Tag Archives: mystery

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.

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 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.

A Rip in Time by Kelley Armstrong, a Review

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I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

I really liked this story. I’ve read some of Ms. Armstrong’s work in the past and her prose is always easy to read and enjoyable. The premise here of a modern day female detective transported through time when she’s attacked in a dark lane in old Edinburgh is creative and right up this reader’s alley. Being a huge fan of Edinburgh and having experienced the magic of the city firsthand, in this reader’s opinion, it’s the perfect setting for the story. A very atmospheric town and extra creepy in 1869 when the lighting would have been candles or gas lights.

The heroine is plucky and savvy and learns quickly that she’ll have to work hard to try to fit in where most everything is unfamiliar. The work she has to do as a housemaid is tough yet she realizes a roof over her head in those hard times is worth the backbreaking chores. Even the cleaning of the chamber pots.

Ms. Armstrong does a great job evoking the era in housing and the sights/smells of an old city as well as the biases against women and people of mixed race.

The supporting characters are well-drawn and appealing with each having unique qualities. I especially enjoyed the brother and sister and how they interacted with the heroine as well as each other and the local police detective. There were parts that strained credulity, but being as it’s a time travel story, realism was always going to take a back seat.

The heroine was flawed and made mistakes which made the tale more exciting. A perfect heroine is always dull. The person whose body the heroine was transported into was a wicked person and I’m glad the heroine made many attempts to try to make things right with the people the real housemaid harmed.

It appears there will be more stories with these characters which is great as they each have their own unique back story and I, for one, look forward to exploring more of old Edinburgh with them and learning more about their lives.

Hot Water by Christopher Fowler- a Review

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This book by the author of the wonderful Bryant and May series is a standalone book set in the area near Nice, France,

The story was intriguing and multi-layered as Fowler’s books always are. He definitely keeps the reader entertained and on tenterhooks. Various threads come together in an intriguing way by the end of the book.

Steve is a 42 year old British man who has a desire to have a sexual relationship with an 18 year old—which, of course, is gross anyway—but it set the stage for the events of the story. Steve arranges to rent a holiday home near Nice for a business trip for his wine business. He invites the girl, Summer, to join him. The leasing agent tells him he has to rent it for two weeks, so he invites the girl for the first week and his wife and son for the second week. He is supposed to arrive a few days before his family so he can sleep with the girl.

Hannah, a 23 year old young woman, is the cleaner for the house that Steve rents. Hannah is not supposed to interact with the guests, but when she meets Summer, she breaks the rule and becomes involved in the girl’s life. Steve’ arrival is delayed and the plans change wherein he’s going to arrive a mere few hours before his family—time enough for a quickie, but then Summer has to go.

The day Steve’s family is supposed to arrive, Hannah can’t get in touch with Summer. She believes the girl left with a gay friend to stay with him now that Steve’s family is arriving. When Hannah arrives to clean, she finds items left by Summer strewn around the place.

As the week goes on, other things appear—like Summer’s phone and passport. The people in the house, Steve, his wife and son as well as Steve’s employee, Giles and his wife, are all hiding things. Everyone in the villa has issues and secrets.

Hannah becomes more and more suspicious about what really happened to her friend. A local child goes missing as well, causing Hannah to investigate that in addition to what happened to Summer. Did her friend leave voluntarily? Did she leave before anyone else arrived? Did she argue with Steve? Is she gone off with friends? Or is her body buried somewhere on the property? And how does the missing child and the gardener fit into the picture? What about the other guests, the villagers and even her boss?

This is a great, convoluted story that really appealed to this reader.  Lots to unpack and a ton of pieces to put together to get to the truth of the events that occurred in the vacation villa. I recommend this one as a fun beach read—even if you’re not in the Cote d’Azur!

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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The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell- a Review

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I went to a wedding a week ago in Tallahassee and, on my drive back, stopped at a couple of Goodwill Stores as they always seem to have a good selection of used books. One of the ones I purchased was The Family Upstairs. I hadn’t read any of this author before, but I’m a fan now. The book was intriguing as well as a quick read. A house with dark secrets is at the center of the tale.

The story is told from three points of view and I enjoyed all of them. Each had a distinctive voice and were compelling in different ways. The movement from each voice to the other was smooth and kept me turning pages.

In the author note, she stated her inspiration for the book came from seeing a woman in Nice, France sneaking her children into the public baths near the beach. From that, a tale of family terror, loss, and lives shattered was born. I loved how all the threads of the story came together. I figured out most of it, but a surprise or two in the pages made this reader happy as I usually solve it all before the end.

Each of the three protagonists were dramatically affected by their upbringings and the way the author showed how those experiences carried over into their adult lives was genius. It’s a dark tale, but moments of light and love shine through. I throughly recommend this one for a few hours of entertainment mixed with a little anxiety for the characters.

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.

Book of Skulls by David Hutchison, a review

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I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Let me start by saying how much I love Edinburgh and historical novels so this was right up my alley. I think I was already half-inclined to love it just from the cover and the setting. The author did the rest. His writing is visual and visceral. Some parts were a bit gruesome but the story called for it, in my opinion. This was not a lovely picnic on Arthur’s Seat on an early fall day. This was a murder mystery with a number of grisly murders….all in the name of science. A touch of Burke and Hare and their life of crime/murder adds to the historical feel of the book.

The protagonist, Liz, is a medical student who happens to be female. An uphill battle in the 19th Century for sure. She makes friends with another female student as they fight for their rightful place in the school. She also makes friends with a young man and the local police medical examiner. She’s accepted as an assistant with the coroner and gets some valuable experience in actual medical science, albeit on dead bodies, not living patients. But then she is also asked to assist in a local clinic and learns valuable skills. She seems to be on her way to being successful as a doctoress even though the powers that be at the school want the females out.

The story has many twists and turns and a number of exciting sequences where the reader fears for the protagonist and her friends’ safety. It was a ride for sure. The author is excellent at building suspense and even though I figured out the villain early, the book was still a page turner and very enjoyable. The side plot with the medical examiner is a great addition to the tale.

Overall, this was a delightful read…even with the violence and macabre parts. I give it 4.5 stars.

It seems there will be more adventures with this protagonist and I, for one, plan to be on the lookout for the next volume.

New Release- Jillian Chantal- One Lonely Knight

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Jillian Chantal has a new release – a time travel story set in 1788. It is available in e-book and Kindle.

In 1788 Scotland, Rowena Maitland doesn’t realize how lonely and odd her life is, until, alone one night, she is surprised by an intruder dressed in medieval armor crashing around in her home.

The stranger, Pembroke Burroughs, is a large man, but seems harmless enough with his battered helmet causing him distress. Until she assists him in removing the helmet and he insists he’s from 1568 and was just engaged in battle with the Earl of Moray fighting against Mary Queen of Scots’ forces at the battle of Langside.

Worried about being alone with him and fearing he is deranged, she drugs his drink and prays her caretakers will return before he awakens. 

Her plan fails, and once he wakes, he questions everything in her life and she realizes her situation is decidedly strange. Maybe even stranger than a man claiming to be from two-hundred years ago.

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paperback

Edinburgh castle over dramatic clouds, Scotland, UK