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Monthly Archives: August 2018

Midnight Snacks are Murder–humor shares the spotlight with mystery

Midnight Snacks are Murder

by Libby Klein

Midnight Snacks are MurderAs Poppy McAllister struggles to renovate a Queen Anne Victorian into a B & B to support herself and her aunt who raised her, she finds herself in the thick of a lot of situations. Personally, she is torn between her old flame Tim, a local chef, and Gia who owns a coffee shop and has commissioned Poppy to make gluten-free treats for his shop. Poppy is also juggling some pretty quirky characters on the home front: Smitty, a handyman reminiscent of the Three Stooges; Aunt Ginny, an eightyish aunt determined to live life to the fullest; Georgina, her domineering mother-in-law; and Figaro, her cat who is always in the middle of things. Unfortunately, Poppy, recently returned to Cape May, finds herself embroiled in the second murder in less than a year. This time, however, she is not a suspect, but has to clear her rather kooky aunt of charges.

Libby Kein’s Midnight Snacks are Murder is a very funny cozy mystery with lots of amusing zingers sometimes addressed to others, but more often what Poppy is thinking. The plot moves along quickly as blame passes to a number of characters and the victim is shown in various lights ranging from evil to saint. Poppy has to find out the complex truth about him in order to vindicate her aunt. The first book in the series was lots of fun and so is this one. 

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: #2 in the Poppy McAllister Mystery Series but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   July 31, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

I had a better chance of teaching a badger to ride a bike than winning an argument with Aunt Ginny.

Her supermodel good looks made me feel more schlubby the moment she floated into the kitchen. But then I was too tired to grouse this morning about what God had given me and Betty Crocker had perfected, so I moved on to acceptance faster than usual.

Those kids could text the Constitution in thirty seconds using just emojis.

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir

by Jean Guerrero

CruxCrux: A Cross-Border Memoir attracted my attention because I live part of each year in Mexico and part in New Mexico, U.S.A.  After five years of cross-border experiences, I have such mixed feelings because I love the U.S. with its fairly balanced mixture of freedom and order, but I also have enjoyed the kindness and diverse cultures of the Mexican people.

Crux, however, addresses cross-border experiences on a whole different level. The author Jean Guerrero is the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and a Mexican father. Guerrero survives a dysfunctional childhood to become a journalist. This book is an effort to understand herself through an attempt to understand her father, a brilliant man who at various times is addicted to drugs, and alcohol, believes the C.I.A. is performing experiments on him, and is schizophrenic according to her mother, a medical doctor.

Guerrero longs for her father’s affection. She received it when she was very little, but most of her memories are of an unpredictable and often hateful man who occasionally dropped in and out of her life. Guerrero tries to win her mother’s affection and approval through scholastic achievement. In the process of becoming an adult, she is always introspective but she experiments in dangerous arenas—drugs at raves, trips to dangerous areas of Mexico, bad boys and sexual exploration, and the occult. The occult is tied in with her heritage as she had a great-great grandmother in Mexico who was a healer and diviner and other Mexican relatives who were involved in similar activities.

Crux contains a lot of family stories: Guerrero’s own memories, interviews with her father and his mother, and trips to Mexico to discover the truth of her roots. It also includes some of her philosophical thinking at various times in her life as well as information from her neurological studies in college. She minored in neurology as a part of her efforts to understand her father’s schizophrenia and her genetic predilection to become schizophrenic herself.

As a cross-border tale, Crux is sprinkled with Spanish, some of it translated, some not. I am not fluent in Spanish, but I appreciated the authenticity added to Crux by including Spanish. I do wonder, however, if understanding the book would be affected by a reader’s not being able to translate as they read. One could, of course, use an online Spanish dictionary to help, but that would definitely interrupt the flow.

Crux is a very personal memoir exploring the raw feelings of the author. The point of view changes in the latter part of the book as Guerrero addresses her father. There is also a maturity and cohesion in that part of the book not present in the first. Perhaps that is appropriate as she was initially relating experiences as remembered from a child’s point of view. Readers who enjoy history will receive historical background to provide context; it is interesting and succinct.  All in all, Crux is a good read. There are very few heart-warming moments, but that was her life.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to One World (Random House) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Memoir

Notes: There are some sexually explicit portions and offensive language in Crux. The treatment of women is particularly disturbing.

Publication:  July 17, 2018—One World (Random House)

Memorable Lines:

Life was not turning out as we had hoped. Creativity was a crime. Innocent creatures were mortal. Fathers left their daughters and broke their mother’s heart.

I had grown accustomed to the idea of my father as dead. If he was dead, he wasn’t willfully ignoring us. This belief had become a sinister source of comfort.

He persisted without pausing for protest, the same anger he had directed at me when he was driving me to my riding lessons as a teenager. I stared at the table, steeling myself. The numbness came naturally—a habit of my adolescence.

Beaches in Paradise–suspenseful plot

Beaches in Paradise

by Kathi Daley

Beaches in ParadiseWhen you read a book in the Tj Jensen Mystery Series, you can count on  a solid cozy mystery with likable main characters, strong family ties, and a good plot. Beaches in Paradise is a no exception. Maggie’s Hideaway is a family owned resort on Paradise Lake where Maggie works part-time when she is not busy as the local P.E. teacher and soccer coach. Maggie is also raising her two half-sisters and slowly developing her relationship with Kyle. Both enjoy functioning as a team to help solve local mysteries. What Maggie doesn’t enjoy is her confrontational encounters with Paradise’s new deputy Kate who warns Maggie off of amateur sleuthing and displays subtle hints of interest in Kyle.

Maggie involves herself in a murder and disappearance when an unpopular businessman is found dead in a wrecked car and her friend Gina is nowhere to be found. I had to suspend belief a little in considering the lengths Maggie went to find Gina. The action would have been more convincing if more background on Gina and Maggie’s two year friendship had been provided. Gina teaches math and Maggie P.E. at the local high school.There are no further details to support the strong bond they are supposed to have.

Plot is one of the main strengths of Beaches in Paradise. Three-fourths of the way through the book, after many interviews and lots of twists and turns, a huge part of the mystery is solved and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. There is more suspense to come, however, and it extends quite engagingly all the way to the second surprise ending. This is a solid series and one you will enjoy.

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: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery

Notes: #9 in the Tj Jensen Mystery Series, but is OK as a standalone.

Publication:  July 17, 2018 — Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Once we were ready, Kyle and I climbed into the van with our troupe of geriatric sleuths. I hated to put the men in danger, but I knew they were clearheaded adults able to make up their own minds.

“More than anyone I know, you always make sure the people you care for are all right.”

Disorderly Conduct–murder on the ridge top

Disorderly Conduct

by Mary Feliz

Disorderly ConductI am of two minds about Mary Feliz’s latest cozy mystery Disorderly Conduct. As a mystery, I think it is top notch. It has interesting, likable characters, from Maggie, a professional organizer, right down to three lovable dogs who play a big part in the story. The setting is compelling as the story plays out in the middle of fire threats in California and involves the tech world of highly paid engineers on software campuses. The plot has twists and turns. Even after the suspects are narrowed down to three, it is hard to guess which one is the murderer and certainly the motive remains a major puzzle.

Unfortunately, I have two problems with Disorderly Conduct. One is that each chapter begins with a tip from Maggie McDonald’s notebook compiled for her company, Simplicity Itself Organizing Services. At first I enjoyed the tips, most of which deal with emergency preparedness. As the book progresses and becomes increasingly more intense, however, the tips become longer and more of an interruption. 

 

The second problem is the large number of social issues Mary Feliz stuffs into this cozy mystery. Don’t get me wrong; I am fine with a themed cozy. I think social issues are important, but the time I spend reading is my pleasure time. I don’t want to feel like someone is either lecturing me or trying to forward an agenda through a cozy mystery. Gun control, gay marriage, discrimination against Muslims, domestic violence, bullying, Olympic competitions, drug cartels, the environment. Choose one, choose two, but not the whole package, please!

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Maggie McDonald Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.

Publication:   July 10, 2018—Kensington Press (Lyrical Underground)

Memorable Lines:

If eye rolling was an aerobic activity, no high school on the planet would need to worry about physical education credits.

Rationally, I assumed he was here to update us with news of the investigation into Patrick’s death, and possibly to report on firefighting efforts. But my lizard brain was trying desperately to convince me to flee from a danger and tension in the air that I could feel but couldn’t see.

I glanced at my watch again, having already forgotten what it said when I’d checked the time just seconds earlier. My short-term memory had gotten lost somewhere in the swirl of dreadful events.

Upstaged by Murder–mystery play with deadly consequences

Upstaged by Murder

by C.S. Challinor

Upstaged by MurderUpstaged by Murder turned out to be more interesting and complex than I had imagined. I was treated to a theatre setting embedded in an English setting. The main character is a Scottish barrister with quite a reputation as a private detective. Full of Britishisms such as “gone for a burton” and “you finally twigged,” the production’s actors have diverse backgrounds as the cozy mystery’s focus is on a community theatre play.  Thus they have their own natural personas in addition to the roles they play on stage where fictional detectives are assembled to solve a fictional crime.

Rex Graves is attending the play Peril at Pinegrove Hall written by his new wife’s friend when Cassie, the actress with the lead in the play, is killed. Rex is invited to assist the investigation in an informal capacity, and the reader gets to watch his efforts to discover not only who committed the crime and why, but also how it could possibly have been done.

I stayed engaged in the story as I followed Rex through his investigative efforts, interviewing the cast and crew and assembling a worthy timeline that eventually, along with other clues, leads him to discover the identity of the murderer. Join Rex as he pursues his passion and talent in detecting in C.S. Challinor’s latest mystery.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery

Notes: #10 in the Rex Graves Mystery Series, but I enjoyed it as a standalone.

Publication:   July 8, 2018—Midnight Ink

Memorable Lines:

A decorative wind chime on the door tinkled as he entered the shop, and he was immediately assailed by the heady scent of cut flowers, which abounded everywhere in an explosion of colour, tinted rows of almost every variety arranged in transparent plastic buckets.

Often a coincidence spelt a clue.

…that was the nature of investigations; they rarely took the course of a straight line.

Fear on Four Paws–an animal whisperer

Fear on Four Paws

by Clea Simon

Fear on Four PawsFear on Four Paws easily drops into the category of “really good cozy mystery.”  Main character Pru Marlowe, an animal behaviorist working towards a master’s degree and certification, has a sensitivity for communicating with animals, understanding their feelings, and opening herself up so that they understand her. Although actually a gift, like a good sense of direction or the ability to play music by ear, when Pru’s aptitude for communication with animals first manifests itself, she thinks she is going crazy. Realizing what others might think of this special ability, she is careful to conceal it.

In Fear on Four Paws, Pru is working a number of jobs to support herself. She assists the game warden, the animal control officer, and the local vet, supplementing her various incomes with freelance work as a dog trainer and walker. She finds herself enmeshed in a murder investigation in which the Beauville animal control officer is a person of interest. While Pru could benefit by his being found guilty, she is more interested in understanding what is happening to the young male bears in the area, the animal control officer’s ferret, and an unusual number of dogs and cats who suspiciously disappear and reappear in a well-to-do neighborhood. Meanwhile she has to sort out her love life between Game Warden Greg and her current flame, Detective Jim Creighton, who is as wrapped up in his job as Pru is in hers.

The interaction between Pru and the variety of animals in the book takes top billing and is an integral part of the storyline and the successful resolution of the mysteries. Pru does not hear the animals directly talk to her, so her efforts to fine tune her understanding of them is quite interesting.

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

Notes: #7 in the Pru Pet Noir Series but works well as a stand alone.

Publication:   July 3, 2018—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

We’re all animals, after all, and our vulnerabilities are heightened when we’re tired, hungry, or scared.

Outside my own open window, the birds were getting busy. Food and childcare, love and rivalry playing out in trills and whistles.

Animals don’t rework the past the way we humans do. While they experience longing and grief and sadness, they understand, better than we do, that time doesn’t go backward, for all our wishing.

Killer Green Tomatoes–building a family from a business

Killer Green Tomatoes

by Lynn Cahoon

Killer Green TomatoesAre the people biologically related to you your only family or can the people you choose to surround yourself with be another type of family? Angie, head chef and owner of the County Seat, tries to answer that question for herself and the reader in Killer Green Tomatoes. Lynn Cahoon’s latest work addresses this question along with several others.

Angie, somewhat of an introvert, finds herself surrounded with issues stemming from various relationships in her small community.  The kitchen and wait staff of County Seat are rocked by a death. The Basque community is selecting a new leader. A murder suspect disappears. Numerous women have conflicts with Angie because of small town gossip and jealousies. The sheriff doesn’t trust her. Even Mrs. Potter from across the street is ready to shake her walker at Angie. Felicia,  Angie’s best friend, and Ian, her boyfriend, are the two people she can count on.

Killer Green Tomatoes is a really good cozy mystery, and I highly recommend the series. I do have one issue with the book and that concern diminishes as the story progresses. Mrs. Potter comes to stay with Angie for a week, and Angie immediately finds excuses to leave the house because Mrs. Potter annoys her. Initially Mrs. Potter does nothing to cause that behavior on Angie’s part. Later there are some eyebrow raising incidents, but overall nothing to engender Angie’s behavior. It’s a week, for heaven’s sake, and the woman is physically independent! With Angie reconciling herself to the situation, the plot takes center stage and the reader is treated to a fun mystery.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes:  #2 in the Farm-to-Fork Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone

Publication:   July 3, 2018—Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines:

Family ties. They wrapped you up in emotions you didn’t even know were there.

Angie was an introvert, and having someone in her house all the time, well, it had been harder than she’d expected.

“There’s enough evil in the world that I can see and understand. I don’t have to go all underworld to be scared.”

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

by Laura Hillenbrand

UnbrokenHow much can the human body, the human spirit, endure? Unbroken is the story of Olympic track contender Louie Zamperini as he is tested past the limits of endurance during World War II.  His running career is cut short as he becomes a bombardier. The characteristics that made him a difficult child, always testing the limits, become the foundation of an unrelenting resilience in the face of life challenging circumstances. He endured horrors, but he was miraculously saved from death several times. Did God have a plan for Louie’s life? Could he be saved from his own destructive behaviors and the hatred dwelling in his heart?

Unbroken is a biography and so much more. It reads like a fascinating work of fiction. In fact, if more nonfiction maintained the interest level of Unbroken, there would be a lot more readers of nonfiction. This book is engaging and fast paced. Unbroken was thoroughly researched over seven years using archives and many interviews including seventy-five interviews with Louie himself. Very importantly, author Laura Hillenbrand found few discrepancies among the various reports. 

I read and review a lot of books. I mentally gauge my review comparing each book within its genre. A five star cozy mystery is not compared to a five star book of poetry, for example. I must state, however, that Unbroken rises above a star rating system. Although emotionally difficult in places, it is a book that everyone should read.

Rating: 5/5

Category: History, Biography

Notes: Thanks to my brother Don Lyons who insisted I borrow his copy of Unbroken. It was every bit as powerful as you said it would be!

Publication:   November 16, 2010—Random House

Memorable Lines:

In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more than just mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him.

“The other pilots act as though nothing has happened and speak of sending the other fellow’s clothes home as though it were an everyday occurrence. That’s the way it has to be played because that’s the way it is—it’s an everyday occurrence!”

This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind…Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.

Conan Doyle for the Defence–real life detection

Conan Doyle for the Defence

by Margalit Fox

Conan Doyle for the DefenceAs a lover of mysteries, I enjoyed reading Conan Doyle for the Defense. Be forewarned, however, that this book is not light reading. It is the recounting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s application of Holmesian deductive skills to the real case of Oscar Slater, wrongfully found guilty of the murder of an elderly lady.

In the process of relating the details of the case, the author Margalit Fox puts the events in context. She discusses the Victorian era and the development of crime fiction, including, of course, the Sherlock Holmes mystery series. She also addresses the life and character of Arthur Conan Doyle as well as Scottish politics, police, and the penal system. Fox presents an in-depth discussion of the different types of reasoning that might be used in trying to solve crimes.

If you are looking for a beach read, Conan Doyle for the Defence is not it. If you are interested in learning more about true crime detection, and how its principles apply to fiction, then this is the right book for you.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Profile Books/Serpent’s Tail for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: History, True Crime

Notes:  Includes a complete list of references, footnotes, and bibliography to support the information contained in the book.

Publication:   June 28, 2018—Profile Books/Serpent’s Tail

Memorable Lines:

First joining the case in 1912, he turned his formidable powers to the effort to free him, dissecting the conduct of police and prosecution with Holmesian acumen. But despite his influence and energy, Conan Doyle discovered, he wrote, that “I was up against a ring of political lawyers who could not give away the police without also giving away themselves.”

Holmes quickly became a global sensation, not only for his investigative prowess, unimpeachable morals and ultrarational cast of mind, but also for his exquisite embodiment of an age of Victorian gentility, and Victorian certainties, that was already imperiled.

Detection, at bottom, is a diagnostic enterprise, and the late 19th century was where the shared diagnostic concerns of medicine, criminalistics and literary detection first truly converged in public life.

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