Monday, March 18, 2019

Book Review - Trouble on the Books

Trouble on the Books
Author:  Essie Lang
Publisher:  Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date:  March 13, 2019
3 Stars

Shelby Cox returns home to Alexandria Bay to help operate Bayside Books while her aunt Edie is recovering from knee surgery.  Shelby’s main responsibility is to manage the store’s second location which is located in a castle on nearby Blye Island.  Even when Shelby finds out she is part owner in the stores, she is still very nervous as she doesn’t have any experience in running a bookstore.

Before the store on Blye Island has a chance to open, Shelby finds Loreena Swan, curator of the exhibits and the heritage attraction of Blye Castle, dead in the island’s grotto.  A grotto that was used by smugglers during the Prohibition Era.  Matthew, the caretaker of the island, becomes the main suspect.  Matthew is a close friend of Edie’s, and she entreats Shelby to find out what really happened to Loreena.  Shelby realizes that she knows nothing about investigating except what she has read about in mystery books, but she agrees to help by asking some questions.  Besides, she is curious about what the grotto has to do with Loreena’s death.  How many questions can she ask though before she steps on the wrong person’s toes?  And if she does, what will that mean for her?

This book is a good start to the new Castle Bookstore Mystery series.  It has such a fun setting.  It is always fun to see a bookstore as a jumping off point for a cozy mystery.  This story adds a unique twist by having the bookstore situated in a castle (it’s not often we have a castle setting in an American novel) and on an island which is just offshore from the small town of Alexandria Bay.  Small towns provide such a good setting to uncover information because everyone seems to know everyone else’s business. Town gossip definitely fuels Shelby’s investigation, and spreads the word that Shelby is looking into the murder.

The investigation is somewhat slow.  It feels like it takes Shelby a long time to gather any information and then to come to any conclusions.    However, the author uses this time to really develop the background stories of the inhabitants of the town, many of which will probably be recurring characters in future installments.  Since Shelby (and the reader) are just getting to know people, it is hard to cross anyone off the list of possible suspects.  So that creates a rather large suspect pool, but it helps to keep the reader guessing.

On top of the murder mystery there is a secondary mystery embedded in this book.  Shelby’s mother died when she was three.  She knows very little about her since she was so young when she died, and her father would never talk about her.  Shelby guessed it was just too painful for him to relive the memories.  Since she is back in her hometown though, Shelby sets out to find out more about her mom.  She tries to talk to her aunt about her, but aunt Edie always seems to dodge the questions and then changes the subject.  She tries to track down her mother’s grave, but turns up empty handed.  She wonders why she is having such a hard time of finding people in this small town that actually knew her mother.  All Shelby wants is to find out more about her mother, but all she finds are closed doors.

Thanks to Net Galley and Crooked Lane Books for an ARC of this book.  #NetGalley #TroubleOnTheBooks

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Book Review - The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes

Holmes and Watson

The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes
By:  Leonard Goldberg
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Publication Date:  June 6, 2017
Rating:  3 1/2 Stars

The game is afoot once again.  This time Watson is paired up with his son, John Watson Jr., and Joanna Blalock.  Joanna is the secret daughter of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler.  The spirit of her father definitely lives on through her.  These three are pitted against Charles Moran who is the son of Sebastian Moran, Moriarty’s lieutenant.

In this case, a man by the name of Charles Harrelston has fallen to his death at the house of Charles Moran.  Between the note left by Harrelston and Moran’s assertion that he jumped, the police, led by Inspector Lestrade (the son of the original Lestrade), rule his death as a suicide.  Harrelston‘ s sister does not believe her brother would kill himself, and she goes to Watson looking for help.  The  Watsons agree to take the case on.  There are two additional witnesses to the death of Harrelston.  The first is a gardener that swears he saw Harrelston jump.  The second is Joanna Blalock’s son who said he saw Harrelston’s body float down.  The Watsons go to interview the boy, but it is Joanna’s keen observations and deductive reasoning that grab their attention.  Joanna teams up with the Watsons to solve the mystery of Harrelston’s death.  While the three suspected this may be case of murder, it is after they talk to Moran that Joanna is sure Moran is the murderer.  Now the three must look for the evidence that will lead Moran to the gallows.

I love the mysteries of Sherlock Homes, and I enjoy reading derivatives of them.  I found the premise of this story, which is that Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler had a daughter, very intriguing.  Joanna never knew her father, so the Watsons believe her deductive skills were inherited from her father.  The story did not disappoint, and I found it very fascinating.  Joanna is a very likable character.  She is just as brilliant as her father, and while sure of herself, she is not as arrogant.  While at first many of her deductions come across as impossible to come by, they seem obvious once she explains her reasoning.  The Watsons are as equally enjoyable characters.  Realistically, John Watson’s skills have slowed somewhat, but he is still a strong presence in this mystery.    His son provides the narration for this story. Moran seems to be almost as cunning as Joanna, and his character is a good match for hers.

Even though the murderer is known early on, this is still a very good mystery that keeps you entranced chapter after chapter.  We get to see the mystery unwound as Joanna and the Watsons put together the clues to form a case against Moran.  There are bumps in the road along with unexpected turns that help to make this an entertaining story.  I think fans of Sherlock Holmes will enjoy this book both as a homage to Holmes and a good continuation of what could have happened after his death. I look forward to reading the next book in this series.  I listened to the audio book version of this book, and I found the narrator very pleasant to listen to.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Book Review - Mrs. Pollifax on Safari

Mrs. Pollifax on Safari
By:  Dorothy Gilman
Publisher:  Fawcett
Published:  November, 1983

While practicing Karate at home in New Jersey, Mrs. Pollifax gets a call from Carstairs, her CIA contact, and he asks her if should would be willing to go to Africa on a new mission.  Mrs. Pollifax readily agrees.  Carstairs sends his assistant, Bishop, to explain the particulars of her assignment.  Bishop informs her that there is an assassin on the loose, and they need him (or her) captured before he kills again. They don’t know what he looks like, but they have received intelligence that he will soon be on a safari in Zambia.  Her mission will be to go on the same safari and take pictures of all her traveling companions.  After she returns, the CIA will go through the pictures and try to identify the assassin in the group.  The task sounds easy enough, and Mrs. Pollifax is excited to be visiting Zambia.  Once on the safari though, Mrs. Pollifax decides it might be fun to catch Aristotle herself and then turn him over to Carstairs.  That would not be the first or the last mistake she would make on her mission.

This book is another brilliant installment in the Mrs. Pollifax series.  These are such fun books!  The author has done a great job of developing Mrs Pollifax’s character.  She is a character you can’t help but love.  In real life she is an everyday mother and grandmother who likes to garden, go to church, and volunteer at the hospital.  In her spare time though she is a secret spy.  She is a spy unlike any other in your typical spy novels.  For one, her spy work is definitely a side job in her life.  Even when she tells Carstairs she will accept this assignment, it was contingent on her being able to find someone to water her geraniums.  She also doesn’t rely on super secret weapons or unrealistic motorcycle chase scenes to get her man. Instead, even though she always seems to find herself in hot water, she remains calm and collected and seems to find her way out of it.  Despite the fact that her work forces her to look at the dark side of life, her personality remains upbeat and she stills sees the good in people.

The backdrop of the story is an African safari that is adventurous and exciting.  The characters get the opportunity to see animals such as lions and elephants in their natural habitat.  They also get the opportunity to camp in the middle of it all.  The safari gives Mrs. Pollifax the perfect opportunity to study and get to know her fellow travel companions. The author does a exceptional job developing these second characters as well.  Among the sightseers, Mrs. Pollifax also meets a love interest in this book.  Time will tell if she has fallen for the wrong guy.  I didn’t find there was an obvious villain among the group.  Every time I thought I knew who the assassin was, the novel progressed, and then I was sure it was another character.  The novel kept me guessing like this all the way to the end.

For those that like a political twist, the novel has a light take on the morally wrong practice of apartheid.

Although this is a spy novel, I think anyone who enjoys cozy mysteries such as Agatha Christie will adore this series.    

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Book Review - Deceased and Desist

Deceased and Desist
By:  Misty Simon
Published By:  Kensington Books
Publication Date:  November 27, 2018
3 Stars

Tallie Graver, a self-employed housekeeper, was cleaning the windows of a local inn when she spied a dead body in one of the rooms.  Tallie was sure the man had been murdered because it was obvious to her (her family operates the local funeral home) that his neck had been broken.  Tallie called the police station to report the crime.  When the acting police chief, Hammond, arrived he was quick to rule that the man had died from a heart attack.  Tallie tried to explain why she disagreed, but Hammond stood firm by his assessment.  He not only refused to listen to her, but he also threatened to throw her in jail if she interfered.  Tallie decided though that she couldn’t let a murder go unsolved, and she stepped in to investigate herself.

Right from the get-go, I felt like Tallie seemed ready for a fight before the fight even found her.  I was a little put off by this.  However, after Hammond’s gruff conversation with her, those feelings seemed justified.  He neither wanted the police to investigate the death nor did he want Tallie to become involved.  Tallie is multifaceted and is not only an amateur sleuth, she is also a best friend, girlfriend, daughter, and housekeeper.  All of these roles round out her character.  For me, the pressure Tallie received from her dad to join the family business made her very relatable.  How many of us haven’t been pressured by a love one to do something, and all we want to say is no, but we don’t want to hurt them?

The author did a good job building this story.  In the beginning, Tallie didn’t have much to go on and so her investigation was slow.  This seemed realistic to me, as you have to find pieces of the puzzle before you can begin to put it together.  Then as she gets more pieces, the momentum begins to build, and the suspense escalates.  Even once Tallie (and the reader) thinks she has gotten things figured out, there are pieces that just don’t fit.

Anyone who enjoys strong female leads and amateur sleuths will enjoy this story.

Thanks to Net Galley and Kensington Books for an ARC of this book.  #NetGalley #DeceasedAndDesist

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Book Review - Cyanide with Christie

Cyanide wit Christie
By:  Katherine Bolger Hyde
Published By:  Severn House Publishers
Publication Date:  March 1, 2019
3 Stars

It’s almost Christmas and Emily Cavanaugh is getting ready to welcome her first guests to Windy Corner, her Victorian home which she has recently converted into a writers’ retreat.  An extremely fierce storm is headed to the area, and Emily hopes that all of her guests will be able to make it there before travel becomes too difficult.  All of her guests eventually arrive safely except for one that backed out at the last moment.  That space would not remain vacant long, for an unexpected visitor, Cruella Crime, shows up.  Not only does Emily take an immediate dislike to her brash manner, but she is also dismayed at the tension she seems to cause the other guests.  As much as Emily would like to show her the door, she knows she can’t turn her out in the middle of this storm.  After several strained days, Christmas arrives and Emily hopes that everyone will be able to get into the spirit and enjoy the day.  Those hopes are shattered when Cruella Crime is found dead in her room.  All signs point to poison, and the atmosphere in the house turns even more uneasy as everyone tries to deal with the fact that a murderer is among them.

The premise of this book seems rather unoriginal.  We have a college professor who inherits a house and decides to open up a writers’ retreat. I felt like this has been done before.

Having said that, I found the story itself to be very enjoyable.  I adored all the references to Agatha Christie’s books.  I also enjoyed the fact that we had a strong villain who becomes the victim as it adds a moral dilemma angle to the story.  All of the suspects must wrestle with the thoughts of being glad the world is rid of such a toxic person, to whether or not she deserved to die.  The other characters all help to round out the story.  The author does a good job developing their storylines and bringing them to a satisfying close at the end.  I think that readers of cozy mysteries and those that like books about books will enjoy this story.

Thanks to Net Galley and Severn House Publishers for an ARC of this book.  #NetGalley #CyanideWithChristie