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.