Friday, December 09, 2016

Queen of the Cookbooks by Ashton Lee

Although Ashton Lee hasn't wrapped up his Cherry Cola Book Club series, he brings one of Library Director Maura Beth McShay's dreams to a successful conclusion in Queen of the Cookbooks. Faithful readers will rejoice along with the members of the club, but it's obvious Maura Beth faces trouble in the future.

Finally! It's been a seven-year struggle, but Cherico, Mississippi is finally ready to open the new library, with all the pageantry of a July 4th celebration. But, Maura Beth confides to her new husband that something's missing. It's on a wandering trip one day that she realizes they don't have food for the grand opening. Her plan? Tents offering food, and a contest to name the best dish, with the person who made the dish crowned as Queen of the Cookbooks. But, nothing comes easy for the Library Director. Two of the cooks are at war, determined to beat each other, using sabotage if necessary.

But, the two warring contestants are the least of Maura Beth's problems. Her teenage clerk, Renette, has a crush on country star and entrepreneur Waddell Mack. She has dreams that could only stir up trouble with her conservative parents. And, those parents have already confronted Maura Beth, complaining about the books in the library while demanding the removal of some of them.

Ashton Lee's novels always have charming Southern characters, lively book discussions, and mouthwatering recipes.  Maura Beth McShay has grown into a confident library director who faces down controversy, and unites the citizens of Cherico once again in this enjoyable book. Queen of the Cookbooks is the culmination of an ongoing storyline, and what should be the culmination of any Library Director's career. It's time for Maura Beth to move on with her personal life, although, as always there will be issues to deal with at the library.

Queen of the Cookbooks by Ashton Lee. Kensington Books. 2016. ISBN 9781496705785 (paperback), 245p.

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

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Have You Heard? - Through the Grinder by Cleo Coyle

Holiday party at work. Board meeting. And, other excuses for "busyness". I'm glad Sandie Herron is
willing to fill in now and then with "Have You Heard?"

“Have You Heard?” is a new 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.  The column is published sporadically, so you’ll want to watch for it!

Before I turn today's column over to Sandie, I'll mention news from Cleo Coyle. Their new Coffeehouse Mystery, Dead Cold Brew, will be released Jan. 10, 2017 in print, digital and audio, and has been selected as an offering of the Mystery Guild. Watch for my review of that! In the meantime, I'll turn this over to Sandie for her review of the second Coffeehouse Mystery in audio, Through the Grinder.

*****
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51zYUoXtrDL._AA300_.jpgThrough the Grinder
By Cleo Coyle, Narrated by Rebecca Gibel
Unabridged Audiobook, Listening Length: 8 hours and 13 minutes
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Audible.com Release Date: September 15, 2011
ASIN: B005N51JDO


Though the Grinder is the second book in the Coffee House mystery series, it was more than a cozy mystery; it was humor, suspense, romance, and more.

Clare Cosi was managing the Village Blend one evening when she decided to sit in on the weekly dating group meeting to oversee her daughter Joy's participation.  She met a different man every five minutes and was encouraged to make three dates.  She felt most of the 20 men were not desirable except for one man -- Bruce Bowman.

Unfortunately the woman Bruce left with was found dead, a suspected suicide.  Clare's friend Detective Mike Quinn says it was murder, and she was pushed.  He has tied this case to the supposed suicide of another Village Blend regular pushed onto the subway tracks.  Then another customer was run over by a sanitation truck.  Misstep or murder?

Clare has been getting to know Bruce and quickly falling in love.  She begins her own investigation when Det. Quinn names his suspect, none other than Bruce!

Many plot lines twisted together, and many facts are shared between the deaths.  Clare's search tied together several more details.  I need to comment on how well Cleo Coyle slips in facts on New York City and other subjects.  This could become too heavy handed, but she does use restraint.  When she explains how to make cappuccino on Bruce's new expresso machine, the innuendo had my husband and me tied in knots as we laughed out loud over the audio book.  

This was an excellent entry in the series, a wonderful sophomore effort.  I would never have guessed this was only book two.  I am very much looking forward to reading Coyle's entire series.



Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Glow of Death by Jane K. Cleland

Jane K. Cleland's Josie Prescott Antiques mysteries are some of the best traditional mysteries I read every year. Josie continues to grow and develop as a character. The antiques involved are relevant to the mystery, and the information about those antiques is fascinating. Glow of Death is another outstanding entry in the series.

Although Josie knows that everyone hopes they actually own a Tiffany lamp, when she's asked to appraise one that has been in Edwin Towson's family for generations, she's excited. Prescott's Antiques & Auctions in Rocky Point, New Hampshire has an excellent reputation in the field. When she tells Edwin's wife, Ava, that the Tiffany lamp is authentic, both women are thrilled. Ava even agrees to allow Josie to use the antique in her television show, knowing that will build excitement if the Towsons decide to sell it. However, murder builds excitement as well.

When the Towsons' dog-walker finds Ava's body, the police chief is at Josie's getting ready for the annual July 4th celebration. So, Chief Ellis Hunter asks Josie to identify the body. When Josie says she never saw the woman before, she realizes she's been played. Someone used Josie and her business to identify a priceless antique. Josie is furious that she was duped. Her reputation is in jeopardy. And, she's determined to find out why someone set her up for deception in a murder.

Glow of Death is a character-driven, intricately plotted mystery. It's engrossing and suspenseful. Josie is a complex character who has built a family around her over the years, and over the course of the series. Her emotions are believable, and her reasons for investigating are believable. She's a well-developed, strong character. But, despite her determination to find answers, she turns her information in to the police, and works with them to solve the case. The characters are solid in these books, from Josie's staff to the police chief. Even the animals in the books have personalities. And, Prescott's descriptions of the antiques are richly detailed. Josie Prescott's love of antiques and research is one reason she's such a believable amateur sleuth, a woman who does her homework.

Every time I review one of Jane K. Cleland's mysteries, I encourage readers to go back. Start at the beginning. Watch Josie Prescott develop from the timid, lonely woman she was in the first book to the confident businesswoman she is now. It's worth your time. Glow of Death is just the latest enjoyable, strong entry in this series.

Jane K. Cleland's website is www.janecleland.net

Glow of Death by Jane K. Cleland. Minotaur Books. 2016. ISBN 9781250102973 (hardcover), 293p.

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

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

It's That Time of Year

It's that time of year when there doesn't seem to be enough time in the day. Of course, the work day is the same. But, I had books and a present and Christmas cards to open when I arrived home yesterday. (Yes, I was supposed to open that present now.) And, a friend to thank, and a Christmas letter to read, along with a wonderful newspaper story that's going through my family. It's about a 92-year-old veteran of World War II who we all know, and several of us had as a teacher in high school. So, as much as I'm loving Jane Cleland's Glow of Death (she continues to top herself), I didn't get it finished to review for today.

So, you all know what I'm currently reading. As my friend Kaye Wilkinson Barley said, at Jungle Red Writers, maybe I shouldn't tell you how busy I've been. We're all busy. Instead, just tell us what you're reading.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Into the Lion's Den by Linda Fairstein

Linda Fairstein is the perfect author to set a series of juvenile mysteries in New York City. Who knows it any better than the author of the Alexandra Cooper novels? Fairstein, a former prosecutor for Manhattan, utilizes the city's landmarks as essential elements in her mysteries. In the first Devlin Quick mystery, Into the Lion's Den, the New York Public Library's map room is the scene of a crime.

Twelve-year-old Devlin is in front of the New York Public Library waiting for Liza de Lucena, an Argentinian summer student at Devlin's school. When Liza comes out, she and Devlin chase after a man that Liza claims cut a page from a rare book in the Map Division. It's a chase that ends in the subway, but Devlin has a poor photo of the man. Unfortunately, no one believes the two girls, including Devlin's mother, Blaine Quick, the police commissioner of NYC.

But, Devlin believes Liza. Together with Devlin's friend, Booker, the three do research at the library, and, using a few resources at One Police Plaza, or the Puzzle Palace as Devlin calls it, they narrow their suspects to three. Devlin's online research, and their interview with a librarian, reveals a world of valuable maps and ruthless thefts of maps. How do three young people track down a map thief when librarians, scholars, and the police have not yet caught him?

Remembering the years when I read juvenile mysteries, I would have snapped up Into the Lion's Den. It features a trio of intrepid young sleuths, a library, and New York City sites. The three amateur detectives, led by Devlin Quick, utilize online resources, modern detective methods, and their own ingenuity to find and trap a thief. It's an entertaining, fast-paced mystery. I hope today's young mystery readers are as eager to follow future adventures of Devlin Quick as I would have been at that age.

Linda Fairstein's website is www.lindafairstein.com

Into the Lion's Den by Linda Fairstein. Dial Books for Young Readers. 2016. ISBN 9780399186431 (hardcover), 312p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg

While the book jacket says Fannie Flagg's latest novel, The Whole Town's Talking, is about what it means to be truly alive, I looked at the book differently. I saw it as the story of a town, from birth to death. And, it's the story of the people who built the town, and who went on, even after death. It's chatty. It's the slow pace of a small town's daily life.

In the late 1870s, Lordor Nordstrom left Sweden, and found farm land he liked in southern Missouri. He quickly sought other farmers as neighbors, and, by 1880, a small community others called Swede Town was starting to grow. This is the story of Swede Town, later renamed Elmwood Springs. Lordor Nordstrom was named the first mayor, and he and his family, and the other town founders, proved to be excellent stewards of the town. But, Lordor always had his eye on the future, and he donated land for Still Meadows, the local cemetery. Flagg's story is about those town founders, the growth of the town through the twentieth century, and the eventual fate of so many small communities. But, those town founders, including Lordor, his wife, and his friends, found another community in Still Meadows. And, it was from there that they watched the activity of the town, and learned about the events from each new arrival in Still Meadows.

Flagg covers the entire century, the little town, the First World War, which didn't have a great impact, the Second World War, which brought grief. But, she also deals with the businesses in Elmwood Springs and the people who run the dairy, the bakery, the first school. It wasn't until 1956 that Elmwood Springs felt the need to have a police department. And, by the end of the century, there was a crime that affected everyone, living and dead.

One of the elders of the town, Elner Shimfissle, is a large farm woman with an appreciation for daily life. Fannie Flagg is wise in giving a primary role to a woman who is beloved by family, friends, and, who will be loved by readers. Even in death, Elner is wise about life. "I think most people are confused about life, because it's not just one thing going on. It's many things going on at the same time. Life is both sad and happy, simple and complex, all at the same time."

There are moments of humor in The Whole Town's Talking. I found one scene for tears, a scene at the cemetery. Maybe Flagg's book is about life. I still see it as the story of a small town, Elmwood Springs in this case, but the story of so many small towns. It's where you learn "The true meaning of family and friendship and what it means to be a good neighbor." It's a charming story of responsibility. It's a quiet book with little more than the drama of ordinary life. Isn't that enough?

The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg. Random House. 2016. ISBN 9781400065950 (hardcover), 403p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Dead Man Walking by Simon R. Green

I'm addicted to Simon R. Green's Ishmael Jones mysteries, but the third one is only on order for us, so I have to wait to read the next one. Dead Man Walking wasn't quite up to the first country house mystery with supernatural overtones, but it was still intriguing.

Here's what Green writes about in his urban fantasies, in this case, "country house mysteries". "There is a world beneath the world; a hidden place of secrets and lies, deception and double-dealing, masquerade and murder. Where people you've never heard of work for departments that don't officially exist, doing things that no one will ever admit to. It can be a fascinating life if you don't weaken, but it's not for the faint of heart." Ishmael Green is not faint of heart, and neither is his companion on this adventure, Penny Belcourt. Frank Parker, who was once a field agent for the Organization, wants to come in from the cold. He says he has information about traitors within the Organization.  Parker's under tight security at an isolated location in northern Yorkshire, Ringstone Lodge. The Colonel sends a top field agent, Ishmael, to supervise the security and question Parker.

Once Ishmael and Penny arrive, they find the usual assortment of odd characters, the former military man who supervises the lodge, two security men, two doctors determined to make their names by breaking Frank Parker, a tech person supervising all the computers and security cameras, and, of course, Parker himself. It seems a small group for the large manor, but it becomes even smaller as people are killed, one by one.

As I said, Dead Man Walking was a little weaker than the previous book, The Dark Side of the Road. This time, it was obvious to me who the killer was. Ishmael Green didn't believe it was a ghost, and neither did I. But, the black humor is still there, and I appreciate it. At one point, Penny says, "Because let's face it, if he isn't the killer he might as well have 'Future Victim' tattooed on his forehead." And, when they finally have a chance to explore, she comments, "It's not a proper country-house mystery if there aren't sliding panels and secret passageways. Everyone knows that."

Humor, intrigue, and a pair of well-matched sleuths. Urban fantasy? Mystery? Spy novel? Dead Man Walking is one of those genre-blends that are so popular now. I'm glad Simon R. Green mixes paranormal, mystery, and that delicious black humor.

Simon R. Green's website is www.simonrgreen.co.uk

Dead Man Walking by Simon R. Green. Severn House. 2016. ISBN 9780727886231 (hardcover), 201p.

*****
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book