Monday, October 14, 2019

Girls Like Us by Christina Alger

This is just a hypothetical question. And, I've been reading and reviewing books long enough to know that the publisher actually picks a category for a book to generate sales. Libraries also classify fiction. And, who is to say that any of us are right? So why is a book called psychological suspense? To be honest, normally I wouldn't pick up a book defined that way. Maybe Christina Alger's  Girls Like Us is psychological suspense. Maybe it's a police procedural. It's really just a novel featuring an FBI agent who investigates her late father.

Nell Flynn is on leave from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. She shot a man, but she was also wounded. As of yet, she hasn't done what she has to do to return to duty. In some ways, it's perfect timing, Her father, a homicide detective with Suffolk County, died in a motorcycle accident. She assumes he was drinking, as usual, but his fellow officers, including his best friend, Chief Glenn Dorsey, will cover that up. Nell has to clean up the house, and try to uncover her own unresolved feelings about the man she hasn't really communicated with in ten years.

While Nell is still home, a dog finds a woman's body buried on the beach. It's been dismembered and wrapped in burlap. Lee Davis, a former high school classmate, now a homicide detective, asks Nell if she will consult on the case. It's not the first body discovered in Suffolk County. A year earlier, the body of another young woman was found, killed and wrapped in burlap. Nell's father, Martin Flynn, handled that unsolved case. The more Nell digs, the more she suspects her father might have been involved in the deaths. And, those deaths bring back memories of Nell's mother, brutally murdered when the seven-year-old was on a camping trip with her father.

Girls Like Us is a fast-paced, intriguing story for those of us who like to follow along with the interviews and investigation. Nell Flynn has an interesting voice as an FBI agent unsure of her future, and, in so many ways, uncomfortable with her past. The story has one unexpected scene more shocking than the discovery of the bodies, but it makes sense. And, published when it was, the book was a remarkable forecast of events over the summer.

Is Girls Like Us psychological suspense? You be the judge.

Christina Alger's website is

Girls Like Us by Christina Alger. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2019. ISBN 9780593085813 (hardcover), 276p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Good Man Gone Bad by Gar Anthony Haywood

It's been a long time since I read one of Gar Anthony Haywood's books. In the mid-90s, I read the two books he wrote about Joe and Dottie Loudermilk, a retired African-American couple who traveled the U.S. in their camper. I had never read any of the Aaron Gunner books. And, it has been nineteen years between the books in this series. Gunner is back in Good Man Gone Bad.

Aaron Gunner may appear to be a streetwise, sixty-year-old private investigator, but he's always depended on his cousin, Del. Del has been his confidante and best friend. But, Del's final phone call almost destroys Gunner. Del blames himself for the shooting of his wife and daughter, and then shoots himself. That's what the evidence shows, according to the police. Gunner can't accept that his cousin would shoot the women he loved.

While Del's daughter lingers in the hospital, Gunner searches for answers as to why the good man he always admired would shoot anyone. But, there were secrets in Del's life. His business was in financial trouble. Gunner begins to wonder if he knew his cousin any better than he knows the suspect in another shooting, a fellow Vietnam vet who might have snapped. As Aaron's investigations lead him through the sometimes violent streets of South Los Angeles, he realizes even a good man can be pushed too far.

Gar Anthony Haywood won the Shamus Award for Fear of the Dark, the mystery that introduced Aaron Gunner. In this latest book, the PI has even more reasons to be a brooding, troubled man. Haywood reminds readers of man's complex motives, and that there's always the possibility of violence, even when the perpetrator seems unlikely. After a nineteen year absence, Haywood brings back a dogged investigator determined to find the truth, no matter how much it hurts.

Gar Anthony Haywood's website is

Good Man Gone Bad by Gar Anthony Haywood. Prospect Park Books, 2019. ISBN 9781945551666 (paperback), 236p.

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

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Christmas Cocoa Murder by Carlene O'Connor, Maddie Day & Alex Erickson

Carlene O'Connor, Maddie Day and Alex Erickson have more in common than the facts that they write cozy mysteries featuring amateur sleuths. Each of their novellas in Christmas Cocoa Murder features cocoa. Well, duh. Of course. They are also all enjoyable stories, which is unusual in a collection. Often, one story is weaker than the others. All three of these will please cozy mystery fans looking for new Christmas stories.

In "Christmas Cocoa Murder", Carlene O'Connor sweeps us off to Kilbane, County Cork, Ireland, where Siobhan O'Sullivan has just graduated, and will be Garda O'Sullivan in the new year. Her Christmas break is a time to relax and celebrate with her five siblings. But, it seems someone has been stealing dogs, including the O'Sullivans' Trigger. When the local Santa is found dead in a tank of cocoa at the town's Christmas extravaganza, the dogs are also found. Santa may have been a thief, but who would want to kill him?

"Christmas Cocoa and a Corpse" by Maddie Day takes readers to Brown County, Indiana where Robbie Jordan runs a country store that serves breakfast and lunch. This year, she's selling her popular cocoa mix. But the police confiscate all the packets after a dislikable local businessman is found dead. And, the father of Robbie's boyfriend gave the man a box of those mixes for a present. Despite the hectic Christmas rush at the country store, Robbie is determined to prove her possible future father-in-law isn't a killer.

Was it "Death by Hot Cocoa" for the man who set up a Christmas escape room in Alex Erickson's novella? Bookstore cafe owner Krissy Hancock accompanies a friend, and enjoys the puzzle of her first escape room. However, it isn't as much fun when the participants find their host dead, and realize they're trapped in the escape room with a body and a killer.

Each of the stories has a likable amateur sleuth. The first two are set in small communities, where family and friends play major roles. The third story could be set anyplace, but the answers are dependent on a small group of participants. Christmas Cocoa Murder is an enjoyable collection. I'd suggest you settle down with the book and a nice cup of cocoa, but this might not be the right suggestion. (wink)

Christmas Cocoa Murder by O'Connor, Day, and Erickson. Kensington Books, 2019. ISBN 9781496723604 (hardcover), 346p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Friday, October 11, 2019

Winners and A "Bitter" Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Ice Cold Heart will go to Christopher S. in Eden, NY. Mark B. from Santa Clarita, CA won Iced in Paradise. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away two "bitter" books. A Bitter Feast is Deborah Crombie's latest Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery. However, Crombie told an audience this week that this one can stand alone, so don't hesitate to enter to win it even if you haven't read books in the series. Duncan, Gemma, and their children head to the Cotswolds for a relaxing weekend at Beck House. The glorious fall getaway is centered around a posh charity harvest luncheon catered by an up-and-coming chef. But, while they're there, a tragic car accident and a series of mysterious deaths pull Duncan and Gemma into the investigation. And, it seems as if the deaths may be connected to the chef's pub, or to Beck House.

Or, you could win C.J. Box' The Bitterroots. Former police officer Cassie Dewell is trying to start over as a private investigator. But her plans are turned upside down when an old friend calls in a favor. She wants Cassie to help exonerate a man accused of assaulting a young woman from an influential family. She reluctantly agrees, but out by Montana's Bitterroot Mountains, loyalty runs deep, and it's not easy to uncover the truth.

Which "bitter" book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win A Bitter Feast" or "Win The Bitterroots." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, October 17 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

No Judgments by Meg Cabot

Sometimes, a fun, humorous romance is just the perfect escape. When it's a Meg Cabot book set in the Florida Keys, it's even better. In No Judgments, Cabot creates great characters; quirky, odd, kind, and giving. Throw in an enormous cast of animals, everything from cats and dogs to guinea pigs and cockatiels, and it's a wild ride. Hurricane Marilyn just throws it all together beautifully.

Although Bree Beckham's mother hated Little Bridge, Florida, her late father always loved the island in the Florida Keys. Thst's where Bree escapes when her relationship went sour. She works at the Mermaid diner, and she enjoys her co-workers and her grumpy boss. When a level 5 hurricane, Hurricane Marilyn, is predicted to be heading straight for Little Bridge, Bree never seriously thinks about evacuating. Her ex-boyfriend, Caleb, offers to send his private jet to get her out of there. Her mother, a famous radio judge, Judge Justine, calls constantly, begging her to leave. But, Bree is naive enough to think she can easily ride through the hurricane. And, where would she go with her rescue cat Gary?

Even when a mandatory evacuation is announced, and Bree's roommate, a nurse, says the ER staff, police and fire are leaving, Bree stays. But, she's never been through a hurricane. She doesn't really understand the consequences until her boss' wife, Mrs. Hartwell, invites her to their hurricane party, and says she can stay at their house, which is on high ground. The Hartwell's nephew, Drew, the island heartthrob, taunts her, calling her Fresh Water, because he can see she's naive, and doesn't really understand about the lack of water, power, and ability to get around the island.

Bree does understand one thing, though. When the hurricane is over, and people can't get to Little Bridge, it's not just people who are stranded. What about all of the pets who were on the island. Now, she's frantically developing a plan to take care of all of the animals. And, despite her vow to stay away from Drew Hartwell, he's just the animal-loving caretaker she needs. There might be more to the island stud than meets the eye.

As I said, Cabot's characters are great, as are her descriptions of island life. Once you meet the people and animals of Little Bridge, it's hard to let go at the end of the book.

Remember when I recommended Christina Lauren's The Unhoneymooners in July? If you enjoyed that humorous contemporary romance, you might want to try No Judgments. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Here's the purchase link to HarperCollins, the publisher.

Meg Cabot's website is

No Judgments by Meg Cabot. William Morrow, 2019. ISBN 9780062890047 (paperback), 384p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy to participate in the TLC Book Tour.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

What Are You Reading?

Although I'm reading an excellent book, Jane Harper's The Lost Man, I want to tell you what I did yesterday, and what I'm going to be reading. I went to St. Louis with a friend and blogger, Kathy Boone Reel, who blogs at Deborah Crombie is on book tour for her latest Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery, A Bitter Feast. We went to see her at The London Tea Room in St. Louis. Wonderful tea. Now, I'm looking forward to reading the book.

Deborah Crombie at The London Tea Room

With Deborah Crombie

So, what are reading this week? Anything good? Let us know, even if you didn't care for the book. We're always curious!

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate

Marty Wingate kicks off a new cozy series, The First Edition Library Mysteries, with The Bodies in the Library. To be honest, I preferred the police over the amateur sleuth, though. For a change in a debut cozy, the investigating police officers are kind and intelligent while the sleuth herself bumbles her way through the book.

Hayley Burke is not really qualified to be curator of Lady Georgiana Fowling's First Edition Library in Bath, England. She knows nothing about the Golden Age of Mystery, and hasn't read Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers or Ngaio Marsh. The small group that writes fan fiction and meets in the library is much more familiar with Lady Fowling's favorite authors than Hayley is. But, when one of those writers ends up dead, and the police don't seem to have any leads, Hayley decides to step in. She's going to read an Agatha Christie mystery and solve the case as if she was Miss Jane Marple. What would Miss Marple do?

That's the question Hayley asks herself as she questions the police, follows suspects, and feels threatened by a few of the men involved in the case. Along the way, she meets a college lecturer who distracts her from the inattention paid her by her so-called boyfriend. He's one bright spot in Hayley's life. She's a pushover for her daughter and her boyfriend, and allows them to walk all over her.

Hayley, who is in her mid-forties, just wasn't my cup of tea. Her lack of confidence and lack of knowledge wore me down, as did the length of the book. I think it could have been shortened. My recommendation is to actually read the authors of the Golden Age mysteries if that's what you're looking for. However, there may be readers who enjoy Hayley's attempt to play detective in The Bodies in the Library.

The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate. Berkley Prime Crime, 2019. ISBN 9781984804105 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones

Undocumented immigrants. ICE. Missing young women. Sex trafficking. If it sounds as if it's the latest newspaper account of Trump's policies, it's not. Stephen Mack Jones' second August Snow novel, Lives Laid Away, gives a whole new meaning to "Neighborhood Watch".

After winning a twelve million dollar settlement against the city of Detroit for wrongful termination, ex-cop August Snow settled in his childhood neighborhood of Mexicantown, buying up property and renovating it, as he tries to bring back the area. But, the friendly neighborhood is uneasy. ICE, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement police, are trolling the streets, mapping potential spots and safe houses for undocumented immigrants. And, Snow, whose father was an African-American cop and mother was a Mexican-American artist, hears the stories from frightened people even in the grocery store.

When the newspapers report that "Marie Antoinette took a header off the Ambassador Bridge", police want to quickly dismiss the case as just another suicide. But, Bobby Falconi in the coroner's office sees it differently, and lets Snow know the girl was raped, brutalized and drugged. Snow's godmother, Elena, an activist for human rights, identifies her as Isadora Rosalie del Torres, a nineteen-year-old undocumented worker from Mexico City. ICE raided the restaurant where she worked, and Izzy disappeared into the system. Snow is shocked when his beloved godmother, armed, takes him to a clandestine meeting where he's told that Izzy wasn't the first or last young woman to disappear. There seems to be sex trafficking going on in Detroit.

August Snow, ex-cop, former Marine in Afghanistan, is just the person to trek through the muck of strip joints, bars, and back rooms to discover who is behind the new sex trade in undocumented women. Together with his godfather, Tomas, and a few friends with specialties, Snow is determined to root out the current evil in his world.

I never read Jones' debut novel, August Snow, although it went on to win the Hammett and Nero Awards. But, I'll follow the series now, and I'll introduce my brother-in-law to it. Snow is a character whose heart is big enough to accommodate all of his neighbors, while his anger can wipe out an entire room. The latest book has wonderful characters, and, at times, moments of that cop humor, although the story deals with a serious subject. There's religion and poetry and love, right alongside guns and crime and violence. And, I have to admit one short scene, a story from Afghanistan, made me tear up.

I wish I had the time to catch every outstanding novel as they come out. I'm just glad I caught up with August Snow by the second book in the series, Lives Laid Away.

Stephen Mack Jones' website is

Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones. Soho Crime, 2019. ISBN 9781616959593 (hardcover), 296p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Monday, October 07, 2019

A Legacy of Murder by Connie Berry

Kate Hamilton is caught up in antiques, murder, and a troubled personal life in the second intriguing mystery by Connie Berry, A Legacy of Murder. This time, the American antiques dealer is in Suffolk County, England, rather than Scotland, but she's still in a charming, atmospheric village just before Christmas.

It's just been a month since Kate met Detective Inspector Thomas Mallory while they were both on vacation in Scotland. They were tangled up in a murder investigation, but now is Kate's chance to get to know him better, while also taking the opportunity to spend time with her college-age daughter, Christine. Christine is an intern at Finchley Hall in Long Barston in Suffolk, and she snagged a room for her mother on the property. The interns are preparing for an exhibit of the Finchley Hoard, a collection of treasures buried and hidden in 1546 during a Peasants' Revolt, and only unearthed in 1818.

Kate's on a tour of the estate when a young boy finds the body of one of the interns. Tabitha was in charge of preparing the exhibit, and now that she's been murdered, Lady Barbara Finchley-fforde is afraid the show will have to be cancelled. She needs the money for upkeep of the property, so she proposes that Kate take over the preparation. Kate knows Tom will be busy with the murder investigation. Christine is preoccupied with her job and a boyfriend. So, she agrees, but it isn't long before she finds Tabitha's notes about a discrepancy in the collection. However, between her research, Christine's tantrums over her boyfriend, and more troubles on the estate, Kate doesn't have time to investigate the discrepancies. When another murder occurs, and there are thefts of small pieces from other homes, Kate worries about the connection to Finchley Hall and the valuable collection. And, Tabitha's murder, along with the rumors, are eerily similar to the murder of another intern twenty-three years earlier.

Connie Berry has a fascinating set-up for a character-driven, atmospheric series, and she leaves a clue as to where the third book will be going. Kate Hamilton is a well-developed character, so well-developed that it's easy to get exasperated with her and her problems with her immature daughter who tends to be stubborn and behave inappropriately. But, Kate's part of the sandwich generation, caught between an aging mother who she adores, and her demanding daughter who becomes a murder suspect. She's a widow who has her own issues, but she shows maturity and growth in her decisions.

There are some delightful new characters introduced in this second book, a knowledgeable antiques dealer, as well as Lady Barbara and her friend Vivian. There's also humor involving the rivalry between an old pub and one opened by newcomers to the village. Readers might start the series because of the settings in Scotland and England, or the connection and information about antiques. The mysteries combine cold cases with local legends and stories, which make them appealing. But, readers will continue to come back because of Kate Hamilton. And, it doesn't hurt that Tom Mallory cares deeply for Kate, and respects her knowledge and ability. That's refreshing. Connie Berry's series is refreshing with a realistic, mature amateur sleuth.

If you're a fan of Jane K. Cleland's mysteries, check out A Dream of Death and A Legacy of Murder.

Connie Berry's website is

A Legacy of Murder by Connie Berry. Crooked Lane Books, 2019.  ISBN 9781643851549 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Beyond a Reasonable Stout by Ellie Alexander

Someday, I'm going to go back and read Ellie Alexander's other series, The Bakeshop Mysteries. A librarian friend who isn't a big cozy mystery reader raves about those books. Alexander and her characters suck a reader into a series, whether the subject matter is of interest or not. I really don't care about beer or craft beer brewing, but the Sloan Krause mysteries are appealing because of the characters, and the mystery of Sloan's own background. Beyond a Reasonable Stout is interesting despite my lack of interest in brewing.

Sloan Krause is a brewer, celebrating the end of Oktoberfest and the few quiet days. Leavenworth, Washington, has become well-known for the craft beer industry, and its celebration lasted a month. It might be a quiet time for the beer industry, and Nitro, the brewery where Sloan works, but the town has its own turmoil. Election time is coming up, and Kristopher Cooper, an incumbent city council member, is running on a temperance platform. Despite Leavenworth's reputation for beer and all things German, Cooper wants a dry town. When Sloan and Garrett, Nitro's owner, attend a town meeting, locals are vocal in their opposition to Kristopher. However, when he's seen after the meeting, a smug Kristopher seems to have his reasons for optimism. He has arguments, though, with local business people, including April Ablin, the town's self-appointed ambassador.

Despite the anger, Sloan is shocked the next morning when she stops to see April and finds the sheriff arresting her for Kristopher's murder. Even with the arrest, the sheriff mentions to Sloan that April could use a friend and someone to help her. Sloan isn't a big fan of April's, but she doesn't think of the woman as a killer. She's willing to ask questions about Kristopher to find other suspects.

While Sloan might be willing to investigate, she has her own personal problems. She's going through with her divorce, but she worries about her fifteen-year-old son, Alex. And, she's afraid of losing the only family she ever knew, her husband's parents and brother. Sloan grew up in foster care, and she doesn't easily reveal herself to others. But, little by little, she's trying to learn more about her parentage, with help from a social worker.

Whether you're interested in beer, craft brewing, an interesting tourist town in a cozy mystery, or intriguing characters, Ellie Alexander's Sloan Krause series is worth picking up. I'd start with the first book, though, Death on Tap. It won't take long for you to arrive at the third one, Beyond a Reasonable Stout.

Ellie Alexander's website is

Beyond a Reasonable Stout by Ellie Alexander. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250205759 (hardcover), 336p.

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

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Sarah Jane by James Sallis

I had never read one of James Sallis' books when I received Sarah Jane. Lyrical, powerful, haunting,
ambiguous ending. There are so many terms to describe this disturbing book. I seldom say a book is a must-read, and I'm the last person to read for language. But, Sallis' spare, concise writing is worth reading. This crime fiction book should be picked up by anyone who appreciates a turn of phrase, the graceful use of language.

Sarah Jane narrates her life story. When she says, right up front, I didn't do all of the things they claim I did, the reader is sucked into the story of a flawed character. She tells of growing up in the south on the Tennessee, Alabama border, where her father takes responsibility, and says to her, "We're from good hillbilly stock, Pretty. We don't call the police." That's ironic, considering Sarah Jane's future with cops, and as a cop, but it's still the truth of her life.

Her mother abandons the family, coming and going from their home, but gone more often than not. Sarah Jane herself leaves home at sixteen to bum around, live with hippies, get arrested. She's told it's jail or the service, so she ends up in the army in the Mideast. She loses a close friend, and ends up back in the U.S., where she cooks at various diners and restaurants to survive. Eventually, she marries an abusive cop, leaves him, lives with another cop. And, then Sarah Jane herself becomes a cop in a small town called Farr.

And, one day, Sarah Jane becomes acting sheriff when her mentor disappears. As she looks for clues to his disappearance, she finds clues to a troubled man who came home from the service with PTSD. But, her search is interrupted when Sarah Jane's own past comes calling in the forms of an FBI agent and a cop.

Sarah Jane's narration of her life seems to be a straightforward story. However, it's a story with ambiguous moments when the reader is unsure of Sarah Jane's actions and responsibility for "accidents". What the reader is sure of is that Sallis uses a straightforward memoir format to tell a complicated story.

Sarah Jane is complicated, but, oh, Sallis' sentences! It's hard to resist philosophical phrases such as "simpler times when, mistakenly or not, we understood the American dream to be collaborative rather than competitive."  Or, "All stories are ghost stories, about things lost, people, memories, home, passion, youth, about things struggling to be seen, to be accepted, by the living."

He says, "The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the examined life, any examined life at all, is for damn sure going to surprise, confound and disturb you." That's Sarah Jane.

James Sallis' website is

Sarah Jane by James Sallis. Soho Press, 2019. ISBN 9781641290807 (hardcover), 216p.

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

Friday, October 04, 2019

Winners and an Ice, Ice Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Charlotte W. from Covington, GA won The Moth Catcher. The Long Call goes to Lauren K. from Reading, MA. The books are going out in the mail today.

Temperatures dropped today here from our 90s, and that will probably be it until next summer. And, places such as Montana already have snow. In recognition of that winter weather I hate, I'm giving away books with ice in the title.

Fortunately, one of them is Iced in Paradise, the first in Naomi Hirahara's new series set in Hawaii.
Leilani Santiago returns home from Seattle after her mother is diagnosed with MS. She wants to help with the family, and with the family business, a shave ice shack. She ends up helping with a murder investigation when her father's surfing protege is murdered, and her father is the primary suspect.

From Hawaii, we move to Minnesota, where the winter ice really is a factor in P.J. Tracy's Monkeewrench novel, Ice Cold Heart. When Detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth are called to a murder scene, they find a woman dead in her friend's vacant house. However, the woman's husband had no ideas she had a dangerous secret life. It's a tough case, but Roadrunner from the Monkeewrench team rescues a frozen woman who just might have the key to the wide-reaching case.

Which icy book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Iced in Paradise" or "Win Ice Cold Heart." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, October 10 at 5 PM CT.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

What Are You Reading?

Did you have a good reading week? I hope so. If not, I hope it was because you were busy, in a good

I'm reading D.M. Quincy's Dec. 10 release, Murder at the Opera. It's the third Atlas Catesby mystery, set in Regency London. I love the adventurer Atlas Catesby and the people he's surrounded by in this series. Quincy does a wonderful job with the atmosphere and the customs in society at the time.

I'm also reading Leah Price's nonfiction book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading. Slow-going with that one, no matter how much I'm interested in the subject. I've read less than 50 pages.

What are you reading this week? Please tell us!

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

A House of Ghosts by W. C. Ryan

If I was putting together my top ten books of 2019 right now, W. C. Ryan's A House of Ghosts would be in the top five. The engrossing ghost story/historical mystery is definitely one of the best books I've read this year. Fans of Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge mysteries might want to pick up this book. It has everything - spies, ghosts, wartime issues, a touch of romance, an isolated house mystery a la Agatha Christie. It's wonderful. It was released in the U.K. last year, where it went on to be a finalist for the NBA Irish Book Awards Crime Fiction Book of the Year. I'm not the only one impressed by this story.

It's 1917, and Great Britain has already lost a number of young men in World War I. Armaments manufacturer Lord Highmount lost both of his sons. His house, Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the coast of Devon, has a reputation of being haunted, and he hopes to take advantage of that. He invites a number of people, including two mediums, to the island, with hopes he can contact his sons. Kate Cartwright, whose brother was lost at the Somme, and the mysterious Captain Robert Donovan, attend the gathering on behalf of the Secret Intelligence Service. Kate has her own inherited ability to see ghosts, and Donovan has his orders. The SIS suspects a spy will be there, someone who has passed secret weapons designs to the Germans.

It's an uncomfortable gathering, with two sets of parents desperate to contact their sons, Kate and Donovan on the look out for suspicious actions, the mediums with their own agendas, and several younger people, including Kate's former, and now pretend, fiancé. It doesn't grow any more comfortable after the seance the first night when a former solider who was trapped underground for eighteen days communicates with the dead, or when one set of parents hear their son. But, it isn't a ghost who cuts the telephone line, opens secret passages, and leaves a man dead.

A House of Ghosts is a riveting story. While it's a ghost story and a mystery, it also tells of a lost generation and the cruelty of war, tunnels and capture, gas, ships sunk by U-boats. It's a story of spies and wars, disguised as a ghost story. As I said, it's one of my favorite books of the year.

W.C. Ryan's website is

Note: W.C. Ryan is also known as William Ryan, author of the critically acclaimed Captain Korolev historical crime novels.

A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan. Arcade CrimeWise (Skyhorse Publishing), 2019. ISBN 9781948924719 (hardcover), 384p.

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

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

November Treasures in My Closet

November isn't a big publishing month, or, at least my Treasures in My Closet piles don't reflect a big publishing month. However, there are treasures, including one of the best books I've read this year.

Elizabeth Berg takes readers back to Mason, Missouri in The Confession Club. What started as a monthly supper club takes an unexpected turn, and suddenly becomes a weekly meeting of women, a safe place where they can confess their misdeeds, insecurities and regrets. Two women, new to the club, discover it's just what they need. One has feelings for a troubled man. The other has a problem too big to solve by herself. (Release date is Nov. 19.)

Zen and the Art of Murder by Oliver Bottini is a Black Forest Investigation. Louise Boni, the maverick inspector in Germany's Black Forest police squad, drinks too much. She's haunted by mistakes she's made and people she's lost. A call draws her into the most bizarre case of her career. A badly beaten Japanese monk is roaming the snowy Freiburg region, and he seems to be fleeing an unseen danger. (Release date is Nov. 13.)

Here's the token nonfiction title I want to read this month, The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire by Francesca Cartier Brickell. A great-granddaughter tells the captivating story of the family behind Cartier, and the three brothers who turned their grandfather's humble Parisian jewelry store into a global luxury icon. (Release date is Nov. 26.)

The fifth Mystery Bookshop mystery by V.M. Burns is Bookmarked for Murder. Samantha Washington, owner of a Michigan mystery bookshop is returning from Chicago on a chartered bus with Nana Jo and her friends from Shady Acres Retirement Village. After an unscheduled stop, a passenger is found dead in his seat. The ladies immediately shift into investigative mode to learn who provided the deadly detour. (Release date is Nov. 26.)

Donis Casey spins off her Alafair Tucker series with The Wrong Girl, The Adventures of  Bianca Dangerous. Blanche Tucker orgs to escape her boring life in tiny Boynton, Oklahoma. When dashing Graham Peyton roars into town, posing as a film producer, he convinces the ambitious but naive teenager to run away with him to a glamorous life in Hollywood. Instead, he uses her cruelly. But, she takes charge of her life, and makes it to Hollywood. Six years later, Blanche has transformed into the celebrated Bianca LaBelle, the reclusive star of a series of adventure films. Then Peyton's remains are discovered on a Santa Monica beach. The Wrong Girl follows the 1920s daring exploits of a girl who chases her dreams, while showing how risky it can be. (Release date is Nov. 11.)

Well, we'll see. Avanti Centrae's latest thriller, VanOps: The Lost Power, is called "Da Vinci Code meets Tomb Raider." In 1057, the first King of Spain wrestles Alexander the Great's priceless Egyptian weapon from invaders, but finds it holds a terrifying and mysterious power. Centuries later, gunshots in Napa lead Maddy Marshall and her twin brother to a dying man and a dead woman. Now, the two are on the run, on a quest to recover Alexander's ancient weapon, with a sniper on their trail. (Release date is  Nov. 9.)

Cutting Edge is a collection of new stories of mystery and crime, written by women, and edited by Joyce Carol Oates. Authors of the stories include Margaret Atwood, S.J. Rozan, Edwidge Danticat, Steph Cha, and Oates. (Release date is Nov. 5.)

As I said, Allen Eskens' Nothing More Dangerous is one of the best books I've read this year. It's a coming-of-age story set  in Missouri in 1976. Body Sanden is fifteen when Ms. Lida Poe goes missing. He's trying to survive his freshman year in high school, but his run-ins with a group of racist seniors means he has to look over his shoulder constantly. When he befriends a new neighbor, the black son of a local plant's new manager, he finds his summer will be adventurous, and dangerous. (Release date is Nov. 12.)

Murder, She Wrote: A Time for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land is the fiftieth book in the series. Jessica always believes in helping budding journalists, but her latest interview leads her back to her very first murder investigation. She was a substitute English teacher at a high school. An overheard angry conversation leads to her role in the case. Now, all these years later, that case, and the retirement of a teacher, leads to additional murders. (Release date is Nov. 26.)

Lawrence Block edited From Sea to Stormy Sea: 17 Stories Inspired by Great American Paintings. The anthology is a stronger collection than many, with stories by Jan Burke, Brendan DuBois, Sara Paretsky, and others. Colored pictures of the inspiring paintings will be a bonus for readers of the final version, because I read an ARC with black-and-white copies. (Release date is Nov. 19.)

In the third 42nd Street Library mystery, Murder Off the Page, Con Lehane's librarian sleuth Raymond Ambler reluctantly becomes involved in a murder investigation, thanks to bartender Brian McNulty. However, a second murder upends Ambler's world. The second victim is a lady friend of McNulty, and the primary suspect is McNulty himself. (Release date is Nov. 19.)

In Loretta Marion's latest Haunted Bluffs mystery, Storm of Secrets, a powerful storm descends upon Cape Cod's What Rock at the peak of tourist season - and the weekend Cassandra Mitchell's and David Benjamin's wedding is set to take place at the Bluffs. In the wake of the storm's destruction, a three-year-old goes missing, and the body of a small-time drug dealer is found in a restaurant dumpster. Now, the police are faced with a murder, a missing child, and the aftermath of one of the worst storms in recent memory. (Release date is Nov. 12.)

Tell Me No Lies is the second in Shelley Noble's Lady Dunbridge mystery series. Lady Dunbridge
was not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She's in New York City, ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm. When an early-morning visitor arrives, begging for her help, she finds herself dealing with a crisis involving the untimely death of an heir. (Release date is Nov. 5.)

Although the annotated list is small, there are always other titles I have as well.

Allen, Jane - I Lost My Girlish Laughter (11/5)
Furuness, Bryan - Do Not Go On (11/15)
Jacobs, Lisa - The Worst Kind of Want (11/5)
Kalich, Robert - David Lazar (11/21)
Lichtenstein, Alice - The Crime of Being (11/17)
Pressfield, Steven - 36 Righteous Men (11/5)