Monthly Archives: March 2020

Book Review: Dash Away All – Christmas in July Leads to Murder

Dash Away All

Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mystery Series Book #3

By Christina Freeburn

 Merry is as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. She has been hired to work on a movie that features Luna Carmichael, the grand dame of television Christmas movies. Supplying the set with handcrafted Christmas items is Merry’s dream come true – until people start dying.

Arriving in her Christmas themed RV and Ebenezer, a very vocal and opinionated guinea pig, Merry is ready to get crafting. Anxious to meet the woman she idolizes, she is surprised to find Luna demanding, self-centered and downright mean to some of those working for her. Keeping a low profile is the best defense, but Merry finds it difficult to keep her curiosity at bay. She is soon knee deep in a murder investigation to the chagrin of the local authorities. Sticking to the crafting she is hired to do and keeping away from the investigation is in her best interest. The amateur sleuth could become a target if she doesn’t stop snooping.

Anytime of the year it is fun to read a Christmas themed cozy mystery. Especially if it is set in July, which makes it interesting and opens up more possibilities than the usual holiday books offer. Ms. Freeburn expertly weaves the different types of crafts Merry creates with an intriguing plot. The whodunit unfolds perfectly in the pages, encouraging the reader to read one more chapter to see what happens next.

The characters are interesting and most of them appear to be hiding something. I enjoyed finding out things about the characters throughout the book. This helped me start putting the pieces of the puzzle together, but kept me wondering who the murderer was until the final pages.

Cozy mysteries are interesting, easy to read and are about everyday people you might know. Dash Away All ticks all of those boxes and more. This is the first book I have read by Ms. Freeburn, but it will not be the last. While it is the third book in The Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mystery Series, I was not confused or lost at any time. It works well as a standalone novel. Like me, you will probably seek out the previous two books, Not a Creature Was Stirring and Better Watch Out as well as her other series of six books; The Faith Hunter Scrap This Series.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Spent Identity – Solid Mystery with a Side of Romance

3.25.20Spent Identity

By Marlene M. Bell

Annalisse Drury needs the fresh air and open places that her brownstone in Manhattan cannot provide. Luckily, she has the perfect outlet, the family farm she grew up on in Goshen. As a small child her parents died, so she came to live with her beloved Aunt Kate. Unfortunately, when she lived with them, Kate’s now dead husband and two obnoxious children reminded her constantly that she would never be a part of their family, no matter how much Kate cared and loved her.

When she arrives at the farm for the weekend, Annalisse realizes that something is bothering Kate. Annalisse finds a letter from Kate’s son stating he is selling the family farm out from under his mother. Heartbroken and furious, Annalisse vows to stop him. Unfortunately, when a dead body is found in the barn by the hired hand, they all must leave the farm per the sheriff until the investigation is complete. They head over to Annalisse’s boyfriend’s estate, which is fairly close to the farm. Kate disappears right after she and Annalisse arrive. Annalisse and Alec, her boyfriend, are soon on the hunt to find her missing aunt. Luckily, Alec is wealthy. He calls in a private investigator to assist in the search. Annalisse and Alec soon realize they are also in danger. Will they live to find Kate? Who is behind the killing and kidnapping? Are the two crimes related?

This fast-paced mystery combined with the slow burn of romance features a solid plot and interesting characters. Revenge is served up with a side of tension, twists and turns making readers fear for the outcome, all the while trying to figure out what would happen next. Ms. Bell serves up a surprising and satisfying ending that mystery lovers will adore.

Spent Identity is the second book in this series, but the first one I’ve read. In the first few chapters, the author summarizes the background needed to make sense of the relationships between the main characters. It works well as a stand-alone novel, I was not confused or lost. I recommend Spent Identity to everyone that loves mysteries, thrillers and a bit of romance.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Reedsy Discovery (https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/spent-identity-marlene-bell) in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Grow Kind – The World Needs More Kindness

Grow Kind

By Jon Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser

Illustrations by Christopher Lyles

Kiko loves to work in her garden. She shares the veggies, flowers and fruit she harvests with her friends and neighbors. She even shares with the grumpy man that shouted at her dog.

She also shares with others she does not know. The homeless person Kiko and her mom encounters on the way to school is very happy to receive the kindness of fresh produce. On show and tell day, Kiko brings fresh snacks to everyone in her class. Sharing her harvest makes everyone happy.

The message of this story is sweet and kind and the illustrations are adorable. I am a bit confused when trying to put it in the one of the usual “boxes” for children’s books. It has more words that illustrations so I hesitate to label it as a picture book. Some of the words are too difficult for an early reader. I do like the message and the question at the very end for children; “How do you grow kind?”. This emphasizes the heart of the message and gives caregivers a springboard to open the conversation with young children to think about others. I feel that the author wants the important people in the child’s life to read Grow Kind with and to them. In this egocentric world, it is refreshing to see a book that gently reminds children and their caregivers just how much a simple act of kindness can impact the giver and the recipient. We need more kindness.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Riley – Relationships are Complicated

Riley

By Paul Martin Midden

Author Riley Cotswald is tired of her marriage. Cameron, her soon to be ex-husband, is married to his job and in the last few years they have slowly drifted apart. Even though they have separated, life doesn’t seem that much different, other than opening up new possibilities for different relationships with others.

 When she makes a snap decision to sleep with a man she barely knows, Riley’s life becomes a nightmare. Her one-time lover believes they are going to have a relationship. When she turns him down, he wants to make her pay for what she has done to him. He fantasizes about being with her again as well as getting even with her for hurting him.

Her best friend Jennifer is there for her, suggesting Riley might want to contact a local women’s shelter to see what steps she can take to stop the man she thinks is stalking her. Mildred, the director of the shelter, immediately bonds with Riley and offers to help her. She recommends a private investigator, surprising both girls, but they soon realize it is a necessary step in moving on.

Riley is an easy to read, yet complicated book about these new and old relationships and how these interactions touch and change both Riley and all of the other characters. Like most people, all of their relationships are complicated.

As an author, Riley spends much of her day inside her own head. She takes the reader along for the ride, adding even more depth to the novel by creating a fascinating story within the story. This gives the reader two books in one. The complexity of the story and characters for Riley as well as the book Riley is writing is a double treat for readers.

This is the first book I have read by Paul Martin Midden and I loved it. I cannot wait to read his previous books. I highly recommend it.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy from publicist Maryglenn McCombs in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: We Came Here to Shine – Historical Fiction Takes Readers to the 1939 World’s Fair

We Came Here to Shine

By Susie Orman Schnall

Vivi Holden and Maxine (Max) Roth are two different women on very different paths in life. Little did they know that they would become best friends amidst the awe and wonder of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.

Max is a fledgling writer trying to make her way in a man’s world. The summer internship she covets is working for the New York Times. Her reality is being assigned to write the daily newspaper for the World’s Fair by her professor at NYU. Unfortunately, she is not the only one assigned to the Fair. Charlie, a fellow classmate will be working along side of Max. Charlie is assigned all of the coveted articles only because the boss feels women are better at organizing rather than actually being good writers.

Vivi is an actress that has been sent to NY from LA to become the lead swimmer in the Aquacade production. With an impossibly short time to learn the routine and the fact that she has not been in a pool since high school, she is up a creek without a paddle. To make matters worse, the person assigned to teaching her the difficult routines has been filling the role Vivi is taking. The only reason she has agreed to the part is because her manager has promised her the lead in a film as soon as the Fair closes.

Max and Vivi meet after listening to feminist Elizabeth Dorchester’s speech at the Democracity exhibit at the Fair. They quickly bond as both are inspired by the message of equality for women. Soon they are sharing their hopes, dreams and frustrations with each other. Vivi’s manager holds her life and career in his hands and Max’s editor holds her fate as a serious reporter in his. Both women will need to struggle and claim the path in life they want and need to take. Unfortunately, most women in 1939 are at the mercy of the men that employ them. Unbeknownst to them, both girls will become part of the movement to change the mindset of men and women alike as they fight for their personal rights to be heard.

We Came Here to Shine is like stepping into the past on a guided tour with friends. The characters are realistic and interesting. I enjoy the depth of each of the girls. They are dealing with not only equality issues, but deep personal issues as well. The World’s Fair looms bigger than life for the characters as well as the readers. The innovations that are detailed in this fascinating book are fun to experience with the characters. What is now outdated or taken for granted is all brand new for Vivi and Max as well as those who attend the 1939 World’s Fair.

This is the second book I’ve read by Susie Orman Schnall. I love the nod to the other book I read, The Subway Girls, that Ms. Orman Schnall weaves seamlessly into We Come Here to Shine. Her knowledge and research paint a beautiful background for her characters in both novels. I highly recommend both of these books. Both of them have solid, interesting plots that take

the reader back in time. Actual events in history are combined with interesting fictional people creating two of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read. I highly recommend them.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright ©2020 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: A Shadowed Fate – Intriguing Historical Mystery Series

A Shadowed Fate

A Lord Byron Mystery

By Marty Ambrose

In this second book of the Lord Byron Mystery trilogy, Claire Clairmont has grown old but not elderly. She has lived through the loss of Lord Byron, the man she loved even after he left her for another woman. Many years ago, she bore his daughter but realized she could not raise her alone. It was not acceptable in 1816. She sent her child, Allegra, to live with Lord Byron. For reasons unclear to Claire, he sent Allegra to live in a convent where the child succumbed to illness and died. But recent revelations have hinted that Claire’s daughter lives. She is determined to find her daughter before she dies. So begins her quest for the truth.

Claire lives with her niece and grandniece in genteel poverty. She has personal letters from Lord Byron that would fetch a more than generous price, but cannot let go of the writings of a man she loved so deeply. When Trelawny, a man she and Byron once knew, brings her a valuable sketch that Byron wanted her to have, she sees relief in their money situation. But Trelawny also brings her hope that her daughter has not died, but had been hidden away by Byron because she was in grave danger.

Danger has touched Claire and her family before, bringing death and sorrow into their home. Now, amidst the hope of finding Allegra, Claire and her loved ones are robbed of the sketch that would have eased their money problems. More disconcerting is the fact that Claire and those she loved may now be in mortal danger. Getting closer to discovering the secrets of the past could prove fatal for one or all of them.

A Shadowed Fate is a continuation of Claire’s Secret. While I do not think anyone would be confused by reading it without reading the first book in the series, I still recommend reading them in order. The fascinating way Ms. Ambrose weaves the real-life drama of Claire, Lord Byron and Mary Shelly (author of Frankenstein and Claire’s step-sister) into the plot takes the readers to a different level than most mysteries. But do not discount the solid plot lines and twist in the mystery of Allegra’s fate and the person or persons that are willing to do anything to obtain items associated with Lord Byron.

By opening both Claire’s Secret and A Shadowed Fate the reader must slow down a bit to appreciate the style in which Ms. Ambrose writes. It is literary, yet contemporary and easy to read. The prose takes readers to a different place than most current novels. Each chapter has quotes from The Prophecy of Dante written by Lord Bryon in 1819, published in 1821, setting the scene for the reader to settle back and enjoy. I highly recommending you do just that.

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. Copyright ©2020 Laura Hartman

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