Book Review: Deeper Than The Grave

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Excellent Mystery – had to post on both my blogs!

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Deeper Than The Grave (A Tai Randolph Mystery)

By Tina Whittle

294 PagesDeeper Than The Grave

Tai Randolph is the owner of a gun shop in Atlanta that specializes in Civil War re-enactment relics along with run-of-the-mill firearms and ammo. Formerly owned by her Uncle Dexter, Tai has organized the inventory and has settled in, making the business profitable in the process.

Her boyfriend, Trey Seaver, has beefed up security for the shop. As a corporate security agent, and former FBI agent, he is obsessed with keeping Tai safe. She finds his security measures equally aggravating and endearing, but thinks he has crossed the line due to problems he has had in the past, including an accident, that has left him with a brain injury.

Tai admits the security is good to have around the shop as there have been several times her system has detected attempted breaches. She suspects the neighboring business…

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Review: The Good Know Nothing – Not Quite Hardboiled, But Tasty

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The Good Know Nothing

By Ken Kuhlkenhttp://www.poisonedpenpress.com/the-good-know-nothing/

277 pages

Detective Tom Hickey worked for a police department that not only enforced the law, but also often became judge and jury. It was 1936. Prohibition didn’t prevent drinking, it was hidden in plain sight and readily available. Hickey’s boss and most of the department were dirty. Turning guns on whiskey runners that didn’t pay them off, the law became lawless.

The Police Chief called Hickey in, gave him a rifle, and told him to kill a man. He left without argument or the intension of following orders. Hickey has troubles and he doesn’t want to add murder to the list. At the top of the list was the discontent of his wife, Madeline. The former records clerk was now a mother and a sweet singer that got a taste of show biz, savoring every morsel. Hickey is sensing an increasing distance in their relationship. Their young daughter Elizabeth is the joy of his life.

The other woman in his life is Florence, his younger sister. He was her protector and guardian when his father left them with their abusive mother. Once a wild thing, Florence has settled down and has a good life. The siblings are thrust into the past with the arrival of a book that was most likely written by their father. Hickey becomes obsessed with the mystery surrounding his father; every door that opens pulls him in deeper. Will he cross the line, losing everything dear to him just to find the long hidden secrets of the father that abandoned them?

This is the sixth and last Tom Hickey novel. It is the first I have read, and absolutely works as a stand-alone story.  The only thing that confused me at times was the number of characters. I can assume that some of them were developed in previous books. At times, I had to go back several pages to get a better understanding of some of the roles the characters played.

Hickey and his immediate family were well-defined and developed. Kuhlken made me fall in love with the precocious Elizabeth. Strong willed Florence has a wonderful soft spot. She works with young girls and her interactions with her niece showcases their close and loving relationship.

At times, this novel appeared to be noir. It was almost, but not quite dark enough. I found the story being bogged down with the telling of it at times. It was kind of struggle of to be or not to be hardboiled, but only at times.

I liked the short chapters. When things got rolling the story pops to life with page turning action. The ending was unexpected and satisfying.

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.

History wrapped in mystery draped in SciFi: Book Review Dragonfly

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DragonFly (Missions of the DragonFly Squadron #1)

Written by Charles A. Cornell 

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Dragonfly starts off with a bang – the train carrying Pilot Officer Veronica (Ronnie) Somerset to her newly assigned post is attacked by Nazi planes. She makes it to the station, then on to the Royal Naval Station Enysfarne, a castle high above the Cornish coastline.

After establishing she is indeed a pilot, not a cook, Ronnie learns she will be testing the latest British plane, the Dragonfly.  It is the furthest thing from ordinary. Able to travel on land or under the sea, it boasts the ability to refuel either in the sea or during a rainstorm because runs on ordinary water.  Nigel Pennbridge, the resident scientist/inventor introduces Ronnie to the “War Office’s Department of Experimental War Technology”.  It is used to create powerful shells and bombs to use against the impending Nazi invasion of Britain.

Hitler also depends upon the occult to advise him in battle. The cards warn him of the women that will get in his way. He is not concerned, because the Nazi’s have secret weapons of their own.  Imagine robots created out of human prisoners of war that can no longer think for themselves then enhanced with robotic parts. The Blutskreiger are all that and horrifyingly more.

Cornell’s battle scenes remind me of Clive Cussler’s style. Just when your heart stops thumping, thinking the good guys are finally safe Cornell ramps up the action again. The excitement and tension created puts the reader in the jump seat right next to the fearless pilots of the Dragonfly.

Dragonfly is so much more than battles, Cornell touches on the occult, a sect of Ancient Druids, a connection to the Royal Family and a love interest or two. It was satisfying to have a woman RAF Pilot expertly fighting against the enemy. I think the YA audience will love this book. It has something for everyone. History wrapped in mystery draped in SciFi makes Dragonfly a fast-paced winner.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful artwork of Jose “Cutangus” Garcia, Jordy Lakiere and Andrew Lounds bring the scenes to life.  The illustrations at the beginning of each chapter as well as the vintage photographs enhanced my reading experience to the next level. I can imagine Dragonfly as a summer blockbuster at my local theater in the not too distant future.

 

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

Ancient Alaskan Mystery: Book Review – The Spirit and The Skull by J.M. Hayes

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The Spirit and The Skull

By J.M. Hayes

Poisoned Pen Press

184  pages Genre: Mystery

Surviving in Paleolithic times was a daily struggle, almost impossible as an individual. Bands of undocumented immigrants, calling themselves The People, depend on each member of the group to survive. They place their trust in Raven their aging Spirit Man for guidance from the Spirit World. As the narrator of the novel, he allows the reader to see his strengths as well as his shortcomings as he tries to set The People on the right path.

He returns from a scouting mission to find one of the leaders of The People dead. Murder is unheard of and an unspeakable action among them, yet it has happened. Raven has the task of finding the killer so the remaining leaders can either banish or kill him. This task becomes more complicated than he first imagines after finding a doll much like a voodoo doll with the body. This could mean there is an evil spirit or witch among them.

His investigation of the murder unearths secrets of The People that he does not want to become known, worried that this would only compound the problems the band is having. Unsure of his actual ability to find the murder, he begins having dreams in which he is only a skull in modern times.  He is not sure if it is a dream or a glimpse into his future, but either way it is disturbing.

As if Raven did not have enough complicating his life, he encounters who he believes to be the Goddess, Mother Earth. She tells him he must go back to his band and find the murderer. This has to be completed within the next 24 hours. His urgency compounded with yet another murder; he sets events in motion that will change the lives of The People forever.

Hayes does a fabulous job of showing the reader everything in Raven’s world. He brings the reader into the world of Raven and The People with vivid details of both every day events and rituals believed to be part of the immigrant’s lives.

The reason I loved this book is the fact that it is so different from most murder mysteries. Hayes masterfully takes the reader to ancient times then draws you back to modern day with Raven’s dreams or visions. At times the plot was moving so quickly, I could hardly wait to turn the page to see what happened next.

Google Images from www.seattlepi.com

Google Images from http://www.seattlepi.com

Be sure to read the afterword about the inspiration for writing The Spirit and The Skull. Maybe the Spirits spoke to him while he slept close to the Arctic Circle so he could bring this mystery to life for our enjoyment.

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.

Rollover by Susan Slater Keeps the Reader Guessing

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Rollover

Susan Slater

220 pages

Rollover by Susan Slater is the second book in the Dan Mahoney mystery series. Mahoney, an insurance investigator from Chicago, is sent by his company to Wagon Mound, New Mexico because a client’s necklace was stolen during a bank heist. United Life and Casualty will have to pay out a half a million dollars if the claim is valid, so they send out the best investigator they have.

Before Mahoney makes it into town, he and his Rottweiler, Simon are in a horrible accident that lands the investigator in the hospital. Simon is missing and Mahoney cannot communicate. Elaine, Mahoney’s girlfriend flies in to be with him. She helps him recover and stays to help him investigate the theft because he needs a hand and she really cares for him.

Mahoney talks to Gertrude Kennedy, the owner of the missing Tiffany necklace. It is a beautiful antique sapphire and diamond necklace designed by her grandfather as a gift to her grandmother. It has survived the fateful trip on board the Titanic. Gertie and her daughter Penelope really want Mahoney to find the necklace rather than pay the insurance money because it is priceless to them.

Things start heating up when Mahoney finds more questions than answers during his investigation. The thieves tunneled into the safe deposit box room instead of into the safe. The set up to the theft had to take so much time, it was quite possibly an inside job. For a tiny town, there is more than the usual number of suspects. Add attempted murder, kidnapping and an actual murder and this case may be too hot for Mahoney to handle.

Slater based her work of fiction on an actual unsolved bank robbery at the Norwest Bank in Wagon Mound, New Mexico in 1998. Like her fictional characters, the robbers tunneled into the safe deposit room instead of the safe. Unlike her work of fiction, the real bank robbery was never solved.

http://www.poisonedpenpress.com/five-oclock-shadow/

http://www.poisonedpen press.com/five-oclock-shadow/

I loved the story, pace and characters in this mystery. All of the craziness in the small town setting was totally believable, by the end of the novel, I suspected everyone except Mahoney and Elaine. The pace was faster than a rollover accident, I couldn’t put it down until I read one more chapter. Until Ms Slater writes her next book in the Dan Mahoney series, I will read her other books, Flash Flood, Five O’clock Shadow and O to 60. I suggest you do too.

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

Find Your Wings like the Women in The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

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The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd

Penguin

369 pages

Genre: Southern Historical Fiction

http://suemonkkidd.com/

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is one of the best books, if not THE best book I have read this year. It is the story of Sarah Grimke, daughter of a Charleston judge in the early 1800s. Even as a young

It is also the story of Hetty Handful Grimke, the young slave girl that was given to the unwilling Sarah on her 11th birthday. The girls grow up at the same time and place, but they were forever separated by their positions in society. No matter how kind Sarah was in private to Hetty, she still slept on the floor, was punished by Sarah’s mother for infractions, and was not free.

Secretly, Sarah teaches her to read. Because it is against the law for slaves to read and write, it becomes a blessing and a curse to Hetty.

Sarah’s father is indulgent with his library and amused by her abolitionist views until they start disrupting his life. Seen as a young woman who does not know her place, the liberties formerly given to her are taken away. Her hopes of becoming a lawyer are dashed. Distraught, she rebels further, but to no avail.

Sarah and Hetty continue to chafe against the chains (both figuratively and literally) that society imposes upon them. When Sarah begins shaping her younger sister with her anti-slave views, her mother takes desperate measures to put a stop to any activity she deems unseemly for a young woman of her stature.

Sue Monk Kidd based this work of fiction on the lives of two very real sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke were abolitionists, writers and members of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States. The Grimke girls are fascinating, intelligent revolutionaries that continued working towards freeing slaves no matter what sacrifices they had to make to do it.

This book is painfully intense at times. The dialog and descriptions of the torture of slaves gave me chills as I read them. I cannot imagine the horror of having my child whipped for some minor infraction. This novel has many layers, some beautiful, some that will bring tears to the reader’s eyes, but all are necessary to tell us the whole story of Hetty and Sarah.

Be sure to read the author’s notes at the end of the book. She tells us which parts of the book were taken directly from Sarah’s writings and letters, which characters were based directly on real people and gives the reader more resources regarding the Grimke family. The Invention of Wings is an exquisite novel. Sue Monk Kidd combines the stories of Sarah, Hetty and Angelina as skillfully and beautifully as Hetty’s mama stitched her story quilts.

I am a huge fan of Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve read The Secret Life of Bees, The Mermaid Chair and Traveling with Pomegranates. Like The Invention of Wings, each of her novels pulled me in from the first page and didn’t let me go until the last. Her lastest is no exception.

Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

Do Not Avoid Avoidable Contact by Tammy Kaehler

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Avoidable ContactBook Review: 

Avoidable Contact  (A Kate Reilly Mystery)

Tammy Kaehler

Poisoned Pen Press

296 pages Genre: Mystery

Kate Reilly, racecar driver and coincidental sleuth, is back in Tammy Kaehler’s third book in the series. Avoidable Contact is set in Florida, during the “24 Hours of Daytona” race that combines drivers from NASCAR and American Le Mans Series (ALMS). They are driving prototypes and custom cars like the Corvettes that Kate’s team drives. The race also allows drivers that are not exactly professional drivers, but have qualified and won enough other races to participate in this one.

Before Kate hits the track, her boyfriend Stuart is critically injured by a hit and run driver. He is in surgery, with a small chance of survival so his role of the Series Vice President of Operations has to be covered by a couple of shady characters so the race can go on. Kate decides she will do her stints in the race because she cannot do anything other than win for Stuart.

To add to her distress, her estranged birth father, whom she just met at the end of the second book of the series, has his racing team there to compete also. Her obnoxious cousins as well as half-sister are also there, which add another layer of distraction for Kate. She is not comfortable around her family in any situation, and is worried they might be part of the illegal activities that are going on.

As the race gets going, Kate learns that Stuart’s hit and run might not have been an accident, and it could be someone from the Series that attempted to kill him. Stuart’s condition,  as well as rumors of bribes, send Kate into a race with time to find the guilty person before the enod of the car race. She may have to team up with an unlikely ally to get the job done.

Like the 24-hour race, this book is paced a bit slower than the last in the series. The drivers, drive competitively throughout the race, but do not kick it into overdrive until the last few hours because the drivers and cars have to last for the entire race. Because the book was only set at the racetrack, it did not have the change of setting or the lapse of time to add interest. I suspect someone more into racing than I am would have enjoyed the details of the race more.

What I loved was the way Kaehler added text messages instead of dialog or phone calls in places that were appropriate. This mixed it up a bit to add interest and it really worked for me. The last few chapters, like the race it was about, were fast paced and nail biting. The action on and off the track is roars to a conclusion as the checkered flag is waved.

I liked Avoidable Contact; there are plenty of suspects in cars and around the pits to keep the mystery lover in me guessing until the last chapters.

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: 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

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