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Book Reviews: All These Perfect Strangers – Truth or Lies? You decide!

all these perfect strangersPenelope (Pen) Sheppard is a lot of things. Honest is not one of them and most importantly I am not sure she is even honest with herself. She shares little bits of herself to the psychiatrist the courts have ordered her to see. Pen shares other bits of herself to her family and smaller bits to her college “friends”. Last of all she parcels out the bits she wants the reader to know in very small increments – often leaving out vital details that we find out in the last few pages.

These bits are what keep the readers interested in the story. She appears to be the victim, falsely accused of crimes she did not commit. But she has personal knowledge of them. Is she making up stories to give the psychiatrist what he wants to hear? Is this personal knowledge or her version of reality? There are tons of questions throughout the book as the reader sees Pen in her current day world and the one that came crashing down a few months previously, after several murders.

The small town Pen grew up in was not as forgiving as the authorities, so when she came back after the trouble at college, most of them didn’t want anything to do with her. She had to come back to see Frank, because her lawyer has arranged for the psychiatrist she worked with in the past to help her work through the terrible injustice that was inflicted on her. The lawyer is requiring a report to “demonstrate her pain and suffering” to support her case against the university. The three years since she has been in Frank’s office have been a short while for him, but a lifetime for Pen.

The rest of the story unfolds as he asks her to bring weekly journal entries to him, telling her side of the events that led her to his door again. Pen is reluctant, but knows it is her only chance of moving on, so she opens her heart up on the pages and her side of the story is finally pouring out of her. But will she actually share all of this with Frank or anyone else?

The truth and lies tangle to tell a story with twists, turns and surprises. If the reader pays attention, Pen tells you that she isn’t exactly telling the whole truth all of the time. Those bits and pieces of truth can lead to assumptions that may or may not be true. You won’t find out until the end. Then you will have the “ah ha!” moment what all great mysteries need to satisfy their readers.

Clifford’s characters are gritty and real. I didn’t always like Pen – but I don’t think I had to in order to enjoy the novel. As a matter of fact, I think not liking her gave me a better perspective of her character.

All These Perfect Strangers is Clifford’s first novel, but she is the author of several award winning short stores.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Random House ChatterBox Monthly Mystery 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: Maggie Dove by Susan Breen – Christian Cozy Keeps Readers Guessing

Maggie DoveMaggie Dove

By Susan Breen

Maggie Dove has suffered loss in her life. She lost her husband, and then her daughter died in an accident a few years later. She finds comfort in her church family, her friends and the man that once was the boy her daughter loved. Living in her childhood home brings a type of peace and belonging to her. Until the neighbor next door decides he hates the tree in her front yard and wants to either cut it down or move it.

That is the last straw for Maggie. She is willing to fight for her tree to the death. That is until her irritating neighbor is found dead under it. His wife blames Maggie, even though the cause of death is a heart attack. Or is it?

She is even more upset when someone she cares about seems to be in the Police Chief’s radar as a suspect. When she goes to the nursing home to talk to her best friend, Winifred; Maggie gets a bit upset that she doesn’t even seem to be listening. To be fair, Winifred is having a bad time. The once vibrant woman, wife of no less than four husbands, has become so crippled with disease she cannot move without effort and pain. Even though the women have been friends for over fifty years, there were times they didn’t exactly see eye to eye, but this visit ends up being the bee in Maggie’s bonnet to do something about finding the real killer since the Chief doesn’t even seem to be looking for him or her.

Maggie begins her own investigation by talking to people in her hometown that she thinks might have had a reason to kill her neighbor. She is comfortable digging around for clues since everyone knows her as well as she knows them. Unfortunately, she pokes more than one bear, but just can’t stop. Will she be the next victim?

Maggie Dove is a great character. She is the kind of person you would want in your corner. She loves her Sunday School class. Most of them, especially the naughtiest ones, have been on the receiving end of her love and kindness. She professes her faith, yet struggles with doubts at times. Her imperfections are part of her charm.

This is the second book Susan Breen has written. The first is a work of Literary Fiction entitled The Fiction Class. Maggie Dove is her second novel and first mystery. It reads like the first of a series of cozy mysteries so I am going to be watching for the next adventures of Maggie Dove. While it is fair to say the values of the characters are Christian based, this is not a religious book. I found it quite enjoyable and honestly did not know who the killer was until the last chapter.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Random House Chatter Box Monthly Mystery 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 Skeleton Garden – Airplanes, bodies, gardening..Great Mystery!

The Skeleton GardenThe Skeleton Garden (Potting Shed Mystery #4) 
by Marty Wingate

Long lost brother and sister, Simon and Pru are reunited in adulthood. Pru was raised by their parents in the United States, while Simon was left behind in England to be raised by his mother’s relatives, Birdie and George Parke. He was told his parents died in a car accident. Even though he was brought up in a loving home, to find out his family left him behind had a devastating effect on him to say the least.

Pru  and her new husband Christopher move to Chelsea to spend a year house sitting and working on a proper English garden. The current gardener is actually her brother, and she is thrilled to share her love of gardening with him, but everything isn’t coming up roses. She and her husband settle in, she in the garden, Christopher working with the local police but there are skeletons in the garden, both figuratively and literally .

Things are not always sweetness and light between brother and sister, they are learning to get along as siblings and gardeners. Simon is thrilled to be chosen to show off the garden in an upcoming issue of a very prestigious gardening magazine, but Pru has a bad feeling about the whole idea. There is so much to do the pair wonder how it will be possible to get done. Then Christopher’s teenage nephew is sent to live with them because he got in a bit of trouble and his parents want him to be removed from the situation. Orlando isn’t too keen on working in the garden. As a matter of fact, Pru spends more time fixing the problems he creates by taking short cuts.

Things change for everyone when a plane from the war and a skeleton is found buried in the garden. Christopher is working the investigation to see if they can find the identity of the bones. Then one of the locals winds up dead in the garden, this crime casts suspicion on almost everyone in the village.

Pru can’t help herself – she has too many questions and not enough answers so she quietly talks to the people she has become close to hoping to help Christopher crack the case. But will this happen without more murders?

This is the fourth Potting Shed Mystery, but the first one I’ve read. It worked perfectly well as a standalone novel. I was not confused about the characters and their relationship to each other.

I love the cast of characters. They were interesting and well developed. Pru’s relationships with her husband, brother, friends and cook brought so much life to her character I felt like having a cup of tea with her telling her everything would be ok! Evelyn, the cook, has a hard shell, but inside she is a soft, caring woman who loves her husband Peachey. I want her to cook for me, the recipes she whipped up while the other characters moved in and out of her kitchen sounded delicious.

Wingate wrote a solid mystery with as many twists and turns as an English garden maze. I enjoyed every minute of this book and will seek out the previous books in this series.

Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for 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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