Sunday, February 19, 2017

Have You Heard? - Latte Trouble by Cleo Coyle

“Have You Heard?” is a column featured only on Lesa’s Book Critiques.  It features many reviews of audiobooks (fiction, with a concentration in mysteries) but these reviews will include recent and past books for an interesting mixture of titles. Content is usually written by Sandie Herron.  It also covers news of note and not generally available, such as ASAP publishing a limited edition for a certain author or perhaps something important out of Publisher’s Weekly.  The column is published sporadically, so you’ll want to watch for it! Trouble
Coffee House Mystery #3
Written by Cleo Coyle, Narrated by Rebecca Gibel
Unabridged Audiobook, Listening Length: 8 hours and 7 minutes
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. Release Date: November 9, 2011
ASIN: B00654G23Y

The third coffee house mystery was an intriguing trip through the various facets of the fall Fashion Week in Manhattan.  One of the most famous and accomplished designers literally designed her new line of jewelry based on the coffee bean while visiting the Village Blend coffee house.  Lotte Harmon insisted on opening the show at the Village Blend.

The show's debut was a huge success with patrons squeezing into every available nook.  Customers out numbered staff, so a special drink was prepared with soy and destined for Lotte Harmon.   It was a disaster when another thirsty customer swiped her drink from the serving tray.  He took a large swig and began to turn pink, convulse, and died in rapid succession.  The victim's mate also had a sip, but CPR was begun and an ambulance called, so he never got completely oxygen deprived.

Was this a deliberate poisoning?  Who was the intended victim?  Lotte or the man who died?  And who added the poison to the drink?  Cops circled the scene and focused on Tucker, the barista who made the drink and attempted to serve it to Miss Harmon.  Clare Cosi, manager of the blend doubted Tucker was guilty but had no alibi to prove his innocence. Tucker was sent to Ryker's Island prison for safekeeping.  

Clare quickly began her own investigation. She went with a disguise and the owner of The Blend to a formal reception on a business rival's yacht all a twitter about Lotte's return to build her line again.  Clare's ex-husband Matte ended up in a fight on the yacht, pointing out another suspect.

Clare kept believing in Tucker and continued building her case.  Answers were unexpected and the ties between them also surprising.  The suspects had been alluded to early in the story yet it was done so casually and slipped in so well that I easily forgot the solution right in front of me!  A very enjoyable and recommended read.

Reviewed by Sandie Herron

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth

If you're a fan of the issue-oriented novels of Jodi Picoult or Lisa Genova, you might want to try Sally Hepworth's The Mother's Promise. I'll admit, it was a difficult book for me to get through. But, I'm a wimp who likes even my mysteries to end on a satisfying note. These three authors write realistic stories that don't always have happy endings.

Zoe Stanhope suffers from social anxiety disorder. From the time she went to kindergarten, she experiences panic. Her first slumber party was a disaster. And, whether or not they're actually looking at her, Zoe always feels as if people are staring at her. As a teenager, it's worse than ever. She reluctantly agrees to go on a double date with her best friend, only to crash at the last minute. It's her mother, Alice, who has always been there for her. As a single mom, Alice understands her daughter's fears and needs. She's Zoe's safety net. And, then Alice is diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. It's only then that Zoe's mother realizes there is no other safety net for Zoe.

Alice has to turn to two other women for help, but they are needy themselves. And, one of them causes a crisis in Zoe's world when she intervenes. It's a story that allows the three women, and Zoe, to face their fears, and deal with their problems. Without going into detail, these women have innumerable issues.

The Mother's Promise is an emotionally intense, heart wrenching story. It's a novel with a bittersweet ending, featuring women who have to step up with courage. I wouldn't have read the novel if I hadn't been reviewing it for a journal, and, I won't say I'm "happy" that I read it. But, The Mother's Promise fulfilled Hepworth's intention. Her story is about the strength of a mother's love, and what she'll do for her child.

Sally Hepworth's website is

The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth. St. Martin's Press. 2017. ISBN 9781250077752 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Winners and a 1920s British Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Copies of Terry Shames' An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock will be going to Andi D. from Phoenix, AZ and Elaine R. from Jamesville, NC. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away mysteries set in the 1920s in England. In Carola Dunn's Requiem for a Mezzo, the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple attends a performance of Verdi's Requiem with Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher. But, the pleasant performance is disrupted when the mezzo-soprano falls dead onstage. There are a number of suspects, and Daisy is determined to help Fletcher, whether he wants help or not.

Frances Brody brings us Murder on a Summer's Day. When the India Office needs help in finding Maharajah Narayan, last seen hunting on the Bolton Abbey estate, they call on renowned amateur detective Kate Shackleton to investigate. But, the missing persons case turns to murder. And, there's a  missing valuable diamond. Vengeance takes many forms as Kate discovers as she digs into the case.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. With such long titles, we'll use the authors' names for this giveaway. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Dunn" or "Win Brody." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Montgomery Rabbit by Sandy Little

Sandy Little's juvenile book, Montgomery Rabbit, has won several awards for early readers from various independent publishing groups, including an IPPY bronze medal. Second or third graders could read the book, but anyone would enjoy the story of a rabbit who falls into an adventure. The illustrations by David Wenzel are stunning.

Montgomery Rabbit is a lop-eared rabbit who lives in an enclosed yard. A young girl in dusty boots brings him raspberries in a silver bowl. He is quite content until the day she was late. He grows restless, and when he hears a rustle outside the hole in the fence, he peers through it. On the other side, he sees a gray field rabbit. His curiosity turns into an accidental adventure when he falls through the hole, and can't get back. He tries following the rabbit, but when he wears himself out, he stops in an open spot. The rabbit warns him he could be picked off by a hawk by sitting there. When Bentley, the field rabbit, introduces himself, the two are on the way to friendship.

The book is a story of friendship, of adventure as the two rabbit search for a fabled raspberry patch. Along the way, they have to help each other. They also find others along the way who guide them. Little's first book is a charming story of two strangers who develop a friendship despite their different appearances, different backgrounds, and different experiences. It's an interesting tool for discussion of differences and similarities with children.

Montgomery Rabbit is a delightful book to read with children. It's a book with such a subtle message that it can be read just as an enjoyable story. As I said, it's an award-winning book. But, before you pick up the book, I urge you to check it out on Amazon (have you ever seen me say that?), where you can see some of Wenzel's illustrations for this book. As enjoyable as the story is, the illustrations add so much. They're lush, beautiful pictures that add to the warmth of the story.

Montgomery Rabbit by Sandy Little. Illustrations by David Wenzel. Dog Ear Publishing. 2015. ISBN 9781457542923 (hardcover), 76p.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James

I'll admit I'm prejudiced because I am a librarian, but anyone who has attended a conference, or worked in a job where gossip swirls, will appreciate the conversations in Miranda James' latest Cat in the Stacks mystery, Twelve Angry Librarians. James easily entwines two facets of Charlie Harris' life, personal and professional, in this entertaining story. And, for all of us who love cats, of course there's Diesel, the Maine Coon cat with his own personality.

As interim director of the library at Athena College in Mississippi, Charlie is a reluctant participant in the Southern Academic Library Association's annual conference. Because the college is this year's host, he must make a welcoming speech and moderate a panel, two things he tries to avoid if at all possible. And, when he finds out that a former graduate school classmate is the keynote speaker, he's angry again, years later. Charlie hadn't seen Gavin Fong in years, and he's already causing problems for Charlie's co-worker, Lisa Krause, chair of local arrangements. The conference has barely started when Charlie has a public confrontation with him. Charlie is embarrassed, but it isn't long before he learns there are a number of other people with equal reasons to detest Gavin Fong. None of them are unhappy when Gavin drops dead just minutes after he gets up to speak.

Charlie admits he's nosy. He also knows he wants to be helpful. He just can't help himself. He asks questions of fellow librarians, and tries to piece together the answers to the mystery. Who killed Gavin Fong? The conference and his curiosity keep his mind off of other subjects. The university is searching for a new director and Charlie debates whether he should throw his hat in the ring. There are family issues that trouble him. If he can poke around in a murder investigation, he can forget about his personal life. However, Charlie Harris is always careful to call the lead investigator with helpful bits of information.

James' latest story is entertaining. Mystery fans should watch for recognizable names to pop up in the course of the convention. Diesel is still as engaging as ever, with his chirps and affectionate behavior. The solution to the mystery is clever, and appropriate. Twelve Angry Librarians should be a hit with so many readers; cat lovers, cozy mystery readers, and, of course, not-so-angry librarians.

Visit Miranda James' website at

Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James. Berkley Prime Crime. 2017. ISBN 9780425277788 (hardcover), 259p.

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What Are You Reading?

If it feels a little early for What Are You Reading?, it probably is. I read three books over the weekend, reviewed two of them on the blog, but it's harder to finish the next one on a work day. I'm reading Miranda James' forthcoming Cat in the Stacks mystery, Twelve Angry Librarians. With that title, of course I'm enjoying it. But I have something for you to watch for when you read the book. James has a good time with the names of the librarians in this book. It didn't hit me until I saw Bob Coben and Harlan Crais in conversation. So, watch for librarians with the last names of Muller, Pickard, Dunlap, Matera. Then there's Mitch Handler who writes as Berger Mitchell. I'm enjoying the tributes to other mystery writers. I'm only on page 100 or so. The librarians' conference isn't over yet in the book, so there may be more. It's fun to stumble across ones I recognize.

What are you reading today, or this week? I'd love to know!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Return of the Raven Mocker by Donis Casey

I'll admit I read Donis Casey's mysteries as much for the story of Alafair Tucker's life as I do for the mystery itself. This farm wife and mother of ten has a wisdom gained from appreciation of her elders' knowledge, and from the hard daily life of an Oklahoma wife and mother in the early twentieth century. All of her skills come into play in The Return of the Raven Mocker.

It's 1918. The war is on the minds of everyone in Boynton, Oklahoma. Most of the men are at war, even Alafair's seventeen-year-old, who enlisted at sixteen. The doctors have been taken for the war effort. So, when the influenza pandemic finally reaches Boynton, it's up to the women in town to handle the homefront battlefield, tending the sick, trying to keep the healthy well. When Alafair's daughter and son-in-law fall to the flu, she and her married daughters put together a plan before her husband, Shaw, even knows it. Alafair moves to town while one daughter and her husband move to Shaw's farm, and all of the school age children and the young grandchildren move to another daughter's farm. She plans the farm quarantine, and then goes to town to take care of Alice and her husband.

Alafair tends the sick, talks to her daughter, Martha, who is in charge of the Red Cross women who are doing what they can for the victims, reads the mail from her sons. But, it's the tending to the sick that takes all of her energy and time, hours of laundry, and cooking, and trying to keep them alive. She does get a little relief talking across the fence to Nola Thomason, Alice's neighbor. But, when screams take her to the Thomasons' house, she finds Nola and her adult son, Lewis, dead. However, after tending the sick, Alafair suspects Nola and Lewis did not die from the flu. It's her daughters who remember Alafair's grandmother telling stories of violent deaths when the Raven Mocker thought a victim was evil. Alafair doesn't want to believe in the old tale, but she knows something was wrong with how the Thomasons died.

In Donis Casey's skilled hands, Alafair Tucker and her family once more come to life. Casey excels in relating the day-to-day details of their lives. In this case, it's the details of how a community quarantined itself, shutting schools and churches and businesses. There are all the details as Alafair nurses the sick, including the details of the country remedies. The book mentions the reluctance of morticians to handle the dead, the fear that people had as so many died. Yet, in the midst of war and the flu, there was still murder. And, Alafair Tucker, with her deep understanding of people, and her motherly skill of listening closely to people, finally discovers the killer at the Thomasons'.

The Return of the Raven Mocker is a successful story of Oklahoma life in the early twentieth century, and murder, as only Donis Casey can write it.

Donis Casey's website is

The Return of the Raven Mocker by Donis Casey. Poisoned Pen Press. 2017. ISBN 9781464207363 (paperback), 218p.

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

The Violated by Bill Pronzini

Bill Pronzini's standalone, The Violated, is pitch-perfect. The crime story is told from multiple viewpoints, but the story flows easily from one voice to the next. Sometimes, that could be confusing, difficult to follow, and it might throw off a reader. Not with this story. It's the perfect way to demonstrate how crime destroys a community, person by person.

When two young boys find a body in Echo Park in Santa Rita, California, many of the townspeople view it as the end of a crime spree. Martin Torrey was a registered sex offender, and a suspect in the violent rape of four women in town. Police Chief Griffin Kells and Detective Robert Ortiz have been working the case for months, with no evidence to arrest Torrey. Now, someone has taken justice into their own hands and killed the man suspected by the entire community. Ortiz had suspected Torrey from the very beginning. Kells had his doubts.

Now, Kells and Ortiz have a murder investigation. Although they face pressure from the mayor and others in town to call Torrey the rapist, and close the case, they're determined to find the correct answer, using their limited resources. And, most people in Santa Rita hope the murder solved the rape cases. Even so, the community is angry and uneasy. The two police officers, the mayor, the owner of the newspaper, the rapist's victims, the dead man's wife and her sister all have opportunities to tell their stories. But, the tragedies haven't ended in Santa Rita.

The Violated is a powerful novel revealing the ripples that spread from crime. How many lives are affected? How many people are destroyed? Pronzini allows the people of Santa Rita to share their perspectives, and the number of ways they've been hurt.

Mystery Writers of America named Bill Pronzini a Grand Master. The Violated is just one more reason why he deserves it.

The Violated by Bill Pronzini. Bloomsbury. 2017. ISBN 9781632866608 (hardcover), 252p.

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