Book Review: Panthers Play for Keeps by Clea Simon

1 Comment

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

By Clea Simon

Poisoned Pen Press


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.

Book Review: Muzzled by Eileen Brady

Leave a comment

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

Eileen Brady

Poisoned Pen Press


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: Poisoned Ground by Sandra Parshall

Leave a comment

Poisoned Ground

A Rachel Goddard Mystery

Sandra Parshall

Poisoned Pen Press


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 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: Leave Tomorrow Behind by Judy Clemens

Leave a comment

Leave Tomorrow BehindLeave Tomorrow Behind

Judy Clemens

Poisoned Pen Press


279 pages

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Stella Crown, a hardworking, jeans and t-shirt kind of gal is caught up in nothing but trouble through no fault of her own. She owns a dairy farm that is bleeding her bank accounts dry.  The bank is not going to invest any more capital in what they see is a sinking ship. She loves her farm and her life, and just needs enough cash to pay the insurance premium.

She reluctantly asks her fiancé, Nick for some cash to keep things going until the farm becomes more solvent. He quickly agrees, much to the chagrin of his bossy sister Miranda.

Miranda is sure Stella is out for Nick’s money. Why else would she want to marry a man – albeit a gorgeous hunk of a man – who has MS? Simple, Stella loves him and he loves her.

Miranda is dead-set on planning a huge wedding for Nick and Stella. Nick just wants the two women in his life to quit fighting. Stella has dug in the heels of her barn weary boots, refusing to plan an extravagant wedding when she just wants a quiet, simple wedding.

Between sparing with her future sister-in-law, Stella has to spend time at the Fair. Zack, a young friend, has one of Stella’s calves in the 4H show. Things are heating up at the fair. First, one of the entries is the calf of a daughter of a local music producer. They purchase an expensive calf, have someone else raise it and then enter it as a shoe-in to win the top prize away from much more deserving 4H members. Someone attempts to stop the family from winning. How far will they go?

Just when Stella thinks the fair can’t get any worse, she stumbles upon the dead body of a young singer who performed at the fair just hours before. Did her death have something to do with the calves? Was it wrapped up in the craziness of the Lovely Miss Pennsylvania Pageant, which the singer was supposed to judge the next day at the fair? Stella is knee-deep in more than manure but is determined to find out what happened. With a bit of luck she might help find the killer before someone else dies.

Leave Tomorrow Behind is Clemens’ sixth in her Stella Crown Mystery series. She explains enough background to get a new reader up to speed, but not too much. Her wit is evident with the sharp quips and comments that come to the page via Stella. By weaving several interesting storylines together including pageant moms, poisoned animals, planning a wedding she creates a homegrown quilt of quirky elements that work.

No spoilers, but I loved the end.


Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

Book Review: An Island of Illusions by Jennifer L. Jennings

Leave a comment

Product Details


An Island of Illusions

Jennifer L. Jennings

Genre: Cozy Mystery

Reviewed by Laura Hartman


Sarah Woods thought she was on a vacation with her husband in Hawaii. Actually, she was tricked by Carter, a PI she worked with in the past, into coming to the island to help him find the kidnapped grandson of a doctor. All of the leads have gone cold, but Dr. Sanborn thinks the person that took his grandson might be in Hawaii.

Sarah has helped Carter before, and is needed again. Sarah’s family doesn’t know she is a sleuth, but her husband knows they haven’t been sharing much lately except arguments. Add Max to the mix – a sexy PI that has worked with Sarah in the past and would like to share more than work with her.

Jennings adds a mix of  interesting characters to a well plotted mystery making a great cozy.

This is the first time I’ve read one of Jennings novels, but am looking forward to picking up another one soon. Thanks to BookBub ( who offered her book as one of the “books of the day” to introducing me to her work.


The GenReview website and My Reviews

Leave a comment

A few posts ago I told of the end of The GenReview. Because the wonderful writer and editor Tony Burton allowed all his reviewers full copywrite rights on our reviews, I decided to add the reviews to my blog that can no longer be seen on his website.

I hope some of you find a new author to follow or a book to enjoy by reading one of themlots of books.

Book Review: Mixed Signals by Jane Tesh

Leave a comment

MIXED_SIGNALS_march5thMixed Signals

Jane Tesh

Poisoned Pen Press


233 pages

$14.95 (soft cover)

Reviewed by Laura Hartman


Genre: Mystery

Private Investigator David Randall has his Christmas plate overflowing with problems instead of sweet treats. Mixed Signals starts out with Randall listening to Camden, friend and landlord, practice his solo for a Christmas concert. The sound of Handel’s Messiah is quickly drowned out by Camden’s screams of horror upon finding his friend Jared brutally stabbed to death.

Christmas is pushed aside as Randall is on the case when Boyd Taylor, one of the suspects, hires him to find the real killer. Tensions rise when Camden’s psychic powers kick in with a vengeance giving him reason to believe he might be linked somehow with the murder.

Randall digs deep into the case with the help of his girlfriend Kary. She does the leg work at the library, then surprisingly joins a group of people in Parkland that formed a “Super Hero Society” as “Wonder Star” to help find The Parkland Avenger – who is either good or bad reminiscent of Spiderman – depending upon the opinion of the characters.

Randall has a list of suspects as long as his arm.  The victim was fresh from jail, serving time for breaking into the Parkland Museum of History. The editor of the local paper, his son, a local journalist hungry for the “big story” to cap her career and the Avenger are all persons of interest.

With all of this going on, Christmas elbows in with the arrival of Randall’s mother. Clad in animal prints, mom has changed. All of the residents of 302 Grace Street love her. Her son would rather she hadn’t changed and fears she will talk about his young daughter’s death in a car accident, which he avoids thinking or talking about.

This mystery has twists and turns that all lead to the killer if you pay attention. When the clues were revealed, each little event becomes clear to the reader. I really enjoyed spending the holidays with Randall and Camden in Parkland.

The only fault I can find with this fun read was a bit of confusion about the characters. This is the second book in Jane Tesh’s Grace Street Mystery series. I would have liked to read a page or two of flashback to have more of a sense of where Cam, Randall, Kary and the rest of the residents of 302 Grace are coming from. Little glimpses of each character are sprinkled throughout the book, so it was a treasure hunt finding them.

I am looking forward to reading the first in Tesh’s series, Stolen Hearts to fill in the gaps.

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 © 2013 Laura Hartman

Seasons change and so do I….

Leave a comment

Maybe it is the change in seasons, but I feel like trying my hand at writing a different genre. Fall is just around the corner. In northern Illinois, we have distinct seasons. It’s a known fact that they may overlap one another, or flip like light switch. Yesterday it was in the upper 80’s and muggy when I went to work. After dinner last night it was in the lower 60’s and downright chilly. The good news is the air conditioning has been turned off again and the windows opened to let fresh air sweep through the house.

For the last year and a half I’ve been writing children’s picture books. I have four decent manuscripts (read no one has snatched one up yet). One has gone out four times. Another is the subject of a query letter I sent last week. Still holding my breath, awaiting a response. The other two are ok. They need to be awesome. I printed them out this AM and will be cutting them up to tape into mock-ups to see how they need to be tweaked hopefully tomorrow.

Getting back to the urge to change genres, I feel the urge to begin a middle grade or YA novel. Recently, there have been many requests on the websites I frequent for both of these. The idea has been rolling around in my head since last year about a young boy with an unusual talent that scares and fascinates him. I need to flesh out his character and see where he wants to go.

Aside from books, I am exceedingly pleased to have one of my short stories chosen for an anthology by Untreed Reads Publishing. It felt right to work on a humorous murder story. My voice seems to want to tell stories like this.

Perhaps I should shake the dust off of the cozy mystery I started a few years ago. It might be fun to see if I can run with it.

Like the crazy weather here, I am changing my mind every few minutes. So far I am planning three projects for fall.

Project 1: Punch up my picture books by adding action, making sure there are enough changes in scenes to give the illustrators wonderful visuals and cut out anything that doesn’t move the story forward.

Project 2: Flesh out the character in my head, decide if he fits better in middle school or high school (my instinct is middle school) and see where he takes me.

Project 3: Read through the chapters I’ve completed on my cozy and tear it apart. I know it has to be reworked, but need to see what is worth saving.

I don’t know what order I’ll proceed. But as I’ve told you all before, I am crazy when it comes to meeting self imposed (or other) goals. As with my knitting projects, my writing progress will fair much better once I have outlined my goals.

I’ll keep you posted 🙂

Creating Through the Pain

writing, inspiration, RSD advocacy, with a sprinkling of whimsy

Making Things Work

Tales From a Cabinetmaker's Life

Tim Stout

Writer & Editor


The way revenge is best served; the way a war was fought; the way a story should be told. ©

French Twisted Woman

Paris in Pennsyltucky

Hiking Photography

Beautiful photos of hiking and other outdoor adventures.

Dartmoor Yarns

Tales about a creative life on Dartmoor


Middle Grade books and Middle-Grade authors


knitting, traveling and the stuff that happens in between


the knitwear designs of Cheryl Toy

My Aberdeen Garden

My Scottish garden and further afield.


Mini magazine online

Erika Wassall here... The Jersey Farm Scribe

Author, Freelance Writer, Entreprenur... LIVER of life