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.

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Book Review: Hell With The Lid Blown Off

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Hell With The Lid Blown Off Temp CoverHell With The Lid Blown Off

By Donis Casey

219 pages

Twisters pop up fast and furious in the flatlands of Oklahoma. In the summer of 1916, tornados weren’t the only thing tearing people apart and leaving a path of destruction in the wake.

Like any other town, Boyton had solid citizens, good for nothing citizens and secrets. The worst of the bunch was Jubal Beldon. He ran with a group of other troublemakers of whom he was the ringleader. He was mean and seemed to hold secrets of more than one of the townsfolk. When he ended up dead, it didn’t surprise many, but has the wrong person been blamed for his death?

Alafair Tucker was the polar opposite of Jubal. Mother of ten nearly grown children, she never hesitated when some child needed to come and live with her family for a while. She and her husband Shaw were good people that gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and turned the other cheek. Alafair also has a flair for solving mysteries, and she cannot stand to see someone wrongfully accused of murder even if they are confessing to the crime.

As the residents of Boyton pick up the pieces of their lives after the devastation of the twister, the search for the murderer and motive puts more strain on the overburdened town. Tensions rise as it appears that secrets may be revealed.

Hell With The Lid Blown Off starts a bit slow.  But like a twister, it gathers speed, snatching the reader up and swirling you right into the chaos. It is a different twist on a cozy mystery. Who could imagine a mother and grandmother in the early 1900s solving a mystery as handily as she bakes homemade biscuits or fries up some green tomatoes? Donis Casey keeps the reader’s interest while taking you on a journey back in time.

This is the seventh book in Casey’s Alafair Tucker series, but works well as a stand-alone read. I really enjoyed the voice of the characters. Having grandparents from the south, I can hear their voices in the dialog, it rings true to the era. An extra bonus were the recipes for some of the mouthwatering home cooked food at the end of the book. After the vivid descriptions, that make a reader hungry, you can make them to enjoy while reading one of the earlier books in the 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.

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.

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: 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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