Review: Bewaji’s Ankara Adventures (The Aso-Ebi Chronicles, #1) by Sharon Abimbola Salu

I was delighted to discover yet another mystery novella with no murder. Not that I don’t enjoy the ones with murders, but there are so many varieties of crime, why not investigate something else for change? And this one is a humorous cozy without cuteness or quaintness, too. With an urban Nigerian setting, it’s truly different.

I loved the main character, Bewaji. She gets lucky in her inquiries, but the luck is plausible, she’s aware of it, and she uses it to do some sleuthing. Though the book is written in the third person, the narrative voice is clearly hers, as much inside her head as the usual first-person cozy narration. And Bewaji is funny. Any book that can make me laugh out loud is a winner.

Review: Planting Pearls by Virginia King

This intriguing novella is the perfect prologue to The First Lie, the first full-length novel in the Selkie Moon series. In Planting Pearls, the reader meets Selkie when she’s taken her first daring steps to reclaim her life from a controlling, psychologically abusive husband. At this point she’s still half-way between the person she was and the one she’s becoming, her true self. The author does a brilliant job in going back to this point in her protagonist’s life with insight and authenticity. It made me realize how much Selkie matures and develops through the series.

The mystery of a possible ghost at an old house in Hawaii intertwines—in the synchronistic, mysterious way things do for Selkie—with her talent for communicating and motivating, her personal journey, and also the initial hints of her psychic gift. The mix of folklore and ceremonies as well as modern life in Honolulu is irresistible. I loved seeing how Selkie’s friendship with Derek Delaney, a key character in the series, began. As always, Selkie is part of a circle, a network, not the go-it-alone type but someone whose nature is to make bonds. The twists in the plot kept coming long after I thought all the questions had been answered. Though some tragic events are woven through the plot, the story is about healing and reintegration for Selkie and for the people associated with the troubled house.

 

Review: All That Glitters by Jane Gorman

This was hard to put down. Gorman knows how to craft a story, relentlessly raising the stakes for her protagonist, while weaving his personal life and the mystery plot together seamlessly. The Philadelphia setting is portrayed in depth without ever slowing the tempo; the details don’t intrude, but add color and intensity.

Detective Adam Kaminski has a passionate sense of justice and a strong connection with his family. When his sister becomes a suspect in a murder, he’s determined to prove her innocence even if he breaks some rules to do it. He makes mistakes, creating stress on the job, stress with his family, and stress in his already struggling relationship, while doing his best to follow his sense of what’s right.

I liked the balance between Adam and his calmer, steadier partner at work, Detective Pete Lawler, and enjoyed a new character who gets involved in solving the crime, a young ranger at the urban national park, Independence National Historical Park, where the murder takes place.

There are many plausible suspects, and I didn’t figure out which one was guilty until Adam did, though I tried. The final discovery of the killer is masterful, as Adam acts on intuition as well as his prior detective work. I congratulate Gorman on a dramatic confrontation scene that wraps up of the mystery plot without resorting to the canned this-is how-and-why-I-did-it confession so many mysteries end with.

As in any good series, there are aspects of the protagonist’s personal life that remain open-ended while the mystery gets closure. I wonder how Adam will cope long-term with what he’s so sure he can forgive. I wonder what he’ll continue to learn about his family history.

The only aspect of the book I didn’t like was the use of a few scenes in the point of view of the killer. This is a common device—the point of view of one nameless, faceless character while all other characters have identities and contexts—so I assume some readers must like it, but for me it breaks the flow and weakens my absorption in the lead character’s experience. When I read a mystery, I’d rather know only what the characters attempting to solve it know. Fortunately, there were very few of these anonymous-perpetrator-point-of-view scenes, and they didn’t hurt the book overall. I highly recommend this series.

You can find sales links for all retailers on the author’s web site, as well as background on the fascinating settings.

 

Review: Drop Dead Ornaments by Lois Winston

Fast-Paced Christmas Comedy and Mystery

I flew through this book. Winston knows how to make a reader turn the page. It’s more than a puzzle to solve—I was rooting for people I cared about. Anastasia Pollack is easy to like, a good mother, a good friend, and in a healthy romantic relationship, the kind of person you’d want on your side in a difficult situation. She’s been through some tough times and keeps her head above water with humor and creativity, never wallowing. I like how she’s comfortable in herself, knowing her own strengths and weaknesses, and acting on her convictions, including her conviction that her older son’s girlfriend’s father is innocent of a crime the police think he committed.

Anastasia’s relationship with Detective Spader is one of the many gems in the story. They’re not quite friends, not quite enemies, but teetering in between, annoying each other respectfully. The dialogue between them is brilliant.

I’m impressed with how Winston has managed to take Anastasia through so many escapades in a short period of the character’s life without making her readers step back and doubt it. One way she does it is through regional color, the nature of crime and family connections in the protagonist’s part of New Jersey. The backstory is blended so smoothly that a new reader could start the series here without feeling lost, but I recommend getting to know the series from the beginning.

The ongoing sagas of Anastasia’s colorful elder relatives—her communist mother-in-law, her spendthrift, husband-hunting mother—continue, adding more laughs. But I have to say, I hope to read a book in which Anastasia and her sons are finally liberated from Lucille.

Check this blog again Sunday for an interview with the author!

Buy Links for Drop Dead Ornaments

Buy Links for book one in the series, Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun

Review: A Thin Veil by Jane Gorman

In this mystery with a thread of political scandal, the red herrings are as intriguing as the path to right solution. The explorations of the minds and lives of Washington D.C. residents—public personalities, behind-the-scenes influencers, low-level staff, and people in neighborhoods the power-players and tourists seldom see—give the book much of its strength. Jane Gorman does her research in depth yet never comes across as having to display her efforts. D.C. comes to life in all its dimensions as vividly and naturally as her Polish settings did in A Blind Eye.

Some of the new characters introduced in this book are worthy of their own series, should the author ever be so inclined: Ramona Davis of the D.C. police, her family, and her mentor Sam Burke, now in Diplomatic Security.

I’m a little concerned about Adam’s personal life. (Yes, I’ve become one of those reviewers who write as if the characters were real people.) That’s half of why we follow series, though, isn’t it? We like the plots and the way the mysteries unfold, and we also get attached to the characters.

http://janegorman.com/books.html

 

Review: Serial Date by DV Berkom

I’ve been reading this series out of sequence, starting with book three, The Body Market, then the prequel novella A Killing Truth, and now book one. I recommend reading the prequel first. Although the books work well as stand-alones, and the author handles backstory well, giving short doses where needed, Leine Basso is a complicated woman with a complicated life. I understood this story better for having met some of the off-stage characters previously.

The other books I’ve read so far by this author (I’m also a fan of her Kate Jones series) are pure thriller. This one, due to the macabre nature of the villain and the crimes, has an element of horror, including the dark humor that’s often found in that genre. Leine is hired as security on the set of a reality TV show that pairs ex-cons with beautiful “bachelorettes.” The concept is bizarre, a satire on the culture of reality television. When one of the contestants is killed, the show’s ratings go up, and one of the contestants’ reactions is the ultimate commentary on the loss of reality that can happen in this part of the entertainment industry. I wish I could share it, but it would be a spoiler.

Leine is a compelling, unique character. Her emotional life, her relationships, and her professional skills are drawn with finesse. She’s tough, but she’s multidimensional, not just an action figure with an occasional emotion. Detective Santiago Jensen is a perfect complement to her character, and their relationship feels real.

Berkom is an unpredictable author, in a good way. I can count on a riveting pace, but I don’t see her falling back on a formula the way some thriller writers do. Each book is different. I plan to keep moving through this series and to read book two soon.

Buy links are on author’s web site.

Review: Soliciting from Home

This memoir reminds us that not that long ago—in the 1970s—it was novel for a young, married, pregnant woman to be working in a profession such as the law. In vivid, well-crafted prose, Melanie Russell relates her venture in solo practice as a solicitor, working from her home in a small English village, portraying the people of her town with compassion, wisdom and humor. The remarkable situations she encountered make good enough stories, both the solemn ones and the comical ones, but the style in which she tells them makes them all the more engaging. I laughed out loud at several scenes, and was as caught up in others as if I were reading a mystery.

 

For sales links, click here.

 

Review: Definitely Dead by Lois Winston

I often enjoy a mystery regardless of solving it myself or not, for various reasons. In this case, the pacing and the humor kept me so amused I forgot to try to solve the murder.

Talkative, a bit flaky, and quite attached to her designer shoes and handbags, Gracie Elliot is one of those characters who would drive me crazy if I had to meet her, but she’s hilarious in print. Her inner dialogue shows enough self-awareness that her flaws become funny rather than obnoxious. Her involvement in solving a crime is refreshingly up-front and intentional. She thinks the fastest way to get the murder of a client in her senior match-making service solved is to jump in and do it herself—and make her husband help. As with any amateur sleuth mystery, there’s an element of the implausible requiring suspension of disbelief, but within the context of the plot, characters and setting, Gracie’s actions and motives work, and so does her husband Blake’s more reluctant involvement. Their marriage is a delight for the reader, full of wit and affection.

That said, there’s nothing saccharine about this cozy mystery. Some cozies are just too cozy to live, and I can’t finish them. This one is tart rather than sweet. Gracie is a sharp and critical observer of her fellow humans’ appearances, personalities, mannerisms, fashion sense and home decor—which is an asset in the both the mystery and the comedy departments. As well as being an aficionado of quality handbags and shoes, she’s a former fabric designer (laid off and desperate to make a living—hence the senior dating business), and she can assess a woman’s income and lifestyle from her living room and her clothes and accessories, which makes Gracie a suitable detective for the particular crime she’s looking into. I was so amused by the parade of suspects, especially the ones with bad taste, that I didn’t care which one of them had done it.

Gracie aspires to become a romance writer, and her observations on learning the craft of writing add an extra layer of enjoyment for a writer reading the book.

For sales links click here.

 

 

Review: A Killing Truth by DV Berkom

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Leine Basso has a complicated life. In this series prequel novella, she’s a professional assassin for an ultra-secret agency, the lover of a man in the same line of work—and a single mother. Things get even more complicated when her boss at the Agency seems to become as  dangerous as her work itself. Berkom’s writing is tighter than ever. The pace is riveting, the plotting masterful, and the characters deep. A shocking twist at the end is gut-wrenching. I’ve read one of the Leine Basso thrillers, The Body Market, and I know I’ll be reading more of them. Berkom is one of my go-to authors. I can turn on my Nook and start the first page assured that not single page that follows will let me down.

Find sales links for this and other great thrillers at http://dvberkom.com

Review: Kate Jones Thriller Series Boxed Set—Putting the Thrill in Thriller

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True or false:

“Bad boys” are sexy.

Dangerous men are exciting.

A man with money and power can make a girl’s life magical.

 False, all the way through. Ask Kate Jones. She made the youthful mistake of believing these things were true. This series of novellas chronicles her attempts to escape the consequences of a very bad romantic error, from her first break-out to the follow-ups years later. Each episode is hair-raising and intense. Even though I knew Kate would survive—after all, it’s told in the first person, in her irresistibly frank and sometimes sassy voice—I still couldn’t stop reading, feeling as if she somehow might not make it. I was glad these are novellas so I could reach a stopping point and get some sleep.

 In the first novella, an old man in Mexico warns Kate that she has ‘bad spirits.” Without this set-up, some of her extraordinary bad luck in subsequent episodes might not quite work, but instead, it creates a subtle shamanistic element in the series. Kate not only attracts danger but also seers. Their presence reminds the reader that she’s enmeshed in a web of forces largely outside her control, some spiritual, some all too physical, as she keeps fighting, and sometimes running, for her life.

 Find buy links and more about the author and her other books at http://dvberkom.com

I’ve reviewed several of her other books and recommend them all so far!