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Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Thrill of the Haunt

The Thrill of the Haunt (#365) by E.J. Copperman showed up under my Christmas tree just a day or two after I added it to my GoodReads "To Read" list, and it turned out to be every bit as beguiling as the cover blurb promised.  It's #5 in the Haunted Guesthouse series and even though there are resident ghosts involved it's still firmly in the cosy mystery camp.

Alison Kerby is a single mother and reluctant Private Investigator.  She'd much rather be deciding what to do with that extra room that never quite succeeded as a game room in her Jersey shore guesthouse than tracking down clues.  Her mother and daughter have always been able to see and hear ghosts, but Alison only acquired the ability when she was conked on the head.  That's when she first met ghosts Paul and Maxie, the budding young interior designer who previously owned the guesthouse.  Paul was a PI before his unfortunate death bound him to Alison's guest house and the only way to keep him out of her hair is to keep him busy sleuthing.  Alison has been forced to obtain her own PI license to do the outside legwork and interact with the human clients. Juggling their demands, a promising relationship with an old friend, her daughter Melissa's school schedule and the demands of her ghost-hunting guests isn't easy.  Throw in the complications from investigating the death of a local homeless veteran and following a philandering husband around, and there's plenty to keep everyone occupied here!

The Thrill of the Haunt is a light and breezy read, but with enough twists to keep you guessing the solutions right up to the final pages.  Besides, you have to love an author whose pen name memorializes a beloved pet.  You have to know he writes with heart as well as humor.  What's not to enjoy?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Always a Cold Deck & Humbug on the Hudson

I've been reading Robert Bruce Stewart's amusing Harry Reese novels in reverse order, and now that I've read the first book in the series, Always a Cold Deck which includes the short story Humbug on the Hudson (#364), I now know how the unlikely pairing of Harry Reese and Emmie McGinnis came about. (See my posts on Kalorama Shakedown 10/8/13 & on Crossings 10/28/13.)  We also learn just how Emmie acquired that taste for gambling in all its myriad forms and why Harry will never solve another insurance fraud case completely on his own again.

It all begins in Buffalo in the summer of 1900.  Harry's glad to get out of New York City ahead of his landlady with a small cash advance to investigate a  burned out grain elevator on the Buffalo shore.  Several of the partners in the business are missing and one is presumed dead, but no bodies have been discovered.  The insurance company is still on the hook to pay out the claim unless Harry can prove that the claim is fraudulent.  What he uncovers is a confusing tangle of smuggling, human trafficking, bodies, and switched identities as Harry's pursuit of his big payday leads him back and forth across the Canadian border.  One of his initial discoveries is that Emmie McGinnis, the receptionist in the Eastern Grain Elevator office, is the niece of the presumably dead partner.  It's in the best interest of Emmie's family to prove that her uncle really did die in an accident so that her aunt can claim the insurance settlement, but Emmie has an open mind.  If Harry won't work with her, she has no qualms in setting about solving  the mystery on her own with the dubious aid of an enforcer for the local crime boss who has a vested interest in the outcome.  Only Emmie would think that the hastily put together wedding reception for her marriage to Harry is the perfect place to pump the suspects in the case!

The short story included in this volume, Humbug on the Hudson, takes place just weeks after the Reese's marriage and this little caper is just the icing on the cake and sets the pattern for their married life.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Bob Milne in concert.  If he's playing anywhere in your vicinity, make it your business to go and hear him.  His ragtime piano playing has been recorded by the Library of Congress as the finest example of this type of playing.  For more on this amazing musician, check out his website: Bob Milne  .   The reason I bring him up here is that his music is the perfect backdrop for the action in the Harry Reese stories.  I could hear it playing along in my head as I was reading the adventures of Emmie and Harrison.  If you can imagine that type of music, you'll have a very good idea of the ambience this series evokes: bouncy, witty, energetic and a whole lot of fun. If I were you, I'd recommend reading this series in the order they were written, starting with Always a Cold Deck.  You'll appreciate how Harry and Emmie's relationship blossoms along the way.  More, please, Mr. Stewart!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Double Daggers

"Et tu, Brute?"  You undoubtedly recognize this quote from Julius Caesar spoken as Marcus Brutus is about to stab him on the Ides of March, 44 BCE.  For Brutus, this was supposed to be a defining moment designed to place him in a position to claim supreme power in Rome for himself.  He even had a coin struck by the Roman mint to commemorate the occasion.  But destiny had other plans in mind for him.

The story of that coin, known as the Double Dagger Denarius, is the subject of James R. Clifford's novel Double Daggers (#363).   After Brutus throws the coin away following his defeat at Phillippi, the author picks up the stories of three other men who briefly own the coin: one a Crusader, one a member of the Third Reich, and the third an ambitious Wall Street trader.  None of these men's stories turns out well.  It seems that in their haste to acquire such a rare and famous coin, they have overlooked the fact that it comes with a curse...

Double Daggers is a really fast and entertaining read, but it desperately needs some editing to weed out the grammatical errors and inappropriate use of the wrong homonyms.  In other words, especially for a self-published book, you need a critical reader with a red pencil to polish up the finished product.  Otherwise it's distracting to most  readers.  I'll admit that I'm one of those folks who would be just like Ted Moseby on How I Met Your Mother; I'd be out there correcting the billboards and graffiti, too, if I could!  Still, if you're a historical fiction fan, you might find this book very appealing.  It's worth taking a chance on for an intriguing story.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Innocent Blood

After contemplating the next dreary, depressing guilt-ridden book club selection coming up, it was with genuine joy that I fell on James Rollins' latest thriller co-written with Rebecca Cantrell, Innocent Blood (#362).  This is the second book in their The Order of the Sanguines Series, and about as far from reality as it can be.  The action (and it's non-stop!) picks up the story of Dr. Erin Granger and Army Sergeant Jordan Stone shortly after the events of The Blood Gospel (See my post of 1/28/13.), so my recommendation is don't read Innocent Blood until you've finished The Blood Gospel, or nothing will make sense to you in the plot.

Although Rollins' books usually have a strong scientific component to give the edge to the thriller - could the events in the book ever conceivably happen? - their very plausibility is in most cases what makes his books oh so scary.  (I still have nightmares about the creatures in The Ice Hunt!)  In Innocent Blood there are priests and vampires; angels and betrayers, immortality and super efficient paranormal killers, romance and technology, but nothing to keep you awake nights from worry.  Not being able to put the book down to sleep is entirely another story...

The Gospel written in Christ's own blood was discovered in the first book, but its purpose is revealed only in Innocent Blood when the head of the Belial organization seeks to use it for his own ends to destroy the world.  It's up to the mortals Granger and Stone to thwart him, aided by the priestly order of the Sanguines.  But he seems aware of every step they take. Can Erin and Jordan stay ahead of him and his evil minions? 

It's total escapism.   What could be better for a cold winter afternoon?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Christmas Carol Murder

I started reading Leslie Meier's Christmas Carol Murder (#361) on Twelfth Night, so technically I did get in this last Christmas book during the holiday period!

In this latest Lucy Stone outing, the small Maine coastal town of Tinker's Cove provides an admirable stand-in for Dicken's London in terms of the problems the residents there are facing.  Student activists at the local college, including Lucy's own daughter Sara, are demanding redress for the 99%, the town is facing severe budget shortages, and as a result is busy eliminating jobs and cutting back hours and benefits for the remaining town employees.  Foreclosures are way up, but sales are way down at all the local shops, and one family in town may not be able to afford medical care for a chronically ill child.  Not a pleasant prospect for the holidays, but everyone makes an effort to do what they can to make the holidays bright, including a community theater production of A Christmas Carol.  But the season starts off with a bang when Jake Marlow, one of the miserly partners of Downeast Mortgage, is killed by a mail bomb disguised as a Christmas package.

Lucy Stone, in her position as a reporter for the local paper (and budding thespian Mrs. Cratchit)  is itching to find out who's behind the bombing.  Someone is out for revenge, and his main target seems to be Ben Scribner, the equally miserly surviving partner of Downeast Mortgage, or anyone close to him.  There are suspects aplenty, but can Lucy figure out who is behind the mistletoe mayhem before someone else dies?

Lots of very cute (and astute!) references to Dicken's original work here, with the most relevant of present day social issues building to a plausible explosion of feelings, emotions and actions in Christmas Carol Murder.  If you're a fan of the original Christmas Carol, you'll enjoy this modern day take on it, and the ending won't disappoint.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Kicking the Habit

Kicking the Habit (#360) by Kari Lee Townsend started life as a Kindle Serial Book, but since I don't own a Kindle, I had to wait for the paperback version to come out for this GoodReads giveaway.  It was worth the wait.

After ten years in the convent, Sister Mary Cecelia has decided to leave the convent just before she takes her final vows.  She has faith, but there's just something missing in her life.  It isn't easy to break the news to Father Flannigan, but he's promised to support her in whatever she undertakes.  Cece is planning to open her own counseling clinic right there in New Hope, Massachusetts.  But things don't work out exactly as planned when she witnesses the murder of Senator Sloan just after encountering him in the confessional where she's gone to retrieve Father Flannigan's special Bible.  Now she's in the crosshairs of the assassins herself.  She can't break the confidentiality of what the Senator accidentally told her in the confessional, but she's determined to see justice done With the FBI and local law enforcement on the case, the feds assign Detective Ace Jackson to nun-sit.  He's had a bad experience with the church where the murder took place, and that's the very last assignment this former Army Ranger wants to take on. Cece is out of her habit now, but he can only think of her as a nun and part of his general church phobia.  Surely those warm feelings he's experiencing  for "Sister Mary Sleuth" can't be right as she leads him on a merry chase as they both try to identify the murderer before he or she can kill again.

If you're looking for a cute read with some ingenious plot twists served up with a generous helping of humor and romance, this book might just be the ticket.  I actually laughed out loud reading the scenes in the confessional and the strip club! (And just try putting those two ideas together!).  Have fun with it; I know I did.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Nine for the Devil: A John the Lord Chamberlain Mystery

I've come to Nine for the Devil: A John the Lord Chamberlain Mystery (#359) at what I think is probably the end of the run for this series set in Constantinople during the mid 500s.  Nothing can be more Byzantine than the politics in the imperial court of Justinian and his empress, Theodora.  That is certainly the case when Theodora dies after a prolonged and painful illness.  John the Lord Chamberlain is charged by Justinian to find the murderer of his beloved wife.  The problem is that just about everyone at court thinks that she died a natural death, and as far as most of them are concerned, not a moment too soon.  John is convinced that he is chasing a specter, but unless he can produce a scapegoat for the Emperor, he and his family will pay the ultimate penalty. 

Mary Reed and her husband and writing partner Eric Mayer have recreated a world of staggering wealth and power where the outward appearances are bedecked with gold and gems, but the interiors are rotten with corruption, plotting, and maneuvering amongst those vying for military or religious power.  It's dangerous to be on the wrong side of any of these factions, especially if the emperor or empress dabbled in the mix.

These mysteries are set in a different time and place which has a wealth of interesting history behind it to draw upon.  I can see I'm going to have to work my way backwards to follow the earlier adventures of John and his friends and family in pursuit of the truth.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Second Chance Dog: A Love Story

I felt obligated to finish reading The Second Chance Dog: A Love  Story (#358) by Jon Katz since it was a GoodReads giveaway, but it was really a chore for me.  I expected a memoir about the dog, Frieda, but instead, this memoir deals with Mr. Katz' breakdown over his divorce and his subsequent obsessive pursuit of a penurious and insecure artist named Maria, the owner of Frieda.  Frieda was frightening to everyone else who ever met her and that initially included Jon Katz. Only Maria thought she was "cute" when she found her in a shelter, but even she was afraid of her.  Since Maria would not give up Frieda, Jon had no choice but to surmount the obstacle Frieda presented in his courtship.  By dint of his persistence and perseverance, he wins over both females.  That's the whole book, right there in a single paragraph.  But Mr. Katz takes an interminable 267 pages of tedious repetition to arrive there, and unless you're one of his fans, that's about 250 pages longer than I was willing to tolerate.

Frieda "barks, roars and lunges" at every living thing in sight throughout the book.  Over and over and over and over....  And though I'm sure Maria (now Mrs. Katz) has many excellent qualities, I did get rather sick of her being portrayed as the most wondrous person who has ever trod the earth.  Yep, it was that bad.  I could feel my blood sugar rising to dangerous levels as I plowed on through one rapturous paragraph about her after another.  And no one else on the planet has the correct attitude towards dogs (or for that matter, any other animals) and how they should be treated and trained other than Jon Katz(!).  So if you have a dog, however you're treating it, you're wrong on some level, and Mr. Katz will be happy to tell you why.  This from someone who deals with a problem rooster on his farm by taking out his .22 and shooting it!  I found his philosophy both repellent and repugnant.  And did I mention contradictory?  In one place, dogs definitely do not have souls or afterlives according to Mr. Katz, yet once he has achieved a modicum of success with Frieda (after he kicks her, by the way) she suddenly has a "great soul".  Well, which is it, Jon?  Does she suddenly acquire a soul once she does what you want her to do?  That must be part of the spiritual aspect of training that you aver you feel a number of times in your memoir. 

Well, I know I'm in the minority on my opinion of this book, since his fans are apparently legion, but my strong recommendation about The Second Chance Dog is don't spend your money or your time.  Ugh!