Book Review: This Private Plot by Alan Beechey

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This Private Plot  by Alan Beechey

Poisoned Pen PressThis Private Plot

ISBN-978146202407

305 pages Genre: Mystery

Alan Beechey’s latest, This Private Plot,is a wonderful romp. His character,  Oliver Swithin, is a children’s book author that is currently working on a trivia book. We travel with him to his childhood home in a small village appropriately named Synne, which I am pretty sure is pronounced “sin”. Swithin is with his girlfriend, a police officer that reports to Swithin’s uncle, who is also on holiday in Synne.

While out on a naked midnight romp in the “Shakespeare Race” an authentic turf maze, our couple finds Dennis Breedlove, a former children’s television personality, hanged. The police think it is suicide, because a blackmail note is found. It turns out that Breedlove is actually the blackmailer.

Swithin is on the trail of the killer. Several trails actually. Convinced that one of the blackmailers is the killer, Swithin tries to match up suspects with the nursery rhymes Breedlove used to identify them. With the help of his girlfriend and unheeded warnings from his uncle to stop, he discovers that Synne has more than its share of secrets. They include a strange writing group run by the Vicar, a couple which may be the same person, a recluse monk and possibly his own family.

All of sleuthing is going on while Swithin’s brother is trying to prove there were two William Shakespeares and his uncle is starring in a local theater production of Hamlet. There are great tidbits of information on Shakespeare as well as other bits of trivia shared by Swithin while this story unfolds.

Beechey is a master of double-entendre. From names such as Lesbia Weguelin (to which I read “let’s be a wigglin’) to the name of the actual town. Swithin talks often about living in Synne. More than once, I stopped to read a particularly funny line to whoever was near me at the moment.

This mystery is so wonderfully British in the spirit of Agatha Christie with the humor of P.G. Wodehouse, I simultaneously laughed and was intrigued. At times, this book was a bit bawdy, but never graphic, I did not find it offensive. Deliciously tangle plot that is perfectly tied up by the end of the book, with a beautiful, unexpected twist at the end.

This is the third book in Beechley’s Oliver Swithin Mystery Series. It was the first one I’ve read and worked very well as a stand-alone mystery. Swithin is an endearingly wacky character. I want to see more of him and the other characters that Beechley skillfully brings to life  .

 

Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault In Our Stars

John Green

Penguin Books

313 pages Genre: YA

 

Seventeen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster is dying.  She tells us in the first chapter. “…depression isn’t a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying.”  Due to her depression and dying for that matter, her mother and doctor want her to be in a support group. She grudgingly goes, pretends to listen then escapes back home to enjoy the latest addition of her favorite reality show.

Ironically, the only friends she really can relate to are those in the dreaded support group. Isaac who has a rare cancer that will leave him blind and his friend Augustus Waters, a newcomer to the group, make her feel as normal as she can while dragging her ever present oxygen tank behind her.

Augustus was once a star basketball player until cancer claimed one of his legs. He is a video playing, wise cracking guy. Hazel opens up to him in a way she has not connected with anyone in a long time. She tells him of her favorite book, Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. It haunts her because Van Houten ends the book in the middle of a sentence and Hazel feels she has to know the end before she dies.

Van Houten lives in Amsterdam. Gus and Hazel end up connecting with him, but find the source of her obsession may just not be worthy of either of their efforts.

The most striking thing about this book is the concern Hazel has for her parents after she is gone. She is afraid they will divorce or maybe even curl up and die themselves because they no longer have anything to focus on after caring for a dying child for the last several years. This was not an egotistical assumption on her part, she is afraid she has robbed them of their lives.

Wise beyond her years, Hazel also wishes people will look at her and not see someone with cancer. She just wants to be Hazel Grace. That is so profound for a young adult novel. Hazel is wise beyond her years. Not afraid of dying, she is afraid of what her dying will do to anyone close to her. She feels like a bomb ready to explode so she keeps everyone she can at arm’s length so they won’t be hurt when she dies.

I highly recommend this book to young adults and adults. I especially recommend this book to anyone who has or has had a child with a serious illness. Speaking firsthand, it is difficult not to worry, coddle, make exceptions for and obsess about a sick child. Even when they get better, it is hard to see them as well. We need to look beyond the illness and at the person. No special treatment, no worrying about what they eat or don’t eat even though it is hard to treat them like their siblings.

Kudos go to John Green for writing a wonderfully emotional book from the viewpoint of a dying teenage girl. If I could give it more than five stars, I absolutely would.  If you have seen the movie, I beg you to read the book. Everyone has heard “the book is better than the movie”. Even though the movie was good (aside from the teens loudly trying to out- sob each other) but so many important plot points were left out,  you need to read this book.

Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

Book Review: The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil

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The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club

byBeach book Gil McNeil

We meet Jo MacKenzie when she is moving out of her London home. Her life changed forever with the death of her husband. The only problem is, her life would have changed anyway, because he was leaving her for the woman he was having an affair with. He told her upon his return from a business trip, promptly left her and unfortunately died in a car accident on the way to meet his lover.

Jo can no longer afford to continue her life in London, and doesn’t really want to. Her grandmother offers her a lifeline. She has a small cottage in a tiny village by the sea that Jo and her two small sons Archie and Jack can move into. Gran is also ready to retire and hand over the family knit shop to Jo, so the small family travels to an entirely new life.

Adjusting to a new home and job is difficult enough, but Jo has to contend with the ghost of her cheating husband, keeping him alive in the boy’s memories, all the while unable to express her anger and pain he caused her before his untimely demise. For years she had been covering his inadequacies as a husband and father and it appears she will have to do so the rest of her life.

Don’t mistake the overall theme of the story as sadness, that is far from the reality of the plot. Jo enjoys her quieter life away from London. Her friend, a television news personality, frequently comes to visit, bringing her own kind of crazy caring chaos that only a best friend can creates.

A domineering mother, grandma, sons and newfound friends round out her new life. Her children are delightfully ordinary. Bickering and teasing each other, getting into typical little boy trouble and begging for a dog.

Throughout all of the changes in her life, the knit shop becomes her constant source of satisfaction and growth. She makes subtle and not so subtle changes to the shop and inventory, forms a “Stitch and Bitch” group and becomes a private consultant-on-call to a famous resident of the village.

This thoroughly engrossing novel was a delight to read. Then characters have varied, interesting lives and goals, which work together in this small village. Readers can genuinely connect with them because most of them are ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, just making their way through their world. It is heartwarming to watch their growth and adaptation to the challenges they face, not always winning, but carrying on anyway.

You may think that you would have to know about or be interested in knitting to enjoy this book. I don’t believe you have to know a thing about it, there aren’t any technical issues that would prevent your enjoyment even if you have never picked up a pair of needles or a ball of wool.

I loved this book. My thanks go out to my daughter-in-law Andrea for giving it to me last Christmas. McNeil has written several books, including a newly published novel A Good Year for the Roses. I’m adding it to my wish list for next Christmas.

Published by Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN-10:1-4013-4080-6

404 pages

Genre: Fiction

 

Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

The Art of Blogosphere Conversation: Responding to Readers

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Great advice!

The Daily Post

All of a sudden, your growing blog is attracting likes, comments, and pingbacks, and the party is bubbling at your (blogging) house.

You think: People? Comments? Likes? Oh no, now what? How do I respond? I’m not much of a conversationalist.

There’s no need to wilt under social pressure. We’ve got some tips on how to keep the conversation real and flowing.

The Old Porch (CC BY-SA 2.0)The Old Porch (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Let’s take things one step at a time.

Note: this piece focuses on how you might handle constructive responses to your posts. Got trolls? Here’s some great advice on how to deal with them.

Likes

Likes are a nice way to show support for another’s post. How might you respond to a like? A reciprocal visit shows you care. Clicking on a liker’s Gravatar takes you to their Gravatar profile, where you can find their site (if they list one). Visit…

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Book Review: Panthers Play for Keeps by Clea Simon

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Panthers Play for Keeps (A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir)Panthers Play for Keeps cover

By Clea Simon

Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN-978059588703

243 pages Genre: Cozy Mystery

 Dog walker Pru Marlowe is a modern day Doctor Dolittle. She not only knows what dogs, cats, ferrets and other assorted animals are thinking, she can communicate with them without speaking via her thoughts if necessary. That is, of course, if they allow her in. Unwilling animals can block communications if they chose to.

This peculiar talent comes in handy when she is out training Spot to be a service dog, who happens to lead her to a dead body in the woods. The woman appears to have been killed by a mountain lion, puma or some other large cat that curiously have not been in the area for years.

Pru’s cranky cat insists that a big cat killed the woman, but Spot says there is something more nefarious going on. She believes him, and when she finds out the victim is an employee of the man that Spot is going to be helping, she uses that connection to do some sleuthing of her own.

Jim Creighton, the detective on the case is Pru’s sometimes boyfriend. Their relationship has more challenges than most. Spot’s foster mom has amorous intentions toward Jim, and even worse, Jim doesn’t know about Pru’s “gift”. He suspects something odd is going on when she gets information that would seem impossible to know and will not reveal her sources. How could she tell the practical police detective that she gets inside info from people’s pets?

Unfortunately, for Pru, she is putting herself in danger by trying to find the killer on her own, pushing Jim further away as the killer closes in.

The plot was full of twists, turns and red herrings. This makes for a quick, interesting read. The unusual gift of Pru’s ability to get information to solve crimes as well as learning every day facts is interesting and different. For instance, she finds out the “real” names of the dogs she walks, not the silly names humans gave them.

This is the fourth book in Clea Simon’s Pru Marlowe series. It started off a bit confusing to me as I read it as a one-off mystery, it took me a chapter to realize the animals were talking to Pru. There is history between Pru and Jim as well as with a rich gentleman/gangster that weaves in and out of the story. While some books give too much back-story for those who have not read the previous books, I feel this one doesn’t quite give me enough.

In the end, I found the twist on pet mysteries intriguing, and just might go check out the first three books in the series to get the real scoop on Jim and Pru’s relationship. If you prefer (or equally love) felines, Simon also writes two different feline mystery series.

Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

picture from cleasimon dot com

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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