Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Fake – Mystery Ripped From Today’s Headlines

Fake

By John DeDakis

White House Correspondent Lark Chadwick has seen more than her fair share of dead bodies. But when Rose Gannon, the First Lady of the United States drops dead during an interview with Lark, it is beyond horrific. It was just bad luck that Lark was present at the time of Mrs. Gannon’s collapse, but she didn’t have to snap a picture of the President trying to revive his wife to no avail. Once the picture hit the papers, Lark’s life became more complicated than even she could have imagined.

Soon she again finds herself on the front pages, this time not as a reporter, but as the subject of a national controversy. She is accused of having an affair with President Gannon. Becoming a victim of the fake news stories her former colleagues post in the papers and on social media about her, losing her job in the story’s aftermath. Lark is determined to find out who leaked personal information which became the basis of the fake news story.

Much like the headlines of today, the stories bring strong feelings about Lark from friends, strangers and colleagues. Many feel as if they know the story and Lark without getting the facts. Becoming the judge, jury and jailer, some of the general public hates Lark without ever meeting her. Will someone take matters into their own hands?

Lark’s story could be taken from today’s headlines. She is merely doing her job to the best of her ability. Getting caught up in the court of public opinion to the point of being in danger is the last thing she imagined for her life.

DeDakis brilliantly combines the current trend of the general population’s personal feelings about public figures as well as the personal side from the accused point of view. The real consequences to the lies that have been published change lives.

The characters in Fake are brought to life in the realistic setting DeDakis creates. From the insider look into the lives of the White House press contingency to the appointments with a grief counselor, the characters are interesting and quickly become real to the reader. He touches on many hot topics in addition to the fake news thread that runs throughout. Sex abuse, the ethical decisions journalists make and the personal effects half-truths have on the characters are all brought to the reader to think about long after the last pages are read.

I love a book that is current and relevant in addition to telling an interesting story. Fake makes the reader think about the nightly news in a different, more personal way. The mystery of who leaked personal information was an additional layer of interest. Hopefully we will see more of Lark Chadwick in the future.

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 © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Toxic Octopus – Interestingly Informative Novel Wrapped in Fun

Toxic Octopus

By Lisa Haneberg

Xena Cali is a private investigator. She also owns Paradise Lost Spy Shop on Galveston Island.  Conveniently, she employs Sparky and Dora, the other members of her team. When a member of a local privately funded non-profit organization BARL is murdered Xena and her team are called in after the police determine Fred, a male octopus killed Dr. Jane Moore. Ari, the manager of the cephalopod lab, is sure Fred is not guilty and Xena agrees with him, especially after meeting Fred.

So begins the bizarre investigation including spy cams, Segway Personal Transporters and more danger than Xena could imagine when she agreed to take the case. Soon there is an additional murder that is linked to the case. She will have to use every trick in the book and several of the items she sells in her Spy Shop to catch the real killer and keep herself from being the third victim.

Toxic Octopus is an interestingly informative novel wrapped in fun. I learned more about octopuses than I could have imagined. Yes, the plural of octopus is really octopuses. I also found out that sadly, after mating, the male octopus dies and after laying her eggs the female octopus dies. I also learned all about freerunning, which is also called parkour. Xena practices this art of efficient movement adding ninja like fun to some very dangerous situations.

The plot moves along quickly, building tension until the killer is revealed. One of vehicles carrying the book is the characters’ quick wit and humor. Haneberg made me laugh out loud more than once, especially when Xena gives everyone she meets a different reason for the fashion choice she wears to a gala. There are times when Xena talks directly to the reader, much like the characters in the TV series Scrubs, and it absolutely works.

If you are a fan of Christopher Moore, you will love Toxic Octopus. Haneberg’s style is fun and informative – perfectly balanced with a solid plot and intriguing whodunit. This is the first book in the Spy Shop Mystery Series. The second book, Dead Pelican is available now. I cannot wait to read it.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from  Reedsy Discovery in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Tin Badges – Fast Paced Page Turner

Tin Badges

By Lorenzo Carcaterra

New York City detectives Tank Rizzo and Pearl Monroe carried a gold badge up until the fateful day when both of them lost their jobs. But Pearl lost so much more. Now both of them hold a tin badge, one that has few privileges of their former life, but it does open some doors. The duo works cold cases that the NYPD doesn’t have time to investigate thanks to the Chief of Police that has a soft spot for both of them.

When the case involving a couple of young women, who are beaten and sexually abused is tossed their way, it is so cold they might need gloves to hold it. No one has worked it for a while because the ladies are most likely hookers and no one really seems to care. Tank and Pearl dig into the case with the help of their brilliant, yet ragtag group. They discover the assault is just the tip of the iceberg. One that is full of drugs, murders and gangs that the two with tin badges are determined to bring to justice.

As if Tank doesn’t have enough on his plate, the brother that he hasn’t spoken with in years dies in an icy car accident along with his wife. This leaves his now orphaned teenage nephew, Chris, living with him in his NY brownstone. Chris is smart, mad at the world and crushed that his parents are gone; leaving him with the only family he has but doesn’t know. Tank loved his brother and willingly takes in Chris. Now he has to keep his nephew safe while working the case, which isn’t going to be easy. Chris is a crime buff and wants to be part of the team that takes the bad guys down and the good news/bad news is he is an expert at finding information that Tank and his team needs.

This fasted paced novel has page-turning action and is filled with the passion the characters have for their jobs, families and friends. Tank is the perfect leading man in the group of brilliant but ragtag crime solvers. His connections to the NYPD and old mobsters create a cast that entertains readers from the first page to the last. His love of NY City is evident as the story unfolds and the secret he holds close to his heart kept me guessing throughout the story.

Carcaterra is a Native New Yorker. A writer for over twenty years, he is a NY Times number one bestselling author. The prolific author has written several books, one of which, Sleepers, was adapted as a film in 1996 of the same name. I can’t wait to read some of his other books. Hopefully there will be a sequel to Tin Badges or better yet, a series with these interesting, complex characters. If you are a fan of Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme or Patterson’s Alex Cross, you will love Tin Badges.

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 © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea

Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea

By Edwin Colin

with Deb Silva

As an eight-year-old, Edwin Colin, the author of this book, knew Shorty. It was 1953 when Colin’s father wars hired to be a full-time foreman at Corriganville, a Movie Ranch in nearby Simi Valley. Corriganville was owned by the famous stunt rider, Crash Corrigan, who was also and friend of Shorty Shea. So begins Colin’s fascination with the man who will be killed by Charles Manson and his followers right before the infamous  Tate and LaBianca murders.

Charles “Shorty” Shea was many things in his life. He was a horse wrangler, stuntman, husband, a U. S. Military Veteran and a victim of Charles Manson and his Family. Shorty wanted to be an actor in Westerns, but he seemed to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the time he made enough connections in the business, Westerns were not getting the funding to be produced as audiences no longer flocked to them.

He spent his last years working on the Spahn Ranch. He took care of the livestock, did some Wild West shows for dwindling crowds and had the unfortunate fate of meeting Charles Manson. Manson and his Family basically moved into Spahn Ranch and took it over. The owner, George Spahn was getting older and was nearly blind by the time Manson and his followers descended upon his property. For whatever reason, he let them stay.

Some say that Shorty’s death was a direct result of not ignoring Charles Manson. Not one to ever back down from confrontation, he did not like Manson and everyone knew it. Sadly, his stubbornness was most likely the reason Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Bruce Davis and Steve Grogan murdered him in cold blood on August 26, 1969.

Colin weaves a sordid insider look at the murder of Shorty Shea and subsequent deaths of Sharon Tate and the LaBiancas. With Deb Silva, the duo uncovered death certificates, autopsy results and firsthand accounts of the horrific crimes committed by the Manson Family. The small facts that surrounded the Spahn Ranch and those that lived there are fascinating to me. There are connections to famous actors, TV shows and events that most have heard of, but from a different, closer perspective. For example, one of men that participated in Shea’s death is now out of prison and another one is up for parole this year – but has dementia.

Charles Manson and the Killing of Shorty Shea is an entertaining work of non-fiction. The book is fascinating, but at times disjointed. There was a bit of repetition, as the author seemed to give the facts ahead of the timeline, then repeated with more detail later. Overall, it was an interesting insider look into the lives of the Manson Family as well as Shorty Shea and all of the people they encountered during this brief period of history.

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/charles-manson-and-the-killing-of-shorty-shea-edwin-colin) in exchange for a fair and honest review. Copyright © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Whisper Man – Haunting Thriller

The Whisper Man

By Alex North

Neil Spencer has a less than ideal life. The six-year-old has two alcoholic parents and he is left on his own devices all too often. When his father decides to let him walk back to his mother’s house alone, it is the last time he was seen. He is not the first missing child Detective Inspector Pete Willis has searched for and won’t be his last.

The small town had a serial killer targeting children years ago, but Frank Carter, aka The Whisper Man, had been caught and was in prison. But Neil’s disappearance was eerily similar to the Whisper Man cases. Some of the children’s bodies have not been found and continue to haunt DI Willis. He is determined to find Neil before he became another unsolved mystery.

Meanwhile, another family in this small town is troubled. Tom lives with his young son, Jake, in the home in which Tom’s wife/Jake’s mother tragically died. Jake is understandably troubled. He has an imaginary friend that he talked to all the time. The small family decides to find a new home so that they can move on. After the move, he tells his father that a man is whispering to him telling him to unlock the door of the new house and let him in.

Understandably Tom was distraught. He contacts the local police, who at first don’t really believe anything is amiss, especially because Jake is known to have imaginary friends. Once DI Willis hears about the whispers, he immediately knows it has to be The Whispering Man’s accomplice. Would he be able to keep young Jake safe? Would they finally locate the other missing boys’ remains?

The Whisper Man is a haunting thriller that skillfully pulls the reader into the story from the first pages. At times I couldn’t stop reading, and was holding my breath as the plot unfolded. North created characters that came alive on the pages. When I read lines such as “…grief is a stew with a thousand ingredients, and not all of them are palatable…” they stick in my mind long after the last page. This was so much more than a mystery, reminiscent of Dean Koontz, thought provoking descriptions and beautiful turns of phrase keep readers slowing down to enjoy the journey of the fast paced plot.

If you are a fan of mysteries, thrillers and heart stopping plot twists, this is the book for you. Alex North is a pen name, so I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything else that was written by him. If anything else he’s written is as intensely engaging as The Whisper Man, I will be the first to get a copy.

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 © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Arrangement – Desperate Times Call for … Murder?

The Arrangement

By Robyn Harding

Small town girl Natalie is out of her element. It is her choice, but life is harder and more expensive in New York City than she could have imagined. Loving the freedom and following her dream of art school is the best part of her life. Unfortunately money is a big problem. She lives with two roommates but is way behind on her portion of the rent. She loses the job that is barely keeping her head above water and turning the alcohol isn’t helping.

One of her friends at school offers Nat a solution to her situation. Ava has a posh apartment, stylish clothes, makeup and hair. When she reveals to Nat that she is a sugar baby, Ava tells Natalie that she dates men for money. Quickly explaining to Nat that sugar babies can just date older men, no sex has to be involved – unless it is her choice. At first Nat is repelled by the idea of dating men for money, but the amount of cash the sugar daddy pays for a dinner date could catch her up on the money she owes her roommates. After much deliberation, she decides that she will go on a date or two, get the cash and get out. The only problem is she really likes Gabe, her sugar daddy.

Falling for Gabe was easy for Nat; he is gorgeous, smart and rich. She starts to depend on the lifestyle and wants more than dinner and going to the theater. Things quickly begin to unravel. Soon she finds out he has secrets. Just how far will Nat go to have Gabe to herself? She is convinced they love each other and are destined to be together. But his family may not agree.

In the prologue of this fast paced novel, Natalie is calling her estranged father from the police station stating she has killed someone and needs his help. So the reader knows from the beginning that someone dies. It is a delicious bit of information that was always in the back of my mind. Who will die and why? While this isn’t a mystery, the element of the unknown is a fabulous addition to the complex plot.

The Arrangement is the perfect glimpse into a life most of us will never see – or want to ever be a part of. Ms. Harding explains in Acknowledgments the depth of research she did before writing The Arrangement. Doing her homework on the subject is what brought this book alive, and made the characters real. It is the first book I’ve read from this author and I highly recommend it.

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 © 2019 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Body in the Gravel – Sexy Cozy Mystery

The Body in the Gravel

A Jazzi Zanders Mystery

By Judi Lynn

Cousins Jazzi and Jerod, along with Jazzi’s fiancé Ansel are house flippers. They do most of the work themselves. They depend on others for things that are not in their wheelhouse, such as delivery of gravel and concrete as well as furnace replacement. Luckily they have a close friend, Thane that happens to be living with Jazzi’s sister Olivia, who is a whiz when it comes to heating and AC. But when Thane and Darby, the cranky old buzzard that delivers their gravel meet up at the reno house, Ansel and Jazzi discover a long lasting feud between the two men. They didn’t know that Thane’s best friend, Walker is Darby’s son. Walker and his mother fled from the abusive Darby two years ago without a trace. Thane thinks Darby killed them.

When Darby ends up dead in a load of gravel dumped at the house Ansel and Jazzi are working on, Thane is at the top of the list. But soon the list of suspects is broadened to the guys that worked for him, family members and all of his friends – who are more like enemies due to Darby’s volatile nature. When another person connected to Darby is found dead, and a presumed dead person is found alive the case becomes even more complicated.

Jazzie is determined to help Detective Gaff find the murderer. He is more than willing to have her input, as they have worked several cases together in the past. But she has more than a murderer to worry about. She and Ansel are getting married in a few weeks and she doesn’t even have her wedding dress yet!

I love cozy mysteries. Of course they are not War and Peace, but no one wants them to be. They are fun, fast reads with interesting elements. The house flipping factor is fun, especially if you are a fan of HGTV like I am. Another element that I love is the delicious foods Jazzi and Ansel cook and bake. They are a couple of foodies, sharing their love of food with us. As a bonus to the readers, a few of their recipes are included.

The other element that was a bit different from most cozy mysteries is the romance between Jazzi and Ansel. Most cozies have the on again/off again boyfriends that never seem to be resolved. The sexy but never explicit interactions between the main characters was not frustrating or irritating to me like the traditional cozy plot lines of never committing in the relationship. Kudos to Ms. Lynn for having her characters have a happily ever after – with a side of murder.

This is the third book in the Jazzi Zanders cozy mystery series and the first one I have read. It works well as a stand-alone novel. The only time I was confused was the first few chapters as there are several characters that are introduced from the previous novels. But I soon knew who everyone was and the role they played in the plot.

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 © 2019 Laura Hartman

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