by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
As the summer begins to wind down, here are some more fun Penguin mystery reviews & giveaways. This time we have librarians, bookstores, dogs and crocheting. Check out Cover Story: An Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery By Erika Chase, Remnants of Murder By Elizabeth Lynn Casey, Not the Killing Type: A Booktown Mystery By Lorna Barrett, Woof at the Door By Laura Morrigan and Yarn To Go By Betty Hechtman. Details on how to win all 5 books at the end of this post, along with a link to purchase them.
Cover Story: An Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery By Erika Chase
Review by Cynthia Chow
After a summer break, the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straw Society hope to begin the new season with renewed friendships and no murders. Considering their track record, it’s a lot to expect! However, Molly Matthews excitedly plans to celebrate with a book signing party for Theodora “Teensy” Kathleen Perkins Coldicutt, her old school friend who has been away for nearly forty years. Through a vanity press, Teensy has published The Winds of Desire, a Gone with the Wind- type novel sprinkled with true past events. Just how true the details are appears to be a concern for at least one resident of the small Alabama town. As soon as the books are delivered for the event, Molly is attacked and the entire shipment of books stolen from her home. The discovery that the publisher was also just murdered further compels fellow book club member, Lizzie Turner, to believe that there are secrets in Teensy’s novel that are causing someone to kill.
A second murder behind the home of fellow book club member, Bob Miller, brings in a new element and more sinister motivations for the crimes. The former police chief had ties to the criminal victim and as federal agents descend on the small town, the local police get shut out of the investigation. Evidence that Lizzie and her friends believe is the result of a frame-up continues to implicate Bob. With Molly spurring Lizzie on and demanding that they not leave the investigation in the hands of the feds, Lizzie pursues the interrogation of the publisher’s assistant, her roommate, a hairstylist and any investigator naïve enough to answer her questions.
Lizzie lacks both a filter and an impulse control button. As a result she uses the justification of being in charge of public relations for the book launch to shoehorn her way into the current police chief’s investigation, despite his quite vehement admonishments to decease and desist.
That Police Chief Mark Dreyfus happens to have been Lizzie’s high school crush and current boyfriend does make things a little awkward, and yet he seems to take a of “roll-the-eyes and sigh” approach to her endeavors. Far more disconcerting to Mark is the appearance of a federal agent who seems intrigued with Lizzie, more as a woman than as a witness, and who seems bemused by the intrepid sleuth.
The mystery is introduced early on, but the investigation slows down as both Bob and Teensy seem to be reluctant to provide information. As the plot takes a sharp turn and evidence points the investigation in a less “booky” direction, the book club’s involvement seems more questionable and much more likely to result in serious danger.
Writing under the name Erika Chase, author Linda Wiken incorporates her experience as a former bookstore owner by sprinkling quotes and titles from some of her favorite mysteries into the chapters and shares her obvious affection for bookstores. The characters drive this novel and the relationships between the book club members are genuine and sweet. The dialogue is fun and spirited and will please readers looking for light-hearted, spritely mystery.
Remnants of Murder By Elizabeth Lynn Casey
Review by Sandra Murphy
Tori Sinclair is the head librarian at the Sweet Briar public library. She’s cut back on spending as much as she can, but there’s still just not enough money to go around. It’s one of the most heart-breaking things she’s ever done when she has to let stellar employee and former head librarian, Dixie Dunn go.
Dixie has a few days of self-pity, but soon signs up to be a volunteer for Home Fare, a “Meals on Wheels” service for those who are not as mobile as they used to be. Her first client is Clyde Montgomery, an independent man of ninety plus and not happy that a recent illness has him dependent on others for the basics of life. He’s gone through three volunteers already!
Since Dixie is still smarting from her recent bad news, she and Clyde hit it off. Since he’s her only visit to start, she’s able to spend extra time with him. When she finds his body, she’s sure it was murder, not natural causes. She asks Tori to prove Clyde’s life, long as it was, had been shortened by someone who wanted his property.
Clyde’s lake view house with its beautiful shoreline would make a great spot for condos and a huge resort. It would bring jobs to town; it would also bring crime, overcrowding and accidents on the lake. Opinions are divided, but the town council and small business owners tend to agree with the expansion plan. It’s hard to find anyone besides Dixie who truly mourned Clyde’s death. Most are celebrating the sale of the land, before the autopsy is even done.
Tori is supposed to be planning her wedding. Instead she gets caught up in the murder investigation, much to the dismay of her groom, Milo. She also manages to make a few enemies of her own as she asks who had a motive – and who didn’t– the means (again) and the opportunity–this narrows the field a bit. Tori has to face some truths about her life. She gets too involved with her friends and neglects Milo, she has to find out why she has delayed choosing the wedding dress and also take a step back to see if Dixie really discovered a murder or is she trying to draw attention to her own importance in the wake of her job loss? Along the way, Tori realizes that older people still have a lot to contribute to any phase of life.
The ending came as a surprise. There were clues along the way, but not so obvious as to make solving the murder too easy. This is the eighth book in the series. In the next book, Tori and Milo should tie the knot. It’s one you won’t want to miss.
Sewing tips and directions for place mats can be found in the back of the book.
Previous books include: Sew Deadly, Death Threads, Pinned for Murder, Deadly Notions, Dangerous Alterations, Reap What You Sew, Let It Sew (reviewed for KRL).
Not the Killing Type: A Booktown Mystery By Lorna Barrett
Review by Cynthia Chow
It’s just before Thanksgiving and the resident business owners of Stoneham, New Hampshire are gearing up for a busy sales season. Not only are two weddings scheduled for the same weekend, but it is time for the election of the Chamber of Commerce’s president. Although real estate magnate, Bob Kelly, has ruled as its head for ten years, this is the year that classic and vintage mystery bookstore owner Tricia Miles’s own sister, the many-married Angelica, has decided to challenge the sitting ruler. A factor in her decision is possibly that Bob is also the ex-boyfriend who recently cheated on her. Shocking both of them though, is the surprise entry into the race of Stan Berry, a sign maker who works out of his garage and whose platform seems to consist mostly of plans for dismantling the power of the Chamber.
Before the election can even occur, Stan is unexpectedly taken out of the race by a letter opener and Tricia’s much-needed escape into the facilities has her once again placed on the suspects list of her on-and-off again beau, Chief of Stoneham Police, Captain Grant Baker. Tricia’s status as the town jinx and body finder has her more than a little frustrated, so it’s not too much of a surprise that this latest find has her re-evaluating her life and redefining her goals. Just as she finally determines that she will be happiest on her own without a man in her life, two new ones appear–or at least one new one and one old one. Her ex-husband Christopher has come to visit Tricia and make her life annoying. Christopher left Tricia and abandoned their marriage for the simple life, but it seems as though he is now intent on complicating hers. Angelica’s pleas to Tricia to continue her track record of solving the town’s murders to clear Angelica’s name and smooth her way to the election has Tricia and her friends once again investigating the mysteries of Booktown, and the shocking secrets held by its residents.
What is refreshing and very enjoyable about this seventh Booktown mystery is how the characters have grown and progressed since the author initially introduced them. Once an extremely irritating self-centered narcissist, Angelica has a touching moment of bonding with Tricia, where she is comforted by Angelica’s completely unselfish and sympathetic love. Tricia as well has developed the strength of character to stand on her own and stand up against the more aggressive characters without endangering her life. An irritating wedding planner livens things up with the chaos that often accompanies a ceremony; romantic complications make this a very fun and lively read. The final reveal of the culprit of the crime is unexpected and readers may feel conflicted about how justice is carried out, but the sympathy always sides with the very likable Tricia and the town mystery readers would love to inhabit.
Woof at the Door By Laura Morrigan
Review by Sandra Murphy
Grace Wilde not only talks to animals but understands when they talk to her. It’s a combination of mind words and pictures, since not all animals have a firm grasp of the English language. Dogs are pretty good communicators, but cats–you just never know! It depends on their mood. Zoo animals are another story. Understanding animals is a talent Grace keeps to herself. It’s best for all concerned.
Grace and her wolf/dog hybrid live with her sister Emma, while they house hunt for an affordable place near the ocean, with a big yard for Moss. He likes to watch the sea gulls. Things get a little crowded when Jax moves in. He’s a Doberman, trained to guard Mark, a well-known football player for the Jaguars. When Mark’s body is found, questions abound. Who would he let in the house late at night, why was Jax locked outside and most importantly, what did Jax see? Jax is understandably traumatized and needs time to recover before reliving the events of the murder and identifying the killer.
Grace finds she has an unusual reaction to the detective on duty. She’s attracted to him. That hasn’t happened in a long time. To tell or not to tell is now the question. The case draws a lot of attention. Not only is Mark a star football player, but he’s also the Governor’s son. Pressure is brought to bear on the police department through official channels. The unofficial channels have Mark’s mother pressuring Grace. The woman looks like a Southern lady and has the negotiating tactics of Attila the Hun.
The characters are likable people you’d want to know, except for Mark’s mom. For sure, you’d want Grace on hand if a problem came up with your pet. There are nice details of the zoo animals and the jaguar owned by Mark’s friend.
This is the first in what I certainly hope is a series. Generally speaking, when reading a new author, it’s easy to recognize a first book. In this case, there was no clue. It’s the best first mystery I’ve read–no information dumps, no telling, then showing, then explaining to make sure the reader got it, no flashing arrows when a clue is dropped into the story. This is a thoroughly delightful read and one that will stay on the shelves for a second and third turn.
Yarn To Go By Betty Hechtman
Review by Sandra Murphy
Casey Feldstein is one of those people with fantastically talented parents–doctors–who have great focus and knew from a young age just what they’d be when they grew up. Casey, not so much. She’s tried a lot of jobs, worked as a temp to try more, but nothing really fits except her love of baking. Her muffins will make your mouth water, right from the page. Thank goodness, the Heal the World with Chocolate recipe is in the back of the book!
Casey’s aunt died and left her the business–Yarn Retreats. For someone who doesn’t know a knitting needle from a crochet hook, it’s overwhelming. Good thing her aunt was so organized. The needle-workers show up and it’s a rough start. It gets rougher after one of their number is found dead in her bed, with familiar needles jabbed into her chest.
Each member of the group is challenged to work on a project outside their comfort zone. Learning to knit is hard enough, but trying to solve a murder at the same time is worse. Add in a visit from the overbearing, “we-know-what’s-right-for-you” parents and a former “sweet-but-boring” boyfriend, and Casey’s really confused. The hotel manager has plans to hijack the yarn retreats for his own and that just adds more pressure.
The mysterious man in the baseball cap has to have something to do with the murder victim, when exactly did everyone arrive at the hotel? And why are there so many secrets to unravel?
Casey is forced to focus and grow or be run over by all the well-meaning people in her life. This is the first in a new series and I can’t wait for more.
Hechtman’s crochet mysteries include: Hooked on Murder, Dead Men Don’t Crochet, By Hook or By Crook, A Stitch in Crime, You Better Knot Die, Behind the Seams (reviewed for KRL), If Hooks Could Kill.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 Penguin mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “End of Summer,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 17, 2013. U.S. residents only.
Click on this link to purchase any of these books & a portion goes to help support KRL!
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