Monthly Archives: March 2015

Book Review: The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway Magic and Mystery – a Great Mix

The Magician’s Daughter

By Judith Janeway

227 pages

Magician Valentine Hill can make lots of things disappear and reappear. Unfortunately that talent does not apply to the thing she wants most in the world. No amount of magic can produce her missing birth certificate. Without it, she doesn’t know the place or year she was born, and is skeptical her con artist mom told her the right day of her birth either. The only thing she has been told about her father is that he is a magician.

She was raised with a mother that could step into any role from socialite to barfly depending upon the lifestyle of her current husband. She forced her daughter into the role of accomplice in a series of elaborate cons. She lived a nomadic life, always moving on, changing names and living with a new husband that Valentine was instructed to call “uncle”. This life blew up when Valentine was in her early teens so she moved in with her Aunt June. That was nine years ago, and the last time she saw her mother. June straightened her out by teaching Valentine the rules that she now lives by:

  1. Never lie
  2. Never swear
  3. Never hit anyone – unless they hit you first

Purely by chance, she meets someone that can give her a clue as to where her mother is. She’s been searching for the elusive Elizabeth Hill since her Aunt June died. This could be the break she needed to locate her and somehow make her give up the information about her birth that Valentine needs.

Instead of finding her mother, she finds trouble. And a dead body.  The chain of events that follow are faster than a street magician’s hands. Before she knows it, Valentine is mixed up with mobsters, FBI agents and a very dangerous operation that could stop her search – forever.

The Magician’s Daughter is the first in the series of three Valentine Hill Mysteries. This cozy series had me hooked from the first chapter. I love Valentine. She is spunky and smart. The pain she reveals about her past and the search for her birth details give depth to her character. The supporting characters are interesting, unusual and some of them are not who they seem to be. At one point, Valentine describes them as “What is with this family? All of them are gun-carrying crazies. Scary crazy at that…”.

That tiny snippet of dialog spotlights the humor Janeway masterfully weaves into the plot. Just when you think you’ve figured out the next turn, she throws a smoke bomb on your theory with the grace of a natural magician – or I should say a very skilled writer. The nail-biting end comes to a satisfying conclusion, wrapping up the story right before the last chapter. But wait! There’s more! There is nothing better than a mystery that continues to the last pages and answers all the reader’s questions.

I wanted this book to be longer, because the characters and story were so interesting. But knowing there are two more in the series coming soon is my consolation prize. I’ll be watching the bookstores to snatch up book two before the ink dries.

Summer will be here soon and this is the perfect beach/vacation read.. If you can’t wait that long, take it on Spring Break. The Magician’s Daughter is a great anytime read. You won’t be disappointed, and everyone could use a little magic in their life.

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Book Review, magic, magician, Mystery, poisoned pen press, series

WIP Wednesday

Happy Wednesday everyone!

I’m happy because little Xavier is doing so well – he is up to 3 pounds! He’ll be in the hospital for a while, but before you know it he will be home with his mom & dad 🙂

His blanket is finished, and will go in the mail by the weekend. I used Knit Picks Brava worsted yarn and modified  this pattern: Puppy Dog Granny Afghan Square by Rhonda Guthrie. I’ve made this several times. It works up really nice.

Xavier's puppy blanket with Mea

Mea likes the new blanket 🙂

Xavier's puppy blanket finished

This pic has shows the whole blanket.

Xavier's puppy blanket face

Here is the detail of the dog’s face.

My next project will be started tonight. I’m in a sock making mood, so I’m putting down the crochet hooks for a while and picking up my knitting needles. I’ll let you know which pattern and yarn I’ve decided on next week. I’ll use something from my stash – which is bulging out of the closet where it lives. Hopefully I’ll make good progress this week while riding in the car on our mini road trip.

Leave a comment

Filed under baby hats, blanket, Crocheting, Knitting, puppies

Book Review: The Perfect Game by Leslie Dana Kirby – A Grand Slam for this Debut Author!

The Perfect Game The Perfect Game

By Leslie Dana Kirby

331 pages

Lauren and Liz Rose are excited to be living in the same city again. Lauren moved to Scottsdale, AZ after finishing med school, Liz moved to Arizona with her husband Jake Wakefield, when he became the star pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The women are especially close because they lost their parents in an accident as children. Even though they were raised by a loving grandmother, they cherished the memories of their parents and the time they spent with each other.

After a grueling night in the ER, Lauren hears the devastating news that her sister is dead. She has been brutally murdered in her home in an apparent robbery while Jake was on the road. She had just seen Liz, and her sister told her she had some big news that she would share later, but now it was too late. The only thing Lauren wants is justice for her sister.

Things go from bad to worse for Lauren as the police are diligently collecting evidence against the killer and it appears to be her. She is furious and adamant that she is innocent, but the investigation is relentless. When Jake helps shield her from the police and press, they found comfort in each other. They spent time together, mostly discussing the case, memories of Liz and baseball.

Because she lived in California, Lauren didn’t know Jake very well. She believed they could become friends until the police arrested him for her sister’s murder. The prosecution had a tough job ahead of them. Everyone knew and loved the gorgeous hunk of a man who was the darling of the Diamondbacks. Who doesn’t love a man that pitches a perfect game and how on earth could he ever kill his wife?

It is said the best defense is a good offense, and that is the tactic used by Jake’s lawyer. To prove reasonable doubt, he implies the police were correct in the first place, and Lauren is the true killer. The press is having a field day, capitalizing on the sensationalism of the trial.

I cannot believe this is Kirby’s debut novel. The Perfect Game grabs you in the first few pages, taking you on the roller-coaster ride of emotion with her characters to the end. You get into the heads of Jake, Lauren, the lawyers and police because her descriptions and backgrounds of all of them are solid and believable. I found myself wanting to yell, “No! Don’t trust him!”.

It is fast paced, with smart dialog that puts you in the ER and courtroom with the characters. The plot is solid, throwing a few curve balls at the reader just when you think you’ve figured it out. As far as I’m concerned, Kirby not only hit one out of the ballpark with this book, it is a grand slam.

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.

2 Comments

Filed under baseball, Book Review, books, debut novel, poisoned pen press

Book Review: Face Value by Michael A. Kahn – Suicide or Murder?

face value

Face Value (a Rachel Gold Mystery)

By Michael A. Kahn

253 pages

Rachel Gold, attorney at law, knows being a lawyer can be tough. When her friend Sari Bashir left work and instead of getting into her car leapt to her death from the eight floor of the parking deck, Rachel was devastated. They met in law school; Sari worked for Rachel as a law clerk, and had landed a job with a prestigious firm in St. Louis.

Everyone at her memorial service rained accolades upon Sari. No one could believe they missed the cues she felt despondent, leading her down the path to take her own life. Perhaps she hid her sadness or became overcome with living the high stress life of a lawyer. On the way home from the service, Rachel was joined by Stanley Plotkin and Jerry Klunger, two of the mailroom workers for the law firm.

Stanley and Rachel’s mother are friends. He is a brilliant man who wears the stigma of  living with Asperger’s syndrome. Jerry helps smooth Stanley’s rough edges and makes sure he doesn’t have problems at work. This unlikely friendship has helped Stanley function in a society that often misunderstands him.

During the ride home from the memorial service, Stanley states that Sari did not kill herself, but was, in fact, murdered. Rachel doesn’t really know what to make of his revelation. He is not one to make things up, he lives by the truth no matter how his words affect those around him. After he starts laying out the evidence, Rachel realizes he could be right. So begins her journey to find out who and why someone killed her friend.

Most likely the killer is a member of the law firm. Rachel figures out a way to allow Stanley to observe each of them talking about Sari so he can use the facial expression recognition skills he has been taught to see who is lying or uncomfortable. This gives Rachel a high profile list of suspects.

Rachel soon uncovers a web of deceit that is bigger than she could have imagined. If she keeps pushing the killer, it might backfire, making her the second woman to die for uncovering the secret.

These characters are a hoot. All of them have great quirks, just like your co-workers or family members. The layers and depth makes them relatable, therefore likeable. Add them to the solid mystery, and you have a great read. Face Value has the perfect mix of humor, plot twists and smart, snappy dialog to make this a page turner with a satisfying end.

I can’t believe I have never read any of Kahn’s Rachel Gold’s mysteries. This is the ninth in the series, but worked well as a stand-alone novel. I plan to catch up on the series so I can get to know these crazy lovable characters better while enjoying Kahn’s writing along the way.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

WIP Wednesday

Not much going on this week. Had a cold that settled into my lungs with the added fun of a sinus infection. Now that I’ve whined, I can happily say I’ve completed the 20 bunny hats for the NICU unit. Sorry these pics aren’t the greatest, my hubby left his camera at my dad’s house, so you get my cell phone attempts. Ignore my crazy shadows 🙂

bunnies 4

Springtime and Bunnies seem to go together

bunnies 5Next week I hope to have Xavier’s blanket done. Then I’m starting a pair of socks to take with me when we travel to see friends. Nothing better than a road trip with my hubby, best friends and some socks otn to keep me busy 🙂

1 Comment

Filed under baby hats, Crocheting, Knitting, NICU

Wandering Weekends: Museum of Science and Industry Chicago, IL

We like to go places and do things. Hubby love to take pictures, I love to write…that is how Wandering Weekend Blog posts began. Hope you enjoy the first in (hopefully) a weekly series.

 

Have you ever been to Chicago? Maybe you live in or near the City. Yes, I know that isn’t normally capitalized, but when you live in Illinois, Chicago is often called “the City” or “Downtown”. We live 45 minutes – give or take traffic and construction time – and go in often.

There are tons of things to do and see. Some attractions don’t cost anything, Lincoln Park Zoo is has free admission every day. Others cost crazy amounts of cash. A recent concert had prices up to and probably exceeding 6 figures. So pick your price range and choose something fun to do.

A few weeks ago we went into the Museum of Science and Industry. Located at 5700 S Lake Shore Drive, it is easy to find from all the expressways. They are open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Regular Admission is $11 for children 3-11, $18 for adults and $17 for seniors 65 & over. Parking is convenient, but not cheap – $22.00 flat fee. Before you purchase tickets, go online and check Groupon. I got a membership for our family that includes parking for less than the cost of 2 visits. There are also free days for Illinois residents. Follow this link to find out when: http://www.msichicago.org/visit-the-museum/museum-info/admission/free-days/

Because the museum has always been a part of my life it is easy to overlook the rich history it provides, as well as how many people have enjoyed it over the years. According to the website:

“The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI), the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, is home to more than 35,000 artifacts and more than 400,000 square feet of hands-on experiences designed to spark scientific inquiry and creativity. Since opening our doors in 1933, we’ve welcomed more than 180 million guests from around the world.”

It is also the only remaining major building from the 1893 World’s Fair.  “… the Palace of Fine Arts (as it was known), which was built to showcase artworks, remained. The backside of the museum (over-looking Jackson Park Lagoon) was actually the front of the palace during the fair, and the color of the exterior was changed during renovations. But the building looks almost exactly the way it did in 1893. Some of the light posts from the fair still illuminate the museum campus.” (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2004-07-02/features/0407020064_1_world-s-fair-science-and-industry-ferris-wheelFans of Erik Larson’s book, The Devil in The White City will love the connection.

There are so many things to see, it would take days to enjoy all of them. We decided to take our time since we have a membership and plan on coming back within a few months. We started on the first floor, checking out the restoration work on one of the airplanes on exhibit. This 1941 German Stuka is one of two in existence today.  It was given to the MSI in 1946 from the British Secret Service and looking closely you can still see the bullet holes in the skin of the plane from the last mission it flew.

 DSC_0005

We went to the special exhibit, Numbers in Nature. No extra charges to go through it, but you do have to get an assigned time so be sure to get a ticket at the kiosk right by the entrance to the exhibit. The mirror maze was fun and looked like it was filled with electric blue trees.

 DSC_0027

Another one of my favorites is Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle. It began in 1928 with a teeny tiny book and grew to priceless work of art. It amazed me as a child, and as an adult I see something new each time I visit. It has been at the MIS since 1949, and recently they renovated/cleaned the entire castle. They documented the process and it is amazing to read about and watch the video.

DSC_0033

Some of the other exhibits we visited that day were the Great Train Story (a 3,500 square foot model railroad)., Farm Tech (very cool machinery for kids & adults), Streets of Yesteryear (a cobblestone block of stores & shops – that includes a working soda shop) and a quick zip through the space exhibit in the Henry Crown Space Center.

After 5 fun hours we were on our way home after seeing only a fraction of the exhibits available at the Museum. Plan ahead if there is something you really don’t want to miss, or just mosey through the connecting halls and exhibits to see what you find. The “hands on” learning and fun facts will make this a favorite family destination.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Chicago, Family fun, history, Museum of Science and Industry, museums, Science, Wandering Weekends

Book Review: Cooler Than Blood – Hot New Novel by Robert Lane

cooler-than-blood-225

Cooler Than Blood

By Robert Lane

316 pages

Ex-military Jake Travis uses his covert op training to help people who need the services of a PI. One who doesn’t think twice about crossing the line – but only when necessary. His humor is as sharp as the knife he conceals, and he isn’t afraid to use either of them. When Susan Blake calls him, he ignores her at first. Not wanting to create any waves with his girlfriend Kathleen, he feels the less contact he has with a woman he felt attracted to, but successfully avoided intimacy with, the better off he will be. Until he finds out Susan’s teenage niece is missing.

Jenny Spencer, a recent high school graduate left Ohio without telling her mother and step-father.  She moved in with her Aunt Susan in Florida. Leaving home before a bad situation got worse; Jenny felt safe with her choice. Unfortunately a violent encounter with a man on a deserted beach quickly turned her world upside down again. Then she mysteriously disappeared.

The police are not concerned. She “ran away” once, so why worry about her now? That is Jake’s first response also. Until he finds out she left her cell phone behind. No teen would leave his or her phone for a few hours, much less run away without it.

Reluctantly Jake agrees to look for Jenny. He calls his partner, Garrett Demarcus to help with the case as well as a few of his other friends/partners that he worked with in the past.

Jenny’s trail isn’t easy to follow. It seems as though she is one step ahead of them. The question is; who actually has her? It could be a crazy drug selling family from Ohio. It could also be mobsters with ties to Chicago. It could be someone from her past or maybe she just ran away like the indifferent detective on the case believes. Jake needs to find her before she outlives her usefulness.

In a strange turn of events, Jake finds out a dangerous person in Kathleen’s past may be connected to this case. He has to figure out how to find the teen without dragging his personal life into the case. Balance is difficult for most people, but Jake’s failure to keep work and home life separate could prove deadly.

Lane’s work is beautifully literary, with a healthy side dish of noir. The blending of two seemingly unrelated styles is perfectly crafted to create a work of art you will savor to the last page. His characters have relatable flaws and quirks both good and bad, masterfully breathing life into them. Lane’s descriptions and dialog pull the reader into Jake’s world and don’t let go until Jenny is found.

The second book in Robert Lane’s Jake Travis works well as a stand-alone novel, but you may want to read the first in the series, The Second Letter before Cooler Than Blood. I read it last year and couldn’t wait to hear more from Lane (read my review here: https://lauramhartman.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/book-review-the-second-letter-by-robert-lane/). There are a few references to his first book, but I don’t feel it would be confusing if you have not read it.

Read them both – you are going to love this author’s work.

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Book Review, Mystery