woman. I just assumed it was a man – who knows why – but this began a fabulous read of surprises and differences. I thought a lot about the wife of the Green River Killer.
Nina Mosley, AKA Leigh Wren, has changed her name and city to escape her past. Her ex-husband was convicted of numerous serial killings – horrific deeds including removing the victims eyes and replacing them with various trinkets. Leigh now lives with her young son in a non-descript town, hoping the past will stay there.
However, a father of one of her ex-husband’s victims has tracked her down. He is looking for revenge by broadcasting her potential part in the killings, hoping to sully her reputation and life. Thus begins the story of her struggle to regain her life, remember her past and fight for her child.
I was impressed with the author’s ability to “think like a woman” as he takes you through what it was like to live with a serial killer and , “not know, but know.” Really great, different perspectives. Well written, quick read – couldn’t put it down. Some good twists and turns and nail biting!!
Guest Reviewer: Gina, the Cookie Lady: I had never heard of Sean Doolittle, but what a great name, as I instantly thought of the guy who could talk to animals. I doubt the two have anything in common other than a love for language and storytelling. And what a compelling story Sean weaves leaving me, the reader, wanting more, more, more. The story is set in northern Minnesota Lake Country where the landscape can be as rough as the characters living there. Mike Barlow would be content with a steady 9-5 job, tossing back a couple brews after, fishing on the weekends and a steady girl. Unfortunately he’s just been laid off, the rent is due, and his current roommate – an ex-marine, Darryl Potter, who saved his life – is missing. The most disturbing part, his departure coincides with the disappearance of a girl whose father is set to serve the remaining sentence of his probation. Two days in jail every year for the last five years after falling asleep at the wheel and killing a young woman. The victim’s brother also served with Mike and Darryl, and was killed in combat. Loyalties run deep as Mike, news reporters, bounty hunters, and police are swept along toward a climactic and satisfying ending. The back blurb claims this is the story of revenge and redemption, and I would add it’s also a tale of misplaced justice and the despair of an individual to ‘right the wrongs’. Definitely adding Sean Doolittle to my must read lists.
Maisie Dobbs is back, stronger than ever. And so is author Jacqueline Winspear!
An unabashed fan of 1930s London-based detective Maisie Dobbs, I found The Mapping of Love and Death, seventh of the series, as intelligent, well-crafted and satisfying a read as the first in series, Maisie Dobbs, winner of the 2003 Agatha Award winner for Best First Novel.
Now successful, yet still self-contained, Miss Dobbs accepts a most unusual case presented to her by the elderly Boston parents of a US volunteer serviceman who was a battlefield causality: find an unnamed woman with whom their son liaisoned in France.
Maisie uses her intimate knowledge of wartime nursing functions and personnel, psychological profiling, and meticulous attention to detail to solve a complex case that turns dangerous when, during the investigation, murder and corruption are revealed. This case also forces Maisie to confront personal demons that still haunt, demons acquired as a then 15-year-old WWI field unit nurse.
Former Inmate, Karen Duncan recommends:
In Valley of the Shadow, Carola Dunn serves up one of my favorite treats: a really well written, solidly constructed, properly atmospheric English cozy. To this she adds truly special ingredients: intelligent, believable characters, a fair amount of action—and an appealing dog that doesn’t talk or read minds. She deftly draws issues of global politics into the plot, and sets the whole “in the ‘60s or ‘70s”, far enough removed from now to seem quaint, but still familiar (well, familiar to those of us “of a certain age”).
Eleanor Trewynn is a sixtyish widow retired from LonStar, an international relief organization. After a lifetime of work in the poorest areas around the world, she has settled to the Cornish village of Port Mabyn, where she lives with her Westie, Teazle, above the charity shop she founded to benefit LonStar.
She has some matchmaking in mind when she plans a seaside picnic with her niece Megan, who is a Detective Sergeant in the Cornish police, and her handsome neighbor, Nick. From the rocks on the shore of a remote smugglers’ cove, they are horrified to see a figure—a body?—out in the rough water. The two young people go into the water to help. When they bring the badly injured man to shore, he mutters just a few cryptic words before he loses consciousness.
Thus begins the mystery. The man is Indian, a rarity in this part of Cornwall. Is he the victim of a crime? How did he come to that remote cove? Most important, his only words were about his family. Are they in danger, too?
Eleanor isn’t a meddler, but she’s right in the middle of the mystery, and has skills and contacts that may be useful in an increasingly desperate situation. She can’t help pitching in to help solve the puzzle.
Valley of the Shadow is the third Cornish mystery featuring Eleanor Trewynn, and I can’t wait to read the first two installments. There’s good news here: Minotaur has just released the first book, Manna from Hades, in trade paperback, and one hopes the second title, A Colourful Death, will be close behind.
And more good news: Carola Dunn has also written a shelf full of mysteries featuring Daisy Dalrymple, a 1920s flapper. Now that I know how well she writes, I’ll be trying that series too.
The story opens with our perfect couple Ivy and David who anxiously await the impending birth of their first child, as the last pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. In the middle of their yard sale, an old classmate from high school shows up. Melinda is pregnant as well, looking amazingly better than she ever did in high school. Turns out her life sounds perfect now too!
As David leads her away into the house, Ivy wonders why they seem to have some sort of connection.... And then it gets kinda creepy.
Ivy thinks she sees someone who looks just like her rummaging thru the leftover yard sale items. Their home is broken into and things are moved around. Then there is blood, and a weapon, and Melinda is mysteriously missing. An arrest is made and Ivy's nightmare gets bigger and bigger.
This was a great, quick read, and I liked its spookiness. It is a well-written and well-told story. [If her name sounds familiar it is because she’s related to other talented people with the same last name. – eds.]
Gina, the cookie lady and Sunday volunteer recommends:
I stumbled my way through The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, possibly it was due to the translation, or just the meandering middle section, but the overall story seemed disjointed as if the authors attempted to splice two completely different stories together.
So why did I bother to pick up The Nightmare the next book in the series? Possibly because of the one word title, or possibly the bright orange cover (there's a trend of them this summer), or maybe I'm willing to give folks a second chance. In all honesty, it was the promise I would learn more about the lead investigator Joona Linna that intrigued me, that and my insatiable curiosity when the book jacket hinted at impossible suicides.
Whatever the two authors did this time out, they did right. I had a hard time putting the The Nightmare down. From the opening sequence of events when Inspector Joona steps in with his steely calm resolve, convincing the powers above there is a lot more going on then what appears on the surface.
A drowning victim found in bed on a boat, but the body is dry. In an apartment, a man is found hanging, an apparent suicide in a closed room with no furniture nearby. These are the two seemingly unrelated cases that are presented to Joona at the beginning. Attention to detail, and a dogged approach to following his own instincts keeps the Inspector focused and moving forward.
There is quite a bit of jumping around in the storytelling, but it's like having a large box of puzzle pieces laid out. First you start with the straight-edged pieces and slowly work sections of like colors before the picture begins to resemble the cover artwork. The pieces all come together and there is plenty of action and thrills throughout to keep the reader flipping pages.
Overall, they definitely hit my 'must read' list for the future with this installment, and I would recommend this book as the starting point to anyone wishing to begin the series
Adele completely concurs. I read The Nightmare based on Gina’s recommendation and loved it. I can’t wait for the next Inspector Joona book!
Guest Reviewer: Gina, the Cookie Lady
Four college friends (all students at the University of Washington!), disillusioned by the banality of working life after graduation, decide to kidnap and ransom wealthy men. They've planned, studied their victim's routines, and only ask for a small portion of what their target is worth. With the implied threat of harm to the wife or children should the authorities be called, the ransom is paid within a short period of time and the kidnappee is returned to his family while the quartet moves on to another city.
Thus begins the introduction to The Professionals. As long as everything follows the five year plan laid out, in another three years the four companions will enjoy early retirement on sunny, exotic beaches. But like an intricately laid out domino pattern, one light tap could send the entire floor of tiles tumbling down. The first tap comes when the latest victim contacts the police, who in turn refer it to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Agent Kirk Stevens. No matter how thorough the planning, once Stevens begins to follow the trail, the dominoes begin to fall. The newest target breaks his routine on the morning of his impending kidnapping, and rather than scrubbing their plan, another victim is hurriedly identified and becomes the mark. Donald Beneteau isn't cooperative, and appears to have the last laugh when the companions discover who his wife is. From here on out there should be a disclaimer about buckling up, as the cat and mouse game intensifies between the different parties. The reader isn't blindsided by the outcome, yet you can't stop turning the pages. It’s like not being able to pull your eyes away from an impending wreck.
Laukkanen has successfully captured the idiosyncrasies of agencies attempting to work together, and the inability of individuals to give up hope even when facing insurmountable odds.
This isn't a story about good versus evil, but rather one of people caught in events beyond their control, using self-justification to try and shape a better world for themselves. It reads like watching a Die Hard movie. Sit down, strap in, and hang on.
A river runs through it. Yep, the Madison River runs through The Royal Wulff Murders (Feb., Viking hc, $26.95), a well-crafted tale of fly fishing, environmental disaster, and broken humans by the award-winning survival editor of Field and Stream Magazine, author Keith McCafferty.
Expert knowledge of fly fishing and hazards to the prized wild trout population of Montana flows through a detective story wry with knowledge of destructive human motivations. McCafferty establishes a counterpoint pace between Hyalite County Sheriff Ettinger and a mess of a man who used to be somebody back East.
Graphic descriptions of trout fishing lures fill the book, either as the lure for varied fishing locations and conditions or the clue impaled through each murder victim’s body. And for readers who savor a mysterious female who is trouble with a capital ‘T’, McCafferty serves up an almost noir Southern belle singer who hires that mess of a man to find her missing brother.
In his first novel, McCafferty creates a believable world populated with ornery locals and their small town life, the chronic tension between tourist and resident, and erosion of integrity in the face of big money that proves satisfying and left this reader wanting more, please.
An espionage romp! Christopher Reich, Rules of Deception. Dr. Jonathan Ransom and his wife are intrepid mountaineers and workers for Doctors Without Borders. The book begins with them on a mountain, a blizzard sets in and Emma falls into a crevasse. The next week, Jonathan receives an envelope addressed to Emma with two baggage claim tickets. Thus begins his search for what this means. He quickly learns that there is more to his wife than he could ever imagine. He is attacked, kills his assailants and becomes the subject of an international manhunt. As he continues to try and find the answers to his wife’s strange past, he has to defend himself and the bodies begin piling up. This further confirms his guilt in the eyes of the master assassin following him. Spies, world domination, high-tech weaponry and global terrorism weave throughout this great adventure. His wife’s secrets begin leading to a major terror plot. The pace quickens and comes full circle. If you like keeping track of spy details and secrets, this is a book for you
The Ides of March
Blood and gore, sex and political intrigue that makes Washington D.C. look like kindergarten, all set during the collapse of one of the world’s largest republics into a dictatorship, is served up with ironic and sardonic wit by author John Maddox Roberts in his 13-volume series SPQR.
Roberts, also known for his science fiction and fantasy books, creates arguably the world’s first detective of rational deduction, Decius Cecilius Metellus, born into Rome’s most powerful and oldest political machine. Readers follow the career arc of Decius from a lusty young man best known for his brawling and womanizing into descent as one more pawn of Julius Caesar. Yes, that Julius Caesar, whose life is snuffed out on the Iides of March, a.k.a. March 15.
Populated with power-hungry Roman elite who destroy their world in the lust for power and more power, author Roberts effortlessly delivers taut, fast-paced, complex plots realistically peopled with exotic Egyptians, cynical Greeks, esoteric Babylonians, with just enough barbarians from Gaul and Germany to keep life fascinating for detective Decius and lucky readers.
Grounded in the smells and sounds, sights and mores of Rome and its empire, this generous serving of swashbuckling action of city gangs and Roman legions, gladiators and senators, includes insight into the hedonism favored by the power elite, and the systemic destruction of a political structure unique to the world of its time.
The heaping dose of irony saves the series from a crushing noir outlook, making the plunge into the world of SPQR, The Senate and People of Rome, almost effortless. Do pick up the series with SPQR I: The King’s Gambit (1990) and read through SQPR XIII: The Year of Confusion and feel free to cheer our flawed, oh so flawed hero, Decius, through one crisis after another.
Guest Reviewer: Diana of Spokane
This book tells the story of the occupants of the manor house of the small English village called Easton Deadall. It is about ten years past WWI when a man, Laurence Bartram, is invited to the manor to see a quaint church on the manor's grounds. A good friend of his has been hired to put a very special window in the church as well as to design a garden maze.
Upon arrival, Bartram finds his friends are still heavily burdened by the disapperance of 6 year-old Kitty Easton ten years ago. Bartram is a specialist on church architecture and is anxious to see the church, but also is disturbed that nothing has turned up on Kitty.
There are several mysteries involved in this wonderfully written book. The mystery of what kind of man was the (now dead) father of Kitty. Another Easton brother arrives after being gone for many years. The land owned by the Easton family had been peopled by ancients.
Bartram wants to solve these mysteries. And, yes, there is a fresh murder while Bartram is there. Village inhabitants hold jigsaw pieces of information.
Ms Speller weaves several mysteries so deftly in this book it was a wonderful change of pace from some of the more formulaic who-done-its.
[This is the second of the Laurence Bartram books. Diana somehow missed the first, The Return of Captain John Emmett, now out in trade paper. Being the collector she is, she demanded a hardcover!]
I want to second JB’s high recommendation for the fine debut novel, Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn D. Wall. This is a beautiful, gritty Depression-era story reminiscent of novels such as Grapes of Wrath and To Kill A Mockingbird.
It’s 1938 and Olivia Harker runs a small grocery store in the hills of Kentucky, trying to scrape by selling what she can get her hands on, taking care of her grandson and trying to push the past aside.
We learn about the transformation of her families business. The early days when her father took care of all – including her mother Ida who’s been crazy from the get go. Ida leaves the family early on and so it is up to Olivia and her Pa to run the store, function as the town vet and sell moonshine on the side.
One night after a rare party out, Olivia and her father are involved in a car accident. Olivia wakes to serious injuries and the news that her father is dead. After extensive rehabilitation she returns to the store and tries to keep the wolves at bay. This involves the group of men with whom her father used to sell moonshine – or was it more than that??????
The painful details of survival and small triumph are detailed in this aching story. A fabulous read.
Guest Reviewer: Gina, the Cookie Lady: One sometimes wonders what mystery authors dream of at night after they’ve put their pencils down, or powered off their laptops. Perhaps there are visions of puppies frolicking in backyards chasing multi-colored butterflies, their literary protagonist donning a cape and saving the city in Batman-like fashion, or possibly they lie awake counting sheep hoping for sleep to come? Somewhere in the darkest throes of night their subconscious asks that little question”what if”. What if the protagonist is pushed too far and retaliates? A common theme, vengeance, but what if – you could get away with it? This is the theme that is explored in twenty short stories and presented by Mystery Writers of America. Some very common names including Lee Child, Zoe Sharp, Karin Slaughter, Alafair Burke, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Connelly, along with some lesser publicized authors that are just as talented. I don’t normally seek out short story anthologies, as I prefer submersing myself into something longer and usually more satisfying, but I have to admit, most of these packed a good wallop. Based on the premise of the theme you see the ending coming, but find yourself caught in the rush of rapids that pulls you along thanks to some great storytellers. I don’t mind telling you I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after reading Zoe Sharp’s “Lost and Found”, brilliant! If you’re looking for highly satisfying, compact storytelling this is a terrific anthology
Mary Daheim bed-and-breakfast series readers, rejoice! Judith and the entire clan are back on Heraldsgate Hill in Vi Agra Falls, with the cozy cul-de-sac neighborhood under siege from a threat more serious than dot.com money and mushrooming real estate development: Herself, a.k.a. Vi, the ex-wife of Judith’s husband Joe. This delightful read, filled with Daheim’s wry humor and insightful social commentary about human foibles, finds reluctant Judith drawn into sleuthing the suspicious death of an unknown victim found on a neighbor’s lawn while juggling responsibilities of running a successful bed-and-breakfast, caretaking her irascible mother, and remaining clam in the face of Herself, who has boundary issues regarding ex-husband Joe. Daheim’s trademark puns of Seattle icons are an additional irresistible attraction for this reader, a huge fan of the series.
Gina The Cookie Lady Recommends: DI Annie Cabot is ready to go back to work. Only a few days left to enjoy the peace and quiet at the convalescent center where she is healing from a gunshot wound, until she discovers another of the tenants dead. As her boss, DCI Alan Banks, is assigned to the case, DI Annie will soon be thrust into the middle of the investigation. DI Bill Quinn is the murdered cop, with a spotless record and a known empathy for an unsolved missing girl’s case almost 6 years old. A cloud hangs over his reputation when compromising photos are found in his room. And to further complicate things, a Police Standards detective butts her way into the investigation. This is the 20th book in the DCI Alan Banks series, and as we’ve come to love and expect, Banks is going to run the investigation his way. Although his surly attitude and brusque mannerisms toward the chief appointed Standards officer only makes her dig in her heels and meet him head on. At the outset, she would be satisfied with solving the case of who killed Quinn, and close her case on a possibly compromised cop. Banks in his dogged way finds himself chasing two cases that could be related. As the case takes the investigation to foreign soil the two investigators find not only the language barrier a detriment, but the assistance of the local constabulary seems rather apathetic. Overall, the book has a solid plot, great sense of location and wonderful characterization. Reading through, though, I got the impression that Banks is a tired man. I’m hoping this is just a phase for the character, and Robinson has many more adventures awaiting his fans. Can’t go wrong with anything Robinson pens. FIND IT HERE. BUY IT HERE. KEEP BOOKS HERE.
For those of us who adore complicated, emotionally wrought family stories, this is a good one. Two young girls go missing from a mall, one surfaces 30 years later - or is it really her? How is she connected to the identities of the dead people whose names she's been using? The setting moves between the 70's and current time. This creates the background of growing up with "alternative" parents (read, "hippie"), the process of her disappearance, and the stark reality of a woman who's been invisible for decades.
The writing is superb: "A blue-eyed brunette, that was his ideal, the light and the dark, an Irish girl with eyes put in with a dirty finger." Lippman is able to describe each characters thoughts and feelings with distinct clarity, allowing the reader to feel the angst and confusion. A story that completely drew me in. Highly recommend.
Guest Reviewer: Marie
Ah, a balm to the spirit. Sadly, though, When Winter Returns, the fourth Rosie Winter mystery presented by award-winning playwright and actress Kathryn Miller Haines probably will be undervalued and dismissed as “lightweight”.
This engaging mystery, imbued with the WWII “can do” spirit of America, welcomes aspiring NYC actress Rosie Winters home from her 1943 USO tour of the bloody Pacific Theatre a changed woman discomforted by life altered by the pernicious threat of sabotage.
The opening scene has gal pal Jayne grieving over the combat death of her fiancé and all their dreams distract tough Rosie enough to okay a detour from beloved NYC to an upstate town straight out of Life Magazine where Jayne hopes to find her beloved’s parents and rightfully return her engagement ring to his family. Instead, they stumble upon stolen identities, crime, betrayal, and heartbreak.
Author Haines gives readers another intricate and finely textured read that captures the lost essence of an America where even organized East Coast crime can’t trump the power of friendship.
Brujas harass widow Loyola Montoya nightly, spying into her isolated farmhouse windows and rattling doors, all which can only lead to no good in The Widow’s Revenge, the 14th Charlie Moon mystery by author James D. Doss, a retired Los Alamos National Laboratory electrical engineer.
A cracking good read that adroitly shifts perspective and fluidly moves through various cultures, including small town policing, author Doss splendidly crafts a fast-paced multiple-murder investigation around protagonist Charlie Moon, a seven-foot-tall Ute cattle rancher and retired tribal investigator who’s stretched between generations, geography, “real” time and visions.
When the widow telephones Moon for help, he agrees despite a time-consuming road trip, despite Montoya’s history of crying wolf one time too many, despite her being his Aunt Daisy's friend. Of course, widow Montoya, like any friend of Moon’s indomitable Aunt Daisy Perika, a shaman and now guardian of orphaned teen Sarah Frank, is bound to have complex troubles that spill into his life.
Even more than the characters, their hardscrabble lives, and the terrain that lives and breathes like a silent witness, its author Doss’ prose that grabs and holds: “SUSPENDED HIGH IN THE SOUTHERN SKY, THE SILVERY SATELLITE PULLS a diaphanous cloud veil over her naked, pockmarked face. Is this a matter of modesty—does the pale lady prefer not to be seen? Or might it be the other way around—is there something on the widow’s property that White Shell Woman prefers not to see.”
Treat yourself to a wonderful read and savor the world of Charlie Moon.