Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Case of Syrah, Syrah by Nancy J. Parra

Amateur sleuth Taylor O'Brian asks, "What could possibly go wrong?" Everything, beginning with Taylor herself in Nancy J. Parra's first Wine Country mystery,  A Case of Syrah, Syrah.

When Taylor's Aunt Jemma had heart problems, Taylor moved to her aunt's small winery in Sonoma County, California. After six months, though, she's restless and ready to launch her own business, Taylor O'Brian Presents "Off the Beaten Path" Wine Country Tours. "What could possibly go wrong?" She bought a small van to transport groups. She has insurance. Her first venture is with the staff of the yoga studio where she and her best friend, Holly, take classes. Granted, Laura, the owner of the studio, is a micro-manager, but the tour doesn't last forever. In fact, for Laura, it's over when she goes missing and Taylor and Laura's husband, Dan, find her body. And, Taylor's business may be over quickly. Her corkscrew is found in Laura's neck. Everyone else seems to have some sort of alibi, which puts Taylor on the top of the suspect list.

Under other circumstances, Taylor might have been interested in either Sheriff Hennessey or her attorney. But, neither can keep her out of jail as she bumbles along, talking to too many people, and turning in evidence that no one else found. Taylor's aunt puts her winery up as a bond, but Taylor still ends up in handcuffs, an orange jumpsuit, and with a night in jail. With business suffering, Aunt Jemma suggests they investigate, and Taylor and Holly jump into the investigation wholeheartedly. That also means Taylor puts her mouth and her feet in all the wrong places, including another murder scene.

And, that's my problem with Taylor O'Brian and Parra's book. Despite all the advice from her own attorney and the sheriff, Taylor persists in doing all the wrong things. She talks to people she's not supposed to, goes places where she shouldn't go. She comes across as oppositional, willful, and naive for a twenty-eight-year-old. Others may say all amateur sleuths in cozy mysteries investigate their own cases. But, most of them don't appear as immature and reckless as Taylor does.

I am curious, though, as to how Parra will address the fires in Sonoma County in future books. However, after the incidents in A Case of Syrah, Syrah, I wouldn't trust Taylor O'Brian to lead a tour group.

Nancy J. Parra's website is www.nancyjparra.com

A Case of Syrah, Syrah by Nancy J. Parra. Crooked Lane Books. 2017. ISBN 9781683314332 (hardcover), 320p.

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Murder for the Books by Victoria Gilbert

Victoria Gilbert launches a new cozy series, the Blue Ridge Library Mysteries, with A Murder for the Books. Fans of Miranda James and Jean McKinlay can welcome a new librarian amateur sleuth to the fold. The story involves a cold case, current crimes, research, a budding romance, and a little woo woo. Add in the humor. What fan can resist this recipe for a cozy mystery?

Amy Webber abruptly left her position at Clarion University after a thrown drink, aimed at her cheating boyfriend, hit the dean of music instead. Now, she's the library director in her historic family hometown of Taylorsford, Virginia. The library archives attract all kinds of people, including Doris Virts, a woman with dementia who often hides from the "person following her". It also brings in Amy's new neighbor, Richard Muir. The handsome dance instructor at the university inherited his house from his great-uncle, and wants to do some research. But, Amy's instruction is cut short when they find Doris' body in the archives. Evidently, someone was following Doris.

Amy's Aunt Lydia has stories to tell about the victim. Those stories and the pair's continued research leads them down an unexpected path of history, towards multiple deaths at an orphanage, a woman accused of witchcraft, and blame that could be laid on members of Amy's own family. And, all of that research could lead to a killer in Taylorsford.

As I said, this mystery kicks off a new series in fine style. Who can resist a librarian sleuth, a cold case with local history, romance, and humor? A Murder for the Books is an appealing start.

Victoria Gilbert's website is www.victoriagilbertmysteries.com

A Murder for the Books by Victoria Gilbert. Crooked Lane Books. 2017. ISBN 9781683314394 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ginger Snapped by Gail Oust

In a twist for a cozy mystery, the police chief is the primary suspect who has been suspended, so he needs help from the amateur sleuth. Gail Oust's fifth Spice Shop Mystery,Ginger Snapped, is an entertaining story with Southern charm, small town gossip, a touch of romance, and, of course, the mystery itself.

Piper Prescott, owner of Spice It Up!, feels a pang whenever she sees Police Chief Wyatt McBride with realtor Shirley Randolph. Yes, the two make an attractive couple, but Piper was just starting to get over her initial reaction to McBride. A year earlier, he suspected her of murder, but they've moved past that. Everyone in Brandywine Creek has McBride and Randolph pegged as a couple.

When McBride finds Shirley's body on his property, it doesn't take long for the gossip mill to start grinding again. With the mayor hightailing it to Florida, the acting mayor, Piper's ex-husband, suspends McBride. Because he had a couple dinners with his realtor, everyone sees him as the primary suspect. Everyone sees him that way, except Piper and her best friend, Reba Mae. They're afraid he's being railroaded, and he'll need some help to prove his innocence. With Piper's growing reputation as an amateur sleuth, and her attraction to McBride, she's just the one to tackle the case.

Piper capitalizes on all the small town gossip in Ginger Snapped. The enjoyable story features mature  characters with a sense of responsibility, to the town, to family, to the truth. Oust's inclusion of facts about spices is worked naturally into the book. This one is a treat for any cozy mystery reader.

Ginger Snapped by Gail Oust. St. Martin's Minotaur, 2017. ISBN 9781250081261 (hardcover), 304p.

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

Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Come and Get It! by Ree Drummond

Actually, Ree Drummond's latest cookbook has one more subtitle. It's The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Come and Get It!: Simple, Scrumptious Recipes for Crazy Busy Lives. And, even if you seldom cook, this is a scrumptious cookbook to browse.

Ree Drummond, blogger turned cookbook author and television celebrity, begins this latest cookbook with a collection of her favorite things. It includes her "20 Favorite Pantry Items", favorite freezer staples, refrigerator staples, and favorite cuts of beef. Then, as in most cookbooks, it's broken down by breakfast, lunches, appetizers, suppers. But, she also categorizes recipes by the length of time it takes to cook them. There are beautifully photographed step-by-step directions, along with options for changing up the recipes.

I don't cook much. However, just as I watch her television show, "The Pioneer Woman",  for the glimpses of ranch life, I read the cookbook and appreciated the glimpses of her family, ranch life, and the animals on the farm. She has photographs sprinkled throughout the book. Fans of the show will appreciate photos of The Pioneer Woman Mercantile, "The Merc", the new store and restaurant that she and her husband, Ladd, renovated and opened. There are photos of the dogs, cattle, and even a ranch cat. There are also family stories, including one about her father-in-law, Chuck. And, if you've been watching the show as long as I have, her poem may bring a sniffle or two. It's "Ode to Charlie", the Basset hound that was always around, until he died.

Most of the recipes are not too complicated. As she says, they're intended for people with busy lives. The cookbook is beautiful, filled with photos of all that comfort food. It might be a perfect gift for someone who enjoys home cooking.

Ree Drummond's website is www.thepioneerwoman.com

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Come and Get It!: Simple, Scrumptious Recipes for Crazy Busy Lives by Ree Drummond. William Morrow, 2017. ISBN 9780062225269 (hardcover), 382p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, December 08, 2017

I'd Rather Be Reading by Guinevere De La Mare

I'm a sucker for books about books or reading. Guinevere De La Mare's little book is really just a gift item, but it has a few charming pieces in it. I'd Rather Be Reading is subtitled "A library of art for book lovers."

Guinevere De La Mare opens the book with an essay that is touching at times. She led a rebellion in kindergarten because she didn't want to learn to read. She enjoyed having family members read to her. When she decided to learn, she said she owed her love of reading to her grandmother, who was the director of her preschool. But, school almost destroyed her love of reading. In high school when she had to analyze the texts of books, it killed her love of reading. I could understand her comments. "What happened to willingly suspending our disbelief?" She said it was her first breakup with books because the magic was destroyed.

However, her book shows some of the magic, in artist's paintings and in photographs. There are a number of pictures of books. There are also quotes, "Less Selfies. More Shelfies." Interspersed between the artwork and the essays were poems about books and reading.

I wasn't a big fan of Maura Kelly's essay in which she recommended reading more classics. But, Ann Patchett wrote about trying to come up with a list of her favorite books. And, Gretchen Rubin offered "13 Tips for Getting More Reading Done".

I'd Rather Be Reading didn't really offer anything new. As I said, it's really just a little gift book if you're looking for something for the reader in your life.

Guinevere De La Mare's website is http://guineveredelamare.com/about

I'd Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers by Guinevere De La Mare. Chronicle Books, 2017. ISBN 9781452155111 (hardcover), 96p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Bill Crider and What Are You Reading?

This first note is one I hate to share. Bill Crider often posted on Thursday's What Are You Reading blog. Although he had read my blog for years, I didn't meet Bill until Jeffrey Meyerson introduced me to him at Bouchercon in Raleigh. He had already started his cancer treatment when he came to New Orleans Bouchercon, and I know so many of us were glad to see him. Before I ask what you're reading, I'm going to share Bill's message on his blog from Tuesday. I know I spent Tuesday evening and times on Wednesday crying. Here is his message.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Things could change, but I suspect this will be my final post on the blog.  I met with some doctors at M. D. Anderson today, and they suggested that I enter hospice care.  A few weeks, a few months is about all I have left.  The blog has been a tremendous source of pleasure to me over the years, and I've made a lot of friends here.  My only regret is  that I have several unreviewed books, including Lawrence Block' fine new anthology, Alive in Shape and Color, and Max Allan Collins' latest collaboration with Mickey Spillane, The Last Stand,  which is a collection of two novellas, "A Bullet for Satisfaction," an early Spillane manuscript with an interesting history, and "The Last Stand," the last thing that Spillane completed.  It saddens me to think of all the great books by many writers that I'll never read.  But I've had a great life, and my readers have been a big part of it.  Much love to you all.

It almost seems meaningless to ask what you're reading after Bill's post. But, considering that his post was about the books he wouldn't get to finish, I think those who want to share should. I've just started Connie Willis' A Lot Like Christmas, an update of her wonderful collection, Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. If you don't know Willis, she's a science fiction author who loves Christmas and has written wonderful stories to celebrate the season. They're in a variety of genres.

But, I'm actually on a train right now heading to Chicago. So, I'll read your comments as I can, picking them up on my cell phone.

If you want to share, what are you reading this week?

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Man Found Dead in Park by Margaret Coel

Margaret Coel wrapped up her Father John/Vicky Holden series with Winter's Child. That doesn't mean she said goodbye to her characters. In her illustrated novella, Man Found Dead in Park, she brings together Vicky Holden and her reporter from Denver, Catherine McLeod. And, in a special treat for mystery fans, Craig Johnson wrote the cover copy; Anne Hillerman did the introduction, and Keith McCafferty penned the Afterword. And Phil Parks' illustrations bring the characters to life.

The story actually begins with autobiographies of Holden and McLeod. While Coel's fans probably know the story of Vicky Holden, the Arapaho attorney who works with clients in Wyoming, many may not realize that Catherine McLeod was adopted when she was five years old. She knows nothing about her mother, except she was an Arapaho. So, when her story takes her to the Wind River Reservation, she's reluctant and eager at the same time.

In Denver, Catherine was called to the scene of a shooting in the Indian neighborhood. No one will talk to the police. No one will talk to McLeod's fellow journalist. But, women will talk reluctantly to Catherine because she is one of them. She uses her anonymous sources to report that one man killed the other, to get the names. She also learns that the Mexican Sinaloa cartel is using tribe members from Denver to introduce them to people on the Wind River Reservation. They are taking meth to the reservation.

In Wyoming, an ex-con, Arch Walksfast, is shot and arrested for killing a Mexican drug dealer in a meth house. His brother asks Vicky Holden to defend him, saying his brother is a user, but not a killer. With the small amount of evidence pointing to Arch, Vicky doesn't have a great deal of hope. Then, Catherine McLeod shows up to meet with Vicky.

Margaret Coel has always used her mysteries to point out issues affecting the Arapahos and the current world. There's just enough character development in this novella to highlight the strong women at the forefront of the fight for answers. It's an unusual format, an unusual book. But, it's a fascinating look at a contemporary crisis.

Note: You're stuck with my photo of the book because I couldn't find a picture of the cover.

Margaret Coel's website is www.margaretcoel.com

Man Found Dead in Park by Margaret Coel. Illustrated by Phil Parks. ASAP. 2017.  ISBN 9781892011640 (hardcover), 135p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.