Friday, December 28, 2012

One Hot Murder - a Victoria Square Mystery by Lorraine Bartlett

A Berkley Prime Crime publication
Review based on Advance Reading Copy (ARC)

 Third in the Victoria Square Mystery Series, this book does not disappoint, in fact if anything, it surpasses with a mysterious fire and death in Artisans Alley. As Katie's mind races between one suspect and another, one victim and another, the reader is hard put to try and outguess the protagonist. With her keen sense of intuition, she needs to talk her ideas out with someone. What a time for Detective Davenport to retire! So many loose threads, but who is holding the winning one, the one with the right answers? Why did two men disappear at the same time, with one body left behind at Artisans Alley? Katie has two many suspects and too many victims. But Detective Davenport does not go lightly into the sunset but is actively hoping to solve this last case before his official retirement date and time. Who died in the Wood U fire?

Another thorn in Katie's side, she has once again seen her dreams of owning the Webster Mansion to a new buyer. Turning to Seth, her lawyer friend, she finds no answers but more questions, but on meeting the new owners, she finds that they have a lot of ideas similar to her own, and even better, she really likes them. But can she part with all her stored treasures she bought in anticipation of turning the house into the English Ivy Inn?

In this sizzling early summer heat, tempers flare, strange things are happening at the Alley, and the air conditioner is ill-equipped for both the extreme temperatures and the size of the building. Going home at the end of the day to her room over the pizza parlor is no better. Emotions run high, and dealing with Ida's frustrating personality has driven her to remove her from the Alley. A decision that will come back to haunt her.

Once more Lorraine Bartlett has given us a very hot mystery to keep us guessing. A large part of the charm of the Victoria Square Mystery Series is the camaraderie shared by so many mainstays in the series, and that charm continues. Well-written as always, introducing new characters and perhaps a new direction, this book will certainly keep our brain cells cooking! With Katie's mind going in so many directions, there are twists and turns galore. Recipes included.

White Heaven Women by Jessie B. Tyson

Published by Imajin Books
Review based on ebook

An intriguing find, this book is definitely using a ghost writer as you will soon see. What does a 101-year old woman, a blue light, Sally Witherspane's nightmares and a psychic have in common? Much more than one might think. Sally has long planned to write a novel, and now is her chance. Sitting at her computer, she finds herself typing the night away but can't remember doing so. Working at a columnist for the White Heaven Weekly, writing should be easy ... but not that easy!

Sally is terrorized by her nightmares of hideous red-eyed monsters and screaming women in old-fashioned clothing. What can it all mean? The sounds and smells are so real, and she is always in the dream. To put even more fear in her mind, a terrific storm rages outside sending lightning crashing into trees and to the ground leaving trails of smoke. Sally is terrified of storms and this one is a whopper.

As part of her job, she has been asked to cover a past-life meeting. The psychic she has met urges her to go to the meeting, too, and to pay special attention to a woman called Lillian Canterbury, who may be able to help her understand her dreams.

What follows is as fascinating story as ever I've heard. A story which begins in 1899 in another raging storm. This is the story of 101-year old Mrs. Beth Madeleine. How, you might wonder, does this woman's story relate to Sally in the year 2000? I think you will enjoy reading this book to find out. Fascinating, paranormal, and historical, this will become Sally's story, and the debut novel written by Jessie B. Tyson. Gripping, sad, delightful, suspenseful, paranormal and an eye-opener to life in the nobility of a different generation, it is bound to captivate. I enjoyed it completely.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Cipher in the Sand by Sandra Bolton

An interesting and tense foray into a beautiful yet dangerous land in 1985. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A middle aged woman, divorced, her children grown and gone, feels the need for change and purpose in her life. She joins the Peace Corp, much against the wishes of her children. She is assigned as a teacher and to improve education in a somewhat remote area of Honduras. Her first taste of excitement as the man she has been talking with in the airport, suddenly makes a run for it when the airport security come after him. Her next shock at the end of the flight when she learns they will be landing in the dark, the airport lit by headlights of cars lined up along the runway and men with flashlights guiding the plane to the terminal; the plane swoops down over the mountains onto a very short runway.

Once in Honduras, she quickly learns that she has no idea what she is in for. She finds the land and the people in the villages beautiful and relaxing, but darkness is on the horizon for her. After training, her assignment takes her to the coast and a small village. Fortunately, many people in this particular village speak English, but she has also learned Spanish so she is able to converse quite well with the villagers. To her consternation, a misfit in the newly trained Peace Corp recruits, a young girl, suddenly becomes her room-mate to work in the clinic as a nurse. These totally different personalities must find some common ground.

It does not take long for them to become targets of the Honduran military when they try to help the local villagers. In no time at all, they will be running for their lives. This book is well-written, in-depth both in character and plot. Tension runs high, murder, mystery, yet sweet and caring, this is a powerful thriller with a heart. Fast-paced, terror-ridden, a veritable clash of countries, military, populace, hope and fear all at the same time. I thought this was an excellent read, packed with intrigue. Definitely a very good first novel. I congratulate Sandra Bolton on writing a novel that compels the reader to keep reading this new and exciting book.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fatal Error: Book Two of the Backtracker Series by Eileen Shuh

 Published by Imajin Books

This is the second book in the Backtracker series, and begins after we left Katrina/Sarina in book one, "The Traz."  Katrina Buckhold is only thirteen years old, Mensa certified, and still using her pseudo-name, Sarina. She is being prepped as the only eye-witness for the trial of the three bikers from The Traz who tortured and killed her friend prior to the police take-down of the gang. It will be a long and heart-wrenching trial.

Once again, Eileen Shuh is writing a lesson and an intense drama in one. Her characters are well-formed on both sides of the law. This is an important book that I think parents and teens should read. I suggest you to read "The Traz" as well, whether before or after doesn't matter, this book is the outcome of the events in the first book.

As one might expect in a court case involving both gang members and undercover police living in the dark world of the gangs, there are very graphic descriptions of the biker crimes; there is coarse language. Katrina must face what she has blocked in her mind, and testify in court.

Emotions run high in this book. Is Katrina really the innocent babe caught up in life with the  criminal element? Or is her past on the streets going to trip up her testimony and let the bikers go free? Can she learn from these experiences? This book has so much to say, we all should listen. Rebellion, terror, drugs, murder, loss, lies and broken promises, all are there. I commend Eileen Shuh in writing on such difficult subjects in such a true and meaningful way.

Colt O'Brien Grows Up by George Matthew Cole

I am quite enjoying the Colt O'Brien series. He is now in college on a scholarship. He must work with the computer support group fixing computers as a part of his scholarship, which to him is an ideal chance to learn more technology. He is in a relationship with Amy, and his best friend Bobby is his room-mate. What could possibly go wrong? He will find out soon.

Colt discovers that his boss in the computer group is out to get him on the sole basis of the fact that he doesn't do Unix. Gerry is so pro-Unix that he is going to be on his back and overloading Colt by making him the sole responder to Microsoft issues for the college. This leaves him with precious little time for studies and Amy. Then he realizes that Bobby has dropped so far into the party mode that he is becoming an alcoholic. In other words, everything seems to be going wrong.

With good and knowledgeable friends to turn to, especially in his psychic visions and working under serious stress, the rapidly moving events are offset in some areas. In others, Colt is at his wit's end trying to cope. This series, with it's fascinating blend of technology, psychic awareness and mystery is a winner. Colt O'Brien sees the light in many ways and he certainly does grow up fast. This book is no exception, George Matthew Cole has done it again with tension and drama. This well-written, informative Young Adult book touches on many issues college freshmen could come across.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Promised Lands: Growing Up Absurd in the 50's and 60's by Douglas Williams

Douglas Williams begins his memoir somewhere in the middle, describing life as a hippie at a time when so many young people slung on their backpacks and took off for the quest to live life wild and free, travelling through Europe mostly, some dipping into Africa and Asia as well. He has described the scene of the counter-culture life of the '60s well, both good and bad. It may be symbolic that he next reverts to his childhood memories in the second part of the book.

Living rural near a small town in post-war Canada, his parents immigrants, life was loosely structured but strongly disciplined. The author bares his heart and soul in this memoir. We see a slice of life in what could be referred to as a border town on Lake Erie through the eyes of a child, then through his teen-age years. His honesty is "no holds barred" about himself and the lack of adjustment to the times in a small town.

His father's death when Doug was 7 profoundly affected him in numerous ways. The most consistent theme in his life appears to be his creativity, whether it be in ill-chosen exploits with school friends, or the creativity that comes through during the 1960s, it remains central to his character. By the time the '60s are in full swing, he lacks a close family relationship and is ready for his journey abroad.

As he tours several countries, intimate encounters, and whatever drugs come along, his descriptive writing gives the reader one man's record of a unique and surprising decade. He makes fairly lasting friendships regardless of the nature of his meanderings through time and place. This decade is forever etched in the minds of anyone who lived through it, whether in the counter-culture or away from it, it was a stupifying time filled with change. A time of living music speaking to a new generation.

This book reflects the changes in the traditional mores, beliefs, politics, drugs and sex, a book for those who will remember the distrust, unrest, the revolt on rigid morals, religion, war and corporate greed driving political agendas, and as such is definitely an adult book. The book is true to itself -- Doug Williams kept a journal which is probably why he was able to write so comprehensively on his subject. We learn that among the spaced out, starving, and sharing, there is also humour. Travelling with friends in a malodorous, airless, traditional old VW van is often hilarious. In keeping with his creative side, he touches on his occasional forays into the film industry while in Europe,  a stint at a film school in London, England, discussing with the reader his thoughts on movie-makers and their impact on him. Among those movie contacts he mentions are Truffault, Kubrick, and Hitchcock, as a few.

For readers who were not around during what really begins in the 1950s through into the '70s, this book is an eye-opening trip, both in hippiedom and in the aftermath of WWII, segueing into the fear and adulterated suspicion of the Cold War and on through the biased Viet Nam war. This book deals primarily with those fast-changing decades.What he writes in this memoir is baldly honest. What you read is what he is.

As a descriptive and thought-provoking author, I suspect we haven't heard the last of Douglas Williams. But whether his next book will be about the industry of film making, the National Film Board, TV directing, producing and writing, or more travels, we will have to wait and see. Regardless, I'm sure it will be interesting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Beast from the Sky by Steven Donkin

Where can you find more legends than in Ireland and Scotland? This story takes place in 1950, the main characters are seniors, the mannerisms of speech are true to time and place. The people involved are Scottish, Irish and American. This is a story "written" by Gertrude from Ireland, found  by her great-great nephew and presented in Gertrude's own words.

Though presented as based on fact, the book is fiction. I enjoyed reading it as based on a legend, a creation supposedly told by Gertrude. She is heading to Scotland with some visiting American friends, embarking on a relaxing visit to another of her old friends from the war, Marit Baltry. Considering this sparsely populated coastal area, it is not so strange that there would be legends. But within days the population has grown as a circus comes to the tiny village, while at the same time, scientists have rented a carriage house to do "experiments" at Marit's closest neighbour's home. Quite a crowd to suddenly appear in a somewhat unknown locale.

Gert and her friends immediately hear of the legend when they take a break at the local pub before carrying on to Marit's home. The legend has been resurrected upon a mysterious case of a circus performer balloonist who has disappeared from the high roof of the home of the widow Marit, and the disappearance has sparked rumours of the return of  the "Beast from the Sky." The tale of the disappearance immediately brings the sleuthing instincts of Gertrude and her friends from earlier adventures to the fore. Henry and Judith, the Americans, decide they must solve this mystery. The legend itself goes back in history to a sect of Druids who occupied Groll Island, believed to house the Beast. The Druids died out long ago. The Beast was said to be guarding a treasure of some kind.

It happens that the island "home" of the Beast is part of Margit's land. That and the disappearance from her home make this all-too-tasty a morsel to investigate, much to the displeasure of Inspector McInnes, and the discomfort of Gert, who is inveigled into pursuing the mystery. What is even more enticing is that the first person to have encountered the Beast and kept a journal was Lord Baltry, ancestor to Marit's deceased husband. Cryptic references were made to the possible location of the treasure. Legend has it that anyone who sees the Beast will soon be dead, and this certainly seems to be the case over the decades with few daring to defy the Beast.

What are these people seeing, and what is killing them or causing their complete disappearance? The very small islands around Groll Island certainly appear to be uninhabitable. Tempestuous seas and rocky shores preclude that on all but Groll Island. Where the Druids lived in their insular community, there are only ruins. About the only way one would actually be able to view the vista of Groll would be from overhead, and there lies a clue to be deciphered.

An interesting mixture of what is in the eye of the beholder; is the Beast real, and who knows but isn't telling? Steven Donkin has presented an unusual and imaginative story, I might have preferred a sharper ending, but perhaps it is leading into a further adventure. Overall, a tantalizing look back in time only to find it is now.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Baby Game by James A. Thomas and Vidya Samson

I was taken completely by surprise with this entertaining story! Absolutely fascinating!

Don't let the title fool you into thinking this story is what it is not. Nor ignore the title, it does play a major part. A surrogate mother in India is about to give birth to a baby girl, child of a young widow and her dead husband's frozen sperm, and another surrogate mother in India is carrying the soon-to-be-born boy of a recently divorced man and his ex-wife, tying many terrifying occurrences together. A journey into political intrigue, scandal, past indiscretion, surrogate mothers, and hope for the childless, but not without completely unexpected complications. This book will take the reader to places of the mind and geographical places. Murder to hide potential scandal. High profile cases of deception bring on an overzealous frenzy of cover-ups. As often happens in life, the past can sometimes sneak up and bite you. In this story, it doesn't just bite you, it almost gets you killed.

This book will keep the reader hooked on all the surprises, about-turns, and other complexities. Virtually a who's who, how and why, and "what could possibly go wrong next." A little taste of life in India, wonderful caring people, two opposing Indian political groups fighting it out, no matter what "it" is, mix-ups, two single parents-to-be with more in common than they would believe.

This story is a hotbed of criminal activity, political conspiracy, terror and murder. With the arrival of two beautiful babies, though the outcome is unexpected, this roller coaster ride through some kind of hell has bright, humorous bits, fear and happiness, all wrapped up together.

Some readers may feel the book is too hectic, too fragmented, but it isn't really. When you look at it from the diverse perspectives and see where it leads, it all makes some kind of crazy, almost plausible, sense. Co-written by James A. Thomas and Vidya Samson, the authors appeared to write this book seamlessly. I was taken completely by surprise with this entertaining story, mesmerized to the point that I didn't want to put it down. Absolutely fascinating!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Five Days of Fear by David Kovach

Published by LMPublishing

An innocent picnic in the park, a child and his grandfather playing catch, a grandmother going to retrieve the ball that was tossed too high, and a gunshot; thus begins "Five Days of Fear." Is five days long enough to know someone well enough to fall in love? It probably is, if those five days are like a lifetime, five days going at lightning speed and painfully slow simultaneously.

In this, his debut novel, David Kovach has hit it out of the park. A thriller that involves the FBI, search dogs, high profile corporate hijinks, revenge, a kidnapping and a traumatized family holding onto faith and hope. Well-researched and tensely written, the tension is only broken by an evolving relationship and a loving family. An intense drama that keeps the reader glued to the book.

I always like to learn something new from books I read, and I learned a lot from this one, particularly about invasion of privacy and sharing of privacy through computer technology. The author certainly knows what he is talking about. This book really captured my attention and let me feel the drama unfold. David Kovach is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Spare Change by Bette Lee Crosby

Published by Bent Pine Publishing

This is a story that comes full circle. Told from the perspective and in the nuances of language of the main characters. Some crude, some refined, conversation remains true to its speaker.

An accidental death and a murder leave as witness, a young boy now homeless and traumatized. The murder is not the mystery. The mystery has more to do with the actions and reactions of the characters. The characterizations remain true throughout the book with the exception being the growth and change in two strangers. One about whom this story really revolves, Olivia Westerly, a woman with many insecurities and superstitions, the second about the young boy, Ethan Allen Doyle, terrified and putting up a bold, tough image for protection. Each chapter is named for its character, his or her thoughts, point of view, their own reality. At first a bit confusing, but I quickly got used to it as the story evolved.

Bette Lee Crosby has a remarkable instinct of people and their foibles. This book of fiction has a certain feel of reality. She has drawn the lines of good versus evil in an intriguing way. There are no loose threads, they are all tied together as the circle joins. A final chapter aptly named Heaven, a short heartwarming glimpse of heaven years later is tantalizing and perhaps the glue that keeps those loose threads sealed. A unique read, enough thrills, chills, sadness and happiness to keep the reader's attention.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Incendiary by Chris Redding

Published by Imajin Books

Sometimes trial and tribulation make us stronger in character. Sometimes too much power and wealth make us weaker. This story shows us both sides of the coin.

Chelsea has inherited her father's voluntary rescue company. Her brother is the town's fire chief. They are often at odds at home but are dedicated to their work which sometimes requires both fire and rescue. An arsonist is at work in the town and resembles completely the work of an arsonist several years before. The person suspected of the earlier arsons happened to be Chelsea's boyfriend and her brother Chad's best friend, Jake. But Jake moved away years ago, so who is setting these copycat fires?

Another friend of Chelsea, Brad and Jake, is Tim, head of the bank that holds the mortgage on the rescue building and equipment, and coincidentally has the hots for Chelsea, even to the point of trying to get to her through her adopted son Max.

When Jake comes back a decade later to clear his name, his return coincides with the new arsons. Is Jake setting these fires? Is he really back to clear his name? Or is he back to reclaim Chelsea's broken heart? Rumors begin once again and nobody knows who to trust.

Chris Redding has delivered a different twist of a mystery, a well-written scenario of did he - didn't he? Will she - won't she? Overcoming the past, saving lives, murder, secrets and rumor. Switching from loss and distrust to fear and desperation, with comfort, humor and love between, this book dishes up several flavors throughout to keep the reader spellbound. I found myself getting more immersed the more I read. Informative and captivating, compassion and greed, all wrapped up in one exciting package.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Town That Died by Michael J. Bird

Published by Nimbus Publishing

Many people in this age of man-made destruction are not familiar with the first,  the largest, man-made explosion in the world before Hiroshima, in the somewhat isolated Maritimes of Canada. This is the story of how on Dec. 6, 1917, the town of Halifax was decimated.

The late Michael J. Bird wrote this account of the explosion in 1962. Since then there have been several editions, the edition I read was printed in 2011.

Several books have been written both about what led to this disaster, and also used as a background for a few novels. How could such a huge event happen in Halifax? World War I was still going on, ships were the only option for transporting supplies from North America and Halifax was the closest outgoing port to Europe. This book is the best I've read on the subject, utilizing official reports and records of the event as it happened, as well as eye-witness testimony.

The explosion itself gave the appearance of what we would later see as the atomic bomb, a mushroom cloud over twelve thousand feet high. The explosion not only blew buildings down, windows shattering, and stripping the clothes from people in the path of the wind blast, but also caused a tsunami. Most of Halifax and Dartmouth on the other side of the harbour, were flattened in minutes, then came the fires. A number of factors come into play to cause this. A ship weighed down with ammunition and gasoline and a ship coming out of the harbour collided, causing the friction of the steel to spark and start a fire on the ammo ship.

This book reads very well, and is well documented. It is factual and yet personal in a way. The feelings of fear, miscommunication, confusion, and trauma, along with heroism and the flip side of looters, brings the human perspective into play. The nervousness of the captain of the ship with ammo and his desperation trying to avoid a collision is alive with tension.  Hundreds of bodies, more than 3,500, were never identified and are buried in a mass grave and many more died in the harbour. Hundreds were blinded by either the flash or from flying shards of window glass. I recommend this book on the basis of its facts and realism of a casualty of a war being fought on another continent.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Zombie Always Knocks Twice - Hollyweird: Book 1 by E. Van Lowe

Published by Imajin Books

Move over Buffy, there's a new girl with a new Power in town. Meet Kristyne Golden, teen necromancer.

Kris refers to them as "deadies". Wandering dead people seem to come out of the woodwork, one even goes so far as to come through the woodwork. Someone has raised some bodies and it's her job to lay them back to rest. These deadies are not gruesome, they wander unnoticed. They are pale but recognizable and appear to be alive. One is even a TV star. Who is going around raising the dead from instructions given in a video on youtube? What happens when a deadie refuses to rest?

This young adult book is off-beat, funny but sad in a way. The thought of dead teens who have been raised, but can't take their place back in society is sad. So is the thought that some of these deadies were out of the loop when they were alive. Is this their chance to get back at their tormentors? Zombies are the result of botched raisings and considered unstable, yet some are friendly in a brutish way. The hilarity of many aspects of the book take the edge off any sadness. I mean really, a youtube instruction video? Great fun! Kris wears fuzzy pink earmuffs to keep out the demanding spirit voices that surround her. Is it possible she might fall for a deadie? We'll have to wait and wonder for the next installment.

The whole concept of this book obviously comes from a rich imagination and E. Van Lowe without a doubt has that percolating to brew a fully entertaining read, leaving me wanting more. Fortunately, Hollyweird is a series. Young adult fiction or not, this grandmother completely enjoyed it and I am looking forward to the next installment. In fact, I'm looking forward to reading other E. Van Lowe books too, this writer fascinates with his unique imagination. Oh yes, the Zombie? He definitely always knocks twice ... hard!

Nightshade on Elm Street - a Flower Shop Mystery #13 by Kate Collins

Published by Obsidian

Take a rich mama's boy, a discarded fiance who has successfully picked herself back up, one hot Italian private detective, two smothering mothers, a ditsy fashion-conscious cousin, a missing girl, a bunch of wacky guests, and the parties are on!

What has happened to Melissa? She is allegedly engaged to Pryce Osborne who was previously engaged to Abby, now owner of the flower shop "Bloomers". Abby is now engaged to and assists Marco, the private detective called in to find the missing Melissa.

Jillian, Abby's cousin and coincidentally married to Pryce's much more compassionate younger brother Claymore, pleads the case, and it's off to the upperclass lakeside "cabins" for Abby and Marco. Little do they know just how complicated this case will become.

Kate Collins really has her hands full keeping up with all these fascinating characters, I must say! I always like learning something new, and here I learned flowers and their proponents.

With Abby's bridal shower imminent, her plans are running amok. She wants to put it together herself, and pitted against the formidable group of mother, mother-in-law, cousin and shop staff on one side and a ridiculously complicated (and often drunk) group of misfits on the other side, she can feel the rock and the hard place closing in fast. Only Marco seems calm. There are so many secrets her head is spinning. The investigation even more complicated, with the neighboring elite forever coming and going at the Osborne's large cabin. Did Melissa go to an exclusive resort? Did she remain nearby, perhaps unwillingly? Whose body has washed up at the lake? Just one of many strange happenings.

Everyone is intent on "helping" with her shower, while at the Osborne's, mysteries become more sinister, who will be the next victim? Although there is no “locked door” I am somehow reminded of Agatha Christie. How will everything get accomplished at the shop and a murderer caught in this luxurious vacation spot in such a short time? Suspicions galore, are there no real leads?

Great writing to keep us all guessing, and give us a glimpse of the uber-rich, who surprisingly seem unaffected about the mysteries and victims around them.

I really enjoyed this book, Lots of twists and turns, and a plethora of oddball characters fill out the latter plot while Abby's fiance, cousin, and mothers working in the background bring a surprising sanity in the end. This is #13 in the Flower Shop series, so I may have repeated some parts of Abby's life that appeared in earlier books. I can hardly wait to read another!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Heckel Casey by James Koch

Published by Imajin Books

Portent of things to come? "Heck" of a thriller!
The ultimate fight of good against evil. The world is not just poised on the precipice, it has gone over the edge. It is the age of destruction and evil reigns. James Hoch has written a fast-paced thriller of fear, horror and despair as the world collapses. But from the very beginning, there is a trickle of hope in very few, not extinguished. Is it enough to save what is left of the world?

This was a gripping piece of thriller fiction, one I found difficult to put down. Reminiscent of life in the Twilight Zone, part reality, part macabre, part paranormal, it comes with a message. The signs are all there in our real lives today. The outcome remains to be seen. The collapse is already hidden in the shadows of reality. The author has taken that shadowy present and shaped it into a terrible future that is fiction...but will it become fact?

The search by one man, Heckel or "Heck", for any sign of normalcy left in the world. One man walking, who as a boy, was somehow protected from the seduction of evil, and he isn't the only one. They exist, he has only to find them, people untainted by evil, and find them he does after walking for about a year. He finds them in various small-holds, isolated homes around the country and in burned out small towns. We must believe that there are others in other countries playing out the same game. Like any hero, Heckel has an odd sidekick, a cat he calls Jerky. Jerky seems to have adopted him, and is a unique protector, giving warnings of something not right ahead.

Faith and God play a role in the later encounters, angels strengthen the souls and bodies of these people, aiding in their fight against supernatural demons. This is not to say the book is a tome of religion, but belief and faith in the good in humanity.

Fiction at its best, fascinating plot, amazing characters, and fulfillment of promise...but will it last and which will it be: Good or Evil? Enjoy the book, I did.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

East of Denver by Gregory Hill

Published by Dutton, member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Many people will find this book relate to them in some way. Who hasn't lived with or known someone with dementia or alzheimer's and seen all sides of this insidious illness? The protagonist and sometimes narrator, Stacey "Shakespeare" Williams a.k.a. "Shakes," is on his way back from Denver to the old family farm and his father. A quirky cast of old high school friends come back into Shakes' life when he arrives too, both helping and hindering.

His father is living by himself and as Shakes will find out, no one is checking on him. Though he is remarkably able to fix almost anything and is very precise in engineering, he is likely to ask in the midst of putting together amazing pieces of equipment he invented in the past, "Why are we doing this?" Of course, recent memory is what goes first, the past is the present.

The book takes us through the humour and pathos of alzheimer’s...the brilliant flashes of recognition, the sad demise of the person you once knew. But as Gregory Hill demonstrates in this exceptional book, though occasionally crude yet more realistic because of it, he shows that there is still a person there, and we can still learn from him. Although the book is fiction, I feel that the adventure was real. Well, maybe not the airplane but it sure was fun. I identified with this book in so many ways, as I'm sure other readers will, too. Shakes has anosmia and describes it well. This hit a chord as I'm an anosmiac, too (read the book).

The ending is reminiscent of old slapstick movies like the Keystone Kops, or the Pink Panther, but satisfying in a way. Hilarious and gut-wrenching, very well-written story. Gregory Hill has taken to heart the old adage of "keep them guessing."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Contingency Plan by Lou Allin

Published by Raven Books, an imprint of Orca Book Publishers
Review based on Advance Reading Copy

Manipulation. No matter what type, it is all too prevalent. Lou Allin, in this fiction mystery, has described it well. This is a "Rapid Read" book, an entire novel condensed into a book you can read in a day. I've now read several and enjoy them when I have less time to read.

I thought the book had a bit of a slow but mesmerizing start which through its gradual build-up emphasized the terror to come. A chance meeting of a wonderfully considerate man after losing the love of her life, Sandra Sinclair finally agrees to going out with him. She wonders if young widows should allow themselves to love again, especially when a child is involved. This man is so incredibly courteous and interacts with her daughter well, too, including her sometimes when they go out, but is he what he seems? This book although fiction, gives a lot of pointers to watch for.

The tense build up to horror brings unsettling images to Sandra. Once she realizes what she has become, she fears for her daughter. A flight into terror follows to a sensational ending. I really got into the book as the tension built. Always have a contingency plan, it might save a life or two. A solid thriller well executed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Alexis Tappendorf and the Search for Beale's Treasure by Becca C. Smith

Published by Red Frog Publishing

Well! Becca C. Smith certainly knows how to capture her reading audience. What a great ride! This Young Adult book is a real treat. Starting with Alexis' stormy feelings against her parents for going off to do "research" of an unknown nature and in an unknown location (to Alexis), she is determined to play the "abandoned" role to the hilt, especially spending the summer with Great Aunt Mae, who she has never met and lives on the opposite coast. As they drive from California to Virginia, she has plenty of time to stew about leaving her friends behind and having a horrible summer.

Once Alexis meets her Great Aunt Mae, as well as Olivia, a girl her own age, things look more promising. Little does she know the exciting adventure ahead of her. When Aunt Mae invites Olivia's family to come and live with her because of her father's serious heart condition, things really begin to look up. Already Alexis thinks of Olivia as a sister. Hearing the story of a hidden treasure, a pirate treasure at that, and a cipher keeping the secret unsolved,  the girls immediately start working on breaking the cipher to break the code and find the treasure.

In every town or mystery, there are always some bad apples, and in this town the baddest apple is the Mayor, supplemented in his quest for the treasure by his brother the Sheriff and using his son to spy on the girls. The kind of villain you love to hate. He is sure they have learned something he needs to know.

Alexis, working hard at the code, begins to think like her hero, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, who looks at things from a different angle, or as Alexis says, "...outside of the box." Between the girls and borrowing Poirot's methods, their perception changes and clues begin to fall in place.

Very well-written, this book would be great for any age, particularly over 10 I would think. Had I read this as a child I can easily see myself wanting to find a treasure! This is a book I would definitely enjoy as a young person, as much as I enjoyed reading it as a grandmother, especially when Aunt Mae turns out to be so much fun and completely undauntable. Great action, great mystery, and enough danger and adventure to satisfy any age. I highly recommend this YA book, and it looks like a series is planned. What fun!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hear Me, Feel Me by Ann Axisa

Love spans from life to the hereafter, hear her, feel her

I feel comforted having read this winsome story of a family who has suffered too many losses at once. A tale of 3 sisters who have lost their mother too soon, a marriage that failed too soon, a sister who left behind her 2 sisters too quickly, and a son with a father who doesn't know he is one. Now suspend your disbelief for a moment and relish in this imaginative story by Ann Axisa.

Bonnie is living in what she calls "halfway heaven," a place to learn and adjust, a place to watch over loved ones, and sometimes even interact with them. She is being mentored in this place that is neither here nor there by her spirit guide, Robert. Bonnie is able to communicate with her sister Laura, but not sister Mia, although before long she will feel her touch. She is seen and heard by her 3 year old son, not as unusual as one might think. She left so quickly she is confused and angry. She attends her own funeral and is amazed at the wonderful comments she hears. Over the next little while Bonnie pays a visit to Max, her son Sam's father. Max, totally taken unaware, is able to both hear and feel her. Bonnie has to learn if Max will take an active part in Sam's life. She has a plan.

This is a delightful story about a subject we all fear. Under Robert's tutelage she is granted a few moments to visit her mother in the spirit realm, partially to help her with her anger at being dead with no place to call home. I really enjoyed this very different book. It touches on several subjects with lightness and some levity. With no time frame given between Bonnie's death and the final outcome for all, it may seem that some things happen too quickly in relationships. But fear not, all is as it should be.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Death in Four Courses - a Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette

This deliciously entertaining book based in Florida, is a murder mystery taking place over the duration of a conference of food critics and cookbook authors. The attendee characters run a gamut of restless, snobbish, overzealous, and friendly, but all have secrets buried and the star speaker has just announced that there should be clarity and transparency in the writings of all, basing it particularly on transparency of who the original recipes come from. One might expect this to be a reasonable statement, but he goes on to naming names and explicitly states he will expose all their secrets over the next few days.

At first glance this seems like it will be a high-class conference, but once we get into the meat of the book, comfort meals are more readily embraced when the arrogant yet esteemed food critic, star of the conference, ends up dead. How many cooks cherish their grandmothers' recipes I wonder? It seems that not only traditional home cooking revolves around these treasured memories, but some of the cookbooks also feature original recipes from the past, but whose past?

This is a question that runs through the story and appears to be related to a further death. Was it murder or suicide?

Our plucky food critic reporter, Hayley Snow, on her first major assignment for "Key Zest" to the conference, befriends some of these authors and food critics, and of course, is the first to discover not one but two bodies. Accompanied by her mother with whom she has had a volatile relationship for years, these two play off each other beautifully. As their relationship changes during her mother's visit, the partnership becomes serious yet playful as they involve themselves in solving these murders, a matter that is causing some major stress for Hayley, particularly when her mother goes missing, and in her blooming relationship with the very handsome and very protective Detective Nate Bransford. But how can they leave this alone when one of their long-time friends is being investigated for murder?

I really enjoyed reading this book, the second in the Key West Food Critic mystery series. It is well-written with good solid characterizations, great descriptions of place, and as a bonus a few recipes are included which I'm sure I'm going to enjoy as well. I'm sure this series by Lucy Burdette will soon be on the menu for many readers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Return to Finkleton by KC Hilton

Who controls time? In this, the second Finkleton book, the magic begins with a new secret uncovered. Robert finds out the hard way, first playing with the old clock, spinning the hour hand, and then by breaking it. How did he become 35 years old? He's supposed to be 10 years old. This isn't right! And how will he fix the clock and return to normal, is it even possible? How time flies! Robert is shocked to discover his sister and brother have also aged by 25 years.

We travel around Finkleton and discover everything has changed, and not for the better. Teamwork is needed to return Finkleton to its wondrous and happy days of wonderful weather, just the right weather to produce the best crops in the world, and to restore Miss Caroline's house, which was destroyed by lightning. As the Finkle children discovered in the first book, they must not keep secrets from each other and they must trust each other to work as a team. Otherwise, a serious mistake can leave disaster in its wake, and that is exactly what they now face together.

The children, adults through a large portion of this book, must find a way to turn back the clock. Together they are able to fix the clock but there are more secrets to be learned. At least they have learned that the "bad" man, Mr. Lowsley, has not been giving them trouble over the past 25 years. Finding the new secret room with even more books, even the books are magical. But who are the two young men Robert saw who look so familiar? And, what exactly does Miss Caroline know and why? Are there really fairies? Ah, this question must wait for another episode of life in the magic town of Finkleton. Another wonderful tale for young people, with life lessons hidden in the adventures. Recommended for ages 9-12, I find it an enjoyable series for any age, perhaps some memories of the childhood left behind. Another winner for KC Hilton.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Killer Critique by Alexander Campion

Who is killing the Restaurant Reviewers of Paris? That is the question for Paris Judiciaire Commissaire Capucine Le Tellier, young, empathic but definitely capable of getting to the bottom of the dark side of Paris. The difficulty in part is that she knows many of the victims and suspects through her husband, a restaurant reviewer himself. It appears very early on that there is a serial killer with a purpose. But the strange part is the method of the murders with variations on a theme. Also, they seem to happen in the midst of a large number of people, often the same people.

Naturally, Capucine is afraid for her husband as she and her team work to catch the killer, even with their hands somewhat tied by order of the "Juge d'Inspection" who has forbidden them to interrogate anyone. A man we will soon love to hate. This adds more spice and personality to the story. The main characters are well-drawn and despite their individual quirks, are all assets to the series. Alexander Campion certainly knows his food, wine and characters.

The book was enjoyable, my only criticism is that the flow is often interrupted by the overuse of long and rarely-used words requiring the reader, if he/she wants to get the full feel of the story, to keep a dictionary close at hand. I am a logophile myself (lover of words), but guessing at some (somewhat obvious: susserated, vertiginously, tintinnabulation), or stopping to look others up, is not pleasurable for the average reader. This intriguing and entertaining storyline may not run as smoothly as it could, with these hiccups in the flow. Personally, I am unable to refrain from looking up words I am unsure of. After all, that's how I learn them, but this book almost teeters on the edge of too far, which is a real shame because I'm sure no author would want his/her reader to feel intimidated, but mesmerized as the story unfolds.

I must say though, that once again I have learned something new (other than a handful of words), I was fascinated with how curare darts were made, and in particular how long they remain poisonous.

The several French phrases sprinkled throughout conversations are to be expected, and are mostly recognizable. After all, not only does the series take place in France, but the author has lived and worked in France. I do not refer to the names of the dishes, wines and other beverages, they are what they are and either recognized or explained.

All told though, the storyline is taut and keeps the reader's attention, the solution to the crime keeps one guessing, and the characters are well-fleshed, which is, perhaps, its saving grace. Alexander Campion has created some very interesting characters and a deliciously tantalizing series to be savoured. Would I read another in this series? Definitely.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Magic of Finkleton by KC Hilton

This book returned me to the magic of childhood! Though written for children, can encompass all ages in the way of fairy tales of yore. A magical time when things are not what they seem. Well-written to keep anticipation coming, and flows with mystery and curiosity. An old shopkeeper dies and the village farms of Finkleton are instantly inundated with rain. At the same time a home in another village is struck by lightning and burned. What is happening with the weather?

The home that was destroyed happened to belong to the heir to the old shopkeeper's store and property, and therein lies this delicious story. The displaced family of five arrive in Finkleton and very soon the youngest child makes a mysterious discovery. He keeps it secret but before long his sister, who reads everything readable, learns the secret. But when the weather gets out of control, they must let their older brother know what is happening. Should they tell their parents what they have found? Are there more secrets hidden in the old shop? Is Mother Nature really in charge of the weather?

KC Hilton creates an entire world, not on a different planet, not even in an enchanted forest. No, this is a village surrounded by farms, some very famous and lush farms, in fact the most productive farms and best-tasting produce in the world. But even in such a perfect location, danger can rear its ugly head. I was charmed by this magical adventure and I can tell the next will be exciting, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sydney West by R. McKinsey

A bit of a slow start, I thought, but only at first. Reading into the actual story I realized this was necessary to setting the plot. This is a book unlike any I've read.

A very unusual story, who is this man Sydney West? I almost felt that the author was playing games with the reader, which somehow made me want to learn more. There are a number of clues scattered throughout the book if you take the time to see them for what they are. Otherwise, Sydney West is a complete enigma. Sydney not only marches to a different drummer, his feet take him where he doesn't know he wants to be. I feel I've fallen down the rabbit hole, Sydney is the white rabbit and as Alice would say "Curiouser and curiouser." Who or what is Sydney? No matter the whys and wherefores, I am intrigued. How did he play such a wonderful piece on the piano when he doesn't remember it? How does he know one thing and not another? This is not just a case of amnesia, but perhaps something much darker.

Sydney attends university, has a friend, maybe even a few friends, young people who he meets along the way while trying to figure out why he is there. Who knows if they are truly friends? He is someone he is not, so how can he trust others? This book is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but maybe a tea of a different flavour is good. In my opinion this would be a great book for discussion, for readers looking for something completely different in a mystery, readers who like puzzles, and those who enjoy conspiracy theories. Don't get me wrong, this bizarre book is character-driven and the main character is fascinating. A complicated character, one who we'll be seeing again. Rebecca McKinsey is definitely a storyteller. A challenging and imaginative debut series for this author.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Metatron - The Angel Has Risen by Laurence St. John

Published by Imajin Books

The bane of all youth, having no say in your life; the feeling of not belonging, not smart enough, being too vulnerable, bullied at school; top that off with the ultimate horror of a bullying babysitter, especially when you are 12 years old, and you have much of the life of Tyler Thompson. Add to that the loss of his father a few years earlier and a new "incoming" step-dad in the mix and you have most of the picture.

Life to a twelve-year-old is one immense hurdle, so many changes and conflicts. Many escape to their game systems or computers to play in a fantasy world, but what happens when your life becomes a living video game? Laurence St. John deals with this bewildering age deftly by doing just that, and the result is insightful yet adventurous. Suspending Tyler in the world as we know it and twisting it into a sci-fi adventure complete with mad scientists, an evil "I-want-to-rule-the-world" genius, and surprising superpowers, I found this book to be so real in its characters in the beginning and so surreal later in the book. Yet life lessons are learned, understanding comes to this family, and Tyler's self-confidence glows.

I, a grandmother, thoroughly enjoyed this romp, and I am sure this book will be welcomed and enjoyed by any school-age reader. For myself, it brought back my school years and my dreams of escape; my escape was comic books, and had this been written before game-systems, I'm sure Metatron would have been a comic book hero. Metatron has promised readers more adventures to come and lessons to learn. I think youngsters of all ages will be looking forward to the next adventure. Excellent debut.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Raven's Blood by Deborah Cannon

Published by Trafford Publishing
Part four in this Raven Chronicles series takes the reader to ancient underground passageways in an attempted revival of an ancient dark Mithra cult. Jake Lalonde, half-Haida archaeologist is seeking his own truth of his heredity as a shaman and is caught up in a deadly fight for his survival. He is off the radar as far as his fiancé Angeline is concerned, and concerned she is. She is preparing to go to Europe to find him, his last known whereabouts place him in Rome. She is not aware of the other two people who are following her. Her deep knowledge and perception, of Jake, plus her gut instinct, says he is in trouble. A morbid discovery is found in Israel, when the body of the man Jake is to meet in Rome shows up in the truck that has arrived from Italy to take an iconic statue found at the site in Israel to Rome.

Deborah Cannon has gone deeper than ever in her latest book, mystic, full of twists and turns in plot, labyrinths, hallucinogenic mushrooms, visions, paranormal, Mithraic Mysteries, thrills and chills, if you like unusual mysteries you've found the right book! The action clings to the rails at full-speed. The characters are strong and unique. Deborah's previous books in the series have taken the reader to Tonga, the San Juan Islands in the US, and Haida Gwaii in Canada.

What Angeline learns when she finds Jake terrifies her. He is not himself, and appears to be spellbound by Sophia Saveriano, an archaeologist earlier laughed out of the academic community and now bent on proving her theories with Jake's assistance, but she is unlike anyone Angeline has ever met and seems ethereal. Who or what is she? She is everywhere and nowhere, she's like a will-o'-the-wisp. Who is the man from "Interpol" who followed Angeline and keeps turning up in strange places? What is happening to young men in Rome who disappear? Are the gruesome discoveries related?

The author has outdone herself in a story I couldn't put down. A great read. For anyone interested in Haida lore, ancient mysterious cults, the paranormal and thrillers, this book is for you. I was enthralled from beginning to end. A real winner!

Weird Steffi by Rita Traut Kabeto

Published by IUniverse

This young-adult book is geared to the ages of approximately 13 to 16, a coming of age while attending school in a convent. The story takes place in 1950s Occupied Germany. Stefanie Saurling has three sisters and four brothers in a home that is two full and with a mother who is too busy. It is completely possible to feel lonely in a crowd, and this is how Stefani feels most of the time at home. She looks forward to going to school at the convent as a way of getting away from home and work. She soon learns that she will be working hard though not at home. Some of the girls are rather snobbish, and make fun of her, and of the girl in the next bed, also named Stephanie. This girl goes by the name of Steffi and Stephanie becomes Stef. Steffi is unusual, she is small for her age, is very quiet and timid, and worse yet as far as the teasing goes, has a menagerie of stuffed animals in her bed.

Stef and Steffi, as the odd-ones-out, soon become friends, and have mini-adventures whenever they leave the convent. Steffi has a secret. She sees things, wondrous things like fairies, gnomes, trolls, auras and other magical things, but she also sees the future. Unfortunately, her parents don't believe and think she is delusional. This is her last chance to avoid asylum living. She is also empathic, and feels death among the woodpile in front of the neighbouring house. What can she do? If she says anything, she will be sent to the asylum! She is sure there are two bodies buried there.

The two girls work out several plans and soon have another friend who assists them, a youth from the town. Their frantic search for help, their reliance on Willi, the tight rein of the nuns all culminate into a serious dilemma for the girls. What is the right thing to do? When they learn the word "clairvoyant" and the meaning, their lives turn around and they feel vindicated. This is an interesting and well-written story for young teens. It gives a new take on learning about your peers and what problems they may have in life and that everyone is different in their own way. I found the story enjoyable and it touched memories of feeling an outsider in my life of that age, too.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Soul and Shadow by Susan J. McLeod

Published by Imajin Books

A romantic adventure into the world of ancient Egypt, this book is a charmer. Light and fun early in the book until the paranormal slips in. Here we have the elements of two distinctly different women in love at different times in history with only the link of history to join them, or so it seems. The book was a delightful surprise to me.

Lily, a grad student and research assistant to a highly regarded professor in the field of Egyptology is in the right place at the right time as a new exhibit arrives in town. It is the mummy of Amisihathor, more commonly known by the locals as Amisi, a songstress in the temple of Hathor on loan from the Cairo Museum. As an artist, Lily has done many paintings and illustrations of ancient Egypt, and as she gazes at the art of the sarcophagus, she is overcome with feelings and images alien to her. An eccentric woman behind her appears to have connected in some way, too. She is there to speak to Lily. She has seen Lily's art and believes she will be able to communicate somehow to learn the fate of Amisi. There is some confusion about her tomb and burial.

Susan J. McLeod has written a complex and entertaining story with many pieces and characters interwoven from both the ancient time of Amisi and the current life of Lily. The relationship between best friends and colleagues Lily and Katy is fun. Romance is in the air and Lily is falling hard for the Kent, son of Dame Ursula Allingham, who found the tomb ... the lady she met at the museum. There is a mystery surrounding Amisi, but there is also a mystery surrounding the Allingham family. More discomfiting is the mystery of Lily's dreams since meeting them. Her dreams are so vivid, and as she draws, scenes come to life as though she has really seen them. How can this be?

When Lily's ex-boyfriend moves back to town lines are drawn and pressure applied. Will Stephen reclaim his relationship or will Kent keep him at arm's length from Lily? Why does her mother ignore Lily's feelings for Kent and keep pushing her toward Stephen? Theft, romance, secrets, betrayal, friendship and Lily’s psychic revelations meld together well. A beautifully written final chapter. I enjoyed this book so much with it's multiple fleshed out characters in both settings that I wasn't ready for it to end. I was very glad when the following page was a preview of the next book featuring Lily and Katy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Murder on the Half Shelf - a Booktown Mystery by Lorna Barrett

Published by Berkley Prime Crime
Review based on Advance Reading Copy

As the story begins, Tricia and Angelica, two sisters who own shops in Booktown, a revamped original part of Stoneham, New Hampshire, are trundling their way to the new Sheer Comfort Inn, where Angelica has won an overnight stay for two in a draw at the town Chamber. The Sheer Comfort Inn, a beautifully renovated Victorian home, has not been officially opened yet and is having a sort of dry run a week before opening. After a brief conversation with their hostess Pippa Comfort, Tricia becomes aware that Mrs. Comfort was expecting Angelica to be accompanied by Bob Kelly, owner of Kelly Real Estate and head of the Chamber of Commerce. As they head to their room, Tricia gets a glimpse of a slightly familiar man in the hall who suddenly turns away as though he does not want to be seen by her. Who would she know here aside from the other Chamber members who were recipients of the free stay? He looked like he worked at the hotel.

Love is definitely not in the air, but that doesn't stop a bit of running around among some of the residents. What is happening to romance in Stoneham? Angelica is angry with ex-boyfriend Bob, Mr. Everett is concerned about his marriage with Grace, Tricia is on the outs with Grant Baker, police chief and sometimes boyfriend/lover, too busy to see her, and more. Some friendships slip and jealousy rears its head. The mixed bunch of guests at the Inn don't seem to be having a romantic evening either. When Tricia takes Angelica's dog out for a walk a few minutes after getting to their room, Sarge sniffs out a body behind the fence and wouldn't you know it, the body is that of Pippa Comfort, last seen about five minutes before! What on earth could have happened? Naturally Tricia is faced with interrogation by Grant resulting in further distance between them after she reports the "accident". On the suspect list as the one who discovered the body, he can't be seen talking to her except about the case.

There are so many suspects for this murder and a lot of very interesting hobbies among the shopkeepers come to light. Nothing like a murder investigation to bring out the dirt, and this bit of laundry is sure to hang out someone to dry eventually. A lot of changes in this, the sixth of the Booktown Series. Lorna Barrett has served up another great mystery with old and new characters, a surprise from the past, good news and seriously bad news for Angelica in particular. Will she rise from the ashes of her career? Lorna Barrett's characters are believable, although possibly a stretch with one. When we get to know her better. we learn you not only can't judge a book by its cover, but the first introduction doesn't tell the whole story. I love some of the tongue-in-cheek names that show up occasionally in these books. Now I ask you, what could be more fitting than the Full Moon Nudist Camp and Resort?

Meanwhile, with the town beginning to think of Tricia as a jinx, who is sending her "gifts" in the mail with oblique messages? Who is always standing in shadow? Why does she have to find another body, fortunately one that is still breathing, on her next walk with Sarge, the dog with the great sniffer? So many questions to be answered and difficult to guess what the answers may be. Lots of twists and mixed emotions among the Booktown people in this book. Once again, a downright good read with recipes as a bonus. Even with all the many conflicts and resolutions in this book, all part of the mystery, this storyline does not falter nor confuse. Good, solid writing and a very funny last paragraph...don't peek, it won't make any sense unless you read the book! Four easy and tasty recipes included.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Monet's Palette by Jean Sheldon

 Published by Bast Press

This was a wonderful read! Even without the mystery, sleuthing and unique manner of deaths and attempted murders, I was fascinated by what I learned about oil paintings, by newbies and the old masters alike ... how paints were made, detecting forgeries, techniques, styles and more. Jean Sheldon's research into all types of subjects never fails to amaze me.

On the other hand, the crimes committed and how they were carried out are compelling and complicated. It seems like what could be described as a relatively straightforward mystery becomes a full-blown investigation that takes many twists and turns. Rayna Hunt, a somewhat uncomplicated individual, a brilliant artist who is thwarted by a horrific injury to her hand is the main character. Once she overcomes her frustration, fear, and depression, and finally embraces the use of a prosthesis, she trains to paint again, her character blossoms and she takes on teaching painting. Her class of seniors and troubled teens become the family she misses, with her daughter living in New Mexico. Rayna still has issues with self-esteem though and a very patient Paul, director of the Stratford Art Museum, waits in hope of a return to the relationship they had prior to her accident.

The characterizations in this book are so much fun yet realistic. The unity built between the seniors and the teens is wonderful to watch and they soon become a team with the purpose of keeping Rayna safe when she unknowingly becomes a target while embroiled in a police investigation. As an expert at discovering forgeries, her life is seriously threatened but who is responsible? Is it her beloved friend Paul? Why is she a suspect? How did so many paintings get switched in several different museums? It's not as though you could carry one in under your arm and replace the original hanging on the wall.

I am quickly becoming a huge fan of this author who can write such good mysteries in so many different styles. With several people involved in the crimes, the detective Diane Parker, Rayna and her art class involved in trying to solve the crimes, this book is a great balance of friendship and criminals. Fun and sometimes grisly at the same time. As the only member of my own family who can't even draw, I thoroughly enjoyed my romp in the art world. With Jean Sheldon's ability to bring a feeling of comfort in the midst of chaos, I loved this book.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dina's Lost Tribe - A Novel by Brigitte Goldstein

Published by IUniverse
Reviewed for Review the Book

Brigitte Goldstein has produced a novel built on very well-researched Jewish history from the 1300s to present day. Though a work of fiction, it has the feel of reality. Of course much of the story includes real events especially the religious observances as well as the many relocations and deportations of the Jews through the centuries. With the many attempts to expunge all trace of the Jewish faith it is amazing how that faith has kept them going through all the trials and tribulations. It all begins with a centuries-old codex allegedly written by a woman named Miryam who is considered dead to her family after she is defiled by a Cathar priest and leaves her behind at the age of 16 in their exodus, at which time she renames herself Dina. The codex is a letter, or perhaps series of letters written to her sons, raised secretly with what Jewish teachings she is able to provide them although their father is the priest. She is explaining why she did what she did and how it was to protect them.

This book covers a lot of ground and also a few genres. We have historical fact and fiction, romance, fantasy, and war all wrapped up together in a fascinating package. Though many words were unfamiliar to me, I found that the meaning often could be absorbed as the text went on. I did check dictionaries at times, though. I find the medieval text works, but the modern day portions are a bit heavy on the academic side. This said, I still enjoyed the book with its believable historical fiction, so well-written that it makes it hard to believe it is fiction.

The book centers around three distinctive times in Jewish history: the banishment of Jews by King Phillipe of France in the early 1300s, a time of the Inquisitions and heretics; the ousting of Jews from Spain during the Spanish Civil war followed by the Nazi evacuation of Jews from Germany. It was at this time in the late 1930s and early 1940s that the second major story begins, but also ties in with our present day translators as they flee to escape from the Nazi agenda of World War II. During their escape through the Pyrenees mountains our current party must stop for the impending birth, and the mother-to-be is taken to a secret village for the birth. It is referred to as Valladine, and the baby grows up to become a well-respected historian but always feels the pull of the place she calls Valladine. At this point we leave the past and go into the late 20th century where this whole translated story will be presented to the academic world. Altogether an informative yet entertaining book, a rare blend. I enjoyed it as both.

 *Disclaimer:  I was given this book. I was not influenced in any way in writing this review, the words are mine alone.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Cast On, Kill Off: A Knitting Mystery by Maggie Sefton

Published by Berkley Prime Crime
Review based on Advance Reading Copy

Excitement and chaos reigns among Kelly Flynn's familiar and friendly group in Fort Connor, Colorado. Their good friends Megan and Marty are getting married and Kelly is in the wedding party. Megan has everything under control down to the minute. The dresses are gorgeous and ready, designed and made by Zoe Yeager, a local seamstress, assisted by her sister Vera.

Zoe is friendly and creative, but she has a secret. Zoe suffers from spousal abuse, hiding her bruises and nightmarish life from the world. This all-too-familiar scenario is discovered by Kelly and her friends, who try to help her make the decision to finally leave Oscar, her husband, and go to a shelter. When she does call her friends and tell them she is ready to leave they make plans to get her out of the house quickly and secretively. With shelter volunteers keeping her away from her husband, her friends feel she should be safe from danger, but is she?

Though Zoe's problems put a damper on the friends' spirits, they pick up the threads of their plans. When Zoe is found dead of a single shot to the head in the church parking lot, everyone immediately turns their radar toward Oscar as the murderer. There seems to be no question about it, but questions have a way of turning up strange things. Kelly and her friend Burt get to sleuthing quickly when other suspects for the murder come under scrutiny.

Meanwhile, Megan, organized as always yet easily panicked in unforseen changes, has been feeling confident that all is in order for her wedding, when her sister announces she has become pregnant and needs her dress adjusted. Prior to starting her own business, Zoe had worked for Leann O'Hara, long-time local seamstress. Fortunately, Leann steps in to help with the adjustments, another problem solved ... or is it?

Maggie Sefton writes with the ability to bring her readers right into the lives of her main characters, and this book is no different. The warmth and camaraderie is engaging and shared. With a permanent cast of this size, I appreciate the Cast of Characters page in each book. Kelly's sleuthing methods are definitely a part of her personality and with the help of retired police detective Burt and his buddy on the force, everything comes to a satisfying conclusion. In this, the 10th book in the series the conclusion satisfies in more ways than one. Knitting pattern and recipes included.

A Darkly Hidden Truth - The Monastery Murders 2 by Donna Fletcher Crow

 Published by Monarch Books

This book begins with an interesting history, based on legend and fact about the Anchoress, Julian of Norwich, "enclosed" in c1375 AD at the Church of St. Julian the Hospitaller. From this prologue the story begins. Now partially in ruins the Church has been restored several times, and the current building is a reconstruction, including the cell from which Julian gave her advice. The story is dispersed throughout the book as a background theme, mainly as reconstructed as the Church itself, but still based on her writings.

A bit of a slow start I thought, but mostly because I felt Felicity, the main character, to be rather flighty, a little over-the-top with her spontaneous changes of direction and emotions, but these become an asset later in the book. The main story takes place during Lent and the icon for their monastery must be returned by Easter. As Felicity struggles to grasp what her feelings are toward becoming a nun she tries to understand what Julian's devotion and seclusion felt. She must also question her increasing feelings for Antony. She has been advised to go on retreat to some convents of various types to learn her true feelings about becoming a nun, a "discernment" of sorts. What is her true reasoning? Is she too attached to the world? Is she running from her feelings of abandonment by her mother? And after so many years of her mother's focus on work rather than her daughter, why is she suddenly coming to visit?

This is not just a book of religion however, there is a mystery afoot, the theft of religious icons, the disappearance of a friend, history, mystery, murder and mayhem, all are part and parcel of this, the second in the Monastery Murders series. The main story takes place during Lent and the icon for their monastery must be returned by Easter. What is the meaning of the Maltese crosses on the backs of these icons? This question thrusts Felicity and Antony, her good friend and partner in Book 1, right into the world of the mysterious Knights of Malta, the Knights Hospitaller. Well researched, descriptive, compelling and creative, Donna Fletcher Crow really knows how to grab her audience. I learned some fascinating history while enjoying this fast-paced mystery.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Traz - Book I of the Backtracker Series: School Edition by Eileen Schuh

Published by Imajin Books 
Revuewed for Imajin Books
Reviewed from e-book

 Written for older children, tweens and teens to help those in trouble or give options how to avoid trouble in these often emotionally and physically cruel years. Author Eileen Schuh has written this version as a school edition. There is also a regular edition. Every parent should read this book and perhaps even discuss it with their kids. This story is full of the pitfalls that multiply as teens get older, become more street smart and more in need of security and love. Some strong language as can be expected, the language of young people caught up in street life of which drugs and gangs play a large part.

Katrina is very small for her age, and extremely intelligent, actually Mensa certified, a genius at the age of 12. These two points are the root of bullying Katrina, causing her to leave school at this age. An alcoholic mother and a father who is too involved do not help ease the pain and loneliness. Very dark and frightening, how could such an intelligent, sunny little girl get dragged in to this vortex of the dark side? A lesson for all in the early part of the book. As Katrina, or Sarina as she prefers to be called in the world she has entered, loses all the usual types of security, she becomes involved with a motorcycle gang, the Traz, when she accepts a bike ride from a very interesting biker. Who is this man, vying for control of the gang? Why is he so protective of Sarina?

This is a very interesting book from a lot of points of view. Not all dark, there are many characters running the gamut from gentle and caring to pure evil. Traumatized after witnessing an event she can't remember, Katrina/Sarina's story will continue. Excellent characterizations, dialogue, interaction, descriptive settings, the storyline setting up for a series, Eileen Schuh's writing is compelling and encompassing.  Although occasionally I got a slight feeling of disbelief, I also felt this was intentional, a necessity to the plot. I have a feeling there will be a lot brought to light in the future. I am looking forward to reading the second in this very different and exciting series.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Deadly Legacy (A Carmedy & Garrett Mystery) by Alison Bruce

Published by Imajin Books
Reviewed for Imajin Books from 1st edition ebook

An intricate weaving of a celebration of life and the results of sudden death, this book with its intriguing characters is sure to pull the reader in like a whirlpool. With ingenious plotting, prickly relationships, futuristic technology and bodies dropping like flies, Alison Bruce has a knack for descriptive narrative that breathes life right into the scene. The landscape, streets, murder scenes and characters rich and poor, are all clearly established in the mind. Set in the winter of 2018, there is plenty of opportunity the author to play with technological possibilities.

From the opening scene in a cold muddy field with a rookie cop gathering evidence from the drugged vicious rape of a young girl in the hope of saving her life, to the sudden accidental death of Joe Garrett, the very popular retired ex-cop turned private investigator, and coincidentally the father of Kate, the rookie cop who was working in that muddy field, the story appears to go in many directions, but does it really?

It's been a very difficult and emotional day for Kate and there are many decisions for her to make, not the least of which is whether to remain with the police force or to take over her father's business, as his will splits ownership between Kate and Jake Carmedy, Joe's business partner. Unfortunately, Kate and Jake do not get along, but a hidden undercurrent they aren't aware of seems to promise a hot romance in the future. In the meantime Kate is going to have to take over the current case Joe was working on, as well as pursuing the police case of the now declared murdered girl.

Alison Bruce's writing almost takes on a life of its own as it weaves in and out of these relationships and cases. The murdered girl died of prescription drugs, Joe died from a car accident, while following a man for his protection, a man who claimed he had been threatened. But why was this man threatened? It didn't make sense. Yet bodies and coincidences begin to pile up even while both police and family friends are mourning Joe's death.

When do coincidences become conspiracies? Joe's death seems unrelated, but why do the murders appear to have commonalities? The action is rapid-paced, the suspects are many and unusual, and the story is compelling as it gets deeper into the mystery. It all comes down to a perfectly Agatha Christie-esque finish with all suspects in one room. Yet we are left with the question, are Kate and Jake going to be able to put aside their antagonism? Will they? won't they? Can they make this partnership work? With the ultimately odd backdrop of the Santa Claus parade going by, surely anything can happen!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Deadly Accusations - a Casey Holland Mystery by Debra Purdy Kong

Published by Touchwood

In this, the second of Casey Holland's escapades, she is once again hard at work on a dangerous assignment as a public transit security cop on Mainland Public Transport, trying to catch a vandal who hurls large rocks at the bus windows as it drives by. What she doesn't know is she will soon be a target for more than a rock. This book by Debra Purdy Kong delves into our misperceptions or preconceptions of others we meet or work with. Casey does not usually fit this mode of prejudging, but senses that for whatever reason, Jasmine simply does not like her and in fact is downright hostile. Worse yet, they have now been paired to work together on this case. When Jasmine is murdered, leaving behind a small son and a violent ex-husband, Casey discovers a Jasmine she never knew. What could have been the cause of such hostility?

The characters set up in the first of the series grow and mature in this second least some do. Now that Casey is responsible for Summer, her ward, she is not too thrilled with being pushed into another investigation. But pushed she is, by another co-worker Marie, self-proclaimed friend of Jasmine who may or may not have an agenda of her own.

The more Casey learns about Jasmine, the more she needs to learn in order to solve this case, even after a terrible threat to Summer if she doesn't stop investigating. As usual, there are several possible suspects, but only two really fit into the realm of probability. Of course the police chief doesn't want her "assistance" in the investigation at all, and Casey in all honesty does try to extract herself but keeps being drawn back in by Marie, and finally by Jasmine's mother, who is convinced Casey can solve the crime. When some co-workers come under investigation, hostility reigns supreme. Who really committed the crime and why? Who has anything to gain? The book is consistent, the characters are realistic especially in their response to becoming targets or suspects. A well-crafted book with lots of teasers. A plus for me is that it takes place in my original hometown. An unusual company to anticipate crime within, or maybe it has nothing to do with the company. Regardless, it will keep you guessing, while Casey and Summer do their best to keep alive and unharmed. An interesting premise and a quick and enjoyable read.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Skeletons in the Closet by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Reviewed for Imajin Books

A variety of spooky short stories hanging in this closet. Some are intense, the stuff nightmares are made of, and some are much simpler, playing on the psyche. In reading these short stories, the first being a trilogy of terror, I felt that they increased in horror with each addition to the anthology. Cheryl Kaye Tardif wields her plots with a dexterity that creeps into our souls and lives on in our minds.

Ouija, one of the later stories, so touches home as to be both horrifying and comical in the same breath. So many have had disconcerting moments with Ouija boards and this is quite typical of some of the legends surrounding it. I think I enjoyed Ouija and Remote Control best of this little crop of horrors with their quirky touches of humour, but the final story will chill you to the bone in its delivery! A wonderful crop of terrifying nightmares come to life, emphasizing how we so often enjoy being scared that we go out of our way to have campfire ghost stories. Well, these should give you a enough to keep you going for some time. Enjoy the shivers and always look over your never know who or what is lurking around you!

Tags: anthology, horror, short stories, terror, black humour, psychological terror, psyche, Canadian author,