Tuesday, March 28, 2017

REVIEW: When the Grits Hit the Fan

When the Grits Hit the Fan
Author: Maddie Day

When the Grits Hit the Fan is the third book in the Country Store Mystery series. Robbie Jordan is still renovating the old country store building she purchased in South Lick, Indiana. Her restaurant, Pan N' Pancakes is on the main floor. She is tearing out plaster in the upstairs portion of the building in preparation to add some bed and breakfast style rooms. The restaurant business has slowed down a bit now that winter weather has arrived. While snowshoeing with her friend, Lou, they come upon the body of a local professor frozen under the ice. Unfortunately Lou just argued with the man over his stealing and publishing her research as his own. The local police immediately zero in on Lou as a suspect. Add in secret tunnels, small town secrets and hidden crimes and it makes for a completely engrossing cozy mystery!!

I haven't read any of the other books in this series but was able to enjoy the story and figure out the characters. So, it isn't absolutely necessary to read the books in order. I am going to go back and read the first two books after totally enjoying this one!

I like Robbie Jordan as a main character. She is intelligent, capable and does DIY like a pro! She flips pancakes at her restaurant, investigates murders and wields a pry bar to tear out plaster....and still has time for dinner and extracurricular activities with her love-interest, Abe O'Neill. I like the subplot about her renovating the old store, trying to keep it authentic looking and planning to add a B&B upstairs. The mystery is engaging. There are plenty of suspects and surprises. There were some portions I had figured out, but the very end was a surprise. Loved it!

I will definitely be reading more of this series! Very entertaining! (And made me hungry for pancakes!)

Maddie Day is a pseudonym for the author Edith Maxwell. For more information about the author and her other books check out her website at https://edithmaxwell.com/

Thursday, March 23, 2017

REVIEW: Abandon

Author: Blake Crouch

Christmas Day, 1893 in Abandon, CO.....What should have been a warm holiday for the residents of the backwoods mountain mining town was a tragedy instead. Every resident -- every single man, woman and child -- living in Abandon disappeared. Never to be seen again. More than 100 years later an expedition to the ghost town arrives, led by a history professor. His daughter, a journalist, is intrigued by the legend surrounding the town. A psychic and paranormal photographer are also part of the group. It has been said that the abandoned town is haunted. They want to discover what happened that snowy Christmas night in 1893.  Little do they know that the professor has ulterior motives for hiking into the mountains to Abandon. His secret might just kill them all.

I love a good thriller, and Blake Crouch delivers yet another thrill ride with Abandon. The storyline alternates between the tale of the mining town residents from 1893 to the present day expedition, drawing out the tension and suspense until the very end. The action is perfectly paced and there were lots of surprises and tension-filled moments along the way. Sometimes stories that hop back and forth in time can get convoluted and confusing, but not this time. I liked how the action flashed back and forth between the past and present. When I finally finished the entire tale and closed the book, all I could think was "Holy Crap! That was intense!" Great story.

Blake Crouch is the author of many books including the Wayward Pines series and Dark Matter. Discover more about the author and his books on his website at http://www.blakecrouch.com/

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

REVIEW: Blueberry Cupcake Mystery

Blueberry Cupcake Mystery
Author: Naomi Miller

This book is simple, short and sweet.

I'm going to talk about the things I enjoy about this story first. Then I will delve into some constructive discussion of things I think are problematic.

First, readers should be aware that this is Christian fiction. If the Christian faith is not your belief or you are bothered by Christian themes, then avoid this book. The Christian theme is not overdone (I have read Christian fiction that just slammed you with scripture and Christian themes so much it over-powered the main plot), but presented as part of the Amish theme. The main character thanks God and talks about blessings in her life, etc. She does not sermonize and the book is not evangelistic or overly moralistic. It presents a theme of forgiveness, kindness and faith. The story is charming, not preachy.

While it did make the author's writing style seem a bit stilted at times, I enjoyed the use of Amish words (not sure if Dutch or German) in the conversation and thoughts of the Amish main character. I grew up with a German grandfather who mixed English and German as he spoke. So as I read the story I felt nostalgic for the times I spent with him as a young girl. I wish I could have my grandpa back for just one day. He used to speak to me in German and I would answer him in English. I've forgotten almost all of the German I knew as a child. This story made me smile and brought back fond memories of my Opa.

The cover of the book is gorgeous and well done. The book has an inviting appearance and the cupcake on the front looks absolutely scrumptious! Plus, there is a recipe included for blueberry cupcakes. :) mmmmmm :)

Now.....I have to also mention some disappointments with this book.

The font size is huge. This book is very short. The only way the story is extended to 91 pages was by using huge type and making the margins wide. I tried this once in school on a book report because I couldn't stretch "I didn't like this book'' to the required four pages. I got detention. So, this was a glaring no-no for me as a reader and reviewer.  It is a silly trick in elementary school...and a publisher should know better than to do this. There is very little character development, location description or details about the Amish in this book. With just a bit more detail and description added, the story could have been better and this story would have been book-length without resorting to a huge font. As it is, this is really a short story or very slim novella typed large to make it appear to be a book.

Along those same lines, throwing in some Amish language and having the main character fret about the behavior of Englishers does not make a story Amish fiction. There is just not enough detail or character development. Even if this book is classified as a children's or young adult book, there still needs to be some detail to flesh out characters and even just a little bit of background or subplot about the Amish, the town -- anything really -- to make this a flowing, interesting story. As it is, the characters are weak and undeveloped. And the only thing Amish in the story is a few foreign words and some behavior that isn't explained or detailed. While sweet, the story just lacks depth.

And my last point, the mystery is weak. I understand wanting to avoid a murder mystery in a Christian/Amish themed book. There is nothing wrong with a non-violent mystery theme. But, as with characterization and place, there is no real development or tension building. Their bakery business is broken into and items stolen and damaged. The culprit must be found. But the journey from incident to final solution is lackluster. This could be because of poor story development or the fact that the book is so short. I think maybe it's a combination of both problems.

This is the first book in this series. I haven't read the newest book, The Christmas Cookie Mystery. It could be that the writing style and story development improves with the second book. After reading only this first book, I have to say that this book might be better classified as a children's book rather than Young Adult.  I think a younger elementary age child would enjoy reading this story or having it read to them. I could see this book being used to help reading comprehension in a Christian homeschool environment. An adult or teenager might enjoy this book as a quick read. As for myself, I enjoyed its charming points, but the plot is just too simple for me. I'm going to give it a middle of the road rating because it reminded me of my Opa and made me smile. Without that nostalgia, my rating might have been lower.

I hope in the second book that the huge font becomes normal-size and the story lengthened with actual plot and character development. I'm going to read the next book and see if there are improvements. If not, I won't be reading more of this series.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

REVIEW: Single Malt Murder

Single Malt Murder
Author: Melinda Mullet

Single Malt Murder is the first book in a brand new series -- The Whisky Business Mystery series. The theme and the cover got my attention, pulling me in to read this book by new author, Melinda Mullet. I'm glad...this was an enjoyable read!

First, the basics: Following the death of her Uncle Ben, Abigail Logan inherits Abbey Glen whisky distillery in rural Scotland. Abi is uneasy about the situation. Not only because as an award-winning photojournalist, she knows nothing about whisky distilling, but also because she immediately begins receiving threats. Anonymous notes, bouquets of thistles and even a dead duck are left to warn her against a woman running Abbey Glen. Acts of sabotage are occurring at the distillery, too. When Abi and her friend, Patrick, discover an Abbey Glen employee dead in a vat of whisky, she decides to start investigating the events. Who doesn't want her running the distillery? Is the same person sabotaging the business? When another murder occurs, Abi starts to wonder if it's her fault....did her inheritance of the single malt whisky distillery just lead to the deaths of two people? Who feels strongly enough about it to kill?

This is an engrossing, enjoyable mystery novel! Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. The mystery portion of the plot is well-paced. There are a fair number of suspects and the ending caught me by surprise. Well done! Sprinkled throughout are interesting facts about the process of distilling and fermenting whisky. I had no idea it's such a long and involved process. The subplot didn't overwhelm the mystery, but added depth to the story. I liked Abi as a main character. She is a strong, independent woman who went about her investigations with skill. The supporting characters are interesting with enough small village quirkiness to make them interesting and appealing. There is a touch of romance within the story, but it isn't a main focus, rather like the frosting on the cupcake.

This is Melinda Mullet's first novel. It was well-written and an excellent cozy mystery. I highly recommend it to mystery lovers and whisky connoisseurs alike. Thanks to this book the next time I take a sip of whisky I will definitely be thinking about all that went into producing it.

I can't wait to read the next book in the series! Death Distilled will be published in September 2017.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

REVIEW:Ghosts Who Went to School

Ghosts Who Went to School
Author: Judith Spearing

I love old books. Any sort. And there are few places better to troll for great old books than thriftshops. A couple times a month I set out with $5 or so in my pocket to visit all the local thriftshops looking for interesting books. Some of my best finds are old, often out of print, middle grade books...the type I used to beg my parents to buy for me from those book order forms in elementary school. I am in total nostalgic bliss when I find a bunch of old Scholastic books. I bring them home and read them, then donate the books to my local library. They resell them at their book sales I'm sure....then someone else gets to enjoy them! The library makes money to buy new books and someone else gets to enjoy a great kid's book! Win-win!

My latest find is a Scholastic book, Ghosts Who Went to School, first printed in 1966, with a reprint in 1989. I checked and although the book is currently out of print, it is readily available to purchase online. I found prices ranging from 33 cents plus postage to $5.49 with free shipping. So, not expensive. My copy was well loved with three children's names scrawled on the inside of the front cover, dutifully crossed out when the book passed to a new owner. I hope they all enjoyed the story as much as I did!

Ghosts Who Went to School was written by Judith Spearing. The book has a follow up, The Museum House Ghosts. The Author just passed away in January 2017 and is fondly remembered for her two children's books.

The basics: Wilbur and Mortimer Temple are ghosts. They live in the old Temple House, the abandoned old house that everyone says is haunted (because it is!). Their mother and father live there too...a happy, ghost family. But, the boys are bored. Haunting the same house day after day can get a little tiresoome. They decide to go to school. Wilber joins Mrs. Hartley's third grade class. While he means well, having an invisible student in class can be disruptive. When Mrs. Hartley grades Wilbur's first spelling test she finds his spelling is atrocious so she knows even ghost boys need to be in school. They reach an agreement. Wilbur must be visible for roll call and while he is answering questions in class,but he can be invisible the rest of the time as long as it isn't disruptive to the other students. So Wilbur and Mortimer blend right in, despite the fact that they're ghosts. Can they also solve the problem of the local bank that wants to sell their house?

The story is well-written and incredibly cute. Wilbur's classmates accept him and like having him as part of their class. Mortimer enjoys school as well. They get into a bit of trouble, but never for being mean-spirited. They help non-athletic kids make points in basketball, assist classmates with math and do a bit of invisible gardening to scare bankers. Nothing mean or destructive. It's just a happy, age appropriate story. This would be a great book for kids in 2nd to 5th grade. Lots of humor and great lessons! The book has cute illustrations as well.

This is a book I think Scholastic should reprint again. Kids at my son's elementary would love this story! Now that I've reviewed it, my copy is going to our local library. I hope that soon it has a 4th name scrawled on the inside of the front cover and gets many more readings before it wears out! It definitely gave me a couple hours of joy. There's nothing like a happy, entertaining children's book! A fun, happy read!!

I'm now on the look-out for the second book -- The Museum House Ghosts. I want to read about the other adventures of Wilbur and Mortimer!

Friday, March 17, 2017

REVIEW: The Illusionist's Apprentice

The Illusionist's Apprentice
Author: Kristy Cambron

Once the apprentice to the amazing Harry Houdini, Wren Lockhart now performs her illusions on the vaudeville stage. She is talented, but eccentric...shutting nearly everyone out of her life, dressing in men's clothing and ignoring most social conventions. She relies only on herself. Her past taught her that. The past she keeps secret. After a man is supposedly raised from the dead by another illusionist, Horace Stapleton, the resurrected man promptly drops dead. Stapleton was previously debunked as a fraud by Houdini and Wren knows he didn't raise anyone from the dead. So, what did happen? She is approached by FBI agent Elliot Matthews to help with the investigation. Stapleton is a fraud, but Wren knows he isn't a murderer.

Set in the Vaudeville and flapper era of the 1920's, this book has much historical color amid the vibrant backdrop of stage performers, illusionists and all the magic of the Jazz Age. The mystery is engaging and the characters are believable. I loved Wren's strength and independence. Elliot is intelligent, patient and determined. The action is great, and the story perfectly paced to build tension. I found myself carrying my Kindle with me everywhere so I wouldn't have to stop reading!

Kristy Cambron is the author of several novels including The Butterfly and the Violin. To find out more about the author and her books, check out her website at https://kristycambron.com/

**I volunarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Thursday, March 16, 2017

REVIEW: Equal Rites

Equal Rites
Author: Terry Pratchett

Wizards who are about to die always transfer their power to the eighth son of an eighth son before they gasp their last. But one night in the village of Bad Ass, a wizard mistakenly passes on his power to a newborn girl. Whoops. Never before has there been a female wizard in all of Discworld. This baby is going to have one heck of a time!

Equal Rites, the third book in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, is about Eskarine's adventures. She grows up living with a witch, Granny Weatherwax who teaches her about about herbs, healing and witchery. But, as Eskarine has a staff and wizardly powers that eek out by accident once in awhile, Granny realizes the girl needs to go to the Unseen University for wizard training. The problem? Girls aren't allowed to be wizards and therefore, the university doesn't admit girls. Esk sets out on a trek to attempt to gain admittance....and chaos ensues.

I really love this series. Pratchett's humor just makes me smile. And I love Esk....she is a child and completely innocent. She can't control her powers and often ends up in strange predicaments because of her magical staff. She notices things and helps people on her way to the wizard university and doesn't even realize she's using magic. In her mind, she's just being nice and helpful. Granny Weatherwax is wonderful too. Old, cantankerous and a wily witch in her own right, she's funny, endearing and just awesomely witchy. When the two of them arrive in Ankh Morpork, nothing will ever be the same again, especially the Unseen University. The battle of wills to get girls recognized as wizard material was awesomely epic.

A wonderful, funny journey through Discworld!!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

REVIEW: The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency

The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency
Author: Mandy Morton

This is a very creative, humorous and quirky mystery novel. Cats are in charge. No humans. It's a world of anthropomorphized  kitties. Hettie Bagshot and her assistant, Tilly, have started a detective agency in a rented room behind a bakery. Hettie knows nothing about detecting or crime, but figures she can wing it and make enough money to pay the two pound a week rent. Their first mystery involves the theft of three dead cats from the Furcross Home for Slightly Older Cats. The three elderly cats had opted for the euthanasia package, but after their peaceful sendoff, someone snatched their bodies right out of the graves! Hettie and Tilly are hired by the owner of Furcross who begs them to discover the nefarious bodysnatchers before all the residents bail from the care home in fear.

There are lots of references, puns and cute jokes sprinkled throughout this book. It took me a chapter or two to really get into the story. But once I got used to the fact that all things were cat-centric in this cozy mystery, I began to enjoy the tale.

Hettie is a cute main character. I had to smile when she reminisced about her days in rock-and-roll. Tilly is a sweet side-kick. Her love of cardigan sweaters is endearing. All of the supporting characters are quirky and fun. The mystery is light. The mood is humorous and fun. It's baptism by fire for the cats on the No. 2 Feline Detective Agency's first case, and they rise to the occasion with kitty-like aplomb. The ending wasn't really a surprise, but it was thrilling with a sharp edge of humor.

For those looking for a mystery with good humor and lots of creativity, this is it! It's a light, quick read. Don't expect a detailed murder mystery, but enjoy a quick romp through an old folks home for slightly older cats.

There are four books in the Hettie Bagshot Mystery series.

**I voluntarily read a copy of this book from St. Martins Press via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

REVIEW: For Whom The Bread Rolls

For Whom the Bread Rolls
Author: Sarah Fox

For Whom the Bread Rolls is the second book in the Pancake House Mystery series. This new tale finds Marley McKinney settling into her new life in Wildwood Cove. She loves her ocean front home and pancake restaurant, The Flip Side, that she inherited from her deceased cousin. She also loves her boyfriend, Brett. In fact, life would be pretty perfect....except for a vengeful, nasty woman, Ida Winkler. Ida does little annoying things like scrawling graffiti on the restaurant's front windows and prank calling the restaurant continually. Finally, Marley has had enough. She goes to Ida's house to confront her....and finds her dead. Marley doesn't want the locals to think she killed the woman, so she decides to do a little sleuthing to find the killer. As with most small towns, it turns out there are a lot of people in Wildwood Cove with secrets. But which one is a murderer?

I enjoyed this book. Marley is a strong, independent and intelligent woman. Her restaurant seems like a cozy, enjoyable place -- wish it was real! I would definitely eat there! The supporting characters are all likable with enough quirkiness to make them interesting. The mystery is well-paced with plenty of suspects.

It isn't necessary to read book one before delving into this mystery. I haven't read The Crepes of Wrath yet, but was easily able to get into this story and the characters. I'm definitely going to read the first book! I have it on Kindle just waiting for me. :) For Whom the Bread Rolls, a quick read at just 212 pages, is definitely an enjoyable cozy mystery.

Sarah Fox also writes the Music Lovers Mystery series. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.authorsarahfox.com/

Sunday, March 12, 2017

REVIEW: The Darkest Evening of the Year

The Darkest Evening of the Year
Author: Dean Koontz

Is it possible to like and hate a book at the same time? I think it must be...as that's pretty much how I feel about this book.

I picked out the audiobook version of this Dean Koontz novel from my local library's online site. I expected Dean Koontz creepiness with the added plus of a sentient wonderful dog (something Koontz has done well before). The basic plot sounded like something I would really enjoy. The Basics: Amy Redwing runs a Golden Retriever Rescue group. She is dedicated to saving as many Goldens as she can. She is soft-spoken, yet firm, enabling her to negotiate with irresponsible owners who need to turn over their dogs to her. One night, accompanied by her boyfriend Brian, she risks her life to rescue Nickie from a drunk, violent man. Nickie is a special dog and her rescue sends ripples through Amy and Brian's lives, bringing to light all their secrets and putting them on a shared path to a thrilling end.

What I liked about this book -- I love dogs. I have 4 rescue dogs and they are the sweetest, kindest, most beautiful souls. I enjoyed the way the Amy felt about her dogs and how the dogs were portrayed as family members and companions. I also enjoyed the ideas Koontz conveyed about the ability of dogs to comfort and help heal traumatized children and adults, too.

The audiobook was well-read by Kirsten Kairos. I have hearing loss, but was able to easily hear and understand everything. At times, because of my hearing, I have a difficult time with audiobooks read by women. I'm not sure why.....maybe it's the higher pitch of female voices? Not sure. But, I didn't have that problem this time.

What I didn't like -- a portion of the plot is about an abused Down Syndrome child. I found these portions of the book very, very difficult to listen to. In fact, at one point, hearing about how her abusive mother spit into her child's food and then tried to trick her into eating it almost made me throw up. It wasn't just abuse....it was incredibly horrific psychological abuse. I just found it so reprehensible I almost gave up on this book. That sort of abuse done to an innocent child, especially one with the innocent love of a Down Syndrome child, was horror -- but not the sort I wanted to listen to. I stuck it out though because I wanted to find out if the child was saved at the end. But be prepared -- this book is not for the feint of heart. The child's mother is disgusting, vile and evil. Truly a villain and the descriptions of how she treats her little girl, her lovers, and innocent people around here are graphic.

I also had a hard time with some of the dialogue and descriptive passages. Koontz piles on adjectives and weird flowery descriptions and metaphors for things. Once in awhile a bit of over-exuberant description is okay....but when it's constant, after a few chapters it just starts to get a little cheesy. I'm not sure what to call it.....  over-writing, perhaps? Some of the sentences were like entries in a bad writing contest. The dialogue pulled me out of the story several times because it just got ridiculous. Characters were saying things in flowery, over-stated language that no person would ever use in conversation. It came off as extremely melodramatic.

I did finish the book. The story was ok. The dogs were the best part of the whole thing. :) The plot was a bit over-done....melodramatic, unrealistic and just weird at times. Now I realize most horror novels are weird and not realistic....this book was just annoyingly so. I had a hard time buying into the story. Just too much. Too cheesy. And some of it was just disturbing in a grotesque way. I guess just had a hard time with the severe child abuse depicted in the story. I wish I had picked another Koontz book. I chose this one because the blurb sounded intriguing. I have enjoyed Koontz's books in the past....but this one just left me feeling flat and a bit traumatized. I really wanted to jump into the book, rescue the Down Syndrome girl and just punch her mother in the face until she fell over. GRRRRR.

I'm going read a some lighter, happy books and then come back and try another Koontz novel. This book was just not my cup of tea.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

REVIEW: Dodge City

Dodge City
Author: Tom Clavin

I grew up in rural Kansas, so the history of the midwest, especially the Old West era in Kansas,  is near and dear to me. My husband is a huge fan of the fictionalized television show about Dodge City, Gunsmoke. I was so excited when I learned this book was coming out! I knew immediately my husband would love it. Reading about Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and other real characters and events in Dodge City will make him so happy! His book is on order....I can't wait for it to arrive!

Tom Clavin starts out by giving information about southwest Kansas before white settlers arrived. It was filled with Indian tribes fighting for territory, millions of buffalo, and wide open grassland. He talks about the conquistadors who came through exploring in the 1500s and Lewis & Clark in the early 1800s and those who followed after. Then Clavin moves into the era of westward movement, cattle drives, railroads and lawlessness in the prairie.

This book is just crammed full of well-researched information. At times, it seemed a bit disorganized but the history was interesting, even if not always related in linear fashion. Technically, the book really isn't just about Dodge City but relates stories about people, events and the history of the region.

I had to read this book a little bit at a time. When my brain went into fact-overload, I would take a break and come back later for more. Clavin gives factual insights into what Dodge City and the Old West was really like, and how the exaggerated stories in books and movies came about.

A wonderful read for anyone who enjoys history! Just keep in mind that this book is a non-fiction history, not a fictionalized story. Don't expect simple entertainment, but a journey through the real history of the region, the era and some of the famous people who battled to tame the west.

Tom Clavin is the author of 11 non-fiction books on famous people including Roger Maris and the DiMaggio brothers.

**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers copy of this book from St Martin's Press via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Friday, March 10, 2017

REVIEW: The Thirteen Hallows

The Thirteen Hallows
Authors: Michael Scott & Collette Freedman

I was browsing my local library's online digital offerings for a horror or thriller book, and the cover of this book really jumped out at me. Then I saw the authors' names, and thought I'd like to give adult fiction by Michael Scott a try. I chose the audiobook format for The Thirteen Hallows, narrated by Kate Redding.

The Basics: 2000 years ago 13 objects were endowed with the power to protect the world from demons. The Hallows were guarded by keepers through the centuries and last handed to 13 children during World War II. The children were charged with keeping them safe and secret. But now, in modern day England, someone is brutally murdering the keepers. Now in old age, their bodies are being found mangled and bloody, each dying in a tortuous manner. Sarah Miller comes across one of the keepers, an elderly woman named Judith Walker,  being attacked by thugs. She feels drawn to help the woman. Unfortunately she gets pulled into the violence surrounding these hallowed objects and finds herself in possession of a 2000 year old broken sword -- one of the hallows. Violence, torture and chaos ensue. Will Sarah Miller and Judith Walker's nephew, Owen, be able to prevent the demons from once again gaining access to the world?

The basic premise of this book sounded really interesting, but, for me, the execution was lackluster. This book just didn't work for me. From multiple torture scenes to gross-out sex scenes, it just seemed the author was maybe trying too hard to step away from the Young Adult genre by jumping full-force into overtly adult situations. I don't have a problem with sex or even with torture scenes if they further the plot and are well-written, but this book came off as cheesy and a bit forced. It made me think of Miley Cyrus and her over-the-top way of getting past her Hannah Montana character. The plot and action of this book came off like a twerking session through written word. Scott wanted to leave Nicholas Flamel behind, but it was just a bit much. This wasn't a frightening book or really even an interesting horror story but just a bit of a hot mess. It was a bit like listening to a bad B-movie.

This is just my opinion, however. Others might really enjoy this book. For me, it was a miss.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

REVIEW: Christina's Ghost

Christina's Ghost
Author: Betty Ren Wright

I read a lot of middle-grade books. Not just for review purposes but because sometimes it's just very enjoyable to read something innocent, funny, simple and entertaining. I find all sorts of great middle-grade books at local thrift shops, and on my local library's digital website. I have spent many a happy afternoon reading about the trials of middle school, kids solving mysteries and ghosts, monsters or even space aliens. Why not? I have discovered many wonderful children's authors, passed on many great books to my son and other kids, and reviewed some really awesome books.

I found Christina's Ghost by Betty Ren Wright on my library's website in audiobook format. Battling a cold for several days, I wanted to listen to a short, entertaining ghost story. And this book was perfect!

Christina and her sister are being sent to stay with their grandmother while their parents are on a 5-week trip to Alaska. Their Uncle Ralph drives the girls to their grandmother's house, only to discover she has gone into the hospital. Christina has to stay with her Uncle Ralph while her sister goes with an Aunt until their grandmother returns. Uncle Ralph is staying at an isolated, spooky house while a friend is out of town. He is doing research and really doesn't enjoy the company of children. Christina is bored. She's upset that her Uncle Ralph doesn't seem to like her, lonely and misses her parents, sister and grandmother. She decides to explore the area around the house, swim in the lake and try to fill her days as best she can. Then she starts seeing a little boy....a little boy who shows up when she is laughing or happy. But he only stays for a few seconds before....disappearing. Suddenly she is pulled into a mystery.....is the little boy a ghost? And why is he at the house? How is she going to convince Uncle Ralph that she's seeing a ghost?

This book  was entertaining, and the audiobook, narrated by Carol Jordan Stewart, was easy for me to hear and understand. I have partial hearing loss, so when it comes to audiobooks I need good production value and a narrator who speaks clearly. I was able to understand and thoroughly enjoy this audiobook! Written for children, the story is relatively simple and short. The audiobook is just over two hours long. Perfect length for a car trip, appointment or other errand with the kids in tow. The story is well-paced, with humor sprinkled in. There are ghosts, but the tale is ago-appropriate for ages 7 and up. Nothing overly terrifying. Christina solves the mystery, and learns how to befriend an adult relative she doesn't know very well. I listened to this story, chuckling at the silly riddles Christina shared with her grumpy uncle, while doing housework. It made the afternoon brighter and the task less mundane. I highly recommend it to adults and children alike!

Betty Ren Wright wrote 25 children's books including The Dollhouse Murders and Ghosts of Mercy Manor. Her writing is age-appropriate for children, entertaining and spooky without being too scary for kids. Her stories also provide great entertainment for adults, too. It certainly brightened my afternoon!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

REVIEW: Death by Chocolate Lab

Death by Chocolate Lab
Author: Bethany Blake

I am a sucker for both lab dogs and cozy mystery novels. When I saw the title to this book -- Death by Chocolate Lab -- I knew it was one I had to read. The cover is cute as well...featuring the aforesaid chocolate lab and a sad-faced basset hound.

For the most part I enjoyed this book. Let me talk about what I enjoyed first....then I will mention a couple things that bothered me.

Daphne Templeton is a professional pet sitter and dog walker. She lives with her sister Piper, a veterinarian. Also living with them is Daphne's basset hound, Socrates, and a foster dog, Artie the Chihuahua. Preparations are underway for a Dog Trial event at Piper's farm. But just minutes before the event is to start, the dead body of Piper's former boyfriend, Steve, is found bludgeoned to death and stuffed into one of the obstacles on the trial course. A newcomer to town, Detective Jonathan Black, questions Piper, who was seen arguing with the dead man the night before. Daphne begins doing a bit of investigation on her own both to protect her sister and to discover what happened to Steve's lab dog, Axis, who has disappeared. Daphne finds herself perplexed by all the questions raised by the murder. Who killed Steve? Where is his dog? And, why does the new detective in town have to be so sexy?

Artie the Chihuahua is by far my favorite character in this book. He's missing an ear and has a very pronounced overbite, making him look ridiculous. I own a very very old chihuahua named Grandma. She is a rescue as well....3.5 pounds, no teeth and very little fur. Because she has no teeth, her tongue hangs out much of the time. She's so ugly that she's cute. Just like Artie. One character in the book had to keep telling Artie not to lick him.....I busted out laughing each time, as everyone has to tell Grandma that as well. She loves everyone and thinks she needs to bounce from person to person licking them. I also loved how Daphne is doing her best to find Artie a wonderful furever home.

The characters are all basically likable and eccentric enough to be interesting. The mystery portion of the plot is engaging, and for the most part realistic and well-paced enough to keep me interested. At times, I felt that the story could have moved along a bit faster in the beginning, but I didn't mind the background details and build-up.

However, I do have to add that the pace seemed choppy. Not because of the writing style, but due to the overuse of chapter breaks. Each time something happened -- even just a interesting moment in a conversation -- there would be a new chapter. It broke up the action, rather than being useful for creating or heightening tension. Several times, chapters were only one page long. It made me feel annoyed....sort of like commercial breaks cutting into a thriller movie every time anything exciting is about to happen. Many, many times the chapter break was not necessary. A 350 page book does not need 76 chapters. I think the pace of the story would have felt faster and more exciting had the chapters been combined into a maximum of 25 or so. It is not necessary to start a new chapter every time a character says or does something interesting or relevant to the plot. Let the story flow....don't choke it off to change chapters every time it starts to get interesting.

I also had a difficult time liking the main character. Daphne has a Ph.D but works as a dog walker, living with her sister for free. At times she mooched money off of people for gas and even ate food off other people's plates at restaurants because she was broke. She constantly expressed annoyance at her mother who often lectured her about having an advanced degree but not using it and having no focus in her life. Ummmm.....a 30+ year old woman who has a doctorate but can't afford to put gas in her car?? I think she NEEDS a lecture or two!  I just found her complete lack of drive and tendency to be a mooch on everyone around her to be annoying rather than endearing. If she had enough brains and drive to achieve a Ph.D, I think she would have enough intelligence and self-motivation to be able to have her own place to live and enough money to put gas in her van. A van that also continually broke down (or she ran out of gas because she was too scatter brained to remember to fill up the tank) causing her to constantly turn to friends and family for help with her vehicle. Really? What doctorate-holding, well-educated woman would act like that?? She also has no filter and just comes off as immature and absent-minded. Point blank -- I didn't like her. In real life, I would find her annoying and difficult to be around for more than five minutes. However, I found her love for her dogs to be a redeeming quality, and she did truly seem to care about her friends and family. But OMG there were several times I wanted to hop into the book and shake her! Not just about her ditsy behavior and lifestyle, but poor decisions she made while trying to "help'' the investigation. So annoying!

But....it takes a lot of different types of people (and book characters) to make the world go 'round. Daphne is annoying.....but in the end, she started to grow on me a little. And the dogs were wonderful! Plus, there are recipes included for both people and dogs! :) I liked the supporting characters.....Jonathan, Piper, Moxie and Dylan (who reminded me of Shaggy from Scooby Doo). The ending had a few surprises that rounded out the plot nicely. All in all, despite a few rough aspects, this is an enjoyable cozy mystery and a promising beginning to a new series. I will be reading book 2 to see if there is improvement and to find out what happens to all the lovely citizens of Sylvan Creek, PA.

Death by Chocolate Lab is Bethany Blake's first novel. The second book in the Lucky Paws Petsitting Mystery series, Dial Meow for Murder, will be published this fall. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website at http://www.bethanyblakeauthor.com/

**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

REVIEW: Fatality by Firelight

Fatality by Firelight
Author: Lynn Cahoon

The Cat Latimer Mystery series continues with book #2, Fatality by Firelight. Cat is still renovating the large Victorian house she inherited from her ex-husband into a writers' retreat bed and breakfast. Her first retreat was a success, even though one of the guests was murdered. Hopeful that this next retreat will be less murderous, Cat starts the event with a ski trip to a local resort. The day ends with a dead man in a ski resort hotel room and one of her retreat guests a suspect in his murder. It seems Cat's second writers' retreat also has murder on the agenda. Not only is her Uncle, the local police chief, investigating the murder at the ski resort, but Cat discovers more information about the death of her ex-husband, Michael.

I enjoy the Cat Latimer series because it is a bit more realistic than most cozy series. It touches on sex, murder and other topics with more realism but without becoming graphic. Cat is an excellent main character. She is torn between wanting to start her life over again and not being ready to close the part of her life she shared with her ex-husband, Michael. The Victorian house is comforting and distressing for her at the same time. She has a hard time living in the house she shared with her first husband, but at the same time loves the writers' retreats and the business she is building in it. The mystery portion of the plot was well-paced and more complex than in the first book. Cat also discovers some new information about her ex-husband's death. I'm anxious for book 3 to find out what direction her investigation into Michael's death will go.

Fatality by Firelight is an intriguing mystery with several suspects, interesting subplots and characters. It isn't necessary to read the books in order. A reader could jump in at book 2 and fully understand the story and characters. I definitely recommend this book and series to mystery lovers! It was a fun, quick read!

Lynn Cahoon also writes the Tourist Trap Mystery series. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website at http://www.lynncahoon.com/

Monday, March 6, 2017

REVIEW: Kneaded to Death

Kneaded to Death
Author: Winnie Archer

Ivy Culpepper moves back home to California after her mother dies in a hit-and-run accident. Ivy is grieving and trying to learn to live life without her mother. She finds a local bread bakery, Yeast of Eden, and decides to take a bread making class. The shop owner, Olaya Dias, and her sisters are very special people. Ivy feels an instant connection to them. But, during the first baking class, one student goes outside to take a phone call and never comes back. Ivy, Olaya and a couple baking class students go outside to the parking lot looking for the missing class member, Jackie. Not only do they discover two men about to fight in the parking lot, but they find Jackie's body in her car. She has been murdered. Suddenly, Ivy finds herself involved in a very complex murder case and implications that it might have connections much closer to home.

Kneaded to Death is the first book in the new Bread Shop Mystery series. I am a big fan of culinary cozy mysteries, so when I noticed this was the start of a new series, I just had to read this book! I'm glad I did! The mystery portion of the plot is well-paced, more complex than most cozies, and filled with possible suspects and unexpected twists. The sub-plots of Ivy's family grieving the death of her mother, the almost magical bakery and details about bread and baking really made this a rich, interesting culinary cozy. There was more substance to this story than most cozies. It wasn't overly cute and cuddly, but a real, serious mystery. There is mention of the supernatural in that Olaya admits to being a Bruja, but it's a minor portion of the story. And, there is a dog....a cute rescue pug.....but the dog is not magical or an integral part of the plot. Too many cozy mysteries use the tropes of magical supernatural pets, ghosts, witches, etc. This book mentioned magic and witches, but only to the extent that Olaya is a healer and uses her hands and talents to bake wonderful bread. Kudos to Winnie Archer for writing a great debut cozy with just the right amount of color and culinary subplot.....without falling prey to the tendency for cozies to go too far towards the cute and cuddly leaving the mystery portion of the plot to languish and falter.

I am definitely going to read future books in this series! This book is well-written and an intriguing read. Plus, there are recipes in the back as well! I'm learning to bake bread so that part of the plot was fun for me! At one point a student in the cooking class forgot to add the yeast to her dough so she had to have help to fix her mistake -- I smiled at that point. That would be me, if I was in Olaya's class. I am not a natural baker.....I'm learning, but have had several loaves that just didn't work. My dogs love it when that happens as they get to eat the mistakes! I loved the theme for this debut in a new series, and I'm definitely on board for the next book!!

**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Sunday, March 5, 2017

REVIEW: The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir
Author: Jennifer Ryan

In the early days of World War II, the Vicar in the village of Chilbury announces that the church choir will be disbanded because there are very few men left in the village. A newcomer to the village, Music Professor Primrose Trent, objects saying that music can bring the women of the village together and help them all get through the war. Under her expert leadership, the women band together and form the Chilbury Ladies Choir. They use their music and friendships to help get them through deaths, threat of invasion, bombings, rationing and all of the changes the war brings to their little corner of England.

The Chilbury Ladies Choir is a beautiful epistolary novel. The story comes to life through the letters and journal entries written by the women of Chilbury. The women share their fears, triumphs and challenges. Choir practices and performances bring them together and give them support and hope during a bleak time. One of my favorite scenes involves Prim Trent bringing the choir together to give thanks for the soldiers who have given their lives and to de-stress. Prim teaches the women about Gregorian Chant, and they sing together. Each woman left practice that night with peace and hope renewed in their souls.

This is a moving and beautiful book. It shows an entire village pulling together to survive war-time horrors. Some rose to the occasion and became a support structure for everyone around them, and others were pulled down into criminal activity. The book doesn't sugar coat the effects of war on village life, but shows the reality through the eyes of the women left at home.

I'm usually not a big fan of epistolary novels. But this one is well-written and wonderful. I highly recommend this book to any reader who enjoys historical or women's fiction.

This is Jennifer Ryan's debut novel. To find out more about the author, check out her website: http://jenniferryanbooks.com/

**I voluntarily read an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from Crown Publishing via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**

Saturday, March 4, 2017

REVIEW: Murder Go Round

Murder Go Round
Author: Carol J. Perry

Maralee Barrett and her Aunt Ibby go to a storage locker auction. They win the contents of one locker, finding all sorts of treasures including a silver samovar, a beautiful quilt, and a faded but beautifully carved carousel horse. Almost as soon as they take the items home, strange things start happening. Someone takes their trash. Strangers show up at Goodwill to rifle through the boxes of items they donated. And, after being taken to a local craftsman to be restored, the carousel horse is broken into pieces at the man's shop by an unknown intruder. Maralee's strange ESP visions start warning her of murder and danger, and her cat O'Ryan starts dropping clues to the mystery as well. Soon they discover that the mystery dates back to 1915 when six Russian immigrants came to the United States with some items entrusted to them by Czar Nicholas himself. Maralee and her aunt must sift through the clues, along with Maralee's policeman boyfriend, Pete, to discover the truth behind the items in the storage locker. It's a secret worth killing for in the past and the present, putting them all in danger.

Murder Go Round is the fourth book in the Witch City Mystery series. I enjoy this series because each book is so different. This time the mystery revolves around Russian history and relics from the last days of Czar Nicholas and his family. The mystery was intriguing, well-paced and very interesting. Maralee's ESP visions are a vital part of the plot, but not presented in an over-the-top cheesy manner. And the cat, O'Ryan's special qualities are also understated, not over-done. I enjoy Maralee as a main character, and the supporting cast (Aunt Ibby, O'Ryan, Pete, River) are all wonderful, interesting, eccentric characters. The books are always a nice mix of humor and mystery with a touch of supernatural.

A 5th book in the series, Grave Errors, is coming out this fall.

All in all, an enjoyable, fun cozy mystery. I highly recommend the Witch City Mystery series for mystery lovers who enjoy cozies with a touch of supernatural and cute humor. Fun read! It isn't necessary to read the books in order. A reader could jump in and start with book 4 and not have a hard time figuring out the characters.

Friday, March 3, 2017

REVIEW: The Falconer

The Falconer
Author: Elizabeth May

18-year old Lady Aileana Kameron is so much more than the daughter of the Marquess of Douglas. It's 1844 and nearly every day Aileana wishes she could return to her former life where dresses, dances and the trappings of her privileged life meant something to her. But, since the bloody death of her own mother, her life has become something she never expected. She is still beautiful. She still has wealth and a title. But now she is a hunter, tracking down and murdering the faery creatures who roam the night with the intent to murder humans. She is a Falconer, the last in a long line of female warriors who hunt and kill the fae. But, they also hunt her.....

The Falconer is book 1 in the Falconer trilogy. The third, and final, book is set for publication in June 2017.

I enjoyed this fun, YA steampunk adventure. It wasn't anything new plot-wise, following an established YA trope: plucky, female character must battle evil to save the world and learns to fight while battling her inner confusion over whether she should love the bad boy or her childhood friend. But despite following an established basic plot, I still found myself enjoying the story. I liked Aileana as a main character. She was feisty and fun, not caring that her night battles with the fae had the local aristocracy thinking she was up to unladylike activities. Except for it angering her father and making him decide she needs to marry, and forcing her mother to lecture her on how ladies behave at social events, Alieana really doesn't care what anyone thinks. And, she has a love-hate relationship with the faery who helps train her. She is attracted to him, but she doesn't trust him and at times proved that he did not have control over her. Plus the mix of 1840s Edinburgh and steampunk was just enchanting. The main plot wasn't overshadowed by cheesy romance or overdone steampunk. It was a nice blend, well-written and without the tendency to become overly romantic childish fantasy that some similar YA books fall into. I did have to smile a bit that the main character is not only stunningly beautiful but also from a wealthy family -- poor, plain girls are never entrusted with saving the world. :o)

The Falconer is an enjoyable, light steampunk adventure. I will definitely read the rest of this trilogy. Don't expect anything really new....or complex....but it is a very enjoyable read!

This was Elizabeth May's first book. I'm very interested to see how her characters and writing matured as she continued this series. For more information on the author and the Falconer trilogy, check out her website at http://www.elizabethmaywrites.com/

Thursday, March 2, 2017

REVIEW: The Dollhouse Murders

The Dollhouse Murders
Author: Betty Ren Wright

I've been stuck inside the house for several days now battling bronchitis. Cabin fever is really settling in. I want to be out and about....doing almost anything away from the house. But, I'm still too sick to wander very far.


This morning I was perusing my local library's online digital offerings when I noticed some middle-grade books popping up on my recommendations list. My son and I had been looking for some things for him to read the other night....so there was a long string of children's mystery and suspense novels popping up. It perked up my mood immediately! I love ghost stories and sometimes middle-grade versions are just incredi-awesome!

What a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon when I'm stuck inside again with only bottles of medicine and sleeping pets to keep me company! I picked out a couple and found the quick reads to be absolutely and wonderfully entertaining!

The first middle-grade book I chose is The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright.

The basics: Amy feels trapped sometimes when she has to watch her sister Louann after school. Louann suffers from brain-damage and requires constant supervision. Amy loves her sister but sometimes she wants to be able to do things with her friends without having to watch Louann. One night after an argument with her mother, Amy walks to her Aunt Clare's house, and asks to spend a few days there with her aunt. Just a little break....that's what she needs. Little does Amy know that the dollhouse she discovers in the attic will pull her into family secrets and a 30 year old mystery.

This was such a fun book! The mystery is engaging, and the subplot of Amy's struggle with being responsible for her sister was realistic and interesting. The old house added a layer of creepiness to the tale. Just a fun, quick middle-grade read!

I highly recommend this book for kids and adults who like a bit of suspense and mystery. The ending was perfect. I'm definitely going to read more by this author, and I'm going to recommend this book to my granddaughter.

Before her death in 2013, Betty Ren Wright wrote 25 children's fiction books, including Christina's Ghost and Ghosts Beneath Our Feet. The Dollhouse Murders was first published in the early 80's. It was re-released in 2008, so copies are still readily available from local bookstores or online.

It doesn't matter how old you are.....there are times when children's books can be quite delightful and enjoyable to read! I was ready to spend an entire afternoon bored out of my mind, but instead I was completely entertained and happy! And, I think I have found several books that my granddaughter will love!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

REVIEW: Dead Mountain

Dead Mountain
The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident
Author: Donnie Eichar

In January 1959, a group of 10 experienced Russian hikers took a trek together in the northern Ural Mountains. The route they were traveling was the highest difficulty -- a Grade III -- because they wanted to be certified to lead expeditions. They were to document their journey in photographs and journals for the certification. All were quite bright -- engineering and economics students. They were all fit and loved trekking through the mountains. But this trip would be different. This time, only one of them would return home.

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident details the Russian students' mysterious deaths.

I first heard about this strange, unsolved mystery on a podcast. The hosts gave the facts and then discussed different theories as to what happened to the students. This book was mentioned in their list of source material. After reading it, I can understand why. Author Donnie Eichar became obsessed with the story himself after hearing it, and traveled to Russia to talk with people that knew the group and to hike to the area where their bodies were found. He met the families of some of the students and even interviewed Yuri Yudin, the student who survived because he was not healthy enough to complete the entire trip.

Eichar outlines in his book that the families of the hikers had to beg local officials to begin looking for the missing students when they failed to return from their trip on time. The officials said that they supposed the group was just delayed...that the trip took longer than they intended and that they would just be coming back late. But the families persisted. When the time stretched to more than two weeks with no word from the missing students, helicopters and people were sent to the area to search for the missing group. First their campsite and tent were found. The tent was torn and covered in snow. Personal belongings were still inside, including boots, skis and other necessities. The search continued until the first bodies were discovered nearly a mile from their campsite. Strangely enough, most were wearing no boots and a couple of the bodies wore only undergarments. Why would they have fled their camp into the bitterly cold winter night without wearing boots or proper clothing? Five bodies were found relatively quickly, but the remaining bodies were not recovered until spring.

The mystery is compelling. Nine young fit people trekked into the mountains, only to be found days later dead in the snow, having fled their camp in the middle of the night. Some had strange injuries including a skull fracture, a missing tongue and eye injuries. There have been many theories over the decades since the incident.....severe wind shear, an avalanche, yeti, UFOs, Soviet military weapons testing, an unknown assailant.....

The photographs in the book are haunting. Beautiful pictures of a group of University friends enjoying a long journey in the mountains. Smiling, laughing, posing.....more serious photos meant to show proper formation and dress for the mountain guide certification they all wanted. Then photos of the search parties, the damaged tent, personal belongings strewn over the snow.....and frozen bodies.

What happened that cold, snowy night in the Ural Mountains? The story is truly fascinating and Donnie Eichar presents well-researched facts and information about the group, their trip and his journey to Russia to walk the same path.

I'm not really expert enough to form an educated opinion about the different theories. But I do know it had to be something terrifying and sudden for the entire group of skilled survivalists to run from their tent without even putting on warm clothes first.

I definitely recommend this book for anyone who enjoys reading about unsolved mysteries, unexplained deaths and life in Soviet Russia. Eichar does not include any graphic photos of the bodies. It is all documented in a respectful manner. The book is well-written and an interesting account of the incident. In the end after all his research, trips to Russia and meetings with scientists, the book closes with Eichar's opinion about what might have caused the nine experienced hikers to die. I found his conclusion interesting and plausible.

For more information on the author and his book,check out his website at: http://deadmountainbook.com/