Category Archives: series

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.



Filed under Book Review, books, Mystery, series

Book Review: Bye, Bye Love by K.J. Larsen – Perfectly Plotted Fun

Bye, Bye Love

By K.J. LarsenBye-Bye-Love-cover

218 pages

PI Cat DeLuca has a habit of annoying the police while in pursuit of cheating spouses. She owns the Pants On Fire Detective Agency that is known for catching lying, cheating spouses. Cat seems to stumble into trouble and over dead bodies routinely. Lucky for her she has a long family history of Chicago cops to help her even when she doesn’t think she needs it.

After a particularly hairy stakeout situation, Cat decides to unwind with a run. Even though it is late, she feels safe running in the park with her partner Inga – who happens to be a beagle. Cat literally lands face first on a dead body. The only problem is the bad guy is still around and zaps her before she can get her tazer out. By the time she is able to call the police the body is missing.

Even though her father is an ex-cop, her brother is a current cop and her uncle is quite probably a dirty cop, Captain Bob of the Chicago police department doesn’t believe Cat.  He makes the big mistake of letting Cat know how little he thinks of her detective skills. She vows to find the killer herself and hopefully the body that went missing and made her the laughing stock of the Ninth Precinct. Lucky – or unlucky for her – she saw the guy she thinks is the killer. But of course that means he saw her also. Now she is hunting for the killer, looking for the corpse and trying not to get killed herself.

Zany circumstances force her into predicaments that include going to a biker bar, being ambushed by a mobster and into dead people’s homes to search for clues. Her assistant Cleo tends to make things worse, but her heart is in the right place even though she often ends up in the wrong place.

While all of this is going on, her pushy mother keeps trying to guilt her into marriage and starting a family. To complicate matters more, her boyfriend’s parents are coming in to meet her parents. It is planned to be one happy family dinner. The question is how will ex-hippy vegetarians get along with meat loving Italians? Cat can see the impending train wreck and tries everything she can think of to not be on board when it happens, but nothing works. She is going to have to have dinner and hopefully make it through the evening without losing her boyfriend in the process.

This is K.J. Larsen’s forth book in the Cat DeLuca Mystery series. It read great as a stand-alone novel, just enough background info to let people new to the series get up-to-date, but not so much as to become repetitious to readers of the series. This witty read kept me laughing with one-liners and outlandish situations that could actually happen if a PI had bad luck and crazy friends, foes and family. Here are the other three, because I know you are going to want the series. I do!

Liar, LiarSome like it hotSticks and stones
K.J. is actually three sisters, Kari, Julianne and Kristen Larsen. This award winning trio writes under one name and if you didn’t know it was more than one person, you could not guess by the writing. The sisters brilliantly combine their efforts to create a fun series with quirky characters both human and animal.

If you are a fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum Mysteries, you will love K.J.’s Cat DeLuca. There is a perfectly plotted mystery among the poker games and car chases. The twist at the end was masterful; I totally did not see it coming.

Bye, Bye Love is a fast paced, fun book. I especially liked all of the Chicago references since I live in the burbs and have seen many of them myself.

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 © 2015 Laura Hartman

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Filed under Book Review, books, Chicago, Mystery, poisoned pen press, series, Writer & Book Reviewer

Book Review Sons of Sparta – A Mystery Steeped in Good & Bad Traditions

Sons of Sparta

Sons of Sparta

By Jeffrey Siger

241 pages

Special Crimes Division detective Yianni Kouros has been called from Athens by his uncle for what could mean his family is in trouble. Returning to the region of his family on the tip of Peloponnese Island, Kouros reminisces about the time he spent with his family in Mani.

Unfortunately, his uncle isn’t a squeaky clean citizen. Kouros’ father was sent to Athens while Uncle stayed at the family home barely making ends meet.  Life was not easy for his family, but the tide turned when he began to reap the benefits of a side business consisting of “piracy and banditry”. Uncle claims to be retired from that life and Kouros would like to believe him. Unfortunately, his uncle and cousins are embedded in the old world culture of revenge and even murder when the family has been wronged.

His uncle has gathered his children and Kouros to tell them he has decided to sell of part of the family property to a developer. A golf course, hotel and air strip will replace the land used by the family for many generations. Uncle feels this will be better for his children after he is gone, as the money it brings in will give them all a comfortable life. But before the paperwork can be signed with the hotel developer, Uncle dies in a car accident.

Kouros is suspicious, so he quietly starts to investigate the death and finds there are more questions than answers. Calling in a favor from a co-worker, he finds his suspicions are warranted when the evidence shows Uncle was murdered.

Trying to keep the crime quiet and investigate it at the same time is not easy. When his cousins find out, they are literally gunning for the person that killed their father.

The case isn’t as simple as that. It involves illicit affairs, double crossing crooks and long lost love. As hard is Kouros tried to keep his investigation quiet, his boss Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis catches wind of the problems and becomes part of the investigation. The two men work feverously to find the killer before anyone else dies.

This is the sixth book in Siger’s Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis Mystery series. The plot was solid, twisting and turning to the end while leaving little breadcrumbs of clues throughout to lead the reader to the killer. There were believable surprises and an interesting love triangle.

I hesitate to say this reads well as a stand-alone novel. It was a good story, with good characters, but a bit confusing. There is a very fine line between adding too much back story and not enough. For me there wasn’t enough. I kept going back to the beginning chapters to figure out the characters until I was about half way through the book, part of that could be the Greek names were difficult for me to remember with so many characters being introduced.

Sadly I am not well read when it comes to Greek Mythology, so most of the references were lost on me. That is certainly not the author’s fault. Siger painted a picture of a beautiful region of Greece. It was a perfect setting for the juxtaposition of the warring clans with vendettas and the bucolic countryside filled with Greek traditions.

Siger is a gifted writer, he allows the reader to step out of their life and travel to Greece. I would suggest starting with the first book in his series, and then read all of them up to Sons of Sparta. If you want to jump in feet first into a good mystery with interesting characters go ahead and start with Sons of Sparta.

Copyright © 2015 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, Greek Islands, history, Mani, Mystery, mythology, series

Book Review: The Magician’s Daughter by Judith Janeway Magic and Mystery – a Great Mix

The Magician’s Daughter

By Judith Janeway

227 pages

Magician Valentine Hill can make lots of things disappear and reappear. Unfortunately that talent does not apply to the thing she wants most in the world. No amount of magic can produce her missing birth certificate. Without it, she doesn’t know the place or year she was born, and is skeptical her con artist mom told her the right day of her birth either. The only thing she has been told about her father is that he is a magician.

She was raised with a mother that could step into any role from socialite to barfly depending upon the lifestyle of her current husband. She forced her daughter into the role of accomplice in a series of elaborate cons. She lived a nomadic life, always moving on, changing names and living with a new husband that Valentine was instructed to call “uncle”. This life blew up when Valentine was in her early teens so she moved in with her Aunt June. That was nine years ago, and the last time she saw her mother. June straightened her out by teaching Valentine the rules that she now lives by:

  1. Never lie
  2. Never swear
  3. Never hit anyone – unless they hit you first

Purely by chance, she meets someone that can give her a clue as to where her mother is. She’s been searching for the elusive Elizabeth Hill since her Aunt June died. This could be the break she needed to locate her and somehow make her give up the information about her birth that Valentine needs.

Instead of finding her mother, she finds trouble. And a dead body.  The chain of events that follow are faster than a street magician’s hands. Before she knows it, Valentine is mixed up with mobsters, FBI agents and a very dangerous operation that could stop her search – forever.

The Magician’s Daughter is the first in the series of three Valentine Hill Mysteries. This cozy series had me hooked from the first chapter. I love Valentine. She is spunky and smart. The pain she reveals about her past and the search for her birth details give depth to her character. The supporting characters are interesting, unusual and some of them are not who they seem to be. At one point, Valentine describes them as “What is with this family? All of them are gun-carrying crazies. Scary crazy at that…”.

That tiny snippet of dialog spotlights the humor Janeway masterfully weaves into the plot. Just when you think you’ve figured out the next turn, she throws a smoke bomb on your theory with the grace of a natural magician – or I should say a very skilled writer. The nail-biting end comes to a satisfying conclusion, wrapping up the story right before the last chapter. But wait! There’s more! There is nothing better than a mystery that continues to the last pages and answers all the reader’s questions.

I wanted this book to be longer, because the characters and story were so interesting. But knowing there are two more in the series coming soon is my consolation prize. I’ll be watching the bookstores to snatch up book two before the ink dries.

Summer will be here soon and this is the perfect beach/vacation read.. If you can’t wait that long, take it on Spring Break. The Magician’s Daughter is a great anytime read. You won’t be disappointed, and everyone could use a little magic in their life.

Copyright © 2015 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.


Filed under Book Review, magic, magician, Mystery, poisoned pen press, series