Book Reviews

A Butterfly in Flame: A Fred Taylor Art MysteryA Butterfly in Flame: A Fred Taylor Art Mystery by Nicholas Kilmer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and Poisoned Pen Press, I received an e-copy of A Butterfly in Flame: A Fred Taylor Art Mystery to review on my Kindle.

I had not read this series previously, and I'll admit, I found the first few chapters somewhat hard to follow, but I stuck with it and eventually got the characters straight and ended up enjoying the book.

Fred Taylor is summoned by his employer, Clayton Reed to meet with two men - Abe Baum, a lawyer, and Parker Stillton. At issue, is the fate of Stillton Academy, a small art school, hoping for collegiate accreditation by the state. A male instructor, Morgan Flower, and a female student have gone missing, and the academy wants the student found, especially since her father is the art academy's only significant donor.

Taylor agrees to go undercover as a substitute instructor for Flower's courses, with the further guise that he is also probing into the issue of accreditation for the academy. It is not long before Taylor sees that the academy's hope for accreditation is a joke, and no one seems overly concerned about the missing instructor or student. Flower's course seems a joke and Fred soon discovers plans for a posh real estate resort at Stillton in Flower's rooms. It also seems the acting president, Elizabeth Harmony and the board have cleared the board and academy of dissenters. It becomes clear that the board wants the academy to fail.

Then, the body of Rodney Somerfest, Harmony's predecessor, is found washed up nude on the beach, and it's clear he came to a violent end. Fred's boss is secretive but hints that there might be a significant work of art to be found at Stillton academy that he would love to claim. Fred discovers a postcard with a small piece of artwork he is sure belongs to Albert Bierstadt but could there be a more significant work of Bierstadt's on the academy grounds?

Fred soon finds himself investigating not one murder, but two while trying to pose as a passable teacher. Can he find the missing instructor and 18-year old student, solve two murders, and discover a hidden piece of art before Stillton Academy is forced to close forever?

I enjoyed this mystery and the pace of the action though it took me awhile to get into the story. I would read another book in this series.

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Faceless Killers (Wallander #1)Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After recently seeing a view of the BBC productions of the Inspector Wallander Series on Masterpiece Mystery! on my local PBS station, I became intrigued by the plots and thought perhaps the books would read much better than the film, and perhaps I would understand the plot much better in the book (found parts of the story difficult to follow on TV). I was not disappointed.

I borrowed Faceless Killers (Wallander #1) by Henning Mankell from my local library. First clue that it was a decent read should have been there was a bit of a waiting list, but finally, my request came in. I can't believe I haven't read this series sooner, especially given that I am a huge fan of mystery/detective fiction. Perhaps I was intimidated by the fact that the story takes place in Sweden, a country with which I'm not familiar, but I needn't have worried.

Kurt Wallander is a jaded middle-aged detective, recently separated from his wife of many years, long estranged from his daughter, and trying to cope with his father's rapid decline into senility.

On a cold January morning, an elderly farming couple in the remote village of Lunnarp, Johannes and Maria Lovgren are brutality attacked. Johannes is dead on the scene and Maria found barely clinging to life, tied to a chair with a noose around her neck. It soon becomes a case of double murder, and before her passing, Maria revives enough to whisper one word, "foreign".

It is the only clue the police have to go on, and a leak reveals to the press that the police are looking for a foreigner, which reveals tensions between the Swedish citizens and refugees seeking political asylum in Sweden. Soon, refugees are being attacked - fires set, a Somali brutally gunned down.

There is evidence the knot in the noose is foreign but the crime feels personal to Wallander. He soon learns that Johannes Lovgren was a wealthy man who made money selling horse meat to the Nazis with his father during WWII and that he made a large cash withdrawal just a couple days before his murder. The cash is nowhere to be found, and it seems robbery was indeed the motive for this murder but who and how remain to be seen. In addition, it is revealed that Lovgren kept a mistress who bore his child and that it is a tightly guarded secret but that he regularly spent more money on his mistress than his wife, keeping the fortune and investments he made during WWII a secret from his wife.

Wallander becomes obsessed with solving the crime before more random acts of violence erupt among the refugees and bring Sweden's anti-immigration activists to more violence. The crime is dogged by dead ends, and at times, Wallander feels hopeless, but eventually, and with dogged determination, he is able to crack the case.

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Dead Is Not An Option (Dead Is, #5)Dead Is Not An Option by Marlene Perez

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The town of Nightshade is like no other - populated by paranormals such as vampires, werewolves, psychics, and ghosts as well as humans. Mostly, the citizens get along, and for more than 50 years a truce has been formed between the Weres and the Vamps and has held up. However, the Scourge seek to rid the town of all paranormals and are up to their old tricks.

Psychic part-time sleuth Daisy Giordano is finishing up her senior year at Nightshade High. She is fretting over her lack of college acceptance letters, but doing her best to put on a cheerful face as she works her part-time job at Slim's diner and hangs out with her Were boyfriend Ryan Mendez, son of Nightshade's chief of police. Ryan has announced his intentions of going away to college, and Daisy is bummed at prospect of their relationship perishing because of distance but tries her best to make the most of the time remaining. She has intentions to work on breaking the enchantment that has trapped her friend Lily Varcol in a jukebox and turned her fiance Balthazar into a pig.

Out of the blue, however, Elise Wilder, a Were is attacked and left for dead. As chance would have it, Daisy is the person to find her and call for help. Later, a Vamp is left in the beach in the sun and badly burned. Suddenly, it's Weres versus Vamps and the town's truce seems a thing of the past. Daisy is sure it isn't Weres or Vamps behind the unease but the Scourge only she is not sure how to prove it.

This was a light read, and obviously a play on the whole Twilight series. I don't know if I'd read another book in the series. The story-line was so-so, and I could spot the obvious bad guy before the big reveal towards the end. The undying teenage love theme throughout did get a bit sappy and unbelievable for my taste, and much was alluded to the earlier books in this series, which I hadn't read and which left me feeling at lost ends. Probably, if you desire to read this series, you should start at the being and not with this book.

Not a bad read, but not one that stands out either.

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My rating: 3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGALLEY and Hougton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers, I recently received an e-copy of The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths to review. This is one of the Ruth Galloway mysteries, the 2nd in the series and their were numerous references to the previous case, a bit of which bordered on too much for my taste.

However, the characters in the story are compelling. Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaelogist (recently pregnant with a married man's baby), and the headless corpse of a child turns up buried under the walls of an old children's home that is being turned into luxury apartments. Identification of the victim is tricky since it appears not one, not two, but three little girls have died or gone missing from the site.

Ruth works alongside Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson (the father of her unborn baby) to solve the case. Many are interviewed, including Father Patrick Hennesy who ran the orphanage and members of his staff as well as members of the Spens family, the current & original owners of the property.

Meanwhile, threats to Ruth in the signs of the lesser known Roman Gods appear and it soon seems her very life and the life of her baby may be in danger.

This book was compelling enough that I'd read another in the series though at times all the allusions to Roman and Druid mythology got to be a bit much and the solution turned out quite impossible in the end (though I didn't see it coming). Ruth & Nelson are likeable characters, as is Ruth's eccentric Druid friend Cathbad, and there are some funny lines of cutting humor at various places throughout the story. If I had to give it a star rating, I'd probably give 3.5 to 4 stars for the book.

This book is sold on Amazon for $16.67 hardback, $14.30, Kindle edition: Link to Amazon

Death of a Scriptwriter (Hamish Macbeth Mystery, Book 14)

Death of a Scriptwriter by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Highlands Constable Hamish Macbeth once again finds himself wrapped up in another baffling village murder, this one in the queer Scottish village of Drim.

Miss Patricia Martin-Broyd, whose mystery books have been out of print for decades, finds herself delighted to learn that Strathclyde Television Production company wants to film her book "The Case of the Rising Tides", with the hope of landing a spot on Scottish BBC. It will mean Patricia's precious - if dated - books go back into print, something she has long been dreaming. However, little does the writer realize her work is to be sexualized and badly rewritten by scriptwriter Jamie Gallagher. The village of Drim is settled upon as the locale for filming, and village women are vicious trying to land parts as extras in the film.

When Miss Martin-Broyd discovers that her precious book has been sexualized and transformed from her original vision, she is furious at the scriptwriter. The author isn't the only one angry at the scriptwriter. Lead actress Penelope Gates promised her husband this film would be a good respectable role, and he is furious when he learns otherwise. There is discontent among the film staff for having to cater to Jamie's whims and some fleeting unease about trying to pull the wool over Miss Martin-Broyd'd eyes and assure her this will be a family friendly act. Between his threats of having people fired, few on the film set feel much sorrow when Jamie Gallagher is found dead, apparently hit on the head.

As the filming struggles to continue, Hamish realizes this case may soon be one of his failures if he doesn't find the killer, especially when a second murder occurs. Hamish is thrown off the case by the new lead investigator, but Miss Martin-Broyd implores him to find the killer and because something in her strikes a chord with him, Hamish agrees and seeks to clear Miss Martin-Broyd's name.

This is the first Hamish Macbeth mystery I've read. I've long been a fan of M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series, and this series seems to be a winner too. The conclusion to the mystery was not altogether satisfactory to me, but I did love the characters, and especially the protagonist, Hamish Macbeth. I will definitely continue to read this series!

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I Scream, You Scream (A Mystery a La Mode, #1) I Scream, You Scream by Wendy Lyn Watson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Tallulah Jones is newly divorced and struggling to keep her fledging ice cream parlor, Remember the A-la-mode off the ground. Unfortunately, part of keeping her business solvent means agreeing to cater the dessert for her ex-husband Wayne's annual Weed & Seed party. This year the party is to have a luau theme, and Wayne wants bright neon green, his business theme color, to be featured in the ice cream desserts. Tally can manage to whip up a green topping for some tropical sundaes, carefully keeping Wayne's dessert cups specially marked, due to his pineapple allergy.

It grates that Wayne seems to have a new, much younger thin girlfriend, Brittanie who seems to be his new "sugar". As Tally dishes up dessert at the party, folks seem drunker than skunks and the night ends with a stressful confrontation with Brittanie.

The next morning, Brittanie is found dead in bed, and it doesn't seem to be of entirely natural causes. The police have their sights set on Wayne, but even though Tally knows Wayne Jones to be a two-timing snake, she just can't believe he is capable of murder. Wayne won't come clear about where he was the night Brittanie died, and asks Tally to alibi him. Tally won't lie for her ex, but she does agree to poke around a bit.

It seems plenty of folks have reason to want to kill Brittanie. She seems to have slept with half the men and several of the women of Dalliance and made enemies of her fellow Zeta sorority sisters. Even chipper Lady Shapers guide Ashley seems to have been snubbed by Brittanie. Later, evidence turns up that there was antifreeze in the dessert cups marked for Wayne--the same dessert cups Tally served at the luau, and suddenly, the police seem to be focusing undue attention on her.

With her cousin Bree and niece Alice at her side as well as Tally's newly arrived ex-boyfriend from high school, she seeks to clear her name before she ends up in jail for a crime she did not commit. Can Tally keep her good name and her ice cream business afloat?

This is the first book in the Myatery A La Mode series, and on the whole I enjoyed it. I found the action well-paced and did enjoy the culinary aspects related to ice cream. I'd give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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Beguiled Beguiled by Deeanne Gist

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Rylee Monroe is a dogwalker to the elite of Charlestown who live South of Broad St. A rash of thefts have been occurring South of Broad, by a criminal dubbed "The Robin Hood Burglar" since the stolen articles end up at churches or charities with notes to sell the piece and give the profits to the needy. Ever since Rylee nearly caught the Robin Hood Burglar in the act, she's been a bundle of nerves.

Investigative newspaper reporter Logan Woods dubbed the Robin Hood Burglar in the papers first and has been hot on the trail of the story. He has contacts with the police, and he is eager to publish a book about crimes in Charlestown. The publisher only wants to accept the book if the Robin Hood Burglar story is included, but since the story is still ongoing, Logan needs it to end before his book is completed.

As more and more Robin Hood thefts occur, the police find that nearly every victim is or had been a former client of Rylee's. The police focus their attention on her since her name keeps cropping up in the case. The more Logan digs, the more he realizes Rylee and her family are somehow involved in the Robin Hood burglaries though he can't see Rylee as a criminal. Indeed, he is beginning to fall in love with the beautiful dogwalker. Together, Logan & Rylee join forces to hunt down the real Robin Hood Burglar. As the thefts increase in anger & property damage, they realize they are trying to catch a very real criminal.

Beguiled is a romantic suspense novel by two authors, Deeanne Gist, who writes romance, and J. Mark Bertrand, a suspense writer. I don't think this book had a seamless flow, and at times, it definitely seemed like a book written by two authors. I also didn't get how Rylee could always rollerblade so easily over bumpy cobblestones or scale a brick wall while wearing rollerblades (that part especially seemed unbelievable to me). I found the ending of the book somewhat forced and wasn't satisfied with the conclusion and *spoiler alert* I had long realized Rylee's father must have been killed & didn't desert his family, eons before the big reveal in the book, and the last 1/3 of the book seemed to move very slow, whereas the first 2/3 of the work seemed to have a better pace and flow. I'd give these authors another shot, especially in their own genres and maybe even if they collaborate again. I did very much enjoy the Charlestown setting and the descriptions of various parks, monuments, and restaurants.

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Not My Daughter Not My Daughter by Barbara Delinsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Susan Tate has worked hard to overcome her past. Pregnant at 17 and banished by her parents, Susan worked her way through school and up the ranks from teacher to high school principal in Zaganack, Maine. She has done her best as a single mom to raise her daughter Lily to be a bright, compassionate individual and considers herself Lily's friend and confidante. Lately, though, a space has grown between Susan & Lily. When she receives the shocking news that her daughter is nearly three months pregnant, Susan is blown away. It turns out it is not just Lily pregnant. Her best friends, Mary Kate & Jess are pregnant as well. The girls made a pact to get pregnant together.

Susan's entire world is in a shambles. How can history be repeating itself? Wasn't she a good mom? Didn't she raise Lily to think things through and consider the consequences? As high school principal, news of the pregnancy pact does not sit well with the Zaganack school board. Susan finds her job in jeopardy while trying to come to terms with Lily's pregnancy. The pregnancies could even affect PC Wool, the yarn dyeing company Susan owns with her best friends, two of them the mothers of Mary Kate & Jess.

This is the first time I've read Barbara Delinsky, and I have to say I'll be reading more! This is a complex story with lots of interwoven parts and connected lives. I find the story all the richer for the characters of Pam & Abby Perry, both of whom feel on the fringes of their groups. Pam is married to a Perry, and Zaganack was built around Perry & Cass, which stands for responsibility and respectability. Pam's daughter is not pregnant, but as a community figure and member of the school board, Pam must decide whether to stick up for Susan or remain silent. Abby had a key role in involving the other girls in the pact but miscarried and isn't pregnant and outed the pregnancy pact to the school. Susan also gropes with her complicated non-relationship with her own mother and her growing dependency on Rick, Lily's father. Meanwhile, Lily realizes the reaction of the town to the pregnancy pact is much worse than she had anticipated, and her baby's sonogram reveals troubling news.

This story is told from multiple points of view, with Susan and perhaps Lily being the main protagonists, but we also get glimpses from other supporting characters. This is a complex tale of friendship and loyalty, which bonds are the strongest, and what does it take to be a good mom?

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Corpse Pose (A Mantra for Murder Mystery, Book 1) Corpse Pose by Diana Killian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Anna Jolie Alexander (AKA AJ) is 35, newly divorced, and working at a fast-paced job in Manhattan when she receives a telephone call from Detective Jake Oberlin of the Stillbrook, NJ Police Department.  AJ learns that her aunt, Diantha Mason was apparently strangled with a yoga tie in her yoga studio, Sacred Balance and her body was arranged in the yoga pose Corpse Pose.  Since AJ's mom was hardly a steadying influence in her life as AJ was growing up, AJ viewed Diantha as a mom-figure and looked up to her.

Still smarting from her divorce and the discovery that her ex-husband, Andy was gay, AJ heads to Stillbrook in the company of her actress mum, Elysia Alexander.  As Diantha's primary heir, AJ stood to gain a fortune - and detective Oberlin seems to have his sights set on her, only AJ is not sure if it's as a suspected murderer or potential girlfriend.  While AJ is the prime beneficiary of her aunt's will, Diantha did leave several not-so-insignificant bequests to various friends and members of the Sacred Balance studio.  With Elysia's help, AJ begins to investigate her aunt's death and learns that her yoga-loving aunt did make some enemies due to her inflexible views, particularly of the local dairy farming community.

I would give this book roughly 4.5 stars.  I particularly enjoyed the banter between AJ and Elysia and the way their relationship begins to evolve.  I appreciated that Elysia wasn't simply a vapid actress and had intelligence and wit along with AJ.  I also liked learning interesting yoga & healthy-living tidbits.  I will definitely continue to read this series.

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