Tag Archives: murder

The Devil You Know by P.J. Tracy- a Review

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I’ve been busy finishing one manuscript before National Novel Writing Month and then in the throes of NaNo- but since I reached the 50,000 word mark on Saturday, I decided to read for fun on Saturday. Here is the review of that book.

I received this book from Minotaur and NetGalley in exchange for a review.

It’s kind of funny that as I was reading this one, I was thinking I was gobbling it up. I didn’t even think about it being the week of Thanksgiving until I was writing this review. But I did gobble up this story. I read it in part of one day in two sittings. Probably would have read it in one sitting but I had to head to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner.

This is clearly the third or fourth book in a series.  I have not read any of the others, but that did not take away from my enjoyment at all. There’s enough back story woven in to make it so it’s not necessary to have read the others. I will go back now and catch myself up but not because I need to in order to follow this plot. Only because I did enjoy this one so much that I’d like to read the others.

The story here is very Hollywood heavy and having been to Los Angeles, I enjoyed the way the author made the city a big part of the story. Even including Pink’s hot dog joint on La Brea.

The characters are well written and fully fleshed out. No one seemed one dimensional at all and that takes real talent and care. Especially with the large cast of characters in this story. All of the characters had distinct personalities and quirks.

I did figure out the whodunnits pretty swiftly, but that didn’t take away from the fact that I was scrolling through the pages eating up the dialogue and action.

The pace was well done and the author’s use of language was smart and refreshing. So many times, crime stories are not done with sophisticated language and nuance. This was different and I quite enjoyed it.

The main protagonist is a female detective and she was likable and relatable. Her relationship with her partner was amusing and they worked well together. I was happy to see the author gave both of them insight and that she allowed them to solve the case together with each giving ideas and building off what the other thought. So many times in these stories, the lead character is always the smartest person in the room and never asks for help nor bounces ideas off others. The way these two were written seems much more realistic. I enjoyed the relationship between them.

I don’t often give five stars—four is pretty much as high as I go even when I enjoy a story, but since I got so wrapped up in this one, I’m giving it a five.

Death by Pumpkin Spice by Alex Erickson

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This book is part of a series of stories with the protagonist being the owner of a coffee shop who can’t help but get involved in murders that happen in her town. She’s attracted to the detective she works with on the cases but she also has a date with a local doctor and has a former live in lover who is a stalker. In other words, she attracts drama. And she isn’t very likable.

Even though she owns a coffee shop and the title of the book makes one think there will be some kind of pumpkin spice drink—latte, coffee or even chai—nope. Not any in sight for the entire book.

A woman is killed at a Halloween party and busted pumpkins are all around her but no spices. Nope. None.

The protagonist is smart and clever in the way she can solve crimes but she is one of those types who don’t listen. Even when she is told to stay out of the crime scene, she goes willy-nilly in the room and starts touching stuff.

The first couple of times she didn’t listen were cute but then it got old. I get that the amateur sleuth needs to have access to try to solve the case in these kinds of books, but it really became annoying to this reader. I’m sure there were other ways to get around that issue but her just blatantly ignoring warning after warning became tedious. She went rogue way too many times to count.

All that being said, the mystery itself was good. It was clever to have the story take place at a Halloween party with a terrible storm so everyone was stranded there and also in costume. It heightened the danger and intrigue to make the killer not be able to escape. The other partygoers didn’t seem too concerned to be locked in a mansion with many rooms for a murderer to hide in, though.

I thought the ending was appropriate and I enjoyed the mystery of the murder.

Even though this is a series, I was able to follow the story and figure out who was who without much effort.

For a quick, easy, seasonal read with not much depth, this was a fun one. Just don’t expect any pumpkin spice.

The Magnolia Palace- Fiona Davis

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This was a quick read that was enjoyable. I found it interesting that the main character was inspired by a real person. I knew the family who owned the Magnolia Palace were real –The Frick family. Mr. Henry Clay Frick was an industrialist as well as an art patron and eventually, he left his home to the city to make into a museum. Audrey Munson was the woman who inspired the heroine, Lillian, in this story. Audrey was used by many sculptors of that era as a model for many of the statues around the city of New York. Many call her the first super model.

The novel begins with Lillian being in the wrong place at the wrong time and she is questioned in the murder of her landlord’s wife. She flees and ends up in a job interview to be the assistant to Mr. Frick’s daughter.

The action swings back and forth from the gilded age to the 1960s where we meet a model named Veronica who has come over from England to be part of a photo shoot at the Frick mansion which is now a museum. She meets a young man who is interning at the museum.  They accidently get locked into the museum overnight in a snowstorm and blackout.

Back in the gilded age, Lillian works for the daughter of the industrialist and tries to help her in her love life as the woman’s father wants her to marry. There’s a lot of interesting psychological undertones in Frick’s son and daughter’s interactions with him as well as each other.

Lillian finds herself falling for the young man who has been chosen to be her employer’s fiancé and he falls for her as well. The daughter goes out of town with her family and sets a kind of treasure hunt around the house for her intended husband in order to amuse him while she’s gone. Lillian helps him in the quest and they draw closer together.

In the 1960s, Veronica finds the clues for the treasure hunt in the house/museum and she, along with the intern start to follow them while they are stranded in the house.

The rest of the story continues to move back and forth between the time periods and the two heroines. A murder occurs and the excitement builds in each era. I won’t say much more as I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but it’s a unique and interesting story. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it if you like art, the gilded age, the 1960s, mysteries and a fictionalized look at the past in an exciting way.

Issues of racism and prejudice against women with ambition are two of the themes of this story as well as family love and conflict.  Overall, I think it’s a good story.

The Forever House- Linda Acaster – A Review

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This book was interesting but a little confusing.  The main character seemed to leap to many conclusions without much in the way of evidence before she did. AS I read, I actually said out loud a few times, “This woman is whackadoodle.”

I enjoyed the story for the most part, but there were things left hanging at the end that I wanted explained. As a reader, I want all the questions answered especially if it seems there is not going to be a sequel.

The premise of the story was intriguing and the fact that the main character was so strong in her opinions and actions made the tale pleasurable. The beginning was slow. The character spent a lot of time removing wallpaper and drywall and inspecting the room she was renovating. I got a little annoyed at how long that took and the amount of detail conveyed. Some readers may enjoy that kind of slow build, but personally, I am all about getting to the action. 

Once we got to the action, things moved quicker and I enjoyed the pace of the story from about chapter four or five on. The way the protagonist made leaps of logic was interesting and when she went to the police after visiting one particular man made me scratch my head as to how she came to the conclusion that led her there. It was precipitate at the least and a bit crazy at the most. I confess, I was kind of stunned—which may be what the author intended. LOL

I’d have liked the writer to give us closure on the sister-in-law and what was going on there. We got good closure on the main story, but I was disappointed at the plot points left hanging.

This one has me torn.  They were a lot of good points in the story but there were also a number of things that bothered me.  I am going to have to give it 3.5 stars.

The Cage by Bonnie Kistler, a Review

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I bought this book after seeing the author on Jeopardy a couple of weeks ago.

The book was good, but it was one of those books where I didn’t really care for the protagonist. She was just thoroughly unlikeable throughout the book. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her for being trapped in a situation beyond her control and for having lost her job in the economic downturn in 2008. But she just grated on my nerves. She was a total snob and wouldn’t even consider a lower level legal job when she lost the Wall Street job, even to the point of choosing to live in the slums as a better option than taking a job she deemed beneath her. It was pretty weird. She also, to be such a snob, had a victim mentality and was a liar. To the point of lying on her resume which offends me greatly.

So, I asked myself, why are you keeping on reading? I don’t have an answer to that. But read on, I did. Lol.

The villain was very one dimensional and clearly a sociopath. He irritated me too. I wanted to smack him for his pure evilness with no redeeming qualities at all- such a vicious man.

A very big hint was dropped at a point in the story and I kept waiting for someone to mention it and check on that aspect of the protagonist’s story, but it never was mentioned again until the last two pages of the book.

The protagonist was a lawyer (as is the author) but she violated the number one rule you learn as a lawyer. If you’re detained by the police, you never, ever give a statement even if you are innocent as traps lay everywhere in an interrogation room. You invoke your right to counsel, discuss your knowledge of the matter with your lawyer, and make an informed decision with the benefit of counsel on what to share. This character rattled on to the police—not just once, but over and over—and was basically hoisted on her own petard. Her lies caused her way more distress than she ever needed to face. But I guess without that stupid move there would be no book, right?

All that being said, it was a pretty good story, just not really anyone to root for in the tale, except maybe the women who were ultimately saved.

Rizzio by Denise Mina

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This story about the murder of David Rizzio, the private secretary of Mary Queen of Scots was a quick read. A much fuller picture of what happened that night and the days to follow than I’d read previously

What the conspirators put the poor man through was brutal and violent. The terror he must have experienced was gut-wrenching even reading about it more than 460 years later. Queen Mary’s fear for her life as well as her child’s and the way her own husband tried to force her to have a miscarriage was awful. Imagine spending a whole night and day thinking you’re going to be killed any moment and there is no escape. And that your husband is part of the plot to kill you and your child. Such a savage era in history.

Of course, in some places, life can still be vicious and this retelling of the events of that night in 1566 reminded me that some people still live in places where such violence can be a daily occurrence. This reader counts herself lucky that she can read about such horrors without the kind of fear people face both in the past and in our time.

This killing boiled down to two things in my opinion—(1) an immature, jealous husband who was dissatisfied with his lot in life as consort, not king in his own right and (2) the greed and avarice of courtiers who saw this as their chance to take what they wanted and get rid of Mary. They played right into Darnley’s fantasy of being king and used that for their own ends with no intention of giving him his heart’s desire. A lot of nefarious people in Edinburgh.

The author here clearly researched the time frame extensively. I had not read about Henry Yair and his murder of Father Adam Black on the same night. That was an interesting part of the story I had not heard about before. Fanaticism seemed rife in that era for sure.

I can’t say I liked the book as it was a terrible, terrible time in Scotland’s history, but I did learn a lot and appreciate the author’s work in fleshing out this story. It was well-written and, as it was also brutally truthful, it was a heartbreaking read. 4 stars.

Murder on Mustique- Anne Glenconner- A Review

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I picked this one up when Barnes and Noble had their hardbacks 50 percent off. I liked the cover and the blurb sounded good. Of course, I’d heard of the island of Mustique and how it was made into a place for celebrities to build homes and find peace and quiet, so the idea of a murder mystery set there was intriguing.

As I started reading, I realized why the author’s name sounded familiar. She was the wife of the man who bought the island in real life and gifted Princess Margaret with the land to build her own escape home. The author started the story by having the fictional narrator explaining she was a former lady in waiting for the princess and that her husband bought the island in the 1950s. I don’t want to say this was a Mary Sue type story, but it skirted the edge—except the heroine was seventy years old rather than a young girl.

This was a novel, but there was a whole lot of truth in it—not the murder mystery part nor the person who committed the crime (I hope- LOL) but a lot of the history of the island and of the author herself.  I did enjoy the story—even the totally unrealistic parts. The author did a good job with the red herrings and the culprit, so I can forgive her for the use of herself—perhaps an idealized version—as the heroine of the story. It was kind of refreshing to have an older woman in good physical shape as a strong protagonist even though I couldn’t get it out of my head that she was a real person.

One of the parts of the book that resonated with me near the end was this comment by the heroine: “My own grief is harder to define. Why do I care so much about losing something that never really existed? The space left behind will fill, as time passes.”

That passage reminded me of when I finally realized that someone who I’d considered a friend was actually a malignant narcissist and then, for my own protection, I cut off contact with the person. I grieved over the loss of that relationship for a long time and almost got sucked back in again—until I came to that same realization. None of my memories of that person were based on real feelings on the part of my “friend” and our relationship never really existed. It was all an act on that “friend’s” part even though I invested myself in our friendship. 

It makes me wonder if this author also had a real life experience with such a narcissist. It sure seemed to me like that was one more of the truths she expressed in this fictional tale. Until you’ve actually been a victim of a malignant narcissist, it’s hard to understand just how awful they can be. Her passage above rang true. 

Overall, the book was good and I enjoyed the tale.

Christmas Cocoa Murder- a Review

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This was an anthology of three stories. Carlene O’Connor wrote Christmas Cocoa Murder;   Maddie Day wrote Christmas Cocoa and a Corpse; and Alex Erickson wrote Death by Hot Cocoa.

All three stories were enjoyable. I liked the Death by Hot Cocoa one the best. I enjoyed the escape room concept and the set up was clever. I did guess who-dun-it pretty quickly, but that didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the story and the rooms set up in a holiday theme in the escape room. 

The Christmas Cocoa Murder was also a really cool set up. As a fan of dunking tanks in my younger days, I loved how the author used that concept in her story—I can’t even imagine how sticky it would be to be dunked in cocoa though- *shudder* — The characters in this one were well drawn and intriguing. The mystery was well done and the nutcrackers were a neat addition to the puzzle.

My least favorite was Christmas Cocoa and a corpse. Not because the story lacked anything, it was a good concept and execution. What I didn’t care for was the nicknames – every single character had a nickname- which just seemed off-putting to me. I also didn’t enjoy the overuse of descriptions- too much detail on everything the characters wore and the settings. I know some people enjoy that, but it wasn’t my thing at all.

Overall, this was a cute set of stories and very holiday—if your holidays include murder by cocoa. 🙂

Release Day! Sophronia

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It’s release day for my new novel. The main character was inspired by my paternal great-grandmother and her tombstone.

No one is more surprised than sane, sensible Sophronia Neal when she inherits a Victorian manor from an elderly man she befriended at the bookstore she manages—except perhaps his two grandchildren who are outraged at the turn of events.


From that day, her existence becomes fraught with danger and intrigue. Not only does the house hold secrets Sophronia doesn’t understand, strange occurrences in her life make her question her sanity.

When she is attacked while walking her dog, she can’t decide if her life is in danger from a very real person intent on harming her or if there’s something more sinister at work—perhaps a restless spirit?

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Bells, Tails & Murder by Kathy Manos Penn – a Review

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I’m a big fan of cozy mysteries, especially those set in Britain. I’m also a huge animal lover so this one intrigued me from the cover and title. It was a bit of a slow start and I almost stopped reading it because nothing much was happening in the first chapters. The writing style wasn’t really up my alley either, but that’s a personal preference. Others may love it, so I’m not downgrading my review due to that.

I persevered and the story got better. One thing that bothered me was I couldn’t tell how old the heroine was. She seemed young and stylish, and men kept asking her out- ones that seemed young and also ones that seemed older- (which could really mean she’s any age—but, it was a bit confusing not to be able to picture her properly) but she kept calling herself an old lady and she took a ton of naps. Every day, she got so tired she had to nap. Her age may not matter in the grand scheme of the plot, but it stayed in the back of my mind as I read. I confess, it was distracting as she’d seem young one moment and older the next.

The Cotswold village was well-described and had all the elements one would expect, from the pub to the tea room, to the bookstore and inn. The village was peopled with an interesting cast of characters as well. The premise surrounding the murder and the author of the Peter Pan books, J.M. Barrie was clever and well done.

While I did figure out who was the red herring and who was the culprit pretty early on, I enjoyed the story as it unfolded. The added fun of the cat, Christie, and the dog, Dickens, who the heroine could understand as if they spoke English rather than barking and meowing, was a neat take on the cozy mystery genre. I liked that some of the characters had names with ties to the Peter Pan tales and the pets were named after writers.

There was lots of wine and lots of Greek salad in the book which made me hungry and I was glad the author included her father’s recipe for the salad and dressing. That was a nice surprise at the end of the book.

I’m giving it three stars for the slow start, but I recommend the reader keep going if discouraged by the lack of action at the beginning. It gets better.