Tuesday, July 25, 2017

REVIEW: Faux Paw

Faux Paw
Author: Sofie Kelly

Faux Paw is book 7 in the Magical Cats Mystery series. I've enjoyed each book so far! The series is a fun mix of humor, mystery, and feline magic. Kathleen Paulson is a librarian in Mayville Heights, MN. She adopts two unusual cats from a nearby feral colony. Owen and Hercules have strange powers. One can become invisible and the other can walk through solid walls. As a cat owner, I have frequently joked that my felines can materialize out of thin air, especially when I open a can of food. I think the antics and awesomeness of Owen and Hercules are why I enjoy this series so much!

In Faux Paw, the library is sponsoring an art exhibit. Kathleen is being run ragged by the curator who demands installation of a high-tech security system among other requirements. Imagine Kathleen's surprise when she stops by the library late one evening to find the curator dead on the floor and the most famous sketch in the art collection missing! She's soon on the trail of a murderer and thief!

The mystery in this 7th book was engaging with plenty of suspects and suspense, but I don't think I read this series for the mystery. I enjoy the characters and the humor. It's a series that I know I can pick up and just have a relaxing evening of reading. It's like a reunion with old friends. I like the cute supernatural aspects of Kathleen's cats. It isn't overdone....it's just a bit of specialness added to them. :)

Each mystery in the series is its own separate story, so it isn't vital to read them in order. But, the character's relationships and story do develop with each book....so for those who would like to read the entire series, I really recommend starting at the beginning. Kathleen is a great MC -- intelligent, witty and determined. The side characters all come together to add depth to the setting and the plots. It's just an enjoyable cozy series! I highly recommend it for cat lovers and cozy mystery fans!

Sofie Kelly is a pseudonym for YA author Darlene Ryan. She also writes under the name Sofie Ryan (Second Change Cat Mystery series -- another favorite of mine!) There are 8 books in the Magical Cats series, with the 9th book (A Tale of Two Kitties) coming out in September 2017.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

REVIEW: The Hindenburg Murders

The Hindenburg Murders
Author: Max Allan Collins

On May 6th, 1937, a German passenger airship, The Hindenburg, burst into flames as its crew attempted to dock at Naval Airstation Lakehurst in New Jersey. 36 people died in the disaster: 13 passengers, 22 crewmen, and 1 mooring worker on the ground. Many theories about the cause of the disaster have been put forth over the years -- sabotage, static electricity, lightning, engine problems, leaking hydrogen, etc. But no definitive cause has ever been pinpointed.  The disaster changed public opinion about the safety of airship travel and marked a rather abrupt end to that mode of transportation.

The Hindenburg Murders takes the sabotage angle, and formulates a fictional mystery around the disaster. The plot does not make light of the historical disaster, or the deaths it caused, in any way. It merely poses a fictional account of what happened on the ship leading up to the disaster. Famous Author Leslie Charteris (author of mystery novels featuring a mysterious sleuth, The Saint) is a passenger on the Hindenburg. Charteris enjoyed passage on the Hindenburg's maiden voyage the year before, and is happy to be travelling on the airship once again. Although he does notice immediately that security on the airship has been heightened to almost ridiculous levels by the Nazis. Once the voyage has begun, Charteris is warned that his cabinmate is actually an undercover state police agent onboard to ferret out any anti-Nazi sentiments or behavior among the passengers. Soon after, his cabinmate disappears. All that is left is a bit of the man's tie stuck in one of the airship's windows. One of the passengers or crew is a murderer. The Nazi crew expresses fears of sabotage or a possible time bomb on board the airship as well, asking Charteris to aid in their investigation of the killing.

Not only does the story give some awesome details about the airship itself, but the mystery portion of the plot has some awesome and suspenseful twists and turns. I had no idea about the murderer's identity, or the exact reasons why, until the moment of reveal. The other passengers are interesting and well-developed, not merely caricatures of stereotypical political/social issues of the period before WWII. They discuss politics, fear of the state police and the Nazi regime, relations between their countries and other topics that would have concerned people of the era in a believable way, adding depth and intrigue to the plot.

The Hindenburg Murders is the second book in the Disaster Mystery Series. There are six books in all. Each one is a separate, stand-alone story, woven around actual historical events and featuring a different famous writer or actor as the main character. Max Allan Collins uses real historical events as a setting for these stories, mixing fact with fiction. The disasters are portrayed respectfully and not in a light manner. The books are well-written and excellent mysteries, adding in background, information and real details of the actual disasters. I'm definitely going to read the rest of the books in this series!

I listened to the audiobook version of The Hindenburg Murders, narrated by Simon Vance. The quality is outstanding. Vance's voice and reading style is excellent. Very enjoyable audiobook!

Max Allan Collins is the author of several books, including CSI novelizations and the Reeder & Rogers Secret Service books. For more information on the author, the disaster series and his other books, check out his website: http://www.maxallancollins.com/blog/

Leslie Charteris wrote his novels featuring Simon Templar, The Saint, from 1928-1963. Saint stories after 1963 were ghost written by other writers. The Saint was also adapted into radio drama, movies and television shows.  Charteris is listed as a passenger on the maiden voyage of The Hindenburg May 6-9, 1936. It was not the first flight for the airship, but rather its first trip to North America. On the day of the disaster in 1937, there were 36 passengers on board (the ship's maximum capacity was 72 passengers). Charteris was not on board The Hindenburg on the day of the disaster. The airship, once it caught fire, took only seconds to crash to the ground. News crews were on site to document the landing of the airship in America, so the disaster was well documented. Herbert Morrison's radio coverage of the event for Chicago radio station WLS is probably the most famous eyewitness accounts of the disaster.

News coverage of the disaster:

Saturday, July 22, 2017

REVIEW: The Life She Was Given

The Life She Was Given
Author: Ellen Marie Wiseman

Blackwood Manor is a chilling place, hiding family secrets in its locked rooms and forbidden spaces. Lilly and Julia both live in the house, 19 years apart. One shut in the attic as an abomination until she is sold to a passing traveling circus as a freak. And the other growing up with no love from her parents, an ignored outcast until she runs away. Years later, when Julia inherits the manor and surrounding horse farm, she will discover the horrible truth.

I found this story mesmerizing and disturbing at the same time. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop...but I still found it difficult to continue. The life Lilly and Julia face in Blackwood Manor at the hands of horrific parents is bleak. The father is weak and the mother is clearly mental. I found myself wishing I could jump into the story, throttle both of them and take the girls out of their horrible lives. But, the story does end with hope -- good does come out of the bad. So, in the end, there is peace and renewal for one of the girls.

The story does depict child and animal abuse as necessary parts of the story. If that would be too disturbing, then it might be best to pass this book by. For me, the hope at the conclusion of the story made up for all the duress. There is one scene with a circus elephant though that I found particularly disturbing. I refuse to attend circus performances because I feel the animals are abused, and this scene shows the worst sort of abuse that early 1900s circus animals faced. The scene is painful to read, but an important and necessary part of the plot. The abuse of the animals and performers in the circus just brings home the difficult lives that those with defects or differences of any sort faced only decades ago -- and, in many cases, still face today. More horrific though was the abuse and neglect of two girls, years apart, in Blackwood Manor.

The Life She Was Given -- the title has two distinct meanings in this beautiful, yet haunting, tale. This is a book that will keep you thinking and feeling for days after you finish reading.

Ellen Marie Wiseman is the author of several books including Coal River and The Plum Tree. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.ellenmariewiseman.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington Books via NetGalley. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Friday, July 21, 2017

REVIEW: Dark Screams - Volume Seven

Dark Screams - Volume Seven
Authors: Various

Dark Screams: Volume Seven is a horror short story collection featuring six creepy stories:

The Lizardman - Robert McCammon. A gator hunter encounters something otherworldly in a dark, Florida swamp.

A Monster Comes to Ashdown Forest - James Renner. Winnie the Pooh and The Hundred Acre Wood take on a sinister twist.

Furtherest - Kaaron Warren. Four beach houses amid the dunes and strange memorials to the dead. A prize for who dares to venture the furtherest.....

West of Matamoros, North of Hell - Brian Hodge. A photo shoot beneath a statue of Santa Muerte leads to bloody terror.

The Expedition - Bill Schweigart.  Nazis on a trek through Romania are pursued by a wolf....or is it something more?

Snow Shadows - Mick Garris.  A teacher realizes his affair with a co-worker was a disastrous mistake with supernatural, deadly consequences.

While I didn't find these stories particularly horrifying, I did enjoy all six of them. My favorite is A Monster Comes to Ashdown Forest. The story gives a great creepy slant to Winnie-The-Pooh. All of the stories in the collection are delightfully creepy and grotesque, but for me, fell a bit short of being actually scary. A better term might be unsettling....or maybe disturbing. The collection was definitely enjoyable and I look forward to the next volume of stories!

This was my first visit to Dark Screams. I will definitely be reading the first six collections, and look forward to any future ones! I hope some are a bit more scary than these stories....but, in this case, creepy and disturbing is still enjoyable for this horror fan.

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy from Random House Publishing via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: The Best Dr. Thorndyke Detective Stories

The Best Dr Thorndyke Detective Stories
Author: R. Austin Freeman

I have been obsessed with Golden Age detective stories since I was 9 years old and found a box set of five Agatha Christie novels at a neighbor's garage sale. I was immediately hooked on detective stories, spreading out to encompass other greats like Arthur Conan Doyle and more contemporary crime fiction writers like Anne Perry, Robert B. Parker and Michael Connelly. I even delved into the adventurous side with Clive Cussler and the opposite, more gentle sub-genre, the cozy mystery. If there was any sleuthing going on, I was in line, eyes at the ready to read any and all that came my way. Everything from Trixie Belden to Dr. Kay Scarpetta....loved it all!

But, I missed a few great, classic writers while stampeding my way through many great writers of mysteries and mayhem. For instance, I had never read anything by Jacques Futrelle until this year. Futrelle wrote detective stories in the early 1900s. His well-known character, Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Duren, was known as the The Thinking Machine. Futrelle died in the Titanic disaster in 1912 after publishing 7 detective novels and 50 short stories. I eagerly devoured Futrelle's writing, amazed that I had never come across his works before. I had the same feeling when I saw this anthology of Dr. Thorndyke stories available for review. Another great mystery writer that was new to me! I pounced eagerly on the chance to review this "best of'' collection. I'm glad I did!!

R. Austin Freeman wrote 22 novels and 40 short stories starring Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke from 1907 to 1942. Thorndyke is a doctor who uses his medical knowledge and experience to investigate crimes. Freeman's stories give details about the crime itself first, then follow Thorndyke as he unravels the mystery using scientific methods. I'm not sure how I missed Freeman's work during my 40 years of avid mystery reading....but I'm ecstatic that I have another classic detective character to enjoy! This anthology of stories whetted my appetite for enjoying the other books and stories featuring Dr. Thorndyke.

The 8 stories included in this anthology are: The Case of Oscar Brodski, A Case of Premeditation, The Echo of A Mutiny, The Mandarin's Pearl, The Blue Sequin, The Moabite Cipher, The Aluminum Dagger, and 31 New Inn.

These stories are definitely beautiful examples of the classic detective story, but with an added scientific approach. Lots of detail is given about Thorndyke's experiments and equipment, putting more emphasis on the science behind his sleuthing, rather than just powers of deduction. It's CSI 1900's style. I enjoy Freeman's writing. I found it refreshingly different. He brings his readers along for the crime, first detailing how the suspect commits the criminal act before setting Thorndyke on the trail to ferreting out the facts. It's like a backwards detective story. First he shows us who did it, how and why it was done, then details how Thorndyke can deduce that information from evidence at the crime scene.

I enjoyed all 8 of these stories! Despite their age, the stories remain quite readable and interesting. I found Freeman's style of detective story to be engaging and witty. I am definitely going to read the rest of the Dr. Thorndyke stories!

I highly recommend this anthology of Dr. Thorndyke stories to any fan of classic or golden age detective stories. It's an awesome introduction to a great writer and a fabulous classic detective!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy from Dover Publications via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own**

Thursday, July 20, 2017

REVIEW: Dead Storage

Dead Storage
Author: Mary Feliz

Professional Organizer Maggie McDonald is shocked to discover her best friend Stephen is a suspect in the murder of a local business owner. Stephen is a witness to the killing but is arrested for impeding the investigation. The local DA also wants to press murder charges because Stephen was found at the crime scene covered in blood. Maggie knows Stephen is innocent, but she soon discovers he is withholding information to protect another witness. Maggie must race the clock to discover the killer and help prevent a key witness from being deported before Stephen is charged with first degree murder.  Can she solve the case in time to prevent Stephen from being sent to prison?

I enjoy the Maggie McDonald Mystery series. The plots are always well-written. The characters are likable, well-developed, and diverse. Dead Storage is the third book in the series, and I enjoyed this book just as much as the two prior novels! The mystery was paced perfectly, drawing out the suspense until the last two chapters. It kept me guessing until the end!  I liked the fact that Maggie was not only investigating the murder, but also trying to find and assist the witness that Stephen was protecting. I had a bit of a hard time with the fact that Stephen made Maggie promise not to tell his partner Jason that he had been arrested. Jason is in law enforcement and is out of town when Stephen is arrested. Realistically speaking, I feel if his partner is facing a pending murder charge, someone would have contacted him to let him know what was going on. I don't believe it would have remained a secret for as long as it did. And Jason was only really mad at Maggie for two pages. Hiding the fact that his partner is in jail and possibly facing a murder charge would warrant being pissed for more than two pages. I would have remained angry for at least an entire chapter, if it had been me. :)

All in all, another great Maggie McDonald cozy! I can't wait for the next book! :)

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

REVIEW: Killer Party

Killer Party
Author: Lynn Cahoon

Jill Gardner returns in Killer Party, the 9th book in the Tourist Trap Mystery series. Jill is settling into her relationship with live-in boyfriend, Greg, while juggling her college classes and her business, Coffee, Books & More. Greg invites her to spend the weekend at local luxury hotel, The Castle, to join him for the annual reunion weekend with his best college buddies. Jill looks forward to meeting his old friends, relaxing by the pool and reading. Her plans change abruptly when one of Greg's friends is found dead, floating in the hotel pool. Could one of Greg's friends be a murderer?

As usual, Lynn Cahoon delivers a great cozy mystery with this new Tourist Trap book. The mystery is well-paced, with lots of possible suspects and unexpected twists and turns. I enjoy Jill as a main character. She is intelligent, independent, and a skilled amateur detective. I like how she works together with Greg (a local police officer) to gather clues. The side characters -- Aunt Jackie, Brenda, Deek, Toby, Amy, etc -- add a nice depth to the story. This latest installment in the series kept me guessing until the end. Every time I thought I had it figured out, the story took a turn in another direction. The ending is great -- believable and surprising! Loved it!

Lynn Cahoon is also the author of the Cat Latimer Mysteries series. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website:  http://www.lynncahoon.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**