Tag Archives: mystery

Book Review: Last Looks – Amazing Debut Novel

Last Looks

By Howard Michael Gould

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.

Charlie Waldo has as many layers as an onion. Most of those layers put people off, but he really doesn’t seem to mind. He lives as a minimalist in the woods away from society. But when the outside world comes crashing into his peace and serenity, he grudgingly decides he has to rejoin the human race (which he mostly despises) for a few days.

Waldo is asked to help clear an obnoxious, over-inflated actor of murdering his wife. He really isn’t a PI, but somehow the lawyer for the actor thought Waldo could and would take the case. When Waldo left the LAPD he was on the top of his game, but that game included a scandal within the ranks that Waldo could not live with, so he took them down just like any other criminal. To say he burned his bridges would be an understatement.

Finding himself back in LA on the set of a movie was not how he envisioned his life. But here he was, somehow too intrigued to go back to the life he chose until he finds the person who he thinks really killed the victim. This choice does not come easily. He is mentally and physically challenged by the reception he more or less expected from his former brothers in blue. As a matter of fact, they hate him, refuse to cooperate when he asks for information and harass him at every encounter.

Stoically, he just can’t shake the feeling that there is a bigger picture than the police and prosecutor are painting, and like a dog with a bone, he just can’t let go until he uncovers the truth – if he lives that long.

Waldo’s world is intriguing. As a minimalist, he only allows himself 100 Things. If he adds a Thing, such as a comb, a pair of socks or a gun, he has to give away one Thing to never have more than 100. This in and of itself makes him interesting, but he is so much more. One of his Things is a MacBook. He is not out of touch with the world or technology. He is quite current on events in the world and is very well read.

He has acquaintances, but not really friends anymore. Donations to charity are part of his monthly routine and he plays chess online daily. The only two people that don’t hate him are the sharp-witted six-year-old daughter of the accused murderer and her kindergarten teacher.

Last Looks is an interestingly multi-layered novel of murder and mystery wrapped in the Waldo’s cloak of minimalism and self-imposed exile from society. Love, lust and revenge are woven into the plot. There is a love scene that is quite possibly the best one I have ever read. It is sensual without being graphic, but not Victorian by any stretch of the imagination.

I loved this book. It has every element to keep a reader grabbing it to read a few pages, then chapters. Soon you realize you have spent hours with the characters and story that it is still impossible to put down.

This stunningly clever, often funny book is the first novel published by Gould. It is an interesting, amazing read – run, don’t walk to your computer to order it today!

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Jar of Hearts – Nail Biting Page Turning Thriller – Read the First 3 Chapters Now

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

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

What would you do for love? Teenagers often think they have the world by the tail and are invincible. Unfortunately, due to lack of world experience they may choose the wrong crowd to hang out with, the wrong boyfriend or get themselves into a situation that will most likely have dire repercussions on the rest of their lives. But most of them don’t end up dead or in prison like Geo.

Jar of Hearts begins with the trial of a woman who seemed to have it all. A fabulous job and a huge diamond on her finger from a wealthy man. Unfortunately she also has a past with a connection to a serial killer that will take everything away she has worked so hard to get. Georgina Shaw sits listening to the horrific events of her best friend’s death fourteen years ago with her head down. Her ex-boyfriend, now commonly known as the Sweetbay Strangler, is on trial for the murder of her best friend Angela Wong and Georgina (Geo) is just as guilty. She’ll take a plea, go to prison and send Calvin James, the Sweetbay Strangler, to jail with her testimony.

But what really happened that night? Was Geo so involved with James she would have been a party to murdering the girl that had been her best friend? Why did she cover it up all of these years? What kind of monster kills her best friend and goes about her business day after day knowing where the body is buried while the entire community searches for years? When did she cross the line – or did she?

When she is released from prison, Geo harbors many secrets. Someone may kill her to keep those secrets buried in the past. Her other bestie from high school has become a cop. He seems to be around more than necessary, seemingly ready to pounce at the slightest infraction. To add to Geo’s stress and isolation, the Sweetbay Strangler has escaped from prison – will Geo be his next target?

Hillier’s latest psychological thriller is a tightly woven story of love and betrayal, the hunted and hunters. By covering up a horrific murder, the characters would seem to be contemptable, but all of them are not. They are masterfully created as someone you would have coffee with, sit in meetings at work with and invite over for dinner. That is what makes Jar of Hearts such a superb story. Evil lurks closer than you can imagine in everyday life. We can only hope it only touches us via engrossing psychological thrillers like this.

The publishers have graciously sent this link for you to read the first three chapters of Jar of Hearts now. I suspect you will be hooked by the first chapter and immediately need to finish – I was. Follow the link below:

https://read.macmillan.com/lp/jar-of-hearts/

 

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

 

 

 

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Book Review: Safe Houses – Page-turning Thriller!


Safe Houses

By Dan Fesperman

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.

Berlin 1979:  a city full of spies and counterspies. Espionage was dangerous and involved many ordinary people. Helen was one of them. Even though her job was not one of the highest risk, she knew secrets that could come back to haunt her at any time. Today she would be called a feminist, but in 1979 she was removed from her assignment and dismissed from the agency. She thought being sent back to the states was the worst thing that could happen to her, but she was wrong.

August 2014: fast forward to a tiny town in rural Maryland. Willard Shoat shoots and kills his parents as they slept causing uproar in the close knit community. Willard is slow by any man’s definition, but he has never been violent or mean. Sadly, he doesn’t even realize his mother and father are dead or why he is sitting in a jail cell. Anna, his sister, arrives in town to bury her parents and tend to her brother, but is perplexed as to how someone that just wants her to bring his Star War toy to prison could kill their parents in cold blood. She fears he will be lost in the prison system and calls upon a stranger in town to help her find answers.

Anna enlists the new guy in town, Henry Mattick, to help her find out the truth. It is rumored he is a PI, which may or may not be exactly true. That being said, he is already on an undercover job and doesn’t really want to become involved with a local fiasco. But something about Anna makes him more than curious about her family. They become an unlikely duo fighting for a small guy in a huge mess. Secrets from the past are revealed, shedding light upon some very dangerous characters that operate outside of the law with the protection of the government. Mr. and Mrs. Shoat may not be the only casualties by the time this fast-paced novel ends.

Safe Houses is a heart pounding, breath holding thriller wrapped in intrigue and intelligence. Fesperman’s masterfully blends two stories together to make a powerful book that kept me turning pages late into the night. This is the first book by Dan Fesperman I have read, I don’t know how he was not on my radar because Safe House is his eleventh novel. I am putting the other ten on my Christmas list.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Murder on Union Square – A Gaslight Mystery

Murder on Union Square

By Victoria Thompson

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.

Frank Malloy and his wife Sarah are looking for a killer in the latest Gaslight Mystery by award winning author Victoria Thompson. When Malloy is found with bloody hands over the body of a dead man, the local police figure they have an open and shut case. Malloy, former cop turned PI is not a favorite of the precinct which just adds more fuel to the fire. And if that isn’t enough to get him in hot water, the dead man needed to sign custody papers so that Sarah and Malloy could adopt the victim’s daughter, which according to the police, gives Malloy the perfect motive.

Sarah quickly bails Malloy out and rounds up Gino (Malloy’s partner) and Maeve (Sarah’s right-hand gal) to start investigating the murder to clear her husband’s name. The problem is there is an unreliable witness that claims Malloy is the killer. It doesn’t help that it happened in a theater full of actors, all of which seemed to have an ax to grind with the victim and his girlfriend. Everyone seems to be lying or hiding something from each other and the investigators, who must pull out all stops to find the truth, clear Malloy’s name and put the real killer behind bars.

This is the twenty-first book in Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series. It is the first one that I have read, and it works as a stand-alone novel. There were a few times I was fuzzy on who a specific character was for a page or two but Thompson skillfully gave enough information to put them in context before the end of the chapter. It is no surprise that she is a #1 Best Selling New York Times author as well as Edgar and Agatha nominee.

Murder on Union Square is tantalizingly engaging. I love the depth of characters as well as the twists and turns of the storyline. There is something cozy and comforting about historical novels that draw me in immediately. While I am thankful for cell phones and modern forensics, it is refreshing to have mysteries that are solved with shoe leather and wit.

Somehow I’ve missed out on Thompson’s series before now, but cannot wait to put the other twenty on my wish list. Anyone who is a fan of captivating historical mysteries and realistic characters should do that same.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Undead Girl Gang – Much More than Undead Teen Angst

Undead Girl Gang

By Lily Anderson

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.

Sixteen year old Camila Flores (Mila) and her best friend Riley are excluded by most of the social groups at school. They are the kids that no one really gets to know, or hang out with, so the girls make a conscious choice to be different. Really different. The snarl instead of smile, mumble instead of talk and the decision to become Wiccan sets them apart from the other kids even more. Wicca is a religion that scares the bejesus out of the people surrounding the girls. They all assume that the girls believe they are witches and run around casting spells on everyone. No matter if the spells work, or if Mila and Riley are even really casting spells, the other kids keep their distance.

When Riley is found dead, Mila is beside herself. How can she cope with any friends? High school is bad enough with an ally, but being on her own makes school and life almost unbearable. And to make matters worse, she thinks that Riley’s death is murder not an accident or suicide.  When two more classmates take their own lives without any logical explanation, Mila is more than determined to find out what happened. Deciding to bring her BFF back from the dead was the only viable solution to finding out who killed her and the other two girls.

Unfortunately for Mila, the spell actually works, and Riley isn’t the only undead girl Mila has to deal with. The other two dead teens are also undead and complaining about it. Drama queens in life make for snarky undead girls. The three of them can’t remember much to tell Mila, but as the days go on, they start to remember what happened before their deaths. This could put the very much alive Mila in danger of joining her dead classmates. The spell only lasts for seven days, so they only have one week to find enough evidence to stop the killer before it is too late.

Undead Girl Gang is smart, funny, sad, emotional and engrossing. I literally read it in just under 48 hours (one has to stop for food and sleep at some point). Anderson has captured the grittiness of high school; magnified by learning the popular girls are no less tortured than the outcasts. The emotion and depth she adds to the characters brings it to a much higher level than merely teenage angst. The life or death outcome and growth of characters both dead and living will stay with the reader long after the last words are read.

This is the first of Anderson’s Teen/Young Adult books I have read. It is a stand-alone novel, following two others she has written:  Not Now, Not Ever and The Only Thing Worse than Me is You. Fans of YA will delight in finding this new author and fans of Lily Anderson are no doubt excited to see another fabulous read from a gifted YA author.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Hartman

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Book Review: Death al Fresco – Delicious Cozy Culinary Mystery

Death al Fresco

By Leslie Karst

Sally Solari is back in the third cozy mystery written by Leslie Karst. Death al Fresco finds her torn between helping out her father and the police. She is happy distancing herself from her father’s restaurant to focus more on her own restaurant, which is doing quite well. But things could be taking a bad turn. Her chef is itching to begin a new phase of his culinary career just as her father is hosting a huge party and desperately needs her help to pull it off.

As if that were not enough stress, Sally’s dog finds the body of a local fisherman on the beach. It doesn’t look accidental and her father may be the prime suspect! Against her better judgement, Sally realizes she has to investigate the murder in order to save her father’s restaurant and more importantly, keep him out of jail.

While looking for the killer, Sally has to fit in trying to manage her restaurant, dealing with protesters at her father’s restaurant – who knew Columbus Day would become such a political nightmare and trying to relax a bit by taking a painting class with her ex. She is as busy as her readers, which makes her character come to life. Honestly, who can’t identify with the juggling most women do today to keep things on an even keel?

Karst writes the perfect cozy mystery. She begins with a delicious storyline, mixes in a bit of murder, sweetens it up with a pinch of romance and then bakes it to perfection when the plot heats up. This is the second book in her series I have read. It works well as a stand-alone novel, but you might want to start with the earlier book(s) because I am sure you will be hooked and want to read the whole series.

The added bonus to this series is the recipes at the end of the book. The Spinach Salad with Orange, Fennel and Black Olives sounds delicious. Since you can make the dressing a day ahead, it would be perfect for company. You will wow your guests and maybe loan them Death al Fresco so they can fall in love with the series too.

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: 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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