Sunday, September 22, 2019

A Killer Carol by Laura Bradford

It's not really too early for Christmas mysteries. The Christmas books are released in September and October now because, let's face it, most of us don't read a lot during December. And, I wouldn't miss Laura Bradford's latest Amish Mystery, A Killer Carol. This is one of my favorite series. The characters are well-developed and realistic.

Claire Weatherly, owner of Heavenly Treasures, provided the idea for the first Christmas festival, "A Heavenly Night" in the town. While she's nervous, hoping the event will work for the townspeople and visitors, she doesn't anticipate the event that could ruin cheerful expectations. When an elderly Amish couple is found dead by a group of teen carolers, the first thought is they died together. However, Claire's boyfriend, police detective Jakob Fisher, says they were murdered. And, as far as he knows, the last people to see them were a young couple, newlyweds Samuel and Ruth Yoder.

While Jakob investigates, Claire can't believe Samuel and Ruth would kill anyone. She investigates herself, but Claire's disbelief causes a rift between Jakob and Claire. She has a hard time accepting that his job forces him to follow the evidence, while she wants to follow her heart. Unfortunately, her heart tells her Jakob is wrong, and that he's keeping secrets from her. The murder investigation may not be the entire reason Jakob is acting strange when he's around her. It's too bad Ruth is acting strange as well. Claire begins to doubt her heart when it comes to the people she's grown to love.

The Amish Mysteries by Laura Bradford have always been about matters of the heart and community as much as they've been about murder investigations. The relationships between Claire and her beloved aunt, between Claire and her friends in the Amish community, are essential to the atmosphere in the story. Those relationships create an atmosphere of warmth, trust, and understanding. That doesn't change in this latest story in the series.

However, Claire must examine her own heart, her feelings for Jakob, and her understanding of his job and responsibilities. This is going to sound strange. Reed Farrel Coleman recently wrote an article about Jesse Stone, the police chief featured in Coleman's continuation of Robert B. Parker's series. Coleman's comments fit Jakob Fisher as well. "Jesse must weigh his actions carefully for as much as he might care for the people involved on either side of a case, he must also act in accordance with professional standards and requirements of his office." In this particular case, when Claire's friends are suspects in a murder, she has a hard time accepting Jakob as a professional with standards. It takes two other people to point out to her that Claire is not recognizing Jakob's role.

There's a depth to Laura Bradford's characters that is sometimes lacking in other cozy mysteries. It's this recognition of their own personal shortcomings that makes her characters come alive on the page. As a mystery reader, I found it easy to guess the killer in A Killer Carol. However, as a person who reads for character, I always appreciate the changes and realistic characters in Bradford's books. A Killer Carol, the seventh in the series, reflects that growth.

Laura Bradford's website is www.laurabradford.com

A Killer Carol by Laura Bradford. Berkley Prime Crime, 2019. ISBN 9781984805904 (paperback), 291p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Death of a Gigolo by Laura Levine

Every time I read a mystery that's supposed to be humorous, I remind myself that everyone has a different idea of humor. Mine is not broad, slapstick style. I like quiet and witty, or, even, sometimes obnoxious and witty. But, I tend to prefer wordplay over absurdity. While Laura Levine's humor in   Death of a Gigolo is not my preferred style, I can respect her set-up of the mystery itself. She plays fair with the reader, and the solution is well-thought out and satisfying.

Everything's going right for freelance writer Jaine Austen at the moment. She's hired to co-author a romance book, writing it with Daisy Kincaid, a wealthy woman in her sixties. She also has her own romance. Despite the disapproval of her neighbor, and the vocal disapproval of her cat, Prozac, she's dating her ex-husband, Dickie. Jaine's convinced he's turned over a new leaf, working a steady job. He does have some strange new beliefs and dietary restrictions, but she can live with that.

However, no one can live with the trouble that arrives at Daisy's front door. After Daisy's picture is in a newspaper, Tommy LaSalle shows up, claiming to be the nephew of Daisy's deceased travel companion. Within a short time, he's wormed his way into the house, where he's going to stay. Then, he works his way into Daisy's heart, and there's an announcement of their engagement. But, he's so sleazy and dislikeable that he also becomes a murder victim. And, there are certainly a lot of suspects.

While I'm not a big fan of some of the humor in Death of a Gigolo, Jaine was a refreshing amateur sleuth, gutsy, outspoken (at least to herself), honest about her cat's reaction to Dickie. It's ironic that she couldn't see the similarities between her relationship to Dickie and Daisy's relationship to Tommy. Both are a little sickening.

But, amidst the writing of Fifty Shades of Turquoise and the romance with Dickie, there is an amateur sleuth who sifts through the numerous suspects and accidentally finds the killer. Jaine might be hopeless when it comes to her love life, but she succeeds as an amateur sleuth.

Laura Levine's website is www.lauralevinemysteries.com

Death of a Gigolo by Laura Levine. Kensington Books, 2019. ISBN 9781496708526 (hardcover), 240p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.


Friday, September 20, 2019

Book Giveaway - A Couple Lighter Mysteries

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Paul B. from Hewitt, NJ won Beautiful Bad, and The Murder List will go to Kathy S. from Alba, TX. The books will go out in the mail today.

Last week, the crime novels I gave away were dark. This week, I'm giving away a couple lighter mysteries, hardcovers of both of them.

Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow mysteries are always popular. Terns of Endearment sees Meg and her entire family on a cruise to the Bahamas. But, the ship breaks down in the Bermuda Triangle. Meg and the family try to keep passengers entertained, but when a crew member announces a woman jumped overboard, Meg finds herself heading up an investigation when no one on the ship seems interested.






Or maybe you'd like to head to a historic mansion with Sheila Connolly's Killer in the Carriage House. Kate Hamilton is trying to help the town of Asheboro, Maryland recreate itself as a Victorian village and tourist attraction. She and historian Joshua Wainwright are trying to find documents that will help the town. But, just hours before a treasure trove of historic documents were to be deposited at the town library, a body is found there.






Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read either "Win Terns" or "Win The Carriage House." Please include your name and mailing address. The contest will end Thursday, Sept. 26 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

What Are You Reading?

I read all of your comments last week about what you were reading then. However, I read them late,
and didn't comment because I thought you probably wouldn't come back to see the comments. After my dentist appointment today, though, I'll be around to read your posts.

I'm reading the book Mark Baker mentioned last week, Laura Bradford's A Killer Carol. It's the seventh book in Bradford's Amish Mystery series. As you would guess, this one is set during the Christmas season when Heavenly, Pennsylvania holds its first Christmas festival. But, the joy isn't all it should be due to the murder of an elderly Amish couple.

Speaking of Christmas festivals, before we move on to another discussion of what you are all reading, I wanted to mention Old Wethersfield, Connecticut. While on vacation, we went to this town, a place that has over 150 houses that pre-date the Civil War. Naturally, that makes it a picturesque New England town. That also makes it the perfect setting for cozy Christmas shows. Last year, Hallmark filmed in Old Wethersfield. The resulting show was "Christmas on Honeysuckle Lane". While we were there, a show was being filmed to show either on Hallmark or Lifetime this year. While I don't know the name, I can show you the setting. And, this same location was part of last year's show.




Just thought you'd enjoy this. If you see this building in a Christmas show, you'll know where it was filmed.You can even tell where "Christmas" ended, and September grass began.

Now, let's talk about your books. What are you reading this week?

(Oh, and I haven't read as much as I should this week. I've been watching Ken Burns' "Country Music" on PBS. If you appreciate country music and the history of it, I'll be happy to talk about that, too. It's a terrific series. Well-done, as Burns always does.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Small Kingdoms & Other Stories by Charlaine Harris

If you don't read Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, you probably haven't read the four stories collected in Charlaine Harris' new anthology, Small Kingdoms & Other Stories. I'm a fan of Harris' Lily Bard mysteries, and the Midnight, Texas series. The books are a little dark. So are the stories in this collection.

Meet Anne DeWitt, a high school principal in a small town in North Carolina. She's only been principal for two years, but she's doing her best to make Travis High School the best it can be. However, the baseball coach, Holt Halsey, seems to know her true identity. He also knows she killed a man in her house before coming to school one morning. It was the first time in three years that someone had tried to kill her.

I'm not going to give away Anne's background. It's part of the enjoyable discoveries in this collection. I will say that Harris reveals a little more about the mysterious woman with each introduction to the four stories. We learn a little about her past. We discover she hates to be ridiculed. And, readers learn just what Anne DeWitt is capable of doing.

If you like an accomplished woman who can take care of herself and keep secrets, a proud woman determined to make a high school the best it can be, meet Anne DeWitt. She just won't be exactly the type of high school principal you expect.

(Note: I always find anthologies difficult to review. The stories are short, and I certainly don't want to ruin them. So, instead of a review, I consider this a teaser. If you're intrigued, pick up Small Kingdoms & Other Stories.)

Charaine Harris' website is www.charlaineharris.com

Small Kingdoms & Other Stories by Charlaine Harris. JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc., 2019. ISBN 9781625673787 (paperback), 164p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book






Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Judge Thee Not by Edith Maxwell

When I reviewed Edith Maxwell's Charity's Burden earlier this year, I mentioned how relevant the historical mystery was to our own times. Now, in the fifth book of the Quaker Midwife series,  Judge Thee Not, the author strikes that same note of relevancy in a story of prejudice and bias.

Rose Carroll, a midwife in Amesbury, Massachusetts is in the post office to witness a town matriarch, Mayme Settle, insult Rose's friend, postmistress Bertie Winslow. Mayme, and others in town, don't approve of Bertie's lifestyle. She lives with and loves another woman, lawyer Sophie Ribiero. It seems Mrs. Settle is even gossiping about Sophie. Rose hears the rumors from one of her expectant mothers.

Bertie isn't the only subject of gossip in town. One of Rose's clients, Jeanette Papka, is expecting her second child. Jeanette has been blind from birth, but she's a skilled linguist who interprets several languages for immigrants who end up in court. That doesn't keep a local banker and Mrs. Settle from discussing her to her face, saying she's a deaf mute and a moron. Even Rose's young niece and nephews hear those comments at school about a blind child. "She's a moron."

However, it's not a "moron" who kills Mayme Settle. Rose's policeman friend, Kevin Donovan, reports that a witness puts Bertie at the scene. Rose is enraged, and she's even angrier when she hears the police chief's opinion of Bertie. With her strong sense of justice, Rose is determined to discover other people who could have a motive to kill the victim.

Maxwell brings together several fascinating storylines in this latest mystery. As a midwife, Rose Carroll is witness to joyous births, tragic losses, and the struggle of some babies and mothers to survive. All of those elements are present in the book, but they're handled with tenderness and care. Of course, there's the murder itself and the subsequent investigation. There's the happiness of Rose's ongoing relationship with her fiance.  But, Rose Carroll is also a witness to prejudice and hate, feelings that are still evident in our own times. There's prejudice and distrust of anyone who is different; lesbians, the blind, immigrants. Rose is aware as a single woman, a Quaker, and a midwife, she is as likely to be judged as unconventional as others are. And, she points out to Kevin, when he exhibits his own prejudice, that he's just one generation away from his immigrant parents.

While the mystery has an intriguing conclusion, it's our biases that are likely to stay with me. It's the gentle voice of poet John Greenleaf Whittier who reminds Rose that she herself can make people uncomfortable. It's a reminder that none of us are perfect. Maxwell's excellent latest historical novel is evidence that people haven't really changed.

Edith Maxwell's website is https://edithmaxwell.com/

Judge Thee Not by Edith Maxwell. Beyond the Page Publishing, 2019. 230p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Note: Now, I'm off to take a test about bias, Harvard's Project Implicit. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

Monday, September 16, 2019

Have You Heard? Fonduing Fathers by Julie Hyzy

I've been on vacation the entire last week. Although I read and finished a book today, my first day home, I haven't had time to review it. I'm glad Sandie Herron sends me reviews so I can include one now and then. This is for everyone who listens to audiobooks, or wants to catch up on a terrific cozy mystery series. Sandie reviewed Fonduing Fathers by Julie Hyzy.

Fonduing Fathers

Fonduing Fathers audiobook cover artWhite House Chef Mystery, Book 6
Written By:  Julie Hyzy
Narrated by: Eileen Stevens
Unabridged Audiobook
Audible Studios 2/11/14 originally published in pb on 12/31/12
Length: 8 hours and 5 minutes


White House Executive Chef Olivia “Ollie” Paras takes a well-deserved vacation and travels home to visit her mother and grandmother along with Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Gavin.  He is not on official duty but is there as Ollie’s boyfriend, a fact they are trying to keep quiet in Washington. Years ago Ollie’s father was killed in a car crash and buried in Arlington National Cemetery, yet Ollie was never given any details.  Sensing it was finally time to give those details, Ollie’s mother tells her it wasn’t just an accident but murder. To top it off, her father had been dishonorably discharged from the service.  

Ollie learns that after his army service, Anthony Paras was vice president of management systems at a company making vitamin and food supplements called Pluto.  The company is located outside Washington, DC, so Ollie talks to her dad’s old boss. After her father’s death, evidence of his selling corporate secrets had been found in his desk.  Denying this possibility even though Ollie hardly remembered her dad, she then visits his old commanding officer who purportedly paved the way into Arlington. He seems confused with some memory loss yet Ollie isn’t so sure he isn’t deliberately hiding facts.  Gavin contacts his old CO who has a checkered and secret past. Meeting clandestinely, he tests Ollie to see if he can trust her and to see if she will trust him. As a favor to Gavin, he will take his own route to investigate.

Meanwhile, Ollie had promised to work with the President’s young son Josh with lessons in the kitchen despite being on vacation.  She lets slip that her plans for Saturday include attending a food expo where her pastry chef will perform. Josh immediately wants to go with her, despite it being in a public place that will be full of hundreds of people.   They find a way to enjoy the show despite the precautionary security. However, once Ollie returns, she finds herself in greater danger. With Gavin rushing headlong to her aid, he is gravely injured.

This sixth entry in the White House Chef mysteries was engrossing, engaging, fascinating.  The pace moved steadily forward with action constantly speeding up. There was no way I was going to put this book down without finding out if Ollie and Gavin were safe. Author Julie Hyzy has brought us another gripping story of life in and around the White House.  Eileen Stevens continues to expertly narrate with numerous voices and emotions. Highly recommended.