Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Claws for Concern – Cute Cat Cozy Mystery

Claws for Concern  (Cat in the Stacks #9)

By Miranda James

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Penguin First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Retiree and amateur gumshoe Charlie Harris and his famous Maine Coon cat Diesel are back in the ninth episode of their adventures. Harris is minding his own business as a volunteer at the library when he notices a stranger. It is not unusual for people to seek shelter from the heat in the public library, but this fellow seems different.

As it turns out he is a distant relative of Harris with a shady past. Why has he felt the need to make contact now? Harris feels a tenuous connection as well as an obligation to help the stranger. But the more he finds out about him, the more uneasy Harris becomes.

Coincidently, an author of true crime books contacts Harris requesting to write about some of the crimes he has helped solve in the past. Reluctant at first, he is unsure about returning the author’s calls. Eventually, his curiosity gets the better of him, so he agrees as long as the author gives credit to the police department as the real heros. This arrangement with the author pulls Harris into a new investigation of an old crime that may have a big connection to the newly found relative.

James’ characters are delightful. How could you not love a Maine Coon cat that is as big as a bobcat and a perfect judge of character? It amuses me that Harris has to find a cat sitter because Diesel did not like to be home alone. The entire Harris family weaves in and out of the story adding depth, emotion and humor. I can’t wait to see how little Charlie grows in the next book. Harris’ friends and love interest pop on and off of the pages as well as his delightful house keeper Azalea.

The plot is interesting and holds a few surprises, ticking all the boxes of a great cozy mystery, Claw for Concern has a super supporting cast as well as interesting main characters. This is the first book I have read in the series, even though it is the ninth in the series. I was not confused or lost at any point during the tale as it works well as a stand-alone cozy mystery.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Phantom Limb – Brilliant Psychological Mystery

Phantom Limb

By Dennis Palumbo

Daniel Rinaldi is a private psychologist that also consults with the Pittsburg Police Department when needed. In the past, this has brought trouble to his doorstep. Unfortunately, this time things could get deadly for him.

His new patient was a Playboy model and starred in some sketchy films. Returning home to Pittsburg she is now married to a very rich man with questionable activities. These activities get her snatched right after her first session with Rinaldi.

This plunges Rinaldi into the case as well as into danger. Happenstance puts him in even more danger with the kidnappers; he is tagged to be the one to deliver the ransom to the bad guys. Will he be able to save the young woman he just met or will her secrets be too much for the kidnappers to chance letting her go at any price? Either way Rinaldi feels he has to help her. Unfortunately for him, his involvement is becoming more treacherous with each passing hour. He may not be able to save her or himself from the psychopath behind the whole scheme.

Palumbo’s gripping tale is a nail-biting, page turning mystery that pulls the reader along for the ride. The witty banter and complex characters round out this fantastic read. The unexpected twists and turns kept me guessing until the last pages – a perfect mystery in my opinion.

As a former Hollywood screenwriter and licensed psychotherapist he brings firsthand knowledge to the pages along with his amazing fiction, making the perfect combo for great mysteries. This is the first book I have read in the Daniel Rinaldi Mystery series, but the fourth book in Palumbo’s series. It works perfectly as a stand-alone book if you choose to read it first. He has published a mystery collection, From Crime to Crime and has had short fiction published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

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 © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Murder in the Manuscript Room – Delightfully Twisting Tale

Murder in the Manuscript Room

By Con Lehane

Raymond Ambler doesn’t want to be involved with murder. He is a librarian, not a cop. But when it hits close to home, he is not only upset, he is driven to help his buddy NYPD Detective Mike Cosgrove work the case. Cosgrove doesn’t always welcome Ambler’s assistance, but the homicide detective realizes quickly that Ambler is invaluable to the investigation since the body was found in his library and he knows all of the suspects.

Unfortunately, Cosgrove and other police officials don’t always listen to or appreciate Ambler’s take on the case. Knowing he is just an amateur detective, most of the time Ambler is good with that, but when it gets too close, he has no choice. What Ambler doesn’t bargain for is his personal, professional and amateur sleuthing worlds colliding with such force. Threats are being made and chances are being taken that only police professionals should be involved in, not librarians. Should Ambler back off or is it too late?

Lehane’s story could be ripped from today’s headlines. One of the suspects is under scrutiny because he is Islamic. It doesn’t matter that he is a scholar; the authorities are suspicious of him and possibly rightly so. The resulting fallout could seriously affect the relationship Ambler has with his friend Adele Morgan. She sympathizes with the suspect, maybe a bit too much and Ambler is a little jealous of the two of them.

I love the writing style as well as the characters. The story is an intricate web but never confusing. It took me less than 48 hours to finish it because I absolutely had to know what was going to happen next. Don’t confuse easy reading with simplicity. Lehane knows how to draw his reader in and keep them wanting more throughout the entire book.

Murder in the Manuscript Room ticks all the boxes for a cozy mystery. Raymond is the curious librarian that helps solve murders that he quite accidentally encounters. But it is much meatier than most cozies. It is like comparing a 99 cent burger from a nationwide chain to a specialty burger bar that has fresh beef, caramelized onions, homemade sauces and artisanal cheeses. They are both burgers, but occasionally you really love to be treated to the surprise of flavors you enjoy with that specialty – in this case Lahane’s fabulous book.

I am delighted that this is a series. This is the first I have read, but it was not confusing in the least and easily works as a stand-alone novel. That being said, I am going to put the first in the 42nd Street Library mystery series Murder at the 42nd Street Library, on my list to read. Outside of the series, Lahane has published three other mysteries.

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 © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: A Deadly Eclair: A Delicious Cozy Mystery

A Deadly Éclair (A French Bistro Mystery)

By Daryl Wood Gerber

Mimi Rousseau is living her dream – until the nightmare of murder darkens her door. Her life has known sorrow before; namely the unexpected death of her husband that revealed they were broke and deep in debt. Coming home to Napa Valley isn’t easy, but when she is introduced to Bryan Baker she dares to think her dreams of owning a successful restaurant might come true. Baker is willing to finance the bistro as well as the attached inn because he believes in Mimi.

With her every step of the way, he encourages and supports Mimi both financially and emotionally. Like a big brother, he is always there for her – until he is found brutally murdered the night before the first wedding planned at Bistro Rousseau.

Mimi is devastated by the loss of her mentor and is determined to find out who could possibly do such a thing. Unfortunately, there is a smorgasbord of suspects staying at the inn for the wedding that was preempted by Baker’s death. That doesn’t stop Mimi’s investigation, much to the local law enforcement’s chagrin. She is hoping to serve up justice with a side of incarceration to the person responsible. The killer isn’t about to take her meddling laying down – will she be the next victim?

This delightful cozy mystery has more ingredients than a French pastry and is just as delicious. The main characters are quirky, fun and likable. Of course there are a few that I wouldn’t want to eat lunch with, slimy characters that are absolutely necessary for a great cozy mystery.

Another great addition to this delightful mystery is the recipes the author has included at the end of the book. It is always fun to have the recipes discussed in the book available to enjoy. Seriously, who doesn’t crave a delicious éclair or creamy, crunchy topped Crème Brulee after reading about the characters enjoying these decadent treats?

I really enjoyed A Deadly Éclair. It is the first book in the French Bistro Mystery Series, and the first book I’ve read by award winning author Daryl Wood Gerber. She writes two other series, the Cookbook Nook Mysteries and the Cheese Shop Mysteries (writing as Avery Aames). I plan to check out both of these series in the near 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 © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: A Police Action – A Vietnam Era Love Story

A Police Action

By AA Freda

Army draftee James Coppi is headed for Vietnam. Tension is high in his Colorado barracks. Coppi and his comrades are training to fight a war in the jungle, and with only ten months left of his tour he just wants to live long enough to muster out and go home to the Bronx. Coppi’s decision to go into town with the others his first Friday night becomes a major turning point in his life.

He meets Samantha (Sam), a woman that catches his eye. Disregarding all the pitfalls associated with becoming involved with Sam, Coppi jumps into a relationship with her immediately. The fact that she has a major problem that needs to be dealt with as well as his impending departure for war adds layers of complexity to their feelings about each other that may be misconstrued for love. And if it is love, will it survive until they are reunited?

Freda writes about war with the knowledge of someone who has lived those horrible minutes, days or years. He brings the intensity of war to life bringing the reader into the jungle with him. The sounds, smells, heat and fear are felt with every word. The horrors of battle are not whitewashed; Coppi’s and possibly Freda’s feelings about the war the government referred to as a Police Action are evident.

The relationship between Sam and Coppi seems superficial. Perhaps it is the characters themselves. Coppi admits he is a con man and not necessarily a good person. Yet he steps in taking care of Sam when he doesn’t even know her. He is difficult to like because he is basically a loan shark, does not pay any attention to his superiors, ignores little things like getting back to base on time and yet seems to save the day every time. Somehow I find it very unlikely that he would have gotten by virtually unscathed after being AWOL several times in the span of a month. The Lieutenants, Majors and Sergeants give him a wink every time he does something stupid just because he can’t seem to follow direct orders. That is the only part of the military segments that was unrealistic to me.

Sam alternates between an efficient woman and a whiny girl. The conversations she has do not sound like a grown woman, yet she is working, living on her own and has been on her own before she meets Coppi. The fact that she conveniently brings God into the mix at times does not ring true. She admits to partying and picks up Coppi and sleeps with him the day they meet. The character is like two different people, making the reader question who she really is. Unfortunately her shallowness became really annoying.

I recommend this book for those who are interested in reading fiction about Vietnam by an author with first-hand knowledge. If you are looking for a love story, A Police Action has all of the elements, but I am not convinced the execution is satisfying to the reader.

 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 © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Written Off – Masterful Mystery

Written Off

By Sheila Lowe

When forensic handwriting expert Claudia Rose is asked by her dear friend Zebediah for help she immediately agrees. Due to a medical issue, he cannot travel from California to the east coast to retrieve an unfinished manuscript and, more importantly, interview a female serial killer. As the prisoner was the subject of the manuscript, it was imperative for Claudia to complete both of these tasks so that Zebediah can finish writing the incomplete book a friend of his was writing.

Unfortunately, the woman writing the book was brutally murdered. At first it appears to be a random act of violence. But as Claudia learns more about the now dead professor she realizes the murderer more than likely targeted the victim. Would Claudia stir up the hornet’s nest that caused the death of the professor by doing the requested interview? If so, could she become the next victim?

Lowe’s page turning mystery has twists and turns throughout the plot. Just when I thought I knew who the killer was, an additional piece of evidence would come to light blowing up my theory. It is always delightful for a mystery fan to be guessing to the end of a great story.

The other interesting element in this well-written novel is the handwriting analysis that is done by the main character. I found myself comparing the things she said about handwriting styles to my own. I am a fan of learning new things intertwined with a great story. Written Off has both of these components expertly written to entertain and enlighten readers.

This is the first Shelia Lowe book I have read, and the seventh book in this series. It works very well as a stand-alone novel. If you are like me, you will seek out the other six novels in this series. I also am interested in her non-fiction books on handwriting analysis. Handwriting of the Famous and Infamous as well as The Complete Idiot’s guide to Handwriting Analysis both sound like must reads to me!

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 © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The Immortalists – Add to your Must Read List 2018

The Immortalists

By Chloe Benjamin

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Netgalley and the publisher.

How would you live your life if, as a young child, you were given the day on which you would die? That is the struggle thirteen-year-old Varay and three siblings face in the pages of Benjamin’s powerful novel.

Children of Jewish immigrants, they are taught to work hard, obey their parents and follow the ways of their ancestors. Amidst the traditions and expectations of the family, each of the children has talents and desires of their own. The oldest son, Daniel, is expected to take over his father’s dressmaking business, but he is determined to become a physician. Varay wants to go to University instead of staying home to raise children and the youngest two siblings have far grander dreams of how they will live out the days the fortune teller allotted them that steamy July day in 1969.

Benjamin’s magnificent work of literary fiction is magical and down to earth, heartbreaking and inspiring all at once. Within a few moments the lives of four siblings changed forever or were their paths set in stone? Benjamin gives the reader all of the information, but the interpretation is up to the individual reader.

I literally walked around with my Kindle, sneaking stolen glances at the pages while doing other things because I could not put this story down. Reading late into the night, I cried for the fate of Simon – or was it the path he had chosen? Either way, the characters came alive for me in the first few pages and I wanted them to all live forever if only on the pages. But true to life, love and loss go hand in hand.

This is the first book I’ve read by award winning author Chloe Benjamin. Her first novel, The Anatomy of Dreams, won the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award. I cannot wait to read it and following novels by this talented writer.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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