Monthly Archives: January 2015

Book Review: Dying for the Past – Gotta love a book with ghosts and gangsters!

Dying for the PastDying for the Past

By TJ O’Connor

395 pages

Tuck is back! After solving his own murder in O’Connor’s first novel, Dying to Know, Oliver “Tuck” Tucker thought he would move on to the afterlife. But he is destined to be a ghost detective for the unforeseeable future.

His wife/widow Angela is hosting a charity gala in the historic Vincent House. The huge home, grounds and additional houses in the estate take up a city block in the small town of Westchester, Virginia. The fine citizens there to enjoy the evening for a good cause aren’t the only ones in attendance. Long dead mob boss Vincent Calaprese and his hot babe Sassy watch as strangers dance, dine and die in their home.

The Gala is a hit; donations roll in as the revelers enjoy cocktails and the band. The dance floor is full when a bullet finds its way into Spence Grecco’s body, killing him instantly. Was the bullet meant for him, his beautiful young wife, Bonnie or someone else at the event? Mysteriously, the shooter seems to disappear into thin air.

Bear, Tuck’s former partner, and the local police arrest the likely suspect, but quickly realize they might not have the right person. As the police interview everyone at Vincent House, the FBI barges in and claims jurisdiction on the case. The local cops are not going to back away that easily; Bear and Tuck are still on the case, much to the chagrin of the FBI.

Meanwhile the ghost gangster from 1939 can’t leave his former home, but desperately wants something from 2014. Calaprese needs Tuck’s connection with the living to retrieve a book that has information in it that may be connected to the Gala murder. Surprisingly, several of the suspects are also after this mysterious book.

There are more twists and turns in this novel than a ride down San Francisco’s Lombard Street. It takes a masterful author to perfectly meld ghosts, gangsters, a lovable Labrador, professors, ghostbusters, Russian Mobsters and a couple of beautiful women – both dead and alive –  into an intriguing mystery. O’Connor pulls in all of these crazy characters, adds a solid story with equally fun and interesting subplots to give us a fictional feast to enjoy.

Dying to KnowIf you haven’t read the first book in this series, Dying for the Past works well as a stand-alone mystery. I would suggest reading Dying to Know only because both of them are really good mysteries, and you may as well start at the beginning of Tuck’s adventures. O’Connor’s easy to read style is laced with humor and kept me guessing up until the very end.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Book Review: The Koala of Death (spoiler alert – the koala is innocent!!)

The Koala of Death

By Betty Webb

266 pages

Trouble is afoot for the keepers at Gunn Zoo. Teddy Bentley, one of the zoo keepers, finds one of her coworkers floating outside her houseboat. The corpse, Koala Kate, was the face of Gunn Zoo to locals because she appeared on a TV show and published a cute blog about life at the zoo.

Police quickly arrest Outback Bill, another one of the keepers. He insists on his innocence, and it appears Teddy is the only one that believes him. That is until there is another murder at Gunn Landing Harbor. This victim was a close friend of Kate, even though they seemed like an unlikely pair.

Joe Rejas, Teddy’s boyfriend and local sheriff, wants her to keep her nose out of the investigation. Especially after two murders steps away from her boat. Kate had secrets and one of them must have something to do with her death.

Teddy has troubles. Joe and her mother aren’t happy with her detective activities. After a scare, she finally agrees to go stay at her meddling wealthy mother’s home, but continues to snoop. To compound Teddy’s troubles, she has to replace Koala Kate on the Good Morning, San Sebastian show as well as continue the blog. And her mother is trying to hook her up with a rich man instead of keeping her nose out of Joe and Teddy’s relationship.

All of these elements plus a liberal sprinkling of kooky back up characters, both human and animal, make this a really fun book. The mystery is a great whodunit. There are suspects and secrets both silly and scary. Scattered throughout are interesting facts about koalas and other zoo animals. This makes a perfect mix for a delightful read.

The Koala of Death is Webb’s second Gunn Zoo Mystery, but the first one I’ve read. I have read one of her other books, Desert Rage. As you can tell from the titles, the zoo series is meant to be more lighthearted. Webb is a masterful writer who does humor and murder equally well. I love an author that can entertain, surprise and touch my heart. One of my favorite lines in Koala of Death is “Alzheimer’s wasn’t only a thief of memory, it was a thief of the heart.”

On a personal note, thanks to my son Mark, who gave me The Koala of Death for Christmas this year after I mentioned that I wanted to read this series. The title made him laugh, and choose this book for me. I loved it!

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

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Filed under Book Review, books, Mystery, poisoned pen press

Mr. Samuel’s Penny YA Book Review

Mr. Samuel’s PennyMr. Samuel's Penny

By Treva Hall Melvin

254 pages

Lizbeth Landers and her younger sister Lena are spending the summer with relatives in a small North Carolina town. Far from their home in Queens, fourteen year-old Lizbeth thinks she will be bored, but soon learns that small towns and relatives have secrets, some of which can be deadly.

Soon after arriving, there is a horrific car accident in which a man and his daughter drown. A mystery surrounds the accident, and deepens as the penny the dead man clutches in his hand disappears from the evidence gathered at the scene. Lizbeth is determined to find the rare 1909 penny, sure that the person with possession of it will be the one that caused the accident and consequently the deaths of the driver and his toddler.

On her search, she learns about life and herself while interacting with her relatives and other residents of Ahoskie. The teen makes assumptions about life and people in her 1972 world. She learns that things are not always as they seem and you have to really get to know people before judging them or supposing you know their motives for how they react.

Mr. Samuel’s Penny is more of a coming-of-age Young Adult book than a Young Adult Mystery. It shows the growth of Lizbeth during the summer into a young lady that is much wiser than she was before she left New York. She learns of life, death and the definition of family that reaches much further than blood ties.

The mystery of the 1909 penny and the car accident is brought to light in the final chapters, but it almost seems to me this is the subplot, not the plot. Lizbeth’s search for the penny brings her into situations that allow her to connect with other characters that she might not have had contact with, but the mystery and penny take a back seat to her growth.

The only plot point that bothered me was Lizbeth’s nine year-old sister. She was mentioned coming to meals, wearing outfits that were not hers, and getting into dangerous situations that leave the reader breathless. But she is not mentioned at the beginning during the accident. Lizbeth, her aunt and uncle are at the scene – where is this younger girl? Lena was told to go play at a little girl’s house while Lizbeth and Aunt Alice go to the laundromat; did she spend the whole summer over there unless she was needed as part of the “action”? I know that the focus of the novel is on Lizbeth, but after introducing a little sister, she has to be accounted for in the rest of the book, especially key scenes at Aunt Alice’s home.

This is Treva Hall Melvin’s first book, and well worth searching out to read. It is a quick read, with an underlying story of growing up told subtly and smoothly along with the mystery. Touching on topics you would not expect adds another layer to this novel that is deceptively complex, yet still easy to read.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Goodbye 2014 – Hello New Projects

Lately it seems as though I’ve been focusing more on the “write” in the writeknit of my blog. I have been knitting and crocheting also, but haven’t shared on my blog. So, here goes:
Once a year I like to look back and take stock of all the projects I’ve completed the previous year. Sometimes the days slip into weeks that turn into months and it feels as though I haven’t accomplished much when the new year rolls around. I suppose there really isn’t a burning need to actually accomplish anything, but somehow it matters to me.
If you are a knitter, crocheter or other fiber artist, projects can be quick, take months or languish in a tote bag waiting to be finished. For instance, I have a wonderful fast knitting bulky sweater 3/4 complete. I started it January 2014. It should have been done months ago, I only have the sleeves and top ribbing to complete. But…I don’t like how the sleeves are working up. I’ve made 1/2 a sleeve twice, but still not happy. It is on my project list for 2015 to complete. Actually, I hope to work on it this weekend. We’ll see how that works out – “the best laid plans” and all that. Maybe I should just sign Happy Birthday to it since I’ve been working on it a year 🙂
Brown sweater Jan 2014
I also have an afghan that I started in March. I had lofty plans of completing not only one, but three of these for Christmas. HA! It is a great take along project (squares) but I don’t see myself finishing the first one anytime soon. It will be on my list for this year, but honestly, I suspect it will be bumped to the bottom as it was in 2014.
No pictures of these – I’ll hold off on sharing until after they are gifted.
Enough about what I didn’t finish – here are the projects that were completed. Other than the sweater, I started off simple and easy. I needed another dishcloth so I made one mid-January. It is nice to whip up something you need on a wintery afternoon using stash yarn.
dishcloth
I got some fabulous yarn for Christmas, a silk and cashmere blend, and made myself a scarf. I love the color and it is as soft as a cloud. The pattern was Feather and Fan Short Scarf by Kelly Faller (free on Ravelry) that I modified making it narrower and longer than the original pattern. I love it 🙂
Purple scarf 2014
For my Great Aunt and Cousin I completed lace scarves out of wool for my Aunt using knitculture.com‘s pattern Silkwing Scarf. For the life of me I can’t remember what pattern I used for my cousin’s scarf, it is a cotton/nylon blend. But it is soft and warm and allergy free so I was pleased with the results. 
 Deb scarf Christmas 2014
Baby blankets are always a part of my yearly yarning. This year was no exception. Two of the gals at work commissioned specific blankets for new members of their families. Both chose the same pattern ( Shells Baby Afghan by Beverly A. Qualheim ) when I gave them the options. This is my “go-to” pattern. It is quick, easy and crochets up really nicely. It can be made over a weekend if you are in a pinch, but don’t count on getting much else done 🙂 I also used this pattern for a new grandson of my good friends. I also used this pattern for a blanket for a little girl I knew that moved away, grew up to be a beautiful woman with a little girl of her own and a boy on the way. This is my way of sending a hug to Texas for her little boy who will be arriving soon.
The last 2 blankets I made were for twin boys – grandsons of a friend at work. This pattern was a simple granny square, made a bit smaller as they were born early and big blankets would have swallowed them whole. 
cooper
 
Hats, hats, nothing but hats! My middle son’s friend saw a baby aviator hat and fell in love with it. My son asked me if I could make one for her son-to-be. I searched Ravelry and found Christins from My Sweet Potato 3 ‘s pattern for a Pilot/Aviator hat. It turned out really cute. Little Cooper even had pictures taken in it by the photographer at the hospital. It made me happy to make this new mom happy 🙂
Then I saw something about the NICU Challenge. You  agree to complete 12 baby hates to donate to a local NICU unit.                                 Nicu hat #6
Nicu hat #9Perfect way for me to give back a little bit to some of the smallest humans. Baby hats knit or crochet up quickly. By the end of the challenge I had 17 hats ready to go. After emailing my local hospitals (without response) I remembered my best friend’s sister is a NICU nurse in a neighboring town. We connected and I sent them with her for the babies. An interesting side note, she asked for some bigger sizes also as they not only care for preemies, but full term babies with medical problems.So I made an array of sizes and styles. Like prayer shawls, good wishes and prayers for each child and parent are part of each completed hat. If you are interested – get more info from http://www.sunsetfamilyliving.com/2014-challenge/  Nicu hat #11Nicu Bear Hat
​On to 2015! Because I love making these little hats, I am going to continue making a few a week all year. I found an adorable bunny pattern,  Easy Bunny Hat ​ by JT Creations. When I sent a picture to the nurse that works in the NICU she asked if I could make 20 so the babies can all be dressed like bunnies on Easter morning. I’m loving the picture in my head of them all in bunny hats! Bunnies all around!!
Nicu bunny hat
Today one of the girls that had me make a baby afghan for her new nephew has another nephew on the way and asked for a blanket for him. So that will move to the top of my list as soon as she decides on the colors she wants me to use.
​I’ve ordered some beautiful yarn to make a scarf for myself. It should be delivered soon, so I am excitedly looking for a pattern that is perfect for the yarn and me.  ​I might finish one of the afghans started last year, but not too confident about that.  I found a great source of wool from local harvest. I’m thinking a warm every day cardigan. We’ll see how that works out. The best laid plans in January are often pipe dreams by December 🙂
You can track my projects on Ravelry. I’m writeknit.

 

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Book Review: The Splintered Paddle – Heart Pounding Hawaiian Mystery

splintered paddle

The Splintered Paddle

By Mark Troy

301 pages

Ava Rome can’t help everyone, but she tries. As a Private Investigator on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, she takes the Law of the Splintered Paddle seriously and tries to live by it. According to the Honolulu Police Department website, the Law was “… decreed by Kamehameha I, circa 1782, to protect travelers from wanton attack” (http://www.honolulupd.org/department/index.php?page=ourbadge).

When Jenny Mordan, a well-known working girl, seeks out Ava’s protection she doesn’t hesitate or judge her lifestyle even though she doesn’t necessarily agree with it. Jenny is being blackmailed by a cop who thinks he is above the law so Ava takes the case. Unfortunately, this cop has more going on than his underhanded dealings with Jenny. The deeper Ava gets into the case, she realizes that Jenny’s life is at stake and maybe her own.

Enter a Goth want-to-be teenager of a former client. Cassie Sands needs a parent that is going to pay attention to her. Unfortunately, her father thinks she is just acting out. He calls upon Ava to help him with Cassie. Reluctantly she agrees, possibly because she sees a bit of her younger self in Cassie.

While all of this is going on, Norman Traxler, a man Ava put in prison ten years ago while she was an MP in San Francisco is out and looking for Ava. This man is a killing machine that won’t stop until he teaches Ava a lesson about messing with the wrong person. He is watching and waiting to make her pay in a way that will hurt her more than death.

Ava has a lot going on. She is trying to keep Jenny safe, Cassie on the straight and narrow and herself from being killed. The list of people out to get her is growing much faster than her bank account. Will making a trip to the mainland to confront ghosts in her past hurt or help her at this point? Ava needs to decide.

Fast paced and full of danger, The Splintered Paddle takes the reader to places in Hawaii most visitors will never see. There is a dark side to the Islands and Ava is in the eye of the storm.

This novel isn’t all sinister; there are bits of humor – teaching a petulant teen how to drive is funny no matter how you slice it. And the bits of Hawaiian culture are interesting. I loved when the characters enjoy a lunch of Moco Loco; it looks and sounds nasty, but tastes fabulous!  Troy does a great job blending the stories and solid believable characters with Hawaiian culture. Adding Ava’s past enriches the mix and pulls the readers closer to her, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Filed under Book Review, books, Hawaii, Mystery, Quick Nav

Book Review: Melody Jackson and the House on Lafayette Street – YA Sci Fi Gold!

Melody Jackson and the House on Lafayette StreetMelody Jackson and the House on Layfayette Street

By B.M.B. Johnson

285 pages

Johnson’s Melody Jackson novel is YA Sci Fi gold. Snappy dialog and a solid storyline make this book a winner.

Melody and her unlikely friend/accomplice in this adventure are thrust together by meddling mothers. Most, if not all teens and tweens can relate to meddling parents who mean well but totally miss the mark. Flutter’s mother and Melody’s mom were connected via a community college class, and when Flutter’s parents had to go out of town for the weekend, Melody’s mom saw a perfect (in her eyes) opportunity for Melody to spend less time alone and maybe have a friend.

Strange things began to happen on the way home from the art class the girls shared. Given the task of fundraising, Flutter was all in. Melody could care less about the whole thing until Flutter approaches the house next to the Jackson’s where the creepy old man lives. This begins a chain of events that cannot be contained.

The Jackson family is odd. Melody’s mom puts on a happy face, hiding secrets and her dad is paranoid and at times a bit disconnected from reality. All of this hinges on something in their past that Melody doesn’t know about, but soon will.

Strangers begin to mill about the neighborhood, cats are missing and most disturbing, Melody’s dad becomes zombie-like and begins on a mission known only to him. Out of fear and curiosity combined with the strong pull of love and family loyalty, Melody, her mom and Flutter are in for the duration with him.

The girls were vastly different, but the tension between them drove the story well. With all of the supernatural happenings and fear of the unknown the girls learn to work together and yet still don’t like each other very much.I don’t see them willingly hanging out at the mall together after this ordeal is over. This is much more likely than these two girls becoming best friends.

In addition to the meddling mothers, there are everyday events that occur during the craziness of the unknown that are relevant and allow the reader to relate to the characters, bringing them to life. Personally, I loved the off brand toys that line Melody’s pristine room.

This was a fun read. I’m looking forward to more of Johnson’s books.

Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Filed under family, Quick Nav, Sci Fi, YA