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Monthly Archives: February 2017

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The Art of Vanishing–cozy mystery with professorial excellence

The Art of Vanishing

by Cynthia Kuhn

the-art-of-vanishingCynthia Kuhn has done it again! The second book in the Lila McClean Academic Mystery Series is as good as the first.  This cozy mystery emphasizes the pressure placed on assistant professors to publish, receive high administrative approval, and achieve tenure. The main focus of The Art of Vanishing, however, is the mystery itself which evolves into multiple mysteries.  Thematic elements are great. Characters in a cozy should be interesting and developed. An appealing setting is always a plus. A little romance gives extra spice to the story. I will give The Art of Vanishing an “A” in all those categories, but Cynthia Kuhn receives an “A+” for the mystery at the heart of the book. Just when it seems that there will be resolution, the waters are muddied and everything has to be viewed in a new light. At the conclusion, all loose ends are tied up satisfactorily. The reader is not left hanging, but would certainly look forward to another book in the series.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Part of a series, but works as a standalone

Publication:   February 28, 2017–Henery Press

Memorable Lines: 

“The tenure thing is simple: be professional and do what’s expected of you.” “Sure, if you don’t count the personality conflicts,” I said. “And all of the political subcurrents,” he replied. “Or the jealousies.” “Or the secret alliances.” “Or any number of factors we know nothing about.” “Yeah,” he said, “not counting those.” We looked at each other for a moment and burst out laughing.

The implication of my impending failure filled the room, making it harder to breathe.

My mother had always done outrageous things; that was part of her modus operandi as an artist.  If there was a rule, my mother was going to break it. A line, she’d step over it. It had been very difficult to rebel when I was a teenager because she herself was all about rebellion.

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Banana Cream Pie Murder–a little too sweet?

Banana Cream Pie Murder

by Joanne Fluke

banana-cream-pieI went into this book with the assumption that there would be a recipe for Banana Cream Pie and there was–plus 24 more recipes. Folks in the little Minnesota town of Lake Eden like their food! Most of the recipes sound delicious, and they are highly detailed with helpful tips so that even a novice cook could successfully make each dish. Banana Cream Pie Murder has been described as a “culinary cozy.” I agree but have to add that the emphasis is on food with the mystery playing a supporting role.

I am confused about the reputation of the book and the author. Joanne Fluke is the pen name of a New York Times best selling author. Based on this book, I am not sure why. Banana Cream Pie Murder  is the latest in the Hannah Swensen Mystery Series  which has 23 books. Obviously it has appeal for a certain group of readers. I appreciate a book with no sex or profanity, but this was just too sweet, too gentle. The simplistic dialogue was a model for how kindly we wish people would talk to each other and even think of each other. Unfortunately the civility I long for in today’s society was unrealistically portrayed here.

Banana Cream Pie Murder doesn’t work well as a standalone. Several important characters are a part of this story with the assumption that the reader should know who they are. Looking back in the text, I confirmed that they were never introduced; you just had to have read the previous books. If the author feels that by the twenty-fourth book it is just too redundant to remind the reader of the various characters, then I would suggest a simple listing of recurring characters with name, occupation, and relationship with other characters.

I really am not a fan of this book nor would I have considered reading a sequel to it, but then I got caught. At the very end of the book a new unsolved mystery is introduced, a hook to drag me into the next book. All through this book, I felt little impetus to get to the next chapter to see what would happen. Now I really am anxiously anticipating the development of this new mystery.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 

1. Joanne Fluke has published additional novels, sometimes under other pseudonyms: 11 suspense, 7 romance novels, and 7 young adult/teen horror.

The reading level of the Hannah Swensen books is low making it a good fit for an adult or teen who struggles with reading.

Four Hallmark movies have been made from the Hannah Swensen Mystery Series.

Publication:  February 28, 2017–Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

You’d do what you had to do. Everyone’s stronger than they think they are.

Mother thinks chocolate is a food group.

If you weren’t in a hurry, and you stood in an aisle long enough and listened to the conversations that were all around you, you might overhear an important clue.  She would call this phenomenon the “unseen shopper trick.” It was almost as good as the invisible waitress trick, when Hannah and Lisa walked around The Cookie Jar, refilling coffee cups, and their customers didn’t seem to notice that they were there and went right on talking about private matters.

Closeups from the Beach

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A little collection of some of my favorite closeups from the beach:

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A bowl of newly hatched turtles awaiting release at dusk, the time of greatest safety

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A welcoming display of bougainvillea on the porch

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Nothing says the beach like coconut trees!

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I love burros so I thought it was perfect that our casita should have this tiled decoration.

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A peek at the huge palapa at Roberto’s Bistro

Death by Chocolate Lab–humorous cozy mystery

Death by Chocolate Lab

by Bethany Blake

death-by-chocolate-labI realize there are a lot of cozy mysteries that feature dogs or cats, but I had never even picked one up. Death by Chocolate Lab caught my eye because I am a sucker for basset hounds, and there was one soulfully staring at me from the cover of this book. How could I resist? Right from the start I knew I would enjoy this book as it humorously begins with Daphne, a petsitter with a PhD. in philosophy, walking her charges, three Rottweilers. These huge dogs are being corralled by a tiny somewhat mangled Chihuahua, a foster dog who is really just scheming to be picked up. They are accompanied by Daphne’s personal “sidekick,” a wise basset hound named Socrates.

Although there is a serious murder, with the victim discovered by Daphne, that starts a series of investigations led by handsome detective Jonathan Black, there is an undercurrent of humor throughout the book. Daphne is a semi-hippie vegetarian with a “vintage” pink VW van who lives on a farm with her type A personality veterinarian sister.  Other interesting characters include her girlfriend, hair stylist Moxie, and her sister’s vet assistant Dylan, an equally laid back former surfer with whom Daphne has a nebulous relationship.

Death by Chocolate Lab is a mystery with lots of twists and turns, interesting characters, and a good dose of humor throughout.  I am looking forward to reading the second book in the series, Dial Meow for Murder which is due for publication in September of 2017.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Book #1 in the new Lucky Paws Petsitting Mystery series

Publication:  February 28, 2017–Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

Was it odd that one of the things that brought us together was knowing we could be apart?

She was walking with my basset hound sidekick, Socrates, who considered himself above group walks and never hurried. He shambled along at Piper’s side, his droopy, solemn eyes fixed on something in the distance. He might’ve been interested in the dark clouds gathering ahead–a storm was definitely brewing–but I suspected that his real focus was inward. Socrates wasn’t the type of dog who obsessed about where his next treat was coming from. I was convinced that he dealt with more profound issues.

Was there such a thing as mal de vivre?

We Were the Lucky Ones–Jewish Family in Poland, WWII

We Were the Lucky Ones

by Georgia Hunter

we-were-the-lucky-onesWe Were the Lucky Ones tells the story of a family of Polish Jews during what was arguably the most difficult time for Jews in European history. This work of historical fiction is written by Georgia Hunter, a descendant who spent years researching, traveling, and interviewing family members to uncover this amazing story of rare survivors. As the author notes, “By the end of the Holocaust, 90 percent of Poland’s three million Jews were annihilated; of the more than thirty thousand Jews who lived in Radom, fewer than three hundred survived.” Although it is fiction, it has been closely based on facts. The author also intersperses short paragraphs summarizing the historical events of World War II as they relate to this family and notes at the beginning of each chapter the date and location of the events in that section. We Were the Lucky Ones begins in March 1939 and concludes in 1947.

The novel moves through history by telling the story of each family member at various times through an excruciating eight year period. Some experience prison and the torture of interrogation; others endure Siberian work camps, life in a Polish ghetto, extermination by pogrom. The family members are subjected to various extremeties: death, disease, starvation, persecution, betrayal. Through all of these trials, one of their greatest pains is not knowing the fate of their loved ones. A constant theme is their unending love of family.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to the Penguin Group (Viking) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)

Publication: February 14, 2017–Penguin Group (Viking)

Memorable Lines:

But after a few days, they found they had little left to talk about. The chatter ceased and a funerary silence settled upon the train car, like ash over a dying fire. Some wept, but most slept or simply sat quietly, withdrawing deeper into themselves, encumbered by the fear of the unknown, the reality that wherever they were being sent, it was far, far away from home.

And suddenly, the consequences of this war were undeniably real–an understanding that sent Halina spiraling as she wrestled with the knowledge she both feared and loathed: she was powerless.

Nechuma used to reassure herself that they had lived through pogroms before, that in time, the fighting, the bloodshed would pass. But with the news from Lodz she’s come to understand that the situation they are in now is something entirely different. This isn’t just being subjected to profound hunger and poverty. This isn’t persecution. This is extermination.

The Green Mill Murder –witty, sexy, intrepid private eye

The Green Mill Murder

by Kerry Greenwood

the-green-mill-murderI am delighted to belatedly discover that Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries were novels before they were films.  Usually I find that in such cases the book is better than the movie. This is true in The Green Mill Murder which is the fifth in the series by this prolific, award winning Australian author.  I should add, however, that I have very much enjoyed the films and having seen them added to my ability to visualize the setting and beautiful dresses and accessories that the heroine, Phryne Fisher, wears.

Phryne Fisher is quite a character. She is rich, but down to earth. She shares her wealth and offers personal help to those in need. Her morals are outrageous (in the 1920’s); and although she is clearly a lady, she never lets her gender limit her actions.

The Green Mill Murder has a basic mystery: a man is killed by unknown means in a dance hall during the waning hours of a dance marathon in plain sight. Phryne is there and so is able to help the detective Jack with his investigation. In the process, several more mysteries arise, which include issues of a missing husband, blackmail, and inheritance.

I so enjoyed this mystery starring a witty private investigator who can conceal a flask or a small gun as needed in a sexy outfit one day and fly a Gipsy Moth the next. The Australian English (e.g. collywobbles) and the 1920’s laws and customs add to the interest.

Phryne’s independence is exhilarating, and I look forward to more of her adventures. Greenwood says she will keep writing Miss Fisher mysteries as long as readers want more. Currently there are twenty mysteries in this series, thirteen of which have been made into movies for television.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery & Thrillers

Notes: There were various earlier publications of this book

Publication of Current Edition:   February 7, 2017–Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines: 

“She enjoys bad health, Dot. the woman hasn’t been well since 1915, and she’s as strong as a horse.”

Vic had been delightful, but he and his surroundings were a passion to be indulged in sparingly, like absinthe, which sooner or later sent the drinker mad.

“Oh, how clean I am and how lovely hot water is! Great invention. No wonder the Romans ruled the world.”

Head for Mexico: The Renegade Guide–expect the unexpected!

Head for Mexico: The Renegade Guide

by Don Adams

head-for-the-borderI picked this book up in the second hand book room at the Lake Chapala Society Library   for a few pesos. This is an informative book written with a sense of humor. Don Adams doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he doesn’t want you to take yourself too seriously either. He has organized the book well so that you can enjoy it in its entirety or you can pick and choose sections as needed. I already live in Mexico, so my perspective was one of comparing my experiences with his. Although he has spent a lot of time in the Lake Chapala area (home of MANY expats from the U.S. and Canada), he also has lived in many other parts of Mexico. Just like other countries, there is no ONE Mexico, but Adams accurately offers up a taste of cultural differences South of the Border with respect for the kind and generous people here. Unlike his Internet references which are about 14 years old, the people of Mexico have not changed much since he wrote the book. I found it to be an accurate portrayal of life in Mexico where one should always expect the unexpected.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Travel, Nonfiction (Adult)

Notes: Some government information and Internet references are dated, but it still stands as a good resource for someone thinking about moving to Mexico.

Publication:   August 11, 2003–Trafford Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Here’s typical (and accurate) advice from Don Adams to give you a flavor of the book: “And a lot of folks caution against driving at night. Actually, nobody in their right mind would even want to consider this. Usually it’s just me and the truckers flying through the dark, although you’ll usually find a pretty active level of traffic on the autopistas connecting the major cities.”

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