Whispers of Vivaldi by Beverle Graves Myers

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Whispers of VivaldiWhispers of Vivaldi

A Tito Amato Mystery

Beverle Graves Myers

Poisoned Pen Press


288 pages

Genre: Mystery


Beverle Graves Myers brings 1745 Venice to life in her latest Tito Amato Mystery. Tito was once the toast of the town as the adored castrato of the Teatro San Marco. He lost his revered voice in an accident, and now assists the Maestro Torani preparing the theater and cast for each new production.

Teatro San Marco must compete against another Opera House for patrons as well as Senate support. Tito must find an opera that will not only sway the vote of the Senate, but also fill all of the seats during Carnival.

A relatively unknown young composer approaches him with a masterfully written opera entitled The False Duke. This could be exactly what Teatro San Marco needs to fill the house and avoid snuffing out the candles for the last time.

The opera is approved, buy with the stipulation that the new up-and-coming castrato in Naples, Angeletto, must be cast for the lead. Tito once again travels to negotiate the contract to bring the acclaimed male soprano to perform the lead role in The False Duke. Unfortunately, Tito’s problems begin to  multiply instead of diminish.

Something odd is going on with Maestro Torani. He seems to be hiding something, even from Tito. Someone attacks him, and then tragically murders him.

Tito is the main suspect of his beloved Maestro’s murder. Rumors swirl around the Teatro San Marco about both the new opera – could it be an original opera or stolen from the great Vivaldi? And could the celebrated Angeletto be a woman masquerading as a castrato? Amid all of these problems, Tito is banned from the Teatro, and from asking questions about the murder of the Maestro. He cannot stop looking for the killer – even if it puts him in mortal danger.

This is the sixth Tito Amato Mystery, but the first one I have read. It easily stands alone as a solid mystery. One might think from reading this review that it is just another cozy mystery set in an unusual location. That would actually be fine, I am the first to admit I love to curl up with a cozy, but this novel has much more depth than most cozies.

Ms Graves Myers takes us on a ride down the canals in a gondola, experiencing murder, adultery, deception and intrigue along with her characters. She paints rich, layered pictures with her words throughout this novel. The plot is served to the reader like a delicious, sometimes rowdy, lovely Italian feast. Each course is a joy to behold, sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter and wonderfully satisfying in the end.  Savor Whispers of Vivaldi, enjoying each chapter as it is laid out before you.

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: Dying to Know by TJ O’Connor

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Dying to KnowDying to Know, a Gumshoe Ghost Mystery

TJ O’Connor

Published by Midnight Ink, Imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD

ISBN  978-0-7387-3950-2

368 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Genre: Mystery

We have all heard that “Dead men tell no tales” (author unknown) but in TJ O’Connor’s breakout novel Dying to Know a dead man does tell a tale. A very entertaining tale to be exact.

The novel starts out with the bang. That bang is the gun that kills Detective Oliver Tucker (known as Tuck) when he gets up during the night to investigate a noise he hears downstairs. When he wakes up to see his dead body and crying wife, he knows that life – now death – will never be the same. His faithful black Lab Hercule can see him and hear him, but is confused when Tuck cannot play ball or pet him.

Once he gets more accustom to his new state, he is determined to find his killer. However, he needs help from his partner, known as Bear, who is acting very suspicious. Bear is hiding evidence, meeting with unsavory characters and seems to be excessively close to Tuck’s wife, Angel.  On the road to finding his killer, will Tuck see, hear and find out things that he might not want to know about those that are closest to him?

Tuck’s problems are compounded when he is swept away to watch scenes that include murders and abductions. He is not sure if he is going back in time or watching an event that could be prevented. While he tries to figure out how to help, Doc, his spirit guide visits him, but doesn’t give him answers, only suggestions.

The quest to find his killer becomes part of a tangled plot that is ensnaring Angel and Bear.

He reaches out desperately to Angel. But at what cost? He may be putting this professor in more danger than she bargains for by asking her to be his investigator. Soon a retired mobster, hired killer and maybe one of Angel’s closest friends are all looking suspicious to Tuck. He is no longer just looking for his murderer; he is trying to protect those he loves from joining him in death.

Don’t let all of this murder and mayhem stop you from enjoying the humor and fun in this mystery. It is a fun, fast read. I like the short chapters that call for me to read “just one more” until I realize it is past midnight. O’Connor pays homage to one of my all-time favorite authors, Dame Agatha Christie but naming the delightful Lab Hercule and including an archaeological dig as part of the main storyline.

Kudos to O’Connor on his debut novel. I cannot wait to hear more tales from the dead man in this 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: Rituals, a Fay Longchamp Mystery by Mary Anna Evans

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A Faye Longchamp Mystery

Mary Anna Evans

Poisoned Pen Press


275  pages

Genre: Mystery

Award winning author Mary Anna Evans is back with Rituals, her eighth novel featuring archeologist Faye Longchamp.

Faye and her adopted daughter Amande are working together in Rosebower, New York. The tiny rural town is filled with spiritualists, magic and fortunetellers. It is as common to have conversations with the dead as it is with the living in Rosebower.

The Longchamps are not there to have their future read,  they are digging into the past. They were hired to organize the tiny historical museum in Rosebower. This includes going through boxes of undocumented, unorganized artifacts. The town has ties to the women’s rights movement; and the girls are hoping to find something in the museum to confirm it. Meanwhile, the man that hired them has some interesting ideas about “artifacts” he has on display. He really wants Faye to confirm flying saucers are carved in on one of them, proving that visitors from space came to town.

While working, Faye and Amande become friends with elderly sisters, Tilda and Myrna Armistead. When the sisters invite them for dinner and an opportunity to commune with the dead, Faye is unable to resist. Later that evening, Tilda drives to the B&B where they are staying, mumbles a few disturbing phrases and dies in Faye’s arms as her home burns to the ground. This was no accident, but who would want to murder one of the most revered members of the community and burn her cherished home to the ground?

Faye digs deeper into the mystery and finds suspicious activity everywhere. Suspects include a developer that wants Tilda’s land, her estranged daughter, her light-fingered son-in-law, a writer in town to expose the locals as frauds and the grandson of the local healer that is in town to take care of her after a stroke.

The intricate puzzle of this mystery is layered with twists and turns. Just when I thought I knew the killer’s identity, the next page had me second-guessing. This book is more than a great mystery, Ms. Evans weaves beautiful thoughts and phrases into the story that will stay with you long after the murderer is caught. You do not often find beautiful prose in a mystery novel, which makes it all the richer when you do.

Tilda speaks one of my favorite lines, “Why else do we live, except to love other people?” Antonia writes another: “Magic is what you believe it to be. So is life.”

This is my first Faye Longchamp Mystery, but it isn’t confusing to read as a stand-alone novel. I’m jumping into this series with both feet without any background on the characters and loved them immediately. Their depth and personalities were evident from the first pages. I’m adding the previous seven to my list.

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

Book Review: Now You See It by Jane Tesh

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Now You See It

Jane Tesh

Poisoned Pen Press


230 pagesNow you see it

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Genre: Mystery

Camden’s renowned singing voice is not the only thing missing in the latest book in the Grace Street Mystery Series. Randall is hired to find a missing diamond bracelet for a local socialite. Then a priceless magic box once owned by Harry Houdini disappears, plunging Camden and Randall knee deep in mysterious world of local illusionists when they attempt to find it.

Fuel is added to the fire because the Finch brothers were holding a contest involving the box, which offers a piece from their magic collection to the person who wins. An ongoing rivalry among the magicians also hinders the search for the Houdini relic. Then one of the magicians winds up dead, and Randall’s girlfriend Kary goes undercover as a magician’s assistant to help him solve the case.

Randall has more on his mind than finding the lost items and solving a murder. His personal life is more stressful than his PI business. Kary will not marry him even though she loves him because they cannot agree on something very important. Kary wants children and Randall cannot get over the accidental death of his daughter, Lindsey. Pictures of her break his heart, and he recently received a DVD with Lindsey’s last dance recital on it that he cannot bring himself to watch.

Cam has finally decided to pop the question to his longtime girlfriend Ellin but literally does not have the voice to ask her. He is afraid she will turn him down. Shelia Kirk, the wife of a new sponsor, has taken over Ellin’s show and office leaving behind chaos and craziness.  The forceful woman has some crazy new ideas for the Psychic Service Network TV station and Ellin is not happy.

All of the elements of this book come together magically by the last page. It was fun to see how each part of the separate, yet connected plot came to a satisfying conclusion. It is fun to learn some little known facts about Houdini and magicians in general

I liked Tesh’s characters in Mixed Signals. I loved them in Now You See It. Maybe I knew them better, or maybe their vulnerability had me pulling for them to solve the mystery and overcome their personal demons to find happiness.

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

Book Review: Outrageous October by Barbara Levenson

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Outrageous October

Barbara Levenson

296 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartmanoutrageous_october_book_cover

Outrageous October is the third book in Barbara Levenson’s Mary Magruder Katz Mystery series. The book opens with a year-old murder in High Pines, Vermont. How could Miami criminal defense lawyer Mary Katz possibly get involved with a cold case half a country away?

Mary Katz’s law office in Miami is successful. She is happy and content living with her fiancé Carlos, a hot Latin that she is crazy about and her beloved German Shepherd Sam. After winning a court case, she calls Carlos to make a dinner date to celebrate. He begs off saying he has a business meeting. Not wanting to dine alone after her day, she calls a girlfriend to join her for dinner. Unfortunately, they choose the same restaurant that Carlos has chosen for his “business meeting” with his ex-wife.

Mary runs out of the restaurant distraught. Her friend has a home in High Pines, Vermont, and suggests some time and distance might help Mary heal her broken heart. She agrees, packs up Sam and leaves without allowing Carlos to explain. She returns his engagement ring with a note that explains she cannot live with a man that lies to her. The only person that knows where she is going is her friend, whom Mary swears to secrecy.

Sam and Mary arrive in the tiny Vermont town where everyone knows her name because her friend had to announce her arrival to the caretaker of the home where she is staying. She soon finds out that small towns have no secrets, but mysteries surround her.

Due to a wrong turn on the unmarked mountain roads, she accidently stayed in the wrong home the first night. It happened to be the home in which the murder happened the previous October. Sam barks and growls at suspicious noises and a locked upstairs door. Is someone in the house? Is it haunted? Why is there an SUV parked in the barn one day and gone the next?

Mary moves to the right home with the help of her new friends in High Pines. These friends include Dash, a handsome lawyer that could use an extra lawyer to help with his caseload. Mary agrees to take a case that seems straightforward, but becomes entangled with seedy characters and possibly a murderer. Dash has more in mind than a business relationship, but Mary is still in love with Carlos, even though he shattered her heart.

Levenson weaves a plot that is full of energy and draws the reader in with unanswered questions and emotions that tie up neatly before the end of the novel. Her colorful characters are interesting and intriguing, coming to life on the page. This is the first book by Levenson I’ve read, but it easily can be read as a stand-alone novel. I plan to read the previous two books in the series, Fatal February and Justice in June. The fourth in the Mary Magruder Katz Mystery Series, Neurotic November is due out this winter. Mystery fans looking for a new series should try Ms. Levenson’s books.

Copyright © 2013 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: Cold Tuscan Stone by David P. Wagner

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Cold Tuscan Stone

David P. WagnerCold-Tuscan-Stone-med-res-front-cover-178x276

ISBN: 9781464201905

Poisoned Pen Press

Former Texan Rick Montoya lives in Rome working as a freelance translator. Immersing himself in Italy’s rich culture and cuisine, he is an unlikely candidate for an undercover agent working for a local police department in Tuscany. But when his old high school buddy Beppo Rinaldi, who now works for the Italian Ministry of Culture, asks for his help he is intrigued and quickly steps up to the challenge.

There are art thieves in the city of Volterra, in western Tuscany, selling priceless Etruscian burial urns on the black market to the highest bidder. Montoya is to pose as a buyer from Santa Fe to connect with the antiquity art community to lure them out for the police. The job seems easy enough with the local police guiding him – until he arrives and finds out the locals really don’t trust an outsider from Texas who isn’t part of a law enforcement agency.

Rinaldi has him focus interviewing three possible suspects. One is a gallery owner, one is an heiress, and one is in the import/export business. Each of them agree to speak with Montoya, all of them are mysterious but in different ways. The night he arrives, someone ends up dead. Montoya appears to be the last one that spoke with the murdered man. This gives the local Commissario more reason to distrust the American.

Montoya’s investigation is further complicated because one of the prime suspects is a gorgeous friend of the woman he is seeing. Now Montoya needs to balance a jealous girlfriend, a resentful police force and work on a translation job all the while trying to convince the possible suspects that he is really an art dealer from the states. Will they find the art thief before someone else dies?

Wagner uses his intimate knowledge of Italy to bring this novel to life with the delicious descriptions of cathedrals, Italian art and foods that complement this mystery. The  plot has more twists and turns than a bowl of al dente rotini and is abundant with local flavor, that will surprise and satisfy the reader at the end.

I am delighted that this is the first in a new series by Wagner. He is the author of self-guided day trips that were written to accompany villas rented in Tuscany. Lucky for avid mystery fans he decided to take up novel writing, creating a memorable character like Rick Montoya. The nine years spent in Italy during his career in the foreign service, as well as living and working in Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay and stateside will give him the rich background of different cultures to create many more mysteries for us to enjoy.

Book Review: Capacity for Murder by Bernadette Pajer

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Capacity For Murder

Bernadette Pajer

Poisoned Pen Press

252 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Capacity For Murder, the third book in Pajer’s Professor Benjamin Bradshaw Mystery series, opens with a cry for help via telegram from Dr. Hornsby, owner of Healing Sands Sanitarium in Ocean Springs, WA. The Dr. begs Professor Bradshaw to come to him immediately, because he is a leading expert in electricity and there has been an “accident of electrical nature”.

Reluctant to leave Seattle for the untamed coastal retreat, Bradshaw declines at first. Nevertheless, the lure of mystery, science and the fresh ocean air eventually convinces him to help. He sets off with his young son, the college students from his summer school class, his close friend Henry and Henry’s sister Missouri.

Upon his arrival at Healing Springs, Bradshaw finds Dr. Hornsby an emotional mess. He appears to have accidentally killed his beloved son-in-law with an electrotherapy machine. The Professor soon realizes the machine was sabotaged, making this a murder, not an accidental death.

The patients at the Sanitarium are sequestered on the property until the killer is found. The odd  rules and foul smelling food served is as off-putting to the Professor and his group as the array of strange characters they have to interview. Most of them seem to have the motive to kill the victim.

The reader learns about Professor Bradshaw’s personal life as he fights his attraction to Missouri as the demons in his past that keep him from her. Meanwhile, Henry plays a perfect Dr. Watson to Bradshaw’s Sherlock Holmes as they look for clues to find the killer.

Pajer brings history to life through this wonderful work of fiction set in the early 1900’s.. Oftentimes I read books that have facts in them that I assume to be true, but they could possibly be a fragment of the truth wrapped in fantasy to fit the story line. Capacity For Murder has a seal on the front proclaiming it was “Peer Reviewed & Approved for Science” by the Washington Academy of Sciences.

This certification cannot be taken lightly. Her manuscript was approved and certified after a “rigorous scientific review” determining the science in her novel is accurate. This is by far the most interesting and enjoyable science lesson I have ever read.

Professor Bradshaw and his cohorts are likeable characters. The mystery was fun to try and solve along with them as the clues stacked up. Sometimes I find it is difficult to pop into an established series without reading the previous books. This is not the case with Pajer’s book. I did not feel lost or confused; she perfectly wove in backstory without dwelling on it to bring new readers into the story. This is a solid standalone mystery, and I enjoyed it so much I will seek out the first two and look forward to a fourth.

Copyright © 2013 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: Fade to Black by Jeffrey Wilson

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Fade to Black

Fade To Black

Jeffrey Wilson

Published by Journalstone Publishing


254 pages

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Fade To Black pulls the reader into a life and death gun battle between six Marines that were separated from their platoon and an unknown number of insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq on the first page. Bullets fly and men die. One of the sniper’s bullets finds Sargent Casey Stillman, critically wounding him as he tries to save his fellow Marines.

He fades from consciousness only to wake up screaming. He isn’t dying in the hot, sandy street, but falling out of the bed he is sleeping in with his wife, Pam. The sounds, smells and horror of Fallujah slowly fade as he realizes he is home with his wife and his baby daughter is sleeping down the hall. He is not a Marine Sargent; he is a high school science teacher, Jack.

Jack’s horrible nightmare is so real he cannot stop thinking about it. His life feels somehow off kilter, familiar things seem foreign to him as he tries to make it through his workday.

His nightmares increase and Jack begins to think he is crazy. He seeks help from his family doctor, who sends him to a therapist. Pam stands by him, surprisingly calm during his struggle to grasp reality. Things get worse. He starts seeing the Marines killed in his dreams when he is awake. He knows facts about the men who died in Fallujah as if he really was their Sargent. How could he be Casey Stillman, when he was never in the military? Is he Casey or is he Jack?

Jeffrey Wilson’s third novel is a nail-biting, heart-stopping, gripping story told with such detail the reader is grabbed by emotion from the first page to the last. This book appeals to many different tastes on numerous levels. It is a war story – but not typical. It is a story about the love a man has for his wife and daughter – but not a love story. It is a mystery – just who is the main character? Is it Jack or is it Casey?

Wilson served in Iraq as a Marine combat surgeon. He brings the realities and horrors of war to the pages of his book with sounds, smells and images. Layered with emotions Fade To Black is an amazing, sometimes uncomfortable ride, but one you won’t want to put down until the last page is read.

Copyright © 2013 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.

World Book Night U.S. 2013

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wbnamericaTomorrow is World Book Night U.S. 2013. If you’ve never heard about World Book Night U.S. please go to their website and check them out. http://www.us.worldbooknight.org/

Last year I was a book giver, and it was an awesome experience. I gave out copies of My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult at the Heartland Blood Bank in Aurora while giving blood. It was so much fun to see how surprised people were when I handed them a book.

I am honored this year to be a giver again, this year the book I am giving will be Look Again by Lisa Scottolini.  Look Again_World Book Night

Thanks to everyone involved with this wonderfully fun event.

Book Review: Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

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Look Again_World Book NightLook Again

Lisa Scottoline

St Martin’s  Griffin, New York

ISBN-978-0-312-38 72-4

377 pages

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Reviewed by Laura Hartman

Journalist Ellen Gleeson loves her adopted son, Will, with all of her heart and soul. They found each other when he was an infant. Will, hospitalized with a serious heart condition, was abandoned by his mother. Ellen saw him while researching a story, fell in love with the tiny tot and became his mother through a legal adoption. Now Will has grown into a happy, healthy preschooler.

The end of this perfect life started with a mass mailing “Have you seen this child?” postcard. Could the little boy be Will? If the missing boy was Will, could Ellen ignore his parents’ pleas for his safe return?

The journalist in her has to investigate the possibility that something was horribly wrong with the adoption. The deeper she searches the more bad things turn up, including dead bodies.

Is she willing to risk everything, including losing her son to find the truth?

Scottoline is one of my favorite authors. This book in particular so good I read it fast, and then was unhappy to have it end. Anyone who has a child or loves a child is pulled into the heart wrenching fear Ellen is experiencing. If you’ve never read one of Scottoline’s books, start here – you’ll become an instant fan of this seasoned author.

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