Monday, September 25, 2017

REVIEW: Trixie Belden and the Gatehouse Mystery

Trixie Belden and The Gatehouse Mystery
Author: Julie Campbell

Trixie Belden is a teen amateur sleuth. She lives in Sleepyside, NY with her family. Her best friend, Honey Wheeler, and Honey's adopted brother, Jim Frayne, live at the large estate next door. Mysteries always seem to come their way. The series is similar to Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. There are 39 books in the series, written between 1948 and 1986. The original six books were written by Julie Campbell. The rest of the series was written by various authors, using the pen name Kathryn Kenny.

This was my absolute favorite book series when I was a kid. I had the entire series. Every holiday, birthday, or special event usually brought me new books and I remember being incredibly happy when several new books came out in the 80s. Before leaving for college, I sold the entire series to a mom who had two middle school age
girls at home. I hope they loved the books as much as I did! The first four books were re-released a few years ago, but the rest are OOP. Luckily, I found scans of many of the books on OpenLibrary, so I'm going to re-read as much of the old series as I can find! Revisiting my old Sleepyside buddies as an adult has given me some mixed emotions, but all things considered I'm enjoying it.

The Gatehouse Mystery is the third book in the series. Honey and Trixie are out walking and stop by the old Gatehouse on the Wheeler estate. The old building is overgrown with vines and neglected. They are shocked when they find a diamond in the old gatehouse wedged between two floorboards. Then they hear someone lurking in the bushes listening to their conversation. Who hid the diamond on the Wheeler estate? And are they in danger after finding it? Honey and Trixie know they need to discover the truth before the criminals attempt to recover the valuable stone.

As a young girl, I loved reading about Trixie and her friends' adventuring. I spent many an afternoon laying across my bed reading about their exploits. I sympathized with Trixie's occasional annoyance at her little 6-year old brother. My young nephew was a pain in the butt sometimes too when I was 11 or so -- he's 38 years old now -- and I often had to babysit him much to my chagrin. I also remember laughing at the constant teasing between the siblings and friends in the books. :) I ran around with the neighbor kids back in the day myself and I think every one of us had a creative nickname, mostly insulting stuff. I fell in the creek once and got called wethead for a few weeks. So I liked reading about the teasing among the characters. It made the group seem a lot like my own gang of friends. At the time, I did notice that the wording and situations were a bit dated, but I didn't care. As an adult, I had a few problems re-reading this book. For example, the use of the word "squaw' as an insult. One of Trixie's brothers uses that name to tease the girls. It might have been acceptable back when the original six books were written, but it's pretty much seen as racist and derogatory now. I cringed a bit each time Mart teased his sister about being a " lazy squaw'' who should bring him food, and do her chores faster. It was meant as good natured teasing between siblings in the story,  but it did bother the adult me. I have seen a few negative comments in reviews of the Trixie Belden series because the dad goes off to work and the mom takes care of the house, home chores, canning food, gardening, etc. I didn't see it as a negative when I originally read the books, or now. It's not sexist. For many families, that's how life was during that time period. I don't see it as belittling of the mom in the stories. The kids and the dad constantly talk about how awesome she is for being such a good cook, mom, gardener, and home maker. What's wrong with that? She gets way more praise and attention than the dad, who gets mentioned only rarely. A reader has to remember that these books are set in the 1950s. It was a much different world back then. I like the fact that the kids all have chores to do each day to help out, and for the most part they obey and respect their parents. The mysteries are a lot like those from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys....unusual events, mysterious strangers, hidden treasures, etc instead of murders or anything too gruesome.

So, despite the fact that I read the stories with a much older outlook than when I was a teenager, I'm still enjoying reading my way through this series again. I enjoy the dated language for the most part. When there is a word or phrase I find a bit offensive, I have to remind myself that the series is 60+ years old, and take things in the spirit in which it was originally meant.

The Gatehouse Mystery is one of the Trixie Belden books that was re-released. I read an ebook copy using OverDrive through my local public library. I'm finding most of the OOP books in this series on OpenLibrary. They have many scans of OOP books available through Internet Archive. Register for an account here: https://openlibrary.org/ They provide links to books from Project Gutenberg, OpenLibrary scans, and publication information when print books are available. Everything is done with respect to copyright laws. All scanned materials and downloadable ebooks are in the public domain, or available to borrow and read online for a set time, just like a lending library. It's a great resource!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

REVIEW: The Mountain Between Us

The Mountain Between Us
Author: Charles Martin

I had never heard of this book until I saw a trailer for the movie that will be out soon. The concept sounded interesting, so I put a copy on hold at the library. I picked it up this afternoon and started reading. I couldn't put it down until the last page! Great book!

Ashley Knox and Ben Payne are both waiting for a plane out of Salt Lake City when an incoming snowstorm shuts the airport. Ashley needs to get home because she's getting married and Ben has surgeries to perform. Thinking a charter flight can beat the storm and get them to Denver, Payne hires the pilot of a small prop plane, offering Ashley a ride. Mid-flight the pilot has a heart attack, but manages to control the descent of the plane at least enough to save Ashley and Ben's lives. But they are injured and stranded miles from anywhere on the side of a mountain, just the two of them and the pilot's small dog. Over the next 28 days they struggle to reach civilization and medical treatment, knowing that one mistake could mean they both die. As they struggle to survive, both learn some very important lessons about life, forgiveness and love.

I can't believe I read this book in one sitting. I literally could not put it down. I love to read, but it's a rare event when I find a story that engrosses me so much that I don't want to stop reading. I even read while eating dinner tonight and I never do that. I was so into the story that I could have been eating my napkin and wouldn't have even noticed.

I love adventure stories, and there is plenty of adventure and struggle for survival in this story, but also a lot of emotion, healing and growth for the characters. Ashley learns that "settling'' is not really finding freedom or happiness. And Ben works through his past mistakes and discovers he has to forgive himself for them. Just a nice, "feel good'' sort of story that has some adventure built in and never gets too "sappy.'' This is as close to chick lit as I will ever get.....the outdoor adventure part of the plot made me not mind the emotional parts of the story.

To find out more about Author Charles Martin, check out his website: http://charlesmartinbooks.com/books/the_mountain_between_us#.Wbsw5siGOM8  The movie version (starring Kate Winslet and Idris Elba) releases on October 6, 2017. I'm glad I read the book before the movie comes out.....I hope that they stick to the story Martin wrote. Sometimes movie versions are so disappointing. I'm hoping this one is awesome!



Saturday, September 23, 2017

REVIEW: Elementary, She Read

Elementary, She Read
Author: Vicki Delany

Gemma Doyle is English, but has moved to West London, MA to help her Great Uncle Arthur run his bookstore and emporium. The shop is located at 222 Baker Street and sells all things Sherlock Holmes -- everything ranging from books and magazines to busts and movie posters. Right next door, Gemma's best friend Jayne has a tea shop, Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room. Gemma loves everything about her new home, except maybe the shop cat, Moriarty, who doesn't seem to like her one bit.

I am a BIG Sherlock Holmes fan, so I knew from the start that I would enjoy this book series. I am however struggling under the Mount Everest of TBR piles....and it took me awhile to dig down to this gem. I wanted to wait to read this one until I had time to savor and enjoy it, rather than reading quickly to move on to another book. Finally, with the second book coming out this month, I spent two lovely days reading this book. I'm glad I waited.....and curled up on the sofa with a nice cup of tea to start this series.

The Basics: Gemma is a very observant person, and a bit.....impulsive. Both traits have gotten her into trouble in the past. This time, a tour group is visiting her store and the tea room next door. As they are shopping and picking out Sherlock goodies after having tea, Gemma notices a strange woman come into the shop. Later, she spies what appears to be a priceless Sherlock magazine from 1887 on the shelf -- it isn't anything she has in stock at the shop. In fact, a perfect copy of this particular issue is worth six figures.....a lot above the price range of items sold in the store. Gemma tracks down the strange woman, deducing what hotel she is staying in. Jayne and Gemma go there hoping to talk to her and return the priceless item, only to find the woman murdered in her room. Things go downhill from there....Gemma's inquisitive and observant nature takes over and she jumps into investigating the killing. While she does make progress, she also makes herself a suspect.  When the body count rises, Gemma digs herself in deeper and deeper.....    How can she discover the murderer without incriminating herself further? The game is afoot!!

I love this book! As a big Sherlock fan, the theme made me extremely happy before I even cracked it open. I like the characters and I found the mystery engaging and fun. The side characters help round out the plot, and I even love the feisty Moriarty (who loves everyone but Gemma, apparently, much to her chagrin).

I do have two things to say.....       Jayne has the patience of a saint where Gemma is concerned. Oh dear lord, if I had a friend who got me in as much serious hot water as Gemma drags Jayne into.....I would be looking for a new friend. ha ha :) I kept thinking that every time Gemma went into investigation mode, dragging poor Jayne along for the ride. Definitely reminded me of a few cases where Dr. Watson had a less than stellar time as Sherlock's trusty sidekick.   And, how can someone as observant and intelligent as Gemma do so many dumb things? She forgets to call an employee about working an extra shift for an event ..... leaving Jayne to fix her mistake. She makes herself a murder suspect by getting into situations (usually involving a dead body) that would have best been avoided.  But......really.....despite finding myself talking to the character while reading ("Oh for heaven's sake Gemma...really???? Poor Jayne!") this quirk of hers is what makes this story so much fun to read.  So, despite more than one facepalm moment, I enjoy Gemma as a main character and I will definitely read more of this series!

The mystery is nicely paced with several viable suspects. The ending caught me by surprise....which I like! I'm very happy that I have book two, A Body on Baker Street, waiting in the wings for me to enjoy right away! :) Elementary, She Read is definitely a great start for this new series! On to book two!

Vicki Delany also writes under the pseudonym Eva Gates. To find out more about the author and her books, check out her website: http://vickidelany.com/

Friday, September 22, 2017

REVIEW: Trixie Belden - The Red Trailer Mystery

Trixie Belden: The Red Trailer Mystery
Author: Julie Campbell

The Trixie Belden series is about a group of teen sleuths who investigate mysteries around their hometown of Sleepyside, NY. Trixie Belden lives on a farm with her brothers and parents. Her bestie, Honey Wheeler, lives nearby at a manor house with her wealthy parents. They have great adventures together. The series was written from 1948-1986.  The first six books were written by Julie Campbell. The rest of the series was written by multiple authors all under the penname Kathryn Kenny. The series is similar to Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys.

I loved the Trixie Belden series when I was in middle school back in the '80s. I received a couple books for every holiday and special event until I had the entire series. :) When I noticed that a few of the titles had been re-printed, I wanted to read the series again. I was a bit worried at first because I wasn't sure if I would enjoy re-reading them as an adult, and I didn't want to ruin my happy memories of reading about Trixie's adventures with her friends, Honey and Jim. After reading the first two books again, I'm glad that I decided to revist Sleepyside. The stories are a bit dated, but still so much fun to read!

The second book, The Red Trailer Mystery, is a continuation of the story from book one. Honey and Trixie have made a new friend, Jim Frayne. He came looking for his uncle, only to find out that the old man had passed away in the hospital. Jim runs away at the end of book one, fearing that his mean, abusive step-father is coming to take him away. He never finds out that he has inherited a lot of money from his uncle. In the second book Trixie and Honey, along with Honey's Governess Miss Trask, pack up the Wheeler family travel trailer to go find Jim. The boy expressed interest in finding a camp counselor's job at one of the nearby campgrounds, so they hit the road to find him and bring him home. Along the way, they discover a band of thieves who are stealing trailers and property from travelers. The girls end up in some hot water when the bad guys catch them following them to get proof to take to the police.

This book seems a bit simple and dated to the adult-me, but I still enjoyed it just as much as I did when I was 12. Maybe more for simple nostalgia than the actual story.  It was a fun afternoon read, and I'm looking forward to reading more of this series. Only a few of the books were re-printed so I'm going to have to do some hunting to find the complete series to read, but locating all the books will be part of the fun of re-visiting this series.

I always preferred Trixie Belden over Nancy Drew. I'm not sure why. I think I will re-read some Nancy Drew books as well and compare the two. Maybe I can come up with a reason why I loved Trixie and was more meh about Nancy.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

REVIEW: The Haunting of Rachel Harroway - The Beginning

The Haunting of Rachel Harroway - The Beginning
Author: J. S. Donovan

I love a good ghost story. When I saw the cover for this ebook and read the description, I knew I needed to read it. I'm glad I did! I thoroughly enjoyed this spooky read!

In this short introduction to the Rachel Harroway series, Rachel and her husband Brett move to Highlands, NC and purchase an old Victorian house. The Hadley House, built in the 1890s, has seen better days, but Rachel looks forward to restoring the old home with her husband. After moving in, strange things start happening in the house. Rachel does some research and learns that a family was murdered in the house in the early 1980s. When their ghosts start appearing to her, calling for her to find their killers, Rachel realizes she needs to investigate the murders to keep from losing her mind.

There are some editing errors in this book -- just small ones -- some grammar mistakes and little things that caught my attention, but only for a second or two. The story is much more interesting than nit-picking for minor grammar errors. This story of a haunting isn't anything new.....spirits wanting closure or justice is a pretty standard haunting theme. But, the story is well-written and suspenseful, building to an awesome, exciting ending. The story kept my attention to the very end. So, it doesn't matter that it isn't a new spin on the ghost theme -- it's a well-told story that has me wanting to read more from this author. This prequel to the Rachel Harroway series is a quick read at 123 pages. There are two more books in the series.

J.S. Donovan also writes the kidnapped and EMP series.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

REVIEW: Body on Baker Street

Body on Baker Street
Author: Vicki Delany

Gemma Doyle runs the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium on Baker Street in West London, MA. Her best friend, Jayne, is next door at Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room. In this second book in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, Gemma and Jayne are excited (and stressed) about the last minute visit of famous author Renalta Van Markoff to the shop. Markoff writes the Hudson and Holmes book series. The books are a bit controversial (and definitely non-canon) because Holmes and Mrs. Hudson are lovers, with Mrs. Hudson being the real genius instead of Sherlock. With only a day or so to prepare a huge signing event, Gemma and Jayne are stressed and worried that something will go wrong. And, of course it does. At the signing a local Sherlock fan who hates Markoff's books makes a huge scene, accusing her of disgracing the beloved classic characters. The author gives as much as she gets, and ends up winning the argument......but, then she promptly drops dead. After his huge public fight with the author, Donald Morris is immediately the number one suspect -- but he swears he didn't do it. Markoff was a difficult person. Gemma and Jayne have no limit on suspects who might have wanted her dead. Can they investigate and deduce the truth before Donald faces murder charges?

I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan. So for me, this cozy series by Vicki Delany is just a joy to read. I love the facts and tidbits about Sherlock and Arthur Conan Doyle sprinkled throughout the books. I like Gemma as a main character, and all of the supporting characters are interesting, quirky and delightful. I catch myself wishing the bookshop and tea room were real. I would SO love to have lunch there and browse the shop after! :) The books are a nice mix of mystery and background theme. And there are always enough suspects to keep the reader guessing til the end. Lots of humor, too!

I will definitely be reading more of this series!

Vicki Delany is the author of several mystery series. For more information on her books, check out her website: http://vickidelany.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

REVIEW: Chickadee, Chickadee Bang Bang

Chickadee, Chickadee Bang Bang
Author: J.R. Ripley

Ruby Lake, NC is gearing up for the fall festival car show. The guys in town are all being very secretive about the cars they are entering in the competition, while still bragging up a storm about how their particular car will steal the show. Everyone is curious about Chick Sherman. He's been bragging for years about a car he's been working on in his barn. So far, nobody has ever seen it. Rumors range from Chick's car being some experimental super car to there being no car at all. The whole town is instantly abuzz when he registers for the car show. Amy Simm, owner of the Birds & Bees shop in Ruby Lake, drives to his house one night and her curiousity gets the best of her. Surely Chick won't mind if she takes one little peek into his barn to see if there is actually some super car in there......  She sees something extraordinary, but it's not a car. It's Chick Sherman's dead body. Who killed the town eccentric? And can she discover the killer before anyone else gets hurt?

I really enjoy this series. Amy Simm is a feisty, fun main character. I love the bird theme. The side characters are quirky and interesting. Every book has been a fun read!

I'm not really a hot rod or car show fan. It's not a hobby that interests me. But, I still enjoyed this latest book in the Bird Lover's cozy series. The mystery was engaging and perfectly paced. There were several viable suspects and I wasn't quite sure about the killer until the very end. There is a nice mix of humor, mystery and side theme. It makes for a nice, balanced, enjoyable cozy mystery. Chickadee, Chickadee Bang Bang is the fifth book in the series, but a reader can jump in at this point and enjoy the story without reading the prior books. There is enough explanation of the characters and setting to read this book without starting at the beginning of the series.

The next book in the Bird Lover's Mystery Series, How the Finch Stole Christmas, will be out in November! :) I'm glad I don't have long to wait for the next book in this series!

J.R. Ripley is a pseudonym of the author Glenn Meganck. For more information on the author and his books, check out his website: http://www.glennmeganck.com/

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

REVIEW: Invictus

Invictus
Author: Ryan Graudin

In the far future, time travelers jump back and forth in time to make historic records of important events in history. But some travelers don't have good intentions. They skirt the law and go back in time to steal historic artifacts that disappeared or were otherwise lost, bringing them back to sell to collectors. Farway McCarthy is a perfect time traveler. He was technically born outside of time....his mother was a Recorder (a time traveler who creates records of historic events for posterity) from the year 2354 and his father was a Roman Gladiator from 95 AD.  After failing his final exam to be a recorder, Farway finds himself on a black market ship, stealing historic items from the past. But during a visit to the Titanic as its sinking, the crew meets an unusual girl who will change their lives and show them the truth about time travel and history itself.

This book was amazing! I love time travel stories (total Dr Who junkie), so I was very hopeful that this story would be well-written and enjoyable. I fell in love with all the characters almost immediately, and I got sucked right into the story from the start. The thought of being able to go back and visit the past and rescue historic items lost to time was intriguing, and I liked the idea of nefarious characters who deal in black market stolen history. The characters grow and develop over the course of the story. I was really wondering what the girl who magically appears on the Titanic was up to.....the suspense kept me totally engrossed in the story!

This was a great sci-fi romp through history. I enjoyed every page!

Ryan Graudin is the author of several books. To find out more about the author, check out her webpage: http://www.ryangraudin.com/

**I voluntary read an advanced readers copy of this book via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

REVIEW: The Silent Corner

The Silent Corner
Author: Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz books are often hit and miss for me. Sometimes I love them. Other times he seems to repeat things from prior books too much (sentient or talking dogs, for example) and I end up DNF-ing the book. This time, I was pleasantly surprised. The Silent Corner is a Koontz victory for me!

Jane Hawk was an FBI agent before her husband killed himself. While his death is confirmed as a suicide, his behavior and the note he left seems odd to Jane. Very odd. Then she starts noticing a trend -- suicides of people who show no depression or suicidal tendencides previous to killing themselves, and bizarre suicide notes left behind. She quickly discovers that she is on the trail of a conspiracy when she begins to get death threats. Then the FBI puts her on leave. Jane is undeterred. The more threats she receives, the more she realizes she's on the right track. When they threaten to rape and murder her 5-year old son, she knows she has to disappear to protect her little boy. She goes completely off the grid to continue investigating what is making so many people kill themselves. What she discovers is absolutely terrifying.

This story tells a tale of the ultimate evil conspiracy. It's filled with action, suspense and surprises. I like the concept for this new series. Jane Hawk is intelligent, strong, and completely driven to achieve her goal. She uses her FBI training and experience to investigate her husband's death and to remain under the radar despite advanced surveillance methods. The second book, The Whispering Room, is coming out this November. I have a review copy on my TBR. I can't wait to read it!!

Completely and utterly happy that this offering by Koontz is different and not just a supernatural re-visit of plots he has done before. I was not disappointed this time!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

REVIEW: A Christmas Peril

A Christmas Peril
Author: J.A. Hennrikus

Edwina Sullivan, called "Sully'' by her friends, has retired from law enforcement to be the general manager of the Cliffside Theater Company. Most of the time she just deals with the budget, backstage problems, and difficult actors, but this holiday season her worries become a bit more serious. Her best friend Eric is accused of murdering his father. Peter Whitehall was a very important man in town before he was shot to death. So now she is juggling the budget for A Christmas Carol, dealing with a Scrooge with a drinking problem, and investigating a murder.....  It's going to be a perilous Christmas.

This is a promising start to the new A Theater Cop Mystery series. I like Sully as a main character. She has rebuilt her life following the end of her cop career and her marriage. Her love life certainly is complicated. Her ex-husband becomes a suspect during the investigation and all through the book he kept trying to talk to her about something....but never managed it. Then she has other love interests. The ending leaves it all up in the air....maybe the second book will see some things fall into line along those lines. But.....I wasn't reading the book to follow Sully's love life (past or present). The mystery is engaging and nicely paced. I liked the characters and the setting. And, the ending actually caught me by surprise. Nice! I liked it enough to read more books in this series.

I had hoped that the story would be a bit more holiday themed....but it was long on mystery with hints of Christmas, Scrooge and romance. Nice mix, even though I was hoping for a bit more Christmas theme. All in all, a nice read. I look forward to seeing how this new series develops!

J.A. Hennrikus also writes under the name Julianne Holmes (Clock Shop Mysteries). To find out more about the author, check out her website: https://jahennrikus.com/2017/09/10/found-in-the-wild/

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


Saturday, September 16, 2017

REVIEW: Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase

Lockwood & Co.
The Screaming Staircase
Author: Jonathan Stroud

London has been plagued by ghosts for more than half a century. Those with hauntings turn to psychic investigator agencies to help them. Several such agencies operate in London. Lucy Carlyle came to London in hopes of joining a prestigious agency to fight the spirits. But....she ended up at the low end of the industry. Lockwood & Company is the smallest and most beleaguered agency in the city. In fact, the company has one last chance to prove itself, or be defunct. Their last chance is a doozy -- spend the night in one of the most haunted residences in London and come out alive.

Can they do it?

I'm not going to give away much of the plot....no spoilers from me. But I will say the story moves at a steady pace. The action and scares are wonderfully fun. The humor is witty and the characters engaging. This book was just fun to read, especially now that the weather is cooling down and I'm starting to think Halloween-y thoughts. This was a nice book to kick off the fright season. :)

The Screaming Staircase is a great start to the Lockwood & Company series. Witty humor, scary ghosts, and mysteries to solve -- a great mix for a middle grade book series! There are currently four books in the series, with a fifth book, The Empty Grave, coming out soon. My 6th grader wanted to read something scary this Fall leading up to Halloween. I'm definitely steering him towards this series. I think he will love it! Nice mix of humor and scary. :) A fun read for any age....I'm definitely going to read the rest of the series. :)

For more information on author Jonathan Stroud and his books, check out his website: http://www.jonathanstroud.com/

Friday, September 15, 2017

REVIEW: Cat Got Your Secrets

Cat Got Your Secrets
Author: Julie Chase

Lacy Crocker is the proud owner of Furry Godmother, a pet boutique and organic treat bakery, in New Orleans.  Cat Got Your Secrets is the third book in the Kitty Couture Mystery series. This newest installment is centered around Valentine's Day (without being sappy about it, too -- which I loved!) and a National Pet Pageant.

Lacy is on her way to deliver some treats when she sees emergency vehicles at a crime scene. She discovers that one of her father's friends has been murdered. The major problem is that the last person to see Wallace Becker alive was her father.  Lacy knows she has to act fast and investigate Becker's death to prevent her father from being arrested, while juggling her business, serving on the welcoming committee for the pet pageant, and her usual busy life.

Lacy is an enjoyable main character, although a bit spoiled and immature at times. Her mother is incredibly annoying (but the character is meant to come off as utterly impossible). I did find it a bit hard to connect on a personal level with the characters as they are not well developed, which happens sometimes in a fast-paced cozy. I may have had a bit of a disconnect because this is the first book in this series that I've read. I was able to pick up the plot and basic understanding of the characters so that I could enjoy the mystery, but maybe I would feel more connected with these characters if I read the first two books. But, my disconnect might be caused by the fact I don't really find the characters all that likable? They come off as rich and spoiled. But, I was reading the book for the mystery, not to fall in love with the characters. The mystery starts off almost immediately....and kept my attention for the entire book. Great mystery. Slightly annoying characters.

I liked the fast pace, humor, setting, and quirky characters (with the exception of her pushy, annoying mother). There were plenty of suspects, and the mystery is engaging. I enjoyed Cat Got Your Secrets enough to backtrack and read the first two books. Middle of the road rating on this one for me. The mystery kept me reading....but I didn't really care for the characters. If I change my mind after reading the beginning of the series, I will come back and amend this review.

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://juliechasebooks.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Crooked Lane Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Thursday, September 14, 2017

REVIEW: Death Distilled

Death Distilled
Author: Melinda Mullet

In this newest Whisky Business Mystery, Abi Logan returns to Abbey Glen, the whisky distillery she inherited, after three months away from Scotland. The village of Balfour is still the same...but so is her best friend, Patrick. Abi immediately gets pulled into his latest scheme -- a distillery tour for a group of Japanese businessme. Abi knows distillery manager, Grant, is not going to like this idea and she really dreads the event. Before there can be much bickering about the proposed tour, human remains dating back at least 200 years are discovered outside the local pub, and Abi meets a new local celebrity, former rock star Rory Hendricks. She idolized him as a young girl when he was part of the Rebels, but now she finds herself working with him as his official photographer while investigating a series of threats and attacks on former band members. Rory is the last member of the Rebels left. Spray painted threats, break-ins and other strange events have followed him to Balfour. Who is killing off the Rebels and why?

I really enjoy this series. Abi is a fun main character. She's independent with lots of spunk and ingenuity, but still a little streak of sentimentality. She loves the distillery because it belonged to her uncle. She loves her dog, Liam. And she puts up with her best friend Patrick's shenanigans because she cares about him. So, she's strong, but still human. I laughed out loud in this book when her emotional side led her to bring home eight sheep.....as pets. The villagers just shake their heads and smile. :) (I would have brought the sheep home, too.)

There is more than one mystery in this second book in the series. Abi investigates the history of the village with the new vicar and the local librarian as a side plot, developing more background about Balfour and some of the side characters. So interesting! It didn't take away from the main investigation into Rory Hendricks and the attacks on the Rebels members, but added to the overall flavor of the book. The pace is spot on, and there were plenty of suspects. I wasn't sure who the killer was until the very end. Nice, exciting ending, too! And Oscar the sheep -- great BFF for Liam. :) I am definitely eagerly awaiting the next book in this series!

For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://melindamullet.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Random House - Alibi via Netgalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

REVIEW: Asking for Truffle

Asking For Truffle
Author: Dorothy St. James

Charity Penn receives a strange letter in the mail. It states she has won a trip to Camellia, SC to take cooking lessons at the local chocolate shop. Penn knows she didn't enter a contest, and she doesn't know anybody from Camellia. The whole thing seems very strange to her. Penn's friend, Skinny McGee, agrees to stop by the little town and check things out. Her father is wealthy, and although her dealings with his family have never been good, she has frequently been the victim of scams and tricks by people trying to get mits on her father's money. Skinny calls once from the little SC town leaving a message that says that she needs to come down. He has found out who invited her on the trip and why....but before she can contact him, she discovers Skinny has been murdered. His dead body is discovered in the very chocolate shop Penn has been invited to visit. Penn rushes to SC to investigate Skinny's murder, but ends up meeting the two lovely older ladies who run the chocolate shop. She takes the cooking lessons....but soon her sweet visit to Camellia gets even more complicated, troubling....and dangerous.

This book is so much fun to read! From descriptions of chocolate goodies to Stella, the little papillion who bites....just entertaining from beginning to end!! I can't eat chocolate for medical reasons, but I can certainly enjoy reading about it!! Penn's background and feisty, independent personality make her a great MC in this mystery. The side characters are quirky and interesting. The bad guys are adequately horrible. I found a couple characters that I could enjoy hating...but it took me a bit to figure out which one was a murderer and not just a jerk. The plot is nicely paced, with plenty of surprises. There were a few things I figured out pretty quickly....but plenty that I didn't see coming.

For chocolate fans, there are recipes at the back of the book. :) Mmmmmmmm. Cook up something yummy in my honor because I can't have any! :)

The cover art is colorful and just awesome! Cozy mysteries always have the best covers!! Stella doesn't look like she would bite, does she? ha ha. It's the little dogs that are always the most feisty (I have two chihuahuas)! :)

All in all, a great start for a new cozy series! I'm definitely going to read the next book!

Dorothy St. James also writes the White House Gardener series. To find out more about the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.dorothystjames.com/

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

REVIEW: Doom With A View

Doom With A View
Author: Kate Kingsbury

As blustery Fall winds cool the Oregon coast, Melanie West and her grandmother, Liza, open the Merry Ghost Inn. They didn't expect to have the grand opening so late in the year, but their new business venture was delayed by six months after a fire damaged a large part of the building. With all the repairs and renovations finally completed, Melanie and Liza welcome their first guests, a senior citizen group from Portland. The six seniors are members of a book club and all live in the same retirement community. After just one day at the Inn, things go drastically wrong when one of the group, a cranky troublemaker that none of them really liked, is found dead in the driveway outside. When the police discover that Walter Dexter's fall from the second floor balcony wasn't an accident, Melanie, Liza and their assistant, Cindi, start investigating. Who sawed the balcony railings so that Walter would fall to his death? Could one of their seemingly harmless elderly guests be a murderer?

Doom With a View is the second book in the Merry Ghost Inn series. I haven't read the first book yet, but easily followed the characters and plot of this new book. I adore Melanie, Liza and Cindi. They are all different, but very strong, determined and intelligent women. I also enjoy how Liza is sure their resident ghost (they call him Orville) is real....but Melanie thinks it's some defect in the house. That sound of laughter they all hear....Melanie contends it couldn't possibly be a ghost. It has to be the house settling.

The book is a quick read at less than 200 pages. The mystery is fast paced and doesn't bog itself down in fluff and unnecessary details. It gets right down to business with the dead body popping up in Chapter 1. Boom -- dead guest. Right to the point. I have no problem with that. I don't like it when I'm reading a mystery novel and get through almost half of it before there is any mystery. This book cuts to the chase immediately. It doesn't just focus on the deceased guest and investigation though...there is plenty of speculation about Orville the Ghost, quite a bit of character development, interaction with side characters...good story building. I liked the fast pace, and the setting. The characters are quirky and interesting. The mystery had plenty of suspects and surprises. Max the dog is the required loyal fur face, helping his owners solve the crime and barking at empty space -- or is it Orville? :)

All in all, a fun cozy mystery! Once I started reading, I moved book one, Dead and Breakfast, to the top of my TBR pile. I want to enjoy more Melanie and Liza antics while I wait for book 3!

Kate Kingsbury is a pen name used by author Doreen Roberts Hight. She also writes the Pennyfoot Hotel series and Manor House Mysteries under the same pseudonym. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.doreenrobertshight.com/

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

REVIEW: Miss Seeton Quilts the Village

Miss Seeton Quilts the Village
Author: Hamilton Crane

Miss Seeton is back in her first new adventure in 20 years! Yay!! She is still armed with her sketch pad, pencils and trusty umbrella.....and her uncanny ability to uncover secrets that even Scotland Yard can't ferret out!

This time Miss Seeton agrees to help create a quilt to honor the wedding of a local couple. As usual her handiwork reveals some underlying secrets in the village including espionage. A hidden historical mural discovered under old plaster in the newlyweds home also added some interesting bits to the plot. All in all, an enjoyable addition to the Miss Seeton series (now at 22 books!). She was her usual clueless self and the village characters were all their usual gossipy selves.....made me smile the entire time I was reading!

I'm a sucker for the sweet-old-lady-as-detective or period mysteries....so I love Miss Seeton. The humor is always witty and dry....the umbrella is always put to good use....and Miss Seeton never quite realizes that she knows things that are important.

Readers who are new to Miss Seeton can jump in at this newest book and be fine. It isn't necessary to have read any of the prior novels. There is enough explanation of the characters to understand the basics and enjoy the plot of this newest book. For those who have read some, or all, of the other Miss Seeton books, I think the humor and characters carry over well to this new story, despite 20 years passing since the last book.

The series was started in 1968 by Heron Carvic. The series was continued by Hampton Charles and Hamilton Crane. Hamilton Crane is a pseudonym used by author Sarah J. Mason.

Friday, September 8, 2017

REVIEW: Dead In The Water

Dead In The Water
Author: Denise Swanson

Dead In The Water is the first book in the Welcome Back To Scumble River series...but for me it is my first visit to Scumble River. The original Scumble River Cozy Mystery series has 18 books. Following a publisher change, the series is having a restart/reboot. The author explains in the foreward that there are a few cosmetic changes Scumble River fans might notice, but all the characters from the original series are still there. For me, this is the first Scumble River book I've read, so I just went with the flow. :)

The basics: School Psychologist Skye Boyd is pregnant. Very pregnant. Almost feeling like she could pop pregnant. Just after she and her Police Chief husband Wally have finished decorating the nursery and life seems perfect, a tornado rips through Scumble River leaving destruction in its wake. As if that isn't bad enough, a city councilman is found dead in the rubble of his house. Turns out, the twister didn't kill Zeke Lyons. He was murdered. Bad goes to worse when Wally disappears while investigating the killing. Where is Wally? Did the murderer kill him too? Has evil come to Scumble River?

Although this is the first book from this series I read, it was relatively easy to figure out the characters and understand the plot. There are some references to prior books, but nothing that is central to the plot. I'm glad that Denise Swanson is able to continue her series after it got cut by her original publisher. This is definitely a great start to a reboot of the series. I loved the Wizard of Oz quotes that start each chapter. :)

I have the first book to the original series on my bookshelf and can't wait to start reading it! It will take me awhile to read my way through 18 books, but if this new release is any indication, I'm sure the series is well worth reading! I like Skye as a main character. She is smart and seems to really roll with the punches when things go wrong. Wally is a great character as well. He's a very good police officer, and a kind husband. Nice mix! :)

 The mystery moved along at a steady pace, with plenty of surprises to keep it interesting. The ending surprised me...I thought I knew the killer's identity, but I was wrong! I love it when a mystery catches me off guard! The tornado theme didn't overpower the murder mystery portion of the plot, but added to it. It will be interesting to see how the town rebuilds itself in this new series!

The cover art for Dead In The Water is fantastic! It's what first drew me to the book. Definitely eye-catching artwork!

Denise Swanson also writes the Devereaux Dime Store cozy series. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.deniseswanson.com/

Thursday, September 7, 2017

REVIEW: Grave Errors

Grave Errors
Author: Carol J. Perry

To extend the Halloween season just a bit in Salem, Lee Barrett's television production class decides to do a feature on Dia De Los Muertos. As they plan cemetery visits and interviews, Lee discovers one of her students has ulterior motives for taking her class. Dorothy wants to learn about investigative reporting so she can start looking for her sister's killer. Her sister Emily supposedly died of an overdose, but Dorothy knows it was murder. Lee and her boyfriend, Pete, discover links between Emily's death and another unsolved case. And Lee starts having visions about the murder. Can they discover who killed Emily and why?

Grave Errors is the fifth book in the Witch City Mystery series. I love how the characters are developing as the series progresses. I do wish that Lee would just embrace her gift of scrying instead of always freaking out about it. The story moves a little slower in this book than previous ones, but once it got rolling, I was hooked. There were plenty of twists and suspects to keep me guessing. This cozy definitely got me thinking about fall and Halloween. :) I'm ready for the season change!

I enjoy this series. Lee is a good main character and I like how she has developed since the first book. Her boyfriend, Pete, is a good match for her. They definitely investigate well together. Lee's aunt as usual is a top-notch researcher. Her students even pitch in and help out. All in all, I really enjoy this series. I keep coming back for more every time a new book comes out!

The cover art, as usual, is awesome!!

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

REVIEW: Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything
Author: Nicola Yoon

Maddy's disease -- Severe Combined Immunodeficiency -- keeps her separated from the world. Away from everything. No going outside. No physical contact with people. School over the internet. She can watch the world from her window or over the computer.....she she can never experience it herself. Or can she? When new neighbors move in next door, Maddy meets Olly. The boy next door. They exchange messages, and even get to meet each other. Maddy longs to be a normal teenager...to experience life, to fall in love. Love can't kill you, right?

When I finished this book I had to think about it for a few days before I wrote a review. As as adult reviewing YA books I have to take into account the intended audience for the story. I really felt both levels in this story....on the one hand it's a sweet, cute teenage romance. On the other hand there are some real twisted elements here that really bothered me as a parent. So it took me a couple days to let my opinions percolate.

Let's discuss the cute romance first.....

Maddy finds a new friend, and he's sweet and funny. Olly quickly becomes everything to her. It makes her uncomfortable and unhappy in her little controlled bubble though. So she breaks free and finds out that maybe she can have something of the world......lovely story of teenage love. I really enjoyed the cute illustrations and jokes sprinkled in between chapters.

But, I can't leave the darkness (and adult feelings) out.....

Her mother. I can't say anything good about her. Her actions -- unforgiveable. Shitty parent letting her mental illness or whatever horror have a HUGE impact on her child. Not ok. Not ever ok. I can't say more without major spoilers.....so I will just say she tripped my mom angst big time. *Strong urge to punch fictional character in the face, multiple times*

And, I had a bit of sadness at the end....despite Maddy's joy.....because there are actually people in the world that have SCID. They don't get a happy ending......they actually have a disease that will effect their entire life. The adult in me saw the use of SCID as a plot device as a bit......well.....crappy. Again....can't elaborate without spoiling the story....but I hated the fact that the end was totally unrealistic and trope-y. Magical happy ending. Really??

I think, in this case, since the book really did cause me to have some deep thoughts for a couple days before I could write this review that I'm going to stick to the positive. I'm not going to let my adult thoughts on a YA book win the fight this time. I prefer to concentrate on the sweet enjoyable romance rather than wanting to beat the shit out of this girl's craptastic mother. Or the little voice in my head that was saying WTH at the ending......

Girl meets boy. Girl has hope. Boy gains hope. Love wins. Yay!! YA happiness and rainbows. Good feelings all around. I prefer that hopeful feeling.....

(I still want to punch her. Totally.)

Find out more about author Nicola Yoon on her website: http://www.nicolayoon.com/

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

REVIEW: Friend Request

Friend Request
Author: Laura Marshall

Louise has been hiding something since high school. Something she did. Well, something they all did. She's pushed it to the back of her mind. Not quite gone.....but in the shadows. Then she receives a Facebook friend request. From a girl that's been dead for 25 years. Disappeared. Dead. Gone. All gone. Because of them. Or.....is she?

I love this sort of thriller story, basically because....it could really happen. Nothing supernatural. Nothing unrealistic. Just people being shitty to each other. Happens every day. Right? How many of us were totally shitty to someone in high school? Someone weaker than ourselves. Even once. I think we were all a crappy person at least once as a teenager. Some people just take it a lot further than just being a cranky, hormonal person. Some are weak and do things to fit in....to be a part of a crowd that requires them to hate this person, not speak to those sorts of people, to be mean to a certain person or type of person. How many of us ever made decisions based on what our group of friends, or others might think?

I remember I said something to a guy in high school once. He was being a bit of a jerk to me.....so I came back with something I knew would hurt him. Just to walk away feeling like I'd won. It was something not in my usual personality, and I shouldn't have said it. Years later, this guy killed himself. I've always wished I could somehow get a time machine and go back and un-say what I said to him that day. More than likely, he forgot that argument and what I said (nobody else heard it). But I remember it. And maybe, just maybe, he did too. And maybe that little thing I said snowballed in with everything else in his life and pushed him to that decision he made 10 years later. Who knows. I still wish I could undo it. Louise and her friends took the shitty behavior much further, but I certainly sympathize with Louise's wishes that she could undo what they all did.

That little bit of truth from my life is what made me identify with the main character, Louise, in this book just a little bit. Not entirely -- Louise is weak. I don't identify with her inability to be her own person. She has spent her entire life letting other people make her decisions for her because she is afraid to take control of her life. And her weakness hurt others around her. They hurt a girl -- the new girl she wasn't supposed to befriend because her clique wouldn't allow it -- and hid it for years. Their secret. But little did weak, whiney Louise know.....even she doesn't know the whole story of what happened that night.

Up until about 2/3 of the way through this book, I thought I knew what was going to happen. The story was a bit trope-y.....teenagers go too far, then hide what they did until their school reunion where they meet up as adults and act even more shitty.  Trope, trope, trope through the tulips. But.....just as I thought I had it all predicted.....the story shifted a bit. It came in with one last twist that I didn't see coming.

Bravo!! Love it! The last 10 chapters of this book saved the entire thing for me. Nice suspense, good twisty nastiness......great til the end! And all with that social media this-could-happen-to-someone grit behind it.

This lovely bit of creepiness is Laura Marshall's debut novel. I can't wait to see what she writes next!

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing through NetGalley. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.**


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

REVIEW: A Tale of Two Kitties

A Tale of Two Kitties
Author: Sofie Kelly

The Magical Cats books are easily in my top three favorite cozy mystery series. I enjoy the characters, the antics of the cats, and the interesting problems that pop up in Mayville Heights, MN. Head Librarian Kathleen Paulson came to town to help with renovations to the city library, and 9 books later she is a vital part of the small community. Her cats, Owen and Hercules, are amazing. Not only do they seem to understand what people say to them, but they have strange powers. Owen can become invisible. And Hercules can walk through walls. Kathleen keeps this a secret though, hoping nobody finds out what her cats can do. She doesn't want them exploited or endangered. I love this little splash of supernatural in these books.....it's not overdone...just a bit of sprinkles on top the cupcake.

In this 9th book in the series, a bit of long lost undelivered mail and several photographs are discovered behind some furniture in the local post office. The items are given to the library. Kathleen and the other library employees go through them to identify people in the photos so they can be given to the families that own them. The mail is also delivered into the hands of those it was intended for, albeit decades late. They decide to put the unidentified items on display in the library so people can come look at them and claim any that belong to them. Meanwhile, two brothers -- twins in fact -- are in town for the first time in many years to try and smooth over a fracture in their family. Years ago, Victor Janes stole his brother Leo's wife. The wife later died in a car accident. Nobody in the family has ever forgiven Victor for what he did. His brother dislikes him. His nephew and great-niece have no use for him either. The drama is pulled out into the open when Leo is found dead, bashed in the head with a heavy object. Does it have anything to do with his former wife's undelivered letter to a friend supposedly found with the others in the post office? Is it related to Victor and the family schism? Unfortunately, the police suspect that Leo's son, Simon, may have had something to do with his death. Kathleen knows Simon did not kill his father, and starts investigating to prove it. Will she discover vital clues in time? And is anyone else in danger?

I love the cover art for this newest book!! Hercules calmly licking his paws while Owen plays with the title letters....all near the open sardine can. Perfect! I'm sure hidden behind Owen somewhere is his latest kill -- another torn apart cat nip funky chicken toy, I'm sure. :)

The mystery in this latest book kept my attention. It is perfectly paced and builds suspense nicely. I also enjoyed the character development in this newest book. Some side characters got a bit more story this time around. There were plenty of suspects and surprises. Some things I had figured out early on....but a few things I didn't see coming. Herc and Owen are up to their usual antics. Just an enjoyable new book in this series!

This book also contains a short story "The Cat Burglar,'' previously published in the ebook Two Tall Tails.

Sofie Kelly is a pseudonym used by YA Author Darlene Ryan. She also writes under the name Sofie Ryan (Second Chance Cat series -- another of my favorites!) For more information on the author and her books, check out her website: http://www.sofiekelly.com/


Monday, September 4, 2017

REVIEW: The Salt Line

The Salt Line
Author: Holly Goddard Jones

In this dystopian tale, residents of the United States live in regional zones protected by a wall that is surrounded by more than 4 miles of chemically burnt landscape, debris, and garbage. The wall is known as the Salt Line, referring to native folklore about punishment for disrespecting the land. The Salt Line protects those who live within the zones from miner ticks, ticks that can burrow inside people causing extreme pain, disease, and death.

As with most death defying acts, there are adrenaline junkies willing to pay lots of money for the chance to risk their lives. An adventure company, Outer Limits Excursion, will take groups outside the Salt Line to see what's left of the old cities, forests and beauty beyond the wall. Of course, it costs an exorbitant amount of money for those weeks of training, three weeks beyond the safety wall and two weeks in quarantine. The latest trip has pulled together a strange mix of people -- a famous musician and his girlfriend, a rich financial tech wizard, bored businessmen, and even the wife of a gangster. Little do they know that this excursion is going to go wickedly wrong.....

I enjoyed this book. It starts out a little bit slow because of character development, but that development time is vital to the story later. It sets the reasons why the characters react the way they do as the trip goes fundamentally wrong quickly. I'm not going to say much more about the plot, or why things go wrong because well....spoilers....readers will have to have their own Holy Crap moment just like I did. I said those two words multiple times while reading this book.

I do think I was bashed in the head a bit too much with the respect nature/revenge of the planet theme. It wasn't turned up to 11-M.NightShamalan level, but got a bit tiresome. The suspense of wondering whether any of this group of rich, spoiled thrill seekers would survive saved the story for me...I was more interested in that than the constant angry-nature-in-your-face theme.

All in all, a nice thrill. I'd definitely read more by this author.

**I was provided an advanced readers copy of this book by the publisher. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Podcast Spotlight: Lore

Podcast Spotlight: Lore
Creator: Aaron Mahnke

If you enjoy strange folklore, weird tales from history, or strange but true stories....then Lore is the podcast for you! Aaron Mahnke releases new episodes of Lore every two weeks on Monday. I eagerly await the new episodes....this is one of my favorite podcasts!

Lore has high production value, well researched stories and is just an overall excellent podcast. The show is branching out into video this fall, when Amazon will start streaming an original show based on the podcast. Aaron Mahnke is also releasing a book -- The World Of Lore: Monstrous Creatures -- in October. There are sponsorships available, adding access to members-only episodes, but there are plenty of full Lore episodes available for those who can't afford to sponsor the show. Mahnke doesn't bog the show down with multiple commercial breaks for Patreon begging (as too many podcasts do these days), he just offers it as an option for more episodes and moves on. Episodes average about 30 minutes in length.

The topics are varied and always interesting, usually with a spooky or other-worldly feel. Great for this time of year as we approach Halloween. (As soon as the weather starts to cool down, I always start wanting to read horror novels and listen to ghost stories!)

Mahnke is also a published author. He writes mainly supernatural thrillers. To learn more about his books, check out his website: http://aaronmahnke.com/  The Lore podcast also has its own website: http://www.lorepodcast.com/   Episodes can be streamed from the lore website, or the podcast is available in all the usual places: Itunes, Google Play, etc. Check out the Lore website for dates/locations of Live Tour events as well.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

REVIEW: The Lusitania Murders

The Lusitania Murders
Author: Max Allan Collins


The Lusitania Murders is the 4th novel in The Disaster Series. In each book, Max Allan Collins expertly wraps a historical disaster with a fictional murder investigation, sending a famous person scrambling to solve the crime before all hell breaks loose. Previous stories have been aboard the Titanic on its fateful maiden voyage, the Hindenberg before it exploded, and at Pearl Harbor on that day of infamy. The stories do not trivialize the real loss of life in these historical events. Facts are given about the real events, and the fictional investigation is woven in among the true occurrences. Collins' detectives for this series so far have been Jacques Futrelle, Leslie Charteris, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and in this 4th book in the series -- S.S. Van Dine (aka Willard Huntington Wright).

Willard Huntington Wright started his writing career as literary editor for the LA Times. He also wrote short stories, pieces on philosophy, book reviews, and art critiques. In the 1920s, he was quite famous in intellectual circles.  Following a downturn in his health and finances later in life, he began writing detective stories. He published these under the S.S. Van Dine pseudonym out of embarrassment at his drop from intellectual writing to pulp fiction. His detective novels featured Philo Vance, a genius New Yorker and a bit of a dandy who uses his ingenuity to solve crimes. From 1926 to 1939, 12 books were published featuring Philo Vance.

William Huntington Wright, as painted by his brother
In The Lusitania Murders, S.S. Van Dine is a passenger on the fated ship. He meets a female version of his fictional famous detective, Philomena Vance, on board. As a female Pinkerton agent, she is acting as the ship's detective. While on a tour of the ship, 3 German stowaways are discovered. They are locked in the brig so that they can be questioned. Vance suspects they may have been on board to commit sabotage, perhaps hiding pipe bombs to damage the ship. Before much can be gleaned about their plans, the stowaways are murdered. Van Dine and Vance suspect that a member of the crew or perhaps even a passenger may have been the mastermind behind whatever the nefarious plans might have been. They investigate the case, not knowing that the ship is going to be torpedoed by a German U-Boat and sink. Why were the Germans onboard? What was their plan? And who was helping them? The two of them rush to investigate before any planted bombs might explode, not realizing the ship's fate is already sealed.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story by Brilliance Audio. Jeff Cummings narrates. I have partial hearing loss, but had no trouble understanding Cummings. He reads at a good pace and has a pleasant voice. Male narrators sometimes try a bit too hard when voicing female characters, but Cummings did a good job, just slightly changing his pitch when reading Philomena Vance's conversation. All in all, a nice audio experience.

The story started off a bit slow for me, but when the real action started to kick in, I was hooked. I liked Collins' use of a female version of the author's actual detective character as a main character in the story. There was slightly less factual information woven into this tale than in the prior 3 books in this series. Most likely this is because of the controversy, conspiracy theories and doubt that still surround the sinking of the Lusitania even today. For decades, the British government swore that no munitions were aboard the ship and that the Germans sank it without provocation.  When the wreck was discovered and investigated, it was proven that the passenger ship was carrying munitions. This was only guessed at previously, as there were reportedly two explosions on board the ship. The first was caused by a German torpedo, followed by a second stronger explosion. Theories pointed at this second explosion as detonation of munitions within the cargo holds. Whatever the cause of the sinking, 1,198 passengers and crew members died.

Collins does a great job once again of combining fact and fiction. This time, he even mixes real people with fictional characters, teaming S.S. Van Dine with a female version of detective Philo Vance. The story also works in the fact that Van Dine was a pen name, and the author had previously been a literary and art critic. Nicely done!

Although not my favorite in the series so far, The Lusitania Murders is an interesting story. Despite a bit of a slow start, the story gained steam and had a nice, steady suspenseful pace til the surprising end. The author ends his tale with a bit of an epilogue, explaining a bit about which characters were real and fictionalized, and about some of the theories on the sinking.

I definitely would like to read the detective novels by S.S. Van Dine now! Because the stories are in the public domain, 11 of the 12 Philo Vance books are available here (in several formats): http://www.fadedpage.com/csearch.php?author=Wright,%20Willard%20Huntington  The 9th novel, The Garden Murder Case, is available in ebook format at several online booksellers.

Max Allan Collins is an award winning author and has written many books about detectives and criminal investigations including several CSI stories and the Nathan Heller series. For more information about the author and his books, check out his website at: http://www.maxallancollins.com/blog/


Friday, September 1, 2017

12 Days at Bleakly Manor

12 Days at Bleakly Manor
Author: Michelle Griep

Clara Chapman's life has taken a bad turn. Her fiance left her waiting at the altar a year before, after supposedly stealing her family's money. Funds are running out. She will be left destitute soon. As Christmas approaches, Clara does not know what might become of her and her sickly aunt. Then, on Christmas Eve, an unexpected visitor comes to the door. He hands her an invitation to Bleakly Manor. If she can stay at the manor through the entire 12 days of the Christmas season, she will receive 500 pounds. Although she is afraid of the unknown, they need the money, so she travels to the manor.

Six people arrive. All have been promised a different reward for staying in the house for 12 days. It is revealed that only one person will actually receive a prize -- the last person remaining in the house at the end of the 12th day. Strange things start occurring almost immediately, and one by one the guests leave, by choice or through force. Who will be the last one left?

Clara is beside herself....not only because she's in a strange house, but because one of the people with her is the very fiance that left her standing at the altar.

This is an enjoyable holiday story! It is Christian fiction, but not overly preachy. (If Christian beliefs are not your cup of tea, pass this one by.) The story is like A Christmas Carol by Dickens got intertwined with And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. It's a nice mix of suspense, romance, and heartwarming holiday tale. The ending has a bit of a surprise that made me smile. All in all, a great Christmas story!!

The cover art is wonderful! So festive! :)

12 Days at Bleakly Manor is the first book in the Once Upon A Dickens Christmas series. The second book, A Tale Of Two Hearts, will release in 2018. Michelle Griep is the author of several novels. Find out more about the author and her books here: https://michellegriep.com/

**I voluntarily read an advanced readers copy of this book from Shiloh Run Press via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**