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Book Review: Beautiful Mess – Must Read Novel

Beautiful Mess

By John Herrick

Del Corwyn has been in the movie business since the 1950s. When he was 18 years old he was a lowly errand boy. But he was kind and compassionate even then, and caught the attention of one of the biggest stars of the era – Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn was a troubled woman. Many around her were merely attempting to ride along on her coat tails of success. Del was different; he cared about her as a person. She grew to love him as a trusted friend. He knew her secrets and was not about to share them. Right before her death, she shared a script with him that she had written. She wanted him to keep it safe in case something happened to her. He carefully stored it, and then promptly forgot it existed.

He went on to work steady as an actor. In fact, he eventually became as star. He was nominated for an Oscar for best actor and he was ready to take Hollywood by storm. Scripts rolled in and he was invited to every party. Sadly, he did not win the golden statue. His plummet from the limelight was almost as fast as his ascent. It only took a few bad roles in films that didn’t really go anywhere for new scripts to dry up.

Del still kept up the hope for the next big role that would bring him back to the status he once held. He continued to live in his home that had a spectacular view, went to places to be seen by others in the business and exercised dilegently. It was hard to believe he was a 78 year old man still waiting for the studio to call him.

While spending time at one of his favorite haunts, Del meets Nora Jumelle. She is the newest A-list actress to come along. Her movies can be seen everywhere. The unlikely couple became close, but Del is worried. Nora seems to be on the same path as Marilyn. Will history repeat itself?

But Del has more than Nora to worry about. He has spent most of his fortune and with no work, he may lose everything. That is until he remembers the script Marilyn gave him. Could she be his salvation?

I loved everything about this book. The faded star still holding onto his dreams, the parallel of Marilyn and Nora and the personal growth of the characters, especially Del. To see him changing and choosing what path his life will take was emotional and powerful.

The setting of Hollywood was interesting and well done. It was like looking into the window of fabulous parties and restaurants I could never afford to go to. Herrick liberally sprinkles stars about to give the real feel of Del’s former fame. It was fun to rub elbows with them via the story.

John Herrick is the author of several works of fiction as well as a non-fiction book. This is the first book I’ve read by him, but I don’t think it will be the last. There is nothing better than reading a book of fiction that can take you places you have never been, yet you feel like you are right there with the characters. Herrick does this masterfully.

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 © 2017 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: The 5 Manners of Death – Which One Will Be Next?

The 5 Manners of Death

By Darden North

There are said to be 5 manners of death. North’s characters explore each of them in his latest novel of the same name. They are as follows:

  1. Natural Death – due to disease or old age
  2. Accidental Death – most often by an accident or mishap, sometimes by overdoses or allergic reactions
  3. Suicide – intentionally taking one’s own life
  4. Homicide – murder
  5. Undetermined – could be any of the above, but the information isn’t clear enough to be definitive

As a surgeon, Dr. Diana Bratton often sees dead bodies. But when they start showing up in her personal life, she begins to get spooked. The victims are not especially close to Diana, but somehow she feels as though they are linked to her. She talks to her friend Key Martin, who happens to be the Chief of Police in their town. Diana helped him solve crimes before when he was a detective and she hopes to get his thoughts about the recent deaths she either witnessed or heard about after she crossed paths with the deceased.

Martin is more than willing to get any extra information from her, and will share a bit of his findings with her. As the story progresses, they find more pieces of the puzzle due to their collaboration. Unfortunately, the clues are leading them closer to people she cares about or cared about at one time.

Diana is determined to get to the bottom of the situation before it comes home to roost. After all, she has a teenage daughter to worry about as well as her Aunt Phoebe, the only two people she loves and cares about. There is a doctor that she fancies, but her involvement with the police does not sit well with him.

While the plot I just described may sound like a cozy mystery, rest assured The 5 Manners of Death is not. This fast paced crime novel alternates between 1965 and present day.  The events that occurred in 1965 come crashing to a halt on the doorstep of a present day murderer who will do anything to remain unidentified.

North expertly crafts the characters and settings to pull the reader into the story and holds you until the last pages bring the novel to a spectacular end. It is no surprise that Darden North is an award winning author. He paints landscapes and parlors with his words, filling every scene with lifelike characters that could be the people next door. Of course you might not want some of them as neighbors.

This is the first book by North that I have read, but I am looking forward to reading his previous books, House Call, Points of Origin, Fresh Frozen and Wiggle Room. I highly recommend The 5 Manners of Death to anyone that enjoys a great mystery with complex characters.

Copyright © 2017 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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Book Review: The Spring Cleaning Murders – #8 in Dorothy Cannell’s Cozy Series

The Spring Cleaning Murders

By Dorothy Cannell

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Net Galley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Ellie Haskell has discovered a book about cleaning, including recipes for DYI cleaning products  in her attic. It was written by one of her ancestors, and she is so excited about the find she decides to do a thorough spring cleaning. Now she is in a pickle. Ellie’s cleaning lady, Mrs. Malloy, quit because her newborn granddaughter needs a nanny. Mrs. Malloy hasn’t always been the most efficient employee, and now the situation has become awkward because Ellie’s cousin Vanessa married Mrs. Malloy’s son. Being related wasn’t the most comfortable situation, but Ellie really counted on the extra help around the house. The replacement cleaning lady is not exactly what Ellie was hoping for, especially after she turns up dead.

Was the death an accident or was it murder? Ellie has a feeling it was foul play, and she sets out to prove it.  Unfortunately, there are lots of obstacles along the way. First of all her husband has been a bit distracted because some activists have targeted his restaurant. Her gardener/handyman is not feeling well, and she is concerned that his age is finally slowing him down. Her twins are in a half day play school, but afternoons can be a hectic with them home, no help in the house and quite possibly a murderer on the loose.

The Spring Cleaning Murders is a cute cozy mystery.  Ellie and her family have been the stars of this and twelve others in the series. It has all the elements of a perfect cozy. The quirky characters are endearing, the group of cleaning ladies is eclectic and interesting and the list of possible suspects includes almost everyone Ellie encounters.  Will she be able to find out who the killer is before anyone else dies?

I loved the characters in this book. It was fun to try and figure out “who done it” with Ellie and her sidekicks. The bits of cleaning tips at the beginning of each chapter were a throwback to the past and fun to read. The end was cute with an unexpected twist.

There are thirteen books in the Ellie Haskell Mystery Series. this book is #8.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: The Bronx Kill – Revenge Can Be Murder

The Bronx Kill

By Philip Cioffari

It is said you can never go home again. Home is where you should feel safe, even when ghosts from your past attempt to haunt you. Ghosts may give you nightmares, but family members out for revenge can kill you.

The Renegades, a motley crew of five friends from the Bronx, were inseparable five years ago. That was up until the night they decided to do a dangerous stunt that resulted in one death and one missing person. Charlie is the only one in the old gang left in the neighborhood. Johnny left for the Seminary and Danny moved away to try and forget the event that the remaining Renegades swore to never speak of again.

The old gang is reluctantly being reunited in the Bronx because Johnny has left the Seminary to marry his high school sweetheart. Before the pending nuptials arrive, the guys find themselves in a life and death confrontation with someone who cannot leave the past behind. He has been plotting and planning revenge and is in a position to make good on his threats. If he has his way, there will be funerals instead of a wedding.

The Bronx Kill is a mystery wrapped in revenge. I loved trying to guess the details which were delightfully parceled out until the last chapters. If someone was going to die, would it be one or more of the Renegades? Would it be the man who could not let go of the past? At times I wasn’t sure who, if any of them would survive.

The plot alternates between the past and present until it comes crashing together at the end of the book. The action moves quickly, but it always stays true to the story.

The characters are so well developed, that I think I knew some of these kids in high school. The supporting characters have great balance as well. I knew enough about them to understand what made them tick, but not enough to overshadow the main characters. Every time the bouncers showed up, I had to read a little faster to see what those creeps were up to.

Overall this is a great book. I enjoyed the story and characters. It is the first book I’ve read by award winning author Philip Cioffari. Additionally, Coiffari is a Professor, a short story author with publications in magazines and anthologies and a Playwright. He has also directed for Off and On Broadway. I am going to seek out more of this talented author’s work and I suggest you do too, right after you read The Bronx Kill.

Copyright © 2017 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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Book Review: Blood Wedding – Superb Psychological Thriller

Blood Wedding

By Pierre LeMaitre (translated from French by Frank Wynne)

Sophie is a woman in conflict. At the very least she is mentally unstable, but she is quite possibly a murderer. Somehow she goes from being a happily married career woman to a fugitive in the blink of an eye and she cannot understand how the whole thing happened to her.

It starts with little things. Missing items, forgetting to do small errands, lost birthday gifts that turn up months later. These lead up to horrible mistakes at work. Soon Sophie begins to lose more than everyday items; she is also missing parts of her day. She finds herself in places and situations and doesn’t have a clue as to how or why she is there. Her husband is losing his patience and she is sure she has lost her mind.

Each slip of memory chips a sliver of her psyche away until she doesn’t know who she is anymore. It isn’t hard to disappear and reinvent herself when it became necessary, she does what she has to do.  What is hard is finding a new husband whose name she can take to solidify her new persona. But she has always known somewhere inside herself there is a strong, smart woman behind the façade she has built to hide behind. But is there enough of that woman left to save her?

Enter Frantz, the shy military man Sophie meets through a dating service. Frantz wants to help Sophie and she is so exhausted all of the time she is relieved to find someone she can trust to take care of her. Even if she doesn’t really love him, she needs him. He just might be her ticket out of the crazy life hers has become – or is she jumping from the frying pan into the fire by making a pact with the devil himself?

A catalyst, unbeknown and barely associated to Sophie, sets off a series of life changing events. The scariest thing is that any or all of the things that happen to her could happen to anyone if they are in the wrong place at the right time. It is terrifying to realize how easily Sophie’s life turned upside down and out of control.

If you look up Suspenseful Thriller Blood Wedding should be at the top of the list. I could not turn the pages fast enough to see what happened next. The plot is so solid I could not find an unanswered question.

The supporting characters have depth and are memorable without overshadowing but always important to the story.  Their interaction with the main characters enhanced and advanced the plot. The main characters are fully developed, multi-dimensional and seem to jump off the page to grab the reader’s attention. Sophie pulls you into her descent into madness, from which I fervently hoped she would be able to claw her way back to the person she used to be.

Nothing or no one is what or who they seem to be as the plot swirls around Sophie and Frantz. LeMaitre expertly grabs the reader, dragging you into the depth of Sophie’s despair and into the plotting mind of Frantz. Then he takes you on a roller coaster ride through a house of mirrors at breakneck speed, making you question the ideas you had when you met Sophie and Frantz. This adventure is one that readers live for. You will not be disappointed.

From the first page to the last the suspense never stops. I love this book. The lightning fast pace, perfect plot and characters that are unerringly realistic are reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie. Each page helps build the tension until the momentum explodes in the final chapters. The ending is satisfying, with no loose ends begging for explanation, which is perfection.

Pierre LeMaitre is an acclaimed, award winning author and screenwriter. His books are written in French, but many have been translated to English. Blood Wedding is the first novel I’ve read by LeMaitre, but it will not be the last.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher/author in connection with Killer Nashville in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Escape Velocity – Office Intrigue Can Be Deadly

Escape Velocity

By Susan Wolfe

Escape Velocity has been described as being approximately 33 times the speed of sound on earth. That defines the pace of this second novel by Susan Wolfe.

Georgia Griffin is a daddy’s girl. She loved spending time with him at their home in Piney, Arkansas. Taking care of their horses and learning how to read and manipulate people were activities he taught Georgia and her younger sister Katie-Ann. They have his skills, but didn’t use them. But when one if his cons goes bad and sends him to prison, Georgia knows she has to make some drastic changes to survive. Things go from bad to worse after her mama takes up with a real creep. Georgia set a goal and is determined to see it through. Getting a job in Silicon Valley is the first step, and then saving enough money to get her younger sister out of harm’s way is the second. Katie-Ann is only in high school and too much of a temptation for her mom’s latest boyfriend, so Georgia is on a tight timeline to accomplish what may be near impossible with only a paralegal certificate.

Lumina Software could be her big break. She has interviewed with several companies, but nothing has panned out so far. But this interview is different. She is so convinced it might be the thrust she needs to begin her escape velocity, she is willing to put just a little of what her daddy taught her into play to give herself an edge. She immediately clicks with her potential boss, and finally getting the break she has been looking for; the job is hers.

The pay is great, her boss is even better than she first imagined, but some of the others in the company seemed to have personal agendas. The deeper she becomes involved; the more Georgia feels she needs to channel her daddy to make sure the company is a success. After all, if the company has problems, she might lose her job, then how would she get her little sister out of the mess of a life she has in Arkansas? Georgia is good at finding things out and using them to her advantage. If she pulls one small con to help the company, how could that be wrong? First she needs to find a vulnerable spot or two in a few obnoxious execs, then play them just like daddy would. But could she find out something that might put her in more danger than the business losing a bit of money? Certainly these boardroom bullies wouldn’t go as far as to kill someone – or are the stakes higher than Georgia imagined?

I love the mind games the characters play with each other. After working in an office for over twenty years, I could picture a few of my former unsavory co-workers taking things a step further than they should and then over the line. Fortunately in my life that never happened, but the realistic settings, events and characters in Wolfe’s book bring the schemers and scammers to life. I love hating the bad guys in this book and kept turning the pages to find out if and how they get what they deserved.

Anyone who likes twists, turns and intrigue will love this book. It was fun trying to figure out just who was bad and who was good until the very end. There is nothing better for a mystery reader than not knowing all of the answers until they are revealed in the final chapter, and then realizing the clues were there all along.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from the publisher/author in connection with Killer Nashville in return for my review. Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

 

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Book Review: Little Girl Gone – Fabulous Find!

Little Girl Gone

By Margaret Fenton

Birmingham’s Child Welfare Services are busier than usual, and it is no surprise Claire Conover has a full caseload. As a social worker for the department she has seen her share of kids in bad situations. It appears that today will be no different.

She is assigned the case of a young teen that was found sleeping behind a dumpster. The girl refuses to give Claire any information except that her name is Sandy, which is most likely not her real name. The girl seems too clean and well-fed to be homeless. Claire has no choice but to place her in foster care, which lasts less than 24 hours. By slipping away from one of the best foster homes available, Sandy appears to be on the run from someone or something.

Claire is determined to find out who Sandy really is and who or what she is running away from. An unexpected turn of events surrounding the murder of Sandy’s mother, hands the social worker her true identity. Claire steps up her interviews with friends, teachers and her newly released from prison birth father, in a frantic race to get to the missing girl before someone else does.

The case is getting more complicated then Claire ever imagined. The police are helping as much as possible, but they have limited resources to deal with runaways. Claire teams up with an investigative journalist because he has more sources than she has access to, but that is a double edge sword. She has a boyfriend, whom she admittedly hasn’t had much time for lately with both of their work schedules and Kirk, the journalist has made it clear he would love being more than friends and/or co-workers with Claire.

Little Girl Gone is a fast-paced intriguing novel. The plot is solid and so interesting I literally read this book in less than 48 hours because I could not put it down. I loved the mystery of who Sandy really was, and which one of her friends or relatives she was running away from. And could Claire find her in time to save her from her unknown demons and a very real murderer?

The characters in Little Girl Gone are expertly portrayed. Fenton gives the reader enough information to create full dimensional characters in easy to digest bites. I felt as though I knew each of the main characters well enough to compare them to real life people I have known. Some of them I’d love to have coffee with and chat –

others I would cross the street to avoid. That’s ok, because I am pretty sure that was the author’s intent.

This is the second book featuring Clare Conover; it is the sequel to Little Lamb Lost. I have not read the previous book, but never felt like I was missing information or background by reading Little Girl Lost first. I plan to read the first in this series soon and will be looking for the third in the series that will feature one of the characters introduced in this one.

Copyright © 2017 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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