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Book Review: Goodbye Ms. Chips – Perfect Cozy British Mystery

Goodbye Ms. ChipsMs Chips
by Dorothy Cannell

Goodbye Ms. Chips, an Ellie Haskell mystery, begins with Ellie going back to school. Not grad school or a university, but the boarding school she attended as a girl. She has mixed emotions about returning. Her schooling was marred by witnessing something she should not have. The event weighs heavy on her mind even though she is an accomplished woman with a loving husband and children.

The reason the headmistress called for Ellie is that there has been a robbery and she needs Ellie’s keen observation skills and her proven ability to solve mysteries to help. The object in question is a missing trophy, the Loverly Cup. The Cup is traditionally passed to the championship lacrosse team each year and has been held by St. Roberta’s Boarding School for ages. Unfortunately they did not win this year and must pass the missing trophy to the new winning school during the dedication of the new gymnasium. It must be found before the event.

Ellie may have had misgivings about going back to a school she had mixed emotions about, but her dear friend Dorcas Critchley is now teaching there and Ellie feels compelled to help. Little did she know there is more afoot than the missing Loverly Cup. Deception abounds with double crossing students and arrogant acquaintances from Ellie’s past throwing monkey wrenches in her investigation at every turn. When an accident occurs, Ellie is suspicious of foul play, but can she prove it?

This is the 12th book in the Ellie Haskell Mystery Series. Ellie is an interior designer who is married to a professional chef and cookbook author. Her partner in solving crime is her housekeeper, Mrs. Malloy who arrives late to this investigation due to family visiting. Cannell’s description of Mrs. Malloy is priceless and instantly gives the reader a mental picture that will pop up when she enters a scene.

There is nothing better than a tightly written cozy mystery with engaging characters and a solid plot. There were so many characters with secrets, I did not figure out the culprit until the last pages. Cannell writes a perfect British cozy with delightful characters, twists, turns and a liberal sprinkling of humor. This is the first one I’ve read in this series and it reads perfectly as a stand-alone novel.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Random House Books 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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Filed under Book Review, books, cozy mystery, Mystery, Random House, Random House Publishing - Alibi

Book Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper – Real Estate to Die For!

Death at a Fixer UpperDeath at a Fixer-Upper
by Sarah T. Hobart

The ink is barely dry on Sam Turner’s new real estate agent license as she heads out to view a vintage home for sale. Unfortunately she has to tour the once grand home with Biddie McCracken, a crabby colleague at Home Sweet Home Realty. The tour is dampened by the state of the once opulent home. It would be a toss-up between renovation and complete demolition and starting over – but that is up to the future buyer.

The century old estate has the lines of the grand dame she used to be, along with secrets held quietly within for many generations. Unfortunately, these secrets may be worth killing for. In fact, they have already.

After the bizarre walk through with Biddie, Sam can’t believe her good fortune. She has three offers within a matter of days for a home that has only been marginally cared for over the last several years by a faithful housekeeper and her young daughter.

Sam is excited at the prospect of selling the old place. Being a single mother in a small town hasn’t been easy. Raising her now teenage son has been a loving challenge but Sam has no regrets. Now that she is doing better financially, she is excited and scared to be purchasing a home of their own now. This sale will really help. Unfortunately for her, buyers start turning up dead.

Determined to make this sale, Sam does a bit of investigating on her own. But soon she finds out the cutthroat real estate market doesn’t hold a candle to real killers. Hopefully she can still get out of this sale alive.

Hobart writes a perfect cozy mystery. It is a fun, fast-paced, interesting book with enough twists and turns to keep mystery lovers turning the pages to see what happens to Sam next. There were enough suspects to keep me guessing until the final chapter, which I absolutely love.

Kudos to Hobart for the great descriptive text in Death at a Fixer-Upper. It flowed naturally, but put you right in that old crumbling estate, the “vintage-… read ancient” VW camper she drives or any other setting in the book.

All of the main characters are well rounded and I felt like I knew them. Sam would be someone I’d go to lunch with, or maybe just stop for some chocolate and caffeine – I totally get where she is coming from.  I’ve worked with snarky people like some of the competing realtors. Sam’s friends, son and family are all cut from the same cloth as people I actually know. This made the book come alive for me.

Death at a Fixer-Upper. is the third book in Sarah T. Hobart’s Home Sweet Home Mystery Series. It is the first one I’ve read and works perfectly as a stand-alone mystery.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Random House Books House Party 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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Filed under Book Review, books, cozy mystery, Mystery, Random House, Random House Publishing - Alibi, Writer & Book Reviewer

Book Review: Dating Death by Randy Rawls – We Get By on a Little Help from our Friends

Dating deathDating Death

By Randy Rawls

309 pages

Beth Bowman, private investigator takes on jobs to help out the Coral Lakes, Florida police department along with her other PI work. But when Chief Elston calls her with a strange request, she hesitates to help him. Worried that the job of guarding a crooked politician under the guise of being his new girlfriend will be more trouble than the pay is worth, she is reluctant to agree. After discussing the plan with her current boyfriend, Dr. David Rasmussen, she decides babysitting the obnoxious man will be worth it in the end because she will also help the Chief investigate the politician to see if they can get enough dirt on him to take him down and stop drug trafficking in their city.

Chief and Beth are attempting to gather information that they believe City Councilman Roger Adamson has that will take down a local drug lord and his operation. At the same time, Adamson may be the target of the bad guys as they try to keep him quiet.

Bowman is competent and beautiful, but this time she might have bitten off more than she can chew. Bullets fly and bodies drop, luckily Bowman isn’t one of them- yet. She needs to leave the job the Chief asked her to do and go into hiding as it becomes clear someone is now after her.

At first she is afraid. Even the most seasoned veterans of the force would be. Then she gets mad. Furious. And decides something has to be done to put a stop to the insanity. With the help of her friends, who happen to be homeless, she jumps from the frying pan into the fire because it is her only option. Will she lose her boyfriend, her friends and possibly her life?

Dating Death is a fast-paced mystery with as many twists and turns as Lombard Street. Rawls masterfully puts the heroine of his story in the thick of things, holding her feet to the flames as the story heats up. I held my breath more than once as I read as fast as I could to see if and how my favorite characters were going to get out of the jam they were in.

I loved the depth of the characters Rawls created. Bowman was multidimensional and interesting, sometimes making crazy choices that turned out bad just like every person has at one time or another. The bad guys were spine-chilling, a few of them made my skin crawl, especially Homer. Ironically later in the plot, I kind of liked the creep – again kudos to Rawls. The residents of the homeless shelter were unique and had enough backstory to make them interesting, but not too much to take away from the movement of the storylines.

This is the first book I’ve read by Randy Rawls, and the second one in his Beth Bowman Private Investigator series. It was easily read as a stand-alone novel. Rawls, a retired career Army officer (thank you for your service!) has written several other books. Most of them are mystery series, and one is a historical novel. I like the way he tells a story and plan to read more of his work soon.

Copyright © 2016 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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Filed under Book Review, books, Mystery, series

Book Review – Funeral Hotdish – A True Fiction Novel

 

funeral hotdishFuneral Hotdish

By Jana Bommersbach

240 page

Joya Bonner shook the dust off her boots from her hometown of Northville, North Dakota for a job writing job she loves in Phoenix. Life as a journalist is not the easiest, there are more writers than hot stories and everyone is looking for the big story that will bring them fame, fortune or best case scenario, both. Joya is no different from the rest of them, but she appears to be a bit luckier.

Happenstance puts her in the right place at the right time to see a mob boss that had turned federal witness at a coffee shop. At first she told herself the mobster wannabe couldn’t be the hitman that sent John Gotti to prison, but her instincts let her outside to copy down his license plate number. Her boyfriend, Rob is a cop and just might be interested in the man she saw.

While this is going on, something bad happens in Joya’s hometown. Tragedy strikes the little town in the most inconceivable way. The close knit community cannot shake off the demons of that fateful night leading some of the men to consider taking matters into their own hands if the authorities don’t find the person or persons responsible.

Joya returns home after finding a possible connection with the mob snitch and the life altering events. She finds more questions than answers but knows one thing for sure; life has changes and may never be the same again for her family or the town.

Funeral Hotdish is based upon actual events. Those facts are wrapped in a work of fiction, but it is interesting to read the Endnotes to see which parts of the story are based on real-life people, news articles and places. And of course the recipe for Funeral Hotdish – from St Phillip’s Church in Hankinson, North Dakota is included as well.

If you are not familiar with small town funerals, invariably there is a casserole type dish that is prepared by the ladies of the congregation, referred to as “Funeral Hotdish”. It is comfort food for people beyond comfort at a a time they need it most. If they don’t enjoy the actual food, they feel the love and caring that was put into the preparation.

I enjoyed the plot lines intertwining in a way that seemed unlikely at first, but ended up tied up tidily in the end. The situations and story were true to life in ways that we might not want to admit. Too many people were trying to take the law into their own hands; then didn’t know what to do when the situation became too hot to handle.

This is the first book I’ve read by Bommersbach. Her previous novels include true crime, a historical novel and a children’s book. To say she is diverse is an understatement. Funeral Hotdish is her first true fiction novel.

Copyright © 2016 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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Filed under Book Review, books, Mobsters, Mystery, True Crime

Book Review: Original Cyn – Great Beach Read

12544074-original-cyn-by-sylvia-dickey-smithOriginal Cyn

By Sylvia Dickey Smith

333 pages

Cynthia Carter is a preacher’s wife. She takes care of him and the parsonage home without questioning his demands. He is a man of God; his flock needs a well-fed, well rested man to make decisions regarding their church business. He needs enough time and energy to tend his flock, so Cynthia understands that he is under pressure and tries to do what he asks. But his demands are getting tiresome. One would think a man of the cloth would be more considerate of his wife. He has gone as far as making Cynthia give up her name “Cyn” because it is unbecoming. She hates being called Cynthia, but bows to the head of her household.

Wilburn demands homemade meals on the table three times a day from his obedient wife. She isn’t allowed to spend money without asking him or have a life of her own. Her only joy in life is her son Justice. Now that he is grown and in college, she can’t even look forward to dinner or daily conversations with him.

Much to Wilburn’s chagrin, Cynthia isn’t involved in much at their church. She faithfully sits in the front row every week as he gives his sermons, but feels out of place in many of the committee meetings. The church has many longtime members with their own opinions about everything and everyone – including Cynthia. She is constantly talked about and compared to the previous preacher’s wife. She is a smart woman and willing to help, but they won’t allow her into their fold. Cynthia has one friend, but doesn’t have much spare time to spend with her with all of the responsibilities she has taking care of Wilburn.

But there are secrets in the congregation. Whispers begin and grow to a roar that cannot be contained. Alliances are broken and betrayals are made. Hatred replaces love as fear threatens to consume the voice of reason, changing lives forever.

Original Cyn is not Sylvia Dickey Smith’s first book, but it is the first one I’ve read. The depth and dimension of her characters pulled me into the story immediately. Coming from a Southern Baptist background, I could see people I’ve known with more than one member of the congregation. I sniffled at more than one part because it was not possible to read this book and not become emotionally invested in the characters and story.

If you are a fan of Barbara Delinsky, you will love Smith’s writing style. I highly recommend this work of fiction that pulls your emotions from anger to sorrow to hope. Smith is a masterful storyteller that writes an easy to read novel that makes the reader think about social issues without being “preachy”. I will be seeking out more of her books.

Copyright © 2016 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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Filed under Book Review, books, fiction, Religion, women's fiction

Book Review – The Magic Laundry – Slices of Life via Short Stories

The Magic LaundryThe Magic Laundry –  A Collection of Stories

By Jacob M. Appel

129 pages

Jacob M. Appel’s collection of short stories is interesting and thought provoking. His bio page tells the reader that this collection is based upon his “work as a psychiatrist in New York City”, which intrigued me immediately. Fiction culled from real life experiences has a gripping realism that brings the reader into the story immediately. This instrumental to the success of a short story and Appel does it masterfully.

My reviews of short stories have historically been a brief comment about each one as well as my thoughts. I see no reason to change so below are my musings about a book I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Magic Laundry

Natural Selection: Descendants of Darwin (yes, THAT Darwin) are harboring a missing monkey. Will the free spirit of a 20-year-old be crushed by the reality of life? Her father is torn between helping her and getting that ape out if his house before the authorities or neighbors find out he is harboring a fugitive.

Enoch Arend’s One Night Stands: Over two years have passed since Alex’s wife died. It was time for him to move on, but how and where was he going? He began with a bereavement group and ended up working his way back to himself. Was the end of the journey the important part? You decide – I have and was satisfied with my conclusion.

The Ataturk of the Outer Boroughs: Omar the locksmith took to local politics like a duck to water. His transformation from shopkeeper to activist was born from the attention of a beautiful woman. Will Omar sink or swim when the issue is laid to rest?

I loved this short story. Appel’s ability to write literary prose without pretention is evident throughout this book, but especially in this story. The pictures painted with his words pulled me into the Turkish locksmith shop and took me on the journey with Omar.

Exposure: An odd man – pharmacist most days, flasher on his days off is the star of this tale. He is quirky and a little bit funny. The women he flashes are hand-picked from his past and I absolutely snickered more than once when he visits Mrs. Sproul.

This story wins my vote for the funniest of the bunch. This does not take away the cleverness of the story or minimalize the quality of Appel’s writing.

The Magic Laundry: Can washing your clothes in a specific machine in a laundromat cure illnesses, mend relationships or ruin someone’s life? Read this and find out. You may just want to purchase your own machine instead of ending up here.

The House Call: Miriam played different roles her entire life. On the stage, as a patient in simulated training for doctors and nurses and even in her “real” life, she lived in the world as a chameleon. Will she ever be Miriam? Does she want to be Miriam? Does she know how to be Miriam?

The Empress of Charcoal: After 40 years, Morton attempts to find the woman that modeled for a class he attended in college. Can he step back in time with the woman he finds?

Animal Control: Most calls to animal control are routine bordering on boring. Until the day a tiger snatches a baby. Reluctantly, Mr. Dipple rides to the rescue. His priorities might be in the right place, the reader can only hope he is an accidental hero.

This story was the perfect end of a great collection of short stories. A bit of a headshake on my part, and a yup, I could just see this story on the evening news with a Barney Fife type of animal control guy shuffling nervously from foot to foot during the interview. Kudos to Appel for his realism and fabulous collection of prose.

Copyright © 2016 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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Filed under Book Review, books, Short Story Collection

Book Review: Mug Shot – Fast, Fun Cozy Mystery

Mug ShotMug Shot (A Java Jive Mystery)
by Caroline Fardig

Juliet Langley is back in Caroline Fardig’s newest addition to her Java Jive Mystery Series.  Mug Shot opens with Juliet and her best friend and boss Pete Bennett at a funeral repast. Neither of them particularly wants to be there, but both are dating the grandchildren and heirs of the deceased socialite. Oddly enough, neither of these best friends approve of the snooty rich family members the other is dating.

Pete is seeing Cecilia, who has no use for Juliet. The feeling is mutual. Juliet admires Cecelia’s philanthropy, but not her condescending attitude. Stan, Cecilia’s brother, has been shunned by his family in the past, and seems like an unlikely partner for Juliet, but opposites seem to attract, so they are an item.

Before the friends can get away the snobby crowd at the funeral, there is an accident. Or did someone push the third sibling Abigail down the stairs? Luckily she has minor injuries. When the paramedics arrive, Juliet is on the floor helping her. The policeman accompanying the paramedics and happens to be Juliet’s sexy ex-boyfriend, Ryder.

Things go from bad to worse for the grieving family. Within days one of the heirs is murdered. Unfortunately for Pete, he was the last one seen with Cecilia before she was killed and he is arrested and charged with murder.

Juliet knows Pete did not murder his girlfriend and tries to convince the police otherwise. There are enough suspects to fill a table at a fancy fundraiser, and Juliet is determined to find the real killer and get Pete out of jail. She is warned by the lead detective and Ryder not to poke her nose into police business, but that has never stopped her before and it isn’t going to stop her now.

Mug Shot is a perfect cozy mystery. Juliet is smart, sassy and doesn’t know when to keep her nose out of trouble. She is a singer/songwriter, a great cook and manages the coffee shop owned by her best friend Pete. She might even be a little in love with Pete and the feeling is obviously mutual.

Ryder on the other hand makes her furious. But she can’t really stay away from him. He is hot in the bedroom and sweet and caring with her when he isn’t making her crazy. They are like magnets with a love/hate relationship.

The solid mystery plot has twists and unexpected turns. I didn’t peg the killer until the very end, which I love. An interesting story with lots of plausible suspects makes for an exciting, intriguing story for mystery buffs. Mug Shot is a fast, fun read with quirky characters and a plucky plot.

This is the first book I’ve read by Fardig. Even though this is not the first of the series, I could easily read it as a stand-alone novel. If you are a fan of Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum Mysteries, you will absolutely love this series. I thing Ryder and Ranger might be long, lost sexy brothers.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy free from House Party 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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Filed under Book Review, books, cozy mystery, Mystery, Penguin Random House