Books I am reading

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Paint the Town Dead by Sybil Johnson

a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Rory Anderson is an IT consultant and artist who has recently returned to her childhood hometown to live. She is attending an art convention at the recently opened Akaw Resort.
     While attending an art class, one of Rory's friends, Jasmine, collapses and dies. The death is ruled an accidental overdose of her anti-narcolepsy medication, but Rory feels that someone deliberately poisoned Jasmine. She and her best friends Liz, begin to track down Jasmine's movements at the convention to try to piece together what actually happened. Along the way, they uncover several secrets that could have played a part in silencing Jasmine.
     This is the second book in this new series, but easily stands alone. There are enough plot twists and turns to keep the reader interested and guessing right up to the end. Prepare to do nothing else until the book is finished!
     A great post-holiday read with a cuppa tea and a comfy easy chair.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Life in the Time of Murder by D E Haggerty

     This is the third installment of The Gray Haired Knitting Detectives. I have not yet read the first two books, but after the fun romp of this book, I will be going back to read the back stories.
Dee is a 30ish woman who recently left her abusive husband, and moved in with her grandmother until she can get settles and find her own place. Grandma runs in a posse of older women who love to knit and solve murders. There are various other friends that hang out together, including Izzy (the granddaughter of a former knitter), her husband, Mike, a police detective, Jack, Dee's boss and the owner of the store where she works, and his partner, Damien, and Tommy, and local firefighter with a major crush on Dee.
When Dee's husband visits her and demands that she move back with him, the gang kick into gear to protect Dee. A few days later, he is found dead, and Dee becomes the number one suspect. The knitters, et. al., kick into high gear to find the real killer before the detective assigned to the case arrests Dee. Of course mayhem ensues.
If you like fun, quirky characters, fast-paced repartee', and people who supposedly work full-time, but never have to be at work when a crisis arises, you will love this book. Part of the fun comes from Dee trying to find ways to escape the posse when she wants to talk to someone without their interference.
I give this a four out of five stars for inventive fun, twists and turns, and lots of laughs!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Between A Rock and a Hard Place (Potting Shed Mystery series Book 3)

 This is # 3 in the Potting Shed Series, and I have thoroughly enjoyed all three entries. And at $2,99 for the Kindle edition of this volume, it is a great bargain.

Pru Parker is a 50-something Texan, drawn back to her mother's birthplace in England. She is a master horticulturist, and looks for work that will allow her to remain in England. She has met and fallen in love with Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse at her first position – and first murder scene. By Book 3, she has completed a 6-month travel time with Christopher which has culminated with his proposal and her acceptance.

Now as they plan their wedding and decide where they will live, Pru takes a 3-month assignment at Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh., researching recovered documents that could prove to be the missing diaries of ‘Archibald Menzies. Menzies had been an 18th-century plant hunter, and part of his diaries had been missing until, possibly, now. She would validate it based on the botanics he wrote of.

Pru is assigned to special collections curator, Iain Blackwell, and is given a part-time assistant, Saskia Bennet. Iain makes it very clear that he is upset that Pru has been hired to research the journal, and not assigned to him. After a particularly heated exchange, overheard by Saskia, Iain is found dead, and Pru becomes the prime suspect. Christopher travels to Scotland to help support Pru and work with her to clear her name. Twists and turns ensue.

With each book, the characters have been become deeper and more interesting people. The books are well-written and provide information about real gardens and true historical horticultural information.
If you enjoy cozy mysteries, this is for you. If you love gardening, this is for you. And while the arch of the story grows over each installment, each book also stands alone. I give this a strong 4 out of 5 Stars! 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Martha and the quilters

     Gone But Knot Forgotten is the third in a cozy mystery series. I have not yet read the first two volumes, but I will. I am usually cautious with cozies; while I appreciate the less violent approach to mysteries, I find that too many cozies are formulaic and the characters are pretty flat. Neither of those are issues with Martha and her adventures.
     Martha and her friends, Lucy and Birdie, are long-time friends who spend Tuesday mornings quilting together. While very diverse women, their quilting draws them together. Martha, a middle-aged Jewish woman, has been made the executor of the will of a former high school friend. As she learns more about the circumstances of her friend's life and death, she becomes embroiled in trying to figure out who killed her friend. Lucy and Birdie become involved in the mystery, to their detriment and Lucy's husband's anger.
     Add in a Jewish biker friend for Martha, missing jewelry, antiques and art work, an old mystery of her friend's missing husband and his greedy siblings, and you have a boiling pot of intrigue. There is humor, spirituality, fear of relationships, and much more as Martha and her friends try to unravel what happened to Harriet. I give this book 4 stars out of five. And I will be reading the first two books in the series.

Episode 4 in the Blanche White Series

     Blanche is a middle-aged, black woman with strong opinions, a generous heart and a drive to find the truth. She reveals to us the pain and fear of living black in America. Barbara Neely has created an intelligent, complex main character in this series, and interesting secondary characters to populate her world.
     In Blanche Passes Go, issues of abuse, white supremacy, and class stereotypes are explored and turned on their ear. Blanche returns to her hometown of Farleigh, NC for the summer. She comes to help her best friend, Adele, with her new catering business, and, to feel out the possibility of returning to Farleigh permanently after her children go off to college. She doesn't expect to be confronting the fear and pain of a rape she experienced 10 years earlier, let alone the gold-digging fiance' of a former client, a murder, the neighbor children escaping the abuse of the father toward their mother, and the possibility of romance.
     I love this series, and I cheer for Blanche as she walks through the pain of her past in order to set herself free, and works tirelessly to bring justice for her former client and appropriate karma to her former rapist. I am saddened that most of the whites in Blanche's world are bigoted, self-serving scum. Blanche would never give me a second look as a possible friend, and, that saddens me. But having lived in an integrated neighborhood in Philadelphia for 18 years, I also understand the deep pain and injustice that leads minorities to protect themselves from constant abuse.
    While the Blanche White series is certainly in the "mystery" category, it is so much more. It is literature that explores the deep issues and experiences of blacks in America, of women in male dominates society, and in dignity and respect for poor, hard-working people. Each book can stand alone, but there is a richness in reading the books in order as Blanche grows and develops as a person. I give this book 5 stars. If you are a sensitive person, keep the Kleenex nearby.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Give Em Pumpkin To Talk About (Pumpkin Patch Mysteries Book 1) by Joyce Lavene and Jim Lavene

Sarah Tucker (a Richmond attorney) returns to her grandparents' farm to begin selling it. Her grandparents disappeared when she was 12 years old. Her family moved to Richmond shortly afterward. Her mother initially has a private investigator look into her parents' disappearance, but when no leads turned up. her husband talked her into letting the search go and moving on with her life. Now she has decided to sell the farm and has sent Sarah to finalize the plans.
Sarah is surprised by how strongly her feelings are aroused when she enters her grandparents' home after all these years. And many surprises await her. She is initially confronted by a grizzled looking "mountain man" who says he has cared for the property since her grandparents disappeared, under their instructions.
After meeting with a local realtor, a buyer almost immediately offers to buy the farm. Sarah is a bit puzzled by the quick bid. But when she receives a call to meet someone with information about her grandparents, and he ends up dead, she becomes scared and only wants to sell and leave.
As things progress, she meets several friends she had made during summer visits to the farm, discovers who the "mountain man" is, and begins to wonder if the family really should sell. Then mayhem follows.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and look forward to upcoming books in this beginning series. I give it 4 stars: an interesting plot and characters, but at times a bit formulaic. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Circling the Sun

     Circling the Sun is a masterpiece of story-telling. It is the story of Beryl Markham and her life in 1920's British East Africa. Ms Markham is best known for her record breaking aviator flight from east to west across the Atlantic. But this story focuses on the elements of her life that led to such a courageous (fool-hardy) feat.
Born to a British colonial, abandonned by her mother at an early age, raised in Kenya more as a native than a Britain, Beryl became the first woman horse trainer in Africa, taking many horses to the winner's circle. She also became a land owner when very few women owned their own land.
This book explores the triumph and pain Beryl endured in her quest to be her own person, not owned or controlled by others. She also struggled to be in a balanced marriage. The failure of these relationships led her into various relationships; the most nortorious was with Denys Finch Hatten (played by Robert Redford in the movie Out of Africa).
This is a great story and told well by Paula McLain (also author of best selling novel The Parid Wife). If you enjoy historical novels, you will love this one. I give it 5 stars!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Shanley Family in Free Fall

     I admit straight out that I only read about 15% of the book. It is the story of the Shanley family; mother, Deb; father, teenage son, Simon; and pre-teen, Kay. And an angry ex-lover of Jack. She prints out all the e-mails and texts sent during their torrid romance, and leaves this time-bomb at the desk of the apartment where Jack lives. Kay comes home, and the doorman asks her to take the box to her mother. Her curiosity leads her to begin reading what is in the box, she shares it with her brother, who then shows it to his mom, etc.
     It is quickly revealed that Deb met Jack while he was still married to someone else. I decided I had no desire to wade through the rest of their sordid life. Other reviews have pointed out that the book is divided into four parts, with the second part revealing how each family member turns out, and then going back to explain how they arrived where they ended.
     Ms Pierpont's writing is good. I just didn't feel like wasting my time with this family. I give it 2 stars.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Bones of You

     The Bones of You is the story of a young woman, Rosie, 18 years old, who goes missing and is ultimately found murdered. It is the story of her family and the dynamics that have lead to this moment in time, and, of a neighbor who becomes consumed in understanding what has happened to Rosie.
     Ms Howell's utilizes the device of moving between the concerned neighbor, Kate, who has a daughter the same age as Rosie, and Rosie's observations from the hind-sight of her death. It is similar to Alice Seabold's The Lovely Bones, I do not feel that Ms Howell is able to pull it off as smoothly or convincingly. 
     While the writing is adequate, the story is so disturbing, that I did not like this novel. It was a story of pure evil, generational abuse, and how children can become lost in the abuse of their parents. For this reason, and the awkward passing back and forth between the living and the dead, I only give 2 stars to this novel.

The Truth According to Us

     Macedonia, WV is a small town running on history and a shakey hold on the present. Layla Beck is a priveleged young woman, sent to Macedonia throught the Works Progress artists' writing project, exiled by her Senator father in order to grow up and get in touch with real life.
     Miss Beck is assigned to live with the Romeyn family, once the leaders of Macedonia, but now languishing on the outer edges of society. Felix is the shady son of the former president of the local mill. He has two daughter's, Willa, 11, and Bird, about 8 years old, cared for by his sister, Jollie, a 30-something spinster. There are also twin sisters, Mae and Minerva, who live in the family home.
     Layla interviews town's people in order to write the Sesquesentenial History of Macedonia, she begins to understand there are deeply hidden secrets that few people want uncovered, an agreed upon understanding of the past that doesn't line up with the facts, and a mystery surrounding the fire at the mill that killed Felix's best friend and Jollie's love, and caused the downfall of their father from being the president of the mill.
     Willa is determined to "assist" Layla in order to learn more of the roles of her father and aunt in Macedonia, to understand why her father comes and goes secretly, why Jollie has never married, and, to keep Layla from falling in love with her father and stealing even more of his time away from her.
     The story is complicated with many twists and turns that kept me engaged throughout the book. The device of interspeecing letters with narative did not always work and slowed the forward movement too often, especially in the first have of the book. But it was definitely worth persevering through those spots to glean the richness of the characters.
     I give this a 4 star rating, and highly recomend it for those who like historic fiction, family sagas, and explorations of "history" and "perception".

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Rhyme of the Magpie by Marty Wingate

     The Rhyme of the Magpie is the first book in a new series by Marty Wingate. I read the first in her Potting Shed series and signed up through Netgalley to review this book as well.
Julia Lanchester has just started a new job as the public relations promoter for Smeaton-Under-Lyme, hired by the local earl to make his village a tourist destination. We soon learn that she has recently quit working for her father, the famed birder, Rupert Lanchester, who hosts an award-winning show on BBC Two. It was not an amicable split, so when Rupert comes to try to patch things up, Julia quickly asks him to leave without hearing him out. Julia's step-mother calls the next day to say that Rupert has gone missing and she is concerned. Julia decides to visit the family retreat to see if Rupert hqas holed up there to plan next season's shows, but stumblews across a dead body while searching the grounds. Rupert's new assistant, Michael Sedwick, has shown up, and offers to help Julia look for Rupert, and now clear any suspicion that he had anything to do with the death on his property.
Many twists and turns occur as Julia digs more deeply into her father's recent activities. She is not quite sure if Michael is a help, or part of the problem. And several people around Rupert appear "freindly" but also taking advantage of Rupert's broadcast fame. Who to trust?
This is a fun, light-hearted cozy mystery with interesting characters and sites. Warm a pot and pour your tea as you follow Julia on the quest to find her father and save his reputation. I give this 4 solid stars!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Summer's End (Lowcountry Summer Book 3) by Mary Alice Monroe

     The Summer's End is the 3rd book in the Lowcountry tiology. The series tells the story of 3 half sisters drawn back to the grandmother's summer home on Sullivan's Island, SC. Mamaw and her housekeeper companion, Lucille, are hoping to cement the young women's friendship as well as lure them back to the Lowcountry. 
While each book can stand alone, it is much more rewarding to read them in order and fully understand the back story as you move to the next book.
In book 3, The women are struggling with the death of Lucille, Mamaw's impending move to an assisted living home, and, the sale of her beloved home, Sea Breeze. Dora is moving to her own home in order to enroll her son in a special school for children with autism. Carson is coming to term with her pregnancy and how to proceed with her life as a single mother, and Harper is struggling with wanting to be a writer and falling under the thumb of her mother to return to New York and her mother's publishing firm as an editor.
This is a romance novel, a call for environmental responsibility, a shout out to a more relaxed time and place, and a coming of age novel. Ms. Monroe has created full-body characters, a setting that is beautiful and challenging, and a story that is entertaining as well as intelligent. More than just a good summer read, this series leads you through the lives and loves of 5 interesting women. I highly recommend with 5 stars.

The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

     Sophia Peabody is a young woman, artist, and plagued by frequest headaches and illness. Through her window, on a cold Massachusettes morning, she sees Nathaniel Hawthorne walking through the snow, and shamelessly falls in love. This is a love story of epic proportions, of creativity and what fuels the muse within, of decisions about duty,,,,, family and self-expression. After much time while Nathaniel tries to make his way as an author, he finally agrees to marry Sophia, even though he is barely able to support himself, let alone a family.
Sophia struggles to continue her art which she feels driven to create, and to manage to home and family that she and Nathaniel are creating together. She is often struggling with who she is and who she wants to be. Almost any working woman today can identify with the decisions most women still face in choosing between career and family. Their love is not perfect, and they often hurt each other as they travel the rough course of their lives. But they have an enduring love that transcends their problems.
This is an historic novels of two American artists, of the beginnings of our country, and of a deep love that rises above all the problems of their world. While it is not a romance novel in the traditional sense, it is aq story of great romance. 
I knew nothing about Nathaniel Hawthorne's personal life. This novel enriches his writings. If you like historical fiction, romance and family sagas, you will love this novel. I give it 5 stars.

Losing Faith bt Adam Mitzner

     Aaron Littman is a powerful defense attorney in the most powerful law firm in New York City. Poised to take over control of his firm when his mentor retires, Aaron is shocked when the most reviled man in America calls for a meeting, and asks Aaron to represent him in a money laundering case involving the Russian Mafia. Nicolai  Garkov is also a terrorist, suspects of a Red Square bombing that killed 26 people, including 3 American students.
Aaron is shaken to his core when Nicolai tells him he must convince the judge, Faith Nichols, to aquit him or he will reveal an affair Aaron and Faith had while he was trying a case in her court. Faith, on the short list for the next Supreme Court justice, has received word that a conviction will assure her nomination.
And thus begins the twists and turns that kept me page turning far into the night. Questions of fairness, justice an ethics swirl around this no-win conundrum for Aaron and Faith. There is little portrayed violence, but the threat is ever present. Make sure you have time to finish this one once you start. I give it 5 stars.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Apparent Wind by Dallas Murphy

     Apparent Wind is an outlandish romp through southern Florida. Dennis "Doom" Lewis is a con man easily talked into doing crazy projects (i.e. writing a novel promoted as being by Eleanor Roosevelt, and spending 5 years in prison when his cohorts took off and left him holding the bag.) His father has died and he has inherited a sailboat and piece of land in Florida that is sinking into the sea. When he arrives in Florida, it quickly becomes clear that others have their eyes on his land and are working hard to con him out of it.
The characters are beyond believable and offer overflowing silliness. Doom falls in love with a beautiful woman who teaches scuba diving, and, whose grandmother is is a Seminole native. An addicted history professor who had been involved in the fake novel shows up. Two women named Anne are filming a documentory and become interested in Doom's fight for his land. They all conspire together to out con the cons trying to take Doom's land. Unbelievable craziness ensues.
If you want clever, silly fun, this book is for you. A perfect beach book!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

 This novel weaves the story of Carla, an 11 year old girl in Honduras, with Alice, a 40 something woman in Houston, Tx. Carla works collecting recyclables in the dump upon which she lives with her grandmother and younger brother. Their mother fled to Texas years ago, promising to save money and send for them. While she occasionally sends money to help out, the promised trip to Texas never arrives. When Carla's grandmother dies and Carla realizes that her 6 year old brother is huffing chemicals, she decides they need to take their chances on running to America.
At the same time we are learning that Alice and her husband have had to return a child they were in the process of adopting. She is heart-broken. You realize that these two lives are moving toward an intersection, and you cheer Carla to be able to keep going in her arduous journey along the illegal route to the USA.
After last summer's overwhelming in-flux of children pouring across the southern border, this is a timely, harrowing story. This is an important novel for it's social commentary, and it is an exciting read. I give it 4 stars. I am not a big fan of jumping back and forth between characters in telling a story.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

 Banishment to Canada feels awful to Flavia de Luc, as if she is being punished for discovering the fate of her mother, and, being the youngest in the family. At Miss Bodycote's Female Academy, Flavia discovers that her mother was a renowned former student. The first night at the school, Flavia discovers a mumified corpse when it falls from the chimney. This begins a quest to find out why she has been sent here, how the body came to be in the chimney, and what type of training her mother actually received at the scvhool.
Flavia is a 12 year old chemistry prodogy and inveterate snoop. Miss Bodycote offers rumors of ghosts, disappearing students and a teacher who is a convicted murderer. All this is making Miss Bodycote's a much more interesting place than Flavia first assumed.
I had feared the series had ended with the previous entry, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches. I am so grateful the series continues. While each book can stand alone, the force of Flavia is best experienced by starting at the beginning and reading the entire series. I give this 5 stars!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Work by Wes Moore

The Work by Wes Moore

I am not a big fan of reading non-fiction as leisure reading. But I chose to read and review this book because the premise of finding meaning in life through service is near and dear to my heart.
Wes Moore is an intelligent, gifted person and an inspiring writer. The Job traces his rise from a turbulent childhood in the Bronx and Baltimore, through his service in Afghanistan, his work in the White House and as a banker on Wall Street. In each setting, he gathered the wisdom and foolishness of each setting as he kept asking what he needed to be happy and content in life.
Mr Moore interweaves stories of heroes and everyday people he has met and from whom he has learned during his journey. Mr Moore's strength and openness shines through and I felt uplifted by the many stories woven through the book. This is a feel-good inspiration to find a meaningful life. I highly recommend, and, hope that Wes Moore keeps writing and inspiring others.

The Job

The Job

The Job is the fourth book in a series about FBI agent Kate O'Hare, by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldburg. I have not had a chance to read the first three books in the series, but was able to fully understand and enjoy this novel.
Special Agent Kate O'Hare is teamed up with a charming con-man, Nicholas Fox, to find and then bring down a drug king-pin who is reclusive and impossible to find. O'Hare and Fox enroll some interesting folks to help them design and carry out a complicated sting that puts all their lives in jeopardy.
This is a heart-pounding story that covers 3 countries on two continents. It is infused with whit and humor, but never stops rushing ahead until the conclusion. I intend to back-track and start the series at the beginning.

In Vertigo of Silence

In Vertigo of Silence
This debut novel by Miriam Polli is a multi-generational exploration of the effects of secrets and fear on 3 generations of women. This saga addresses important issues of alcoholism, abuse, adultery, mental illness and death. It follows a young woman, her mother, aunts and grandmother. It shows the effects of long-held secrets and makes you examine your own values and beliefs.
For a debut novel, this is a well-written crafted work, worthy of a much more experienced writer. If you enjoy character exploration, you will love In Vertigo of Silence.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Blanche White Series: Two Books (and counting) of Excellent Intrigue

 Blanche on the Lamb is the beginning of a sassy new series. Blanche White is an intelligent, middle-aged, African-American domestic worker in North Carolina. She is The Help in current time, with attitude. In this book, one of her employers stiffs her with a bad check which cause her checks to bounce, so she lays low by working for a rich family at their country estate. The only member of the family who seems humane and caring is the family's slightly mentally challenged Cousin Mumford. None of the others are worth the air they breathe.  The murder and subsequent antics of the family seem silly and at times comedic, against Blanche's commentary on race relations in Southern America. If you enjoy southern Gothic with attitude, you will love Blanche.

 Blanche Among the Talented Tenth tackles the ugly truth of discrimination among people of color. Her children are attending an elite private school in Boston, and are beginning to bring home uppity attitudes that Blanche does not like one bit. when the kids are invited to an exclusive Maine resort for wealthy blacks, Blanche decides to allow this romp through exclusive, black America. When one guest commits suicide, and another death leads to complicated questions, Blanche is dragged into finding the truth. This idyllic resort is littered with deceit, snobbery and generations of history, along with a bit of romance.
     Blanche is her usual sassy self, with wit and insight that uncovers secrets and a long history of racial discrimination. I cheer for Blanche once again, and for her integrity and her courage to face heart-wrenching decisions. I can't wait until the next volume is published!

Vanessa and Her Sister

 The story of Vanessa Stephen Bell and her sister Virginia Stephen Woolf is a story of love and madness, talent and privilege, young people breaking convention and plagued by guilt. The story is told through journal entries, and postcards and letters. 
     The novel is compelling and kept drawing me in, even though I don't like the format of journal entries, etc. If you are a fan of Vanessa's art and Virginia's writing, this is an intriguing look at their very private lives. I disliked Virginia and felt she was a spoiled, manipulative brat. But my view is from the 21st Century where mental health support is much more enlightened and treatment more successful than ever imagined in 1905.
     The lives of Vanessa and Virginia are intertwined with their brothers and friends who loosely form a bohemian and intellectual group that meet regularly to discuss the art scene in London and Paris. All these young people go on to fame as their careers mature.
     This novel is an intriguing look at 1905 privilege and creative young talent. If you enjoy art, writing and historical insights, you will enjoy Vanessa and Her Sister.