Saturday, June 18, 2016

REVIEW: Night of the Living Deed

Night of the Living Deed
Author: E.J. Copperman

Alison Kerby is newly divorced and moves back to her hometown in New Jersey to transform a 100-year old beachfront home into a guesthouse. Just as she starts her DIY project, she gets struck on the head by a falling can of joint compound. When she comes to, she doesn't just see the mess on the floor, but the spirits of two people who died in the house. The spirits beg her to help them find out who killed them. Alison is reluctant to get involved. The safety of her 9-year old daughter is much more important than helping two dead people. But, when she starts getting death threats just like the former owner did before she died, Alison realizes she needs to help the ghosts before she becomes the killer's next victim.

This book is a great mix of humor and murder mystery. The main character is a hoot! She is smart, determined, and sassy. The two ghosts are wonderful characters as well. Maxie, the former owner of the house, is temperamental and prone to destroying things to get her point across. A former private investigator hired by Maxie, Paul sends Alison on investigative missions because, as a ghost, he can't leave the property.

I loved this book! The story was great. The cover art was fantastic! I am definitely going to be reading more of this series! There are 7 books in this series so far. The 8th book will be released in December of this year. E.J. Copperman is a pseudonym for author Jeff Cohen.

Monday, June 13, 2016

REVIEW: Jane Steele

Jane Steele
Author: Lyndsay Faye

Jane Steele loves Charlotte Bronte's book, Jane Eyre. She sympathizes with Eyre because her own life mirrors portions of that heroine's life. Steele's early childhood is spent with relatives who detest her and a cousin who abuses her. She is then sent to a school where the headmaster mistreats and starves students. And, later in life, she works as a governess in a large house where mysteries abound. Jane Steele's life is like Jane Eyre's in many ways, but differs in one major twist:  Jane Steele is a serial murderer.

This book is not a retelling of Jane Eyre. It is the main character's favorite book, so Faye takes bits and pieces of dialogue and prose from the classic and weaves it in and around Steele's tale of her own life. In the end, the two stories delve into the same aspects of the human condition:  love, redemption, lies, betrayal, fear, deceit, good, and evil.

I enjoyed this book. I love it when a story surprises me. I didn't know what to expect from Jane Steele,  but quickly found myself engrossed in the story. It wasn't a retelling of an old, familiar, loved story, but something completely new with a bit of the classic book sprinkled here and there to season the tale.

A reader does not have to have read Jane Eyre to enjoy this book. For those who have read the classic, there are references that will hold deeper meaning. But it won't hinder enjoyment of the story for those who are unfamiliar with Jane Eyre.

Lyndsay Faye also wrote Dust and Shadow, and the Timothy Wilde trilogy.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

REVIEW: The Blessing Way

The Blessing Way
Author: Tony Hillerman

Bergen McKee is an anthropologist studying the Navajo culture, especially the role that witches play in tribal beliefs. The college professor comes to the reservation in New Mexico to spend the summer in the desert, researching rumors of Wolf-Witches active in the area. Lt Joe Leaphorn with the tribal police has been friends with McKee since their college days, and is glad to see his old friend. But, neither man expects that the witch rumors will soon blossom into a string of murders. The men work together to discover who the Wolf-Witch is, gathering information on sightings of the witch and possible suspects. The investigation culminates in an exciting show-down in the desert, where McKee's life is on the line.

The Blessing Way was Tony Hillerman's first novel, published in 1970.  I first read this book when I was in high school. I became an immediate fan of Hillerman's novels. The Blessing Way is the first book in the Joe Leaphorn Mysteries series, although in this first book Bergen McKee is more the main character than Leaphorn.  I love the way the story is a blend of Navajo culture and murder mystery.

I decided this year to re-visit Hillerman's novels. I'm glad I did. His portrayal of the Navajo way of life was just as vivid for me now as it was for me in the 80's when I read this book for the first time. Hillerman wrote 22 books. 18 of them are Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee Navajo police mystery novels.
Hillerman died in 2008, but his daughter Anne continues the series. Anne Hillerman has written two novels in the series so far, Spider Woman's Daughter and Rock With Wings.

The Blessing Way starts out a little slow, but by mid-book the action picks up speed and heads towards a thrilling end. The book includes a lot of details about Navajo culture, beliefs and ceremonies. It's easy to tell that Hillerman loved New Mexico! Here's a short video of Hillerman talking about New Mexico, the Navajo and his writing:

I'm going to re-read the entire series.

Monday, June 6, 2016

REVIEW: Mrs. Jeffries Dusts for Clues

Mrs. Jeffries Dusts for Clues
Author:  Emily Brightwell

In this second book in the Mrs. Jeffries Mysteries series, Inspector Witherspoon's loyal house staff is at it again, sneakily sleuthing to help their employer. The Inspector is just a little too nice and a lot too absent minded sometimes. He has a difficult time solving crimes and murders on his own. So his Housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, gives him a bit of help by sending maids, footmen and other members of the house staff out to help find clues and information to assist the Inspector.  But, they have to do so in ways that won't make him, or anyone else, suspicious. Nobody can know that they are helping with investigations.

Mrs. Jeffries Dusts for Clues finds the staff fretting over a missing house maid, Mary Sparks, who was supposedly fired for stealing an expensive silver broach from her employer. The maid found new employment, but soon disappeared and hasn't been seen for two months.  The police discover a woman's body, buried with a silver broach and a betrothal ring. The only problem is the feet -- the body is wearing expensive new shoes in a size much too big for the diminutive Mary. Could this be Cassie, another maid who was seeing 3 men at once and who supposedly left the area to get married? Or perhaps the dead woman is Sally Comstock, a maid who got pregnant and left for Australia?  The staff jumps in to help identify the dead girl, and find out what happened to the other two maids.

This was a fun read. Victorian footmen and parlor maids gathering information from other people's servants, sneaking about after dark to find clues and doing it all without getting caught by their employer is just a cute premise for a mystery series. I do wish the Inspector was not portrayed as such a bumbling idiot sometimes though. He would rather be sitting at home with his feet up enjoying tea than investigating a murder case. Mrs. Jeffries wheedles case information out of him without once arousing any suspicion. Surely after 20 direct questions about his current investigation he would get the idea that it was strange his housekeeper cared that much about a murder investigation. But, he is always pretty oblivious, never realizing that he's been slipped important clues and information by his staff.  When he's been gently coaxed onto the right track, the Inspector always rises to the occasion and solves the crime. But without that sneaky help, he would most likely bungle every case. I find myself talking to my book at times...."Oh my, how can you be so thick, Inspector??''  But part of the joy of the series is the gentle, sweet Inspector being totally oblivious that his housekeeper and employees are assisting him.

The books are quick, enjoyable reads.  The story moves relatively quickly in the general cozy mystery fashion. The stories are not big on character development or deep plot lines, like most cozies. But the books have a nice humorous feel to them with just enough mystery and suspense to keep the reader wondering til the end.

If you enjoy cozy mysteries and stories set in the Victorian Era, I highly recommend this series. I will definitely be reading more! There are 34 books in this series. Oh my! I have a lot of reading to do!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

REVIEW: The Cabinet of Curiousities

The Cabinet of Curiousities
Authors: Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

A construction crew in  New York City uncovers a buried charnel house containing 36 skeletons. Agent  Pendergast, a pale and strange man, appears at the New York Museum of Natural History, and pulls Archaeologist Dr. Nora Kelly into the 100-year old murder case.  From the clothing and personal effects, Kelly ascertains all the remains are of poor people -- street, kids, factory workers, prostitutes -- and all were killed in the same way. Their spinal cords were severed and some portions extracted. Their investigation soon causes an avalanche of anger within the NYC political powers-that-be. A wealthy developer, city hall, the mayor's office, the police commissioner and even the museum director want the investigation stopped.  Dr. Kelly is up to her neck in hot water and the case, when new corpses begin showing up, killed in the same gruesome manner.  Agent Pendergast gathers a team consisting of a NYC cop, a NY Times reporter and Dr. Kelly to help him solve the case before more people are killed. It turns out that much, much more is at stake than just murder victims. If they fail, the future of the entire human race might be threatened.

This book is the 3rd in the Agent Pendergast series by Preston & Child. I read the first two books years ago -- Relic and Reliquary -- and loved them. Now years later while perusing my local library's digital offerings, I checked out Brimstone, only realizing then that it was the 5th book in the series. I am seriously OCD about reading a series in order, so I backed up to read The Cabinet of Curiousities and Still Life With Crows first. I'm so glad I found this series again! I love a good creepy mystery -- and The Cabinet of Curiousity was exactly what I adore!

Agent Pendergast is a strange, almost supernatural character at times, and very human at others. The character is portrayed as almost unknowable -- like The Shadow from old radio and televison serials. I am a total OTR addict, so I was sucked right into the story immediately. The plot moved at a good pace, and the supporting characters were believable enough to keep a sense of reality. The strange, supernatural, or magical qualities of Pendergast did not overwhelm the story, but enhanced it.

The end result was a creepy thrill-ride that I couldn't put down. I was totally engrossed in the story.

There are 16 books in the Agent Pendergast series. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child also co-author the Gideon Crew series. There was a movie version of the first Pendergast novel released in 1997. The movie had good box-office reception and reviews, but on their website the authors state it wasn't a good representation of their main character, Agent Pendergast. I don't remember much about the movie other than it was thrilling and enjoyable. I do remember feeling at the time that the book was better. But -- isn't that always the case?? :)

If you like creepy, supernatural-feel, thrillers -- read this series!! There are some important plot points and character introductions in the earlier read them in order to get the full effect. They aren't quick reads, but mindful, engrossing stories so be prepared to set aside uninterrupted brain-time!

I don't normally give books a 5....for me, a 5 is like an A+ and not something to award without extreme perfection. This book came close....solid 4.5.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

REVIEW: Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

Real Murders
Author: Charlaine Harris

Aurora "Roe'' Teagarden is a librarian in Lawrenceton, Georgia. She's also a true crime enthusiast and member of a crime buff club called Real Murders. The group meets once a month at the VFW hall to discuss a famous murder case. This month it's Roe's turn. She is scheduled to talk to the group about the Julia Wallace murder in 1931. But before she can give her presentation, one of their members is found dead on the floor of the VFW kitchen, posed just like Julia Wallace was when she was murdered.

The killing doesn't stop there....and each subsequent death is also modeled after a famous case.

Who is killing the members of Real Murders? Is it one of  the club? Or someone who just wants to make it look that way?

Roe and other members of Real Murders know they need to work together to solve the case before any more of them become suspects....or victims!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I loved the Southern Vampire series with Sookie Stackhouse....and recently started reading the Harper Connelly series. So when I found out there was yet another Charlaine Harris mystery series about a sleuthing librarian, I knew I had to get my hands on the first book!  And I was not disappointed!

Aurora Teagarden is a likable main character. She knows that having a murder discussion group is a bit macabre, but she doesn't back down her passion for researching old famous cases. The supporting characters are all pretty much the usual cozy fare, but well written even if they aren't deeply developed. The plot was fun and interesting.

The story was well paced, and kept me interested til the end. I especially liked the information on actual old murder cases sprinkled here and there within the story. I looked up the cases that were mentioned and even added a couple books to my TBR list because the history sounded so interesting!  If there was a Real Murders club in real life, I would have to be a member! I understand the group's fascination. My television is on ID, Cloo or other crime investigation channels constantly, and I read a lot of books on famous crimes.

An enjoyable light, cozy read! I will definitely read the rest of this series. There are 8 books in the series, and a 9th is scheduled for release in October 2016.

FYI:  The Hallmark channel is making a movie version that will show on its Hallmark Movies & Mysteries television channel in July.

Friday, June 3, 2016

REVIEW: Caught Dead Handed

Caught Dead Handed
Author: Carol J. Perry

Lee Barrett has come home to Salem, Massachusetts with her sights set on a reporter's job at WICH-TV. When she shows up for her job interview, not only has the position already been filled, but she discovers the station's late-night psychic, Ariel Constellation, dead in Salem Harbor. Instead of a news anchor job, she finds herself filling the dead psychic's job -- introducing late night cheesy horror movies, and answering calls from viewers looking for psychic advice.  She becomes Crystal Moon for the show, Nightshades.  When another body is discovered and strange things start happening around the station, Lee becomes an amateur sleuth to discover the identity of the killer. 

Caught Dead Handed is the first book in the Witch City Mystery series. There are 3 books in the series so far. 
This book was a fun read! I love cozy mysteries, especially ones with cats.  The main character, Lee, not only fills Ariel Constellation's job, but adopts her cat as well.  The cat's name is Orion, which Lee changes to O'Ryan. The plot is a nice mix of mystery and humor. I liked the main character. She doesn't take herself too seriously. I mean how can you take yourself seriously when your job is to dress up in a gypsy costume and pretend to be psychic? 
The twist in the plot wasn't a big surprise. I had it figured out a few chapters before it was revealed. But that didn't impede my enjoyment of the book. The writing, plot, and characters were all well done, maintaining my interest all the way to the end. I did feel that things wrapped up rather hurriedly at the end, but I can't fault a 400+ page cozy for moving too quickly. The pacing was very well done.  I just felt the wrap-up was handled a bit too fast, with the mystery solved just a few pages from the end, without much information on what happened afterwards.
But, I guess all of that is in book 2.....which I will, of course, be reading. It doesn't take a psychic to figure that one out! 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

REVIEW: Grave Surprise

Grave Surprise
Author: Charlaine Harris

Grave Surprise is the 2nd of 4 books in the Harper Connelly series.

Harper Connelly was struck by lightning when she was a teenager. She survived, but ever since then she can find dead bodies. She travels with her brother Tolliver all over the United States to help find bodies of missing persons and murder victims. She is often the victim of ridicule and threats because of her "talent,'' and often she is made to feel like a con artist for charging money for her services.

In this 2nd novel, Harper and Tolliver have been called to Memphis to give a demonstration at a cemetery for a local college. Anthropology Professor, Dr. Clyde Nunley, teaches the class, "An Open Mind: Experiences Outside the Box'' but the Professor is still surprised when Harper's talent proves to be genuine. That's not the only surprise, however. Harper discovers that a 100-year old grave in the cemetery is hiding a newer, second body, a girl missing for 18 months.

Who killed the girl? Why was she buried inside a grave in the cemetery?  Once again Harper and Tolliver are pulled into a murder investigation, and police are starting to suspect maybe they had something to do with it.

In my review of book 1 Grave Sight, I commented that the relationship between Harper and her brother seems a bit....odd.  Too physical. Too emotional.  And this book did nothing to relieve my anxiety.  While it is true that they are just is still creepy that they seem to have a weird, inappropriate dependency on each other. No spoilers....but something was revealed in this book that pretty much moved those feelings from anxiety to full-on creepy-uggo-icky.

But, the ickiness is not bad enough for me to stop reading the books. I enjoy the series, even if the relationship between the two main characters is a bit disconcerting at times.

I do wish that Harper were a bit less of an anxiety-ridden, whiney, wack-a-doo sometimes though. But, I suppose if I was struck by lightning and found dead bodies for a living I would be a bit strange, too.

I am definitely going to read the final two books in this series. In fact, I have just added book 3 to my "currently reading'' list. But, if Harper has sex with her brother......I am closing the book,  washing my eyeballs, and giving it a DNF at that point. Uggo.

The cover art for this book was awesome! :)