Monthly Archives: June 2017

Book Review: River City Dead – Cozy Mystery in a Cool Setting

River City Dead

By Nancy G. West

Aggie is excited but nervous. Her boyfriend Sam has booked a suite in a hotel right on San Antonio’s River Walk during Fiesta Week. This is the first time they are going to actually spend the weekend together. Aggie cares for Sam and wants to be with him, but this is the first time she’ll actually be spending a night with a man since her ex, whom she refers to as Lester the Louse.

Sam is nothing like Lester. He is a San Antonio police detective. The bad news is Aggie keeps sticking her nose in cases that Sam is working on. The good news is he is allowing her to help out a bit on investigations. Both of them were hoping to avoid any kind of crime during their getaway, but it has a way of finding them.

This time it is really too close to home to ignore. A dead body is found in the suite they were supposed to be staying in this weekend and the victim is someone Aggie knows. Sam wants her to leave so she is out of harm’s way. Aggie is determined to stay and help find the killer.

The problem is Aggie may be getting in too deep. She starts hanging out with some of the girls that are there to perform as a group during Fiesta Week. There are several of these groups staying at the hotel and Aggie is sure someone in or connected to them could be responsible for the dead girl in the suite she should be staying in.

Aggie soon finds herself at odds with Sam. Is her relationship going to end before it goes any further? Will the killer target another one of the girls in the group, or possibly Aggie to keep her from finding out the truth?

River City Dead is a great cozy mystery. It has all of the essential elements. Sam, the hot detective is the perfect love interest for guy shy Aggie. The fact that he lets her help solve crimes, albeit grudgingly, makes them a dynamic duo. I loved the setting. I’ve been to San Antonio’s River Walk, but never during Fiesta Week. The bits of history add a nice element to round out the story.

This is the fourth book in the Aggie Mundeen Mystery Series. It is the first one I’ve read, which worked fine as a standalone mystery. I learned bits and pieces of Aggie and Sam’s history. It was enough to know what was going on, but my curiosity wants a bit more info. That is encouraging me to read the other books in Ms. West’s series to get the scoop.

Copyright © 2017 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 – Isolation – A Captivating Mystery

Isolation

By Mary Anna Evans

Mary Anna Evans’ ninth Faye Longchamp Mystery begins on a somber note. Not only is one of her best friends murdered, but Faye is mourning another loss. Late in her pregnancy, she lost the baby girl she was carrying and will never be able to have another.

Faye is distracted and absent even when in the same house as her family. She has isolated herself from her work, her husband Joe and even her toddler son Michael. As often happens, the loss of her loved one rekindled the desire to learn more about her ancestors. In Faye’s case, she is becoming obsessed with Cally Stanton, the former slave that was her great-great grandmother. Every morning Faye leaves her home to randomly dig holes around Joysuse, the private island that her family has lived on for decades. Cally actually lived in Joe and Faye’s home and Faye is convinced she can find more evidence of her ancestor’s slave days if she just keeps digging, both figuratively and literally.

Faye doesn’t notice much of the world around her until one of her friends ends up dead. Her visiting father-in-law, now out of jail, is looking pretty suspicious. Joe is highly distrustful of the man who left his family years ago, but Faye isn’t really convinced he could have brought harm to the people she cares about.

When Joe realizes Faye may be the next target of the murderer, he has to take action. Both to convince the Sheriff of the threat to his wife and to protect the woman he loves. Joysuse is the perfect place to isolate yourself from the world and your pain, but it can become a trap with a killer on the loose.

This series is as fresh as an island breeze and the plot is as turbulent as stormy seas – the perfect balance for an outstanding mystery. The suspect list is not long, but each of them has reasons that are absolutely believable to have done the crimes. Each time I was convinced I figured it out; the next chapter made me question my deductions. The end was perfect for a mystery lover like me. It was full of breakneck action-filled suspense until the moment the killer was revealed.

Faye Longchamp-Mantooth is one of my favorite fictional characters. She reacts like a real person would given the situations she finds herself in. Joe is her perfect mate; he is patient, loving and willing to give Faye the space she needs even though he is in mourning for his loss too. He is terrified he will lose Faye to the demons inside her or the killer.

Evans is a master at showing the feelings of her characters. More than once I sniffled at the kindness and patience Joe exhibited towards Faye. When he cooked dinner for his wife, after she had not been eating for way too long was one of the sweetest interactions I have ever read.

This is the second Faye Longchamp Mysteries I have read. I found both of them to be smart, engaging and captivating. It was easy to immerse myself in the story and lives of the characters. It is no surprise that Ms. Evans is an award winning author. She has multiple degrees, is a professor and musician. Lucky for me and all mystery buffs, she combines all of her research and knowledge to create fabulous works of fiction for us to enjoy.

Copyright © 2017 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 Spring Cleaning Murders – #8 in Dorothy Cannell’s Cozy Series

The Spring Cleaning Murders

By Dorothy Cannell

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Net Galley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Ellie Haskell has discovered a book about cleaning, including recipes for DYI cleaning products  in her attic. It was written by one of her ancestors, and she is so excited about the find she decides to do a thorough spring cleaning. Now she is in a pickle. Ellie’s cleaning lady, Mrs. Malloy, quit because her newborn granddaughter needs a nanny. Mrs. Malloy hasn’t always been the most efficient employee, and now the situation has become awkward because Ellie’s cousin Vanessa married Mrs. Malloy’s son. Being related wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but Ellie really counted on the extra help around the house. The replacement cleaning lady is not exactly what Ellie was hoping for, especially after she turns up dead.

Was the death an accident or was it murder? Ellie has a feeling it was foul play, and she sets out to prove it.  Unfortunately, there are lots of obstacles along the way. First of all her husband has been a bit distracted because some activists have targeted his restaurant. Her gardener/handyman is not feeling well, and she is concerned that his age is finally slowing him down. Her twins are in a half day play school, but afternoons can be a hectic with them home, no help in the house and quite possibly a murderer on the loose.

The Spring Cleaning Murders is a cute cozy mystery.  Ellie and her family have been the stars of this and twelve others in the series. It has all the elements of a perfect cozy. The quirky characters are endearing, the group of cleaning ladies is eclectic and interesting and the list of possible suspects includes almost everyone Ellie encounters.  Will she be able to find out who the killer is before anyone else dies?

I loved the characters in this book. It was fun to try and figure out “who done it” with Ellie and her sidekicks. The bits of cleaning tips at the beginning of each chapter were a throwback to the past and fun to read. The end was cute with an unexpected twist.

There are thirteen books in the Ellie Haskell Mystery Series. this book is #8.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Bookshop at Water’s End – Great Summer Read

The Bookshop at Water’s End

By Patti Callahan Henry

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Net Galley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Lainey and Bonnie have been best friends since they were children. Bonnie’s parents owned a summer vacation home on a tidal river that surrounds a small town. Lainey’s family spent vacations with Bonnie’s family at the River House . As youngsters, they fancied themselves as a pair of modern day Nancy Drews. During their explorations around the tiny town they made notes in a notebook of unsolved mysteries and clues as to what and why things happened. The thing they never could fully explain was why Lainey’s mother had disappeared one night at the River House, never to return.

Fast forward to adulthood – Bonnie has become a renowned doctor and Lainey is a celebrated artist. They live on opposite sides of the country, but keep in touch. They rarely see one another. When Bonnie’s world comes crashing down around her ears, threatening everything she values, she calls Lainey to join her at the River House.

Lainey, fighting the demons from her past, agrees to come. She is bringing her small children with her. Bonnie is bringing her reluctant daughter Piper along to help her restore the River House for sale. Home from her first year of college Piper does not want to go, or babysit Lainey’s kids, but Bonnie has promised her services.

Ghosts from the past are stirring. They seem to arrive with the tides. When the past collides with the present, will Lainey and Bonnie survive? Will the answers they have searched for since childhood finally become clear?

The bookshop owner Mimi has an integral role in The Bookshop at Water’s End. She supplies the background narrative in many places to add depth and important facts about the past. Expertly spun together, the past and present emerge as one like the tributaries of the tidal river that flows around the town.

The realistic characters had flaws. Not just a little added issue, but real, glaring flaws. That brought them to life. Just like real people that have secrets, bad relationships and make mistakes – big mistakes that could be life changing. I loved that about them, all humans make bad decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time.

The story is deep and rich, without being heavy. It is a perfect summer (or anytime) read. The mystery isn’t the focus of the plot, but is always popping up as it colors the thoughts and actions of the main characters. This is not a cozy, but more of a women’s fiction with a vein of mystery running throughout.

Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling author. This is the first book I’ve read of Ms. Henry’s but it will not be the last.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Garden of Small Beginnings – Like Gardens, Relationships Must Be Tended

The Garden of Small Beginnings

By Abbi Waxman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Net Galley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Lili is many things, just like most women. She is a mother, sister, friend and an illustrator. But the identifying feature that overshadows everything is the quiet grief she carries with her due to the unexpected loss of her husband. Three years after the accident she is still grieving and little bit mad that he left her, even though she is a logical person and knows it isn’t his fault. She feels alone even when surrounded by people.

Her young daughters, Annabel and Clare, keep her going. She has to get up to get them ready for school and drag herself to work to pay the bills. Unfortunately, even though she loves being an illustrator, her job may be changing drastically or gone altogether very soon.  Like a lot of places in corporate America today, she may be the victim of downsizing and reorganization of the company no matter how talented she is.

Amid all the turmoil, she is called to her boss’ office who makes her an offer she can’t (or really dare not) refuse. She is given the task of illustrating a botanical book. Additionally, she has to attend a gardening class run by the head of the company that commissioned the book.

For moral support she makes her sister Rachel as well as both of her children to the class. The instructor is handsome, but not her type. No one is her type. The rest of the class members are quirky and lovable. The group would never have chosen to be together, but their friendships grew along with the gardens they were planting and tending.

I loved the way Abbi Waxman set up the chapters in this book. Each one starts with a gardening tip that very easily parallels Lili’s life. You must tend your garden as well as your relationships.  If you ignore either one, they may wither and die. And sometimes, no matter how well you tend either of them, something may happen to them, but eventually you need to move on.

It was interesting to see how Lili grew with each class, it wasn’t giant leaps of change in her personality, but subtle, gradual moments that allowed me to believe she was going to be okay after spending three years on autopilot drowning in her grief and guilt.

The Garden of Small Beginnings is Abbi Waxman’s debut novel. It is my hope that she is working right now on another fabulous work of women’s fiction right now. She has a voice that needs to be read.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

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