Book Review: Justice in June by Barbara Levenson: Fast Paced Mystery

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Justice In June

Barbara Levenson

301 pages

Justice In June is the second book in Barbara Levenson’s Mary Magruder Katz Mystery Series. The book opens with a dead informant and criminal defense attorney Mary Magruder Katz getting a call from Judge Elizabeth Maxwell asking for a meeting ASAP.

Judge Maxwell asks Mary to defend her in a hush/hush case that could ruin her career or possibly send her to jail. Added to the extra stress of possibly losing the case, Mary might have to depend on her ex to retrieve some information that could point her in the direction of the real criminal instead of the judge. Unfortunately, this information may cost Mary more than an uncomfortable liaison with the guy that dumped her.

While fretting over the fate of her case with the judge she has more issues. Her hot Cuban boyfriend, Carlos, asks Mary to see why they are holding a friend of his family, Luis Corona, after an altercation on an international flight. Thinking this is just a case of mistaken identity or some other reasonable explanation, she agrees. Within a few hours, she finds herself knee deep in a federal case. The feds are accusing Corona of terrorism and are preparing to move him without benefit of a lawyer or a hearing. Kate sees him for a brief time before the Secret Service arrives. When she leaves the jailhouse, she walks into a barrage of TV and newspaper reporters asking her why she is defending a terrorist.

Meantime, Carlos has a group of people suing him for not having the condos that his company is building completed on time. Additionally, someone just might be trying to hurt Mary. She does not know if it is from one of her current cases, one of her past cases or just some random acts of violence. She is exhausted and understandably so. Mary has more defendants than she has time for and more troubles then there are gators in the Everglades.

As you can imagine, this novel goes from zero to 60 as soon as you turn the first page. To say it is fast paced is an understatement. Levenson does not sacrifice great writing for speed, she keeps up no matter how fast the plot is moving and no matter how many twists and turns it takes.

Her characters are believable and easy to care about. I want Mary to come out the winner, and feel awful when she has so much on her plate she starts forgetting things like court dates. Who hasn’t had that kind of week? At least mine don’t include death threats and my mom not talking to me because she thinks I am defending a terrorist.

This is the second novel I have read by Barbara Levenson. I read her third Mary Magruder Katz novel, Outrageous October last year and loved it. I have not read the first in the series, Fatal February, but still plan to do so.  The fourth in the Mystery Series, Neurotic November will be available in September 2014. Each book of this series can easily be a stand-alone novel. As you have probably noticed, I read Levenson’s third, then second, then will probably read the fourth, then first book of this series. I don’t feel as though I’ve been confused or missed anything by not reading them in order. Let’s face it, who doesn’t enjoy eating dessert before dinner sometimes, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy dinner also because I ate in a different order.

In my review of Outrageous October, I urged mystery fans looking for a new series to try Ms. Levenson’s books, and still stand by that recommendation. Both of the books I have read in this series are well written, keep me guessing and have characters I care about. Mary, Carlos and Sam the dog can entertain mystery lovers for as many books as Levenson is willing to write for us.

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.

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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: Muzzled by Eileen Brady

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Muzzled (A Kate Turner D.V.M. Mystery) Product Details

Eileen Brady

Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN-9781464201844

219 pages Genre: Mystery

 Eileen Brady’s first novel is the pick of the litter when it comes to new cozies out for the summer. Muzzled has a fast moving plot with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.

Dr. Kate Turner, Oak Falls Veterinary Hospital’s newest employee has her hands full. She knew filling in for old Doc Anderson while he took a cruise around the world included making house calls.  However, finding dead bodies while working at his small, upstate New York clinic was never part of the deal.

During a routine house call checking on champion Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Kate walks into the bloody scene of their owner’s deaths. This is much more than she bargained for. The deaths are quickly deemed a murder/suicide, but she has her doubts and sets out to prove to the authorities they were mistaken. She was right, but unfortunately, this puts her on top of their list of suspects. Especially after another person is shot and the weapon is found in Kate’s possession.

The list of suspects and motives grows, drudging up secrets kept for years by the residents of Oak Falls. Meanwhile, Kate goes about her daily routine of the busy veterinary practice.  Will she end up being the next victim, as she gets closer to discovering the secret that will reveal the killer?

As if she did not have enough going on, unwanted men intrude to complicate Kate’s solitary life. They include her ratty ex that shows up causing problems, a cat loving scary biker dude and a hunky Italian who is engaged to someone else. Could one of them end up being her love interest? I cannot wait to read more about them in the Brady’s next book.

Brady layered eccentric characters and pets throughout her novel. Kate can interact with this crazy crew of human and furry friends and foes as stand-alone elements or within ongoing spots of humor and interest in future books of this series. One of my personal favorites is Little Man. He is a well-dressed Chihuahua, for whom owner Daphne (appropriately Daffy for short) sews “his and her matching” outfits.

Muzzled is a 2013 Discover Mystery Award Winner. Once you read it, you’ll discover why. It is a doggone good mystery!

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: Death Spiral by Janie Chodosh

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Death SpiralDeath Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery

Janie Chodosh

Poisoned Pencil (An imprint of Poisoned Pen Press)

ISBN-9781929345007

301 pages Genre: YA Mystery

 Faith Flores on the surface is an angry, angst filled high school student. In reality, she is so much more. She recently moved in with her aunt after her mother’s apparent drug over dose death. For the first time in her life she lives in a home without roaches or drug paraphernalia, has good food instead of junk purchased from street vendors and a chance for a stable life with her aunt. How could this bright young woman possibly not see the opportunities now available to her?

Everyone knows her mother was a heroin addict. Faith would bet her life that her mother was clean at the time of her death. She was in an experimental program that was helping her kick the habit. Why did the police find drugs at their apartment after her death? Faith is convinced it had something to do with the program her mom was on and is determined to prove that she did not die of a drug overdose, but from something gone terribly wrong with the treatments they were giving her.

She grudgingly goes to school, even though she is bright and extraordinarily gifted in science, but has trouble focusing because she cannot help going over the events of her mother’s death. She makes a few unlikely friends. Anj , a very together girl that seems to do everything right. Her clothes, makeup, studies all scream college bound preppie, but she has taken a reluctant Faith under her wing.  Then there is the new boy, Jesse. Under the grunge exterior is a smart, quick-witted doctor’s son who is predestined to follow his father’s footsteps.

Unexpected Faith gets a call from, Melinda, one of her mom’s junkie friends who is in the same experimental program that her mom was in. When Melinda turns up dead, Faith will risk her own life to expose the clinic’s responsibility in the two deaths. Afraid for the safety of her aunt and her two newfound friends, she pushes them away from her as she descends deeper into the illegal activities and the cover-up that she is discovering with her research. People involved with the clinic are turning up dead and Faith might be next.

Death Spiral is Janie Chodosh’s first novel and the first in her Faith Flores Science Mystery Series. Not only does this book appeal to the YA crowd, but adults will also enjoy the underlying tension as Faith tries to adjust to her new life without the mother she truly loved and how close she spirals away from all of the good aspects of her life forsaking them to go up against something much bigger than she imagined.

This wonderfully written, fast paced mystery does not shove boring facts at the reader, but mixes them masterfully in. Chodosh takes on the genetics of addiction much like her characters would, it is obvious she has done her homework . Her author notes state she has …”strived to be scientifically accurate” as well as lists the things that are fiction. I love that she does that because readers are often left wondering which part, if any, is accurate. She also suggests learning more by visiting the Genetic Science Learning Center and their website.

Faith could have easily been a character that the readers do not like. That is far from true. Her rough edges are merely there to keep herself and others from getting hurt. She is smart, tenacious and loyal. She will stand up well in the next books in Chodosh’s series.

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 Second Letter by Robert Lane

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The Second Letter

The Second Letter

Robert Lane

Mason Alley Publishing, LLC

ISBN-13:9780615841885

323 pages Genre: Mystery

 

Robert Lane opens The Second Letter in 1961with a hand-carried letter delivered to the widow of a Secret Service agent. Dorothy Harrison lives a good life in Florida, and follows the instructions of her dead husband’s friend, a CIA agent, regarding the letter. Is it about her husband’s death or just a government secret that could be used against the United States?

Along with her gardener, she hides the letter in a safe place. They do not open it, intuitively knowing it contains secret government information that could affect the Secret Service or other government agencies. And possibly information about her husband she doesn’t want to know.

Fast forward from 1961 to present day.  Dorothy Harrison’s home is now a museum. It is broken into one night without an apparent robbery.

Enter Jake Travis, an ex-military man living on Florida’s coast. His ex-Army commander contacts him with an “off the books” mission. Find the mysterious fifty-year-old letter that was taken during the Harrison Museum robbery.

It is being held by Raydel Escobar, a shady millionaire that is attempting a trade with the IRS – they get the letter, he gets the tax evasion charges dropped as well as the slate wiped clean of all the money he owes the government.

Travis is on Escobar like a dog on a meat truck. With the help of his girlfriend Kathleen his neighbor Morgan, and his partner Garrett they get close to Escobar, discovering he has many secrets that are much worse than hiding money from the IRS.

The question is, how far will Travis go to retrieve a letter that is possibly of no consequence today? He may be risking his relationship with Kathleen and the lives of those closest to him if he keeps hounding Escobar and his associates.

I loved this book. The first of I hope many from Robert Lane. His characters are sharp, witty and have a depth that many authors can’t or don’t often give them. Travis has a tortured soul. We get glimpses into his past through his comments and actions. He treads softly around alcohol must have been a problem for him at one point in his life. Escobar is the character you love to hate. He has an unusual soft side that shows up when least expected. There is a fabulous tie-in to the 1960’s in Escobar’s choice in music. It becomes the soundtrack of the book, reminding the reader where the story started and where it will circle back to end.

Lane uses dialog and descriptions beautifully. For example, of all the ways to describe the hot Florida sun, Lane chooses “…I lowered the blind to block the sun that assaulted our bodies like white bread in a toaster”. This is just a small sample of the authority and realism he commands with his words.

He must be amazing sharp-witted, because I suspect the voice of Travis is close to his own. Humor and sarcasm go hand in hand when Travis opens his mouth. This often gets him in trouble, but he does not really seem to mind.

If this is a glimpse into the head of Robert Lane, I’d love to attend a dinner party where he is in present and sit back and listen. Maybe even verbally spar if the occasion warrants – but I accept defeat in advance.

His next book, Cooler Than Blood is scheduled for release Fall 2014. I will be the first in line to get it.

 

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: Poisoned Ground by Sandra Parshall

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Poisoned Ground

A Rachel Goddard Mystery

Sandra Parshall

Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN-9781464202261287

288 pages

Genre: Mystery

Poisoned Ground starts with a bang. Literally. Veterinarian Rachel Goddard arrives at one of her closest friend’s home for a routine call to find her with a shotgun in her hand. Robert McClure, president of the local bank is standing stock still on the business end of that gun.

While Rachel tries to defuse the situation, twin shots ring out from a neighboring farm. An elderly husband and wife are found dead. It cannot be murder/suicide, but who would murder this kind couple? Apparently, more people than you would think for more reasons than you would associate with a small town.

To begin with, there is a big land deal in the works for Mason County, Virginia. A developer wants to buy up all of the prime land, paying much more than the residents would ever hope to see in a lifetime. Half of them are ready and willing to sign on the dotted line. But the other half have dug in their heels, willing to protect the family farms with their dying breaths.  And they might have to.

When Rachel’s husband Tom, the newly elected sheriff, begins investigating the murders, everyone believes it is because of the land deals. Digging deeper, he finds illegal marijuana being grown and distributed, old love affairs and even cold case murders muddying up his findings.  Neighbors are pitted against neighbor in this once peaceful town. Protests lead to arrests and lifelong friendships are tested.

At first glance, this is a comfortable cozy mystery.  While it has some of the elements, Rachel gets involved with the murders deeper than she should; it has many more plot lines that add depth and layers. When Tom digs into the past of some of the residents, the sub-plot adds a richness that most cozies do not have.

I really enjoyed reading this as a standalone book having never read any of Parshall’s previous novels. There were twists and turns that kept me guessing until the last  few pages . As an avid reader of mysteries; it is often evident to me who the killer is within the first half of the book. Not this one! There were so many subtle suspects I kept getting it wrong (much to my delight) until almost the end of the book.

This is the sixth in Parshall’s  Rachel Goddard Mystery Series.  I haven’t read her other works, but didn’t feel gaps in the story or characters. Enjoying Poisoned Ground as much as I did, I will seek out her previous novels. As bonus to anyone that collects autographed books – personally, I love them and am very excited when I get one to add to my collection – you can to go her website http://sandraparshall.com/ where you can purchase signed copies or signed bookplates. Summer is coming; you may want to order several.

 

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: Montooth 3 Red Cross of Gold by Robert Jay

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Montooth 3 Red Cross of Gold

Robert Jay

Cloverleaf Corporation

ISBN-978-0-989117-0-4

512 pages

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Monthooth 3, Red Cross of Gold is the third book in the Montooth series by award winning author Robert Jay. He begins this book with The Crew – a group of high achieving high school students on the cusp of graduation. The story continues through their college years, ending in graduation and the beginning of their adulthood.

The main story line is laid out for the reader in the first chapter when an experienced archer commits a murder. This sets the stage for Carty (the main character of the series) to be accused of the crime. She and The Crew have to find the real killer in order to save her from arrest.

There are several other stories within the main storyline. First, there is the story of Montooth as told to The Crew by Sally, a woman that was a witch in one of the previous books, but now a close friend. Montooth , a giant Florida alligator is the star of a group of fables written by Sally’s ancestors. This story features bees and bears. It is a typical fable with a moral at the end.

There are also two large sections of history interspersed with the book. One is the story of hidden gold and a society called the Templars of Scotland, dating back to 1307 and the more recent history of the overthrow of Cuba’s government. Both portions of history tied to the main story. The Templars via Sally and her family fortune and Cuba by Elena, Carty’s best friend and roommate, explain various plot points and turns. To me, this book felt like it should have been broken up into two novels as the first half is almost a separate story from the half about Cuba.

It wasn’t difficult to pick up the characters or backstory without reading the previous books in the series. What was difficult for me was the long sections of history that read like a textbook instead of a novel. It became rather dry to have so many pages of history without referring to the main story or characters, especially the chapters about the Templars. The Cuban portion was a bit more interesting because Elena and her brother were a part of the story at times.

As a work of fiction, the footnotes at the back of the book are not my favorite. Footnotes on the page don’t interrupt a reader as much has having to page back 400 pages to find the right reference. I understand the author’s need to explain history and people outside the text, but a work of fiction calls for the footnotes on the same page.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves delving a bit deeper into history than the typical historical novel.

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. Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

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